First Steps

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Tomorrow I will be playing my guitar and singing songs downtown. It amazes me how something so simple can be filled with such significance. At least for me. I’ve been a musician my entire life. I’ve sung with tracks, played in ensembles, recorded with choirs, and even played small two man gigs with friends. But in all that time, I’ve never played a solo set.

There were always reasons. I couldn’t play well enough. I hadn’t written my own songs yet. I just wasn’t ready. Truth is, there are always reasons, and there will always be reasons.

But I’ve learned a few things in recent months and years.

  1. Circumstances will never be perfect. I can’t always check all the boxes before acting.
  2. I’m not going to be perfect either, and that’s just fine. It’s okay for it to be what it is right now.
  3. I’m a lot better than I gave myself credit for, and the work has only made me better.
  4. If you’re following your passion, the work isn’t all that hard. Even when it’s hard. I’ve never had such an easy time practicing as I have preparing for this night. It’s been a lot easier to choose the work over distraction.
  5. I can’t be afraid of breaking new ground. New challenges and discoveries inspire and drive me forward. Real living builds momentum.
  6. Dreams are never realized by dreaming, or even with planning. Dreams come true in the wake of action.

All said, I’m excited and looking forward to a great night no matter who shows or how well I play (though I feel confident and ready). I’m going to put on the best show I can put on right now, and I’m going to have a blast with friends and strangers alike.

And if you happen to be in Memphis tomorrow night (Dec. 3). Come join us, 6PM at 109 North Main St., Qahwa Coffee Bar. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Putting the Fruit Back

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You don’ do what Adam do? Or say, “Baby, let’s put this back on the tree” ’cause we have everything we need.

– Kanye West, Everything We Need

These lyrics set the dominoes of inspiration in motion. Once again, I am the domino one removed from the source, and I am deeply thankful because my friend’s take on Kanye’s words opened my mind to something a little deeper. You may recall my mention of her desire to inspire and encourage through art at the coffee shop. One of the phrases to accomplish that task was “All you have is all you need”. It is this that she paired with the idea of putting the fruit, the forbidden fruit, back, and the more I thought about it the deeper it went.

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months delving into the idea of the true self. True self is not a term I had when I started, but I gathered it along the way. It encompasses the created identity God gifted us with at birth. It’s who He created us to be. Much like Adam and Eve, He gifted us with all we would ever need. But also like Adam and Eve, we tried to become something else. To deal with the world around us, we put on a false self.

Part of my journey has led me to the Enneagram. As a tool, it has helped me to better see and understand my false self. In turn, it also helps me to see and uncover my true self. This is an act of putting back the fruit. It requires me to look at the promises of the false self. The promises of control. The promises of power. The promises of safety. I have to let them go. I have to put the fruit back and embrace who God made me to be.

I am learning right now, and I am only just beginning. What I can tell you is that it is an ongoing process. Every day is a process of facing the enemy, putting the fruit back and embracing the true self. It can be terrifying! It is also exhilarating! I feel I can also say He is faithful and, Yes, you have everything you need! Other than that, well, why don’t you join me on the journey and we’ll find out together.

 

 

Dissonant

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Today is my day off. I wanted to go Downtown, but discomfort lingered in the background – a someone looking over my shoulder with disapproval kind of discomfort. So I made excuses. I gathered my defense. I prepared my escape. I threw my distractions and despite the flimsy justifications I had cobbled together, the other me went for it. I slipped out the door and was in my car before he doubled back waving his arms and demanding to be heard. I was caught.

But to my surprise, he wasn’t against me going Downtown. He just wanted me to be honest about why I wanted to go Downtown. No excuses. No justifications. No lies. So I faced up to it and felt not shame or guilt, but relief and freedom.

This time my battle was an internal one. I felt tension between recent changes in who I am and what I wanted. I assumed first that my desire must be the guilty party, but I wanted it anyway. I tried the artful dodge and failed. I’m glad it failed. As a result, I had to sit with the other me and talk it out. In doing so, I realized that while a little messy, this perceived tension came from a lack of awareness and understanding. My identity and my desire were not mutually exclusive. At least not this time.

So I sit here staring out the coffee shop window on Downtown Memphis. Had I won my little gambit I would probably still be here, but I’d be trading my present sense of peace for that nagging discomfort. This way, I get to enjoy it.

 

Voices from the Past

Our past holds power over us. The subconscious remembers what consciousness has buried or forgotten, and those triggers remain with us. Most of the time, our past lingers in the shadows, just noticed on the periphery but quickly ignored. It’s the monster we don’t want to see.

There are moments though, when it strikes us with clarity. I had one such moment this weekend. I began playing and singing for my mom and sister. It was a chance to share a little of the joy that’s filled the past couple weeks, and the songs that continue to take shape. My hands shook a little. It took a couple starts to get rolling and settle in, and then I began singing. Two lines in I hear my dad on his way out, “You’re running your words together.” My gut clenched. The monster leaned out of the shadows and I froze. I watched everything from the outside as one instant stretched into timelessness. I felt the pain of never being good enough. Just beyond it I felt a spark of anger and a healthier me cried out it isn’t true! I took a deep breath, and as time returned to normal I kept playing and singing.

That moment remains crystallized in my memory today. I know I won a significant battle in that moment. I won a battle for my future. It’s one more step in a process that began a little over two years ago. A process of self discovery, awareness and growth. I am thrilled and excited to see where it goes from here.

I don’t know where you’re past is looming in the shadows, but I hope my own story can be an encouragement to anyone reading this with me. It’s worth the time and effort to lean in, to fight for yourself, and to grow. One day you’ll find your monster, and you’ll be ready. On that day you’ll battle, and victorious, you’ll step into a new future.

On a side note, riding high on what felt like a pivotal battle for my being, I took myself shopping. Four hours, two guitar shops and five sore fingers later I bought a new guitar. It’s an investment in my future.

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Coffee with Jesus

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Sunday morning our pastor shared a new development in his daughter’s understanding of Jesus. For those of us who were new to the story, he brought us up to date. At first, she wanted to kill Jesus. She had a nightmare. She faced a figure clad in grey robe with a long white beard and a sword. Our pastor was thinking Gandalf, but she said he was Jesus. It scared her and she proclaimed before going to sleep that she would kill him in her dreams. Recently, she saw a cartoon in which it took her to the cross and the death of Christ. The resurrection, however, wasn’t included. So, as far as she’s concerned, he is now dead and nothing her dad says will persuade her to the contrary. It’s an ongoing journey of discovery in their household.

But there was something more. As she was getting ready to go to bed, she told her dad something like this. “I love Jesus. I wish he could be here. I wish I could spend time with him.”

For her, he is as real a person as me, or you, or her mom and dad. He truly is someone who lived and breathed that she could interact with if he weren’t dead. I wish he were that to me. To be honest, I’m not sure if he ever has been. Maybe it is simply something I’ve lost with the innocence of childhood. It’s been on my mind of late. How different would I feel about God and Jesus if I saw them, heard them, talked to them and felt them in the flesh?

I found these feelings manifest in worship moments before he shared this story. I felt disconnected and disengaged. The lyrics were uninteresting and resolved themselves to noise in the background as my mind began to wander. I tried to find something to interest me in the music by drumming the beat along the back of the pew or finding an interesting harmony. I drifted into thoughts about worship, or what it will be like when I take my place on the stage with them. Somewhere in all the distraction, these thoughts of God in the flesh returned and I saw myself sitting across from Jesus for coffee. I sat distracted, listening in on another conversation or drifting into my inner thoughts. Point is, I wasn’t present. Just as in that moment, I wasn’t present.

I believe this awareness is part of the answer to a prayer I began a few years ago. I prayed to know God. Not know about Him, but to truly know Him as one person knows another. If I want to know him in that way, it means I need to be present with Him as surely as I strive to when I meet a friend for coffee. It’s refreshing. And as I delve deeper, I am excited. I’m also hopeful for that little girl. She’s already taught me a little more about the presence of Jesus. I can’t wait until she finds out He’s not dead.

Leaving Church to Find it

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Until very recently my church attendance was sporadic at best. The most effective motivators to get up and go were guilt and desperation, but only rarely did I leave with anything other than disappointment and emptiness.

This season without Sunday services began as a result of my work. As I moved into a position of greater authority, Sunday became a work day. I had already grown frustrated with my home church, and by extension, all the nearby church clones, so it didn’t take long to break ties completely. Looking back, I believe my dissatisfaction stemmed from unrealistic expectations for what the local church should be.

As a musician and as an artist, I struggled with the absolute adherence to corporate worship music and the sense that, even as an act of personal worship, there was only so much room for indulging myself as a musician. To explain, let me turn for a moment to jazz. When a jazz artist improvises, it is an instantaneous creative explosion. Even with my training, I don’t always get it and I can’t always appreciate the mechanics of it. However, when I see the player who is lost in the moment, I see something of beauty. For a believer, those moments are time we revel in God’s gift in us and that is something I absolutely can appreciate. And as a musician, it is something I revel in and long for. It is worship. But in my experience, little room, if any, is made for this kind of worship.

As a student of the Word and later as a teacher, I grew frustrated with sermons. Early on in my journey with the church, I wanted theology. After being raised Baptist and suckled on topical sermons, I discovered a Bible church in college that taught me the value of expositional preaching. I devoured it. During that time, I scorned topical sermons or sermons that were anything but orthodoxy. Practical application was important, but I didn’t want to hear the seven habits of highly effective people from the pulpit. Later on, after I had been given the educational equivalent of a Seminary degree sans Greek, my dilemma changed. I found myself growing critical, just as I had during my time in music school. My knowledge made me judgmental. But more than that, the Word, at least in its exposition, grew stale. There was no longer anything new. Just the same old recycled truth, like a little boat pulled out, dusted off, spattered with a new paint and thrown out to float on shallow waters.

This brings us to today. I once again have what I consider a local church home. It is different, and it isn’t. You see, as regards the practice and method it is the same. We pray. We sing. We read the Scripture. Someone teaches. We share in communion, and then we go home. The worship is still corporate, and nobody’s losing themselves in an extended worship solo. I still find times I gain nothing new from the teaching, or disagree entirely. Though, surprise, I’ve come to value the more practical seven habits applications far more.

So what has changed?

Me.

I’m no longer the same man I was.

I read these words from Father Thomas Keating earlier today in Phileena Heuertz’s book Mindful Silence.

“If you stay on the spiritual journey long enough, the practices that sustained your faith will fall short. When this happens, it can be very disillusioning. But if we stay on the journey, we find out that this is actually an invitation to go deeper with God.”

I had reached a point where the “practices that sustained (my) faith” fell short. And the church life I’d relied on could not take me any further on my journey. So I left it behind, and in doing so I found a deeper faith and a more fulfilled life.

My journey outside the church led me to intentional personal development. A path that required me to not only seek my purpose in my passions and desires, but also to take responsibility for that purpose. Before, I always hoped that things would simply fall into place. I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live, and spiritually I looked to the local church to provide it. I wanted fulfillment as a musician, but the church service wasn’t a venue for performance or creation. I wanted deeper discussions that challenged the norm, but even small groups were not structured with that depth or level of freedom. I wanted to be closer to God, but I had exhausted all the options I knew and the church wasn’t providing anything new. In the end, I had to learn that these things I longed for depended on me. I had to take responsibility for myself, the only thing I have any control over, and trust God for the rest.

In the end, I received an incredible gift away from the local church. I learned to live without it. In doing so I returned able to embrace it, to receive everything it can give, and I am the richer for it.