Friday, April 29, 2016

Descension (window #1)

I don't know when I'm going to die. This thought in itself can freak a person out until they're paralyzed. I don't know what’s better - to live as if you might die at any moment, or to live as though death is the furthest thing from your mind. One can paralyze you with fear and dread, the other can cause you to put off your life indefinitely.

I don’t have enough money to pay the rent. I don't have enough to pay my other bills either. My savings account is in the red, my credit card bills are too high for hope to reach. I am in debt and I don't see how I'll get out anytime in my foreseeable future. I shouldn't be here…

"Will that be all sir?" the girl at the checkout counter asks me, with an almost imperceptible hint of incredulous sarcasm behind her eyes. I've dropped about $300 worth of Jazz recordings from my overloaded arms onto the counter. My pulse is high, my eyes a little wide and wild. I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be doing this. I can't help myself anymore. I've just mortgaged my future for a treasure of immediate gratification. This is definitely not recommended in the literature of financial planning. But they were having a sale. 25% off. What else could I do but take full advantage of the moment? The way I see it, I just saved myself a hundred bucks in my future. I was going to buy this stuff at some point anyway. It's just a bigger rush to get it all at once, get it out of the way, and rest assured that even if any of this goes out of print tomorrow, I have my copy safe and secured. Next time I'll use a shopping basket.

Jesus. Who uses a shopping cart to buy music? What kind of sick fucking addict am I?

Twenty minutes later I stumble through the door of my apartment and drop the armload of new music onto the kitchen counter. In the process I knock over a half empty bottle of beer and ruin the thick mass of Sunday's paper and the inside corner of the paperback book I'm trying to read. Shit. I have to get my life together at some point, or I am just going to sink like the Titanic in the icy cold depths of debt and drug addiction.

I wrap my upper arm. I slap the vein. I pick up the needle and inject it into the grooves of the record, close my eyes, and slip away into a jazz-induced illusion of a time I never knew...

It's damn near impossible to find good jazz records anymore. It's all on CD now. CD's that don't have the depth and warmth of the vinyl grooves as they spin round and round on the old squeaky turntable. There's no dust on a CD. No hissing or popping or crackling noises. You'd think this would be a good thing. Like the fact that you can't smoke in the bars anymore. Healthier - for you, for those around you, for the environment and culture in general. Clean. But when in the hell has this music ever been about clean? Buy yourself a brand-new slab of vinyl, and even after a day or two of sitting on the turntable collecting a hint of dust, or a few slips in and out of the paper cardboard sleeve, and you've got yourself a popping, hissing, sizzling slice of musically historic life. This is how it should be, and this is how it's always been. You get to the point where you don't even hear those extra noises anymore, at least not until they are gone. Digitally removed and remastered and purified. Chopped all to bloody hell is what it is. Pissing in the baby's bathwater to make it nice to drink. But sometimes it's all you've got. And it's good as tits even so. I play the CD and envision an old turntable in my mind. What it was like to live like this in the grand old days of American pop underground culture.

Bill Evans and John Coltrane...Miles Davis...Dexter Gordon...Art Blakey. They lead me in a hypnotic altered state to my cigarettes, to the whiskey bottle and the candles. Smoke fills the air around me, and the alcohol warms my insides almost as well as when she is lying right here with me. Turn the lights down or off. Let the music fill the air and mingle with the smoke that fills my head with a buzz of reflective relaxation. I'm going down with the ship and I'm gonna enjoy every last damn minute of it.

I check the machine. Tracy's called about four times, wondering where I am, what am I doing, give her a call, hope you're not mad, on and on. Sometimes I wish she'd just leave me the fuck alone. But I'll probably give her a call in an hour or so. Get her to bring over something to eat, maybe catch a snog later on. And maybe with any luck at all she'll be gone before I wake up. I don't need her telling me what a fucking mess my life is anymore. Especially not in the damn morning. Especially when I don't want to wake up until it's good and late in the afternoon. Ok, so maybe next time she comes over I won't insist on playing Ascension for our dinner music. Explorations may have been a better choice for her. But maybe I'll just stick with Miles and Byrd and no one else tonight. Have this little jazz club all to myself for a night. Fall asleep on the couch watching some BBC artistic cultured special or some bullshit like that until the colour bars or fuzzy snow come on and signal the point of no return for the loser lounger's life and times. Live like a real bachelor who's gonna die in his underwear on the dank and dingy floor when he's 49, cluttered ash trays all around, beer bottles filling the sink and countertop, newspapers strewn about the place...

At least the scene is set.

I don't believe in saving for the future, because inside I don't really believe that I have a future. I could die at any moment of any day, and what will I have to show for it? Hopefully not just a well provided for retirement.

Monday, March 02, 2015

A Dance Between Our Time

40 years from now
when we look back
on this night
will we regret 
that we had this dance?
or will we wish we had
taken a moment
to take this life
by the hand
and heart
holding each other
like in 40 years
we were going to look back
on this time
and smile at the memory
of how silly we were
to worry about our lives
and let our fear
or a tear
fall away
at the thought
that we almost let the moment
pass us by
like life has passed us by
and smile at the memory
that we didn’t let it go
we held each other
in candlelit music
playing in the space
between us
your hand on my heart
my words in your ear
I'm nervous, I know
but you mean too much
to just let go

so do me this favor
and hold out your hand
and pray for a moment
like you truly understand
what it’s like to be loved
by someone you thought you knew
even if this is new
to who we thought we were
and weren’t supposed to be
Can I share this dance
just once this time
and hold you like I’ve dreamed
so many dreams before
and take one moment
to live our deepest lives
and reflect on this memory
before we say goodbye
to who we were
and who we’ll never be

Saturday, July 05, 2014

out the back window

(not much to see here, just airing out some of the drafts that have been sitting here for years and years)

Looking out the back window
I watched my little girl
skipping through the yard
chasing after butterflies
laughing in the sun
filling my heart with something beyond joy

Watching my little girl
smiling at her life
skipping, chasing, laughing, carefree
just out the back window

I watched one time, as my precious little girl
tripped on a rock, scraped her knee
hit the ground, careless interruption
I ran out to see if she was hurt
"You have to be careful running through the yard like that
you have to watch where you're going, what you're doing
watch out for rocks so that you don't hurt yourself!"
I told her sternly, to make sure this didn't happen again
She looked at me solemnly, broken free from her reverie
taking seriously my words of warning, feeling the pain in her knee.

Looking out the back window
at my little girl, walking through the yard
head down, carefully watching, eyes close to a frown
she won't trip over anything now
she won't hurt herself that way
and I was right in what I said
right to keep her out of harm's way
right to teach her how to watch out for herself

but sometimes, looking out my back window
at my little girl in the yard
I miss the way she would skip carefree
I miss the smile, the laughter,
the joy

Friday, January 03, 2014

Hauntingly Beautiful Debut

I may be a bit biased here, with a weakness for deeply introspective melancholy music, especially when fronted by a beautiful female vocalist (think: Over the Rhine, Hem, Sarah Mclachlan, etc), but this is easily my favourite album of the year.  

Snowgirl explores themes of loss and longing, love and life, and the emotional struggles these experiences entail. But unlike many new artists who too often take these themes and create melodramatic or deep-sounding yet meaningless lyrics around them (the kind that might be written on a high-schooler’s notebook), Tony Ganci and Sherry Sidick have written songs that have a depth and subtlety not often found on a debut album. In fact, there is a surface simplicity here that can deceive you, as levels of depth and insight keep unfolding throughout the album, resonating with an inexpressible place deep within the listener. They don’t sound contrived or forced - for lack of a better phrase, these songs just sound “true”. Rather than trying to draw attention to themselves, these artists have woven a silence throughout this project that gives the listener space to discover themselves reflected in the light and spirit of these songs.

Occasionally I come across a song that makes me pull the car over so I can just let myself get lost in the music and lyrics I am hearing - Patty Griffin’s “Kite Song”, Over the Rhine’s “Latter Days”, Mindy Smith’s “One Moment More”…these are a few of the songs that have done that for me - and about half the songs on this CD have that same effect on me. I’ll try to highlight just a few…

The first track, “Something I Don’t See” is straight-forward folk song dealing with the questions and doubts that arise in oneself after a separation… a great song that does nothing to prepare you for the emotional depth and impact of the next track… “Once A Friend” (easily my favorite track here) seems to always catch me off guard, like being handed a lit stick of dynamite to hold onto for a couple minutes, about halfway into it the song makes a complete mess out of me. One of the most beautifully haunting songs about the loss of a dearly loved friend that I’ve ever heard. It was the perfect song when I reconnected with one of my dearest friends after nearly 20 years apart, and learning the true story behind the song makes it so much more heartbreakingly poignant. Knocks me flat every time.

 Tony takes a turn on vocals next (as they trade off lead vocals throughout this album) on the wonderful track “Deep in My Dream”, a song that really captures the feeling of unexpressed love held at a distance for another. Listening to this song I know exactly what he means, as I’ve experienced this same feeling many times before. Later he sings another great song that I think of as the darker companion to this song, in “Leave it Alone”, distance from the other side of the picture, a reflection (in part) back on a time that’s past, from a place of seeming emotional exhaustion.

 If there’s a glitch on this CD at all, for me it is the song “The Valley”, which is a fine song on its own, but lyrically it doesn’t really fit in with the other songs on this CD very well. Everything else here is deeply moving and reflective, and to be honest, I have no idea what this song is talking about. Something Tolkien-ish it seems…

“Tell Us Who We Are” is another highlight for me, a deeply insightful song that turns our judgments and perceptions of others around on us and questions the validity of our dismissive assumptions. So many lost and invisible people in the world that we pass by every day, not realizing how many treasures we’ve tossed aside, not recognizing the infinite value that each person holds within themselves. A song that calls to mind the quote “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.

In another of my favorites here, “At My Door”, Sherry sings “Sunday morning should be like any other day. Same old feeling that just won’t seem to go away. I don’t want it, I don’t need it anymore…Can you tell me if someone’s really keeping score?” a song that sounds to me like the emotional struggle one goes through while losing one’s faith. Or maybe it’s just the dread of going to work the next morning…

The album closes with the title song, “Snowgirl”, also one of it’s best, which paints a vividly poetic picture of homesick longing and hope. When this last song ends all too soon, I want it to keep playing for at least another minute or two, but the best I can do is go back to the beginning and listen again…and again…and again.

 Reflective, acoustic homegrown music, penetrating lyrics, and Sherry’s beautiful voice combine with Tony’s skillfully fluid guitar to make this project something special, and the perfect backdrop for those deep, dark, northern winter nights.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Silent Goodnight

An old poem, pretty rough in spots, that's been rattling around in the "drafts" wasteland here for quite a while.  Thinking, in part, about my sister Lisa, whose absence from our lives affects us in ways we can never know or understand, as well as my grandma, who has been gone from us for over 7 years now. What Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit is someone else I may have been thinking about while writing this a few years ago, weaving her way in and out of a few of these lines...

I spoke with a child about my first fright
She said in a whisper, “God be with you, goodnight”
I asked why the quiet in tormented times?
He said hush now, dear child,
but don’t close your eyes.
The wind all around you
It’s calling your name
I shrink from the knowledge of Love’s scorching flame
It burns and it melts as it torches your soul
The unseen around you, the earth and the stone.

You one day will learn what heaven awaits
Is it hell or cool water,
or both just the same?
I wish you could tell me
from your bed down below.
Please whisper to me, if you can,
What do I do? And how can I know?
Have I done all I could?
Or is it His only to know?
Will They one day save me
from the fires below?
Are his arms burning embers?
Or would you not know?

I spoke with an elder
Who begged me to leave
She roared with the thunder
“Who showers these trees?
Were you there when creation burst forth from a Word?
And who gave you the power to speak it so plain?”
Bewildered I heard,
Fear and Love, just the same?
A child would know
But I must beware
I speak it too freely
As if no one is there…

She walks through the garden in the cool of the day
She looks in my eyes, she whispers my name.
At night is a silence, no louder by day.
Who Are You? I ask
Until nothing remains
I seek out the light until blinded and numb
I turn now, my back, away from the Sun
Now I can see, all around clear and plain
But I’m walking away
From the Silence I leave
Louder, my terror
Do I still believe?
Not as that child
who knows what I need
Soon, as that woman, in deepest dirt, covered leaves
She knows all there is
Or nothing at all
I fear (God be with you)
I fear where you are

Candlelight flickers
The ashes below
The water I drink
This tremble I hold
The peace that eludes me
dead spirit, let go
I’ll be caught, or I’ll tumble
To darkness below

Grace, Love, and Mercy
A light for my path
Cold comfort for you
who burn in Love’s wrath.
Christ killed long ago
Don’t ask, they don’t tell
Love starts to feel like a searching death knell

The tears that I cry fall on deaf earth and stone
She’s not coming back, and I cannot go
I wish I could hear you
Are you hear with me?
He speaks not a whisper
Can’t touch, sense, or see
All around me there is…just everything
And this should not be.
With a quiet sullen terror, peace and serenity
I wait for the darkness to shatter the light
I wait for an answer, direction, or sight
I wait just for nothing
You whisper, Goodnight…

Friday, March 18, 2011

Signs you are probably an Elitist Music Snob

The fact that music is sold in Walmart or Starbucks makes you angry. You've also gotten angry at “corporate” radio, pop stars, and the thought that people you've never met could ever listen to that stuff.

You think Vinyl sounds better. You will argue this point at length with anyone, especially those who don’t give a shit.

You’ve used the phrase “Spoon-fed” or “The Masses”.

You know not to wear the t-shirt to the concert.

When someone says “Godspeed You Black Emperor”, you know exactly what they're talking about.

Your favourite holiday falls on the 3rd Saturday in April.

You have reorganized your record collection autobiographically, and/or reorganizing your collection is an all-night (maybe even an all-week) project instead of something that takes less than an hour. People who prefer to organize their music alphabetically disgust you.

You are proud that you don’t have certain kinds of music in your collection (you know, the kind of music that somehow gets spoon-fed to the masses).

"Sold-out" is an undesirable phase in a musician's career ("Those guys used to be good before they sold-out"). To everyone else this simply means they got popular.

You like to wear a t-shirt that advertises an indie record label. This is a whole new level of superiority over the other t-shirts you have by bands that no one else has heard of.

You throw rocks at young boys walking home from school because that's the closest you can come to throwing rocks at Justin Bieber.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Importance of Silence in a Good Conversation

Last year, during a radio interview, I was talking with David Dark about the first time he and I met, nearly 15 years ago, at a Bible study discussion group he was hosting down in Nashville, with about 20-25 people in attendance. As I mentioned in the interview, one of the striking features of this group was their comfortableness with silence during the discussion – what many people would consider undesirable “lulls” in the conversation. Silence was not something to be avoided or filled as much as possible in this group, it was rather time for people to think about what had just been said, and to think about what (if anything) they wanted to share. Only when someone actually had something to say did they say anything at all. This was very different from discussion groups I had participated in previously, where silence was something to be avoided on pain of embarrassing discomfort. Silence was Pressure, and as such, its avoidance usually trumped reflection and thoughtful response. I believe what I experienced in David’s discussion group for the first time (at least conversationally) was what I would later come to understand as the idea of a Free Space (more on this another time…).

The idea of silence as an important part of a good discussion may seem counterintuitive to many, but I have come to believe it is an essential element in any meaningful conversation, especially when the offering of a free space to others is a foundational concern. Not only does it give one time to reflect on what the other person has just said (allowing one to truly listen to the other rather than using the time the other person is talking to think of what they themselves want to say next), but it gives the person who has just spoken time to reflect on what they themselves have just said.

In C.S. Lewis’ book “Till We Have Faces”, there is a passage at the end where a complaint is voiced to the gods, ignorantly and redundantly. The gods do not offer a response. Instead, they offer silence, and in that silence the complaint is heard by the speaker herself, as though for the first time, heard for what it really is, and that realization of what she has just ignorantly dared to utter is her answer. Her eyes are opened and her mind is changed when nothing else has been changed and only silence has been offered to her. This response of no response is something we could learn a lot from in our personal interactions.

One of our most basic personal needs is to love others and to be loved in return. An essential part of this is the need to have something to offer, and for that to be accepted. One of the ways we can see this expressed is in the desire to be a part of the conversation, to have something to say, to be heard and appreciated, without being judged. Sometimes this desire to be a part of other people’s lives in this way takes priority over whether a person actually has something of their own to say or not, or whether they’ve thought through what they have to say. Often, people are in the process of finding their own voice (and all of us are in the process of refining our own voice). But to find one’s voice, one has to try on a variety of voices (opinions, ideas) to see what “fits”. And in one sense, *what* is said isn’t nearly as important as the fact that it is being offered as a way to participate in this life with others, one person reaching out to another person. Sometimes it is this much deeper intention that is important, and too often this deeper desire to connect with others is disregarded and damaged simply because of what was actually said, what words were used, which may have been of secondary or minor importance.

Too many of us (myself included) are “right-fighters”. When we hear someone say something we disagree with, we immediately feel the need to “correct” them. This puts the conversation in an “attack and defend” paradigm. And of course the first instinct one has when being attacked is to defend oneself. One of the major problems with this is that, as I’ve said, people often say things that they haven’t really thought through or internalized. Sometimes people are just “trying ideas on for size”. When we respond with an immediate attack on what they just said, putting them on the defensive, we often cause others to defend a position that was never really theirs in the first place. When a person’s “voice of the moment” is attacked instead of received for what it is, they have to defend that position in order to save face. “You don’t really believe that nonsense, do you?” If they say “oh, no I didn’t really mean that”, it can seem like something akin to giving in to bullying, or a protective way to hide their true selves and try to gain a false, conditional “acceptance” for something they are not. And so, the only other alternative is often to say “yes” and defend a position they might not have even held onto otherwise.

Silence, however, offers a way out of both of these undesirable alternatives. It offers a free space for a person to try out an idea and to hear it for themselves, and if they choose to, they can retract it, change their minds, without the feeling that they are giving-in to pressure or back peddling. And sometimes this might not happen for quite some time. But it will never happen in an “attack/defend” scenario where the only way a person can change their opinion is to be considered the defeated loser of the argument.

Besides, as I will talk more about in another entry, all we have in regards to truth are our own personal stories to offer. None of us have a monopoly on what’s “right”, and when we understand that people, at their core, desire relationship far more than “correctness”, we might start paying more attention to intention and relation, and start asking more questions about who this other person is, what kind of life led them to the place we now meet them, and why they really said what they did. And (horror of horrors) we might actually find our own opinions, rather than theirs, being changed in the process…

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Conversational Dodgeball

When it comes to conversations these days, especially about politics or religion, I think there are basically two different mindsets or approaches people engage in: One is somewhat similar to working on a jigsaw puzzle, where each person takes a turn trying to fit their pieces into place – looking at the big picture the way they see it, guessing at where in that picture the pieces they’re holding might go, basing their decisions on what their piece looks like to them in relation to the whole. But each person is working toward a common goal, each person wants the other’s pieces to fit in the right spot just as much as they do. And when it’s done right, each side is equally satisfied with the end result, with how it turned out.

The other approach is more akin to playing a game of dodgeball. There are clear sides to be taken, each with the objective that their side wins and the other side loses. And the harder you throw from your side at the other person, the more chance you have of emerging victorious in the battle. And you can’t let anything in from the other side because they only mean to knock you down. Anything they throw at you is an attack intended to make you lose. You can throw at them, but don’t let what they're throwing get at you.

One of the difficulties with this is that these approaches (or paradigms) are all in perception. Each person doesn’t know what conversational “game” the other is playing at – Dodgeball or the Jigsaw Puzzle. And if you don’t know what game the other is engaged in, you could walk out onto the gym floor with a puzzle piece and get seriously hurt.

And here’s another thing about these conversations – it doesn’t matter what game you or the other person say you are playing. Sometimes people think they’ve got a big round red puzzle piece and if they throw it hard enough they can force it to “fit” into the picture the way they think it should: “Here’s what I think…WHAP!”

I tend to be a jigsaw puzzle person myself (though I have indulged in some conversational dodgeball from time to time). I enjoy working with others in figuring out how the puzzle pieces fit together, and though we will often go back and forth debating what each piece is and how it fits the big picture, the conversations I enjoy involve working toward the same goal – a better understanding of the other’s position, and a desire to get to a picture of truth as best as we can. I generally hate sports, especially dodgeball. And I’ve gotten fairly good at recognizing when others are suiting up for a game of dodgeball – the stance they take, the defensive or offensive posture, the way they hold and present their argument – and I try to stay out of the game and go find people interested in working to make some sense out of the puzzle pieces.

I often see people, however, who keep walking out onto the gym floor with a puzzle piece, to where they think the puzzle is, only to get blindsided by a red ball smacking them in the face. Sometimes they instinctively react by saying “wtf are you doing?” and pick up the red ball to throw a fast-pitch at the other person, getting momentarily caught up in the angry adrenaline of the game, and sometimes they just catch the ball and walk off the court, pissing the other side off to no end. And because this is all a matter of perception, when they first walk out with their puzzle piece, intent on solving the puzzle with the other, the other side sees them walking out onto the court and think they’re holding a dodgeball. When they show them the puzzle piece and either tell them where they think it fits or asks them where they think it should fit, the viewpoint of the dodgeball player only sees a mean dodgeball being thrown at them, and their adrenaline rises. Often, as the other side is throwing dodgeballs, they’re missing, and so the puzzle person often doesn’t recognize them as dodgeballs being thrown until they get hit with one in shocked disbelief. I think those jigsaw puzzle people need to work on recognizing the difference between a puzzle-board and a gym floor, and the difference between people wanting to work on a puzzle together and people suiting up to hurl conversational dodgeballs at one another. In other words, stop a moment, take their eyes off the puzzle piece they’re holding and look at the others, see what kind of conversational “players” they are and make sure they’re headed to a puzzle-board and not a battle zone. And it helps a great deal to realize that some people are only interested in playing conversational dodgeball. Some people just find jigsaw puzzles boring and an unnecessarily complicated waste of time and aren’t interested in that kind of back-and-forth at all.

The bible puts this in another analogy: don’t throw your pearls before swine, otherwise they will trample that which you hold of value and then turn to trample you.

So the question is: what do you do when you’re trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together and someone starts throwing conversational dodgeballs at you?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Top 200 CCM Rock Albums of All-Time

HM magazine recently put up their list of the top 100 CCM rock records of all-time, and quite frankly, I thought it was horrible. And so, in response to that (even though I almost never listen to CCM anymore), I started my own list, in the spirit of the wonderful Rolling Stone Magazine Top-500 Albums of All-Time list put out quite a few years ago. This is currently a rough draft, is VERY subjective, and probably has a lot of holes in it, as well as a few artists that were over-represented. For those of you interested in this sort of thing, let me know what you think, what I left off, all that good stuff. I tried to keep this in the CCM pop/rock/metal arena, and with a very few exceptions, stayed away from the "Christians in the mainstream" artists. The exceptions here (Kansas, U2, King's X, etc.) are artists and/or albums that were exceptionally popular among the CCM rock listening audience at the time. there are also a very few albums that I personally don't care for, but a slice of objectivity made it into my decision and I tried to recognize a few albums that are generally considered classics among fans (ex - Prayer Chain). but I still refuse to put Audio Adrenaline on here! You'll also have no problem recognizing which decade(s) I grew up in and/or thought had the best music. This isn't really in strict order, though the top 50 are probably in the ballpark, and the top 10 are pretty solid for me personally. it gets less prioritized the farther down it goes, till the last 100 are just a sloppy mess of titles that I think should be in there somewhere. and so... my nomination for the Top 200 CCM Pop/Rock/Metal Albums of All-Time:

1. Kansas – Drastic Measures
2. Sweet Comfort Band – Perfect Timing
3. The Daniel Band – Straight Ahead
4. Undercover – Balance of Power
5. Sixpence None the Richer – This Beautiful Mess
6. Petra – Not of This World
7. Amy Grant – Lead Me On
8. Rez – Between Heaven N Hell
9. Margaret Becker – Immigrant’s Daughter
10. Undercover – Branded
11. LifeSavers Underground – Shaded Pain
12. Resurrection Band – Colours
13. Stryper – Soldiers Under Command
14. The Violet Burning – Chosen
15. Altar Boys – Gut Level Music
16. Michael W. Smith – Eye 2 I
17. Jerusalem – Live In His Majesty’s Service
18. Larry Norman –Only Visiting This Planet
19. Daniel Amos – Doppelganger
20. Idle Cure – Tough Love
21. Jennifer Knapp – The Way I Am
22. Sarah Masen – The Dreamlife of Angels
23. Mylon & Broken Heart – Face the Music
24. Amy Grant – Straight Ahead
25. Whiteheart – Freedom
26. Stryper – To Hell With The Devil
27. King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
28. Adam Again – Dig
29. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
30. The 77’s – Pray Naked
31. Bride – Snakes in the Playground
32. Daniel Amos – Horrendous Disc
33. Michael W. Smith – The Big Picture
34. Amy Grant – Age to Age
35. Degarmo & Key – D&K
36. Whitecross – (1987)
37. Shout – In Your Face
38. Barren Cross – Rock for the King
39. Kim Hill – Brave Heart
40. Out of the Grey – (debut)
41. Charlie Peacock – The Secret of Time
42. Mad at the World – Flowers in the Rain
43. Sacred Warrior – Rebellion
44. The Choir – Chase the Kangaroo
45. Bloodgood – Rock in a Hard Place
46. Mylon & Broken Heart – Sheep in Wolve’s Clothing
47. Daniel Amos – Alarma!
48. The 77’s – All Fall Down
49. Undercover – God Rules
50. Stryper – The Yellow and Black Attack
51. Holy Soldier – Holy Soldier
52. Resurrection Band – Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore
53. Guardian – Fire and Love
54. Mastedon – It’s a Jungle Out There
55. Adam Again – Ten Songs
56. The Daniel Band – Run from the Darkness
57. Steven Curtis Chapman – More to this Life
58. Petra – Beat the System
59. Mad at the World – Seasons of Love
60. Saviour Machine – 1
61. Altar Boys – Against the Grain
62. Steve Taylor – Meltdown
63. Mortal – Lusis
64. Darrell Mansfield – Revelation
65. Bloodgood – All Stand Together
66. Margaret Becker – The Reckoning
67. The Choir – Circle Slide
68. One Bad Pig – Smash
69. Mad at the World – Boomerang
70. Resurrection Band – D.M.Z.
71. Mike Stand – Do I Stand Alone?
72. Bryan Duncan – Holy Rollin’
73. Whitecross – Hammer and Nail
74. Messiah Prophet – Master of the Metal
75. Rez – Silence Screams
76. Barren Cross – Atomic Arena
77. Greg X. Volz – The River is Rising
78. Matthew Ward – Toward Eternety
79. Larry Norman – In Another Land
80. Amy Grant – Unguarded
81. The 77’s – The Seventy Sevens (Exit)
82. Russ Taff – Russ Taff
83. Vector – Mannequin Virtue
84. Barnabas – Little Foxes
85. Rez – Innocent Blood
86. Dead Artist Syndrome – Prints of Darkness
87. Stryper – Against the Law
88. Kerry Livgren / A.D. – Timeline
89. Randy Stonehill – Equator
90. Daniel Amos – Mr. Buechner’s Dream
91. Vengeance Rising – Human Sacrifice
92. Steve Taylor – I Predict 1990
93. Mylon & Broken Heart – Crack the Sky
94. Geoff Moore & The Distance – A Place to Stand
95. Petra – More Power to Ya
96. Holy Soldier – Last Train
97. Whiteheart – Tales of Wonder
98. Margaret Becker – Simple House
99. Terry Taylor – Knowledge and Innocence
100. Rich Mullins – A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band
101. Out of the Grey – The Shape of Grace
102. Charlie Peacock – Love Life
103. Keith Green – For Him Who Has Ears to Hear
104. Mortal – Wake
105. The 77’s – Sticks and Stones
106. Prodigal – Electric Eye
107. Barren Cross – State of Control
108. The Crucified – The Crucified
109. Resurrection Band – Awaiting Your Reply
110. Pray for Rain – PFR
111. Kim Hill
112. In 3-D – No Glasses Needed
113. Liason – Liason
114. Jacob’s Trouble – Knock, Breathe, Shine
115. The Prayer Chain – Shawl
116. 4.4.1. – Mourning into Dancing
117. Servant – Light Maneuvers
118. Rez Band – Bootleg Live
119. Circle of Dust – Circle of Dust
120. Barnabas – Approaching Light Speed
121. L.S.U. – Wakin’ Up The Dead
122. Altar Boys – When You’re a Rebel
123. Daniel Amos – Vox Humana
124. Tourniquet – Stop the Bleeding
125. Bloodgood – Detonation
126. Hoi Polloi – Happy Ever After
127. Deliverance
128. Edin Adahl – X-Factor
129. Imperials – This Year’s Model
130. Saint – Too Late for Living
131. Bride – Silence is Madness
132. The Choir – Wide Eyed Wonder
133. Russ Taff – Medals
134. Jerusalem – Warrior
135. Sacred Warrior – Wicked Generation
136. Barnabas – Feel the Fire
137. The Front – The Front
138. Newsboys – Hell is for Wimps
139. Steven Curtis Chapman – Real Life Conversations
140. David Zaffiro – The Other Side
141. Mad at the World – Mad at the World
142. Leslie "Sam" Phillips - The Turning
143. One Bad Pig – Swine Flew
144. Michael W. Smith – Project
145. Idle Cure – 2nd Avenue
146. Fireworks - Live Fireworks!
147. Lifesavers – Kiss of Life
148. Sacred Warrior – Master’s Command
149. Ken Tamplin – An Axe to Grind
150. Believer – Extraction from Mortality
151. L.S.U. – The Grape Prophet
152. Daniel Amos – Motorcycle
153. Mad at the World – Through the Forest
154. Crumbacher – Thunder Beach
155. The Lead – Burn this Record
156. Deliverance – Weapons of Our Warfare
157. Jerusalem – Prophet
158. Mortal – Fathom
159. The Violet Burning – (1996)
160. X-Sinner – Get It
161. Angelica
162. Scattered Few – Sin Disease
163. Michael Knott – Screaming Brittle Siren
164. The Choir – Kissers and Killers
165. Kansas – Vinyl Confessions
166. Sweet Comfort Band – Hearts of Fire
167. Iona - Beyond These Shores
168. Randy Stonehill – Welcome to Paradise
169. Larry Norman – Stranded in Babylon
170. Whitecross – Triumphant Return
171. Margaret Becker - Falling Forward
172. Idle Cure – Idle Cure
173. Sacred Warrior – Wicked Generation
174. Undercover – Boys and Girls Renounce the World
175. Mike Stand – Simple Expression
176. Pray for Rain – Goldie’s Last Day
177. Uthanda – Groove
178. Rage of Angels – Rage of Angels
179. L.S.U. – Cash in Chaos: World Tour
180. Brow Beat: Unplugged Alternative (various)
181. Deliverance – Stay of Execution
182. Tourniquet – Vanishing Lessons
183. Steve Taylor – On the Fritz
184. Ojo – Relative
185. Terry Taylor – A Briefing for the Ascent
186. A.D. – Art of the State
187. Steve Camp – One on One
188. Margaret Becker – Never for Nothing
189. Starflyer 59 – (silver)
190. Bride – Kinetic Faith
191. Michael Gleason – Children of Choices
192. D.A. – Darn Floor, Big Bite
193. The Choir – Diamonds and Rain
194. Rick Cua – Wear Your Colours
195. Whiteheart – Emergency Broadcast
196. Petra – Beyond Belief
197. Kansas – Leftoverture
198. The 77’s – More Miserable Than You’ll Ever Be
199. Mylon & Broken Heart – Big World
200. Phil Keaggy – Sunday’s Child

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Conversation with David Dark

Here's a link to a compressed audio download of a 2-hour discussion/radio interview Bill Keith and I had with David Dark back at the end of May. Thanks to my friend Andrew for putting in a little elbow grease to make this available online.

Monday, May 31, 2010

My Testimony: How I went into debt and started smoking due to the influence of Over the Rhine...

This is an appreciation piece I wrote a few years ago for my all-time favourite band, published privately in a book by and for fans called "etcetera whatever: Photos, poems and prose inspired by Over the Rhine"

It was back in the Summer of '93, on an old pigfarm in western Illinois littered with thousands of tents, the air polluted with dust, heat, noise, and exhaustion, when I first encountered that voice that stopped me dead in my tracks. Something was happening under one of the concert tents that never happens at Cornerstone - the crowd was completely silent, listening to this beautiful, quiet voice singing its way into each person's soul. Amidst all the confusion that is a typical Cornerstone, you could hear a pin drop. I don't remember what the song was, but the band wasn't playing, it was just her voice. It was impossible for me to just walk by. I stopped and listened, and my spirit was held captive by an artistic beauty I had never known before. And my life, from that moment on, was changed...

Before encountering the music of Over the Rhine, I really didn't have much in the way of discerning artistic taste. I was mostly a pop and metal kind of guy, with a newfound love of alternative that would eventually take over. I was into CCM / Christian rock, having basically grown up on the stuff, yet growing tired of the shallow confines of that genre. I remember feeling like there must be more to a life of faith than what the Christian subculture was offering. I read authors like John Fischer and Brennan Manning who were crystallizing and clarifying my understanding of the dissatisfaction and misgivings I was having about that little "christian" world around me. Into this moment in my life of wanting more depth and artistic integrity came the music of two groups who were offering, each in their own way, what I was starved for: Over the Rhine and Vigilantes of Love (two groups that, for many of us, were like 2 sides of the same coin). They opened my eyes to a whole other world of artistic expression of faith that existed not inside the confining walls of the CCM "ghetto", but instead was active in the everyday world. I started noticing a life of faith in a multitude of artists whom I would have previously written off as "secular" simply because they weren't advertising themselves as "Christian" product. Over the Rhine helped draw me away from that place of spiritual condescension by exemplifying how true beauty and artistic integrity could embody a life of faith without needing to compromise either, nor needing to advertise itself as such. Simone Weil says "If I had to choose between loving Christ and loving the truth, I would have to choose to love the truth, convinced that if I am truly seeking the truth, I will eventually fall into the arms of Christ." In the religious circles I knew, it was sometimes true that, in seeking "Christ", people often ended up with an idol of their own making. Over the Rhine isn't exactly an overtly religious group. In fact, many of their avid fans have no interest in religion whatsoever. Over the Rhine express their faith not in ostensibly evangelistic ways, but rather through the continual pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. In doing so, I believe they have done more to deepen my faith in more meaningfully real ways than anything I was previously encountering in the so-called "Contemporary Christian Music" scene.

A few years later, at Cornerstone once again, I was feeling rather lost and discouraged with where my life had taken me (or where I had not taken my life as the case may be). Over the Rhine was the first group to play that year, at the Gallery "pre-festival" show. They were just the right way to start things off for me, and as a surprise, they had just released a new CD! I took that CD back to my tent, put the headphones on, and the first lines of Good Dog Bad Dog cut straight into my heart, resonating immediately with my emotional state at the time. "What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be." The lyrics and music on that CD were exactly what I needed to hear right then, and it reached me perfectly in a way that few CDs ever have. I will never forget that moment. It instantly became my favourite CD, and they secured their place as my favourite group ever. I soon started digging deeper into who this band was and what they were all about.

In an old newsletter from Over the Rhine, Linford writes about sitting in the back of Kaldi's coffeehouse & bookstore, picturing the Inklings meeting in a place like this, C.S. Lewis smoking his pipe and writing (as Linford was now)...
In the spring of 2001, I was also sitting in the back of Kaldi's in downtown Cincinnati, used books lining the walls around me, thinking not of the Inklings, but wondering rather if this was the spot Linford sat at as he wrote that newsletter. I was smoking, not a pipe, but a clove - whose sweet aroma I first (and for many years only) smelled at Over the Rhine concerts, and have since always associated with their music. This was partly due both to their playing in college-towns and to the guy selling their merchandise back then. Todd used to smoke cloves at their gypsy-ish table while selling things like cigar boxes filled with CDs, trading cards, and t-shirts with pictures of clocks and hermits on them.

There has always been something extremely literary about the way Over the Rhine presented themselves, from the fondness for antique photographs, to their poetic lyrics inspired by authors like Rilke, Flannery O'Conner, Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, etc... This literary aspect was one of the key elements of the group that pushed me past being a mere fan to outright obsession (or "commitment", as they would call it). When you are touched so deeply in your soul by art such as this, you want to know where the artists draw their inspiration from - what feeds their spirits and fills those deep wells from which we, the listeners, draw so much life. In those early days especially, the answer you would usually get to that question was (more often than not) the name of a book or author. And soon a bookish cult developed among some of us fans. We would look for literary references in their music, during interviews, while reading those old newsletters, or just while talking with them after shows, making a list for our next trip to the bookstore. They even had weekly recommendations on the website for a while, which brought me back there religiously. I admit to going into a bit of debt filling my bookshelves with their recommendations! But, as the saying goes, I may be broke from buying too many books, but am far richer because of it...

I was in Cincinnati that time because I was on my way south to visit the monastery where Thomas Merton had lived. When Over the Rhine were in my town earlier that year, their current merch guy (and pastor), Dave Nixon, invited me to stay at his house when I was in town. Now this guy didn't know me from Jack the Ripper, and yet these are the kinds of people you find in attendance at Over the Rhine gatherings, welcoming the stranger and all that... Dave showed me around town a bit, driving with me to see the group at a concert hall near the infamous "Sudsy Malones" where they played some of their first shows. Dave also showed me where "The Grey Ghost" was - the beautiful house Karin and Linford were living in at the time. The thought crossed my mind that Linford's book collection was right in there, and how cool would it be to actually look firsthand at the library that inspired so much of mine?!

Over the years I have seen the group over 40 times in concert, collected all their CDs, and never have I been disappointed by their music; never has it failed to move me or to restore my spirit and remind me of where I want to be, what kind of person I hope to become. They've given me far more that just a row of CDs for my collection. Among other things, they've shown how genuine faith can be expressed in the world - artfully, with truth and integrity - and I can't imagine what my life today would be like without their influence, much less how empty my bookshelves would be...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

true friendship (a quote by David Dark)

This may be my favourite quote by David... at least at this moment it certainly hits home and "names" it pretty accurately. Rejection is almost universally one of our greatest fears, one of our greatest hurts, and one of our greatest sins.
(I'm modifying this slightly into the present tense)

"No so-called friendship that requires the denying of another friendship can be worthy of the name, and any joy that requires the exclusion of a peer will be forever illegitimate."
-David Dark (Everyday Apocalyptic)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Quote by: Alan Watts

The message of the preacher, 52 Sundays a year, is “Dear people: be good”. We’ve heard it ad nauseum. Or: “Believe in this…” he may occasionally give a sermon on what happens after death, or the nature of God, but basically the sermon is “be good”. But how? As St. Paul said, “To will is present with me, but how to do that which is good I find not for the good that I would, that I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do”. How are we going to be changed? Obviously there cannot be a vitality of religion without vital religious experience, and that’s something much more than emoting over singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. But you see, what happens in our ecclesiastical goings-on is that we run a talking-shop. We pray, we tell God what to do, or give advice (as if he didn’t know). We read the scriptures – and remember, talking of the bible, Jesus said, “you search the scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life”. St. Paul made some rather funny references about the spirit which giveth life, and the letter which kills. I think the bible ought to be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter. We need it no more because the Spirit is with us. It’s a dangerous book, and to worship it is, of course, a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone, because nobody in his senses can confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarified and abstract... So with this endless talking in church, we can preach, but by and large preaching does nothing but excite a sense of anxiety and guilt. And you can’t love out of that. No scolding, no rational demonstration of the right way to behave is going to inspire people with love. Something else must happen. You say “well what are we going to do about it?” DO about it?? You have no faith? Be quiet! Even Quakers aren’t quiet; they sit in meeting and think (at least some of them do). But supposing we are really quiet, we don’t think. Be absolutely silent through and through… You say, “Well, you’ll just fall into a blank!” Oh? Ever tried?
-Alan Watts

Monday, December 07, 2009

"If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life."
- Thich Naht Hanh

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Only This Moment

I only just saw this for the first time yesterday, but after watching it a few dozen times I'm going to go ahead and call this one of my favourite videos of all-time.

Only This Moment from Röyksopp on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

random notes from the underground, october '09

despite what I wrote at the end of my last post, I'm just going to indulge in some completely pointless self-centered writing here...

So we're here in the middle of my favourite month of the year, and so far it's been a very cold and rainy one (we've had highs in the 40's most of this week). I spent these last couple days off here in the middle of October just wandering around to all my favourite haunts, past and present...

started Friday with a trip to an old pool hall I used to go to all the time in high school, where I got some pizza and watched a new generation of degenerates shoot some 8-ball in this smoke stained, run down rat hole. last time I was here shooting pool was probably around 20 years ago, listening to Whitesnake or something like that...

then I stopped in at Borders just to browse, and sometimes when you do this, you just get lucky... there in the bargain racks was Annie Dillard's latest novel, The Maytrees, hardcover originally priced at $25, slashed to $3. not the best cover-art I've seen on a book, but for 3 bucks who cares... and then I get to the cashier and she tells me that price is wrong. it's not 3 bucks after all. I'm prepared to argue the matter, give her hell if need be, false advertising / sticker price and all, when she tells me it's not $'s $1. I paid a buck for a new copy of a book by one of my top 5 favourite authors that I almost paid over 20 bucks for when it first came out. pretty happy with that, though I'll probably never get around to reading it...

Caribou coffeehouse had a raspberry mocha with my name on it, and a seat where I started a book with Frederick Buechner's name on it: The Book of Bebb - 4 novels collected into one thick paperback that I've been meaning to read since I bought it about 15 years ago. I'm now in the middle of about 7 books, and thinking of starting in on a couple more. something about October and the fall air that makes me want to dig into some good books...

What am I reading, you ask? well, even if you didn't, here it is:
Tao Teh Ching (John C.H. Wu translation)
Book of Bebb (Frederick Buechner)
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (David Dark)
Zen and the Birds of Appetite (Thomas Merton)
Duma Key (Stephen King)
Henry and June (Anais Nin) (haven't picked this up again since summertime)
No Man is an Island (Thomas Merton) (been "reading" this for a couple years now)

onto this stack I'm thinking of adding Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (no, I haven't read all of these yet, and I've somehow managed to avoid most news of how it all ends, even to this day), and Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil (haven't read that one yet either. and yes, I just heard an astonished cry of disbelief come from a certain close friend of mine all the way out in Utah!)

My reading level has been shit these past couple years. I usually get through around 20-25 books a year, and I don't think I've even finished half that many these past 2 years combined. 2008 sucked worse than any year has for me in decades, and 2009 is slowly trying to get things back on track despite my resistance.

I've always considered the cultivation of one's inner-life to be of primary importance, and reading has always been an essential part of this. But I discovered last year that this has always been, for me, a by-product of my ease-of-life. I'm able to take the time to cultivate my inner-life as long as I'm not worried about my outer-life. But when I am suddenly worried about where my next paycheck is going to come from and how I'm supposed to pay off my bills and my debts, when I'm trying not to take too many sleeping pills with my whiskey, so-to-speak, the "luxury" of cultivating an inner-life flies right out the window. It's hard to finish the chapter you're on when the boat you're sitting in is sinking. like, maybe you need to put the book down and find yourself a life-jacket at the very least, like maybe the best use of your time at this particular moment isn't the reading of some more books...

...and this little experience has shown me something ("I've learned something today", as Stan would say at the end of South Park). There is a very insidious temptation for the cultivation of one's inner life to become an escape from, rather than a fuller engagement with, one's "real" or "outer" life. the phrase "so heavenly minded you're no earthly good" comes to mind. and it's hard to tell the difference, because the one can feel an awful lot like the other when you're doing it. But I think the true cultivation of one's inner life prepares a person better for the storms of life, perhaps becomes an even more important practice in the face of them. For some people, the hardships and worries of life actually fuel the pursuit of the inner life. but if it's something you have to put on hold till the storms pass, my guess is it was probably just another form of escape, a game, an illusion. Was it real at one time? I think so, but who's to say... What I do know is that I no longer judge people who don't take the time to read anymore, when most people (especially in today's economy) are worried about losing their jobs and how they're going to support their families. The cares of this life can choke the life out of your days...

While we're on the subject of narcissism, I watched a great movie this past week by one of my favourite film writers/directors (Charlie Kaufman), called "Synecdoche, New York". I can't do any better describing it than Cary did last year, so I'll just say, if you find yourself thinking about death more than twice a week, you really need to see this film! it's maybe depressing as hell, but I laughed a good deal through most of it, partly at Kaufman's humor, and partly because I related to more of it than I care to admit...

Today I went to the library and picked up a couple CDs, then went to the cider mill for some cinnamon donuts, cider, and a walk along the creek. it was too cold for any kind of real enjoyment, but I did my best to soak in the autumn sights and smells anyway (if you haven't smelled donuts frying alongside cider being pressed and poured in a building that is surrounded by falling leaves, you don't know what autumn smells like).

After this, I would've gotten a haircut, but they apparently close early on Saturdays, so I went to the mall like a girl and bought some shoes instead. almost bought a Depeche Mode Tshirt too, but I don't need any more concert tshirts just yet. maybe next week...

a short walk around an old neighborhood I used to love, then home for some late dinner and coffee. and here I am, at 4 in the morning, writing this dribble, as they say, "just to fuckin' write". I should just delete this whole thing right now and not subject you to any of this. but I think my narcissistic exhibitionistic side is going to win out today. If you're reading this right now, it has... and I'm sorry...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Written Life (or, "What The Hell Am I Supposed To Do With This Blog?!")

"The unexamined life is not worth living" - Socrates

"Your freedom is a by-product of your day's triviality...
What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing...
Write as if you were dying... What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?" - Annie Dillard (The Writing Life)

"No good for an old memory to mean so much today" - Night Ranger

At midnight last night, I stepped out into the windy autumn streets of my neighbourhood, lit with a nearly full moon in a mostly cloudless sky, and went for one of my many late-night walks, armed with a flashlight, phone, and pocket knife. The knife was a Christmas gift, given to me 25 years ago. I used to carry pocket knives around with me back then, mostly due to the bad influence of the books I had read as an adolescent - specifically Tom Sawyer, and The Outsiders. I remember once, in the autumn of '84, walking with Brian and Karen through the woods and neighborhood by their house late at night, when a car pulled up slowly by us. In a moment of typical teenage melodrama, fueled in no small part by having seen and read The Outsiders way too many times, I handed Karen my knife "just in case", thinking maybe it was a carload of Socs come to jump us or something stupid like that. I don't know what I thought she was going to do with it, but I vaguely remember us picking up the pace back to their house while the car pulled into the driveway it was headed for, probably only vaguely aware that we were even there...

I have countless memories from that, my 9th grade year, and they are among some of the best of my life. I have memories, but I have no written account of that year - none that I kept at the time anyway. I was simply living in the moment, unaware that those days would ever end. But end they did, as early as the following school year, which was one of the worst in my memory, and it was then that I came to the awareness that the times I lived and loved could and would end, that life didn't have a rewind button for us to go back and relive the best moments of our lives (or redo the times we really messed things up), and this was the seed that grew into my practice of journaling the days of my life. (it was also the beginning of my OCD music collection, as I collected nearly every song that was a hit on the radio during that year, discovering that I could at least relive a portion of those times through the music we listened to... but that is another blog entry). I miss those days sometimes and still wish, 25 years later, that I had kept some sort of record of them - something I could hold onto from that time, something to remind me...

My practice of journaling started out simply as keeping an outlined record of what I did that day, nothing too in-depth or serious. "went to movies w/ Brian & Karen, McD after, hang out at their house at night"...that sort of thing. In my senior year, I made a wall calendar with those little squares for the dates, and used that as my journal. The following year I bought a similar wall calendar, and for the next 7 or 8 years, with a new wall calender for each new year, my journal was right there on my wall for all to see, much of it abbreviated to fit in the tiny squares. The scrolls of my life story, which are still tucked away in my closet. If a day was particularly memory-worthy, I would dedicate a separate journal entry to it and denote "JE" in that day's square.

Somewhere along my early college days I was inspired to start journaling more as a spiritual practice. A friend from high school, Jill, was one of those people whose faith and life was of a kind that I aspired to, and when I asked her more about her personal spiritual practices, she told me that journaling was essential for her. After this, I bought a drugstore spiral notebook (college lined with yellow pages) and gave it a shot. It was the beginning of the reflective cultivation of an inner-life, a deeper awareness of the life I was living and the direction I was (and/or wanted to be) heading. I don't know that my journals have ever reached the promise of such a lofty description, especially back then when I was a teenage evangelical Christian (some of those early writings are rather painfully embarrassing to read now). But that was the path I started on back then, one which I still travel along and aspire to in my personal writings and reflections.

Along the way, there have been many other people who have inspired and influenced my own journal writing. My friend Rachael, another person who had the kind of faith-expressed-in-life that I admired, actually let me read her journals sometimes. She probably inspired me to start buying actual hardback "blank book" journals instead of just writing my thoughts in looseleaf notepads. Her journals were the first I read that sort of modeled what personal spiritual reflection looked like in another person's writings. Over the years I have enjoyed, been inspired by, and benefited from reading the published journals of many great writers, most notably those by Thomas Merton, Madeleine L'Engle, and Malcolm Muggeridge (whose book "Like It Was" was probably the first of such published journals I had read, and was a key influence on my own writings post-college, in it's style and type of substance). I also found inspiration many times from a book with the unfortunate title "How To Keep A Spiritual Journal" (by Ronald Klug). This book is simply a basic overview of just about everything a person might write about in a journal, and served many times as a good kick-start for those uninspired dry times.

For me, the best kind of journal writing is a combination of recording the day's events (by that I mean personal events, not necessarily "the news of the day"), along with personal thoughts and reflections on those events and the course of one's life in general, seasoned with writings of a topical nature wherein one works out one's thoughts and feelings on any given subject of concern or interest - a practice that sharpens the mind and (among other things) makes one's conversation more lucid and interesting. It is both a means of reflection and of remembering one's life and those who shared it with us. And it has to be a completely free space, where thoughts and feelings can be expressed and worked through without editing or censorship - without fear of others reading it. This last bit is of course the most dangerous thing about journaling, as the written word is powerful, and can not only be embarrassing if read by others, but has the power to really hurt those who are mentioned in its pages. But I feel that for a journal to be worth it, this risk must be taken. And the paradox here is that, while writing, it is often helpful to think of it as something being written to someone else - an unidentified "reader". This helps add clarification and some sense of narrative, rather than just throwing down a bunch of disconnected and half-baked thoughts and sentences.

I remember reading in one of the Harry Potter books, where Dumbledore has a bowl where he would store strands of his thoughts (a "pensieve"), so he could separate himself from his thoughts and concerns and view them objectively, and I remember this resonating with me immediately as the essence of journaling.

One of the most rewarding things about keeping a journal over the years is being able to go back and read what I've written (embarrassing though this sometimes is). It is amazing to read some of the moments I have forgotten about, the details I never would have remembered, and also the perspective I sometimes gain from reading what a younger me once thought and felt, the struggles I was going through that either seem trivial in the light of the years gone by (knowing what actually happened as compared to what I was worried would or would not happen), or are struggles I am still dealing with these many years later. I've looked back at things I've written so many years ago, and I can't believe that I'm still dealing with the same thing, still worrying or struggling with this very same problem. And this, too, gives perspective on how to deal with these persistent problems. It can make me realize that the way I've been dealing with it or thinking about it hasn't done anything to solve things...time for a new strategy...or perhaps it's time to accept things and let go the idea that they are going to change, let go the burden of worrying about it. Sometimes this is discouraging, and sometimes this brings a sense of relief - a burden I've been carrying around for years doesn't have to be the same kind of burden anymore...

In late '96 I bought my first "nice" journal from Barnes & Noble (beyond the cheap hardback blank books I had been getting at Meijers), and kept what I still consider to be one of my best and most coherent journals, which incorporated all the elements I talked about earlier. I was, at the time, planning to move to Nashville at the end of the year, and perhaps that somehow focused my mind in a way that led to better writing. I think also, perhaps in a shallow or superficial way, that the quality of the book one is writing in, the look and feel of the journal itself and the quality of its pages, affects the quality of what one writes inside... though this can work negatively in reverse, when the journal is too nice and you feel that what you have to say isn't worthy of the book you're about to write it in, and so you leave its pages blank.

The following year, at a seminar at Cornerstone '97, things got worse for my growing fascination with journals.  Carolyn Arends was giving a seminar with her friend Bernie Sheahan, mostly on "books books books" (probably actually on spiritual practices, I forget now).  Bernie showed us the journal she had been keeping for the past few years (given to her by a friend with the inscription "Write your heart out", or something like that), and this journal was thicker than any I had ever seen before.  The only "nice" journals I had seen before that were always thinner, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 pages or so, and on the smaller side.  This one was a full-sized book, thick and blank (save for what she'd written in it herself).  And ever since then, I've been on the lookout for nice thick journals.  They've become more widely available since then (and I've purchased more than my fair share of them over the years), but for some reason I couldn't for the life of me find anything like that in the mid-to-late 90's and wondered where the hell she got that thing!  A journal the size of a real book! 

And so these were the beginnings of the snowball that started rolling down the mountain...

I realized the other day, after buying another beautiful black leather-bound journal, that I seem to have a journal fetish (I can already hear some of you exclaiming "no shit Sherlock"). I have at least 25 journals of various quality on my shelves - some of the early ones no more than drugstore notepads, some just cheap small hardbacked books, all the way across the spectrum to a few beautiful leather-bound ones that cost between $50-80. Some (at least 10) are filled with my life and thoughts, and some are still waiting for the story that will be written in their expectant pages...

Which brings me to this blog, which I started over 3 years ago, and one of the reasons why I haven't written anything here for a while. Among other things, I've been struggling with what exactly I do and don't want to post here. I'm quite frankly not interested in adding another collection of "op-ed" opinion pieces to the blogosphere pile. Many others do that, and do it well, much better than I could. I'm not interested in pointing out the faults of others, using this as a soapbox to show how right I am and how wrong "they" are. I've hurt too many people along the way doing just that, and when I put my mind to it, I'm too good at tearing others down in the name of speaking the truth. and in those moments I'm not very good at all at realizing that I "see but through a glass darkly", nor am I very sensitive to the damage I cause when I rail against the place another happens to be in on their particular journey through life. We're all just groping in the dark, and for me to bash another for not holding the whole truth, when I myself don't hold it either, is just ugly arrogance at best. and I don't want this to be an exercise in vanity.

I also don't ever want my writings to be divorced from my life (which many "opinion pieces" can be). I want something of who I am to bleed through in these writings, for people to get to know me, a sort of invitation to join me along the way, perhaps by relating to or resonating with something I say, and feeling free enough to share something of themselves in response without fear of ridicule or judgement or argument (Lord save us from the shouting match). I have no interest in hitting people's "hot buttons" in the name of more "hits". I am interested in conversation, or more specifically, in relation. (That's kind of an odd way to put it, I know...) I guess I'm more interested in the kind of writing that could be called "personal reflection / meditation", with a healthy dose of memoir thrown in.

...and yet, I don't want to fall into the exhibitionism of spilling my guts out for everyone to roll their eyes at, where I vomit my feelings all over the reader so that they know just what I've been going through! I look over my entries from the past couple years and realize I've crossed that line too often. And this is where the practice of "keeping a journal" for others to read is contrary to my very foundational belief of how to keep an honest and worthwhile journal - complete freedom and lack of self-censorship. Writing with an audience in mind is a whole other ballgame, and I'm not sure that, as far as this blog is concerned, I quite know how to walk that fine line between the two extremes, while staying true to what I do - and do not - want to do.

But, when it's all said and done, I do think it's pretty cool to be able to "publish" ones writings to a potentially wide readership in a way that has never before been possible. and so I will continue to plug away at this (as time permits) and struggle with just what I might have to say here that is worth another's time to read. and I hope that you, dear reader, will feel welcome and free enough to offer your thoughts and opinions on what I share here as well (I'm pretty sure all bloggers, like all good indie rockers, love feedback!), while hopefully putting something of yourself and your personal story into the mix. I like to know why people think and feel the way they do, and not just exchange disconnected points of opinion. It's much harder to disagree with someone's life-path that leads them to a certain opinion (or "way of thinking") than it is to disagree with the disconnected opinion they put in front of them.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"My future starts when I wake up every morning . . . Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
- Miles Davis

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

...because you know if you play New Kids on the Block albums backwards they sound better. "Oh come on, Bill, they're the New Kids, don't pick on them, they're so good and they're so clean cut and they're such a good image for the children." Fuck that! When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children to listen to people who fucking ROCKED! I don't care if they died in puddles of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking HEART!
-Bill Hicks

...maybe we'd all be served a whole lot better by not worrying about profanity so much as looking for honest conversation across the generations about how all these prophets had something worth listening to and thinking about...

...clean is good for an addict, but rarely should it be found in the language of an artist, because the raw beauty and tragedy of life is never ever clean, from the moment we are born...

if education is that which leads to liberation, then some lessons in life deserve to be expressed in profanity. and some lessons are worth carving in stone.
-Cary Gibson

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Here I Go Again to another Judas Priest concert to see the opening band

This was my starting seat for Whitesnake when they opened for Judas Priest here in Detroit 2 weeks ago. I got closer (yes, closer) and fully centered about halfway into it (unfortunately my phone was out of picture memory). will probably be my favourite concert of the summer, and if you're a hater I don't give a flying flip what you think about that! :-P
80's metalheads represent... \m/

(last year I went to Judas Priest to see openers Motorhead and Dio Black Sabbath, and missed Testament with much gnashing of teeth. but it was free for me, so there wasn't that much gnashing)

"Don't ever let anyone make you afraid..." (David Coverdale)

Friday, July 31, 2009

"... faith cannot for me be based on believing _in_ something but only being drawn into a way of being..." -Cary "Little Bird" Gibson

that syncs up quite nicely with my favourite concept of late from Karen Armstrong, that the word or idea "believe" at one point not so long ago wouldn't have made sense to people apart from a changed life. To "believe" wasn't to give mental assent to a concept the way we use the word now. which, I think, also fits nicely with Andrew's (or should I say Bruce's) latest post on evangelizing young children. which reminds me of something I heard somewhere recently about the "spare the rod and spoil the child" rationalization for hitting kids (and please believe me when I say that I am no anti-spanking spokesman... I sometimes whack em just for the hell of it), that the "rod" in that scripture is referring to a shepherds rod, which, though it may be used for the occasional whap, was primarily used as a tool of guidance. why people think that getting a child to repeat the sinner's prayer is the end-all-be-all of saving children from hell is beyond me. it doesn't make logical sense, and it doesn't make scriptural sense. only a changed life can do that, for any of us. and as Cary pointed out a moment later, such a thing is nigh impossible. for us.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"People must first of all feel accepted for who they are before they can risk change." - Lynn Wilson

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Stuff Christians like" blogs

Having grown up in the christian subculture AND having removed myself from it quite some time ago, yet still keeping an amused and curious eye on it, I found these blogs to be pretty damn funny, and spot on. Great observations!

Stuff Christians Like

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

"Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? ...we should all be wearing crash helmets". - Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk