Your Star Doesn’t Even Come Close

His smooth tone feeds you feels
Sugar rushes, belly butterflies
And a heaven
Where you are night, and his eyes, stars

So when his gaze falls, your world wobbles
Glorious twinkles, violent flames, you’re there
Scorched when he scowls
And dimmed by him downcast

So when he wanes, you’ll wither
Be dying satellite, drifting in space
Till you’re drawn to another sun
Dependent orbit, all over again

But you want a better star
You need no fail, no light fades
You crave bright, steady and sure, no supernova stories
That’s God, your star doesn’t even come close

Ikenna Nwachukwu
© 2019

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Death and the Imago Dei

God says
I AM; space
shape-shifts on
His constancy
swinging and swerving in
and out, like flames
lit, waned, relit
by undying hands

Existence is
His filling , pouring
His infinite into
finiteness, a
creating, a
gaining fade, a death
process climaxed on
a Roman cross

His dying is living
life, is glorious
process played out
In moulding perfect
man, with His blood and body for
water and clay, art
and sacrifice, creation’s
true portrait

Ikenna Nwachukwu
© 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: FEAR NO MORE by THE AFTERS

Album: The Beginning and Everything After

Release Date: October 19, 2018

Record Label: Fair Trade Services

Reviewer: Ikenna Nwachukwu

 

Christian music band The Afters released their latest album, The Beginning and Everything After in 2018. The album, a tribute to over ten decades of often brilliant melodies from the group of four, includes some of their most loved and widely played songs. It also features new material: two songs, Well Done and Fear No More.

At the time of this review, ‘Well Done’ charts within the top 30 of Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs, and has received regular airplay in the US for weeks. But Fear No More seems to be just as popular with fans who have heard it. That’s because it ticks a lot of boxes: a perennially relevant message of trust in God, delivered in easy lyrics, and with a nice contemporary tune.

Perhaps we might wonder a bit about the regularity with which ‘songs of hope’ are churned out in our times; maybe there’s already plenty of them playing on our stereos. But it could be a sign of the times, a response to the abundance of troubling news and perplexed hearts in our day. The Afters seem to have intended Fear No More to be “an anthem for trusting God.”

Josh Havens, the band’s lead singer, has made this point in interviews he’s had about the song.

“We wanted to write songs that you could proclaim over your life,” Josh explains about Fear No More, “[we wanted to write] an anthem for not living in fear, and fear no more came out of this”

The Afters Picture

The Afters

 

The Song: A Contemporary Anthem

The song itself does sound like a modern anthem, or at least a hymn written in contemporary language. And the melody in which it’s wrapped helps its delivery as well: a good dose of percussive beats adds some auditory weight to its general tune. All of these are brought together in a way that makes the song easy to sing along to, and lets the crux of it get to the listener as they do so.

If you’ve felt through the lyrics, you’ll probably detect a blend of a proclaimed trust in God and a boldness in the face of troubles, as these lines from the second stanza portray:

 

I will lift my eyes,

I will lift my cares

Lay them in your hands

I’ll leave them there

When the winds and waves are coming, you shelter me

Even though I’m in the storm, the storm is not in me

 

These lines are a fine description of the kind of faith and confidence which Christians all over the world seek to have. This perhaps explains why Fear No More has become popular with many. It’s a song with a call to that ideal, and they’re singing and praying it in increasing numbers.

 

The Story Behind the Song

Josh Havens admits that he’s long struggled with anxiety. He says that his battle with this, as well as other issues he and his band members have faced, motivated them to write the song.

“It was really bad fourteen years ago when I lost my dad,” Josh says, referring to his anxiety. “And Jordan (a band member) said he related to it.”

Jordan- that’s Jordan Mohilowski, the band’s drummer -also says he’s had to deal with intense anxiety.

“I remember when we were in the studio together, and just felt it (anxiety) so deep,” he recalls. “I had a child on the way, and all the unknown things that go on with that… I remember Josh encouraging me, and I remember us just saying ‘let’s write a sing that’s an anthem against anxiety.'”

And out of those discussions and honest sessions, Fear No More was birthed.

The Afters working on new music

The Afters working on new music

 

Reception and Performance

Since its release, Fear No More has gained significant traction. In four months, its lyrics video on YouTube has had over a million views. While current airplay focuses on The Afters’ other new song, Well Done, this reviewer expects Fear No More to do at least just as well as on the charts.

Beyond video views and charts, it’s the encouragement preached by the song that makes it such a great piece of art. It reminds us that our fears are defeated when we fully trust in God. He alone is the source of true, lasting confidence, and eternal victory.

MUSIC REVIEW: JOY by FOR KING & COUNTRY

Album: Burn the Ships
 
Release Date: 18 May, 2018

Genre: Christian Contemporary Music/ Christian pop

Record Label: Curb/Word Entertainment
 
Reviewer: Ikenna Nwachukwu
 
I struggle to keep a straight face while casting myself as an unbiased commentator on For King & Country’s Joy. I’m a fan! How do I try my hands at stabbing and slicing up this piece of melodic goodness?
 
Unless you’re a die-hard hymns-only fella who doesn’t fancy contemporary Christian music (and that’s fine), you’ll almost certainly find yourself bopping your head to the beat of this song. The more careful listener will warm up to its simple, brilliant and powerful lyrics. It’s not your regular stereotypical cliché stuffed Gospel song (For King & Country aren’t in that business), so you’re unlikely to get bored by it after just a couple of replays.
 
Now that I’m done with gushing, let’s see about having a proper music review.
 
Joy
Australian-American band For King & Country released Joy as a single in May 2018, as a foretaste of the band’s then upcoming album, Burn the Ships (the third they’ve produced thus far). Like the rest of the album, Joy draws on the everyday experience of our lives, and speaks of a hope beyond the troubles we face- a hope we should embrace.
 
Band members Joel and Luke Smallbone are keen to point out that Joy is a call to the faithful to defy the turmoil and uncertainty around them by choosing joy. They say they’re presenting an alternative to fretting and pessimism (perhaps even animousity) as reactions to the turbulent state of the world’s environment, politics, societies and the personal problems that besiege our individual lives.
 
As you’d expect of a well thought out song (more on this shortly), the message is kept afloat by the melody. Its rhythm and beat make it very danceable- and joy inspiring. It’s essentially an encouragement to rejoice in the face of trials and tribulations, wrapped in an exotic, almost festive sound that makes its optimistic content even more attractive.
 
The lyrics of this piece of music also hint at the source of the circumstance-defying joy that it invites us to. The bridge does justice to this, albeit in a covert way characteristic of much of contemporary Christian music:
 

“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of night

Oh with you by my side, I’m stepping into the light

I choose joy!”

 
My take on Joy as a work of art is that it’s expertly created. And when you realize that it took six months and more than 80 rewrites to come up with the current 3:53 minute version on the album, you appreciate the effort put in by the Smallbones and their co-writers to craft a sweet summon to joy for a world that sorely needs it.
 
The Story Behind the Song



Luke Smallbone has explained that the idea for Joy cropped up two years ago, while the band was having a discussion about what their next album would be. The discussion soon tended in the direction of encouraging people to be joyful in spite of the troubles they were facing.
 
“There’s a lot going on these days,” he said, in a video about the song, “and I think it’s really important for us to be people that have joy in our lives, no matter the circumstance.”
 
They finally decided on Joy as a theme when a friend also spoke to them of his strong belief that the world needed to hear the message.
 
The Music Video
The music video for Joy was also released in May. The mostly black-and-white video portrays a 1960s newsroom, and features Joel and Luke Smallbone, and Candace Cameron Bure, a well known TV personality in the US.
 
In the video (which starts off with Joel and Bure relaying news of a mega storm sweeping across the USA), Joel and Luke spread the talk of joy as they walk through the station’s premises. Eventually, their black-and-white environment turns polychrome as they lead the staff (including an initially pessimistic Bure) to dancing. The viewers (an old couple) join in the dancing when they see the gloomy broadcast replaced by live images of media people rejoicing.


 
The video’s symbolisms are, in general, easy to grasp (especially for Christians). Joel and Luke weave through the passages at the TV station and invite other workers at the station to join them; that’s an allusion to spreading the (joyous) Good News. The old tape which the brothers dump in the bin is a recording of bad news (fill this space with whatever trials and terrors you’ve faced). The new tape, which plays to display colour images (instead of the dull black-and-white in most of the video) is a reference to Christ; when it’s pushed to the ground in anger by Bure (i.e. when it dies) it gives out its colour (life) to everyone and everything- including Bure -and gets them all dancing for joy.
 
Chart Performance
Joy peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Christian songs chart, and is in the top five of the top Christian songs of the year for 2018. It’s safe to say that it would have done even better on the charts if it hadn’t been for the exceptional runs enjoyed by Cory Asbury’s Reckless Love and Lauren Daigle’s You Say this year.
 
My Final Note
Joy is a feel good take on a crucial aspect of the Gospel- or one of its benefits. It’s the sort of song that ages very slowly, and sparks life in you when it floats into your ears.

The Fire of Revolution

If you truly want a revolution
You must be willing to watch your life fade
From before your own vanishing eyes

If you crave for the heavens showered
With bright red flames and blinding white light
You must care to be consumed with it

The rebirth you long for
Isn’t held in familiar bosoms
Is never at home with soft couches, tamed roses and sweet homely dinners

The freedom that’ll last forever
Is an intense joy and a harrowing pain
Stabs of rejection, and lingering loving embraces

If you truly want a revolution
You must be willing to watch your life burn
And glow

If you want a revolution that lasts forever
How about a death that scorches us into unending life?
How about Christ, Revolution Eternal?

Ikenna Nwachukwu
© 2018

A Portrait of Sacrifice, with Blood as Paint

A band of butcherers chant,
As they drag crying sheep through,
Smashed rocks and dirt clouds,
Swarming, to slaughter point,

Its fluffy coat sheds, to mingle,
With mud puddles and grim slime,
It swims in darkened blood,
And sways, to torturers’ feet stomping,

As shredding skin paints the path,
To the altar, with red hue,
A portrait of life takes shape:
Suffering, to death,

But if through its last cries,
It sees losing self could be worship,
It’ll fall, to paint its dying as,
Living worship to God, “Sacrifice Infinite”.

Ikenna Nwachukwu
© 2018

MUSIC REVIEW: RECKLESS LOVE by CORY ASBURY

Artiste: Cory Asbury

Album
: Reckless Love (2018)

Label: Bethel Music

Reviewer: Chidimma Nnagbo

Cory Ausbury joined Bethel music in 2015. He released his ‘Reckless love’ in 2018 which hit it big. According to Kate Nutshell, ‘when worship songs make it big, they also get subjected to a degree of theological scrutiny, and some have questioned whether the message of the hit song misrepresents the nature of God’s love’. There has been criticism of the song’s title, ‘reckless love’. A wing of the criticism says ‘God loves us with clear and thoughtful intention’. Another wing says “Reckless Love became popular because it is a catchy tune that speaks to all of our human desires to be loved and known”. Cory Ausbury in his defence said in an interview, “I see the love of God as something wild, insane, crazy.”

On hearing the song at first, it may not hit any serious chord till you listen to the lyrics. It’s Rock genre is somewhat soft. It goes from soft intensity to a strong intensity and back to soft again. It feels like the music comes alive when the lyric is understood. The lyrics are strong and deep; they drive right into the heart and mind. The words can hardly be dismissed. It conjures feelings deep happiness that bring tears to the eye. Personally, I think the description is strong and beautiful and I felt the human buildup is incapable of mirroring such love with the same intensity. It is sad and I wanted to love more. Feel more. Do more.

In verse one, God’s sovereignty is described; the way that he first loved us, without us doing anything to earn it. His love was before our existence. Then he launches into the mind blowing chorus.

“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God”
 
He describes God’s love with 3 magical words: Overwhelming, never-ending and reckless.

The song is heavily poetic and exciting in a literary sense. The chasing and fighting paints the picture of a guy trying to win a girl over; it also borrows imagery from the biblical story of the good shepherd, who leaves his 99 sheep in the field and goes off in search of a single lost sheep. He tells a tale of personal importance that nothing is done to earn. In verse 2, he buttresses the point of God’s eternal and unconditional love.

Then right to my favourite verse…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

A representation technique is used here. It seems to point to Ephesians 6: 12 ‘ For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’.

It seems to say that no belief asides the gospel will stand in his way. Even if the belief is as high as a mountain or so dark it casts shadows.He’ll keep coming after you. No matter how high you’ve built your wall and how much lies you are living, he’ll still come after you. 

The song is one of those songs you put on replay till whenever. 

Questions Crossed Out

My wailing,
What does it weigh,
Against the sighs of seven billion souls, each,
Digging wounds into my already shattered depths,

My breathing,
What does it matter,
When it’s lost in waves of first winds drawn and last gasps sown,
Lashing earth for eons,

My living,
Is it a rare gem or a speck of dust,
Amongst countless weddings, empires collapsing,
And the universe’s billionth galaxy collision,

The answer,
Is a death to cross these questions out,
The meaning of existence, hanging on a stake,
For my sake.

Ikenna Nwachukwu
© 2018