Friday, August 27, 2010

Peter, A Polar Bear Poster and the Power of a Moment

I own a poster of a cuddly polar bear cub. It has travelled with me from my childhood home in Salt Lake City to my dorm room in Alma and now hangs on our bedroom door in Princeton. Some photographer caught the cub ambling forward from a black background, head hanging slightly, dark button eyes barely lifted from the ground. A nameless graphic designer cropped the photo so that the youngling would dominate the image, then wrapped a short piece of text around the bear’s back. The text reads: “Help me to remember, Lord, that nothing’s gonna happen today that you and I can’t handle together.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Brief Life Update

And now, for those interested, a life update.
Sarah and I still live in Princeton, NJ. I’m heading into my final year at Princeton Theological Seminary. I added a second masters to my degree program, so it’s taking me four years to graduate instead of three. When I walk down the aisle of the University Chapel next May I’ll have both an MDiv and a Master of Arts in Christian Education.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Song-by-Song Review of Caedmon’s Call’s Raising Up the Dead

As a companion piece to my previous post – in which I described my history of interaction with Caedmon’s Call and gave a summary review of their new album Raising Up the Dead – this post will go through that album, song by song, reflecting upon the emerging themes (lyrical, musical, theological and other) that are most evident to me. I do not claim accuracy in my interpretation of the songwriters’ intent, nor can I even say that I have heard the lyrics correctly (I do not yet own the physical CD with lyric sheet). All that being said, I believe that the ability to speak in a very personal way to each listener is an indicator of well-written music. Hopefully my intuitions about the meanings and merits of each song are not too far afield from the original intent. Warning: your enjoyment and understanding of this post will of course depend greatly upon whether or not you have heard the album yourself. Without further ado (I’ve wanted to use that phrase for awhile), the review!

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Sometimes a Beggar

Words will ride upon the wind
Like the leaves dance in the fall
Forever gone and back again
There can be no greater call

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: She

Everybody follows her around
She takes up their burdens like a crown
You’re invisible when she’s around

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Family

He’s on the run from a bad break
His soul’s worn down to the skin
He’s got the scars of a heartache
So you can see everywhere he’s been
Where he was he was the only one
So he went looking for his mother’s son

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Miss You

He was her first love
She was his first heartbreak
She didn’t trust him
That was her second big mistake
She took a lover
She took the medicine
She took another
But all she thought about was him

And the smile that was on his face
As she walked away

I miss you and I need to
Cause when I’m back in your arms it’s twice as sweet

She threw her hair back
In a prophetic turn
It was expected
It was a swift and lovely blur

And compelled as she was to leave town
She was turning around

Love is calling my name
Love keep calling my name

Another representative “she.” Another set of fairly ambiguous lyrics. The general feeling I get from this song is one of “prodigalness.” Yes, I just made up that word. This “she” is on the run from a true love. Though she tries to be flippant and seem unconcerned about her love (throwing her hair back, taking medicine), she can’t leave. She has to turn around. She wants Love to call her name. Her mistake was in not trusting her first love.

Now, I don’t want to make a mistake myself in ascribing overly theological themes to every song. So, while I think there could be a case made here that the church is this “she,” who has wandered from her first love (Christ), taken medicine (see Derek Webb’s song “Medication”), taken other loves (see Derek Webb’s song “The Church”), and exhibits aspects of predestination (prophetic turn, it was expected), I think this could also just be a great story song in which we can find ourselves. We are people who have walked away from the one(s) who truly love us, we feel ashamed by our actions, feel compelled to leave town. But we are constantly being called back into relationship with God and with others. Love is calling our name.

Speaking of that lyric, the music in the bridge is, once again, excellent. Danielle’s vocals are extremely powerful on this song.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: God’s Hometown

She spent her days never breaking her gaze on his face
She knew every line
She whispered to him, but only to make him give chase
Worked every time
He was the one, when it came to the son that they saw,
He showed them how
They called him Ernest, his wife called her mother-in-law
Asked her: “What now?”

Living in God’s hometown
Standing here in my wedding gown
Living in God’s hometown

So with everyone watching she stole all the clocks from the walls
Charged for the time
But what could she do, she’s just telling the truth after all
That’s not a crime
When Ernest comes knocking, she jumps in the closet
And stays just out of sight
It’s there she confesses, surrounded by dresses
That make her feel alright about

Both of them guilty of the same crime, same crime
Only believing it would save them

Yikes! Another “She.” There’s something with the “She” on this album. Perhaps the prominence of Danielle’s singing and writing is bringing out this representative feminine. Maybe it’s a secret code. I’m not sure.

Anyway, this song also throws me for a loop, in a wonderful way. I do think that it has something to do with honesty. The only name in the song is “Ernest,” which sounds like “earnest.” Someone who is “in earnest” is telling the truth. The couple introduced in the first verse are not being upfront with each other. She only whispers to him to make him give chase. Instead of really talking, she calls her mother-in-law. “Ernest” comes in after she steals the clocks, and this sudden shock of honesty causes her to hide in the closet where she is surrounded by things that make her feel alright. Only being honest that they committed the same crime (“believing it”) will save them.

I admit to not being sure where or what “God’s Hometown” is. It could be Jerusalem, or heaven, or Los Angeles. Or Bethlehem. I just don’t know. There’s also the issue of the metaphor of a wedding gown again. Dresses are another album theme.

I love the slightly schizophrenic sound of whatever instrument makes that rattle in the beginning. It really gets to the brokenness in the song.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Come with Me

Siren sing sweetly
Song so soft saying:
“Come with me”

Innocent, listen
Green shore sweet beckons
Come with me, Come with me

Glory and dust on your clothes and your feet
While you are resting in peace

My hands are bound and my heart is tied
Enslave me, you’ll save me
Come with me

Taste these lips dripping
With honey sweet, listen
Come with me

Sweet couple they’re singing
Secrets safe keeping:
Come with me, Come with me

Take your relief from these stones and their stain
Your fall will be broken with faith

When I first heard this song I thought it was very sweet and comforting. Then I thought about the lyrics and realized that I think the song represents the very “siren song” of which it speaks. The song, in fact, is quite disturbing. It’s definitely a song about death (Green shore beckons, resting in peace, dust on your clothes and your feet). I don’t want to make too much of a leap in judgment, but I think the song may be about suicide. “Take your relief from these stones . . . your fall will be broken with faith.” The musical ending of the song certainly seems to indicate following the siren, then falling only to end with a very abrupt stop.

In fact, Death and Eschatology are major themes of this album (Raising Up the DEAD). The next song, “Streets of Gold,” is obviously about eschatology – the end times, tomorrow, streets of gold. Death and the knowledge of time hang like a shroud over the entire album until we get to the very last song. From the beginning, the fickleness of words and betrayal bleed into a strained relationship, to a person on the run who is not accepted by flesh and blood family, to someone on the run from her first lover, to a broken family in which the wife literally steals time, through a siren song, to death and streets of gold, to the impermanence of pictures and the eternal legacy of children who are “turning time inside out,” onward to building a new house and breaking ties with family expectations while hoping for the future of children, arriving at the heartbreakingly meticulous work of sculpture, which must be carved at and broken to reveal beauty, and finally to another ambiguous “she” who drives her car into a lake, wanting to be raised from the dead. Whew.

I don’t know if the placement and order of the songs are indicative of anything, but if so, then “Come with Me” marks the end of the first half. If we compare the two halves, I think we see brokenness in the first half and redemption in the second. Perhaps the songs are mirrors of each other. I’ll leave that comparison to someone else.

The music makes me realize how much piano is being used on the album. I never remember thinking of piano as a dominant instrument in a Caedmon’s album before, but in Raising Up the Dead, it comes through in a quite a few songs, most notably and beautifully in this one.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Streets of Gold

I got debts that I can’t pay
I won’t see another dime a day, o yea
And the rain falls down this government line
While the suits get a room in a hotel, wasting time

And it’s easy to fall down hard
And it’s easy to fall

But I know, I’m walking tomorrow paved on streets of gold

And this car I drive is a little worn,
But I’ve got to make it to Houston in this storm
Cause what little peace that I can find
Is flowing through the bayou not this vine

And it’s easy to fall down hard
And it’s easy to fall

But I know I’m walking tomorrow paved on streets of gold
I know this time in the valley, it can only save my soul

O they say not to worry about tomorrow
Does that mean I should live for today
Cause right now I can’t find the peace of mind to stay

I know I’m walking tomorrow, paved on streets of gold
And I know my time in the valley, can only save my soul

If any song sounds like vintage Caedmon’s, this one does, down to the chording, the harmonies and the folksy sound. The strangeness of the grammar on this song distracted me a bit once I actually started listening to the lyrics. Nevertheless, I love the percussion on this song and the harmonies.

Themes of contentment, jealousy and living with a proper eschatological hope predominate here. The song does work as a nice counterpoint to the siren song of “Come with Me.” The narrator is rough around the edges. His life is not perfect, he’s waiting in line for government checks and drives an old car. Instead of listening to the siren song about green shores, however, this person doesn’t reach for the eternity that waits for him on the other side. He allows himself to walk through the valley. I feel as if this song would be poignant for those who have recently lost their jobs. It’s easy to fall down hard. Peace is difficult to find. But there is hope. It is a hope that doesn’t lead to apathy here on earth.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Time Inside Out

She makes a masterpiece, shoestring and paper
She tucks it safe in my bag as I go
It’s like a piece of her, I take it with me
She opens my heart to see beauty she makes with her hands

Down by the water her mind full of wonder
Creatures in our hearts are so full of life
Blurring the lines between student and teacher
She captures my heart like she captures the bird in her hands

Turning time inside out, ever after ticking like a watch on my wrist
Flash bulbs forgetting while eternity breaks in,
Turning time inside out, turning time inside out

Little boy prince with his crown and his castle
His coy invitiation, his eyes like my own
Imagination, untamed and unfettered
He wins my heart with a sword and a kiss on my hand

And the youngest with her fire, temple and blues
Sings her own tune, little souls are

This is lyrically my favorite song on the album. Not a word is wasted. The pictures are painted incredibly clearly. The real relationship behind the words comes through. That being said, the almost down-home bluesy nature of the music baffled me once I actually listened to the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong. The music is fantastic. But it feels at odds with the lyrics, which are praising the beauty of a relationship with children. The music seems noirish, even eerie at times. Nevertheless, this song definitely makes my top five on the album.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: I Need a Builder

Down to the wire of words that aren’t said
And I’m building the pieces together in my head
To make a place I sleep soundly, a place I think clearly
O where do we go, where do we go from here?

There’s a sign in the yard and a lump in my throat
A new plot of land and fresh lumber is in tow
Two kids in their carseats and hope for our history
And letting it go, letting it go from here.

I need a builder, a better design
A house with more windows and more ways inside

We’re leaving behind all that our parents wrote
We’re replacing the past and all our father’s hopes
With a new street address and a new bag of tools
To make room as we grow, room as we grow from here

And we need a builder, a better design
A house with me windows and more ways inside

First off, I’m a fan of expressive voices. Derek Webb has one of the most expressive voices in the history of music. His famous falsetto comes through strongly on this song. When I first heard it, though, I thought it was a little silly. I still think he swoops on some of his pick-ups too much. But the song is just so well put together and so expressive that I can’t blame him.

As a person who has now been married for three years and is considering starting a family sometime in the near future, I instantly related to this song. Fears for the future, breaking ties with family expectations, and building a new home and family are all things my wife and I dealing with daily. The prayer of the chorus is one that I now want to pray: I need a builder with a better design, a house with more windows and more ways inside.

A house with more windows and more ways inside is one that is open and honest. If anything, this is the most important characteristic of a healthy marriage.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: David Waits

Put your head upon my shoulder
Lay the hammer at your side
Storms inside this tiny artist
Dream in marble shapes and light

Forging through to what’s becoming
So much wearing at your heart
Though the knife and chisel break you
There will be a work of art

And you are throwing yourself at the stone
Cause you see the shape and the form of his face
What your hands cannot break
And David waits

Speaking words over the darkness
Like the artist of the earth
In the image, daughter, father
Your creation, your rebirth

On the other side of brokenness
The way your heart connects to his
Both must be free for the beauty to be revealed

The songs Danielle sings lead on seem to have the best lyrics. Come with Me, David Waits, Time Inside Out. The images are just so vivid. And, once again, not a word is wasted. Economy of expression. True poetry.

The image of chipping away patiently at stone in order to bring out the beauty of a piece of art that was already there cuts to my core. Also, the beautiful way the song expresses seeing the image of God come through a child makes me embarrassed to even consider writing poetry. “Speaking words over the darkness/like the artist of the earth/In the image, daughter, father/Your creation, your rebirth.” Fantastic.

The harmony on this one is also stellar. Very tight, very concrete, but not showy. Emotionally rich.

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Raising Up the Dead

She just wanted someone to fight
It helped to make her feel alive
Someone to hit, someone to love
Who couldn’t exist so high above

And she is waiting for the day
When he comes to her to say
That he is not a voice in her head
He’s raising up the dead

She’ll drive her car into the lake
Hoping she might see his face
He’s everywhere, then why not here
Why navigate, why even steer?

And she is waiting for the day
When he comes to her to say
That he is not a voice in her head
He’s raising up the dead

Alone under the stars
She’s walking all night
When you don’t know where you are
Following the light is not a choice

And she is waiting for the day
When he comes to her to say
That he is not a voice in her head
He’s not the father who fled
He’s not the things that they said
He’s raising up the dead

This song describes the hope of my weary faith so well. I cannot count the times I have wanted to just know that God is not a voice in my head, how many times I’ve walked under the stars, trying to follow the light. This is a real relationship with God – one where we can fight and argue with God, where we wrestle with God.

The music is also wonderful. The percussiveness of the strumming and the staccato of the drums bring the lyrics to life. Danielle’s sudden floating harmony on the final chorus sends shivers down my spine.

As a title track for the song, I think it fits perfectly. It encapsulates that theme of death and life. It calls for God in the midst of the messiness of existence. We want God to be real, but maybe the reality of God is more potent than we are ready for. What if God actually raised up the dead in our midst? What if our prayers were answered?

A Song-by-Song Review of Raising Up the Dead: Free

Around my neck’s a beautiful stone
I made it from the good that I’ve done
It is close to my heart with a meter of its own
But the weight it bears on me
From the good who I want to be
O it cuts me in half, a blade, a sword, a golden calf
Now I’m sinking under the load
I see it was only fool’s gold
And it falls on me, brings me low
Around his neck he carries a stone
He takes my burden, makes it his own
And it takes him down
The bread, the wine, the golden crown


A rose shoots up from the ground
Sky cracks open, sun through the clouds
The old has changed, the earth, the bride, the family name
Broken down and shot through, all the good I mean to do
The prison shakes, the man goes free
I am him and he is me


This might be my favorite song. The lyrics are incredible. The music is phenomenal. It’s everything a final song on an album should be. It starts low then accelerates. It feels like a rose breaking through the ground.

Theologically it is also so direct, so honest and so truthful. I hide behind my good deeds, thinking they are beautiful. But they weigh me down. Fortunately, we have a savior who bears our burdens, and now the old has changed, the earth is different, the bride (the church) is different, and we have a whole new name.

“Free” is just shot through with biblical imagery. I won’t even try to name it all. Yet everything fits. There is so much joy in this song that I can’t even express it. The moment when they sing “Free” after the second verse and the guitar and drums drop out absolutely knocks me down. A perfect match of musicality and lyric.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A History of Caedmon’s Call and a Review of Their New Album, Raising Up the Dead

It took a Caedmon's Call album to break me out of my blogging silence. Go figure. Of course. Sometime soon I'll update on my life and other things, as well as, hopefully, begin a secondary blog on the Psalms that I've been working on over the summer. What follows is a history of my interaction with the band and a review of their most recent album. If I get some historical facts about the band wrong, it's all my fault (and possibly wikipedia's, which really means mine for using wikipedia).

I have been listening to Caedmon’s Call for nearly a decade. A late-comer to the CC fandom, I only started paying indepth attention to them during my senior year of high school and first year of college (2002-2004), when I was learning to play guitar. For those unfamiliar with the band and its history, this two-year time period was one of dramatic change for the group. Their first three wide-release albums, My Calm, Your Storm (Storm), Caedmon’s Call (CC), and 40 Acres (Acres), were characterized by folk-rock sensibilities, introspectively philosophical lyrics with obscure biblical references, and a deeply Calvinist theology. Their fourth album, Long Line of Leavers (Leaver, 2000), represented a musical experiment, with horns and a more “electronic” sound. It also marked a slight shift in the balance of writing between the two primary lyricists – Aaron Tate (who had always written for the band, but only played with them in the very early days of their formation) and Derek Webb. Tate’s work had dominated Storm, and they had shared about even duties on CC and Acres. Webb’s work became more dominant in Leavers, and Cliff and Danielle Young, two of the band’s lead singers, contributed more explicitly to the lyrics of a couple songs. Webb, rightly or wrongly, became known for his songs about relationship and young adult feelings of alienation.

By the time I started listening, their earlier albums could not be easily found in stores and was not yet in my ken. Caedmon’s also never played in my home state of Utah, as far as I know. Leavers was, therefore, the first album of theirs that I owned. It was followed by In the Company of Angels: A Call to Worship (Angels 1), an album that their record label required in lockstep with the early 2000s worship fad, but which emphasized the band’s unique musical and theological take on praise music. It also marked the beginning of Aaron Tate and Derek Webb’s departures. The group’s next effort, Back Home (Home, 2003), was basically devoid of any of Tate’s work and included only a few songs by Webb. This writing gap was filled by Randall Goodgame, Joshua Moore (who had taken over keyboard and general crazy instrument duties from Randy Holsapple back in the Leavers era), and Webb’s wife Sandra McCracken. Tate’s mythological, philosophical and biblical introspection was replaced by hymn-like language and folk storytelling. Webb left the band at this point to pursue a solo career. This also happened to be the exact time when I first went to see a Caedmon’s Call concert. They had hired an up-and-coming singer-songwriter to fill in for Webb – Andrew Osenga, who had formerly fronted the group The Normals.

I now owned Acres, Leavers, Angels 1, and Home, which meant that my exposure to Caedmon’s basically extended only slightly across the divide between Old Caedmon’s and Emerging Caedmon’s. Some fans of the band see Angels and Home as the band’s low-point. The lyrics were simpler, the sound formulaic and the band’s heart didn’t seem in the music. For me, it was all I knew. Yet I still longed for the tighter lyricism and acoustic sound of Acres. I was thrown for a loop, then, when I purchased the first album in which Osenga had a hand, Share the Well (Well, 2004). At first I hated it. This wasn’t Caedmon’s! Their earthy guitar sound had been replaced by tenor-heavy rhythms and picking, sitar-sounding electric riffs, strange drums and atmospheric background noises. Despite all of this, I decided to acclimate myself to the new sound by playing the CD over and over again. It formed the backbone of my study time for nearly a semester. Soon I fell in love with the “New” Caedmon’s. The urgency of the story in the lyrics, and the otherworldly beauty of the music captured my heart. I learned that the band had actually travelled to India, Brazil and Ecuador, recording and writing on the road, including instruments and vocals from the people and cultures they encountered. Whereas many of their previous efforts had focused thematically on God’s grace, human sin, and the individual soul, Well turned its gaze to God’s love for the whole world and justice for the poor and oppressed. But these were not faceless poor, not statistics. Instead of slamming the message through with overwhelming numbers, Caedmon’s simply told the honest, beautiful stories of the people they encountered. While Home had seemed, in some ways, directionless, a meaningless collection of one-off tales and generic do-overs of the band’s previous themes, Well utilized the same storytelling sensibilities to paint a coherent picture of parts of the world that most folks in America have never seen. Well quickly became my favorite Caedmon’s album. The strange sounds that had been off-putting now became windows into the souls of my fellow brothers and sisters, children of God.

Following this stellar music masterpiece, Caedmon’s record label forced them to produce another worship album, In the Company of Angels II: The World Will Sing (Angels 2, 2006), which also coincidentally fulfilled the band’s contract with the company, allowing them to break ties with a corporation that had pressured them to do things with which they were not comfortable. Very little of the unique, multi-cultural sound that the band had fostered while overseas had been allowed to suffuse the album, most likely do to Well’s underwhelming sales and reception. After all, above everything else, large corporations want consistency and a safe bet (see the recent penchant for sequels and reboots in Hollywood). Despite the album’s compulsory nature, I still found songs to love amidst the general dross. Most of these favorites were written by Osenga, who has become one of my favorite storytellers.

Free of their fetters, the group cast about for a year, while also dealing with the fact that many of their members were now married with children. Touring became more and more difficult and some of their earlier themes of introspective alienation did not resonate in their new family-oriented lives. At this critical juncture, Webb, who had been absent from the band for nearly four years, found himself pulled back into their music-writing field. He had grown as a writer, and as a music producer, finding his voice in social and political criticism as a musical prophet of sorts. His insightful and cutting lyrics paralleled the sense of God’s justice for the oppressed that Caedmon’s had found overseas, but directed their gaze toward the injustice in the United States in a more biting way. In a strange turn, Webb and the rest of the band had gone different routes to arrive at a similar place, which allowed them to come together again to create Overdressed (2007). This album marked another shift for the group. Musically, it was a complete mish-mash. Osenga’s spare rock sensibilities mingled with Webb’s sparse new propheticism and the world music traits from Well. Once again, I found myself put-off by the album at first. Once again I played it non-stop for weeks. Soon I found a beauty in the collision of styles and themes and sounds.

The album title described the place of our souls before God. Trying to hide our sinfulness in our good works and a thin veneer of cultural Christianity, we are overdressed. Yet it also acted as a counter-theme to the state of the band. Utterly fearless and stripped of the constraints of their label, they were laying themselves out for everyone to see. The music was messy and unrefined, yet paradoxically more pure and alive than ever before. Many of the songs ended in unstructured jam sessions, or began with odd snippets of conversation from the recording process. Lyrically, the album laid bare the personal lives of the band members in a way that had been missing since their earlier works. Issues of lust and doubt were placed alongside a recognition of God’s work in the everyday life of laundry and parenthood. Social criticism was coupled with a realization of our culpability in injustice. A grand view of the world and the recognition of the smallness of our efforts at changing it lead to a realization of God’s largness and ability to change the world’s brokenness by the slow, careful work of healing the brokenness of every soul through openness and honesty with each other. Our imperfections become clear in the light of God’s grace and love, which makes us painfully ashamed of our nakedness yet also purifies and cleanses us.

During the tour for Overdressed I was finally able to see the band in concert with both Webb and Osenga. I also purchased their first two albums and one of their Guild CDs, which are fan-centered recordings of special concerts and studio rares from their early career. I began to truly understand what had upset people about Home and the worship albums. “Early” Caedmon’s was a thinking person’s Christian folk-rock group. Their lyrics were labyrinthine and obscure, yet their music was catchy and simplistically rich. You could listen to them and simply enjoy the tight three-part harmonies, thrumming layered guitars and percussive drive. Yet, if you paid attention at all to the lyrics you were nearly forced to look up matters relating to random Old Testament texts, Greek mythology and philosophy, and Reformation theology. New testament metaphors and verses were also reinterpreted in ways that made them fresh and interesting. Take, for instance, this restatement of John 3:16: “For you so loved the unlovable/That you gave the ineffable/That who so believes the unbelievable/Will gain the unattainable,” which not only restates the the verse in terms of rhyming “able” language, but also adds some reformation theology and sets you running toward the dictionary to figure out what “ineffable means.” Or, try this mixture of mythology and hymnology: “I mount up with waxen wings/High to reach the sky/But I am no further than/Than when I first begun.” Icarus and Amazing Grace in one stanza.

After the creative explosion of Overdressed, the band focused once again on their families. Andrew Osenga left the band to pursue his own solo career, much as Webb had done five years earlier. I wondered whether there would be another album. At the end of 2009, I heard whispers that Webb had rejoined the band for another upcoming album, which he was producing, and that the songs were being written by Webb, along with Cliff and Danielle, who had written only a few before, and the bassist Jeff Miller, who had one previous writing credit. For the first time in the band’s history the songs were all being written by people who were actually performing with the band. I was stoked. Raising Up the Dead was to be a unique album. Only 1000 physical copies of the work were being produced, and were going to be sold as collector’s items. Most people would have to download the album off of the group’s website, not even through channels like iTunes. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, then, this was bascially a “fans-only” album. Unless you already knew about Caedmon’s, you wouldn’t know about this album.

In early August 2010, I downloaded Raising Up the Dead and even purchased the $50 deluxe edition, which included a t-shirt, the Guild CDs that I had missed, a Guild DVD and a physical copy of the CD, signed by the band, with lyric sheet. All of the physical materials wouldn’t arrive until September 14, so I simply listened to the CD on my computer. As with Share the Well and Overdressed, I was initially extremely disappointed. The album felt slow to me, with only medium-tempo songs. The world music influence had been laid completely by the wayside, along with some of the rock orchestration that Osenga had brought to the group. As much as I could tell from trying to catch the lyrics, much of the focus on God’s justice had also faded away. Essentially, the Caedmon’s that I had known for much of my experience with the band was gone.

Yet, once again, I decided to work through repeat listens. Once again, I was rewarded. In many ways, Raising Up the Dead feels like the Caedmon’s album that should have followed Long Line of Leavers. Themes of sin and grace have returned in strength as well as obscure lyrics and slight references to verses of scripture and even mythological notes. Despite the inclusion of some of Webb’s recent experiments with electronica and production, the album is also much more acoustic and folksy than the last few. And yet. And yet it is also feels like their most mature output to date. Instead of viewing sin and grace through college-age alienation and singleness, the songs focus on finding grace in imperfect community. Family comes through as the most important hermeneutical lens through which the band contemplates theology. The music is also extremely dense. It is not showy. It is not “radio-single” worthy. Instead it is intimate music, pondering music, music that makes you think as much as the lyrics do. It is music that requires the listener to work. It isn’t music to be memorized, like the earlier hits that hooked themselves instantly into the brain. It is music that engenders relationship. It is not the exuberance of first love, when every moment is alive and bright and memorable, but the slow beauty of marriage, when even the subtle moments mean something and the quiet rest of the other’s arms means more than flashy jewelry. It is music made of mystery, whose beauty is that you will never fully understand it, but every day you will want to learn more.

In these and numerous other ways, Raising Up the Dead represents the culmination of Caedmon’s Call’s wandering journey. Once again the title expresses both the themes of the work and the state of the band and its music. The introspection and theological heft of their early albums is combined with the themes of honesty and family from their later years. The old acoustic sound is filtered through the patience and naked dedication of Overdressed and the intricate musicality of Share the Well. The comfortable three part harmony is now sung through voices that are rougher, grainier and more expressive than the pop sound favored in their middle work. I want to follow up this post with one going through each song and what I'm currently experiencing through it. Look for that possibly tomorrow.

I regret that many will not know about this album. If you're reading this, download it from their website ( Tell your friends. Listen to it five times in a row at least. Let yourself fall in love with it. This is an album worth putting on repeat.

Thanks, as always, for your time and love, faithful readers.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Thoughts on Issues in the Theology of Scripture Part 2: The Idea of the Bible

Greetings, faithful readers!

Welcome to Part 2 of my new blog series discussing the course I'm currently taking entitled "Issues in the Theology of Scripture." If you would like to know what this series and the course are about you can check out the introductory post linked below. If you would like to read Part 1, which reproduces an essay I composed for the course on the topic "What do we mean when we say that the Bible is true and what methods of interpretation help us to appreciate its
truthfulness," check out the link for Part 1 below.

This second post will address a few ruminations I derived from the lecture and presentation given by my professor, Shane, this past Thursday. The topic for the day was "The Emergence of the Idea of the Bible in the Second Temple Period." Let me give you a brief overview of the material Shane covered in order to then create some linkages to my own thought.

As our assignment for the previous night, Shane had us read a few texts from what is known as the Second Temple Period. With a little wiggle room for scholarly debate in Jewish/Biblical History, the Second Temple Period is the time stretching from the Israelite return from exile (approximately 537 BCE) until the destruction of the eponymous second temple by Romans quelling a Jewish Revolt (70 CE).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thoughts on Issues in the Theology of Scripture Part 1: The Initial Essay

Greetings again, faithful readers. Reprinted below you can find my initial essay for my course in Issues in the Theology of Scripture. If you want to know more about the impetus behind this series of posts and the course that inspired them, please read this post.

Our professor assigned us a 1500 word essay (approximately 4 and 1/2 pages) addressing the topic "What do we mean when we say that the Bible is true and what methods of interpretation help us to appreciate its truthfulness" as if we were discussing it with an educated layperson. This assignment, to be blunt, was agonizing. So many thoughts ran through my head, I didn't know where to start. How could I address this huge topic in four pages?

I ended up starting with a blank slate, as it were, answering the question by simply picking up the Bible and looking at it, then slowly weaving in historical and theological questions as they arose from my ponderings. This ended up producing what I think is a coherent, self-contained essay, but it also left me feeling strange. Only after being in conversation with others this morning in class did I realize that I had left out two of the most important things about the Bible to me: a) story and b) a relationship with Jesus Christ, the cornerstone and primary revelation of God. Wow! What an oversight. But somehow they didn't arise in the flow of the essay and, as I had already written 1900 words and had to cut down, I couldn't shove them in without breaking the essay. I will write a post, possibly this weekend, containing my thoughts on these two very, very important things to me and I also might include them in my final paper for the course, which is a revision of this initial essay. I will post that final paper here as well.

For now, peruse my thoughts as derived from a broad-based view of just picking up the Bible and thinking about it organically. Please leave comments below. (Be nice if these comments happen to lead to strenuous discussion).

Thanks in advance faithful readers! Oh, and if you want another version of this essay, please read the one posted by my friend Jeff over at his blog: Theological Mishaps.


"What do we mean when we say the Bible is 'true,' and what methods of interpretation help us to appreciate its truthfulness?"

This question is difficult because it would be so simple to answer: it is true because it is true and people have said so for centuries. Yet this is not satisfactory for skeptics who are unsure of the Bible and historians who analyze it. The Bible has been used to perpetrate horrible wrongs: slavery, torture, war. The observable fact of denominationalism demonstrates that different people also find different truths, or different slants on the same truth in the Bible.

Perhaps it would be helpful to begin by describing what we can accurately say about the Bible through cursory observation and reading of a Bible most people could obtain. Firstly, it is a book, words written on a page. This indicates that someone wanted to preserve its contents in a medium more permanent than one person’s memory, either for personal reasons, or for the benefit of others. Secondly, it is a collection. Its table of contents attests to two testaments and sixty-six books. It is not a single piece of literature written from one person’s imagination, but an assortment of writings gathered together either by one person or a group of people who think that its various parts relate to each other. This book was gathered for reasons involving preservation and relation. Whether or not the original authors of each book intended their works to be read by others, those who have maintained the collection have copied and distributed it, indicating that their reason for its preservation is that it might be shared. So, how do its disparate parts relate?

The Bible professes to span from the creation of the world and the history of a single family, through a nation, to the life of a particular man and the community he started. It contains history, biography, narrative stories, aphorisms, poetry, and letters. Its larger setting is Earth, though some scenes occur wherever God resides; its more immediate setting is the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Its cast numbers in the thousands. The most common thread in this complex collection is that every book gives an account of either human encounters with God or human relationships with other humans. Though each book was composed for a different reason, mostly unknown to us, we can at least say with confidence that this common thread runs throughout.

So, this collection of works has been preserved for thousands of years in order to share its thoughts on human-divine and human-human relationships. A working definition of whether or not the Bible is true, then, might involve asking whether or not it accurately portrays human-divine and human-human relationships or describes ways in which these relationships might be improved. Now a host of other troubles appear. Some people do not believe God exists. For them, the Bible cannot be true in our definition because it describes something that does not exist. They might speak of its truthfulness by noting the usefulness of its thoughts on morality and ethics. Certainly the Bible contains much about morality, setting forth both good and poor examples of right living. Yet leaving God out of the book would mean cutting out more than half of its contents. So, though morality and ethics are certainly an integral theme of the Bible, they are not its primary theme.

Other people attempt to prosecute or defend the Bible’s truthfulness based upon its historical accuracy. Yet, not only do there seem to be contradictory accounts in the Bible (two chapters on creation in stark contrast; two accounts of monarchies in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles that differ in a few details; four gospels with similar traits, but which are also wildly dissimilar), but also the copies that we have of the Bible contradict each other. Some words differ; some grammatical markings have been altered. It was also written in several different languages, most considered “dead,” and one (Hebrew) that was originally written without vowels. It is difficult to tell, sometimes, what the Bible is attempting to express, much less judge its historical accuracy. Yet, in larger ways, and in comparison with other documents from the Mediterranean area, it does describe many historical things accurately: places, people, events. In this way also, it can be spoken of as true, but not without qualifications

Most, however, when speaking of the Bible as true, would describe in a way harder to pin down with facts, figures or laws. For them, its truth lies in how it can speak in their lives. When they view the world through the Bible, things fall into place and their life makes sense. It helps them to grasp onto something outside of themselves; it draws them together with others in community; it gives them a purpose in life; it gives some explanation, or at least comfort when nonsensical and painful things occur. They have tested its claims about divine-human and human-human relationships in the field of life and found them to be accurate. It improves their relationship with other people and with the God in whom they believe. This is the primary sense in which many people say that the Bible is true.

Yet, the Bible has been used to break relationships and cause pain. How can the Bible’s adherents speak of its truth in the face of this misuse and how can they avoid these mistakes themselves? Careful attention to several points previously mentioned might provide clues. Firstly, they must remember that it is a collection, and this includes understanding its seeming contradictions. A better word, with a different connotation might be inserted here: not contradictory, but complementary. Certainly those who gathered the Bible could see with four gospels and two creation accounts side by side that there were differences. We can assume that they intended to include multiple voices and points of view. Another way of saying this is that one of the things the Bible expresses about divine-human and human-human relationships is that various people describe these relationships differently and that these different voices must not be sidelined, but considered together. If this is so, we cannot ignore reading the Bible as a whole, and where contradictions occur, we must try not to force a unified answer, but see how the accounts interact and to comprehend the song that the chorus of voices is singing.

We also cannot ignore the particularity of the Bible. It was written by particular people in particular settings in a particular time in history. Mostly, these people were not the majority. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, marginalized. Even when they escaped and began their own country, they were always surrounded by greater powers that eventually conquered and enslaved them. As Jews, Jesus and his followers were also in the minority, under the rule of the Roman Empire. Jesus often disagreed with the Jewish authorities, putting himself and his followers on the outside. As Jesus’ followers began spreading his word to Jew and Roman and everything in between, they eventually created a new religious group, one not tied to nation or ruler, something unusual in the Roman Empire, making them once again a minority. In order to understand what the Bible says about relationships, we must understand its context and how it is different from ours. This also entails trying to grasp the languages in which the Bible was written and the cultures that gave it context, despite the difficulties of doing so.

Finally, these works were read in gatherings, discussed in groups, commented on by many. Though the Bible can be read for personal spiritual nourishment, it is best read in conversation with others. Again, its complementary nature encourages this. The surest way of avoiding misinterpretation of the Bible is by reading it in conversation. These conversation partners, as the previous paragraphs subtly imply, include the skeptics and historians, who force us to pay attention to its context and moral and ethical themes, to look at it closely and carefully.

Much more could be said about the Bible and its truthfulness. We have not even touched upon the books known as the Deutero-canonicals that are included in some Bibles and not in others. We have not discussed the ways the Bible has been and continues to be a driving force in culture and the abuses and interpretations that arise from this. We have not mentioned the differences that crop up in speaking of the truth of the Bible as it is translated into multiple cultures and languages. Yet, in each of these cases, the overarching lessons of reading the Bible carefully, contextually and in conversation and community are useful in mitigating some of the thornier issues and allow us to say with confidence that the Bible truthfully and accurately portrays divine-human and human-human relationships.