Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good Mourning, Good Knight

I shop at H&M just like everyone else. So it should be of no surprise to you that sometimes, just like everyone else, I can't fall asleep.

I love when I can't sleep, because my mind starts going places it normally wouldn't go during the day. In the dark of my quiet bedroom, away from the noise and distractions of the day, my imagination can tend to run a little wild.

A few nights ago there was a lunar eclipse. I don't know if that played any significant role but I couldn't sleep. It was 3:30am and I was writing a song in my head. A silly, Celtic folk jig about... well, I typed it all into my phone so I'll share it with you. I hope you laugh as much as I did the next morning.

It goes like this, 6/8 feel, kind of like an old Christmas carol:

Good mourning, good knight
Suffer well, suffer right
There's no telling of what they might say
In sackcloth and ashes each moment that passes
Is all the more reason to pray

Verse 1
You had no idea of what would occur 
when you left for the war on that day
They came from the forest and took your Delores 
and sailed with her countries away

Verse 2
And on your return you were chagrined to learn
That your lover was stolen away
By privateer merchants two years ago
Searching would be of no use anyway


Verse 3
On the day you wake up with no pain in your gut
You must set off to seek your revenge
And may you never rest til you sever the heads
Of the men who had taken your love


Profound, eh? No? I agree, it's funny. I even demoed it out in the morning with three part harmonies and picking acoustic guitar. I think I'm going to add an accordion to it to give it that circus-folk feel. I can picture drunken Irish sailors swinging steins of beer, belting out this song with thick accents. New demographic perhaps?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Benefit of the Doubt

The principle we read about in Matthew 7, the 'Golden Rule' so to speak, is that if you expect people to have grace for you - to give you the benefit of the doubt - then you must do the same for others. This is a virtue that is rare in our culture. The way I see it, we are pretty quick to judge, convict and even demonize people who don't line up exactly to our expectations, and we do it with such a subjective perception of their behavior or performance. From the far left everyone looks like Wesboro Baptists, and from the far right everyone looks like Hitler. We try so hard to paint a grey world black and white, or blue and red, and we rarely try to understand people or find the good in them. We rarely attempt to give people the benefit of the doubt.

We pass a homeless man on the street and we justify NOT giving him something. We say, "Well, he'll just spend this on drugs or booze, so I'm doing him a favor." We keep for ourselves the benefit of the doubt. It makes us feel better, it gives us a smug reason to remain indifferent. There's ways around that doubt, like offering food, but we're satisfied with our own judgement. We quickly "judge-jury-executioner" the poor guy and go on our merry way. 

I've always tried to be incredibly nice to fans of our band because I know this to be true: If you're nice to someone they'll tell one person about you, but if you're rude, mean or even withdrawn, they'll tell a hundred. They'll tell a hundred people about what a jerk you are. I've heard numerous stories from people saying "I heard so-and-so is a major asshole," and then I meet that person and they turn out to be one of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met. Maybe on the day they walked passed the alleged "victim" they were in a funk, maybe sick, maybe sad. Whatever it is, it's always inescapably perceived as "Jerk." We rarely give them the benefit of the doubt.

Have you ever met a celebrity? Has he/she walked passed you, eyes to the ground, perhaps trying to avoid you? Or maybe they've even been short with you? What is your natural response to this? What's the first thing someone asks you when you say you've met someone "important"? It's always either "Was he cool?" or "Was he a jerk?" The Jerk stories spread like wildfire. We love to spread negativity and we rarely give people, especially those "important" types of people, the benefit of the doubt.

I've encountered this with live music A LOT. People go to see a band and snap judge whether or not the band is "good live" off of one show. They don't take into account the venue's sound equipment and lights, the sound engineer, or the fact that the band hasn't had a day off in two weeks, or the fact that they drove over night 12 hours to be there and didn't sleep, or the fact that the singer lost his voice singing for people like you because he didn't want to cancel the show and upset everyone (COUGH COUGH). People withhold the benefit of the doubt. They reserve it for themselves without ever giving it out. What's even worse is that they make these judgement calls about live performances by watching cell-phone recorded YouTube videos! It baffles me. I can truthfully say that as a band we've had a lot of great performances and a handful of bad ones, but because negativity spreads faster, the bad ones always tend to make their way in some video form to YouTube, where of course they get more plays, and somehow happen to be better quality than the good ones. The critics always tend to lack any unbiased sympathy. They make their mind up quickly, withholding any benefit of the doubt.

People have told me certain bands I've toured with are "terrible live" when I know for a fact that they aren't, because I've personally watched 30 of their shows and 29 of them were incredible. Musicians aren't invincible, they're human, and bands on our level don't have the big money production to fall back on. We're exposed, which it's awesome when we're great, and terrible when we're not. The benefit of the doubt is something I've rarely experienced in this area. Everyone is a music critic with a strong opinion even if it's the most uninformed, ignorant and subjective opinion one could hold. Sweeping statements are never true (I realize that in itself is a sweeping statement), not just about music but about anything. Nothing human is all good or all bad, and there are redeeming qualities in every human experience. The world isn't black and white. People are flawed and ugly and beautiful and good. The world is grey, and we must give the "white" in everyone a chance. We must attempt to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Mother Teresa was a person who truly gave people the benefit of the doubt. She understood what Jesus was saying in Matthew 7. She understood that regardless of the possibility of a negative outcome one must still choose to do the right thing. She puts it beautifully in this commission she wrote entitled "Love Them Anyway":

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Be good anyway.

Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People need help, but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

-Mother Teresa

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I've never been very good at public relations. I think it's because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, which usually means I'm not very good at smiling and taking it on the chin. Sometimes I can let my emotions get the best of me. Occasionally I'll be a brilliant actor, playing the exact role that will win fans and friends, but it's a veneer that wears off quickly, and sooner or later I'm back to my blatantly honest and sometimes disturbing self. I wear a lot of hats. I'm an artist, an entertainer, a business owner and a husband, to name a few, not to mention I profess to follow the teachings of Jesus while being all of these things. It can get difficult to know which hat to wear when, and more importantly how to change them. With every hat there are certain expectations, certain pressures and obligations that people place on you.

As an artist I'm called to remain true to my art. To seek out the best conditions in which music is inspired. Unfortunately, many of those conditions can be destructive to my role as a husband, because they often include emotional withdrawal and seclusion. The best artists, I've always felt, tend to maintain a considerable amount of pain and suffering in their lives... either that are they are true empaths who can feel and communicate the pain of others in a real way. The problem with self destructive, 'tortured artist' behavior is that it can be damaging to my faith as well as the relationships I have with other people. But aren't the best Psalms the ones of longing? Don't we relate best to the sadness that comes from distance from God? Or is that just me? These are things I struggle with. These are the "hats" I try to manage.

As a husband I'm called to be there for my wife, to be a leader in our relationship, an ear that will listen and a heart that will pray. I want to serve her, to be a solid foundation for her to be able to grow. Can I do that while withdrawing from society and isolating my heart to write more honestly? Playing the role of husband does not lend itself kindly to playing the role of artist, and it's hard to know when to switch hats. The tricky thing is that the artist hat comes whenever it wants while the husband hat is always firmly around my head. How do you balance inspiration when it's distracting you from your primary human relationship? I'm sure everyone struggles with managing different hats, these are just a few of mine.

Occasionally I will look at great artists who live depressing yet inspired lives and I want, if only for a second, what they have. But then I remember that what I have is what THEY want. I have happiness. I am blessed beyond belief. Still sometimes, somewhere deep inside me, I'll feel this nagging need to self-destruct, to ruin the beauty of what I have in order to discover the 'true inspiration' that they've discovered. Silly right? I know, it's stupid.

If you read this blog, you've probably heard me grumble about how hard it is to reconcile the artist hat with the entertainer hat. Although the two are fraternal twins when it comes to being a musician in a band, they come with very opposite obligations. The artist is a sincere, emotional thinker and the entertainer is an aerobics instructor, a facade, a projection of true inspiration. We as musicians are expected to be excellent at both. But night in and night out it can get hard to fake it, to be the entertainer, the one responsible for everyones good time. It can tend to come off trite and insincere, and that bothers me deeply. Insincerity is my biggest pet peeve. It even beats picky eaters.

As a business owner I'm responsible for the growth of my company. The Classic Crime is a brand, after all, and I need to market that brand in a fashionable and alluring way. I am terrible at this. Music will not be heard without the industry so money has to exchange hands, and there is a lot of pressure on the business owner to move units, to promote the brand and to expand. If I could take one hat off for good, it would be this one. I've never received one ounce of joy when it comes to the numbers. I hate numbers. I hate that they can tend to dictate the direction of art. I hate that they can dance around in the back of my mind when I'm compiling an album. "Will this sell?" They ask. "Is this commercially viable?" Numbers are at odds with the creation of true art. They are adverse to sincerity. Numbers are pro-industry, but in opposition to honest art.

All that said, I'll admit that I don't have an ounce of inspiration outside of God blessing me with it, and I know that. None of my music is in my control. My art is connected with God, it is spiritual, and tomorrow if the melodies and lines leave my mind for good it will be because God saw fit. I'm not a proud man in this sense, I think that anybody is capable of being ten times the artist I am if God chooses to use you. I guess I just long for those sacred moments where true music is created without bias, secular or spiritual (and yes I think God inspires songs that aren't at all about Him). It is never enough, once you feel that glow, that spark of inspiration, you're instantly hungry for more. I am not satisfied with what I've played a part in creating, and I hope I can figure out this hat issue long enough to play a role in creating much, much more.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'm a driver, I'm a winner. Things are gonna change I can feel it.

It's cold and wet in Seattle and I feel blessed. 2010 has been a tough year for our band, a tough year for my voice even, but sometimes I get these moments of clarity. These moments where the veil is lifted are when I truly see what I have. I am thankful for so much.

I'm a screw up in so many ways I'd rather not divulge... but for some reason I get to live this awesome life. I get to be a musician, an orator, a conduit for a higher experience, a mechanism to help lift the veil for others. I get to vent my emotions in a medium that communicates deeper than any other in the world. Who decided that? I didn't, I'm just blessed by it. I should never complain again.

From a band perspective, we live in an industry where great bands die everyday, for reasons not alien to me, yet we're still here making music. People still care, they still come to shows, they still walk up to me at the merch booth and tell me what our music means to them. They still respond with tears and smiles. In a world where good bands die every day ours is alive and kicking, and for that I am blessed.

From a relationship perspective, I've been given the most loving, intelligent, and sacrificially supportive wife a man could ask for, not to mention she's the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on. Not many people have what we have. We're blessed.

I'm young, and my best is ahead of me. My best art, my best interactions, my best experiences. My best as a man, a husband, a friend. I've learned a done a lot in my short life, but the best is yet to come. Sometimes I feel old, worn out, beat down, jaded by life, used up... but I think those are lies to keep me from growing and pursuing more and better things. So it is with wisdom that I say that I am still a fairly naive youth of twenty-seven years and my best are ahead of me.

May you experience the same truth, whatever your current age is.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tour Log #8: Window Dreaming

Winding through the hills on our way to Northern California, it's easy to forget that these hills are just protrusions caused from explosions in the earths molten core. At any point an earthquake or a volcano could wipe us out. Yet still man, in good faith, builds roads through hills and mountains, houses on fault lines, towns in tornado alley. We seem to have this God-like complex that the things we build are permanent. From our vast cities and infrastructure to grass huts, towering buildings to small communities, we will all disappear. The earth is wild, moving, unaffected by our meager attempts to manipulate and inhabit this terrifying wilderness. Yet here we are, in all of our ingenuity and proclivity for survival, acting as though tomorrow we couldn't slip out of tangible consciousness into the vast beyond. Eternity. That horrible "beyond" that is somehow reflected in the wildness of our own earth. Creator and creation are in many ways one. Tomorrow Southern California could break off into the ocean and kill all the celebrities, then we would not only be without California, but the bulk of the entertainment industry as well. Just think, a world without TMZ. But we don't think, we just live.

Driving is a perfect example of this. Every day we get into a few thousand pounds of machinery and then hurl ourselves down curving paths at speeds excess of 60mph, faster than any land animal, and we do this with thousands of other motorists, weaving in and out of traffic, without any concern for the consequences. We're all one slip of the wheel, one unchecked blind-spot away from death. And it's not like we're staring it in the face... we're not even recognizing it. We just zoom around listening to music or texting or day dreaming with our toes hanging over the edge of a proverbial cliff, and at any second we could slip off.

Speaking of which, these roads are terrible and it's getting hard to type this. You'd think a big blue state like California could use some of that massive tax revenue to fix the pot holes!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Seven-Year-Itch

They say married people tend to get restless at around the seven year mark. Apparently that's when the honeymoon is officially over for everyone. Sadly, too many couples are inclined to become unfaithful with each other because of this restlessness, and it comes at the cost of their marriage and well-being. I don't necessarily believe this for my marriage, because I'm inclined to believe we have something unique both situationally and relationship-wise, something that will hopefully keep us going to around the 70-year-itch mark. However, I've been feeling something of this restlessness in regards to the music/band portion of my life.

I've often viewed my band as a marriage between five people. In order for us to maintain a healthy band, we all have to put in equal work and maintain a high level of commitment. We have to strive together for common goals. We have to want the same things and work towards those goals. This is not unlike a healthy marriage. If one person isn't pulling their weight it throws the whole dynamic off-balance. When we're off balance we lose focus, start playing the blame game, get bitter, and ultimately stop striving towards those goals we once had in common. Being in a band has taught me a lot about compromise, patience and biting my tongue... all of which have proved extremely helpful in maintaining a healthy marriage. 

The Classic Crime formed in late February of 2003. We are currently in our seventh year of writing and playing songs together. Our lives up until this point have been defined by this single task. We've hoped and celebrated and struggled and fought through situations together without even one member change. We formed under the common goal that we felt this was our calling, and that we would do this until we just couldn't any more. I think our dedication and passion at the beginning are almost entirely to credit for how long we've stuck this out together. It was everyone-all-in with equal share and responsibility, with hopes that if we invested ourselves fully that the best lay ahead of us. Each of us took ownership of our music and the process. We dropped out of school and worked part time jobs so we could practice daily. We spent our time writing and re-writing, demoing, gigging, struggling like every local band does. When we were with friends we'd have guitars and play songs, we'd spend hours every night just free-styling music. It wasn't a chore, or a job, it was what we loved to do so we lived it. I can honestly say that without that passion and love for music there is absolutely no chance that I'd be sitting in a van right now with the same five guys. You'd be hard pressed to find a five-piece band in this day and age that has made it this far fully intact. We are fully intact, but it feels as though the glue is wearing out. Maybe it's that seven-year-itch.

Albatross didn't really take us to the level we'd hoped, and neither did The Silver Cord, or Vagabonds. I've always believed we are blessed to do this, but you can imagine the daunting task of setting your hopes high just to have them fall short time and again can be wearing on your senses. We have all lived in poverty for these seven years, and I've watched the steady decline of hope in my band mates. First goes hope, then joy. People get less and less excited for shows and tours and songs we're writing, because the chances that it will change our situation are slim. We no longer hope for the best because we no longer want to get crushed. We preempt disappointment with lower standards. We reassure ourselves that everything will go terribly wrong in the off chance it doesn't and we're pleasantly surprised. If that sounds depressing it's because it is. It's no way to live.

Somewhere along the way a trend set in. Something clicked, and my band-mates started slowly divesting in our music and our goals as a band, and started investing in their plan B's. I don't blame them, it's only wise to have a back-up plan when you look at how record sales are trending these days. So they started picking up steadier jobs and going back to school, accruing more monthly bills to try to maintain some semblance of normal life. Because of these things we tour less, practice less, and we rarely write songs with all of us in one room. I can tell they still care about our band and our fans, but they do at less of a capacity because of their other investments and obligations.

The more they divest the more I have to invest. But sadly, I can't do it all. I still believe that music is my calling, and I won't go chase down the comforts of civil life at the cost of my purpose. Because of this I became responsible for writing and demoing 80% of The Silver Cord and 90% of Vagabonds. I don't like the extra responsibility, I actually prefer everyones input, I prefer the "everyone-all-in" mentality more, but the show must go on, and the bulk of the work-load in the last few years has rested on my shoulders. Somewhere along the way this became a job. It feels like the flare and the excitement are limited to tracking new music, and the rest just boils down to business. It's less "let's take on the world together" and more "I hope Matt writes a hit so I can quit my day job." 

I know that may sound snide, but the truth is this marriage isn't as healthy as it once was. The hope is gone. You could ask the majority of my band members and they would tell you, "If it happens it happens, if not, well, at least I have a back up plan." And I don't blame them at all. I have no bitterness. I've had that feeling before as well, but now I have this itch to create, move, grow, expand. I have no backup plan. 

I've been itching for the passion we once had, the excitement that comes with be a part of something greater than yourself. I don't want a solo project, because it can only be as good as myself... I want to be a part of something where everyone brings 100%. Maybe it's TCC, maybe it isn't.

Maybe this is the Seven-Year-Itch. I can't tell you what will come of scratching it, maybe we just make a great record with TCC, everyone-all-in. In our down time I've been producing and writing music with people who do it because they love it, and it's inspiring... I long to be surrounded with people who don't see music as a chore or a Plan B. People who make music because it makes them feel alive, not because it's expected of them. Maybe we can tap into that again. I hope so.

I don't know if the honeymoon is officially over for us, or if it's a seven year cycle and we're entering a new, better one. What I know for sure is that if I'm going to make music I want it to make it with people who are as dedicated as I am to not only the finished product but to the calling on their lives.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I think its probably safe to say that most of us identify as underdogs. I'll bet if you asked any number of millionaires most of them would probably admit that at some point in their life they felt disregarded. They might tell you they were poor or struggled through some hardship to get where they are today. They would probably give you some story about them triumphing over adversity or earning their success against all odds. I think we all like to cheer on the underdogs because we identify with them, we see ourselves as those who haven't been given the same advantages that others have. We all want the little guy to do well, after all it's inspirational. It gives us hope. There's a reason why this is the premise of every Disney movie ever made. 

Those of you who know a bit about me know that I grew up with constant exposure to Bible teaching. In Sunday School we learned the stories of the ancient heroes; David defeating Goliath, Moses leading the slaves out of Egypt, Gideon and his small band of men defeating a massive army. The men and women we read about seemed larger than life. However, as I got older I started to realize that these people weren't superhuman... they were just human. They were deeply flawed. They were underdogs, and the Bible doesn't hide their shortcomings, it almost highlights them. Moses murdered a man in Egypt and lived in exile in the desert for forty years before God spoke to him and told him of His plan to go back and free the slaves, and even then Moses was incapable of speaking up so God sent Aaron to be his mouthpiece. David was the youngest of his family, a simple shepherd boy with no military training. All he had was a rock and a sling, yet God used him to kill the giant and defeat the Philistine threat. David also became an adulterer and a murderer when he was King, he failed miserably but the Bible still says that David was a "man after God's own heart." These guys were just like you or me, and yet probably a lot worse, but God used them for great things. God loved them. Rahab was a prostitute and a Gentile (even worse in those days) and God used her to secure a victory for Israel. The theme that runs through all of these stories is that God tends to use those who are cast out, disenfranchised and overlooked. He tends to take those from humble situations and sends them into significant, purposeful, legendary roles. God identifies and chooses the underdogs for great things.

The Bible says that God does this so that man might see His Glory reflected in the lives of people. It's still happening too. A humble Albanian nun felt God calling her to India where she became known as Mother Theresa, lover of the sick, abandoned people in the slums of Calcutta. A black kid from segregated Georgia became Martin Luther King, Jr, leader of the Civil Rights movement. Without these people our world would be much worse, yet they weren't born with a silver spoon. They were born in probably less desirable situations then you or I.

Being a person who believes we were all created in the image of God, I can't help but see God's trait of "rooting for the underdog" reflected in our lives. The Bible says that in heaven the "last shall be first" meaning the poorest, most disenfranchised people here on earth will be like kings in heaven, especially when they suffer for God's sake (Good's sake). This serves as good motivation to humbly serve your neighbor, or to "bless those who curse you" as the Bible says. 

The "underdog theme" is strong throughout the Old Testament and New, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus, a child born of the humblest beginnings was a carpenter, and served the lowliest of society until He ultimately gave His life so that every person, bad or good, got the opportunity to experience Heaven. He came and served as a humble servant, and the Bible says He now reigns as the King of Heaven. He's the ultimate underdog story.

Thematically, the Bible is so perfect yet so backwards from practical thought, and so different from any other religion in that sense. But it resonates. For some strange reason we all love the underdog. We all tear up when we watch Rudy (if you don't you have no heart). Perhaps this is why the radical idea of endless servitude, rejoicing through suffering, and sacrificing everything even to the point of martyrdom struck a chord two thousand years ago. Deep down it just rings true. Those who have prestige don't see their need for Jesus so they exclude themselves, but the little guys, the sinners like you and me, the underdogs, we cling to the promise that we are forgiven and loved, and that someday we will fulfill our potential and be made complete.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Trite Trait Travesty

This is going to read like one big excuse mingled with petty justifications. Enjoy!

I'm told that if I want to maintain a healthy blog I need to actively engage my readers every day. It's a good thing I don't consider myself a blogger, because if I did I would be forced to deal with my ineptitude in this area. You'd think music alone would be enough of an outlet for me, but as it turns out it isn't. This blog has blessed with an outlet for my excess thoughts, for journaling and opinion and memories, and all the while it has saved me thousands in therapy costs. The fact that it doesn't resemble a healthy, active blog doesn't make me love it any less.

The reason I've been absent of late is because I've been busy with music. My primary job is music, and it's a good thing too because I'm terrible at blogging. Lately I've been working on producing/engineering/editing/mixing a band, playing weekend fly dates with my band, and all the while writing with whoever calls me up for a collaboration. It's been pretty much all "nose to the grindstone" and usually during these times when my brain is at capacity I have little to discuss other than the task at hand. Blogging is a back burner item and I only have the ability to apply mental energy to what is directly in front of me.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not put my faith in pagan symbols or astrology any more than I do the power of suggestion, but last weekend while we were in New England for a show we decided to read everyones horoscope. Not the daily kind, but the general "You were born during this month, so your personality might be like this" kind. My birthday is May 20th, apparently on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini. Maybe when you were born has absolutely nothing to do with your personality, but mine was eerily accurate. Even down to the whole "Taurus are prone to throat illnesses and are at risk of being overweight" and the "Gemini's tendency to fight losing battles for the sake of a "moral" cause." (By the way Justin is 100% an Aries!) I laughed at the whole thing, but it got me thinking, not about the mystical side of how these things can tend to be accurate, but about my strengths and weaknesses and how I play into them.

A trait that has always blessed and cursed me is my tendency to live 100% in the moment (apparently that's a Taurus trait). On the upside it allows me to truly invest in those in close proximity to me, on the downside relationships with people who I don't see frequently enough can suffer. I rarely call people just to chat. I'm fascinated by those friends of mine who call me up just to ask how I'm doing just to keep up with me. They like to call everyone they know around the country on a weekly basis just so they can keep them on their mind and vice versa. I'm very much out-of-sight out-of-mind, which has allowed me to get the most out of short-term situations and interactions all the while causing me to get the least out of long-term, long-distance relationships (save mine and Kristie's dating relationship, which sometimes struggled due to my incompetence in this area).

All this to say that I'm sorry I left you unattended, blog readers. A band needed me for their music and everything else took a back seat. This is not the thriving community it could be yet for that I'm somewhat grateful. It just feels good to casually chat once in awhile, you know?

It's funny though, neither the Taurus or Gemini horoscope said a good career choice was "musician." Maybe they were right. I'm still waiting for this "music career" thing to pan out!

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Like The Old Stuff Better

Hindsight isn't 20/20 all the time. In fact, I'd venture to say that most of us are inclined to remember favorable memories over less favorable ones. Every generation thinks theirs was better in some form, and that this new more progressive generation is missing out on or overlooking that goodness in some way. For some reason we tend to fawn over the "good old days," embellishing our memories to make us feel some sense of euphoric nostalgia. Maybe that's why we do it, the opiate receptors in our brains start drinking up all that manufactured euphoria and it makes us feel good, or maybe it's a way of escaping dire circumstances in the present. Whatever the reason, we all tend to long for better days.

I read somewhere that most people live in the past or the future, meaning that they are either constantly thinking about what has happened or about what is to come. People rarely spend time focusing on the present, the here-and-now,  the only thing that we truly have some semblance of control over. I suppose as humans we have a love/hate relationship with time. Time is mystical in that everything is bound to it. We can't escape it. Everything is born and then it dies. Maybe all the anxiety and nostalgia is a result of our longing to overcome the restrictions time places on us. We long to catch a glimpse of the future, or to go back and erase a mistake, to do something differently. The point is all we really have control over is this very moment, everything else is just a regret, nostalgia or a petty, restricted attempt to plan for the unknown.

I struggle with this sometimes. I'll catch my subconscious hinting things like; Life was easier a few years ago. Was I better back then? Has my talent peaked? And then those thoughts turn to regret; I should have done that differently, it's too late now... And then I turn on the future; Things aren't progressing like I expected... where will I be in a few years? Is what I'm doing ever really going to pay off? 

The past is where our nostalgia lives, our embellished memories, but the future is where our fears live. Maybe that's because the past has happened, it wont change, and now that we know what happened we can manipulate it a bit to make ourselves feel good about it. We have some small amount of control over how we choose to remember the past. But the future, well, we just don't know... we can't. In the future anything could happen, and so our fears and anxieties automatically pull us towards the worst-case-scenarios.

I think people are resistant to new things because they have an embellished memory of the old things. I find this in music a lot. "I like their old stuff better" is probably the line I hear the most when inquiring about a popular bands new album. In some cases the old stuff is better, but in a lot of cases I find that the memories tied to the old stuff are playing a huge role in the listeners rating of the new stuff. For instance, every time The Classic Crime puts out an album we get an influx of the typical "Not what I expected" comments, which is natural I believe, due to the fact that the new songs don't come pre-loaded with memories and nostalgia. They don't have the same emotional weight as the older songs yet. But then people start listening, they start connecting emotionally, they play the album over and over and relate at different times to different songs. They create memories that carry emotional value and suddenly, the new album holds a special place in their heart. And then we put out another album and the process repeats itself. "Not what I expected, I like the old stuff better."

Music has a lot to do with nostalgia and emotional memories, you can have a spiritual experience with it but sometimes it just takes a certain amount of time to gain that ground. I found that out when Jimmy Eat World came out with Futures. I graduated in 2001 and JEW's Bleed American played a huge role in the memories I created in my last year at Lynden High School, so naturally I was excited for the next chapter in my relationship with the bands music. I was not initially as impressed as I'd expected to be, but due to the fact that I trusted the band I listened to Futures more and more. A decade later I can't tell you which record I like better. I love them both for a lot of different reasons. It took time for Futures to build the same emotional value as the first record, and now that so much time has gone by they seem to have equal value. I have made so many memories over time with both records.

In some cases time gains us a better perspective on the tough things. We can look at outcomes to difficult moments and say "It was worth it" or "It wasn't" based on the fact that we are no longer in the midst of that emotional struggle and we can objectively discern it's implications. Nostalgia however, becomes stronger with time, and entire industries are built on it. People want the "Good old days," as we choose remember them, because when the present seems monotonous and bleak we play a montage in our head of all of our favorite memories and somehow it comforts us. What we should be doing is giving the present a chance. We should spend some time in the here-and-now, accepting current circumstances, trends, and music for what they are. We should do what we were doing in that old montage, not worrying about the future or longing for the past, but just living for each moment. This is where the best memories are made.

PS - I honestly just thought "My old blogs are way better..."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Word Is My Bondage

I have trouble making commitments. Not because I don't follow through, but because I do. Integrity is important to me, maybe the most important characteristic I look for, so I stake much of my self-worth on my ability to keep my word. When I'm going to do something I generally do it, and my friends never question whether or not it will get done. I'm obviously human, and I've obviously failed, but for the most part the commitments I accept and declare are the ones I follow through on (I "lead with the tongue" a lot). 

Being true to my word has also taught me to say "No" quite frequently and with ease. I get asked to do a lot of things and make a lot of commitments, and instead of ignoring every inquiry I'll usually politely decline. Sometimes it's hard to say "No," because the persons motives are pure and they're just following their own convictions to request something from you, but the more I say it the easier it is. The point is I have to say "No" otherwise I'd drive myself crazy keeping hundreds of commitments. For some people, telling someone "No" is like slapping them in the face so they avoid ever having to do so. Instead they'll tell them "Yes" or "Maybe" and then let the outcome of their actions say "No." I don't maintain friendships with these types of people. Not because I have any spite for them personally, it's just that I can't trust them as friends... and trust is key in any relationship.

Sometimes I'll get on a roll. I'll decline every incoming commitment before I can even process it because I have this fear of being enslaved. I want to be free, even it's to do nothing. It's daunting to have to do something you don't want to do just because you said you would. I run from commitment. I've been stretched too thin before and I don't like the feeling, so I constantly avoid signing up for anything extra.

For whatever reason though, anytime I fulfill a commitment to someone else it feels like it was all worthwhile. When I keep my word it feels good, regardless of how boring, difficult or annoying it was, but even still I have trouble committing. I'll often say I'm busy when I'm not, and my excuse is that "If I'm out doing things I won't be home when inspiration strikes." I sit around waiting for songs to come, and that's what I call "busy." I know, typical musician right? "Busy" is tinkering on the guitar during T.V. commercials (You'd be surprised at how many songs came about that way.) 

In recent years I've found that my "fear of slavery" is waning. I think when I was younger I longed for the freedom of my teens and early twenties. We had no pressing obligations back then and we were free to just hang out, planning only leisurely activities and semi-committing to them. We were free to be impulsive, to just pick up and leave for a weekend if we wanted to. I think for a good while there I wanted that again. When we were first married Kristie would schedule commitments months in advance, things we were obligated to do, and I would have waves of anxiety about my life being planned for me... like my freedoms were being infringed upon. I longed for the freedom to simply do nothing again. Now I see it as immaturity, but back then it was a real fear of mine. What if I want to do something else last minute? What if I don't want to go? Nobody asked me! These are typical issues that newlywed men learn to overcome. Nowadays I don't feel like any commitment I fulfill with my wife is a tedious one, and it's usually a lot of fun. Better than the weekend on the couch I had planned for myself anyways. I had to learn that one the stubborn, lonely way. The truth is she's made me more of a planner, and I've made her much more impulsive than she used to be. We've rubbed off on each other in a positive way, so neither of us are as extreme as we once were.

I didn't always keep my word. I used to lie a lot because I could get away with it most of the time. I remember when the switch clicked on for me. In my teens I could talk my way out of anything, or so I thought, but Kristie would always know I was lying. I would do the wrong thing and ignorantly think that she wouldn't find out, and that I was a good enough talker to weasel my way out of trouble. I was wrong (See blog post "Honesty Breeds Integrity" for the whole story). I realized that my lack of integrity and my dishonesty was hurting my relationship with her, so I just decided to be honest with everything and to keep my promises to her. Also around this time, my buddy Big Dan and I would have contests to decide who was more stubborn by seeing who could keep their word longer (His heritage was Irish and mine was Scottish, so we felt like we had to prove which was better). We would make commitments together and see who went the longest with or without certain things. I think because of that competitive word-keeping we respected each other more than some of our other friends. 

I started to realize then that the level of integrity you maintain for yourself is directly proportionate to the level of respect people have for you. It's not just what you portray to people either, because they'll know if you're a phony, it's about keeping your word to yourself even when people aren't around. It grows a sense of confidence and healthy respect for yourself when you do this, and I think people can tell when someone is a liar or not. Maybe not right away, but it comes out eventually. 

In Matthew 5:37 Jesus talks about swearing oaths and says "Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’..." He's right, it's just more simple when people do what they say. Forget promises and oaths, just let your word be your bond. But don't be in bondage because you can't say "no," and don't lie by saying "yes," say them both and mean them both. It's a simple philosophy that makes life more rewarding.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Head vs. Heart : Marriage and Cynicism

I'm always fascinated by the cynicism in our culture. It's not the classic bitter cynicism, the stuff our grandparents had, but a more modern to-each-his-own, there-is-no-truth cynicism. We live in a culture where true life-long love is scarce and becoming more like a fantasy than an attainable reality. The idea of Ultimate Truth is becoming referred to more and more as an ignorant, fascist idea of the past. We are the newly enlightened, the culture that surpasses all previous cultures. We even defy our natural roles and any traditional institutions because 'we're advanced and there are no rules but the rules we make.' I wonder why we think we're so special, like we have it all figured out. Is it technology? Has it got us feeling like mini-gods? It's true, the power of man is impressive, our scientific knowledge has never been as well documented and advanced. I'm often blown away by what my phone can do, or how far I can travel in just one day, and it's all happened so fast. Has it caused us to worship ourselves? I just ask because it seems like "Self" is our primary focus.

I wonder where all this progressive-thought is taking us, because it seems to me like we're becoming less and less a people of morals and conviction and more and more like a "whatever-works-for-you" culture. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not a conservative whistle-blower, I'm a staunch centrist who believes in selflessness. I believe in simple characteristics that are universally agreed upon as good. Characteristics that are scarce in our culture. The problem with the "whatever-works-for-you" type of culture is that it's focused on YOU. Our problem is an extremely selfish one. Things like honor, servitude, purpose, love, integrity and respect are becoming identified less like characteristics to strive for and more like a television commercial for the Army; fairy-tale-ish, naive and old-fashioned. It seems to me like our generation could be defined as restless and lonely, "tolerant" but with no meaning or purpose. The pills we take help us to remain unconcerned with what our ancestors might have deemed important. We've allowed our minds to drag our hearts through the existential muck to some lonely island on which we spend our days convincing our hearts that it's okay; Put off those pangs of longing, do away with those stabs of regret, distract that desperate unrest... Take this pill. After all we're advanced now, our brain says. You simply have to evolve, heart, and frankly you're taking your sweet time.

We are obsessed with self. The customer service industry has done this to us by telling us "The customer is always right." Our therapists, counselors and teachers have done this to us by telling us to "Do what's right for yourself." Our parents have done this to us by telling us to do "Whatever makes you happy." Of course this can be good advice at times, but when it's blitzing us constantly we start to think that whatever I want, I deserve (Watch "Sweet Sixteen" for real life examples). "Tolerance" we're told, is about being tolerant of different people regardless of their background or lifestyle choices, which I totally agree with, but being extreme beings we take it one step further. We elevate the individual and label any constructive critique, any careful warning, any nugget of wisdom to the contrary, however true it is, as "judgmental" and "intolerant." Now tolerance means "Everything-is-good-so-do-whatever-YOU-think-serves-YOU-best." In our culture truth is relative and self is god. We elevate self, and we're losing a lot of the principles that make people good people. We're becoming "whatever" people. We're selfish. We get married because of what we gain for ourselves, and not surprisingly that's also why we get divorced. We're constantly bombarded with outlets telling us that we are "#1," so much so that we start believing it. We flip our lids to the customer service person the second they tell us they can't help us. How dare they! I'm "#1!" (I love flipping my lid). What's incredibly ironic is that all this was bred in us under the ambiguous flag of "Tolerance," yet we have very little tolerance for those who would defy us.

Where has this selfishness left us as a generation? I'd say pretty sad and cynical. We have all the materials to be happy but it's not working. We still need to medicate our hearts. For some reason our heart won't go along with our head's propositions for attainable happiness. Where I live, you'd be hard pressed to find a twenty-something who really believes a marriage can work in this day and age, and what's even worse is that our divorced parents are feeding into this doubt, not just with their actions but with their advice. I have a friend who is loyally in love with his girlfriend but won't get married because his dad told him to "Never get married until you own property and dammit you should wait until you're older." Not surprisingly his dad was married out of high school without much to his name and his marriage failed, for whatever reason, but I'm sure it wasn't because he didn't own a house. He obviously created some notion about home-owning to disassociate himself from how both he and his ex-wife made a series of bad relational choices which led to divorce. What is more sad is that he's passed this notion onto his son, and how his son thinks it's as good as God's Word. So my friend has decided he's not going to be with anyone else but his current girlfriend, but has no plans to get married any time soon. Their relationship is at a standstill commitment-wise, and who knows how long that plateau is. People say the next step is moving in together, but I say that's the best way to not get married (or when you finally do, it'll probably be out of obligation rather than joy and excitement). You need to work up an appetite before you eat dinner, let alone dessert. I know that opinion will offend some people because you're living with your hope-to-be-spouse. I'm not trying to be narrow, I know there are many ways to do things (heck, we're doing things way different than our parents did, probably at least a few of them are wrong). But ask yourself, if you're not married, why? List the reasons. The only valid reason is the "I don't love them" reason (and maybe the "I'm only 16" reason, please wait until you're at least 21). All those other little fears don't add up to much, and are probably just cultural biases that hold no real water. Contrary to what you may have heard you do not need to own a home to commit your life to a person.

Kristie has an acquaintance at work who lives with his girlfriend and has been with her for five years. When Kristie asked him if they were going to get married he hemmed and hawed about how "Yeah I guess, but she has debt and so do I, and my mom told me never to bring debt into a marriage." Not surprisingly, his mom is divorced. She obviously developed some notion that debt ruins marriages to disassociate herself from the fact that she and her ex-husband made a series of relational choices that screwed it up. What's even worse was that her son seems entirely unexcited about marriage. I mean, he already lives with her, so that whole butterflies thing? That whole giddiness of starting a life together? That whole "new adventure?" That's all gone. He's got the prize without the ceremony, without the party, so why celebrate now? His life won't change, if anything (and this is what our culture tells us) it will change for the worse. The cynics in our culture have endless jokes about the "ball and chain" and the lack of freedom, constantly hinting that "Your life is over now, man." The stigma is that people get married and stop having fun. They stop going out, stop socializing and stop enjoying life. Their dreams die. This stigma is conceived and trumpeted by cynics born of failed marriages. It's not a stigma based on wisdom, it's a stigma based on wounds.

When Kristie and I got married five years ago we had nothing. We had debt. We didn't own property or have any assets. All we had was each other. Despite all of our parents warnings that "You can't live on love," we proved that we could. When we got married our real adventure started. We didn't want kids right away, we just wanted to live together, to do life together, to go on an adventure as partners with no pressure to fit into what society deemed "normal." She took off on tour with me for a year. We lived in a van. Was it hard at times? Yes, but also so incredibly rewarding to work through those times together. There's nothing like growing up with someone you're in love with. Since then we've lived in four apartments and two others in-between. We've travelled the country, experienced the city one neighborhood at a time, and we've made and kept many friends. We maintain an incredible social life, mostly with unmarried people. Getting married by no means has to mean that now you're old, boring, washed up and your fun years are behind you (That happens when you have kids - kidding!). Sure, I had fun as a bachelor living in a house with a bunch of guys, but if I went back there now I'd probably hate it. Who wants to be nineteen until they're thirty-five? That's the real tragedy of our generation, people who refuse to act any more responsible than they did ten years ago. I can always have those weekends with the boys, and I have those tours with the boys, but I'm always so glad to come home. My adventure with my wife has been the best adventure of my life. It's the most fulfilling relationship I've ever had. It's given me purpose, drive and character far beyond any other friendship. Marriage is about starting a lifelong adventure with someone, dedicating your life to them, and promising to love them no-matter-what. It's not what the cynics say it is (unless you take their crappy advice). The marriages that effected them failed because of dishonesty, selfishness, pride, bitterness and unfaithfulness. When two people enter into a relationship willing to give their all for their spouse it is one of the most fulfilling things than anyone can experience.

Maybe it's because I live in Seattle, home of the most pretentious, progressive hipsters in the country, but it is so incredibly sad to see people miss out on this, and for silly reasons at best. We see people go from fling to fling without actually experiencing true intimacy, we see them fearful of marriage based on the faults of our parents generation and silly fears like debt and property ownership, and all we want to do is tell them it doesn't have to be like that. We aren't so enlightened that we no longer believe in true love, that we no longer believe in marriage. We're just damaged, trained to be selfish. Slaves to strange fear-based ideologies born only in the last fifty years. We aren't enlightened, we aren't any more special or smart than those who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. They were wise back then, and it would probably do us some good to read up on that wisdom, starting with the best definition of love that I've ever read (written around two-thousand years ago):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Writing Songs

I've started writing songs again. This always happens after a long period of rebellious boredom in which I spend each commercial break making disdainful glances at my studio in the corner. Procrastination usually comes before inspiration for me. The whole commitment thing of writing a record's worth of songs is what scares me. I don't want to start, because starting means committing. It means finishing. It means hours spent working, thinking, writing, demoing, flinching and re-writing, singing, playing, quantizing, editing, sampling, flinching, re-singing and mixing. I'll go hours straight with my face to the screen from early morning to dinner time, only snapping out of it when I hear the front door shut announcing Kristie's arrival home from work. And then I realize my back hurts, my voice hurts, the song isn't that good, and the whole time I've been in my underwear, and "Wait a minute did I eat lunch?" I'm not trying to pull that whole "tortured artist" thing, because I love my life and I love making music, it's just a big commitment and I like to hold it off until I can't stand it any more. So I've started writing and subsequently I've been much less bored.

Let me clarify; I love writing music, and I love recording music. I even love performing music most of the time. What I hate is demos. I have this weird superstition that if I record a demo the right way, like if I really spend time on it musically and try my best to sing it perfectly, that the song will never be AS good again. I contract the disease we call "Demoitis" very easily. When I've sung exceptionally well in the demo I psych myself out in the real recording trying to recreate that same "magic." I want the song to sound it's best in my headphones as I'm tracking vocals for the real recording. I want to hear it like I'm hearing it for the first time, like I'm singing it for the first time. Demos mess with that, so I try my hardest to record them as sloppy as possible. I just want to get the shell of the idea down so that when it comes time to play ball for real I'll have a lot of room to grow and have less pressure to recreate some previous moment.

I procrastinate recording demos, but I don't procrastinate with writing. I'm always writing, and I don't think I really have a choice in the matter. I have hundreds of lines that I've written and plenty of songs in my head, with all of the parts worked out from drums to guitars to vocals to string arrangements. The problem is I have no way of communicating those things to other people unless I play it all myself (or play conductor for hours in our practice space, which is stressful). A demo allows my band members to get the gist of the vibe and the inspiration for the song so they can add their two-cents and hopefully make it better. 

I'm not one of those writers who thinks that my ideas are the best. Often times they aren't the most technical, well-thought-out or purest ideas. I'm a lightening-in-a-bottle writer, I'm not a technician. I mean, I've written my fair share of technical parts and time-signature changes but I've captured those things with not much thought. They just come in the moment. Those clever ideas (or "Little bolts of lightening") happen in a few short minutes as opposed to hours of listening and perfecting a part. I record the shell, sometimes underdeveloped and sometimes fully developed, and hopefully my band-mates take the time to comb through it with some technical thought. When I can't think of what to do I generally move on, but some writers play it back a hundred times and work out their creation with committed articulation. I am not that writer, but I need writers like that. I need my band-mates for that reason. I can do everything on my own, but it won't be as good unless others are inspired to come along and add to it.

I have around five songs demoed and around five more in my head. Some of these are the folky-acoustic type so maybe another acoustic EP is on the horizon, or maybe a side-project, or maybe just a completely different sounding TCC record. Either way it's good to be creating again.

Friday, July 9, 2010


This is a long one, maybe even my longest yet.

I've driven around, flown over, and walked through hundreds of cities and metro areas and I'm always somewhat amazed by the accomplishments of man; the towering buildings, freeways and streets, transportation systems and infrastructures with hundreds of micro economies functioning to prosper the majority. Sometimes it all just seems so ingenious, and it's somewhat smugly reassuring to observe what humanity is capable of. Until I take a step back. From the macro perspective, how fragile is our system! Our global economy is built on a bubble, on debt, on projected profit from that debt. It's an unstable facade, built on nothing ultimately sustainable beyond a hundred years. It's founded on the idea that the current generation is the most important. What we GET is what matters most. The plans that we have made are not plans that will last. They are not plans that will carry us much farther than the scope of our own life-spans. Civilizations greater than ours have arisen and disappeared throughout history, and the plans they made are now seemingly obsolete in the grand scope of things. What makes every generation think it is the most important? Thousands of years ago people much wiser than us implemented their plans with as much foresight as humanly possible, but even then the residual impact is little if any. Our plans are built on temporal knowledge, in the spiritual sense and the timely sense. The foundation for our standard of living is built on sand. Our plans are extremely fragile and near-sighted.

What if there is an Ultimate Plan? A Plan that isn't limited to one person, or one life-span? What if history, ancient and recent, holds proof of that plan unfurling in the macro and the micro sense? I believe in that Plan and Purpose, because I believe in a God who loves and interacts with His creation, but also because I've witnessed His work on the micro level, in my own life, as well as through my parents lives before I was even here.

My parents became Christians in the late 70's. I don't know much about this time in their lives, other than that they were post-hippie travelers who randomly met in Vancouver, BC, thousands of miles from their respective birthplaces (my dad from Halifax, Nova Scotia and my mom from outside of Richmond, VA). While in Vancouver, BC they attended some Gospel meetings and became "born-again" by every sense of the term. Their habits and lifestyles spun a 180 as they implemented their new found moral convictions, got married and started a family. 

According to his testimony my dads conversion was a tedious one, spanning seven years and involving him being tracked down by a preacher who seemed to show up at the most random moments. These random interactions eventually led him to give his life to God. I think my moms conversion was a bit more impulsive. Either way, for several years they maintained a very black and white faith. 

In 1994 we moved across the border to the US. The new church we attended was more concerned with posturing and judgement than community and love, and the culture slowly chipped away at my parents faith. Areas of their lives and marriage were left unattended, exposed, and allowed to fester due to lack of depth, accountability, honesty, and care for the things they once deemed important. Eventually differences could not be reconciled in their relationship and it lead to their separation, subsequent excommunication from their "church," and divorce. Since then their faith has struggled as shame, resentment, regret and bitterness have taken seats at the table while things like grace, mercy, love and forgiveness grow ever-distant.

Of course this is only my take on the matter, and I'll admit that from the outside it's seemingly easy to discern the consequences and their causes; the causes being justifications for stubbornness, revenge, anger and bitterness, and the consequences being detachment, loneliness, lack of peace and loss of faith. Speculation can only add up to so much, however, and the truth is that things are more confusing and messy on the inside. What I do know is that as of right now neither of my parents are actively pursuing any portion of the faith that once changed their lives. My mom used to read the Bible to us every morning at breakfast, but I'm speculating that she probably hasn't opened it in years. One of the most enduring images I have from my childhood is of my dad sitting at his desk, pouring over his bible and studying scripture, but I doubt he has spent any time doing that lately. Needless to say, both of my parents currently seem concerned only with their individual, short-term plans. They've lost their faith in the Ultimate Plan. I'm not blaming them, because they've had a hard go of it, and I'm not confident that I'm exempt from their circumstances. It could happen to the best of us, and so I must tread lightly and remember that "There by the grace of God go I."

In my experience, something happens when you read the Bible. Something rings divinely true within its pages. When read properly, the Bible doesn't encourage your political stance, tease your intellect or simply resonate with the "poet inside." Instead it grabs your heart and squeezes it until the tears flow. The truth about love, forgiveness and sacrifice is simply that; Truth. It just rings true. It speaks to that part of us that longs for ultimate Truth and absolutes. It puts things in perspective and it causes us to live differently, to love better. It calls us to become a part of the plan. When we read the Bible, it puts us on track. I can tell when a Christian has spent time reading it with enthusiasm recently, and I can usually tell when they haven't. My parents, I suspect, haven't. (If I'm honest with myself it's been too long since I've spent significant time studying the Bible and the symptoms of that have been showing. #realtalk)

In an effort to totally redeem myself (sarcasm) I've been reading this book by Francis Chan called "Crazy Love," and it he discusses his discovery of Gods specific love and divine plan for his life. He comes upon this by reading Jeremiah 1:4-5 where God says to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart." Thinking this might have just applied to the prophet Jeremiah, Francis was reminded of Ephesians 2:10, where we are commanded to "Do good works, which God has prepared for us in advance to do." His realization is that God knew us before we were here and prepared a plan for our lives. He planned for us individually ahead of time to follow Him in order to be effective stewards of His love, to do "good works" which advance His Ultimate Plan. We have to choose to be a part of it, and as with the Apostle Paul or my Dad, sometimes he chases people down. His plan is different for everyone in the micro sense, but He's the only Being with any eternal perspective in the macro sense, so we're forced to trust Him in order to be a part of it. People like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa were figures who trusted God's plan and followed it into harms way out of conviction from the calling to do "good works," which I have no doubt God "planned in advance" for them to do. It's a humbling concept that an all powerful God would love us so much and want to know us so intimately that He would chase us down in order to make us a part of His loving plan. When people truly respond to His Plan, you see the loving approach to equality, sacrifice for the weak and service to others like MLK Jr. and Mother Theresa were characterized by.

I think of my parents meeting out of what seemed like sheer happenstance, thousands of miles from their home-towns. I think of their dramatic conversions, how my dad was chased down through a seven year process where God, through experiences and interactions, would not leave him alone. I think of my childhood, my five siblings and my two Haitian-born sisters, the opportunity given to us to learn about God and accept His Plan for our lives... When I step back and look at all this, it doesn't seem like random chance. It seems to me like my parents were accosted by the Holy Spirit, chased down by a God that had a plan, and plan that they had no intent of fulfilling when they started their adulthood. I think about the people in my life who have steered me toward that Plan, even when I fought so ignorantly against it.

I've seen what I claim to be God's work in my life. It sounds crazy, I know, to talk about things you can't see or prove with your basic senses, but I've felt the peace of knowing my Creator. It's better than any other high I've experienced. I've felt drawn and called to certain things, hard things that I didn't want to do, but when I came out on the other end I realized how blessed I'd been for doing them. The point is I wouldn't be here if not for God's work in my parents, and regardless if they admit it or not they were used for His glory in their youth, and although in their 50's they have nearly forgotten His gift, His plan continues through us, their children.

Part of me says He's done chasing them, that His work in them was fulfilled in us, that their role in the Plan is done... but another part of me says He desperately longs for communion with them again. The God I read about in the Bible isn't one that turns His back on lost children. Jesus illustrates God as the father in the Prodigal Son parable. The son spent his entire inheritance partying and dishonoring his father, but in the end his dad accepts him back with loving arms and throws a feast for his lost son who came back to him. Jesus spoke about Gods love is like a shepherd who would leave his ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness just to find that one lost sheep. When I read that I don't think God is fine with any of His sheep or His children wandering off, going their own way, unprotected and vulnerable. I could be stretching it, but perhaps that parable also says something about our innate need for community. Perhaps the ninety-nine in the flock are safer because they have each other, they have strength in numbers, but the lost sheep is all alone, in desperate need of a shepherd and community, and because of it's unique situation the shepherds heart breaks for it. So much so that he leaves the ninety-nine "found" sheep to go find the lost one.

When I read about Gods Plan, I think about it's significance and how it far surpasses our own personal plans. This is much more than just life and death. "Lost" and "Found" have significant spiritual meanings and outcomes. It's true that not all who wander are lost, I've wandered my fair share and I believe it is a part of how I'm wired. I also think it's true that those who seek will find... I've found that when I honestly seek God without any conditions, He always shows up. Those who are truly lost and running away, however, are characterized by selfishness. They give very little. Lost people are plagued with worry and stress, they're misguided, prone to denial and indulgence in frivolity. Chan says in his book that "Worry and stress reek of arrogance." It's true that at their core, worry and stress are selfish feelings. The number one concern of those emotions is Self. Those emotions display lack of peace, distrust and ignorance of God's unconditional love and provision, and they also restrain the ability for one to love and sacrifice for others. Worry and stress cause us to implode, completely taking us away for Gods plan for us to "do good works" which He has "planned in advance for us to do." 

I once heard a quote that said something like this: "What you do for yourself in this life will die with you, but what you do for others will live forever." I don't know who wrote it, but it's definitely a Biblical principle. People who become obsessed with their tiny, insignificant plans, become characterized by worry and stress. They become selfish. They become lost.

Jesus tells us that if even man, who is sinful in nature, gives good gifts to his children, how much more does the perfect God of heaven wish to give to those who call him Father? He also says not to worry, because if God takes care of the birds, making sure they have nests and food, how much more will He take care of us, His most beloved creation? The difference is that as humans we have a choice. We can choose to have His help and peace, to live without anxiety or stress or worry or anger or any negative emotions. We can choose to trust in the Ultimate Plan and to do our part by doing "good works he has planned in advance for us to do." Or we can bear our own burdens, hyper-focus on our selfish, temporal plans and watch worry and stress swallow our lives and damage ourselves and our families.

May we all seek the bigger, better plans for our lives.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

                                                         -Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The older you get the more weddings you attend. Sadly, this is also true with funerals. I've been to my fair share of both, but as I get older I think I am finally starting to appreciate the importance of the deepest bond shared between people. This is of course the bond of family.

I have loved and hated my own family, but much like anyone else I've been deeply loyal to them through all of it. In my late teens I think was trying to break free of the responsibility of the family I was born into and I rebelled. In my early twenties I stuck my flag in the ground when we started our own, assured that ours would be stronger than the one my parents provided for us. But only now at twenty-seven am I finally starting to see the value that the old folks always talk about; that unmistakable bond, that sense of community. The shared name that comes with the shared memories, the shared growth, the shared victories, the shared losses. As humans we long for deep community, and a strong family can completely fill that void.

As a generation, as a culture even, I think we've lost a lot of what family means. The sense of entitlement within our generation has wrecked our marriages, made us disloyal and selfish. We think we're being modern or enlightened as we escape the "chains of tradition" but the truth is we lack the sense of family as it was intended, all the while desperately craving it. 

There's something that these strong, loving families have that we don't. While sitting in a wedding reception or rehearsal dinner among these families I can feel it. It's emotionally moving. There's something true about it, it just feels right. Members are accepted, they belong, and they are loved within their families. They hurt each other deeply, but they forgive totally and they never turn their back on each other. This is what family was meant to be, to shape us into better people, to provide love and security over time, to pass down gifts and lessons, not diseases and abuse. As I watch two strong families join together through marriage I can't help but be inspired. Even at funerals I can sense of the power of a strong family who comes together to mourn a loved one, to remember the details of a life lived, to offer support to each other. There really is nothing more beautiful, and nothing that better illustrates the Church's intended function than a strong, loving, committed family.

My twenties have been about traveling and music. It's been about Kristie and I doing life together, being adventurous, growing stronger and building a solid relational foundation for our family. I feel a shift happening within me as I turn the corner and start looking at my thirties. I want to further my family. I want to create something strong and loving, rich with memories like I had as a kid but even much better. Something long-lasting. I want to leave a legacy, to give life and to carry on my family name. To pass down history and meaning and lessons and stories. These are the things that matter. There's a new adventure a few years away, just over the horizon; to give what I've received these past several years. To receive, through giving, a new struggle to shape us.