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10/31/2006

HOME FOR HALLOWEEN

We arrived in Nashville late last night, Becky and I having successfully stayed awake all day so we'd be ready for bed when we got home - forcing ourselves back onto a U.S. schedule. The kids were a little weirded out when we woke them up this morning - not so sure, I think, that the sugar wielding grandparents should be replaced so soon.

I opened the pantry to get started on breakfast to find our organic cereals now outnumbered by boxes with cartoon characters on them and partially hydrogenated crap inside them. I had a few bowls - you know, I can trash the stuff. That's wasteful.

I opened the kids' closets to get them dressed for the day and they're a little more full than before we left.

I went to the bathroom and the doorknob's been replaced.

I walked out the front door and the sidewalk is swept, Halloween decorations I've never seen before deck the steps, and the mailbox has been moved.

My kids are taller. Penelope's learned new words. Gresham outgrew his shoes. Gabriella is no longer in love. Everything's changed.

I need a day to adjust to all this of course so no e-mail and no work. Just resting up for trick-or-treating tonight and getting used to home again.

10/27/2006

NATIONAL GALLERY

We're splitting up today, our last day in London. Brian and Amy headed out a while ago to see Buckingham Palace and London Bridge and Becky and I slept in, got showered and dressed lazily and will eventually head out to the National Gallery to see Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Seurat and other masters I'v learned about in school but whose works I've never seen up close.

Then we're catching a movie.

Ann American movie.

Just because.

Just because seeing a movie without kids is a rare thing for us and worth flying all the way to Europe to enjoy.

Tomorrow, Germany.

10/26/2006

PAPARAZZI

Chicago (the musical, not the city) was great. Actually, sitting down for a couple hours was great - no matter what we watched. but Chicago was great. I need to look up the cast. There were a couple of real stand outs. I'm not familiar with her pop music, but Ashlee Simpson sang and danced very well tonight - no lip syncing I swear.

Then we met up with her mom , Tina, and headed back to Ashlee's dressing room. Amy, Brian's wife, baby sat Ashlee and Jessica years ago - don't mention it to her - she'll only roll her eyes and say "I'm so ooooold." Yea, she is. I am too. Which is probably a lot of why I've not been a fan of her discs, or known much about her.

Our visit back stage was mostly about seeing Joe, Amy's youth former minister and Ashlee's dad/manager. Becky's and Amy's father, still a pastor today, hired Joe while pastoring a church in the Dallas area long long ago. It's been good to give our wives a break for many many days here in Europe - even better to see Amy light up reuniting with old friends. They swapped stories and Brian and I were wallpaper, standing in the huddle saying nothing much at all, and I realized I was now on the other end of fame - though a much larger amount of it than I'm use to.

We were the old friends paying the visit, the ones asking for a quick picture and apologizing for the intrusion, the ones being told "it's no big deal." And it truly wasn't. Just old friends catching up. I even forgot for a minute that everyone with cable and a teen-ager knows this family.

Then we went out the door backstage marked EXIT and I remembered again. A mob of fans and paparazzi flashed away as if we were somebody. Actually, they flashed away at Brian and Amy, the first two through the door. Amy eeked and scooted backward into the building like a roach when the kitchen light's been turned on - quickly.

We looked for an alternate exit but were told by security that it was the paparazzi door or nothing, so out we went. This time, no flashes. I thought about pausing on the back steps and announcing to the media that I'm a famous blogger from the U.S. but decided at the last second to let Ashlee have all the limelight. She earned it. And I can be famous some other day.

Or never.

I might just move to London and play the sax in a musical.

CATHEDRALS

We toured St.Paul's Cathedral and West Minster Abbey in London today. St.Paul's is the oldest Protestant (non-Catholic) cathedral (seat of a bishop) in existence and Westminster Abbey is a former medieval monastery and current Anglican church where everyone from Mary Queen of Scots and Sir Isaac Newton to Darwin and Chaucer are buried. Fascinating history: the marriage of church and state, the control of church by state, the state as bishop of the church. The Anglican church, by it's own tour's admission, was birthed by a King who wanted a church to rule, one that would not demand his obedience - especially when it came to abstaining from divorce. No wonder America links church and state so closely - it's the mess we came from.

And the link between worship of God and nation is everywhere in these holy places. America's military even has a place of tribute in St.Paul's. A stained glass window incorporating Jesus, angels, the cross and the insignias of the US branches of armed service and our flag - mingle, mingle, mingle. Bizarre.

But beautiful. Every inch of these buildings is beautiful beyond my vocabulary, even if dimmed and marred are times by centuries of age.

The highlight for me: I was caught off guard at Westminster today by the final "attraction." It's the only thing I really wanted to see on my last visit but didn't get to. The 20th Century martyrs.

Ten statues of Christian martyrs from around the world stand on the exit wall of the Abbey. Oscar Romero. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King Jr. I started to cry for some unknown reason. It struck me unexpectedly. Inside the Abbey is a comprising blend of church and history museum, holy cathedral and tribute to warriors of the state and poets and scientists. Outside, stand the men and women who devoted themselves uncompromisingly to God above all.

Humbling.

Beautiful.

10/25/2006

LONDON

Just arrived in London from Scotland (5:15PM), took a cab from the train station to our hostel and checked in. Edinburgh (pronounced Edinburough) was relaxing. We spent almost the entire day touring the castle there, home to Kings and Queens for hundreds of years. More on that later I'm sure.

I won't be playing any music here in London but hope to take some in. We'll see the musical Chicago (starring Ashley (sp?) Simpson) tomorrow and hopefully get to hang out some with a couple journalist friends based here as well - over fish and chips would be nice.

I've caught the cold that left Brian a few days ago so I'm resting up and eating plenty - you know, for medicinal purposes - so I can be well enough to sing in Germany this weekend. Pictures to come and stories to tell when I return home. Until then, or the next WiFi spotting...

10/22/2006

UPDATE FROM IRELAND

I'm on a hotel in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, grabbing some blog time before we head out the door to play a church service nearby. I'm on the lobby computer - no WiFi around these parts. It's been a nice unintentional fast actually from all things wired: No cell phone. No internet. Ahh,relaxing.

Wanted to pop by here though to say thanks to all the Ireland bloggers that came to the show last night in Belfast, and thank everyone else who came as well. The last two days of shows have been great - I'm amazed anyone in America listens to my music - even more amazed anyone anywehere else does too.

A television station filmed last night's packed show in Belfast and will give us a DVD of it soon. We're investigating how to pass it on to you - many questions about royalties and permissions to work out, but we're beginning that process. Pictures of that show and the rest coming soon...well, if I get WiFi somewhere. I'm in no hurry to plug-in though.

Playing a youth oriented show tonight in Coleraine. Tomorrow we head to Scotland for a couple days, then England, then I start singing again in Germany. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for your prayers. I think the grandparents watching our kids need them more than us at this point. They're outnumbered.

Everything's great here.

10/17/2006

INVITED BACK

It's strange, as I've said before, that anyone asks me to come play music for them. Stranger still that an audience shows up to watch this music making. Even stranger when I get asked back.

The stranger thing has happened.

I'm headed back to Northern Ireland tomorrow, and to some places in Germany for the first time.

I toured parts of Europe as the opener for this guys named Michael W something or another. Tall. Tan. Has a plane and some awards and junk. Plays piano. Says "yea-yea-yea" and "woe-woe-woe" a lot when he sings. You know him? Anyway, he took me along on his European tour a couple years ago I guess it was. We played the largest venue in The Netherlands (a soccer arena seating 36,000), the historic Apollo Theatre in London, and loads of other amazing venues. Crowds were the largest and most involved of any I've ever witnessed. A privilege to play fifteen minutes for.

I came back raving about Europe, especially Northern Ireland, to Becky. And now she'll get to see it with me. Tomorrow she and I and Brian and his wife fly out for the What's Wrong With This World Tour (only slightly funny if you own my last CD). We'll make tour stops in Germany and Northern Ireland but vacation a little in Scotland and England as well.

Becky's never toured with me and doesn't see my shows unless they're album release concerts - when I have a full band. She hasn't seen me acoustic in the last several years, not since before I was signed. So I'm looking forward to playing for her, traveling with her, and watching her see for the first time what is definitely the most beautiful land I've ever seen.

Along the way I'll try to make time to blog, if I have internet access, share pics and maybe even some video, and stories (including one amazing tale from the Michael W. tour stop in Northern Ireland I've never told before.)

So be aware that if my blog goes static for a day or two or three it's not that I've given up blogging - I'm just on workation with my family...or sick from an overdose of fish and chips.

Definitely see you when I get back.

Tchus.

BREAKFAST WITH RANDALL

Almost a year ago I bumped into Randall Goodgame at a smokey lunchtime dive frequented by construction workers and elderly farmers and their wives. We were both there with our families, eating fried meats and cheesy veggies to the sounds of old school country twang coming from small speakers in a corner.

We exchanged e-mail addresses and a little small talk. We said "we should get together sometime" but I knew we never would - people in the music business just say that the way customer service agents say "let me put you on hold for just a minute." Never means what it should.

The next week I got an e-mail from Randall asking me when I'd like to go to breakfast. Since then we've tried to meet a dozen times and, always because of me, it never happened.

This morning it did.

We tried to meet - isn't this romantic in a purely heterosexual way? - where we first met (ahhhh). Figured fried meats and cheesy anything would make for a great breakfast. But it was closed. So we hung down the street at an equally unhealthy dive where a young waitress chased and swatted flies loudly throughout our entire breakfast and an English as a second language class shouted vowel sounds in unison from the back. A! E! I! O! Eeeewwwww!

In spite of the distractions we had great conversation. We have more in common than I'd thought. Besides both being musicians, Randall is now on staff at a church as a "part time" teaching pastor (not sure that's the title he used though). I've been "part time" at a church before. We've toured with the same folks - Ginny Owens, Jars of Clay - and swapped road stories. He has a wife and small kids. Me too. We worship Patty Griffin. We have the same thoughts about what music made by Christians can, and probably shouldn't, be. We've grown a lot in the last year in some of the same areas. We both blog. There was a lot to talk about, a lot of shared experience.

He caught me up on his work right now. He's writing for a new Caedmon's Call record and about to release a new disc, made up of songs he and Andrew Peterson wrote for their kids...kids they didn't have together but with women they married...each married one woman and then had kids...and then wrote songs for them...the kids, not the women.

The thing that struck me most about Randall was his listening. He mmm-hmmms a lot and nods and says things like "exactly" every now and then. There's not a trace of ADD in this man. He's focussed and right here right now the whole time. Made our first meeting easier than first meetings usually are for awkward me.

He gave me a history lesson on the Square Pegs (much different from how I thought it came to be). He gave me an invite to write sometime, maybe even take a tour of Osenga's studio/house if it works out. He gave me a book written by a nun in the 1600s - the title I can't recall right now but I'll definitely read. And he gave me two CDs of his. I gave him jack squat. So he probably won't call and ask me out again.

My stomach hurts now. Bacon and eggs and french toast are not my friends.

THanks for breakfast anyway, Randall. Glad we persisted. See you again in another nine months.

10/16/2006

THE BIG THANK YOU

I held off on blogging this until this morning because so few folks come here on the weekends.

A big thank you goes to everyone who had anything to do with the live recording's success on Friday night:

THE DONORS: You know who you are. Tons of people made donations for weeks leading up to this recording, and without those donations, seriously, it would not have happened. I was shocked at how quickly so much money was raised. Thank you, it's astounding to me that so many people cared about what we're trying to create, or cared about me and my music, to give us their hard earned cash. Amazing.

THE BOARDIES: There's a little community with a lot of love for each other and me, that's been meeting over on my message board for years now. Headed up by moderator/mother-hen/counselor/fried Nancy Tyler, this group rallies around everything I do. Just about all of them gathered inn Knoxville on Friday for the live recording a a sort of convention/reunion of sorts. Thank you to them for the years of support and sacrifice and prayers and encouragement and for driving hours to support me and each other in Knoxville. On days when I wonder if what I do makes a difference, if anyone cares - and those days are rare but certainly do occur - I think of you guys and I keep making music. Thank you.

BRIAN: Thanks to Brian for taking care of so many of the details of the day once we arrived in Knoxville so I could focus on my job. Brian jokes that he puts out bottled water for a living but he does much much more than that. In a sense he's an A&R guy and producer for this project. He helped me decide which songs sound good live and which just don't translate as well, what bits of my shows over the years I should resurrect - things that should be said etc. He's a spiritual advisor and best friend I couldn't do my job without him, definitely not this recording. Thanks, Brian.

JIM: Jim has a been a friend I rarely get to talk to for years now, sense he engineered my first record in 2000. He's worked with the best in Nashville and I'm honored he brought his skills to this project. Jim is the humblest of the sickeningly overly talented people I know, always wanting to serve the person he's working for above all. Always spilling compliments and encouragement but without the fakeness that often accompanies music biz flattery. If this project sounds great in the end it will be mostly because Jim Dineen worked on it. Thanks, Jim.

SEAN (AKA SULLY): Sean is the road manager/sound engineer for Selah but has worked for Watermark and a host of other talented folks in Nashville. At last minute Sean stepped in for us as sound guru. And did an amazing job. My guitar has NEVER sounded that good and a couple folks said they thought I was lip syncing because the vocal sounded like a record. That's Sully, not me. And again, Sully has a great attitude, very flexible and always trying to do "whatever you want" - a gift on a stressful day. Thanks, Sean.

NEW CITY CAFE: Kenny at New City Cafe was very accommodating, allowing us to change the way he sells tickets, change the time he usually does shows, change the way the room was set up, change the way his piano worked, and on and on. Kenny cared most about this project being a success and he put "the way he does things" second for us, without us realizing it until the day of. It dawned on me before I went on just how much Kenny at New CIty let us change, how kind he'd truly been to let us crash his venue and have our way with it. Thank you, Kenny, for years of letting me play at New City and for giving us a place to record on Friday.

LOVE 89: I'm not used to being all things label to myself. Definitely not used to thinking about publicity. So at the last minute it occurred to me that we had a great show planned but hadn't gotten the word out locally all that well. I called Marisa at LOVE 89 in Knoxville two weeks before and she got me on the air for two interviews. No small task when your programming's already, you know, programmed. Marisa has been a friend in the industry for years though, coming to my shows in Knoxville, sticking around afterward to catch up. Thanks to LOVE 89 and Marisa for being a key to the success of this project. No people, no recording. Thanks.

THE CROWD: I don't take for granted that anyone comes to my concerts. It's astounding every night when I walk out and see people who paid money to watch me play music. Strange. But great. Especially when we need to record people listening to my music. Thank you to everyone who came out, especially to those who drove hours, as much as sixteen hours, to be part of this recording. Thank you. I hope you left different than you came. And I hope to see you again soon.

SHLOG READERS: Thank you to everyone who encourages, donates, spreads the word, links, comments and reads. You gave me a place to dream up this project, and plan it out loud, so thank you. Thank you for just being here and part of what I do.

Thank you.

10/14/2006

ANDREW'S WINDOW

I love Andrew Osenga's blog. If for no other reason, it makes me feel less crazy - crazy in that no-one's-life-is-like-yours kind of way. It can be a bit isolating having such an unusual job, my experiences day to day are in many ways not at all like a "normal" person's. My life's generally too easy, I think. I feel a little guilty about that sometimes when I'm standing on a stage somewhere, like in Delaware tonight, doing something I love, playing music for people. People who sometimes even pay money to see me work.

People pay money to watch me do my job. What?

That's too good a life for me.

And Andrew, better than any artist I've run across on the web, is skilled at talking about the normal day-to-day and frustrating and hard and worrisome aspects of this way-too-good life of ours (as well as the good parts) without sounding like a whiner, without making cubicle dwellers everywhere flip off their computer screens in disgust and torch every one of his CDs they own.

Hard to explain, but basically, I like this guy and his way with words. He opens a window every day into his life and I see my life reflected back: Soft rock star. Frustrated writer. Husband who knows he married out of his league. Father of a little person he hates to leave and loves more than seems possible. Musician trying to be himself, hear God, communicate God, remain creative, stay productive, be a good friend and family man and somehow make a living.

That's my life too. I'm just not as good at opening that window. Unlike Andrew, I have a hard time talking about my life without feeling as if I sound presumptive and egotistical. I mean, I'd be scared to write out my life story like he has for fear of someone thinking - Why does this guy think I care? But Andrew's able to write in a way that makes me care. Is it just me? And through his blog I've gotten to know him, or at least I feel like I have. We don't hang out but, on his blog, we kinda do.

Anyway, I liked reading about his life. Check it out. And, at the risk of sounding presumptuous and egotistical, maybe I'll write out my own story sometime too. Maybe you'll see your own life reflected back and feel a little less crazy.

THE BAD SIDE OF CARING, THE GOOD SIDE OF ROWDY

Brian explains it like this. He has four kids. When he asks his kids to smile for a picture his four year-old ends up looking like a Sharpe. very time. His little face wrinkles up, his eyes squint shut. He looks nothing like he does when he's genuinely happy. Brian has zillions of pictures of this completely normal kid looking completely not normal.

That was the first show last night at the recording in Knoxville. The crowd was a large part folks from the blog and my message board I love, and who have loved me well over the years, people I really couldn't do what I do without, people who've followed the formation of this live recording, given money towards it, and realize it's importance and cost well. I wonder if that respect for the moment, that care for me and this project, that desire to see this thing be a success, got in the way of them acting, you know, like themselves.

The first song ended and there was no reaction. And it didn't suck so I thought that was odd. I almost puked right then and there. I knew we were in trouble. We weren't going to get a crowd on this recording. I'd told Brian this might happen. I recorded a few live songs a couple years ago as bonus material on a CD and this happened. Call it fear or whatever, I don't know, but something makes a crowd not act like they normally would when they know tape is rolling.

The entire first show people covered their mouths with two hands and coughed as lightly as possible, they wrote notes to each other instead of just talking, and they didn't laugh, clap or sing along. It was very clinical. Very unnatural. Very bad. And very sweet actually.

It was sweet to think that these people in the audience cared about what we were doing, didn't want to mess it up so did their best not to interfere, not to leave their mark. And wound up behaving a lot too much.

As a result my best vocals of the night probably aren't going to be used. They were all in the first show. I didn't save anything for show two. My fault. All the sound checking and rehearsing all week took it's toll. So when the crazy people in show two showed up clapping, laughing and having a great time, I sounded more like Neil Diamond than myself. Brian's pre-show pep talk about needing to act natural this time around saved the day, but couldn't save my voice. I wasn't all that on in the second show, but I played better, and I spoke better. Jokes landed. There were people to interact with and feed off of. Coughing. Chairs scooting. All the stuff that makes a live CD feel live. All the stuff that makes one of my shows one of my shows.

So, using the magic of our production guru Jim Dineen, we'll sift through all the parts, all 280 minutes of recorded material and pull out the best 60 or so. Most of it, I suspect, from show 2. Hopefully we'll Frankenstein together a good mix of good vocals, good playing and good crowd energy and make something we'll all like.

Thanks to everyone who showed up, regardless of which show you were in. And to the quiet folks in show one, thanks for caring so much. It really does mean a lot. To the folks in show two, thanks for bringing the rowdy we desperately needed.

WELCOME TO DELAWARE, HERE'S YOUR PRODUCE CANNON

After the live recording last night In Knoxville, TN, Brian and I drove (Brian drove and I rode) to Cookeville, TN, about halfway to Nashville. We got about five hours of good hotel bed sleep in, drove to Nashville's airport this morning and took off for Raleigh-Durham. Then flew to Philadelphia. Then drove a short ways to Wilmington, Delaware.

All that traveling and we arrived to be told our show was doomed, we had some tough competition for Delawarians' entertainment dollars: Punkin Chunkin, our runner explained, was going head to head with us. Punkin Chunkin is an international competition during which pumpkins are chunked as much as a mile, using human power, air power and a host of other "extreme" methods.

But the runner had some bad intel. Punkin Chunkin is still 19 days away. Good. Good for two reasons really: First, I still have time to buy tickets or build that killer nitrogen powered gourd tosser I've been dreaming of. And, second, I'm not so sure I would have been more popular than flying veggies.

Who is?

10/13/2006

LIVE FROM NEW CITY

I'm blogging from New City Cafe in Knoxville, TN. Just finished lunch at a pizza place across the street. Piano tuner just left. Sully (sound expert for the night) is setting up the stage and taking the front off the upright piano. Don't know how that'll sound, but it looks pretty stinking cool. I trust him. Jim, the recording engineer, is on his way, somewhere in Knoxville traffic. Brian is setting up the merch and Compassion International tables. Cameras are charging. Set list is taking shape. In a few hours we'll play to two packed houses and try to capture it all on tape.

I'll post more as the day unfolds if I have the time. For now, everything's going according to plan.

Here we go...

10/12/2006

THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY

It's the day before the big day - the recording in Knoxville. Heard about it? New City Cafe. 6:30 and 9:30 PM. Tickets $10 at the door, $5 if you e-mail Brian right now and ask for them. Oh yea, that concert.

Anyway, I didn't sleep much last night. I tossed and turned. It was like the night before Christmas, or the night before the night before Christmas.

I'm trying to decide to day which songs to sing. Jim, the recording engineer requested a set list. Problem is I don't use a set list when I'm solo. Ever. I make it up. But with so much invested the temptation is to change my M.O. and actually, you know, plan and stuff.

I'll try but I can't make any promises, Jim.

I'm practicing today, pulling out old songs I never play, trying to decide if they're good enough to make the cut (translation: can I play them?) I bought a couple new cables just to be on the safe side, a tuner since my last one got stolen with that guitar of mine and never replaced. I ate some Chick-fil-A for lunch just to get a little extra Holy Spirit in me before the big day. I'm getting ready in every way I can think of.

I'd appreciate your prayers. For a good night sleep. A safe trip in the morning. Smooth set up of all the gear. Lots of people, some with DV cameras, showing up at both shows. Healthy vocal chords. And a set list for Jim.

Or maybe not.

STAND APART AND WITNESS

Andy Brockenbeck was my first real enemy. A sixth grader with pale freckled skin, he was a head shorter than I, with the mouth and reputation of a man doing 25 to life. He commanded his gang of three, all of them roundish and speaking mostly in monosyllabic grunts, using only his gifts of intimidation and swagger.

I popped a wheely off the curb of Andy's driveway one Saturday and attracted his wrath for it. He hollered at me from his front porch, launching into a serpentine stream of curse words that chased me down the hill and to my front door. I locked it and swore I'd never trespass on Andy's turf again.

I didn't need to. Andy found me after that. In the boy's room at school. In the cafeteria. Andy magically materialized again and again wearing that smirk of his and crafting detailed descriptions of how he'd soon destroy me.

Until one day.

He did.

For what seemed like hours, but couldn't have been more than a few minutes, Andy beat me. My stomach knotted and burned and my head rang from his pointed punches. I fell repeatedly and every time his henchmen picked me up and pushed me back into Andy's fists for more.

"Fight, faggot!" Andy taunted. But I wouldn't. My father, whose hands were much larger than Andy's, had warned me of the consequences of hitting back. "Turn the other cheek," he'd told me with an or-else look in his drill sergeant eyes.

Finally, somehow, I broke away and ran the block to my front door, locked it behind me and dialed my dad's office. I explained through panting and tears all that had gone down on the hill, how Andy's goons had ambushed me on the way home from school, how they'd pulled me from my bike by my shirt sleeve and flopped me to the pavement, and how I told Andy I wouldn't fight him, how he punched me anyway, how bad it still hurt. I told him everything.

When Dad's car sped into the driveway, Andy and his boys were still circling on their bikes at our mailbox like buzzards waiting for a wounded animal to stupidly crawl out of hiding. In one fluid motion my father slammed his door and snatched his belt from his waist band with a CRACK! I peeked through the dining room blinds and prayed for Andy's soul.

His face red and his jaw cocked forward, my father began the inquisition.

"Did you hit my son?"

Silence and sarcastic grins from the gang.

"Get out of here. Go home," he said calmly and firmly.

"Or what? It's a free country," John, obviously the least original and intelligent of the bunch, shot back.

First mistake. My father walked the jungles of Vietnam for freedom. He pronounces the word "freedom" like it's God's very name. He needs no reminding of it's existence or it's meaning, and an eighth grader doing so ticked him off. The end of my father's belt flew from his fist like lightening from Mount Olympus, popping just behind John's empty skull and scaring him off balance.

Second mistake. John hopped from his teetering bike and strutted all five feet of his adolescent frame toward my father, his chest bowed out like he was about solve something. He wasn't. A closer look at my father's brawny biceps convinced him of that and he circled back to his bike quickly and headed home with the others.

I'm asked often what we're to do about our enemies if we're not to use violence. What is our response to be when evil surrounds us and the innocent if we're not to stand and exchange blows? What should we do instead of get angry and fight? To take the beating is to do nothing. Is that all we can do?

It's not all we can do but that alone is so much more than I realized in the seventh grade.

Last week a madman entered a school in Pennsylvania and consoled his conscience by ending the lives of five little girls. Their Amish families, followers of Jesus, comforted the gunman's widow, mourned with her at his funeral, invited her to their own and began making plans to offer her financial assistance.

The many "Christian blogs" I read haven't mentioned this story yet. I'm not sure why. It is quite the story. At a time when bad news rules the airwaves and web pages, paragraphs about peace and love have been penned and wedged within the reams written on death and conflict. The story of forgiveness and compassion is being told around the world and the reason for it is in the story too: Jesus said...

The Amish, like so many other decedents of the Anabaptist movement, believe it is their job as Christ followers to "stand apart and witness." Not all Anabaptists choose physical geographical withdrawal to a life without electricity and other accouterments of modernity, but they all choose to stand apart in their hearts, in their values and allegiances, in their response to neighbor and enemy, just and unjust.

Their love is their witness to a God that is not of this world. Love is what they do instead of anger and fighting. And it's so much more than nothing.

That night after Andy and his boys were faced down by my father, Andy's mother was invited over. My parents and I sat in our dining room and recounted the afternoon's drama to her, Andy sitting silent on the floor at her feet.

"Why didn't you hit him," she asked me.

"I was more scared of him than I was of Andy," I grinned nodding toward my father, then calm and smiling back. I explained how my dad had told me to "turn the other cheek" the way Jesus said. I awkwardly admitted that I wanted to hit Andy but I didn't think Jesus would.

I told the story.

She stood across the room and listened.

10/10/2006

PARTY IN THE CULT-DE-SAC

I sat in a room today. All day. Me. My guitar. A lap top. All day. I was writing songs, or trying to, and unable then to hang out with my kids much at all.

But yesterday was different. Becky cooks dinner on Mondays. Let me explain, because this is the beauty of my neighborhood.

There are five families in what we call the cult-de-sac co-op, four in Brian's cul-de-sac and then us - we're on a cul-de-sac behind Brian's house that's less culinary (actually, just less vegetarian). Every family in the co-op cooks just one night in five. They cook for their own family and the other four. If it's not your night to cook you sit in Brian's front yard, talk to the neighbors, and watch more than a dozen kids go nuts till dinner's hand delivered to you in tupperware and tin foil.

Now, yesterday was Monday, Becky's night to cook. On Mondays I watch the kids while Becky goes grocery shopping in the morning for the big meal to come. Then I'm also in charge all afternoon while the feast is being prepared. I get a window from about eleven to one in the afternoon to check e-mail, blog and answer nature's call - often all at the same time.

Yesterday, while Penelope (18 months) napped, Gabriella (5) and Gresham (4) and I made CDs of their favorite songs to pass the time. Paula Abdul, High School Musical, All American Rejects, Snow Patrol, Jackson Five, Katrina and the Waves, Death Cab...you know, good music.

Then after nap, instead of walking over to Uncle Brian's street, Gabriella and Gresham wanted to have a dance party on ours. The school bus arrived just as we walk outside, the cul-de-sac filled up with kids, and soon so did my car - doors open, stereo cranked, hands in the air, white man's overbite. At one point I counted eight kids. Eight kids, twelve songs and one Maxima.

Sweet party.

Can't wait until next Monday. Until then, more lap top, guitar and silent hours of head scratching searching for the perfect rhyme...in hopes of making it on my kids' next mix disc.


COMPASHAUN INTERNATIONAL

Andrew Osenga writes...

"My friend Aaron Sands is selling a couple of his basses. He asked me to let folks know about them. For all you bass players out there, Aaron played with Jars of Clay until this past year when he decided to get off the road to be with his family, so you can trust they play well and sound great. They’re expecting a new baby next month, as well, so bid high and bid often!

I write...

I got to know Aaron when I opened for Jars of Clay on their last tour with Jennifer Knapp. (Name dropper) Great guy. Great bass player. I don't know anything about basses but I can't imagine Aaron playing a piece of crap, so check it out and feed his family. For the price of a cup of coffee a day....

While I'm at it, I'm selling some bizarre stuff over at ebay too, to get through the slow winter(ish) months:
Camera
Pentax-M 200mm Lens Tempo 2x Tele-Converter
Another camera
24 Original Star Wars action figures (hey, they were Christmas gifts, a long long time ago)
And that guitar of mine

10/09/2006

BRANT'S LOOKING

Brant's looking for a church. Here's exactly what he wants:

"First, I want to be attracted by a glossy mailer.

From there, I want to be welcomed, gently, at an Enjoy Level Event, targeted at my kids, where I'm given a non-threatening introduction to the grassy area precariously close to the church's building. I want to then be made aware of the church's Sunday Event.

At that Event, I want to be met, where I live, emotionally-speaking, by the Worship Ministry. I want to be engaged by music that speaks to my generation, and an array of video images that assure me that faith is relevant in today's culture -- my culture. I want a guy to teach me the Seven Ways I Should Be Doing Something-or-Other in My Marriage. I don't want eight ways. I want Seven.

I do NOT want, at that point, for the Small Groups Ministry Team to step in, and make me aware of Small Groups that I can be involved in. No -- that should wait, until I sign up for an Introductory Class that explains the overall vision.

I want this vision expressed in a flow chart. I want to know how I can move through this flow chart, and move from Crowd Level, to Committed Level, and then, ultimately, to Core Level.

I want to find out how I can fit into the leader's overall vision, and become a cog in the dream that he was given for this very dynamic, growing area."


Read the rest.

THE FINAL STRETCH

THIS IS THE WEEK! We record the live project this Friday, October 13 in Knoxville, TN at New CIty Cafe.

  • I recorded an interview with Love 89 in Knoxville this morning to get the word out to their listeners - thanks to Marisa at Love 89 for setting than up.

  • You can still get $5 tickets by e-mailing my booking agent/road manager Brian. thehummingbirdagency@charter.net Tickets are $10 at the door.

  • If you're coming we'd love you to bring your digital camcorder, take some footage, give it to us, and we'll edit it into the DVD (which will be made if a million things line up between now and then...we'll see.)

  • Please e-mail anyone you know within driving distance of Knoxville about this show. And by "driving distance" I apparently mean as close as Michigan. Thanks to everyone making long hauls to be part of this.

    See you there.

  • 10/08/2006

    MORE POWER TO YOU

    "What if I was So-and-so, and I had such-and-such and X number of people or this or that? What could I accomplish if...?" Grateful for who and where I am but wondering what else could be accomplished if..., I read these words late last night on the drive home from Alabama:

    "It's with the second temptation that I begin to get curious because it seems so odd to me. It exhibits such a different understanding of things than I am accustomed to. The devil shows you all the kingdoms and nations of the world and declares his ownership of them. I'm not sure why you or the Father gave it all to him in the first place, or allowed him to take it and didn't at least hold the mortgage or something. In any case, what am I supposed to make of this? All the nations of the world in their power and splendor belong to the devil. I guess even Vatican City. So this doesn't leave me very many options, it seems, for political involvement; I can do without the splendor, but the power is something else again. Are you trying to tell me that no involvement with any political power is permitted, or are you only trying to warn me away from excessive involvement and reliance on the states? I don't know, Lord. The way these verses read makes it difficult for me to understand how I can have anything to do with the nations, and you certainly do not make it any easier for me to figure out how I am supposed to follow you when you inspire Paul to write Romans 13 on top of this, either.

    I am stuck here, maybe because I do not want to admit what you seem to be saying, so let's move on.

    The devil holds all of the earthly nations and their power in his possession and offers them back to you in exchange for homage. I am aware that some translations replace "homage" with "worship", but as my Greek has rusted from disuse, I'll accept this word. I also understand your refusal here, but before we get to that, this does seem to be such a pretty good deal that it's hard for me to see it as a temptation: what an opportunity for evangelization! To paraphrase that great theologian and philosopher Lyndon Baines Johnson, if you've got them by their ears, their hearts and minds will follow.

    So I look at this opportunity and see all the good that would follow. If all political and economic power of the nations was yours, poverty is gone and all people can be well fed; welfare ends and we can get some decent health insurance. All the ills that have befallen us, your brothers and sisters, could have been replaced with variations of days at the beach with icecream. And think of the children you could have saved from all sorts of misery and exploitation, all for the price of a little homage that I don't think you would even have to mean deep inside.

    I think I would go for this deal, Lord. You know better than I the homage I pay to the devil for so much less. So, give me this chance, and I think I'd take it. Why isn't the amount of good I could do with the power worth it, especially since I am in such a sorry state of soul anyway?"

    From WHAT ABOUT HITLER (pp.16-17) (Wrestling with Jesus's Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World) by Robert W. Brimlow

    10/06/2006

    MY FIRST GUITAR IS FOR SALE

    I shelled out a couple hundred and my mom matched it and we walked out of Mundt Music in Tyler, Tx with a flashy red sunburst Takamine guitar.

    I learned how to play on it. Took it to college and played my first gig ever at Common Grounds Coffeehouse in Waco, Tx on it. I wrote all the songs on my first record with it, played it at the showcase for Rocketown Records that got me signed, and used it on the first dozen or so gigs I did that first year as a signed artist.

    This was my first guitar. And I hate to part with it but I need the cash more than I need this guitar. You can buy it here.

    You'll see in the pictures that it has a minor split in the head stock. The guitar I play today has the same problem, only repaired. Have this guitar fixed the same way and it'll be as good as new.

    I'll use the cash from the guitar to live through the slow winter. Every winter for just about every artist I know is a major slump. You can also help me through the approaching slow times by booking me. Just e-mail Brian at thehummingbirdagency@charter.net or fill out an on-line request form over at thehummingbirdagency.com

    10/05/2006

    SPIDER WEBS

    Hundreds of shimmering strands hung stretched between the slats of my back door stairs. Gresham stood with a juicy pear dripping in his right hand and his left wrapped around my forefinger. He inhaled deeply, his back arching to take as much air into his three-foot trunk as possible. He drew his lips into a tight circle and blew into the spider web with all his might.

    "Try again," I chided.

    He blasted the web with another gust of his warm air, this time his face turning red and his eyes crossing at the end.

    "Why won't it break," I asked.

    "That's strong," he answered between pants, and collapsed to his bottom on the stoop.

    "But spider webs are tiny, Gresham and you're so big." I sat beside him.

    He proudly smiled opened-mouthed, a large bite of pear half mashed and jiggling on his tongue. He sat up straight, adding six inches to his stature, and balled his pearless hand into a fist while bending his arm at the elbow to show off his four year-old mounds of manliness. "I'm big," he garbled.

    "I know," I agreed, "but that little bitty spider web is stronger huh?"

    He slumped back down into a curvy lump, eyed the dainty web again and bit another chunk from his pear.

    "What else is tiny but very strong," I wondered out loud.

    "ANTS!" he blurted. "Ants are so so SO strong!"

    "Yea, they are. So so SO strong."

    As we sat together cooling in the afternoon cloud cover and serenaded by crickets and the hum of the busy street just over the fence, my mind wandered. I thought about tiny molecules of air and slight curves in wings giving lift to tons of metal and dozens of passengers. I thought of small black dots on paper singing tears and smiles onto the faces of millions. I thought of a hundred different small things accomplishing more than it seems they should.

    And then Gresham broke our silence. He threw his pear core into the yard, wrapped his arms around my waist and grunted and squeezed and writhed. "I can lift...you...Daddy," he strained.

    I lifted myself slowly, only an inch or two, and his eyes widened, amazed at his own strength.

    "I did it!"

    Tonight, hours later I'm still thinking about Gresham's super powers. I have a lot on my mind lately. I have some fears, some obstacles ahead that seem insurmountable, some weights I don't think can be lifted I guess. My brain is spitting and spinning constantly. I don't sleep well. I'm excited and anxious and creative and stuck all at the same time all the time. My head is full of activity. And I've just added this moment with Gresham, his feats of strength, to the hopper.

    I don't have some clever closing paragraph, some meaningful metaphor to unveil here. You can write your own. I don't know exactly what kind of wisdom Gresham and the spider web have to offer me. But there are moments, you know, when things slow down and something greater comes into focus. The worries and hurries and hurdles and objections of life fade into the background and you're suddenly keenly aware that Something in the right now is speaking. Or trying to. And if you only knew the language you'd solve a million riddles.

    That was juicy hands gripping my waist and spider web swaying in the breeze made by a four year-old today. Something spoke to me. If only I knew what It said.

    For now it's enough just to know It talks.

    MIDNIGHT CHEESE AND NAZARENES

    My colon doesn't handle a pint of cheese and a half dozen tortillas like it did when I was in college. It gets angry.

    Eric, Jess and Thomas, students at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma, picked me up from the OK CIty airport about 10:30 (PM). As we got nearer to campus I simply asked, innocently, really, "Are you guys hungry?" Seconds later, I don't know exactly how it happened, it's a blur, I found myself ordering a bowl of cheese the size of my head and half a dozen tortillas. How'd that happen? It's like something took over.

    Then these three guys lured me into staying up for another couple hours, hanging out in the alumnus house on campus where I stayed for the night. We ate and talked and then lights out.

    In the morning (yesterday) I woke up feeling like I'd eaten a cinder block...with hot sauce on it...with a side of pop rocks...garnished with X-acto knife blades...rusty ones. Wow, I don't remember my nineteen year-old gut being so sensitive. It's just a pint of processed "cheese food" providing the FDA's recommended lifetime allowance of fat in one sitting...colored yellow. Why would that hurt me? I'm pretty sure, in fact, that I ate my weight in Cabana queso every day, usually after midnight, back in college. I'm pretty sure. Can't be certain. The strokes of my Senior year caused massive holes in my memory of college but...Mmm, cheese, yummy.

    After saying a quick prayer that Taco Cabana would be cursed by God, I then repented of my midnight gluttony with a healthy fruit and bran based breakfast in the SNU cafeteria with Eric and then rolled myself into chapel to play and speak on behalf of Compassion International. Lots of kids were sponsored. Lots of college students gave up stuff like coffee and iTunes and purchasing the new PS3 and, yea, even cheese, to save up enough cash to save hungry kids' lives.

    Thanks Eric, Jeff and Thomas for the great conversation, safe driving, and reminder (courtesy of Taco Cabana) that I am indeed not the man I used to be. Not sure how I feel about that.

    10/03/2006

    3 OUNCES

    Attention all non-frequent fliers: The new TSA rule is no more than 3 ounces of gel, cream or other liquid may be brought through security check points. Three ounce containers of the stuff must be removed from your carry-on baggage and placed in a ziploc baggy and run through the scanners. If you do not have a ziploc bag one will be appointed to you by your friendly TSA agent. Sweet.

    Apparently folks don't know about his new rule and arguing with these people and wrestling their Sam's Wholesale size Hair gel from them has clogged security check points at Nashville International badly enough that I have leave half an hour earlier than normal for my flight to OK City this afternoon.

    FYI. Less than three ounces? Not a terrorist threat. More than three ounces? Grounds for a body cavity search. Or worse, making me miss my flight.

    This has been a public service announcement from SHLOG.COM. Happy traveling.

    10/02/2006

    DOES YOUR SHOE FIT KING?

    Terror: Two planes ending 300 lives in fiery collision. Mass graves filled with the bodies of the innocent.

    Terrorist: A man with a box cutter and a one way ticket in his pocket. A dictator waging war from an underground bunker.

    These are the definitions in the minds of my white audience. As I speak about shalom and quote the commands of Jesus to refrain from anger, love the enemy and even sustain his life, their brows furrow. Their lens is present tense. They listen as innocent people terrorized.

    But a few days ago, for the first time I can recall, I taught these same lessons to a crowd speckled with brown faces. Maybe a dozen African-Americans scattered throughout the audience, smiled and nodded as some of their white neighbors winced and grimaced. Their perspective is more than a little divergent from ours:

    Terror: Abduction in the middle of the night by men with with skin a color that's never been seen. Separated from family and home and loaded onto a boat bound for who knows where. Half of your fellow travelers perish in route. Chained to a plow like an ox in the new land. Your back shredded by the whip. Your grand children "freed" by a war and a president to live in a new kind of slavery. Free to worship God, from a balcony. Free to get a drink, from your own fountain. Free to eat, but not with whites. Free to live, the way the government says you can and as long as the terrorists allow you to.

    Terrorist: Any white person with a gun, or a knife, or a rope, or a whip or a cross and matches. Any police officer with a billy club or an angry dog. Any governor with state troopers. Any sheriff with an empty cell. Any Christian who believes you to be cursed by the Creator.

    And if these African American students know their history they remember the choice that was once made between Huey Newton, founder of the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King, Jr., a preacher from Birmingham. Newton: "Sometimes if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up. " King: "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

    They remember that their parents' parents joined King's army, not Huey's. They chose non-violent protest over bloody revolution. And as insults and stones were thrown they marched. They marched across the South. They marched all the way to Washington. They marched to Martin's death in Memphis. They marched peacefully to freedom.

    I have a question for the white faces in my audience, dimmed with disapproval: Does the shoe America is kicking her enemies with today fit Martin? You and I, well, our grandparents and their parents, were the terrorists once. They stole humans, caged them like animals, denied them the practice of their religions. They blew up a church and killed three little girls. They made it legal to rape a dark skinned woman. They lynched and burned "niggers." Their politicians and Sunday School teachers hid behind Klan hoods. And the goal of many whites was to eradicate African Americans or, at the very least, keep them from participating in our government and society. It's as if their generation wrote a chapter of the dictator handbook used by our enemies today.

    Would you have argued in the sixties that terrorized African-Americans should follow Huey? Would you have argued for "regime change" and cheered an army of dark faces fighting the U.S. government for "justice, freedom and democracy" with bullets and bombs? Would you have defended their violent revolution by quoting Just War doctrine?

    Is it only godly to "kick @$$" now that we're the one's wearing the shoe? What about when we were the ones so many wanted kicked?

    I wondered why the darker faces in the crowd this past weekend smiled instead of wrinkled when I spoke about biblical nonviolence, until I thought about all this. Could it be that they, surrounded by white friends today who in a world before King would most likely have been their enemies, are constantly reminded of the power of non-violence and love over terror? Could it be that they know non-violence in the name of Christ is the right choice to make because they've made it before?