This article was originally published by The Mennonite

My top 10 songs: Melanie Hess

Each month, we’ll feature a playlist from a different individual across Mennonite Church USA reflecting on their top 10 most important songs. This month’s playlist comes from Melanie Hess. Melanie is a writer/editor in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

1. Mumford and Sons, After the Storm: Mumford and Sons are pretty cliché at this point, but this song never fails to give me goosebumps. Death is real and painful. Life is painful, too. Choosing to love someone here on earth will end in some kind of hurt, whether through breakups, misunderstanding, hard choices, or death. But there will come a time when love will not break your heart. In the life to come, love is all there is, so live into that hope, expectantly. Honestly, this song is a statement of faith for me and possibly the most Christian song I know.

2. Florence + the Machine, Shake It Out: As someone who lived carefully so as not to be hurt (until I decided not to anymore), this song is kind of a call to life, in all its messy glory. The chorus reminds me that “it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back”—but doesn’t define who/what that devil is. So for me, that devil is the fear of being hurt, of doing the wrong thing—instead of just doing something. “I’m ready to suffer, and I’m ready to hope” Florence sings in the bridge. (Bonus: this is a great kitchen dance party song with toddlers! Shake it out!)

3. Jennifer Knapp, Refine Me: Jennifer Knapp is the one contemporary Christian artist I still listen to with any regularity. This song came out when I was in college, and so there’s a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in it, too. Anyway, this is a beautiful prayer. “Wars I fought for my own selfish gain” pretty much sums it all up. (The entire album, Kansas, is worth adding to your collection.)

4. The Mountain Goats, 1 John 4:16: The Mountain Goats have a whole album (The Life of the World to Come) of songs named after Scripture passages, and part of the fun for me is seeing how the Scripture text and the songs’ texts go together. In many cases, it’s more of a feeling than an actual explicit connection. The feeling of this song is about being imprisoned, and facing something horrible, and finding strength to deal with whatever is to come through love that casts out fear.

5. Jason Isbell, 24 Frames: Jason Isbell is a singer-songwriter with a southern country background. Basically this is music for people who say they don’t like country (not me!) and also for everyone else. My favorite line in this song is also the chorus: “you thought God was an architect/now you know/he’s more like a pipe bomb ready to blow.” For me, that means that God is not there building the perfect world for me to inhabit, but rather he’s there to blow it all up and make me figure some things out for myself. Life is certainly not a nice neat package.

6. Josh Ritter, Change of Time: Some people might think it’s morbid to think about these things when you’re 37, but I’ve thought this would be a good song to play at my funeral. The narrator is dreaming about swimming through dark water, but it is peaceful. He wakes to see his partner in bed with him, that sight reassures him, and he goes back to swimming. The chorus: “it’s only a change of time” makes me think of moving from life to death and into the afterlife. It’s also just a beautiful song. And Josh Ritter has some of the most interesting lyrics out there, for my money.

7. Dar Williams, The One Who Knows: If you are a parent, or if you want kids, or if you love kids, I dare you to listen to this song without crying. It represents my parenting philosophy pretty much exactly. Even though I know I’ll fail, and I don’t always feel this sentimental about it (poop-filled diapers and lack of sleep takes some of the romance out of parenting), this is the overall message I want to live out.

8. Patty Griffin, Mary: The figure of Mary the Mother of Jesus has never been a part of my religious tradition, but in casting around for a feminine religious figure to identify with, this song became incredibly meaningful to me. Mary is everywhere in this song, and she is doing the behind-the-scenes work, cleaning up the mess after the men have done their big important things, which pretty much sums up the last two millennia in church history.

9. Strand of Oaks, Goshen ’97: I’m Mennonite, I graduated high school in 1997, and the lead singer of this band is a Showalter: what else can I say? Actually, I can say I am a big fan of the sound, which is reminiscent of The Killers or The Black Keys. This is about as hard as I rock, and this is a super fun song.

10. Josh Garrels, White Owl: At a time in my life when I was pondering a big change, this song was my go-to. Josh Garrels is, from what I understand, an explicitly Christian artist (but without some of the too-on-the-nose lyrics of some Christian artists). So the lyrics in the chorus in this song are a reminder to me that “you will never be alone” and that I have dreams and roots that will accompany me wherever I go. Those things are living stones that I can use to build a shelter for myself and for others, a place of safety and love.

You can also listen to past playlists online. 

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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