I’m tired of cynicism and jadedness

I think cynicism and jadedness are some of the biggest threats to my faith and my community. Cynicism is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. To be jaded is to be tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm, typically after having had too much of something.

The root of cynicism in my life and I suspect in my friends’ lives is, ironically, selfishness. I expect people to pay attention to me, love me, laugh with me, support me, and perhaps most significantly, agree with me. I find myself drawn to low-conflict relationships where we agree on politics, music, parenting, church, movies, and TV shows. I find myself upset or frustrated when I haven’t been invited to hang out with my like-minded friends. When we are together, it is easy to celebrate our homogeneity and criticize the self-interest of the people we disagree with. We flirt with gossip and sometimes even reach second base with that so very tempting mistress (I’m still talking about gossip). Our social media and 24-hour news cycle world makes this worse. It is so easy to block THEM or never watch THEM and grow increasingly cynical (at best) and disparaging (at worst).

At the same time, it is so easy to have a, “So What?” attitude. It’s so easy to do things out of a sense of duty. The routine becomes the centerpiece and the reason for the routine is lost to a sketchy long-term memory. We set up church because we have to. We clean the bathroom before small group because someone needs to. We rehearse on Thursdays as quickly as possible because we just want to know the songs. We maintain records in Salesforce because someone tells us to.

I’m tired of cynicism stealing my joy and your joy. I’m sick of my jadedness stealing my sense of purpose. I want to fight back against my own attitudes that my joy is dependent on other people. My joy should be rooted in my purpose, and to realize my purpose, I have to abandon my jadedness. It’s time to stop doing things out of a sense of duty and instead do them out of a sense of purpose. It’s time to stop criticizing and condemning others because I’ve made my joy dependent on them agreeing with me.

When we start consistently lacking joy and purpose, our faith erodes. We start to see God as a taskmaster insistent on us fulfilling our empty, rote duties. We start to wonder why God is distant. What we fail to see is that by indulging in cynicism, we blind ourselves to joy God has for us. We live in a static (one might say boring), safe bubble where our sense of joy is dependent on input from other people rather than fulfilling the purpose we have in God. When we become jaded, we may even go through the motions of things God has put before us, but without purpose, we are blind to the joy in those motions. This is most notable for me when I am playing bass in the worship band and feel nothing. We neglect the truth that joy is rooted in purpose, and purpose is kept stoked by striving for goals and celebrating wins.

It’s time to stop focusing on tasks and burdens and start focusing on goals and wins. Some of my overarching personal goals are to grow closer to God, increase in compassion, and grow as a person. And I want that for other people, too. Yes, there are people I should be spending time with that are not easy to spend time with, but the win is seeing them and myself grow closer to God, get challenged in our understanding, and mature as people.

While I erroneously attempt to guard my joy with cynicism and avoidance, I fail in my purpose and fail to recognize the humanity of the people around me. The kicker is that they just want to feel joy, too. Even if they are dead wrong (in your estimation), their motivations are the same as yours: joy, purpose. Think on that long enough and you’ll hopefully conclude (like I have) that that means you may be dead wrong on some things.

Will you allow your cynicism to rob you of opportunities to fulfill your purpose? I’m tired of that route.

Will you allow your jadedness to replace purpose with duty and steal your joy? I’m tired of that route, too.

I am ready to fight hard to see relationships with fresh eyes, focused on goals and my own purpose instead of rote behavior and a need for agreement and affirmation. I’m ready to battle my cynicism and jadedness so that my joy is obvious and evident and dependent on my purpose-filled outputs rather than dependent on inputs from others.

I’m ready to clean the bathroom not because someone has to buy because someone might be at my house on Wednesday and experience God for the first time and I don’t want them to be grossed out by the caked toothpaste my kids leave in the sink.

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My Philosophy of Christian Music in Church

Earlier this week, I did an e-mail-based interview for a friend writing an article about music and specifically music in the church. My opinion is just one of the opinions she was seeking, and I’m really excited to see the finished product. After the interview, I was professing my undying love of music to my friend and Revolution Annapolis founding pastor, Josh Burnett, and it occurred to me that some of this information might be interesting to some of you. So, I made some adjustments and additions to my original answers and have posted it below. The questions I was asked are in bold. My answers are in regular type. Warning: this is probably the longest post I’ve ever made. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on my thoughts. Enjoy!

1. Where does music fit into the foundations of Christianity?

Music has been a part of Judeo-Christian worship since long before Jesus came. The Psalms have many references to singing and playing instruments. The word Psalm itself comes from a Greek word meaning to sing and/or strike a lyre. Even before that, primitive Hebrew cultures would have interacted with other cultures known to have had rich musical expressions. Musical instruments or artistic evidence of musical instruments have been found in Egypt, Sumer, Babylonia, Phoenicia, Assyria and Greece; all cultures Israelites would have interacted with. Music was rooted in the act of worship from long before Jesus. I love the description from 2 Samuel 6 of celebration and worship when the ark of God is brought into Jerusalem: “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.”

When Jesus came, music would have already been a part of the culture. There is not abundant reference to music in the New Testament, but the mentions that exist are rich. In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I love that music and singing are alternatives to the temptation of drunkenness. Instead of numbing ourselves with intoxicants, Paul says to encourage ourselves and one another with songs. I know that abandoning myself to meaningful music is intoxicating in its own way; a certainly more productive and healthy way than drunkenness.

The intrinsic nature of music to effect people emotionally has always been a part of religion. In my view, music is described in the Bible as the outpouring of emotion to God. It is the natural response in moments of awe and rejoicing (Mary’s Song in Luke 1) as well as in moments of desperation (Psalm 40). Music creates and demonstrates an emotional connection to the Lord. That type connection is essential and foundational to wholly surrendering to God (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength). There are ways to accomplish that connection without music, but music has always been a dominant (and easy) way to accomplish that connection.

2. How important is music when it comes to a typical Christian service or ceremony?

In many churches, across many denominations, music plays a central role to most services and ceremonies. In terms of time, music typically consumes approximately the same amount of time in a service or slightly less than the teaching time or sermon.

Philosophically, singing provides an expression of the emotional and spiritual connection to Jesus. Practically, putting Biblical quotes and concepts to music also provides a memory touchstone for people in the service. How many times have you heard a song and walked away whistling the melody or singing the words of the chorus to yourself, maybe for a week or more after hearing it? By putting Biblical quotes and concepts to music, it becomes easier for the people in the service or ceremony to remember them, associate them with the teaching for the day, and ultimately act upon how God is speaking to them through His Word.

Additionally, it is important to recognize that different people connect with the Holy Spirit more readily in different circumstances. Some people feel closest to God when they are deep-dive studying on their own. Some people feel closest to God when they are serving others. Some people feel closest to God when they are praying. Some people feel closest to God when they are out in nature. Some people feel closest to God when they are alone with their thoughts. Some people feel closest to God when they are listening to a great teacher. Some people feel closest to God when they are doing some physical activity. And some people feel closest to God when they are singing or experiencing music. Recognizing and engaging these differences is the challenge and mission for many people in pastoral roles. Excellent churches will facilitate all of these throughout the year, but on a Sunday morning, some are difficult or impossible. That said, during a typical service or ceremony, you will see evidence of many of these connection styles, but especially teaching and music.

3. What would the Christian experience be like if music was absent?

When I was a kid, I went to church with my dad’s dad a couple times. He attended a church that had a Saturday service where there was no music and no singing, and that was his favorite service. I can’t ever remember music playing in his house. I believe the Holy Spirit was alive and present in that service. It appealed to people who experienced closeness with God through teaching, quiet contemplation, intentional prayer, and ritual practices. I know church experiences can still be vibrant and powerful without music, but it requires an intentionality with other elements of the service to recreate the visceral, feel-it-in-your-bones emotional-spiritual connection that music facilitates and demonstrates.

Many (perhaps most) people are hardwired to feel something when they listen to (not just hear) music. As I stated in the previous question, music triggers memories, implants memories, and moves us to action. It is not surprising that people are spontaneously moved to dance or lift their hands or just tap their feet when certain songs play. That is a natural response to music. When you combine these natural reactions to music with the call and desire to worship and praise Jesus, it can be a wonderful moment of synergy that draws us close to the Lord.

A Christian experience without music would be different. I hesitate to compare the experience or suggest that an experience without music would be lacking. It would be different, though, and special care would have to be taken to accomplish the praising of God in a holistic way that includes all your heart.

4. You sometimes play songs in a genre other than the one they were written in. Why do you do that and how does it fit with your primary mission?

All music fits into a genre. A genre is a style of music. “Christian” is not a style of music per se. “Christian” has more to do with the content than the style. A genre would be rock and roll, electronic, bluegrass, punk, hip hop, gospel, heavy metal and so on and so forth. Something I have always felt passionate about is taking a song that was originally written in a particular genre, uprooting it, rearranging it, and playing it in a new genre and/or with a modified melody.

A downside of music and the way it imprints in our brains is it can often become rote. We can sing a song or a melody without thinking. For example, I can sing every word and hum every guitar solo on Metallica’s Master of Puppets album while it is playing, but if I was challenged to write the words down without it playing, it would be very difficult. If I was asked to explain the heart and spirit of the words, I’d be straight outta luck.

In the Christian setting, this is problematic because the words are a vital piece of the expression of praise, hope, desperation, etc. in most of the songs we have at church. As a musician on stage, you can actually see on people’s faces when they go into autopilot because even though they sing and raise their hands or whatever, there is a lack of emotional and spiritual engagement. They are just singing. The words may as well be Fa-la-la-la-la. The words might be coming out of their mouths, but their minds are wandering to what they are going to have for lunch or how they are going to get their kids to the next lacrosse game.

My job as a music leader in church is not simply to lead a band in playing music in an excellent way (more on excellence later). My job as a music leader in church is to lead people in an experience of worship, praise, supplication, thanksgiving and confession through song. If people are effectively singing Fa-la-la-la-la because the song has become rote, then I am failing at my job. If people fail to connect to the full experience of the song, which almost always includes thoughtful, intentional lyrics, then people are not actually praising or do anything above. They are just participating in a social ritual of singing because it is part of the culture. They are just like a speaker in your car, reproducing music because that is what they are supposed to do and not making any spiritual or emotional connection to it or through it. As stated in previous questions, singing and songs in church are not just cultural, they are meant to be spiritual expressions, the outflowing of our feeling and experiences with God as we seek to love the Lord our God with all of our heart.

In order to combat the threat of rote behavior, I started rearranging songs into different genres in order to break up the routine of singing those songs. Most of my music-in-church experience has been playing variations of rock and roll genre worship music from bands like David Crowder, Bethel, Hillsong United, Elevation Worship, and on and on and on and on. With intentional thought, teams I led would sometimes take those songs and rearrange them in order to play them in a different genre. The first time we did this, we moved several of these songs to play them in the genre of bluegrass. Subsequently, we have had electronic renditions, punk rock renditions, jazz renditions, A Capella renditions, marimba renditions, hip hop additions, and probably others I can’t even remember.

By doing this, we draw people’s attention back to the song as an expression rather than a routine. People read the words again and reacquaint themselves with what they are expressing. People move away from the rote behavior of singing as a social norm in that environment back to the meaningful expression intended by the song. Instead of humming along to the music because it is imprinted in their mind, they re-engage with the music and experience anew the feelings the different chords and melodies carry.

Then, the next time the song is played in its original format, listeners re-engage again with the meaning and recall the altered version of the song. I’m no psychologist, but it seems that when we change things from the routine like this, it creates new memory pathways that for a time obliterate the pre-existing ones that led people to sing by rote instead of from a place of passion.

5. How do you choose the songs, style of instruments, and music to use in your weekly worship practices?

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing songs, types of instruments and genre of music in a weekly worship service. In general, I have tried to be scheduled several weeks in advance so that the musicians can arrange their schedule to include a during-the-week practice as well as extended involvement on Sunday mornings. Scheduling far in advance also allows more opportunity for the band leader to connect with the teacher (preacher) for that week in order to develop thematic cohesiveness between the songs and teaching.

When scheduling, I will often pick a week that will be “out of the ordinary” and work with the lead pastor and perhaps a few other leaders to determine what we will do differently that week. Sometimes, it is a whole themed week (i.e. bluegrass Sunday) and other times it may be shifting the way the room is arranged (i.e. in the round vs. theater style). Once that week is determined and the style of music for that week is determined, I will reach out to the musicians in the church (or sometimes from outside the church) who have particular expertise or potential in that particular style. For example, if I plan a bluegrass Sunday, then I need to schedule someone proficient on banjo, and if I want to plan a punk rock Sunday, then I need musicians proficient at playing fast.

For regular Sundays, the musicians and types of instruments are often based on the availability of band members. I always try to have at least one guitar, bass, drums and obviously, vocals. Sometimes we have a second guitar, a keyboard, and/or another instrumentalist (violin or flute, historically).

When picking songs there are a lot of factors at play. First, I want to bring the congregation on a journey thematically and musically that engages the story of the Gospel. I like to think of this as Creation Fall/Redemption Action Praise. This doesn’t happen perfectly every service, but it is a rubric I try to stick to.

Practically, this means that I try to start service with a song of praise that recognizes who God is. These are songs that focus on God’s glory, power and majesty. When possible, I try to use songs that don’t even have a human element and exclusively focus on the character of God.

The next movement of the service is into songs that illustrate our relationship to God. These are songs that focus on the fact that without Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we are dead in our sin. Often, these songs are more down-tempo, minor sounding with lyrics that express desperation for God and relief at receiving His grace.

As recipients of grace, we should feel moved to action, which brings us to the next movement of the service. Action songs have some expression of gratitude for receiving grace and when possible will also contain lyrics of action or asking God to work in us in a specific way.

Finally, I like to end services with songs of joy and praise. My hope is that when people leave a church service, they carry the energy of that final movement out into their week, and it fuels them to act, reminds them to be grateful for the grace they’ve received, and spurs them to worship God in his glory and awesomeness.

Another factor that goes into selecting songs (and sometimes makes the rubric above impossible) is working with the teacher for a Sunday to select songs that reinforce the message. On rare occasion, songs will be selected first and the message will be written to support that, but in my experience, that has been very rare, so I won’t go into that. I always try to select songs that will reinforce the message because of the way emotion spurs us to action and songs influence and guide emotions. Also, as I said before, music is a trigger for memory, and by having songs that are consistent with the message, you make the takeaways from the message more memorable for the listener as they head out of the service and hopefully act on the things the Holy Spirit prompted them to act on throughout the message.

When it comes to picking the style of the music outside of those Sundays where we have intentionally changed the style of the whole set, there are a few factors that come into play. First, we generally start with the original version of the song or if not the original, a particular, professional version. We then modify that based on the instrumentation we have at hand. Sometimes this in and of itself changes the genre. For example, if the perfect song lyrically and “feel” is something that is very electronic and we only have acoustic instruments avaialble, we by necessity change the genre of the song to something more toward folk or roots rock.

The next factor that could change the genre of music is the talent level of the musicians in the band. Some members have different talent levels or may have types of music that they just aren’t as good at. Therefore, we may change a style or genre to match the talents of the band playing.

The third factor that could change the genre of music is the raw creativity of the band. Some of the best moments of mid-week band practice are when someone raises their hand and stops a song midway through, and says, “What if we did this instead?”

One last factor that could change the genre of a song is trying to have songs fit in the emotional and spiritual rubric above. It’s pretty powerful when you rearrange a song that was originally written in a major key and play it in a minor key or vice versa. It forces you to rethink the song and also sometimes imparts new meaning to the lyrics. Sometimes songs that were originally written as songs about taking action become songs of confession or vice versa.

The ultimate goal in everything we do as musicians leading a congregation in worship is to be excellent. “Excellent” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but it is rarely defined, which means people make up their own definitions for what they think it means. I have been the bassist for way more than a dozen band line-ups and nearly every different band leader I’ve worked with has a different definition of excellent. Often, and especially in church, my experience has been that the word “excellent” is defined as playing all the right notes in the right places at the right volume. With the proliferation of tracked instruments, autotune and click tracks via in-ear monitors, this definition has been gaining serious momentum in the last decade.

Sadly, I think this is horribly incomplete. Sometimes the rawness of a note out of place expresses ten times the emotion a precisely placed note does. When I lead, I take into account all the factors above that lead to the generation of a song and run it through my formula for excellence which is Vision + Inspiration + Preparation + Passion = Excellence. Simplified, when you are intentional and passionate, you can’t help but be excellent. This may mean playing to a click track. I personally love writing and performing with pre-programmed tracks. But sometimes, this means the guitarist Kenny pounding a barely in tune acoustic guitar and stomping his feet to something close to the rhythm while raw, minimally reverbed harmonies sing the lyrics.

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Here is Kenny. His guitar is almost definitely in tune.

6. Does Christian music have a place in normal daily life or should it be reserved for worship only?

Christian music definitely has a place in normal daily life. It can and should serve as a reminder of our relationship to God, how awesome God is and so on. It can provide us a voice when we are having a hard time expressing ourselves. Most of the time, I do not listen to Christian music, but I almost always find it refreshing when I listen to it. I can’t emphasize enough how tied music is or can be to memory and emotion for many people. Christian music throughout the week for someone really engaged with how the Lord is working in them can be an incredible encouragement, timely reminder, or an indirect confronter. Sometimes, it is just a way to find the words or feelings you’ve been searching for ways to express.

I love Christmas Music (and a new playlist)

The holidays are upon us, which means the radio in my car is often tuned to 97.1 Wash FM. It is saved in my car’s radio memory solely for the month of December. I love the Christmas season because of what it could be, what it should be. I love that right now, I’m sitting in my living room with Becky sitting across from me and a Christmas tree obstructing my view out the window. I am really looking forward to my favorite Christmas traditions: 8th Annual Little Drummer Boy at Revolution (Dec 17!), Presents with the kids on Christmas morning, driving to Pittsburgh (yes, I’m even looking forward to that), and spending time with my grandmother, my parents and my brother.

I also love the nostalgia of Christmas time. For me, there is something about the aesthetic of Christmas that hearkens to good times gone by. It conjures false memories of anachronistic settings with Bing Crosby singing songs by a fire while How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) plays on a nearby TV surrounded by children in matching pajamas. Lights twinkle on outdoor bushes and a plastic Santa Claus and reindeer sit upon the apex of the roof. These are places I’ve never been but the nostalgic pieces of my brain can readily craft.

I don’t have anything against people who start listening to Christmas music around Halloween or even all-year round. For some people, like me, Christmas music, even bad Christmas music, is as comforting as a warm blanket. I personally don’t start listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving because I am a pleasure delayer. Forcing myself to wait makes those first few chords of Frank Sinatra’s Jingle Bells so very much sweeter.

So, raise your mug of egg nog or mulled wine. Here’s to Christmas! Cheers!

Here’s a Merry Christmas playlist for you with songs I love and why I love them.

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2016 – The Murphys at Green Street Gardens
  1. August Burns Red – O Come O Come Emmanuel – Holy smoke. Everything about this is awesome, but I particularly love the timing and the bass tones.
  2. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping – Listen to that bass line!!
  3. Straight No Chaser – 12 Days of Christmas – It makes me laugh. Anyone incorporating Toto into their music is okay by me.
  4. Elvis – Blue Christmas – First, his voice is amazing. Second, the background vocals are awesome.
  5. Bad Religion – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Punk rock, sort of irreverent, but still some great harmonies
  6. Louis Armstrong – Christmas in New Orleans – I’ve never been in New Orleans during Christmas, but this song makes e want to see at Dixieland Santa Claus leading a band to a good old creole beat.
  7. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis – This line: “Rhymes so loud and proud you hear it. It’s Christmas time and we got the spirit.”
  8. Ludacris – Ludacrismas – Because I love Ludacris.
  9. Elmo & Patsy – Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Catchy, funny and honky tonk. What’s not to like?
  10. David DeBoy – Crabs for Christmas – Because Baltimore! My Christmas Wish’ll Come True

I also love Mele Kalikimaka and basically anything by Bing Crosby. Really, I love tons of Christmas songs. These are just some fun ones to give you something to listen to. I hope they bring you joy.

What is your favorite Christmas song?

How do you get the garbage out? (early 90s playlist)

In 1995, I was a high school freshman, and my mom and dad did something that would end up being a defining moment in my life. They bought me a black, pointy, Washburn Lyon bass with a ten-inch Park practice amp. I’d fallen head over heels in love with music in the preceding couple years, and the trombone I had been playing just wasn’t cutting it when it came to satisfying the visceral need to rock out I had started feeling.

 

Now, 22 years later, “bassist” is one of my favorite titles. I have played with a lot of different bands, but my favorites have been: Here Today, This Boy’s Trouble, Sweet Old Etc., The Good Old-Fashioned Rodeo, Tanager, and the to-be-named Susanne Leach/Pat Myers/Matt Murphy project. A few weeks ago, I played a show with Tanager and left every ounce of energy, pent-up frustration, manic excitement on that stage in a swinging, jumping, sweaty, bloody performance.

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The two main ways I get out the things that pollute my psyche are playing and creating music and running, and now that it’s getting colder, it is harder and harder to motivate myself to go for a run. I hate being cold. So, music it is. I think it is important that people know how to get the garbage self-doubt, toxic unwarranted shame, painful anxiety out. Otherwise, we end up walking around with greasy jars filled with them and they weigh us down, slow us down, and it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, harder and harder to be the person you know you’re supposed to be.

 

Sometimes, when I forget about how to clear my own garbage out, I go back and listen to the music that first inspired me to become a bassist.

 

Check out this playlist:

 

  1. Nirvana – Sappy (1993)
  2. Nine Inch Nails – March of the Pigs (1994)
  3. Rollins Band – Liar (1995)
  4. Stone Temple Pilots – Silvergun Superman (1994)
  5. Smashing Pumpkins – Jellybelly (1995)
  6. Metallica – My Friend of Misery (1991) – Seriously, the bass tone on this one!!
  7. Primus – Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers (1991)
  8. Rancid – Salvation (1994)
  9. NOFX – Dying Degree (1993)
  10. Alice in Chains – Dam that River (1992)

 

Honorable Mention:

 

  1. Faith No More – Epic (1989)
  2. Offspring – Killboy Powerhead (1994)
  3. Jane’s Addiction – Mountain Song (1988)
  4. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mellowship Slinky in B Major (1991)
  5. Pearl Jam – Animal (1993)
  6. Silverchair – Israel’s Son (1995) – Seriously mean bass tones on this one!
  7. Rage Against the Machine – Take the Power Back  (1995) – All the tone!
  8. The Cure – Burn (1994)
  9. Pantera – Walk (1992)
  10. Megadeth – Angry Again (1993)

 

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

 

Here are all the basses I have owned (or still own) ranked from my favorite to least favorite.

 

  1. 1994 G&L ASAT with hipshot tuner (still own)
  2. 1964 Fender Precision Bass (stolen)
  3. 1999 Music Man Sterling Bass (returned to person who let me use for a few years)
  4. 2014 Epiphone Jack Casady (still own)
  5. 2016 Kala U-Bass (still own)
  6. 1991 MIM Fender Jazz Bass (still own)
  7. 2003 Schecter Diamond 5 String (sold)
  8. 2016 Squier Jaguar 5 string (still own)
  9. 2010 Squier Bronco bass (returned to person who let me use for a few years)
  10. 1994 Washburn Lyon (destroyed rock star style on my parents’ driveway)

 

 

Happy Birthday to Ariella! (Plus a Playlist)

Today, Ariella turns ten years old. She is my first child, my beautiful daughter, my life-altering love, the one I affectionately and increasingly inaccurately call, “Little.” Inspired by a sermon, Becky and I chose to have children earlier than we had originally planned, and I couldn’t be happier that we made that decision. Now, a full two-thirds of the time Becky and I have been together (13 years of marriage and 2 years of dating) has been spent as parents. More than 25% of my life has been as “Daddy.”

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It’s difficult to wrap my head around what the last decade of my life, the first decade of Ariella’s life, has meant. It has been a decade of laughter, exhaustion, celebration, frustration, excitement, and fear. It has been a decade of learning and relearning what it means to not be selfish. It has been a decade learning, usually from Ariella, what heartfelt conscientiousness really looks like. My Little has been the most impactful, demanding and rewarding teacher I have ever had.

 

When Ariella was born, in 2007, I was working at a call center, hating my job but feeling like (maybe fearing?) I was going to be there forever. I had no role model in my life for changing jobs. Fortunately, God stepped in, and I ended up with a new job, in a new state. Now, I’m working for my fourth employer since she was born, and I’ve had Lord knows how many titles. And yet, all that accomplishment is nothing in comparison to watching Ariella develop into a respectful, funny, smart and deeply caring person.

 

She is more resilient and has greater perseverance than either her mother or myself. We are on our sixth home since she was born. Ariella, a fourth-grader, is in her third elementary school and is constantly, easily making new friends. It is inspiring. Ariella has had straight A’s nearly every quarter and sets specific goals with intentional action steps to reach those goals and earn the rewards that come with her accomplishments. She is competitive, but more interested in ensuring fun, fair play than winning. She is ambitious, but she wants to see others come along with her rather than using them to advance. She is patient, but eager. She is confident but servant-hearted.

 

Somehow, at this point in life, the positive traits that she has inherited from her mother and I are untainted by their negative cousins: Ambition/Manipulation, Competition/Selfishness, Eagerness/Impatience. Being around her shines a bright light on the dark spots of those traits in my life and how they impact my relationships. Knowing Ariella helps me to develop better relationships.

 

She is not good at keeping her room clean. Like, really not good at that. That’s probably something she inherited from me along with a penchant for irrational fears and over concern with safety and rule-following. I hope these sometimes-negative inherited traits are overcome by rational evaluation and more than anything a joyous passion for living life to its fullest. I know that I am confronting  my irrational fears because I want her to see a life freed from being afraid.

 

Baptizing Ariella two weeks ago was an amazing moment of reflection for me as her father, and today, celebrating a decade of her life has amplified that reflection. I thank God for how I am learning from her. I thank God that it’s me and no one else that gets to be called “Daddy” by her here on Earth. I, probably inappropriately, feel like you should be envious of such an amazing kid being MY daughter and not yours. That’s a joke, I think.

 

I pray that God will continue to make His presence known in Ariella’s life and that the Holy Spirit works in her in powerful ways that will change the lives of the people who come to know Ariella like it has changed and is changing my life.

 

Here are ten songs that make me think of Ariella because she loves them:

 

  1. Katy Perry – Roar
  2. Britt Nicole – Gold
  3. Stellar Kart – Be Our Guest
  4. Kirsten Arian – Invincible
  5. Chris Tomlin – Good, Good Father
  6. Sylvan Esso – HSKT
  7. Paramore – Ain’t it Fun
  8. Hollyn – Alone
  9. Beckah Shae – I’ll Be Alright
  10. Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York

And one song that makes me think of Ariella because she hates it:

Frozen – Let it Go

Songs to Ruin Your Makeup (Playlist 4 – 18Sept2017)

I’ve never been a person who pauses for a “good cry.” I’ve cried a little more since Ariella was born almost ten years ago, but in those years, I’ve only had a handful of cries. Quick aside: the first time I can remember crying after Ariella was born was watching a commercial during a Ravens game that featured a dad and his grown daughter. I don’t remember what it was for, but I remember wiping away tears and thinking, “What in the world is going on?!?”

I just don’t shed many tears, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get moved deeply. I often feel the welling of deep emotions that feel like they should lead to tears even though none come.

I think it is important to be moved deeply. I think we should strive to feel the heights and depths of our emotions. Sometimes that means being sad. Having a “good cry” or whatever that looks like for you will help you feel the heights of joy more acutely. I believe it will help you enjoy the high points more thoroughly.

When I feel a little down, I tend to medicate myself by watching funny YouTube clips and snippets from the Graham Norton show, but eventually, I get numb to them and they don’t make me laugh anymore. That’s when I know I need to let myself feel without interference even if it means feeling sad. Those are the times, I turn on certain playlists or albums, get my pen and notebook and experience thoroughly…

It works. And science agrees. http://www.sciencealert.com/new-research-reveals-the-pain-and-pleasure-of-listening-to-sad-music

I’ve been working on this playlist for three weeks because sometimes I listen to these songs over and over again and get distracted from completing the list. This list isn’t even close to exhaustive, but these are songs that help me get to that raw, vulnerable place where I can have my version of a good cry. 

What makes you cry? What songs should I add to this list?

Glen Campbell – I’m Not Gonna Miss You (written after being diagnosed with Alzheimers)

Citizens & Saints – Oh God

Johnny Cash – Help Me (and basically his last two records)

Brilliance – Lord Please Save Me

Nirvana – Pennyroyal Tea (Unplugged)

Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven

Alice and Chains – Nutshell (Unplugged)

mewithoutYou – The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room

Brand New – Jesus Christ

Dolly Parton – Jolene

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

What you don’t always see (Playlist 4 – 30Aug2017)

What you see and hear is only the final product. When a new church is planted, there are so many hands, ideas that go into it. When a new album is released, there are so many people bleeding, sweating and crying during its creation. You see Justin Timberlake, but there are lots of fingerprints on what you hear (and what you see if you’re really honest). You see Revolution with Josh preaching, but there are lots of fingerprints on what you are seeing. Justin Timberlake is brilliant and talented for sure. Josh is an amazing visionary leader, absolutely. But before their talents get to the “stage,” there are a lot of other people engaging their presentation.

My must-do is to maximize church planting by leading and bringing clarity (and strategy) to the leaders I serve. I may not be the front or tip top person, but I am still a leader, not a cog. When I don’t feel like an essential, unique piece of the machine, I don’t feel like I’ve tried hard enough. When I can’t see my fingerprints on the finished product, I know I haven’t done what I was designed to do.

This second-chair, behind-the-scenes, but no less hardcore leadership has always been fascinating to me. I think that is why I have always loved learning about producers of records. I lament that my kids won’t be able to sit in their bedrooms with the doors closed, music up loud enough for the whole house to hear, reading through the liner notes of their music. I did that, and like I said in my first playlist a month ago, I learned.

If I heard a record I liked, I would find what else the producer did. I consumed Rick Rubin. I consumed Bob Rock. I consumed Butch Vig. I consumed George Martin, Phil Spector, Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Aaron Sprinkle… You get the point. Producers’ fingerprints are all over the finished product. You can tell when bands change producers. Listen to Metallica’s …And Justice For All, Load, and Death Magnetic. Three producers, three radically different sounds.

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The infrastructure of all good things extends below what you see on the surface. Knowing where you fit and leading in that place without jealousy or envy and with a spirit of cooperation and excitement for the product is a joy. I hope to continue to serve and lead like this for the rest of my life. I hope that I can do this in the church planting community forever and make beautiful “music” with a great team.

As Napster and digital music got more popular, I read less liner notes, so I haven’t been great in recent years following producers. One producer though, I followed inadvertently and only learned after the fact that it was his fingerprints on a ton of records I love (including my favorite all time: …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid). Jerry Finn was behind so much music from the late 90s and early to mid 2000s that I absolutely love. His fingerprints are magical. I can hear him as a thin line connecting all these songs I love. I hope to have a fraction of his legacy and recognizability in my field.

Here is a Jerry Finn playlist (the link is from Amazon because one of the essential songs on this list isn’t available on Apple Music). I limited it to songs he has producing credits. There is no way I could narrow it down if I include every album he worked on. There are too many amazing records on that list.

Who is behind the things you love most? If you don’t know, you have room to love it even more, and that is exciting!