It’s Been a Week…

 

I don’t know what kind of week you have been having, or what kind of words you’ve been encountering, but this is been a relatively rough one for my community.

The words I have encountered this week or words like:

“cancer” 

“overdose”

“suicide”

It goes without saying, but these are not the type of words that we’d prefer to see and hear in a week.

On the other hand, it seems all too common.

So how do I respond? What do I do when those words enter my reality?

I can certainly rail and rage against them. That’s an option that is easy to embrace. But for me, I eventually come up against something that I cannot control, be it other people, disease, (or even broken politics and a pathological culture)

But then again, I am driven back to the simple reality of accepting the things I have no control over, and embracing what I can control (which is mostly my reaction to all of this stuff).

Two thoughts that help me:

First, I am reminded that life goes on. I remember walking the streets of Chicago with my wife on September 11, 2001. everywhere was under silence, exacerbated by the fact that all air planes were grounded, but that reality was shattered when we heard people laughing at a joke. We felt so violated, like that time and space and silence was sacred. Even in the midst of devastating sadness, somewhere a baby will be born; there will be genuine laughter and care in a family somewhere; new, creative work will be done to make the world a better place. When I was younger, as I encountered pain in the world I would expect the whole world around me to stop and be devastated right alongside with me. I always treated it as a grave injustice for there to be laughter in the midst of pain. But now I think I realize that it is both our gift and our struggle that life goes on. What’s more, I know that the cross means that as long as there is suffering in the world, Christ suffers right along with us. Thomas Merton said “Christ remains in agony until the end of time, and in His agony Christ triumphs over all power.”

Second, I find soul-affirming comfort wherever I can. Jesus actually prayed that we would not be taken out of this world (John 17; really, Jesus?). But he also told us that he would not leave us alone (John 14). That means that his presence, and his peace and his love and his compassion is really always available to us. For me, I find it in friends, and in prayer, and also in art.

I stumbled across Bill Fay while I was driving in my car around 2013. Florida State radio station play the song that instantly grabbed me, and also instantly made me think, “boy Jeff Tweedy is ripping this guy off big time.”

(Tweedy appears on “This World, off of Fay’s 2012 record Life is People, and Fay covers Wilco’s “Jesus Don’t Cry” on the same record. Tweedy has also covered a couple other Fay tracks, like “Be Not So Fearful” and “Please Tell My Brothers” in his acoustic shows.)

Ever since then, whenever I need to hear something comforting and gentle, but also full of faith, I turn to Bill thing. I actually even had a friend who, when he did his fifth step in recovery, made sure that he had Fay queued up to play on his drive home from his sponsor’s house.

There are plenty of good tracks, but this is one of my “go-to’s”.

May you be comforted, and remember that “the healing day” is coming sometime for all of us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdZzBO_YPJM

Advertisements

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes… 

(Kicking the cobwebs…)

Hey all!

I wanted to briefly touch base with all of you and let you know about some upcoming changes to this space…

First of all, here’s what’s not changing…

I’ll still be writing—hopefully more regularly—about spirituality, creativity and leadership. Those things continue to attract my curiosity, and since I’m still doing so much learning myself, I’ll continue to share those things as I come across them.

But wait, there’s more…

What IS going to change around here is that essentially it’s going to be a bit more of a “clearinghouse” for the various projects that I am involved in, things like…

… music

… books (hopefully soon)

… who knows: plays? operas?

To make that happen, we (the royal “we”!) are going to make some changes and tweaks to the design and functionality of www.thisisericcase.com.

What can YOU do?

Well, the truth is that I don’t need you to do all that much, just make sure you’re subscribed to the blog. In the future we may be sending out more “newsletters” to let people know about any upcoming projects or events that I’ll be doing.

As usual, thank you thank you for all your encouragement and engagement… here’s to a wonderful future.

David… you know what to do:

 Soul Music

I was 9 or 10 when my maternal grandfather died. We made the trip from Texas to North Carolina to celebrate his life and to lay him to rest. I knew him as a kind, soft-spoken southern gentleman (my mother has different memories, as usual).

I’m not sure how a 10 year old interprets “death”. Though I had visited him and spent a little time with him, we grew up in Pennsylvania before Texas, and so I didn’t have the connection I had with my dad’s parents, who grew up two houses down the road (my uncle lived in between us). My mom was pretty devastated, and it hurt to see her so torn up, but we did our best to keep it together and to mourn in a healthy way. Meals were brought; hugs were given and received; stories were through moist eyes and shaking voices.

There was a viewing; I’d never been to one before (my maternal grandmother died when I was probably 4 or 5, and I don’t remember anything about that except hearing my mother receive the phone call and knowing instantly as I heard her cry, “What?!?!?!” that something was seriously wrong. (Is there a word for that tone of voice? The tone where the unthinkable has happened? It’s not “sad”; it’s not just “shocked”; it’s something from beyond. Beyond the pale of normal, “safe” human interaction.)

Anyway, the viewing. To say it disturbed me is to understate things. The casket was open, but I was, well, horrified, as I realized what I was supposed to do: walk up and look and “pay my respects”. Shamefully, my parents had to virtually drag me up to the casket; I’m sure my mom was so embarassed, but something irrational had captured me, and I couldn’t get past it.

Somehow we got through that night. The next day was the funeral proper. I remember a typical rural southern church: white wooden walls, vaulted ceilings, pews with cushions, everything very clean and arranged. I sat down next to my mother and the service began. Everything was fine until…

… They started playing, “How Great Thou Art,” an old hymn. I don’t know if it was one of my grandfather’s favorite hymns; I don’t know if it was an afterthought: “Hey everyone knows this one!” All I know is that as the music began and people started singing, I lost it.

I mean, lost it. 

I mean, not like you get the, “Fa-fa-fas” or the tears stream silently down your face. I mean irrational, super ugly, uncontrollable wailing. 

Even to this day my mom says, “We didn’t know what was happening! It was just beyond the normal level of human weeping; you were unconsolable!”

I couldn’t tell you what had happened, except that in that moment, I realized the power of music. I was experiencing something that was communicating to me beyond words, beyond speech, beyond even a human embrace. There was something in the combination of melody, rhythm and words that drilled its way so far beyond my defenses that I was devastated before I even knew what was happening.

It was like being attacted by emotional/spiritual ninjas.

That, my friends, is “soul music.”

Believe it or not, I think in that moment I was captured by music: its power and its ability to break down walls and defenses; to speak the unspeakable and express the unexpressable.

Once you touch a moment like that (theologians might call it numinous or transcendent) you really can’t go back. It changes you; lets you know what’s truly possible, beyond this world that we can see and touch. There was something beyond all of that, and I wanted it. Not only did I want to experience it again, I wanted to be a part of creating it for others.

It’s been a long road since then, but a few days ago I stood up in a small chapel—only 45 people or so—where family and a few friends had gathered to remember “Grandma Alice.” Alice passed away at 94, the grandmother of some friends of mine from my community. Amazingly, I was also Grandma Alice’s worship pastor. Somehow, this woman in her 80s (at the time) worshiped under the leaership of a rock and rolling, guitar playing, melancholic and introspective pastor (that’s me). She was great at giving hugs and giving encouraging words, and I was honored to be a part of remembering her.

The family chose two songs for the service. I don’t know if she had a part of picking them or not. The last song in the service was “I’ll Fly Away.”

Any guess as to what the first one was? IMG_4153

+e

Monastery Reflections: Tunnel Vision

IMG_4151As I continue to reflect on my personal retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, I was thinking the other day about a short passage I read in a booklet at the retreat house. The Cistercian Life is a short book written by Thomas Merton (PS, If you are ever curious about how deep the spiritual life can actually go, I’d encourage you to read some Merton. A great place to start is New Seeds of Contemplation.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;)).

Anyway, there was a free copy in my room at the retreat house, and so I picked it up to
read during my stay. It was a really great, concise examination of the monastic life, but one statement in particular has remained with me.

The truly silent monk is not totally unconcerned with others, for that, too, would be a kind of illness. But he is not worried about being left out of things. He knows what is necessary will be communicated to him. If there is news in the world that he ought to know, God and his superiors will make sure that he knows it. He does not have to go seeking information and communicating his own ideas to others except in so far as this may be demanded by necessity (Emphasis mine).

My tensions with the pervasiveness of social media are fairly well-documented, and I am continually trying to grow in the way I use media (in particular, I try to make sure that there’s a balance between how use social media and how media uses me). Personally, my governing word is “thoughtfulness”: I try to take a moment or two before I mindlessly engage in any technology and ask myself, “Is this the tool I need for what I’m trying to accomplish?”

I love good design, and in particular I like objects that are well-designed for specific uses. However, it seems as if sometimes our culture seems pre-occupied with turning one tool (most often our cell phones) into a “one-size-fits-all” device for consuming media, connecting with friends and family, staying engaged with the world around us…

… and occasionally making a phone call.

Instead of this approach, I am trying to learn to consider what will help me most in accomplishing my goal at the time:

  • is it reading? (“turn off cell phone and computer notifications)
  • is it a serious work project? (same as above)
  • is it songwriting? (notebook, pen and guitar, no notifications)
  • is it writing exercises? (computer, no notifications)
  • is it prayer and meditation? (no lights, no electronics)

… You get the picture. I love my (always Apple) computers. But they are not a Leatherman multi-tool. I look at them as specialized devices for doing specific activities that they happen to be really good at (recording ideas, typing, finding out obscure information quickly, etc.)

But obviously this quote gets an even deeper strand of thinking, namely, what do I truly need to know about the world? 

As a good friend has told me recently, “FOMO” (“Fear-Of-Missing-Out”) is a thing, and in our hyper-connected (and decidedly UN monastic) existence, FOMO becomes an almost 24-hour-a-day possibility, whether it’s being aware of a party 800 miles away, or a news event 8,000 miles away.

But Merton’s statement is a challenge to FOMO. For me, I sat with that quote for a while, asking, “Why is it so important for me to know, well, everything? What is it inside me that demands that I’m up-to-date on issues that debatedly have absolutely no relevance to my day-to-day existence?”

When I think about it, most of the information I take in has much more potential to cause anxiety than to produce anything positive or spiritual in my life.

In fact, the issue can go much, much deeper. Theology Professor Marva J. Dawn’s book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time had a profound impact on my approach to worship and the church (though I ardently disagreed with a few of her statements). In it, she examines the influence of Neil Postman’s concept of “Impact-Action-Ratio” in the worship of the church. “Impact-Action-Ratio” is a ratio of how much the impact of an image or images affects our ability to act. 

Essentially, Dawn suggests that as the church relies more and more on (often de-contextualized) images in worship, whether through pictures of poverty or evocative images over lyrics in songs, we are actually training ourselves to a mode of inaction.

No matter how powerfully or emotionally an image may strike us, most of the time we are unable to actively address or remedy that situation. Over time, we get “used to” the idea of not responding. 

And so we get inoculated against tragedy and suffering, even as we are exposed to it now more than ever. 

All of this goes to say that I try to think twice about how “plugged in” I am to the pervasive, 24-hour news cycle. I don’t want to be inoculated against suffering, and more than that where I encounter suffering, I want to be able to do something about it.

I am not a monk. I do not have a “superior” who will tell me the things I need to know about the world. But I do have trusted friends, and people who are more engaged than I am. More and more, I seek to trust them with what I need to know, and concentrate more diligently on my life of prayer, meditation, teaching and trying to reduce the suffering of the world around me.

 

+e

 

What I’ve been up to (or “A Requiem for 2015 and Words for 2016”) 

Well folks, it’s THAT day. January 1. First day of the year. The “threshold day”, where you can look back at what was and look ahead to what might be.

In between. Liminal. (One of my favorite words, btw.)

It’s as good a day as any to set some words down and send them out into the inter-worlds.

What have I been up to? Where have I been? What will I be up to?

These are the questions I’m thinking about today, and the first few days of 2016.

What have I been up to?

Healing, mostly. Doing a lot of “soul work.” Mining in the darkest places (my heart and yours, folks) for the stuff that has been driving and haunting me for most of my life. I find them down there in the caverns and tunnels and nooks and crannies of my memory and consciousness, and then I haul them (with a fair amount of sweat and tears) up to the surface where they can lay in the sun, where the most amazing thing happens…

Because there they get changed. It’s funny how when the sun strikes something it changes it. If you hold it up to the light, it changes to light.

Things are healed and transformed. Wounds become scars which become stories which become the means by which we offer the world around us hope and healing and strength to go on for another day.

Trouble is, most of us don’t like to go to the mines… Mines are, by nature, dark, scary, and places of sweat, toil, and really hard work.

But that’s where the coal is. (And the diamonds.)

I’ve also been finishing Seminary. I shut down almost all creative output (“making”) around June/July in order to focus on the essentials: teaching and music on Sundays, being a husband/father, and cranking through the last few hours of my masters degree.

I ran a little bit more in 2015 than I ever have before. I ran two races: the first was a 10k in March that was difficult (actually, it kicked my butt), but I managed to finish without too much difficulty.

However, I had also committed to running a half-marathon in 2015, so on October 31 we drove up to Boston, Georgia, and I started running. Two and a half hours (and 13.1 miles) later, I staggered across the finish line, exclaiming, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

In a few ways, it was, but in many ways it was actually one of the more profound experiences of my life. I learned that the limits that we impose on ourselves are often more illusory than we believe. We can push back on the boundaries (some of which we impose on ourselves, some of which are imposed by others), and accomplish much, much more than we otherwise think.

I also learned that the only race you can run is your own. You can’t worry about other people. I was passed by grandmothers, and I passed teenagers. I learned that I had no control over what other people did: I could only put one foot in front of the other.

Lastly, I learned that, well, sometimes you can’t be “cool.” When I was pushing through the last 3 miles of that race, I had gone well beyond what I thought I was capable of, and I started breaking down, both physically and emotionally. I was in a fair amount of pain, had nothing left in the tank, and couldn’t see the finish line (at least in part because I run without my glasses), and I was on the verge of tears.

But I kept going, and the more I ran, the less I was capable of thinking about what other folks thought of me. For a person who admittedly makes “image” a part of their life (due to a calling that puts me on stages and in pulpits in front of people), this was really significant to me. I had no control over my image. I was a mess.

And I was okay.

I survived, and stumbled across the finish line, and lived to tell the tale.

So that’s a little bit of my 2015.

Looking forward, I have some thoughts about going into 2016. I’m not going to share all of my personal goals (at least yet), but here are some things that I’m passionate about, and that I’m challenging myself (and maybe you as well) to this year.

CHALLENGES for 2016

  • Seek beauty. Start with Hymn to the Cherubim (those Orthodox!)
  • Seek wholeness. Go to the mines yourself. The world desperately needs people who are on the journey towards healing, wholeness, transcendence, enlightenment. They don’t just need a holy club that’s going to heaven. They need (as Jesus would put it), people who are producing “fruit” (and fruit, on the whole tastes good). So go see a counselor. Get quiet. Become aware of the “thoughts” you’re having that aren’t really thoughts so much as they are reactive video tapes.
  • Elevate your thinking. Don’t be satisfied with what the media tells you (whether you are partial to FoxNews, MSNBC, Huffington Post or the Drudge Report). Look beyond the headlines, and evaluate what you hear and read. Have a conversation that makes you think, and that helps you consider something from another point of view.
  • Make something. The only way we are going to impact the culture is to make more of it. I’m paraphrasing author Andy Crouch, and I fully believe in it. The world is not going to change and evolve on its own; and spiritual people are called to help this world grow in love, compassion, and connection. So, write a blog; make some music; make some peace; make some crafts and give them away. Bless the world. 
  • Read something spiritual. Every day. My choice is the Bible, among other things, but you get the point: embrace Spiritual thinking and a Spiritual mode of being in the world.
  • Walk a little. Get physically healthy. We are unified beings: our physical health affects our spiritual health which effects our emotional health which effects our physical health and so on and so on.

So here we go, 2016! Let’s do this people!

Beck Spills Some Musical Truth

“It’s never for the glory, it’s for the satisfaction of blowing up a gig. a lot of people are satisfied with a video. Those who aren’t satisfied with a video will buy the album, and then there’s a few who get the album who will go to the show. That’s where it’s human beings, and that’s what we live for. That’s where it gets sick. If it’s all on video or all on record everything is proper and everyone is minding their manners. We like to get in there and cause a commotion. That’s music; that’s the way it’s meant to be.” Beck.

I love this quote. It actually came off of a show called Sessions at West 54th that used to air back in the 90s. It featured really great bands and musicians  playing absolutely live and in the round. It was an intimate venue that allowed great artists to put killer abilities on display.

At some level I will always be a live musician. I used to be intimidated by the studio, but got over that fear (thanks to a lot of work with a metronome, amongst other things), but it still always comes down to the live event, the exchange of sweat and blood and volume and energy that happens when you’re just pouring it out on a stage, and people are soaking it up and nodding their heads up and down and moving with energy. It’s always great to just let the moment take you, to throw aside perfection in favor of the power of a moment.

That’s still where it’s at.

I’m All About That Bass (But Not Like THAT)…

There was a season of my life that I was fortunate enough to spend a fair amount of time in recording studios (and get paid—at least a little bit—for it). My typical method of recording songs was to build a track from the ground up: get the drums and bass happening, then add rhythm instruments, guitar solos and “ornamentation”, then end with vocals.

However, once I found myself working with an engineer who was also going to play bass in the session. We worked together to build the tracks, but at some point the tracks were practically complete—even the lead vocals…

… except for the bass.

When I asked him about it, he said, “I like to leave bass to the last; that way I can craft my bass line around what is still missing from the track.”

Personally, I suspected that it was only because he was a bass player, and he wanted more important of a role than what most bass players have (it’s a prejudice I have, I know).

However, I was reading something recently, and the writer was remarking how he liked bassists and bass lines, how the bass moves the song along and unifies it. 

I thought: “My oh my—how profoundly spiritual.”

The simple question is this: What moves your life along? What unifies it? 

Our spirituality should be more than just a vague set of beliefs or events that we go to. Our spiritual practices (and I suggest you get some if you don’t have any) should do the same thing a good bass line does: it should bring unity and understanding to your life, and it should propel it forward. 

So there’s this:

But better yet, there’s this: