Thursday, July 31, 2008

July, July

It's really quite fascinating how our own perceptions color our memories the way they do.

I had this blog post all planned out to gush over how thankful I am that July has finally come to an end. And mercifully so. I was going to write about how it just seemed to take forever. I was going to go off on how boring and long and dead it was; how it was the month that just refused to end and how every day was just another horribly slow experience in running on the hamster wheel toward the much more interesting month of August and season of fall.

On some level, that is true. July is not the most hopping month by any stretch at the church. In fact, it is the least hopping. There is no hopping. There is standing still. It made for some excruciatingly dull office hours at times. Planning ahead was what I used to invigorate my spirit. Creating deadlines and tension for myself really helped me through at times.

To aid in what surely was going to be this cathartic release of pent-up hostility toward July, I pulled out my calendar. I looked back over it to see what I could point to in order to help my cause. And then it dawned on me that my perceptions of the month vs. what I've actually been doing are two different things.

Here's how I'm going to remember this July.


I'll remember Coffeeson getting his three-month pictures. Yeah. He's three months old already. We have this one 8x10 shot of him on the wall: he's next to a baseball and smiling right at the camera. That was a one in a million shot. I'll remember how much he likes to giggle now. He giggles at all sorts of things. I'll also remember the ultrasound that he had last week for a...ahem...manly issue. He decidedly did not giggle during that. But for the most part, he's a pretty happy little baby.

I'll remember going to jury duty, only to be told that I didn't have to serve jury duty. The guy was being brought up on various charges related to drunk driving. He actually stood around in the lobby with the prospective jurors beforehand--unkempt hair, scraggly beard, shirt half-buttoned so that his chest hair could pop out in all its glory. I didn't know it was him at the time, but afterwards there was no doubt. Another juror said that you could smell alcohol on him. Good times.

I'll remember meeting with the Emergent Cohort at a little hole-in-the-wall Indian food restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls. The discussion of the day was weighing the views of "the city" in scripture. If you want me to really explain this, let me know. I remember being disappointed when I quickly ascertained that my crab masala was made with the fake processed crab. I hope we don't meet there any more.

I remember attending a church member's graduation party, and the wedding the next weekend, both instances when I was invited to celebrate significant moments in young people's lives. I was applauded before I gave the prayer at the reception. There was "woo"ing involved. Those were fun. I'll also remember the DJ, who reminded me of actor Scott Caan, only playing bootilicious songs so that he could try macking on all the single women.

I'll remember working the Indians game and our spot squarely behind home plate.

I'll remember the Dave Matthews Band concert that I was just at last night. I'll remember the opening act, Ingrid Michaelson ("The Way I Am"...you've heard it, go look it up) rapping "Ice Ice Baby." I'll remember how heavily they seemed to favor "Crash," Tim Reynolds destroying everybody with his guitar solos, Carter Beauford doing likewise during a drum solo on "Two Step," Leroi Moore's conspicuous absence because of a recent hospitalization and being replaced by Jeff Coffin from the Flecktones, who also ripped it up during "#41."

So July was not the black hole of a month that I'd convinced myself it was. Granted, there sure seemed to be a lot of filler in between. But if I said that July was a horribly dead month, I'd be ignoring all of this.

Well, crap.

Pudge is now a Yankee.

A YANKEE.

Why not the Angels or the Cubs or Brewers or some team in contention who aren't the Yankees? At least then seeing him in a different uniform would be somewhat bearable.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thoughts Barely Related

Last night, I worked my second of four games in a Progressive Field concession stand. For those who missed it, my church is doing this as a fundraiser - 12 games, base rate for everyone who works + percentage off what we sell. The Tigers are in town this week, and I originally wasn't going to work this one because I wanted to attend as a fan...and then I realized what a copout that probably was, and I ended up working.

Our booth was right behind home plate last night. I'd leave the booth to restock peanuts out front just in time to see Pudge throw the ball back to Rogers, maybe 200 feet from me. Before the game, I watched Magglio and a few others take batting practice. The Tigers lost 5-0...Rogers wasn't his best by any means last night. If the game had even been the slightest bit competitive, I'd have regretted working instead of watching.

I made a lot of popcorn last night. I made A LOT OF POPCORN. And I got pretty sick of the smell of hot dogs. That didn't happen to me last time.

I'm actually reading a book. Yeah, it's been a while. If you want an unbiased, agenda-less take on whether America was intended to be a "Christian nation" and an analysis of the religious devotion of our various Founding Fathers, check out Founding Faith by Steven Waldman. He counters both sides: "they were all hardcore devoted evangelicals" vs. "they were all Deists." It wasn't that simple.

So far, I've learned that some of the early colonies were originally governed under some semblance of "Christian law," and that they could be as oppressive and backwards as some modern religion-based governments.

I've also learned that Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson in particular didn't mind religion so long as it actually taught virtue and influenced people to do good works. They rejected aspects of religion that inspired people to sit around talking about how right they are. Jefferson was the most critical of Christianity's "superstitious" elements, but anyone familiar with the "Jefferson Bible" probably knew that.


I've also learned that there was a lot of anti-Anglican and anti-Catholic sentiment back then, mostly because they associated those particular denominations with England's government. Washington in particular tried to curb this sentiment, mostly to unify his Continental army.

This is a great book. I highly recommend it. It shows that the early American religious landscape was much more complicated than either typical "side" argues, and that making the case that six or seven guys were or weren't devoted Christians over 200 years ago still doesn't say much of anything about how Christian our nation was, is, or should be. I think that the early history of states like Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia should be enough to convince people that maybe "Christian government" (and even then, particular denominations of Christians) isn't really the best idea, or even all that Christian.

But a lot of people won't be convinced. And that makes me saddest of all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

365 Albums - Week 5

29. Joss Stone, Introducing Joss Stone - I remember the first time I heard Joss Stone. It was on some VH1 concert show paying tribute to female artists, and she did a cover of The White Stripe's "Fell in Love with a Girl" (except she'd altered "girl" to "boy") in a '60s/'70s R&B style. I think she was only 17 or so when that happened, but she had some powerful pipes and knew how to carry herself. I liked her style. This is her third album, filled with that same R&B/soul sound that I'd heard in that first listen.

The music, first off, is probably what I like the most. There's a certain modernization of the classic sounds she's obviously inspired by, with almost a hip-hop feel to some of these songs. Common appears on "Tell Me What We're Gonna Do Now," celebrating a relationship and wondering what more they can do together. "Bruised But Not Broken" was inspired by the death of a friend, reflecting that even through the pain of grief, one needs to carry on. The lead single, "Tell Me 'Bout It," asks a loved one to share what he's thinking.

As I said, I like the music and the overall style, including Stone's voice. But while I've tried to back off on overanalyzing lyrics for this thing, there sure are a lot of "ooh baby"s and "I wanna be with you/love you/can't live without you/fill-in-the-blank you"s and other lovey-dovey stuff that we've heard a million times. They're crafted to fit the style, but it's still a lot of the same in that department.

30. Wilco, Summerteeth - I didn't know what to expect from Wilco, as I'd only heard of them, not actually heard their music. For some reason, I went ahead and assumed that it'd be a basic indie/alternative kind of sound. That'll teach me to assume things. On Summerteeth, I hear a little Radiohead (only even less radio-friendly) and a little Beatles (I was thinking McCartney in particular, but they cite Lennon as an influence) and a little Beach Boys (yes...Beach Boys). They can be spacey, country, moody, driven, light, dark...you name it, it probably shows up somewhere. I loved that about this album.

I didn't like what sounded like a cheap Casio keyboard on a few of their songs. I quickly learned to expect quirky, but this element was just silly. For me, it took away from their otherwise excellent and diverse experimental sound. That was the only thing that I really didn't like on this CD. Having said that...

31. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - I ended up with two of their albums this week, setting myself up for a crash course in Wilco. I like this one even better. The music is stronger, though no less creative and variant. I'm guessing that not everyone will "get" Wilco. That may already be evidenced by their record sales. Not that commercial success is any true indicator of what constitutes good music...if that were the case, then Britney Spears is an artistic genius.

Both musically and lyrically, Wilco is a more "heady" band. I just let the whole package wash over me, especially with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot...I didn't even look at the lyrics until after the fact. By doing that, I could truly hear "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" as the story of a conflicted relationship that it was. I could truly hear "Radio Cure" as the story of two depressed people. I couldn't have done that just by reading the lyrics or if each song had been more typical of what gets played on the radio.

32. Death Cab for Cutie, Plans - I think I'd heard maybe two songs from this band before picking up this album. The first, "I Will Follow You into the Dark," is on this album...I think I saw the video on VH1 a couple times. The second, "I Will Possess Your Heart," is their latest single that has been playing on the radio. "I Will Follow You into the Dark" in particular reminded me a little of The Decemberists: the song, acoustic and melancholy, is very similar to what you'll hear on a Decemberists album. That, and Ben Gibbard kind of looks like Colin Meloy, right down to the thick-rimmed glasses.

I am now a full-fledged fan of Death Cab for Cutie. The stories that Ben Gibbard tells in this album are amazing. Just listen to "What Sarah Said," chronicling that agonizing final wait in a hospital waiting room before he remembers what Sarah said: "love is watching someone die." Think about it. "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" uses a great metaphor to describe the growing distance between people losing their feelings for each other. "Summer Skin" is about a romance that only lasts as long as the season. The music besides is a softer rock feel...as many songs are driven by piano or acoustic guitar as a slightly harder electric arrangement. Maybe it struck me in just the right way on a particular morning, but I think it was simply the right combination of lyrical imagery and music.

33. Black Sabbath, Paranoid - Black Sabbath is frequently credited as being one of the pioneers of what would become known as heavy metal. Formerly more of a blues band, one can still hear hints of that sound on this, one of their most heralded albums. Most will probably be familiar with "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Iron Man." They may not know that those are the names of the songs ("Iron Man" excepted), but they've probably heard them on many a classic rock station, because classic rock stations only really play three songs from each band that was popular in the '70s ad nauseum. Seriously. Would it kill classic rock DJs to play a Led Zeppelin song other than "Black Dog" or "The Ocean?" Maybe a Pink Floyd song besides "The Wall Part 2" or "Money?"

It's actually due to hearing some of these Sabbath songs so many times that I sort of dreaded listening to this album. In fact, I'll own up to the belief that "Iron Man" is one of the most overplayed, overrated classic rock songs ever. How many times do I have to hear that riff in commercials, TV shows, or movies wherever a cheap allusion can be made? And the way that Ozzy's singing is just laid overtop of that riff just grates my ears.

The rest of the album--both the stuff that gets played constantly and the stuff that never gets played--actually shows why this album deserves the accolades that it gets. To sit down and truly listen to "War Pigs" and give full attention to all eight minutes of the guitar work, the lyrics critical of those who send people off to war, the way the band doesn't cut corners, was something I greatly appreciated. Then you have "Planet Caravan," a softer, subtler piece featuring congas and eerie voice effects that turned out to be my favorite of the album, and "Rat Salad," featuring an extended drum solo. Of course, neither of these are played on the radio. We have to listen to "Iron Man" a few hundred more times instead.

34. Beck, The Information - This is typical Beck: hip-hop drum tracks, his vocals alternating between rapping and singing, and a variety of instruments interwoven through all of it. It's certainly not a bad album by any means - it's actually quite good. "Think I'm in Love" stands out with the line, "I think I'm in love, but it makes me kind of nervous to say so." "Landslide/Exoskeleton" starts out well, but then degenerates into some kind of conversation that I wasn't especially interested in and that I found annoying.

Beck always delivers. I enjoy his creativity and the way he seems to say, "Yeah, I'm doing some hip-hop, but I'm not taking myself too seriously." But I'll need a few more listens to properly absorb this one and to differentiate it from some of his other stuff.

35. Isaac Green and the Skalars, Skoolin' With the Skalars - I was a huge fan of ska in college: Five Iron Frenzy, Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Mustard Plug, The Aquabats, The Supertones (when they were still ska). I loved the upbeat tempo, the horns, the punk attitude. I remember learning how to skank at my first ska concert (skank (v.) to dance to ska). Those were good times. Then, for one reason or another, my tastes began to change. I'd still pick up the occasional album, but not with the same frequency, abundance, or enthusiasm. In more recent years, I've only really retained my interest in the now defunct Five Iron, Reel Big Fish, and a few compilations. In retrospect, the years that I was most into ska, 1997-2001, were also years when ska enjoyed a lot of mainstream success. Realizing that makes me even more ashamed that I've let it fall by the wayside so much.

This Skalars album, a gift from a friend, has sat in my collection for years and has only been enjoyed a couple times. When I popped it in this past week, it made me wonder why exactly my musical interests have shifted the way that they have. They've broadened, but perhaps a little too much at the expense of such a fun, irreverent, uptempo genre. On "Spoiled Brat," singer Jessica Butler sings about how she really doesn't care about anyone else but herself. On "Puppet Lover," she sings of her desire for a man that she can control. In "High School," she sings of certain aspects of her life feeling oddly like past days.

This album helped remind me why I once loved this type of music so much. Maybe this will be the start of revisiting other albums and bands that once saw endless play on my stereo.

Album of the Week:
Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
Song of the Week: Black Sabbath, "Planet Caravan"
Lyric of the Week: "Distance has no way of making love understandable." - Wilco, "Radio Cure"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sort of an Explanation

I'm really glad that my last entry, all of one line, evoked such a great response. I'm thankful for the feedback that people offered. Some got pretty passionate, which is always a good sign.

I attended a workshop a few years back when this quote was uttered. I certainly can't take responsibility for it. I've been pondering it ever since, questioning its truth, wondering how it applies to me.

The context of the quote was a discussion on "medium-sized" churches, or "pastor-sized" churches. For those unfamiliar with this term, a "pastor-sized" church is one where the pastor is the determinant of the congregation's rhythm, the central figure around which the rest of the church rotates. Contrast this with the "family-sized" church, where a few "power families" are the determinant, or a "program-sized" church where a ministry team is the determinant. The "pastor-sized" church is of a certain size (100-150 members or so) that it depends on the pastor for direction, motivation, initiative.

The danger for this pastor-sized church culture is that, in taking on each pastor's personality as it were (his/her strengths and weaknesses, emphases, passions, and yes, programming), is that there is the potential to hit Restart with every pastoral turnover. One pastor may be passionate about getting a senior high ministry off and running; the next may not want to come within 100 feet of anyone under the age of 35. And what happens in the meantime?

A lot of commenters mentioned "equipping the saints," which as I recall was part of this presentation. In fact, I believe that part of the context for the original statement had to do with whether a pastor can get others involved with his/her ministries and emphases; whether s/he is, as one commenter put it, only doing "his/her ministry" or whether s/he has equipped others to minister alongside him/her.

The other side, as several other commenters put it, is that programs (let's set aside the baggage with the term "program" for now) have a shelf life, and particular programs may come from the gifts of a particular pastor. Again, Pastor 1 may start a senior high ministry according to his/her gifts, while Pastor 2 has no business leading such a group.

Along with this, some simply don't want to be equipped. It's "the pastor's job," or everyone is too busy, or there's that special group of people who complain about how bad such-and-such is but strangely won't lift a finger to make things any better either. In some (many) "pastor-sized" churches, people are so used to the pastor taking initiative that they expect it...otherwise, some things might not happen.

This, I think, is the context of what some have identified as an inflammatory statement. I'm in agreement that "failed" is a little strong. It's also probably the crux of why this statement has been rattling in my brain for so long. But to finally read others respond to it, I have more perspective and more to chew on.

So thanks for that. It's not too late to weigh in if you'd like. Maybe with this entry, you even have more to work with.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Critique This Statement

"If all the programming that you start at a church falls away after you leave, that's a failed pastorate."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Fun

This was one of those weekends that I just had to write about.

I had a wedding on Saturday. And frankly, I've had a string of good experiences with weddings this year. This was no exception. I enjoyed working with this couple. They've basically known each other their entire lives, and there was little doubt in my mind that this wouldn't just keep getting stronger.

The ceremony involved a cast of thousands: six on each side besides the couple, three musicians, a humongous extended family. When I asked the families to stand in support of the couple, a good quarter of the packed sanctuary stood. I had a feeling that the place would be full - the family is well-known and loved in the congregation, and there were a number of friends presumably from college and earlier there as well (she was in a sorority, so that helped, too).

The other notable thing about the ceremony itself was that they requested that most of the chancel furniture be removed. Our chancel can be pretty cramped, and they wanted something more airy; more room to move for pictures and such. So we left the altar, and stashed everything else in various corners of the building. Keep that in mind for later.

As I stood in the narthex before the service, I was able to observe quite a number of the guests. As start time approached, a woman whom I'd estimate was barely in her early 20s entered carrying a newborn baby girl probably not more than a few weeks old. The way this woman was holding her, her head was just hanging upside-down. And then I overheard this exchange.

Guy: Her head is just hanging there.

Woman: Yeah, I don't know why it does that.

(Deep breaths. Very deep breaths.)

IT'S CALLED "PROPER HEAD SUPPORT." IT'S BABY CARE 101. COME ON.

Later at the reception, she was doing much better. I'd learned that an older couple from the church had approached her, so maybe that's what did it. I'm actually beating myself up a little for not saying something myself.


The reception was billed "adults only," and the CoffeeInLaws saw this as an opportunity to stop up and look after Coffeeson while his parents got to enjoy an evening out. It was held in the reception hall of a Greek Orthodox church, the second time I'd been to a reception in such a place. The Orthodox really know how to host a party, too. They didn't have the vermouth to make a Manhattan, but they did pretty well for themselves otherwise.

Okay, so Sunday morning. Remember how everything had been moved out of the chancel? Well, they did move everything back, so there was no issue there. But when the liturgist stepped up to lead everyone in the Call to Worship, it was clear that the smaller details--such as plugging the microphones back in--had been overlooked. So during the first hymn, I and another church member sitting near the front scurried to the lectern to locate the cable and plug it in. I'm sure it was fun to watch, as I didn't hear a whole lot of singing while this was going on.

The rest of the service, as far as I'm concerned, was pretty forgettable. My sermon didn't feel very inspired, even though Coffeewife later observed that I seemed pretty riled up. I preached on the parable of the wheat and weeds, talking about how there's no place for spiritually stifling and evil (yes, EVIL) things in the kingdom of God. I cited modern examples such as using religion to justify hatred, violence, and bigotry.

Nowadays, I find myself less and less tolerant of watching fundamentalists of any stripe calling for death and destruction, and in recent years I've greatly moved away from any sort of explanation that begins, "Well, you have to understand their culture..." Pardon me, but that's bullsh*t. There is no culture-based excuse for violence. Period. Thanks for playing. If we want to explore and dig at the roots at how the actions of our own country has contributed to feelings of anger in another, that's one thing. But implying that it somehow justifies innocent lives being taken...that's not gonna work for me.

So all that was weighing heavily on my mind while I wrote my sermon last week, and everyone else had the pleasure (or misfortune) of me spilling it out into their laps.

So after a marathon weekend for ministry, a friend and I went to see The Dark Knight. Coffeewife elected to stay behind with Coffeeson and let me have Guy Time, with the understanding that I'd take her to see it later. The best word that I had for it afterwards was "tense." Heath Ledger is excellent as The Joker, and I could see why I've read two separate comparisons to Al Franken. It was a pretty dark film, exploring the side of human nature that seeks self-preservation above the welfare of others, and humanity's need for someone to step up and be a symbol of optimism and hope. In fact, I didn't experience it as much of a fun summer popcorn movie at all. But I did enjoy it.

That was more or less my weekend.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

365 Albums - Week 4

22. Mike Doughty, Golden Delicious - Doughty is the former lead singer of Soul Coughing, which was a moderately successful band in the '90s. I'd seen them listed as opening for DMB on a couple tours, but had never actually heard their music. On my 23rd birthday, a friend took me to see his acoustic solo show in St. Louis - at the time he was promoting his acoustic album, Skittish, which includes a cover of Mary J. Blige's "Real Love." A few years later, he released Haughty Melodic, which is as excellent an album as I've heard: straight-up acoustic-based rock.

On Golden Delicious, Doughty is branching out a little. On "I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing," there is the distinct sound of record scratching. "More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle" is a funky, goofy, rock/hip-hop track of weirdness (I just thought it was funny). Doughty doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, and obviously had a lot of fun making this album. He's got a serious side, too, as evidenced on tracks like "Wednesday (No Se Apoye)," he sings of not being able to wait to see someone again. All in all, I like his other stuff better, but this is still a fun album.

23. The Pretenders, Last of the Independents - Other than the few singles that get played on the radio and Chrissie Hynde's occasional visits back to her lovely thriving hometown of Akron, I don't know The Pretenders that well. I do know that I find "Brass in Pocket" quite annoying, and that I used to like "I'll Stand By You" more before it was sung every season on American Idol by the token "rock chick." But this album came out during my landmark musical year, 1994, and since I should have given the whole thing a chance back then and didn't, I finally did this past week.

I will say this: I really like Hynde's voice. It's not the greatest out there by any means, but there's a certain quality to it that I enjoy...I think it's her tone. This is a good CD for the most part. I took to "Revolution," where Hynde sings of wanting and needing change and a willingness and passion to fight, even die, for it. "I'll Stand By You" is much better when one can separate it from the near-ruination of countless Idol renditions. "Every Mother's Son" reflects on being born into a violent world and likewise trying to raise one's own kids in such a world. The Pretenders have a very social-conscious side that I hadn't expected. It was a pleasant surprise.

24. Delerium, Karma - I saw this CD at the library and figured that there was little sense in being picky since I have to do 365 of these. The cover to this album features various figures seemingly cut out of magazines and pasted together, a cross, some strange symbols, an angel, and a general mix of ancient/modern spiritual imagery. Being familiar with what type of music this cover would typify, I was guessing either a goth-metal-industrial sound, or a New Age sort of sound a la Enigma.

And the winner is...New Agey Enigma. From what I've read, their sound has changed over the years, but for this album it's New Agey Enigma. And for me...meh. I thought I'd be more into such a sound, and maybe it was just the mood I was in when I listened to it, but a lot of the songs seem to employ the same basic drum track, and we get New Agey staples like some monks singing here and a flute playing an Eastern melody there. I just didn't get into it. The whole thing felt contrived; pre-packaged. Sarah McLachlan appears on "Silence," which I think I've heard before even though I've never heard this band. Anyway...meh.

(And yes, that is the way the band spells its name.)

25. Primitive Radio Gods, Rocket - I know of this band at all thanks to the movie The Cable Guy, in which "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" is included. As far as I know, it's their biggest hit, which isn't saying much. They're largely an independent act at this point.

I liked "Standing..." because it has such a simple arrangement: piano over a hip-hop beat, and a sample from B. B. King. I expected the entire album to be similar to that, and I was gearing up for disappointment after hearing early tracks like "Women," "Mother******," and "Who Say," which feature a high-treble guitar over a weak drum beat...the direct opposite of what I thought I'd hear. Things get better starting with track 5, "The Rise and Fall of Ooo Mau:" the drums get heavier, the bass more full, the samples more prevalent, the songs generally more interesting. This turned out to be an okay album after all.

26. Green Day, American Idiot - I've had a copy of this album for quite a while, and I don't ever recall actually listening to it all the way through. Due to the amount of singles from this CD played on the radio, I kind of feel like I have listened to the whole thing. Of course, I really hadn't until this week.

For a "political" song to be good, in my opinion, it needs to employ style, poetry, cleverness. Think CCR's "Fortunate Son," DMB's "Don't Drink the Water," or Gov't Mule's "Unring the Bell." Those songs are stylish and clever in the way they express their views. The worst offender in terms of lack of style or cleverness that I've heard is probably Stockholm Syndrome's "American Fork," or if you're of a more "conservative" persuasion, consider pretty much anything that Toby Keith has written since 2001. When the lyrics are just bald statments about this or that while name-dropping a few current events, then I don't tend to like it that much.

So all of this leads us to American Idiot, of which I was skeptical because I knew that it was an entire "political" album. For style and cleverness, I'd probably give it a B. Definitely above average, but in some places the lyrics are pretty bald. "Jesus of Suburbia" blows up the comfortable middle-class view of Christianity and it's impact, or lack thereof, on individuals and us as a country. "Holiday" criticizes the stifling of criticism that has been experienced in recent years. The title track indicts Americans' lack of discernment when it comes to the actions of government and media. I also happened to notice that Green Day tends to favor a common slur for homosexuals when satirizing how administration supporters talk about "dissenters." I had to wonder what that was about after a while.

It's not a bad album. It's an angry album, but certainly not a bad one. If it wasn't for the swear words, I'd probably use "Jesus of Suburbia" with my senior highs.

27. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare - I just thought it'd be funny to listen to a band calling themselves Arctic Monkeys. This turned out to be the surprise of the week. AM has a hard-driving indie rock thing going...I can't really describe it any better. If you combined elements of Modest Mouse and The Killers, you'd get Arctic Monkeys. How's that?

I can't really name a particular favorite. I just enjoyed the entire album from start to finish. In fact, I don't know what else to write here at all.

28. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks - By this point, my seeking out of Dylan albums probably seems a little excessive. But I was so pleasantly surprised by my first real listen to any of his albums a few weeks ago that I haven't been able to help myself since. This one is much more acoustic; features harmonica a little more. In other words, this one is more the classic Dylan that people know.

If one is familiar with Hootie and the Blowfish enough, one will hear something familiar on "Idiot Wind." For their song "I Only Wanna Be With You," Hootie ripped a lyric right from this song: "They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy/She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me." I recall them getting in trouble for using it, too.

This is another great Dylan album. "Shelter from the Storm" is a favorite, as is "Tangled Up in Blue."

Album of the Week:
Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare
Song of the Week: Mike Doughty,
"Wednesday (No Se Apoye)"
Lyric of the Week:
"We can’t just wait for the old guard to die before we can make a new start." - The Pretenders, "Revolution"

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Blog Name/Blogging Meme

1. So how did you come up with your blogging name? And/or the name of your blog? Philosophy Over Coffee is something I always list on "interest/hobbies" sections for internet username profiles. It made it on my ministerial profile, too. I figured that it'd work as a blog title, too. Plus I like the vibe that it gives, like I'm just talking/typing in a coffeeshop, shooting the bull.

2. Are there any code names or secret identities in your blog? Any stories there? I just have Coffeewife, Coffeeson, the CoffeeInLaws, Coffeeparents, etc. They're pretty straightforward. Every once in a while I refer to one of my alma maters as Small Town Varsity Blues High School...because if you didn't play sports, you didn't matter.

3. What are some blog titles that you just love? For their cleverness, drama, or sheer, crazy fun?
A Church for Starving Artists - because it really does feel sometimes like artists are starving in the church
Michigan Against the World - because it's certainly felt like that lately

4. What three blogs are you devoted to? Other than the RevGalBlogPals of course!
A Church for Starving Artists - a mainline pastor reflecting on how to bring postmodern/missional themes to the Frozen Chosen. A woman after my own heart.
Letters From Kamp Krusty - a hilarious blog, usually critiquing the way we "do church"
Internet Monk - a very thoughtful commentary on church, theology, life, and baseball. At one point, I wanted this blog to be like iMonk's. But I can't devote that much time to this.


5. Who introduced you to the world of blogging and why? No one in particular. Through various online forums, I found Chuck Currie (whom I more or less knew in seminary). His was the first blog I started reading. I clicked on a few of the other blog links on his site, and eventually decided that I wanted to do this myself.

Bonus question: Have you ever met any of your blogging friends? Where are some of the places you've met these fun folks? I meet up with Jeff Greathouse every month or so with the local Emergent cohort...we actually live close enough that we could do lunch or coffee at either of the thriving metropolises in which we live. Last summer I met Kirk and Jeff at General Synod. I won't count the bloggers that I knew before they started blogging.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Help the Wittenburg Door

It was revealed on Facebook (yes, I'm on Facebook...we can laugh about that later) that The Wittenburg Door, a Christian satire magazine of immense hilarity, has suspended print publication due to financial strains:

As some of you know, the print publication of the Wittenburg Door has been temporarily suspended. We have a revamped website www.wittenburgdoor.com - if you haven't already subscribe to the free newsletter, so you can be kept apprised of the latest humor bits posted on the website.

Harry Guetzlaff, one of the major forces behind putting out the Door, is now in hospice care. Robert Darden, Sr. Editor of the Wittenburg Door (print version), went to see him and has this report:

He is very, very thin and spends most of his time in bed. The doctors really, really want him to eat and sit up (and even occasionally walk around), but he simply has quit eating. Says food hurts and makes him feel worse. Of course, he can't go home or continue chemo unless he's stronger and he won't get stronger until he eats. It may be that he simply doesn't want to.
He says he is in no pain (and the doctors concur).
I don't know if he is ever going home or how much time he lasts. John Bojo thinks we have perhaps three months -- more if he'll eat.

What he really, really wants is for The Door to continue as a print and web venture.
To that end, Mary and Kim (our designer) are heading up a DoorKeepers campaign. They'll be contacting 100s (perhaps 1,000s) of people, harvesting all of The Door's e-mail contacts in recent years. They've been working with John Bojo and Ole to establish a non-profit board of friends who will be financial sustainers of the magazine at different financial levels. Their goal is to make it self-sufficient so that we won't have to rely on a single "angel" to put out another issue.
If you are interested in learning more about this campaign, please feel free to contact: doorbus@earthlink.net

Feel free to pass this email along to anyone you feel might be interested - blog about it if you're so inclined. Yes, this is the perils of publishing in the 21st century but too many people tell us that Door is "church" for them and they cherish their print magazines beyond just another rag to read that I pray we can continue here.

Prayers as always are appreciated.

Peace,

Becky G.
The man written about above, Harry Guetzlaff, has since passed away. So now the Door staff is dealing with grief and financial problems.

If you are an appreciator of the Door's willingness to show just how naked the Christian Culture emperor is, consider donating to them. They've got a nice little Donate Button Thing set up for that purpose, so it's nice and easy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Church Cancels Gun Giveaway

Alternative title: The Downside of Trying to Be Relevant...
An Oklahoma church canceled a controversial gun giveaway for teenagers at a weekend youth conference.

Windsor Hills Baptist had planned to give away a semiautomatic assault rifle until one of the event's organizers was unable to attend.

The church’s youth pastor, Bob Ross, said it’s a way of trying to encourage young people to attend the event. The church expected hundreds of teenagers from as far away as Canada.

“We have 21 hours of preaching and teaching throughout the week,” Ross said.

A video on the church Web site shows the shooting competition from last year’s conference. A gun giveaway was part of the event last year. This year, organizers included it in their marketing.

“I don’t want people thinking ‘My goodness, we’re putting a weapon in the hand of somebody that doesn’t respect it who are then going to go out and kill,'” said Ross. “That’s not at all what we’re trying to do.”

Ross said the conference isn’t all about guns, but rather about teens finding faith.
But you do know that they'll come for the guns, right? After all, that's what you're using to attract them.

HT to Street Prophets

Friday, July 11, 2008

365 Albums - Week 3

15. Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind - After being pleasantly surprised by Blonde on Blonde, I thought I'd give Dylan another go. And again, I was quite taken by his work. Released as recently as 1997, many critics consider this album one of his best. His voice is noticeably raspier, taking away some of the nasal half-talking style that I like imitating in my spare time. It's also very melancholy. However, Dylan has this way of constructing his songs that showcase his poetry and arrangements without making his own voice the center of everything. If one is able to focus on the words and music without distracting themselves with preconceived notions about this or that, I think there's a good chance that they can better appreciate Dylan...just as I have been able to do.

"Love Sick" carries a double meaning as Dylan sings, "
I'm sick of love; I wish I'd never met you/I'm sick of love; I'm trying to forget you." The singer is simultaneously sick with feelings for someone, and sick of feelings for someone - he wants to forget how much he wants to be with her. The title of "Standing in the Doorway" alludes to the moment when the singer was left alone by the one he loves, and he spends the rest of the song wrestling with how he feels about her after she's gone. On "' Til I Fell in Love with You," he sings, "I was all right, 'til I fell in love with you," implying that he thought he had life all figured out until she came along. This album is a celebration of love almost as much as it is a lament of love lost.

With every album and every song, I grow to like Dylan more and more.


16. Sarah McLachlan, Afterglow - I liked Sarah McLachlan before most others did. Yeah, that's right. I saw the video for "Possession" a couple times on VH1, and liked the song immediately. In fact, I kept waiting for them to show it again so I could remember the title and artist and find the album. As it turned out, they didn't seem to show it very much at all, but I nevertheless tracked down Fumbling Toward Ecstasy. Shortly after, I tracked down Solace and Touch as well, though I never enjoyed them as much as Fumbling. I only knew one other person with knowledge of McLachlan's existence at that point. Then she organized Lilith Fair and suddenly everyone else liked her, too. After that, her music wasn't the same for me. "Angel" was played constantly to my annoyance, although I did like a few other singles off of her big breakthrough, Surfacing. All things considered, I should have tracked that one down instead of this one.

Don't get me wrong. McLachlan is a talented songwriter and musician. And I did enjoy the first half of Afterglow. "Fallen" is the song people will probably recognize from this CD, and is about dealing with past regrets. I'd actually heard a different, more ethereal version of "World on Fire" on a Chillout compilation, but the original is good, too. "Drifting" is all about someone who has achieved fame, and tries to use it to hide the emptiness at their core.

It was around track six that I thought, "Ah, another piano ballad. Fantastic." And sure enough, at least four of the five remaining tracks are slower, piano-driven songs. And I became bored. I don't listen to Fumbling Towards Ecstasy that much any more, but I'm sure that revisiting it now that I'm not as into her music will reveal that, indeed, there are a bunch more piano ballads on that one as well. Again, McLachlan is talented, but I'm just not into her stuff nowadays. It's no longer her popularity that is to blame. It's just that her music, like it probably has been all along, is slower, softer fare that I can only tolerate for so long. Had there been more variety on this album, I probably wouldn't have much to complain about.

17. The Roots, Things Fall Apart - The Roots are a critically-acclaimed hip-hop "band" that I've never heard before. I'd been meaning to for some time, and this was as good a time as any. I was fascinated to read the album insert as I listened, not because it contains the lyrics, but because it contains explanations and backstory for every song. The album as a whole is solid: strong MCs with guests such as Eve, Mos Def, and Erykah Badu against a backdrop of drum loops and live musicians playing a jazz-soul style. I've read that this is a more laid-back album than some of their others, so I'll be interested to find those. This, however, is considered their break-through release.

On "Act Won (Things Fall Apart)," we hear sample dialogue from the movie Mo Better Blues (which I admittedly have never seen) where Denzel Washington is critiquing black culture and music. We then hear Wesley Snipes...ahem...snipe back, saying, "If we just put out strong material, everything will take care of itself." On the insert, it is explained that this is the basic argument heard about a lot of traditionally black music: one side says that they create it and excel at it, then allow white culture to take it over, while the other side argues that if they give people what they want, it'll just work out. The insert blurb concludes by asking, "But what would happen if we gave 'em what they need? Hmmmmm..."

That's how I experienced this album. It seems to be a more cerebral style of hip-hop than a lot of the stuff that is popular today. As one listens and reads along in the insert, it becomes apparent that that's what they were going for.

18. The Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way - Before this album came out, the Dixie Chicks had become the poster children for the "entertainers should keep their opinions to themselves unless you're Toby Keith" crowd when feisty lead singer Natalie Maines told a British audience that she was ashamed of Dubya. In fact, this one comment produced such a backlash that it was hard for a while to find their CDs in some stores or hear their music on the radio - corporations worried that guilt by association would hurt their bottom line. I was even somewhat surprised to find this one at my local library.

I'm not a big country music person, but after hearing "Not Ready to Make Nice" a while back I figured I'd make an exception. "Not Ready..." is all about the backlash the group experienced, where they wonder out loud how their comments could possibly invite death threats and whether they'll be able to forgive and/or forget. The Chicks even crank it up a notch on "Lubbock or Leave It" where they sing of the hypocrisy of the Bible Belt ("Throwin' stones from the top of your rock thinkin' no one can see/The secrets you hide behind your Southern hospitality"). Of course, the Chicks aren't angry through the entire album. Consider "Silent House," a song written to a relative with Alzheimer's and the memories they shared. "Voice Inside My Head" wonders out loud about the "what-if" guy. "Baby Hold On" is an assurance that a married couple can still enjoy each other as they get older and begin to raise children.

All in all, the Dixie Chicks are still very much a country group. They just don't do what country groups are expected to do, and that drives a lot of people nuts.

19. Relient K, Five Score and Seven Years Ago - I owned a Relient K t-shirt before I ever heard one note of their music. Coffeewife and her sister went to a big Christian festival that they hold every summer at King's Island, and she meant to get me a Five Iron Frenzy shirt. Alas, they were out of FIF shirts, so she arbitrarily got me a Relient K shirt instead. Meanwhile, she got her picture taken with FIF lead singer Reese Roper. This shirt of a band that I had never heard was my consolation prize.

A few years later, at my brother's urging, we went to a more local Christian music festival specifically to see Relient K, as he had really gotten into them. In preparation, I was finally able to listen to one of their CDs (I want to say Two Lefts Don't Make a Right). The show itself was excellent as well. I could finally call myself a fan...and I already had the shirt.

Now that you have the backstory, this CD was good in some places and caused me to raise an eyebrow in others. Relient K plays a flavor of pop-punk that, while it is quite commercial, doesn't cater solely to teenage girls (*coughPlainWhiteT'scough*). Songs like "Come Right Out and Say It," "The Best Thing," and "Bite My Tongue" are vintage Relient K: fast-paced, guitar-grinding, and the lyrics can actually be interpreted in more than one way depending on how much stock you want to put into their Christian-ness. A few other songs are more sappy and obviously about relationships: "I Must Have Done Something Right" has the vomit-inducing line, "We should get jerseys 'cause we make a great team," while "I'm Taking You With Me" has the equally syrupy "If home is where the heart is then my home is where you are."

Then there are the more blatant Christian songs which, if nothing else, could be good conversation-starters. On "Forgiven," we get this line: "'Cause we're all guilty of the same things/We think the thoughts whether or not we see them through." It's an interesting take on human nature and sin, if not an outright interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.

I had more problems with "Deathbed," sung from the point of view of someone who has smoked and drank himself nearly to death and is now reflecting on his bad choices. Then Jesus comes to him and reminds him of the night he asked for forgiveness, and while he still dies he lives happily ever after. The theology in this song is the simplistic take on Christology, salvation, and forgiveness typical in many corners of Christianity. The act of acceptingJesusChristasyourpersonalLordandSavior is portrayed as a one-shot, cover-all type of moment that instantly transports you from God's "Naughty" to "Nice" list instead of a life-long transformational process. The song mentions that the night this guy prayed, he was contrite. Okay, what happened the next morning? Did he seek help, pick up another bottle, ask Jesus to stay with him and help him get better? Was there any follow-up or growth process after that? There's no indication of that here...Jesus just reminds him of some night a while back when he did this, so everything's A-OK. This sounds like I'm arguing one form of "getting saved" over another, but my bigger concern is what role faith and forgiveness truly play in this theological viewpoint. It doesn't seem very transformational to me; like there's no lasting change or growth other than somebody's "Get Out of Hell Free" card got stamped. Bonhoeffer called it cheap grace. I'll call it that, too.

All right, enough of that. Most of the album is fine.

20. The Black Keys, Attack & Release - The Black Keys are from Akron, in case you didn't know (one of their albums, Rubber Factory, was recorded in a rubber factory in Akron, which has a few to spare). But they've built enough of a reputation with their blues-stomp sound. Previous albums have had a pretty straightforward way about them: dirty guitar riffs over heavy drums. On this one, they're branching out a little. First, they've employed the production skills of Danger Mouse. The result is the presence of synthesizers and voice effects, among other things. After so long with the same formula, it was time to explore new avenues. The basics are still there. Now there's just more added.

The album is more polished than previous ones, that's for sure. "Strange Times" may be the song people recognize if they listen to the right radio stations (read: something other than pop/rock and their 12-song playlists), reflecting on what mobs will follow and worrying about what comes next. One effect on "Psychotic Girl" sounds like when Pac-Man gets eaten by a ghost, which is out of place on a Black Keys album. Other songs feature some instrumental additions that work better, such as the banjo on "I Got Mine" or the flute on "Same Old Thing." But when Danger Mouse gets a little too electronics-happy, that's when the Keys' sound suffers the most. I'm all for branching out and all that, but freaking Pac-Man, dude? Save it for your next Gnarls Barkley project.

21. Zero7, When It Falls - When I first heard "This World" a few years ago, I rushed out and found Zero7's album Simple Things. This is their 2004 follow-up, with more of the same: airy melodies, the slow rhythm of a drum machine, and soulful singing, all of which blend a classic jazz sound with more modern chillout sensibilities. I found this one to be even more laid-back than Simple Things, if that's even possible.

I really don't have much more to write about this one, honestly. I think I used up most of my words for previous albums that I heard this week. I find Zero7 in general to be a group that I turn to when I'm feeling mellow. The difference between them and McLachlan's ballads is that the former employs enough variant tricks that every song doesn't sound the same.

Album of the Week: Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind
Song of the Week: Zero7, "The Space Between"
Lyric of the Week:
" When you think that you've lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more." - Bob Dylan, "Trying to Get to Heaven"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fully Human

Michael Spencer (aka The Internet Monk) has been on sabbatical for a good chunk of the summer, and has recently begun writing about some of his experiences and realizations that have come out of his time away. He begins by sharing a conversation he recently had with a woman whose husband is beginning to wrestle with his identity after considering leaving the ministry:

I told her that I was on much the same road as her husband, and that I’d had
many of the same feelings of panic and confusion at the loss of familiar anchors
and markers. I wasn’t sure where it was all going to come out, as I was just
beginning to learn how to navigate without so many of the assumptions that had
guided me for 30+ years of ministry.

But I told her that I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t afraid to be myself anymore. I
wasn’t afraid of the consequences of following Jesus to the places of honesty
and vulnerability. I was no longer afraid of the religious systems and their
custodians that had alway promised to give me security and purpose if I would
just cooperate. I was no longer going to live my life as the guy who, because he
was a preacher, took everyone’s expectations as the script for my happiness.

I was no longer in doubt that my real self, my true self was the one place I
could be sure God would meet and love me.

Last week I wrote a post about a bonfire, and about a college kid who spent four years at Heidelberg trying to be the best theologian/pastor/Christian he could be...at least according to what he thought constituted faithfulness at that time. There is indeed something about a big life change (such as having a baby) that can cause you to look back and wonder, "Did I get that right? Did I experience all that life had to offer? Did I take advantage of opportunities the way I should have? What do I regret? What would I have done differently?"

As it turns out, a lot of my regrets from that period in my life have to do with what Spencer talks about above: yielding to religious custodians who promised security if I cooperated, and a sense of identity and purpose derived largely from my chosen discipline and career path.

I've also alluded in recent weeks to having this sense of identity crash down around me once I got to St. Louis. Yeah...my sense of identity as a pastor crumbled my first year of seminary, of all times and places. But it couldn't have been more perfect.

I won't drone on about a lot of the details. The condensed version is that I thought I knew a lot more than I did about theology, the Bible, the human predicament, whatever. After puttering around small towns my entire life, the more diverse and cynical culture of a large city threw me for a loop. People around me were able to integrate their entire life's experiences into their emerging identities as pastors more easily than I could. I simply came in with the idea that pastoral identity was the main thing, or the only thing, and thus I'd come up with a very compartmentalized view of the world up until that point.

When all this--my sense of identity drastically changing, my realization that I really didn't know much at all, my struggle to integrate my entire life more completely, this period of catching up with the things I'd missed or to which hadn't paid enough attention during the past four years--began swirling around me, you may be able to imagine how I took it.

I drank a lot. I ate a lot of fast food. I gained 35 pounds. I was perpetually grumpy and depressed.

I probably should have been talking to someone...a friend, a counselor, a spiritual director, anyone. Of course, becoming that vulnerable was another growing edge of mine at that time.
After all, I didn't even really tell my own story until my final year.

It was Clinical Pastoral Education that finally pulled it all together. I'd been slowly coming along, but this time really put this stuff front and center to be dealt with. That's when I first put the "pastoral identity" stuff into those particular words; when I first fully realized that that was a big part of the problem. I'd struggled so much my first two years to make up for what I thought I'd lost, trying to overcompensate in classwork and trying to "prove" my calling to professors, classmates, and even myself.

CPE helped me realize that I'd been going about it all wrong. God was showing me, as I imagine God had been trying to show me for the previous six years, that being a pastor isn't all there is; that being human comes first. Then, in relation to that, I can be a pastor, AND a husband, AND a friend, (AND now a father), and so on. I finally understood that life as it can be fully lived is more than any one piece of our identity.

It was that entire period in St. Louis that taught me what a holistic and holy approach to life looks like. Through all the growing pains, this truth was emerging for me. It is a truth out of which I have tried to live ever since.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Small Sips: Sabathia, Sports fans can be really dumb, Wings at Wrigley

An all-sports Small Sips...

At least the Cavs still have Lebron, right? Right?: As was rumored the other day, C.C. Sabathia is off to Milwaukee...

The Indians have agreed to trade the ace Sabathia and two lower-level minor leaguers for a package that includes top prospect Matt LaPorta and other minor leaguers, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The deal is contingent on the paperwork and medical records, the paper reported.

Sabathia went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA to win the AL Cy Young last season and would give the Brewers another power pitcher to pair with Ben Sheets as Milwaukee tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

The big lefty is 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA for the Indians, but has also been plagued with a lack of run support. In nine of his 18 starts, Cleveland has scored two runs or less for him.

Sabathia could make his debut as early as Tuesday for the Brewers against the Rockies.

Story problem: One of your best pitchers has a losing record, but it's mostly because your lineup hasn't produced run support.

Apparent solution: trade said pitcher for a hitter who...eh...might be okay. Oh, and some other minor leaguers.

The Indians are good at trading big names away for prospects, but then building those prospects into big names...and then trading them away for more prospects.


This is why I don't put U-M stuff on my car: Because I have a pretty solid suspicion that something like this might happen...

A Cape Cod man faces charges for allegedly beating another man with a baseball bat because he thought he was a New York Yankees fan.

Authorities say 20-year-old Robert Correia is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Falmouth District Court on charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and malicious destruction to a motor vehicle.

Police say Saturday night's alleged incident occurred when Correia and others spotted a car with New York license plates leaving Falmouth's fireworks display.

The group accused the man, whose children were in the car, of being a Yankees fan, then beat him and vandalized his car. The man, whose name was not released, was treated at Falmouth Hospital with non-life threatening injuries to his head and body.

Way to keep things in perspective, genius. Who needs politics or religion when you can use sports as an excuse for violence?

I gave a sermon the other week that was all about how our loyalties shape our behavior, and I touched on sports as a strong influence as any: game time influences schedule, team's winning or losing affects mood, etc. I failed to mention how rivalries can cause us to retreat into our reptilian brains and try to inflict actual harm on others.

If only Harry Caray could call it: The Red Wings are going to play the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley field...

Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul reports that the Red Wings will play the Blackhawks in the next NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.

"The outdoor game has been in the works for some time but finally approved last week when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman met with the Blackhawks, Cubs and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley," Russo writes.

The last Winter Classic was at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo as the Sabres lost to the visiting Penguins in a shootout.

The only question I have is: will anyone actually televise it? It's hard to find hockey on TV nowadays.

I've actually seen the Wings play the Blackhawks in Chicago when I went with a friend a few years back. I recall seeing almost as many red and white jerseys as fugly home-team jerseys in the stands, I recall the Wings being in first place, yet Chicago fans repeatedly chanting "Red Wings suck!" in order to better support their fourth-place team, and I recall getting beer thrown at me after the Blackhawks eventually won in overtime. Good times.

Go Wings.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

365 Albums - Week 2

8. Soundgarden, Down on the Upside - Soundgarden was my favorite band from the "grunge era," though the case could be made that they weren't strictly "grunge," whatever that really was anyway. My copy of Superunknown was a casualty of the Great CD Bonfire, one of the albums that I've since missed the most. After I'd more or less switched over to a strict diet of Christian music, the news of the band's breakup my senior year of high school caused feelings of longing for those former days of "secular" listening and feelings of guilt for having those feelings of longing. But I've written enough about that sort of thing for a while.

Anyway, I honestly didn't analyze the lyrics too much for this one. I was just happy to be listening, while at the same time pondering (and fuming over) the full extent of the above realization. "Pretty Noose" and "Burden in My Hand" were already familiar. On the whole, it's a solid rock album, though for me not a particularly memorable one, to my surprise. However, the words to the final track, "Boot Camp," lend themselves well to some aforementioned past regrets:

"I must obey the rules

I must be tame and cool
No staring at the clouds
I must stay on the ground
In clusters of the mice
The smoke is in our eyes
Like babies on display
Like angels in a cage
I must be pure and true
I must contain my views
There must be something else
There must be something good
Far away"

9. Morphine, The Night - I was introduced to Morphine in seminary by a good friend. I was fascinated by the unique combination of bass, drums, and saxophone, and other instruments peppered in as needed.
I'd try to be more precise about describing their sound, but...it's Morphine. They're ethereal, yet driven, yet bluesy, yet something else. They've got a sound that seems like it'd be enjoyed best in a smoky pub over a nice Cabernet.

From the opening bars of the title track, I knew this was a good one. Drums keep a light jazz beat under a wandering saxophone as Mark Sandman sings of a woman he considers to be a dream that keeps him going. It only gets better from there. "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer" excitedly invites people to someone's apartment for a party. "A Good Woman is Hard to Find" talks about that "what-if" girl, the one with whom you connect so well, and then for some reason she's gone and you wonder if you'll ever meet another quite like her. "The Way We Met" tells the truth about how most, if not all, relationships begin: "There's no cute story that we tell together/Laughing and finishing each other's sentences so charmingly/Truth is it was all an accident/Just like it is for everybody else."

I freaking love this album.

10. Widespread Panic, Free Somehow - A couple months ago, I was listening to the local community radio station (read: the station I can count on for musical diversity when all the pop/rock stations are letting me down...which is most of the time). This song that I'd never heard before started playing, and about a minute or so in I thought, "That sounds like John Bell. Is this Panic?" And sure enough, the DJ confirmed that it was "Up All Night," from Widespread Panic's upcoming new release, Free Somehow. It wasn't until this past week that I picked up the CD for myself.

I probably associate Widespread Panic most closely with my experience in Clinical Pastoral Education. I was looking to expand my jamband knowledge to something beyond DMB and one or two others, and had ended up downloading a few live Panic shows. The summer of 2003, in the midst of my CPE New Life Experience (which it truly was), I bought their album Don't Tell the Band and played it non-stop to and from the hospital parking garage. "Hey Little Lily," "Imitation Leather Shoes," "This Part of Town," and "Action Man" provided my soundtrack for what truly was an eye-opening, mind-expanding summer that I have to credit with so much.

The first few bars of this one had me worried. The opening track, "Boom Boom Boom," comes off as a generic southern rock song, and thus I worried that I'd just made a bad purchase. The rest of the disc makes up for it, though. "Walk on the Flood" gives us our first good introduction to Panic's new lead guitarist, Jimmy Herring, and since I'm not a Houser purist, I wasn't disappointed. "Three Candles" paints a musical picture of a ship at sea, yet the parameters of both are larger than they seem. "Her Dance Needs No Body" allows Herring to cut loose during its 8-minute span. This turned out to be a great addition to the Panic library.

11. Ani DiFranco, Reprieve - I don't know what exactly I like about Ani DiFranco. I do like her acoustic style, and I like her brutally honest poetry. I suppose that's enough. I had never heard her until someone played her live version of "Amazing Grace." That was when I wanted to hear more.

Reprieve is perhaps a softer effort than other albums. Drums are barely existent; it's mostly guitar and other strings. "Hypnotized" is about two people who may be imperfect but nevertheless drawn together. "Decree" is a biting commentary on how numbed out people's thinking is due to consumerism and selective news reporting. "Shroud" is about leaving certain beliefs or attitudes that can be blinding or limiting in order to experience life's richness.

12. Amos Lee, Amos Lee - I'd never even heard of Amos Lee until someone recommended him for this experiment, so I tracked down his debut album. Lee's sound is a combination of folk and blues, yet another softer album for the week. Lee plays guitar and is backed up by a modest group of musicians, yet the overall sound of the album is laid-back; a good CD to wind down with at the end of the day. Also, Norah Jones appears on a couple tracks, so I approve.

On "Seen It All Before," Lee tells a former love that he knows her tactics and games so well that he's not going to put up with it again. On "Soul Suckers," he sings to a woman seeking fame and fortune, cautioning her against becoming a phony, and reminding her that "nothing is more powerful than beauty in a wicked world." I really liked the arrangement of strings on that one. "Black River" is a hymnic declaration of freedom from the worries of the day.

Both DiFranco and Lee were good early-morning listens, but if I'm honest I'm wondering when I personally might listen to either album otherwise. There were gems on both, but as entire pieces I don't think I'd turn to these CDs that often. I imagine that I'll encounter a lot of albums along those lines over the next year. Of course, down the road when I do encounter an appropriate moment, I'll wish that I had one of these on hand to soothe my soul.

13. Live, The Distance to Here - I was never into Live. Period. I remember liking "I Alone" in high school, but otherwise I didn't care to pay much attention to them. Years later, a friend would ask me to burn a bunch of songs for her onto a CD to be turned in with a theological statement. Mixed in were a bunch of songs by Live, and I had no real choice to give a listen. While not expressly Christian, there's actually some good theology in there, or at least plenty to think about.

Consider "The Distance," where Kowalezyk sings about visiting traditional houses of worship to find something bigger, and then being caught off-guard with a real presence while he's sitting at home with his cat. "The distance" that he sings about is his own mortal limitations while searching for a higher power and greater purpose. In "Run to the Water," he seeks to escape a loveless existence (not a romantic love, but a mutual-respect-and-care kind), and escapes to "the water," which seems to be a more transcendental place. People with an ear for those kinds of themes will be able to hear them. They'll also hear the f-bomb a few times, so the most uppity ones will probably reject it whole cloth.

I'm gonna remember this album for my senior high discussion group. I thought that Soundgarden would be the rock album I'd really get into this week, but it turned out to be this instead.

14. Counting Crows, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings - I really like August and Everything After. Have I mentioned that? I wasn't as impressed by Recovering the Satellites, and outside of one or two singles of theirs that I've heard more recently, I haven't heard a lot of Counting Crows' more recent stuff. This is their latest album, with a simple theme: the first half is more about being out late, partying, hanging out on the town, and the second half is about the regrets one feels the next day. Get it? Yeah...it's okay.

We start out with the manic "1492," which sets up the first half very well. It's probably the most true to the concept that the first half has to offer. The rest seem to hint at some kind of awareness that he's going to feel bad about this later. On "Hanging Tree," for instance, he sings, "This dizzy life of mine keep hanging me up all the time/This dizzy life is just a hanging tree." On "Insignificant," he sings, "I don't know how to see the same things different now." There's plenty of nihilism along the way, and a lot of good imagery that helps paint the night scene that Duritz is singing about.

The Sunday Morning portion of the album is softer and more reflective. They capture the mood very well in both portions, actually. "On Almost Any Sunday Morning," we hear about the belief that this Sunday morning will be different; that this time one won't feel alone or regret, but one always does. "You Can't Count on Me" is sung to a woman that the singer is using just for pleasure's sake. See, there's some overlap the other way, too. In light of this, I was tempted to call the concept flawed. However, one can certainly feel regret in the midst of excessiveness, and likewise a twinge of excitement the morning after. In that sense, the concept works wonderfully well.

Album of the Week: Morphine, The Night
Song of the Week: Widespread Panic, "Dark Day Program"
Lyric of the Week: "The best thing about New Year's is the Christmas lights." - Widespread Panic, "Up All Night"

Friday, July 04, 2008

Just so you know...

I edited my Bonfire of '96 post, and deleted the "Ellipses Commentary" post.

I feel better about the edited post, and I obviously had some stuff that I needed to sort out. Well...I think it's sorted.

Thanks for reading Philosophy Over Coffee, and Happy 4th.

A July 4 Meme

In an effort to lighten the mood, here's the GalPals' Friday Five...

1. Barbeque's or picnics ( or are they essentially the same thing?) When I think BBQ vs. picnic, I think that the major difference might be that a BBQ is held in someone's backyard while a picnic might be at a park or pavilion. Or maybe it's all just semantics. I do prefer hanging out at someone's house or hosting more than the pavilion, though.

2. The park/ the lake/ the beach or staying at home simply being? Just a get-together at my or someone's home is enough for me.

3. Fireworks- love 'em or hate 'em? Probably just "like." It's nice to cap off a special day with them, but I don't go nuts over them.

4. Parades- have you ever taken part- share a memory... When I was in 7th grade, I marched with the band and was assigned the cymbals. I remember having to switch my hand positions every few minutes because the straps kept cutting off circulation to my fingers. Once I switched to snare drum, these parades were much more enjoyable.

5. Time for a musical interlude- if you could sum up holidays in a piece of music what would it be? A remixed version of "Joy to the World" using samples of "Auld Lane Syne," "The 1812 Overture," and "Thriller."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Great Bonfire of '96

Update: After a little more careful evaluation and reflection, this post has been modified a little.

During the summer of 1996, I attended a Christian rock concert that would help nudge me into the most serious questioning of what I believed that I'd ever experienced.


Up until that point, I'd been a preacher's kid who took a lot of faith stuff for granted and I was dating a girl who kept encouraging me to ask the serious questions (in retrospect, one of those serious questions, implied, was "Are you going to heaven?" I think she was trying to "get me saved"). This encouragement was beginning to permeate, but it was really that concert that did it.

Brian White and Justice. Ever heard of them? Probably not. That's okay. Think of them as a very poor man's Christian Bon Jovi. A couple of them even had mullets. Anyway, they sang a song that night called "Living in the Sight of Water," where a guy walks in circles in the desert not knowing that there's a oasis that will save him just over a nearby dune. The night didn't end in an altar call, but rather circles of small groups, during which I was told about God's love for me. At that moment, whatever I was wrestling with came to a point where I "got it" in more than just the intellectual sense.

The music had a lot to do with it. The music that I heard that night hasn't aged particularly well, but nevertheless the music had a lot to do with it. No doubt someone is tempted to pass this off as emotionalism, as a cheap contrived ploy using music as the vehicle to drive everything home. Such cynicism misses what I'd been thinking about off and on for 17 years. Faith isn't just a mental thing, and last I checked we mainliners, no matter how frozen the chosen, still talk about the Holy Spirit moving minds and hearts. Whether we actually allow the Spirit to do both...well, anyway...

If you want real cheap emotionalism, fast forward a couple months to word getting around that the local Assembly of God church was holding a bonfire. The kindling on this particular night would be kids' CDs that contained offensive words and messages, so that we would be able to keep our little virgin ears and souls pure of such filth. I'm not exactly sure what motivated me to make my own contributions to this righteous little exercise. Maybe it was my newfound passion for All Things Jesus and lack of discernment about same. Maybe it was holy peer pressure, wanting to fit in with the new Christian crowd I was beginning to run with. Maybe it was simple guilt at owning some of these CDs while still trying to figure out this new commitment of mine.

Regardless, I handed over a nice stack for the big box. I remember a couple MTV Party to Go albums, Janet Jackson's janet. album, Wreckx-N-Effect, Soundgarden, I think there was a Nirvana CD in there...

I don't miss a lot of these now. Wreckx-N-Effect? Seriously.

Regardless, this act would be the first of many over a few years' span of my attempts to keep myself from "stumbling," or to "be holy as I am holy," or keep my mind pure, or stay on the narrow road, or any other number of phrases to which I'd turn. At times it was the passion of a guy newly committed, at others holy peer pressure, at still others unquestioned guilt.

Here's where my pathology starts to spill out onto the screen.

Whatever it was that caused me to burn those CDs followed me to college. All the passion, all the guilt, all the tendencies to bow to holy peer pressure followed me to Heidelberg.

It was here that an 18-year-old kid threw himself into various campus ministries: chaplain for the UCC group, drummer for the Evangelical group's worship band, resolved to join a third group's on-campus house the following year. At the same time, he'd thrown himself into his Religion studies, especially after he'd fully embraced the permission and need to question and examine beliefs for himself.

Throughout this kid's college career, his goal to graduate with a Religion degree and pick up whatever ministry experience that he could along the way was a near-obsession. He read extra-curricular theology books, even at times at the expense of his actual classwork. He sought out opportunities to preach on-campus or off. When his relationship to the Evangelical group began to come unraveled, his ego, his felt-need to stick around just because it was a ministry, wouldn't allow him to quit even though he should have.

All this and much more because this kid wanted to take as much in as he could in preparation for his career, his calling. While not completely singularly focused, anyone watching at certain points would have figured otherwise.

He barely ever drank, if only because he didn't want to deal with other Christians' judgmental crap.

He quit a play because he'd feel guilty about saying bad words.

He cut himself off from fully paying attention to the world around him because some other theological issue needed to be sorted out.

Years later, he regretted (regrets) not spending more time with his fraternity (who, incidentally, were much MUCH better at working out their differences than the Christians on campus), allowing aforementioned guilt and peer pressure to infiltrate his love life, and making his call to be a pastor so central to his identity that he'd have to deprogram himself in St. Louis so as to figure out what it means to be fully human.

But that last one is another story.

Lately, I've been thinking about how much a lot of this embarrasses me. I'm embarrassed at my own willful naivete, my allowing guilt and other Christians to dictate my choices the way they did. I'm embarrassed at how my narrow-mindedness about my studies and career path limited my experiences.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the good things about that stage of my journey: the encouragement I found within my Christian niche, the amount of growth in my faith that I enjoyed, the amount of commitment that I showed toward learning about theology and ministry, the piety and spiritual disciplines that I learned and maintained, the breadth and depth of experiences I had in worship styles and in playing in a band, the times that I did stand up to some of the judgmental crap, even if I got burned for it.

If it hadn't been for some of the strong commitments I'd made during that part of my life, a lot of that stuff wouldn't have been experienced either.

And truth be told, the more I reflect on those years, I think about the wide variety of people I was friends with, outside my own subculture: homosexuals [Since those days, I've changed my theological opinion of this subject -ed.], pagans, druggies, hippies, people of many different cultural and religious backgrounds. And it was my interaction with such diverse people that helped keep me from being completely cut off from the larger world around me. I value their impacts on me, I value my slowly developing sense of self and awareness of such a complicated world, and the way I was forced to mature after this part of my life--which, truthfully, only spanned some three years--began to give way to something new.

All things considered, it wasn't just peer pressure and guilt and all that. Looking back now, I can definitely see where those things played major roles. But when it comes down to it, a lot of it was probably just basic immaturity coupled with being faithful the best way that I knew how at the time.

But to think that it all started with a concert, and continued with a bonfire. I've made up a lot of ground since those days, for which I'm thankful. But I suppose that in retrospect, I have to be thankful for that stage of my life as much as anything else.

To read other posts related to this stage of my journey, read this and this.