In Defense of "Christian" Rock

Sufjan Steven’s new album “Carrie & Lowell” has sparked a good deal of discussion about whether it qualifies as “Christian" Rock.  In some of these essays there is an assumption that any music being categorized as such would be tarnished. 

Meanwhile over in Hip Hop land we have the new Kendrick Lemar record “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Lamar has been pretty outspoken about his Christianity. 

Both records catalog an artist struggling with belief. Both albums have profanity. Both albums are great. But just because the artists profess to be Christian does that make their music “Christian" Rock or Hip Hop? 

Let’s face it, contemporary "Christian" music has a bad rep for a good reason. It’s kinda amazing how bad most of it is. Listening to modern Christian radio is torturous, at least for me (not that I try it that often these days). It’s like every artist took the sound of an existing secular artist, made it worse then added something about Jesus. It just doesn’t work. 

But it didn’t used to be this way. Christian Rock used to be a lot weirder and better than it is now. Since I grew up listening to Christian (or Xian) Rock, I thought I might put the spotlight on a few of the better artists from the 70s and 80s. Back then Christian Rock was often as interesting as its secular counterpart. Here are some artists to check out. 

Larry Norman
Larry was the granddaddy of Xian Rock. His 1972 album “Only Visiting The Planet” remains one of my favorite records. He was something of the “Dylan” of Xian Rock, until Dylan took that position for a few years at the end of the 70s. He jumps from symphonic ballads to hard rockers like this track below. “6 O’Clock News”. 

Daniel Amos
Possibly the weirdest Xian Rock band ever. An Southern California band that started in the mid-70s doing concept country rock (seriously, check out Shotgun Angel) and then turning into a great new wave then synth pop then rock band. Led by the talented Terry Scott Taylor, Daniel Amos (or DA as they are known) put out an amazing 4 album “Alarma!” series in the early 1980s. Each album was distinct from the other but tied together something of a Pilgrim’s Progress narrative. I still return to these albums regularly. Particularly the third one, Vox Humana, which had this track "William Blake" below. I sometimes find their records filled under the “A” section at record stores. I try to help and move them to “D”. There is no-one in the band named Daniel Amos. 

The 77s (or Seventy Sevens)
The 77s were another California band and probably my favorite Xian Rock band all around. Their lead singer Mike Roe has one of the most versatile voices I’ve heard- he reminds me of Elvis a little in terms of stylistic range (don’t let that scare you away). The musicianship and songwriting is all very strong as well. At one point they were signed to Island and put out a great self-titled record in the late 80s. Unfortunately for them, Island had a hit on their hands with U2 and neglected promoting the record. It’s a shame since it still stands up as a great album. This song is from that album.

Want more? Sure thing! I put together a Spotify playlist "Gimme Christian Rock" with some more songs by these artists and other notable Xian Rock artists from the 70s and 80s. If you have any you'd recommend I check out, post a comment and let me know! Thanks, Jeb

ps- curious to know my thoughts on Christianity and all that stuff? Read my post-  
"(re)Building My Religion"

RFRA and the Urban/Rural Divide

The recent RFRA law has been an awakening for many Hoosiers, certainly for me. We had been lulled into complacency by a string of moderately moderate Republicans. It’s pretty certain Mitch Daniels wouldn’t have signed such a terrible piece of legislature. Our Republican mayor here in Indy wants nothing to do with it. I’m pretty sure if Pence could go back in time he wouldn’t sign it again. He’s too much of a politician to walk into this firestorm twice. Right now it’s hard to find anyone willing to defend it. How did this happen?

Yeah, sure, a bunch of zealots wanted a reason to not make gay wedding cake, that may be true. But lots of crazy ideas never make it to the Governor’s desk. But this one did. Here’s why- Indiana's legislature is mostly rural but our population is mostly urban. We are ruled by rural. Especially now with Republican majorities in the statehouse. Here’s the Indiana senate and house wikipedia pages. Some good ol’ Gerrymandering going on here to make sure Republican’s retain control. When 80% of the senate and 70% of the house is controlled by Republicans in a state that went for Obama in 2008, you know something is up. Most of the urban districts are extended into rural areas to make sure they don't turn "blue". Here's the Indiana senate map. Some nice slicing and dicing of urban areas going on. Also, a recent post on the 2010 redistricting that heavily tilted towards Republicans.

It's no secret that rural people tend to be more conservative. Personally I think it’s good to have people on all sides of the issue.  On the positive side- conservatives value individual liberties and an open market. On the other side- there is more than a little religious zealotry and fear of progress.

So, overall, this brings us balance. The progressives/liberals pull us forward. The conservatives hold us back. My mother once told me “the extremes reveal the middle.” But right now the balance is out of whack. That’s how we got RFRA.

But I see the reasons for concern. Our culture is changing very quickly and change is scary. It’s human to want to protect what you know and love.

I think we sometimes forget how quickly the tide has turned on homosexuality. This is a very recent thing. It was ok just a few years ago to say “that’s so gay” about stuff that was dumb. 

I grew up in a mostly rural community, southside of South Bend. I had lots of friends that lived on or around farms. Everyone I knew was a Christian. It was a given that being gay was about the worst thing you could be. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that my thinking changed- when I actually got to know some of these “gays” and they were great people. Nothing about their lives seemed fake. 

The reality is that there still exists a group of people that don’t seek or want that exposure. In the back of their mind they might be afraid that becoming a friend with an LGBT person might change their thinking. That’s totally valid, because it probably will! 

But here's something us city folk need to admit- we embrace change too willingly, unquestioning. Especially technology. Looking at our screens, not each other. Tech zombies. We get caught up in progress, believing every step forward is a good one. But we know that’s not always the case. We are balanced by the rural communities that tend to question progress. Let’s admit it, they are sometimes right. 

Unfortunately the urban/rural tension is being acerbated by the accelerated pace of progress. While some of the urban communities explore, some of the rural communities retreat- frustrated by the rate of change. I am speaking in generalities of course. 

As our connectivity increases, our collective social development speeds up. New standards are made. What was once considered acceptable is now considered hateful. Sure, we may be racing ahead of our rural counterparts. Shouldn’t that mean we are even more understanding when they aren’t on the same page as us?

In the heat of this debate I keep reflecting on my own experience and remembering that there are things we all do now that will shock our grandchildren. For instance- pollute, eat meat, etc. We can’t get so self righteous as to lose our human empathy for those that may be fearful of change. We have our own irrational fears and we are far from perfect. 

So let’s remember to “judge not, lest you be judged” and “love one another”. Instead of hating those that wish to discriminate, let’s show them love and seek to understand. Let's remind them of how Jesus lived. He welcomed all.

Springtime In Bloomington: The Combine & Culture Shock

I know that spring makes even the most drab city spring to life, but nothing I’ve ever experienced compares to spring in Bloomington, Indiana. “Bloom” is exactly what happens. With people and plants.

Winters suck, and recently they have really sucked. Last year was the worst but it was almost erased by a near perfect April day in Bloomington. 

The Combine was the reason I went to Bloomington last April. No, not the sports thing- the tech/entrepreneur conference/party. It’s an annual event that unfortunately flies a little under the radar here in Indy. I’ve gone three times and they’ve all been memorable. It’s a little like what SWSW Interactive feels like but much more intimate. 

Jimmy Wales was the keynote last year. First time he had been back to campus since he left short of finishing his PHD. The work he did at IU eventually lead to Wikipedia but IU hasn’t really embraced him since he never finished his degree. At least that’s what I could gather. He was a great speaker and defied my expectations in healthy ways. Throughout the conference I ran into great people and had great conversations. 

Somehow I didn’t know The Combine was the same weekend as Culture Shock. I had not gotten that memo. Then I found out that Mac Demarco was headlining. This was, as they say, “cra cra”. 

Mac Demarco is one of my very favorite musicians right now. This time last year I was pretty obsessed. Somehow I wasn’t aware that he was playing Culture Shock last year. Culture Shock is an annual event run by the student radio station WIUX every April. 

On top of all of this it was the first truly beautiful day of the year. The weather was in the 60s and the whole town and campus was alive. It really felt like a festival. Bloomington can do that, it can transform very quickly. Usually for the better. 

So all of this is to say that I think you should seriously consider going to the Combine and Culture Shock this year. Foxygen is playing this year. Another one my favorites. I’ve got to meet these WIUX folks, shake their hands or something. The Combine lineup is looking good and really, it doesn’t matter as much who is speaking. It’s all about the people who attend. 

I hope to see you there.

The Combine is April 8-10th and Culture Shock is that Saturday, April 11th. So you can come Friday and leave Sunday or something like that. Stay at the Union if you can get a room. There are other hotels if it's full.

Disclaimer: I can’t guarantee awesome weather but what if it is awesome and you aren’t there and all that will be left is to cry while slowly scrolling through your Instagram feed. Don’t let that happen!