All posts tagged “faith

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A confession, an apology, a vow

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The future of evangelical cultural engagement

Undoubtedly, one of the best, most important books I’ve read all year is The World Is Not Ours To Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (@tylerws). For those of us who consider cultural engagement and social/political activism important parts of the Christian life, this book should be required reading. When I reviewed it back in April, I wrote this:

For a guy whose life mission is abolishing nuclear weapons, the book sure doesn’t read like a PR piece for a particular cause. Rather, it seems Wigg-Stevenson – who does have a Master of Divinity degree – is sincerely intent on offering a bit of pastoral care for a younger generation still hyped up on its inflated chances of saving the world. That hype will inevitably waver and the vision will surely fade. And when it does, young activists will find in this book a treasure trove of good news. Will they listen before their lives depend on it? I hope so.

I still really, really hope so. And I was reminded of that when I came across this half-hour conversation between Wigg-Stevenson and Abraham Cho (@abrahamcho), a pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. They perceptively touch on a whole range of topics like public theology, the limits of activism, class and race issues, and the widespread tendency among Christians to view nonprofits as inherently better – regardless of particularities – than for-profit companies. This is some great conversation-fodder.

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The center and the periphery

Nihonga materials create a cacophony of sensuality and extravagance. They are an ideal medium for capturing the expansive vision of a world centered by God, a world in which the core allows the freedom to explore the boundaries. As a child, I loved to fill in the borders of my works, from my paintings to ceramic ashtrays. The periphery, to me, is as significant as the center. The peripheral may end up defining in us the very essence of humanity. We are not machines, centripetally driven to finish a task; we are created to be centrifugal forces of outward expression, delighting in the borders. God did not tell Adam and Eve to not explore the periphery; He forbade them from exploring the center. The core of existence is symbolized by a tree because the center needs to be, at least for the time being, unexplored. Art, such as in the delicious marks in the borders of Medieval manuscripts, pushes us outward, beyond the borders. But of course, such outward movement, as all centrifugal movements, cannot be attained without a center.”

– Makoto Fujimura, River Grace

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Every faithful act

Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom. As Christ, who committed Himself to God and was faithful even when all ended in utter failure and rejection, was by God raised up so that all that He had done as found to be not lost, but alive and powerful, so all who have committed their work in faithfulness to God will be by Him raised up to share in the new age, and will find that their labor was not lost, but that it has found its place in the completed Kingdom.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History (via

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Repaso: July 28, 2013

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Image: Suburbia via 20LTD]