He Shines In All That’s Fair: Thoughts On Common Grace, Creativity and Introducing My Music Mix

He Shines3The doctrine of common grace, like many doctrines, can be a contentious one. The basic issue centers around whether or not God is “pleased” by the actions and creations of those not numbered among His people? Because, Christians are in the continual process of aligning themselves, including what we do/can and can not take pleasure in consuming.

While the issue at hand may not seem immediately apparent to those unconcerned with pleasing God in everyday life, the issue may be summarized as something like this:

Christians understand sin to be the heart of idolatry and includes anything antithetical to God’s character. It is, by definition opposed to God since we believe that He is the sole source of all our hearts seek. So to look for fulfillment, security, joy, etc. outside of Him is in fact, opposing Him. It is a question of the posture of one’s heart.

Christians are thus left in the perpexing situation of what to do with anything not done from a heart’s posture to bring glory to God since it is thusly, in some way opposed to God?

Or is it?

What about things that in and of themselves might be benign? Moreso, what about things that somehow point to God’s character, even if they creator doesn’t know it or intend it? Music? Art? movies? Books? Poems? The very creative process remind us of a God who brings order from the chaos and flowers from the ashes. But what if the creator isn’t thinking of this or might even be opposed to such a worldview? Can Christians take pleasure in art made by n0n-or-even-anti-Christians?

As Richard Mouw summarizes the situation in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace:

How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to – even an active appreciation for – all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?

While some in my own past theological streams argue that the doctrine of “common grace” is not appropriate, Mouw and others have come to believe that it is not only acceptable but appropriate for Christians to celebrate beauty and cultivate creativity. Wondering at a painting, being swept up in a piece of music, moved by a string of words or ideas, marveling at a sunset, hiking a mountain, smelling hops, tasting coffee, laughing, singing, crying, these are glimpses of God’s grace. They remind us of His goodness, of His character.

For many well-intentioned Christians, the fact that such glimpses are not sufficient to bring someone to salvation, they are not worth our while at all. Or more severely, they should be condemned. How else could someone come to believe that burning music albums brings glory to God more the creative process they contain?

I’m not making light of the struggle many Christians face as they try to align their consciences with God’s character as they choose what to watch, read or listen to. I’m simply trying to make sense of how we’ve come to a place where “American Christianity” rejects so much artistic expression without creating anything worthwhile of our own?

Do we believe that the terrific painting by a non-Christian somehow less valued by God than the horrible painting by a Christian simply because of the intent of the heart? Is there not inherent value in both? The value may be perceived differently by the eyes of faith but the eyes of most people would rather look at a great painting than a bad one (now is not the time to enter into the subjective nature of much art).

This may seem like a rather nebulous rambling (even for me), especially since I’m not here today to really look for answers to many of these questions. I’m simply giving you a context for the three-volume mix album that I’ve come up with. All of these questions and more have been rattling around my head for years, especially as I listen to music. Which I do. A lot. So over the years, I have kept various private playlists of songs which have presented me with an unexpected glimpse of God. A bit of grace in the everyday. Not every song explicitly mentions Jesus.

Some songs are by Christians. Some songs are meant as worship. Some songs are meant as evangelism. Some songs are by more skilled musicians than others. But, not every song here is even by someone who would claim to be a Christian. Some have said these songs are not even about Jesus (though they don’t mind them interpreted as such.). Not every song is to be understood as a theological statement or even representative of my own personal beliefs regarding God (specifically Jesus). And, please be forewarned, there is at least one “F-Bomb” for those sensitive to such things.

But over the years, every song here has, at some point, reminded me of, encouraged me on or challenged me in my own journey of following Jesus.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Roundup Edition)

2993_tape1 copyEvery once in a while I like to see who’s up for exchanging a little music. I mean, after all, who doesn’t like hearing new music? And music mixes can often tell a lot about the person who made them.

I also love year-end music lists. It’s the most wonderful time of year. I like seeing not only what music different authors loved but I love seeing which albums receive more attention than others. So this year, I’ve asked you, my fine friends, to share mixes of your favorite music of 2015. Five of my friends took me up on the offer. Here’s the delio on each mix (including my own) for this year. Enjoy.

  • See Paz Galusha-Luna’s 2015 mix.
  • See Danny Lopez’ 2015 mix.
  • See Chris Martin’s mix.
  • See my mix.
  • See Mark Whiten’s mix.
  • See Jonathan Wolfinger’s 2015 mix.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (My Edition)

2015Along with the incidental noises of the everyday, music is the soundtrack to life. It can help us make sense of our journey and frame the chapters of our story. It possesses a special power to bring back times, places, people and emotions, rivaled only maybe by the power of smell.

Music can enhance or change our emotions. Curated collections of music (mixes) can be a deeper diary than the one on your desk. Music can be a friend, a solace, a comfort, a challenge and everything in between.

Every year I try to make a collection of some of the songs that have meant the most to me during that year. I keep a playlist on my computer to which I add songs as they strike me throughout the year, then I edit them to a playlist that will fit on a blank CD at year’s-end.

This year, as I sat down to listen to the songs what I had set aside, I was struck by the narrative that presented itself.

This year has been challenging in a lot of ways. I resigned from ministry in January after serving as a pastor for ten years. I found myself unemployed half-way through the year after I came to the (financially) painful realization that I am not a salesman and that I don’t necessarily think ministry is best pursued through quotas. I have applied to over 105 jobs and I am still unemployed. I had to turn down one job that, after travel, fuel, etc., my family and I literally couldn’t afford to take. We put our house up for sale and had over 70 showings. Finally, we had an offer on our house squashed by our HOA. Dang the man. So we took our house off of the market. We very seriously considered selling everything we own and cramming our family of 10 in an RV to travel the country until we realized that not only could we not afford that, but our extended family greatly disapproved. I still wish that had worked out.

I have come to terms with the idea that (aside from abortion and marriage) I am considered socially liberal by many of my Christian friends while also being confronted with the fact that I am quite theologically conservative compared to my socially liberal friends. I have wrestled with issues of vocation and identity and calling. I have had to ask whether or not I would ever again “aspire” to serve as an elder in a local church.

We have faced uncertainty and doubt. We have tiptoed through anxiety and swam in depression. And yet we have tried to hold on to hope through it all, confused as we are, confused as we might continue to be. We know that we are not alone in our travels through this world, even if we feel like we can’t go home. Wherever that is.

With all of that rattling around in my head cabinet, it’s no wonder that many of the songs I set aside this year deal with finding your way, figuring our your identity, feeling alone or trying to find “home.” Of course, not every song perfectly fits this mold, but I was amazed at the consistency with which my sub-conscience was weaving a narrative of my year through music.

Through it all, feeling lost and unsure, my faith in God has not wavered. I have questioned a lot about the church and the way we as Americans put it into practice. I have questioned what my role in that will be in the future and I have felt the sting of thinking people were my friends when I was simply their pastor. But faith has anchored my soul, providing surety in the storm.

So, without further ado, I invite you to take a carefully curated musical journey through my 2015.

Here is the tracklist:

  1. Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home) by Dave Rawlings Machine
  2. Shake It Off by Ryan Adams
  3. Don’t Wanna Fight by Alabama Shakes
  4. C.R.E.B. by Built To Spill
  5. Pretty Pimpin by Kurt Vile
  6. Living My Life by Deerhunter
  7. Leave A Trace by Chvrches
  8. Disappear by Seryn
  9. Through The Seasons by Promised Land Sound
  10. The Life You Chose by Jason Isbell
  11. Traveller by Chris Stapleton
  12. River by Leon Bridges
  13. New Way of Living by David Ramirez
  14. Never Gonna Be Young Again by Doug Burr
  15. Falling From The Sky by Calexico
  16. Went Looking For Warren Zevon‘s Los Angeles by Lucero
  17. Shine A Different Way by Patty Griffin
  18. Always Be by Josh Garrels
  • Download my 2015 year-in-review mix from Zippyshare.
  • Stream my mix from Spotify right here:

 


The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Mark Whiten Edition)

Eldons 2015 mix coverAnd now, the one we’ve all been waiting for . . . well, I’ve been waiting for . . . the one, the only, sometimes he goes by Eldon, sometimes not . . . Mark the “White N” Whiten!!

A man of Mark’s stature is far too busy to elaborate much on a mix. But here’s what I could get out of him:

“My collection of songs for a 2015 mix comes mainly from my attraction to the structure of a song…. And in some cases not the lyrics. Although the style or genre of music goes from noise rock to no wave to chamber folk to Brit rock the theme may be fluid structure. So, much like the historical Tacoma Narrows Bridge or an aneurysm, this mix in its sum and its parts has movable or deformable structure with an internal or surrounding fluid flow. Most of these songs are included in albums that themselves are picks for favorites of the year.”

Here’s the tracklist:

  • What Went Down by Foals
  • I Saw A Ghost by The Slow Readers Club
  • Eyes Peeled by METZ
  • A Heroine by Holy Holy
  • Snow by The Lonely Wild
  • Lawman by Girl Band
  • Suicide Girl by Clark and the Himselfs
  • Exeunt by The Oh Hellos
  • Alligator Years by Twinsmith
  • Acne/Ears by Roadside Graves
  • Miss You by Alabama Shakes
  • Breaker by Dalton
  • Baby What’s Wrong by Whitehorse
  • Sedona by Houndmouth
  • Odell by Lowland Hum
  • The Wind That Shakes The Barley by Black Rivers

Download Mark’s mix at Zippyshare.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites (Chris Martin Edition)

2993_tape1 copyAnd now, it our friend Chris Martin’s turn!

Here’s what he has to say about his mix:

“Here are some of my favorite songs from 2015. There’s no real theme here, aside from the fact that I’ve danced to most of these songs with my one year old son over the past year.

I tried to at least put the songs in an order that isn’t too jarring. The exception is the two songs at the end: The Valley Maker track is by a friend of mine and it was just too good to leave off even though it’s totally different than everything else on the list. The other exception is the Vince Staples song. It has some serious profanity in it, so I put it at the end so people can skip it if they want.

Finally, there’s some great music videos on this list. I especially love the Thundercat and Courtney Barnett videos.

Enjoy!”

Chris chose to make a Youtube playlist of his picks. Here is the traklisting:

  • Kamikaze by MØ
  • Gold by Kiiara
  • Fela by nvdes
  • Standard by Empress Of
  • Blue & Green by Loyal
  • Them Changes by Thundercat
  • Hotline Bling by Donna Missal
  • Home by Islandis
  • Heroes by Callers
  • Desire by Dilly Dally
  • Dead Fox by Courtney Barnett
  • Book of Right On by Foxtails Brigade
  • Pretty Little Life Form by Valley Maker
  • Norf Norf by Vince Staples
Stream the mix right here:

Or find it on Youtube here.

The Great American Mixtape Exchange: 2015 Favorites

2993_tape1 copyIt’s no secret that I love music. It’s also no secret that I love making and exchanging music mixes. It’s also no secret that I love year-end lists.

What could be better than exchanging music mixes at the end of the year of your favorite music from said year?

So here’s the deal: I am inviting each and every one of you to submit a mix of your favorite music of 2015. I will post it for the world (or the three people who actually read this blog) to enjoy.

Here are the catches . . . uh, er, I mean deets. I mean, here’s the dealio:

  • Every song on your mix must have been released in 2015.
  • Your mix must fit on an average blank CD, which is 80 minutes.
  • Please include a tracklist at minimum. Original artwork is preferable.
  • Please upload/host your mix yourself. I will simply link it for you. Zip it. Stuff it. Dropbox it. Whatever you have to do. You’re a big person. You can figure it out.
  • Please write something about your mix. Is there a theme, why these songs, etc. Please make it personal, let us know something about why this music was included beyond just: uh, I like it.
  • Please include any relevant information about yourself you would like included in your post. Name and city at least but please include something about yourself and links if you have your own website, etc.
  • You may include all or the requested, relevant items in the comments of this post or, feel free t0 e-mail me.
  • All submissions must be to me by Friday, December 18, 2015.
  • Please participate. Please invite others. Please be kind. Please stop gun violence in America.

Any questions? Too bad, I’m not sure I have anything else to say about this topic.

Let’s do this thing! Yeah, you know that’s right.