Friday, January 28, 2011

The Mercy Seat and The War, full review

The first time I saw Jamie Barnes and Brooks Ritter perform together was in April of 2008. Stars of the Lid was playing at the 930 Listening Room, and I went mostly on reputation. It was a sparsely attended show, but I spotted a few friends in the mostly NPR crowd and pretended I knew something about drone/ambient music. Admittedly Jamie's brand of bluegrass infused indie folk music was an odd opener, but sometimes juxtaposition can really make a show.

I was quite familiar with Jamie's discography (The Recalibrated Heart, Honey From the Ribcage, The Fallen Acrobat), and even though Brooks hadn't yet released his debut album, The Horse Fell Lame, I knew most of his repertoire by heart. I had recently started playing keys with Sojourn band and was just getting used to playing with such talented musicians. I loved playing with Jamie because of his uncanny ability to create, arrange, and deconstruct songs. A profound lyricists with a diverse musical arsenal, Jamie creates lush sonic landscapes pregnant with meaning. Conversely, I loved Brooks because of his uncontainable energy. (Anyone who's ever seen Brooks play live knows he's a combustable ball of light when he plays- always on the verge of a supernova.) Brooks is a skillful songwriter in his own right, but it's his soul that shines through.

That night as Brooks (with Rebecca Dennison) joined Jamie on stage I discovered how incredibly complementary their talents and giftings are. Their harmonies and subtle dissonance sounded otherworldly. It was decidedly moving and I often wish I had a recording of that concert.

Almost three years later when I found out that Jamie and Brooks were doing a split EP together I couldn't help but think that dream had finally come to fruition.

Unlike their previous albums, this collection of songs is for the corporate gatherings of the church, specifically Sojourn Community Church, where both men serve on staff. Of course both artists have contributed heavily to past Sojourn albums, but this is the first time they've released solo material under the Sojourn music umbrella. As such, there is a personal kenosis, an emptying of ulterior motives, that has taken place. In other words, what is primary is not their artistic vision as musicians, but their faithful expression of worship as worshippers of the true God.

"Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat" is the opening track and also lends its name to Jamie's half of the EP. It's adapted from John Newton's classic hymn that implores believers to boldly come before God, on the basis of Jesus' work. Sparse piano and eerie slide guitar create a somber atmosphere which compliments the gravity of sinful human approaching a holy God. Jamie's trademark 3-finger picking is met with with stirring strings and a huge drum beat, which build into an ecstatic frenzy; the blissful response to divine grace.

"Absent From Flesh" is equal parts stadium anthem and hoe down, by the time the horns kick in (is that a tuba I hear?), it's something like a bluegrass Srgt. Pepper's. I really can't imagine what Isaac Watts would do if heard what Jamie's done to his song, but I kind of hope he would dance ( I guess we'll find out in heaven?!?). Brooks' harmony is the closest we get to a true duet on the album, and leaves me wanting it on more songs.

The title track for Brooks' half of the EP is "The War". Brooks' soulful baritone is joined with a raunchy electric guitar and a no-nonsense drum beat; a less-is-more, Black Keys-esque blues-rock. The chorus unleashes a screaming B3 organ and driving bass, creating an intensive wall of sound that more than justifies the militaristic lyric imagery.

"Good Day" is pretty much good old fashion blues/gospel and could be the only Sojourn song equally tailored for the 7 PM gathering or the next Gaither Vocal Band reunion concert. I'm not even kidding. It's great.

"Rock of Ages" is an apt closing track. 18th Century Anglican minister August Montague Toplady's beloved hymn remains as profound and moving as when it was first penned in 1763. This minimalistic take- very much in the same vein as Sojourn's cover of Before the Throne- emphasizes the lyrical content. Mike Cosper's wailing slide guitar interludes provide space for somber reflection or thankful prayer.

In a Christian music industry characterized by self absorbed spirituality, theological shallowness, and questionable artistic merit, The Mercy Seat and The War are a breath of fresh air. I can't stop listening to it, and I doubt you will be able to as well.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barnes Ritter Split EP

My good friends Brooks Ritter and Jamie Barnes have a split ep coming out in a few weeks. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy and in a word: it's amazing. I've been waiting a long time to have a recording of "Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat", and this arrangement is hauntingly beautiful. Great job guys!

Monday, January 24, 2011


Ev alma, komşu al.

I learned this Turkish phrase last night, and I really like it. It means something like "Don't buy a house, buy your neighbors." In other words, the quality of your relationship with your neighbors is more important than the quality of the house you live in.

This saying really resonates with my desire to be part of a community, to live in right relationship with those in my neighborhood.

But in reality, being a good neighbor is not very glamorous. In fact it's often quite mundane or even boring. Here in Istanbul it means sitting down and drinking a glass of çay, even if your mind is thinking about bills to be paid and English lessons to be written. In many ways, being a good neighbor in Turkey means letting go of American pragmatism and being prepared to do... well... ostensibly nothing. Presence is more important than productivity here.

Being a neighbor also means knowing the whole neighborhood is watching you and talking about you, but that's a blog post for another day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Infinity Guitars

Sleigh Bells "Infinity Guitars" from Phil Pinto on Vimeo.

Sleigh Bells is touring Europe, but I think I found out to late to make one of their dates. Guess I'll have to settle for this awesome music video.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I'm officially part of the e-book bandwagon now. I held out for (what felt like) a long time, but thanks to my brothers' generous Christmas gift, I'm now the proud owner of an Amazon Kindle. Obviously the disappearing of "real" books is to be mourned with the passing of vinyl records and film, but there are clearly a lot of benefits.Having a large library (easily 60% of my total possessions, now mostly boxed up in my brothers' attic) is not conducive for a nomadic lifestyle. Simply put I don't like to travel with more than I can comfortably carry, and books are heavy. I also have a propensity to get paper cuts.

My first digital read will be a classic that has been long overdue for a revisit. Points to whoever can identify it without a Google search.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Hoşçakal" by Emre Aydın

A lot of people here in Turkey really like this song. I may be one of them... not sure yet.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

D. I. Block on the Rock in Daniel 2

"The reference to the rock in Daniel 2 is admittedly vague, and may simply allude to the reign of God in general, or the kingdom of Jewish people in particular. However, it is certainly capable of a more specific anticipation of a Messianic figure, especially in the face of what is to come in chapters 7 and 9. Jesus seems to have interpreted the rock messianically. Following his parable of the vineyard and the tenants who impiously killed the son of the owner (Luke 20:9-18), he identified himself with the son and his audience with the wicked tenants. In a surprise move, Jesus referred first to the stone that the builders rejected in Psalm 118:22, and then, with a clear allusion to Daniel 2:35 and 45, he added, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” This interpretation is not so farfetched if one recalls another event when a rock struck down a colossal figure, viz, David’s defeat of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:41-51). The cosmic significance of this event is suggested by David’s taunt of the Philistine:

You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day Yahweh will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh saves not with sword and spear. For the bat- tle is Yahweh’s, and he will give you into our hand.

Just as the colossal Philistine was defeated by David as a representative of the kingdom of Israel, so this Rock represents the kingdom of God in demolishing the colossus of human kingship."

D. I. Block, "Preaching Old Testament Apocalyptic to a New Testament Church", CJT 41.

Lately I've been digging into the book of Daniel and struggling with how to teach it in a house church setting. Lacking a good commentary on Daniel (or a good bookstore to buy one at), I've been searching the internet for good, free sources. Two journal articles have been theological gold mines. Of course the first one is the aforementioned article from which I copied and pasted a lengthy quote. But I actually found Block's brilliant article in a footnote in Peter Gentry's article "Daniel's Seventy Weeks and the New Exodus" in SBJT V14 #1- by far the most straightforward interpretation I've ever come across on a difficult text.

Both are incredible examples of meticulous research and Christocentric scholarship. I commend them both to you.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Home Brew

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I can be rather pretentious when it comes to coffee. I love it, but through a series of events largely outside of my control, I developed a taste for only the very best. However, I also live in a place where artisan, fresh roasted coffee is hard to come by. Thankfully I'm very blessed to have a lot of loving friends who have indulged my opulent addiction, even from long distances.

In the past year I've brewed coffee from some of America and Europe's best roasters here at my apartment in Istanbul- all with my Hario V60, Hario Skerton grinder, and traditional Turkish tea pot. These roasters include:

I'm not bragging- I just want to share how blessed I was. Thank you to everyone who had a part in this... also you'll be glad to know I shared the deliciousness with a lot of people.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Newbigin on Christiandom

"Much has been written about the harm done to the cause of the gospel when Constantine accepted baptism, and it is not difficult to expatiate on this theme. But could any other choice have been made? When the ancient classical world, which had seemed to brilliant and so all-conquering, ran out of spiritual fuel and turned to the the church as the one society that could hold a disintegrating world together, should the church have refused the appeal and washed its hands of responsibility for the political order? It could not do so if it was to be faithful to it origins in Israel and the ministry of Jesus. It is easy to see with hindsight how quickly the church fell into the temptations of worldly power. It is easy to point- as monks and hermits, prophets and reformers in all ensuing centuries have continued to point- to the glaring contradiction between the Jesus of the Gospels and his followers occupying the seats of power and wealth. And yet we have to ask, would God's purpose as it is revealed in Scripture have been better served if there had never been a "Christian" Europe, if all the churches for the past two thousand years had lived as tolerated or persecuted minorities like the Armenians, like the Assyrians, and the Copts? I find it hard to think so."
-Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks 100-101.