Friday, December 15, 2006

Are You Going To Make A New CD?

Good question. I do get asked that a lot. Have I abandoned making albums? Absolutely not. I just feel that with "Backstage Pass," I put many carts before many horses. When you are under a record label, you are working off of a pre-composed infrastructure. Someone is paying you to create music (and it is expected that you write music which will sell), and along with that comes a manager and a booking agent and a publicist... and a groomer, if you're lucky. In my case, I was trying to do everything on my own. I know I've mentioned some of this before, but essentially, with "Backstage Pass," I thought if I built it, they would come. Make a good sounding record, and people would buy it. However, there came a point where I realized that I wasn't going to make a profit off of the album, and there was, at one point, a shift in thought, where I finally painfully adapted to the idea that selling albums at a show (or anywhere for that matter) was more of a bonus than a given. As a man, you can get pretty deflated when you sense that you have "failed" at something. I wish that I had a clear cut answer of why I haven't been able to sell my music. I could blame it on my personality, as I am not a sales person and hate the prospect of pushing myself. I could attribute it to the style of the album, and the audiences I was playing for (I was trying to reach college / young adults, but somehow it was always the middle schoolers and grade schoolers who were memorizing my lyrics and making up dance routines... there have been times when I wondered if I should go work for VeggieTales). I could make the assumption that people didn't like my voice... or the music wasn't mainstream enough for radio DJs to play it... or the album was too diverse in style to fit one genre and was therefore potentially difficult to market... I could agree with some people who have said it is overproduced. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I don't know why people don't buy my music and I don't know why I "haven't gone anywhere"... that is, according to the world's definition of achievement. Maybe God's will has had another zip code than my own.

Despite what happened and why it may have happened, I think there comes a point when, as an artist, you stop asking the questions and stop assuming and stop trying to dissect what went wrong, etc, etc. After all that, there is still a passion to create... and you realize that it can't be about money or success or popular opinion. In every artist is a drive, a drive to capture beauty, to embody the ethereal, to put on paper or in song emotions and struggles and thoughts that can't be described with mere conversation. For me, I've sort of come full circle where I'm back to a place, a simple untainted place, where the drive is about communicating truth and exploring new dimensions of life, and God, and the human condition, while stepping off into the unknown with a reverent fear and sweaty anticipation.

I was reading in a music forum the other day, and one of the writers posed the question, "Does anyone get tired of writing music?" Many people responded in the same way... give yourself space from what you love, and when you come back to it, you will be more inspired. I am in a different place than I was 3 years ago when "Backstage Pass" rolled off the press. Growing older carries this sweet and sour reality. I think I've become more comfortable with who I am as I have aged, yet I also wrestle with being a comfortable loner more than ever. I'm not bitter, I'm not trying to look like a tough guy (with a beanie), I'm not trying to show anyone how much I hurt inside (this is where I was at in 2004). I'm more content with being quiet and having people wonder about me than trying to make a forced and loud impression. Maybe I'd rather even see others succeed more than manipulating myself into the lime light. Along with these changes, my spirit feels full and increasingly free, and I sense that there is much inside which is ready to be put to music.

Time can be our enemy and our friend. Time can turn us into better adjusted people, or can leave us cynical and shielded. I would like to say I relate more to the former than the latter. As an example, I used to be very under confident... now I don't care all that much what people think of me.. I imagine this has developed as I have realized that sometimes nobody can help you (in a human sense) and you just have to suck things up and be a man and get over yourself when you'd rather whine and complain and soak in a pool of self pity. I also believe I've learned to trust God more... I suppose that is really what has changed me. Through this, I've become stronger, however at times, this confidence can probably be a problem as I am more apt to avoid social interaction... not because I am so much under confident, but because I don't feel like I need other people as much as I used to, in a once world where friendships and relationships orbited the sun of my unquenced loneliness. If you are single and in your 30's (especially if you're a guy), you can probably relate to this growing independence and self sustain. We obviously all need each other, but I'm just trying to give you a picture of how I (and maybe you) can become overly independent. It's good to remember that it's easier for a wolf to pick off a wandering sheep compared to one guarded in a herd. Satan would love for us to think we don't need anyone else. For me, the urge to withdraw from people is the dashboard light which tells me I need to get in the Word and pray more and stay close to the Lord and get back involved in Christian community. Hey, that might be be theme on a song on a new project.

So now that I've totally strayed from the topic... am I making another album? No promises here, but I think I am headed that direction. I am closer than ever to having the gear to make much of a project at home, for less money... and I am again catching the creative itch.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Tis The Season

I get the impression that most people are extremely busy during the month of December. I have been no exception. As an audio producer, I find myself working some strange hours... nearly every day is filled with some sort of work... whether I'm working at the tv station, running sound for church services, weddings, or concerts, mixing recorded live events, composing custom music, writing invoices, making phone calls, sending emails.

My sister is flying in from Germany December 20th, and will be in Columbus for a couple weeks... my brother and his family will be visiting during the holidays... it will be a busy time. So... I'm trying to get all my work caught up so I can focus on people more during the holidays... and hopefully beyond. The challenging thing is, as a freelancer and small business owner, it always feels like turning down a job means a lost opportunity that could lead to another opportunity and then to another opportunity... life is this constant struggle of balance... and this weighing of priorities and motives. Good thing, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit to keep us in check. I've been around workaholics and don't I want to be one. So at what point does one become a workaholic? I know some people who are up pretty late hanging out with people every night of the week. I'm not sure if that's healthy either. Probably depends on the person to some degree.

Maybe we should look at Jesus' life to figure out how to prioritize our time and resources. From first observation, I can see that Jesus lived an extremely disciplined life. He was up early spending time with His father in solitude... He disciplined Himself to fast for 40 days in the desert... He made it a point to pour into the lives of His disciples and followers. Jesus didn't have the distraction of instant messaging and cell phones and television. So anyways, this is something I've been thinking through. Where do I invest my time and how should I spend my resources? Is it better to spend a night alone praying and walking in the park and talking to God instead of going to church in antisipation of meeting the new girl who may become your future wife (what I meant was learning more about God)? As the bracelet says... what would Jesus do? Tonight is one of those evenings of question. I've got so many jobs backing up right now, and I'm afraid I'm going to have some disappointed clients if I don't get moving on some of this stuff. I also feel like I'm missing social opportunites. Sometimes, we put extra work into this or that with the expectation that our extra time investments in this or that will give us more time with people we love later, or will make it easier for us later, or... you fill in the blank. The hamster wheel must be a rippling excuse.

I am working on a new singlehood blog, so stay tuned. I could use your prayers that God would give me wisdom as I work through some of these issues of balance, addressed above.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why We Should Write New Songs

Somewhere in the Genes
I grew up in an artistic, yet not particularly musical immediate family. Both of my parents are artists. My dad is an incredible painter (water color, oil, caricatures) and calligrapher (not to mention an expert in foreign language) and my mom is amazingly skilled in design, layout, drawing, and photography (she taught elementary school art for nearly 20 years). I have a brother who is a genius power electronics engineer and also plays the acoustic guitar and sings when he isn’t building flux capacitors (I’m actually blown away by what he does with engineering). My sister is an extremely talented cyclist, runner, and writer (and is also fluent in German and French). The giftedness in my family is overflowing; however, most of the talent is focused in areas other than music. Nevertheless, there is a bit more musical genes in my extended family. I have a cousin who is a professional touring opera singer in Germany, and two cousins who are professional violists. One lives in New York and one lives in Seattle, and both have played in symphonies and even within the scores of some popular movies. In addition, I have an uncle who plays the piano. There is a fair amount of musical interest and talent in my extended family, and also a ton of talent in the arts within my immediate family (and of course, those family members who aren’t artistic are extra talented in other areas). When it comes to the next generation, it’s interesting to watch skills develop in my nieces and nephews. Definitely some brewing genius there. My two nieces are already producing their own movies in iMovie and are writing their own songs in GarageBand. When I was their age, the only gear I had was a mini cassette recorder and a lot of imagination. It’s been fun to watch them develop their God-given abilities.

King David’s Set List
It seems that everybody would like to be like somebody else. Maybe you’d like to be an artist. Maybe I’d like to be a bit taller and have some athletic ability. Often, we’d like to take strengths of another person, yet leave his/her imperfections behind. The reality is, every human struggles in one way or another. Where I am weak, you may be strong, and visa versa. I’ve mentioned in previous writings some of the challenges which accompany the artistic make up. I’m not sure if this is common for all people, but from talking to other artists, I’ve discovered that I am not alone in what I’d like to call “creative restlessness.” As artists, I don’t think we are ever really satisfied with who we are creatively, or what we’ve accomplished creatively. We always want to be better at our craft, and we’ll go to great lengths to top the previous project (or concert, or painting, or book). Some might call this passion. Others might call it obsession. Some will say it’s normal. Others will preach that it is unhealthy. So, what does God say? What does the Bible recommend when it comes to the “artistic itch?”

I find it interesting how many times David speaks of “singing a new song to the Lord.” (Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1) Why a new song? David could have settled for some of the old favorites. He could have broken out the redundant “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” of the day, yet he chose over and over to write something new. This may be random, but have you ever wondered if David had a set list when he played before God or before King Saul? Did he ever make updates, thinking “man, I don’t like that song anymore... or I’m at a different place now...or... what in the world was I thinking back then?” I imagine David (if he’s anything like us artists today) was pretty finicky about his art. Maybe he had pity parties after King Saul made suspiciously negative comments about a new arrangement. Maybe David tore up a lot of musical scrolls, and even broke a harp or two in moments when he thought “he should just give it all up.” For me, this is a comforting image. As I picture who David might have been, I don’t feel as pathetic, knowing that God saw David as a “man after His own heart.” A flawed man. A man who probably had a temper. A man who struggled with lusting after women (I doubt the Bathsheba episode was isolated). A man who battled depression at times. A man who danced naked before the Lord. A guy who slayed thousands upon thousands of people, and probably thought nothing of it at times. The “grew up in church” part of me struggles to point out some of these character concerns. David would most likely be kicked out... or slowly persuaded to slip out the back door of most churches today. However, apart from all of David’s shortcomings, what made him a man after God’s own heart? Was it his sensitive spirit? Was it the fact that he sought to commit all his ways to the Lord? Was it his longings to hate sin as God hates sin? Was it his genuine, humble, pour-it-all-out conversations with the Lord?

WIth this, I want to come back to the idea of “singing a new song to the Lord.” Why a new song? Why not a remix? What was it in David that caused him to seek to constantly write originals for his God? Was this simply David’s unsatisfied artistic hunger for something better? Maybe it was in fact less about art and more about an evolving relationship. Maybe David kept finding new ways to love and honor God. Maybe David was more inspired to learn new secrets about His Creator, as oppose to exploring new depths within himself.

The Toil And Sweat of Becoming A New Creation
This past year has been both wonderful, and especially challenging for me. As a child, you feel the aches and pains of your bones growing, but you don’t always see immediate results when you look in the mirror. This is where I’ve been at. I know there is a lot of stirring going on in my heart, and often, I can’t exactly document what is happening deep down inside. I just sense that I am becoming more of a man, and less of a boy. I am becoming more concerned with the legacy I will leave behind versus the style of jeans I am wearing and their current level of hipness. I’ve been analyzing my drives and I’ve been trying to figure out what is making me tick. I see this passion to create, this desire to become a better artist... yet so often, I’ve been trying to reconcile my worth through what I can do instead of making beautiful art to accentuate God’s glory. I’ve often wanted to write a new song because I feel lonely, or because I sense some restlessness inside, which like a bubble under water, longs for some escape.

I turned 31 the other day, and sometimes roll overs in the odometer of life forcefully remind you that you only have so many years left in the engine. I’ve heard older Christians who have commented about how their dependence upon the Lord has only deepened through the years. I hope and pray that is where I am going. More and more, I wake up and ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do today?” and “How can I use what I have for you and not for myself?” and “How will you help me resist the sins that seem to overpower me again and again?” and “How can I stay in step with Your spirit instead of sheep headedly following my own flesh?”

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to figure out why I am the way I am. The older I become, the more I understand that weakness, doubt, and restlessness are the blemishes which highlight God’s ability to do miracles when we’d rather excuse them as childhood fantasies. Our frailty is an invitation for God to shine. I’ll admit, I’ve become a serious cynic through the years. I often guard myself from close relationships because I don’t want to be hurt again. In some situations, I try not to get my hopes up too much so I’m not disappointed when the bottom falls out of my plans. I take less risks, and err on the side of comfort. I do all this in such a way that most people don’t notice. I’ve become exceptionally good at appearing “together.” The truth is, I hate this protective shield I’ve put up. Yet, I battle to lay it down. I can pour my guts out on a page of paper, but when it comes to real interactions, I’m often scared for anyone to see the true Marc. The Marc who doesn’t think he is good enough. The Marc who wants to get close to people, but doesn’t know how to get there. The Marc who bears more weight than he needs to.

I think that we probably all feel this way on some level. A lot of us are discontent. Some of us are bitter. Many of us are trapped in complexities or addictions we don’t know how to get out of. There are a few of us who have been burned by relationships gone south. Then, there are a select number of us who are learning to look up instead of inside all the time.

So you may be asking why I am being so blatantly honest. Why be so vulnerable in this open sea of cyber space? I do this because I think we have to be honest with ourselves and others before we can be honest with God. True relationships come from knowing that someone else can look at all your crap and still love you. A genuine relationship with God means coming to Him without feeling like you have to take a spiritual shower first. He knows what you did last night. He knows what’s going on behind the burdened blinds of your mind. I say all this because I believe most people find a way to medicate themselves apart from God. For me, it’s sometimes been music. I was talking to a friend today about how music can almost be a drug... where there’s a certain of level of adrenaline which comes from creating. For some people, it’s exercise, or spending money, or ministry (believe it or not)... fill in the blank. We all know the “really bad ones.” For David, he probably got a pretty big rush starring at Bathsheba from his balcony window. That might have been his medication after a lot of stress on the battlefield. Yet David was a man after God’s own heart. How can that be? Maybe it’s that David repented, and got up from his mud hole and kept walking up the hill of sanctification.

Where are you today? Are you hiding? Maybe you’re hiding from people. Maybe you’re hiding from close relationships because you don’t want to be hurt. Maybe you’re hiding from God because you’re embarrassed by the mess you’ve made with your life. We’re all scared of humiliation. We’re all dead afraid of being exposed for who we really are. We’d all rather strangely cling to our weaknesses instead of handing them over to the Lord so that He can strengthen us, and use our imperfections for His own glory. The surprising irony is that exposing yourself to God is healing, not humiliating. Being honest with God may make you weap in public. You may have to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day as you’re driving down the interstate to work... just so no one can see that you’ve been balling your eyes out. Whatever the embarrassment, transparency with God is freeing and probably more medicating than anything known to man.

I Couldn’t Write A Song If I Tried
Maybe you’re not singer, or a writer, or an artist....but you have something... something beautiful that God’s given you to praise Him. Might God be calling you to write him a new masterpiece? Maybe you’ll need a giant choir...or maybe you’ll just need an acoustic guitar and a quiet place away. You know where you are. Talk to God... even if you don’t know how to... even if you’ve forgotten how to. Let go of yourself. Let go of the apprehensions...and the shields. Even if you don’t feel like you can carry a tune anymore. Even if half your guitar strings are broken and the rest are caked with rust. God would much rather hear a surrendered squeaking clarinet than a chromatically tuned 40-piece orchestra which requires admission.

Psalm 40:2-4 
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
       out of the mud and mire;
       he set my feet on a rock
       and gave me a firm place to stand.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
       a hymn of praise to our God.
       Many will see and fear
       and put their trust in the LORD.
Blessed is the man
       who makes the LORD his trust,
       who does not look to the proud,
       to those who turn aside to false gods.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Wish Most Christian Movies Weren't So Cheesy

Well, I've been promising a new blog entry, and still haven't gotten around to writing much... although I have many ideas swirling around my head. For now, I will just give you a quick update of what I've been up to creatively.

The last couple weeks have been busy. I've been working a fair amount between all my freelance jobs and my job at the tv station. My biggest project recently has been the construction of my home studio. I am getting ready to begin a couple new projects... I will be writing some custom Beachboys-type music for a car restoration company, I have some voice overs coming up, and I will also be starting work on the score for a 45 minute independent film. It's been a challenge compiling the equipment to make this movie happen. The next additions to my studio will probably be a $900 orchestral sample library and a Mac G5 desktop computer (as I'm maxing my laptop out, and I can't afford one of the new Mac Pro towers). I hope to use this gear for future projects, including other custom music projects, and possible a future Marc Andre album.

I've been focusing a lot recently on working towards a career in custom music and sound design for tv shows and movies. I think it'd be awesome someday to write the score for a well produced Christian movie. So many Christian movies these days are just cheesy. I think God has been re-impressing upon my heart a desire to be a missionary through my music, whether that be instrumental or vocal.

In many ways, I have been rediscovering my love for music, and more importantly, I've been re-inspired to use my words, melodies, and arrangements for my Creator. Sometimes, we go through times of drought and reflection so we can come back to the same mission more inspired and passionate.

Hang on to your seats... earth shaking blogs are just around the corner.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Two Scoops of Let It Go

This morning, I was talking to a younger friend of mine who is heading off to college next year. We were discussing the topic of roommates, and I think he was trying to gain some understanding of what it might be like getting along with other guys in a dorm. I have some really funny dorm stories from my time at Word of Life Bible Institute and Liberty University, but I'll save those for another entry. Anyways, this blog is piggy backing a bit on the previous "Building a Better Barn" article. In addition to the story of the rich fool with the barns (read below), God's been impressing upon my heart another passage of scripture, and I think it applies perfectly to the often sand paper interactions of roommates (or spouses, or brothers and sisters).

Mathew 7:1-2 reads, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Are you nit picky and extremely irritable in your attitudes towards the people you live with? What ticks you off the most? What does that other person do that makes you want to spit gravel? Sometimes, we can ruin really good friendships over the dumbest most retarded of things. Every time a roommate bugs me, I try to remember that I myself can really be a frustration at times. The older I get, the more I realize how picky I am in my relationships with people, and the more I discover that I am not looking as much like Christ as I'd like to.

I usually think of God as all forgiving and all patient... which on some level, He is. However, Jesus makes it real clear through Matt 7:2 that God will be to us what we are to other people. Ephesians 4:2 reads, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Maybe outwardly, you are "bearing" with people around you, but what's happening deep down inside? Are you angry? Bitter? Are you holding a grudge? Are you one of those passive aggressive people who like to make hints to another person that you are ticked off instead of talking about it in a constructive "Hey man, would it be ok if..." or "It really hurts me when..." manner? Have you screwed up a good friendship by making a big deal out of something petty and pointless in the long run?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Building a Better Barn

This is one of the first days in a long time when I’ve been able to just sit back and reflect and soak in what God has been teaching me over the last couple months. I sort of feel like I’ve been drinking from the conviction fire hose recently, realizing on multiple levels how much of a self centered man I am. Ever been overwhelmed with your own tunnel vision? Ever wake up, and say to yourself, “What am I doing with my life?” That’s where I’ve been recently.

I have some individuals in my life who are incredible Christian examples to me, people who breath charity and sweat missions. If you hang around selfish people often, it’s easy to blend in, but if you spend your time with folks who contrast your habits of naval gazing, you soon may be inspired to spend more quality time with your other often forgotten friend, the mirror. Out of the mouth flows the abundance of the heart, and I’ve been made brutally aware that the majority of my words and actions in recent days... have been about me.

Speaking In Code
I am, by nature, an introvert. I am refuelled by sitting in front of a piano in an abandoned room, pouring my heart out in it’s own native language of music. You’re not going to catch all of me at a Bible study. I’m not going to be the guy to stand up during the awkward sharing time on Sunday evening, and eloquently deliver my deepest fears and struggles in a way that moves everyone to tears, sympathy, and repentance. You will see the most authentic and bold Marc on a written page or in a moving string arrangement. This is something I’m learning about myself. I am an artist through and through. Making music or writing are not just hobbies to me. These are the vehicles that I use to reach out to people on a deeper level... they are cries of a longing intimacy which I find challenging to engage in everyday “hey, how you doing?” and “what have you been up to?” conversations. I get a lot off my chest by writing a blog or song. The alone time actually strengthens me to be with people. In contrast, I’ve been around some individuals who would probably go insane without a party every night or at least a tv set turned on to contribute noise to an otherwise painfully silent apartment.

Boy In A Bubble
Being born an artist comes as a blessing and a curse. Have you ever seen one of those movies where a person’s senses are exaggerated to the point that a candle flicker is blinding and the sound of a pin drop is painful? Maybe other artists can relate to me on what I’m about to say. I often find myself preoccupied with over-analyzation... looking at my own responses to situations, monitoring how other people are reacting and potentially thinking, trying to debug my own inconsistencies, attempting to figure how I am different from the outside world, and how I can connect with a human breed that seems to think in a way so foreign to my own paradigms. I stare at details. I pick things apart to figure out how they work. I wonder how many people are able to sit through an entire football game, glued to the tube, thinking of nothing but how their prized team will win the game. I, on the other hand, will have wrestled to the floor a thousand ethereal questions and lyric ideas before the first down. This, I believe, is the landscape of the artistic mind. Think of it this way. Ever enjoy occasionally picking up a pen to sketch a picture or write a poem? Now take that wonderfully lined yellow notepad and imagine never being able to put it down. Imagine having it stuck to your hands as you try to brush your teeth in the morning, or glued to your fingers as you’re fighting to make a pot of coffee, or strapped to your face as you battle to keep your car in a straight line on your way to work. Imagine taking the focus of emotions you hear in a think of living life everyday with the same focus of emotion, the same introspection and dissecting of motives, losses, superstitions, etc. Maybe some artists are not analytical nor obsessive. I am. I sometimes wonder why I am analytical and obsessive, and then I start working to figure how other people can NOT be so analytical and obsessive (or least, appear not to be). So...I obsessively work to figure out how not to be obsessive. Can you see the dog chasing it’s tail? I suppose I’ve gotten tons better through the years, but I’ve found that changing my ways of being obsessive and analytical (especially with music and artistic things) is like trying to learn a new language. It’s like someone telling you, “Alright, you can keep talking... just don’t use any verbs.”

Now, by this point, I’ve probably lost many of you, but I’m guessing a few of you are still tracking with me. I used to believe I was completely alone. I thought everybody else had themselves fully figured out, were at peace with who they were, and were connecting with people around them like a bluetooth device connects with my Mac. Now I suspect that there are a lot of people out there who feel like they were born on the wrong planet... and I imagine this reality supersedes some tormented outcast circle of artists, writers, and musicians. I think one of man’s greatest needs is communication. Scientists have done tests with new-borns where kids in experiment group A are raised in homes where verbal feedback is a regular practice while kids in experiment group B are rarely spoken to by their parents. The first group of children generally grow up to be much more well adjusted people compared to the latter bunch of infants. You and I need to talk, but more importantly, with that, I believe we all want to be UNDERSTOOD. I want to be understood as an artist/creative mind, and I imagine you want to be understood for who you believe you are.

Stare At The Picture Long Enough And You Might See A Pattern
By now, you may be asking “where in the world is he going and what does this have to do with barns?” Let me bring this whole thing back around. I, like every other person, have a need to be understood, but as an artist, I communicate and think in sounds that seem to fall far from the understanding or relevance of most ears (I’m not saying my language is any better than anyone else’s, only different). This can be frustrating, as I sometimes don’t feel like people really want to hear what I have to say...or probably more accurately, I don’t want to hear what I have to say. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like I have the words or clarity to sync with the wavelengths of many interests of conversation, so I’m left to believe that what I want to say is just going to come out wrong and make me look like some extremist, wacko, or philosopher who needs to get out more. Maybe this comes from some experience... like going to a college, singing a powerful song, and then stuttering through some stupid mumbled hogwash as a transition to the next song... or chiming up with some randomness in a Bible study all the while greeted with blank stares of “where did that come from?” (Often I feel like other’s answers are just so obvious... so I want to dig to a deeper level...but I suppose this is part of the journey of understanding we’re all in various places and God is speaking to each of us in unique and valuable ways... no answer is dumb or too obvious...and maybe my thoughts aren’t too far out there to be important) All this to say, this is why I like to write... because all those seemingly unrelated compartments of my mind somehow magically align in a way that people suddenly lock with me... going as far as sending me e-mails about how this or that blog really spoke to them in some powerful way. This (music and written word) is where I feel I am most readily understood...sometimes I get the impression that it is also where I am most effective and influential (for good, hopefully).

I had a roommate once who told me my words would start to make sense the more I talked... it’s almost as if saying stuff out loud allows me to piece it all together in a clear way, but most people don’t have patience for that. Maybe it’s like one of those optical allusions where if you stare at the page long enough, you start to see a wonderful 3-dimensional design... or your eyes and head just start to hurt.

Buried With Prince and Bono
And so it is with all of us... behind all the compulsions, obsessiveness, inconsistencies, and scratches, there is something beautiful, something worth digging for or waiting for. However, we’re often quicker to seek solutions for our own longings or deficiencies than to shift our narrowed focus away from ourselves and toward the beauty of others. We can get trapped in fighting to break the code to our own happiness. We can become addicted to the pursuit of understanding ourselves and caught in the chains of being understood. Sometimes we (introverts) like to withdraw because we don’t know how to relate to others, and we don’t feel like we fit in. Other times, we just get busy enough to forget how messed up we are inside. That’s where I’ve been... a bit over focused on myself, staying up until 4:00 am trying to get my home studio in working order... starring at calendars, and plotting equipment purchases and studio renovations. Trying to figure out how I can get away some evening, sit in a quiet room at a shiny piano, and write a song or two that have been growing in birth pains for what seems like months ...all the while forgetting people around me who are going to be around forever, long after my keyboard is dust and my laptop is smoke, and my albums are buried with Prince and Bono CDs in a apocalyptic world.

So, after all the talking about myself, and my needs, and how I don’t relate to people, and how I don’t feel understood...I’m stopping...taking inventory... and realizing that I’m honestly weary of myself and sick of fighting to keep my own Kingdom mowed and managed. As hard as you try, the grass keeps growing and the gas bills keep sinking your stomach on the Monday morning four days before payday. The yoke of self is neither easy nor light. It brings hard work, and leaves you sapped and wanting.

God Can Speak Through Cat Tinkle
This brings me back to the people in my life who breath charity and sweat missions. God is a professional at interrupting our substitutions... sometimes, in the smallest yet most profound of ways. Recently, I met a situation which really helped to put a magnifying glass to my priorities and attitudes. Last week, my roommate’s cat peed in the corner of my studio, and as silly as this sounds, I feel like that was God’s final-straw-way of saying, “This is not your stuff, this is not your money, these are not your talents, and this is not your life. Anything you have, you have because of me, and your attention needs to first be on me and then on others.” After all the painting, and the new desk, and the sweet new keyboard... cute little Ruthie peed in the corner right under my right monitor speaker, and six days later, it still smells like armpit. What bothered me the most is that this stupid little incident really bothered me, and there's been a lot of other stupid little incidents recently that have frustrated me way more than they should have. Stuff that a 30 year old Christian man should be able to approach with a Godly attitude and Christ-like flexibility. Like the urine stained corner of my studio, It’s quite possible that recently, my heart has been smelling a lot like armpit as well.

Jewish Iced Martinis
Luke 12 tells the story of a rich fool. This guy wasn’t happy with his barns, so he started planning to rip those barns down, and construct something fancier. Maybe he’d pull out a lawn chair just to admire his silos from a distance, an iced Jewish Martini in hand. However, in verse 20, God responds, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” The passage continues, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Wow. And wow.

What are our lives about? Why are we here? Is our purpose to get all our things in order, so can we die and leave all our riches for strangers, moths, and rust? I think not. Life, I am reminded, is about developing relationships with God and with people, though it be a risk. Though we have to leave quiet rooms of comfort. People I don’t feel like I can relate to. People who need to talk. People who maybe can’t find the words they want. People who are lost and hurting. People who get ignored because we’re late to our kid’s soccer game, or because we have to get the new roof on before the snow starts falling, or because we are too busy slaving to figure out what the heck is wrong with our own trouble spirits. Maybe our spirits are especially troubled in moments when we forget that we weren’t created to live behind motes, guarded castles, and isolated agendas.

Lonely Castles Aren’t a Place For Children of God
Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1845-1886) is best remembered for his breath taking castles in Germany. Below is an excerpt I found on his life.

“King Ludwig II, the "Dream King", has become his country's greatest asset in the years since his death, doing more for Bavaria's tourist trade than any other individual living or dead. He began his reign at nineteen, full of promise, a young Adonis loved and adored by all his subjects. He had little aptitude for governing and lived in a romantic fantasy world of his own. He had become an ardent devotee of Wagner's music at the age of sixteen, and immediately after his accession wrote to him offering his patronage. He built the theatre at Bayreuth for Wagner and made huge sums of money available for the production of operas. Ludwig is best remembered for the fantastic castles and palaces designed in different tastes to suit his moods. The grandest is Neuschwanstein, a medieval castle in Disneyland style; next the island palace of Herrenchiemsee, a Versailles in miniature which was never finished; lastly the baroque pavilion of Linderhof. These creations nearly bankrupted Bavaria but have proved a godsend today, being visited by thousands of tourists annually. In 1886 Ludwig II was pronounced insane without an examination and the King was taken into custody at Schloss Berg, 20 miles south of Munich. The day after his arrival, the bodies of the Doctor who pronounced Ludwig insane and Ludwig were found drowned in Lake Starnberg.”

It is rumored that Ludwig hired entire orchestras to come and play for him alone. The above is a powerful illustration of how riches and self-centered pursuits are fleeting. A depressing way to end a blog, but I think this is a reality check for all of us.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wacky Tales From the Northern Peninsula

So here we go. This next one is for the true dedicated blog readers. I’m going to share with you some of the highlights from my family trip to Piatt Lake in Upper Peninsula Michigan, July 19-28th. As a little background, my grandparents used to own a real log cabin on this small beautiful 3.5 miles circle of water called Piatt Lake. We sold the cabin a number of years ago as it was getting a bit expensive to upkeep. This summer, we actually rented our old cabin as well as another cabin about 1/2 mile down the lake. My parents, sister, and I stayed in “our” cabin, and my brother, sister-in-law, and their 5 kids stayed in the other rental. My family and I share a number of memories from this lake... catching snapping turtles, swimming, skiing and wakeboarding, cooking smores, meeting real live lumber jacks, and eating and sleeping better than we ever did in Ohio (or at least it felt that way). Throughout middle school and high school, I would often take a different friend along on our two week summer family trips.

The last time I visited Piatt Lake was probably back in 1997 while I was still in college, so this summer of 2006 was filled with wonderings of whether or not Piatt Lake was still the same as I remembered it 1/3 of my life ago. The cool thing is, it hasn’t changed much at all. Same still evenings with starry skies, clear moon, and glasslike reflections upon the sleeping waters. It’s actually so quiet at night that you can hear conversions and laughter in cottages about a mile across the lake. I was reminded why Jesus used to go out and speak to people from a boat. Water is a like a natural megaphone.

The participants of the family trip were: my super athlete biker runner swimmer iron pumper sister from Munich, Germany, my whiz tech electrical engineer brother, wife, and 5 kids from Indiana, my coffee bean roasting, bread making, sailboat loving uncle and my lime green Volkswagen driving, lion costume wearing aunt from Bristol, TN, and my jokester cousin and his family from Roanoke, VA (my uncle and aunt own a cottage across the lake from what used to be my grandparents’ cabin). I was really stoked because this was the first gathering we had in nearly 20 years in such capacity.

Like so many of my travels, this year at Piatt Lake brings a variety of stories of absurdity and strangeness which seem to find themselves quite at home among my wonderful and comedy attracting family. Here begins several accounts of situations which you may find rather amusing, and at times, downright unreal.

We Were So Close To The Bridge!!!
I left Columbus with my parents at about 9:00 in the morning on July 19th, as we were anticipating meeting my sister in the Flint, MI area around 1:00 (she had flown in from Germany the night before). She had rented a car, and when we met her (at around 2:00, due to some communication problems), I switched cars and rode with her while my parents followed at a growing distance behind. We drove for a couple hours, stopped for some “American shopping” (there are a lot of products here in the states which you can’t find in Germany...or they’re much more expensive there). After a bit of perusing at a Christian books & CD shop and a Reebok outlet store, we jumped back on 23 North and continued our journey towards the U.P.

We neared the Mackinac Bridge and what a beautiful work of man it was... however, moments later, we noticed an even more spectacular sight in the rear-view mirror. No, it wasn’t a beautiful sunset, but it was instead another brilliant display of red and blue... spinning red and blue, that is... perched on top of a Michigan state highway patrol car! My sister had been driving 95 miles an hour!! So we pulled over, and the typical routine began unfolding... law offender sits anxiously in the car while composed and slightly intimidating officer offender rolls down the window...officer submits standard question, “ma’m, do you know why I pulled over?” Law offender (in this case, my sister) responds ,“Sorry officer, I must have been driving a little fast.” “Ma’m, may I see your driver’s licence and proof of insurance?” This is where I reach in the glove compartment, and pull an owner’s manual? Yeah, no proof of insurance. However, my sister did have an old expired license from Colorado. So, we were 1 for 2. Not bad, right? My sister hands it to the officer. He struts back to his car, and spends a healthy portion of time doing something... I’m guessing there was a donut in the equation somewhere. As we sat there in the car, my sister began telling me how she was “totally going to get out of this one.” I had my doubts, but was waiting for the outcome with bated breath. A good while later, our officer returned and asked my sister to get out of the car and follow him back to his. “Oh dear,” I thought, “my sister’s going to jail and after not seeing her for nearly 3 years, we won’t even make it to our first day of vacation together!” Well, I waited... and surmised... and theorized... and assumed... and... ok, now my sister was getting back in the car. “So what’d he say,” I asked, feeling both relieved and now equally intrigued. “Well,” my sister began, “He did a search... and my Colorado license came up expired... so he asked me, ‘Ma’m, why’d you give me an expired license?’ and I responded, “well officer, I wanted to give you an American document since you are an American officer.... (and about this time, I imagine our young officer of the law losing her words while he grew progressively distracted by her smile and spandex)...I did that to please you.” Wow. If I had been trying to persuade the cop, he would have had me chest down cuffed against his cruiser at this point. So, my sister continued the story... “And then... realizing that I was indeed from Germany, the cop raised his shoulders, rolled his eyes, while expelling a sort of pathetic annoyed sigh... and after pausing for moment, he exscasperately continued.... “Ma’m, why didn’t you tell me that sooner?? I didn’t know you were from Germany!!! Man... I would give you a ticket... but uggghh... it’s just... too much work.”

Yes, I am not getting kidding. My sister got out of a possible $200+ ticket because the officer of the day was TOO LAZY!!! Too much work!!?? UNBELIEVEABLE!!! What if she had been a genuine criminal??? Good thing there were some less lazy cops that managed to catch the potential terrorists trying to blow up the Mackinac Bridge the other week. Michigan residents, these are your tax dollars at work.

It’s Good To Be Home!!! (And No, I'm Not An Illegal Immigrant)
Alright. So here’s another good one. One morning, the immediate family all headed out for a drive...myself, my sister-in-law and the nieces and nephews in the red mini van, and my brother, sister, and my parents in the white fully loaded Buick Redezvous SUV rental. So, we were off. Driving. Talking. Driving. Talking. We didn’t really have a definite plan here... just a couple options. Well, the kids wanted to drive into Canada at some point. Also on the menu was a visit to the notorious Antler’s restaurant. A stop at the Soo Locks was also a possibility. So many things to do...and so little... well, we had time... we just couldn’t agree on anything. Fortunately, we had some hefty walky talkies between the two cars to aid us in working out our discrepancies. The driving continued, as did the talking. We were actually very good at both. What we weren’t good at was paying attention to where we were going. Suddenly, I looked up from my walkie talkie only to discover that we were at the customs check point, just heading into Canada. No joke. My dad had driven into Canada by accident, and we in the red mini van had, like geese, followed. Ok. So were we going to go to Canada now? Alright, maybe not. We were now starting to turn around and go back through customs into the United States. The border police people had suggested that we avoid taking 5 children without IDs into a foreign country. I can see where they were coming from. So, here we went...trying to weazel our way around the custom checks and back into the lines of cars creeping into the good old US of A. Well, we in the red mini van got ourselves turned around, thanks to my sister-in-law gracefully forcing her way in front of a few bothered drivers. I could feel the love. The other motorists must have thought we were retarded. Well, the plot thickens. I was now hearing that those in the Rendezvous (my parents, sis, and bro) had in fact turned around, but had also managed to get themselves sandwiched in the wrong lane. The wrong lane, you ask? Yep, what I’m talking about here is the truck/RV lane, which exits off to the right on a separate descending ramp which leaves little room for turning around. At this point, my brother radios me on the walkie and asks me to grab his wallet (as he needed some ID to get back in the states) and “throw it over the wall” and he would catch it below as he stood gazing up from the truck/RV ramp. Well, I thought this was both funny and memorable so I grabbed a camera, jumped out of the red van, and hurried over to the “wall” where I dropped the wallet to the waiting hands of my brother and snapped a quickie picture for good keepsake. I then ran back to the red mini van, only to be greeted by the chuckles of disbelief coming from my sister-in-law. Not long after, we were a few bumpers away from the “Welcome to the United States” sign (see photo). “Wow,” I thought, “It’s good to be home.” We were getting closer. Two cars. One car. Suddenly, I was startled as I heard the marine-uesque voice of the border cop chewing me out. “What are you doing here?,” he asked my sister-in-law, all the while scowling at me. I was a white slightly balding 30 year old male, sporting a beard and a Sesame Street T-shirt. Can you say criminal? For a moment, I almost felt a little suspicious of myself. What was I doing there? Oh yeah. “Um, we sort of drove into Canada by... um... accident,” I told him. He then started getting even more chaffed. “And why were you running outside of your car????!!!” “And why we were taking pictures????” “And why were you...” Wow, my ego was deflating. I tried to explain in more detail, but he really didn’t care. I think he was just having a bad day and wanted to take it out on me. Man, I suppose I might have been in a sour mood too if I had to hang out in one of those booths all day. Got to cut the guy some slack though. Who knows, maybe he had rash from all the sitting...or maybe he was just doing his job.

No Boats For You!!
After this whole mess, we continued on our journey to the Soo Locks. This is basically where they raise and lower both small boats and freight liners, in transition between the 21- foot descrepatory waters of Lake Huron and Lake Superior. We waited for a little while, and no boats came, and even better, we had showed up on the one day of the year where they close and clean the Soo Lock Museum. Three Catholic school outfit wearing, older tour guide woman were literally sitting outside the double doors of the museum guarding their beloved freshly cleaned carpet and minature ship models. We knew we couldn’t get past them if we tried. With that, we decided to redirect our course to the beloved Antler’s restaurant.

Little Boy Meets Sea Turtle
Lunch at the Antler’s is an old family tradition of ours. The restaurant & bar is piled high and low with real stuffed animal heads, bodies, as well as canoes, oars, and other wilderness randomness. My favorite is the two headed calf. In addition, the animals can at times be accompanied by much ringing and racket. On your request, the waiter/waitress will pull a rope which sets off a nearly ear piercing choir of bells, whistles, and sirens. Apparently, my earliest experiences at Antler’s as a baby were met with tears. All those sounds scared me silly. Unlike the early me, my youngest nephew was more frightened by the animals, which he first may have believed to be alive... until he eventually caught on that none of them were moving. In the meantime, the other nieces and nephews were coloring place mats, having temper tantrums, or leafing through pages of the 1/2 inch thick Making of the Lord of the Rings book.

Around our table sat people of all types. There were a couple 6 year looking boys walking around taking photographs of different creatures on the wall. Just to my left in the corner of the room hung a very strange almost alien looking head mounting. One of the little boys walked over to the gentleman sitting right below this strange artifact. “What is that?,”asked the little boy to the man. “That,” replied the man, “is the skull of a large sea turtle.” At that, the boy turned to walk away and I heard him say quietly to himself, “At least they didn’t have to kill any of them.” Smart kid.

I Don’t Know If There’s Anything In My Pants!!
As Bill Cosby says, kids say the darnest things, and my nieces and nephews are no exception. One afternoon, I and the two nieces and the two oldest nephews were swimming out in front of our cottage (where my parents, sis, and I were staying). For some reason, my four year old nephew’s pants were looking especially heavy. My other nephew was asking him, “Did you go poopy?” and frustrated, my suspected nephew kept exclaiming, “I DONT KNOW!! I DON’T KNOW IF THERE’S ANYTHING IN MY PANTS!!!!” as if to say “Please leave me alone! I don’t want to talk about it!!” Well, I wasn’t particularly excited about diagnosing the potential problem at hand. So, we ended up walking up to the cabin where my parents offered to change his diaper. However, he refused, and started asking that I take him down to the other cabin where his dad was. Finally, I, my sister, and my two nephews hopped in the Rendezvous and we all headed a 1/2 mile down the road to the other cottage (I was careful to have my youngest nephew sit on a thick towel to avoid any spill overs). As we arrived at the other cottage, my brother went to change my nephew’s diaper, and as it turns out, there was in fact nothing in his pants!! My nephew had actually been wearing an extremely effective pull-up which had absorbed an amazing amount of water, causing his drawers to sink extraordinarily. The pull-up probably weighed more than that of a standard 16 oz. bottle of water!! My brother and my nephew started throwing the pull-up around, and when one of them missed catching it, it smacked into the wood deck, creating a healthy THUD!! At this point, my youngest nephew was running around with a new pull-up on, and though it was completely clean and dry, it was still sagging like the jeans on a gangster. Somebody get that boy a belt!

This Sunday Is Depressing!!!!
I still find this next incident difficult to believe. It was Sunday morning and my sister and I were on our way to my uncle and aunt’s church in Newberry, MI, a good hour away from our cottage at Piatt Lake. My aunt had jotted down directions for me on a scrap piece of paper the night before. As my sister and I arrived in Newberry, we walked into the service just in time, maybe missing the first stanza of the first hymn. After the organist concluded, we all sat down with a unified thunk on velvet pillowed creaking wood pews and the minister, a colorful rope cladded, slightly heavier-set man in his later 40’s, introduced his convictions for the morning. While sliding a wooden stool beneath himself, he began by announcing, “I have a lot on my mind today.” To his left at front of stage sat the organist, an 80 year old frail woman whose rigid fingers sat upon the keyboard and whose glazed eyes were fixed in the pastor’s direction. Towards the back of right stage sat a slightly chunky neatly dressed middle school boy whom I was guessing was the pastor’s son. Behind the pulpit sat a 40 some year old woman, probably the pastor’s wife. My sister and I were sitting about half way back in the room, towards the left wall. Most of the 50 or so church attendees were older folks, many of which looked like they might have been 70 years old and upwards. On the front left wall above the organist was your typical wooden wall piece displaying the previous week’s attendance and offering. “Well,” the pastor continued, “I’m just really disappointed this morning. Nobody is giving money to the church and its ministries anymore. I emailed 15 different pastors in regards to helping our ministry and no one has returned my email. I am really bothered. We aren’t reaching out to our youth like we should be. I’m not just talking about our church; I’m talking about the American church as a whole. What have you done to help our youth? Our church is in a sad state now.” At this point, I was hearing tremors of mumbling and frustration among the congregation. One older lady chimed in, “Well, I gave money to our youth outreach!” and another more boisterous older woman wearing what looked like a round wicker gardening hat explained how she had also been trying to help out where she could. The older woman to my left, I now noticed, was wearing bright purple Crocs. Wow, those things are ugly. The pastor went on, “The problem with our churches these days is that nobody sees himself for who he really is. We need to be broken. We need to understand that we are nothing.” The resonant voice of the lady wearing the wicker hat cut through the small sanctuary again, “But pastor, I feel so terrible. I don’t need to be broken any more. I am a worm. Only a worm. The world is so heavy on my shoulders. How can I even be broken anymore??” The pastor lambasted on, “We are all worms. We need to be humble in God’s sight!! We are nothing!!!”

This whole time, I was trying to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. On some level, I could see where he was going with the humility thing. I and my sister listened on. At this, the pastor returned to the decorative quilt backed pew at the rear of the stage, not far behind the pulpit, in front of the crucifix and baptismal. From where I was sitting, his head disappeared behind the wooden pulpit when he sat down. The woman who previously had been sitting behind him rose and came to the pulpit. She began speaking and then broke down saying, “Oh pastor, you got me all worked up!” Within moments, he stood, walked up to her left side, and put his arm around her in attempts to comfort her as she read the prayer requests for the morning. I had mixed feelings at this point. I was thinking to myself, “this just feels way too dramatic, but let’s see what happens.” After the woman had stumbled and sniffled her way through the prayer requests, she sat down and the corpse like organist began the introduction of the next hymn. The pastor walked over to stop her. I’m not sure what he whispered in her ear, but I sure hope it was kinder than the words he had to this juncture been speaking to his congregation.

After shutting down the organist, he again returned to the stage area just to the right of the pulpit, pulled up the beloved wooden stool, plopped down, and laid out yet another bark of melancholy. He went on, “Let me tell you a story. There was a little boy who needed a heart transplant. All his parents wanted was for him to have a new heart. But no one would give him a heart, so he died.” Wow, my stomach was sinking at this point. On he rolled, “Look at the world!! They’re blowing things up over there in the middle east! I think this is the beginning of World War III!!! What are we going to do!!!??” At this time, he directed a question to his congregation of 50 some blue hairs, “Who do you go to when you have trouble?” From the back came the small desperate mouse voice of an older woman who innocently exclaimed, “We go to you, our pastor!” The minister nearly cutting off her words snapped back, “No, you go to God!!! Don’t come to me!!! I’m the last person you want to come to right now!!!!” About now, I seriously felt like I was watching a Saturday Night skit or even an episode of the Simpsons. All of a sudden, the lady wearing the wicker hat nearly yelled, “THIS SUNDAY IS DEPRESSING!!!!” And that it was. The pastor could hardly control himself now and in an almost last breath exclaimed, “I don’t know what to do!!!! I don’t know. I guess...well... let’s just sing a hymn and take the offering!!!!!” The sound of the organ began to wind up and moaned with a tone like that of an old haunted house radio program. The congregation stood in unison and began the first heartfelt stanza, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow...” What??? Why were they even singing this song!!??? My sister looked over at me, and with almost a smirk asked, “Did you look at the church sign when came in the building? I thought Aunt Karen had said the service at their church was extremely worshipful, and the pastor was a sweet woman from India.” I was holding my keys in one hand, and had the church bulletin in the other. “Yeah, I think we’re in the wrong place,” I said feeling a lot like Mr. Obvious. We slipped out of our pew, passed a few starring members, and made our way down the cement stairs outside the church to our car.

Wow. You wonder why so many people make satire of churches and Christianity in general. Turns out that my aunt had given us only slightly skewed directions and we had turned two streets too late and had ended up at the First Lutheran Church instead of the First Presbyterian Church. We discovered this after stopping at a gas station and asking the clerk if there were any Presbyterian churches in close vicinity.

My sister and I managed to slip into my aunt and uncle’s church long enough to catch the last ten minutes of the sermon. What a contrast it was. The message of the morning was How to Rejoice in Trial. It was like a breath of fresh air. I suppose it’s all about perspective and attitude. After the service concluded, my sister and I told my aunt the whole story. We were laughing out loud in the sanctuary just thinking about what had just happened. It was altogether hysterical and sad at the same time. It’s amazing to think that there are thousands of churches like this. I think Jesus would be appalled.

Glasses In The Sand
It’s almost a relief to write in contrast this last episode. Right now, I am in the car riding back from Lower Herring Lake in Michigan with my friend Nathaniel. I just can’t get away from Michigan. It’s a beautiful state. We were basically up north here for a day and half, eating well, boating around the lake, and blowing up fireworks on the starry lit shore of Lake Michigan which lies over a sand dune directly across from Nathaniel’s parents cottage. I love the air up here. However, I am now ironically sitting in a car filled with remnants of years of cigarette smoke (this is not Nathaniel’s car, mind you). I have my window down, and am having trouble seeing my laptop screen because of the sun glare. But anyways, the tale of the “Glasses in the Sand.” I like this story.

One day at Piatt Lake, my family all agreed that we should go spend a couple hours over on the smooth cold watered shores of Lake Superior (15 minutes away from Piatt). My sister, 2 nieces (13,9), and oldest nephew (11) had gone ahead of the rest of us. I again rode with my sister-in-law and brother in the red van along with the two youngest nephews (2,4). My parents were following us in the white Buick Rendezvous SUV.

We pulled into the slightly weedy sandy path and headed back towards the lake. As we stepped out of our cars, we noticed my sister, nieces, and nephew lying and running in the sand about 30 meters away, all the while back dropped by an increasingly darkening sky. The wind was slight, yet had promise of bigger things to come. We talked for a few minutes, and in the meantime, the smokey sky’s frown sagged more and more with foreboding weight. We started to see miles away what appeared to be white sheets of rain slicing long ways across the lake, sweeping like a curtain and moving rapidly in our direction. My sister and the kids started to gather their towels and belongings and we all began our way back to our vehicles. All of a sudden, I heard my youngest niece's voice somewhat muffled from the distant thunder and rain patter, “I can’t find my glasses!” Apparently, they had been in a bag of stuff which had been thrown carelessly on the shore, and her glasses had fallen out. My brother and I and the 3 oldest kids ran back to the area where the towels had originally been spread out. By this time, the rain was pouring down buckets, the wind was howling, the sky was bordering on blackish grey, and we were desperately searching through nearly blinding streaks of rain water for my niece’s spectacles. We decided to... alright time out... bathroom break. Nathaniel just pulled off at a gas station because my bladder was killing me. I am so rude that I knocked on the bathroom door, and eventually yelled, “I really have to go!!!” A couple minutes later, out walked an older lady with a cane. I am such a jerk. Ok, where were we... the sheets of rain, the glasses. Oh, what writing about rain will do to you. So, my brother, kids, and I decided to take some shelter under some short stubby trees which were hardly protective. The wind continued to whistle, the water gushed upon our heads, and the shirt on my back was slapidly wet with a collar stretched twice its normal size. My brother then had the brightest idea of the day. “Let’s pray and ask God to help us find the glasses!!,” he offered. So we did. Literally, like 2 seconds after my brother said “Amen,” my older niece turned around, looked down at the ground, and shouted, “Here they are!!!” And so goes the power of prayer, and the wonder of God hearing little tiny people under really big black skies. I love the picture above. You can see the glasses in my youngest niece’s hand if you look close enough, and then in another picture, you can see us dashing back to our cars. They say people don’t remember days, only moments, and I think this is one that will stick with us for a while.

The Longest Blog Ever And No, I Didn’t Make Any Of This Up
Ok, so this may go into the Guinness World Book of Records as the blog with the most words. I am now nearing eight pages in my Apple Works document. This whole thing has probably taken me a good six hours to write, but hey, what else are you going to do along the Sunday roads of Michigan in a smokey car with no working radio?? I think we are near Lake George now.

As I look back through all this stuff, I’m amazed that it is all true. No exaggerations. No caricatures. Just the facts, ma’m (or sir). This is what happened to me on family vacation... well, these are the funny highlights. In addition, I had a variety of other wonderful experiences with my most awesome family, and walked away from this trip just realizing again how important it is to value your brothers, sisters, parents, and nephews and nieces, and friends. God loves people and families and that amazes me. Sometimes, I wonder if He aligns our circumstances so we can blog about them and He can sit up in Heaven and laugh. Your story may be a lot different than mine, yet I’m curious as to whether or not any one else has had a family vacation even nearly as bizarre packed as ours at Piatt Lake July 19-28th, 2006. We may take the cake on this one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

I remember back in middle school and high school, I was terribly uninformed when it came to subjects such as world history and geography (I preferred the easier subjects of english and music). I'm embarrassed to say that history and geography are still not my strong suites. With a buried head in music magazines and synthesizer manuals, I've recently been convicted that I need to work on becoming a more well-rounded person, and most importantly, a better informed Christian. Apart of getting content for song lyrics (from news stories and history lessons), there's a greater good of understanding the implications of God's master plan and how it is unfolding before our own comfortable American eyes.

...And I Feel Fine
Growing up in a Christian home and attending a Christian school has at times left me a little numb to the concept of the "end times." We had one pastor who often came to our Thursday chapels preaching the soon destruction of planet earth. I remember going to shop class (industrial arts, my next period after chapel) a little convicted and shook up. Inside my head ran such thoughts, "Maybe I'm not ready for Jesus to come back. Man, I really need to get rid of that old habit. God would be ashamed of me." After a couple days, the fears wore off and I again began clinging to such arguments as Christ saying "no one knows the day or hour when I shall return" and the prospects that the early church was also busy preparing for the end of the world. How could that pastor be any more sure than the anticipating early Christians in the book of Acts? They were interpreting what they thought were "signs" in their times... so what would make our current "signs" any more valid? Might we have a couple milleniums to go? Every generation has been predicting the cracked sky and the descending angels.

It's Just A Matter Of Time
I've since developed a bit more mature stand (I think) on such issues. I still believe that no one can completely know the day and the hour of the return of Christ (Matt 24:35-37). However, I think the "signs" of his soon return will be quite apparent to those of us who are looking for them. If they weren't to be pretty obvious, God wouldn't have given us any markers. We certainly don't serve a God of confusion. He's communicated His plan of salvation pretty clearly, and I don't believe the signs of His second coming will be any less apparent. I think we'll know. A seven year peace treaty signed with Israel (as described in the book of the Revelation) will be a serious giveaway. The world is aching for peace in the Middle East this very moment. Forget the earthquakes and natural disasters (of which we have many these days). Keep your eyes on Israel. Also, if dangers increase, a decision to mark every human being with an identification code might come as the next necessary step in more easily distinguishing well meaning citizens from say, suspected mercenaries plotting to plunge a host of planes into the dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean (or propel them into densely populated buildings).

Now before everyone freaks out and starts accusing me of being a dooms-dayer or conspiracy theorist, I want you to understand why I am waving such ills of paranoia. The point here is... we should be ready... all the time. On the other end of the pendulum, we can get way too obsessed with our personal safety and comfort, while losing the point of why we're here. We can start living in bunkers, or climbing up on mountains in anticipation of Jesus' return. We can refuse to use Kroger or Sam Club's cards. We can live in total fear if we so choose. We can ignore our neighbors and co-workers who don't have any assurance of where they're going when they die. We need to be educated in what's going on around us, engaged as if it's our last day here, and comforted in the fact that God is in cockpit.

We Are Beloved Specks In A Bigger Plan
Do you remember that painfully simply song we used to sing in Sunday school class, "He's got the whole world in His hands... He's got the whole world in His hands... He's got the little bitty baby in His hands... He's got you and me brother in His hands...?" Be honest with yourself. Do you really believe God is in control? Was there a reason why six to ten planes slated to leave Britain today weren't ravaged in mid flight? Was there a larger plan in you looking up in just the right split second and slamming on your breaks at the yellow light intersection, while you were distractively reaching down to grab your mug of coffee this morning? We'd really like to think we're in control. We'd really like to believe that we are the ones who earned that degree, acquired the money to purchase that house, and placed ourselves in a quiet safe caldasac on a peaceful road in a good town, in a patriotic state within a thriving sturdy diplomatic nation. Don't forget where you came from, and Who is running the show.

Your Kingdom Come
Remember to pray for Israel, our president, and other world leaders today. Pray for fellow Christians in Lebanon, and other brothers and sisters around the globe. Pray that God would be glorified, and that many people would come to know Jesus through the uncertain events of our world. Ask God to show you how you can further His Kingdom today, while putting your own small sandbox on hold. Ask Him for renewed faith to rest in the fact that He is indeed the One strategically in control.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God."
Psalm 20:7

Stories from my family vacation are coming soon... I have a lot of material and it's taking a little while to write everything down.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Research And Development

I am often asked by friends, "do have any concerts coming up soon?" Sometimes, people will inquire, "How are things going with the music business." In reply, I now like to say that I am in a stage of careful "research and development." True, I'm not really doing many shows right now, but I'm not making this choice because I'm quiting on the band idea, nor abandoning the thought of playing out or promoting my music. I have my reasons, and in the next few paragraphs, I will try to elaborate on some level.

Rockstars Do A Lot of Thinking At Starbucks
I've always wondered what bands do in their off season. I think even the most marketed bands have periods when they're not on the road, and maybe not even in the studio. I've heard that some artists will work other jobs to support themselves in their downtime. Some musicians have never earned any formal degree, so when they are not entertaining, they may be bussing tables or serving coffee (not that there is anything wrong with this). I just mention this, because I try to encourage all my young musician friends to develop some type of "tent-making" job... something that can yield them income when the music is refusing to be so lucrative. Anyways, "besides working their day job," I wonder if a lot of bands spend this time concentrating on practice and musical study. Nobody who is good at an instrument develops his/her talent through osmosis. I was at a music conference once, and one of the speakers mentioned that he had once been at the house of Ron Block, banjo player for Allision Krauss and Union Station. The speaker mentioned that Ron (who is an amazing musician) was in the basement running through repetitious scales, a daily routine. I wonder how many people go to concerts and just forget about all the time, effort, experimentation, and monotony that players/singers invest to become who they are as musicians and personalities.

Finding Yourself As An Artist Can Take Discovering Where You Went Wrong
All this to say, I've also been practicing, experimenting, and listening alot over the last year or so. I really went into the creation of "Backstage Pass" without a clear direction of the overall style I was going for. It was almost as if every song was taken from a different musical influence, as oppose to having a constant stew of influences throughout the project. Regardless, I think it's a good album, but in many ways, it's not as focused as it could be. At the end of the day, I also felt like the project was more about the abilities and influences of five Nashville CCM studio players, and less about who I was as a keyboardist/singer/songwriter. I don't blame this upon anyone but myself. I just hadn't done a lot of musical research. I was also very under confident when it came to my piano playing and arranging ability (and rightfully so at the time). I'm not saying that I should have been the one man band, because that would make for a pretty amateur project, as I am neither a guitarist, drummer, or violinist. What I’m saying is this: you've got to let people shine where they shine best, but as a producer/co-producer, you've got to know what you're going for, even if you're not the one playing the instruments. I wish I had known more at the time, but hey, aren’t we all learning?

It's Harder To Get Lost If You Look At The Road Signs
Some of my most recent musical influences have been Keane, Pink Floyd, ColdPlay, Muse, RadioHead, Mute Math, Ours, The Killers, The Fray, and David Gray... many of which rely heavily upon piano and keyboard elements for their sound. (Keep in mind I’m not advocating the message of some of these groups, just taking notes from their tones and arrangements.) I’ve always loved keyboards, and have more recently fallen in love with the overtones and simplicity of the piano. I’ve decided to focus more on being a rock pianist/keyboardist/vocalist/singer/songwriter as oppose to a guy who just sings on stage. One problem I’ve run into is that half my songs are guitar-driven, and being that I’m not a guitarist, I’m left out to dry at shows if the guitarist doesn’t show up. I used to think that people would be bored out of their minds if I sat behind a piano and sang the whole time, but I’ve realized that many keyboard rock artists can mix things up by alternating between sitting at the piano to standing in front of a synth rig on the other side of the stage. I’d eventually like to be set up with equipment and songs which would allow me to play a whole hour + show without any other instrumentalists, or with only a few instrumentalists - a second keyboardist, drums, and one guitar. This would make the whole operation a lot more manageable and cost effective, I think.

Feeding A Two Headed Monster
Along with this, I am trying to slowly assemble my home studio, 10X12 Productions, so I can eventually be set up to effectively create custom music, record voice-overs, etc. for smaller businesses locally, and nationally via the world wide web. I’ve already done some of this, but would like to do more. I am slowly building my resume’ in this regard. I hope to be scoring the music for a 45 minute short film in the near future and may be creating some jingles for a national comedian. In summary, I am trying to merge my ministry/hobby of recording albums/playing out with a day job of sound design, custom music composition, and recording work. The equipment which I purchase to record a new project would directly benefit the hopefully more monetary pursuits of my small business. I spent a lot of money in the studio during the creation of “Backstage Pass,” and in hindsight, I realize that I could have been much further along now if I had instead used some of that money to further my own home studio. As a side note, if I am married some day, it would make more sense to invest in equipment that directly impacts my home business, and our family’s income vs. putting money into my “hobby” of being a solo artist. I am trying to think about how I can keep moving forward without putting my future career and potential wife/family at risk. So far, it feels like I’m headed in a good direction. I have been seeking God’s will on this. Amazing how He gives you ideas sometimes. For me, a year of prayer, journaling, and re-evaluating has brought me to this place.

I continue to work on new songs. I can’t say when and if I am creating a new album for sure. I’ll just say I’m studying the bad business moves I made on “Backstage Pass” and am looking forward to the future with a more long-term and narrowed approach. On this note, I am leaving the coffee shop and heading home to practice some scales.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Wacky Tales From the Northern Peninsula

Just got back from a 10 day trip to northern Michigan with my family. I have some funny stories to tell. Stay tuned.

Pictured are my awesome neices and nephew.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Three Days Of Vocal Training

This past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I attended a vocal clinic down at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus. It was an amazing experience. I would encourage anyone to take this class, singers and non-singers alike. I find it amazing how we grow up learning to walk, run, eat, ride a bike, etc., but so many of us are not even conscious of how to use our voices correctly. The course was much different than your typical "voice class" as it involved actual video of the vocal folds/throat and audio analyzations of the voices of our instructors, as well as our own voices. The class of 15 students was diverse... a 60+ year old Opera singer who had been teaching music for 35 years... several 17-18 olds studying music theatre... a group of gospel singers.. a worship leader. There were even a couple non-singers there, one of which just wanted to learn how to project his speaking voice more in noisy restaurants and other overpowering aural situations. I felt like I was on some episode of "Making the Band" where diversity was good for ratings. You can check out this program at It is full of ground breaking concepts, and is spreading across the world as a totally new way of looking at the voice. My good friend Diane Sheets (she sang background vocals on "A Thousand Gods") was one of the teachers. The other teacher actually works at the hospital as a throat specialist.

I may write more on this experience later... above is a very cheesy picture of our class...I felt a little uncomfortable with this pose if you can't tell...

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Show Must Go On

I have been busy the last couple days. Monday, I was setting up / tearing down lights and audio gear for one of the music stages at Columbus’ Red, White, and Boom downtown fireworks celebration, and on Tuesday I was doing the same thing, only at the Park of Roses in Clintonville, OH ... both 16 to 17 hour work days. On wednesday morning, we finished tearing down the lighting trusses we had set up in Clintonville on Tuesday, and that afternoon I was back at the tv station, mixing commercials and enjoying the air conditioning and mesh backed office chairs. It’s definitely been an eventful week, between the tornado warnings on Monday evening and the thunder and lightning storm on Tuesday night.

This Has Been a Test...
I’ve never been a fan of huge crowds, and hanging out all day at Red, White, and Boom was no exception. More than half a million people sandwiched the streets of downtown Columbus, while baking in the afternoon sun and blowing their money on overpriced lemonade, elephant ears, and meatball subs. As early evening approached, the sky darkened, the wind picked up, and we began hearing rumors of tornado sirens spinning up in nearby towns. I shuttered at the thought of a twister ripping through a glass fronted city deluged with concession stands, porta johns, and unsuspecting holiday eyed pedestrians. The “so bad they're free” local bands continued to entertain the middle aged beer toting friends and family bunch while I and the other stagehands watched the sky and discussed our plan of attack in such case that locomotives began sounding in the distance. Thankfully, the twister didn’t steal the show that evening. Instead, the sky cleared and fireworks went off as usual. I wonder if that was a sign of God’s loving intervention. Can you imagine if we were able to see all the calamity we’re spared day in and day out? Wow.

The fireworks were great, but I could have done without the hand and lip happy couples which surrounded me as I tried to enjoy the explosions above. I’ve become pretty good at tuning out such gag-me-with-a-spoon distractions. Anyways. After the grand sky-shaking finale, the crowds quickly cleared only to reveal brick roads littered with pop cans, water bottles, and bottle rocket debris. The blinking yellow brush-bellied street cleaner trucks began to roll in, the concession tents collapsed, and we undertook “striking” (tearing down) our lights, stage, and sound gear. I sometimes contemplate the number of mic cables I’ve wound in my days. I’d be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every foot of XLR spaghetti I’ve untangled. To give you a better picture... our 8-person crew loaded 8 4x5’ speaker cabinets, 2 large audio boards, monitor speakers, lighting trusses, lights on “par bars,” and cases and cases of various cabling... all into the back of a 25 foot truck. After this stuff was cleared from the platform, the actual stage roof was lowered hydraulically and the entire stage folded up into a semi bed. Pretty cool. The complete tear down process took about 3 1/2 hours, and we left the abandoned trash scattered streets of downtown Columbus around 1:30 am. Not a lot of traffic out at that hour.

Let’s Make A Lightning Rod
Saturday morning started early at the Park of Roses in Clintonville. With a Tim Horton’s coffee in hand, I pulled into the rain drenched park, blurry eyed, about 7:30 am. The rest of the team didn’t show up until around 8:00 and by that time, the rain had increased to the point of heavy drizzle. We started by unloading the metal lighting trusses, and after pulling several from the truck, the forboding sky broke loose with unrestrained downpour and highlights of thunder cracks and lightning flashes. We all jumped into the back of the smaller truck and waited it out for a few minutes. Somehow, in the moment, the thought of raising four 25-foot lighting rods wasn’t terribly reassuring. Basically, a huge square of metal trussing was to be slid into the air on 4 25-foot metal “legs.” (using hefty motors and chains). It’s hard to explain in writing... let me just say this isn’t the type of stuff you want to be messing around with in a lightning storm.

After the rain subsided, we hopped out of the truck, and continued our quest to unload the packed-to-the-ceiling trucks (we had two... one 25 footer and then a smaller Enterprise rental). The show had to go on. Imagine rolling 3-foot square boxes of heavy cabling across the mud smeared grass. It was a sight to behold. My leather work gloves had darkened a few shades from the rain, and my Nikes were slowly becoming sponges, and the few hairs I have were soaked. We started unloading more stuff. Again, the rain started to pick up, but we decided to keep working. At one point, our boss showed up with some yellow rain ponchos, donuts, and coffee... a nice gesture which helped to make the whole experience a little more pleasant. Thankfully, later that morning, the rain cleared and most of the afternoon set-up went pretty smoothly.

The first band (an independent rap group) showed up around 4pm. One of their tunes , “I Hope You Like The Junk That We’re Making” was especially touching. They were followed by a middle aged band covering a gamete of classics, spanning from Elvis to Sheryl Crow. The late 40 year old lead guitarist sported a Jimmy Buffet floral shirt, glasses, and the unconvinced antics of an 18 year old rock punk reved up on Red Bull. The last group, “The Street Players” pulled off convincing covers of Doobie brothers and James Brown hits. They were actually rather seasoned and tight as a musical group. However, half way through their set, the thunderstorms and winds resurfaced, and after lowering the tarp cover stage roof so it was only several feet from our heads, we spent the next hour or so holding up the ceiling to keep the rain puddles from collecting on the tarp top above. (Meanwhile, one of the band members was watching a local news station’s doppler radar on his laptop. I still have no idea how he was getting wireless in the middle of a park....maybe through his cell phone service carrier.) All this time, during the downpour, some of the fireworks enthusiasts hid beneath their lowered tents (while they burned candles for extra light), whie some headed for their cars, and others just sat there in the grass on soaked blankets, anxiously waiting for the band to reappear (apparently, you don’t have to be very smart to get into the fireworks).

After an hour of this holding pattern, the park “entertainment committee” decided it would be best to send the band home, and cancel the remainder of the music attractions. After hearing this, “The Street Players” packed up their truck full of PAs, keyboards, drums, and guitars, while we began another episode of cable winding and stage clearing.

By the time the fireworks started to go off, the rain had ceased and the sky has cleared. Six of us on the crew sat by a shelter house in front of a pond and watched the fireworks exploding nearly above our heads. We had a great view, and I think I enjoyed those fireworks more than the ones I saw down at Red, White, and Boom.

After the fireworks, we loaded up all the audio gear, and headed home around midnight. The next morning, we were back at the park at 9am to tear down the remaining tarp roof and truss. During the night, the roof had collected quite a pool of water, and at one point while we were working in the morning, the hundreds of hooks holding the tarp roof to the truss square suddenly began bending and snapping out of the holes in the tarp roof (making a rapid fire pop corn type sound as they disconnected in machine gun succession) and gallons of water spilled on the stage as we jumped back in surprise. Thankfully, all equipment on the stage had been removed the night before.

We finished loading all the truss and gear around noon on Wednesday. I was pretty sore when I woke up this morning.