born & raised.

I came to this sobering realization as I sat on my mattress after a full day of working at the coffee house last Thursday night – I feel a little bit older. My Spotify account accompanied my thoughts as I laid down reminiscing on the last year of life and now soaking in the gift of the last five days between family and friends coming down to celebrate my birthday with me.

I’ve been a John Mayer fan since early high school when my siblings turned me onto his seminal record, Continuum. I know some people pass off later albums like Born and Raised as a wrinkle in time compared to older material from his prime and youth, but I think this record’s polar departure from the contemporary suave of Battle Studies parallels Mayer’s personal fall from grace or as he, himself coined it in an interview with Ellen Degeneres, “a violent crash into adulthood.”

Mayer coming to terms with his own charlatan persona printed in the ink of Rollingstone and Playboy shines through in Born and Raised, because I hear him singing about something more esoteric in contrast to drunken one night stands. Instead, I hear him reflecting on the areas of his life that actually matter – longing for something more intimate like slowing down, rethinking his goals, wanting to be closer to family, and heal. In my opinion, the newly introduced Americana flourishes and his nod to classic singer songwriters of the 1970’s provide the perfect soundtrack to Mayer’s lamenting of his youth. It’s honest. Real. It’s a pool of resonance that allows me to wade in similar waters when I reach this milestone of my mid twenties and look in the rear view. Not to say that I’m pining or lamenting the past – quite the opposite.

According to many I’ve conversed over this with in recovery, birthdays can be painful mile markers that remind us of how the soles of our feet still burn from walking through our own personal hell. It can leave us with wounds that ache in the third degree, but as I learned at 23, God can’t show through our blistering skin without those burns. At this age, this is how I look at the blemishes and acne scarring on my face, the slight crook in my front teeth, and the cuts on my hands from working in the restaurant industry through college. They have stories to tell from certain epochs of my formative years that remind me of what wilderness God led me through. In fact, I’ve grown to like how they feel and fit within my own skin. The same goes for everything I experienced in 22 years previous that I once thought should be left to slowly rot in my memory bank. 23 was the first year where I didn’t see February 17th (or the other 364 days) as a day to pine for a clean spiritual/emotional rap sheet.

Now, 24 has set in and feels a bit different in its own light, but in the best way. I’m applying for grad school, gratefully taking on responsibility in this internship, looking forward to continue investing in my friendships both new and old, family, and faith… plus I’m filing my own taxes this year. Never have I ever felt more like an adult. This new reality replays lines from the title track of Born and Raised where Mayer sings, ‘Cause one of these days, you’ll be born and raised and it all comes on without warning. Between that and reflecting on the memories made in a year marked by God’s gracious gift of sobriety, I can say that never have I ever felt more like and adult, more content with where life is right now, or where God is leading it at 24.

My heart is full.

Through the Holy Spirit using the best friends, family, and support as vessels to challenge and encourage me in my walk through navigating the mechanics of my faith in young adulthood, I can say that 23 was the best. To anyone who ever came over for PlayStation battles, threw down in board games, went out for late night T-Bell runs, prayed, did Bible study, wept, laughed, hiked, went to shows, road tripped, attended conferences, seminars, and spent time in the margins or monotony with me…

Thank you.

At this point I do honestly feel a bit older in navigating the intricacies of the real world, but when I take a step back and remember those tangible silhouettes of God’s grace and provision from this last year, I remember the world is not a cold, dead place. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday or a slow Tuesday, cherish the little things in the moment and keep perspective when the waves of hectic schedules, classes, and work crash on the shores of our intimacy with our Heavenly Father. After all, Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own [Matthew 6:34].”

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

new : tunes

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.

 

 

in repair.

When I was a senior in high school, a few of us in our youth group stumbled upon a controversial Youtube video with a young man eloquently spitting a spoken word piece about how a personal relationship with Jesus was the cure for all the pitfalls of corporate, organized religion. It reminded us all of a homegrown pastor from Chicago named, Leslie Hunter, who used to travel to Minneapolis and read his spoken word short stories to us about God’s redemption and transforming grace, so we naturally connected well with it. Bethke’s catalytic message became a conversation starter among all camps of the Internet and was the source of a lot of commentary from notable pastors in the United States. Admittedly, I never watched much more from him until he released this video….

The title grabbed me, because I’m always intrigued whenever things like depression enter the same conversation as Jesus. I feel like some Christians have a misunderstanding about mental illness and addiction – that instead of them being neurochemical imbalances and the results of extenuating circumstance or poor choices, they’re marginalized and chalked up to the result of a lack of faith. Thankfully, the perspective in this video doesn’t really take sides on this issue, but it did capture the narrative of living with depression and addiction, especially at the point where it feels like such illnesses are immune to even Jesus’s healing. I was the same way. I thought that if I confessed my sin, and began to really follow Jesus, things would finally look up and my problems would evaporate into a distant memory of desires I no longer had. But, Bethke nailed it… “Relationships broke, addictions stayed, and that pervasive feeling of loneliness kept gnawing at me.”

Before watching this, I felt like the Biblical minor prophets lived up to their nominal status. Minor, thinking to myself, “There’s only like three or four chapters in some of these… what’s the big deal?” When Bethke references Hosea in this video, I decided to unleash my inner context (#Strengthfindersreference!), investigate this book, and all my presuppositions were erased. Hosea and the collection of eleven other prophets that make up the final leg and finish line of the Old Testament are sent by God to prophecy to Israel at the pinnacle of their sinful indulgences before being overrun by the Assyrian Empire. All these prophetic writings textually depict this narrative about Israel descending into depravity, enduring exile and destruction, then returning and rebuilding the kingdom. Hosea marks a turning point for Israel. The nation had become defiant, was worshipping idols, and drifting further away from the shores of God’s comfort. Hosea is sent by God to forewarn Israel about their impending doom. To illustrate God’s intentions, Hosea is told by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute whom he has two children with and ends up cheating on him – upon which God tells Hosea to continue pursuing her anyway in the same manner that God will not stop pursuing Israel, despite it’s unfaithfulness as a nation (Ch. 1, V. 2-9). As a part of the prophecy, we arrive at Chapter 2, verse 14, “Therefore, I am now going to allure her. I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her there.” The overarching story is revealing about God’s grace, just nature, wrath, love, and ultimately marks the perfect springboard into the Gospels. My friend, Erik actually pointed out chapter 11, verse 8 where the Lord declares, “… My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” When you backdrop a verse like this behind the forthcoming destruction of Israel, it paints a beautifully holistic portrait of God’s nature.

The wilderness is translated from Hebrew as Mid-bawr – meaning desolate wasteland, so it’s fitting when Bethke says that the wilderness meant nothingness and was devoid of life. I found a commentary that shows a second meaning for the wilderness in Hebrew – a good place to pasture “God’s sheep.” It’s a place to be nurtured. Think about how Bethke talks about “romance” that occurs. “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Ch.2 v. 19-20). As I read through the rest of this book, I began thinking about what Bethke said where the wilderness is something where beauty shines in the darkest places. I think when we imagine wilderness (especially in Minnesota), we picture evergreens blanketed with snow, stretching in endless waves across the northern sky. It doesn’t seem so desolate, but I don’t know about you, there’s something that tickles our fear of being alone in the wilderness. We get into a place where we begin processing our hurts with God and hearing the Lord’s voice feels deafening when we turn off social media and meander through mazes of our broken relationships and bitterness. My pastor recently said something interesting in this vein when talking about Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32…So often we frantically search for an exit out of the wilderness. “Lord deliver me FROM.” Panic.

I think everyone can visually picture what it would be like to wander some kind of meta-physical wilderness, but the experience of dealing with the difficulties of life in that kind of wilderness is subjective. I can say as someone who is someone who is in recovery for addiction, recurring issues with anxiety, and now navigating the transitions after college, that the wilderness is an unavoidable reality of entering a life with Jesus, let alone the human experience. We should expect to walk in it and through it at at least one point. In fact, at times I think we should embrace the wilderness and allow us to be as John Mayer puts it, “in repair.” It’s kind of like how Bethke says, “There are some things that we can only see in the dark… and maybe instead of cursing the wilderness or the dry season, or thinking something is wrong with us, we look up and see His glow, maybe He has a special display for us at night. Maybe He shines even brighter when everything is going crazy.” Having to take a few long walks in the dark have been the times where God has taught me the most about myself and about His people – the messiness of recovery, the undertaking of being an adult, the continuation of sorting past wrongs. But, in that, I still see the beauty of life, and sometimes in the smallest of ways in the same sense of looking at the night sky – packing my house with friends and watching Interstellar on a Saturday night, roommates coming home after an encouraging week of travel, hearing stories from friends about their lives I haven’t before. I think we should take those small tokens and pack them on our next excursion…

“I’m in repair, I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”