Category Archives: Everyday Things

Kind of an Awesome Exchange

Or, in the very least, it will give you a chuckle. And I keep my thoughts about the subject matter of the exchange all to myself (but you won’t catch me listening to kanye west even if i’m dead).

@derekwebb: RT @amazonmp3: Today only, get @kanyewest’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for just $3.99: http://amzn.to/d9V8Zj #blackfridaydeals

@BenBuckley8: serious question: why are you promoting Kanye?

@derekwebb: because he’s a great artist. i trust him

@BenBuckley8: I largely agree, but for me, that no longer overcomes his public boorishness and acrimonious conceit

@derekwebb: were you an english major?

Goal!

So, once upon a time in 2007, I listed some goals for myself.

Now, in 2010, I can report that one of those goals is underway. I began work this summer for a Master’s degree. Two classes (and I got an A in both), and I’m registered full time for the fall semester. If all goes well, I expect to be finished Dec 2011. So yay for accomplishing goals, even if it is years past when you expected.

Let it Flow

My name is Richard, and I like to cry.

Okay, so maybe ‘like’ is too strong a word. And maybe it isn’t fitting with the theme of this post to insinuate I am admitting a fault, like an alcoholic at an AA meeting.

What I really want to say is that I’m now 35 years old and finally I cry about things. I’m sure I cried a lot as a kid, and I know I’ve cried at significant, like-altering moments as an adult. But yesterday I listened to Andrew Peterson’s new album, Counting Stars for the first time, and two thirds of it had tears welling up in my eyes. Megan and I took the kids to see How To Train Your Dragon at the dollar theater a week or so ago, and I cried. There are a few books that have me crying every time I read them. It’s always funny when the kids see it and they freak out, wondering what in the world is going on.

As an individual, I still consider myself emotionally defective. But maybe I’m moving in the right direction.

In Feast Or Fallow

I understand that in good writing being clear is more heavily weighted than being clever. All I want now is persuade you to listen to this album, so, no gimmicks here. This is going to be straight clarity. Perspicuity with a capital ‘P’.

In Feast Or Fallow is Sandra McCracken’s 7th full length album, and if you were to ask me, I would tell you that it is the crown among them. At this point I don’t feel like I can praise it enough. IFOF succeeds in everything it sets out to accomplish. It is beautiful, convicting, encouraging, edifying, and inspiring.

Sandra McCracken is a pioneer in the movement to write new hymns, something the church needs badly. I only have a download of the record (for now), so I can’t check liner notes to be certain, but I believe all but four of the 15 songs are written, music and lyric, by McCracken and/or her friends. Those songs not on this list (Give Reviving, I Glory In Christ, 980 Anne Steele, and Faith’s Review and Expectation – a reworking of the classic Amazing Grace) are older hymns, but set to new music. The lyrics of all the songs are powerful and effective. They do just what hymns are supposed to do… point out our failures, and Christ’s successes. Repeatedly as I listen to the album I am convicted of my self-reliance, and assured of my salvation on the basis of Christ alone. By the end I am run through the wringer, but there isn’t any trip that’s more encouraging to take

The sound of the album matches the lyrics in excellence. Derek Webb produced, and he did a spectacular job. It has a very organic, natural feel, but technology is clearly used to add textures and sounds to the music. It adds atmosphere and weight musically, that is quite fitting to the lyrical content.

I encourage to buy it (for less than $6 at amazon), but if you’re hesitant, at least pop on over to http://www.newoldhymns.com and listen to the whole record streaming for free. You can also hear an interview about the album at https://www.noisetrade.com/sandramccracken to get some insight behind individual songs. Be wise and discerning; stock up during the years of great plenty.

Through Songs I Was First Undone

tsiwfu

Justin McRoberts is a musician and a christian. I first learned of him back in 1999 when he was on tour with Bebo Norman. I have followed him from a distance since then… always interested in what he was doing, buying a couple of the nine albums he’s released in that time, but not devoted like I am to some other artists. But when I first heard about his latest project, Through Songs I Was First Undone, I was intrigued.

I learned about it on twitter, when @justinmcroberts was first contemplating the song selection. What’s interesting about this album is that it is all cover songs, and, surprisingly, they are all what is called secular music. An odd move for a musician that, while independent, is certainly in the christian music world. Two names he tossed around were Toad the Wet Sprocket and Nine Inch Nails. Now, these two bands, at points in my personal history, have held the #1 slot on my favorite band list, and so my interest was officially piqued. When I got an email from the people promoting the album, informing me that they would like me to review his latest project, I jumped at the opportunity.

The point McRoberts is making is that God can and does use all sorts of means to accomplish His tasks. These songs, some written by unbelievers, can be used by the Holy Spirit to encourage, strengthen, shape, and mold us into the image of Christ. To rebuff us, and correct our misunderstandings of God Himself, or correct our misapplications of His Word. McRoberts has said that these songs have as much of God in them as do songs by overtly christian artists. I would add that, in many cases, they have more. He believes it is his duty to share and celebrate the presence of God in these pieces of art. You can read his thoughts on this record, the individual songs, and other topics on his blog, at http://www.justinmcroberts.com/blog.

The album opens with a song called “Georgia Lee”, written by Tom Waits. I’d never heard this song before, and I confess I’m glad I heard McRoberts’ version before the original. Waits voice would not have kept me around to be undone by the song. It is about the unsolved death of a poor black girl in California in 1997. The song questions, as do all thinking Christians, how evil can occur in a world where our loving God is ruling. The song doesn’t provide an answer, implied or otherwise. We’re just left with the reality that evil does occur in this world.

The next song, The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, comes as if in answer the lingering question of the first. The only way we can deal with The Problem of Evil is by acknowledging it, and trusting in God. We want an answer that is both easy understand and easy to accept, but it is not forthcoming. Instead, God gives us what we need… revelation through His Son.

“Save Me” by Aimee Mann is the third song, and is another that I had never heard before. And its a fun one, probably my favorite on the album. The cover of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Fly From Heaven” is, on the other hand, sitting at the bottom of the pile. This, I’m sure, is due to my sentimental connection to Toad, and can’t be held against Mr. McRoberts. I don’t think anyone else could play the song in a way that would please me. “Wildflowers” is a classic version, fairly true to the original. Next is “Head Like A Hole”, originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails. Before Johnny Cash’s amazing recording of “Hurt”, I don’t think any christian musician considered recording a NIN song. NIN is atheistic industrial rock. McRoberts definitely changes the feel of the song. When Trent Reznor sings “bow down before the one you serve/ you’re going to get what you deserve”, he clearly has a sarcastic, sardonic intent. However, when McRoberts sings this line, you get the feeling that it is a sincere statement. Serve God faithfully, and you will be rewarded.

When “No One To Blame” began, I thought it was a Boston song. I remain convinced someone copied the primary chord progression in the hook. This is followed by “Stripped”, a cover of a song by Depeche Mode. I love the sound of this recording. I can’t help but smile when I hear the various guitar (I think) sounds emulating the synthetic sounds DM originally used. This is followed by a short number called “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. I’m interested to read the reasons behind McRoberts choosing this song, as its just a bare bones request for something desired, without much if any detail or context. A good song, in any case, that I find I listen to twice before continuing on with my listening.

The last song on the record (and the longest incidentally) is a cover of George Michael’s “Freedom 90”. I confess to not being a George Michael fan, and not especially endeared to this song. However, it fits nicely on the record and, despite being unfavored by me, is not a skipper.

Sonically, the album situates itself into a mostly acoustic folk/rock genre. I enjoy that style of music, but I especially enjoy other elements that were brought in on some songs to mirror the recordings by the original artists. I recommend the album as one for easy listening and (when you’re in the mood) for not so easy listening.

Books Read in 2009

2009 Books

January
#1 The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Great book, highly recommended. It has definitely changed my perspective on food and farming. Hopefully we will apply much of what was learned from this book.

#2 How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (audio)
Very informative. I got the feeling, though, that the author (a Roman Catholic himself) was SO positive about the Catholic Church that he must have skipped or glossed over some history. Also, he tries to argue that Socialism is a result of Protestantism.

February
Ø

March
#3 The Hobbit
Read it to the kids for the first time.

#4 The Shack (audio)
Hm. It’s essentially an attempt to answer the Problem of Evil. I give it a D-.

#5 100 Cupboards
Reread in preparation for Dandelion Fire.

April
#6 Ants At Work
Good little book. I’d say it’s about high school level or so, but it’s a good example of how science works. Observations are made, questions are asked, and experiments are designed to answer the questions. Didn’t learn as much about ants as I had wanted, but that’s okay. The book touches on a subject that we don’t know much about… colony behavior in social insects. She proposes possible explanations, but admits that we really don’t know why they act the way they do.

#7 The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture (audio – free for a limited time here)
Pretty good, but probably could be half the size. Here’s my summary: We are relevant to culture when we impact people on an individual level. We are relevant when we love one another, and the world.

May
#8 Dandelion Fire

June
#9 A Primer on Worship and Reformation

July
Ø

August
#10 Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl
I gave it five stars with around 60 pages left. Having finished it, I wish I could give it six.

What I consider the major theme of the book from page 70:

Are we on a world kick-started by a god who doesn’t know how to drive? Is this god embarrassed? Did he not know that snowflakes would come with avalanches as well as the quaint village scenes they ruin?

Of course He did. This God is big, bigger than the world. Faith is hard on the back of a motorcycle, it is hard when the Tilt-A-Whirl reverses its spin, when the bright lights blur into confusion against the night sky. But faith brings with it the only possibility of peace and joy in this world–the only possibility of laughter on this mad, made ride.

#11 Jayber Crow

September
#12 Why Evolution Is True
a few posts:
Evolution/Creation/Intelligent Design
Millions of Years of Change
Final Review

#13 The Design Revolution
Audiobook from christianaudio.com. Often complicated arguments were hard to follow via audiobook. I would recommend hard copy.

October

November

December

The Greatest Show on Earth

So the Library very kindly and conveniently notified me yesterday that they were holding Richard Dawkins’ latest book for me. I barely made it in the door to get it… in fact, the only reason they let me in is because the book was held. If I had to get it off the shelf, they wouldn’t have let me (Thus, I do not have Tile Your World, which I would like to review before tiling my bathroom floor).

So, similar to my reading through Coyne’s book, I will be posting various thoughts and insights as I read the book. Last night I read chapter 1, “Only A Theory?”. Here is my summary of points:

  • Creationists are idiots.
  • Evolutionists are persecuted in schools.
  • “Senior clergy and theologians” don’t have a problem with evolution, and so neither should you.
  • Creationists are idiots.
  • Defining terms: Theories and Facts.
  • Creationists are really idiots.

We’re off to a wonderful start.

Final Review

Here’s the review of Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True that I posted on goodreads.com when I finished the book:

I’d give it 2.5 stars if I could. Seeing how I think he’s wrong, though, I’ll downgrade rather than upgrade. [I gave it two stars]

I probably agree with 70% of what’s in the book, which may be surprising, me being a creationist. I’m not going to try to untangle all the mixtures of agreement and disagreement.. but its interesting that I definitely am fully onboard with over half of the book, but still disagree with the major premise; that evolution is true.

Coyne succeeds in presenting a case for neo-darwinian evolution. By which I mean, he successfully explains observations in light of modern evolutionary theory. He paints a fairly complete systematic understanding of the history of life. I recommend the book to everyone for this reason. E.O. Wilson is correct when he writes in the blurb on the back that this is a “clear, well-written explanation of evolution.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t begin to explain the serious difficulties of darwinism (he outright denies the existence of such problems!). That’s a major drawback of the book… it presents it more as a defensive boast rather than a scientific and critical examination of evidence.

A further detriment is the apparently intentional strawman portrayal of creationists. There is an endnote on page 33 that explains the creationist position as allowing for microevolutionary change within biblical ‘kinds’. But this is the only place in the book creationists are treated this honestly. Everywhere else ‘special creation’ is caricatured as a special creation event for each and every species of organism. It is dishonest and, once again, takes away from the argument of the book.

The final failure of the book I will mention is the last chapter, where Coyne attempts to deal with philosophical and metaphysical implications of evolution. It is a sad attempt… while he should be praised for recognizing the need to deal with these issues, he should have stopped when he honestly stated the case: “How can you derive meaning, purpose, or ethics from evolution? You can’t.” (p225)

Here are the two posts I made while reading the book:
Evolution/Creation/Intelligent Design
millions of years of change

Science Is Real

The innovative and always fun band They Might Be Giants has a new album releasing next Tuesday. It is geared towards children, similar to their recent albums Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s. This one, though, is about SCIENCE. It’s called… predictably… Here Comes Science. Being a science nerd kind of guy and loving their other albums I have (which includes a few non-kids music records), I preordered it. I just heard for the first time one of the songs on the album, Science Is Real. It’s as catchy as I expected, but also more disturbing. Here are the lyrics:

Science is real
From the Big Bang to DNA
Science is real
From evolution to the Milky Way
I like the stories
About angels, unicorns and elves
Now I like the stories
As much as anybody else
But when I’m seeking knowledge
Either simple or abstract
The facts are with science
The facts are with science

Science is real
Science is real
Science is real

Science is real
From anatomy to geology
Science is real from astrophysics to biology
A scientific theory
Isn’t just a hunch or guess
It’s more like a question
That’s been put through a lot of tests
And when a theory emerges
Consistent with the facts
The proof is with science
The truth is with science

Science is real
Science is real
Science is real

Science is real

Now, I suspected (to put it lightly) the album would talk about evolution and billions of years and other Scientific types of things that I don’t agree with… but I wasn’t too concerned with that. I’m not afraid of exposing my kids to evolutionary thinking even though I disagree with it. I have them watch nature documentaries pretty regularly, and have even had real, actual conversations about evolution with them. It’s not even that I completely disagree with everything under the umbrella of evolutionary biology, which seems to be hard to understand for even the experts (like Jerry Coyne), who either don’t understand or refuse to accept that I actually believe what I do. But that’s another story. The point, again, is that I wasn’t worried about the scientific sorts of things on this new album that are not in line with my own thoughts and beliefs.

However, it seems to me that this so goes far beyond just the ‘scientific’ sorts of things. What is the implication of the repeated lines, “science is real” and “the truth is with science”?

Science is real, so what is that opposed to? A few things are made explicit in the song, and cheif among them is angels. Angels aren’t real? Well, where’s the scientific evidence of that? And what’s this about only using science when you’re seeking knowledge? Huh? Logic? Philosophy? Anything that is abstract is now ruled as incapable of producing knowledge?

I’m bothered by how far this song is going. It’s much further than science can ever go, which just goes to show you that there’s a worldview behind every idea, guiding and directing it.

Guest Post: Melanie Seibert Reviews Stockholm Syndrome

Earlier in the month Derek Webb‘s fifth studio album, Stockholm Syndrome, was released digitally with much interest and controversy. Posted here is a review of the album by my friend Melanie Seibert. Follow her on Twitter @melanie_seibert.

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A Review of Derek Webb’s Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is a disease.

Ever since the famous 1973 bank robbery, experts in human psychology accept the fact that hostages sometimes sympathize with their captors. Its surprising frequency does not negate the fact that Stockholm Syndrome is a sickness. This is the pathological backdrop that Webb presents his fifth solo studio album.

Sonically, the album is mature; Webb isn’t afraid to contrast atonal choruses with melodic verses, as in “Black Eye,” or throw a straight-up dance party, like he does in “Cobra Con” and “Jena & Jimmy.” Old-school fans of Webb, who expect to hear him accompanied by acoustic guitar, with an occasional electric guitar track added in, may be taken aback. This is not Caedmon’s Call-era Webb, but a much more reflective, provocative, and confident solo artist.

Surprising as the sonic jolts of Stockholm Syndrome may be, though, they cannot match Webb’s lyrical ability to unsettle his listeners. A minor frenzy has erupted surrounding the song “What Matters More,” in which Webb criticizes Christendom for its intolerance and hypocrisy toward gays. Worse than that, he uses a swear word.

Careful listeners, though, will find much more disturbing fare here. In truth, “What Matters More” is simply one facet in Webb’s depressingly accurate gem, which functions as an extended meditation on human depravity. This album is best viewed as a whole, and it’s designed to be a testament to humanity’s demented affection for everything that robs us, holds us captive, and ultimately destroys us.

Webb is no pharisaical finger-pointer, either. He numbers himself among the depraved — for instance, the album cover is a close-up of him with a black eye. Trackwise, “Black Eye” is the strongest evidence of this, as Webb sets up his theme, making our skin crawl by calling a violent captor his “lover.” He clarifies that a “black eye is all is gonna take for me to love you. It’s written in my constitution.”

And it’s uncomfortably impossible to forget the violence inherent in the album’s theme when you hear “Jena & Jimmy” – probably the most rollicking date rape song ever recorded.

Perhaps most fascinating is the way the theme of sickness invades Webb’s portrayals of human love. In every single instance of the word “love” in this album, the concept bears no resemblance to the biblical standard of sincere care for another individual. Rather, it’s a sick obsession or a selfish act of pride. Case in point: “Freddie, Please,” a scathing ode to Fred Phelps (you know, the “God hates fags” guy) in which Webb, playing the role of Jesus, asks, “How can you tell them you love Me, when you hate Me, Freddie? Please.”

But for all this album’s painful truths about how sick we are, the hope of redemption is not absent. It is subtle, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there. Specifically, Webb declares in the last track that, “in the end, it’ll all be okay… So, if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end… There’s hope for everyone.”

And long after the music has finished playing, when the album’s story of sin and redemption still haunts you, you will cling to that last phrase. It’s a necessary reminder.