Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2016

A Movie for All the Ragamuffins

Ragamuffin Rich Mullins Movie

Last night we finally got to watch the DVD of Ragamuffin, the story of Christian singer Rich Mullins. For two-hours and 15-minutes, we sat through the ups and downs of his life. The movie was, from beginning to end, saturated in the unique Rich Mullins sound. I said to my wife, “I’ve probably never listened to the sound of the hammered dulcimer this much ever.”

Her reaction to the music was to be totally impressed that the actor playing Rich did his own vocals for the movie, which added some authenticity.

Rather than replay the story line, let me say this instead: This is a movie for

  • Anyone who has ever felt like a misfit; that their history or their calling is simply different from everyone else; that there’s nobody to talk to about what they do because nobody does it, or talk to about how they see the world because nobody else sees the world the same way.
  • Someone who has struggled with their relationship, or lack of relationship with their father; with or without perhaps the added burden of thereby trying to comprehend a loving heavenly Father.
  • A person who is constantly wrestling their own inner demons; be it some particular pain, or addictive behavior.
  • Those who have been let down, disappointed, abandoned, or somehow severed from relationships due to circumstances or even death; whose history seems to be one of people constantly leaving.
  • People who feel the core essence of Christ’s teachings isn’t so much about outward conformity to religious standards, but rather a security in the knowledge that God loves us.
  • Fans of Christian music who want to see the realities of the industry, warts and all, and how God uses people in spite of their brokenness. 
  • Thinkers who want to press further into the idea of grace and how sinners can and do experience the grace of God.

And that is just to name a few things this movie touches.

Rich Mullins’ life intersected with other people you know, from Amy Grant to author Brennan Manning. His music, from “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” to “Awesome God” impacted a generation of Christians.

This is a tough movie to watch. Rich’s life is not an ideal; not really a role model we can hold up to today’s Christian youth. It’s a very dark story; not your typical Christian movie. There were also some continuity issues — the conflicting hair length of the actor has confused many reviewers — which interrupted the flow of what was otherwise a beautifully crafted piece of cinema.

But for us, last night, it was must-watching. Knowing a little about Rich Mullins’ life ahead of time, the movie did not disappoint.

You can read more about the movie, and watch a trailer, at an article I wrote in 2014 when Rich was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

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April 11, 2016

The Downside of Major Music Corporations Owning Christian Labels

This post first appeared in April 2012 at Christian Book Shop Talk

All music products follow a natural cycle from top sellers to the delete bin. In the book industry, we call them remainders, with CDs their deletes. Not sure which is worse: Being ‘leftovers’ or ‘write offs.’ The end result is the same.

There are two surefire ways to make sure your songs don’t die after the album sales die: One is to make a comeback every five years; the other is to make sure the songs are remembered and perhaps even rediscovered years later to be covered by other artists.

If you’re an upcoming band or solo artist, you want to get signed to a label, and you want to get signed to a good label, and a good label is one that will work hard to aggressively promote your music and aggressively protect your copyrights, right?

Well, maybe not. Those royalties will certainly buy a lot of groceries and nobody wants to see their music blatantly ripped off. But I don’t think any musician lying on their deathbed is preoccupied with performance royalties or mechanical royalties.

They would much rather see their music outlive their lives.

I’m returning of course to the issue raised the other day concerning EMI-CMG, the Christian music group of EMI. Is getting signed with this label the top prize, or might you do better, in the long run, to sign with a more ministry-focused organization?

Today I decided to listen online to the song “More” by Mylon LeFevre. Classic Christian rock. “More of Jesus, less of me…” Beautiful harmonies.

But instead, I got the far too recurring black screen telling me the song is not available in my country. Apparently people in Canada are tripping over themselves trying to profit from Mylon’s material. (If I wrote this on one of my mainstream blogs, I would get back, “Mylon who?”) It’s a shame really, because the song is most worthy of a cover version.

I’m sure somebody at EMI thinks they are just doing their job; bowing to whatever copyright oddities permit the song in the U.S., but ban it in Canada, Japan, Serbia and three other countries you’ve never heard of. And in fairness, the notice also implicates Warner Music Group, who aren’t so much of a player on the Christian music scene, but probably own a song or two that you and I would want to recall.

The bottom line is this:

  • Christian music exists for a different purpose
  • Christian songs ultimately belong to the body of Christ
  • Christian artists answer to a higher boss

For years, the CCM industry yearned for “crossover,” we wanted to see our products rack up the numbers in K-Mart and Target and be equal players in the larger industry. So independent record companies like Sparrow sold out to the majors.

Perhaps it’s time to stop chasing success and start crossing over in the other direction; time to take back our music. And if you are a music artist on the cusp of signing with a ‘major,’ think twice about where you want your music to be long after the songs are deleted and the band breaks up. Available or locked in a vault somewhere?


Update: Today (at least) you get to hear the song if you’re in Canada. And for those of you who didn’t know what song I was speaking of; here it is:

February 25, 2014

Mark Hall: We Were Made to Thrive – Book Review

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]


Like the book The Well by Mark Hall which we reviewed here in August, 2011, Thrive is both the title of a book and a compact disc. I’ve been privileged to hear the CD several times and read several sections of the book twice. While some authors may appear to write from a theoretical standpoint, Mark Hall is in the trenches, doing youth ministry first and foremost, and then what he views as a second role, as a musician with the band Casting Crowns.

Thrive - Mark HallThe book’s full title is Thrive: Digging Deep, Reaching Out and the subtitle and the cover telegraph the book’s outline and content. Using examples from his years in student ministry, as well as a few road stories from Casting Crowns, Mark delivers something fresh in each of the book’s 30 chapters. I’m struck by how he is both forthright and yet transparent and vulnerable at the same time.

The primary audience for Thrive will be people who are familiar with the band’s music, but really, this is a contemporary Christian living title that earns a place next to popular writers such as Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, or even Max Lucado. Almost every chapter brings new life to familiar scriptures.

I remember once hearing, “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see,’ part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.'” That’s really the focus of this book. It is suitable for both new believers and those who are spiritual veterans. It is equal parts teaching, anecdotal and autobiographical.

I read parts of Thrive out loud this past week at our family devotions. I can only say that this was the right book for us and it arrived at just the right time.

Thrive is published by Zondervan in paperback at $15.99 US. Thanks to Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Toronto for a review copy. With both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson titles, you guys have the best books!

August 16, 2012

Let My Life Be the Proof of Your Love

I don’t post many contemporary music songs here, so you know I’m quite taken with this one.  The band calls themselves For King and Country.  Full lyrics available by clicking through to the video and expanding the description. Enjoy and be challenged to let your life be the evidence of a changed life.  (Special thanks to Laurie at K-LOVE !)

June 27, 2012

Wednesday Link List

A different approach to links this week.

If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous.
If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic.
If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be apologetic and humble.
If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent.
If we are speaking to liberal [or gay] Christians who have deviated from the truth once delivered for the saints, we want to be serious and hortatory.
If we are speaking to gays and lesbians who live as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be winsome and straightforward.
If we are speaking to beligerent Christians who hate or fear homosexuals, we want to be upset and disappointed.

  • Here’s a link all the way back to May, where N. T. Wright offers a different view of heaven. The heaven we understand he says would sound foreign to people in Jesus’ time. He also proposes we think more of heaven as overlapping or intersecting with the here and now.
  • Perry Noble joins the ranks of megachurch pastors with books released through major publishers. Unleash is, from what I can tell, largely the story of New Spring Church and about God helping you unleash your vision. Here’s a sample chapter.
  • Another Mars Hill (Seattle) horror story. This one describes an exorcism. There’s no happy ending:

Why do you think Mark [Driscoll] claimed that your “demons” were “sexual”?

It’s always his go-to topic. Ironically, my husband had more “demons” than one could imagine. But his demons were of no consequence and unimportant to the church. It was somehow my fault because “maybe I wasn’t the godly, providing wife” I was supposed to be.

That said, Mark was also aware that my husband and I had sexual troubles from day one. And regarding our sex life–because I was essentially grinning and bearing it most of the time–Mark concluded that I was a terrible wife to my husband. Even when my husband looked at porn, Mark blamed me because I wasn’t doing my “wifely duty”. I felt violated when sex was expected of me. I was intensely miserable and neglected throughout my marriage, but Mark deemed that irrelevant because I was the wife and my duty was to serve my husband sexually.

One night I had a wondrous dream,
 One set of footprints there was seen,
 The footprints of my precious Lord,
 But mine were not along the shore.

But then some stranger prints appeared,
 And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
 Those prints are large and round and neat,
 “But Lord they are too big for feet.”

“My child,” He said in somber tones,
 “For miles I carried you alone.
 I challenged you to walk in faith,
 But you refused and made me wait.”

“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
 The walk of faith, you would not know.
 So I got tired, I got fed up,
 and there I dropped you on your butt.”

“Because in life, there comes a time,
 when one must fight, and one must climb.
 When one must rise and take a stand,
 or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

  • Daniel Jepsen goes to the movies: “I saw the SF movie Prometheus last week.  I won’t review it or summarize it here except to note that it featured a creature far rarer than aliens in Hollywood’s universe: a practicing Christian.  She is even portrayed in a positive light, and is, in fact, something of the heroine of the story.”
  • Darrell Dash notes that material benefits, combined with intangible benefits, added to future rewards equals the situation that pastors are well compensated, thank you.
  • Timothy Kurek has rewritten the playbook on incarnational, choosing to identify as gay even though he says he isn’t in order to understand their persecution.  His adventure could fill a book:

Facebook: Timothy Kurek is an aspiring writer, proficient drinker, laudable instigator, and recovering Pharisee. 

YouTube video description: From bigotry to empathy, this is the true story of a conservative Christian attempting to find the answers. And it all begins with two words. “I’m Gay.” (Jesus in Drag, The Book Trailer; linked above.)

MSNBC Interview: “I was pretty immersed in that experience.”

  • Author Karen Spears Zacharias debriefs the Jerry Sandusky trial: “When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is hurt denied. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is responsibility deafened. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is shame misplaced. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is evil granted access.”
  • It’s 431 .pdf pages, but Bible aficionados — or perhaps people who have never read an interlinear Bible — might enjoy the Mechanical Translation of Genesis.
  • As CNN’s Belief Blog put it, “She went from atheist to Catholic in just over 1,000 words.” Leah Libresco announces her conversion on her blog:

Libresco says one of the most common questions she has received is how she’ll deal with atheists now.

“The great thing about a lot of the atheist and skeptic community is that people talk more critically about ideas and want to see proof provided,” Libresco said. “That kind of analytical thinking is completely useful and the Catholic Church doesn’t need to and should not be afraid of because if you’ve got the facts on your side, you hope they win.” 

  • When Benny Hinn remarries his former wife Suzanne, Jack Hayford will perform the re-nuptials. Hinn said, “We never broke the covenant. Our marriage has been restored. We just want to make sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
  • Pete Wilson confesses that there are three things he learned early on in ministry — about problems, conflict and giving up — that he later had to unlearn.
  • Not a Christian site/blog link, but you have to feel for these two kids who got sunburned when the school refused to apply sunscreen on field day.

April 29, 2012

Christian Bands and Artists: Think Twice About Selling Your Soul

This post appeared yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk

All music products follow a natural cycle from top sellers to the delete bin. In the book industry, we call them remainders, with CDs their deletes. Not sure which is worse: Being ‘leftovers’ or ‘write offs.’ The end result is the same.

There are two surefire ways to make sure your songs don’t die after the album sales die: One is to make a comeback every five years; the other is to make sure the songs are remembered and perhaps even rediscovered years later to be covered by other artists.

If you’re an upcoming band or solo artist, you want to get signed to a label, and you want to get signed to a good label, and a good label is one that will work hard to aggressively promote your music and aggressively protect your copyrights, right?

Well, maybe not. Those royalties will certainly buy a lot of groceries and nobody wants to see their music blatantly ripped off. But I don’t think any musician lying on their deathbed is preoccupied with performance royalties or mechanical royalties.

They would much rather see their music outlive their lives.

I’m returning of course to the issue raised the other day concerning EMI-CMG, the Christian music group of EMI. Is getting signed with this label the top prize, or might you do better, in the long run, to sign with a more ministry-focused organization?

Today I decided to listen online to the song “More” by Mylon LeFevre. Classic Christian rock. “More of Jesus, less of me…” Beautiful harmonies.

But instead, I got the far too recurring black screen telling me the song is not available in my country. Apparently people in Canada are tripping over themselves trying to profit from Mylon’s material. (If I wrote this on one of my mainstream blogs, I would get back, “Mylon who?”) It’s a shame really, because the song is most worthy of a cover version.

I’m sure somebody at EMI thinks they are just doing their job; bowing to whatever copyright oddities permit the song in the U.S., but ban it in Canada, Japan, Serbia and three other countries you’ve never heard of. And in fairness, the notice also implicates Warner Music Group, who aren’t so much of a player on the Christian music scene, but probably own a song or two that you and I would want to recall.

The bottom line is this:

  • Christian music exists for a different purpose
  • Christian songs ultimately belong to the body of Christ
  • Christian artists answer to a higher boss

For years, the CCM industry yearned for “crossover,” we wanted to see our products rack up the numbers in K-Mart and Target and be equal players in the larger industry. So independent record companies like Sparrow sold out to the majors.

Perhaps it’s time to stop chasing success and start crossing over in the other direction; time to take back our music. And if you are a music artist on the cusp of signing with a ‘major,’ think twice about where you want your music to be long after the songs are deleted and the band breaks up. Available or locked in a vault somewhere?

July 13, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Links

Welcome back to another list…

  • Shaun Groves is getting ready to release a new album, Third World Symphony, and Journey of Worship caught up with him for an interview.  And speaking of CCM artists…
  • Here’s what Joy Williams has been up to lately, as half of the duo The Civil Wars  [video] which I was reminded of while reading this…
  • Jason Adkins digs deep into the grammar of CCM: “Prepositional Phrases Are the Artistic Expression Du Jour.  Whether it’s Chris Tomlin (And If Our God Is For Us…), Blindside (With Shivering Hearts We Wait), or the continuance-to-a-specified-time tendencies of Casting Crowns (Until the Whole World Hears) and Red (Until We Have Faces), the prepositional phrase is challenging the terse one-word album title as the dominate naming convention in Christian music.” Read The State of the Art Address.
  • Missy gets into the subject of designer babies and gender selection at It’s Almost Naptime, a popular parenting blog for women.
  • Popular author and theologian N. T. Wright is releasing the New Testament edition of his own Bible translation, The Kingdom New Testament.  More advance info at Zondervan.
  • Canada’s largest multi-site church, The Meeting House is doing something very different for the summer.  For 12 weeks, they’ve invited leaders from other denominations to share the pulpit with TMH teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey.  (Plus a visit from Philip Yancey!) So far we’ve enjoyed all of them, available on both video and audio.
  • Mickey Maudlin, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor at HarperOne (HarperCollins’ religious imprint) reflects on the reaction to their publication of Rob Bell‘s Love Wins.  Sample: “As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism…”
  • Last week I linked to some pictures of the event, this week a visit to Julie Clawson’s impressions of the Wild Goose Festival.
  • Mark Dever looks at what’s wrong with pastoral search committees (#6 of 9: “A beauty pageant mentality”) and then, in part two of the same article suggests that this is actually the responsibility of the church elders.  
  • B. J. Stockman looks at the gospel at Resurgence blog.  This is a longer piece but in section three, check out the gospel as reflected in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Leviticus.
  • Lifeshapes author Mike Breen sees celebrity, consumerism, and competition as the key elements that are writing the obituary of the Amercian Church.
  • Also for our American readers, here’s a breakdown of the faith demographics on a state by state basis.  Just hover your mouse over the state for info.
  • Sovereign Grace Ministries leader C. J. Mahaney is stepping away from ministry for an unspecified time.
  • Here’s the video where the deer got loose in Colonial Hills Baptist Church and was captured by security cameras.  Easy to miss in this is the observation of the vast number of security cameras this church actually needs.
  • It’s “Sex Week” at Stuff Fundies Like.  Can’t wait to see how sex and fundamentalism mix.
  • Last month I introduced you to Searching for Grace, a new cartoon by Mike Mooney.  Here’s a very recent panel, giving you the kind of thing you can expect at his website.

March 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

  • We begin this week with a Sherman’s Lagoon panel from the weekend, and dedicate it to Pete Wilson and the spate of other Christian authors who released a book in 2010 with Plan A or Plan B in the title.
  • And now the link list. But links to what? Was there anything else in the Christian blogosphere this week besides Rob Bell? And to think, most of these were from people who haven’t seen the book. The number keeps growing. Just go to Google Blog Search. Type “Rob Bell” in quotation marks. From the margin on the left side, select the tab that says “past week.”  I’m guessing by the time you read this you’re looking at over 6,000 choices, right?  If you missed this blog yesterday, it’s got quotations from the actual book.
  • And speaking of hell, I had this link as a footnote to yesterday’s post here, but don’t miss John Shore’s video which — posted just a few days before all hell broke loose (couldn’t resist) in the Christian blogosphere — really defines the present controversy.
  • And speaking of books guaranteed to shake things up: Canadian Evangelicals have long embraced radio and television broadcaster Michael Coren as one of their own, though closer observation reveals he has been, for the past few years, a practicisng Roman Catholic. That all goes much more public on April 12 with the release of Why Catholics Are Right.
  • Andrew Jones is on location in Christchurch, New Zealand and gives us the skinny (couldn’t resist) on conditions following the earthquake.  Sample: “Thousands of people went to church on Sunday, many of them gathering at outdoor locations because their own buildings were either down, condemned, unsafe, or just because people felt safe meeting outdoors.”
  • The third short film in the video series BASICS with Francis Chan is releasing this month; the publisher, David C. Cook has posted a 90-second preview at GodTube.
  • Recognize this acronym: OSAS? Maybe you know it better as Once Saved Always Saved. Here’s an Arminian who suggests that the doctrine of eternal security isn’t helpful if it causes people to “abide in sin.”
  • Forget the Boomers. Numerically speaking, the Millennials now rule. Father and son team Thom and Jess Rainer deal with the impact of this on a larger society in a new book from Broadman & Holman. Here’s the book trailer.
  • Are you an aspiring writer? Frank Viola pours out his heart to unpublished authors in a lengthy piece giving 25 specific areas of advice.
  • It’s really not a new story. Another group of worshipers has parted company with their denomination, The Anglican Church of Canada, which of course claims ownership of the land and buildings. But what is the value of all this property to a denomination that is slowly dying?
  • Music clip of the week: Here’s an artist you may have missed out on previously, Jason Gray, who combines great music with insightful lyrics, found this week at the blog I Refuse To Play Church.
  • From there, we move to a musical selection a little less profound. I’m probably the last person in the world to watch this — it’s really old — but if you need a smile today, here’s Ray Stevens’ The Mississippi Squirrel Revival.
  • Here’s a bonus John Shore XtraNormal video, this time featuring Adam and Eve, after “God’s slight overreaction.”  “…I would wring the neck of that stupid snake if only it had one.”  I think John’s found a whole new medium, though purists will argue that his take is a little XtraBiblical.
  • Here’s the link to USAToday and MediaBase which publishes a weekly list of which Christian music songs are getting the most airplay in the U.S. Bookmark it for frequent reference.
  • I suppose if you kick off with Sherman’s Lagoon, you might as well end with Marmaduke and another picture familiar to many of you which was so similar that I wonder who inspired who.  Hint: This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Marm saying his prayers, so it could go either way.

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