“Bloodshot” by The Choir Deeply Satisfies

It’s difficult to envision veteran Christian alt rockers The Choir being in the company of country artists back when it was barely out of its teens, a time finding artists such as The Carter Family, Bob Willis, and Bill Monroe routinely crisscrossing the country planting seeds of a genre they created. Also, it’s not that Bloodshot, The Choir’s new album, is in any sense a country album. However, there is a common thread; more on this in a bit.

Throughout its career The Choir has with graceful ease traversed between atmospheric and near avant-garde, musically built around Derri Daugherty’s sometimes dreamy and at other moments razor slice guitar while Steve Hindalong’s lyrics have purposefully plumbed relationships, life fragments, and faith through a poet’s eyes. In this respect Bloodshot is no different than its predecessors. The Choir have for decades made extremely even albums, never failing to deliver something solid wrapped within textural diversity. Bloodshot, however, has some twists revealing Messrs. Daugherty and Hindalong, plus Tim Chandler on bass and Dan Michaels on assorted reed instruments, are still more than capable of bringing something new to the turntable.

Bloodshot is in many ways the most straightforward album The Choir has ever recorded. Not that the music is an exercise in formulaic commercial ear candy; rather, the songs are simpler without being simplistic: more direct, more immediately accessible. Daugherty frequently employs strummed chords as a foundation upon which to bounce his effects-rich electric work, using it to create far more guitar interplay than is present in most Choir efforts. Even when there is but one guitar present, Daugherty accomplishes the rare feat of creating multiple sound swirls dancing around each other, always perfectly meshed within the song in lieu of drawing attention to themselves alone.

The album also differs lyrically from the majority of prior albums in that it is far more heavily relationship-focused. Not that faith is being dismissed, but on Bloodshot Hindalong is at his most playful and celebratory of love between two people. This is the album you play for those who deride Christian music as bereft of romance.

Where the album harkens back to country’s emerging years is in its songs at their core. They are solid, uncomplicated, and tuneful; the essence of country long before it went cosmopolitan. It is not difficult to hear the compositions and picture them coming out of a dome-shaped AM radio, performed by a small acoustic ensemble in some station’s studio designed for live music. Whether this is intentional or unplanned is something only The Choir can answer, but regardless it is there.

It’s easy, and sadly all too common, for an established band to trot out the same ol’ same ol’ album after album, knowing this will satisfy the vast majority of their audience. The Choir think and act differently. Bloodshot isn’t a radical departure, but rather a superb exploration of songs and sounds fused together, creating a record that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

The album is available for preorder on iTunes.

A Liberation Front That Has Nothing To Do With Politics

In the early to mid 1970s, commercials for Mennen Skin Bracer aftershave were a staple of network television, especially sports programming. The tag line was simple: after the announcer deeply intoned how Skin Bracer’s skin tightner and chin chillers wake you up like a cold slap in the face, a man would slap some on – always twice – and end the commercial with, “Thanks – I needed that.” While minister, teacher, musician, and author Kemper Crabb’s aftershave preference is known but to himself and immediate family, he has taken Skin Bracer’s message to heart. His book Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church is a Scriptural muscle-guided slap in the face to both individual believers and the church as a whole calling them, and it, back to the Biblically-ordained role and power the church has been divinely ordained to uphold in earth and in heaven.

Crabb is a Renaissance man, not only in how his music over the years has often referenced said era and earlier both musically and lyrically, but in his thorough knowledge of both Scripture and history. He makes his case both straight from the Bible and early church teachers/teachings that church membership is vital to every believer, alongside this outlining and then carefully detailing what Crabb labels the church’s seven modes (Romance, Family, Body, Temple, Pillar and Ground of Truth, Weapon, Liberating Army). Throughout the text Crabb exhorts, challenges, and confronts the reader to discard what he perceives as an emasculated view of the church’s role in society on all levels, instead embracing the Scriptural mandates and promised empowerment to be an effective force in first the lives of believers and from there the lives of others.

The book is not a mere recitation of the Riot Act to Christians equally afraid of their own shadow and determined to go it alone. Crabb points out that the way to genuine peace in Christ comes through embracing His divine empowerment, and its corresponding ramifications, in both the present day heavenly places and here on Earth. In his view, the church is painfully shortchanging itself, and its members painfully shortchanging themselves, by failing to embrace and live out the nearly unimaginable strengths available for the asking once the entirety of Biblical guidelines and promises are accepted, with tremendous emphasis on the neglected if not outright rejected supernatural portions of true life in Christ.

Liberation Front is not an easy read on multiple fronts. Crabb refuses to dumb down his writing, and as noted the book is void of warm spiritual-sounding fuzzies designed to make the reader feel good about him or herself regardless of where they are in life. But for the believer seeking adherence to, and clarification of, his or her true place in the church, the church’s true place in the world, and what God has in mind for His Bridegroom the Church, Liberation Front is as vital and mind/heart/soul-expanding as it gets in today’s world.

The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Genuine

What does it mean to be genuine?

On the surface, that might seem like a rather odd, and obvious, question. Being genuine means being real. It entails authenticity. It incorporates truthful thoughts and emotions, working together with heart, soul, and spirit to be who we actually are, not who we think we are or wish to be. Or at least it ought to. Simple enough.

That said, being genuine does not always imply positives. If someone is an open-faced jerk, liar, abuser, or what have you, they are to their infinitesimally minute credit at least making no pretense regarding their character, or to be more precise lack thereof. Being genuine is hardly automatic eligibility for receiving time off due to good behavior.

Very few are genuine about what tears at them from within or without. The abuse victim carefully disguises her bruises with makeup and her emotional/mental scars with rationalizations they are somehow just punishment for her sins. The addict hides the bottle or weed or pills or syringe or powder or crystals from all save fellow addicts, to everyone else denying there is any problem while insisting they are complete masters of their preferred poison. The person being chewed up and spit out by the depression monster puts on the happiest of faces as they publicly trip the light fantastic and privately desperately try to not trip over their lying mind’s monotrack insistence there is no relief and no hope. We dream of peace and love. Far too many among us find neither.

Far too many of us also do what we can to avoid the genuine, for the genuine bears truth and truth can be most unkind to our aforementioned beliefs regarding who we are as compared to, well, truth. Many seek diversion via what athletes refer to as false hustle. False hustle makes a great show of demonstrating determination and grit. In fact, it is empty showboating, an attempt to window dress affecting that which is already determined. An example of this is a baseball player ferociously chasing down a foul pop up that everyone in the ballpark knows will land ten rows back in the seats. Outside of sports, false hustle commonly manifests itself as purporting oneself to be providing a great service by doing a great work when in Realville it is so much bell ringing within an echo chamber.

So what to do? The master of both shimmering pop and soul stripped bare blues says it best:

Seize the moment now
There’s so little time before it’s gone
Redemption is at hand
No matter what chemical you’ve taken on
And if you use another plan
It’s got to be the Genuine

The One Great Genuine is Christ, crucified and risen. Yet there are other elements of genuine. The kind word, the listening ear, the lifting up of a fellow ragtag soldier as each helps carry the other through this world’s minefields; these, too, are genuine. Such things are often drowned out in a world that mistakes drawing attention as validation. Yet they, not the noisemakers, are genuine.

Seek the genuine.

“Songs For The Ritually Abused” by Rose is brutal brilliance

Last week, most of the world gasped in horror at the sight of children in Manchester, most of them girls, being blown apart for the crime of attending a pop concert. I say most; the satanic jihadists celebrated even as some among the oh so pure Konservative Kool Kidz Klub sneered how Ariana Grande had it coming because she’s said and done stupid stuff, and by default her audience as well for not knowing they’re not supposed to support someone not bearing the official seal of approval. Because, after all, every eight year old girl should be full up on politics.

The latter losers notwithstanding – and they have no place standing with anyone who has a heart – the terrorist attack was only one side of the war on children, specifically girls; sudden, brutal. There is another face of the war against children usually hidden from sight: the slow death of those ritually abused by adults. Be it sexual, this occasionally bubbling to the surface when another child pornography aficionado and/or sex trafficker is arrested, physical, emotional/mental/spiritual; it lives among us and almost always out of sight. As are its victims, who either put on a forced happy face to hide the truth, disappear from public view, or wind up in a morgue unless their lifeless body is thrown out with the trash. The abuse often doesn’t end at childhood’s end, as the obscenely high number of abused wives and girlfriends can attest once the swelling from their latest bouquet of physical or emotional/mental/spiritual bruises subsides. This noted, it is of the children this post speaks.

This is the world musician Randy Rose exposes in his latest offering Songs For The Ritually Abused. Rose, along with his brother Roger, is fondly remembered by hardcore Christian rock fans from his days in synth to hard rock Mad At The World. Currently working with his own band bearing his last name, Rose successfully went to the Kickstarter well last year to finance a new recording he promised would be anything but, well, roses and rose-colored stained glass windows. A few hiccups hindered the release schedule, but the album is now out. It is raw and real.

Musically, for those unaware of Rose’s sound the best comparison would be to think of Muse with the melodrama turned down and the snarl turned up to 11. Melody is often delivered with the business end of a fuzztone sledgehammer. There are quiet moments, but for the most part Songs For The Ritually Abused is pounding mid-tempo fury. It’s not metal nor goth, but fans of each genre as well as those attracted by anthems will find plenty to sink their teeth into even as the music bares its own teeth.

Lyrically, the only words that accurately capture the album’s horror and hope are its own:

You were ritually abused…battered, bloodied and bruised
But Jesus is calling your name and Girl, you’ll never be the same
Tears stain my cheek for the one who couldn’t speak
Sweet little Girl…

I know everything’s gonna be fine
Girl, I know He’ll wipe the tears from your eyes
So close your eyes and dream of things
Close your eyes and dream of things
So close your eyes and dream of things that
You thought that you’d never see

Beautiful Girl…

Havilah, your time has come
And now you get to speak…

You can speak.

For example. Other songs cut even deeper, exposing and calling out the monsters who abuse children while proclaiming Christ’s love in action for victims. It is a fearsome, brutally effective tour de force.

Songs For The Ritually Abused will not make anyone want to hit the dance floor, and it’s extremely doubtful the average Ariana Grande fan will find much, if anything, here to her liking. That said, it is precisely for her fans seeking solace in her music as an escape from their private hell that this album was made. If it moves people to action confronting this evil, or serves as a lifeline for those unwillingly described in its words, with this album Randy Rose has accomplished God’s work.

The album is available at Amazon, CD Baby, direct from the record label, iTunes, and Rose’s website.

Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (But Richie Furay Sure Can)

NOTE: This post was first published on DaTechGuy Blog.

Following up on last week’s kvetch regarding conservative new media talking a great game when it comes to impacting culture, yet near-unanimously failing to do so, an introduction to someone who walks the talk. And has been doing so for quite some time.

Ritchie Furay pastors a church in Broomfield, Colorado, some thirteen miles southeast of Boulder. He is an unassuming man who looks far younger than his seventy-two tours of duty on this planet might suggest. He and his wife have been together going on forty-eight years, with kids and grandkids a-plenty. And lest one wonder “gee, that’s nice and all, but what does this have to do with changing the culture …”

… he’s also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Back in the 1960s, when popular music was beginning to rediscover its long neglected role as social commentary’s voice, there was for a brief time a band that proved seminal both in its impact on a generation of music, culminating with the Eagles, and on modern culture as a whole with its lyrical bent. Even as important as the band was, its members work after disbanding proved to be crucial in musical and societal change. The band was Buffalo Springfield. One of its three-headed monster leadership? Richie Furay.

Although as far as public recognition Furay remains well behind Buffalo Springfield’s other main members, namely Stephen Stills and Neil Young, Furay was a vital element of the band’s sound on all fronts: guitar, vocals, and songwriter. His “Kind Woman” became a staple of the band’s catalog, a track that perfectly captured what at the time was a revolutionary and hitherto unimaginable fusion of country and rock. Turn on any modern country radio station and you will hear the full impact of Furay’s work. He did not singlehandedly invent country rock, but Furay was one of the first artists, if not the very first artist, to make it work.

Following Buffalo Springfield’s demise, Furay rounded up a bunch of like-minded artists for a new band named Poco. Poco never made major headway commercially, but was revered by its fans and peers for refining the country-rock genre. Furay eventually left the band to get together with fellow veteran artists J.D. Souther and Chris Hillman; it was during this period in 1974 when Furay came to Christ. Over the subsequent years Furay has focused more on pastoral duties than music, although he still records and performs. And, as the following clip from his most recent album recorded a couple of years ago showcases, he still has his songwriting chops, presented via his clear with just a touch of twang tenor, hitting the high notes without breaking a sweat:

At this point, one might think “gee, that’s nice and all, but I’m still not getting what this has to do with changing the culture.” Bear with; we’re getting there.

Richie Furay breaks the mold of rock artists by being a full-bore unapologetic conservative. He routinely speaks up about political views on his Facebook page, where he equally routinely politely and directly engages with his fans. Which in and of itself breaks the mold of most rock stars and celebrities who prefer maintaining as much of a distance from their fans as possible.

Wait, you didn’t know that? Not surprising.

Here’s the deal. Want to read more about Furay; his music, faith, and political views? Hmm, let’s see. RedState? Nope. HotAir? Nada. Breitbart? Nyet. Not a word.

Try Rolling Stone.

It unfailingly amuses and saddens how conservative blogs and the people who write them can endlessly tonguebathe themselves about the great and mighty service they are providing in molding and shaping public opinion. Problem is, they’re not. Outside the echo chamber, no one knows they exist. Even within the echo chamber they change nothing. Remember the #NeverTrump torrent that poured forth daily from the high rollers? Boy, that sure changed things in favor of President-elect Rubio and … oh, wait …

Maybe it’s time to change course. These folk know the definition of insanity, correct? Then why continue to do the same thing that has repeatedly proven to not be worth, and not work, a lick?

Try talking about someone with a good guitar lick. Try something other than another rewrite rehash of today’s talking points and MSM regurgitation. Instead of blabbing all politics, all the time, all the same, write something people actually want to read. Talk about a musician. Discuss an author. Review a movie. Tell a story about what is happening, or has happened, in your or a friend’s life. In short, give someone other than hardcore political junkies a reason to read anything you write.

No one is asking anyone to disavow their political beliefs. What is being suggested is political bloggers embracing reality. You are not changing anyone. No one knows you exist. You are a one note, one trick pony in a dog and pony show playing to an empty circus tent. Stop.

Reach out. Branch out. Write like a human being for human beings. You engage culture when you engage people. Start.

And along the way, talk up great music by a good man.

Geoff Moore’s “The Next Thing” a welcome return to the heartland

Geoff Moore was one of the 1990s least likely contemporary Christian music stars. He wasn’t a pretty pop boy. His music at its heart was heartland rock, Americana with its rougher edges polished; the stuff out of which artists such as John Mellencamp and Michael Stanley Band made their careers. Nothing grating, but hardly soft pop radio-friendly fodder. Nevertheless, he enjoyed a lengthy and quite successful run before things naturally wound down as times and tastes changed. The kids do not know his music’s roots, let alone the music itself. They have never heard it, nor heard of it. The music industry has long since chosen megachurch-friendly praise and worship tuneage as its stock in trade. Not much room for music made for a rural back porch; straightforward songs of praise and ground level connection with Christ sung with fellowship, friend, and family in-between watching the kids and dogs and cats chase each other around the yard.

After a five year absence, Moore has returned with the crowdsourced The Next Thing. From the opening notes and word of “The Well Digger,” sparse instrumentation backing rich harmonies imploring all to remember not only the working person whose labor brings fruit all enjoy but the God Who creates all, it is beautifully obvious Moore is not only back making music, but back at full strength.

The Next Thing is a fairly quiet but never flaccid record. The ballads do not lack intensity or energy. Moore isn’t about rocking anyone’s socks off, but neither is he inclined to turn things down. The melodies are comforting; the guitar-rich backing strong but never cloying or overbearing. Strong songs, well done but never overdone.

Lyrically, Moore keeps it fairly simple but never simplistic. His message is roots to branches, one in which grounded fundamentals of the faith, and deep faith itself, direct a person through all aspects of life. Moore addresses societal issues from the inside out. It is the individual’s personal transformation through and in Jesus radiating outward that creates movement and change.

Freed from commercial restraints, The Next Thing is Moore playing to his strengths. He superbly maintains his identity as Christian rock’s backroads poet. With solid songwriting and equally solid faith Moore has created something of true value. Hopefully The Next Thing will find its deserving audience beyond long-time fans alone and truly become the next thing.

The record is available at Moore’s website.

Out Of The Grey’s “A Little Light Left” brilliantly shines

I’m not sure when it changed, but in the past few years I’ve noticed more “my kid(s) is/are back in school” social media posts in mid- and even early August. Whatever happened to school starting back up in early September? Apparently that has gone the way of having to have gotten off the couch and walked across the shag carpet to turn a knob if you wanted to watch a different television channel. Or, as they were known in the murky past, stations. But I digress.

Understandably accompanying said posts are parental musings combining justified pride at their children’s accomplishments and wondering aloud who knows where the time goes. The child seen seemingly yesterday playing in the back yard is now packing books for high school or packing the car for college. The nights are long, but the years are short when you’re alive. Where did my baby boy or girl go?

Enter Out Of The Grey. When the husband and wife combo of Scott and Christine Dente first emerged in the early ‘90s Christian music scene, they were noticeable for their sophisticated adult rock style and being the most ridiculously good looking couple working in the genre. After more than a decade away from it all, the Dentes returned last year with the crowdsourcing funded A Little Light Left. For some inexplicable reason I neglected to review this gem when it first arrived. Hopefully this belated commentary will make amends.

Leaving artists to their own devices can be a dangerous thing. Some need an outside guiding hand to steer them in the right direction and/or challenge them to do their best. This duly noted, some artists thrive when serving as chef, cook, and bottle washer. The Dentes are most definitely in the latter camp. Freed from commercial concerns, they have woven a truly magical musical carpet of acoustic sunrise rock; sparse, precinct textures atop the foundation of Scott Dente’s understated acoustic guitar mastery. The sound is relaxed without slipping into lazy complacency, topped by Christine Dente’s sweet, heartfelt vocals with occasional effective accompaniment by her husband. If their vocal blend on “Giving Up Slow” doesn’t grab your heart in all the right ways, you’re doing it wrong.

The years have not dulled Out Of The Grey’s songwriting skills. Melodies are pure and comforting, backed with inventive structures and arrangement. Everything makes sense; nothing is included for the sake of ‘because we can.’ The Dentes understand that less is more without always stripping everything raw for “authenticity’s” sake. A Little Light Left makes no apologies for being warm and approachable without pandering to the lowest common pop denominator.

Lyrically, A Little Light Left addresses the concerns of middle age as seen through the eyes of faith. In the Dente’s word pictures, relationships deepen and mature as time passes. Children grow up regardless of wishes for all to somehow remain the same, as expressed with simple love in “Bubble Girl”:

And what she don’t know, she don’t know
And what she’s going to find, she’s going to find
Tell her for me to take her time
Take her time

Every parent of a daughter can relate.

On all fronts, A Little Light Left is a superb album. It touches heart, mind, and soul without heavy-handedness or cheap emotional manipulation. The album gracefully, skillfully reassures its listeners that they are not alone in simultaneously enjoying the passing days and wishing that somehow once in a while time would remain fixed at a single moment of joy. And for the record, the Dentes are still a ridiculously good looking couple making equally ridiculously great music.

The album is available at the Dente’s website, CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes.

Daniel Amos’ “Doppelgänger” still twice as good as most everything else

Daniel Amos has made Doppelgänger, its 1983 album and second part of The ¡Alarma! Chronicles quartet of albums, available on its Bandcamp site. Any reason to talk about Daniel Amos is worth seizing, but this news makes it all the easier to discuss this brilliant outing that still speaks with power thirty-three years after its release.

Doppelgänger rocks a bit harder than its predecessor ¡Alarma!, the album on which Daniel Amos made the full transition from country rock to what was then called new wave. While Doppelgänger retains much of ¡Alarma!’s nervous, quirky energy, it also is far more at peace with itself. Terry Taylor and company took full advantage of having previously clearly establishing their musical direction, not hesitating to include relatively straightforward rockers such as “Memory Lane” and “Little Crosses” alongside somewhat heavier variations on existing new wave stylings in the presence of “Mall (All Over The World)” and the album’s best track “The Double.” Combining this with faint but unmistakable strains of the band’s original Beach Boys meets Bakersfield country vibe, Doppelgänger manages the rare feat of being both eminently danceable and melodically memorable.

Lyrically, Doppelgänger moves gracefully, if not delicately, between introspection and sarcasm aimed at the rampant materialism and false piety that permeated the world of then-popular television evangelists. This makes some of the references dated, but the bite is clear even to those who have no memory of The PTL Club and variations thereof. Terry Taylor has long been Christian rock’s thinking man, and his resulting skill in dissecting hypocrisy while not sparing himself the same critical examination through, as he would later write, the tired eyes of faith makes Doppelgänger as much a challenging feast for the mind as it is a dancing call to the feet.

Doppelgänger was a revelation when it was released; the album a Christian could take to his or her non-believing rocker friends that proved Christians could make great cutting edge rock‘n’roll. It was and is a child of its time, yet after a quarter of a century Doppelgänger is still twice as good as most everything else out there.

Kemper Crabb explains how speaking the truth in love equals speaking truth and love

As the world sinks further into madness, seldom in history has humanity’s need for truth and love been more apparent. In this part of my ongoing interview with Kemper Crabb, minister, usician, and author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, discusses how speaking the truth and speaking in love are not incompatible. Actually, the two are essential.

 

The book is not an easy read, which as you stated in it is the intention. It is designed to shake up the reader. Yet the book also inspires, pointing out the living riches promised the believer who acts upon the Scriptural dictates you highlight. It is reminiscent of Christ’s mix of exhortational and comfort – “carry your cross; deny yourself; anyone who loves their family more than Me is not worthy of Me” alongside “My yoke is easy and My burden light.” How do you, as a minister, balance the two?

O.K., well, you’re absolutely right to say that Jesus’ Message brought both warning (or exhortation, as you said) and comfort. In some ways, these two categories are just two sides of the same thing seen from slightly different perspectives. Context, of course, is always important though many of us are not used to seeing Scriptural passages in context because the largely topical approach of consumer-oriented methods generally cherry-picks passages to emphasize a particular point. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think topical preaching is bad. I don’t; though I do think that there’s a paucity of real exegetical, verse-by-verse teaching going on in the churches at this time. But I digress.

You mentioned a couple of examples of exhortational teaching on Jesus’ Part: Matthew 16:24 (or maybe the parallel passages in Mark 8:34 or Luke 9:23) where Jesus tells His Disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” But then Jesus goes on to give this statement its sort of motivational context in verse 25: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My Sake will find it.” This follows in all three of the Synoptic Gospels just the same. You could even have included Jesus’ Warning in Matthew 10:38 about this: “And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me,” which is smack-dab in the middle of the other warning passage you quoted, Matthew 10:38, part of a larger passage in Matthew 10:32-39 (which, providentially, I preached on just last week).

The passage in Matthew 10 is the one where Jesus says He didn’t come to bring peace, but rather a sword (verse 34) and to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (verses 35-36), following which He says in verse 37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” after which Jesus says that whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him.

All of this, of course, seems very dire and downer-ish, and in many ways it is. But Jesus, again, gives the passage its context when, in verses 32 and 33, just before what I’ve quoted here, He tells us: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in Heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father Who is in Heaven.” This whole passage here is about primary, fundamental identification with Christ Jesus as both our Source and Redeemer; as the God Whose Will and Path are the very reason for our existence. We are not to be confused as to what our ultimate source and reason for being is, and our families are only our proximate sources and secondary reasons for being. If we confuse the ultimate and the proximate here (even here, where our families are generally massively central and important to us), we commit idolatry; we make our family members idols.

And, of course, back in Jesus’ Time even as now, family members frequently demand primary loyalties above anything else, even if their demand interferes with God’s Demands. This was especially true in New Testament times (as it still is in more traditional societies) where familial loyalty is seen as THE primary loyalty.

But, as Jesus teaches here, we cannot put those loves or loyalties, good as they may be in most cases, above our love and loyalty to Jesus. To do so is to deny Him, and to in turn be denied His Loyalty before the Father. This is a dire situation because we live, outside of a primary relationship with Christ, under the Condemnation and Wrath of God, as Jesus tells us in John 3, verses 18-20 and in verse 36. This is a miserable situation, which Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:1-3 where he describes the life of those outside of a relationship with Christ, as we all once were, as being “dead in trespasses and sins,” and “by nature children of wrath,” and, in Ephesians 4:17-19, as living with darkened understanding in the futility of our minds. Worse, to end life outside of a relationship with Christ causes you to be condemned to an eternity of torment separated from the Goodness of God in Hell (Revelation 20:11-15). A dire situation indeed.

This life of darkened futility and death as a result of humanity’s rebellion and Fall has bent us so that we naturally want to be our own standard of meaning. Truth is the “self:” our own self-referential darkness which leads us to value family, or our own desires, or our own futile plans to save our own lives above losing our own self-referential life for Jesus’ Sake so that He can truly save our lives (Matthew 16:25).

When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow Him, He is demanding that we do as He did: put aside our preferences and wishes and do instead what we are intended by God to do in the first place: His Desires, Intentions, and Plans, just as Jesus did by going to the Cross to die as a sacrifice for our sins (Philippians 2:4-10; Matthew 26:37-44). Further, the Command to take up our cross reminds us that the only way we can be free of our darkened, futile selves is to be joined by faith to the Sacrifice of Christ for us on the Cross (Romans 6:3-14; Colossians 2:10-14).

The Church has always seen this Demand of Jesus as a reference both to justification and sanctification, to being initially saved or redeemed by the imputation of Jesus’ Righteousness to us in our identification with Him by God (justification) as well as the subsequent path to being renewed more fully into the Image of Christ by the ongoing exercise of putting the Lord’s Will above our own (sanctification).

We should see these demands in Matthew 10 and 16 as being driven by God’s Love for us urging us away from a life of death and darkened futility toward one of renewal and joy. Life outside of a relationship with the Lord Jesus is living death and onerous struggle and darkened futility. By contrast, life in relationship to Christ is unbelievably better. This is the context for what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My Yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am Gentle and Lowly of Heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My Yoke is easy and My Burden is light.”

You’ll note that there is still a yoke and a burden to be borne, though comparatively easy and light ones since the alternative, as we’ve seen, is futility, death, and darkness. This would also likely have been a liberating concept to those Jews who were attempting to earn their salvation by keeping the Law, which to make the situation even worse (if possible) they tended to confuse with the traditions of men, as Mark 7:6-13 illustrates.

This, again, shows the Compassion and Love of God. To my mind, these two poles, exhortation (or warning) and comfort, are better understood as truth and love. And, in some ways, these poles interpenetrate each other. Jesus tells the truth because He loves, and He loves motivated by compassion in light of the truth of mankind’s plight.

To some extent, these same poles of concern are reflected in Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:15 that we should be “speaking the truth in love.” This verse comes in a larger passage whose context speaks about believers helping the whole Body of Christ to mature and grow up into the measure of the stature of the Fullness of Christ (verse 13). As an aside, in Liberation Front I address the fact that today’s American churches are largely split into truth- or love-oriented churches: doctrine with little compassion or compassion with no content.

We are, as believers, to emulate Jesus’ Example of speaking the truth in love: of offering, as two sides of the same message, both exhortation and comfort; truth and love. And, necessarily, we have to live in light of that same message, putting aside by the Spirit’s Power our own Fallen ideas and desires to adopt and practice Jesus’ Ideas and Desires, and thus experience Jesus’ comparatively easy Burden and light Yoke.

This is the responsibility and privilege of every believer. Every believer has this challenge. As a minister, I’m part of the servant-priesthood called to serve the Royal Priesthood of all believers, as Christians are described by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9. My responsibility is to be an example to others (2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:12), and though I all too frequently fail at this task, I do make it a subject of present concern to myself to do so, and to keep the Example of Jesus in my mind, praying that the Holy Spirit will help me be the example I ought to be. That is not, of course, always easy to do, as I’m sure every believer knows.

These days, in our self-obsessed victim-culture, to express the truth of the human predicament, or to speak out critically about the state of the Church, is to frequently be seen as unloving or judgmental since people easily get their feelings hurt, or experience guilt or shame, in light of the truth of God’s Word being taught. Love demands, however, that truth be spoken, or risk that for the sake of avoiding some hurt feelings someone perish forever or fail to be as free in Christ as they could be. It hasn’t always been this way. There have been periods of time when the truth was callously laid out with no regard for the affective aspects of mankind. Our present situation is an overreaction to one of those periods. But this can’t ultimately affect my responsibility as a minister (or any believer’s responsibility) to, in a balanced fashion, speak the truth in love.

Oden Fong’s “Invisible Man” makes a welcome reappearance

By 1986, when Oden Fong released his second solo album Invisible Man, several changes has transformed the 1970s Orange County revival’s music movement of which he was such an intregal member, both as a member of Mustard Seed Faith and as a solo artist. Calvary Chapel Santa Ana had shut down Maranatha Music except for its über soft pop praise music releases, the Saturday night concerts hosted by the church were no more, and radio station KYMS, which had previously championed local artists, had switched to a mainstream label artists only format and would soon go away altogether. The support network was crumbling, and the future was decidedly uncertain.

Enter Invisible Man. Originally released on the Frontline label and now once again available through Fong’s Bandcamp page, regarding its creation he comments:

This album I recorded mostly at home with an 8 track recorder synced to a Linn 9000 drum/midi computer. Purely experimental, it is a notebook of thoughts and ideas I had at the time. All guitar parts were played though a tiny Rockman preamp. The drums, keyboards and bass were all programmed with midi. The only tracks recorded onto tape were the vocals, guitars and saxophone. This is why the album sounds more like a demo than a studio album.

Fong’s disclaimer notwithstanding, it is this somewhat unfinished element that gives Invisible Man a great deal of its musical charm. The album is unmistakably 80s flavored with its synthesizer riffs and drum machine, yet the sparse sound and rough edges provided by not being a polished product rescue the album from being a machine music outing typical of the time period (and today, for that matter). That, and Fong’s songwriting skill. His gift for hooks and melody shines throughout.

Lyrically, Invisible Man is aimed more at discipling believers than evangelistic outreach. There is a fair amount of bite in tunes such as “Joker In An Age Of Fools” and “Faith:Action” which find Fong admonishing fellow Christians to practice that about which they have heard preached. The album is far more Keith Green than kid gloves; challenging and at times confrontational.

Invisible Man tends to be the most overlooked item in Fong’s catalog. It ought not to be. No, it is not the lofty masterpiece that is Come For The Children, nor is it the Mustard Seed Faith melodic roots evangelism bringing back memories of the days when it all shone with the bright flame of newfound faith. Nevertheless, Invisible Man is a fine album more than deserving a listen, and its being available again is a blessing.