“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.

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.

Is Mustard Seed Faith the quintessential Christian rock band?

When asked to name the quintessential Christian rock band, most fans whose memories stretch back farther than Switchfoot will name either Petra, which made arena-style praise rock acceptable to the masses, or U2 for being the reluctant father of 99.44% of all worship bands. Certainly a strong case can be made for either. That said, another band seldom if ever brought into the conversation warrants consideration. Namely, Mustard Seed Faith.

Mustard Seed Faith released only one album during its active years, that being 1975’s Sail On Sailor. With its beautifully creative cover, painted by the late avant-pop artist Rick Griffin after his becoming a Christian in 1970 during the Jesus People movement, and its classic pop/rock title track that epoxied itself onto turntables in coffee houses and youth group meetings across the land, Sail On Sailor was a living emblematic ode to the Orange County revival led by the late Chuck Smith and his church Calvary Chapel Santa Ana.

As detailed yesterday, the Orange County revival had as a huge part of its inspiration the fervent belief that Christ’s return was imminent, this making evangelism even more primarily important than the norm for an evangelical movement. With this breath of God in their sails, Mustard Seed Faith worked itself and its one album as hard as possible; band member Oden Fong recalls a stretch where it was playing three hundred and fifty concerts a year. Eventually the strain became too much, and the band dissolved in the late 1970s.

In 1980, the band’s creative core (Fong, Lewis McVay, and the late Pedro Buford) decided to tidy up loose ends. With the help of several Calvary Chapel musical alumni they recorded and independently released Limited Edition. The album has been rereleased by Fong on his Bandcamp page.

Musically, Limited Edition slides nicely into the 1970s adult rock genre populated by Michael McDonald (then with The Doobie Brothers), the less funky leanings of Boz Scaggs, and the like. Nothing is too loud, yet nothing save the album’s closing track, a beautiful acoustic song that would grace any wedding, is too soft to preclude toe-tapping. The tunes are well-constructed and friendly; easily accessible relatively easy listening. You could slip Limited Edition into the record stack at a party where adult rock from its era was being played and no one would notice due to a drop-off in style or quality. However, the moment someone paid the lyrics some attention, they would notice all right.

Unsurprisingly, Limited Edition is ministry-driven from beginning to end. Full-throated evangelism sits next to exhortational calls urging those who already believe not to stray, and return to the fold if they have already gotten off track. There is storytelling in “Sidney the Pirate” and a whole lot of naming name. Specifically, the Name of Jesus. There is no ambiguity; no wondering if a song is about God or a girlfriend. Mustard Seed Faith was all God all the time, and made no secret of its intent at any point along the way.

Limited Edition and its predecessor Sail On Sailor are why Mustard Seed Faith has as legitimate a claim as any to the title of Christian rock’s quintessential band. Musically it fit into what was happening at the time, while lyrically it stood out with bold, uncompromising calls to faith in Christ. Limited Edition may seem like a nostalgia piece, but even as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the album’s quality in a genre still listened to by multitudes, and timeless message still needed by all, make it as fresh an album as anything recorded in the here and now.

Next post will review Fong’s second solo release Invisible Man.

Oden Fong brings back classic music and uncomfortable truths

Oden Fong, mainstay of the early Maranatha Music days courtesy of his tenure with Mustard Seed Faith, has made available his two solo albums from back in the day: Come For The Children, originally released in 1979, and Invisible Man which first came out in 1986. He has also rereleased Mustard Seed Faith’s second album Limited Edition, it having made its debut in 1980. The band’s first album, 1975’s Sail On Sailor, is available digitally courtesy of Maranatha.

At first glance it might seem strange, reviewing three albums that came out no more recently than thirty years ago. Incorrect perception. The albums have been unavailable for so long in any format it is extremely doubtful most people under fifty so much as know of their existence, let alone having heard them. This is entirely to their loss. Add to this how those who do know and love the music have in all likelihood not owned a copy (or been able to play one if they did) for decades, and the return of this trio becomes more than a nostalgia trip. Rather, it becomes a reminder of realities both painful and peaceful.

Up first is Come For The Children. The late Rick Griffin’s striking album cover artwork depicts Jesus’ head wearing a hood as He overlooks a valley of blood. It was Griffin’s depiction of the battle of Armageddon. Not exactly your average worship album material; but Come For The Children is not warm fuzzy all the feels material.

Musically Come For The Children defies easy categorization. It contains elements of arena rock’s first generation (Boston, Foreigner, leaning toward the latter), yet has an anthematic style its contemporaries never quite reached. Part of this stems from producer Jonathan David Brown’s lush without becoming overblown style. The main contributor is that Fong was clearly totally disinterested in creating anything that fit in with what was the overwhelming majority of contemporary Christian music at the time, a landscape dominated by the likes of Evie. Come For The Children is unashamedly purposeful art, a work where even as the music is of highest quality, said music serves as a vessel for Fong’s message. And oh, what a message.

It bears mention that Fong was and is a product of Calvary Chapel in the 1970s, in which the late Chuck Smith pastored a flock of young Jesus people quite separate from traditional churchgoers, what with the hippie hair, clothes, and music. Smith firmly believed that Christ’s Second Coming was imminent, therefore placed tremendous emphasis on evangelism so that as many people as possible would come to know Christ as Lord and Savior before His Return. Smith also believed in a strongly literal interpretation of prophetic Scriptures, most noticeably the Book of Revelation. Its gruesome depiction of the coming Antichrist and God’s apocalyptic judgment of the earth and its inhabitants who rejected Him tied into the fuel that fed Calvary Chapel, and its artists including Mustard Seed Faith and Fong. Its fruit was their being bold, blunt, and if need be brutal in telling others about what they believed would soon transpire.

With this background, there should be no surprise that Come For The Children’s title track makes no bones about the fact that at the Second Coming not everyone will be going to heaven. There is a hell, and judgment, and those who proclaim “only God can judge me” will discover that He has not only reserved the right to do so but will execute same.

The album is not all fire and brimstone. Fong addresses the loneliness of life without Christ plus the joys and struggles of following Him. There is a thread of tenderness woven throughout Come For The Children, an earnest call to saved and unsaved alike. Fong is not using his Bible to beat people over the head, but rather speaks from it as the Word of Life, the blueprint of a genuine wish for all to be saved.

No one makes music like this today. Few even from the fieriest of pulpits preach with such unblinking honesty. Come For The Children was and is a true masterpiece; a vital part of Christian rock history remaining vibrant after all these years.

Next post will look at Limited Edition by Mustard Seed Faith.

The three albums are available for download in several formats, including CD quality, at Fong’s Bandcamp site.

Kemper Crabb Defines The Problems With Lone Wolf Christianity

In a world gone quite mad, it has never been more apparent that we need each other to get through the insanity. The divisions of race, color, creed, gender, economic and/or social standing, and the like are being violently exploited by those who profit from their repercussions. These profiteers will use the insane actions of one they oppose as a bloody brush to paint all they oppose as being in solidarity with the one, yet immediately dismiss and explain away the actions of (i.e., murders committed by) one with whom they are ideologically aligned as those of an irrational individual with no connection to their causes; one for whom there can be no possible explanation regardless of how the individual him or herself clearly identifies the cause in which name they kill.

It may seem like the height of irrelevance to discuss the ‘lone wolf Christian’ at the present time. Not so. Unity in the face of dividers is our strength as believers; a refusal to allow the enemy any opportunity to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize the one who stands for Christ. With that I defer to Kemper Crabb, author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, and our ongoing interview.

 

In the book you strongly counsel against the lone wolf mindset among Christians; going it alone as a believer rather than being an active member of the church. Why do we see so much of the lone wolf mentality? Also, is the plethora of individual, independent churches part of this phenomenon?

Hmmm. Well, this is a problem concerning the One and the Many, a question of, I guess you’d say, imbalance. What I mean by this is that, since we’re created in the Image of God, we’re intended to reflect Who God is (on the creaturely level, of course). God is Triune, One God in Three Persons, Unified in His Essence or Substance, and Diverse in His Persons. The Lord is not more One than He is Three, and He’s not more Three than He is One, which is to say, God’s not more Diverse than He is Unified. He is Both Equally, and always has been. God is the Foundation of Balance, the Paradigm for human society (family, state, business, etc.), since God’s Image is revealed in humanity in two genders, multiple relations, and so forth, not just in individuals alone.

God has always dealt with men in terms of the Covenant, and the Covenant is modeled on the Relationships between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, adjusted to the Fallen creaturely level. This is important because every Christian is a member of the New Covenant, which is what defines the Church. And both the Model of the Holy Trinity Himself, and the Covenant predicated by that Model, present and demand a balance between the One and the Many, the corporate and the individual, as the most helpful and most revelatory state of being for human society, which includes the way the Church is supposed to work.

Now, the Church has very frequently been deformed in an imbalance toward either the institutional/corporate or the individual member. For instance, the State Churches that arose after the Reformation in places like Germany and England eventually hardened into moralistic, formal institutions which emphasized a doctrinal standard in terms of mental assent and outward action, but did not value (or urge) the necessity of personal inward affective experience, seeking only a similar conformity to external standards.

In response to such institutional corporate aridity, movements like Pietism and the Great Awakenings arose which emphasized the value and necessity of personal rebirth and relationship to Christ resulting in affective individual experience. This was a needful corrective for the singular over-emphasis on the corporate aspect of the Church of the time.

However, the balancing emphasis on personal relational experience with Christ, in its justifiable central emphasis in the First Great Awakening had become, by the Second Great Awakening, itself an overemphasis on personal experience (as seen in things like Charles Finney’s systemization of techniques to induce an emotional experience of “conversion”) which actually gradually overwhelmed and displaced the desire and perceived need for doctrinal boundaries and ordered corporate worship in American consciousness.

It was this new imbalance which spawned American hyper-individualism and individual orientation (a great book on this is Michael Horton’s Made In America, by the way), and this same imbalance was strengthened by (and conversely strengthened) the Romantic Movement’s subjective self-orientation which had come about as a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism.

The assumption that it was the realm of interior subjective experience which was the only absolutely vital and meaningful part of life tended to downplay the life of the mind and corporate scholarship among Evangelicals by the early years of the 20th Century, and slogans like “no creed but Christ; no law but love; no book but the Bible” began to define the attitudes and worldviews of huge numbers of Evangelicals.

Self-reliance of this sort flies in the face of the fact that Scripture teaches that we desperately need each other in terms of the varied Gifts of the Spirit given for the building up of the whole Body of Christ, of others, as 1 Corinthians 12 plainly teaches (the gifts of teaching and discernment of spirits both examples of vital gifts), or in evangelism, as when Jesus sent the 12 Disciples off two by two in Mark 6:7-13 (or the 70 disciples in Luke 10:1-20), or in worship, since Jesus is present in a way different from His Normal Presence with us when two or more gather in His Name, as Matthew 18:20 tells us. In fact, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that believers are a holy nation, not just gathered individuals who have similar religious beliefs. No, we are actually, through Jesus, members of one another, as Romans 12:5 lays out.

It is much easier in some ways to ignore all this and still think we can accomplish the same things by ourselves that we would in a corporate setting, and there’s no question that disregarding Jesus’ Command that we be servants in Galatians 5:13 as Jesus was revealed to be in Matthew 20:28. If our spiritual quest is defined by a search for quick-fix solutions and a feel-good experience, we won’t feel the need to obey the Bible’s urging toward responsibility to and for one another: we’ll simply serve ourselves individually without much regard for others.

The definition of Christian life as primarily experiential and self-driven has moved many churches to begin to model themselves on a consumerist philosophy, and become driven by parishioner/consumer desire rather than by the preaching of the Word. It is true that there have been numbers of colossal failures by churches to discipline the rebellious, help the fallen/spiritually wounded (rather than simply whisk them away quietly to avoid dealing with the hassle and pretend things like that don’t happen in those congregations.

There’s also been beaucoup abuse, emotional, sexual, and financial of people by church leaders (which leaders tend to try to avoid accountability to denominational leaders or committees so as to continue to easily perpetrate their wickedness). As a result, many people tend to withdraw from church membership/attendance altogether, and many congregations, fearing unjust denominational manipulation from corrupt or ungodly Church officers, simply withdraw from greater accountability, giving rise to a bushel of independent congregations (further fueled, of course, by the rampant individualist drive to self-sufficiency in most of their congregants).

All these abuses are real, and in this age of increasing centralization and control over so many areas of our lives, it’s easy to want smaller expressions of corporate life, Church included. But what is truly needed is a return to Biblical balance in our churches and everywhere. That alone will fulfill God’s multiple-faceted calling to us all.

Eve Selis puts the class back in country

A few posts ago, I quoted Billy Smiley (Whiteheart, The Union of Sinners and Saints) commenting on a dearth of lyrics by Christians reaching beyond the most simplistic of praise and worship notions. He wondered where the storytellers had gone. Thankfully, they still exist; Christians who address life beyond Sunday morning gatherings of singing what they have been led to believe they must sing in order to remain in God’s good graces. In the aforementioned post I justifiably praised San Francisco Bay Area punkish band The Hyperdrive Kittens for disregarding the “rules” and making top notch music without compromising faith or art. Enter another artist similarly inclined, namely Eve Selis. Her latest album See Me With Your Heart is something special.

Musically Selis has little in common with The Hyperdrive Kittens. Selis’ music is modern country, albeit mercifully minus the formulaic clichés that presently permeate (or plague, if you prefer) the genre. Where the similarities are drawn is how both The Hyperdrive Kittens and Selis create honest, skillful without soulless slickness music.

Selis has a knack for strong melodies, be they woven into fast or slow tunes, that keep things moving at a strong clip throughout. She is equally adept at howling stompfests such as “Still Have A Long Way To Go” or mellow ruminations like “Already Gone.” Selis is also a superb lyricist, weaving life tales speaking of moments both high and low with genuine emotion and heart.

Yes, Virginia (or in this case San Diego where Selis resides), there is still non sex-drenched country music and Christians who speak with heart and skill. Want proof? This album is it. See Me With Your Heart is a terrific work that gets better with every listen.

The album is available at Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes.