The Wesley Brothers have been updated for a new generation over on Tumblr. I appreciate that the authors/illustrators have “submitted to be more vile.” Great Metho-dork/theologeek humor too.
Cold War Kids released their latest album Dear Miss Lonelyhearts a couple of weeks ago and I’m still letting it sink in (it often takes me months to write a review of a new album–take a listen to the first song Miracle Mile here). So until Dear Miss Lonelyhearts starts permeating my dreams and I wake up singing it, here’s a review of their last album I wrote for the SC United Methodist Advocate last year. I’ve found that many of the reviews I’ve read of Mine is Yours have panned it, either as too much of a commercialized departure from their original sound, or not strong enough musically or lyrically for mainstream success. Maybe I’m not enough of a Hipster, but for crying out loud, what album have they been listening to? I think it’s their best, not only musically but emotionally and spiritually. Take a read below, then a listen, and let me know what you think.
(originally published in the January 2012 SC United Methodist Advocate)
The Cold War Kids’ album Mine is Yours has been in continuous heavy rotation on my iPod for the past year. This is a very big deal. Let me explain: I’m a little “liturgical” when it comes to music (some folks would substitute “liturgical” with “weirdly OCD”). I have seasonal playlists—I arrange my albums and songs according to the season they remind me of. For example, Dave Matthews Band’s “Under the Table and Dreaming” is quintessential winter listening, while their album “Crash” can only be played in the summer. Grouping my music like this not only assures that all of my music is heard and the stories told, it also prevents it from getting old and stale and allows me to hear it as I originally did but reappropriate it to the present time as well (much like our liturgical seasons are supposed to do).
So for an album to play for an entire year without being relegated to a seasonal status is a big deal. The Cold War Kids have transcended my liturgical quirkiness with Mine is Yours. Lead singer Nathan Willett doesn’t come right out and say “God” on this album, but he and the band are known to be “stealth Christians.” While he has been quoted as saying there’s no hidden Christian agenda on this album, he does want the listener to approach the music with a desire to hear honest lyrics and good music. And this listener, in addition to catchy hooks and soaring choruses, definitely hears songs about human relationships and divine connection, honest portrayals of lives that have headed in the wrong direction only to be “broken open” and turned around by God’s love.
The opening title track could simultaneously serve as a wedding vow to a spouse and a covenant with God: What is mine is yours…All of my stones become your pearls, all of my trials are your treasures, all of my debt you inherit, all of my clumsy lines will shine ‘cause what is mine is yours.
Louder than Ever speaks of God’s whisper reverberating loud enough to break through barred windows and bring us out of our zombie-like darkness, while Finally Begin thankfully concedes to a lover, either a human or divine one: Finally opened my arms wide, finally I let you inside, finally made it past the end, to finally begin.
Bulldozer speaks honestly about problems in a relationship and the need for something bigger than us to help, even if it hurts in the process: Bulldozer, run right over us, feel us snap and crush and burn and tear; Bulldozer, clear a space for us, let’s rebuild this love on what we were.
Broken Open is my favorite and the most moving for me. I’m not sure if Willett’s singing to Jesus, but when I sing it I certainly am: I have been broken open, this was not my master plan, I was comfortable watching from the stands…all my edges are exposed, I was once content alone, now you are the one that I call home, I’ve been broken open (if I had enough room to quote the entire song, I would—it’s that good).
The entire album is great and worth the purchase. Happy listening, season after season!
Tallahassee by Abraham the Poor—a fitting prologue for an Easter sunrise service, God speaking light into the darkness: “And shall I shudder, or shy away from that which I have made? Or am I not the One who told the dark how dark to be…”
Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford & Sons—start your Easter sunrise service with some rollicking freak-folk goodness from our favorite mates across the pond: “Roll away your stone and I’ll roll away mine; together we can see what we will find.”
Death in His Grave by John Mark McMillan—John Mark is technically a “Christian singer,” but his symbolically poetic lyrics and lack of inhibition in getting to the nitty gritty of life put him more in the “vile” category: “On Friday a thief, on Sunday a King. Laid down in grief, but awoke with keys of Hell on that day, the first born of the slain. The Man Jesus Christ laid death in his grave.”
I Will Bring My Children Home by New York Hymns—the closer of the “Songs for Lent” album by a collaboration of artists called New York Hymns. “Get your alleluias out, death is gone it’s time to rise.”
Download it for free on Noisetrade (they have since changed the name of the song to “Root This Mountain Down”)
Until the End of the World by U2—someone told me recently this song is sung from Judas’ perspective after the Resurrection; if so, a fascinating take on grace and forgiveness: “Waves of regret, waves of joy, I reached out for the One I tried to destroy. You, you said you’d wait ‘til the end of the world.”
Mary by Patty Griffin—a pathos-soaked song from the Mother of God’s perspective: “Jesus said, ‘Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer.’ He flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face. While the angels are singing his praises in a blaze of glory, Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place.”
Let Me See Your Hands by Josh White— if “doubting” Thomas fronted a band of disciples who rocked the Upper Room with mean dueling banjos, harmonica and kick-drum: “Jesus, let me see your hands. I want to see the holes where you felt your Father’s plans.”
The Lion, the Ram & the Fish by Damion Suomi & the Minor Prophets—a cry for peace, following the One who “carried no sword when they nailed you to the board,” rife with Biblical imagery and commands: “Love your God with your heart, love your neighbor as your own, and the rest is just a guess good as mine.”
Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash—sung in failing voice and released posthumously, it’s hard a find a more meaningful witness to resurrection: “There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.” (for an alternate, Hip-Hop take on it, try Playdough’s “Cash Rules Everything”)
We Are Alive by Bruce Springsteen—a tribute to people slain in acts of violent injustice, beginning with the “cross up yonder on Calvary Hill,” but ending with the resurrection refrain, “We are alive, and though our bodies lie alone here in the dark, our souls and spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark.”
Dance in the Graveyards by Delta Rae—A song of resurrection hope, not only for the ones we have lost to death, but for us to become fully alive: “When I die, I don’t want to rest in peace, I want to dance in joy, I want to dance in the graveyards. And while I’m alive, I don’t want to be alone, mourning the ones who came before, I want to dance with them some more, let’s dance in the graveyards.”
Finally Begin by Cold War Kids—we’ve “finally made it past the end” of death on a cross, “to finally begin” as we open our arms wide and let the Risen Christ in.
Beautiful Dawn by The Wailin’ Jennys—a plea for God’s Easter Kingdom to come: “Take me to the breaking of a beautiful dawn, take me to the place where we come from, take me to the end so I can see the start, there’s only one way to mend a broken heart.”
Afterlife by Switchfoot—the resurrection life doesn’t have to begin when we die: “And I wonder why would I wait ‘til I die to come alive? I’m ready now, I’m not waiting for the afterlife.”
Here’s a playlist I’ve titled “Vile Lent” (be sure to annunciate or people will think you’re violent, which I certainly hope you’re not during Lent…or any other season…). Play these songs as you journey these 40 days in the wilderness:
Walking Far from Home by Iron & Wine—this song is singer Sam Beam’s 21st century answer to Bob Dylan’s 20th century question “What did you see my blue-eyed son?” Beam’s observations on his “walk” are heartwarming and haunting: I saw sickness/blooming fruit trees/I saw blood and a bit of it was mine/I saw children in a river/But their lips were still dry, lips were still dry.
The Call by Damion Suomi & The Minor Prophets—starts us off in the wilderness where “temptations come in threes”: free yourself from desires, hear the call to mystery…you must head out to the desert, filled with hunger pains, and when the task is finally finished, wash your hands and walk away
Eve by Neulore–Sung from Adam’s perspective to eve, dealing with the very first temptation that we all face: Tempt me, tempt me, fallen bride, take the apple from my eye. Slippery, prickly, scales they hide, oh how they lie, when lust returns in bites.
Searchin’ by Matisyahu–The formerly-Orthodox but-still-observant Jew searches “far and wide” all his life for Yahweh: He can show you where to dig, and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself
Ten Thousand Charms by Martha Scanlan–A sparse but gorgeous acoustic mash-up of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and “Come, ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.”
The Once and Future Carpenter by The Avett Brothers–Seen through a Lenten lens, we could almost see this former carpenter who “took the highway, a poet young and hungry” as the Messiah we follow: Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me, and when I lose my direction I’ll look up to the sky, and when the black cloak drags upon the ground, I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember well we’re all in this together. If I live the life I’m given, I wont be scared to die.
One Last Thing by Angels and Airwaves–“How does anybody sleep at night” with all the horrors of the world, but “I’ve found one last thing to believe in.”
That Wasn’t Me by Brandi Carlile–An honest, introspective look at our simultaneous Sinner and Saint natures: Did I lie through my teeth? Did I cause you to stumble on your feet? Whatever you see, that wasn’t me…Do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet? When you fall I will get you on your feet…When that’s what you see, that will be me.
Broken Open by Cold War Kids–How can we let God change us during Lent unless we expose all of our edges to “our most trusted friend” who can break us open and bring us out of our idle, comfortable, watching-from-the-stands faith.
Yahweh by U2–A prayer to God Almighty to change us: Take this shirt, polyester-white-trash-made-in-nowhere. Take this shirt, and make it clean…Take these hands, teach them what to carry. Take these hands, don’t make a fist.
We Will All Be Changed by Seryn: Assurance that growth and change are part of what our journey entails: We can shape but can’t control these possibilities to grow, weeds amongst the push and pull, waiting on the wind to take us. We can write with ink and pen, but we will sow with seeds instead, starting with words we’ve said and we will all be changed.
Morning Comes by Delta Rae–In the midst of hard times, when the “devil’s in my hometown and I ain’t telling him no,” there’s still hope to cling to, because “jealous is the night when the morning comes, but it always comes.”
Hold On to What You Believe by Mumford & Sons–Keeping the faith during the long, dark night of the journey: Hold on to what you believe, in the light, when the darkness has robbed you of all your sight.
Garden by Needtobreathe–Sung from Jesus’ perspective in the Garden of Gethsemane: In this hour of doubt I see, who I am is not just me. So give me strength to die myself, so love can live to tell the tale.
Hallelujah—One of Leonard Cohen’s most beautifully heartbreaking songs. Looking at it through a Good Friday lens: Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken ‘hallelujah.’ (I prefer the versions by Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and Brandi Carlile)
What is Not Love by Derek Webb—Another great one for Good Friday: What looks like torture is a time to rejoice. What sounds like thunder is a comforting voice. When what is beautiful looks broken and crushed. And I say I don’t know you, but you say it’s finished.
I really like the image of Lent as a journey, a “faith odyssey” as one of my favorite Lenten devotionals calls it. I watched a wonderful little film called “The Way” smack dab in the middle of my own Lenten journey last year that portrays the faith odyssey of Tom (Martin Sheen), an eye doctor whose comfortable suburban life is shattered by the death of his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez, Sheen’s real-life son and the movie’s writer and director).
Daniel had begun walking El camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James, an ancient Christian pilgrimage in France and Spain when he was accidentally killed in a storm. Tom goes to France to bring back Daniel’s body but decides to walk The Way himself, carrying his son’s ashes with him. A veteran walker of The Way asks Tom why he is walking it. He replies, “For Daniel,” to which the man replies, “It’s only for yourself; always for yourself.”
Tom begins the pilgrimage solely out of a sense of obligation to Daniel, walking relentlessly, leaving handfuls of Daniel’s ashes on various parts of the route (the first on the cross marking where Daniel was killed) and doing his best to avoid contact with other pilgrims. Despite his best intentions, he is befriended by Yost, a Dutchman walking to lose weight; Sarah, a Canadian walking to escape the memories of an abusive relationship; and Jack, an Irish author hoping the walk will cure his writer’s block.
Despite their differences, they form a little pilgrim community who stick together on The Way, through the light-hearted banter and teasing to the touchy times when painful personal histories are revealed, drunken conflict leads to an arrest, a theft leads to a glimpse of “the other” in a different way, and even when Tom treats each of them to their own plush hotel room one night—the fact that they all end up hanging out in Tom’s room is a poignant symbol of how a good journey breaks down the barriers and builds kinship.
Along The Way, these pilgrims encounter beauty and pain, sin and redemption, new life in the midst of death. Their arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago de Campostela, The Way’s final stop, is rife with Christian imagery and spiritual significance for each of them. I invite you to join these pilgrims on The Way, to “walk it” yourself (in the comfort of your own home) as part of your own faith odyssey. And if you’re inspired to actually walk it, let me know—I may go with you.
Due to various scheduling snafus out of my control, I am now just getting around to writing about Mumford & Sons’ newest album, Babel, even though it was released back in September. In a way, I’m glad I’ve had these past four months to listen though, because it’s taken me awhile to get into it—not because Marcus Mumford and his mates have radically changed up their rootsy, spiritual-bent, freak-folk sound, but because they’ve kept it precisely the same.
When Sigh No More was released a few years ago, I had heretofore heard nothing like it, and it blew me away. With expectations so high for Babel’s release, who can blame anyone for being less-than-astounded by an initial listen? Because we’ve heard it before—the shine is not as bright, the sound not as surprising. But that’s not a bad thing. I’ve let Babel sink in these past few months and have really sunk into it myself. The banjos, mandolins, kick-drums, foot-stomping and hand-clapping are all back, as is the God-language, which now seems to permeate almost every song.
The opening title track talks of knowing our weakness as well as our voice, believing in “grace and choice,” and tearing down walls, while Whispers in the Dark asks to “spare my sins for the ark” while admitting “I’m a cad, but not a fraud, I set out to serve the Lord.” I Will Wait is a modern day Psalm, speaking of kneeling down, head-bowed, and waiting for You who “forgave and I won’t forget,” with the hope that “these days of darkness which we’ve known will blow away with this new sun.”
Holland Road is a slower, somber, honest look at doubt and faith: “I still believe, though there’s cracks you’ll see. When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe.” Ghosts That We Knew continues to slow things down and asks for “hope in the darkness” that we’ll “see the light,” only to be immediately sped up by Lover of the Light, encouraging us to “love the one you hold, and that’ll be your gold, to have and to hold.”
Hopeless Wanderer calls to mind the Prodigal Son singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: “Hold me fast ‘cause I’m a hopeless wanderer, and I will learn to love these skies I’m under.” Broken Crown gets a little angry, admitting that sin’s pull is strong and the flesh is weak, furiously shouting, “In this twilight, how dare you speak of grace?” while simultaneously pleading “hold my hand, consign me not to darkness.”
Below My Feet comes right out and mentions JC by way of Julian of Norwich–“I was told by Jesus all was well, so all must be well”—while asking for “eyes to serve and hands to learn.” Not with Haste ends on a quiet, yet hopeful and purposeful note, that “We will run and scream, you will dance with me, they’ll fulfill our dreams and we’ll be free. And we will be who we are, and they’ll heal our scars, sadness will be far away. Do not let my fickle flesh go to waste, as it keeps my heart and soul in its place, and I will love with urgency but not with haste.”
(Pick up the deluxe addition for the added treat of three more songs, including a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer)
Christmas time is not always holly, jolly, or the happiest time of year for everyone. Grief, loss, anger, pain–a multitude of emotions can swirl around the holidays, and add to that our cultural notions of a nice, sanitized, perfect holiday…it’s easy to get lost and drown in a sea of shallow sentimentality and deep depression.
Our church offers a Longest Night service (this year held the night before the longest night, Dec 20), which acknowledges that the Christ child was born into a world of real darkness, a world of suffering, sorrow, and pain. We do not believe that when Jesus was born, “no crying he made.” A Savior who doesn’t cry with those who are crying, who does not suffer with those who are suffering, who does not know our pain and loss and grief, cannot fully redeem all of that. Our service acknowledges the heartbreak of the past year and offers hope in the midst of it.
In addition to three wonderful hymns of the church that acknowledge our human suffering (O Come, O Come Emmanuel, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus), we will also hear two “vile” songs that I feel capture the mood of the service: Switchfoot’s “The Blues” and Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait.”
Snippets of lyrics:
Is this the New Year or just another night?
Is this the new fear or just another fright?
Is this the new tear or just another desperation?
Does justice never find you? Do the wicked never lose?
Is there any honest song to sing besides these blues?
It’ll be a day like this one
When the sky falls down and the hungry and poor and deserted are found
It’ll be a day like this one
When the world caves in
And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun
And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
If you are in the greater Myrtle Beach, SC area next week, please join us for The Longest Night service. Check out our Facebook invite here.