The Subversive Hope of Hiss Golden Messenger’s ‘Hallelujah Anywhow’

Music matters. Sometimes it voices things we didn’t know we resonated with. Music can carry our joys, give voice to our sorrows or become the voice of protest. And sometimes, “protest music” isn’t what you’d expect. Who expected folk music to fuel the 60’s?

Falling somewhere between Dylan, Van Morrison and the Grateful Dead in all the best ways but still carving out an identity of their own, North Carolina’s Hiss Golden Messenger‘s struggle to hold on to “peace, love, light and hope,” is the protest music we need.

I’m not not to presume the faith of others. I am a Christian. I don’t know if you are. I don’t know if Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor is. But Taylor’s lyrics have given voice to so much of the beauty that I find in following a Savior who would rather die for His enemies than kill them. I can’t help but hear in Taylor’s lyrics the promise of light even when the world seems dark. The band’s name evokes the dangerous beauty of the Tempter while the title of their latest album, ‘Hallelujah Anyhow’s’ seems to paraphrase Job 13:15, when, after losing everything, Job responds with: “Though God slay me, I will hope in Him.” Hallelujah Anyhow indeed.

For many, these are heavy days overshadowed by gathering storms. Our president stokes division rather than unity. Bigots in our midst are not new but they are newly emboldened. It’s hard not to feel like War is crouching at the door, ready to pounce. The struggle for equality rages on while white supremacists are demanding equal air time. One might be excused for giving in to cynicism and sometimes, hopelessness doesn’t seem that far off.

My own faith keeps that hopelessness at bay. Christianity presents the subversive hope that the Light is winning, even as we sometimes believe that the darkness is rising. Love turns things upside down. As Brian Zahnd reminds us in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, “Jesus’s solidarity is with the Abel-like victims, not with the Cain-like conquerors” and: “The cross is the place where human fear and anger are absorbed into God’s eternal and recycled into the saving mercy of Christ.” I don’t know MC Taylor’s fountain of hope, but whatever it is, he seems to drink deeply. I am thankful for an artist who believes in the power of Love.

While acknowledging that life can be a beat-down, Taylor refuses to lose hope. This is the protest music we need. Instead of giving in to division or fueling resentment, we must seek the beautiful resisting power of Love. One of the album’s last lines is from “When The Walls Come Down” and summarizes the struggle “It’s a beautiful world but painful child: step back, Jack, from the darkness.” This idea of beauty in the pain is woven through this record. This is the protest music we need. These might seem like dark days,  but we won’t give in. We must continually remind one another that the light is winning even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Yes, the world is hard but there is always light in the darkness. Taylor sings “I’ve never been afraid of the darkness, It’s just a different kind of light” in “Jenny of the Roses” and  “It’s a strange, sweet kind of light, To be lost out in the darkness of the border” in “Lost Out In the Darkness.” Light in the darkness allows us to keep going. In “John the Gun,” Taylor resolves, “Though I’m torn and tattered: I’ll abide.” We can keep going. We must keep going. We must not give in. Love will win and the Light is breaking through.

The album’s theme is perhaps nowhere made more clear than in “When the Walls Come Down”:

What’cha gonna do
When the shackles fall
What you oughta do Is melt them down
Melt them down
Turn them into tools
and make a garden
On the prison grounds
Turn your chains to roses, child

There is power in pursuing beauty. We must cultivate instead of destroy. We can once again work for life from the ashes. We need to cling to the Light and strive for Peace. You’re not alone in wanting this and Taylor reminds us that it’s all worth it. Though we trip through “Harder rain” and  “Darker darkness,” if it’s up to me (and Taylor),  “A little love would go a long way.”


We All Have Our Hangups (So Let’s Show Some Grace)

In Romans 13:8-10, the Apostle Paul tells his readers that if they want to boil everything down; if they want to sum up God’s law and what it means to follow Him, then love people. Then, a few verses later, in Romans 14:1-12, he gives us a practical example of what this might look like in everyday life.

Here, Paul develops the relationship between those who eat meat and those who don’t, calling the vegetarians weaker in faith. Now, before you make a wise crack about how of course God wants us to eat bacon, (which, I mean, of course that’s true!), let’s remember that Paul primarily has in mind meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul develops the argument further by comparing those who celebrate some religious holidays against those who do not.

What’s so interesting, is that, despite our tendency to want clear lines and directions, Paul doesn’t come out and say that one group is right while the other is wrong. Instead, Paul argues that as long as each person is convinced in their own mind that they are seeking to honor God. If you do what you do because you love God and love others, then, by all means, do it.

But show some grace to those who disagree. And don’t judge them as somehow less holy than you because they don’t share your convictions.

Of course there’s lots to be said about this. There are, of course, boundaries to Christianity. And there is such a thing as sin. Paul does not mean that, in showing love to one another that we turn a blind eye to everything. Scripture makes it clear that we are to call one another out when in sin (Matthew 18:15-20) and we are called to speak truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Instead, Paul has in mind issues within the big tent of orthodoxy. We all have our own personal preferences. We all read Scripture through those preferences. And we gravitate towards people who share those preferences. This is difficult for some people to grasp. There are genuine Believers who have genuine differences. And both perspectives are within Christianity.

This is the issue Paul faces. Some Believers wouldn’t eat meat while others did. And some Believers celebrated certain religious holidays while others didn’t. And they were judging the ones who believed and practiced differently. There’s nothing new under the sun, is there? We still judge other Christians who practice their faith differently than us. We, as the preachers like to say, major on the minors. We look for areas of distinction (division) instead of coming together under the tent of unity. We’d rather judge each other than admit that our preferences are just that: preferences.

We all have our hangups. Certain things that we believe to be important. Perspectives that we might allow to bring disagreement with other Believers but are not ultimately worth dividing over. Paul says that the proper response is to show grace to one another and stop judging because Jesus is the ultimate judge, not us.

This is something I have often struggled with over the years. I once belonged to a church where there were people who thought that if you weren’t a Calvinist, then you probably weren’t a Christian. I have never personally held this belief, but I have found my fair share of time to argue with people over doctrine. But I answer to Jesus. Other Believers don’t have to answer to me. In fact, we all answer to Jesus and He has given us grace so it seems like the least we can do is get over ourselves and show one another some of the grace we’ve received.

Initial Thoughts On Moving In A More Liturgical Direction

As many of you know, we have begun exploring a new church plant. We have begun to gather for worship. We have also adopted a bit more of a liturgical approach than other churches we’ve been involved with. Here is a note I sent out to our church family explaining a bit of the reasoning for this shift.

When many people hear “liturgical” worship, they’re reminded of Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism: robes, gold-plated crosses, incense, pictures of saints, stand-up, sit-down, do the hokey pokey, and say a little chant. But there is a wide spectrum of what it means to have “liturgical” worship and we’re definitely on the more casual end of the spectrum. Let me explain.

First, a little context: “liturgy” simply refers to the adopted patterns any local church adopts in its worship practices. Every church has a “liturgy.” For many, this simply means 3-4 songs and a sermon; repeat. Unless your church does everything completely differently every week, you have a liturgy. It’s the repeated way you choose to do things.

In the bigger picture, it can also mean observing larger rituals like Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Each of these holidays is part of something larger called the Church Calendar. This larger liturgy traces the ministry of Jesus and contains pre-selected Scripture readings and pre-written readings and prayers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The notion of “liturgical” actually revolves around “liturgia,” which means “the work of the people.” It is a shared rather than a passive worship experience. That is why there is such an emphasis of corporate/responsive readings (including prayers). You are expected to participate.
We have decided to follow the Church Calendar and largely follow the Book of Common Prayer schedule for some Scripture readings. This means that we will observe seasons like Advent and Lent a bit more than you might be used to if you’re from an evangelical background. It also means that Sunday’s will likely be a bit more scripted than you might be used to. We will make heavy use of written out prayers, responsive and corporate readings. 

There are, of course, dangers to having everything printed out. For example, though this approach is designed with participation in mind, passivity is always a danger. It’s up to us to actually focus on the words we’re saying rather than simply mouthing words to get through the service. Using pre-written materials allows us to clearly communicate focused theological truths in a much more concise manner. Let’s pray that these words would not only be spoken by us but that they will speak to us.

Another concern might be that having everything written out is that it can quite easily become rote, repetitive and unfeeling. This is the same argument many churches use when choosing not to take communion every week. I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing this one other than to say: Heaven help us when the great Gospel truths no longer inspire us simply because we regularly rehearse them.

Some struggle most with the idea of pre-written, corporately-spoken prayers. After all, isn’t Prayer my private talk with God and none of your business? There is definitely a private aspect to some Prayer. But Gathered Worship, by default, forces our attention to our place in the community of Believers. Using corporate prayers allows us to verbally pray with one another without bringing attention to any individual (whether they be quite eloquent or nervous). It is an expression of unity and shared dependence. It is many coming together as one.

Let me also briefly review some of the other things that have drawn us in this direction: This approach emphasizes the content rather than the personality of the presenter. The pre-written content and shared participation make it much less about any individual.

This approach makes it much less likely that the preacher or music leader is able to simply engineer an emotional response and call it worship. You must focus on the truths at hand. Again, we are not an audience. Worship is not passive and it is more than emotion.

This approach emphasizes the corporate nature of gathered worship.

This approach unites local churches with the Church Universal (“Catholic”) in focus and content, reminding us of the importance of pursuing unity rather than focusing on our differences. Churches around the world are saying the same things, reading the same Scriptures and hearing the same Truths. This approach also unites local churches to deep tradition while maintaining individual avenues of expression (even though we’re following the same schedule, local church personality is not sacrificed.).

I’d like to ask that you give it a chance. I’m sure there are lots of things I forgot to cover here, so please join in with any questions. We are thankful for each of you and humbled to be on this journey with you.

To Him be the glory, now and forever. On earth as it is in Heaven.

Charlottesville, Trump And American Christians

Let’s just make this clear: the president of the United States (and yes, I didn’t capitalize “president” on purpose) has presented a narrative of the Charlottesville events sympathetic to white supremacists rather than those opposing racism. ‬

‪Let me say that again: the president of the United States has refused to condemn racists. The president has played racists as the victims and as “fine people.” ‬

‪The president is furthering the narrative that peaceful demonstrators (who had permission to be there) who opposed the removal of a confederate statue were attacked by the violent “alt-left” (who had no permission to be there).‬
‪But there are severe problems with this narrative.‬

First, there is no such thing as the “alt-left”. Trump made it up to create a false equivalency. Instead, there were white supremacists and those opposing racism. Yes, there are some violent leftist protesters now know as “antifa” and their violence must be condemned, but they’re not really the focus of the narrative. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Most estimate that there were maybe a couple dozen antifa protestors compared with 500 or so white supremacists and around 1,000 or so peaceful anti-racist protestors.‬

Second, despite claims to the contrary, the White Supremacist protests were not about the statue removal. It was billed as a “Unite the Right” rally and, as a whole, the so-called “alt. right” has never shown a particular interest in Southern issues. In fact, they chanted “Soil and Blood” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us” while wearing swastika armbands, making it clear that this was not about statue removal. It was about white supremacy. Now you tell me how chants against the Jews apply to the removal of a Confederate statue without the common denominator of white supremacy.‬

‪Trump’s narrative knowingly minimizes the blatant racism of the white supremacists and presents them as the victims while trying to cast blame on others.‬

Many people I know are frustrated that Trump is receiving so much blame for these abhorrent events. After all, he wasn’t there and he’s just asking that we all get along, right? Let me tell you why I think that bucket is full of holes and dripping disrepute all over our democracy’s good shoes.‬

‪They wore his hats. They literally chanted “Heil Trump”. David Duke asserted that the protests were fulfilling Trump’s promises (Duke made no pretense that the protests were about the statue). Richard Spencer is giddy the the president’s comments condemning “both sides”. Trump not explicitly condemning white nationalists, white supremacists, racism, and the “alt. right” is Trump condoning all those things. And that’s exactly what the white supremacists have heard; even while many conservatives try to explain the whole thing away. The damage is done.‬

‪Trump doesn’t have empathy. OK, we should stop asking him to bring the country together because he has made it clear that he wants to foster confusion and produce conflict. We should stop asking him to bring peace because, he has no interest. It’s fine to let him be himself. ‬

‪But it’s not fine to pretend that this president has a moral compass. And we have to admit that many just don’t care. It’s not fine to deny that Trump has continually fanned the flames of racial tension. For example, he declared himself the “law and order” candidate. If you’re unfamiliar with the racially charged weight of that term, I recommend reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or watch Netflix’ 13th for more context. Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions are among his closest advisors. You might not think Sessions is a racist, but Corretta Scott King sure did.‬

And as if all this weren’t enough, some high profile “evangelical” leaders have publicly praised Trump and the way he handled the Charlottesville situation.‬

‪It is time for Christians to publicly condemn this man. It is past time. 81% of white evangelicals supported this man and retains a good chunk of that support, even though his overall popularity is the worst of any president at this point in his term. ‬
‪At least Esau got a bowl of stew. Judas got thirty pieces of silver. Many Christians in America have settled for a Supreme Court Justice. ‬

Don’t Let Your Theology Stop You From Taking Action

The other day I wrote about my initial reaction to the Charlottesville White Supremacist gathering. The time has come for the Church in America to lead the way I facing our race problems head-on. 

Our country was founded on racist ideals that were then woven into the fabric of our culture. Charlottesville is an anomaly only in the sense that the racism many cling to behind closed doors was on display for the world to see. The hoods were gone but the hate remained.

And too often, American Evagelicalism has either abetted the racist programs of our country (think Jim Crow or the “War on Drugs”) or turned a blind eye (which, of course, is just another form of approval).

While some claim that their theology leads them to hate (White Supremacy often bills itself as a form of Christian expression even though it is clearly not.), others’ theology might not lead them to active hate but to passive indifference or to even critique those who do speak and act out. Let me explain.

I was once part of a church that was invited to a multi-church prayer gathering for the city. Our elders declined to participate because it was not only being headed up by the Methodists, but a woman pastor. I don’t know if they thought that God somehow wouldn’t hear our prayers if we said them in the same setting as a woman pastor or what, but we did not participate in the gathering and I’ve thought about it many times since. I wish we had participated.

Many churches who consider themeselves theologically conservative allow their concern for theologically purity to lead them to criticize the very churches that are often at the fore of confronting vital social issues.

Years ago, for some reason, many so-called theological conservatives adopted the phrase “Social Justice Warrior” as a perjorative term. Many theological conservatives expressed the concern that to care about social justice was a slippery slope to abandoning the Gospel itself. Concern for social justice has often been equated with being “liberal” (which is to be understood again, as a perjorative term). Therefore, many otherwise well-intentioned theological conservatives have distanced themselves from things like fighting for civil rights.

Of course there have been liberal churches whose cultural agendas have been coupled with trips to the edges of orthodoxy. But it’s wrong to equate a concern for social concerns with abandoning orthodoxy. And, also of course, many churches on the right have coupled theological concerns with inaction, which, in its worst forms is also complicity.

The question becomes whether our pursuit of theological clarity will cage us in or propel us out. Don’t let your concern for theological purity prevent you from speaking out against evils and partnering with those doing so as well. Even if they have different theological views. 

Praying with a Methodist doesn’t all of the sudden mean I don’t have theological disagreements with Methodism, it means I think our cooperation is vital. Linking arms with someone on one issue doesn’t mean we agree on every issue, nor must it. But let’s stop believing that we just because we don’t agree on every issue, we can’t cooperate on any issues.  

I know that some willl hear what I’ve said as Brent no longer believes theology is important. He’s some kind of liberal universalist. That’s not true. Theology is immensely important. And we have some vital in-house disagreements. But what family doesn’t. I’m saying that I know the dangers of allowing theological concerns to prevent partnerships with other currents of the stream because I’ve been there.

I want my theology to breed love and I want to live love. I want a faith for the good of others through the glory of God. I want to humble myself to learn from other faith traditions. And I want the Church in America to stand in the gap for the oppressed. I want us to stand against systemic racism. I want us to fight for civil rights. I long for us to be the ones to care for widows and orphans; to love and serve the poor, the immigrants and the disenfranchised. 

I want us to find the balance of valuing our theological differences while working together for Shalom.

Events like Charlottesville are teaching us that we can’t wait.

The Charlottesville Clarion Call

‪I am among the privileged. I have never worried about discrimination. I have never had to even think much about racism. Growing up, I didn’t even know what Jim Crow was or how recent it was (or that in many ways still in practice). I didn’t understand the systemic racism that has fueled our country. I didn’t understand how things like the GI Bill, HOAs, freeway/infrastructure placement, and the War on Drugs were designed to further the racist agenda. ‬

‪In case you haven’t seen the news, white supremacists (many with machine guns) have staged protests in Charlottesville, chanting things like “White Lives Matter” and “Soil and Blood”. If you think that the views on parade (with tiki torches) in Charlottesville are “fringe”, you need to understand our history a bit deeper.‬ and the current displays in Charlottesville are a clarion call. We cannot ignore racism any longer.

‪For too long, the “church in America” has either openly or with complicity helped perpetuate this racist agenda, when in fact, our faith calls us to stand with the oppressed. I don’t know what it means or what it looks like but we must take the lead in fighting racism and I don’t know what it means or looks like but White Evangelicals must be at the front of the line. Otherwise nothing will change. ‬

‪It’s past time we faced this issue head-on. Our God not only stands with the oppressed but calls us to do so as well. Our Savior lead with love, service and compassion, laying down His own life for His enemies. I have been wondering a lot lately: would I stand in between people and white supremacists with machine guns? Would I put myself in harm’s way so that other may know the love of God? I worry that the time when I need to answer those questions may be sooner than I’d like.‬

‪The church’s role is to upend systems of injustice and inequality, not perpetuate them. Christians must regain a subversive voice and practice the civil disobedience of love, pursuing equality in more than word. ‬

‪I am deeply troubled by the brazenness with which racism is on display these days but I know that being troubled is not enough. My heart breaks for those who are made to live in fear and subjugation. My heart breaks for those who hate others because of the color of their skin. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to move forward. I can condemn racism on my blog but what can I do in real life? I don’t know, but I want to find out.‬

‪Will you pray with me and for me? Would you help me understand the things I don’t? I don’t know what any of this means other than I can’t remain silent. How can Christians in America (how can *we*) walk in the humble confidence (in the face of evil) that the Light is winning? How can we make the hollow words of our founding fathers “liberty and justice for all” a reality? How can we dismantle systemic powers of racism and oppression?

‪I look forward to your thoughts.‪

“The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.”‪
(Psalm 9:9-10)
‪There are plenty of resources on this topic but here are some that I have found to be eye-opening:‬

What resources have helped you on this journey?

Habañero Collective: Glory Days, A House Show Mix

Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve created until you can separate yourself a bit. Get a different perspective. See it as a whole.

I have been privileged to be part of Habañero Collective for some time now. We used to do a music/interview podcast. Then we started hosting house shows in the Phoenix area.

For various and sundry life reasons and circumstances, we’ve taken an extended break from hosting house shows. This time away gave me just enough separation to start looking back at some of the amazing artists we’ve hosted. We’ve been blessed to rub shoulders with some truly creative and dynamic people. People who believe in their craft and pursue creativity.

Until we start hosting shows regularly again, here is a mix of 22 of the amazing artists we’ve been privileged to host in one venue or another. And, even more amazing, this is not all of the artists we’ve worked with.


If you’re interested, here is the setlist:

  1. Distress by Jeremy Casella
  2. America’s Son by Air Review
  3. When It Don’t Come Easy by Justin McRoberts
  4. One, Two, Three by Christian Lee Hutson
  5. Big Ghost by Chris Bathgate
  6. Folded Hands by Zoo Animal
  7. Always The Same by the Autumn Film
  8. Arrowplane by Trevor Davis
  9. Ornithology  by Foreknown
  10. New Way of Living by David Ramirez
  11. Letting Go And Holding On by Shawn Skinner and the Men of Reason
  12. Minnie Pearl by Matt Haeck
  13. Monster Truck by Ramsay Midwood
  14. The Truth by American Longspurs
  15. We Will All Be Changed by Seryn
  16. Old Man’s Town by the Hollands!
  17. Bones by Owl Parliament
  18. Honest Kind of Luck Dylan Pratt
  19. Sisters and Brothers by the Vespers
  20. Switzerland by the Last Bison
  21. Nothing Like A Train by Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love
  22. Homestead by Northern Hustle

The “Enlightened Self-Interest” of Christianity

If we’re friends, then at some point, I’ve probably begun a sentence with the phrase: “I heard on NPR  . . . ”

Anyways, I was listening to NPR earlier this month when they ran an interview with “Retiring U.S. diplomat Daniel Fried.”

At one point, NPR’s Steve Inskeep prompted Fried with: “I read the speech that you gave on your way out of the State Department. And your description of America’s role in the world reminded me of a phrase that I learned in school, enlightened self-interest. What’s it mean?”

I have to be honest and say that “enlightened self-interest” is a phrase that I had heard before but never really thought about or investigated. Fried’s answer had me thinking all day:

It means that as we think of America first, as we should, we should understand that our interests are best served when other countries also prosper. We realized long ago that our prosperity and our security at home was advanced when other nations felt secure and were more prosperous.

Aside from the gross nationalism and ultimately selfish motives (we help so that we can get ahead) which I cannot support, my interest was particularly piqued by Fried saying: “our interests are best served when other countries also prosper.” This was something that resonated. It carried weight. So I looked up the phrase “enlightened self-interest” on Wikipedia (so you know it’s true), and this is what I found:

Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.

What strikes me about this concept is that it seems to transcend selfishness. Of course you could seek to simply pursue your own self-interest. Many people do. But to understand that your true self-interest is found when others benefit seems counter-intuitive. It means will probably face choices in which you must sacrifice your own immediate needs or wants for the sake of others. It means that you can’t view others as obstacles to your own goals because we’re all weaved in this thing together. It means our interests can’t be separated.

To understand that my self-interest may be met by serving others is not the same thing as seeking my own self-interest by using others for that end; even if it means serving them. The heart of the idea of “enlightened self-interest” (if I am understanding it correctly) is that I benefit when we all benefit. And for me to truly benefit, we must all benefit.

I couldn’t help but think of Jeremiah 29. God’s people had been removed from their homeland and cast into Babylonian exile because of their faithlessness. But God continued to talk to them. To teach them and guide them. Sometimes he did it through mouthpiece-people called prophets. Consider Jeremiah 29:4-7:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: [5] Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. [6] Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. [7] But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

My friend Tyler Johnson (of Redemption Church, the Surge NetworkMissional Training Center, etc.) once summarized the heart behind James Davison Hunter’s wonderful book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World using sports metaphors. I’m not a sports-fan but I remember the gist: the “most valuable player” is oftentimes not the one who scores the most himself but the one who helps the team score the most points. The MVP wins when the team wins.

This seems to me to be a great summation of the heart of Christianity. Christianity certainly includes the idea of “personal salvation” but it has always been more than that. From the beginning, God told Abraham that his descendants (people of faith in God through Jesus) would be blessed so that they would be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-3):

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God’s people have always been charged with showing the world who God is and what He is like. They have always had “blessing” at the heart of their identity. We all know the story too well to pretend that they (or we) always lived up to this ideal. But it has been there nonetheless. Consider, for example, Leviticus 19:18:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (repeated in Matthew 22:39, etc.)

Though often known as simply a list of do’s and don’ts, right there, in the heart of Leviticus is the command to think of others as much as you think of yourself (which for most of us is quite a lot). Far from reversing this trend, the New Testament brings clarity and force. Paul audaciously tells us to be like Jesus which means to consider others not just as much as we think of ourselves but as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2). Jesus, takes it a step further and says that it’s not just “others” that we should seek to benefit but even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

In other words, if ever there were a people who should practice the idea of “enlightened self-interest”, it is Christians. But not because we might find our self-interest benefited in helping others but because we have already received all of the love, peace, and acceptance we could ever hope for. Remember that scene when Jesus went out to his crazy cousin John to be baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17)? As Jesus came up from the water, the Father, as the voice from Heaven said: This is my child in whom I am well-pleased.

If you trust in Jesus, He says the same of you. There is nothing you can do to earn it or lose it. He is pleased with you. He will not just be pleased when you obey or get your act together. He is pleased with you. What might change in your life if you believed that your approach to others wasn’t governed by needing their acceptance (because you have already been accepted by God through Jesus) but how you might help them flourish?

Because of our blessings from God, our very identity is tied to pursuing the betterment of our communities near and far. We have been blessed to be a blessing to others.

I confess that I have too often thought of Christianity in terms of my own soul getting to heaven when I die rather than in terms of how I am called, equipped and sent to bless others in the hear and now.

What good shall we do today?

What injustice shall we fight?

What peace shall we make?

Who should we bless?

What reconciliation shall we bridge?

Which enemy shall we love?

We have been blessed. How shall we be a blessing?

Aaron Strumpel: Bright Star, Great Cause

I am a Christian. Jesus has ushered me into His Kingdom through His grace and He is coming again to finish the work of setting everything right. All of life is from, for and through Him (Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-17, etc.).

I love music. Though I have no musical talent of my own, music has remained a constant part of my life since the summer before Junior High. A friend gave me a cassette tape of Social Distortion’s Mommy’s Little Monster (Don’t judge. We all have a different path) and my life changed forever. I found a connection in music. All of that to simply enforce that I love music.

But I rarely like “Christian music”. You know, the stuff in “Christian” bookstores and played on “Christian” radio. I don’t connect with most of it and don’t find that most of the songs or artists represent anything that resonates with me. Much of it, to me, rings trite and formulaic and seems to exist for the express purpose of either: 01) “praise and worship” or 02) evangelism.

But I love music made by Christians who believe that God is glorified to artistry and attention to detail. People with passion because they’ve got something to sing about. People willing to experiment because their value doesn’t come from what people think about them or ratings but from the Creator, Savior and Sustainer of the world, Jesus.

Though not often widely known, there are a handful of artists exploring authentic expressions of the Christian faith. One of my long-time favorites has been Aaron Strumpel. I first heard of Aaron through his involvement with the Enter the Worship Circle project. I had his 2009 album Elephants on repeat for months. It was one of the most original things I had heard in a long time; musically-mesmerizing and lyrically captivating.

Strumpel recently re-released his excellent Bright Star album on Noisetrade in order to donate the proceeds to Horizon’s International School of Hope, “a school in Beruit that serves refugee children from Syria and Pakistan.”

I recently asked Aaron to share a little bit about the project:

Bright Star turned two this month! In order to celebrate, I’ve put it up on Noisetrade as a give away for the whole month of February – all tips will go to Horizon’s International School of Hope, a school in Beruit that serves refugee children from Syria and Pakistan.

Anyway, about the album. It’s a worship album. I say that because I’ve made a good number of albums that have been Psalmic but not created to be sung by groups of people in worship settings. Some of those albums were Enter the Worship Circle: Chair & Mic Vol. 2, Elephants, Birds, Vespers I, II, III, & IV. To my surprise, many of those songs became favorites of believing communities from all over the place and so after a good amount of encouragement, I combined these “greatest hits” with a batch of brand new songs and made Bright Star, a record that Worship Leader Magazine named as a Top 5 Indie Worship Album in 2015! Super fun! The album was co-produced by my good friend and Page CXVI lead-singer, Latifah Phillips, and I’m so excited to present it as a giveaway on Noisetrade this month.

Check it out here:

Or preview the album right here:

Peep the video for “Twenty Three”


  • Visit Aaron’s website
  • Can We Talk (Hell/Eternal Damnation Edition)?

    I mentioned in the previous post in the “Can We Talk” series (Complementarian/Egalitarian Edition)? how I believe in the value of dialogue. I also introduced the concept behind this series:

    Over the past couple of years, I have seen the idea of “orthodoxy” applied to issues I’m not sure it should have been. I have seen well-intentioned Christians say that other well-intentioned Christians are not in fact Christians because of their views on things like hell, gender roles and the like. So let’s explore some of these issues together. I’d like to propose a topic in the briefest way possible and let you help fill out the discussion. I’d like us all to listen and learn from one another. Maybe you’ll find your own position strengthened as a result, and maybe you’ll be persuaded to another view. Either way, it is a valuable exercise to to listen to one another.

    In other words, we might think of this series as the online, interactive version of those “Four Views” books.

    There are lots of important but not ultimate issues in Christianity. Your understanding and practice of God’s intended gender design matter; in family, in “church”, at work. They matter and they are important. But they are not ultimate. You can be Complementarian, Egalitarian, somewhere or nowhere in between and still be a Christian. This is not an issue on the defining edge of orthodoxy. There are issues of orthodoxy which define who is an who is not a Christian. The Deity of Jesus/the Trinity are some primary ones.

    But we have a tendency to promote other views to the level of orthodoxy. We hold all kinds of views on which we believe those who disagree simply cannot be Christian. The problem, of course is that the people over on the other sides of those same issues probably view it as orthodoxy as well and they’re just as suspicious of your salvation as you are of theirs. It is vital that we think through our positions consistently in the light of God’s revelation. We should know and understand what we believe. We should know and understand the core of our belief. We must know which lines are borders and which ones are not.

    Which brings me to a quick disclaimer, then today’s topic. First, in the context of this series, asking whether or not some topics are defining issues of orthodoxy is not an expression of my opinion on these topics. These are simply heavily-discussed topics upon which people sometimes place rather heavy dogmatic value. For some, to disagree is to disbelieve. It never hurts to take fresh looks at such issues.

    The topic of “hell” and/or “eternal damnation” has often been a contentious one. No one likes to consider that they may spend eternity in a lake of fire. No one would wish any such thing on their loved ones. The notion of hell has also often been tied to questions surrounding the extent of the atonement. Believing in Universalism necessarily affects your view of hell. Some have argued that hell is not only literal but eternal. Others argue that, though there is indeed a literal hell, it is not eternal. At some point, God will simply wipe you from existence. Still others have argued that hell was never meant to be taken literally while others argue that God will one day win every one in to His family. Some slip in the snide notion that if you need the threat of eternal damnation to do good, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

    As you can see, this topic is deep and wide and we could chase lots of interconnected doctrinal rabbit trails together. Let’s talk it out. Here’s some questions to get us started (feel free to add others and don’t feel it necessary to answer every question in your response):

    • Do you view this as an issue of orthodoxy (must someone believe this to be considered a “Christian”)?
    • Can you believe in a non-literal or a non-eternal hell and still be considered “orthodox”?
    • Do you believe in a literal, eternal hell?
    • Do you believe that Annihilationism is a valid biblical position?
    • Is Annihilationism within what you would consider to be “orthodoxy”?
    • Do you believe that the Bible’s teaching on hell is meant to be understood figuratively?
    • Is Universalism a valid biblical position?
    • Is Universalism within what you would consider to be “orthodoxy”?
    • How does your view of hell relate to your idea of justice? Of grace? Of love?
    • What questions am I missing?
    • What do you think?

     As always, please be respectful. I can’t wait to learn from you.