Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Stephen

    I remember studying this word in NT studies and having the realization that it more literally means “shining out” (epi – out, phanae – shine) whereas we generally connote it in our personal reflection with some kind of internal experience of realization. “I had an epiphany” means something has become crystal clear to me personally, inwardly and reflectively, but in these Gospel accounts of Jesus, he becomes crystal clear to others outwardly, to the world as it were. It is generally used in literature in the first, more personal, sense as well, but as you note here, the series of epiphanies we celebrate culminate in a “revealing” or uncovering of the most profound kind in the Transfiguration.

    Maybe our friend trotk could weigh in here, but it seems a fairly significant difference to me, almost to the point of being a completely different meaning altogether that we have assigned the word beyond its biblical usage.

  • Stephen

    I remember studying this word in NT studies and having the realization that it more literally means “shining out” (epi – out, phanae – shine) whereas we generally connote it in our personal reflection with some kind of internal experience of realization. “I had an epiphany” means something has become crystal clear to me personally, inwardly and reflectively, but in these Gospel accounts of Jesus, he becomes crystal clear to others outwardly, to the world as it were. It is generally used in literature in the first, more personal, sense as well, but as you note here, the series of epiphanies we celebrate culminate in a “revealing” or uncovering of the most profound kind in the Transfiguration.

    Maybe our friend trotk could weigh in here, but it seems a fairly significant difference to me, almost to the point of being a completely different meaning altogether that we have assigned the word beyond its biblical usage.

  • trotk

    Stephen -

    I can’t actually elaborate it any better than you did, but you are absolutely correct. Epiphany is first to show forth or manifest, which naturally leads to greater inward understanding. But we generally miss that first part, and think primarily about the second. For earthly epiphanies, this may not matter, but in terms of Christ, think of the consequences! We ignore the first, which is the work of Christ, and focus on the second, which is our response.

    I guess this is like many things, in that we miss the showing forth or action of Christ and focus on our personal response or action. Thus we ignore Gospel and focus on Law.

  • trotk

    Stephen -

    I can’t actually elaborate it any better than you did, but you are absolutely correct. Epiphany is first to show forth or manifest, which naturally leads to greater inward understanding. But we generally miss that first part, and think primarily about the second. For earthly epiphanies, this may not matter, but in terms of Christ, think of the consequences! We ignore the first, which is the work of Christ, and focus on the second, which is our response.

    I guess this is like many things, in that we miss the showing forth or action of Christ and focus on our personal response or action. Thus we ignore Gospel and focus on Law.

  • Stephen

    I knew you would have take on it. I hadn’t even thought of it in a law/gospel way. And I’m supposed to be the Lutheran!!! Ha! That’s fantastic! I hear the word used all the time and it has always sounded “off” since I learned Greek.

    To be a little philosophical, there is almost a numinous quality missing that is coming from the thing we experience when we put all the emphasis on our reflection in a one-sided definition. A true understanding of epiphany is an occasion when something is showing itself to us just as much as we are having some kind of understanding. In other words, it is not merely a moment of clarity in our own minds, but something in actuality outside of ourselves that is really there which has come to greet us in our experience. There is not truly one without the other. However, it is difficult to get around thinking in that one-sided way in our post-Kantian world. We think it is all about what is going on in our own mind’s experience. Nothing is actually happening “out there” – not really. But if we truly say that there is God, then there must. And in fact, this is in some may even more true.

  • Stephen

    I knew you would have take on it. I hadn’t even thought of it in a law/gospel way. And I’m supposed to be the Lutheran!!! Ha! That’s fantastic! I hear the word used all the time and it has always sounded “off” since I learned Greek.

    To be a little philosophical, there is almost a numinous quality missing that is coming from the thing we experience when we put all the emphasis on our reflection in a one-sided definition. A true understanding of epiphany is an occasion when something is showing itself to us just as much as we are having some kind of understanding. In other words, it is not merely a moment of clarity in our own minds, but something in actuality outside of ourselves that is really there which has come to greet us in our experience. There is not truly one without the other. However, it is difficult to get around thinking in that one-sided way in our post-Kantian world. We think it is all about what is going on in our own mind’s experience. Nothing is actually happening “out there” – not really. But if we truly say that there is God, then there must. And in fact, this is in some may even more true.

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  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    Your little post is dead on; this is the precise purpose of the Epiphany season. It is not so much “Gentile Christmas”, but a series of gradual revelations of just who the Baby born in the manger really is.

    Unfortunately, this concept is lost in the newer lectionaries. ILCW and RCL make Epiphany essentially a shorter “Pentecost” season, which not only removes the character from this wonderful season, but removes a number of chances to preach on the divinity of Christ. But then, being suspicious of the three-year lectionaries, I think this was one of their purposes.

    BTW, if you are using the historic lectionary, 2011 is a unique opportunity. Easter is sufficiently late this year that we will hear all the Epiphany lections. “Thy great epiphany” indeed.

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    Your little post is dead on; this is the precise purpose of the Epiphany season. It is not so much “Gentile Christmas”, but a series of gradual revelations of just who the Baby born in the manger really is.

    Unfortunately, this concept is lost in the newer lectionaries. ILCW and RCL make Epiphany essentially a shorter “Pentecost” season, which not only removes the character from this wonderful season, but removes a number of chances to preach on the divinity of Christ. But then, being suspicious of the three-year lectionaries, I think this was one of their purposes.

    BTW, if you are using the historic lectionary, 2011 is a unique opportunity. Easter is sufficiently late this year that we will hear all the Epiphany lections. “Thy great epiphany” indeed.

  • SKPeterson

    I believe the Orthodox refer to Epiphany as Theophany to add a further spin. Theophany seems to get the directionality right, at least to me.

  • SKPeterson

    I believe the Orthodox refer to Epiphany as Theophany to add a further spin. Theophany seems to get the directionality right, at least to me.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I love the visit of the Magi. Here you have pagan priests bowing their knee to the Lord of lords, King of kings, God of gods, prolepitcally fulfilling the prophecy that at the name of Christ every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I love the visit of the Magi. Here you have pagan priests bowing their knee to the Lord of lords, King of kings, God of gods, prolepitcally fulfilling the prophecy that at the name of Christ every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

  • trotk

    One of the epiphanies that I wish that I could have witnessed is Peter falling on his knees before Jesus, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” after the miraculous catch of fish.

    Imagine Christ stepping into your vocation and doing in one instance what a lifetime of your labor could not reproduce. Peter’s response is so telling, because he recognizes that it isn’t just that Christ is more talented in that vocation. Instead, He is of a totally different quality, and he recognizes his own sin in this.

  • trotk

    One of the epiphanies that I wish that I could have witnessed is Peter falling on his knees before Jesus, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” after the miraculous catch of fish.

    Imagine Christ stepping into your vocation and doing in one instance what a lifetime of your labor could not reproduce. Peter’s response is so telling, because he recognizes that it isn’t just that Christ is more talented in that vocation. Instead, He is of a totally different quality, and he recognizes his own sin in this.

  • Stephen

    “and when the centurion . . . saw how he died he said “surely this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

    What is up with that? What exactly in that moment got this crucifier of Christ to announce the very Gospel itself? Well, I guess we might say it is the very Holy Spirit released in the death of Jesus, or how else could he say this? It is not some casual observation, not some objective fact he notices. It is a moment of new creation, no?

    I just read a fantastic post on Pastor Harrison’s blog about the hiddeness of God revealed in the cross as understood in Luther:

    http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com/2011/01/gospel-is-not-message-of-triumphant.html

    What a great read I highly recommend. Jesus Christ is so utterly different than what we make God out to be, even who we make Christ himself out to be. He “shines out” from the cross in this other way that truly kills that old Adam self in us. All the strength and power of this world as embodied in a Roman centurion cannot withstand it, even at that very moment of utter weakness, even as Jesus dies. This is how God reveals himself.

  • Stephen

    “and when the centurion . . . saw how he died he said “surely this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

    What is up with that? What exactly in that moment got this crucifier of Christ to announce the very Gospel itself? Well, I guess we might say it is the very Holy Spirit released in the death of Jesus, or how else could he say this? It is not some casual observation, not some objective fact he notices. It is a moment of new creation, no?

    I just read a fantastic post on Pastor Harrison’s blog about the hiddeness of God revealed in the cross as understood in Luther:

    http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com/2011/01/gospel-is-not-message-of-triumphant.html

    What a great read I highly recommend. Jesus Christ is so utterly different than what we make God out to be, even who we make Christ himself out to be. He “shines out” from the cross in this other way that truly kills that old Adam self in us. All the strength and power of this world as embodied in a Roman centurion cannot withstand it, even at that very moment of utter weakness, even as Jesus dies. This is how God reveals himself.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    We ignore the first, which is the work of Christ, and focus on the second, which is our response.

    Trotk (@2), that is some good stuff. I mean, credit to Stephen as well, but you put your finger on what was bubbling in my mind as I read his comment (@1). How like us sinful men to take God’s work and make it all about what we’ve done.

    I‘ve had an epiphany — I know who God is now!” Sure, because he showed himself to you, and he brought you to faith.

    I’m just repeating what you said, but that’s because I liked it that much. Best. Epiphany. Lesson. Ever.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    We ignore the first, which is the work of Christ, and focus on the second, which is our response.

    Trotk (@2), that is some good stuff. I mean, credit to Stephen as well, but you put your finger on what was bubbling in my mind as I read his comment (@1). How like us sinful men to take God’s work and make it all about what we’ve done.

    I‘ve had an epiphany — I know who God is now!” Sure, because he showed himself to you, and he brought you to faith.

    I’m just repeating what you said, but that’s because I liked it that much. Best. Epiphany. Lesson. Ever.

  • Stephen

    tODD and trotk

    Yes, yes, yes!!! What you’ve both said better than me is that the truth of it rests not in us, but in God. We just have such a hard time seeing it this way. Perhaps it has always been this way, but I think it is especially hard in our post-Enlightenment mindset that places our personal experience at the center of all meaning. Add to that a culture of individual, consumerist “me-ism” and all humility is essentially lost. Whatever is shining out there is quickly dimmed by all the mediating influences of our personal “utility” and purposes for it. Sometimes in our theology and religion it is as if we were Moses confronted by the burning bush and we whittled a stick and started roasting marsh mellows while we listened to what God had to tell us. Well, heck, we’re hungry!

    Am I being cynical?

  • Stephen

    tODD and trotk

    Yes, yes, yes!!! What you’ve both said better than me is that the truth of it rests not in us, but in God. We just have such a hard time seeing it this way. Perhaps it has always been this way, but I think it is especially hard in our post-Enlightenment mindset that places our personal experience at the center of all meaning. Add to that a culture of individual, consumerist “me-ism” and all humility is essentially lost. Whatever is shining out there is quickly dimmed by all the mediating influences of our personal “utility” and purposes for it. Sometimes in our theology and religion it is as if we were Moses confronted by the burning bush and we whittled a stick and started roasting marsh mellows while we listened to what God had to tell us. Well, heck, we’re hungry!

    Am I being cynical?

  • trotk

    I believe that the self-focus is what has lead to so many bad worship songs. Think of the titles (if you unfortunate enough to know them)…

    The worst that I can think of is, “I could sing of Your love forever.”

    I don’t know about you, but that isn’t a promise or claim I want to make.

  • trotk

    I believe that the self-focus is what has lead to so many bad worship songs. Think of the titles (if you unfortunate enough to know them)…

    The worst that I can think of is, “I could sing of Your love forever.”

    I don’t know about you, but that isn’t a promise or claim I want to make.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@11), you mean “I Could Repeat This Line Forever”? Come on, that’s a catchy tune! I just can never remember the words. ;)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@11), you mean “I Could Repeat This Line Forever”? Come on, that’s a catchy tune! I just can never remember the words. ;)

  • trotk

    It is more self-centered, but not as bad lyrically and musically as “Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate.”

    I prefer songs that talk about Christ, not me. And ones that have more than seven words.

  • trotk

    It is more self-centered, but not as bad lyrically and musically as “Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate.”

    I prefer songs that talk about Christ, not me. And ones that have more than seven words.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Do you think we could convince some Evangelicals that I’ve Got My Mind Set on You (made famous by George Harrison in 1987) is actually a Christian praise song? Really, check out the lyrics (and the repetition, and the emphasis on the first person — no, not of the Trinity!)

    I mean, let’s see, we’ve got stewardship and tithing (“It’s gonna take plenty of money to do it right, child”). Prayer and meditation, perhaps (“I got my mind set on you, I got my mind set on you, I got my mind set on you, I got my mind set on you”)? Um, sanctification (“It’s gonna take patience and time, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it right, child”)? The all-important burning in the bosom (“And this time I know it’s real the feeling that I feel”). And, um, more devotion and sanctification (“I know if I put my mind to it I know that I really can do it”)? Yes, I am totally abusing the word “sanctification” (as it has, indeed, been abused by many others). On purpose.

    I apologize, everyone, for going tangential in what was a very wonderful, insightful discussion, but I just had this … epiphany? … about that song.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Do you think we could convince some Evangelicals that I’ve Got My Mind Set on You (made famous by George Harrison in 1987) is actually a Christian praise song? Really, check out the lyrics (and the repetition, and the emphasis on the first person — no, not of the Trinity!)

    I mean, let’s see, we’ve got stewardship and tithing (“It’s gonna take plenty of money to do it right, child”). Prayer and meditation, perhaps (“I got my mind set on you, I got my mind set on you, I got my mind set on you, I got my mind set on you”)? Um, sanctification (“It’s gonna take patience and time, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it right, child”)? The all-important burning in the bosom (“And this time I know it’s real the feeling that I feel”). And, um, more devotion and sanctification (“I know if I put my mind to it I know that I really can do it”)? Yes, I am totally abusing the word “sanctification” (as it has, indeed, been abused by many others). On purpose.

    I apologize, everyone, for going tangential in what was a very wonderful, insightful discussion, but I just had this … epiphany? … about that song.

  • Stephen

    If you think about Peter’s response to the vision of the Transfiguration, he wants to “do” something – build a monument. A noble project, like the evangelical praise songs I suppose, but I don’t think he actually gets the chance to do this “work” does he? He ends up flat on his face in awe and sheer terror before God. What the scriptures seem to suggest is that in the face of epiphany there is only a few reactions that are suited – the one I noted, much like the one Moses had at the burning bush, and/or people going about “reflecting” what they had seen by telling others – shepherds, Simeon & Anna, the Magi, etc. Even the centurion in my earlier example is compelled to speak, but not about himself or what he would now do. There was not even an “I” statement in what he said. Epiphany is all, essentially, proclamation.

    I just got that. Perhaps “it was an epiphany for me” might be a better way to construct it.

  • Stephen

    If you think about Peter’s response to the vision of the Transfiguration, he wants to “do” something – build a monument. A noble project, like the evangelical praise songs I suppose, but I don’t think he actually gets the chance to do this “work” does he? He ends up flat on his face in awe and sheer terror before God. What the scriptures seem to suggest is that in the face of epiphany there is only a few reactions that are suited – the one I noted, much like the one Moses had at the burning bush, and/or people going about “reflecting” what they had seen by telling others – shepherds, Simeon & Anna, the Magi, etc. Even the centurion in my earlier example is compelled to speak, but not about himself or what he would now do. There was not even an “I” statement in what he said. Epiphany is all, essentially, proclamation.

    I just got that. Perhaps “it was an epiphany for me” might be a better way to construct it.

  • SKPeterson

    Your right, Stephen. The centurion didn’t say, “I think he must be God,” or “Wow! I really feel like he’s God!”

    As to lousy evangelical songs, one of the worst is “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship” which makes a bare mention of some guy called God. Nothing about who God is, or what God does. No Trinity or doxology. I also like “My Me Is an Awesome Me.”

  • SKPeterson

    Your right, Stephen. The centurion didn’t say, “I think he must be God,” or “Wow! I really feel like he’s God!”

    As to lousy evangelical songs, one of the worst is “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship” which makes a bare mention of some guy called God. Nothing about who God is, or what God does. No Trinity or doxology. I also like “My Me Is an Awesome Me.”

  • Stephen

    SK –

    “My Me Is an Awesome Me”

    HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I was a program director at a Lutheran bible camp leading music when this one showed up. This mantra feels like we are giving God a foot massage. “Uff Duh” as the Norwegians say!

  • Stephen

    SK –

    “My Me Is an Awesome Me”

    HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I was a program director at a Lutheran bible camp leading music when this one showed up. This mantra feels like we are giving God a foot massage. “Uff Duh” as the Norwegians say!

  • trotk

    The thing that emphasizes the appropriate response to the revealing of Christ at the transfiguration is the fact that God the Father interrupted Peter while he was speaking.

    Like Stephen said, he had a noble idea (“Let’s commemorate this, like they did with stones at the Jordan!”) but God doesn’t even let him finish his statement.

    I suppose that should caution us when we see Christ manifestation, even if only in the reading of the Word and in the sacraments.
    Shut up and listen.

  • trotk

    The thing that emphasizes the appropriate response to the revealing of Christ at the transfiguration is the fact that God the Father interrupted Peter while he was speaking.

    Like Stephen said, he had a noble idea (“Let’s commemorate this, like they did with stones at the Jordan!”) but God doesn’t even let him finish his statement.

    I suppose that should caution us when we see Christ manifestation, even if only in the reading of the Word and in the sacraments.
    Shut up and listen.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I Could Repeat This Line Forever”? Come on, that’s a catchy tune! I just can never remember the words. ”

    Yes!!! So, so true!!

    “Do you think we could convince some Evangelicals that I’ve Got My Mind Set on You (made famous by George Harrison in 1987) is actually a Christian praise song? Really, check out the lyrics (and the repetition, and the emphasis on the first person — no, not of the Trinity!)”

    Hey, tODD, Table Talk Radio actually did that with some songs. They played songs and had to guess whether they were worship songs or pop/country songs. It was a hoot.

    They also have the Praise Song Cruncher game where they go over songs and analyze them.
    http://www.hope-aurora.org/docs/praisesongcruncher.pdf

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I Could Repeat This Line Forever”? Come on, that’s a catchy tune! I just can never remember the words. ”

    Yes!!! So, so true!!

    “Do you think we could convince some Evangelicals that I’ve Got My Mind Set on You (made famous by George Harrison in 1987) is actually a Christian praise song? Really, check out the lyrics (and the repetition, and the emphasis on the first person — no, not of the Trinity!)”

    Hey, tODD, Table Talk Radio actually did that with some songs. They played songs and had to guess whether they were worship songs or pop/country songs. It was a hoot.

    They also have the Praise Song Cruncher game where they go over songs and analyze them.
    http://www.hope-aurora.org/docs/praisesongcruncher.pdf

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg
  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg
  • kerner

    tODD @14:

    Perhaps you should have suggested that to Whoopie Goldberg in the ’90s. But she did make a praise song out of something by little Peggy March.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPpd-6X3tEo&feature=related

    I hope the link works. Don’t stop watching till you see the Pope rocking out.

  • kerner

    tODD @14:

    Perhaps you should have suggested that to Whoopie Goldberg in the ’90s. But she did make a praise song out of something by little Peggy March.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPpd-6X3tEo&feature=related

    I hope the link works. Don’t stop watching till you see the Pope rocking out.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    excellent posts.

    related thought:

    a “Mystery” is something hidden in plain sight biblically. An epiphany! it is the revelation of God hidden in plain sight from those who do not have the eyes of faith to see it.

    It is so not what the orthodox or roman mystics make that word out to mean.

    The Blessed Incarnation is really the ultimate Holy Mystery as herman sasse says in pastor harrison’s excellent blog post that stephen points us to.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    excellent posts.

    related thought:

    a “Mystery” is something hidden in plain sight biblically. An epiphany! it is the revelation of God hidden in plain sight from those who do not have the eyes of faith to see it.

    It is so not what the orthodox or roman mystics make that word out to mean.

    The Blessed Incarnation is really the ultimate Holy Mystery as herman sasse says in pastor harrison’s excellent blog post that stephen points us to.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “a “Mystery” is something hidden in plain sight biblically. An epiphany! it is the revelation of God hidden in plain sight from those who do not have the eyes of faith to see it.”

    Very cool idea. Thanks.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “a “Mystery” is something hidden in plain sight biblically. An epiphany! it is the revelation of God hidden in plain sight from those who do not have the eyes of faith to see it.”

    Very cool idea. Thanks.

  • kerner

    fws & sg:

    I don’t know if these qualify as “praise songs”, but I commend to you the work of Michael Card on the mystery/paradoxes of our faith:

    maybe these can be crunched, but I like them.

  • kerner

    fws & sg:

    I don’t know if these qualify as “praise songs”, but I commend to you the work of Michael Card on the mystery/paradoxes of our faith:

    maybe these can be crunched, but I like them.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SG, thanks for the link (@20). I’m not familiar with any of the “crunched” songs — I’m barely familiar with any of the artists — but I did Google some of the lyrics and, yeah, oof.

    Kerner (@21), that video … um. I’ve never seen Sister Act, but fascinatingly, while I was watching the video on my laptop, my wife piped up and asked, “Is that from Sister Act?” You can only imagine the strife this has introduced in our family now. :-P

    And now, a defense of Rich Mullins, composer of “Awesome God”. I won’t defend that particular song, of course, which causes me to lose interest the moment it starts with the painful, painful opening lines “When He rolls up His sleeves, He ain’t just puttin’ on the Ritz.” To say nothing of the repititions upon repititions of the title phrase, both sung and whisper-sung. Of course, Mullins himself had this to say about the song: “it’s one of the worst-written songs that I ever wrote; it’s just poorly crafted.” So, give him credit just for having the ability to criticize himself that way.

    But he also wrote the track that came after “Awesome God”, which is “If I Stand”. Now, the track’s not perfect lyrically — the verses are a bit opaque, referring simply to the existence of an ill-defined “more” than what we see. And there is a bit too much focus on what “I” do. Still, I always find myself moved by the first lines of the chorus:

    So if I stand let me stand on the promise
    That you will pull me through
    And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
    That first brought me to You

    Which point to God and his faithfulness (as contrasted with man’s unfaithfulness) more than most CCM I listened to back in the 80s. And, if nothing else, it’s a remarkably catchy song, and has aged much better in terms of style than most CCM from the 80s. Including “Awesome God”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SG, thanks for the link (@20). I’m not familiar with any of the “crunched” songs — I’m barely familiar with any of the artists — but I did Google some of the lyrics and, yeah, oof.

    Kerner (@21), that video … um. I’ve never seen Sister Act, but fascinatingly, while I was watching the video on my laptop, my wife piped up and asked, “Is that from Sister Act?” You can only imagine the strife this has introduced in our family now. :-P

    And now, a defense of Rich Mullins, composer of “Awesome God”. I won’t defend that particular song, of course, which causes me to lose interest the moment it starts with the painful, painful opening lines “When He rolls up His sleeves, He ain’t just puttin’ on the Ritz.” To say nothing of the repititions upon repititions of the title phrase, both sung and whisper-sung. Of course, Mullins himself had this to say about the song: “it’s one of the worst-written songs that I ever wrote; it’s just poorly crafted.” So, give him credit just for having the ability to criticize himself that way.

    But he also wrote the track that came after “Awesome God”, which is “If I Stand”. Now, the track’s not perfect lyrically — the verses are a bit opaque, referring simply to the existence of an ill-defined “more” than what we see. And there is a bit too much focus on what “I” do. Still, I always find myself moved by the first lines of the chorus:

    So if I stand let me stand on the promise
    That you will pull me through
    And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
    That first brought me to You

    Which point to God and his faithfulness (as contrasted with man’s unfaithfulness) more than most CCM I listened to back in the 80s. And, if nothing else, it’s a remarkably catchy song, and has aged much better in terms of style than most CCM from the 80s. Including “Awesome God”.

  • Stephen

    tODD

    I saw Rich Mullins years ago, almost against my will. He rocked!!! I’m not sure what was going on, but after that I understood the connection between Jerry Lee Lewis and Pentecostalism. I did buy one of his records which I have since lost. There was a song I liked that I think was called “I Cry.” I though then that if T-Bone Burnett ever got hold of that guy he could make an incredible “crossover” record.

    At the risk of being even further tangential, I have nothing against artists writing songs out of their personal faith experience. I’ve done it. Some of it can be quite meaningful and beautiful. And I am not against it being brought into worship. “Special music” done well is great! We need not be afraid of emotions per se. What bugs me is when we turn “personal testimony” into the main thing, and I think this is what we are picking on. Praise music is full of this.

    By the way, anyone ever hear Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” done to “God’s Love’s for Real” at a youth event? Little hint: that was this Texan’s doing about 20 years ago. Rock on!

  • Stephen

    tODD

    I saw Rich Mullins years ago, almost against my will. He rocked!!! I’m not sure what was going on, but after that I understood the connection between Jerry Lee Lewis and Pentecostalism. I did buy one of his records which I have since lost. There was a song I liked that I think was called “I Cry.” I though then that if T-Bone Burnett ever got hold of that guy he could make an incredible “crossover” record.

    At the risk of being even further tangential, I have nothing against artists writing songs out of their personal faith experience. I’ve done it. Some of it can be quite meaningful and beautiful. And I am not against it being brought into worship. “Special music” done well is great! We need not be afraid of emotions per se. What bugs me is when we turn “personal testimony” into the main thing, and I think this is what we are picking on. Praise music is full of this.

    By the way, anyone ever hear Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” done to “God’s Love’s for Real” at a youth event? Little hint: that was this Texan’s doing about 20 years ago. Rock on!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “What bugs me is when we turn ‘personal testimony’ into the main thing, and I think this is what we are picking on” (@26). Actually, what I was picking on was the tendency of so-called worship songs to devote most or all of their attention to me and what I do, with precious little thought given to what God has done.

    Consider popular praise band Hillsong’s “This is My Desire”, listed in SG’s “crunched” list above:

    Verse:
    This is my desire, to honor You
    Lord with all my heart, I worship You
    With all I have within me, I give You praise
    All that I adore is in You

    Chorus:
    Lord, I give You my heart
    I give You my soul
    I live for You alone
    Every breath that I take
    Every moment I’m awake
    Lord, have Your way in me

    What does this song teach us about God? Well, he’s called “Lord” and, well, he’s getting a lot of stuff from me: my worship, my praise, my adoration, my heart, my soul, my life, every breath I take, every move I make, every bond I break, every step I take, and so on. Wow, sounds like this Lord is … capable of receiving a lot of stuff from such a magnanimous guy as myself, eh?

    Of course, one can have one of two reactions while singing such a song. You can either be horrified, realizing that none of this is actually true for you (“honestly, I’m lying if I tell God I’ve given him all of my heart, and lying to God would only make things worse, wouldn’t it?”), or you can tell yourself that, if you just sing this song more sincerely, it’ll become true. Also a lie.

    I have no problem with personal experiences featuring in songs by Christians, as such, though.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “What bugs me is when we turn ‘personal testimony’ into the main thing, and I think this is what we are picking on” (@26). Actually, what I was picking on was the tendency of so-called worship songs to devote most or all of their attention to me and what I do, with precious little thought given to what God has done.

    Consider popular praise band Hillsong’s “This is My Desire”, listed in SG’s “crunched” list above:

    Verse:
    This is my desire, to honor You
    Lord with all my heart, I worship You
    With all I have within me, I give You praise
    All that I adore is in You

    Chorus:
    Lord, I give You my heart
    I give You my soul
    I live for You alone
    Every breath that I take
    Every moment I’m awake
    Lord, have Your way in me

    What does this song teach us about God? Well, he’s called “Lord” and, well, he’s getting a lot of stuff from me: my worship, my praise, my adoration, my heart, my soul, my life, every breath I take, every move I make, every bond I break, every step I take, and so on. Wow, sounds like this Lord is … capable of receiving a lot of stuff from such a magnanimous guy as myself, eh?

    Of course, one can have one of two reactions while singing such a song. You can either be horrified, realizing that none of this is actually true for you (“honestly, I’m lying if I tell God I’ve given him all of my heart, and lying to God would only make things worse, wouldn’t it?”), or you can tell yourself that, if you just sing this song more sincerely, it’ll become true. Also a lie.

    I have no problem with personal experiences featuring in songs by Christians, as such, though.

  • Stephen

    tODD

    Once again, you are more spot-on than me. That is a great theological observation regarding the “lie” inherent in such a lyric. All of it seems to be wrapped up in the same problem – the emPHAsis is on the wrong sylLAble as it were – on the believer and not on the one believed. I have been to services where it feels like we have not worshiped anyone other than the people there in attendance – their stories and their works. It is some kind of faux (and not very good) entertainment being disguised as worship. As a friend of mine said who is Lutheran, when he found himself in a non-denominational service singing one of these songs filled with “I, I, I, I, I,” he decided that “I” was not going to sing. Good choice. As Tom Hering is fond of saying, “It is never good to go against one’s conscience.”

  • Stephen

    tODD

    Once again, you are more spot-on than me. That is a great theological observation regarding the “lie” inherent in such a lyric. All of it seems to be wrapped up in the same problem – the emPHAsis is on the wrong sylLAble as it were – on the believer and not on the one believed. I have been to services where it feels like we have not worshiped anyone other than the people there in attendance – their stories and their works. It is some kind of faux (and not very good) entertainment being disguised as worship. As a friend of mine said who is Lutheran, when he found himself in a non-denominational service singing one of these songs filled with “I, I, I, I, I,” he decided that “I” was not going to sing. Good choice. As Tom Hering is fond of saying, “It is never good to go against one’s conscience.”

  • kerner

    I join tODD in defense of the late Rich Mullins. I once purchased a cd of his album “A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band”, and I liked quite a bit of it. “In America” remains one of my favorite songs, even though it’s more of a plain old song sung by a Christian than a worship song. “Hold Me, Jesus” has Law and Gospel in it, with its refrain:

    Hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf.
    You have been king of my glory.
    Won’t you be my Prince of Peace?

    I also like “Creed”

    http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Tpq4MoRVV4

    Whatever you may think of the music, its hard to argue with the lyrics of “Creed”. Of course, Rich Mullins didn’t write most of them.

    So, um, tODD, you mean you didn’t like Whoopie’s praise music? Don’t be such a stick in the mud. I mean, who needs the mass when we can sing 50′s girl group songs in church. ;) (I’m kidding…JUST KIDDING!)

    Still, when I saw the movie, I had to love one of Maggie Smith’s lines (her character threatened to step down as mother superior before Whoopie won her over):

    “This has turned into a revival and I seem to have misplaced my tamboureen.”

    I find myself sympathizing with her more now than I did then.

  • kerner

    I join tODD in defense of the late Rich Mullins. I once purchased a cd of his album “A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band”, and I liked quite a bit of it. “In America” remains one of my favorite songs, even though it’s more of a plain old song sung by a Christian than a worship song. “Hold Me, Jesus” has Law and Gospel in it, with its refrain:

    Hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf.
    You have been king of my glory.
    Won’t you be my Prince of Peace?

    I also like “Creed”

    http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Tpq4MoRVV4

    Whatever you may think of the music, its hard to argue with the lyrics of “Creed”. Of course, Rich Mullins didn’t write most of them.

    So, um, tODD, you mean you didn’t like Whoopie’s praise music? Don’t be such a stick in the mud. I mean, who needs the mass when we can sing 50′s girl group songs in church. ;) (I’m kidding…JUST KIDDING!)

    Still, when I saw the movie, I had to love one of Maggie Smith’s lines (her character threatened to step down as mother superior before Whoopie won her over):

    “This has turned into a revival and I seem to have misplaced my tamboureen.”

    I find myself sympathizing with her more now than I did then.

  • kerner

    oops.

    Creed:

    see tODD, you taught me how to make blockquotes, but I still screw up posting links.

  • kerner

    oops.

    Creed:

    see tODD, you taught me how to make blockquotes, but I still screw up posting links.

  • Stephen

    I had a brain flat on the highway of memory. It was Russ Taff I saw! My apologies to all you Mullins fans. It was in about 1990. I truly thought that guy could have been a rock and roll star. Anyway, I have had many illuminating moments related to music and art, and many of them nowhere near a church. Being an artist myself, I will also say that the “success” of creating a work, that moment when it comes together is itself a kind of epiphany when something “shines out” and is given in the task of creating. It might be that moment when things are “just so” and you realize it is time to set the brush down or stop working on a piece. Somehow, the work has arrived. It’s a marvelous thing and it is best when it seems like a gift, even when you toil for months.

  • Stephen

    I had a brain flat on the highway of memory. It was Russ Taff I saw! My apologies to all you Mullins fans. It was in about 1990. I truly thought that guy could have been a rock and roll star. Anyway, I have had many illuminating moments related to music and art, and many of them nowhere near a church. Being an artist myself, I will also say that the “success” of creating a work, that moment when it comes together is itself a kind of epiphany when something “shines out” and is given in the task of creating. It might be that moment when things are “just so” and you realize it is time to set the brush down or stop working on a piece. Somehow, the work has arrived. It’s a marvelous thing and it is best when it seems like a gift, even when you toil for months.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    stephen @ 31

    amazing. absolutely amazing. I wonder if other artists experience this the same way?

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    stephen @ 31

    amazing. absolutely amazing. I wonder if other artists experience this the same way?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Stephen (@31), another similarity! I saw Russ Taff in about 1990, too. In Dallas, at the Bronco Bowl, I think. It was the only time I ever saw him in concert, and one of the first concerts I ever went to. In fact, I have more Russ Taff albums than Rich Mullins ones, though not by much (I have Taff’s Russ Taff, but I only own one Mullins MP3). I used to own more of Taff’s stuff, but over time, it either lost its 80s-era-CCM sheen or I lost the album because it was in cassette form.

    And though my wife still mocks me a bit for not only owning but enjoying a Russ Taff album, I agree with you, he could have been a rock ‘n’ roll star, and that album (alone?) proves it. But he chose to go down the cheesy path so common to CCM stars, especially those who run in the TBN circles.

    To me, the best song he ever sang was “I Still Believe”. It was only somewhat recently that I learned that’s a cover of the song by The Call. Had I known that at the time, I would have done the CCM thing and shunned Taff forever for appropriating a secular (i.e. satanic) band’s tune. Now I see it was a surpisingly bold move. Anyhow, Taff totally busts a vein singing at the top of his lungs on that one, and it still gives me shivers (even if the lyrics are not at all inspirational or inspired, which you’d expect given the song’s source and Taff’s apparent “praise” theology). His song “Shake” is also really funky. I mean, in context, right?

    And now I have talked more about Russ Taff than even I expected, and likely more than anyone wanted to hear.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Stephen (@31), another similarity! I saw Russ Taff in about 1990, too. In Dallas, at the Bronco Bowl, I think. It was the only time I ever saw him in concert, and one of the first concerts I ever went to. In fact, I have more Russ Taff albums than Rich Mullins ones, though not by much (I have Taff’s Russ Taff, but I only own one Mullins MP3). I used to own more of Taff’s stuff, but over time, it either lost its 80s-era-CCM sheen or I lost the album because it was in cassette form.

    And though my wife still mocks me a bit for not only owning but enjoying a Russ Taff album, I agree with you, he could have been a rock ‘n’ roll star, and that album (alone?) proves it. But he chose to go down the cheesy path so common to CCM stars, especially those who run in the TBN circles.

    To me, the best song he ever sang was “I Still Believe”. It was only somewhat recently that I learned that’s a cover of the song by The Call. Had I known that at the time, I would have done the CCM thing and shunned Taff forever for appropriating a secular (i.e. satanic) band’s tune. Now I see it was a surpisingly bold move. Anyhow, Taff totally busts a vein singing at the top of his lungs on that one, and it still gives me shivers (even if the lyrics are not at all inspirational or inspired, which you’d expect given the song’s source and Taff’s apparent “praise” theology). His song “Shake” is also really funky. I mean, in context, right?

    And now I have talked more about Russ Taff than even I expected, and likely more than anyone wanted to hear.

  • Stephen

    I actually learned that tune “I Cry” but forgot it, and just found it last night on iTunes. It would have been better with another producer (like T-Bone). But when I heard that record, which was my first exposure to him and that whole CCM thing really, I thought “this guy is actually great. He just needs a producer.” Anyway, he put on a show, totally rocked. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was in a little “Christian” nightclub sort of place in Minneapolis. A girlfriend at the time took me there. There was sweating and feedback and falling on the floor. I almost expected some snake handling. He held nothing back. Pure love for it, whatever it was – music, proclamation – it was all one thing it seemed. Music as sacrament, or something like that.

  • Stephen

    I actually learned that tune “I Cry” but forgot it, and just found it last night on iTunes. It would have been better with another producer (like T-Bone). But when I heard that record, which was my first exposure to him and that whole CCM thing really, I thought “this guy is actually great. He just needs a producer.” Anyway, he put on a show, totally rocked. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was in a little “Christian” nightclub sort of place in Minneapolis. A girlfriend at the time took me there. There was sweating and feedback and falling on the floor. I almost expected some snake handling. He held nothing back. Pure love for it, whatever it was – music, proclamation – it was all one thing it seemed. Music as sacrament, or something like that.

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