Archives For Music

Is the trouble with Christian engagement with public issues today because social media makes it impossible for us ever to be truly alone? This and more in the latest episode.

It’s almost a podcasting rule at this point. The interviews assigned to us by publicists and publishers (I’m looking at you, Chester Johnson) are the ones I force myself to do, expecting little, and, sure enough, they turn out to be the ones I’m most grateful to have done.

Robert Hudson is a damn good writer and a damn good interview. He’s edited about half the religious books you’ve ever read, and, a Bob Dylan scholar, he’s written a book of his own: The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966. In case, you don’t know Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk and author of Seven Story Mountain who, despite being a hermit, had quite a worldly record collection. Dylan, meanwhile, employed his own Christian-ish kaleidoscopic poetic imagery that found its way into Merton’s own writing and poetry.

Listen to the interview yourself, he’s infectious for his delight about Merton and Dylan and the faith both of them share(d).

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The late Robert Jenson, America’s best theologian, wrote of the Eschaton in his 2 Volume Systematic Theology that “the End (of all things) is music.”

Inspired by Jens, in this episode Teer, Taylor, Johanna, and I hung out and talked about our favorite songs from a theological point of view. This was the first podcast we’ve done as a group in a while and the first time Teer and Taylor had hung out with Johanna in the flesh. It was a fun episode.

Here it is. And, you remember the drill:

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Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Help support the show! This ain’t free or easy but it’s cheap to pitch in.

Click here to become a patron of the podcasts

The only consistent thing on this podcast has been the soulful voice of Clay Mottley.

I’ve been good friends with Clay Mottley since O.J. was speeding down the highway in his white Ford Bronco. He’s a sensitive and caring friend, but just as important he’s a singular songwriter. Without cliche, simple or forced rhymes, Clay captures the power and the seduction of perfect pop songs.

Clay agreed to an NPR All Songs Considered format where he’d be interviewed AND play/sing whatever occurred to us in the moment.

Including, Cancer is Funny: The Song.

And a depressing version of the Beatles’ Help.

He’s been letting us use his music gratis on the podcast so we thought it would be appropriate that he was our special guest for the #100 Interview.

#100 Interviews?!


From a little venture with Teer and Morgan to nurture my friendships with them, we’ve grown to be one of the top 3.5% of all podcasts on the interwebs. If podcasts were churches, we’d be one of the largest UMC’s out there- and it’s all because of you and your support!

Coming up on the podcast:

We’ve got at least 3 maybe more conversations with David Bentley Hart.

We’ve got Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners.

We’ve Emma Green the Religion Writer at Atlantic Magazine.

We’ve got the one and only Walter Brueggemann.

Plus my minion intern interviewing our pod-friend Tripp Fuller. Stay tuned.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

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If you’re getting this by email, here’s the link. to this episode.

Here then is Clay.

For the love of God, go over to his website and buy some music.

Andreas Barrett is not only a deeply cherished friend who was their by my hospital bedside to mouth kiss me as soon as I came out surgery, he’s also a rarely gifted musician. His band with my congregant John Jackson (himself a Jeff Tweedy doppelgänger) is called Seven Mile Walk and they just released an album that you should check out.

The songs are thematically diverse. They embrace faith and express fear/doubt (The Labyrinth) while touching on specific scriptural passages (Burning in Our Hearts, Mary Anoints Jesus), regional news events (In His Name—Virginia Tech massacre) and global/social need and…justice (Clean Water/In Unity/Blessed to Give).

Andreas can literally play anything and it shows on the album. The music is stylistically varied and features bluegrassy textures (the Charles Wesley remix Wrestling Jacob), uptempo AOR, and transparent ballads. Rich vocal harmonies are present throughout. Some songs on the CD (The Jesus Creed), as well as many throughout the SMW catalog, are a product of works featured by friends of this blog like Scot McKnight, Brian Zahnd, Lauren Winner, and Thomas Lynch.

You can find it in iTunes and purchase on Amazon here.



11613895804_6a71362216_zThe Grammys once again surprised everyone who forgot something happened the Sunday before the Super Bowl. The show made news more for its explicit choreography and its trivialization of marriage. It used to be that artists crossed taboos to be prophetic not to push their products.

Oh well, no one seriously interested in music as an art form tunes into the Grammy’s.

Nonetheless, I thought I would mark the occasion of the Grammy’s by ticking off the Top Ten Albums of 2013 as voted on by me and my boys, who are 11 and 8.

If not definitive, this list at least stands as a testament to their good taste in music:

#1 Modern Vampires of the City ~ Vampire Weekend 

My boys’ favorite band, bar none, put out their best album thus far and one with belief-oriented themes too.


#2 Trouble Will Find Me ~ The National

Would’ve made #1 if I meddled with the voting. The sort of sorrow that makes you feel human and thus happy in spite of it all.

#3 Reflector ~ Arcade Fire 

Arcade Fire put on the best live show we saw this year.

#4 Monomania ~ Deerhunter

The background music for my ’13 sermon writing.

#5 B Room ~ Dr. Dog 

Lo-fi goodness I wouldn’t have discovered without Taylor Mertins.

#6 Pushin Against a Stone ~ Valerie June

Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, this album sounds like the soundtrack to the movie Quentin Tarantino never made.

#7 Live at First Ave ~ Trampled by Turtles

My favorite bluegrass band’s first live album- TbT make bluegrass you can run to.

#8 Let’s Be Still ~ The Head and the Heart

The folk band add texture for their second album.

#9 On the Edge ~ Frank Sullivan and the Dirty Kitchen 

Another frenetic-paced bluegrass band. I discovered them on the local bluegrass NPR station. I linked them live below.

#10 Lightening Bolt ~ Pearl Jam

This gave me flashbacks to 8th grade.


1280px-Sufjan_Stevens_playing_banjoPraise be to the Lord of Hosts, I’m old enough to have avoided the Miley Cyrus career arc from Disney ingenue to Madonna wannabe. The New Kids on the Block were enough for me- to think, I actually got made fun of in the 7th grade for NOT going to the New Kids’ concert at the Richmond Coliseum. Look who’s the loser now.

If age is not the reason I’ve avoided Miley Cyrus then certainly it’s because I’m a music fan.

Anyways, I’ve passed the last few weeks, like you probably, going from somebody who previously was only semi-conscious that someone named Miley Cyrus existed to somebody feeling as though I’m SUPPOSED to feel righteously indignant over what Miley Cyrus is doing to the morals of America.

Or, it’s never said, what the music industry does to the morals of America by demoralizing people like Miley Cyrus. miley_cyrus_wrecking_ball

A couple of weeks ago Sinead O’Connor wrote a maternal letter to Miley Cyrus that made news for days. Apparently the chanteuse of ‘Nothing Compares to You’ felt empowered to draw plenty of comparisons between Miley and her own young self.

This week Sufjan Stevens, a (sometimes, quasi Christian) musician with more talent in his upper mandible than either Sinead or Miley possess in toto, wrote this hilarious letter of his own to Cyrus:

Dear Miley. I can’t stop listening to #GetItRight (great song, great message, great body), but maybe you need a quick grammar lesson. One particular line causes concern: “I been laying in this bed all night long.” Miley, technically speaking, you’ve been LYING, not LAYING, an irregular verb form that should only be used when there’s an object, i.e. “I been laying my tired booty on this bed all night long.”

Whatever. I’m not the best lyricist, but you know what I mean. #Get It Right The Next Time. But don’t worry, even Faulkner messed it up. We all make mistakes, and surely this isn’t your worst misdemeanor. But also, Miley, did you know the tense here is also totally wrong.

Surely you’ve heard ofPresent Perfect Continuous Tense (I HAVE BEEN LYING in this bed all night long [hopefully getting some beauty sleep?]). It’s a weird, equivocal, almost purgatorial tense, not quite present, not quite past, not quite here, not quite there. Somewhere in between. I feel that way all the time. It kind of sucks.

But I have a feeling your “present perfect continuous” involves a lot more excitement than mine. Anyway, doesn’t that also sum up your career right now? Present. Perfect. Continuous. And Tense. Intense? Girl, you work it like Mike Tyson. Miley, I love you because you’re the Queen, grammatically and anatomically speaking. And you’re the hottest cake in the pan. Don’t ever grow old. Live brightly before your fire fades into total darkness. XXOO Sufjan


jam-circleI think we all know where I stand when it comes to bluegrass. The rest of you can have your Chris Tomlin pablum or your oppressive baroque toccatas or all that (completely) unironic tedium from the 19th century which fills the bulk of the United Methodist Hymnal.*

As far as I’m concerned, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, and Jesus Christ would be a fair second place substitute for the Holy Trinity and one that would make me reconsider my denominational affiliation.

I’m well aware its considered trendy now. If so, then consider me a round peg in the circular bliss that is the banjo. My church’s Bluegrass Easter Sunrise is the largest attended service of the year. As I often tell folks why bluegrass makes for good worship music:

‘It’s as soulful as white people can get without being cringeworthy.’ 

Paula Spurr at Geez Magazine (great publication by the way…it’s like a leftist, Canadian version of First Things, which I also love) has a great piece ‘In Praise of the Banjo.’

“Stand and sing with me, number 422 in your hymnal. Ladies on verse two; men on verse three; all together on verses one and four.”

This was how I experienced worship growing up. A man stood at the front and led us like a choir. We had no say in anything.
As the years went by, worship morphed from the choir experience to some sort of karaoke rock concert, the band leading you through its set list, the words projected on the wall. You could stand or sit as you wished, but it was still a very directed experience. As a member of the audience (I just can’t call it a congregation), I had very little responsibility for the worship experience and none at all for the music, which was so loud that I could sing off-key and it wouldn’t matter.

I don’t attend church anymore, and the main way I experience music now is in the bluegrass genre . . . banjos and doghouse bass, mandolins and fiddles.

I wish music in church was a lot more like bluegrass.

In the jam circle, everyone participates.

There’s no leader. Everyone gets a chance to pick a song, everybody plays and everybody takes a solo break. If you don’t want to, you can pass and nobody minds. Those who can’t play an instrument are encouraged to sing or clap along. Sure, there are the hot players who form bands and put on concerts, and we’ll go watch and sing along, but mostly we just gather every week and jam.

Wouldn’t church be crazy if it were like that? Each member sharing in the responsibility of the music, helping other members enter in?

But churches are too big. You don’t get to know the person beside you. You just sit and enjoy the show. It’s one of the many reasons I quit going. If you need me, I’ll be on the front porch pickin’.

Click here to see the full piece.

* for those of you whose feelings are hurt, this is what writers call ‘hyperbole.’ 

I frequently hear people bemoan the need for some new music. New driving tunes or a new running playlist.

Well, for all you parents out there who stand back and  tolerate &&%$#@ music by Raffi, Justin Bieber or even Jack Johnson (sorry Andi) here are my (prematurely cool) boys’ TOP FIVE BANDS along with their favorite song,

Give these a try.


1) Vampire Weekend (‘White Sky’)

2) Lumineers (‘Big Parade’)

3) Decembrists (‘Rox in the Box’)

4) Arcade Fire (‘No Cars Go’)

5) Welcome Wagon (‘I’m Not Fine’)


1) Jack White/White Stripes (‘Little Ghost’)

2) The Black Keys (‘Howlin for You’)

3) Kanye West (‘Jesus Walks’)

4) Band of Horses (‘Ghost’)

5) Spoon (‘I Turn My Camera On’)

*6) For Both Boys: Willie Nelson (‘I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover’)

Ali and I are spending 11th Anniversary at Merriweather Post Pavilion, taking in the My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses concert.

And though, only because its our anniversary and no one takes their kids out on their anniversary, right, my boys are currently in the care of a babysitter, they both think My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses are kick-a#$.

If there’s one thing I’d like to look back upon and brag about in terms of parenting, then it’s that Ali and I have steadfastly refused to allow our boys to listen to sucky pop music.

No, Kate Perry, Justin What’s-His-Name, or Raffi for my boys. No, they like Jack White, the Kills, Wilco and the Dead Weather. At bath time, or just anytime really, it’s the Decembrists. My boys don’t know the words to ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’ but they CAN sing along to Bon Iver’s cover of ‘The Outfield.’

Gabriel, my youngest, cried- seriously- when I told him that Jack White was now a solo artist and there would be no more White Stripes albums. Meg White is now right up there with Darth Vader and Trunchbull in Gabriel’s pantheon of villains.

When I look at the gray creeping in to my beard or the extra pound that’s snuck on to the scale or when I spy the fatigued looking wrinkle under my eyes in the morning, my grief is assauged somewhat in knowing that, at least, one day my sons will know I only let them listen to music that was cool. And even if I don’t know how to fix the car and even if I never was in the army, I at least know a good band or two.

Here’s a good piece from the NY Times about one’s kid and the Beatles.

“DO the Beatles have any other playlists besides ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’?”

So asked my 5-year-old as we sat on his bunk bed, staring into his iPod and listening to Ringo Starr sing “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

Even on this important year in Beatledom, the 50th anniversary of Ringo’s joining the band and finalizing the makeup of the Fab Four, I decided not to pounce on my son with the obvious correction. For Beatle love must flower on its own terms. I would not tell him that “Sgt. Pepper’s” was an album, not a playlist. That it was an extremely important album. That a genius had produced it.

Instead I told him that the Beatles did indeed have many playlists, they had fantastic playlists, monumental playlists. Playlists like “Rubber Soul,” “Abbey Road” and that magnum opus, “The White …” um, Playlist.

Then another troubling question.

“When the Beatles recorded their playlists, did they record them on voice memo?”

When my son behaves well I temporarily upgrade him from his creaky old legacy iPod and let him tinker on my iPhone. There, thanks to a baby sitter whose name I curse, he has discovered the voice-memo function. He uses voice memo for impromptu jam sessions with himself and crams my phone full of gigabytes until it freezes. Tears often ensue.

“Absolutely not,” I told him. “The Beatles never, ever used voice memo. They didn’t even have voice memo. They didn’t even know what voice memo was.” I went on to tell him that the Beatles put their songs on something flat, circular and black called an album.

“Where is the button on the album that you press to make it record?”

“Yeah, well, you see,” I said, scrambling. “They didn’t record directly on the album. First they recorded on a tape recorder. A tape recorder has a button.”

“But when you use a tape recorder, what do you record on?”


“Oh, like masking tape?” he said, lunging for the art-supply drawer where both he and I knew three rolls of unused masking tape lay. I grabbed his arm before he could execute his plan.

“No, not masking tape.”

“Daddy, you’re hurting me.”

“Sorry,” I said. “But you can’t record voice memos on masking tape. They used something else. Something called recording tape.”

“Where is our recording tape?”

“We don’t have any. Recording tape doesn’t exist anymore.”

Seeing exasperation, he tried a different line.

“Do the Beatles live in a house?”

Oddly enough, this was something I can remember wondering myself, back in the early ’70s, a few years after the Beatles had torn themselves asunder. My own first experience of the Beatles was the film “Yellow Submarine,” in which, fans will recall, an early scene gives the very distinct impression that the Beatles do in fact all live together in a house. A giant house with mysterious doors that open and close at random, with surreal claptrap objects pouring out into corridors and the cartoon Beatles following behind in an old roadster.

“Well,” I said, “I think sometimes all the Beatles stayed in the same house. But I’m pretty sure each Beatle had his own house.”

“Whose house did they go to when they wanted to record playlists?”

Interesting question.

“I guess they probably went to Paul’s or John’s house.”


“Because Paul and John wrote most of the songs. But mostly they went to another house.”

“Where was that other house?”

“Abbey Road.”

A blank stare. A long pause.

“Can we go to John’s house?”

I knew somehow we were headed down this road that led past Abbey.

“No, we can’t.”

“Why not.”

“Because John is dead.”

“How did he die?”

“I don’t know,” I lied.

A long pause.

“Who else is dead?”


“You mean there are only two Beatles left?”

Click to continue.