Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

This was a good weekend. I traveled to Dallas to work with congregations working hard to discover for themselves what it might mean to be missional. We are at the end of a three year process and it has been hard, but gratifying work. On Friday night, our consulting team went to a Texas Rangers doubleheader. Going to a game is not about the Texas Rangers, but rather about the green grass and white chalk and the crack of a bat. Baseball invites you in gently. It doesn’t demand your attention, “look at me, look at me, look at me.” It says, “watch if you want, there will be another pitch in a little while.” And so, you can look around and share the moment with others and talk about what song would play if you came to bat and shell peanuts and root for blue or red in the dot race.

We were sitting in a section of season ticket holders who all knew each other. So, the conversation was lively and courtesies were high. They welcomed us into their koinonia, though less so those of us wearing red sox and braves paraphernalia. Two guys sitting behind us decided that I might be a likely source of ancient baseball lore since I looked older. And sure, enough, I could answer their questions about Nolan Ryan and I knew the trivia question featuring a 1970’s catcher for the Oakland A’s. Some of my colleagues took great delight that I was valued for my advancing years. But my young inquisitors also liked the Bob Dylan t-shirt I was wearing. Bob has a way of bringing generations together.

The Rangers swept the A’s, and the baseball was beautiful. The first game featured the beauty of 20 year old Elvis Andrus, the Rangers’ new shortstop. The nightcap featured the virtuosity of 42 year old Omar Vizquel, one of the best to ever go deep in the hole or to turn the double play. Twenty years apart and in the same beautiful game. It expressed the entire weekend, the old and the new, the frontier and the settled country. The baseball doubleheader ended in a fireworks show. I have to admit that I’m not usually much of a fireworks guy, but this one I will remember. The percussive thumps in my chest, the brilliant light, the smokey trails in the night sky, the appreciative fans. Perfect.

I was reflecting on all of that while sitting in the Dallas airport, sipping Starbucks and splurging on their keylime crumb cake (I love that stuff). The end of a PMC. The celebration with colleagues. The beauty of a ballgame. And suddenly there was a Dylan song playing through the overhead speakers, full of smokely nostalgia and longing. Sometimes a song just captures the feeling of the moment. The song was This Dream of You, from the new cd, Together Through Life. It’s the last song a band plays at a dance, the one that gathers up all the good feeling and holds it between you and your partner in a slow two-step. And when it is over everyone is satisfied. This song matched my mood at the end of a great weekend.

I listened for the lyrics on the plane back to MSP. Couldn't get em all, but here is today's Dylan song.

How long can I stay in this nowhere café before night turns into day
I wonder why I’m so frightened and down
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me moving on

There’s a blowing wind, all those things become new again
But the moment might have come and gone
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me moving on

I look away but I keep seeing it
I don’t wanna believe but I keep believing it
Shadows dance upon the wall, shadows that seem to know it all
Am I too blind to see, is my heart playing tricks on me
I’m lost in the crowd, all my tears are gone
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me moving on

Everything I touch seems to disappear, everywhere I turn you are always here
I run this race until my...
I’ll defend this place with my dying breath
Though my chin is...
I saw a star from heaven fall I turned and looked again, but it was gone
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me moving on

Sunday, May 24, 2009

5 Albums on a Sunday

I had stopped listening to music. Can't say why, but my life lacked a soundtrack for a few years. I remember when the music returned. It's crazy really. I was at a church camp-out and a teen brought me their discman and let me listen to what she was listening to. It was the Wallflowers, One Head Light. Not the greatest song ever, but I liked it plenty. I was intrigued and then found out this was Jakob Dylan's, Bob's son. Music was back. So, in addition to Bringing Down the Horse, by the Wallflowers, here are some other benchmark albums along the way.

Dulcinea--Toad the Wet Sprocket. Let me remind you, these are not my favorite cd's, but turning point cd's. My brother bought this for me for Xmas one year.They'd been around awhile and I had no idea who they were. How could something like that happen? It made me hungry for new music. I like Todd Phillips, their lead singer, a lot. And I loved this cd. So, I'm always surfing now for the one I've overlooked or is just emerging. Carbon Leaf, Rocco Delucca, Gomez, Nick Cave, The Shins. I'm willing to try new stuff, expand my horizons. Music is adventure again. I wasn't going to wait anymore for what was popular or out there. I was going to find stuff.

Sarah McLachlan--Surfacing. I went through a female singer/songwriter phase. Sarah, Sheryl Crow, Shawn Colvin, Aimee Mann, Liz Phair, Lucinda Williams, and later Brandi Carlile. Surfacing is just a beautiful cd. I found Sarah pre ipod days and I had a little boombox in my study with three a three cd shuffler. Sarah was always one of those in those days. Great lyrics and a stuning voice.

Jet--Get Born. But after the sirens, I needed some guitars. And I found Jet. Throwback. Rock and roll. Male hormones. I wanted to be in a garage band again. This is cleaning the house music or when I'm alone and crank it music. One of the most amazing experiences of my life was the first time I skied with my ipod to Jet. The snow was perfect and the adrenaline rush was amazing. I know that at nearly 50, I probably would feel out of place at a Jet concert, but who cares.

U2--All That You Can't Leave Behind. I liked U2 and was somewhat familiar with their story line. Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For is one of my favorite songs ever. But this cd was magic for me. I like every song, and knew I loved the cd on the first listen, not a common occurence for me. I began teaching a college course on Christianity in Culture and I made my students watch the Elevation tour dvd at my house, lyrics sheet in hands. There are people who know a lot more about U2 than I do, but I became known around campus as a U2 guru of sorts and had lots of opportunities to make presentations featuring U2. One of the highlights of my life was meeting The Edge outside the Starbucks in Malibu.

Bob Dylan--Time Out of Mind. Everyone feels like they ought to be a Dylan fan. But I had just missed it. I liked Dylan songs more than I liked actually listening to Dylan. But I had been buying some music I had missed and felt like I would love, notably all things Neil Young. So, in that spirit I bought Time Out of Mind. It was amazing. Love Sick, Till I Fell in Love With You, Cold Irons Bound, Make You Feel My Love. I loved the guitars, Dylan's gawd-awful rasping vocals, the lyrics. Loved it all, couldn't stop listening. And I've been a little obsessed since. There's this great line in a West Wing episode from an intern of Josh Lyman (sorry, if you don't know West Wing) who wonders what it is about guys Josh's age and their devotion to Bob Dylan. I have no idea. But there's a playful, ironic, gritty, despairing hopefulness that just seems to capture midlife I guess. There's still love, but there aren't any illusions left. I've been playing catch up ever since. And one of the great nights of my life was seeing Dylan in Dallas last February.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Five More Albums on a Sunday

Last week I wrote about five albums that got me started in music. I got us to the early high school years. I hope to get us through college in this post—like that’s important for some reason. This is only a blog, I realize. Still, this might be how Nick Hornby discovers me (extra points for the Nick Hornby reference).

I noticed two things as I reflected on this time of my life. I was listening to a lot of music, but not anything really new or life altering. Part of that is probably the late 70’s early 80’s. Not the greatest era for the kind of music I like. Too much Ted Nugent and Bee Gees. Not much in between. The second observation is that I moved to Abilene, Texas during this time. And in that day and age, most new music you discovered on the radio. Not much variety in Abilene. Few concerts. And no music guides like I had in Portland (thank you Phil Hess).
This is not to say there weren’t albums I enjoyed. Just not many that took me in new direction or to another level.

Rumors—Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Don’t need really to say anything else. What an amazing album. Actually, I had this on 8 track. I got my own stereo system my senior year in high school with an 8 track player and Fleetwood Mac probably spent some time in it every day for a long time.

Karla Bonoff—Karla Bonoff. I went to see the movie, FM, which was great (one of the great all time sound tracks). I found a lot of new music just watching that movie. For instance, I found Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers through that movie. One scene features a Linda Ronstadt concert, and as she is introducing the band she mentions a beautiful album by a new artist, Karla Bonoff. I went and found it immediately and loved it. I bought her subsequent albums. Beautiful songs. But she turned me to the singer/songwriter genre. Jackson Browne, James Taylor, et al. I loved reading liner notes on album covers and sleeves. Dan Dugmore, Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel. These guys played on all these albums. I loved this world, and Karla Bonoff was my first foot in.

Hotel California—Eagles. I already had Eagles albums. I was disappointed when I heard that Randy Meisner had left the band. Take it to the Limit was my favorite Eagles song. But Hotel California allowed me to get over that easily. I loved Joe Walsh. Henley and Frey are great. But the addition of Joe Walsh was perfect. I loved his songs, but I loved his guitar parts on the other songs as well.

Souvenirs—Dan Fogelberg. See the Karla Bonoff description above. I also found Fogelberg through FM. After hearing Souvenirs, I went back and bought the earlier stuff. I loved, loved Netherlands. I liked Phoenix well enough, but Innocent Age cooled my enthusiasm. I like it more stripped down. I saw him three times in concert. The first time it was just Dan and his piano and guitar. Brilliant. I saw him in Dallas with a full band. Not so great. Then I saw him at a winery near Portland about ten years ago. Just Dan and his guitar and piano. Great. I can’t write or play songs like Fogelberg’s. I’m not good enough. But Dan was my way back through Neil Young and others and eventually to Dylan. And these are the kinds of songs I want to write.

Gaucho—Steely Dan. The Donald Fagan groove. This was different for me. I had heard Pretzel Logic and liked Do It Again and Reelin in the Years (one of my favorite all time songs). But Aja and Gaucho sent me into a new kind of music. Babylon Sisters, Hey Nineteen. And then Fagan’s first solo album was genius to me. I love the blue eyed soul, the slick rhythms and harmonies. Smart, smart music, layered and textured.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Moltmann and God as the Coming One

So, I've been swamped with travel and the end of a semester and so haven't gotten to my blog to continue the series on gospel and cultures. But I'm writing a paper on this for a class this semester and am using Jurgen Moltmann as a source. Moltmann is a hope guy, and I have a friend who recently and in very eloquent ways reinforced the importance of hope in everyday life.

So, here are some paragraphs from Moltmann's, The Future of Creation. It's not in any kind of form and lacks a setting to make it seem like an argument. But hey, this is an adventure in getting to the point. I like, however, how Moltmann defines God and ties God to the category of the new. Anyway, more soon. My semester ends next week.

While gospel was a word used primarily outside of religious circles, it is not a word without theological significance. Jurgen Moltmann, for instance, emphasizes the biblical descriptions of God as “the Coming One,” and in turn suggests the category of novum as a primary category for understanding God. Moltmann distinguishes the biblical view of God from the traditional Greek depictions of deity. God is not the one who “will be” (einai), but is the one who “is coming” (erchestai). “God’s being is in his coming,” and it follows that “the future is God’s mode of being in history.” The experience of God in history is one of advent.

This is important for Moltmann who distinguishes between futurum and adventus. Futurum develops out of the past. The future is latent in the “tendencies of process.” In contrast, adventus is a change in “the transcendental conditions of time.” Advent is an arrival, a coming, and the conditions of arrival carry the prospect of surprise, or of the astonishingly new. The future is not determined by the momentum of historical processes, but is open to the possibilities of the Coming One.

The prophets represent an advent posture toward the future. Israel’s hope in exile is not for a restoration of Israel’s former glory, but rather lies in God’s ideal future. Moltmann cites Isaiah as typical of this postexilic prophetic hope: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. For behold, I purpose to do a new thing” (43.18f). The “new thing—is the historical side of their eschatological openness to the future.” God, as the coming one, is bringing new possibility, an alternative to the inevitable forces of history.

The category novum (new), for Moltmann, possesses two characteristics. First, it announces itself as a judgment on what is old. This is not simply the improvement of the old, but the announcement of its end or futillity. The new makes the old obsolete. This does not mean, however, that the old has no place in the new. The second feature Moltmann cites relates the new to the events of the past. The new is like things that have happened before—for example, the Exodus—but the new is always more. It resembles roughly the former, and, therefore, is recognizable as God’s faithfulness. In this sense, one might say that the former is not in linear continuity with the new thing, but is related typologically, the former thing to be understood now in relation to God’s coming. These same characteristics are true, for Moltmann, of the advent of Jesus. It possesses surprise and judgment, but also a resemblance to prior things.

Moltmann does not notice here that the prophetic emphasis on newness is also the place where the word gospel appears in the LXX (Septuagent, the Greek Old Testament). “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Is. 52:7-8, italic added). The announcement of the rule of Zion’s God is not obvious to all. It is hidden in the disfigurement and suffering of the servant who bears the announcement. “Who has believed what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1). It is precisely the surprise of this announcement, however, that awakens observers that the suffering of the servant is a suffering on their behalf. If the term gospel as used in the New Testament has biblical antecedent, it is surely here in relation to God’s new work.

Moltmann’s description of God as the Coming One brings us back to the question of news. News is related to the identity of God and corresponds to eschatological notions of God’s saving reign. Novum, therefore, is descriptive of God’s engagement with the world. And the two characteristics of novum that Moltmann cites provide clues as to how the church might remain in the mode of news. Surprise and Wisdom.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Five Albums on a Sunday

So, there are moments and people and events that mark turning points in your life, where things just change. And there are moments like that in everyone's musical autobiography. So, here are five albums that changed things for me early in my music listening life. They are not my favorite albums, necessarily. But when they came along, my life was pushed in a new direction, at least musically speaking.

1. Ring of Fire--Johnny Cash. In 1970, my family bought a small little record player, a box with a speaker in the front. And with it we had three records. Gentleman Jim Reeves (Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone...), and Ed Ames (Mingo on the Daniel Boone show starring Fes Parker). But the record that captured me was Johnny Cash, and the song was Ring of Fire. I could see him falling into a ring of fire. The trumpets. Cash's manly man voice. Unforgettable.

2. Suzie Q--Creedance Clearwater Revival. This is the first album I ever bought. I bought it from my mom's cousin, Lydia, after listening to it at her house after church on a Sunday night. I was launched on a life long odyssey. For those who haven't listened to the album, Suzie Q is one side of the album. They don't record songs like that anymore. There's like a three minute drum solo in the middle. Seriously. I now knew the kind of music I liked.

3. Yellow Brick Road--Elton John. This was such a fabulous album for an eighth grader. The cover. The songs. The whole image of Elton John. And like so many artists, the early Elton was the best. Bennie and the Jets, Your Song, Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting, Yellow Brick Road. I can't listen to Elton John now. Candle in the Wind. Barf. And I probably wouldn't think of this album the same way I did then, but it was a huge album for me. It was a dark time, and this album was a whimsical escape.

4. Led Zeppelin IV--I know, how do you go from Elton John to Led Zeppelin. Stairway to Heaven is how. I'll never forget the first time I heard Stairway at a dance. I bought the album shortly after and Stairway quickly became my least favorite song on the album. Black Dog, Rock and Roll, Misty Mountain Hop. It was a revelation. It was beyond the edge of my previously known world. The drums. The guitars. The vocals. It was the first time I experienced limit expression through music, where I was pushed and I loved it. How these four people found each other is a mystery. How do these kinds of things happen, the right people finding each other and something brand new emerging?

5. Boston--Boston. I had never heard anything like this album. It was this wall of sound. Great guitars, keyboards, vocals. I wore that thing out. And my dad had bought this killer stereo system, so it rattled the house. It was rock, but all of it was lyrical. Everything sang a melody.

There are several others during this time that are worth honorable mention: Chicago VI, Doobie Brothers (Tolouse Street), Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here), James Taylor (JT). What a great time for music. Five more next week.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

One of my favorite lines from my favorite movie, High Fidelity, is when Rob admits to a co-worker that he hasn't "quite absorbed that one yet," referring to a tape the co-worker made for him. I like that line because of how it defines that particular relationship in the movie, but I also totally understand it with regard to a new cd. I often can't say whether or not I like a cd for awhile. It takes a bit to absorb.

I'm still absorbing the new Dylan, though I am ready to say that I like it a lot. I just don't know what it is yet. But here are some of my initial impressions. What makes this cd different from recent Dylan productions is its Tex-Mex feel. This feels like El Paso or Laredo in many places. It's big open spaces, dust devils and tumble weed. You can feel the grainy dried sweat on your face as you drive between Odessa and Monahans with the windows rolled down. I don't typically have a hankering for this kind of music. But the accordians and horns and the Texas swing deliver the most romantic part of Texas culture.

Even with the Texican feel, the more recent Dylan rock/swing edge is still very much present. In the recent Rolling Stone, Dylan talks admiringly about Chuck Berry, and it's not hard to imagine Berry standing in on some of these numbers. And these are my early favorites on the cd (Behind Here Lies Nothing, Jolene, It's All Good, Shake Mama Shake). These songs register first in your spine. You feel them before you hear them. They're pointy black boots and fedoras, full court press heavy and relentless. They roll over you and through you. They are the perfect setting for Dylan's sandpaper voice.

I'm beginning to piece together some of the lyrics. Dylan's clearly having a lot of fun at all of our expense, pulling back the pretense. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last song, It's All Good. "Big politicans, telling big lies, rest stop kitchen all full of flies, don't make a difference, don't see why it should, cause its all right, it's all good. Wives are leaving their husbands, they leave the party and never get home, I wouldn't change it, even if I could, you know what they say, it's all good." You can actually hear Dylan chuckle on "My Wife's Hometown." "There's reasons for that, and reasons for this. I can't think of them now, but I know they exist. I'm sittin' in the sun, till my skin turns brown. I just came here to say that hell's my wife's hometown." The whole cd sounds classic Dylan themes. The world's a bleak place, the only comforts are in a lover's arms. But love isn't sentimentalized. Could be you end with a woman who hails from hell. Seriously, what a great lyric.

So, it's a good day to be a Dylan fan.