Milano – Gloria EP – Review

5 Nov

Band: Milano
Album: Gloria EP
Credits: Written and performed by Milano/ Recorded & Engineered by Milano, Alan Hackert and Brantley Vosler/ Mixed by Alan Hackert and Milano/ Produced by Milano. All in their basement.

I first heard about Jon Guerra and his merry band of musicians a year ago. On a return visit to the UK, an old friend of mine gifted me with a copy of Milano‘s Zombie World EP. If a bunch of socially conscious gypsy rockers decided to write show tunes, then that EP would be central to the production. The songs were catchy, convicting and adventurous. This year sees the release of a second EP, Gloria, and listeners are in for a treat and a challenge. Let me tell you up front, Gloria might be the freshest thing I’ve heard all year; chock full of melody, clever lyrics, riffs, musical diversity (Gypsy Prog Prophets is a moniker they’ve recently earned) both stylistically and instrumentally – it’s all here. You need to go and listen.

And in the midst of it, this Jesus loving guy drops an f-bomb.

Some people maybe just left the site, never to return. I mean, how could I recommend such an anomaly of nature right? Because everyone knows one thing for sure: Christian’s shouldn’t cuss. Sadly, the context of the aforementioned f-bomb is pretty important to its use. But too late. Only you brave souls left reading get to know that an interview with Mr. Guerra is coming very soon to the blog, and we’ll be talking Christ, culture and cussing. Should be a blast, eh?

Whilst Zombie World had as its core issues of consumerism portrayed in the metaphorical undead, Gloria has a focus on a future culmination rather than present distress. Opening with the fist pumping “A Day Is Gonna Come”, Guerra displays a growing clarity and range in his vocal which on the previous recording had some of the wildness of Jeff Buckley’s live performances, but is now displaying greater control and coherence.

“Gloria”, the title track, is all exultant joy, infectiously drawing us into the narratives of lives encountering the majesty and glory of God. Dripping luscious harmonies, rich string parts and stadium sized rock soundscapes, this is music on a grand and epic scale, the kind that makes you sing along until singing is no longer possible.

Then the crazy gypsy vibe arrives in full force, but these gypsies have Eastern European flair to their music as “So What?!” comes bounding out from the speakers. Guerra cites Taraf de Haidouks as the band that started the gypsy influence for him. As if to highlight the moment as dramatically as possible, Milano take this wild and crazy dance into a loungey breakdown as Guerra croons, “If you’re mouth is running close it shut/ I may only say this once/ So listen up/ Everyone in this room is f**ked up/ Everyone is…/Everyone is…” I haven’t had the chance to talk with Jon about it yet, however, from the musical construction, this was no off-the-cuff moment, but instead an intentional declaration of what is really true. Without Jesus, we’re all a mess.

To break us from the shock of realization comes the dynamic “Come On, Come On” which begins sparsely but soon drops a firm beat and bass. The chorus has the zombie sway of their former EP and delivers a little extra aggression to the mix. These songs are going to connect with diverse audiences and surely raise the bar on the level of excellence Christians should aim for in any creative endeavor.

To end things comes the beautiful “A Holy Song” where strings, banjos and more emerge to lead us into the climax of a dazzling display of artistry, juxtaposing with this lyrics that speak to judgment, betrayal and more; though not surreal, the lyrics are not always clear in their meaning drawing you into closer examination and, personally, self-examination. It just goes to show that sometimes beauty is not comfortable, nor should it be.

Expect to see this on my list of highlights of the year, and consider getting lost in Milano yourself.

Come back on Monday for an interview with singer/songwriter Jon Guerra.

Think! by John Piper

27 Oct

For so long it felt like there were two camps at war. The MindPeople and the HeartPeople both considered their way superior, and would critique each other at any given opportunity. I always had the inkling that something was not quite right with this division, and over the last few years have found allies in the works of Francis Schaeffer, Nancy Pearcey, D.A. Carson, John Calvin, Martin Luther and other great minds whose intellect is not divided from the work of their hands, their compassion towards people and, most importantly, the work of the gospel. Rather than divided, it is the operation of a redeemed intellect that will not stop at words and thoughts but is driven thereby to action.

Now, with more clarity of thought and ease of access than ever before, John Piper has delivered Think! by Crossway Books and it is the literary equivalent of love at first sight. Here is a theology of the mind and thought that drives hard, fast and passionately towards the glory of God. The basic premise is that thinking is the wood that fuels the fire of worship of God. By thinking well, we engage more deeply with the person of God as we consider His word, and the work and person of Jesus; thus we know and love God with more passion, and likewise love our fellow man more completely than before.

Piper does a wonderful job of showing the correlation between real thinking and Holy Spirit dependence. We cannot truly know and understand the Scriptures unless He first illuminates them to us, but we are also called to think – it is not a mystical experience in the sense of overwhelming revelation that is imparted to the mind without the mind being involved. We think because God has made us to think, and in our thinking we ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand and so our thinking becomes a work of devotion and adoration – theology turns to doxology, as Piper puts it several times.

Equally compelling to the whole-person theology that Piper proposes is his great handling of texts that have been abused by anti-intellectuals across the ages. Most notably, there is correction to a misunderstanding of what is meant by being as a “little child” in order to know God. I don’t want to give it all way, because I really must compel you to read this book! For me, it is a tall, cool glass of water in the midst of a desert of oft well-meaning but ill-consequenced ideas that abandon either the mind or the heart in the pursuit of God. Let us have both, for He has made us such creatures that enjoy the benefit of both intellect and emotion!

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

Abel – Lesser Men – review

22 Oct

Abel are the latest band to hit the Come&Live! roster and with “Lesser Men” they are about to make their presence known. The release fits sonically somewhere between Thrice and New York state neighbors Brand New. It’s a cohesive experience to listen through the album, and one that features a lot of water. There are boats out on the waves, oceans on feet, and the watery peril of ‘Titanic’ (which might be one of the best songs I’ve heard this year). But aquatic metaphors aside, the album’s heart is forgiveness and our need to understand the vastness of God’s forgiveness and love.

Sinking into the ebb and flow of “Lesser Men”, the opening track gently draws you forward with it’s instrumental beauty and emotive/intimate vocals, only to snap you out of your reverie with the spasmodic ‘Saints’. It’s an album of contrasts, but apart from this initial punch the rest flows with an organic nature that keeps you on the journey for the full 35 minutes.

The band is able to write memorable hooks and melodies that will haunt your waking hours, and sing you to sleep at night.

I’ve struggled to find words for this review so I’m just going to tell you to download this now from www.ComeAndLive.com and experience it for yourself. Drop back in with your own thoughts and experiences, and be praying for Abel as they step into the live arena!

Musical parallels: Thrice, Brand New, Biffy Clyro

Venom & Song by Batson and Hopper

8 Oct

Venom and Song is the second book in The Berinfell Prophecies Series, coauthored by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. I received a review copy from publisher Thomas Nelson as part of their BookSneeze blogger review program.

I actually received this book back in the summer, and decided to try and read book one first. Alas, 9 weeks of waiting for the library to deliver from out of network and still nothing, I gave up and figured I would dive into this new work. The authors do a pretty good job of retelling the key aspects of the first story, so I was at least familiar with the cast of characters’ situation. But what a cast of characters!

The series is a work of fantasy fiction, featuring elves, spiders, gwars, orcs and many other staples of this genre. The central characters are elven lords who had been secreted away on Earth but have since been brought back to Allyron, the Elven land. Each of these teenagers has an English name and an elven name and to honest, with the amount of characters around this gets horrendously confusing at times.

The book begins with a series of action sequences (e.g. a fiery battle then a white-water river ride) and connects the dots with backstory, shadows of future events and some attempts at character development. But I found it hard to really engage with the characters in a way that would draw me back to the story consistently.

Honestly, at around 400 pages long, the writing just isn’t compelling enough for me and I wonder how teenagers would fair, being as they are the intended audience?

I would say the book is adequate, and for fans of fantasy fiction this series may provide another opportunity to relay Biblical truths in fictional settings. But I shan’t be recommending this to people anytime soon. Though they’re big fans of Tolkien and Lewis, Batson & Hopper have not lived up to their standards.

Not recommended.

Church Planter: The Man, The Mission, The Message

28 Sep

Church Planter by Darrin Patrick

Church Planter: The Man, the Message, The Mission is the latest book from the Re:Lit branch of Crossway Books. Written by Darrin Patrick, VP of the Acts 29 church planting network, it is essentially a church planting primer, or a boot camp in a book, or a field manual for those already deployed, depending on your current situation.As the subtitle suggests, the book is broken down into three parts that focus on what Patrick considers to be the key elements of planting and leading a church.

Before we even get into the main material, it is worth mentioning the introduction to the book. Here, the culturally sensitive issue of gender exclusivity in church leadership is raised and handled, in my opinion, very well. Though it would be nice if everyone agreed on all matters of Christian practice, that is not going to happen any time soon short of Jesus returning. As such, we need to handle our differences with grace. Darrin holds to a complimentarian stance, whereby the office of elder is held exclusively by biblically qualified men. He has existed both literally and intellectually on both sides of the debate and offers his position with grace and conviction – no easy task! Unlike some who hold similar positions, he does not exclude women from acts of ministry themselves, only from the office of elder. Women are free to prophecy, pray, serve, even teach, but not to lead as elder:

There is absolutely no indication in Scripture that gender plays any role in God’s sovereign distribution of spiritual gifts. (p.15)

I believe women can use any gift that God has given them in the church and that only the office of elder is reserved for men. This may seem paradoxical, but I think it is biblical. (p. 15)

The argument on teaching, briefly, is that the majority of teaching will be done by elders, therefore men, and that all elders are meant to be capable of teaching, but not all teaching must be done by elders. Elders are to oversee, shepherd and guard, so non-elders can do the same ministry actions (e.g. teach), but elders are responsible and ultimately accountable.

At the end of the day, Darrin makes a good case that, even if you disagree with his position about gender and church leadership, statistics are showing we have a problem to face about men in general and men in the church specifically.

The key points are that men are staying boys longer in both their actions and attitudes, and that older men are not mentoring these “Bans” (boy/man) to raise them into godly men quickly. As such, we have a dearth of biblically minded, gospel-orientated men and something must be done. So whether you’re in agreement with Darrin, or whether you think he’s wrong, the reality is that something must be done to not only retain, but to train men to lead effectively in the church. It’s a pretty compelling argument for reading the book regardless of doctrinal position on this point. For the sake of this review, I will be sticking with the use of ‘he’ when referring to the elder/pastor/undershepherd.

The Man Ministry is more than hard. Ministry is impossible. And unless we have a fire inside our bones compelling us, we simply will not survive. (p.30)

The first section of the book deals with the church planter himself, and the kind of person he needs to be both in terms of qualification and potential success. If balance between theology and practicality is highly favored, this first section is the most likely to please you (theology gets the main drive in The Message and The Mission gives it all some legs, though none of the book is lacking in both elements). Patrick deals with the type of man, the confirmation and testing of his calling, his character and his ability to lead/shepherd well. It is a high standard that Patrick holds to and a thoroughly Biblical one at that. For anyone considering their calling to pastoral ministry, stare long and hard in this mirror and make sure that you are really called!

The MessageHe went from the God of heaven out there to being the Lord of earth right here. God took the theory of his love for his people and wrapped it in skin and blood and gristle and bone. (p.107)

In the second section, the central message of the gospel is unpacked and its implications for pastoring the church are explained. In an age when preaching and teaching is sometimes akin to a friendly chat about feelings, or the best way to achieve happiness right now, or some such thing, Darrin makes it clear what the message is – historical, salvation-accomplishing, Christ-centered, sin exposing, idol shattering, to take from the chapter headings. As an introduction to the core of the Gospel message, this is a solid work and a great reminder to stay on track with the message. We must not make it about anything else than Jesus and what He has done and is doing. Sin must be dealt with boldly, our own idols exposed and the glory of Christ exclaimed!

The MissionMen who are qualified, called, and armed with the gospel message are on a mission with Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost. (p.174)

The final section was one of the most engaging for me, dealing with the mission of the church, cultural context and compassionate evangelism. It is obvious that not only does Darrin have a heart for city transformation through the preaching of the Gospel and the life of the church, but that he has been in the trenches and is someone worth listening to with a humble heart. As I read through this final section, my own vision and dreams for God’s glory in the city I live in (Nampa, ID) was stirred up deeply and powerfully. Mission is more than social justice, but not less than compassion and care for those in need. We cannot get out of balance or we end up either with humanism, or a secluded church unwilling to fulfill her work here on earth.

Ultimately, I am so pleased to have this book in my library as a tool for myself and a resource for training other men for the work of leading and planting churches. If, like me, you would love to attend an Acts 29 conference but are restrained by budget and time, this is a great book to meet the need right now. Darrin asks pointed questions, sets the bar high and achieves the purpose of his work:

I think it wholly appropriate to take the opportunity this book affords to directly address men, to “call them out” for their sin and “call them up” to be more than just males. (p.13)

Grab a copy and let me know what you think. If you’re interested in doing a roundtable on this book, leave your name in the comments and a link to your blog and we’ll see what we can do.

I received this book as a review copy from Crossway. Like all good companies, no pressure was exerted by them to secure a favorable review.

Vitamin-R – Productivity for the rest of us…

24 Sep
Writer's Block

Image by thorinside via Flickr

When it comes to writing, my intentions are oh so good, my planning is mediocre and my execution is randomized. The two random options are either off-the-cuff creative outpouring, or meandering drivel that hits the recycle bin 6 months later. I’m quite convinced that a major part of the problem is the planning/organization stage, and since I started using Things for task management, and Dropbox for file syncing, I’m doing a much better job of outlining ideas, and formulating a reasonable plan for completion. Having provided, then, the bridge between intention and execution, I now face the final battle in consistently writing, and that would be actually writing.

Let’s just say I can be easily distracted. The internet can drag me in so easily, mindlessly checking and rechecking emails, reading old gReader feeds, looking at things I’ll never buy but think might be useful some day in a specific situation when I won’t have access to buy them anyway. You know how it goes. Enter Vitamin-R. The team at PublicSpace.Net have created a multi-function tool for Max OSX that acts like a personal trainer for task execution in the digital realm. Essentially, you take the task you’re about to work on, set a time limit for the work right now and set Vitamin-R in motion.

In the menu bar, you’ll see a clock counting down the time allocated and, depending on your preferences, audio reminders sound to tell you how much time is left, whilst a ticking clock gives you an extra sense of momentum. Personally, I typically mute all sounds but I have considered a good use for the voice reminders. My go-to composition tool when on my MacBook is WriteRoom, mainly because it does one thing only – provides a place for writing. It does not do major formatting, picture insertion, table creation blah blah blah. It just provides a minimalist writing space, and it can be set to full screen so nothing else distracts. This is great because I am one to get distracted, even by the layout of the words I’ve managed to scrape onto a page. However, in this fullscreen mode the menu bar also gets hidden, hence my idea of activating the voice countdown to give me an aural reference without enabling my web-based diversions.

Upon completion of a timeslice, users then rate their focus and have options to take a break (open-ended or fixed) or to continue with their work. This continuation allows you to start something fresh, or to continue the previous task. Timeslicing is a way to increase productivity by eliminating procrastination and giving a routine sense of accomplishment. If you opt to take a break, Vitamin-R prompts you to enter a plan of action for when you return so that after your break, you are ready to get the job done right away.

Along with the task logging, productivity coaching and slick interface, Vitamin-R has a system wide keyboard command (Opt+Command+N by default) that brings up a scratchpad. The scratchpad has several tabs, most notably ‘now’ and ‘later’, which act as idea captures and brain dumps. ‘Now’ is for anything relating to the task at hand, whilst ‘later’ provides an ideal area to ditch anything that is irrelevant to the work but needs to be remembered. This gets rid of the mental itch that distracts from work, and allows you to return to it later for either immediate action or for entry into a task management program such as Things.

Speaking of Things, Vitamin-R also integrates with Culture Code‘s product as well as with OmniFocus, the two biggest Mac productivity tools. Drag a to-do from Things and drop it in the timeslice description and the two are linked, allowing you to work through your to-do list and check them off as finished within Vitamin-R.

Whilst not a Vitamin-R piece of code, it is also possible to move new items to Things from within the ‘Now’ or ‘Later’ board by selecting the text, right clicking and using the system-wide context menu entry that is active when Things is running. It might be nice to see Vitamin-R’s developers put a nice GUI on this but the functionality is still there. This is great because as you’re working you now have a single place to ditch those annoying brain reminders that occur when you’re least likely to be able to take action on them, and then a convenient way to move those tasks to your task management application.

I’d say that Vitamin-R is a simple, effective and winsome application. The collection of tools provided incorporate so nicely into your regular workflow, whether you’re using Things or Omnifocus, or not as the case may be. Unobtrusive, supportive and it also provides data to help you analyze when you struggle most with getting to the task at hand, and when you shine at your work.

Vitamin-R is available as a full-feature trial download, the limitation being it expires after 14 days. A full-license can be purchased for just south of $20. For the procrastinators out there, this might be a good investment!

GRACENOMICS – Mike Foster – a review

20 Sep

GRACENOMICS by Mike Foster

Format: Digital PDF – review copy

Mike Foster is a nice dude. Mike Foster is a humble dude too. I’ve been enjoying his writing since Deadly Viper first emerged, and watched as he and Jud Wilhite closed down that format of their ministry in response to concerns from some fellow Christians that their use of asian culture was misrepresentative and offensive.

At the time, I was angry that they had been “forced” to close it down, but over time I have seen the beauty of their actions. But having read Mike’s latest book, I’m going even further and seeing the point of view of those offended and am even more grateful for the example of grace that these two guys embodied. GRACENOMICS is about the economy of grace, and the great blessing it is when we live as “the Red Cross relief team for the disasters in people’s personal lives. We’re setting out to be the living, breathing PEZ dispensers of grace for our world.” (p.12) Continue reading