The Persistent Shelf

I have always had books on my desk and nightstand. Okay, I don’t have a nightstand. You caught me. I just pile books on my headboard. But now that I am in seminary, these books seem to just stack up, waiting to be read. So I thought every once in a while, I would share some of my stack with you. Maybe you can read them and let me know what order I should read them in. So as of today, here’s the stack:

1. Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
I really loved Saunders’ Tenth of December book of short stories. And I enjoyed him immensely at the writers conference at Calvin College last spring. So I pre-ordered his first novel and was thrilled for it to arrive last week. So I read the first few pages, was amazed at his brilliance, and put it on top of the stack.

2. Eternal City – Kathleen Graber
I have really enjoyed this book of poetry. And by “really enjoyed,” I mean I liked three of the four poems I’ve read and I loved the other one. The loved one is called Magic Kingdom and you can read it here from the New Yorker:

3. Preaching and Teaching the Last Things: Old Testament Eschatology for the Life of the Church – Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
Okay, I did get this for school, but I wanted to read it. I didn’t love chapter one (which is as far as I’ve gotten so far), but I’m looking forward to the rest. I especially want to see how eschatology fits into the psalms. We often talk about remembrance as an act of worship, so I’m curious how looking forward in faith instead of backwards adds a new dimension.

4. The Trespasser – Tana French
Okay, I love all of Tana French’s novels. They are mystery thrillers with a slant of weird in them. And the Irishness of them adds depth, especially to Faithful Place. I like them for many reasons, but I love starting each new book because the main character will be some side character from the previous book. But I just can’t find time to get to the newest one.

5. For The Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship – Daniel Block
Okay, I read this one already. But I had to read it really fast. So it’s still on the stack because I really need to go back and read it seriously. It’s one of two wonderful serious academic texts on worship from our generation. Well, two that I’ve read. The other is Recalling the Hope of Glory by Allen Ross, of course.

Even as I write I see Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz staring me in the face. But I can’t even get to them in this blog. Hopefully, someone will enjoy one of these books. Or even better, maybe you’ll hate one and I can take it out of my stack.

Keep reading.


Challenged by The Music of Strangers

I went to see The Music of Strangers yesterday, a beautiful new documentary about Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Yo-Yo Ma has long been one of the greatest cellists on the planet, but the Silk Road Ensemble has been a new adventure for him, beginning in 2000. The ensemble unites members of different cultures, different musical and ethnic backgrounds, different nations, different styles. They work together, finding not merely ways they can play each other’s styles, but how they might meet in the middle making new kinds of music. I highly recommend the movie. It will not wrap up an easy conversation but instead starts the journey and sparks thoughts that stir long after the projector turns off.

The movie weaves the stories of individual members with the musical experiments of the group as a whole. The story of Kinan Azmeh (clarinet, composer) from Damascus, Syria, was so powerful. His music is amazing, but the story of leaving Syria, continuing to watch the damage in his homeland, and ending with the opportunity to work with children at a Syrian refugee camp was so powerful. Also, the story of Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh) from Iran was incredibly moving. I realize that most of you quickly recognized ‘clarinet’ and ‘composer’ in the first set of parenthesis, but might have been confused by ‘kamancheh’ in the second. This is a native instrument that most of us are unfamiliar with. But Kayhan is a master. Seeing this instrument blend with Ma’s cello was an incredible moment for this musician. But his story is even more powerful. His parents sent him from Iran at 17. He grew into an incredible musician, eventually returning to his homeland. However, eventually he had leave again, refusing to be silent about this violence in his country. His wife remains there, and experiencing their loss and grief and finally the joy of reunion is a special moment in the film. Watching the impact of Cristina Pato from Galicia, Spain, who plays the bagpipes and then Wu Tong and Wu Man from China, the first a vocalist from a hard rock band and instrumentalist on the sheng, and the second a master of the Pipa, a classic Chinese instrument, was so powerful as these diverse pieces came together to make music that even as a musician myself, I could hardly comprehend. To be honest, I cannot wait for the movie to come out on DVD, because I need to see it again. I need to just listen and be amazed. And I need to sit and attentively take notes so that I can continue to wrestle with what was said.

I went to see the movie with Dr. Grant and his wife from my school. We walked over to Jason’s Deli afterwards to continue the conversation. I quickly found that each of us had experienced the movie in our own way and were challenged differently. We began to share these thoughts which of course spurred more thoughts for each of the others. I could write a huge blog just on our conversation, in addition to multiple blogs on the movie itself. We could explore what this beautiful picture of collaboration reveals about the church. But mainly I hope you will go see the movie. Then you can have all of those conversations with your own community. I hope you enjoy it.

You can find out more about the Silk Road Ensemble here.



The Tale of a Tail

I know I haven’t written a real blog in a while. I promise it’s coming. Right after the blogs I agreed to write for someone else, and after homework. And maybe after church this Sunday. But until then, I thought I would share this poem that I wrote about my dog. Really. That’s what it is. No hidden meaning. Just a poem. About my dog.

The Tale of a Tail

I write this poem to my hound Henry
Whose steadfast love endures forever
Whose tail swings like a silent metronome
Welcoming me home, as if my wanderings
Covered years instead of minutes
The tempo of his tail
Communicates emotion more clearly than all my vocabulary
A swift steady wag celebrates the joy
Of simply hearing me speak his name
Who could restrain the bliss of dinner served?
A repeating yet reticent wag expresses grief and shame
Whether I have wronged him
With anger improperly aimed
Or he has wronged me
With the aromatic gift he left on the carpet
Yet even then he cannot keep from declaring love
For his passion does not stop or slow,
Merely repressed in fear of my response
But quickly accelerating at a smile or step,
at the slightest hope
for a brighter future
His steadfast love endures forever
So I write this for love, uninhibited and unconditional
May I love anyone the way you love me
For you, Henry, my basset hound


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Todd Agnew Joins Visible Music College in Dallas

(DALLAS, TX) – As the countdown nears to the opening of its third U.S. teaching site, Visible Music College is excited to welcome noted Christian artist Todd Agnew as its newest faculty member in Dallas.

“Visible Music College Dallas is excited to have Todd Agnew as part of our faculty and community,” says Tommy Lozure, Director of Academics at the Dallas teaching site. “His industry experience will offer amazing insight to Visible students about what a successful music career looks like. Todd also has a heart to train future worship leaders in sound Biblical understandings of worship and faith so that students can impact the church and music industry in profound and Gospel ways.”

Agnew initially connected with Visible Music College in Memphis through his label, Ardent Records. His debut album Grace Like Rain yielded the No. 1 singles “Grace Like Rain” and “This Fragile Breath.” Since then, the song “Grace Like Rain” has been purchased more than a million times and continues to be one of CCLI’s Top 250 most sung worship songs in America. Five albums over the next 10 years produced fan favorites like “My Jesus,” “Our Great God (with Rebecca St. James),” “In the Middle of Me,” and “Your Great Name.”

Agnew moved to Texas in 2008 with his wife, and he’s currently finishing a degree of his own at Dallas Theological Seminary and working on new music. Agnew will be teaching Theology of Worship and Worship Leadership this fall.

“I’ve always found that it’s so exciting to be a part of what God is doing,” Agnew says. “You don’t always have to be at the front of that to be excited about it. Right now I’m getting a part of what God is doing through other students and other musicians, hearing their stories and seeing God mold and shape them and I’m sure they’re going to influence me, as well.”

Visible Music College trains and equips musicians, technicians, and business professionals in skill and character for effective service in the music industry and the Church. Founded in Memphis in 2000 by Ken Steorts, the college now welcomes students at its downtown Memphis campus, through a partner school, SchallWerkStadt, in Holzen, Germany (Fall 2011), and a Chicagoland campus in Lansing, Illinois (Fall 2014). A teaching site planned for Dallas will open in fall of 2015. While getting a rigorous education in music, music business and music production balanced with equal emphasis on spiritual growth and professional development, Visible students make an impact in campus cities by providing accessible music education through the Visible Community Music School and get real music industry experience through the college’s full-service non-profit record label Madison Line Records. Global, Spiritual, Professional, Academic: learn more at

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Todd’s Songs on Discover Worship

Attention Worship Leaders, the piano vocal scores for “Grace Like Rain” (as well as “This Fragile Breath” and “Gloria”) are now available through Discover Worship, an online subscription service for choir directors and worship leaders.

Member churches can search, download and make unlimited copies of more than 2000 songs, musicals and collections and also have unlimited access to all the demos, tracks, midi files and vocal and instrumental charts they need to rehearse and present these songs.

Discover Worship is currently offering a FREE 2-song TRIAL so you can check out their worship resources. Here’s the link to the page with “Grace Like Rain.” You can listen to the music all you want but will need a free login to view the PDF’s of the arrangements.