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Archive for July, 2011

Back in the day when I was most active in the Christian church as an adult, I also was buying and listening to a lot of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). There were dozens of artists I’d never heard of that I was having a good time getting to know. Some of it was passable entertainment, some of it was actually good in its own right.

After I left the church I also left behind a lot of the music. But there were a handful of artists that I kept in my collection and continued to like — and mostly still do — because whether or not I agreed with their theological stance, I found their music to be worthwhile on its own creative merits. And as I moved from indifferent agnosticism into my current universalism (more on that in the next installment of “My Pagan Soul,” which I promise is coming), I regained an appreciation for some (not all) of the lyrics, albeit from a perspective the songwriters might not have intended.

For the most part, the common thread among the artists that I continued to like was that they were older and had some life experience, and wove themes of faith into lyrics that were about the real struggles of life. The other side of the coin, those I liked for a time but didn’t keep going with after, were generally younger people whose songs were simply platitudes with no weight behind them.

In some cases, the artists grew in ways that kept me interested. The young Amy Grant’s work falls generally into that latter category, a kid who grew up in the church, didn’t know any particular hardship or pain, trying to tell us about life. But then she endured a painful divorce, and the scrutiny of a very judgmental fan base as her known friendship with Vince Gill turned into her second marriage, and then her songs became more reserved, introspective and painful. No longer a kid who thinks she has the answers, Amy Grant matured into a woman who’d been through some stuff and had discovered the value in questions.

Amy Grant was an aberration. I continued to like some of her earlier work, despite the lack of life scars that marked her later on. But the album she released in 1997, Behind the Eyes, is a raw and heartbroken work that rips away the veneer of superficial faith (which is what about 90 percent of CCM is), and exposes the rawness of human weakness and pain. It’s a remarkable album, easily the best of her releases. But because of the insular and judgmental nature of much of the CCM audience, it sold poorly.

DC Talk is another aberration. By all rights, I should have left them on the scrap heap when I left the church. Three kids who grew up in Christian homes, went to a Christian college and immediately out of that into CCM stardom as one of the most accoladed CCM groups of all time. They were essentially a CCM boy band. Hard to see where they had any great struggles to overcome, so when they sang about how Jesus brought them out of a past of sin and depravity (“Free At Last”), it was hard to believe they had ever really had such a life. And yet the mix of rock, soul and rap they achieved was so infectious, especially on their latter albums, it was hard not to enjoy a song of theirs when they came up now and then on the iPod.

I did not follow their solo careers after the group split up, though. The magic had been in the blend, and while I did pick up one CD from each member just to see if they were still doing interesting things individually, I had to conclude that they weren’t. Toby McKeehan (TobyMac) sounded the most like old DC Talk, but he was the rapper and his solo work was heavier on the hip-hop than I cared for. Michael Tait’s solo album was a decent enough rock record, but featured nothing that stood out. Kevin Max, the closest thing DC Talk had to avant garde, released an album that I sorta liked but had a hard time digging into.

So I didn’t really pay much attention to any of them for many years. And then recently, I read somewhere that Kevin Max had spoken up in support of Rob Bell, the pastor who recently wrote a book espousing universal salvation (there is no hell) and earning himself the scorn of much of the evangelical community in doing so. And in the Facebook post supporting Bell, Max said “I too am a Unitarian at heart.”

As you can imagine, this intrigued me. So I started looking around for more info and didn’t find much, just a number of web sites repeating the same quote and opining in various ways. I was forced (forced, I tell you) to ‘friend’ the man on Facebook so that I could read his wall posts.

And what I’ve found is a real and likeable person there. Whether or not he’s a UU I don’t know (he does follow UU World magazine on Twitter), but it’s pretty clear he’s been on a long personal and spiritual journey since the DC Talk days, one that is similar to mine in some ways. Whether this journey away from traditional Christianity started during or after his DC Talk days I don’t know, bu I suspect it might have been starting already while the group was going strong.

As a side note, while I was searching for information on Kevin Max, I found another old name from the CCM scene, Ojo Taylor, who’s now a full fledged agnostic humanist. Taylor was in a band I never caught on to, Undercover, but he also produced one I liked, and like, a lot: Adam Again.

All this is to say that people grow and change. My life wouldn’t have been significantly poorer had I not heard of the changes with these people, but I think being able to renew my fandom of people I liked a lot at an earlier time of my life in a very different context, and find that they have not been frozen in a time bubble the way others from their industry have been, is a validation for we who are ever on the journey.

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One of our many goals for building a life together is to buy as much of our food as we can from local suppliers, and eventually, grow some of our own.

The growing our own part isn’t off the ground yet — I need to learn a good bit before getting started — but the buying local is going very well. We’ve found three nearby farmer’s markets and have gone to two of them each Saturday to stock up on vegetables and meats. We’re getting good quality, delicious food that hasn’t traveled more than a hundred miles (usually less) and the prices aren’t much different from supermarkets.

We’ve signed up for deliveries by a creamery, so we’ll be getting fresh milk and eggs from free-range chickens every week, with the option to add other items as needed week to week. And there’ll be more to come.

We’re seeing this both as a move toward better health and environmental responsibility, and also a spiritual practice. As Drudiry emphasizes, it puts us in closer connection to the rhythms of nature, as the items available to us vary with the growing seasons. We’ll learn how to store them — rather than resorting to supermarkets — so we can enjoy them out of season, but we’ll become more aware of when things grow in our region.

Developing the skills to grow our own will only add to that awareness.

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One Busy Week

Sorry for the silence here recently, but it’s been a momentous week. Michael and Lynda, the two authors of this blog and also a couple, are now sharing a home.

Getting there required moving Lynda and her household’s worth of possessions about 250 miles, so my week has been: Drive out to her house, load a U-Haul, drive it back, unload it, take the bus back out to her and drive us both back.

A lot of hard work, but with help we did it and now can unpack and rearrange at our leisure, and get back to posting here. A lot of big things are in the air. Stay tuned.

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