On Wednesday, I had the chance to hear Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York city, talk about his new book here in Nashville. My thoughts from the evening, It Takes a Community, are up on the Rabbit Room blog.
This afternoon, I dropped by Sputnik Studio to hear Andy Osenga record another day of electric guitar overdubs on Eric Peters’ new record, with Ben Shive producing. I was a fly on the wall back in November for the first day of electric guitar overdubs, and it was great to hear these songs a little closer to their finished state. I think this album is Eric’s best, with strong lyrics, great melodies, and inventive chord progressions, and since I’m a big fan of Ben’s production work and the melodic ways he builds his tracks, I can’t wait to get a hold of the final project.
Eric has been blogging about the progress on the new record here, and this guest post from Ben about his role in the process is a great read if you want to know more about what goes into making a record. If everything goes as planned, the record should be out late March or sometime in April.
As you may remember, Eric decided to try something new with this record: to give people the opportunity to contribute on the front end to help make this record, instead of just supporting his art by buying copies after it is finished. I wrote about this over on the Square Peg Alliance blog about six months ago when Eric first introduced his plan, and because there is still room for more supporters, I thought I’d feature that post here (see below).
I’m a firm believer in the notion that art matters. At the close of a chapter in his book Through a Screen Darkly, a friend of mine, Jeffrey Overstreet, writes, “God heals us through creation and art.” There has been more than one night when I’ve been lost and at a loss for words, and listening to Eric sing his song Tomorrow does just that, heals me, or at least points me towards home, towards a better truth.
wake me up when today is over
for I cannot bear the noise
put me to sleep in silent whispers
inside of God’s own voice
is this the feeling of redemption
or the shoulders of despair?
and since I fear tomorrow
please come and meet me there
angel of tomorrow
say a prayer tonight
when I find myself alone
afraid of being known
and holding on for life
Eric has begun working on a new album, and he just posted this message on his website, letting those of us who are thankful for his work know how we can play a small part in this next project:
As you may already know I have started recording a new album with friend and fellow Spike Jones appreciator, Ben Shive, at the production helm. Progress will be slow the next month or so as I will be out of town, but the work, at least, has officially begun. I wanted to try something a little different this time around by inviting folks to get involved early on in the process, rather than later. Briefly alluding to this in an earlier post, I figure now is as good a time as any to get the ball rolling on the experiment, this patronage of the arts if I may be so bold. Fundraising, on a larger scale like this, is something I have never done, but now with a bona fide family of three to support this time through the indie record-making gamut, I have been encouraged to put the call out and to let the people of earth help, invest and contribute what they may. Here’s my proposal:
The Goal: $15,000
300 people x $50/each
After reading Christianity Today’s review of Randall Goodgame’s new EP Bluebird earlier this week, I put a check-mark next to one of the entries on the list of goals I keep in my head: To have a CT music review mention one of my string arrangements. Here’s the relevant paragraph:
The opening title track could compete neck and neck with today’s very best porch-pop and coffeehouse rock offerings. Beyond just the ear pleasing acoustics, there are plenty of poetic parallels to a bluebird flying high in the sky with nothing but freedom to fall on (applicable to matters of faith, art, and dreams in general). “All the Years” is far more placid in comparison, stripping down to a sparse piano ballad with light string accompaniment, yet allowing Goodgame’s comforting vocals to come across like a textbook ’70s songwriter (imagine James Taylor turning in his six-string for a keyboard).
As we enter a new era, I think it is worth noting our new President’s concise summary of the writings of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. As I’ve mentioned here before, I read Niebuhr’s Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic a couple months ago and really liked his ideas and musings. New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks, also a fan of Niebuhr’s writings, asked Obama almost two years ago if he was familiar with Niebuhr. Obama immediately responded that Niebuhr is one of his favorite philosophers, and when asked what he takes away from his writing, said the following:
“I take away,” Obama answered in a rush of words, “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away … the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.”
You can read Brooks’ NTY article here. And here’s looking forward to the next four years.
“Americans are never safe against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire. This is vanity. To be effective in the world, we need a sense of modesty about the virtue, wisdom, and power available to us and a sense of contrition about the common human frailties and foibles which lie at the foundation of both the enemy’s demonry and our vanities.”
~ Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., paraphrasing Reinhold Niebuhr in the New York Times article, Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr.
“I don’t like the word spiritual, especially as it’s defined in American society, where it’s essentially another form of narcissism.” – Chris Hedges – Moral Combat: Chris Hedges On War, Faith, And Fundamentalism
I recently had the misfortune of sitting through a sermon where the speaker uttered the phrase “Jesus, who lives in my heart,” or some variant of that line, probably fifteen or twenty times. And went on to talk about what he could do “with Christ, who gives every bit of himself to me.” Leaving aside the bad theology of the latter phrase, I’m more perturbed by the repeated use of the phrase “Christ living in my heart” in his message with its focus on a private faith, and what that means in how we make decisions and convince ourselves of the rightness of our actions, at the expense of “working out our salvation in fear and trembling,” in community. Granted, there are four or five verses that could possibly be used as the basis of such an idea, such as Paul writing about “Christ in me, the hope of glory,” or “Not I, but Christ, who lives in me…” But those references all have something to do with the fundamental change that Paul (and other writers) say happens when we “put on Christ,” and you would be hard pressed to use them as proof-texts for saying that Jesus living in your heart means that you can ___ (fill in the blank).
I owe a debt to David Dark, both in his book The Gospel According to America and to conversations over coffee, for giving me the language to express my thoughts as it relates to this subject. So instead of trying to re-articulate the problems I see with the catch phrases used by the aforementioned speaker, I’ll let you read David’s words from chapter two of his book, Song of Ourselves: Narcissism and Its Discontents in a Bipolar Nation. This paragraph starts by referencing a claim by then-Texas Governor Bush that it would be hard to explain how Jesus “changed my heart” if people didn’t already know exactly what he was talking about. David writes:
[H]e’s right. It’s what millions of Americans are referring to when they say that they know or that they’ve “got” Jesus as their savior. I don’t mean to imply disingenuousness on the part of anyone when I suggest that this way of talking isn’t necessarily faithful to the traditional Christian confession. Harold Bloom has suggested that “knowing” Jesus, believing yourself to have a one-on-one relationship with him (unmediated by tradition; “in the garden alone”; impossible to explain to anyone who doesn’t know him like you do), is a recently developed form of gnosticism that is probably the real, most-often-practiced, American religion. Minus the obligation to aspire toward continuity with a historic, visible, practicing community (based on some recognizable fashion on what Jesus of Nazareth said and did), we’re left alone with what we believe in our hearts our personalized Jesus is telling us. The nonpolitical, fully spiritualized Jesus is on the rise in America.
As a cautionary measure against our tendency to tell ourselves the Jesus in our heart of hearts is telling us to do whatever we’ve already decided to do or that the Bible somehow buttresses whatever we feel is right, the Christian prayer of confession affords us the opportunity to recognize ourselves as fallible discerners of whatever it is the Spirit is saying to the churches. Trying to be faithful to that word, perceived with fear and trembling, is what the church does. But to the Christian mind, the individual human heart, far from having a direct line to God, is, to borrow the language of Jeremiah, both deceitful above all else and desperately wicked… Is our talk of our knowledge of Christ divorced from an apprenticeship to his way of doing things? When we say we know him (or that someone else doesn’t) are we making reference to the historical Jesus or are we simply talking about some well-meaning, inarticulate heart longing? This is why communal accountability, discernment, and confession of sin will, traditionally, save us from the tyranny of a “personal, private faith” and the clear and present dangers of Sheilaism*.”
* (my footnote) “Sheilaism” refers to nurse Sheila Larson and her quote, well known among sociologists of religion, that says, “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith is Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.”
On a closing note, as I was thinking about the sermon, I remembered a story poet Scott Cairns told at last year’s Festival of Faith and Writing. Here’s what I wrote after that session.
Near the end of their conversation, Scott recounted what ended up being my favorite story from the whole festival. After “embracing finally the fullness of the faith,” he has taken several trips to Greece to talk with monks who have become his spiritual guides. On one trip, he was outside one of the monasteries of Mount Athos, having been engrossed in conversation with Father Iákovos for several hours, when a tourist, a Baptist minister, approached them and interrupted. He demanded of Father Iákovos, “Do you have Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” Father Iákovos looked up, paused for a moment, then replied, “No, I like to share him with others.”
So you know that new Randall Goodgame EP, Bluebird, that I’ve blogged about? The one I wrote a couple string arrangements for? Well, if you act fast – before the end of the day – you can download the whole EP for free from Randall’s website. It’s been available for free download for about a week, and I kept forgetting to blog about it. Be sure to sign up for his mailing list so you hear about this kind of thing the next time he does it.
Here’s the aforementioned clip of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones on Late Night with Conan O’Brien from just before Christmas. Roy, as he usually does with the Flecktones, is playing a combo of his SynthAxe Drumitar and real kit. Every once in a while, Roy plays a gig in town on a kit, like when he performs with a new side group he’s in, Eclectica, with electric violinist Tracy Silverman and Kyle Whalum (son of jazz great saxophonist Kirk Whalum) on bass. The Eclectica CD release party was a fun show. You can watch a video of them performing one song here. Anyway, here’s the Conan video.
While browsing at a used bookstore earlier today with a friend (or I guess that would be yesterday, at this point), I came across a book by H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation. I read his brother’s first book a couple months ago, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, and absolutely loved it, so I figured this would be worth reading, not to mention that it is on a topic which holds a lot of interest for me at the moment. Earlier tonight, before heading over to a friends’ house to watch (read: wrestle with) their kids while they went to a New Year’s Eve party – I went to a pre-emptive New Year’s Eve party last night hosted by my friends in the band Jars of Clay, which doubled as a benefit for Blood:Water Mission – I read the preface to The Meaning of Revelation. The paragraph outlining the convictions underlying the study begged to be read several times. Seems like these are good convictions to affirm as we stand at the threshold of another year.
Among the convictions which in part appear explicitly in this study and in part underlie the argument even where they do not become explicit, three seem to be of fundamental importance, though I may presuppose others of which I am less aware. The first is the conviction that self-defense is the most prevalent source of error in all thinking and perhaps especially in theology and ethics. I cannot hope to have avoided this error in my effort to state Christian ideas in confessional terms only, but I have at least tried to guard against it. The second idea is that the great source of evil in life is the absolutizing of the relative, which in Christianity takes the form of substituting religion, revelation, church or Christian morality for God. The third conviction, which becomes most explicit in the latter part of this essay but underlies the former part, is that Christianity is “permanent revolution” or metanoia which does not come to an end in this world, this life, or this time. Positively stated these three convictions are that man is justified by grace, that God is sovereign, and that there is an eternal life.