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9/29/2006

FOOD GROUPS

Old people eat prunes and drink Milk of Magnesia. Rich people eat caviar and sip ancient wines. Country folk eat biscuits and gravy and guzzle sweet tea. Brits eat fish and chips and drink beer. College students? Well, college students eat crap and drink crap.

But crap to one man's colon is heaven come to earth for another. The "another" is usually 19-25, owns an X-Box, has a student loan and enjoys a metabolism faster than, uh, faster...than...a person's. (Couldn't come up with anything good there. Dang it.)

Anyway, tonight I taught (sang a little) and a room full of college students from all over North Carolina listened. We laughed, we cried...and then we ate. We ate like college students.

Behold. The dream feast of a 19-25 year old:


Food Group #1: Sugar.


Food Group #2: Caffeine.

That feeling you have right now? That's lust. Or sympathy indigestion.

More from the conference tomorrow.

NEW LINKAGE

I started getting hits today from a relatively new blog Remain Undone, popped on over and read a while. (See how that works?) Good stuff, Rob. Thanks for the link. And sorry, I should have been reading more often.

I don't know Rob. I've heard of the church he sings at (he's the music director) and recognize a few of the names in his blog roll, but other than that, complete strangers Rob and I. Yet eerily similar. Rob, for instance, is a graphic designer. Hey, I was one of those once. And he plays guitar. Hey, I did that once too. He reads lowercase people. I've done that. And he recently had his toenails painted.

*crickets*

Yea, so, anyway, check out his blog if you dig any of these things too.

Thanks again, Rob.

WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO, GOT TO DO WITH IT?

My wife is hot. We've established that here before. Not hot for a mom of three kids or for a woman in her mid thirties. My wife is just flat out hot. To me even the imperfections she sees in herself are cute quirks that make her, you know, hot.

And she's brilliant. She earned a masters in finance and became a CPA. She audited entertainment companies for a large accounting firm for a while and later crunched numbers for a global telecommunications corporation, helping to oversee the way the company accounted for things when mergers and acquisitions occurred. Yea, that kind of brilliant.

And she's creative too. She thinks up art projects for our kids and home made gifts for our friends and cheap decorating ideas for our house like Martha Stewart on a shoestring budget.

And she's a teacher. Just this week she taught my five year-old the meaning of the word "envy" when she asked - the question stumped me. She taught me how to balance a check book and invest in the stock market. She's able to take complex ideas and processes and explain them in a non-condescending way to just about anyone who wants to know. And it's usually fun.

She's tender hearted, the kind of friend who'd cancel a haircut to go give blood for your cousin's surgery on a moment's notice, or cook for you for a whole month while you recover from having that baby. She mourns roadkill. She rescues kittens from shelters and donates time to help children and money to help the abused and poor.

And her laugh is contagious. God gave her a huge smile and a diverse generous sense of humor. She's not so much the one making the jokes but she can make anyone with a joke think they're the funniest person who's ever lived.

She's an optimist. Always able to see the good in every person and situation. And patient, able to endure difficult people and situations much longer than a mere mortal.

My wife is more than hot. Hot is only skin deep. She's amazing. More amazing? She loves me.

That's a miracle.

You might be thinking: Beautiful, compassionate, funny, smart people get married all the time so what's the big deal that she married you? It's no miracle. A stretch maybe, but no miracle. And you might think this because, well, I've got good hair, I'm sometimes funny, I'm not perfect but, you know, I'm somewhat employed and I brush on a regular basis and...Well, I'm no super model or Nobel prize winner for sure but it's not complete fantasy to think a woman like Becky would marry a man like me - you might think.

You might also think, and Shaun, you're a rock star...ok, a minor soft rock star, but a musician nonetheless. I've seen the pictures with the expensive haircut and the makeup. Rock star. And let's be honest here, you people have a knack for marrying out of your league. Billy joel. Rick Ocasek. It's your inheritance as a musician to marry someone so incredible as to give the unattractive underachieving masses incentive to be in the band or take piano lessons. It's what you people do, you could be thinking.

But you can think all this only because you don't know who I really am (nothing like my album covers), or who I was when Becky met me (not a musician yet), and definitely not who I was all those years before her. If you knew that you'd call Becky falling for me a miracle like I do. Shoot, you'd call Becky ever talking to me a miracle.

It's miraculous that Becky started loving me when I was an almost unlovable jerk obsessed with politics and self-centered and unconfident and judgmental and whiny and acne infested and nineteen. Her love for me then is a true testament to the depth of her patience, optimism and tender-heartedness. And her love for me now is still miraculous, in part, because my memory of who I was when it began is still intact.

The conference I'm teaching this weekend, starting tonight, was named Love: A Remix long before I signed on to teach at it. And they wanted me to teach - surprise - the beatitudes. My problem was I didn't really know what love, the way we usually talk about it and I've always thought about it, had to do with those eight blessings. I get that God loves us and so we love others by showing mercy and making peace and paying the ultimate price for doing so in being persecuted. But that's three of the eight. What about the other five? What about the first two: poverty of spirit (sin) and mourning (grief over sin)? How does that tie into this theme of love, and do it in a way that matters to a bunch of college students?

And Becky's the answer I think, or Becky's love for me is. If we skip poverty of spirit and mourning and jump straight to how much God loves us now - all forgiven and accepted and shiny and new and lovable - we miss the miraculous I think. God's love for me now is great for sure. But how much greater is God's love for me when my memory is refreshed and I recall that when He first loved me I was a tearful beggar. That's miraculous.

More at the conference in Clemmons, North Carolina tonight.

9/28/2006

AFTER INTERVARSITY

I was brought to the University of North Carolina by Intervarsity to mostly teach and to sing a little. They've been meeting weekly, between three and four hundred college students, this semester to dissect the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes, those eight blessings I've been studying and writing about now for a couple years, kick off that sermon from Jesus. So, my job was to teach my understanding of the beatitudes and sing a few of the songs inspired by them.

I mention this because it's the opposite of what my usual gig is. I'm usually hired to sing and allowed to teach if I want to - and I know, because the expectation from promoter and audience is that I sing, that less talk is preferred. That's hard for me because every song I write and sing comes from something I've studied and taught and lived. So when I sing a lyric my brain gets caught up in a web of related ideas and lessons learned, all the stuff that impacted me and made me want to pick up my guitar to write in the first place, all the stuff that didn't fit in the pop song box. And I want to share it.

Well, tonight I was supposed to. I was hired to get the cob webs out. It was therapeutic. Boring maybe if anyone came expecting a concert but entertaining if anyone came expecting preaching. Tonight was a rare hybrid of the two that leaned heavily on teaching. Felt weird. Felt good. The crowd made it easy. They leaned in and listened (and laughed) like only a college crowd does. My favorite age to teach for sure. Thanks to UNC's Intervarsity leadership for the invite.

What made the night even better was the number of children sponsored through Compassion International. Usually one out of every thirty concert attenders sponsor a child before they leave. At colleges that number drops off - college students don't have (or don't think they have) $32 a month extra to save a child's life. I understand that. I've been there. But the students at Intervarsity tonight sponsored as many kids as a "normal" concert crowd. Big surprise! Thanks to everyone at Intervarsity UNC for being so generous and saving so many kids from poverty tonight.

RESTING FOR SOFT ROCKING

I'm at the University of North Carolina today playing and teaching at an Intervarsity meeting on campus. Nothing to report yet. Just the usual traveling day: getting up before God, packing the suitcases, tossing them in the back seat, picking up Brian and heading to the airport. Once here in North Carolina we ate some "Tex Mex" (not even) and checked into our hotel. I'm spending the next couple hours returning e-mails and resting up - 'cause, you know, it takes a lot out of a person to soft rock for a whole 90 minutes - especially soft rocking while carrying the extra weight of a bowl of (powder based) queso and chips around.

Rough life. Good to relax for a few hours.

More to tell after this evening.

9/26/2006

ALL OR NOTHING

I'm taking a short break from studying for the conference I'm teaching at this weekend. I'm teaching through the beatitudes - those eight blessings from Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12, the ones I've been studying and teaching and singing about for a couple years now. And I just learned something new about them. Well, about one of them.

I've read a couple dozen books and a stack of commentaries, everything I can find on-line, blah blah blah and I think the two most thorough and plausible translations I've found are from a book by John Stott and one by William Barclay. Tonight I reread Barclay's and found something I'd missed before about hungering and thirsting for righteousness - the fourth beatitude.

He says that the Greeks said they were thirsty or hungry in the genitive case. Now, I'm not that smart, so I had to look up the genitive case and struggle through understanding it. What he means is that they would say literally "I hunger for OF bread", meaning they hunger for a PIECE of bread and not the whole loaf. Or "I thirst for OF water", meaning they thirst for a glass of water and not the whole ocean.

This is the usual accepted way of talking for Greeks. Who knew? Apparently only Barclay.

But in the Greek translation of "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" the hungering and thirsting is oddly in the direct accusative case. An apparently intentional tweak to the usual way of saying things for Greeks..and again, I had to figure out what that meant exactly. (Wish I went to seminary sometimes.) If I asked for bread in the accusative case I'd being saying literally, "I'm hungry for all the bread you have" and "I'm thirsty for all the water."

So Barclay says this beatitude could be translated "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness."

He goes on to describe two people. One is a rule follower. You can't pin a fault on them. They never make a mistake. But, tell them your sad story and they're response is cold. This is half-righteousness. Cold legalism without the warmth of love. And the other person he describes is as warm as a person can be. You have a problem? He'll be there for you, listening, lending a hand. Warm. But his life is full of faults. He's loaded down with addictions and grudges and worry and his mood swings from calm to temper tantrum. This is half-righteousness too. Just another kind. No better. No worse.

Barclay concludes that "neither an icy faultlessness nor a faulty warm-heartedness" is the whole righteousness we should hunger and thirst for.

When I read this I thought about how many of my non-Christian friends through the years have had a bone to pick with Christians they knew, the prudes who kept every rule and shamed them for not doing the same, the kind who made horrible empathizers and listeners and helpers. I've been known to be that kind of heartless dutiful Christian.

And I thought about one non-Christian friend of mine in particular, one I met on-line about a year ago. Even communicating through ones and zeros and pixels she exuded kindness - well, for all who agreed with her world view, which meant Christians were usually not treated to a dose of it and Republican pro-life Christians got the finger instead. For some reason though we became friends, at least we talked regularly through e-mail. And while she'd sell her house to save my life or yours, she blogged about cheating on her husband and the lies she told to cover it up. She defended herself by saying he was inattentive and she didn't love him anymore. She had a nasty temper and readily admitted a load of other faults too. She loved the love part of all religions and gods and equally loathed their structures and emphasis on obedience to some set of rules. I've been her too, defining right by majority rule and whether anyone gets hurt.

I find myself understanding both people and not in agreement with either. They're both in love with half a God - half a Jesus - and so am I. Jesus said no one gets to God unless they go through him. He told people to "go and sin no more." He said his way is "narrow" and "few" find it, or want to be on it. His first sermon began with the word "repent". He talked about hell and who goes there. He orders us not to fight, divorce, cheat on our spouses or our taxes, not to gossip, be angry, worry, worship other gods, want what others have, and not to punish wrong with wrong. AND Jesus also fed the hungry, played with children, wept when a friend died, forgave the people who killed him, ate and drank with outcasts a lot, made wine for a party and said people would recognize his followers in the future because they'd be the ones who loved people so well.

He's ALL of righteousness: He made the rules and insists upon obedience to them while calling those who broke them to go to dinner with him.

Why do I choose to hunger for only part of righteousness, only part of who Jesus is? Convenience? A feeling of superiority? Happiness? Control? Political and cultural accommodation and/or acceptance?

I don't know what the motivation is for everyone else, but for ME, it's all of the above. I've liked at times to feel better than you so I've reminded you of how not good you are. Guilty. I've ignored the need for outer obedience and (rule following) so I can feel more enlightened and free and modern and liberal and, honestly, accepted and more normal and in control of my life. Guilty.

What Barclay claims in the end is that without thirsting for ALL of righteousness (as defined by the example and teachings of Jesus) we won't be filled (by God) and therefore satisfied. Ever. And that goes for the church going pro-life lifelong Baptist sunday school teacher and the hooker with the heart of gold. But those who hunger and thirst for ALL of righteousness, Jesus promises will be "filled" with it.

I'll be looking in the mirror on this one for a while I'm sure.

Back to studying.

PANSY OR WHINER

Have you ever heard "them" say something like "If you don't have enough time, then you're too busy." Well, "they" are wrong.

I don't have enough time not because I'm too busy but because I'm a perfectionist, a procrastinator, disorganized and the guys in the black helicopters sneak into my house at night to hide my car keys and my wallet and my shoes and crash my computer. I know this.

Today I need to mow the yard, get my hair cut, redesign my redesign of my web site (again), study for the conference I'm teaching this weekend, rent gear for the live recording fast approaching, ask the twenty something people who haven't returned my e-mails to do so, return about as many of my own, fix my garage door, call to see why my floor hasn't been repaired, de-tick my yard, patch a hole in the bathroom wall (don't ask), reinstall OS X on my lap top (again), write an article, pick up a prescription, play baseball with my son, teach art to my oldest daughter, find my drivers license so I can fly, rent a movie to watch with my wife so we can have "quality time" together tonight before I leave town this week...and I'm sure there's at least as many things I've forgotten.

And this makes me angry at "them" because "they" haven't been me this week. I'd like "them" to be here now telling me what I can cut out of my schedule today and tomorrow and the next day. They'd probably say don't blog. You don't have time to blog.

But I'm not wasting time right now. I'm multi-tasking. (The bathroom makes a great office.)

What's worse is I'm surrounded by people like Brian and my wife who accomplish what seems like much much more than this every day and never complain about it. Not that I'm complaining. If I weren't busy I'd be bored and that's worse. It's just that I'm beginning to wonder if it's a cop out for creative types to say they aren't cut out to work and be all organized or if it's the truth and we're all just pansies wired in such a way that we can't handle the demands of a busier season in life as well as, um, accountants and what not. Or do the non-creative people around me get just as overwhelmed by their to-do lists but not express it as freely as I do? You know, publicly. On a blog. That seems to be the choice: Pansy or just more likely to whine in public? Quite a choice.

Break's over. Time for Photo Shop. Whaaaa!

9/25/2006

FOULTASTIC

Maybe it's because Thriller was the first cassette I ever owned. I don't know. But I like this video. And I want one of those birds...and this scientist lady at my next house party. Ain't no party like a bird lover party. Hee hee hee! Sham'on!


9/24/2006

WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS?

I'm not asking how you're doing so I can "share Jesus" with you. I'm not listening to you so you'll listen to me talk about God. I'm not hanging out with you so I can make you a Christian.

I'm your friend because I'm one. And being one makes me love people. Makes me love you.

Sorry for all the Christians you got burned by before me. Relatives. Friends. Co-workers. Fellow passengers on airplanes. The ones you say treated you like a deer in the last minutes of the season. The ones you say thought of you as a customer and schemed and pushed religion like a line of AmWay products. Those people are like relatives you hope no one ever meets I guess, the ones on Jerry Springer or the ten o'clock news - I love them, I really do, but they're not the cousins I'd introduce you to first at a family reunion, you know?. They mean well, but...

Sorry about them.

What do you say I just keep being me and you keep being you and we keep hanging out just because, even if you never believe Jesus is God and even if I never like NASCAR or vote Republican? Deal?

9/23/2006

E-MAIL HELP NEEDED

Help please!

I'm using Entourage (First mistake, using a Microsoft product when a perfectly good Apple alternative is available) and my internet service provider is Bellsouth (And number two mistake, their DSL is buggy and slow in my neighborhood - but cheap).

I'm getting an error message from Entourage when I try to send mail to certain people. These people don't seem to have anything in common: service provider included. The error says "mail recipients weren't recognized" or "server does not allow" me to send mail to these recipients.

Huh?

Anybody know what gives and how to fix it?

I know this isn't a technical support blog but, it's Saturday, Bellsouth puts me on hold for ages and Bill Gates isn't answering his phone. What options do I have but to turn to the wise sages here at shlog.com.

NEW SHAUNGROVES.COM

I'm done (I hope) with the graphic end of the new shaungroves.com. Kat's turn now to code this sucker and make it work with the "back end" she's already completed. (What I like to call "the guts".)

This is the fourth shaungroves.com incarnation of my career and my favorite so far - simply because it's different and more functional and full than the last three. They were fine but they didn't do enough. The new home page works twice as hard without, I hope, feeling too busy to first time visitors.

Like a real newspaper, the home page (and the entire site) is different every day. You'll see what I mean when it launches. it's not like any artist home page I've seen before and I hope that's a good thing.

The thing I love most about this new approach to a home page: Music and selling music is not the focus. That would suck for a musician but my interests (notice I didn't say talents) are diversified these days. I'm accidentally and slowly turning into a writer and speaker. And while music is still important to me, it's not the core of who I am. That musical fraction of me is represented on the new site but not emphasized more than the others. (Except in the store where CDs out number all other kinds of stuff at the moment.) The other things I do, including talking with you everyday, are just as big a part of the home page.

Here's a peak at the new shaungroves.com home page without content - just a blank slate.


9/22/2006

SUPERSIMBO PROMO

Supersimbo's bringing me to Ireland and has created a cool little blog button in his sidebar to promote the show. Got me wondering if there are other bloggers in Germany or Ireland who would be interested in posting similar promo banners on their blogs to spread the word about the upcoming European leg of our What's Wrong With This World Tour. (End of October)

Let me know if you are and where you are and I'll make something up for you. Good idea, Supersimbo. Thanks.

THE NEW SHLOG

How do you build an eight page artist website for $622? Do it yourself.

Kat's donated her time and energy to creating all the code and hard stuff and purchasing the right guts for me and I've been working for, um, forever in the graphic end of things. I'm putting the finishing touches on the artwork this weekend. Soon, very soon, the new shaungroves.com will be launched and a new shlog.com along with it.

The two shall become one. Thanks for you donations that made all this possible.

Here's a sneak peak at the new shlog.com page - text has been dropped in as a guide for Kat only. You get the idea - in progress.



Stuff I like about the new shlog.com:

  • Recent comments get displayed at the top of the page, which should keep posts that fall off the main page alive along with the conversation.

  • Recent discussion on the message board pertaining to the blog will also be highlighted over on the far right side bar, also keeping the discussion going.

  • The blog roll won't be a mile long but will rotate a set number of names on and off. Every blog linking to me gets a turn in the roll without the roll taking up a ton of space.

  • You can search for posts based on date or category or search the blog for words or phrases.

  • Sure we'll keep a list of recent posts up top but you'll also be able to see what posts are most popular. Did you know that my Chuck Finney post from ages ago continues to be one of the most visited posts I've ever written...still? Of course not, but now you will, and new visitors will be able to catch up on the most popular moments in shlog history.

  • The first few hundred words of each post will be displayed, not the whole post, so you can skim the day's entries quickly and only choose to READ MORE of the posts that interest you.

    Anything else you'd like to see? It's not too late to make a few changes for you...but almost.

  • 9/21/2006

    IT'S ALL ABOUT ME...I MEAN YOU

    From Andrew Beaujon's Body Piercing Saved My Life. Is this true?

    Worship tunes tend to evince an adolescent theology, one that just can't get over how darn cool it is that Jesus sacrificed himself for the world. "Our God is an awesome God." "Oh Lord, you are glorious." "How can it be/That you, a king, would die for me?" Moreover, it's self-centered in a way that reflect evangelicalism's near-obsession with having a personal relationship with Christ. It's me Jesus died for. I just gotta praise the Lord.

    Not for nothing is "Amazing Grace," which marvels at the author's salvation, one of the few traditional hymns to be regularly included in modern worship services. Absent is any hint of community found in hymns such as "The Church Is [sic] One Foundation" -- the Jesus of worship music is a mentor, a buddy, a friend whose message is easily distilled to a single command: praise me. Not "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner." Simply thank him for his gift to
    you (and make sure to display copyright information at the bottom of the screen so royalties can be disbursed).

    Buy Body Piercing Saved My Life

    (HT:MS)

    TAKING PERMISSION SERIOUSLY

    What kind of marketer are you? Am I? You are one whether you realize it or not.

    Seth Godin is the guru of marketing I've been waiting for the last five years, able to condense all the malarky and guess work of marketing down to musician-level simplified inspiration and practical application. (Thanks Matthew for introducing us.)

    He's written about permission marketing a great deal - the idea that consumers often do the marketing/advertising for the product/company. In the music busines we call these marketing-capable consumers "fans." Joining a street team is the most commonly recognized form of fan-driven marketing in Nashville but there's so much more fans do to spread the word, intentionally and unintentionally.

  • Burning a copy of a CD you love (if granted permission to do so by the artist) and passing it on to five friends is also fan marketing.

  • As is playing that CD in your car

  • Taking your friends to a concert

  • Or entering their names when downloading an artist's free music.

    It's all marketing. Passing on knowledge or experience of a product you love, whether the product is a person, sound or idea.

    More powerful, I believe, than banner adds on web sites and full page adds in Rolling Stone. Enough fans talking well about an artist and that artist will spread even without radio play, great placement in stores, a budget or a massive tour. Fans, acting as marketers, enabled and encouraged by the artist (permission), can make an artist.

    But it has to be done well - the fans job that is. WHAT a fan says and HOW a fan says it creates an image, an identity, for an artist that can help or hurt the artist.

    Fan marketing has to be true. It has to accurately reflect the product.

  • When a tiny tiny portion of X Artist's fan base reacted to me on X's message board recently for posting about X in what they saw as a negative way, I immediately thought "This isn't how X would want to be defended. This doesn't fit what I know about X." Their reaction (marketing) told a lie about who X is and what X's music is about. And in calling me names and making threats in reaction to my "harming" X's career they may have, ironically, done a better job of it than I.

    Because we are all marketers, willing or unwilling, what we say and how we say it affects the products we represent. Not only that, but simply who we ARE has the same effect.

  • When rappers started wearing Adidas back in the 1980s the shoe became associated with the new youthful innovative urban sounds of Run DMC and the like. Before that, Adidas were just tennis shoes for adults. The type of consumer wearing the shoes changed the product's DNA.

  • An Adult Contemporary radio station asked me once how they could attract more college students (I was a college-aged pastor at the time.) I told them they probably couldn't. Adult Contemporary Christian radio is too closely associated with moms to attract many from outside that narrow audience - especially college students who want to think they're cooler than their mother.

    In church planting circles there's a theory that the first 100 members determine the kind of members the next 1000 will be. The trajectory of a product is set early on by who the early adopters are.

  • My career was jolted to life five years ago by much appreciated massive amounts of Adult Contemporary radio play. Over 100K records (and fans) resulted. And those early fans, to a degree, determined the kind of fans I've had ever since. Getting my "product" to spread in another subculture has been difficult to say the least. (This blog has helped.) I'd love to retain my original audience and their friends while moving to other types of music lovers as well but it seems unlikely. Seth might say metaphoricaly that I need Run DMC to wear my shoes on the MTV Music Awards.

  • I was interested in Howard Dean as a candidate for a second, based really, honestly, only on his black horse status. I like the underdog. Karate Kid. Rocky. Good flicks. But when certain celebrities attached their names, anger and angendas to his candidacy he suffered and lost my interest. They tld me something about who he is and away I went.

    All this to say, I wonder how my "fans", my marketers, communicate me to other people and what impact that has on my ministry/career if any. I wonder what I can do to better support their efforts and clarify who I am for them. What do they want? What do they need?

    This blog has been a step toward supporting their accurate marketing efforts. No one need guess who I am and what I'm about. I'm here everyday. Talk to me. Hopefully you'll find something worth marketing...I mean talking about with your friends. And by all means, let me know if I can help you have a better conversation with them.

    You have more power than anyone in a marketing meeting. Seriously. Thanks to those who wield for me. Wouldn't be here without you.

  • 9/20/2006

    OPEN SEAT

    I took my seat on the aisle as usual and tried to look smelly and mean. There were a zillion pixels needing to be pushed around on my computer screen, twice as many e-mails awaiting replies and I work better alone. Alone as in no one sitting next to me elbowing me throughout the two hour flight, no one with a crying or squirming child, no one trying to start conversations despite my laptop being open: the international sign for "don't bother me, I'm busy."

    I stared at the ground, my legs spread as wide as comfortably possible as if to say "sit by me and you'll lack personal space." Passenger after passenger passed, not even entertaining the idea of filling the empty seat next to the scruffy faced leggy hippie.

    Until Bob. Undaunted, he took the seat beside me, smiling as if excited about it. I had a feeling my work was about to be interrupted.

    "My name's Bob," he said holding out his wrinkled puffy hand. "Do you mind putting my coat up top for me?"

    "No problem," and I stood to open the baggage compartment across from us.

    "Is that your guitar? Are you a musician?"

    "Yea," I said, giving only the information requested and not a subject or predicate more.

    "What kind of music do you play?"

    I usually don't answer this way but I confessed, "Christian pop rock stuff. When I travel alone it sounds a lot more like folk music. You know, singer songwriter stuff." I wondered if I'd gushed too much information, and kind of hoped I did. Maybe I'll make some progress on this flight after all.

    Minutes later our metal bird rose from the earth and up through a thin misty layer of clouds. I closed my eyes and prayed. For peace. For my kids. For my wife. For more time. And then inexplicably the prayer cross-faded in my mind with a frantic inner voice recounting everything I had to accomplish in the next two hours. The list eventually drowned out the prayer altogether and I eagerly anticipated the sweet ding of 10,000 feet.

    Ding.

    "You may now use all approved electronic devices. Cell phones and two way pagers must remain in the off position for the duration of this flight..."

    I unhinged my tray table, unpacked my computer and went to work. Bob turned the pages of a thick book slowly, mmm-hmmming occasionally.

    "Have you heard of this book? Fascinating really," Bob interrupted.

    And the conversation began. We started on how Bob heard about the book: Son-in-law, a microbiologist, suggested it. Moved on to where Bob got the book: A used book store back home in Burbank he'd passed on his daily routine a hundred times without noticing. Wound eventually to what the book is about: The origins of the universe from "a decidedly scientifically agnostic perspective."

    Bob was seventy-two, with two daughters, both married to scientists, both with PHDs of their own. Bob has a PHD in Zoology and taught high school Biology for nine years before entering the medical field as a researcher - in the early days of AIDS discovery. His wife passed away around that time as well, of cancer, and he met his second wife, a nurse, at the hospital where they both worked one floor apart for years without bumping into each other. She was a neonatal nurse. They're both retired now and travel the country seeing their remaining friends and family and "appreciate the beauty of this great country of ours."

    Bob on why he stopped teaching school: "I cared more about the subject than the students. And I knew I could never force them to be as fascinated with the subject matter as I was. And that had been my reason for teaching all along."

    Bob on figuring out what to be when he grew up: "How'd I decide which field to enter next? I was thirty six and at that age I didn't know who I was. I got lucky. I chose a job that allowed me to learn and obsess about something which I love and it turned out to fit precisely who I would become when I grew up and knew who I was. I've been fortunate."

    Bob on scientific agnosticism: "The universe as we know it operates by one set of standards and rules at the macro level. Planets, stars, galaxies and time all abide by them. Yet at the subatomic level the rules change. Somehow the macro, with it's rules and standards, is made up of the subatomic, with it's contradicting rules and standards, and there are all sorts of theories about how this can be. A wise scientist says, 'I don't know.'"

    Bob on raising children: "It's true that time passes quickly. In a flash your daughters will be married and your son will be awake in need of a shave. Money and career and accomplishment, however, are still possibilities in your fifties and sixties. Your best work is your family and it can only be done today."

    Bob on Christianity: "I'm drawn to Eastern religion because its appropriately agnostic. There are gaps in logic, contradictions and seeming inaccuracies and this seems very much like the sort of thing which one would expect from the human translation of an infinite deity. I don't claim a religion. But at my age I understand better why that is. I regret that my Western mind and the scientific method did not allow God to be God. He had to be a scientist like me. And if God speaks to us it's surely not in the scientific language. And it's certainly not in the language of the American or Christian. Those languages are similar you know? Systematic. Formulaic. I wonder if you can tell me what Christianity was like before the institution we know today in the West, before religion adopted the methods and mindset of science?"

    Bob on the early church: "That sounds like mysticism to me. I like the writings on Zen, though I don't practice much of anything. There's something in common there don't you think?"

    Bob on me: "I wonder if you find your Christian audience as fascinated with these mystical counter-intuitive aspects of your faith as you? Are you a teacher finding more in love with the subject than your students? I'd like to be a teacher again. This time I'd love my students and the subject. I wonder then if some of my students would love me and come to love the subject as I do. I don't know. I guess you could say I'm appropriately agnostic about our ability to relive the past better in the present."

    And I've been pondering this ever since, with my laptop closed (sometimes), praying, asking for more Bobs to interrupt my busyness with kindness and conversation. The seat next to me is open.

    9/19/2006

    MERCY ME! BRODY'S GONE

    Brian's neighbor/my friend Brody is hitting the road for three months with an undisclosed band. Well, kinda undisclosed. He writes...

    "The band I am traveling with requested a certain anonymity, and I can only imagine it's because of certain privacy policies. So, for the next three months, it will be, "so long self" because I am here to serve and work behind the scenes. And if any other band approaches me in the next three months I will be forced to let them know that I am spoken for. "

    So if you're interested at all in what working in tour management for huge rock stars is like, check out his blog for journaling from a behind the scenes guy. And Brody, enjoy it while it lasts, man. Before you know it and you'll be back here in the cul de sac watching fifty kids with me and Brian in the heat of the afternoon. It'll be over in the "blink of an eye.

    See you when you're unemployed again.

    HELP OR HURT

    Do you ever feel like you're doing more harm than good? The thought's crossed my mind this morning.

    I wonder if part of that self-doubt exists because, well, fact is, those we hurt are often louder than those we help. I tend to carry around the one criticism from the past week as if it were a boulder, the majority view, as if there isn't a mountain of good that came out of the same seven days. Artistic temperament? Wuss? Perfectionism? A quest for peace? Or just human.

    I have to be honest with myself too and admit that I tend to blog more about the zippers down than the zippers up. It's funnier, more interesting, more educational, more comment getting - I rationalize - to talk about the stuff that's wrong, irritating, could be better, failed, a little off etc. It's how I learn too. Of course the funny educational benefits and the interstingness would wane a little for me if I were the wrong, irritating, could be better, failed, a little off thing being written about.

    Where is that line between honesty and hurtful, between analytical/constructively critical and just plain @$$hole? Why do some of us care so much more about the criticisms from the few than we do about the testimonies of good done well from the many?

    I just wonder. What do you think?

    9/18/2006

    A PAINTING A DAY

    Josh Cassidy - one of my guitar players, an IKONer, and a good friend - has started a blog where he promises to post one of his paintings every day...ish.

    Check it out.

    9/16/2006

    E I E I O

    Last night's suburban camp out by the numbers:

  • 9 kids 8 and under.

  • 4 dads.

  • 4 tents.

  • 1 backyard.

  • 1 campfire (OK, a small grill.)

  • 25 hot dogs and 10 hamburgers.

  • 1 bag of large marshmallows.

  • 1 dozen Hershey bars.

  • 1 box of Graham Crackers.

  • 4 campfire songs.

  • 8:30 bedtime.

  • 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • 50 barking dogs.

  • 10,000,000 crickets.

  • A dozen "I'm scared"s

  • 300 mosquito bites.

  • 1 sleepless night.

  • 4 aching adult backs.

  • 9 kids who want to do this again next Friday.

    E I E I O.

  • 9/15/2006

    SORTA FREE MOCKINGBIRD

    Derek Webb is offering his entire year-old record Mockingbird for "free" over at freederekwebb.com. Why sandwich the word free in quotes?

    SHE AIN'T BUYING IT
    Well, while it's technically free, monetarily speaking, some think it comes at a price - a price they're not willing to pay. Kat over at thesecretlifeofkat.com says she was disappointed that "in order to download the album I have to sign up for his mailing list AND submit FIVE of my friends email addresses."

    "What?!" she continued, probably with veins popping from her neck, "I rarely release my own email address and I would never give away the email addresses of FIVE of my friends. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe no one else will care."

    [Added 9.19.2006 - Like a journalist, I do not agree with every source I quote on this blog. Sources are not me, but make points I find beneficial, germane, interesting and/or expert on the subject at hand. Their views influence how I think obviously but are not 100% or at all representative of how I think on this or any other issue. I agreed with Kat in part, not in whole, at the time I quoted her: I am hesitant to release my own or my friends' e-mail addresses and wonder if I am the only one.]

    WHY DO I CARE?
    Well, I care. It's not free. It's not wrong either, but it's not free - not in the mind of some consumers. The cost is high, I admit, in my mind as well. I'm not coughing up my friends' e-mail addresses to Derek Webb, as nice of a guy as I know he is, for anything, no matter how generous the offer. But is this a generational reservation some of us have?

    Kat and I are of the same age - immigrants to the digital world. We value e-mail addresses and on-line privacy. She uses a screen name on-line (a wise thing I think) and I would if I could. We're protective, cautious, in this cyberworld we weren't born into. Could this be the reason for our red flags? Could this be why we define "free" differently than Mr.Webb and so many of his fans who've downloaded Mockingbird without reservation?

    FREE SELLS
    Whether or not Kat and I are willing to trade our friends' addresses for a "free" download or not, it's obvious a lot of folks are. The Tennessean reports that Derek reports a doubling of sales on the road after the "free" download was made available. And he's certainly garnered a little press from the campaign. How much of that is the novelty, the newness of a different approach to music business? How much of that reaction is reaction against the music industry? How much of his support is coming from people who tell me every night that if I really loved Jesus I would give my music away? Who knows? What we do know is, free or not, this promotion of Derek's is working in a big way.

    Only time will tell if this kind of "free" will continue to be acceptable to music fans. Regardless of the results, I both have reservations about the new definition of "free" Derek and others have created and have tremendous admiration for his innovative devotion to his fans and the business of making music as an indie. "I'm looking at my career and trying to figure out ways to make it work," Derek says. "I'm trying to embrace the technological tools that are available to me and broaden my mind to every possibility." Aren't we all? We're watching and learning Mr.Webb.

    Torn on this one. How about you?

    ONE NATION UNDER GODS

    We're apparently one nation under Gods.

    The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion has completed what it calls "the most extensive and sensitive study of religion ever conducted." With help from Gallup, Baylor completed the "multi-year study of religious values, practices, and behaviors" they've not so succinctly named "American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depths and Complexity of Religion in the U.S." (Download the pdf here.)

    The ISR states, "Most survey studies that include questions about religion only have space to ask about basic religious indicators such as church attendance and belief in God." Their survey goes much much farther. Among other fascinating findings the study concludes that we Americans have four views of God.

    True, 95% of us say we believe in God or a god. But we don't believe in the same god. Of course we worship gods with different names, attached to different religious traditions and labels, but the Baylor folks claim all these thousands of differences can really be boiled down to four. Four gods. Four gods distinct only in how angry they are and how involved they are in the world.

  • HIGH ANGER + HIGH INVOLVEMENT = AUTHORITARIAN GOD: "Individuals who believe in the Authoritarian God tend to think that God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They tend to believe that God helps them in their decision-making and is also responsible for global events such as economic upturns or tsunamis. They also tend to feel that God is quite angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly."

  • LOW ANGER + HIGH INVOLVEMENT = BENEVOLENT GOD: "Like believers in the Authoritarian God, believers in a Benevolent God tend to think that God is very active in our daily lives. But these individuals are less likely to believe that God is angry and acts in wrathful ways. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn or punish individuals."

  • HIGH ANGER + LOW INVOLVEMENT = CRITICAL GOD: "Believers in a Critical God feel that God really does not interact with the world. Nevertheless, God still observes the world and views the current state of the world unfavorably. These individuals feel that God’s displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world."

  • LOW ANGER + LOW INVOLVEMENT = DISTANT GOD: "Believers in a Distant God think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry either. These individuals tend towards thinking about God as a cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion. As such, God does not “do” things in the world and does not hold clear opinions about our activities or world events."

    Is it possible, in light of yesterday's post, that the real God is none of these, or paradoxically more than one or all of these? Is it possible to discover what God is truly like, not get every stinking question answered about Him, but get some of the general character questions answered without projecting one of these four gods, one of perceptions of Him, onto Him? Is it possible? How do we try? Should we try?

    (HT:PW)

  • 9/14/2006

    SHOW ME THE HAPPY

    TIME Magazine has written about religion yet again. This time it's a piece called Does God Want You To Be Rich? - all about prosperity doctrine, or the teaching that God wants us to be happy and have stuff.

    It's an interesting article, slanted at times, painfully accurate most, holding a mirror up to the evangelical church in America.

    It would be easy to jump in the parade and march to defeat the theology of Osteen and company, to call the prosperity preachers kooks for selling Jesus as a perpetually smiling Percocet popping grandpa with deep pockets. But TIME's finger is pointing in my chest too I think.

    So some folks teach a God that wants us to have stuff and lots of it, and be beautiful and successful in the big house and nice car kind of way. How's that really any different from a church or Christian who...

  • says we're to "worship God with excellence" and this means having the best lighting and best performers and best digital mixing console and best...?

  • has to dress up on Sunday morning, whether in slacks and a tie or in Diesel jeans and designer t-shirt, or they feel wrong (or less cool) somehow?

  • says God only wants ten percent of my income and wants me to spend the other ninety percent on me and mine.

  • demands "energetic", "positive", or "practical" teaching at all times in church? (Practical, meaning I can use this to fix something like my finances or my kids right now in four easy steps.)

  • says "it was a total God thing" only when the house sells quickly or the paycheck is enough for the bills or the doctor says the test was negative - but never when the house sits on the market for two years, the paycheck isn't enough and the doctor says, "It's cancer"?

    Aren't all these branches off the same tree: Viewing faith as a means to my ends and God as an always-pampering servant of mine.

    And non-Christians/non-religious/atheists aren't off the hook either I suppose. (Why do I feel the need to add a smiley here for clarification of tone?) I wonder how all this applies to you. I think it does. Think about why you're not religious/not Christian/atheist for me. Religion seem too narrow minded for you? Too unkind? A real God wouldn't be like the Christian God? One way and all that junk? Well, if there is a God, I mean just imagine there is for a minute, why would He have to be the kind of God you want Him to be? Is it possible that there could be a God who said through Jesus "The way is narrow that leads to life" and "not everyone will find it" - is that possible, even though it makes you unhappy? If God is really God, isn't it likely and logical that He'll do or say something sometime eventually that we humans, that you, that I, just don't like? Don't think so? Well, I wonder if you're a prosperity preacher in atheist/universalist/non-religious clothing then. I wonder.

    The pursuit of happiness. It's the thing that can make a church spend a million on a sound upgrade and the thing that keeps some others away from "organized religion" altogether. God forbid God be or do anything that makes us unhappy.

    Yep. With this big finger in my chest I don't feel much like picking on Mr.Osteen this time. Looks too much like the rest of us...to me.

  • 9/13/2006

    I'D LIKE MY CRAYONS BACK, PLEASE

    Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.

    Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, "I'd like my crayons back, please."

    So you've got the itch to do something. Write a screenplay, start a painting, write a book, turn your recipe for fudge brownies into a proper business, whatever. You don't know where the itch came from, it's almost like it just arrived on your doorstep, uninvited. Until now you were quite happy holding down a real job, being a regular person...

    Until now.

    You don't know if you're any good or not, but you'd think you could be. And the idea terrifies you. The problem is, even if you are good, you know nothing about this kind of business. You don't know any publishers or agents or all these fancy-shmancy kind of folk. You have a friend who's got a cousin in California who's into this kind of stuff, but you haven't talked to your friend for over two years...

    Besides, if you write a book, what if you can't find a publisher? If you write a screenplay, what if you can't find a producer? And what if the producer turns out to be a crook? You've always worked hard your whole life, you'll be damned if you'll put all that effort into something if there ain't no pot of gold at the end of this dumb-ass rainbow...

    Heh. That's not your wee voice asking for the crayons back. That's your outer voice, your adult voice, your boring & tedious voice trying to find a way to get the wee crayon voice to shut the @#$% up.

    Your wee voice doesn't want you to sell something. Your wee voice wants you to make something. There's a big difference. Your wee voice doesn't give a @#$% about publishers or Hollywood producers.

    Go ahead and make something. Make something really special. Make something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it.

    If you try to make something just to fit your uninformed view of some hypothetical market, you will fail. If you make something special and powerful and honest and true, you will succeed.

    The wee voice didn't show up because it decided you need more money or you need to hang out with movie stars. Your wee voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. There's something you haven't said, something you haven't done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

    So you have to listen to the wee voice or it will die... taking a big chunk of you along with it.

    They're only crayons. You didn't fear them in kindergarten, why fear them now?


    I didn't write all that. But you can get more inspiration and frank talk about creativity from the guy who did over at Gaping Void.

    (HT:BH)

    QUESTAPALOOZA

    I thought we ran out of paloozas in the late nineties but the folks at Quest Community Church in Lexington, Kentucky proved me wrong. They kicked off the first ever Questapalooza - "a party for Lexington" - this past weekend and I was there.



    I know this should have been written a few days ago but I'm a slacker this week. A picture's worth, well, you know, so here they are:



    The church kicked off a new "teaching series" called "CRAVE" (I think I should get a royalty for that or something) and decked out their stage for it. (Those letters light up individually, by the way.)



    Crystal Lewis sang in the three morning services with the Quest band and performed at Questapalooza later that night along with me and Tait.



    Quest is the most unusual looking church I've been in, having taken over a fitness center and restaurant combo a few years back and remodeled it into usable space.



    On many of the walls are tiny black matted cards, each telling the story of one member of the church. I think I read them all. Reminders that this building and this crowd has been used to change a lot of people.





    The palooza offered two hot air balloons, a mechanical bull, rides, meats on sticks, funnel cakes, ice cream and, oh yea, a stage with singer people on it.


    I thought all this was worth posting first, to say thanks to Quest Church for having me back - this time for their palooza - and second, to expose folks around the world to a different kind of church. It's good to see different ways of being Christian - a huge gift my job gives me every weekend. If you're in an Anglican church in England, for instance, sitting quietly on Sunday mornings under a steeple taking in the organ prelude, you may not have had the chance yet to see a Church like Quest. It's good to recognize the diversity in Christianity around the world. Worth chronicling I think.

    9/12/2006

    GRAPHICS ON THE WEB

    I've spent the last three weeks relearning how to be a graphic designer. I was one once. When I wasn't selling Walkman's at Service Merchandise or janitoring or planning worship services at the church I was designing album covers for indie artists...who sometimes paid. (There's still a lady out of Texas who owns me money.)

    Five updates of Photoshop and seven years later I'm having to learn all over again how to lay out a t-shirt and a website. Haven't had a lot of luck with designers lately (or money) so I'm doing it myself. Time consuming but fun.

    For the rest of the graphic design geeks out there, here are some helpful sites I've discovered/been pointed to while relearning.

    iStock.com - Great cheap stock images.

    DaFont.com - Free fonts galore.

    Deviantart.com - An on-line community of artists and designers sharing files and inspiration. Searchable. Tons of free PhotoShop brushes.

    Corbis.com" - I've used Corbis for a while now for stock photos and video. Free comp size images and watermarked video files with registration.

    What did I miss? Where do you go for all things graphic design?

    9/11/2006

    FILLING IN

    I'm filling in for the Director of Domestic Affairs this morning while she's at the grocery store picking up supplies and catching up on alone time. I'll report on this weekend's travels sometime soon I hope.

    Until then...

    9/08/2006

    LOSING MY RELIGION

    If you're Zoroastrian you're losing your religion.

    Seth Godin writes:

    The New York Times has a piece today about Zoroastrians. The religion is fading, almost certainly to extinction. After more than 3,000 years, one of the most important monotheistic religions is going to go away.

    We can learn an important lesson about ideaviruses from religions, because they are in many ways the original (and longest-lasting) examples of the genre.

    If you want to build a religion that spreads, here are some things to build into it:

    Bias for evangelism
    Sharp distinction between insiders and outsiders
    Presumption that insiders are 'right' or 'blessed' or 'advantaged'
    Proscription against intermarriage without conversion
    Forbid one gender to work outside the home
    Central hierarchy that maintains the faith and settles disputes
    Offer significant (very) long-term benefits to believers


    Read Seth's entire piece here.

    Seth left out an important ingredient of the world's top religions: Procreation.

    Islam, Hinduism, Morminism and Catholicism all have, built into their religious beliefs, taught benefits to procreation and/or prohibitions against birth control. So the "ideavirus" that is their religion spreads by birth - lots of births. In business this would be like creating customers that must create more customers in order to continue to be customers. It's AmWay.

    Sorry Seth, but this is too big a factor in the spread of major world religions for a bright guy like you to have overlooked. And it has so many applications to the business world too. Surprised you missed it.

    Any others you'd like to add? Any you think don't belong on his list?

    DREAM JOB

    Brian's on the verge of getting his dream job I think. No, his dream job is not booking me, traveling with me and baby-sitting me. Go figure. His dream job will unite the things he's better than most people at (talents) and the things he cares about most (passions). And he could get paid for that!

    Seeing Brian's dream appear on the horizon like this has made me wonder what mine is. It's not traveling the country making music. I love that, and I'm thankful for and more than content with that, but it's not the best I can imagine. But what is?

    I like to repackage old ideas with new metaphors and applications. I'm not bright enough to reinvent the wheel but I have miraculous moments when I'm able somehow to make a wheel that people pay attention to. It's rare but I can't help smiling when it happens.

    I have flashes of dreaminess when I speak to crowds or small gatherings of Christians about what it means to be a Christian. I love teaching. I'm not the best at it but I enjoy it more than making music these days. But not just relaying facts, but finding ways to provoke and inspire. It's hard work for me, takes hours of preparation and even then I'm rarely satisfied with the results, but in spite of the dissatisfaction teaching's still my favorite thing to do - besides eat TexMex of course.

    I get excited when I write articles for magazines like Worship Leader or CRW or Campus Life. Again, I think that has to do with teaching and the interaction that happens afterwards through the blog and mail.

    Speaking of interaction, I wish I could just spend every day talking to people about ideas and life in general. I love poker night when I just chill with friends and talk and listen and laugh (and win their money). The hang time after concerts is my favorite part of most weekends. I like discovering people.

    I love big picture theorizing and strategizing - taking a problem and working with a team to brainstorm solutions. Some of the most satisfying moments in my life have been the collisions of lots of people's ideas to make one great idea better than the individuals'. To walk away from a meeting with a better way, with a new way, with a plan - as dorky as it sounds - does it for me. I want to make things better or make things possible that were thought impossible - and I want to do that with a team.

    I get excited when I think about joining people in need - physical, emotional, mental, spiritual - with people who can meet that need. Finding a benevolent doctor for a sick person who can't pay. Guiding concert goers to a Compassion International table to save a kid's life. Answering questions an agnostic has about faith. Helping someone in Uganda or a crisis pregnancy center in Houston find financial support. I like connecting people to what they need - especially when getting what they need will help other people get their needs met.

    The only thing I don't like about traveling is being away from my family. Traveling in moderation - six to eight days a month - keeps my family healthy and my addiction to seeing new places satisfied. But I have to travel for a good reason. I get pumped about traveling to a place I'm needed, to a place I need, to do something of value. I don't like vacationing as much as I enjoy flying to Ecuador or ElSalvador to learn and work. I want to get my hands dirty and not just talk about the world "out there" and how much help they need, and how much they have to teach me. I want to do it. I want to go. That's the kind of traveling I can into.

    Does a job that incorporates all this even exist? Well, if you've got one to offer I'd leave music today (after fulfilling my promise of making a live CD of course) to take it.

    What's your dream job?

    MEET SOME SHLOGGERS

    Check out these new(ish) blogs by Shlog readers:

    Apparently a really really ridiculously smart guy reads my blog...and links to me. He works for Harvard, where he also works on a Masters in Divinity. Geez. I suddenly feel the need to spellcheck. Thanks for the linkage, Lane.

    My neighbor/friend Brody has been a mailman, a 9-1-1 operator, a paint store clerk, a road manager for a rock band of some repute and now he's a blogger - linking to Shlog. Thanks, man. If I ever need my house painted, my mail sorted, the police summoned or my rockstarness managed you're the guy. Until then your blog's good for a profound thought or a laugh.

    What blogs have you discovered lately?

    9/06/2006

    WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS WORLD TOUR

    What's wrong with this world tour? Well, for starters it's not very big, not exactly the "world." (Makes me laugh anyway) But here's where we'll be. Websites, venues and other details coming soon. And if you have anything for us in England on 10.27.06 drop us a line.

    Thanks,
    Shaun


    I DON'T THINK THAT WORD MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS

    Wow, so yesterday's poll sure stirred things up didn't it? Sorta expected it would. But that wasn't the point.

    While I was at Glorieta this weekend I caught up on some blog reading and lapped up Brant's commentary on a recent TIME magazine article concerning a poll taken of American Christians. The Pew Research Group - reputable pollsters for sure - asked American Christians if they were "American" or "Christian" first.

    Less than half of American Christians said they were Christians first. This was much lower than the percentage of Muslims in various countries - also polled - who said they were Muslims before citizens of any nation. Yet the comparison was made for the millionth time between Christians and Muslims - Christians being a potential threat to security and democracy everywhere. The not so subtle message of the piece being that anyone devoted to a religion to the exclusion of anything or anyone else is dangerous. The ideal loving American thing is to be non-commital or universal or agnostic.

    Heard it before. Boring.

    What was interesting about this article though - to me anyway - was the shock and surprise of the, I'm guessing, non-Christian TIME writer. He seemed unpleasantly surprised that there were so many Christians in America espousing such a dangerous level of allegiance to their faith.

    I felt for him. I really did. He didn't understand why the choice between being American and Christian first even exists in the mind of some folks. He was perplexed that the Christians polled didn't laugh at the question, didn't think it was a silly one. They validated it instead by answering it.

    I think he can rest easy for now though. These words may not mean to the people polled what he thinks they mean - what they mean to him. It's a bad question for that reason isn't it? I mean, define the terms with me.

    American: 1) A citizen of America. 2)A resident of an American territory. 3)Someone in agreement with the values of the majority of those living in America or with American citizenship. 4)A capitalist. 5)Someone who is patriotic. 6)Someone who is pro-military 7)Someone who thinks America is the best country ever. 8)Someone who obeys the national, state and local laws and Constitution of America.

    Christian: 1)Someone who believes Jesus is a god or a prophet or a good teacher. 2)Someone who believes Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to reconciliation with God 3)Someone who goes to a Christian church 4)Someone who is "born again" 5)Someone who follows the teachings of Jesus. 6)Someone who's nice and believes in God. 7)Someone who prayed a "sinner's prayer" when she was six. 8)Someone who believes in Jesus so they can go to Heaven one day. 9)Someone who doesn't do drugs, play poker, drink alcohol or do other "bad" stuff.

    And you could add so many more definitions to these words. This is a problem that makes attributing meaning to this poll's results nearly impossible.

    For instance, someone who says they're an American first may be thinking chronologically. They may reason that they had to have the freedom first - as an American - to attend a church or have a conversion before they could hear about Jesus and Christianity. They may also define "Christian" as a set practices (like going to church or owning a bible) we can't engage in without the religious freedoms of a place like America. They may NOT be saying, as I'm tempted to assume, that if they had to choose between renouncing beliefs about Jesus and renouncing citizenship in America that they'd renounce Jesus. They may not be saying they love country more than Christ.

    Likewise, someone who says they're a Christian first may not mean what I assume they mean. They may prefer a theocracy to a democracy or some other nonsense. Or they could SAY they're a Christian first but live that out differently from me - voting for pro-life candidates but not actually doing anything with their time and money and church to prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring, for instance. When I say I'm a Christian first that has far reaching implications on my reponse to abortion and just about every other issue generally handled by politicians. It means that instead of insisting the government "fix" abortion - to stick with that example - I'll mentor teens, take care of kids at my church, adopt kids, buy sonogram machines, put a pregnant woman up in my house for nine months and beyond if her family shuns her, etc. But from the looks of things, being Christian first doesn't have the same consequences for everyone - different definitions don't you think? It sounds good to say we're Christians first, in other words, but I wonder what that really means to Christians who continue to abdicate mercy showing duties to a government we claim isn't our first love?

    I wish the poll reported 100% of Christians in America saw themselves as Christians first, but that's because I'm defining the terms in a way that differs from the author over at TIME. I empathize with everyone who answers differently than me and I'm suspect of everyone who answers the same as me because I'm not so sure we all mean the same thing when we say "Christian" and "American."

    So I invite those of you who answered yesterday's poll to define the terms as you understand them. Your definition no doubt determined your answer. What is an American and what is a Christian? Now THAT, unlike TIME'S poll, will help us understand each other a little better.

    (PS. Try not to use Sunday School or patriotic cliches in crafting your definition. It's hard but I'd like to know what these words mean to you.)

    9/05/2006

    WHAT ARE YOU?

    A question for Christians who are also American citizens...


    ARE YOU AN AMERICAN OR A CHRISTIAN FIRST?
    AMERICAN
    CHRISTIAN
      
    Free polls from Pollhost.com


    9/04/2006

    POST NEW MEXICO

    The Albuquerque, New Mexico airport has FREE wireless internet access. Sweet! (I think Fort Lauderdale is the only other place I've found this.) And the Wi-Fi here is much faster than the service at Glorieta, where I've been all weekend...and with no filters keeping me from being able to post to my own blog.

    We're waiting to board our flights home, still laboring on Labor Day.

    The singles conference was better than expected. Honestly, I was scared about teaching such a diverse multi-generational group. The room was packed each day with about 350 single adults ages 19 to 90. No joke. But everything worked out more than alright. I've never been hugged so much or laughed with so much by a group of strangers.

    Thanks to everyone at the conference.

    Audio will be podcast..podcasted...um, will be on-line soon - in the next couple weeks.

    Happy Labor Day.

    9/02/2006

    MYTRUTH, YOUR OPINION

    My former label set up my myspace page. They grew it to a whopping 2,000 "friends" over more than a year without doing anything but hitting the "accept" button every time I got a "friend" request. An intern did that for them. Her name was Robyn. She also updated my touring schedule on that myspace page and sent along any messages that my "friends" sent to my myspace inbox.

    It was Robyn. All Robyn. Not me.

    Shocked? I felt like I needed to confess that.

    Ready for some more? Might shock you so sit down before reading on.

    In the last two months I've doubled the number of "friends" I have by being proactive. I bought a program that adds "friends" for me. I just tell it who I want - women age 30-37 or singles looking for relationships living within 30 miles of Dublin or bands who list Def Leopard as musical influences or guys over fifty with the words "Star Trek" in their profiles. And BAM those people get a friend request from me.

    Cool with that? Well, it gets worse.

    I also steal friends from other artists. I can put in David Crowder's myspace user ID number, for instance, and hit send and every one of his "friends" are instantly asked to be my friend too. (Well, 500 a day can be asked...myspace has some decency and limits automated friend requests.)

    Alright, and ready for this? I can comment on anyone's myspace page without ever seeing their page - without even knowing who the heck they are. I can, again, search for specific kinds of people with specific interests living in specific places and essentially spam them by commenting on their myspace page with this program. Hundreds at a time.

    So, I add about fifty friends every day - justifying my behavior with such moderation - using a program that does not treat my fellow myspace users as "friends" but as customers. My question to you: Is this wrong?

    It's effective. No question about it. I've asked every myspace user within 50 miles of the live recording venue in Knoxville (with certain characteristics) to be my friend. And I've sent all those friends a comment and a message asking them to come see the show. Over 100 people have e-mailed me back saying they'll be there. Tomorrow I'll let them all know how they can get tickets for $5 in advance. And I'll sell some tickets.

    Why not do this with every show?

    That's the plan. I'm hiring a guy in October to do nothing but engage in on-line shenanigans like this for me. How ethical is it though? How's it make you, a fan, a myspace user, a "friend" feel? And should that stop me and labels desperate for exposure from doing it?

    Does anyone REALLY think myspace is for anything but hooking up and/or selling each other stuff? Really?

    9/01/2006

    NEW MEXICO

    I'm headed out the door to catch a plane to New Mexico. I'll be teaching (singing just a little bit) this weekend at a single adult conference. I'm gonna try to post some audio from the weekend. We'll see if I'm technically savvy enough to pull that off.

    Later,
    Shaun