Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Next Chapter

First Presbyterian Church, Santa Rosa
One day, during one of my angrier times, I exclaimed, "I am leaving music ministry for good! If God wants me, He knows where to find me." The only part of that rant that proved true was that God indeed DOES know where to find me. He found me with a guitar strapped on at Twin Cities Church - ever in His service as always. And He has a new assignment for me; I am joining the staff of First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa, CA as the Worship Leader for their contemporary service. This is a half-time position rather than my previous full-time jobs. But be that as it may, God is calling us to walk together some miles on the journey to the kingdom and I am excited to go.

This time, however, things are different. I am not the person who left full-time music ministry 8 years ago, swearing never to go back. This is a good time to go over some of the lessons learned during this time.

1) I am as God made me to be; a musician. That is not a position greater or lower than anything or anyone else. It is nothing to either gloat about (never my tendency) or to be ashamed of (often my tendency.) I give God joy when I simply do as I was created to do and give Him glory for it.

2) Worship is NOT what happens on Sunday. It is what happens when our lives show that God is worth everything. When we treat the people he has created (which is, at last count, all of them) with dignity and love, that is worship. When we choose his ways - integrity, truthfulness, love-in-action - over the ways of this world order, that is worship. When we revel in the wonder of all that God has made, that is worship. Heck, when we laugh uproariously with a child, THAT is worship. Sunday morning is for inspiration, resolution, guidance, and direction. And music has an appropriate role in that.

3) It's not all about me! When people are upset, most of the time I'm just a convenient object - not the true sources of their discontent. The corollary is also true; when they are really pleased, chances are I had but a small part in that.

4) Healthy things grow. A church is a living organism. If it is not growing that is an indication that there is some unhealthiness resident.

I would be less-than-candid if I did not say that I have some butterflies in my stomach. There are some logistical hurdles to be overcome. I still have to find the other 50% of my income. Also, my wonderful, precious daughter of 19 years is not planning on making the trip with us this time. Her destiny is calling her and she is hearing that voice coming from Southern California. All of the pleading and powering-up in the world won't change that my baby - the one whose little laugh and delightful whimsy used to make me laugh (and keep me sane) for two decades - is a nearly grown woman now. Just like I broke away and became my own person at about her present age, she is following the natural way of things. It's not her fault that it is too soon for me! But none of that is going to stop me.

For several years, I have seen myself in the lyrics of one of the greatest songs of one of our greatest songwriters, Paul Simon. I think they are appropriate now.

"In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down,
Or cut him 'til he cried out in his anger and his shame,
"I am leaving, I am leaving."
But the fighter still remains."

The Boxer, Paul Simon

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chicken Pickin' Primer

This is a little lesson on the fine art of chicken pickin' - one of country music's most distinctive art forms.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Video - "The Man In My Head"

This is one of my original songs. We did this on a Sunday morning, using the Denny Russell Band as the backup band. It was a lot of fun and a real treat to be able to do one of my songs.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Rock & Roll Should Be!

Here is a great video I found of The Blasters, with the incomparable Dave Alvin doing "Long White Cadillac," a tribute to Hank Williams. Watch and learn - this is how it gets done!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Real Calling

What I am about to say is a combination of Mea Culpa, confession, evaluation, and perhaps even a determination to get back into the fight at some point. It also involves a deeper look into the meaning of what we do.

For several years (13 of them full-time) I was a church worship leader. By that, I mean that I planned and led worship services for various churches, each Sunday being the lead voice in that service. Without belaboring the point and reciting all of the tales (I sometimes feel like Henry V, "These scars I had upon St. Cripian's Day") I endured many hurts - some of them so disillusioning that I decided to lay that mantle down and not take it up again. Instead, I have focused on teaching, performing, some writing, and other jobs that would not hurt my heart so much. I remember I was asked in my first year of consulting how I liked it. My response was, "I love getting up in the morning knowing no one will go to hell based on whether I do my job well or not." Total hyperbole, I know. Mostly what I loved was not being in a position for the church to hurt me. Well, suffice it to say that the church (not mine, specifically, but the greater church at large) has found a way to hurt me whether I am on the platform or not. That is just what it does.

It would not be overstatement to say that the past 8 years have been time in the desert for me. I am often angry, frequently feel lost, rail at God, most of you know the drill. But in this desert have been times of challenge and reflection. Here are some of the conclusions that I have arrived at and that define my life and thinking right now.
  1. The vast (and I mean VAST) majority of what we do in corporate worship services has no eternal or even remedial value. We recite truths that we agree on, rather than truths that challenge us to become different. We sing songs that give us comfort rather than those that open our hearts to God's work in us.We sing and recite our sacrifices to God with un-bowed hearts to him and un-resolved conflict with our brothers and sisters sitting a chair or two over.
  2. The whole hymns-vs-current songs thing was a monumental waste of time and energy. I have often said that in the "Worship Wars" I am a non-combatant. What I really believe is this; I treasure and cherish every word and every note that has ever been written to God's glory and to man's desire for him. No one is really making a fortune - a Michael-Jackson style fortune - off of writing and singing Christian/Gospel/Worship music. I would say that almost everyone who is doing it is doing it for the love of the art form at least and for the love of God at best. If y'all want to keep on arguing about what is better; Dead-guy European music or Hippie-hymns, please take your argument somewhere else. God is not a music critic.
  3. Worship Music that does not change us - is not worship. And don't blame the music! Lot's of people read the Bible and it doesn't change them. Are we going to blame the Bible?
  4. Ask yourself; do you love God's word, or just the Bible? That is going to seem like a confusing and almost blasphemous question to some people, but I don't care. Jesus taught us that the entire law and prophets hang on, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength," and, "Love you neighbor as you would yourself." It is not at all an unreasonable deduction then to say that the Bible-as-God's-word should be transforming everyone who takes it seriously into a more loving, charitable, understanding, forbearing - for crying out loud, read I Corinthians 13 again, and not at a wedding this time. That is what we are to be in the process of becoming. If that is not happening to me, the only person who can stop that is me. To the degree that I am resisting that process, that is the degree that reading the Bible is just an academic exercise. 
When Sivje, India, and I first moved to Grass Valley, it was during the summer months. We wanted India to get to know her new community, so we took her to a local VBS. I happened to meet the pastor of the church, and we fell into a conversation about worship - I should say, HE fell into a conversation about worship - one that he was having no trouble sustaining both ends of. My eyes were glazing over, but I listened out of common courtesy - or stupidity, I can't figure out which. Anyway, at one point he was pontificating about changes he made to their worship service because he, "Would rather offend man, than God."

Were I to have the same conversation now, I would respond like this.
  1. Does your church make the stranger and vagabond welcome? No? Then you are offending God.
  2. Do you seek out the widow and the orphan, the homeless and the hurting? No? Then you are offending God.
  3. Is your morality all about some political laundry-list of do's and don'ts rather than driving you to be the hands and feet of Christ? No? Then you are offending God.
  4. Do you set your family aside to do church business? Yes? Then you are REALLY offending God - who made your family your FIRST ministry.
  5. When you speak from the pulpit do you share your weaknesses and the areas that God is teaching, and perhaps breaking you? No? Then you are offending God, starving your people, and probably boring the snot out of everyone. Trust me, the last thing anyone on this earth needs to hear is a verse-by-verse exposition on the Tabernacle. Sorry, OT scholars, it just doesn't matter - not to someone who can't find a job, or has a sick child and no insurance, or has a drinking problem, or whose wife just left them for another woman. IT DOESN'T MATTER. Knowing each of Calvin's five points is going to get EXACTLY NO ONE into heaven or anywhere else.
I trust, at this point, I have offended just about everyone who has read this, so I will be brief in summary. What I do, in the future, regarding music ministry (or any ministry) I want to be a genuine reflection of the mercy that God has shown me, the struggles and pain that I have survived, and the encouragement that I can offer to those who are looking for a living God, not a dead form.

Anything else would be a waste of everyone's time, and I have already wasted the time of too many people. If I ever again have the opportunity to lead a congregation in worship (and that is doubtful at this point) the above are the principals by which I shall do it. None of the other principals I have espoused at different points in my life matter to me anymore.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jaw-Dropping - Tear-Inducing - Altogether Beyond Words

I just downloaded Jeff Beck's 2010 release "Emotion and Commotion." The whole work is brilliant, but when I heard Jeff play "Nessun Dorma" by Puccini, I just about came out of my own skin. Where do I start?

First of all, Jeff Beck has so mastered the Fender Stratocaster that there are only perhaps 5 other people in the world who can claim to be able to use it remotely as musically (Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, a couple of others). His tone is so achingly beautiful that he could have played the whole piece unaccompanied and it would have been great. But, eschewing a rock band and fronting an orchestra, he put himself in the Andrea Boccelli seat and more than capably filled it. His guitar playing just takes flight. He demonstrates that his success on Nessun was no fluke when he accomplishes the same feat yet again on "Elegy for Dunkirk."

Jeff also does some wonderful R&B on this album. Looking for a singer? How about JOSS STONE. Check out Jeff and Joss doing "I Put a Spell on You." It is one for the ages!

I could effuse all night about this - just go to Itunes right now and download the album. If you like guitar music at all this one may never come off of your Ipod.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Swing Low Sweet Chariot- the Lonely Guitar Player

Here is my latest video guitar lesson. Special thanks to Geolyn for shooting this for me and to Soundcheck music for putting up with the noise. This is a simple, ragtime-like chord melody solo that should be easy to learn and fun to play. And if everyone is very, very nice to me from now on I might just write it out on full staff WITH tablature. I'm just that nice.

Really! No honest, I am that nice. I know what you have heard, but ...

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Musician, educator, audio engineer, guitar junkie!