Wednesday, September 28, 2005

new ears

Music can find its way through a crack in your wall, or into a joint in your armor, or around the edge of your mask, and like muriatic acid, it erodes the masonry until your wall crumbles. Sometimes a song just slips in, and knowing where your vulnerabilities lie, plants its self and sings its words inside you until you can no longer deny the truth of the message, and it sets you free. Joints become limber, and a sweet, fragrant, aroma invades the stale, suffocating space behind your mask.
Music is like air these days. Technology has made it ubiquitous. Everywhere you are, there is music. It is used as a pad for life, unnoticeable, and of little consequence. It is used to manipulate emotions and to affect action to help, reach out, or buy. For the most part, like air, it is stale, polluted and foul. It takes some time and trouble to create or find fresh air in the midst of so much pollution and meaninglessness.

I really don’t like being manipulated with music, and for the most part, my cynicism, paired with my musical intelligence doesn’t allow me to be. Our having been manipulated so much, and our having been defined to such a great extent, by our music, has caused much of the music that defines us to have lost its definition.
This happens in much of life. An event defines an emotion, which defines a moment, which engraves a memory. Over time, the memory recalls the emotion rather than the event, and the source of the emotion is lost. Powerful songs have the tendency to usurp their own power. At first, they mean to us because of what they mean, and they spark a response. At some point the songs themselves spark our response and their meaning is lost. The songs replace the very thing that they taught us, the very place that they took us, and they have undefined themselves.
Since I don’t like to be manipulated by music, I avoid manipulating by music. But, I can’t help taking what I’ve just said into consideration while I’m using music to deliver a message, or cause thought. I have to consider that songs often get in the way of themselves. Often, a familiar song can say more of what it has to say, when it is referred to rather than actually sung in it’s entirety. My practice then is to manipulate the song then rather than the listener, in a way that will allow the listener to more completely process the song.
I have written before on these virtual pages about how art is powerful because it draws upon and recalls and refers to prior experiences, feelings, and knowledge to say what it says. The listener or viewer pulls together for himself the information that the artist has alluded to, and gives himself the meaning. Its depth is dependent upon the listener’s or viewer’s prior experience and ability to be stimulated by the allusions.
Often, when I use an old familiar song, I’ll use only part of it, just enough to bring the song into the head, so that the listener will process its meaning rather than get lost in the singing of the song.
I think one of my growing strengths is the ability to help people hear the message with new ears. These are ears that are located inside the head, or perhaps in the heart, but are accessed through the ears on the sides of our heads. These ears search the song for deeper meaning, while keeping the beautiful song in its proper vehicular place. Often to freshly convey the meaning of the song, you’ve got avoid doing the song.
This is one of the most effective ways of connecting emotionally with the listener and demanding that he participate and interact. I don’t have to take you there – I can simply show the way. Don’t do the song for him, make him do it himself. We are much more changed by the journey.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Today was a good day for new music. Two of my favorite bands released new recordings today. Sadly, most of my morning's work has dealt with music and so I couldn't cloud my head with other music as well. I have browsed both CDs during brief, self-indulgent moments when I needed to take a break from attempting to re-create temporal, linear space while proofing concrete slides for Chapel tomorrow.
So as soon as I've birthed this baby, I'll lay down on the deck under the stars with the iPod and let Crowder open me. This recording is a magic experience. Magic.


Monday, September 26, 2005


The height is a constant.
Except for the shoes,
life's the same.
The width is slightly variable,
but so passes time, and
people grow older and grow.

Do we walk hand in hand,
or proceed single file?
the path narrows up ahead.
Who leads then?

so there's the height and width.
but what of depth?
focal length, depth of field?
the path ahead,
all blurry, save a tiny area,
Is the tiny area indicative?
Where are we headed?
Where does it lead?
How to bring the whole into focus?


Thursday, September 22, 2005


this afternoon as I drove up I-26 on my way home, I glanced in my rearview and saw, about 10 car lengths back, a woman who appeared to be smiling very big. I wondered what she was laughing at. Maybe someone funny in the car with her, maybe something on the player? But as she closed in, and began to pass, I glanced over and noticed her smile unchanged. She was obviously not laughing.
When she got around me, I saw her Florida tags. I wondered if she'd driven all the way from Jacksonville with that unchanging smile on her face. She seemed to keep smiling as she overtook me and drove off into the distance.
I wondered if I could smile for the last 5 miles of my commute. I put one on, and by the time I reached my exit, it had faded.
Surely if she could drive at least 5 hours and then come into Columbia during rush hour and keep smiling, I could drive the rest of the way home contented.
I tried.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

a citrus sonnet

What color you’d become is hard to tell
When first you chanced upon a purple flow
Though certain in yourself, you’d heard the knell,
Still woven there within - the orange glow.
Perhaps it wasn’t something seen by most
Who want with army drab the world embue.
The white clone-capped and khaki cladded host
Wish everyone were clad in some plain hue
The warp and woof beneath the dresses blue
With ruffles, lacy petals, blooming fleur
The roundy, naveled, citrus fruit still grew
With dimpled skin, and radiant allure.
Though orange may be purple-color-blind
The purple heart will always orange find.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

that's 'retha franklin

If you look up in her right, top corner, you'll see she's waning. A year of moons represents the seasons of life. Each moon, a time for being about a particular thing. This year's harvest is in, and as autumn waxes and days grow cold and winter approaches, dependence is on what was accomplished under other moons.
My love and I met under a waxing harvest moon. A year later, overlooking the Tygart Valley, from high up on the hill, she sang, "shine on, shine on..." to me in the romance of evening as the round disc rose to our left and cast its beams on the river below. Cast our shadows over top each other on the flagstone patio. It was our 19th harvest moon - our first together. Two lovers, side by side, a single shadow.
I always cried when she sang to me. Silly, flirty, orangey, songs. She could look eye to eye and sing without batting. I envied that.
"What'll I do, with just a photograph, to tell my troubles to?"
"Crazy, he calls me, sure I'm crazy, crazy in love am I."

We were married under the harvest moon, two days past full. We had a moon song sung at the wedding. "The same moon shines, the same wind blows, for both of us... let us cling together as the years go by..."
Years have gone by, I have clung. Clung to the orangeness of those songs. Depended on it to prime the purple flow.
Hey, 19. That was our age when first we shared those moon-lengthened days in the early dusk of autumn. Hey, 19. Those are the years we've been yoked. Side by side like Clydesdales bringing on the party. Side by side like oxen, toiling in the field. Each dependent on the other. Celebrating. Mourning. Laughing. Learning. Forgetting. Hiding. Seeking. Dying. Being born.

Since Friday, the moon has been there at dusk to light the evening. At equinox, the full moon rises at nearly the same time each evening. To chase the unsurety of darkness. To cast long, defined shadows, to illuminate the mist in the river bottom, to backlight a single fruit tree.

It took me 19 harvest moons to find you, with a glint of orange hanging on. Look for me in this one. That's where you'll find me, all purple in the moonlit twilight.
Walk with me into this light.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

that which is born...

Such a long night of pushing
You hover, permeate, penetrate,
Subdue, imbue,
Shove, squeeze, brood, convict.
I feel like I’m being pushed through the birth canal.
Morph me, for I’ve been born once before –
Flawed, broken – there’s damage to mend.
Remake me. Re-create.
Deliver me.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

turn turn turn

There is a season for sitting on the deck in the cool of the morning, taking your Wheaties®, and prepping for your day. Birds sing, a few cicadas hum, squirrels chase one another up and down and up and down. A breeze fans the leaves that will soon be lost and in need of raking.
Just a week ago, I found myself mourning the waning summer. A look at the calendar shows the waning of summer. Less than ten days left. But the calendar doesn't feel. The calendar knows no gradient. The calendar says, "first day of Autumn", and the brain says, "summer is gone". But in reality, we don't just walk through a doorway into autumn. There is a long, open corridor here in South Carolina. The nights gradually cool, the mornings are brighter and breezy, and the days clearer. The brighter stars and the brisk evening are as fresh as the new warm temps were 6 months ago.
So here I am eating my Wheaties® on the deck in the morning breeze, nearly ready to welcome the waxing of autumn. The three-quarter moon will rise early this afternoon, and begin its sky crossing unnoticed. It will shine its full harvest light on the 18th, and having done its job, will begin to wane with the summer.
Finally, I'm ready. Bring on the colors. Bring on the deck fires. Bring on the evening friends and conversation. Bring on the Sumatra.
Turn the page.


Sunday, September 11, 2005


A while back I blogged about the confusion caused by parenting as if the parents’ rules are the same as God’s rules. I talked about it in the middle of an extremely charged rant, so you may not want to go back and read it. Basically, it is my belief that in seeking sovereign rule over my household by imposing my preferences, desires, opinions, etc. as law, I create a confusion in matters concerning right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, better and not-so-better.
Parents do this all the time with hairstyles, music, fashion, etc. Somehow we send a message to our children that what we like and dislike are equal to right and wrong. For some, this is an attitude of, “I rule this house, and you will abide by my rules.” Others have become confused themselves and honestly don’t realize that what they like and dislike are not synonymous with right and wrong.
I have talked about this with some people who don’t see why the differentiation is important. They voiced that it is very important for them to obey their parents’ wishes anyway. I agree that it is very important for them to obey, but they need to know the difference between obeying and respecting their parents, and following the law of God.
If a child can’t distinguish his dad’s stuff from God’s stuff any rebellion against his dad’s authority will also be rebellion against God. All he knows is a stifling set of rules, and not knowing that some of them are real and some not, he rejects them all.
Where I’m heading with this will cause some to roll their eyes asking for how long will we talk about this. Some are past the need to talk about it, and though I seem to be beating a dead horse in blogland, in my context, the horse is still racing and the conversation is just getting started.
So, to some of my friends this will seem so yesterday, very simplistic and a waste of energy, but for many in my immediate sphere who are just finding my blog and who have heard some pretty outlandish stuff with some poor apologetics recently, maybe it will pique some actual brain activity.
Yesterday, as I climbed into the truck with Jack for the short trip to church, for some odd reason, a single thought from various perspectives popped into my head. So I began to preach to Jack for the next 9 minutes. When we arrived at church, he looked at me with wonder in his eyes and said, “dad, you’ve got to go write that down before you forget it.” Well, of course I’m not going to forget it, it’s a major defensive theme in my day-to-day, but I was greatly encouraged that my son tracked with me and understood my take on a cultural, sociological evolution and how it was a macrocosm of the parenting issues I mentioned already.
For him, I quickly explained a major factor in the thinking of the modern brain. That of rational, definable, observable requirement for belief, and that results must be measurable, definable and repeatable. If I am to believe it, then it must be observable. To make something observable that is not, we have to invent things about it that are observable. In the case of Chrisitanity, the modern view has created steps and procedures by which to participate. A behavior which leads to life, rather than what Jesus taught, life that leads to behavior. In the modern view, this pattern is cyclic, because in order to have life, you must adhere to certain behaviors and do certain things, say certain things, and the evidence of life is the same adherence, doing and saying. A complete confusion has as to cause and effect, because the behavior on either side of the equation can be completely manufactured. In fact, because the inheritance of life has nothing to do with steps and procedures, one can go about them and never live. By the same token, he can exhibit these same procedures as evidence of something that he never had. It has been about what he does all the way from the getting it to exhibiting it. He shows the same thing for it as he showed to get it. I’ve got to ask, what was it that you got? You were able to do that, on your own, to get it, now you do it to show you got it. What is any different? How have you been changed?
Ask most Christians who have ever heard the word post-modern for a definition and they will no doubt answer with relativism. In the Christian community, relativism is a synonym for post-modern, the rejection of absolute truth. I’ve asked here before, between these three people, who is worse off? 1) the man who believes there is an absolute truth, but rejects or ignores it, 2) the man who doesn’t believe there is any one, absolute truth, or 3) the man who believes that there is one absolute truth, but it is different from what you believe to be the absolute truth. Surely any Christian would decide that in the end, all three men were in the same dire straits. But by the Christian community’s narrow definition of something they don’t understand, only one of these men was post-modern. The other two were fully modern. For this reason, you’d think that modern Christians would welcome the post-modern era, for in comparing it to the past, they seem to think it has redeemed all of modern man.
How does all this relate to parenting and rules? A generation has come along that has rejected its parent generation’s stuff. It sees starving people, an environment going to hell, and violence all over the globe. It asks, if you believe in anything, why do you sit back and feed yourself and stuff your pockets while this is going on?
It sees a culture that can’t separate religion from politics, fashion, and entertainment. Christianity is a look, a lifestyle, a corporation, a social class. The culture has baptized preferences and made them absolutes. Hairdos, music styles, architecture, meeting places, all have become those things that evidence after the fact, and the failure to embrace these things evidences that you are outside the group.
See the parent who honestly thinks his child is lost forever because of the way he dresses, see the child who has not learned that there is any difference between what is important and what is not. The child takes truth with the same amount of sincerity as fashion, and rejects everything.
but that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.


Thursday, September 08, 2005


Today was absolutely outrageous. I won't bore you with all my whining details, but let me say again, it was outrageous. I tried to leave work with workout clothes in hand at 4:45, but never actually left the building until 5:45. Hit the interstate at precisely the worst moment and ended up sitting still just across the river, wondering what the hold-up was. As I sat and listened to JT crooning through the speakers, I glanced to the shoulder of the road, and saw a bundt® cake sitting there as if someone had gently placed it there for commute weary travelers like myself who'd appreciate a snack just about now. There it was, dripping with glazed icing. That would put a smile on the end of even the worst of days. The thought of working out after eating that bundt® cake on the interstate, though, didn't sit well on my stressed stomach, so I decided to leave it for the next weary commuter.
All the way to the gym, I tried to think of some clever way to blog an interstate bundt® cake, but the solution eluded me. There are just no clever bundt® blogs available. So instead, I amused myself with the recollection of the yard party scene in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," in which a bundt® is brought by Ian's mom and she can't make Toula's mother understand what it is.
Then I pretended that I was Brooks Robinson and that the white line on the side of the road was the third base line, and that I was making the hall of fame by nabbing that bundt® and throwing the runner out at first.
In the end, though, as traffic began to move, I just thought of the oddity of seeing a perfect cake sitting perfectly beside the interstate - that is strange.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Today I played a guitar piece for about 600 college students. That in itself is sort of a big deal for this time in my life, because it has been a year since I last actually performed with just my guitar. The guitar has seemed not to have much to say over this past year, and hasn't seemed to understand what I needed to say. So it has taken a service position and has been used to facilitate music for other purposes. It was a good feeling to partner with it this morning without having an ulterior motive for working together. I received an email on Friday evening requesting that this happen, and honestly, I had to dig deep to find if I were willing to go where I needed to go in myself to pull this thing out again. Then, I had to dig deep in my head and fingers to know if there was any music left to be shared. I decided "maybe" to both, and stepped onto the deck with my guitar to look for both things.
The feel and sound of my instrument quickly gave me something to say for the first time in a year, and on each pass, my fingers gathered more information from some hidden cave of my cerebellum, that allowed me to finally get through several pieces and decide what I might like to play.
Last night, as I was playing through and working out some possible obstacles in the form of lengthy scale passages or confusing arpeggios, I realized that with the pressure off, I was playing quite well, but I wasn't yet emotionally prepared for a crowd of people to listen in. Then it hit me. This would be my first drug-free performance in 9 years. Lest you think that for nearly a decade, I've taken the stage, a hopped-up junkie, I'd better explain.
I used to be nearly crippled by stage fright. No matter how prepared, how well I played, I was terrified in performance. Frozen, sticky fingers, shaky hands, etc. But close to the end of grad school, and immediately after Molly was born, I got sick. Shut down for awhile. I emerged a couple months later a bit better, but maintained via chemical intervention. Just so happened that the chemical was a beta-blocker, a drug that MANY performing artists abuse trying to combat stage fright, and panic attacks. I stood to benefit simply as a by-product of the treatment an underlying condition. And benefit, I did. My fears subsided so much that I guessed that I had just grown out of it, and doubted that the drug had much to do with it any longer.
I was weaned off my chemical back in May, and have been drug-free ever since. So today was the first time to step up in front of a crowd and actually play drug-free. I had no idea how my mind and body might respond. I passed the test, I think.
I am no longer chemically dependent for a steady heart rate, or for sharing great music with a crowd of people.
Seemed like we all enjoyed ourselves, and the music was enough.


Friday, September 02, 2005

a right response

Last fall, I wrote in response to a comment by D. A. Carson in which he said, "this side of the fall, worship properly responds to the redemptive provision God graciously made for us.” I responded strongly to this comment because of its context. The statement doesn’t bother me so badly on its own, though I might have said, worship is a proper response to..., rather than worship properly responds to.
Carson’s surrounding discussion made a context that caused the statement to say, “Christ’s redemptive provision is the only right motivation for worship.” This is quite different, and shed’s light on the avoidance of many texts and songs used in worship by other people.
The problem with this statement is that it reduces God only to redeemer. God didn’t and doesn’t seem to describe himself by way of his functions, activities, etc. God described himself as “I AM”. That seems to be all encompassing to me. Seems to me that worship is THE right response to Who God Is. Sure he is redeemer, but he’s also creator, maintainer… GOD. We’ve reduced him to a single (though ultra-important) role, and that, to what he has done for us. Job, on the other hand said, “though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Regardless of how God interacts with me, or intervenes in my life, he still deserves worship. He is sovereign, and if I believe that, nothing that I question (though I am allowed to – “come let us reason together says the LORD”), should disallow the worship of God because of who he is. I surrender my need to understand, and to make sense of a God that is beyond my ability. I surrender my need to have a teleologic understanding of the activities of the God of the universe.
Last Summer Matt Redman released a missions emphasized worship song with the line, “let worship be the fuel for missions’ flame.” My initial response to the song, was, hey that’s a good song for a missions emphasis set. But lately, I’ve been thinking again about our response and motivation in worship and how they dictate our choices of music, style, liturgy. So the song pops back into my head.
At first these two ideas seem to mesh. The proper motivation for worship is what God has done for us, and let the motivation for missions be to gather more worshippers. Certainly worshippers newly brought to Christ, would find his provision motivation for worship. But, having been provided for, we are now open to experience and see revealed much more of a God from whom we’d been separated and had only misunderstood glimpses of before. Now we find much more motivation for worship, and the more we worship, the more reason we find to worship.
The bible says that if we don’t worship, the rocks will cry out. I find it hard to accept that the rock’s are motivated by God’s redemptive provision. But they are his creation, and this is reason to worship. We also read that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess. Everyone in heaven, earth, and under the earth. Redemptive provision seems not to be everyone’s motivation in this case.
So lots of questions come to mind.
Are purpose and motivation the same thing? Surely not, for I may be motivated by compassion to see that the hungry are fed. My compassion is not my purpose. Is the motivation of missions to gather more worshippers to God? We are missionally motivated by compassion for people and obedience to God. Both benefit from our motivation. Of course, the act of gathering worshippers is an act of worship. But the further we go into contemporary Christianity, the more narrowly we define our acts and motivation, and the less heart-motivated we become. We have to delineate between every thing we do, so that we count missions and worship and two separate purposes when in fact, either is motivated by the other, and one actually IS the other. As a matter of fact, what purpose is worth the effort required if it is not motivated by and IS worship? I don't like the phrase, "first among equals," so I don't think I can count worship as a purpose on a list of other purposes. Perhaps I have to say that worship is my purpose, AND its my motivation for other parts of my lifestyle, say, being apprenticed, being missional, serving others, and seeking community. But of course my apprenticeship teaches and inspires me to behave as the one to whom I'm apprenticed. This would cause me to be missional, to serve and seek community. dot dot dot.
So I'm swinging with a very long bat here. I'll whittle it down and ask a specific questions from a much broader grappling.
Once gathered, do the people worship motivated by having been gathered, or worship because having been gathered, they’ve been given the means to worship.
Is salvation THE reason to worship or a means by which we are made able to worship? Yes? Well help me unpack the subtle nuances that seem to bog us down on this subject.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

herald, the fire bird

in the east she appears
just before her sister superior,
announcing her arrival really.
for a few minutes one thinks
she's the star of the show,
can't look away.
beauty by associaton.

as subtley as she rose out of the darkness,
suddenly a ball of fire,
and the darkness is gone.
a ray of hope outshone by
hope itself.

tomorrow, they rise together.
closeness ignites and she is consumed.
burnt her wings from flying too close to the sun.

at last she emerges from the ashes,
following her sister into the western horizon
at a greater distance each evening until
at last, she announces the morning
moments before morning comes.
for a few minutes one thinks
she the star of the show,
can't look away.
beauty by association.