Category Archives: Books & Music

Lyrical theology

Over the course of the last year I’ve gotten into Christian hip hop. Of all the people that could introduce me to this art form, it was my old boss from Mars Hill, Jason Wendorf.

Jason is very white. He’s very German. And he has told me that in a former life he was much more emo than hip hop. Now he’s married with three kids and drives a Volvo (though it does have nice rims). A bit of an unexpected passion, huh?

Jason isn’t the only white guy here in Seattle who likes lyrical theology. For as many people around the country who oogle at the indie rock worship music Mars Hill produces, there are just as many at Mars Hillers who are quite entranced by a movement happening from our brothers on the east coast.

Lyrical theology has predominately come out of pastors and hip hop artists associated with Epiphany Fellowship, an Acts 29 church in Philadelphia. For them, rapping about the gospel is intentional missiology. They preach through passages and books of the Bible through their music as well as cover systematic topics.

The thing is, these guys are actually good. Really good. None of this cheesy Christian Eminem parody crap. They are using talents that some perfected long before they were Christians, now to tell others about Him.

For me, listening to Timothy Brindle, Stephen the Levite and Shai Linne has not fed my passion for music, but it’s increased my understanding of the Word. I remember a simple definition for grace from the song “Saved by Grace” by Timothy Brindle:

What is grace?

Grace is unmerited favor

Our inheritance major

cause we cherish the Savior

(Obviously it doesn’t sound that great quoted–you’ve really got to listen to the song, but nevertheless you get my point)

Us Seattle people may seem a little out of place in the lyrical theology world, at least at first glance. But so do Epiphany pastors when they show up at Acts 29 conferences. Imagine a bunch hip hop black guys making their way through crowds of clean-shaven, hipply dressed blond twenty-something guys from places like Colorado (you know, those guys who sit in the front row and wish they were Mark Driscoll).

We all believe the same thing. The expression looks totally different. It’s cool to see that stark difference bring people together instead of draw a big fat line between two very different cultures.

Here is the coolest thing EVER: Mars Hill’s rock band Red Letter backing up Lecrae on a recent visit to Seattle.

Love has come

This song moved me this morning. I really feel it to be true.

“Ten Thousand Angels” written by Sandra McCracken and performed by Caedmon’s Call.

What we’re reading

I just added a new feature to our blog–a “What We’re Reading” section on the right side under our photos.

If you click on the image it will take you to my Shelfari page where I am organizing the books we own, are reading, are wishing for, and have read.

If you like books AND you like to mindlessly organize things, you should check out Shelfari.

Laughter, tears, and fears

I listened to this song this weekend and found that it resonated with me more than ever before.

Born
by Over the Rhine

I was born to laugh
I learned to laugh through my tears
I was born to love
I’m gonna learn to love without fear

Pour me a glass of wine
Talk deep into the night
Who knows what we’ll find

Intuition, deja vu
The Holy Ghost haunting you
Whatever you got
I don’t mind

Put your elbows on the table
I’ll listen long as I am able
There’s nowhere I’d rather be

Secret fears, the supernatural
Thank God for this new laughter
Thank God the joke’s on me

We’ve seen the landfill rainbow
We’ve seen the junkyard love
Baby it’s no place for you and me

I was born to laugh
I learned to laugh through my tears
I was born to love
I’m gonna learn to love without fear

I used to think that there was something base and insensitive about laughing through tears. But now I see the ability to do so as quite the miracle.

I also used to think it was impossible to get past that wall of fear that has kept me from really loving people. But I’m starting to think that’s a lot more possible, too.

A Severe Mercy

At the end of this week we will pack up and head to the Midwest for Christian’s memorial service. Last night Jason pulled out a bunch of photos of the guys of Big Pink – Christian, Jordan, Rich and himself (along with some photos of a hideously-dressed version of Jason at the age of 15 or 16). We sat there at our kitchen table and laughed after a long day. I felt like I knew Jason a little bit more when I saw the guys holed up at the Foosball table, knowing Jason was behind the camera. And, having never met Christian, I got yet another tiny glimpse into his life on this earth.

Today I am home and still in my pajamas, immersed in a book that Jason put in front of me several weeks ago and told me he wanted me to read. I don’t remember what prompted his request, but I imagine it had to do with fear–fear of losing Jason as Liz just lost Christian. A fear of being left alone or being with someone and still feeling very alone. A fear of the aloneness of not really knowing (logos-knowing) the living God.

The book is A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It was not surprise to me, as Jesus has been chasing me down to read it for over a year now. First it was Keisha. Then my Minnesota friend, Colin. Then Jason, then others. Now Jason again.

What did surprise me was when Jason told me he had bought the book several months ago and was waiting for the right time to give it to me. He said it would scare the hell out of me, make me weep, and cause me to question many things, most particularly God.

This had to be Him. And because it was, I took it with trepidation. At the same time, because it was a book (one which would surely change my life) I took it devouringly. I only vaguely told Jason how I felt.

I have sat on our new velvety brown couch for a good part of the afternoon weeping as I read. I know the book has changed me but I’m in so much shock that I’m not quite sure how. I don’t know what God is doing in this not-made-up story, but I know that I not only wept for the sadness of it all, but for my own fears what God could possibly do and what He did indeed do in the lives of Christian and Liz Skoglund. More fear and idolatry. And also, a faint understanding of the beauty that can come from something so unnatural as death. I can only mildly grasp it now as it is displayed on book pages, and because, on top of that, I am so very inexperienced.

“If she died, I might–since, under God, I must not act to follow her–I might live for years. Those years and all of beauty they might contain I put into the ball. And then I offered-up all of it to the King: take all I have ever dreamed, all I may ever long for including the death I shall certainly long for: I offer it up, oh Christ, for her, for her best good, death or life. This was my offering-up. I asked God to take all, all that was or would ever be, in holy exchange, not for her spared life which would be my good but not perhaps hers, but for her good, whatever it might be. Later I would pray that she might recover only if it were for her good. That offering-up was perhaps the most purely holy and purely loving act of my life.” (158-159)

For various different reasons, this is a season in which the reality of death is a re-occurring theme. Sometimes I fear it is one of being prepared to encounter death in some way, shape, or form in another future season. I guess I can be guaranteed of that. Learning to continue to live joyfully and not in fear of loss is a challenge in and of itself.

I am not yet to the end of the tale–only in the grief. I am hoping I find hope. It is present even now in the story, but there has got to be more .

Time to singalong with Sufjan

Some of you know that my favorite musician is Sufjan Stevens. Probably of all time (so far). And that’s a big deal.

I won’t go into the boring details of why I think he’s so talented. That is for another time.

It is more important that I remind you that it is now officially the Christmas season, which means it’s time to break out Sufjan’s “Songs for Christmas”.

Have a very Merry Christmas from Sufjan in his crazy jumpsuit.

John Piper

Some of you know that I love John Piper (I’m currently reading his book When I Don’t Desire God with the MH staff). He is a great Reformed pastor and teacher out of Bethlehem Baptist Church/Desiring God Ministries in Minneapolis, where I grew up. In fact, the first conversation Jason and I ever had was over a message we both listened to from last October’s Desiring God Conference. Jason probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that scored him major points.

One thing about Piper is that he always has a new book out. The guy writes like mad. Books like Desiring God and Future Grace have been instrumental in my understanding of the gospel and what it means to practically live it out.

I say all this because over at the Desiring God blog, all John Piper books are being offered for $5 this coming Wednesday and Thursday (July 27th and 28th).

If you’ve never experienced Piper’s teaching, I encourage you to pick up a copy of one of his books. They are all good. Desiring God also has a ton of other audio, video, and print resources available on their website, too.

Enjoy!

Acquired: one ugly wedding gift

An update on our recent happenings, including an explanation of the above title. Enjoy!

what we’ve been doing: This last weekend we spent in somewhat of a wedding frenzy–we started working on registries at Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond (of course, Jason has to have this) and met with the reception hall coordinator to talk details of food, flow, flowers, etc. Last night we met Luke Rutan, our photographer. It was great to get to know him, shoot the breeze for a while, and let him get to know us as a couple. Very easygoing–I think he’ll do a great job. Check out his blog.

Unrelated to our ceremony of matrimony, I spent Sunday afternoon trying to recreate my mom’s great spaghetti sauce, Jason went for a bike ride with Eric Rose, and we finished off the evening with ice cream in the big green chair. A wonderful way to wind down the weekend.

what we’re studying: As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper. We’re also assigned to read Reforming Marriage (both), The Silence of Adam (Jason) and For Women Only (Elisabeth) for the Biblical Marriage class we started on Sunday at Mars Hill. Jason’s about to finish up The Things They Carried. He’s really enjoyed it and found he can relate some of his experiences in the military with what is depicted in the novel. And I’ve enjoyed him telling me all about it.

what we’re listening to: Jason loves Billy Joel, it reminds him of his high school days. He’s had me listen to “New York State of Mind” and “Just the Way You Are” in the last week. I listened to an AWESOME issue of This American Life entitled “Notes from Camp.” It’s all about the cult-ish following by kids and adults alike of the perfect summer camp experience. The piece on Color Week was both disturbing and hilarious.

what’s new: Our Hebrews study is off to a slow start. We’ve decided to get together two mornings a week before work to work through it together. Also, we got our first officially hideous wedding gift, compliments of Macy’s bridal registry (see photo to the right). We think we’ll probably slam them up against our potential new house to officially christen it when the time comes.

what’s next: Eleni has promised to whip up a potential cupcake ensemble for the wedding. A tasting party will, I’m sure, soon follow after her mad scientist-esque baking escapades. Jason, Sally and I look forward to chocolate, vanilla, lemon and whatever other flavors we’ll get to explore.

Jason has also been diligently working on the job search front, connecting with headhunters this week who seem very eager to work with him to find the right fit. His military experience and his BA in chemical engineering are a major plus. Please pray that he finds a job soon, as he will leave his current position on July 6th. We’d love it if God blessed him with a job before we get married. This would allow us to start looking for a house to settle into as we start our life together.

The Law vs. Jesus (Jesus wins)

Along with the rest of the staff at Mars Hill, I’ve started reading When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy by John Piper. One of the drums Piper consistently beats throughout all his writing and preaching is the biblical idea that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

In the first few chapters Piper asks questions along the lines of “How do we get satisfied with God? How do we get to a place where nothing else is more enticing and exciting and beautiful than He is?” It is only by the grace of God. That has been convicting for me because I know my heart’s tendency to try to search for the very satisfaction I desire in Jesus completely outside of and separate from Him. I don’t take His grace! The tricky thing is, those pursuits are sometimes very “Christian” things, like knowing about God (as opposed to knowing God Himself).

This is not a new idea, but it has become increasingly novel to me–that satisfaction in Jesus is about intimate relationship with Him, not about knowledge of Him. A desire to study God will flow out of relationship with Him, not the other way around. Other acts of obedience are the same.

How is that I’ve heard this truth a million times yet I seem to learn it new in every season of my life? In a previous season I studied God’s Word for hours. I couldn’t get enough of it. When I look back I see that this passion came from a time of rich relationship with Him where His presence was felt as so real and near. But it slowly became an intellectual endeavor. People would tell me I was wise beyond my years, so well-read. I was proud.

It turns out that pride isn’t the greatest motivator for continuing on in relationship with and obedience to God. For me, when the desire to study God’s Word started to wane, I felt like I was having an identity crisis. I dug my heels in and lived by the law, trying to get myself to really want to pursue God’s Word, to obey. It didn’t work. I ended up feeling like I had no self-discipline and that I was stupid. Praise Jesus.

Banging my head up against that wall has been the beginning of breaking free from numerous legalisms. Jason has been a wonderful advocate for me. He points out all the “shoulds” and “buts” that spew out of my mouth and asks me “what do you really want?”. That has been terrifying, because what if I find that what I really want isn’t Jesus? If that is the unfortunate case, it needs to get brought out into the light for God to fix in me. It’s easier to live by rules than to walk in faith that God’s grace is there for me. Rules don’t expose my holy desires or my sinful ones. Rules are enticing, but they are so very enslaving.

I read this quote today and found it relevant:

“The human heart lives by its sympathies and affections. In the day that will try every man’s works how much we know will not come in for much consideration. What and whom we have loved will be about all that matters then. For this reason we can never give too great care for the condition of our inner selves.” –A.W. Tozer, The Root of Righteous

This is encouraging because it reminds me that I am not defined by performance. But it is also scary for the very same reason. It seems I can’t dig myself out of my condition. I must trust that God has and that He is and that He will.

Some of the following have influenced my thinking about this lately:

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)

Religion and Revival (Nehemiah 8:13-18) by Pastor Mark Driscoll

Heart Matters, Part 1 by Pastor Matt Chandler

Redemption song

No, I’m not talking about that Johnny Cash song. Or the Bob Marley one. I was just trying to come up with a clever title for this post. Just read on.

I used to be somewhat of a music snob. It started to become something that defined who I was (aka an idol). At that point, I started listening to music I didn’t even like just to impress people (who, I’m not exactly sure). I wanted to seem, well, snobby. Then I became unemployed (followed by a position as a struggling intern) and didn’t have the money to go to concerts or buy music.

The combination of no money and a-good-thing-into-an-ultimate-thing trend meant I withdrew into self-righteous holiness and intentionally didn’t engage in that part of culture at all (or much of any part of culture). Can you see I tend to swing in extremes? Um, yeah. It’s sad, because music has always been a creative outlet and enjoyment for me and it was being stifled. Yes, it’s true, I’m a stifler.

The pendulum, I think, is swinging back to somewhere in the middle. Praise Jesus. Now that I’m working a staff job at Mars Hill and have some fun money to spend again I’ve been getting back into the music scene. Last night I poked around iTunes doing research and then went down to Easy Street (one of my favorite places EVER) and perused the aisles, my scratch paper in hand. It was beautiful. That, my friends, is redemption.

I came out with some jems. I must admit, I am fearful that some of you out there reading this are thinking, “Oh I’ve been listening to that album for months (or years) now.” That’s because I care what you think. I like to be the first to know about everything. Repentance for me is listening anyway.

So here’s the lineup:

Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s BlockI’m glad this album is awesome and that it just may make it into my top-tier album category. Listening to Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, and Iron & Wine over and over again for the last year and a half is getting a bit old. Like Sufjan, this band has had to grow on me (in part due to my resistance to its popularity), but what I find is the kind of music I am typically drawn to, but with a twist that challenges me to give some new and unfamiliar mixture of sounds a chance.

The Shins – Wincing the Night AwayChutes Too Narrow was wonderful. Oh, Inverted World didn’t do much for me, probably it felt like it took more effort to listen to it. Where does this album fit in? I think somewhere in the middle. It’s upbeat, fun, fresh, and a bit poppy. I appreciate the song “Sea Legs.”

Aqualung – Memory Man – songs from Aqualung’s first album bring back fond memories of my trip to Scotland a few summers ago, so I thought I’d come back for more (and maybe another nostalgic trip down memory lane). The overall sound is somewhere in between David Gray and Coldplay.

Damien Rice – 9Jason and I went to the Damien Rice concert at Benaroya Hall back in April and thought he was fantastic live. At that point, I had been listening to his first album, 0, for several years and found his angst appropriate for the more mellow moments in life. The new music I heard at the concert that I’m now hearing again on his new album sounds almost as sweet to my ears as it did when I heard it live. But, let’s admit it–you can’t beat Benaroya.

Beck – GueroSally and Adelle went wedding dress shopping with me on Sunday and music from this album was cranked up in the car. Doug Finefrock says this is the best Beck album ever and I believe him. You should believe him, too, since I haven’t gotten a chance to really dive into it just yet. All I know is when I listen to “Que’ Onda Guero” it’s got this Beastie Boys vibe I’m diggin’ (minus the abrasive, whiny white-guy rapper voice).

Alright, no more blogging for now. I’ve got music to listen to (and enjoy!).