a slight breeze.

or: sometimes the only way to get encouragement is to talk about yourself in the third person.

Creative Tension.

Several months ago I mentioned the tremendous parallels between our story and the story of Israel. The journey of City Beautiful from its birth over two years ago to last fall was certainly one of fluctuation and of shifting a great many things. Just as Yahweh ushered Israel through a time of nomadic discovery into the Promised Land, so too our community has had to learn what it means to be faithful to the Lord and follow Him in times of uncertainty, all the while testing and reinforcing our identity as His people in relatively uncharted territory. As 2013 came to a close we found some stability brought to our tender community, both in establishing location at SAK Comedy Lab and in definition of leadership. In that grounding, I have been so very blessed to be invited into this journey over the past eight months as your co-pastor, a foreigner who has become friend. I have been blessed over the years from a distance by what this community is, and to be woven into that story in this new chapter has been an honor.

 

Perhaps by examining the story of Israel we can unearth some truths for our own story. I have been trudging through a few heady theology books as of recent, and I came across a quote by Victor Maag in reference to Israel’s nomadic beginnings. In it he speaks of the forward movement of history as a journey towards God’s promises for mankind: “The goal gives meaning to the journey and its distresses; and today’s decision to trust in the call of God is a decision pregnant with future. This is the essence of the promise in light of transmigration.”

 

Decisions pregnant with future. What a fascinating and beautiful phrase.

Allow me to give a little backstory to Israel’s evolution:

 

Israel -at its inception- was a nomadic culture uprooted from slavery by YHWH and transposed over several generations to an agrarian land. Recall their beginning itself was a promise to the old man Abram of a great nation who would be instrumental in God’s redemption of all mankind. From there we follow the patriarchs to Egypt, closing the Genesis account on a rather high note. When we step in to Exodus, however we find disaster has fallen Abraham’s children: their identities and livelihoodstripped from them, made slaves by the Egyptian empire. Through his servant Moses YHWH rescues his people from oppression with another promise: their establishment in a land and a path back to intimacy with him and a reacquaintance with their divine vocation as his royal priesthood to all nations. Thus begins their journey into God’s future reality.

The compelling factor in most religions of nomadic peoples is how their gods are present in migration, always hinging on the promise that invites them to move forward towards a goal. God’s arrival, then, is not seen as an event unto itself but rather as an indicator of an unrealized future reality. In an experience such as Moses had with the burning bush, the promise is spoken back into the present in order to cultivate a divine encounter that draws the people forward on the path. When God moves with his moving people, it is in the service of reaching the goal. Primarily agrarian societies, by contrast, find their faith centered around the seed-time and harvest. God[s] and their religions are found in rhythm and cultivation, growing something through cycles of presence and petition; they have a location-specific authority over the growth and well-being of the land, and so the petition is for the momentary appeasement of the faithful. Religion here is about a return to and a commemoration of something that happened in the past with the expectation for something in the present. Humans placate the gods in order to make sure they stay true to their agreements for good crops and safe borders. Cue the child sacrifices and golden altars.

 

There is a tension in these two seemingly opposing perspectives on how the gods operate:

Exploration with the expectation of fulfilling a promise. Building and cultivating in consistent rhythm for the here-and-now based on the past.

Always moving forward. Returning again and again.

Already and Not Yet.

Past, Present and Future all folded in to one another.

 

YHWH walked Israel from being primarily a nomadic culture to one rooted in a specific place; but the peculiarity of their faith which differentiated them from all other local people groups was the qualities they retained from their nomadic ways even as they became established. In contrast to the local gods of Canaan (ba’als and asherim and the like) they maintained belief in a God who moved them forward in history on the basis of a promise; this God was not bound by territory or season but His with-ness at all points of the process. YHWH held His people in this creative tension between two seemingly conflicting ways to pursue relationship with the divine, because in that tension they remain close to Him.

 

Does this not beautifully echo the tension our own community finds itself in quite frequently? Like the Israelites, we have the temptation to run to one way of believing and pursuing or the other. Some of us are so obsessive about looking forward to what God has in store for us that we miss what He’s already done and what He is currently up to. This can lead the nomadic heart to be one that is never fully present in the moment, caught in despair that things aren’t as they should be or where they should be. Others of us are so content to tend the soil in front of us that we forget to lift our heads to gaze at the horizon. We hold tight to the God who is faithful to our immediate needs yet we can’t allow him to show us the Not-Yet as a promise of what is to come.

 

We want to pick a tribe and settle in it, but to do so would rob us of what God desires to accomplish within us and through us. By tipping the scale in order to avoid tension we will splinter and close ourselves off to new experiences and new possibilities. Our church needs nomads and pioneers. We also need growers and cultivators. Trust in that creative tension, because it is good. It keeps us always attentive to the presence of God and His patient faithfulness.

 

The Yoke of Grace.

 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

We can quickly assume the rite to survival in life is to conquer it, to tame it and categorize it so that we may have power and control. What we find time and again in the words of Jesus is a very different portrait of where life finds its source and desire.

In this small passage we find Christ using the familiar metaphor of children, but from a much different angle than the preceding verses which alluded to spoiled children never satisfied with the attention they crave (16, 17). It is one of these kingdom mindset shifts Jesus was so fond of that finds those who are wise and learned according to the standards of the world are the very same people who shut themselves off from divine knowledge, while those who maintain an openness, daresay a willful innocence, like children are ones capable of receiving the truth from the Father of all.

It is so hard sometimes to maintain a posture of open-handedness as a child does. For many of us, it was precisely the disappointment or disillusionment of trust in our youth that pushed us to the illusion of self-sufficiency, seeking to control our environment as a way to protect ourselves from being suckered again. Ironically, the desire to understand the world becomes the way in which we shut ourselves off to life-in-freedom offered by an infinite God. This mode of thinking prompts us to create boundaries and parameters that shut us off from grace and it halts our growth into becoming truly human in God’s way. If we continue to live in this illusion we change, we start to lose the attributes that earn our title of Imago Dei, the images of God. However, if we take on the mindset of a child, innocent to the disappointment of a world that manipulates and distracts, we keep ourselves constantly open to the revelation from God about who He is and who we are in light of His love. We are capable of being led by grace into a way of understanding life that would be unavailable to us if we were to say simply, “this is all there is, and it is folly”.

Jesus typified this kind of open-handed intimacy in its perfection. He knew that his identity and authority stemmed directly from the Father. As he brings completion to the Law and the Prophets (the revelation of God up to this point) he reveals who the Father is, acting as the veil between the holy of holies and the outside world. It is those whose eyes and hands are open to the revelation of messiah that are offered a glimpse past the veil into the shekinah presence of YHWH himself. The one who recognizes this posture of openness is the one whom Jesus can reveal the Father to.

And Jesus delights in his divine vocation to constantly point back to God as the source of all even as he rests in God’s affirmation of himself. When we question whether or not Jesus “needed” God and what that says about his divinity in a clinical setting (“what does it mean for God to be in need?” and so on) we can easily miss the relational dynamics that are presented to us here and elsewhere as we glimpse the orchestrated harmony within the Trinity. This isn’t a cold, detached doctrinal point to be made, but an embrace of intimacy that gives and receives definition from the joy of the presence of the Other. Indeed, this is what Jesus is inviting us in to as we recognize our separateness from perfect relationship which in turn prompts our move to him for rest and salvation.

Once more we find it is those who recognize their need who are prepared to encounter Jesus. Just as in the beatitudes (5:3-12), those who are able to touch their own destitution are blessed in their ability to come to him for relief. The self-righteous and worldly-wise have no perceived need for God because they have engineered a reality that operates out of the pursuit power and control. It is poignant that Jesus offers us rest in his yoke, another metaphor that paints us as oxen bound together in order to plow the field with greater strength. There is a burden in the christian life, make no mistake. But it is a light burden, a happy burden, as the experienced ox leads us into our own vocation that stems from the same intimacy he enjoys with God; here we see the integral connection between our personal salvation, our growth by discipleship, and our commission in calling to be about our Father’s business in rescuing and redeeming the world.

Our souls find true rest in the salvific work of Jesus and his leading hand as it guides us down that path.

cattle

We’re All Lepers.

What does it look like when the heart of God is rekindled in Israel through the messiah?

 

There had been many prophecies that spoke of such things: the sick being healed, the blind seeing, the lame walking, the captives set free, and good news for the poor. These miracles were not the message itself, but the way in which the message was made tangible. Such capabilities had been merely whispers in Israel’s past: Elijah raised the dead son of a friend (1 Kings 17:17-24), or the healings of barrenness. It was, however, limited in its scope and availability to the people. The prophets looked forward to a time when God’s Spirit would descend upon the people through the work of Messiah in such a way as they would see and experience new revelations of his name Jehovah Rafa, the Healer.

 

I love this first story of the leper. Very often we glaze over the different accounts of healing found in the gospels without being sensitive to the interaction itself. As I encounter people with long term suffering in their lives, I am learning to identify the deep emotional wounds that many of us carry in some capacity: rejection, neglect, and abandonment. In this day and age many physical ailments can be identified and treated easily enough, but it is the emotional and spiritual  wounds that can fester deep within us without anyone being the wiser. It is astounding how far back the seeds of our pain usually go, right back to a specific childhood moment that became the foundational template for a cycle of rejection. Our society, however, can be the main impetus for us repressing these memories or confessing our hurts to another in the name of maintaining order.

Typically a lifetime of rejection or abandonment will produce certain symtoms in our interactions with others which can make it seem like we are coping with different issues; however, they usually manifest in a spirit of desperation or defeat. We see it so poignantly in this man with leprosy. He kneels in front of Jesus, literally using his body as a barrier to stop the messiah in his tracks. I cannot imagine a scenario where he is not bowing low, unable to look Jesus in the face on account of his potential insult. You can almost hear the fear in his voice as he second guesses his bold move:

 

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

 

This man, in a single phrase, carries with him a lifetime of rejection because of his skin condition. There is no demand healing_10_lepers1in his utterance, but a passive squeak of a suggestion. The pain comes in realizing this man had full confidence in who Jesus was, but had lost all sense of self-worth after years of being pushed to the fringes. How often do we find ourselves in the same situation; we shudder in the face of sharing truth, not because we doubt messiah, but we have been taught to doubt ourselves?

Leprosy was used as a term for an assortment of skin diseases described in Leviticus 13 and 14, but the prescription was the same: quarantine. Sufferers were cut off from their community, often forced to live in a shabby encampment outside town with other lepers. The assumption was that skin diseases were the result of sin in the sufferer’s life, so this person was to be removed as far as possible from the healthy in order to retain purity. Once again, there became clear definitions of who was “in” and who was “out”.

This is what makes Jesus’ response to the leper so beautiful. As this man cowers before him, afraid to even ask directly for that which he desires most, Jesus reaches out and touches him. Before Jesus utters a word of healing, he crosses the threshold and meets this man in his deepest pain, the loss of human contact. What an earth-shattering moment this must have been! It is only after Jesus has demonstrated his compassion in a tactile way that he speaks:

 

“I am willing. Be clean!”

 

The man is cured of leprosy, yes, but the true miracle comes in the deeper healing of identity. He is worthy of being noticed. The messiah, the representative of God on earth, met him in his pain and touched him. Jesus gave him his life back.

His encounter with Jesus becomes a precious secret, for the messiah is not ready to be inundated with fame just yet; there’s more to accomplish under the radar so-to-speak. His identity, too, becomes a secret only privy to the Lord and himself. It is a treasure to him, something to be cherished deep inside for the rest of his days as he quietly enters back into the bustle of normal society.

Holiness: Let Your Bowels Clench.

HOLY, HOLY HOLY

isaiah-seraphim-coal

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips;your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:6-8)

 

I used to be afraid of the concept of holiness.  I thought it meant that I was to stop doing a lot of things I really enjoyed, that I had to pull back in some way from the world lest I be tainted by its grit and grime. I knew God was holy. I knew his holiness amplified my unholiness, so I assumed in that line of thinking I was something of a pariah to Him, as He mingled in my presence holding his nose on account of the stench. I felt that perhaps He was gracious enough to tolerate me, “for God was so fed up with the world, that he grudgingly gave his only begotten son…”

Naturally, it’s the places we fear that He draws us in to for His understanding. I was reading this passage from Isaiah a few months back, all too agreeable to Isaiah’s confession of being an unclean man with unclean lips, when I was struck by God’s response to his sin.

It was not, “You’re right, you are pathetic excuse for a man, and not worthy of my service.”

It wasn’t, “Get away! You’re compromising my perfection!”

No.

The hand of God draws close to Isaiah and touches him, right on the lips, absolving his sin. I don’t know how I could have missed it for so long, but my assumptions of holiness prior to this revelation made it sound like something that had to be protected and coveted at all costs, locked away from the messiness of man. It was in this moment I realized what God’s holiness truly is, and it brought me to tears:

 

God is completely unaffected in his nature, yet He is profoundly affected in His character.

 

Consider the life of Jesus. The pharisees warned him of mingling with the least of these, the tax collectors and prostitutes, the lepers, because they thought it would taint who Jesus is supposed to be. Even the disciples fell into the trap as well, discouraging Jesus from mixing with the undesirables should he compromise his holiness. The religious thought that the holy man was like their image of God, neither of the world nor particularly in it. Elevated above the fray of human tragedy by righteousness, out of harm’s way. Purity by purge.

Jesus, however, offers us a completely different understanding of holiness. He recognized his nature as the son of God was immutable, uncompromisable, unshakeable; there was literally nothing in the world that could change that. And rather than using his divine nature to hover detachedly above creation, it enabled him to get right into the mix of it without fear. His immutable nature allowed him to be drawn in to the human experience completely by his compassionate heart. “Go and learn what this means,” he tells the pharisees, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13, quoting Hosea 6:6).

At the end of Matthew 9 Jesus “saw the crowds, [and] he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (36). The greek term for compassion is splagchnon, and it means to “clench ones bowels”. To feel so deeply for the other that you are drawn in to their space as the faithful presence of God, almost because you can’t help it. This was Jesus’ guiding light for most everything he did. It was the standard he set for what it means to be human God’s way, to live a life of holiness, fully in the world yet also not of it. I believe this is the fullness of the measure of Christ to be attained (Ephesians 4:13-16) and the transformation into his likeness we experience by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). It is not a standard of performance so much as it is a condition of the heart, to become completely outwardly-focused and other-cenetered, just as the Messiah was.

When we misunderstand holiness as the pharisees and disciples did, we hold ourselves aloof from the grime of the world, sometimes because we subconsciously think it may taint our God-given identity as sons and daughters. We don’t rightly believe that our true nature is “distinguished” or “set apart for a special purpose” (both the definitions of holy) and it must be something we protect from the world. This false holiness promotes pity, where we maintain that distance and chuck stones at the world, the “them”, from our safe vantage point of “us”. We insist people rise up to meet us where we’re at, to do it our way, to become our replicants, to receive what we have to offer. Even within the church, we remain aloof and cooly detached from our brothers and sisters, attempting to hover above the sheeple and calling it leadership. Pity, you see, indicates a lack of humility and a fear of trust in who God is and who we are by extension, masked by moral superiority.

But to be holy as He is holy, to trust in our identity as unshakeable because He is unshakeable. This awareness of our holiness opens us up to a life of compassion where we are drawn into the midst of other people because we can’t help ourselves. God’s love in us is so overflowing that we are practically helpless to resist getting right into the mix and offering that love to the hurting and lowly, the overlooked and compromised. This is the defining characteristic of the Christian; if compassion is not present we have no business interacting with the other. What could a life guided by the embrace of compassion and holiness accomplish?

As Christians, we should be unaffected by the world in our nature, yet profoundly affected in our character.

Pray for the Lord to give us affinity for one another, that Jesus’ compassion guides us in every moment to pursue justice and healing.

suffering_2052244b

Everyone is Looking for Messiah.

image

 

 

Everyone, in one fashion or another, is looking for a messiah. A deliverer, someone who will call forth their deepest desires for salvation and draw them into new life.

This longing was deeply felt in the people of Israel at the time of King Herod. The still-fresh Roman occupation only laid another layer of oppression upon those who practically snapped under the weight of royal families who had long forgot the mantle of David and a religious establishment that heaped so many rules on them it was near impossible to find that ancient love of God spoken of in scriptures. The intertestamental period had stretched this longing into desperation and despondency for many; others found themselves resigned to the world-as-it-currently-is, with little hope for deliverance.
Messiahs were common enough spectacles in the first century. The scribes and teachers of the law knew enough to ascertain from the prophecies of Daniel that Yahweh’s chosen one should be revealed any time now, and small bands of zealous Jews would gather around upstart rebels who tried to convince everyone else they were the one spoken of who would throw off the oppressors and establish the kingdom of Israel as strong and independent at last.
Which is what makes the beginning of chapter 2 so fascinating. The first people to recognize the signs and seek out the messiah as he is are not wise Jewish philosophers or rabbinical experts, but a band of astrologers from Persia, in the east. Genesis 3-11 shows us that the farther Man fell from the will of God, the farther he moved East. The final settling place for these early people was the valley of Shinar, where they built the Tower of Babel. Later, God’s people were dragged back out east to the exact same place, now known as Babylon: the final geographic exile of Israel. It is thought that Daniel and his contemporaries carried the scriptures of Judaism with them into the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar, where they trained the astrologers in his advisory to read their prophecies. And here we have the descendants of these wise men coming from the east, moving towards God himself. The first people to respond to the advent of Messiah are not only “outsiders”, but practitioners of a pseudoscience that stood in opposition to everything Israel stood for. Yet God spoke to these Magi in a way that they could understand, using truth he had deposited with them four centuries prior. How frustratingly beautiful these men are to our notions of who God speaks to, to whom he chooses to use!
Now, to those who should have been considered “in”, Herod and the religious elite. Herod knew the prophecies of the coming messiah were a threat to his comfortable grip on Jewish political life, puppet though he was under the Roman authorities. Even worse, the priests and teachers knew exactly where the child was to be born, yet made no effort to find him themselves. Like Herod, they had been lulled to comfortable sleep by their prestige, content to memorize the scriptures without allowing them to sink to the heart.
It is a scenario too often reenacted in this day and age, where the political and religious establishments feel threat when encountering the real Jesus, because of what it means for their retention of power. And, just off to the side perhaps, practically unnoticed, those on the outside of the privileged are walking right up to him and worshipping.
You see, we’re all looking for a messiah, it’s just a question of why and which messiah we seek. I’ve often joked that even within the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy, we can all safely agree on the statement “Jesus is the answer”. The problem is this raises four questions:

What do you mean by “Jesus”?
What do you mean by “is”?
What do you mean by “the”?
What do you mean by “answer”?

Jesus’ name has been invoked in the greatest atrocities of our age, and it has been a rallying cry for some of the most beautiful developments in the human story. Get ten theologians in a room, to turn a phrase, and you’ll get twenty answers. I know for myself the Jesus I follow today is quite different than the one I encountered fifteen years ago, and I hope the Jesus I know in another fifteen is different still.

How do we maneuver all these varied discrepancies? Who’s got it right? Perhaps the answer is found in the Magi themselves. Herod knew that this messiah was a threat to his power, the priests and teachers knew facts about him that didn’t prompt them to action, but the Magi bowed down and worshiped him. They laid three gifts at the baby’s feet that become a prophetic declaration of Jesus’ true identity: gold for a King, incense for a priest, and myrrh. Myrrh is a resin harvested from the eponymous tree, which was stabbed repeatedly in order to bleed the oil from within. In the ancient world it was used as a medicine for open wounds, and to embalm dead bodies. This all-too-painfully recalls to mind the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Let that sink in for a moment.
Jesus came to usher in the new reign of God as king, to act as high priest once-and-for-all between The Lord and his people, and to suffer pain and death so that we might believe. There it is, right in the beginning of the story. How often do we sooner find ourselves in the camps of those who consider themselves comfortably “in” because of our knowledge and understanding, yet miss the mystery of a living God on the move in ways we can’t possibly imagine? That is cause enough to bow and worship this precious child.

My Year in Music: 2013.

Tops:

James Blake-Overgrown

I’m not quite certain where to start, honestly. I was simultaneously wary of this album and drawn in to what it could be from the get-go. Perhaps when you care about a band or artist, there is some apprehension in what their next step could be as they develop; will they repeat themselves, take a violent left turn, or steadily build upon their legacy? I don’t think James Blake’s sophomore full-length grasped me as instantly as did his eponymous debut. There is less DJ mentality here, and a bit more singer-songwriter. The drums aren’t as fidgety, and there are very few lurching samples that made his early work so endearing. But what emerges once those safety zones are peeled back is a maturing artist who deserves the acclaim he has earned over the past year. Go on yeh, Jim. Keep it coming.

 

Sigur Ros- Kveikur

Honestly, I didn’t want to like this one. All sorts of anecdotes conspired around the making of this album that could have set it up to be a compulsive disaster. Sigur Ros’ longtime pianist and composer left the group, and the three remaining members holed away in a studio in L.A. of all places to push out a new LP barely a year after their previous record Valtari (which I loved while some found disappointment). This scenario just smacked of something rushed and reckless, and I anticipated another throw-away release that deserved more time and care. I was thrilled then to find that a leaner Sigur Ros led to a keenly focused direction and an album that played on all their carefully-cultivated musical language while introducing new sound to the environment. It’s concise, razor-sharp; it builds and releases in all the ways that you want to. It’s what one should expect from such a ground-breaking band approaching their third decade.

 

The Haxan Cloak- Excavation

One of my new artist finds this year, the Haxan Cloak is a hard one to pin down. The earlier albums are much more organic, with writhing cello and loose-string guitars leading the slog. Excavation is solidly an electronic album however; the familiar sounds of much of the UK’s post-dubstep music is stretched and thrown into the pit here to grow beyond what the first records hinted at. I wouldn’t say that the listen is an enjoyable experience as you would have from most the other records on this list but it’s a damn immersive one. It feels like listening to music while trapped under ice in a frozen lake. You know no one is around, so you accept the situation for what it is. Time slows down, and you are fully present, perhaps for the first [and last] time in your life.

 

Tim Hecker- Virgins

I was aware of Hecker’s work before this, and his collaboration with Daniel Lopatin last year squeaked unto my playlist, but this one absolutely blew me away. The tent posts all get kicked out here: it’s more expansive and constricting, cleaner and murkier, dynamic and static than what I had heard before. A riveting listen for late-night driving.

 

My Bloody Valentine- mbv

I, like most of the world, waited so long for this follow-up to Loveless that I had practically given up on it ever becoming a reality. My favorite thing about this record is how much I dislike a few of the tracks, particularly the last two. They’re awful misses to me, something that sounds like a B-side from 15 years ago. Oddly enough, it makes me love the record all the more; these are human beings after all, not rock gods. This first song in contrast reminds me what I love about Kevin Shields.

 

 

Post-Dubstep/Chill-Wave/How-Many-Micro-Genres-Can-We-Create:

Mount Kimbie- Cold Spring Fault Less

A grower for sure, and my first introduction to King Krule’s vocals on this track. I couldn’t tell if I loved it or hated it for a long time. Excellent background music.

 

Airhead- For Years

Airhead is James Blake’s guitarist, which makes perfect sense given the debut album he released this year. Nothing revelatory here, but something that feels familiar in just the right places.

 

Gold Panda- Half of Where You Live + Trust EP

Perhaps Gold Panda won’t ever remake Lucky Shiner [and the brilliant track You], but that’s alright. He can take the tried-and-true tribal sample-into-dance music thing and still make it sound fresh and pretty.

 

Burial- Truant/Rough Sleeper

How can an artist still sound so unique and themselves in this day and age?!?!

 

Baths- Obsidian

Lyrically darker and very hard to stomach as mere entertainment, this album bleeds paradox.

 

Washed Out- Paracosm

At first I was disappointed that there was hardly any progression from the last album, but then I decided this is exactly what I need Washed Out to be in my life.

 

 

C’mon Feel the Noise [and Metal]:

Fuck Buttons- Slow Focus

Eventually, everyone in the noise community comes to sound like Black Dice [see: Growing]. This is the perfect soundtrack to squashing all other pesky thoughts out of your head for a moment.

 

Oneohtrix Point Never- R Plus Seven

Much like Replica, R Plus Seven feels like a dream of childhood TV jingles all cut and pasted together after too much pizza the night before. Then the dream is recorded and played inside the gallery at the Gugenheim and called “art”.

 

Deafheaven- Sunbather

“Oh great, another black metal band trying to sound like Mogwai,” I thought. We’ve seen that combination done before, and very well [see: Wolves in the Throne Room, or for a more emo mash-up, Alcest]. Glad I decided to give it a go anyway. Strikingly beautiful.

 

The Body- Christs, Redeemers

Not as good as All the Waters of the Earth…, it’s a little noisier and claustrophobic. A few of the riffs sound elementary, merely giving grounding to the power electronics, cello, and choir. But still light years ahead of most knuckle-draggers these days.

 

Kvelertak- Meir

This was my summer driving record. It’s as if Andrew WK, Emperor, Ted Nugent, and the Sword all got drunk on vodka and jammed in Converge’s basement.

 

Extol- Extol

So glad there’s still christian metal with integrity being released.

 

The Flaming Lips- The Terror

This is the first Flaming Lips record I’ve enjoyed fully since Yoshimi.

 

 

Things Most Other People Could Listen To:

Olafur Arnalds- For Now I Am Winter

Perhaps the most stunning and fragile recording of the year.

 

Volcano Choir- Repave

I wasn’t expecting Volcano Choir’s sophomore album to be such a band effort, but here it is. Still my favorite and most enduring Justin Vernon project.

 

Tired Pony- The Ghost of the Mountain

I’ll be the first to say Gary Lightbody is the worst lyricist on the planet, but I love it. Every line is so direct, so mushy, that I can’t help but sing a long and believe in a thing called love.

 

The Dismemberment Plan- Uncanny Valley

So, one of my favorite bands of the past decade gets back together and makes a new record. We’ve been here before. Uncanny Valley is no Change or Emergency & I, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. When taken as what it is, this is a fun album, and I’m glad it exists.

 

Daft Punk- Random Access Memories

I don’t know if you guys heard this record yet, but it’s pretty good. I think it could really become popular.

 

 

Pop Song of the Year:

Justin Timberlake- Take Back the Night

This song sounds like a blatant rip-of of mid-career Michael Jackson, and that’s just what I wanted from pop music this year.

 

 

Here’s a Spotify playlist which you probably won’t want to put on random if you scare easily:

 

To read my year-end list from last year, click here.

Advent: Breaking the Silence.

destruction

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)

Silence.

As the Old Testament comes to a close, we have a slew of prophets warning Israel and Judah of their coming exile. In 722 AD the Assyrian Empire conquers the northern ten tribes of Israel, taking them in to captivity (2 Kings 17). Then, 136 years later, the southern two tribes fall to Babylon (2 Kings 24) as Isaiah and Jeremiah foretold. Eventually, the Jews were permitted to return to their homeland, only to find a much different world than they had left. The advancement of Greek culture had spread throughout the region, with some Jews taking on this new worldview while other violently rejected it (see Maccabean revolt). It all came to a head when the Roman Empire subdued the whole area and established itself as the sole power in the Near East in 63 BC.

The underlying shock for Israel’s return came with the much deeper pain of realizing that Yahweh had not come back with them. They had erected the Second Temple over the site of the first as built by Solomon, but something was missing: God’s presence. Israel, for all intensive purposes, was still in exile; but this exile was spiritual in nature over the geographical. They were alone and waiting.

We find ourselves drawn to the small town of Bethlehem at the beginning of the first century in an Israel still licking it wounds from centuries of political turnover that had coming to a screeching halt with their new oppressors in the Roman Empire. A young man by the name of Joseph has been engaged to a young girl also of the House of David, but they hadn’t proceeded with the consummation of their marriage. In Jewish culture at this time, the bride and groom are engaged for a year or so while the groom prepares an add-on to his father’s house in anticipation of the final wedding ceremony. Because this is a covenant relationship that unfolds itself in stages, there is no easy way out at this point that can maintain the dignity of both parties should something go wrong.

And something did go wrong. He discovers that his young fiancee is pregnant; this puts him in quite the precarious situation. The rules of the day required that he publicly out her in order to put as much distance between himself and his now tainted wife-to-be. She has become a pariah in society, and his fortunes only diminish if he can’t find a way to deflect the blame as quickly and loudly as possible.

Then, breaking his 400 years of silence, God speaks through a heavenly messenger to Joseph. And the first thing he says? “Don’t be afraid”. What a shock this must have been! I can only imagine Joseph, after overcoming his initial terror, turning to the Voice and saying, “where have you BEEN all this time? You left us in the worst possible situation! It’s been one cruel dominion over another since we got back here. What do you have to say for yourself?”

There are two fantastic things to note about the quality of Joseph’s character here, and they give good indication as to d523871b9429f5aea203abdc2f996bdad36038a4_largewhy God chose him to steward his most precious possession in Jesus. First, Matthew 1:19 states that, “because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly”.

Did you catch it?

A “righteous” man in Joseph’s day would have followed the rules and divorced her as loudly as possible so that the law could make a clean cut of the whole mess; her disgrace would just be an unfortunate consequence of doing what was “right”. But Joseph was not that kind of righteous. He already displayed within himself something of the heart of God. He desires to protect this girl as much as possible from becoming an outcast, a whore. This becomes a massive theme in the gospel of Matthew as Jesus challenges the religious authorities of the day in regards to their understanding of righteousness. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, he offers time and again, in both his words and his actions.

Secondly, as the first person to hear the voice of God in centuries, he immediately obeys, keeping the whole incident to himself. What would the temptation be like to scream from the rooftops the name which they called him, “Immanuel is here! God is with us again!”

Time and again we have seen men and women on the right side of history who have understood what it truly means to be righteous, what it really means to uphold the law that has been written on their hearts by the Divine Author (Jeremiah 31:33). These are the people of God who, when faced with the difficult decision of conforming to societal, political, or religious expectations have listened to the quiet voice within them that whispers, “there is another way”. Joseph becomes one of the first men of Israel to find himself living in that prophetic promise, and Jesus was in a better place to grow up with such an upright surrogate father.

Which righteousness do you pursue in your life? The desire to follow the rules in obedience, or to embody and reveal the Father Heart of God?

Advent: The Human Family.

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My grandfather is an impressive man.

When he married my grandmother in 1960, he purchased a small thatched-roof cottage in the countryside for all of $800. They raised my mom and her sister in that house, and only moved into town when it became too difficult to care for my grandmother. He was a mechanic, the eldest of four brothers, and the head of the family on that side. He prided himself in being the one who could provide for everyone else, who would be there at a moment’s notice to offer his expertise. Everyone knew Don Napier; if you needed anything, could get it for you, or he at least knew the guy who could.

It was hard watching him struggle to watch over my grandmother in the last few years of her life. Alzheimer’s disease has the awful disposition to affect the lives of those around the patient almost more than the patient herself. My grandfather, stubborn as he was, would not admit to needing help to care for her, even as she became less and less aware of her surroundings. He refused to hire a part-time hospice nurse so that he could get out of the house every once in a while with friends, so the two of them just sat there. The last time I visited Northern Ireland before my grandmother passed, I could see the depression weighing him down as he continued to try to hold all the burden of pain and responsibility to himself.

The revelation that our role models are human, fraught with the same struggles and weaknesses as we have, can come as a shock. Whether it’s the gradual revelation of their frailty as we grow into our own lives, or the sudden shattering of our idyllic hero-worship by some tragic event, there comes a point at which we must let our family members become human. The power in the disillusion of the “sacred ancestor” comes in realizing that perhaps they are just like us. This in turn gives us clear perspective to recognize what our earthly inheritances are. As I watched my grandfather bear the steady loss of his wife and what it meant for his own inability to control the world around him, I realized that this too was my own portion, should I allow it. I saw how my grandfather’s alpha male complex had borne itself through my mother, and the points in my life in which I had operated under those same pretenses, trying to find my worth in how I could direct others’ lives, providing for them so I could maintain the illusion that I myself am in control, and that I know best. In our family, the only “plan B” is how to get back to Plan A; there isn’t allowance for the unforeseen to put us off course.

Perhaps this is what Matthew is trying to communicate in his genealogy of Jesus. The Jews of the day were viciously proud of their heritage, of the heroes of old in a time when YHWH called Israel his Chosen. They found solace and identity in being of the right people group, as distinct from all the other tribes and empires surrounding Palestine who were, in their eyes, merely kidding themselves on being “in”. What we find time and again in Matthew’s gospel is a reorientation of who’s “in” and who’s “out”, and it begins right here. All the heroes are here: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, Solomon; Yet, as in a lot of Jewish prose, it’s the breaks in rhythm that give us indication of the author’s intent.

Jacob’s brothers sold him to slavery for jealousy. (Genesis 37:12-36)
Tamar tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her because he thought she was a prostitute. (Genesis 38:1-30)
Rahab, the mother of Boaz, was a foreigner and prostitute who sold out her entire city to protect her immediate family. (Joshua 2)
Ruth was another foreigner, a Moabite and a widow who chose to follow her mother-in-law into potential shame over hope of a safe life among her own people.
Of all the stories about King David, a “man after God’s own heart” and the template for what messiah was supposed to look like, the writer points us to the story of his betrayal of Uriah the Hittite in order to conceal his affair with Bathsheba and the resulting bastard child Solomon. (2 Samuel 11)
Most of the kings after Solomon were awful, permitting Israel to worship other gods or flat-out partaking in the idolatry with their people.
The exile to Babylon was YHWH’s response to a people that had gone almost completely off the rails in regards to their faithfulness to his law. And when they finally came back to Palestine, something was missing: the presence (shekinah) of God himself.

“You think you’re a pure people? You think you have it all together?” Matthew seems to be saying. “Look at this family. Look at where your heroes came from and where they went. Remember all those stories you’ve grown up memorizing about our ancestors.”

But the genealogy doesn’t stop there. It’s actually this final arrhythmic insertion that seems the most befuddling of all:
“…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (16)

Wait a minute. All these names and stories, women and foreigners and betrayals and disappointments, and when we arrive at the climax of our main character, it isn’t technically his bloodline we’ve been talking about this whole time? This genealogy, after all, is Joseph’s family, not Mary’s. To try to attach it to Jesus in a merely genetic way would be to deny the virgin birth. What on earth could Matthew be getting at?

He sums up the family tree in verse 17 by stating that there were three sets of fourteen names in total. Numbers like this are significant, and a good Jew would have recognized that three fourteens is also six sets of seven. Which means that Jesus is the last name before the seventh set; seven is a divine number of perfection and completion. Whatever it is that God is planning to do to rescue the world, it is through this climax of the story of a royal bloodline embedded right in the center of Israel’s history that Matthew establishes right from the get-go.

Matthew’s account of Jesus links to the historical bloodline of the messiah while simultaneously having him sidestep it. In a dizzying declaration of seeming paradox, Matthew affirms that Jesus is fully Man and fully Other. And the moment that fragile baby, that God-with-flesh-on, enters the world, every story from the Old Testament is instantly redeemed. The story of Israel is justified in Jesus as God patiently endured the ups and downs of his own people in order to bring salvation to all. Everything pointed to this moment, the fulcrum of history.

My grandfather is a good man, but he’s just a man. It is unfair of me to rob him of his own humanity, to idolize him in a way that prevents me from seeing how similar we are. He is the way he is because of a series of decisions in the midst of trials and victories that stretch back to his father and his father’s father and even farther. If I played along, those predilections would become my own, but this new awareness encourages me to step out of line in regards to my earthly inheritance and chose in to what God says about me, about who he is shaping me to become. All my little quirks and idiosyncrasies, personality types and even my addictions are redeemed. They play a part in my story, but my true core is found in Jesus.

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Honesty and Confession.

If I’m honest, I don’t like to admit to weakness. 

 

I suppose that’s actually the very problem right there. You see, we live in a culture that is terrified of honesty. It is communicated to us from a very early age that our value is derived from our ability to produce and perform. In order to meet those expectations, I find I must suppress my weaknesses because they compromises the facade I want to project that paints me as a winner, a leader, someone who deserves a platform. Any crack in the armor of my own awesomeness has the potential to become a target for wounding. And so my life becomes the active pursuit to maintain a level of invulnerability that permits whatever version of “success” I have been told is the right goal for survival in a brutal world.

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The church, in many ways, is just as guilty of this kind of suppression(to be fair, I’m about as tired of church bashing as you probably are). The very space that should be one for honesty and vulnerability has instead reinforced those patterns of the world that create a culture of human strength and achievement. The gospel becomes something about “pursuing your dreams” and “being the best you can be”, and gradually the language starts to sound something more like a motivational conference than a place to meet God and His people.

 

What we find in the scriptures, however, stands in stark contrast to this illusory strength we are to maintain in order to protect ourselves from the pain of life. The psalmist speaks of this burden of holding in and hiding his sin, trying to pretend to be strong:

 

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.

 

For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

 

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-5)

 

 

Similarly, Paul leads his communities in such a way that he is constantly reminding them of his humanity. He says that he is “content in weakness” (2 Cor 12:7-10). He recognizes that all the qualifications he has in the worldly realm are garbage now (Phillipians 3:4-14). He celebrates in his own foolishness and awareness that he leads with “fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 1:26-2:5). For Paul, he had played the game of success in his former life. Yet it was the radical experience of Jesus that humbled him in such a way to touch his own weakness, not as a horror to be rejected and suppressed, but as a beautiful space for the gospel to take root and blossom. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

 

In my Anglican tradition, we pray a prayer of confession every Sunday, and sometimes during the week. It pretty well covers all the basics: things we do/don’t do; sins of thought/word/deed; the fact that maybe we aren’t as stupendous at following the ImageGreatest Commandment as we would like to think. Yet rather being the blunt object of condemnation, confession becomes the arrow which pierces the armor of our illusions and grounds us in reality. We come to terms with our humanness and our sins, not in a way that excludes us from the presence of Father, but as an opportunity to actually draw closer to Him. To hold the full reality of our forgiveness, our dependence upon Him, and our common bond of frailty in life with our brothers and sisters.

 

It’s not as if God doesn’t already know all your secrets. But He wants you to know that you know them. When we speak out our confession, we flesh out the things we’d rather not admit to, but they finally become real in such a way that we can hand them over to God for true absolution. And when we confess to one another (James 5:16) we find that we are united in our common humanity and our need for Jesus. The illusions of hierarchy and tribes fall down, and we come to each other bound in the “me too” of true communion. In this way, we are drawn together in/to Christ, who is all and in all.  

 

The Gelding

 

This is a sidestep from my usual sample-based constructions, but it felt really good to play an instrument again in this way.  Some beautiful cicada-ambience recorded on my porch that evening.

Flowers for Camborne

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