Effective immediately, Cephas Hour will no longer be heard on BlackLight Radio.
Going forward, the show will be in a podcast format. I’m leaning heavily toward combining the two show formats into one, doing a half-hour or so of Peace with commentary reinforced by musical selections, followed by a half-hour or so of Purpose which will feature the music.
The new show, titled simply Cephas Hour, will debut next month. Unfortunately, time doesn’t permit working on it until then.
My thanks to everyone for their support over the past nearly nine years. I look forward to this new chapter.
As I’m recording this show, it is the first episode of the new year. New years have always fascinated me, mostly because of the promises made on New Year’s Eve of the preceding year to change ones ways, said promises long since left discarded by the time February rolls around.
New years, despite the advertising campaigns, don’t offer the opportunity for a new you or I. in fact, they are nothing but a continuation of the previous year, which given how miserable 2020 was for most all of us is hardly a comforting thought.
Yet there is comfort in the new year, a comfort that unlike the illusionary promise of new beginnings facilitated by a fallible calendar there is still and always present the opportunity for a new you and I, or a renewed you and I. This promise is based not on the aforementioned fallible calendar but rather on the infallible Christ, to Whom a thousand years is like a day. This promise is not rooted in thin veneers of Biblically-based morals imposed by a society that does, or at least did, apply a surface knowledge of Scripture to proper individual and group behavior. It is secured in the unshakable foundation of life in Jesus Christ, of the workings of the Holy Spirit in each and every believer, and in the fact that through the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross a path has been made available for we, the imperfect, to have fellowship with the perfect, as the apostle Paul wrote boldly approaching God’s almighty throne though His grace, guided by a path paved not with gold but rather mottled with Jesus’ blood, shed on the path of Calvary.
It certainly isn’t paved with politics.
Picking up on the final sentence in the previous segment, the question occasionally arises as to what place faith in Christ and its surrounding mandates involving the life we who believe are called to live has to do with politics. Jesus Himself had little to say on the subject aside from render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. Paul, in his letters to different churches, spent little time on the subject other than occasionally noting a believer should obey the law and those who are responsible for the carrying out of same. A notion that given the time period, one in which Christians were literally being thrown to the lions, must have made those who read the letters wonder if while enduring one of the several beatings Paul endured for the sake of Christ one of the blows hit him on the head, not just the back.
I imagine that much like most other political entities throughout the millennia, Rome was constructed in a fashion where the hotheads and head honchos were all congregated in Rome itself — or Washington DC if you prefer — whereas out in the sticks, which were looked down upon by Rome and its leaders as being something less than desirable neighbors and certainly far beneath the quote dignity unquote of the Roman elite, people pretty much adopted and followed the live and let live mantra, going about their business of providing for themselves and their families. These people could hardly be bothered by the Christians that were rapidly increasing among themselves, because the Christians as well were preoccupied with things like providing for themselves and their families. Besides, the Christians were more often than not the nice people on the block. Sort of like Ned Flanders in a toga.
Make no mistake, however. The closer one was to Rome, the more potentially lethal in temporal sense it was to make known one’s acknowledgement of Christ as Savior and Lord. The world has never looked kindly on Christians. It never will. A believer should get used to being looked down on, ignored, ridiculed, slandered, and ofttimes directly attacked in some fashion for their beliefs. It’s easy to say such events are proof you’re doing your walk with Christ right. But it’s not easy to go through. You just do it.
In this country there is a dangerous disconnect between politicians and the public. To some degree this has far more often than not been the case, but seldom has it been so apparent as is the case today. Both elected and self-appointed politicos have utterly tuned out the people. By the people I’m not referring to social media hotheads believing a mouth and a modem makes one qualified to dissect and advise regarding public affairs. Rather, it is the people who do the work and wish for nothing more than to be left alone and unencumbered in their God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, who are now rising in anger over power grabs and outright mockery by elected officials.
One may wonder how such people stay in power. The answer isn’t quite bread and circuses, but it’s close. These politicians remain untouchable within the boundaries of their own political districts due to the generous amount of taxpayer money they channel into said districts, all the while portraying themselves as the kings and queens of largess for doing so. They rely on a gullible public and sycophantic media to overlook how they reinvest a pittance of the taxes they collect in their districts while funneling the majority of funds to cronies and third-rate efforts of social engineering. They believe they are our betters, and we keep reinforcing this belief with our votes. Well, we alongside our dead relatives who still magically vote in every election.
Several years ago, when blogging was still a primary vessel of social media, I came up with what I labeled the four tenets of the blogging evangel. They go as follows:
1) The ability to broadcast an opinion neither elevates nor validates said opinion;
2) Write from and for the heart, not the wallet;
3) Answer your email every time all the time;
4) Never become what you profess to oppose.
The points are self-explanatory, so I won’t go into a lengthy detailing. However, I do bring attention to the fourth point of never becoming what you profess to oppose.
All Christians should and must take action against government-inflicted injustices. The people run the government, or at least are supposed to do so. Today we have nothing of the sort. We respond to open lawlessness by elected officials with a shrug. We tolerate open dismissal by, and innumerable lectures from, lobbyists and consultants on what is best for us while we watch our cities die from economic strangulation and our families and neighbors die from despair-fueled drug use. We exist but to serve and fatten all wallets except our own.
This isn’t a matter of Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, left and right. All are equally guilty. This is private sin carved into public policy. This is the lust for power, the thirst for wealth, the desire to lord over others. This is those who claim to do what they do in an effort to serve the people, yet serve no one but themselves and fellow self-worshipers at the never-ending feast of political gluttony. We attempt to speak with our votes, all the while having no confidence in our votes not being compromised. This is the way in our country today. Those in power have indeed become what they profess to oppose.
The day will come when judgement will be executed against the guilty. We who know Christ consider this and stand in humbled awe, knowing that the only thing preventing our own punishment for guilt is Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. We therefore are called and compelled to preach His gospel in word and deed, defending the innocent and politely refusing to compromise our beliefs for the sake of political and societal acceptance.
This is not the easy way. It is the only way.
Bob Dylan is that rarity among artists: a living myth. Scores of scholars have cashed in on penning a thousand words pouring over each one he has sung or, very occasionally, said. His lyrics are credited with being a moving force in the ‘60s cultural revolution. He has proved immune to all fashions and trends, doing whatever strikes his fancy at the moment and letting his audience decide for itself whether it wishes to follow. Such was the case with Rough And Rowdy Ways, his 2020 album that in its release came both as an utter surprise and as a surprise in and of itself.
Musically, Rough And Rowdy Ways is anything but. There is an occasional bluesy snarl, but the vast majority is carefully assembled quiet layers, all instrumentation well blended and deliberately indistinct. In lesser hands such an approach could easily lead to tedium, but Dylan and company make it compelling.
Dylan’s voice has been reduced over the years to a lower register growl befitting a lion in winter. It isn’t pretty; Dylan’s nasally projection has never been pretty. Yet despite its limitations Dylan’s voice remains approachable without being inviting.
Lyrically, Rough And Rowdy Ways finds Dylan at his multilayered best, surface interpretations available but inevitably inviting deeper dives. Those wishing for references to his straightforward Slow Train Coming era faith proclamations will find an occasional tantalizing hint such as this brief nugget from “False Prophet:”
Oh you poor Devil — look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill
Elsewhere Dylan slyly leaves the listener wondering. In “I Contain Multitudes,” is he referring to each individual’s multifaceted persona or a manipulator’s ability to chameleon their way into controlling others via channeling elements of their nature? All is not open to multiple interpretations; “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” is a straightforward love song begging to stand alongside “Make You Feel My Love” in the catalog of Dylan songs eagerly covered by others.
The album’s pinnacle is “Murder Most Foul,” an eighteen minute tone poem finding Dylan musing on John F. Kennedy’s assassination in a stream of consciousness vibe that weaves characters as disparate as Wolfman Jack and Stevie Nicks into the story while offering one final moment for Christians to ponder:
The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son,
The age of the anti-Christ has just only begun.”
Rough And Rowdy Ways isn’t background bubblegum music for pop poppers. It commands and demands careful listening. Short attention span sufferers will be left cold. But for the initiated thinker, the individual seeking challenge and meat from art, there have been few albums in recent times offering this much substance. The world has long known Bob Dylan is a visionary genius. With Rough And Rowdy Ways, he’s shown he doesn’t mind proving it once more.
It’s impossible to objectively review Only Visiting This Planet by Larry Norman. Without this 1972 release, contemporary Christian music as we know it would not exist.
It’s possible if not probable that CCM in some form would have emerged in the mid to late 1970s. But it would not have been the same. It would not, and could not, have addressed political, cultural, and relationship matters without Norman having led the way, letting people know that Christians are aware of what is going on in the world and have lives themselves.
Norman was a stubborn, solitary visionary, often if not always at odds with the music business both secular and Christian. The former gritted their teeth at his open proclamations of Christ, knowing that doing so would immediately strike him from any general public appeal. The Christians couldn’t handle Norman’s music, a mix of not-so gentle folk and roots rock minus the instrumental showmanship, his hair, his lyrics, or Norman himself. Only the few got it.
The cultural references on the album are necessarily dated, yet continue to ring true. Norman was no flag-waving conservative, nor was he a bleeding-heart liberal. He viewed both sides with a critical eye, letting his answer be Jesus almost regardless of the question.
Norman was the outsider’s outsider, the voice letting you know it was okay to admit hurt and pain and confusion without fear of a guilt trip. He didn’t so much expand the horizon of what a Christian in the arts could accomplish as create a new horizon. With Only Visiting This Planet Norman didn’t necessarily invent Christian rock, but he did make it something of value.
The album is available on the Larry Norman website.
Strange as it may seem in this era of autotune and virtual instruments, there was a time in popular music when adventuresome artists were rewarded, at least occasionally, with something other than puzzled looks. No genre encapsulates this bygone age more than progressive rock, which for a time in the 1970s rode high on the charts with bands such as Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, and Kansas enjoying commercial if not critical success by seeking to interweave classical and avant-garde themes with rock‘n’roll’s rhythmic power.
Fast forward to 1985. Kerry Livgren, de facto leader of Kansas during its mid to late 1970s heyday and author of its two best known songs “Carry On Wayward Son” along with “Dust In The Wind”, was at something of an artistic/career crossroads. The band for which he was known was firmly in his rear view mirror yet alive once more; the following year saw it release Power which featured the top twenty hit “All I Wanted.” Meanwhile, his own band AD, whose lineup was replete with talent to burn, found itself sort-of on the Sparrow label, thus automatically relegated to the Christian rock ghetto, a place even the most fiercely devoted fans from secular days seldom knew existed. And, given how Livgren’s muse was utterly beyond the comprehension of most CCM fans worshipping at the altar of soft pop, he and his band barely registered in the music machine’s playground. Nevertheless, Livgren and company persevered as long as possible, along the way giving us 1985’s Art Of The State.
Art Of The State reminds me of an interview I watched several years ago with Les Claypool, bassist without peer best known for his band Primus. He was talking about the time when he auditioned, believe it or not, for the then-vacant bassist position with Metallica. He didn’t get the job. The interview then cut over to Metallica leader James Hetfield who didn’t even attempt to contain his roaring laughter as he noted about the entire matter, “He was too good for us!” In similar fashion, AD’s sophisticated melodies, arrangements, and lyrics were so far beyond the scope of 99.44% of mid-‘80s CCM it is little wonder why it made no marketplace impact.
The album lacks the standout, forever a mandatory staple hit à la the aforementioned “Carry On Wayward Son” or “Dust In The Wind.” It is filled with meaty inventiveness, be it the positive lilt of “Lead Us To Reason,” which should have been a hit but wasn’t, the apocalyptic grandeur of “The Fury,” and multiple stops in-between. While the overall sound was familiar to Kansas aficionados, Livgren and company declined to recycle his previous band, adding more group vocal punch and rhythm to the hooks. The instrumental excursions during songs were kept brief, sharp, and sweet. Art Of The State is still unmistakably and undeniably prog, but it’s prog purposefully trimmed down.
Livgren is still with us, working on new music. For those looking to find out what they missed while they were loading up on the latest Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith fan fodder, check out Art Of The State. It was, and is, state of the art.
The album is available on Kerry Livgren’s website.
(This review originally ran in July of 2013 on examiner.com.)
There’s good. There’s great. There’s brilliant. And then there’s instant timeless classic. “Dig Here, Said the Angel” by Daniel Amos is the latter, and then some.
The band’s first release since 2001’s “Mr. Buechner’s Dream,” “Dig Here, Said the Angel” finds Terry Scott Taylor and compatriots exploring a musical mix fusing various flavors of late ’60s psychedelia with the shimmering combination of power pop and Bakersfield country/latter-day Laurel Canyon Mafia country/rock fusion exemplified in earlier Daniel Amos releases such as “MotorCycle.” The emphasis is on the psychedelic, sometimes basking in musical sunshine such as ‘Jesus Wept’ and other times menacing such as on the title track. Throughout, Taylor and the band’s melodic sense reigns supreme, with nary a tuneless or throwaway track to be found.
Lyrically, the album pierces mind and soul with purposeful intelligence. Taylor has long been one of Christian rock’s premiere lyricists. This time through he has outdone himself, exploring grace’s enveloping nature, the nature of suffering and meditations on his own mortality among other topics. In ‘We’ll All Know Soon Enough’ he challenges non-believers not with Bible-blasting broadsides, but with a quiet reminder of mankind’s common fate. On the flip side, ‘Now That I’ve Died’ comes from the viewpoint of how entering heaven entails the ultimate self-improvement movement. The pure anthem ‘The Sun Shines on Everyone’ is a gentle yet forceful reminder that God’s love extends to everyone and He alone reserves judgment. These are but a few of the terrific songs from start to finish on this superb album.
It is no exaggeration to say that “Dig Here, Said the Angel” is Daniel Amos’ greatest work. It is also no exaggeration to say that in the annals of Christian rock, only “Only Visiting This Planet” by Larry Norman is a more masterful work. It is that good.
The album is available on the band’s website.