Disclosure of Material Connection: One time when we were in college, hanging out outside Caribou Coffee, I put my hand on Steve’s forehead and started to fake push his head against the brick wall. But I didn’t let go soon enough, so caused him “actual pain,” the same safe words I had to employ another time when I was roughhousing with his friends in the chapel backstage area, and they broke my glasses. I don’t mean to suggest these two events are connected–just that, well… Steve and I go way back.
Disclosure of Material Connection, cont’d: Even at barely 20 he was a ridiculously gifted guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Some of my favorite college memories are Steve Thorngate concerts. Steve may remember most the time Abram Jones and His Loud, Loud Band opened for Steve and His Chair-Sitting Whispercore Corps, but the Steve concert experience I most remember is one he played at (now razed and rebuilt?) Pierce Chapel in Wheaton College. He and his band were loudly rocking an epic rendition of “If I Find You“, and Steve was, as the kids would say, absolutely crushing the major 7 intervals in the melody, as he scraped his pick–top string to bottom string–across an Fmaj7 with the top two strings open, walking the shape up two frets over the same melody, then sitting on an A minor while the melody resolved. Emo Abram was–and still is–in awe of that song. And I believe I may have witnessed its best performance that night.
Disclosure of Material Connection, still cont’d: In recent years Steve has brought his musical genius to bear in the church. There’s a lot of it here. Last year he released an album (digitally and now in CD form) called After the Longest Night: Songs for Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany.
One night as part of my kids’ bedtime routine, I played and sang them Steve’s song “The Thick Darkness Where God Dwells.” I introduced the song by saying, “This song is by my friend Steve.” At that point they’d heard After the Longest Night a few times. Two lines in to the song, I was interrupted by a resounding chorus of, “You KNOW HIM???” and, “Wait, is he famous?”
Steve has foregone the fame that was certain to be his, in service instead to the church. Last Advent I had to try hard not to quote Steve’s lyrics in every sermon. Listening to this album–and dialoguing with him about it over email–profoundly shaped my preaching last Advent, as well as stretched my understanding of light, darkness, and just where God resides.
Here are some highlights of this album:
- A wide variety of musical arrangements
- Many-part harmonies
- FIVE Thorngates for the price of one
- The melodies are immediately memorable, which bodes well for congregational singing, if you want to try some of these in that setting
- Speaking of leading these songs with a congregation, Steve has you covered: the album comes with a PDF songbook
- “The Thick Darkness Where God Dwells” was an early favorite track. For one, I love seeing a song based on such a moving Bible verse. For another, it’s a fresh exploration of themes of light and darkness… more than just light=good=God, dark=bad=devil, but a meaty exploration of what God-in-the-darkness looks like
- I mean, just check out these lyrics:
Winter days are so short.
In the nighttime keep watch for the Lord,
Who reverses our vision
With new order that we can’t see.
Yet we cry, “Jesus, come!
Here’s who needs to be saved; here’s who from!”
Learn to trust in the darkness,
Where our God of mystery dwells.
- Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: they are all here
- One of the songs is called “The Night is Long (But Not for Long),” which I think beautifully captures the “already-but-not-yet” aspects of waiting
This is Steve’s first full-length album in 14 years, and I hope we’ll get to hear another one in less time. There’s more to say in praise of this musical offering, but I’ll stop there so you can go listen for yourself.