Reflections From My Root Canal

Earlier this week I had what is called “root canal therapy.” Basically, they drill/file/demolish all the bad parts of a tooth, then drill/file some more, then fill the formerly-bad-but-now-open space with some kind of filling material. It sounds a little nutty because it is. It’s a process that took 2 hours for me (and is still not done yet). So while the dentist was removing pieces of my tooth and the assistant was using that air-sucker thing, I had a good amount of time to think.

There’s a crazy sensation when a doctor takes a drill to a piece of bone in your body. For me, it was fascinating. My whole head responded in reverberations to the swirling drill, and, because the resonation was coming from the bones in my head, it felt like my brain was creating the sound- though I knew the doctor and the assistant both heard the sound, though it might have been slightly different.

So my thinking kept going to how our bodies are created for resonation. It would have been impossible for the dentist to drill into a tooth and not get sound. And I wasn’t even using my vocal cords, it was just a part of how I am made- how we are all made. We are all finely tuned instruments, all with different depths of sounds and timbres. Our Creator has crafted us like a fine handmade guitar, each piece of wood and binding and glue made to exact specifications for creating a rich and unique sound.

So much time has been taken with our instruments, our bodies, and we often overlook it. Especially for myself (being a musician!) it took a visit to the dentist for me to appreciate the depth of how I am created.

So is it weird that I’m thinking of a theology of music and creation while a dentist cranks away at pieces of my tooth? Yeah, probably. But I hope the next time you get root canal therapy or hit yourself on the head or sing or play drums on your chest, you’ll realize that The Maker has created you into a work of art, one that is made to resonate beautiful sounds back to Him.

Everybody Hates Twitter.

Since I heard about Twitter around 2 years ago, it has been steadily gaining popularity.  These past few weeks there have been a few posts going around, mostly defending Twitter and its challenge to make something out of 140 characters. Twitter is a real easy thing to harass and hate on.  Sure there can be downsides (I mean, who cares about when I’m standing in line or buying groceries?), but there’s a downside to nearly everything.  When radio first came out (or any other new type of communication), I’m sure there were people having these same conversations.  The trick is to recognize the medium and use it to its advantage.  We don’t want to pretend that the medium doesn’t affect the message, and therefore, I don’t think we can say that Twitter is “just like having a conversation” because it’s not.  But there are advantages that Twitter has that our conversations won’t, such as searchability, or hyperlinks, or the strange interconnectedness the web offers.

Let’s skip over all those boring conversations where we try and convince ourselves that using Twitter is like any other type of conversation and see where it’s different.  That’s where the advantages are.

So how am I using Twitter’s medium to its advantage? Every day I come across music, articles, blogs, etc., that I think are important to this whole arts and theology thing, and that I enjoy partking of. Here are a couple recent examples:

1. Storied – site by Corbis that gives the stories behind interesting and important photographs.
2. Re:Sound – The Resurgence’s music stuff is underway, download the MP3 Sampler and chord charts.
3. Cucumber Riot – Download Gasoline Heart’s new album for free, via Paste Magazine.
4. Images of Faith CD – 100 images from many different artists used for illumination’s sake (not illustration) for corporate worship.  Also includes essays on the works and biographies of the artists.
5. Here’s an article from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on the difference between illumination and illustration; and illumination’s importance in our lives and our worship.
6. Small’s Jazz Club Audio Archive – lots and lots of full sets from their impressive list of musicians, all free.

Now I don’t have the time or the will power to write a post for each of these things, but I enjoy sharing them.  So most of my Twitter use will be in the same vein as this site: the arts, theology, the arts and theology, with a little of my personal life thrown in every now and again.  This is pretty close to making a linkblog, something I’ve thought about doing since this site’s revision.

So how can you take advantage of this awesomeness? Glad you asked:

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me.

If you’re not on Twitter, but use a feed reader, here’s the feed and now there’s a subscription button up on the sidebar.

If you’re not on Twitter and don’t use a feed reader, that’s OK too, you can always just go to my Twitter page.  Plus, I plan on putting out a weekly post on what I’ve found over the past week.

A Capella and the Trinity

Arts and TheologyThis past Sunday at Orlando Grace (which is in process of a new website, by the way), I did what was most uncomfortable for me. I did an a capella service (or acapella?). No instruments. Not even other voices. Just me and a hymnal. At first it was scary, but I think it turned out well.

My reasoning for this is not just to do something different (although that is good, too), but was to demonstrate certain aspects of the Trinity and to a lesser degree, affirm the use and importance of music itself in a church service. I didn’t even get to the fact that our bodies are instruments, but maybe that’s for some other week.

So I am standing there in front of the congregation, my guitar now ripped from my iron fists of fear, with nothing but a music stand and microphone. Technically, I was afraid of not starting on the right note, which would make the rest of the song too high or too low. I may have erred on the low side, but it didn’t seem to be much of a distraction. Theologically what I was trying to get across was this (and the confession we picked affirmed this as well): Our God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. One God, three Persons.

There is a unity that comes with diversity. And this is a unity in the great sense of the word, not the political correct flavored version. The Trinity’s unity, in one sense comes from the very fact that they are different. And this is the basis of our relationships with one another. We can be unified in our diversity. Christianity is not something that, once it is a part of you, you must become like everyone else. It is not in its nature to be dehumanizing. In fact, it is the opposite! Christianity affirms our differences, our different personalities, giftings, etc., and says we are united because of the uniqueness. We can be one and many at the same time.

And this is where the a capella idea came in. The total sound of the congregation when singing something like Holy, Holy, Holy can be classified as one and many at the same time and space. There is one overall sound and there are many voices. And the overall sound would be something different if one person was not there. I would go so far to say it requires diversity to be unified. That would be the difference between being the same and being unified. We need each other in order to make one sound. This is made all the more clear when people sing different parts and harmonize with each other. This is also something we don’t get to hear when other instruments are in the sound field.

Our church, like may others, projects the words to the songs on a screen so we don’t have to print out song sheets each week. The projector is great, but I think something is lost in that. When all we see is text (like on a screen) we forget the music itself means something. At least a hymnal has notes associated with the words so we can see that a corporate worship song is music plus text. A corporate worship song is not just text. And when we forget about the music, I think we lose out on what the music itself has to teach us, just one of those lessons being unity and diversity.

Accordance English Bible Demo

I forgot to post this earlier, but the wonderful people at Oak Tree Software, makers of Accordance, wanted to use some of my music from my full length, the green fuse, as a soundtrack to their latest demo video. The voice-over sounds like John Hodgman (of the I’m a Mac, I’m a PC commercials), but it’s not. I’ve done some work for Accordance before, helping to tag the Greek text to the ESV, and I use the application every time I need to do some deeper biblical study.  Accordance is pretty much the best Bible software in the whole world ever to exist ever.

And for those interested, the green fuse MP3 album is available for $5 (that’s about 30 cents a track!).

On Vines and Time

A Vineyard in Sonoma

A Vineyard in Sonoma

I’ve been hovering around this idea of time recently, but lately I feel like I’ve more clearly understood this concept of redeeming time or taking our time. A few weeks ago, Christina and I took a trip out to Sonoma, California. It was incredibly beautiful, with vineyards everywhere, incredible weather, and a huge lack of responsibility. We both needed some kind of break from our uber-busy lives, and this trip did the trick. Among the many things we set out to do, the things that keep sticking with me were our trips to local vineyards and wineries.

The reason these vineyards stuck with me is because there was a completely different pace of life going on. It was a real world application of what I tried to accomplish in this musical piece on rest was being done in the real world. There is a patience that comes from resting that produces a satisfying tranquility. (This is resting in the real definition of the word, not a synonym for laziness.) The Sabbath was not just applied to people, but to the land. This tied-to-the-earth dynamic was present at all times. If our lives more closely mirrored the lives of these plants, we would be better off for it and, I believe, come to a more full view of what it means to rest.

We were able to drink Zinfandel from vineyards that were over 100 years old. I was able to taste the fruit of someone’s labor in the 1880s. To me, this has a lot to say about how we view the present. Or maybe, how I view the present. I tend to think if I’m not producing, if I’m not creating something good this moment, I’m not redeeming time as I ought. And that gets tiring.

A Vine

A Vine

I think the reason why I’ve been so obsessed with this whole time thing is that I recognize how much I need to have a proper view of time itself. Life is not meant to be a series of phrenetic jumps, one thing to another, but is meant to be enjoyed like a fine wine. To properly enjoy such a thing requires work and waiting. Labor and patience. It takes somewhere around three years before a new vineyard can produce grapes. In that three years there may seem to be nothing going on. It’s not producing anything. But to the owner and caretaker of the vineyard, there are many things happening below the surface.

And there are so many things that can go wrong with a vine, so many facets of how to care for the plant in order to produce the best possible fruit, it totally makes sense to me now why this is such a metaphorically rich subject, one that Jesus used many times in teaching about the kingdom and Christian life. If farming and keeping vineyards were the metaphors that our Lord chose to give us pictures of God’s kingdom, there is an inherent view of time that I am missing. Our culture, for the most part, misses this as well. And we are worse off for it.

So as I’m reflecting back on our vacation, my attempt will be to somehow to catch some of this idea of rest and incorporate it into our normal rhythm of life here, back in our real non-vacation world.

When We Play Wrong Notes

Arts and TheologyAs mentioned in the previous post:

But what about when we play bad notes? What happens when a jazz player plays a wrong note, something that goes outside of the established rules? What happens when he or she intentionally goes outside the rules? This will be the subject of the next post.

We’re looking at the inevitable situation: wrong notes will be played.  So how does this work in the analogy of freedom in the Christian life?

I’ve made another favtape for this post.  It’s called Jazz: Wrong Notes, and you can use it as the soundtrack for this post.

First, I think we need to make a distinction.  There are two types of wrong notes: intentional and unintentional. Intentional wrong notes are played on purpose, with the wrong note in mind, they are not mistakes.  Unintentional wrong notes are mistakes, the player did not expect to hit a note that sounded off or bad, but did any way.  Because of these differences, we could probably classify the notes as “wrong” and wrong.  “Wrong” notes are intended, wrong notes are not.  “Wrong” notes have a premeditated purpose, wrong notes are present mistakes. So with that…

“Wrong” Notes
“Wrong” notes are meant to happen. These occur when the soloist decides to add tension, or dissonance, to their melody. Solists often color outside the lines to make the solo interesting.  When going outside the correct boundaries, the soloist isn’t saying, “These wrong notes are really not wrong at all” but the “wrong” notes point all the more to which notes are right. “Wrong” notes are noticed as such and, if anything, give us a tension that makes us really want the resolution.  It plays on our expectations on where home is.  When we think the soloist is going home, playing a note that beautifully resolves, and the soloist goes somewhere else than a comfortable home, we feel it.  We want to go home and anticipate where home might be.  The tension that we were unexepectedly presented with doesn’t become the new home, but leads us there.

Too much dissonance can end up with a fatigued ear on the part of a listener and with a lack of direction in the music.  This is often intended by free jazz, as evidenced in Ornette Coleman’s “Science Fiction” on the favtape. Sometimes we need some right notes in there to give us direction, to have tension and resolution.  Because without the resolution (or an implied resolution), tension ceases to exist as tension, it all becomes homogenous.

But dissonance can be a great learning tool.  Saying what Christianity is not can be very helpful in determining what Christianity is.

Wrong Notes
Wrong notes are mistakes we make. Jazz is fundamentally a live music.  Being a live music, wrong notes are made all the time.  The soloist plays something that was supposed to sound smooth, but now sounds erratic or disjointed: just plain wrong. If the soloist chooses to keep going, these mistakes don’t have to end the music.  The soloist still has the opportunity to make something beautiful out of the melody, though a wrong note has been played. Just as in our lives as believers, dissonance, our mistakes, do not end the song.  The musicians don’t pick up and leave, but keep going. God doesn’t drop us the second we make a mistake- He might hit the next piano chord a little harder so that we can hear where the right notes are, or He might play the drums a bit more pronounced so that we can hear the tempo better, but He doesn’t stop playing.  He keeps playing, continually inviting us to create something beautiful with Him, and our mistakes end up being part of the song.

And even the best players make mistakes.  Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie- these are jazz giants.  And they made obvious mistakes on their recordings.  But just because they make an occassional mistake does not discredit the melodies that came from their continual playing.

So “wrong” notes and wrong notes are both going to occur.  But the song keeps going, and we keep playing.  And the more mature we get, the less wrong notes we use, and we will be able to use “wrong” notes in the right places, pointing ourselves and others to our home.

Creeds and Freedom or The Jazz Rhythm Section and the Soloist

Arts and TheologyIn explaining some of the church’s confessions and creeds to my Worship Leading class, I used an example I often go to: jazz.  Jazz (and I have in mind more straigh-ahead jazz from the 40s to the 70s, like Miles or Coltrane or Brubeck or Parker) has much to offer our lives beyond its music (which is good by itself, too).

I’ve kind of breached the subject on freedom already but there’s so much more to cover in this intersection of music and theology.  And our focus right now is the Creeds of the Church, in general.  More often than not, the major creeds define things negatively- what the subject in question is not. A great example of this is the person of Christ as defined by the four councils of Chalcedon. The four councils mark out what the person of Christ is not- Christ is not only God, Christ is not only man, Christ is not more or less than one person, Christ has nothing more or less than two natures.  This creates four lines, demarcating the lines of where we cannot go outside of.  But these four lines form an area like a square, inside of which we can have freedom to move around and see exactly who the person of Christ is- the positive definition. This is the task left to us.

Jesus and John Coltrane

Jesus and John Coltrane have more in common than what we

So where does jazz come in? Jazz comes in as a great metaphor for something we do every day in this arena of positively spelling out our theology.  Let’s look at a typical jazz rhythm section, there’s the drummer, the bassist and the piano player.  The drummer is laying down the tempo, the rhythm, the groove.  The bassist is establishing the tonal foundation, the lowest tones we’ll hear, giving a base for the chords.  The piano player lays out the rest of the chord.  Each are filling in the emptiness the others have and each are contributing to the overall mood of the song.  Now here comes the saxophone soloist.  He hears all these things as boundaries or limits to where this particular song will go.  There’s a tempo, a key, a mood, a length of verse and chorus. The soloist hears these and uses these to create the melody, the solo.  The notes are all within the boundaries, but when put together by this soloist, the melody (and the complete overall sound) is something completely unique.  When it’s the other soloist’s chance to play, she hears the drummer, bassist and pianist and plays another melody line, all within the established boundaries, and also completely unique.  Each soloist is unique, depending on instrument, timbre, influences, what one wants to say versus another, and therefore, each overall sound will be unique.  But none of these have to break the established rules to be unique. This seems to be opposite our culture’s view of what is unique or authentic and what is not.

So this jazz soloist is you and it is me.  When we go about our lives, doing our daily things, we are positively asserting what our theology is. When we choose to sacrifice ourselves and love someone, it is something unique to our situation and easily within the boundaries of what love or humility is. Our creeds and most of theology proper give us the right boundaries for us to positively live out what life is truly meant to be. All of our individual songs will end up sounding different, even if we have the same rhythm section playing the same thing.  They are different and they are good (if keeping within the boundaries).

Hopefully we have the correct boundaries. And if we do, hopefully we will stay within them. The funny thing is, we know when we get outside the boundaries.  We might try and rationalize it, but there’s a dissonance that rings inside of us. But what about when we play bad notes? What happens when a jazz player plays a wrong note, something that goes outside of the established rules? What happens when he or she intentionally goes outside the rules? This will be the subject of the next post.

Living in our faith: bluegrass of Bill Monroe

Arts and TheologyMore on this subject of living in our faith, I think bluegrass music in general and Bill Monroe in particular can further illustrate these ideas.  And since this is a site about music and theology, it makes the cut.  Bluegrass music has a great coincidental, lived-in aspect of faith in its music.  The genre itself has spiritual roots.  It also can affirm honest real world situations and emotions (which is why I think bluegrass and hardcore music are similar on many levels).

One often finds songs on bluegrass albums about death or murder side by side with old hymns and sometimes escapist Christianity.  Are the Christianized songs just vestiges of an assumed culture of shallow Christianity? Quite possibly.  But it is also quite possible that bluegrass has a lot to teach us in our supposed modern world of sophistication.

Bill Monroe (often labeled the father of bluegrass) is the classic example of song style and content in the genre of bluegrass.  Themes of love, longing, beauty and death are typical fare.  There are 4 songs in particular that I’d like to look at, and I’ve created a favtape for everyone to follow along.  Put in on in another tab and let it be the soundtrack to the post.

Cryin’ Holy Unto My Lord
This would be your typical Christian song, dealing exclusively with obvious Christian themes.  We are not strangers to God if we are his, and we long to be a part of His holiness. Here are the lyrics:

Crying holy unto my lord
Crying holy unto my lord
Oh, if i could i surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood

Sinners run and hide your face
Sinners run and hide your face
Go and run into the rocks and hide your face
‘Cause i ain’t no stranger now

Lord, I ain’t no stranger now
Lord, I ain’t no stranger now
I’ve been introduced to the Father and the Son
And, I ain’t no stranger now

This might be a good place to say that bluegrass may not be the best genre to gain specific normative theological data (no mention of the Spirit here, maybe he was constrained by syllables), and music in general may not be good for this, but the light shed on us and our situation as humans is significant.

Goodbye Old Pal
Moving to our next selection, Goodbye Old Pal is about a man who had to bury his best friend, his horse.  Now I don’t know which is more sad: burying your horse that you love, or not having any human friends to compare to said animal.  Either way, one can feel the pain of losing someone you love, feeling alone and abandoned, moving on in inner turmoil while the one you loved seems to be at peace. It is your basic bluegrass blues, lamenting the despair of life. It’s Kierkegaard in under 3 minutes. Here are the lyrics:

Along about round-up time In Texas way out West I
lost a friend and a pal, boys I laid him down to
rest I weeped and moaned over his grave and to me
boys it was sad ‘Cause I knew down beneath that
mound lay the best pal I ever had

My best pal was my old paint horse and now he’s
gone to rest I laid him down beneath that mound in
Texas away out West Where the cactus blooms over
his grave and the coyotes cry I know he sleeps in
perfect peace beneath the Texas sky

Dear old pal it breaks my heart to leave you here
alone Now I’ll go and ride the range on the Texas
roan But my love for you old pal it shall linger
on I will always think of you although you’re dead
and gone

I Saw the Light
But Monroe doesn’t just sing about pain, he also sings about release and hope.  We are in a dark world, yes- we feel that.  We are poor and bound for pain. But there is something bright in this darkness. Here’s the lyrics:

I wandered so aimless my heart filled with sin
I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I saw the light I saw the light
No more darkness no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Just like a blind man I wandered alone
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Blue Moon of Kentucky and My Old Kentucky and You
This last example is the most nuanced and combines a few of the previous aspects of our lives.  It’s also a prominent characteristic of bluegrass music: the longing for home.  Home is seen as beautiful, a country of hills and grass and untainted nature.  There is a freedom in that place.  However, most songs that have this theme place the singer outside of this home, longing for this freedom and life.

The love of land reminds us that we are part of this earth, not separate from it, and though bluegrass has its fair share of escapism, (I’m looking at you, I’ll Fly Away), this slant firmly plants us in life.  There is also a simplicity in this love- it is not the American dream by any definition, it is unrealized and bitter-sweet.  Sweet because of its hope, bitter because of not being there.  This is the longing that we all have as believers, realizing we are not there and feeling pain and anguish, looking forward to the beauty that will come to all those in Him. Both of these examples speak of a place and a person that calls them home.  Here are the lyrics for Blue Moon of Kentucky:

Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and proved untrue
Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue
It was on a moonlight night the stars were shining bright
When they whispered from on high your love has said good-bye
Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and said good-bye

Here are the lyrics for My Old Kentucky and You:

There’s a bluegrass girl a-waiting
In the state of Old K.Y.
Way up in the mountains
Where the tall pines touch the sky
Her hair is like the autumn
And her eyes are heavenly blue
I’m coming back to see you
My Old Kentucky and you

She’s the jewel of all the bluegrass girls
A diamond in the rough
Sparkles with love that’s just for me
I can’t see her enough
Her hair is like the autumn
And her eyes are heavenly blue
I’m coming back to see you
My Old Kentucky and you

In the hills of old Kentucky
Where the bluegrass grows so sweet
A scene from heaven here on earth
Where an angel waits for me
Her lips are sweet as honey
And moist as the morning dew
I’m coming back to see you
My Old Kentucky and You

She’s the jewel of all the bluegrass girls
A diamond in the rough
Sparkles with love that’s just for me
I can’t see her enough
Her lips are sweet as honey
And moist as the morning dew
I’m coming back to see you
My Old Kentucky and you

She’s the jewel of all the bluegrass girls
A diamond in the rough
Sparkles with love that’s just for me
I can’t see her enough
Her hair is like the autumn
And her eyes are heavenly blue
I’m coming back to see you
My Old Kentucky and you
My Old Kentucky and you
My Old Kentucky and you

I included Roanoke as a bonus in the favtape just because it’s so classic.

The reason why I think all of this links to my moleskine metaphor is that Monroe’s albums move freely from subject to subject: singing about death one song, then 3 minutes later, singing about the light of men.  And bluegrass as a genre gives musicians the freedom to move like that.  There does not need to be a 5 minute preface on what the song is about or an apology for singing about God, it’s part of the genre.  Likewise, our faith should be part of us, moving freely from our humanity in its depraved state to the glory of God with flexibility.

We are very good at creating categories where God should be and where he shouldn’t and bluegrass just doesn’t come with that foundational mode of operating. Sure, it’s out of tune sometimes, and wrong notes happen but the bluegrass musician is singing out of the soul, something we could do more of. Psalm 69:3 comes to mind:

I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

Holy War and God’s Use of Means

I was lecturing on holy war in my Old Testament class yesterday and today- specifically in Exodus.  I have been relying heavily on Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology– not only because it’s incredibly awesome, but it covers the areas I want to focus on (literary and biblical perspectives).

An aspect of holy war that I think is interesting is God’s use of means.  During the exodus, God is the one fighting the Egyptians, throwing the waters over their chariots.  But later on Israel gets direction on how to carry out holy war. When the Israelites attack the Amalekites, God uses Israel to do the actual fighting.  The victory in both examples (against the Egyptians, against the Amalekites) depends on faith in God.  So the ends stay the same- God determines the outcome, but in holy war, God uses Israel to carry out His purposes.

This can really help to inform us on our freedom.  We often think that freedom is living without constraints (hello, Sartre) but true freedom needs limits.  True freedom is being able to express who who really are.  If we are in love with someone, we feel free, free to be who we are without reservation.  But this love does put contraints upon us, we now think of the other person and their needs sometimes at our expense.  We have constraints and limits, but limits in themselves don’t necessarily inhibit freedom- indeed, they can free us.

Freedom has no better illustration than in jazz.  There will be plenty of posts in the future about our freedom and jazz music (hello, Begbie).  But here’s the basic idea: the soloist has room to create music when proper limits are put upon him/her. Limits such as tempo, tone, rhythm, key, etc.  There will be more specific posts on this to come.

So let’s not think that boundaries are fundamentally opposed to freedom.  If one does not have boundaries, one doesn’t care about anything, and actions must all be arbitrary.  But if one has the right boundaries, one is free to be who they are.

And God actually wants this- he ordains this use of means to carry out His end.  We have creative power to build up His kingdom.  Although it might be lacking in emphasis, this is the common reformed and Calvinist view of our lives.  God ordains the ends, yes, and he also ordains us to carry out the means.

So holy war and music might have more in common than what we think.

The Gospel and Death Metal

Arts and TheologySo I got my new issue of Paste in the mail yesterday and ran across a great article.  I was even able to use it in my worship-leading class I teach at ICS. You can read an online version of it here, it’s on page 18. It’s titled Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath and draws connections between death metal and old hymns, specifically their morbid focus on blood and death.

This is not just a funny juxtaposition, but I believe contemporary Christianity can learn a lot from the past hymns and current death metal.  Today during my chapel talk at my school, I was going through Psalm 51.  In this psalm, David takes some time dwelling on his sin- the first 5 or 6 verses are just filled with darkness and despair and grief over his current condition. For example, in verse 3 he writes, “my sin is ever before me.”

In the contemporary church when we talk about sin, we don’t often leave much room before going to forgiveness.  How often do we dwell on our sin, realize that it is “ever before us”? Probably not too often.  Instead of bringing up forgiveness as if the word was connected to death or sin, I think we would do well to dwell on our humanity- our fallen, dirty, disgusting humanity.

The main reason for this is not morbidity in itself, but it is to see how far down in the pit we really are- because of that, how far down our Savior had to reach to get us out of the pit, ultimately we see a Savior bigger than one who is applying band-aids.  He’s providing life to the dying- to those who are dead.

And dwelling on the cross in all its wretchedness gives us a picture of the length our Savior went to secure a people of his own.  We love the fluorescent-lighted, happy-grinning, thumbs-up giving Jesus, not the down-trodden, spat-upon, cross-bearing, bleeding Jesus. We (myself included) can easily turn Christ’s death on the cross into a joke.  By recognizing its bloody reality, we get the real picture of hope- the death of death in the death of Christ (probably the coolest name for a book ever).

So let’s learn from death metal, as we above all people get hope from something that seems hopeless- death and spilled blod. And go out there and do a hardcore version of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”