Hello friends! We just received the first copies of our new Unbroken Light album “Gate Between Two Walls” this week, and as I’m looking at the artwork and listening to the CD with fresh awareness, I feel the need to explain the symbolism of the album and some of my reasoning behind it. Let us begin…
This album is not a typical worship album
I love worship music. I currently lead worship at Riverside Church in Fredericksburg, VA every Sunday morning with an amazing team of musicians and people. There is a tremendous need for worship style music, for uplifting Christian music that reminds us that God is in control, that He loves us, and that he deserves our praise. In fact, I will say that one of the songs on this album (Follow) could probably be used for congregational worship. But the larger picture and whole framing of this album is meant for something else.
Honesty. This album is honest… not that Christian music isn’t honest, because I 100% believe it is… but contemporary Christian music typically doesn’t approach the subjects of addiction, human trafficking, shame, and commercialism with the brutal honesty that this album does. This album reflects a lot of the struggles I am feeling as I get older, the weight of responsibility, the weight of commercialism, bills, fatherhood, and the weight of not being good enough or feeling like I will never get “there”… wherever that may be. These struggles are real, and they are all mentioned in the Bible as well. Just reading through Psalms we see many songs that David wrote when he felt like he was nearing death and helpless to what was going on around him as he cries out “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold… I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail looking for my God.” (Psalm 69:1-3) Yet sometimes we neglect to talk about these topics or struggles because they are difficult subjects to tackle, especially from a musical/lyrical venue.
I recently watched a documentary on the beloved Mr. Rogers and how he had this incredible passion to tackle the difficult subjects that we sometimes neglect or ignore when talking to our kids. He actually created an episode on his show where he discussed what the word “assassination” means with kids after JFK died. Can you imagine? What a difficult thing to even attempt to do… but he did. And through this, kids were able to grasp that sometimes bad things happen in this world, but that’s why they have parents and a family there to comfort them, and protect them. That we will never completely avoid trials, but we are also never alone. There is always someone that loves us to be there in those times. And this album is meant to do a similar service and relay a similar message... You WILL have hard times, you will struggle, you will get knocked down, but you are not alone. God is with you. Christianity is not a call to comfort, it is a call to faith. Even when “your eyes fail looking for Him”, He is there. And that’s when your faith has a chance to grow.
This album is a concept album
This album has some deeper meanings and symbolism than it may appear at first listen. There are concepts that are subtly woven throughout the lyrics and music as the album progresses. The overarching theme and concept is the journey of a single human life in its entirety… from birth to death. Below is a description of each song and how it relates to this symbolic person’s life and the journey they take.
THE EAST GATE - The opening song “The East Gate” is a song about beginnings. The East Gate was a gate in Jerusalem (mentioned in the book of Nehemiah) that looked out at the sun rising everyday, symbolizing new birth. The first lyrics of the song are worded in a manner someone would speak to a newborn child, “Hush little one, don’t shed a tear.” As the song progresses it gives us a glimpse of the most important decision this child/person will ever make and how it impacts the rest of their life. Will they live for themselves, or for God? If you live for yourself, you will always have a small voice in the back of your mind telling you there is more to life. The “voice” won’t leave you alone. That is the voice of God, the relentless, pursuing love of God that wants you to know Him and realize how much you need Him… “You won’t be left alone” thinking about the purpose you were put here for on earth. In contrast, if we live for God, we receive another promise… “You won’t be left alone”. You will know God is with you always, giving you peace, comfort, love, and a purpose. The same phrase has two opposite meanings depending on the decision we make. Hopefully this song will prompt the listener with the same question… which choice will you make?
SHAME - As the next song “Shame” begins, we see the symbolic new believer in their life being shaken up by things happening around them. In a modern version of Peter being surrounded by conflict, the lyrics “Shame on you” repeat over and over. This is what the world does… this is what satan does. He tells us we aren’t good enough… we should be ashamed. Jesus gave Peter three chances later to affirm his love for Him and ask forgiveness for his denial. Peter, do you love me? Yes Lord, I love you. The song ends with three similar phrases, “Now I can see it”, “Now I believe it”, “Now I receive it”… and ends with the final proclamation “You gave Your life for me”. This is the believer taking renewed action to follow even in the difficult times and receive God’s forgiveness for the times they have failed.
ALL THAT I AM - With the renewed faith that has been found, the song “All That I Am” quickly follows. “I will give my life to the God who gave that Your Name alone be remembered” This is an anthem of reassurance and revival in our hearts that we give all we have over to God. The figurative person we are following on the album has now fully committed their lives to Christ and is starting their walk of faith with Jesus.
REST MY HEAD - Similar to life, as soon as we feel we are in the clear and hit that mountaintop experience, we sometimes get a curveball thrown our direction. So it is with the song “Rest My Head.” This song is a commentary on American society who pushes us to idolize ambition, success, and money. This song is that feeling we have as we get older to always want more. That insatiable feeling that if I just have one more dollar, one more thing, my life will be complete. The verse goes “This is what I learn, die for what I earn, take it to my grave, and bury it the same” Isn’t this true? Why do we emphasize the temporal things that don’t last? Yet we constantly fall into this trap… myself included. To further convict us, the very opening lines of this song contain a spoken phrase in the native tongue of a tribe member from Papua New Guinea where Jason Cizdziel (our drummer) is currently serving as a missionary. The phrase translates “Who will come tell us?”… meaning as we all focus on our own money and success, we are forgetting to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and forgetting what truly lasts.
LIES - The next song “Lies” tackles the subject of addiction. As life continues, we find that things may start to take a grip in our lives. Like a bad relationship, addiction can start controlling us in a way it seems we can’t escape. However, we know that God is greater than any challenge we may face including breaking that addiction. This doesn’t mean it is going to be easy, or happen overnight, but we first need to stop believing the lies that addiction tells us. This is the response given in the chorus: “Taking back what you control, freedom from the past I know, I will never listen to your lies again.” The song ends saying “We are no longer the same” essentially breaking out of the bad relationship (addiction) that the figurative person was involved in.
WE WILL NOT BE SHAKEN - In order to help us continue to fight the sin and addiction that plague us in this broken world, the next song is a battle cry. The symbolic person from the album has now broken the bonds of addiction and is proclaiming the gospel, unashamed and with renewed passion. This is a song meant to gather the believers and join in the fight. “We Will Not Be Shaken”… if you read the lyrics alone, you may find that this song has a typical worship feel. But when you add the war toms, the electric guitars, and the massive choir of voices, you get a song that is more of a battle cry. “We will not be shaken, our lives for Your life. Our lives are our answer, we trust in Your power, our hearts are on fire for You.” The end of the song leads directly into the next song with the lyrics “and we’ll follow you all of our days, we’re here”
FOLLOW - “Follow” is a turning point. Musically and lyrically it is the closest to a contemporary Christian worship song on the album. Like a breath of fresh air, the loud and noisy dust clouds have settled, and a time of reflection has begun in the life of the person. I wanted to write a worship song that acknowledges the incredible sacrifice it is to truly follow Jesus. That’s why this song has a minor key feel. It juxtaposes the uplifting worship lyrics with a solemn sound, the realism that we dedicate our lives to God, and it’s not always easy. This is about mid-way through the life of the symbolic person in the concept album, and a turning point in their life. They are starting to get wiser in their years, and find joy in the dedication that comes with their relationship with Christ.
YOU WILL BE FREE - “You Will Be Free” is God’s response to the person in the album. His presence is felt, and He responds “I will walk with you through oceans, I will shelter you in rain, lay your burdens on my shoulders, let me carry all your pain. You will be free.” God lifts up the person in their time of reflection, drawing close. This is a song meant to bring peace and is the only song on the album written from God’s perspective.
HEAR MY CRY - As the symbolic person from the album gets older in life, they see the important things in life more clearly. They see the incredible need in this world for God’s love. “Hear My Cry” is a song specifically about human trafficking, but more broadly about the oppressed. This is a song about reaching out and giving hope to the hopeless, and a light to the darkness. We are here to help put things right through the power of Jesus Christ, and to spread His gospel through love. The greatest commandment is love. Jason Cizdziel recorded a Papua New Guinea tribe member speaking at the end of this song. The spoken word translates to a story about how when the tribe was just starting to grasp the gospel, a previous missionary left the tribe and vanished. The tribe member is hurt and in disbelief why the previous missionary left them. Let this remind us that our work here is not done friends… let us continue to speak the gospel and speak love into this world.
LET ME KNOW THAT YOU ARE HERE - Lastly, in a culmination of everything that has happened in this symbolic persons life, the song “Let Me Know That You Are Here” begins. This song examines the many regrets this person had… “so many pages in my past I wish I could rewrite.” But as the song continues the person finds comfort knowing “You are my dwelling place, cast me not aside, calm the tempest in my heart, bring me back to life.” This is the final cry of the person as they go to be with God in heaven… as they are resurrected with Him. “Let me know that You are here...” The song ends with some ethereal female vocals and a reversed bass guitar part that sounds as if the person is being lifted into heaven. The last cry of the vocals feels like a last gasp of air from the earthly body as the soul lets go. The symbolic persons life has come to an end, and they are now free as God had promised, living with Him for eternity.
(Note: Our bass player Matt White wrote the song “Let Me Know That You Are Here.” The above paragraph is my personal interpretation. You can read his explanation of the song here: Matt’s Blog)
The female vocal part for “Let Me Know That You Are Here” was recorded in my basement years ago by a friend of ours named Mindy. Mindy battled for many years with depression and sadly ended up taking her own life before the album was completed. Our hope is that this song will be a tribute to her memory and a reminder that we must do everything we can to let those battling with depression know that they are not alone. It is a haunting reminder of the urgency we are called to, for spreading the gospel and being an example of God’s love to others.
lastly, Each song on the album represents a gate
There are 10 gates that were rebuilt in the book of Nehemiah 3:3-32. Each gate is represented by a song on this album. Here is what each gate represents for each song and the meaning behind the gates:
THE EAST GATE - (THE EAST GATE) - This gate looked out to where the sun rises each day and signifies new beginnings. The song represents the beginning of a new life being born on our album and the important choice that they must make.
THE FISH GATE - (SHAME) - This gate signifies our Christian witness and that we are to be fishers of men. Peter was a fisherman and our song correlates with him denying Christ three times and then coming to know the resurrected Christ, asking forgiveness, and letting go of the shame associated with his denial.
THE OLD GATE - (ALL THAT I AM) - This is the gate of truth. Eternal truths are not new, and this song builds on the foundations of all Christianity and the true purpose of our life “All that I am, and all that I’ll be is Yours.”
THE VALLEY GATE - (REST MY HEAD) - This is the gate of humility. To escape the ambitious and self-focused pull of society, we must humble ourselves and seek what God desires in our life.
THE DUNG GATE - (LIES) - This is the gate in Jerusalem where they took their refuse and trash to be burned. It is the purification gate. The song “Lies” talks about getting rid of sin and addiction in our life.
THE FOUNTAIN GATE - (WE WILL NOT BE SHAKEN) - This gate signifies the Holy Spirit washing us clean. Our song represents the power we have after we receive the Holy Spirit and have been forgiven.
THE WATER GATE - (FOLLOW) - This gate represents God’s word. It was one of the only gates not needing repair in Nehemiah. The song Follow borrows from the scripture John 12:26 “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
THE SHEEP GATE - (YOU WILL BE FREE) - This gate represents the Lamb of God, Christ. The song is written from Jesus’ perspective. “Lay your burdens on my shoulders, let me carry all your pain. You will be free."
THE HORSE GATE - (HEAR MY CRY) - This gate represents warfare and battles fought by the Israelites. In “Hear My Cry” the idea of spiritual warfare is a theme lyrically. Verse 2 states “The battle it comes from within, and darkness that never should win, the wars not over.”
THE INSPECTION GATE - (LET ME KNOW THAT YOU ARE HERE) - This gate represented a gate of self inspection and reflection that sometimes comes towards the end of someone’s life. The song “Let Me Know” references a list of past mistakes made in someone’s life and is entirely based around the idea of self inspection.
In conclusion, the album title also comes from one of the gates mentioned in Nehemiah… “GATE BETWEEN TWO WALLS” is actually another name for the Dung Gate in Jerusalem as it was surrounded by two walls.
I believe this album is not a typical worship album, but my hope is that it is worshipful. My hope is that it is thought provoking, no matter what you believe. And my hope is that it makes you think about what really matters in this life.