Sunday, March 30, 2008

New Mercies for Divine Mercy Sunday

I've been trying to write a review of Alli Rogers' newest album (which I realized the other day isn't officially released until, like, April 15th?) but I've been stuck and the reason is simple and not-so-simple. It all centers on her beautiful, aching song "New Today." I love this song, really love it. After seeing her last year in Chicago I listened to "At Sea" so many times in our living room and on my ipod and this song was the most poignant that I had never heard before.

There are so many reasons this song reaches so deep but for me I think it's just that I relate to the core of the song- what does it mean to be made new? where are the places in me that crave new mercies? I know all too well the experience of loneliness, shame, and despair and this song captures those feelings and distills them into a single narrative peppered with strong images and vulnerable searching questions.

So when I heard the further edited version of this song on "You and The Evening Sky" I was really saddened. I have thought about what caused this reaction, because I don't want to be someone who isn't artistically flexible (later entries will discuss the changes I do and do not like in the editing of songs on Matt Maher's new album) but my point is I know what it is like to write something, create something, and need to edit it. There are many reasons to change things (one of my friends even pointed out that it might be as simple as the words being easier to sing because of their shape) and I would really like to know what influenced the editing of this song- in her interviews with Don, Alli mentioned that this song went through some of the most editing and I was very intrigued by that statement. So, without being reactionary, I tried to pinpoint some of the reasons I feel like the newly released studio version of this song feels watered down.

My friend, Amanda, and I have had more than one long discussion about this song and its narrator. Who is the main figure and what is the song narrating? What is the song even about or trying to say? Is it a woman going to a friend's wedding? Her own wedding? A funeral? Simply a Sunday morning service? Is it about weariness? Sin? Desperation? Renewal?

Songs have to stand on their own so I believe any of the above interpretations can be "right" even without definitive information on what the artist's intent was. However, in the interest of full disclosure I will say that I want the song to be about a woman at her own wedding and, among the really interesting implications that has about the song as a whole, I based this partially on the lyric about "staring at the beads sewn in my dress" and the undercurrent of the song's narrator begging, "all I want is everything new today" pitted against the statement "I don't know if anything feels new today." Anyone who has heard the "new" version of the song might be confused- because ALL of these lyrics have been edited out!

On the other hand, in the later version everything is implicit and I am conflicted on if this is working or not. I know it's implicit because in the earlier version it's explicit: all I want is everything new today. With that statement edited away and the other one changed ("I dont' know if anything feels new today") it's replaced by the stronger statement, "nothing feels new today." I like that it has more teeth, in a sense, because it's less questioning- wow! NOTHING feels new today? But it leaves OUT the sentiment that makes those teeth sharp- that the opposite is what the narrator wants most! Without this does it matter that "nothing is new today"?

So we get to ask my favorite question: WHAT IS AT STAKE HERE?

How I feel about the later version of the song is directly related to how I answer this question. I think what is at stake in this song is the very concept of what it means to be treated with "new mercy." New MERCY is what makes all things new today. Which brings me to the other lyrical edits that aren't working for me. In the second verse where the narrator is on the church steps with her companion of shame she voices this in the two different ways:

and I'm wondering if Jesus
could even love me now

when I'm covered in a shame I can't let go


I'm wondering what Jesus
thinks about me now
still carrying a shame I can't let go

I admit that the change seems minor but I think it's important because of what is underneath. The SCANDAL of Christianity and the Incarnation is that God LOVES humanity and is willing to sacrifice everything He has to redeem us with "new mercy." In today's Christian culture we're almost inundated with the heartbreaking cliche that "Jesus loves you!" So to me the first version asks the question at the heart of the matter- Christianity hinges on this question and it is THE question Christians have to reconcile in their hearts, not just their heads. We are presented with the answer in the scriptures and then we have to accept or reject the truth there provided and learn how to live under that truth and have it influence everything about our lives. What is the impediment to easily feeling like Jesus (who called all creation good and loves even the tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes) must love us? John states simply that God IS love, so shouldn't the answer be pretty obvious? Anyone who has struggled with the question should offer at least a wry smile because the enemy of allowing the love of God to be our deepest reality is exactly what Alli pinpoints in this song- shame. In a talk I heard John Piper give at Passion07 he discusses shame and how to deal with it, one of the things he talks about is how the only thing that can keep us from heaven is unforgiven sin. The only thing that really keeps us from asking for forgiveness and accepting Christ's perfect substitution is shame and despair. So, although I will admit it's mainly semantics here, I think the image of being covered in shame is stronger and more visceral than "carrying" that same shame.

Here are the lyrics of both versions in full:

New Today (You & The Evening Sky)

new shoes in the closet, box is on the floor
dress is laid out nicely on the bed
a song is singing slowly
across the street and through my door
and turning over memories in my head
nothing feels new today
I'm just trying to catch the words
before they float away
they're singing

great is thy faithfulness
great is thy faithfulness
great is thy faithfulness
morning by morning
morning by morning
morning by morning

walking up the church steps
I stop to look around
people seem to stare just like they know
I'm wondering what Jesus
thinks about me now
still carrying a shame I can't let go
nothing feels new today
I'm just trying to catch the words
before they float away
they're singing...

mercy sounds so holy
for people who are wise
and tears are falling softly on my dress
I feel like an imposter
wearing someone else's prize
and my heart's about to beat out of my chest
nothing feels new today
I'm just trying to catch the words before they float away
don't float away keep singing...

new mercies I see
could you sing some mercies over me?


New Today (At Sea)

new shoes in the closet, box is on the floor
dress is laid out nicely on the bed
a song is singing slowly
one I've heard before
the tune is playing over in my head
and I'm sitting here all lonely
just trying to catch the words
before they float away
but I don't know if anything feels new today

I'm walking up the church steps
I stop to look around
people seem to stare just like they know
and I'm wondering if Jesus could even love me now
when I'm covered in a shame I can't let go
and I'm standing here all lonely
just trying to catch the words
before they float away
but I don't know if anything feels new today
they're singing...

great is thy faithfulness
great is thy faithfulness
great is thy faithfulness
morning by morning
morning by morning
morning by morning

but mercy sounds so holy
for people who are wise
and I stare down at the beads sewn in my dress
I feel like an imposter
wearing someone else's prize
and my heart's about to beat out of my chest
oh, and I'm standing here all lonely
I'm just trying to catch the words before they float away
'cause all I want is everything new today
they're singing...

new mercies
new mercies
new mercies I see
could you sing some mercies over me?
could you sing some mercies over me?
oh, 'cause all I want is everything new today.

Besides the lyrics already noted I mainly feel that the images are stronger in the "At Sea" version, with the disclaimer that concrete imagery is basically my favorite method of writing.

In order to not sound like I'm totally downing the version on the new album I do think there are some cool things about- most notably I love the way the music swells during the first chorus, the sound mimics well the emotion behind the lyrics of hopefulness and I really like that. I also really like how clean the newer version is- again I can't decide if it's at the cost of greater complexity, but if the "At Sea" version shows up on my doorstep out of breath, with haunted eyes, the "You and The Evening Sky" knocks exactly on time, with perfect makeup, and everything in its place.

I still love this song, I still find it incredibly interesting and important. I believe many listeners will really connect with the desire to accept the "new mercies" God is constantly singing over us and that is a powerful thing.

Maybe now that that's off my chest I can tell you about the rest of the album. :)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

a good song for my drive this morning

I caught myself
Looking in the mirror
Wishing I was someone else
Cause I was born
With a bleeding heart
And veins of loneliness

And I know it, I’ve seen it,
I’ve held it in my arms
But love can’t seem to break me down

And I’ve pleaded, I’ve begged
And I’ve bloodied my eyes
Just to feel it
To believe it will stick around

Swing wide the glimmering gates

I told myself
The habits and secrets
Were just to get me through
To get me through the nights
But I got lost
In a world of angles
In a city of greys and lies

And I feel it, I taste it
This longing to be free
Oh, the joy of believing like a child

So you, you there listening
Will you send up a prayer
For me
To help me find the light

Swing wide the glimmering gates
Leave your pride and pain
Swing wide the glimmering gates
And be innocent again

One day I believe
I will open up my eyes
To see the good work that was begun
And I’ll be the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be
And I’ll know that I belong

Swing wide the glimmering gates
Leave your pride and pain
Swing wide the glimmering gates
And be innocent again

God, help Andy find the light, help ME find the light...

Friday, March 28, 2008

songs i don't get tired of

You know there are certain songs that have played a special role in your life or taught you something really true and those are the songs I never get tired of, a few of those songs for me are:

Like a Child: Jars of Clay

I don't think I've really listened to this song for years but I put it on in my car today and it was crazy to me that I used to listen to that song sitting in my same car back in 2001 and it was deeply my prayer: dear God, don't let me fall apart...

Maybe There's a Loving God: Sara Groves

Of all the songs I've "kidnapped" people to listen to this one is probably number one for forcing people to soak in. Stephanie from my freshman women's Bible study gave me this CD and this song was so transformative to me because it bravely asked questions I struggled with and had answers I was only beginning to learn to hope for
: am I the chance result of a cosmic accident? ...maybe it's a selfish thought (I have never prayed a lot), but maybe there's a loving God.

Isaiah 61: Matt Maher

I tried to memorize the 61st chapter of Isaiah for a long time. It was part of reading Beth Moore's "Breaking Free" and I recognized the power of this scripture and wanted it to dwell in me richly. I wrote it down, I carried it in my pocket, I could NOT memorize more than "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me."

And then I heard Matt sing it. Forget lyrics, go look it up in your Bible!

Come and Listen: David Crowder Band

My senior year of college after a very transformative summer I heard this song and it so perfectly encapsulated what I wanted to say with everything in my life. I wanted to shout these words to sit everyone down with my earbuds and say, "this is me, this is my life, don't you want to hear what God has done?! Because it's unbelievable." I would stop in my tracks when it came on my ipod and it was hard for me to not lift my hands in praise or just weep for joy. I love the simple authenticity.

let me tell you what He has done for me, let me tell you what He has done for me, come and listen, come and listen to what He's done

Mercy Moves Me: 100 Portraits

It's the utter intensity in this song that makes it so relatable because it's desperate and so am I.

I was hiding in the dark
when they found the body

I was swearing by the truth
I was living a lie

I was holding out a hand
to take what was not mine

O You found me
could not lift my head

Love is Patient
Love is Kind
Your mercy moves me everytime

Thursday, March 27, 2008

chords and anticipation

I mentioned on my personal blog a while back the redemptive qualities of Matt Maher's forthcoming album, Empty & Beautiful.

get excited.

and if you, like me, would like to learn how to play this song before the record is even released the good people at have posted a downloadable chord chart. Awesome. :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Many of you are probably familiar with the phenomenon of summer Christian music festivals. Whoever decided that what Christians REALLY wanted to do as singles, families, and youth groups for a week of their summer was camp in a field, eat unhealthful food, and listen to tons of music was a GENIUS.

Last year my friend Anne, got me the hookup to work the sweetest job (mainstage crew!) at the Lifest festival in Wisconsin. We are going back again! I just bought my plane ticket into Chicago and am psyched for July to come so we can be crazy music fans again. Whilst, of course, excelling at stage set up, which we undoubtedly do. :)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

i'm just trying to find those words

I got Alli Rogers' new CD in the mail yesterday!!! I'm currently listening to the bonus material: interviews with Alli BY DON CHAFFER!! (who produced the album!!!) I cannot wait to get this all in my head...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

my new hero

Isaac Watts. Dude wrote over 600 hymns! Including "When I Survey..." which purportedly Charles Wesley himself said he would trade all *his* hymns to have written. Also wrote one of my favorite songs on Sandra McCracken's "Builder and Architect" album, "I Boast No More."

He wrote "Joy to the World"- have you BEEN to a Christmas service that doesn't sing that song?

Oh, and he died almost 300 years ago.

i'm just trying to make you sing

I few days ago I saw someone had posted some of their top favorite songs for worship and that made me think about some of my favorite songs. I am going to be thinking about my favorite for corporate and personal worship but these past few days made me think about my favorite songs for the Easter triduum. (This year's songs for lent are here)

1. How Deep the Father's Love For Us: Stuart Townend
Nothing does this song justice except to listen to it. It's the kind of song that makes me feel like writing anything is just in vain. Watching The Passion makes me hear this song.

why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer. but this I know with all my heart: His wounds have paid my ransom.

2. Sweetly Broken: Jeremy Riddle
Last night this song just started going through my head as I thought about what it means to be drawn into Christ's sacrifice.

At the cross You beckon me,
draw me gently to my knees
and I am lost for words, so lost in love,
I am sweetly broken- holy surrender.
I am broken before You, Lord.

I was under You wrath, now through the cross I'm reconciled!

3. The Wonderful Cross: Chris Tomlin & JD Walt (based on Isaac Watts' hymn)
I love theologically deep hymns, they are the best.

See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown? Oh the wonderful cross! bids me come and die so that I may truly live.

4. Fairest Lord Jesus: (translated by Joseph Seiss from the original German, written by Jesuits- sweet!) I'm listening to Christy Nockels.
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, Who makes the woeful heart to sing. Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations! Son of God and Son of Man!

5. Surely We Can Change: David Crowder
Watching The Passion last night I couldn't help but hear an echo of this song when Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek.

And the problem is this: we were bought with a kiss.
But the cheek still turned, even when it wasn't hit.
And I don't know what to do with a love like that.
And I don't know how to be a love like that.

6. Beautiful Jesus: Kristian Stanfill

Your love oh God displayed for us
As crimson covered over sin and shame
Your majesty for all to see
In raging storms and quiet cloudless days

Beautiful Jesus
Beautiful Savior
Nothing is greater, brilliant Creator,
Friend of mine!

These are just the songs that have been running through my head these past few days...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

don't wait for tom

A guy came into my starbucks today and ordered a tall mocha and he was wearing a fedora and seemed unkept in a way that I always find intriguing. The hat and the fact that he favored Linford Detweiler made me immediately think of OtR's fascinating song, "Don't Wait For Tom." I couldn't help it so I mentioned this song to the guy and he immediately asked if it was about Tom Waits.

I was momentarily at a loss. WHY HADN'T THAT OCCURRED TO ME YET!? I'm *sure* the song is partial homage to Waits! I could have kicked myself.

He's got the hands of a blind piano players/he's a feel for the dark like a soothsayer/he takes a little bow and tips his fedora...


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I hope we plant a seed

I drove out to Boulder this past Sunday to be in the audience to see Over the Rhine be a guest on Boulder based ETown radio variety show.

It was a day of the sort I love, a nice drive in the car, beautiful Colorado weather, plenty of time to relax, drink coffee, sit in the sun reading Lord of the Rings, shop and people watch at the Pearl Street Mall, have a nice Indian dinner and glass of wine alone, all followed by Over the Rhine. :)

When I bought my ticket in the afternoon I asked the underwhelmed cashier what time I ought to arrive since it was general admission. He said at seven, as if that was obvious- I thought it started at seven? But maybe that means doors. SO when I got there promptly at seven and it was already packed I was only mildly surprised. Still I went and ordered a Fat Tire draft at the bar just as they closed and the lights went down. Crap. The theater looked pretty full and now it was also dark and I had only my chill glass to comfort me.

So I approached one of the volunteers sheepishly and asked him to help me find as seat.

"You're alone?"

I nodded.

His face lit up, "I have a great seat for you."

And he did- he led me to the second row of the mid section, a stone's throw from all the mics and guitar stands. Yes! I knew there was a reason I'd decided to do this solo.

The lineup was three acts- the musical group the BoDeans (you would recognize their three-years-after-the-fact hit which was the theme song for Party of Five), I'll stick to Over the Rhine except to say that one of them had an Our Lady of Guadalupe sticker on his guitar and that, as they wailed their harmonies I glimpsed Karin and Linford stage right who became engrossed as the song progressed, nodding their heads together exactly in time. Next was OtR and also author, Doug Fines.

The setlist was minimal, being just a one hour edited program, and all from "The Trumpet Child." They started, as with the album, with "I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time" (the youtube at the top, a concert in Chicago which was coincidently the first time I saw them), then added "Trouble," "On A Roll," and "If A Song Could Be President."

In their interview they shared a little about the album (as much as they've shared in interviews elsewhere and on their website) which I enjoyed even though I didn't hear anything new. I love the idea behind "The Trumpet Child." What will that final trumpet sound like? And the song itself is so yearning, I love that. The mouthpiece is a glowing coal... I don't know if that is a Jeremiah reference or not but it's beautiful. There are so many apocalyptic songs that are Biblical or storied and yet don't have the poeticism of St. John himself or a Spirit-filled imagination. I think Karin and Linford have both.

All their music is infused in that way but this album just weds their talents in really abundant ways. I love the inspiration for "I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time," the idea that if we don't go deep it's really not even worth the going. It leads to some interesting questions for those who love music- what constitutes music we don't need? What sort of music do we need more of?

My favorite songs on "The Trumpet Childs" are definitely the title track, "Trouble" (because a 5 o'clock shadow is indisputably sexy and this displays Karin's voice so well), "On a Roll," because i could wake up that song and be prepared for an amazing day, "Don't Wait For Tom," I told Linford I loved this song because the imagery is so beautiful and powerful, it's just a very unique song and I love that its quirkiness and there is something seductive about it too. Finally, I also really enjoy "If a Song Could Be President." I think along with Derek Webb's "Savior on Capitol Hill" this is my favorite election year song.

Overall this CD is just so wonderful. It's supremely listenable- from the elliptical machine to a book and a glass of wine, to a night of hopeful yearning and romance.

I'm so glad I got to see them once again live, I know I'll always jump at the chance in the future. And I know my time will be anything but wasted.

and you have no excuse NOT TO!

Two albums I am currently loving- Matt Maher's to-be-released-April 8th- "Empty & Beautiful" and Over the Rhine's latest offering "The Trumpet Child."

Both albums can be listened to in their entirety at the links posted above. I listened to both many times streaming for free. I also have purchased both albums. That is good marketing AND good music.

keeping up

My friends sometimes tease me about spouting information about musicians, albums, concerts, etc and where I manage to compile all this information. I don't have some secret source! I just read blogs!

At Passion07 my sister went to a late night breakout hosted by David Crowder and Mike Hogan wherein the students were invited to ask questions. I didn't go to the session despite my deep love for the Crowder band because I didn't want to fight the crowd and didn't want to go to a discussion of their book before reading it myself. I ended up being glad I didn't go- she came back from the Q&A and announced that they should have made me screen the questions because she claimed I could have answered 90% of them. "I found myself thinking, geez, don't you read his XANGA?!" she exclaimed. Doubly hilarious because she *doesn't* read his xanga; I do.

So here are the musical blogs currently on my google reader:

A Guitar Teacher's Lesson Notebook
A guitar teacher who shares music lessons and thoughts- I picked this up due to my newfound guitar playing.

Alli Rogers' Blog

Charlie Hall & Co's Xanga

Chris Tomlin Blog

David Crowder Band's MySpace Blog
This one is updated weekly by Hogan.

David Crowder's Xanga

Intermittently updated by Crowder- pretty interactive and with the semi-creepy and compelling LiveTV broadcast.

Steve Fee and band blog

Jars of Clay Blog

Leeland Blog

Matt Maher Blog

Matt Maher Blog 2
Matt has tried blogging a few times...

Matt Maher MySpace Blog
Sometimes duplicate, generally updated by Kemi but, more recently, discussion of the new album has been presented here too.

Phil Wickham Blog

Judd & Maggie's MySpace Blog Blog

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Caedmon's Call Review

About two hours into Caedmon’s set on Saturday I glanced over at the friends I was with and their almost-two-year-old Goddaughter was sprawled across their laps fast asleep as Andy and Derek wailed the harmonies of “Hold the Light,” and that moment encapsulates the beauty of the evening for me: the combination of love and familiarity mixed together with new things that fit as if they’ve been long worn in.

As soon as Derek walked on stage and picked up his 12-string to start playing I felt the expectancy in the whole room spill over and wash towards the front and it was like all of that energy was precisely funneled back in the howling acoustics of the songs. I thought Derek nailed his set 100%- reformed theology! wry humor! powerful vocals! intense guitar! convulsive twitches away from the mic! By merit of being a popular favorite I sometimes resent the seeming omnipresence of “Wedding Dress” as part of Derek’s set but hearing it Saturday night the sound was so fresh it was like walking in my homeland, along the Gulf of Mexico at night with the air so full and the pulse of waves at my side, it was that good.

When the “small army that is now Caedmon’s Call” came out together there was a palpable rising of excitement which finally bubbled over when everyone stood up to clap and dance to “Two Weeks in Africa” which was great. I was so happy to be part of a crowd who seemed to feel the joy I did at getting to be a part of this tour- I bought tickets months ago which was just the culmination of my excitement that Derek collaborated on this album at all. My enthusiasm for Derek’s presence noted, Andy Osenga brings something undeniably awesome to the band.- he writes songs that are slightly different for them, he ROCKS and writhes with the guitar, when he hammers on a string you can’t help but take some serious notice, and when he talks he’s hilarious, to boot. As delighted as I was to hear Derek blended with Danielle and Cliff again, the truly thrilling thing for me (on the “Overdressed” album, too of course) was getting to hear Derek and Andy together. I already mentioned the wonder of “Hold the Light” but Andy’s solo set was superb too and made all the more elegant by Derek’s slightly wandering presence stage left nodding along, totally immersed in the music. Not to mention one of the hands-down highlights of the show was the power combo of Andy, Cliff, Danielle, and Derek totally soaring through the harmonies of “Expectations.” So hats off to Andy O.

There were so many other great moments though- there is something so lyrical and primal about Garett on percussion, as someone else noted Josh totally filled in when Derek was doing some crazy multi-tasking after breaking a string on “Faith My Eyes,” it blows my mind to have as much percussion as Caedmon’s does but what would the sound be like without Todd?! A few songs in I started to feel the bass through the pews and have to reiterate my earlier question in regards to Jeff who just manages to make the songs feel so much fuller. I agreed with whoever commented that Danielle seemed under-utilized. Her voice is so much that trademark Caedmon’s sound and I don’t think she actually spoke at all. Someone noted that during their first show Andy seemed to sort of be the extra guitar player on the side and I couldn’t help but feel like Cliff and Danielle didn’t get to carve their unique places. The trio of voices during many of the “old” songs was exhilarating but I would have liked to get more personality coming through. My most outstanding memory of Cliff during the show was his hilarious “transition” to talk about DFN and analogizing the possibility of forgetting the words of “This World” to when your kids run around the corner and you can see in their eyes that they’ve chosen the moment to poop. “Anybody been to India?!”

As others mentioned it was definitely a long set but I was engaged during every song and walked away in disbelief that I only paid $15 for the ticket- who gets a three hour concert for that!? Once again Caedmon’s established LIVE why they have remained one of my favorite bands for the past ten years. Two things would have made that show better (1) SANDRA (2) Far from stoning whoever suggested it, I agree that a song or two off of “Long Line of Leavers” (which I still maintain is their most underrated record!) would have rounded out the set- we’re not all married and settled yet!

Overall, though, left me thoughtful, joyful, and content- who can ask for more than that?

originally published here