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Thursday, August 31, 2006


Derek Webb is giving away his latest record, Mockingbird, starting today, for a limited time. These are high-quality 192kbps MP3s of the entire record, not samples.

This is one of my favorite records, and was co-produced by Cason Cooley, who is producing All I Owe. Even if you already own Mockingbird, consider using the site to tell your friends about it.

If you need to hear some of the songs first, go to Derek's MySpace page, then get your download on over at FreeDerekWebb.com.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jesus Camp.

It's easy for me to forget that this is the kind of stuff that happens in so many churches (and church camps) around the country. A religiosity divorced from the real Jesus, a zeal without knowledge, an "us vs. them" mentality that is so different from reality. Sobering and frightening.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Portland Studios shirts.

My mad genius friends over at Portand Studios launched a line of t-shirts today. Here are my two favorites:

You can buy these and others for a mere $10 each at their store. And you should, because many establishments will not allow you to enter shirtless. (Up next: Portland Studios shoes?)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Body Piercing on worship music.

Worship tunes tend to evince an adolescent theology, one that just can't get over how darn cool it is that Jesus sacrificed himself for the world. "Our God is an awesome God." "Oh Lord, you are glorious." "How can it be/That you, a king, would die for me?" Moreover, it's self-centered in a way that reflect evangelicalism's near-obsession with having a personal relationship with Christ. It's me Jesus died for. I just gotta praise the Lord.

Not for nothing is "Amazing Grace," which marvels at the author's salvation, one of the few traditional hymns to be regularly included in modern worship services. Absent is any hint of community found in hymns such as "The Church Is [sic] One Foundation" -- the Jesus of worship music is a mentor, a buddy, a friend whose message is easily distilled to a single command: praise me. Not "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner." Simply thank him for his gift to you (and make sure to display copyright information at the bottom of the screen so royalties can be disbursed).

--Andrew Beaujon, from Body Piercing Saved My Life

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"How Helpless" and "My Lord I Did Not Choose You" on MySpace.

I've posted two songs from my new record, "How Helpless" and "My Lord I Did Not Choose You," over on my MySpace page. Feel free to leave me a comment here or on MySpace and let me know what you think. Be kind. I am ever-so-fragile.

You can now pre-order All I Owe on the right column of this blog as well. All pre-orders will come autographed, and the first 500 will be individually numbered.

Thanks for all your support as I've recorded, toured, blogged, and stumbled towards some kind of connection-- with you, these hymns, God, and reality. Here's one more step in that process.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Cason and I spent most of last week recording some final overdubs for my album, half of which has now gone to mix. I am so thankful for my friends being willing to take the time to come help make this great. I'll let you hear some of it soon.

Sandra McCracken, who is amazing at arranging background vocals as well as singing them.

Cason Cooley, trying to throw his arms around the world.

Andrew Osenga, singing while wearing a guitar for no particular reason.

Jeremy Casella, lending his truly amazing acoustic guitar skills to a track.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Vote for Katy.

Katy Bowser is in the running to be included on a compilation CD by American Songwriter magazine. If you enjoy her music, please consider voting for her. Under the rules of the contest, each fan is allowed to vote up to ten times per day through August 25th. The voting ad is on the right side of the page, and once you've registered and asked some simple questions, you won't need to answer them again. Go here to vote.

It has come to my attention that at least one artist is cheating by voting for themselves 100 times a day through ten different email accounts, so lets stick it to them and win this one for Katy.

Photo shoot.

Last Friday, photographer Micah Kandros and I spent the afternoon taking some pics for my record. Mixes of the songs are coming in too. More soon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Body Piercing Saved My Life review.

I finished reading Body Piercing Saved My Life a few days ago, and loved it. The book looks at Christian music (specifically Christian rock) from an outsider's perspective, delving into it by attending Christian festivals (both Cornerstones) and events (Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Music), interviewing musicians and industry leaders, and attending Gospel Music week.

The author, Spin and Washington Post writer Andrew Beaujon, is not unbiased (as if there were such a thing), but it's clear that he truly wants to understand not only the music, but the people behind it, rather than settle for caricatures. Whether he's talking to Christian Goths or risking his life in the passenger seat of Tooth & Nail Records founder Brandon Ebel's car, he's always prodding to find out what makes these Christians tick. Near the end of the book, this results in some fairly moving words of advice to other non-Christians on how to understand Christians.

If there is a constant character in the book (other than Beaujon himself), it's David Bazan, who pops up in four separate locations around the country to join the author for conversation, beer, and ill-timed pancakes. I found Bazan fascinating (and sadly, even more of a tragic figure than I expected), though I expect most Christian readers will be confused by his prominence in the book. His honesty and humanity seem to keep Beaujon grounded. The proof of this is that Bazan of course isn't there for Gospel Music Week, which is the only time where Beaujon seems like he is in danger of coming unglued. And the reader doesn't blame him at all for it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my friends and aquaintances make significant appearances (Steve Taylor and Jay Swartzendruber, who I worked with when I interned at the now-defunct Squint Entertainment, John Davis, who is gleefully described as a "freaking monster" on guitar, and David Dark, whose quirky speaking style hilariously flies right past Beaujon). I loved that he didn't focus on the "stars" of Christian music, but sought out the behind-the-scenes folks who are all well-respected and intelligent spokesmen for a complex and diverse subject.

The only serious misstep is a chapter about abortion activism; while it would have been an interesting article, it seems out of place in the context of the book. A chapter about Marc Driscoll also strays a bit from the theme, though it seems like a fairly accurate portrayal.

The author's own faith (or non-faith) plays a curious role; while he reveals more of himself as the book goes on, and at one point gives the reader a very personal look into his history, not once in the book or in the interviews I've read does he discuss his thoughts on the questions central to Christianity, e.g. Was Jesus God? Did he physically rise from the dead? While I didn't expect the book to turn into a personal religous account, it's difficult to see Beaujon engage with so many thoughtful Christians and never seem to engage with Christ himself. Maybe he did though, and considered it too personal and/or self-indulgent to include.

I would very much recommend Body Piercing to anyone who is interested in Christian music, formerly interested in Christian music, or who finds evangelical Christians strange and needs help understanding their subculture.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Square Peggers at Radio Cafe.

The Square Peg folks have started a residency at East Nashville's Radio Cafe, and last night I went to show some support. It was Sandra McCracken, Derek Webb, Randall Goodgame, Chris Mason, and Eric Peters. We weren't able to stay for the whole thing, but it was fun. Derek played "I Want A Broken Heart" and "Can't Lose You," and Sandra played "No More Tears" and "Goodbye George," the latter which is on her new album, Gravity | Love.

Pierce Pettis added a C chord to one of Randall's songs.

Friday, August 11, 2006

David Bazan on being a fraud and clinging to Jesus.

While reading Body Piercing Saved My Life, I've been reminded of a seminar that David Bazan (formerly of Pedro The Lion) gave at Calvin College in 2003. I don't agree with Bazan about everything (do I agree with anyone about everything?), but his comments at this seminar had a profound effect on me when I read them about a year ago. It's the most clear description of the emotional life of a Christian that I've ever read, and how being honest with yourself about what a fraud you are enables you to see, and ultimately worship, Jesus for who He is. Here are his words, from the seminar transcript (fair warning, he uses some appropriately strong language):

I used to think when I was a little kid, I remember reading about Enoch—it was just a lineage, in the midst of the lineage it broke in and told the story of one of the generations of dudes—[who] walked with God so closely that he went to heaven without dying. I was like five or six, and I remember reading that story and thinking to myself—even at five or six years old—that, “Man, that would be so great.” I realized a longing for it to be that way and then, in the same instance, I knew—it’s so weird—but I knew . . . I just kind of gave up and I thought, “Though that would be really cool, I already know that that’s not really possible for me.” At five, I already knew what a fuckup I was. It was already so clear to me.

(then, a bit later)

There’s this thing that happens where we’re approached by God and we’re drawn to respond. Traditionally, I would be drawn to respond and I would realize what an utter fraud I was, and I’d run the other way because I would realize, not only am I totally unworthy, but I would start out by saying, “I love you, God.” And I would realize what a total lie that was; I didn’t love God. If I did, why had it been three weeks since I had last prayed, or why had I masturbated that day when I really didn’t want to do that, or why couldn’t I stop swearing, or whatever it was that was my particular thing.

Now, because I believe what the gospel says is true, I can accept intellectually, on faith, that whenever I approach God, if I do so by faith, that there’s no issue. I know for a fact that I’m a fraud, I know for a fact that my going to him is self-serving in and of itself. And yet, I believe that because I do so in faith, clinging to Jesus’ righteousness, that he sees me as Christ and he welcomes me with open arms. And so that elicits an emotional response that is extremely satisfying. It satisfies my most basic need as a human being and that is to be loved by the Being that I was imprinted upon from the beginning. So there’s very little conflict in the basis of my understanding of faith, and yet in the outworking of it there’s a lot of conflict because I feel a lot of anger and even--ironically enough--self-righteousness about the way that Christianity goes and has gone. In that case there is some conflict, but in those particular cases there’s nothing that I can really settle on intellectually that is conflicting with it. It’s just a lot of ambiguities both emotionally and intellectually. I’d like to find some things out, but ultimately, if I didn’t know another thing for the rest of my life I think it would be kind of all right because that one thing does work and it is true and I can’t escape it. I don’t even know if I would want to, but I can’t and that’s the thing that’s so beautiful about it.

Here are a few questions I'd like to ask you blog readers. You don't have to answer all of them, but maybe pick out one or two and post a comment. If it's too personal, that's ok, but please do take a minute to at least ask these questions of yourself.

1. Have you ever come to God and felt he'd accept you, forgive you, or at least listen to you because of your sincerity, good motives, or a pure heart? If so, why?

2. Have you ever decided to not approach God, because you knew you were inherently insincere and self-serving? What was the result?

3a. If you are a Christian and go to church, and have had emotional experiences in worship services, what has prompted them?

3b. If you feel yourself to be insincere in telling God you love him, how has that played out emotionally when you sing songs in church where the point of the song seems to be to tell God of your love for him?

4. What other thoughts or longings did Bazan's words prompt within you?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Body piercing.

I've been recording vocals for my album with Cason this week, which, as always, is both difficult and satisfying. In between vocal takes I've been reading a book called Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside The Phenomenon Of Christian Rock, which I found out about through Shaun Groves. It's by Spin writer Andrew Beaujon, and he writes about his experiences at places like Cornerstone Festival, Tooth & Nail Records' offices, and even the home of David Bazan (Pedro The Lion, Headphones) as he tries to understand the history and current appeal of Christian music. It's fascinating to read someone's thoughts about Christian music who is neither a Christian nor hostile/cynical. I'll try to write more thoughts about it after I'm done. In the meantime, here's a great interview with the author, and here's another interview that's not quite as good, but worth reading if you need to learn more. The book is available here.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Friday night, while my wife was out of town, I drove across town to Harris Teeter to get some sushi. Grocery store sushi isn't the best, but I didn't have many options. While I was there, I noticed that fresh blueberries were on sale. I grabbed a couple of pints and some sushi and went home, where I watched Part 1 of the Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home (which was great). I ate almost the entire first pint of blueberries.

Folks, these things are good. They are like candy, except they are a SUPERFOOD. Broccoli is also a superfood. Don't get me wrong, I like broccoli, but I'm just saying, blueberries are a superfood too. And they're in season right now. Dig it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Listen: Jeremy Casella - 10,000 Angels.

I know I've mentioned this before, but I just can't recommend Jeremy Casella's 10,000 Angels EP enough. It is simply as perfect as a record can get. Go over to his MySpace and listen to "Grace" and "Love That Will Not Let Me Go" (not to be confused with "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go"), experience a fraction of the beauty of this project, and then please, please go buy it at his site (he's got some good combo specials too). This is the kind of timeless music that I will love for the rest of my life.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Evangelistic worship?

Earlier this week, Shaun Groves posted a link to a discussion on another blog about music in worship. These two questions were asked (among others):

Should we be more sensitive to the lyrics of the worship songs we use when our services are trying to connect with people who are unchurched? Is it possible to worship God while remaining sensitive to people who are not yet Christ-followers?

There is a lot of confusion on this subject. The best resource to answer this question is, not surprisingly, provided by Tim Keller in his paper "Evangelistic Worship" (PDF) (thanks to Steve McCoy for making this easy to find through his Tim Keller Resources page). It's not just about music, but about the entire worship service. Here's an excerpt from the section "Preach Grace":

The one message that both believers and unbelievers need to hear is that salvation and adoption are by grace alone. A worship service that focuses too much and too often on educating Christians in the details of theology will simply bore or confuse the unbelievers present...This does not mean we should not preach the whole counsel of God, but we must major on the "ABC's" of the Christian faith. If the response to this is "then Christians will be bored", it shows a misunderstanding of the gospel. The gospel of free, gracious justification and adoption is not just the way we enter the kingdom, but also the way we grow into the likeness of Christ. Titus 2:11-13 tells us how it is the original, saving message of "grace alone" that consequently leads us to sanctified living: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ." Many Christians are "defeated" and stagnant in their growth because they try to be holy for wrong motives. They say "no" to temptation by telling themselves "God will get me" or "people will find out" or "I'll hate myself in the morning" or "it will hurt my self-esteem" or "it will hurt other people" or "it's against the law--I'll be caught" or "it's against my principles" or "I will look bad." Some or all of these may be true, but Titus tells us they are inadequate. Only the grace of God, the logic of the gospel, will work. Titus says it "teaches" us, it argues with us.

Therefore, the one basic message that both Christians and unbelievers need to hear is the gospel of grace. It can then be applied to both groups, right on the spot and directly. Sermons which are basically moralistic will only be applicable to either Christians OR non-Christians. But Christo-centric preaching, preaching the gospel, both grows believers and challenges non-believers. If the Sunday service and sermon aim primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they’ll bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by grace they’ll both instruct insiders and challenge outsiders.

This is one of the reasons why I think churches should sing good hymns. They point to God's grace, which is our only hope to be set free from our self-obsession, our focus on what we do and what we're worth. As long as we define ourselves apart from grace, both Christians and those who aren't Christians will remain isolated from one another, politicizing each other rather than seeking to understand and even love one another. Grace takes the wind out of the sails we've sown for ourselves to make our lives work, and calls us to look to Jesus and the work he's accomplished instead.

If God's free grace given to us in Jesus isn't the focus of a worship service (the singing, the preaching, etc.), then "worship" is merely another worthless religious self-delusion.

There's so much more to be said about this subject-- what are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lord, take me home to the peaceful valley.

Clint and his wife Liz drove up from Birmingham last night, and we all went to dinner with Cason and his girlfriend (yes ladies, the Handsome Hobbit is taken). Clint has grown a new beard, which doesn't look respectable at all, making it all the more awesome.

We walked from the restaurant to the Ryman Auditorium (former home of the Grand Ole Opry blah blah blah), to see Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. I had an extra ticket (which my wife had to give up to fly instead to Estes Park, Colorado, where she is giving seminars about MySpace, judging semifinals, and taking in beautiful scenery) that someone else was going to use but bailed at the last minute. As we approached the entrance, Cason saw a friend of his and screamed "WILLIAM!" You see, Cason and William have been on the road playing with Matthew Perryman Jones for the past couple of weeks, and they had already had a conversation about the Ryan Adams concert, and how William needed a ticket.

So we entered the hallowed hall, and as Cason got his own tickets from will call, a grateful William turned to me and explained that his name was actually Matt. You see, Cason has the unique ability to tour with someone for days on end, in close, cramped conditions, and still consistently get his name wrong.

The concessions booth had no line (everyone was in the beer line instead), so I briefly considered getting popcorn and a drink. I actually ordered the combo, but when the popcorn was plopped down in front of me, it was in a box shaped liked the Ryman building. I yelped "I take it back! I take it back!" and ran away, terrified.

The concert was good, but the setlist could have been better, and the drunk audience was annoying. The band opened with"Peaceful Valley," which was probably my personal highlight of the night. Most of the songs from Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights were excellent. Overall, too many covers, jams and tepid new songs for my taste. Ryan Adams is truly one of the great artists of our time, so I guess I shouldn't complain when I've been able to see him two years in a row. If you've never heard his music, I would recommend Love Is Hell or Cold Roses to begin.

Ooh, my camera's not so good.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gentrification and the Church.

I'm a part of a church in East Nashville, an area of town that is going through re-gentrification-- it used to be a wealthy area of town, then became the "bad part of town," and now going through a renewal, including soaring house prices (Some friends that are moving recently put up their house for sale at $329,000. It probably would have gone for less than $100,000 five years ago).

My church is here to care for East Nashville, including its residents who live below the poverty line. Economic diversity in our church is a goal, where the rich and poor worship and serve together side-by-side. However, many of the poor are being pushed out of this part of town because of rising property values. I learned a lot from an article in ByFaith Magazine titled "Gentrification With Justice," which is worth reading if you live in a city and would like to think through some of these issues.

My wife is going to take a course from the Chalmers Center For Economic Development this coming January to learn more. By the way, my wife is wicked smart.