Monday, November 25, 2013

I love Bradley Hathaway and his new album, "How Long"

I wish I knew more about music. Maybe then I could write better album reviews, and maybe then I could begin to explain just why it is that Bradley Hathaway has become one of my favorite musicians over the past few years.

Let’s back up. 

I first heard of Hathaway when a poet friend of mine shared his book All the Hits So Far with me, along with the CD which contained his spoken performances of his poetry. It was pretty cool, if a bit odd – I will always remember “I will windmill kick you in the face!” haha

Anyway, when I found out Hathaway was putting out a music album a few years back, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I found myself thoroughly enjoying his debut Mouth Full of Dust and his follow-up A Thousand Angry Panthers EP and A Storm is Coming single. They’re the kind of songs that really grow on you each time you listen. 

I repeatedly found myself coming back to his songs without really being able to explain why. Recently, I heard it said of Johnny Cash that his vocals, guitar skills, and lyrics wouldn’t have stood out if each taken separately, but when they were combined they produced the magic that was Cash. I feel similarly about Hathaway. If you’re looking for auto-tuned vocals and slick radio tunes, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for some down-to-earth, simple, raw, honest music, Hathaway is gold.
How Long

So when I heard Hathaway was coming out with a new album, I pre-ordered it without having a single preview of note or lyric. Yes, that is how much of a fan I am. And How Long did not disappoint. In fact, it actually surpassed my expectations. Hathaway keeps getting better.

While there are some stand-out songs, this album really deserves to be listened to from start to finish. How Long is a series of story-telling songs related to love – some are happy, some are sad, some are in-between. The acoustic folk sound of this album is fantastic – mellow and soothing at times, peppy and upbeat at others. We are even treated to a couple spoken word songs.

Of course, for me, it’s the lyrics that really draw me in – yes, framed in the fantastic sounds of the songs, but the lyrics always take center-stage for me. Each song feels like a story you could sink into, have it wash over you, explore it, and discover something beautiful.

How Long is an album I will return to again and again. I invite you to join me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

“Finally Free” by Heath Lambert

In the opening line of Finally Free, Heath Lambert makes it very clear: “This book is not about pornography.” While the book does deal with the issue of pornography and other sexual sins, the book is not about those things. Instead, it is about something far more important: Jesus and His power to free you from sin. Finally Free offers a solution to the pornography problem that, while intensely practical, is rooted at every step in the grace and power of Jesus.

Unlike many resources and books in the genre of fighting sexual sins, I felt that this book put the emphasis where it is truly most needed: on our relationship with Jesus. Practical tactics and strategies are well and good – and this book does include them – but they will ultimately fail unless they are built upon the foundation of a relationship with Jesus. Lambert does an excellent job establishing Jesus as the foundation of his book and then building up from there his “eight gospel-centered strategies for overcoming pornography.” His presentation is straightforward, clear, and engaging – a good balance of both challenging and encouraging the reader.

I would note one area of slight disagreement. In the chapter that discusses pride as the root problem of those who look at pornography, Lambert states that those who teach that this addiction is an attempt to fill an emptiness or loneliness in their life misunderstand the nature of the problem. He asserts, instead, that the core of the problem has to do with selfish ambition. While I really appreciated his insights and agree that selfishness is the heart of the issue, I think he misunderstand the connection between emptiness (a lack of true love inside us) and our own selfish desires. Rather than being mutually exclusive, they actually are two sides of the same coin – in our attempt to find unconditional love to satisfy our existence, we turn towards selfish and destructive sources, rather than to Jesus, who alone can both satisfy and transform us into loving, unselfish beings. Perhaps my disagreement is just a matter of terminology, but I wanted to mention it nonetheless.

Overall, if I had to recommend one book specifically on the topic of pornography, it would be this book. More than any other book on this issue that I’ve read, Finally Free hits the target, emphasizing the balanced nature of Christian victory: active engagement with Christ in overcoming sins in our lives while fully depending on His grace to provide the power to both forgive and cleanse our hearts and actions.

I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.