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“The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” – Religious Affections

 

Some things I notice from this short excerpt from Religious Affections:

  1. Edwards saw singing as a duty of the Christian, so he took the Biblical commands to worship through singing seriously.
  2. He saw that singing “moved our affections” more than other forms. An honest and excellent observation.
  3. And most importantly he saw no fault with this. He knew many were carried to ungodly emotional excesses thoughout the Great Awakening that came upon New England in his time, but this did not dissuade him from believing that true Religious Affections (or godly emotions) accompany conversion and subsequent growing in Christ, and that singing is a God-appointed outlet for these emotions.

I was also interested to find out that Edwards “urged all Christian parents to give their children singing lessons and proudly notes that his own congregation, especially during its time of Awakening, sang loudly and heartily, and in three part harmony.” pg. 242 The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards– John Piper & Justin Taylor

Just a continuation of this series. Go back and read Part I , Part II , or Part III

 

 

Employs various styles of worship music that reflects the congregation’s diversity, from the Psalms, ancient hymns, early American and Puritan hymns, contemporary music, and even music written by musicians within the church, but should ALWAYS done with the utmost reverence and sincerity, not for the sake of entertainment. Excellence should be pursued in worship for God’s glory, not man’s approval from the pews.

 

What I would argue for here, in place of some of the extremes we see in churches across America is an approach that embraces diversity in musical styles, but ultimately is authentic in its worship.

 

How is worship authentic? Well, first I would distinguish “authentic” from “sincere”. We can be copycats of whatever music is coming out of some Nashville based Christian music label, or vice-versa blindly follow a hymnal and organ like its still good ol’ 1890. We can do either of these and still offer it with sincerity in our hearts to God. But neither is really authentic. They are extremes we gravitate toward by not pursuing a richer, fuller idea of how music can be used to praise God.

 

By placing great importance upon the width and depth of musical sources we draw from, we are in effect celebrating the history of the church and the saints through their words, and participating in an ongoing celebration of music that is focused on Christ and our redemption through Him. This stands in very stark contrast to much of the modern church where we become very exclusive in our musical styles and sources, and we enshrine our own tastes as a tradition to be guarded. (Ever heard someone lament the presence or modern music or instruments, or someone complain because a church didn’t have a rockin’ praise band?)

 

The Psalms were the original hymnbook for the nation of Israeal, but take a look at most post-1950’s hymnbooks and try and see how many Psalter tunes are there. Not many, which is unfortunate. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing scripture! When we memorize Psalms that we sing regularly, we are memorizing God’s word to us.

 

Hymnwriters from Puritan England and early America like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, Joseph Addison, Joseph Hart, John Newton, and William Cowper to name a few wrote hymns that beheld a majestic and merciful God, and sinful man in need of mercy. There was not a lack of theological depth or biblical language in their words. We would do well to not forsake hymns from this important period in our own church history.

 

Some contemporary praise music is quite good. Not the majority of it, but I can be forgiving because that is the case with any period of music. Ultimately the majority of it gets weeded out and the best remains. There will be music written in the last 20 years that one day will be included in hymnbooks and become standards (maybe, unless the hymnbook passes away from use in our churches)

 

There is even a place for homegrown music in an ideal church. What better way to pursue artistic excellence for the sake of Christ than to encourage our musicians and songwriters (if you have ‘em) to use their talents within the church? Many musicians have felt as if they had to leave their talents at the door and submit to a stiff tradition that’s inherited. This is wrong. The nation of Israel had large numbers of musicians employed from the tribe of Levi for temple worship, men who pursued excellence musically.

 

But….. think back to my first sentence; Reverence. Without it, our worship becomes empty, our words become hollow, and our music becomes entertainment-driven and is idolatry. This should be our arbiter of judgement, not merely subjective taste. There is room however for differing tastes and opinions. A community of believers should have the ability to talk openly, and not accusatorily, about what elements of its worship it finds lacking in reverence and find some middle ground. No member should be able to stand apart from the rest and demand that their views be catered to.

 

Diversity in the instruments present in worship according to the talents and preferences of the congregation, from piano and organ to acoustic guitars and strings, or electric instruments, but… done with the utmost reverence and sincerity.

 

Here is an illustration: Imagine we sent missionaries to a foreign country and they had great success in sharing the Gospel to a remote group of people. In an attempt to introduce them to parts of the larger Christian tradition and history they taught them a few songs. What if the organ and piano were foreign instruments to them? Would we require they adopt the same traditions as we use in our own cultural setting, or would we encourage the use of their own native instruments to sing their praises?

 

Likewise, when we minister to our communities around us we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more comfortable with instruments they are familiar with. Should we be suprised that to someone in their twenties an singing to an organ is culture shock, or that electric guitars and drums become distracting to someone who grew up in the 1950’s? This is the area that requires the greatest sensitivity. Ultimately its domineering for a generation to expect everything to stay the same for the sake of their own tastes, just as its presumptuous for a younger generation to seek to reinvent a church’s worship in its own ideal overnight. There has to be compromise, dialogue, and a mutual appreciation for differing tastes. Otherwise we end up with segregated services, or people leaving to form their own churches over what is only a cultural issue, and not even a matter of theology or ecclesiology.

 

If a church is to be authentic, we have to allow this. Cultural wars in which we pit our traditions against the “worldliness” we see in music outside the church is a self-defeating position because throughout history the church has borrowed from outside culture, or at times helped fuel it. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is something sacred because of its nature, or because of its use? I would have to admit that there is nothing inherently sacred about our music, or our instruments, or our songs, but everything sacred about their use.

This is one of my favorite hymns that I have introdocued to my church this year in worship. It was originally written by blind preacher George Matheson in 1882, and re-written in 1997 by Christopher Miner of the Indelible Grace music community.

Many Southern Gospel arists like the Gaithers still sing the original tune but Derek Webb and wife Sandra McCracken perform it beautifully with the newer arrangement.

It has come to an end. For now.

 

Last night was my church’s final Sunday night service for the spring, and we won’t pick back up until the start of fall, since we take a break for the summers. (I think it is nice that we have an evening service since the majority of Presbyterians just keep it at the house on Sunday nights!) Having an evening service gives us an opportunity to have a more informal worship time and for our pastor to talk on specific subjects, or pull lessons from books he is reading, and have time for questions/discussion.

 

From our hymnbook I selected “The Solid Rock” and at our pastor’s request we also sang “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me” along with our pianist, then after our lesson I closed our service with “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners” by myself on guitar. It went well, I think, and lately I’ve been receiving compliments on the music. It’s encouraging to say the least considering how painful our worship has been for me and maybe others over the course of the last year.

 

It all started when our paid pianist had left for another church last summer, so a lady in our church had her hands full just filling in for our morning service since she was not as well-practiced as our former pianist. For various reasons I have never been free or able to play in a worship setting since my teen years and I still play guitar so I volunteered to provide worship music for the evening service that had just begun in the fall. At first I was overwhelmed by it. Translating the music of traditional hymns on strictly acoustic guitar proved to be more difficult than I had thought, and leading people in worship proved to be more challenging than I thought it would be. It also took time during the week to pick out and practice the songs I would play on Sunday. Unfortunately it was not as….. fun as I thought it would be either, and I actually wanted to quit for some time. I “hung in there” because there were fleeting moments when I genuinely enjoyed it and felt like I was filling a legitimate need by selecting and ordering the songs and providing some music instead of us just cherry-picking a song out of the hymnbook to sing acapella like they used to. But when I messed up, sang flat, flubbed a chord change, or screwed up the tempo, I felt like I was frustrating the flow of worship. I was a hindrance and an obstacle, rather than an asset.

 

Sadly, I still feel like a screw-up at times, but thankfully I feel like I have come a long way.

  • I worked out sound system issues so now I play my guitar though the house speakers (which lets me compete with the volume of the grand piano) and now have my own microphone and boom stand, and can provide myself with a stage monitor mix.
  • I have familiarized myself with a ton of older hymns, and found much of what works, and what doesn’t work to mesh musically with a pianist.
  • I have compiled my own book of music with guitar chords that corresponds to our church’s hymnbook so its all at my fingertips.
  • I’ve learned to read piano clef music a bit, in a pinch.
  • I’ve introduced several “modern hymns” or new songs to my congregation, from Indelible Grace’s tunes or from Reformed Praise, and many church members have responded favorably.
  • My singing voice has improved slightly, and my appreciation for congregational singing has grown immensely.
  • And overall, I hope that over the last year our church group has found a deeper worship and reflection on God’s love through our evening service’s music. If they have, then I guess it was all worth it.

A year gone, but yet I’m just beginning.

I love listening to Derek Webb because his lyrics are so brutally honest and so frequently resonate with me. Different parts of the song I repent jump out at me at different times, catching my attention and send my mind contemplating, but the last two lines (emphasis by me) in particular have sparked an internal debate and study of scripture.

“By domesticating you until you look just like me
I am wrong and of these things I repent”

I mean, “Domesticating Jesus until he looks like me? I don’t do that. Christians don’t do that.” I think to myself. But the reality is even if it’s to a small degree, our culture, background, experiences, and viewpoints as humans affect how we can see Jesus. When I read the Bible, I realize how lowly my view of Jesus is, as the Son of God, and as the moral example of perfection which I am supposed to be conformed to. But I am even more horrified when I look to those outside of my theological camp, or to those outside of Christianity altogether, and see a radically different idea of who Jesus actually was and is. I see differences so immense that no matter ecenumical or “tolerant” I could imagine being cannot overcome the fact that we might as well not be talking about the same person anymore.

 

In fact, there are a lot of accusations that get thrown back and forth from different ideological camps concerning Jesus. I’ve heard liberal-leaning Christians claim Jesus has been hijacked and turned into a white middle-class Republican in favor of regulating morality. At the opposite end of the spectrum I’ve also heard Jesus be described as the equivalent of a limp-wristed environmentalist, pacifist, and economically a socialist. From the last year or so through media, here’s some other more extreme way Jesus has been popularly characterized that I’ve stumbled across…..

 

  • According to Oprah Winfrey, Jesus was a good teacher we can learn from but we should “stop clinging to the old rugged cross”
  • According to James Tabor, author of “Jesus Dynasty”, Jesus of Nazareth was the product of rape and more of a political activist whose message was distorted by the Apostle Paul. 
  • According to most liberal scholars, Jesus was not born of a virgin, did not resurrect on the third day or ascend to the Father, and He certainly did not make any sacrifice to atone for man’s transgressions.
  • According to several writers including Baptist Gregory Boyd and Steve Chalke, Jesus did not die to bear the wrath of his Father in our rightful place because they deny the idea of Penal Substitution atonement.
  • And according to Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, Jesus was quite possibly a homosexual.

 

So how do YOU characterize Jesus? Because it’s clear to me from all these people’s ideas that we aren’t all even speaking of the same person anymore, and certainly not the same Jesus I believe in. Tolerance be damned, I certainly can’t just knod and smile when I hear statements and beliefs that so horrifically contradict what the Bible says.

  • John the Baptist beheld Jesus of Nazareth and proclaimed Him to be “The lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”
  • John the disciple referred to Jesus as “begotten” of the father, just as the Nicene Creed centuries later affirmed Jesus as “Begotten, not made, being of the same substance as the Father”
  • The writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 102 in referring to Jesus’ eternalness, as well as declared Jesus to be “propitiation for the sin’s of the people” (2:17) which means Jesus’ sacrifice had to actually satisfy the debt and punishment of sin.
  • Paul repeatedly proclaimed Jesus’ divinity.
  • Daniel in the Old Testament prophesied that He would ascend to the ancient of Days to receive his Kingdom, which would have no end.

So He is King and ruler, He is Lord and eternal, He has dominion and an everlasting Kingdom, He has made payment for sin by becoming sin for us. As if that isn’t enough, Jesus was the word of God made flesh, He lived an earthly life in obedience to the Father and poured himself out in generosity and compassion before finally yielding His life on a Roman cross.

So the bottom line is, if I sacrifice one inch of Jesus’ holiness, sinless ness, divinity, perfection, graciousness, compassion, or generosity then I am turning Him into something other than what the Bible represents Him to be. If I subtract ANYTHING from Him that the Bible claims about Him I am guilty of sinful negligence. If through my cultural context or framework, I impose additional characteristics to Jesus that the Bible does not proclaim or at least allude to, then I am doing an injustice to His character.

Of these things, we should repent.

 

I have more thoughts on this topic, which I’ll continue later

I couldn’t resist posting a shameless promotion post for Red Mountain Church’s new album This Breaks My Heart of Stone, which I haven’t even bought yet but is one of RMC’s most promising albums; featuring another 8 hymns from William Gadsby’s hymnbook. I am always grateful for quality music put out by Christians, with a reverence for God and worshipping Him at the forefront and a concern for popularity or sales far, far down the line of priorities. Check out the album here: http://www.redmountainchurch.org/rmm/alb/tbmhos.html or read Brian Murphy’s note to would-be listeners:

 

And yet, there are moments where the light shines. There are moments where I am “convinced as a sinner, to Jesus I come”. There are moments when I meet someone and their belief shakes me somewhere deep inside, because I feel a similar belief inside myself. These moments of belief don’t seem to happen very often, but when they do, it feels like rain is falling on the drought of my soul.

For me – and I think for a lot of us – these moments of belief often coincide with music. These songs remind me, they remind us, that the gospel is at work. That redemption is taking place. That sad things are being made untrue. That hopefully in small pieces and small moments, our hardened hearts are breaking.

 

 

Last night I pulled out a modern hymn from those guys at www.reformedpraise.org to use for our evening worship service, that I lead at my church. I stumbled through leading our small group in singing it but it is a beautiful song nonetheless. (on that note, why can’t leading worship from standing behind a microphone be as easy as just sitting at home playing guitar and singing like I do throughout the week?)

Anyway, if the term “Modern Hymn” seems like a contradiction of terms, or an oxymoron then I would ask you to consider what Bob Kauflin (Soveriegn Grace Ministries) says:

“The uniting of unchanging truth with contemporary expression is an idea as old as the Word of God itself. What a joy it is to see more songwriters bringing new life to hymns rich in theology and biblical doctrine.”

So why is this such a radical concept since we don’t find it often in our churches? That is, old hymn texts meeting contemporary music? Long ago it was customary in the Church to try hymn texts to different tunes, either by using the metrical index found at the back of a hymnal, or by musicians within the church bringing a fresh or regonizable tune to the lyrics. Sometimes the results can be abysmal, as I knew of one church that liked to sing John Newton’s beloved “Amazing Grace” to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song. But for the most part, if something didn’t work it would be cast aside, and if it did work then it would “stick”. This tradition has been long forgotten though.

A force that has proven to be powerful in our churches is the desire to modernize our musical worship. A desire to sing music that more closely resembles our tastes than our grandparent’s taste. From my experience, many churches have felt that they could not ignore Contemporary Christian Music, (or CCM as I’ll refer to it from here) but still have some sense of loyalty to the hymns. Maybe it is out of sincere appreciation for the richness and poeticism of the lyrics, or continuing the tradition of worship the church had been accustomed to, or maybe even simply to appease the older members of the congregation, but nevertheless these churches held on to tradiational hymns while simultaneously exploring the new worship styles and songs that we just lump together generically under the term CCM. This creates conflicts,  because inevitably some type of balance has to found. Maybe seperate services were created; “Traditional” and “Comtemporary” giving church members a choice, but ultimately segregating the congregation by their musical preference, and consequently usually their age and maturity as well. Not the greatest solution really.

Many churches have adopted what they call “blended worship”, whereby they try to “blend” multiple styles. It sounds nice, but what is actually achieved is hardly a model for the rest of us in the Church to follow.

You see, it seems that churches that practice “blended worship” do not really “blend” anything at all. From my experience, I have stood in church and sang (and maybe clapped to) a contemporary song with faily repetetive and simplistic lyrics accompanied by a full band of drums, keys, and electric guitars at a rousing tempo, only next in the order of worship to sing a traditional hymn at a dirge-like tempo accompanied only by the piano/organ. Meanwhile, the full band that brought us to our feet just moments before now simply stands there with their guitars and handheld microphones or sitting there with their drumsticks, awkwardly unaware of what to do other than just stand there. The difference between lyrical content, and the disparity of musical style and tempo is felt like the force of a game of tug-of-war. In other words, putting two incredibly dissimilar things side-by-side in worship is not “blended” at all.

I applaud people like Red Mountain Church for their modernizing of hymns, and other churches that strive for the same flow in their worship. No matter how new or old the song, no matter the tempo, no matter the subject matter, a certain “flow” to the worship is achieved by not having such abrupt differences present. In, other words, they really “own” their worship and make it personally their own as they offer it to the Lord, not simply borrowing a pre-conceived way of doing it from Christian radio, or even their hymnals.

I know from experience in leading worship that translating older songs and the way we’re accustomed to singing them to modern instruments can be difficult, though not impossible. For example, there is a reason that, as a guitarist I simply would not choose many older hymns to sing if using modern instruments is the goal. “Depth of Mercy” by Charles Wesley is a perfect example of a wonderful old hymn that because of its rhythm and awkward chord changes would make many acoustic guitarists like myself run screaming. But Red Mountain Church has done a lovely job of putting “Depth of Mercy” to new music that in the hands of quality musicians is both modern sounding and incredibly powerful. I believe Charles Wesley, if alive today and familiar with modern day music, would be delighted. Likewise, I believe many forgotten hymnwriters, if alive today, would be delighted to be remembered and their beloved lyrics re-used, re-imagined, re-worked for a new generation by groups such as Reformedpraise.org 

Corum Deo!

 

The following text is an old hymn, written by William Sleeper and published over 100 years ago. Its been set to a new tune by Greg Thompson of the Indelible Grace music community (www.igracemusic.com) several years ago and ever since has come back into use by many churches. I lead worship at my church one service a week, and have introduced this song to a group of older Christians who haven’t sung anything “new” in years. Even they love it. I encourage you to meditate on the words. Remind yourself of all of the things we cast off, and the things we gain through Jesus Christ as Christians. At the bottom is a video of a group playing it at a church in NY, although I think the Indelible Grace version with Matthew Perryman Jone’s singing it is stellar and you should check it out on Indelible Grace III “For All The Saints” cd.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus , I come; Jesus I come.
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Our of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my wanting and into Thy wealth.
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Our of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress into jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into Thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward forever on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Our of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Find sheet music and hear a demo at http://www.igracemusic.com/hymnbook/hymns

Our church’s concert last night was amazing, and a sweet relief to see it all come together now after 2 months of work put into it. Matthew Smith of Indelible Grace played for over 150 people in our small sanctuary, everyone from young families with their kids, to youth groups, to senior citizens.

He played songs from his solo albums, and many hymns that have been rewritten by other artists in the Indelible Grace music community.

He explained how Indelible Grace started and why they believe forgotten hymns are important to our culture and lives.

He took time to speak about Compassion International who sponsors his tour and what they do for children in third world countries, and took a few minutes for some Q & A. (I particularly enjoyed this part, where Matthew answered a man’s question “What is your criteria for selecting hymn texts?” by talking about how even many well-known hymnwriters like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley sometimes wrote hymns that “woofed” and it’s a matter of finding the ones that really stand out lyrically and are worth reviving.)

Then we closed by worshipping together corporately with a few songs. We don’t even have Powerpoint capability, so we had to pass out printouts of the lyrics, with Matthew leading us into “Jesus, What a Friend For Sinners”, “Nothing But the Blood”, and “Be Thou My Vision”. At one point, I forget which song; Matthew stopped playing guitar and just the volume of our voices together was loud enough for people driving by to hear if we had flung the doors wide open.

 

Our own church people that attended were so excited and encouraged, and told me how glad they were that we did it. Most commented that “we need to do things like this more often”.

 

In all honesty, it was a rough afternoon preparing. Our pastor had driven 500 miles through the night the day before preaching and then preparing for this event, and was grieving losing his family’s dog of 9 years just the night before. We had sound system problems and I was the only person who knew much about sound equipment. I spent almost the whole day away from home, as I spent the afternoon running around getting things done. I spent some time climbing in the dusty rafters thirty-something feet above the pews tracing sound system wires trying to figure out why the main speakers weren’t getting power. I made countless repeated trips to a small closet upstairs to fiddle with our power amps and connections before finally patching everything through a simple power amp to get our monitors and main speakers to actually work at the same time. I silently prayed over a mixing board during our hurried sound check that we could limp our system through the night and somehow get Matthew’s monitor levels and the house levels to work out, since I could no longer control them independently. Thankfully, the sound that night was great and no one had a clue we had issues.

 

Evaluating it all, I have learned a lot of what works and what doesn’t, what to do and what not to do. More on that in a post to come.

Today in my Youth Sunday School class we did a study on John 2 where Jesus basically went into the temple, took up whips against the money changers and vendors while clearing them out, and then foreshadowed His own death and resurrection to the Jewish leaders, all the while identifying his very body as a Temple. This led to a great monologue concerning the temple being where God comes to commune with His people, and that in every covenant era He has provided such a place; from the mobile tent-temple of the wilderness-wandering Isrealites, to the majestic temple of Soloman’s day, to the more humble post-exile temple of Ezra-Nehamiah’s day that Jesus Himself walked in- all of which served as a point of contact between a Holy God and sinful man, and how the ultimate tangible source of communion between God and Man is Christ Himself, and his life of obedience and substitutionary death on a Roman cross as the focal point of our communion with God just as the physical temple was for the nation of Israel in times past.

Interestingly enough, Pator Mike preached on Hebrews 1:10-14 which touches on the eternalness of Christ and quotes from Psalm 102 with its super cool Old Testament language about created things lackings the same eternal nature of the Creator:

 “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same and your years will never end.” (vs. 25-28) You’ll have to go read the whole thing for yourself, its pretty long and I only give highlights.

At the moment I am also pouring over one of our church’s old Hymnbooks which was cast aside for a newer hymnal years ago, and realizing though I don’t recognize many of these older hymns; I wish I did! The staggering amount of Psalter Psalms and Isaac Watts hymns makes me look at our newer hymnbbook with a bit more scorn than before. The songwriting and theological lyricism is superb in many of these older, more unfamiliar hymns. Check this out:

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, By the cross are sanctified;

Peace is there that knows no measure, Joys that through all time abide.

-In the Cross of Christ I Glory, John Bowring 1849

“Evermore for human failure, By His passion we can plead;

God has borne all mortal anguish, Surely He will know our need.”

-Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow, William J. S. Simpson 1886

Wow, that is great stuff. It made me whip out ye ol’ acoustic guitar and rework some new tunes to a couple just for the sake of being able to sing them, since I have no idea how they are supposed to sound. If they stick in my memory beyond this week, maybe I’ll write some piano music out for them, though I know it will mean letting our church pianist give them a try in private for my own amusement, and then shelving them back in obscurity and disuse (is that a word?). I sincerely hope that in the future my church can use my re-written hymns for worship (for the sake of quality worship lyrics and not for my sake), but for the time being we seem to stumble through anything the congregation hasn’t already sung for decades when we try it so……..yeah.