Song Stories: “Thank You”

So a few weeks ago I released a record (or whatever they’re called nowadays) called After All(,) This

It was really nothing more than a little exercise in musical creativity and exploration, and it was deeply satisfying to me. What’s more, some of you actually paid money for it, and that was a great blessing to me as well.

One of the songs on that release is actually a cover of a song from the early 1990s by a guy named Dennis Jernigan. On the surface, it may have been an odd choice, but there’s a story and a connection to that song.

In 1995, my wife and I moved from Texas to Chicago, Illinois to begin what was the first of many little “adventures” that we’ve undergone. At that time, I was an electric guitarist in my mid-20s, with some miles behind me as a fairly focused musician from Texas. I played on 6th Street in Austin, in Deep Elllum in Dallas, and a few other places in the Lone Star State. What’s more, I was imbued with the notion that electric guitarists from Texas were a breed apart: our legacy included Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top (not to mention Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson).

I took this legacy seriously, and that combined with a strange gumbo of Duane Allman, the Edge, David Gilmour and even a little 1980s hair metal all produced an attitude that was all about making a statement and making an impact on whatever was going on around me musically.

(Occasionally I even had the chops to pull it off LOL.)

Though I’d grown up in the church, I’d done my share of wandering (and wondering), and by the time we made this move to Illinois, I’d already hit my first of a few (unfortunately it took more than one) “rock bottoms” in my life, and I was beginning to re-explore my faith. I grew up in a strictly “hymns” church, but during this time Shana and I started to encounter something called “Worship Music”, which was (supposedly) Jesus music set in “contemporary” arrangements.

The lyrics were spot on, obviously, and they touched the part of my life that longed for a deep, passionate connection to something or someONE higher.

However, the music was another story.

It was supposed to be “contemporary,” but I often sat wondering, “Contemporary for whom?”

Though the lyrics reached me, the recordings did not: the compressed, chorused, polite guitar sounds left me feeling empty.

When we arrived at Willow Creek Community Church, through an amazing set of circumstances and beautifully serendipitous conversations, I ended up volunteering with the music team there. All of a sudden, I’d gone from clubs in Texas—and an occasional church gig to 75 people—to playing before 5,000 at a pop, 10,000-15,000 total on a weekend. What’s more, the musicians there were mostly killer. Just amazing drummers (always my favorite) and bass players and keyboardists and singers, etc., etc.

(And they were filled with this amazing, joyous, celebratory love and passion as well.) 

And other guitar players too…

But not so many like me.

(NOTE: Sitting here, I know now how damaging it can be to my soul for me to ponder ways in which I am different from other people, but at the time, this seemed pretty real to me…)

  • They were established family men and women … Shana and I had been married for a few years, but were still a few years away from being able to have children (another story for another time).
  • They wore dockers and polo shirts … I had jeans and thrift store t-shirts (or that amazing relic of the 1990s: the gas station work shirt).
  • They played the aforementioned chorused and compressed Stratocasters through multi-effect units … I played a Les Paul through a handful of pedals attached by velcro to a piece of plywood.

In addition, I brought this southern, Allman Brothers approach to what they were doing…

And, sometimes, it just really seemed to work.

What was also fun and helpful was that I really didn’t know any of these records that they were covering. Instead, I played with instinct and improvisation. I listened to what they were doing in rehearsal, and then just started playing “what made sense”.

… And, for their part, they tolerated it.

(NOTE: Musicians and guitarists, if you want to do this, please… well… please be good. This approach is decidedly NOT recommended unless you’ve spent upwards of 4-5 hours a day of “deliberate practice on Wikipedia” for about 7-8 years.)

Anyway, “Thank You” was one of those early songs. I loved it’s simplicity; at its core was something essential and elemental to faith, and what’s more there was a soulfulness that I was able to find underneath the somewhat safe (and overly “white”) production. I remember being on that stage at Willow, tuned to “Drop D” and just hammering that low D against a wailing high slide. I remembered digging down deep, SOUL LEVEL DEEP and trying as hard as a human being could try to MAKE THE NOTES I PLAYED = THE EMOTIONS I FELT.

Looking back, it might have worked. It might have been a disaster. Truth is, it was probably somewhere in between.

There are other songs, and maybe they are for other times.

But that’s why I covered “Thank You.”

(OH: And it’s ALSO because… I’m thankful.)

For all that You’ve done I will thank You
For all that You’re going to do
For all that You’ve promised, and all that You are
Is all that has carried me through
Jesus, I thank You

And I thank You, thank You, Lord
And I thank You, thank You, Lord
Thank You for loving and setting me free
Thank You for giving Your life just for me
How I thank You, Jesus I thank You
Gratefully thank You
Thank You.

– “Thank You” by Dennis Jernigan (c) PraiseCharts

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4 Ways that Life is Like Soccer

If you know me at all, you know that as for me an my house, we watch soccer.

(Oh we like the NFL too, but for us, there’s no football like “futbol.”)

So sit back and enjoy while I show you why this sport is so much more like life:

1. It Doesn’t Stop (Until it’s Done)

Almost all of the major American sports have prodigious breaks in them. Though an entire game lasts well over 2 hours, each individual play takes mere seconds, and over the whole of a game this adds up to about 11 minutes total of play. The rest of the time is taken up with commercials, penalties, and various breaks in the action.

By contrast, there are notoriously really no breaks in the action of a soccer game. Commercials are only broadcast at halftime, and if you risk getting up and going to the bathroom at any point in the 90 minutes of play, you risk missing the play that changes everything.

And just like soccer, life doesn’t really stop. Oh, we can pretend it does by trying check out a little here and there, but like it or not, while we are still drawing breath we are in the flow of time, and learning to be present for all of it is an art.

2. It’s a Lot More Physical Than You Think

Because of #3 below, a lot of people think that soccer is played like ballet, and there is no physical contact. Especially on the youth level, it’s enjoyable to listen to parents unfamiliar with the game complain to referees about how their kids are being pushed around. However, as soon as you watch a game close up, you realize that this game can be brutal: elbows, fists, even teeth(!) are all a part of fighting for position. Players routinely get heads split open (to be stapled up and return to the game), and bruised by well-placed kicks. What’s more, a lot of teams have “a hard man,” or enforcer, who’s job it is to intimidate and generally make the other team’s players miserable. Vinnie Jones (of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels fame) was a notorious hard man in the English Premier League, and a  shows the essence of what it means to be an enforcer.

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For us, I think a lot of us still adjust to the fact that life is difficult, and struggle to react to pain and challenge. I know for myself, it took a long time for me to get over the fact that life simply isn’t that easy. However, once I was able to start conceptualizing that “in this life I will have trouble”, I was able to start viewing the bumps and bruises that came my way as opportunities for growth, and a “school,” or testing ground of sorts, for my faith. At that point, suffering can become productive, and even redemptive.

3. That Being Said, We “Flop” a Lot More Than We Should

I get it; soccer also has notorious actors and “flops” in it. They are attempts to get fouls called, particularly inside the 18 yard box, so that teams can win a free kick and an easy opportunity to score. There are some hilariously bad flops, when players dive through the air like they’ve been shot with a gun, and then writhe on the ground in excruciating pain, only to have the replay show that they were never even touched by an opposing player.

(Check out, in particular :19)

These type of actions get a lot of ridicule from soccer skeptics around the world, but maybe only until we realize how much we do this as well. 

I know for myself anyway, there are so many interactions that I’ve had that have just seem like the world has ended, and I am “devastated” or “enraged” … friendships have been jeopardized. The heat of the moment takes over. I am metaphorically “on the ground, writhing in pain.” Then, often in what is comparatively a really short time, I’m back on my feet, and I actually realize that what I thought was a really major incident, actually didn’t hurt me at all. In fact, I really didn’t even need to fall over or go down. I over-reacted. I let it get the best of me. (And maybe, just maybe I could have scored if I would have ignore the altercation and just gone on with my life.) 

4. It’s Diverse

Lastly, soccer/football truly is a world sport. Obviously, it’s played all over the world, and the numbers show it: by comparison, whereas the 2014 Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers worldwide, by contrast the 2014 World Cup boasted 909.6 million.

It’s actually astonishing.

Watch any professional league, and the rosters are truly glimpses of a global community: Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East are all represented (Sadly, North America (minus Mexico) is probably the least represented continent, at least in Europe).

What’s more, even amidst all the diversity, cultures around the world still maintain (more or less) their own brand of play. The English Premier League is a league of speed; Brazilian football still maintains the reputation of being beautiful and creative (in the United States, a lot of our reputation has at times unfortunately been centered on individualism and show-boating). On and on the list goes on. It’s a wonderful blend of cultural identity with diverse influences.

Like it or not, our world is beautifully complex, and it was created that way. Revelation 7 speaks of “every nation and tribe” gathered around the throne of God, worshiping. It’s too easy to think that my Caucasian, North American perspective is all that there is to life, to faith. But it’s not. It’s so much bigger than that. I can learn about life (and about my blind spots) by people who are not the same as me; who share different life experiences and who have different values than me.

When my son was learning to play the game, we used to take as many opportunities as we could to get him playing time, so even when his club team wasn’t in season I would take him to fields around town to see if he could play in pick-up games. Most of the time, the only games available to him (even as a 12 and 13 year old) were games that international grad students from FSU would hold on Saturdays and Sundays. He would say to me, “Dad, I really want to play,” and I would look at the field full of people from Ghana, Argentina, China, Mexico, and Lebanon, and I would listen to the amazing blend of accents and language, and I would say, “Well, then you need to go out there and play.”

And he would wonder into this blend of culture and language and perspective, and he would go play.

And I’m hoping that he’s learning something about the world, and about life: about the joy of diversity, and the gift that other people can bring to us.

 

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

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:

What’s In A Number, Anyway?

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“Ohmygosh what number on the Enneagram are you?”

One of my dear friends was messaging me; her ears were burning after listening to one of the hip, podcasts-of-the-moment where the hosts had introduced the concept of “Enneagram,” a really, really ancient way of understanding our personalities and tendencies.

She was illuminated and enlightened (understandably so), and now she was curious to know where I fell on the 9-number “wheel” of the scheme.

“I bet you’re a FIVE,” she declared.

Fortunately, since the enneagram seems to be hot stuff right now, a guy named Ian Morgan Crone had recently written a book that addresses it, and very helpfully developed an online test to recommend a number for everyone. So I went and took the test, and shared my results with her.

I was just getting ready for my annual silence and solitude retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit outside of Atlanta, so on the spur of the moment, I threw my copy of The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert) in my bag, thinking, “Maybe I’ll skim this while I’m away.” I’d read probably 60% of the book 2-3 years ago, and while I found it interesting, I got bogged down in the descriptions of each number, and eventually abandoned the book.

After I’d arrived and got settled in at the monastery, I still had a couple hours before Vespers (think, “dinner time prayer”), so I decided to sit down on a patio and do some reading and journaling. Call it intuition or the Holy Spirit, either way I picked up the Rohr book and started reading. I wanted to revisit the history and context of the enneagram before I reviewed my results, so I actually went back to the beginning and started reading.

Before I got to the descriptions, Rohr took me back (as he so often does) with this statement:

“In recent years a series of questionnaires has been drawn up so that people can discover to which Enneagram pattern they belong. Nevertheless, we recommend that readers take another approach first: *it makes sense to begin by reading through all nine descriptions. To some it will immediately be clear where they are ‘at home.’ … A good criteria is the following: if in reading the description of a type I get uneasy or am even humiliated, it could be that I’m on home ground.”

<sigh>

So, even though I had my pattern “in hand”, Rohr recommends that I read the whole book and come to conclusions more “organically.” (Part of this is because, according to the authors, the Enneagram is historically related to the seven capital, or “deadly” sins, so rather than *celebrate* my particular pattern, we are on more solid ground when we soberly look at the brokenness of each particular type first.)

So that’s what I did. The good news is that the type that I was drawn to actually reinforced the online questionnaire that I’d taken.

I was a “Nine”. 

Now, this actually shocked my friend because she was convinced that I was a “Five” (go and look these up for yourself if you’d like), but as I read the descriptions I knew without a doubt that I lacked the intellectual detachment that Fives had. I was a visceral, gut reactor to life (not always for the best), and could only detach myself through discipline and prayer.

But that was just the good news; there was some challenging information as well.

According to Rohr, while Nines are peacemakers and good at accepting other people, we (read: “I”) suffer from some critical deficiencies, or brokenness: we lack courage, we lack focus, we prefer the path of least resistance, it takes a long time for us to identify and name (and therefore own) our feelings, we withdraw.

Am I feeling good about myself yet?

What may have hit me the most was that Nines also have a tendency to be lazy and to avoid conflict.

Without going into too much of the detail, let’s just say that (a) I completely identify with these tendencies, (b) they are actually humiliating.

I’ve taken so many personality profiles: I’m mostly an INFP, my strengths are Contextualization, Indvididualization, Intellection, etc., etc.

This seemed somehow different; it hit me harder, where I’ve been “living” for a few years now.

For instance, because of my natural curiosity, I am fairly persistent about sniffing out the “next thing” theologically and/or spiritually (note: a lot of this is also driven by very personal needs and spiritual ambitions).

To be blunt, I’m typically pretty far ahead of the curve when it comes to spiritual trends, whether it’s liturgy, spiritual disciplines, or mindfulness…

… BUT NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT. 

My laziness, apathy, cynicism (“nobody will read this anyway”) and introverted nature all combine to make a stew and a gumbo that produces… at times very little.

Meanwhile, I watch people—some of them my friends—who are decidedly NOT NINES (LOL) write, publish, and broadcast much of the same information that I’d processed sometimes years before. I sit and I watch/listen/read, thinking… “Wow… uh. This is actually old news to me. If someone would just ask me, I could have told everybody this stuff two years ago…”

(typical NINE stuff…)

By the way, honest: This is not about how great I am, or how smart I am.

It’s actually kind of humiliating, and I’m also just trying to be honest.

Part of my spiritual journey means that I’m trying to work on accepting myself, in all my glorious limitations and strengths. Also, let me be clear, when Rohr also writes that “in a certain way NINE represents the original and unspoiled human essence,” I have to acknowledge that it’s not all bad to, well, be me.

But since the Enneagram is related to my brokenness, I need to acknowledge that there are still issues I need to work through. I need to get better at productive, redemptive conflict. I need to learn to give to the world what God is giving me. I need to steward my journey, both for myself and for the world.

It’s about giving, not promoting.

As I was thinking about writing this, I was thinking about some of the most powerful words that people can speak about me. My spirit rises within me (even at 48) when I hear people say about me, “Oh man, you really need to meet Eric Case; if you’re interested in (Subject X), he’s someone you have to know.”

Vanity, I know.

So there you go: I’m a NINE. Prone to laziness, conflict avoidance, and cynicism.

But if you’re exploring spirituality, productivity, creativity, or even the Enneagram, I’ve probably been there, and I *do* want to help.

 

Links:

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert on Amazon.com

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit

Enneagram Test (related to Ian Morgan Crone’s book The Road Back to You)

Blogs related to my monastery trip.

 

Why I Might Not Attend “The Biggest Tour of the Summer”

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Surely this is the big one.

(Always interesting when a music tour is announced in Forbes.)

Many of my friends already have their tickets, and I’m excited for them.

However, I’m pretty reticent about going, and mostly because (ironically enough) of the very words Mr. Bono wrote on a song that came out soon after the Joshua Tree. 

They went something like this:

“I don’t believe in the 60s // the golden age of pop
You glorify the past // when the future dries up
– “God Pt 2” from Rattle and Hum

I loved that sentiment, and the fierce, forward-looking creativity it represented. Achtung Baby came from that attitude, and so did Zoo TV, Zooropa, and even Pop and All That You Can’t Leave Behind. 

Somewhere along the way, however, endorsements started, and tours started to resemble product placements for Motorola and Apple. It was all tolerable and even understandable as long as the music was still reaching for something: something spiritual, as well as musical.

However, I feel like the boys from Dublin have wondered as of late. Songs of Innocence is the only U2 record I’ve ever listened to once and deemed it irrelevant and unnecessary for even a second listen. Lately, I’ve preferred the urgency of October or the explorations of The Unforgettable Fire and No Line on the Horizon.

I get it: I’m just a dude. Just a fan. Nobody cares what I think.

That being said, I don’t want to see my heroes do a 30th anniversary tour for a record that changed music (and life?) for me in a dozen different ways.

Even the Stones didn’t go out and play Exile on Main Street.

(I’ll give you The Who and Tommy.)

Will they just play the record and some other “greatest hits”?

Will they add in some demos and obscure “B Sides”?

(“Everlasting Love” is pure, ecstatic gold.)

I don’t know. What I really want, more than anything, is new, vital music from 4 guys that have carried the torch for so many.

And buried in that is another question: can/would music superstars ever trade tour/financial success for artistic exploration? How about making the music, the merchandising, the shows smaller for once?

How about an unexpected release with no fan fare? Didn’t Beyoncé just try that and hit it out of the park?

I am waiting in the wings for my heroes to drink deeply from the future, to be watered by the wells of artistic freedom.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll all be surprised before the kickoff in the spring?

I can only hope.

 

I Sit

I sit.

It is cold.

I sit.

It is cold and dark.

I sit;

it is cold and dark and quiet.

I pick up two “devotional” books, little nuggets of thoughts to “prime the pump.” Reading the daily thoughts would take about 45 seconds (a bit more, if I’m really tired, for re-reading). Living out the thoughts there would take a lifetime.

But that’s what I’m here for.

I put the two books aside, and take a sip of the still-too-hot coffee.

I check my phone timer, and set it to 20 minutes.

A deep breath, a whispered prayer:

“God, I am here, speak to me.”

Then a slow descent into the silence.

My first thoughts are slowly nudged away, using the imagery of a slow lazy river. I know that if I allow them to drift away, they will leave me. More will follow them, but they, too, will leave if I just release, surrender them to the flow of the river.

My mind is active—I have still-officially-undiagnosed ADD—but I slowly and gently introduce the word that I use to signify my intention and willingness to both myself and to God.

“Grace.”

This gentle back and forth will continue for the next 18 minutes or so: my mind will drift, and I will gently nudge it back by a combination of my will and a surrender to God’s work and presence.

I continue to sit.

Thoughts come: some of them “To Do” items that will wait.

I release them.

Thoughts come: amazing ministry ideas, an angle on a conversation I need to have.

I release them too. I trust that they will either be there waiting for me when the time is over, or that they were not important enough for me to retain in the first place.

Either way, there will be time for them later.

“Grace”.

Redirect my mind back.

I sit.

I wonder how much time have I been sitting?

Out of weakness and a deeply ingrained humanity, I steal a peak at my timer.

I sit some more.

The darkness is spacious, inviting, and eternal.

(Much like God.)

I sink deeper and deeper into this place that requires nothing of me but to be still, to simply, well, be. 

I sit some  more.

Occasionally, I touch something, something that is way beyond my human experience, a wonder and a peace and a grace that is simply overwhelming; it’s amazing how uncomfortable it can be to truly confront the wonder.

I’m thankful that God makes allowances for my human limitations.

But even those transcendent experiences need to be released; I am after something different here. I am after the deep mystery and darkness of God, and so I trade the known for the unknown, the trumpet for the silence, the sight for the blindness.

In other words, I’m seeking pure faith. 

I sit.

The timer goes off on my phone.

(Blessedly).

Who knew 20 minutes could feel so long?

Regardless of my experience in prayer, I thank God. This is an important discipline for me, because one of the central truths of my humanity is that I cannot wholly trust my human experience to evaluate and determine the spiritual “success” of an activity. I simply have no way of knowing what God has truly done in my life; I only trust that He is working.

“Trust in the slow work of God,” indeed.

I rise.