We Will Hope, Rise & SingApril 20, 2013
Story by John Seasly
Photos by Dave Weatherwax
“We will hope/We will rise/We will sing/In Christ alone our mighty king.”
—From “Risen,” by Daniel Ross and Andrew Kieffner.
For Daniel Ross, making music is first and foremost about glorifying God.
The 36-year-old music and communications minister of Christian Church of Jasper reiterates this point to his band Narrow Path on the Tuesday before Easter. In five days the musicians will perform before one of their largest audiences ever, at a special Easter service at the Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium.
Daniel’s message is clear: You’re not there to be a rock star.
“Just remember, we’re there to serve, we’re there to glorify God,” Daniel says. “We’re there to celebrate God being raised from the dead, Jesus being raised from the dead. We’re not there to say, ”˜Look at us.’ No rock star moves. You’re not a rock star. I’m not a rock star.”
They rehearse in one of the rooms inside the church, which is brightly lit and empty but for the band. The stage recedes into one wall and extends a little ways over the carpet. At the front of the stage, hundreds of nearly identical brown Bibles rest in 20 stacks of about a dozen each. Behind this, the band’s instruments occupy the rear of the stage, including a drum set enclosed in a box of clear plastic to mute its sound.
Before the band members rehearse, they read a psalm, and pray. They do this every time they get together for their weekly practice. They grab Bibles from the stacks and open to Psalm 145.
Drummer Mike Weisensteiner reads.
“I will exalt you, my God the king; I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever.” He continues to the end. “My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name forever and ever.”
A silence descends. Daniel looks at his band members.
“All right, well. Sunday is Easter.”
“Big doings.” Mike responds.
They go over some of the details of the performance, and then they bow their heads and pray.
“God, I thank you for these guys and ladies,” Daniel says. “Lord, we pray that Sunday is all about you. ... We ask this in Jesus’ name we pray.”
“Amen,” they say, and take their positions on the stage.
They play through their Easter set — eight songs, including three that Daniel wrote or co-wrote.
The music is catchy and varied, rooted firmly in rock — it’s easy to imagine singing along. And that is exactly what hundreds of people will be doing in five days.
This rock-inspired style of music serves a specific purpose, Minister Darrel Land said.
“One of our goals was to reach ”˜unchurched’ people,” Minister Land said. “To reach people that are not being reached, you’ve got to do things that are not being done.”
People become members of Christian Church of Jasper because of its message and its beliefs, but many of them come for its unique style of music, he said.
That style is due, in large part, to Daniel’s efforts.
“I prayed for somebody like Daniel for a long time before he came,” Minister Land said.
Daniel writes, performs, records and distributes music for Christian Church of Jasper. In November 2012, Narrow Path debuted “And Still,” an album of 10 original songs, all of which Daniel helped write. The album was professionally mixed and is available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify. He also performs in another church band, At One, and works occasionally with Go Forth, the youth band.
Writing music is a way of celebrating God through his gift of creativity, Daniel said.
“God’s creative. He wants us to be creative,” he said.
Daniel got involved with music because of religion. With a degree in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University, he moved to Jasper in 2000 to take a job at The Herald as a copy editor and page designer. He started volunteering at Christian Church of Jasper in 2002, playing guitar for the occasional service. In 2007, he was hired part time, planning music for services and managing the church’s web presence. He left The Herald in December 2009 and took on a full-time role at the church in January 2010.
Daniel’s father, Billy, became a Baptist minister when Daniel was 18. The music at his father’s church in Tennessee is much more traditional than what is played at Christian Church of Jasper.
“It’s a 180(-degree turn) from what we’re doing here,” Daniel said. Billy, 65, has been to several of the services where Daniel has led the music.
“I know he’s very proud of his son,” Daniel said. “I don’t know that he would do that in his church or if he would put that kind of music into his CD player.”
Daniel plays music with the church’s bands, but he also makes sure that the music is heard, in the church and out of it. After service on Sundays, he uploads the songs that are public domain or written by church bands to the church’s website, and he burns CDs of the service for anyone who couldn’t make it in person. He listens to music constantly, and has more than 60 days’ worth of music on his computer.
A major influence is Johnny Cash, who looks down on Daniel from a poster on the wall of his office.
The voice of God, Daniel imagines, probably sounds like the Man in Black.
It is a Cash song, “The Man Comes Around,” that is playing in the Cabby O’Neill gym on Easter Sunday morning, when the band and Minister Land gather to pray. They stand to the right of the massive black soundstage, which occupies at least a third of the basketball court. The rest is covered with plastic and row upon row of chairs, which are quickly filling up. Daniel’s wife, Shannon, and his daughters, Isabella, 10, and Gabrielle, 8, sit in the front row. The bleachers are filling too. Worshipers continue to stream in, and each receives a disposable coffee-creamer-shaped Communion packet and a plain white T-shirt displaying “Victory” in capital letters across the chest.
Normally, the church has three Sunday services, but today, this is the only one. The band members pray to remember that this service is not about them, it is about opening people’s hearts and minds to the glory of God.
They ascend the stage. Guitarist Phil Hostetler snaps a picture of the audience.
“Good morning, CCJ!” Daniel says, and his voice echoes throughout the room. “So, I don’t know if you heard, but Jesus is alive. Amen!”
The crowd of more than 2,100 roars back an “Amen!” of its own. The band opens with “Like a Lion,” by Daniel Bashta, and it’s hard not to feel like you’re at a rock concert. The gymnasium is saturated with sound. The band plays hard and fast, and a projection screen on each side of the stage displays the lyrics, so the audience can sing along.
“My God is not dead, he’s surely alive, and he’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion,” the chorus repeats, again and again. The gym pulsates with life and the audience claps to the beat. Through all of this, the band members try not to draw any unnecessary attention to themselves. They tap out the beat and their bodies move in rhythm but otherwise, they restrain themselves — no easy feat as a fog machine mists the stage and thousands of hands clap in time.
Illuminated by flashing colored lights, with speakers pumping out huge quantities of sound, the band members are rock stars of a different kind. They walk a delicate balance, playing rock music while avoiding the rock star persona, but in the end, they don’t need to draw attention to themselves. The lights, the fog, the sound, they all serve to heighten the intensity of the experience, not to exalt the performers. Their music simultaneously glorifies God and transforms the gym into something else entirely. With the audience singing along, everyone is united in their worship, as one.
Granted, it is a different kind of worship than Catholic hymns or the gospel music of decades past.
Primarily, it is louder, and shares many attributes of popular rock. It is high-energy, high-volume worship, and it feels appropriate within the stadium atmosphere created in the gym.
One by one, the band plays through the songs in the set. In the middle, Minister Land gives a sermon about Jesus’ eternal victory. He puts on his white “Victory” tee over his button-down dress shirt to show that, through Jesus, he is washed white as snow. He looks out upon a crowd of snow-white T-shirts in visual harmony with him.
The final song of Narrow Path’s set, “Because He Lives,” includes an acoustic solo by Daniel. It is an emotional hymn with a slower tempo, and it has a powerful effect on the audience. During his solo, his daughters dance and sway. One of them spins in her heels. Gradually, the rest of the band crescendoes back in, punching up the intensity with a wall of sound.
“Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone,” Daniel sings. The lights in the gym grow brighter as the song hits its climax. When it ends, Minister Land addresses the crowd one last time, and thanks everyone for coming.
“But we kind of thought you might want to go out of here singing,” he says, and the band strikes up the hyperfast country-gospel tune “I Saw the Light” by Hank Williams (with a verse by Johnny Cash).
The audience leaves singing and dancing, and nowhere is the energy greater than onstage, where six months of rehearsals and practice have culminated in this one performance. The band members are smiling and playing their hearts out. Daniel’s face crinkles into an enormous grin. He belts out the verses.
“I’ve walked in darkness, clouds covered me. I had no idea where the way out could be. Then came the sunrise and rolled back the night. Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”
Contact John Seasly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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