Three Reviews of Derek Webb’s New Album

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That’s right.  I couldn’t write just one review.  I had to write three.  Please read any or all of the following reviews of Derek Webb’s I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You:

For those who used to be fans of Derek Webb:
What happened to the Old Derek Webb?

For those who have no idea who Derek Webb is:
Derek Webb’s New Album…wait, who?

For those, like me, who are huge Webb fans:
A review of the album you’ll have memorized by tomorrow afternoon

What happened to the old Derek Webb?

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It’s odd that I’m writing this album review for Webb’s I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You to those of you who used to be fans of Derek Webb, because I owe my fandom to you, the old-school Caedmons-era Webb fans…  I first heard of Derek Webb when his first solo album was released.  Little did I know, he was “that guy” from “that band” that was cool with college kids when I was in high school.  Many of you made me aware of this fact and I was quickly introduced to Caedmon’s Call, which didn’t seem radically different from She Must and Shall Go Free [SMASGF], either lyrically or musically.

But then I See Things Upside Down came out.  What the heck happened to the folk singer?  Still, songs like “Ballad in Plain Red,” “I Repent,” and “T-Shirts” really felt like that guy from SMASGF.  So I kept listening.  Soon, I learned about this band called Wilco and I received the musical grid within which to process the album.  Well, that process of musical adjustment continued for me through all of his albums (except The Ringing Bell, because Beatlemania is alive and well in my heart).  But even more than that, I had to learn to listen with an open ear, often enduring comments with which I was pretty uncomfortable.  I know many of you stopped buying his records around the time of Mockingbird and Stockholm Syndrome, because you felt he had become too liberal in his leanings.

If you’re one of those folks who misses the “old” Derek Webb, you’ll be excited to hear his new album.  Three reasons you’ll love this album:

Reason #1: He admits he was wrong.  Well, not that way.  As I’ve listened to this album for the last two weeks, I hear a real sense of regret for the level of alienation that has occurred in Derek’s relationship with fans like yourself.  I certainly don’t think he regrets the content of this previous records, he simply regrets losing that sense of home within the broader Church.  And if he is culpable for driving you away unfairly, he wants to make amends.  A few lyrics to illustrate:



I loved every circle that I ran around my Father’s house.
Even prodigals have a good time till the money runs out.
Oh, I always had a choice, I always knew where I was from,
But there’s a time to stop running and I’m pretty sure that time has come.

‘Cause now I need a home-cooked meal and a bed.
I need a place to lay my head.

This album is Derek trying to make up with you.  As your friend, I encourage you to give him a chance.

Reason #2: Theologically, he’s revisiting the same themes as SMASGF.  While tracks 1, 2, and 4 seem very self-referential, relating to himself and his fans (or ex-fans), tracks 3, 5-12 seem like the sequel to SMASGF.  In fact, Derek has stated that “Heavy” was an attempt at writing “Wedding Dress” in his current stage of life.  One of my favorite tracks is “Everything Will Change,” a reflection on the restoration of the cosmos upon the return of Christ:

Everything Will Change on Youtube

Reason #3: Stylistically, he is returning to his “Old Derek Webb” roots.  While the music on this record feels like an amalgamation of everything he’s done (with a strong nod to U2 and Magical Mystery Tour), his lyrics really reminded me of old school Webb songwriting.  I mean that raw emotive tone that I remember feeling upon listening to “Table for Two” or “Mistake Of My Life.”  Listen to this clip from his breakup song, “Nothing But Love,” for a hint of what I’m talking about…

In sum, if you’re a fan of the Old Derek Webb, I think he’s trying to tell you he’s still the same old guy.  In fact, you might agree more than you thought you did (see the song, “Closer Than You Think”).  Presale with immediate download starts tomorrow on derekwebb.com.  Trust me, you won’t be sorry for giving old Derek another chance.

To see my other reviews for DW’s album, click here.

Abortion, War, and Capital Punishment

I would, however, highlight a basic issue: the need for an attitude or atmosphere in society which is the pre-condition for sustaining a consistent ethic of life. … We intend our opposition to abortion and our opposition to nuclear war to be seen as specific applications of this broader attitude. We have also opposed the death penalty because we do not think its use cultivates an attitude of respect for life in society. The purpose of proposing a consistent ethic of life is to argue that success on any one of the issues threatening life requires a concern for the broader attitude in society about respect for human life. [1]

These words from the late Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago unveil the pro-life inconsistency of many: we simply aren’t pro-life.  We’re anti-abortion. [This conversation began in an earlier blog post] I say this, because our conversations seem to ceaselessly begin and end with abortion.  We want to discuss at what point life begins in utero.  We argue that abortifacient drugs are no better or worse than a late-term abortion.  We describe and even visually depict the horrors of abortion.  [As an aside, if abortion is as evil as you say it is, don’t post pictures of it.  One can know evil without seeing it.] Yet abortion is not the issue.  Life is the issue.

Something unique happened in my brain a few weeks before our son was born.  I started thinking about the process of life: its conception, gestation, and eventual emergence into the world.  I began anticipating what it might be like, as a father, to promote the life and well-being of my son.  And I realized something!  Life is a difficult thing to maintain.  Sure, babies are resilient–but find one woman who thinks bringing life into the world is a process that takes no effort.  And then, sustaining life in a child post-birth takes time, effort, love, money, and of course prayer.  Every person alive on this planet has someone, whether a parent or family member, a guardian or a friend, and ultimately a God, who cared enough about them to work at keeping them alive.  This is why we call it a tragedy when a person’s life is cut short before their time.  When you meet any human being on this earth, you are meeting a person deeply loved by someone.

So when any person is killed, their death is not a passing matter.  Statistics and news reports can make us think that way, but we must disavow this bent and broken attitude.  The death of any person shatters someone’s world.  Think of the labor of love that was that person’s time in the womb, in the cradle, in the schoolhouse, and in young adulthood.  Remember the discipline of the parent–the disappointment of lost love–the joy of a birthday party–the rest after a job well done.  All these moments, treasured by the ones who sustained this person, remind us that this person is just that: a person whose life is precious!  Regardless of how they die–in war, in famine, or on death row–step into their lives and see that they are not the two-dimensional villains we have made them to be.  They are living people who are valued by someone.

This is not a matter of mere sentimentality, nor is it a philosophical argument.  It is an attempt to glimpse the heart of the God who sustains life.  We want to glimpse the heart of God, because we know that our own hearts are crooked.  Our hearts are machines created for love and easily turned to killing.  And I guess that’s the whole point.  When it comes to abortion, war, and capital punishment, it’s easy to make a quick, snap judgment.  Every one of us has the heart to pull the trigger, given the right environmental factors.  But do you have the conviction to pull the trigger?  That’s a very different thing.  Because when you enter the voting booth, I hope you realize that your finger is on the syringe, the trigger, and the button.  We are culpable for permitting our neighbors and authorities to participate in these practices–some of which are not being done ethically (e.g. see the comments on race and capital punishment here).

If we are truly mindful of the sanctity of life, we’ll begin to think more about life.  We’ll begin to pull these conversations out of the world of the philosophical abstract and into flesh and blood.  We’ll stop dealing with the fleeting passions of the heart, which is so easily bent toward killing, and begin praying for God to give us godly convictions–convictions that stand in the voting booth–convictions that are willing to stand in protest for something.  Because what’s more important than our views on abortion, war, and capital punishment is a dedication to promoting life at any cost.

What’s In a Name (Part 3)

 

Part Three: J.J.

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Prepare yourself for a much less theological blog this time, because choosing to call our baby boy J.J. had no super-deep meaning.  Jackson was the first name we decided on for our little boy.  We liked it as a middle name, but were struggling with choosing a first name that we liked.  So we started tossing out different initials to try to find a nickname that would guide us to a first name.  Here are a few notables:

O.J. – OK, seriously, who would name their kid O.J. these days?  It would have been particularly bizarre if our son had been born on his due date (6/17), the anniversary of when O.J. Simpson fled from the police in his white Bronco.

A.J. was a second-place winner to J.J.  We were bandying about Andrew Jackson Wood, which we thought sounded epically Southern (even presidential?), not to mention my brother Jonathan’s middle name is Andrew.  But if A.J. didn’t stick, we didn’t really like the nicknames Andy or Drew for our little one.  So we decided to start exploring J.J.

When we first brought up J.J. as a nickname, my first thought was J.J. from Good Times.  Meg was not as versed on Good Times as I am, so she thought of J.J. Abrams.  Why I didn’t think of Abrams first was surprising, because I’ve been a huge Abrams fanboy ever since watching his hit show, LOST.  Meg’s one question for me when we were considering J.J.:

“If J.J. Abrams gets accused of ruining Star Wars: Episode VII, the way he has been accused of ruining the Star Trek franchise, will we be OK with our son potentially getting hassled?”

This, dear reader, is proof that my wife both understands and loves her geeky husband.  Did you notice that our son has an Ewok for a teddy bear?  Did you know that while J.J. was in utero, we watched all six Star Wars movies?  Bottom line, our home is pro-Ewok, pro-Star Wars, and pro-Abrams.  I don’t expect Episode VII to be as good as Episode IV, but it will be fun to watch with my little boy.  Regardless, at the end of the day, I didn’t see any reason to discard the nickname.  If my son has to stand up for J.J. Abrams’ vision for Star Wars, so be it.

In the end, we thought J.J. would be a really cute nickname for a child.  Not to mention, the nickname could last as long as he was comfortable with it–even into adulthood.  But if he decided to shed the nickname, we still love Josiah as a name and would be totally comfortable with that change.  So don’t be surprised to hear us call him both J.J. and Josiah.  Both have been happening frequently in the Wood home.  Feel free to call him both, but I have a feeling at the end of the day, he’ll always be our little J.J.

Dynomite, indeed.

Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion?

I know…I know…I’m not usually the political type when it comes to social media.  But as you may know, I am raising support for the local crisis pregnancy center (see my last blog) and I felt some qualification was in order.

I am a Christian.  And an evangelical one, at that, which certainly conjures up all sorts of ideas in folks’ minds: white, Republican, middle-class, the list goes on.  At one point in my life, all of those descriptors would have fit relatively well.  But something began to change in 2008.  As you know, 2008 was full of political intrigue and debate.  The Bush II era was coming to a close and our country was, I think, exhausted by 9/11 and the somewhat confounding wars that followed.  Who exactly were we fighting?  Where exactly were they?  And why exactly were we in Iraq?  Blood had been spilled–American blood, Afghan blood, Iraqi blood, Pakistani blood, and that blood continues to be shed.

What I realized in the rhetoric of that election in 2008 was what the King James Bible would call double-tongued.  I felt like the candidate I was “supposed” to vote for as an evangelical claimed to be pro-life, yet they seemed almost giddy about killing adults in another country.  Something  simply did not sit right with me.  Around that time, I made the mistake of listening to two other people: St. Augustine of Hippo and Ron Paul.  From one, I learned that there is such a thing as a just war…they’re just few and far between.  From the other, I learned that someone can oppose not only abortion, but also wars that seem difficult to justify (according to the Bible or the Constitution, for that matter).  Strange birds, these two men.

In the years that have passed since then, I have learned that pro-life may not actually mean pro-life.  In many circles, it may just mean anti-abortion.  But as a follower of Jesus, I’m not called to simply oppose things.  Instead, we have been called to be for something, namely the spread of life to all through the power of the Gospel.  This truth has forced me to rethink issues like war, capital punishment, and even our approach to poverty.  If we are to be truly pro-life, we need to be considering all things that rob people of life–people to whom we have been called to share the love of God.

So all that said, I really would appreciate your sponsorship as I run next week in the Tour de Life 5k.  I’m not just running to oppose abortion–I’m running to promote life across the board.  I hope you’ll join me.

If you’d like to sponsor Jason, follow this link.

Pay to watch a fat boy run?

As you know, since last Thanksgiving I’ve picked up a nasty habit called exercise.  Running, to be more specific.  Since finding out that a Wood baby will soon be gracing our home, I’ve decided to try to extend my life as much as I can.  Thus, running.

On Mother’s Day weekend (May 11th, to be specific), I am going to be running a 5k that benefits the Northlake Crisis Pregnancy Center here in Covington.  Northlake offers free counseling and care for pregnant mothers who do not have the resources (relational or financial) to care for their child well.  Many of them are considering abortions, but don’t know the other options that are available to them.  I have been personally impressed with how Northlake has worked to help thousands of women and children in our community.  As a result, I wanted to support them by running in this race.

How does a fat boy running garner support for a non-profit?  Good question!  Each runner is invited to raise support for the Crisis Pregnancy Center.  If you’d like to sponsor me in this run, all you have to do is click this link.   You can read more and make any donations (via PayPal) at that site.  I’d really appreciate your support in this process of restoring health to myself and to the families on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain.  I do hope you’ll consider giving generously.

Star Wars: About To Get Pwned

And, no, I don’t mean the franchise is about to get pwned.  I mean, I’m probably going to get pwned for the comment I’m about to make.  So I’ll just come right out and say it:

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is almost as good as Return of the Jedi.

I know.  A  statement bordering on blasphemy.  Let me take you on a journey, my young Padawan.

When I heard that J.J. Abrams was going to be working on Star Wars, Episode VII, I felt more than a slight thrill.  I consider myself an Abrams devotee of sorts, particularly because of LOST.  Once the news that Abram was directing had sunk in, I decided it was time for Megan to see Episodes I-III.  We tried to watch Episode I during our first year of marriage and I couldn’t bear it.  We turned it off and never went back.  But if she is to be the informed, discerning mother of the Wood clan in Louisiana, she needed to know.  With Episode VII coming in 2015, we needed to be ready.

So we began two weeks back.  We watched Episodes IV-VI three nights in a row.  And, let me just add for the record, those films continue to be my favorite movies of all time.  As a kid up until seminary, I claimed Jedi as my favorite…but began to lean toward Empire around graduation and ordination.  And now, I think I’m firmly going with Star Wars (or a New Hope…whatever).  What a fantastic movie.  I simply cannot get over how well that film stands not only the test of time, but also the test of me having watched it 60+ times.

Now, here is where the blog gets dicey.  While I was watching Return of the Jedi, I began to sense a tremor in the Force.  And keep in mind that we were watching the theatrical releases, not the Special Editions, DVD re-releases, or Bluray botch jobs.  We were back in 1983 with puppet Yoda.  And, no, it wasn’t the Ewoks that bothered me.  The Wood family is strongly pro-Ewok.  The Ewoks have never seemed like an overt appeal to children (like 95% of Episode I), because you witness an AT-ST kill a couple of them.  Not too child-friendly to kill sentient teddy bears with lasers, IMHO.  Nope, here’s what shocked me while watching Jedi:

When Chewbacca yelled like Tarzan.

Sure, it’s just a campy joke.  But it’s a sign of what would come, given a few more years.  This is the Wookie who would potentially rip people’s arms out of their sockets over a chess game, for crying out loud!  And now he’s doing a Tarzan yell?  The moment is not just confusing (and anachronistic), it’s pure ridiculousness in a tense battle scene.  I was shocked.  And then, when Megan and I decided to watch Episodes I-III over the last three days, my suspicions were confirmed.  Jar-Jar Binks?  Same kind of stupid crap.  Anakin born of a virgin?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Liam Neeson killed by a dude with tattoos on his face?!  Well, OK, Darth Maul was pretty badass, but we all know Liam Neeson can’t be killed (Yoda confirms this in Episode III).  Bottom line, during every moment of goofy foolishness in Episodes I-III, all I could hear was Chewbacca’s Tarzan yell.  Now, that said, I LOVE Return of the Jedi.  And I always will.  But in that one moment, we got a glimpse of the George Lucas that would be.

Now let’s get back to my main thesis about Episode III.  It is not as good as Return of the Jedi…but it’s close.  The film is two hours spent tying up loose ends and trying to get fans to stop griping about how Lucas had destroyed their childhood with Episodes I and II.  It was gritty.  It was dark.  And Hayden Christiansen apparently had taken a couple of acting classes.  In sum, Episode III is not that bad.  And here’s why I feel confident saying this.  Tonight was the first time I’ve watched it since opening night at the theater.  I was so let down when it came out, I have not watched it since.  After eight years, that disappointment had cleared up and, frankly, I didn’t remember much of the story besides the really crazy parts (like where Anakin kills a bunch of kids or where he gets burned up in a lava pit).  While Jedi only had one really stupid moment, Episode III had many more.  And, because of that and myriad other reasons, Return of the Jedi will always be a superior film.

In conclusion, Episodes VII-IX will not be as good as the original trilogy.  It simply won’t happen.  Abrams is, I hope, realistic enough to know that.  But if Disney/Lucas/Abrams/et al can make these movies better or on a par with Episode III, I think I’ll be OK with that.

Comments are not only expected, but invited.  Please chime in below.  Let the pwning begin.

2012 in Review

2012Banner2012 is long gone and either the Mayans were wrong, or we’re living in an alternate timeline.  Regardless, at the end of every year, I like to remember the important things…you know, movies, music, and what not.  Here are my favorites from 2012:

Movies

#5   “21 Jump Street”
This one probably gets a special place, due to the fact my brother worked on it.  And by worked on it, I mean he made sure nobody walked into a shot.  But still, this movie was by far the funniest movie that I saw in the theater this year.  Not to mention, Johnny Depp’s cameo was freaking priceless.

#4   Tie – “Skyfall” and “The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey”
Here’s why I liked these movies so much…and why they tied.  I had hyped these movies up in my head way more than I should have.  And then they stood up to the hype.  I loved the humanity of Bond in this edition; and Jackson’s interpretation of The Hobbit was faithful enough to please and creative enough to be deemed an interpretation.  Dug ‘em both.

#3   “Django Unchained”
I loved Django…or I didn’t.  I have been so torn about this movie since seeing it, that I decided to put it in spot #3.  Depending on the day, I could call it my favorite…or my least.  Here’s why I loved it.  First, I felt like it was Tarantino’s best storyline ever (not necessarily his best film).  Moving and engaging, I really wanted Django to get his wife back.  Second, I appreciated his treatment of slavery.  It wasn’t glorified and I left thinking how horrible slavery was.  Third, Christoph Waltz is unbelievably good in everything he does.

But then the cons…I have read way too many articles about the use of the n-word, how women are portrayed as flat, helpless characters…but these things don’t concern me as much as a third issue: justice.  I find myself cheering for Django as he slaughters wholesale not only slave owners and their families, but also slaves.  Given, really jerky slaves, but slaves nonetheless.  It felt immensely unsatisfying for justice to be in the hands of this vigilante…and puts into question all the other vigilante crime-fighters.  Was it right for Django to kill all the folks that he did?  I would say no. <SPOILER ALERT> It seems that when Dr. Schulz died, so also did Django’s moral restraint in killing only those with prices on their heads.

Anyway, all that is to say, it’s a deeply engaging film–one that has made me think a lot about justice, slavery, and their depiction in film.  So I can’t help but include it in my top 5.

#2  “Lincoln”
Thankfully, this was not as preachy as I thought it would be.  It painted Lincoln in gray tones that made me more interested in him.  This is a good thing.  However, I agree with other who have said that it wasn’t necessary to have Lincoln getting offed in the end.  Could’ve shortened an enjoyable film and we all would’ve known that it happened anyway.

#1   “Looper”

Bruce Willis travels through time and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (transfigured into young Willis) has to kill him.  Insanity ensues with a surprise lesson at the end.  You really can’t beat it.  I LOVED this movie like the commercials told me to.  And for days afterward I thought about time travel.  There’s not much more to say.  Watch it.

Top Albums
#5   Tie (because I’m not sure either of these will be getting played much after the artist’s next release)
Derek Webb’s Ctrl and Sola-Mi’s Nexus [Can be DLed at derekwebb.com and sola-mi.com]
I’ve blogged about these sister albums previously, so I’ll trust you’ve read that already if you have any interest.  A cautionary tale about when we allow technology too much control in our lives.

Jack White’s Blunderbuss

Not nearly as gritty and guitar-driven as the White Stripes, this is a really solid album, in which Jack shows himself once more to be a “musician’s musician.”  Solid Nashvillian rock and blues album.

#4   Punch Brothers’ Who’s Feeling Young Now?

If you like newgrass or the Punch Brothers’ other offerings, you will deeply love this one.  Their best album to date, musically and lyrically.

#3   The Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter

I’m late on the Avett Brothers bandwagon, so I can’t compare this to their other works.  Bottom line, the lyrics are deeply moving and the music is great.  When it comes to folk-rock, these guys rock.  Blew Mumford out of the water this year.

#2   Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist (w/ bonus tracks)
I have never listened to rap as moving as this.  I have also never heard rappers sing about thrift stores, baseball, or the shame of relapsing.  Macklemore is so intensely honest and personable that you can’t help but love this record.  If you’re a rap fan, you will love this one.

#1   Indelible Grace VI: Joy Beyond the Sorrow [Can be DLed at indeliblegrace.bandcamp.com]
The sixth album from the Indelible Grace collective, this is my favorite offering yet.  Musically, this album feels more cohesive than older ones and the lyrics they dug up for this one are intensely good.  If you like old Reformed hymns to a folk rock beat, you will really dig this one.

Well, that’s enough for tonight.  Feel free to post any questions or responses.  There were others I’d like to talk about, especially the new children’s album Rain for Roots and this single from Wright Family Music, but I’ll let you do a little research yourself.

New Website!

Come On!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Typically, I swear by Apple’s software and service.  They may not make the sturdiest hardware, but their software is usually so simple that a monkey could use it.  And their “geniuses” are intensely helpful in troubleshooting software problems.

Speaking of “not the sturdiest” hardware, the backlight on my Macbook died for a second time late last year (the first time it was under warranty).  Regardless, when faced with a pretty pricey repair, I opted for a Macbook Pro since my Macbook was almost 5 years old anyway.

And when I get my pretty new Pro, what do I find…but iWeb has been discontinued!  Come on!  For five years, I had been building my personal website on iWeb, not to mention faithpreschurch.org.  So began the search.  My dad showed me how versatile the engine over at WordPress.org can be, which has proved to be really solid.  Hope you enjoy the new site…hopefully the ease of editing will mean that I will update it more often than I did the old iWeb site.

Enjoy!