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.

Enjoy:



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: http://noisetrade.com/aaronstrumpel/bright-star

Or preview the album right here:



Peep the video for “Twenty Three”

“Mightier”

  • 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.

    Why Saying “America First” Is Not Compatible With Christianity

    The American experiment is predicated on the notion of the peaceful transfer of power. We just underwent one such transition. On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump swore on a Bible to stand on behalf of others and gave an address. An inaugural address can tell us a lot about what a new president values.

    A new president can tell us a lot about what we value (even though he lost the popular vote in a landslide).

    Trump’s speech was simply an extension of his campaign rhetoric promising us that we would win and that, from now on, it’s going to be “America First”. We’re going to put up a wall, we’re going to turn away refugees and immigrants, we’re going to tax companies that build things out of the country. In short, we’re not going to be pushed around any more and gosh-dangit, it’s about time we thought of ourselves. As Trump said:

    From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

    I wrote the other day about how Christianity is always political. Our faith informs and fuels our politics. Every election season, Christians confound one another trying to convince each other that certain political positions that automatically mean you’re not a Christian. And, of course, if you only took your faith as seriously as I do, we would vote the same.

    Part of the difficulty, of course is that, for many, Christianity also means being a patriot. We have adopted this sentimental notion of the “good ol’ boy” who loves his Momma, loves his truck, loves his guns, loves God and his country. To be a Christian in America, for many, means being an American, and being proud to be an American. There is a good section of our country that believes that America is a “Christian” nation and that to be Christian inseparably means supporting America.
    But what do when “American values” contradict Christianity? For example, Trump’s message is unbiblical at best, anti-Christian at worst. Do you think that’s an overstatement? Despite that the fact that many people claim to have voted for Trump out of sincere Christian convictions, he proved on Inauguration Day that he not only misunderstands Christianity, he stands in direct opposition to many core Christian convictions. Do you think that’s an overstatement? Let’s think about it.

    During the campaign, Trump promised his supporters that, under his leadership, America would “win” so much that: “You will be tired of winning. We will win win win.” Every candidate promised to help get their country ahead. But “winning” in Trump’s world seems to be a zero-sum game. In other words, for us to “win”, someone else must lose. Trump has proven that he is not the forgiving type. He has admitted to holding grudges and promotes getting even with others.

    The Christian understanding leads us to pursue the “flourishing” (shalom) of all. In other words, we win when others win. This is part of the reason why God tells His exiled people to seek the betterment of their captive cities (Jeremiah 29). Christians win when others flourish. But this is not what Trump means by “We will win win win.” He has already shown that, if Mexico is unwilling to pay for our wall, then we will punish them. Winning for Trump always means beating someone else. This is simply not in line with a biblical approach to dealing with others.

    Christianity is, at its core, “other-centric”. It requires that we consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2). Paul tells the Romans that if they want to compete, they should out-honor one another (Romans 12:10). Jesus tells us that the path to true greatness is through humbling ourselves and putting others first (Matthew 20:16) and just in case we’re unclear, Jesus clarifies that greatness lies in serving others (Matthew 20: 26-27).

    Yet, Trump promised to put “America first” and this is exactly what many of his supporters wanted him to say. Even many of his Christian supporters. But what do when “American values” contradict Christianity? Let’s unpack this a bit for a minute, speaking in the context of a presidential inauguration, to Americans, the contextual implication of putting “America first” equals the same thing as saying: “Let’s put ourselves first (even at the cost of excluding others).” “Let’s put ourselves first” is simply the plural of “ME FIRST”.

    But Christianity requires us to put others first. Christianity is simply not compatible with the sort of nationalistic patriotism. Christians in America seem to be at a perpetual crossroads. Will we influence the American culture more than we let it influence us? Alan Wolfe argues in The Transformation of American Religion that, despite the best efforts of many Christians, American culture tends to win:

    “in every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture – and American culture has triumphed. Whether or not the faithful ever were a people apart, they are so no longer”

    Christians must separate themselves from a culture which promotes self-service. Christians must regain lives of sacrifice and the practice of service. God is love and far too often, no one would know it by watching us. What will we show a watching world? Will we buy in to a nationalistic patriotism that’s simply flag-wrapped selfishness or will we follow Jesus into servanthood seeking the good of others?

    Christianity Is Always Political

    We are fortunate to live in a country in which we get to re-choose our major leaders on a rotating cycle. The up-side of this is that we get to regularly examine how we come to our political positions. We regularly have the opportunity to discover anew how our worldviews create our political opinions. The down-side is that it is easy to simply take party loyalty for granted and simply assume that (if you are a Christian as am I) our party affiliation is, “of course the most biblical choice” without continually re-examining whether our votes really align with biblical values.

    In other words since voting for major offices is such a regular part of our life in this country, it’s tempting to simply fall in to patterns of voting without really thinking about why we’ve aligned with a certain candidate or party. It seems even rarer still for adults to switch party loyalties once they have been ingrained.

    But Christians are called to continually re-examine their beliefs, “taking every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5, etc.), striving for a maturity that is not easily swayed (Ephesians 4:9-16). We are told to strive after maturity and expected to think deeply.

    The 2016 election cycle has been contentious to say the least and it has caused lots of division among Christians. Many (including myself) have felt as though the Republican candidate is completely and utterly out of step with what I value as a Christian. Others have argued that the Republican party is always the more biblical choice regardless of the candidate. Still others take it a step further and say that Donald Trump is actually God’s candidate.

    As I’ve dialogued with family and friends about the different positions Christians might take over this election cycle, one view repeated itself enough that I’ve been thinking a lot about it. In short, many people told me that they have actively tried to separate their faith from their political opinions and votes. Several people told me that Christianity can be interpreted and applied by people of both major political party and can be inconclusive at best and divisive at worst, so they have decided to vote aside from their faith. 

    As I’ve tried to understand this position, I’m driven more and more to the conviction that Christianity is always political. Our faith cannot be separated from our politics. In fact, I would argue that our politics are an outworking of our faith. Christianity addresses how we should care for the poor (Psalm 34:6; Proverbs 22:9, 31:20; Daniel 4:27; Matthew 19:21; Galatians 2:10, etc.). Christianity addresses our attitude to violence (Exodus 14:14; 1 Samuel 17:47; Psalms 11:5, 17:4, 20:7; Matthew 5:9, etc.). We could go on, but my point is that Christianity directly addresses issues which fuel our voting habits.

    We tend to forget that Rome viewed Christianity as a political threat. Part of being a citizen meant declaring that Caesar was Lord. But as people came to faith in Jesus, they were no longer able to declare such things because Jesus was now their Lord. This might be difficult for us to understand in our current political day and age but it is fairly easy to see why political leaders would not only view this as insubordination but as a threat to their own positions of power.

    We tend to forget that it is the Christian faith which has led many to acts of civil disobedience and to become directly involved in politics. Whether abolition, women’s suffrage, the fight for civil rights, Christianity has not only always been political, it has often been quite unpopular.

    Christianity in America has often been co-opted to support the pursuit of wealth and comfort. It has been used to justify oppression rather than combat it. Christianity has been turned upside down and used to endorse power structures which directly oppose biblical convictions.

    We live in a time whose importance will only really become apparent with time. Christians in America have the opportunity to shed the skin of consumerism and leave behind (and fight) systems of oppression. Christians in America have the duty to follow Christianity rather than America. Christians have the chance (and perhaps obligation) to reclaim the practice of civil disobedience. Part of our prophetic voice in culture has always been to speak truth to power, not to court favor.

    The heart of Christianity is for social justice, care for the poor, nonviolence and the flourishing of our cities. These convictions have unmistakable political ramifications. Christianity is always political and it’s up to us to work this out in public.

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    Can We Talk (Complementarian/Egalitarian Edition)?

    One of the things I love about you, my online friends, is that (for the most part) we can have active and respectful dialogue, even (especially?) when we disagree.

    I have said this before, but dialogue is one of the ways I process issues. I love to hear from people with different opinions than mine. It helps me to see where other people are coming from and how they arrived at their positions. It helps me clarify my own positions and respect others. The trouble, of course, is that we all think we’re right and we sometimes have a tendency to elevate the importance of our opinions, forgetting that they are just that: opinions. This is all the more difficult when we are passionate about a particular issue or we view it to be somehow controversial.

    When I started blogging years ago, one of the things that attracted me to the format was the interactive nature. I always leave the comments section open. So, let’s try something completely dependent on your participation. If you don’t participate, this post is basically just a bunch of questions.

    I know that people say that online comments are not the place to make insightful arguments but I have gleaned a great deal from many of you on this exact platform. You have challenged me to grow and I have (hopefully) learned to think more clearly as a result. So I’d like to try an experiment: let’s discuss some topics together.

    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.

    Let’s start with “complimentarianism” and “egalitarianism”. For those not familiar with these terms, they have to do with the idea of gender roles, particularly in ministry (at least that’s what we’ll focus on for the sake of this conversation though the issue certainly applies to marriage and gender-relations as a whole so feel free to take the conversation there if you’d like). Most Christians would argue that men and women are created equal, that’s not the issue here. Instead, the question becomes gender role, particularly within a ministry context.

    Complementarians argue that, because of unique gender roles found in Scripture, women are prohibited from leadership roles within the local church such as “elder” or “pastor” while Egalitarians argue that not only do no such Scriptural barriers exist, women are just as called and qualified to serve in such roles.

    Of course this is an over-simplification of the issue but I’m just wanting to get the conversation started; it’s up to you to help fill it out further and help the rest of us understand how you arrived at your particular convictions. Let’s help others understand the issue better. From both sides.

    So, some questions to get us started (feel free to add others):

    • Do you view this as an issue of “orthodoxy”? In other words, if someone holds a different position than you on gender-roles, do you believe them to still be a Christian?
    • If you do not view this as an issue of orthodoxy, how important is this issue to you? Where would you rank it on a scale of theological/cultural importance (top, bottom, middle, etc.)?
    • Do you hold to either position? Why? What Scriptures or outside books/authors helped you arrive at your position? How do you succinctly explain your position to others, especially those who might disagree? What pushed you in one direction or the other?
    • Why do you believe that this issue seems to cause such division? Why has it been so controversial to so many?
    • How can people on all sides of this issue come together without sacrificing their own convictions? Or can they?

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

    2016: The Year In Review

    Year-end is a time for reflection. What went well, what didn’t? What would you change or keep the same? What lessons can be learned?

    2016 continued to feel like a holding pattern. After resigning from vocational ministry in January 2015, I have struggled to find solid footing. I have found part-time employment but have struggled to find “what’s next” for me and my family and we have struggled to find a faith community.

    But through it all, I have felt challenged to know myself more fully. I have been thinking a lot about the fantastic Tom Waits quote: “Be devoted to the unification of the diverse aspects of yourself.” I have been fascinated by both Mennonite and Anglican thought. I have moved away from Republianity and deeper into a desire to understand how Christianity fuels social justice.

    Through it all, I am deeply thankful for family and proven friends. When you resign from ministry, you realize that many people who you thought were your friends were . . . well, I don’t know, except to say that it’s easy to feel lonely. I am thankful for friends who prove themselves to be just that, regardless of my position.

    The past couple of years have felt like a pruning and I’m excited to see what flowers from it.

    In the meantime, let’s look back a bit.

    • Browse my favorite books and authors of 2016.
    • Browse my favorite albums of 2016.
    • Stream a two-volume mix of some of my favorite 2016 songs.

    2016: The Year in Music

    I love year-end lists. I love to see what other people loved.

    2016 was a fairly quiet year for me when it came to music. There was a lot of great music but there didn’t seem to be a single album that really “defined” the year for me. Nothing found its way to repeat-for-weeks level. The closest two albums for me in that regard were A Tribe Called Quest’s We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service and Heart Like A Levee by Hiss Golden Messenger.

    Still, it was a year filled with great albums. Here are 30 of my favorites from this year. I have included comments that are probably not really helpful for you in you determining whether or not you would like each album for yourself. Instead, you’ll have to go and do some listening for yourself. I hope you enjoy, maybe find something new, and I look forward to your feedback.

     

     

     

     

    We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service by A Tribe Called Quest – The album no one expected but struck us all with its timeliness. The Tribe’s first album since 1996 avoided sounding dated while navigating the loss of Phife Dawg. The album is not just a return to form but found everyone at the top of their games. (buy)

    Fantômas by Amiina – After serving as Sigur Rós‘ string section, Amiina set out on their own. Fantômas, their fourth release continues their pattern of complex meditative music. (buy)

    Wildflower by the Avalanches – Their first new album in 16 years, sample kings the Avalanches create a richly woven tapestry that gives nods to its sources without ever feeling simply pieced together. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    Blackstar by David Bowie – David Bowie’s final album cements his status as a sonic explorer to the end. Partnering with exploratory jazz and lyrics that seem to hint that he might have known that his end was near. (buy)

    case/lang/viers by Case, Lang, Viers – The partnership between Neko Case, K.D. Lang, and Laura Veirs creates an atmospheric album which not only brings three great voices together but builds on each one to create something more. (buy)

    Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper – Joyful rap is often difficult to come by. Much less rap with Christian overtones. Plus the weird noises he makes can be quite fun. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen – Another great artist lost this year who seemed to know what was coming. Though he didn’t need to do so, Cohen reminded us why he was one of our great songwriters and lyricists. (buy)

    Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not by Dinosaur Jr. – Reunited in 2007, teh band remains on a solid streak that gives you everything you want from the band, including a solid performance from Lou Barlow and J Mascis‘ guitar wizardry. (buy)

    Ere Gobez by Debo Band – The 11-piece Ethiopian band incorporates funk, afr0beat, jazz, rock and nearly everything in between but never sounds cluttered and always sounds unified. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    The Rarity of Experience by Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band – 70’s instrumental guitar psychedelia for the modern age. You know; if you like that sort of thing. Which I do. A lot. A WHOLE LOT. (buy)

    Future Standards by Howe Gelb – Tucson’s Gelb has continually reinvented his persona and has long toyed around with classic jazz. If one were to follow him on Facebook, one would see plenty of classic jazz videos posted. Gelb has ditched the Giant Sand full-band approach and has shifted his focus towards jazz. Only time will tell if these are, indeed future standards. (buy)

    Requiem by Goat – Staunchly anonymous world-psychedelic outfit Goat turns in a strong album of staunchly anonymous world psychedelia. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    Eyes On The Lines by Steve Gunn – Over the course of his last couple of albums, this masterful guitar player has also proven himself to be a masterful songwriter. Lots of great guitar playing that never seems flashy and lots of songs that capture the wanderlust many of us feel but will never indulge. (buy)

    Late Bloomer by Matt Haeck – PopMatters says: “Late Bloomer and it couldn’t be a more appropriate moniker, given that it took Haeck 30 years of life to really begin discovering his own voice.” Having known Matt for several years and watching his musical growth for that whole time, I am pleased to say, he has indeed found his voice. It may be late, but let’s hope he’s not done blooming yet. (buy)

    Heart Like A Levee by Hiss Golden Messenger – One of my favorite bands in recent years put out one of my favorite albums of recent years. MC Taylor continues to grow as a writer and bandleader. Exploring issues of faith, family, travel and finding one’s self in the world. Definitely a standout album for me this year. Plus I finally got to see the band live. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    House in the Tall Grass by Kikagaku Moyo – Some long-haired Japanese guys put their spin on psychedelic folky rock that still rocks and I dig it. (buy)

    Mangy Love by Cass McCombs – On his eighth album, McCombs continues to mature as a songwriter. Though this album wrestles with themes of confusion, it does so with soul. And there’s something to be said for that. (buy)

    How To Dance by Mount Moriah – Chapel Hill’s Mount Moriah continues to force many of us to ask: “what exactly is ‘alt. country'”? They have definitely found their voice as a country band, but not one you’re likely to hear on any country station. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    Entranced Earth by the Myrrors – Tucson represented yet again! This time with a blistering bout of noisy psychedelic trance music for the sunbaked set. (buy)

    Night Fiction by Cian Nugent – It can be a mixed bag when instrumental musicians (in this case, world-class guitarist Cian Nugent) decide to try their hand at being a singer-songwriter. Thankfully, this time around it works. Nugent adds depth to his already textured music. (buy)

    Malibu by Anderson .Paak – Groovy, soulful, R&B, hip-hop, funk. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    PAO! by Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra – I am a Phoenix native who loves afrobeat. How is it that I just discovered this band in 2016. Maybe because this is their first actual album and, having eight kids, we don’t make it out to as many shows as we’d like. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I found it. (buy)

    A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill SimpsonFollowing up a break-through album can be a challenge for any artist. Simpson tackles it by adding a horn section and Memphis soul to his psychedelic country sound. (buy)

    Letting Go and Holding On by Shawn Skinner and the Men of Reason – Yes, I’m biased because these are some great friends. But dang it all if this isn’t a great album of sunbaked Americana. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    A Seat At the Table by Solange – Exploring notions of black womanhood, this album could not have been more timely. Soulful, deep and moving. (buy)

    Get ‘Em Next Time by Star & Micey – Sometimes you just need some fun rock and roll. Memphis’ Star & Micey are there with your fix. A solidly fun album 0f soulful indie pop-country. (buy)

    Blue Mountain by Bob Weir – An album of reflecting on Weir’s early days in Wyoming, this album knows where it’s going and is in no hurry to get there. Self-assured and reflective, it is not only about looking back but continuing forward. (buy)

     

     

     

     

    Schmilco by Wilco – Recorded in the same sessions as last year’s Star WarsSchmilco is a more understated affair. Largely acoustic and mellow, this album reveals more with each listen. (buy)

    The Ghosts of Highway 20 by Lucinda Williams – Interstate 20 cuts a 1500-mile swath from South Carolina to Texas. This swatch of highway provides the backdrop for Williams to deal with love and loss. (buy)

    City Sun Eater in the River of Light by Woods – Moving away from their blissed out alt. country, Woods incorporates bits of Ethiopian jazz to surprising effect (and affect). (buy)

    • Stream a two-volume mix of some of my favorite songs of 2016.

     

    2016: The Year in Songs

    This year’s year-end mix turned out to be much less thematic than last year’s mix. My wife thinks it’s “pretty dark” but I’m not sure about that (what do you think?). As I was putting this year’s mix together, I kept thinking of the fantastic Tom Waits quote: “Be devoted to the unification of the diverse aspects of yourself.”

    I love all kinds of music. But mixes often focus on a particular genre or style. I tried to push that a little bit this year and placed afrobeat next to country, next to hip hop and ended up with a two-volume mix. I hope you don’t mind. The only song that didn’t make it on here was ‘Push’ by Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, because they are not on Spotify, so just imagine it’s here

    Here you go.

    Volume One:



    Volume Two: