New Dawn: Story Under the Song
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Read the lyrics here.
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"Story Under the Song" for “New Dawn” track 4 from Child Coming Home (album, 2019)
WHERE DID THE SONG COME FROM?
My family keeps a running Facebook message, and one day in fall 2017, my dad sent us a message along these lines: “I lost my job yesterday. While I praying, God gave me these words: New Day. New Dawn. New Life. Move On.”
The words were just as timely for me as for my dad. I was starting a new job as a teacher and had moved into a new apartment in a new city. I missed my old life, and I felt unsure of the road ahead. Because many of my close friends were wrestling through changes or losses similar to mine and my dad's, I started writing "New Dawn" to sew our struggle to the truth of Scripture.
HOW DID THE SONG GROW?
1. The music
When I asked my dad to use his words and experience in my song, he said yes. As I mulled over those four phrases, humming them on walks around our new neighborhood, the melody of the chorus emerged.
Just before school started, my friend Beau visited. We sat in my as-yet-unpacked living room and fiddled with chords on the piano and guitar. Since the song was about moving forward through strife, we realized we needed some punchy, sharp, unconventional chords. Eventually-- musical jargon alert -- we settled on the chords Em - Gmaj7 - F# - Am.
Over those instrumental chords, we developed a vocal harmonization heavy on biting major sevenths and other dissonant intervals. While I thought these harmonies captured some of the angst of the lyrics, my wife told me with no lack of firmness then or relief now that those harmonies didn’t make for pleasant listening.
About a year later, in place of those spiky chords, I and my brother-in-law recorded about 16 (more tasteful) vocal harmonies for the “choral banks” you hear throughout the song. Then, to round out and brighten the sound of the song's beat, my friend Jason laid down guitar tracks based on the chords Beau and I had made.
"Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures." - James 1:16-18, WEB
2. The lyrics
As far as the lyrics of the chorus were concerned, I found that I could change their emotional color by turning them into questions like “could there be a new day?” and or into affirmations like “he’ll help you find a new day.” This reframing of the chorus— first as lament for what was lost and then as hope for what could be gained — gave me a direction in which to develop the song.
Soon the school year started, and every Tuesday night, I took long car rides to community choir practice. On the way I muttered through passages of Scripture, mused over my experience, and wrote the rap lyrics to New Dawn. Verses like James 1:16-18 began to enliven the metaphor of light suggested by my dad’s initial lyrical seed ("new dawn"). I asked questions like “from where does the light of this ‘new day’ come?" and "what other gifts give light to the heart?”
WHY DOES THIS STORY MATTER?
As I wrestled with Scripture, I began to find words for both my pain and my hope.
It hurts to live in the world. There's no getting around that fact. My dad was hurt from his lost job. I was hurt from the uncertainty of starting a new one. Though their stories aren't mine to tell here, other friends at the time were hurting in far deeper and confusing ways.
In the story of the album, the Singer, who was hurting from his ended relationship, and who was also aching to belong, hears a call to follow Jesus. He does. He starts his journey home. He might expect, seeing that Jesus promised rest for his soul, that the going will be easy.
But the journey, it turns out, isn't easy. The album doesn't specify how the Singer suffers. Since "New Dawn" is a song with words of encouragement-- one that the Singer might hear from other believers while following Jesus beside them-- it's clear that he does suffer. His suffering is so bad that he comes to wonder if God's even good -- if "the lord of the skies" is a "miserable miser."
"This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." - 1 John 1:5, WEB
Is God good? The testament of Scripture is a resounding, if paradoxical, yes. Even as we, with all creation, groan and suffer, enduring through the world's brokenness, waiting for the new creation, God is unchangingly good. Very soon, He will act to deal with evil and its effects; in his goodness, God has set a day to judge our rebellious world (and its spiritual leader) and then to make a new and peaceful creation.
If you're like me-- if that bright hope can seem as far away as the sun-- then know that God's goodness is not an abstract idea; it's a person. God's goodness is not just about what He will do, but about what He's done.
God sent His Son to live in the world as a human. Though Jesus is rightly king of the universe, He lived as a common man and experienced all the same losses and disappointments that we do. Jesus was motivated by a profound joy and hope: that God's children, though rebels against their Father and King, could be restored by His love and forgiveness. In perfect obedience to His Father, Jesus walked a long, lonely and hard road from the cradle to the cross.
"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.'" - Luke 23:34, WEB
"About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?' That is, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" - Matthew 27:46, WEB
"Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!' Having said this, he breathed his last." - Luke 23:46, WEB
It was at the cross that, with His own life, Jesus paid the penalty for the criminal offenses of His subjects-- that is, He was rejected by God, enduring the very reality we fear our hardships could mean. He died for us in the hope that His submission to His Father's will would mean our reconciliation with the Father. And guess what? It worked. When God’s Spirit resurrected Jesus from the dead, it was proof that God, accepting Jesus's work, forgives us.
"But the path of the righteous is like the dawning light that shines more and more until the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness. They don’t know what they stumble over." - Proverbs 4:18-19, WEB
Now, as God’s children through belief in Jesus, our path through the world is the same as His Son’s. As Jesus’s followers and God's children, there’s hardship ahead. Jesus himself said “a disciple is not above his teacher" and "whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
More than that, we have the Holy Spirit-- given after the Pentecost event recorded in Acts 2-- to guide us and to empower us as witnesses for Jesus to the world. Through the Spirit, in spite of what our eyes see, our hearts are able to see the spiritual reality that God’s defeated darkness when Jesus died on the cross. Through the Spirit, we're also ensured of being God's children and of being saved forever.
And our hardship is not without hope. We can hope, as Hebrews 12 puts it, that God is treating us as His children. We can hope, along with past believers, that this suffering is proof our union with Jesus. And we can hope, finally, that our reward if we persevere is an eternal, honorable place in God's Kingdom.
So take heart. There is a new day coming. For now, like the Singer does leading into the next song, "My Hiding Place," move on.