Posts Tagged freedom

What does the song “Break Every Chain” really mean?

This song kind of blew up at our church this past summer and it’s really struck a chord especially as we’ve been processing the Ferguson mess. We first sung it at the end of “Jesus at the Center” and we didn’t have to explain much after singing the last verse of that song “Jesus at the center of your church…every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess you, Jesus”

A friend of mine recently wrote to me asking if we sing the song and what I thought about it having a “Word of Faith” kind of vibe to it. That whole, “speak the name of Jesus and your dreams will become manifest” sort of thing. Still, there’s plenty of biblical examples of the role of the Messiah in breaking the chains of the prisoner and the captive. In addition, you can find this stuff in many of “the good old hymns” too:

You can find it in Wesley:

“Jesus the name that charms our fears
That bids our sorrows cease
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears
‘Tis life and health and peace

He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin
He sets the pris’ner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me”

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee”

And you can find it in Watts:

“Blessings abound wherever He reigns
The prisoner leaps to loose His chains
The weary come home and find their rest
And all the sons of want are blessed”

I think that this song works best if we maintain that “the name of Jesus” is not some kind of incantation, but rather a confession. A confession in particular that “Jesus” is the only name by which we are saved and the only name that we call Lord. His name stands forever as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in an eternal kingdom where all forms of slavery have been defeated. Through that confession and the praise of his name, Paul and Silas had their chains literally fall off. In the name of Jesus, we are no-longer slaves to sin but sons and daughters and fellow heirs with Christ.

I’m not going to say every church should sing it, but it especially struck a chord with my church. We followed the song with prayers for the chains of sin to be broken in our lives as well as the chains of injustice and addiction that hold our communities in bondage. The name of Jesus is the only power by which racism, violence, drugs, hate, fear, etc can be overcome. If you still are concerned about the meaning of the song being misunderstood, you could pair the song with a hymn like “And Can It Be” to drive home that there is power in the name of Jesus because of the work that Jesus accomplished in the cross and the resurrection.

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Signifyin’ in “I Hope My Mother Will Be There”

“I hope my mother will be there in that wonderful world on high”

This is the opening line to a spiritual that my friend Hal Bush shared with me. It’s one of the songs we’ll be performing at the Black History Celebration this weekend. Spirituals are a tradition of American music that is both beautiful and tragic. The texts of Spirituals  are often misunderstood by modern listeners, and this is not an accident. American slaves used a kind of code language that was designed to say something without saying anything. They could communicate their true feelings in front of their oppressors while maintaining a kind of plausible deniability. Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls this kind of language “signifyin‘” (thank you, wikipedia!).

The face value meaning of the song is a longing to go to heaven after physical death in order to be reunited with our already deceased relatives. This meaning is pretty clear and it’s a good thing to sing about. Perhaps the “Christian” slave owners would even relate to this sentiment. However, in the life of the slave, there were more immediate causes of family separation than death, causes that related to their oppressed status. Slave families were torn apart through the sale and relocation of mothers, sisters, brothers, children, etc. A slave was likely to have been separated from loved ones and likely to never see them again in this life. There was another meaning to “that wonderful world on high” as well. Going “on high” might have meant escape to the Northern States or to Canada. They were not going to sing about either of these topics explicitly, but under the cover of “signifyin'” they could boast with confidence about escaping their unjust captivity and the hope of reunion with their family in the flesh. Understanding the song this way means that it takes on a deeper cry for justice and freedom for today and not just a hope of an afterlife.

Oh, I will be there, will be there
Oh, I will be there, will be there
With the palms of victory
Crowns of glory you shall wear
In that wonderful world on high

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More songs on

I had web master Rob Hatch in Chattanooga add a few more of my original tunes to the New City Music website. We offer songs on for the benefit of the church to share what we’ve learned or created in the pursuit of cross-cultural worship. Go check it out and make yourself at home.

Year of Jubilee

It’s a Charles Wesley hymn that I gave a new melody and added a chorus; you might know it as “Blow Ye the Trumpet Blow”. I was thinking that the song would work well in a more 1960’s style, civil rights era gospel-rock. I was thinking Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings or Aloe Blacc but the over-driven guitar sounds and my white boy vocals push it more toward something like Neil Young. Maybe one day, I’ll record it with horns and and soul-power guitar riffs to get the sound I heard in my head.  Regardless of the groove, my main goal was to get everyone shouting “FREEDOM!” at the top of their range.

The Lord’s Family

There’s not many songs out there about reconciliation and the ones that are out there can be so cheesy that they are barely palatable. I was aiming for a song about reconciliation that appeals to the gospel and the grand scheme of redemption instead of a touchy-feely, “can’t we all just get along” sentiment. We are an adopted family in Christ, and therefore, we are reconciled even if we are not living it out quite fully. The demo is an attempt at using garage band; it’s not my forte.

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