We Are the Monks: We Are the Monks

[Legacy Content]

There’s a group of singer/songwriters that exist just outside of the mainstream of Christian music — many of them with decade-plus-long tenures in the business. Artists like Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Derek Webb and others. For the last 15 years, Trent Monk has occupied this same space.

I first heard Trent’s debut record on a little site called grassrootsmusic.com (for you old-timers out there). I later met him during a coffee shop gig in Lubbock, TX and I actually had the pleasure of working with him for about a year while recording his second independent album. He would go on to team up with his long-time friend Michael Neagle to form the group Monk and Neagle who put out two great records and several radio hits including “Dancing with the Angels” and “Twenty-First Time.” Now, Monk returns with his wife Shellie under the moniker of The Monks with their debut record, aptly titled, We Are the Monks.

The album is everything we’ve come to know and love about Monk’s music: relatable lyrics set to hummable melodies, crisp acoustic guitars and tight harmonies. Opener, “Walking on Water” features a jangling, up-tempo melody spotlighting the story of the artist taking the risk of getting back out of the boat.  On “Stronger,” Trent’s vocal is strongly reminiscent of Bebo Norman on lyrics that again speak of the artist’s renewed passion for God, family, and calling.

Backing vocals from Monk’s wife/percussionist provide a welcome change from what has been heard in the past. Their vocal relationship gives life to the friendship and love they speak of in their lyrics. When they sing together of “These Arms,” presumably to/about their infant son, you can’t help but be moved by the closeness of this family.

It would be unfair if I didn’t mention a couple of minor missteps. First, I’m hard-pressed to call eight songs an album. However, I would rather an artist give me eight solid songs than tack on two more “throw-aways.” And, certainly, it’s good to get more than an EP from an artist who’s been away for so long. Additionally, there are a couple of tracks early on in the record that incorporate a choir into the final chorus. I’m not sure if this was accomplished with duplicated vocals from the duo, or if an actual choir was brought in. The sound is great, but the use on back-to-back tracks feels a little heavy-handed, or at least repetitive.

As mentioned, I met this artist a long time ago and have been listening to his work for years. When I first approached the album, which is chock full of family-life stories, I was a little bit taken aback. This wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting. Then I began taking stock of my own life and how far I’ve come since those college coffee shop days and I realized that his story is, in many ways, my own as a husband and dad.

In an industry where so much of the music feels distanced from real-life, it’s a breath of fresh air to encounter genuine hope, faith, and love. The Monks bring a simple, un-formulaic approach to simply sharing their life with the listener and inviting us into the journey that God has them on.

Film :: Particle Fever

My relationship with particle physics begins in my childhood when some family friends moved to a little town called Waxahachie, Texas. The city was experiencing an influx of new residents and something of an economic boom due to the construction of the so-called “Superconducting Super Collider” – an underground particle accelerator – the largest of its kind at the time. As a kid, I didn’t really know what that meant, other than the fact that it supposedly threw atoms together to see what happened. And, aside from raising the ire of religious groups, I wasn’t really sure why it was so controversial.

Fast-forward 20 years and you find yourself at the start of the new documentary Particle Fever, the story of the Large Hadron Collider (“LHC”) housed far from the Dallas, TX suburbs at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The work of CERN has received widespread press over the past several years primarily because of the LHC and its search for the much-lauded, yet theoretical, Higgs particle… or, as some have called it, the “God particle.”

The story of Particle Fever follows two sets of physicists – theorists and experimentalists – over the course of several years as the LHC is brought online and the first tests are completed. The “cast” is made up of some of the most brilliant minds from around the world working on a project that some have spent decades – their entire career, in some cases – working on. As the story unfolds, we are exposed to a number of theories that can easily make one go cross-eyed and we experience the highs and lows of attempting a once-in-a-lifetime type of experiment. The process itself runs in fits and starts taking our team through moments of panic, elation, and confusion. (There is also a nice mention of the Super Collider project and what went wrong in Texas.)

But this film has so much more to tell us than simply the story of theoretical and experimental particle physics. It really speaks to two huge concepts that can affect everyone: (1) commitment to an ideal, and (2) the nature of the world.

As previously mentioned, some of these scientists have spent their entire professional lifetimes working on theories related to the discovery of the Higgs. Stanford University professor Savas Dimopoulos offers the following, “In particle physics, you have to have a threshold amount of intelligence… whatever that means. But the thing that differentiates scientists is purely an artistic ability to discern [between] what is a good idea [and] what is a beautiful idea, what is worth spending time on, and – most importantly – what is a problem that is sufficiently interesting yet sufficiently difficult that it hasn’t yet been solved BUT the time for solving it has come now.” And later he returns, “In particle physics you construct the theory 20 years ago, and it may take that long before you know if you are on the right track. Jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm, that’s the big secret to success.” In a world of immediate gratification and short-term thinking, there is a lot to be taken from these scientists who are in it for the long haul.

Secondarily, it’s hard for me to approach this concept without touching on God. Theorist (and producer on the film) David Kaplan approaches the question of “Why are you doing this” in two ways, “The first answer is what we tell people, and the second answer is the truth… Answer #1: We are reproducing the conditions just after the Big Bang… so we can see what the universe was like when it just started. Answer #2: We are trying to understand the basic laws of nature.”

When you get into Big Bang terminology, you often lose the ultra-conservatives – thus the controversy spoken of when we started. However, what can’t be argued are the findings that a project like this presents. Most of us tend to go about our days living life with little thought of what we’re made of, how we’re made, or what constitutes the world around us. A large number of people are even afraid to dig too deeply for fear of not knowing/understanding what is really going on. Therefore, there is much to be said of the bravery with which these scientists approach the unknown and shed light on the detailed way in which everything has been designed.

While the content may fly above many of our heads, this film is an inspiration and a challenge that any of us can carry with us and learn from. Definitely worth checking out.

Particle Fever is now showing in NY and LA with additional theaters soon to come. See www.ParticleFever.com for a full list of theaters