Jah Works #2: Music - 200th Blog!

"Think about how many songs you have stored in your brain," I remember telling my co-worker Angie during some down-time while working at Baskin Robbins. "Is there a better way to spread ideas than through music?" I said, with a hopeful glint in my eye. Okay, maybe I didn't have a glint in my eye -- after all, I couldn't see myself in the dull reflection of ice cream-stained plexiglass -- but I imagine that I did.

I was finishing up high school at the time, and getting really into music. My punk band, Minus the Standard, was a lot of fun, and we were actually playing some small shows. Even though the end of high school and different colleges brought about the dismemberment of what I'm sure was to be the next MxPx (Who is MxPx?, the collective readership asks...), I was all about music and investing most of my graduation money in a new guitar, amp and pedal board. I was also writing some of the best songs to-date, though I had no avenue to share it.

MTS at Charleston Baptist Church
Fast forward twelve years and most of those songs have still not been heard by human ears. Music has been a funny journey for me. I got started playing the viola in 5th grade, thanks to my aunt who kept hers from when she was in middle school. The thing was old, smelled bad and was too big for me, but a friend of mine was playing in the orchestra, so I wanted to be there too. It's funny how God lines up things like that, because, had I played the violin, that would have very likely been the end of my musical career. The big thing to do at my elementary school was to try out for the School of the Arts, which I did, for both Visual Arts (drawing, painting, etc.) and Orchestra. I think I was only one of about three people who auditioned for the viola, but one of a hundred for art. I wasn't all that great at viola, but where there is great need, those with lack of talent flourish; and so when I didn't get into the art program, but was accepted into the orchestra, I wasn't about to turn them down.

In the orchestra I made friends with a skinny violinist named Eric, through whom I later came to know Christ. He was sold out on Jesus and I, a moderate church-goer at the time, enjoyed our interactions. We were into the same Christian bands, Five Iron Frenzy, Blindside, Switchfoot, and so when his church went to Creation Festival 2000, I couldn't wait to go. Little did I know that God was working on my heart, taking me down a path in pursuit of popularity in the months prior that brought me away from God. That summer I was ready to admit my need for him, and accepted Christ on the first night of the music festival.

That moment literally changed my life. Eric and I continued to be friends, later starting Minus the Standard with a friend Heath, and one of my best friends in the world, Jason, both of which also attended Creation Festival. (The band name was an homage to humanity's always falling short of God's standard, thus emphasizing our need for a savior.) I played a sick flying-V guitar in the band, a gift from my uncle, who is still one of the best guitar players I've ever known. During that time I also started playing in my youth group worship band (with that same flying-V), which gave me tons of experience playing in front of people, complete with plenty of embarrassing moments. (Like the time I was supposed to start the song, but couldn't remember how it went. During the prayer before, I leaned to the guitar player next to me and asked if he knew. "No," he replied with a laugh and a shrug. When I started, I just strummed something that was totally wrong. It nearly fell apart, but the drummer kept it together. Lesson learned -- never stop playing.)

The cover for our album, "Campfood," available somewhere...
I later picked up drums and bass guitar, playing in a band after college called Campfield with one of my best friends, Chris and our drummer Roger (a good friend now, but I didn't know him well at the time). The whole time I was writing songs independently, but the one thing I wasn't doing much of was singing. I had a public speaking professor in college tell me I should try singing, based on the tone-quality of my voice, but I dismissed her. Others gave me the chance, but it was something I just couldn't bring myself to do, outside of quiet recordings in meager attempts to get songs out of my head. The idea of hearing my own voice just jolted me, made me uncomfortable, terrified me. It still does most of the time, actually.

Still, music came easy and it seemed to be something God was leading me into. I made most of the music for the movies I was making, and continued to write some. I made a couple attempts at starting a band with others, but it never seemed to pan out. Even when we did play, I was pretty nervous to sing my songs. (It doesn't take much to know that that makes for a weak band practice.)

One big moment in the midst of this was when we were going to Ecclesia Church in Hollywood. A expert on prophecy came in one day and gave a talk on how to hear from God. Then he concluded by going through the crowd and pointing out people he thought God had given him a word for. After several folks, mostly agreeing with what he said, he took a look at me and said, "You in the blue shirt...I've been avoiding you." I don't know why he said that, but whatever... "I just see the word 'music' over your head, does that mean anything?" I played it cool, but the thought excited me. Music? God wants me to do music? Film was my interest at the time, with music certainly being a part of it, but never the focus. I left that day encouraged, but also a little lost. "Music" is a big topic and can mean a lot of different things. Which did it mean for me?

They call me a closet musician...
A year or so later, I was playing in the worship band at a church plant called Kehila, and on one fateful weekend practice, the worship leader told me she wanted everyone to sing something during the church service. I choked up, overcome by nervousness. But deep down, I was excited for the chance. I had passed it up so, so many times before, and now I was being pushed into it. (I regret to inform you that often times that is the only way I accomplish anything -- with a push. I even wrote a song about it one time!)

Anyway, the Sunday morning service went okay and I sang in public, "Beautiful Things" by Gungor. I later went on to sing a few more times at the church, mostly during our "Folk Sundays" (I picked up the banjo and harmonica during this time too), and they all went fine. My voice was weak, unrefined. I struggled with pitchiness, which is a cardinal sin I remember, from all those early American Idol episodes I watched with my parents as a kid.

Rehearsing for our second Folk Sunday
During this season, I had a mentor who God very clearly placed in my life. We met a few times in his amazing house on a hill overlooking the ocean in San Juan Capistrano, with the purpose of helping me find what God wanted me to do in life. As he looked at my life map, with all the ups and downs I had detailed, he quickly concluded, "I see music all over this thing." I agreed, but didn't know what to do about it. "Can you lead worship?" he asked. "Not well," I replied with honesty, and it was true. My voice is pretty deep and most worship music is for the masses. We pressed on in our course with only the conclusion that I should probably work in ministry and in music, but that conversation always stuck with me.

About this time I was a stay-at-home dad and had a little more time to invest in creative activities. Also about the same time, my friends Alex and Arne lost their jobs, and so with our increase in free time, also came a lot more recording. I was writing more music than ever, having spent much of my commuting hours the two years prior recording songs onto my cell phone while driving. Combine this with all those years of writing and not showing, and I had quite the list of songs. We recorded a lot, one of us watching Ellie in the other room while the other sang or played. It was fun, and a lot of creative stuff came out of it.

The drive to play live during those two years was also there, but I never could bring myself to get out in public and play something. About that time, I had a telling dream. I was standing in what seemed like the busiest street that runs through Hermosa Beach, not too far from where we lived. Over some kind of loud speaker, on the radio, I heard one of my songs playing, but it wasn't me singing. I then heard a voice, or felt an impression rather: "If you don't sing these songs, someone else will." My next thought was one of insecurity, and then, Well, even if I don't sing, at least I know they are good enough to be on the radio. The impression was so clear that I know it was from God. A couple years later I had another dream, again pushing me into music.

My second open mic night ever
And so, here I am, all these years later and still mediocrely pursuing the thing that God seems to have been pushing me into all along. What is wrong with me?! Insecurity, fear, logic -- it doesn't really make sense that anything could come out of my voice. I'm really not that great of a singer. But hey, if God tells you to do something, you do it, right? That is why music is part of this website, even though most of my blogging has been about God, fatherhood and surfing in the past.

I am reading a book my wise wife gave me called Restless by Jennie Allen, and it is bringing all of this stuff about music back up in me again. So far Music has been like a wandering companion, one of those friends you see for a while and connect, and then don't see again, often for years. The next time he drifts into your life, it feels like no time has passed and you immediately enjoy each other's company; but just like that, in a season he is gone. You know you will see him again sometime in the future, but you don't know when.

Well, this time I'm hoping Music stays. I regret the days of setting aside something God has so clearly placed in my heart and am working now to explore the reason he put it all there. If you have read this far, thank you for investing even that much in my journey. I will work hard not to disappoint, as I clumsily navigate these steps of realizing what I have to say and what it means for the world to hear it. After all, music is one of the best way to spread ideas, right?


By the way, this is the 200th blog post I have published! Thanks for those who have been reading since #1, and those who just jumped in. I always appreciate a listening ear and attentive eye. I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing all of it!