Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Parental Predicament - Buying CDs for My Daughter




I was talking about kids and music with a guitarist friend of mine a few weeks ago. A father of a couple of teenagers, he remarked that one really has to reconsider all of the bashing of Contemporary Christian Music that all of us musician Christians engage in. His point was that there's so much crap you don't want your kids listening to because of the words and messages being promoted by the artists that maybe CCM isn't that bad after all. Though I thought what he was saying was interesting it didn't seem all that relevant to my life because my kids are both pretty young.

Well life comes up on you pretty quickly! For Christmas my daughter asked for a boom box. So my wife went out and got her one. No big deal right? Wrong. We had not thought this thing through very well. A boom box means that she'll want to play CDs. And CDs are very powerful things aren’t they. Since she doesn't have any CDs of her own, I felt the burden to step up and fulfill the great calling of music provider. I wasn't too intimidated about the buying her a few CDs because after all I'm a musician and a lover of music. How hard could it be? However, as I stood in the CD section of Target trying to find something that I approved of both for its musical value and its lyrical content, the weight of the task began to descend on my holiday-stressed shoulders.

I immediately felt like such a dad as I looked at the latest pop albums.
"I can't believe what folks are wearing on the covers of these CDs."
"I don't want my daughter listening to this crap! She'll want to grow up and be a thug or dope dealer or a stripper!"

So then I strolled over for a look at the country music section. It was certainly a lot more wholesome looking but I couldn't get past the fact that it was country music, or should I say a certain very commercialized type of country music. I had no problem with getting her a Johnny Cash CD if I thought she would listen to it but that ain't going to happen. And besides the man in black isn’t the type of country music they are selling in the country music section these days.

After disappointing perusals of Pop and Country music I reluctantly brought myself to look at the latest offerings from CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artists, which, while not singing about dope, sex, and grills, were pretty low on the artistic scale. I even caught myself thinking of that conversation with my friend.

I thought to myself, "Why does it matter if the music she listens to is not all that great artistically if she likes it and the lyrics are at the very least clean?"

I was flirting with compromise. I almost had myself talked into buying her a Wow compilation of songs from Stephen Curtis Chapman, Mary Mary, and Michael W. Smith but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

My hopes were fading.
“Maybe we should just scrap the whole giving her a boom box thing until we have a year to think the music thing through?”

Wearily I turned my attention to the soundtrack section.

There I glimpsed a few CDs from Disney. My daughter would be thrilled if I got her the newest Disney channel soundtracks. The only problem is I’ve seen enough of the shows to know that the CDs will be filled with nothing but sugarcoated pop songs about cute boys and tweeny romance. Though my daughter is still under the illusion that daddy's going to let her date guys before she's 30 years old, I will not contribute to the lie by buying that dribble for her. Sorry Disney!

I figure my daughter is at an age where she will still think that the CD's I buy her are cool (as long as I don't try and give her Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson.) If I'm lucky I have a window of a couple of years where I can have input on music without seeming like an out-of-touch curmudgeon. What I faced in Target that day was much bigger than simply buying a couple of CDs. These CDs could very well be some of the fundamental pieces of music that would contribute to her taste in music for years to come. Believe it or not I still listen to some of the CDs my dad turned me onto in those impressionable years of my own life. Thank God my dad had a real aversion to Michael Jackson, which he passed onto me at a time when Jackson's career was peaking (remember Thriller?) I might have turned out to be a much different musician if my dad hadn't intervened with some good music like Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. As for my daughter, who knows she may just become a musician herself. If that's the case then the burden is even bigger to get her heading in a good direction musically.

So after a few minutes of stress and on the verge of failure, my eyes landed on the Curious George soundtrack by Jack Johnson and Friends. I knew the music would be good and since it was the soundtrack to Curious George the lyrics should be appropriate for her. This was the type of CD I had been looking for. I was pleasantly surprised when, after opening presents on Christmas morning, we gave the CD a spin. The music was good as expected and the lyrics were about sharing and recycling and making a difference in the world. Ben Harper even does a cheerier version of "My Own Two Hands" on the CD (one of my favorite Ben Harper songs.) Score! I can only hope for more CDs like this one.

I also got her another CD - More Than Ever, Live From the Rockies. I guess I have to take advantage of the fact that she still thinks it's cool to have a CD with a couple of songs from her dad on it. I've got to enjoy it while it lasts.

My little boy got the DVD of the Pixar movie Cars for Christmas as well. I figure I'll have to get that soundtrack next. It's not bad. In fact it's pretty good. I can even tolerate the rocked up country version of "Life is a Highway".

I've threatened for years to do a Children's album.
If I can't find more CDs out there I may just have to...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Breaking in the Harmonium







Another CSB gig at PJ's. I got to introduce the Harmonium in the set on a few songs. It sounds enough like an acordian that it works well in Louisiana styles of music. A fun time tonight. Jared "Buckey" Morvant sat in on Funky Jambalaya- brought the funk.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

India Trip Part 2 - Guitar Center Worship, You Are There


Almost as rare a sightings of big-foot are pictures of me in khakis and dress shoes. Here's a grainy photo of a person in khakis we think is me...
Local woman praying in the church building
- A view of the crowd from the stage
- Hangin' with the local worship leader



Worship was an interesting part of my trip to India. I really didn’t know what to expect concerning leading worship on the other side of the world. First off I was concerned with the language barrier. I was told that less than half of the people where we were going spoke English and that even fewer would be able to read the words to the songs in English on the screens. Secondly, I was concerned about the cultural barriers. I was given a list of songs that I was told to use at the conference. The list was comprised of top 40 worship songs from the last 10 years such as Shout to the Lord, Here I Am to Worship etc. However, I really wondered how much the indigenous people of India were going to connect with these very American/ Western European style songs. I tried imagining how much I would connect with worship songs from India if one of their worship leaders lead worship at my church. I figured it would be awkward at the very least. So I was very sensitive to this when I arrived at the first conference. I was glad to see that there was a local worship band ready to lead some songs at the first conference. I sat in with them on the first couple of songs, which were naturally very Indian sounding. Then it was my turn to lead. I went into “Here I Am to Worship” and I could tell within about 10 seconds that no one was singing along. So by the end of the song I launched into an oldie – “Hallelujah”. “Hallelujah” is one of those words that is the same everywhere I’ve been in the world – one of those transcendent words with which Christians from around the world can connect. Immediately everybody in the room was on the same page with me. In that moment the barriers of culture, language, and worship style dissolved as we set our hearts on Christ together.

Two days later we began our second Alpha conference. I was expecting similar worship challenges. I met with the local worship pastor and asked him to do the first two songs and told him that I would do two songs after him. I assumed the band would be of the same caliber as the previous conference, but there’s always that little bit about assuming things. To my surprise the Indian worship leader just starts singing, leaving the band struggling to find what key he was in. By the end of the second song they were getting close to the same key but everything still sounded pretty crazy. It was time for me to lead my songs and I figure the band would not try to play songs they didn’t know. Well once again I was wrong. They struggled to play along the whole time. I struggled to not pay attention to how dissonant everything sounded, but it was really hard. It was something like trying to lead worship in a Guitar Center (for those of you who have been to a Guitar Center you will know what I’m talking about, for those of you who haven’t imagine a bunch of songs being played on various instruments coming at you from every direction and key and you’ll have a bit of an idea.)

The next day I asked that only the drummer play with me. I really tried to keep things as simple as I could. It was amazing how different things turned out on day two of that conference. Again I went with a couple of very simple songs and an even simpler line up of musicians. As I launched into the chorus of “Hosanna” I began to feel God’s presence fill the room. Everyone was worshipping. We felt God’s peace descend upon us. Though I was thousands of miles from home, I felt at home. Though I was in a foreign country, with a different culture and customs I felt close to these people as if they were my own brothers and sisters. Later that day we invited the people up for prayer. Just about every person in the place came up for prayer. We prayed for mothers who faced persecution from Hindu family members, asthmatics, and those who simply wanted to surrender more completely to God among many other prayer requests. We saw God move in a very powerful way as we prayed with these brothers and sisters on the other side of the world. I come away in awe of the God we serve and how he meets us no matter where in the world we are. I read Psalm 139 at the beginning of my time in India. The words became more and more real to me throughout the trip.

139:7-8

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 

if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.

"Harmonium" - I Stand Corrected

I have been informed by some music instrument aficionados that what I actually picked up in India is a Harmonium (the name did ring a bell and actually sounds cooler than "pump organ" which is really a different thing all together.) Well, after a bit of looking around I confirmed that what I got was in fact a harmonium. I am trying to figure out where I'm going to incorporate it in my next gig. If you're in the area and interested in hearing the harmonium then come out to PJ's this Friday. I also have a couple of worship nights this weekend with Vineyard Music and I am determined to make use of it in worship as well. Here's a helpful link that my friend Dave sent me- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonium

Friday, December 08, 2006

To India and Back










India trip Recap - I just got back from a week and a half in India. I went as part of a team from my church to put on 2 Alpha Course conferences in Southeast India. What a trip! The food was spicy, very spicy, and you eat with your hands. The people were very gracious and hospitable. We were welcomed warmly everywhere we went. I even got to play a little India music and even found an Indian music store where I bought an Indian pump organ (I’m not sure if that's the official name but I'm sure you will here it on my next CD.) The 2 conferences we did went well. We could really sense God among us in our times of worship and prayer with the locals. There was a real openness to God among the people. I was expecting there to be much more resistance but was pleasantly surprised. 
I came back appreciating life much more after what seemed a near death experience of a ride one night - the scariest ride of my life. After the second day of the first conference we headed out for Pondicherry (a coastal town), which was supposed to be a 3 to 4 hour drive. It ended up taking six hours, six very scary hours of dodging craters in the road and oncoming trucks. There were times where we didn't get over 15 miles an hour for 30 minutes at a time because the roads were so bad. I won't complain about New Orleans roads anymore. 
Though I got back yesterday, my luggage is yet to arrive, a long story. Though I loved India and Indian food and culture it was great to get back to the states. We arrived in Washington D. C. on Sunday night. We made it to the hotel in time to get a cheeseburger, a cold one, and catch the Saints clobbering the Cowboys. Ahh, it's good to be home!

-Crispin

Monday, November 20, 2006

On the Verge of New Lyrics

On The Verge of New Lyrics
I've been feeling the song writing urge for a while but seem to lack inspiration when I sit down with my guitar to write a bit. So I decided to write a song about almost writing a song. I submit the lyrics in their current state for your reading enjoyment. To help the lyrics seem really creative, try imagining Tom Petty and Dave Mathews singing it as a duet. I'm pretty sure the two of them could make this song work. You might try squinting and nodding your head to increase the mood around these lyrics. Easy now.

Verge

I am on the verge of writing me a song
I am on the edge of some real poetic words
I can taste the mystery about to be made known
I am on the verge of something stirring in my soul

I can feel it round the corners of mind
Some intuition that it's all about to rise
Like water breaking forth from a barren ground
I am getting closer to hearing that sound

I am on the verge of loosing this fear
I am on the edge of almost liking it here
I am slowly moving from propaganda to art
I am on the verge of something waking in my heart

I can feel it round the corners of my soul
Some intuition that it's all about to flow
Like water breaking forth from a barren ground
I am getting closer to knowing what I've found

I am on the brink of letting this thing fly
I am so near to more than simply getting by
I can sense the mediocrity starting to subside
I am on the precipice of inspiration's tide

I can feel it round the corners of my heart
Some intuition that it's just about to start
Like water breaking forth from a barren ground
I am getting closer to hearing that sound

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Internet Induced ADD Blog #2: 2 Weeks Coffee Free!

I don't know how long someone should be able to use a natural disaster for an excuse but I would like to use my Katrina card once more. In the past 15 months I feel like I have aged a whole lot. I don't know if it had to do with the couple of tons of meat I barbequed in the last year, the bickering politicians, or not playing as many gigs as normal but I feel like this last year was a bit of a dog year for me. I have at least 13 grey hairs in my beard to testify to it. Well, some time around six or seven months ago I noticed that I was beginning to feel really lethargic all of the time. This was unusual for me because for most of my life I've been more of a morning person. So after consulting with some of my vegetarian friends I decided to do a cleansing fast. During the 10 day fast I drank mass quantities of this lemon cayenne pepper concoction in the place of meals and coffee. By the 5th day I began introducing fruit, then nuts the next day and vegetables the day after that. After the first two days of headaches and cravings for fried food and cheeseburgers I started to feel better. I have now gone 2 weeks without coffee and I'm waking up feeling rested at 6:30 in the morning. It's not that I have anything against coffee it's just I haven't known life apart from coffee in at least 15 years so I just wanted to see what it was like. I find it amazing that I can live without it and enjoy life. I've even flirted with going vegetarian but I'm not sure how that will work with all of the barbeque I cook. Maybe I'll just be one of them part-time vegetarians. Yeah that's it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Blog For Those With Internet Induced ADD #1-Listening More or Less

I got an Ipod back in February and am now up to about 3,000 songs. I find that I am listening more to music but listening less. Something about trying to cram in 3,000 songs (or at least most of them) into a year is pretty hard when you have to account for new songs and albums, podcasts, and the downloaded episodes of Lost and 24. It is great to have all of the songs at my fingertips for any musical impulse but I find that I'm not appreciating them the same way I used to. I remember when I used to buy maybe a handful of CDs a year. The CDs would be listened to over and over again and mined for every bit of auditory pleasure they could bring. But as with eating at restaurants every day of the week instead of a couple of times a month the experience is some what diminished in the increased frequency. So I'm thinking of fasting music a bit and learning to trim my musical diet down a little so I start savoring the music more once again.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Series of Blogs for Those With Internet Induced ADD

I have been told recently that some have found my blogs too lengthy to read all the way through. Well, I realized a few months ago I could turn out any old blog in a couple of minutes or I could put a little more time into it to write something a bit better. The discipline of trying to write something worth reading is something like trying to write a good song and it takes time. So I have turned out less quantity of blogs in the last few months but hopefully of a better quality blogs all around. But I have done so at the risk of those who don’t want to spend 3 minutes reading a blog but would rather be done with it in say 30 seconds max. I understand your pain so I commit to releasing a series of small blogs for the ADD crowd. And since you have probably spent 30 seconds reading this it is time to go for now because after all everyone reading this is multi-tasking a variety of activities from work to phone conversations to term papers to watching TV, text messaging and listening to your ipod at the same time.

Bye for now…
-Crispin

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gertrude's Little Piece of Heaven

When I was a child my family would make the trek to Dallas at least once a year to visit my grandmother. Inevitably at some point on our visit with my grandmother we would leave her house and drive over by the fair grounds to visit Gertrude. Gertrude lived in an unassuming little white house on a raised foundation with a nice front porch, which probably was much smaller than it looked to me as a kid. The neighborhood was in an older section of Dallas and predominantly consisted of lower income families. Gertrude was a little old black woman who would answer the door in her house-coat while peering out at us from behind horned-rimmed glasses. Upon recognizing who was knocking on her door, her face would break into a big wide grin. While I didn’t quite understand as a kid why we would always go to visit Gertrude it began to make sense to me as the years passed. I suspect that my Dad wanted to give back to this woman something of what she’d given him over the years. These visits were a personal “thank-you” card of sorts because my dad had come to genuinely love this woman as his own kind of surrogate grandmother. Though she had just been a maid in my dad’s house growing up she had truly become family to him.

When I think of Gertrude the one word that comes to mind is joy. Gertrude was full of joy - not the type of worked up, positive-thinking, personal pep-rally kind of joy, but a deep abiding joy that emanated from the core of her soul. She was already pretty old when I began visiting her and as the years progressed she would suffer hearing loss and other physical ailments. However, she was not the type to waste her words on complaining or bad talking. And even when she did discuss her problems they would not diminish her joy. As we sat in her tiny living room we heard her tell stories of how she met Billy Graham when he was just beginning to preach and how she encouraged him and stories of the years she worked as a made for various families in Dallas. The contrast between Gertrude’s exuberant joy and her very humble way of life has really come to fascinate me over the years. Though she had grown up in poverty and still towards the end of her life didn’t have much in the way of material possessions or money, she was very rich indeed – rich in life and love and joy.

My visits to Gertrude as a child would always be in the context of seeing my grandmother which made Gertrude’s joy seem that much greater in contrast to the way my grandmother lived. My grandmother Margaret had lived a life of relative comfort and ease growing up in a well-to-do family in north Mississippi. However, even though she hadn’t known economic hardship and was well taken care of, her experience and view of life was quite different. A conversation with my grandmother would typically be filled with obsessive comments of how bad the world was getting, of how bad the neighbor over there was, and of how she couldn’t stand this or that. For my grandmother negativity wasn’t a random place she would visit from time to time but the place she lived. Though Margaret had taken my dad and uncle to church when they were growing up she never had a life-transforming experience with God. For her church was just a social thing one did. The fundamental concepts of Christianity like forgiveness and God’s love never took root in her soul. Increasingly her life journeyed down the road of unforgiveness to bitterness and resentment. Bit by bit her grudges as hurt pushed even her closest of friends away.

Gertrude became my grandmother’s housekeeper when my dad and uncle were just boys. In her weekly visits to my grandmother’s house, Gertrude would pray over my dad and uncle’s beds when she was tidying up their rooms—prayers that accumulated over weeks and years. Even after my father left home and was getting into the whole hippy scene and all it entailed, Gertrude was praying for him. Though he’d grown up with only a very peripheral encounter with religion Gertrude’s years of praying were answered as my father met Jesus. And because he met Jesus I in turn was exposed to God as a child. This woman, living in relative obscurity, and faithfully interceding for my father had a profound effect on my family.

Both Gertrude and my grandmother died a few years ago. When I look at both of them I get a real sense of how heaven and hell play out in this life. While Gertrude became ever filled with joy and life and love, my grandmother’s life became more and more filled with fear, anger, unforgiveness and bitterness. The last years of my grandmother’s life were spent mostly alone. I remember my grandmother couldn’t even bring herself to respond with “I love you” when I or someone else from the family would end a phone conversation with an “I love you”. The resentment and bitterness in her heart had turned her life into a little bit of hell on earth. However every time I visited Gertrude she was more and more filled with Joy. Even as she developed diabetes, and as hear hearing got bad and her eye-sight faded she was exuberant with life until the end. In fact in her later years many of the adult children from the families for whom she had worked years before would send her money monthly or bring her a turkey for thanksgiving. Gertrude lived her life in such a way that, even in obscurity, she brought a little heaven to earth. Gertrude was never a victim though she had many opportunities to play that card. She simply took what she had and made her life count. Even in her last few years of life in that tiny house in Dallas she was experiencing heaven while on the other side of town my grandmother was experiencing hell.

Too often we make Christianity about a ticket on the glory-bound train or a good life insurance policy. We have altar calls where we say things like “If you die tonight would you spend the rest of eternity in heaven or hell?” This line of evangelism was not the type of thing Jesus ever concerned himself with in his earthly ministry. He said things like “If you know me you will know life, overflowing, abundant life.” Jesus never put things in terms of the sweet “by and by” but in terms of the here and now. His message was much more concerned with following him in the now, knowing life in the now, asking God’s kingdom to come here in the present. The question should not be if you die tonight where would you go but if you continue to live tomorrow and the next day and maybe fifty more years then how will you live?

As Christians we become so misguided some times. We live our lives trying to accumulate wealth and position and grasping after every trinket and promise for happiness only to find that we’re looking in the wrong places and looking for the wrong things. And then we get a glimpse of someone like Gertrude who is richer by far than the billionaires of our age. The truth is that if we follow Jesus whether in obscurity or prominence we will experience life, heaven, joy, peace and love; And many times in the midst of pain and struggle, suffering and trials. But the flipside is that when we follow our own way we will inevitably experience hell on earth. Though we may accumulate great material wealth and fame and all that our world has to offer, inwardly we will whither away becoming a shell of what God intended us to be. Instead of rich meaningful relationships with our creator and other humans we will become bitter, resentful, and ultimately alone. We must begin to understand that heaven and hell begin right here in the seemingly small and random circumstances in our lives and the ways we in which we choose respond.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Than Ever CD Release


Last night we did a worship night/ CD release at the Ft. Collins Vineyard. The CD is called More Than Ever - Live From The Rockies and was recorded in conjucntion with the emerging worship leaders conference back in June. It's a good CD. You can download it at Itunes. This was a shot from stage during practice.
More to come...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Some Good Books

The following is a list of some good books I've come across in the last year with a review of each.


1. Heaven Is a Place on Earth - Michael E. Wittmer
Every once and a while I come across a book that challenge the fundamental ways I approach and view life—a book that doesn’t just tell me what to do but interrogates some of the most overlooked areas of life to get at my worldview. Like Mr. Anderson in the Matrix I’ve often felt things were not quite right but lacked the vocabulary or understanding of what is wrong. I need someone to peel back the skin of reasoning and engrained beliefs and point me to a new world of possibilities. Michael Wittmer does just that in Heaven is a Place on Earth, by challenging many rooted ideas within the modern evangelical worldview that are counterproductive to Christ-following and the kingdom of God. In recent years there have been hundreds of books that deal with the worldviews of modernism and postmodernism and often end up being rants of disgruntled revolutionaries trying to shake up the status quo. While those types of books are okay and needed occasionally they often fail to motivate people to positive action. This book is a challenging critique of modern evangelicalism without being cynical or biting. Wittmer challenges everything from our views of the after-life to our care for the environment and social justice in a way that doesn’t necessarily answer all problems in a tidy reductive way but gets one to at least begin thinking in the right direction. The subtitle to this book is “Why Everything You Do Matters To God”. In reading this book I have found a renewed passion for life from the mundane to the mountaintops.

2. Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell
In recent years Rob Bell has emerged as timely and relevant voice in the church with his Nooma videos and now with Velvet Elvis. In Velvet Elvis, Bell challenges a lot of practices and thinking in the church, not so much as a theologian or revolutionary but, as an artist. I’ve heard many folks compare this book to Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz but, apart from its cryptic title, I would say the comparison is not very good as far as content goes. The comparison is true when it comes to the style of writing though. Like Donald Miller, Rob Bell writes in a very creative and engaging way even if he lacks the writing skill to sustain very lengthy stories. However he sticks with his strengths—small chapters told in a narrative way which when brought together offer a repainting of the Christian faith. This is an easy read for even the most A.D.D.-challenged readers while also hitting on some weighty theology in a very practical and approachable way.

3. Simply Christian – N. T. Wright
I can think of no other author that has influenced me more in recent years than N. T. Wright. Wright is without a doubt one of the greatest theologians of our time. However, unlike many theologians who are locked away in the ivory towers of academia, N. T. Wright is firmly planted in the church. Simply Christian is almost an apologetic work on Christianity but rather than falling into the same old modernist arguments that have dogged evangelical debates for so long he approaches the longings in the hearts of humans for justice, beauty, and relationship which are, as he writes, “echoes of a voice”. I found this book very enjoyable though it dragged a bit is some places. Wright succeeds in getting to the core longings of humans and pointing us to the object of our longing. To some this book will be a bit of an acquired taste but others will immediately connect with Wright’s style of writing. It seems that this book was written with non-Christians in mind because it is very accessible to the uninitiated and would be a recommend read to those who are interested in Christianity.

4. The Last Word – N. T. Wright
Wright attempts to tackle the subject of Biblical authority. This is a good intro in to how we should approach scripture. Wright helps us to navigate a path between conservative and liberal biases and through the modernist/postmodernist quagmire to give us a fresh understanding of the Bible as a narrative work with real authority without just being some kind of proof-text to back up our ideologies.

5. Hebrews for Everyone – N. T. Wright
As I mentioned above Wright is a theologian who works and lives within the church. Since C.S. Lewis, I have not found someone capable of writing on so many levels. Wright has authored some seriously dense scholarly works but has always had in mind the everyday “Joe”. With his “For Everyone” series of Bible commentaries Wright has done for theology what Eugene Peterson did for Bible-reading with The Message. Wright goes through verse by verse with personal illustrations from life that help the reader get a handle on what the text is saying but without getting lost in academic language and heady theological discussions. I started with Hebrews For Everyone and have not been disappointed. It has been a helpful aid in Bible study and devotional reading. In addition to this installment Wright has also written “For Everyone” commentaries on all of the Gospels and Paul’s writings.

6. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
I haven’t finished this one even though I started it back at the first of the year. It’s not because it’s boring but because it’s so rich. This is the type of book you can read 5 or 6 pages and chew on them for a few days. I enjoy this book as devotional reading. Petterson’s conversational style of writing is prevalent throughout the book making the complex simple and exciting. In the introduction of the book he writes how much of this book came out of conversations with friends around the dinner table as well as scholarly circles. It reads like a conversation meandering here and there with frequent profound insights. The section on the-fear-of-the-Lord alone is worth the price of the book. This is the first of several books he is writing on conversational theology that is followed up by “Eat This Book”.

7. Living the Resurrection – Eugene Peterson
In Living The Resurrection, Eugene Peterson takes some of the themes from his other books and delivers them in a more concise manner. This is a book about everyday spirituality in everyday life. I’d recommend this one for folks who don’t like reading much because it’s smaller in scope it’s a good primer for other larger, in-depth works. In Living the Resurrection Peterson has the uncanny ability of wrestling us from mysticism to see the sacred in the common and the divine in the everyday.

8. The Great Divorce – C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis conquers the subject of hell in this brilliantly imaginative work. I’ve often struggled with some of the teachings on hell in the church and found that Lewis has some very fresh, though unorthodox views on the subject. Lewis’ “Hell” is a state of being where the departed still have the choice of heaven and yet they continue to reject it. Issues like pride and jealousy and insecurity are still very real in this hell and keep these ghosts of humans from choosing life and love and ultimately they continue to reject God. So rather than hell being a sealed deal when a person dies C. S. Lewis sees humans as continuing to have the ability to choose and yet being the sum total of all their decisions from their former life. Even though they can choose they can’t choose because their hearts have become hardened. I can’t help but wonder if C. S. Lewis might be on to something here. His thoughts on the subject are at the very least insightful.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Good Year For Music Part 1 - CD Reviews

It's been a real good year for music. The last few years were average but I have come across some good stuff this year. I'll deal with CDs then books and then live shows.

CDs:

1. Paul Simon - Surprise
Back in the late 80's Paul Simon turned out arguably his greatest work - "Graceland". It's still in my top personal top 10 most influential albums of all time. However Paul Simon has not turned out anything close to the work of Graceland until now. On "Surprise" we find an interesting collaboration between Paul Simon and Brian Eno (one of my favorite producers). While I'd never have thought of putting the author of "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard" with the father of Ambient music, the collaboration works well. The product reminds me of what Peter Gabriel was going for on Up or even what Kevin Prosch was trying to do on Palanquin yet with much better results. The resulting product is beautifully arranged music framing some of Simon's best lyrics.

2. Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris - "All The Roadrunning"
It's awesome when 2 artists you love collaborate. When I heard that Knopfler and Harris had a CD coming out I was excited and yet a bit worried especially after Mark Knopfler's last CD - Shangri La which was rather mediocre. It turns out my worries were unfounded. This duet works great. Their voices work so well together and the music is what you would expect from Knopfler.

3. Bruce Cockburn - "Speechless"
In the last 12 years Bruce Cockburn has become one of my favorite songwriters. Cockburn is one of those artists who not only writes incredible lyrics but is also a skilled and innovative musician. "Speechless" is a collection of instrumentals which he has written over his 35 year career. Though many of these songs have appeared on other albums the collection works remarkably well together for such a vast time frame. There are also a couple of new instrumentals as well. This is a great CD to leave on in the background whether meditating or reading.

4. Over The Rhine - "Drunkard's Prayer"
I'm a newcomer to Over The Rhine but currently they are my favorite band. This is a simple CD recorded in their home studio with sparse instrumentation including upright piano, acoustic guitar, bass and the occasional cello. Karin Bergquist sings delicately these songs of her and her husband re-discovering what they love about one another, life, God etc. Drunkard's Prayer is an album of simple beauty, which is not diminished in the listening.

5. Tom Petty - "Highway Companion"
Tom Petty is at the top of his game on this one. Again he finds himself working with Jeff Lynn with whose help he turned out so much of his best work in the early nineties (Won't Back Down, Learning to Fly, Free Fallin' etc.). In fact this CD sounds like it could have come out around the same time as some of his most well known stuff. It's everything we like about Tom Petty.

6. Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood - "Out Louder"
Back in 1998 John Scofield got the funk organ trio of Medeski, Martin and Wood to collaborate with him on an album entitled "A Go Go". "A Go Go" is still one of my favorite CDs by both Scofield and MMW. So when I heard they were going to do another CD together I immediately went to Amazon.com to pre-order. The CD kicks off with "Little Walter Rides Again", an infectiously funky ditty that is the most accessible and coherent tune on the CD. Then they jump into the crazy fast funk of "Miles Behind" which features Medeski ripping up a distorted electric piano and Scofield furiously playing some real cool solos while Wood and Martin keep the thing rollin'. The whole album is definitely enjoyable, but in my opinion MMW work better backing Scofield up rather than Scofield joining them. Scofield has such a good sense of songwriting, which is not as apparent in most of these songs that were predominantly written by Medeski. MMW's love for extended jams and experimenting comes through strong as the album progresses, which is not bad but seems a little disjointed at times. All that said, I really dig anything by these guys and hope that they will continue to works together in the future.

7. Bill Frisell - "East West 1", "2", and "Further East Further West"
Like John Scofield, Bill Frisell is an innovator on the electric guitar. These 3 CDs are live recordings from his last major tour, which find him improvising with his simple trio of musicians that turn out some remarkably subtle and complex musical ideas. He does amazing covers of several songs. Two standouts are Bob Dylan's "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall Down" and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". Frisell's playing is a mixture of jazz, country and ambient with a splash of experimental which is just too cool. As a musician myself I am in awe of what these guys pull of live.

8. Music at Mars - "Worship in Every Direction"
I became interested in Mar Hill church after reading their pastor Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis. Since I'm a worship pastor I'm very interested in the way worship occurs within churches so I was glad to get a hold of this CD. The CD has the attention to art you would expect from Bell's church. The CD is actually 2 CDs in what looks like a small book with pictures from the live recording. I like the realness of this recording. The production is not slick and polished- just very natural. There's not a sense that they tried to be something their not on the recording or wow us with coolness. I particularly like the incorporation of readings into worship whether of scriptures or prayers. One thing I didn't much care for on this CD was the section of hymns such as "I'll Fly Away" and "When the role is Called Up Yonder" lead with banjo. It sounds a little scary when you hear thousands of white people singing songs like that with a banjo and violin. It almost reminded me of A Mighty Wind. But besides those few songs I really like the rest of the tunes. What I though was cool were the few songs they did with a drum line - very cool. In these days of mass-marketed worship it's good to hear something non-pretentious and worshipful happening within a church.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Crispy Version of Head Like A Hole Nominated For Award

I entered a music contest a year ago run by an organization called Just Plain Folks which is a network of some 18,000 musicians, producers, and industry people. Well after they reviewd some 350,000 songs my cover of Trent Reznor's Head Like a Hole on my MOVE CD made it as a finalist in the cover song category. So I'm one of 50 artists that have a chance at getting the top award for this category. I know it's no Grammy. Actually I'm not quite sure what it is. I wish that one of my original songs had made it but oh well, you take what you can get. It's kind of funny that the first time I ever played the song was just as a joke in a Mary's Den rehersal. So a joke of a cover song is the one song out of all my meaningful material that gets nominated. The awards will be given in November. You can check out the nominees at:

http://www.jpfolks.com/home.html

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Relational God and The Logic of The Story

We've all had the experience of reading a book or watching a movie where the author or director has violated the logic of his/her story. When this happens the whole story suffers and the connection with the story gets fuzzy. I remember having this experience a few years ago while watching the Matrix Trilogy. What got off to such a brilliant start broke down by the second and third installments of the Trilogy. Part of the problem was that the directors violated their own logic - the rules and foundations for their story, and in doing so the once brilliant story unraveled. In contrast I remember reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy around the same time. I was so amazed at the richness of the story. It didn't surprise me to find out that Tolkien had actually written several complete languages and detailed histories for the races of beings that made up the world and stories of middle earth. Tolkien understood something about the link between the logic and the integrity of a story. Tolkien’s writings endure to this day because they are not only very rich with details and subtleties but because they are stories with integrity through and through. They are stories that are written with a well thought out logic that is not transgressed in the telling.

I now wish to turn to a bigger story. As I have been pondering the epic story of the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind and the world I have been awestruck by the way that God, as the author and finisher of the story, has not violated the logic of what he began. One aspect where this is very profound is in the area of relationship. God, who is relational within the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit, has created a world that is relational to the core. In the fall man experienced death and sickness in all of his relationships – his relationship with his maker, his relationship with his fellow man, and his relationship with the rest of the creation. As one note out of tune on a guitar causes the whole guitar to sound off, so man’s sin caused him to be out of tune with God, his fellow man, and the creation. It’s not that we just need a new song we need to be brought back in tune with God’s original purposes. We need harmony within and without.

Yet even in God’s plan for redemption he has not violated the logic of his story. As his nature is relational, and his original creation was relational even so his plan for redemption is also relational. If God was to break the rules of this story then the very fabric of the story and of all of creation would come apart at the seams.

Even when mankind was estranged, separated and writhing under the curse of sin, God initiated relationship. First with Abraham, then with his descendents – collectively known as Israel. All through the Old Testament we see God relating to Israel as a man relates to his wife - a wife who sleeps around and gives herself to others. Israel is still made up of humans who, like all other humans, suffer under the curse of sin and fail to measure up to God’s purposes.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus again shows us the God who is relational. He enacts a rescue plan from within humanity that is among other things characterized by engaging humanity.

He touches the untouchables.
He reaches beyond the acceptable social norms as he converses with a Samaritan woman and make friends with prostitutes.
He is even made out to be a drunk and a glutton because of the company he keeps.

But ultimately it was what Jesus did on the cross that offers hope for man to be brought back in harmony with God’s original purposes. Jesus not only showed us the God who pursues relationship with man, but the God who removes every obstacle that stands in the way of that relationship.

I’ve always been fascinated with the picture of Jesus shortly after the resurrection when he is seen cooking breakfast for his disciples on the beech. Didn’t he have more important things to do? What do we do with a God like this?

He was
Relational in the beginning
Relational in his pursuit
Relational in his redemption
And relational in his resurrection


Shock and Awe:
A few years ago America’s invasion of Iraq was started with a campaign called “Shock and Awe”, a series a massive bombings that was meant to destroy the Iraqi morale before the invasion began in earnest. Man’s ideas are always of this type – big and noisy, the type of stuff that makes good movies and good pep rallies, and good press conferences. But Jesus said his kingdom would be like yeast spreading throughout dough, like grass growing, like a mustard seed that starts so insignificantly yet grows to a great height.

These are organic words and pictures of kingdom realities.

What started off with this carpenter’s son and a handful of followers in an obscure part of Israel has spread through relationship and grown to millions of people now around the world. The God who is love is spreading his love one person to the next - relational through and through.

Too often we want to by-pass the relational aspects of the kingdom in favor of “Shock and Awe” and Hollywood charm but we must remember that God’s kingdom, his people, his temple are made up of people – community – folks in relationship with their God, other people and creation – people in the process of coming back in tune with the harmony that once existed so long ago.

What we see at the end of the book is heaven coming to earth and relationship between God, man and creation finally restored to their original harmony.

We Christians need to keep this in mind. To make our Christianity simply about words and morals is to miss the very context of the story of which we are invited to be an active part. Through relationship with our God we can become bearers of peace and healing and redemption in the relationships around us and rather than waiting to get to heaven when we die we can bring a little bit of heaven to earth.


[This blog is a bit of a rabbit trail from a recent message I gave at Vineyard church in Kenner. To listen to the audio go to www.vcfk.com and download the message Harmony and Dissonance.]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hell Is a Wal-Mart Check-Out Line

I pulled up to the superstore around 11:15 on a steamy Louisiana evening to get a few grocery items for my wife. As I drove into the parking lot I wasn’t sure if this mega-mart, once known for being open 24 hours a day, would be open after 11 in this post-Katrina world I’ve been living in for the past eleven months. To my surprise it wasn’t only open but teeming with tired construction workers, bored teenagers, weary retailers, and a few folks like myself under the illusion that they could get in and get out with their groceries in a timely manner.

So I grabbed the few items my wife had requested and made my way to the check out line. As I pushed my buggy up to the line, I arrived about the same time as a middle-aged woman who, coming from behind a cracker display, didn’t see me. I motioned to her to go ahead of me in line. “But you only have 3 items” she said. I replied, “you only have 4, go on.” I figured one more person in a line that long wouldn’t hold things up much longer than it would otherwise take.

I try my best to never go to Wal-Mart. It’s not that I am protesting Wal-Mart’s lack of care for their employees, their disregard for the environment or how they run the mom and pop markets out of business in small, rural communities, I just don’t like standing in line.

On this particular night shoppers greatly outnumbered checkout clerks. I stood about seventh in line and tried to get as comfortable as I could because I figured I was going to be there a while. The check out isle was a mess of discarded items folks decided they didn’t want to purchase when they got to the counter and the typical fare of impulse buys, tabloids and beauty magazines.

There I stood leaning on my cart under pasty fluorescent lights, the incessant beeping of registers swirling round in the background, trying not to look at the cover of Cosmo for the latest helping of boobs and “sex tips to make him crazy!” The line was slow-moving as expected - a couple feet every couple of minutes. Something about the experience was really disturbing to me. It occurred to me that my fellow shoppers and I were cattle here being herded into a stall. Something within me wanted to cry “MOOOOO!” I think I even said “mooo” under my breathe. I was reminded of why I hate going to Wal-Mart and reminded further of what concerns me about how commercialism and convenience are eroding away at the soul of cities all around the country.

I was recently driving through the suburban sprawl around Houston. I was reminded of old cartoons where the animation backgrounds would loop a repeated scene behind Yogi Bear or Tom and Jerry as the cartoon characters ran after or away from one another.

Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Applebees, Home Depot, TGI Fridays… Repeat

The sad thing is that I could have been driving in the suburbs of Atlanta, Denver, or Kansas City. Our big cities are all starting to look the same. Our cities are loosing their uniqueness, their character - their soul. As I look at and take part in the rebuilding of the New Orleans area after Katrina I am very concerned that this once very soulful city could end up looking like every other city in the country.

When I first returned to the New Orleans area after Katrina I remember feeling so small in the midst of the vast destruction all around. As a musician I felt inadequate to use my best gifts to help in relief work. I thought to myself, “what place does music have in this storm-ravaged area?” Sure at that time the most appropriate thing was not to pick up a guitar and sing but to pick up a hammer and start ripping out sheet-rock. Besides what could I even sing about? However as the immediate relief effort has given way to the rebuilding, I am now beginning to sense how much music is needed, not just music though but art, dancing, architecture, and local cuisine – the intangible but irreplaceable essence of a community. These are some of the things that make up the “soul” of a city. For all of its problems New Orleans is a city with soul. To paraphrase and contextualize the words of Jesus, “what would it profit a city to gain all of the mega marts, trendy coffee shops, and restaurant franchises at the expense of its soul.” The challenge of artists, musicians, architects, painters, photographers, and even restaurateurs is to help get the soul of the city back lest it be lost to the forces at work in every suburban area in the country. We need to be reminded that life is more that commerce and convenience. Life is, at its highest points, realized in community, shared meals, singing, dancing, beauty and music.

In the past few months I have found myself down on Magazine street in New Orleans eating at the local restaurants, drinking coffee at the local coffee shops, and enjoying the charm and simplicity, the local flavor and color of this soulful city. I would hate to see this place replaced and repopulated by Wal-Marts and McDonalds. Sure it’s already happened to a certain extent but much of the city’s destiny is still up in the air. My prayer is that New Orleans just might emerge better of than before, full of soul and just maybe without as much corruption, poverty, and want. We need not trust our future to corporations and developers. As artists we must remind and give a vision of what a city can be.

When commercialism reigns, art is replaced by advertising, photos and music become ways of pushing buttons and seducing money out of the wallet, and architecture becomes homogenized and functional. An air-brushed, squeaky-clean image is dangled in front of us that makes us less human as we chase after it. The uniqueness and diversity of our communities are in turn swallowed up by the bland and mediocre, convenience-peddling giants of corporate America.

So when you find yourself in a mega mart in the middle of the night with the urge to “Mooo” remember you are not a cow, you are not a commodity, you are a human; a human meant to enjoy and engage love, and life, and laughter and tears, and song and dance. So why don’t you pass up that Applebees and go the funky, hole-in-the-wall taco shack. Trade the fluorescent lights and cattle stalls of the mega mart for home-grown produce from your farmers market. Turn off your radio and just start singing. Go out and listen to some live local music and remember what it is you like about life and what it is you like about your community and begin to enjoy it once again.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bungee Jumping Feels Like Suicide

God’s ways are so upside-down compared to our ways. This “upside-down” way was a characteristic of the ministry of Jesus as recorded throughout the gospels. He would say things like, “the first will be last and the last first”, or “turn the other cheek instead of fighting back”, or “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who spitefully use you…”

This kind of wisdom, the Jesus kind of wisdom, is so contrary to the wisdom of this world which seeks at all costs to get ahead, to profit, to fight, to seek pleasure, and to stockpile and horde.

I find that the more I follow Jesus, the more I have to face ways of thinking that are rooted in our world rather than his realm. One of the hardest things to face is my fear. It’s kind of ironic that I was reminded of the confrontation with fear several times on my vacation with my family last week.

To start off, just before my family went on vacation a week ago I spoke at my church’s weekend services and shared a few things from my personal struggle with internet pornography which I didn’t particularly care to share with a crowd that not only included men, but wives, and grandmothers as well (those wishing to hear the message can go to www.vcfk.com and listen to the MP3 titled “Set Up to be Set Free”). It may be the fear I had to confront in sharing my personal struggles that set the tone for the week, but for whatever reason confronting fear became the theme of our vacation.

Our whole vacation last week was filled with opportunities for my family to face fear in order to enjoy life whether it was my little boy’s fears of going down a water slide or my daughter facing the fear of swimming more than 10 feet in a lake or my wife jumping off of a cliff into the water. As a father I really enjoyed getting to walk my children through their fears so that they could more fully live and engage life. In the process I realized that my experience with my children was not too unlike what my heavenly father has done with me throughout my Christian walk.

Years ago I was in Indonesia on the island of Bali. One day the family that I was staying with offered to take me bungee jumping. I had always wanted to bungee jump but up to that point had never had the opportunity so I was really excited. There I stood up on top of the platform many stories above a swimming pool with the wind blowing my hair and butterflies in my gut. Though the personnel of the facility were very diligent in get me hooked up in the gear the right way and making sure they had just the right amount of chord, no amount of respect for their safety guidelines could relax me. It’s as if my physical body thought I was about to commit suicide and was revolting. Well after a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, I jumped off. Immediately I was flooded with an intoxicating head-rush of adrenaline as I was dunked into the pool below only to be catapulted back into the sky and back again until the bungee cables returned to their original state. As soon as I realized I was alive and in one piece I let out the half-crazed shout of a madman. My fears had turned to exhilaration and joy. Instead of dying I felt more alive than ever.

There was a time years ago when I found myself in the midst of a struggle with internet porn. I really wanted God to help me deal with the stuff in a way that would be just me and God. I prayed alone to God for deliverance from this sin and I even read books on the subject privately hoping that I could find some formula for freedom. Whenever I would get someone to pray for me I’d be careful not to clue him in to what I was really struggling with. However I found that the sins that had taken root in my isolation could only be dealt with in the company of others, in community, in relationships with my fellow brothers in Christ. But confessing my sins to anyone felt like I was killing myself.

“If I let them know what I’m struggling with then they will reject me.”
“I’ll be ostracized from the church, I’ll be ridiculed, and belittled. “

What made it worse was the realization that coming clean meant that I not only had to admit my secret sin but that I wasn’t quite the Christian I pretended to be.

So when I opened my mouth to confess my sin it was like bungee jumping for the first time – butterflies in my stomach, a cold sweat, an anxious rapidly beating heart.

However I didn’t die.
I wasn’t ostracized.
I wasn’t even rejected the slightest bit from any of the ones I opened up to.

On the contrary I was loved, accepted, and even ministered to not as some unclean leper but as a brother, as a friend. In fact I found that there were others around me going through the same thing who were scared to death to get it out in the open.

So when I’m at a lake and I’m calling to my daughter to face her fears and jump to me I feel a little bit of the pleasure my heavenly father must have when I face my fears and jump into his arms. When I jump I find that I become more of the person he made me to be and less of that imposter I used to be. I become more fully alive, more real, more loving, more courageous, more of a man, more of a father, and more compassionate on those who struggle with the same things.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Let Them Enjoy Medieval Music

I am dumbfounded by an article I read today. Apparently the pope has decided to ban the use of guitars in the Catholic Mass. It is really hard for me to believe that this story isn't a farce. Here is a quote from the story:

"It is possible to modernize holy music," the Pope said, at a concert conducted by Domenico Bartolucci the director of music at the Sistine Chapel. "But it should not happen outside the traditional path of Gregorian chants or sacred polyphonic choral music."
Full article at - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/06/27/wpope27.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/06/27/ixnews.html

Well I guess Gregorian Chants worked for the early 90s group Enigma, but I can't see the Catholic church maintaining any kind of relevant connection with the modern world by pushing medieval music.

I remember reading a story about 10 years ago on the subject of ethnomusicology. It's a big scary word for the study of ethnic music. Anyway the story was about ethnomusicologist missionaries that would travel to secluded people groups in remote areas to study the music of these ethnic peoples so as to help them create worship music in their own cultural/musical language using their indigenous instruments. These musical missionaries represented a paradigm shift in missions. For hundreds of years missionaries would come into new territory and get to the work of evangelism. The problem is that in addition to translating the Bible they did a great bit of imposing of white western European culture on the natives. Part of this imposing would be in the form of music. So even though the native folks would have songs in their language they weren't songs that were from their culture. I can imagine how difficult it would be for me to worship in the style of music from India even if the words were English. I just don't feel Indian music the way the people of India do. So imagine how wierd trying to worship with music from Western Europe if you grew up in the jungles of Africa.

Back to the article on the ethnomusicologist. There was a quote in the article by a woman from an Indian tribe in the Amazon rain forests of Brazil. She said with tears in her eyes, "When they translated the Bible they gave us a way for God to speak to us, but when they (the ethnomusicologists) gave us these songs they gave us a way to talk back to God."

Back to the Pope. His recent statements against guitars in the Catholic Mass are sad not just because of how out of touch they make the Catholic church seem but because they erect yet another barrier for certain people trying to connect with God in a meaningful way.

In my opinion the church should be about helping folks connect with God from within their cultures not by imposing some ancient European culture on them.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Consumers and Connectors

Every analogy breaks down at some point so let me clarify something a bit here. I often use food and drink as analogies for kingdom realities but every comparison has its own problems. When I talk of appreciating worship in the same way as appreciating a good microbrew I'm not meaning to make it seem like simply a consumer affair. Worship is first and foremost for God and about God. That said if worship is to help inspire humans to draw near to God, or to help aid in meditation on God, or to simply minister God's truth to the soul so that it can be less encumbered in the pursuit of God then worship music by all means must connect with the listener/participant. It's not simply that we musicians just need to come up with better crafted songs for the consuming public, it's that we need to be connected with God, and with the church, and with our local communities. Out of that place we then form songs like microbrews that resonate with the souls of our communities helping them to better experience God. I hope this clarifies the analogy a bit more.

There is one other thing that I want to clarify. I know I railed on CCM but the reality is that what is taking place in the Christian music industry is also the same thing going on in mainstream pop music across the board. I just think that the ramifications in Contemporary Christian Music are much different particularly when it comes to worship.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Indie Worship and Microbreweries

I was having a conversation the other day with some friends of mine that had come into town for a Vineyard Regional Church conference that our church was hosting. As we turned our conversation to modern worship songs I mentioned how there are very few worship albums that have been released in recent years that connect with me. I can count on one hand the worship CDs that I have come across in the last 5 years that I have listened to more than a few times - the kinds of albums that really help me connect with God.

It seems to me that a few years ago worship went from being a grass-roots movement to a type of genre to be propagated by Christian Music labels in Nashville. What started from humble beginnings with artists like Delirious, David Ruis, Kevin Prosch, Waterdeep, Matt Redman, Jeff Searls and 100 Portraits (to name a few) suddenly became a commodity to be capitalized on by record labels. When the major record labels noticed all of the folks buying up worship music then they suddenly realized they must cash in on the phenomenon. Then all of the sudden worship CDs became the trendy thing for every CCM artist to record not too unlike the obligatory Christmas album. This recent trend in worship music disturbs me a great deal. Whereas 10 years ago worship music encompassed a variety of styles from earthy and organic to driving rock, now aa good deal of worship albums are starting to sound pretty much the same. They are being mass-produced and engineered as a genre for CCM radio stations. Meanwhile there has been a mass exodus of Christian artists from Christian labels that wish to bring their music to a wider audience (bravo!). So for the Christian labels worship music is one of the few things they have left that can bring in the bacon.

The problem now is that worship music is sounding just as mediocre and trite as CCM music has sounded for years. Even the term "Contemporary Christian Music" is a bit of a misnomer being that it is hardly contemporary, lightly Christian, and many times a poor excuse for music. CCM has yet to be cutting edge or culturally innovative because it is always trying to catch up with the latest trends. CCM is regarded by most as a place for bland mediocrity. Instead of songs that deal with all of life from the good times to the struggles, CCM stations broadcast songs that seem to deny anything but sunny days and happy people as if following Christ means that everything is just peachy until you get raptured. The resulting effect of CCM's involvement in worship music is that the CCM Worship genre sounds like a certain type of homogenized-white-middle-class-pop-rock. The diversity of sounds and themes that should be present in worship music have been gobbled up into one mammoth, non-threatening, heap of "Christianese" bliss. This saddens me to no end. But there is hope; it's just a different kind of hope.

I have been pondering the albums that have really made a difference in my life in the past few years. One thing they all have in common is that they were produced either independently or for indie labels. They have a depth and authenticity, which connect creatively and spiritually with my soul. And after all isn't that what music should do?

I find that I am by no means alone in these feelings.

I will borrow an analogy from a friend of mine. The worship projects that connect with me connect in the same sort of way that beer from a microbrewery connects with me. When I drink a beer I don't want some mass-produced mediocre Budweiser. I want the handcrafted beer that's made in small batches with lots of care. The microbreweries aren't trying to be Budweiser. They are not trying to take over the beer-consuming world. They are simply trying to turn out something good, something unique, and something that the consumer will appreciate. These beers are not the beers one drinks to get drunk, but to savor. They are created for a local market and carry a unique local flavor, whether it's an Abita Turbo Dog down here in Louisiana or a Fat Tire Ale in Colorado, or a Shiner Bock in Texas, these beers are connected to the place where they are created. It's no surprise that microbreweries have exploded in popularity in recent years. Every time I travel some new place I like to try the local microbrews. The flavors connect me with the place and the people and the culture. And this is what I see is happening with worship music. Sure small worship projects have not exploded on the scene the way microbreweries have but it's coming. With the advent of online communities like Myspace and the myriad of sites where artists can post MP3s micro-worship projects are connecting with people organically. Like microbrews, they aren't marketed heavily but rely on word of mouth recommendations. I can only hope that micro-worship will experience the same surge as microbreweries.

What micro-worship projects lack in budgets and expensive studio gear they make up for in creativity, heart and soul. That's why they work.

I was reading the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell the other day. He made the observation that when God created everything he said it was good, not it was perfect. God's good creation required man to steward it, to cultivate it, to organize and interact with it - and that to is a good thing.

Too often we musicians, and worship leaders try and create perfect instead of good, but our perfection typically comes at the expense of soul. I've heard many a perfect worship CDs that weren't good. On the other hand I've heard many really good worship projects that were far from perfect. I'm not saying that we need to get sloppy with things and turn out any old thing that pops into our heads. However perfectionism can never be satisfied and takes a heavy toll on the soul, and even worse fails to connect with the listener.

Being fully human is good - it is in fact what we were meant to be. Our music, our worship, and our worship music need the human touch, the human connection, and the human soul. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with that. What is wrong is when we take our human worship music and try to make it something else. When perfectionism takes over the music becomes less than human, and connects on a less than human level. This too is one of the major flaws of Contemporary Christian Music; it has traded goodness for perfection.

The words of David, the great psalmist, were not perfect (at least in the sense that we think of perfection though they do make up the biggest book of the Bible.) They were earthy and organic, full of passion and emotion, raw and honest. These are the types of songs we need. These are the types of songs that our communities need. These are the songs that are full of salt to bring out the God-flavors of the listeners hearts. Like microbreweries our songs and recordings should have a connection with the locale in which they were created and should carry the uniqueness of flavor and expression that arises out of community, love, care, and humble worship.

So go out and find some good micro-worship and when you do let me know what you find. I would love to get a hold of some new stuff. I know its out there.

-Crispin

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The "Soul" in Music Pt.3 - Speaking Through Music

I have been leading worship at The Vineyard Church in Kenner for about 3 and a half years now. When I first came on staff there they were doing 5 services a weekend and by the next year had begun doing 8 services a weekend. It got to the point where I had to start writing down the frequency that we played songs because I would be ready after 2 weekends to drop a song from our repertoire. This was because in 2 weekends worth of playing a song I would have played a new song some twenty times for the 2 times folks in the audience had heard it.

All that to say I've led a lot of worship services in 3 and a half years. I am glad that for the moment our church is only doing 3 services because I am able to keep things a bit fresher than when we did 8 services. But still I get to the point where I get burned out on leading worship. I believe part of this is due to the fact that worship music simply isn't very challenging musically. Much of that is intentional because simple songs are easier for congregations to join in with. In worship music you don't want people in awe of the musicians but in awe of God. Anyway that's a bit of a rabbit trail. Well for the last three weeks I have been able to be a musician in our worship band as we have had others leading the worship. I feel like I am beginning to experience worship in a renewed way as I worship through my instrument. I've actually been playing bass quite a bit lately.

One thing I like about worshiping through an instrument is trying to communicate without using words. I want my bass playing or guitar playing to help communicate what the lyrics are saying. I want to lock in with the other musicians so that we collectively say something musically that helps folks in their worship experience.

I have been a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan since I was in high school. There was one song that I really loved when it came out but the older I get I have a much more acute appreciation of. The song is "The Sky Is Crying". In that song Stevie Ray plays this guitar solo that is just dripping with soul. The main riff of the thing is not too difficult. As a matter of fact it was one of the first riffs I learned to play in blues. But what it took me a while to get is that Stevie Ray was talking through that note. He was singing a song about being torn up over lost love. He's so tore up in this song that even the rain falling from the sky seems to echo his sentiment. It's as if the world around him is as torn up as he is. And then when the solo comes along he makes his guitar cry. His guitar is wailing. That one simple riff is the sobbing of the sky, of his soul, through the guitar. When I first heard the song I liked it but I just took it to be some kind of simplistic blues tunes. On the contrary there was some real heavy stuff in there. That's speaking with music.

Another musician who can really speak through his guitar is Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Jeff Tweedy isn’t a pretty sounding guitar player but you can bet his guitar will communicate whatever the song is saying. There is a song on their "A Ghost Is Born" CD called spiders. As the band drones along keeping time he plays a rather a-tonal solo that sounds just like spiders spinning webs - real cool.

Some musicians are very talented but there playing says nothing. 2 years ago I saw the bass player Victor Wooten at the House of Blues. Though his playing was top-notch for the most part, it didn't have much soul to me. The whole concert was just a show off session. Well a few weeks later I got to see Robert Randolph who is the Jimi Hendrix of pedal steel. He made this pedal steel sound like a black woman singing in church - beautiful. Though the dude was extremely talented he wasn't showing off. He was saying something with his music.

I think that's one aspect of what really works about Nora Jones. She could have come out trying to be big on the R & B charts and probably had some success. Instead she just keeps at it with her smoky understated voice that perfectly conveys the words of the songs she sings.

This is something that we musicians must remind ourselves is important. It's not so much what you play but how you play it.
-Crispy

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Speaking Instead of Blogging

I've been neglecting the blog a bit lately because I've been pretty busy. Part of my business was preparing for my recent teaching at The Vineyard which took place this last weekend. I don't do much public speaking (at least when I'm not holding a guitar) so it took a good bit of effort getting ready. I actually spoke on some of the things that I've blogged about recently.

My text for the message was Matthew 5:13
"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”

So the question that I pose is this - How much is the presence of Christians in the community spicing things up? How much are we bringing out the God-Flavors in the world around us?

Check the audio out at:

http://www.vcfk.com/NewV/listen.html

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The "Soul" in Music Pt.2 -Connection

As I mentioned before "Soul" in music is not so much about the style of the music. In this blogging I'd like to discuss another element of soul which is the ability of an artist to connect with the listeners. The connection factor of music is always easier to discern in live music. I've heard pleanty of "Soulful" artist live that were not able to capture that connection with the listener on their recordings either because they produced the thing to death or because of the very unatural proccess of recording a song as a fixed copy. For instance I saw Keb' Mo' live one time at the House of Blues in New Orleans. It was one of the best shows I'd seen. It was simply Keb Mo and a guy playing a little rhythm guitar for him and he freakin rocked the house. The connection with the crowd of 1,000 + people in the club was amazing. It's hard for any solo artist with an acoustic guitar to connect with a large group of people but he had the place jumpin, clappin, and singing along. I promptly went out and bought several Keb Mo albums. Though the guy is a killer songwriter and performer I was a bit dissapointed that the connection that was in the House of Blues was diminished on the CDs. They were still good but live he was amazing.

A friend of mine Ryan Delmore came out with a CD a year or so ago called Devotion. I remember when I first met him he told me about his CD. He just said it was a simple CD of some songs and that he hadn't got to add much in the way of drums and so the songs were pretty sparse on production. Well I got the CD and it had the goods. It had soul in the connection sense. Sure it wasn't polished perfect but it had connection. When you listen to it you're drawn in to what he's saying. Your not wowed by production tricks and cool guitar effects, but you're very connected. That's where his CD really succeeds.

I'm reminded of a recent interview with Brian Eno in Mix magazine. Eno was talking about the temptation of musicians these days to use technology as a bit of a crutch. He talked of a band that added some thirty tracks of belles and wistles to the instrumental section of a song when in reality they just had a week chorus. The song didn't need more tracks of music it needed work in the writing.

The reality is that good songs connect with people even when they are done simply (particularly when they are done simply).
My band has covered a lot of U2 songs and I often pull out U2 songs on solo gigs. We never try to play the songs like U2 because well we're not U2. The thing is that a U2 song doesn't need Edge's chiming delayed guitars, Bono's rockstar antics, and Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton's groove to work (though they do work very well that way). They work as acoustic songs because they are written well. The songs are full of soul. They connect whether U2 is playing them in front of 200,000 people or I'm covering them at a coffee shop with 10 patrons. U2 writes songs with connecting with people in mind and that element of soul comes through everything they do.

More to Come
-Crispin

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Not So Spiritual, Spiritual Thing

I was talking to my grandmother on the phone today. She mentioned to me a conversation she had with a friend of hers about me. She told her friend that since the hurricane I had been doing alot of cooking for the relief work that our church has been involved in. Her friend told her that they need to find somebody else to do the cooking so I could focus on more spiritual things. I told my grandmother that in south Louisiana cooking is a spiritual thing. She laughed and said she would pass the message on to her friend.

Though what I said to my grandmother was lighthearted I was in fact serious about cooking being a spiritual thing. It's not that the barbeque pits get me closer to God or that the smoke from the mesquite and hickory is some kind of incense. It's just that the experience of God is still available and perhaps more so to me because there are less distractions than when I am in an office.

Over the last few years I have really changed my line of thinking on spirituality. So much of modern western Christianity has been subtly and not so subtly colored and influenced by a kind of gnosticism which advances the idea that anything physical is evil while the spiritual is good and pure. Following this line of thought if you're a serious Christian then you will fill your life with more and more spiritual things and make less room for the physical realm. But the truth is that God created us with physical bodies capable of enjoying the very creation around us - everything from music and poetry to sunsets and sex. Sure our world is marred by the scars and curse of sin, but God is not looking to destroy humanity's humaness. On the contrary he is looking to restore it.

Jesus came as God in human flesh. He wasn't just some ghost or positive force. He was flesh and blood, comepletly God and completly man. And as our risen lord on Easter morning he was the firstborn of reconciled creation. When the disciples encountered him after the ressurection they didn't encounter a ghost but a human. Thomas touched the holes in his hands. He cooked fish and bread and ate with his disciples. I've often heard the saying "You're so heavenly minded that your no earthly good." Well I think this saying is true of much of the church in recent history. I include myself in that number but say that I am recovering as any other addicted person recovers. Recovering because the spiritual escape seems so right so often. I feel at times like Peter must have felt on the mountain of Jesus' transfiguration. Peter wanted nothing more than to stay in that wonderful place of God's presence. He was ready to live up there and Jesus said "no it's time to go back down." Jesus wasn't trying to be cruel to Peter because Peter was made to engage the world not to hide away in some spiritual ecstacy. And so we see Jesus down from the mountain top doing a whole lot of supernatural and natural things - eating, healing, drinking, resting, bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. Jesus showed us a way to live that wasn't afraid of the world of men and all of their messes. He engaged the drunk, the margenalized, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the religious elite and the down and out lepers. Why should it be any different for us his followers.

As we are overcome by the love and redemption of God we in turn love and bring the redemtion of God to the fallen world around us. We can see with eyes that enjoy the wonderful beauty of God's creation about us. We become engaged because we realize that humanity's original purpose is now restored and that we are to steward the creation around us. We are not waiting to escape to the sweet by and by. On the contrary we are here to be as Jesus - redeemers of the broken and reconcilers of the estranged.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The "Soul" in Music Pt.1

I want to address the often misunderstood element in music of soul. The term "soul" has often been used to refer to a style of singing that arose from Blues, R&B, and Gospel. I would say that "Soulful" quality of music is much larger than that though. I have heard much in the way of gospel, blues, and r&b that I would say is the style of soulful singing but lacks the soul of soul if that makes sense. For instance, take someone like Mariah Carey. She can certainly sing in a soulful way but her music lacks a real depth and conection with other's souls which to me is more fundamental than the style of "soul". On the other hand take a listen to Bob Dylan. Bob has never been credited with having a great voice but the dude's definately got soul. His songs say something, something that he believes, something that arises from the inside. There is an authenticity to Bob Dylan's music. Even when he plays the harmonica it's got soul. Sure there are harp players that run circles around him but he plays it from deep within. "Soul" is that quality of authenticity, depth, conviction, and conection with others through music. I think "Soul" became associated with more African American styles of music because the older blues, gospel, r&b, and soul music was definately connected with life experience, full of depth and passion. Those singers are just good at their turns and vocal chops aren't soulful if their singing is disconected from their inner being, their exeperience and conecting with others.

More to Come

Friday, April 14, 2006

School of Barbeque and Grilling

Since Katrina I have been getting an experiential schooling in the art or barbeque and grilling. The months of relief work, outreach, and hosting teams have given me a test audience to experiment with a variety of techniques and recipes. I've spent a the majority of time on trying to attain the illusive perfect brisket. While I haven't attained it yet, I 've gradually come to a point of consistently good briskets. There is always room for improvement but now it's time to turn my attention to one of the other greats for barbeque - ribs. This afternoon i will attempt my first batch of baby back ribs with my comrade of the culinary arts Phil Schisler. I will let you know of my progress or lack of progress.

Speaking of grilling, I made a bit of a hybrid dish today that was quite good. As the saying goes neccessity is the mother of invention. I wanted to cook up some lunch for me and my boy today. I was going to grill some burgers but I realized that I had no burger buns however I had no shortage of flour tortillas and ground meat. So the result was the burgerito.

I started by making some patties out of some lean ground meat and coating them in a generous ammount of granulated garlic and fresh ground black pepper with a dash of salt. Then I put the patties out on the grill, turning them after about 5 minutes. After I turned them I took 2 large flour tortillas and in one put some slices of pepper jack cheese (for mine) and American cheese in the other for my son. I placed the tortillas on the second level grill for about a minute each to melt the cheese and give a slightly crispy edge to the tortillas. By about that time the burgers were done. I took the burgers and placed them on the tortillas with melted cheese. On mine I added a little bit of barbeque sauce and then rolled it up and ate it. I found that the flavor of the meat really came through better than with a bun. There was also quite a bit more room for extra stuff which would make a typical burger hard to get your mouth around. There was pleanty of room for extra stuff like lettuce, tomatoes, pickles etc. Though i didn't have any green chiles on hand I suspect that a burgerito with pepperjack cheese, a spoon or two of black beans and some green chiles (or pico de gallo) would be quite nice. I suspect I'll pursue this recipe further.

Well it's about time to go cook some ribs.
-Crispin

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Organic Cotton

The other day I was making groceries at Sams when I came across organic cotton socks. Now my wife is on a pretty strcit vegetarian diet so I'm very familiar with organic food and the reasons for buying organic food. I would like somebody to let me know the benefits of buying socks made from organic cotton. If you ain't going to eat the stuff then why would pesticides matter? But hey why not, they have organic shampoo and everything else. If it's not organic it has some kind of chipoltle sauce in it these days. i guess it's just the fad marketing gimmic of the day.

-Crispin

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Roots of Music

Some time last year I watched the Martin Scorsesie documentary on the Blues. What was interesting to me was the attention they brought to the chasm that existed between gospel and blues music. To many Christians in the south the Blues was the devil's music. It came to be associated with voodoo, sex, and low morality. I thought it was interesting to me because the jump from blues to black gospel was never very far in my mind. In fact I think that much of what has been said in blues music has been more honest and more earthy than in many other forms of music. As I've grown older I've come to have a much deeper appreciation for roots music. I also have come to see that blues, gospel, and country music have much more in common than we normally think. I guess this is one reason why the music I write is so all over the place because the bounds that have traditionally been placed there around genres aren't as obvious to me. For example yesterday Micah, and Ben and I were practicing for some upcoming gigs and i pulled out a song called At The Crossroads that I wrote about 3 and a half years ago. Originally i recorded the song as a bit of an appalachian bluegrass type of a song in the vein of say the Oh Brother Where Art Though soundtrack. As we practiced the song and everything took shape, I would say that it had some very noticable elements of blues, gospel, and bluegrass in it but with a little more sauce on it being that it is approached in almost a rockabilly manner. All that to say that the song just seemed right that way. It's not a matter of trying to mix all of these things together but just that I love all of these rootsy styles of music and they seem to mix naturally to me.

It's kind of like alot of the food that I like. There's a local chain of restaurants in New Orleans called Zeas. My favorite dinner there would be Thai Ribs with a side of Roasted Corn Grits, and Red Beans. Who would have thought that you could make Thai Ribs, much less serve them with grits and red beans, but it works some kind of well. Sure I love alot of modern music but the more I make my journey through music the more I develope a love for the roots of music and the more I see the connections in it. Roots music reminds me of the place where music should come from. The old blues, and gospel, and spirituals, and blue grass and so on was music written not to sell albums, but to deal with life in all of its pain and joy. Right now I'm listening to an album by Mississippi Fred McDowell called Amazing Grace. This album is a beautiful mixture of gospel spirituals and delta blues. Sure the recording is pretty rough but the music is authentic and honest. It would do musicians a lot of good to frequently visit redcordings like this.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Choices

This afternoon I'm watching some real quality Sunday afternoon movie on WGN when I notice that my remote control has gone missing. In the middle of this movie I start into a mild panic of trying to find it again. I didn't need it at the time because it wasn't a commercial break but I was commpelled to track it down. Well some ten minutes later I found that spot underneath my couch where it had slipped. It occured to me how rediculous missing the movie to find the remote control was. I think it has something to do with keeping my options open. I suffer from the very American compulsion to have a choice. What's sad is that I see this same tendency in my little boy. After he woke up from his nap I asked him if he wanted to eat. Then I asked him what he wanted and spent the next five minutes going over culinary options from hot dogs with cheese and ketchup, to pb&j with my two year old. He seems to enjoy having choices as well, even if he's not altogether good at making them. It struck me that a two-year old in more than half the countries on earth right now would not likely ever be faced with this oportunity to choose. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing but it's definately a very American problem.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Back in the Big Easy - My Return to The Neutral Ground





Here's some pics from my gig at The Neutral Ground Coffee House, New Orleans. Though Neutral Ground was a steady gig for me pre-katrina this is my first time back there since August of 05. Micah joined me on the gig and Doug Anderson also joined me on a blues song that we co-wrote about 2 months ago.