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So much of the work of God in our lives is invisible. This is probably why most of the visible world has such a hard time allowing God any space. Ironically, he is there anyway, enjoying all the space we did not leave him.

This is the challenge in being a truly spiritual person – seeing the invisible work of God, and accounting for the invisible God. On one hand this all sounds completely ridiculous. What could be more foolish than looking and accounting for invisible things? Yet even elementary science teaches that something can be invisible and present at the same time.

Mary carried a work of the Spirit, a work that was completely invisible, up until her physical appearance started to change and her belly began to grow. I love that picture. I love it because it’s not just a picture of the Holy Mother, but it is a picture of you and I as well. Everyone of us is a nesting place for the Holy Spirit. Every one of us a womb for the activity of God. Every one of us a main character in the emerging story of God. Yet a good portion of what the Spirit is doing is invisible, unseen and hidden.

So many of us are overwhelmed with feelings of disappointment. So many of us are wondering when the ‘good stuff’ is going to start happening. So many of us feel like outsiders in God’s kingdom. However, it might just be that the Spirit is at work. It might just be that the Spirit has already started something. It might just be that you are carrying an embryo of God’s design right now. No one can see it, and you can’t even feel it – invisible, yet present.

Don’t lose heart.


eulogies are for the living

I remember the first time I saw a dead body. It was my grandfather. Truthfully though, it wasn’t him at all, and even though I was a young boy I somehow instinctively knew that ‘he’ was gone. His skin was waxy and cold. His hair, a little too firm. He had become, in one long exhale, a mannequin sporting the very best clothes my grandmother could find in his small, spartan closet.

There was a rather long line of people gathered in the funeral home to wait and walk the carpeted aisle and give the living members of our family their condolences. I sat on the front row sort of bewildered by the whole thing. Some people cried. Some people kept the tears collared by telling funny stories about my grandfather. It sounded as though these people were speaking in another language. I could hear their words, and their stories, but the content was utterly foreign to me. I never knew my grandfather in the ways that these people spoke about him. All their words glistened.

All I knew of ‘Paw-paw’ was sickness. He was never happy. He was a sullen bull of a man, weakened by a diseased heart and a suitcase full of medicine. His skin was yellow like his fingernails which were stained by the cigarettes that he smoked. His tone was harsh, especially towards my grandmother who served him like a king, always smiling, never slow. Looking back, it seems as though having a bad heart in the 1980’s had made him bitter and angry. He was a strong man, now weak. He was a farmer, brought indoors. He was a hustler with no energy. And all that was crushingly disappointing.

But there in the receiving line were stories and laughter and tears that told a different story. People talked about my grandfather in the way that one might talk about a friend. I distinctly remember one of my uncles telling my grandmother that he was going to miss my grandfather. That was a shocking moment for me. Why on earth was anyone going to miss him? He wasn’t fun, or kind, or caring, or anything. He was angry, and distant, and scary.

I once picked up one of my grandfather’s prized pocket-knives when he wasn’t looking, and from across the room, without turning his head to see me, he yelled, “Dammit, put it down!”

I did put it down. I was so startled that I dropped that pearl handled knife on the carpet where it bounced twice. I looked down in horror.

“Pick the damned thing up and don’t touch it again!”

I think that was the most my grandfather ever said to me in one moment, and it was shouted in his signature hot tone.

The most awkward thing was that later, when we were leaving, my dad made me go and give paw-paw a hug. I didn’t want to hug him and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t want to hug me either. It was obligation and the one thing that shouted louder than my grandfather were the prods of forced affection.

Looking back I can see that I really didn’t know my grandfather at all, at least not the way others in the funeral home knew him. He had become someone that I’m sure he never planned on being. Most people aren’t hoping to become sick and emotionally disconnected. Most people’s life goals don’t include dying early and unhappy, yet people do all the time.

Life has a way of happening that even the most prepared can’t plan for, which begs the question – why do some of us wither and others of us flower, even while facing death and hardship and the angles of life that we did not consider?

Funeral home receiving lines are amplifiers, shouting in quiet whispers, loving embraces, and the preachers eulogy who a person really was. And often who a person really was is almost nothing like the body lying in the casket, or even the body that was breathing and hanging on just a few days ago.

Tragically, most people never get to hear the sound of their own life. That amplifier gets turned on only after they are gone. The words are right, the timing wrong.

Eulogies are for the living. Life and lives were meant to be celebrated, out loud, in front of others, long before that sad day when aunts and distant cousins gather. Our words about one another are not merely descriptive, they are creational. They hover over the deep waters and draw together elements that we did not know existed. They declare beauty over the ashes, and in doing so, grow a garden, a garden of love.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son, clothed in love, a coat of many colors that all his brothers could see. Heaven declared Jesus to be the beloved son before he had healed the sick or preached even one sermon. Some things simply cannot wait.

Joseph is also the son who was beaten, thrown into a hole, and sold into slavery. Likewise, Jesus was beaten, and nailed to a cross. Joseph knew hardship and pain and the unfair happenings of life. Jesus was the most innocent man in all history treated like a criminal! Yet both Joseph and Jesus did not wither, they flowered, and I’m convinced that they were able to flower because they had been planted deeply in the soil of affection and affirmation.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to my grandfather if he had heard the sound of his life before he died. What if the 17 year-old Arnold Russell had heard his mom and dad and friends say what they really thought and felt about him? Sadly, I’m afraid he probably did hear quite a bit of what people really thought and it was most likely not the celebratory song that gets sung at the end of one’s life. Perhaps those, harsher words were actually the seeds of anger and discontent, planted in vulnerable soil, all grown up in the end, squeezed by pain and sickness.

Timing matters. Some things simply cannot wait. Eulogies are for the living

the gift of winter

sarah copy

“From the rugged green land of Scotland, Sarah is a musician, songwriter and visual artist now living in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two little boys. Check out her music at, or on itunes. See her art at

The gift of Winter

“A major obstacle to creativity is wanting to be in the peak season of growth and generation at all times…
but if we see the soul’s journey as cyclical, like the seasons…
then we can accept the reality that periods of despair or fallowness are like winter – resting time that offers us a period of creative hibernation, purification, and regeneration that prepares us for the births of spring”

-Linda Leonard.

We enter into Winter naturally once a year and internally countless times in our lives, but it is rare we ever welcome it’s coming. It’s fine if it meets our preferences, such as a good bit of snow for sledding at Christmas and a quick move into a warm spring, but we can rarely guarantee that winter will give us what we want entirely. As created beings we live in rhythm, along with the rest of creation – not only naturally must we move through winter like everything else, but our souls must endure cycles and seasons too. Our works must, our relationships must, our whole lives must give way to the natural order of seasons. To strive against the season of winter as many of us do, and lose, is most humbling. But it is a sacred defeat, one in which many things will make you ready for spring. As an artist with a desire for the sacred to be revealed in all things, I am beginning to learn something of winter’s wisdom for my creative life. I am beginning to understand that in order to have a healthy, life-giving creative life I must welcome winter as part of that life. If you find yourself entering into what feels like a winter of your creative soul (or even if you’re in a bright spring you will, trust me, endure winter sometime), allow me to share some thoughts with you that I pray would encourage you in this time – which is only, after all, a season.


“Fallow times, like the resting of a field between growing seasons, are necessary in the creative journey” – Christine Paintner

We need to stop much more than we do. Winter forces us to stop, barreling in with it’s immense and dangerous power upon the doorstep of our hearts. Winter is shutting the door to our daily work and our need to produce, so that we have no choice but to cease our work until the snow melts. It is incredibly frustrating to experience this, especially if our identity is tied closely to what we can do for others or even for ourselves. My humble advice is to give in as quickly as possible, go make some soup, embrace the dead silence that a blanket of snow will bring, and listen. In time, the feeling of helplessness will give way to a feeling rootedness, because this season isn’t about you giving, but receiving God into yourself.

When I found myself on the precipice of winter a few months ago, I decided to spend a little bit of time every other week with Brother Edward, a Benedictine monk at the local Abbey. He is a kind, creative and profound man. Upon listening to me ramble for a while about how I just left my job in full time ministry and feel rather lost and overwhelmed, he looked at me gently and said “I have a task for you. Your production is not to produce.” and smiled, annoyingly I might add. I knew he was right but I hated the advice. I had just left my job to pursue a whole new world of creativity and he was telling me to do nothing. But he was right, because in order for my creativity to flourish it had to experience some recovery, a sleeping beneath the snow, and I had to experience some death – largely the death of what I do being tied to what and who I am. Winter will certainly strip you of that, as many times as you need it, and it is disorienting. Which is why the next step is to go into hiding.


“We go into hiding to become more like the hidden God, our Sanctuary, and so doing become a sanctuary for others” – Dr. Chris Green

Being hidden can also start out as a frustrating experience, but after a small while our eyes get accustomed to the dark and the warmth of the cave where our Father waits. It is here we get to nourish the roots of ourselves, resting and rooting into the Source within. Caves have secret passages that can lead you into vast underground lakes and pools of the clearest and most refreshing waters, deeper than the imagining. We rarely experience these pools in the prolific seasons of our life because we don’t have to dig deep to find them. But when the water runs out up top, we can’t forget there is endless supply much deeper down. It just takes a spot of bravery and loneliness to get there. Our God is to be found in the hidden places, and it is there you are made rich enough to be a hiding place for another soul who may be stuck out in the snow.


When you allow death to be a part of your creative life, you are taking part in a rich cycle that will bring you gifts of resurrection. By surrendering what needs to die and decay, you are then able to receive new life and growth in that very same place, but it could look completely different to what you thought and that’s God’s gift of renewal for us. And when you discover that you are not what you do, you may be freed up to ‘do’ with a sense of play that will bring enormous growth to your creativity. It also gives you license to begin to dream again. You can dream anything you like when you are not in the thick of work. Lately I have taken to creating a ‘post-it wall’, where every spark of an idea, song, collaboration, visual art project etc. gets made note of, no matter how small or impossible they seem. There are no rules to this wall, and any idea goes. Then, when I want to work, I can go to the wall and pluck down something that was born as a simple idea in a time of quiet. The post-it will ask me if I want to play, and I will say ‘why not?’. It is incredibly liberating. There’s no risk involved, either. I can try any of these post-it ideas and it’s no big deal if they fail. I’ll pluck one more off the wall then, and try again. This is the gift of winter – you’re not working on the opus of your life, so you might as well have some fun (and perhaps your opus shall see some sprigs of life in the frost!) Embrace the time of play when it arrives, don’t worry if it’s still too cold for some ideas to live into the spring, just know it is coming and tend to each shoot as best as you can with hope in your hands.

So, a benediction upon you, my creative friend.


May Winter knock upon the door of your soul
And cover there the soil
May silence be a gift to you
and hide you within itself
May the ears of your heart be pricked awake by the frost
and prepare you for Spring
May your hands be warmed not by toil
but by the warmth of your drink,
drink long my friend of His great love.

May fear be far from you
fear of not being enough, not doing enough
and may courage be with you
by the hand of God,
who is your loving sanctuary
your endless water supply
your garden of death and resurrection


what’s next?

What’s the next thing?

That’s a powerful question. It deserves at least a bit of attention, especially from those of us who feel a call to serve and lead Jesus’ church. Without answering that question we get a bit stale, we atrophy. To put it another way, we miss the million ways that the Spirit is speaking in the moment, or moments, and in doing so, actually miss God’s guidance.

God is always at work (John 5:17), and that work is often coming in forms that certainly seem new and surprising. Without wrestling with the question ‘what’s next?’, we miss the very present work of Jesus. Now, we may in fact be a part of some of His work without the question, but there’s no doubt that we will miss some of it, or even worse, be on the wrong side of God’s work just like the Pharisees who had studied the scriptures but failed to see the Word of God when it was standing in front of them!

‘What’s next’ is the mirror of ‘what is’. We need to wrestle with both. But it seems to me that a good portion of the church has missed seeing both because it could not envision the tomorrow that the coming kingdom contains. ‘What’s next’ is a good way to engage the coming kingdom, and to prayerfully consider what God may doing. Asking the question doesn’t ‘make it happen’, rather it puts you and I in a position to see things where we were previously blind.

This is the essence of the dreaming heart. This is the essence of the divine image that God has placed upon humanity – the ability to live in ‘what is’ and lay hold of ‘what isn’t’ or, better still, ‘what could be’.

God’s kingdom is coming, the question is this – who can see it?



meaning and mystery

One thing we all long for is simplicity. We’re looking for ways to reduce – to make the main things the main things and ways to push unimportant things to the side, or perhaps, completely out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind we say. We say it over and over, a mantra, a prayer. Except saying it fills up our mouths with so many words that a simple thought becomes something complex – a mouthful full of meaningless words recited in hopes that we would remember what’s important – we’re left with the mantra, the ‘important thing’ has evaporated.

The trouble with simplicity is that it rarely sits well with love. In an effort to embrace simplicity, we edit, we hack away at the extraneous, looking for the essential. Followers of Jesus usually get down to love – but love is always connected to people, and people are almost never simple.

People are complex. People are hectic. People are wandering, staggering through life like a drunk man in the dark who is looking for a bed that is hiding from him. Even people who are successful and ‘with it’ and educated and ‘saved’ are erratic – often the sparks of genius are combustable and burn through relationships leaving loved ones hot and smoking, the unfortunate recipients of ‘winning’.

I’m not sure that simple is an attainable goal, or even the right goal. Rather than ‘simple’, as followers of Jesus, we should be looking for ‘meaningful’. Because we’re committed to the way of love, there’s a really good chance that it’s going to be complicated, but it can be meaningful too.

Complexity often contains a great deal of meaning. The most difficult people (the ones closest to us) and situations (the ones closest to us) usually contain a high level of meaning. In facing difficulty, embracing ambiguity, and holding out hope we are simultaneously digging down into the very foundations of meaning.

This is not the same thing as understanding. Some things, are filled with meaning, but relatively little understanding. Often the people who mean the most to me are the most complicated, and those whom I understand the least. They are beautiful abstractions, phantom, dancing lights that move this way and that across a cold, night sky. When I married my wife, I thought I knew her. Now, after 14 years, both meaning and mystery have grown in our life together. I know her, but I do not know her. She is complex and a lifetime of loving her may never unravel into any real understanding.

Simple is overrated, so is understanding. Let’s embrace meaning and mystery.



god, the beat poet

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that God is a poet. There are prominent streams in the church that have, for the better part of two hundred years, portrayed God as a floating brain of unending intelligence. Make no mistake, God is really smart, but he’s more than just smart, or better put, he’s a particular kind of smart – he’s artistic, he’s poetic.

The very first revelation that the bible presents about God is that he is a creator. He speaks the worlds by his words. His limitless imagination is the source for all the color and diversity that exists in our still unfolding universe. Not only does Genesis make the point that God is a creator, but it does so in a particular fashion. Those opening verses in Genesis read like a poem, or the lyrics to a song, with the repeating refrain being “and there was evening and there was morning…”

Those repeated lines provide the rhythm, the sense of meter.

The Holy Spirit could have written the Genesis account in a different manner. It could have been a text book. It could have had a bibliography page. But it didn’t.

Which is to say that in his heart, God is a poet. He doesn’t just want to do things or say things, without considering the ways in which he might say them. Disseminating information is not the only consideration. It might not even be the primary consideration. How things are done, and how things are said are just as important as what is actually done, and what is actually said.

Again, He’s an artist.

This approach, this nuanced way of working, this sense of style, and design that God loves isn’t limited to creation in an original, book of Genesis, sort of way. It seems as though he’s always at work, and that his work often takes on this poetic sensibility.

A quick example from the book of Judges –

In Judges 11 God calls Jephthah to lead and deliver his people. In the midst of his calling the bible notes a couple small details about Jephthah, one being that he was the son of a prostitute. No big deal, except that one of the recurring theme’s in the book of Judges is that Israel is continually ‘prostituting’ themselves out to other Gods.

I love this. It’s not just that God wants to deliver his people. It’s not just that God wants to partner with someone to see it through. It’s that, in all of Israel, out of every capable male available, he specifically chooses the son of a prostitute to be the deliverer of a nation of who has lived out, in shameful colors, this sort of transactional, lust instead of love, life apart from God.

Obviously, He didn’t have to work out his plan this way. He was under no contractual obligation with anyone. He didn’t owe Jephthah any favors. It’s just that he’s a master poet, always writing the story on multiple levels, saying one thing, but meaning 10 things.

Look for the poetry and you will find God. When you bump into irony, you can be sure that God himself is not far away. Life is nowhere near as one dimensional as we might have assumed.

Review your life. Find the meter. What are the patterns? Where is the theme? Where is the poetry? It’s there, because God just can’t help it. He’s not writing a thick, dull text book. He’s writing a grand narrative. A poetic story with billions and billions of backstories and tie-ins. You and I are included. Now look again.




God is into process and God is into seasons. These ideas began with him, and he has woven them into the fabric of creation so seamlessly that we don’t even flinch when summer’s thread is pulled into autumn and the maples in our back yard flame up in one last gasp of glory. Then winter, and silence – the stark, damp gray that hangs over Kentucky for four months.

These seasons don’t just happen in nature, they happen in our lives as well. There are times of growth, and harvest, and rest, and silence. They come and go like ghosts. We’ve all been through a cycle or two, but somehow the pace and our own fixation on the moment blinds us to the reality that there are new seasons approaching, just as our current season is waning.

If you’re in the winter, and everything feels cold and there’s only the memory of harvest present, don’t loose hope, spring is coming! A time of delight, and consummation, and small harvest. Your current season is actually a chance to rest. God hasn’t left you, he’s giving you a chance to catch your breath, a moment to not have to ‘show’ anything, to be leafless, to need less, to trust.

And if your in full autumn harvest, laugh, and celebrate, and be thankful – but make no mistake a day is just around the corner when it will seem like all of this bounty is just a dream, a mirage out on the desert, drawing you out a little further, possibly to your demise. Your current season is a chance to share, and to put his goodness on display, and to dance, to demonstrate that delight is not merely a concept or ideal, but a very present reality. Harvest time is a chance to be nourished, and strengthened, and encouraged.

As sure and true as the seasons of God are, they don’t operate in the exact same manner that the seasons here in Kentucky do. Rarely do seasons of God overwhelm whole communities. Rarely do we all move through the times at the same pace or in the same moment. When the community of faith gathers, we are a patchwork assembly of all that God is doing.

Some of us are in winter, seemingly barren. Others of us are experiencing the warm embrace of spring. It’s all bird songs and pregnancy. While others still are facing the blazing sun of summer and everything is growing, good and bad. And for some, it’s harvest time. The baskets are full, the weeds didn’t win, and there is something amazing to show for all the effort.

The trouble is when you put all of that in one room.

It’s easy to compare. Questions arise. Pressure to conform is everywhere.

People who are in a winter season look at people in harvest and feel despair. People in harvest look at people in winter and think, “What’s wrong with you?” “For the love of God, cheer up!”

We all tend to personalize the world through our current circumstance, and in doing so attract and repel people based upon the season that we are living in. The trouble is that when we do so we are probably dissociating ourselves from a large percentage of the body that we are connected to. Life can become animated by either judgment or envy, depending on the season that we are living in.

Right now we should let go of all these kinds of comparisons, all this anxiety, and all such arrogance knowing that if we are faithful to God that he will move us all from season to season – that the soil of my life is not barren, but might simply be in winter – that the harvest will come to an end, and that end should be welcomed, other wise I may never get a chance to rest – that God is faithful, and will not leave anyone out.



maybe i’m crazy…

I’ve traveled quite a bit in the last few years leading worship and speaking. Aside from the airports and airplanes it’s been really great. Getting to meet new people, and see new things has probably made a bigger impression on me than I have made on the communities that I’ve been invited to sow into. That’s always been one of the great mysteries of ministry, that you go to give, and somehow, a real harvest is returned to you!

I just got back from a trip to California where I led some worship and spoke at several different places, varying from a packed 3,000 seat auditorium to a small 8:00 am service with about 60 people in a little room. All this got me to thinking about the spaces that we gather in to worship. It’s funny how the things that play well for 3,000 seem awkward for 60, and how the things that connect with smaller groups often seem too quiet or ‘flat’ for a larger room.

First off, I don’t have any sort of axe to grind here. I don’t think that there’s a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ size for gathered worship. If that’s what you’re reading here, then I’m communicating poorly, and will need to ask your forgiveness right now. Rather, I’ve noticed that there are certain sociological factors that come into play in all our times of worship that probably need to be considered for the leaders who stand in front and give shape to those meetings every week.

For instance, I’ve often wondered how the size of the room, and the quality of the sound system might play into how we write worship songs and ultimately deliver them on Sunday morning. I’ve realized that when I’m writing, in the back of my mind, is Sunday morning, and our people, and our room, and our drummer, and our sound system. That might be shocking for some people, but it’s true, and I suspect that it’s in a lot of our minds, and probably should be – after all blasting giant guitar solo’s with anthemic choruses on a gassed out sound system to 20 people in a small room is awkward, kinda like having an intimate dinner with your significant other, shouting at the top of your lungs across a candle lit table.

There are more implications. Too many to cram into one post. But a few questions might help.

When writing songs for your congregation do you think about the room, and the people?

Are you trying to pull off a style of worship that your sound system just can’t produce?

When was the last time you went to a different church for worship?

Are you shouting when you should be whispering, or vice-versa?

Am I crazy?



6 questions with bobby hartry

bobby h

Bobby Hartry is a musician, producer, and songwriter based in sunny Los Angeles. I love Bobby’s guitar work – it’s muscular, a 2X4 to the gut, living somewhere between Colin Cripps and The Edge. Bobby has also produced some really great records (Jeremy Riddle, John Barnett, and many more). You Can check out his work here //

1) Do you consider yourself more of a producer, musician or songwriter?

It’s really hard for me to separate those things, because usually I’m wearing all 3 of those hats. I suppose I consider myself a musician first, then a producer, then a songwriter. But, the funny thing is the biggest part of my income is from songwriting, then production, then being a musician. I do think my experiences as a musician and songwriter have shaped my approach to production.

2) What’s the most common mistake worship leaders or churches make when making a record?

Trying to sound like someone else. I think this is a trap for musicians and artists in general. It’s easy to lose sight of what makes us unique and what we can bring to the table. We all are influenced by other songwriters and musicians. I think the trick is to take the culmination of those influences and distill it down into something that’s unique to who we are. Something honest and authentic. That can be scary, and can leave us feeling insecure at times. But, that’s when we have the potential to do something great.

3) In your mind, what’s the producers #1 job?

I think my role as producer changes from project to project. But, I suppose the over arching job is to help the artist or worship leader find an unique voice. I look for what makes them unique and special and then try and highlight that. This also goes for a song. How do I frame a song so it really shines. So that the heart of the song is communicated.

4) What are you looking for in a song? how do you know when it’s great?

Does it move me or provoke me? There has to be an emotional component to it. And do I believe the artist? Do I believe that they mean what they say. Even if it’s an abstract lyric or it’s not clear to me what the song is about, does it still feel honest or real to me.

5) Biggest influences?

There’s so many! The last few years I’ve really been into Wilco, Daniel Lanois, Blake Mills, Buddy Miller. I’m a big fan of T-Bone Burnet’s production. My biggest guitar influence is Michael Landau. I’ve been listening to Mike since I was 15. Nels Cline is another huge guitar influence. I’ve spent countless hours listening, watching, and talking with Jon Brion. I love his songwriting, production, and guitar playing. Growing up I was definitely inspired by Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, The Edge. I starting playing guitar when I was 11, after seeing Phil Keaggy live. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was certainly influenced by some amazing guitar players out here. When I was 16 I saw Steve Lukather at a little club called the Baked Potato. He blew my mind. I had never seen or heard anything like it before. Shorty after hearing Lukather, I met Mike Landau. He’s always been very kind and gracious to me, and a huge inspiration.
Some records that I’ve been loving over the last several months: Blake Mills: Break Mirrors, David Bazan’s latest, Fiona Apple’s latest, Autolux: Transit Transit, Deep Sea Diver: History Speaks, Bon Iver: self titled, Sam Phillips: Long Play.

6) Tell us one of your best moments in music.

That’s a hard question, there are so many! I’ll just rattle off some that come to mind: 1) Seeing Phil Keaggy play when I was 11, life changing. 2) Playing electric guitar with distortion for the first time when i was 12 years old at a little music store called Carpenter Music (Thanks Bruce Adolph). 3) Seeing Lukather for the first time 4) Seeing Mike Landau for the first time. 4) Seeing Jon Brion for the first time at Largo 5) Seeing U2 at Dodger Stadium on Halloween 1991 (Zoo TV tour) 5) My first gig in my first “power trio” band, Yellow House. I could go on and on

10 questions with james duke

james duke

James is one of my favorite guitar players – he’s sort of a one man wrecking ball with an electric guitar, meaning, when he plays, you feel it. James has played and recorded with lots of people (John Mark Mcmillan, Jason Upton, and Matt Redman to name a few) If your playing electric guitar, you probably need to take notes…

1) What was your first guitar? How old were you?

When I was a kid there was always an Ovation acoustic guitar in a closet at my house. For the first 10 years there was the classic looking, natural finish one with the bigger rounded back. There’s a picture floating around Facebook with me at a guitar lesson shredding it up with that very Ovation! Then my dad gave it away and he got a new Ovation. This one was a limited edition model! Super fancy with a white top and the slimmer rounded back with glitter mixed in the black paint. The inlay around the sound hole was mother of pearl. It was… pretty ugly. Although I would often shred upon them, the Ovations weren’t technically mine. The first guitar that my dad gave me was a Les Paul copy with a bolt on neck that He pulled out of our attic. Sunburst finish. My brother, Jon, Dropped it and broke off one of the tuners. That was a bummer. My Dad pulled another guitar out of the attic (lots of guitars up there I guess) and replaced the tuner with one off that guitar. It didn’t matter though because I didn’t know how to tune a guitar, or even that a guitar needed to be in tune. I spray painted that guitar so many times. I still have it. It’s in pieces with all the pickups and hardware in a ziplock bag. I guess I was about 12 when I started taking a serious interest in guitar. That’s actually pretty cool that my Dad always kept a guitar around during my whole childhood…never thought about that. It’s like he knew…

2) How do you keep the fire? what do you do when music just becomes a job? Does that ever even happen?

The fire is the most important thing. You keep the fire by not taking the fire for granted. Being a professional musician is different. A lot of people don’t feel the same passion about their jobs. A job is just a job to a lot of people. It’s the way they provide for their family and nothing more. So for me, getting to play music and pay my bills is unbelievable! There are definitely times when It feels like it’s just a job. But, I think the key is to keep pushing and looking for ways to stay creative and inspired. Sometimes that’s a book. Sometimes it’s playing with new people. Sometimes it’s going to  a concert or buying a new guitar pedal. Maybe it’s spray painting your guitar… Staying inspired is key. Inspiration fuels the fire.

3) If you end up going grey, will you have your wife jacki color it?

I have grey hair! It’s super obvious because my hair is so dark. Jacki likes it. So no.

4) If you could play with anyone, dead or alive, who would you want to gig with?

Elton John. Because he writes the best music and I bet he’s hilarious to be around. Or Michael Jackson. Or Whitney Houston. WAIT! Freddie Mercury! Also I would have loved to play guitar with Nine Inch Nails on the downward spiral tour. It’s too hard to pick bands. If I played with them  would their guitar player be there too? Because, well, then it’s definitely U2. But if not, then no. What are the rules for this?

5) Why worship? I mean, you’ve got the kind of fire in your playing that’s definitely ‘general market’ or whatever…

You are sweet. I never thought about it. I just play my guitar with my friends. If Katy Perry asked me to play I would.

6) Big loud party with 100 peeps or dinner with your four best friends?

It depends on the day. My wife tells me i’m equal parts introvert and extrovert. There are days I could never face a big room full of people, but there are also days where all I want to do is be loud, dance and be surrounded by 100 people. But usually If I am at a party I slip out the back door when I leave because I don’t like saying bye to everybody and have all of them looking at me.  I don’t know how to answer this.

7) Biggest influence in your life? why?

My Dad. Mr. Dan Duke. He’s the kindest and most generous person I know.

8) What do wish every worship leader knew about their electric guitar player?
I’d have to ask them all. I’ll get back to you.

9) What’s the main thing that electric guitar players need to know?

Gear doesn’t equal tone. You can buy all the gear you want, but If you don’t have the fire and dedication to the actual craft of playing the guitar it doesn’t matter. And learn how to bend notes and use vibrato. And learn how to jam.

10) What do you enjoy more – studio or playing live?

I think I enjoy them both equally. I love the process of writing and creating in the studio, but there is nothing like playing music live on stage.

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