Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Playlist

I have certain rhythms that keep my life in check. It's kind of like having my own little personal liturgical calendar--a way ritually to mark the world according to certain realities. Since I'm more of a Good Friday guy than an Easter guy, I started a few years ago a tradition of making a playlist on Good Friday to mark a year in music. Its my way of saying that no matter what life's circumstances might be, joy is always possible. Music happens. And so today I mark the end of a good year in music to make room for a new one.

Making a playlist is a very important skill. It's not enough just to pick good songs, you have to put them together in a way that makes the listening a satisfying experience. I like my playlist for this year. It's full of joy in a kind of subversive way. Nice hooks, but with just enough edge to gritty things up a bit. Some heartache along the way, but a hopeful ending. So, without further ado, here goes.

1. Angel Dance--Robert Plant. You have to start well. You can't hear the first few notes and wonder whether or not you're in the mood for this. I always smile when this song starts. It sounds like an angel dance.

2. Down by the Water--The Decemberists. For a good second song, you have to match something of the mood in the previous song, take it down a notch, but not too far. Great drum opening keeps the tempo where we want it. Then a great melody/lyric/harmony song. "Down by the water, down by the old main drag..."

3. Real Love--Lucinda Williams. Lucinda evidently has found love. But there's always a bit of a snarl to her, even when the song is all sweetness. We've kept the tempo here, but taken a little risk by going more straight ahead rock and roll. But I think it works. "C'mon baby, we really got something. It's a soul connection, you're changing my world...It's a real love, It's a real love."

4. I Should Have Known It--Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. While we've got the electric guitars out, we'll let the Heartbreakers have a go. Great, great guitar licks. "It's the last time you're going to hurt me."

5. She's Long Gone--The Black Keys. And so we stay with a killer guitar lick, but take it down a notch in terms of the sonic wall. Blues moves. Distortion. "She's long, long gone..."

6. Sick of You--Cake. We stay in heartbreak alley a little with the happiest, dreariest song I know. Great groove on this one. "I'm so sick of you, so sick of me, I don't want to be with you."

7. White Blank Page--Mumford and Sons. We stay with the theme, but we've dropped back into acoustic  mode. Great cd. Great song. "You did not think when you sent me to the brink. You desired my attention, but denied my affections."

8. Calamity Song--The Decemberists. We stay in the folk rock mode. With these guys, you always get great melodies. And here some great apocalyptic lyrics. "You and me and the war of the end times..."

9. The Cave--Mumford and Sons. These guys are after something serious. And you can feel it in the intensity of the music. It takes me to the limit of my banjo tolerance, but in this case it fits the intensity of the song. "But I will hold on hope. And I won't let you choke on the noose around your neck."

10. Holy Rollers for Love--Jakob Dylan. This cd started the year in music for me. Jacob Dylan with T. Bone Burnett is a pretty great combo. And I got to see him in concert in Portland this past summer. This is my favorite song on the cd. Great lyric. "World is crazy or maybe just holy rollers for love.

11. The King Knows How--Over the Rhine. I don't think this is as good as some of their earlier cd's. But this song is so much fun. Karen Berquist has such a great voice, smoky and full of texture. "I'm thinking it might be time so slide on over, slide on over."

12. Are We Really Through--Ray LaMontagne. We stay with a smoky voice, and bring it way down. Just an acoustic guitar and Ray's voice. This song hooks you in that gray place of real hurt and its memory. At the very least, you know you're alive. "Get so tired staring at the walls, weight so heavy and that mountain so tall. Is there no one there to catch me if I fall?"

13. Days Like This--Over the Rhine. Now we have to start thinking about the big finish.We can't let Ray have the last word. But we can't get there too fast. So, we go with OTR's cover of Kim Taylor's song, Days Like This. We keep the tempo down and stay with the acoustic feel, but bring the outlook up a bit. Longing to be sure, but hopeful. "All I wanna do is live life honestly. I just wanna wake up and see your face next to me. Every regret I have I will go set it free. And it will be good for me. It will be good for me."

14. Nothing but the Whole Wide World--Jakob Dylan. We're back in hopeful mode and Jakob keeps us there, without less of the longing. "Nothin but the whole wide world to gain. Nothin. Nothin. Nothin but the whole wide world to gain."

15. Everlasting Light--The Black Keys. I love this song. We're back to the blues riffs, but with this crazy falsetto lyric. It's as happy as songs like this can be. It's a funky, fun way to end a very satisfying 57.5 minutes of music. "Let me be your everlasting life. A train going away from pain. Love is the coal that makes this train roll. Let me be your everlasting light."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Synchroblog: Missional theology and Churches of Christ

I was thinking last night (as I tossed and turned without sleep) about other challenges Churches of Christ face in light of missional impulses. Most are not unique to us. We have very little sense of what it means to be church on someone else's home turf. And the days of if we build they will come are largely over. But again, this is true across ecclesial traditions.

So, is there something uniquely challenging to Churches of Christ? Probably several things. I will note one here. Missional church begins with theology. We're after the missio Dei (mission of God), which means we are immediately into the questions of God. And we have not paid much attention to these questions over the years.

Specifically, we have avoided any kind of explicit Trinitarian theology. And since the World Wars, we have been pretty much devoid of any meaningful eschatology. Trinity and eschatology form the heart of missional theology, so at the very least we have some catching up to do (and many thankfully are taking up these conversations among us).

The problems, however, go beyond just needing to be conversant in certain theological themes. Our theology, or lack thereof, sponsors a certain view of the world. In our worship, evangelism, community service, and the like we are enacting our theology in many ways. Apart from changing our imagination about God and God's relationship with the world, missional will only be a call to more busyness doing good. And I think that's one of the things that's killing our churches now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Synchroblog: Missional Challenges to the Churches of Christ

One brief point tonight related to our blog topic for the day.

Historically speaking, church has been topic number one for Churches of Christ. It has been important for use to identify "marks" of the church that would allow us to stand in one-to-one comparison with New Testament churches. The idea of the missional church pretty much blows this kind of approach out of the water.

First, the missional church assumes that the church serves the mission of God, not the other way around. A missional maxim that I like goes like this: It's not the church has a mission, but rather that the mission has a church. To make the shift from being church-centered to mission-centered is no small shift. Because I've done it this way, I know that an extraordinary amount of energy goes into furthering the institutional concerns of the church. The church, its programs, numbers, members, etc, become the point. Our structures, forms, programs, leadership styles are all the product of a church centered imagination. We're not alone in this. All congregations that have defined themselves in the broad wake of Christendom have tended to imagine things this way. But we have kind of specialized in this kind of approach to thing. The missional impulse significantly challenges that way of thinking.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Synchroblog--The Missional Conversation and Churches of Christ

Michael Hanegan, a student in our missional leadership program at Rochester College, has invited several of us to synchronize our blogposts this week to topics related to the missional church. And since I have a missional church lunch box, I feel it is my duty to participate. So, today, some reflections on why the missional church conversation is important to Churches of Christ.

When I was young, I used to hear preachers say things like, "the New Testament is a seed, that when cultivated in any soil produces the same plant." This was our way of saying we had restored the NT church. To do that, we had to flatten both the Bible and our understandings of culture. The cultural soil made no difference in what kind of plant was produced, either in the NT or in the contemporary world.

Beyond the massive naivete concerning the ways even this reading of the NT is culturally conditioned, this approach yields a bucketload of problems when it comes to mission. For now, let's just point out that it makes the tasks of reading and responding to cultures a fairly insignificant enterprise. And if I'm convinced of anything these days, it is that we live in a time of rapid and discontinuous cultural change. A church that marginalizes cultural engagement is setting its feet in concrete.

So, the missional church conversation is important for Churches of Christ because it takes seriously the need for a new and ongoing cultural engagement. Now, the missional church folks are not the only ones who are sounding the "cultural" bell, but I think they are doing it in ways that are not only theologically informed, but that also line up with our best lights in Churches of Christ. And here are three reasons why I think that.

First, it pursues a robust ecclesiology. In other words, the missional church conversation is serious about the church. And for better or worse, we've been very interested in the church. I found the missional church literature when the seeker movement was really booming. That "renewal" movement, like many evangelical impulses, runs thin on understandings of the church.  In most evangelical theology, all the freight runs through the encounter between God and the autonomous individual. If this is your starting place, then cultural engagement will always look like a consumer science. By emphasizing the church, the missional conversation has the potential of charting a real alternative that nevertheless takes the various cultures in which we move seriously.

Second, when the church is emphasized, so are the Lord's Supper and baptism. In a tradition that has little in the way of theological scaffolding (we have no formal creeds, confessions, etc), practices serve as placeholders for theological reflection. And baptism and the Lord's Supper keep us close to a potential theology of the cross. I'm for any renewal impulse that would strengthen these emphases.

Finally, this missional church conversation is about social location. While other conversations, e.g. the emerging church, emphasize postmodernity, the missional church conversation is focused on post-Christendom. This makes a pretty big difference, and again points us back to our best lights in Churches of Christ. What's the difference? Discussions about postmodernity focus on how we know things (epistemology), which in turn tends to move the conversation toward aesthetics, usually related to worship styles. When you start with the issue of post-Christendom, the churches social location comes into view. If we're no longer in charge, and clearly in most places we're not, then what is our appropriate social location? This question holds the possible answer that we will identify with those who are not in positions of privilege or power--that we will learn to be culturally relevant by finding the Kingdom of God with the "least of these."

I'm a big fan of that part of our tradition. Call it the old Nashville strain or whatever. But it brought together the Kingdom of God, eschatology, grace, and ministry with the poor. We are quickly losing that  part of our story. My Lutheran friend, Pat Keifert, who admires us in many ways, used to say when he would drive onto ACU's campus, "Humility didn't build this campus." He wasn't saying that we didn't have persons of humility. He was noticing that we had crossed the tracks culturally, that we were pointing to where we were headed culturally, not where we had come from. The missional church conversation has a chance to at least give pause to this enticing way of imagining ourselves.

So, the missional church conversation holds the promise of both continuity and discontinuity. By overcoming our naive understandings of gospel and cultures, it can point us to a new future. But it can do that without stripping us of important and life-giving aspects from our past.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dylan on a Sunday--Top Ten Songs

This will actually be read tomorrow by more than my faithful Dylan on a Sunday crowd (is two readers a crowd). Mike Cope asked me to do this for his blog tomorrow. People actually read his blog. But, for my faithful readers, you can say you saw it a day before everyone else.

I agreed to write a post on the top ten Bob Dylan songs before I stopped to think what a daunting task might be. I quickly googled other top 10 Dylan lists (there were lots of them), and this relieved my fears a bit. They vary widely. This is in part due to the massive catalog of songs to choose from, but it also depends on your criteria.  This list is for me the top ten Dylan songs I can’t do without. Partly favorites, partly essentials. Some of them for the lyrics, some for the music, some of them for what they have meant and continue to mean culturally, and some for what they mean to me. So, knowing that your list would be different, here goes:

10. Lay, Lady Lay. This song wouldn’t have made my top 10 based only on the original version. But I heard Dylan sing this a few years ago live. It works better for me now with his retrograde pipes and smokin’ band. And it’s a great lyric.

            Stay, lady, stay. Stay with your man awhile…
            His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
            And you’re the best thing he’s ever seen.

9. Cold Irons Bound. This song stands in for me for a lot of Dylan’s most recent stuff. Hard to choose one and harder to list them all. Love Sick, Spirit on the Water, Workingman’s Blues, Beyond Here Lies Nothing. All great songs from his recent catalog. But if I had to choose, I’d go with Cold Irons Bound. You can almost smell the nicotine.

8. Ballad of a Thin Man. This song scratches an itch for me. It’s the perfect song about that guy who is missing his feedback loop. You know the one. The one who thinks he’s on top of it all, but hasn’t got a clue about what is really going on. More than anything else, I don’t want to be that guy. One of the great characters ever developed in a Dylan song. (And another song that sounds great with his new band).

            Something is happening here
            But you don’t know what it is
            Do you, Mr. Jones?

7.  Masters of War. This should probably be rated higher. But you can’t listen to this song that often, it’s so powerful and raw. It’s just as relevant today as it was when Dylan first performed it in the 60’s. Others have covered this with some effect (Pearl Jam, for instance), but Dylan’s howl of this song is without comparison.

You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.

6. Make You Feel My Love. Probably one of Dylan’s most covered songs recently. Garth Brooks made it big and currently Adele has a pretty great version of it. But it’s a Dylan song, and in my opinion best delivered with some of the pretty knocked off of it. Definitely higher on the list if this is just a list of my favorites. And, definitely, my favorite love song lyrics.

            I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
            I’d go crawling down the avenue
            There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
            To make you feel my love

5. Things Have Changed. This song doesn’t show up on many top 10 lists, but its one of my favorites. Such a great groove. This is classic Dylan. Tongue in check critique. A little personal apocalypticism. I’m down with this. 

            People are crazy and times are strange
            I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
            I used to care, but things have changed

4. Just Like a Woman. I’m not saying that Dylan understands women, but a few of my female friends who listen to Dylan list this song as one of their favorites.  Dylan’s vocal, the melody, the lyrics—they all come together on this one.

3. Most of the Time. You can’t be a great artist unless you have a great post-breakup song, and this is the best of all-time. I found it on the High Fidelity soundtrack (my favorite movie) and then later on Dylan’s album, Oh, Mercy (my favorite Dylan album). Some people you just never get over.

            Most of the time…
            I can smile in the face of mankind
            Don’t even remember what her lips feel like on mine
            Most of the time

2. The Times They are a Changin’. If you believe in the Kingdom of God, you have to like this song. I’ve always said that the one thing that ties all of Dylan’s work together is an apocalyptic thread. The current world is doomed and a new age is emerging. You can’t be a part of the old and participate in the new. That’s gospel. And it was the anthem for a very important generation. Huge song.

1. Like a Rolling Stone. Part of the soundtrack of the 60’s. And here’s the thing that makes this the quintessential Dylan song. Lots and lots of Dylan songs get covered, and often times we know the cover better than the Dylan version—All Along the Watchtower, Blowin’ in the Wind, Make You Feel My Love, Knocking on Heaven’s Door—you get the idea. Others have covered this song as well, but Dylan’s version is the definitive one. You don’t think of anyone else when you hear this song. It’s Dylan’s, and it’s a classic.

            How does it feeee-ul?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Salvation, Archie Marshall, and Larry Brown

Larry Brown, my favorite basketball coach of all-time, led the Kansas Jayhawks to the national championship in 1988. That team featured Danny Manning and a few key supporting players, including guards Kevin Pritchard and Archie Marshall. Brown is a coaching vagabond, and he left Kansas immediately following the championship to coach in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.

Archie Marshall had ended his Kansas season with a career-ending knee injury. This was back when an ACL tear was pretty much it for a basketball player. In Brown's first draft with the Spurs, he took Marshall in the third round even though he knew Marshall would never step on the floor. Class move on Brown's part. But I've often thought about how Marshall must have felt. I imagine it was bittersweet.

I think this because if Marshall was passionate about the game, it would not be enough to have the draft status of being an NBA player. The only satisfying thing would be to have stepped on the court to face Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, to actually play the game at the highest level.

I think about this story when I think about the meaning of salvation. Some views of salvation seem to think that being saved is being drafted even if you have no way of ever getting on the floor. What matters is being pronounced righteous, even though you're not. Salvation is about your status, and Brown's drafting Marshall even though he was not good enough to play gave him the status of being an NBA player.

But salvation is about more than status. It;s about getting on the floor and playing. Salvation in this sense would mean Marshall's knee becoming better than new. Salvation would mean lacing up the sneakers and getting on the floor, participating in the game at the highest level. And I think this is how salvation is conceived in the Bible. It is not salvation to simply be proclaimed righteous, but salvation actually involves becoming righteous. As Paul says, Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Now when I say things like this, people think I've let loose of salvation by grace. But I don't think I have. In fact, I think I have a stronger view of grace than the view that salvation is only about being pronounced righteous. Let's see if I can walk you through that in future posts.