Choirs and Worship with Jason McGee
You know, one solo singer, it can easily fly over the head of the person on the seventh row, last seat, or the person in the balcony, especially if they don’t necessarily like their voices or if they’re not connecting to it. But everyone sees themselves in a choir. Everyone can see themselves in a choir. No matter who you are, no matter what your walk of life is, you can look at a choir and find you in there. That’s what I love about choirs. It’s the only thing that represents the people they actually minister to.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Rob: Hi everyone, this is Bishop Rob Wright, and this is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Today we have a special guest. Someone that I have just met and already feel a great affinity for and affection for. Jason McGee is with us. Jason, welcome.
Jason: Oh, thank you so much for having me. What’s up, everybody?
Rob: We are delighted to have you. Now, I don’t even know how to really describe you. And that’s part of the richness of who you are. Jason grew up in the church. He’s out in LA even right now. He’s been on NPR, Tiny Desk. He’s done gigs with Coachella, Madonna, Pharrell, John Legend. And yet, here he is with us. And so, he calls himself a creative. And yet he’s got a big heart for the gospel.
So, Jason, before we get going on all your credentials and all this wonderful stuff that God has blessed your life with. Just tell us how you get started? How do you get to being a creative in the musical space and inviting us to worship into our best selves?
Jason: I would say getting started honestly, church. There’s no better training ground for anything creatively than church. You know, I’m the Pastor’s grandson. I am the Choir Director’s son. The State Women Supervisor’s grandson. You know, I’m the nephew of what three more Pastors in the family. So, it just kind of runs deep, you know. And growing up, my mother was my Choir Director. And so, I sat under her. I watched her. And at 14-years-old I started directing.
Rob: Wait a minute, 14?
Jason: Yeah, 14-years-old. What is funny, I found a photo the other day, 14-year-old Jason. And I was like that kid was directing choirs? I was like, what did I know? I didn’t know enough to do this. But I guess I had a gift, you k now, and God used it.
But it was when I moved to Los Angeles and went to theater school, was when I think the gift was, like, just more cultivated and exposed. And so, you know, I kind of like used my creativity through theatre school, and my fashion training, and just all of those things rolled up into the natural gift of directing. And that’s kind of where I kind of like really started creating something bigger than what I had seen before, something larger than myself. My dreams, my aspirations were way bigger than what I was told a director was allowed to do. I just knew that like God was going to use this gift, whatever it was, to go way above, you know, my local surroundings.
Rob: Yeah. And what denomination did you grow up in? How was it characterized or categorized?
Jason: It’s categorized as, I would say, I mean, it goes like Christian, Pentecostal, and then Church of God in Christ.
Jason: So, it’s COGIC, that’s the acronym for it.
Rob: Yeah, well watch out, I might try to make you an Episcopalian before this is over here.
Jason: Oh, man, I feel like I’ve been Baptist, Episcopal, so many different things.
Rob: There you go. There you go. Now, you know, what we talk about in the church oftentimes is that people want change or at least say they do, but you start touching the music, when you start touching the order of service– And in my domination, we really struggle. We sort of hold the Bible dear and maybe in some places the Hymnal even more dearly, right? So, we can do all kinds of stuff but don’t touch the liturgy, right? So, how do you bring all this energy, enthusiasm, new vision into that? Because we can be very protective.
Jason: Yes. What is funny is I heard Naomi Raine say this today. She said, “Most people go Father, Son, Holy Bible.” And she says, we hang on to certain things so much that we kind of like exit out the Holy Spirit.
I think for me, I think I’ve always driven the word intention into my choirs and to the people that I lead, doing things with intention. And I think that intention goes beyond literature. I think because everyone was writing– Literature was being written by people who were intense or using intention about how they were feeling. But that might not be how you’re feeling. Or, you know, those words that meant certain things to certain people, they may mean something different to you. And so, God created all of us individually. We are all very different people. No two people are alike. So, my intention or my affinity for these words is going to be wildly different than yours. So, I think for me, I always drive my singers to sing your testimony in this song. Since your experience in this song. Yes, the words are written this way. And yes, your neighbor is going to be singing the same words, but they don’t have the same intention. I think if everybody brings their experience, their intention, and their testimony into these words, I think you get feeling now. You get connection. You get something way bigger than you. You are telling your story through things that were written hundreds of years ago. So, then it constantly renews it as well. And it speaks to– And now, it speaks to a new generation. Spiritually it speaks to people that maybe are going through the same thing as you. They are connecting with you spiritually, way beyond just what was written on paper.
Rob: You know, one of my favorite lines from U2, the rocker band U2’s lead singer Bono is, people give themselves to lyrics like nothing else. And we have all had that experience, haven’t we? We’ve been in the car, singing our head off even though we can’t sing. The singer or the arranger or whatever it is, they are speaking to us. They are speaking for us. I mean, in some ways, it’s just like the Psalms. There is an emotional honesty in song lyrics.
And I know personally, my own personal testimony is there been many days when I was dry and just didn’t know if I was going to make it. Just wondered where God was. And thank God for iTunes. And thank God for my phone or at the time, my iPod. And somebody sang me through, you know. And so, music can just lift.
When I was a full time Pastor, I used to tell my congregation, don’t leave it all to the choir. Let this assembly be a choir. Because the person sitting next to you might have had the song beat out of them all week, and they get the benefit of sitting beside you. So, sing, right? And so, when you’re saying about people singing their testimony and witness into this, you know, it’s crucial.
You know, I was reading a bit about you, and you said something else that I think is really important. I think we need to figure out nowadays to is that, choir singing is important, right? There’s something holy about us breathing together, breathing the Word of God together, and breathing it over one another. Say a bit about choirs and your experience of all of that?
Jason: I mean, choirs are my love. So, I am a diehard choir kid. I think you’re never going to get the sound of an individual like you will out of the masses. There is no sound like the sound of 20, 30, 50, and in our case 700 choir members singing collectively, all on the same page, to the same God, at the same time. There is no sound like that. Also, choirs represent who’s in the audience. You know, one solo singer, it can easily fly over the head of the person on the seventh row, last seat, or the person to the balcony. Especially if they don’t necessarily like their voices or if they’re not connecting to it. But everyone sees themself in a choir. Everyone can see themselves in a choir. No matter who you are, no matter what your walk of life is. You can look at a choir and find you in there. That’s what I love about choirs. It’s the only thing that represents the people they actually minister too.
Easton: Hi, listeners. Thanks for listening to For People, a space of digital evangelism. You’re hearing the Ministry of Jason McGee. Jason will be with us leading a mass choir with Imagine Worship on October 3rd with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at St. Barts NYC. If you’re local in the area, we encourage you to attend. Link to register in episode description. And now, back to For People.
Rob: On my consecration service, we had a representative choir from around the diocese. So, that’s, you know, 117 congregations, right? And we had representatives from all the choirs there. So, we ended up having about 300 people in the choir because we were limited by space. I wanted bigger. But we were at Morehouse Chapel and we were limited by space. And I can tell you optically we were everything. We were male, we were female. Some had pink hair, some had no hair, some had grey hair. I mean, some were young. And there was a power that was communicated there. And so, it’s visually interesting. But I would say spiritually powerful to have them, to take up the leadership role in worship.
People talk a lot about generational stuff when it comes to music and worship and church, etc. Are you finding that the choirs still have an effect on the young heart or the young mind? Or is that passe now?
Jason: No, I don’t think it’s passe at all. I don’t think it ever will be passe nor do I think it ever was passe. There were choirs, I mean, and not to make this, you know, overly anything. But there were choirs during slavery times. There’s always been groups of people to come together to relay a message. And that will never go away as long as people roamed the Earth. You know, they started so long ago, so many generations ago, and as long as as a collective of people who desire to be together, desire to sing together, I think choirs will always, you know, be represented.
Well, I think what’s important is that they are often respected and displayed well. And I think that causes people to really respect them for sure. You know, and then also choirs are full of people who at times are not really singers. The best choirs don’t have the best singers in them.
Rob: Right. But there’s something about the collective, isn’t there?
Jason: There is the collective. There is community. As long as people desire community and singing and worship, there will always be a need and a desire for choir. And I do believe that once that, not once, but if any wave, any solo singer wave, any group singer wave, any worship team only member wave, once that’s over there will– If you think about it, choirs have been the only things that have really withstood the test of time. Choirs in my opinion are the sound of heaven.
Jason: Because again, this is the only place, the only thing that you can get that many people, from that many walks of life, singing together to the same God at the exact same time.
Rob: Let me tell you as a Pastor of a congregation, in a couple of iterations, boy, let me tell you. When that choir really bonds and bonds positively and constructively, it is a force. Now, also true when it bonds around something negative, it can also be an unfortunate force.
Jason: It is always a force.
Rob: It is always a force, right? Now, I don’t like to use the words secular music and sort of spiritual music. You and I both know that, you know, every good thing comes from God, right? And so, God doesn’t have the boundaries and stuff the way we impose boundaries.
But just for the conversation sake, we are starting to notice in what we were calling secular music, you know, the usage of choirs. And even when we look over to Kanye, which is not secular music, a guy who has a heart for faith, he develops a choir and puts out a gospel album. And without it being sort of formalized Church, the music, and I’ve listened to it thoroughly. The music is trying to connect people with this big presentation of all kinds of people, right? Piercings, and tattoos, and hair, and no hair, and blue hair, and all that. And I’m excited by that because you know, church as we know it is going through a radical shift. And what perhaps you and I grew up with, it’s not always going to look like that. But there are going to be people who have a heart for following Jesus and who are moved and inspired by the Bible, and who want to live meaningful, purposeful lives for God. Say something about that. Because we really are talking about a generational thing here.
Jason: You know what, a couple years ago, maybe last year, the Lord really was showing me some things about the people that we have discarded.
Rob: Hey, wait a minute now.
Jason: Like, as not something enough to be able to minister or worship in our churches or whatever. The people with the blue hair, the pink hair, the piercings, and the tattoos. We have created all these rules and boundaries where they are no longer feeling free or safe to worship with us. And then the Lord revealed to me, he said, I’m their God, too. And so, I started saying that. I was like even your enemy, like it’s his child. He’s their God too. And the person that you want God to get on your behalf or pay back on your behalf because they made you upset, he’s their God too. And everyone has the opportunity to love him and be loved by Him because he created them simply. Biblically, it says, He created all of us in his image. That we are all fearfully and wonderfully made and that we’re in His image and that when he views us, he views us through the lens of love and he sees himself. This is why the Bible says, a man looks on the outward, but God looks on the heart. Because that is the place where he communicates with us. That is the place where he hears us. And my heart could be very pure, but my hair is blue. Neither has anything to do with each other.
Rob: That’s right.
Jason: My hair is blue because I’m an artist and I really like blue hair. But who created me to be an artist? God. So, it’s just like we– So, the Lord revealed to me years ago, well a couple of years ago, he said, I’m their God too. And that really changed the way that I lead. It changes the way that I direct. It changes the way that I communicate. It takes off the judgment, the clock of judgment on whomever I don’t view or deem something enough to sing in the choir or to worship God. So, you know, yeah.
Rob: Now, look man, now we have to add preacher to the resume. Because you preach that sermon. Let me tell you, I mean to throw away people, we had a guy on who was a lawyer on behalf of people who were being sexually abused not long ago. And he talked about the people that nobody’s looking for. And, you know, they are thrown away in one way or the other. And yeah, God sees them as precious. Has the numbers of their tears as well as every hair on their head, also. And so, you know, when I see people who do the work that you’re doing, it’s exciting to me because it ends up being a place of refuge. People are not thrown away or cast out because of how they look. I mean, for a long time, especially perhaps in the black church, there was this sort of politics of respectability. One had the look away on Sunday. And there is a lot of positive about that. And historically, it was one of those places that we could go in a very racist time in our nation’s history where we could be called Sir and Madam and dress up with ties and the dresses and beautiful. Things have changed now. And now, I think the tent has to get wider. And I love how you said, the cloak of judgment has to go away. Because, you know, there are hurting souls. And perhaps now more than ever, with the velocity and complexity of life. And everybody having a supercomputer in their back pocket. We’ve got to get this message out. And so, music is the best way for me. I got to tell you, I’m a real weirdo when it comes to music. I have everybody from Kanye to Beethoven, Steel Paul’s Bob, I’ve got everybody on my playlist here.
Jason: And you realize there is not much difference between any of them? There’s not.
Rob: No. And they seek to name what is real. They seek to lift. They seek to tell the truth. I mean, they only have a few purposes, right? And so, that’s why I love so many different genres.
Well, you know, what else I’m excited about is that, you know, beyond this podcast, you and I are going to get a chance to do some ministry together. You are going to join us in New York City in October.
Rob: With our presiding Bishop.
Jason: Yes, sir.
Rob: We started something a couple of years ago Jason, called Imagine Church. And it’s a double entendre. We wanted people to sort of imagine, reimagine church. But now, we’re going for Imagine Worship. We’re trying to make it wider and deeper and bigger. And so, the fact that we get to partner with you and some other people who are beyond the Episcopal sort of branch of the Christian family tree is really, really exciting.
Can you talk a little bit about about your musings going into all of that?
Jason: When I was invited by Easton to be a part of Imagine Worship, it just seems right. Do you know what I mean? It just seems like the trajectory of my career and going into all different realms with this one gift, you know. How it knows no boundaries. It knows no denomination.
So, I wasn’t raised. I wasn’t raised in a worship culture. My church was very praise heavy. It was shout, shout, foot dance, speaking tongues, you know what I mean? They used to always joke and say roll on the floor. And I’d say, yeah, I saw a couple of rolls too. Definitely some running. So, being welcomed into this extreme worship atmosphere is an honor to say the least. I’m excited about it. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I cannot wait to just experience it because this will be my first time in anything like this. You know, I’m with Maverick City now. So, I’m moving all over the country with them. But even still, this is still a little bit different. Just the way in which we are going to go about. So, excited.
Rob: You know, that’s sort of what we have thought about. We started off with a couple of guys having some ideas about what we needed to do differently. We thought that COVID would give us good cover. We thought there was no real excuse not to try and run what we call faithful experiments, right? The learn something, right? Sometimes I think we can be a bit too timid. We who sort of claim an audacious God and you know, in our sort of faith heritage, a guy like David who took on a giant. We get a little skittish when it comes to facing our own giants.
And so, we decided to try something called Imagine Church. And our goal was to be faithful, to be prayerful, to try to connect, but also if we had to fail marvelously, right? And so, here we are two years later. Yeah, we are still trying, and it is exciting because we’ve gotten emails and text messages from all kinds of people, from all kinds of walks of life saying that this was important for them. It was different for them. And then we had some other people were a little bit more skeptical, but nevertheless opened their heart and said, well, let’s see.
And a quick commercial for my Episcopal Church, you know, we forget. And I’m sure you have this version in your sort of church and denomination. We forget that we were founded to live in a tension. And to live in that tension it means, you know, on the one hand, the tradition that we have been given and the same time to run after a living God who is still doing new things. And so, we’re not being faithful if we’re only talking about yesterday’s God, right? And we’re not being faithful, we’re just trying to make it up ourselves. The faithfulness is in the intention, right? What is the experiment that God is calling us to run? Faithful, we call data driven experiments.
So, I’m so glad that you’re going to join us and we’re going to figure that out together. We try to say we need people who are excellence minded, and who are trusting God, and looking for some other folks to have good Christian fellowship with. And so, I experience in you, all of that. Yeah.
Jason: I cannot wait. You know, I’m often intrigued with people that are unwilling to move forward. That call themselves Christians, saved, or loving God. It’s always interesting to me that I’m like, why? It’s like, you do know that he created the entire existence in days and then rested. You do know that he is the same God that told a man to build an arc long before there was rain. It’s just like, is he not able to do new things, today? Like, he’s still the same God. So, which means, there are some miracles that he wants to work out. Like, you know, he is still the God of miracles. He is still performing miracles. And there might be some miracles that he wants to work on all of us. I think we just have to be willing to allow him to move accordingly.
Rob: Well, this is it. And as we move to our close, you know, one of the things that we’re working on here, and you are part and parcel of that with us today, is this wonderful piece from Isaiah, behold, I do a new thing, right? And then, he asked the question, do you not perceive it? And so, that goes right to your comment. So, God is this God that is always doing new things. And our invitation from God is keep up, you know, stay with me. And we do know what we know.
Jason: And just trust me. Or just trust me. Just like don’t fight me. Just trust me, that’s all.
Rob: Well, you know, and it’s a fancy way to say that, right? Don’t frustrate grace.
Jason: Embrace it.
Rob: Yeah. Trust me, trust me to come along.
Well, you have been graceful and making time to be with us, to offering up your gifts. And I’m just so glad I just, you know, in the name of the spirit that is most holy and Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Savior. I just wish all of God’s blessings on your ministry as you continue to teach an ever-enlarging circle, what it means to worship and praise a loving God. So, God bless you. And thank you, man.
Jason: Thank you as well. Thanks for having me. Thanks for loving on me. It feels good.
Jason: I cannot wait. I cannot wait to be with you all. I really can’t. It’s in my favorite city. It’s with some great people. It’s going to be amazing. So, we are hoping that quite a few choir members turn up and we’re going to have some fun.
Rob: Amen. We are going to have some fun. All right.