Archive for the ‘Beyond Capernaum’ Category

Bill Mallonee - Slow Trauma“Trauma” generally centers around moments that shatter reality as we know it. It is an engine that propels medical science, psychology, and disaster response. But what about the in-the-trenches impact of life from day to day or year to year? Such struggle is the stuff of spiritual journey, the stuff of sacrifice, the stuff of endurance, the stuff of failure and ultimately the stuff of faith, hope, and love. It is that “Slow Trauma” that Bill Mallonee explores with the ever-deepening poetic voice that has carried him from the “next big thing” status that plagued Vigilantes of Love into something more rewarding and valuable than any industry that seeks to profit from human expression could ever recognize. It is a shame that people might not hear these songs. The good news is that these songs exist: they are begging to be heard and demand to find and audience as listeners become promoters in the age of social media interconnection. In other words: I’m telling you about these songs so that you will tell somebody else. I want you to listen. I want you to purchase. I want your journey to be shaped by the journey of “Slow Trauma”.


These are songs of journey and struggle, of faith instead of certainty. Perhaps it’s the journey of a railroad worker leaving his family as the nation expands westward. Perhaps it’s the journey of a troubadour songwriter travelling that same geographic route while letting go of everything that defined his past in order to take hold of what lies ahead. Perhaps it’s the journey that all of us struggle to understand: a life with no guarantees except that of our own mortality. Perhaps it’s all of the above.

For churched people, it makes perfect sense that these songs first arrived on our doorsteps or devices as the journey of Holy Week was about to unfold once again. These are songs that point toward Easter, toward hope and new life, but get there by the only road available: the way of struggle, suffering, and even death. For unchurched souls, it’s much simpler: these songs are devoid of bullshit. They refuse to offer simple answers to burning questions; they also refuse to give up on what might be waiting over that last hill if we have the courage to seek it out.

Musically, Mallonee brings the sound of a full band to these songs, even while going it alone (save for Muriah Rose on piano and organ). His upbringing as a drummer provides a subdued but solid foundation for guitar work that has continued in recent years to expand into gritty soulful melodic leads that bring a wistful yet buoyant quality to each song. A striking feature of these particular songs are the yearning harmony vocals sung by Mallonee himself.

Over the course of 10 songs, Mallonee takes the willing listener on a journey. The album begins with the 1-minute overture of “One and the Same” setting the scene for all that is to follow. The need to embark on the journey unfolds in the uncertainty of “Only Time Will Tell,” the hesitant restlessness of “Waiting for the Stone (to be Rolled Away),” and the urgent inevitability of “Hour Glass (Only So Many Grains of Sand)”.

“WPA (When I Get to Where They’re Taking Us)” bids farewell to all that is comfortable and cherished while promising to write home regularly. It also touches on the uncomfortable journey that begins at the farewell of the grave: “Tossing you a scrap; throwing you a crust. It’s all ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”

The struggle of the journey unfolds across “Ironclad”, “High~Beam” and “Doldrums in Denver”. With no guarantees, there is a wish to “wind the tape back to the very start” even while acknowledging that there’s not really a home to return to. “High~Beam” is the catharsis of an artist that has come to terms with an industry that claims to want authenticity, but then turns a deaf ear. Grace invades in the form of a pen that keeps writing and a guitar that keeps demanding to be played. Out of that resolve comes the realization—or better yet: revelation—that “whatever is heavy as hell is what you shouldn’t carry”. “Doldrums in Denver” is the cold and lonely place that begs you to continue the journey if only to ensure that it doesn’t end there.

Ultimate hope offers a glimpse of its face in “The King’s Highway (New Set of Wheels).” Staying true to the journey and the reality of struggle, it makes no claim of certainly or on-demand delivery:

Could be soon, could be far;
but that’s not mine to say.
You’ll get a new set of wheels on the King’s Highway.
Just another road song for the radio to play.
You’ll get a new set of wheels on the King’s Highway.

“That Last Hill” offers the final word with the same eloquence that “One and The Same” started the story. As “the final grains of sand fall through the slender neck of the hour glass” and Mallonee reflects on life’s journey during which “it’s funny how things can get so damn misplaced”, he hopes that he will be received kindly at his final destination:

Lord, gather me unto Thyself
when my wayward heart grows still.
I just wanna see over that last hill.

Mallonee’s music continues to offer riches to every listener fortunate enough to have somebody insist that they spend time with these songs. If you have read this far, I must insist that you take time to listen to “Slow Trauma” yourself. Listen to it and invite others to listen. Bill Mallonee admits that the self-promotion necessary to sustain a musician’s career does not feel authentic to him. As an alternative, I can think of nothing more authentic than a legion of listeners taking up the mantle of inviting others into the struggle and the journey Mallonee’s music embraces. Who will you share these songs of grace and truth with?

It’s Holy Week. It’s a time where the story of Jesus invites us to engage with it a little more intentionally. There are many opportunities to experience worship services that are like no others during the year (and often include more focus on the story of Jesus and less focus on preachers). Below is a list of songs that perhaps will accompany you through this week. I like them. Maybe you will, too.

1. Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil – Comedian

The “King of the One Liners”  had us thrilled
Then came the punchline, now we want him killed
And when he’s gone…gone
Who gets the mic…if it’s on?

The Kickstarter-funded album Goliath was just released at the end of 2014 (and on vinyl and cassette on March 31). The more I listen to, the more I’m beginning to realize that it may just be an masterpiece. Highly recommended!

2. The Velvet Underground – Jesus

Help in my weakness,
’cause I’m falling out of grace.
Jesus…Jesus

Perhaps the most sincere prayer every put to music. It need not be more complicated than this.

3. U2 – Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday’s alright!

For some reason, this is the U2 song I always come back to as a metaphor for God’s grace. Also fun to watch Bono (inspired by The Screwtape Leters by C .S. Lewis) mocking the devil in front of a stadium crowd.

4. Red Wanting Blue – My Name Is Death

I’ve got a million weapons and ways to use ‘em:
From nuclear power to drugs and boozing.
But my favorite just might be the element of surprise.

There is no getting around it: death is real. At the cross of Calvary the whole Jesus-is-God-made-human thing reaches its climax. God is with us, even though the “grim reaper” is still lurking. Side note: Red Wanting Blue may be the greatest rock band you’re not hearing.

5. Flobots – Stand Up

We shall not be moved
Except By a child with no socks and shoes
Except by a woman dying from the loss of food
Except by a freedom fighter bleeding on a cross for you

We shall not be moved
Except by a system thats rotten through
Neglecting the victims and ordering the cops to shoot
High treason now we need to prosecute

So Stand up

Let’s not forget that the Holy Week story is a story of revolution against persecution, a movement versus an empire. Jesus continues to be publicly executed today in every corner of the world because there is no standing up to evil without paying a dear price.

6. Bill Mallonee – In the New Dark Age (The Only Lamp Burning Bright is You)

All the masks came off and disguises were dropped
The game was declared over
Love was escorted out
There was hardly a shout
I’ll take the crimson & clover

Bill Mallonee‘s songs capture the scandal of Holy Week: the life of faith is not for the faint of heart. True religion is not escapism or self-help; it spends its time in the muck and misery of the world.

7. The Black Keys – Lonely Boy

Well I’m so above you, and it’s plain to see,
But I came to love you anyway.
So you pulled my heart out,
And I don’t mind bleeding,
Any old time you keep me waiting (waiting…waiting).

The cross. Plain and simple. Jesus is the lonely boy who won’t stop waiting (waiting…waiting).

 8. Sister Gertrude Morgan – I Am the Living Bread

There is something simply transcendent about the voice of an elderly New Orleans street evangelist armed with only her voice and a tambourine. I recommend Sister Gertrude Morgan‘s entire album.

9. Rez – Rooster Crow

This short bluesy intro to the Innocent Blood LP cuts me to the heart every time I hear it. Peter’s denial is the stuff of blues. My favorite moment from an evangelical Christian rock band that consistently stood against injustice and American feel-good Christianity.

 10. The Swirling Eddies – The Twist

here, touch my side…let doubt be crucified
nailed with your wounded pride to love’s grim altar
here, taste my flesh: my bloody humanness
i am no phantom guest; no skinless martyr

This one’s a pretty straightforward meditation on the Holy Week story from one of the great bands anchored by the songwriting of Terry Scott Taylor (see also Daniel Amos & The Lost Dogs).

 

That’s my playlist. What would you add?

What Twitter users gave up for Lent recently…

Me and Lent have a checkered relationship to say the least. Here are some of the things that define my history with this season of reflection and self-denial:
  • I grew up going to a Roman Catholic elementary school. Perhaps that in itself is enough.
  • I don’t like eating fish. On Friday or any other day of the week.
  • In my mid-20s I decided to observe a fast during Lent in which the only beverage I drank was water.  It was going fine until I wound up in the hospital with a kidney stone.
  • I LOVE Cadbury Creme Eggs.  Avoiding chocolate at this time of year is not an option.
There was a time when I may have gone on a rant about Lent being unnecessary. 

If I’m honest, though, it probably comes down to the fact that, more than any other part of the church calendar, Lent expects something of us. That’s a hard pill to swallow, and I chafe at the notion as much as anyone else. We human beings do a good job of resisting the power of Lent. Often we reduce it to something that we do (either enduring the misery of no Starbucks or adding a spiritual façade to whatever self-help endeavor we decide to take on). Sometimes we look at such practices and use them as an excuse to ignore it altogether.

A few years ago, I read a reflection written by a friend who tried something different and intriguing.  She decided to give something away every day during Lent. Each day she found an item and gave it to somebody.  She challenged herself to make sure it was more than the clearing out of junk that inspires yard sales and trips to the thrift store. While some of her exercise did focus on simplifying and living with less, she made sure that some of the items she gave away were items that were important to her.  Some items were also chosen specifically for the persons they were given to. In addition to letting go of possessions and simplifying, the Lenten practice enriched her relationships with 40 people through the conversations and interaction—some simple and some quite involved—that resulted from her giving things away.

#CRAIGSLENT

Such an idea would surely enrich each of our lives during the Lenten season that begins this week.  In this digital age, perhaps we might even add a twist that would engage the social media-driven world that we all live in.  As I invite you to observe a holy Lent, I invite you to observe a Craigslent by giving away items, most likely to people that you would otherwise never have contact with, over Craigslist. You can take the idea and approach it in your own way, but here’s an example:

  1. Identify items to give away.  Perhaps 40, perhaps 20, 10 or 1 per week.  Taking the opportunity to downsize or de-clutter is welcome, but will hopefully invite you to reflect on your level of materialism.  Choosing some items that are meaningful to you would add a level of investment to this project that I am certain would lead to more profound reflection.
  2. List the items on Craigslist or some other online outlet where people can find them.  As you list the items, include a few sentences about what you are doing (for example: “I am observing the Christian season of Lent this year by giving away 40 items to 40 different people.  My hope is that doing this will provide me with the opportunity to pray and reflect as I give things away.”).
  3. If you want to focus on selecting the people you give items to, you could do this over Facebook, Twitter or any other social network that you participate in.
  4. Pay attention to the interactions that are made possible.  Some will be small, some may be surprising!  Allow the moments of relationship that occur to enrich you Lenten experience.
  5. Spread the word!  Tell me and others about your experience.  Share your comments below.  Share them over your own social networks.  On Twitter, use #CRAIGSLENT.
  6. Have fun…and have a blessed and holy Lent!

Derek Webb, a singer-songwriter connected with the Contemporary Christian band Caedmon’s Call has had to resort to distributing his new album, Stockholm Syndrome, directly from his website because his record label found the song “What Matters More?” to be too controversial.

I haven’t yet been a listener of Webb’s music (or Caedmon’s Call). Below is a video and lyrics to the “controversial” song. I don’t know enough to comment on the music in the song, but the lyrics (which is where the controversy resides) deserve to be flooding the so-called “Christian music” market. I suspect they will not.

What Matters More?

Derek Webb
from The Stockholm Syndrome
You say you always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe, make you sound like a freak’Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damn reckless with the words you speak
Wouldn’t silently consent when the liars speak
Denying all the dying or the remedy

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

If I can tell what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straights is all it’s about
Yeah, it looks like being hated for all the wrong things
And chasing the wind while the pendulum swings

We can talk and debate it till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition that He’s coming to save
Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit
About fifty-thousand people who are dying today

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

Dr. Tony Campolo speaks about faith, political partisanship, and the kingdom of God.