By Alyssa Bjornstad Brenton Brown’s new record, Because of Your Love, (Survivor) is nothing short of spirit-filled.
In many parts of the country, summer has turned to fall…an opportunity to cozy up with a cup of tea and this fantastic new album. Brenton, thanks for answering these questions and providing listeners with a glimpse of your heart!
Who/What has most influenced your musical roots (past and/or present)?
I’m a big fan of song and will shamelessly enjoy a song in whatever genre I happen to find it. When I was very young (age 7 or 8, I think), the first question I would ask a girl I took a shine to would be, “So what’s your favorite song right now?” If her answer was anything like, “I just listen to whatever’s on the radio,” she was out of the running! That being said, my favorite songs right now include “The Brotherhood of Men” by The Innocence Mission and “White Winter Hymnal” by the Fleet Foxes.
You were a Rhodes Scholar! How has education transformed you?
Well I guess the most profound way that education has shaped me has been in the way I think. Not necessarily what I think about a particular subject, though studying politics and philosophy and theology did change that. But more how I think things through—how I order my thoughts, how I shape an argument, how I construct an opinion. The one thing that studying politics in South Africa taught me was that it was okay to put my emotions to one side while I sifted through the facts. If emotions drive research too hard they can blind you to the truths staring you in the face. I think on any subject it’s useful to suspend judgment before finishing the research. But of course this doesn’t come naturally, and most people will be researching a topic to substantiate their opinion. All of us do this, no matter how hard we try not to. Emotion can make us interested and persistent. But unless it’s checked it can also make us irresponsible with the facts.
You’ve relocated to Malibu—what spurred the move?
A worship team from Malibu visited Cape Town a year before I left South Africa for England. During their brief ministry trip I came to be fast friends with quite a few people from the team. I stopped in California on my way to Oxford and then spent the next 10 years thinking about it! After Jude and I became ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, spending time in Malibu, surrounded by friends and good weather, felt like a wise decision. We love it.
Both you and your wife struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. How has this disease changed your perspective as a Christ-follower, songwriter, musician, and leader?
Enduring an illness where healing is prayed for but not immediately (or even ever) received can be a surprisingly good faith-builder. It’s a strange thing, but God promises that he is near to those who are brokenhearted. And we have found that to be true. The first two things we found the illness did were incapacitating us (we couldn’t do what we were used to doing) and then isolating us (being around people tired us and still tires us). It broke us and challenged who we imagined we were.
Suddenly we weren’t the people who could suck it up and handle all the challenging situations we were facing. I quickly went from being a pastor to being the guy who couldn’t make it through a whole service because it was too taxing for me. I went from being the guy who led worship to being the guy who had to sit down or walk out during the worship because it was too loud or too intense or mostly just too long for me. It was as if the ways or traditions that the community I was a part of and had enjoyed so much were suddenly exclusive. My body couldn’t handle them. And although I knew better, there were moments when I wondered if it was even possible to be a Christian like this. And so for a long time we attempted to do church in the way we were accustomed, each time leaving church depressed and out of sorts because we invariably couldn’t last. It was at least a year before we found our way to Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) family service. It was very different from what we were used to. The kids remained in the service for worship and the entire thing was geared toward people with short attention spans…we were home! Of course, despite appearances, this is as valid a version of communal worship as anything we had been to before – or indeed, anything that garners the attention of the adult world.
God is as present in these slightly more clumsy versions of community as He is in any seamless, well-produced contemporary or ancient service. In fact, these services have become a metaphor for our entire (spiritual) lives! Our lives have a slightly, disjointed, at times awkward, almost-always clumsy slant to them, but in the midst of it all our Father is present, revealing himself to us, comforting and strengthening us, and even at times using us! The late Mike Yaconelli wrote Messy Spirituality of which I’m very fond. This is where we live! Life is messy, but God is not deterred! He is near to the brokenhearted.
What do you hope listeners and worshipers take away from Because of Your Love?
I hope people enjoy the music and the sounds we used. And I hope that these prayers help shape the lives and prayers of God’s people in ways that make us more honest with Him and each other and more passionate for his Name.
“Adoration” left me in this place of awe before the face of God. What inspired the song?
That’s very encouraging to hear! A few years ago I read a book called Reversed Thunder by Eugene Peterson. He is one of my favorite Christian thinkers and pastors. I really am encouraged by what he writes. In this book is a chapter on worship in the book of Revelation. Eugene draws our attention to the conversations John has with the angel who is leading him through this vision of heaven. Repeatedly the angel has to instruct John, one of Jesus’s first disciples, to worship God and not bow at His feet. Isn’t it amazing that even John can get distracted by the sights and sounds of heaven and forget who it is we are called to worship? This song began as a simple melody and the phrase “worship God.” It was really just an encouragement to me. But I gradually realized that this was probably too simple a prayer to pray communally. So it evolved into a prayer that draws from Philippians 3: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
I think as worshiping communities one of our greatest challenges will always be keeping our eyes on the prize. Sunday mornings and other weekly gatherings draw God’s people from so many different types of demanding careers and callings (some even within the church). All of these require our attention and at times can fool us into awarding them first place in our lives. As worshipers and lead worshipers, our service to the church and to the world is to call and remind one another to turn our eyes to the real action, to the most important and enduring and rewarding and inspiring center of all things: our God.
Because of Your Love is filled with a plethora of unique sounds—many most wouldn’t consider part of the worship genre. What was the process of selecting instruments to create this fusion of music and worship?
Hey. Thanks for noticing! It’s a risky business mixing art and prayer for large communities. While we try to write prayers that all of us can pray together, at the same time we’re exploring musical and artistic territory that is necessarily unique and at times widely unknown or recognized. When it works well, the art can inspire and bolster the praying. When it works badly, the art can distract people from the main action—prayer. Every time we go out and make one of these records we take this risk. Having said that, the sounds on this record hold a special place for me. I grew up listening to my parents’ sacred music – which just happened to be country gospel. Although I wasn’t a big fan growing up, the older I get the more I am drawn to the rugged and warm sounds of old-timey hill music. There’s a raw production sensibility that this music has which can require a lot from the listener, but can also be quite rewarding. Our decision to use fiddle, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, and even lap steel along with the rock we play was an attempt to bring some of this warmth into the record. I hope it works! I guess we’ll see.
Alyssa Bjornstad Alyssa’s greatest accomplishment to date was picking one major in graduate school. Her undergraduate career was filled with indecisiveness—namely, English, Communication, Journalism, and Psychology. When not reading textbooks, doing research, or writing papers, she can be found drinking coffee, painting, philosophizing, blogging, listening to music, drawing, or playing an immovable stringed instrument. After graduation, Alyssa hopes her dream of working for Passion Conferences comes true! Until then, she stays busy editing and contributing to the field of sanity. You can contact her by e-mail plansforhopeATgmailDOTcom.