Divorce, Remarriage, Adultery, and Homosexuality

Many Christians hold that homosexual behavior is sinful and require that LGBT persons be repentant of such behavior in order to be accepted or remain in Christian fellowship. An LGBT person who is unrepentant, who continues in homosexual behavior, is considered to be continuing in sin and is liable to church discipline and/or exclusion from fellowship. These beliefs come directly from scripture. For many Christians, if the Bible says something is sin, then it is sin. Period.

But I would like to point out the hypocrisy of this as it pertains to divorce and remarriage. The dominant view of divorce among Christians today is that it is not preferable, but that it is allowed in certain circumstances, such as infidelity and abandonment by an unbeliever. But what is not discussed as often is the issue of remarriage. Jesus teaches about this in Matthew 5:32 -

"But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

And again in Matthew 19:9 -

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

And Mark 10:11-12 -

He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

And Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 15 -

"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife... But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace."

And for Old Testament exclamation, Malachi 2:16a -

"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel...

While it can be conceded that marital unfaithfulness and abandonment by an unbeliever are legitimate grounds for divorce, scripture does not allow divorce for any other reason. Therefore, according to the Bible, anyone who divorces for any reason other than infidelity or abandonment by an unbeliever and then later remarries is an adulterer.

So is this adultery sinful? Most Christians do not demand that remarried divorcees repent of their adultery and end their sinful and immoral behavior. Most do not cry out through political punditry that remarried divorcees are a threat to the institution of marriage and the family values of our nation. Christian politicians are not lobbying for legislation or constitutional amendments against divorce and remarriage. Isn't divorce a significantly more direct and damaging threat to marriage than homosexuality? Isn't God's Old Testament hate of divorce equivalent to His calling homosexuality an abomination? Adultery and homosexuality seem to be equivalent in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 -

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

So why do Christians treat the two issues so differently? If there is a hermeneutic that allows for the acceptance of remarriage, why can't we also be accepting of homosexuality?

Pardon me for being cynical, but I think it is easy for Christian leaders to take a hard stance against homosexuality. Leaders cannot speak out so strongly against remarried divorcees because there are too many of them attending their churches. Half of all marriages in America end in divorce, and the number one cause of those divorces is financial stress. To take a solidly conservative Biblical stand against all those who have remarried after such a divorce would clear the pews in a hurry!

But do Christians truly avoid teaching these verses because it would be unpopular? Or is it that we don't believe them? Do we just decide for ourselves what we think is right and trust that God agrees with us, regardless of what the Bible says? Could our interpretation of these passages regarding divorce and adultery really be that dependent on our own ideas of morality?

So I ask again, what is the hermeneutic that allows Christians to accept the adultery inherent in most remarriages? And if such a hermeneutic exists, why is it not applied to other sexual sins, such as homosexuality? And if it does not exist, why do Christians accept unrepentant remarried persons into fellowship but not unrepentant homosexuals?

Review: "Church Music", David Crowder*Band

I just finished listening to Church Music, the new David Crowder album. I think it is their best album to date.

According to Wikipedia:

The album runs continuously with no gaps between tracks, essentially creating a 73 minute song. To do this the band sequenced the tracks before anything had been recorded so keys and tempos could be finalized. According to David Crowder, ""We programmed the album first, forcing ourselves to write from the track up, and then, after the song emerged, we dismantled it, replacing much of the programming with live instrumentation but leaving the fundamentals that the song emerged from intact."

Listening to the album from beginning to end, you get the sense that the writing process created fundamental changes in the band's approach to style and genre. While still rooted firmly in sequencing and sampling, as has become DC*B's bread and butter, much of the acoustic flavor of their earlier work has been replaced by dark and dense guitar and synth soundscapes. The album's power is magnified by the band's attention to intensity and dynamic range. Songs often soar to maximum heights just before the instrumentation drops away to reveal previously unnoticed underlying tracks. The album pulses with a rising and falling from track to track, but all the while continuing to build from beginning to end.

For me, the record climaxes at track 16 with (dare I say it) the heaviest song on the album, "God Almighty, None Compares", a nearly seven minute minor key clinic of time changes, heavy electric guitar hooks, and a wailing Hammet-esque wah solo on the outro. This is not your typical David Crowder*Band album, if there ever has been such a thing. Gosh there's even a funk number on the album, "Church Music - Dance [!]". The funk guitar work is great, the 70s disco string hits don't feel out of place, the distorted synth bass figure keeps it current...

Another standout track for me is "How He Loves". The crowded coffee shop background noise cements a sense of community and shared experience that fits perfectly with the lyrics.

"And we are His portion and He is our prize, Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes, If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking. And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss, And my heart turns violently inside of my chest, I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, When I think about, the way He loves us, Oh how He loves us, Oh how He loves..."

When so many CCM lyrics sound like middle school love poems, Crowder's lyrics rise above, reaching artistic and theological heights seldom heard. And I'm happy to say that the music on this album is more than an equal match for the lyrics. The license and creative freedom enjoyed by DC*B to pursue their muse is to be admired. Church Music is quite an achievement in this sense. From the original tracking and writing process down to the final outcome, the album is risky, and it succeeds.

One nitpick: I am not the greatest fan of the overcompressed brick wall limiting that has become almost standard practice in the music industry. The loudness wars have had a drastic effect on the dynamic quality of modern recordings over the last several years, and unfortunately this album goes too far with it at times. Although Church Music is far the worst perpetrator of recent date (the effect is not found throughout the album, and at times I found it to be musically pleasing, creating intensity and power in some key passages), still I found my ears tiring from the extreme compression during certain sustained sections.

Track listing

1. "Phos Hilaron [Hail Gladdening Light]" - 2:06
2. "Alleluia, Sing" - 4:30
3. "The Nearness" - 3:55
4. "Shadows" - 3:26
5. "Eastern Hymn" - 6:26
6. "SMS [Shine]" - 3:18
7. "The Veil" - 4:19
8. "We Are Loved" - 4:17
9. "All Around Me" (Flyleaf cover) - 4:37
10. "How He Loves" (John Mark McMillan cover) - 5:19
11. "Can I Lie" - 3:24
12. "Birmingham [We Are Safe]" - 3:38
13. "Church Music - Dance [!]" - 3:52
14. "What A Miracle" - 3:41
15. "Oh, Happiness" - 3:17
16. "God Almighty, None Compares" - 6:51
17. "In The End [O Resplendent Light!]" - 6:53

Homespun Concert Series, July 18th

You should check out this upcoming concert on July 18th.

The Cobalt Season is Ryan and Holly Sharp, who are the designers of Shane Claiborne's last book "Jesus For President" and toured in support of it, as well as Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change" tour. They're great people who have explored a lot of life and their music reflects the changes that many of us have lived into and the residual questions we are continuing to bump up against. You can find out more about them at thecobaltseason.com.

Molly Jenson is a great new artist who is pure pop/rock gold...her voice and stories are awesome. She's truly amazing. Check out the tracks from her new album on myspace at /mollyjenson.

Besides all this, the homebrewed beer and sangria are cheap and GOOD. And the whole event costs only $3. This is a brilliant way to spend an evening.

A Jesus Manifesto fails to answer "How?"

So after reading the new Jesus Manifesto by Len Sweet and Frank Viola, I find myself in agreement with almost all of what they propose. Yes, Jesus is alpha and omega, beginning and end, and Christianity has lost sight of the centrality of Jesus, all things that presume to replace Christ or supercede Christ are pretenders, etc. I get that. I agree with that.

And I really liked the part where they say that Christians don't follow a book, they follow a Person. I actually felt a shiver of excitement when I read that. Without degrading or belittling the Bible, they put it in its rightful place, the rightful place of all things, under Jesus.

Julie Clawson makes some very good points in her blog about justice, and I agree that this manifesto seems to belittle the role of justice, and of faith communities that see justice as central to their relationship with Christ. One of her points is that while the manifesto claims that Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, it also seems to claim (somewhat falsely) that some christians are doing just that.

The point of the manifesto seems to be that christianity is in some ways failing to give Christ his proper place, that we as Christ followers are supplanting Christ with lesser things. And they specifically point to justice. But in making this point, the manifesto fails to give any advice on how to put Christ first, other than warning against putting other things first. And while this is a good and always timely warning, it lacks any positive exhortation. It does not tell us HOW.

How do followers of Christ make Jesus central? How do we make him Lord? One might argue that he is those things apart from us and what we think or do. But that is not the point of the manifesto. The point of the manifesto is that we must avoid putting other things over Christ. But I don't believe that Jesus magically becomes our Lord once all other lords have been set aside. He does not become central merely by filling a vacuum. There must be concrete ways that we MAKE him our Lord.

I believe that love, and more specifically a justice that flows from love, is the answer to this question of "How?" This is the action that makes Jesus our Lord. The greatest commandment is to love God, and the way to love God is to love others. That is why the second greatest commandment is "like" the first, because loving others is like loving God. Before Jesus died he gave us a "new" commandment: to love one another. And he says if we love him we will obey his commandments. In the parables of the Sheep and Goats and of the Good Samaritan Jesus drives home the key idea that love for others is what it means to love God. He even suggests that failing to give justice to the poor will lead to separation from God. Whatever we do, we do to him. Whatever we don't do, we don't do to him. This is perhaps the most important aspect of relationship, not what we think of others, but how we relate to them. What we think or believe about God is far less important than our relationship with him. And our relationship is dependent on how we treat him. And Jesus teaches that how we treat him is synonymous with how we treat others. The sermon on the mount is full of teaching on how we are to live with and love others. Paul teaches that love is even greater than our faith. James, in a different way, teaches the same thing, that faith without works is dead. And in all of these examples this idea of love and works is directly tied to poverty and justice for the poor. Over and over again it is taught. It is inescapable.

So it seems to me that any manifesto of Jesus MUST attempt to tell us how we are to make Christ central. And any answer to this question that leaves out justice is flawed. So not only does the Sweet/Viola manifesto fail to tell us the answer, it actually admonishes us to give less place to the answer.

But other than that it's great. :-)

Ken Bussell
Sent via BlackBerry

Organizing Music Charts

One of the features I like most about having music files on my computer is the ability to sort them by their id3 tags. Using iTunes (or most any mp3 player), I can sort my music by genre, artist name, song title, album title, year, and many other categories. Everybody who listens to music in some sort of digital format takes this kind of powerful sorting and searching capability for granted.

But I want this same kind of tagging functionality for ALL of my digital files, especially Microsoft Office files like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

As a music pastor I create all of my own music charts in Microsoft Word. I transcribe the music myself, transpose it into a variety of keys, save the Word documents with file names like "Name of Song - Key.doc" and save them in a folder called "Charts". The problem is that Finder (or Explorer on a PC) is very limited with regard to sorting and searching. I can organize the files into folders, and give them long complicated file names with lots of information, and I can search within the contents of the files for keywords like "Love" or "Mission", but I would prefer a way to "tag" them like I do my mp3 files. I would love to be able to sort my Word docs by Artist, Genre, and more.

I would especially like a way to add custom tags. I would create a tag category called "Theme" that would support a list of keywords (comma separated?) like Easter, Christmas, Sacrifice, Mission, Kingdom, etc. Then I could tag each file with a variety of theme keywords whether that word is actually in the lyrics of the song or not. From a planning perspective, this would greatly facilitate my ability to select songs based on their themes without having to rely so much on my memory.

I guess there are probably many types of workaround ideas using the properties of the file to add keywords and such, or creating long file names and duplicating files across a variety of folders, but I think this would become an organizational nightmare. Does anyone know of an app that does this? I would really like a browser window that has all my tag categories as column headings (like iTunes) so I can just click a column heading and sort by that tag (like Theme or Genre). And a Boolean search function to find all the files that match set of criteria, like all songs with a tempo between 100 and 120, or all songs in the key of G with an alto lead.

I could imagine some sort of meta data appended to a file that might look like this:


Having this information embedded in a Word doc would make my planning time so much more efficient. I imagine the ability to add custom tags like this would be useful in a wide range of situations. It would be much more powerful than simple keywords. Is anyone aware of such an app?

The Complete Library of Christian Worship

I have been aware of these books for several years now, but I have just recently begun to tackle them in depth. They are a collection of essays edited by Robert E. Webber in seven volumes (eight separate books), which are as follow:

Vol. I: The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship
Vol. II: Twenty Centuries of Christian Worship
Vol. III: The Renewal of Sunday Worship
Vol. IV: Music & the Arts in Worship (Book A and B)
Vol. V: The Services of the Christian Year
Vol. VI: The Sacred Actions of Worship
Vol. VII: The Ministries of Christian Worship

Volume I begins by outlining the Old and New Testament vocabulary regarding worship. This is of course a great way to begin, as it comprehensively covers the language used in the Bible to describe and prescribe worship. An important point gets made early on in comparing the wealth of Old Testament writing regarding worship to the relative absence of such writing in the New Testament. While the Old Testament is full of songs, poems, gatherings, rituals, feasts and festivals, the New Testament has comparatively little that matches the scope of the OT. This is perhaps a result of the context in which the NT was written, where there were few chances for Christians to carry on large-scale public worship gatherings. Instead, the New Testament writers used the worship vocabulary of the OT in their interpretation Christ.

For example, in the New Testament Christ is referred to as the Passover Lamb. In the OT this was not a sin offering, but was originally the meal that the Israelites ate to signify their deliverance from the Angel of Death. The blood of the passover lamb marked the people of God for their protection from the judgment that was coming upon Egypt. In the same way, we as Christians eat the body of Christ, our passover lamb, when we share in the Lord's Supper in communion. And it is His blood that marks us as His people and delivers us from death.

Volume I also notes that in the OT it was not a male lamb that was offered for sin, but usually a ram, bull, or goat. Jesus is never likened to these animals in the New Testament. He is always referred to as the Lamb. When John the Baptists calls Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", what must he have meant, if not as a sin offering? Jesus takes away sin "through his victory over sin, in the utter obedience of His death on the cross... He takes away sin not only by his offering of himself, but by his victory and dominion over evil as the 'great King' who delivers his covenant people from their enemies. He takes away sin through the power of his life, dwelling as God himself in the midst of his people, the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-8)."

I found this clarification refreshing. In fact there is an entire section of the second chapter devoted to atonement theory which handles the topic very generously. I find the emphasis of the atonement to be much more about Jesus' life than about his death. Good Friday is not the most important day in the Christian calendar. Easter is. I think there are certain atonement theories that get this backward. And I think we sometimes get it backward in our worship as well.

Chris Tomlin has a great song out now titled "I Will Rise". I like it because the lyrics give great emphasis to the resurrection. Not only to Christ's resurrection, but to our future resurrection at His return. No thoughts of dying and going to heaven to be found in this one. I wonder if he was inspired by N.T. Wright's book "Surprised By Hope"? Here is a sample of the lyrics:

Jesus has overcome. And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won. He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles' wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise. I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing, "Worthy is the Lamb"
And I hear the cry of every longing heart, "Worthy is the Lamb"

OK, back to the book. The early chapters go on to cover Jesus as the Light and Glory of God, very familiar terms in OT worship, as well as interpretations of Christ through OT worship language of covenant and sabbath. It also discusses the worship of Christ at his birth and during his ministry, Jesus' worship of the Father, prayer, communion, and more. I am really looking forward to finding more inspiration for my worship songwriting. I have been in a rut lately, falling back on the same themes over and over. It's easy to get lazy and "go with what you know". I will post more insights as I get deeper into the collection. Hopefully there will be some new songs to post as well.

Strange Realization About Coffee

I had a strange realization a while back about coffee. I was sitting in Starbucks looking around at the decor, the artistic black and white photography of coffee beans... the milieu of stainless steel and ceramic cups and mugs, some for home, some for travel, some large, some small... the machines for sale, the grinders, the coffee makers, the espresso makers... the varieties of beans and roasts for sale, Ethiopian, Colombian, et al....

And then it suddenly hit me. "I am in a head shop."

Is it just me, or is the subculture and paraphernalia surrounding coffee very similar to that surrounding marijuana? While it has been a very long time since I have smoked marijuana, I remember all sorts of varieties and strains with international and domestic origins, different flavors, growing practices, and potencies, with brand names like skunk, hydroponic, G13, purple hair, and the like. It seems very similar to the variety of beans and roasters you find in the coffee industry. And I remember all the pipes and bongs at the head shops, glass and ceramic, brass one-hitters, water filtered, vaporizers, etc. It seems very similar to all the mugs and cups and machines you can buy at Starbucks. I remember walking into head shops and smelling the incense burning, being reminded of the smell of marijuana, and I find the experience of walking into a Starbucks and smelling the coffee somewhat reminiscent of that. The coffee related art on the walls at Starbucks doesn't seem all that different from tie-dyed marijuana leaf posters. And head shops were selling music long before Starbucks had that bright idea.

Of course, these similarities should not have surprised me. In both cases we have plants that are grown and consumed for their mood altering properties. Marijuana is much more potent in this regard, and hence much more controversial. I would certainly not attempt to equate them on that level. But when one visits Amsterdam and wants to smoke marijuana, where do they go? To the coffee shop. And does anyone dispute the physically addictive nature of coffee?

I knew a guy once whose nickname was "Coffee". He drank coffee all day every day. When he was broke, which was much of the time, he panhandled to get "coffee money". He got severe headaches and became very irritable when he didn't have any. You knew what he wanted when you saw him coming. He carried a coffee mug with him wherever he went. He never washed it. He claimed that the brown resinous buildup on the inside of his mug actually enhanced the flavor. I suspect when he was out of coffee he may have scraped off the brown gunk and added hot water to get a quick fix. I never understood how addictive coffee could be until I met a man who took it as his name.

Now don't get me wrong. I like coffee just fine. I'm not trying to say that coffee is a terrible drug, and that Starbucks is the dopeman. Lots of people drink coffee, and it actually has a positive effect on their life. It's great in social settings, it helps people start their day, to wake up, to stay focused and alert. And it can be quite comforting on a cold day to cuddle around a warm mug. I don't have a problem with it. I can quit anytime I want.

Ken Bussell
Sent via BlackBerry

"Is the Bible True?" Three Kinds of Biblical Truth

Lately I've been in discussions with a number of people about the inerrancy of Scripture. It's by no means a new discussion, and emotions typically run deep when the subject comes up. Through these conversations I've been working out a succinct (and necessarily simplistic) way to express my understanding of Biblical truth. The question "Is the Bible True?" seems to me to mainly depend on what kind of truth one is looking for.

As an example, let's take the parable of the Prodigal Son. Is it true? Or does it contain truth? Is it true because it is in the Bible? Or is it in the Bible because it is true? It seems to me that one can find at least three different types of potential truth in this parable:

1. Is it true that Jesus actually taught this parable? Are the words recorded in Scripture truly Jesus' words, and are they truly verbatim?

2. Is the parable a true story? Were the characters in the story real people, and did the events truly happen as described?

3. Does the parable accurately describe God's relationship with humanity? Is what the parable teaches about God's grace and mercy true?

Please notice that none of these potential truths need be related. As is the case with all parables, they do not have to be true stories in order to teach truth. It does not matter if the Prodigal Son is a fictional character. Further, it is not even necessary that the recounting and attribution of the story be true. If it were in fact the Apostle John who taught this parable, and even if it were not a completely accurate transcription, that would not cause the "moral of the story" to become untrue.

In other words, as we nearly all agree, if number two is false, it does not follow that number three must also be false. In fact, if number three is true, it matters not if the others are. Either way, number three remains true. And if true, it is not its cannonization that makes it so. It is true of its own merit.

So when confronted with possible errors and contradictions in Scripture, we need not flee from them. We need not systematize them. We need not disguise them with adjectives like "apparent" or rebrand them as paradoxes. The Gospels do not need us to harmonize them. James and Paul do not need us to arbitrate their disputes. Job does not demand we believe in fire-breathing dragons. Genesis does not require creation science as an explanation. The truth of the Bible is not dependent on inerrancy or infallibility. The Bible can be inaccurate on a variety of levels and still be true where it matters most.

So what kind of truth matters most? Of the three potential truths listed, which is the most important? Put another way: If only one could be true, which one is mission critical?

I ask this on behalf of those who believe that the Bible is false because they have found it to be inaccurate... for the biologists who struggle with the creation story... the linguists who question the tower of Babel... the logicians who identify the contradictions... the historians who question the timelines... the multitude of college students who eventually disavow their faith after receiving a "higher" education... Must we force them to forego the opportunity of discovering the truth of the Bible by demanding that they accept it as true in every way? In doing so, are we not sabotaging truth itself?

My choice is number three. The truth in the Bible that matters most to me is what it teaches me about God. That is the truth I am looking for. And I believe it is there to be found by anyone who seeks it. The existence of inaccuracies, errors, and contradictions in the texts and translations do not sway me from this belief. Nor does my acceptance of them lower my regard for the Bible. It heightens it. If some passages of Scripture are not literally true, it may still be that many others are. In either case, the figurative truths remain unchanged. And the fact that these truths have remained available to us in Scripture despite its factual shortcomings makes the Bible that much more amazing to me. It is a testament of God's desire for us to know Him. It is His revelation of Himself to us. And it is in this light that I esteem Scripture so highly, and for this reason that I have dedicated my life to understanding it and living it out... in order to know Him, even as I am fully known.

I don't care if the Bible makes a poor science textbook or historical record. That's not what I find important.

Homespun Concert Series

Host: Ryan Sharp, Holly Sharp, Brittian Bullock

Date: Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time: 7:00pm - 11:00pm

The Green House next to the Historic Belmont Fire Department
908 SE 35th Ave
Portland, OR

Email: homespunconcertseries@gmail.com

My Top 10 Metal Albums, Part 3

OK, here's my number one. There was part of me that really wanted to list Van Halen's "1984" as a tie here. But after talking with a friend, he confirmed for me that I can't really categorize Van Halen as a metal band. They are hard rock, but not metal. And the prominence of keyboards on "1984" further solidifies this decision. But I think "1984" would probably make my all-time top ten list if genre was not a factor. Songs like "Jump", "Panama", "Hot for Teacher", and "I'll Wait" are approaching rock perfection. Eddie's guitar work on this album is his very best, even though albums "I" and "II" were groundbreaking at the time. When I think about Van Halen "I" coming out at a time (1978) when Joe Perry and Jimmy Page were considered the greatest guitarists, it must have been mind blowing. In fact, down right embarrassing! "I" was a rock guitar clinic, pointing the way to the future. And six years later "1984" would be the culmination of that potential, peaking at #2 (Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was riding #1 at the time) with the single "Jump" reaching #1.

But, "1984" is not a metal album. But this album DEFINITELY is:

1. Master of Puppets - Metallica (1986)
The greatest thrash metal album of all time. A masterpiece. When I first heard Battery I was shocked by how fast it was. It was hard for me to comprehend. But it didn't take long for Metallica to become my favorite band. Their blue collar, anti-corporate image was refreshing in a music scene dominated by polished glam posers. At a time when Vince Neil and Brett Michaels looked (and sang!) more like women than rock stars, James Hetfield was writing "Kill Bon Jovi" on the headstocks of his guitars. What more needs said? The songs on this album are epic. The title track has such incredible rhythm guitar playing that I still can't accurately cop it after over two decades of practice. Nevermind Kirk's leads! "Disposable Heroes" might be my favorite song on the album, with James' speed chunking Low E riff underneath Kirk's wah flavored upper register. And while Lars' drumming has taken a beating lately (pun?), his work on "Master" is some of the best thrash metal drumming you will ever hear. As a youth who spent his teenage years in institutions, I was very emotionally connected to the song Sanitarium. Lyrics like "Welcome to where time stands still. No one leaves and no one will..." and "Keep him tied. It makes him well. He's getting better. Can't you tell?" seemed to be all about me and my life at the time. "Just leave me alone..." As a band, and as an album, there are few as influential as Metallica and "Master of Puppets". If and when you find yourself testing out guitars and amps at your local guitar shop, "Enter Sandman" should NEVER be played. It is embarrassing for you and those who hear you. But "Master of Puppets" should ALWAYS be played. There is no truer test of a guitar rig, and your onlookers will smile and nod knowingly. There's a young kid in our youth group band who plays "Battery" and "Master" every week during warm-up. The influence of this album is still being felt by musicians at every age and level, and I think it will continue to be felt for decades to come. Deservedly, it ranks as my number one.

My Top Ten Albums, Part 2

Here is the follow-up to my previous post, the next four on my Top Ten favorite metal albums list. I am saving number one for next week, so you'll have to wait for that.

5. Vulgar Display of Power - Pantera (1992)
One word: aggression. Phil Anselmo's vocals have inspired a generation of screamo knock-offs. Many of them don't even know who he is. Dimebag Darrell's (RIP) guitar work was amazing. The crushing solid-state tone, the whammy pedal, the amazing harmonic squeals and dive-bombs. And the riffs. Oh, the riffs. Vinnie Paul's drumming on this album is accurate like a machine, only tighter and more brutal. Metallica's "Black Album" (1991) left a gaping hole in my thrash metal heart. "Vulgar Display of Power" filled it.

4. Number of The Beast - Iron Maiden (1982)
Every track is a classic. When I listen to this, I never have to skip ahead to a better song. I found this one a couple years after it was released, and I still listen to it regularly. The songwriting and musicianship is phenomenal. Although I have to admit that the slight tempo quirks at the beginning of "Hallowed Be Thy Name" still bug me. Maybe there's something endearing about imperfection? But then again, the drum intro for "The Prisoner" more than makes up for it. When I was incarcerated in my early 20s, I was first placed in a reception/diagnostic cell block, and I was miserable without music to play or listen to. So I recreated it for myself, trying to remember my favorite songs, singing the lyrics and guitar parts, tapping the drum parts with my feet and hands.... It was a challenge to try to recall every word, every fill, every riff, and the order and arrangements (verse, chorus, bridge, solo, etc.) from beginning to end. I think it actually strengthened my memorization skills. I remember many nights early on singing "Hallowed Be Thy Name" to myself on my bunk. "I'm waiting, in my cold cell, when the bell begins to chime. Reflecting on my past life. And it doesn't have much time..." A while back I watched a documentary of the Blues Angels precision flight team, and in it they showed their preflight meetings where the pilots gather together in a room and review every part of their show by memory, closing their eyes and visualizing each maneuver in order. After seeing that< I realized that's what I do with music. I did it in prison with Iron Maiden songs. And I still do it each week as I prep worship music for Sundays.

3. Appetite for Destruction - Guns n' Roses (1987)
"Sweet Child O' Mine" is still my favorite song of all time. It has everything. First, Slash's incredible opening guitar riff... then Duff's beautiful melody line on bass... then Izzy and Steven come riding in on the eighth notes... two teaser guitar solos and then a massive solo over the ending... When I was 15 lived in a youth shelter, and I used to lie in bed at night with headphones on and imagine myself in a band with my friends from the shelter... me playing the opening riff, Mike coming in on the bass, Rick and Danny coming in on the drums and guitar... To this day it still gives me chills. It's like a bottled endorphin rush, always there anytime I want it. Just put on the headphones, imagine us shelter kids growing up to be rock stars, and when the drums come in... Magic. I remember thinking that the band must have had two singers, because Axl's vocals on the opening track "Welcome to the Jungle" are completely different than the vocals on track two, "It's So Easy". He has incredible range, and he uses it. And he sounds like no one else. "Paradise City" is another great song with an incredibly frantic double time guitar solo ending. I met Slash at a music store once, and I had him sign my Les Paul case. To me, only David Gilmour can rival Slash when it comes to playing with emotion. No one has more emotion in their lead playing than Slash. His note choices and bends are lyrical and melodic. I can hum his solos practically note for note simply because they are so memorable. They're beyond catchy. And his tone and style are instantly recognizable. Appetite is a landmark in rock and roll history, blending classic rock, metal, and punk. It almost made number one for me.

2. Shout at the Devil - Mötley Crüe (1983)
This album changed my world. Before Shout, my favorite songs were "Centerfold" by The J. Geils Band and "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley (still love those songs!). "Shout at the Devil" was my first metal album. Mötley Crüe made me a headbanger. Every song breathed adolescent rebellion. The opening monologue "In The Beginning" contains the quote "It has been written that those who have the youth have the future." Mötley Crüe definitely had me at 11 years old. I loved it so much the first time I heard it that I stole the cassette from my babysitter (obviously I couldn't be trusted home alone at that age)! One thing that still stands out to me today, apart from Tommy Lee's incredible drumming, is the uniqueness and originality of Mick Mars' guitar tone. Compared to the scooped midrange tone of his contemporaries like George Lynch and Warren DeMartini, Mick's tone is fat and full of midrange honk. It's actually bluesy. The Crüe would go on to explore this blues sensibility in their songwriting for Theater of Pain, influenced in part by Mick's background, and with some disappointing results. But Shout at the Devil stands as one of the hardest rocking albums of the early 80s. And more than that, for me, it was the soundtrack of my youth. "Looks That Kill", "Red Hot", "Too Young to Fall in Love", "Knock 'Em Dead Kid", and the title track... some of the greatest metal ever written. And their cover of "Helter Skelter" is better than the original. Yeah, I said it. Regardless of what Mötley Crüe has become over the years, what they were then hasn't changed. To me, they were the greatest heavy metal band in the world.

My Top Ten Metal Albums, Part 1

I've been reminiscing lately on iTunes listening to all my old favorite metal bands from the 80s and early 90s. So I decided to write my top ten list. Yeah, I know. Not a new idea. But still, everyone has a unique experience, and I think my list is somewhat unique. For me, and for a lot of us, the music we listened to in our teens is inextricably linked to our memories of those times. When I listen to music, I can't help but flashback to certain scenes and events, some good, some not so good. So in doing that, I felt compelled to journal a bit about it.

Remember, this is a list based on 80s and early 90s METAL. U2 doesn't fit in here. In fact, I hated U2 growing up. I thought their music was wimpy. So there. And this is only "Part 1" of the list. I have "Part 2" already done, but I'm saving it. :-)

10. Tribute - Ozzy Osbourne (1987)
Randy Rhoads was amazing (RIP). The guitar solo on "Mr. Crowley" is worth the price of the album by itself. These live recordings, released five years after the fact, showcase Ozzy and Randy at their Blizzard/Diary height. Ozzy had a way of surrounding himself with the best musicians. Randy was perhaps the best of all. As much as I love Sabbath, and with all respect to Ronnie James Dio, "Ozzy rules". At one point growing up I was living in a Methodist Children's Home and there was a talent show coming up that I wanted to be in. So I auditioned lip syncing "Goodbye To Romance" from this album. I had just been dumped by my girlfriend there at the home, and I so badly wanted to get on stage and "sing" that song to her, win the talent show, and win her back. But what were the chances of an Ozzy song passing the audition at a Methodist Home? None. So I had to do a Larry Norman song instead, "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus". I actually played keyboards and sang it live. I didn't win.

9. Under Lock and Key - Dokken (1985)
I was in an adolescent psychiatric treatment facility when I first saw the video for "In My Dreams" on MTV. The water splashing on the drums... the George Lynch tapping solo... There's an emotional attachment there because of where I was and what was happening to me at the time. I can picture the couches in the dayroom, the window into the nurses station, me sitting there escaping into the dream world of Headbanger's Ball. I still think Lynch had the greatest metal guitar tone. Thick and heavy. The standout track for me is "It's Not Love". The clean spanky finger plucking guitar intro is great. I love any song that asks "Why baby, Why?"

8. Night Songs - Cinderella (1986)
A great album. I remember buying it at the record store just because I thought the band looked cool on the cover. It was while listening to this album recently that I got the inspiration to write this post. I had forgotten what a good album it is. I have fond memories of riding in Curt's old Dodge Dart (the Hellmobile) listening to this cassette over and over. We were probably high at the time, which could be why I forgot until now! "Somebody Save Me..."

7. Reign In Blood - Slayer (1985)
I'm torn over this one. Took me a while to get used to it. Made me want to be a Satanist. Loved that Kerry King played "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" for the Beastie Boys. The original cassette had the full track listing repeated on both sides. Listen to the whole album, then turn it over and listen to the whole album again. I still have most of the lyrics memorized. There was something magnetic about listening to the hardest fastest band around. And it expanded my vocabulary. I had no idea what necrophobia was until Slayer came around. But all things considered, this is Slayer's best work by far, and Slayer stands as one of the top three thrash bands of all time, and I love thrash. So there you go.

6. III Sides to Every Story - Extreme (1992)
Perhaps one of the most underrated and under appreciated albums of all time. This concept album tells the three sides that every story has: Yours, Mine, and the Truth. Nuno Bettencourt is one the most proficient and soulful guitarists I have ever heard (a combination not easily found). But his songwriting, arranging, and production talents on this album are at genius level. Rock, Metal, Prog, Funk, Blues, Acoustic, Orchestral... it all gets tied together in a masterfully sweeping collage, one song transitioning and transforming into another, building and growing with each successive track. And on top of it all, the lyrics are very strongly influenced by Christian thought. The album is full of questions about God and man, our struggles with sin and doubt... the Bible is quoted throughout this record, Old Testament and New Testament, especially on side three, The Truth. Perhaps more than any record on my list, THIS is the album you MUST have. Forget what you think you know about Extreme. Their popular acoustic hits "More Than Words" and "Whole Hearted" do not even compare to this artistic achievement. And when you get it (do it now), sit down in front of a great pair of speakers and listen to it from beginning to end, as a concept album is meant to be listened to. You'll be blown away.

Did I forget your favorite? Stay tuned for "Part 2".

Facebook = The End Of The World

Our Lead Pastor Steve just joined Facebook! A momentous occasion. Here is the welcome message I wrote on his wall:

Congratulations on finally entering the virtual community of superficial relationship where substantive human contact and interaction is replaced by one-liner text messages and the almighty "poke". Now all you need is a blog and a Twitter account and you'll be fully equipped to engage the global village at it's shallowest level.

And don't forget the Facebook app for your Blackberry. To be the most ineffective at maintaining these relationships, you must be mobile so you can be distracted by other things at the same time. This helps to make sure that your real life relationships become as compromised as your online ones.

Welcome to the end of the world. :-)

New MP3, plus Chords and Lyrics!

You requested them, so here they are.

I have now posted links to PDF files of the Chords & Lyrics for selected Emerging Worshiper music. Check it out in the right sidebar.

Also as requested is the newly posted live acoustic version of "Worthy Is The Lamb" as debuted during the Friday Passion Week gathering at Our Place.


"Jesus Is An Elephant"

From The Colbert Report on Comedy Central...
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Worthy Is The Lamb

Just finished a new song for Sunday. It centers on the atonement, so I will be introducing it at Passion Week Friday (today) at OurPlaceChurch. I consciously avoided phrases that might over emphasize penal substitution, favoring a more Christus Victor approach, while also reclaiming and reframing some ideas such as ransom. I also borrowed a couple lines from the hymn "This Is My Father's World". One of my favorites.

Here are the lyrics.

Angels all around, worship and fall down, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
We join in their praise, our voices we raise, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
Though tempted as we, yet sinless was He, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
Unblemished and pure, Sin’s double cure, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
Once for all, He was slain. He bore the cross, He scorned it’s shame

OH, Oh Happy Day! Christ is risen from the grave
OH, Oh Happy Day! Jesus washed our sins away

Risen from the grave, each of us to save, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
The victory is won, He gave his only son, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
All of nature sings, and all around us rings, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
His hands the wonders wrought, I rest me in this thought, “Worthy Is The Lamb”
Once for all, He was slain. Now He lives, now He reigns

OH, Oh Happy Day! Christ is risen from the grave
OH, Oh Happy Day! Jesus washed our sins away

His glory was shown, His Kingdom has grown, Creation atoned, By death overthrown
He rolled away the stone, He ransomed His own, He reigns on the throne

Worthy is the Lamb, Worthy Is The Lamb, Worthy Is The Lamb

American Idol Finalists are Worship Leaders

From MTV News:

This season... a large number of those faithful viewers have more than a casual pop-culture interest in the show: They're Christians who are also watching because more than half of this year's crop of finalists — including Danny Gokey, Michael Sarver, Kris Allen, Scott MacIntyre, Matt Giraud and Lil Rounds — either have a strong affiliation with the church or are worship leaders in their communities.

"I think that Christians probably watch the show all the time but maybe don't admit it. But this gives them someone to root for in this cast who is not just talented but also follows their faith, and people want to get behind contestants who align with their views," said Joanne Brokaw, who writes the Gospel Soundcheck" column for the spirituality Web site BeliefNet.com. "Christian music has always had this cheesy label attached to it, and this shows that a Christian singer can have artistic integrity and they are people who can really sing."

I'm sorry. Maybe it's just me. But does participating in American Idol really show someone's "artistic integrity"??

A worship leader friend of mine once asked me for some advice about American Idol. She was interested in auditioning, and I asked her why she would want to do that. What would be the motivation?

And I didn't just mean what would be the few good motivations. I mean what would be ALL of the motivations. How could you protect yourself from pride, from ego, from self-glory? What if you won? Your life would change. Would you want it to change that way? And if so, why? What are all of the things you are truly seeking when you audition for American Idol?

I blogged a while back about my decision making process regarding professionally recording the music I write. I still have not moved forward with that. I am SO hesitant to do so, because I know my own faults and failings. And as many good reasons as I could come up with for pursuing recording (sharing God's gift with the world, enriching and edifying the lives of others...), I can't escape myself and my need to have my ego stroked, to have others like me and my talent, to receive affirmation of my abilities, to become rich and famous... but all for the glory of God, right? That's the loophole, right? If God gets some glory, then its okay if I do too?

As much as I am not a fan of the corporate CCM industry, which exists on self promotion and self exaltation, I am even LESS a fan of American Idol. To me, the name says it all.

What am I most surprised by?

The demographics of the conference. I don't have anything to go on but observation. But there seems to be quite a large group of boomers and older. Maybe even half?? This conference has really delivered on the promise of denominational and age diversity. Catholic, Anabaptist, Mainline, Evangelical, etc. We're all here.

What am I most disappointed by? We look about 99% white. This was an issue of great conversation at Glorietta in 2007. Has there been much progress? How do we make progress?? Please someone give me an answer. If we miss it on diversity, we have missed it completely.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

ECC - Shane Claiborne

Just finished discussing the Shane Claiborne talk. What a motivational time. I was most moved by just his sheer quantity of authentic stories, his participation in community and in the lives of others, story after story of God moving and working through the lives of people.

One story, Shane just got back from spending time with the Amish and Mennonites in Indiana. His discovery of an underground railroad for AWOL soldiers, his recollections of the recent shootings and the response of the Amish toward the shooter's family. Amazing Grace.

I have to admit, that as Shane began speaking, I just had to put my blackberry down and listen. It was hard to twitter during his talk, because he wasn't as full of good quotes as some of the earlier speakers. But he was full of stories. Of real stories. And I actually liked that a lot. Stories just don't twitter well at a 140 characters! So I just sat back and drank it in.

Thanks Shane.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

Alexie Torres-Fleming Part II

As a person who has worked in social justice ministries for many years, I had become very comfortable reading Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones, and seeing urban renewal, seeing new life breathed into dead neighborhoods, seeing the poor and broken raised up as a vast and powerful army....

But this morning Alexie turned that on its head. She said that Ezekiel 37 is also about the church that is emerging from the dry bones of institution. She said that it is a call to us, the emergence church. That we need to prophecy, and God will put flesh on the bones. That we need to prophecy, and God will breathe life into dead bodies.

That spoke to me the loudest. Even through the great message of community organizing and demonstrations... Even though my heart and this blog have championed social justice time and again. To see the great vision of the emergence church rising to life.... Wow.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

ECC - Alexie Torres-Fleming

Here are just a few of the great quotes from Alexie's talk this morning. These aren't quite verbatim. At times I am even paraphrasing. Hope you enjoy nonetheless.

"How great our God is, that I get to be here too. That the call comes to all of us. Even in my little corner of the Bronx.

"God doesn't call the qualified, but He surely qualifies the called.

"God is calling us to prophesy and speak truth to the dry bones of our churches and institutions, that God may put flesh on them and breath life into them, and they may rise up a vast and mighty army.

"Church wasn't a place for me to hide, the kingdom of God didn't live in the 4 walls of the building, and our relationship with god was not about going to heaven when we die.

"I was defined by the outside world by all the bad things that might happen to me, or all the bad things I might do. I was an "at risk" youth.

"Poverty is a virtue.

"We think if we make the poor more middle class that is the answer. That is not the answer.

"Rich young man, he was a big fan of Jesus... What do I have to do? Give up everything you have. He walked away sad, because he had so much. Are you a fan, or a follower? The way of the follower is radical.

"I came at this kicking and screaming. But God was persistent.

"God, break me. Even my own ideas and will, if they are not your own, break them.

"I became a weeper. I would see things that in the past never bothered me, and my heart would break.

"Tearing down strongholds. The kingdom of God is not going to fall out of the sky and be beautiful one day. It is up to us. It lives inside of us.

"The image of the church had to be bigger than us crying over broken statues.

"None of the suits that I worked with on wall street were there. None of the people who told me lies about power were there. All the people that I was taught to judge, to see a powerless, were there. God said "this is power, Alexie" forget what you have learned.

"My prayer for the emergent church is that we would not forget that there are many who will never read the books... God's poorest of the poor needs us to invite them.

"If we're free, but they're not free, then we're not free.

"When you are silent, you are not neutral. You stand on the side of the oppressor.

"Whatever we have that we don't need does not belong to us."

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

ECC - Day 1 Conclusion - Richard Rohr

Dualistic thinking. What is it? Why do we have it? Where did it come from? Do we need it? Should we get rid of it?

Richard Rohr, who turned 66 today, gave a great talk on the contemplative mind and its nemesis, dual thinking. He suggested that our vocabulary needs a new word phrase: non-dual thinking.

The incarnation. Jesus was both fully god and fully human. At the same time. The embracing, understanding, and knowing of this truth (rather than merely assent to it) requires non-dual thinking.

The same with the trinity. Dual thinking minds have struggled with the understanding that Jesus is God. The Spirit is God. The Father is God. And God is one. Dual thinking, the kind that requires either/or answers, cannot accept the trinity. Instead, for 500 years we have assented to it and shelved it.

What's more, perhaps Richard's most profound statement of the evening was this:

"Almost all of the doctrines of the church, I do not believe. I know them."

His point? That dual thinking rests in belonging systems and belief systems. What is true? What is false? Who is in? Who is out? In contrast, the contemplative mind comes to a deeper understanding and a knowing of these truths through direct personal experience.

This direct experience is what has been lost over the centuries. But it is being rediscovered. The desert fathers, the franciscans, the benedictines, Richard of St. Victor, John of the Cross... the contemplative tradition runs long and deep in christendom. There is much we can learn from it. Jesus came to declare this inner experience, this union with God. We have seen the father, because we have seen Him. And we know the father because we know him. We too can be called sons of God. Adopted. Heirs.

Jesus did not come to change God's mind about humanity. Jesus came to change humanity's mind about God.

I led some contemplative prayer time during a recent worship gathering (just a few weeks ago). It was a first for our church. I think it was received well. At least I heard no complaints. But as Richard described, it is hard for protestant evangelicals to understand the contemplative tradition. They become afraid of it and call it New Age or "eastern" spirituality. When really this fear among evangelicals comes from their relative ignorance of the first 1500 years of church history. I hope, as Richard hopes, that we can reclaim these valuable and transforming practices for future generations.

Can't wait for tomorrow!

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

EC Conference - Brian McLaren

As I've said before: I love Brian. His message began with a simple statement: that what we focus on determines what we miss. He suggested that Jesus is a puzzle, and like the children's puzzles we are all familiar with, we come to the puzzle of Jesus with a picture in our minds (like the picture on a puzzle box) that we use to try to piece our understanding of Him together. But what happens if our picture is wrong? How frustrating the puzzle will be! And how much of Jesus do we miss by focusing on just our own picture?

Then, as always with Brian, the refocusing of our picture of Jesus begins to center on His message of the Kingdom of God. A kingdom standing in stark contrast to the roman kingdom of the day... A kingdom whose divine leader, a son of God, bringer of the pax romana (the roman peace) was Caesar Augustus. And how did Caesar bring this peace? Through the newly developed technology of the cross. Through the violent and torturous putting down of rebellion, sending a strong message to all who might oppose rome.

But Jesus sends a different message. Jesus brings peace by suffering, rather than inflicting suffering. Jesus brings peace by dying, rather than killing others. Jesus brings peace by enduring torture, not by torturing others. Jesus brings peace not by enforcing loyalty, but by accepting betrayal. Yes, Jesus, just a caesar, brings peace through the cross (Colossians 1). But He does it as no other king before Him had. And His kingdom is like no other before it.

Way to go Brian! I am thrilled to be here. And like you, I too feel like someone has dropped an alka seltzer into the middle of my brain. The thoughts are churning, the ideas bubbling. Yet my spirit is stirred as well. I can't wait to hear Richard Rohr tonight.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

Emerging Church Conference

So, there are around 400 here at the conference (my guess). Phyllis Tickle just gave a great introduction to the whole framework. She built the case for 500 year cycles, as I list them below:

The Great Emergence (present)
The Great Reformation (1517)
The Great Schism (1000ish)
The Great Decline (450-500)
The Great Transformation (Acts)
Judges to Kings


The ultimate question for all of these great cycles is Authority. From where do we get our authority? In the Reformation, with Sola Scriptura, Luther answered the question of authority by exchanging a flesh and blood pope for a paper one. Biblical authority requires interpretation, which causes division. Now there are over 27,000 distinctly differing protestant denominations in the US alone (registered with the IRS). Where will the Emerging Church find its authority? We must answer this question.

In the early church, there were two centers: Jerusalem and Antioch. Jerusalem was established. Antioch was a fresh expression. Jerusalem was quite worried about Antioch. Jerusalem had many questions about Antioch. Ultimately, Jerusalem didn't grow, but God's Kingdom did grow. So we are not here to save the existing established church. We are participating in this Great Emergence to serve God's Kingdom and see it grow.

More updates later...

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry


It is surreal following Shaq on Twitter. Here is a pic he posted a couple days ago. The caption read: "WHAT I WOULDA LOOKED LIKE IF I WOULDA BEEN TRADED TO PORTLAND , LOL" He has over 208,000 followers!

You can follow me on Twitter HERE. But I'm not as funny.

Has Oregon Made Me A Liberal?

I moved to Oregon from Indiana in early 2001. In Indiana I was a die hard Reaganite right-wing conservative, avid Rush Limbaugh listener, with just a slight tinge of Ayn Rand libertarianism in my blood. As we were planning to move, my friends and family jokingly predicted that I would become a liberal in Oregon, what with the state's reputation for progressive policies regarding physician assisted suicide and medical marijuana. Oregon must be full of hippies and gays, I remember being told. Watch out!

Well I now wonder if the predictions have somewhat come true. Am I more liberal? Is Oregon to blame?

As a conservative, I used to characterize my approach to the problems of poverty with the well known phrase "tough love". I focused my thinking on one primary idea: the personal responsibility and/or culpability of the poor. Because of this, I was unconcerned about helping the poor with their physical needs, and less compassionate toward them in general, and more interested in their personal lives and decisions. Did they use drugs? Were they drunks? Did they quit school? Did they have children out of wedlock? Did they somehow choose to be poor? Of course they must have. It was their fault, and I would be a fool to let myself be taken advantage of by someone like that, by helping someone who was just going to use my money or gifts to subsidize their degenerate lifestyle. I thought that any help I might give them would be short-lived at best, and wasted at worst. I thought they needed tough love. Jesus commanded us to love the poor. There is no escaping that, even for a conservative. So "tough love" is the best love we can give the poor. Right?

But even in Indiana my heart had begun to change I began to see that Jesus was not someone who questioned the lifestyle choices of those in need. And he never commanded us to do that either. When he saw a need, he met it, with love. Rather, the people Jesus questioned were the rich and the powerful. It was their lifestyle that he examined, whose hypocrisy he decried, not that of the poor and broken. But somehow as a conservative I had gotten that backward.

But perhaps my biggest falling out with conservatives has been on the issue of abortion. And I say that because I feel duped, perhaps even lied to. You see, I was told that voting conservative would make a difference. I thought voting Republican would cause the number of abortions to be reduced, perhaps even dramatically so. I thought voting for a Democrat meant that abortion would be promoted and increased, which I definitely didn't want. That's what I had been led to believe.

But the statistics show just the opposite. During the 12 years of the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, the number of abortions stayed constant at around 1.5 million annually, even reaching their highest annual figure ever recorded at just over 1.6 million in 1990. It was not until the Clinton administration that abortion figures began to significantly decline. During Clinton's eight years, abortions dropped from 1.5 million at the beginning to barely over 1.3 million at the end, a reduction of almost 300,000 per year.

In contrast, these reductions in annual abortions almost disappeared during the latest Bush administration. Even with the aide of significant conservative majorities in the House and Senate during this time, abortions flatlined at 1.2 million with only a slight downward trend of less than 90,000.

It doesn't look like voting conservative during the last 30 years has made any difference in the number of abortions. Yet I had believed that voting conservative was the ONLY way to make progress on the abortion issue. Because of abortion, I thought that voting for a democrat was morally wrong. In fact, I felt so strongly about abortion that I could be persuaded to support Republican candidates solely on that issue alone, even if I disagreed with them on a great many others.

Now I feel used. I feel like the abortion issue was a red herring, a wedge proffered by conservative politicians to woo me to their side. I wonder if they really care that much about it? They speak as though they do, but they sure haven't accomplished much. In fact, I wonder if they have made it worse?

Republicans speak so strongly about overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal that I think progressives are afraid of giving them ANY concessions. For example, enacting federal legislation banning partial birth abortion seems to make good sense. It is a brutal practice with questionable necessity, so why are so many progressives against it? I think because they see it as a battle against Republicans in the war over Roe v. Wade. If they agree to a partial birth abortion ban, that would be a win for Republicans, and who knows what might come next? So they vote against it, and no progress is made. I think if Republicans would refocus their efforts on reducing abortions rather than overturning Roe v. Wade, then perhaps the two sides could be more trusting of each other and the country could actually make some positive progress on the issue. Thus far, Republicans have made no progress at all on abortion. The increasing political gridlock seems to be diminishing their chances for success. And I am beginning to question whether they care more about the million dead babies each year or about getting my vote in the next election.

I find it interesting that my eight years in Oregon have almost identically matched the eight years of the Bush administration. A strong Christian man proudly proclaiming the name of Jesus has left his promises of compassionate conservatism and faith based initiatives largely unfulfilled. Instead we are left with a fearful nation, afraid of war and terror, and afraid of a failing economy. The policies and actions of our country have not been more conformed to the teachings of Jesus as I had hoped. Duped again.

So the predictions have somewhat come true. But no, I don't think it is Oregon that has made me more liberal.

Does Contemporary Worship Focus Too Much On Me?

Have you heard this question before? Is it a valid complaint?

Let me say first that I am rapidly growing tired of all the complaining going on among Christians. Have you noticed that an entire industry has grown up around complaining? Entire books, blogs, magazines, and radio programs have centered themselves around what they view as wrong. Megachurches are wrong. Joel Osteen is wrong. Fundamentalists are wrong. Liberals are wrong. Evangelicals are wrong. Their theology is wrong. Their practices are wrong. Emerging is wrong. The Shack is wrong. Postmodernism is wrong. Music is wrong. Intentions are wrong...

"Can't we all just get along?"

This idea that modern worship songwriters have written too many lyrics about themselves seems to me just another boxcar in a long train of criticisms voiced by Christians about other Christians. As a songwriter myself, I understand how personal songwriting is, and I am not overly concerned about it being "too much so".

I take my cue from David, who wrote many Psalms and who wrote extensively about himself and his encounters and experiences with God. The Psalms are full of personal pronouns. Did David use the word "I" too much? Of course not. It would be silly to accuse David of that. It is silly to accuse ourselves of that.

The human experience is universal. David's experiences relate to us, just as our experiences relate to others'. They are shared, even if at times on a metaphorical level. Still we draw great meaning from them and understand them deeply as they apply to our lives today. If we think our worship leaders are singing too much about themselves, perhaps we should strive to make the words our own? Should we be willing to sing the songs personally, and make them mean what they need to mean for us, to understand what is shared between us, and glorify God for it? Perhaps it is our own self-centeredness, not that of the Psalmist, that stands in our way?

Nietzsche and Gear Lust

Nietzsche's "typewriter", the Hansen Writing Ball

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler , Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

From Nicholas Carr’s essay in Atlantic — Is Google making us stupid?

When I read this I was reminded of how much my playing has been influenced by the kind of music gear I have owned over the years. Imagine trying to learn pinch harmonic squeals playing a Fender Squier Strat with cheap single coil pups through a $50 Gorilla 1x8' combo amp. "How come I don't sound like Dimebag Darrel?!"

My first tube amp was a Laney AOR 30 combo. I vividly remember being blown away by the tone quality, playing the Sweet Child O' Mine riff and thinking "that sounds like Slash!" I remember spending days experimenting with my first Boss delay pedal. It released creativity I didn't know I had. I remember my first American Strat, and how my double stop blues bends finally had that chimey Stevie vibe.

Nietzsche believed that his typewriter influenced his thinking. His composer friend believed that the quality of his pen and paper had a similar influence on his musical thoughts. And I believe the same is true with today's music equipment. A high quality guitar and amp CAN improve your playing. If you are serious about your playing, they are worth the investment.

Of course, I have definitely been accused of Gear Lust, the compulsion to frequently purchase new music equipment in the never ending search for new sounds, new tones, and new ideas. For example, I have spent several years putting my latest pedalboard together, collecting just the right assortment of pedals and tweaking the signal chain back and forth, buying boutique cables and connectors, only to scrap it for the last two months because I'm now preferring the dynamics I get plugged straight in to my amp. And all this after buying a TC Electronic G-System a few years ago and returning it after a month because I thought the digital converters were sucking my tone.

Yes, it can go too far.

But at the same time, I have no doubt that the quality of my guitars, amps, and effects has played a significant role in my evolution as a player and writer. There are songs I would never have written if a certain chord hadn't sounded a certain way at a certain time. Sometimes I find new creativity in my soloing simply from the way my Marshall 4x12" pushes the air, or the way my TopHat tube amp sustains and feeds back.

And over the years, I have experienced how quality gear has influenced my desire to practice and improve. There are so many obstacles that cause young talented musicians to give up playing. Maybe they just never heard themselves sound as good as they really were because their gear couldn't make it happen? Would I still be playing now if I had just stuck with my Squier and Gorilla? I doubt it.

So this one is for the parents. Do you have a young player in your house? Support them. Help them get the gear they need to sound as good as they can. If you buy high quality used gear at a good price (not new gear at music store prices!), you can almost always get most of your money back on eBay or craigslist if the kid decides to quit. But don't let the gear be the reason that they quit.

And if you're a player, believe me when I tell you that high quality gear WILL make a difference in your playing. Spend the money. Get the good stuff. You won't regret it. But be sure to buy used gear. Almost all of my gear is used, especially the major components like guitars and amps. You're not a collector, you're a player. So let someone else ding that new guitar for you and save some bucks. When I buy used I shop Craigslist, eBay, and local used guitar shops, and I try to shoot for around 50% of the new price. It takes a little more time to find a good deal, but its worth it.