Crazy for God – part 1

About six months ago, my interest was piqued when I heard that Frank Schaeffer was working on his memoirs. While I’ve never read any books by his father, Francis Schaeffer, I am well aware of the influence he has had on Evangelicalism over the last 30 or so years, especially during the 70’s and 80’s, with books like How Should We Then Live?, its correlating video series, and the Whatever Happened to the Human Race? videos (that he did with Frank). His influence remains strong today, especially in the Reformed world, where places like Covenant Seminary offer several classes on different periods of Schaeffer’s life and work. My interest grew when I heard that the working title was How I Helped Found the Religious Right and Ruin America. The title it eventually went to press with is Crazy for God – How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (Or Almost All) of It Back.

Crazy for God

After my pre-ordered copy from Amazon arrived on my doorstop the beginning of November, I started it the first chance I had. At 400+ pages, it is not a quick read, but not a hard read either. Although, for most of the book, Frank recounts his memories without trying to draw many conclusions from them, so, about halfway through, needing something more reflective, I set it aside and picked up Frederick Buechner’s The Sacred Journey. (I’ll have a review of that coming later, as well as of the other two memoirs Buechner has written that I read last week, Now and Then and Telling Secrets – I could talk about them all day). One friend that I recommend Crazy for God to commented, after finishing it, that it didn’t seem like Frank was a deep thinker. Through the first half of the book, I would agree with that conclusion, but I think he does get a little more reflective toward the end and spends more time musing about why he is where he is now and probing into things a little.

In the first two hundred pages or so, there were just two things that stood out to me. In chapter 25, Frank spends some time writing about prayer and his impression, as a child, of why they prayed at L’Abri. He talks about the one day of the week that all the family members were supposed to sign up to pray for one or more of the designated thirty minute time slots so that someone would be praying all day long, how his mom frequently piously declared, while signing up for several hours, that she “couldn’t understand how someone could talk to their best friend for only thirty minutes”, while his Dad would put his name down in just one of the slots. He then touches on an issue (that he returns to at the end of the book) that has come up in conversations with a couple of my friends recently. We’ve talked about how much our lives today, our faith and habits, are in large part a result of our upbringing as much as anything else. It is who we are, not necessarily what we believe. To get beyond that, to develop a deeper faith, requires a desire for something more and a commitment to searching. And that is ultimately where I think Frank fails, at the end of the book. But I’ll write more about that later.

Back to the book, Frank ends this section by writing “What is strange is that today, in my totally “backslidden” state and long after I rejected the faith of my youth, or rather the faith I was supposed to have had in my youth, and have become “horribly secular” and write for “liberal publications” and have “questioned everything,” I do pray a lot. The habit of faith can’t be rejected so easily. Mom won.
It doesn’t matter what I think. It is a question of what I am.”.

If you’re interested in reading it, you can get it from Amazon, and Frank also has a number of interviews about it on his website.

Going to Church to Lie

I decided several years ago that I wasn’t going to go to church to lie, to myself or those around me. I have enough stuff to deal with already; the last thing I want to do is purposefully indulge my proclivity toward self-deceit. That meant that, if I didn’t want to commit the greater sin of singing words I don’t think about, I’d have to keep my mouth shut during the performance of a good number of the popular songs sung in churches today. Sure, I may wish that “all I want to do is praise You”, but that’s not the truth. I’m not going to sing “You’re all I want”, when a casual glance at my weeks activities shows quite the opposite.

Enter Indelible Grace. Kevin Twit is the campus pastor for Reformed University Fellowship at Belmont University. Several years ago, after observing how the students he worked with were fed up singing words they either didn’t mean or that really didn’t say anything, he started writing new music to old hymn texts with help from some friends. Now, 5 CDs later, Indelible Grace songs are widely sung in college ministries and churches, PCA churches particularly, and are, in fact, one of the main reasons I attend the church I do now.

I first met Kevin about 4 years ago when working with Michael Card on his radio program, where Kevin was a regular guest. I still remember the first time I heard Kevin tell one of his favorite stories, before I started helping with the program. I was living in Chattanooga and working at a TV station at the time, and one night while working a 4PM-Midnight shift, I walked outside to listen to the first part of Mike’s program on my car radio after starting an hour-long movie. I remember sitting on the hood of my car on top of Lookout Mountain, looking up at the stars, and listening to Mike, Kevin, and Wayne talk about the genesis of Indelible Grace. Kevin said the interest in the old hymns could be summed up by a sign he saw once in an antique shop – “Our Grandparents bought it, our parents sold it, and now we’re buying it back.” (Another thing he said in the same program has stuck with me, that while he didn’t see a strong loyalty to denominations in the younger generation, there was a loyalty to a local church that had been missing from their parents’ lives.)

IG5

The new Indelible Grace CD, Wake Thy Slumbering Children, was just finished , and Kevin gave me a copy a couple weeks ago to review. Like the previous installments, it features vocals from Andrew Osenga, Jeremy Casella, Matthew Perryman Jones, Sandra McCracken, Derek Webb, Matthew Smith, and others. After giving it a couple spins, my favorite tracks are O Help My Unbelief (Andrew Osenga), Abide With Me (MPJ), O Heart Bereaved and Lonely (Sandra McCracken), and In the Hours (Emily Deloach).

O Help My Unbelief is probably my favorite song musically, with Andy’s opening guitar lick making a great hook. The text, by Isaac Watts, gets to the heart of an issue under renewed debate today: Namely, do we need only to open our eyes today to God, to realize His presence and His work, with nothing more required from us, or are we on some deeper level separated from God by our sin and in need of a reconciler, a Savior? Is it up to us, or do we need something (someone) greater to intervene? In the third verse, Andy sings “Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King, My reigning sins subdue / Drive the old dragon from his seat, with all his hellish crew / A guilty, weak, and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall / Be thou my strength and righteousness, My Jesus, and my all”.

I have enjoyed, with this setting, really hearing the text to Abide With Me for the first time. When I ran into Matthew yesterday at Portland Brew, I mentioned that the traditional tune to Abide With Me is very simple musically, and so is one of the first songs in most beginning band and orchestra books. Since that was my first exposure to it, it is impossible for me to hear the tune without being reminded of a bunch of kids trying to get the right notes out of their new instruments, not exactly the most pleasant sound. So when I hear Matthew sing “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide / The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide / When other helpers fail and comforts flee / Help of the helpless, abide with me /” to the new setting by Justin Smith, I’m able to focus on and appreciate the text for what it says, without distractions. Matthew said that, of his contributions to this record, this was his favorite tune, and every time I listen to the record I find myself hitting repeat on this track.

In O Heart Bereaved and Lonely (text by Fanny Crosby), Sandra sings “O cling to thy Redeemer, Thy Savior, Brother, Friend / Believe and trust His promise to keep you till the end / O watch and wait with patience, and question all you will / His arms of love and mercy are round about thee still”. I love just about everything that Sandra sings, but her voice seems particularly suited to this type of lyric. The album is worth its price just for this song.

As I mentioned before, I like Indelible Grace for giving me lyrics that I can (most of the time) sing honestly, lyrics that focus on the character of God and not my feelings about Him. In The Hours is another example of this. The opening lines are “In the hours of pain and sorrow, when the world brings no relief / When the eye is dim and heavy, and the heart oppressed with grief / While blessings flee, Savior Lord we trust in Thee!”. While I can and do try to remember to thank Him for the blessings, they are not why I trust in Him. I want to trust Him “while blessings flee”, not just when they don’t. I trust because there is nothing else, not because my life will be better or more comfortable by doing so.

Wake Thy Slumbering Children can be purchased directly from Indelible Grace, and should be showing up in Christian bookstores before too long (if you frequent those types of places). If you want the leadsheets for any of these songs, they are available (for free) on the IG hymnal website. Luke Brodine transcribed these songs for Kevin, and I spent a couple days the beginning of the month helping Luke edit them. Hopefully they’ll be of some help in making these songs known to wider audiences.

If you need another reason to pick up a copy for yourself, listen to these words that Kevin wrote in the intro for the liner notes: “These hymns help us express our heart cries in words richer than our own, and open our eyes to see the beauty of a Savior who has promised the blessings we need most. We commend these hymns because we believe they have power to wake us to the reality of our great need for Jesus and open our eyes to see that we have a great Jesus for our need.”

Reinventing The Wheel – Andy G

Andy G

Listening to Andy Gullahorn’s songs, I often feel slightly exposed, trying to remember if I told anyone I felt that way or thought those things. Great art reminds us that we are not alone.

When the Square Pegs were playing weekly shows at the Radio Cafe here in Nashville last year, my favorite new song that I heard was Andy’s Holy Ground. Andy just finished his new CD, Reinventing the Wheel, and Holy Ground is on it, as well as More of a Man, Roast Beef (a song about Andy Osenga’s toe), That Guy, and several others that he’s been singing at shows for the last year or two. You can get it from Jill and Andy’s webstore or pick it up at one of Andrew Peterson’s Christmas shows.

Holy Ground, like many of Andy’s songs, draws you into a story and then shifts the focus at the end. The song is about an old abandoned church that is discovered by the homeless. Here are the lyrics:

A good half-inch of dust had built up on the pews / There were pieces missing from the stained glass dove / There was a broken lock on one of the basement doors / You could open if you pushed it hard enough // It was wintertime / The streets were cold as hell / They laid their sleeping bags / Along the alter rail //

It was holy ground / It was holy ground / It was holy ground //

As the word got out the sanctuary filled / With folks who had no other place to call their home / At night they’d share a meal and pass a bottle around / Something they were all accustomed to alone // The piano’s out of tune / Some keys don’t even work / But one guy could play a song / Out of the hymnal book //

It was holy ground / It was holy ground / It was holy ground //

The local priest soon got word / of the vagrants in the empty church / He was told to go to the house of God / And clear them out because after all / It was holy ground // He was met at the door by a man with open arms / Saying “welcome to the one place we belong” / He saw the shiny floors beneath the sleeping bags / He could hear the sound of laughter down the hall / Later on that night / As they broke the bread / He asked them if there’s room / for an extra bed //

It was holy ground / It was holy ground / It was holy ground //

“Hold righteousness at a value greater than rightness”

When I was in Seattle a couple weeks ago, I went to hear Mark Driscoll preach at his church on Sunday morning. That evening, I heard Rob Bell at the Moore Theatre, in town for the fifth stop on his “The God’s Aren’t Angry” tour. If you’re not familiar with those guys, one way I could describe them, oversimplifying, is by saying that Mark is a fundamentalist, Rob is not. After reading both of Mark’s books, as well as other essays he’s written, I don’t think I’m on thin ice when I say that Mark knows he is right. On every position. And if you don’t agree completely with him, you’re wrong and dangerous and he’ll be sure to call you names. If he doesn’t like who you read, he’ll speak at conferences about the Emergent Church so he can call you a heretic, as he did Rob Bell at the Convergence conference I was at a couple months ago.

But even though there are areas in which I disagree with both Rob and Mark, I still love hearing both of them speak. They are, at the very least, master communicators. And while, on a philosophical level, I believe that for Christianity to remain vibrant, we must allow for a wide range of theological beliefs, we need people on both the left and right as well as the middle, I can no longer attend a church pastored by Driscoll or someone like him. I’m glad, for the sake of balance, that he is out there. But I wish he could disagree with someone without condemning them.

This issue came up yesterday when I was talking with a friend, Randall, about Marcus Borg. I’ve read one book by Borg that he co-authored with N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, and I blogged about it here. Randall just wrote a post for The Rabbit Room about another of Borg’s books, Jesus, and in his summary he ably articulates my thoughts on this.

“Marcus Borg has written a book that will make many Christ-followers very nervous, and possibly very angry. And, I expect that most families are well acquainted with those emotions, especially around the holidays. However, I know from my own family experience that the only way to truly experience community together is to pray. We plead with Jesus for abundant measures of His grace so that we may live together, teach and learn together and be the love of Christ for one another. We must agree to disagree, and hold righteousness at a value greater than rightness. As a theological primer, I would not recommend this book. But as a testimony to the breadth and depth of the family of God, I could not recommend it more.”

Check out the rest of Randall’s post, along with the comments, here.

Steven Delopoulos ~ Straightjacket

After a long wait Straightjacket, the new record from Steven Delopolous, finally released on Thanksgiving Day. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ve heard me talk about Steven’s music before. I first blogged about Straightjacket nine months ago, after I saw Steven play live for the first time. He played several of the songs from the new record then as well as a couple from Me Died Blue, his first solo record. Back in June, Steven told me that he had the final mastered copy of the record in hand but was still trying to work out distribution. I guess he decided to go ahead and release it as a digital download until something else works out, as that is the only way it will available for now. I know he has been in talks with different labels, so I’m hoping it will get a wide brick-and-morter distribution at some point.

If you know Me Died Blue at all, (and it’s one of my favorite albums), the first thing you’ll notice about Straightjacket is that the production is not nearly as full. Because I’ve heard Steven play most of these songs live several times over the last nine months, in some ways Straightjacket isn’t too far off from sounding like a live concert bootleg. And in Steven’s case, that’s not a bad thing. One of the reasons I love seeing him play live is because of the spontaneity in the concerts, and Monroe Jones, who produced this project with Steven, was able to capture that spontaneity in the studio and expand upon it without loosing anything. So start with what Steven does in concerts, bring in Monroe to join him in tastefully adding piano and strings here and choir there, a little percussion where needed, bits and pieces of the Greek Orthodox liturgy in the form of chant poking around the corners of a couple songs, and the resulting masterpiece is well worth your time.

On his myspace page, Steven described Straightjacket this way:

I would love to say this record is a sort of crucifixion story. A journey of the individual metamorphosis. Me Died Blue touched on those issues, and Straightjacket realizes and renegotiates. It’s sitting down to dinner with myself, having to face consequences. “Ruin of the Beast” deals with this duality: when the two halves encounter each other and realize they work together as the whole. I’m learning that it’s separation from God that causes fear, disconnecting us from love and from our true identities

Ruin of the Beast, like most of Steven’s lyrics, will doubtless be revealing new ideas and interpretations years down the road, for those who care to pay attention. Check out the beauty of the poetry and the layers of meaning in just the first 90 seconds: Look up, old friend, watch the ruin of the beast / on the top of the hill being slain by the prodigal son / for the glory and the making of his will / being bound by his hand, being lifted and shifted and molded from sand // they slashed off his head and rolled in his blood / and wrote on the walls “we’ve escaped the big flood” / but highways to byways and oceans to creeks / the silence was screaming and aching and steaming / and hoping for one soul to listen at least // and never a whimper and never a notion / they banned all seduction not even an ocean / well it’s castles to ruins and motion to cease / they sliced off his head for the ruin of the beast. //

Here’s the full track list:

Ruin of the Beast
She Held My Hand
May I Always Keep My Feet Upon the Ground
The Great Conductor
Interlude
Fire Away
Wallfly
Work To Be Done
As If Love Was a Sword
Open Your Eyes
Halt
The Dancer

You can get your copy of Straightjacket either through Steven’s website or through iTunes.