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.