For those who are all too familiar with my obsession with Country and Hip Hop, it might be a tad surprising to see that I’ve chosen a Christian worship album for this month’s review.
Although I like to pretentiously tell people that I’m an Omnist (someone who believes all religions contain truth), if I had to commit to any one, my belief system is probably closest to that of Christianity.
But even so, I’ve always thought you’d have to be a particularly devout, church-going Christian to sit down and listen to a worship album. Yet for the past month, Chris Tomlin & Friends has been an ever-present feature on my playlists. What changed?
Well, I realised that it’s actually pretty close-minded of me to avoid an album purely because it’s a religious album. Think of all the praise given to God in the lyrics of Big Sean, Drake, Kanye, and so on. I wouldn’t ever hear a reference to ‘blessings’ and think ‘Oh, I’m not sure I’m Christian enough to be listening to this’. So by extension, why should I believe that a ‘Christian album’ is only intended for Christian listeners?
Which brings me back to Chris Tomlin & Friends. Now, after all my posturing and philosophising above about how I made the conscious decision to be more open-minded in my listening habits, I have to confess that the only reason I’d even heard of this album is because I’m a fan of Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett. These artists both feature on a number of songs, and FGL even co-produced the whole project.
Naturally, I thought I’d give their features a listen, and not delve much deeper than that into the album as a whole. But I loved the FGL and Thomas Rhett collaborations with Chris Tomlin so much, that I couldn’t help but explore the rest of the album out of curiosity.
And I loved it. Other Country artists make appearances, like Chris Lane, Lady A, and Brett Young. But even the songs that have no tinges of Country and are pure ‘worship songs’, so to speak, are spellbinding.
I found it quite jarring to realise that I wouldn’t have ever discovered this album, or Chris Tomlin’s music at all, were it not for FGL and Thomas Rhett’s involvement in the project. I would’ve seen it listed as a ‘worship album’ and steered clear, presuming it to be full of biblical citations and religious imagery that would make it inaccessible to anyone that isn’t a devout Christian.
But after listening, it made me appreciate that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or whether you’re even religious at all - the euphoric harmonies and surging choruses can be appreciated by anyone.
Admittedly, a few songs are especially heavy on churchly imagery and lyrics. But if you put the repeated tributes to God and Jesus to one side, there are still some hugely uplifting and reassuring messages that can be relevant for any listener.
I take ‘Gifts from God’ to be a touching reminder to appreciate the little things we have in our lives, whether it’s the people we have with us, or just the simple fact that we’re alive and breathing (“If you take a look around, it ain’t hard to find, everybody’s got things that money can’t buy”). Whether you want to thank God, karma, the universe, or your lucky stars for these things, that’s completely up to you. But this feeling of gratitude is something that I find can brighten up any moment. If I’m annoyed about something small, like my football team losing (as they often do…!) or a tricky essay assignment, listening to ‘Gifts from God’ just turns my attention to all the things in my life I can be thankful for, and suddenly whatever it is I was upset about seems much less significant.
‘Forever Home’ is an ode to all the wonders that FGL and Chris Tomlin believe are waiting for us in Heaven. On the face of it, this seems very Christocentric and difficult to make accessible to non-Christians. However, a key theme that I find reassuring in this song, and in so many of the songs on this album, is that of belief.
Having studied Philosophy & Theology at University, I know first-hand how difficult it is to argue in favour of God’s existence in today’s world of science and logic. It is much easier to provide evidence against God’s existence, and point to glaring loopholes in the theist’s reasoning.
But this is why I find songs like ‘Forever Home’ so inspirational and uplifting. FGL and Chris Tomlin are singing about achieving immortality, and the gravel literally turning to gold. In the debating chamber, it would be easy to scoff and jeer at the lack of evidence pointing towards either of these possibilities.
Yet the vocalists in this song don’t care about all that - they don’t care if what they believe in is questionable by scientific or logical standards. All that matters is that they wholeheartedly believe in what they believe, and I think that has to be seen as a wonderful, refreshing thing. On a smaller scale, we all have things that we believe in and that we trust in, that other people might laugh at.
You might really believe that Justin Bieber is the best artist to have ever lived. If you went out and did a survey of music critics and other artists, to be honest, I doubt they’d agree with you. But that doesn’t matter, because you genuinely believe it. Someone else might believe that deep down, every person is kind and nice and good, despite there being a whole world of evidence pointing to the contrary.
Equally, if, when you’re growing up, you say you want to be an astronaut, or a popstar, or the President of the United States, people will probably tell you it’s highly doubtful. But if you genuinely believe it, then anything’s possible. For me, that’s the beauty of faith and belief - and I mean faith and belief in a literal sense, rather than a specifically religious sense. There’s something so innately human about holding fast to something when all evidence points the opposite way. But this is why it’s so important, because belief and trust are the building blocks of hope. And where would we be without hope?
Lastly, I accept that this album might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re going to listen to just one song on this album, please listen to ‘Tin Roof’, which features Blessing Offor. The song’s lack of a Country artist means it was probably the last song I chose to listen to. But once I did, I couldn’t get over how beautiful and striking it is in its simplicity. It plays as a direct response to the ornate and grandiose imagery of what Heaven is like in ‘Forever Home’, saying simply, “I pray Heaven is like rain on a tin roof.”
This reminds me of all the moments where we find those pockets of happiness in the little, simple things in life. We might think we need streets of gold, eternal life, or unlimited access to every unreleased Travis Scott song ever made (no, just me?) in order to find happiness. But in reality, as Blessing Offor shows us, sometimes all it takes is the sound of rain on a tin roof.
And if you didn’t think I was pretentious for claiming to be an Omnist earlier, then I think I might be able to change your mind, because I’m about to pull a classic ‘Did I mention that I studied Philosophy & Theology?’ move in quoting Socrates. In all seriousness, I really do believe it’s a quote that contains a lot of truth:
He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature
Chris Tomlin & Friends emphasises to me how music speaks a universal language, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re religious, atheistic, or agnostic. We’re all the same in that we all just want to be happy. If doing something makes you happy, then do it. If being somewhere makes you happy, then be there.
And if listening to something makes you happy, then listen to it. Leave the overanalysing and the finicky theologising to the annoying, Socrates-citing philosophy students of the world…