A Holy Week PlaylistPop songs and the Gospels

A Holy Week Playlist
Pop songs and the Gospels

A few months ago, I did a Bible study with the Conference staff where I shared how I had soundtracked the entire Gospel of John. The requirements for the songs were that they had to come from pop radio (sorry, country and rap fans) and could not be from overtly Christian artists.[i] Since I exposed my love for bringing the Bible into a conversation with pop music, our Center for Communications invited me to prepare this song list to share.

Still, I didn’t want to do a list without some explanation about why I made the choices I did. So, this blog is the companion piece to lead you through this soundtrack of the most important and meaningful week of the Christian year. I also invite you to share your own ideas for songs by emailing me at michelle.morris@arumc.org.

If you want to subscribe to the playlist, click here. You can also listen to the songs embedded in the playlist below.

Here we go!

“I Want You to Know” by Zedd, feat. Selena GomezJesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-40, and John 12: 12-10) Palm Sunday has to be a big song, and this dance number fits that bill. It has to be energetic and positive. But also, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the end, so the fact that it acknowledges that a storm has started brewing is important. Finally, Jesus recognizes that the time has come, “it’s our time” for the full-on challenge of Jerusalem and Roman authority to commence.

“Burn It Down” by Linkin ParkFlipping over tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:1-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19: 45-46) Jesus flips out and flips tables to get people’s attention that he now means business. Some of his disciples would likely be on board with this not-so-kind, not-so-gentle Jesus, and some would be disturbed. I imagine this song in part as a duet sung by Judas and Peter, in which Peter expresses the pieces of discomfort while Judas relishes in the moments of power. The chorus of this song declares the revolution that Jesus is undertaking (“Tear this Temple down and I will rebuild it in three days”).

“Believer” by Imagine Dragons Challenges to Jesus’ authority (many places, ie. Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11: 27-33, Luke 20:1-8) Jesus came to challenge the dominant authorities of the day, and they did not take kindly to that challenge. I like this song to capture that reality because the believer here is not necessarily believing in the right things. There is tension in what the purpose of the belief is and in whom one is believing. Certainly it catches the reality of sorting through truth in the 1st (and 21st) century.

“Do You Really Want It?” by Nothing MoreJesus’ increasingly difficult teachings (i.e. tenant farmers in Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19) As we get closer and closer to the cross, Jesus’ teachings get more and more difficult to swallow. He is calling for us to radically change ourselves and our society. This song recognizes that people say they want to change, but when it actually involves personal sacrifice, they aren’t so sure.

“Price Tag” by Jessie JJesus’ teachings about money (i.e. render unto Caesar and the widow’s offering) No huge surprise, some of the teachings that people most resist have to do with money. Jesus is deconstructing how money is used to preserve the government and also to oppress the poorest among us. We have missed the point about what money could be for us, which is a means to share readily all the resources God has shared with us. “Price Tag” comparably deconstructs where our priorities should be.

“Nothing More” by The Alternate Routes feat. Lily CostnerThe Greatest, or Only, Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12: 28-34, Luke 10:25-28, John 13:31-35) I don’t guess I ever noticed that during Holy Week Jesus focused in on teaching us the greatest (or in the case of John, the only) commandment, which is to love one another. Certainly story after story in the Gospel illustrates that love is not just a spoken thing, but a shown and lived thing. As this song puts it, “We are love. We are one. We are how we treat each other when the day is done. We are peace. We are war. We are how we treat each other, and nothing more.”

“Renegades” by X AmbassadorsThe Disciples will be harassed (Matthew 24:3-14, Mark 13:3-13, Luke 21:7-11) Jesus is calling his disciples to a new vision for the world. That will come with a great deal of resistance. But that is the work of world changers: buck the system and live as renegades.

“Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy PerryTrouble is coming and no one sees it (Matthew 24:15-28, Mark 13:14-23, Luke 21:20-24) This sounds like a soothing dance song, and in many ways it is, lulling us to a comfortable beat. But if you listen to the lyrics, the song itself is pointing out that such a predictable rhythm has caused us to quit noticing all the injustices around us or to quit doing anything about it. Nonetheless, a riot is boiling. In the story of Holy Week, Jesus shares a prophetic warning that the same is happening in Jerusalem.

“Wake Me Up” by AviciiStay Alert! (Matthew 24:37-44, Mark 13:35, Luke 21:34-36) Like the prior song, this song sings of wanting to just bury your head in the sand and ignore all the struggle and change around us. Jesus pushed back on such attitudes, insisting that the people around him must instead stay alert for what is coming.

“Gone, Gone, Gone” by Phillip PhillipsJesus is teaching about his death (John 12:20-36) As the cross looms ever closer, Jesus tries to prepare his followers for his inevitable death. It will be both traumatic and transformative. Resurrection is coming. “Gone, Gone, Gone” deals with the reality of loss and separation, but also with the assurance that it is not the final word.

“A Song for Someone” by U2Anointing at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8) In the midst of the madness that is Holy Week, there is this quiet, intimate moment when either an unnamed woman, or Mary of Bethany (not to be confused with Jesus’ mother or Mary Magdalene) anoints either Jesus’ feet or his head. And yet, there is still controversy in this moment, about whether it was proper, and then there is the controversy that Jesus tells people to remember and tell this story, and yet no Gospel tells it the same way. The woman (Mary) seems to understand who Jesus is in the midst of all this noise. “A Song for Someone” also tells the story of a quiet recognition of who Jesus is, in the midst of all kinds of tensions and questions and struggles. It is a song of rest amidst the madness.

Demons,” and “Natural,” both by Imagine DragonsJudas prepares to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6, John 13:21-30) Ah, Judas. We don’t know what to make of you. Some will say you were driven by greed and ambition, that your main concern was earthly power and riches, and certainly there is evidence in the Bible to suggest such a reading. For that Judas, “Natural” is a perfect fit. But some will point out that it is almost as if you didn’t have a chance. That you were predestined to be the betrayer, and that, quite literally, the devil made you do it. For that more sympathetic Judas, we turn to “Demons.” In truth, you probably show what we all struggle with: we fail you for both good and bad reasons, in all the roles we play.

“High Hopes” by Panic! At the DiscoDisciples argue over greatness (Luke 22:24-30) And speaking of desiring power, this moment when the Disciples, particularly John and James, try to claim a position at your right and left hand in glory, reminds us that none of the disciples are without their problems. I love this song for that moment, especially if we look at the telling of this story in other gospels where it is actually their mom who tries to get them their position. Like “Mama said, ‘Fulfill the prophecy, be something greater, go make a legacy, manifest destiny.’” Snowplow parent, anyone?

“The Last of the Real Ones” by Fall Out BoyPredictions that the disciples will fall away (Matthew 26:30-35, Mark 14:26-31, Luke 22:31-34, John 13:36-38) Jesus breaks the news to his closest followers that when times get bad, they are all going to fall away. What is their response? No, not us! Peter especially insists that he is ready to die for Jesus. I can imagine Peter singing this song by Fall Out Boy in that moment, a song that praises the object of his affection but also hints at the dysfunction of the relationship.

“Home” by Phillip PhillipsJesus goes to prepare a home (John 14:15-31) I mean, this song might as well be the sung version of the section of the farewell discourse when Jesus tells his people he will not leave them orphaned and goes to prepare a home for them.

“Hey Brother” by AviciiLove one another (John 15:9-17) I love this song for this moment (hundreds of other songs would work here) because it captures the responsibility we as the family of faith have for one another. It speaks of a relationship in which you would give your all for your brother or sister. It is also in this farewell discourse that Jesus is steadily moving his disciples from thinking of themselves as his followers to each other’s family.

“Iris” by The Goo Goo DollsJesus’ farewell prayer (John 17:1-26) “Iris” is such a heartbreaking song, and this moment in John is such a heartbreaking prayer. Both recognize a love that is worth giving up heaven for, that will be misunderstood by others, but that will necessarily go through significant loss before it is all over.

“Stay” by Rihanna feat. Mikky EkkoJesus asks the disciples to stay and pray with him (Matthew 26:36-38, Mark 14:32-34) There is a great deal of tension around the concept of staying at this moment. In John, the disciples have told Jesus they don’t want him to go. They want him to stay. When Jesus moves to the Garden of Gethsemane in the synoptic gospels, Jesus begs his followers to stay and pray with him. Neither group will get their wish: Jesus must go, and the disciples will fail at praying and fall asleep. Rihanna’s heartbreaking duet makes this moment all the more poignant.

“Mercy” by Shawn MendesJesus praying in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39-46, Mark 14:35-42, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1) Luke’s gospel tells us that this moment in the garden was so wrenching for Jesus, he appeared to sweat blood. This is the moment when Jesus’ humanity and divinity might be most at war with one another. The divinity knows the fulfillment to come. The humanity knows the pain it will take to get there. I like to imagine Jesus singing the expanded chorus of “Mercy” to reflect those tensions. You can hear him singing to his disciples, to the human authorities, and perhaps to his own human side, “Please have mercy on me, take it easy on my heart. Even though you don’t mean to hurt me, you keep tearing me apart.” To the divine, to the God whose will will be done, but the one who could take this cup from him, he sings, “Would you please have mercy on me? I’m a puppet on your string. And even though you got good intentions, I need you to set me free.”

“Chains” by Nick JonasJesus gets arrested (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:2-12) Okay, you need to make one small adjustment to this song for it to really work. Change the “she” to a “he.” Then imagine, as Judas is coming into the garden with the guards, that Jesus sees him and sings this song under his breath about Judas. Judas’ lips are still wine-stained from the Last Supper, and he comes to kiss Jesus and seal his fate. But remember, Jesus took on these chains as much for Judas as for any of us. He is in chains for our love.

“Human” by Christina PerriPeter’s Denial (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:56-62, John 18:25-27) For all his bravado that he was going to be willing to die for Jesus, Peter falls away as fast as anyone else. But then, what do we expect? He is only human.

“Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina AguileraJesus before the High Priest and Pilate (Matthew 26:57-68, 27:11-14; Mark 14:53-65, 15:2-5; Luke 22:54-71, 23:2-5; John 18:13-24, 29-38) Jesus does not offer much of a defense of himself before the High Priest and before Pilate. What defense he offers is mostly circular. All the people who had followed him up to this point probably expect him to lower the boom now, and yet he doesn’t. They are probably desperate. Desperate for him to “Say something! I’m giving up on you!”

“Bring Me to Life” by EvanescenceJudas’ Death (Matthew 27:3-10) However we think of Judas, at least in Matthew’s gospel, we learn he had great regrets for what he did. Regrets big enough to cause him to return the silver and take his own life. This song by Evanescence is a cry of desperation to be saved from such despair.

“A Light that Never Comes” by Linkin Park x Steve AokiJesus making his way to the cross (Matthew 27:24-37, Mark 15:15-26, Luke 23:17-34, John 19:1-27) We are accustomed to hearing sad, slow, mournful songs for the procession to the cross. Certainly that fits an understandable perspective of that moment. But remember, in the moment, what was happening was that a rebel was being executed. More likely the crowd, which has just chanted for Jesus’ death, is riled up. Add to that a defiant savior, who knows where all this leads, and I think a dubstep, furiously rapped song may actually fit the moment better. Imagine the people who had followed Jesus, who have now lost all hope in him as the Messiah, singing the chorus. They are again finding themselves, “Waiting for the light that never comes.” Then imagine Jesus proclaiming the verses. The first verse takes place as he is dragged around and tormented by soldiers. The slow moving then rapid fire beats that lead into the chorus correspond with whip thrashes. Then the second verse is sung before Pilate, as Jesus describes what kind of king he is. The slow moving then rapid fire beats are steps down the road to the cross, as Jesus is helped along by Simon. The last set of beats, then corresponds to the nails driving through his wrists and ankles. Jesus is defiant, knowing he will defeat death; the crowd who followed him, on the other hand, is losing all hope.

“Consequences” by Camila CabelloJesus is mocked and deserted (Matthew 27:38-43, Mark 15:27-32, Luke 23:35-38) The crowd has turned, and now most of the disciples have fled as well. I can imagine the disciples singing this song as they walk away. Loving Jesus had once been all they lived for. Now it seems “dumb, and dark, and cheap.”

“Rise” by Katy PerryJesus dies (Matthew 27:45-54, Mark 15:33-39, Luke 23:44-48, John 19:28-30) Jesus is going to defy the power of death, even as it looks like the nail is in and the vultures are circling. “Rise” was written for this moment on the cross.

“Wide Awake” by Katy PerryJoseph and Nicodemus bury Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were almost disciples. Both of them hovered around, almost at times coming to Jesus’ defense, but never making the full public commitment. Perhaps, as they came to collect his body, maybe out of respect, maybe out of loss, they figured they dodged a bullet. “Wide Awake” speaks of a sudden realization that the hopes you had were dashed, but now you know better and can move on. I can imagine Joseph and Nicodemus feeling that way.

“What Now?” by RihannaHoly Saturday There is no real gospel account of what happened between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I always think of all the people who lost Jesus. What was that day like for them? How desolate and lost must they have felt? I wonder if they were both in deep mourning, and also afraid to expose such grief. Rihanna almost screams such anguish in this song, sharing the trauma of depression that has to be covered up.

“Love Don’t Die” by The FrayThe empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-13) Love doesn’t die. Jesus lives! No matter if you bury love “six feet underground,” love will rise again!

“This is the New Year” by A Great Big WorldJesus hands us his ministry (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:9-20, Luke 24:44-49, John 21:1-19) When Jesus comes to his disciples, wherever and however he does at the end of each of the Gospels, he gives them a mission. It is a mission to share his story and his love with the whole world. He hands us that mission, empowers us through the Spirit, and he “will give the world to” us. Now let’s go get it!

[i] Okay, so arguably U2 is the world’s most successful Christian rock band. Also, Katy Perry got her start as a Christian singer. Every Imagine Dragons song that gets released fits into the soundtrack of the Bible for me. Many of these options here might as well be Christian bands, but they are not overtly so; thus, I keep them on this list.

New creative parish partnership to be developed in Southwest Little Rock

The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church announced today a new creative parish partnership that will bring together two United Methodist churches in Southwest Little Rock to better reach the vibrant community in that area with the message of Jesus Christ.

The Arkansas Annual Conference and the Central District are partnering with St. Andrew United Methodist Church and Geyer Springs United Methodist Church in Southwest Little Rock to grow a new Southwest Little Rock Ministry Partnership built upon the current missional ministries of these two congregations.

The area that encompasses the 72209 zip code – which includes neighborhoods along Baseline Road, Interstate 30, and Geyer Springs – is a diverse community of over 30 thousand residents, with a higher population of African American and Hispanic or Latino residents than any other area of Little Rock.

“We are seeking to build up a multiethnic community of faith anchored by these two congregations working together with a clergy team led by senior pastor Rev. Danita Waller Paige and associate pastor Rev. Lupita Chavarria, along with Deacons Rev. Jenni Duncan and Rev. Michelle Whitfield,” said the Rev. Blake Bradford, Central District Superintendent.

“This bold new initiative in bridging the gap of multi-ethnic and multi-lingual ministry is bigger than any single congregation could fulfill alone, so this creative partnership will enable the United Methodist Church to reach new and diverse people with the witness and grace of Christ,” Bradford said.

Bishop Gary Mueller shared, “We are thrilled to have these two, strong congregations partner together in a new ministry capacity to make disciples who will grow and make disciples. The excitement and positive energy is very contagious and God is showering His blessings on this new endeavor.”

Jeff Jackson appointed to The Vine NWA

Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church has appointed Jeff Jackson to Northwest Arkansas to start a new faith community called The Vine of NWA effective July 1, 2019.

The Vine of NWA is anticipated to serve as an engaging, multiplying model community that reaches out to people in fresh, new ways. The Vine of NWA will incorporate unique opportunities for worship both inside and outside the church.

“I am excited about new ministry opportunities in the NW District. The Centerton area is at the epicenter of growth in Arkansas and we want to be a vital partner of the growing ministry opportunities,” shared Stephen Coburn, NW District Strategist/Superintendent.

Bishop Mueller stated, “We are thrilled to continue the utilization of Jeff’s calling for building new communities for Christ. Reaching, growing and multiplying are the common denominators for The Vine of NWA. We are truly full of excitement for this opportunity to make new disciples who will make even more disciples for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Kay Kotan named Director of the Center for Vitality

Bishop Gary Mueller is pleased to announce that Kay Kotan has been named the new Director of the Center for Vitality, beginning July 1, 2019.

Kotan, who currently serves as the Director of Equipping Vital Congregations for the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church, brings to the position years of experience revitalizing congregations throughout the United States and helping to establish new church starts within and outside of central Pennsylvania.

A passionate lay person, Kotan has worked in banking and was a business owner for more than 20 years. She is a Coach U and Advanced Coach U graduate, an accredited coach (Professional Certified Coach – PCC) with the International Coaching Federation, a certified Path 1 coach, and served on the faculty at Coaching4Clergy.

She is the author of numerous books and workbooks on the subject of creating vital congregations, including Gear Up: Nine Essential Processes for the Optimized Church; Mission Possible: Structuring Your Church for Missional Effectiveness; Full Schedules, Barren Souls; IMPACT!: Reclaiming the Call of Lay Ministry; Necessary Nine – Nine Things Effective Pastors Do Differently, and others.

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to do ministry alongside the great people of Arkansas!  While I have had the privilege of meeting many of you during my visits to the Arkansas Conference, I am looking forward to getting to know you better and meet new friends,” Kotan said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to work with Bishop Mueller, the Cabinet, clergy, laity, and congregations in church revitalization and creating new places for new people to know Jesus Christ.”

As part of Kotan’s position, she will serve on the Conference cabinet and the Conference appointive cabinet. The Center for Reaching New People and the Center for Vitality will combine under Kay’s leadership.

Bishop Gary Mueller shared, “I am excited that Kay has said yes to this call. She brings excellent, hands-on experience to pastors and laity to grow vital congregations for Christ. Her impressive record of clergy, laity and congregational coaching will help inspire spiritual revival in the local churches of the Arkansas conference.”

Kotan is married to her husband of 26 years, Bob, and is the mother of her 23-year-old son, Cameron.

Methodist Behavioral Health System, Inc. Publishes Community Health Needs Assessment

LITTLE ROCK, AR (Mar. 27, 2019) – The state’s only nonprofit behavioral hospital exclusively for children released its Community Health Needs Assessment this week.

This report is Methodist Behavioral Health System, Inc.’s initial Community Health Needs Assessment. We anticipate the programs and processes set forth in this assessment will continue to change as we identify and prioritize needs for improving the psychiatric, behavioral and emotional health of the Arkansas children and their families we serve.

The report can be accessed at https://www.methodistfamily.org/behavioral-hospital.html, on our blog at https://www.methodistfamily.org/our-blog/, and at https://www.methodistfamily.org/our-blog/community-health-needs-assessment.html.

Methodist Behavioral Hospital in Maumelle, a program of Methodist Family Health, provides acute (short-term) care to boys and girls ages 3-17 and sub-acute (longer-term) care to boys ages 5-11. If a child is assessed to be a danger to him/herself, someone else or both, Methodist Behavioral Health System, Inc. can provide care to stabilize his/her behavior, so he/she can return to a less restrictive environment. This can mean he or she can return to the family home, a psychiatric residential treatment center or group home.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA), enacted March 23, 2010, added new requirements codified under Section 501(r) for organizations that operate one or more hospital facilities (hospital organizations) to be described in Section 501(c)(3), as well as new reporting requirements and a new excise tax.

A hospital facility is a facility that is required by a state (including only the 50 states and the District of Columbia) to be licensed, registered, or similarly recognized as a hospital. Multiple buildings operated under a single state license are considered to be a single hospital facility. In addition to the general requirements for tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) and Revenue Ruling 69-545, hospital organizations must meet the requirements imposed by Section 501(r) on a facility-by-facility basis in order to be treated as an organization described in Section 501(c)(3). These additional requirements are:

  1. Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) – Section 501(r)(3),
  2. Financial Assistance Policy and Emergency Medical Care Policy – Section 501(r)(4),
  3. Limitation on Charges – Section 501(r)(5), and
  4. Billing and Collections – Section 501(r)(6).

These provisions apply to taxable years beginning after the date of enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), except for the CHNA requirement, which applied to tax years beginning after March 23, 2012.

Founded in 1899 as the Arkansas Methodist Orphanage, Methodist Family Health is celebrating 120 years of rebuilding the lives of Arkansas children and families. Our mission is to give the best possible care to those who may need our help. Our continuum of care serves thousands of Arkansas children with psychiatric, behavioral, emotional and spiritual issues and their families each year. Methodist Family Health has locations throughout the state, including the Methodist Behavioral Hospital, two residential treatment centers, seven therapeutic group homes, an emergency shelter, a day treatment program, eight counseling clinics, nine school-based counseling clinics, a grief center for children and their families, and the Arkansas Center for Addictions Research, Education and Services (Arkansas CARES).


For More Information, Contact:
Kelli Reep, Director of Communications
501-906-4210 or 501-766-1260

United Methodist bishops respond to article in The New York Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to The New York Times article alleging that improper voting occurred at recent Special Session of General Conference, the Council of Bishops has issued the following statement:

“The Council of Bishops has always worked to help the delegates to do their best work, as the legislative body of the church. This means being a voice for fairness. The Council does not plan, host or oversee the General Conference.  We are not casting blame on a region of the world or a part of the body of Christ.  In honoring the sacrificial gifts of the delegates to the Special Session, the preparatory work of the Commission on a Way Forward, and the importance of the Special Session’s stated purpose, we do have an absolute and unwavering desire for transparency and the truth in discovering what has taken place in the special session of the General Conference.”

Kenneth H. Carter Jr.
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church


Media Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church