Chris Tomlin Nails It Again with Resurrection Power and Nobody Loves Me Like You

by Daniel Hong

Holy Roar

In 2018, major headlines from the secular media as well as Christian ones were for a young female Christian Contemporary Artist named Lauren Daigle. While she seems to be the next big thing (or maybe already is the new big thing) in Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) movement, accomplishing much by breaking into the top 10 (3rd at its peak) in the billboard 200 chart with her latest album Look Up Child as well as appearing on a major platform like the Ellen show, there is one other artist who has consistently done it for years. Chris Tomlin was a worship leader for Passion City Church and a fixture of Passion Conference (a noteworthy conference for young evangelical Christians) has done it again with new songs of praise for the church in his new album Holy Roar. Admittedly, I am much more in the mold of the traditional independent fundamentalist Baptist background when it comes to praise and worship, so at times the CCM movement disappoints me to the point where I desire to sing only the ancient hymns. However, Chris Tomlin is one artist that always seems to keep me tuned in with his uncanny ability to write worship songs with substance. For those who are not familiar with Christianity and its music scenery and even for those who are Christians but are not familiar with CCM’s history and current landscape I will provide some context so what I write does not look like a completely different language.

To be clear, my point is not so much that Chris Tomlin is the only one who writes and makes good worship music as I find many blessings in the songs of other artists such as Jimmy Needham, Shane & Shane, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Phil Wickham, Jeremy Camp etc. but that he is one who seems to be a sort of leader or as Time Magazine once put it as America’s worship leader. In fact, Time called him the most sung artist in churches in America as well as the most sung in different languages around the world as well. He has done it during a time where technological innovations and the rise of radio has brought CCM into the spotlight. While, the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s had its share of artists from Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Don Moen and many others, it was nothing compared to the turn of the century where the quantity of CCM exploded giving opportunities for many artists to make their mark. Many have done exactly that just as their secular counter parts have. The problem also comes from that as well, the Bible states Christians are to be in the world but not a part of it but stand out as salt and light. However, it seems with the rise of this brave new world Christian artists have fallen into the pop cultural trend. Though not the focus of this article, another one could be written about the fall of many artists as some have failed to even have a basic theological understanding of the trinity, fallen into fornication, pornography, secularism and other character flaws most recent and notably being the aforementioned Lauren Daigle and her dodge on the issue of gay marriage (specifics on Daigle’s dodge and others will be addressed that article for another day). Even keeping to musical standards CCM has become lyrically devoid of actual Christian content and symbolism, instrumentally it has become repetitive and cliché, and just finding a proper standard in which to judge CCM is becoming much harder with the advent of new technology and radio. It seems if anything CCM is going through an identity crisis personified yet again by yours truly Lauren Daigle.

Again, my point is not to make Lauren Daigle a target of constant criticism, in fact I followed her career and found her to be a very talented young woman to the point where I would call her the Christian counterpart to pop star Adele. However, due to her surge in popularity in 2018 she is the best example in personifying my points. Especially the last one about CCM’s identity crisis. Her 2018 album is filled with awe-inspiring songs that I believe to be a gift of God, but what is noticeably missing is a clear Christian messaging or symbolism. As words like “Jesus” “Cross” “resurrection” and others are nowhere to be found. When approached on this Daigle responds by saying that she is aiming to make her music accessible to the secular person as well as the Christian. A response that is normative at this point as Christian rapper Lecrae as well as others before him like Switchfoot have claimed the same thing. Good music overall seems to be the goal which leaves the question as to why these artists do not just enter the pop scene instead of marketing themselves in CCM. For instance, what separates the inspiring music of Lauren Daigle as opposed to Rachel Platten? Sure, Daigle may still have more religious symbolism as Platten does not use that as much in her songs, but overall referring to God and religious symbols is not alien to pop music. Drake, Kesha and Avril Lavigne have used religion as a major driver of their songs this year. The thing is nobody would disagree when I would say that you would not sing Platten, Kesha, Drake, or Lavigne in churches but today it’s not just pop songs, there are a lot of CCM songs that can’t be sung or are borderline like Daigle herself due to lyrical content (at times the instrumentation as well). That is where Chris Tomlin steps in with his new singles Resurrection Power and Nobody Loves Me Like You you can already see with his lyrics:

Now I have resurrection power
Living on the inside
Jesus, You have given us freedom
No longer bound by sin and darkness
Living in the light of Your goodness
You have given us freedom

  • Resurrection Power

Story, I could’ve had a really different story
But You came down from heaven to restore me
Forever saved my life

Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, You are faithful and true
Nobody loves me like You

  • Nobody Loves Me Like You

I think it’s safe to say that these songs were written for the purpose of worship in churches.

Chris Tomlin’s career is marked with songs of adoration and praise for the God of the Bible with hits like How Great Is Our God, Indescribable, Whom Shall I Fear, At the CrossOur GodJesusGood Good Father, I will Rise, and We Fall Down to name a few. Of course, he was not alone in the 2000’s as no matter how much controversy their churches seem to face Jesus Culture/Bethel Music and Hillsong are also fixtures in the CCM movement that have garnered popularity with the latter having another hit as well in 2018 through clear Christian symbolism and messaging. Solo artists that I mentioned before are also like Tomlin in that their music has clear gospel centered content covering topics like Christ, sin, revival, God’s character, the cross and repentance all of which is appropriate for church worship. What marks the success of these artists is obviously and undoubtedly the Holy Scripture, but also a conserving and the carrying on of the tradition of the hymns and the early CCM movement. Though controversy was still prevalent much of it centered on instrumentation than lyrical content, for what it’s worth it seems the instrumental debate has taken a backseat to the lyrical debate as the modern form of worship with a band, electric guitars and pop/pop rock sound dominates many church settings. To relate it to its secular counterpart the issue of conserving tradition is not exclusive to CCM but is for instance a constant debate within Country Music as artists like Kane Brown and Sam Hunt dominate a genre once owned by George Strait is also having an identity crisis of their own. Through all the debates and confusion though Chris Tomlin has remained a constant within the industry making new innovative songs that finds inspiration from the past as well as reintroducing the ancient hymns to today’s generation with remakes of Amazing Grace, Take My Life And Let It Be, Crown Him and All Hail the power of Jesus Name to name a few as well as an album full of them.

Hopefully I have not exhausted you with the detailed background of Christian Contemporary Music but it is vital in understanding the success, character and make up of Chris Tomlin as one of the best Christian singers and his new singles in the short history of CCM. What’s amazing is that even though it’s his tenth studio album his artistic genius is still within his lyrics as seen in his two singles. While I would love to do a full album review I believe it will not do justice especially since I only had a cursory listen through his other songs other than the two songs I am writing about now. As much as I believe his album is a much-needed injection into today’s CCM movement a fair review is what I aim for. Sometimes as humans when we review our favorite artists or artists that we prefer over others it can cloud ones’ judgment. For instance, while I appreciate the constant consistency of Chris Tomlin, others might view it as a stale product no longer appealing to their artistic taste, while some other more traditional leaning groups might view Tomlin’s music as too progressive with more trendy and overproduced sounds ruining the quality of his lyrical content. These are all fair judgments that I would not want to overlook so an album review might be in my future but as of now my focus is on his two singles.

In Resurrection Power Chris Tomlin highlights the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross and what it means to the believer. Tomlin’s artistic talent truly lies in his lyrics not only in content but in placing the right words in the right place. One of the simplest ways to apply theological insight for those who struggle in that area is through prayer and praise, and this song of praise is applied theology at its finest. Tomlin takes the listener on a journey from the grave to the cross and into the born-again life using the imagery of a grave to denote sin and how it causes death in the person. Death not only physically but spiritually as well, the book of Romans speaks of how we are dead to sin. Then he takes a Bible verse and as he has done so well over the years he naturally puts 2 Corinthians 5:17 into the ebb and flow of the first verse right before it transitions to the chorus to show that Christ has called the sinner from death to life and from the old to the new, which is essentially what the evangelical term born-again means. Just like in all his trademark choruses the song quickly picks up and rises as he proclaims that the same power that rose Christ from the dead lives in the believer, and the believer is now free. One of the goals of Tomlin’s new album is to speak to the culture, engaging culture and being a light is a Christians duty. Therefore, the theme of freedom is marked throughout his song, but unlike the abstract notion that runs prevalent in today’s culture calling everything from immoral behavior, sexual promiscuity, hatred, bitterness and polarization is in reality bondage to sin. True freedom is in Christ and as Tomlin masterfully puts it “living in the light of His goodness” which is essentially living in accordance with Christ’s character being the light of this world and the salt of this earth as Jesus himself so eloquently stated in the book of Matthew. The second verse then takes the listener into the born-again life as a gift not as something we must earn, it is basically the concept of imputation or penal substitution. Reformed theologians like calling it the great exchange, where Christ became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and took the death and punishment that we deserve on the cross in exchange we get the eternal life we never deserved, and that is the main idea of the second verse as we are clothed or dressed in his royalty, with the Holy Spirit the third person in the trinity inside of us, our past life of sin redeemed and the new given to us, so our main job is to live as the redeemed saint with the resurrection power of Christ in us. The instrumentation is pretty much standard Chris Tomlin with the acoustic guitar and piano dominating the verses and the electric guitar and drums coming in strong as the chorus picks up. The only criticism I could find is that within the standard formula that Tomlin uses, it is basically expected at this point in his career so it’s fair to say that the instrumentation is formulaic and predictable.

In Nobody Loves Me Like You Love Me ironically, it’s the opposite in terms of instrumentation as Tomlin is far from being formulaic. However, just like his previous albums there is always one or two songs that goes away from his standard worship format as he tries to add some current trends into his songs. God’s Great Dance Floor in his Burning Lights Album implemented that party style EDM flavor, as did Waterfall from his Love Ran Red Album. The only surprise is that while those were popular energizing worship songs they were not the lead singles understandably so, considering how others who use current trends end up receiving backlash and controversy. In Nobody Loves Me Like You Love Me the trend that Tomlin adds to this song is the electronic drum beat which produces a catchy but an artificial sound that takes away from the authenticity of playing live instruments. Especially since this song begins with a rather pleasing and calm acoustic guitar sound. It is widely popular in today’s modern pop country as artists like Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett thrive off that sound. One similarity between Country and CCM is that both genres use a live band which poses problems for live performances. In terms of Tomlin it may either be a source of controversy or it may be widely popular with his audience. However, I do believe it takes away from his most artistic asset as it makes it hard for the listener to absorb his lyrics with the electronic drum playing in the background. It seems to be a poor choice on the artist of Tomlin’s caliber to place that into the song as it does not synchronize too well with the other instruments. However, even with that poor choice the lyrical content which was actually written by Ed Cash his producer and someone who co-wrote his massive hit How Great is Our God, the overall quality of the song is salvaged. The only downside is the beginning of the first verse where the song sounds more like a romance song to a girl more than a worship of the almighty creator. Though I could see what Cash was trying to express in saying:

“Morning, I see You in the sunrise every morning
It’s like a picture that You’ve painted for me
A love letter in the sky”

It unfortunately seems to be more suited for a love song by Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift than for the Almighty Sovereign King of the Universe. This problem is not new in modern Christian music and it is one many artists run into as they find the fine line between expressing their love and adoration to Jesus as their savior as opposed to a romantic lover. With that said the lines that follow this below average opening is probably one of the best lines in CCM, which is:

Story, I could’ve had a really different story
But You came down from heaven to restore me
Forever saved my life

This is the foundation of every Christian’s life, had it not been for grace of God where would those who have been greatly touched by him be? How different would their story have been? If God had not touched John Newton’s (the writer of Amazing Grace) life, how different would his story of slave trading had been? If you are a redeemed what would you be doing now if you were not? I know for sure the course of my life was changed by the grace of God. It’s a line relatable to the believer of all different backgrounds and even to the non-believer seeking redemption. There is also some rich theology in that Cash masterfully connects the idea of restoration and redemption in chronological order. Salvation of man leads to the restoration of man back into the imago dei or the image of God as things were originally meant to be, in the bigger picture restoration also covers nature as well. There are countless references in the Bible to the restoration of Earth into a New Earth. Finally, the chorus covers the love of God, and in a sense what true love is as the Bible States that God is Love (1 John 4:7). In a culture, where the word love seems to be thrown around true love comes from God and to truly love in the right way one must realize just how loved they are. Love is also connected to worship, and a worship of the Savior and his amazing ways. I believe Cash was aware of songs like Love Wins by Carrie Underwood as well as many other pop artists and culture in general that in this song of worship he tries to redeem it from the abstract erotic notion that the culture has perverted it with. That it is not a political tool or simply a feeling, but an act(s) as stated in his lyrics that are worthy of worship.

At a time when many are proclaiming that CCM is on the rise again and that it is being revived into its past glory it is fitting that one of its leaders releases a new album to fit the occasion. It is 3 years in the making as Tomlin’s last album was Never Lose Sight (2016), and its around the time that the industry drove me away. At the turn of the decade CCM was going downhill in my eyes that other than a select few it was not worth my time, but little did I know from the release of his last album to now the industry is having a little mini revival. Ironically started by his last album and culminating with his new one. Just this year alone songs like “What A Beautiful Name” and “Reckless Love” are songs that remind me of what the CCM industry used to produce. It seems like Resurrection Power and Nobody Loves Me Like You will join its ranks in 2019. With that said the theme of being born again and the love of God are two important things that Christians can reflect on for the New Years. Each new year signals the old passed away and the new has come, and with each year that passes it’s another year of grace and love from the creator himself. Therefore, Resurrection power should remind the believer to live in victory and to continually live as a new being while simultaneously being reminded by Nobody Loves Me Like You of the love of God that was in 2018 and the love of God that is to come in 2019.

 

Victor Davis Hanson on Trump Foreign Policy

Below is a fascinating lecture by Victor Davis Hanson giving some context to the Trump Administration’s foreign policy. Its thoughtfulness is only exceeded by its brilliance. Listen as Hanson patiently walks through the past century of American foreign policy and global politics in his lead-up to the giving context to the Trump Administration’s radical approach.

 

Conservatism (Heritage Foundation) vs Libertarianism (Cato Institute) 2018 Debate

By Daniel Hong

Annual Debate held by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute where the political philosophies of Conservatism and Libertarianism are debated by young men and women who will one day maybe hold important positions of power either publicly in government or within their respective communities in a more private capacity.

 

Edmund Burke vs Thomas Paine on July 4th

By Daniel Hong

Happy 4th to all my fellow Americans, and happy 242nd birthday America!! In 1776 the birth of a Nation has brought about blessings, prosperity and happiness to a great many people not just Americans. For that in the year 2018, I find much to celebrate. However, even though there are still many things to be thankful for I cannot help but honestly admit that there are parts of me that wallows in what America is becoming. There are many issues to discuss but one thing that has been a focus has been the polarization of this country. Recent events reflect that as Sarah Huckabee Sanders can tell you. Antifa vs the Alt Right and even the President himself who many blame to be the cause (wrongly), reflect the harsh divisions and differences that this One Nation under God should be better than. Now let me be clear this is nothing new, after all we had a civil war, 1968 is a year many baby boomers would like to forget and these are only a few examples. I take personal responsibility for not being as graceful towards my fellow citizens as I should be. I encourage every American to do the same and reflect on our bitter divisions and see how we the people can form a better union as the U.S. Constitution still states after all these years.

With that said I believe going back in our history and reading through documents like our beloved U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is very important, as these documents are vital parts of our Nation’s birth and continuance. However, instead of me explaining the Revolutionary War and how things came to be, watch this speech from the political analyst and the founding editor of the National Affairs, Yuval Levin. His presentation is based off of his book The Great Debate, one of the most unique books that I have ever read. He speaks of the Declaration of Independence being itself a polarizing document, with the main paradox being the radical idea of overthrowing the government to the conserving of the English tradition. What Mr. Levin helped me with was the idea that the other side (the progressives) despite our disagreements and disputes are as much of an American as myself. It is the perfect debate for today’s age and I highly recommend on this beautiful day to take an hour of your day to watch this (and read the book whenever you get a chance).

The Great Debate Burke vs Paine

 

Party Crashers

By: George Coyoy

Picture yourself throwing a party. You want to throw a great party because bad parties always end up looking like an episode of ‘King of the Hill’ – a bunch of guys standing around drinking beer, spitting and talking about carburetors. Having been around the block once or twice before you’re also experienced enough to know that you don’t want to throw a complete barn burner, so an open house party is off the table. Open house parties are the prog rock of parties – they’re an incoherent mess. They only lead to broken property, sketchy weirdos, and inexplicable stains everywhere. Better to let the high school kids deal with all that, so the plan is to invite your inner circle and allow them to bring guests. The only caveat is that permission for each guest must be granted before the invitation is extended. You’re pretty liberal about whose invitation you approve, as this policy is more about keeping out certain periphery troublemakers you know will ruin the party. You know the type – the trashy guys who start fights, those who are rude, or those who are just plain weird and won’t fit in well. You know who they are and you don’t want them to ruin your party, so you implement this vetting strategy. Your guests all comply with your wishes – though with some mild protest – and run potential guests by you before extending any invitations. You approve of almost all of the requests made and continue planning.

The night of the party comes and all seems to be going well. You’re on fire as a host – people are laughing at your jokes, everyone seems to be thoroughly entertained, and the general energy of the party is positive. At some point, however, party crashers come and change the entire dynamic of the night. Those trashy guys you didn’t want showing up come in and inject themselves into the party as if they were invited guests. Even worse, some didn’t bring any beer or liquor. By the time you’ve noticed them it looks like they have been there for a while and have settled into the party. To be sure, some of these party crashers are fine, in fact, a majority of them are. One even brought two 18-packs of Modelo. You know all of these people and, generally, you would have no problem inviting some of them as one-offs to the party. The problem with inviting them to the party was always that they would bring with them a small crowd that is capable of doing big damage, a small crowd that is now a big part of your party. As you ponder your next move you realize that you will either have to confront them now and ask them to leave or allow them to stay, risking that they behave poorly, as you expect they will, or that other crashers now have an excuse to come to your party.

The politics of asking the party crashers to leave quickly dawns on you. Some of your guests actually like them and mildly protested your decision not to invite them from the beginning. Asking the crashers to leave would single them out and punish the entire group, despite the fact that some of the people in that group are decent and would have been invited had they not been so close with the more volatile crashers. Other guests are clearly annoyed by them and could decide to leave the party early should this continue, leaving you with a bunch of people you don’t like at your own party. It is obvious that your decision will prove divisive no matter what you do, meaning this situation now requires more analysis than you hoped it would – after all, you just want to party! As host, however, decisions must be made meaning consequences must be weighed.

In Hippie Utopia this would be an open house party and all would come in peace, having the night of their lives while indulging their deepest inhibitions without consequence. Unfortunately, Hippie Utopia doesn’t exist and thus whatever you decide will have consequences. Asking the crashers to leave could escalate into confrontation or worse, and would certainly upset some of your guests. Ignoring the problem tacitly declares the party to be an open house party, giving any and all who want to invite other people a legitimate argument moving forward. “They weren’t invited but they came anyway,” the argument would go. “So why can’t we invite who we want to invite?” After all, all of the guests were told that anyone they invited had to be pre-approved. Allowing the crashers to stay is signaling to all in attendance that this is no longer an invite-only event. Once that word gets out it’s likely a cascade of uninvited guests will show up and this party will descend into the chaotic mess you wanted to avoid. It is easy to see how different partygoers will take different sides, only further complicating the matter and making the decision all the more difficult over time. Despite this fact you realize that the rhetoric is rapidly escalating, meaning it is better to make a decision now than allow the decision to become more controversial later. For whatever reason, however, you go against your better judgment and do nothing.

Let us now assume that the small group of party crashers you knew were potentially problematic actually become problematic. They’re being rude and overly aggressive as you thought they would. They’re instigating stupid arguments and threatening fights. They’re disrespecting all of the rules of the house, such as going into rooms that are off limits and raiding the refrigerator. One guy is smoking cigarettes inside. Allowing them to break the initial rule of coming in uninvited emboldened them to do whatever they want and you now have to deal with it. You finally make your decision. You make what is, in your mind, a reasonable bargain and say that the group of troublemakers must leave, but the uninvited guests who are being respectable and pleasant can stay. Especially the guy who brought the Modelos. You’ve made your decision and with a show of strength you successfully kick the jerks out.

This proves to be controversial amongst some of your guests. “Don’t you know that they have nowhere to go?” they claim. “It wasn’t their fault they were acting that way, it’s yours for upsetting them in the first place by not inviting them!” When you point out that only the troublemakers were kicked out and not those who crashed but did not cause any trouble, the Party Crasher Activists double down. “You’re separating them from their friends and dividing people! That’s so messed up!” The idea that these party crashers wouldn’t have been separated had they 1) not come in the first place and 2) not behaved like total jerks once here doesn’t click with these few guests, for whatever reason. Most guests agree with your decision to throw out the party crasher jerks and would probably agree with kicking out those who crashed but are being decent. They, however, stay silent as they would rather not be berated by the obnoxious, sanctimonious Party Crasher Activists. The few who take issue with your decision are being dramatic, staining the party with their incessant screeching and whining. You do your best to ignore it and, eventually, you and your other sane guests are able to separate from the drama and enjoy yourselves again. Even better, you’re able to do so drinking Modelo.

Shortly thereafter the jerks come back. They re-enter the party, now with loud defenders applauding their decision to boldly enter the party from which they were just expelled. “They have a right to be here!” claim the Party Crasher Activists. “Excluding people like this is wrong! Why should you have the right to decide who gets to party and who doesn’t?” Sovereignty over who can and cannot enter your own property is apparently a foreign concept to the Party Crasher Activists. As such, the situation has escalated to the point where your party is ruined. It is pure madness. “WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!?!” one guy screams. Bless his stupid little heart. This sentiment is, of course, pure pablum but it doesn’t matter. Empty vessels love pablum and, as such, he is rewarded with applauds and praise. The Party Crasher Activists don’t understand why we can’t all just get along, never realizing that everyone was getting along just fine before the party crashers crashed your party. The guests who agree with you look at you and you just shrug. There is nothing left to do but end the party. The inmates are now running the asylum.

So your party failed. Miserably. The only positive is that you have some Modelos left. The party was still a failure though. You had a plan as to who you would let in and who you would keep out but, like flies and mosquitos, those you wanted to keep out found a way in. Not only did they crash your party but the volatile few ruined everything for everyone, just as you thought they would. Moreover, despite the majority of party crashers being decent party guests, the decent majority was ultimately irrelevant. The effect of the volatile few proved to be too much to overcome; they had driven too much of a wedge between the entire party to keep a decent party sustainable. They ignored the invite-only status of your party, they ignored the rules of the house after ignoring your party’s invite-only status, and then they came in and ruined everyone’s experience. The crashers were all-around disrespectful from the beginning and, thanks to your inaction and the inexplicable support they garnered from some of your guests, continued to disrespect you, your house, and your guests. So, again, the decent majority was completely irrelevant. All things considered my question to you is this: how would you have handled this situation?

If this is my party? I don’t hesitate in telling them to leave. Not asking. Not hinting. Telling. As soon as I see them they’re all gone. Except Modelo guy, of course. If the situation escalates, it escalates. If my guests are upset, then they’re upset. If they’re truly upset then they’re also are free to leave. A line must be drawn, however, and if one is to draw a line it should be the line that communicates that one will not be disrespected and that breaking one’s rules has consequences. Every single party crasher disrespected me by crashing my party. Every single crasher was essentially flipping the invite-only status of my party the bird by entering my party. The presence of each and every single party crasher was a massive, aggressively flipped bird pointed directly at me for every second they spent at my party. I don’t know about you, but I don’t take disrespect well.

Perhaps what I can ultimately take away from the experience is that I can afford to be a little more lax in my party invitation policies moving forward. Perhaps they were a bit too rigid and unfairly kept people who were good party guests out of the party. Especially Modelo guy. All of this is debatable. But my rules are my rules and this was my damn party. Those who knowingly broke my rules disrespected me, my guests, and the very concept of rules in itself, so why should I feel bad about kicking a guest who was never invited to my party out of my invite-only party? I shouldn’t.

And that’s how I view illegal immigration.

On the LeBron vs. Jordan Debate

Beatles or Zeppelin? Godfather or Goodfellas? Jordan or LeBron? Some debates seemingly have no end. LeBron vs. Jordan is officially in that category – there will never be a consensus on this topic and I’m not sure there ever should be. It’s a fascinating, dynamic debate for which it is difficult find a starting point, let alone a path to navigate. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

The LeBron vs. Jordan debate has raged on for the better part of the past decade. Jordan loyalists refuse to concede any ground to LeBron lovers, which makes for arguments characterized by a cartoonish antagonism that prevents them from showing the most basic respect to someone who has been the best player in the NBA for over a decade. LeBron lovers are a bit more grounded, though just showing Jordan anything resembling a semblance of respect would qualify as being more grounded than the average Jordan loyalist. So who is better? Who knows, though perhaps a bit more analysis will help me come to a conclusion.

One of the failures of this debate is the insistence of its participants on making it about statistics and accolades. There really is no need to get into either one. The statistical debate is a tie in the best case for Jordan and a decisive victory for LeBron in the worst case for Jordan. That’s the long and short of it. Discussing accolades is likewise a wash and largely irrelevant to getting to the meat of the debate. Luckily for Jordan loyalists I’m not a pure stats guy, nor do I believe anybody should be. As important as statistics and analytics are, and as large a role as they have played in in transforming today’s game, basketball doesn’t exist on a stat sheet. Basketball exists on the hardwood and as such the human element plays a big role in determining games, making intangible factors an undeniable element of any coherent conversation regarding the game. If Jordan is to win it is largely based on this argument, and he has one hell of a case in his favor. Let’s compare the case for both.

The case for LeBron is a lengthy one. It includes the heights his game has reached and his sustained greatness, both of which separate him from all other all-time greats. His statistics are unlike anyone else’s we’ve ever seen – nobody else is expected to register 27/7/7 on 50% shooting night in, night out. For most NBA players that’s a career night. For LeBron that’s a Tuesday, and one for which he can expect endless criticism. Especially in the playoffs. He has been putting these numbers up and performing at an MVP level for a dozen years. He has repeatedly shown that he can play the game at a level previously thought impossible, at times looking like he can beat an NBA team with four high school varsity players as his teammates. His game seems to age like wine, as I and all sports fans ran out of superlatives to describe his level of play in the 2018 playoffs. We’ve never seen an individual run like LeBron’s 15 years in the NBA in any sport.

On the court he is instinctive and intellectual, breathtaking and inspiring, a marvel of human exceptionality. As a leader he is an outgoing, high-level communicator with more of a firm touch than a domineering presence. One gets the sense that teammates would rather not disappoint LeBron more than they are scared of pissing him off. He is infamously unselfish, a trait which is oddly the basis for much criticism. He is perhaps too loyal to his teammates, making front office demands which have led to players such as James Jones, J.R. Smith, and Tristan Thompson getting rewarded with roster spots and big contract extensions.

Fifteen years in and basketball fans still can’t believe they are witnessing his brute physicality and unique athleticism. He has iconic playoff and Finals moments – all one has to say is no-headband LeBron or The Block or 25 straight – and NBA fans immediately know the reference. He can defend every position on the floor – well. He is impossible to guard and an absolute force of nature in the open court. LeBron has revolutionized the game forever moving forward and, in short, it is seemingly impossible to overstate his greatness.

Jordan, likewise, has a great case in his favor. He averaged 30/6/5 on 50% shooting for his career, which includes two seasons at the ages of 38 and 39 in which he averaged 22.09 and 20.0 ppg, respectively, for the Washington Wizards. He is the most iconic athlete in all of history. He is a player whose athletic gifts and abilities made him seem more like an artist than an athlete, which is a stark contrast to the sheer brute strength and athleticism of LeBron. As such his highlight reel is as aesthetically pleasing as any in all of sports. He is as defined by his competitiveness and determination as he is his incredible abilities, whereas the most legitimate criticisms of LeBron are those which question his competitive drive and desire. Jordan was a killer on the court from day one. LeBron, however, has only recently begun to make a case for such a label. He imposed his will through sheer determination; LeBron seems to have been born to dominate and does so seemingly without trying. Jordan was a defensive menace who, while not as versatile as LeBron, was an absolute shut down defender night in and night out. He won both a scoring title and defensive player of the year award in the same season. He rightly earned a reputation as one of the most clutch athletes in the history of American sports. He is the most influential basketball player of all time. Jordan revolutionized the game forever before LeBron did and helped the game reach a global audience through his transcendent ability. If there were ever an argument for the natural revelation in sports, Michael Jordan playing basketball would be it.

As a leader Michael was a ferocious and domineering presence, entirely unlike LeBron’s outgoing, friendly leadership style. The stories of Michael Jordan in the locker room and practice are legendary, from the merciless teasing of teammates performing below Jordan’s standards to the intensity Jordan brought everywhere he went, his presence could not be ignored. Just ask Steve Kerr. Teammates would either shape up or be shipped out because Michael Jordan suffers no fools. It’s hard to imagine Jordan putting up with a J.R. Smith, let alone embracing him. It’s just as hard to see Jordan advocating for big contracts for players such as Tristan Thompson, who looks about as comfortable with a basketball in his hands as he does in a faithful monogamous relationship. Jordan understood these moves would handicap a team, especially in a salary cap driven league. LeBron demands such players be given large contracts because he likes them; Jordan has the kind of cut throat personality that would allow him to say “screw those guys” and demand that his GM sign winners. I don’t think Jordan has any friends. Jordan understood that if he had to rely on a J.R. Smith or a Tristan Thompson come Finals time his chances at that next ring were smaller than they had to be. LeBron either does not understand this or thinks he can overcome such ineptitude. Point, Jordan.

In short, the biggest distinctions between the two are idiosyncratic. It is in their personality quirks where the two differ most, certainly more than their on-court production. There are endless debates to be had about who is the more productive player on the court. These are debates with no possible way of being settled, as rule changes and the evolution of the game have made such things impossible to quantify and compare. The stat nerds and those who bow down at the altar of analytics will try, but they are making the same arrogant mistake all materialists make – they truly believe they can quantify the human element. Does anyone expect Jordan to be any less productive in a more athletic, less physical, faster paced league? Likewise, does anyone really think the hand check rule or a more physical game would have made LeBron any less productive? The answer to both questions is an obvious and resounding “no”. The degree to which their production would be affected is something that cannot be quantified by simply “adjusting for pace”, as the stat nerds would suggest. These are impossible and, I’d argue, foolish points to debate as they cannot be reliably quantified. As such, the argument for Jordan or LeBron comes down to one’s preference in personality and playing style. In that case, give me Jordan.

Jordan loyalists, however, completely overplay their hand. Inherent to their arguments is the notion that Jordan would have led LeBron’s Cleveland teams to victory in 2015, 2017, and now 2018. That’s absurd. We don’t even know if Jordan would have dragged those teams to the Finals, though I find it hard to believe that Jordan would have lost to either DeMar Derozan or whatever the rookie in Boston’s name is. Outside of favorable injuries to Golden State there is no way in hell the Cavs could have won either of those series and it’s a miracle that they won in 2016, so such suggestions are absurd and should be treated a such.

It is, however, likelier that Jordan would have helped Miami win in 2011 – Jordan was a killer from day one and would never have played hot potato with the ball the way LeBron did in that series. On the other hand, does Jordan bring the Cavs back from down 3-1 in the 2016 Finals? Does Jordan even allow that to happen? Those two questions are up for debate, as is the 2014 Finals which featured a machine-like Spurs team going up against a paper-thin Miami roster. I’ll let the reader speculate on those situations. Perhaps I’ll revisit them in another column.

Ultimately, Jordan wins based on being the more reliable player – there is no history of Jordan shrinking in the biggest moments. The killer instinct running through his veins can never be shut off, nor can the demands placed on those around him by him. While I can understand how one can think LeBron is better, I disagree on the basis of what qualities I want in a leader. LeBron being considered the GOAT in no way diminishes Jordan and is completely understandable. I still take Jordan though.

I came into writing this piece thinking I would take LeBron over Jordan. I’m starting to realize I was seduced by the moment and his other-worldly level of play over the past four years. Since returning to the Cavs he has somehow been better than he was in Miami and none of the Cavs failures in the Finals rest on his shoulders. Absolutely none. Upon further review, however, I realize what I value most in a player. Consistency in terms of competitiveness and late-game killer instinct swing the entire debate for me. While late-stage LeBron has completely shed the ghosts of 2011 and the earlier portion of his career, when the killer instinct simply wasn’t there, he loses some points for ever having to shed those ghosts in the first place. Jordan, from day one, was Jordan. You knew who you were getting – a competitor, a killer, and a complete jerk. I value that consistency over LeBron’s erratic, moody behavior even if I have to concede that it might come at the cost of a bit more production. It’s just easier to build around.

5 Country Songs for Father’s Day

Fathers Day

By Daniel Hong

The family is the building block of society and tomorrow is a day of honor for the head of the household, our fathers. Growing up in my late teenage years country music had a special way of portraying father-son relationships and fatherhood. It has really shaped the way I think and act, specifically it helps me to honor my father just as it did with my mother (my previous Mothers Day blog should be evidence of that).

Music is a powerful medium and it should be no wonder why culture is shaped so heavily by it in both good and bad ways. It is why country music is my favorite genre, yes banjos, fiddles, steel guitars and the sounds they produce are a big part, but its the powerful imagery, relatability and narratives that captured my heart during my late teenage years. These 7 songs were instrumental to me and I believe it captures the mood, experiences and the heart of fathers day. I hope whether one is a father or a child that these songs can touch their hearts and minds as it did mine.

 

Walking in my Fathers Shoes – Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan is a successful country music artist and an US Army Veteran, this song clearly speaks of his fathers role in shaping him. The “That’s what I love about Sunday” singer co-wrote this song and with a soothing ballad composition, he tells the story of his father being there for him, being a responsible man, and teaching him those same values setting the standard for him to do the same. The powerful rising chorus speaks for itself:

I’m walking in my father’s shoes
He’s never let me down
That’s a lot to live up to
Stumbling falling
Tryin’ to stand tall in
Walking in my father’s shoes

Walk a Little Straighter Daddy – Billy Currington

Billy Currington has had an interesting career after this successful hit song with a traditional country ballad composition that really put him on the map, his music has evolved to say the least for the better or for the worst. Regardless, though the singer portrayed in this song has gone through drastic changes he unlike Craig Morgan has had a more quiet but albeit still a somewhat successful career. Also in contrast with Craig Morgan who had a father that showed him the ropes, this tear jerking ballad written by Currington himself talks of his father constantly falling short, not being there for him, being an alcoholic, and one can just feel the heartbreak in this song. However, in a tremendous display of character instead of holding bitterness the singer encourages his father in this manner through this heart grabbing chorus:

Walk a little straighter daddy 
You’re swaying side to side 
You’re footsteps make me dizzy 
And no matter how I try 
I keep tripping and stumbling 
If you’d look down here you’d see 
Walk a little straighter daddy 
You’re leading me 

In a country where the family model is breaking down with fathers being a big part, this is a song that will sympathize with many sons and daughters in America on fathers day.

Watching You – Rodney Atkins 

Changing the tempo going from two slow ballads we come to a moderate uptempo song co-written and sung by Rodney Atkins. If you notice a pattern here and what makes country music so special to many fans is that these artists not only write these songs themselves (not that other genre singers don’t do these things but it is a very common tradition within country music for artists to write most of their songs), but specifically write their personal experiences in a relatable manner . It brings an air of authenticity into their craft and helps the listener really connect with the artist.  Speaking of which authentic and honest are good words to describe this song as Atkins was motivated by his son singing his first hit song (in the same album as this single) “If your going through hell (Even the Devil knows)” in front of his teacher school. He saw the special father-son relationship, especially the imitating nature of the child as the old adage says like father like son. He is not scared to share his shortcomings in verse 1 that his child picks up, while sharing the good in verse 2, all of that as he builds up to this catchy chorus:

He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food, and grow as tall as you are
We like fixing things and holding mama’s hand
Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we, dad?
I wanna do everything you do
So I’ve been watching you.”

Its a very fun and lighthearted song that propelled Rodney Adkins to number 1 on the Billboard Country Music Chart and gave him some traction on the Top 100 chart reaching the peak at 36 (pretty good for a country song). It was definitely a successful 2nd Album released in 2006, but unfortunately due to the climate of Country Music at the turn of the decade with Pop “Country” infiltrating the genre led by the rise of Taylor Swift and company, along with the rise of the repugnant and detestable Bro-Country and his own personal shortcomings Adkins has gone irrelevant to say the least. However, this song is definitely a good one on father’s day to reminisce on ones own experiences either from the fathers point of view as Atkins does in this song or from the child’s.

A Love Without End, Amen – George Strait

Often dubbed by fans as “The King of Country” few have reached the legendary status of George Strait (regardless of the music genre) and is debated by some to be the greatest country artist of all time. One of the leaders in bringing about what many call a golden age of country music in the 1990’s by bringing it back to its traditional roots (labeled as Neo-Traditional now) and coming to prominence with hits like “Amarillo by Morning” in the 1980’s, George Strait in 1990 (ironically) released a number 1 hit song on the Billboard Country Chart with this midtempo country ballad and really captured the heart of what it means to be a father. This song takes the listener on a journey from the point of view of the singer who starts as a child in verse 1 and learning what his fathers love is all about, then in verse 2 transitions into a father himself learning to give that same love and finally verse 3 uses religious christian imagery to bring the singer before the ultimate “father” at heaven’s gate before finally receiving the greatest love from God. Each accompanied by this short but crucial chorus talking about the father’s love:

Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love
A secret that my daddy said was just between us
He said daddies don’t just love their children every now and then
It’s a love without end, amen
It’s a love without end, amen

Whats unique about George Strait from the other artists thus far is that he did not write this song and is one of the few successful country artists who rarely wrote his own songs. Regardless, Strait has shown a knack for picking hit songs and singing them like his own like no other which is also a talent for any musician in any genre, but the more important thing is the story behind this song written by Aaron Barker. The beauty and artistic nature of this song is how he’s able to work towards the core and workings of fatherhood throughout the song and it is a good contemplative song for father’s day. As a Christian myself, the religious imagery is an added bonus as human fatherhood’s foundation is the ultimate fatherhood of God, the father.

Drive (For Daddy Gene) – Alan Jackson

Other than George Strait, probably no one but Alan Jackson comes as close to the king of country in terms of popularity and leading the 1990’s wave of traditional country back into the mainstream. Jackson is your classic underdog story coming from small town rural roots and making it big debuting at a somewhat late age of 31. While George Strait was a phenom, he was cleaning tables at restaurants while trying to find an opportunity which he depicts in one of his earlier hits “Chasin that Neon Rainbow“. A true country artist down to the core, and a man with genuine authenticity and a big heart is someone you want to root for. A tall man standing around 6,4-6,5 the man is very gentle and unlike Strait has penned many of his own hits, often bringing his Christian faith, love for his fellow man and good meaning into his songs. Even many non country fans will know this man due to his heartfelt and inspiring song bringing a nation together with his well deserved hit “Where were you (when the world stopped turning)” after the tragic events of 9/11. However, a unique talent that Alan Jackson has is that he can bring in his small town roots in his songs in a simple manner, while drawing deep meaning from them using metaphors and imagery. He does this masterfully in this song which was penned as a tribute to his father who passed away by simply reminiscing on that time he learned to drive from his dad. An uptempo and exciting song he takes the listener on a journey from that time he learned to drive, to when he taught his own daughters to drive while deriving joy from that experience, which is depicted from the chorus:

It was just an old hand-me-down Ford
With three-speed on the column and a dent in the door
A young boy two hands on the wheel
I can’t replace the way it made me feel
And I would press that clutch
And I would keep it right
And he’d say, a little slower son you’re doing just fine
Just a dirt road with trash on each side
But I was Mario Andretti
When Daddy let me drive

Though not quite as exciting my driving experience despite the bickering back and forth between me and my father, it is one of those unique experiences that this song helps me reminisce on as I honor my father tomorrow. It’s unique in the sense that it symbolizes growing up and taking more responsibility as a man while still learning from a son’s first teacher in life the father. Alan Jackson like George Strait in the previous song starts as a child and becomes the father in this song and portrays that unique experience between father and son (or daughter). A simple but unique experience that one can harp on tomorrow as they celebrate father’s day.

Honorable Mentions

Though, I would love to continue and go through the whole canon of country music with the theme of fatherhood, these were chosen from what I believe consists of strong lyrical presence, good musical composition and familiarity with the songs as my guide. If one is a country music fan like myself, or if this blog has helped one understand and really appreciate country music more then on a beautiful Saturday evening relaxing to some of these honorable mentions in preparation for tomorrow is not a bad idea. Though, I always try to be as objective in setting standards, these songs did have some preferential taste as I stated that familiarity was a guideline. Therefore, some of these honorable mentions may be better and some may prefer these more than the ones I have on this blog. That is fine, however, my only encouragement is whatever ones preference is that the main focus will be on really honoring their fathers. The sacrifice and love that fathers do on a daily basis should always be celebrated and remembered. Here’s to more memories and deeper ties, may these songs inspire and encourage them:

I’ll Be There – Josh Turner

The unique baritone singer, famously known for “Long Black Train” and “Your Man” depicts the father’s point of view and speaks to their child bringing up many scenarios but simply telling them no matter what I’ll be there for you.

There Goes My Life – Kenny Chesney

NFL legend Peyton Manning’s favorite country artist and probably the next most famous singer after Garth Brooks known for making the stadium rock trend within country music in the 1990’s famous has a heartfelt song about the unexpected journey into fatherhood from a circumstance that was unintended. An important note is that the chorus lyrics does not change but has a different perspective as the beginning of the song is portraying a young man who just became a father and the end where he is coming to its last legs with his daughter leaving. One sees the daughter as a burden to his life, the other sees the daughter as his life.

Daddy Dance With Me – Krystal Keith

Daughter of the famous country artist Toby Keith, depicts a daughter speaking to her father asking him to always be her daddy even when she grows up and that she will always be his baby girl.

The Greatest Man I Never Knew – Reba McEntire

One of the most famous female country artists in the modern era sings about a father who was distant from his daughter and is not the type to show physical affection with hugs and kisses but deep inside truly loves her. The daughter realizes that after he passes away.