Monday, December 21, 2009

People, Vices, Trust and Honesty

I tend to like outward sinners. I trust them more. You know the kind with vices, the public sins. I have a lot of grace for people who cuss, drink, smoke or do drugs. Usually deep down they're very beautiful, loving and loyal people. They struggle openly, altering their mind or taking part to either know or be known, and I can respect that symptom however mistreated. The people I don't trust are those who don't seem to have anything wrong with them. If I can't find any fault in your character when I spend time with you, any tinge of humanity to which I can relate, I'll automatically assume that you're hiding something. You must be acting, lying, and I don't trust you. To be human is to struggle, and I have to see your humanity before we can have any mutual respect. 

Whenever I meet someone who doesn't have any apparent vices or character struggles I immediately think, "What are you hiding?" Something dark and twisted a life altering? Something that might go unnoticed now but in twenty years will devastate your life and everyone around you? If someone drinks too much it is pretty apparent what their issue is, and friends can easily diagnose and come around them to address it with love. What if someone has too much pride? Struggles with secret infidelity? Is consumed with greed and selfishness? These things aren't extremely visible, and can be hidden for long periods of time. They also can have temporarily profitable consequences. Consequences which can contribute to the desire to feed these secret sins.

The greediest most selfish investment banker might just get the most promotions as well, because he works on a commission, his profiteering allows for others to profit, so he is rewarded. His hunger for money will never be satisfied, and he might even chase it at the expense of his character because he believes that life rewards greed. When greed goes unchecked people suffer, like when the housing bubble popped. If we could have seen it coming we could have avoided a lot of suffering, but greed is hidden. Greed can be disguised as a positive thing.

How about the guy who cheats on his wife once, and subsequently realizes it's fun. It's dangerous and exciting, and while there is an initial pang of guilt he chooses to keep quiet and gets away with it. In the back of his mind, it's always an option because there are no immediate consequences. He eventually does it again, and again, until there is no more pang of guilt. He's having his cake and eating it too, but he's chasing this excitement and danger so carelessly that he slips up. He gets caught, but now the damage is done and his marriage is beyond repair. His lust came at the expense of his character, his family, and his way of life. Nobody saw it. Nobody could warn him. Nobody could read his thoughts and say to him, "Don't embellish that thought, that is dangerous, that will ruin your life."

We can privately rebuke our loved ones who struggle with the outward worship of idols; the habits we can all see and agree are dangerous when left unchecked. We can intervene in the lives of those who struggle with substance abuse. We can say to someone, "You've offended me by saying this." It's socially acceptable. But you can't really have an intervention for hidden pride, greed, lust or selfishness. There aren't many treatment programs for these extremely dangerous patterns of thought. This is why I prefer those people who struggle with the outward vices, or who at least are vocal about their inward ones. They're easier to diagnose and treat. They're often more honest about their shortcomings, and honesty is the key to any real behavioral change. Plus I relate to them.

I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve along with my struggles, and it's made me the recipient of criticism more than once. I think because I crave grace for my own shortcomings I am more likely to give grace to those who walk in my shoes. This isn't always true of everything, sometimes the most annoying people to you are the people struggling with things you haven't truly confronted in your own life. It's the whole, "First deal with the plank in your own eye so you will be able to see to the speck in your brothers eye" thing. We all want to fix everyone else before we fix ourselves. The person who annoys you most might be like you, or maybe how you think you "used to be." But thats just because you've picked an extreme, you've chosen to be against something outwardly in order to not really deal with it inwardly. It would take a post full of psychobabble to explain that this extreme stance really stems from self-loathing, but it's not something I'm an expert on so I'll spare you my elementary understanding of it all. The point is extremism is easy, its the whole honest-self-examination thing that requires some dedication.

I think those who have vices as opposed to deep and secret moral sins are in some ways able to escape the worst symptom at all: Denial. If you drink until you're drunk every night, and everyone is witness to this, then you really have no real way of denying the fact that you are an alcoholic. You are not as easily afforded denial as someone whose sins are more private. Denial is easy if nobody knows. If nobody brings it up. 

Before I say anymore, let me say this: No I am not saying go do drugs and cuss and act like a total fool. If you derived that from the aforementioned lines, you might want to run a "fool-check" on yourself before proceeding. I am merely saying this: Everyone sins, and I prefer you keep your sins where I can see 'em. If you struggle with pride, greed, gossip, vanity, jealousy and lust (LIKE WE ALL DO) then be honest about it. Speak your mind, even if it bothers you, and then speak about how it bothers you. If you act perfect all the time, there are people like me are going to walk away going, "There's something wrong with that guy, and I can't really put my finger on it." You're just not going to connect on a deep level with anyone. You will garner only spite for your weirdness. If you develop a habit of this polished dishonesty, you'll probably ruin your life like Tiger Woods did.

There's something about honesty. I'll be honest and admit that I have little grace for those who are not being honest with themselves. It is wrong of me, but there is something about those people that really gets me. Those folks who do everything wrong, who make terrible decisions that ruin their lives and the lives of others, and then act like they aren't to blame. Like they're a "good person." In my opinion, the only thing that makes a person "good" is honesty. We all screw up, but when we hold on to denial we shift the blame: It's not my problem, someone else did this to me, made me this way. I am a product of my environment, my upbringing. Screw that, you're a product of thousands of choices you made and continue to make on a daily basis. The only person to blame for your sins is yourself. The second you realize that, and start owning it, is the second you start to become a "good" person in my book. Not that my book matters at all. 

I think I'm rambling now, which is good because that's what this whole blog thing is for. If I was forcing lines it would probably lack passion and be boring to read. I guess what I'm trying to encourage is honesty in general. Be true to yourself and your peers, it might be hard and it might stir up some ugly feelings, but you will be blessed in the long run. In my book. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009


Those who know my wife and I well know that for the past  year we've politely declined to consume any beer, wine or drink containing alcohol. When 2009 started we dubbed it "Dry '09," and pledged to abstain from any alcoholic beverages, even wine for communion and champaign for wedding toasts. I think as humans we're pretty good at following absolutes because their limitations are so clear, so needless to say its been two weeks short of a year since either of us has had a sip of beer, wine or alcohol (even non-alcoholic beer made me feel guilty so I made it off-limits). The whole idea was that this year we would sacrifice something we loved in order to see growth in other areas of our lives.

The idea of fasting is an old one. The ancients used to fast from food, drink and sex for edification purposes pretty regularly. The idea is that when you sacrifice something you need or love, you will be blessed and that through fasting you may garner wisdom, have an epiphany, develop deep gratitude and ultimately grow in your relationship with God. The idea of fasting apparently has many benefits which effect both the physical and the metaphysical. I don't claim to know much about it, but I know enough to know that it's probably a good thing.

I read a book once by the Chinese missionary named Brother Yun. At one point he decided to fast from meat and eggs until the Chinese church was united as one. This tells me that people fast for results they don't fully have control over. There are stories in the Bible that mirror this one. It's sort of like an appeal to God, like a bargaining tool, "I'm giving you this thing that I love, so that you will bless this other thing."

Kristie and I both loved tasting wine and craft beers. It was sort of a hobby of ours. Whenever we would go out to eat or have a date night, well made adult beverages would probably be on the menu. This isn't to say I never drank the cheap stuff, I've had and abused my fair share of substance, but as you get older your tastes get refined as well as your motives, and you start to realize the days of 'yore' are no longer 'yours.' If you're wise, you start to learn moderation. If you're a fool, sadly, you won't. I naturally want to be a moderate, because extreme anti-ism for me is easy and I don't want to be a fool either. Moderation requires discipline and maturity, something that sounds very attractive to me. Moderation when it comes to consumption of just about anything feels like a wise idea.

Now I realize some of you reading this are underage, some are parents, and some are quite conservative. For the underage kids, I do not in any way condone underage drinking, or drinking at all in the way youth culture generally portrays it. For the parents, an honest conversation about it won't hurt your kids, trust me. I wish my parents allowed for more honest conversations about it, it could have saved me a few years of foolishness. For the conservative folks, especially the ones who think the entire idea of drinking was cooked up by Satan... you're probably going to find this whole post uncomfortable.

In our culture, band culture, beer is a fact of life. Christian band or not. Every night you play a show at a club, people are there to have a good time. They're there to blow off steam. It could be the only good time they're planning on having all month. The problem with that is that it makes the atmosphere of every night on tour a Friday night, even the Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Every night the promoter goes, "Where do you want your beer?" Subsequently, it is easy for a touring person to assume that life is solely about the "Hang." The "Hang" is what usually happens pre and post-show. The "Hang" is fun, and for me it has developed some lifelong friendships with guys in bands we've toured with. People in our industry rarely "Hang" without sharing a beverage or two. Say if I were to meet a good friend who was coming through town on tour, I would probably meet him at a local bar where they had quality beverages, and that is where our "Hang" would take place. There is something communal about sharing food and drink together (in Acts 2 it says twice that the early christians "broke bread" together), and dare I say there is also something communal about sharing a buzz together? Yeah, I said it.

I've seen some musicians moderately manage the "Hang" for years. Take Stephen Christian from Anberlin for instance. Every time I've seen him he's managed the "Hang" without abusing a thing. Some other musicians take it overboard. Their life becomes a party, and if you've seen VH1's Behind The Music, you know where that road eventually leads. I've always respected those who act moderately, those who know when enough is enough. 

People who make mature decisions are attractive.

The last several years of my life have been an attempt to rewrite my future. After abusing everything I got my hands on in my teens, I've tried to slowly learn the art of moderation. The idea of addiction fascinates and terrifies me at the same time. Those of you who know our music have heard and maybe related to our songs about addiction. It's a topic I relate too as well as I've known many addicts myself. Because I am terrified of addiction I have a habit of quitting potentially harmful things before they take ahold of me. When I was eighteen I decided that smoking weed created a barrier between Kristie and I, as well as between God and I, so I quit that (see post "Honesty Breeds Integrity"). New Years '04, when I was twenty I quit smoking cigarettes. I never really liked needing to smoke, and all it took was a friends bet that night for me to give it up. Of the five of us who 'quit,' I was the only one who made it, probably out of sheer stubbornness and disgust at how smoking could control a persons life, but I beat it nonetheless.  So I guess you can say I was set up to win in "Dry '09." My track record as a quitter is pretty solid.

I started to feel convicted during 2008. I would ask God, "What do you want me to give you so that I can grow spiritually again?" and a little voice would say, "Give me alcohol," and I'd be like, "Shut up me, I'm trying to listen to God." Well, that little voice kept saying it, and it wouldn't go away. Nearing the end of 2008 I gave up and decided it was in fact God telling me this. Usually a surefire sign of that 'little voice' being God is this: If what you are hearing is a good thing and you don't want to do it, chances are that you aren't the source. I'm usually the source of indulgent, ego stroking ideas that end up being curses... not the difficult, sacrificial ones that end up being blessings.

I guess my fears were that the dynamics of my relationships would change. Would I have long talks late into the night with my friends, or would I get tired and bored and dispirit? Would I lose some friends because of our lack of common ground? Would I be able to be social without my 'social lubricant'? The more I thought about these fears the more determined I was to destroy them. The fact that I actually gave them a thought told me that this social experiment was the right thing to do. I needed to go back to square one, to erase my history and start over if I was ever going to be a true moderate. I needed to start with a clean palette. 

So I decided to follow my convictions, and to give alcohol to God for one year. Kristie, being the incredibly supporting wife that she is, said "Me too!"

The truth is it was quite easy. Turns out I wasn't an alcoholic at all because I barely missed it. After a couple weeks the idea of drinking in social situations was a distant memory. Water and Diet Coke simply filled the natural "hand to mouth" inclination when we went out, and I didn't feel like I was acting stuck up or isolating myself at all. People seemed to respect my decision and left it at that. Our year unfolded into an incredible journey that I really believe we would have missed otherwise.

I never thought we would witness the amount of blessings that we did. I thought maybe I'd get that feeling that God was close to me. Some of you know this feeling, its like an unexplainable high filled with joy and peace... something that God gave me as a baby Christian to show that He existed and He loved me. I was expecting this, but I didn't really get it. I got more. 

Kristie and I have both seen our lives grow in dramatic ways. For years Kristie had felt like she was missing some avenue of expression or hobby that acted as a creative outlet. This year she found that in sewing (You can see her work at It's been a blessing for her to be able to create things for people to wear, and I can tell it's real because she gets extremely excited (school girl giddy) upon completion and sale of her art. This is an aspect of her life that was missing before Dry Oh-Nine.

This year I started this blog as an outlet for my thoughts. I'd never written publicly before, but Dry-Oh-Nine changed things, and it turns out my mind woke up a bit. This blog has been an incredible blessing for me, and without our sacrifice I can't say that I would have been inspired to create it, let alone write in it as consistently as I have. I also produced my first full band this year, which took a huge amount of effort and time, through which I learned that producing is a real passion of mine. This is time I probably would not have carved out in 2008. On top of all this, I wrote and recorded a new TCC record this year. I wrote prolifically for a few weeks straight at the beginning of the year, something I'd never done before, and I feel like we've delivered another (yes, I'll modestly say "another" because our other records are also great) solid release.  Also, I organized week long a band trip to Haiti (see post "Haiti") which became an amazing blessing for all us in the band. This is something I probably wouldn't have chased after so fervently in 2008.

In our marriage we've experienced new heights of love and a true sense of joy this year. If you've followed along with this blog, I apologize for my sometimes incessant gushing over my wife, but it is truly the result of Dry-Oh-Nine and I blame this year for my sappiness. I can start to see the shape of our future together, or rather the potential of it to amaze me. Kristie and I can both say that 2009 has been the most pivotal year in our marriage, and that we've seen more growth in our relationship in this year than any other year of being together. 

The fact of the matter is that we've seen real change and growth far beyond what we expected going into this year and we don't want to brush it aside. I truly believe that our sacrifice to God was met, accepted and turned into a blessing in our lives, and I would be remiss if I did not give Him the credit.

So, with that said we welcome your prayers for "WET-OH-TEN!"

I'm kidding of course!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Living the Dream

Last night I dreamt I wrote this blog post. 

I awoke from a dream where I survived a firing squad. A group of us were in a parking garage that opened to an adjacent alley. We all had guns (in my dreams, we always have guns) but we knew we were no match for the turrets on the trucks coming down the alley. The trucks drove up and aimed their guns at us, and at the last second I dove behind a pillar which shielded the machine gun fire. Everyone was slaughtered, shot to death, except for me. My heart raced as I stood still behind the pillar, a few seconds of silence passed. Did they see me? I held my breath until finally I heard the vehicles drive away. Then I woke up.

I love dreams because they are sometimes so analogous to reality. I love to dissect their meaning. Yes, I am one of those people who believe that dreams can have meanings. This dream made me think.

A few years ago as our band was finally getting off the ground we were filled with extremely high hopes. There was quite a bit of hype, and we had set our goals far beyond what was average for most bands at the time. I remember having dreams back then, flying dreams. I would be on a hill and the wind would pick up, and I would run with it and jump, hover, and slowly take flight. I would sore into the air with my dad and my brothers below me, yelling after me. They would be angry and want me to come down, but I wouldn't. I think they were mad because my choice to drop out of school and be a musician was different than theirs, different from what was expected of me, and maybe they were jealous of my 'success' with it. Who knows, but those were fun dreams. The thing about those dreams is that they were spawned from high hopes and expectations. They weren't real. Our band never really flew. My life didn't take off like I expected it to.

Since then I've had plenty of dreams, some of them quite anxious. You know the ones where you're running from something, but you can't seem to run fast enough? Your legs feel sluggish and you cant escape. It takes everything for you to be able to put one foot in front of the other. You're desperate at first, and then you're stuck with the sinking feeling of complete dread. Or how about those angry dreams, where you're punching someone in the face, or shooting them, but nothing is happening. Their face bounces back like the head of a blow up doll and they're completely unfazed. 

When life is looking up, my dreams are like an action adventure movie and I am the star. In one dream I saved my wife from a T-Rex. I took it out with a pistol. No big deal. When my life is characterized by anxiety, I tend to have falling or running dreams.

This dream last night, however, left me with mixed emotions. It left me with a mix of anxiety and relief. Yeah, I just got shot at and everyone around me died, but I was grateful I was alive. I felt blessed. I didn't fly or save my wife from a vicious T-Rex, but I still felt a sense of peace and accomplishment. Thinking about it last night, the parallels of the dream with my life seemed pretty striking.

I do feel blessed to be alive. Our band has been through a lot of ups and downs, probably more downs than ups considering our expectations were much higher, but I've come to a point of acceptance with my life. I feel like we've turned a corner, survived the firing squad and will live to see another day. No I didn't kill a T-Rex or take off flying, making everyone who doubted me jealous, but I am completely at peace with that.

Living the dream is as much about the work as it is the reward. I set out after the reward and in the process, through the struggle, I found what the dream was really about. One cannot be fulfilled by receiving the reward of another mans work. You must live your own dreams, built on your own blood, sweat, and tears. Only then and by the grace of God does a sense of purpose and fulfillment arise. Hope in the lottery is hopelessness. There is no replacement for hard work.

I remember when Albatross didn't sell as many copies as expected. We'd drawn the wrong lottery number. I remember the hopelessness and the doubt. Will we be able to write anything like that again? From the depths of that struggle The Silver Cord was born, a record that communicates and articulates intense emotional stress and longing. I am extremely proud of it to this day. I sometimes wonder, "What if Albatross had met our expectations?" I think we would have tried to write it again, because 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' right? The Silver Cord would have never happened. Correspondingly, had we struck gold with The Silver Cord we might have chased that dark sound into the mathematical caverns of prog-rock and never surfaced, but we didn't. We went back to the drawing board and wrote Vagabonds, and I love it. If anything but this album was coming out next I feel like I would be disappointed. It is exactly where I want to be musically. Regardless of success, I feel like we've found our musical identity on this record. The funny thing is we recorded it in three weeks, nearly half the time it took to record our two previous full lengths. There was almost no stress in the process, it just came natural. We weren't trying to chase some commercial success of the past (there is none) and we weren't worried about creating any in the future. We were making music for musics' sake. We finally stopped caring about the nonsense that is our industry. 

And then suddenly, I have peace.

I live the dream everyday. Not the dream I set out of live seven years ago, the one with delusions of grandeur, but the one I probably should have dreamt about in the first place. It's taken me several years and a lot of heartache to get here, but let me tell you I am loving it.

Yes, I still live month to month, and occasionally I'll have a pang of worry about my future, but my life right now feels incredibly blessed. Either that or my perspective changed, or I've learned to love the right things, or both. I don't worry nearly as much, and I've settled with the fact that my minimalist lifestyle is so much more of a blessing than it is a hardship. I want to have integrity and make music for musics sake, regardless of potential profits or marketability. Of course it would be nice if the mass audience appreciated our musical integrity and decided to become fans of our band, but if they never do there will be no harm done. We already have an audience, a really appreciative one, and for that I am thankful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Everyone Is Religious

When I talk about religion it is usually with mild disdain, but I hope people know that when I say the world "religion" I never mean "faith" or "spirituality." I mean religion as a system of rules or specific details to which someone ascribes extreme importance. I generally don't like "religion" because I believe it is human nature to abuse power, which is most easily done in cultures where religious legalism is embraced. Humans desire to make things black and white, we want absolutes. We want to be God-like; deciding and judging and using the rules as a sort of measuring stick for self-worth and the worth of others. I think its human nature to be religious.

In a previous blog ("Worship") I talked about how I think we all worship things. We derive our self worth from empty things, we choose to be affirmed by flawed humans instead of by a perfect God. I guess this blog is an extension of that blog, but its more about how we humans long to practice some form of religion, even the "non-religious."

Atheism is a religion. It's an incredibly ironic one, but its still a religion. Talk to a full-fledged atheist, and they will attempt to indoctrinate you. They've even resorted to advertisements on the sides of buses, claiming there is no God, spreading their non-faith as if its the one true religion. They know what they believe, they have their metaphors and their logic, their rules and their guidelines. If gives them a smug sense of accomplishment, a sort of lofty attitude which provides a temporary sense of faux-peace. They're better than you. "You don't really believe in all that fantasy crap do you? Talking snakes?"

You ever see those commercials with the sad looking cats and dogs in slow-motion? Sarah Mclachlin is singing "Angel" and words flash across the screen "Will I ever find a home?" and "Why did they hurt me?" They add human words and emotions to tug at your heart strings. The animals look like they're saying these things, and it makes you want to save them. Now I'm not saying you shouldn't save animals, I myself am an animal lover, but some people have made animal-activism a religion. They have replaced animal instincts with human emotions, fears, and metaphysical beliefs. They give the invisible thoughts of an animal human attributes to bring the animals suffering onto same plane as human suffering. Animal activists are always trying to coerce and convert, usually through guilt and personification, new additions to their cause. Once again, theres nothing wrong with their cause, but when it becomes the sole source of purpose for ones life, then life can become unbalanced. In WA State, people found with malnutrition dogs in their care received a penalty of five years in prison. Parents convicted of starving and abusing their thirteen-year-old daughter have been given exact same sentence! I think we can all agree that a child is more important than a dog, but if your "calling" in life is dogs, then I think sometimes you can miss the point. When you enslave and indoctrinate yourself with a religion or a cause, whatever one it might be, you will most likely end up neglecting or negating other very important causes. Some of which, God forbid, are more important than yours.

There are so many religions in America. Consumerism, all sorts of activism (animal, environment, political), exercise, food, politics, sports, gaming. Think about it, if your team loses in sports, is your day ruined? Is your main source of affirmation through your sports team? Favorite band? Yes, I said it, music can be a religion. In America we encourage people to be religious, "Find out what you're good at and go after it," we tell them. Essentially, we're saying, "Find your god, and worship it."

I dare to say that most people who call themselves Christians in America don't actually follow Christ at all. What about the "Health and Wealth" religion? It's pretty popular. The prosperity gospel is a religion completely different than the one Jesus taught in His Gospel. The prosperity gospel says God wants to bless you now, in this life, with cash dollars in your pocket to pay bills, get a new car, a new house. Jesus says, 

"Do not save riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are."  (Matt 6:19-21)

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Luke 16:13)

A rich man once asked Jesus what he had to do to be saved, and Jesus, knowing that the mans obsession was money, told him "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matt 19:21)

Jesus does not want us to possess more, he wants us to give more.

It might hurt your ears a bit to hear this, but Jesus is anti-religion. The only time he got angry here on earth was at the religious leaders who were so obsessed with their dogma that they had no idea it was the Messiah in their midst. He often times debated with them. They challenged him as he healed a man on the sabbath and as he taught in the synagogue. They thought up new ways to test him but they always fell short. In one story, an "expert in the law" tested Jesus, saying, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Knowing that it was a trick question, and that according to their doctrine all the laws and commandments had to be kept equally. Jesus didn't mention any specifics, he just simplified the law to their dismay. Jesus replied: 

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:36-38)

Jesus was trying to tell them that their religion didn't work. The fact that they tithed so religiously that they gave a tenth of their spices meant nothing, because they didn't "Love their neighbor as themselves." They didn't love God either, they just loved themselves.
Jesus didn't even refer to the religious leaders as religious leaders, he just called them hypocrites,

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:5)

These religious folks who were so showy with their flowery prayers had already received their reward. They were praying for peer validation, and Jesus says, "They have received their reward in full." If validation is what they want, they've got it through "babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."

In Matthew 23, Jesus gets completely fed up with the religious leaders and says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

What an incredibly convicting statement! He was saying they were so religious and obsessed with their craft, their "obedience," that they were DEAD ON THE INSIDE. He called them hypocrites outright. Do you know any hypocrites? Do you look at them with disdain? So does Jesus. It's so sad when people attribute the loveless actions of hypocrites to the love-filled Jesus. Jesus was anti-religion, because religion breeds hypocrisy. Just like its hypocritical to value a dogs life over a humans life, or to value your exercise over your husband, or your sports team over your wife, or the stuff you get over the stuff you give, or the rules you keep over the God you "serve," or anything else that takes you away from "Loving God, and loving people." Christianity is simply those two commandments. Jesus says that if you can truly do those two things, all the other laws will follow suit. If you can love God and love people with all your heart, you will naturally be doing exactly what you need to do to have peace in your life and to please God. No need for a list of rules. Jesus simplified it, much to our dismay as we humans naturally love specific guidelines we can use and abuse to our benefit.

Perhaps I've journeyed off topic. When I talk about spirituality I always end up talking about Jesus. I feel like I have to, because the preconceptions in our culture are often times so contradictory to written history about Jesus. I've met people who have truly taken to heart the things Jesus said, and I can tell you there is nothing more beautiful to witness. The love and sacrifice and grace and peace that a person like Mother Theresa had did not come from her religion. She did not recieve those gifts from saying "Hail Mary's" or praying the Rosary. She simply followed the simple commandment of Jesus to "Love her neighbor as herself." Because of her humble life of sacrifice, her legacy lives on to inspire generations to come. If a poor nun from  Macedonia can change the world by following those simple guidelines, than religion is completely pointless.

I know this "essay" is completely disjointed, as I've followed my train of thought down a few different tangents, so I'll end it here and leave you with a few of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes:

I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness. - Mother Teresa

I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world. - Mother Teresa

I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor? - Mother Teresa

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa

If you judge people, you have no time to love them. - Mother Teresa

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one. - Mother Teresa

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love. - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Last night the band and I returned home after spending a week in Haiti. My mind is reeling with the places and the people I saw there, so I wanted to share with you some of our experiences in an effort to save these memories.

We arrived at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on November 3rd. There we met Tom (pictured above), a local missionary who lives with twenty two Haitians in Bon Repos, most of them boys he's adopted from a local orphanage and surrounding villages. He's trained them as local leaders and they work for him as an interpreters, ministry and outreach coordinators and teachers. When we arrived at Toms compound (a walled off property containing 3 houses) we were met by the boys. Their ages range from around four to the mid-twenties. We greeted them in the courtyard and as we shook hands their faces beamed with excitement. It was clear that they enjoyed visitors, and even more clear that we looked a little different from the usual church groups. After playing some basketball we were escorted to our rooms, which the boys usually sleep in but give up to visitors whenever they arrive. Over the course of the week we learned the names, stories and dreams of these guys, and after a week I can honestly call them my friends. Never have I met more sincere, loving and driven group of people, each of them are concerned with bettering their community. They truly are the hope for Haiti. On top of all that many of them have a great sense of humor, and we spent much of the week laughing with them.

The average long-term missionary lasts about two years in Haiti, Tom has been there for over fifteen years. His goal with his ministry is to replace himself, and not with white folks, but with Haitians. Haitians who would otherwise have been orphaned and abandoned, left to live in poverty, he gives them the opportunity of an education, a job and a better life. Coupled with a lifelong dream of sharing the Gospel, Tom is driven to meet the needs of the poor. Food, water, shelter and love are among his top priorities. He believes you can't successfully share the Gospel with someone who is sick and starving unless you first show love by meeting those basic needs. I couldn't agree more. Missionaries are often times portrayed as folks who go into third world countries with the priority of making converts, ignoring the basic needs of the people. Jesus Himself served the poor with his life, commanding us to do the same, but we sometimes hear stories of missionaries ignoring verses like this:

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." (Luke 14:13)

Tom is not one of those missionaries. He truly believes in the commandment to love his neighbor, and because of his sacrifice his neighbors are impoverished Haitians. He isn't solely concerned with their spiritual needs, although the Gospel is the reason he's there. His heart breaks when the innocent die from preventable causes. Through tears he tells us stories of people he's loved and lost. He tells us of the thirty-some-odd children who live at the garbage dump on piles of garbage, sifting through the waste of one of the poorest countries of the world. The poorest of the poor. He tells us he would love to take all thirty of those children home, to give them food and safety and an education, to raise them with hope and faith. Slowly, as he gets more people committing their finances to Jesus In Haiti Ministries, Tom is able to take more orphans and poverty stricken children home with him. Three of the boys we met were recent additions to his family. They've already learned to call him "Papi," and although their english is still poor after only a few weeks they're learning quickly. The boys go to school daily for an education they wouldn't get otherwise. Schools cost money, and an education is out of the question when you don't know where your next meal is coming from. At Tom's they get a family, consistency, discipline, food and an education. They get a second chance at life.

It's a working system. I spent much of the week with Johnny, who acts as Tom's translator. Tom found him when he was fifteen, living with three other boys in a shelter with two cots, the boys would take turns with the sleeping arrangements each night, two on the cots and two on the floor, and then they would switch the next night. They stuck together to gather food, if one boy would find some he would take it home and share it so they could all survive together. These boys have been orphaned by parental death or abandonment, they've all seen and lost so much due to poverty and sickness, but their sense of family is still so strong. Ten years later, at twenty-five, Johnny works for Tom as a full time outreach director, worship leader, translator and charismatic funny man. You'll see a lot of him on the video we are currently editing, singing "The Coldest Heart" at the top of his lungs with a Creole accent (He loved to improvise the words, "Woa-oooh-ooh-ohhh I'm losing weight! I used to be fat.... etc. It is always followed by laughter.) He speaks great english and is passionate about helping boys just like him. The stories go on and on about the boys Tom has raised. Because of him, where they came from and where they are going are dramatically different places. Thats the incredible thing about what Tom does. He doesn't take capable, educated Haitians and put them to work in the poor villages. He takes poor, uneducated Haitians, invests his time and resources into them, loves them like his sons and daughters, and then turns them lose. They have a natural passion and empathy for the people, and it's beautiful to see them have the opportunity to give back.

Tom's ministry has what he calls the "Five Points of Light." They are the house, the orphanage, the garbage dump, the church, and the school. He has dreams that each of these "Points of Light" will act as such, and that they will be beacons of light in a community which desperately needs their physical, emotional and spiritual needs met. The orphanage lives on a committed sum of donations of about $3000 a month. This takes care of and feeds around 125 orphans. It's not nearly enough. Tom thinks that they need about $10,000 to do it properly, but God seems to provide on the meager donations they receive. Tom said when he first discovered the orphanage, the children were sick and starving, everyone was laying around in a comatose state. They hadn't eaten in days. He teared up as he told us the story of how that day he stood in front of them and pledged, "Help is on the way." Since then they've received support, and because of that support the kids have one meal of rice and beans each day. The point is that there are a lot more children who need help, but they can't afford to take any more in. The orphanage is already three times over capacity for the support they are getting.

They recently bought a field and pitched a large tent. The tent houses the school during the week, the youth group on Fridays and the church on Sundays. They are in the process of planning to erect a building, but there is still money to be raised in order to start the project. The school contains around 100 children who get a well rounded and proper education (some of the other schools use textbooks from Cuba, which claim quite a few falsehoods about America and are quite biased in favor Cuba, it was funny to hear some of those falsehoods and even funnier to hear that Haitians actually believed them). The children at the school would otherwise be running naked (or close to it) in their respective villages, with no money for an education or food for that matter. The school also provides water and a meal each day for the students, which is something the other charging schools do not provide. The teachers are paid $100 a month, which may seem like a meager salary but is actually more than what most teachers make. Tom is concerned with getting the best teachers for his kids, teachers with the right attitude and heart for Haiti. Each year they graduate about fifteen students, which frees up room in their lowest grade to accept fifteen more. Tom says there's a long waiting list to get in. They wish to accept everyone, but right now they're at capacity financially and space-wise. The point is there is plenty more good to be done there, for a small monthly financial commitment anyone could allow for starving and impoverished child to receive a meal, water and an education. For next to nothing we can give a child a future. I've been there so I know it works, I've seen my own $25 a month at work in the orphanage, every dollar being spent on the kids. In seeing that I am challenged and convicted to send more money. I don't have much, my debt to wealth ratio is about 20 to 1, but compared to these kids I live in heaven. I can sacrifice at least few more meals out a month so another couple kids can eat rice and beans once a day.

Tom never asks for money. He doesn't like leaving Haiti, but once in awhile he has to head back to the States to raise money. When he does he leaves JiHM in the trustworthy hands of his boys, who run everything smoothly. He goes around to churches in the US to try to raise support, and how is does it is simple: He tells stories. He says what he does, and leaves it at that. He never asks for money, but after hearing about the need people are generally led to help out. He smiles as he tells me the small churches give more. I smile as I tell him I know. The church I go to of around 150 people is the sole source of support for the orphanage on a weekly basis. Without our meager church, over 125 kids would be be starving. Now they can eat, play and live, what an amazing thing! The thing is there is always a need, no matter how small your church, how little you have, you can always make a difference in the lives of people who have less than you. You can make a real difference for real people.

The thing that always blows me away about other cultures is how similar we all are. We all want the same things: hope, health, peace, love and opportunity. We all struggle with the same pressures, some of the specifics are different, but the emotional struggles remain the same. One night I drove to the store with Claudy, the 21-year-old whose room Robbie, Alan and I stayed in. He told me about meeting his girlfriend, about how he used to be and about how she changed him and continues to challenge him. I told him about my relationship, and how much that really paralleled with my life. We talked about honesty and how important it is in a relationship, and discussed much of the same things we've learned from our girls. The thing that always strikes me is how alike we all are. From first world to forth world, from black to white, we all are so very human and real.

The people we met aren't just faces on a television, or on a sponsor packet, they're real people with unique personalities who are loved by God. They are just like you and me. The only difference is that they were born in a third-world, and we were born a first-world. They were born into perpetual poverty, and we were born into opportunity. We have an opportunity to help them, and you can bet we're going to take it. I don't know how exactly, but we're brainstorming possibilities to really garner support for JiHM and Tom's mission. Even if our role is purely educational, our goal as a band will be to see dramatic growth and support for Haiti in general, in the right places and in the right ways. Tom's way seems to work, so we're going to back him.

For more info on JiHM visit

To contribute financially send to:

Suite # 155
10214 Chestnut Plaza dr.
Ft. Wayne, IN 46814
ATT: Pat Hinen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Outside

Does anyone else feel like an outsider? Maybe you're playing along, acting within the cultural guidelines of whatever group you may associate with, but you never truly feel like you belong. I don't think I've ever felt like I "fit in," if there is such a feeling. Sure, I play the game to earn peoples respect, to have them accept me, but I don't feel like they know me any better because of it.

We all crave acceptance, respect and honor. We crave attention for who we are and we want to be known. Someone once told me that every artists motivating force is the desire to be loved by everyone. I think that might be true of everyone, not just artists. We've all felt an inkling of it at some point, that acceptance, and because of that we crave it more. Maybe you've felt it at camp, on a sports team, in a peer group, at church, in a relationship or friendship. We need it, and yet I'm convinced none of us truly feel it the majority of the time. Something tells me even the most magnetic, attractive and talented people probably still feel lonely and isolated. I'll bet they feel like they don't really fit into their peer groups. I've read countless books about famous artists and musicians and actors who took great risks to succeed, to be loved, only to end up alone, isolated, on the outside.

But then again maybe not everyone is like me. Maybe some people feel like they fit their peer groups fine. Maybe they feel deeply known and accepted. Maybe I'm projecting my own issues on everyone else because I want to relate. My parents were never really the tender emotional type, but my Dad once told me something my mom said to him years ago. She had warned him to be careful with me, because I was different and "emotional." I remember feeling really embarrassed by that. All I'd ever wanted was to fit in, and here was my mom saying I was different. My mom also told me when I was six years old I swore to her that I knew what people were thinking. I thought I could read minds. If you're wondering, I don't think I still have that skill. So I don't know, maybe I am different and "emotional." Maybe because I was a middle sibling in a large family I will always feel overlooked. Maybe I'll always feel on the outside. I'm not crying about it, I actually love what my circumstances have gifted me with. Something tells me I'm not alone though.

In our culture there is a lot of posturing and dishonesty. The one thing I hate more than lying is small talk. It seems people resolve to talk about things they don't really care about in some defensive maneuver to hide their true selves. The truth about you is scary, I don't care who you are, and our spineless society is more worried about social graces than true and honest relationships (see blog post "Friends Are What You Like"). With so much posturing and pretension, its hard to keep up with your "friends." If you don't come equipped with enough meaningless BS to spew out, the competitive nature of the conversation might cause you to lose some favor among said "friends." If you don't know your current pop culture or scene culture trivia, you could lose out on some serious ground gaining on the small-talk race-track. Now this isn't to say that all small talk is bad. You don't go up to someone and tell them your deepest darkest secret right after they say, "How's it going?" Its the obsession with the meaningless topics and the competition of it all that drives me crazy. Small talk should be a tool to get to real talk.

All this to say that if I am correct and other people are constantly feeling on the "outside," that perhaps part of the reason is the incredible lack of the true sense of community in Western Culture. I'm as mad at myself for this as I am at anyone else.

One place I do "fit in" is my marriage. By the grace of God I have a great one. The two of us together (Kristie and I) is an incredible thing to be a part of, and I am constantly learning more fascinating things about her. If I tried to explain it would only sound mushy. We've been married coming up on five years, and we've been together almost ten. Five years ago I never thought it could get better. I didn't think I could ever love her more, I was content to continue to love her at that same level for the rest of my life. Incredibly, I feel like my love for her is a thousand planes deeper than that level, and I was head over heels then. We are constantly learning more and more about each other, and we can be brutally honest with each other and still laugh until our stomachs hurt. Maybe thats why I have this desire to be a part of a community that is more, because I have an example of a relationship that has set the bar so high. Or maybe she's just the only person who has ever really attempted to know me and love me for who I truly am. Either way, and we say this all the time, we feel like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly. Now if I could only fit that way in all the other areas of my life...

I think the feeling of being on the outside is a strong motivation for good artists, however, great artists do art for art sake, and they aren't motivated by anything other than their passion for their work. Take a band for instance, struggling to make ends meat, trying to make a mark and be known. They get their shot on a major label and release their debut. Still, the record is written on the floors at friends houses and in their broken down van on the road. The record is full of realism, honest emotion and raw power. It's fueled by the tension between what is and what will be. People love the album. The band has created a niche in the music scene, people pack out shows to see them and they feel they are finally speaking the language of the people. They finally "fit in" to something that is ultimately greater than themselves. Excitement and expectations build as fans are anxious for a second release. Could it be greater than the first? It never is. Why? Take away that tension, and the second record flops. It's forced, it sounds like their chasing that first record, but they never can catch it, because it was honest and raw and fresh and different.

The best bands make music for musics sake. Album after album they put forth an honest effort. Some are better than others, yes, but you still anxiously await the next release because you know there are going to be cuts on it that will make you swell with emotion, that will lift your spirits or cut you to your soul.

So my challenge has been to not let the feeling of being on the outside control what I create. Luckily, we've always had the tension there (we've never been widely accepted), but even more fortunate is the fact that I haven't really caved to it. I haven't set out to write pop radio "hits" (whatever those are), or to fit into whatever scene is hot right now. I'd like to think I write from the heart, with a weird twist from the head and a sloppy scribble from the hand. I'd like the think I don't write to posture or impress or to appease anyone else. Maybe that has hurt us commercially, I don't know.

What I do know is that chances are I'm not alone. I'm not alone in feeling like I don't "fit in," because I know at least a couple people relate to our songs. At least a few people can understand and sing along as if the lyrics were meant for them. We can't all belong, but we can all not-belong together. We can share songs and sing along at the top of our lungs (that kind of rhymes). If that happens again on this new record, regardless of if we sell a million or a hundred copies, you can bet I'll be smiling.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Studio

I apologize for my absence on this blog of late. I've been in the studio the past three weeks recording the third full length album for The Classic Crime. It's been an amazingly rewarding experience on one hand, and an extremely time consuming one on the other. This has been the fastest we've ever worked on a record, but it also feels like the most thorough. I've been inspired by the process and I'd like to sort out some of my thoughts on it.

I'll admit that I've never been as closely involved with one of our records as I am with this one. All of the songs save one were written this year, the same year I decided to start this blog. I feel like being able to write on this thing has improved my writing and how I communicate through a song, it's also given me an outlet and a focus that I haven't had before. Subsequently, this record is (I hope) more honest, poignant and raw, and I can honestly say that I believe this is the most "us" we've ever been.

On this record we've been learning that musical perfection is the sum of imperfect parts. On The Silver Cord (our last record) we experimented with tempos that moved and songs that had a natural ebb and flow. This record is even more dramatic. Only two songs were tracked with a click track (or a metronome for those who are unfamiliar) to keep time. We weren't too focused on the most technically perfect performance, the perfect tuning, or the perfect timing. The end result - what the imperfect parts create - is the perfect vibe, emotion or feeling, and that's what were going for.

Those who know us know that we are a band consumed with creating songs that focus on energy, melody and meaning as opposed to posturing and gimmicks. Not that there's anything wrong with gimmicks, we've just never been very good at them. We've always felt a need to be relevant, to speak to our generation in a language they can understand. I'll say in past records we've proudly worn our influences on our sleeves, maybe partly because we hadn't truly found our unique "sound" yet, but I also think it's partly because we knew that other relevant bands had had success with the same sounds. This record is different. The influences are there, but its such a progression from them. When I listen to these songs we're creating, it doesn't feel like we're doing a great job borrowing or building on our influences, it feels like we're doing something new and better. It feels like we're making important music.

We probably wont sell a million records. We probably wont sell a hundred thousand records. I'm aware that we might not sell any records, but that wont take away from the fact that I love this record. I love this direction, and that is gratifying enough.

We've got something for everyone on this album, some old "us," some new "us," and some "us" you've never heard before. We're the most "us" we've ever been and I love it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I'm in taper mode. In two weeks we will head into the studio and as per usual my mind is focused on that task and that task alone. Unfortunately, we only practice a couple hours a day and make our arrangements via email, which means I spend much of what is left of my time on mindless things. My passion is all tied up in something that will happen, so it seems I really have none left to spend in the present time. I'm usually a live-for-the-moment type of person, but now I'm just scraping by momentarily. I'm living for the future. Practice, plan, sleep. Those are my priorities.

Most of my nights consist of hours on the couch marveling at things that most people would find un-marvelous. If you read my tweets you'll find a striking commentary on all things Discovery Channel. I realize this is borderline foolishness, but it's really all I can do to distract myself from the task at hand. It is far too easy to sit and obsess about the daunting and emotionally taxing undertaking that inevitably awaits me. The task that will in some ways define me. People will see me, hear me and feel me in a new way, and maybe they won't like it. Maybe they won't like me. It's always terrifying to make a record, and even more terrifying when people are relying on you, waiting with expectant ears to be impressed or let down. Which is it going to be? I'm not sure, but compared to the Polar Bears on Planet Earth my task seems quite trivial. Oh, sweet beautiful perspective.

Tapering is something that athletes do. Marathon runners will cut back on training and perhaps not run at all for a week or so before a race. With musicians it's the opposite. The studio is coming so we must practice, and more frequently as the date comes nearer to ensure that once we enter those studio doors the money spent there will not go to waste. We don't taper our training, but I feel my mind tapering in expectation of the studio. Perhaps I'm limiting myself now with the foolish hope that my creative mind will bloom in a few weeks. Maybe after a few weeks of drought my mind will be faced with an enervating task which will be met with a sudden, recharged wave of creativity. Wishful thinking? Probably. I imagine that psychologists would say that my mind will only be as active as I train it to be, and that I should be reading and scheming and listening and dreaming. How I wish I could be! I cannot pick up a book without thinking of some part of the recording process, a process which to my detriment I am much more familiar with this time around.

There are some moments when I catch a glimpse of what this record might look like when its done. These are calming, peaceful moments. They happen sometimes as I glance over the track listing or listen to demos. Suddenly, for a split second I can hear the songs done and in perfect order with perfect performances. I can see the record move from one track to the next with the live energy and emotion necessary to communicate exactly what it should. I really hold on to these moments, because most moments I listen to the demos and think, "Oh... crap."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Own Worst Enemy

This one might read more like a journal entry. If you are expecting an article you'll probably read this and assume that I'm a crazy narcissist. I believe one must only talk about ones self (to such an extent) in the context of a biographical journal entry. If this were an article I would have thrown in an extra amount of self deprecation in order to assure you of my humility. (I'm only sort of joking.) I apologize in advance if I ramble as I let my mind wander.

I grew up third of six. Our family adopted my two younger sisters (number seven and eight) when I was about eleven, so for the most part I was smack dab in the middle. Like most middle children I felt somewhat overlooked so I acted out in order to receive the attention I craved (or at least thats what they told me I was doing). If anyone challenged me I would fight them back as if my life depended on it. Often times my weapon of choice was a handful of the smooth rocks from the playground at Quilchena Elementary School in Richmond, BC. Because of this I spent most of my lunch hours across the desk from our lovely principle, Mrs. Thorton. She was terrifying. She must have been well over six feet tall, and her stature and spirit made her the most intimidating creature this second grader had ever laid his eyes on. With her white hair pinned back tight against her scalp and her gigantic, unblinking eyes penetrating deep into my soul, she'd stare for what seemed like hours before articulating a very sinister, "Do you know why you're here, Matthew?" I always knew why, but I could barely speak. I was afraid to. My lips would shake and my tongue would get twisted. A huge lump would well up in my throat and I would feel like crying. I couldn't look at her without wanting to cry, so I would glance away. "Look at me!" She'd scowl. This would go on daily. Some mornings I'd fill up with dread and fake sickness to get out school, because I knew I would end up in that chair, across from 'the witch' as she attempted once again to steal my soul. It was probably all my fault, but I never saw it that way. I was just defending myself. The punishment was never on the kid who threw the first stone, it was always on the kid who threw back. That was me, in my mind anyways.

I remember one of my most recent victims found me at recess and jumped on me, pinning my shoulders with his knees and pummeling my face with his fists. A teacher broke it up and told me to get back to my class. My attacker didn't even have to go to the office. It seemed there was no justice for me. I was almost heartbroken with humiliation. For weeks I tried to get him to fight again. I wanted a rematch. I wanted to win. Instead he befriended me which was even more disheartening. He didn't want to fight, he was sorry. "Let's be friends," he'd say, which was something very hard for a middle child to turn down. It was terrible. He was the hero, and there was nothing I could do to win.

I was looking to be at the top of a hierarchy. To get respect and attention through violence is probably hard-wired into a lot of boys, especially boys who have brothers. I saw myself as 'Defender of the Weak' but I think teachers just saw me as a tyrant. I remember in 5th grade having to see the school counselor on a weekly basis. I think having to be called out of class for counseling is one of the most humiliating things a kid can go through. She (the counselor) would talk about how life is a road and there are speed bumps in it, and I would laugh because I thought she sounded crazy.

As I grew I slowly realized I could get attention by being good at things. My family is naturally competitive, so when it came to life as a contest I just decided that I was going to win. Anything that impressed people I would learn to be good at. As a kid, it was drawing comic books. To this day I have eight notebooks full of characters and stories I created (I do believe this was a sincere passion of mine, but I know it was partly to impress my older brother). I had dreams of becoming like my hero, Jim Lee, a famous comic book artist (not to be confused with Stan Lee, who's art is sub-par in comparison). My friends would be impressed with my work and I would feel gratified. I collected sports cards, coins, pogs and miniatures and would organize them meticulously. I would do anything to obtain a certain sense of worth and wealth.

I remember one summer in 6th grade I decided I was going to be like Michael Jordan. I spent hours in the driveway shooting a basketball. To this day, I'm terrible at basketball. I love to play it, but I'm not so good. I don't know where it came from, this delusional self confidence, but I had it. For awhile, I was king of the nerds collecting and creating comic books, websites and playing online games. When that wasn't enough I became an athlete. I was always pretty limber, I think growing up with a trampoline in the back yard helps, but I remember for a few years in my teens I really focused on sports. I went to State in swimming and Districts in track and field. My delusional self-confidence eventually became haughty arrogance, which you can read about in my blog post titled "One Small Story of Regret." The contest academically became how much work can I NOT do and still maintain a good grade? I had set myself up to be pretty good at everything that seemed to matter to people. However, my motives weren't entirely pure. Until I found music.

I always loved to sing, and when I was twelve my mom decided she was going to get me real voice lessons. The guy who gave them was in a nineties Christian pop band called The Suspenders. I was a huge fan. He taught me how to warm my prepubescent voice up and make weird noises. After about 4 lessons I had tracked vocals and harmonies to a very cheesy rendition of, "I Swear" by John Michael Montgomery (Or All 4 One, which was the version I preferred). I remember free-styling the harmonies, and Ashley (my instructors name) would laugh and say, "Wow! That was jazzy!" I had no idea what he meant, but I took it as a compliment.

I think the first song I wrote was when I was thirteen or so on my moms classical acoustic guitar. It was when I was in my early teens that I discovered rock music. On my 16th birthday my mom bought me my first electric guitar: a blue Fender Squire. I still have it. On it I learned to cover numerous songs, but that bored me quickly so I went back to writing my own. They sounded a lot like Blink 182. Sorry if I'm rambling as I remember, there is a point to this I promise.

What was different about my musical talents was that I didn't know if I was good, and I wasn't about to show off to people just in case I was laughable. For the most part I continued writing songs alone, showing them only to my brother or my close friends when they implored me to entertain. They'd smile and say it was good, but I wasn't sure I believed them. Music was different than anything else I had attempted. It was personal. My motives weren't to impress anyone. I didn't need people to hear it. I didn't need approval. I needed to write because I needed to express myself through this new outlet. I needed it's comfort. I lived for the sound of my voice over the guitar chords and the instruments that swirled around in my head along with the song. I would sometimes spend the hours at school playing songs in my head, and then run home and figure them out with the guitar (I still do this now, except I sing them into my phone so I don't forget). I could hear these songs done, every part working together to create a symphony of wonderful music. In retrospect I was ambitious, uncultured and my songs weren't very unique, but I FELT them. I needed them.

Two things made me cool at parties in my late teens. The first was that I could do a back flip off of a car. The second was that I could play the guitar and freestyle songs about peoples moms. They loved it. You don't even have to be clever. Whenever you sing made up words in a catchy melody to chords, people tend to find it genius. These were essentially the two things that set me apart from my friends who were all athletes, nerds and artists to some extent. I was one in five guys in my class who played guitar, and one in two who wrote songs. I felt unique in that sense. Music started to define me socially as well as something personal that I relied on. So after being a delinquent, a nerd, an athlete and a stoner (I left that part of the story out), I decided I was a going to be musician.

The point of that long recap was to describe a picture of myself that I believe is at war constantly with my other half. My first half is this compulsion to get better, to learn more and be the best at whatever lies before me, something I probably developed out of insecurity but something inherently 'me.' I think everyone has this to some extent, and for the most part it is a productive attribute, although sometimes it can be consuming and destructive. My other half is for the most part self-involved, complacent laziness. "I don't CARE!" Is what this half of me childishly screams. Those are the three words Kristie hates to hear. While we were dating in my teens I said them a lot. They helped me detach, but oh, how they are deadly. Sometimes I am truly surprised as to how she put up with me for so long.

Half of the time, I would much rather watch TV than write songs, record music, or spend quality time with people I love (i.e. do productive things). Even though I understand the latter is an incredible source of joy, it seems I'd much rather fill my time with nothingness. I get easily caught up in pointless, mindless hobbies like playing Mafia on Facebook, games on my iPhone, or marveling at Bob Ross' wizardry on PBS. On one hand I want to be good at everything, and on the other hand I'm much to lazy to do the work. I settle for the cheap thrills that always leave me empty. In this sense I'm my own worst enemy. I've heard it said, however politically incorrect, that there are two types of people: indians and Chiefs. There are those who read the news and those who make the news. Those who are envious and those who people envy. The thing about being a Chief is that it takes hard work, responsibility, dedication, commitment. Even when it sucks and you don't feel like it. It's trying and failing and trying again. Those who lead aren't those who are smarter, it's those who have an abundance of motivation, positive outlook and the compulsion to vacuum the heads of those smarter than them. One half of me wants to be this better person, and the other half isn't concerned in the slightest. If my life was Pinocchio I'd be a half-donkey with one foot in Pleasure Island.

This is part of what they call the 'duality of man.' Good and evil. Ecstasy and enmity. Inspiration and desperation. For every peak there is a valley. The only thing that is going to hold me from my potential is myself. I can stay in the valley for as long as I wish, because its always a forced decision to climb back up the mountain. Man, the valley sucks too. Whenever I spend too much time filling myself with nonsense I self-destruct. Whenever I cut the nonsense out I feel a lot better. Why is it that I cannot make that decision every time? It's such a no brainer. Half of me says, "This will not fill you," and the other half says, "Might was well try anyways."

I love this quote from the Apostle Paul, who struggled openly with the same issue in Romans 7 (The Message):

4-16I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

Paul is talking about this in reference to the Law, as in the Jewish Law. He's basically saying that humans can't follow the law perfectly, they will always fall short, so we need Jesus to clear our names where we fall short. He's saying its good to know the right thing, but its not enough to know it, because even if you know it it's impossible to do all the time: I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.

I guess the struggle is inspiration and focus. Acting on the inspiration of your conscience saying, "This won't fill you" and then focusing on the things that will.

I have a feeling that I will never master that.