A youth camp song list

For the past few years I’ve been a leader at Übertweak, a Christian youth camp. In addition to being creative with technology, playing complex outdoor wide games, and becoming progressively more sleep deprived as the week goes on, each morning we set aside some time to focus on learning about who God is and what he’s done, and part of that is music. Next camp I’m the music team coordinator, so the task of choosing which songs we’ll sing has fallen to me. Song lists could seem quite incidental, but I think they’re important. There are many competing factors which make it tricky, so I thought I’d share how I chose the songs I did.

A Futurama Fry meme: Not sure if song about God / or boyfriend

The factors

Great words and music: This one should go without saying, but sadly it can’t. Colossians 3:16 says that we are actually to use songs to teach each other, so I wanted ones that had substance to them, with at least some specific Biblical content. Before choosing the final list I asked for suggestions from the other camp leaders for songs which focus on who God is and what he has done, so that if Fry came to camp he’d have no need for his trademark expression! Each Übertweak camp has a theme, so I also tried to find some which fit this one’s theme: God’s Awesome Plan.

Appropriate for campers: We have to be mindful of who we’re choosing songs for. In this context that means 12-17 year olds, some from Christian families and some not, some with a strong mature faith, some with a new faith and some with none. While we want to avoid Christian jargon if possible, it doesn’t means we should pitch down to the youngest campers; instead we should pitch up, it is a time for teaching after all. We also have to be careful with what I call “responsive” songs. Hillsong’s This is our God might be an appropriate song to sing in church, but at a camp with comparatively few strong Christians it would either disengage those who aren’t, or they may get swept along with and feel they must sing what their heart does not really believe.

A range of tempos and moods: This was the easiest factor. In addition to making a list of songs I also planned out a schedule for each day. We’ll start with some fast songs to wake everyone up, before moving towards slower contemplative ones.

Old favourites vs new hits: It’s hard to learn a large bunch of new songs at once, and though that may be unavoidable for some campers, I wanted to minimise it if possible. Out of the eleven songs on the list at least seven have been sung at previous camps. And as Übertweak is non-denominational I wanted to choose songs from a range of different Christian circles. (The list below has who I associate some of the songs with. Unfortunately no songs from Emu/AFES made the final list, though No Other Name by Trevor Hodge came close.) The camp schedule means we’ll be singing 22 songs in total. I wanted to give the campers a chance to learn the songs, so the new songs are introduced one per day, and almost all including the old ones are repeated twice, with our theme song being sung four times. This is a shorter list than some of the previous camps, but repetition is good, and it’s easier on the music team!

The songs

All because of Jesus by Steve Fee (2007): This is one of our openers.

All I have is Christ by Jordan Kauflin (2008, Sovereign Grace): This is a new song for camp. We sing it at church and I think it’s a good song to finish with.

Amazing Grace (My chains are gone) by John Newton/Chris Tomlin (2006, Passion): I really dislike Chris Tomlin’s version, but the team thought this one would be good to include; it’s also the only song from before this century! I’ll be mixing up which verses we sing because I cannot stand the “You are forevvvver minnne” part at the end.

By Faith by Keith & Kristyn Getty (2009): This is our theme song! It’s a great to encourage us to trust God’s plan, and a good song in general.

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher (2009).

Creator by The Lads (2002): An Übertweak tradition, it’s not possible to go through a week without Creator! We’ll start Friday morning with it.

Happy Day by Tim Hughes (2006): Another opener.

Indescribable by Laura Story (2004, Passion).

Our God by Chris Tomlin (2010, Passion): Chris Tomlin makes it into the list twice with this, one of our closers. (I always say I don’t like Chris Tomlin’s songs, but I think that’s more his adaptations of old hymns, such as Amazing Grace and the Wonderful Cross. Some of his original songs are quite decent.)

Promises by Sanctus Real (2012, the radio!): When I heard this song on 96.5 I thought it would be a great addition to the Übertweak music list, and it fits the topic so well too!

Tell the World by Joul Houston (2004, Hillsong): Another Übertweak favourite, and the first song we’ll be singing on camp.

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Marriage: what are we trying to save?

A Swedish wedding from 1903

With the Marriage Act possibly being amended this year, the debate over what marriage means has reached huge proportions. Many Christians have been very vocal in their opposition to changing the the law on marriage, much to the scorn of those who disagree. I’m a Christian and I believe God has told us quite clearly that he does not approve of same-sex relationships (along with many other relationships.) But I’m not convinced that there’s really much point trying to save the Marriage Act as it is. What are we trying to save? Jesus had some strong words:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery. (Mark 10:11-12, NLT)

I think our society abandoned the Christian (Biblical) conception of marriage decades ago. Legally this occurred in 1975 with the introduction of no-fault divorces. Similar changes have resulted in almost complete legal recognition of de facto relationships. There may be arguments for no-fault divorce and de facto relationships, but I think the reality is that they have contributed to a shift in the meaning of marriage. I have no evidence for this, but I bet that most Australians would think that the idea of only getting married if you were committed to seeing it through to the end of your life is just as backward an idea as heterosexual-only marriage. Marriage is no longer an exclusive and irrevocable contract, but one of several possible labels you can give to long term relationships. A tiny fraction of Australians may end up in homosexual marriages, but the changes that have led to twice as many Australians my age being in de facto relationships than married, and a third of all marriages ending in divorce, have already happened.

Every minority has the right to express how they think the law should be shaped, so Christians should be free to express their opposition, especially when the facts aren’t settled yet. But I personally won’t be spending much breath to protect a definition I don’t agree with. It’s sad, but that ship has sailed.

I would however support changing the Marriage Act in another way: to remove marriage from it! I don’t think any particular label such as marriage should be privileged and codified in law above any other. If the whole of federal and state law was changed so that there was just a single relationship recognised by law (lets keep the term civil union for this, no one actually wants to describe their relationship as one) then I think we’d all be better off. If up till now marriage has had a religious definition then don’t try to change what it means – just remove it from the law.

Evangelion and the end of the world

Still from Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0

It’s 2015 and Shinji Ikari, a lonely fourteen year old boy, is recruited by his estranged father to pilot a giant robot and fight against equally giant monsters called Angels. A fantastic premise for SF action, but also the premise of the disorienting deconstruction of humanness that is the series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The Evangelion story began with a 1995 anime series, which was followed in 1997 by the movies Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion. The series is currently being remade as a film tetralogy called Rebuild of Evangelion, with the third film set to be released later this year. I recommend the Rebuild series on Blu-ray as it has incredible production values and is much more accessible than the anime which towards the end goes very art-house (though we’ll have to wait to see how the second half of Rebuild turns out.)

Evangelion is about the desperate attempts of broken people to stave off the end of the world. It is a bleak world and almost every character has strained interpersonal relationships. It is a world without joy and with limited happiness. Writer and director Hideaki Anno had depression for four years and its likely that many of the characters reflect his personal experience. And yet, depression in Evangelion is in no way one dimensional. I know several friends who have struggled with the black dog, and just as it affects each differently, each character in Evangelion faces it distinctively. Passive and passionate, lonely and obsessed, hopeless and decisive; each is the public face of a broken person. I think Evangelion affirms what Steven Moffat has said: sad is more dramatic than happy. But over all of this is confusion, and a scene of Rei crying without understanding why reminds me that these characters don’t understand what’s happening to them any more than we do.

The series’ climax is the the disastrous Third Impact, which is said to bring the end of the world. The portrayal of disaster feels distinctive to me, although I’m sure it can’t be unique. In many films disaster brings relief and peace to the earth, if indeed the disaster wasn’t the earth’s own reaction to the deeds of humanity. Even though I share the pain of the human protagonists, sometimes the earth gets more sympathy, especially if the film is pushing environmentalism. But in Evangelion the earth is just as affected as are the people. See in the still above how the natural and built environments alike are tortured and torn apart, even in defiance of gravity.

Evangelion is deeply human centred. I can think of little else in our present culture which so ties humanity and the world together. It almost feels uncomfortably brash to do so, when we usually like to think of ourselves as an inconsequential aside in the universe. It is a story of fighting over what it means to be human, but the horror of seeing the Third Impact says that our world depends on the resolution of that fight. As a Christian I believe many uncomfortable things, and Evangelion has illustrated to me a little of what it means for creation to groan (Romans 8) and what it will be like when the heavens are set on fire (2 Peter 3).

What’s wrong with multi-site churches

At The Resurgence Gregg Allison has given a defense for multi-site churches. While his defense may address Mark Dever’s concerns, it says nothing about what I think is wrong with multi-site churches: it stifles the principle of the priesthood of all believers.

The NT doesn’t actually say very much about how we should do church or what our church meeting should be like. But one verse that clearly states the basics is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)

God has given every Christian gifts, which we should use to build each other up, by encouraging, challenging, rebuking and teaching each other. A church meeting is simply the time when Christians get together to use their gifts at the same time.

Unfortunately many churches restrict how we can do that by limiting those who can be involved in the church meeting to a very small group, such as the minister and “worship leader”. I am a believer both in lay preaching and flexible meeting structures because they allow more people to get involved. I suspect a house church done well would let even more people get involved, but regular churches can still make changes which let more people serve.

It gets worse though. Mars Hill Church is a multi-site church with 9 campuses. Each shares a video feed from the main campus, so that there is only one person teaching each week, and most of the time that’s Mark Driscoll. Compared to regular churches that’s 8 people with the gift of teaching who aren’t being given the opportunity to serve their churches. Compared to an ideal church, hundreds if not thousands must be missing out. And that’s wrong.

Brief mission wrap-up

Mission in Japan was such an amazing experience. There are so very few Christians there (about 1 in 5000 where we were) that even the little we did was a huge help to the Japanese church. What did we do? We visited many preschools, ran a lot of English classes and helped the missionaries as they planted two new churches.

It taught me a few things: the huge cultural differences did not matter to the Gospel, these people are sinners and need to be told about Jesus and shown God’s love. But the cultural differences also showed how mission must be made culturally appropriate, both in Japan and home in Australia. Most people in Australia are unwilling and opposed to talking about God and the gospel. Japan was very different in that so many people were willing to listen and ask questions about Jesus and the Bible, for to them it is almost entirely new. But despite how much interest they show and how much they learn, the Japanese people are sadly reluctant to confess Jesus and commit their lives to him. In Australian culture verses like Romans 10:9 are not too significant, for almost everyone who believes the gospel will confess Jesus. But in Japan they will not. We met a few who even after more than ten years contact with the church and learning and believing far more than many Australian Christians, will still not commit to and confess Jesus. Whether they feel pressured from their families or work or just don’t want to, I don’t know. But it is sad and something that definitely needs a lot of prayer.