Shaun Groves & Left Behind for Toddlers

As I sat waiting for Shaun Groves to start his concert tonight, I realized that this is the fourth time I’ve seen him play, and each time has been in a different city. The first time was in Cleveland, TN, just after I started reading his blog (the primary impetus for my starting a blog). The second time I saw him play was at his home church in Franklin, TN, for the release party of White Flag, his CD based on the Beatitudes. The third time was for the taping of his newest CD, One Night in Knoxville, for which some friends and I made the drive over to Knoxville. And the concert tonight was in Lebanon, TN. This was also the first time I’ve seen him since his brother-in-law, Brain Seay, stepped down as road manager (to work as “artist liaison” for Compassion International), and was replaced by Brody (nice to meet you, Brody).

The concert was, as always, enjoyable, although I did forget to request the inclusion of Heaven Hang On, my second favorite song of his, in the setlist. He did perform Jesus, which I think is his best song. And while the introductions of most of his songs stay the same from concert to concert, his mention in the setup for Twilight of reading Left Behind for Toddlers to his daughter makes me laugh every time. (A better option, Shaun, might be to read Randy Alcorn’s Heaven – for Kids to her so she’ll know exactly what Heaven will be like, down to what type of music will be there).

Shaun also talked at length about a topic that has occupied my thoughts often over the last several months and on which I have several posts simmering on the burner. After recounting his childhood experience of going to the alter to ‘get saved from hell’, he pointed out the stark contrast between the focal point of 20th century American Evangelicalism and the first century teachings of Christ. All too often, it seems Evangelicalism’s main purpose is to provide ‘fire insurance’, to convince you of what you need to be saved from, while Christ’s teachings centered on what you are saved for, a new life and an invitation into the Kingdom of God. I’m looking forward to reading the book that Shaun is writing on the Beatitudes, and the thought provoking questions that are sure to be included.

To end this post, I’ll quote the lyrics for Heaven Hang On, a song that includes a needed challenge for the Church today.

He yells through the night / With a face full of fight / Stepping over the ring that she wore / She runs for the car / But she doesn’t get far / His boots kicks her hand from the door / And there on her back / She let’s go of the last / Remnant of hope that she’s held //

Heaven hang on / She can’t hang on anymore / Heaven hang on / She can’t hang on anymore //

Two houses down / There’s a man pulling out / With a pistol pushed under the seat / And he’s waving good by / To his boys and his wife / And ends that are too far to meet / He’s got a plan / The insurance man / Sold him the way out they need //

Heaven hang on / He can’t hang on anymore / Heaven hang on / He can’t hang on anymore //

Lord, surround them with angels / And send out Your saints / Shake us all loose / From our pulpits and pews / To hold and to help up the faint //

Heaven hang on. (Use my hands, Jesus) / We can’t hang on anymore / Heaven hang on (Use my hands, Jesus) / We can’t hang on anymore / We can’t hang on anymore / We can’t hang on anymore //

Steven Delopoulos – Rocky Boat

Over the past two or three years, there have been three albums that I keep going back to over and over. They are Holly Williams’ The Ones We Never Knew, Chris Rice’s Amusing, and Steven Delopoulos’ Me Died Blue. Every time I put one of these CD’s in my player, it stays there for a long time. I recently realized they all have a couple things in common. For starters, Monroe Jones produced or co-produced all three, and they were released jointly with Eb+Flo, the label co-owned by Jones, Rice, and drummer Ken Lewis. Ken played drums and percussion on each of them, Mark Hill played bass, and the Love Sponge String Quartet (that I get to be in the studio with a couple times a month) added the strings.

My favorite song of Steven’s from Me Died Blue is Rocky Boat. When I saw him in concert last week (in a great show that included Judd and Maggie and Matthew Perryman Jones), I asked him the story behind Rocky Boat, and he confirmed my interpretation (that I haven’t heard anyone else talk about). After having the CD for about a year, one of the lines in that song caught my attention, so I dug out the liner notes and followed along. And to me, it looked like it was a damning critique of the Christian subculture in general, and the CCM industry in particular. In the second verse, he sings Off I go into the night / I sing my tunes, I fake the light / I crack a smile and when I’m cued / I read the lines and spit ’em right. The chorus, which sounds like it was written after he escaped from the gated community, says I am free, I am free / Ain’t nobody gonna lie to me / And my cup inside is clean / And the mountains tall and green // Say goodbye to the devil’s door / Swim away from the ocean floor / Living waters inside me / I am free, I am free, I am free. And in the last verse he sings I was on that rocky boat / Trying to sing and catch my note / But my face turned blue and green / Oh, the ocean big and mean // But God is here, and God is there / God is dark, and God is fair / Letting love arrange this song / All in love where we belong.

Steven is working on his new album now, which did have a title that I loved, As If Love Were a Sword. That has since been changed to Straightjacket, and he just released a free EP that includes two songs from the new album, two songs from Me Died Blue, and two songs from Burlap to Cashmere’s live shows. You can download the EP, Work to Be Done, here.

April Fools

If April Fools day were today, this would be the perfect news announcement. Unfortunately, we’re still in February.

Producer Ralph Winter was just interviewed by Robin Parrish of Infuze Magazine, and after talking about the new Fantastic Four movie that he’s producing and giving scary details about how they want to ruin The Screwtape Letters, he is asked about other upcoming projects.

The only other thing right now is that we’re talking with Rick Warren about making The Purpose-Driven Life with Fox Searchlight.

I remember hearing about those rights being sold. How would that even work? How do you make a story out of something like that?

Well, you’ve got to create a narrative. We’ve been talking with a lot of A-list writers in town, who are very interested. The book has a wide readership — both Christian and non-Christian. So the challenge would be to find the right A-list writer to pair up with Rick, and develop some good stories that would begin to illustrate some of those principles. You couldn’t take all of that stuff and pile all of those principles into one movie. But the idea we’ve been operating off of is doing something structured like Crash, where you have a bunch of different stories that intersect in interesting ways.

That’s still in an early development stage. Rick’s a very busy guy, so it’s moving somewhat slowly. But I think it could be very fun, on down the road.

“Christian movies” / Let Art Be Art

The Last Sin Eater is the newest film from FoxFaith to hit theatres. I’ve come across two different reviews so far that both point out one of the biggest problems of “christian movies”, the reason why most of them struggle to be even mediocre art.

Peter Chattaway, in his review for Christianity Today, says “The very concept of “sin eating” is so unusual that the film cannot help but be at least a little interesting. However, the movie suffers from the same sense of inevitability that afflicts so many other Christian films; at times you suspect the filmmakers are not all that interested in the phenomenon of “sin eating” for its own sake, but regard it as just another set-up for an evangelistic punch line.”

And Joe Leydon, reviewing the film for Variety, says “Never afraid to overstate the obvious, helmer and co-scripter Landon establishes, underscores and italicizes each plot point with the well-intentioned didacticism of a Sunday School teacher.”.

Reading these quotes, I’m reminded of a chapter from Unceasing Worship, a book by Dr. Harold Best, the former dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College, titled The Arts in Contrast. Unceasing Worship has influenced my thinking on the arts and on worship more than anything else I’ve read. I first heard about the book from Michael Card, who was sent a copy to review before it was published. After reading Mike’s endorsement on the back of the book and hearing more about it from him, I immediately ordered a copy. My friends probably got tired of me quoting it all the time for a while after I read it.
The book is divided into two parts; part one is about “unceasing worship as continuous outpouring”, and part two is on the subject of “unceasing worship and the arts”. Here are a couple of the passages that I have highlighted in this chapter (emphasis added):

Many Christians are more than Word-centered; they are word-and-message obsessed and have a tendency to expect everything in the arts to act like the Word acts and to give out messages the same way the Word does. To them, every artistic action should clearly make some sort of witness point. If it does not, its content is manipulated until it does.

So when we try to make certain art forms do what they are incapable of, or undertake what other art forms more easily do, we commit two errors at once. First (believe it or not), we denigrate the Word. Unwittingly, we are giving the impression that the Word needs help from every quarter possible, when it is actually the other way around – everything we know of needs help from, and is informed by, the Word. The irony of this is that this error is most often committed by those who are the most outspoken in their belief in the accuracy, power and self-sufficiency of the Word. This belief, furthermore, may be perpetuated by two related assumptions. First, we can become so obsessed with words that we end up worshiping them and then making everything after their image, instead of simply trusting in them for what they are: treasures in earthen vessels paying full service to the revealed Word. Second, the ghost of pagan philosophies about divinely and humanly created things still haunts the Christian mind. We too quickly assume that we can insert our beliefs into what we shape so that it actually transmits the same message to the observer or listener.

Once we look at the various art forms this way, seeing how some of them do certain things extremely well and others do them poorly or not at all, we should strike a balance and celebrate each art form for what it does uniquely well. This is enough.

This issue is not limited to the church. As irritating as it might sound, totalitarian regimes often use art the same way, though with an evil motive. Please understand that I am not trying to create a linkage between the church and totalitarianism. I am merely saying that a passion to make a message consistently clear, whether this passion is holy or wholly evil, can lead to a flawed methodology. In the case of totalitarianism, the artist is coerced into being a messenger of the state, and any art that fails to speak the message clearly is destroyed and the artist is prosecuted. Any art that encourages people to think on their own is suspect, because thinking on one’s own might undermine the prerogatives of the state. In spite of the evil of this approach to art, the church can make this parallel assumption: whatever art is done, it must align itself with truth. If it does not do this clearly, the artist is suspect or is expected to manipulate the art until it does.

What does this mean for the arts in the church? Simply this: instead of pushing art forms beyond their limits, we must allow art to be art.

We must allow each art form, with its particular vocabularies and structures and contours to go directly to God in their purest form, uncluttered by our weak and untrusting spirits that get nervous if everything that we do does not shout John 3:16.

Our task is to make art as honestly and freely as we can and then offer it to him, and when we do, he will do his work in a way that will validate both his power apart from the arts and the arts themselves as given over to him. He alone can free us from the worrisome thought that the arts are a failure unless they “preach”.

Harold Best – Unceasing Worship

Andy Osenga interview

Kat recently started a new blog, The Secret Music Life of Kat, dedicated to “creative marketing ideas and business tips for musicians”, links to free music, artist interviews, etc. She posted her first interview today, with Andrew Osenga.

Here are a couple excerpts:

What are some advantages of being indie?

I don’t have to worry about what radio will or won’t play, or what some store will or won’t carry. I can play a long guitar solo on my records if I want to and I can write songs about whatever I want. My experience with labels has been very stifling in those regards, to the point where I felt like being a “christian artist” meant I no longer had room to talk about being a christian, cause they tried to censor so many of the things I wrote about. Also, I can be a lot more free with trying crazy ideas for marketing. Or with scrapping my website and building it around a blog. Or with giving some music away in hopes of getting people to pay for more of it.

What is inspiring you right now?

Randall Goodgame and I are hard at work writing for the next Caedmon’s project, and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a writer. We’ve been working on songs about who we are as members of families and communities and as believers who wrestle with doubt and who have run to God almost as much as we’ve run away from Him. Songwriting is such an intimate process and to be in the trenches with a good friend has been a wonderful thing.

Read the full interview here.

And if you’re in the Nashville area, or within a couple hours driving distance, Andy is playing a show this Thursday at Exit/In. His band will include Paul Eckberg on drums and Matt Odmark (Jars of Clay) on rhythm guitar. I enjoyed his set at 3rd and Lindsley with this band last week (as did the other 10 people that showed up, I’m sure), and this concert will undoubtedly be even better.

CT: The 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006

Christianity Today just posted their annual list of what they deem the “most redeeming films” of the year. Here is their list for 2006:

  • 10. Children of Men
  • 9. Akeelah and the Bee
  • 8. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  • 7. Tsotsi
  • 6. Charlotte’s Web
  • 5. The Second Chance
  • 4. Joyeux Noel
  • 3. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
  • 2. The New World
  • 1. The Nativity Story

I’ve seen all of them except for The Second Chance, Charlotte’s Web, and Akeelah and the Bee. I’m a little surprised that they would give the number 1 spot to a merely good (that had the potential to be great) film so indebted to Hallmark Cards and the Three Stooges. Was it a shoo-in because of the subject?

I thought The New World was a very good film (not surprisingly, coming from Terrence Malick), but I’m not sure what exactly was “redeeming” about it. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, on the other hand, is a great film that asks hard questions and finds one of its central themes in the search for redemption and atonement.

I’m glad to see three foreign films on the list, Tsotsi, Joyeux Noel, and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Joyeux Noel, my favorite of the three, reminds us that we should not (and cannot, if we are not satisfied only with stereotypes) dehumanize “the enemy”, and of the senselessness of war. Tsotsi asks great questions about the effects of our circumstances and whether we can change, whether or not we can learn to commit selfless acts when life seems to show that we must put ourselves first to survive. Sophie Scholl has deservedly drawn many comparisions to A Man For All Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas More, for the interrogation and courtroom scenes they both rely on.

I’m glad Children of Men made the list. Though there has been much debate of the merits of the film over the book from which it took its title and basic plot (and apparently not a whole lot else), I think the end result is still a great film. I am particuarly interested in the discussions that would be generated if this was shown back to back with another film involving Michael Caine, Cider House Rules.

At the end of their list, they include a couple that didn’t make it, including Half Nelson. The best description I’ve heard of Half Nelson is that it’s a lament to what should have been. It leaves the question of future redemption and change unresolved, as it is in many of our own circumstances. And Ryan Gosling’s performance is worthy of the critical aclaim it has been receiving.

I wish The King, starring Gael García Bernal and William Hurt, and Winter Passing, starring Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, and Ed Harris, had been included in this list. Winter Passing is a wonderful film that centers around Zooey’s character coming to terms with her childhood and the way her parents lack of involvement (as two famous writers) shaped her, and the lengths she’ll go to to “feel something”. It’s also my favorite Will Ferrell role, as a guitarist kicked out of a Christian rock band who has tried to create his own sanctuary from the world and nervously utters phrases like “God is my co-pilot” and “Jesus loves you too”.
The King focuses on a Southern preacher and his illegitimate son who is newly discharged from the Navy. Bernal, as the son, forces his way into his father’s new life and that of his family, and while doing so challenges one of the central themes of what his father preaches, forgiveness. In the last 10 seconds of the movie, it asks, by implication, the probing question “how much are we really capable of forgiving, and if we (as humans) cannot forgive everything (the answer I think the film demands), can God truly forgive all?” (As a side note, I found it interesting that the kid who played the pastor’s son and ‘worship leader’ here turned around and played the kid in Little Miss Sunshine whose hero is Nietzsche and wears a t-shirt that says Jesus Was Wrong.

To read the rest of the list and the reasons why they chose the movies they did, click here.

Are there any other films you think should have been included?