A Thing That’s Been Keeping Me From the Blog

Over the last year and a half I’ve had the incredible privilege of playing music with some of my best friends. We’ve played a decent number of local gigs at a coffee shop, the farmers market and other local events.

Around a year ago we started working on a studio album comprised almost entirely of our original work. I’ll be honest. I didn’t completely know what we were getting into by committing to this.

We set up our own studio in the basement of Arlyn’s house in a place called the tomato room and started working last fall.

It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. We laugh a lot. Like crazy. The lunacy in the studio is, I guess, a way to have fun, but also a way of dealing with the work.

Ah yes, the work.

It’s mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically taxing work. It’s not for the faint of heart, to be sure. In addition to giving this work your best shot, you are also brought to face some of your biggest fears as an artist and you get to stare them in the face while you work.

They often show up in thought form: Do I have any idea what I’m doing here? Can we even do this? Do our songs matter to anyone besides us? How long until we see some progress? These guys are much higher caliber musicians than I am– what am I doing here with them?

As scary as those questions were and still are, facing them has changed me. Now I’m at the point where I’ve pushed past some of those fears and they aren’t speaking as loudly as they were.

Now it’s fine to me that there are things that Jared, Arlyn, and Andrew are better at, than I am. It’s not intimidating like it was. In fact it’s been incredibly beautiful to see what strengths different ones of us bring to help the process along.

I find it pretty neat that none of us are what you’d call the total package and that we need each other to make this thing work. I’ve learned so much from these guys. I’m a more complete artist, a more complete musician, and a more complete person.

This past weekend we made a hard push for the finish line, and were blessed to see some really good results. The end is finally in sight. It’s pretty hard to believe. We’ve got a little bit of tracking left to do, and we’ve started working on mixing.

I’ve added a little video we put together last night. It’s a bit of a summary of our weekend: arrangements, recording, plenty of laughing, and a couple footraces on lunch break.

You can see other updates (both serious and otherwise) on our Facebook page and on Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saints-Alive/338091499605300?ref=hl

https://twitter.com/SaintsAlive_

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The Painting of Life

I’m learning more about painting and such from Rebecca than I ever have, or ever thought I would, in my life. We’ve been to a few art museums now, and the great thing about knowing as little as I do, is the several times we’ve been, it feels like I gain a lot of knowledge on the subject. So, yes. Though they be few, there are benefits of ignorance.

A couple months ago, Rebecca and I were visiting an art museum in the small town of Lindsborg. As we neared the end of the exhibits, on one wall was a giant painting that covered three different canvasses, all side by side. Each canvass was several feet across and at least as tall as we were. Up close, the colors were brilliant and we could see individual shapes and textures in great detail. We admired it up close for a little while, then stepped back closer to the middle of the room, and were a bit surprised by what we saw. It was a massively complex nighttime scene of a forest using both abstract and realism to depict little night creatures, along with bushes and trees.

It took a bit for me to grasp what sort of time and effort it probably took to simply imagine, let alone paint something like this. To get it right the artist would have had to spend a lot of time moving in close to add the detail and texture to each part, but stepping back (I would think) quite often to make sure it looked like it should from the distance at which you’d want to view the whole painting–a tremendous amount of thought and work, to say the least.

It’s been a while since we admiringly stood there in that little art gallery talking for quite some time about that painting and I’ve
thought about it numerous times since then. The more I’ve thought about it, and paintings in general, the more I realized that…

Up close, some of them look kind of random.

Up close, you can see what some of us would call imperfections.

And up close, sometimes, you can also see quite a lot of beauty that you’d miss from farther away.

To me, it actually feels like life a lot of the time.

The parallels really could go on for a longer time than I’d like to talk about all at once, or likely than you’d like to hear, but I had to think of it like this:

First, God in His grand painting of the narrative we see, beginning long ago, and being continued in the present, sees things in the zoomed out view. He sees where it began, and also where it’s ending. The interesting and beautiful thing about this particular painting is that, certain pieces of this painting aren’t static. But here’s something else:

They don’t just move.

They’re actually allowed to paint their own colors.

They’re even allowed to paint strokes that mess up the painting.

Amazingly, these living parts of the painting (by now I’m sure you’ve guessed that they are us, people) aren’t left to wonder about the painting, blindly waving their little paint brushes in frustration, randomly splattering colors around, and hoping they’re not messing things up. Even though the Master Artist has a far away view of the painting, there’s a portion of painting where He actually became a part of the painting just like those in it, and His spirit continues to guide the strokes of those who want Him and his colors to be the colors they paint in their little parts of the painting.

He doesn’t nearly always tell them precisely what to paint, and sometimes it’s really confusing, but if they listen to Him closely and spend more time knowing Him and His style of painting, their colors and strokes become surprisingly similar to His. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all, because He did originally paint these people to be small representations of Him, and in small ways, to create like He does.

Another strangely beautiful thing about the Master Painter, is that He can take the messed up, the trashy parts, the ugly, the bad color combinations, and make beautiful things from them. Redemption. Wow. Go figure. The more I think about this part, the more amazing and baffling and impossible it seems, and less like it could be completely real. But I know it is, because I’ve seen it.

And also, once again, if His people take cues from Him, they too can help make beauty and redemption of the bad colors, and the ignorant strokes. But to do that, they can’t just paint pretty things around themselves and ignore what’s wrong with the rest of the painting. To truly serve this work of art, they have to engage the dissonance around them, and work to help it blend with rest of the painting. And they don’t do this by merely flinging some bad colors of their own onto the canvass to help the stumbling painters feel better, but they, like the Artist who entered the painting, should follow His example by helping the painters around them know what it means to paint well.

Also, I think He’s allowing us, for the most part to only see the painting from close up. We can see a lot of what’s already been painted in the past, and occasionally, a few get small bits of the future. It’s merciful this way, I think. Most of us would have a hard time enjoying the beauty in the strokes right in front of us and engaging the ugly splatters around us if we’d see all that was coming to us in the parts we will paint, and in the parts that will be painted long after our portion is complete.

This is where I’ll stop, but I love to think of life this way. I think it’s really incredible to serve an infinite, all-knowing God, Who is also heartbreakingly loving, and wants to walk with us each step of our lives. He wants us to walk none of it alone, but He still lets us decide and doesn’t force Himself on any of us, even when we’re pretty intent on messing things up by lumbering about and painting our own world. And He still loves us and wants us to join Him through all of it.

Unbelievable.

But I’m pretty sure it’s true. Usually I’m sure. But sometimes my faith is puny. I sometimes don’t act like I believe it at all. And it takes some unpleasant blundering to remind me where I belong.

I’ve gradually been accepting this: every few years I’ll look back and wonder how I lived like I did, or viewed God like I did, or looked at the world like I did. I’m becoming more at peace with the idea though: that I can never remove myself completely enough from the part of life I’m in, to get a third person view of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say to myself and anyone who will listen is this: don’t be so focused on what’s coming or what you think is coming that you refuse to dip your brush into the colors that are put right in front of you, and you neglect the painters around you (both in what you can teach them and in what you can learn from them). Your portion of the painting is far too short to spend it waiting for better colors or worrying about what you’re going to do when you’re given new colors to use, and new painters to work beside.

Use what’s given to you and use it well. Put as much love, as much joy, as much peace, as much hope as the Master Painter gives you, into each stroke, and enjoy each one for what it is. That’s how He painted, and in little ways, He’ll teach you to paint like Him if you’re willing to learn.

Playlist:

“Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” – The High Kings

“Gran Partita” – Mozart

“Daniel” – Joshua James

“Paranoia in B Major” – The Avett Brothers

“Concerto In C for 2 Trumpets” – Vivaldi

“The Holly & the Ivy – Wayfarer

“Ave Maria” – Chanticleer

“Politik” – Coldplay

“Sing It Out” – Switchfoot

“Let Your Love Be Strong” – Switchfoot

“Griselda” – Vivaldi

“Lesser Things” – Jars of Clay

“There Is No Rose” – Chanticleer & Robert H. Young

“From Finner” – Of Monsters and Men

“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” – Eric Whitacre

“The House of God Forever” – Jon Foreman

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” -The King’s Singers

“Cottonfield” -The Vespers

Failure, Wonder, and the Joy of Being Beloved

This evening I failed. I set out to accomplish something by the end of the evening and I didn’t get it done. I was planning to have a productive evening working on my music stuff and it just didn’t go well.

And here, I feel I should throw myself down the gauntlet so I have no choice, but to follow through. I’m working on a small solo project of my own: an EP of several songs I’ve written that are inspired by Kansas while our band takes a short recording hiatus, because, frankly, it’s summer, and summer is the time to be busy.

I felt like I should use the time off to sharpen my skills and this seemed like a good option.

To say it’s a lot of hard work is an understatement. It’s mentally, emotionally, and even physically draining. But I love it. Most of the time.

Things just went badly this evening.

I made a list of things I was going to get done.

I worked hard.

I played the parts again, and again, trying to perfect them.

I got frustrated.

I calmed myself, and told myself it was okay.

It wasn’t okay.

I repeated the process.

After several hours of standing and eventually, sitting, in front of a mic with my guitar, it became clear I wasn’t going to be productive anymore that evening. It was a discouraging revelation. Tangible progress was what I wanted this evening. Tangible progress–not a forlorn little clump of soundbites on my my computer screen that I probably wouldn’t be able to use.

My girlfriend, Rebecca, texted me and asked me how it was going.

I told her how it was going.

She was very encouraging and told me some things I wanted to hear and a few more things I needed to hear.

Feeling a bit better, I surrendered and put my things away, turning my studio back into a bedroom.
I trudged up the stairs, feeling pretty defeated, walked to the front door to see what it was like outside. I opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

What greeted me was a fabulous Kansas sunset.

Pink and orange were the dominant colors this evening. The sun, a lazy orange halo of fire, was at that magical moment when it’s just starting to slip away. That time where it sinks so quickly, you can almost see it moving. That moment that if you’re not paying attention for a bit, you miss it.

The instant I walked out, I knew this was what I needed. Not perfectly recorded tracks. Not a list of crossed off items to make me feel proud and self important.

I just stood there for a while, taking it in, then walked across the porch to the edge, and I slowly realized what had happened to me this evening.

I’d truly lost the joy during the earlier part of this evening. Lost the wonder. In pursuit of perfection, I forgot why I like to play music: because I love it; because it’s fun.

I pulled out my phone to take a picture. To chronicle the sunset’s splendor. It was out of room for pictures. So what.

When my phone had no room for pictures, it didn’t build on the frustration of the rest of the evening. I didn’t delete things to make room so I could show everyone what an awesome sunset I got to see.

I let go. I released. I didn’t care. I felt God saying, “Just enjoy it.” So I did.

It was then that my soul gave a sigh of relief. I sat down on the edge of the porch with my feet in the soft grass, and I stared at the colors as they played with each other.

I felt the weight of an evening of frustrations dissipate as I was reminded that we humans were never made strictly to perform. We were never made to just carry out tasks, mindless of the wonderful world around us.

We were made to feel the love of the Creator, and to let the beauty and wonder of that love spill into the things around us: our work, our people, our art.

And living in wonder is not the byproduct of a certain occupation, a certain locale, (or even a certain level of perfection). It’s when we’ve allowed ourselves to see the wonder of life as it is, not, as we wish it were.

This doesn’t mean we don’t hope for anything better. But when we hope for something better at the expense of the things we already have, it’s not hope anymore. It’s discontentment.

This also doesn’t mean I don’t hope for better, more productive times of working on music. What it does mean, however, is that this evening was not an evening wasted.

Not by a long shot.