Thoughts on Honduras 2013

Distributing water filters at the Baxter Institute in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

I recently got back from a mission trip to Honduras, my third time in as many years.  The group I go with has decided to distribute as many water filters as possible in the country where many lack access to safe drinking water.  This approach has proven very effective to restoring the health of whole households, and even neighborhoods, as those who receive the systems share the blessing of pure water.  It vastly reduces illness and malnutrition caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  We partner with a clinic in Tegucigalpa and an excellent team of local Hondurans who help us find places and people to serve.

If there is any such thing as a routine trip, this one felt like it in some ways.  Our team of locals did such an amazing job of organizing and planning that virtually everything went off without a hitch.  With so many moving pieces trying to come together from thousands of miles away, there are usually bound to be a few snags.  This time there were no miscommunications, everyone showed up when and where they were supposed to, and even the weather cooperated perfectly.  It was almost strange, but it led to some more time for reflection.

Early on in our trip, as we were preparing filters at the clinic, I noted a large map of Honduras with some dots on it.  They were marking the locations of churches planted by Ambassadors for Christ, the organization which runs the clinic.  I had always assumed when we took two or three hour car rides outside the city that we were traveling to far reaches of the country, but the dots denoting the impact of the program spanned only a few inches on the enormous map, probably five feet across.  My ignorance of Honduras geography suddenly hit me like a punch in the gut.  The diligent efforts of the local AFC team and numerous American brigades had probably reached only a hundred or so miles into the rough countryside terrain, where living conditions are often the worst.  I felt so small.  Our work felt so small.  I imagined deep reaches of mountainous jungles unreachable by vehicles, children chronically sick when a simple $60 filter could change their life.  And that’s just Honduras.  There’s the rest of Central and South America.  And Africa.  And much of Asia.  We’ll never fix this, I thought.

As we traveled about the country during the week, I noted numerous large-scale projects that seemed a bit out of place in the developing nation.  There was a huge dam, electricity-generating windmills, and other civil engineering feats.  Each one bore the flag of another country or government.  Italy had assisted with the dam.  We were told Germany installed the windmills.  The European Union had chipped in on infrastructure projects.  To me, this made the reality of the situation even more overwhelming.  The largest and most powerful governments in the world have poured resources into the country on a scale that common man, and even the global church could not match.  Still, the poverty persists.  I’m glad for the way those governments have aided the people of Honduras, but it seems their projects stand as testaments to the failure of the secular humanist worldview.  Powerful governments with seemingly unlimited resources cannot fix their plight or the human condition.  I was reminded of these lyrics from “All the World Is Mad” by Thrice:

We can’t medicate man to perfection again
We can’t legislate peace in our hearts
We can’t educate sin from our souls
It’s been there from the start
But the blind lead the blind into bottomless pits
Still we smile and deny that we’re cursed
But of all our iniquities
Ignorance may be the worst

I understand that suffering in the world is far from a new thing.  My generation may even be poised better than any other in history to eradicate it, but without a coherent worldview, without Christ, there is no hope.  The human heart is broken, selfish, and corrupt.  We see this in the life of every person.  Christ showed us how to truly be human, how to properly bear the image of God.  “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:40 – 42).  The way of Jesus is the only hope for humanity, and I am more convinced of this now than ever before, even as I admit my woeful shortcomings.  Only in a world where everyone strives to live as Jesus would true redemption be possible.  Throwing money at problems does not eradicate corrupt government, economic exploitation, and evil intent.  The grace of Jesus in transforming the human heart, however, can and will bring Heaven to earth.

In conclusion, I’m certainly glad to have gone and spent time in Honduras.  Nothing I did personally scratched the surface of the issues gripping the country, but God’s church in action brings small slices of the Kingdom to the lives of people.  Yes, there are 135 more long-lasting water filters in use, but it is my hope that they are more than buckets, tubes, and better health.  I hope they are a glimpse of God’s love to the people and communities who received them, and that love begins healing Honduras and our world.

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News – posting reviews for IndieVisionMusic.com

Indie Vision Music

 

There’s a bit of news.  I’ve been accepted as a contributor over at Indie Vision Music, a site that just happens to cover many of the bands I dearly love.  There I will be posting album reviews, news, and potentially interviews covering a variety of alternative Christian artists.  I’ve been following closely since early 2010, and I have discovered a ton of great music that I otherwise never would have heard of.  It’s an honor to  have the opportunity to give back something to a community that has enriched my life so much.

That being said, most of my future album reviews will appear there, though I will still continue to do Throwback Thursdays, book reviews, deep thoughts, and other typical fare for the blog.  I may occasionally post links to reviews I’ve done there, but I’ll keep that to a minimum.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the news.  I’ve been out of the country on a mission trip, but regular posts will continue soon.

Throwback Thursday – “Hey, I’m a Ghost” by Sullivan

Hey I'm a Ghost by Sullivan

It’s summer, so I felt like reminiscing about an album that reminds me of the best summer ever, summer 2006.  That summer featured some epically long hair, playing shows with Joe and Kyle, and Hey, I’m a Ghost by Sullivan.

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to go out to Best Buy and pick up the compact disc that June.  Because the band was on Tooth and Nail records, I had listened to some of their singles when the album originally came out in January of that year.  At that time, I just found it weird.  I seriously thought a girl was singing at the beginning of one song because Brooks Paschal’s falsetto was so breathy.  But for some reason, the music connected with me over that hot, lively summer break.

Sullivan’s music is an interesting mix of pop-punk, emo, and even some post-hardcore elements.  There is no screaming, but the high-pitched, strained vocals emit passion.  Guitar parts aren’t necessarily complex, but they’re not mind-numbingly simple, either.  Sections feature clean picking leading up to rock-style breakdowns, while yet others judiciously use effects and an e-bow to create atmosphere.  Every so often, lead licks will surface to remind the listener that this is not just a bunch of kids rocking out in a garage.  The drums are mixed up-front and aggressively, but not unpolished.  It really is a fascinating balance of raw youthfulness and professional musicianship.

Brooks’s vocals deserve a write-up all to themselves.  While the music is interesting, the singing is even more so.  He spans from delicate falsetto to emotional singing to passionate yelling, often within a minute of performance.  He stays on key enough to exhibit talent, but pushes the line enough to stay edgy and raw.  It’s intriguing to hear the different shades of vocals as the songs flow, and I’m probably still a fan of his voice to this day if only for the diversity he can deliver.

Song structures are not unpredictable, but they are often dynamic.  Again, it “feels” like pop-punk, but at the same time it doesn’t.  I think that’s one of the things that attracted me to Sullivan.  They are unabashedly young and energetic, but not simplistic.  That’s exactly what I felt like I needed that summer in the midst of my college years as I, too, clung to youth and became more of a complex individual.  At the same time, the production on this album is absolutely stellar thanks to Matt Goldman.  Every drop of potential is squeezed out of these songs, and it makes for a very enjoyable listen.

Lyrically, the album doesn’t cover anything too deep.  The typical fare from relationships to loneliness makes appearances, though rare songs like “The Charity of Saint Elizabeth” approach deeper topics, such as the death of a sick child, at a distance.  There are also several references to abusive relationships, primarily from the perspective of the good guy who lost the girl to an abusive jerk.  These, too, lend a different weight to the album than something like Dashboard Confessional of the same era might have.  My favorite passages are those that are dramatically emo.  Everyone needs some music to express feelings like those in the mantra of the opening track:

I can’t be a better boy
Than the one you had before
For that I apologize
For that I apologize

At least I needed such words during that season of my life.  There’s still something about the raw yet polished juxtaposition of this album that allows me to enjoy it on warm summer nights, reflecting on the turns my life has taken.  I may even hum along with some passages that still resonate within deep chambers of my heart.  Unfortunately, the band released another less-than-stellar album, then broke up, but perhaps they were together for such a time as my quintessential summer of 2006.

You can find the passionate yet refined emo of Hey, I’m a Ghost on Spotify and Amazon.

Review – “The Hurry and the Harm” by City and Colour

The Hurry and The Harm by City and Colour

City and Colour is definitely a band I use to find common ground with others.  Few can complain about the delicate vocals of Dallas Green, and the more recent efforts have tinged toward more of a classic sound.  The Hurry and the Harm is no exception.  Coming almost two years to the date after the release of Little Hell, the new release picks up right where it left off.

I’ll start by saying that there’s really nothing to complain about in this album.  There were no huge surprises stylistically, and everything from the performance to the production quality is excellent.  At the same time, I didn’t really find anything that connected with me or got me excited.  There are good songs, to be sure, but there are also songs that don’t stand out to me in any way because they sound like music that’s all been made before.  It’s still distinctively City and Colour, but traces remind me of bygone eras.  Fans of artists that gravitate toward sounds of the past will find lots to like on this album, while those hoping for something more modern or innovative may only find other aspects to appreciate.

Most of the songs implement a full-band sound similar to something one might hear in the mid-seventies.  Relatively simple acoustic guitar foundations support bass, electric guitar, and less-than-tight-sounding drums, all while the breathy vocals of Dallas float on top.  As stated, the performances are nearly flawless, but that comes as no surprise.  I believe Green is one of the premier male vocalists of our generation.  Some songs feature a simpler sound with only acoustic guitars and vocals, which come as a welcome break, in my opinion.  Finger-picking sections make up for the somewhat simple-sounding chords that are used elsewhere.  I miss the rich, even dissonant guitar work that characterized City and Colour’s earlier work, but the full-band composition adds complexity and dynamics in a different way.

If I had to choose one thing that I truly enjoyed about the album, it would be the lyrics.  Dallas Green has always had a knack for exploring serious topics.  I’ve always appreciated his ponderings even though I’m relatively certain we hold different world views.  Words like those from the title track exemplify his style of reflective songwriting:

But why are we so worried
More about the hurry
And less about the harm?

Always trying to conquer
That which does not offer
Anything more than a broken heart
Oh, what a cost for love

Other songs similarly explore questions of the human condition.  Personally, I didn’t find as much of a balance between concrete, heart-rending lyrics and deep questioning as in previous records, but I’m an emo-kid at heart; it will be hard to top Sometimes in my eyes.  Still, I applaud them for exploring their artistry and making the music they want to.  I always admire that more than a band that repeatedly churns out whatever sells.

In conclusion, I give The Hurry and the Harm three out of five stars.  It’s certainly a well-executed album, but I didn’t find anything to particularly love.  It will be a nice addition to a mix of City and Colour songs, and some standout tracks such as “The Lonely Life” and “The Golden State” could grow on me over time.  For anyone who is a fan of Dallas Green, it’s an easy decision to go ahead and pick it up.

You can find The Hurry and the Harm on Spotify and Amazon.