Monday, June 12, 2006

Reader Review: Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures / New Testament - Why Not Sea Monsters?

One of Zooglobble's West Coast readers, Katy, was inspired by my review of the two Why Not Sea Monsters? albums (featuring Justin Roberts and Liam Davis) to provide her own view of the albums. Her spiritual background (much stronger than mine, as you'll see) makes for a slightly different perspective on the disks. And while I don't envision making reader reviews a common occurrence here (though y'all are welcome to do so in the comments), I thought this review merited its own post.


As a minister in the United Church of Christ as well as mother to two girls (5 and 7 ½) who are big Justin Roberts fans, I wasn’t sure at first what to make of these scripture-based CDs. Until I listened to them. And then I was completely sold. First off, I should confess that I describe myself as a liberal/progressive Christian (yes, we do exist!), so it’s hard for folks like me to find scripture-based material that’s fun to listen to and at the same time consistent with the message we want to teach our kids. As a rule, I tend to be leery of contemporary Christian music because I find it is often poorly done musically, or it’s bad theology, or both. With a Master’s Degree from University of Chicago Divinity School (the “Harvard” of U.S. theological schools), Justin Roberts has done his homework here. His music makes the texts accessible and theologically sound to my way of hearing, without dumbing them down.

I find the Hebrew Scriptures CD is somewhat more enjoyable than the New Testament. I tend to turn toward this CD more often, but more because of the music than the texts they’re based upon. I love his take on the story of Noah’s Ark on “Make That Two.” And the lyrics to “No Spring Chicken,” in reference to the story of Abraham, are beautiful (“But love is longer than the Nile/lift your eyes to the stars above/And watch them as they burst and bloom with love.”). Finally, his and Liam Davis’s version of Craig Wright’s song, “Where Were You?” from the Book of Job, is stunning. It always sends chills down my spine. Having said that, I find the line, “Imagine towers wreathed with smoke” jarring because I can’t help thinking of 9/11. Still, the overall mood of the song more than makes up for that one line.

As for the New Testament CD, it contains so many of my favorite gospel stories that emphasize Jesus’ message of love and inclusion, that I really like it too (the Prodigal Son in “Now You’re Back,” the Banquet of Heaven in “Guess Who’s”, the Good Samaritan in “Not Today”). There’s also the story of Zacchaeus in “What’s He Doing Up There?” As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been ‘persona non grata’ in the culture of the time since he served the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Jesus sees his faith and invites him to a meal, which completely challenged contemporary views on socially acceptable behavior (Jesus did a lot of that). I also really love “Shh Shh Shh”, about Mary and Martha, and “Rub-a-dub-a-dub-dub.” I never would have thought to put the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet to a reggae beat with a kazoo orchestra—but it totally works. Roberts and Davis infuse all these stories with so much new life and humor that I hear them in a whole new way. That’s no small task. And I really appreciate the inclusion of biblical women in both CDs (Lydia, Ruth, Mary and Martha, Sarah, etc.).

Another benefit of these CDs is that they have led my daughters to ask me, on many occasions, “Mommy, tell me about this story…” As a result of these CDs, we have had many more discussions about God’s love, serving the poor, including people who are often left out, etc., than we would have otherwise. It’s really nice to have some good music between Sundays to back up the values we want to live by as a family. I will definitely be using these CDs in our Sunday School program, and I am telling friends and colleagues in other churches about them too.

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