Going to see MercyMe for fourth time. Woohoo!

MercyMe goes to a lot of places for touring, but they don’t seem to hit Portland very often.  Two of the three times I have gone to see them has been in the metro area, with the other being up in Washington for a county fair.  Perhaps this is because Oregon, based on some metric, is the most unchurched state in the country.  I like to think that we may have fewer regular Sunday service attendees per capita, but that we make up for it by having a much higher percentage of those who actually have a personal relationship with Jesus.

This time, Jen and I will be traveling four hours and 270 miles to the booming metropolis of Central Point, where they will be performing with Casting Crowns on July 27.  The drive will be worth it since we have seats in Row 2 (!!), which will be the best seats we have ever had seeing them.

I look forward to seeing them since they are my favorite CCM band, along with Chris Tomlin.  And I look forward to Bart’s new Hymned album, which he has already recorded and I assume will come out later this year.  If you are a poor, lost soul who hasn’t had the opportunity to listen to MercyMe, go to their website to hear them, or visit their blog to see how even grown men can be childish at heart.

MercyMe: All That Is Within Me

My favorite CCM band released a new album a couple weeks ago.  I preordered it from MusicChristian and it arrived on the day of release.  I eagerly popped it into the CD player, and like "Coming Up To Breathe", my first reaction based on Track 1 was that this isn’t the band I know and love.  "Goodbye Ordinary" is heavier, for them, in electric guitar than I prefer, not to say that I dislike the song altogether.  "Time Has Come" starts with a sound that, if I didn’t know to whom I was listening, I would think it is Chris Tomlin.  Not until "I Know" does MercyMe’s traditional sound come through.  I like "God With Us" (except the end with the strings), "Sanctified," "You Reign," and "Grace Tells Another Story."  "Alright" is a feel-good track with an "Ooh ooh" ditty.  I really like the false ending that segues into a tag that is repeated.  They have done this on several tracks in the past, and there is just something about when they do that that I really like.  Maybe it is to help burn the tag lyrics into your head or practice harmonizing with them.  (If the former, it is "Count up your joy when the world comes crashing / Hold your head up and keep on dancing.")  "My Heart Will Fly" continues their sound, but my favorite track is "Finally Home."  Bart Millard has such a beautiful voice that you can just focus on his lyrics and singing.  Aside from the electric guitar with its distortion coming through, this is a simple acoustic song, more about telling its story than the music (reminds me of "MawMaw’s Song").  I really like the one-voice melody that Bart sings, which progresses into a two-, then three-/ four-, and maybe even five-voice polyphony.

After listening to the album a number of times, I really enjoy it, and I am glad that I don’t judge it based on my first impression of the first track.  This was the same with "Coming Up To Breathe," where repeated listening is what endeared the album to me.  Hopefully for their tour they will choose to stop by Portland.  Their album tours have not led them this way recently, though they have been to Puyallup for the WWC Fair and to Tualatin with Audio Adrenaline.  I have seen them perform three times, so I look forward to the next time.

The difference between faith and political agenda

The May 15, 2006, issue of Time magazine has an essay by Andrew Sullivan (here) that rings true for me.  Perhaps for you, too, but at a minimum it should make you think.

My Problem with Christianism
A believer spells out the difference between faith and a political agenda

Are you a Christian who doesn’t feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling. When the discourse about faith is dominated by political fundamentalists and social conservatives, many others begin to feel as if their religion has been taken away from them.

The number of Christians misrepresented by the Christian right is many. There are evangelical Protestants who believe strongly that Christianity should not get too close to the corrupting allure of government power. There are lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women’s equality and a multi-faith society. There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is. They have no problem living next to an atheist or a gay couple or a single mother or people whose views on the meaning of life are utterly alien to them–and respecting their neighbors’ choices. That doesn’t threaten their faith. Sometimes the contrast helps them understand their own faith better.

And there are those who simply believe that, by definition, God is unknowable to our limited, fallible human minds and souls. If God is ultimately unknowable, then how can we be so certain of what God’s real position is on, say, the fate of Terri Schiavo? Or the morality of contraception? Or the role of women? Or the love of a gay couple? Also, faith for many of us is interwoven with doubt, a doubt that can strengthen faith and give it perspective and shadow. That doubt means having great humility in the face of God and an enormous reluctance to impose one’s beliefs, through civil law, on anyone else.

I would say a clear majority of Christians in the U.S. fall into one or many of those camps. Yet the term "people of faith" has been co-opted almost entirely in our discourse by those who see Christianity as compatible with only one political party, the Republicans, and believe that their religious doctrines should determine public policy for everyone. "Sides are being chosen," Tom DeLay recently told his supporters, "and the future of man hangs in the balance! The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will." So Christ is a conservative Republican?

Rush Limbaugh recently called the Democrats the "party of death" because of many Democrats’ view that some moral decisions, like the choice to have a first-trimester abortion, should be left to the individual, not the cops. Ann Coulter, with her usual subtlety, simply calls her political opponents "godless," the title of her new book. And the largely nonreligious media have taken the bait. The "Christian" vote has become shorthand in journalism for the Republican base.

What to do about it? The worst response, I think, would be to construct something called the religious left. Many of us who are Christians and not supportive of the religious right are not on the left either. In fact, we are opposed to any politicization of the Gospels by any party, Democratic or Republican, by partisan black churches or partisan white ones. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand?

So let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

That’s what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn’t. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It’s time the quiet majority of believers took it back.

New CDs in response to Passion’s & Chris Tomlin’s Indescribable Tour

The tour came to Salem for its penultimate stop on the Passion Conferences Six Steps Records tour.  It included music from Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and a presentation by Louis Giglio.  Wow, Louis is an excellent speaker and his presentation was very awe inspiring.  After listening to Chris and Matt sing, and anyone who listens to CCM has no doubt heard songs written or sung by both of them, I had to get some CDs.  So I picked up Chris’ Arriving, Matt’s Blessed Be Your Name, and Passion’s How Great Is Our God.

I was expecting to enjoy Matt’s album more since I am more of a fan of his music versus Chris’, but I was surprised to “hear” how much I liked the album.  One of the reasons I got it is because it contains my favorite CCM song of all, How Great Is Our God.  The rest of the album is excellent, so I recommend it. 

I was not as impressed with Matt’s album, notably because it contains only live music.  I am a fan of studio recordings first, and then only live recordings if I like the song in the first place.  The album still has some really good songs, notably Blessed Be Your Name and Undignified, the latter which I could play over and over.  But I think I will have to get his albums that have studio recordings of these to really appreciate the songs. 

The same applies to the Passion CD; live music from the Passion ’05 tour.  It’s a good album if it has a bunch of songs you want all together on one CD, but otherwise I recommend picking up the individual artists’ CDs.

A little early for Christmas, but I picked up MercyMe’s new album

The Christmas Sessions was released on September 27.  I ordered it in early October, shipping via media mail.  Wow.  That is like shipping via mule.  I think it took two weeks to arrive.  I don’t recommend it unless you really are in no hurry to get your item.  Upon first listening, I was a bit disenchanted like I was with Hymned since the songs aren’t originals by MercyMe.  Track 1 is a little too heavy for my taste, at least for Christmas music.  But after listening to the entire album again I warmed up to it.  What makes it more enjoyable each time are the arrangements.  My favorite track, Silent Night, has such a MercyMe sound to it that it points out to me how much I enjoy their musical style and Bart’s arranging and voice.

SVCC sermons now available via podcast

Prior to July 31, Summit View’s sermons were only available via copies of an analog tape recording.  So I took it upon myself to bring SVCC into the late 20th century by digitally recording the service.  I do some minor editing (like removing silence that works fine with a visual service but is awkward when listening only to the audio portion) and make them available in MP3 and WMA formats.  In addition, I make a mixed mode CD with both the CD audio portion and a data portion containing the mp3 and wma files.

Then I was recently asked about making the sermon (or message as we call it) available on iTunes so it can be downloaded automatically and listened to on the go.  So, to bring SVCC into the 21st century, the message of the week is available as a podcast.  You can subscribe to it by searching for the keywords Summit View, or you can subscribe manually (or for anyone who doesn’t want to use iTunes and has another reader they want to use).  The feed is at http://www.flobee.net/SVCC/podcast.xml.