What is more…

an excercise in getting to the point

Tag: Music

Sara Groves Concert

Guest Post written by (the beautiful) Sarah Gauche Pickell 08/08/10.

Travis and I head off to a Sara Groves concert tonight. He’s only been waiting three months for this night to arrive. I’ve been waiting nearly ten years. I’ve seen Sara Groves all over my hometown—her house is just a mile from my parents’. I’ve seen her at Bylerly’s, made her a latte at Caribou on 42 and 11—but tonight, I’ll see hear her music straight from the source.

I first heard Sara Groves in my friend Alex’s burgundy Honda Accord. We were driving to high school one early, cold Minnesota morning. I couldn’t believe that someone with such clarity of voice could have taught at the high school down the street, worshipped at the sister church of where I spent Wednesday nights, and lived a mile away from my little suburban world.

Wonders never cease.

The lyrics of each of her songs, beginning with Conversations, returns snapshots from my memory of moments…

Talking to Leena, and having hard conversations about life and meaning in a Moroccan restaurant in Northampton, Mass.

Running along Mill River on fall morning to Painting Pictures of Egypt, wondering if I really was better off in the desert.

Mulling over what I thought I wanted, and what I ended up getting

Embracing my own journey.

Anticipating my own home going as I sat alone on the Mississippi shore, grieving a very special woman’s death.

Testing a relationship—will I find someone who wants to roll to the middle too?

Looking forward to what joy motherhood may be—in whatever form it takes.

Flotsam, jetsam, falling in love with a man from the sea.

Sharing with a dear friend a song that says far better than I ever could that love is still a worthy cause.

Feeling compelled to share the beauty of life I’ve discovered in very ugly places in the world—I saw what I saw and I can’t erase it.

Fireflies and songs—love surprises, delights, encourage! This life is half as hard and twice as good with Travis.

I came of age to Sara Groves’ music. Some days, I am still coming of age to her words.

This is the power of music. It allows us to say things in a way our spoken words may not accurately convey. It burrows into our hearts: the words running through our heads at the least likely moment. They can be words of truth, of goodness, of grace. Music opens us, reminding us that our hearts are tender, and that tender hearts are good. Her music helps me stay open to all that this life offers, like a lake. Sara Groves’ music, and the stories her songs tell, narrates the Gospel in my everyday life.

And so we’re off to hear her with good friends, a sweet little baby, and some peanut butter M&Ms for the drive.

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Hear No Evil Blog Tour…

Matthew Paul Turner, author  (Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess, and The Christian Culture Survival Guide) and popular blogger, is known for his slightly irreverent, yet honest and insightful, humor. In his newest book, Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost, he puts these qualities on display, as he tells his story through the lens of the music which helped shape him into the person he is today.

Hear No Evil is a memoir of MPT’s life told through a series of vignette-like chapters. He begins his book by recounting an experience he had while sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Nashville: a chance conversation with a nervous looking wannabe Christian rocker. In recounting the conversation, Turner takes every opportunity to deride common, trite stereotypically Christian, traits. It is not that Turner is against Christians or Christianity–he is one! It is that he is against inauthentic expressions of it, as the following quote demonstrates:

“I think about how many times I’ve heard this type of conversation. Hundreds, perhaps. The context is sometimes different, but much of the dialogue is the same–people talking about how to creating something ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ rather than just being real and authentic. So many of us Christians are all about being vulnerable, especially when we’re on stage, dressed up in a costume and wearing makeup, putting on a performance we consider ‘a means to an end.'” (11)

From this experience, MPT turns to his own story, and his beginnings in an “ultraconservative Baptist church where emotion and honesty were even less compatible than Christian fundamentalism and self-worth” (8). As a child, despite his circumstances, Turner discovered his natural ability to sing (he dreamed of going on Star Search), his love for pop music (particularly Sandi Patty, who was basically anathematized by his home church because she didn’t stick to the old hymns), and his desire to become the Christian Michael Jackson (the “King of King’s King of Pop”). He describes his first time going out to see a movie (at age 18), his encounter with Presbyterians at Belmont University (described as rebellious, trendy, hyper-Calvinists) and his experience running a Christian coffee shop in Northern Virginia (Jammin Java – a place I used to frequent when I lived in NoVA).

These vignettes are filled with humor and wit. They are fairly entertaining to read, especially considering that the book does not really have a plot. They are loosely held together by the fact that each has something to do with music, and each was an experience of personal and spiritual growth. In one of the final chapters, MPT tells the story of an interview he had with one of his favorite musical artists, Amy Grant, while working for the magazine, CCM. Without giving away too much information, I will simply say that Turner and his editor had personal differences as to how the story should be written, with the result that Turner’s version was scrapped, and a different piece was published in his name. In this chapter, entitle Chasing Amy, Turner attempts to clear the air about what really happened. One is left wondering if the whole book might have been in order to give Turner a chance to do so–but given the popularity of his blog, he probably didn’t need to write a book in order to set things straight.

While Hear No Evil does not really have all of the traditional elements of a plot, it does have an easily discernible trajectory. Through his many experiences, narrated with special reference to the impact of music on his life, Turner transcends his fundamentalist, ultraconservative roots, and embraces a lively, tolerant, yet somewhat cynical, faith. As noted by my wife, who also read the book, Matthew Paul Turner belongs to an increasingly popular genre that I would call “post-religious Christian inspiration,” which places him among the likes of Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, Brian McLaren, and–in the music world–Derek Webb. My only worry is that much of humor latent within the cynicism would be lost on someone who picks up the book, yet is ignorant of the Christian culture (let’s be honest, not everyone in America cares what is overplayed and trite on Christian radio stations, they are watching MTV or browsing MySpace instead).

If you are looking for a quick, entertaining, slightly irreverent read, however, I would recommend Hear No Evil. It may make you think about aspects of Christian culture that you take for granted, allowing you to transcend your own cultural baggage, and discover the radical otherness of the gospel.

If you want to by Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost click here.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Amazing Grace

Marcus Roberts

           The other night Sarah and I were in Minnesota with her parents. While there we went to an amazing Jazz Club called the Dakota. The atmosphere was dark and intimate despite the large size of the club. Our table was on a second-story balcony overlooking a small stage with nothing but a large black grand piano and an incandescent neon-blue sign with scripted letters: Dakota. We ordered our food and drinks, a delicious plethora including soft-shelled crab, shrimp and crab cakes, lamb, a Gruyere Cheeseburger on toasted ciabatta bread, Guinness beer, a “Southern Gentleman Cocktail,” various wines, and a Tres Leches fruit tart. After an hour of eating and sharing, we were fat and happy.

            We were hardly ready for what came next. A blonde woman in her mid-forties led Marcus Roberts, the musical guest for the night, out by the arm as he took his place at the piano. Marcus Roberts was a youngish looking African-American man with a soft high-pitched voiced and a mild demeanor. In most respects he looked and acted very ordinary, except that he was blind. When he began his first song, however, it immediately became clear that he was nothing but ordinary. He hammered away at the keys for hours while we marveled, softly debating what style of Jazz could classify him (for he could play any number of styles), or which hand we believed was his dominant one (for he was equally proficient with his right and his left).

         There is something about seeing a blind musician play that inspires awe. Of course, in one sense one shouldn’t be surprised—as if a blind person had any less of a musical ear or an ability to learn an instrument. Still, when I heard Marcus Roberts pound at the keys, I couldn’t help but think of how much courage it would take to persist in learning music that you cannot read on an instrument that you cannot see. Roberts lost his sight at the age of five, and began to learn piano shortly thereafter, playing along at his local Baptist church before he ever had an official lesson!

       I left the concert with three things on my mind. First, I thought about the amazing power of music to unite diverse people. When Marcus played well, everyone in the room knew it. The harmony, dissonance and resolution, which his fingers produced, moved something in each person who heard it. Second, I thought about the power of the human spirit to overcome great odds. Determination, tenacity, a genuine love of music; all of these things would be necessary to reach the level of expertise that Marcus Roberts has reached. It is rare that those blessed with sight have it in them to reach such excellence. Lastly, I thought about God’s blessings. God has blessed Marcus Roberts with a musical gift. As our family enjoyed great food and drink, beautiful music and the company of loved ones, I knew I, too, have been blessed. When Marcus was called back for an encore he played one song. It was not written by Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk, but by John Newton: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”