The Gathering Chant – Neulore // Brite Session + Spotify

The Gathering Chant
You’ve been running from the only thing you knew
Still you find rest within
that old darkness lingers in shadow

But the dead of the night it offers hallowed truth
And there’s a solemn sanctuary
Rescue from the weight you’ve carried, carried

So gather here, oh, gather now my child!
You are safe here from the wild…
And raise a chant that rises like a fire!
Your voice won’t tire!
Yeah we’re alive here!

There’s a hum that whispers traces of your death.
Evil creeps in from the woods.
Yeah that evil’s after you, after you…

So gather here, oh, gather now my child!
You are safe here from the wild…
And raise a chant that rises like a fire!
Your voice won’t tire!
Yeah we’re alive here!

God, Science & The Big Questions – Live stream now #GodScience

UPDATE: An on-demand streaming version is now available here, or watch below:

John Lennox, William Lane Craig and JP Moreland are discussing God, science and the big questions, live streaming right now here! Fascinating topics so far including human/neanderthal interbreeding, The Theory of Everything and Stephen Hawking.

From Biola University:

Join us for this fast-paced, wide-ranging and supremely stimulating discussion among some of the finest thinkers in the Christian world. Nothing is off the table as they discuss science vs. Christianity, arguments for God, the decline of Darwinism, radical Islam and the Gospel, responding to skeptics, the problem of consciousness, mathematics and the cosmos, the nature of knowledge, and much, much more.

Streaming LIVE from Chase Gymnasium at Biola University.

Then Came The Morning – The Lone Bellow

Brooklyn-based folk rock band The Lone Bellow exudes energy and soul in every song, in stories of heartache and redemption, while their soaring three-part harmonies make you want to sing along. The trio comprises Zach Williams (guitar), Kanene Pipkin (mandolin & bass) and Brian Elmquist (electric guitar).

Their brand new album, Then Came The Morning, reviewed by Billboard, released a couple of days ago in the USA and releases here in Australia tomorrow. I’m super-excited. The title track has been floating around for a few months now taunting me. In addition to their vocal intensity and raw passion, I like that they work together as a group live as well as they do on their records.

Check out this spectacular live performance on David Letterman:

Lead singer Zach turned to music following his wife Stacy’s horse riding accident, as a way of working through both pain and hope, an amazing story of the power of poetry and music to transform tragedy into beauty. These themes resonated through the catchy melodies, stirring lyrics and explosive climactic moments on The Lone Bellow‘s self titled first album released in 2013. A captivating soulful album that moves your heart with every listen. Looking forward to what’s next.

Not exactly a silent night: Children of Men (2006)

Holy Night? Yes. Silent Night? Not exactly. If all you knew about the birth of Jesus was from department store Christmas carols, you might be tempted to think it was a serenely peaceful event – clean, pure, magical and not a trace of a tear (“all is calm”, “No crying he makes”).

Likewise, Christmas TV programming typically consists of animated movies like The Polar Express, families dealing with their issues like The Santa Clause, or some other plot centered around Santa Claus inability to meet his deadline despite his seeming omnipotence. Aside from the question of the relevance of such things to Jesus, culturally the Christmas season is an emotional time of year, a time to relax, family times and full of light and fluffy accouterments.

Now I think a bit of magic is great (perhaps necessary), adding a unique dynamic to the year, and we enjoy lots of good things but is the whole deal perhaps so clean, so neat, so magical, that the raw humanity of the arrival of Jesus is obscured?

While it certainly doesn’t set out to be a Christmas movie in the traditional sense – and it’s probably more humanistic than Christian – Children of Men (2006) directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) is essentially a modern retelling of the Christmas story, and it might offer more insight into the squalor and hope of the traditional Christmas Story than our cultural sensibilities allow.

Children of Men depicts a world in turmoil, a world at war with itself, a world without hope, a world looking for hope. This world is a future one but the imagery is ours, and deliberately so, drawing out today’s problems to their worst conclusions: worldwide economic collapse, terrorism, horrifying refugee prison camps, police brutality, heightened security, pervasive surveillance. If the future didn’t look bright enough, a baby hasn’t been born in 18 years. On this day, the world’s youngest person, 18 year old “Baby Deigo” has died. The world is mourning and the title of the new youngest person goes to another. No one knows why. The future of a decaying humanity is brought into sharp focus.

The hero Theo (Clive Owen), however, is disinterested, cynical. His life has been like this for some time, separated, alone. He drinks and smokes just to feel something. Theo’s wife, Julian (Julianne Moore) is a leader in an activist group called the Fishes. But with the group considered a terror organization, she needs Theo’s help to take young girl Kee to the coast. Theo, jaded though he is, finds himself caught up in the plight to protect and defend the baby who is – or rather could be – the hope of the world, if only they can survive a desperate and dangerous escape from those who would take the baby for their own ends. He’s the only hope for the only hope of the world.

Like Mary and Joseph, Theo and the pregnant Kee endure an arduous journey with an impending birth. Eventually, Kee and Theo are forced to find a place in the poverty of a refugee camp. It isn’t much. It’s dark, filthy, unhygienic. But in this filthy place, a baby is born. We experience all the sweat, breathing, pain and desperation, as this new, living, breathing, crying life emerges in squalor. It’s a traumatic scene set in a world wracked with despair and decay. But it’s also a beautiful human moment of great joy, pregnant (pardon the pun) with possibility – the beginning of hope for humanity.

And this too is the irony of the incarnation of Emmanuel, God With Us. The arrival of this Son – to ordinary parents in a lowly animal shelter, through the pain and messiness of childbirth into our dirt and grime, to a people oppressed and a world aching under the weight of sin – signals the beginning of hope; the joyful angelic proclamation of peace on earth and goodwill among men announces the dawn of a new day between God and humanity.

While Jesus’ birth signals the hope of a new beginning for humanity, Jesus ultimate sacrifice secures it. At the cross, Jesus will again be humiliated, the joyous songs of angels are exchanged with the mocking of scoffers, his body once small and supple, now beaten and torn for the sins of many. Not the liberator from Roman oppression as some hoped, but the victor over the slavery of sin and death. If the darkness within is conquered, the darkness without will follow, in our lives and in our world.

Children of Men is not your usual Christmas viewing, but maybe it should be. Maybe not in a family time slot – much of the story is too intense for young viewers, and probably many older ones too. If the message of Children of Men is that hope can emerge from the deepest darkness, the Christian message is that hope has appeared in flesh and blood, but it doesn’t always look like what we expect.

My year in music

Last year, I wrote about a few songs that spoke incredibly deeply into my situation. 2014 has been a mixed year, with many new challenges and many joys. The first few months were among the most difficult of my working life and I really needed a major change, but the last eight actually turned out to be among the best. This isn’t a best of 2014 list – at least two of the songs come from 2013 – but they are some of the songs and albums I’ll remember 2014 by.

Sailboat – Ben Rector

2013 was just a big year, trying to finish off a Master’s degree after hours in addition to being a husband, working full time in an unhealthy environment and wanting to change, as well as being involved in a church community. A new year can often bring a renewed sense of purpose and direction, but this year, I wasn’t feeling it. There was big stuff happening, and even though I didn’t have the pressure of assignment deadlines, the strain of the previous year hung over me. It can make you think you’re not going anywhere but searching, waiting for a second wind of new life. Sailboat appears on The Walking in Between by Ben Rector

Bright Fire – The Honey Trees

I don’t remember how I came across this duo from California but I will remember the layers and lyrical imagery of this dream pop album Bright Fire. Dream pop, according to the Wikipedia, is distinguished by a focus on textures and moods rather than riffs, whispery vocals and introspective or existential lyrics. This is the first time I’ve encountered the genre, so I don’t know whether it is good dream pop, but the feelings of falling and recovering what is lost, set against the magical soundscapes hit a chord with me. At times, the vocals blend into the music so it takes some listening to get their lyrics; apparently that’s part of the genre too. But never mind that. Fall into the canvas of smooth voices, rich strings and electric pianos that is Bright Fire. Highlights are Nightingale, Like A Thousand Stars, Ammon’s Horn.

Good Light – Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors

I’ve been going through an Americana phase the last couple of years. Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors 2013 album Good Light has been one of my go-to albums since I discovered the band on Under The Radar in August. It’s a feel good album, about living life in appreciation of its beauty, the people and places that make it so rich and, well, good. I particularly like The Wine We Drink, a beautiful duet about the sweetness of grace in love; a fine wine that fills the soul with delight. I love voices accompanied by minimal instrumentation, and here the exposed, vulnerable music reflects the intimacy and uniqueness of sharing a life with another and being known and loved regardless of one’s imperfections.

Another song that struck me on the album was Tennessee, and its deep sense of connection to a place. It just got me thinking about what my place means to me. How much do I really love my place, my city. Not just like, but truly love by seeking the best for it? There can be a tendency to swing between snobbery (or irritating unhelpful patriotism), and wishing it was some place else. Places form us, yes, but we also form our places. This year and hopefully in the next year too, I’ve had opportunities to explore some exciting things at work that could make our place better. It’s kinda cool to be able to do that.

Good, honest and also a bit of fun, Good Light leaves you feeling thankful for all the good things in life, and just a little more love for your neighbors.

You can grab Good Light free at Noisetrade for the next week. Leave a tip.

As Sure as the Sun – Ellie Holcomb

Ellie Holcomb, wife of Drew Holcomb (and one of The Neighbours) also released an album of her own, As Sure As the Sun. Funded by a highly successful kickstarter campaign, the album is laden with the fruit of theological reflection, alluding to heaps of Scripture passages throughout. Ellie’s Southern voice soars in the hope filled The Broken Beautiful and folk influenced anthem Marvelous Light (based on 1 Peter 2:9) and mellows out in bluesy I Want To Be Free.

There’s a real humble and hopeful Psalms flavor to the whole album that begins with As Sure As The Sun, and offering us a glimpse of what responding to God’s faithfulness looks like lived out: Love Never Fails is as clear an application of 1 Corinthians 15 as you’ll hear anywhere set to a memorable, catchy tunes:

Love doesn’t strut
It is not proud
Love will make sure to seek others out
Love doesn’t try to keep the score
It sides with forgiveness

Help me to trust that this is true
Help me to love like You do
Oh, Lord help me to live like
Love never fails

How our world needs this kind of love. How we need to live like this. That’s not always easy.

Blood Oranges in the Snow – Over the Rhine

Ohio-based duo Over the Rhine have created a gem with their latest Christmas album, Blood Oranges in the Snow. It’s enchanting, nostalgic folk infused with the spirit of many popular carols while its wintry imagery evokes both the magic of the northern hemisphere Christmas and the tension that life doesn’t always feel that way (My Father’s Body based on O Come O Come Emmanuel). This is reality Christmas music. The album also looks forward (If We Make It Through December) and up-in-and-out (Another Christmas) to ultimate questions of where we as individuals and a society find hope, particularly poignant given the events of the last week here in Australia:

This old world so sweet and so bitter
Seeds of violence we humans have sown
And these weapons we still love to handle
May our children have strength to let go

When we look at the stars after midnight
Sparkling rumors of redemption at play
Can we still hear the echoes of angels
Who were singing that first Christmas day

‘Cause we’ve committed every sin
And each one leaves a different scar
It’s just the world we’re living in
And we could use a guiding star

I hope that we can still believe
The Christ child holds a gift for us
Are we able to receive
Peace on earth this Christmas

If you’re looking for something good, true and beautiful that goes deeper than the standard commercial carol fare, or maybe you’re feeling your year or the world isn’t all you wanted it to be, definitely give this one a go.