09/11/01

Ten years ago today was my generations’ JFK moment – that moment we will always remember that in many ways will define my generation.  We all remember where we were, what we felt, and what we thought as we watched something unspeakable unfold before our eyes.

Two weeks prior to that fateful September morning I spent a few days in NYC.  Among a number of things, I made sure to stop by the World Trade Center.  A two day trip to NYC is barely enough to do anything, so I didn’t have time to go inside, climb to the top, or any of the other things I had always wanted to do at the World Trade Center.  But, I did make sure to stop by and see the iconic structures.  I was struck by their magnitude.  When I stood at the base of one of the towers and looked towards the heavens, the vantage point made the tower appear to never end – it truly went upwards “as far as the eye could see.”

Two weeks later, on an ordinary Tuesday morning, we all watched in amazement as two buildings and thousands of lives came tumbling to the ground.  I will never forget sitting in front of a television completely speechless – there were not words to describe what we felt.  Many of us were discovering feelings we didn’t even know we had.

That Saturday I was supposed to speak at a monthly worship service in the area.  I had led worship and spoken there many times before, but in the days leading up to Saturday I had no idea what to say.  At first I thought the service might be canceled.  To my dismay, not only was it not canceled, but as so many turned towards God looking for answers in the weeks and months following, I knew there would be even more people there – desperately looking for hope in the hopelessness.

I remember so vividly searching Scripture and seeking God asking him what to do.  I was a 20 year old kid in completely over my head.  The days passed and I still had nothing to say.  As the service started, I still had nothing at all to say. When the music started, I felt like a clock was ticking.  Everyone was looking for an answer, an explanation, but I literally had nothing to say.  I remember not singing a word that night but being on my knees begging the Lord to speak to me – to show me what we all needed to hear that night.

Literally moments before I was to be introduced as the speaker for the evening, I was reminded of Psalm 36:

1 I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.

2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
4 Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

5 But Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
11 May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

My mind returned to the towers I had stood before a mere two weeks earlier.  These buildings that I thought “reached to the heavens” had fallen down, but the Love of our God remained!  In the midst of tragedy, we could have hope in the love and righteousness and justice of God.  Our hope was not in steel and glass, but in the unfailing Love of God.  We could find refuge in him.

Loss is real and tragedy hurts deeply.  But, my prayer on this 10th anniversary of my generations’ “moment” is that we would not find our hope in what the terrorists thought they destroyed – our economy, our government, our military, our creativity.  But instead that our lives would demonstrate that our hope is in something far greater – the everlasting, unending love of our God.  In the end, we can declare with confidence – “WE WIN”

accidental innovation

One of the most recognizable sounds in music today was the result of an accident – literally.  Guitar amplification was still a new technology when an early guitarist damaged his amp in transit to a gig.  As they say, “the show must go on” and the band continued plugging the guitar in to an amplifier with a damaged valve.  The resultant sound was described as raucous and menacing – distorted.  Today, guitar players the world over spend thousands of dollars in pursuit of gadgets and pedals to make their amps sound “broken.”

Consider for a moment what would have occurred had the proud guitar player determined he could not go on with such a limitation to his gear.  If he would have been more concerned with his image or his product endorsements, the signature sound of a generation would have been lost.

Worse yet, imagine if the club owner would have cancelled the band because they didn’t sound like everyone else.  Had he found their new sound too offensive or distracting, many of the greatest songs of the past 50 years may have never been written.

Sometimes we need to be better at discerning which things are “unplanned” and which ones are “mistakes.”  Music allows us to make beauty out of our mistakes.  One of the best guitar lines I wrote for a song was an accident – I lost my place on the fretboard and played a note “outside” of the scale.  Most of the time this results in something offensive – but this “accidental” worked beautifully!  It brought color, personality, and motion to an otherwise bland song.

Accidents in music are welcome.  They offer opportunities to stretch the bounds of creativity.  Too often we do not allow for the same level of creativity in our other ventures.  We punish accidents because they fall outside of what we expect.  We expect innovation, but do not allow for differences.  We celebrate the results but shun the process.  We criticize people who don’t think inside of our boxes, yet complain when we remain stuck in the same old rut.

I will determine to celebrate the process in all aspects of my life – enjoying the failures as much as the breakthroughs – in others as well as myself.

improvisation

Improvisation is intimidating.  It reveals a musician’s weaknesses.  It betrays a vocalist’s range.  It exposes a guitar player’s “go-to” riff.  It uncovers a keyboard player’s one-dimensionality.  When the band begins to go off-script, some musicians slip in to the background hoping to remain unnoticed.  Others brashly try to overpower everything to show off their “talent.”  Very few manage to tastefully create something exquisite and meaningful – but those musicians are the special ones.

I have realized this week that improvisation is not only a part of music, but also a part of life.  This week has presented my family with unexpected challenges that have caused us to improvise.  We have had to decide whether we would complain or improvise.  Our weaknesses have been exposed and we have had to choose whether to remain unnoticed, overpower, or make something meaningful out of our situation.

What prepares us for improvisation in music is practicing the basics – learning scales and theory, playing to a metronome and staying in tune.  Listening to other musicians gives us inspiration to try new things and to listen for new structures.  Stretching ourselves little by little prepares us for when we are faced with the unexpected in the middle of a song or a set.  Our gear and our rock n’ roll attitudes cannot cover up bad musicianship when we are forced to improvise.

Likewise what prepares us for improvisation in life is focusing on the basics.  Rather than busying ourselves accumulating things or impressing people, establishing the right priorities in life and surrounding ourselves with the right people prepares us to naturally choose those things when presented with difficulties.  Our money, our status, our things – those cannot cover up our flaws when we are faced with personal difficulty.

Some of the most inspiring and creative art comes out of improvisation.  There is a level of comfort we find in routine and doing the same things over and over, but there is beauty in being stretched.  Just like improvisation brings out the best in musicians while simultaneously revealing their weaknesses, it can do the same in our personal lives.  We can choose to cower or make excuses, or we can choose to make something beautiful out of what others may see as rubble.

Isaiah 61:3 speaks of the God who takes our ashes and makes something beautiful.  It does not say that there will not be ashes or mourning or difficulty, but rather that the ultimate Creator will take what we see as ugly and make something beautiful.  Our lives are a moving image of God’s artwork and design. He is not surprised by our warts or our failures, but rather takes those things and makes a masterpiece out of them.

This week has caused me to reflect on my own preparation.  May you be inspired to improvise and make something meaningful and beautiful out of your present struggles.

the sound of silence

Keith Richards once described silence as the canvas upon which the colors of music become art.

“A painter starts with a blank canvas, and as a musician, your canvas is silence. You don’t want to cover it all up. So if you know what you’re doing as a musician, you play the silences. You can’t fall into that trap of trying to get everything in and playing so fast. You have to take time and pace yourself. Otherwise, technically you may make people go ‘wow’, but it doesn’t make good music.”

The family has been out-of-town all week and the sounds of laughter, tears, song, and screaming have been absent.  It has caused me to reflect on the sound of silence.  Many of us try to fill our lives with sound – a television on in the background, an iPod in our ears, a radio on our commute, even “white noise” to put us to sleep.  Sound is a beautiful thing.

However, in our pursuit of sound, I wonder if we have lost the discipline of silence.  Perhaps some of us are even fearful of the silence?  The movement of air across membranes at different frequencies often connects us to memories or emotions.  Music is powerful.  I wonder though, if sometimes we are afraid of what the silence might show us?  We would rather cover up our pain or insecurity with sound than sit in the silence.

Silence is what makes music beautiful.  Silence is not only the absence of sound – it is the presence of reflection.  Silence is what allows for dynamics and motion in music – as well as in life.  Silence is what has caused me to appreciate the sounds of my life – the laughter and tears, the songs and the screaming – that I too often take for granted.

There is a powerful lesson about silence from the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11.  After an incredible journey from the summit of spiritual experience to the valley of despair and depression, Elijah found himself alone in a cave awaiting an answer from God.  As he waited, he was visited by a crushing wind, a destructive earthquake, and a consuming fire.  God was not in the extravagant displays, but instead followed those in a “gentle whisper.”  The literal translation of the phrase is “the sound of silence.”  The singular most defining moment in this man’s life was not in the extravagant, but was in the silence.

Silence not only give motion to music, but it opens a door for us to hear the things we may be hiding from.  Silence is its own language which we must learn to speak just as fluently as the language of sound.  We must listen intently for the sound of silence.

MuteMath Spotlight

I have only discovered this band in the past few months and have been thoroughly impressed with their writing.  Musically, they blend rhythm with ambience to create a sense of urgency in the listener.

A few weeks ago we used this song to set the stage for a night that looked at the things that hold us hostage.  As the song began with the single guitar line and the chorus of synchronized claps, a single spotlight pierced the blackness to reveal nothing more than a microphone.  As the drums entered, a tall figure emerged in to the circle of the spotlight visibly disturbed by its brightness.  Suddenly he realized that he was bound from head to toe in ropes that restricted his movement.  He tried with everything he could to escape this madness but the more he struggled the tighter the ropes cinched around his wrists and torso.  As much as he wanted to leave this spotlight, once inside of it, he could not escape.  The hostage went on to sing of trying everything to no avail and holding on to the things that caused him pain – struggling to escape from his situation the whole time.  While he poured his heart out, his thoughts and secrets were being broadcast on two giant screens for all to see, “liar, addict, pornography, lust, suicide….” – the bold bright letters harshly contrasted against the blackness which was his life.  As the chaos of the drums subsided but for a moment, this character surrendered the struggle and fell in to his Creator’s arms.  And the ropes?  They suddenly sloughed off his body.  Finally unrestrained, the man began to dance in his newfound freedom as the chaos of the music returned.

This song helped to paint a picture of the things that hold us hostage without us even realizing they do.  The first step to finding freedom is to bring those things in to the spotlight.  When we do, it is difficult and we are often embarrassed and want nothing more than to return to our shadows.  But, the spotlight is where we find healing.

Where does my heart need healing?  Where is there darkness that I need light?  What am I afraid of bringing in to the open?

why?

I have a highly addictive personality.  This has not been an easy lesson to learn and perhaps even more difficult to admit.  For some people, this flaw brings about a life of extremes – success and destruction.  Addictive people cannot be moderately committed to something – and such is my weakness.

Which leads me to blogging.  My weakness has taught me that I must be purposeful in everything I do.  My addictions must be purposeful if they are not to destroy me.  I must proceed with caution in new ventures lest they consume me.  So as I begin this blog, I must ask the question “why?”

Many blogs have an agenda or a message which they desire to propagate.  This is a great medium to carry out such a task.  Everyone has opinions (myself included) which we share with the world.

For me, my blog must be different lest I become consumed with blogrolls and google hits.  My vision for this is to become somewhat of my own personal journal.  It is my thoughts expressed in words.  It is not a diary of my secrets confessions, but rather the questions that I ask and the lessons that I learn.

But why are you publishing your journal for the whole world to see?  First of all, I don’t care if no one sees it.  This is a healthy exercise for me.  But, if they do see it, I hope that this can be an encouragement to them and that it could be a place we can share together – moving towards creativity and expression together.

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