Light – Part 9: You Are the Way

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

When Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life, I think (and I’m not the only one) that he meant something beyond “I am the way to get to heaven” and such. A handful of people have pointed out that when he says “I am the way”, he might mean that his method of life is the best way to live.

I like that, so I wrote a song about it. This past weekend, when our church’s pastor was preaching on imitating Christ, it seemed only fitting to share this song, “You Are the Way“, since that’s exactly what it’s about. (But no, I didn’t just write it. It was written years ago.)

This song is a promise and a prayer all wrapped into one. I want Christ to live in me so that I can do a better job of loving my neighbor the way that He would like me to, and it’s a promise to do that, as well, to “lift my neighbor up off the ground”.

When you really mean that, I suppose it’s a hard song to sing, but I think it’s fun to do it anyway.

You Are the Way

I want to do the things you do
I want to pray the things you’d pray
I want to love whoever You love
I want your truth, your life, your way

You are the way I want to follow
You are the truth I want to believe
You are the life I need inside me
Jesus, won’t you put your love in me

I want to know forgiveness
I want to spread it all around
I want my heart to be just like yours
I want my life to make a joyful sound
The same melody they heard when you were around
I want to lift my neighbor up off the ground
I want to show all the lost that they are finally found

©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 8: Do Justice

This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

I am intensely proud of two of my siblings in particular. My oldest brother John, was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest just about a year and a half ago, after a very interesting and long journey, and my oldest sister Julie, a year before that or so, was ordained in the United Church of Christ. Both serve their churches very well and are an inspiration to anyone who might consider switching careers to ministry in mid-life.

John, you’ll get your song someday I’m sure, but Julie inspired me with her life-verse and I wrote a song based on it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready for her ordination, but she’s had the opportunity to hear it live a few times, and now it’s been recorded for her (and you) to enjoy anytime.

Do Justice” is based on the passages about justice in the book of Micah, and the chorus expounds on Micah 6:8 in particular. Most people when they choose a “life verse” seem to focus on some promise of God and his peace or love, and there’s nothing wrong with that…

But people like Julie pick a verse to guide their lives that is all about loving and serving and seeking justice for those around her, especially those most put down and disenfranchised. Would that we all thought like that…?

Do Justice

Come on, let’s climb up God’s mountain
Come on, there is peace to be won
Come on, the whole world is crying out.
The God of the Armies of Heaven is calling

Come on, trade your hate for compassion
Come on, trade your violence for love
Come on, beat your swords into plowshares
The God of the Armies of Heaven is calling

Do justice for every woman and man
Bring mercy from Heaven and transform the land
We’ll walk humbly, and stretch out our tiny hands
And follow the heart of the One Who made us

Alleluia,
Alleluia,
Alleluia,
There’s no god like You, God

©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 7: God of Light

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

“God is Light”. That’s right. There is nothing dark or evil or bad or wrong in him. Nothing but light. I love how John, in his letters and Gospel, tells us this over and over in so many different ways.

I didn’t have any grand scheme, but boy oh boy, “God of Light” was a hard song to write. That happens sometimes when you start with a concept instead of a lyrical or musical hook. I wanted to write a song about the Light of God, and I ran through a bunch of choruses before I had anything I even remotely liked, and two different recorded arrangements.

Was it worth it? I hope so.

God of Light

In the silence
You spoke a word
In the emptiness
Our hearts are stirred
In the chaos of our hearts
In the longing of everything we are

You are light, you’re the God of light
You are hope and you are life
You are light, Shine your light
You are our hope and you are our life
You bring radiance to our darkness
You bring vision to our blindness
You bring healing to our sickness
You are the God of brilliant eternal miraculous light

In our loneliness
You bring your love
In the sadness
You bring us joy
In the aching of our souls to find the way
In the black of night, you bring a brand new day

©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 6: All So Lost

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

Ephesians in chapter two tells us that we “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

I think you need the “bad news” part of the story that tells us that we are lost, strangers, aliens, outcasts to really appreciate the “good news” that we’ve been brought near, we have been found (we didn’t “find” ourselves), we are known, we belong, we are part of the family. And that is the very short journey I hope that this song, “All So Lost“, takes you on.

An interesting thing about the song structure that you may notice here is that there isn’t really a verse/chorus/bridge or what have you framework, but rather just sections that simply tell the story and move on.

This song tumbled out of my brain in literally a few seconds as I was on my way to work one day, and I struggled to get it written down quickly at the piano. And for those who care about such things, it’s my favorite song in the collection.

It’s been pointed out to me that it’s too short. Well, I guess I just wanted to leave the listener wanting more. More good news, more redemption, more grace, more mercy.

All So Lost

We are all so lost
We are all so lost
We are all so lost
Lost and lonely

So cry out and sing
So cry out and sing

Sing out and he will find us
Cry out and he will heal us

We have all been found
We have all been found
We have all been found
No longer strangers

So cry out and sing
So cry out and sing

Sing out, his love has found us
Cry out, his love has seen us
Sing out, his love surrounds us
Cry out, his love he has freed us
Sing out, his love, he gives us

Cry out, his love won’t miss us
Sing out, his favor lives on us
Cry out, our God is with us

 ©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 5: Anointed One

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

Anointed One” is supposed to be offensive. Yeah… I know… right? I was thinking of making it speed metal or something, but decided you wouldn’t even bother listening then. But I very intentionally crafted the song to basically sing, as worship, the meaning of the word “Christ”… and yet without using the word “Christ”. Very tricky. I hope I succeeded, not only in talking about who Christ is (the one we will follow, the anointed one) but what our response is (nothing else holds our heart, and we will do what Christ commands).

I’m reminded every time I read “Christ” in the Bible, that it offended everybody every time it was spoken of as Jesus’ title. It is not his last name.

The idea of “Christos” is that of an anointed one. To the Romans, this would be a term, “Lord” basically, that only applied to the Emperor. To the Jews, it was a reminder, every time it was spoken, of the early followers of the Way and their insistence that Jesus was, in fact, the fulfillment of every Messianic prophecy in the Scriptures.

The word continues to offend, today, if we mean it.

The use of this word also connotes that I do not swear allegiance to a country, king or ruler on this Earth. That my only allegiance, my only devotion and my only service, is to God, and to God alone. If I pledge allegiance to my flag or country, it is only second, and FAR second, to my allegiance to God and his Great News.

If you find that offensive because I’m supposed to be true-blue American or whatever… I think I will politely decline to apologize for it.

Anointed One

O Anointed One, we will follow you
You’re the one who is faithful, the one who is true
We’ll do everything that you told us to
O Anointed One, we will follow you

No man, no woman
No promise or no earthly hope
Can ever hold my heart
Will ever keep my heart

No king, no country
No beauty or no angel
Can ever hold my heart
Will ever keep my heart

 ©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 4: I Give You My Heart

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

Surrender is a too-often neglected subject in Christian thought in the 21st century, and that’s why I tend to gravitate towards songs of surrender. Indeed, years ago I wrote this one, “I Give You My Heart,” as an extra chorus for “I Surrender All”. When I recorded it, finally, after years of singing it in churches, I was going to actually record “I Surrender All” and simply add this chorus to it, but thought better of it.

In a world where every best-selling Christian book and so many of the songs on the radio seem to celebrate God as a cosmic vending machine, I wanted to center more on the idea that there is no worship without surrender (Romans 12 anybody?).

I tried to keep the arrangement simple and honest and quiet, which is harder than doing something really upbeat and loud if you can believe it. It’s designed to be like one of the songs from Taizé. You can sing it over and over as a mantra if you wish.

I Give You My Heart

I give you my heart
I give you my heart
Jesus, my savior
I give you my heart

 ©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 3: Every Word You Say

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

The third song is called “Every Word You Say“, and I wrote it shortly after that Scripture had come to my attention again because we had just done a very old song based on it for a special at church (if I recall correctly, because it was the psalm of the day).

The whole concept of God’s word being a light that shines only on our feet and where we are right now and where we are, perhaps, about to step, is one that is stuck with me for years as I’ve read this psalm. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible, and it’s devoted to the wonder and majesty of God’s written revelation to man, what we call the Bible, or the Christian Scriptures.

Regardless of what different Christians believe about the Bible, throwing around often misunderstood and sometimes misused words like “inerrancy“, “inspiration”, “authority” and others, even the most progressive of us agree that the Bible is an amazing record, an amazing book, and would probably not hesitate to say it’s “inspired” in some way or another, and the most conservative of us would have to agree that it is mysterious and strange and “other” in ways that we will never understand on this side of heaven.

So, when writing a song about the Bible as the lamp that shines our way, I simply took ideas from that amazing and long psalm, incorporating, as it does, the very tangible idea that God’s word changes us, molds and shapes us, and opens us up in entirely new ways… if we allow it…

Every Word You Say (Ps 119)

Every word you say, is a light that shines our way
And in everything we do, we want to give our lives to you
Every single breath, from our first day till our death
Gives us hope that makes us new
And so we give our hearts, we give our hearts to you.

Joy for the ones whose blame is taken away
Joy for the ones who look for the steadfast way
Peace to the ones who look for you
Your mercy and love make us all brand new

Open our eyes, and help us to always see
The wonders you make, and promises you keep
Show your power and love
Like nothing we’ve seen, Don’t let our hearts melt away
Revive us and make us clean

 ©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 2: Hope

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I decided to take a moment, for those who are interested, to dig a little further into the songs from LIGHT.

This second song, “Hope“, was incredibly hard to write. I had the idea for a few lines in the verse and the chorus for years and years before I managed to “find” the rest of the song. It’s the only song on “LIGHT” that is really not designed for congregational worship, too.

Whether or not you think there was a literal Jonah and the whale event, it is amazing someone as flawed and as hateful (and racist, when you think about it) as Jonah would compose a poem and a prayer like chapter 2 of the biblical book which bears his name.

I’ve been blessed to experience the hope of God’s promise in the midst of some pretty significant challenges in my life, but nothing like the despair of certain death that is told in Jonah’s story, and nothing like the despair that so many in this world have experienced and continue to experience.

So, for those who have been in a situation where it only makes sense to totally give up… and who still trusted God… “Hope” is for you.

Hope (Jonah 2)

I went down to the countries that were underneath the earth
I went back to try to find the people of my birth
At the roots of the mountains I got lost
At the center of despair I turned to dust
But then… just then… guess what…

Hope rears His lovely head.
He’s here among the living,
His strong arm has saved.
Hope rears His lovely head.
My life has been restored again,
And I am not afraid.

I went back to the lost and lonely people from the past.
I went down to try to find a hope that would last.
I’ve been three days here in this place
Desperate, I can’t see your face.
But then… just then… guess what…

But can you find a way
To reach through this darkness
‘Cause I can’t get home.
Can’t you reach down here
And fix my broken heart amidst these
Cold dead stones
Roll away the stone…

©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved.

You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 1: Come Thou Fount

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I decided to take a moment, for those who are interested, to dig a little further into the songs from LIGHT.

The first song, Come Thou Fount, is one of my two or three favorite hymns, and the only song in this collection that I didn’t write the music for (except the “I Surrender All” chorus for “I Give You My Heart” of course). Interestingly enough, the first time I heard it wasn’t as a child, but in a very traditional Episcopal worship service in the very early 80s, after I was a grown-up. I remember being floored by the line “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” I would think for most of us that’s a regular thing. And if it isn’t, then you’re seriously missing out.

“Ebenezer”, by the way, is a stone of help, not just a character from Dickens. Imagine setting up some kind of regular memorial in your home or your life that reminds you of God’s help and faithfulness, in the context of the song, perhaps despite our unfaithfulness and failings. I think for the writer of the lyric, the song itself was an Ebenezer. I know it works that way for me.

I recorded the song almost entirely acoustic (with my trusty old Wechter Pathmaker), and then added a BUNCH of electric guitars. That version was glorious, but ultimately not what I ended up with, because I think that the beauty of an acoustic guitar is hard to top. I added a little hammered dulcimer sound, because Rich Mullins would have loved that I did a hymn. He didn’t think we sang them enough, and he was a huge influence on my writing and my faith. And if you notice, the time signature is off. It’s 5/4 time, and now when I do this song at church, I have a hard time NOT doing it in that wacky time signature. It just feels right. Stephen Delopoulos would love it.

I played with the lyrics just a teeny-tiny bit here, but I don’t think I changed the meaning.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Words: Ro­bert Ro­bin­son, 1758; Arrangement ©2015 Peter J. Hamm

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of God’s unchanging love 

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I’m come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed his precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above

You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

My Favorites

As many of you know, I’m a songwriter. Not a successful or professional one, but a serious one nonetheless. Interesting that two of my favorite musicians ever (both in my top 5, both having spent years in my “top one” at some point), and two of the biggest songwriting influences on me were born in the same month of the same year (May 1945), and in the past couple years, both of them have published biographies, which I just read one after the other.

Peter Townshend is the person who made me want to play guitar, as I discovered him in my early teens, and made me want to write songs. Honestly, I still love the sound he made with his guitar in the 70s better than any other… ever… If you pay attention, you’ll see his influence all over my guitar playing and songwriting. His book tells the story of a man who has made every mistake imaginable, paid for it, and seems happy in spite of all that, notwithstanding all the loved ones he’s lost over just under 70 years. And his book made me thankful that I never had his career, honestly.

Bruce Cockburn is the guy who made me want to keep writing seriously, as I discovered him in my late teens. He made me want to care about other people more than I did, and influenced my playing in a whole different direction. He also made just about every mistake imaginable, and reading his memoir made me think that maybe I was lucky not to be him, too. I’m saddened that he seems to have really lost his faith, and wonder if experiences like his might have done that to me…

So… my favorite life…? Still mine. I’m still with the wife of my youth and neither of those guys’ first marriages endured. I don’t look back on tons of regrets (yeah, I’ve got a few, so do you), and in general, I really like my life just the way it is.

So yeah… this… right here… this is my favorite.

 

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