Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Winter Sings EP - Eden's Bridge


Eden’s Bridge is back, showing what it means to be white as snow.

The Winter Sings EP
Artist: Eden’s Bridge
Label: Independent
Length: 5 tracks/22:40 minutes

For the first time in seven years Eden’s Bridge is back with their original lineup. After recording New Celtic Worship (2005), a one-off project for Maranatha! Music, the band took a break. To my dismay, it looked like they might not record again.

What joy to learn that The Winter Sings is the first of four EPs, each representing a different season of the year, to be released in 2011. Plus, the band is at work on a brand new studio recording to be released in 2012. To hear Eden’s Bridge tell it, this is the best writing that they have ever done. That’s how it all started, a trio of songwriters in 1993 deciding to take the next step.

They are on sure footing with The Winter Sings. They capture the feel of winter while retaining their familiar sound, a mix of Celtic, pop, rock, worship, and improvisation along with Sarah Lacy Bird’s lovely voice. Some music, like the title track, builds like a steady snowfall before it quietly subsides. On “Northern Dawn” you can almost the feel chill of winter with the lonely opening sounds. 

Some past releases were praise and worship oriented. Here the band continues to grow as artists both lyrically and musically. The spiritual element is here but it’s subtle. On “White” the covering of snow becomes a metaphor for the forgiveness of sins: “My eyes are searching an expanse of floor / But there is no trace of what has gone before.” This is the most buoyant track and my personal favorite.

Those who appreciate poetry will find this rewarding. The writing is consistently beautiful: 
“It is the way of all things / That the sap that lifts / The leaves into the light will see them fly.”

Even when the tone is somber, there is a ray of hope. Three tracks refer to a child: “And the Winter sings a diff’rent song / Of a small child and beginnings.” It’s something that you can miss if not listening carefully. The lyrics are not included in the packaging but can be found at www.edensbridge.net.

“The Herald Angels” is much more obvious. This is the familiar Charles Wesley hymn with a new arrangement. Some people might not like a new melody, but this works for me. It takes something that is overly familiar and makes it new.

This closes with “The Difference.” With just piano and vocals, and stately lyrics and melody, it has the feel of a hymn.

The CD is hand-numbered and packaged in DVD-sized cardboard with original artwork. Three cards show the days for January through March. It’s a collector’s item, but the best reason to have this is the strong return for Eden’s Bridge. 

Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World - Lynne M. Baab


Baab gives careful thought to friendship and technology.

Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World
Author: Lynne M. Baab (www.lynnebaab.com)
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 185

Something like disapproval crept into my heart when an out-of-town family member announced on Facebook that they were done using it as a means of communication. It was not the decision to abandon it that bothered me; someone might do that for legitimate reasons. It was the implication that Facebook is a superficial form of interaction that has little value.

Not being comfortable with phone calls to this person, the Facebook posts provided a means for me to have some contact. I am often more comfortable communicating by email than by phone. One thing that makes Friending by Lynne Baab so praiseworthy is that she encourages readers to recognize and respond appropriately to different communication preferences.

She rises above seeing communication changes in terms of good and bad: “Making blanket critical statements about the technology used to communicate today is pretty easy to do, while discussing ways to reflect love and compassion with various new forms of communication requires more creativity. The latter is urgently needed today” (49).

Throughout her wonderful meditation on the larger theme of friendship, Baab avoids the extremes of outright rejection of new technology and uncritical acceptance. She sees the potential benefits, “These means of communication can do much more than put relationships in a holding pattern until a visit happens. Like letters in years past, they can actually build relationships and nurture intimacy” (48).

As someone who cares deeply about relationships, and is intentional about cultivating them, Baab continually shows through the use of Scripture, personal experience, and interviews with a broad spectrum of people, just how good it can be. In particular, 1 Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3 are like frameworks that she uses to make numerous applications.

This is an excellent resource on relationships, and not just on the human level. It includes our relationship with God and how the faith that comes through him is worked out in our daily interactions. This book is a keeper for any who desire more meaningful connections.

Aside from offering a wealth of wisdom gained through experience and knowledge, Baab often inspires and writes beautifully. In writing about initiative, she observes, “Love carries its own reward. When we act in love, when we take initiative to show kindness and compassion, we are mirroring the character of God as shown to us in Christ Jesus. Every time we do that, we are participating in God’s work of transformation in us. Even if our act of kindness isn’t received very enthusiastically, we will be blessed if we trust that God’s love is shaping us into the people we were created to be” (100).

The book is by the author’s own admission not an exhaustive treatment on the subject. However, she does cover numerous subjects, some that seem quite novel to me. I don’t think I have ever read about rhythm and pacing in relationships. This looks at the frequency of our contacts. It includes knowing when to pull back or end a relationship. In such cases, “Keeping compassion and kindness on the front burner, even when making a decision to step away from a friend, limits engagement in destructive practices like gossip” (149). This is important because friendships sometimes blossom again.

In the latter part of the book, Baab makes liberal use of a study contained in the 1992 book by William K. Rawlins titled Friendship Matters. The study explores contrasting components of a relationship, such as instrumentality and affection, or independence and dependence. For example, “William Rawlins believed that a friendship with a strong component of affection will be stronger than a friendship focused primarily on function (instrumentality)” (139). On the other hand, Baab reminds us of a point made by C. S. Lewis “that shared interests can function as a foundation for friendship” (139). These and other dialectic comparisons make for fascinating exploration.    

Each chapter concludes with helpful questions for reflection, journaling, discussion and action. The appendix includes more of the same, grouped by category, on topics not covered in the book.

It shows what a vast subject this can be and an important one. Relationships, as mirrored in the Trinity, are at the heart of the Christian faith.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On the Altar of Love - Downhere


As wise master builders, Downhere return to the foundation and fill the breaches.

On the Altar of Love
Artist: Downhere (www.downhere.com)
Label: Centricity
Length: 12 tracks/47:13 minutes

“‘If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’” (Psalm 11:3 ESV). On the Altar of Love, Downhere goes back to the foundations of the Christian faith.

It starts appropriately with “Only the Beginning,” a song that encourages listeners to “press ahead, forget what’s behind” for God fulfills his promises. The chorus of “Rest” comes from Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (ESV). As Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, said, “The questions that matter in life are remarkably few, and they are all answered by the words— ‘Come unto me.’ Not ‘do this, or don’t do that’; but—‘Come unto me.’” This truth makes the song special, for the Christian life is a continual “coming to Jesus.” The comfort and hope in these first two songs are found throughout the recording.

Like Nehemiah in the Old Testament, Downhere not only restores the foundation, they build the walls with the wisdom that comes from working out their faith. “Living the Dream” recognizes that often expectations don’t fit reality: “Well this is not what I imagined, but this is real, life in the trenches.” The lyrics are wrapped in a whimsical tune that even includes horns, reminiscent of the Downhere song, “Christmas in our Hearts.”

“Let Me Rediscover You” is a cry to know God, which God desires: “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24 ESV). 

I appreciate the mature, at-odds-with-the-world perspective of “For the Heartbreak”: “Thank you for the heartbreak / Thank you for the pain / Thank you for sadness on the gloomy days of rain / Thank you that the hard times have a reason and rhyme / Thank you that the healer makes the beauty shine.”

This release also highlights Downhere’s diversity. “Seek,” with its punk rock, early U2 sound, is one of the surprises. It might seem a little out of character, but I like it because it is unique. The title track features a violin, which gives it a country/bluegrass flair. This conveys the rustic and rural feel of the album cover. I wish they had done more along these lines.

The variation continues with “Glory by the Way of Shame,” a gorgeous ballad and one of the best songs. “Holy,” is a worship anthem that references the entire Trinity. Poetic images abound on “For Life,” where the band opens the book of nature to give thanks.

Downhere is working on a building whose architect is God. His people, like living stones, are being built together into a holy dwelling for His presence. As wise master builders, they return to the foundation and fill the breaches.

The Legacy - Michael Phillips

Passing on a vision of life with God The Legacy (Secrets of the Shetlands, Book 3) Author: Michael Phillips ( www.fatherofthein...