Centralia

For two summers, when I was 18 and 19, I worked for the steel company that employed my father. I did random sales and marketing stuff for them: customer satisfaction surveys and inventories with the various state and local transportation departments that used their products. Driving around — Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and California — by myself in a rental car with an expense account was pretty happening for a skinny college kid who wanted to spend as much money as he could on guitar gear.

One day I was riding around with some guys in central Pennsylvania when we came to a town called Centralia. It stank. Smelled like sulfur. When I asked, they just shook their heads and said, “wait.” When we got closer to the town, they told me to get out and put my hand on the pavement. Even though it was a cool day, the pavement was warm; really warm.

Sulfur; heat.

Was this hell?

They finally told me what was going on. You see, Centralia is in coal mining country, and one day a fire started burning in the mine at Centralia…

… that was in 1962, and it’s been burning ever since.

Once the fire got started, there was seemingly nothing anyone could do. All attempts to extinguish it had failed, and it essentially was smoldering for over 30 years.

You can smell the sulfur, and you can feel the heat. The slowly became toxic, houses slowly being evacuated before it got too risky, health-wise, to remain.

Eventually the fire killed the town, and Centralia doesn’t really exist anymore.

Sometimes I wonder about the stuff we carry around in our spirits, in our hearts. Are there things that gnaw at you? Things that you’ve done or seen? Things that were done to you? When there is significant pain in our lives it is tempting to “get on with it”, and try to shut things away, but when we do that we often find that those things are like the mine fire at Centralia: even though we see no destruction on the surface, deep down we are being destroyed, and eventually what’s going on underneath will be displayed on the surface of our lives.

When there is pain, we need to do our best to bring things into redemptive time — to allow them to see the light of day, to exist in the oxygen, so that we can deal with them.

Burying them won’t kill them. It only gives them places to smolder and burn.

The Song

Jonathan was born unable to hear. He was unable to hear the words of love from his parents. The comfort that they spoke, the songs that they would sing. No matter how they shouted, how they wept for him, how they sang him lullabies, he would not hear.

His world was an ocean of silence.

But then…

The moment when his face lights up, and he hears the voice — the overture of love — from his parent, is a priceless moment of grace, love and beauty.

It also teaches.

So many of us have either never heard the song and voice of Love. Others of us have heard it, but then have allowed it to fade into the background of clanging traffic, of playlists, of work and the corporate ladder.

But guess what: The Voice is still speaking. It’s still singing. There’s a song out there, singing all of our names, waiting for that moment when our ears and eyes are opened up and we recognize the Voice for ourselves.

What song(s) are you missing? Do you still hear the Voice? Do you still light up with the soft light of grace when you hear it?

Yes, yes, yes.

I get this, at a very deep level. This is how I approach music.

“Either you are the music or you’re not. There are a lot of people that want to do what I do, but what I do is about humility and righteousness and understanding, because music is precious. I know it’s just rock and roll, but there are moments in there. There really are and you can’t miss them. It’s got to be soulful, it’s got to speak to you, it’s got to twist your little heart, and you have to be turned on.” – Andy Johns, Producer, in September 2010 Guitar Player (see credits here)

At least we’re big with someone…

This was posted on my Facebook Wall…

“I’m camping with my 3 yr old this weekend and had American Sun playing. He asked me to put it on in his room of the RV as his “sleeping music”. I said “you know what bud? The man singing is daddy’s friend”. His response was “I love daddy’s friend”.

I’m not sure three year olds were your intended audience, but with him…”

Do Yourself a Favor (or two)

I came home tonight and Shana was finishing up a movie called Bella.

Amazing story of love (and good food, too!).

Not Hollywood love, real love.

The self-sacrificing kind.

The Jesus kind.

So first, rent it and watch it, and recapture some wonder and innocence in your life.

Why not?

Then, go buy Nina Simone’s “Nearer Blessed Lord” (from the movie).

I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.

Gems

Here’s the track list for the next Maida Vale disc (not in order)

  • Jordan!
  • Signs of Life
  • State Street Serenade
  • Is Your Heart Blue?
  • You Look Good
  • Broken on the Wheels of Love
  • Big Events in Loneliness
  • Tick Tock
  • Never Been Good

I’m excited to wrap this thing up and get it mixed. There are a few songs here that have never seen the light of day, so it will be nice to release some fresh music to folks. However, thoughts linger: does anyone still believe in the “disc/album” format? Singles dominate the horizon, and I understand why. It makes sense. But for me and the band, this whole recording was an effort to capture a very specific time in our lives, and also to try and weave that into a cohesive ethos and approach to a body of work. As much as I like singles and the constant flow of music it can produce, I’m just not sure that you can weave a narrative into 7 – 8 songs that are released over 12 months.

The songs become compartmentalized and fragmented, like our lives. I (and I think Maida Vale) believe in something holistic and big… very big and beautiful.

Hope someone out there can believe in it as well. We’ll see in June, maybe.

The Disruptive Gospel

As the 20th century drew to a close, a German scientist named Karlheinz Brandenburg was working on a logarithm that would help reduce the size of certain types of computer files; specifically music files. Eventually, he landed on a formula that helped him shrink the size of a standard music composition by about a factor of 10.

Because the file format was designed for a group of scientists known as the Moving Picture Experts Group, it took on an abbreviated version of their name, “mp3.” Aided by the explosion of Napster and websites like mp3.com, the phenomenon of music-as-digital-files exploded.

Music would never be the same.

“Disruptive technology” is technology that enters a given market and, because of its price and or innovation, not only competes in that market, it actually redefines the market entirely. To be concise, it renders “competition” irrelevant, and redefines consumer behavior – it becomes the new standard, the new paradigm.

Whether you officially consider mp3 file compression disruptive technology or not, it’s difficult to argue that the innovation significantly changed the entire paradigm of music consumption. It changed forever our thinking about music (music should be portable, free, and easily shared), as well as our behavior (we either download our music illegally, or pay .99 for a single through iTunes, rather than buying a physical disc or tape from a store).

Mp3 technology had a major part in rendering irrelevant everything else in the “market” of music – CDs, cassette tapes, etc. – and eventually contributed to the entire dismantling of the record industry as we know it.

Now here’s the deal: The Gospel is disruptive technology.

Allow the Gospel to enter into your life, and it has the potential — if we let it — to  realign and redefine our values, thoughts, and behaviors. It renders our old ways of behaving — of our need to control, dominate, and/or manipulate — irrelevant. Hang around long enough, submit to it, and it becomes the new standard of our life, not just something that is an “add on” or a part.

Rambling

There is good inside of me.
I am not bad.
These things are forced out of me like the last efforts of the spent tube of toothpaste — it’s not pretty, but it’s there.
There is good inside of me.
I aspire to good things: friends healed, laughter echoing off the walls of a comfortable (and comfortING) sanctuary (so what if I have to mow the lawn?), creative mining and communicating, forming and shaping God’s people to find, display, and inhabit the Kingdom.
It’s all there, hand-in-hand with the broken tools of life, warped, rusted and a little misshapen from inheritance, neglect, and misuse, but at least it’s there.
I am cast in the image of
– carpenter
– father
– sovereign
– servant
– eternity
– Cross.
I am part of the “Adam Project”:  flawed, but restored (and restoring), hair messed up and eyes heavy with lack of sleep. All of these things are there. Sometimes they bubble up from deep wells of faith and joy, and other times they lay deep within the cold earth, dead and buried like coal in the mountain.
Sometimes it’s easy to find: “found art” and treasure that bursts into your lap with no effort; other times you have to dig, and even strip mine your life, destroying the landscape to find what will fuel and nourish you.
There is good inside of me; I am not all bad.
Not ALL good, of course, but better than this.
Even as I know that it’s not about me, that I am part of a collective country and kingdom, I also believe that my name is whispered in the pages of writings 2000 years old. I am hinted at in redemptive poetry, thought about in letters to churches, and anticipated in good news.  I have a place in this Good Country, in this Kingdom-Come-and-Coming, in this secret dominion that is visible to “Those who have ears and eyes to see.”
That’s me.
Put on my boots.

There is good inside of me.

What Goes On…

When I moved to “the big city”, one of the first things that was so shocking to me was how visible and accessible everyone’s home life was. Walking down practically any city street, you are maybe 10 feet away from someone’s living room, and their style — nouveau frat boy to OCD modernist — was on display for everyone to see. For years, frankly, I envied the clean lines and “just so” placement of people’s living rooms, their oh-so-hip furniture and general tidiness.

Over the years, I began to form stories in my mind about what happened inside those nifty spaces. “Surely,” I reasoned, “those folks are the most hip, gentle, intelligent people on the planet; surely the clean lines of their furniture match the nifty efficiency of their lives.” I could see a married couple on the couch, looking up from their copies of The Atlantic and the New York Times to debate the spiritual ramifications of post-modern literary theory while sipping cappuccinos. I saw children getting up after only 3 gentle beeps of a clever alarm clock (probably designed in Sweden), silently but quickly eating their healthy breakfast before jaunting off to a day of classical education.

Now, I like good design. Nothing major (though I do have a subscription to this, lol), just an appreciation for what goes in my living space. After saving for years, my wife and I have finally been able to put “that” kind of furniture in our house; to have “that” kind of kitchen. Though the furniture is still arriving and being unpacked, it is neat and tidy (and some of it, in fact, I believe is designed in Sweden). In fact, our house is pretty darn comfortable to be in, and I think communicates what we like about space, about art, and about life.

But guess what?

+ Parents still oversleep in this house, and have to rush around getting ready for work;
+ Kids need to be practically shoved out of bed in the morning to get ready for school;
+ Dust accumulates everywhere practically every two minutes!
+ Dinners get overcooked;
+ Homework gets struggled through…

Part of me is a little let down: having a comfortable couch doesn’t re-make your life — but part of me also realizes that all of this probably went on behind those peoples’ doors as well.