Even though a song like “Breathe” is only a handful of years old, something about its piano intro and reflective tone carries a depth that ties The Table to generations of faithful people. But the banjo-driven “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” a la Sufjan Stevens, helps a familiar, traditional hymn feel like it was made for a group to sing with each other in a circle around a fire.
When it comes to the lyrics of our music, I like to think first about what words, language, and symbols mean, especially the ones that go along with our ideas of “church.”
Reza Aslan, author and religious scholar, once wrote, “religion... is the language we use to express faith. It is a language made up of symbols and metaphors that allows people to express to each other (and to themselves) what is, almost by definition, inexpressible.”
Paul Tillich argued that religious language must be understood symbolically. Sufi mystics describe this language as “a signpost to God.” My point? Words are hard, complicated, inefficient things.
And while it’s no secret that our world is changing, so is the collective understanding of faith and religion. We have a long history of words, stories, and songs that we can use to communicate our experience of faith. But the challenge is that we have such a wide variety of life experiences and perspectives that sometimes we use the same words and mean something different. And sometimes the words that we have internalized - or learned to say in a certain situation from those around us - aren’t really our own words. Or at least they aren’t the words that we mean to say, they’re just the ones that we have.