Hymns Redux

I released an EP recently, called Hymns Redux:

Hymns Redux is a set of songs nobody really asked for. What began as me strumming along to texts that I loved became a mini project of new melodies set to older words. These songs already have good melodies traditionally associated with them, but I hope these re-imaginings might shed new light on meaningful texts.

I limited myself to one day a track (so four days total) for everything from recording to mixing to mastering.

It’s free to download, and is out on all major streaming services. I hope you like it!

Lockdown Loops

I released two versions of an album today, Lockdown Loops.

These were written and recorded when England went into our second national lockdown in 2020.

Life in lockdown feels like a life on loop. Things are the same everyday and it’s easy for monotony to take over. If life gives you lemons, why not use a looper?

Recorded over three weeks, the free version of Lockdown Loops is a discipline of seeking beauty in the mundane, finding riches in the ritual, and finding surprise in the everyday.

The free version includes 14 tracks, the deluxe version an additional 7 tracks, plus videos of each song as I recorded them. You can get the free version here.

Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop: Celebration or Lament?

If you have not seen the music video for Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop, you’ve at least heard of it. Or maybe you heard about her recent performance on MTV’s VMA Awards. Here’s the music video, but it’s definitely not safe for the little ears and eyes.

First off, it’s a fantastically directed video. Every image is meticulously curated, and there is a consistent form and content that hold it together. Well done.

But even with fine direction, this video should haunt us. Image after image shows us what nihilistic consumption looks like. Nothing in these images really matter. Not the people, not the objects, not even the genre of the music. All are artifice, all are up for grabs (I mean, c’mon, Miley Cyrus trying to pull of Rihanna?) Everyone in this video is objectified, but most especially the black women who are there only for our twerking amusement. Writhing over a pile of white bread (Health? Why care about that?), eating a cash sandwich (We literally eat our money here), we hear the celebration of the chorus:

This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop

If everything and everyone is objectified, we can do whatever we want. Nothing matters so what’s holding us back? Then we wake up the next morning and ask, “Well, why do anything at all?”

Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

Don’t laugh…this is our mirror.

If everything is objectified that means we are too. This is all the more apparent with Miley just being another object to look at. In objectifying her world, she, too, has become an object, nothing more than one of those big teddy bears.

This is not a new song. The Old Testament brings this problem up often. Some may celebrate it, some may lament. But does the world offer anything more than offended sentiment? I’ve found the general reactions to the offense as empty and vacuous as this music video.

We Can’t Stop is as much a celebration as it is a curse. We can’t stop. We want to, but we simply can’t. We’re content to skitter along the surface, dance in the pool, but dare not look into the deep end, let alone swim there. We need someone to stop us.

We find ourselves identifying with Miley (yes, I’m not too happy with that, either). We are her. We buy whatever and consume whatever and drink whatever and eat whatever and sleep with whatever and we become another whatever. Our smile turns to a grimace and we cry out, “We can’t stop!”

If we were created for something, if meaning really does exist in this word, then We Can’t Stop becomes a lament. If there isn’t meaning, We Can’t Stop is, and should be, a celebration. I believe there is meaning in our world. We are in need of someone out there to stop us. We need Flannery O’Connor’s bull. He looks at us and gores us, stopping us dead in our tracks. He does mean to kill us, but not merely to kill us.

Standards New and Familiar

Arts and TheologyIn the world of jazz, it is common to perform and record songs written by other jazz artists. Some songs are classics, or in jazz parlance, standards. These standards are (or should be) always different and new from one another, with each artist or band baking their individual flavors into it. At the same time, there is a sense of familiarity to them, because they are standards. How can something be new and familiar at the same time? Continue reading

Lennon and the Revelator (2 of 2)

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on orlandograce.org. This is the second of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation. Read the first one here.

Last week we looked at John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation, examining the differences in these two works that image the end of history as we know it. This week we move on to where our two Johns overlap.


Grotto of the Apocalypse at Patmos

The Grotto of the Apocalypse at Patmos, surrounding the entrance to the cave where John is believed to have received the visions of Revelation.

Before we just merely use Lennon as a foil for Scripture (which is really just the easy way out) we need to ask what kind of similarities exist between the two. Both are highly religious and theological: Imagine by not naming God, Revelation by naming Him. Though one is a secular utopia and the other is the new heavens and earth, both have in mind a perfect society and they both have a hope for humanity. Both are honest with the present world not fulfilling all our needs, affirming that the world as it is now is lacking something. Both have a teleological thrust: there is an end goal to this thing called life, some kind of movement forward.
Continue reading

Lennon and the Revelator (1 of 2)

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on orlandograce.org. This is the first of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation.

At first glance one wouldn’t think John Lennon and John the Apostle would have very much in common. One, a self-proclaimed atheist and pop star, the other, one of the twelve disciples and author of more than a few New Testament documents. Though there are obvious differences, there exist some similarities. We’re going to quickly look at John Lennon’s Imagine and the John the Apostle’s Revelation and see what there is to be gained from both.

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic

Okay, it’s obvious, but let’s state it. There are wild differences between these people and their work. This is the easy part to see and understand and doesn’t require much from us. Imagine puts forth the possibility of a utopia on earth through erasing the things that so often divide us as humans: religion, nations, class differences, etc.:
Continue reading

The Empty Spaces of Our Lives

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on orlandograce.org.

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God…”

We believe that empty spaces are wastes of spaces. Like all good Americans we place a high value on efficiency, and how can a vacant moment be accomplishing anything? This is why we have such a hard time with waiting. And this is also why we create all sorts of diversions to make sure we never feel the weight of an ounce of boredom. But things do happen when nothing happens. In fact, the silence of a moment is often when we are confronted with ourselves and with God. And that’s why we want to run away from it. Continue reading

Old & New album covers

Ampersand from Old & New, Vol. I

Ampersand from Old & New, Vol. I

Ampersands. I love them. When I was thinking of doing a new music project based on old texts and new music, I immediately thought of an ampersand (You know, this thing: &). So what’s the deal with the cover? I’m glad you asked, let me explain myself.

It all started with the idea: I’ve had lots of songs that I’ve crafted from old hymn texts, metrical psalms or older poems…how could I develop them further and get them out? How’s bouts three EP length releases? Sounds good to me. So it began.
Continue reading

The Trinity through Tallis and Tavener

Arts and TheologyLast week in my Sunday School class I’m teaching, we took a look at the Trinity. We spent some time on how the Bible teaches that there is one God, and that there are three Persons. How can God be one and three at the same time? At first glance, it seems to be a paradox. This has been an age-old debate (and definitely not one we’re going to find a sufficient “answer” to) that is not limited to the realm of religion or theology, but is an area of interest for philosophy as well: the one and many. Is the essence of being, or the essence of the world singular or multiple?

First off, we should not expect to be able to define and understand and categorize everything about God. If he is God, then there will be aspects of him that are above us. If we could completely understand him, he would not be God, he would be something lesser. There is a grace in ignorance. But just because parts of God are unsearchable doesn’t mean we throw our hands up in the air and give up: though He is transcendent, He is knowable. There are parts of Himself that God has given us the grace of knowledge, the faculty of knowing. Too easily we fall into one side or the other: God is knowable but not completely knowable.

With that said we attempt to look at the Trinity. Because our own experience does not come close to the truths that are found within the Godhead, we resort to analogies. And though analogies always break down, some are more helpful than others. The analogies we most often use are physical or sight based: the Trinity is like 3 states of matter: water, ice, vapor or the Trinity is like an egg: yolk, shell, the white stuff (whatever that’s called). There are many more out there, I’m sure. The problem with physical analogies is that only one thing can occupy one space at one point in time. If a pen is on the table, 2 more pens cannot be in the same exact place at the same exact time. Yet thinking about the Trinity requires more than one thing to occupy the space.

This is where using our ears can be more helpful than using our eyes. For a sound environment, multiple sounds can occupy the same space simultaneously. If 3 violins are playing, one can hear all three violins at the same time, and they take up the same space of sound. Going further, one can focus on the overall sound and understand the one-ness, or one can listen for the individual parts and understand the three-ness. And this happens in the same space and the same time. The apparent paradox presented in the physical world makes more sense when looked at in the aural world.
By the way, this was a corporate collaboration on the Sunday of a capella hymns.

Two great examples of the one and many come from John Tavener and Thomas Tallis. These are both choral works. Tavener, who is still alive and composing, is influenced highly by his Eastern Orthodox faith, and puts a high priority (at least musically) on the purity of one-ness. Here’s one of his most famous pieces, The Lamb.

Tallis, on the other hand, was a medieval composer, and embraced polyphony: he liked the idea of the many. Here’s one of his more famous pieces, Spem in Alium.

Between listening to both of these pieces, we get an idea of how the Trinity can be one and many at the same time.