Archived entries

kurt cobain and the elusive green sweater

If there is anything I know – it’s that artists are insecure. I remember when Kurt Cobain made insecurity fashionable with his slouchy, second-hand cardigan. That sweater sent hoards of insecure, angst-ridden, middle-class teenage boys on pilgrimage in search of the perfect replica. It had to be from Goodwill. It had to be dirty enough to make you nervous about wearing it the first couple of times. And it needed to be a really terrible color. The sort of color that one might find in the baby food aisle of the grocery store. The real gems were pea green or that weird 1970’s mustard-brown-yellow. Anyone lucky enough to find one that had recently been removed from a dead senior citizen was instantly made the lead singer and principle songwriter in the band. Ahhh yes, the early 90’s, when all you needed to cover up your insecurities and start writing your own songs was a pea-green cardigan and a crappy attitude. I never had any trouble with the attitude, but I could never find the sweater, which is why I spent my formative years playing drums.

The times have changed, but the issues of the heart have not. Insecurity is a real killer when it comes to songwriting. It causes us to mistrust ourselves and everything that we make, which is why so many of us have such a hard time finishing anything – by the time we’re half-way through we have turned such a harsh, critical eye to our work that we no longer have the strength to finish. After all, why work so hard on such “junk”?

Insecurity also makes us hyper-critical of others. The only thing easier than beating up our own attempts at writing is setting our pain on everyone else. Competition and comparison are two of the major tributaries of insecurity. The tragedy is that these toxic rivers kill community – and community is one of the key ingredients in developing a creative culture where expression thrives.

We are all wearing our insecurities like Goodwill cardigan sweaters – unflattering layers that cover and conceal our true selves. It’s time to take these fashion faux pas to the dumpster.

Today, we should have an honest conversation with God. Allow him to speak his word over all your fears and insecurities – especially those that have caused your creative muscles to atrophy.

A prayer for today:

Father, I’m letting go of fear.
I’m letting go of comparison and competition.
You are my security.
I am who you say I am.



life is complicated – we must sing

Life is complicated. You didn’t need me to tell you that in order to know it’s true. For all our efforts to simplify, purify and distill we often find ourselves adding more layers to a mess that is already sufficiently layered.

Good intentions get muddled up in the execution. Idealism eventually hits the brick wall of reality and leaves us beat up and bruised – but give me the cuts and bruises, because a life without a few hope-filled convictions isn’t a life worth living.

One day the sun is shining and it seems as though that sunshine will never end. The very next day its pouring down rain.

One day we are surrounded by friends and well-wishers, the next, it’s an email box overflowing with bitterness and pain – or even worse, a Facebook wall that’s been splattered with the dramatic, angry graffiti of passive aggressive status updates – the really great part is when you read it and wonder who that is about only to realize that it’s about you! The most perplexing part is that often times the very things that we do to win favor with one group only alienates us from another – complicated.

Then comes the big stuff – life and death. Babies are born, and it’s so good. Nine months of hope, wonder and speculation come to fruition and in our arms we hold a son or daughter. As simple as the joy of holding your very own child for the first time is, the months and years that follow are anything but. Raising children is joyful, and painful, and frustrating – it’s complicated.

Even death isn’t simple. Most of us are not prepared for all the things, legal and otherwise, that death requires. Often times there are emotions that we thought were buried, but in fact they rise like zombies in the night of our sadness. Then there are the decisions – dozens of decisions must be made all the while entertaining grief, a most unwelcome guest. Complicated.

Add to all this the dust layer of the daily grind and it’s no wonder that we are truly a Prozac nation. There are papers to write, dinners to fix, batteries to change and jobs to find. There are ambitions to chase, marriages to enrich and peers to compete with – even though they don’t know we are competing with them! Complicated.

It’s no wonder we are fractured. It’s no wonder we feel pulled. We literally dissolve.

This is why our gathered worship times are so important. That thirty minute worship set is often the most sane half-hour that the people in our church will experience in a whole week. It’s literally therapy. Better than a $200.00 session.

For one, it’s confessional. When we worship, we acknowledge that there is in fact a God in heaven. When we orient ourselves around this one, central truth – other good has room to grow.

For two, it’s communal. In a fractured world, there is power in what “we” can all sing.

For three, it’s formational. As fractured people, there is power in worshipping God body, soul and spirit. There is perhaps no other moment when “we” can be in such perfect harmony with ourselves.

This is why we sing. This is why we, the artists, must write. We are the poets for the brokenhearted. We are composers, that with the help of the Spirit, bring lyric, meter and melody (order) to a complicated, fractured life.



wine is no fun alone

I love wine. I love the way it smells. I love the way it tastes. I love talking about wine. I love reading about wine. I love how the same wine changes from year to year depending on weather and growing conditions. I love how each new wine educates the palate and subsequently changes everything you drink from that point on – each taste an informing, shaping experience that builds, line upon line, precept upon precept, the total carried enjoyment of all the wine that I will drink in the future. I love how the right wine with the right food can turn an altogether average dinner into a lasting impression – a ghost whose pleasure haunts for years to come. I love how wine can change your mind about things you thought were settled. Take goat cheese for example – I used to hate the stuff, that is until the evening I ate it with an aged Napa Cabernet and then I realized, with great joy, that I was just plain wrong.

I could go on…but I won’t…but know this, I could, and one day I just might

But here’s what I’ve learned about wine – as much as i love it – wine is no fun alone!

I’ve tried it, on many occasions. Inevitably I shove the cork back in the bottle disappointed and I wonder – “Was I wrong about this stuff?”

Think about it. I bet the things you love the most, your very best memories are the shared ones. It’s because life was meant to be shared. Community is the essence of the good kind of life.

Now, what does this have to do with songwriting?

Well, songwriting, like wine, and all creative expression is best undertaken in community. Songs that are going to be sung by the community should be written in community. I’m not saying that every song should ultimately be a co-write, but I am saying that there needs to be a real sense of “togetherness” in all our creating. We need to be able to let others speak into us and into our work.

In Genesis 1:28 God gives a creative command – “Be fruitful and increase in number…” It’s a call that can only be expressed in intimate community. It’s a call that results in greater community.

As artists our tendencies are towards privacy, fear and insecurity – all of these isolate. None of these help. Anything.

Noah had his sons, David his mighty men, Jesus his disciples, Paul had Timothy, Andy Warhol had The Factory
Who do I have?

Who has me?


For some other thoughts on creating in community click here

desire is not a dirty word

Genesis is a loaded book. Loaded like a dump truck. There’s more there than the bit that’s peaking up over the sidewalls of the bed. There’s a mountain of earth and rock sitting right beneath the surface. There are bits flying off the truck and hitting passing windshields at 70 mph. While driving behind a dump-truck and having your windshield nicked can be annoying, in this case, I welcome it because the tiny missiles hit the windshield of my worldview and leave a lasting mark – begging me to chase the driver down.

Genesis makes a couple of things quite clear:

1) We have been created in the image of God – However mysterious this may be in the fullest sense, it is clear that this is good, and to our advantage. Something has been written into our DNA, something divine. We are not merely sons and daughters in some loose, poetic sense, it is a reality.

2) “Image” is a big subject, but in simplest form, it is about ability – ability to partner with God in a conscious way, and ability to rule in a way that impacts the earth. All of this is related to creativity, which flows out of our innate ability to imagine and dream – to conceive of new possibilities, things not yet known, done or experienced.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
Genesis 1:27-28

In verse 28 God blesses and then gives a command, a call. Notice that this is a creative command. “Be fruitful and multiply”. I would also like to point out that this command is nestled within the context of blessing and the call of God – therefore, in some real and profound way, creative expression is linked to our ability to experience and enjoy the blessing of God and fulfill the call of God for our lives. Notice also, that this blessing and call starts with community (Adam, Eve and God) and ends with greater community (Adam, Eve, Cain and God). The blessing of God – love, joy, peace, contentment and so on all flow from a meaningful connection to God and others that results in creative expression that ultimately grows the community, and allows us to live out our call along the way. I could go on, but I hope we all see that this is sort of a big deal.

But here’s what I want to get to today –

God gives Adam and Eve a command, a creative command, and they did it! In fact, you and I are here today because they, and subsequent generations, have been so good at fulfilling this creative call.

Here’s the part that’s really interesting – no one told them how to do it. No sex ed. No diagrams. No pictures. No awkward conversations. So how did it happen? Well, they acted on desire. Simple. Part of walking out a creative call is following the path that desire lays out. Are there dangers? Sure there are. The stone cold truth is life is dangerous. But in the long view, the real, stagnating danger is to NOT live out of our creative compulsions.

Within every human being alive right now is the desire to give their lives to making something – something brand new – something alive.

Right now we all carry the spark of desire.

Right now we all carry a history of being smothered with fear, and the ever present “what if?”

Today, let the spark catch a little air. Let what’s smoldering come to full flame.



wake up

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