of dust & nations.

I was at a best friend’s wedding this weekend, sitting down at the head table with three other guys in identical grey tuxedos, black Vans, and beards feasting on a sirloin and mashed potato entrée. Even better? It was in the aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo – there was a seal, whom we affectionately named, Kevin Paul, acrobatically spinning behind us as one of my buddies from back home asked us our favorite cover songs. My answer… a rendition of Of Dust and Nations by Thrice as performed by British modern metal vanguards, Architects. The recent death of their lead guitar player and cofounder, Tom Searle, gives their newest release, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, the tone of a funeral dirge by nailing insane guitar work, apocalyptic production, shredding vocals from Sam Carter, and politically supercharged lyricism into their band mate’s coffin (Also, if you want the nastiest riff-age you’ve EVER heard in your life, go listen to Gravedigger and thank me later). As I began to go through earlier records of theirs, I stumbled upon this Thrice cover on their re-release of Daybreaker. I was totally taken aback by how an already awesome song was given a post hardcore facelift. It’s a lyrically powerful track penned by Dustin Kensrue with vulgar imagery taken straight out of Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 6 where He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” The song is a reminder that our earthly possessions, ambitions, ans personal empires are footnotes from an eternal perspective. In other words, we have to look at life from a different lens. Listening to that song on the heels of being in a season waiting for what God has on the other end of my internship, and breathing in the ashes from incendiary political/cultural conversations, made me think of something…

Perspective is a lovely hand to hold (Side note, there’s a band by this name I found on Spotify. I wonder if they’re as big of fans of Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down as I am, because if so, and their name references that record, they’re now my favorite).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling back and forth to Minneapolis for a seminar put on by Come&Live! ministries and my buddy’s wedding, both of which are somehow connected through my home church in the Twin Cities. I met my now married best friend at its Eden Prairie campus and their new plant in Minneapolis housed the seminar I went to. So, in the time that I’ve sojourned back to Bloomington, I decided to check out this new Minneapolis satellite campus piqued with a curiosity about the racial/income/cultural melting pot it’s serving. The lessons learned on those two Sunday mornings retread territory charted throughout this year in a journey through recovery and yes… this election cycle. The rotation of campus pastors began a new teaching series, Bad Times, Good God – an expositional survey of the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk.

Habakkuk is written in a turbulent time during Israel’s monarchy. With the transitioning of kings that take its own people down a road of pagan worship and neglect of the law handed down by Moses centuries before, God’s chosen people and their prosperity have become truncated by neighboring pagan rival, Babylon, and their military prowess. So, in penance for Israel sinning against each other and to God over the course of generations, He allows Babylon to capture, enslave, and divide the kingdom (as foretold in 1st Samuel when the monarchy is established) before restoring them.

In layman’s terms… Israel is screwed.

Habakkuk then tries to make sense of it all. Throughout its 3 chapters, you see Habakkuk beg God to spare the kingdom from its impending doom and give an answer to a bigger question that percolates thousands of years later…

Why does an all-powerful God allow suffering to continue?

(Pastor Dale’s sermon is below for reference)

I know this is opening a can of worms, but I’m choosing to answer this in the context of Habakkuk’s predicament. I don’t want to try and ubiquitously answer that for things like natural disasters, family members with cancer, and dying children in the Syrian civil war. Pastor Dale proceeded to give an anecdote about being a teenager and hating his parents at points of disagreement or when he was punished for something wrong. He said most of us probably knew what it was like to be that age and bristle at being disciplined. Yet, our parents didn’t kick us out, they still fed us, and loved us. The difference is that they, as parents, understand the big picture. Our parents discipline us, because they know what lies in the peripheries of our decision-making. Their maturity allows them to see consequences of our actions that we can’t in the moment. It translates well to God’s reply to Habakkuk in Chapter 1, verses 5 through 11 which is echoed by Paul in Hebrews 12:7. Pastor Kyle picked up the baton this week by talking about Habakkuk “watching from the ramparts” (Chapter 2, verse 1) as God replies, And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Basically, God says he will reveal that to us in His timing and with the right sentiment that will make perfect sense in its revelation. But, it’s hard when we have tunnel vision and can’t see beyond the current circumstances. Pastor Kyle concluded that we need a broader view “from the ramparts.” We need perspective to understand that bigger picture alluded to by Pastor Dale’s application of this scripture.

The recovery process reveals the ugliness of sin in Technicolor. The twelve steps give this kaleidoscopic portrait of how corrupted our character is, yet provides a glimpse of all our good qualities these issues steal from us. Through that, I had to come to an arresting conclusion that my tendency to be selfish was beyond control. It drove everything. I took what paid dividends in relationships, work, and with God, neglecting the rest as if it was expendable. Jesus had to perform surgery as The Great Physician (John 5), taking a scalpel to a heart of stone that is now flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), but that process didn’t come easy. It still isn’t. It took days, upon weeks, and now years of daily, conscious decisions to crucify my desires in exchange for trying to understand the person sitting across from me in Celebrate Recovery, small group, leadership meetings, game nights, and dinner outtings with friends.

James uses strong language in his letter when he says, God opposes the proud (James 4:6). The first line in Of Dust and Nations reads, “The towers that shoulder your pride, the words you’ve written in stone… sand will cover them, sand will cover you.” Both serve as sobering reminders that pride and selfishness are tenants of our innate, human fragility. They’re symptoms of a soul virus that can be remedied by humility, which is prescribed through God’s handiwork in Ephesians 2. James ends his stanza in chapter 4 with… “but He gives grace to the humble.” It begins with taking perspective – and perspective is only won in a battle with self, where war must be raged on our own selfishness. It’s a radical shift in mindset to look to the interest of others above our own (Philippians 2:4), but I find that each conversation I have with someone about what makes them laugh, what gets them up every morning, keeps them up late at night, and their journeys in faith produce brick and mortar that builds bridges closer to Jesus. Those bridges create safe passage for the gospel to be discussed in rivers that rage over politics, religion, race, and cultural values (though those conversations are undoubtedly messy).

Furthermore, in this season of waiting on God to sketch in the blueprints of what happens after my internship next June, I’ve been looking from the ramparts having to remember that even if it feels like I’m staring into nothing or waiting on him for an answer, God has a view from 30,000 feet that I don’t from this vantage point. He is slowly placing brushstrokes in the right places that will eventually translate in my life’s canvas and I’m content in knowing that what exists in the here and now makes perfect sense in His perfect will. I’m going to take such a time as opportunity to see what God is teaching me about Him through the hands and feet of His people that are in my life right now – making the perspectives of my (our) friends with different family dynamics, theological convictions, diametric political views, and even the ones who don’t even believe in God all the more valuable (to us all). Pastor Kyle said this comes from, “Praying to get God’s ear and reading to gain God’s heart” as coined by theologian, Charles Spurgeon. Through all those things, Jesus does what Dustin Kensrue and Sam Carter sang about.. “pulling the fangs from my heel“… putting my “faith in more than steel.”

Posted in Devotionals, Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where the Light Shines Through – Switchfoot: Music Review

As a kid, my parents used to screen the music I bought, but at the time I thought it was a torture tactic that deprived me of an inhibition to listen to heavy music instead of seeing it as a necessary filter on my developing mind. In the end, it did prevent me from latching onto legitimately bad music (shouts out to mom and dad). When I was in fourth grade, I petitioned for Linkin Park’s Meteora – an album that toed the line of hard and maybe a little dark for me at the time, so instead I was given a supposedly underwhelming alternative that I had no idea would leave such a long lasting impression – Switchfoot’s, The Beautiful Letdown. Released in 2003 as the band’s major label debut on Vanguard records, it rode the wave of early 2000’s pop rock/post grunge revival that crashed on the shores of MTV, Vh1, most mainstream radio stations, and for me – summers at Trout Lake Camps. The band’s edgy, lo-fi production style soldered with industrial sampling, and a message of honesty against a culture of excess made The Beautiful Letdown and their subsequent album, Nothing Is Sound, game changers for the band as they continued to refine their style.

Admittedly, I abandoned Switchfoot after Oh! Gravity and pre Hello Hurricane after leaving the tall pines and cold lake water of church camp behind me in high school. At the time, their music didn’t have an impact outside of being a memento to that epoch of life. Instead, I traded in grungy earworm melodies for meaner music. However, that changed after going to Winona State and moving in with a few guys my senior year – both of whom are die hard fans that stuck  with Switchfoot the whole course up to their last record, Fading West. I would hear random tracks from some of these albums here and there when my roommates cooked dinner with their Spotify playlists on, and over time I began to appreciate the direction that Switchfoot took at the break in the yellow wood. Now, that I have rekindled a liking for this California surf rock quintet, saw them live a couple years ago, and am now sinking my teeth into this new record, I’ve come to the conclusion that Switchfoot are a band that ages well. These guys are married, have children, trying to balance a career, writing from the heart, and becoming aware of their mortality (ahem, Where I Belong). Yet, in that, they manage to let their hopeful and inspiring message be the period at the end of each album cycle, after each tour, heck, after each track.

Fading West was by far the band’s most ambitious release in which Oh! Gravity’s most experimental junctures pale by comparison. I reviewed it briefly in a summer playlist post last year, noting that the channeling of all-la-Kasabian alt rock with distorted synthesizers, intriguing and energetic soundscapes, and textured production made Fading West a prolific milestone in the band’s career. I was curious in the lead up to Where the Light Shines Through what direction the band would go after the success of the former’s alternative sound…

The result on Where the Light Shines Through is telling about how the band is continuing to age, maybe a bit nostalgic, and still wanting to try on new, musically. Foreman and crew are on their tenth album.13178934_10154832778271679_6040195207218796408_n They are more mature as human beings, fathers, husbands, and musicians who have traveled the world a few times over. I will go out on a limb in saying that Where the Light Shines through is Switchfoot’s most subdued presentation, yet the most energetic, inspirational, moving, and balanced record they have released yet.

Where the Light Shines Through is a collection of introspective epistles that belong in a spectrum much like a dimmer on a light switch. There’s a whole range that reach cathartic heights on songs like the opening track Holy Water and Healer of Souls, the funky Red Hot Chili Pepper flourishes of Float, the experimental curve ball on Looking For America, and to the other end of the dimmer with arena ballads like I Won’t Let You Go, Live It Well, and Hope Is the Anthem. It reminds me of how The World Is A Thorn allowed Demon Hunter to be more frenetic, yet more hushed than ever before on the exact same record. Everything in between is some kind of fusion between the two poles that brings the listener back to homeostasis.

When I listen to Where the Light Shines Through cover to cover, I have these flashbacks to moments on all other releases. Electronic samplings, energetic rhythms, and driving funk on Bull In A China Shop and Holy Water bring me back to the experimental jive on Fading West; the driving, hopeful pace of If the House Burns Down Tonight is reminiscent of Hello Hurricane’s title track; and Live It Well’s anthemic melodies remind me of songs like Restless off Vice Verses. The best part is that within those nostalgic filigrees, Where the Light Shines Through still maintains its own identity with new flavors – particularly Lecrae’s feature on Looking For America. Point being, there is a little something for every fan from every mile marker within ten records. Some of the subtleties in production like the static in the channels of speakers, plugging instruments into amps, and rehearsal moments within the recording process that are left in these songs actually give Where the Light Shines Through a lot of character. For me, the passion soaked in inspirational sounding melodic leads, a bombastic bridge section, and Foreman’s falsetto vocals make I Won’t Let You Go this record’s most passionate delivery and one of my favorite songs. Also, Healer of Souls gritty, lo-fi tone and bouncing rhythm takes my eardrums down memory lane to Remember the Titans when the Alexandria high school football team sojourns to Gettysburg by tune of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In the Sky… therefore, I like it.

Lyrically, this record touches on Biblical themes of us being strong in our weaknesses, embracing adversity, and reflecting on faith with lines like, So let’s go there, to that place where we sing these broken prayers, where the light shines through. The wound is where the light shines through. Yeah, the wound is where the light shines through.” Though, Switchfoot’s catalog proves they’re not foreign to such subject matter, I think this album is more unapologetic – Foreman is upfront and honest about it in ways I haven’t heard since The Beautiful Letdown. In that sense, it lives up to the social media hype that the band created about how this is one of the deepest albums they’ve written with some of Foreman’s favorite lyrics he’s penned so far in his career. The title track and The Day of Found God are highlights that bring the band the closest to living out the message of hope they always sing about in perfect matrimony.

Ultimately, Where the Light Shines Through is an album that is the result of ten albums, twenty years, and all their influences being pulled more inwards to a balanced release. It’s one of their most believable performances that I look forward to taking in more and more. Though this album is not my favorite in their discography (congrats Fading West), it’s still worthwhile and pleases the fourth grader in me who bought that copy of The Beautiful Letdown with allowance money.

Posted in Music Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

take a listen.

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

I was sitting at Culver’s with my roommate one night and I told him that I have this habit of hopping on the bandwagon of good music, late. As a result, I kick myself for a moment, thinking, “What have I been missing out on??” I say this, because I am catching onto The Lumineers kind of late… what have I been missing out on??! They’ve been a functioning band for the better part of a decade, using personal tragedy to write affectionate vingiettes that culminate in their debut self-titled album. Though I didn’t get too much into it aside form songs like Slow It Down, I appreciated The Lumineers knack for artful folk music. I heard a lot of buzz about their forthcoming sophomore LP, Cleopatra, so after hearing singles like Ophelia and the title track at my favorite coffee shop in Winona played on repeat, I intentionally sought this one out upon release.

Cleopatra is an effluent indie affair, buoyed by a sort of timeless soul that brings you back to smoky bars and rootsy Americana imagery strapped to leather boots, rumbling piano registers, and Wesley Schultz’ throaty vocals. This is a fun record and its accessibility gives a lot of replay value. I can’t stop nodding my head or wanting to belt out the chorus to Angela, bounce along to the dizzying piano arpeggio in Ophelia, and clap along to the stomp of the title track.12654337_10153292167941332_5061469366406380348_n Other songs like Gale Song, My Eyes, and Long Way From Home express a more musically stoic side to the band, settling for hollowed out lo-fi guitar tones that draw you into an intimate experience. Patience gently closes the record with a piano instrumental that fades into soft keys. I can best describe The Lumineers as an emotional storm in a teacup. Though, their songs have a lot of musical build up and strong lyrical imagery, it never reaches the point of being melodramatic. Overall, I feel this album is more subdued in its presentation than its predecessor and therefore makes it a more convincing and enjoyable listen for me. All of this is bolstered by effective production that captures the heart and soul of a sound that the band is aiming for. The echo chamber sounding vocals, subtle string accompaniments, and organic guitar tones make this record shine.

Though Cleopatra retreads recycled lyrical themes of young love, women, and relationships, the band finds a refreshingly innocent twist to such subject matter. They weave really dark narratives in between them, like on the title track. It’s almost like I’m watching film noir at the Sundance Film Festival.

Bottom line, go listen to this album if you need to feed the softer side to our musical soul. It’s an easy listen that I’m still sinking my teeth into.

 

Invent Animate – Stillworld

Modern, progressive metal is running out of original ideas. I hate saying it, but evidence of this is quantified by the new wave of records released from this subgenre this year. Though many of those albums are enjoyable and I actually like a lot of them, I’ve come to this conclusion that most of it is beginning to live in a shadow cast by its forerunners from the late 2000’s. But, if there is any sort of dying artistic breath from this renegade platoon of metal bands (other than Architects or Shokran), Invent, Animate does not go gentle into that goodnight.

I reviewed their debut album from Tragic Hero Records, Everchanger, last year. I especially liked how that album soldered ambient overtures from the likes of Helios with a Singularity era Northlane vibe and I still enjoy that album a lot. The good news is that their anticipated and well-received sophomore record, Stillworld, expands on a familiar formula from Everchanger that is further honed and perfected.13240590_1291634440857984_1190591693122597874_n Many, if not all of the same elements from Everchanger carry over to Stillworld, making this like a software update with a few tweaks to an already solid platform. Indigo kicks off this record…. absolutely insane! It touts some of the catchiest riffing, flows well between the soft and harsh passages, and in my opinion does the best job of stratifying Invent, Animate’s mission statement. Other tracks like Darkbloom and Soul Sleep showcase this juxtaposition from the insanely heavy to the suddenly calm and atmospheric, and White Wolf has by far the catchiest and most forward chorus/clean singing the band has written yet.

Lyrically, this album muses familiar territory from Everchanger – abstract allegories of faith, doubt, finding purpose, etc, but with that said, they’re written well and have some legitimately awesome lines to scream along to. Furthermore, I think this is a very well produced record and balanced record. The bass rumbles behind chugging guitars, the clean chromatic tapping comfortably coalesces with the rhythm, the drums are crisp, and the vocals are well placed.

I’m still head banging and power stomping my way through breakdowns and sweeping passages on this album and don’t anticipate putting it down any time soon!

 

King’s Kaleidoscope – Beyond Control

In my musical mind, King’s Kaleidoscope fit comfortably into a category of Contemporary Christian that follows in the lineage of Michael & Lisa Gungor, Rivers & Robots, Citizens & Saints, and Dustin Kensrue of Thrice – artists positioning themselves on the fringe of their own genre who craft honest, thoughtful, and transparent music reflective of their trials and triumphs in faith. If you’ve read this blog before, you might understand the stance I have on “Christian” music, but for the purpose of a good album like this, I don’t feel like that commentary is warranted.

Enter Kings Kaleidoscope.

I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge of this band outside of their former affiliation with Mars Hill Church in Seattle and (what I’m going to term as) their “dope-tastic” cover of In Christ Alone, but that was until I was tipped off to their new record, Beyond Control. My shotgun consensus…

Weird, but really good.

Upon first impression, this album feels like a B-side of experimental mastered material tossed into obscure cloud files and then sold as an extended play, but when you pay attention to the subtleties, Beyond Control is decorated with textured layers of soundscapes and shifts in style that still fit within a cohesive musical narrative. This album gives itself a lot of room to take some risks and because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, 13344507_1278219798878738_7414307795631577230_nthe band pulls off every stunt well. Out of the gate, A Resting Place sounds like organized orchestral chaos that I would find on the local classical station, but transitions into Enchanted, which sounds a bit like A Head Full of Dreams era Coldplay coalesced with the eccentric funk of John Mark McMillan’s Borderlands. Other songs like Lost? Strip away layers for a more simplified experience with acoustic guitars and orchestral synthesizers filling out the sound. Dust is a neo-jazz banger with an accompanying choir arrangement behind the chorus that captures the soul of traditional gospel music. In This Ocean Part 1 follows suit but has what I think are the catchiest melodies on this entire record. I think that speaks to the production of Beyond Control, because it is dense but not bloated. Even when this album reaches these bombastic moments in the arrangements, there’s enough variety and creativity in it all to make it justified.

Surprisingly, Friendship, is my highlight on Beyond Control. It’s a near three-minute instrumental interlude that’s led by piano, drums, and a French horn that swing you back and forth in a jazzy daze. Not only is the instrumental awesome, but throughout the track you hear members of the band commenting on cool licks made by the horn player, cracking jokes, laughing, and casually singing along with the melody. It’s playful. It’s a fun break in between what is otherwise a lyrically powerful (albeit vulgar at one point on A Prayer) sojourn through doubt, triumph and even social dejection from social media as discussed on Enchanted.

If you want to look up some wildly creative worship tunes that you can have some fun to, look no further… to quote the band from a moment in Friendship, “Whoah! That was sick!”

 

Explosions In the Sky – The Wilderness

People who know me best understand the love I have for this band and their ability to create moving, emotional oceans of nimble guitars, cathartically executed kettle drums, and crecendos reminiscent of classical movements that take you on a musical journey. If you’ve read this blog, then you’ve probably figured out why a record like The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place really needs no introduction. It will forever be a musical triumph that sits on my catalog’s throne. Now, their last full length album before The Wilderness was shockingly disappointing to me and in such a way that made me not even give that album a full listen. Maybe I’m being too hard on it and maybe it has to do with the fact that I place some of their earlier work with such high esteem, but it sounded like they were exhausting ideas and trying to pull you inwards to a more intimate atmosphere than before. In between albums, they have since written a few soundtracks, all of which showcased Explosions branching off into different soundscapes and experimentation all while still signing and sealing them with signature and familiar elements I know and love. I reviewed the first single, Disintegration Anxiety that showed off a distorted flurry of warped guitar tones and electronic sampling that caught me off guard at first, but was something I warmed up to over time. It felt like a breath of fresh air that I haven’t heard from a band in this genre in a while… and that’s the best way I can describe The Wilderness.

Fresh, but familiar.

Disintegration Anxiety is an appropriate sounding appetizer for an album laced with electronic filigrees, glitchy percussion, and a palate of different soundscapes. One of the best features of The Wilderness is that the band released a collection of still images captured by members and crew over the course of 17 years worth of writing, recording, and touring that inspired each of the nine tracks. Listening to these songs and pairing them with the images gives a more intimate view into the band’s imagination. For example, the opening track, Wilderness, is drawn from an image taken late night at an airport concourse in Europe with a focus on the gate sign reading, Austin. The band wrote about how it was a reminder that after being on tour, they were almost home. You can almost hear that sense of longing to return to their 12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_nroots when you reach the end of the track and hear a twinkling guitar loop that fades out to the end, reminiscent of their early work. Rather than crafting something with the flow of a classical piece like the rest of their discography, they wrote something more straightforward and spliced that still retains the same musical meta-narrative – much like different scenes in a film. Logic of a Dream reaches the most cathartic heights with these orchestral crecendos that sound like something off Hans Zimmer’s work in Interstellar, and Landing Cliffs ends the record hushed and spacey with atmospheric synths cradling gentle guitar chords.

This album had to grow on me, because it’s a sonic departure from albums that I’ve loved from the band. However, this new style they’ve embraced is in some ways even more emotional than other work. I don’t know how else to describe this, but I’ll end with a quote from Pitchfork writer, Brandon Stousy, about his thoughts on The Wilderness…

Because the group has done so much soundtracking, it’s difficult when listening to The Wilderness not to think of images that could go with these songs. Instead of making music for dramatic moments in football games, we’re getting sunsets you’ll remember a decade later, stumbling first kisses, half-heard car alarms during a comforting dream, that horribly unreal and frozen moment when you first hear a friend has died, walks alone at dusk, laying on your back and watching the constellations with the person you want to grow old with, the calm of seeing a loved one sleep. These songs feel personal. They tug at important moments.”

 

 

 

Posted in Music Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

(un)answered.

Massachusetts hardcore quintet, Defeater, recently released an album called, Abandoned – a visceral 40 minute epistle about a Catholic priest coping with grisly experiences while attached to an infantry unit in Europe during World War II through alcoholism. Consequently, this character feels distanced from God as he struggles to reconcile the horrible things he has seen, the choices he’s making, and trying to be the spiritual leader he needs to be – out of ammunition and cowering in a spiritual foxhole, waiting for God to answer his cries for help. The album’s concept ties into a meta-narrative that weaves throughout Defeater’s entire discography about a blue collared family from New Jersey in the 1950’s swallowed by tides of drug abuse and murder. According to the band, this album is a topical tangent written to outlet their struggles in believing in God. The angst shines bright through songs like Unanswered

11542085_10153905563592119_1150329397823165649_n

Abandoned – Defeater. Epitaph Records.

I was a good man once, I was a good man once.
But years of unanswered prayers have left me faithless.
I was a good man once but now hopeless and abandoned.
I was a good man once, I was a good man once.
But years of serving in hell have left me faithless.
I was a good man once but now hopeless and abandoned.
Now hopeless and abandoned.
Hopeless and abandoned.

Doesn’t that sound like a familiar mantra in many of our spiritual lives?

I think it’s interesting how much social commentary prayer receives and Defeater is one of many examples I’ve seen and heard. In season 4 of Boy Meets World, Sean Hunter begs God to save his father figure/mentor/English teacher that slipped into a coma from a motorcycle accident. Jason Street castigates his girlfriend in Friday Night Lights for praying healing over his paralysis from a tackle gone wrong in the series pilot. Prolific country artist Garth Brooks peacefully reconciles unanswered prayers in a song of the same title calling them “some of God’s greatest gifts.” Others like Mitch Lucker of Suicide Silence musically riot over prayer on the band’s debut record, The Cleansing, where in torment he screams “How much must I curse your name and put your beliefs to shame before you prove yourself and end this life? And I’ll say a ****ing prayer, because I know it won’t be answered, where is your god? Where is your ****ing god?” Prayer reveals a lot about us. Though all these examples are anecdotal, they all lean into an intimate topic that muses how we see God. In fact, Christian poet, George Herbert, calls prayer a “natural human instinct” that we default to in distress. Prayer may be comforting, sometimes it’s even painful, and other times it draws blanks.

Pastor Tim Keller wrote a book on prayer that I’ve been leafing through in the last month or so. I first picked it up at my roommate’s brother’s apartment in the North side of Chicago while on a short vacation and when I returned to Winona, I checked out a copy from the public library. There’s a lot of historical exposition from early church practices, famous theologian’s commentary, and scriptural based application of prayer as a discipline – all of which has offered valuable perspective.

In this book, Keller often looks to the example of Paul – a guy who survived and even thrived multiple imprisonments (Ephesians), shipwreck (Acts 27), poverty (Philippians 4), and a mysterious lingering ailment (2nd Corinthians 12). In a sermon series about prayer from the early 2000’s, Keller references David expressing ruthless honesty. The psalms are laced with illustrations (Psalm 3, 51) of a guy who has the baggage of an affair/murder caper and a rebellious son of his who wants the crown and to kill him. Both examples are derivatives of Jesus’ demonstration of how powerful prayer is. I could go on long tangents about the awesomeness and depth of Keller’s work, but here is the bottom line I learned…

David, Paul, and Jesus offered their everything and nothing to God. When times were good, they offered praise and thanksgiving for provision. Under taxing circumstances they brought their fears to the feet of God, trusting He will make all things right.

So should we.

When writing this post, I cracked open an old journal I bought from Target at the beginning of my junior year in college. In it, I’ve scratched down sermon notes from college group on Monday nights, Sunday mornings, entries pouring through break ups, moments of joy, retreats, step group, and leafed through almost three years worth of prayer requests. Its pages are stained, have rips, wrinkles, and a tattered, sticker covered, brown, leather cover. There are even sketches and a few laughs laced in between. It’s like that journal breathes. It brings back memories of prayer meetings, deep conversations with the people I care for, processing the recurrence of anxiety, and sorting out my shortcomings.

One of my favorite quotes in Keller’s book is when he said, “Prayer—though it is often draining, even an agony—is in the long term the greatest source of power that is possible.”Airing out my dirty laundry in those coffee stained pages traversed a lot of emotional landscape. I went on this odyssey back to my junior year of college that told the story of someone struggling with addiction and anxiety. Much like Defeater’s overtures… I was a “good man” once, but years of unanswered prayers to ease insecurity left me hopeless and abandoned. That kid experienced something profound, because after I finally took hold of the hand God extended to me in rescue, something changed. I cared about others for the first time. I saw God in the sublime – a cooked meal on my table, a bed to sleep in, friendships, and moments of laughter. Looking back on those entries, I saw the narrative of a guy who was scared. I was beginning to face systemic, lifelong issues that I wasn’t sure how to deal with, but all I knew is that my encounter with Jesus resorted me to lift these fears up in prayer. Those were not easy. Like Keller said… draining. Even agonizing. They haven’t really gotten any easier with time, but God has taught me through recovery that prayerfully processing the good, bad, and ugly is where I’ve experienced the most peace and gained the most perspective.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow. It’s the story of a widow begging a godless, tenacious judge to give her justice in her case against someone who wronged her. Eventually, the judge agrees when he is burdened by the widow’s willingness to plead her case over and over again. Jesus says in verses 6 through 8, “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Most importantly, the first verse in this parable says, “Then, Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Keller echoes this in his book, saying, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.

When I began to see prayer as a conversational dialogue with God and let Him (and others) in, prayer became easier. Easier. Not perfect. It’s a hard learned discipline that I’m still sharpening. I don’t want this to come across like I have this together and keep a strict schedule…. it’s sometimes very sporadic. But, I have been learning the value in keeping this line of divine communication open and active. I don’t know how many people can truly say they’re content with their prayer life. I’ve known a few and I’m definitely not one of them, but it’s part of the process in God operating on me. Letting the Holy Spirit surgically remove my character defects through conviction, counseling, support groups, vulnerability, and prayers of confession and praise has been part of this healing process. I am still learning patience. God giving me a “later” doesn’t embitter me anymore, but it can still be frustrating when I’m desperate for an answer. Hence, the persistence echoed by Jesus in Luke 18. Years of what I thought was unanswered prayers was God forging me in fire.

God wants us to enter into something intimate and vulnerable with Him. I cannot guarantee that God will grant you or I something like a promotion, a spouse/relationship, or even happiness, etc. but I can say from experience and from what scripture promises, is that prayer will change how we see temptation, trial, and even the smallest moments of joy. It’s like wearing a new corrective lens. Things become sharper. Clearer. James 5:16 is one of Celebrate Recovery’s most cherished passages and one I would share with anyone…. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Devotionals, Journals, Music Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 artists expanding my musical taste.

 

Modern Baseball

In my formative years, pop punk was a genre that helped bridge gaps between the gritty and sugary of pop and rock. Somewhere between Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, Usher, and John Mayer was Blink 182, Relient K, and Danger Is My Middle Name when I scrolled through my 2nd generation iPod color – affectionately nicknamed, the brick. Bands like these in the latter brought enough energy and musical prowess with catchy hooks to create an aesthetic that was both accessible and memorable. I fell out of favor with the style for a bit in late high school and most of college, trading it all in for heavier, harder, faster, and meaner music that those bands never reached the ceiling of. Now that I’m in a phase of life where recovery is probing the nostalgic regions of my mind, I’m beginning to retread this music as a way to unlock many memories I have within that phase of life. It began with finding Neck Deep and The Hotelier – go listen to both of them – and now it’s stumbling upon Modern Baseball.

These Philadelphia homegrown college dropouts have released a couple albums within the mid 2010’s that have undergirded many bands that I have now grown to like concerning influences. In homage to groups like Foxing, I decided to give Modern Baseball a listen, and it came at a time when their newest album released earlier this month, Holy Ghost, was released. I found their first single, Wedding Singer – an endearing confessional of lovesick angst coated by blankets of indie, punk, and pop rock that’s organically produced, and sounds like the soundtrack to late teenage and twenty something years of self-discovery.

Ian Cohen of Pitchfork provides some good commentary about the band’s style and his conclusion, as it is mine, is that Modern Baseball plants a flag in multiple genres within the same cluster that makes itself a bit like an emo, post punk, indie zebra. Though their sound doesn’t really reinvent the wheel, Modern Baseball are the result of their amalgam of influences that go back to bands like American Football (another great group!). I really like this band’s presentation of being down-to-earth and at times cheesily honest about their struggles through college and navigating the vagrancies of social media, teenage wanderings. Not to mention their music is well written, balanced, fresh enough to be interesting, and good enough to make me revisit parts of my musical taste that’s been shelved for a while.

 

Glass Cloud

There are times when I look back on previous entries and weave my musical evolution together with how my faith has developed and how I’ve matured (though that latter is somewhat relative). I reviewed Oceano’s (then) single, Dead Planet, on this blog two years ago as a memento to junior college when deathcore was a musical id impulse. My conclusion was that hardcore was becoming more palatable, because the raw aesthetic and emotional prowess proved to be more authentic than down tuned, calculated, bloodlust. So, as a result, I initially didn’t really like it. Some of the bands that I previously enjoyed within the genre became almost unlistenable (and some still are), but I’m surprisingly able to stomach the musical grime of the former again. Consequently… Dead Planet, and the album it’s on, is now awesome for being what it is… heavy for the sake of it. What’s curious about this band, Glass Cloud, is that they take two subgenres of metal that would otherwise have much ado about nothing to do with one another and brought them together in chaotic musical matrimony.

Glass Cloud are an experimental metal supergroup formed by remnants of The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza (yes, this is an actual band), Of Mice and Men, and a couple of graduates from Berklee School of Music. From what I have heard on their debut record, The Royal Thousand, they do it surprisingly well with a dyadic sound that aggressively fuses the melodic with the slamming heavy that culminates into something unique. The novelty of A Thousand Royals made it accessible to me. A couple of Youtube demonstrations from guitarist and mastermind, Josh Travis, pointed me to their last EP Perfect War Forever, which evidently uses some pretty stupid low tunings on 9 string guitars that I’ve only seen After the Burial attempt until now. The morbid curiosity drew me into an EP packed with a lot of the same elements from TTR, but with more intentional focus on ambience. Though this EP loses some of the technicality laced through the former, it makes up for it by providing a lot of fitting atmosphere.

I include this band in my list, because they dare to redefine paradigms of modern metal in ways that I’ve heard few bands do well, let alone at all. Not only that, but it’s allowing me to enjoy some of the heavier extreme metal that I used to be into without having to lyrically rely on lurid maxims of nihilism and with emphasis on songwriting. Much like Oceano, these guys slam hard instrumentally, but juxtapose it with more raw vocal delivery like the hardcore I’m now a fan of. The band is daring to explore with different tunings, and fuse together styles that may hit or miss, but in this day and age of metal becoming pigeon holed to its own subgenres, these guys are a real breath of fresh air for me.

 

Jon Bellion

I’ve wanted to review this guy for a while (over a year in fact) since I picked up this guy’s last album, but I think this is the appropriate time to include him on a list like this given his penchant taste for hip hop, jazz, and pop music. I’ve always been a closet pop fan, but for a while tried to distance myself from it in the name of protesting corporately produced radio fodder… or me acting like a hipster. Either way, I now feel that picketing accessible music like this doesn’t really do justice to or make my taste any superior. More than that, I’m only kidding myself if I deny liking songs like Honey I’m Good or late Hilary Duff. With that said, I still have some of the same sentiments about pop music being an oversaturated melting pot seasoned by the same four chords and song structures. Thankfully, Long Island college dropout, producer, writer, director, rapper, pop singer, Jon Bellion puts his own flavor into the mix that sounds fresh and undeniably fun! His album, The Definition, is a theatric and endearing collection of bangers that leaves a lasting impression with ingeniously crafted instrumentals, R&B flourishes laced throughout, and enough diversity that gives each track its own distinct flavor.

What’s even better is the personality at the helm of a macbook bro and beat pad. In the behind the scenes of all these songs, you see a vibrant slice of humble pie, influenced by such a diverse pool of influences that range from Bon Iver to Kanye West. He doesn’t hang nearly as much bragadocia in the links of gold chains and an overly lavish lifestyle as your average artist in his genre. In fact, he’s conscious of the temptation to feel that way with the success he’s had, but struggles with newfound public recognition and the tension it exists in between his family and relationship with God. Like I said, it’s a transparency that I don’t see from many pop artists in this day, especially in an age where social media proliferates see through personalities that hide behind club hits. You hear it on songs like Human and Luxury where he confesses to sacrificing the bond with his mother in pursuit of happiness and wanting to still maintain his homegrown roots despite his fame.

Because of those things, artists like Jon Bellion make me believe that pop actually has some substance that is tangible, relatable, and not hollow barbs of one night stands and drug binges. I’m looking to see Bellion with his live band in Minneapolis this summer, so hopefully I get to experience it in person and up close!

 

Twenty One Pilots

For better or worse, one of the beauties about college/living in a college town post graduation is that I get to keep an ear to the streets for what music is in vogue. Some of which I come across falls on my half deaf, ringing ears, but more often than not, most of it comes across my Spotify search bar in curiosity. Thank you, Twenty One Pilots, for being such a band/duo/what are you guys anyway??

If you keep reading this review, you’ll hear me say this even more about the next band on this list, but Twenty One Pilots are a double triple edged sword of indie rock, alternative, pop, and hip hop that plays itself out on their new album, Blurryface, in a telling hour of hit after hit. You know those bands that write songs that crawl all over the radio, Youtube, Facebook, your friend’s car, playlists, etc. but you never know the title or artist behind them? That’s basically every Twenty One Pilots song for me, but in the best ways. Songs like Stressed Out and Message Man have these crystalline, spacey beats that envelop you in a bassy echo chamber, while Tear In My Heart take these left turns into indie rock. More surprisingly, We Don’t Believe What’s On TV sounds like a nod to acoustic Mhmm era Relient K… now that I think of it, both members of Twenty One Pilots tip their beanies and gnarly looking red hair to the boys from Canton for being a core influence growing up. Within those hip-hop flourishes that slither through songs like Heavydirtysoul are moments that switch from one musical pole to the other. Though some might say that the lack of cohesion is a weakness, for me it’s an inherent strength, because you can’t pigeon hole them into a genre or two that have crossover appeal. These two guys are what they are and it works well.

I like that Twenty One Pilots have this collective personality that’s consciously aware of the fact that they’re getting older and somewhat critical of the culture at large in their lyricism, but in a lighthearted way. Though Stressed Out has one of the most honest moments of nostalgia, they don’t take themselves too seriously and I think that’s one of my favorite things about Blurryface and ergo the duo at the wheel of the music. Much like Jon Bellion, Twenty One Pilots is making pop music much more palatable for me. I look forward to exploring more of them! Thanks Winona!

 

Issues

Okay, this is an unexpected one that some of my buddies might make fun of me for. That’s okay. I don’t know whether to call these guys a guilty pleasure or just genius, but I found Issues a couple years ago when I stumbled upon their single, Never Lose Your Flames, on a Youtube binge. I was watching the music video, frozen in confliction, because I was loathing and loving this eccentric avant garde of pop, r&b, nu metal, and EDM. At first it sounded like, as one publication put it – Limp Bizkit covering Justin Bieber, but for whatever reason, it began to grow on me as I ashamedly stayed in the closet and cranked it in my headphones. The description may sound like Issues is nothing more than musical entrophy that reaches in too many directions, but in my opinion, they manage to take such an amalgam and pull those influences inwards. The result is understandably polarizing, because in between the articles I found lauding the uniqueness of this record are an almost equal amount of critics who have lambasted this band for the same reason. In all honesty, some of the critique is regarding childish lyricism, which is a valid and agreeable point for me. Irregardless, they are what they are, and what they are to me is unable to be ignored.

Recently, Issues began releasing new songs off their latest record, Headpsace, which caught my curiosity, wondering if the band could somehow pull off a second batch of the same brew. If the singles released before the record dropped were any indication, then yeah, I would say they pulled it off pretty well! Songs like COMA and Blue Wall ride the wave of their respective influences and even manage to still include some novelty… and when I say novelty…. I mean jazz. Yes. JAZZ. The bridge section in The Realest actually has slap bass solo with organ synths that sound straight out of a bebop record in a smokey bar or Seinfeld. But, admittedly, their trek into strange new worlds doesn’t pay as catchy or convincing of dividends. I saw an interview with the band behind the scenes at a video shoot in which the lead singer, Tyler Carter, discussed his affinity for country music, which shows on Yung & Dum laced within this kind of pop punk vibe. I haven’t quite decided on it…. Yet, I’m still listening. Oh, who am I kidding? I’M IN DENIAL.

Issues is one of those bands that is doing what I described Glass Cloud doing, but on an exponential level – soldering genres on opposite ends of the planet that sounds convincingly creative at points and at others incredibly corny. Their material has its moments of falling flat on its face in the concrete, but I celebrate this band for the good, bad, and ugly. Either way, they’re doing something different, accessible, and I’m digging it so far.

 

 

Posted in Music Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

finished people.

Last November, I attended a one-day Catalyst conference hosted by Grace Church in Eden Prairie with the interns and select staff from Pleasant Valley. It was a great day to absorb pragmatic, Biblical knowledge from skilled communicators and experienced pastors from all over the country. Later that evening, a couple of us stuck around for Provoke and Inspire – a seminar put on by Come & Live and Steiger Ministries, both of whom equip and disciple artists as they hone their craft and message. Soon after one of my musical heroes, Mattie Montgomery, spit fire out of Isaiah 6, a guy named Chad Johnson took the mic. I didn’t know who he was, but I was captivated as I listened to him talk about a radical prayer life he developed after being told by a multiple strangers that the Lord would lead him into a seismic career change. At one point, my buddy Zach leaned over and asked me if I knew who the guy was. It turns out that Chad was the A&R of a metal and hardcore label called, Tooth and Nail Records that had a premiere roster of legendary bands – some of whom are still my favorites today. Some of Chad’s stories of transforming prayer involved a band called, Sleeping Giant. Over the years, their name had come up before in hearsay during conversations with friends of mine who are also metal and hardcore enthusiasts, but were unfortunately, not that favorable. So, under that impression, I avoided listening to them. Fast forwarding to last week, I was adding more music to a couple of Spotify playlists, when I ran across them again as a recommended artist under Gideon. Thinking back to the stories Chad Johnson was telling combined with the positive buzz I heard about their last record, Finished People, I gave some of it a listen….

Turns out this thing is a collection of BANGERS.The mix hits like a crowbar and is lyrically powerful! Funny enough, Will Putney, whom I praised in the last album review collection I posted in March was the man behind the mastering of this record – and it shows! The grit of the guitar tones, bass, kick drums, and even the smallest of hi hat taps are captured in a fierce package. Lead singer, Tommy Green, also writes honest, raw lyrics about Jesus showing up in the most barren of places that we write off. As I began doing some more investigating about this record on Youtube and band interviews throughout the web, I ran across this video.

I got goosebumps and teared up watching this the first time.

“I follow a master and he says I never give up on anybody… If he hadn’t wiped my record clean, I belong with them and He forgave me. And He’s a forgiving God, He is so good. And I think it’s our responsibility to not get comfortable, but to remember the ones on the bottom…. those are my people. Those are your people. We are all finished people.

Right now, the intern year is wrapping up at my church, summer is on the horizon, and we will be spending the next few months in reflection – fine tuning programs, planning,  gearing up volunteers/ourselves for the forthcoming fall, and bathing it all in prayer. I know many of my friends are in finals right now (best of luck!) and I consider this is to be one of my final assessments for this year. I can confidently say it’s been an amazing 12 months of growth that was catapulted by God allowing me to step into an environment where I can experiment with and teeth out my passions, abilities, and gifts in the company of incredible people who are passionate about the work of Jesus. This time of self-discovery has given me a lot of insight about how the Lord is molding me and I think part of that is the result of being in recovery. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin and seeing the blemishes I have as part of my testimony rather than embarrassing scars to cover with good works.

Participation in Celebrate Recovery on Friday nights and in step group has taught me a lot about the heart God has for people at the bottom – for the people who live with the feeling of living in the trap doors beneath rock bottom at the stranglehold of narcotic abuse and other addictions, domestic violence, anger, mental health issues, and imprisonment. I can recall Friday nights where people have come through the front doors carrying the baggage of multiple lifetimes worth of pain and suffering. With sunken eyes and fractured spirits, they sit down in the student ministry center for large group and you can see it in their facial expressions. They’re hurting. They feel as if they’ve run out of chances and that the world has closed the door on them, locked it, and put yellow do not cross tape around it. They feel like finished people.

Though Tommy Green talks specifically about prison in this video, I think we can all think of a time when we were imprisoned by our own bitterness, insecurity, shortcomings, addictions, and broken relationships. Maybe prison has been something you’ve experienced. Biblical heroes like Paul wrote whole New Testament letters in cell blocks! He says in 1st Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not raised for the dead then were are to be pitied among all men and we are without any hope. He even called it, the first importance. I read a verse like that and remember that without the grace and forgiveness of a loving God who wiped my record clean – separating my sins like David said in Psalm 103 as far as the east is from the west, I would have taken a wrong turn at the fork and crashed my car in the fog of addiction.

We talk a lot in Celebrate Recovery that step one in recovery is snapping back to reality and addressing denial. If we truly had a handle on everything, we wouldn’t have a need for the ministry to exist. Quite honestly, we wouldn’t need God either. In Romans chapter 7, Paul talks about the conflict he has of wanting to do the right thing, but the internal conflict he has with God and the fallibility of his human nature fails him…. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

We are all finished people…

But God isn’t finished with us.

There is no greater honor that I have as an intern, roommate, friend, son, and brother to see people pick up their crosses and rise above their hurts, habits, and hangups. Seeing the transformation in people’s lives this year has been incredible and evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work, but the most awesome moments for me are the ones where people begin to first believe that there’s life on the other end of it all. The conversations I have when the wheels begin to turn in people’s minds and hearts that there is hope are the moments that remind me of why I do what I do. Progress happens in the minute details. They occur in the margins of our lives, the small decisions, and “minor” tweaks in our attitudes, routines, and schedules. Those build up in capitol to big decisions that will be made well when push comes to shove. I love being front row for those decisions in the lives of people at Celebrate Recovery, my church, family, and friends. It’s one of the best things I get to carry with me as a reminder of what the Lord has done this year and what He has in store next year as well. Those moments remind me that those are God’s people, therefore they are my people. And I’m in the trenches with them.

Philippians 1:2 says, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I am a work progress that has only been made possible when I came to the transforming conclusion that without Jesus I am a finished person – hardened and unaware of the collateral damage I was causing. I have the honor in being part of a community where we are comfortable opening those padlocked, tightly secured, and taped off doors to God and each other. It may come at different points for everyone and random bones from the skeletons we keep in there may stumble out, but there is no more satisfying feeling to see someone have the courage to turn the key to those doors, take a deep breath, and examine what’s inside.

The ones who don’t want to get out of bed because their depression is too much to handle and need someone to comfort them; the ones who walk into a room alone with sunken spirits, because they feel forgotten; the ones who have been abused, violated, and hurt; the ones who sit in a cell block; the ones who suffer from addictions; the ones who grieve… those are God’s people. Those are OUR people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Devotionals, Journals, Music Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.”

 

Posted in Devotionals, Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment