Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guest Blog Project on the Gospel...

Hello folks. Recently a dear friend of mine asked me to participate in a guest blogging project with some other friends and gentlemen of the faith. It has been a very challenging, but immensely rewarding post to study for and put together. The questions asked to consider during the writing process were as follows:

  1. What is your understanding of the sovereignty of God?
  2. When it comes to “salvation” what are the basic tenets of the gospel? How can one know that they know they have this salvation?
  3. What is God’s role in salvation and what is mans role? Why? Biblically?
  4. What is the role of evangelism within the sovereignty of God (for instance…if God chooses people to be saved, why should I pursue my neighbor that is far from God with the gospel?)
  5. Are people that are “chosen” by God able to resist God?
Light stuff, I know. Anyway, my response and several others are up on his blog (http://chrisrollman.wordpress.com). You should definitely go and check them out, as well as the other material on the site, there's a lot of good stuff there.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I have a little time to kill before my next class (as I should be studying for a test, but alas, I forgot my book at home) so I thought I would relay a portion of a large string of thought that has been stirring in my head and heart recently concerning music, Christianity, and community, all intertwined into something that excites me greatly.

I love to lead the body of Christ in worship. It is an experience that I have found myself lost in on many an occasion, and hope to continue to do so in the future. Whether it's an auditorium full of people or a few close friends alone in a room crying out desperately to their Father, expressing those emotions and glories to God through music is a beautiful thing. This got me thinking, then, about the nature of music in general, as both an art form and as a form of worship.

Music in and of itself is beautiful. We also know that every "good and perfect gift" has been graciously given to us by the God of the universe himself. Therefore, I can wager, that the mere playing of music with the right heart posture is glorifying to the originator of said gift. Amazing!

Furthermore, I began to allow this mindset to be used as a lens to view the current trend of "Christian music". It highly disturbs me that we so quickly section off our music based on the faith held by the members rather than the sound of the music itself, not so much that there isn't some destructive and negative music that should be avoided, but more for the reason that people of faith should be able to express their passions and convictions in a larger market than is allowed by most Christian distributers. It's as if there is a fence built around the music saying, "I'm sorry, sinners, you can't listen to this". If Jesus were a musician, would he would play in such a box?

I know that there is the responsibility as a Christian to build up the body of Christ. This is something that I've enjoyed being on both the giving and receiving end of, and want to improve in. However, there is also the mandate of being a light in the darkest places around. As a musician, therefore, wouldn't it be appropriate to assume that my role might not be solely leading worship with a congregation on a Sunday morning? Can I not play music in a bar while glorifying my Father in heaven? Could the way I live my faith and express truth through music be constructive for the kingdom though I might not follow the "Jesus per minute" rule (a joke about Christian music that both makes me chuckle and think very hard). I want the freedom to write not just directly about Christ in every single song. It all needs to be centered in truth, but Christ himself used parables to speak to people in different contexts, because maybe a straight approach would have been lost on their ears.

Another aspect of music that intrigues me is the communal. Two examples:

1. I went to a Mute Math concert somewhat recently, and found myself in one of the most energetic worship experiences of my life. I don't know the motivation of the band members, or of the others in the room, but the amount of sweaty bodies moving and singing and raising joyous noise was infectious.

2. The first time I saw local musician Aaron Lee Martin play, I was amazed at his ability to convey powerful truth without shame or compromise, but still hold the room in a trance-like state as they shared in the musical experience.

You see, friends, the best of these experiences that I've ever had were when it didn't at all matter who was playing the music and who was in the audience. The roles could have been completely reversed and all would have remained in tact, there was such a common bond within the room, all for something bigger than any one person.

Faith and music. Community and truth. What does this all mean to me?

Well, somewhat unexpectedly, I find myself in the beginning stages of the formation of a band. Yes, if you didn't already hear from me yet, a dear friend of mine and I are writing and dreaming and working to try and mesh our faith and our gifts. Our desire is to create such an environment that community is organically established. I would like to say to you, no matter what you claim as a belief system, no matter what kind of personality you have, if you're shy, if you feel like the world hates you, or if you think you have this whole living thing figured out: let me play my music for you! Let me share my life and heart and struggles and hopes with you!

I'm excited to see where this all leads, wherever that is. I would love to be a part of something that not only is legitimately good and creative music, but that also might help affect change in the community in which I live, and maybe wherever else I find myself playing. Are you up for an adventure with me?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Too Light a Thing...

I love the book Isaiah. Sure, it's long and confusing, but every time I read something from it my view of God seems to be blown up to a more titanic size while I shrink in comparison, which is a desired result for sure. I came across this little mind-bender a few weeks ago, I hope it messes with you as much as it did me. I'm taking this from the English Standard version of the bible.

Isaiah 49: 5-6

And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength— he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Oh, prophesy. I'm going to do my best to relay what I believe the text is pointing to here (side note: you should read the whole chapter, it's tasty stuff). This is found in a section of Isaiah known as the "servant songs", which foretell the coming of the Messiah, and were fulfilled within the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (which is crazy to think about in and of itself).

To get to what blew me away, however, let's venture out of the timeline for a moment and view history as a whole up to this point. God existed in eternity past, and knows everything that is to happen for eternity to come (if you figure that one out, let me know). Therefore, we can assume that he knew full well when he created mankind that we would reject Him for lesser gods, pursuing our own fleshly desires and forsaking our first love. He also, then, had a preconceived plan of redemption for His people, to bring them back into intimacy with Him. Initially, he chose the Israelites. God raised up leaders and manifested Himself within pillars of fire and smoke, chose to have His glory dwell within a temple, etc. These were just tiny snapshots of an infinite God (try out Isaiah 6 for a slightly bigger, yet still not even full, picture).

Now, I'm not Jewish. I'm about as pasty-white as they come, blonde hair, blue eyes. How is it that I have access to the God of the universe, then? Well, here's the incredible part: God chose to glorify Himself by saving me. It's as if he said "I'm way too big of a God to just save one little group of people, let's go after all of them!" Therefore, because it was "too light a thing" to rescue only Israel, you and I can now be recipients of the redemptive grace of God through his servant and son, Jesus Christ. The very fact that He chose to give mercy to me, an undeserving wretch of a sinner, also gives me the chance to glorify Him through my life on earth. And the beauty of it is that it all points back to a heavenly Father with a plan from before time to redeem and rescue! If that doesn't get your blood boiling, you may proceed to your local cardiologist's office.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Living Poets Society...

This is the first post I've made in a long while, and the first one to date about music. I figured it was long overdue, and wanted to write something that doesn't necessarily seek to explain the great mysteries of life. Plus, I need this blog to live up to it's title, right?
Ever since people figured out that words go in good conjunction with melody, music has seen it's fair share of phenomenal writers: people that captured the hearts and spoke for the voiceless of their generation. Songwriters like James Taylor, Paul Simon, and of course the ever-crowned Bob Dylan wrote poetry that could stand on its own legs apart from any music, and was merely amplified by the accompaniment and melody. They inspired, captivated, and affected change with their words.
The "modern music" realm takes a lot of flack for poor musicianship and writing, mostly, (I feel) because there is such a greater amount of material out there since the golden days, and the majority of the stuff that gets mainstream exposure is cranked out with a pop-formula cookie cutter (not that it's all terrible, but that's a discussion for another time). I wish to defend the fact that there are songwriters out there currently working and producing music that are up among the likes of Dylan and Simon. I've compiled a list of some of my personal favorite modern songwriters, people that I believe posses a special gift of language and assembling it into a fashion that leaves me stricken with something, whether that be a realization of fundamental truth or just amazement at the brilliance of wordsmanship. This is not in any particular order, nor is it everyone I respect as songwriters or who I think are the best of all time. They're just good at what they do, stand for truth, and I dig 'em. I hope that you take some time to check these guys out, and feel free to add some of your favorites to the list.

Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou

First of all, these guys collectively are one of my favorite bands. They are so unique in a world of musical emulation, Aaron utilizing a vocal style ranging from spoken word, singing, and gritty primal yelling. What I believe truly sets these guys apart are the lyrics. Hands down, they're some of the most phenomenal and gut-wrenchingly honest words I've ever read in my life. Aaron has a gift for writing intimately personal, introspective confessions that somehow translate into the universal human condition, which I find incredible. He covers everything from the grief of loss to grappling with his own humanity, and does it using some of the most truly original metaphors and imagery, sometimes even slipping into non-rhyming, almost rambling stream-of-consciousness. One of the things I respect most about the band is their admittance to not having the answers to hard questions, and often leaving songs without any sense of closure, allowing the listener to make their own conclusions.

Some personal favorites: Messes of Men, In a Sweater Poorly Knit, Torches Together, A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains, Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)

Brooke Fraser of solo work and Hillsong United

I don't often connect a lot with female writers, but, to my surprise, the first time I listened to Brooke Fraser's album Albertine all the way through, I was finding myself personally affected by literally every song on the album. Aside from having quite possibly the most gorgeous voice in the business, her lyrics are artful, poetic, and authentic. She can write from what is obviously a woman's perspective and deeply impact the heart of a man. In her involvement with Hillsong church, she has also written some of the most God-honoring worship songs that I have ever been led by, which is an awesome gift, but what I most respect is that she doesn't limit herself to writing for the church only. She writes the truth, but doesn't package it up in a nice, safe box for the Christian book stores. Unashamed, she takes it to the masses.

Some personal favorites: Shadowfeet, Love is Waiting, C.S. Lewis Song, Faithful, Hymn, Hosanna, None But Jesus, Lead Me to the Cross, Desert Song

Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, Fiction Family, and solo work

I'll admit, I have somewhat of a man-crush on this guy. He's written so many songs over the course of his musical career, and has found success singing his heart from the front of a multi platinum-selling rock and roll band, as well as on the street corner and in coffee shops spilling his guts from an acoustic guitar. Jon is literally one of the most prolific songwriters I've ever heard of as well, admitting to having written a song a day for several seasons of his life. I've been a big fan of Switchfoot since middle school, but upon revisiting their old material, as well as his solo work and the Fiction Family project with Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, I've come to the conclusion that the man cannot write a bad song. In fact, if he wrote something absolutely terrible, I probably would still love it, assuming that I just need it to grow on me. A common trend with most of the songwriters on the list, he conveys truth without watering it down, but retains a platform that allows his songs to be heard by millions of all walks of life. Rock on Jon. Rock on.

Some personal favorites (this one was hard, he's written so many): Equally Skilled, Somebody's Baby, Your Love is Strong, The House of God Forever, Dare You to Move, The Shadow Proves the Sunshine, The Blues, Love is the Movement, Learning to Breath, Only Hope, Betrayal, Mostly Prove Me Wrong, Resurrect Me

Derek Webb of Caedmon's Call and solo work.

Push the envelope. That's what I feel Derek's lyrics continue to do as he progresses as a solo artist. Part of one of the biggest CCM bands of the 90's, Derek left the band to pursue his own career, and has written some of the most beautiful and indicting songs I've ever heard. He doesn't mince words, calling a spade a spade and calling people to put works to their faith, or abandon it. He penned one of my personal favorites to cover, Wedding Dress, which I lovingly refer to as the "whore and bastard" song, seeing as he (correctly) utilizes both of those words within the lyrics. Derek, to me, seems to be a man that shares Christ's love for the church but wishes to call it to a higher standard. He writes the kind of songs that you catch yourself singing along to, then have to take a few steps back to actually examine your life and your role on this earth. Mr. Webb is a firecracker, and I hope he sticks to his guns.

Note: He also wrote a love song to his wife with the lyrics: "I wanna read the Bible and I wanna make out." I think that alone should land him on the list.

Some personal favorites: Wedding Dress, Rich Young Ruler, New Law, Mockingbird, I Wanna Marry You All Over Again, Somewhere North

Reese Roper of Five Iron Frenzy and Brave Saint Saturn

If a theologian and side show freak had a child, it would end up something like Reese Roper. On one hand, the man has written some beautiful, tender songs of worship to Christ. On the other, he fronted a ska band that is famed with filling up extra space on albums with multi-tracked rock operas about pants. Mixing humor with truth, they leave a lasting impression long after the goofiness subsides. I love Reese because of the heart behind the songs, their influence in my life as a disillusioned middle school and early high school student, and because, no matter how you look at it, he's simply good at writing lyrics. The music Brave Saint Saturn has a lot of darker overtones than that of Five Iron, allowing a lot of heavier issues and musings to be explored. Through both projects, the humility and desire to be more like Christ shines through, and we are left with smiles on our faces, questions in our heads, and our bodies bouncing to the horn section in matching star trek uniforms.

Some personal favorites: Every New Day, Dandelions, You Can't Handle This, On Distant Shores, The Untimely Death of Brad, Under Bridges, Starling, These Frail Hands, Invictus, When I Go Out

David Crowder of the David Crowder* Band

I think out of all of the artists I've ever listened to, for some reason, the David Crowder* Band has most influenced me long-term. They were the first band that I really latched on to coming out of my young-adolescent punk rock phase, and something radically shifted in my thinking, opening me up to a wonderful new soundscape to explore. I went to youth gatherings and sang along with many of his songs, but when I got a hold of A Collision or (3+4=7) I was never the same again. The music was so well put together, mixing acoustic and electric instruments with computerized noise and samples from phone conversations and old choir performances spanning a full 79 minutes of disk space. The sheer amount of thought and back-story behind the songs, and the concept of the album itself left me amazed outside of even listening to them. Crowder is the king of wordplay, often using the same word in English for all of it's various meanings within a song (example, using the phrases "You are holy" and "I am wholly Yours", etc.) Intellectually sound, theologically sound, and musically sound. It's a good sound.

Some personal favorites: O Praise Him, The Glory of It All, All I Can Say, Here is Our King, Wholly Yours, Come Awake, Open Skies,
Everything Glorious

A few others I'd like to tip my hat to, who I may or may not have had somewhat limited exposure to so far, but I realize are quite
masterful themselves:

Dustin Kensrue of Thrice
Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay
Sufjan Stevens
Scott and Seth Avett from the Avett Brothers

So there you go internet world. I look forward to keeping this blog
more up to date in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Parable of the Lost Keys

Jesus seemed to have a knack for making profound statements about the incomprehensible nature of God through the telling of simple, mundane stories: farming, going to work, having dinner, and the one I most resonate with, losing things. Yes, to those of you who did not just chuckle or roll your eyes or throw another dart at that picture of me you have hanging on your wall, I great difficulty with keeping track of my belongings. Call it holding on loosely to the things of this earth.

Anyway, this morning I awoke to piddling torrents of rain and the timpani-rumblings of thunder reverberating in my ears, sounds I greatly enjoy. I decided to drive to the main Wichita State campus this morning rather than walk, both because of the storm and because I had a doctor's appointment scheduled in just enough time for me to drive directly there after class. I thought myself a very astute planner. However, I forgot upon exiting my vehicle that I was toting a very pristine leather laptop case given to me by my father, and it was becoming rather discolored due to the precipitation. I cantered inside of the hall and proceeded directly to the men's room to run some paper towels along the exterior of the case in hopes of reversing any damage. The bag was fine, and I went on my merry way to class, preparing myself for some sight-singing and interval notation. At the end of the class I shared a third of a friend's umbrella and made it back to my car relatively dry. I reached down to my right hip to detach the keys I hang from the belt loop there, but instead of the usual green carabeener grazing my skin, I experienced very damp denim. Yes, yet again, my keys went astray. To shorten the "parable", I did a lot of searching, missed the appointment, and found the keys in the lost and found. No real harm done, and some private rejoicing was in order. Relief far outweighed the price it took to find the keys.

Now to tie it all in...

In Luke 15, Jesus gives us a three clear pictures of God's heart for the lost and wayward of this world (you should drop what you're doing and read it right now, it's brilliant). A man loses one of his many sheep and leaves the faithful ones to find the stray. A woman loses a precious coin, and though she has others she searches her entire house to find it. A man's son leaves the fold to pursue his own ambitions, and when he comes shamefully home he finds his father waiting for him with open arms and a heart overflowing with compassion and inexplicable love.

How do these illustrations apply to us? I think the stories come with both an incredibly humbling encouragement and a challenging motivation. First, the losing of the items. What would prompt a shepherd, a homeowner, a father to search so desperately for what they are missing? The fact that whatever was lost is worth the effort and sacrifice necessary to restore it. For some reason, God in His infinite holiness and perfection considers flawed, wayward humans worth something. Worth quite a lot of something in fact, as Jesus voluntarily left his throne in the heavenlies to serve the poor and broken and later die for those who persecuted and murdered Him. At the end of each parable, Jesus made it a point to express the joy that the seeker has in finding their beloved runaway. The shepherd calls everyone he cares about together for a party, and Christ relays that "in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Luke 15: 7). Jesus misses us when we stray! Do we grasp the enormity of that? Does that not make us want to break down and run with reckless abandon toward Him?

I think this is where the challenge lies. If Christ would love us enough and miss the chance for relationship with us enough and consider the opportunity to get to know even one human being enough grounds to sacrifice and die the way he did; if our repentance is grounds for a heaven-shaking, blowout party, then how do I dare forget Him? What gives me the gall to decide not to follow his commands, to pursue my own selfish ambitions and trite desires of the flesh? It's truly sickening when you compare our commitment to Christ to the commitment He has for us. I find comfort in the fact that the shepherd had no hatred for the sheep. The woman did not hurl insults at her coin when she lost it. The father did not transform his son's room into a high-dollar sauna when he flipped him the bird and left. These people were heartbroken, desperate, and earnest seekers of what they lost. They wanted so badly to return things to the way that they were meant to be. So I ask us all, do we acknowledge our Father's love for us? If we are created in His image, and something so trivial as losing our keys can make us panic and abandon conventionality to find them, how can we deny His mourning for those who disown Him? I pray that this would motivate us to better follow the teachings of Jesus, not out of obligation or merely fear, but also because God desires us so badly. Why should we deny Him what He came here to find?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Hello friends. I would like to extend an invitation to each and every one of you to join me on a journey of sorts. More and more lately, I have become aware that my brain lacks any form of a conventional on/off switch. Through various circumstances, I somewhat recently realized that some of my reoccurring musings and deeper ponderings may have great relevance to a relatively large number of people, and since I enjoy processing in written form as much as I do, decided to start the blog that you are now reading. The topics covered will be wide and varied, but basically boil down into two categories:

1. Truth
Yes, truth does indeed exist. Discovering universal and absolute truth to me is like unearthing some buried ancient civilization: little by little dusting and scraping off the dirt and grime until something beautiful, painful, intricate, or even at times disarmingly simple stands before you. As Derek Webb pointedly sings, "I can't afford to pay for most of what I say, so it's a lucky thing that the truth is public domain." Nothing I will write will truly be original material. Ultimately, truth itself stems from the nature and word of God. It also manifests itself in nature, relationships, etc., but it all goes back to the aforementioned. Most of the issues, challenges, and other subject matter covered will go back to Scripture and other related writings. It's good stuff.

2. Music
I love everything to do with music: playing it, listening to it, analyzing it, learning more about it, enjoying it. I'm not sure exactly how this will hash itself out into the blog itself yet, but it no doubt will. There are those incredible instances when truth and music meld together to form a gem of priceless brilliance. Goosebumps happen.

So that out of the way, let's lay down some ground rules, shall we? First, I would greatly enjoy feedback on posts, additions, and even questions or suggestions for future posts. I don't have all the answers, and a slightly more public forum approach rather than a one way bout of preaching sounds more appealing to me. That being said, I don't want to check the blog and find it littered with petty arguments about the existence of God, homosexuality, creation vs. evolution debates, etc. Those topics have their place, and may be addressed, but Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that we are to speak the truth "in love", and I've gotten very burnt out by reading the comments under most videos and blogs affiliated with Christianity filled with hatred directed in both directions. Regardless of where you are at spiritually, whether you join me in my belief in Christ as Savior and Lord or not, I pray that you would not be attacked as a result of my blog. I won't shy away from writing possibly offensive content if it is solidly Biblical, but in order to build up, not beat down.

I'm very excited to see where this all leads. Whether it's only you reading what I decide to post, or if there are others along for the ride, it should be a wild and woolly one. And best of all, there's no toll booths!