Latest Entries »

This is a reposting of a blog I just wrote for my new Broken Clocks section of my band’s main blog at www.thelastcityformiles.com.  The mood fit this blog better, but the purpose fit the other.

***

(Please Read Introduction First for Disclaimer)

I think the fastest I have ever driven a car was about 10 years ago, on the two mile strip between the Forest Drive and Leesburg Road exits on I-77.  I don’t know for sure but it was well into triple digits, in a car that was already ten years old, and had such bad alignment that the whole car, starting with the steering wheel, would shake at any speed above 60mph.  I wasn’t under the influence of anything illegal…the only thing messing with my mind was the two hours I had just spent injecting The Fast and the Furious directly into my brain.

i-077_nb_exit_009_01

I am not a bad driver, actually I’m a rather safe driver (based on my accident and near collisions record, not on my speeding tickets…) but that day I went well pass the 10-to-15-over-the-limit my conscious and wallet allowed.

I recently watched a self-censored version of Don Jon on Netflix (fair warning to you all, it more than lives up to its R-rating).  The synopsis caught my eye, and truth be told, for me the “moral” at the end was worth the frequent “oh, look, what’s that on my foot that I should stare at for a while” moments.  Spoiler Alert.

The main character is addicted (or by his definition just a HUGE fan) of porn, and while he is a ladies’ man with his choice of the fish in any sea, he admits to prefering the women on the laptop screen to the women in his bed.  Why?  Because the girls in this fantasy world will do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants, won’t try to change him, and require no real commitment.  Until finally he meets HER…

The “Perfect Ten” (appropriately played by Scarlett Johansen) isn’t like the “others“. She makes him wait, teases, forces him into a certain level of commitment, then when he is uh, shall we say “fully ready to commit”, she finally, uh…blesses him.  And then he’s found it.  The experience, the stars-aligning moment where for a time, fantasy and reality mix and mingle.

However, in an astounding, completely unpredictable, mind-blowing turn of events, one day she is no longer enough, and he goes back again to what always offered him the experience he wanted.  Fast-forward; she catches him (a few times), they break up, and months later, they meet up again for that “closure” talk.  She berates him, saying that essentially, if he loved her enough, he would do anything for her, and she is worth a man who will do everything she wants and be everything she needs.  He walks away with the conclusion that she was as deceived by her romantic movie porn as he was from his own little cinematic adventures.

So…Porn and Worship…

1)  “Porn” offers an experience that can most likely never be real, or if so, only for a moment

2)  “Porn” creates unnatural expectations that, even when you are well aware that it is impossible, distort your interaction with the real world

3)  “Porn” does nothing to prepare you for what is real, and may impair your ability to cope with reality

4)  “Porn” is empty in word, substance and representation of reality

5)  “Porn” is escapism, and never an answer to real problems, often only amplifying them

***

You only need to check the gross earnings of 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight to see that these and other kinds of “female porn” are not limited to a little niche of deviants.  Substitute “female porn” for “porn” and the 5 things listed above all fit perfectly.

Now I want you to go back through them and substitute “worship“.

Before you either condemn my apostasy or grab torches and a stake, let me define what I mean by “worship” in this case.

By “worship”, I mean something with the lyrical depth of a third grade poem (minus the occasional biblical reference for good measure) and the musicality of a third grade composition (minus the occasional secondary dominant thrown around in minor mode).

By “worship” I mean a hackneyed chorus with all the swooping promises of love, loyalty and unlimited offering that made Edward Cullen a romantic demigod.  Here’s a fun game, see how many lines you can think of that you’ve heard both in the climactic build to the kiss in the rain and the climactic build of the bridge to the drop-off.

“You are my everything”

“What would i do without you?”

“I love you more than life itself”

“Just dance with me”

‘I would do anything for you”

(Mid-rant rant: Buckley styleThis is just as much a symptom of the church culture as it is the American/Japanese/other-places-I-could-name-but-won’t-because-I-haven’t-had-the-personal-experience culture. I could just as easily go after the fact that one of the highest honors and signs of musicianship nowadays is doing the best YouTube cover, aka copy of someone else’s song.  It doesn’t matter that you did it acoustic, and it doesn’t help that your originals sound exactly like every other cover on your channel…I’m …gonna go back to my first soapbox now

By “worship”, I mean something that is intentionally designed to disengage the mind.  And I don’t mean that complex is better than simple, or that getting lost in a song is wrong.  I just mean that rest is not the same thing as escapism.  The same as going to see a movie is not the same as binging on Netflix.  The same as thinking that a girl is beautiful is not the same as lusting after her.

By “worship” I mean something that produces all of the feelings, emotions and atmosphere of how we want things to be without producing or defining any of the actions that follow, or the awareness of the limits of the fantasy.  It would suck if a three year old didn’t pretend to be an astronaut because he was convinced it was a pipe-dream, unrealistic and a waste of time.  But it would be absolute insanity for the same kid to hit high school and college, and be convinced he is an astronaut because he watches Apollo 13 every weekend.

I don’t think it is constructive anymore to simply bash something.  I (and many, many others out there) get an uncanny joy out of pulling back the shades on whatever is masquerading around as the answer to all our problems.  However, I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not simply poor taste but callous and inhumane to run around spewing disdain, whether you’re right or not, without either offering help or empathizing in your common unknowns.  In a world where so many people are desperately piecing together a house-of-cards happiness, the last thing we need are people running around kicking dirt on them.

So here’s a unexpected conclusion…even for me.  I launched into this blog on a high-horse of righteous indignation, ready to take a katana and slaughter some lies like some kind of Truth Ninja.  But there are more than enough people out there happy to get blood on their hands for what is “right”.

How many people are willing to get someone else’s tears on their shoulder even if they are wrong?

I am certainly not saying that porn is ok, or the effects aren’t horrific for everyone involved.  But neither is the empty, formulaic romance movie that puts discontentment and misplaced, self-centered expectations in the hearts of girls and women.  And it’s far from ok for songwriters, worship leaders, and congregations to produce and promote vapid, repetitive, commercialized “worship” and sell an experience for 10% of your income and the cost of a cd/mp3.

The problem now is this; none of these things are going to be substantially changed by a blog post, a petition, or even a law.  The only thing I know to do is start being real, and be ok with it.  Life is potentially boring.  Good sex is work, and…potentially routine.  Relationships are dirty, painful, and have a lot more valleys than peaks.  The Christian walk is sometimes empty, passionless, filled with doubt…scary even, the deeper you go into the dark side of the Bible.  The illusion of a world without these feelings, or with a clear purpose and answer in the absence of perfection, or with a fast-forward-montage/left-click/”perfect”-verse to help us skip to the easy part is dangerous, but still alluring.  Almost addictive.  Scratch that.  Absolutely addictive.

***

And that’s the only way I can end this.  I would be both over-simplifying and hypocritical if I wrapped it all up in a bow.  But this is the only point I can stand by…don’t take the easy way out.  Wrestle with it.  Be bored, feel stagnant.  You may never feel your cup-overfloweth, but two drops of the real thing are worth an ocean of emptiness.

“That Guy” Entry Seventeen: Missing the Point

I can’t be the only person that has heard the “right words” come out of my mouth, and not felt right about it.  But if I’m not, I’m still in the minority…

I hate knowing what I know.  I know enough of the bible (after years of structured and unstructured study, education at the hands of religious professionals, a lifetime of solid biblical teaching, and hours of podcasts) to answer, or at least give a reasonable response to, most any question.  I don’t say this with the slightest hint of self-righteousness or pride…it is more of a desperate plea to un-know it all.  It is a desperate plea to start fresh, un-jaded, unconvinced.

I was getting my daily education from the Daily Show this morning and the Johns did a bit about how the Middle East was original divvied up.  Boundaries were drawn with little to no regard for what was natural and most conducive to peace,  and that was that.  Same with Africa.  People with negligible understanding of a land and its people did what best suited their own needs, and called it a day.

I can’t help but feel a little bit like that about the church.  I recently began a study on the origin of denominations; and the first few pages were a balm in Gilead.  We got so many things completely wrong…there are entire wars, generations of prejudice and sheer hatred between these denominations…often times over a single verse.  Sometimes, the argument is over something that isn’t even in the bible.

It could be the effects of my recent nightcap, but I just about lost it reading this article.  And I can’t conclusively say it if was in a good way or a bad way…I just knew (again) that something is fundamentally and catastrophically wrong with the church.   My best defense for the church recently is that sin is so pervasive and debilitating that no one, especially the church, is even the faintest shadow of what or who they should be in Christ.

A few days ago I heard a sermon about Matthew 22:1-14 , the parable of the wedding banquet (this all ties together…or will soon after I figure out where I am going).  A frustrating story at best, but also one with more potential than most to be distorted (not saying it was in this sermon).  The answer to “Why was the man silent?” could have a buzzfeed top 10 based on denominations.    Last night, we had an informal bible study, during which we discussed our reactions and conclusions from the sermon.  They were all over the place.  New context was presented, alternate understandings of the man’s reason for silence were debated, a brief study of the word “chosen” happened…and then I had to leave for another appointment.

Later that night, I was talking with The Wife about the bible study, about the sermon, and ended up in a bit of a rant.  I knew that somehow we were missing the point (see, it ties in) of not just the story, but what it means to be a Christian.  It is not a label, it is not a sworn allegiance to a set of rules, it is not a merit badge on your sash or a golden ticket.  It is a relationship.  If someone asked you while on a first date “What are the conditions of this relationship? What am I allowed to do and what is off limits?  Will I have to change to continue receiving your love or can I just be who I am now?”, you would kindly ask for the check, run to your car the second you were out of sight, and spend the next two weeks dodging every text, call, email and knock.

It’s tragic that we evaluate our romantic relationships by outside standards.  “We are doing ‘x’ so we must be happy…we have ‘x’ so we are doing ok.”  It sucks even more that we define our PERSONAL relationship with God by the standards of those around us.  We are so disgustingly confused that we often look to everyone around us, not for wisdom or advice, but for comparison and affirmation.

I read my bible 15 minutes a day, and he only reads for 10.

I tithe and he doesn’t.

My family has game night once a week, and their family doesn’t.

My wife and I share a bank account, and they don’t.

Who at the wedding feast (bam, full circle) is looking around to see if their robes are nicer than the people next to them?  Who is worried about how many more chicken wings they got than the person beside them?  Who is dividing themselves into groups by the people who like grape juice and those who like wine?  Who is kicking the vegetarian out of their group and judging them for not laying into a drumstick?

Gonna try to end this here, because obviously, if I could resolve this question in the next 100 words, I would be the greatest religious mind since Saint Paul.  Best I can sum it up is in this…STOP.  There is a wedding feast laid before us.  Stop listening to the bible to hear what you want to hear.  Stop looking around to see if you are good enough.  Let’s just get to the place where a relationship with God is the foundation.  Let’s stop trying to pretend that love is someone who accepts us as we are and would never try to change us.    Let’s stop trying to be infatuated with God for what He can do for us, and burn everything we have to go to Him.

“That Guy” Entry Sixteen: Knowing is Not Enough

I managed by the skin of my teeth to read through the whole bible in 2012…which I am proud of, but in more of a “checked that off my list” kind of way.  The amount of reading each day was just enough to make getting a few days behind torturous (overstatement of my career), and it was incredibly easy to skim.  So, this time around, I wanted something more than just a badge of completion, so I developed a new blog, called Knowing is Not Enough.  Basically, I am beginning a two year bible reading plan and through the perceived pressure of having to make a post each day, forcing myself to read for content, and for application.

So far so good…I hope through the next couple years to provide a daily, reasonable Call to Action, to that there is something beyond the reading to do.  So if you want a hopefully daily means to act on your faith, I hope to provide that.  Just head on over to http://knowingisnotenough.wordpress.com/ and sign up for the daily email.

“That Guy” Entry Fifteen: Touch

A week ago, my pastor spoke on Luke 8:40-56, aka Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick (Bleeding) Woman.  I have heard a couple of really interesting takes on this story, especially from Max Lucado in He Still Moves Stones.  This time around, it was presented with a special emphasis on touch.   View full article »

Fall Out Boy: “Save Rock and Roll” Album Review

Patrick Stump (if he isn’t officially already) should be hailed as one of the greatest singers alive…

He has a range that is infuriating to any XY types who try to do cover songs, and when put together with the lyrical prowess of Pete Wentz, it’s perfect.  This combination began in small underground club shows, and went worldwide, but in this video, you still see that part of them that thrives in the smaller settings (Warning: Explicit Language).

What more can I say… View full article »

Introducing the Two Minute Classic

I have been writing music for a while now, and a friend recently proposed a very intriguing idea.  Let’s be honest, the attention span of the average Youtube viewer is around 1 to 2 minutes, unless you are Taylor Swift, in which case you get 20 to 25 minutes from the same obsessed teenagers daily.  And equally as fleeting (on a grander scale) is the ever changing library of electronic “instruments” and sounds people use to make music.  Yet and still, when someone really wants to tug at those heart strings, they fall back onto piano, violin, cello, or some other stringed instrument.  So how does a musician hoping to maximize his Youtube views go about it?

***

Enter the Two Minute Classic

Just enough of a popular song to make you appreciate how it was redone, but not enough to bore you when creativity fails and you have to repeat a musical idea.  Anyone else sick of the 5 minute cover video with the 50 second intro apologizing for not being that good at guitar, or sick at the moment, or any of that other nonsense no one cares about?  Get to the song already.  And then when they do, it’s a pseudo-emotional, slower version of the song, because nothing says “musician” like the same open guitar chords capo-ed to be in the right key, strummed in the most familiar pattern known to man.  But it works for some people…they are at least musical enough to add harmony…and record with a microphone that wasn’t an accessory on a cell phone.

Below is my first installment into this Two Minute Classic idea: pop song, classical instrumentation, abridged to give you enough of a taste without filling you up.  Enjoy.

***

OneRepublic – Counting Stars, Violin and Guitar Cover by The Last City.

***

Save Rock and Roll – Fall Out Boy ( Acoustic Guitar, Violin, Piano ) Cover by The Last City

***

Justin Bieber – Bad Day (From Heartbreaker – Guitar and Violin Cover by The Last City)

***

My Chemical Romance – I Don’t Love You (Violin and Guitar Cover by The Last City)

***

Justin Timberlake – Amnesia (Cover by The Last City)

***

OneRepublic- Love Runs Out (Cover by The Last City)

***

Damien Rice – What If I’m Wrong (Acoustic Cover by Adam from The Last City)

***

Ed Sheeran- Sing (Violin and Guitar Cover by The Last City)

“That Guy” Entry Fourteen: Right and Right?

everything belongs

There’s nothing like having everything you cling so tightly to challenged…and then cracked…and then slowly eroded away.  Admittedly, “everything” might be a bit of an overstatement, but as with all “life changing experiences” the fallout is never as evident in the beginning as it is decades down the road.  Seemingly meaningless events, words, and images have a way of psychologically snowballing, and I think an open-minded perusal of Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr could be a catalyst.

***

I read a book before getting married called His Brain, Her Brain.   View full article »

jt-20-20-experience-cover

Justin Timberlake’s third album was much anticipated and,  from what I read, not quite up to the task.  But how could it be?  Having to follow up Future Sex/Love Sounds is hard enough; taking six years between albums while expectations build beyond what is feasible doesn’t help either.  With both factors against him, I have to say Justin delivered…even though apparently, this is just stage one. View full article »

Rob Bell Strikes Again

When I first heard about Love Wins, I was a bit worried.  I mean, I loved Rob Bell’s earlier work, what was this?  And then when I heard an interview where he defended the book on Unbelievable, I was incredibly impressed by the verbal tap dancing he was able to pull out to avoid answering the questions everyone wanted to hear.  Then I heard about him resigning from Mars Hill, and figured it was the end of an era.  I went to his website and subscribed to his newsletters, just out of sheer curiosity to see if he would back pedal, offer a better explanation or just fade into obscurity.  Then I got the email about his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.  And I was sitting in an airport in the middle of a 12 hour layover and thought “sure…what the heck”.

Rob Bell

***

I began reading it and finished it within 48 hours.  So, a quick blurb about what this book is about, why I would recommend it to Christians and Non-Christians alike and why I will probably be reading it again in the future.

First his own take on it…

“God appears to be more and more a reflection of whoever it is that happens to be talking about God at the moment.” View full article »

5 Things I Had to Unlearn About Christianity

Unfortunately, there are times when good intentions are not enoughand the church is one of those places where this is most true.  The church attracts such a wide assortment of people with such a wide breadth of expectations, that it is very easy to even subconsciously inject your own personality into the words you share or to perpetuate half-truths with whole-hearted conviction.  Which is why I had to unlearn a few things I would have sworn were gospel truth.  To start, Paul said it best…

“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely…”  Philippians 1:15-18

Not every one who misinterprets a verse should be condemned a heretic, and few who take up the title of teacher are saints.  Here are my top 5 things that I was led to believe, consciously or subconsciously, in good intentions or ill, throughout my years in the church.
1)  Every verse stands alone and is written to me- View full article »