CCM: How does the Rich Mullins song fit into your new record?
RLJ: Amazingly, there is a line in Rich’s song that describes what the Holy Spirit has been moving me to do with my new album:
“It sounded like thunder when you cleared the temple.”
When I heard Rich’s words for the first time, I sat back in awe, because our prayer has been that we could play a small role in “clearing” modern worship music’s temple with this next record. By “clearing the temple,” I mean that there aren’t a lot of popular worship songs that explore with candor the depths of the entire human experience. We don’t often sing about loving our enemies or struggling with the absence of God. Can we help our people sing when they don’t even know if God is there? What do worship songs look like in those moments?
I’ll be recording this album with the super-talented Brothers McClurg at Old Bear Studio in Buffalo, New York. Chris Hoisington of Brothers is producing and is just the perfect collaborator for this one. In my opinion, Chris is to Christian music what Rick Rubin is to secular music. Most of the songs will be originals, but I think recording Rich’s song, “Thunder,” is a kind of announcement that this album intends to carry on a Ragamuffin tradition of being like Jesus and turning over the tables.
CCM: What are some of your theological influences and how they impact your songwriting?
RLJ: Some of my best writing companions have been books by theologians and pastors. Eugene Peterson, William Willimon, Brian Zahnd, Brennan Manning, Walter Brueggemann, and Thomas Merton are a few favorites. They are brilliant theologians and pastors, but they also have the hearts of poets. A good theologian will shake you to your core, make you question what you believe, and then help you enter into the Kingdom of God. I strongly believe worship music should do the same.
CCM: Tell me about your heart for refugees and how your new video for the song “More than a Watchman” can make an impact on that international crisis.
RLJ: I’ve watched the heartbreaking stories coming out of places like Syria. Over 11 million people have been displaced due to violence and persecution. The song “More Than The Watchman” is my musical interpretation of Psalm 130. The opening words of the song, “Out of the Depths, Lord hear my cry” could be heard as the cry of refugees around the world who are desperately searching for relief. For the music video, Nazarene Compassion Ministries (NCM.org/refugees) let us use footage of their work with refugees to tell the story of these beautiful people who are homeless through no fault of their own.
I hope and pray that this music video will be seen and shared in a big way, not because of my music, but because I really think we can make a difference in the lives of refugees if we will all work together. The music video tells their story and closes with a link to more information on how we can help. I’m praying that God will use it for people in need.
> If you’d like to know more about Rick and his upcoming projects stop by his page: www.RickLeeJames.com. To get involved with the refugee crisis, you can visit the official video page of Rick’s song from his record Hymns, Prayers and Invitations by CLICKING HERE.
Matt Litton is an author, editorialist, bestselling ghostwriter and a fan of great music. You can follow his writing adventures at: www.MattLitton.com.