Top Two Music Picks from 2016

The two albums that have proven to be the cream of the crop of new music that I’ve listened to in 2016 surely represent differences in the perspectives and personalities of their creators, but, they also have a good deal in common.


Original review of Playing Games With The Shadow

Playing Games With The Shadow by Kevin Max is a mysterious brew of self-reflection, espionage, jaded experience, angst, and hope filtered through the post-punk/new wave musical filter that is the mind and iconic voice of Kevin Max. One-third of DC Talk and former frontman for Audio Adrenaline, but, never one to sit still and grow stagnant, Max seems hellbent on toeing the line between what is true, what has never been done before, and what he can get away with on Playing Games With The Shadow. The assemblage of tunes featured on this album provide an intriguing experience for listeners who find themselves on the fray, surveying the heights, mysteries, and depths of their own life experiences. Tracks that showcase a heavier rock influence such as “Election,” and “Music is Magic!” are highlights for me, but, the significant new wave tilt of “William Blake” is hard not to love.

The bridge that I stand upon while writing this is the common mile marker that both Max and Steve Hindalong share with regard to their musical journeys. Max has established a developed a solo career by repeatedly stepping out of what is comfortable in favor of the undefined and unknown. Steve Hindalong, founding member and songwriter for the legendary alternative band The Choir, like Max, has sustained a musical career by routinely surveying the edges of what is possible and stepping over them on his own accord.


Original review of The Warbler

Hindalong’s second solo release, The Warbleris a sincere, well-articulated, and vulnerable conversation that surveys the artist’s experiences, temptations, blessings, and resolutions. From the love and compassion that we feel for those we love as they struggle with life’s biggest trials (“Shellie’s Song” and “Cloudburst”), to the tensions aroused by temptation and addiction that so many battle with on a daily basis (“Into the Drink” and “Outta My Mind”), Hindalong exhibits his skill as a wordsmith, articulately dissecting the emotions of both himself and the listener, making sense of them in the form of songs that range in tone and tempo from nuanced and delicate folk tunes to unbridled rock vents complete with distorted feedback and tachometer-breaking jams. A personal favorite, for me, is “O Jimmy A,” a nod of tribute to artist/musician Jimmy Abegg. Like some of the other gentler songs on the album, the lyrics dance in combination with the song’s arrangement (which happens to feature the voice other-worldly voice of Kevin Max in the background) to create an almost ethereal sound – a real treat for the listener.

Both Max and Hindalong  masterfully articulated their experiences stepping through the dark shadows that exist in spite of, and because of, the existence of the light, on these albums, by assembling the right mix of studio musicians and production to compliment their own songwriting and performance sensibilities.

Anyone willing to invest some of their own time and pocket change in these latest reflections upon the life/musical journeys of Max and Hindalong, as featured on Playing Games With The Shadow and The Warblerwill likely be more than gratified with the comfort of commonality between the artists’ and their own stories.

Purchase PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW b y Kevin Max at Amazon, on iTunes, or at

Purchase THE WARBLER by Steve Hindalong at Amazon, on iTunes, or at

Self-preservation vs. Self-sacrifice

I remember watching a commercial on television around the time that my first child was born. It showed a couple of new parents playing with their newborn baby and it made a simple point: having a baby changes everything. I remember it, I think, because I realized then and there how true it was! As a newborn, our daughter was fully dependent upon us: diapers, feeding, clothing, changing crib linens, bathing, administering medicines, doctor check-ups, etc. Having a third person in our house that was so vulnerable and needed us so much changed everything. But, the fact that everything changed and that we had to establish a completely new way of living each day was a very worthwhile sacrifice for us because we loved our newborn little girl.

Not every newborn child is born into such welcoming families, though. I was born March 7th 1976 to a mother who, I am told, was mentally unfit to care for a child. Just like any other newborn, I was completely dependent and vulnerable. I would need a mother and a father to feed, clothe, bathe, and care for me. But, my biological mother would not be able to do that. For her, my birth didn’t quite change everything.

But, it did for Lorie Naylor. She knew my biological mother and took upon herself the responsibility of temporarily providing the twenty-four hour a day care that I needed as a newborn. For the next several weeks in Mrs. Naylor’s life, everything changed. My arrival, surely, wasn’t convenient for her, but, the preservation of her own comfort was not her top priority.

Finally, in June of 1976, I was permanently adopted by the couple that raised me. Mrs. Naylor, who became my Aunt Lorie, wasn’t able to keep me permanently, but, she was willing to stand in the gap until somebody could and it was her love and self-sacrifice that led to my placement with James and Cecilia Rockwell, sister of Lorie Naylor. Surely, the adoption process, the cost, and my dependency upon Jim and Ceil, my Mom and Dad, to meet all of my typical three-month-old needs were not convenient. But, the preservation of their own comfort and convenience was not their top priority and now, forty years later, I’m extremely grateful for the life they’ve enabled me to have.

Not every child’s story works out so well, though, because not every parent is willing, or sometimes even able, to sacrifice their own priorities and needs for the sake of others. Sometimes their own battle for survival, or at least, there own preference for self-preservation traps them and keeps them from being what the child that they brought into the world needs.

So what happens to those kids who are not cared for? Some do not survive. Some are abandoned. Some grow up just enough to be sold as child slaves into domestic servitude or into sex-trafficking. Some grow up in orphanages that may or may not provide the care that they need and others may end up in foster care. But, because adults have failed to recognize the needs of vulnerable children, or have simply found the prospect of contributing to their care to be too inconvenient or too much of  a threat to their own comfortable lifestyle, many unwanted children are never given the chance they deserve to live and reach their full potential.

The question is: Why in a world with so many Christians are there so many children without families? Why are their so many kids who don’t have adequate care — whether confined to poor-quality orphanages, trapped in abusive circumstances, or simply not ever being able to enjoy and benefit from the blessings of a loving, forever family by the time their childhood years have slipped away?


A few of the beautiful kids that live at the Grand Goave Children’s Village of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti

Wasn’t it Jesus, himself, who put forth the notion in Galatians 5:14 that we should love our neighbors as ourselves? In Matthew 25, Jesus highlighted multiple caring gestures born out of concern for those in need that touch God’s heart when he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ God’s desire that we, as Christians, ditch self-preservation in favor of self-sacrifice is affirmed again in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In far too many parts of scripture to share with you here, the bible states again and again that we should seek out and serve the vulnerable among us. This means the elderly who can’t care for themselves anymore. This means the hungry and the homeless that you see stuck outside with their meager belongings on a cold winter day. This means the kids that walk into public school classrooms each day who come from rough homes with empty stomachs, dirty clothes, and the mental burden of having only broken homes to return to. This means the refugees that enter our country, having lost everything in their war-torn home-countries, hoping and praying for the chance for a new start. This means the children in your home county whose parents have been locked up due to drug deals and use happening in their own living rooms. This also means the orphans that have been abandoned in Haiti because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them.

God, our Father, is their Father, too, and the consistent thread running through his Word is that we need to turn to Him, humbly accept His grace and love, and extend it to others — whether it compromises the preservation of our own possessions , lifestyle, and convenience or not. Which vulnerable God-created person or people in need are you going to step forward and lend a helping hand to?

For more information on how you can help those who are most vulnerable please contact your local church, homeless shelter, department of social services, or one of the following organizations that serve the needs of the orphaned and abandoned:

Christian Alliance For Orphans
The Hands & Feet Project
Show Hope
I’m Me

Orphan Sunday 2016 from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

Thanksgiving Alphabet (Days 3 and 4)

I started a little late, so, I’m including a couple to help me catch up.
Day 3 – C – I am thankful for my wife’s cooking. We’ve been married for over sixteen years and I can honestly say that it has only gotten better. As a young married couple we started out like many couples do, I’m sure, with some pretty basic meals, but, the old adage that practice makes perfect seems to apply here. The more experienced she gets, the better her food is! Sure, once in a while something plain and simple like hot dogs or tater tots will show up, but, when they do, they’re good. Usually, though, the kids and I are treated to expertly seasoned vegetables, a marinated or seasoned meat, and one of a variety of sides ranging from stuffing to cous cous. I do interrupt Angela’s normal routine every now and then with something from the grill or baked extra-sharp macaroni and cheese (like my dad used to make), but, the kitchen is definitely a place where my wife excels and I am thankful!

My dad (1940-2012) preparing breakfast for guests at the local homeless shelter

Day 4 – D – I’m certainly thankful for my Dad. By simply being who he was – not necessarily by telling me or prodding me – but, by being who he was, my Dad taught me so much. I often tell people, long before my Dad’s end-of-life acceptance of Christ, that he was the best model of how to love your neighbors as yourself. He never talked about it. He just did it. That was the way he lived his life. I don’t know that I’ll ever fill his shoes, but, I am certainly grateful that I was blessed to be able to be raised by the one who did.

Thanksgiving Alphabet (Days 1 and 2)

Starting a little late, so, I’ll include a couple here to start trying to catch up.
Day 1 – A – I’m thankful for the institution of ADOPTION. I have so very much to be thankful for! My wife, my job, the team of people I teach with,
friends, and family! Actually, to list them all like I just did seems to diminish the significance of each one and make it sound just like a general, cliché statement, but, I can assure you that I meant each part of it sincerely and thoroughly. But, the fact is that I was born to a mother who was not mentally fit to care for a child and, while I don’t know all of the specific details, God worked through the woman who would eventually become my aunt, Lori Naylor, to get in touch with the woman and man (Ceil Scutt and James A. Rockwell) who would eventually become my mom and dad. I was born in March of 1976 in Susquehanna, PA, but, by April of ’76 I was settled at home in Whitney Point, NY and by June it became official. Because of my biological mother’s decision to put me up for adoption and my Aunt Lori‘s willingness to step in and care for me until my mom and dad stepped forward to adopt me, I am who I am today, thankful.
fall-foliage-wallpaper1Day 2 – B – I’m thankful for BEAUTY. At 40, I’ve lived long enough to realize that beauty isn’t to be taken for granted. There is so, so much pain in this world – all of it rooted in sin – some level of God’s design twisted and contorted to the advantage of somebody’s selfish desire that leaves some level of pain in its wake. So many people are hurting due to racial tensions, hunger, sickness, grief, and stresses that we were never designed to carry on our own shoulders. But, every now and then, if we look, we can see breaks of beauty coming through. For me, it may be in a glance at my wife Angela or in being able to witness a moment where one of my kids chooses to do what is right, for the right reason. But, I’m often able to catch glimpse of beauty during a hike in the woods, when a student gives me a drawing, or when I see one stranger help another. Whatever form true beauty takes in my life, it is another glimpse of the grace of God that continues to break through in a world that is ever-increasingly more selfish and insensitive. One day, He will set it all straight, but, until then, I’ll keep looking out for glimpses of His beauty.

Play Fantasy Football and Help Orphans in Haiti


There’s just a few hours left to register for a season’s worth of fun playing fantasy football while simultaneously supporting such a critical and worthwhile organization in their mission to care for the orphaned and abandoned children of Haiti and keep more Haitian families together. For a $50 donation to the Hands & Feet Project you can either join the BIG BIG YARD Fantasy Football league hosted by rapper KJ-52 or the BIG BIG YARD Fantasy Football league hosted by Sidewalk Prophets lead singer David Frey.

Over the course of the season you’ll get to participate in a live online draft and compete in weekly head-to-head match-ups with the artists and other fans. At season’s end, the best-finishing non-artist team owner in each league will win VIP meet-n-greet tickets to one of the artist’s upcoming concerts and a custom, hand-crafted Haiti Made coach’s gift kit! But, don’t wait because there are just a few spots left and the registration deadline for the KJ-52 league is midnight  ET tonight! Registration for the Sidewalk Prophets league will close midnight Monday.

JOIN US and register right now!

Who Are You?

It is common to hear people say, “Oh, just be yourself.” But, if somebody tells you to do that, do you know what really means? Who are you?

I battle daily to keep my thoughts, actions, and words in line with each other. I want what I’m thinking to sync up with what I’m saying, what I’m doing, and how others see me. That said, it all starts with what I’m thinking. The battle begins with what I devote my attention to.

Naturally, my attention shifts depending on where I am. At school, my attention is divided between the different roles I have as a teacher. At home my attention is divided between my wife, my kids, my responsibilities in the house, and my personal interests. At church my attention varies depending on whether I’m helping my wife teach Sunday school, catching up with another church member, or participating in worship.

But, in each of those places, and many different places in between, I must constantly battle the temptation to put myself first. It’s natural. It takes no effort at all to do what comes by default: view my moment-by-moment life experience in terms of what is most fun, comfortable, beneficial, and gratifying for me.

But, over the course of forty years I’ve learned that when I go the easy route, I always end up at the end of a dead-end street with nothing left to do, but, to be humbled by yet another reminder of my brokenness and kneel down to ask my Father for forgiveness for walking away from who He created me to be: my real identity – in Him.

I’ve also learned that I’m not the only one who struggles in this area. Each of us fight a battle daily against competing demands for our attention – some worthwhile and some not. But, our true identity – the one that we need to turn and walk toward again at the beginning of each day – is the eternal identity that God has designed for each of us in Him. We just have to turn, look to Him and say yes.

For me, that means starting each day by prayerfully reading His Word for a few minutes, closing each day in prayer, and turning back to Him mentally and spiritually in each small moment that I can remember to do so throughout each day. When I do, I never regret it and always come away with a new handful of hope to hold close as I walk forward. Try it. You won’t be disappointed. He is always faithful to give us what we need.

“When I’m with you, I feel the real me breaking through.” – Citizen Way

Do you play fantasy football? Do you want to help orphans in the poorest country in the western hemisphere? Join Citizen Way, KJ-52, Sidewalk Prophets, and Audio Adrenaline for a season of fun competition in the BIG BIG YARD FANTASY FOOTBALL LEAGUE in support of The Hands & Feet Project‘s critical battle against the orphan crisis in Haiti. Prizes for league winners include VIP meet-n-greet concert tickets and Haiti Made football gift kits.


Register to be a part of Big Big Yard Fantasy Football:

For more information about The Hands & Feet Project visit:

Big Big Yard Fantasy Football Facebook Page: