“You should listen to Creed.” or Is there any point to “Christian” Rock?

My friend Ben loves Slayer.  He loves to tell the story of an encounter he had at an Ozzfest when he wore one of their shirts that read, “Jesus Slaves.”  For most of the crowd the shirt didn’t even register a blip.  But one other concert-goer took great offence.  He approached Ben and with an air of disbelief asked him if the shirt was “real?”  Apparently this young man could not believe that someone would actually wear something so blasphemous. Now Ben is not the most patient man but he still took the time to try and explain that yes, it was indeed a “real” shirt.  Dumbfounded and apparently lost for a response the young man sputtered, “You should listen to Creed.”

Setting aside the stylistic gulf between “Arms Wide Open” and “Raining Blood” it would seem that young man was trying to help Ben by suggesting a “Christian” alternative to Slayer.

As someone who once burned my secular records and listened only to “Christian” rock for a time I have to say that get it.  I really do.  But having been there and done that I am now left questioning the whole enterprise.

south-park-s07e09c08-christ-fest-16x9When you dig deeper what you find is that there is not very much to it.  While there are notable exceptions many of the acts are usually pale imitations of their secular counterparts.  An episode of South Park, “Christian Hard Rock” kind of nails the dynamic I am trying to describe.

That’s because the “Christian” Music industry is just that, an industry.   They have their own rules and policies and if artists do not conform they will suffer the consequences.  One need look no further than the recent furor over World Vision and their hiring policy to find evidence of that point.

But even if we set aside the issues of inferior product and an industry that often fails toVengeance Rising - Human Sacrifice - Front 01 live up to the standards they supposedly profess there are even more disturbing issues that need to be acknowledged.  Take for example the thrash metal band, “Vengeance Rising” who according to Campus Life magazine made, “Stryper sound like Sandi Patti.” Consistent with their style they gravitate towards very violent lyrics.  My favorite is the song “Beheaded” from the album “Human Sacrifice.”  Set during the apocalypse when Christians will be called to renounce their faith under pain of death, the chorus runs as follows,

“I want my head chopped off.  You’ll see my body rot. 

And then I’ll reign with Christ.  And then you’ll fry!”

While willingness to die for your faith can be an incredible virtue,  rejoicing that your captors will go to hell to be tortured for eternity is not a terribly Christian sentiment.  Interestingly enough when the band split in the early 90′s the lead singer split and abandoned his faith releasing several very anti-Christian albums under the same name.  He also publically reviled the Christian Music Industry for some of the same issues cited above.

CapaBut perhaps the greatest head scratcher of all is the subgenre of Christian “Black” Metal.  Also called “un-black” or “white” metal, these bands copy the music and look of some of the most Satanic bands out there.

The most over the top example maybe the band Horde who’s album Hellig Usvart  resulted in death threats from some black metal bands.  The album boasts the following song titles,


  1.  “A Church Bell Tolls Amidst the Frozen Nordic Winds”
  2.  “Blasphemous Abomination of the Satanic Pentagram”
  3.  “Behold, the Rising of the Scarlet Moon”
  4.  “Thine Hour Hast Come”
  5.  “Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice”
  6.  “Drink From the Chalice of Blood”
  7.  “Silence the Blasphemous Chanting”
  8.  “Invert the Inverted Cross”
  9.  “An Abandoned Grave Bathes Softly in the Falling Moonlight”
  10. “Crush the Bloodied Horns of the Goat”
  11. “Weak, Feeble, and Dying Anti-Christ”
  12. “The Day of Total Armageddon Holocaust”
  13. “My Heart Doth Beseech Thee (O Master)” 

“Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice”?  Really?  The track listings are so absurd as to appear to be an Onion-esque parody as opposed to a serious album.  While I actually like the track in question musically I am left wondering if it all only goes to prove South Park’s point.  You can keep the violent lyrics and corpse paint and still call yourself Christian.  All you have to do is cross out Satan and write in Jesus’ name instead.

In the end I can’t help but wonder how much richer our collective soundscape would be if bands stopped trying to figure out how they can take the square peg of the music that they love and somehow pound it into the round hole that is the imagined (or otherwise) standards proscribed by their faith and instead just bloody well focused on their music.  Or to put it another way, I think all of us would be better off if “Christian” bands spent less time worrying about how to measure up to the “Christian” part and instead focused on being the best band they can be.

Look, if faith plays a role in your life and you want to make that part of your music, more power to you.  But unless the rock and roll comes first both the music and the message will be compromised.

I think even my friend Ben could agree with that.


Christians Against Slipknot?

I am sure that last week you spent your St. Patrick’s Day doing what I was doing… no not drinking green beer, but frantically trolling the net to find out more about the announcement that Alysia White Gluz had taken up the reigns as the new lead singer of Arch Enemy.  Ok so maybe you found other pursuits like watching paint dry or figuring out what green clothing you were going to don that day.  So in case you missed it here’s the skinny: Angela Gossow had stepped away from the stage into the role of manager and White Gluz left The Agonist to front AE.  A link to their first single (War Eternal) in this new configuration can be found here.

Anyway the news left me truly bummed.  But rather than wallow in my sorrows or make up my mind that I simply would never like AE with White Gluz I went and did some digging to find about more about her.  I checked out some Agonist videos and then started reading her official FB page.   When I got to something she posted on  February 8th I stopped cold.

1891045_780701455290794_338218905_nShe had reposted something from a FB group called “Christians Against Slipknot” which claimed that metal will destroy families and pollute children’s mind.  White Glutz  posted it with the comment, “Please tell me this is a joke.”

Unable to resist the urge I did some digging.  The page is a series of pictures and post that rail against the dangers of heavy metal.  Based on what I read one can infer that listening to heavy metal will cause you to become an unemployed, murdering, Satan-worshipper.  In fact very few of the posts had anything to do with Slipknot per se.

Their posts were so absurd (for example on March 18th they picture a picture of Mick 1904241_786499021377704_1016754413_nHucknall of Simply Red and claimed that his devotion to demonic heavy metal caused his somewhat troll-like appearance) that at first I thought it might be a parody (Simply Red- metal?  If you say so.).  Yet the mission statement and explanations are so extensive that I had to conclude that  unfortunately the page is entirely serious.

My point is not bring more attention to a seriously deluded group of people but rather to ask the question, why in the world do so many Christians still have a problem with rock and roll, particularly when it gets heavy and loud?

It’s not like this is a new issue.  Any music that made people want to dance or have fun has suffered the condemnation of people claiming to act in the name of God.  So why can’t we Christians wrap our heads around the idea that just because something is new, or if we just don’t “get it”, doesn’t therefore mean that it is therefore automatically bad.

images (1)I get that most metal acts try to generate a dark and menacing image.  Some go to great lengths to create an association with evil.  Yet it is the widely accepted fact that in the vast majority of cases all the corpse paint and pentagrams are simply part of the act.  There are a few exceptions like Deicide and Deathspell Omega who leave no room for doubt that their image and lyrics also reflect deeply held personal beliefs.

But even in those rare cases when you are dealing with the proverbial true believers it only begs the question of what purpose does “protesting” such bands actually serve?

In reality it only brings more attention.  As a parent I know that the surest way to get your kid to think something is cool or interesting is to repeatedly condemn it.  I can recall from my own experience as a teenager who specialized in trying to shock my parents that nothing could  make a band cooler than knowing that their name, album art or lyrics was going to give my mother a heart attack.

So why do some Christians keep banging their heads against a wall instead of just accepting that some people just want to bang their heads?  I don’t really know for sure, but I am quite sure that Jesus is probably more concerned with issues like poverty, starvation, war and preventable disease than he is with Slipknot.

“…a godly, righteous and sober life”

Fr. Kirk:

So now that we are deep in the midst of the penitential season of Lent I realized that several folks have asked me if I was again giving up alcohol. I am not, at least not this year. Instead this Lent I have chosen to focus not on giving up a pleasure but on using that spiritual energy and discipline to try and do something positive each day.
Yet last week as I knelt on the cold stone floor of the church and lead the people in confession this post (and the experience that inspired it) came to mind.
I hope you enjoy it!

Originally posted on So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...:

It was the morning after attending the 2 nd Annual Philly Craft Beer Festival .  As I knelt on the cold tile of the church floor and said these words (which come at the end of our confession of sin) I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony.  There I was at 8:05 am, still slightly green around the gills from many hours of sampling craft beer the day before, and I was praying that God would inspire me and help me to lead a “sober” life.  Did I really mean what I was praying for?  How does one define a “sober” life?  This got me to thinking about what it means to find an honest balance between one’s spirituality and one’s love of beer (or wine or scotch or whatever your drink of choice may be).

The answer is not nearly as poetic as the circumstances that inspired…

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“Hey Padre, gimme some of them ashes”

Fr. Kirk:

As I think about Ash Wednesday and take a break from smudging hundreds of foreheads, my trip to the Henry James that day still stands as one of the great spiritual encounters of my priestly life.
Thanks for your patience. I’ll be back with a new post next week.

Originally posted on So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...:

It was Ash Wednesday and it also happened to be my sexton’s birthday.  So after the noonday service he and I walked two blocks down to my favorite local lunch spot, The Henry James Saloon .  Needless to say, I was still in my full clerical garb complete with a big smudge of ash on my own forehead from the service.  So we are sitting there me with my Yuengling Lager  (a Philadelphia staple) and him with his Bud (may God forgive him).  Across from us are four women, obviously there on their lunch break as well.  Anyway, there we are, chatting and suddenly one of the women calls out, “Hey Padre… Padre.”  Needless to say I quickly knew she was talking to me (When one is wearing clerics it doesn’t take long to realize that you attract a lot more attention from strangers than if you were in civilian…

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Paolo and His Magical Bag of Tricks or Our Trip to Baladin part 3

The kids stared at their empty soda bottles and just put their heads down.  My wife’s expression showed that waiting was getting old.  I tried to keep the optimistic grin pasted on my face and silently prayed to God and that Melane’s boyfriend would show up. Baladin (59)

My white knight rode into the piazza on a scooter.  Brandishing aviators and bedecked in a Felix the Cat t-shirt Paolo came forward to meet us.  Like Melane he spoke excellent English.  He was warm and friendly as we told him our story and offered him the tokens of homebrew and t-shirts from the parish beer club.  But nothing could have prepared us for how gracious and generous he turned out to be.

After talking for a while he told us he was going to take us on a tour.  We got in the car and followed him on a 10 minute drive out of town to the industrial brewery.  He buzzed us through the gates and into the empty parking lot.

Baladin (19)Once inside we had to don the obligatory hairnets and booties.  This finally gave my children something to do.  Now I have been on many a brewery tour and I know when they are being given by rote.   You know the spiel, “Here’s the fermenter… over there’s the mash tun… there’s the bottling line… yada, yada, yada.”

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In contrast, Paolo took over an hour to highlight, not just the basics for the benefit of my family but also to explain in detail what steps Baladin was taking that were unique or innovative.  There were also many samples drawn directly from the tanks.  Yum! Of note was the beer, NationAle, which represented Teo’s dream of the first beer to be made from all Italian ingredients.

Baladin (40)From there we headed back into town for a visit to Cantina Baladin.  Like Dogfish Head’s brewpub in Rehoboth, Cantina Baladin was where Teo started it all.  It was both his brewery and his bar until his growing fame allowed him to expand.  Yet although it is no longer really open to the public, it is still an active site for brewing and for Teo’s artistic expression.                                                              The kitchen (seen below) has been decorated to look just like the kitchen from his childhood including paintings of his family.


Baladin (46)But the real magic here was in their casks.  There was an extraordinary array of beer in wine casks.  The same beer was being aged in 40 different white and 40 different red barrels, each wine carefully chosen from all across Italy.  I was tempted to book a room in Casa Baladin (their boutique hotel) next door so that we could stay and sample them all.  But the hour was growing late and Paolo had already been more than generous with his time.

After a quick tour of Casa Baladin (each room is completely different), we headed back to the piazza and to the table where we first met our savior more than three hours before.  After a quick picture and a warm goodbye he headed back to his scooter and we to our car.  Although we would take the highway back we still had a long trip ahead.

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The next year I had to good fortune to see Paolo again.  This time I only had to travel 20minutes to see him during Philly Beer Week at the newly opened Alla Spina.  He remembered me and even complimented up on the beer we gave him.

At a time where everyone is rushed and so few the virtue of hospitality, Paolo, Melane and the crew at Baladin really bucked the trend.  They could have easily dismissed us as tourists who they would never have to see again and sent us on our way.  But they didn’t.  Instead they bent over backwards, going so far as to come into work on their day off and treated us like royalty, not for any gain, but simply because they wanted to make sure a family of strangers was treated well.

And so in the end  I am actually grateful that Google Maps sucks.  If it had told us that it would have taken five hours to get there we probably never would have gone.  And so while I will never put my whole trust in their estimations ever again, I am grateful that on that one Sunday in July they managed to lead me to Baladin.

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Teo? He just left!…. or Our Trip to Baladin part 2

I write this the day after a doozy of aDSC_0054 snowstorm.  At present it is a balmy 7 degrees outside with a wind chill of minus 14.  After several hours digging out cars, etc, I found myself thinking fondly of the featureless agricultural plains of Piedmont.

That is no small statement because after about an hour of travel, my already frustrated family was getting near the end of their collective patience.  My son’s DS was dead and he had no car charger.  My daughter was tuned out with her iPod.  My wife was staring straight ahead and trying very hard not to look at me. After one or two missed turns the sign for Piozzo mercifully came into view.  The five minutes or so that it took us to rumble down the side road seemed to go on forever.  Eventually we pulled into the piazza at the center of town and there on our left was Baladin.

Baladin (3)The awning stretched out over a dozen tables which were largely filled with folks enjoying the a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I was so overjoyed and relieved that we had actually reached our destination that I almost sprinted out of the car having to catch myself in order to allow my family time to creakily emerge from the car and stretch.

They settled around a table while I went inside to get us all drinks and to see if the owner and brewmaster, Teo Musso was around.  As I mentioned before I had been carefully planning this beer pilgrimage for months and so had tried to leave little to chance.  I had emailed Baladin weeks before to let them know I was coming with the hopes of arranging a tour or even, a chance to meet Teo himself.  Moreover, I had not come empty handed.  I brought with me some t-shirts from our church beer club and a bottle of our homebrew that I had carefully carried and protected for three weeks and through four countries. Baladin (9)

Upon entering the bar I was greeted by Melane.  After returning her greeting I asked if she spoke English.  Her reply was priceless, “Yes” she said patiently, “I speak English, and French and German and a leeetle bit of Italian.” Her smile was just as charming as I explained that we had come from the US and had driven from Cannes that day with the hopes of a tour and the chance to meet Teo.

“Oh.” she replied, “Teo?  He just left.”

I was utterly crestfallen.  It now appeared that we had spend the better part of a precious vacation day driving so we could order a couple of beers and a sandwich.  Melane must have read the disappointment on my face because she quickly said, “Let me see what I can do.  My boyfriend is Teo’s assistant.  Maybe he can come in.” Baladin (12)

We chatted a bit more and I ordered a Nelson for my wife and a Nina for myself.  The children got some of their house made lemon sodas.  Although the drinks were all quite tasty- the children insisted that we try their sodas- it did little to cushion the blow when I shared the news that Teo had gone.

While we waited we chatted with our waiter and I ordered a different beer this time opting for a Wayan.  As I sipped it I wondered if this trip would go down in family lore as the great beer fiasco.

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To be concluded next week….

Damn you Google Maps! or Our Trip to Baladin

The kids were bored and carsick and my wife was quietly fuming.  We had just passed through a tunnel leaving the beauty of the French Maritime Alps into the Piedmont region of Italy.  Our collective anticipation at nearing our destination quickly deflated.  What stretched before us was not anything like the way one pictures Italy.  Instead I felt like we had become victims of some quantum glitch and ended up in Nebraska by mistake.  Flat, featureless farmland stretched endless before us.  Gone were the beautiful villages.  Olive groves- gone.  Charm and romance- gone, gone, gone.

It all began several months before as we planned the itinerary for our time on the Riviera.  As I now do for all trips I started to look around the region for beer.  Thanks to the Beer Mapping Project I found that although there were no worthwhile beer destinations near us in France, that in fact the world famous Baladin was less than 200 km (123 miles) away. Screenshot (3) According to Google Maps the trip should take three hours.  Since we had a rental car I thought- hey that’s not too bad- we can stop off in some villages along the way for some sightseeing and culture.  I had even hoped to stop off at nearby Birrificio Troll to maximize the beery return of the day.

And so I made my case to the family and they grudgingly assented.  In looking at our calendar we opted to travel on a Sunday.  This would come into play later as we realized that most of Italy, including gas stations, is closed on Sundays, especially in the month of August.  We got an early start leaving about 9 am.  We very quickly got off on a bad foot, missing the highway exit past Niece.  But we were soon back on the correct road.  Nevertheless, navigation was challenging.  Turn offs were not clearly marked or not marked in a way we could readily comprehend.  Yet in spite of these initial delays I was confident we could still make it there in less than four hours. Sopsel (7)

Upon entering the mountains we stopped off in the village of Sopsel for some sightseeing and lunch.  The early afternoon sun heated the car as we set off for the next leg and I was beginning to feel an ember of anxiety starting to glow in the pit of my stomach. I had no idea of what lay ahead.

Sopsel (16)The roads out of Sopsel got more and now winding and narrow.  Soon we started to wonder if we had gotten off on a goat path by mistake.  We would climb and navigate hairpin turns up to what appeared to be a summit and start to breathe a sigh of relief only to find that another peak appear before us.  In the efforts to avert full scale mutiny I attempted to keep everyone focused on the breathtaking scenery of streams and ancient olive groves set on terraces cut into the rock. From time to time we would stop to look over the edge or for a necessary pee break.

Two hours later the signs for the tunnel that would lead us into Italy was finally in sight.  Along the way I had begun to speculate that Google must have been calculating the projected travel time for a helicopter and not a car.

Then all traffic ground to a halt.  Apparently the tunnel only allowed for one way traffic.  We sat for more than 20 minutes as the cars wound their way out of Italy.  By the time we finally started moving it was well past three.  I had begun to seriously consider giving up and heading back to a village we passed a few miles back that seemed to be setting up for a festival in honor of a local saint.  But my stubborn gene kicked in and over the silent and sullen objections of my family, we pressed forward.  images (1)

My efforts to raise everyone’s spirits with the promise of the beauty of Italy were soon dashed as the monotony of Nebraska, I mean Piedmont, stretched before us.   I began to wonder if we would ever get there and if we did, would it be worth it?

To be continued next week….