Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A simple meditation on the heart of Everything.

The Creator of the world and everything in it looks upon us in all our wreckage and filth, yet is simply overwhelmed with Love.
This is Grace.

The One spoke light into existence saw the fullness our hurt and darkness, yet threw himself into the midst of it to know us more.
This is Love.

The Ruler over all things surrendered all power to show us The Way of fully submitting our lives to loving one another.
This is our calling.

When we live out our calling, things become on earth as they are in Heaven.
This is the Gospel.

Lord, let your Kingdom reign.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

‎"Snow Day in Nashville" - A Short Story by Jesse Baker

"Snow Panic" by Callie Ann Starkey
Some rejoice, others roll eyes, Southerner buys bread, milk, and eggs, Northerner mocks Southerner, Southerner tries to explain lack of infrastructure, Southerner wrecks car, Northerner laughs, Northerner wrecks car, salt truck arrives 24-hours later, it's 65 and sunny. The end.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Music Snobbery: My Top Albums of 2010

20. All Delighted People EP - Sufjan Stevens

Starting with an EP? Yes, because it was just as long as an LP. Some good songs on here, but I can't help but miss the "old Sufjan."

19. Up From Below - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

Feel-good album that sounds good too. Low on the list because I don't often enjoy listening to the whole album, but select songs never get old, namely, "Home."
(Apparently this came out in 2009, but I'm leaving it for the sake of nice, round numbers.)

18. Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) - Mates of State

I love Mates of State... I love them so much that them putting out a covers album is almost a strike against them. I enjoy listening to this, but I look forward to their next, true Mates of State album (probably next year?).

17. Sidewalks - Matt & Kim

Carefree music. Good single, pretty good album. Not my favorite to listen to on repeat, but definitely worth buying.

16. Bad Books - Bad Books

I haven't spent a whole lot of time with this album, but I like Manchester and I like Kevin Devine... so I'm pretty happy with the combination of the two.

15. A Beautiful Exchange - Hillsong

Some solid worship songs on this album. Loved incorporating them at sanctuary.

14. Broken Bells - Broken Bells
Oh how I've missed James Mercer's voice. It's not quite The Shins, but I like it.

13. Gorilla Manor - Local Natives

Number 13 enters us into the "man, this is a really great album" portion of the list. Loved Gorilla Manor, and it only settles so far down because there are so many other albums that eclipsed it at some point in the year. This is a must-have though.

12. Volume Two - She & Him

It's fun, it's childish, and it's Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. I like that.

11. Passion: Awakening - Passion Conferences

This is the only cd on the list on which the vocals of Jesse Baker are featured ... along with over 22,000 other people, but still... I'm technically, kinda-sorta, nominated for a Grammy. But this one's great not only because I was a part of the event, but there's some really great worship songs on here that will affect countless churches as Passion always does.

10. Live at Eddie's Attic - The Civil Wars

As John Paul White says in between songs on this album, "If you're not sad now, you're gonna be." But it is a beautiful, beautiful kind of sadness. It's amazing to me that this young band is already gaining steam so quickly (especially in Nashville) in spite of having only released this live recording and a two song EP. Look for their first studio album near the top of my list in 2011.

9. Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens 
My relationship with this album was complicated until I had the privilege of seeing it performed live. It's weird, it's not for everyone, and it's definitely not the Sufjan we're used to, but it still draws me in now that I've experienced it and not just heard it. 

The best way I can explain it is that there's a lot of chaos on the album, but it's a great feeling to reconnect with the familiar voice that pierces through in each song. 

8. Flags - Brooke Fraser

This is a surprise for a lot of reasons, but I just can't shake this album. It may be a point of bias because I have a big-fat worship-leader crush on Brooke Fraser, but I also just really love a lot of the songs on this album. There are a couple weak points, and I would never call this the "best" album on the list. But there's something about it that connects well with me.

7. Songs from Jacob's Well Vol. I & II: even the darkness will not be dark to You - Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings

You probably haven't heard of this unless you've heard myself or one of a handful of others (Thanks Caroline Morris!) that have been lucky enough to catch wind of it, gush over it, but if you are a Christian that loves music, but a Christian that generally hates Christian music... you need to check this out.
Best comparison I can think of is they are like The Decemberists-turned worship band.

6. Brothers - The Black Keys

I think I was a little behind on this one, but it didn't take long to fall in love with the Jimi Hendrix-meets-Jack White vibe of The Black Keys. Just try to keep yourself from air drumming... you can't do it.

5. History From Below - Delta Spirit

Top 5, here we go... You want a solid folk-rock album, they don't get a whole lot better than Delta Spirit. This was my first introduction to Delta Spirit, so if it is for you as well, be sure to get their last album, Ode To Sunshine also.

4. Darwin Deez – Darwin Deez

Another one that not many have heard of, but everyone should. Darwin Deez doesn't spend a lot of time taking himself too seriously, and he will will make you smile. I would venture to say this music is pretty approachable for most anyone. But if you love lighthearted indie rock, I'll go so far as to say you'll love this.

3. Big Echo - The Morning Benders

This album is just really good. I don't even have much to say about it.

2. Shame, Shame - Dr. Dog

If you know me, this is no surprise. I love just about everything Dr. Dog has ever done, and this album was no exception. When it comes down to it, there's no reason this wouldn't be a #1 for the year, but there was just no beating Mumford.

1. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons

Possibly the most predictable #1 there could possibly be if you've spoken to me within the past six months or so. Technically this album came out in 2009, but not in the States until February of this year... so it totally counts. And I actually didn't catch on until this summer, but since then my profile shows that I've already listened to these songs fourth most of any other artist, only bested by Dr. Dog, Mates of State, and the Avett Brothers, three favorites with several albums a piece, yet Mumford only has this one album so far... And the best part is, it still hasn't gotten old.

It also doesn't hurt that seeing Mumford & Sons live was the best concert I have ever attended, and it's not possible for me to say that lightly.

This band is a perfect storm of fantastic lyricism meeting with a perfectly-suited musical accompaniment. Like the Avett Brothers on somewhat of a different plain, Mumford & Sons has reinvented the standard for folk and bluegrass music in the mainstream, and I love what they're doing with it. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Until recent years, I had little to no understanding of the liturgical calendar, and, although my liturgical education is still in its infancy, it is becoming more and more alive with each significant event on the calendar.

As I said, I am still very much in the learning process, so I will step aside and allow a favorite professor and brother, Dr. John Mark Hicks explain the significance of Lent.

If you are like me, and still learning about liturgy, I would encourage you to dive into this post to see what beauty can be found in its significance, and how the Body is built up by practicing communal acts like the repentance and submission displayed during Lent.

Hungering for God (Lent Reflections)

Text: Luke 4:1-13

Lent is forty days of letting go of some of our normal habits in order to pursue God with a special focus. The pursuit of God during these forty days comes in various forms: repentance, meditation, Scripture reading, prayer, immersion in sacred music, communal worship, almsgiving, etc. Lent was originally named “Forty Days” (quadragesima) and only became known as “Lent” (meaning Spring) in later years.

Lent is a season where we, in some sense and to some degree, follow Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. We followed Jesus into the waters of baptism and so now, in the narrative of Luke, we follow Jesus into the wilderness. Before Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, Moses spent forty days on the mountain with God (Exodus 32; Deuteronomy 9:9), Israel spent forty years in the wilderness where God probed and tested their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:1-5) and Elijah devoted forty days to God at Mt. Sinai (1 Kings 9:8).

It is not surprising, then, that the ancient church decided “forty” was a good number for a season of renewed dedication to God. The roots of this practice are baptismal, though there are also penitential backgrounds where those seeking reunion with the community fasted for a period of time. Those preparing for baptism would spend a specified time (usually three days or 40 hours) fasting. As Easter Eve became an annual baptism festival, the practice of “forty days” of preparation emerged. Eventually, the whole church was invited to fast for forty days before Easter (late fourth century). The form of this fasting varied and was not necessarily a total fast on every day of the forty. Indeed, the tradition arose that Sundays during Lent were “mini-Easters” which celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and thus were not fast days. Consequently, “Ash Wednesday” arose in the West (probably eighth century) as a way of adding days to compensate for the loss of fast days due to Sunda. This kept the number of fast days at forty. It is called “Ash” Wednesday because ashes are used as symbols of penitence and death as we humble ourselves in preparation for the Forty Days.

The Forty Days, most significantly, connects believers with the life of Jesus as they join Jesus in the wilderness in some small measure. Just as Jesus was led to fast for forty days, so believers seek to follow Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. It is a specified time dedicated to seeking God. It was valuable for Jesus, and many believers find it valuable for their own relationship with the Father.

Though Jesus had regular habits of spiritual discipline (e.g., being alone with God), it was nevertheless important for Jesus to experience these forty days as a way of probing his own heart, being tested by Satan, and hungering after God. We, too, need special moments, days or seasons to devote ourselves to probing, testing and hungering. Lent is a season which many believers choose to practice for this very purpose.
What did Jesus discover about himself in these days of probing, testing and hungering? He learned existentially what perhaps he only knew provisionally or intellectually previously. He learned to feed on the word of God rather than bread. He learned that devotion to God is more important than power among the nations. He learned trusting God rather than testing God is the way to peace and joy. He experienced the wilderness—he experienced his faith in action as he connected with the Father and his own soul.

He had other options. Satan provided opportunity and attempted persuasion. But Jesus chose God. He quoted Scripture, but the effect of quoting Scripture was not the cognitive information he articulated. Rather, Scripture pointed to God. Jesus hungered for God rather than food, power or fame.

Jesus chose the way of the cross rather than the spectacular, the power and the luxury. He owned his baptismal vocation when he rejected the Satanic offers and embraced his identity as Son of God.

Lent is an opportunity, not an obligation. No one is forced to practice the Forty Days. We are led into it for the sake of embracing our vocational identity as children of God. These are days when we seek and hunger after God; days when we spend time with Jesus in the wilderness; days when we, too, may discover again our own souls, own our baptism and encounter God anew.

1. Read the text of Luke 4:1-13 slowly several times. What are the significant lines and repeated ideas in the text?

2. How do you think Jesus experienced the different temptations or testings? What was the draw or allure of each?

3. What do you think Jesus “learned” through this experience? Why was it important for the Spirit to lead Jesus into the wilderness? Why do we need wildernesses in our own faith journey?

4. How does Lent pattern itself after Jesus’ own experience? How does this deepen the significance and importance of Lent for those who choose to practice it? How is Lent similar and dissimilar to the experience of Jesus?

    Monday, February 1, 2010


    I hated The Purpose Driven Life when I tried to read it in high school, and I think I hate it more now that it has become the Purpose Driven Empire. (Harsh right? Some writers use strong opinions draw you in, I'm trying it out. If you liked the book, I'm sorry, I think no less of you.)

    The idea that you can some how ramble in a self-help style of writing for twenty or so chapters and expect your readers to have found the one thing they need to do in life in order to enjoy it most is at least self-indulgent if not simply absurd.

    Yes, we all have purpose, but the Rick Warren definition of purpose (at least as I understood it after a few redundant chapters) is not quite on point.

    I think we have a collective purpose to bring restoration and reconciliation with all that God created... man, plant, animal, planet, and all else there may be, because it has fallen, and we have seen that there is a Great Force for Good that never intended it to be this way.

    So in that sense, yes, we all very much have a purpose. One that is tangible, doable, and so important that it simply cannot be left to just one of us. Obviously, there is not much an individual can do on his/her own in the the quest to restore creation to wholeness, but together, the possibilities are simply beautiful to imagine.

    Even more beautiful is the body of many parts metaphor (1 Cor. 12). So, yes, we have a collective purpose, but yes, we also have some form of "individual" purpose that fits like a finely carved puzzle piece into the mosaic masterpiece that is the Church.

    But does that "individual" purpose exist outside of the body and function freely without influence from the rest of the body? Of course not, it is still part of the collective.

    So what is this purpose? Well I sure don't know, but I don't think Rick Warren can quite point you there either. As a matter of fact, the more I wonder on this, the more I'm led to believe that we'd be arrogant to try to assume a specific, narrow purpose for our lives that limits the possibility to have God do amazing, seemingly random things with us that glorify Him and the express the beauty of His Kingdom.

    In that sense, maybe our "individual" purpose or calling is simply as Jesus described, the one that calls us to pick up a cross daily and continue dying that same death we did the day before to the broken tattered sinner we once were, and dragging that cross through the muck and mire hoping that the light of our resurrection leaves a distinct path of reconciliation in our wake. (Matt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, and Lk. 9:23)

    So, perhaps our purpose isn't for us to find, perhaps our purpose is surrender.

    May our lives end where Yours begins. Take our hands, our hearts, our steps, our breath, or minds, our desires, and make them Yours. Give us a passion for your Kingdom that burns so brightly we are led to a purpose, but teach us that this purpose is to submit to Your will and not our own. Help us ask we seek to die to our own will and come alive to Yours. Your ways are perfect, Your heart is Love, Your will is Peace.
    May we love as You first loved us.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010


    Inspiration often comes from unexpected places.

    Last night, as I was watching TV and winding down when this commercial interrupted my regularly scheduled viewing to enlighten me about the great honor it is to serve one's country.

    Now, if you know my political views, you know I say that with more than just a tinge of sarcasm.

    However (and I'll give you a moment now to watch the commercial, otherwise the following will begin to make less sense), this commercial makes some incredibly profound theological statements... and this I say without the smallest hint of sarcasm.

    Just for the sake of reference, here is a transcript of the commercial:

    "The call to serve: it has no sound, yet I have heard it in the whispered retelling of honorable sacrifices made by those who have served before me.

    The call to serve has no form, yet I have clearly seen it in the eyes of men and women infinitely more courageous and more driven than most.

    The call to serve has no weight, yet I have held it in my hands.

    I will commit to carry it close to my heart until my country is safe, and the anguish of those less fortunate has been soothed.

    The call to serve is at once invisible and always present, and for those who choose to answer the call for their country, for their fellow man, and for themselves, it is the most powerful force on earth.

    America's Navy: a global force for good."
    What occurred to me as I sat and listened to this for the first time was not quite what I expected or prepared myself for. Typically, when a military recruiting commercial comes on, I begin to build up my inner walls and prepare to be disgusted by the over-glorification of American dominance and cutting-edge technology, but this one struck me from a slightly different angle.

    Yes, I was still very much turned-off by the propaganda, but at the same time I was nearly moved to tears by the message of the commercial.

    As I listened to the narrator's words, I knew I wasn't actually hearing a recruiting pitch nearly so much as I was getting an explanation of the U.S. Navy's nationalistic theology.

    This realization clicked as the narrator repeated the phrase, "the call to serve," and then continued to compound as I realized, if the images on the screen were different, and the narrator were to be speaking of the Kingdom rather than a country... how beautiful of a message it would be. (If you're catching my drift, go back and read the transcript or watch the video again through those lenses... if not, just keep reading and hopefully it will make more sense later... but either way... keep reading)

    This commercial so clearly expresses a theology, and I could see that because it is so very similar to my own!
    Instead of living for a King and Kingdom, the Navy recruiting theology is one that calls people into service for a government and a country.

    This is such a clear picture of the masters we are choosing between as Christians in America. There are those who serve the Kingdom of YHWH, there are those who answer a call to country, and then there are many who seek to pledge allegiance to both masters.

    But in both theologies, there is a "call to serve," in both theologies that call is intangible, but very real, both theologies seek victory for a kingdom and to alleviate suffering, and both seek to be a "global force for good." (I think some of this could certainly be argued on the military side, but that's beside the point for now)

    I only wish this script (only slightly altered) had been used for a commercial recruiting people to serve the Kingdom.
    Maybe it would have a website link at the end where you could order a cross to carry instead of a uniform, so you could begin dying to yourself rather of ending the lives of others... I'll have to work on that...

    I'm sure this is far from the best-written blog I've ever put together, and I'm also not going to take the time to call into question the more specific claims of the commercial that I find incredibly misleading here, but maybe it can help us understand that we are not just Christians who are Americans, and should, therefore, be more than happy to pledge allegiance to America.
    But, in fact, we are choosing between two well-established theological positions with two very different gods.

    Are we serving a principality for the sake of a power, or are we serving a Kingdom for the sake of a King?

    We face this decision all-to-often as American Christians who are raised to honor their servicemen and women, pledge allegiance the flag, vote republican, and settle for war when so much more could be done for peace. But it's time we realized there is a call far greater than the one our government is teaching us: a call to die to ourselves, to our old lives, our old code of ethics, and embrace the life and ethic of the Kingdom.

    Because messages like this one from our friends at the U.S. Navy are just as much calls to worship as you might find in any church.

    So who are we worshipping?

    I realize this issue is far too large to tackle comprehensively in one blog, so I understand if you don't agree with me, and this idea will take further discussion. It is certainly worthy of much discussion. So, I will allow that this blog is more appropriately directed as a thought for those friends who already understand where I'm coming from.
    However, If you don't understand where it is I'm coming from, feel free to extend an invitation to continue the conversation, because it goes far deeper than these few words allow.

    Father of Peace,
    May we seek the ways of your Love to all the ends of the earth. As our feet grow weary in our search for Peace, give us strength. Give us an unquenchable thirst for your Kingdom that is only satisfied when your creation is restored and new life is born. We eagerly await your healing hand to make us whole, but Lord, do not let us only wait, but stir our hearts to action now! Set a fire to our feet so that we will run through this world leaving restoration in our wake so that you may be glorified and your Kingdom exalted! Hosanna!
    Amen, amen.

    Disclaimer: None of this is at all saying that we should not honor and respect members of the military for who they are, but only that we should honor and respect everyone as fellow brothers and sisters as well (including Iraqis, North Koreans, Afghanis, and the rest!)

    Monday, January 18, 2010


    Today marks the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day that I have actually taken the pause to recognize the man's wisdom and influence on society. Also, this will be a day in recognizing my own past and continuing ignorance of the wisdom this man preached.

    Because of my budding understanding of Rev. King's message, and in light of the troubled world climate as an untold tragedy unfolds in Haiti, I wanted to let him guest-write on this blog.

    I've searched some King quotes that still ring true in our charge to seek justice today, and I will be collecting them here... May his words live on as a bright voice of truth in a world of confused darkness.

    "Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice."

    "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."

    "Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one's soul."

    "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

    "The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."

    "The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

    "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

    "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."

    "A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

    "I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality."

    "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness."

    Of course this set of quotes is far from extensive, but I hope it helps us reconnect with Rev. King's message of peace, hope, and justice.
    If you have other quotes to add, please do.