Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Behind the Music: David Crowder Band's SMS [Shine]

I enjoy listening to Russell Moore’s The Cross and the Jukebox, a weekly program that takes a look at a song, usually country, and analyzes what it says about our culture and how it relates to our faith. I highly recommend it.

One aspect of the program that I most take pleasure in is that Moore and his guests try to pick apart some of the hidden meaning behind the songs. How many of us can sing at least the chorus of the song American Pie but we have no idea what it really means?

Similarly, there are many Christian songs we hear on the radio and we may know every line, but the meaning is cryptic. Have you ever heard the song Breakfast by the Newsboys? Perhaps something a little more recent. Do you know what each of these lines means?

“Light, light, light up the sky, you light up the sky to show me you are with me.”
“Like sunlight burning at midnight, making my life something so beautiful, beautiful.”
“Death laid love quiet and in the night, a stirring. All around a rush of angels.”

The last line comes from a song by the David Crowder Band called SMS [Shine]. Anyone familiar with DCB’s music knows cryptic is an appropriate adjective for many of their songs. Given David Crowder’s major popularity and the number of times I hear it on the radio, I thought it appropriate to take this song apart and look at the real meaning behind it, from the strange title to the overall meaning. It is such a beautiful song, and we shouldn’t be singing it without giving the lyrics the attention they’re due. It’d be like visiting the Louvre and just enjoying the nice long hallways.

Take a moment to watch the music video below for the song SMS [Shine]. The lyrics (not 100% accurate) can be read here.

Although the music video is impressive and emotive, it does not really deal with the message of the song. If anything, it shows just how creative the band is and how much time they have on their hands.

The song itself is the real treasure. For one, the musical arrangement is both powerful and builds toward a triumphant ending. For lack of a better term, the song uses “sound effects” which function much like the details of a Sherlock Holmes sleuthing in adding rich depth. These sound aspects make the song catchy—it sticks in your memory. But what does it mean?

Verse 1, Chorus 1
SMS [Shine] bears a strange title. Shine is easy enough to decipher since it is drawn from the chorus. SMS is a little more mysterious. SMS stands for Short Messaging Service and is more commonly known as text messaging. This makes sense because the song does consist of short statements and plays out as a prayer to God from someone who is seeking Him. Yet a more complete understanding of the title is that it is taken from the first few words of the song: Send Me a Sign.

The first verse and chorus echoes many of the personal psalms of David pleading with God for support. Just as Psalm 86:17 begins, “Show me a sign of your favor…,” this song begins asking God for a sign, no matter how subtle, of God’s presence. The singer wants God to awaken them (“breathe your awakening, bring me to life”), which can be taken to mean restoring one’s vitality after defeat and humiliation or it can have salvific overtones, such as regeneration. Lastly, the singer asks God to surround him “with the rush of angels’ wings,” asking for a further sign of God’s presence with angelic protection. Being covered by angels’ or God’s wings is a common enough metaphor in the Bible, and the line links back to Psalm 91:11, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Psalm 31:9-10 provides us with a description of what this song says in its first verse. I don’t know if this was the songwriter’s inspiration, but the verses carry strong parallels in the song:

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. (10) For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.

The first chorus continues the theme of verse one. “Shine your light” is request for illumination, such as in Psalm 119:135, “Your word is a light unto my feet…” However, I think the singer is trying to form a stronger link to passages such as the prophetic utterance of Isaiah 9:2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined,” and John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Such a connection becomes clearer in later verses.

The chorus ends speaking of the need to be lifted up (cf. Psalm 40:2), to feel and experience God’s love. The singer asks, “Can you overcome this heart that’s overcome?” The question shows both the degree of despair and a hint of hopefulness.

Verse 2, Chorus 2
Verse two begins on a more positive note: “You sent a sign.” The message, the sign, the singer longed for has come. The music video has fireworks exploding at this part and the song’s sound effects highlight the joy of this moment in the song. What is this sign? He continues: “Human-divine, heaven is listening.” It is at this moment that the lyrics betray the true nature of the song. It is not merely a compilation of themes from the Psalms, but a presentation of the gospel. The sign God sent was not a dew-covered fleece or a feeling of peace, but the God-man, Jesus. Like the Israelites calling out for a savior to redeem them from the Egyptians, this singer has asked for a sign, for new life, and God in heaven has sent His answer—Jesus.

Almost immediately the song transitions from the joy of the answered prayer to the uncertainty of Christ’s death. It says, “Death laid love quiet.” Jesus was crucified and buried, and the song speaks of the sudden snuffing out of the Life, the Light, that had come into the world. But we know the tomb was not the end of the story, and so does the singer: “Death laid love quiet, yet in the night, a stirring: all around a rush of angels.” Despite the silencing of Love, the there is movement. Although darkness has apparently overcome the Light, something is happening. The rush of angels shows that God is not done.

The second chorus matches the first, showing that the singer is still uncertain, asking God if He can overcome His heart that is overcome, likely by grief.

Bridge and Chorus 3
A bridge is a musical interlude that connects two parts of a song. The music varies from the rest of the song, making it stand out. In this case, the bridge is different to show the importance of the words in this point of the song.

The bridge is simple: “Oh, the wonder of the greatest love has come.” The uncertainty of verse 2 and chorus 2 gives way to sheer wonder and joy. The bridge doesn’t come out and say it specifically, but Christ is risen.

At this point in the song the chorus changes. Typically only verses change in songs. This is a purposeful variation from the norm to highlight what this Love, this Light, has done and to bring the song to a moving conclusion.

The singer now says, “Shine your light so all can see it.” The emphasis moves from the individual to the community. The light, which is best defined as the ultimate source of illumination, Jesus Christ, is to be shined so all can see it. Now the allusion to Isaiah 9:2 and John 9:3 are more obvious. Instead of the singer needing to be lifted up, the light needs to be lifted up ‘cause the whole world needs it. This illumination is a felt need of not only the singer, but the entire world. The light must be raised up, not in the sense of being raised up on the cross, which has already happened, but elevated to make it visible. Christ needs to be accessible to the whole world. The need referenced here shows the singer is not alone in his brokenness and defeat. The entire world is under the same oppression.

At this point the singer rejoices in the truth that love has come. The gospel message is one that brings joy wherever it is preached (cf. Acts 8:4-8), and this part of the song calls back to Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” The last sentence of the song is repeated, simply saying, “He has overcome, he has overcome.” He being the Light. He being Love. He being Jesus Christ. As John summarizes his gospel in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” the song calls forth, “He has overcome.”

A Gospel Presentation
This song is a gospel presentation. It speaks to those who suffer, who are downtrodden and weary. It speaks of the hope of resurrection, a promise to believers for life and mourning. The key themes drawn from the Psalms paired with prophecy in Isaiah and the prologue to the Gospel of John comes to a conclusion of hope, rejoicing, and mission.

This song is a gem. Behind the somewhat cryptic and mysterious lyrics lies the gospel message. The musical arrangement and poetic mastery come together to form a strong message that comforts, inspires, and challenges the listener.

Your Turn
Music has the power to move us. Have you enjoyed this song before? What were your thoughts? Do you have any additional observations? Are there any other songs you hear on Christian radio you’d like to see analyzed like this in light of Scripture?

Editor's note: This post first appeared on sbcIMPACT! on May 18, 2011. On May 21, 2011, the David Crowder Band announced they were disbanding after their Fall 2011 tour.

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