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 Melissa Florer-Bixler. Melissa is licensed for ministry in Virginia Mennonite Conference, although she currently serves the people of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina, as Minister of Nurture. She parents three small children with her husband, Jacob. They worship as a family at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. In August, Melissa will begin as Pastor at Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church.
Listen to Melissa’s full playlist below!
1. Leon Bridges, Coming Home: When I first heard this song I couldn’t believe it was written in 2016. Listening to Leon Bridges is like getting to hear Sam Cooke write and perform new material, and that is like listening to sunshine. The album is transporting and I can (and do) listen to this track on repeat.
2. Ana Tijoux, Creo en ti: Tijoux’s parents fled their native Chile as political exiles and she was raised in France, a child without a country. Her politics and music are fused in Vengo and in an interview, Tijoux describes hip-hop as a “land for the landless.” Her work is fierce and beautiful. “Creo en ti” (“I believe in you”) sounds like what it means, the same fierceness and beauty channeled towards an other self. “Because in you, I see myself.”
3. Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop, One Way to Pray: I was excited to hear new songs from Sam Beam, who also performs as Iron and Wine. As always, the words Beam pens are rich and rocky. “It’s a tough road taking the name they’ll carve on our graves.” Beam is known for offering up searing and poetic glimpses into mortality. But Hoop and Beam also dwell on ordinary loveliness, lines like “We’re alive under thunder clouds, taking hymns out of mother’s mouths, swimming out to the incoming waves: that’s one way to pray.” Such beauty in the sorrow.
4. Leyla McCalla, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey: McCalla began her musical career as a classically trained cellist who went on to record as part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This solo album goes back to her roots, seeped in the musical traditions of Haitian Creole. The results are complex and riveting. “A day for the hunter, a day for the prey” is a Haitian proverb that emerged from the struggle against colonialism in Haiti – a day for the oppressor, but a day coming for the oppressed. In an interview McCalla talks about writing this song with the contemporary struggles of Haitian boat people in mind: migrants making their way across dangerous waters in search of new lives, new homes, new futures.
5. Ibeyi, River: Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz are twin sisters whose voices blend so perfectly on this Afro-Cuban album it’s as if one sound is split in two. It’s eerie perfection. Their songs are marked by Yorùbá tradition, chants on slave ships, and Santería religion. River also offers some striking imagery for baptism, the river being another body: “Those old ‘me’s, so ashamed, let the river take them, the river drown them.”
6. Ryan Adams, Bad Blood: I love this whole album of Ryan Adam’s covers of Taylor Swift’s 1989. It’s a fascinating exercise in how strong songwriting can be transformed by a good musician. When Swift sings this song it’s an awesome “Girl Power” ballad; a reminder not to mess with her team. Adams turns it into a song about heartbreak, his voice wavering on the lyric “it’s so sad.” It would be best to listen to this album in an empty parking lot after dark, in the rain, preferably in the fall.
7. Wilco, Theologians: Wilco starts this song with a critique of those of us in the business of theological inquiry – “they thin my heart with little things, and my life with change.” But then there’s a transition. Tweedy begins singing these lines that sound like opening up to the unknown of God, the finding that happens in God’s hiddenness: “I’m going away for you to look for me. Where I’m gone you cannot come.” When I hear these lyrics I imagine the disciples watching the resurrected Jesus ascend into the air, looking around and realizing that the only place they have to look for Jesus is there, among them, within them.
8. Paul Simon, Born at the right time: While attributed to Simon, this album is the work of a crowd of incredible artists: Milton Nascimento, Francisco Aguabella, Giovanni Hidalgo, and Rafael Rabelo to name a few. “Born at the right time” paints the picture of a creaking planet: thoughtless globalization, population boom in developing nations, and the political and environmental factors that influence migration. “I’ve seen them in the airport lounge, upon their mother’s breast, they follow me with open eyes, they’re uninvited guests.” But in the mellow, rhythmic pulse of the song you can only hear gift. And that’s where the song takes you: “born at the instance church bell chimes, whole world whispers ‘born at the right time.’” Maybe we all need to hear that.
9. John Moreland, Gospel: Every line of this song I think “yes.” It’s a little prayer, what you want to speak into your life, want to be true for the people you love and even the people you don’t. It’s hard to pull out one exhortation, but maybe this is the one for our days: “I want to believe even though I know life don’t play fair.”
10. Sufjan Stevens, The Only Thing: In 2015, 12 members of my church died. The weight of those losses built over months. I was unaware of it; I was moving so quickly from death to death. I took a breath on All Saint’s Day. Family and friends of those who have died in the past year are invited to stand during worship as each name is read and a candle is lit. It was only then that I realized I was standing—still standing—as every name was read. A wave of grief swept over me. I’d journeyed with all of them, through the diagnoses and transitions and hospice and burials. I’d wept with their loved ones, whispered final prayers in their ears, held shaking hands. “Should I tear my eyes out now before I see too much?” It’s a song that returns me to that year and the grief I held beside each of those families. It also says what I know to be most true in the swirl of grief, depression, and the terrible, terrible things of our world: “Everything I feel returns to you somehow. I want to save you from your sorrow.”
Listen to Melissa’s playlist now: