Embracing Awkward

  • Road Trippin'

    Wednesday morning our family will all climb into our 2007 Honda Odyssey where we will spend the next 28 days driving across 23 states as we make our way out west to Los Angeles. Well, first we will accuse each other of being the reason we're leaving an hour later than we said we would, then we'll climb into our minivan (it's always more painful when you put "our" in front of "minivan"). This minivan will practically be our home for the next month, a sad burrito on wheels, stuffed with passive aggressive adults and restless children. 

    We've never done a trip like this. Lots of things had to be purchased. Auto BINGO books for the kids (nothing keeps the kids nice and calm like a raging sibling competition), a car top carrier (the minivan version of carrying a backpack with wheels), snacks on snacks on snacks (healthy versions of the good kind so basically the not good kind), and we could go on. 

    The word we've chosen for our trip is "memorable," a purposely broad word to capture both the good times, as well as the times where we wish we could pray each other out of existence. Memorable in the same way meeting your favorite football team at their hotel in Orlando, fresh from practice, just before the Citrus Bowl is memorable. But also memorable in the same way almost drowing in the Rocky Broad River at Chimney Rock on your first (and only) family camping trip is memorable. Think I'll watch Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Family Vacation one more time tonight to prepare. 

    To help keep my sanity, I plan on writing a little something every day (if possible) to vent, share, connect, keep myself from becoming a casual alcoholic. I would love to share those thoughts with you, not because I think they will be great thoughts, but because I hope they'll be fun to read. You can find them right here, but if you want to make sure you don't miss that stirring post about the best donut I've ever had in Cool Town, USA, etc., you can sign up below and they'll come straight to your mailbox. Not the literal one. The interwebs one. Wish us luck...

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  • DC Talk or Girl Talk, What's a Christian to Do?

    In the fall of 1996 two tragic events occurred. D3: Mighty Ducks went from being an idea to an actual movie, and I sold an incredible CD collection. 200 some quality CD’s that included everything from Siamese Dream to The Chronic, all for a measly couple hundred bucks which I used to buy their depressing Christian counterparts. Bands like Plankeye, MxPx, The Supertones, and DC Talk, which if you’ve never heard of them think the Beastie Boys if they had been home schooled. 

    Back in those days my friends and I often made trips to a bookstore an hour away that carried this warmed-over, newish Christian sound (I like to imagine Chuck Berry saying that like in Back to the Future). Just above the CD racks was a chart comparing Christian bands to the secular bands they sounded most similar too. That’s like having a chart that compares different vegetables to your favorite donuts. In the end there’s no way around being really disappointed.

    I remember telling a non-Christian friend about how I’d sold all my “secular” CD’s to follow Jesus, and him looking at me with equal parts confusion and eagerness to get over to CD Switch to gain from my loss. One man’s misguided discipleship is another man’s treasure. But he brought up a fair point. Was this something Jesus really wanted me to do? 

    On the one hand I think my heart was in the right place. I wanted to “put Jesus first,” however misguided the application. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and believe me my heart was broken when I listened to DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” for the first time. Christian rock feels like the musical equivalent of shotgunning a six pack of O’Doul’s.

    On the other hand, there was a huge, faulty presupposition at work. The one that says everything neatly divides into the sacred and the secular. If people are genuinely made in God’s image, then the things those same people create have to reflect that image on some level, however poorly. Nothing is “secular.” Everything is sacred, which means there is beauty and brokenness running through every square inch. The temptation for Christians is to miss the beauty in mashup artists like Girl Talk, or rappers like Lil Wayne, and the brokenness in Christian artists like DC Talk.

    I don’t want to put words in John Calvin’s mouth, but I think he might have enjoyed some Lil Wayne, or at least appreciated him. He wrote about enjoying the gifts of “secular” culture: “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. As it is, much of the evangelical world is in serious danger of ingratitude to God for his good gifts.”

    Yes, there’s brokenness in Lil Wayne’s music. But there’s beauty too. Very few artists can put words together in a way that not only delights the ears, but the mind too. If good art causes the mind to quietly beam in inaudible delight, then Lil Wayne is a great artist. 

    And, yes, there’s beauty in DC Talk’s music. But there’s brokenness too. Not just with DC Talk but with lots of “Christian” music. Sometimes it’s musically or lyrically broken (just Google The Newsboy’s “Breakfast in Hell”). Most of the time it’s broken in that it misses the brokenness of life. Good art always captures what life in a broken world feels like. That’s often why movies like Fireproof or Facing the Giants ring hollow.

    Russell Moore, a pastor with a passion for country music, was once asked how he justified listening to certain songs around his children. This is what he said: “I know there are some who would tell you the way to avoid the problem is to do away with “secular” music. But what is secular music? Does the Bible anywhere command us to limit artistic expression only to “spiritual” things? There are songs and poems in the Scripture itself that speak of things ranging from murder to marital sex to the beauty of nature, and so forth. Moreover, the “Christian” music industry is often, I think, more damaging to children than some secular forms of musical expression. Much of what plays on commercial Christian radio presents an antiseptic view of life, and often as well a trivialized vision of Jesus and the gospel. Too often, what people want is not a more Christian vision of life but a happier, sanitized vision of life. These are the people who would think the Song of Solomon to be obscene, if it weren’t safely sequestered in the pages of the canon where they can’t get to it. And they’re the people who complain to the pastor that his David and Goliath message was “too violent” for little Connor’s sensibilities.”

    Saying only music made by Christians glorifies God is like saying only food made by Christians glorifies God (which would explain why we eat so much Chick-fil-A actually). It reminds me of the time my friend requested Derek Webb’s “Wedding Dress” on their local Christian radio station. The DJ said they couldn’t play that song because it had the word “whore” in it, and that wasn’t very “family friendly.” I wish with all my heart they had said, “You know who else isn’t very family friendly? Jesus. Because he said he came to divide them.” Besides, isn’t there an entire book in the Bible about a prophet marrying a prostitute? Hosea was the original Pretty Woman.

    Of all the things that now me wishes I could say to then me, the biggest is to let then me in on a secret: life will never be as black and white as you want it to be. But grey is a beautiful color because it means we actually have to search our hearts, seek wise counsel, and prayerfully follow Jesus. 

    The reason I wanted Jesus to say, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself Dr. Dre, and take up his Jars of Clay and follow me,” is because it made my life easier. Jesus’ whole problem with the Pharisees wasn’t that they didn’t take his laws seriously. It was that they reduced them to something much more manageable than what they actually required. It made them feel like they were keeping the law, instead of knowing they hadn’t and feeling their need for a Savior. 

    And that’s the point. We want to sell some CD’s, but Jesus wants us to rend our hearts. We want 12 Simple Steps, but Jesus wants us to grow in wisdom. We want self-control to mean fewer margaritas, but Jesus wants it to mean a growing refusal to let anything or anyone define us but Him. We want life to be easy, but Jesus keeps trying to tell us it’s going to be hard, something Lil Wayne can perhaps teach us more about than DC Talk. Out of the mouths of babes comes strength and praise. Yes. And rappers too.

  • Found My New Theme Song

    Is there a more perfect song for young fathers than "Daddy Needs a Drink" by the Drive-By Truckers? Maybe "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns-n-Roses. But you can't have two theme songs. Unless you're Dawson's Creek on Netflix, and are trying to save some money. 

    Drive-By Truckers are the Steely Dan of our generation. Great music, but even greater lyrics that deconstruct life in the south with piercing precision. 

    Just listen to these lyrics: 

    "Daddy needs a drink to deal with all the beauty,
    To deal with all the madness to keep from blowing up.
    Daddy needs a drink to calm down the badness,
    To execute his gladness on the fullness of his cup."

    Kind of reminds me of my mom's favorite bible verse: Psalm 104:15, "Wine gladdens the heart." Just kidding. But seriously. We grew up Episcopalian. 

    So mama get the bourbon ready, cause daddy needs an Old Fashioned.

    What's that? Mama's still pissed at daddy for pretending to be asleep while she got up to deal with our crying daughter? 

    Ok cool I'll just make that Old Fashioned myself. Our priest gave us a pretty sweet recipe in confirmation class.