Sunday, November 14, 2010

Conversational Dodgeball

When it comes to conversations these days, especially about politics or religion, I think there are basically two different mindsets or approaches people engage in: One is somewhat similar to working on a jigsaw puzzle, where each person takes a turn trying to fit their pieces into place – looking at the big picture the way they see it, guessing at where in that picture the pieces they’re holding might go, basing their decisions on what their piece looks like to them in relation to the whole. But each person is working toward a common goal, each person wants the other’s pieces to fit in the right spot just as much as they do. And when it’s done right, each side is equally satisfied with the end result, with how it turned out.

The other approach is more akin to playing a game of dodgeball. There are clear sides to be taken, each with the objective that their side wins and the other side loses. And the harder you throw from your side at the other person, the more chance you have of emerging victorious in the battle. And you can’t let anything in from the other side because they only mean to knock you down. Anything they throw at you is an attack intended to make you lose. You can throw at them, but don’t let what they're throwing get at you.

One of the difficulties with this is that these approaches (or paradigms) are all in perception. Each person doesn’t know what conversational “game” the other is playing at – Dodgeball or the Jigsaw Puzzle. And if you don’t know what game the other is engaged in, you could walk out onto the gym floor with a puzzle piece and get seriously hurt.

And here’s another thing about these conversations – it doesn’t matter what game you or the other person say you are playing. Sometimes people think they’ve got a big round red puzzle piece and if they throw it hard enough they can force it to “fit” into the picture the way they think it should: “Here’s what I think…WHAP!”

I tend to be a jigsaw puzzle person myself (though I have indulged in some conversational dodgeball from time to time). I enjoy working with others in figuring out how the puzzle pieces fit together, and though we will often go back and forth debating what each piece is and how it fits the big picture, the conversations I enjoy involve working toward the same goal – a better understanding of the other’s position, and a desire to get to a picture of truth as best as we can. I generally hate sports, especially dodgeball. And I’ve gotten fairly good at recognizing when others are suiting up for a game of dodgeball – the stance they take, the defensive or offensive posture, the way they hold and present their argument – and I try to stay out of the game and go find people interested in working to make some sense out of the puzzle pieces.

I often see people, however, who keep walking out onto the gym floor with a puzzle piece, to where they think the puzzle is, only to get blindsided by a red ball smacking them in the face. Sometimes they instinctively react by saying “wtf are you doing?” and pick up the red ball to throw a fast-pitch at the other person, getting momentarily caught up in the angry adrenaline of the game, and sometimes they just catch the ball and walk off the court, pissing the other side off to no end. And because this is all a matter of perception, when they first walk out with their puzzle piece, intent on solving the puzzle with the other, the other side sees them walking out onto the court and think they’re holding a dodgeball. When they show them the puzzle piece and either tell them where they think it fits or asks them where they think it should fit, the viewpoint of the dodgeball player only sees a mean dodgeball being thrown at them, and their adrenaline rises. Often, as the other side is throwing dodgeballs, they’re missing, and so the puzzle person often doesn’t recognize them as dodgeballs being thrown until they get hit with one in shocked disbelief. I think those jigsaw puzzle people need to work on recognizing the difference between a puzzle-board and a gym floor, and the difference between people wanting to work on a puzzle together and people suiting up to hurl conversational dodgeballs at one another. In other words, stop a moment, take their eyes off the puzzle piece they’re holding and look at the others, see what kind of conversational “players” they are and make sure they’re headed to a puzzle-board and not a battle zone. And it helps a great deal to realize that some people are only interested in playing conversational dodgeball. Some people just find jigsaw puzzles boring and an unnecessarily complicated waste of time and aren’t interested in that kind of back-and-forth at all.

The bible puts this in another analogy: don’t throw your pearls before swine, otherwise they will trample that which you hold of value and then turn to trample you.

So the question is: what do you do when you’re trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together and someone starts throwing conversational dodgeballs at you?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Top 200 CCM Rock Albums of All-Time

HM magazine recently put up their list of the top 100 CCM rock records of all-time, and quite frankly, I thought it was horrible. And so, in response to that (even though I almost never listen to CCM anymore), I started my own list, in the spirit of the wonderful Rolling Stone Magazine Top-500 Albums of All-Time list put out quite a few years ago. This is currently a rough draft, is VERY subjective, and probably has a lot of holes in it, as well as a few artists that were over-represented. For those of you interested in this sort of thing, let me know what you think, what I left off, all that good stuff. I tried to keep this in the CCM pop/rock/metal arena, and with a very few exceptions, stayed away from the "Christians in the mainstream" artists. The exceptions here (Kansas, U2, King's X, etc.) are artists and/or albums that were exceptionally popular among the CCM rock listening audience at the time. there are also a very few albums that I personally don't care for, but a slice of objectivity made it into my decision and I tried to recognize a few albums that are generally considered classics among fans (ex - Prayer Chain). but I still refuse to put Audio Adrenaline on here! You'll also have no problem recognizing which decade(s) I grew up in and/or thought had the best music. This isn't really in strict order, though the top 50 are probably in the ballpark, and the top 10 are pretty solid for me personally. it gets less prioritized the farther down it goes, till the last 100 are just a sloppy mess of titles that I think should be in there somewhere. and so... my nomination for the Top 200 CCM Pop/Rock/Metal Albums of All-Time:

1. Kansas – Drastic Measures
2. Sweet Comfort Band – Perfect Timing
3. The Daniel Band – Straight Ahead
4. Undercover – Balance of Power
5. Sixpence None the Richer – This Beautiful Mess
6. Petra – Not of This World
7. Amy Grant – Lead Me On
8. Rez – Between Heaven N Hell
9. Margaret Becker – Immigrant’s Daughter
10. Undercover – Branded
11. LifeSavers Underground – Shaded Pain
12. Resurrection Band – Colours
13. Stryper – Soldiers Under Command
14. The Violet Burning – Chosen
15. Altar Boys – Gut Level Music
16. Michael W. Smith – Eye 2 I
17. Jerusalem – Live In His Majesty’s Service
18. Larry Norman –Only Visiting This Planet
19. Daniel Amos – Doppelganger
20. Idle Cure – Tough Love
21. Jennifer Knapp – The Way I Am
22. Sarah Masen – The Dreamlife of Angels
23. Mylon & Broken Heart – Face the Music
24. Amy Grant – Straight Ahead
25. Whiteheart – Freedom
26. Stryper – To Hell With The Devil
27. King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
28. Adam Again – Dig
29. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
30. The 77’s – Pray Naked
31. Bride – Snakes in the Playground
32. Daniel Amos – Horrendous Disc
33. Michael W. Smith – The Big Picture
34. Amy Grant – Age to Age
35. Degarmo & Key – D&K
36. Whitecross – (1987)
37. Shout – In Your Face
38. Barren Cross – Rock for the King
39. Kim Hill – Brave Heart
40. Out of the Grey – (debut)
41. Charlie Peacock – The Secret of Time
42. Mad at the World – Flowers in the Rain
43. Sacred Warrior – Rebellion
44. The Choir – Chase the Kangaroo
45. Bloodgood – Rock in a Hard Place
46. Mylon & Broken Heart – Sheep in Wolve’s Clothing
47. Daniel Amos – Alarma!
48. The 77’s – All Fall Down
49. Undercover – God Rules
50. Stryper – The Yellow and Black Attack
51. Holy Soldier – Holy Soldier
52. Resurrection Band – Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore
53. Guardian – Fire and Love
54. Mastedon – It’s a Jungle Out There
55. Adam Again – Ten Songs
56. The Daniel Band – Run from the Darkness
57. Steven Curtis Chapman – More to this Life
58. Petra – Beat the System
59. Mad at the World – Seasons of Love
60. Saviour Machine – 1
61. Altar Boys – Against the Grain
62. Steve Taylor – Meltdown
63. Mortal – Lusis
64. Darrell Mansfield – Revelation
65. Bloodgood – All Stand Together
66. Margaret Becker – The Reckoning
67. The Choir – Circle Slide
68. One Bad Pig – Smash
69. Mad at the World – Boomerang
70. Resurrection Band – D.M.Z.
71. Mike Stand – Do I Stand Alone?
72. Bryan Duncan – Holy Rollin’
73. Whitecross – Hammer and Nail
74. Messiah Prophet – Master of the Metal
75. Rez – Silence Screams
76. Barren Cross – Atomic Arena
77. Greg X. Volz – The River is Rising
78. Matthew Ward – Toward Eternety
79. Larry Norman – In Another Land
80. Amy Grant – Unguarded
81. The 77’s – The Seventy Sevens (Exit)
82. Russ Taff – Russ Taff
83. Vector – Mannequin Virtue
84. Barnabas – Little Foxes
85. Rez – Innocent Blood
86. Dead Artist Syndrome – Prints of Darkness
87. Stryper – Against the Law
88. Kerry Livgren / A.D. – Timeline
89. Randy Stonehill – Equator
90. Daniel Amos – Mr. Buechner’s Dream
91. Vengeance Rising – Human Sacrifice
92. Steve Taylor – I Predict 1990
93. Mylon & Broken Heart – Crack the Sky
94. Geoff Moore & The Distance – A Place to Stand
95. Petra – More Power to Ya
96. Holy Soldier – Last Train
97. Whiteheart – Tales of Wonder
98. Margaret Becker – Simple House
99. Terry Taylor – Knowledge and Innocence
100. Rich Mullins – A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band
101. Out of the Grey – The Shape of Grace
102. Charlie Peacock – Love Life
103. Keith Green – For Him Who Has Ears to Hear
104. Mortal – Wake
105. The 77’s – Sticks and Stones
106. Prodigal – Electric Eye
107. Barren Cross – State of Control
108. The Crucified – The Crucified
109. Resurrection Band – Awaiting Your Reply
110. Pray for Rain – PFR
111. Kim Hill
112. In 3-D – No Glasses Needed
113. Liason – Liason
114. Jacob’s Trouble – Knock, Breathe, Shine
115. The Prayer Chain – Shawl
116. 4.4.1. – Mourning into Dancing
117. Servant – Light Maneuvers
118. Rez Band – Bootleg Live
119. Circle of Dust – Circle of Dust
120. Barnabas – Approaching Light Speed
121. L.S.U. – Wakin’ Up The Dead
122. Altar Boys – When You’re a Rebel
123. Daniel Amos – Vox Humana
124. Tourniquet – Stop the Bleeding
125. Bloodgood – Detonation
126. Hoi Polloi – Happy Ever After
127. Deliverance
128. Edin Adahl – X-Factor
129. Imperials – This Year’s Model
130. Saint – Too Late for Living
131. Bride – Silence is Madness
132. The Choir – Wide Eyed Wonder
133. Russ Taff – Medals
134. Jerusalem – Warrior
135. Sacred Warrior – Wicked Generation
136. Barnabas – Feel the Fire
137. The Front – The Front
138. Newsboys – Hell is for Wimps
139. Steven Curtis Chapman – Real Life Conversations
140. David Zaffiro – The Other Side
141. Mad at the World – Mad at the World
142. Leslie "Sam" Phillips - The Turning
143. One Bad Pig – Swine Flew
144. Michael W. Smith – Project
145. Idle Cure – 2nd Avenue
146. Fireworks - Live Fireworks!
147. Lifesavers – Kiss of Life
148. Sacred Warrior – Master’s Command
149. Ken Tamplin – An Axe to Grind
150. Believer – Extraction from Mortality
151. L.S.U. – The Grape Prophet
152. Daniel Amos – Motorcycle
153. Mad at the World – Through the Forest
154. Crumbacher – Thunder Beach
155. The Lead – Burn this Record
156. Deliverance – Weapons of Our Warfare
157. Jerusalem – Prophet
158. Mortal – Fathom
159. The Violet Burning – (1996)
160. X-Sinner – Get It
161. Angelica
162. Scattered Few – Sin Disease
163. Michael Knott – Screaming Brittle Siren
164. The Choir – Kissers and Killers
165. Kansas – Vinyl Confessions
166. Sweet Comfort Band – Hearts of Fire
167. Iona - Beyond These Shores
168. Randy Stonehill – Welcome to Paradise
169. Larry Norman – Stranded in Babylon
170. Whitecross – Triumphant Return
171. Margaret Becker - Falling Forward
172. Idle Cure – Idle Cure
173. Sacred Warrior – Wicked Generation
174. Undercover – Boys and Girls Renounce the World
175. Mike Stand – Simple Expression
176. Pray for Rain – Goldie’s Last Day
177. Uthanda – Groove
178. Rage of Angels – Rage of Angels
179. L.S.U. – Cash in Chaos: World Tour
180. Brow Beat: Unplugged Alternative (various)
181. Deliverance – Stay of Execution
182. Tourniquet – Vanishing Lessons
183. Steve Taylor – On the Fritz
184. Ojo – Relative
185. Terry Taylor – A Briefing for the Ascent
186. A.D. – Art of the State
187. Steve Camp – One on One
188. Margaret Becker – Never for Nothing
189. Starflyer 59 – (silver)
190. Bride – Kinetic Faith
191. Michael Gleason – Children of Choices
192. D.A. – Darn Floor, Big Bite
193. The Choir – Diamonds and Rain
194. Rick Cua – Wear Your Colours
195. Whiteheart – Emergency Broadcast
196. Petra – Beyond Belief
197. Kansas – Leftoverture
198. The 77’s – More Miserable Than You’ll Ever Be
199. Mylon & Broken Heart – Big World
200. Phil Keaggy – Sunday’s Child

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Conversation with David Dark

Here's a link to a compressed audio download of a 2-hour discussion/radio interview Bill Keith and I had with David Dark back at the end of May. Thanks to my friend Andrew for putting in a little elbow grease to make this available online.

Monday, May 31, 2010

My Testimony: How I went into debt and started smoking due to the influence of Over the Rhine...

This is an appreciation piece I wrote a few years ago for my all-time favourite band, published privately in a book by and for fans called "etcetera whatever: Photos, poems and prose inspired by Over the Rhine"

It was back in the Summer of '93, on an old pigfarm in western Illinois littered with thousands of tents, the air polluted with dust, heat, noise, and exhaustion, when I first encountered that voice that stopped me dead in my tracks. Something was happening under one of the concert tents that never happens at Cornerstone - the crowd was completely silent, listening to this beautiful, quiet voice singing its way into each person's soul. Amidst all the confusion that is a typical Cornerstone, you could hear a pin drop. I don't remember what the song was, but the band wasn't playing, it was just her voice. It was impossible for me to just walk by. I stopped and listened, and my spirit was held captive by an artistic beauty I had never known before. And my life, from that moment on, was changed...

Before encountering the music of Over the Rhine, I really didn't have much in the way of discerning artistic taste. I was mostly a pop and metal kind of guy, with a newfound love of alternative that would eventually take over. I was into CCM / Christian rock, having basically grown up on the stuff, yet growing tired of the shallow confines of that genre. I remember feeling like there must be more to a life of faith than what the Christian subculture was offering. I read authors like John Fischer and Brennan Manning who were crystallizing and clarifying my understanding of the dissatisfaction and misgivings I was having about that little "christian" world around me. Into this moment in my life of wanting more depth and artistic integrity came the music of two groups who were offering, each in their own way, what I was starved for: Over the Rhine and Vigilantes of Love (two groups that, for many of us, were like 2 sides of the same coin). They opened my eyes to a whole other world of artistic expression of faith that existed not inside the confining walls of the CCM "ghetto", but instead was active in the everyday world. I started noticing a life of faith in a multitude of artists whom I would have previously written off as "secular" simply because they weren't advertising themselves as "Christian" product. Over the Rhine helped draw me away from that place of spiritual condescension by exemplifying how true beauty and artistic integrity could embody a life of faith without needing to compromise either, nor needing to advertise itself as such. Simone Weil says "If I had to choose between loving Christ and loving the truth, I would have to choose to love the truth, convinced that if I am truly seeking the truth, I will eventually fall into the arms of Christ." In the religious circles I knew, it was sometimes true that, in seeking "Christ", people often ended up with an idol of their own making. Over the Rhine isn't exactly an overtly religious group. In fact, many of their avid fans have no interest in religion whatsoever. Over the Rhine express their faith not in ostensibly evangelistic ways, but rather through the continual pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. In doing so, I believe they have done more to deepen my faith in more meaningfully real ways than anything I was previously encountering in the so-called "Contemporary Christian Music" scene.

A few years later, at Cornerstone once again, I was feeling rather lost and discouraged with where my life had taken me (or where I had not taken my life as the case may be). Over the Rhine was the first group to play that year, at the Gallery "pre-festival" show. They were just the right way to start things off for me, and as a surprise, they had just released a new CD! I took that CD back to my tent, put the headphones on, and the first lines of Good Dog Bad Dog cut straight into my heart, resonating immediately with my emotional state at the time. "What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be." The lyrics and music on that CD were exactly what I needed to hear right then, and it reached me perfectly in a way that few CDs ever have. I will never forget that moment. It instantly became my favourite CD, and they secured their place as my favourite group ever. I soon started digging deeper into who this band was and what they were all about.

In an old newsletter from Over the Rhine, Linford writes about sitting in the back of Kaldi's coffeehouse & bookstore, picturing the Inklings meeting in a place like this, C.S. Lewis smoking his pipe and writing (as Linford was now)...
In the spring of 2001, I was also sitting in the back of Kaldi's in downtown Cincinnati, used books lining the walls around me, thinking not of the Inklings, but wondering rather if this was the spot Linford sat at as he wrote that newsletter. I was smoking, not a pipe, but a clove - whose sweet aroma I first (and for many years only) smelled at Over the Rhine concerts, and have since always associated with their music. This was partly due both to their playing in college-towns and to the guy selling their merchandise back then. Todd used to smoke cloves at their gypsy-ish table while selling things like cigar boxes filled with CDs, trading cards, and t-shirts with pictures of clocks and hermits on them.

There has always been something extremely literary about the way Over the Rhine presented themselves, from the fondness for antique photographs, to their poetic lyrics inspired by authors like Rilke, Flannery O'Conner, Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, etc... This literary aspect was one of the key elements of the group that pushed me past being a mere fan to outright obsession (or "commitment", as they would call it). When you are touched so deeply in your soul by art such as this, you want to know where the artists draw their inspiration from - what feeds their spirits and fills those deep wells from which we, the listeners, draw so much life. In those early days especially, the answer you would usually get to that question was (more often than not) the name of a book or author. And soon a bookish cult developed among some of us fans. We would look for literary references in their music, during interviews, while reading those old newsletters, or just while talking with them after shows, making a list for our next trip to the bookstore. They even had weekly recommendations on the website for a while, which brought me back there religiously. I admit to going into a bit of debt filling my bookshelves with their recommendations! But, as the saying goes, I may be broke from buying too many books, but am far richer because of it...

I was in Cincinnati that time because I was on my way south to visit the monastery where Thomas Merton had lived. When Over the Rhine were in my town earlier that year, their current merch guy (and pastor), Dave Nixon, invited me to stay at his house when I was in town. Now this guy didn't know me from Jack the Ripper, and yet these are the kinds of people you find in attendance at Over the Rhine gatherings, welcoming the stranger and all that... Dave showed me around town a bit, driving with me to see the group at a concert hall near the infamous "Sudsy Malones" where they played some of their first shows. Dave also showed me where "The Grey Ghost" was - the beautiful house Karin and Linford were living in at the time. The thought crossed my mind that Linford's book collection was right in there, and how cool would it be to actually look firsthand at the library that inspired so much of mine?!

Over the years I have seen the group over 40 times in concert, collected all their CDs, and never have I been disappointed by their music; never has it failed to move me or to restore my spirit and remind me of where I want to be, what kind of person I hope to become. They've given me far more that just a row of CDs for my collection. Among other things, they've shown how genuine faith can be expressed in the world - artfully, with truth and integrity - and I can't imagine what my life today would be like without their influence, much less how empty my bookshelves would be...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

true friendship (a quote by David Dark)

This may be my favourite quote by David... at least at this moment it certainly hits home and "names" it pretty accurately. Rejection is almost universally one of our greatest fears, one of our greatest hurts, and one of our greatest sins.
(I'm modifying this slightly into the present tense)

"No so-called friendship that requires the denying of another friendship can be worthy of the name, and any joy that requires the exclusion of a peer will be forever illegitimate."
-David Dark (Everyday Apocalyptic)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Quote by: Alan Watts

The message of the preacher, 52 Sundays a year, is “Dear people: be good”. We’ve heard it ad nauseum. Or: “Believe in this…” he may occasionally give a sermon on what happens after death, or the nature of God, but basically the sermon is “be good”. But how? As St. Paul said, “To will is present with me, but how to do that which is good I find not for the good that I would, that I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do”. How are we going to be changed? Obviously there cannot be a vitality of religion without vital religious experience, and that’s something much more than emoting over singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. But you see, what happens in our ecclesiastical goings-on is that we run a talking-shop. We pray, we tell God what to do, or give advice (as if he didn’t know). We read the scriptures – and remember, talking of the bible, Jesus said, “you search the scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life”. St. Paul made some rather funny references about the spirit which giveth life, and the letter which kills. I think the bible ought to be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter. We need it no more because the Spirit is with us. It’s a dangerous book, and to worship it is, of course, a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone, because nobody in his senses can confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarified and abstract... So with this endless talking in church, we can preach, but by and large preaching does nothing but excite a sense of anxiety and guilt. And you can’t love out of that. No scolding, no rational demonstration of the right way to behave is going to inspire people with love. Something else must happen. You say “well what are we going to do about it?” DO about it?? You have no faith? Be quiet! Even Quakers aren’t quiet; they sit in meeting and think (at least some of them do). But supposing we are really quiet, we don’t think. Be absolutely silent through and through… You say, “Well, you’ll just fall into a blank!” Oh? Ever tried?
-Alan Watts