look on up.

I would sit to write this one over and over again in the last couple of months, only to run face first into a brick wall of writer’s block every time I tried. I think it’s because I recoiled at the thought of coming across as a hypocrite and had trouble scaling the scope of this down to a readable length. Besides that, I’ve had time to digest some life circumstances that I’ve been chewing on as of late, especially in a week that couldn’t have been more appropriate to reflect on it all.

Last week, the church I intern at observed a media fast – taking a break from online social platforms and the digital universes we live in for a couple of days to reflect, pray, spend quality time with people and God in observance of Jesus’ last days before the crucifixion and resurrection. Taking a break from Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram has been something on my mind, but admittedly, I made the excuse that I live parts of my life on social media that sustain communication with my internship, family, and friends. How else would I maintain them? I kept shelving this personal project, knowing deep down that it was necessary and needed, but I eventually let it slip between the traffic of ministry projects and theology papers to write… until this last week.

Two Sundays ago, a breaker switch flipped. I can remember mentally freezing in the sanctuary after second service in the buzz of people shuffling out, saying hello, and talking about lunch plans, thinking to myself that I need to go home. Go home, rest, and unplug. I scratched my head over this notion, because it came out of nowhere. With minimal notification, I packed a few belongings and essentials in my Saturn and drove to Minneapolis with the intention of spending some quality time with God away from the noise. It was the perfect time to unplug. In addition, I was seeking a change in scenery in the hopes that it would be part of the antidote for a set of nebulous symptoms that were pointing to some kind of renal condition. Two rounds of antibiotics and a physician’s visit in Lacrosse throughout the last two months have been giving few answers and at this point, I figured it was only a matter of time when it all came to a head when the symptoms began to collectively get worse. The first day and a half at home was spent not on my phone, without my laptop, and spending some time absorbing scripture (more specifically the Gospel of Matthew), prayer, and brainstorming. It was well lived until Monday afternoon when (long story short) I doubled over in pain in a Target parking lot and was taken to United Hospital in Saint Paul. Kidney stones.

Laying in an emergency room in downtown Saint Paul, pumped with enough Morphine to put a fully-grown gorilla to bed, and weathering excruciating pain led me into a profound spiritual time. The video below is front man and worship leader for Bethel Church in Redding, California providing context for Bethel Music’s newest album, Have It All. In this video he talks abut a cull of circumstances that led to a mental breakdown and having to medicate panic attacks. The first line in this clip is… “True worship happens when there’s nothing else. When there’s no other options.”

I had no other options in that hospital bed, because I was emptied. No social media, no physical strength left, and emotionally drained. The only viable option was surrender to God. Surrendering the most acute, excruciating pain I’ve felt. I only had the breath that the Lord sustained and in that moment, it was weirdly enough – and in a good way. It’s kind of hard to explain, but to have experienced a dependence on God that could have only come through circumstances like that was a significant experience for me.

Upon my release later that evening and returning to Winona, I was in a time of prayer with a few other ministry leaders this weekend, leafing through some old notes scratched from a couple years ago in a worn journal and came across a great passage of scripture in 1st Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul spent three Sabbath’s in Thessalonica – an area of Greece that was a crucial Italian crossroad and port city with a church made up of primarily, Gentiles. Because of the amount of persecution he and the church endured, Paul didn’t stay too long, but a few commentaries I found about the Thessalonian epistles (letters) talk about how the themes of endurance and giving thanks in everything help reinforce the circumstances in the letter. It gives context for verses such as this that made me think of Brian Johnson’s thoughts and my experiences in the week…

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18

It’s like Brian Johnson says later on in the video, surrender is a process that comes with giving up the smallest of things, the biggest of events, and all the subtleties in between. Being hospitalized gave me the shot to learn dependence and that was huge. So did taking a break from social media – the smaller of details. Like I said in the beginning, the words never quite materialized when I tried to write this last fall and even on break before coming back to Winona. My inspiration is drawn from the well of a pastor from Oklahoma City, a class presentation I gave last semester, my roommates, and of course – the forthcoming Relient K record. Part of my recovery process is sifting through the 30,000-foot issues and the smallest crevices of my present routine, every relationship, habit, attitude, and unsaid thing in between. Admittedly, this has been an area of my life that I’ve altogether ignored for all of high school and most of college. I assimilated to a platform that is so commonplace and widely used, that I never even saw how much of my idle time is spent chained at the ankles and wrists to my devices until I took a break from them. Relient K’s new song, Look on Up, touches on how the beauty of things like sunsets, the face of a mountain or hillside, and even ourselves get lost in the trimming of every minute detail we don’t like. We filter and crop it until its very essence is basically gone and we lose appreciation for anything natural and unscathed by scant editing. I know. I’ve been there. It’s actually a very poignant song for the age we live in that calls us to appreciate the simple things in life. But doesn’t that feel hard when it seems like everyone has it better than us?

Craig Groeschel of Life Church in Oklahoma City quoted pastor Steven Furtick in his new book called, #Struggles when he said, “We compare our behind the scenes to other people’s highlight reels.” At this point in my life, a lot of friendships are looking very different. Many of my friends are getting engaged, married, beginning careers, moving, and starting families – most of them are my age or not that much older and admittedly it makes me think, “I’m missing out or doing something wrong.” And it doesn’t even stop there. I sometimes go to the simplest of photos or Snapchats of our friends hanging out with people, doing things on the weekends, taking trips, etc. and we wonder why I’m not doing the same thing. I’m sure we all share these same sentiments to a certain degree.

I don’t exactly know how I’m going to continue with this social media fast, because I don’t want to blanketly bash social media behind a keyboard without lending anything good to it, because there are some indisputably good things about social media. I just know that after an eventful week, I know I can’t really go back to the way I used it before. It’s just not the same. I see the difference when I sit down with people and don’t feel like I need to whip my phone out upon feeling the buzz of it going off for mundane notifications. The conversations feel more real and authentic. I care more about the people I’m around and what’s going on in their lives rather than comparing it to the events on a news feed. I like that I can feel like life is actually going okay and that my circumstances are fine when I disengage from it.

I think Holy Week was the best time to experience all of this, because I had the chance to back drop all these recent circumstances against the events of Jesus suffering a barbaric execution as an innocent man and Son of the Living God to be resurrected three days later, conquering death. Through that event we have the freedom to surrender and crucify our insecurities, blemishes, social standings, and need for approval into his wrists in the way of Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It’s a gentle reminder to me to look on up to the cross when I feel like life isn’t really how I want it to be, because when I am weary from painful illnesses or from finding myself comparing my behind the scenes to everyone else, His yoke is easy and His burden, light (Matthew 11:28-30). Live it in the moment and know that Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:34 – “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring troubles of its own.”

 

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Red Rocks Worship | The Rooftop EP

Placing roots just outside the mile high city, Red Rocks Worship is a collective of musicians who are on the worship team for Red Rocks Church in Littleton, Colorado. One of my roommates found a link a mutual friend of ours shared of the group’s latest EP recorded in a single session from a rooftop in downtown Denver. He started playing the last song, All I Want, and all of us were hooked. The finger plucked chord progression that transitions into stellar vocal performances, a surprisingly thick bass line, and well balanced percussion drew me into this record, because it brings worship into an inviting, intimate atmosphere. At this point in my life I can enjoy a big crowd with bombastic instrumentation in a packed sanctuary, but I’ve found that sense of the organic in times of worship with a few friends with nothing more than an acoustic guitar become some of the most memorable moments. The project starts out with Fill This Place, which begins dimly with bells, piano, and a guitar that sounds like it was recorded on a rainy day with Joshua Radin or The Weepies, but strong bass drums, and a robust set of musicians built this up into a release in electric guitars and powerful vocals. One Great Passion is the stylistic middle ground between the two, keeping a mid paced tempo and putting a foot in both poles on this album – ranging from the soft and acoustic to the big and booming. In the times I’ve reviewed worship music on this blog, I’ve always had to tag on a disclaimer that discusses my sentiments about worship music being corporatized and 12321567_1567863050129930_7679414217313514340_n ergo reduced to radio “hits” that carry little artistic merit. I still hold those assumptions to a certain degree, but the truth is that there is some well crafted worship music that’s been resuscitated by groups like Hillsong and Bethel. You just have to go looking for it. Other groups like The Dust of Men, Rivers and Robots, and Gungor have made prolific worship albums that are honest and heart filled. This is another one of those records that I can honestly say is convincing. Now that I’m in a spot where I’ve experienced some legitimately powerful times of worship, this kind of music is really starting to grow on me. Lyrically, this EP treads waters that are pretty familiar to most worship albums, musing through the sovereignty of God in difficult times and praise, but the highlight for me is a line in All I Want – “steal away my selfish gain, bringing Glory to Your name.” Being someone who wrestles with pride as part of my process of recovery, this line resonated well, especially when it’s back dropped against well-written music. The production quality reminds me of how well Bethel’s last album, We Will Not Be Shaken (everyone and their mother who likes worship music must listen to that album…. Even if you’re not into it that much, it will rock you), was done for it being a live record. After gaining insight from a good friend of mine about the engineering process behind live albums like such that involves additional synths to thicken the ambiance, the finished product can only be as good as the heart and soul of the original takes. My point is that this was recorded on a rooftop in a downtown district, which means the acoustics are not going to provide the same control as a studio environment, but they’re still stellar! Overall, this is a really diverse EP that has tunes good for a range of moods, environments, and moments of worship. I would definitely give this one a listen and an add to any worship playlist!

Oh, and honorable mention goes to a live version of Pursue (<—- LINK!) that’s mashed up with All I Need Is You from Hillsong Young & Free. I can only find it on Youtube and I have to give a shout out to my roommates for playing this!

 

Explosions In the Sky | Disintegration Anxiety

Aside from a few soundtracks written for a couple of Sundance films and Lone Survivor, I have been enduring radio silence from my favorite band for five years since they released, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. After dwindling patience, quintessential instrumental rock outfit from Austin, Texas, Explosions In the Sky,12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_n.jpg have released a new single from their forthcoming record in April, The Wilderness. I’ve heard it said that post rock is limping from a lack of ingenuity since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s – basically that the genre is running dry on fresh ideas that are now being lathered, rinsed, and repeated nearly two decades since its prime. While, bands like Mogwai, If These Trees Could Talk, Godspeed You Black Emperor are maybe falling back on certain formulas that gained them notoriety, other groups like The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die (say that one five times fast) and Foxing are soldering post rock with emo and even punk to inject it with a shot of adrenaline. Now, Explosions, one of the premiere groups in this genre is turning it upside down… with electronica? I was honestly expecting the familiarity of shimmering guitar tones back dropped against field snare percussion, and bombastic crecendos, but instead Disintegration Anxiety begins with thick electronic sampling that combusts into a chaotic flurry of guitars and bass that remind me a lot of Kasabian and even some of the new Switchfoot. Dare I say it’s a bit of a head banger and I actually like this direction that the band is taking with this song that seems to go against the grain of the monotony of originality. It’s stylistically shedding skin without sacrificing any of the ambiance and build up that these guys are Jedi Masters at. I look forward to the rest of their album in April! Listen to it. It’s good. Like… really good.

 

Fit For an Autopsy | Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell

Hailing from the Jersey Shore and signed to eOne Music’s menacing roster, Fit For an Autopsy sank their teeth into deathcore when it first became a divisive sensation amongst metal fans in the mid 2000’s. Regardless of the particular subgenre’s fidelity, Fit For an Autopsy established themselves as heavy hitters to be reckoned with on the back of their slamming debut – The Process of Human Extermination (talk about family friendly title). While I was never into this band even during my most scathing phases of musical interest, they managed to weave their way through the underpinnings of some of my favorite heavier metal acts, like Whitechapel. Many of the bands I used to really be into all cite Fit For an Autopsy as a common denominator influence, so in a sense, I have to tip my hat to these Jersey boys for having a musical hand in a core section of my catalog during high school. What tipped me off to their new album, Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell is lead guitarist, Will Putney. Armed to the teeth with prolific production ability 12063694_1010270315670338_8148475741185813042_nand a crafty ear for catchy hooks with a lot of grit, Putney has been the man at the helm for some of my favorite bands, including Counterparts and Hundredth. In fact, I got the chance to talk to one of my favorite bands For Today‘s lead guitarist, Ryan Leitru, last October at their show in Minneapolis about what it was like for them to have Will Putney produce their new record. Leitru had nothing but good things to say, so it peaked my curiosity to see how he handled it with his own band. All of that talent dimly shines through an otherwise dark and visceral record. Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell undoubtedly lives up to the second half of its title with a calculated, down tuned storm of guitars, pummeling percussion, and a powerful vocal delivery from Joe Badolato. With plenty of breakdowns to go around for 40 minutes, this band has not completely shed the skin of their deathcore roots, but they make up for that with shrewd creativity and melodic tendencies on songs like Ghosts In the River, Out to Sea, and Swing the Axe. Other tracks like Wither and False Positive put the record in fourth gear and crank the intensity to warp ten with black metal influenced savagery. Lyrically, this dives face first into recycled, nihilistic themes of hatred and corruption, so I don’t connect with anything. For what it’s worth, this record tickles nostalgic tendencies from late high school and junior college when I was able to stomach bigger doses of it. Though I don’t find anything to resonate or leave a long lasting impression, it’s a brutal listen, written well, and has some earworm guitar licks. Check it out if you want to mosh with your friends in a living room (Trust me, it’s fun).

 

Sons of the East | Already Gone EP

Back with a set of new songs packed for a journey through a half hour of nimble acoustic/folk, Aussie trio Sons of the East have been slowly leaving musical footprints around the other corner of the world with old school folk flourishes and even a touch of their roots with indigenous instrumentation that will make you stomp your foot to the kick drum beat of songs like, Miramere. Acoustic/folk reminds me of hip-hop. A lot of contemporary artists within the genre can trace their sounds and influences to a handful of game changers who wrote catalytic and memorable music that still leaves their fingerprints in the thank you sections of records. Acoustic/folk is very similar. It lives in a house that Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash built with mainstream success and 1374964_940893175995257_729486520242907147_n.jpg was given a renovation/facelift with modern artists like John Mayer and James Morrison. Though Sons of the East doesn’t join such prolific mainstream ranks of anyone previously mentioned, they for sure have the former to thank for paving the way for their style. Sons of the East definitely tip their hats and guitar picks to the legends that proceed them with the trademark elongated enunciated vocals of Bob Dylan from Nic Johnson and garnish their rootsy sound with the likes of Fleetwood Mac. Already Gone takes a lot of what really made me like them on their previous release and then reaches out in some different directions that still make for a cohesive listen. Songs like Into the Sun showcase the use of electric guitars and let Jack Rollins have a crack at the drivers seat leading vocals, which is a really nice change in pace. The title track is an upbeat ballad that begins with the tenor of Gregory Alan Isakov and includes some old key organ parts in the bridge that throws the song back to the 1960’s. The project continues in lineage of songs from their previous EP on tracks like Head For Home and Jacaranda Tree, both of which are packed with rich sounding tones and beautiful complimentary pianos. The Farmer speeds up the pace by the end of the album with a lively toe tapper reminiscent of anything from Mumford & Sons first two albums. This EP is a lot better produced and has more scope to it. It sounds fuller and the best part is that it doesn’t take away from the sense of the organic. Overall, I really enjoy this EP and the experimentation taken from the last release. I would highly recommend this album for anyone who wants some good acoustic tunes for coffee shops, windows down in the summer, or… yeah. Pretty much anything.

 

 

kintsugi.

Once I sat down and started writing this, I began to feel it flesh out like a part two for a previous post I did about a passage in Hosea that Jefferson Bethke commented on, so that’s how I’m going to treat this – as a follow up that gives some absolution to our walks in the wilderness. What happens when we return from those excursions? What do we do with those conversations with God when the darkness of the wilderness sets behind a new day for us to live? What purpose do those scars have now that we’ve come back to the real world? I think the overarching question transitions from how do we allow the Lord to point out and process them, to how we allow people in on the stories behind them. Who do they impact?

Keeping with the theme of commentary from Jefferson Bethke, I recently watched an online sermon of him speaking at Pastor Craig Groeschel’s church in Oklahoma City about the concept of Biblical healing. Bethke spoke about how scars are our open books that leaf through chapters of screw-ups, pitfalls, and ultimately end in Jesus’ redemption. He made this brilliant analogy for how God illuminates those scars that caught me hook, line, and sinker, but I’ll return to that soon.

 

At this point I’m waist deep in this recovery process wading through our Friday night Ceebrate Recovery curriculum. In the closing chapters of our material, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church calls this process of paying it forward, Recycling Pain. Think about the process of recycling – you take what’s considered a “waste product” and somehow make it into a useful resource. The catch is that Jesus doesn’t consider us wasted products, even though we consider our character defects as undesirable. Romans 5:8 says, “When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” For example, some of the relationships in my life that I severed have been the result of wanting to leave parts of my life behind me, thinking that time and separation will heal those wounds. While the separation was healthy, the clocks have ticked too long for me to ignore many of them anymore. I grew weary from running from my problems, because every exit door led me deeper into isolation from the people I cared about most. Facing the fact that I had become calloused is part of the harsh reality of allowing myself to be in God’s repair. In fact, Paul says in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” That’s an imperative, not a second or third string play option. While I won’t get into details, I’ve recently had some therapeutic conversations with people about my shortcomings as my way of being at peace with people in situations that are laced with a lot of unnamed tension. I used to think that those relationships were wasted. Unable to salvage any of its raw materials. I began to wonder for a while…

“Can I really be whole again after all I’ve done?”

 

In this sermon, Jefferson Bethke talked about an ancient Japanese art form, called Kintsugi – literally translated as “gold joinery” that is also namesake for the latest album from famed indie rock outfit, Death Cab For Cutie (maybe I’ll review that, soon ;)). As I began to research, Japanese culture has high esteem for the things that are broken and put back together. To them, things like furniture with cracks, splits, and rot in the wood are seen to have character and experience. Every person that has sat and conversations that have taken place on them are intricate parts of a story these objects tell. It seems kind of funny when we contrast that to a westernized culture that places a consumerist value in the newest gadget. The old is left to waste with the memories latched to it. As Bethke began to explain, Kintsugi is when someone would mix gold and silver dust with a strong adhesive and put pottery back together, kind of like this…

th

“The actual places where it broke is exactly where you’re eye’s drawn. It’s this place of beauty and glory. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about Jesus…. might Jesus be the one who says, I not only want to heal you, but sometimes the very place that you’re broken and I’ve healed you, become the most glorious parts about you.”

You feel those goosebumps, too?

 

Those wounds that God exposes to us in those journeys through the wilderness are usually the very things that tell the best stories about where we are, now. We may night realize it immediately and it may even take years to finally arrive at a point of realization. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 says, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I actually used to have zero desire to work with those who had addictions. Somehow I figured I could “get over this,” leave my addiction behind me, and move on with something new – as if this piece of me would be trashed, never to be recycled, and left to rot. As it turns out, my chinks in the armor have become the places that can only be protected by Jesus. When I began to look in the rearview mirror and allow the Lord to mend those relationships I was so afraid to face, they’ve actually become vignettes that fit into this personal meta narrative of the Lord’s redemption in my life. They’re joys I get to celebrate and know that reconciliation is the result of God healing those third degree burns with gauze and grace – the gold laced within our brokenness.

The brokenness in our life experiences are not in vain. They didn’t go to waste. Our stories are unique. They give us an angle that no one else can fully understand, but people can relate to. People can relate when they see God in the cracks of our broken pots, plates, relationships, job situations, and spiritual lives. “Me too” are two of the most powerful words we can say to someone else. What are those things that you can allow God to use as the gold and silver lining? Though they may feel like salt in a wound to say or confess, you may be surprised what happens when the Lord uses those scars to illustrate the best stories of His work.