Do we need a reset? A step back and look again at the world and our role as Christians in it? As human beings?
The Beatitudes Project is the passion project of Stu G (Stu Garrard), former guitarist and songwriter for Delirious?, who brought together some of Christian music’s most recognized and beloved artists for an 18 track (plus 2 bonus tracks) album to challenge us. The music challenges us to rethink Jesus’s words in Matthew 5 – the passage we call The Beatitudes. Do we really understand what Jesus was calling us to?
In a world torn apart by violence, hate, and fear, Garrard reminds us “These upside-down Jesus announcements on a hillside by the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 5 where Jews, Greeks, Romans, and people of all ethnicities were gathered are a reminder that there is another way.” This is the crux of the Beatitudes Project.
Listen Pt. 1 – What better way to open the discussion than with a spoken word call to action. Becky Harding invites us to listen, truly listen, and so begins this journey of music and word that we cannot be casually consumed in the background.
Oh Blessed – Anthony Skinner leads us in a slow jam summary of Matthew 5. They croon practical applications of “The Words from the hill” that are “speaking still”. It’s a slow burn beginning to the album, but a song that stays with you – just like the words Jesus spoke so long ago.
You Will Make A Way – All Sons and Daughters continues the slow progression and adds a little passionate plea – a plea toward the one they know will lead them out of the darkness they face. A bit repetitive to an almost distracting level, the song still carries a weight of hope that is both unmistakable and stirring.
Listen Pt. 2 – Do we lose focus? Does our poverty, brokenness, aches for justice keep us from lifting our eyes? Becky Harding’s spoken word continues to challenge and to tell us to lift our head.
Carry On – Michael W. Smith encourages us in this countrified ballad to not be overwhelmed by the “rivers of grief” when we look at the world around us, and when we can’t feel God’s presence. The despair that the singer illustrates is not consuming, as he sings “in the valley of the shadow/I feel you walking with me”.
Heaven Is Around Us – John Mark McMillan breaks away from the slow and introspective mood of the previous songs with a straightforward rock song that reminds us that a King comes for all of us. He sings “Dance with the good/Dance with the guilty/Your country calls to the souls of the willing/All who are willing”. It’s a call for us to be in the world, to invite them to our “country” – the Kingdom of Christ. “Lift your head up high/Lift your head up/Lift your head up high/Lift your arms and eyes.” It’s an infectious hope played out in guitar riffs and drumbeats. Be warned, just when you think it’s over, it picks back up and rocks you some more.
Let My Dreams Fly – “We ain’t so different/You and I” Terrian Bass offers a smoky, jazzy hand to the hurting and the disillusioned, those torn from family, from home, from hope – and pulls them up. “Deep in my heart/I still feel close to the sky/And it’s not too far out of reach/To let my dreams fly/So I’ll stand through the pain/Until someday there’s a change/Hand in hand/Face to face/I’ll let my dreams fly” – it encapsulates the “poor in spirit” that Jesus spoke of on that hill, and tells us to never give up. There will one day be restoration.
I Will Be Your Home – A haunting song that fills you. The type of song that invites you to close your eyes and be carried away. Ethereal and invigorating at the same time. Audrey Assad calls out to those who’ve lost everything, whether home or family or hope and echoes Jesus’s invitation to come to him and he will be their home, he will be their everything.
Listen Pt. 3 – Becky Harding’s revelations in her continued spoken word shake us in how we approach the whole idea of the Beatitudes and life. Is success the goal? Or, have we already succeeded – what did Jesus mean when he said we are blessed?
Oh Mercy – Every album has it. The one song that is the heartbeat. The power and the blood. Matt Maher and Audrey Assad have that song here. Mercy. Jesus, the son of God, and his mercy. In spite of everything we’ve done, still do, his mercy breaks down the walls – bridges the chasms. He broke his “heart to feed the world”, and it is his spirit that continues to lead us home.
Morning Light – Amy Grant gives us her usual introspective song on rebellion and hope. The kindness shown by others, the hope we can convey to the world around us. While it is a typical Amy Grant ballad, it is solidly so and a great example of why she is still a beloved singer and musician.
Undivided – Amanda Cook gives us a solid song, if not completely remarkable. I say completely because she does eventually reach in and grab you with powerful vocals that make your soul want to shout in agreement – no more fake religion, no more fake self, no more trying to earn grace. It’s an evolution of understanding as she sees who she is in Christ and that he is all she needs and so much more. Stick around for the whole song, you will be amply rewarded.
In The Middle – I have to be honest, I love slow introspective songs as much as the next person, but sometimes I need a song that rocks, a song that makes me tap my feet and move. A song that makes me want to rock my air guitar. Stu Garrard delivers that and more. It’s a call to find common ground, even with those that strongly disagree with us.
Make a Little Trouble – “When the world needs a hero/You be the hero/When the world needs a miracle/You be the miracle”. I think I found my new jam. Propaganda delivers a rap manifesto that calls us to action. No longer sitting safe and secure in our “little bubbles”, but sometimes we need to “make a little trouble” by standing up for what’s right – even if no one else is willing.
Holy Troublemakers – This feels like an old Delirious? song. And it feels good. “Holy is the Lord” is the cry of raised hands – the cry of the “rebel” with a cause. Not anger, but of justice. Justice in the name of Jesus, justice that he has called us to. It’s a worship song and a call to action wrapped in rock guitar licks. Raise your hands in worship, raise them in protest against injustice.
Listen Pt. 4 – “Just a learning, listening, community”. Are we? Do we need to broadcast our actions to gain the applause of the world before we act? Or do we listen to the need, the cries of the souls around us – our community – and live the life Jesus called us to? Becky Harding is still shaking our world with her spoken word, and we need it.
The View From Here – Hillsong United has made a name for themselves in modern worship and songs that edify the church. There are no surprises here. It’s a solid song, musically and vocally, and it does encourage the listener, but there isn’t anything challenging. It’s a great lead into some quiet time with God, but feels like platitudes following the challenges of the previous songs – especially the spoken word calls for action. It’s encouraging, but can also feel like someone patting you on the back and telling you to just “hold on, it’ll be all right” instead of actually listening.
Listen – It all comes together. All four parts of Becky Harding’s spoken word in one, unbroken, delivery that impacts the listener even more because of the fullness and the repetition. Are you listening? Am I listening? Where do we go from here?
Makers of the Peace (View From The Shepherd’s Field) – The Brilliance brings another ethereal, haunting song that calls us all to action – to live out the beatitudes in our every day – to be the peacemakers, the love givers, the hope restorers. It is what Jesus called us to do, and often is the very thing we don’t do.
Oh Mercy Demo (View From The Writer’s Room) – A stripped down version of Matt Maher’s song, but without Audrey Assad assisting with the vocals. Still beautiful, still powerful. This is Matt Maher the way his fans love him – simple and to the heart of it.
Garrard and all who joined him on the Beatitudes Project accomplished what they set out to do, call us to rethink how we interact with the world around us. This is a solid album of incredible talent, and it does not disappoint. It’s a slow build at first, but it is well worth staying with it and finishing. Some songs are forgettable, others are soul shaking. I think it will be different for every listener which ones fall into either category. But one cannot listen to this album and not ask themselves, am I listening, really listening?
The Beatitudes Project goes beyond the album. You can engage this vision more with the book Words From The Hill, and an upcoming film. Find out more from Stu Garrard’s own website here.