July 28, 2017

Turn It Down


I've been playing music publicly more lately, thanks to my good friends Chris Baur and Roger Mindwater (we used to play in a band together called Campfield). A few weeks ago Chris let me play some songs at his show and, right in the middle, the waiter came up to ask us to turn it down. Ugh, not what you want to hear when you're putting yourself out there in a song you wrote. So we turned down the guitar, I backed away from the mic and we pressed on. But hearing that question does something to you as a musician that I want to write about...

It's certainly not the first time this has happened to me (unfortunately). The first was playing with my buddy Mike in our pseudo-metal/folk rock two-piece, Thrash Choir. Again, Chris was giving us a shot and we were playing a little impromptu four-song set at an outdoor patio on James Island that has since shut down. Some diners were sitting a little too close to our amps and asked us to turn it down. I even had the same thing happen while playing drums with Chris at a bar many years ago. We weren't invited back.

So what do you do as a musician when you hear, "Turn it down." Play softer, duh. But internally, it flares up a whole host of insecurities that are already present when baring your soul to a blank-faced crowd. What you're really wondering is, Am I too loud or do I just sound bad? It could go either way, but at this juncture in your musical career, you have a choice: Do I quiet down for good, or keep putting myself out there?

Maybe that sounds dramatic, but any expression of art truly is a vulnerable act, and for me using my voice is about as exposed as I can get. Most people fear rejection, and so when it actually happens, you have to deal with it. Quitting music is an extreme example -- I'm just getting started in a way -- but I just thought it was an interesting thing to write about. It's not everyday that we get to experience public rejection like this.


A more positive performance happened about two weeks prior, when Chris encouraged me to do an open mic night with him and Roger at Home Team BBQ. I did this about a year before, but hadn't been back since. Most of my performances are kind of a sloppy mess, with last-minute preparation thrown together with a few laughs and some forgotten words. However, this time I wanted to be prepared, so I practiced. But as showtime approached, all the lyrics and chords in my head were just getting jumbled around so badly that I could hardly think. I almost backed out about four times that night, but peer pressure wouldn't let me stop. (I guess peer pressure isn't always a bad thing, kids!)

And then, during Roger's set, this calm and clarity came over me. The stress left and the words became settled in my mind. I went up there and told the crowd that I often forget my words, so to forgive me should that happen, but you know what? I don't think I forgot a thing that night. I confidently sang songs about my wife, my family and contentment. Mike Williams played violin with me and it sounded beautiful. It was a real win, and I was reminded afterwards of why we even get up there in the first place: there is something energizing about a successful performance, about creating something and showing it to the world, that supersedes all insecurities and self-doubt. This moment overshadows the "turn it down" experiences like mountains swallowing valleys. For what is a valley without a mountain next to it? And what is the summit without a trek through the darkness leading to a beautiful light and a view that spreads for miles.

So when the world tells you to "turn it down," smile politely, finish the song and tighten up for the next one; because as long as you want it, there will always be a next one.

July 19, 2017

Loving Others




Do you ever have trouble loving others? We're commanded to love everyone, but there is always some difficult person out there that you know you're supposed to treat nicely and what not; but when it comes down to it, you kind of wish that he or she would just get out of town and move away.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Of course we're supposed to ask God for help in these instances, but often were are given the help in God's word before we ask it -- we just have to look. Check out this verse below:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:9-12)
Did you catch that part about loving others? "Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." It's because of God's love that we can even love others in the first place. So if you're having difficulty loving that one person in your life (or two or three or four people), then pause and take a moment to focus on God's love for you. This is our fountain and our source; the electric outlet we need to plus into in order to light the lamp. And then, once we get the power we need, we can shine the love of God to a world that doesn't see him at all, making him known with a strength beyond our own.

June 23, 2017

Bleed These Dreams


Back in 2012/2013 I had a pretty long commute to and from work. About this time, I discovered the voice recorder app on my phone (I'm not sure why it took this long...) and decided to use the massive amount of time I was spending in my car productively. I did this through writing songs, dreaming up verses and choruses and then recording them, piece by piece, on my phone. Well, by the time 2014 rolled around and I quit my day job to become a stay-at-home dad, I had quite a few tunes recorded. And don't think that just because I dropped a daily commute that I stopped writing on the road...no, no. This trend has continued to this day.

The whole thing got me thinking that it would be fun to make videos and an album of all the songs I have written in cars, recording those very songs inside cars. It took a couple years to get started, but here is the first one: Bleed These Dreams.

I wrote this song while driving home from a visit to the main office of the property management company I worked for from 2014-2016. Bellflower to Redondo Beach was far enough to come up with something compelling. The song is about the struggle of dreaming big dreams, balanced with a steady dose of contentment. Such is the constant tension I find myself in as I hope for a better tomorrow, without sacrificing the happiness of today.



BLEED THESE DREAMS

It's easy to die, hard to live.
Easy to dream, hard to give
Yourself to a cause that might
Disappear in the dark of the night

It's easy to try, hard to be the best.
But will the best satisfy or give you rest?
And will you ever make it through
Without loved ones supporting you?

It's easier to complain than do the right thing
And take what you get with a smile.
Contentment ain't sexy, but boy I will bet you
You'll be happier in the by and by
Happier in the by and by

Woah.

It's easy to run, hard to fight.
Harder when you're not sure what you're fighting for is right.
And am I even on a path
That will lead to a glory that lasts?

It's easy to fly, hard to build wings
And run off a cliff fueled by dreams;
Maybe crash into a ball of fire,
Or sail into the sun, going higher and higher

It's easier to complain than do the right thing
And take what you get with a smile.
Contentment ain't sexy, but boy I will bet you
You'll be happier in the by and by.

It's easier to complain that do the right thing
And take what you get on your knees.
It takes something humble, but boy you won't stumble.
In the end, you might be happy.
In the end, you just might be happy.

Woah.

-- I chose to record this in my 2005 Subaru Baja Turbo because that was the car it was written in. It also has special significance, because I sold this car about a month after shooting this video. Hopefully she finds a better home in Ohio...


June 16, 2017

Age & Expectations - Part 3




I wrote some years ago on the topic of age and expectations. It's an idea that has been coming up again recently, so I thought maybe it would be a good thing to revisit.

I keep hearing, "I'm so-and-so age and I haven't done so-and-so," typically centered around the milestone of turning thirty. I can't say I'm not immune to this thinking though, as life certainly hasn't turned out the way I planned ten years ago. My career is pretty much non-existent. Actually, the whole idea of having a career has been slowly flying out the window before me. I think this is something God has been bringing me through personally, so I don't want to make any comment on careers here; but really just dealing with this idea of believing I would have hit a certain milestone by this point in life is tough. My struggle is career, for others it's relationship status or having kids... Actually, I can't really think of any other milestones that come up in conversation -- those seem to be the big two. But I have to ask -- Where do these expectations come from?




The answer I come up with is that they are societal norms that turn into personal pressures. Most people at thirty have gotten married, had a couple kids, bought a house and have a pretty stable career that they spent most of their twenties working towards. Well, if most people have done it, why haven't I? But I have to ask another question -- What does God say about it?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
That pretty much says it -- this world and its expectations will likely differ from God's, and so we need to be comfortable in those differences. That's not to say that God's will and those milestones, some of which may be genuine desires, might not always line up. Most of these things we want are pretty good things, and we probably have good logical reasons for wanting to attain them by the time we have set out to do so. The problem is that I keep seeing friends get down on themselves about what they have and haven't accomplished at their age, and I don't think it's right. God has you where you are for a reason. Period. And that's hard for me to write because, if you read this blog at all you know, I'm coming out of a really hard year. But that's one of the lessons he's been teaching me and I think it's true. You are where you are for a reason. Even if some seemingly poor choices you made brought you there, those choices did not surprise God.

Guided by the hand, you will be led through this life, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. There will be dangers on the path, dark cliffs and hidden vipers. You may, at times, feel the mist of waterfalls and bask in the shade of green trees looming overhead while birds chirp away songs of joy and hope. And then there will be days in the desert, where a lonely death seems right around the corner. But we have to have faith that these things work out like this for a reason, and trust that God will bring us where he wants, when he wants us there. If we don't, then all the anxiety that our generation is so thoroughly saturated in will surely consume us as we attempt to design our destiny around what we think it should be. Really, it all boils down to trust.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

June 8, 2017

God Honors the Bold



Let's talk about boldness.
I haven't been much for boldness, evidenced by my dating track-record. First was the girl I never called because I was afraid my parents would find out I had a girlfriend (they didn't care). Then there was the one who I was not bold enough to ask out, but rather told a friend who knew her to spread the word that I had a thing for her. She came up to me at lunch one day, and the rest is history. That is, until I got tired of her and, not being bold enough to actually break up with her, was just mean to her until she brought up the subject.
My lack of boldness continued through college until I met my wife, where I was still not so bold as to ask her out, but kept hinting at it until we decided to have the DTR (define-the-relationship). Things worked out with her, but I still have a ways to go...
In scripture though, it seems that God rewards boldness. Jesus said in Matthew 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." To be a great man or woman of faith requires some degree of boldness. To be a follower of Jesus requires boldness too -- in Mark 6, the disciples have returned from being sent out in pairs. They go away to a solitary place to get some rest, and tons of people meet them. Jesus teaches them, but the disciples bring up the fact that it's getting late and the people need to eat. Jesus replies with, "You give them something to eat." (Mark 6:37b). What?! Are you serious Jesus?! Yes. In faith they obey, and it all works out.
It seems a lot of lessons Jesus taught His disciples involved God providing for their needs, even in ridiculous circumstances. It all required boldness and trust, which God seems to reward.
In the Old Testament, David was called a "man after God's heart." (1 Samuel 13:14) He was humble and bold, but also incredibly flawed, going on to commit adultery with his own soldier's wife, and then having that man killed to cover it up. With this same woman, though, David would have Solomon, through whom God's covenant would continue.
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son...Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:11b-14a, 16)
What strikes me about David is his consistently strong faith and regular worship -- he wrote about half of the book of Psalms. It is amazing that he can do this, even in the darkness of his deepest sin, but maybe that's the secret to getting past it. That's another blog though...
A lesser-known man of boldness...Joseph of Arimathea (which spell-check wants to change to Joseph of Aromatherapy), who "boldly" asked Pilate for Jesus' body after he is crucified (Mark 15:43). Scripture reports him as a "prominent member of the Council," the same Council that sentenced Jesus to death, though it reports that he did not consent to their decision and action (Luke 23:51). It also says he was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57). I have to wonder, though, why did Mark say he "boldly" went to Pilate? Every other account just says he went there; what about the action was bold? (Mark does note odd things and leave out others, such as the guy who ran away naked from the garden of Gethsemane after Jesus was arrested [Mark 14:52].)
Maybe he was there when Jesus was sentenced (it's not known if he was or not), and didn't say anything to the contrary. Perhaps his act of boldness was a little too late. Or maybe he wasn't there, and when he found out, he decided to do something for his rabbi, a proper burial being the least he could offer. I suppose this still would have been a bold act, as the Council would certainly have found out and he would likely be have been rebuked, reprimanded or put out of the synagogue. Either way, he is mentioned in the synoptic gospels, and therefore honored for his boldness.
In scripture, I think God honors the bold, and this is because it requires faith. You can have faith without boldness, but you can't have boldness without faith. Faith in what? That whatever decision you make, no matter how brash, will turn out alright because God is taking care of you. This takes a lot of trust.
Boldness also takes honesty. As David sings after he is rebuked by Nathan the prophet for his adultery and murder.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51: 1-6, 16-17)
In our pursuit of boldness, it also helps to have a partner. Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs more than once (Matthew 10Luke 10, Luke 22:8-13Mark 11:1-6). When you have someone with you, you are automatically stronger with someone to back you up. Even after Jesus ascended, Peter and John are noted as doing a lot of work together (Acts 3:1-108:14-17), as well as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2) and then Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40-41).
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
Even in marriage, our wives are called our "suitable helpers," (Genesis 2:18b) and God knows where I would be without my wife.
The first time I realized how much help a partner is in being bold was at El Porto with my good friend Zach. There is one way in and one way out of the busy El Porto parking lot, and a guy was stopped, waiting for some folks to pack up and vacate so he could park there. This dude was totally backing up traffic, waaay up the ramp. I thought to myself, What a douche...this guy needs to just keep going and find a spot later. I rarely say what I mean though (another mark against my boldness factor), but with Zach there to back me up, we were both bold enough to call the guy out and tell him he should keep going. Something small and simple, but it struck me that having this partner in our cause was what led me to speak up.
So to summarize this rather long blog post, boldness takes trust, honesty (with us and God) and a partner. So go out there and be bold! Maybe something good will happen!