With "Children Of The Living God" by FERNADO ORTEGA on the UCB Europe playlist, Tony Cummings investigates the gifted singer/pianist from New Mexico.
It took the launch of veteran Michael Card's Covenant Artists Company to catapult another veteran - this one a 40-year-old singer/pianist from New Mexico with 16 years of independent releases to his credit - into the CCM major league. Now Fernando Ortega's gently evocative music, featured on his 'This Bright Hour' album, is getting mucho radio play (including UCB Europe) and it seems this eighth generation blanket weaver is finally to get the audience his consummate talent deserves. Asked to describe his music he shows refreshing candour. "I'm probably an odd fit. It all falls within the broad spectrum of pop music, I suppose. Mine just happens to be infused with classical training... It's kind of a hybrid of church music and pop music. You can hear the influence of the hymns in what I write."
Like most artists, Ortega doesn't particularly relish being given a certain label, but he understands that people tend to name things. Ultimately, "the strength of the music doesn't come in the naming of it, but whether or not it rings true to the listener."
And what can the listener expect to hear from Fernando Ortega? A hybrid of hymnody and humanness, songs that reflect the reality of the human life and the longing we all have to know God and to know 'why?'. "A lot of Christian music becomes innocuous because there is a definite tension when you confront the idea of God in a fallen world," Ortega says.
Christian writers, in particular, "should be observant about life and the human condition and confront that, but more often than not we have this gnostic feel in contemporary Christianity that denies we're human instead of addressing the fact that God made us human. We ignore the incredible statements throughout Scripture about God's view of his creation."
Ortega, who has been on the road this year with Michael Card's "Unveiled Hope' tour, makes it his aim to observe well the complexities and pain of life and to trust, if not fully understand, the transcendence of the living God. Prodigal sons and daughters, Job's trials and despair, and the pain Ortega and his wife Margee experienced when their attempted adoption of an infant girl failed - all of these themes weave through and between original compositions and classic hymns like "I Will Sing Of My Redeemer", "How Firm A Foundation" and "All Creatures Of Our God And King".
"Martin Lloyd Jones (England's gone but not forgotten preacher) says we have to start any theology with the idea that God is just and holy and true and righteous, that these attributes of God are unchangeable," Ortega explains. "The adoption was a real struggle, but this (concept) was a comfort. I felt God's transcendence that he was high and above the situation and that ultimately I could trust him. Often I'll sing 'Hear Me Calling, Great Redeemer' back to back with 'If You Were Mine' (the song he wrote after the adoption experience). Then I follow it with 'Will Wait For My Change', which basically says that none of this (pain) makes much sense, but there is still a longing after God and ultimately a faith in God and in his justice.
"That is the tension of the Christian life," Ortega adds, "and that is what we are called to do as writers - to try to write it as it is, not to write escapist things, not to run from it." We cannot run and we cannot reduce the truth of our lives, the truth of our struggles, but the hope of escaping "this earthly prison" is found in refusing to reduce God, as A W Tozer put it, "to manageable terms."
An especially compelling hymn for Ortega is the Charles Wesley-penned
"Jesus, Lover Of My Soul", written in 1738. "Jesus, lover of my
soul/Let me to thy bosom fly/While the nearer waters roll/While the
tempest still is high/Hide me, O my Saviour, hide/Till the storm of
life is past/Safe into the haven guide/O receive my soul at last."
"It's my constant theme so far," says Ortega, "that life is a constant struggle... I really take solace in hymns like that where I hear strains of the same kind of struggle from the writer, where the language is filled with longing and hope. In hymns, the thinking about God is much different - there is more of a sense of God's transcendence, and much less of the importance of self."