War in Afghanistan

We went to war. While I find myself uneasy with that concept, I know it is unavoidable. They attacked us in a most heinous manner, the American spirit calls for nothing less than retaliation. We can only hope that innocent people aren’t killed, that collateral damage is minimal, that relations with allies and would-be enemies don’t worsen, and that the terrorist response is stopped before more people are killed. War is not easy.

What I don’t completely understand are the protesters. Today a crowd several hundred strong marched outside a federal building in downtown Minneapolis. Half a dozen police officers from the station across the street watched over the demonstrations, and behind the rally I saw a few official looking guys in “Police: Federal Protective Services” jackets. I’m not familiar with that federal agency. The protesters wanted their voice to be heard, they wanted the media and the public to know that not everyone agrees with war. According to an ABC news poll, they must be the 6% of the population that disagrees with the U.S. action.

They carried signs that said “No Racism! No War!” and “An Eye For An Eye Makes a World Blind!” I sympathize with their situation. War is not easy. But I don’t understand their position. President Bush made it clear that this is not a war on Islam or the Afghani people. It is a war on terrorism. Our targeted attacks make that clear. Last night we launched only 50 cruise missiles. Several years ago when we attacked Bin Laden for bombing embassies in Africa, we used several hundred cruise missiles. Are the protesters agreeing with Bush and reinforcing his statement, or do they think Bush is lying?

And ‘an eye for an eye’ may not be the best policy. But then what do you do? One college student I talked to said that attacking the terrorists will only cause more terror. Then what do we do? Won’t hunting them down and bringing them to trial cause just as much terror? And we can’t exactly bring them to trial when the Taliban won’t cooperate. I find myself torn between the kind of peace Jesus modeled, and the practicality that a nation must defend itself.

How do we protect the poor, the fatherless, and the alien when we have no muscle to fight the very things that endanger those we wish to protect?

I do find it a consolation, if a blatant contradiction, that we are dropping humanitarian aid as well as bombs. If we were warring against the Afghani people, why would we be feeding them? This is a compassionate gesture, from a nation that’s good at hating our enemies.

I also find myself worrying about the Muslim backlash. Bush made it clear that this is not a war on Islam. Bin Laden made it clear that this is a war of Muslims vs. Christians. Who do you believe? Protesters in Pakistan seemed to side with Bin Laden as they burned buildings and rioted. The danger is that Muslims everywhere will side with Bin Laden and rise up against the U.S. I don’t think it’s likely, but the repercussions wouldn’t be pretty.

The whole thing isn’t helped by the fact that a piece of wreckage was pulled from the World Trade Center site in the shape of a perfect cross. It was erected on the site and officially blessed. This only reinforces the image of Christianity vs. Islam. A concept that is completely untrue. We are not a Christian nation. We are a nation of free religious expression. We are a nation of Christians, yes, but also of Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and more religions than you can count. It seems to me that encouraging crackpot ideas like Bin Laden’s holy war will only make this more difficult.

Who Holds Your Freedom?

It was only a matter of time. We all knew it was coming. The sad thing is I’m talking about the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan today, and I could also be talking about the next terrorist attack on the U.S. It’s a crazy world we live in.

Bin Laden claims it’s a war of Christians versus Muslims. I wish he knew how wrong he was. He sees this as a great Christian nation of infidels, trying to overthrow the Muslims. If only he knew that the golden arches were the sacred symbol of America, and not the cross. If only he’d watch prime time TV, he’d know this is not a Christian nation.

But he can’t really be that stupid, can he? Or is it deeper than that? Is it a war against freedom? Does he simply want power and sees our democracy and our religious freedom as an impediment to his power? Maybe the guy’s just whacked.

This certainly isn’t a perfect nation. We stole the land from people who were here first, people who understood the land and treated it with respect. But we did rise up against oppressors at one time, we did fight for a noble cause and won our liberty. That certainly means something. It seems that again we must rise up against oppressors and defend our freedom. Unfortunately this time the oppressors are almost unseen, and they hide among us. Who knows how it will all come out. Nation will rise against nation, blood will be shed, and God will wring his hands and sob.

Who holds your freedom? Who holds your liberty?
Who holds you freedom? Who holds you liberty?

It cannot mean to serve ourselves / That doesn’t mean a thing / It doesn’t mean to give the license / to seek ourselves in anything. / That would be slavery to ourselves, / It isn’t free / Jesus Christ, the only thing that freedom means to me.
(Five Iron Frenzy – ‘Anthem’)

The Consolidation of Christian Music

It really frustrates me that all the best things seem to die. Just when you think you’ve got something good going, you lose it. For those of us into Christian music, such a time is upon us. Let me clarify that, those of us who like good music that also happens to have decent, God-honoring lyrics. I’m not referring to the cheese that is much of contemporary Christian music.

And when I say cheese, I’m talking about much of the stuff that flows out of Nashville, the well-known capital of country music, and the little-known capital of Christian music. Most of this cheese is drivel, void of originality, free of any hint of freshness, and lacking in basic musicianship and decent song writing. As an example, adult contemporary group 4Him. For ordinary people that example would be enough. 4Him? What kind of a name is that? But it gets better. Their new album? Walk On. It just so happens to be the title of a hit U2 song from their newest record, which came out one year ago. Coincidence? Or cheese? You decide.

Squint Entertainment, former home to such respectable–no admirable artists as Sixpence None the Richer, Burlap to Cashmere, and Chevelle. All three bands earned major mainstream accolades, and I won’t even get into Squint’s non-mainstream successes, Waterdeep and PFR. Not to mention the band Squint was toting but had not yet released an album, L.A. Symphony, a highly acclaimed rap group from the West Coast. Well, say goodbye. Squint records unfortunately closed their doors, sending their bands packing. Last word was, Nashville cheese-inspired record company Word was picking up the assets and would continue the tradition of Squint, adding many of their alternative artists to the Squint label. Word’s record for alternative acts is a little weak. Most of them release one album and disappear, perhaps a second and then fade into oblivion.

Although there is hope. I recently heard that PFR had signed with Rocketown Records, the slightly more respectable Nashville label owned by dyed in the wool-CCMer with one time mainstream power, Michael W. Smith. Rocketown is also home to the CCM-adored Chris Rice, the extremely promising Ginny Owens, who played Lilith Fair dates after releasing her debut album, and newcomer Shaun Groves, who has the intelligence and song writing chops to make a real dent in the Nashville cheese.

The other Squint bands are up in the air or on their own. Burlap to Cashmere appears to be with Brooklyn Beat/Squint Entertainment, according to their latest newsletter. Sixpence is shopping around, and I smell major label deal. Chevelle has been awfully quiet lately in the CCM circles, probably because they just signed with Epic Records for an early 2002 release, while Waterdeep will probably languish on a Nashville label that doesn’t understand their indie appeal.

Add to the list of cool labels in question 5 Minute Walk Records, home to the status-quo-crushing Five Iron Frenzy, folk-rocker Justin McRoberts, and former home of the meteoric W’s who are no more. 5 Minute Walk has been the California label, bringing a wave of fresh air to the Nashville crowd. Apparently 5 Minute Walk’s future is uncertain, which is a major blow to those of us who hoped Christian music could actually be cool. Apparently it’s not a financial decision either, which makes the whole thing even stranger.

Unfortunately that doesn’t leave us with much. There’s Essential Records, the young upstart that somehow snagged all the cool bands, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day, Jars of Clay, and then keeps throwing out these so-so money bands that are only following the crowd (read: FFH and True Vibe). There’s Forefront Records, the decidedly younger version of every Nashville CCM-label. Everything they release seems to have a CCM-friendliness, with the exception of those who’ve been around to earn the right to say what they want — dc Talk. Of course there’s always the Tooth and Nail conglomerate, which includes the mainstream friendly BEC, the rap/hip-hop Uprok, and the loud SolidState. Of course Tooth and Nail bands are consistently underground favorites that seem to languish around with a few hits here, a few flops there. The BEC bands usually have the most potential lately they haven’t seemed to garner much mainstream attention.

Alas. Sometimes you need to vent and long for days gone by.

Moving On

Today I’m beginning to notice how easy it is to forget about the terrorist attacks of September 11. We seem to have moved on. It’s no longer monopolizing the news. While it’s certainly not far from people’s minds, we are moving on. It’s amazing that something so immense can slip into the background as we move forward.

I suppose it helps that the promised U.S. retaliation hasn’t yet come. That will certainly be a reality that will sink in painfully when it finally happens. The scary thing to think about is that U.S. special forces are probably in Afghanistan as I write this, at the least doing reconnaissance missions and gathering intelligence. That idea seems so out there, yet it’s true.

The world today amazes me.