I recently began listening to a podcast titled, This Movie Changed Me, from the On Being Project. Of course the premise got me to thinking about which movie(s) “changed” me. It’s one thing to say that a movie is our “favorite.” It’s another to say that a movie “moved” us. To use the verb “change” is to narrow down the possibilities.
Oddly, the more I thought about movies that had changed me, the more I also thought about music. The more I thought about music, I realized that my mind gravitated not towards individual songs but to albums. Digital music and streaming services have enabled us to access individual songs far more easily, but we can’t forget the importance of the whole album’s context. So often in worship I remind the congregation that the one Scripture passage on which I’m preaching fits into a much larger story of God’s Word. I feel like the same thing happens on an album, whether the source is vinyl, CD, digital, or the rare, occasional cassette tape.
As the list of albums that changed me grew longer, I noticed that these were not necessarily my favorite albums by the artists. Some of them contain individual songs that I barely remember or didn’t particularly like. However, the album as a whole spoke to me, sometimes because of circumstances and other times I was simply changed by the joy of the music.
So, here are the albums that “changed” me. Click on the title for links to videos of some of the songs. I hope they will inspire you, too, to reflect on what has changed you.
Click on the above link to view this album cover: the mullet, the backwards chair, the too-big font on a sunset background…. Don’t let the datedness of the cover fool you. It was one of the first cassette tapes I remember buying. The first song was the title track, and discipleship made sense to my pre-teen self because of the way he sang it. Every song that followed taught me something about following Jesus. It wasn’t my favorite album by SC2 (and I owned all of his albums at one time!), but it’s the one that changed how I could experience Scripture’s stories through music.
As Australia’s Hillsong Church and their worship leader, Darlene Zschech, became more familiar to American audiences in the late 90s and early 00s, I remember hearing someone scoff at the idea that a woman could be a worship leader. This was one of the CDs I bought and listened to when I would run the perimeter of my college campus (shout out to the Discman, which velcro-ed around my hand and was heavy enough to give me some muscle definition on that arm!). Hearing a woman’s voice lead in worship led me to scoff at the thought of a woman not being a worship leader. There were no politics on the album, no pushes for equality, only the pursuit of God’s presence.
This isn’t exactly the same kind of prayer found on the previous two albums! It’s beautiful and haunting and romantic and inviting and, to quote the title track, “sweet intoxication.” The tracks became more and more relaxing as the album progresses and is still my go-to when winding down in the evenings. I often fell asleep by the end — sans drunkenness, of course.
If you’ve read this blog or heard me preach or had a five-minute conversation with me, you know how much I love Paul Thorn. That love began with this album. My dad heard about it on NPR, sent me the link and said, “I think you’ll like this guy. He grew up Pentecostal in Tupelo.” I loved how Thorn could take the religious music of his upbringing and combine it so effortlessly with storytelling and humor. A Long Way From Tupelo took me on a journey of becoming a cool Christian, and I’m still trying to tread that path with this soundtrack.
In the course of one year, I was ordained, my relationship at the time ended, and my niece was born. In the midst of all that change, I experienced first-time heartaches, conflicts, and doubts in pastoral work and leading up to my ordination that made me wonder if I’d made a mistake in seeking ordination as a minister. The work with which I had fallen in love seemed to unravel, alongside the relationship. Yet joy arrived with my niece, and the album, Strict Joy, appeared with truth that I needed. The first song even speaks of a tourist town, and I lived in a tourist town at that time! The Swell Season was made up of a guy and girl who starred in the film, Once. They fell in love, were together for a while, but their relationship unraveled, too. The album speaks to their break-up and all the emotions that accompanied it. They spoke and sang my range of emotions, but the album did not leave me in a place of lament. Instead, it called me to move through the truth of doubt, heartache, and pain, into the resurrection of strictly joy.
If you talk to me for five minutes, you know I love Paul Thorn. If you talk to me for ten minutes, we’ll be discussing Mumford & Sons. Like Thorn, their religious heritage is very present in the lyrics. They are also plain cool. I love not only every song on the album but the order of the songs as well. It’s easy to forget the creative energy that goes into the songs’ order, but these build so well upon each other. Warning: there is one bad word in one song. Confession: that is my favorite song on the album.
I wrote about them recently. I preached about them recently. I wrote about them again recently. The first and last songs are perfect bookends to the messages in between. Laughter, pain, reflection, confession… it’s all in there. And they’ll come back again… and again… and again….
all good things to each of you,