ON THE WAY. By Sara Kay. www.reverbnation.com/sarakay, 2011. (Recording)
When I was a teenager, many decades back, Jesus music became the musical staple of my life. At the time it was deemed appropriate by my spiritual leaders that I move from listening to secular music to Christian music. The former was considered unspiritual and damaging to my fragile soul, and so I began to collect all kinds of Christian music, from Larry Norman to Barry McGuire. The theological tenor of much of this music was not just fundamentalist, but apocalyptic. McGuire’s protest song “Eve of Destruction” ceased being a response to Vietnam and took on prophetic tones regarding the end times and of course Norman sang about “Only Visiting this Planet.” This was back in the mid and late 1970s, before Christian music had achieved commercial success with crossover singers such as Amy Grant.
The “Christian Music” only phase lasted only a few years, if that, and before long I was exchanging Love Song for Neil Young. Besides that, my theology had begun to change and the old Jesus Music no longer fit well with where I was at that moment. Progressive theology, however, didn’t seem very adept at inspiring spiritually attuned music (which is why much of the contemporary music in our churches remains Maranatha and Vineyard inspired), and so I found my music outside the religious sphere. That situation has begun to change, as more progressive and theologically adept singer/song writers have begun to emerge. Earlier I discovered Carrie Newcomer and now I have been introduced to Sara Kay, who like Newcomer has a gentle folk style to her music.
Using this folk styling, Sara Kay shares songs that she has written (lyrics co-written with Brian Brandsmeier), accompanying herself largely on piano (with support on piano, bass and guitar by Jesse Klosterboer). As is true generally of folk music, this is an album that is easy to listen to without it becoming easy listening music (elevatorish). And, like other folk singers, the message is important. The lyrics of the songs, which display the theological influences of Open Theism and Process Theology (the “steak and potatoes” of the album), as well as scripture (Song of Mary is based on the Magnficat while several songs look to the Psalms for inspiration). They speak to central theological issues such as the resurrection and important social justice issues as well (you won’t find any Jesus is my boyfriend songs on the album). To give a sense of the in breadth of influences, Sara Kay gives recognition to Peter Rollins for inspiring her song “Resurrection,” which affirms the power of the resurrection in ways that are traditional and yet untraditional, and “Eve’s Song” is influenced by Harold Kushner, a Jewish Rabbi known for his book Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People. Brian McLaren is thanked for challenging spiritual songwriters to share their message.
To get a sense of her message consider these words from the song “Resurrection:”
I believe in the Resurrection
And I affirm that it is real
Every time I stand my ground
For all those who’ve been trodden down
Every time I voice concern
For those not able to be heard
Every time tears flood my eyes
For those who’ve no tears left to cry
Jesus lives in me.
The affirmation of resurrection isn’t otherworldly, but focused on the witness on earth on behalf of those who have been trodden down, suffer, and grieve. It’s not an evacuation plan theology, but one seeking to share the message of transformation of this world.
Or consider these words from “Eve’s Song,” which offers a different take on the Genesis 3 story. Maybe our focus on sin and rebellion isn’t the best approach. Instead, it is an invitation to take a risk, to move out of the safety of the garden to discover the possibilities of growth.
Come take a bite with me
Step into humanity
Journey past naiveté
To awareness not known previously
Oh, Come, come, come.
Come on evolve with me.
It is good to have musicians/songwriters who are able to take difficult theological ideas and bring them to life musically. Sara is both songwriter and musician, who understands the power of music to communicate and express faith. The style is folk, a style that has been with us for decades, but it is also a style that remains current, and especially appropriate for the sharing the message of Christian faith. Besides there is a gentleness that is inherent in folk music that fits well with the humility and gracious beauty of these songs. To listen to these songs will lead to spiritual blessing and thoughtfulness as well.