Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great quote...

"The problem is in the human heart, not in the gifts of God." - Jerram Barrs

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review of Mat Kearney's City of Black and White

My plan is to write my thoughts as I listen to each song. There seems to be no other way to really justify doing this review for such a long-awaited album (for me, anyway) and from one of my favorite artist, if not my top artist, which is saying a lot for someone like me who listen to way too much music.

I'm rating each song on a scale of 1 - 10. I wish I'd thought to do this at first listen, but maybe it will be better now that I've heard it a few times and can look for the layers. Alas, we shall see what comes out. FYI, I have the deluxe edition, which I pre-ordered two weeks ago, but I think it's still available on itunes.

1. All I Have

This song seems primed for radio play. It's a nice and easy arrangement, very radio-friendly, with his pop vocals in full-effect. Interestingly enough, though, the song seems "happy" but a lot of the lyrics are sad. "Tired of the same song everyone's singing/I'd rather be lost with you instead." While most of the lyrics are typical for him, this style of song is not. I'm on the fence. I like it, I don't love it. But I definitely don't hate it.

Rating: 8

2. Fire and Rain

Hmm... stylistically also very different for him. Also very radio-friendly, but not very much edge, which is what I'm used to. This sounds like a song that would be great on a movie soundtrack, which is not a bad thing at all. But different for him.

Do you ever think about me/Do you ever call my name/Ask me now I'll give you the reasons/My love will not fade/Through the fire and rain

Rating: 8.25

3. Closer To Love

This single was released back in April and I've listened to it many, many times. (It's also my new cell phone ring...) I really love this song. This is the closest to the old (not safe) Mat I've heard so far on the record. It's really beautiful with a touch of edginess.

For all the tears you've cried/You've been way too strong now for all your life/I'm gonna get there soon/You're gonna be there too.

I love the beat in this song, and I love the piano. Gorgeous.
Rating: 9

4. Here We Go

Oh, I really love this song. Really and truly. This man has had his heart broken, and by the same woman, several times. These kind of lyrics aren't born out of anything but heartbreak.

Bitter is the kiss that says goodbye/I can hear it in your voice/I can see it in your eyes...'Cause we've been this low and we've been around this bend/I don't to lose you all over again/We sing/"Oh, love, it's easy if you don't try to please me/If you don't want to see me any more"/We sing out/Oh, oh/Here we go again/I know how I lost a friend

Wow. That's just painful. But there's a lot of truth in it, which is why I love it.

Rating: 9.5

5. Lifeline

My first couple of listens to this song had me unsure of whether I liked it or not. Something about the lyrics seems a bit contrived to me. But, things that are contrived are also usually true. They are just over-done. Mat's first two albums were so unique, especially musically. We aren't getting too much musical innovation here, and the lyrics are a bit over-used, this is still a thoughtful song.

The world is too big to never ask why/The answers don't fall straight out of the sky/I'm fighting to live and feel alive/But I can't feel a thing without you by my side/Send me out a lifeline

Rating: 7.25

6. New York To California

The beginning of this sounds just like "Won't Back Down" from his second album. There is a glimmer of Mat's story-telling here, but it's reeled in a bit.

I don't want to live another day without you/You woke up and said baby I, had one of those dreams again/The rain came down and I lost you in the wind...If you find your self lost out in this world/Then I'll find a way to get back to your side

Again, so sad. There's a touch of hope here, like the relationship might actually be beginning and that's why he will go from New to California for her. A nice song; not a terribly memorable one for me.

Rating: 7.5

7. Runaway Car

This is another song where the music seems happier than what he is trying to say with the lyrics.

Stop this runaway car/Not that gone and we’re not that far/If it left you there then I left it all behind/'Cause all I'm feeling now/Is the weight of the world/bearing down/I don't have answers to any of my questions anymore

This song is really about regret, and it's in a major key instead of a minor, and has happy guitar strumming throughout. I think he's probably trying to convey the feeling of runaway emotions, because the song is about him recognizing a mistake the day after he made it - he made the choice to walk away from someone he loved. I think the song could be a touch better if he'd taken the key down a 1/2 step.

Rating: 7

8. Never Be Ready

This might be the best song on the album. This is a time where the lyrics and the music match quite well - because it's neither a happy or sad song. It's hopeful, which can go either way if we are honest with ourselves.

Come on and lay down these arms /All our best defenses /We're taking our chances here on the run/The fear is an anchor /Time is a stranger/Love isn't borrowed /We aren't promised tomorrow/We'll never be ready if we keep waiting /For the perfect time to come/Hold me steady, we'll never be ready /When we don't know, though we can't see /Just walk on down this road with me /Hold me steady, we'll never be ready

Anyone who's been hurt is afraid of letting down defenses and letting someone really love them understand this song. In a sense, we'll never be ready to take that leap because of how the fear grounds us, preventing us from taking that leap. He's asking her, in the lyrics, to hold him steady (he's acknowledging his own fear) and to know that they'll never feel ready. So they owe it to themselves to just try.

Oh? And the bridge on this one rocks.

Rating: 10

9. Annie

Here's the story of what inspired the song:

"I wrote that on in the back seat of a van headed away from a dirty show in Indianapolis. I had met this girl named Annie who told me a story about how she had to either leave her hometown or get swallowed by it. Leaving is hard when you are misunderstood, especially by your family."

This is a song about courage, and Mat does something really interesting with this. This song could have sounded really sad. He could have made it about being swallowed by the small town. But instead it's as if he wrote the song to give her encouragement to go, to change.

Cause Annie's got to get out/Before she never can/Holding the line from the back of the car/Miles and miles from where you are/Maybe the hardest things are the dreams that we've been given/And you scream and you sing and you shout/There one way in and there's one way out/Help me to find my way back down

Rating: 9

10. Straight Away

Mat tweeted a link to this song a day or two before the album release, so I was able to listen to it several times before the rest of the songs... and I must say, it gets better each time you listen to it. I adore this song. Never Be Ready is really good, but I like this one better. Because these are the kind of lyrics that every girl wants to hear from a man who loves her.

If I was wrong would you show me/Where all that I lost can be found?/Cause you can shoot me straight/straight to the heart/ 'Cause you already have it/ Say what you want to say/We're coming out of the grey/What goes around now/Is coming back down today/You can shoot my straight away

Ratig: 10

11. On And On

This song - the strumming, the mood - sounds a lot like Nothing Left to Loose, which is my favorite song from his second album.

On and on and on we pray/That we can break into a brighter day/Nothing worth anything ever goes down easy/On and on and on we go/I don’t understand this winding road/Nothing worth anything ever goes down easy/And we'll keep on keep on climbing/On down this narrow line/So we can see the other side

What I appreciate about this song so much is how there is a touch of reality in the love story. He loves her, she wants to run, and he's challenging her with some really tough questions. And then he says that he doesn't understand why things get tough, but that he's willing to keep trying. If only we all had attitudes like that...

Rating: 9.5

12. City Of Black & White

I love the entire composition of this song. The structure, the lyrics, the additional of the electric guitar at the end of the chorus... it's so well-done. Really, the structure is near-perfect.

I don't want to wait until tomorrow/To tell you how I'd feel the rest of my life/You don't want a waste another minute to realize/Walking on the dark side of the evening/maybe it is you that opened my eyes/Burning like a fire on the water/The city of black and white

He wrote this song quite a while ago (the earliest I heard about was back in 2007) so that could be the reason for it's great structure. I also love how he plays with colors in the song especially the opening stanza: "This whole city's black and white/Tell me what is your color./Could it be the same as mine?/Faded greens and blue street lights"

Rating: 10

13. Everyone I Know (Bonus Track)

Musically, this is a little different for Mat, opening with just an electric guitar. And it pretty much stays that way the whole time. It's very stripped down.

And I can hardly find the means for all the words I mean to speak/But still this fire inside of me seems too much for me alone to keep/Now the writing’s on the wall for God in Krylon cans/Will you send a prayer for me?/Will you help me to stay?/ Because I know what’s it’s like/'Cause everyone that I know and every place that I go/Every story that I’m told, /It’s love, it’s love, it’s love /That we’re looking for

There's huge sense of longing in his voice here that's heart-breaking. Beautiful.

Rating: 9

14. Here We Go (Acoustic Version, Bonus Track)

The opening of this is super slow, not at all like the plugged-in version. But once he hits the chorus, the temp picks up and the guitar comes in. I like that he did it this way. I can only hope when Mat comes to St. Louis in July that it will be an unplugged concert, because he's really at his best this way. Especially with this song.

Rating: 10

15. All I Have (Acoustic Version Bonus Track)

A video came with this for the deluxe version, which is fun to have. Mat actually tunes his guitar at the beginning... and they use a steel guitar in this, which sounds great.

This isn't a good as his acoustic version of Here We Go, but it's still nice. Part of it is that I just like Here We Go better.

Rating: 8

All in all, I really love this album. I miss some of Mat's great story-telling, and I miss the textures to his music (the hip-hop urban beats). There are some beautiful layers to his song craftsmanship overall - with music and lyrics playing well off of each other. Mat's voice in undeniable, and his lyrics are still beautiful and thoughtful. He had a lot to live up to, and since this was three years in the making, my hopes were pretty high.

The best description I've heard of Mat's voice is this: "He could sing about pipe bombs and exploding cars and there'd still be a placidity and warmness to his tone that would soothe and soften." (Gregory Robson, from For me? Mat's voice just feels like home.

This album is worth getting. I suspect, that just like his last album, it will help me write my own story, and the songs in it will remind me of what I'll experience in the next year. His music has a history of doing that for me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Women in the Church

N.T. Wright is a highly regarding theologian in the PCA/EPC circle in which I now run. As many times, since I've been in St. Louis, that I've heard arguments against women leading in the church, I was shocked to find Wright's position on this considering his fame in such a traditional circle.

Wright has connections to the Anglican church, a denomination known for it's liberal stance on several main issues including pacifism, view of scripture, etc. (J.I. Packer left the Anglican church, FYI, just last year). I realize within every denomination there is typical a far left and a far right. But knowing the regard people around here have for Wright, I am curious as to what they would say about this video.

Because it kinda makes me want to stand up and cheer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You know what I love about....

living in a big city?

Is seeing previews for movies like this and knowing I get to see them the weekend they open. Yea!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I've been waiting for this day...

for a very, very long time.

More after I've had a full listen!!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top Ten Things I Love About House

10.This episode. Broke my heart.

9. His T-Shirt collection (mostly vintage, and somehow they all seem to do with death..)

8. The completely unrealistic medical traumas (one of my small group members is a doctor and he told me that none of the stuff they talk about on the show is even possible. awesome.)

7. House's musical ability

6. The stuff that makes me laugh.

5. The opening credits. I LOVE that song.

4. Jesse Spencer's accent

3. The Wilson/House dysfunctional friendship

2. Hugh Laurie's scruffy beard

1. His cell phone ring is Mmmm Bop by Hanson. That is, simply, the greatest thing ever.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


I've discovered something about myself recently that feels insurmountable.

I've been taking a class on Wednesday nights at my church on the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. As we finished up the book as a class, the last time we spent together was looking at confronting those who've hurt us and forgiving those who've hurt us. The further we delved into the material, and the deeper our discussion become, I realized why I've become a peace-faker instead of a peace-maker: I'm afraid of initiating in relationships.

I have on idea when this started, but one of my first thoughts is to blame it on Elizabeth Elliot. She was all the rage when I was in college, and I had the chance to hear her in a debate at the Urbana Missions conference regarding a woman's place in the church/mission field. She has very traditional views on a woman's place anywhere - in fact, she actually said during the debate that should would not speak in church unless she was with her husband. Yikes.

I read Quest for Love several years ago (I refused to read Passion and Purity out of principle), though Quest for Love was not much different, if what I heard about P & P was correct. One principle Elliot lives by is that a woman should never initiate relationships with men. If they are interested, they will pursue you. Makes sense, I guess. The problem is, I think I let myself believe that about everyone. Because now I don't even initiate friendships.

I was talking about my realization with my women's small group that meets on Mondays, and my dear friend Sue caught me afterwards and asked how she could help. once I talked with her about it, ever the goal-setter, she advised me to try "one a day". Make one initiation a day, just help me get over this hump.

And then, a wave of situations arise in my life this week where I am rejected (passively, as far as I know, unless there are a lot of people in my life who just don't want to be around me.) That does not help.

I don't usually write a post unless I feel some closure on an issue. But I am at a loss right now, because I am in the midst of finals, figuring out my summer schedule, and am feeling unable to flesh this out, find the root and climb over the mountain. I'm aware of it now, so that's something. But that's not much after the week I've had.

I’m taking a ride off to one side
It is a personal thing.
When I can’t stand
Up in this cage I’m not regretting.
I don’t need a better thing,
I’d settle for less,
It’s another thing for me,
I just have to wander through this world

Stop before you fall
Into the hole that I have dug here,
Rest even as you
Are starting to feel the way I used to,
I don’t need a better thing
(Just to sound confused)
Don’t talk about everyone,
I am not amused by you.

I’m gonna lose you,
Yeah I’m gonna lose you
If I’m gonna lose you,
I’m gonna lose you,
Yeah I’m gonna lose you
If I’m gonna lose you
I’ll lose you now for good

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (praying through scripture) isn’t something I practice a lot. I first tried it last fall, as part of a book I read for my youth ministry class: Contemplative Youth Ministry (highly recommended, by the way.) I taught last week and will teach tomorrow the “Prayer of the Heart” lesson from Gospel Transformation at my church, so the practice of it came back into my life. So this is what happened….

I got comfortable, squished pillows all around me so they were just right. I opened up my bible to Matthew (we were to pray through The Lord’s Prayer) and put it in my lap. I focused on clearing my mind, quieting my heart.

Clearing my mind took FOREVER. I keep thinking of all the stuff I had to do. (I have a running list in my head) I thought about encounters I had with people throughout the week, good and bad. I thought about my family, classes, church, just stuff. And about 7 or 8 times, while trying to clear my mind, I had to jolt myself out of these thoughts and remind myself of what I was doing trying to do. I think at one point I actually said to myself “I’m trying to be contemplative. Can’t you just do that for one little bit, Stephanie?” Yeah, there’s some irony there.

So… once my mind cleared? I promptly fell asleep. I admit it.

The business of our days, the reality we live in, where a hundred things need to get done and another hundred things are required of us, never mind the emotional, relational stuff we have to deal with, keeps us in motion. I was so in motion that when I finally cleared my mind and quieted my heart to pray, I fell asleep. I am used to being consistently in motion. This requires more being, rather than doing. Lectio Divina is contrary to all of that. And frankly, it was hard for me.

Actually, if I’m being really honest with you and myself, just prayer in general is hard for me. It is not a discipline that comes naturally to me at all. (I guess that’s why it’s called a discipline, right?) I’ve always felt lesser for it, always wondered what was wrong with me that everyone else around me seemed to have this whole prayer thing figured out. I’ve reflected a lot this week about why prayer has always been hard for me. And I’ve realized it lies in one of my biggest idols: the idol of perfection.

Not only do I want my prayers to be perfect, but also I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m not. We all know we’re not perfect, but I have also come to realize that I still think I’m better than the next person. And if I pray from my heart for all of the things I desire and all of the things I lack, the more that idol of perfection rears it’s ugly head. I’m revealing the desires and the sin to myself just as much as I’m admitting it to God. The difference is that God already knew about all that stuff, whereas I just pushed it down further into the corners of my mind and probably hadn’t admitted it yet.

Hannah was a woman who wanted a son, but God’s hadn’t granted her one. Her husband’s other wife was able to bore children, and Hannah went to the house of Lord, the other wife provoked her until she wept – because she had children and Hannah didn’t.

1 Samuel 1:12-16
12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." 15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."

We all have things we pray for desperately. Just like Hannah wept bitterly and laid-bare her deepest most intimate thoughts and desire to God, we have issues and people and sin that press on our hearts. Sometimes these things blind us, sometimes they hurt us, but nonetheless, they are ever-present. These issues cause us to cry out to God, sometimes in desperation. God knew of Hannah’s heart desire for a son – just like God knows our desires.

But what does it look like and feel like to lay that bare before God? How is it to be honest and admit our pain and anguish like Hannah did? It was in this question that I discovered the reason for my personal struggle with prayer – that idol of perfection.

I find myself so worried that the blackness of my own heart will be so exposed… and while I know in my mind God already sees that blackness, I’m more afraid of what that exposure means to me. I’m afraid of looking at my own sin, of staring it straight in the eye, of being honest and intimate with myself. Because when I am, I’m overwhelmed with just how wretched I am.

But this is what I think prayer of the heart actually looks like.

It looks like undignified, unadulterated laid-bare realizations and acceptance of just how far away we are from knowing and understanding the holiness of God. It’s in that facedown position, with no inhibitions, that we can respond to God in the way he wants us to. It’s the raw act of admission and submission before a God who deserves no less. Henri Nouwen describes it this way: “ To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing, within you.” Hannah was honest before God, and she admitted her misery. She laid-bare her heart.

Sometimes, in our own misery, we can loose our words. We can be so hurt and broken that words escape us. And that’s okay. We don’t always have to talk. And that’s what I truly appreciate about Lectio Divina - how it emphasizes something that we don’t always understand about prayer: that it’s important for us to listen as well as talk. God’s word is such a beautiful and wonderful gift he’s given us. It’s how he communicates with us, to help us understand who he is. By being silent, quieting our heart (and trying not falling asleep) and letting God guide our hearts, you are allowing him to take over.

Lectio Divina helps us let go of our own agenda, and submit to what God is trying to show us. I’m not saying that it’s the only way or the best way to pray. It’s not. This kind of prayer can help us practice how to simply be with Jesus – and that time of focusing on him is transforming. This is a way of being with God that does not depend on us giving Him information, but about us resting and waiting. It is not fancy, nor is it particularly “righteous”. But God can use it to help us set aside our agenda, and center our hearts on His agenda. We are depending on him to initiate communication, instead of depending on the sound of our own voice and formation of our own words.

Bryan Chapell says (the president of my seminary, shameless plug...), in his book Praying Backwards, “Our prayers do not have to be long or formal to be acceptable and powerful. God certainly honors thoughtful, reverent prayer, but he also hears the anguish of our heart when we can voice no plea more articulate than calling his name.” Like Hannah, who wept in bitterness in anguish and grief, we can come to God as we are, and not be afraid to reveal our own desires and our own sin to him or to ourselves. No matter how ugly it is. We shouldn’t be afraid to be ugly or undignified before him in prayer, because there is redemption for that ugliness. Jesus’ blood covers that ugliness, he redeems our sin and he redeems our prayers.