Album Review: THE BLOOD by Kevin Max (12/26/07)

The standard Mac dictionary software on my ibook offers multiple definitions of Gospel including the following: (1) the teaching or revelation of Christ; (2) a thing that is absolutely true; (3) a set of principles or beliefs; (4) a fervent style of black American evangelical religious singing, developed from spirituals sung in Southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches.
The third full-length solo release from former dc Talk member Kevin Max epitomizes each of these definitions. My intent for posting my a review this album does as well: The Blood, as an album, is truly good news that I need to share.
I am not one who enjoys vanilla (unless it is Ben & Jerry’s which squelches my heartburn) and, as a father of two and a teacher, I don’t have a lot of extra time or energy to devote to the homogenized sap that permeates the majority of radio playlists – Christian or not. The latest solo offering form Kevin Max, however, is worth taking in. With The Blood Kevin Max has effectively delivered a high-potency project that is pure in content with no preservatives.
In a nutshell, The Blood showcases Kevin Max’s penetratingly unique voice, the core, redemptive message of Jesus Christ, and reverence for the roots of American rock music. Each track has unique characteristics which allow it stand alone amidst a loaded album that contains no fillers.
For people mainly used to the higher end of Max’s vocal range, the first track, “The Old Rugged Cross,” comes across as a stark, pleasing surprise. It immediately reminded me of Johnny Cash’s My Mother’s Hymnbook partly because of the surprising Cash-esqe growl and also because of the simple guitar, vinyl-static arrangement.
“The Cross” features a reunion of sorts with former cohorts Toby McKeehan and Michael Tait lending vocals to the Prince cover to create a track that, while featuring a characteristically dc Talk sound, accomplishes a direct and personal delivery of the gospel message that is the common thread of the album and the foundation of the Christian faith.
“Run On For A Long Time,” which features former American Idol finalist Chris Sligh, is an uptempo track (complete with horns) that I can’t seem to get out of my head. The song is virtually impossible not to sing along to when it is playing. While the rest of the tracks are all unique in character, they all exhibit an authentic, often rural gospel flare.
“Trouble of the World,” “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole,” and “They Won’t Go When I Go,” all exude sincerity-laden, solitary, personal testimony of the redeeming nature of the gospel of Christ. The simplicity of the musical arrangements in each song only amplify the power of the message being communicated.
Of the two most characteristically country tracks on the album “One Way – One Blood” (featuring Joanne Cash) is the most satisfying because of what I perceive to be a more personal, less-produced flavor in comparison to “Up Above My Head,” which features Amy Grant and Vince Gill. I admit that this perception may have come as a result of the sing-along-style outro that “One Way – One Blood” closes the album with.
“People Get Ready,” (featuring Erica Campbell from Mary Mary) and “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” are two tracks that make me just want to close my eyes and sway with the choir while I sing along with my hands raised.
Kevin Max has achieved the mark of a true artist on this album, in my opinion, by so successfully and convincingly displaying his range of style and ability on a selection of songs that are as different in style as they are similar in message. While only one of the tracks on The Blood is an original, I believe that the message of The Blood is what validates the authenticity Kevin Max as a person and an artist and is what, inevitably, carried over to shape an authentic collection of recordings that can be appreciated by the masses and needs to be heard everyone.

The Blood

Broken Christmas

It was just a couple of hours ago that I was watching “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” with my four-year-old daughter and I realized another way to answer a question that a friend asked me months ago. In reference to a quote from Brennan Manning (“To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace,”) he asked, “What does it mean to be broken?”

Part of the answer is at least hinted at by the process of Scrooge facing his past, present, and future demons, but, realizing he deserves nothing more than death, but, then realizing that he’s been given a second chance which he takes advantage of, humbly looking beyond himself and recognizing the needs of others.

Being broken is when we come face to face with the stark reality that we are self-centered, self-righteous, damned people. It is when we realize that all that we have that is good has been given to us and, in a knee-jerk, natural, and instinctual response, we desire nothing more than to be able to give to and serve others.

The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death grip to one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything…They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it! All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn’t know who was holding them. Their exposure to spiritual, emotional, and physical depravation has weaned them from themselves and made them reexamine all they once thought important. The shipwrecked come to the stable seeking not to possess, but to be possessed, wanting not peace or a religious high, but Jesus Christ.
                    ~Brennan Manning, Devotionals for Ragamuffins, Pp.357

I wish you a broken Christmas.
I wish you a broken Christmas.
I wish you a broken Christmas,
and a broken new year.

In The Bleak Midwinter

There are Christmas songs and hymns that I have heard for years that, in the past year or two, it seems, I’m just coming to really appreciate. I guess it comes from the fact that I’m now attending a church on a weekly basis and am being exposed to lyrics in the hymnals when we sing in unison as a part of the worship service. In The Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti (1872) was originally intended as a poem and is rightly characterized by striking imagery and extremely relevant sentiment. It effectively bridges, for me, the abstractness of the story, and the reality of his arrival to redeem us from the meaningless, self-centered lives that we all so naturally would lead without Him.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day, Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay; Enough for Him, whom angels fall before, The ox and ass and camel which adore.Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshipped the beloved with a kiss. What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christmas In Perspective

December 15-18, 2007

Its difficult, for me, to keep my mind from wandering down the road that, instead of having Christmas light-decorated houses, is cluttered with the contradictions of the Christmas season. Even though I am definitely one to get wrapped up in the nostalgia of the holidays, I know that the “magic” that I experienced as a child was just that: magic. Likewise, I know that David Copperfield can most accurately be described as an illusionist rather than a magician and that the “magic” that I remember was not really magic at all, but, ignorance.

The groundlessness of the nostalgic, ideal childhood Christmases in my mind is made even more so when juxtaposed against the reality of what the majority of other children in the world were experiencing at the very moment that I was unwrapping my new G.I. Joe motorized tank: the absence of clean drinking water, the absence of enough food for a meal, the pain of cancer, the limitations of muscular dystrophy, and the loneliness of orphanhood. Unlike the diminishing of my childhood ignorance over the years, however, these real human tragedies and their resulting despair have endured and progressed to new levels.

To contemplate this reality, for me, is to experience the disappointment that comes from being let down by the fabricated stories that I now feed my own daughter. My wife and I had considered, briefly, the possibility of not going through with the whole Santa charade with my daughter, but, ended up doing so anyway. Granted, I still enjoy singing and reading about Santa and Rudolph, but, anticipating when and how Julia will learn that he’s not real isn’t something that I enjoy. She’ll be disappointed someday, too.

And what kind of precedent does this set? What is to keep her from thinking that if we lied by telling her that Santa was real, but, he turned out fake, that Jesus is fake, too? That is my biggest fear and it is restrained only by the fact that my life is dependent upon Christ now, even though I spent my first several years thinking there was a Santa.

I’d like to be able to write in an ending paragraph to this post here with some grand conclusion about the best way to handle this at this point, but, the truth is that I haven’t come to one. The significant problems and realities of this world remain, as does the saving grace of Christ that this day is supposedly intended to celebrate (though Christ was not likely born on December 25). I do believe the celebration of the fact that he came is very legitimate and worthwhile and, deep down, I feel like we should be more honest with my daughter. Instead of focusing on Santa and getting we could fully focus on Christ and giving and I could rest knowing that she has and will continue to experience the real joy that comes from helping others in need, especially during the holidays. It would be a holiday tradition that would never disappoint.

One of my brightest new memories of this season, so far, came the other night when my family was out caroling at a local nursing home with a few people from my church. We were really focusing on older members of the church that were in the home, but, another older woman, not a member of our church, invited us to her door to sing for her. She asked that we sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and proceeded to explain to my four-year-old daughter (who was looking at the woman in a puzzled manner) that she didn’t plan on being at the home, but, that sometimes life gives us “bumps in the road,” and that God would help her through.

This was an obviously coherent woman (unlike many residents at the home) facing, undoubtedly, a very difficult and dark time in her life. It is something I can’t really fathom at this point – the idea of living my whole life and then spending the end of my time in a cold, sterile nursing home. But, after we finished stumbling through the song (we weren’t 100% sure of the words at the time) this woman took such care to express to us her appreciation and gratefulness for our visit. I can’t help but to believe that the resulting gratification that I felt from the interaction is just a taste of the real joy that could be experienced if I focused more on the giving aspect of Christmas.

One reason I think that Christ was born the way that he was, in a barn occupied by livestock, is that God wanted us to understand that it is not up to us to climb insurmountable mountains in order to reach some higher level and live up to His high and holy standard. Instead, he came down and into the world as a vulnerable, dependent, homeless child. He taught, healed, sacrificed, suffered, and continues to serve as deliverer of the free and unmerited favor of God.

We do have the opportunity to experience the real joy of Christmas on a daily basis throughout the year by serving those in need. So, maybe the question here shouldn’t even be about whether or not to celebrate the idea of Santa during Christmas, but, instead, how can we do more to help others every day of the year?

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”~Matthew 25:40

Relentless Invitation

A tangible tension stretched the fabric tight
Brought on, at least in part
by a one week flight
Through the sky,
though from a shady storefront
Above the din of the 12 days of Christmas
My eyes were wrapped,
fixed on the fleeting
The sculpted statues made solely for the dollar
Wrestled my soul and pulled my brain wide left
Yet in the moment,
in the context of minutes
When I watched the water settle
and listened for the silence,
idling to a stall
I heard His voice,
His relentless invitation

“It is one thing to know Jesus Christ loves us and another thing to realize it. In prayer we slow down to a human tempo and make time to listen.” ~Brennan Manning 

Bloody

Stepped out of youth
Past the drunk, dried out, and medicated
Hungover the threshold of my own identity
It is my responsibility
The helplessness belongs to me
Wading downstream in the bloodied flow of grace
Restrained by my imposter
Propelled by the Imposter
The humility
The reflection
The recognition
Bloody grace

 

Identity

I am in my best place when I realize, again, that all that is really valuable and all that is lasting is the love that we give. It is valuable and lasting because it originated long before us and can have lasting, yet unforseen, effects after we are gone. Because love is God, it is eternal.

My worst, which is more common, is experienced when I slice my soul and spend it on fleeting idolatry and baseless, personal gratification. I am most at peace when my head is lowered, my knees are bent, the room is dark, and I’m alone with Him.

My true and present identity is a convergence of my best and worst. My hope lies in the realization that who I am is valuable because of who He is, what He has done, and the love that He has for this broken, contorted soul.

But, the way of getting right with God through faith says, “You don’t need to go to heaven” (to find Christ and bring him down to help you). And it says, “You don’t need to go to the place of the dead (to bring Christ back to life again). Salvation that comes from Christ – which is the message we preach – is already within easy reach.

-Romans 10:6-8 NLT