Archives For music


+ With Opening Day just about upon us, here’s a look at how baseball changed a Dominican town—and how that town is changing baseball.

+ Speaking of baseball, ESPN has a really cool interactive project called Anatomy of a Pitch that features eight pitchers from the D-backs.

+ And while we’re at it, I dare you not to watch this .gif over and over and over…


+ Arcade Fire makes “a compelling case for common grace in our theology of missions,” says Alan Noble.

+ For the time being you can stream Johnny Cash’s posthumous album, “Out Among the Stars,” over at Paste. The title track is especially strong, and “She Used To Love Me A Lot” has something to it as well.

+ Some über-talented artists are coming together to record some unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Legendary producer T. Bone Burnett says, “Great music is best created when a community of artists gets together for the common good.”

+ James Duncan sees parallels (and, of course, key differences) between megachurch leaders and Walter White: “Celebrity pastors have turned their non-profits into personal profit centers.”

+ I appreciated these thoughts from Stephanie Summers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the responsibility of governments to enact policies that support families.

+ Oscar Romero, killed this week in 1980: “A people is a community… where all cooperate for the common good.”

+ I’m heartbroken for those affected by the massive fire at La Terminal market in Guatemala City this week.


+ Here’s an interesting look at the disillusionment about human rights and humanitarianism that shows up in the novels of Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini.

+ It’s true: storytelling changes attitudes and behaviors.

+ “Augustine was right: There are goods that we can possess only by dispossession.”

+ This is part one of Ed Stetzer’s interview with Philip Jenkins about global Christianity. For those familiar with Jenkins’ work, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. For those unacquainted, it’s a good introduction.

+ Thomas Cranmer wrote a prayer book, and shaped an entire society.

+ I resonate: “Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (breadth and depth) of the gospel.”

+ My parents are visiting us these days and last weekend we visited the Tonto Natural Bridge near the town of Payson. It’s a magical place.

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Like many, I was introduced to the music of Derek Webb through Caedmon’s Call, the folk band he was part of for many years. I discovered and fell in love with the band a bit late in the game, nearly a decade in, with a five-record discography already under its belt. The first time I saw them live they were touring in support of Back Home. Those songs (and many from subsequent albums) still hold a special place in my heart, but in my estimation, the band’s heyday was probably in the late ’90s with their quintessential work, 40 Acres.

Nonetheless, as a college kid with a heartfelt affinity for songs like Somewhere North, I was fond of saying that any girl I’d marry would have to meet my all-important ABC criteria – an attractive believer who likes Caedmon’s. (I’m happy to report I found and married such a girl, though the third part of the equation ended up factoring in less than I might have originally thought.)

On one occasion a good buddy and I went to the local Christian bookstore under the vague impression Derek had released a solo album. He hadn’t; we were several months premature. But that fall we drove out to the boonies in eastern Pennsylvania to a solo show he did. That was 2002. The following spring our local Christian radio station did a little contest for a chance to win a lunch and small in-studio concert with him. My buddy and I both won, separately. It’s possible not very many people were aware of who this Derek Webb character was. But to us he was a pretty big deal – so much so that we drove to his show an hour away that night for another dose.

Derek WebbOver the years I went to more of Derek’s shows than I can count, mostly in churches and cafés all over central and eastern Pennsylvania, with a bar in Nashville thrown in. But I got to know Derek primarily, of course, through the songs themselves. His debut record, She Must and Shall Go Free, was a concept album all about a tormented relationship of love with the church. That was the same year I happened to really start reading theology (a habit I haven’t managed to kick), and the theological underpinnings of those songs resonated deeply.

And so it continued every year or two, whenever Derek recorded and released a new batch of songs. It was as if my listening to his records was a way of checking in on where the journey had led both of us in the meantime, as we both in one way or another came of age.

At times, I felt as if Derek’s new songs were putting to words the very things I’d been wrestling with myself. On more than one occasion, I suspected we’d been reading the same books and spending time with similar kinds of people. Other times, I’d find we were heading in some different directions, exploring different ideas, using different kinds of vocabulary. There was and is both dissonance and harmony, you might say, between Derek and me (Unlike Derek, I have never had a public feud with The Roots’ drummer Questlove).

Early on, Derek was notorious for over-explaining – sermonizing, really – everything. I haven’t exactly timed it with a stopwatch, but if you listen to his live album The House Show, you’ll find he probably talks twice as much as he sings, quoting Calvin and Luther and various other heavyweights. And compared to a lot of the songs he’d later write, those first songs were for the most part quite straightforward. By his second record, I See Things Upside Down, he was writing much more cryptically, and on tour he said next to nothing about the meanings of the songs, preferring to let the art do the talking. To this day he’ll sometimes tweet strange things about the creative process, letting us know out of the blue that he’s “receiving coordinates” for new songs.

derek-webbBut now, in 2013, Derek has, it seems to me, come full circle. He’s back where he started again, as if for the first time. Like that first record, this time around he really wants to be understood.

As part of Derek’s launch team for his new record, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, I’ve been listening to it a lot over the past few weeks, soaking it in, singing along, and then, somewhere along the way, starting to plumb its depths. And I think it’s some of his finest stuff yet.

I could dissect the album for you, word by word, line by line, song by song, but that’s not the best way to approach art – or confession, for that matter, not to mention relationship. And this record is each of those things. You get the impression the record and its title might have something to do with one’s relationship with God and with others alike. Indeed, it captures the very posture required to keep relationships in all directions in tact.

Where will Derek go from here? I don’t know. Frankly, I doubt even he knows which coordinates will come his way next. But with I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, Derek Webb has given us a gift – a confession, an apology, and a vow.

The new album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, officially drops next Tuesday, September 3, but you can preorder it now at


1. Suburbs and sacred space
Aaron Renn (@urbanophile) made the argument a few weeks ago that when it comes to sacred space, suburbs really trail cities. It’s an interesting claim. But Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) doesn’t buy it, countering with this:

A more plausible argument than Renn’s might go like this: Only in the suburbs are Christians still concerned to build sacred spaces, that is, spaces specifically dedicated to the celebration of and immersion in the holy, the divine. Urban Christians, by contrast, are content to — must be content to — find sacred experiences in spaces never consecrated to such a quest and bearing always the marks of their wholly secular purposes. I don’t think that’s an argument I want to make, but it would be a more plausible one; and it would have the further merit of raising a very important question: whether “sacred space” is primarily a function of architecture or, rather, primarily a function of the character of the communities that dwell in built environments.

2. Is compromise a bad word?
Michael Gerson (@MJGerson) asks us to consider an important political question in this column in Capital Commentary (though grammatically, he should know better than to refer to “the media” in the singular):

The gap between parties and ideologies in America is wide. The areas of policy overlap are relatively small. This means that middle ground proposals will always have built in critics. The media loves to cover ideological arguments. And the partisan media, on left and right, has an interest in feeding controversy. But even prior to such ideological disagreements, people concerned about politics need to answer a question: Is legislative compromise a virtue or a failure?

3. No easy answers, no trite salvos
Cathleen Falsani (@godgrrl) writes for the Washington Post’s On Faith blog about the spiritual substance of Mumford & Sons’ music, following a concert of theirs in California:

“You are not alone in this,” we sang. “You are not alone in this. As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.” It was a sacred promise from fellow travelers along the spiritual journey that is this life. Mumford offered no easy answers, no trite salvos. “I will tell the night, whisper, ‘lose your sight,’” he sang, “but I can’t move the mountains for you.” Such heavy lifting is the work of the Spirit alone. While we wait, the hold music is marvelous, and we’re in great company.

4. The strength of Mariano Rivera
I hate the Yankees as much as the next guy, but it’s hard not to think the world of Mariano Rivera, undoubtedly the best closer ever to play the game. Lisa Miller (@lisaxmiller) writes for New York Magazine about what matters most to him as his baseball career comes to a close (though it’s obvious Miller doesn’t share many of his convictions):

Sportswriters often discount athletes’ religiosity as a sideshow, and the secular viewers of cable TV may prefer the bloodless scrutiny of slo-mo video than to give credit to divine causes, but the full story of Rivera’s career is unmistakably a story about faith. On the mound, Rivera is implacable, a warrior with the Buddha’s face. But talking about faith with Rivera is like opening a bottle; years of feeling come out. He speaks less like a theologian than like an enthusiastic believer, channeling all his considerable charisma, curiosity, and preternatural seriousness into the conveyance of passion. His is not a questioning faith but a conviction, invulnerable to attacks from skeptics and doubters, and so his answers to existentially vexing questions can sound to some uncomfortably neat. But Rivera isn’t worried about rationalist complaints because it is in certitude that he finds his strength.

5. Go Wherever You Want To Go
Last night Katie and I went to the Patty Griffin show with some friends. Here’s a new favorite tune.

[Image: Suburbia via 20LTD]


1. Two global churches
Eastertide is a season of resurrection, of new beginnings, of new life. And as two churches find themselves with new leaders, Timothy Sherratt sees reason for hope:

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the smaller Anglican Communion are global churches. That feature is perhaps an under-appreciated blessing in the Christian community. What it brings into view is the reality of our membership in the Body of Christ. When membership is global, questions of diversity, evangelism and service take shape as present reality, not abstract aspiration. Global neighbors really are neighbors, who read from the same liturgy and share in the body and blood of Christ… Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby have, by actions and words, taken a critical stance towards the institutions they now lead. If I read them correctly, their message to the Churches is an Easter message: Institutions matter, but health requires that they be tailored to their mission, taking risks rather than taking refuge.

2. Plumbing the depths
Singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson (@AndrewPeterson) said this about art, work, and community in a recent interview:

Christianity was never meant to be experienced in isolation. It requires community and interaction on an intimate level with human beings. Songwriting or art or work can’t be isolated from any other part of my Christian life—like taking communion. It’s all best experienced in community. And I can’t overstate how much I have been wounded and then healed, how much I’ve experienced God’s pleasure and then God’s discipline, through the community to which I belong. I am not trying to say that you can’t be a great artist and still be a loner; I just don’t want to be one.

3. Socially engaged art
Randy Kennedy writes about an interesting arts and activism trend:

As the commercial art world in America rides a boom unlike any it has ever experienced, another kind of art world growing rapidly in its shadows is beginning to assert itself. And art institutions around the country are grappling with how to bring it within museum walls and make the case that it can be appreciated along with paintings, sculpture and other more tangible works. Known primarily as social practice, its practitioners freely blur the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art that often flourishes outside the gallery and museum system. And in so doing, they push an old question — “Why is it art?” — as close to the breaking point as contemporary art ever has.

4. The right questions
Fieldnotes Magazine shares ten good questions from Max De Pree that leaders should ask:

Leaders have an obligation to ask the right questions on behalf of the organization. One of the advantages of age is that it finally dawns on you that questions are more important than answers. Questions either determine or lead to such things as quality, appropriateness, who should be involved, and what’s right. The leader has a role in initiating and examining and testing questions.

5. Little Man by Little Dragon
Thanks to Tala Strauss (@talastrauss) for tweeting this great video.

[Photo: Roman Catholic devotees hold candles as they line a procession route for an icon of the Virgin Mary outside a Catholic church on Easter Sunday in Quezon City, Philippines on April 7, 2012. (Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images) via]