Congratulations to Brant Hansen…

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, February 24, 2009

…he of Kamp Krusty blog fame, on his radio show going national.

And here’s what’s really exciting me: Brant currently plies his radio trade for South Florida’s WAY-FM affiliate. It is natural to assume that it’s the national stations carrying WAY-FM programming that are the likely recipients of Brant’s syndicated goodness.

Including 90.3 FM in Rome, GA.

W00t.

By the way, Brant also wins “Quote of the Week” honors:

For most people, “Christian radio” isn’t on the radar. And, for most people who read this blog, “Christian radio” has an approval rating right up there with, say, polio.

But it’s what I do, and I’m thankful for that. I get to annoy, cajole, prod, anger, and — mostly — confuse people on a daily basis. Best of all, I’m talking to a lot of Good Churchgoing Folk, so I get to talk about the Kingdom of God to an unreached people group.

How true.

A draft, and some random anger

From Growing Up Goddy on January 2, 2008.  Written in the wake of BlogDad‘s departure from the Christian faith, and in the context of gathering storms on my own horizon.

Of all my writing from this era, this is the one in the most need of revisiting (and I kind of knew it at the time, hence the title).

This gets read by a different circle of people who normally see my thoughts, although I’m going to clue a couple of them in that this is out there to read. I’m after unbiased takes and feedback, instead of “Pearson there there you’re so awesome things will get better” and crap like that.

Jeff’s soul-searching post caught me a bit off-guard, but not much. If I said that some of his chief concerns – especially when it comes to the inerrancy of Scripture – weren’t bugging the tar out of me, I’d be lying. I would dearly love to have one set of answers for the big questions about scripture, but those answers simply won’t come when you read about the conquest of Israel, or prophets of Baal being slaughtered. Honestly, they won’t even come when you read about Jesus having come not to bring peace, but a sword.

At the end of the day, though, the key thing that forms the center of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that Christ was exactly who he said he was, and that the resurrection did in fact happen. The moment I buy into that, there is a host of other stuff that dwindles in importance, and life becomes a question of how to live knowing that this great teacher who lived two thousand years ago and revolutionized how an entire culture looked at religionis still alive and, we expect, is going to make his impact on this world made again.

It takes a whole load of those other questions and makes them very, very tiny, in my eyes. And it takes a whole ‘nother set of questions and makes them absolutely critical. Questions of the “how then shall we live?” variety.

And here is where the anger sets in.

If Jeff’s sole complaint was the intellectual angle, the frustration at the inconsistency of scripture, I’d happily bicker with him over the intellectual implications. Frankly, we’d have fun with it. I have no illusions about anybody winning or losing that argument, honestly; those questions demand faith decisions that you either agree to set your life upon or you don’t, and at the end of the day, you are the only one who can make a faith decision for your life.

But it’s not his only complaint. The mere existence of this blog – the mocking of Christian fiction, the explanation of elements of the culture for people who would are outside of it, for crying out loud, the whole statement of purpose – it all points to the fact that there is so much about American Christianity that simply doesn’t make sense. There may be things that are part of this culture that were thought of with the best of intentions (and he says, near and dear to his heart, “why should the devil have all the good tunes?“), but we have taken those good intentions and bastardized them relentlessly. To steal from Dwight Ozard, we have spiritualized commodity and we have we have commodified spirituality.

I’m going to begin to construct the argument that there is much about American Christianity that distracts from the person of Jesus Christ, rather than points to it. I began to type this out expecting to eventually move to my anger of the moment towards hypocritical Christians, but really, what’s the point? I’m as much of a hypocrite as anybody around me anyway, and because we exalt an Americanized, individual-glorifying mutation of the Christian [1] rather than Jesus Christ himself, we should not be surprised when Christians turn out hypocritical. The American church breeds hypocritical Christians. We are far more interested in people looking and acting the part of the True Believer than we are in the challenge of the life Jesus called us to.

This has gone on long enough, so I’ll shut up. The bottom line is, I have a hard time giving anybody grief about not wanting to have anything to do with Christianity when this is the example we’ve given them. Jesus Christ? Another matter entirely. I need the message of Jesus Christ. He paved the path to God, and I need to walk it.

But I honestly can’t help but believe doing so will require walking away from the church.

[1] Yes, that was way too easy. If you want, you can substitute this dig instead: an Americanized, individual-glorifying mutation of the Christian.

Not Just Science and Christians in academia

From Growing Up Goddy on August 20, 2007. 

I believe it’s entirely meet and appropriate to post here and say “y’know what, life intervenes, sorry ’bout that.” And it does. I won’t get into my own excuses, but they’re pretty good.

But if I’m going to toss an oar in, I’d better have something to chew on.

We were at an outlet mall in Gaffney, South Carolina, this past weekend – for reasons that involve a four-hour journey to fetch a car (see, I told you, pretty good excuses). The book store in the outlet mall was a wonderful treasure trove of old and new Christian books, almost exclusively Zondervan-published. And my wife, who knows me and loves me and understands my hardcore geekiness, dug a tome entitled Not Just Science out of the pile.

And, of course, my first response was: Egads, if I had known Zondervan was publishing textbooks

It’s not a standard softball Christian book. This is meant to be used in an undergrad curriculum, and I’d honestly be scared to turn it loose on some of my freshmen. It hits history of science, philosophy, theology, and ethics early and often, and rather than just diving in to “oooh look at all the cool questions scientists answer” from word go it sets up the issues at the interface of all the natural sciences and religious faith in general (and, of course, Christianity in particular). I’m not even close to digging into it in depth yet.

Part of the goal of such a book, in my view, is to begin to dialogue about “authentic Christian science”, and decide what that phrase might actually mean. And that’s a question that Christian higher ed institutions might see a reason to answer, and the fact that I work for one such institution [1] means that I feel like I have some responsibility to work on answering that question my own self.

Why is it important to be a “real true Christian” doing science? Is it for the sake of the diversity in scientific thought? To save the souls of the unbelievers working alongside you? For the sake of worshiping God through the analytical bent of my mind? To help rescue the mind of science from the dangers of secular liberalism (or, possibly, secular conservatism)? All of the above? None of the above?

Why is it important to be a “real true Christian” in any vocation, for that matter?

I have my own small set of answers, and they seem to be different from everybody else’s. I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong. I am confident that there’s a reason for me to be here in this place and time, though.

(Nothing too coherent, but at least a placeholder until better thoughts come along.)

[1] despite the fact that I DO NOT SPEAK FOR MY EMPLOYER; I DON’T GUARANTEE ANYTHING; I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING; I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING; I DON’T EVEN EXIST!

(Hat tip to my old postdoctoral lab. I always thought that line was hilarious. I don’t know why.)

Dispatch from the fringe of the culture

From Growing Up Goddy on August 20, 2007.  Links to the churches deleted, because of SERIOUS linkrot.

I honestly wonder if it’s fair to call me an “ex-pat” of Christian culture. But I know it’s fair to say I’m not in it.

I’m looking at a church-attending schedule consisting of attending a smallish United Methodist church on Sunday mornings, and a new non-denominational church-plant a county over on Sunday evenings. I feel embraced by the Methodist church, but I don’t entirely fit in, the denomination is slowly but surely aging and dying, and I don’t feel totally invested in it. I yearn and hunger for the spiritual reality I see among the people engaging in the plant, but that depth of feeling isn’t there.

And honestly, I’ve just told you the story of my walk with Christ. It’s a good thing I’m supposed to be an alien and a stranger in this world, and that there is a time in another place where all things will be made right and I will see the fullness of God, because every attempt I’ve made to fit in this world somewhere has fallen flat.

One of the things that the three of us regulars here have in common is education. (And Eaton, I don’t care that your formal schooling isn’t as far along as the other two of us; you’re still one of the smartest and best-read people that I know.) I think between the three of us, we cherish the life of the mind and looking at all things in our world intellectually, including the Christian faith.

And one of the things that’s marked American evangelical culture has been anti-intellectualism. Hey, Jeff, what was that you were saying earlier?

I mean, it can be funny when Fark generates faked up logos and movie posters, but they’re doing it for kicks. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that wearing a T-shirt with the Reeces Pieces logo (but with Jesus, instead of Reeces!) was a daring, culture-jamming act of evangelism. It felt dangerous. It felt cool. In retrospect it’s kind of embarrassing: with two thousand years of history, a heritage of philosophy and world-shaping culture, and an explicit responsibility to care for the poor, is Christianity really reduced to gotcha-marketing? I don’t think so, but heck if that stuff doesn’t sell…

When I claim the title “evangelical”, it implies that I think getting you to buy into the Christian faith is important. It means I really want you to buy in to this idea, however unbelievable, that a man walked 2000 years ago claiming to be God hisownself, offended the religious establishment to the point of getting himself executed – by physically being nailed to a cross – on trumped up charges, and then bodily came back to life three days later. That’s not exactly an easy thing to convince your standard intellectual skeptic of. That’s a hard idea to sell. I still don’t understand how we thought we were selling it with Tommy Hellfighter t-shirts, or for that matter, with Stryper concerts, God bless Oz Fox.

And I still don’t understand how so many churches think it’s getting across now. The old-time gospel sing is a wonderful tradition, but good luck with getting anybody under the age of 50 in the door; there are only a couple of us geeks around anymore who think that music is of any value, and it’s very near time for me to acknowledge that I’m outvoted. Never mind that, even if an outsider wanted to break into that world, those old-school churches are so chock full of country-club exclusivity, dressed up in the clothes of mock humility and proper language, that the breach is too great.

So we go to the rock band in front of the church, and we go to the worship by experience and emotion and hand-waving and, in the right place, even more spiritual mumbo-jumbo. (The discussion of tongue-speaking and prophecy is probably best left for another time and place.) If you’re especially young, it is VERY easy to get caught up in the waves and leave your sense of logic behind. But when you wake up, has anything really changed? Isn’t there the same sense of exclusivity, the same requirement to speak the right language, the same need to impress? Now, instead of impressing by your dress, you’re impressing by your degree of emotional sell-out over your love for Jesus. And if you don’t show exactly the right spiritual gifting, you can be headed for the door here too, stuck on the outside, never benefiting from the deep fellowship that the thing promises.

I guess this wandering ends with me standing with Bono. I really still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I do tend to think that there are people who want to take this person of Jesus seriously, take the implications of Jesus’ life seriously, and actually transform their lives to be something different and greater than what it was before they understood who Jesus was. And if somebody could help me find them, and if we could all agree to help one another get to that better place, that would be awesome. Because I’ve been looking for a long time, and a lot of people say they’d like to be that, but the follow-through leaves a lot to be desired.

Bob Jones University Press

Posted on the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, as well as on Growing Up Goddy, Jeff Eaton’s experiment dealing with Christian culture ex-pats, on August 15, 2007.  (I was seriously delighted that the second link Jeff featured was Brant Hansen’s old blog Kamp Krusty.) This was my first piece on the site.

Following up on Jeremy‘s post on theology (!) in mathematics curricula, I thought it only appropriate to post a Christian education publishing house’s website, and Bob Jones University Press absolutely fits the bill for being a flashpoint for those of us who grew up in the church.

Most people who would happen on a site entitled “Growing Up Goddy” would know the history of BJU, immortalized in the Steve Taylor classic “We Don’t Need No Colour Code” (“B.J. went and got a school/founded on caucasian rule/bumper sticker on his Ford/says ‘Honkies If You Love The Lord'”). While Bob Jones University no longer has a policy against interracial dating, many of its Fundamentalist distinctions remain (most notably for me as a science teacher, the efforts of the school to supportcreationist ideas). So you might be understandably nervous about their homeschooling press.

Surprisingly (depending on your choice of curricula), it’s not awful. I have actually taught out of BJU’s high school chemistry text. It does have a great deal of the language about understanding God’s nature from the chemical world that set Jeremy off, and it doesn’t do what I’d really like for a Christian text in the sciences to do – point out people of faith who made key contributions to chemistry. (Of course, if you did that, you’d have to mention Michael Faraday, and based on my loose understanding of the history, Faraday’s Sandemanian sect was no friend of the Baptists, and that might be a whole new can of worms.)

But much of the fundamental chemistry, the book does well, especially the descriptive stuff, such as the periodic law and the nature of chemical bonding and chemical structure. I actually had homeschooled high-school students deeper into VSEPR theory off of that book than I was able to get college students on a competing college textbook, despite the fact that I only met the homeschooled students once a week (as opposed to three times per week for college students).

And here’s where it’s BJU Press (and most other homeschool publishing houses) FTW: I defy you to find another high school chemistry text for $37. Anywhere. That was the single biggest reason the homeschool cooperative I worked with adopted the book in the first place.

As long as they pound the competition on cost-effectiveness and pay a measure of attention to standard curricula, hyper-conservative presses like Bob Jones are going to continue to dominate the homeschooling world.

(Now, if the only text you’d ever seen was the biology text, I might understand you having a slightly less accomodating view.)

Still plugging away

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, March 16, 2008.  Tons of links, so obviously, have linkrot to fix.

I’ve not gone anywhere but into semester preparation. I’ve had several things across my desk, though, and I need to make sure you’re appropriately aware of them.

In order of free stuff received from the particulars:

  • Last month I received an e-mail out of the clear blue from a guy I was a raving fan of in my collegiate youth, and who I’d exchanged e-mails with in my grad-school geekdom. His name is Tim McAllister, and he fronted a couple of groups called Flock 14 and World Theatre back in the dark ages of alternative Christian music. He said he’d send me copies of his new disc if I’d like them.My response was something vaguely close to ARE YOU KIDDING ME I TURN DOWN COPIES OF FREE MUSIC PRETTY MUCH NEVER SEND SEND SEND PLEEZE PLEEZE PLEEZE THANX THANX THANX.

    So I’ve got this album Strong Tower and it pretty much has me giddy. A large part of the giddiness is, I feel like I’ve got the follow-up World Theatre album in my hands. There were so many contemplative piano-and-guitar songs on that album that had been stuck in my head for 15 years or so, I felt like I had been waiting my whole life to hear “Soon The Morning Comes” and “Strong Tower.” But I hadn’t been waiting that long to hear “Photograph” and “Take The Time”, and those songs have taken over my consciousness as well.

    And the whole album is…well, it’s an ALBUM. It’s a consistent, creative effort, from beginning to end. That’s something you don’t get every day, anymore.

    Tim is about as indie as it gets (the CD itself is being sold by CD Baby, and he’s also got an mp3 store of his own for you to give him money directly), so he’s not going to get plugs from the apparatus, so this word of mouth thing is about how we do it. (Plus, he sent me free stuff. And he swaps e-mails with me. Look, if you’re going to buy me off, it’s JUST THAT EASY, people.) And he put together a video-thing for Strong Tower, but he hadn’t posted it on YouTube, and I need an excuse to get a YouTube account, so…

Permalink for Tim McAllister “Strong Tower” video, in case the Facebook importing ever works again.

  • Dear old BlogDad has set up one of his new internet toys, and given me an account on it, and I’m wondering how it’s going to pan out. He’s dubbed it Growing Up Goddy (subtitled “christian culture expatriates”) and says it’s for “reminiscing, dissecting, respecting, and laughing at the idiosyncrasies of American culture-Christianity.” And honestly, once upon the time, I was hip-deep into that culture – and terribly, terribly frustrated by it. So I’m going to see (if I can manage it, with the new semester kicking off and all) if I can contribute some of those ongoing frustrations, and maybe even mine a few old ones too for yuks.
  • I have surely not mentioned lately that Kamp Krusty is consistently full of unfiltered win.
  • I have also not mentioned lately that my pastor is a dork.
  • Oh, and there’s this new player in Major League Soccer. Name of Beckham. Apparently people have heard of him, and stuff. I saw him get a run-out as Los Angeles lost to DC United last night, and apparently the guy has a bum ankle, but he’s honestly not bad. He can deliver a sweet free kick, and there were a couple of times he found guys in-stride with his long passes. It sucks that Los Angeles might be too far gone in the league this year for him to help out, but if he sticks around, he could make the next few years interesting for Los Angeles…
  • …but he’ll never be as big a hero to me as this guy is.

Permalink for a highlight reel featuring nothing short of the greatest American striker ever, and I still get chills every time I see the two goals starting at the 1:58 mark, because I saw both those goals live.)

Mike Warnke, revisited

Originally from the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, July 6, 2007; crossposted to Growing Up Goddy on August 17, 2007.  Linkrot fixed left and right.

Here’s my moment of oh-dear-God-I’m-getting-OLD of the day:

Fifteen years ago, Cornerstone Magazine published an expose’ on “Christian comedian” Mike Warnke.

That very possibly is not a big deal to you. It’s huge to me. As Davan MacIntire puts it (in a comic that I identify way too much with), “I didn’t have a lot of options when it came to entertainment during my ‘I Love Jesus So Much I Annoy My Christian Parents’ stage. It was basically Warnke or Carman, and Warnke was the one who didn’t sell $150 tour jackets.”

(Apparently, Carman still does good business.)

There’s a great deal I could write here for the uninitiated, but I think the best person to tell you about who Warnke was is a just-shy-of-21-year-old USENET poster from 1992, who went by the moniker “clueless chuck”:

Mike Warnke is/was a prominent Christian comedian who based his entire ministry on his assertion that he was at one point in time a high priest in a Satanic cult and he turned his life completely over to the Lord. He wrote a book over this “experience” called The Satan Seller (which became a prominent reference text in many circles on how Satanic cults operate) and gave his testimony in many locations over the last 20 or so years, winning many people for the Lord.

It would appear that Mike Warnke’s testimony is a lie.

In retrospect, I can totally see how I should have been skeptical of the joker from day one. Let this be known up front: the dude was FUNNY, and funny in ways you had to hear and see to get. He could DELIVER a punch line with perfect timing, tell a brilliant story to capture you, and then (and this is key, I’m finding) turn the story on a dime and go into full-on preach mode. When I was a college-radio DJ and VERY young in my Christian life, Mike Warnke skits and stories were a staple of my radio programs for a time, because they could make you laugh AND make you think. Or, perhaps, manipulate your thoughts.

I think part of why I didn’t see through Warnke’s act and start asking questions was because I was so young, though. I mean, you can see my youth in my first USENET post about Warnke; I talk about “one of my heroes, Mike Warnke, a Christian comedian who God has built an incredible ministry on over the past few years…” It’s so easy to take common American hero-worship and spin the Christianese on it to make it sound like something more profound and important than hero-worship. You can so easily get wrapped up in the larger-than-life preacher or comedian or artist and forget that he’s just this guy, and guys screw up. And in American celebrity – even celebrity in the Church – so much of the life they live is behind closed doors, and you have no way of knowing who’s straight-up and who’s screwed up.

As I think about it, Mike Warnke’s downfall was a defining moment in my early Christian walk. It took the dangers of celebrity and placed them front and center in a way I wasn’t expecting, and forced me to respond to them.

And it did something else – it put in front of me honest, thinking Christians who were willing to take time to talk to a 20-year-old punk explain to him, in words of one syllable, what exactly they were doing and why, in a way that has never ceased to amaze me.

One of the people who responded to my initial call-for-information on the rec.music.christian newsgroup was Eric Pement, who was at the time editor to Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein, the authors of the original Cornerstone Magazine article. I immediately struck up an e-mail conversation with Eric, and explained (in very schoolboy ways) why I was skeptical – and he wrote back, and was very gracious in pointing me towards free access to the article, its sidebars, and other documents (and I’m still in awe of the 170 footnotes Cornerstone mag published with the article…the thing was a MASTERPIECE of documentation).

And what really hit me was when I wrote back, after doing all the reading and coming to the conclusion that the Cornerstone article was right, how Eric responded with RIDICULOUS humility. My recollection after 15 years might be bad (it’s a bit difficult to save e-mails for that long), but I got the sense that even with that weight of evidence, he’d gladly retract the story the next day if somebody would come forward with concrete evidence that Warnke really had led a coven of 1500, or been ANY level of decadent he’d claimed to be in The Satan Seller, instead of a standard late 60’s square.

He was just as much of a skeptic as a scientist was supposed to be, in other words; he had his hypothesis, and he sought out any way that it might be wrong. He was a brilliantly critical journalist. And he was far more theologically sound than anybody I had ever communicated with across the internets.

In retrospect, there’s a lot about the type of Christian I’ve become at this point in my life that was informed by those e-mails with Eric Pement, and I really owe the guy a measure of thanks. (I stumbled across Eric’s homepage while typing this up. It’s kind of cool for the geek in me.)

There are probably more stories to be told about my former life in USENET, but this has been on my mind all day and pretty much needed to get into words.

Cornerstone – what I’m missing

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, June 27, 2007.  If Jeff’s article on Cornerstone from 2007 is still extant, I’d appreciate if somebody’d say so.

In my crashed-out stupor this weekend, I forgot to note that an article by my good friend Jeff Elbel appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, on the topic of Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois. This is where I’d really like to be this week, both for the sake of the music and for the sake of my dear friends who are live-blogging the fest this week.

It’s a great article. And I’m not just saying that because Jeff called me and my elitist-mates asking if we could help out with the “For every rocker there’s a Christian counterpart” section at the bottom of the page. (I don’t think Jeff would have written that if his editors hadn’t asked him to; Christian music counterparts tend to be a dumb idea, especially when you have people like Flyleaf, Relient K and Family Force 5 who are pretty big in their own right; that said, it worked out AMAZINGLY well. I’m still in awe of calling Tess Wiley a mix of Shawn Colvin, Regina Spektor, and Liz Phair – that is just about DEAD ON. If you’ve never heard Tess before: here, have some.)

I’m also not just saying that because Jeff asked me if I could come up and help him out with mediastuff surrounding his band’s show at the fest, as if he liked having me around and stuff.

By the way, Jeff Elbel is an amazing human being. By the way, Jeff’s band is called Ping, and you can buy tracks from their latest album The Eleventh Hour Storybook on their MySpace page (including “Bark Along With Cody”, featured on the Dr. Demento radio program!), or you can order all of Ping’s albums through Marathon Records.

By the way: PLUG PLUG PLUG.

Atmosphere

I got one chance to cover Cornerstone Festival on my last occasion attending, in 2006; what you read below was originally posted on the 2006 Cornerstone Festival blog on July 6, it no longer exists, and so the fact that I reposted this on the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog on June 22, 2007 is probably the last record of me having taken that gig.  So many of my other friends participated in the live-coverage blog, and it’s hard to know that the end of Cornerstone Festival in 2012 means I’ll probably never get a chance to work with them again in a capacity like this.

I fixed some linkrot, but probably not enough.

My postscript to the repost intro:  “Remember, as you read through this whole enterprise: this is a snapshot from the past. Any resemblance to this year’s fest, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

The word stuck in my head, as I leave Wednesday and go into Thursday, is atmosphere.

I had a question yesterday as I did a bit of wandering about the grounds. One of the things that is has really sprouted like mushrooms since the last time I was here in 2001 is what I hear referred to as the “generators” – the little tents, and sometimes no tents at all, that are set up just so a smaller band can play and get some attention. (That’s theoretically the purpose of the New Band Showcase / Underground Stage / whatever it gets called these days, but there are only so many slots to play, and there are SO MANY bands.) I have no idea of the official status of these stages; I can’t imagine the artistic band that’s playing Encore 1 can be terribly happy about the thrash metal growlers right next door, and the acoustic people playing NoisyChristians.com certainly aren’t (he attests from personal experience). But if there is a truly creative band doing their thing, that’s potentially one of the things that makes the fest for me. Hard question.

The problem is, most of those bands playing those “generators” don’t grab you at all. One of them sounds just like another, and I want to offer respect to all these guys putting together their own things, but dang it, how many random screamo bands can you listen to without getting a headache? I don’t want random screamo, I want something like The Juliana Theory (so sorry they had to call it a day) to smack me upside the head – yeah, Brett could scream when circumstances demanded it, but the melodies and the sound they generated was absolutely unmistakable. When you were listening to Juliana, you could tell it was Juliana.

All of this setup to say: I had something of a revelation while watching Bernard last night.

I’m not convinced that Bernard is that special technically. There were times in their set when they just boiled down their playing to the absolute simplest concepts. A chord on a keyboard, then a single note struck. Repeat several times. My daughter could do that, technically. Other times a guitar solo would borrow almost exactly from something you could hear a band like Dredg do on the radio. Because they only have three instrumentalists, they canned a great deal of the background stuff – and there are times in the audience where you don’t know what to do when you’re hearing music, but the present band isn’t playing.

And, with all that, Bernard’s set was one of the best I saw yesterday. Why?

Because Bernard has a sound. They have that distinctive thing that, for lack of a better word, I’m going to call atmosphere. It becomes apparent, while they’re constructing their song, that the song is building towards something – repeatedly I heard one of their songs start as a simple thing, add layers, build towards a climax, and then just blow at you with a WALL of sound. They know what they want to be, and they get there.

It didn’t work all of the time, but when it did work, it was absolutely phenomenal.

And at that point, I really thought about everything else I was seeing that was working, and started putting it into the context of atmosphere.

Take Jonezetta. What I heard going into the show was that these guys were something of a Franz Ferdinand clone or a Killers clone. And I could see how somebody who wasn’t looking for something could walk into the room and say “Yeah, that sounds like ‘Take Me Out’, that sounds like ‘Somebody Told Me’…” (What I thought, when I heard the first guitar riffs, was “bah! This is “10,000 Years” by Tim McAllister and Flock 14 all the WAY! I am so old.) All of that, at the end of the day, matters not – the band wasn’t trying to actively sound like anybody in any way other than employing any means necessary to get you off your feet and dancing around. (Was it Jonezetta who had the train of people marching around the tent getting their groove on in so many cool ways? Hey, I think it was!) Pulling in all of those tricks, a riff gathered here and there, the rhythmic pounding and pounding to set a pulsating beat, and even the old guys like me find ourselves doing that thing I can only describe as…erm…um…well, let’s just move on. [1]

As much else as I would like to have seen at that Relevant stage, because I am an older gentleman, and because I got into this Christian music scene by listening to bands like Daniel Amos and The Choir andthe 77s, I had to go to Gallery stage, set up the chair in the tent, and settle in for the night to hear old beloved songs that I only get to hear live every five years or so. Both the Lost Dogs and the 77s sets were outstanding, of course – they did put on “the most professional shows in Bushell, Illinois” – and others have already commented appropriately on this.

But this got me thinking about atmosphere as well. The Lost Dogs are Americana, thorugh and through. The music they’re doing and the style of their play fit into the great traditions of simpler rock and country. (Terry Taylor even joked last night that it was their dream to write a hit country song, and “If You Love Here (You’d Be Home By Now)” was just that dream. Agreed, agreed.) The 77s, in the incarnation they live in these days, are a blues rock band, and progressively turning more and more into a jam band with each passing year. (This causes great consternation because this consternation never crosses the path of songs like “Do It For Love” and “This Is The Way Love Is” often enough, but that debate is best saved for another day.) With the song that each set started with – the Dogs started with “Wild Ride”, the Sevens started with “Perfect Blues” – the tone for each set was established, and you knew what was coming. And you knew that nothing else played at this fest was quite like this, and you were so much the better for being there.

(Even if you were missing Underoath at Main Stage. I fully intend to be at Main Stage today. There will be Main Stage blogging. Thanks for your patience.)

A couple more things about the 77s and Michael Roe. I can’t give that man enough props for basically playing two separate shows in one night, over the course of three and a half hours, doing lead guitar for both, and having his creative juices flowing thoroughly through both. If you never have seen Mike Roe play, find a way to do so, even if you have to drive a few hundred miles to get there. It is well worth it.

And I know the man has heard the aforementioned consternation, and wishes that he could get people to love the stuff he’s doing right now half as much as they love the stuff he did 20 years ago. It has to get tiring to put out work that is what you love and adore and have a whole fleet of fans who do nothing but ask “Are you gonna play ‘The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life’?”

But “The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life” did get played last night. Twice. Once during the Dogs’ set, with Terry Taylor on lead vocals, and then once sung by Michael Roe himself.

And then – wonder of wonders – when it was time for the encore, Roe shifted gears on the atmosphere one more time, went from blues rock to nostalgia time, and broke out “I Can’t Get Over It” from what is, in my honest opinion, one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

And then, one more. Despite myself, I found myself pleading to myself. “Come on, man. You know you want to. You know you NEED to. Come on…”

And, as brightly as I ever remember, the guitar riff to “Do It For Love.”

YES!

I think I dreamed last night leaving a 77’s fan in 1986, walking away from Main Stage, singing repeatedly “do it for lo-o-o-ove, do it for lo-o-o-ove…”

Okay, whatever pretense I had of being a serious music critic is now officially shot.

[1] I simply could not type “getting jiggy with it” on the Cornerstone blog. I apologize for even THINKING it.