// (why switchfoot are still subversive)

I may be the only person in the world who thinks it is in any way daring or subversive to buy a Switchfoot album – and not just any Switchfoot album, but a “best of” album at that – but bear with me a second on this one…

(of course, you may by now have, entirely justifiably, clicked “back” in disgust, and if so, i’m sorry…)

I remember the album that redefined worship music for me – David Crowder* Band’s “Illuminate”. It still has quite such fond memories for me partly because of the way in which i discovered it. You see, the community i became a Christian in was one that wasn’t all that keen on worship music – sure, they used it in church, but the bulk of church was for teaching, and i didn’t know many people who listened to worship CDs on their own time. Certainly the group of friends i had at the time, who were chiefly knitted together by a love of music, of all kinds (albeit mostly indie tips – i discovered Belle & Sebastian at fifteen and never looked back from there), never talked of worship music except in tones of derision.

When i came across David Crowder, by accident, i was searching for a version of “Blessed be Your Name”, a song that i’d heard on a Scripture Union holiday and liked a lot. He was one of the artists in the “You May Also Like…” box on Itunes, and i liked the 30-second clips, so i bought the album, put it on my ipod shuffle, pretty much forgot about it and definitely didn’t talk about it to anybody. It was only when a song that took my breath away then and, mostly, still takes my breath away now – “O Praise Him (All this for a King)” – came on, that i met with any real problems. Like, for example, how to broach this with my friends – not just that i listened to worship music, not even just that i bought it, but that i also liked it. It was social suicide. So i did what any sane person would have done. I didn’t mention it. For years, in fact. I enjoyed my worship music behind closed doors, as my dark secret, my slightly embarassing deviation from church practice.

This isn’t the time or the place to either critique or criticise my church back then, but what i remember most from all of this was the way in which worship seemed both intimate and valuable in the midst of it all. Intimate in that it was mine (or so i thought), a way of meeting with God apart from the culture of Christianity that surrounded me, focussed on expressing awe at God, His nature and all he’d done; valuable in that, though i had to keep it secret, fight for it, it still felt worth fighting for, something that i didn’t want to give up. In short, it gave me a healthy awareness of the sheer importance of worship in my own life and in the lives of others.

I now attend a church that has an amazing culture of musical worship, times of space and praise in which it is possible to meet with God in the midst of a hectic week, but that also makes it uncomfortably easy to forget that initial rush i experienced, the importance of what it is that we do. I, for one, need to keep remembering that it is an honour to be able to worship God in this way and a gift to be in a culture that it allows us to do so; to keep a perspective of who He truly is and to keep from making worship a mechanised routine, either as background music or just as 40 minutes of white noise before the main talk on a Sunday.

Which brings me back to Switchfoot. I only discovered that Switchfoot even had a “best of” album out because of Spotify (trendy indie kid that i am…), but when i went to Itunes to find it, it wasn’t there. Skipping across download stores to find it, i eventually came across it on Amazon’s MP3 store, and promptly bought it, but the search got me thinking. I remember, pre-Amazon and widespread download services, ordering albums like that through what felt like slightly grubby Wesley Owen mail order catalogues, or heading to branches of CLC tucked away in back streets to shell out £15 for a worship album. It felt wrong, on some levels, and also special. Recently i feel like i made worship too easy, and having to hunt to find it reminded me that there is importance in this; that it is worth seeking, especially when done right; that comfort and ease can dull our senses to the awesome privilege that coming to worship God, the God of the Universe, Alpha and Omega, First and Last, really is…

And i’m glad for that, even though i will inevitably forget it in the next worship session that fails to connect, or the next time that “Illuminate” comes on my ipod and i decide that i’ve heard it too many times. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome that more Christian artists now have greater exposure, are becoming more innovative and better-publicised, and i’m glad of that. But as Matt Redman put it all the way back in 1994, “this is a holy moment now | Something of heaven touches earth | Voices of angels all resound | We join them now…” and, more recently, David Crowder’s cry:

i’m just trying to make you sing
from inside where you believe
like it’s something that you need
like it means everything
and i’m trying to make you feel
that this is for real
this life is happening
i’m just trying to make you sing…

let’s not forget just how amazing that privilege really is. As that would be a real shame…

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