Monday, April 30, 2007

Sing Him a New Song?

I recently got the chance to speak to a Jr. high and high school group about Christian art and how it is our responsibility as believers to make the best works possible to glorify God. After giving the talk I was convicted about my rule as a worship leader. I don't have an official rule, but in the Bible study my wife and I attend I typically lead the worship. I've long felt that there needs to be new worship music written in the Church, music which better glorifies God. So I decided that since my thesis is (basically) finished, I should work on writing some new songs. For the last hour I played the guitar and tried to come up with something, but everything I write sounds superficial, phony, mediated, trivial, or irreverent. I want to write something that evokes that loving awe we should have for God, something which isn't focused on "me" and "I," something that sounds like it is humble before the Lord instead of just saying it is. I don't know where to start. Any ideas? Help? Pointers? Advice?

For some of my other thoughts on this topic, read this old blog post.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mumbles Hip-Hop Reviews Points, Thoughts, and Stories

This review is a little disappointing. No one can accuse us of denying the bad reviews. Although, technically we get a 7/10, the language suggests otherwise. However, it does end on the optimistic note that they believe the next album will be better. What do you'all expect, this is our first album!

"The album consists of nice instrumentals and a mixture of west coast and alternative Hip Hop. Noneuclidean and Offbeat both provide very positive raps and their lyrical content is very poetic and they demonstrate that in each track the art of story telling and opinons."
Read the Entire Mumbles Review here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Discovering Truth in Literature

It is one of the most fulfilling feelings in life to read a passage from a book, hear a lyric, or see a painting which perfectly captures some deep truth about life that you have always felt but have never been able to articulate. Today, in the Antelope Valley where I live, it is dark, gloomy, and overcast. I think I have always felt a deep melancholy when night falls and the world around is flooded with false lights struggling futilely against the darkness. It seems to have inherently held a symbolic meaning for me, suggesting the hubris of man and yet also his desperate desire to live life indifferent to, or in denial of human and natural corruption. I was reading Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native today and was surprised to find that Hardy finds this same symbolism in man's war against the night:
Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light. (The Return of the Native)
When I find art perfectly reflecting Truths like this, Truths that I cannot express in direct language, it reaffirms for me the purpose, and value of art.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Review/Article on the Road

The following is an article I wrote and shopped around to see if I could get it published. I figured since the Road was just given a Pulitzer, someone would be interested in an article, but no luck. I'm tired of getting rejection letters, so I'm just going to post it here. Enjoy!

Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, John Updike. Which of these authors is not like the others? Last year, the New York Times put out a list of the “Best Work of American Fiction of the Past 25 Years.” Toni Morrison’s Beloved earned the top honors, but the first runner-up was Blood Meridian, perhaps the most brutally violent work of all of American literature, written by a reclusive resident of Texas named Cormac McCarthy. Before the New York Times published this list, McCarthy’s greatest claims to fame would likely be the film adaptation of his novel All the Pretty Horses (the novel version of which was an honorable mention on the list along with two other McCarthy novels) staring Matt Damon and the repeated claims of aging literary critic Harold Bloom that Blood Meridian is one of the best works of American fiction of all time. According to Bloom, and many others, McCarthy will likely become as well known as Morrison, Roth, DeLillo, and Updike in the coming years. What is so surprising about this is how greatly McCarthy’s works differ from those of the other great contemporary American authors. While Morrison attempts to wrestle with what it means to be haunted by the past, the events and effects that slavery and racism brought about, with what it means to be African-American, McCarthy writes about American soldiers who scalp Indians for the Mexican government without any commentary on colonization, oppression, or race relations. While DeLillo explores the new, commercialized horror of living in a world completely submerged by the media and late-capitalism, and ironically laments the mediation of death and the futility of dieing authentically, McCarthy strips the world of all superstructures and ideals and focuses on one question: why live? In the author’s latest work The Road (which was just chosen by Oprah for her book club and awarded a Pulitzer on Monday), he moves further ideologically from his postmodern contemporaries and seems to make a claim for the importance of religion in both our personal and intellectual lives. In doing so, he crafts a gripping tale of survival and the transcendent importance of a father-son relationship.

The Road follows the story of a father and son (who remain nameless throughout the novel) as they learn how and why they should survive in an utterly desolate world. The father and son make their way south through a wasted earth (destroyed by some unspoken disaster), avoiding bands of cannibals, and searching for canned food, all the while questioning if they are the “good guys” or not. The Road might sound more like a 70’s B-movie than a work of great fiction, but that’s all part of McCarthy’s genius: he is able to place his characters in settings that are typically used to explore social or political issues and yet never address those issues. We don’t know what happened to the earth, all we are told is that there was “a series of low concussions” and that the father started filling his bathtub right away. McCarthy carefully leaves nearly all possibilities open: it could have been a natural disaster, a meteor, a nuclear war, just about anything. Each of these possibilities opens up a set of related political issues that would necessitate commentary, and I doubt any of his contemporaries would have passed up such a chance were they in his shoes, but McCarthy has bigger fish to fry.

It is easy to read The Road as an exploration of nihilism, or at least extreme pessimism, if you ignore the father/son relationship. The landscape of the novel is a wasteland like no other: brutal, ugly, gray, and a mere shell of the world that had been. The man and the boy are perpetually hungry, cold, and alone. The reader is propelled through the narrative by a sense of impending tragedy. But amongst this darkness shines the light of the boy and his father. There are essentially three worldviews presented in the book: the mother, the father, and the boy. The mother of the boy kills herself before the story takes place because she believes that they are doomed: “Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They’ll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us.” The father believes that life is worth living, but only to keep his son alive. Finally, the boy challenges both of his parents worldviews by believing in a Christ-like, love-thy-neighbor philosophy when his neighbors are cannibals. He rejects the rationalist beliefs of his mother and the humanist stance of his father, and in doing so makes a claim for the validity of faith---Christian faith at that, in the modern world.

The boy was born into the demolished world; his only connection to the culture and society of the past is his father. What is so striking about this character is that he remains the moral center of the novel without having ever been exposed to the ideas of morality and ethics from modern culture. In fact, much of the novel is comprised of the father acting to keep them alive and the boy questioning whether or not the actions were moral, whether or not the acts made them the “good guys.” In this role, the boy seems to function as a Christ-figure (a fact that is not missed by the father who once suggests to a destitute old man that the boy might be a god: “What if I said that he’s a god?” (145)). At one point in the story, the cart which they use to carry all their supplies is stolen by a starving bandit. The father catches the thief and forces him to strip down and put everything he owns in the cart. The boy protests, “Papa please dont kill the man,” knowing that without food and covering he will die. But echoing the Old Testament ethos of an “eye for an eye,” the father contends that his actions are just since the thief, “didnt mind doing it to us.” After they leave the man to die, the boy cries and confronts his father:

Just help him, Papa. Just help him.
The man looked back up the road.
He was just hungry, Papa. He’s going to die.
He’s going to die anyway.

The boy here urges his father to have a Christ like love and turn the other cheek. To which the father replies:
You’re not the one who has to worry about everything.
The boy said something but he couldnt understand him. What? he said.
He looked up, his wet and grimy face. Yes I am, he said. I am the one.

This claim to be “the one,” the “I am,” in the context of this conversation clearly establishes the boy’s symbolic representation of Christ. By the end of the novel it is apparent that McCarthy wants to suggest that Christianity, albeit an unorthodox version, might be the only way to live (or to desire to keep living) in our world filled with violent and selfish people.

The Road might be one of the best works of apologetics published in 2006; it is also a captivating tale of a father/son relationship and a suspenseful horror story. It seems that one of the greatest authors of our time is not an atheist member of the postmodern intelligentsia, but a reclusive old man in Texas who writes of bloodshed, death, violence, truth, love, and faith.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Absurd Pursuit of Happiness

Today I read this article: The Pursuit of Happiness in Perspective by Darrin M McMahon. The premise is that our modern society has gained an altogether unhealthy obsession with "happiness." McMahon sees examples of this phenomenon throughout modern life. What was particularly interesting to me was the underlying idea (which he hints at in his conclusion) that happiness cannot be attained directly. Instead, we must believe in a purpose for our existence which will in turn make us happy. To me, at least, this is an example, evidence, of God's creation. We are creatures who cannot find happiness in the pursuit of happiness but only in the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

McMahon also suggests that nearly all major modern religions have pandered to this obsession; Why become a Christian? Why because you'll be happy of course! Are you unhappy with your current life? Live a fulfilled life (I.E. happiness) with Christ! Anyone who has spent time in or around the Church has heard or read statements similar to these. Notice how uncomfortably related these words are to a diet pill ad: Are you unhappy with your current life? Live a fulfilled life as a thin person! Or perhaps a dating service: Are you unhappy with your current life? Live a fulfilled life with that special someone!

It's true. I am more joyful, more fulfilled as a follower of Christ than when I was not. But McMahon's accusation about the modern Church cannot be ignored. One outcome of my faith is joy, but to isolate this one effect and represent it in the same manner as pharmaceutical companies sell diet pills is to trivialize Christ's work on the cross and to reduce my personal relationship with Christ to the equivalent of mystical Zoloft.

In reality, my walk with Christ often times involves suffering, in fact, it always does. Suffering, sorrow (HE was a Man of sorrows. Consider that for a moment.), persecution, etc. We must be conscious in our language, witness, and articulation of the Gospel so that unbelievers like McMahon will see the Christian faith not as another "option" in the narcissistic quest for happiness, but rather as Truth; a Truth that demands our all, even our happiness--for a time.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yet Another SoberMinded Album Review

Yeah, I know we released this album almost a year ago, but whenever we find a new place to send the CD to get reviewed we usually take the time to send it. Although our sophomore album is a ways off due to my studies, this album review might be just what you need to get you to finally break down and buy "Points, Thoughts, and Stories."

I just found this review by Trailblazin' Ministries, and it's quite favorable:

"When I talk about Christian rap, an album that speaks to more than just the Bible, but society at large & how we can put Christ in it. Points, Thoughts, and Stories is a solid album, and a definite pick-up for those who like music that makes you put on your thinking cap."

Read the full review here.

Reading things like this really makes me want to continue doing Hip-Hop. Although they point out a few flaws in the album, they are nothing I would disagree with. And they seem to get it. I was really concerned when we recorded this album that we would sound too preachy or corny. But God really worked through us to make something that was descent. I was also worried that no one would get it, that if we were able to avoid cheesyness would instead fall into pretentiousness. But from the few reviews we've received in seems that people understand our ideas and are not put off.

Now if I can only finish this stupid Thesis maybe we can get working on the next albun...