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One of the musical artists I have always appreciated, and find myself appreciating more and more is Bright Eyes, a band led by singer-songwriter Conor Oberst.  Oberst has been called “The New Dylan,” and that may be accurate, because like Dylan he doesn’t have the best voice, but it trembles with emotion, and his lyrics are pure poetry.  Lately I have been listening to him a lot as I write.

I was listening to one of his albums the other day, and I was absolutely floored by one of the songs entitled “Don’t Know When But a Day is Gonna Come,” which you can watch him perform here.  The song is essentially a ominous, bitter rebuke of Christianity by a man subject to its abuses.   I know it’s odd that, as a Christian, I would grow to like, much less love, this song, but to be honest, the song punches me in the stomach every time I here it.   It has served as a stark reminder that I am a representative  of Jesus, and every time I do something wicked it makes Jesus look wicked.  It’s a good reminder that people are watching us, judging our God my the way we hurt others.

Here are the lyrics, which should be read while watching the video:

Is it true what I heard about the Son of God?
Did he come to save? Did he come at all?
And if I dried his feet,
with my dirty hair,
would he make me clean again?
They say they don’t know when but a day is gonna come,
when there won’t be a moon and there won’t be a sun.
It will just go black, It’ll all go back, to the way it was before.
I knew a lovely girl, with such pretty pride, and every man wanted her, yeah and so did I.
So did I.
But she up and died in a fit of vanity.
Now men with purple hearts, carry silver guns.
And they will kill a man for what his father has done.
But what my father did, you know it don’t mean shit. I’m not him.
So you think I need some discipline, well, I had my share.
I have been sent to my room. I’ve been sat in a chair.
And I held my tongue. I didn’t plug my ears.
No, I got a good talking to.

And now I don’t know why,
but I still try to smile when they talk at me like I’m just a child.
Well, I’m not a child.
No, I am much younger than that.
And now I have read some books and have grown quite brave.
If I could just speak up I think I would say that there is no truth.
There is only you and what you make the truth.
So I will just sing my song and I’ll pass a hat.
Then I’ll leave your town and never look back.
No, I don’t look back because the road is clear and laid out ahead of me.
I’ll get home and meet my friends at our favorite bar.
We’ll get some lighter heads for our heavy hearts.
And we will share a drink.
Yeah we will share our fears and they will know how I love them.
They will know how I love.
They will know how I love them.
I am nothing without their love
.
I don’t know when but a day is gonna come
when there won’t be a moon and there won’t be a sun.
It will all go black.
It will all go back to the way it is supposed to be.
Is it true what I heard about the Son of God?
Did he die for us? Did he die at all?
And if I sold my soul for a bag of gold,TO YOU,
which one of us would be the foolish one?
Which one of us would be the fool?
Which one of us would be the foolish one?
Which one of us would be the fool?

Could you please start explaining?
You know, I need some understanding.
Could you please start explaining?
You know, I need some understanding.
Could you please start explaining?
You know, I need some understanding.
I could do good with some explaining.
You know. I want to understand.

I’m going to talk a little bit about the song, which is going to require me to regress back into English-major mode, so bear with me.

What I love about the song is that the narrator is not seeking to condemn Jesus.  He’s looking for answers.  He starts out with a question and ends with the same question – “Is it true?”  He doesn’t disapprove of Jesus, the Gospel he preaches, or the salvation he brings, but he can’t bring himself to believe it’s true.    The song gives indication that Oberst is well-versed in Scripture, as he turns many Biblical images on their heads, but he can’t seem to anchor what he reads with any truth.  The rest of the song makes it obvious that it is us, his followers, that make him doubt the truth he so desperately wants to believe.

I could right a whole essay about the next couple of stanzas, but I’ll try and keep it short.  After asking his questions, he begins a series of grievances against the church, grievances that, we assume, he was been the victim of.  He starts out by playing off the Church-as Christ’s-Bride metaphor and depicts the Church the same way John portrays Babylon – a whore bathed in vanity (” I knew a lovely girl, with such pretty pride, and every man wanted her, yeah and so did I / So did I / But she up and died in a fit of vanity”).  He essentially accuses the Church of helping itself instead of helping others.

From there he moves into the war stanza, where he moves from accusing the Church of being self-serving to claiming it actually destroys others to benefit itself.   Oberst is known for being a critic of the war in Iraq, and there’s every reason to believe that this stanza has the evangelical community in its cross hairs.   He then transitions into a section  where he sings extensively about “discipline,” which looks more like guilt, judgment and condemnation.  Finally, he makes sure to mention the Church’s financial gain (” So I will just sing my song and I’ll pass a hat”), and then skips town to find the one thing he hasn’t found in his whole experience with Christianity – love.  He finds this in community with his friends, who care deeply about one another.

This song always burns a whole in me because it asks me a question – “Is this our fault?”  Certainly Oberst’s problems with religion aren’t my fault, but how many people out there are like him?  How many people flee from God, who is Love, because his followers judge and condemn others, neglect the needy and serve themselves, or actively work to destroy others?  How many times have I done something sinful and caused someone else to think less of Jesus?  How many times have you done the same?  We are followers, and therefore ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and every time we sin, we don’t just hurt ourselves, but we hurt Jesus, because someone is always watching and making a judgment about him because of us.  It’s a good reminder that we are to be holy as God is holy, not just for our benefit, but for everyone else’s.

So I ask again – “Is this our fault?”

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I found that my post on searching for good Christian music was found on a Google search for “Christian musicians,” so I Googled it to see where it came up. And what I found was this.

If anyone wants to get their lady a diamond, just shove a lump of coal up this guy’s ass and wait a few minutes.

Some of my favorite passages:

You’ll never guess the song dc Talk uses toward the close of their “Jesus Freak” concert? Amazing Grace? Blessed Assurance? OH NO! They do a cover of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s “All Apologies”! Kurt Cobain is one of the worst ANTI-CHRIST, blasphemers since John Lennon.

I’m slightly offended, considering I’m a huge John Lennon fan, and I think that many of his principles are more aligned with Jesus that many right-wing fundamentalists.

Jason Martin of Starflyer 59

“A lot of bands, the reason they get so turned off, is because you have to put the word ‘Jesus’ in every line. . . That’s why so many bands get almost anti-Jesus in their lyrics, even though they’re Christians.” (HM, Mar/Apr 97 p. 21)

Out of 25 Starflyer 59 songs, over 1400 words, 4 albums – I could not find the word “God, the word “Lord”, I found “Jesus” ONE time in “2nd Space Song” – with this ridiculous line “counts the sands Jesus in your hands”. Jesus in your hands? Who, that believes that Jesus Christ is God Almighty, the Lord of Lords, thinks they’ve got “Jesus in their hands”!

I wonder if this guy’s ever heard of a metaphor…

CCM artists justify their avoidance of “Jesus” and Christian lyrics by claiming they’re using Christian music as a tool for reaching the lost. When used for the purpose of “talking” to the world — they can justify, saying or not saying anything – because after all, they’re TRYING to reach the lost! But Christian music was NEVER meant for the lost world. The Bible is very clear – Christian music is “sung unto the Lord” – not the world!

The Bible also remains silent on the usage of megachurhes, televangelism, door-to-door pamphlet distribution, tracts, and many other items as forms of evangelism, but I don’t see anyone getting their panties in a bunch about them.

I could go on. The writer continues to condemn rock music as bring “of the flesh,” and then argues that the use of the drum isn’t Biblical.

Sometimes I wonder if these people pass over the portions of the Bible that talk about being free in Christ. There’s nothing wrong with music that emphasizes the need for love (which Jesus preached), or display the depravity of the human condition (an essential part of the salvation experience), or music to instruct and equip others.

I end this post with a few words from Mr. Derek Webb, who is, according to the author of the discussed post, an abomination, because he doesn’t write praise music. Enjoy.

A New Law

(vs. 1)
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus)
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

(chorus)
i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

(vs. 2)
don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus/chorus)

(bridge)
what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

Thoughts?

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I’ve never really been fond of Christian music.

There are a number of reasons.  For starters, the fact that a lot of it sounds the same, uses the same metaphors and images, and lack genuine creativity, both musically and lyrically.  My old roommate used to say that Christian music was just “bible verses being sung slowly,” and I don’t consider that’s a stereotype with some merit.  Also, it could be that I have a natural tendency to regurgitate anything that’s force-fed down my throat, as Christian music was during my childhood.

So, I listened to “secular” music and bands that do the whole we’re-Christian-but-don’t-want-to-be-labeled-Christian-so-we-can-reach-a-broader-audience thing.   And a lot of it was good.  I grew to love bands that weren’t afraid to try new things, and songwriters who compelled me with their lyrics, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with their world view.

I didn’t really start liking Christian music again until I met my wife.

Back in our pre-dating days, she took me to UC Davis to go see a band called Caedmon’s Call.  I had heard some of their cds playing in the car, but none of it really stuck out to me.  But seeing them live really won me over.  They played many of their songs from Share the Well, an album heavily influenced by foreign travel in places like Ecuador and India. They were incredible musicians and gifted songwriters.  The venue was small and intimate, and I really got a chance to connect with the music

I was a fan instantly.

For those of you who are Caedmon’s Call fans, I saw them in 2005, I think, which means that Andrew Osenga was the principle songwriter and lead guitarist, not a mister Derek Webb, but a thorough listening on older Caedmon’s records that my wife had led me to discover that Webb was the best Christian music artist I had ever heard in my life.  I enjoyed his contributions to the album more than anyone else’s, and I soon began acquiring all of his solo records and fell in love with each one of them.  I have written extensively about why I think Webb is so great, and you can read that here.

I began to slowly open up to Christian music.  I discovered artists like Sufjan Stevens, David Crowder Band,  and Hillsong United, but I still resisted a lot of mainstream stuff.  I’ve been trying to look for good, unique Christian music.

After the release of Caedmon’s newest album Overdressed, I really began to appreciate Andrew Osenga, who wrote both of the standout tracks on the album (“Expectations” and “Hold the Light”).  And a look at his website led me to a gold mine of good Christian music:

The Square Peg Alliance

The Square Peg Alliance is a group of Nashville-based artists who unite for the purpose of cross-promotion.  Founded by Webb, it features Osenga, and seven other artists that are all quite good.

The sound is somewhat similar.  All of them are influenced to various degrees my a Nashville-only mix of country, folk, rock, and acoustic pop.   My favorites so far are Andrew Peterson, who writes pure poetry with a soft soundtrack; Jeremy Casella, who mixes pop with slight electronica influences, and Osenga, whose narrative style songs are marinated in nostalgia.

Check all of them out for yourself.

And while we’re on the subject, does anyone have any suggestions to KLOVE music?  Are there any Christian artists out their that captivate and move you?

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Drive Thru Raps

I found some of these videos on You Tube. I enjoyed them, and I hope you do too.

And of course, if you wan’t drive thru rap, it’s all about Weird Al:

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Follow the simple formula set forth in this video. It’s worked countless times before:

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New Kenna Album Drops Today

Every real music fan has at least one musician/band/group that they love that is flying under the radar.  For one reason or another, they haven’t hit the big time yet, and when they do, you’ll be there bragging that you were a fan way back in the day.

My undiscovered gem is a musician names Kenna.

Kenna is an Ethiopian-born singer whose music is difficult to put a finger on.  People have used the terms “pop,” “electronica,” “synth pop,” “post rock,” and “hip-hop,” but the truth is he mixes a little bit of all of those genres.  I would say he occupies the no-man’s land between Justin Timberlake and Imogen Heap, with dashes of Postal Service, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and Radiohead added in on occasion.

I discovered him way back in 2001 when I was watching MTV2.  They played a music video for his first single “hell bent,” and it was amazing.  To this day, it is still my favorite music video.  I’ve included it here; please take a moment to watch before continuing:

My God – isn’t that amazing!  I think it perfectly captures the lie of consumerism and materialism, and the sheds truth on the idea that you can buy or create happiness.

But anyway, I fell in love and began searching for the album.  Turns out that it wouldn’t even come out for another two years, and it would be another two years before I could find it for sale in a music store.  But it was worth the wait, because New Sacred Cow lived up to the single.  I highly recommend giving the album a listen.  Other than “hell bent,” I would say that “Freetime,” “Sunday After You,” “Yeneh Ababa” and “War in Me” are some of the better tracks.

So, I was excited to learn that after months and months of delays, his album Make Sure They See My Face came out today.  I snagged it this morning and listened to it on my way to and from work.  Overall, I like it.  I don’t think it’s better than New Sacred Cow, but there’s a lot that I like about it.  It’s got a little more of an edge and some of the songs are a little more energetic.  Some of the standout songs so far are “Out of Control (State of Emotion),” “Say Goodbye to Love,” “Sun Red Sky Blue,” and “Face the Gun.”

Both of the albums are worth checking out.  With the new album out, his “Out of Control” has been in a PSP commercial, and “Say Goodbye to Love” is the featured new video on MTV2 this week, so I just wanted to let everyone know that I was a Kenna fan first 😉

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Derek WebbLast night Shawn (who has his own take on the concert here) Gavin, Scott and I made the short drive down to Fresno to go see Derek Webb in concert. He was playing a free show at Fresno Pacific, and I think it was safe to say that all of us were pretty excited. I had been wanting to see Derek Webb for a while, but most of his touring is done in the South or on the East Coast. It was a pleasant surprise to find out he was playing here, and for free.

The whole setup was pretty simple. He played in a small, intimate outdoor amphitheater with a sound system that you would find being used at a school assembly, and he ditched the backup band in favor of an acoustic show. He came out a little late and just talked and played music for about two hours.

The whole show was really cool. He didn’t have any kind of prepared setlist, so he would just play whatever came to him while he was talking, or whatever the audience shouted out for him to play, and as a result there was a good variety of songs. He played a lot of Ringing Bell stuff, one of his contributions to the new Caedmon’s Call album, some of his classics (such as “Wedding Dress” and “Nobody Loves Me,” a few obscure oldies (“Ballad in Plain Red” and “Reputation”), an old Caedmon’s tune (“Can’t Lose You”), and quite a bit off of the politically-charged Mockingbird. The whole night had a real laid back feel with Derek telling stories about his songs, doing a little bit of preaching, and letting his humorous side shine through.

Derek Webb 2With the band stripped away, the concert was a real reinforcement of just how lyrically powerful his songs are. People have often labeled his songs “prophetic,” and now that I’m halfway through reading the prophets of the Old Testament, I can see why. The prophets spoke out against injustice in their day, the neglect of the poor, the hypocrisy of religious leaders, and the way that Israel had broken their covenant relationship with God. I can see a lot of that reflected in Derek’s music. He has this incredible way of showing people how the culture that they’ve wrapped themselves in is inconsistent with what we read in the scriptures. He sheds light on areas that we have fought to keep dark. He takes the covenant-marriage metaphor and brings it to life. And while he does all this, he never hesitates to point the finger at himself, making his preaching more genuine and less arrogant, and uses our collective guilt to emphasize God’s grace. Sounds like a Biblical prophet to me.

And that’s good because we need a prophet these days. In Mockingbird, an album that every Christian in America should own, Derek preaches against the fundamental evil of war in all it’s forms (“My Enemies Are Men Like Me”), condemns the day-to-day legalism and denial of liberty in the church (“A New Law”), denounces the idols of politics and jingoism (“A King & A Kingdom”), and displays our neglect of the poor (“Rich Young Ruler”). All of this was very hard-hitting to me when I first heard it. I used to be one of the guys that cheered on everything Republican, no matter what it was. I didn’t ask question, I just believed what the ideology commanded. Mockingbird got me asking questions about how the words of Jesus related to the real world. How is war ever acceptable when Jesus preached love, forgiveness, suffering and martyrdom? What makes it OK to execute someone when Jesus stood in stark opposition to the death penalty? Where did I ever get the idea that the needs and desires of America came before the needs and desires of the Kingdom of God?

These are tough questions for me, as I’m sure they are for anyone living the lie of the American Dream. I think a lot of people need to ask those questions, and Derek is gradually getting people to think that way. So, in a sense he is a prophet, not necessarily because God is speaking to him, but because he is simply showing us what God has already said, because we seem to have forgotten.

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