What does Weezer have to do with Church Innovation?

What does Weezer have to do with Church Innovation?

At the end of 1995, Rivers Cuomo enrolled at Harvard University to study classical composition.

There were two things that separated Cuomo from the rest of his classmates. First, he’d recently undergone the Ilizarov procedure. When he was born, his left leg was two inches shorter than his right leg, and the painful procedure involved breaking the bones, a steel brace and months of stretching and physiotherapy. Th second differentiator? As the frontman of the band Weezer, he was one of the most famous new rock stars on the planet. The Blue Album had just been certified platinum (selling more than 1,000,000 copies), including iconic tracks like The Sweater Song, My Name is Jonas and Say it Ain’t So.

 In the end, classical composition didn’t stick. “”The only time I could write songs,” Cuomo later commented on his time at Harvard, “was when my frozen dinner was in the microwave. The rest of the time I was doing homework.” He dropped out two semesters before graduating, citing a hatred for modern classical composition and wistful longing for a Weezer reunion (He eventually finished his degree in 2006, earning a BA in English).

 But one thing did stick from his time at Harvard, and not something you’d expect for someone who’d later write inane lyrics like for a song called “Beverly Hills”:

 Beverly Hills
That’s where I want to be!
Gimme gimme gimme gimme
Living in Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills
Rolling like a celebrity!
Gimme gimme gimme gimme
Living in Beverly Hills

So what stuck at Harvard? He started to obsessively use the programming language Python to study music and then generate new musical ideas. Yes. You read that correctly.

 As Gab Ginsberg wrote in her article for Billboard magazine, “The Weezer frontman has lengthy used algorithms to optimize his songwriting, funneling creativity by way of laptop applications just like the programming language Python. Cuomo is thought to carefully dismantle a success music, analyzing every component to seek out precisely what works, and apply that information to his personal writing.”

In other words, he wanted to take the mystery out of why some music works and other music doesn’t. Why does a song become a hit?

Over time, his acumen grew, and so did his legendary spreadsheets. In describing the writing of a recent Weezer album, Cuomo commented, “I wrote a program to get all the information from Spotify’s API, and we seemed on the songs that have been hottest that weren’t tagged “basic rock” or “various rock,” and that got here out earlier than 1994…I feel there have been about 200 songs within the report, so we picked the highest ones and began studying them.”

He doesn’t just study them. He uses them to generate tempos, chord progressions and hooks (the catchiest part of a song that gets stuck in your head). Talking about their 2017 release Pacific Daydream, Rolling Stone journalist Brendan Walter wrote, “Cuomo estimates he drew on thousands of riffs, chord progressions, and beats stored on his home computer for the album, and even wrote a custom formula in Google Sheets to pair up musical ideas – some dating back to 2000 — based on their key and tempo.”

Everyone thinks that what makes some songs successful is a mystery. Rivers Cuomo turned into an algorithm on Python.

Weezer has dropped 13 albums. According to Nielsen, they have 1.4 billion on demand streams. The ridiculous song Beverly Hills? As of the writing of this book, it’s been watched 52 million times on YouTube. Weezer songs are generally stupid, shallow and inane. But they are also wickedly catchy, and they’ve been writing hits (and cashing those royalty checks!) for more than 25 years.

Rivers Cuomo literally created an algorithm to crack the code of “Why do these songs work?”

So let’s make a hard right turn and talk a little bit about kingdom innovation. Now I’m not here to say that anyone can “crack the code” for how innovation works within the life of the church or the kingdom. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, he’s known as the wild goose for a reason! But I do think when God is on the move and he’s clearly up to something, we are wise to ask, “Why is this innovation working? What is God doing? What’s at work here?”

Why?

Because God is in the multiplication business.

That innovation that started with one person, or one group…God may very well want to multiply it. How do we know this? Well Jesus says that a kingdom return is a like a farmer who scatters seed and receives 10, 30, 60, 100 fold in return. That’s multiplication!

What Rivers Cuomo did was simply pay enough attention to what people like about hit songs to codify the process. I think the Lord wants to call a whole new generation to pay attention to what he’s up to in this brave new world and learn how to innovate within it.

My new book on kingdom innovation, Ready or Not, is almost here! It comes out on October 6 and I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy!
A Year in the Bible with a 10-Year Old

A Year in the Bible with a 10-Year Old

When my daughter Avery turned ten, we began a journey that lasted a little over a year where we endeavored to read through the whole Bible together. We got up early, using a Bible reading plan we developed, and spent about an hour a day reading the selected chapters, discussing and praying together. We made the agreement that if we did this together, we’d take a trip to Israel, just the two of us, and go explore the places and the stories we’d just read about.

Needless to say…it was a wild ride that didn’t go exactly as i’d planned! (BTW: A special shoutout to my friends Jon Tyson and JR Briggs, who each had unique contributions in starting and shaping this journey.)

If you’re reading this, I think there’s a high likelihood that, like me, you believe in the centrality of the Word of God and have daily engagement rhythms that are built around that principle. Knowing that, I’d like to share 5 lessons that I learned over the course of Avery and I’s year together.

 

Lesson #1: I had to adjust my idealized picture of what this was going to be like.

Look. I’m a man who likes a plan and I had a very specific plan going into this year and a very specific feel for what this was going to be like. I could envision the breakthrough she was going to experience, the discussions we’d have and all of the ways she’d grow closer to the Lord as a result of this.

About three weeks into the process, I had to pivot. What I was trying to do was use my own process for reading the Bible and prayer and apprentice her in that…while doing my best to make allowances for the fact that she was ten years old and I’m…well…I’m older than that.

But truth be told, that age gap was significant and we are very different in temperament and personality. So I flexed the plan, but if I’m honest, that was difficult for me. I had a very specific idea in my mind of what was going to happen, how things would unfold and what her response would be. But as I saw the young woman in front of me who God has entrusted to us, it was most important that it was built around where she was at and what Jesus was doing in her. While that felt a little bit like a death, it felt incredibly necessary. Bonhoeffer talks about how the idea of Christian community can often kill the reality of Christian community. That was definitely going on here.

One addition we made was using The Bible Project videos as both a teaching tool and a carrot. She LOVED those videos. So she knew that when we finished a book, we’d be watching a recap of what we just read, and we’d get to watch the recap of a book that we were starting to read. It really motivated her and gave her life. I really can’t recommend this more highly for both kids and adults!

 

 

Lesson #2: The Discussion is where it’s at.

Of course we know this…but do we know this? I’ve been doing my own individual daily rhythms with the Bible and prayer for such a long time, it can be difficult to remember that the Bible started as a communal document that was read out loud and then people would immediately engage. Only a few hundred years ago did people start having Bibles in their homes.

I was struck again how potent and powerful it is to discuss what we’re reading. Our normal progression was to have discussion around three central questions: 1) What does the text say? 2) What is the Spirit stirring in me? 3) What am I taking away for the day?

Doing this out loud and not just in silent prayer or in a journal for a whole year was different. And quite refreshing.

 

 

Lesson #3: The win was the consistent rhythm, not just the content.

Over time, breakthrough can work a little bit like interest in that it compounds over time. Another way of thinking about it is what Eugene Peterson says; it’s a “long obedience in the same direction” that ultimately brings about spiritual transformation.

I was struck by how often our prayer times returned to questions around the Fruit of the Spirit…where we were seeing God at work and where it felt like we were stuck. (I’ll readily admit that when things didn’t go like I wanted them to, the fruit of patience was regularly lacking.) The consistent rhythm of responding to the Spirit, praying, and then almost asking, “How did it go yesterday?” was a major key for us as the months rolled on.

 

 

Lesson #4: The Bible is hard. It’s especially hard for girls.

There’s a sociological principle called The Curse of Knowledge that says once you know something, it’s hard to un-know it. If I didn’t wholeheartedly believe that to begin with, I definitely do now.

I grew up in a house that read the Bible and talked about the Bible all the time. So many of the stories and passages are things that have been in me for decades. I’m so familiar with them that the prospect of reading for the first time can make them become unfamiliar. 

But let’s be real: There are some CRAZY stories in there and having a lens to understand those stories is really important. Case in point — The first book of the Bible (just a few pages in!) has stories about genocide, mass slaughter and some really difficult stories about rape. I mean…if you haven’t had the “sex talk” with your kids yet, it’s going to come up. The Bible is grisly, earthy and gives a full picture of the darkness of humanity.

And that is particularly true if you’re a girl. The number of questions and discussions we had around what was happening with women in the Bible never waned over the year together. Some of these discussions were quite powerful, and some of these discussions were quite frustrating. But it renewed my perspective that the Bible gives a full picture of the human condition (which is why the Gospel is such good news), but that if you want people to read the Bible, you better have a legit hermeneutic that can handle the scrutiny. (PS: My daughter never stops asking questions, and if I wasn’t giving a good enough answer, she kept pushing and pushing. I really like that about her.)

Read the Bible with a ten year old girl for a year who’s going through its entirety for the first time and you’re going to get a front row seat to how the rest of the world is skeptically looking at the Bible and Christians. This isn’t a sign of unhealth, but of legitimately wrestling with the text.

 

 

Lesson #5: It was totally worth it.

My daughter grew in her relationship with the Lord, we made deposits in her life that will last for decades and it grew our relationship in some really deep, beautiful and unexpected ways. I learned so much from this year together. As a father, as a lover of the Bible, as someone discipling other people. And there are so many things I’d probably do different if I could.

But you know what? I’ve got two more kids who will someday turn ten. And I’ll be doing it again for each of them.