pilgrimage

Last night I arrived home from Masterpiece Project 2017, an arts camp for teens where I spend one week each summer facilitating a songwriting studio for 10-15 students. Each year has its own theme which we explore together via a camp-wide collaborative project. This year’s theme was “Pilgrimage.”

Through film and song and words and drama and photography, we talked about Journey. The path. The detours that turn out to be the path. Internal conflict. Interwoven paths. Reflecting back and imagining what might be ahead.

It’s resonant from where I stand in this middle part of life, with the accumulation of days growing behind me and still craving more adventure. I can actually count decades now, and say things like, “Remember 20 years ago when Princess Diana died?”

But even this one day, today, was its own micro-pilgrimage from waking with a neck-ache and no agenda to this very moment where I sit in the dark on my back patio, listening to dogs bark and crickets chirp. I have a small glass of red wine and a bit of dark chocolate I was too tired to eat last night.

The in-between hours of daylight included a 90-minute, unplanned conversation with my daughter in this same spot, where we talked philosophy and faith and relationships. There was a trip to the Y where I was surprised by tears (mine) on our way in, and sat instead on the side steps to the building. My daughters found me and sat with me, too. We traveled across town to a church I’ve wanted to visit and were soothed a while by the gentle tone of the pastor’s voice and the truth on his lips. We ventured into Panera to feed our bodies and Target to acquire tools for the upcoming school year. And now here I sit, reflecting.

Today and for the past week I’ve fought hard to stay present and emotionally-armed as I am reminded at every turn of a painful detour in my life. My friend said a week ago: “The detour is the path.” It’s been bouncing around in my head ever since.

And making me angry, too. I mean, some detours could be avoided, right? Some detours become necessary only because people are selfish and put up roadblocks that affect everybody on the road. Right?

Yes.

So what? Here we are. What are we going to do about it? Here I am taking this unexpected route, a route I didn’t see on the map, and have no knowledge of or interest in. Taking this route is going require re-arranging and will make me miss some beautiful things I’ve looked forward to. I’m tired and my pack is heavy and the view ain’t that great.

This detour hurts. A lot.

 Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Sara Groves sang in "Painting Pictures of Egypt": The future looks too hard and I wanna go back.

It's so true it hurts my heart to even listen to it. You get it.

But you know what?

We're doing it. We’re moving along. We woke up this morning, and we put some clothes on our bodies, and we said, “Okay, now what?”

Life is story, and in all great stories, the protagonist only grows when the writer allows them to walk through a fire of some kind. We develop, BECOME, more real, more fully human, when our surroundings become suddenly unfamiliar, and we feel out of sorts even in our own skin.

I adore my little back patio, but sitting here doesn’t make me stronger. You don’t read about patience and magically become patient. You live stuff that makes patience necessary, so you get better at it.

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I don’t have anything new or revolutionary to say, just still teasing it all out, this idea of being a pilgrim in progress towards something Marvelously Other than what we’ve seen.

I’m a whiny pilgrim. I'd like to watch “Gilmore Girls” and sleep on my special, chiropractic pillow and have all my favorite people live closely in a town of tiny houses near the beach. Because that’s my small mind’s best attempt at conjuring a picture of heaven. (I'm pretty sure it’s close.)

I foolishly sang, “I haven’t been asked yet to walk the hard road,” knowing it was a matter of time. I don’t want this stupid hard road. Neither do you. But I know this: A road is a means of travel and connection.

The hard road is not a grave.

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There are no roads to nowhere when you’re listening for the voice of the Maker like a whisper on the wind. When the route gets washed out in the mudslide, we (God + us + our loving people) will innovate another way. We will. We’ll feel sorry for ourselves for a minute. And then we’ll get up, clear some debris and innovate another way.

It'll sometimes feel like hiking barefooted off-trail on rocks, but it won’t feel like we’re doing it alone. Not if we pay attention.

And we’ll make up some decent songs along the way.

Keep going, little pilgrim...there’s beauty around the bend.

 All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

2017 + a book review

First of all, Happy New Year!

Yes, yes, we are 30 days in. But writing here on the blog hasn’t made it to the top of my list before now, so I haven’t said it yet! 

Our first Christmas in Nashville wasn’t half-bad, though we had deep moments of homesickness for our family of friends in North Carolina.

I entered this new year with a mix of emotion: heavy-heartedness around the events shaping our world and culture, and yet a persistent hope that we are fully capable of doing better, of drawing closer together for things that matter.

I woke up with fresh ideas brewing for songwriting, potential projects and collaborations that excite and challenge me, that hopefully will see the light of day and feed others in some meaningful way.

I carried over the awareness that the best way to push back against quiet despair is with loud thanksgiving, so I remind myself of the monumental gifts I still enjoy every single day.

I also started 2017 with an armful of new books - poetry and fiction and memoirs - that help me wake up every morning and think new thoughts.

Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, and Seth Godin were all under the Christmas tree. I don’t usually read just one book at a time but have them all right there on the wicker chest coffee table, and I pick up whichever is calling me at a given moment.

Here’s something from Mary Oliver’s Upstream that spoke to me as an artist:

"No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not.  Still, there are indications.  Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen.  It likes the out-of-doors.  It likes the concentrating mind. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker."

It’s amazing really. The power of a single poem to transform my outlook at the start of the day.  Thank you, Wendell, Mary and Seth for your good and life-giving work.

 

And then I occasionally am lucky enough to get free books from author friends or publishers who are looking for book nerds to potentially review or endorse a new release. Because of that, I’m getting to read an early version of Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home In The World (more on that in the near future!) and Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow.

I don’t know Erin personally, but I wasn’t shocked to discover that she is friends with Tsh Oxenreider - one of my favorite bloggers, thinkers and online pals - and has been working with Tsh on the Simple Show podcast.

I’m not gonna lie. The first thing that drew me to Erin’s book was the cover. Yes, I might sometimes be that shallow. It was just so clean looking. Modern. The layout & design of the hardcover is very cool, very different. She’s a designer, after all.

And also, I like the word “slow” (almost as much as I like the word “quiet”)

Erin is a former art director/stylist. She’s a wife, mother, writer, designer. But most helpful to the rest of us is that her story has had some major challenges to face, which has given her added depth and insight and relatability. Well, it's hardship AND that she’s from Indiana. A midwestern girl who just happens to spend time in Hollywood and be featured by HGTV and the NY Times. Since I attended college in Indiana, I pretty much have to like her.

I’ve seen a lot of writing about “slow living” the past few years, because obviously we’re bad at it. We’re trying, though, and all of us have at least one bee-keeping friend and have tried to grow our own basil. We walk when we can and play games with the kids and celebrate simple moments on Instagram. But we all know it’s an effort in these times when you CAN do/be/see/try/accomplish so much.

So I appreciated reading Erin’s personal story of working harder and harder, to get...where, exactly?? That’s the thing I’m personally realizing: How little we stop and question ourselves on just about anything. We follow whatever crowd we identify with and react emotionally and do-by-default more than we think we do. (At least, I do.)

Foreclosure, bankruptcy and family losses helped Erin see that what “everybody” wants was not actually what she wanted. A Pinterest-perfect house isn’t necessarily a heart-safe home. And work success doesn’t equal life-success.

Though it’s not the only less-is-more story, it is Erin’s unique story, honestly and vulnerably-told, and a good one especially for female friends who struggle with perfectionism and a my-life-looks-plain-next-to-hers inner monologue. Also a good one for the young, creative crowd finishing school and ready to find an exciting place in the world. Erin’s husband is a filmmaker and they spent their first married years in L.A. pursuing work in the arts.

Click here to order your copy of Chasing Slow. Or here.

Well, here's to a new year full of making - music and art and words and moments, stories that light up our small and big patches of the world.

It's an honor to be on this journey of making with you.

Love, Christa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plumb Exhale Tour Journal: 2

PHOTO CREDIT: Edwin & Joyce Ormeo 7 October 2015

Late Monday night, I arrived home and was greeted by my Mom, who had been with the children since I left last Thursday. She loves being with her grand babies & holds up amazingly well, considering how much she gives on so little sleep. All were alive and well & seemed to have had plenty of fun in my absence.

Going into the second weekend of tour was a whole lot less stressful & I enjoyed feeling more established, sliding back into the rhythms & routine of sleeping, unloading, setting up, sound checking, playing, etc.  The people I'm sharing space with are really, really enjoyable humans - funny, kind, intelligent, thoughtful, sincere - which makes it very hard to force myself to go to bed at the end of the day. I keep asking them to please stop having fun so I can get some rest, but they don't listen.

People at all three shows (Indiana & Ohio) were gracious & as always, I loved seeing the unique personality of each one. Sunday night we played in the Gloria Theater, an old movie theater in the small town of Urbana, OH. The vibe was special there & the sound felt really great, for the solo opener especially. :)

Got off the bus Monday morning, used Uber for the first time ever (easy, successful), and spent the afternoon writing with Nicole Witt & Ellie Holcomb, two of my favorite soul-sisters, before heading home.

Reading...

On the flight home, I finally finished The Alchemist, which was such a provocative read that I wish I had read it in a less interrupted way. Also, it was a library book, so I refrained from highlighting, but there was so much I'd like to hold onto and ponder regarding the way we perceive God and our purpose in the world and how we journey.  It's deep and is a good companion to another book I was handed recently, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (Barbara Brown Taylor). Still wading through that one. May have to purchase The Alchemist and go through it again.

But yesterday I stumbled on The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles at the library & am already sucked in. I say "stumbled," but in truth I lean heavily on staff recommendations (at libraries and restaurants) and found that someone named "Emil" and I have very similar tastes.

Another book that has consumed my thoughts lately is The Enneagram Made Easy by Elizabeth Wagele. I brought it on tour to loan to Tiff (Plumb) and now she's hooked, too. You might roll your eyes and think, like my husband, that people should simply BE the way they are and not worry with WHY they are the way they are. Maybe you're right. But I am finding it immensely helpful in a. connecting better with my loved ones and b. connecting the dots of my own person and past.

Oh, and I'm also continuing to work on Peter Enns' The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. It's another provocative book and I'm trying to take it in thoughtfully and weight it all out in my own mind, form my own opinions. (If you have opinions about him & his perspective, I'd prefer not to have them in the comments here. Thanks!)

Listening...

One thing I have found interesting on the road the past couple weekends is how great a divide there is between the world of mainstream Christian music and the world of independent music by Christian artists. I'd like to see more consumers and artists aware of the great work being made outside of CCM/radio.  It goes both ways, of course. I have an unusual vantage point, being involved with both communities. Many in my  indie tribe are unfamiliar with CCM's artists, just as many of those artists have never heard of Josh Garrels.

Anyway, I'm enjoying getting acquainted with new work being released by Sara Groves (Floodplain), Giants & Pilgrims (Becoming), Elle Michelle (Coming of Age), & Nick Flora (Futureboy), friends who have either just released or are preparing to release albums.

Alright, better get to laundry and repacking. Heading out to Kill Devil Hills in the morning. This weekend's shows are close to home in NC!

christa

p.s. Update on Charlie the Hairless Hamster: a bad case of mites. Getting his second treatment tomorrow...hopefully returning to a state of hamster normalcy soon. Apparently, while I was away, he did have a minor setback when he took a tumble down the stairs in his hamster ball. It's not easy being a small rodent. Thanks for your prayers. ;)

 

 

35 Hours

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A few minutes ago, I shared this on Twitter:

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It's true. Art encourages us to forge friendships and learn from people we might ordinarily assume we have nothing in common with.  Music has made me feel more connected to the rest of humanity - thus, less alone - all my life.

A couple months ago I wrote about the song and idea behind "Panning for Gold," and the new work I was thinking about as I wrote was this upcoming EP of cover songs I'm working on with producer Ben Shive.

Austin Kleon, whose book Steal Like An Artist I highly recommend, writes:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before...You are the sum of your influences.

He also quotes Goethe:

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

I was shaped and fashioned especially by the sounds I soaked in during my teens and early 20s, and I believe they are worth celebrating.

If you're not convinced that bringing a new voice to old songs can be worthwhile, I heartily recommend these fine examples by Sleeping At Last, or this one by Greg Laswell.

We still have 35 hours to go on rounding up backers for this project.  Will you consider joining the team, even if you can only manage pre-ordering the download for $5?  

That's not too little!  We want you in this with us.  And if you would bring a few friends along?  The more the merrier!

In case you missed these on Twitter or FB, here are a couple teasers from last week's show in Raleigh. The band and I had a blast re-imagining these favorites from The Smiths and REM.  Not saying these are definites on the album or that these would be THE arrangements, but maybe you'll get a taste of the possibilities.

Thanks. Thanks for being here with me.

-cnw

For the Under-Discovered Artist (inspired by the sad tenor at the bar)

I started writing this for you nearly two weeks ago but keep hesitating to post it.  I'm afraid it sounds a little too strong or too soap-boxy or maybe defensive. As the years roll on, though, I'm coming to know myself and believe that along with being a singer/songwriter, I'm a determined encourager.  Maybe, as Kris Camealy so thoughtfully put it, I'm meant to be a door-holder for other artists.  So if the title of this post caught your attention because it sounds like you, then hear these words as me cheering you on.  Because that's what I came to do.

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For whatever reason, he can focus better at the cool Irish pub down the street than at home.  So he goes out some late nights and writes.  And not infrequently he finds himself in friendly conversation with whatever interesting characters populate the suburban bar at those hours.

So as we stood waiting for morning coffee to brew, he described the group of musicians he’d passed some time with the night before.  In particular, he told me about the 62-year-old tenor plagued by discontent and frustration toward the music industry – or toward his own perceived lack of success.

Standing in the kitchen, this guy who fell for my emotional, 19-year-old songwriting self a long time ago and has supported my work in multiple ways these years since, looked at me and said how he never wants me to feel that way, like a failure.  He said he’s had a taste of that himself and would hate to see me suffer the disappointment of not reaching my dreams, to live with late-life regret.

You don’t feel that way, do you? he asked.

I considered, then said I think there are some key differences between that guy (we’ll call him “Dave”) and me.

Clearly, we both love making music.  I LOVE songwriting.  And it feels pretty amazing to see others respond to that music.  I have goals I’m working hard to reach.  BUT. In the end?  The outward “success” of my music doesn’t define me or determine how successful my life has been.

After releasing an album with my sister in 2006, we thought, “It’s so fun to just be able to be two of the many people making music!”

I do not want to be a superstar, and I don’t think anyone owes me their attention.  I do want to be a part of the whole thing, a color on the wheel. What a privilege.

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Maybe Dave fell in love with the idea of becoming an acclaimed artist, where I fell in love with the Original Artist and the idea of being a part of what He’s making.

Dave, like many hard-working people, wants to be a SUCCESS story, but what I want most is to help tell THE story.

I hate it that Dave is living with bitterness, because every little encounter that says, “Yes, it matters somewhere somehow” brings a smile to my face and deep gladness to my heart.

I know it’s hard to keep your eyes on the distance.  I totally get that.  Sometimes jealousy and sadness creep in here, too.

But when you get your vision right?  The music business becomes the person you make small talk with while your eye is really on the love of your life across the room.

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Our art doesn’t need to be widely recognized.  It needs to be deeply meaningful.

Let’s make something we believe is honest and good and beautiful and true.  Let’s grow and improve and help others grow and improve.  If awards or recognition come, okay.  If money comes through our art, so helpful.

But don’t mistake money and acclaim for an accurate measure of Good Art.  Your work can matter greatly without ever earning you a dime.  YOU matter without any social media followers at all.

I recently read A FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.  His characters talk about the idea of “the universe wanting to be noticed,” and something in that resonated with me, but it’s not quite there yet.  We DO want to notice everything we can about this intricate, marvelous universe, but not as an end but a means.  The more I notice the universe, the more intensely I REVEL in its Maker.

We’ve grown up in a world of STAR Search, American IDOL, THE Voice…it’d be pretty tough to be immune to the pressure to rack up applause.  We’re well-acquainted with the “Go big or go home” mentality.

But, seriously. WHAT in the WORLD?  I find that to be both self-centered and short-sighted.

What is BIG??

Some of the biggest moments in my own experience have taken place in obscure moments in time with zero humans watching. 

Some of the most affecting people I’ve known have the least name recognition.  

Almost ALL of the most deeply moving songs I’ve loved were never radio singles.

For crying out loud, the most notorious world-changers and culture-makers didn’t emerge from a vacuum but were themselves built on the backs of countless nameless, unremembered, thinkers/artists/scientists/leaders/teachers/parents who hacked the brush out of the way and started the conversation and whose work was every bit as important in the life of the universe.

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It’s who we ARE and WHAT WE GIVE AWAY that makes us a PART of something worthwhile.  If they remember our names 300 years from now (and they won’t), we won’t be here to care about it, anyway, so why not celebrate and honor the fact that we’re alive today and have something to share?

Why not do what brings you so much joy that you do it when you’re NOT getting paid--because you “feel God’s pleasure” when you do it?

Why not do what meets someone else’s need and sends people reeling, thinking “There MUST be a design to all of this”?

Do something that tells the truth and asks good questions and leaves a footprint on souls that won’t wash out when the tide comes for our bodies.

Do small, unnoticed things you’re good at that make a difference to your family and community.

Do it with LOVE.   Do it at a cost to yourself.  Do it in small increments, in the midnight hours, after working your day job, or the wee hours of the morning, if that’s all you’ve got.

Do it because you CAN’T STOP.  (hat tip to Miley)

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I intend to be grateful at 62, regardless of the opportunities that come or don’t come.  Regardless of which circles invite me in and which ones overlook me. And they will do both.

I can choose.  So can you.  (So can YOU!)

The Maker of the universe wants to be noticed.  I don’t want to miss my chance to be a part of that.

 

 

Sorrow's Flower: Masterpiece Project 2014

1167237_529469640453237_88041736_o It's a unique place, but i's not geography.  It's community.  A safe place where teenage artists can practice and wonder and collaborate and worship.

We work hard and laugh a lot and commune in a way that leads to deep, lasting friendships.

It's what I myself didn't have as a young artist living "on the fringes," struggling to find people who understood the way my mind worked & longed to express itself.

Masterpiece is what I wanted but didn't know to want in those days.   We want to feed the souls of young artists & encourage them to be hungry for excellence & truth.  We want to learn together the secret of seeing and how to find cosmos in chaos and what sorrow's flower might look like.

I've written other posts about Masterpiece, so I'll let the images speak here.

Look around you.  Who do you know that might need a place like this for a week this summer?

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Luminaries

Image I see the glow, the flames of a thousand candles, at an hour when few pay attention.

We saw the sun go down too early, as it does these days, but were quick to rush out with matches light up the streets bag by bag, votive by votive.

A reminder:

There is light that won’t be eclipsed, no matter how thick the reality of night. Small fires burn all over that together add up to: Something Substantial.

Something Worth Noting.

Something Worth Being Afraid Of. (If your name is Night or Darkness or Diminish or…Can't-Be)

Also noteworthy:

We gathered early to make preparations, when we could have ridiculed the very notion of a dwindling day.

None who came cared that there was:

A. Zero pragmatic reason to spend our hours this way. B. One hundred percent chance our hard work would be in the trash soon after dawn.

We did it for beauty’s sake and we did it for ours.

For the sake of fighting back in some warm, small way against the inky blanket of night, and standing outside to pay attention.

Because we know in our bones we are alive for just this kind of moment.

Aren’t we?

So let the wind come, Along with the clean-up crew.

I will fan this flame and see it glow in a place untouchable Until I reach a place made only-- and entirely-- of Light.

What we have to lose...

*With a new post in the works, but unfinished, sharing this one from the archives again. Go get'em. :)Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 10.54.53 PM

Steve Jobs died.

And a few days after that, I wept as I drove home from Tennessee.

Because of Steve Jobs? Not exactly…but sort of.

I’d just started down the long gravel drive, my parents waving in the rearview mirror, shouting their love…and suddenly all these years of being alive here together were also disappearing in the rearview mirror, and I faced ahead of me the likelihood of traveling on without them one day.

As she’d leaned into the truck for a last hug, Mom had said: Sometimes I wish you were still my little girl.

And as often happens, I stayed quiet while my heart said: Me, too.

I am not actually a worrier or a dweller on death and mortality. I do spy heaven on the horizon. But we all know time moves too quickly when you’re having fun, too slowly when you’re waiting.

My parents will turn 65 soon, and as amazing and energetic as they continue to be, they aren’t exactly the same as they were at 42. And 42 is the age they have been in my mind for the last 23 years.

Earlier in the week, I’d picked up a magazine from the big farm table in their kitchen and read this quote from Steve Jobs: “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

And I thought: Maybe he's right.

I’d spent several days writing, meeting, and recording in Nashville. When I’m there, I’m both invigorated by the city’s creative energy and also a bit intimidated and out of place with the industry side. I told Nicole: When I’m writing from home, it’s like a hot tub. Dealing with business out here feels like climbing out of the tub and into a pool of sharks.

Sometimes, I just want to pull away...keep myself and my work in safer places where I don't risk rejection.  Where I don't have to deal with fear and insecurity.

But I read that quote in my parents’ home, and I gave myself a little talking-to that went something like this:

Okay, listen, you. You're going to die.

You may have a few brief years before your parents stop feeling strong enough to get on the trampoline. A few quick years to be brave and share the music that grows in your soul. A few fleeting years before your little ones grow wings and fly.

A few years left. At best.

So, seriously. SERIOUSLY. What exactly do you have to lose?

Do you really want to spend even one day whining or holding back because someone might not approve? Certainly, since the dawn of time humans have faced far bigger hurdles, greater resistance.

Stop looking for permission.  Love your Maker.  Love people.  Make the Greatest.Work.You.Can make...in Him and for Him. 

What do we have to lose?

Even as I ask it, I know the answer.  For me, what I have to lose is your esteem.  I have been a life-long approval junkie, now happily on the mend, but not wholly rid of it.

I write songs to communicate with other humans, but I write also to imbed more deeply in my own soul the truths I know I'm in need of.

I wrote this for Allison but also, as it turned out, for me:

"There's no way to earn what you've already got...nothing to lose when you're loved from the start..."

I have all that I need.  I really do.  And there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, nothing to make Him love me less.  If you know God through His son, this is true for you, too.

Let's boldly love and boldly make,

and let's repent of the moments lost to self-pity/self-consciousness/self-preservation,

because tomorrow we may die and all we'll have is what we've given away. (a truth found in a long ago Ann Voskamp post)

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the reminder.

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At the time of this original post, I mentioned how Emily P. Freeman's book, Grace for the Good Girl had spoken to me.  It's awesome.  Now, in real time 2013, Emily has a brand new book out called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live.  I had the privilege of reading it in advance, and can heartily recommend it to you struggling creatives (You know who you are)!

Another book, a classic, on my short list for artists is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

Landing

 

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This is what I saw from my window last night as we crossed the sky back to North Carolina.

I couldn’t help thinking of Louis CK on Conan O’Brien saying, “I’m sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY.” How do we possibly take it for granted, this lifting off, pushing against gravity and seeing the world from the top down?

Coming home from camp is hard.

Even the 7-year-old who tagged along and mostly watched and wandered the grounds cried himself to sleep last night.  As I closed my eyes, a few tears trickled down my cheeks and my heart ached, and it’s difficult to articulate why.

It’s just SO good.

Home is not less good.  Such glory and greatness in the ordinary.

The intensity and luxury of those seven days is simply a gift of another kind.  Removed from ground zero, we're lifted out of our usual contexts.  The shared experience amplifies time, and we’re sure we’ve known these people longer than one week.

There is a particular freedom & joy unique to that space.  Freedom in being an individual in community with like-hearted brothers and sisters, joy in feeling truly understood.

We laugh and pray, sing and write, draw and build and make films.  We prepare meals and share them around tables with laughter and life stories and love for our differences and similarities.

When the vans are packed, as much as we need to be with our families and sleep in our own beds again, we dread & delay our goodbyes.  Seems a lot of drama, but it’s not.

We leave grateful & aware of how blessed we are to have been there.

 

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And on our final descent, I ask myself how I can bring some of that sky down to the land that holds me.

 

 

 

Someone you know needs this camp: Masterpiece Project 2013

Today I repost my reflections on the time I spent in 2010 with high school students at one of the best creative arts camps out there, along with a note written by one of our students. This is where you'll find me every late July and where I am personally encouraged and challenged by an intimate group of young artists. This is where I would have spent my summers when I was a teenager, if it had existed, and it would have been a source of deep encouragement to me, as it is to these students.

We've been at it for more than 10 years now and are thrilled to see alumni out in the world making truly great art.  We don't claim credit for their skill or talent, but we were honored to help draw out what was always there.

Registration is now open for Masterpiece Project 2013 whose theme will be "The Secret of Seeing." To find out more, contact Sherrie Rogers at gslrogers@gmail.com .

Masterpiece Project 2013

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I want to tell you about Masterpiece Project 2010.

Our theme this year was “Frame the Clouds,” and you’ll just have to believe me when I say I did not have anything to do with that. But I was humbled, so grateful that the concept resonates with others.

The staff at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  We are songwriters, musicians, graphic designerspainterspoetsphotographerscalligraphers, pastors, dancers, and counselors.

We are all passionate about our art forms and passionate about the work of God’s kingdom.

In particular, we are passionate about encouraging young artists to be fearless in their faith and in their work.

We all feel inadequate in one way or another.

We wonder what’s next in our own lives.

Above all we believe there is a big, big beautiful true story happening and that it is our responsibility to participate in the telling of it.  By making art.  And by living in love with God’s art.

The students at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  They are songwriters, musicians, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, dancers, novelists, cartoonists, designers.  Public-schooled, private-schooled, home-schooled.  Funny, dramatic, shy, mysterious, hardworking, uncertain, open.

They feel inadequate and wonder what’s next.

But above all they suspect they have something in common with other storytellers, past and present, across the globe and in the next cabin.  Some small part of them, at least, believes they have been given a uniquely powerful way of representing God’s True story.

In one little week in the rural midwest, we are together and changed.

We, together, have listened, walked and talked, written, collaged, and played, danced, cooked, and cleaned.  We've sung prayers, read the Word, and represented a Creed.

We tried to frame the clouds.

And yes, we even built a giant iPod.

*The following was copied (with permission) from a Facebook "Note" posted by one of our campers:

"When we were released by the kitchen staff the people who were helping and I were sitting around a table and someone asked if I had any of my drawings with me and I did. I showed them the one I was working on and I ran back to my cabin and grabbed my three boxes of my drawings and brought them over to the gathering area. I opened them up and gave them up for viewing. This is something I do not do often, generally I am not comfortable with groups of people looking through my art for whatever reason, but I knew it could be appreciated. Now there was a little crowd of about eight or nine people chattering and oooing over my art. Now this was unique being that I have drawn them and made up my mind whether or not I like them or not. There was stuff from a couple of years ago to present and some of those pieces are somewhat embarrassing to me but much to my surprise people were pointing out things in my art that I never saw and were explaining how much they enjoyed them. Compliment after compliment kept coming about drawings that I had nearly forgotten about. It was an encouraging moment and something I remember clearly. In that moment I knew that I was in the company of friends..."

This one's for the mothers...

*This is long-winded and girly (see title). You've been warned, men and short-attention-spanners."

Dear Fellow Mother-Artist,

You know I’m not the best at responding quickly, and you know why.  I know you know, because you have the same challenge, which is why you wrote to me.

There are embers glowing inside you that won’t.go.out even though you have a human critter or two (or five) to care for and really don’t have spare minutes for artistic flame-fanning.

You have a few domestic goddesses in your life and a few childless superstar artists in your periphery, and as my poet-friend Beth Ann Fennelly wrote:

“I want membership in both clubs.”

If we dedicate heart and soul and all our waking hours, we may at best become “Honorary Members” which feels sort of like a southern “bless-her-heart-she-tries.”

At least, that’s how it feels most days, because there is either 1. no homemade bread on your counter OR 2. no new song on your piano.  And that, my sisters, is why I write now to YOU.

Because you need to hear the truth.

Which is that on the first day of vocal recording last month, I was crying on the couch in front of my producer/friend 10 minutes before I had to sing.

The truth is I came in to the studio 16 hours after making the 10-hour drive to Nashville with 4 kids, 2 dogs and 12  stress-inducing situations on my mind (which Toby got to hear all about via cell phone as I drove).

And also?  I’d watched the Grammy award show for the first time in years and gone to bed both inspired and utterly devastated.

Devastated, because I was reminded what is possible when artists dedicate themselves AND the bulk of their time to their creative work.

Crushed, because even IF I have the talent & skill to make what I want to make, I most certainly do not have the hours to do that while also raising a (healthy) family and participating in my local community. 

It’s not so much a desire to compete as a desire to contribute to all that beauty that leaves me sometimes aching over my limitations.

So.  That’s reality.  I fully admit it, while admitting also that I chose this full, peopled life and would choose it all over again.  Hands down, I’d take the young marriage, pregnancies, adoption, move to North Carolina and our (amazing) local community…all these things that made it unlikely (at best) for me to ever be in league with the Jack Whites or Mumfords or Florences but always & forever in league with 6 others of the “Most Fascinating & Hilarious Humans on the Planet” club.

I’m saying this for you, sister.

For you, who know you were born to make something but don’t know where to begin or how to stay awake to do it during those rare hours of quiet.  

You weigh your desire and ability out on a kitchen scale against love for home and family and “normal life” (whatever that is).

I don’t have the practical answer for you and your specific situation, but I have enough experience to say:

You can’t do EVERYTHING but you can do SOMETHING and that SOMETHING feels so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly matter, but it CAN and it ABSOLUTELY DOES.

You think if the WHOLE WORLD doesn’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t really COUNT, but that’s a LIE.

Everything you make, everything you cultivate, everything you tend…it counts,

because you were entrusted with those things by Someone who chose YOU for the job and is paying very close attention, not to charts but to souls.  Yours in particular.

Listen.

I wrote “Held” when I had a toddler, during a time when little else I wrote was very good.  I didn’t have a publishing deal.  I was a little lonely.  But that song started to count the minute I wrote it (for my friends), not after Natalie Grant sang it.

Since then, everything I’ve written and recorded has been done in WEAKNESS and FATIGUE and UNCERTAINTY.  The songs have been written in teeny, tiny margins.  They have been few and far between, just a handful a year.  They matter to whom they matter, and that will remain a mystery to me.

And I, too, have to remind myself of what I know is true.  (“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”) We all do.

So that’s what I came to do.  To remind you what is true.

You have been entrusted something marvelous.

Invest it, whatever it is.

Whatever it is, it COUNTS.

YOU count.

Love,

christa

 

 

What to Expect When You're Expecting

If I asked you how many people are in labor at a given moment, you'd tell me Google says approximately 490,000 babies are born every day around the world, so at least that many women are in labor as we speak.  And I would say the number must be far higher, because I'm not thinking only of human babies carried in their mother's wombs, but also of the kind of creature you yourself have been carrying and the thing I have been carrying. The visions and books and songs and ministries and inventions and everything else that begins with that sudden spark and heartbeat and eventually grows limbs and lungs within us and waits to see the light of day...

Forgive the feminine metaphor, because it is most certainly not a gender experience, but as I approach this new stage of my recording project, I keep coming back to it.  Mainly because I have felt so keenly aware of struggle in the process this time around.  My brother-in-law said my visual artist sister is the same way in the weeks preceding her art shows.

The past few weeks I'd deem the painful "transition" stage where it was time to let the work move from my head to worktape and then allow others to enter the room.

I'm writing now in order to take note of that, so next time one of you can kindly refer me back here and my own words will bring the comfort of, "Oh, yeah, that's right.  I felt like that before, and look how great we all turned out!"

At some point in our lives will undertake the development and delivery of something, and we'll feel the weight and pressure and terrible fear mixed with thrill and delight of participating in originality and co-creation with the Maker.  Most of us will question the legitimacy of the conception or the sustainability of the idea and later will second-guess our direction.  We'll have to measure and weigh external input against our own instincts.  We'll find ourselves off-track, at times self-indulgent.

Eventually, we get down to business and welcome the help of other kinds of experts who believe in what we are carrying.  (It's not the Messiah, but we are hoping to see some resemblance.)  And when you know you're getting close to putting a face on the idea, all the sleepless nights seem (are) worthwhile.

It's okay to be scared now and then along the way.  It is a big deal to give birth to something new.  It doesn't matter that 490,000 babies are being born today.  That number doesn't diminish your ONE baby in the slightest.  THIS one is yours.

It's okay to say it's hard.  It is.  It helps, though, to remind yourself "What to Expect When You're Expecting" - every pregnant woman knows you need reminding what is going to happen when and how it's going to feel.

You might be developing a new course, adopting a child, training for the foreign mission field, brainstorming the start of a new church ministry or support group, outlining a new book, starting a small business.  Labors harder in many ways than physical.

What are you carrying?

Or if you're feeling rather barren?  This may not be your season bear a new thing, but it might be exactly the season for you to come alongside and support someone who is feeling the good weight.  Talk them down from the cliff when they need it.  (ahem - Many of you have done that for me recently.)

Maybe we are always to have our feet in one of those sets of shoes?

As for me and this making a record thing, I've rounded the bend, and the doctor has been called in. :)  Let the fun begin.

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

Last week, my friend gave me a book of poetry by the late Madeleine L'Engle.  She knows I'm a fan of Madeleine, that one of my favorite books, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, came from Ms. L'Engle.  So she gave me this book, which was one of several recently gifted to her, all of which were personally signed by the author.  This one says:

for Gretchen - joy in all weather - Madeleine L'Engle.

Tonight, eve of Christmas Eve, I offer you these words from page 47 of The Weather of the Heart.  May your celebrating be only at a beginning tomorrow, and may each of us risk loving in this coming year.

 

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war & hate

And a comet slashing the sky to warn

That time runs out &  the sun burns late.

 

That was no time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;

Honour & truth were trampled by scorn--

Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

 

When is the time for love to be born?

The inn is full on the planet earth,

And by the comet the sky is torn--

Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

The Art of Waiting, or What Are You Waiting For?

We’ve been waiting so long. 

Maybe it’s been long enough.

 Maybe we ought to give up this groaning, this leaning toward a thing we have no way of proving.

Maybe we’ve had it wrong…

God has been quiet for a while now.

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During the years between ages 21 and 31, I lived in a frustrated tension between, on one hand, earnestly believing I was made (in part) to make music that would matter in God’s kingdom and, on the other, believing the barriers too great.

So much fear, so little know-how…

Had I been misguided to spend so much time leaning my life into this passion??

I am an unlikely success story.  Maybe I’ve had it wrong…?

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I know a man whose soul has been searching the horizon for purpose, struggling against the notion that he waited too long, or that maybe he has no real gift to share.

A young man feels he is floating in a no-man's land between boyhood and manhood.

There is a family who has been put through the furnace to bring home a 16-year-old daughter from Ukraine, so much out of their control.

Another family waits for financial needs to be met so they, too, can adopt a child.

This week I wept over my breakfast for friends hovering alongside their dear mother in the space between her life and her mortal death.

Our country whinnied and scraped hooves on dirt all year as we awaited the election of new leaders.

We watch the news and donate time and money, rage at the injustice and sometimes grow just a little bit cynical because nothing ever really changes, does it?

Even as we count our gifts and celebrate the beauty of the stars, don't we lament the length and depth of night?  Don't we many days abandon the Vision that has turned out, afterall, to be Too Hard, or  Unfair, or Not What I Expected?

I personally want to climb into the nearest escape hatch and head for the Land of Distraction or The Path of Least Resistance.

We have come so far in the developed world.  Arrived at a place where the notion of having to wait for anything (parking spot, dinner, sex, Wi-fi) feels unnecessary, even offensive.  Waiting by choice?  Nonsense.

We are unpracticed. We don’t HOW to wait without being either idle or mindlessly busy.  Are we there yet?   How much longer?  Why can’t we just…

The tension seems unbearable.

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I think you know what I’m talking about.  Aren't you tempted to start grabbing up pieces and jamming them together?  Tempted to walk away, abandon the Dream before the Dream abandons you?

Me, too.

But let's not.  Let's not give up faith.  Let's not sit down in the middle of the track and pout.

I want to remember--even as I  await the verdict regarding the possibility of completing the album I've begun--much good happens in the space where “nothing is happening.”

People pull up chairs and wait alongside of you.  They tell funny stories to bring levity.  They climb in the ring and weep with you.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they get it wrong, and we learn from that, too.

But the truth is that all this mess that appears methodless, is in fact, under control.   When the Father wants that star to shine, it’s going to shine.   When He wants to enter the story, He will enter the story.  

And we will discover that the timing was exactly as it should be.

Exactly.

May we have our eyes open while we wait with expectant, hopeful, praying hearts.

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But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

                        who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

            from you shall come forth for me

                        one who is to be ruler in Israel,

            whose coming forth is from of old,

                        from ancient days.

(Micah 5:2 ESV) 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son… (Galatians 4:4 ESV)

 

 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation… And coming up at that very hour she [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:25-38 ESV)

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A fellow fund-raising musician said to me: Isn't this Kickstarter thing hard?  We're going to get gray hair by the time it's over!

And I laughed to myself (not LOL) because it's true it's been time-consuming and forced me WAYYYY out of my comfort zone.  I am historically a bad salesperson. But I'm doing okay.  Really and honestly, this CAN work, but it may not.  Either way, I will keep writing and working toward the album.  And we will celebrate the process either way.  More on that soon!

You'll have to visit Kickstarter for details.  And please do, because we need to raise $7500 in the next 9 days to do this thing!  ;)

 

Kickstarter! Help me make a new album?

It's a little uncomfortable, yes.  A bit anxiety-producing.  Putting yourself out there to say: Hey!  I'd like to do this thing, and I...could use some...help.  Like you, I prefer to be on the giving end of things.

Well, friends.  I'd like to do this thing, and I could use your help.

I am attempting to raise $15,000 in the next 18 days.

Yeah.  That's a whole lot of money.  In a short amount of time!

I've had the hankering to get back in the studio for a while now, but haven't been able to figure out a way to make it happen financially.  I kept hearing about this great tool called Kickstarter, which lets listeners/fans/supporters/generous humans get on board early with an artist's project and really give it wings.  I've supported a couple of these projects myself and seen it work.

So I put together a video and some fun "thank-yous" (because I DO thank you!) and launched it rather quietly 11 days ago.  Now, yes, I'm aware that launching a fundraising campaign just before everyone gets offline for Thanksgiving holidays here in the U.S. isn't the grandest idea.  But.  That additional barrier just means that if this does get funded, we will be quite certain that God is actively involved.

I'm trusting.  Trusting that if this is the right course, then the Father will make the way.  I invite you to be a part of that, if you believe in the music He created me to create.  If you think it might matter.  If you are inspired and financially able to participate.

If...any of that...then please join the cause here at my Kickstarter page.  

And...I just can't say it often enough.  How grateful I am for you.

Now here, for your entertainment, is our li'l Kickstarter video put together by my friend David Vosburg at Zag Media Arts:

For the nurturing women in our lives...

As days and years gather behind me, I realize more and more how much less I would be without the confident, reliable love of my Mom in my life. Some of you may have grown up with that space in your life unfilled by your own mother. Maybe your grandmother or aunt or someone else loved and tended your heart like my Mom did mine. Maybe you are the woman filling that space in a child's life right now. The truth is, that space doesn't go away, does it? We want to be mother-loved now as much as ever.

So this song, born on Mother's Day, is offered now to Mother-women and their Children of all ages during this week of focused thanks-giving. A very small token of gratitude. I encourage us all to make the moments and our words count. And celebrate!

How to Love Your Independent Artist, Pt 2

Following up on last week's post, How to Love Your Independent Artist, Pt. 1, here is Part 2.  For some reason, I'm a bit nervous to hit "Publish" on this.  Not sure why...maybe I'm afraid it's going to sound self-centered or whiny or self-serving.  Please know it's not intended to be anything more than vulnerable, on behalf of my brothers & sisters making art.  So here goes.

4.  We don’t all have the same goals.

I think people often believe all artists are hoping for the same things: notoriety, money, awards, platinum albums, or even just to be picked up by a label.  We are all either on our way or not on our way due to unfortunate circumstances.

If we weren't after those things, then what could possibly be the point?

The reality is that the majority of professional artists do want all of those things.  But there are many of us who honestly don't.

The longer we stay in or around the business, the more we're aware that all good things come at some cost.  Those costs are too high for some of us.  Loss of creative control, financial obligation to numerous entities, inability to maintain personal interactions with listeners, struggle for stability in relationships, etc. are very real considerations.  We would really like to be financially compensated for our work, but we're often torn over the rest.

People have asked how it feels for me to have another artist record a song I write, whether it bothers me when the artist is credited with writing the song.  And my answer is honestly that it feels great & I don't care if they are mistakenly credited.  It takes nothing from me.  Because...I get to do the writing, which is what I love.  And hearing the song used is what I desire and is the best reward.  I get to be a part of that without the stress or pressure of being a label artist out on the road half the year.  Pure gift!

People joke about musicians or actors who were only on the “mainstage” for a few minutes.  We call them “one-hit wonders,” or we ask, “What ever happened to that guy?”  A Google search might show they’ve been quite active in their field on Broadway or in small music venues.  Their best work may have taken place beyond the limited scope of the public eye, the best song may be track 13 and only the diehard fans ever heard it. We miss some things when we only choose blockbuster films and radio hits for sure.

What I’m suggesting is that we might care for artists by helping them to discover and fulfill THEIR unique purposes, be thrilled when they release solid work regardless of its ranking on iTunes…and refrain from the kindly-intended but unclear “I hope you make it!”

Remember, we mainly make art because we don't know how not to.

5.  We feel “different” and long for creative community; we feel "normal" and just want plain old community, too.

 

Especially for artists living outside the big centers of activity, it gets a little lonely.  Before my life became the crazy epicenter of travel and work and kids that it is now, I was often quite lonely, especially for people who were "like" me.  We tend to feel a little odd (and yes, we can be too introspective).  Our external lives and work can look so unusual that we often assume our inner worlds are quite unusual, too.  Sometimes they are.  Often we (artists, teachers, doctors, gas station attendants, office admins, pastors…) have more in common than we expect.

 

6.  For artists who love God with their whole being, the whole being can be written into song.

 

This may be the trickiest subject, and entire books have been written on what it means to be Christian and be an artist.  I personally recommend Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and Charlie Peacock’s At the Crossroads, for starters.  But I’ll keep it simple here.

Christian audiences, particularly listeners over college age, love music that uses familiar Christian language and is directed toward God and is suitable for corporate singing.  Many are fed by these songs, and the Church is edified by the artists who create this type of worship music.  During the hectic moments of the day, many turn to these songs to be quickly re-directed and saturated in the gospel and scripture.  This is good.

It's just that this is not the music all of us are called to write.  And writing about the rest of life is – in my humble opinion – equally good and valuable.  Just as the Bible is not only the book of Psalms, but also contains real stories and parables and metaphor and teaching of all kinds, and is spoken in varied voices…we long be free as artists to illustrate or reflect the whole of life, because the whole of life belongs to the Father.  And our “small stories”…aren’t they merely reflections of the “Great Story”?

Birth and love and fracture and redemption…the story is told in countless experiences and endless melodies and lyrical lines.

Many artists of faith do not have a home on Christian radio, do not get invited to play for faith-based groups, and in general do not feel supported by the Church, because they do not write, or maybe lead, "praise & worship" music.

I think that's a mistake.

So, I guess I'm saying...

If you ask an artist at the merch table if she has any “worship CDs,” she may say, “Yes! All of them.  Take your pick!”  And you may later be surprised to hear her singing about her child or her neighbor or her husband. :)

8.  We are grateful.

 

So sincerely grateful.  For every single email telling about how this song affected you.  For every smiling face in the coffee house or listening room.  For every download.  For every kind word after a shaky performance.  For people interacting on blogs and Facebook.  For the invitation to come and sing.  For you sharing the music with your brother, who shares it with his boss, who shares it with his niece…

We feel unworthy and so very lucky to get to write & sing, to do what we love.

Grateful that you found us in this wide world of options.

Grateful that you stayed.

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Artists, what would you add to my thoughts?  

Supportive listener-friends, does some of this resonate with you, as well?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Love Your Independent Artist: Pt. 1

 

FIRST OF ALL.  I’m already loved.

Loved well.

Each of you I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or hearing from over the years since I made the bold move in 2009 to take my quaking body up to the piano in front of real people have done nothing but encourage and uplift.  I haven’t yet been able to think up an adequate “Thank you,” but I always feel it.

So, I’m not writing this because you have failed to love me well.  Quite the oppositeBecause you care, I think you might appreciate a peek behind the curtains into the life of fairly odd creatives like me.  Because you care, you want to understand our hearts, joys and struggles.

As you may know, I was really strictly a songwriter for several years, having abandoned an early desire to perform, due to extreme performance anxiety.  It was only after a false start in 2006 and a more legitimate launch in 2009 that I really entered into this world independent artistry.  And my path hasn’t looked very much like the majority of indie artists, Christian or not, because of my particular life & career circumstances.

Still, there is a sense of brotherhood amongst us who determine to keep making music with or without the sometimes-helpful, oft-constraining scaffolding of a record label.

 

SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS (3 of 7):

 1.    Behind every hour onstage, there are roughly 6-60 hours of work offstage.

There are a million kazillion things independent artists spend hours learning and applying, with writing & rehearsing often getting the shaft.  Many of us handle our own booking, planning, band-management, book-keeping, product inventory & shipping, website maintenance, blogging, etc. and are hard-pressed to get to the creative work we are passionate about.  This is a real struggle, as many of us have other day jobs and/or family, as well.

Prior to 2009 I was surprisingly clueless about this side of the music business and recall thinking: “That’s a pretty great gig!  Even if they only make $100 for a house show, that’s not bad for 2 hours of fun, fulfilling work.”

It IS a pretty great gig, getting to do what you love.  But needless to say, I’ve been enlightened about the hours.

2.  We aren’t always sure we should be doing this, but we can't seem to stop.

 

  • Is anyone even listening?
  • Do our musical & lyrical efforts seem to resonate?
  • Can this really be financially feasible?
  • How much should we model ourselves after label artists?  How much should we model ourselves after full-time indie artists?
  • How free are we to write what we really want to write, even when it doesn’t match current radio trends (Christian or not)?
  • Is it possible to stand under stagelights and keep a right heart and motives?

Ultimately: Is this of enough value to really make it worth the sacrifices of time & money?  Am I on the right path?

We return to these questions, but ultimately we LOVE MAKING MUSIC & we don't know how to do much else. Don't WANT to do much else.

3.  We're looking for our place within the art world.

 

Even if we’re sure we SHOULD be making art, we continue to ask:  Why?  What exactly is MY particular purpose & place?  Where do I fit?

Nashville, New York, Atlanta, LA…or Raleigh, NC?  Coffee shops, house concerts, music festivals, arenas, conferences…?  Americana, pop, folk, Christian, rock, bluegrass, country…?  Am I speaking to people who share my faith or to people who do not?  Is my natural audience teens, young adults, 35 year old moms, other artists, radio listeners, theologians, former hippies…?

It’s demographic, but it’s more than that, a sense of calling.

Artists: If this is a question you are struggling to answer, I would suggest you start with a little inventory of what you really know about yourself.  This is a spiritual exercise, I think, if we acknowledge that we were in fact designed by Someone for a specific purpose & workOur passions and gifts and personalities point toward that purpose.

For me, these are some things I know:

  • I am compelled to put words and music together in the most honest way I can to uplift and challenge myself and others,  reflecting life and truth.
  • I deeply desire balance in all things.
  • I have an insatiable thirst for wisdom and understanding of the Maker and humanity, and the relationship between the two.
  • I love to be taught and to teach.  (much to the chagrin of my family members)
  • The joy of writing for me is in finding beautiful, inventive ways of painting pictures, not in being safe.  At the same time, communication is important to me, so I want the songs to be accessible.
  • If something does not interest me, or if I do not believe in it or feel its purpose or respect the approach, I cannot muster motivation. The possibility of song being a hit is not enough to make me care.
  • I enjoy creative independence and collaboration, but do not want to feel controlled by a “machine.”
  • I have a family and a local community, and it’s important to me to be present & faithful to both.  This means I have to strive to be a good steward of my time & resources.

All of the above have shaped the path I’ve taken and continue to take regarding music.  If I say "no" (an important word for all humans to use wisely) to a request or opportunity, it's because whatever it is doesn't quite fit with all of the above.

You have your own list, right?  Artist or not.

 

ARTISTS, feel free to chime in below.  I'm presuming to speak for all of us, and I'm sure I'll miss something.  MUSIC LISTENERS, would love to hear from you, too.  Do you have an artist in your life & you're not sure what to do with him/her?

Because of the length of this post, I'm dividing it.  Look for "HOW TO LOVE YOUR INDEPENDENT ARTIST: PT. 2" next week...  

 

All You Need is a Hill

"All you need is a hill."

 

I don’t know why it stayed, that little phrase. It sort of haunts me.  When I’m running (yep, that’s right, I run now…a little…I caved!), or when anything scary or squirmy or unpleasant comes along.

It was something Kim said as she led the creative fitness retreat where 25 female friends found ourselves sprinting and jumping and carrying comrades up two flights of deck steps in our arms.

She said, “Just about anyone can get skinny, but if you really want to change your shape, you need a hill, or some way to alter the intensity of your workout.”

Apparently, you can’t just run the same familiar, flattish mile through the hood day after day and grow really fit and strong??  (Though it's a start!)

If we want to change our shape, she said…if we want to be shaped…we’re gonna need a hill.

 

Define “hill.”

 

Well…

I spoke to a woman this week who survived 15 years of spousal abuse, followed by the very near death of her newborn.

My friend just lost his father unexpectedly early.

My sister is allergic to just about everything except meat, veggies and fruit and aches and swells if she gets the wrong thing in her food.

Our Compassion children feel the actual ache of real, ongoing hunger and live in shanties and catch diseases through their bare feet.

These are pretty monstrous hills, I’d say.  And those who climb them with their eyes on the prize will be shaped into something of greater strength, wisdom and grace.

Me?  At this point and for the past several years, my hills have looked pretty much exactly like…well…gifts.

 

What We've Been Given

 

They ARE gifts.  Things have been entrusted to my care and nurture which require much time, effort and courage.  The weight of responsibility often terrifies me, and admittedly - sadly - I sometimes long to escape the expectations or needs of others.  To walk away from the everyday realities I’ve been called to.

One small part of this is that it has taken years and years for me to be able to play and sing on a stage and not want to throw up or pass out, so I feared "success" (more opportunity) as much as I feared failure.  Even the compulsion to create, or to share what we create, can at times seem a burden.

These are the gentle inclines I have been given and must lean into.  I can’t run from them or try to travel around them.  I must not judge them too great or too small for me.  These are the inclines I have been given.  

And you have yours.

They are the climbs that require faith and endurance and start us quaking and leave us sweaty and out of breath.  Improved.  Invigorated.  Stronger and braver.  Grateful.  Ecstatic.  Bone-tired.  Confident.  Dependent.

It’s a lovely song, but honestly…one cannot climb every mountain.  You can only climb yours, and climb them you must.

When we meet a hill, let’s face it: there will be no mountaintop experiences until we have sweated and cried our way up the incline.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: Cheers to getting in shape!