Monthly Mix CD: February Is For Rainermentals

February 29, 2012 at 8:56 am

It’s almost March. I nearly forgot about doing a mix CD for this month. I told myself that I would put up a mix CD every month this year (see January’s mix here, which is a collection of songs I’d like to hear my friend Shawn Skinner play). It’s only February and I nearly forgot about this project! I may need people to remind me.

But it’s OK, because this month’s mix is one of my favorite things to listen to. Ever. Years ago, I started digging in to the rich Arizona music scene. Yes, Arizona has a music scene and a very good one, actually. Not really in the sense that we have a regular nightlife, but more in the sense that there is some really, really good music that’s come out of Arizona. Some of my favorite music ever, in fact.

So, you don’t get far into exploring Arizona music without stumbling across Howe Gelb and his many musical incarnations, spinoffs and bands he’s influenced. It was through my explorations of Howe’s music, primarily his band Giant Sand and its offshoot Calexico, that I met the music of Rainer Ptacek, who played simply as Rainer.

Rainer, born in Berlin, moved to Tucson, AZ when he was five years old. He repaired guitars for a living and eventually crossed paths with Howe, weaving in and out of Giant Sand over the years. He also put out several albums of his own. I love Rainer’s sound and I collected several of his instrumental tracks and years ago, I put them on a mix CD which I listen while reading and studying.

In early 1996, Rainer was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Tucson music scene rallied around him with benefits and there was even an all-star tribute CD for fundraising that included Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris. After going in to remission, Rainer had to re-learn guitar and songwriting, which he did but the cancer returned and he succumbed in November 1997.

Here is an extended video of Rainer talking about colors as they relate to his music and performing “Worried Spirits” in the desert. Warning: he does let an expletive fly at around the 2:38 mark, so be forewarned:


Here is Rainer performing “Life Is Fine” on Jools Holland in 1993:


Here is a profile piece done after his diagnosis:


And here is Rainer performing “When You’ve Got A Good Friend” in 1985:


Let’s Think About The Words We Use

February 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

Though I am quite conservative theologically, I’m not usually one to be pegged as being, shall we say, a “goody goody.” I wholeheartedly believe in Christian liberty. I find great freedom in God’s law and I often find myself frustrated with those who tend towards legalism.

For example, I have a huge heart for the Great Commission Baptists (the Baptists soon-to-be formerly known as Southern) but I think they have simply gone beyond Scripture in their position on alcohol. I understand wanting to be a teetotaler if you personally have a problem with alcohol or if you’ve had an alcoholic family member or even if you just think that it might be a stumbling block to others in your life’s witness for Jesus. But don’t try to tell me that it’s “the” biblical position or that Jesus simply drank lightly fermented grape juice. You’ve got to drink A LOT of lightly fermented grape juice to be called a “drunkard” (Matthew 11:19).

I remember, when I was graduating from seminary, I met with a representative from the North American Mission Board about the possibility of church planting through the SBC. As we sat down, the very first question this man asked me was: “Have you or your spouse had a drop of alcohol in the past six months?” The very first question. It wasn’t “Tell me about Jesus” or “What is the Gospel?!” It was about alcohol. I told him that that was the most asinine question I’d ever heard and that this probably wasn’t going to be a good fit for either of us. But I digress.

All of this to say, I’ve been noticing a trend lately in a lot of social media by Christians. It’s not just Christians who are doing it, but it’s the fact that so many Christians I know are doing it that has set me to thinking. Someone will post a picture, say of a gourmet meal or something really crafty and creative and use the hashtag “#foodporn” or “#craftporn”.

Now, I understand that these items aren’t actually pornography. But it still bothers me. I mean, what’s the point of calling it “porn” if we’re not drawing on the connotations of pornography: inciting lusts and typically playing on our base(r) desires, the endless pursuit of self-gratification and the cheapening of the object of our desires. I keep waiting for someone to post a really powerful quote about the Gospel and use the hashtag “#gospelporn.”

As Christians, we have a different lens through which we understand life’s pleasures. I love good food. And I appreciate craftiness and creativity. But there is nothing good about pornography. When confronted with something beautiful, shouldn’t we elevate it rather than denigrate it? Shouldn’t it cause us to praise the Giver rather than stir up our own lustful desires? Shouldn’t we be more thoughtful about the words we use and what they communicate?


“So Sorry, We have Bible Study Every Night Of The Week”

February 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

I wasn’t eavesdropping (at least not intentionally) but I overheard a conversation the other day that set me to thinking quite a bit. There was a couple who was trying to schedule an important event that would equip them to serve “the least of these.” Except they were having lots of trouble finding a night that would work for them because, as they said: “We have a different Bible study every night of the week.” And they said it with a hint of satisfaction in their voices, an air of holiness.

Now, I don’t know these people. I don’t know their motives, nor do I know their hearts. But I do know that their Bible study was getting in the way of them actually doing something with their faith.

This is something I’ve thought a lot about,  not only as a church planter and pastor, but as a Christian, for my own life. If left to myself, I tend towards an intellectual life. I could easily study theology all-day every day. But, I’ve come to be convinced that I already know a lot of Bible that I don’t live. So, over the years, it’s not that I have, in any way valued theology any less, but I’ve grown tired of people who know so much Bible and don’t live it.

I can’t help but Jesus saying in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and James powerfully reminding us that “pure and undefiled” religion is to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27). In fact, James takes it a (few) step(s) further and says that if we hear God’s Word but don’t do it, our profession of faith is worthless (James 1:19-26).

I have the utmost respect for wanting to know God’s Word. I love that people (including myself) want to study what God says. But, if it doesn’t result in action, in changed lives, in love for one another (John 13:35) and for others (Luke 10:27), especially the “least of these” (Matthew 25:45).

Somehow, we’ve created a culture where our “devotion to God” can actually prevent us from serving God. We’ve allowed studying the Bible to replace actually living out God’s commandments. I know that this is a real danger because it’s my own tendency. As a pastor, I have to learn to not only fight against my own tendencies but to create an environment where the doing of the Word is as importnat, if not more important than the study of the Word.

This is an odd predicament because I deeply want people to know what God’s Word says. But I also want people, including myself, to have an environment, a culture, where God’s Word is not just theoretical but lived out.

Heaven forbid the study of God’s Word prevent us from living out God’s Word.

Photo Essay: Saturday Night Excursion

February 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

I’ve been using Instagram quite a bit lately (you can see some of the photos here or, if you’re on Instagram, look me up: brent_thomas) , not because I have any illusions that I’m a good photographer or even that I really know what I’m doing but because I enjoy it. I love being reminded of the everyday beauty of life.

The other day, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of my wife, I thought it would it would be fun to create a sort of mini “photo essay” of our Saturday night excursion.











Down There By The Train

February 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I had the chance to see Dustin Kensrue of Thrice the other night (thanks Mark!). He’s someone I’ve wanted to see play for quite some time and I wasn’t disappointed. He put on a great show, which isn’t always easy to do for just one guy and a guitar. About mid-way through the show he pulled out one of my favorite tracks “Down There By The Train” by one of my favorite artists: Tom Waits.

It was one of those “I’m at a great concert where I wished I had pulled out my cell phone in time to record the song but I didn’t but it’s OK because someone on YouTube recorded the song better than I could have anyways” moments. You have those moments too, right?

(Thanks Shane, for the tip to this HQ video);


Yes, But Do We Mean It? (3): “For The Next Generation”

February 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “noble” things pastors/church planters often say (see here and here). One of the things that Christian leaders (or anyone with any influence for that matter) must wrestle with is the idea of “legacy.” We like to think that we’re doing things “for the next generation” but what if we really don’t see tremendous change in our lifetime? What if the fruit of our labors doesn’t sprout until long after we’re gone?

Think about God’s covenant with Abra(ha)m. Much of the promise God made to Abraham was actually more for Abraham’s descendants than him. They would receive the land some 400 years after being imprisoned, they would outnumber the stars but most of that would actually happen long after Abraham was gone.

What if, as a pastor, you are actually laboring for those that will come long after you? What if you labor without seeing (what you feel like is) a lot of fruit? Would we be OK with that? This may be especially true for the growing number of pastors who are no longer satisfied with the status quo of American Christianity. It takes a lot and a long time to break the bonds of consumerism and what if you don’t fully see a sea change in the culture of Christianity in your area during your life-time? What if you’re laying the groundwork for someone else?

When people are big and God is small (to reference a book you should really read), we’re less likely to labor without approval from people. But when we are convinced that we’re serving God; and, in fact, we serve out of an overflow of our joy in Him, we can keep going even when our egos aren’t being fed.

What if we’re called to labor for the next generation?

Sabzi: Townfolk Instrumental Chronicles

February 17, 2012 at 7:18 am

I listen to so much music that I’ve developed
some pretty odd habits about acquiring
new music. I have files in my iTunes of
“to listen to” music that I come across
but am not ready to give my full attention to
yet. Late last year, someone (sorry, I can’t
remember who it was, so if it was you, please
let me know so I can give credit where credit
is due!) pointed me to a series of
instrumental hip hop mix tapes being made
available for free by some guy named Sabzi.

I love instrumental hip hop so I downloaded
the beat tapes but never got around to
listening until earlier this week. I’ve since
come to find out that “Sabzi” is actually 
Alexei Saba Mohajerjasbi, producer/DJ of
Seattle/New York acts Blue Scholars, Common Market, and Made In Heights. In other words, he’s pretty
prolific, and in the world of Seattle (and beyond) underground hip hop, he’s pretty important. But I didn’t know any of
this when I finally got around to filtering through my “to listen to” folder the other day and remembered hey, don’t I
have some instrumental hip hop in there? That’s sounds good for studying and writing today
. I listened.

And then. Wow. I haven’t been this immediately impressed with something in a very long time. Imagine Postal
remixed by DJ Food and you might come close. There’s beats but there’s also song structure and pure
pop sensibilities. Basically, Sabzi has released every beat he’s ever done, which appeared on many albums by
several artists, as purely instrumental tracks, calling the series the Townfolk Instrumental Chronicles and I am
in love (in fact, I have since sought out some of the hip hop albums these instrumental tracks were the foundation
for and I like the instrumentals better but that may just be me).

These beat tapes are no longer free, but, as Sabzi explains on his website for the mixes, it’s because
he gave away so many copies that Bandcamp automatically assigned a price to the albums. So now they’re
$5.00 a piece and I still think they’re worth it, even though that’s easy for me to say because I got them while they were still free. If anything, you might want to keep an eye out to see if there will be any more freebies from Sabzi.

In the meantime, here is a video of Sabzi explaining the premise:

And here is a trailer video for the series

TF 001 from Sabzi / TOWNFOLKtv on Vimeo.

And here’s a bit just for fun:

  • Visit Sabzi’s Bandcamp page for the Townfolk Instrumental Chronicles