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.