Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Made a Writing Target

My biggest challenge in writing is brevity. Back when everyone was groaning about having to do a 3, 5, or 10 page paper I was asking how much was too much. Although no one has recently told me to give them "15 pages on the meaning of the sublime in aesthetics and art history," I still fight wordiness. Last night a friend sang me the praises of brevity and Twitter. So I made a target. I'm aiming at it over my computer. It reads:


Monday, December 27, 2010

Practice and Hard Work

Practice. It often means doing the same thing over and over. It at least means regularly repeating things. Repetition. Form. Details. Progress.

Hard work. It usually means it isn't easy. Could mean pushing harder or going longer, or stopping when it's hard to. Hard work comes in many forms.

It's still the holidays for some of you -- perfect time to practice and get a little hard work in on an area you don't usually have time for. Like your inner life (things to mourn or let go of), a neglected instrument or relationship, or just sitting without doing anything for ten minutes. Or maybe doing something Jesus said, like visiting someone who is sick, in prison, lonely, in need. Or taking God seriously enough to do the thing you've known for years you need to do.

If you do I guarantee it will not only take grace and encouragement (translate wisdom and allies human and divine) but practice and hard work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The next recording

I'm reticent to give details on the upcoming recording because it seems too good to be true and there are still some gaps in the plan. That being said, so far doors keep slamming open. It's unexpected, uncanny, humbling and fun.

I plan to tour with Kelly (who I've been working on the EP with in the last few weeks) and at least one other person, maybe a small band -- in the spring.

I look forward to putting together a tour that deals with both a concrete social issue (like human trafficking) and more abstract or spiritual issues (like the transformation of a person in the wilderness by the love of God).

So, the next five months are going to be an adventure. I picture Christa and I collapsing into sabbatical (it's an arid, beautiful country with one stream) in the early summer after doing battle with a hideous evil on both personal and systemic fronts. Well, to clarify, I see us doing small acts of courage and love as part of a massive campaign of redemption and reconciliation (which we see just glimpses of) -- not single-handedly ousting things that need ousted!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thematic Songwriting and human trafficking

First of all, to write a set of songs around a subject is a big challenge. It's too easy to be cliche', insensitive, melodramatic, or just plain dumb. A few people do it well . . . sporadically. I've toyed with it on Wind, Rain and Thunder and Seconds to Sunrise, but the themes were pretty loose.

In this current project, add to that innate challenge the nature of the subject matter we're dealing with (human trafficking). Just learning about the subject is draining and horrifying. No wonder most people (me included) don't know much about it. It's crazy what humans are doing to each other right now as I write. I'd rather not know.

I was surprised, though, how much great work is being done to help people in unspeakably horrible situations (check out for one example).

So this is what I've been working at this last week and a half and fitting other responsibilities around.

My approach to the project was to pray for help and wisdom, jump in writing and hope it works. We'll find out for sure when the album comes out and we play the songs live, but if how rewarding the process has been is any hint at the quality of the work, this should be a good record.

It's a gift to be able to face a challenge like this and take little steps -- one word, note or line at a time forward -- and find yourself somewhere you didn't know if you could go just weeks before.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I posted a couple weeks ago about being impressed with the co-writing I saw in Nashville. I was hoping to work at that discipline, and man, have I had the opportunity recently.

I'm just finishing up almost a week of intensive songwriting with Kelly Clemons in Deep Ellum, TX. I'm helping her do an EP of songs related to human trafficking. Because of this theme, our time has been split between me learning about the subject and us writing songs.

We've written five songs in six days, and I think they're pretty good. Kelly's melodic sense and vocal style pushed me in some new directions. She's also good at nailing the right word, looking for consistency in a lyric, and anchoring her songs in a strong image.

While all of this writing and educating has been going on, Christa has been painting and designing in the other room, and Kelly's photographer husband Justin has been escaping to his office to get a break from the noise.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I didn't want to even think about what I'd do until we get to sabbatical (besides the commitments I already had). But my team told me to ask the inner question (not just be driven by necessity but see what's in my heart). I did and found I wanted to record an album (before June or July when we start sabbatical). I wanted to record with a full band, good quality but figured there was no way we could afford the time or money to do it. In prayer I felt challenged to talk to a specific person. I did and they offered to help me, reducing the cost so significantly that I could begin to consider it.

While there's a long road ahead yet and challenges to face, problems to solve, looks like I may be recording a full blown record in Feb or March and touring some before we go to sabbatical.

It even going this far feels like a miracle.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Perfectionism and procrastination

My community supported music group is supposed to be a place that I experiment with songs and REGULARLY send out a group of 3-5 of them to people who pay me an annual membership to be part of it. Recently the word regular has not applied to my CSM. Until I finally sent out the seventh delivery a couple days ago I was months and months and months late.


Perfectionism and procrastination. Together these two tendencies derail a host of worthwhile (and probably a lot of worthless) endeavors.

It was good to finally return to the vision (which in part is that this is "in process, raw recordings of new songs" and give myself permission to do what I was committed to do but hadn't done.

Come on people, be responsible. (Someone aught to name an album that I think).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nashville Songwriters

When I was in Nashville I got to hear some songwriters. Pros. Write hits. And they all collaborate. Very interesting. Talked to them about it. Has got me thinking.

One of them said, "People always ask me if it frustrates me that I gave away half the rights to these big hits. Not really. The songs are better because of the cowriters."


That doesn't come naturally for me, but on this trip I've had the chance to work with two people.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carrying Buckets

I get all bent out of shape about my calling and responsibility. I think so much depends on me and I worry and struggle to be faithful. I lose perspective.

In reality I have a little job. I carry buckets. I carry them a certain distance and then set them down for someone else to carry. Or sometimes I carry them to a destination and pour them into pitchers or troughs or swimming pools.

This is either extremely relieving or depressing, depending on who I'm working for.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I've been working on the next CSM delivery for months and months now. I'm also working on another project that includes some songwriting and recording. It's been so much fun and so infuriating to be recording again. I love the process of creating in the studio.

I'm a bit frustrated that I haven't hit whatever it is that will take the music to the next place it has to go yet. Although I'm trusting the process and the One that is my muse, source and destination, and who, for whatever reason, is wrapped in mystery and relates to me through silence, song, images and ideas, based in, coming from and drawing me towards . . . love (and also, from that place, hopefully something new, valuable, different, and strong musically).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Live Music

As we've been traveling around the country searching for city to live in we've got the chance to hear some good bands. We saw Deer Tick in Austin at a good little club, and just saw Deerhunter at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. What's with all the deer?

It's been good to hear bands live again, to see how they handle the mysterious task of creating, communicating and sometimes disappearing into the music.

In the past when I heard bands I'd usually want to be up there playing, or I'd feel depressed because I wasn't there. And then when I was playing out I'd miss hearing bands.

At this point I'm enjoying the gift of hearing and content where I'm at, performing very little but writing and recording a bit more again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

God on Scale

I imagine God saying something like"

"You humans get so worked up about scale, distance, weight, etc. Why? You should be impressed by what really matters. These things can be helpful in cultivating a sense of awe and humility, but their substance is less than many things you overlook daily."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Drinks and Babies

Some of us fiercely want our work to be meaningful. To make a lasting difference. We agonize about this. We long and struggle for it.

A while back some friends, Christa and I had pina coladas with pineapple, coconut and ginger infused something. They were excellent.

We talked coconuts and how what we were drinking could have become another coconut tree -- or it could have been (and in this case was) harvested to become a drink for a group of Virginian twertysomethings.

Both are good options. Both can be bad. Which is meaningful? Which makes a lasting difference, though?

Sometimes I want the work I do to produce babies, that is grow into something else that last and reproduces. Sometimes I just want to make, have or share a good drink. Both can be meaningful. Both can make a difference. ("If you give a drink to the least of these..")

I'm praying, hoping and working on trusting that God will take my ideas and my work and let the coconuts that need to grow into new trees do so, and the ones that need harvested -- well let them be turned into good drinks and enjoyed!

Again, I think so much rides on who you're working for.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Recording again and my other blog

I'm recording again. I'm in NC with family, and just got some basic gear so I can record again. My computer died a few weeks before we went to Asia in August, so this is the first I've been able to put song ideas down since then. Feels good.

I have a CSM coming out soon, so I'm working on that as well as a project based on our travels in Asia (which will include original art, music, photos and illustration from the trip).

Christa and I have a blog about our travels:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yes Please

While I'm on this "I imagine God saying" kick, what if God said this?:

"If I told you the responsibilities you'd have in the future they would seem too big for you and it would overwhelm you. In fact if you truly saw what you were responsible for now, it would crush your spirit. But in reality it's just a little job and it fits you. It's ok. It's good. You can and will do it. The real job is mine, the ultimate responsibility for winning or losing, loving or waiting. Redemption is a long game and I'm the best player, and I'm focused and playing. I'll let you in on some more of it if you like."

Yes, please.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Good News: Turning and Walking

After that last post about good news, I qualify:

It doesn't seem like I connect to this Kingdom or 4D reality every time I turn towards God. Wasn't that the message I heard, that this Kingdom is open to anyone who turns? How does my experience fit with this invitation/message, Jesus?

Sometimes it feels like I turn towards God and start walking. Often, actually. Maybe this is a trick of the mind. Maybe I'm weak. Small in faith. (Ok, both of those are givens). Maybe in reality (4d) I'm with God already the moment I turn, but in 3D space I have to move to get there.

If so, I wonder, in God's economy what the function of walking (the existential interum here that exists between the turning/asking and the experience) is?

And anyhow, why would God give us such huge power -- to actually be able to choose love/the Kingdom/presence of God or not? It's a lot of responsibility. Especially when the results of that turning don't seem immediately obvious, even to the turner.

And while I'm asking questions, what does it mean "everything is going to be ok?" (Is it? Really? How? For whom? I can't see it.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good News

Jesus' message is news -- and good news -- to conservative Christians who think the world is going to hell and they are a beleagured minority. It's good news to the rebels who go to church but don't listen because the message is dated and simplistic. It's good news to the cool people who worship a relevant approach to Jesus. It's good news to the feminist wrestling to reshape her mind to connect with a God she can relate to. It's good news to the arrogant and insecure who feel like they want to/need to change the world but are pretty convinced they're too f**d up to do it.

The message that the reality and presence of God is near, all around, and all we have to do is turn towards God (and away from everything we're carrying and thinking and trying to do to connect ourselves with God) is good news! It's available to anyone. Children even. Simple. Could it be real? Is it possible that you can get it without getting it, that you don't have to get yourself to a certain place to qualify, and yet it is a path that takes you somewhere you're not (and can't even conceive of)?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting Stuck in Action or Reflection

Part of the value of the action reflection cycle is to recognize patterns: where do I tend to get stuck? How about you?

Do I get stuck in reflection?
Do I get stuck being productive and not stop to reflect?

I enjoy both and different areas tend towards one or the other. I reflect about spirituality and music a lot, although I write songs often with very little reflection.

In relationships I tend to process a lot. In practical arenas I tend to do too little of both. Avoidance anyone?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Action Reflection Cycle

The Dandelion Seed Company (a group of people into creativity, community and Jesus) had a conference back in the late spring with some pretty interesting speakers at it. One of them talked about the "Action Reflection Cycle." It's a pretty helpful way to think about life and decisionmaking.

There's some sitar music and poetry at the beginning of the video.

Follow this link and then input this password:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Bible, Bhakti Marga and 4D Existence

To me the Bible seems to be a collection of stories of people interfacing with other realities -- both the spiritual world and the reality of God's presence/leadership ("the Kingdom"). These are stories of people popping in and out of life in 4d, living in the joy and tension. 4th culture kids. Aliens and strangers. Messengers. Witnesses.

I have a friend who appropriates eastern meditation techniques and worship traditions in his relationship with Jesus. I recently had a conversation on a plane with a shaman who talks to Jesus. I know a guy who connects with groups of Muslims who study, follow and love Jesus.

These and other experiences reinforce my inclinations to believe that, while I'm deeply formed by the overarching western context I live in where religion is often mostly about what we do (morality) and mentally assent to (belief), drawn to certain aspects of mystical traditions (eastern and western) that emphasize experience, disciplines and inner order, Jesus lived and invited people into an experience (which includes and influences morality and belief) which interfaced with an alternate reality in a certain way -- with the posture of children, friends, family members, servants of a God whose influence, direction, love for and power over all worlds (while disputed and in process) is central and good.

OK, that last sentence was approaching Melville length with none of his humor or precision. My apologies.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Message of Jesus

A couple months ago I preached at a church that I used to attend. I talked about the message of Jesus. What struck me is how we as humans, religious or otherwise, tend to push Jesus away and add stuff to his message rather than accepting it and living in it. Conservatives and liberals, wealthy and disadvantaged, men and women.

Can it really be true? That it's that immediate and simple to connect with God and a bigger reality?

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is all around, near us, inside of us-- and all we have to do (any time any place) is to turn towards God and embrace it (turning away from our own actions, ideas, control, 2D reality).

That "kingdom" extends in a limited way to this world and as well as to other worlds and realities. What people refer to as "the spiritual world" is another reality. The Kingdom is also another reality, with different rules and parameters, by virtue of the fact that it is one where God's ways are followed, God's influence embraced.

It seems to me that the spiritual world and the Kingdom of God are not the same thing, although they both interface with the world where we spend most of our time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Bible in 4D

Jesus was a man of his time and place and yet timeless. He treated the scriptures like the jew he was and also like someone seeing a bigger picture, another dimension.

My problem is that the main ways of seeing the bible that I run into are one-dimensional (either it's "the word of God, inerrant and conclusive" or it's a "culturally bound document to be picked over, vulture style"). Seems like there has to be another way to relate to these writings.

I wonder if it might involve experiencing and living in another dimension, one that is outside of time (this "Kingdom of God" scholars across the board agree is the core of Jesus' message).

This might mean that while there is a pattern and order to these Kingdom-dwellers' relationship with the scriptures it will probably seem weird and even random to people dealing with it in 2D because 3D reality cuts in and out of 2D at odd places. Something that exists on a plane (2 dimensions) relates to a line (1 dimension) in a similar way -- it jumps in and out of the line at odd places, not moving from beginning to end linearly. This seems like a good description to me of how Jesus interacted with the scriptures -- honoring and reverencing them but using them and interpreting them in odd, unexpected and nonlinear ways.

I've recently done a bit of reading about the cultural context Jesus lived in which made sense of some of the strangeness of Jesus' actions, words and relationship to the Hebrew texts. This has been enriching and hasn't minimized the power or beauty of his message for me, actually the opposite. However, it's possible that if I just knew more I would find out that Jesus' relationship to the Torah was completely linear and culturally acceptable, and that this "kingdom" was a well-understood concept not a mind and life-altering other dimension he invited people into.

But then again, I might just find what I was looking for, so I'm thinking hard about what that is, hopefully in 4d.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I feel like a little kid

Are there areas of your life where you feel like a little kid? Like you missed the bus to that school somehow... every day? Like maybe you don't even know where your locker is?

I do.

It's weird. There's just things that I never learned that I feel like "I should know by now." How did I get here? It's embarrassing... which makes it harder to ask for help.

Like what?

- Filling out forms. I recently traded personal coaching time with a a guy who helped me fill out a form. It wasn't that complicated, but I just had a mental/emotional block about it. I've been trying to get it done for several years.

- Changing strings on a tremolo lock guitar.

- Being yelled at. I can handle a high level of emotion and think straight, bring perspective, etc -- as long as the emotion isn't aimed at me. When it is I sometimes shut down. Seems like I should know this by now.

But honestly, we've all got these blind spots and holes in our skillset. Encourage someone you know today to start the process of growing up in an area where they feel like they already should be but aren't.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Growth, Constraint Theory and Getting in Peoples' Faces

My main mentor recently challenged me to think about some of the people I walk with and ask this question: what is the one thing that, if they'd make progress on it, would move them forward significantly and unlock growth in a number of areas?

Flip Flippin's constraint theory suggests that for each person there is just such a personal constraint that if it can be overcome makes an incremental difference.

Once I got a sense of a person's constraint, what if I looked at my own life in that area first, and then got in their faces and asked them what they are going to do about it? What if I came with suggestions, shared how I'm working at it, didn't assume I knew what would be best for them but challenged them to address it because it's core?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Asking for Music Mentors

A glimpse into a recent conversation with God about music mentors:

I don't know how to find them. I'm quick to judge, slow to listen.

Do I really need music mentors? Do you want to give them? I think I do, but I'm scared of being too influenced. Would you help me? I release that to You. Please bring me to the place where I can meet you and receive from those you send to mentor this part of my life, joy, calling and work.

Simplicity. Power. Zeal. Chaos. Joy. Truth. Honesty. Honor. Compassion. Steel.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Now Nashville wasn't originally on our list of potential cities to move to. There's a lot of music there (and it's not all country or Christian) but as far I we could see from online research the visual art scene was meager.

I got a chance to visit a couple weeks ago and do some on-site sleuthing. It was amazing. Gallery owners were not only friendly, they were helpful to a degree that seemed odd even with southern hospitality in the mix. They gave me emails and cell phone numbers of contacts to follow up with. The first gallery I went into featured the abstract works of a Marian monk. There were a number of contemporary galleries with good exhibits. And I met a software programmer from Dublin on the way to a meeting. All that and music too!

Nashville is now on the list.

I know we need to be weaning it down rather than adding to it, but that's how it goes.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


I've had mentors all my life. This is one area I'm rich, and have been as far back as I can remember. What a gift.

From a young age there were older men and women around who sowed energy and time and encouragement into my life. College kids when I was 4 and 5. Pastors and teachers during grade school and high school. Coaches and mentors. It's a fairly ridiculous list. How did this happen? Probably partly because of my parents -- they valued, modeled, encouraged, invested in and celebrated mentoring, formal and informal. Life was meant to be lived in community, small group was church, and they never pretended to have everything their kids needed to grow up well.

Being closely connected to education, teachers, colleges also was a factor I think. Being raised in a third culture missions environment helped. Teachers and coaches who are giving their lives and making sacrifices for something they believe in make better mentors than people just doing their jobs.

I guess it's not surprising that a lot of my life and work is about coaching, consulting and mentoring. And I thought I was so original too!

Freely you have received..

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Choosing Cities

Christa and I planning a move. Our lease ends in less than a month, we travel to Asia for another month, and then come back to find our new home... somewhere in the US!

We've been researching larger cities for several months now, looking for the place that would fit the coming season. We've had the feeling for a couple years now (after regular trips to DC for museum fixes) that it would be good to be in a larger town. Charlottesville is an amazing place, and hard to imagine leaving the mountains of Virginia. It's been ten years now.

Beyond the beauty, we've had some of the best relationships/community here that we've ever experienced. Creativity? Community? Spirituality? That was what our group was about and it has been amazing to spend the the last almost six years with those friends. And now we're moving on. Needless to say excitement is tempered with real, annoyingly persistent and frustrating grief.

Every time we've moved in the past it has been because of relationships, projects or schools. This is a different kind of move. We're taking our time with it. We plan to take an extended trip upon returning from Asia. The trip will serve dual purposes: sharing the music and art that we create from our experiences there and 2. exploring ciites that are on our list of potential ending up place.

I'll post more about this city choosing as we go. Feel free to vote for your favorite US city. (It's been pretty fun to hear how passionate and opinionated people are about cities, even ones they haven't spent much time in.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Worker, the Warrior and the Gaps in Me

All this "grunt-grunt-manly-fish-and-hike-and-shoot" writing of John Eldridges sort of pisses me off. (For those of you who have no connection to the USAmerican Christian subculture and don't know this author, my apologies. You might want to check him out). The writing often seems one-dimensional, over-simplified and ignorant of or damaging to women. It paints a picture of manhood and life that feels like it owes too much to western romanticism and the military. It rankles my anabaptist roots. It drives the wedge between the genders deeper by confirming stereotypes and painting women as passive, men as active.

That being said, one of his books is currently being both helpful and challenging to me. (Go figure). In "the Way of the Wild Heart" Eldridge describes overarching metaphors/cycles/stages of a man's life -- beloved child, cowboy/robin hood, warrior, king, sage.

His idea is that something different is formed in us during each phase, that we often miss out on some or most of the process depending on our situation, but that God is at work giving us opportunities to return to those phases in small ways to be formed in ways we missed out on the first time (as a beloved son, an adventurer, a wise ruler, etc).

I'm recognizing gaps in me, as well as becoming grateful for the opportunities and gifts I've been given by parents, friends and mentors. My life is sort of like Eldridges' writing -- frustrating, beautiful, challenging, helpful and incomplete.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Working and Sabbaticals: Unproductive or Fallow?

A friend recently blogged his thoughts about sabbatical, productivity and God's "wilderness curriculum." I like what he says. Search for "Unproductive... Or Fallow" May 27, 2010 entry on

For a more general, less spiritual/religious, more populist and organizational take on the subject, try

Taking a musical sabbatical has been one of the best things I've done for my music in the last 21 years. I've also watched a number of people take sabbaticals (as part of my connection to a non-profit that does a lot of transition and sabbatical work) and it continues to stun me what happens when people actually slow down and unplug. I wonder if 50 years from now we'll see the busyness of this era as a form of slavery or disease that was so rampant and systematized that most of us just didn't see it...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tiny House Thoughts

I grew up moving between Indiana, Ohio and several third world countries. Outside of the US it was common to build a house for under $30K and consider it a more than adequate solution to living needs.

Things are more complicated and expensive in the states, yes. But does it really have to be this way?

Tiny houses are one alternative. There are great architects designing these things, and a movement of people that value them because of the ecological implications of living smaller. I like the idea of having less stuff to deal with. I like the gadgets that allow a person to live in 100 square feet of space. Oh, and I like the idea that your heating bill could be under $100 -- for the whole winter!

You could have the whole thing built and paid for for under $40K. Of course there's a lot of things you wouldn't have and people in your neighborhood would think you're weird.

So there you go. You got a blog on shoes once, now tiny houses. Bet you can't wait for the next curve ball on this art/community/spirituality blog.

If you want to know more google "Tiny House Movement." Be sure to take a couple virtual tours.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Stone and blood
Strength and stares
Weight and water

Friday, June 4, 2010

Money, Debt and Houses

In regards to debt and money, I wrestle a bit with feeling hopeless and kind of like a victim of my background and past choices. Funny -- I don't usually think of that being a struggle for me. Beyond that I have a great background and better mentors than most people I know, and our debts are not large by US averages.

I think part of it is that I'm coming to terms with reality. I wasn't tracking the fact that even with school loans ("great" loans that they are), we could end up paying twice as much as we borrowed easily. Most people have encountered this grim reality long before now in their lives, but we've gotten a lot of help, have lived pretty simply and have been privileged to not have incurred many debts that would have taught us this before.

I understood the theory before, but looking the debt in the face daily is a little different. Like with anything -- theory and experience, the idea of the thing and the experience of it are profoundly different -- something difficult for a dreamer/starter/futurist (using the last term loosely) like me to remember.

So, out of all this there are two things that are taken for granted in US culture that I don't like and about which I wonder whether things really need to be this way:
1. We think it's normal to pay back twice as much as we borrow.
2. We either expect to rent all our lives or to be paying off a house for most of it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Money, Debt and Keeping the Big Picture in Mind

So I'm wrestling with money and debt.

We're working at getting everything inputted into and it's already pretty telling. It's one thing to know where you're at with income, expenses and debts. It's another to see it all in front of you at once, simple and clear and stunningly up to date. The sobering thing is that we're way more "average" USAmericans than I I'd hoped:

We give less, spend more, save less and have more debt than is reasonable.

We have school loans. They are comparatively good as far as loans go, but the interest can still kill you. I'm feeling the weight of the debts more than I used to. I think this is because until I see the bigger picture it's hard for me to feel any given part of it very heavily. I know this in other areas of my life, but it never clicked in the financial realm for me before. I've usually looked at it piecemeal or avoided thinking it.

So, in yet another area of life I need to be regularly tuning in to the big picture.

The good thing is that I like doing that.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vulnerability by Choice

Being vulnerable can be a really bad thing. If you're caught in a hurricane you're vulnerable to injury or death by the forces around you. If you're growing up in an family with abusive or addicted parents you're vulnerable to all kinds of hurt and misperceptions about reality and yourself that are really damaging. If you move around a lot you can become vulnerable to lonliness and damaging coping mechanisms.

There is another kind of vulnerability, though. That's the kind that you choose and which brings you closer to others. This blog lists "community" as one of it's foci. One aspect of growing community I've been learning a lot about recently is vulnerability.

I believe in it, I talk about it, but I'm not great at doing it. Getting better. It's still hard, though.

I have the privilege currently to be working with a recovering addict. His vulnerability challenges me, and has taken our friendship to a deeper place.

I've also had the privilege of meeting with two groups recently where vulnerability was a theme. I'll write more about that in the next post.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vulnerability in a Group

What makes a group of people a safe place to be vulnerable in? What's the benefit of being vulnerable?

I work with a church that just launched a community house project. Five 20-somethings now live in a house, share kitchen duties, work part time, vulunteer in the community, develop spiritual disciplines, choose one cool project to attempt and work at personal growth. Pretty great. For the cool projects, one of them is going to write a book, another one is going to build a bamboo bicycle.

As part of their "launch weekend" I got to spend extended time with the young people and the vision team -- a group of 5 or 6 church members committed to helping get this project off the ground. The first evening I talked about vulnerability and invited everyone to share something they are wrestling with or excited about. I challenged them to go 2 or 3 steps further than they'd usually share, than they feel comfortable with.

Then I shared first. That was the hard part. Theory -- easy, practice -- hard. I talked about my insecurities and dreams related to my leadership work. Can I really do this? How do I do it? Can I really help lay solid foundations for groups to build on? I have a great mentor, but how do I do this job with my gifts and strengths that are different than his?

After I shared I instructed people to thank me for sharing and then ask me if I wanted feedback. Even though I asked them to do this, it was meaningful to be thanked. I could tell people appreciated my vulnerability, and it really helped me to hear it in words. It was also really nice to be asked if I wanted feedback rather than people just jumping in trying to fix me. Some of the feedback I got was really helpful. (One guy said, "Think of the worst you could do -- it will help you realize there's not as much riding on your decision as it feels like.")

After that we went around the circle and everyone shared. Amazing stuff, deep stuff, hard stuff. We pretty quickly forgot the cultural gap between the twenty-somethings and the 40-60 year olds. We were all human, wrestling with human stuff. It will be easier to build community with the group of people who shared their lives than it would have been with the group that started at the beginning of the evening -- with a bunch of ideas about community.

So what makes a group "safe?" Someone laying out the reasons for vulnerability, some guidelines for it, but most of all modeling it and then honoring it when it happens. Whatever you say, if you don't live it and value it when you see it, it's not going to keep happening.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Experiment, Share Process, Find Allies

I'm about to post my sixth delivery of music as part of my CSM (Community Supported Music). I've been at this now almost two years. And while I took an unexpected "music sabbatical" I'm almost up to date with deliveries (well, ok, 6 months behind)!

The purpose of my CSM has gotten clearer as I've sorted out what place it fills in my musical life.

My CSM is a place for me to:

1. Experiment. This is where I push the boundaries of style, theme, genre and content. Expect the unexpected. This is a treasure hunt not a museum exhibit.

2. Share my process. Some people want the end result, the bottom line, the best work an artist creates. Others want in on the journey. Consider the CSM an invitation to join my musical journey. Hear songs never officially released. Follow me down alleys and country roads looking for new ideas and sounds. Hear how I wrote the song, and think with me why it does or doesn't work.

3. Find allies. The feedback and fees from the CSM help me to keep maturing as a songwriter and musician. Whether giving a basic fee or something more substantial, CSM members are patrons of the arts and an important part of my call to live creativity, spirituality and community in my life and music.

To learn more about the concept or to visit a CSM site belonging to me or one of my friends, visit

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Questions about my Next Season of Music

1. Am I really going this direction? If so where do I find this band? I'm thinking about auditioning musicians. Scary.

2. Do I take a thematic approach with this new material or allow for thematic variety?

3. How much do I think about audience as I develop the new material? I wrestle with three values: a. being honest and vulnerable, b. being willing to say things that people don't want to hear and c. writing music that connects to people in their real lives (as opposed to being esoteric and narcissistic).

4. How big a part of my life is this going to be? I think it will start small, but I dream of slow, sustainable growth into something great.

5. When does it start?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Direction

1. I started talking to a few musician friends about my ideas for the new musical direction and sent around some of the new songs. I got pretty good responses to the songs, and although it's not my best work yet, it could become that.

2. I've been slowly moving towards this idea of starting a three piece band that plays simple, loud music that I write the bones of but that the band brings alive. A three piece band means no hiding that core with interesting guitar, oboe or harmonica leads. I haven't made any of these new need-a-band songs available publicly and don't plan to until there is a band.

3. I continue to experiment as a songwriter outside of this new direction. The songs that I'm posting on my CSM are flavored by this new direction, but they go other directions too. I work at different styles, themes, and song writing methods and revisit old areas. If you want to know more check out my CSM, it's designed for people who are interested in my journey and explorations, not just my best work.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drew this inspired by two songs: "House of Broken Dreams" by Mark Heard (whose lyrics nail me) and "Times Squared" from the Farewell Concert.

A Mark Heard lyric sample:

"I'm old enough to know
That dreams are quickly spent
Like a pouring rain on warm cement
Or fingerprints in dust
Nectar on the wind
Save them for tomorrow and tomorrow lets you down again. . .
I'll sleep in peace
In a house of broken dreams"

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Music Sabbatical

I'm no longer of musical sabbatical. I'm back. Not as JRL, but back. Writing, dreaming, hoping, being asked to do gigs and thinking about saying yes again at some point here.

So what happened, now that it's more than a year since the Farewell Concert, the death of JRL and my musical sabbatical?

1. I didn't tour, play concerts, think about music or even write much for months and months. It was a relief. Rest!

2. After a while I began to listen to music again. In ways I hadn't for years. I caught up on new bands and ideas and began to realize that I still really loved music, even if I didn't know what role it would have in my life in the future. Helpful to not have music connected with my identity or making a living. Freedom!

3. Then I started to write again. It was exhilarating to be able to experiment -- to write about anything and explore whatever genre or form I felt like. I had been working at JRL for about seven years and it had a definite sound and thematic direction. Not having that freed me up to just write -- no preset rules, goals, or destination. Exploration!

4. Within the last couple months my writing began to go in a direction. It wasn't one I was expecting. I started writing simple, loud songs that needed a band. I used to be able to do acoustic, solo versions of most of my songs. Hope!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I promised you Thailand. I gave you the brief version, which you took well considering.


Thai mountains climbing above a flat plain marked by houses, temples, road. I'm on a moped, my helmeted head laid against the handlebars, my body hugging the seat, throttle open, little wheels spinning. Monkeys staring. Monks in orange robes. Piles of coconuts bigger than a house blurring by.

How fast can you go on a moped? Not that fast but fast enough.

We're looking for a cave: climbing steep steps up the side of a mountain, passing German septagenarian tourists who should not be out in the heat, talking about developing awareness of your inner life with a young man, recently married, zealous to follow God and make a difference, living in the middle of culture shock.

How deep into the earth do you have to climb to find yourself?

Can you see:
We're throwing people -- all kinds of people, young and old, men and women, children, well-dressed or properly-attired -- into the pool. I haven't done this since I was a kid. For some reason it's what expatriates do when they're on retreat. We always threw the general director in back then. The same thing happens now, about 30 years later. I join in. A young child singlehandedly throws adult after adult into the overchlorinated, blue liquid. Even a grandpa gets tossed in -- I asked his permission, which he solemnly gave me first.

What kind of baptism welcomes all ages and requires no solemn vows?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Habits and Habitat

I'm drawing hats while talking,
Over undefined faces.
Whoever wears the feathers leads,
But who are they underneath?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marriage and In-Laws

More about Thailand is still coming, although we've traveled to Colorado, New York City and Pennsylvania since then. I've got a pile of thoughts built up.

But before I get into that, a thought about marriage and in-laws (and for those of you who aren't married, you can skip this one or translate the concepts to the relationships you have that are your best opportunity to grow -- friends, family, etc):

I just spent several days with my wife's family. She is one of 4 sisters, all of which were around this weekend with their husbands. I had this crazy idea to get the guys together, have a beer and talk about being married to these sisters. It worked out and we found a place with Guinness on tap, free Sprite refills and good wings and caught up on our work situations. Then I asked them what they're learning in their marriages which sparked a fun and enlightening conversation.

Encouraged, the next day I mentioned the conversation to someone. They pictured in-laws sitting around complaining about their spouses. This was strange to me, so I told someone else. They had a similar idea of what might have occurred. (I think it particularly struck me because I just experienced Tibetans honoring their elders and have been thinking about honor). I kept thinking about it. Why would people assume that if the guys got together they'd be whining? And about their wives?

Is marriage a hell that men and women escape to their friends and inlaws to let off steam about?

It is hell to some people most of the time, and to everyone sometimes -- still, sitting around slandering the in-laws seems like a good way to go down another level of the inferno to me.

Let's be honest -- It's hard to find people to trust. It's easier to not talk about things, or to just complain. But we all need people outside of our own little worlds of work and marriage to talk to. And we need people who want to see us become something better, who believe what we sometimes can't.

I've had the costly privilege of a couple friends and mentors who don't just love me, but fight for my marriage and periodically call me on my stupidity and selfishness. They remind me marriage is an ongoing opportunity to grow. This is one of my greatest assets, and I could list a number of things I've learned from conflict in marriage has made me more compassionate and effective at everything I do. I wouldn't have learned it without help.

I imagine a world where in-laws get together to celebrate the honor and holy challenge of being married to whatever particular family they landed in, a world where husbands brainstorm together about how to better love, encourage, serve and empower (or to use the apostle's language "to lay down their lives for") their wives, a world where it makes sense to learn what you can from and make allies of friends and in-laws not to justify our own opinions and gain leverage for ourselves, but to more effectively fight the war against the hopelessness, fear, stupidity and evil that is being waged against every human, ourselves and spouses included.

This isn't the world most of us live in, but it's more than just imagination -- I saw it this week like a seed ready to be planted!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What we did there

Now I want to get into what we did on this trip. Briefly:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thai Culture

We spent most of our time and energy with foreigners while we were in Thailand. Nevertheless I'd like to reflect briefly on my experience of Thai culture.

Beauty finds a variety of expressions in this culture that I found meaningful and challenging:
a. Landscapes. Amazing mountains rising up from mostly flat fields and grazing land.
b. People. People everywhere are interesting and beautiful to me: Here I was struck by monks in orange garb, stunningly beautiful young people, noble elders.
c. Religious architecture: wats (temples) and spirit houses were everywhere, usually very ornate and well-kept. There are neighborhoods in the US where you don't see anything that is beautiful and well taken care of. In my very limited experience of Thailand, even in the most squalid areas there are little spirit houses that are in some sense beautiful and taken care of.

My most vivid memories are of riding through the mountains on a moped, walking past handicapped people stretched flat on the streets in Bangkok asking for change, and walking outside temples deserted except for monkeys sitting around like old people outside their homes.

Thai ideas of what is appropriate in dress and conduct was also striking: women do not bare their shoulders, you don't touch peoples' heads, and many people put their hands together and slightly bow their heads to each other to show respect and say thank you.

I know very little about Thai culture and history -- as an outsider I'm struck by both the amazing variety between different cultures and the similarities/humaness that are right under the surface.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


This is the first of several blog posts about our recent trip to Thailand -- check back for more in the next couple weeks if you're interested. This first installment will be glimpses into the travel. Later I'll reflect more on ideas and learnings from the trip.

Getting to Thailand and back:
Left a day early because there was a big snowstorm headed for Virginia. Supposedly we were one of the last flights out from the airport -- they routed us through Chicago instead of DC. We sat in the plane on the runway for several hours while the pilot told us he wasn't satisfied with the results of the airworthiness tests they do before you take off. It started to snow while we waited. Then we took off.

It's a long way to Japan from Virginia.

Spent a day in Japan due to the last minute flight changes.

From Tokyo/Narita to Bangkok it took less than 6 hours, but you move from cold to tropical, from refined, reserved, ordered cultivated beauty to heat, ornate designs, and a generous excess of plants, people, devotion and motion.

In Bangkok we got around on the sky train and the river taxis (long boats full of Thai passengers and foreigners). We also walked some, which is normal in downtown areas, but we explored out beyond where people normally walk to where taxis, buses, tuktuks and cars mainly go.

The trip back was hard: we were exhausted and a little sick. I had something wrong with one eye I so I stumbled through customs with my head down trying to not cough on anyone. I've rarely been as thankful for a bed and an Applebees as I was when we finally got to DC. (To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever been thankful for an Applebees before).

I met some interested people on the planes. The winner though, was a Chinese business man who works mainly in Africa. He had an interesting (and for me enlightening) perspective on the relationship between business, communication and political agenda. This got me thinking about bigger trends and changes in the international community as China's influence grows. You hear about these large scale changes in the US, but to talk to people directly involved made it much more real for me. There are truly great opportunities and challenges ahead of us as the world landscape changes in ways we're still mostly unaware of.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Birds Up

Birds up in the air, flying.
We're back breathing air here in small town Virginia.
No wats on mountaintops, no stretched white/black beaches
edging glowing waters.

Birds up in the air, fighting.
We're back gulping down draughts of fire water,
strength for
moving through the thick sludge of
unmotivation, sickness, weakness, poverty

Birds up in the air, gliding
The updraft of that which
God himself gives
The promise of.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


What about that company that when you buy a pair of shoes they give a pair to someone in need? Or the companies that let you custom design your shoes or the one that prints your designs on a pair of shoes? Those are creative ideas. They add value to a purchase. That puts them in a new category for me. I've never tried on their shoes, and I generally get my shoes used. However, even on my budget, if the shoes were amazing enough I might buy them.

You really only need three pairs of shoes, right? Four max. Something dressy, something to exercise in, something to wear on normal days, and maybe something for the summer. Ok, depending on what you do you might need more than that. Or less.

Still what if someone put together a company that:
1. Significantly increased the quality and longevity of the shoe.
2. Allowed for customization to your foot.
3. Allowed for customization of design.
4. Made a valuable charitable contribution as part of the purchase (one that makes sense and looks longer term).

Wouldn't it be way better to have one pair of shoes like that than 4 or 5 pairs that do the same thing badly? Not if we're driven by style, surely, but it seems to me that there must be a place for quality, innovation and generosity that doesn't change with the season.

Why do I suddenly care about shoes?
I don't that much. But I care about new ideas, potential, excellence, creativity. And it seemed like a good place to start when imagining how I to put feet to these ideas about creativity and the economy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Creativity and the Economy

We're at a place in our country that we can not expect to shuffle the cards we've already got, make a few budget cuts and minor adjustments and be ok. Our debts are too large. Even major cuts in expenditure alone won't do it (and I'm talking both about individuals and the larger culture here). We've got to be creative as well.

We've got to come up with new ideas, practices, approaches, and yes, even products and services. We've got more stuff than we need, but a lot of it is junk. There are inventions not yet thought of or produced that will cut out all sorts of unnecessary waste. There are songs that haven't been written that people actually need to hear. They will create markets of some sort. Maybe people won't pay for the songs, but they'll invest something of value to hear them.

I see in myself and in the US right now the human tendency to become afraid, defensive, angry and/or withdrawn because of the economic climate. We have been overextended in unhealthy, greed-driven ways. However, fear of loss in no better a motivator than greed -- both are destructive roots that eventually bear unhealthy fruit. Generosity and love, however, are good roots that end up creating something. When paired with wisdom and diligence they often create something of substance and value.

As strange as it sounds, right now we need to create! Ideas, processes, and yes, new and better stuff. And less of it. (If you've ever had really, really good chocolate you don't need much of it.) So bring it on. The sooner the better.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Four Great Lines

The Mississippi delta
Was shining like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway through the cradle of the Civil War

- Paul Simon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coaching Creativity and Learning from Pioneers

Today I spent time with three people on the phone, helping them develop their visions and creativity. One of them is a first time college professor. The second is working on her first novel, a science fantasy epic. The third is a veteran band member turned front man who is developing his first real solo gig.

I enjoy helping people clarify vision and wrestle with the creative process. I draw on my own experiences and things I've learned over the years watching and walking with all sorts of people: leaders, musicians, missionaries, painters, writers, entrepreneurs, pastors, students. Some things that are common to any creative venture, stuff you can learn about doing things for the first time if you do new things a lot and watch serial pioneers.

Not everyone is wired or called to be an entrepreneur or artist, but everyone is creative. Not everyone is a pioneer, but everyone from time to time must try something new. Doing something for the first time or going somewhere you've never been is different than doing something you know or being you're used to. It takes different resources: muscles, attitudes, skills, and expectations. And while not everyone needs to live their life focusing on the new, everyone can learn something from those who do.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

See For Yourself

Here's another clip from the CSM V:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Excerpts from Notes on Community Supported Music Delivery V

If you've been following my blog for a while you already know about the community supported music (CSM) project, which is a way for people who are interested in supporting my work and hearing new music in it's raw form to give $30 and download new music quarterly. I thought I'd give you a glimpse of the CSM delivery that was just released. For more info about the CSM, go to

Excerpt from Delivery V Notes:
This is an eclectic delivery. The first two songs were written specifically for people over the holidays. The last three are prayers, part of an ongoing journey for me in exploring ways music and image relate to worship, prayer, and meditation.

I recorded these songs in an empty house in Ohio. This was a house my grandparents built. My family lived in it while we built our house. It is a space is full of memories, equipped with a great, old and badly out of tune baby grand piano (which sneaks unbidden into the recordings once or twice). I am nervous about how loose and unpolished these songs are, but I like the rawness of feeling. In this CSM I keep trying to capture the spark of a song that happens before it's full grown and tested.

Friday, January 15, 2010

More live art from the audience

This art was created (mostly) by nonprofessionals (and all) during my last show, a house party deep in the woods of Ohio ...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fear and Pressure Patterns

Several recent conversations helped me see a pattern in my life that, if it could change, would make a big difference in my relationships, my confidence, and my effectiveness. As is usually the case with these things, seeing the problem clearly brought me hope things could change. Hope has been followed by a process of gradual change, punctuated by small leaps forward, and requiring help from others.

So here's the pattern:

A situation arises which requires my action.
I begin to engage it.
The way I engage it frustrates someone else.
They react (in small or large ways).
I begin to feel trapped, scared, hopeless, angry and pressured to somehow fix things. Quickly.
I react: usually I disengage, capitulate, or lash out, often without even realizing what I'm feeling.

Nice, eh? And you all thought I was so mature. :) Or, if you know me well you're shocked that I'm just figuring this out now. So why do I act like this? How did I get into this pattern?

Some of this pattern, I think, I learned by osmosis from observation and being in situations where people handled conflict this way. Also my personality which loves freedom and connection (two things threatened in these situations) plays into it. I'm a first born with the tendency to take responsibility for things that are not my responsibility. I also think self-protection is a natural human response which is operating in a twisted way here.

How can this change?
Somehow trust must replace fear, courage and hope are needed to withstand the pressure, and the pattern needs to be broken. The key ingredients for me in this so far have been the sense that God is working in me and that this isn't something I can or have to do alone, perspective from people who know me, and some new skills/practices I'm developing.

What skills am I learning?
1. To check my internal state when I'm going into a situation that requires my engagement or leadership. I take a couple minutes to ask myself "am I trusting God? Do I have hope? Am I afraid?" I am beginning to take the state of my heart as a real factor in the situation, rather than something to ignore. I'm not very good at this yet, but I've seen signs of progress already even as I muddle forward.
2. To pay attention to the kind of feedback I'm getting from people. If others are reacting to me it might just be that I'm bringing a new idea, but it might be that they are picking up on my fear or pressure and are feeling pushed or manipulated.
3. To get perspective from people who love me -- I've described this pattern to several friends and they sometimes recognize the pattern when I don't. Seeing it allows me to get in the fight at least.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New Years Eve Concert and Art

Did my first full concert in quite some time in Ohio the last day of December. It was great to try out new songs and play some old ones with a great band made up of super vocalist Kimberly Glick, bassist virtuoso Toby Hazlett and the drummer I've known longest (from my very first band) Joel Geiser. I played three sets, and enjoyed sets by Kimberly Glick, Annie Yoder and Carrie Yoder. Great evening, great to be playing again, fun to have parts of it recorded, and good to see art incorporated into the evening as well.

We had a contest -- people drew pictures during the concert and a small, non-biased panel chose the winner who received a free years membership to my Community Supported Music group.

I'l post more art and some music from the concert soon. The piece included here is by an unknown artist created at the concert.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Six good lines from the Avett Brothers

Okay so I was wrong about
My reasons for us falling out
Of love I want to fall back in

My life is different now I swear
I know now what it means to care
About somebody other than myself

I used to say just let em fall
It wouldn't bother me at all
I couldn't help them now I can

- the Avette Brothers

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Miracles Part Two

Was talking to a friend last night and he went off about how Christians sometimes try to be encouraging rather than facing reality

Monday, January 4, 2010

Getting Snowed In

It's cold in Virginia and it has been for a while. We were gone when the blizzard hit but we still can't get in our driveway, so we park out by the road and walk on thick, crusted snow to the house. At night the snow is bright enough that you can walk through the woods without a flashlight and not trip.

The holidays were a good time of engaging family, playing my first concert in about three months, and catching up on some of the work that fell through the cracks in the flurry of the last couple months.

Outside it's beautiful and cold, in the room where I write it's chilly, and I'm glad to have had a couple weeks free of major new initiatives to catch up and settle a bit, sort of like being snowed in intellectually and creatively.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Music & Art: Looking back and forward

Did you miss...

Two inspiring 2009 recordings I briefly met this year but look forward to getting to know better in 2010:
Aaron Strumpel: Elephants (10 songs), he took a knife and scraped the grime off the Psalms.
Bon Iver: Blood Bank EP (4 songs), his voice and the arrangements are exploratory and polished in all the right places.

The Farewell Concert recording: There are still a few copies of the special edition available.

Got 99 cents to spend? Search JRL or Jonathan Reuel on itunes, amazon, etc, listen to clips and download a song. From the comfort of your own chair.

Still in the Christmas vibe? Download or order "Our Christmas Project," a strangely good compilation of local Virginia artists playing traditional or original Christmas songs in support of Our Community Place, a grass-roots community project involved daily in the lives of the most marginalized people in Harrisonburg, serving up three meals a day to anyone in the world, in addition to education, fun, friendship, shelter, recovery and community.

Looking forward:

New music from me: Join my community supported music venture and hear new songs soon after they're written. This is a great little group of friends and music lovers whose support and feedback I value highly.

New Art: Visit Christa's site ( or join her community supported art initiative.

New resources: I hope to get some exercises and charts available in the next few months for those of you wanting help tracking your creative journey, inner life, spirituality and community building. You know, little things like that.