The wise man is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things both new and old.

Month: November, 2014

Ten albums that shaped my faith.

Next year I turn 30.  One of my blogging themes for next year is that every 30 days I am going to publish a reflective post relating to a “top ten” sort of list.  As a practice post, and because I’ve been thinking about music lately, I present for you the “Ten Albums that Helped Shaped My Spiritual Formation as a Christian.”


dc Talk- Jesus Freak (1995)  At the time that this album came out, I was annoyed with “church music.”  Pop radio was playing music from bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Offspring.  My friends’ parents were listening to rock radio stations that played music from bands like Metallica, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, etc.  I was tired of listening to the “sissy music” of the Church which sounded like little more than a bunch of adults who couldn’t let go of the fact that the 80s were gone.  My brother Pieter and I complained about this notion continually.  I don’t know whether my parents’ move was a moment of giving in or encouraging us to find our own faith, but that bought for me dc Talk’s Jesus Freak.

I wish I could say that it played a role in my faith because of a message of Gospel, social responsibility, and love.  But in actuality, it was significant because of the church in which I was raised.  The church was an independent, full-gospel (with a lack of true Gospel), fundamentalist church where the only acceptable music was praise music which could be sung by a choir or in the corporate Church setting.  Suffice it to say, I was labeled rebellious for listening to dc Talk, and the elders of the church had an “intervention” style conversation with my parents because I had bootlegged a copy of the album on cassette for another girl in the youth group.  What I took away from this time period is that “leadership” is not always right; determining God’s call and will takes time and prayer and not just blindly accepting what others say.


Blink-182  – Enema of the State (1999)  Back in 1999, who didn’t like Blink-182?  Answer a lot of fundamentalist Christians, especially upon realizing that the woman who graced the cover of Enema of the State was a full-fledged porn star.  So I did what any good Christian boy would do, I waited until none of the fundies I knew were around and bought the album of my own, hiding it in a blatantly obvious spot (a toolbox in my bedroom which was locked- no I didn’t own any tools).

After listening to the album, I was (not) shocked to find out that satan was not waiting outside my house to take my soul, that I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to have illicit sex, and that I didn’t want to do drugs.  What I learned through this album is that while “everything is permissible, not everything is profitable” (1 Cor. 10:23).


MxPx- The Everpassing Moment (2000)  Blink-182 got my psyched about pop-punk music, but after a while I tired of the crassness.  A band I had started listening to a couple years before Blink was MxPx., a band labeled as “crossover punk.”  About the time I was searching for something Blink-esque with more lyrical maturity, The Everpassing Moment was released.  This was a feel-good album from a group of believers that was not blatantly Christian in its lyrical content.

While many of my Church friends were attending the local private Christian school and spending all their time memorizing Bible verses to avoid earning demerits, I was learning to play the guitar and making friends with classmates who also played in bands.  Faith should be something that unites people; unfortunately, it seems to be complicated by people who use it to divide more often unite so sometimes music has to do the job that people can’t use faith to do.


Dashboard Confessional- The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (2001)  By the time I came across this album, Chris Carrabba had already parted ways with Further Seems Forever.  I discovered The Places at the end of 2001 when I was nursing my first serious heartbreak.  This was the first album I had heard with such raw emotion and blatant sincerity in its lyrics.  I started wondering why Church music was never this brutally open and honest.  Everything seemed to be raindrops, roses, and Jesus is my boyfriend.

At 16, all my youth group friends were swearing off dating and staying away from anything that could incite in them anything that came close to resembling lust.  I had no one at Church to talk to about issues of teenage love and depression; The Places spoke to me in a way that those who I was supposed to count on couldn’t do because they were so busy demonizing things like teen dating that they didn’t have an effective way to stand beside teens who actually were dating other than to give them a copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  Sometimes faith is not about giving people the “right answers;” it’s about coming alongside them as they try to find the answers.


Project 86- Truthless Heroes (2002)  By 17, I had figured out three things: life is not simple, faith is not simple, and that if I had issues, there were probably others dealing with issues (whether they wanted to acknowledge it or not).  By this point, I had amassed a rather large CD collection.  A band on this compilation album I had purchased at the local faith-based bookstore, Project 86, has a new album out and I do not know why but I was excited about it.  By this point, I was an angry teenager doing his best to fake happy.  On its release date, I drove to the local bookstore and bought a copy of Truthless Heroes and drove home with my car’s stereo turned up as loud as I could stand.  Of course, two months later when the Christian Right protested against the album because it seemed very anti-war and media in a time period when it was socially unacceptable to be so because of 9/11, that same bookstore pulled the album off its shelves.

I was unfamiliar with the idea of controversy of this kind in an album from “Christians,” and I was intrigued.  The story short, not everyone is going to agree all the time.  They especially won’t agree when you express negative sentiments in a worldview that is supposed to be love, joy, peace, etc.  Christianity, however, should be about being open and real with each other and not trying to hide from reality.


Haste the Day- Burning Bridges (2004)  This album came out during the spring semester of my senior year of high school; the aggression and passion were something that I had never heard on record before.  It sounded nothing like “Church music,” but was everything like Church music.  This was an album I instantly “got.”  It made sense; it was a way to talk about all the different aspects of being a Christian, but without sounding like a sissy.  There were other bands doing this at the time (see Norma Jean, Stavesacre, P.O.D., or Blindside), but there was something different about Haste the Day.

This album got me thinking that perhaps there was hope for faith-centered music, and that it was okay to push myself musically in that direction.  Learning how to be a guitarist in a metal band did not mean I was setting myself up for eternal damnation.


Hillsong United- United We Stand (2006)  If someone had told me that at 21, I would actually put a CD into my stereo that could be filed under the category of “Praise/Worship” and play it endlessly, I would not have believed the person.  But that is exactly what happened when United We Stand was placed into my hands.  This album sounded nothing like what was being released in music stores or what people in the Churches I would go to were singing.  There was something sincere, authentic, and real about the music and lyrics; I couldn’t help but want to sing words at the top of my lungs when listening to this in my car (which created some awkward stoplight moments in the summer when my windows were rolled down).

At this point in my life, I was in the middle of a period of what I could summarize as agnosticism.  I knew there was Someone out there, but I didn’t feel that I or anyone else around me was talking about God accurately.  I still don’t feel that I can talk about God in accurate terms (ideas maybe), but this album helped me to see that just because the word we use come up short doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Put like this, “That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”


David Bazan- Curse Your Branches (2009)  It would make perfect sense to find an album of music that reflects lyrics antagonistic to a Christian worldview to be in a list of music that shapes faith.  But that is exactly what this entry is.  Since confronted with the idea in my teens that the people of the Church don’t have it all together, I started having doubts and questions.  These doubts/questions have stuck with me my whole life and I haven’t known how to compartmentalize them or express them for fear of being ostracized (it happened with people from the Church when I was younger; I didn’t want it to happen again).

Curse Your Branches was a chance for me to let someone else meditate on some of the questions that I had.  Through it, I learned to accept the fact that doubt is really a part of faith and that it is okay to have questions, express those questions, and not try to answer them but just let them be.


Mumford and Sons- Sign No More (2009)  Although this album came out in 2009, I didn’t hear it for the first time until the next year after I was married to my hottie of a wife.  Since the first listen, I have come to realize that an album such as this is a much more sincere reflection of life and faith than much of what is found on contemporary, uplifting radio today (listen to Mandisa, Jamie Grace, Jason Castro, etc. for good examples of what Mumford and Sons isn’t).  I actually have found myself in moments of praise to Almighty through the album Sign No More more often than some of the music that can be found in the Church today.

Music does not have to be about God explicitly to be anointed or holy (these are church terms used to reflect the pureness of something and whether it can be considered set apart for enjoyment by the Creator).  God is reflected in his creation.  Period.


Bon Iver- Bon Iver (2011)  There is nothing really poetic here.  Music should be about the total experience, and music in the Church is no different.  As Rev. Vince Anderson states, every music team from every church should have at least one good break-up song.  Bon Iver is a good example of music that should encompass the whole experience of living.  Much like faith is.


***Honorable Mentions***

Jars of Clay- Much Afraid (1997)

P.O.D.-  The Fundamental Elements of the Southtown (1999)

Brand New- The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me (2006)

Snowpiercer, or what a post-apocalyptic film can teach us about Ferguson.

I am no different from many Americans across this country:  I am not from the same region, state, county, or city as Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, or anyone else directly involved in the unrest going on in Missouri right now; yet, I have an opinion about all that is going on.  Amid all the voices regarding the situation, Peter Rollins states it clearly:



Against this current-event backdrop, I sat down this morning to kick off my Thanksgiving Break with a cup of coffee, my two dogs, and the movie Snowpiercer.  And while watching it, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities.

1.  There are is a people group oppressed by a higher “power.”

2.  The “powers that be” take two young children -one of them who happens to be African American- from the oppressed group.

3.  The children being taken is the catalyst for the oppressed people to revolt violently.

4.  The violent revolutionaries accomplish nothing meaningful other than creating a disturbance.


The movie’s resolution provides hope.  It isn’t the leader of the revolutionaries, Curtis, who brings change to the unjust system.  The chief antagonist, Wilfred, does not maintain order.  Change is brought about by the most unsuspecting character, a 17-year-old girl whose father tries throughout the whole movie to maintain her innocence and protect her from violence and evil.  In short, the unsuspecting and innocent girl, with one action undoes an entire unjust, brutal, way of life and at the end of the movie provides the viewers with the notion that there is hope and a chance for survival.


Change to a corrupt system in Ferguson (and anywhere else where its unjust nature exists) is not going to be accomplished by untold numbers of people participating in violent deeds; it is only going achieve receiving condemnation from others who are not involved.  Change is going to come when enough people decide to unite and fight injustice with the opposites of the mechanism that created the conflict in the first place.  In other words: peace, love, and non-violence need to be the tools that undo the mess we are in.


Martin Luther King, Jr. stated it best when he said that “violence begets violence.”  Non-violent protest did not fix all of the racial issues of his day, but it made major headway.  Perhaps what kept the Civil Rights Movement from being a 100 percent success was that it did not last long enough.

As people of privilege, we need to be advocates for others who are stuck in oppressive situations.  Whether the problems are inequality, addiction, exploitation, etc., we have a responsibility to speak up for the least of these.  Ferguson re-opened the eyes of a previous generation and opened the eyes anew for this one.  How will we respond?

Finishing Well, Finishing Strong.

This is my review of Finishing Well, Finishing Strong by Jim Grassi.

Finishing Well, Finishing Strong (A Romans 12 Disciple)

At times in the life of a man, he feels as the pressures and wonders if it is all for anything. Will it serve a purpose or benefit anyone? In short, “To what end am I directed?” Jim Grassi not only seeks to answer that question, but also how to accomplish it with a level excellence and dignity. Finishing Strong, Finishing Well is a book aimed at equipping a man to focus his life, whether at nineteen or ninety, and make it successful. Whether he accomplishes it for this reader or not is a different story.

In this short book, which is really a part of a series of other books geared towards men as (future) leaders, Grassi follows a formula of lesson-based anecdote for context, personal example, Biblical application, and challenges for the reader to do personally and with a mentor. The book is full of tips for succeeding in many areas of life, including setting goals, not being overwhelmed by materialism, embracing mortality, etc. The part that rocked my world the most (probably because I’m not quite 30 yet and haven’t experienced many of the other circumstances Grassi describes), was a part in the chapter on embracing one’s mortality. At the end of the chapter is a personal challenge to come up with your own one-sentence epitaph that you could imagine being engraved on your tombstone. I still haven’t been able to do it.

The big critique I have about this book is that even though Grassi claims it’s for men of practically any age, I had trouble finding a way to apply some of the content to my own life. As a 29-year-old English teacher, I am not faced with the temptation to have my life overwhelmed by success. Even a lot of the good stuff for me was stuff I already knew and/or was doing. Maybe if life gets hectic in a few years I will revisit this book and find it more applicable. Also, there is an emphasis in this book to complete it with a mentor. The reader who also has a mentor with whom to do this book will probably get more out of it.

Finishing Well, Finishing Strong is a good book for a man who feels his priorities are out of balance or who needs a good pep talk. If you read this book, keep these three things in mind:

1. Be a dude.
2. Be a dude who needs some motivation from a coach.
3. Be a dude who needs some motivation from a coach and has one (a mentor) to help you along the way.

I received my copy of this book for free through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for writing a review on it. The opinions expressed are mine.

Pugs and pugilists.

While this brief post has nothing to do with fights, it has everything to do with the pug my wife and I adopted from a local shelter this week.  The pug’s name is Skippy.  He is an abandoned puppy mill dog.  His behavior actually has me thinking about theology, as strange as it sounds.  But that post is yet to come, this week perhaps?  For now, I leave you with this:


One of the worst things that happens. To a blogger.

Writer’s block is a horrible thing.  It’s a terrible thing.  But it is not the worst thing I can think of when it comes to writing.

There is something way worse.

There are two mantras I learned when preparing to run my first half-marathon:

(Side note: I do not want to run a full-blown marathon.  My time is precious; I do not feel like devoting 4+ hours to an activity like running.  Two is more than enough.)  

1.  A journey of 13.1 miles begins with a single stride.

2.  Running is better than walking.  Walking is better than not finishing.  Not finishing is better than not starting in the first place.  Not starting is better than…well, nothing.

What’s worse than writer’s block is not starting writing in the first place.  And this thing that I am referring to is having a great idea for a blog topic and by the time I sit down to begin writing it, I cannot remember for the life of me the clever idea I thought I had.

This just happened to me.  So I thought I would share it.  What is ironic in this case is the reality that I am in essence writing a blog post about having nothing to write about.

“Finding Jesus” is kind of like finding Waldo.

This is a review of Finding Jesus by Winston Rowntree (not his real name).




Art has a way of really offending a person, or really making him/her think.  Take for example, Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”  Or a film like Monty Python’s The  Life of Brian.  And when the book is a collection of cartoon-esque full page images, as is the case with Finding Jesus, one cannot help but find it as art which will make many people think and other people be offended.


Finding Jesus, reminiscent of any of the Where’s Waldo? books follows the same concept.  A cartoon image of Jesus is hidden among a large group of people doing all number of things, including camping, attending a house party, and even going to a Led Zepplin concert.  By the way, visiting Amazon’s page for this book to use the “Look Inside” feature is definitely worth considering.  The different pictures are creative and well thought out.  My favorite of all the locations to find Jesus is in a hipster spin-off of George Seurat’s famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Island of La Grande Jette.”


What this book does for me as a Christian is remind me of that I bring Jesus with me wherever I go.  He’s always there, and not in the creepy Sting sort of way.  Jesus is in the World because that’s where He’s needed.


Finding Jesus is a book that won’t be at home on every person’s bookshelf, but to the person who understands and appreciates the point of the project, he or she will be happy to have it.



I received my copy of this book for free through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for reviewing it.  I was not obligated to post a positive review; the opinions contained are mine.

In the blue corner, Paul the Apostle. In the red corner, the Apostle James.

More than $500 million is spent on Bibles annually (according to UScatholic.orgThe EconomistThe New YorkerWikipedia, and a handful of fundamentalist Christian websites).  It is inarguable to state that continually it is one of the (if not THE) most popular books in the World.  Some buy it as gifts, some for study, some for stories of hope, some for stories of scandal, but all with the hope of finding something in there which they are looking for.


The Bible is a collection of books written by human authors who were Divinely inspired, speaking to a specific time, place, and culture.  What is fascinating (and I believe upholds the idea of “Divinely inspired”) is how the underlying ideas in each book of The Bible is still relevant to our world today.  One of the New Testament writers, attesting to this notion states that “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for training, teaching, rebuking, and correcting” (2 Timothy 3:16).  The writings referred to from this passage, which we would know as the Old Testament, were almost 1,600 years old.  Though cultural references and direct ideas directed to an ancient Israeli audience of 15th century B.C. were not relevant to a 1st century A.D. Israeli/Greek/Asian audience, the fact that they could identify ideas in the Scriptures with which to wrestle and allow themselves to be challenged and transforms speaks to the power these writings contain.


Of course, when discussing a collection of writings that from start to finish takes 1,600 years to write, there are going to be contradictions:

Taken from “The Fast Company” website.

But contradictions is not a problem.  Because again, the reality of The Bible is that each book in it was not originally intended by its author to be placed cover-to-cover with a bunch of other books.  It was written to a specific audience, at a specific time and place, to speak to specific issues.  What we gain by placing the books of The Bible together is the benefit of God’s progressive development of the World.


Think of it like this: When we first discuss the ideas with children about where babies come from, we do not begin with specific erotic details or descriptions about the pain experienced in the delivery room.  No, we use basic -almost mythological- images of things like a stork, or birds and bees.  As time progresses, we give more and more specific details.  The Bible is kind of like that.


Take a deep breath.  Now comes the explanation of where this title comes from.


Around A.D. 40, James (half-brother of Jesus) writes a letter that states that a man is justified by works (James 2:24), and about 15 years later, a man named Paul (who was originally named Saul, who was an enemy of Jesus, but then became a friend of Jesus, and changed his name, and read the book of Acts for more details) writes that person is justified through faith (Romans 4:1-8).  He also goes on to state people are “saved by faith through grace” (Ephesians 2:8,9).


So which is it:

Faith or works?

Grace or earned?

Saved or justified?


Five Greek words (because this was the language of the original writing and didn’t come to us magically in English) over which a whole disagreement arises:

(Justified) Dikaioo: to render as innocent

(Works) Ergon: deed, doing, labor, work

(Saved) Soso: to  deliver or protect; to heal preserve, save (self), do well, be made whole

(Faith)  Pistis: moral conviction, assurance, belief, fidelity

(Grace) Charis: benefit, favour, gift, grace, joy, liberality, pleasure, thank


James writes to an audience of Jewish Christians, encouraging them to realize that while they no longer have to follow a system of sacrifices to be delivered or made whole, this does not mean that they should now sit around and do nothing.  Love for God should incite in them the desire to do works; in short, their deeds should be a way to bring about a sanctifying act.  These works are not necessary for salvation, however.


Paul in Ephesians writes to an audience of Gentiles (non-Jews) who he has to reassure that among other things they need to realize that there is one God and that through his favor and grace they have been saved; they do not need to sacrifice to many gods to earn divine favor.  Paul has to break through this first barrier by getting his audience to see that the work has already been done, and now because his Gentile audience is loved, they should live a life of holy love and abstain from acts which would prohibit them from showing love and grace to others.

These two seemingly contradictory writers have different purposes in mind, so to take the words on the page without considering the purpose of why these individual letters were written robs them of their power and forces them to be something else which they were not necessarily intended.


So what can we 21st century enlightened folk learn from this diatribe and these books:

It’s really quite simple:

1.  Love brings change to a person’s life; if love is present, he or she should live differently.

2.  God’s love is a grace given to us and demonstrated through Jesus; we do not need to do anything to earn it.

3.  The radical message of salvation through faith in Jesus was something the immediate contemporary audience of that time period continually argued about and dialogued about; it is arrogant for us to believe that we will ever fully grasp or comprehend it.


If you made it the end without skipping, well done.  Grace and Love be with you.