twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘music

(seven weeks) a lenten journal

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(one)
monday.

all of the Things had been done

and instead of finding peace my heart exploded in a stream of physical fear late night phone calls and in the midst of phrases unuttered and hearts drawn into compassion and great aching voids of understanding unwilling to admit that the wrenching came from anything at all being wrong

everything weight, heavy, heavy, heavy

 

another way presented itself
it was treadwatertreadwatertread.
or accept the hand pulling me into the boat

and the thought that perhaps the best way to handle
drowning
wasn’t to keep treading to become a stronger swimmer to fight for every gulp of oxygen
but to realize that maybe
the drowning could be ascribed
to the size of the ocean
and indicated no fault in the strength of the swimmer

 

on wednesday we all returned to dust
each and every and all

in my weakness, imbalance, humanity

i accepted the invitation into the boat
a clean break
clear start
opening, honesty, redemptive connection

 

it’s impossible to stop drowning if you insist on staying in the water
you’re only delaying the inevitable

a floodgate, an outpouring, made space for grace i couldn’t understand
when the man who knows and keeps the law is wracked with internal shame and guilt and the prostitute shatters her life savings at the feet of an itinerant rabbi
who has found the heart of the matter?

 

sometimes, when you get the queen of hearts, you’ll still have a chance to shoot the moon

 

“i have seen the burden God has laid in men
he has set eternity in the hearts of men
he has made everything beautiful in its time
yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
-ecclesiastes

 

(two)

a gracious, still space.

a room marked “peace”
a back porch and a basement and a bookshelf
generous company, great faithfulness, rescue and shelter
hope unspoken vows and freedom to move freely
binding beginnings and endings into covenant purposes of friendship

 

space to pause, freedom to live the questions as we are brought through

and yet the snare tugs and much is unprocessed and grace is grating and the space is aching

“i remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall
i well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 

yet this i call to mind and therefore i have hope:

because  of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
i say to myself “the Lord is my portion, therefore i will wait for Him”
-jeremiah’s lamentations

 

(three)

honesty long overdue patches cracks in aging friendships

but stories also confirm
the ship is still sinking

perfect hands dig through the mud
uncovering the precise clay needed
the pot is made to be filled, to be emptied, to be filled again
to be rich with purpose
and always rich with hope

 

boundaries become opportunities
which stop patterns from becoming identities

 

ten days is the longest time, and i am a fraudulent mess

refuge in the smallest cabin on the humblest lake
and it is snowing
and i find it easier to wrestle with You than with myself
as i seek to catch an echo

 

none of us can claim full representation
we are tiles in your mosaic
who need each other as others
 blessed, sacred, rooted in holy solitude

my wandering heart is bound in this goodness and grace
caught up in swirling sacred, i call attention to the mystery and find a tangible freedom

 

“God talks quite audibly before one is created,
then walks in silence beside you into the night.
but the words, before one is given one’s start,
these cloudy words are:
guided by your senses you are sent;
walk to the rim of your desire;
be my attire.

 grow like fire behind the scenes
so your shadows stretch and hover,
becoming my cover.

allow it all to happen:beauty and terror.
just press on! no feeling is an error. but don’t get severed from me.

close is this land,
which one calls life.

you will recognize it by its strife.

take my hand”
– r.m. rilke, the book of the monkish life

 

(four)

we are a covenant people

and as i stand before you this is less about me
and more about us

the pulpit was a life raft
a holy and broken hallelujah
a gift that never had to become an identity

a simple, homemade dinner and a pull out couch
extensions of grace
invitations into a family

 

the war is great
but the field is leveled and the ground is solid
we are not given weapons to show our own finesse
instead it is armor

and we trust the strength of the maker who is present with us
and knows where we will go from here

louisville slugger vision retrospective
return to banjosity
interwoven threads of grace
honest feedback
a scrappy band that refuses to give up
mustard seeds cracking pavement

 

as the tender places heal on this scarred back
even the blanket of grace cuts like burlap

i see it as abrasive, ill-fitting-undeserved
and want to prove i’ll never be able to wear it

the healing is slow, almost imperceptible
nowhere near fast enough for what i need
i feel the old coat will never be shed

faith grows from knowing exactly how much i can’t handle
and trusting that there is one who can

against all hope, abram, in hope, believed”
– the apostle paul, to the romans

 

(five)

to go out in joy

to be sent so full and so assured
to build well and laugh together
to see grace, peace and space

ice cream on the kitchen floor

 

all is quieter, less dramatic than what I’d expect
it is also deeper, truer, and far more beautiful
a sweet and subtle work that tints every moment

in the work of months and years and half a decade
this heart is still being redeemed

 

we test our limits, argue for out limitations
and find grace is the essential fabric of the coat we’re seeking to jettison

suddenly there are stories to tell and the opportunity to stand firm
to fight it by name
to pray out loud
in quivering moments of boldness

 

aching for rest and permanence, transcendence and glory

 

someday every point of rest won’t feel like a waystation
for the time will come to settle and breathe
the dwellings will no longer be temporary

the goal will no longer be onward and upward, but downward and deeper

sacredness is not found on top of a mountain
but in the sweat on our backs and the dirt under our fingernails
we will see glory in the ash from which we are emerging

it will be a good and gentle place to begin a garden together
beauty and nourishment rise form the compost heap

 

as far as the trains could have taken us
we will never see anything more wonderfully bathed in grace and in glory  

 

for i can not be defined by what i will never be

for the foolishness of god is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of god is stronger than man’s strength”
– the apostle paul, to the corinthians

 

(six)

a return to a home all but forgotten

rivers and roads, hills and hollers
mountain air on the front porch
notebooks and guitars and typewriters

 

and it smells like it’s supposed to

 

the bittersweet tears trapped behind the eyes of monday are impossible to find on tuesday

 

from a great height, the clouds look so very substantial
from the ground they block the sun and act outside of our control

but they’ll never be solid
for the sun persists on shining
the world never remains bathed in darkness
the clouds never hold together

it’s fruitless to focus on the strength of the cloud
what it hides from us, or what it’s essential shape and substance is

because when they dissipate, we’ll realize
our lives have been marked as children of light all along
so we study the strength and substance and character of the sun

 

after three years my heart still knows how to breathe here

you are contrast and consolation
beauty and rage and strength
depth and truth and steadfastness

 

it’s a particular grace, to be remembered
amongst a group of people who make a living out of tossing starfish back in the ocean, one at a time

what would seem a daunting choice  has been taken out of my hands

humbled
called to abandon illusory successes
remove the chip form my shoulder
lay down the mantle
stop defending myself
and come and die

 

here at the last i find boasting only in impeccable and present grace
joining in a family for which faith is a lifeline, not a hobby

the miracle in others helps me find it in myself
in my pride, fear, insecurity, mess and humanity
the invitation stands to be exactly myself

to live the story that is being granted to me
to be surprised by parallels, and delight in intersections

vibrant stories
creativity in simplicity

perhaps i wont always have to do the hardest thing i can think of
you are preparing the place for me, and me for the place
it is a beautiful symmetry of liturgy and history
hope and healing and old-time-religion

 

somehow there is still a burr in my heart
a dominant and particular proclivity threatening to jam up
the process of knowing others and becoming known

 

and yet i recall that a month ago i was basking in provision faster and wider and deeper than i could ask or imagine

 

he has walled up my way so that i cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.
he has stripped from me my glory, and taken the crown from my head.
he breaks me down on every side and i am gone, and my hope he has pulled up like a tree.

i know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh i shall see god,
i myself will see him with my own eyes – i, and not another.
how my heart yearns within me!
– job

 

(seven)

this week begs for silence.
space.
reverence.

a renewed awareness that nothing in myself will ever quite
fulfill the need for something in which to believe

a twisted ankle humbles
good conversation exalts
in equal and opposite measure

the inclination is to rebuild walls
to withhold to protect
to root out toxicity
to see passion as a fool’s errand

because i cannot keep working so very hard
to not be who i am

i cannot stand as judge and jury and prosecution and accused

and the necessity for a living sacrifice becomes painfully clear

“thistled ground, tomb of my love, heart torn apart  coming God, soften the soil tend now the scars
‘love’, you said, poured out like wine, broken like bread waken us, enliven our minds, unearth the dead

rend this heart of stone and mend it into flesh and let your love bring me to life 
yield this hardened earth until a garden spills the ground and brings us back to life 

open, your love breaks us open  resurrects a garden, a garden “
the liturgists, garden

 

(day one)

 

 

everything. is. new.

emerging from an evening of doubt and fear and uncertainty
radiant, sure, strong hope

the tension of a heart that longs to go without having to leave
but is inclined to leave before it is time to go

placed beautifully in context

which reminds me of the following:
seriousness is  not a fruit of the spirit –  but joy is
the world will never again be flooded with a deluge, an extinction – but with overwhelming light and grace
that partnership and purpose and pure personal happiness are gifts –  not essential rights
that heart and family and community and hope will always carry human tension – but can also be the seat of remarkable peace
that our struggle is not against the overwhelming circumstance –  but against the lies the accuser brings into the circumstance
and that even as our hearts are bent against god –  death has been defeated and the lies no longer define us

 

like the resurrection day coming so close after good friday
the grace of this season was all precisely unexpected

though it met exact needs perfectly
though i had been promised it was coming
could not see these graces on the horizon until they were within tangible reach

how much more do we miss because our expectations are limited
to what we can see and feel and touch and understand
unable to see that in two days time our greatest joy will be born out of our greatest sorrow

 

the personal identifiers, the sources of strength
carpentry. liturgy. banjosity.
are being haltingly submitted to hopes of
community. spirituality. service.

this is bittersweet victory
which stems from a strength not my own
and stands to calm the waters such that
the stormy point of ending yields
to a graceful beginning

where less is resolved
less is defined
and more and more is held in hope
and shaped by grace

 

“my eyes have seen the glory of the coming Lord
i
t looks like streets restored after the vicious war
my eyes have seen the glory of the coming Lord
i
t looks like God’s own feet walking along these floors.

my God, you move, and everything is new
the world is changed, never the same
the light has come bearing your name
the dawn that’s breaking in the East shines upon the least of these
and soon, everything is new

 

glory, glory, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah”
-tim coons, everything is new/battle hymn

Written by Taylor Webster

April 21, 2014 at 9:02 pm

a week in four parts: roots, celebration, obedience, benediction

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I promised I’d write about last week. And so, before last week become two weeks ago, here are some ruminations on a week so thoroughly saturated with a restoration that I’d forgotten it’s important to ask for. I think, for the sake of touching on everything a bit, I’d like to chronicle that week in four particular movements. It’s really more like a journal entry than a blog for me, so that I don’t forget anything, but I’ve tried to highlight and refine the lessons I’m learning in hopes that they speak to your heart as well. If I were a good blogger I’d probably make this a series, publish each of the movements separately so that you don’t get overwhelmed and I don’t have to write anything else for the rest of the month, but this is my story, and i am evidently more of a novelist than a blogger, and somehow I think it all needs to be told together. so pull up a chair, brew some tea, and find the story that speaks to you. it was truly an incredible week.

movement I – remember your roots
“it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only”

I am realizing more and more that there are two parts of my life that have been fundamentally shaping me for longer than I can remember. One of them is my deep-heart love of music. The other is my tumultuous journey to calling the Church my home and God’s people my family. Both have always been connected to a pursuit of beauty, truth, and community.

A lot of times, when I’m trying to encourage someone or to help them understand how I’m feeling, I’ll send them a song. There’s something about the emotional quality of music that transcends words or chord patterns or form or structure. Music is. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been aching for ages to see and hear songs rise up from the church that are written by musicians, not by praise bands with agendas or rockstars seeking performance highs, but the people who see the beauty and life and breath in music that is layered and complex and interesting and honest and through all of those things, deeply joyful. With the rise of sites like noisetrade, bandcamp, and kickstarter, this is finally coming to life. Music is no longer controlled by an industry – artists are able to connect directly with those who have ears to hear and create something together that brings joy to both of their hearts.

This last week, I was able to attend concerts of two artists who have a remarkable gift for calling me back to where I’m from. I’ve always had an uncanny love for live music, and these bands reminded me why that is a good. thing. (And why banjos are completely essential to any live performance.) These first guys, The Oh Hello’s ( their album is pay-what-you-can at http://theohhellos.com/ and you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to not at least listen!) are intentionally independent and self produced. They do their own CD art, dye their own t-shirts, and are a beautiful model of radical community. Seeing this troupe of 11 young people playing a sold-out Bluebird show in their first-ever tour stop outside of their home state of Texas, the joy and love and passion were evident. They seemed so surprised and humbled that we were all so excited to see them, and their songs called us to worship with reverence and joy, honesty and love, in a chamber-folk style that far surpasses even the charms and talents of the famed Mumford quartet.
The second group, also playing their first shows outside of their home state this summer, are a trio of gents known as Judah and the Lion. We saw them for free at a church in Littleton, but they play with energy that rivals some of the best arena concerts I’ve seen. It’s Americana at it’s best, with banjo, mandolin, and guitar playfully intertwining, singing true, deep, and pure, straight to your soul as your foot can’t help but stomp and your hands can’t help but clap. Musicians like these, who are so willing to have a good chat with the audience after the show, who have the faith to put their music out for free on the internet, and who have the artistic integrity to create exactly as they are called to. These are the ones who give me hope, that someday our national imagination will be recaptured by the artists who understand how to sing to our souls.

Speaking of music. Last week I had the opportunity to worship with the body of Christ in five different communities. The youth camp outside of Colorado Springs, the hipster church in Denver, the student community gathering at the YMCA in Winter Park, the small and focused ministry of a sprawling megachurch in Highlands Ranch, and of course, my home church in Fort Collins. In the past I have attended such varied worship gatherings, but always with a critical eye. Were the people genuine, was the music well done, was the stage design attractive, did the speaker give me something to think about while I drove home? Such questions have their place, of course, but when you attend a family gathering, you shouldn’t be there to criticize your less-fashionable aunt or wonder why the sweet tea was brewed so much stronger than you like it. You should be rejoicing to simply be together again.

And so it was this last week. I saw things in these communities that I’d never seen before, glimpses of beauty and truth and the kingdom bursting forth. And while the differences in background culture, shape, and style were indeed visible, what was more striking were the similarities. Whether we were gathered in a basement, an aging chapel, a mountaintop tent, or a converted gymnasium, so many elements were the same. The call to sing out to our creator, the sense of sacred space even in the most ordinary location, the need for us to teach each other and share our stories, the desire to connect as a family, and all the love that is only possible when it is proclaimed in Jesus’ name. I was raised in churches that met in a good-sized suburban facility, a strip mall/movie theater/ a burgeoning megachurch campus, and a well-established community chapel. And for all the grief it’s given me, for all the heartache and questioning, there has also been more joy in these places than any earthly kingdom should allow. Wherever else I go, the North American church will always be my first home.

movement II – celebrate who you are.
“now i am a heart, with a head on my shoulders, and i’ll say that i’m a different child”

If you had told me one year ago that my heart would grow to be so stretchy, I would have laughed and told you it was time to get back to work. A year ago I was fighting to establish new, grow-up rhythms, and just barely beginning to concede the fact that the only rhythms that matter are the ones which stem from my identity as the beloved child, one of a multitude of beautifully created siblings.

Last week I had the opportunity to reunite both with my newly-formed heart family and with one of my dearest friends. As a bit of background, having a “best friend” has always been inordinately important to me. I have suffered from “Best Friend Envy”. I want to know that I matter to someone else as much as they matter to me, and the label has always seemed to be the surest way to guarantee continued closeness. And what I’ve been learning, most especially in the last year, is that I don’t need to cling to “best friends” any more.

Because I have been invited to join a family. A family who rejoices when someone new is invited in, whether it is a child, a spouse, a long-lost cousin, or a soul sister. Saying goodbye to a family member isn’t so scary, because you know how that no matter how many many miles or months, states or seasons come between you, you’ll always be at home when you’re together again. If you asked me today who my best friend is, I’d have to list probably more than a dozen women. (It’s probably good I won’t have to narrow these fantastic women down into a manageable wedding party anytime soon. But you ladies know who you are – and there’s no question in my heart you’d all be standing up there with me.)

So this heart family. These crazy undergrads who burst into my life unkempt and uninvited. The students I vowed I’d never live with. They have grown my heart exponentially. None of us make sense together – last year it was two sophomores, two juniors, and one recent graduate cohabiting this condo which has its own thoroughly awkward beauty. We represent the math, psychology, biology, hdfs (prepping to run a daycare facility), and theatre design departments of this university, and our personalities are as diverse as our disciplines.

But from these women, I have learned the beauty of seeking God together, cooking extravagant dinners with open invitations, holding hands and giving hugs when words are insufficient, embracing hospitality which calls us to truly love our (next door) neighbors, operating with an emotional range which allows for crying and laughing to occupy the same moment, seeking to love family and friends and those the world rejects with deep passion and a strong commitment, and daily choosing fierce love and friendship which claims family where there should be none. I am humbled and thankful and in no way deserving of how well they love me. The weekend reunion was our last time to all be together (we just shipped one off to Australia for a semester!) and our first instinct was to find a place to pray and simply give thanks. It’s the first time I’ve prayed with a group and heard the words flow so freely and without hesitation from every single person’s heart. What a beautiful, beautiful gift.

And then to visit this dear, dear friend, who has walked closely with me through every twist and turn the last year has thrown my way. What a blessing to have a few hours in the midst of a hurried summer to simply be in the same place. To share stories of triumphs and challenges, to acknowledge frustration and hope, to be able to see clearly that we were both exactly where we most needed to be. To know each other enough to know what was cause for celebration, which circumstances would prove particularly obtuse, and how each other’s hearts would respond and what we needed most to hear. And to rejoice in God’s goodness weaving through all of it. It was a time for city-lovers to rest in the garden, to see the beauty of where we’re from before we rush headlong into where we’re going. (For more on gardens and cities, see Monday’s post at https://twentybydesign.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/garden-to-a-city-living-the-story/)

And so. I may seem to be a bit of a different child. But I am rejoicing at having found my family.

movement III – step. in.
“in the silence, i heard you calling out to me”


Have you ever been asked to do something which seems outrageous, so far outside of your comfort zone and what seems to make sense? In my experience there are two responses to this invitation. The first is to shake our heads, both at the foolishness of the asker in assuming we’d be capable, and to express our own thorough conviction that this is not what we were made to be. The other is to see the joy in the eyes of the asker, to trust that they have considered all of the possible pitfalls and still want you to join in, and to step in. Whether out of hesitant obedience or joyful compliance, step in.

Relatable Scenario A: When random internet browsing across the blog of a songwriter you’ve only recently discovered yields a book recommendation that intrigues you, step in. Don’t look up the book, delight in the first few chapters, but assume the $12 Amazon price tag won’t be worth it because, I don’t know, you were going to use that money for a cheeseburger and a milkshake or something. Get the book, not knowing entirely why, but knowing it’s going to be important. Devour it, letting the words and stories and experiences wash over you like a tidal wave. And then, respond. 

When I ordered Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, I wasn’t expecting my heart to find a home there. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly realize that this book expresses, clarifies, and confirms so much of what has felt both called and disconnected in my own heart for so many seasons. As I wrote in a letter, attempting to describe this joy and confirmation:

“You know how it is once you admit something that you’ve been unsure of inside of yourself for a long time and all of a sudden it just seems to make sense? That’s what reading Eugene’s book was for me. Verbalized a lot of things I have discredited inside of myself because no one ever gave me words for them before
Outside of God, I can’t explain it, but I do know that whatever happens from here on out, and whatever form it takes, somehow there is nothing I am more deep-heart excited about than serving, loving, and growing with the Church. Nothing sounds more challenging. And nothing sounds more worth it.
I know I am young and I have so much to learn, and life experience has taught me not to get excited or have dreams or hope for things or ask for things. I am excited about this. I am hopeful about this. Learning to verbalize my dream is helping me to find a new joy in reading, praying, and living – and even to be challenged by the vastness of what I don’t know and seeing how growing as a disciple of Christ is going to be a series of small arrivals as He continues to stir up and turn over the rock-riddled soil in my heart.”

The steps of becoming that this book is inspiring in me have been beyond expectation. Writing that letter sparked a conversation which was more honest than any I’ve ever had about these dreams that I have. And in that conversation, my heart was encouraged and affirmed and given space to continue growing. I am beginning to take the first small steps of doing, when up until now thinking and understanding have always seemed more important. And the joy in finally doing what your heart and soul were made to do is so indescribably full. All I can do right now is stand in awe, feeling just as thoroughly unqualified as Jeremiah and David and Moses. Who, through their following, didn’t turn out so bad in the long run.

Relatable Scenario B: When a close friend asks you to pray for a friend of theirs who is facing a tough season, step in. Don’t stop at the “Yeah, of course I’ll pray for them, mmmm, that sounds so hard” response. Recognize that perhaps you are being asked to be part of the answer to that prayer. You have unique gifts and resources, and you are being asked to actually do something about the needs of this person who up to this point has been only a marginal acquaintance.

When I sent the message I knew I had been asked to send, I knew I couldn’t control how it would be received or anticipate what it would mean. But this simple act of obedience has become a wellspring of blessing. I have since had the opportunity to meet with this incredible young woman. I was able see firsthand her passion and vision for the work God is calling her to do, and to be encouraged by her affirmations of what He’s been doing in my own heart, and to feel thoroughly blessed and humbled by the opportunity to partner with her in the next steps of her journey.
I’m learning that the absolute best kind of generosity is the relational kind. As much as I wanted obedience to look like writing a facebook message and sending a gift from the comfort of my own home, the beauty of generosity is the way that it calls us into each other’s circumstances as we begin bearing one another’s burdens and learning to walk the road together. Give as freely as you have received, all the while praising God from whom all blessings flow.

movement IV – benediction
“whatever may pass. whatever lies before me. let me be singing when the evening comes”

there are no clean endings or conclusions to these stories. all that is left is to continue living, to continue sharing our stories, and to remember. there is always a reason to sing.

i will sing, sing, sing to my God, my King
for all else fades away
and i will love, love, love, with this heart You’ve made
for You’ve been good always

garden to a city – living the story

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last night i was driving down the highway after spending a night giving praise with a group of people who have committed themselves to walking the road to recovery. context is everything – you haven’t really felt “brokenness aside” or “beautiful things” until you’ve heard them bookended by stories of radical recovery, transformation, and healing.
i’ve spent probably twenty hours on the road this week, and for most of them i’ve had the lyrics and melodies of others as my traveling companion. on this drive, i was prompted to let the silence have it’s day. and, to quote the oh hellos, “in the silence, i heard You calling out to me.” lyrics began to flow from my lips that i’d never sung or composed before, and i was swept up in the beauty of a story that was at once both deeply my own and thoroughly belonging to all of us.

this is the only phrase i can still remember upon waking this morning.

“you called me child, you called me shepherd, you called me out from elder son
though you knew the depths and agonies of all the wrong i’d done
and no, i’ll never understand the way you love the ones who roam
but i’m your child, they’re my brothers, and i’ll welcome them back home”

this is my story. much more specifically, it is the story of this past year. i am blessed to find myself at the end of a week that was saturated with joyful reflection, reconnection, and restoration. and in this time of pause from the rush of daily life, i was able to see just how far this weary traveler has come this year. what a wonderful thing to begin to learn how to live into this story. i’m going to do a follow-up post in the next couple days reflecting on all the beauty of this year’s journey, but for today, it is enough to breathe deep and give thanks before plunging headlong into another year.

here’s one of my favorite anecdotes this week, which sets the tone for upcoming reflections. in the midst of a conversation with a city-loving friend about how she is learning to cultivate a love for the colorado mountains which have always seemed to speak so clearly to her peers, i had this realization (an offshoot of a seed that’s been planted in my church community). “well, the story of creation is a journey from a garden to a city. and so we love the garden, because it reminds us where we’re from. but we love the city because it reminds us where we’re going.”

this week, i was in the garden. that place of beauty and peace and simplicity, where our hearts will always ache to return. i was reminded of where the seeds in my heart were planted, and given time and space to water what is just beginning to blossom. and now, i’m returning to my city. this place of chaos and collision and complexity. here i will be about my father’s business in declaring the coming of a new kingdom as heaven and earth collide. what a wonderful place to be.

Written by Taylor Webster

July 8, 2013 at 8:32 am

tuning the banjo

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I’ve been trying to play my banjo all weekend. It’s been a few weeks since I really sat down and let loose and played. And while my fingers still remember the chords and the picking patterns, until this afternoon, nothing sounded quite right.

I have a tendency to be a bit proud with my banjo. I was trying to tune it by ear, based off an online tuner that simply dictated the right notes without any sense of feedback, leaving my innate sense of pitch to guess as close as I could. And to be honest, this morning it sounded pretty awful.

This afternoon, I finally used a tuner from the internet that fed through my laptop microphone, precisely analyzing every pitch and letting me know how close I was to the correct note and what steps I needed to take to get all my strings in harmony.

And let me tell you. The little guy sounded incredible.

As I often like to say, I think there’s a lesson in that. As the afternoon progressed, the reminder to “remember to tune your banjo” kept rolling over and over in my head.

I can see places in my life where I’ve been trying to hammer things out based on already established technique and personal proficiency. It is easy to approach a challenge, a problem, or even a celebration and say “Of course! I’ve learned how to do this already. Hand me the instrument and I’ll crank out that tune for you.” This often leads to a firm grasp that threatens to overshadow the delicacies and beauties and quirks of the individual instrument, assuming that what has once worked will always work, and to simply keep hammering even as the instrument groans with a desire to be more fully tuned before such a difficult melody is attempted.

It is much more challenging to approach the instrument with trembling hands and say “Yes. This is something I once knew how to do. I can be part of creating beauty here. The patterns and chords and melody are all familiar to me, and I know what this beautiful instrument should sound like at its best. But before we even start, we have to take time for the strings. We have to check each one, slowly and carefully, and make sure that it rings true, pure, and clear.” So often, in seeking to create and dream, live and hope, challenge and encourage, we skip the tuning step. We forget that it does not matter how many patterns and progressions and theory we know. If the strings have not been tuned, our music will always be devoid of beauty and clarity.

And so, in seeking to continue moving forward, I am reminded that the life patterns and technical proficiencies and skills I have acquired on the journey will mean very little if the strings at the heart of the instrument have fallen out of tune. Slowly and deliberately, I want to retune every string so that it rings true with the heart of the Creator whose song is the only true melody in my soul. I pray that as the tuning draws closer to the intended notes, the song which bursts forth would surpass the dull plodding of answers and routines, muscle memory and technical knowledge, and begin to glow with the bright hope of a sure heart and a resounding joy.

 

Written by Taylor Webster

September 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Where There Is Darkness, Let There Be Light

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Wake up, wake up, Oh sleeper from the dead, Wake up
Rejoice you lonely and lost, you sick and despised, all will be made right.

Our cultural mythology is saturated with images of awakening what has long been asleep, welcoming home the lost and lonely, and reclaiming beauty from dust. When I saw Gungor in concert at the House of Blues in San Diego, the senses of awakening, welcoming, and reclaiming were powerfully present. It ranks as one of the most beautiful live entertainment experiences I’ve ever had. As I was riding home from the concert, there was so much in my head and on my heart. I struggled earlier in the night to find words to tell my friends how I was feeling, so I searched my purse for a pen, and unable to find one I began writing a text to myself in a desperate effort to express myself. Here’s what came out. It’s a bit raw, but I think it says a bit of what I mean:

The sheer joy of joining with the original creator(s) in the live act of creation. The redemption of all things. The pain of years of awful music, the ache of years of empty art. A celebration in the most beautiful way of the God who enters into relationship with our despicable broken selves. The pure heart of one whose scars speak of healing and restoration, of making all things new through the grace at the foot of the cross/throne, the message that it didn’t end with it all being easy or clear or resolved, but with a profound sense that it had all been worth it. The art elevated it above other experiences, and the passion to partner with Christ in creation was awe inspiring. The willingness to lay such powerful and profitable gifts at the foot of the cross was more than they could have easily been asked to give. It’s not about celebrity worship, it’s about welcoming the estranged patellas back into the body and giving the stiffened limbs freedom to move, to once again dance with joy and passion before the king.

To me, this somehow managed to say everything it needed to say. But for those who don’t live inside my mind (ok, that’s everyone!) I’d like to explain a bit more.

This concert spoke to aches and deep pains I’ve carried for a long time. I’ve written before about how I’ve often been frustrated with the quality of musicianship in church music. I remember going to churches growing up and coming home in tears because the music was so far from reflecting the passion and beauty that was the God I longed to see. On the other side, I’ve gone to dozens of “secular” concerts and been floored by the quality of the music and production, but ultimately left feeling unfulfilled. The music awakened an ache to connect to something beautiful, but never quite followed through with an answer. To see the band which has made some of the most beautiful worship music I’ve ever heard playing in a mainstream concert venue like the House of Blues was wonderfully redemptive, speaking into the desire to see God and music working together rather than being at odds with each other.

Why see this concert live, rather than just keep listening to the CD by myself? Partnership. Community. A sense that something beautiful was created in that moment, never to be replicated, and that the live act of creation was a partnership between the band and the audience and the creator of all things. And being able to witness the incredible musical gifts of the entire band (lead guitar, bass, drums, banjo, cellos, violin, keyboards, glockenspiel, and all the other cameo instruments) made me realize – they don’t have to be doing this. All of these people are talented enough to be able to headline a successful indie rock band if they were willing to live under a different banner, write songs about relationships and why they’re great and why they’re tough and why bars are awesome. But that’s not the life they chose. They took their gifts, and they did something that mattered. That was humbling and inspiring.

The structure of the concert – four movements from Creation, The Fall, The Bride, and Re-Creation, was a powerful heart journey. Not all of it was easy to swallow. The beauty was present, but so were the scars. The journey through our triumphs and failures made it clearer to see that every part had been absolutely essential to the whole, worth the pain even. By the time they returned to sing “Beautiful Things” as an encore, I had a new understanding of what it means to be in relationship with a God who makes beautiful things out of us. How even in the midst of the most acute awareness of our brokenness, He is creating life out of chaos, reminding us that this is not the end, and guiding us to the messiah who will make all things new.

When I was first writing I didn’t know why I picked the patella for an analogy, it was simply the first part to come to my mind. As I continued tapping letters into my phone, I realized that in many ways, the patella is exactly what the arts often become to the life of the church. A body part that is never the first to come to mind or the one all the heroic stories are written about, but which serves a beautifully vital role in the life of the whole. Yes, we can clump around on our stiffened limbs all we want, plodding through life in a utilitarian, functional manner, pretending we never feel the urge to bend. But isn’t life so much more beautiful when we bend our knees? Beautiful music bends our knees in all sorts of ways – calling us into reverent moments of awe and wonder, and giving us the freedom to dance and allow our bodies to say what our mouths cannot. My prayer is that we will not simply keep music as part of a checklist, or ever take it for granted, but that we would allow it to call us to bend our knees, in reverence, and in joy.

And that the music would always be there to remind us that this is not the end.

Written by Taylor Webster

March 19, 2012 at 11:28 am

Three Album Heart

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I think a lot about art and faith. How our culture mashes them together, and how it tries to tear them apart.  While writing this I went to the website of a Contemporary Christian Music radio station, and was greeted by a  challenge to listen to nothing but “Christian” music for thirty days and see how my life would be uplifted and inspired. And I thought “Oh. Ok CCM station. You tell me exactly what Christian Music is. And I’ll totally do it. Can I still listen to Sigur Ros? The Decemberists? Mumford and Sons? What about LMFAO in hip-hop class? Or Taylor Swift with my pals who have an inexplicable love for sappy country ballads? Or those Guinness-swiggin’, kilt-wearin’ heroes of Irish Rock, Enter the Haggis? Where do I draw the line?”

Because here’s the danger with labels. They’re exclusive. Anytime you try to define what something is, you usually define what it isn’t. So when we say that there’s one radio station on the market playing Christian music, we’re also automatically saying that whatever we exclude from the station isn’t Christian. Whatever else out there is dangerous, so you better keep the dial on CCM109.3 24/7. And that’s just not the way music works. A desire to engage with the arts should come from a desire to expand your horizons, not to narrow them.

This post was inspired by my attempt today to sum up the music I love as a gift for a dear friend. Because she doesn’t buy much music for herself, I had to make  three CDs to cover all I wanted to share. Each volume came out to a particular theme. Yes, theme as in label as in what I ‘m railing against. But people like categories. So stick with it.

The first volume was called “Church Music.” It had all of that that big, sweeping, anthemic, super-chorus stuff we love to sing really loud in big groups, and which could probably be found on a CCM station and in the Sunday service of many an American church. And I do love that stuff. I do. There’s nothing quite like corporate worship, gathering to loudly declare who we are and what we believe, in waves of stirring, encouraging affirmation. This disc had tracks which have all been close to my heart and lead to intimate moments in a corporate worhship setting. Some favorites are Mighty to Save by Hillsong United, You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham, and of course, How He Loves by John Mark McMillan. These songs are beautiful, passionate, and inspirational, most with a decided and intentional upward swing. And they’re written to be sung by groups of people who are reading the lyrics off of a slide projector, often led by a band of volunteer with a basic guitar/bass/drum set up. In short. They’re written to be sung on Sunday morning. And just as the world has always needed psalms and hymns, there will always be a place for church music with memorable choruses and poetic verses. It can truly be a beautiful experience.

The second volume was called “Heart Music.” It featured the songs which have been closest to my heart in the last few months and may never have been played on any radio station that isn’t publicly funded. These songs met me in dark places and spoke hope, reassurance, and solidarity into my heart. Some are by Christian artist. Most aren’t. But all are remarkably honest and beautiful in their own way. From unreleased Mumford & Sons gems like Sister and Lover of the Light to the folksy brilliance of Wagon Wheel by OCMS and Down in the Valley by The Head and the Heart, from the ethereal, hopeful wonder of Med Sud I Eyrum by Sigur Ros to the deep faith of  Audrey Assad’s piano ballad, The House You’re Building, this playlist is much more sonically diverse. The musical styles don’t all quite match up. Some sing about God directly. Some indirectly. Some not at all. Some of the lyrics speak of being lost and sad and alone. But somehow, because they dare to encounter these lower depths, their ascent to the highest, most exuberant peaks seems more honest. More real. More like the life I encounter every day. The raw human desires for peace, belonging, homecoming, and acceptance pervade the work of the many secular artists I grew up listening to. Everyone’s heart music is different, but there’s something about music that we allow into places of our self that nothing else can touch.

I made a third CD, filled with music that couldn’t be confined to either of the previous discs. This one was simply called Gungor. Partially because I wanted my friend to have the entire Ghosts Upon the Earth album and couldn’t bear to parcel out the tracks, but also because what I think Gungor is trying to do is vitally important. They’re looking to a generation of folks who were raised to distrust the musical shallowness and dishonesty they’ve encountered in radio-driven tunes (this isn’t just in CCM. Think about Top 40, country, hip-hop, pop, rock….they’ve all had their insipid moments) and who have turned instead to the honest creativity of  independently-fueled heart music. This generation is serious about God, but also knows that a lot of CCM stops short of what music can be. We long for music inspired by an infinite, passionate, overwhelming creator to hint at the redemption we have yet to fully experience. We ache for music written by other people to explain to us what it means to be human. And we gravitate towards music which tells the story of the interweaving of God’s beauty and our brokenness. To me, that’s what Gungor is all about. It’s not just the brilliant musical composition and deeply insightful lyrics. There are several bands I revere for those qualities. It’s that the music takes me beyond worship of the art itself into the vibrant, living presence of the eternal creator who made all things possible.

Music, like all art, isn’t inherently good or bad in and of itself. It is a vehicle which allows us to unleash and connect with a transcendence it is harder to encounter in an artless world. It is a tool. And, like all tools, the responsibility for damage or edification lies with the user. So I’m going to be a responsible consumer. I’m still going to listen to church music. I’m still going to listen to heart music. I may even get my groove on to some radio Top 40 every once in a while. And if I’ve learned anything from my encounter with Gungor, it’s to appreciate God flowing through all of it, transcending time and tempo and tradition to connect our hearts with His. And that’s worth celebrating.

(Michael Gungor’s  blog post, found here, inspired a lot of this line of thinking. Check it out. http://gungormusic.com/#!/2011/11/zombies-wine-and-christian-music/)

If you’re throwing a party – here are my “Heart Music” and “Church Music” Playlists.

HEART MUSIC

1)      Don’t Carry it All…………………….…….The Decemberists

2)      Helplessness Blues………………………………..Fleet Foxes

3)      Lover of the Light…………………………Mumford and Sons

4)      New Earth……………………………………….…….Zerbin

5)      Sister………………………………………Mumford and Sons

6)      Home is Not Places………………………..The Apache Relay

7)      The House You’re Building……………….……..Audrey Assad

8)      Down in the Valley……….………….The Head and the Heart

9)      Slow Your Breath Down………..………….Future of Forestry

10)  Orphan Girl……………………………………Horse Feathers

11)  Timothy Hay………………………..…………mewithoutYou

12)  The Perpetual Self, Or

“What Would Saul Alinsky Do?”……………….Sufjan Stevens

13)  Hold On to What You Believe…………….Mumford and Sons

14)  Wagon Wheel………………………Old Crow Medicine Show

15)  He Woke Me Up Again…………………………Sufjan Stevens

16)  Med Sud I Eyrum…………………………………….Sigur Ros

17)  Timshel……………………………………Mumford and Sons

18)  Sons & Daughters……………….………….The Decemberists

19)  Old Joy……………………………..…….Noah and the Whale

 CHURCH MUSIC

1)      Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) ………….Chris Tomlin

2)      Our God………………………………..……….Chris Tomlin

3)      Manifesto…………………………………..The City Harmonic

4)      Give me Faith………………………..……..Elevation Worship

5)      How He Loves……………………….…..John Mark McMillan

6)      I Will Waste My Life…………………….……..Misty Edwards

7)      You Won’t Relent………………………………Misty Edwards

8)      Marvelous Light……………………………..……Charlie Hall

9)      Mighty to Save (Live)…………………..……..Hillsong United

10)  The Stand (Live)…………………….……..…..Hillsong United

11)  You’re Beautiful…………………………………Phil Wickham

12)  Twenty Three………………………….……..Aaron Strumpel

13)  Centuries……………………………….…….Aaron Strumpel

Written by Taylor Webster

January 4, 2012 at 12:50 am

New Music Monday! (Worship Edition)

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I started listening to Gungor this week. And I don’t have a lot to say about him. Because it seems to me anyone who can play guitar like this:

And write lyrics like this:

Isn’t going to need my help inspiring people and changing the world 🙂

Written by Taylor Webster

May 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm

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