Friday, October 30, 2009

Music for the Journey

As I was driving in to work today, on yet another rainy day, I was listening to a Mewithoutyou CD and a line from one of the songs really stuck with me and caused me to think a little deeper about what the artist was saying. This got me thinking (always a dangerous thing) about some of the artists whose music has influenced or impacted me in some way over the years either to think more deeply about my own beliefs, challenge me to look at things from a different perspective, or just inspired me in some way. With that in mind I thought I'd put a list together of some of those artists. You may have never heard of some of these, but I would encourage you to seek them out. I think you will find it worth the effort.

Bill Mallonee: Bill, as a part of his band, Vigilantes of Love, and as a solo artist is one of the greatest songwriters of the last 25 years in my opinion. Most of you have probably never heard of him, but his willingness to speak honestly about the dark side of the human journey while still offering the hope of God's grace has always been a great comfort in my own personal journey. Most of his songs deal with the struggles of everyday life while making much larger statements about the fallen world we live in. Favorite songs: Drunk on the Tears, Parting Shot, Numb, Welcome to Struggleville.

Bruce Cockburn: Another great songwriter and musician, Bruce never fails to challenge my thinking, especially from a political perspective. While we often come down on different sides of the political fence, he always causes me to think about issues from the other side's point of view. In some cases he has even caused me to change my perspective. Bruce's songwriting has an amazing way of describing a scene where you feel like you are there seeing things through his eyes. His music, while certainly not overtly so, has an underlying theme of faith and grace and often provides some very insightful spiritual musings. Most consider him a Christian Mystic and I would probably agree with that description. Favorite songs: Strange Waters, Lord of the Starfields, Pacing the Cage, Let the Bad Air Out, Wondering Where the Lions Are, Mango.

Over The Rhine: OTR write some of the most beautifully poetic lyrics I've ever heard, and Karen Berquist's voice is simply angelic. The sheer beauty of the music and lyrics is inspiring and I often write with their music playing in the background. Their music is full of deep insights and always leaves me thinking. Favorite songs: Latter Days, Born, Changes Come, The Trumpet Child, Ohio, Drunkards Prayer, My Love is a Fever.

Rich Mullins: Rich simply wrote some of the most amazing worship music of the last century. His songs describing the vast beauty of God's creation always pop into my head when I see the mountains or the ocean or a glorious sunset. He really had a way of putting words to my feelings and turning my eyes heavenward. Favorite Songs: The Color Green, Creed, Land of My Sojourn.

Bob Dylan: I can't make a list of songrwriters and not mention the master of them all. I know many can't stand his voice, including my wife, but his lyrics are always interesting and challenging. You may not know what he's talking about sometimes, but he always makes you want to dig deeper into the lyrics to try and understand. Maybe it's just my proclivity for unique voices (i.e. Victoria Willams, John Prine, Neil Young, Bjork, etc.) but I actually think his voice lends authenticity to his music. Listening to him as a kid is where I developed my love for folk music and good songwriting. His songs still make me think to this day and I often discover new things even in songs I've heard a hundred times. Favorite Songs: Every Grain of Sand, I Believe in You, My Back Pages, Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar, God on our Side, I Shall Be Released, Tangled Up In Blue.

Keith Green: If you're a Christian and Keith's music doesn't challenge you in your walk with God and cause you to look in the mirror, then I don't know what will. He was certainly not afraid to challenge the church and it's often lazy approach to the Christian walk. He always told it like it was without worrying about who he offended. Oh that we could all be this honest and courageous in standing up for our beliefs. Favorite songs: Asleep in the Light. ("Jesus rose from the dead, and you can't even get out of bed" - ouch!), So You Want to Go Back to Egypt, The Sheep and the Goats.

The Choir: Their music is difficult to explain, kind of a spacey, moody, alternative sound heavy on the reverb. But lyrically, they are always interesting and always make me want to dig a little deeper. I started to listen to them in college in the early 90's as I was expanding my musical horizon beyond hard rock and heavy metal and getting into more esoteric music. Sometimes the meaning of their songs is not always apparent on the first few listens. It takes a little more time for the meaning to soak in, which in my opinion is what makes them so interesting. Favorite Songs: Circle Slide, Chase the Kangaroo, About Love, Weather Girl, Wilderness, Sad Face, Yellow Skies.

Mewithoutyou: This may be one of the most unique bands I've ever listed to. I couldn't describe their music if I tried, but lyrically they are amazing. I find them to be a real divider of people, i.e. you either love them or hate them. As with The Choir, the meaning of their songs is not only seldom apparent on first listen, it's typically not apparent after multiple listens either, which is what really makes them intriguing to me. Most songs are based on ancient writings and parables from different traditions, some Christian, some not, and are always full of rich imagery and symbolism. Favorite songs: A Sweater Poorly Knit, The Angel of Death Came to David's Room, In a Market Dimly Lit, Timothy Hay, A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains, Bullet to Binary, A Stick a Carrot and a String.

So, who are some of the artists that have influenced you or moved you in some way?

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the line that I've been dwelling on all day is, "a glass can only spill what it contains." I'll let you all mull that over on your own.

God Bless,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not Quite 40, But Getting Closer

Well another birthday has come and gone. I turned 38 on Saturday and took another step closer to 40. As I typically do around my birthday, I like to take a little time to reflect on the last year and on my life in general and contemplate just exactly how I got to this point in the journey. This year I am again reminded of how blessed I truly am. God has given me a wonderful wife, who constantly stands by me and supports me. He has given me 3 wonderful children who are growing into outstanding young men and women. He has placed us in a growing and vibrant church that constantly challenges me in my walk with God. He has given me great friends to walk this journey with. He has blessed me with a great job that is challenging and also allows me the flexibility I desire in my schedule to be involved in my children's various activities. I could go on, but you get the point.

It's interesting the path that our lives end up taking. It's seldom the way we picture it when we're young. If you had told me in high school or even college that I would end up being an insurance broker, I would have told you that you were crazy. In fact over the last year I've been wrestling with what God has called me to do from a career standpoint and have considered other career options that are more in line with the things that I'm passionate about. One thing I've always desired is to serve God on a more "full time" basis. However, as I've prayed and thought about it, I've realized that I already serve God on a full time basis if everything I do is for His glory. Whether that's being a husband, father, insurance broker, friend, etc. I've also come to realize that pursuing those options at this point in my life would take me away from what God has truly called me to do, being an involved and loving husband and father. This realization has brought me to a place of real peace and contentment in my life and made me more aware that I really do have a great job and work with great people, something not everyone has.

I don't know what God has in store for me in the future and, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago about pursuing your dreams, I'm not abandoning the pursuit of those dreams as I believe God placed them there for a reason. I'm just allowing God to take the lead and open the doors in His time. In the end, what He has planned for us is far greater than anything we could dream up. It's so easy to become restless, but in doing so we miss what God has for us now. Instead of always worrying and thinking about what's next, I'm learning to enjoy living in each moment. I'm slowing learning to enjoy today's blessings instead of always wanting more.

To quote one of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs: "So many miles, so many doors. Some need patience, some need force. All fall open in their own due course."

God Bless,

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama, the Great Peacemaker! Are You Kidding Me?

I hadn't intended to write a political blog this weekend, but when I woke up this morning and read that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I just couldn't help myself. In fact, I had been preparing my thoughts for my annual birthday blog, which I plan to write in the next day or so as I have a chance to reflect on the last year. But in the meantime, I had to comment on this news. As most of you who read this blog on a regular basis know, I'm fairly conservative in most of my viewpoints, but I don't consider myself a republican. There's just too much baggage with that label. That being said, it's probably fairly obvious that I don't agree with the majority of the President's policy positions. In fact, I strongly oppose many of them. But let me ask you to put aside your party affiliation and whether or not you like the president when answering the following question:

What in the world has President Obama accomplished in his career, either as president or prior to the election, that would earn him a Nobel Peace Prize?

The answer is very simple, NOTHING!

He was a "community organizer" before being a senator, whatever that is. He authored no significant legislation as a senator, in fact he spent most of his time campaigning. As president, his healthcare plan has met with significantly more opposition that he expected and has been a complete disaster, of which I am grateful and hope it never does pass. He was elected on the premise of getting our troops out of Iraq. We're still there and not leaving anytime soon. He promised to close Gitmo, releasing dozens of terrorists into the US prison system and granting them the same rights as US citizens. Gitmo is still open so he hasn't even come through on a bad promise. He promised to turn the economy around, however, unemployment is higher that it's been since the early 80's after President Carter ran the economy into the ground. And by the way he's won one too. He's promised to redistribute wealth, taking from the rich giving to the poor. How has that worked out so far? President Johnson promised the same thing in the 60's and guess what, we still have poverty in this country.

Oh, that's right, he did sign an executive order to allow for the release of federal funding to pay for abortions in foreign countries. That's a real humanitarian thing to do, fund the killing of unborn babies.

So apparently all you have to do to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is make a lot of promises, but not really accomplish anything. Since that seems to be the case...

I promise to end world hunger.
I promise to bring world peace.
I promise to make everyone wealthy.
I promise to you will always be healthy.
I promise whatever you'd like to hear so you'll elect me.

Do you suppose I'll win it next year? Oh, yeah, I forgot, I'm not the "messiah", just a lowly blogger here in the Midwest. This used to be a prestigious award, now it's just become a joke. We used to award excellence and achievement, now as long as we say the right thing we're rewarded, it doesn't really matter what we actually do. God help us.

God Bless,