Friday, December 18, 2009

CONTRAST: Exploring vs Accomplishing Stuff

Three things recently got me thinking about the contrast between exploring and getting things done, and how we need both:

1. A conversation with a designer who said they thought the difference between art and design is that the artist creates from their life and passions while the designer tries to get out of the way. (Way oversimplified, but it hints at this contrast).

2. Several introverts in my life have told me (or exhibited in action) that when they don't get time alone they become frustrated, judgmental and see things in blaringly negative ways.

3. I recently picked up part time work installing audio and video systems, and I've liked it because we get things done (as opposed to my other work which is with people in which I see progress but rarely see finished products).

People are different and need different amounts of exploration and accomplishment. Artistic pursuits require more exploration, as do startups, and certain types of research and programming. Even then, however, a back-and-forth rhythm and a level of tension between exploration and getting things done is necessary and good. Spend too much time in either place and you get stuck or withered, strained and stretched or arrogant and lazy.

In some ways I think I've hit the rhythm best in my songwriting. I spend a fair amount of time exploring as well as time editing. And even when it comes to accomplishing things (for instance getting a song finished like the one I was recently commissioned to write) there is still some exploration involved. I've found the end result is better when there's a little exploration allowed even in the accomplishing phase (and some clear boundaries and goals put around the exploration phase).

This post was pretty exploratory, maybe I'll come back to the theme and accomplish a succinct, applicable model for this exploration-productivity contrast with some suggestions for tracking and implementing healthy rhythms in this area in your life.

Or maybe it was just a landscape I passed through quickly on the way to the one I'll be exploring in more depth...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mountains and Cold: Traveling Towards and Through

Christa and I are leaving Texas headed towards Virginia in our little black escort with 256k miles on it. The sky is wavy gray, pressing downwards on a highway full of semis, Dodge Rams and tire shards. It's cold. It's good to be driving. I miss the road a little. Tried out a couple new songs this weekend and the Texans liked them.

I just got the test copies of the JRL Farewell Concert CD back. I like them and I'm ready to ship them out, so if you want one to give away or keep, you can get it on the store page of the website.

We made 25 copies of the collectors' edition, (18 available) which will go to whoever orders them first, so if you want one, act soon. The collector's edition includes signed copies of the 8 pieces of art created for the project (one piece of art for each song).

Thinking about Christmas: Hope we can really celebrate what needs celebrating this year and also care for the people for whom this time of year is really hard. In a lot of ways the JRL project was about paying attention to hard situations and disconnected people, and hoping, praying and singing for hope and change. Maybe some of that original vision will come through with the Farewell Concert recording and will get to people who need it.

A Christmas song on itunes and amazon

I've got two singles on itunes that you might not have heard elsewhere. One is a Christmas song that I wrote for a compilation last year. It's kind of sad, and called Christmas Card.

The other is called "West High Street." It's the newest recorded song I've got available (except for what is available to CSM members).

This link should take you to these songs if you use itunes. You can also search for Jonathan Reuel and the song titles on amazon and download the songs from there.

Jonathan Reuel - West High Street

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Just to Be Loved art

Here's a collage I made starting with an old photo of Christa as a kid with her dad. Her art started early. I like it because there are hints or seeds in that picture of who she would become and some of the themes of the song.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Art for Better Days

This illustration/collage was created by Megan Garver for the song "Better Days" as part of the JRL Farewell Concert recording project.

It's great because the concert itself was a massive collaboration with around 20 musicians, artists, helpers, etc, so it makes sense that the recording has artists collaborating on it. Plus it's been a really fun way to work towards bringing music and art together, which is a longtime dream of mine which was recently reawakened.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Times Squared Collaboration

This is a collaborative piece created for the song "Times Squared" by photographer (oboist, vocalist and sybling) Kimberly Glick and I.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sunslide Art

This piece is by Christa Reuel for the song "Sunslide."

We made 20 small copies of each piece of art and the artists signed and numbered them. Been trying to figure out if we include one, two, four or all the whole collection of art with the CD.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Art and the JRL Farewell recording

So I finally got the music back and ready for the live cd of the Farewell Concert. I also got a different artist to create a peice of work for each song. It's pretty exciting. Here's an example: this is for the song "Carbon Blanket" and the art is by Carrie Yoder. I'll post more examples soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mixing Collaboration

Mixing Collaboration

I just read an interview with Daniel Lanois (who has produced a pile of good and great records including Dylan's Time Out of Mind, U2's The Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree, and Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris). I like some of his thoughts about recording and collaboration.

Best collaboration idea:
Lanois talks about collaborating with Brian Eno: one of them sits down at the mixing desk and gets a rough mix together in 20 min, then the other guy sits down and starts where the other left off.*

I like that they build a process in which they respond to and work from each other's ideas.

Christa has a friend that she paints with -- they either start with two canvasses and switch part way through, or both work on the same canvas.

I cowrite songs periodically, but tend to feel pretty vulnerable during the early part of the creative process.

How do you collaborate?

Read the full interview at:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Me and Music, November 2009

Since March 09

It's been good to rest. To not tour. To have no musical projects in the works besides the CSM.*


Some values and goals for music in the next season are getting clear:
1. Grow as a songwriter (depth, clarity, uniqueness)
2. Grow as a singer/musician/collaborator (excellence, passion, uniqueness)
3. Incorporate visual art into my music (recordings, live shows, etc)
4. Embody my life mission in my music and my music in my life mission**

Slowly develop the music -- new material, a new concert, new recordings.
The JRL Farewell Concert CD is scheduled for release this year.
I'd like to record another project and have a cohesive concert ready by summer 2010.

* Community Supported Music. Monthly deliveries of new songs. A delivery will be coming out soon. (click on CSM).

** Cultivate creativity. Follow Jesus. Grow community. Help others do the same.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Some more lyrics from the current CSM collection:

I don't want to die in this conflagration
I just want to fly to a safer haven

I remember how religion taught me a safe path
I remember seeing pictures of crusaders and the aftermath
Some years later when I finally think about the irony
I wonder what to leave and what I still should could keep close to me

I remember when the power of music first gripped me
I remember sitting there for hours as it stripped me
What is left when all the feelings end and silence covers me?
Is the source of what I felt before still here with me?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quick, Lasting Change

As postmodern USAmericans we have a strange relationship with change.

As postmoderns we tend to see life as a journey and change as a process. We're slow to believe grand claims about quick change, whether it comes from religious leaders or political pundits. We know life just doesn't work that way, at least very rarely.

As USAmericans we're inclined to believe in change. Things can change. Unexpectedly, quickly. It happened at the birth of the nation and it's continued to happen in the centuries since then. One invention, one courageous choice, one new perspective or innovative approach can reshape the playing field. We know what it's like to be the one bringing that invention, making that choice, or needing that perspective. A New Deal. Twitter. The Atomic Bomb. Amazon. The Great Awakening. Jazz. Abolition of slavery. Microsoft. Azuza Street. Elvis. A Minority president.

Fallout from postmodernity leaves us thinking we can't make radical changes that will be permanent and healthy.

Fallout from Team USA!! has us expecting those sort of changes to arise from the few, the proud, the individuals with strong wills.

Jesus seemed to model and demand hard choices that resulted in quick and lasting change. But he always based this in the love and help of God and grounded it in a community of people who would help.

All this happened for Jesus and his followers in the context of a journey, so that makes me feel good as a postmodern, although he asked (asks) for a lot more than I feel comfortable with -- at every stage of that journey.

Jesus continually redrew the lines and reshaped the playing field. As an American I like that, but I'm confused by his refusal to use that advantage to take control of the situation.

Some areas I'm wrestling with or seeing Quick, Lasting Change: communication with my wife, diet/exercise, and my job.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Listening to JRL Live

I've been listening to tracks from the JRL Farewell Concert. It's great to listen to these songs again, especially with these arrangements and live energy. There's a great collection of musicians playing on these songs -- still pretty crazy to think about how many musicians participated in that event.

Anyway I'm finalizing track order for the live CD and hope to have the CD online for download and available for purchase by late November. I think it'll be a pretty good bookend to the JRL years.

Track list: Better, 29 Years, Sunslide, Better Days, Carbon Blanket, Times Squared, Sunfire Faces, Just To Be Loved.

Photo by

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Adrenalin Zone and 360 Degrees

I've been laid out sick for the last five days. Didn't listen to music or watch Hulu part of the time -- the sound hurt my head. It's been a while since I've been sick like that.

Something cool happened in the process: I slowed down.

You know the power of adrenalin to help you focus and tune out everything else? I think I have lived a lot of the last two decades in an adrenalin-like state, focusing on one vision or problem and blocking everything else out, then shifting to another one and blocking everything else, etc etc.

It feels strange and wonderful to be seeing 360 degrees, aware of my surroundings. I have a sense of the whole of my life: body, mind, relationships, emotions, projects, and dreams.

I've been aware of and had the tools to track the big picture, I've just done it from the adrenalin zone. I had good categories for the different parts of my life -- what I haven't had was the sense of being in touch with them all at once (or even peacefully scanning between them as opposed to panic-battle-mode leaping from fire to fire).

Oh, and by the way, it's not hard to find music and movies that keep you in that same adrenalin zone.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Part II Delusion and Dreams

Despite over a decade of doing concerts that averaged under 100 people, I still have dreams of my music impacting lots of people. But music is just one part of my life, and not even a top priority currently. Are those dreams delusions?

More relevant data: 1. I've played some larger shows, 2. I've gotten encouraging feedback about my songwriting from professionals, 3. one song I wrote has impacted a lot people, 4. my music has helped people in real ways.

There's some evidence my music has potential to be enjoyed and useful beyond my immediate circle of relationships. That doesn't really settle the issue of whether it's delusional or even helpful to hope for a really big impact. I have questions about whether the benefits of greater success would outweigh its costs and challenges. In my life I've seen great value in dreams: in having them, pursuing them, and in becoming wiser about what you will and will not sacrifice to attain them.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You Might Outlast

Here's an excerpt from the current CSM collection of songs:

They try to bully you towards panic
They try to bury you listless
To unravel the fabric
They try to make you forget this enemy:

But the can't ..........................keep you down
See your face............bowed to the ground
There's no trace.....of the sound
Of your accusers placing blame on you now

You won't take this
You won't leave without a fight
You will break this cycle of lies
You will cry out
You will change the things you can
You just might outlast them if you stand
You will change the things you can
You just might outlast them if you try
We just might outlast them
Love will surely outlast them

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Delusion Part I:

Two recent conversations have me thinking about delusion:

1. Some friends, my wife and I have an ongoing discussion about delusion: is it delusional to want to be an artist or musician? It it delusional to try to make it big and influence a lot of people with your art? What's the difference of delusion and legitimate dreams?

2. I just talked to a friend and ex-bandmember I haven't seen for a while. He suggested that selling songs to established artists might be a better fit for me than fronting a band and touring. This encouraged and frustrated me at the same time. I'm not investing much time, energy or planning into a band or touring at this point, but there's still a dream there -- it feels bad to think of that not being part of my life.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New songs posted

I just posted new songs to my Community Supported Music site. I'm pretty excited about this download -- I'm starting to do more rewriting and editing of lyrics, and taking my time recording, even though they are very simple recordings.

The songs on this delivery are West High Street, Conflagration version IV, You May Outlast Them and Destination. People who saw my recent concert with Annie Yoder in Charlottesville heard the first two tunes.

For those who don't know: my Community Supported Music (CSM) group is made up of people who make an annual donation and receive new music downloads four times a year. If you're interested visit, http//

Monday, September 14, 2009

Imaginary Mantra FAQs

I wonder how many Frequently Asked Questions are asked frequently. I imagine right now that in donut shops, pubs and sunday schools the world over people are asking -- frequently -- the following questions about that mantra* that went viral.

What if I might need this stuff later?

What if I can't let go?

What if I give away too much and get stuck?

Why should I do this?

One determining factor for quality of life is how much extra space you have, and the quality of stuff you fill your space, time, mind, and life with. The price a person pays to get rid of the bad or mediocre is often more than compensated by the space created and the increased quality of what remains.


Admit you need help. Find a higher power. Etc.

* Review:
The evolving mantra: More than you need. Space for others.
How: Give away/pitch stuff. Keep only the best. Plan for others.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mantra unpacked

Have more than you need. Make space for others.

1. Give away or throw away stuff until you have more space than you need for your stuff.
2. Keep only what is beautiful, useful and meaningful.
3. Make a space for everything including room for others and future stuff.
4. Don't have more than you can care about and take care of. Otherwise give it away.

This may apply to:
1. physical or virtual space (your house, car, desk, desktop, email)
2. relational space
3. spiritual space
4. emotional space
5. time

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Mantra

Been trying to clean my room. I have a minimalist vision and a bunch of crap. Feels like the problem may cut across into other areas (relational, vocational, spiritual, emotional, etc.

Guy Kawasaki says Don't come up with a vision and mission statement, come up with a mantra. I thought I'd try it. First draft.

Have more than you need, including space for others and the yet-unthought-of.

It's still too long. I picture a room with very little in it. Everything in it is beautiful, meaningful or useful, including an empty container that visitors can put their stuff in when they crash overnight.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Remember that sketch from the brainstorming session for my sister's ( show? Well, besides sketching ideas of how the show could look, I did some sketches that imagine the concepts and processes as machines. Ok, it's strange, but fun, and you'll probably see more of this kind of thing later.

What do you think? It's not literal, but different parts of the machine relate to different parts of the ideas behind the show and the processes those ideas (and art objects) go through from conception until the actual show blooms.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brainstorming Show Sketches

My sister is doing an art show in a month or two. We've been brainstorming. Here's a sketch from that. It probably won't look much like this, but it's part of the process.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In My Lungs

Woke this morning with no indication or warning
A situation like a hostage incident forming
And suddenly with all my family present I am cut off
In a place where none of them can go, God and I face off

So if I come up empty
Will you come and find me
Will this land of plenty
Be the place you lose me

Hypocrites and liars take their seats and throw their stones
They can rot away your comfort like the marrow of your bones
They say words and pretend kindness but I know what it is they see
A living contradiction to their well-protected dreams

I won't ignore You
I won't defend You
I won't explain away your silence or inaction

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Musical Diagnosis

Music is stirring in me. It's kind of nice to care about it again, to want to play a little, to have a bit of energy to write after 6 months of being very happy to keep my distance. Maybe I'm coming to the end of my unplanned musical sabbatical. I don't have clear music plans for the next season, but it's nice to see an old friend back in town.

In particular
I played a couple songs at a friend's birthday party with a bunch of very good Latin musicians. I wrote a song for one of my favorite people who just was diagnosed with lung cancer. I rewrote a song four times and am still in process. What is it about pain and sorrow that screams for music in me? I'll post a few lyrics soon, and include the song on my next CSM delivery.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woman Dancing

This is the first time I've messed with acrylic for years. I worked it from different angles.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cartoons and Angels

God's messengers are angels and cartoons,
Salesmen and musicians, farmers and lawyers.

God's messages are simple and difficult,
Mystical and sincere, hidden and available.

God's voice is silence and subtlety
Vision and scent, absence and trust.

j.r. 06.09

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sleeping God Messengers

Angels lay stretched out on stones
Feathers layered, bones bulging
Breathe pulsing, hearts beating barely visible
Under the veil of water flowing over them

I drew this in late June.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pause, Stop, Repeat

pendulum mutters "sweet"
past the grandfather clock clause
this boardroom frantic and lost

floorboards groan and creak
over twelve feet of vacant, dark air
through these currents of
careless, unconscious sleep

truant orbits me
Warbles, stutters
Eats spikey, sulfurous, sentences and
spits turbid
sits on my doorstep
Gorilla law man mean

Friday, July 24, 2009

Solid as Flight

Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy and the desire to create, a number of Dandelion Seed Company people turned up at our house last weekend for a collaborative project.

The process: Each person shared a challenge in their creative, spiritual or relational lives. Then we chose a theme from that sharing, brainstormed, listed skills, whittled it down to a one day project using those skills, took 3 hours to write a song, poetry, create an installation, and take photos of the process. The rest of the day was putting the video together, which was in many ways a record of the experience. Along with the installation in our yard.

Watch the video here:

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Like an armored bird thick-beaked and clawing
Resolve descended towards it's perch, me.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Battling Angels

"All that is active there, this spirit draws
into itself, forming a single soul
that lives, and feels and measures it's own cause."
Dante, the Purgatorio

I drew this recently.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wait For It

I drew this during a time of reflection with the CVP community, in a notebook reserved for such things:

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I drew this while watching the Boy in the Striped Pajamas and reflecting on how easy it is to devalue human life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Decisionmaking Questions re Issues, Ideas and Causes

For me (and maybe some of you) these are really important questions:

How do you decide:
1. What issues, ideas and causes you take a clear position on?
2. What issues, ideas and causes you admit you don't know the answer to or are reexamining your position on?
3. What issues, ideas and causes do you prioritize -- either to study and understand better, or to promote a certain answer or approach to?
4. As a leader how do you balance the need to be a. consistent or b. growing and changing?

In deciding this, which of these decisions do you make:
1. alone (or with God)
2. with your spouse or family
3. with some form of community
4. by default (because you've been taught it or you're part of a community that has a "required" viewpoint on the subject)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lyric Book

Zac Garver, a friend, is into small press publishing and limited run editions, among other things (like poetry and marriage). I like the idea of small press. I like the idea of making and collecting something unique that there is only a certain number of.

Zac and I created a collection of JRL lyrics. It's b&w, 28 songs, one poem, and an afterward. No fat.

We did a short run. There are still some signed, lettered editions available for collectors, and some that aren't. We made less than 50 total.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Labyrinths, Weddings, Catholics and Power

I mowed a very simple prayer labyrinth in my yard to walk and pray and listen on.

I've been reading Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton. It's been a bit like walking a labyrinth: tiring, confusing, repetitive, good.

A friend of mine recently blogged about the movie Doubt and her experience in Catholic school which was not so good.

Another friend is working on a recording including catholic exorcism prayers read aloud.

Suddenly I'm bumping into catholicism. It's strange. I haven't been around it much since my early years in Latin America.

This weekend I was supposed to be at a Texan wedding, but got sick and one of my traveling companions backed out so we cancelled (the trip not the wedding -- it's going forward without us). I'm writing a song for the bride and groom, based in part by the idea of marriage as a "sacrament" (which I discovered in Merton).

A sacrament (according to wikipedia) is "a rite or event in which God is uniquely active", or an "outward sign of an inward grace"). I never heard about the "marriage sacrament" growing up annabaptist, but I had some feeling about its value to which has been added a depth of beauty, mystery and holiness through this recent bumping into Merton and co.

That's great, but If I'd been force fed theology growing up-- or taught it forcefully with little love -- I'd probably be writing something very different here, although love and patience can unwind the ropes that keep us wounded and afraid.

My big question regarding Catholicism (and most religious groups) has to do with how they build or relate to power structures, economics and politics, and what (if anything) that has to do with Jesus who lived and taught some crazy and beautiful stuff in that department.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

False Alarm

Here's another clip and lyric excerpt from the current CSM download:

"This life
In time
You find nothing where you thought it was
A statue of a god of love
Can you wake love buried beneath this stone,
Alone till the winter ends?
Can you bend love, wrap it around these bones,
Connect them from end to end?"
(From False Alarm)

The first version of this song -- which the clip is from -- was called Eight Something. I straightened it out a bit, slowly building the arrangement and adding lyrics and renaming it "False Alarm". The Eight Something recording is messy, raw and captures the initial spark of the song.

Community Supported Music is a way for friends of an artist to support them, get a glimpse into their creative process and regularly download work before it becomes public. More info at or click on CSM at
If you join the CSM this month you get a free cd.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quoting Ben

Quoting Ben

My friend Ben and I talk about ideas regularly, and I always grow and change because of it. Recently he wrote me this:

"In watching Rivers and Tides (Andy Goldsworthy) I was really struck by how many times he mentions how he is “trying to understand” the environment and the materials he is working with and then from that “trying to understand” life in more depth. Towards the beginning of the film he is creating a rock sculpture near the ocean… as he works it collapses several times. He mentions that each time it collapses he learns a little bit more about the stone … He also mentions that the ground beneath the sculpture is different than what he is used to…

Later on in the film he mentions how much his work is often on the edge of collapse.

What if we started our work (by) trying to understand the community we’re in… trying to understand the work already in progress… trying to understand what is going on in the kingdom, what God already has done… what he has provided for us and our work…

I wonder how our work would change if we allowed the collapse to teach us… if we took the time to understand “the stones”. Andy mentions that the stones he was working with were much different than the stones he worked with back home (he was in Canada for a commission)… so with each collapse he learned a little bit more about the stones. Ultimately he was able to build a sculpture that withstood the oceans tide. As you watch the tide come in you’re absolutely convinced its going to collapse, because you watched it collapse several times as he tried to build it… the ocean completely covers it eventually. As the tide moves out the sculpture stands fully intact."

Ben was talking about this in regards to starting or developing communities of faith, but I think it applies to many areas of life.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Misquoting Ben

My friend Ben and I talk about ideas regularly, and I always grow and change because of it. Recently he wrote me this:


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Now on Itunes Now

The 2007 in-the-studio Jonathan-and-a-guitar recording "Now" is now available for download from itunes, amazon, rhapsody. Adam Fleming wrote:

"The emotions JR wrestles with on this album exhibit a deep maturity brought on by hardship. They say the best wine is grown in regions where vines struggle to survive. This is why so few people write great songs. JR does it at least four or five times on this album, and that’s pretty good."

I'm not selling many cds these days (partly b/c I'm not touring). However, there is a steady and growing stream of people downloading songs and joining the csm, so that's good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Airport Sketches

Moving closer, her slack white fine-knit tshirt sags
jauntily over her
spare, muscled frame.

Comfortable, at home in her bones and sinews
Filling her space between
the bulk and hammer, strong-tongue barrel of her husband
and the zealous, eager sprouting of her two daughters.

They move
A triangle of unselfconscious strength
Taking their space
Breathing their air
Moving across batwing airport carpet.


He movie-star slouches against the gray-white speckles
Sports jacket clean
Beige paints
Black bag, balding head.

His strength is in his neck, leaning forward,
not in his chest or hands.


Written returning from a trip to Texas.
Copyright 04.09 Jonathan Reuel.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Draw In and Part: Christian Communion

For those of you are here for the art, music and reflections on creativity and NOT for thoughts on spirituality: skip this post.

Here's a concrete example of the Jesus and Rules issue from our community regarding Christian communion.

Jesus told his followers to have this meal as a way of remembering him. In all my years in a wide variety of Christian churches I rarely experienced that particular goal of the ceremony. It was usually about examining our own lives (and failures) or building community (lovefeast) or thinking about Jesus' suffering and sacrifice (and the theological implications of it), but not really about remembering Jesus -- the person.

How do we remember someone? We tell stories about them. We point out details -- how they walked, their particular way of speaking, activities they loved or hated, things that pissed us off or that we loved about them, things we did together.

Recently our community tried to remember Jesus in this way. It was weird -- much easier to just ditch the whole practice or do it in the way it's been done before. Trying to actually "remember Jesus" felt like something different altogether. It was weird and uncomfortable -- and eventually meaningful -- for all of us, including those having issues with the traditional Christian practice of communion and those who deeply value it and are fed by it.

People sat around and talked about what they liked or what frustrated them about Jesus. Some people told stories from their own lives that they interpret as interactions with Jesus. We talked about stories we'd read about Jesus in the Bible or in other places, and what we remembered from those, and how it impacted us. It felt more like we were remembering a real person than one event in a person's life or a theological idea regarding a person. It felt like remembering Jesus. Go figure.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drawing Apart Part II: Jesus dealing with Rules and Guidelines

For those of you coming from or actively a part of a religious tradition, or interested in Jesus, here's some more thoughts coming out of last weeks blog about days off, rest, "sabbaths" and religion and rules. If you're not interested in those things you may want to skip this post:

I think one challenge with religion is that because practices are tied to God and the Eternal and the Holy and Sacred we feel like we don't have the right to change anything. We don't want to step on God's turf -- which makes sense -- so we become cautious, conservative and sometimes fearful. We can end up getting stuck with rules that don't achieve the purposes they were established for. Then you have people like Jesus coming around challenging the system and getting hammered for it because people think he's challenging God when he's really giving people a chance to get back to God and the original point behind the rules...

It's not that Jesus was destroying all rules and guidelines, just busting up the ones that had calcified to the point that they were actually doing the opposite of what they were established for. For instance, people jumping through all kind of strange hoops to not work on the sabbath -- which ended up taking more effort than a normal day and getting the focus way off of God and rest to the point that you needed a day of rest after the day of rest.

Friday, May 15, 2009

CSM and a Clipped Carbon Blanket

I just posted the spring delivery of songs for my CSM* so I thought I'd
post a clip of one of the songs, a couple lyrics and thoughts about the

"I am standing, wind tearing through the fields
Leaves are flying overs hills and down the valleys
I need to meet you, the ground is aching to be healed
She's speared with iron, choked in rust and a carbon blanket"
(From Carbon Blanket)

I've played this song at three shows now -- the JRL Farewell gig,
Bluffton University and the OCP. It seems to really take off in a live
setting. It's a a series of prayer images wrung from someone who is not
as young as they once were, but who isn't finished yet either.

* Bryan Moyer Suderman started the Community Supported Music initiative. In a nutshell it's a way for people to support an artist and get
a glimpse into their creative process and download work before it
becomes public. Christa and I set up CSArts groups in 2008. I have a
small membership that's slowly growing. Find out more or follow the CSM link on my website. If you join the CSM in May or June you get a free cd.

A clipped Carbon Blanket:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Drawing Apart

Christa and I try to take a day off each week. For us this means not working and not talking about work. Because a lot of our work is creativity, art and community building, this makes for an interesting day. What do you talk about? What do you do?

I can understand more now why religious groups and traditions develop complex sets of rules to govern behavior (for example -- traditions regarding the Jewish or Christian sabbath): if the goal is rest and revitalization it can be pretty complex to actually figure out how to do that. Some guidelines are necessary. Rules can help.

If the goal of the guidelines and rules is to help a person rest, be revitalized, and refocus (physically, spiritually, emotionally), the challenge is coming up with a set of rules that fits everyone at all times and places. I think it's impossible. I think we have to take responsibility ourselves, try some things, learn, and be willing to adjust as we and our surroundings change.

Right now drawing for me is (mostly) a relaxing discipline rather than work. I started this drawing during a recent day off, and finished it afterwards.

Friday, May 8, 2009

itunes and other online songslingers

I'm not sure how to feel about this:
I've had two of my cds on itunes, rhapsody and some of those other online tunehandlers for six months now. I've sold a couple songs a month, an album here and there. Last month I sold five or six albums. Here's my quandry:

I'm sad because I don't get any personal contact with the people buying the music. I value relationship.

I'm happy because there is less environmental cost to this -- no plastic, cases, cds, etc -- and because new people are listening and it will help us pay bills.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lurching towards excellence

Lurching towards excellence

Three benefits I'm enjoying because of being "between" (bands, projects, creative focus):
1. rest and freedom from the pressure to produce something
2. room to explore and collaborate
3. time and energy to do things previously impossible

I haven't been writing a lot, but when I have I'm
a. collaborating more
b. spending more time lurching towards excellence than my usual "just git 'er done"

In the seasons of the creative life, we often move from spring (which is all about exploration) to summer (which is about focus and growth and not quitting). Then fall comes and we see what grew up during that last season (strengths, weaknesses, and the value of the work), and then everything shuts down and we have time to rest, reflect and recoup because it's winter.

The idea is that when spring comes and we start exploring again we get to build on everything that happened before. The trees are a little bigger, the roots deeper.

We also must start from scratch again each spring, as if we've never created before.

We build on the wisdom and experience of past endeavors, but must not rely on that alone. If we forget the mystery, the gift , the x-factor and the fact that it's more than our abilities and experience that makes creativity work and art emerge, our creativity scuttles into it's shell and our art is stillborn. The worse part is that sometimes we're too in love with our ideas, our successes/failures and our power or weakness to notice...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Invisible Sounds

Saw this amazing group at the Second Street gallery in CVille tonight. They are sculptors and musicians. They created this installation in the gallery of handmade crazy instruments, tvs, video feed of a typewriter they typed on during the show. They improvised. Amazing. Check out the video of them if you get a minute. Crazy what people create in garages andliving rooms.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Silent as a Semaphore

My sister and I are working on a song. Here's the story:

1. I gave my sister Kimberly some lyrics and song fragments I've never done anything with
2. She misreads a line and comes up with a great song idea
3. She writes interesting music -- one verse and one chorus
4. We get together, she describes the idea, I'm impressed (and convinced of the value of bad penmanship)
5. I research semaphores on Wikipedia and other inerrant sources
6. I wrestle the lyrics for two more verses and a bridge out of an afternoon Kimberly spends working on her guitar technique (she "doesn't really play", she just makes up chords and picking patterns that are more interesting than a lot of accomplished guitarists)
7. We turn the original chorus into a pre-chorus and write a more hooky chorus

I haven't written a song like this before. It's fun. It's hard work.

Hopefully you'll get to hear it sometime.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Drawing in Community

Talked to a friend tonight who is thinking of taking up painting. Comes from a long line of artists, which is great but makes it hard to start.

I drew this during an evening gathering of our community.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roots in Winter

So JRL is over.

I'm tired of playing a bunch of those songs.

There's a lot of new ones I like playing but don't know very well.

I feel like the important thing for me now is not to rush into anything. To let myself breathe, rest, and be in the winter season creatively. There are other things on my mind.

But underneath the surface the roots are alive, and on certain days they are growing.

Drawing by Christa Reuel

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Art and the Preacher: JRL Farewell Gig part whatever it is by now

Someone worked through the night the day before the concert to create an atmosphere, an aesthetic surround experience for people who came to the show.

There were large, black, wooden sculpture-people standing around in the audience and on stage.

There were shapes cut out and placed on chairs and on the stage.

There were paintings and candles. It felt a bitlike a shrine. Which was great, especially when the reverend Andrew Kreider came up and said a few words about the dearly departed JRL.

Funny and sad beautiful and good. At least for me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What you can't describe: Farewell Concert Part Three

There are several things musical that I dream about, and, if I let myself think about it, ache for.

One is that feeling of a band when the drums and bass and rhythm guitar are moving together effortlessly: it is powerful and solid and good. This happened at the Farewell gig. More than once.

Another is the bliss of a great, improvised solo. There were a number of these -- by various guitarists and a flautist.

The other is that craziness that sometimes happens.

. . . when you've been building and building a song and it gets wilder and louder and louder and more intense until evrything sort of flatlines. You can't really hear the different parts anymore and somehow it almost seems still and silent. It's ironic and beautiful and you can't really capture it.

I don't know when it happens or why or what makes a person open to it (or not), but I do know it's a gift. I know you can't make it happen. I've heard people describe it in different ways, and attribute it to different things.

I like to think of it as a gift to and from a lot of sources at once: God, the musicians, the people in the room, those who helped plan or prepare for it, the people caring and praying for the community.

What difference does a moment like that make?

Is it worth all the time and energy?

I don't know but I'm really, really thankful for it. Like I am for lakes, and colored fields, and large open skies, and certain smiles or expressions.

Earthquake Trees

They sit, stuck to the earth


Observing the tantrums of the ground

Like old men waiting

On park benches

Detail of a Christa Reuel drawing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Gift: Farewell Concert Part Two

The whole night felt to me like it had been put together by someone bigger, more mysterious and wiser than me. And indeed, after how many years of doing a lot of it myself -- booking, promoting, etc -- this was very different. More than any show I can remember, this was the result of major collaboration at every stage. I was a gift -- to and from many people.

The progression from the first band to the second and then to JRL was interesting-- each one was different, but they they related and sort of built on each other. I worried a little about how the audiences from each band would like the others, but there were no riots or mass exoduses (of course it takes masses to have a mass exodus...). Enough people showed up to make the room feel good rather than awkward. (Which is great because I've played in that venue awkwardly at least twice, so I know what I'm describing.)

I was amazed by:
The number and quality of musicians playing.
The interest and response of the audience (like a shot of caffeine).
The interaction between the musicians.
Those musical moments...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tired like Moving Houses: Farewell Concert Review Part One

I've moved a lot of times in my life. At age 16 the longest I'd lived in one country in a row was 4 years.

So you know that feeling when you're moving your stuff from one house to a vehicle and then out into another house (and then out of boxes and into the rooms the stuff belongs in)? You know how you get tired-er and tired-er as the day progresses? I know that feeling -- and the three or four days before the Farewell Concert were like that for me.

There were so many people helping I won't begin to try to describe or thank them right now. It was amazing. Even with all of that, I kept getting more tired.

A couple of hours before the show, when the theater was looking great, the practicing done, and there were people ready to do all the remaining jobs, I snuck away and sat in Nate's studio for half an hour. I took a nap and thought and talked to God and tried to hear myself. And it was good.

Because of that -- and the 20+ people helping -- by the time we took the stage I was ready.

Friday, March 27, 2009

videos of the JRL Farewell Concert

The Farewell Concert was amazing -- messy, chaotic, beautiful. The art was great (Christa and a lot of helpers).

I'll write more about it, but in the meantime check this out:
"JRL Farewell Concert"

I don't know if it captures any of the feeling of the evening, but there was some magic.

Or go here:
"JRL Last Song"

you'll find a video of Sunfire Faces with pretty much all the musicians kicking in -- 5 guitarists, two bassists, pedal steel, drums, a couple percussionists, pedal steel, flute, singers. There is this great place where it became glorious white noise. Listen for yourself.

Here's another:
"You Could Break JRL"
you can hear Kimberly and I singing You Could Break My Heart with Tim Shue playing mandolin.

Can't wait get the files to see what kind of audio recording we got. More soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The best of JRL cd

So here's what happened with the JRL best of CD. Nate Butler remixed some tunes from Balloon and mastered it all so it works together pretty well. (Balloon was produced differently and sounded out of placed with the other tunes, and besides, now there's new mixes of some of the best songs). Also we're including a version of Better done by Landline (the band that played three shows but had great potential), and a new recording of Advertised (which has never been officially released though I've played it live a lot) from a great producer in Minneapolis.

We're doing a limited edition release of the Best Of cd at the JRL Farewell gig at the Goshen Theater this Friday. 40 cds. The covers handmade. A bunch of friends helped me create 40 cases for the limited edition. Some are hilarious, some are artistic. First come, first serve. We'll release a non-limited edition if necessary, or maybe a second limited edition run if I can get enough people to help me. It's really fun seeing what people come up with.

Thanks for all your suggestions for what songs should be included. Here's the final set list:

Second Floor
Fell Like Fire
Better This Way
Sunfire Faces
Past Yourself
Anywhere My Love
Camellia Drive Lullaby
Just To be Loved
I Don't Mind Waiting
29 Years
We've All Got This
Better Days
You Could Beak my Heart

Three days until Friday

So it's three days until the big JRL Farewell concert. I'm at that stage now where I'm usually running around handling a pile of last minute details I didn't get to and am horrible at doing anyway (but don't end up farming out). This time is different. I'm resting, even blogging.

It's that moment on the roller coaster where you're at the top hanging over nothing but the downward rush has not started yet. Once the momentum gets started...

What I look forward to:
The Connections -- seeing them and watching them connect with each other. There will be a lot of creative, interesting people converging on Goshen this weekend.
The Music -- getting a chance to listen to to great bands and play in another -- especially with all these quality musicians -- is a great gift.
The Money -- Whether it's $20 or $2000 there is something fufilling about making money doing something you love and creating something others can participate in and enjoy.
The Meaning -- I hope that beyond the pure fun of the evening that the songs will connect deeply with people, giving expression to something going on inside them, and in doing that moving them forward and cultivating hope and peace.
The Unexpected -- For me many of the best moments are not planned. I look forward to the good that none of us planned.
The Creative Community -- For the Limited Edition Best of JRL CD I invited a bunch of friends to create the cd liners. So each cd will be different, signed by the person who put it together. Some are made by accomplished artists, others by people who haven't drawn since elementary art. I can't wait to see how people respond to them. I like the idea of a lot of people participating and being creative, inspired and encouraged by the "professionals" rather than dismissed or scorned by them.

So that's that.

I look forward to seeing many of you.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Community Comes Together

So I had this idea of celebrating the end of a musical season for me, which grew into this JRL Farewell Concert. Then I got some ideas about trying to make the event helpful to the community it's happening in in Goshen.

What I can't believe is how many people are getting excited about it and helping. Usually I have trouble finding people to help in any way -- this time I'm trying to keep up. I'm not sure what the difference is, except that somehow this has hit a nerve.

I'm hoping that a bunch of people and some businesses jump on board by making donations to of of three organizations we chose who are making a difference in the area by addressing local needs for food and housing in concrete ways.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My next delivery of songs

It's about time for my next delivery of songs for my CSM (community supported group). For those of you who forget, that's the group of people who sign up for a year to get four deliveries of roughly-recorded new music from me. I've done two deliveries already.

I'll write more about what this delivery will have on it -- probably one song I wrote in Thailand, maybe two, and who knows what else. I'll try to at least post a clip for the few of you who haven't signed up yet :)

There's a link to the CSM on if you want to know more.

Advertising Advertised, English visits and playing CVille

The Best of JRL record is coming along well -- and it needs to because the farewell concert is on the 20th and we will have them there. Nate is remixing some songs and remastering them. It's going to sound amazing, be a great collection of songs, and a good picture of that last phase of my music.

A friend in Minneapolis and I recorded one of my songs called "Advertised" a couple years back. He's been working on it intensely and I was going to put it on the BSides project but it's so good it's going on to the Best Of. And we're working on a video for it.

Life is crazy here. We've had friends from England in for a few days, as well as Bryan Moyer Suderman of with us for a couple days too. We played a gig together, first time I've played in Cville for more than 6 months. My highlight was doing a version of "Saint Cross, Holy Cross" with Bryan. It's a song about my early years growing up in Bolivia. Bryan grew up there too and played sampona (pan flutes) and charango with me, both Andean instruments connected to that era of my life for me.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reuel Music is Not Over

A number of people have asked me recently "So what are you doing after JRL?"

This is a good question, and I have a couple answers. But first: something bothers me about this question -- it seems that people assume that wrapping up JRL means I'm quitting music. I'm not. I know it's confusing. Let me try to explain:

In my life I've had three musical phases:

In the first I wrote "Christian music" -- and by that I mean music whose point was to challenge and encourage Christians in their faith and walk with God. This stage lasted around 7 (89-96) years and included Genre, Jade Dagger, Sharon's Rose, Boanerges Brothers and a few other projects. Sons and Warriors was a transition project between this phase and the next. I mainly played these songs in Mennonite churches.

The second stage was my "Worship and Prayer" phase. It lasted approximately 7 years (96-02) as well. During this time I mainly wrote songs to or about God. This phase included Sons & Warriors and Sonchild. I played these songs in a wide variety of Christian denominations.

The third stage was JRL. It lasted about 7 years (02-09). This phase was about writing and playing music that anyone could enjoy, whatever their belief system or life was like. The goal was to write music that was fun, interesting and meaningful,and give it to whoever wanted it. I also tried for a deeper layer of meaning put there for anyone who would dig for it. I played these songs in coffeehouses, churches, bars, parking lots, schools, camps, colleges, and houses. Other projects during the JRL years include: CDR, Landline, the Vermont Project and Child of Motion, all of which to a backseat to JRL.

This brings me to the present. The JRL stage is ending, but music is not over. I don't know what the next season will be like musically, but my goal is to take everything I've learned so far and build on it.

Reuel music is not over.

Helping a community

So I've had this idea about donating tickets for the Final JRL gig -- that people or groups (businesses, churches, etc) could buy a few tickets and they could be given to someone who lost a job or their home.

Cool idea, didn't know if anyone would do it. Well, someone has. Got the first donated tickets given yesterday. Six tickets. Hope to see a bunch more. Man, stuff like this makes is so much fun. By the way, we're not making a big deal about this (we're not announcing it at the show or taking names), but if you want to help, let me know.

Elkhart County where this show on the 20th will be has 16 or 17% unemployment!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Great Night at the Brew

The Electric Brew show last Saturday was one of the most fun concerts I've done in a while. Amber and Nate Butler showed up and lent energy and quality to the sound, and Kaleem wandered in with his flute and took the night to another arena.

I love improvisation and the unplanned magic of live shows. For me it's often those things that you didn't plan that make the evening memorable. That and people singing along, clearly becoming part of the experience, and somehow being better off because of it.

These things happened. What a gift. Also for some reason I was more relaxed and comfortable than usual. I tried to outplay Kaleem, which was of course, ludicrous but funny. Wish you all could have been there.

Come on the 20th of March.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Christa blogs about art, death and the end of JRL

Abstract artist Christa Reuel is creating artwork for the final JRL event. Check out her blog at
She has one post about the JRL event, the rest of her posts relate to theme.

Hard facts on the last JRL gigs

Here's some hard DATA regarding the last JRL gigs:

At the Electric Brew, 8pm. Saturday, February 21, 2009. This will be a simple, acoustic show as befits this great venue. The cover is usually $5.

The FINAL show (with guest bands, musicians and artists) will happen at the Goshen Theater, FRIDAY, March 20, 2009. Tickets will cost $10.

Come on out, hear these shows, and celebrate the end of an era!

What kind of "Funeral" is needed?

What would it be like to lose your job? What about your home? Would it feel like a place that had been safe had suddenly become a danger? What would it be like to wonder whether the next day you'll still be there or not? What do you do with all your stuff?

Would you feel weighed down with your possessions or sad about what you'll have to get rid of? Would you be exhausted by the idea of deciding what goes? Would you be afraid because you don't know where to go or when you'll have to decide? Where do you move if you're evicted? What landlord will take you? How can you get a job with no address?

Would you blame yourself or others? Would you feel abandoned by God and try to find a way back into divine approval, or run the other way? Could you face your own heart or would you hide yourself in work, worry, fear, complaining, entertainment?

What do you do when you feel so trapped? Do you ask for help, and if so from who? What does it mean that God will take care of you?

Most of us have never faced these questions or felt these things. More and more people in the US are, though, and especially in Elkhart County where this final JRL gig is going to happen.

I don't think there's a quick or easy way through things like losing a house, a job, a marriage or a dream. JRL is a dream and a job that's ending for me. Other people are losing other dreams, jobs, and homes. My struggle has been to find courage, hope and God in the middle of all the losing. I'm hoping we strugglers will be transformed in the midst of loss.

A friend wrote this to me today: "What kind of a funeral is needed?  The sisters at the convent of Grandchamp in Switzerland speak of the day of one’s death as the day of resurrection."

Losing dreams, jobs, homes, relationships are a kind of death. Can they be a resurrection as well? If so, how? Ever hear of jazz funerals? Maybe what we're doing on March 20 at the theater is a bit like a jazz funeral...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

At the Brew next week and the Best Of Cd

Thanks everyone who sent ideas for the best of cd. I made many, many different options for it, and took into account your ideas. I actually made a chart that said how many votes each song got. I'll include the almost-for-sure list at the end of this post.

In the meantime, I'm playing the Electric Brew as JRL for the last time next week. Goshen, IN. Undoubtably the most consistently great gig venue for JRL over the years. Come if you're near. Saturday, February 22. ( It's the first official time in Goshen to pick up the last JRL studio record, Balloon.

The list:
Second Floor
Sunfire Faces
Just To Be Loved
We've all got this
Better This Way
29 Years
I Don't Mind Waiting
Past Yourself
Anywhere My Love
Camellia Drive Lullaby
You Could Break My Heart
Better Days

I'd really like to put Enough for Now on it too but I'm not sure what to drop.

JRLs final gasp

The dream of a big final concert is actually happening! Can't believe it. There's people from all over the country showing up. The band is going to be killer. The venue is amazing ( I sort of didn't think this would actually happen, but it is. Amazing.

March 20. The Goshen Theater, Goshen, IN. Please come. Bring all your friends. Invite some strangers. Come celebrate 6 great years of music, mourn the ending of this era. Bring your own "deaths" and let's together throw a funeral for things that have died or are dying, and move into the next part of our lives, whatever that is.

If you'd like to help, we could probably use it. Send an email to who is one of the team leaders for this project. Her name is Kimberly. She's oboe genius of paydirt fame.

We're recording this live show. Christa is doing original art for it.

Sometimes in life in the middle of sadness comes a huge gift.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Three things that are currently stretching, feeding and challenging me creatively:

But does it float? A blog. Images, quotes & micro-bios: art at the edge of science -- sort of a carry-in/make-you/think approach). One of the most creative people I know, Bryn Hovde, sent me the link.

"Hackers & Painters" by Paul Graham. A book. "What hackers and painters have in common is that they're both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things." Two friends, both true makers and explorers, Ben Metz and Shawn Nussbaum, have been telling me to read this book for some time.

TED talks: audio or video podasts. Diverse, interesting, thought-provoking ideas from various arenas (arts, technology, design, etc)