Tag Archives: brandon heath

Santa, Elf on a Shelf, and Missing the Point

3 Dec

Because this overindulgent Elf on a Shelf picture says it all…and it’s funny.

When I was a kid, there was no Elf on a Shelf and the threat of “you’d better behave or Santa won’t bring you anything” was rarely used in my house.  But there was a little game my father and I used to play called “put the crazy 70’s elves in silly places and laugh our heads off.”  Yes, we owned several of those freaky little elves with the vacant smiles (like these).  The elves would appear in various places during the holiday season–on the toilet, hanging on door frames, ripped apart by our Yorkshire terrier (I don’t think that one was planned), and so on.  Certainly we didn’t have the creativity that parents are now using these days with Elf on a Shelf and yet it was enough.  A few years ago, I even though of purchasing a couple of those wacky old elves on eBay for nostalgic purposes, but alas, nostalgia isn’t cheap. (And neither is Elf on a Shelf, almost $30 for a plastic elf and a book?!  Seriously?!)

Maybe it’s because I’m not a parent, but Elf on a Shelf bothers me and not just because you can buy a skirt to accessorize the elf and turn “him” into a “her.”  (I’ve been informed there are now female elves.  Whew!) I’m not even sure how to feel about Santa Claus anymore.   It may sound unholy, but as a kid I was much more excited about getting presents from Santa Claus than the birth of baby Jesus.  I mean, I was glad to hear about His birth and liked wearing a pretty dress at Christmas.  I was taught about the importance of Jesus year after year; it’s just that the presents (like Barbies and My Little Ponies and video games) given in honor of His birthday were more exciting.  Christmas meant a lot of things, but mostly, I’d get stuff.  A lot of stuff.  And have a week off from school.

As an adult, I still get excited about Christmas.  I mean, I’ve got holiday shopping sprees, big church productions, light displays, cookie exchanges, and heartfelt movies about the true meaning of Christmas (which is usually involve meeting Mr. Right or being with family).  I pause to ask myself, is this what the holiday season is *really* about?  I mean, we all remember the Christ child.  Some of us even make a semi-annual pilgrimage to church on Christmas Eve or put up a little nativity scene among all the other inflateables and what not in the front yard’s December light extravaganza.

But what does any of this have to do with the Savior of the world being born?

Scholars don’t even think He was born in December!  It is far more likely Jesus entered the world in the spring time.  The stable was most likely glorified hole in the wall (no, seriously, like a cave) and the wise men didn’t show up until at least a year or two after Jesus’ birth by which time the holy family was living in a house.  Recently, I heard on the radio that Jewish custom always made room for visitors, so it’s more than likely the inn keeper could have made room for Mary and Joseph at the inn.  I mean, who puts a teenager in labor in the barn?  The commentator said perhaps news of the out of wedlock pregnancy went ahead of the young couple and while there may have been room for others at the inn, Mary and Joseph were simply not welcome. (Incidentally,  the song “Just a Girl” by Brandon Heath puts an interesting spin on what may have been the innkeeper’s inner monologue and seems to support this theory.)  Like I’ve said before (read The Awestruck Apathy of Christmas), the real event was sweaty, painful, and dirty…yet miraculous, even scandalous.  Perhaps it was easier for Mary and Joseph to stay in Bethlehem with baby Jesus because their families simply didn’t understand God’s plan (I mean, they traveled to Bethlehem to the census, but we don’t know why they stayed there.)  The Bible doesn’t tell us how either family reacted, only that Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist believed Mary’s story.

It’s not that I’m against “Happy Birthday, Jesus” merchandise or photos with Santa or even Elf on a Shelf.  I like my church’s Christmas musical and appreciate a good cookie exchange.  I just wonder, like I do every year, if we’re shoving Jesus out of the our inns as well.  Sure, we  give Him a place out back in the stable.  We’ll say we’re keep the “Christ” in “Christ-mas” and refuse to say “Happy Holidays,” just “Merry Christmas,” but are we really seeking Him?  Are we setting out on journeys like the wise men who followed that star for a year or more, even when the sandstorms whirl around us in the desert, even when we feel like we can’t go on, even when it seems like we’ll never get there (wherever “there” is)?

(This version of “Star of Wonder” by JJ Heller is one of my favorites.  One day I’ll work up the courage to sing it in church!)

I don’t want to miss the point anymore.  I can do all the things I’m “supposed” to do–go to church, buy a present for a needy kid, drop money in the Salvation Army kettle, and say it’s all about Jesus.  I can also live my life on autopilot–say all the right church things, do all the right Christian things, and go through all the motions.  None of that gets me back to a dirty, stinky manger in the small town of Bethlehem.  On the night God came down, all of Heaven watched the sight, but people barely noticed.  Only the lowliest of shepherds paid honor to the King of the Universe.

And I don’t want to get excited about Jesus’ birth because it’s Christmas; I want to be excited about the reality of what He did every single day of my life!  God wrapped himself in human flesh to save you, me, and everyone else!  Can you think of a greater story?  I can’t even imagine it!  Then we, humankind, actually kill God-in-human-flesh and it’s all part of His plan to save humanity from the curse we brought upon ourselves.  Admittedly, I’d go for a happier tale with rainbows and glitter (lots of glitter).  Not being kept hostage to death, Jesus miraculously rises from the dead and then ascends to His Father promising to return.  So, we wait.  Again.  It seems that life is an eternal advent, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, we play hide-and-seek with elf dolls and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”   We sing songs about an elderly gent who is always watching us and has a sleigh of flying reindeer.  I could say that we should get rid of everything that isn’t about Jesus and His birth, but I’m not even sure Jesus would say that.  It’s interesting we have so much fanfare around an event that went unnoticed by so many.

I wouldn’t trade those elf hiding days with my father for anything or dressing up as a shepherd for the children’s Christmas play (even though I wanted to be an angel) or even my belief in Santa Claus because it led me here.  It came with candlelight services, “O Holy Nights,” live nativities, and the reading of the Bible, yet it was so much more.  It gave way to Easter celebrations in which Christmas paled in comparison.   Even then, I was pretty excited to get candy and wear a pretty dress, but I understood there was something far greater going on.

In the backdrop of holiday madness, there is something far greater going on.  As so many bumper stickers used to say, “Wise men (and women) still seek Him.”  Every day, wholeheartedly, they chase after Him and seek to know Him more.  Isn’t that the true meaning of Emmanuel–God With Us–to be with Him?  While you’re looking for that silly little elf, don’t forget to dust off your grandmother’s nativity and seek what or rather Who truly matters.

Let’s talk about it…how have you missed the point?  What traditions do you like to keep alive in your family?  What are you doing to remember Jesus’s birth as a holy event?  How are you seeking after Him today?

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Music Review:: Leaving Eden – Brandon Heath

18 Jan

If I’m truly honest, which I resolved to be in 2011, I have mixed reactions to Brandon Heath’s third studio album, Leaving Eden.  It could be that my standards are too high, but I thought Heath’s third album was just good.  I wanted it to be great.

Lyrically, the album is weak.  I mean, it’s good enough for other artists, but Brandon Heath is an excellent lyricist, most evidenced in his first album.  Steadily, Heath’s lyrics have fallen in line more with pop music standards as opposed to the depth offered by singer/songwriters.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are beautiful songs on this album, such as my favorite, “It’s Alright,” which uses details from Jesus’ life to remind listeners of Jesus’ promise never to leave believers.  The title track, “Leaving Eden”proves that Heath can bring game to a third album.  Other songs like “Only Water” and “The Light In Me” rally Leaving Eden forward, and seem more true to the type of artist Brandon Heath seems to be.

I wish the album had more flow, more transition, more…something.  To me the songs and message is repetitive—not in a way that creates a full picture of all that Heath is capable.  Rather, I find myself becoming bored with the constant percussion and lack of movement within the songs.  I believe Leaving Eden is supposed to have a progressive sound to show Brandon Heath’s growth as an artist.  I just don’t feel the sound works for Heath dulling his voice and overshadowing his vocals with too much extra noise.

Would I buy this album?  Probably…because I adore Brandon Heath.  But Leaving Eden is definitely not my favorite album in my Brandon Heath collection.

Amy’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (I added a .5 because “It’s Alright” made me cry. Such a good song!)

Music Review:: Glory Revealed II: The Word of God in Worship

13 Jul

Finally!  Glory Revealed II: The Word of God in Worship, the follow-up to the multiple Dove Award-winning 2007 release Glory Revealed, is hitting the shelves today.  The album was written and recorded during a week long artist retreat and features 21 different artists including project leader Mac Powell (Third Day), Brandon Heath, Mark Hall (Casting Crowns), Shane & Shane, and many more!  The music itself is a fusion of grass roots, folk, and rock music blended with the incredible vocal talents of Christian music’s top talent.  Every song on the album is a toe-tapping, sing-along-out-loud blast of soul music.  My favorites include, “Wake Up Oh Sleeper” and “Cup O’ Salvation.”  Reminiscent of the City on a Hill series, Glory Revealed is not only getting artists to work on collaborative projects, but raising the bar on worship music.

Amy’s Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

The BSW Raven Awards:: Where Everyone Wins!

24 Apr

Now that GMA Week is over and the Dove Awards have been handed out, I can finally announce the winners of the Backseat Writer 1st Annual Raven Awards.  Here’s the thing with the Raven Awards, if you’re nominated, you win!  Of course, our winners don’t get a cool looking-trophy (maybe next year). Heck, half of ‘em won’t even know they won a Raven Award…but that’s not really the point.

The point, dear friends, is to nominate songs that have impacted my life and the lives of those around me throughout the past year.  Whether these are artists who are making it big or who are rockin’ the indie scene, they have all been meaningful to me.

Originally, I thought it would be funny to have my own awards to rival the Doves…and what’s the opposite of a white bird of peace?  The black bird of death!  Then I thought to myself, that’s not really the message I want to send.   But then I realized why ravens are among my favorite birds.  The book of Kings speaks of the prophet Elijah’s flight into the desert when he was fleeing for his life from Queen Jezebel, who promised to kill him.  While sitting under a broom tree, God provided His messenger with food delivered to him by ravens.  In this instance, ravens were used by God to bring life to His Child, who was in a very dark place (read my post “Fed by the Ravens”).  To me, being fed by ravens is be given a message from God Himself, delivered by a third party.

Thus, these are my “Ravens.”  Feel free to nominate anyone you think deserves a BSW Raven Awards in the comments section. You can share how this artist or song has impacted you.  Sorry, I just don’t have the energy to put links to everyone–do a Backseat Writer site–chances are that I’ve written about these artists. Oh, and we definitely needed some side art; I’m not favoring the artists whose pictures appear on this post!

(Artist pics from top to bottom:: Seabird, Tara Leigh Cobble, Josh Wilson, This Beautiful Republic)

Song of the Year

“Cinderella”—Steven Curtis Chapman
“For the Life of Me”-This Beautiful Republic
“Learning How to Die”—Jon Foreman
“Don’t Wash Your Hands of Me”—Alli Rogers
“Britney”—Bebo Norman
“Savior, Please”—Josh Wilson
“Listen Up”—Brandon Heath
“Rescue”—Seabird
“Hold My Heart”—Tenth Avenue North
“Still Young”-Shirock

Male Vocalist of the Year

Bebo Norman
Jon Foreman
Josh Wilson
Brandon Heath
Fernando Ortega

Female Vocalist of the Year

Alli Rogers
Francesca Battistelli
Dawn Richardson (Fireflight)
Tara Leigh Cobble

Band of the Year

This Beautiful Republic
Seabird
Leeland
Shirock
The Myriad

Album of the Year

Til We See The Shore—Seabird
Limbs & Branches—Jon Foreman
Empty and Beautiful—Matt Maher
Perceptions—This Beautiful Republic
Bebo Norman—Bebo Norman
Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup—Josh Wilson

If any of our winners want the world to know about his or her or their amazing award, please feel free to use this cool award jpg I designed!  It’s not a statue, but it’s pretty darn close. Congrats to all our award winners!

Amy’s Favorite Things (Take that, Oprah!)

13 Dec

By Amy Sondova Every year, Oprah Winfrey features a few of her favorite things on her daytime talk show (“Oprah’s Favorite Things“) and then adorns the audience with each and every one of her favorite things.  Well, I’m not Oprah, and therefore, cannot give all Backseat Writer’s readers samples of everything that I adore.  But I can tell you where to get ‘em.   Without further adieu, I bring you “Amy’s Favorite Things,” which I hope will help you as you finish shopping foryour favorite people this holiday season (and beyond.   These are timeless suggestions).

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

*Etsy.com—Have you visited this site?  It’s a entire craft show right on your computer screen with everything from Scrabble tile pendants to handcrafted shoes!  There are a plethora of cool things for guys and gals alike.  Don’t believe me, guys?  Check out some of the screen printed messenger bags and t-shirts.  There’s something for everyone, and unique is the bottom line.

*Music—Every year almost everyone on my Christmas list can expect to get a CD or two.  This year there are a few artists who are hot on my list—debut artist Josh Wilson and music veteran Bebo Norman.  Besides being two of the nicest and most open guys I’ve ever interviewed, they’re also great singer/songwriters who released albums this year.  Bebo Norman’s self-titled release, Josh Wilson’s Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup, and Jon Foreman’s Limbs and Branches are must-haves!  But perhaps you’re looking for something a little rockier, then look no further than Seabird’s ‘Til We See the Shore or This Beautiful Republic’s sophomore album, Perceptions.   If you want to support indie artists, then get lost in the vocals of Tara Leigh Cobble’s Playing Favorites or Justin McRoberts’ latest project, Deconstruction.  And here are a few more recommendations: Narrow Stairs – Death Cab For Cutie; What If We – Brandon Heath; The Nashville EP and the Bee Sides – Relient K;  Opposite Way – Leeland;  With Arrows, With Poise – The Myriad;  anything by Caedmon’s Call, Fernando Ortega, Phil Keaggy.

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

*Sock Monkeys & socks—Is it just me or are you always running out of socks, too?  Whether getting lost in the wash, stolen by a shih tzu who shall remain nameless (Maddy!), or developing ginormous holes, pairs of socks seem to lose their mate after a month or two.  Therefore, I wear a lot of mismatched socks–argyle, plaid, and all patterns funky are worn together and I become a candidate for “What Not to Wear”.  Besides becoming a fashion mishap, there are are only things to do with those single socks.  You could make sock

monkeys, of course! You don’t even have to limit yourself to monkeys, there are patterns for all kinds of creatures online (sock monster, sock owl).  Then you can sell your creations at etsy.com.  Or you could just buy a conventional sock monkey at sockmonkey.com.

*Digital Cameras—The first time I got my hands on a digital camera, I took pictures of everything in sight, and I haven’t stopped.  My first pictures weren’t that great; then again, my camera wasn’t that great.  Yet I treasure the images of my grandmother’s last Christmas with our family.  Buy yourself a camera to capture the moments that truly matter, and then buy one for someone else.  Check around for the best prices and give yourself a gift that goes far beyond an electronic device.  I highly recommend Canon cameras, but if you want to go a little cheaper, Olympus makes great cameras as well.

*Anything handcrafted by you—Maybe you’re not into making sock monkeys, but there are tons of other projects in which to immerse yourself.  Try your hand at crocheting or knitting (you can even use a knitting loom like the Knifty Knitter) and make everyone scarves, hats, and SOCKS!  (See what a valuable gift socks can be?)  You could paint a thoughtful picture or make a collage.  If you’re not crafty, melt chocolate wafers and dip some pretzels; chocolate-covered pretzels make great gifts!  If all else fails, just make your dad an ashtray like you did in kindergarten—he’ll still think it’s cute (hopefully!)

Psych - Season 2

Psych - Season 2

*Amazon.com—Free shipping on orders over $25 and books, music, and DVD’s galore.  Every year Amazon is adding to its inventory.  I check back every day to see what’s on sale so I can nab Psych Seasons 1 & 2, Bones Seasons 1-3, books like The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, the chick-lit novels of my fave fictionista, Christa Banister and those aforementioned CD’s at discounted prices.

*Ebay.com—Whatever you can’t find on Amazon.com, you can find on Ebay.  There are literally millions of treasures on this site from low, low prices on video games to truly bizarre items like vintage hand towels.  But whatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it on Ebay.  You can also find a bunch of stuff you weren’t looking for, too.

*Michael’s, A.C. Moore, Joann’s—Craft stores are slashing their prices, and signing up for their e-mail newsletters allows customers to get even more coupons (especially if you don’t get them in your local newspaper).  Remember that camera I told you to buy?  You can get beautiful frames for those pics on sale at any of these stores for 40-50% off during the holiday season.  Plus, custom framing is 60% off (I say buy a frame and do-it-yourself!)  Not only that, but you can find deals on Christmas décor, craft kits for the kids, and nice gifts like candle holders and scented candles for your co-workers.  Even if you aren’t crafty, craft stores are a great place to shop for gifts.

Even though Black Friday has come and gone, you can still save money and give great presents to your loved ones…and those people you don’t really like that you still have to buy for.  We know Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but if you’re like me, you sure do like to get them (hey, I’m being honest here).  Plus, great presents show cleverness and creativity that has little to do with price and everything to do with thoughtfulness.  Our mere trinkets can never compare to the gift of God’s Son wrapped in humanity, so as we give to one another let us remember the greatest gift that mankind was ever given.

Click here to see all my my favorite things!

Brandon Heath :: Social Activist

18 Aug

By Amy Sondova Fresh from Ireland and getting ready to play at a convention in Orlando, Brandon Heath caught up with me on his way to a sound check. “I actually called you 10 minutes late on my schedule,” he sheepishly admits. Such is the busy life of a musician on the precipice of releasing his latest project, What If We (Reunion). Despite his hectic life, Brandon was eager to chat about his sophomore album and social justice.

Since our last interview (read Brandon Heath :: Missional Musician), Brandon moved from Nashville to Houston, accepting the position of worship leader at The Loft. “They just invited me to come. I felt like God was calling me to do it.” He then adds, “It seems very atypical. It just doesn’t seem like the traditional route to go when you’re trying to launch a career, but for some reason, it made sense.” Then again, Brandon’s never been a traditional musician.

He began his career writing songs for artists such as Bebo Norman and Matt Wertz. Recording an album of his own wasn’t on Brandon’s radar. When producer and friend Dan Muckala heard Brandon perform the Dove Award nominated song “Our God Reigns” the first time, he urged Brandon to record his first album, Don’t Get Comfortable. This project launched Brandon into the spotlight with several Dove Award nominations and the prestigious honor of winning “New Artist of the Year.”

Building on the successes of “Don’t Get Comfortable,” Brandon continues to do things that challenge him musically, as evidenced by the album’s first single, “Give Me Your Eyes.” Written after people-watching in an airport, the song is fused with a slight hip-hop sound, a definite departure from Brandon’s easy folk vocals. When asked if fans were jolted by the new sound, Brandon laughs replying, “I knew people would be a little surprised. If you listen to it two or three times, it’s like, OK, I can see Brandon doing this. I had to think about myself doing it actually. I thought, can I do this? Then the more I thought about it, I was like, yeah, I can do this.” Musing a moment, like he often does during the interview, Brandon adds, “It’s good to take risks.”

Risk seems to be a way of life for Brandon, who has traveled to India with his friend and mentor, Bob Goff of Restore International, and to Uganda with Blood:Water Mission. He is also joining Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Charlie Peacock this fall for the Art*Music*Justice Tour. Talking about our mutual love of Derek Webb’s music, I ask Brandon why people should check out the tour. He quips, “Besides the fact that Derek Webb’s on it, Sandra McCracken, his wife, is on it, too. That’s the other reason you should go.”

After a moment of banter, Brandon explains why he chose to tour with some of his songwriting heroes this fall. “This tour fits me so perfectly. It’s about issues that really are a burden for me to pray for and to ask other people to think about—human trafficking and figuring out how to handle the problem of human slavery in the world. It should not still exist.”

He passionately continues, “It exists because of corrupt governments, poverty, and greed. How do we figure out how to make it go away? I’m ready to see justice happen and to see people healed. This is my way of contributing to the education and hopefully, the actions of others.”

Before hitting the road in September, Brandon will once again travel with Bob Goff to Uganda. Having already visited, Brandon is eager to return. He will be spending time learning about those who reside in huge Internally Displaced Person (IDP, formerly refugee) camps. “They’re supposed to be temporary, but they’re not,” shares Brandon. “The people are literally living on top of one another.” The trip involves investigating ways the government of Uganda and others can help IDP’s move into villages and sustain a living outside of the camps.

Not only does Brandon want to inspire others with social justice through his travels, but he wants to offer hope through songwriting. While traveling, touring, and leading worship, Brandon keeps writing songs. Besides the new hip-hip groove on “What If We,” the album uses rougher guitar sounds and gruffer vocals, inspired by Brandon’s recent Western movie viewing, which is evidenced by his biographical song, “Wait and See”. To achieve this acoustic, Brandon shares, “Little known fact: all of my vocals were recorded in a bathroom—in the bathroom at my producer’s studio.” It’s this sort of innovation that make Muckala one of Nashville’s most sought-after producers. Really.

Besides dishing on bathroom vocals, Brandon also discusses the benefits of international marriage. “If you marry someone from another country, you get dual citizenship… but that’s probably not a good reason to get married.”

The single 30 year-old musician admits that being unmarried can make his travels lonely at times. “There are days when I’m really content doing what I’m doing because I know I’m in a season where God’s got me on the road. Honestly, if I was married, I would want to be home; I wouldn’t want to be gone.”

Using his more signature sound, Brandon conveys his thoughts about solitude in “When I’m Alone.” Yet there are days when he feels the sting of being a bachelor. “On the other hand, you want to share your life with somebody. The other day I had a guy who’s 25 pat me on the back and say, ‘You’ll understand someday.’ It made my skin crawl.”

Just because he’s not married, doesn’t mean that Brandon isn’t a romantic, at least when it comes to writing songs. What If We features a few love songs, including the heart-wrenching, “London.” Brandon explains, “I wrote it with Chad Cates, but it’s really about his experience in London, missing his fiancée.” Then there’s “Listen Up,” a song in which a man comes to the realization that he didn’t hear his beloved’s heart when she was talking about her troubles. “To me, it’s like we [men] end up talking too much. The truth is, we don’t know what to say so we say dumb things that get us in trouble,” says Brandon, explaining the mystery of why men make insensitive remarks to distraught women.

A huge Jars of Clay fan, Brandon was excited to co-write “Sore Eyes” with the band. “They play all the instruments and background vocals; I’m just doing lead vocals.” The song was written about a sassy girl who seemed to be down all the time. “I don’t think she was really sad, but she thought that kind of demeanor worked for her.”

Slightly darker is “Sunrise,” a song inspired by the movie, No Country For Old Men. Brandon even wanted the lyrics and sound to mimic the movie. “The song is about people who stay awake all night and wonder, ‘How long until I die?’ It’s really about fear and being afraid. Sometimes the dark is the scariest time, but light give us a little hope because we can see the situation for what it is.”

It’s this light that Brandon hopes to shine on social justice, fueled by ministry and music as conduits for change. Not just social change, but personal change—both topics on which he is particularly loquacious. Like all good things, our dialogue came to an end, with Brandon rushing off to do a sound check with his band—at least 10 minutes behind schedule.

Print copy of interview.

Beauty Divine, Twice Daily

23 Jul

When the sky is clear or even partly cloudy, humans have the opportunity to witness one of nature’s greatest wonders–the rising of the sun in the east and the place of its setting in the west. While I’m not usually awake early enough to catch too many sunrises, each evening I stare in awe at the western sky as colors appear lightly, dramatically darken, and then disappear giving way to the night sky, which dances with stars and planets and the moon. It’s breathtaking beauty that blows my mind almost every day.

Sometimes I think I take too many pictures of sunsets. I take at least one a week, but I can’t help it. When I see something that beautiful, I want to capture it and share it with everyone else. I want to shout, “Look at the beauty the Lord has created in this fallen world. How can you not believe? The very heavens are screaming of His presence.” Still I imagine there are tired fathers driving on home, broken woman waiting at red lights, and kids to enraptured with their Nintendo DS’s to who rarely pay the sky much mind. Occasionally, everyone takes time out of his or her busy life and sucks in a deep breath at the beauty of the evening (or morning) sky. It happens every day in every city, state, country, and continent, whether we see it or not. The sun rises and it sets.

Thunderstorms rolled into area around 5 PM bring down harsh, rolling rains. The storms subsided for a bit and the clouds parts, giving way to a stormy sunset. So I grabbed my camera and took pictures as I smelled the damp summer earth and yelled at Maddy the shih tzu to stop trying to eat dirt out of the flower pots (weird dog). Here’s one of my favorites…

May beauty divine capture your eye. Oh, I stole the phrase “beauty divine” from a Brandon Heath song. I believe also likes sunsets/sunrises since he wrote a song about them on his first album (“Red Sky”) and on his new album (“Sunrise”). Plus, there’s a dramatic sunset on the cover of his CD jacket for What If We. Therefore, I believe it is completely appropriate to use Mr. Heath’s phrase. Besides, we’re old pals; he wouldn’t mind anyhow.

2008 Dove Award Winners

24 Apr

The 2008 GMA Dove Awards winners were announced last night during an awards ceremony at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville marking the end of this year’s GMA Week. Was I there? No. Did I want to be there? Sort of. Will I be there next year? God only knows. But I would definitely want to be someone’s date to the Dove Awards so I could wear a cool dress and, uh, have a date. Alas, my dating life is not the topic of this post, so without further ado (and foolish asides), I bring you the winners of the 2008 Dove Awards (of course you could just as easily read about them here you would miss my amusing banter)…

Song of the Year went to “East to West” a song off Casting Crowns‘ latest album, The Altar and the Door. Casting Crowns also picked up an award for Group of the Year. The only female nominated for Songwriter of the Year, Cindy Morgan, took that award home while one of the only other ladies to win an award, Natalie Grant, won for Female Vocalist of the Year. Chris Tomlin the reigning king of Vocalist of the Year won again, but TobyMac was pronounced Aritst of the Year.

While all these artists should be congratulated for their hard work and recognition, there were two wins that really touched my heart–Producer of the Year Ian Eskelin and New Artist of the Year Brandon Heath. Having interviewed both Eskelin (read “Creative Output” and “Making Love”) and Heath (read “Missional Musician”), I found both men to be kind, godly, and dedicated artists. Ian Eskelin is truly one of my favorite producers (and musicians) and I enjoy Brandon Heath’s singer/songwriter style. Congrats, guys!

Although I still think that All Star United’s cheeky “Song of the Year” should have been nominated–I mean, how funny would that be?

Brandon Heath: Missional Musician

13 Mar

Written in April 2007

By Amy Sondova Three months ago recording artist Brandon Heath was at a Kenyan clinic sharing information on breast-feeding with HIV-infected mothers. But on the day of this interview, Heath is in Dallas chatting on his cell phone from a Target parking lot only an hour before catching a plane to Grand Rapids. Towards the end of the interview, Heath asks apologetically if he could check his e-mail, “I’m gonna carry my phone into Starbucks, okay?” What a difference a day makes.

A self-described “recovering introvert”, Heath was launched into the public eye last year with the release of his debut album, Don’t Get Comfortable (Reunion). Having written songs for artists such as Bebo Norman and Joy Williams, this songwriter never expected to record an album himself. Ironically, it is Heath’s 2007 Dove Award-nominated song, “Our God Reigns,” that started his journey into the music spotlight.

“The song itself was written on a plane ride home from Seattle, WA in 2003,” explains Heath. “I just saw President Bush on television talking about the war and I thought about the hopelessness in the Middle East. I thought, ‘God are you there, too? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it.’ And the answer was, ‘Absolutely!’” Realizing he had been putting too much faith in President Bush and not enough in God, Heath was struck by the majesty of God, “It was a moment of ‘God, You reign over all the earth, not just Nashville or in the U.S., but over all the earth. You are omnipotent and omniscient and I’m gonna praise You right here on this plane!” Writing the chorus of his now famous song on the plane and finishing it when he got home, Heath then sang his new worship song in church that Sunday, where it caught the attention of fellow worship leader and producer, Dan Muckala (Backstreet Boys, The Afters).

When Muckala approached Heath about recording an album that would include the song “Our God Reigns”, Heath was a bit ambivalent. “Being a recording artist, you have to put yourself out there and be somewhat of a public person. I’m kind of private,” he explains. It was then that Heath decided the life he was living was a bit too comfortable so he made some changes that included visiting India with close friend, Bob Goff, founder of Restore International.

After being adopted by the Goff family, Heath says that Bob opened his eyes to the atrocities being committed against others worldwide, “I’d heard about the slave trade and sex tourism with little girls and it disgusted me, but I didn’t think I could make an impact until I saw what Bob was doing.” Using his skills as a lawyer, Goff who hails from San Diego travels to countries such as India, Uganda, and soon Nepal, where the human trafficking is rampant and lobbies on the behalf of the enslaved.

A native of Nashville, Heath and fellow musician Matt Wertz did something even more risky, they moved to a low-income part of Nashville, where gunshots sliced through the silence of the night and drug deals are commonplace. “There weren’t many people like me—not the same race, not the same demographic, not the same age and it was very uncomfortable for me for the first couple of months that I lived there, but it’s changed me. I’ve learned to live with people who don’t have much. I’ve learned a lot from listening to their stories and finding out who I am in contrast to who they are,” he shares.

As if that wasn’t enough, Heath then decided to join friend, Charlie Lowell of Jars of Clay, and seven others on a trip to Africa. Led by 25 year-old Jena Lee, the main force behind Jars of Clay’s Blood: Water Mission, the group toured poor villages who had received wells from the mission. That’s how Heath found himself at an AIDS clinic also supported by Blood: Water Mission talking to new mothers about breast milk.

His voice full of emotion, Heath explains that these AIDS-infected mothers learned for the first time that their breast milk could infect their babies with the HIV virus. Never in his life did Heath imagine he would sit down and educate people on another continent about AIDS, “Honestly, they were thankful to know what they had because they knew they were sick; they just didn’t know what it was. That was huge for me, to be part of the solution.”

Eager to return to Africa, Heath’s heart for the oppressed is evident, “These people have been through so much—through genocide, through famine, through a lot of sickness, through being a forgotten people in the world.” Ironically, originally Heath wasn’t sure he wanted to go to Africa because he was afraid of how he would be changed.

Then he heard how AIDS was changing the face of the continent and knew that being uncomfortable was exactly what he needed.

In fact, Heath has now characterized his life by just that—being uncomfortable. “I’ve never seen Christ so real in my life because I have to trust that He’s with me in what I’m doing—living in a high crime area, going to Africa where I could very well get malaria. I’m definitely not comfortable, but I like life better this way.” Life is more real for Heath who’d prefer to live the life of a disciple, rather than that of a cultural Christian.

Of course, life on the edge also has its moments of inspiration. Take one Christmas Eve when Heath spied a woman looking for food around the front of his house. Heath says, “I opened the door and said, ‘Are you hungry?’ and she said, ‘If you got any food, yeah, I’d love that.’ My family was there so I invited her to come and join my family for Christmas Eve dinner.” As Heath and his roommates befriended this ragged woman, they began to share the love of Christ with her.

It was this woman who inspired “Red Sky”, one of the most poignant songs on “Don’t Get Comfortable”. The song combines the old sailor’s saying, “Red sky tonight, sailor’s delight;, red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning” with the reality of living in a fallen world. According to sailor’s myth, a red sky at night signifies that the next day would be smooth sailing for a ship, but a red sky in the morning signaled a day of stormy seas. Heath says he thought it could be a metaphor for the Christian faith, “What a cool way to say, ‘God, show me that tomorrow’s going to be a better day because this one is scary. If you’ll give me a red sky, at least I’ll know that tomorrow’s going to be a better day.’” It is with a red sky that Heath prays his friend will be covered.

Living an authentic life is important to Heath. “I’m not as cool as you think I am,” he assures and then emphatically adds, “I don’t think people just want rock stars anymore. They want to know that people who are doing music are just like them. That’s what I want! I look up to people who I feel are somewhat attainable and their lives aren’t squeaky clean.”

Heath’s ability to be real about his experiences not only shines through his music, but his lifestyle as well, “It’s a challenge for me to live what I preach. If I say I’m gonna do it, I gotta do it or I’m a fraud.” And if anyone will spot Heath as a fraud, it’s the teens he works with at Young Life summer camps.

After becoming a Christ-follower at Young Life camps as a teenager, Heath has devoted part of his summers playing music for and with teenagers at camps. “A lot of times kids bring their guitar to camp and they may or may not be a good songwriter. So I’ll sit down with them and we’ll write a song together, then I have the kid come up on stage and we’ll sing,” Heath says. Empowering teens is an important part of youth ministry according to Heath, who didn’t write himself until a camp counselor gave him a journal. Heath felt that it was the first time in his life that someone gave him “permission” to write. Doing the same thing for inspiring songwriters in your youth group can be the push students need for success, but be honest when you give your student feedback, Heath advises.

“Do things that inspire you,” Heath says, still talking about teenagers. “Don’t be afraid to write down your thoughts and share them.” But, then again, it’s a message everyone needs to hear. Sometimes following God can cost a great deal, even our comfort. But if you ask Brandon Heath, life is far better when it’s uncomfortable.

Update: Brandon Heath recently joined together with fellow musicians to raise nearly $20,000 for the Macon County, Tennessee hurricane victims. He has also received three 2008 Dove Award nominations in both the Song of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song categories for “I’m Not Who I Was” and also a nomination for New Artist of the Year. Click here to see the music video for “I’m Not Who I Was”.

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My Top Discoveries of 2007

30 Dec


Psych“–It’s an awesome T.V. show on USA Network starring James Roday as “psychic” detective Shawn Spencer, who isn’t really psychic, but pretends that he is. It’s great and the new season starts on Jan. 11.

Pushing Daisies“–I love this show so much that I blogged about one of its actresses, Kristin Chenoweth  (read “Snooked on Pushing Daisies” here).

LOTS OF MUSIC–I’ve been introduced to many a good musicians and bands in 2007 through my work with YMX, but here are some of my new favorites.


Brandon Heath–great singer/songwriter with a great heart for God and worship.

Grey Holiday–hilarious and deep; great combo.

David Klinkenberg–makes me wish I hadn’t given up so easily on violin lessons in 4th grade, yet I’d probably never be as good as this guy.  He’s amazing to see perform live.


Nickel Creek–they’re good together and Chris Thile does a great job flying solo!

Leeland–Yeah, I didn’t listen to them before 2007, but I’m glad another year didn’t go by without their music.

Hairspray: One of the cult classics I had never indulged in until its remake.  I love Nikki Blonksky.


High School Musical 2:  I don’t know about this Zac Efron kid, but Lucas Grabeel is cute!

Fred Weasley is NOT DEAD! After the final Harry Potter book was released there was some confusion.  An apparent misprint in the book says that a wall fell on him.  That’s completely inaccurate.  Fred’s alive and well–I don’t care what you say.  If you don’t believe me, read this!

Marley & Me is a great book about a man and his dog.  Plus, the New York Times best-selling author and I live in the same zip code!!!


Potter Puppet Pals is a website that makes funny Harry Potter parody videos using puppets.

Facebook–why didn’t I sign up sooner?  If I’m not your buddy, I should be.


Macs may be better, but I still can’t afford one.

And, last but certainly not least, the wonders of Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel.  There’s a show on Animal Planet all about meercats and another about apes–how cool is that?

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