What’s saving you?

What’s saving you right now?

I remember reading that quote a few years back, and it’s stuck with me since.

To me, the quote isn’t saying we need something new to save us. It doesn’t mean that there is salvation anywhere but in Jesus, the one who embodied salvation. Instead, it’s a reference to the fact that each day, each of us needs something to call us to the life we’ve been given – to remind us of the power and purpose of the life that we’ve been given by Jesus.

In fact, that’s what salvation is. It’s not some distant idea, some out-of-this-world cosmic hope. Instead, salvation is receiving life now – and living it. So, when I think about what’s saving me now – I think about what is helping me hold onto, and live, the salvation I’ve been given.

So, what’s saving me now? A lot of things, but one that stands out is music.

I’ve never been particularly musical, though I did play tuba in my high school band. And I sang in a freshman choir in college. And I did once sing a duet as a part of a high school church musical program.

But I am also the guy who was a part of a college camp team, working on getting ready for the summer, when the camp director came in. He heard us sing, and then said: We’re going to make you guys a drama group.

So, while I’ve often sang and played, it doesn’t mean I always should have.

Even so, I love music. I love the power and passion that it provides – filling me with a sense of transcendence as it speaks to something deep within me. So, when my daughter gave me a subscription to spotify – a music streaming service – I have enjoyed discovering, and re-discovering, music that speaks to my soul.

So, I thought I’d share some of the music that has been saving me. Maybe it will speak to you, too.

First, Over the Rhine. Lead singer Karin Bergquist’s deep and evocative singing grabs you and won’t let go. And it reminds me that I’m not the only one in need of grace. A church in Knoxville took one of OTR’s best songs, from what I think is their best album, and brought it to life:

And there are these lyrics, from their song “Jesus in New Orleans”:

But when I least expect it
Here and there I see my Savior’s face
He’s still my favorite loser
Falling for the entire human race

Yesterday, I was on the treadmill, and the following song came on, by a group simply called “The Choir.” I was doing my best to lip sync to is, so as not to disturb my fellow exercisers – and so as not to embarrass myself. I think I did okay on the first one, but probably not on the 2nd. Anyway, even though this song doesn’t describe what I was literally experiencing yesterday, it gave me permission to wrestle with other goodbyes.

And then there is this other song from The Choir, which speaks the black and white truth.

And then there are these lyrics, from the deliciously-named T Bone Burnett:

Are we supposed to take all this greed and fear and hatred
seriously? it’s like watching dust settle it never changes
it’s too consistent

mercy is not consistent it’s like the wind
it goes where it will. Mercy is comic, and its the only
thing worth taking seriously
(The Wild Truth)

Or this song.

But I’ve got to end with my all-time favorite musician, Terry Scott Taylor. Just about everything he writes strikes a chord with me. I have no idea why he doesn’t have a wider audience. Well, actually I do. It’s because most people like their music fluffy, and their lyrics even fluffier. Taylor strips that out, getting to the essence of music, life, and faith. And he does that through at least 3 bands (The Lost Dogs, Daniel Amos, The Swirling Eddies), along with some solo work and other musical ventures. I am confident Taylor is going to get his share of airtime – and his due – on the other side of eternity.

For a few years, some fellow Taylor-ite would bring The Lost Dogs to the Louisville area, and have them do a backyard concert. Somehow, I found about it, and I would join this guy and his small church group for a summer concert by Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daugherty, and Steve Hindalong. It wasn’t exactly the Yum Center, but I sure ate it up.

Anyway, I don’t think I could count the times that Terry and his crew have come alongside of my life and given voice to my hunger and thirst. I’m just thankful he’s still making music: like this, and this, and this. Oh, and I can’t overlook this great album, written while The Lost Dogs drove Route 66.

Ok, I worked enough on this blog. Time to move on. But alas, I didn’t even get into The Call (and this lifeline of a song), or The 77s, or Steve Taylor and his many iterations. And lest you think I only go for obscure artists, I love Dave Brubeck and his jazz artistry (especially in his most-famous song, a partnership with Paul Desmond), or Nickel Creek and their smooth bluegrass sound. I’ve even liked U2 for years.

In the end, I’m grateful for music that keeps me sane. And whole. So, I’m gonna keep on singing. If you don’t like it, you might want to cover your ears…

5 Christmas Gifts

I’m not sure what follows can be called Christmas gifts, exactly. They’re not. Unless … unless, words, ideas, and hopes can be gifts that point us to what is real, lasting, and true. And since I believe that the best gifts are not usually the ones under the tree, here are five different “gifts” that speak to me, just in time for Christmas. Maybe they’ll speak to you, too.

“Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked No Entrance and left through a door marked No Exit.”  Peter Larson

Is it all sewn up–my life?

Is it at this point so predictable

so orderly,

so neat,

so arranged,

so right,

that I don’t have time or space

for listening for the rustle of angels’ wings

or running to stables to see a baby?

Could this be what he meant when he said

Listen, those who have ears to hear…

Look, those who have eyes to see?

O God, give me the humbleness of those shepherds

who saw in the cold December darkness

the Coming of Light

the Advent of Love!

“To Listen, To Look” – Anne Weems

Where, O where is the child we seek?

In the stories of the aging,

In the kick of the unborn,

In the eyes of the homeless,

In the hearts of the broken.

“The Three Kings” – Simeon Swinger

The last two “gifts” are links you’ll have to click on to “unwrap.” One, is a Christmas song by Over the Rhine I heard for the first time just today. As Linford Detweiler sings, “I’ve committed every sin, and each one leaves a different scar. …I could use a Guiding Star.”

Finally, I loved this blog post that addresses the question, “What does Jesus want this Christmas?” His answer may surprise you, but I can’t help but think, deep down, he is right.

Merry Christmas.

Music That Keeps Me Going

As anyone who has iTunes knows, the newest album from U2 was automatically added, for free, to users “purchased” folder. With no effort, and no cost, Songs of Innocence was just … there.

Some people complained. Others critiqued the music. As for me, I was just glad I could figure out where the songs were, and how to move them to my iTunes playlist. It took me and my non-Apple-programmed mind a bit longer than it should have. While others were worried about Big Brother, I was happy just to find the songs.

For I learned a long time ago how important music is to me. It lifts me up when I’m down. It makes me smile. It makes me think. It reminds me what I believe. It reminds me that I am human.

I think that’s what the best art does. It reminds us who we are. Whether it’s music, or movies, or poetry, or a great story – the best art tunes us into the truth about us. And sometimes that comes packaged in Christian content, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I am challenged by a Christian book, and sometimes I am gripped by a Hollywood movie. Or a song by U2. Or Dave Brubeck. Or Mat Kearney.

The list goes on. But in the interest of claiming my little piece of the blogosphere for music that I think is essential for the human journey (and the journey of faith), here are the top five groups I want spinning on my playlist:

  1. Lost Dogs. My all-time favorite band. Simply the best story-telling in music I know.
  2. The 77s. If you stick me on a deserted island with only a cassette player and one cassette, I’d bring along Sticks & Stones. (And yes, I still do have the cassette version of this album.) And If I had landed on that island because of my own stupidity, I would be able to listen to God Sends Quails over and over – my favorite song about failure. (Hmmm, is it okay to have a favorite “failure” song?)
  3. Nickel Creek. Bringing bluegrass into the 21st century, one smooth mandolin lick at a time.
  4. The Call. If you’ve never heard of these guys, give a listen to “I Still Believe.” And keep believin’.
  5. Over the Rhine. What a voice. What an album. And what a nice rendition of the best song on that album.

Anyway, those are some of the musicians and songs that keep me going. Any that you would add?