Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chris Cox Photography

Chris Cox is a Junior at Hope College and a friend. He did design and layout for the last two years of our worship CDs. Please check out his site. He took a series of pics of our family at home and also a few for Susanna. I recommend his work highly.

Below are pics of us from Jacob Bullard's CD release party (Sus and I opened for Soil & the Sun who opened for Jacob and his band), Susanna (most likely will be promo for her new book due out next Fall), the fam and Casper. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Couple Blog Responses: Nudity? Arts Ministry?

Here are a few responses to some blogs. Both have to do with David Taylor. Do I not believe that David can speak for himself? Of course! David is not a man of few words! LOVE you DT! He is astute, working on his PhD, and has several more books in him I'm sure. So, why do I bother? I love these conversations and can't resist. I believe that I'm going to learn some things by these interactions. Also, I've been emboldened by James K.A. Smith's review of the recently published, Hipster Christianity. He's pretty rough on the author Brett McCracken. I think that if Brett and I had an acquaintance, we could be good friends, yet Jamie's spanking of him is somewhat justified. Brett spends so much time pointing the finger that he seems ignorant that "the smeller's the feller," or "it takes one to know one." I'm letting myself be emboldened because the stakes are high with these discussions on faith and culture. These things matter.

I'll note that I don't presume to have the training or credentials to be brash in Jamie Smith's manner. Any of you are welcome to hold me accountable to writing/thinking/speaking as a brother coming alongside others. Let me know if my tone becomes patronizing. There is much to be learned about healthy internet discourse.

Two responses below: first on the question of nudity in film, the second in defense of the mission of 'art ministry." Both flow out of responses from other people to videos posted by The Gospel Coalition of DT presenting at a church planting conference.

In this video David is offering pastors a few recommendations on novels and films they might benefit from. David put the video it on his blog and a few people had trouble with his recommendation of P.T. Anderson's Magnolia especially because of the nudity (very brief yet graphic).  I'm looking forward to David's response.

My response:
This is truly a David Taylor kind of forum discussion! Love it.
My (unsolicited) 2 cents:
* I'd warn against any black and white on the topic of nudity. The Bible gives us wisdom but it will lead us each to various convictions. Insert here Paul's dictum used in 1 Corinthians, "all things are lawful but not all things are profitable." This is a scary thing for Christian brothers and sisters to accept, that what I am called to you may not be called to.
*I'd also caution against an overuse of the Incarnation to defend this issue or the arts in general willy nilly. I'm not saying the Incarnation doesn't have bearing here. Yet we have to be careful in how quick we ascribe something true about God (becoming human) to what we believe to be true about humanity. We have to maintain a distinction between us and God. See J. Begbie edited collection of essays, Beholding the Glory: Incarnation and the Arts.
*We also need to be careful in our viewing/reading/art imbibing habits. While some of us might find merit in a movie like Magnolia, I don't think it should be part of our regular 'diet.' Yes, I believe God can speak through such things, but he can speak much more plainly through the Scriptures.
*While Magnolia is a favorite of mine, I don't recommend it to people unless I know them well. In the video David is recommending the film for pastors and lay leaders who are wanting to broaden their understanding of culture and art. For a film like this to be 'profitable,' the viewer needs the maturity and training to discern the film carefully. Such a film requires not just the discernment of one person or pastor, but a good dialogue like the one here on this blog between all you good people.
*I'd also suggest that the issue of the body is much more of a poignant issue in dance than in film. Those of us working to discern such things need a theology of our bodies. Film is too close and loaded for most of us. A theology 'through the art' of dance would freshen and better frame and therefore inform questions about the body as depicted in film.
*Personally, I am more concerned about our lack of discernment in the area of violence in film. For example, why don't more Christians show concern about Peter Jackson's embellishments of war in his adaptations of the Tolkien books? My review of Showtime's Dexter is here:
*I watch most films with my wife. She is pretty good at helping me in the moment discern what parts of the body I shouldn't see...with her hand over my eyes!
In this other video David is talking about arts ministry at large. Here on The Gospel Coalition's site several people expressed grave skepticism about the purpose and merit of ministering to artists. These comments cut deep, yet in my response I'm truly attempting to build bridges. We'll see.

My response:
I’m an arts pastor involved in campus ministry. I’m also a contributor to David Taylor’s collection of essays. I’ve read through the comments here and want to attempt a response because we so much want to have these conversations with those of you in the church at large. After all, the book was written out of love for the body of Christ (tile: For the Beauty of the Church) and a desire to see the Kingdom of God advanced. We are not trying to put artists on a pedestal or to pit art over and above the Gospel.
First, there are many quick judgments here. I can’t help but think that you are not reacting to David so much as connecting him to other trends in the church that you’ve become confused or alarmed by. There has been lots of talk about the arts. In my estimation, the arts have become awkwardly trendy for Evangelicals. That is perhaps one of the reasons why the book was put together–to develop a more robust conversation about the arts that might serve the faithful, Gospel work of the local church pastor (David and I both come from precious work in the local church).
I encourage you to read the book. Many of your reactions here are in response to a five minute video. I don’t think many of you would like your ministries to be judged based on a five minute visit to your church. Give the book a chance. David assembled a very astute group of authors of which I am the least.
Second, I’m confused by the dualism inherent in most of these posts. The underlying assumption is that ‘culture-making’ is an optional project. We don’t have a choice whether we make culture or not. All of us daily produce culture; we practice the ordering of creation. The question is not if we are engaged in art and culture as the church, the question is how and to what extent we bring our art/culture engagement under the Lordship of Christ and how brightly his love, truth, beauty, justice shine through us.
Why the emphasis on arts ministry in the local church? Because we are trying to compensate for this kind of dualism that separates how the kingdom of God is established on earth “as it is in heaven.” If we evangelicals had a more developed theology of culture, we would not need ‘arts pastors.’ I’ll add that not all of us involved in arts ministry are naive ‘transformationalists.’ While I have hope for these things, I also understand the ultimate work of transformation is God’s alone. I teach a nuanced approach, cautious yet hopeful, “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” because we are “sheep among wolves.”
Finally, my emphasis on the arts is precisely out of concern for discipleship. If we don’t practice cultural discernment and champion good Christians in the arts, then we will be handing our people over to “the wolves,” to blindly to imbibe and co-opt cultural forms that compromise the Gospel. For example, contrary to your assumptions, many of us are involved in arts ministry because we are very concerned about aesthetic values of ‘the cool’ and ‘the sexy’ and want to steer the church away from hipster attempts to compete with popular culture.
grace and peace of Christ to you!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Monsoon Malabar

Susanna and I have been reading a lot lately. We finished Tim Winton’s The Shallows finally and then busted through Edgar Sawtell and are two thirds through Cold Mountain. There has been a few mentions of characters drinking coffee—descriptions of making coffee, holding the hot cups—that I’ve been wondering about how to find that same powerful, nostalgic moment in my days.

One morning this past week I made the perfect cup of Monsoon Malabar with the Clever Coffee gizmo. I realized how good it was as I was driving down College Ave to school. I was rushed in getting there and had to suck away quickly. I missed the kind of calm, solitary, watchful coffee drinking I’d been reading about. Cold morning. Wrapped up in warm clothes. Gripping the mug. But I kept thinking about the amazing balance of that brew. Hot. Strong. But not so strong that I couldn’t appreciate the roast of the bean.

Yesterday morning—Saturday—I went to church at 9:30AM to rehearse my role as narrator for this year’s Christmas play. My consolation of giving up my Saturday morning was going to be a thermal mug with another brew of Monsoon Malabar. Well, I used the larger coffee filter and added too much water and what came out didn't taste much better than the coffee they serve at church. That isn’t a knock on the church; it's a admission of the snobbery that many of us have taken to with our fancy pants, boutique roasted beans. I was probably 10 the last time I was in a Christmas play. Anyone know Psalty’s Christmas Calamity? Part of me wanted to do this because I want to experience who/what I am with all the kids, as an adult, as a father now (Casper is baby Jesus this year) and potentially as a pastor of a small church like Crossroads some day. There’s that model of a pastor I wonder if I could be, the children’s sermons, the warmth as a family man, the ‘let the children come to me’ picture of Jesus, multi-ethnic kids climbing all over his lap, birds flitting in the air around his shoulders. Apparently the rehearsal went well. That is what Celaine said at least, but I was still bumming on the poor coffee I’d made.

We slept and read most of yesterday afternoon. I woke up earlier this morning. I have an even better cup of coffee next to me right now. Robed with a blanket across my feet. The gas stove is on. It looks disgustingly cold outside especially because I know it rained yesterday and that snow is crusted ice now.

What do I do with this moment? I blog it. Judson sent me a link to Justin Vernon’s twitter account. As I clicked through it, I experienced the world of an aesthete. We saw him in concert a few years ago and yes, his performance evoked a sensual, emotional expiation. I’ve been experiencing many things deeply in this season. The dANCEpROJECt performance a month ago was at the beginning of much of it. Or was it really Capser’s birth back in May? I haven’t been writing much because this has been a season of seeing and doing, taking in, gathering, receiving. I never knew I’d be so moved by modern dance. Even the more lyrical movements of Sacred Dance last Wednesday grabbed hold of me. Cold Mountain is so visceral, Charles Frazier’s prose so evocative that I’ve been reaching for books of poetry (eg. Franz Wright) to keep me going. Two records I just picked up have been good food satisfying different appetites: Jose Gonzalez’ band, Junip and finally the Black Keys’, Brothers. Thursday night I was able to record six different student performances. Ben came in and helped me facilitate short 10-15 minute sessions with each. Then there was the team Christmas party Friday night. For the White Elephant exchange, Lauren turned a bobble head into something that evoked a strong resemblance of Larry playing the piano and I wanted it...bad. Jacob stole it. Leo made a certificate, a voucher for a date with Josh Banner. Scott Kuyper stole that. We talked about going skeet shooting because I had picked his gift, a box containing two clay pigeons. Mike gave me a Christmas ornament. He’d taken a picture of me holding Casper and pasted his own face over the baby's. Our prayer time was giddy and sweet.

In the midst of so much seeming division in our nation, I’m fighting despair by resuscitating my engagements with ‘things.’ Rilke wrote that we should ‘be near things.’ It is our public discourse, our feeding on technological trinkets. It’s as if so many are experiencing a collective heaviness, a depression. And there's death too. One friend’s father went last week. Lori’s father is in hospice. John’s dad and Susanna’s uncle are about to enter. Why are the holidays often riddled with such ‘when it rains it pours’ pain? Despite it all, in the face of it, I’m alive and kicking. And that is baffling because I’d expect at this point, the end of the semester, that I’d be numb, cold and aloof.

It’s having a family. Susanna said it last night. Having a baby changes everything. Suddenly everything matters more. Even coffee. We were made to experience the world with and through others.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Readings

From The Supper of The Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon

Section from Chapter One: Ingredients

Permit me now to wipe my hands and introduce myself. I am an author who has always intended to write about cooking, but who has never gotten started in a way that didn’t carry him out of the field in two paragraphs or less. This time, as you can see, I have outwitted the muse. My beginning, if confusing, is the most auspicious thus far.

Next, my qualifications.

First, I am an amateur. If that strikes you as disappointing, consider how much in error you are, and how the error is entirely of your own devising. At its root lies an objection to cookbooks written by non-professionals (an objection, by the way, which I consider perfectly valid, and congratulate you upon). It does not, however, apply here. Amateur and nonprofessional are not synonyms. The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight. It is far more often that it should be, boredom.  And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of all un-loveliness.

In such a situation, the amateur—the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy—is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man bound, by his love, to speak. If he loves Wisdom or the Arts, so much the better for him and for all of us. But if he loves only the way meat browns or onions peel, if he delights simply in the curds of his cheese or the color of his wine, he is, by every one of those enthusiasms, commanded to speak. A silent lover is one who doesn’t know his job.

Section from Chapter 8: Water in Excelsis

The bloom of the yeast lies upon the grape skins year after year because He likes it; C6H12O6=2C2H5OH+2CO2 (fermentation) is a dependable process because, every September, He says, that was nice; do it again. 

So let us pause and drink to that, to a radically, perpetually unnecessary world, to the restoration of astonishment to the heart and mystery to the mind, to wine because it is a gift we never expected, to mushroom and artichoke for they are incredible legacies, to improbable acids, and high alcohols since we would have hardly thought of them ourselves and to all being because it is superfluous, to the hairs on Harry’s ear and to the 768th cell from the upper attachment on the right gluteus maximus on the last girl on the chorus line. Prosit, dear hearts. Cheers, men and brethren. For we are free. Nothing is needful. Everything is for joy. Let the bookkeepers struggle with their balance sheets. It is the tippler who sees the untipped hand. God is eccentric. He has loves, not reasons. Salud.

From For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann

From Chapter One Section Three

To love is not easy, and mankind has chosen not to return God’s love. Man has loved the world, but as an end in itself and not as transparent to God. He has done it so consistently that it has become something that is “in the air.” It seems natural for man to experience the world as opaque, and not shot through with the presence of God. It seems natural not to live a life of thanksgiving for God’s gift of a world.

When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the “sacrament” of God’s presence.

(join in the sections in bold)

*Give us, our Father, a sense of your presence
as we gather now for worship.
Grant us gratitude as we remember your goodness,
penitence as we remember our sins,
and joy as we remember your love.
Enable us to lift up our hearts
in humble prayer and fervent praise,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2   Worship the Lord with gladness;
   come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
   It is he that made us, and we are his;*
   we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
   and his courts with praise.
   Give thanks to him, bless his name.

*Great God of our lives,
for all that is gracious in our lives,
revealing the image of Christ,
we give you thanks.
For our daily food and drink,
our homes and families, and our friends,
we give you thanks.
For minds to think and hearts to love and hands to serve,
we give you thanks.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
we give you thanks.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
we give you thanks.
For the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
to you, O God, be praise and glory. Amen.

There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good!
   Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’
7 You have put gladness in my heart
   more than when their grain and wine abound.

*Prayers are from The Worship Sourcebook.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From Bonhoeffer's Letters & Papers From Prison

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience--and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by "religious."[1]

Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. "Christianity" has always been a form--perhaps the true form--of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless--and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?)--what does that mean for "Christianity"?[2]

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison (New York, Touchstone: 1997) 279.
[2] [Tegel] 30 April 1944 To Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, 281.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A 3 Year Old Reciting Billy Collins

I saw this little guy on youtube some time ago. NPR is covering the story here. This easily one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. Plus he's an incredibly adorable little guy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reading excerpts from Rowan Williams' Wound of Knowledge

Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross.

p. 17 
To believe in Jesus' God, the God of unconditional accessibility and even-handed compassion, to believe in an anarchic mercy that ignores order, rank and merit, is to accept that our projects and patterns are the mark of failure, of illusion, of the infantile belief that we can dictate truth and reality. Because it is menacing and painful to be confronted with the knowledge that our constructions of controlled sense are liable to be empty self-serving, we readily turn to violence against the bearers of such knowledge: in Johannine terms, we have decided we want to stay blind when the light is there before us, claiming we can see perfectly well (John 8:41). And the New Testament (especially the fourth gospel) suggests that only when such naked collision of interest occurs can the un-compromising reality of God over against our patterns of "religious control" become dear. God provokes crisis to destroy our self-deceiving reliance on "Law;" our dependence on what we as individuals can make and sustain, or what we as societies can administer for our own unchallenged interest. Self-dependence is revealed as a mechanism of self-de-struction; to cling to it in the face of God's invitation to trust is a thinly veiled self hatred.
p. 18
The Spirit's work is to make the believer like Christ, and being like Christ means living through certain kinds of human experience--not once, but daily. The second letter to the Corinthians is Paul's most passionate meditation on this. Here he speaks of the daily affliction, the daily rejection, the daily dying by which the Spirit works, transforming us "from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). The veil of the law is removed, illusion is stripped away, but only slowly does this penetrate every area of human living. And it penetrates by means of the pervasive and inexorable experience of failure, by the "wasting away" (2 Cor. 4:16) of the instincts that look for clarity, ease and effectiveness and the acceptance of the hiddenness of God's working.
Here is the transfiguration from glory to glory, realized daily in the absurd, the biter, even the comical; this is, surprisingly, what it is to live in the Messsianic age and to be conformed to the pattern of the Messiah. When the future breaks into the present order, it shows itself in Paul's "folly" for Christ, in the stupid incongruities of this curious life in two worlds.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hope College Arts Events

Veritas Prequel November 3 & 4
Presenting Poet and Songwriter Reverend Vito Aiuto of the Welcome Wagon

November 3:

  10:30am Dimnent Chapel

“The Sacred & the Creative Process: Reflections on Ministry and Art Making” the Reverend Vito Aiuto of the Welcome Wagon followed by a panel discussion with Trygve Johnson and Joshua Banner
   3:00pm Hemmenway Auditorium

Poetry and Songs by Vito Aiuto of the Welcome Wagon, Joshua Banner and Susanna Childress of the Ordinary Neighbors and various Hope College students
   7:00pm Hemmenway Auditorium followed by a dessert reception in the Martha Miller Rotunda

November 4:
“Reflections on Worship Music by Vito Aiuto”
9:30am Dimnent #16

The Veritas Forum is a biennial event at Hope College. This year’s topic is “True Community True Selves: Exploring True Community in a Virtual World,” with lectures Thursday January 13, 2011 through Saturday morning, January 15. The forum will conclude with a concert featuring The Welcome Wagon (read below to learn more about this musical group). The Veritas Forum Prequel is a series of events to launch interest in the forum as well as various arts events that will coincide with the January forum which include:

Poetry Contest: $50 Prize*
Winners to be judged by Professor Pablo Peschiera. All submissions should be sent to Deadline for Opus Submission is November 14. However, you can still submit poems for the contest as late as January 10.

Visual Art Contest: $50 Prize* Winners to be judged by Professor William Mayer. Artists submitting should contact Professor Mayer. Photos of works can also be submitted to Opus. Again
the deadline for Opus Submission is November 14. However, you can still submit visual art for the contest as late as January 10.

8 Minutes Max*: we are seeking auditions of any original performance art pieces (songs, bands, singer songwriters, classical or jazz compositions, dance choreography, short film, theatrical vignettes. Selected performance pieces will perform January 15 before the Welcome Wagon at the Knickerbocker Theater. Auditions will be held December 9. Please contact Joshua Banner to sign up for an audition time.

*All visual art, poetry and performance pieces must somehow respond to the Veritas Mission statement, the focus of the lectures for January 2011. Contests and performances are only open to Hope College students.

Veritas Mission 2011
Perhaps no other human longing is more powerful than our desire for true friendship and true community. While ever-changing technologies provide instant connection with others, we often suspect that connection and community are not the same thing.  While information abounds online, intimacy eludes us.  We struggle even to maintain a sense of personal identity in the face of an avalanche of insistent marketing, must-have products and impersonal branding.  What is required at this cultural moment in order to cultivate true communities and to interact authentically with others and in our increasingly virtual world?  How can we experience authentic friendship, stable relationships, and an identity that was not manufactured for us?  Simply put, where do we find true selves and true communities?  Please join us as these and related questions are thoughtfully explored in light of the enduring truth of the Christian gospel during the 2011 Hope College Veritas Forum.


The Welcome Wagon is a married couple, the Reverend Thomas Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique, who execute a genre of gospel music that is refreshingly plain. Their hymns are modest and melodic takes on a vast history of sacred song traditions, delivered with the simple desire to know their Maker—and to know each other—more intimately.

Vito was born in Tecumseh, Michigan, and attended Western Michigan University where he developed a love for writing poetry.  His first book of poems, Self-Portrait as Jerry Quarry, was published by New Issues Press in 2002.  A self-described agnostic, Vito experienced a spiritual conversion at the age of 20 and soon after enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary to study theology and prepare for ordained ministry. Currently he is the senior pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church, a church he planted in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, in 2005.

Raised on a farm, by a gentleman farmer father and choir teacher mother, in the same small town as Vito, Monique moved to New York City after high school to study art, first at the Cooper Union (BFA), then Columbia University (MFA).  Since then she has worked as a pre-school teacher, craftmaker for Martha Stewart, and as a mother.  She also serves as the Welcome Wagon's resident visual artist.

The Welcome Wagon began as husband and wife singing in the privacy of their home.  Having little to no previous musical experience or training, Vito purchased a guitar with the desire to sing hymns with his family.  With Monique accompanying on toy glockenspiel or harmonica, the two would amble through old hymnals, psalters and prayerbooks. Their inability to read music was no big issue; Vito simply made up new tunes to old words.

While their most familiar venue was (and is) their living room, the Welcome Wagon have been periodically coaxed to small stages at bars, parties, and seminaries throughout the New York City area, often joined by friends on upright bass, drums, piano, and banjo.  These intimate arrangements preserve the delicate nature of the Welcome Wagon's identity.

But there is another Welcome Wagon, the one that can be heard on their debut album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon.  This version of the band retains the heart and soul of pastor and his wife singing together, but dresses them up in the transcendent musical vestments of Sufjan Stevens, who produced and helped arrange the record.

The collaboration between Stevens and The Welcome Wagon began in 2001 with their appearance on the Asthmatic Kitty compilation To Spirit Back the Mews (2001), debuting the first song they ever wrote and recorded, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood." Since that time they have been patiently recording an album of hymns, pop covers, and folksy originals with their friend and Brooklyn neighbor.  But it was the nativity of that first song which established their pattern of work together: husband and wife write and arrange songs with the architecture of a country chapel, while Stevens (as latter-day Christopher Wren) designs and attaches flying buttresses, soaring spires and reliquaries, gargoyles, gryphons and cherubs dotting the façade. Somehow this unlikely partnership has produced a sublime addition to that genre called "church music".

Admittedly, for a gospel duo, there's far less soul than sweet sincerity in the casual songs of the Welcome Wagon. Vito and his wife are unabashedly Midwestern, ordinary and uncool.  But this is precisely what sets them apart from the standard fare of contemporary liturgical music. It doesn't feign emotion; it doesn't pander to stylistic pretensions; it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is: the result of countless, informal social exchanges between friends. A home-cooked meal followed by a few microphones taped to folding chairs. A family gathering, a summary of happy noises, and a room crowded with familiar faces. Sure, there are showy guitar riffs and piano codas and harmonica solos, a rowdy chorus, an imposing flourish of brass instruments like wartime canons. But at the heart of it—if you really listen carefully—there's just a pastor and his wife tentatively singing in the quiet privacy of their own home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More Friendship

We need a theology of friendship like we need a functional democracy. If I had the patience or the frame of mind to draw the connections, there could be much to say about the way government might work more successfully if we knew how to be better friends to each other. I found this piece on that compares the troubles between the Left and the Right in need of marriage counseling. The comparison is a bit sentimental and overwrought. It fears the democrats' jaded and cutting cynicism is more destructive to our country than the republicans' anger. And this quirky analysis is just the bread and butter of quirk that Slate puts out: how to look at an issue from a somewhat less than conventional twist.

However, I'm thinking about friendship because I've just had a visit from Judson Tompkins. He flew into GR on Thursday. We drove on over to Royal Oak for a Sufjan concert. What a trippy and delightful evening. I got to see David Stith if even for just a second. Jud and I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the studio working a bit on his music and some on mine too.

And now the day after he's gone I find myself feeling somewhat barren and this makes me feel guilty. I'm here at home, a day off with Susanna and Casper trying to take it easy and quiet and I'm feeling sorry for myself...the sap that I am? Casper is a delight. He is moving into his personality in a vivid way. Sharing these discoveries with Susanna is rich. I can feel parts of my insides expanding, becoming something more. And still I miss the Judson Tompkins, the Brad Kilmans, the Josh Bottomlys of my world.

If there is anything that I really care about it is connection. Art, music, the studio, the creative process, worship, the rehearsals, the services, food at the table, film, literature...hospitality in all its forms. These are all ways to be with people. It is what I've been able to share with deep friends like Judson for years. It is what I share with Hope College students now. I work to create arenas for this to expand the way we think about our capacity for sharing our lives with each other.

Let's all promise to not take each other for granted. Let's promise to go out of our way more each week to share and give something. Let's imagine a way of sharing our times and energy on new people. Let's open ourselves and be surprised by someone we've not been paying attention to. It doesn't have to be grandiose in a dramatic fashion. In fact it is better if it is small and subtle because otherwise the gift ends up being more about us than the other. I feel kinda silly saying these things. I don't want to be naive or to add panic to our already busy lives. I'm working against that mantra, gotta do more...gotta be more. I don't want to be cheesy either. I want the real thing. I want history with people. Rootedness. To be known and to know. To move past small things.

I'm surprised by how much I want to be better at sharing myself. Where does this urge come from? Big thanks to Judson for reawakening this ever so painful yet hopeful ache. It is an ache for my Oklahoma family, but it is more for that. How to find the words tonight? I better not try to say more for now.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

QUICK: After the Crowder Conference

I hate talking about a movie or a concert immediately after it is over. I always feel awkward trying to put the experience into words too quickly [READ Annie Dillard's "Total Eclipse" for a better description of why we should take our time assigning language to experience].

Just finished attending THIS event.  I normally don't look into conferences except a few. It isn't clinically diagnosable, but I choke up in large crowds and long lines. I get anxious, feel trapped and annoyed. But I decided to attend this event because David Taylor was presenting and I could get a free place to stay in his hotel room and a free admission as his guest. Further David and some of us have had this on running discussion about the state of contemporary worship music throughout the summer and the overall framework of this conference seemed like a great way to continue that discussion and the learning curve. It is intriguing that David Crowder included everyone from the Welcome Wagon (who will be at Hope College a few times this year), the Bifrost Arts, Israel Houghton, Gungor, John Mark McMillan, Matt Maher, Matt Redman, Hillsong London, along with speakers like David Dark and Rob Bell. It is apparent that Crowder put this particular group of people together because despite their various disparate musical styles and positions within the church, each impress representing something substantial in Crowder's mind about what is happening in the realm of church music.

My favorites were David Dark because he has always been such great insight and is versatile within pop and higher, historical (or canonical) arts/culture, Israel Houghton because I'm pretty high on gospel music right now with all the good, sweet things that are happening at Hope with our choir, and John Mark McMillan because I love his voice and the raw place he writes and sings from.

It was a very overwhelming experience especially since I had the backstage access and got good time with many of the artists and speakers. I went knowing that It'd be overwhelmed praying that the Spirit would keep me teachable and tender and that I'd have some good connections without having to go way out of my way to ingratiate myself. I'm a bit shy about these things. To top it off, I woke up at 4am Thursday to have time to get my 5:50am departure out of GR with a burning throat. It's been a head cold that has now moved into my chest. So it was really hard for me to feel emotionally present with the people and the worship. Maybe some how the sickness has been good, relieving me of the pressure of having to emotionally connect with the whole enterprise. In fact, this morning I put in ear plugs during the music because the subs were pumping so loud the night before that I felt dizzy.

It will indeed take me some time to fully get my head wrapped around what this all means to me and I don't want to rush that process. I want to at least say a few things.
  1. I love the church. I renounce cynicism and judgmentalism. I began renouncing cynicism a while back, but it is a discipline to practice regularly. Each portion of the last three days contained something that I can learn from. I may not agree with all they do musically or say theologically and I may not be able to replicate exactly what they are teaching or representing, but the event in all its odd eccentricities leaves me loving God and the church more. I'm tired of cynicism. Create in me a clean heart Oh God. I believe, help my unbelief.
  2. With all that I've been exposed to in the last three days, I feel even more delight with what God is doing through us at Hope College. Yes, I've just seen some world class musicianship and some powerful examples of worship leadership, but there is something lovely about the ministry and spiritual community at Hope College. I'm so grateful. We have World Communion Sunday tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to it even if I'm so sick I can't sing.
I'm still in Waco for the night and fly into GR at 1pm. If you read this before then, please pray that my flights are all on time so that I can get back for rehearsal for the Gathering tomorrow night.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Response To David Taylor's Questions About Worship Song Writing

David Taylor is the pre-eminent asker of questions. I love him for many reasons (I met my wife through him, he enjoys spicy food, has a great laugh, he lives deeply and deliberately, is generally a good time) but especially for his ache, his insistence, his persistence, even his obsession with putting a fine point to every good conversation. I recently completed the Gallup Strengths assessment test and one of my top five is “intellection,” meaning I like to spin abstractions around in my head. “Discipline” was not in my top five, thus my irregular blogging and thus my need for people like David Taylor in my life to keep me on task. In his most recent blog post he asks some poignant questions of worship songwriters. I presume much of this musing is prep for his pending presentation at David Crowders worship extravaganza at the end of the month yet the musing is also I’m sure a result of his deep love and concern for the church. So, I’ll bite.

Question 1: When you sit down to write a song, who are the people that inspire, or perhaps we should say in-form, your work?

Part 1a: the people who really matter… Part one of our first question, then, asks to whom a songwriter feels a sense of primary allegiance.

These kinds of questions can be answered both musically and textually. Trying to answer the question musically is somewhat of a mystery. I love George Steiner’s quip, “can anything meaningful be said about music?” For all of music’s physicality, the rhythmic pulse, the visceral response to melodies and harmonies, the tactile execution and reception of music…there is still an ineffable quality to any primary creative act. Scholars have wondered on this question endlessly. Where does creativity come from? Do we really have any control over it? Can a person be taught to write well or compose a song? Further is there really anything new ever made? See David, your attempt to put a fine point on these things only makes my head spin with more questions.

So let me just answer from my personal experience. For some reason I have melodies always inside of my head/heart. I can find several different melodies for any given chord progression. I don’t know why. They don’t all sound pleasant. They are just ideas. I have to sift through them and get to question #2 below briefly here. I know they are right when I’ve not become tired of them, when they stick inside of me, when I find that I still want to hum or sing them.

Some songwriters start with a text. Others with music. Some have varying mixtures between both. I mostly start with the music, but I do on occasion like to find ways of singing texts that have already been written.

So, who inspires me musically? Yes, definitely the Triune God. I feel the most joy and satisfaction when writing music. Often I try to find melodies in response to my daily Scripture readings. Singing is my most natural response to the Word of God and prayer. But I’m also informed and inspired by the music I’m listening to and playing at the time. The chorus of one song of mine, “Fairer,” turns out to be almost identical to the song “Death of a Salesman” by the band Low. I didn’t mean to steal it and didn’t realize what I’d done until a few months after the song was written. If I make the song more accessible, I may be contacting Low to square off on intellectual property rights and legally give what is due them (namely Alan Sparhawk).  My point is that if song writers want to make certain kinds of songs, they need to immerse themselves in that kind of music by listening and playing it.

I listen mostly to avant, indie rock and down tempo. Lots of the National, Arcade Fire, Bibio, Boards of Canada, DM Stith…. This stuff can actually hinder me in my ability to write contemporary worship songs. I’ve finally found a few worship song writers that I really like: Paul Baloche, Robbie Seay, some of the Jesus Culture stuff, Brooke Fraiser, most recently a song by Phillip Rice. My mainstays are of course Brad Kilman and Charlie Hall. I’ve been listening to lots of worship music this summer and it is finding its way deeper into my heart.

What inspires my textually/lyrically? Again, it all comes out of my regular Scripture readings/meditations. If a certain idea of thought strikes me and if it seems like something that I haven’t noticed in other contemporary songs, then I’ll give it a shot. Much of this is just part of my private prayer life. Most of it doesn’t occur to me as something that I will bother forming into a full song. As they say, most of art is made not by inspiration but simply by showing up at the page or the canvas or whatever the medium. The act of creating a ‘thing’ is when the artist is able to pay attention to what emerges and the artist can recognize it as something worth developing and focusing on and what is crap. The rest, the bulk of it, is left on the cutting room floor.

If I find a connection between some words and a melody that seems worthwhile, I sing it and pray it over and over to see if my own heart is warmed…if my mind is lit up. Then I take those bits and pieces and put my thinking cap on and begin another kind of work to flesh out the song. Much of what inspires and informs me is good ole bible study, word searches, cross-referencing, reading and re-reading passages and taking a few pages of notes. I keep a hymnal at hand and do some searching through topical and Scriptural indexes. I use Witvliet’s Worship Source Book and do some thematic searching. All along the way I’m asking what the full song is about, the chorus/refrain and then how do verses, bridges, tags reinforce that overall meaning.

I also have the blissful pleasure of being married to a fantastic poet, so I sing parts to her. She tells me very quickly what is good and what is not. If she is inclined she starts toying around with phrasing with me.

My favorite texts are by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Bernard of Clairvaux….

Part 1b: what functional authority do they play? What functional authority does the songwriter’s “primary community” play in his or her work?

On a whole other level, what inspires me? My congregation, the gathered worshipers at Hope College. I write for them. It is in my job description and it is my joy to supplement our worship diet with original material. Back in 2000 or so I heard how much money Martin Smith was making quarterly on his popular song “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” and suddenly it became impossible for me to write corporate songs. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if somehow I’d someday write a hit and start making gobs in royalties. It wasn’t until the summer of 2006 right before I started here at Hope that I was able to write another corporate song. It came out of my excitement of serving this new community. That first song was my experiment in wondering what would interesting in the context of a campus ministry. It was initially sparked by a desire to say to God in song what the disciples said to Jesus when he wondered if they too would leave him, “where shall we go? You alone have the words of life.”

I don't feel any particular allegiance to a denomination though. What I’m doing is explicitly ecumenical. I’m most enthused about injecting high biblical/theological content into contemporary forms. Yet, I am for the most part a Reformed creature, so I work to remain true to those theological convictions. I also make myself accountable to our staff. If they find something funky about a line, I’ll definitely change it.

Alternatively, does a songwriter sense a responsibility to write songs inspired by and in service of the global church, with a respect for the unique concerns of other cultures?

I’m not trained yet or equipped to know how to write for the global church. I don’t know if such a thing is possible. Is there a song that could be globally received? Even “Amazing Grace” may seem funky to someone somewhere. When trying to be hospitable to students of color or international students, it is much more effective to get them involved in the worship leading. I’ve stepped things up with our Gospel Choir for just this reason. I also love to meet and learn songs from the international students. We’ve been deeply affected by these songs from across the globe.

Here is a tricky counter question with issues of global music: globalization has made Western, contemporary music styles almost ubiquitous. For example, hip-hop is really popular in many many cultures because these cultures want to Westernize musically as well as technologically. What are we to do with Spanish speaking churches that would rather sing Hillsongs music in Spanish translation rather instead of using their indigenous musical styles? This is happening with contemporary Black Gospel music, a kind of fusion of sorts between contemporary rock worship styles and Gospel Choirs. This can create very exciting results, but it makes ‘global’ music a pretty complicated topic. Check out this song for example: 

It is arguable that much of what is on the top 40 charts is some blend of hip hop, hard rock and bubble gum pop. Much of popular music is becoming an aesthetic mishmash.

2. How do you know that you have written a right song?

Constance Cherry has a great checklist of things to consider in evaluating a worship song in her new book The Worship Architect. It is a pretty daunting list of criteria, but I rest in the knowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect worship song. In my journey of song selection for this summer, I found myself spending more time in prayer with a song. I’ve had to set my critical faculties aside for a bit to sense if a song makes sense to me spiritually. I’m growing back into some old habits I used before graduate school to discern a song. I’ve found that my biblical/theological training has somewhat crippled me to fully trust any songs at all. Of course, it is easy to rip any given contemporary song to shreds. I’ve been heavy handed and cynical even and so it has been a season of repentance and trust. Yes we must be “shrewd as serpents” in discerning worship music, but we also must be “as innocent as doves.” This has freed me as a leader too. During the first week of worship services, I’ve found that I can give myself to a song in a more deliberate way to lead more fully and confidently.  So there seems to be a dialectic of moving back and forth between mental and heart assessment. After doing this for so many years, for the most part, I can tell which songs will work. Constance Cherry’s criteria is a good rubric, but ultimately it is an intuition you develop after years of failures and successes. You judge a 
tree by its fruit, and so we develop a taste for the fruit.

Ironically, I had the morning off from leading and my students led in my place. They picked two of my songs. It was the first time that has ever happened—me being led by two songs I wrote for Hope College by Hope College students. I was in tears. Deep gratitude. It is a kind of fruit that blows my mind. They are such strong leaders. Hearing the whole of the chapel sing so fully. Rehearsing these lines Susanna and I wrote together. Sharing with the gathered saints. An absolutely remarkable blessing.

Monday, August 30, 2010

QUICK REVIEW: The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services

I've been teaching a Theology and Worship course for four years now and have struggled to find the right readings because, as Paul Westermeyer and Charlotte Kroeker both agree, the study of Church music is vastly interdisciplinary. While I delight in the theoretical questions that surround the church and its musical culture, when we get down to the rubber hitting the road applications like the order of service, song selection, and congregational participation, The Worship Architect serves us well.

Honestly, I typically have an 'allergic reaction' to prescriptive ministry texts. While the book is filled with lists and lists of practical questions and ideas, it avoids being pedantically heavy handed. Cherry's intent is to direct our attention to the important issues that must be addressed in order to plan our services well and she does this efficiently. The exhaustive content may be dizzying for my students but it is a valuable reference to have on hand for leaders. The book is worth its price if only for the concise list of questions for evaluating a worship song. I had groups of my student leaders use this in a training retreat last week and there was much fruit from their discussions and discernment.

The theological content in the first half of the text (Cherry's "four load bearing walls") may be relatively cursory, it serves as a good primer for opening the discussion of liturgical theology for novices--for the college student.

This will be an important book for training worship leaders from both traditional and contemporary churches but especially the contemporary. With the boom of contemporary worship in the last 20-30 years we need to expect more from our contemporary leaders than to be talented, winsome and spirit-filled. Many of the books with this kind of liturgical content are written in a tone and vocabulary that will only preach to their respective choirs. But Cherry's approach is accessible and ecumenical and will help contemporary leaders conceive a substantial approach to worship planning, a weighty respect for each part of a service and an appropriate discernment essential to leading well.

[p.s. thanks to Matt Westerholm for catching my typo. It is just as loving to tell someone when they have a booger,  food in their teeth, a button undone or a fly unzipped.]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review of For the Beauty of the Church

The good folks at Transpositions have had the mind to review For the Beauty of the Church chapter by chapter. My chapter was reviewed, incidentally, on my birthday. They brought up a good concern about what I'm suggesting. I copied my response below. There is good discourse on each chapter in the respective comment sections.
I don't know if anything could be more exciting than this! Thanks to you guys for taking such care with this book. Your collective thoughtfulness will make us better pastors and leaders in the future.

For the record, I'm aware of the 'cute' factor of my three P's. I had come up with that language back in '98 when I wrote out the initial mission statement for the arts ministry. The P's were a coincidence then. That same language has served me thus far, so I kept it the unintentional alliteration.

Regarding the factory concern: yes, a very good concern. Another reviewer elsewhere suggested that what I'm suggesting is tantamount to turning pastors into "talent scouts." Well, yes indeed. I do believe that pastors are talent scouts but not just of artistic gifts but of all gifts. Those of us who have the privilege/burden of being paid in ministry--I believe--are paid primarily to identify and release the many gifts within our congregations, preaching, teaching, worship leading, outreach, service, intercession as well as painting, poetry, composition etc.... We are called to "equip the saints for the work of ministry." Much of what I do as a campus minister can be called vocational counseling. I help students identify, trust and test their passions. I would LOVE churches to be better equipped to maybe not become 'gift' or 'talent' "factories" but perhaps conservatories, gardens, flourishing farms.

Peace of Christ to you. Thanks again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: What Language Shall I Borrow?

 My review of What Language Shall I Borrow? is now printed here in Perspectives.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Casper At Three Days

This video was taken just a few days after Casper was born. At birth he was 6 lbs 3 oz. Today he is just over 7 lbs. It is insane how much a single pound of weight and two weeks can change him. Of course I've been studying him pretty closely.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Roughly 25 Hours Old

Sorry everybody! I didn't know facebook would be proprietary. I'm working on a link to YouTube right now. It's not working yet...but check back soon if this doesn't work for you.

Casper Augustine Banner

This is what Susanna emailed everybody:


Josh and I are exceptionally pleased to send word of the birth of our son, Casper Augustine Banner, born into water on Saturday, May 22 at 1.03p, weighing 6.3 lbs and measuring 19.5" long.

We'll send pictures soon.

Our sweet one is healthy and doing well, as am I. Thanks be to the Giver....

All good things,
Susanna + Josh + Casper*

*Casper: Dutch form of Persian Jasper, purportedly one of the three Magi and meaning "Master of the Treasure"; Augustine: 5th C. North African theologian and philosopher, derived from the Latin root augere, "to increase." Most certainly: OUR TREASURE HAS INCREASED! (Also, a little family trivia: Casper Augustine Banner is the great grandson of Clifford Ashton Banner and the great great grandson of Charles Augustus Banner....)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Baby-Making, Peace-Making, Patience & The Creative Process

Yesterday was the due date for the baby. For some nine months we've been waiting for that day to come and now it's gone and this morning it is raining outside and we can't take our  hour-long walk to help coax the baby further down into Susanna's hips. I've been joking about this darn nine month arrangement that God designed. Some actually argue that it ends up being closer to ten months, but I'll leave those details for Susanna and the midwives to discuss. My point is this: six months is hard; nine months is excruciating.

I'm starting to work on my final comprehensive paper for my Regent degree. I've been hacking away at this coursework for over seven years and now it is all coming down to one single 40-page paper. Of course I'm glad to finally earn my Masters, but I'm also sad. This is not something that I've waited eagerly to finish and be done with. I love being a student. I need the accountability of a syllabus, a classroom and an instructor to push my learning further than it could go by itself. I love the process of learning.

It has been three weeks since our final Sunday evening service. I've had some bits of work to do for Hope College, but for the most part, I've had access to large amounts of time. Yet, I haven't begun any work on the Ordinary Neighbors record. I know this is the final "push." I could be done with it in just a few weeks--done with this project that I've obsessed over for four years. Part of me is scared to be done, to let go of control, to call it finished. It's a typical struggle of an artist, to decide when the work is finished, to know it is ready for "publication." Another part of me is sad to be done with this particular creative process. I love fiddling around in the studio. I love fiddling around with these songs.

I've been reading through a couple books to get my mind and heart back into the flow as I prepare to write this final paper. Makoto Fujimura's Refractions: a Journey of Faith, Art and Culture is really nice in this regard. His first section has been lingering inside of me the past few days. He works off of some thoughts from Tolstoy on art:
"The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co-operation of man which is now maintained by external means--by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, factory inspection, and so forth,--should be obtained by man's free and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set aside."
There is much to think about here about the relationship between art and peace. I want to dive into Nicholas Wolterstorff's work on justice. I heard him speak a few years ago about justice and art. I'd like to go further with Derrida on these things too. There could be a lifetime of reflection on these things. I like where Makoto starts his thoughts on this topic:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God" Matthew 5:9
He explains that one way to translate "peacemakers," eirenepois, is "peace poets." Makoto comments:
"We need to seek ways to be not just 'peacekeepers' but to be engaged 'peacemakers.' In such a definition, peace (or the Hebrew word shalom) is not simply an absence of war but a thriving of our lives, where God uses our creativity as a vehicle to create the world that ought to be. Art, and any creative expression of humanity, mediates in times of conflict and is often inexplicably tied to wars and conflicts."
Why do people resort to violence in the first place? Perhaps it is because they are impatient with the other means that are at hand. Love requires more patience than violence. Peacemaking requires more grace than violence-making. It has occurred to me that my impatience with the baby coming is in its small way a kind of violence, a violence that brings anxiety, stress and even strife into my home and my psyche. It is easier to be short with Susanna and myself, with the dogs...with the weather. Patience and peacemaking are partners. When choosing peace and patience, we chose to trust something that is greater than our own powers and resources. If God is my greatest means, then prayer becomes my main priority.

Here is a broad speculation: I doubt that families prior to the industrial revolution struggled to be patient during nine months gestation of a baby. They were closer to the patterns of nature and didn't know any different. Today we are so cut off from the natural order of creation. Our machinery has made us an impatient society because it convinces us that we have so much control. My joke in the past month has been this, "Come on, God. Don't you know I'm an American?" I've learned patience in my learning process and in my own art making (okay, perhaps I need to be a bit more impatient with the music and just get it done), but this baby making has revealed in me a whole other layer of striving, an ache for control. That is why I like the story about the fish farm in southern Spain that I posted last (skip halfway through the video to get straight to it). This is a perfect illustration of the kind of "conversation with the land" that Wendell Berry advocates that I mentioned earlier.

To say all of this again more succinctly: as human creatures we need to learn how to live within the created order and not over and against it. If we can learn how to live within creation, then we will learn the peace making, joyful patience that will allow us to be effective stewards of creation, nurturers rather than exploiters. If I can learn this, then perhaps I'll be a more patient and loving father and husband as well.

So, there is of course a lesson of patience in this nine months. The next few days (post due date) seem likely to be long. I'm trying to love this idea that God, our Creator, is the most magnificent of artists as he fashions this child. I've said that I enjoy the creative process even in watching other artists work. I pray that I can continue to patiently enjoy this particular creative process. Here's one way to look at it: how many artists could consistently turn out work on a nine month deadline and have each piece turn out to be completely unique and original? What artist could do this several billion times?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Food Feeds Your Soul? Part III

My friend Michael Mobley posted this video on facebook. This guy is speaking a contemporary version of Wendell Berry speak. It gave me goose bumps. If the video doesn't work (I stink at HTML embedding), the try this:

This is the note about the speaker from

Editor's note: Dan Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in New York, which aims to bring the principles of good farming directly to the table. In 2006, he received the James Beard award for Best Chef: NYC. In 2009 he was named James Beard's Outstanding Chef, and Time Magazine featured him in their "Time 100." TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading," hosts talks on many subjects and makes them available through its website.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Musical Reconfiguration

Below is an email I sent to my brother in law, Micah, a bonafide music geek like me. He's going to see three concerts this weekend. Lucky. I was trying to explain to him on the phone yesterday why it's taken me three years to appreciate Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky." 

RE: Wilco. I didn’t know “Sky Blue Sky” was your favorite of Wilco’s records. I can definitely see why. I really am going through a musical reconfiguring. Brief history to explain further what I was mentioning on the phone yesterday: I didn’t listen to much other than Rich Mullins and Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest hits until I got to college (1993). I’d heard of U2, but I hadn’t heard them. Freshman year I discovered “August and Everything After” by Counting Crows (their only good record because it was produced by the venerable T Bone Burnet) and then there was Jason Harod and Brian Funk, former Wheaton students. Their “Dreams of the Color Blind” was on constant rotation in my dorm room—almost every Wheaton College student’s dorm room. Then I got into James Taylor and several of his descendants (David Wilcox/ John Gorka). So from 18 to about 23 I mostly listened stuff like Natalie Merchant and the Innocence Mission. Radiohead’s “Kid A” really screwed with me. I heard some of it one day on NPR. Oddly enough I had “OK Computer” in my CD collection because a former roommate left it when he moved out. I didn’t even know what it was. Played it once, but didn’t like it. By that time I’d made my first record and the studio became an intimidating/fascinating addition to my understanding of music. Discovering Kid A was like discovering a whole new kind of food. Somehow it immediately made sense to me—so much sense that I went back and listened Ok Computer and it suddenly made sense too. Enter Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and I started to re-think the possibilities of song structure and interpretation. All the noises on these records seemed to be more honest to me than just a voice and an acoustic guitar. The simplicity of folk music seemed escapist by that point—naive (unless it was something like Eliot Smith). The noise elements (glitch beats, static, distortion, FX) sounded like our post industrial society: confused, scary, dark, but yet somehow formed and organized and musical. Its been a way for me to think redemptively about the world, a way to make sense out of senselessness. Thus the journey into more obscure kinds of music. However, I’ve realized in the last year that my mental questions about music have taken me into places that are less and less musical. I find it harder and harder to really enjoy the sum total of the parts. That is all to say that SBS is really nice listening for now.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

FRIENDS & BABIES! Catching Up On Some Blogging

Weekend before last, we had a couple groups of friends come through Holland. To the left is our good friends Jason and Amiee Shattuck and their kids, Aidan, Micah and Clara. It was our first chance to meet Micah, and wow...Clara is a little girl now. We miss them so much! They moved to western Washington state last summer and left a void. Heaven will partly be getting to hang with all our closest friends and never having to say goodbye!

And these monkeys to the right are my good buddies from Oklahoma City, Brian Bergman and Dustin Ragland. They are in Charlie Hall's band and had played at Mars Hill Sunday morning. Charlie and the whole band with Kendall and Quint and the sound man, Paul Colley came out to Holland after the service to have lunch. I was able to show them around campus quickly. It was especially fun to show the studio to Paul because he used to help me out when I was first starting into recording. He'd give me ideas on what to buy and loan me microphones. Paul also mixed the first record I ever tracked, Like a Little Girl for Shannon Horn (Jurrens). It was also fun to show the space to Kendall because he produced my first record, Come And Reason way back in 2000. My what can happen in a decade!

Dustin and Brian stayed Sunday and Monday nights to both catch up and also to help me with the Ordinary Neighbors record. We spent most of Monday (April 19) listening to each track and taking notes on what is left to be done. Really, they just held my hand and made me feel good about the record--helped convince me that I haven't lost my mind and wasted my time. It has been a deep joy to have them collaborate on this project off and on over four years. I'd like to think that I'll have everything finished by the end of the summer.

I have to say "end" of the summer because our baby is due in less than three weeks, and yet still, I'll have to work on the record in small, short bursts.

Susanna moves home for good this next week. Our last Gathering service is this Sunday night, then Tuesday evening I drive down to help Sus pack up her apartment there and bring her home. MAY WE NEVER EVER LIVE IN DIFFERENT STATES AGAIN!

I've been busy getting the nursery ready. My parents purchased a crib for us. It arrives on Wednesday too. I picked out a comfy rocker for the nursery upstairs and Susanna wanted a Herman Miller rocker that we will put on the main floor. I was able to purchase the shell of the chair from Hope College for $25 and we'll order the rocker base off of ebay. It'll be about $100 total for a chair that costs $1k brand new. Hooray for not spending lots of money! I'm also making a paper lantern mobile to go above the crib. Sus has picked out some stencils. We just might actually get the room put together before the baby arrives. Susanna had wanted to work in the garden today, but it looks like there will be thunderstorms off and on. Maybe we'll do some stenciling and painting.

The baby has dropped, so Susanna is waddling around now. And our midwife told her on Monday that her cervix is 90% thinned already. That doesn't necessarily mean that the baby will come early, but it might mean a shorter labor. We appreciate your prayers for a healthy, safe delivery.