The Nice Guy

(Written for a friend.)

Hey there. You know that guy? Sure you do. We all know that guy. You know … the nice guy.

Great guy, the nice guy. The nice guy is always there when you need him. Need some advice, someone to lend an ear, maybe a shoulder to cry on? The nice guy is there for you. Every time.

But … well, you know. He’s just the nice guy. Nothing exciting. Nothing special. Good guy, sure. Great guy, really. But he’s … well, he’s the nice guy. That’s all.

You don’t hang out with the nice guy: don’t go out for drinks, don’t include him with the gang when you go out for dinner. None of that. I mean, let’s face it. The nice guy isn’t all that exciting. He’s probably got plans anyway, or something to do. No need to ask him to participate.

Wait … what’s that? A date? Are you kidding? No way! The nice guy doesn’t set off sparks. No sizzle. Oh, he’s good for comfort when the boyfriend goes wrong. But to actually be the boyfriend? Are you crazy? He’s just the nice guy. No way could he be Mr. Right. Just no way. Besides, what if you did date him and things went wrong? Who would you turn to? No, can’t risk it. Gotta keep him at arm’s length.

The nice guy will understand when you explain it to him. You’re sure he’ll meet some nice girl someday that’s more his speed. It’s nothing personal. It’s nothing against him. But … well, he simply doesn’t fit into your world like that. Yeah, he could probably make some girl happy. He’s the nice guy. But it’s not you. No, it never could be you.

Still, sometimes you wonder about the nice guy. Every once in a while the smile seems a little forced, the eyes a bit distant. And he does seem to be alone a lot.

Well, he probably prefers it that way. He’s fine. Of course the nice guy is fine. Isn’t he always the first with the quip, the first one there for you when you need someone? He’s fine. We all have our off days. He’s fine where he is. He must get his happiness from helping others. He must be fine. He’s the nice guy.

Although come to think of it, don’t see him much anymore …

I’m Not OK, Who Cares If You’re OK

A phrase oft heard during any given sporting event where the heavily favored team finds itself on the score’s short end is “the other team practices too.” Meaning: nothing is a given and no matter how talented, or better on paper, someone or a collection of someones is than the competition, if you dismiss the other team out of hand and don’t compete up to your ability level you will not win. Ever.

The same principle applies to life. We all have our burdens and battles; our private little hell that can and all too frequently does consume us. These must be tended to, otherwise they can severely damage us. Sometimes irrecoverably.

This duly noted, it is easy but dangerously shortsighted to exclusively focus on our own situation, neglecting to note that the other person has problems too. John Donne was right; no one is an island. We all have oppressive elements besetting our every day and every step.

To behave as though we alone are suffering while everyone else is on their own under the veneer of “they know their problems and I don’t” is pathetically short-sighted. Empathy is not contingent on complete understanding of someone else’s pain. We are all human, and we all share humanity’s common threads.

It is equally short-sighted, with a hefty dose of narcissism on the side, to focus so heavily on our own problems while neglecting to value others sufficiently to, at the least, inquire as to how they are doing that our life becomes a one-note samba of “woe is me.” The other person hurts too. Their hurt is equally important as ours. Ignoring them while bemoaning our state helps no one. It makes the other person quite apt to wonder why they should help, or care for, us when our actions and words make it apparent our concern for them extends only as far as their willingness to feel sorry for us. And, simply put, in such a scenario we are doing more than enough feeling sorry for ourselves to where the other person has zero inclination to join our pity party regardless of how deeply they care for us. We are pushing them away at a time when we most need them.

The other person matters too. Ask them how they are doing. You will be surprised how much it helps you both face the wounds and scars we all – all – bear.

Pop Goes The Culture

Something touched on in the previous post is the notion of cultural relevancy, or if you prefer engaging the culture. A common cry amongst the conservative new media echo chamber… er, realm is the need to actively pursue entry into popular culture via the assorted reigning entertainment mediums — music, television, film. The irony of how this is most often discussed within closed circles is apparently lost on those thus engaged with talking about engagement but never doing anything that can in any fashion be construed as genuine outreach. But I digress.

One of the greatest challenges facing anyone who seeks to influence pop culture is that despite its apparent pervasiveness, even for the biggest names it is surprisingly limited in its at least initial outreach. Take as an example U2, its record label, and Apple’s agreement to make what is easily the biggest band in the world’s new album available for free to everyone with an iTunes account, number of same being some 500 million. How many thus far (the deal was announced this past Tuesday) have taken advantage of the offer, said offer being mentioned and promoted by virtually every media and medium in existence? Around two million. This for a band that has sold over 150 million albums in its career. The days when The Beatles could change the world with the change of a hairstyle are long gone.

Another example of pop culture’s limited appeal is at the movies. The general rule of thumb is that a movie with $100M in box office business is a success, bloated special effects-laden outings that cost more than $200M to make not withstanding. But how many people, as in individual ticket sales, see a blockbuster movie? The biggest movie this year to date is Guardians of the Galaxy, with an as of yesterday estimated domestic box office take of $297.8M. Translated into ticket sales, the best guess is that comes out to 35.7M tickets sold. Figuring there is quite probably a good percentage of repeat viewers… you get the idea. A large number, but not universal. Also, factor in the film’s built-in mass audience appeal from the Marvel Comics/Disney connection, the tens if not hundreds of millions spent promoting the film, and so on. This isn’t a film designed for viewerships at your local art cinema; something to give you cause for reflection and discussion. It is mass market product, designed to sell tickets and merchandise.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, pop culture is sound and fury; tales told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is the entirety of pop culture: a soap bubble, momentarily pretty but fatally fragile, inevitably popping to be seen no more and quickly forgotten in favor of the next bubble blown.

Yet despite this, enter into the pop culture fray we must. We have examples of what happens when we withdraw behind our walls; witness the utter failure of the evangelical American church, despite its size, to have any impact on society. Certainly the odds are stacked against us. We do not have multi-multi-million dollar promotional budgets at our disposal, nor will we have industry support no matter how potentially profitable our efforts may be. However, the need to reach people remains paramount. We cannot sit idly by, barking at the caravan as it moves on, then believe we are accomplishing something by barking. At least not if we are being honest. If we reach but a few, we have done far better than if we reach none at all.

We also have to be honest with ourselves. Echo chamber jingoism is great at rallies of like-minded people but utterly useless when presented to the general public. Be they ever so superficial and slick, pop culture successes convey whatever message they offer with sufficient skill to penetrate multiple societal layers. Clumsy cliches need not apply. Lee Greenwood already did “God Bless The USA.” There is neither need nor room for a sequel.

Now, promoting conservative artists in whatever field immediately presents a problem, that being dealing with artists. Most — not all, but most — creative people are fundamentally insane and correspondingly hard to handle. Why this is so is seldom understood by those not similarly gifted, or for that matter many of those who are gifted. To be an artist of any genuine skill means, regardless of whether it is acknowledged, that one has opened him or herself to the creative spirit that is a direct gift from God. When human (that’s us) is touched by divine (that’s the Man Upstairs), simultaneously beautiful and terrible things happen. The beautiful is what is created; the terrible is how such overwhelming intimacy with the Creator can all too easily drive a person mad as in our limited human state we can only handle so much beyond ourselves. There is also the pain factor; Bono was completely accurate when he sang every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief; all kill their inspiration and sing about the grief. Little Miss Sunshine would have been a lousy artist.

So, these are the challenges facing anyone who wishes to engage the culture. It is expensive, it is an insular world that does not take kindly to outsiders with views outside its hedonistic hyper-liberal own, and the people best equipped artistically to enter the fray are often borderline, if not full-fledged, self-destructive lunatics. Yet engage we must, for there is far too much at stake to let things go as they are.

Back To Basics: The Four Tenets Of The Blogging Evangel

So, after an extended silence that I oft doubted would ever end, I’m back. Had to blow the dust off my password and sweep the cobwebs out of the site, but thankfully it and I are still here.

Choosing a topic on which to hang my return was a tad difficult; it’s not like there’s a dearth of available points of discussion. That duly noted, one demanded immediate attention, that being blogging itself.

Blogging is in danger of becoming the compact disc of social media. It’s a marvelous medium through which to communicate, but in today’s world it is rapidly being superseded by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Why? Brevity and immediacy. The other formats are quick, easy, and instantly before your intended audience. A blog? Well, since no one uses RSS feeds anymore, you have to tell people new content is there (and tell them and tell them and tell them), then hope people will step away from Twitter and Facebook et al long enough to pay your site a visit. The hip and hot social media vessels have apps for most every mobile device. A blog depends on someone opening their browser and entering the address at least once, hopefully bookmarking it while there so it can be more easily accessed should return visits be part of someone’s online media consumption strategy.

Another problem bloggers face in attracting and keeping, along with growing, an audience is the deep level of funk out there about bloggers individually and collectively being unable to get over themselves. Delusion of glory and grandeur abound. It’s high time bloggers individually and collectively get back to basics and what made blogging a vital communication form.

Blogging works only when you remember it’s one voice, one opinion; consider it as you will. When you’re blogging, remember it’s a venue to express your thoughts and opinions on any given subject. That’s all. You are not going to save the world. Hopefully, prayerfully you can help open eyes and minds to truth. Be content with that, as it is futile to frustrate yourself by striving for more when there is no more to be obtained.

When blogging, be yourself and be real. Say your piece, and be at peace. Be consistent with what you say. Be consistent with who you are. Let your words reflect who you are. Don’t be one person online and another away from the computer.

Blog not for social media fame or accolades. Blog from and for the heart; the belief what you have to say can help other people. The echo chamber is already full, and it is not accepting applications. You don’t need it or its residents for validation.

Blogging for a paycheck is not blogging; it’s casual format column writing. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s be honest about what it is. Far, far too many people pass themselves off as bloggers when they are nothing of the kind. Working toward monetizing your blog is not a shame, but should you start straying from yourself and the reasons why you first started blogging you are going down the wrong path.

When blogging, always remember this: no matter what, never, never become what you profess to oppose. You say you’re a citizen journalist speaking truth to power at professional journalists living in ivory towers? Don’t live in one yourself. You say you’re against punditry elitism, where writers speak only to others in the same profession? Don’t do the same thing. You say you’re too busy to answer your emails; that there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done? Too bad. It’s your job.

If you want the “glory” of being a popular blogger, you have to do the necessary work. That involves far more than writing blog posts. To be a successful blogger means you embrace the belief that blogging is a communication tool from one person to another. Every individual who reads one of your blog posts is an individual, and deserves to be treated as such. Unless it’s a troll – and not everyone who disagrees with something you say is one – when someone communicates with you, communicate back. They’ve taken the time to read and respond to your writing. Simple, common courtesy dictates you do the same.

Again, unless it’s a troll, answer your emails. Every time. Respond to tweets and Facebook posts. Every time. It takes very little time to type a simple “thank you.” Do it.

The wise blogger does not see him or herself as a great written orator, or leader of people. The wise blogger does not see him or herself as one blessing teeming throngs with every word of wisdom that comes from their fingertips. The wise blogger sees him or herself as a retail clerk whose livelihood depends on the quality of service they provide all who come by.

Think about the pleasant retail experiences you have had. What is the common thread that connects all of these times? Invariably, part or all of it was interaction with a worker who was friendly, personable, knowledgeable, and genuinely helpful.

As it is in retail, so it is in blogging. The blogger who treats their audience with respect and as a welcomed guest will succeed. The blogger who treats their audience with distain, or believes its sole purpose is to praise their words of wisdom, will fail.

We say we must change the culture. Well, culture change happens one person at a time. Culture change happens when you reach one person, one heart and mind, with ideas that helps them see things in a new light. Culture change comes when we talk with people, not to them.

Be a positive force for change. Treat people as you yourself wish to be treated. This includes blogging. Interact with your readers as you yourself wish other writers would interact with you. Not as a haughty lord, but rather as an equal.

To summarize, please remember the four tenets of the blogging evangel.

First, the ability to broadcast your opinion neither elevates nor validates said opinion.

Second, blog from, and for, the heart; not a paycheck.

Third, answer your email. Every time.

Fourth, and most important of all, never become what you profess to oppose. Never.

May I always follow these tenets.

To Be Alive

April Thompson is one of the most beautiful women I know. This conclusion is drawn not from her looks, although she is very attractive. Rather, it is from how she is deeply and passionately in love with God, her husband, and their kids. That is a beauty no Sports Illustrated model, save one who possesses the same qualities, can ever hope to approach.

In-between sessions of her very full-time gig known as raising the rugrats, April is wont to pen assorted thoughts in her blog. Her most recent post nicely expresses a frustration oft voiced by creative Christians, that being how a segment of American Christianity instantly recoils in horror the moment an artist, in any given medium, attempts crossing over from the Christian marketplace into the big bad satanic secular cesspool:

As Christians, we have to be careful not to be mindless consumers of whatever is served in the name of entertainment. But you know what’s not good? Hiding in our little Christian or conservative ghettos, yelling nasty things at the world from the walls, and throwing stones at anyone who tries to take the message outside the gates. Ya know, like Jesus said to.

Mrs. Thompson continues the point by bringing it into the political realm. She mentions how many conservatives (she is unapologetically one) are so conditioned to a knee-jerk response and blanket condemnation of most everything pop culture-wise, completely hung up on an artist’s political bent regardless of whether it carries over into their art, they disassociate themselves from everything under the mantle of avoiding anything “unclean.” This takes the form of not supporting via buying a CD or download or movie ticket or what have you any individual not on their side of the political aisle, along with, when discussing said artists among those of like mind, participating in a top-this game of who can trash-talk them the most. Because, you know, that will win the culture war every time.

She’s too young to remember, but Steve Taylor brilliantly skewered this mindset some time ago:

So you need a new car
Let your fingers take a walk
Through the business guide
For the born again flock

You’ll be keeping all your money
In the kingdom now
And you’ll only drink milk
From a Christian cow

Don’t you go casting your bread
To keep the heathen well-fed
Line Christian pockets instead
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

Turn the radio on
To a down-home drawl
Hear a Brylcreem prophet
With a message for y’all

Well I have found a new utensil
In the devil’s toolbox
And the heads are gonna roll
If Jesus rocks

It’s all a worldly design
God’s music should be divine
Try buying records like mine
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

So you say it’s of the devil
And we’ve got no choice
‘Cause you heard a revelation
From the still small voice

If the Bible doesn’t back it
Then it seems quite clear
Perhaps it was the devil
Who whispered in your ear

It’s a telethon Tuesday
For the gospel club
Send your money in now
Or they’re gonna pull the plug

Just remember this fact
When they plead and beg
When the chicken squawks loudest
Gonna lay a big egg

You could be smelling a crook
You should be checking The Book
But you, you’d rather listen than look
The implication

Guilty by association

Life for the believer is neither a scenario of doing whatever one wishes (sorry, libertarians) or hiding in a reverse leper colony. It is a call to the reality of Christ and life in Christ. It is personal holiness combined with mandatory outreach to others. Jesus was not a drunkard, yet He drank and His first recorded miracle was at a wedding reception when He changed water into wine so as to keep the party going. He associated, without compromise, with society’s outcasts. He didn’t tow the religious progressive’s continually shifting line of relative morality, telling them everything was cool and they could continue on their merry way without repercussion. He loved them where they were at while calling on them to change first their heart, and from that change their life. He didn’t commend the adulteress whose life He saved from the crowd seeking to entrap Him by what He said should be done with her, knowing full well the penalty for her actions under Mosaic law was that she was to be executed by stoning. He didn’t condemn her either. He offered her life with the admonition to leave her life of sin.

There is a powerful witness in the polite destruction of clichés. Systematically execute them by living life among other people in a Godly manner. Contrary to some opinions, living a Godly life does not mean acting like you are God, nor does it mean shoving your faith down the throat of another, nor does it mean never speaking up for fear of “offending” someone. It means tearing down the false image of what constitutes a believer by being both the human being you were created as and the child of God you were created to be.

There are no magic formulas for this; no superdeeduper secret initiation rites, magic words or self-induced guilt trips about what you should or shouldn’t do to say the magic words in response to which God will give you a hundred blessings. There is honesty, with yourself, others and especially God.

There are stones in the road. You will trip and fall. You will fail. You will know hurt, frustration, despair, rejection, grief, and anger. But you will also know what it means to truly be alive.

To be alive is to live, with all of life’s joys and sorrows.

You cannot hide from life. You can live life.

If others think you are crazy for doing so, so be it.

Elegy for a pastor

Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California and one of the leading figures in the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, passed away today after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86.

To try and explain the impact Chuck Smith had on contemporary American evangelical Christianity, a brief personal illustration. Back in the mid-1970s, in my neck of the woods (San Francisco Bay Area) the reverberations of the Jesus Movement were still being felt in youth culture. It was a heady time, teens and twentysomethings filled with intense love for Jesus and equally intense belief that His return to the earth would be soon and very soon. Wed sit on our bench, located perilously close to the jock bench, in our high school quadrangle with our guitars as we sang and strummed away on our little songs about a great big God. There were all the obligatory teenage angst moments, falling in and out of love at breakneck speed while occasionally musing about what we would do once we were set free from our high school protective cocoon. But we trusted Jesus would take care of that, and besides He would be coming back shortly so why get worked up over a future that would never come to pass?

Being San Francisco Bay Area people, naturally we loathed and looked down on all things Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular. However, we cut Orange County, south of L.A., a lot of slack. No, not because of Disneyland. It was the home of something we greatly envied, although we were careful to label it anything but envy as of course envy was a sin. This was semantics, though. It was envy.

We envied Orange County for being the home of Chuck Smith.

Where we were, Christian concerts were far and few between. There would be the occasional appearance by Barry McGuire at Mario Murillos monthly Night of Miracles rally in Oakland, but other than that there was precious little. There was no radio to which we could listen; the local stations were all AM dollar a holler junk. But where Chuck Smith was, there were concerts every Saturday night playing our music. There was a radio station, an FM radio station, playing our music. There was a church where we knew wed all be welcome no matter our hair length or dress code. There was a place we knew that if we could only get there we would be blessed beyond words by being at the home base of everything we held dear in our unstoppable zeal. But, we couldnt get there despite whispered conversations about how if we split the gas and had all the boys stay in one hotel room and all the girls in another with no visitations save with the door wide open, maybe we could borrow someones parents van and one day make a pilgrimage to Santa Ana so we could experience in person this magical place from whence came the records on the Maranatha! Music label we eagerly devoured.

Time passed, as it does. Jesus had other plans and didnt come back before the 1980s set in, or any subsequent decade for that matter. Some of us walked away from the faith, disillusioned at the prospect of having to actually live out a normal life with a job and family and everything else that comes with these things. Some of us passed away. But some of us remained, our faith ofttimes battered, bruised and beaten down to the point of near abandonment. Yet we still believed, chuckling over our previous eschatological fixation and learning, as best we could, to be happy with what we had and learning to have faith in Christ alone, not in an image of Him being the ultimate get out of jail card.

This all said, the news of Chuck Smiths passing is not an occasion for nostalgic musing about when we were young, alive, on fire and had all the answers. It is a moment to note all that he accomplished: the artists for whom he provided a platform; the multitude of Calvary Chapels now dotting the globe. His name does not have the recognition factor of other post-WWII American Christianity leaders such as Billy Graham or any given TV evangelist. But today, wherever there is a folk/rock guitar being played and song being sung, and wherever there is a ministry saying come as you are because Jesus loves you and so do we, Chuck Smith is there. And we are all the better for it.

God bless you, Pastor Chuck, now at home in your Fathers arms.

“Incandescent” by Crumbacher still shines brightly

After twenty-five or so years of being mostly a fond memory, occasionally augmented by worn-out vinyl or cassette, Incandescent, the debut album by Christian synth-pop band Crumbächer, has been re-released this week.

Before getting into a review of the album itself, some background about the time when it first saw the light of day is in order. Originally released in 1985, unbeknownst to all involved at the time Incandescent was one of the, if not the absolute, final entries in a music catalog that proved vital in contemporary Christian music’s early days. It came from Broken Records, a division of Maranatha! Music that itself was owned and operated by Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana, California, a church that had been one of the primary focal points for the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s. The church also spawned a host of bands and solo artists that routinely played Saturday night concerts at Calvary Chapel plus shows at other like-minded nascent evangelical churches in the area. Nearly all of the artists were primarily if not totally devoted to evangelism, consistent with the church’s belief that Christ’s return was imminent and therefore maximum proselyting was needed so that as many people as possible would be saved prior to, as taught in the church’s theology, the Rapture (all living believers physically leaving the earth and being taken to heaven) and Great Tribulation (the coming and reign of the Antichrist) that would precede Jesus’ coming back to earth. Musically the main style was mellow, with touches of the folk-rock and country-rock being popularized at the time by fellow southern California-based mainstream acts such as the Eagles. This vibe lasted throughout the 1970s into the early 1980s.

By 1983, with new wave in full swing and MTV becoming an ever-growing music presence, the next generation of Calvary Chapel artists had begun exploring genres hitherto untouched, such as rockabilly and punk. As far as the church was concerned, this was tolerable as long as it kept the assorted bands and artists under control. This started falling apart as artists, chomping at the bit for both more artistic freedom and freedom from the restraints of evangelism first and foremost, began spreading their wings. In 1985 Calvary Chapel pulled the plug, dismantling its record labels and dismissing its artists save those devoted to anonymously creating its long-running series of wildly popular übersoft pop praise and worship albums. However, before this decision the church briefly tried its hand at promoting far edgier sounds than those with which it had grown comfortable. Thus, among other modern bands such as Undercover and Altar Boys, under its wings there was Crumbächer.

In musical terms Crumbächer was far more restrained than most of its label mates. The band’s leader, at the time its sole songwriter and always lead vocalist Steve Crumbacher was musically weaned on pop vocal ensembles such as ABBA and the Beach Boys. Filtering this through the less gritty side of early to mid-1980s synth rock, Crumbacher created arrangements of layered keyboards and vocal harmonies galore, all set to danceable rhythms. It was a mix far more akin to a-ha than Ultravox, but this was an afterthought. The songs and musical roots were what mattered the most. That it was placed into synth-pop arrangements stemmed not from any great affiliation with the genre itself, but rather because at the time it was the most effective means of reaching the band’s teen and tweener audience. And reach them it did.

Listening to it now, what is most striking about Incandescent is how, despite the decidedly 1980s style throughout, it holds up remarkably well. It helps that the band (in addition to Crumbacher on lead vocals and keyboards the lineup was Dawn Wisner-Johnson on keyboards, Jimmy Wisner on drums and Dan Hohulin on guitar, with all contributing backing vocals) was instrumentally and vocally proficient. That duly noted, the album’s main strength is that, regardless of how they were arranged to fit the band’s target genre and time period, the songs themselves are well constructed pop tunes. Hooks, melodies and rhythms all come together with graceful ease, creating tunes made for being sung along with as well as providing top-notch dancing material. With any kind of proper push, there would have been Top 40 hits from this album, most noticeably “Jamie,” even with its undisguised Christian lyrical bent.

Certainly there is an element of nostalgia here; after all, the album being discussed is twenty-eight years old. However, the enduring quality of Incandescent plus how it taps into a truth that has permeated pop music since time immemorial – kids like to dance – makes this far more than an exercise in remembering when. Want proof? More than a few fans from back in the day, who now have kids of their own, have mentioned on social media that their offspring can’t get enough of the album’s infectious melodies and beats. It might be a child of its era, but Incandescent has the power to shine brightly for generations to come.

The album is available on iTunes, Amazon and Frontline Records.

“Dig Here, Said the Angel” by Daniel Amos a music masterpiece

There’s good. There’s great. There’s brilliant. And then there’s instant timeless classic. “Dig Here, Said the Angel” by Daniel Amos is the latter, and then some.

The band’s first release since 2001’s “Mr. Buechner’s Dream,” “Dig Here, Said the Angel” finds Terry Scott Taylor and compatriots exploring a musical mix fusing various flavors of late ’60s psychedelia with the shimmering combination of power pop and Bakersfield country/latter-day Laurel Canyon Mafia country/rock fusion exemplified in earlier Daniel Amos releases such as “MotorCycle.” The emphasis is on the psychedelic, sometimes basking in musical sunshine such as ‘Jesus Wept’ and other times menacing such as on the title track. Throughout, Taylor and the band’s melodic sense reigns supreme, with nary a tuneless or throwaway track to be found.

Lyrically, the album pierces mind and soul with purposeful intelligence. Taylor has long been one of Christian rock’s premiere lyricists. This time through he has outdone himself, exploring grace’s enveloping nature, the nature of suffering and meditations on his own mortality among other topics. In ‘We’ll All Know Soon Enough’ he challenges non-believers not with Bible-blasting broadsides, but with a quiet reminder of mankind’s common fate. On the flip side, ‘Now That I’ve Died’ comes from the viewpoint of how entering heaven entails the ultimate self-improvement movement. The pure anthem ‘The Sun Shines on Everyone’ is a gentle yet forceful reminder that God’s love extends to everyone and He alone reserves judgment. These are but a few of the terrific songs from start to finish on this superb album.

It is no exaggeration to say that “Dig Here, Said the Angel” is Daniel Amos’ greatest work. It is also no exaggeration to say that in the annals of Christian rock, only “Only Visiting This Planet” by Larry Norman is a more masterful work. It is that good.

The album will be released later this year and will be available on the band’s website.

Steve Scott’s “Emotional Tourist” is the thinking Christian’s art

It’s fitting on Christendom’s most solemn day – Good Friday – to remember how Christ’s passion and death were foretold in brutally beautiful poetry by the prophet Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Using poetry and spoken language to convey both Christ’s message and the full spectrum of our relationship with Him, and each other, is something of a lost art these days, especially in contemporary Christian music where the overwhelming emphasis is on fundamental praise and worship. It’s not that there is anything wrong with praise and worship; they are vital elements of every believer’s life. However, there is more to life as a whole. Much, much more.

Enter Steve Scott.

Although a native Englishman, Scott is very much a part of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene via his involvement with local artists such as the late Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and Mike Roe. Now based in Sacramento, Scott has carved out a niche for himself as someone far more concerned about artistic integrity and creativity than commercial acceptance. Like most true artists, he has found a small but devoted audience. With the release of Emotional Tourist: A Steve Scott Retrospective, a compilation of some of the best tracks from various albums he’s recorded during his career, this small number should grow quite a bit.

Scott’s music has shifted over the years from a more jangly guitar-based rock to reflective keyboard washes etched with haunting melody; always modern, always demanding attention. Lyrically, be it sung or spoken Scott’s focus is on world and humanity observations from a Christian perspective while going far beyond the stock evangelical action safety net. A brilliant example is “No Memory of You,” detailing Scott’s encounter with prostitutes in Java where in lieu of hitting them over the head with his Bible he shows them pictures of his infant daughter.

Emotional Tourist: A Steve Scott Retrospective is not background music for self-administered spiritual coddling sessions. It makes you listen. It makes you think. Scott’s words challenge faith not by calling it into question, but rather by questioning whether our faith, and our God, is too limited. If you’re looking for warm fuzzies, this record isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for the thinking person’s Christian rock by Christian rock’s thinking person, Emotional Tourist: A Steve Scott Retrospective perfectly fills the bill.

The record is available on Amazon and iTunes.

“Sticks and Stones” by the 77s hurts only those who don’t give it a listen

It seems odd that in today’s Christian music world so little is known of the genre’s roots. Regardless of age, the average pop or rock fan can easily rattle off any number of artists stretching through past decades who have influenced their current favorites, or are their favorites now despite a generation gap. Very few young Christian rock fans have any idea who the artists are that paved the way for their favorites to play rock’n’roll without numerous thunderous denouncements of this “evil” music form, leading impressionable youth astray, emanating from multiple pulpits across the land.

Thankfully, more than a few of the artists who made bands such as Switchfoot and Third Day a possibility are reissuing their seminal albums from the 1980s and 1990s, some getting out on the road to remind the fans both old and new about who started it all. One such band, the 77s led by San Jose native Mike Roe, have re-released Sticks and Stones, their almost accidental 1990 record heralded by many fans as their best work.

Sticks and Stones originally came about as something of a swan song, a collection of unreleased tracks and demos of songs that originally appeared on the band’s eponymously titled record on the Island label which was released in 1987 (the band had previously released two albums on the independent Exit Records label). At the time of its release the band was in tatters, with original members Jan Eric and Mark Tootle having left. After briefly considering calling it quits altogether, Roe and Aaron Smith decided to soldier on, recruiting David Leonhardt and Mark Harmon. However, they needed something new on store shelves for airplay and to support as they resumed touring. Enter Sticks and Stones.

What is most surprising to new listeners is not only how cohesive the album is despite its grab bag origins, but how well the music has held up over twenty-two years. The 77s from their beginnings have been an eclectic group, mixing blues and power pop into a unique blend that has barely aged a day. Songs such as “This Is the Way Love Is” and “Perfect Blues” bristle with snarling energy, while “Don’t, This Way” and the original demo of “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes & the Pride of Life” remain achingly beautiful in both lyrics and melody. The album has been remastered, with numerous excellent live tracks added to its original fourteen songs.

Regrettably, it’s doubtful much from this once again available classic will find its way onto Christian radio station’s playlists. Their loss, and also that of their audience’s. Sticks and Stones by the 77s is a true masterpiece, one deserving maximum exposure. One listen and you’ll know why.

The album is available for purchase as a download and CD from the band’s website.