Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Music and God

Writing music has always been a strange process for me. People always ask me what it looks like; how does one get from point A to point B with a song? When I think about how to answer that question, I'm hit with the only word that seems suitable... Magic.

I don't say that to puff myself up in some pompous way, as if I'm a magician and you'll never know my secret. I also don't assume that you think there is anything 'magical' about the songs that I write. To be honest, they wear very quickly on me, and I am probably the most tireless critic of them. The truth is I've been writing songs for over a decade and I still have no idea how it works. I'm completely baffled by the process altogether. It can happen anywhere and at anytime. I can be doing anything and something will hit me: a phrase, a rhythmic rhyme, a melody, a guitar part, a drum beat, a topic. When it hits me, if I'm wise, I write it down, sing it into my phone or try to play it. I've learned that if I put it off, even for five minutes, the inspiration will have passed and I'll have forgotten it. As I sit here I can recall countless occasions of losing songs altogether. Sometimes it happens like this: While lying awake in my bed I write an entire song in my head, but being too lazy to lean over and type it into my phone or hum it into the speaker, I drift off to sleep. Convinced the idea is sheer genius and that there is no doubt I will remember it, I resolve to work it out first thing in the morning. In the morning I always awake a blank slate, completely oblivious that any inspiration happened the night prior (I've also lost some great comedy routines this way). Sometimes I'll go about my day, then midway through remember that I had an idea and kick myself for not working it out then and there. At that point it's completely gone and I'll never get it back. So in this way I think that music for the most part, at least in the beginning stages, is not really from me in the well-thought-out-planned sort of way. And if it is from me, it's from a part of me I'm not too familiar with and don't connect with very often. The only thing I really know about song writing is that I love it.

Recently I've learned to respect the inspiration more. This, however, has caused me some social problems. The other day, while I was playing my guitar on the couch, I was hit with a clever lead part (or what I assumed was a clever lead part, in some circles it's probably cliche). I went to my room hoping to record it for some future endeavor. As I sat down at my computer to do so, the entire song flooded my brain. It's an odd thing when this happens. I can hear every instrument in my head working together, and the entire structure of the song is born. At that point I'm forced to either follow it and work it out, or to lose it forever. I quickly started to sort out the rush of ideas, identifying the lead part as the pre-chorus and writing the verse to precede it. I was working on the chorus when Kristie walked in to ask me a few questions about our plans for later on that night. Saturday night probably isn't the best time to write songs, but as I mentioned before I am not in total control of when they choose to happen. I looked up at her with a blank stare, headphones on, lyrics and melodies swirling around in my mind, none of them written down. I had the choice to try to explain myself and lose those thoughts, or be blunt and keep working. "I'm busy, I don't know," I said, and as soon as I said it I realized that I wasn't going to be able to keep working. It was clear she wasn't too happy with that answer, so I proceeded to explain myself. It took a few minutes. At that point, I'd lost most of the more short-term thoughts. Kristie eventually went off to the store to grab something, and I was forced to start over. The good news is I got back on track and finished the song, the bad news is I was a jerk, and in the process of being one I might have lost some good ideas.

It can be easy for me to take full credit for the songs that I write. If somebody loves a song, it makes me feel good, like I've done something fantastic for that person. I especially like it when other musicians appreciate songs that I write, because it makes me feel like an esteemed colleague, one who is respected in my field and among my peers. I know it sounds like I'm being a bit facetious, but I think we all desperately want to be noticed as something special. The thing that keeps me humble is the fear that the songs might stop coming. I truthfully don't know where they come from, and sometimes they can vacate my mind for months on end. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but I worry that someday if I keep taking credit for them, the true source might choose to cut me off entirely. I am a firm believer in God, and I do think that He has blessed me with certain talents in order to serve others... I think this has something to do with where these songs come from, and it plays directly into the relationship between music and God. I don't want this to sound arrogant, like God has ordained me with these glorious talents of song and I have from hence been sent-forth as a missionary to bless the world sonically. That's not really what I think. I think that I've been given a set of tools, and I'm supposed to use those tools for good. Not to elevate myself or to take all the credit I 'deserve,' but to share my gifts with others. Plus deep down I know I'm really not as talented a musician as I should be, and if these songs stop coming I'm screwed.

Music and God are a lot alike to me. For both I spend a lot of time waiting, listening, hoping to be moved in some way. Both are very mysterious. God, very much like music, tends to pop up whenever He wants to share something profound, and then He leaves the second He loses my attention. I know He doesn't really leave, but you know what I mean. Music can speak to your soul and can evoke any emotion, just like God. Music strikes a chord sometimes, and then other times for whatever reason it doesn't. Sometimes, in a very God-like fashion, Music can change your perspective, and even your life. But eventually the goosebumps wear off. When the inspiration leaves, I am left to fill in the blanks. Just like a song; I hear the verse, respond with the chorus, then write the bridge. When God's inspiration leaves, I think it's human nature to put in place boundaries and rules in an attempt to remember Him. Just like when Bono says, "Religion to me is almost like when God leaves - and people devise a set of rules to fill the space." It's really just a response to the inspiration, to the interaction with God. Unfortunately, it can end up so opposite of what God wanted that it sounds blasphemous to say He inspired it in the first place. Religion is the bridge, sometimes it can let the song down, and sometimes it can give it a lift. A good bridge is always the best part of any song, because it takes what you've heard in the verse and chorus, and adorns it with deeper meaning. It takes it to the next level.

Mother Theresa wrote a very good 'bridge.' Out of conviction and faith she chose to act. She chose to spend a lifetime tending to the needs of the poor, sick and dying in the streets of Kolkata. Because of that, onlookers valued her faith and her God. Because of her well written 'bridge,' her verse and chorus were emblazoned with incredible meaning and value. Her Inspiration, her God, received the credit. She often said, "I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world." Her love letter, her 'bridge,' will never be forgotten.

One thing we learn from reading the Old Testament is that God likes songs. In Psalm 40:3, King David writes, "He (the Lord) put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." David is saying that God gave him a song. In fact, the idea that God gives songs to people is widely stated throughout the Bible, and its usually referring to a song of praise. Much of the Psalms are songs of praise or lament. Some are angry, some are joyous. All of them are to God. For some reason, the early authors thought that a song was a good way to communicate with God. For thousands of years the Psalms have been a pleasure to read, rich with poetry and metaphors in great song-like fashion. In the 17th and 18th century, hymn-writers like Isaac Watts, John Newton, and Charles Wesley turned Psalms into hymns. John Newton, of course, is remembered for writing his famous original Psalm entitled "Amazing Grace." So the tradition is there, and for years and years songs have been written for God with the belief that they were God-inspired. In fact, there are hundreds of verses indicating vocal and instrumental music in the Bible. Many references are even non-religious and were for merriment or bereavement (weddings, feasts, funerals, etc.) Back in Bible times they loved their music, and they knew how to party, but thats for another post.

So the relationship between God and music is not a new thing. People thought about this long before my Scottish and English ancestors were alive. Apparently music, even to the ancients who lacked refined instruments or PA systems, was quite a spiritual thing. With songs, I used to think you just sat down with an idea and worked it out. If you were good, you'd end up with a good song, but the more songs I write, the more I realize that the process is intricate and tough to replicate. It's hard to explain. Like faith, it sometimes lacks any practical explanation. I can tell you the characteristics of a good song, I can point you in the direction of some good songs, but I have no idea how to make them come about. I suppose it's quite similar to my faith in God. I know what He looks like when lived out through people, I know what He feels like, but I can't recreate Him. Martin Luther once said, "We are all mere beggars telling other beggars where to find the bread.” I can point people to the bread, but I can't make the bread happen. I think sometimes it's the same with music, I feel like a beggar just waiting for my next meal.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Systemic Risk

This is from my sister's facebook page. I thought it was funny.

SOCIALISM - You have two cows. The government takes one to give to someone else.

COMMUNISM - You have two cows. The government takes both and gives you the milk.

FASCISM - You have two cows. The government takes both and sells you the milk.

NAZISM - You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.

BUREAUCRACY - You have two cows. The government takes both, shoots one and pours the milk down the drain.

CAPITALISM - You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

ANARCHY - You steal your neighbour’s bull, and shoot the government.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Human Dichotomy

What kind of crazy messed up world do we live in where the wounded cut themselves, the lonely push people away, and the tired can't sleep? Where people struggling to live are slowly killing themselves with too much food, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs? Where medicine is a killer; Oxycontin is the biggest gateway drug to heroin addiction. Where there is more than enough food to go around, but innocent children starve to death daily because of greed. Where those who desperately want to be loved continue to settle for the empty, soul sucking opposite. Where christians cause pain rather than salvation. Where those who have been blessed choose to curse others. 

We are all in the same boat, not one of us has a leg to stand on. Our pocket change could save lives, but we still keep it in a jar. We serve our fat stupid selves first, and then we put the pennies we have left over in the box at the McDonald's cash register... and that's supposed to clean our conscience?

Does anyone else look around at get blown away by the sheer contrariety of our condition? Do we ever let our own hypocrisy sicken us? 

Our self-serving society, with it's promise of wealth and comfort, has birthed nothing but pain for not only ourselves, but for innocents all over the world. For ourselves, its in the form of depression, anxiety, addiction, complacency and a variety of mental illnesses. For the world, the pain we sow is in the form of starvation, disease and exploitation. Sure we don't have to see the kids face who makes our shoes. We don't have to see the kids who die of thirst and hunger and preventable disease... so we can live guilt free. A sale is a good thing right? Shopping at Wal-Mart is fiscally responsible right? We say we want the truth, but we don't really want the truth. The truth is we are all guilty. Blood is on all of our hands. Does this bother you? We put money in the hands of murderers, extortionists, and child abusers daily. Most of all, we put money into the greedy machine that forces it all to happen. Who is to blame? What is the source of these monstrosities? The market... the demand. Who is the demand? 

We are.

Does this make you uncomfortable? I hope your anxiety kicks in as you read this. I hope your depression flares... I hope your knee-jerk reaction to reach for a milkshake or a pill will cause you to realize that there is more to life than just you. We all need to learn that insulation is not the answer. 

I hope you can't sleep tonight.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One Small Story of Regret

Sometimes I wake up and wish I'd done better.

I went through a lot of changes in high school. This is the time when most teenagers either come out of their shell or develop a much thicker one. I came out of mine. I knew I wasn't the best looking or best dressed, but some newly found arrogant part of me thought that I was probably the smartest. Not only was I smarter than most of my teachers, nothing could hurt me. As I grew more confident I began to develop what I call now the 'Invincible Syndrome'. 

In my teens, the problems in my parents relationship had begun to surface and spill over into my life, and I think this 'Invincible Syndrome' was a reaction to that (and probably also a result of newly introduced levels of testosterone). In order to not let my parents issues effect my life (my life, of most importance), I became detached from feeling much of anything. The funny thing is, it worked for a bit. I've always enjoyed competition, so when it came to challenges in sports or education, I loved to meet and beat them, and then subsequently brag about it. I was also at a time in my life when I was experimenting with things like weed and alcohol and smoking cigarettes, etc. Due to my parents apparent hypocrisy at the time, I had decided to throw out much of what they taught me and figure things out for myself. Of course they taught me never to do drugs or alcohol, so when my friends became curious, I was at the front of the line. I loved to push the limits in every way. I would take advanced classes at school and show up high. Showing up high to class was a completely different experience for me... it was challenging in a number of different ways, especially in the way of hiding it (which despite our attempts we failed to do most of the time). When grades came, I still  got A's, and I would brag to my friends that I was high the whole time and still got an A. I loved it. I loved to throw stereotypes back in peoples faces. I loved to prove people wrong.

You may read that paragraph and say, "Man, he sounds like he was an ass in high school." But when I think about it I really wasn't. I was a good kid in high school, I just became a little misguided in my last couple years. I wanted to be challenged and loved and respected and understood. Those are good things. I went to Young Life and church and met for coffee with my small group, and I believed I was a christian regardless of how I was acting. I excelled in athletics; swimming, track and sometimes cross-country (which I hated, but did anyways). I was also part of the running start program which sent me to college for much of my junior and senior year. I had friends in every click and I thought I could do it all; I could party, get good grades, sell weed, go to church, go to college, be a state champion swimmer, and beat anyone up who said otherwise. I had yet to learn the true meaning of consequence.

Because I excelled so easily at things, I think I eventually lost my work ethic altogether. There was no reason for me to work, because after all, my half-assed last minute efforts seemed to be working fine. I think some people call this "Senioritis"; when you're a senior in high school and you start slacking off in anticipation of graduating. Maybe that was part of it, but I think my Senioritis stemmed from arrogance, fool-heartedness and inexperience. As a result, I became known for my slacking on the swim team that final year of high school. 

This is just one small story of regret.

Our swim team was a good one considering we were one of the smallest schools in Washington State's 3A division. Swimming is a lot like track where individual events come secondary to the relays. The relays are popular to watch, and are really the only true team aspect of track and swimming. The most important relay is the medley relay, where each swimmer does one of the four strokes. It starts off with backstroke, then breaststroke, then butterfly, then freestyle. Long story short I was the freestyle leg, the last leg. Not because I was better than the other swimmers at freestyle, but because they were the best on our team at the other strokes. I was the next best at the freestyle position, after the three of them. We dominated all year long, sometimes lapping teams and clocking fairly close to the state record, so our coach thought we had a shot at the gold medal when it came time for the state championships.

The whole year my 'Invincible Syndrome' had come to a head, and needless to say my work ethic was lacking in the pool. I spent a lot of time goofing off, sometimes showing up high to practice and skipping parts of the work out. I didn't want to swim in the fast lane, because thats where the hard-working and serious people went, and they mostly got mad when I slacked off. So I scraped by, doing my minimum, expecting maximum returns as usual. I was still competitive, I still wanted to win, but I had lost a lot of my will to compete on a daily basis in practice. I figured I was good enough.

The State Championship came along in February of 2001, and our hopes were high. The first day of the tournament we placed first in the medley relay, giving us the top spot going into the finals. It was extremely exciting because we hadn't been beat all year and it looked like we couldn't be. We shaved our heads, bought tinted goggles, and because it was February our pasty skin led to a very chilling display of what Hitler's 'Arian Nation' might have looked like. Being seeded 1st, we were able to choose the music that the swimmers walked out to, and we would lead the pack to the starting blocks. We chose a Rage Against the Machine song, which for the life of me I can't remember right now. It was exhilarating to say the least. We were a small team from a small school up against schools three to four times our size, and it looked like we were going to win.

Flash forward to me up on the blocks. The gun is a distant memory and the first two legs of the relay are completed. We're ahead, and I'm waiting for Cory to touch the wall. He's got at least a yard on the guy in the lane next to us. I dive in, the water blasting passed my goggles, my ears filled with noise, every muscle working to displace as much water as possible. I glance to my left and I can see the swimmer in the lane next to me, still a yard or so behind. I glance forward to see the wall, I have to be sure its close enough so I can flip my turn in one fluid motion. I flip, and reach my toes out to find that the wall isn't where I expect it to be. I extend my legs and find it with the balls of my feet, and I just as I thrust I see the swimmer next to me launch his turn, plant his feet, and with his legs bent at a 90 degree angle get a full push off the wall. So now we're head to head, and I'm pulling water as fast as I can, but he seems to be gaining on me. I see him next to me, gaining ground, going faster. My confidence falls out of me, and as we hit the wall I know he has beat me to it.

I sat in my lane in disbelief. This was our one shot to have a place in history, our one shot at glory. It would have made an epic sports film, a great underdog story... but I blew it. I punched the wall a few times, but that only made it hurt more. The team next to us was in ecstatic celebration, and my team, still panting, was slowly walking away in shock. I knew they resented me, and that made me resent myself.

It felt like for the first time in my life I was vulnerable. I was humbled and saddened. I cursed myself for my lack of work ethic, when others on my team would have killed for the chance to swim in my spot. There was no way out of this one, there was no excuse... I was met with a challenge; the win was in my hands, and I came up short plain and simple. I failed because I was foolish and selfish and arrogant. I failed myself, my teammates, and my coach, who wouldn't even look at me afterwards. He knew why I had failed, he'd witnessed it on a daily basis in practice. Sure, we got the silver medal, but it felt like a cheap consolation prize... a "Thank You For Participating" award.

Looking back now it seems like a distant memory. It seems silly that we would take something like that so seriously, and in the long run it was just a game. But I can't help but remember the weight that I felt. This was what I had worked years for, what others had worked years for, and I had let everyone down. There was no going back. That was our last chance to make school history, to make state history, and I had blown it for everyone. I felt defeated for a long time because of that. 

This may sound ridiculous, but this event has had a huge effect on the way I do things now. When I find the odds stacked up against me I no longer laugh. In the face of adversity I try not to sneer... I bite my tongue. I know what it takes to achieve greatness, and I know what it takes to fail. Sometimes, like this morning, I am reminded of how hard I must struggle. I am reminded of what it takes to accomplish things of value. Because sometimes I wake up and think of this story.

Sometimes I wake up and wish I'd done better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Do you have any deeply rewarding friendships? Could you call a friend at 4 a.m. with the expectation that they would wake up, talk to you, and perhaps meet you somewhere? Would you even feel welcomed to? How many of these friendships do you have? My guess is very few, if any.

I think many in our generation have attempted to maintain only fickle relationships, and I think some have attempted to insulate their lives completely. We have developed a habit of accumulating 'party friends'; shallow friendships that are mostly based around weekend festivities. Sometimes it's to the point where we feel awkward around those friends if we are not actively doing something. It seems we have this insatiable need to be constantly distracted and entertained, and as a result there seems to be an overwhelming sense of loneliness in people our age. Why is it that in our society we choose to stay so isolated, so guarded? Is it the fear of being known for who we really are? The fear of responsibility and commitment? The fear of vulnerability and failure? It might be a combination of all of those things, but fear seems to be the constant theme.

You may have friends who make plans and then break them, their words about as fickle as the passing moment in which they spoke them. How many friends out of insecurity and fear of disappointment make multiple plans with multiple people in one night, and in some lame effort to appease everyone they end up making the majority of their friends resent them? Sound familiar?

You may have friends who call you only when they need something. Or friends that refuse to hang out with you if all it means is just 'hanging out.' There has to be a common goal to battle the inevitable awkwardness. The awkwardness that we are all so fearful of.

I can tell you this; when my close friends tell me they are going to do something with me, they usually do it. I suppose this is why they have rewarding relationships with other people as well. My friends whose words lack integrity seem to suffer in all of their relationships. They are always wanting more out of life, never being deeply satisfied or deeply known. They tend to move from friend to friend, or from new thing to new thing, searching for what they would most likely be rewarded with had they practiced relational integrity in the first place. They end up living on the empty carbs, or the 'pixie sticks' of life, bouncing from one sugar high to another, never really satiating their appetite. You can't live on candy, at some point you have to have something meaningful.

Humans are born with a deep need for community. Even if you don't believe in the Bible; where Adam, while in paradise, felt empty and longed for a friend until God gave him Eve. Even if you don't believe all that stuff, you should believe that ever since you were a baby you needed attention and affection from your mother, and as you grew you needed attention and care from your parents, and as you got older you longed to be accepted into social groups at school, to be asked to play with the 'cool' kids... to be known in some way, to be liked by somebody. And as you got even older, you longed for a soul mate, somebody to know you intimately, down to the core. Someone to love you despite all your faults. Even if you don't believe in the Adam and Eve story, it's still a great metaphor... Adam had all he wanted, but he was lonely, like most people are who have a lot of stuff and nobody to share it with. This is human nature... so why are we so afraid of it?

A few months ago there was a snow storm in Seattle. I think they called it Ice Storm 2008 on the news or something clever like that. As a result, snow and ice had covered all the roads for about a week straight. I was amazed at what happened during that time. Complete strangers started talking to each other, apparently bonding over the thing they had in common: the weather conditions which had affected every ones lives.

One of these nights Kristie and I went to watch a musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre. We took the bus there, which arrived a bit late because of the snow. The bus driver, a boisterous lady, was very loudly and comically speaking of her fear of crashing the bus or getting it stuck in the snow. She told us how he wanted to get home quickly because she was already late to see her grand-daughter. She started opening up and explaining personal details about her life, and so did the people around us. We all started talking, apparently bonding over the common fear of the road conditions. People started chuckling and smiling at each other, looking at each other as humans instead of strangers or potential threats. It was remarkable. If you've been on a city bus, then you know that bus etiquette is much like elevator etiquette: avoid eye contact, be quiet, mind your own business etc. It's that whole I-don't-want-to-be-here-awkwardly-packed-in-this-machine-with-a-bunch-of-strangers-so-lets-make-this-as-painless-as-possible vibe. Suddenly, because of this thing, this fear that we had in common, people started empathizing with each other. Guards were dropped, prejudice was thrown out, and people started treating each other as people.

Imagine if we chose to look past the different exteriors of people, if we chose to give them the benefit of the doubt, if we chose to ignore these unspoken rules on a daily basis. Imagine if we believed in the humanity of strangers. Every time I've experienced someone casually breaking the silence it has generally brought smiles, eased the mood a bit, and allowed me to feel more comfortable. The point is, it's true that we all want community, yet we are fearful to step out and create it. Even on a shallow level we want to find things in common with others, but instead we act against it and for no particular reason. In the same way, I think the folks who deep down desperately long for rewarding friendships can sometimes be the ones who are doing everything they can to keep people at a safe distance.

So, be friendly and brave, and stop being afraid of community... its only natural.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What I Believe

People always ask me what I believe about God. I think this is because they either want someone to agree with them and affirm their beliefs, or that they are genuinely interested in where my inspiration comes from. A lot of what I believe comes out in my music, so I think this makes people interested to hear an explanation. It's hard to explain beliefs, especially when they are spiritual, because you can rarely give a reason tangible enough for a skeptical person to understand. I know this because I am a skeptical person. I have come to the realization, however, that I do not know everything, that things beyond my understanding are possible, and that I should continue to search for truth regardless of how hard it is to find. Basically, I've followed my heart. You might read that and extract that I am a fool, but the truth is that my mind lines up with my heart. On behalf of my mind I have searched out much of the available evidence for and against what my heart believes. In summation, the evidence for my belief outweighs any natural doubts against it.

I believe in the God of The Bible. He is the only thing that makes sense to me. I am not a theologian or an apologetics professor or an investigative reporter. Here are some people who are, and they happen to have written some really good books about it:

Dr. Gregory A. Boyd - Letters From A Skeptic

This is a written back-and-forth conversation via mail between an apologetics professor with many degrees and his extremely intelligent, agnostic father. If you are a logical person, and you like "if-then" statements, this book is for you. If you are not, this book is still for you.

C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity 

Known mostly for his children's book series Narnia, former atheist C.S. Lewis was in my opinion one of the deepest thinkers of the last century. He was a respected theologian and writer at Oxford University. If you like a classic British tone jam-packed with articulated meaning, this is the book for you.

Lee Strobel - A Case For Christ 

Lee Strobel was an investigative journalist and legal editor at The Chicago Tribune. When his wife became a christian he set out to prove her wrong. His findings proved her right, and in the end he became a christian himself based on the evidence he uncovered.

The Bible

While abused when in the wrong hands, it's message is simply Love. The Old Testament is a love story of a God who refuses to give up on His people, even when they turn their back on him with greed, selfishness and sin. The Gospels continue that love story with Jesus who comes to finally clear the tarnished name of people so that they could be in community with God. If you have problems with christians, it is probably because they weren't being anything like Jesus. If you want proof, read the four biographies of Jesus' life, written by some of the folks who followed him around. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They cover some of the same happenings from different perspectives, and some different happenings as well.

If you aren't a book person, and you want to hear an argument for theism that is intelligent and meaningful, you should listen to former atheist Ravi Zacharias' sermon entitled "Why I'm Not an Athiest." You can find it anywhere on the internet. I just saw a version on YouTube.

The above referenced sources are for the purpose of making what I am about to say below more understandable to the average agnostic. This is not to assume you are dense, but if you do not understand the basic principles of what I believe, it might be hard to see where I'm coming from.
If you are a christian, and you want to know what sort of doctrines I subscribe to, I should tell you that I have an indifference for religion and rules, and I do not subscribe to any denomination. The frequently controversial Bono once said, 

"I have this hunger in me...every where I look; I see evidence of the Creator. But I don't see it as a religion, which has cut my people in two. I don't see Jesus Christ as being any part of a religion. Religion to me is almost what like when God leaves—and people devise a set of rules to fill the space." 

For the most part I agree with that.

For Christians who would like to know where I stand as far as acting out my faith, or who wish to further investigate what a modern Christian might aspire to be, the books below are about what I believe that looks like in Western Society. On top of that, they're both very entertaining and thought-provoking reads.

Donald Miller - Blue Like Jazz

The Bible mentions it plenty, but the sad thing is people rarely hear this today: God is Love. When people see christians, they usually see God is judgement, God is anger, but they fail to see the most important thing that He is; Love. Christians believe that Jesus was the personification of God in the flesh. The essence of God lived out through a man. Jesus was characterized by Love. Every step he took was out of Love. When Jesus was asked in Matthew 22 by a religious expert what the most important commandment was, 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."

Here were a few very religious folks trying to trap Jesus with contradictory questions, and he just simplifies all the law of the prophets, the law that they strictly follow, into the sole commandment of Love. I can imagine it's because they didn't have much love for their neighbors. Jesus even goes on to say in Matthew 23:27 (Message):

"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." 

These religious folk did everything right, they tithed down to a tenth of their spices! They were incredible keepers of the laws and rules of their religion, but here Jesus says they were dead inside because they lacked love. It sounds to me like Jesus was pretty anti-religion, and pro-love. No wonder peace-loving hippies grow out their beards and wear sandals.

1 John 4:8 says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." That is a pretty convicting statement for those who wear the name of Christ but refuse to love. 

A while ago I received a chain letter in my email inbox. It was list of different historical figures who had apparently mocked God in some way, and then, to all appearances they had subsequently met their untimely deaths. The point of the email was to strike fear and reverence in the hearts of the reader. Its reference was Galatians 6:7, which reads: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

This bothered me. For some reason, some christians tend to focus on the wrath of God. Maybe it's because we all want justice... we want people who do wrong to experience the wrath of God so justice will be served. I think also, sadistically, we might like to see others get knocked off their high-horse. But when christians (I know from my own experience) start saying, "God is like this and like that, and when you do this, God will do this," it can lead to a sense of insulated security. It all sounds very tempting and simple and understandable. But I think these stories of the wrath of God inflicted on sinners can lead to a sense of smugness, at least in myself, so I am quick to guard my heart against it. Also, to say that God is a formulaic God, that if you do this, He does that, is very against the nature of God. Granted, He does promise some things to us, but to say that He follows a formula that we can understand, actually makes Him seem more human and less fearful. The thing that makes me fear God is the idea that an infinite, all knowing, all powerful and dangerous being is out there and who knows what He has planned next. Just like C.S. Lewis says, "He's not safe, but he is good." To say that God follows this cause and effect formula really puts Him in a box in my head. It actually takes away the REAL fear, the fear that is deeper than just the fear of untimely death due to my ever failing actions and words.

So when did Jesus show wrath? To religious people! People who represented His Father terribly by passing judgement on the poor sinners Jesus came to save. That is what we know about God; how he feels about these hypocrites who are like  "white washed tombs," as Jesus said. Also, when I read Galatians 6:7 in the context that Paul was writing it, I find that he was addressing a christian church, not gays or hippies or fascist leaders or pagans, but actual christian people who might have the propensity to mock God or use Him for their own purposes.

The reap what you sow argument? I see how folks can take that out of context, but when you look at Jesus, he has reaped it all on himself! 
Isaiah 53:6 says, 

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all."

In 1 Timothy 1:15, the Apostle Paul, a servant of God very humbly says, 

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst."

Isn't that amazing? One of the major fathers of the church not only admits his own faults, but says he is the worst! How many christians today would admit that? What's more amazing is that we have sowed and continue to sow sin in its various forms, and all Jesus sees is a paid debt. I believe there are physical and real consequences for our actions like distance from God, lack of hope and direction, suffering relationships, addiction and emptiness. But to say that if somebody says something blasphemous, especially somebody who is spiritually lost and has never met Jesus, to say that they will reap the wrath of God seems very careless. To say that God (the God of grace and love and forgiveness for sinners) has made an example of that person by killing them off... it just sounds a bit narrow, a bit presumptuous, and a bit ignorant (if I may say so in the humblest of tones).

When we look at Jesus, we don't see someone who killed off the people who mocked Him and even beat him, we see someone who saw the lostness in their faces and said these beautiful words: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

That is what we know about God. We know that no matter how much wrong a person does, God still wants to forgive. And that is why I think its important to focus on His Grace rather than His Wrath. His Wrath is always a last resort, and His Grace is always sufficient.

In fact, many of the passages of judgement in the New Testament are reserved for religious leadership. James 3:1 says "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." That's a scary thought for those church leaders who have abused their positions. Not only will they answer for their sin, but they will answer more harshly.

I fear that I may have flirted to much with a tangent here. The topic, is "What I Believe," and perhaps I have only given you a small portion of that. Thinking about it now, it seems absurd for me to assume that I could place all of what I believe in one post. The rest, I suppose, could be for another post on another day. 

The intent of this post was not to debate doctrine or Biblical truth, but to look back on the understanding that I've acquired, to filter that into comprehensible words, and to hopefully inspire a dialogue about the foundations of spiritual belief.

Friday, February 6, 2009

How To Land A Wife

This post was supposed to be about the relationship between God and music, at least from my perspective. Fascinating topic, I know. I've changed my mind, however, because it's my blog and I can do what I want.

Instead, this blog will be a tutorial on how to land yourself a wife.

Relationships between human beings fascinate me. I spend a lot of time listening to peoples relationship woe's, looking for cues, red flags, and reading their specific dynamics. I've seen people fail time and again, exasperated, wondering what they've done wrong. I've also seen and studied the characteristics of successful relationships, deciphering what they've done right. I've been lucky enough be in a serious and loving relationship for ten years. Our relationship isn't perfect, but its one thats extremely rewarding. We've been through very difficult things together and come out stronger on the other side. People always ask us how we met, how we fell in love and what it took to go the distance. I've put some thought into this, and I've simplified it down into these three major guidelines:

Rule #1: Honesty

It doesn't matter how ugly the truth is, if it comes out sooner rather than later, it always hurts less. Everyone screws up, big or small, and even the small stuff is important because it could become something big if you make a habit of lying about it. Always have full disclosure with your partner, even if its uncomfortable in the short run, because she will respect you more in the long run. The adverse is true as well, if you lie or hide things in the short run, your relationship will suffer in the long run. Honesty builds trust, and trust is the key to any successful relationship. You won't get very far without it. 

Rule #2: Keep Sex Expensive

In our culture you are encouraged to have sex with someone to see if you are "compatible." Sex is not a tandem sport, and you are not puzzle pieces trying to "fit." Sex is the most intimate thing one person can do with another person. If you have sex too soon, you not only can cheapen it (because it didn't require much work to get it) but you can cheapen the entire relationship. Sex should be reserved for people who have committed their lives to each other. It should be the expensive reward of a committed relationship, and the more you have it without commitment, the cheaper it gets. I believe that our diligence in this area is one of the major reasons why Kristie and I are happily married today. We were friends for years, slowly nurturing our trust and love for each other, and in the end our abstinence paid off. I've seen relationship after relationship fail this way. People go out drinking, come home with a girl, they have sex, then wake up and grab coffee and start dating. This is backwards as hell, and it will almost never work. Your whole relationship is founded on drinking and promiscuous sex, so you can throw trust out the window immediately. If you like a girl, do not have sex with her. Keep sex expensive between you, and you just might find true love. Otherwise, you cheapen yourself, your relationship, and the intimacy of sex. Ultimately, you're just setting yourself up for disaster. 

Rule #3: Balance and Compromise

Growing up I learned little about humility. There were no "I love you's" or "I was wrong's" in my family. It was rare to see someone bow out of a fight. Humility was seen as a weakness that the competition could exploit. So you can imagine that when Kristie and I started dating I wasn't exactly the complete package. I had some holes that needed filling in. I had to learn the act of love, and it didn't come easy. It meant serving my girlfriend, even when I didn't want to. I had to quickly learn the art of apology, especially with her, because she didn't let things slide like my family did. I had to compromise, I was challenged to grow as a person, and over the years I've met that challenge. Because of her, I'm a completely different and better person than I was back then. I'm sure if you asked her she'd say the same, that I have challenged her in ways beyond what was natural to her. In that way, we've helped fill in each other's holes, and our personalities balance each other out... not just naturally, but because we are willing to compromise with each other. Admitting wrong doing and acting to make it right is one of the most important things you can do in a relationship. Compromise is key to any successful relationship, and its a two way street. Both have to be willing to submit to the other. The metaphor I use is what I call "The Tepee Metaphor". A tepee wont stand up if one side is leaning too hard on the other side. Both sides have to lean on each other an equal amount to produce something sturdy that you can live in. When one person is compromising more than the other for too long, the tepee will fall over, and the relationship will be in crisis.

People in our culture in general can be selfish. They look at marriage to see what they can get out of it. They see security and support, love and attention, children, financial gains or their dreams coming true. If you enter into a relationship with the intention of receiving something out of it, you will fail. The only way to a successful relationship is to enter in with the intention of serving the other person. Only when two people join lives with the intention of loving and serving the other that the needs of both are met fully. You can not take and give at the same time, you can only give, and in your mutual giving, you will receive the desires of your heart.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Since deeper topics are evading my thought-life, I guess I'll make this an introduction to the shape of my practical life as it currently stands. If I stray off topic a little it's because I'm trying to find some sort of rhythm. I'm trying to write from the heart.

I live in a small apartment in Seattle with my wife of almost four years. Her name is Kristie. Sometimes we look at each other with disbelief and say, "I can't believe we're married," and, "I can't believe its been 4 years." Mostly we just feel blessed to be able to look at each other and know that there is no one else we'd rather be spending our life with. Sometimes we feel old because time flies, and sometimes we feel young because we don't act like a typical married couple. We fight and love and do things best friends do. 

When I have time off from touring, I work part time at a catering company. It gets me out of bed in the morning, and it feeds me breakfast. Recently, they've decided to cut costs by stopping production of sandwiches for delivery drivers like myself. Because of that, I don't know how much longer I'll work there. I'm more motivated by food than money. I've never been afraid of being poor, but sometimes I'm afraid of being hungry. When I get back from "work" I try to hit the "studio" for a bit. This means writing and tracking demo's for The Classic Crime, or whoever else wants things done. I have about thirty square feet of space in the corner of our bedroom for my "studio," which consists of a desk, two monitors, a laptop, a Digi 002 console, various Pro-Tools plugins and whatever instruments I'm working with (usually my Strat, Martin, and Fender Princeton 65). For anyone who knows gear, I sing through a MXL V69 tube mic to make demos, it was relatively cheap and I like it. This part of my day is what keeps me sane, gives me purpose, allows me to be creative. Without music I'd probably have an emotional break down. I also have emotional break-downs when I have to work nine-to-five jobs... other than that I'm pretty emotionally steady.

Most people think being in a band and selling over seventy thousand records means that you are paying the bills. The truth is, without my wife and her hard work, I'd be surfing a dirty couch somewhere until I wore out my welcome. I'm thankful for her vision and sense of purpose. It inspires me daily.

At around five o'clock every day I go to pick up Kristie from work. She works close and could walk home, but I've made a habit of picking her up since by that time I'm done with the studio work. My major household job when I'm home is shopping for food, planning meals and cooking them. I love to cook, so this is hardly a job for me. I usually make extra and pack it up for Kristies lunch the next day.

Someone might read this and surmise that I am lazy. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I will defend myself by saying there has been nothing more challenging in my life than the pursuit of music. Throughout the years I have felt unchallenged in school and at work. I floated through both of them very carelessly while maintaining high marks. My only motivation to succeed was simply to impress my peers. It was petty competition. That is until I went after my goals in music full-heartedly. I never really understood back then what the pursuit of this dream would cost me. For years we slept in a van at rest stops and Wal-Mart parking lots. For years we were hungry and cold and never received a paycheck (we still don't). We put our time in as vagabonds at best, traveling from city to city each night, trying to capture the attention of any present persons heart with our music. At times we were at our wits end, completely broke and in debt, wondering if this is really the path we want to take. Many of us had jobs at home waiting for us, with family and security waiting in the wings. The promise of a normal life. But deep down I know that this is not merely something I want to do, this is something I must do. This is my calling. So I have sacrificed financial security, spent months living out of my backpack, and spilled literal blood, sweat and tears in the pursuit of it. We are outcasts to society, living on the fringe and in the margins. Nobody sees how we live, we come at night to entertain and we're gone by first light. We are viewed by those older than us as kids chasing dead end dreams. They encourage us to go back to school, to get real jobs, to stop living in fantasy land. It's true we live in limbo between "reality" and "make believe," but I struggle to see which is which. I just know that they're opposite. Its us and them. Are we the crazy ones? As the author and human rights activist Shane Claiborne says, "We have to remind each other that we are not crazy, or that if we are crazy, at least we are not alone." And we are not alone, there is a whole sub-culture of bands who do what we do, and it's comforting to be able to relate to fellow troubadours on the road. To the kids who come to the shows we are heroes, and perhaps that is the most rewarding thing, however skewed their perception may be. To them we have made it, we are living "the dream." Looking back now, I suppose it is all very dream-like.

So why do I do it? What practical thing would compel me to endure such a ragged lifestyle? It's true, it's not just the dream that keeps me alive, it's the reach of God through music in the hearts of people who are open to it. It's the girl who approaches me timidly at a show and with tears in her eyes tells me horrible things that have happened to her. She bares her heart to me of all people, an undeserving stranger. A nobody. Then she says that one of our songs had helped her through it all. As she sang along to every word she felt the pain of her experiences lift off of her, and today she can smile again. When this happens to me, as it does infrequently, I am completely humbled. My needs for comfort, for financial security and a predictable future all wash away. All of my petty worries dissipate. I am hit with the true importance of what we do. I am reminded that there is no better reason to do anything in life than the reason of giving hope to a hurting heart, and I am blessed beyond belief to be doing that work. After such encounters, the small hardships of the road seem to get smaller, and as a result they do little to dissuade me.

I love Jesus, as most people do who read the things He said and did. Unfortunately I'm not very much like Him at all. I have major issues with pride. Being a vocalist I can sometimes like the sound of my own voice and talk too much. Sometimes I look back with regret at certain interactions I've had with people. I have an affinity for books, movies, games, extreme sports, drugs and alcohol, or anything that will take me out of my natural mind for awhile. Sometimes I lie awake at night in bed and wonder if this is it. If this is my life and I am missing it because I'd rather turn my brain off, or distract it with games on my iPhone or a beer or a movie. Sometimes I fear that I have no idea how to live when I'm home, when the mission is over and we are forced to wait until the next tour. The only time I feel alive is when I'm talking about God or music, and then I think what do people do who don't have music? Or God?

Great, I've just discovered my next topic.