Cry, baby, cry. Make your mother sigh.

I am such a sap.  Every song I hear today is making me emotional.  Well…not every song.  Just most of them.  While I labor at work over various things that do not interest me in the least, I listen to music…my music.  I prefer to have control over what I hear because the stuff they play on the radio usually bores or offends me.  I’m not morally offended by the music…it’s more of an aesthetic offense.  That’s not to say that I am some sort of elitist, unable to enjoy the music of the common man, whatever that is.  I like a lot of music that would get me kicked out of most “cool” conversations.   That probably leaves me somewhere in the middle with most everyone else.

Back to me crying.  I see that I never actually said I was crying, so I should probably clarify.  I haven’t cried today listening to music.  I have gotten a little misty eyed a few times.  The first time it happened, I figured I just really needed to hear that particular song at that particular point in time – that happens every now and then to me.  But then, the very next song got me even more worked up, and it was not one of the usual suspects.  It was a random song that I like, but have never responded to in an emotional way – at least not like I did today.

So what does all of that mean?  I have no idea.  Perhaps I am just really tired and everything is going to hit me harder today than usual.  Perhaps I am more attuned to the emotional truth of each song and that is causing me to have a stronger reaction.  Perhaps I should try to spiritualize this as much as possible and find out what it is about those songs that is causing me to act like a teenage girl watching a Twilight movie.  That won’t work though, because two songs were instrumentals, so I can’t get anything lyrically from them to point me in the right direction.

More than likely, this is all pretty easy to figure out.  I am a sap.  I cry at movies and TV shows that don’t even cause my wife to blink.  I cried the other night watching an episode of the TV show Jericho.  I remember watching Bridge to Terabithia with my boys a few years ago and I was a mess at the end.  I was so worked up by the film, that it sort of embarrassed me.  I didn’t want my boys to see me crying over a kid’s film.  So yes, I am a sap and I cry.  Maybe it’s just that simple.  I’m not sure though.

I don’t typically get very emotionally connected to what I listen to while I am work because I am not able to give myself over to the music like I can at home.  I get distracted by work and stuff.  Today seemed like a normal day – I felt sufficiently distracted by work, but that didn’t seem to matter to the music or to my heart.  (I’m sorry about that last sentence and the way I ended it.  There is sappy and then there is SAPPY – and that was about as SAPPY as I can imagine.  I swear it won’t happen again.)  On a normal day, one song might get me.  Maybe two if I am really feeling it.  Today, I stopped counting at five.

By now, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did he write this?  And more importantly, why did he decide to share this?”  Two very good questions and I don’t have very good answers for them.  Perhaps I just want people to get to know me a little better.  (Even I am rolling my eyes about that one.  That’s not it.)  Perhaps I feel guilty about not posting anything on here for such a long time.  (I am confident there is a lot of truth in that.)  I’ve told my wife that I don’t typically plan what I am going to write…I just start writing when an idea pops in my head.  That’s what happened this time.  I noticed I was responding more intensely to music today and I felt I could write about it.  Perhaps it’s as simple as that…

I’ll add this final thought in conclusion:  I think I am responding to these songs today, because sometimes I need to feel things deeply.  Most days I just coast through life.  Not in a bad way.  I’m not disengaged or anything.  I think most people have very ordinary days most of the time.  You don’t get emotionally worked up most days.  At least I don’t, even though I am more apt to do that than many other men I know.  I think on days like today, I am being gently prodded to keep my heart open and a bit broken.  Not just for my own good either.  I think it’s on days like these that if I allow these songs to do what they are capable of doing, I become more in tune with things of a spiritual nature.  Maybe my emotional spells today will allow me to be more empathetic with a friend or coworker, simply because my heart has already been laid bare.  Perhaps a day like today is God’s way of telling me to stop being so careful with my feelings.

Or maybe I’m just a sap.

(In case anyone was wondering, here are the songs that turned me into a little girl today:  U2 – With or Without You / Needtobreathe – White Fences and Keep Your Eyes Open / Future of Forestry – Would You Come Home / Patrick Doyle (Thor Soundtrack) – Prologue / The Gaslight Anthem – Mae.  There were more, but I think I think you get the point.)

Needtobreathe – The Reckoning (Review)

I’ve been listening to Needtobreathe’s new album, The Reckoning, pretty much non-stop for the past week.  It’s that good.  I wanted to write a review, but I wanted it to be a little different than my past reviews so I decided to write it in a Q&A format.  I hope you enjoy.  Most of all, I hope if you are unfamiliar with this band, you will give this one a shot.  It’s worth it.

Q:What are your favorite songs on the album?

A:  That’s really hard to say.  There are so many good ones.  I guess if I had to pick some favorites I would say “White Fences” would be pretty high.  As would “The Reckoning”.  You could even throw in “Wanted Man”, “Oohs and Ahhs”, and “Drive All Night”.  Heck, toss in “Able”, “A Place Only You Can Go”, “Slumber”, “Learn to Love” and “Keep Your Eyes Open”.  Yeah, I just named 10 of the 14 songs.  Oh, and I forgot about “Devil’s Been Talking”.  That’s another really good one.  Ok, I’ll narrow it down a bit.  I guess the ones that have really stood out to me the most are “White Fences”, “The Reckoning”, and “Oohs and Ahhs”.  But I’m sure this list will evolve as the songs settle in over time.

Q:  What does the album sound like?

A:  It sounds like Needtobreathe.  If you have heard their previous 3 albums, you have a good idea what it sounds like.  Except it’s even more assured.  They can pretty much play any style they want.  They incorporate more piano on this album than they ever have – which is a good thing.  The songs are full – very full.  Lots of stuff going on all the time.  Not to say every song is busy.  There are a few simpler tunes – “Wanted Man” and “A Place Only You Can Go” come to mind.  But even those do some really interesting things – bag pipe on one of them is a good idea what I am talking about.  “Keep You Eyes Open” sounds like something they would have done on their first album – but after years of maturing.  It’s pop goodness with big hooks and a heart-on-their-sleeves sensibility.  They do a couple of more gospel infused numbers – no surprise there.  “Able” really shines in that regard.  Then many of the other songs are just good rock songs.  Vocally, they have never sounded better – the rest of the band picks things up here a lot.  It’s a cohesive album, but they take plenty of twists and turns along the way.  If you haven’t heard Needtobreathe, it’s just good pop-rock infused with southern rock and a splash of bluegrass. 

Q:  What are the songs about? Is there a theme?

A:  I would say the overall theme is:  The world is tough, many have been dealt a bad hand, but there are still wonders and glories to experience if we just open up our eyes and go after them.  They hit on that theme on more than one song.  The line, “Replace your feeble with the fable” from “Slumber” seems to capture the idea of grasping the Truth by letting go of the misery and victim mindset.  The lyrics are good – just what you would expect from the band. 

Q:  Are there any songs as fun as “Prisoner” or “Girl Named Tennessee” from The Outsiders?

A:  That’s a tough one.  “Oohs and Ahhs” is a lot of fun – but it’s got more of an edge than either of those songs.  Thematically, it’s just darker so the music takes on some of that.  “Devil’s Been Talking” is a fun, up-tempo number.  “Drive All Night” gets my feet tapping.

Q:  Do they have any overtly “Christian” songs like “Signature of the Divine” from The Heat?

A:  Not really.  “Slumber” is full of spiritual insight as are many other songs, but there is nothing as CCM ready as SofD. 

Q:  Is this is their best album?

A:  I don’t know.  It’s good…really good.  I’ve had more time to process and get to know “The Outsiders” so it has stood the test of time.  This one is so new that it’s hard to say how it will hold up.  I can’t imagine it won’t hold up though.  I’ve listened to it pretty much non-stop for the past 3 days, if that tells you anything.  I’m not tired of any songs yet either – even the ones that I would consider the weaker tracks.  It’s got 14 songs.  11 of them of outstanding.  3 of them are good.  It’s just really good music most anyone could enjoy.  It’s accessible but not pandering.  It’s challenging but not too artsy.  It’s great pop-rock with a southern influence. 

 

New posts coming soon!

Seriously.

This is for real.

I’m working on a couple of things and should have something new posted in the next couple of days.  One of the items I am working on is a review of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender.  If you have paid any attention to this blog you know that I am a huge fan of the television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Needless to say, based on the negative reviews and the general dislike of the film adaptation, I just had not gotten around to watching it.  I remedied that recently and will be posting a review. 

Also, I’ve got another Four that got away installment – this is where I highlight one movie, one book, one TV show, and one CD that have been overlooked by the general public.  I will probably have that one ready early next week.

Finally, I am working on a couple of other things – one serious and one not so serious.  I don’t know which one will be ready first, but I hope to have them both posted this month. 

So, stick around.  New material coming soon!

God Gave Rock and Roll to You

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

When I was in my early twenties, back in my college days, I was confident, sure of myself, and completely convinced I had all the big and important things in life figured out. I’ve known a lot of people that have gone down that road. (There must be some “full-of-ourselves” hormone that most college students have.) I had all the answers. Or at least all the answers that really mattered in my life. I knew what I believed and nothing would dissuade me from my convictions. Those were simpler times.

One of the main areas of my life where I was resolute in my beliefs was in regards to the music I listened to. Through much study, prayer, and fasting (I’m using poetic license here) I decided that I would only listen to Christian music. No more of that terrible secular music that was birthed in the very pits of hell. That music was causing me to sin, backslide, and abandon the faith (once again – speaking poetically). No more would I listen to the likes of Nirvana, Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, and most definitely not The Beatles. These bands were comprised of sinners and that meant that nothing they could say would help me in my spiritual journey. In fact, what they said would have the opposite effect. From my superior vantage point, secular bands had nothing to offer Christians. They were devoid of all honesty and truth. And even though their music was really good and a lot of fun to listen to I would turn my back on them so that I could continue down the straight and the narrow. I had convinced myself that unless the songs I listened to were clearly and without prevarication speaking about or to God, then they were useless to me. What benefit could songs like The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love offer me? I had fallen prey to the faulty thinking that has trapped so many Christians throughout time: God is too small to operate outside of the creativity and the machinations of believers. Perhaps even more significantly I had failed to comprehend true worship and it was in that failing that my mind and my motives went astray.

Worship goes beyond words and catch phrases. It does not need a quota of religious terminology and expressions. Real worship does not come about if we say “Holy” or “Jesus” or “Praise” enough times. Worship is the very nuts and bolts of our lives. It comes from the most basic and elemental parts of our souls. True worship is uncomplicated and many times unremarkable. God lives in the mundane; in the boring details. He excels in working with the everyday and the commonplace. Scripture tells us that if mankind fails to praise Him like we should then nature itself will cry out. God’s glory is proclaimed by the sun and stars, their unspoken truth is being revealed to the world. If God is capable of eliciting praise from inanimate objects, then why are we so convinced that He can’t be glorified by the tongues of sinners; whether they intend it or not. Why do we recoil at the thought that God could communicate His truth through the creativity and the talents of unbelievers? That was my error, and perhaps the error of many. I was limiting God. I had confined Him to a little corner of my world. He could live, move, and act in that space, but nowhere else. He could speak through my Christian songs. But He was incapable of receiving praise or communicating truth through the thoughts, words, and music of an unbeliever. Simply put, my God was not so big or so strong or so mighty and there were some things that my God could not do.

When this realization hit me, I’ll admit, it hurt. It shamed me. I was so arrogant in my ignorance. I was master of my universe and to be frank, my universe sucked. I had heard the phrase, “All truth is God’s truth” since childhood and I thought I believed it. Sadly, I had learned to compartmentalize my life. Well intentioned, I had constructed separate spaces for the sacred and the secular. God was allowed to speak to me and to receive my praise through the unambiguously Christian. God was overlooked, or even worse, not welcome, in the secular. I could enjoy sports, food, television, and even movies as long as those areas of my life were separate from my hearing and understanding of God’s voice. For some reason I had no problem with those areas in their unbaptized form. Music on the other hand was different. Secular music was dangerous, frightening and decidedly not Christian. The line must be drawn here and no further! I would remain safe and comfortable surrounded by songs that didn’t offend or question me. Songs that played it safe; using the appropriate language and ideas.

After the aforementioned epiphany, I realized how narrow my thinking had been. God was at work in ways that my mind could not fathom. His truth was being proclaimed and communicated by the most unlikely people imaginable. But isn’t that just like Him? Scripture is full of examples of God using damaged and even unbelieving spokespersons. Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed:

Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God…no other god can save in this way.

He was in no way a “believer” but he spoke the truth: There is no other God that can save in that way. King Darius wrote a decree extolling God’s power after Daniel had been saved from the lion’s den:

For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.

Wow! That’s a praise song right there. We have no evidence that Darius was a believer yet he wrote those words for the entire nation to read and hear. The truth was crafted and penned by a sinner and it was heard by most of the civilized world.

Perhaps the most amazing example in Scripture is the time when God used Balaam’s donkey to save his life, by speaking. Yes, a donkey spoke to protect it’s master who was disobeying God. If God can speak the truth through an animal then I have no problem believing that He can use the likes of John Lennon or Mick Jagger.

So what does this all mean? I think there are few things that we should keep in mind when considering these ideas. Most importantly: Use wisdom. I’m not advocating jumping in head first into all the world offers us. Much of it is garbage and should be treated as such. Much of is dangerous and deadly; Flee from temptation and all that. But that is where discernment and wisdom come into play. Know your strengths and your inclinations and make good choices on what you will entertain and what will entertain you. Secondly, look closer, listen more carefully, and examine more fully. The real stuff, the things that really count are not always easy to spot or easy to ingest. Those things have to be tested carefully and completely. Your search will lead you down some unforeseen roads, and that is ok. As Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message would put it; God plays in ten thousand places. Don’t underestimate God’s ability to make His truth known. Finally, don’t be afraid of the difficult questions. When you listen to secular artists you are going to be challenged. They don’t see the world through our eyes. Many times they are going to confront God directly and perhaps even have a few negative things to say about Him or his children. Guess what? God doesn’t mind. In fact, I think he appreciates the honesty much more than the shallow spiritualized rhetoric that is found in so much of our modern Christian music. To prove that He doesn’t mind He made sure His revealed Word was full of questions. There are plenty of examples in Scripture of this. If you spend enough time with the secular your faith will be questioned. Rest assured of that. Embrace that. These people are searching and are simply expressing that search in the only way they know how; through their talents. Mankind has questions, even Christians have questions, and it is much healthier to accept that and figure out ways to confront those questions than it is to close our eyes, ears, and minds to the very things that could be a catalyst for growth.

At this point you might be wondering what the passage from Philippians has to do with any of this. Simple: Truth, nobility, purity, loveliness, and excellence can and will be found in a thousand different places. Don’t be afraid to think without limits when searching for them because contrary to popular opinion, God is limitless and He is looking forward to taking your hand and revealing His truth and His glory to you in ways that are beyond your imagining. God has made everything beautiful in its time and he created humanity with an innate ability to appreciate truth and beauty. He did this so that we could and would recognize the Originator of that Truth and Beauty. God is at work in the sublime, in the transcendent, in the fallen, and in the broken. God is drawing all men unto Himself and He uses more than His Words or His people to accomplish this. He even uses those things that entertain us. Just one thing: Be sure to recognize when God is making Himself known through these broken vessels. If you don’t, it would be a waste of a really great song.

The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God.   Gilbert Meilaender

Music Mix.

I got this idea from a message board I frequent.  Basically, you take your MP3 player and you put it on shuffle and then list the first ten songs that appear.  No cheating.  No skipping.  Just list the songs that appear.  It’s very simple but it’s kind of cool to see what other people have on their MP3 players.  Here is my list for today:

  1. Paper Moon – Shout Out Louds (Work)
  2. A Different Drum – Peter Gabriel (Passion)
  3. Unless God Appears First – The Elms (The Great American Midrange)
  4. This Kind of Life Keeps Breaking Your Heart – Hammock (Maybe They Will Sing for Us Tomorrow)
  5. Ara batur – Sigur Ros (Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust)
  6. Umbrella – Rihanna (Good Girl Gone Bad)
  7. Greet Death – Explosions in the Sky (Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever)
  8. She’s Alright – The Choir (Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen)
  9. Truman Sleeps – Philip Glass (The Truman Show Soundtrack)
  10. One Month Off – Bloc Party (Intimacy)

Now, it is your turn.  Post your music mix in the comments section.

5 Things I am Digging.

1.  Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire off the album Funeral.  The song is energetic, catchy, and it moves me every single time I hear it.  After No Cars Go, it is my favorite song of theirs.

2.  Toy Story 3.  I am still a little overwhelmed with how much I enjoyed this film.  I love almost every Pixar film to date, so it’s no surprise that I loved this one, but I didn’t expect to fall so hard for it.  I can’t wait to see it again.

3.  Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet.  I finished it about two weeks ago and I am still thinking about it – that pretty much says it all.  I am working on a review for it that I should have finished in the next couple of days.  Overstreet has become one of my favorite authors and I am very excited to see what he has planned for the final book in this series.

4.  Lost.  Yes, I know.  I’ve already finished this series.  Who cares?  It’s just that good.  I am working my through the series again on Netflix Instant and I have just finished Season 1.  I hope to start Season 2 very soon.  I still stand by my belief that Season 1 is the best season of television I have ever seen.

5.  I never thought I would write or even think this but here goes:  World Cup Soccer.  I am totally invested now.  I am and will never be a huge soccer fan, but this World Cup has sucked me in and I am kind of hooked.  I think it helped that the US team got screwed out of a goal.  That slight got some non fans to pay attention for once – all that national pride and stuff.  I hope they can keep this ride going for a little longer.  Go USA!!!

The Elms call it quits.

This has not been a good week or so for me.  First, Lost is over.  I loved the Finale and I am going to really miss the show.  Then it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro has left The Hobbit.  I have been looking forward to that film for a long time and now it seems that it’s going to be an even longer wait.  Finally, this morning I read on The Elms’ website that they are calling it quits after 10 years as a band.  They are my favorite band.  Their music just speaks to me.  It works on a very basic level for me.  I’ve written a lot about them on this blog so I won’t belabor the point.  At this point I really don’t have much else to say other than to wish the band well.

Update 1:  I’ve decided that the best way to pay homage to The Elms is to listen to their music.  I’ve decided to start with The Great American Midrange, their most recent album.  My two oldest boys – 7 and 5 years old – love the song Strut.  So do I.  I recently showed them a YouTube video of the band playing that song live and they both just stood their with their mouths open.  They were simply amazed that there were real people behind the song.  After standing there for a minute they started dancing and singing.  It was a really cool memory that I will revisit often. 

So, I am currently on The Wildest Heart – track 4 – one of the most beautiful and heartfelt songs I have ever heard.  It’s simple, elegant, and totally sincere.  Most rock bands don’t have the balls to pull off something this sensitive and honest.  I will miss this side of the band. 

More to come as I continue to bask in the glow of some great music…

Update Number 2:  I have been working my way through their albums and taking some time to look a the digibook they have made available on their webiste.  Go here to see it.  Beyond seeing the great photos of the band, and reading some thoughts about some previously unreleased music, it’s just awesome to hear the songs Long Gone and A Place in the Sun as instrumentals.  Both songs work in this format and it really highlights how talented these guys were.  Beautiful stuff!