Dec 18, 2015

7 Keys to a Fulfilled Life

While the following is not necessarily exhaustive, I have found it to be foundational for peace.
  1. Confess that I need help, which includes welcoming human relationship.
  2. Foster a willingness to learn, which involves an attentiveness to look and see, to listen and hear.
  3. Combat the inclination to give up.
  4. Pray to God for faith and wisdom with the hope, courage, humility, patience, discipline, and celebration to nurture them.
  5. Practice what I learn, adapting as needed, thus allowing space for mistakes and the admittance of them.
  6. [Repeat 1-5]
  7. In all of this, actively pursue an understanding of love.
Or more plainly put: confess, learn, persevere, trust, practice, [repeat and keep repeating], love . . .

Dec 9, 2015

Love far from the madding crowd

The renowned English writer, Thomas Hardy, has garnered my respect. Not since reading Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre a year ago have I read a novel that so well engages the human condition, equipping its reader toward a deeper understanding of people and love.

“They spoke very little of their mutual feelings: pretty phrases and warm attentions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship—camaraderie, usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because they associate not in their labours but in their pleasures merely. Where however happy circumstance permits its development the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.” (Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd)

Oct 23, 2015

The Damage of "Trust God"

What does trust mean when I direct it to God?

Think about this before reading on.

This is an essential question for each disciple of Jesus Christ to wrestle with. The answer defines my faith. It has implications for my prayer, worship, peace, and action. It frames my love.

Alas, it seems that not enough Christ-followers honestly consider answers beyond passive corporate assumption and acceptance (i.e. what my pastor says, which is often what that other pastor said, which is often an adapted version of what that other pastor said, maybe even that theologian, which . . .). This is disheartening because the result can too often lead to disillusionment about God regarding an injury from a Christian or church, thus tarnishing one's view of the universal Church.

The following excerpt is not exhaustive, but I find it the most coherent and convincing perspective by which to approach the Scriptures about this subject. If anything, after reading it, I encourage you to honestly examine the Scriptures under its light. Whether these thoughts sharpen your understanding of relationship with God or reform them, my hope is that in the end you look up from the text and out toward the surrounding world freshly invigorated by the Holy Spirit to know and love God and to know and love people deeper.

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

By Joshua D. Grubb
On Trusting God

“[A common view] is that God cannot be trusted as our source of strength and comfort unless he meticulously controls the world, or at least foreknows in exhaustive detail what is going to happen. William Placher, for example, argues, ‘We could not trust in God and find peace in the midst of the world’s chaos if there were any part of the world out of God’s control (The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking About God Went Wrong, 1996).

“What can we trust God for? The first response to this objection is that it is not self-evident what it means to ‘trust God.’ When facing difficult situations, Christians frequently admonish one another, ‘Put your trust in God.’ But we need to define more precisely what it is we are to trust God for. If left undefined, the admonition can be misguiding if not wounding.

“Allow me to offer an illustration of the ambiguity and harm that can be associated with this concept. Several years ago a nineteen-year-old student I will call Laura confessed her feelings of guilt over the fact that she ‘just couldn’t seem to truly trust God.’ In the course of our discussion I discovered that as a nine-year-old daughter of an American missionary to Brazil, Laura had been raped by a missionary ‘friend of the family.’ She reported the man, and he was duly ‘punished’ by being put on leave for several months and then relocated to another mission field! Young Laura was told that even ‘men of God’ sometimes do bad things and need God’s grace, just like everyone else. She was instructed immediately to love and forgive this man and not to talk about the incident to anyone. If God forgives and forgets, she was instructed, so must we.

“To make matters worse, as a typical (and unfortunate) means of comforting this victim, Laura’s parents told her that God ‘always has his reasons’ for allowing things like this to happen, though we of course may not understand these reasons until we get to heaven. Laura must simply believe that God was still ‘on his throne’ and still ‘in control.’ She needed to trust God and believe that what the missionary intended for evil God intended for good. In time, she was told, she would actually be thankful for the experience.

“When I asked Laura what she as a nineteen-year-old believed she was supposed to trust God for, her predictable Christian student answer was, ‘for God’s perfect will for my life.’ When (to her increasing exasperation) I inquired further what that meant, she quoted one of the most quoted verses of the Bible by young Christians, Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’ Finally, when I asked what she believed was included in the Lord’s plan for her ‘welfare and not for harm, she exclaimed in an inpatient matter-of-fact voice: ‘Well, to have a good marriage, of course, to have the right ministry or job and to do well in it, and to be healthy and safe. You know, just to prosper!’

“’Safe?’ I asked. ‘Do you mean, to be safe from rapists?’ After a long pause she nodded sheepish yes as her eyes began to tear up.

“’No wonder you can’t trust God, Laura.’ I said. ‘You already know that God can’t be trusted to deliver on that one.’ Laura initially responded as though I had uttered a hideous blasphemy, yet she saw the obvious and painful truth of the point I was making. For ten years she had been encouraged by a Christian community to trust God for bodily protection when all the while she knew from personal experience that it was not only up to God to decide this matter. Intuitively, she knew that free agents like the missionary who had abused her also have a mind and will of their own. She intuitively knew that if there is no divine guarantee against little girls getting raped, there is no guarantee that nineteen-year-old women will not be raped. The result of this instruction was that Laura now blamed herself for not being able to ‘trust God’ to protect her from being raped.

“What is more, though she was too pious or simply too scared to admit it out loud to herself, Laura was privately enraged toward God. She understood her rape as a child ultimately to be God’s fault. We are supposed to accept such tragedies as somehow fitting into God’s plan—and yet we are supposed to trust God for protection from such tragedies! Could anyone have pieced together a more contradictory—and for victims like Laura, a more tormenting—theological puzzle? No wonder Laura was enraged. My experience has been that many who hold to the classical view of God’s providence and who have had traumatic experiences hold similar sentiments toward God.

“As this story illustrates, evangelical Christians often use the admonition to ‘just trust God’ to encourage people to trust God for things that are not necessarily under his direct control and for things that he never unconditionally promises in his Word. We talk about trusting God to save and protect our families, to prosper us in our jobs or our ministries, to insulate us from spiritual attacks, and the like. And, as was initially the case with Laura toward me, people who dare to suggest that these things are not only up to God to decide are sometimes viewed as heretical. Yet, where in the New Testament does God leverage his character on any guarantee that evil will not befall us in this world? Where in the Bible are we promised that our children, families, jobs, ministries or even our very lives are guaranteed to be divinely protected?

“As I pointed out to Laura, this question cannot be answered by appealing to Jeremiah 29:11. This chapter is addressed specifically to the exiled nation of Israel regarding what God’s specific plan is for them in the near future. Besides, God’s ‘plan’ for them is just that: a plan. It expressed God’s intention, not a foregone conclusion (as the subsequent history of Israel demonstrated). Nor is an answer found in the book of Job, for this entire book is a refutation of this notion. . . . Nor is the answer to be found in the Gospels where Jesus tells us to expect physical and emotional suffering, to be separated from families and even to be put to death for following him (Mt 5:11, 44; 16:24-25; Lk 12:53; 21:12; Jn 15:20; 21:18-19). Nor is the answer found anywhere in the Epistles, in which we are instructed to follow the example of Jesus in suffering for the sake of righteousness (Heb 12:3; Jas 5:10; 1 Pet 2:20-21).

“Indeed, the New Testament promises that ‘in the world you face persecution’ (Jn 16:33). This world is a spiritual war zone under the control of Satan (1 Jn 5:19), the ‘god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4). Soldiers who seek to overthrow his evil kingdom and establish the kingdom of God can expect to suffer in this war zone.

“To say the least, then, the New Testament never makes our unconditional well-being in this probationary epoch part of the good news. The good news of the gospel is not that we will never suffer, get raped, be maimed or die an early death. The good news is rather that the Lord has given us something so marvelous that even if we suffer or die, our loss is ultimately insignificant. In the light of God’s love, the grace of Jesus Christ and the life we have in the Holy Spirit, the quality and duration of physical life itself dwindles in importance. While moth and rust—to say nothing of missionary rapists—might ruin everything in this age, our treasure is laid up in a realm that is incorruptible (Mt 6:19-20). Since we have this treasure, we do not need to fear any earthly or spiritual authority who might be able to kill the body (Mt 10:28). These agents are indeed capable at times of wounding us or even of killing us, but the only One believers need concern themselves with is the One (God) who is able to ‘destroy both soul and body in hell.’

“Along similar lines, Paul tells us that no matter what happens, we cannot be separated from the love of God toward us in Christ, either in this age of warfare or in the age of God’s coming kingdom. This is the good news. [see Rom 8:35, 37-39] . . .

What we are guaranteed, what we can ‘trust God’ for, and what makes us ‘more than conquerors’ amidst life’s tragedies is that nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’ Our trust in God and our peace are not to be rooted in the up-and-down affairs of this war-torn world. They are rather to be rooted in God’s unchanging character and unconditional promise that his love for us in Christ is unwavering amidst life’s storms. [emphasis added]

Revolts rather than resignation. Critics may grant that we cannot trust God to guarantee protection from life’s nightmares but nevertheless argue that believers should find consolation in the belief that even the nightmares of life are allowed by God for a good divine reason. This is often part of what Christians mean when they encourage someone to ‘trust God’ in the midst of a difficult situation.

“Scripture certainly encourages the believer to find consolation in the fact that Christ suffers with us when we suffer (Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10; Heb 2:18; 4:15-16; 1 Pet 4:13; cf. Mt 28:20). It admonishes us to trust that God is always working to bring good out of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, however tragic (Rom 5:3-5; 8:28). It encourages us to be steadfast when we are persecuted for our faith and when the Lord uses trials to build our character (Heb 12:3-13). Finally, as was just argued, the Bible certainly teaches that we can derive a peace that passes understanding from the fact that our eternal fellowship with God in his kingdom will more than make up for our sufferings in this present age (Rom 8:18; Phil 4:7). But I do not believe that Scripture teaches us to find consolation in trusting that everything that ever occurs has a divine reason behind it.*

* “David Griffin makes an insightful point in this regard. After pointing out that the Augustinian view of divine sovereignty reduces the ‘battle between the divine and the demonic’ to ‘a mock, not a real, battle,’ he observes that ‘one of the motives of this monistic monotheism, with its doctrine of divine coercive omnipotence, was to convince us that we really had nothing to fear from the demonic power. That complacent belief, as history has revealed, is just what we do not need’ (“Why Demonic Power Exists: Understanding the Church’s Enemy,” 1993). . . . The atheist Michael Martin forcefully points out that ‘if evil is only an illusion from our limited perspective,’ as it is in the Augustinian system, ‘then acting to change something that appears evil to something that appears good will make no moral difference in the ultimate scheme of things’ (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, 1990).” (Footnote, p. 162)

“This belief not only goes beyond the teaching of Scripture; it fosters a mentality that is at odds with Scripture. If one holds that there is a divine reason behind all suffering, one is more likely to resign oneself to things that Scripture encourages us to revolt against. Jesus and the New Testament authors instruct us to revolt against evil as coming from the enemies of God rather than trying to find security and consolation in the hope that God is somehow secretly behind it. Jesus never encouraged people to accept their sickness, disease or demonization as somehow fitting into his Father’s plan. Rather, he revealed that God’s plan was to overthrow these things, and he taught his disciples (and us) to adopt the same attitude. We are not to trust that God meticulously controls these things. We are rather to trust that God is against them, that he has empowered us to work with him in battling such evils and that God will ultimately overthrow all his foes and rid his creation of all forms of evil.

“If we adopt a warfare worldview rather than a blueprint worldview, we are encouraged to trust God for everything God himself tells us to trust him for and to fight against everything God himself fights against. God’s character is not tarnished by being entwined with the evil in the world, and the church’s mission is not compromised by accepting things it ought to revolt against.”


This quoted excerpt is from Gregory Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (2001), pp. 156-163. If you are interested to delving deeper into the subject as examined by Boyd, I recommend beginning with God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (1997.

May 21, 2015

Leaving Church

A few years ago I asked the question, “Is church essential?” I believe that the answer to that question helps inform an approach to the currently more pressing question, “Why are Millennials leaving the church?”

Yet to begin to succinctly approach the second question, the term church must be clarified. Are Millennials leaving the Church, the global body of Believers—their faith in Jesus Christ? Or are they merely leaving a church, a particular gathering or liturgical tradition of Believers? And if the latter, are they just trading it for another expression, or are they actually leaving that broadly accepted western expression called “church” to build or discover an entirely new one, all the while remaining deeply committed to resting in the heart of God?

These are important clarifications. For there is a certain set of questions that must be asked if someone is leaving their faith because of the Church or a church. There is a generally different set of questions, however, if they are leaving one church for another church; or even another set of questions if they are inclined to leave the current expressions entirely to explore other ways of gathering in the name of Jesus.

While the subject of “church” is not one that I am particularly interested in focusing on, I cannot deny the fact that I have been part of the Church nearly all my life. It is important. I have invested most of my life so far attending, volunteering for, and working on staff at churches. Not to mention that my parents and various other close family members have invested most of their lives so far attending, volunteering for, and working on staff at churches. I have not led a church, mind, nor do I want to.

The conversation is evolving. For years, it seemed to center on liturgy (i.e. how a church worships). This mostly had to do with music preferences. While I suspect that liturgy still influences many perspectives, the conversation does seem to be shifting to what I call “church structure”, which refers to how a church’s vision, priorities, and actual initiatives interact—how a church justifies and maintains its existence, to put it bluntly.  

Of course, it is very difficult to address such a subject concisely and cohesively. There are just too many variables. If you are not afraid to engage every facet of current church structures, I highly recommend reading Frank Viola and George Barna’s Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices. The book is incredibly well researched and asks a lot of important questions without being dismissive of the good in church tradition.

Unfortunately, many American Christians are uncomfortable with such questions. For the questions inevitably turn the analysis inward toward their own personal assumptions. Yet identifying one’s influences is crucial to awareness, and awareness is crucial to growth. The world needs more followers of Jesus Christ who are like this, who are truly living as his disciples.

To be a disciple of Jesus is not a static state. It is a growing, active obedience. Too many Christians passively accept whatever conceptual milk is fed to them, or dutifully attend a few activities to feel “active” in the faith, with only a few actually digesting whole food. In their occasionally bulldog adherence to one teacher or body of teachers, many of the latter even seem to be only consuming the same entrée over and over again, all the while neglecting the diversely dynamic spiritual feast that the Holy Spirit provides.

I aim to recall what is possible unfettered by personal prejudices. We who comprise the Church can do better than be content with consuming or providing lukewarm spiritual milk. We can offer the world something better because God offers us something better. He calls us to it.

So for a moment, I will address the third of the aforementioned questions:[1] to consider why people may be leaving the current expression of church entirely, all the while continuing their walk with Jesus. The other questions are important, but I think that they have been examined enough already by minds keener than mine.

What is church?
The Holy Spirit of Jesus dwells wherever his disciple dwells: in solitude,[2] in the gathering of two, three, or more disciples.[3]

Has the definition of church, therefore, become too narrow, too contained within a certain structure or setting? Who is to say that three disciples gathering regularly for mutual edification and support are a less successful or effective church than a gathering of three-thousand members? I suspect that some frustration and disappointment are mounting because most people have only experienced and been taught one particular expression of church, taught by one particular community of leaders, in one particular theological tradition, in one particular culture and nation; and that such an expression has proved to be somewhat hollow.

The world is full of beautifully diverse expressions of Christ-centered community (churches). Does the diversity suffer because a few well-meaning, well-resourced authorities—e.g. celebrity-status Christian teachers from the western nations who write many books and speak at many conferences—laud their own expression as the best?

This dampening of other expression has long happened politically, economically, culturally, and religiously. It has become more subtle, perhaps. But human power, most notably through money and structures, still seeks to govern all—whether literally (politics), influentially (culture), or spiritually (religion). This can easily become human nature unchecked, which our spiritual enemy, the “prince of this world”, Lucifer,[4] quickly preys upon. Church leaders are as susceptible to being deceived or deceiving themselves as anyone else. We must be aware of this to be able to approach this conversation humbly and productively.

Where are the disciples?
There are plenty of people who believe in Jesus Christ. It is just that his actual disciples are hard to recognize. One simple way of distinguishing between the two is that a believer has accepted Jesus, which is an absolutely necessary beginning, but who has yet to holistically follow Jesus actively (i.e. a disciple). Have churches focused too much on teaching people what to believe—or not to believe—rather than tangibly modeling how to live as disciples of Jesus?

Getting Connected
The Millennial generation has been marketed to more than any other generation. This has fostered significant wariness. Who really trusts the promises of advertisements anymore—at least without further research or reference?

Churches seem to be overselling themselves, promising more than they should—stretching themselves too broadly by trying to address every kind of need and person at every stage of life. Instead of the churches of a city joining together to each offer its unique strengths, too many churches seem to be trying to provide everything alone—to replicate every facet of a kingdom in every neighborhood—to meet all human needs in one small well-groomed package. It is no wonder that so many church leaders are burning out, or why so many church budgets are in the millions of dollars.

I suspect that the predominant “product” being oversold is the idea of community. Church community is generally lauded as the combination of a weekend worship service and weekday home group (e.g. “Small Group”). To be really engaged, however, one quickly realizes that she should also volunteer in a ministry and attend some kind of Bible study (e.g. “Sunday School”) as well—at least. This too often translates into spending half her time at the church. These initiatives can certainly point people toward God and intimate connection with one another by providing safe and intentional environments, but in the end I wonder if they mostly contribute to a shallow perception of being connected—busyness masquerading as community. If the scheduled structures are taken away, what is left?

For community to ultimately take root, it must transcend such a structure. It must enter the realm of spontaneity: at work, in homes, at cafes, on city streets, on wilderness trails. Real community is about the freedom and responsibility of individual people along with the mysterious gift of personal connection that only the Holy Spirit can provide. What most people call “church” may be a beginning for community, but it certainly is not the end.

Hallelujah, regardless of such structural flaws, the Holy Spirit moves. But the structures fall short of their aim. More to the point, some people just expect too much from such structures, not realizing that there are no guarantees of connection, to say nothing of too many peoples’ lack of consistent personal investment into such gatherings[5]. Regardless, have churches contributed to this unrealistic expectation? Are churches trying to take too much responsibility for community away from the individuals?

While an initiative like a small group can certainly be a catalyst for community, is it the best approach? Does it justify the resources—staff, money, and time—used to promote and maintain itself? I am not sure.

It is important to first ask another question: What is community?

Allow me to provide a metaphor.

Distance Runners
As a distance running coach, I can tell a runner how to maintain discipline in training, attending to the need for holistic awareness about strength and conditioning, nutrition, biomechanics, psychology, and adventure. Yet the truth will only really be known if I run those miles with him each day, week, month, and season—if I first model it with my own awareness. To really be known, in other words, the teaching must be reinforced through servant leadership—through others-focused integrity in action—again and again, consistently. We must journey together. We must grow together, realizing that we need each other to succeed. The team, which is a kind of potential community, must go from sharing cognitive beliefs to sharing physical habits. The mental and physical cannot be dissociated.

Yet being on the same team does not guarantee that we will connect, that the athletes will understand what I am trying to teach. As a coach, that is the risk that I must take. But I do so because I know the good that is possible. I have witnessed success, not only in improved athletic performance, but in matured character and leadership in my athletes. Therefore, knowing that is possible, I choose to continue working based on faith.

Furthermore, while I may be in a position of leadership as a coach, to truly succeed, I cannot act as though I am greater than my athletes. I may be more experienced, and hopefully wiser. I may be their teacher—a shepherd, really—but that does not mean that I am no longer fundamentally one of them as well: a runner. I still have much to learn myself. My story is just at a different chapter than theirs.

We distance runners share a unique community. The athletes and I need not become intimate friends for that to be true, for the main purpose of our community is to improve our character and athletic performance. If a friendship develops, transcending the sport, then that is an added gift to be received. But it does not define whether we are part of community or not.

The purpose of the community of a running team must be clearly communicated at the onset, for there are different expressions of community. Expectations must be aligned. That begins as my responsibility as coach. It must then be reiterated and demonstrated regularly, first by me as coach; and then, to really take affect, it must be championed by those athletes who not only believe, but have begun to model that purpose as well. In time, as the culture solidifies, we are transformed from merely being a team to being a community of family—in the strongest sense of the term—where individuals begin to perceive how they can belong: the unique and necessary role that each can fulfill and offer one another as well as those presently outside the family. In time, memories are made. This is a gift as well, one that is essential for that deeper community to grow.

The revelation of community should not end there, though. It must be shared. The athletes will eventually disperse into life, ideally still championing the values that I have taught and that our team has shared. Leaders grow. The message is shared. Others are invited in. New teams are formed with the potential for deeper community. The legacy continues.

This illustrates Jesus’ commission to his disciples. Belonging begins with personal acceptance of the Gospel, rises with belief, but only thrives with the freedom and responsibility of disciples joined together (the Church) in the vision of knowing and sharing the truth in hope and gratitude.

Freedom and Responsibility
Everyone seems to agree that relationship must be at the heart of a church, at the heart of what it means to be disciples. For at its most fundamental definition, discipleship simply means to intimately follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is about knowing God. Knowing God is about actively living how Jesus lived. In this relationship there is both obedience and hope. For Jesus obeyed in the hope of God's mercy, which at one important level is about gratitude or praise: a heart awakened to the wonder of God's goodness, which is God's love, and my human helplessness in the face of it. Thus I am humbled. Thus I worship in solitude and with others.

In a way, I am tiring of the word community because, like many other popular marketing terms currently employed by churches, it seems to have really lost a depth of meaning. If it indeed has been oversold, it has also become or is in danger of becoming a spirit without flesh to people—a lovely idea just beyond reach. Yet community is a living organism because it is comprised of living beings. Therefore, it is also fragile and unpredictable. That is its strength. That is the Gospel. It recalls something that Henri Nouwen wrote: “life is precious. Not because it is unchangeable, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable, like a little bird. To love life means to love its vulnerability.”

Is there another term that can guide us? For the moment, allow me to use one uncommon to this conversation, one used by Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude. Society. In a way, that word bespeaks something grander than community. I am drawn to society because it connotes the reality that a gathering of disciples (a church) is inseparable from the gatherings of people around them, of which there are many—the comprehensibly largest of which is a city. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” Paul writes in the beginning of his letter to the church in Rome (1:7). He opened many of his letters like this. Such an address reminds us that churches are not insular. They are physically part of human society. They are meant to be united, not dozens of units scattered throughout a city.

Society can only begin to truly form when it is full of people—not numbers—who recognize their freedom and responsibility. A person's freedom and responsibility are to accept the gift of being part of society. For a disciple of Jesus like myself, society is significant because at its heart is love, which begins with God and my accepting His love; but which must extend from me to the rest of society, for otherwise I cannot say that I really know love.

Society, or love, then is a gift. A gift is only a gift when it is received. It cannot be bought or traded as a commodity. Furthermore, it only remains a gift when it is not hoarded or treated as a product to be multiplied for commercial use. In its marketing, I am concerned that the idea of community is beginning to be treated by churches in this way. It is not intentionally commercial, but in its subtle marketing—the branding, campaigns, systems, etc.—the emphasis is beginning to seem too much like selling a commodity balanced by the currency of attendance. Now, consistent participation or presence is absolutely necessary for community to grow. It is a starting place. Numbers can inform. I am just wary of all the resources pouring into the selling of community rather than the actual modeling and shepherding of it. It is the nuanced difference between selling something verses inspiring it. The latter demands a lot of faith: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things no seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Overall, a gift must be shared generously and selflessly. For only in receiving and sharing a gift can it grow organically, taking on new life as it passes from person to person, from gathering to gathering. Hence each person bears some responsibility. The freedom is that the gift of community, of love, can be accepted or denied. This is because faith can only rise as the result of freedom and self-determination, not automatism.

Against Automatism
Automatism, another term used by Merton, is the result of a society that predominantly relies on human resources—money and man-made structures—to define success and influence. In the United States, at least, more and more churches are openly modeling themselves after the corporate business structure. There is likely greater fiscal responsibility in this structure; however, I wonder whether the result is too easily an automated society. Automatism, or overly streamlined structures, suffocates healthy faith and solitude. Healthy solitude is about confession and purification in a state where I must rely wholly on God for my needs—like Jesus in the desert. It is about facing and overcoming lies and despair—for the devil dwells in the desert as well—by the power of the truth. Only in such solitude can I come to recognize love—to hear God’s voice—and thus know how to live.

There is just so much noise, so much distraction. Have discussions about structure become a distraction? It is not about physical isolation. It is about a focused state of the heart. Where are people of solitude?

Knowing the truth is rooted in the Word of God, the revelation of Jesus made alive right now by his Holy Spirit. Hallelujah, this is taught in churches today. People do hear the truth. Sadly, it just seems to rarely go from concept to habit, from mind to heart. The most common struggle that I have heard from Christians is to be consistently reading the Word of God (the Bible). Considering the church resources poured into the telling and showing, it is incredible how few laypeople actually prove to be holistically living by the Word, which then suggests that they are really not coming to know it, which then suggests that something about the church’s approach is not working. Again, a church is not the only thing to be questioned here. People are free and responsible, after all.

Still, there is a tragic disconnect in current expressions of church. The heart is good. The truth is present. The flaws of its structure—approach, philosophy, or whatever term you prefer—however, are becoming increasingly clear.

So what are churches to do?

How to Live
The questions about whether church is essential or why Millennials are leaving church are ultimately not as important as the question that each of us must address: How to live?

The question is not so much about how a church worships or how its leaders teach, or even what the community looks like. It is about how its people live in solitude and together. That is what I want to focus on. There just seems to be too much pretense, too much spirit without flesh. Jesus is both spirit and flesh. They are not mutually exclusive. Church members appear to be falling discouragingly short of this unity, emphasizing one over the other. Or worse, and perhaps most common, their actions demonstrate tepidity—lives marked by laziness and fear.

Hallelujah, there is grace. Hallelujah, the Holy Spirit works regardless of human frailty. God can redeem and transform anything. But that does not mean that it will cost me nothing. It will cost me everything. Forgiveness is costly. It is risky. Being part of the Kingdom of God, which is larger than the Church, demands that I risk everything, that I offer everything at the feet of God. If I truly know Jesus’ love, his hope, then I know the courage and strength to do so. Today. Tomorrow. Again and again.

I cannot do this alone. I have God’s Spirit within me, but He ordained that I have others as well. I cannot dissociate myself from society. I am part of it. What that means, however, is far more subjective, far more diverse and beautiful than most churches seem to realize or acknowledge.

Leaving Church
Can I leave church?

As a disciple of Jesus, I am the Church. We are the Church. The potential is always there. It does not really matter what structural expression that potential takes, as long as we follow Jesus alone and together, growing in our love of God and all people. By the power of the Holy Spirit, this society requires our daily freedom and responsibility to thrive. It requires our courage to participate in sharing its story: the story of mankind, Israel, Jesus, the Church, ourselves.

We must be more present with one another. Listen. Share. Ask. Pray. Study. We must encourage each other in gratitude of God’s mercy. To me, this is gathering, this is church. It just may not be those churches.

Thus the church building fades. The ceilings, walls, and barriers crumble. The wind clears the dust. Fresh air fills our lungs. The sun shines down to reveal a wide world full of people weighed down by despair—people who need hope, who need to be told and shown a story of mercy: what the life, death, and resurrection of a rabbi from Nazareth has done, is doing, and can do through each of our stories.

This love is changing the world. I have seen it. I do not know where Jesus will lead me or us on this road, to what mountains, deserts, or seas—successes or failures—but I choose to follow.



[1] The following thoughts were sparked by a conversation regarding yet another article about why the Millennial generation appears to be leaving churches. (Take a look at the conversation here.)
[2] Consider Ezekiel 36:26-27, 37:14, Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16b, 17:21b, Acts 19:2a, Romans 8:9-11.
[3] Consider Matthew 18:20.
[4] i.e. Satan, the devil.
[5] Disclaimer: I currently live in San Jose, California—the Silicon Valley—where commercialism and busyness reign; therefore, certain challenges for a local church may be more pronounced here than in other places.

Apr 24, 2015

Still Talking about Romance

Continuing an actual conversation between a young single man and woman begun in Talking about Romance and Talking about Romance Again. (Used with permission.)


Chapter 1

She
I feel like I am questioning my sanity—and if I am even interested and all that—every two seconds.

He
That sounds tiring.

She
It is. Honestly, I have discovered that I don't know how to date. I only know how to be friends.

He
Yeah, it is a muddy business.

She
Is it supposed to be this confusing? Am I over thinking it? Or is this a sign that this just isn’t meant to be?

He
No. Maybe. I am not sure. Real relationship takes willful courage to grow toward intimacy. So partly it is your choice. But it is also his choice. And then there seems to definitely be some mysterious aspect of God in the mix. The challenging reality is that both you and God could see the potential in such a relationship; however, the other person could still choose to ignore or reject that. Does that make sense?

She
Yes.

He
What is absolutely certain is that at some point a relationship is hard. At what point that first real mountain appears, however, seems to be quite subjective.

She
It seems that everyone else other than me gets it. It seems easier for them, and I am just over here, like, "I am not good at this” and “I am confused."

He
I suspect that many people do not "get it," but rather just accept shallower structures or paths, or focus on immediate happiness at the neglect of really considering long-term intimacy. It seems that many people become disillusioned or too selfish in their relationship, unwilling to fight for it, but too often in the midst of a marriage or family dynamic. Hence there are so many divorces—or, somewhat contrarily, so many people living together without really committing to life with each other. In other words, too many people accept a mediocre more self-oriented standard that ultimately proves empty. Right?


Chapter 2

She
So, I am still talking with him.

He
You mean that you are still undecided?

She
I think I do feel undecided, and I feel uncertain. Also, I would like to hang out with him again and really see.

He
Do you have a potential date to do so?

She
Yes, the end of this month.

He
In the meantime, are you keeping in touch regularly?

She
Yep. We text every day and talk on the phone at least once a week, but usually more. (Like way more.)

He
Impressive.

She
Do you think it is normal to still feel so uncertain?

He
Considering your circumstances, sure. I think certainty/uncertainty is very relative.

She
Can you explain that?

He
I mean that I do not really think that there is a universal standard when it comes to the normalcy or otherwise of your still feeling uncertain at this point. Considering your circumstances, it seems to me pretty normal to still be uncertain, though.

She
Got it.


Chapter 3

She
So, he asked to move our date out a week yesterday. I had/have no emotional reserve for this sort of request, and just started crying.

He
I am sorry. That is definitely not what you need right now.

She
Yes, it's a legit request, and he just didn't know why it would be so upsetting. Disappointing yes, but not cry worthy. I think I should book an appointment with you to talk about this whatever thing I am in. I seriously feel like I go back and forth on it so much.

He
Ha. This "Whatever Thing." Code for a "Ambivalationship" or "Awkwardlationship."

She
Yes, exactly. "Ambivalationship" is the perfect word. Also, I have to say, part of this journey for me is really learning who those people are who I can talk to about this, and who push me to be better and don't push me to react out of fear.

He
I am glad that I can be one of those people.


Chapter 4

She
I think I might end things with him. I like talking to him, and there are things I really like about him, but I don't really get the feeling that he really sees ME or wants to be with me. Do you think three months is really enough time to determine that? Or am I being too antsy?

He
Three months and a lot of interaction, right?

She
Or maybe what I am really seeing is that I think I want something different. We talk on the phone a lot.

He
I think that three months is plenty of time. If you are not inspired to keep investing in the relationship, it is probably that you do want something different. Each of us should only really be in a relationship where the other person pretty clearly wants to be with us, to know us—to see us.

She
Yes. I agree with this, and that is when I get confused. I mean, he called me most days.

He
Hmm. Why do you think that he does not see you?

She
I mean, seriously most of the time he calls. I take that as a little interest, but I don't really think it is enough, and that is where I can't tell if I just need to calm down or move on—because a lot of times the conversation is about him.

He
I understand how that could be tiring.

She
At lest it feels that way. Maybe not totally true. Also, and I realize this may sound totally girly, but he never compliments me.

He
That is not girly. We all need encouragement.

She
Like he never says "I enjoy talking to you." or "Wow! That was a bold move," or really anything like that.

He
If you had to decide right now whether to keep investing in the relationship or not, what is your first response?

She
Not. I will miss him, but really no. I don't see things changing. I think I just don't know how to tell him.

He
You probably need to move on then. It feels sad to have invested so much already, but in a way it is not too much. If you sense the promise of feeling freer in your moving on then you need to take the step. There is no easy way of communicating that to him. You just need to begin by telling him how you feel, but also leaving space for him to respond to that before you completely leave the relationship.

She
I guess I also question if I gave him enough feedback to help him know what I needed.

He
Maybe.

She
But then I think, "We are not in a relationship. He has been slow to decide that," so then I don't feel I really have an opening to say something.

He
Yes and no. That is the nature of an ambivalationship, isn't it?

She
So true.

He
I would say to not worry about whether you have an opening or not. We need more brave honesty in relationships.

She
I agree. Vulnerability, honesty, bravery—ALL things I am trying to work on and be better at.

He
Here is your chance to grow in that.

She
I think what is frustrating is that with each experience I feel I am growing and becoming better (not perfect, but a little better) at these relationship things. But in reality, I feel discouraged because I don't see really good men out there who fit with me.

He
I understand.

She
And the more I grow, the gap feels wider.

He
I agree.

She
And I am happy to grow. I would rather grow than not. But it just feels so weird—weird to grow into a place where I am (in a little way) more disconnected and discouraged.

He
Part of that is influenced by societal and church pressure to be married really young, so that we feel like we missed something or are late, etc.

She
I think that is partly true and partly my own dating experience.

He
It is about trusting the journey that God has each of us on. Do you feel like you grow closer to God through these challenges?

She
Um, in a way yes. I feel more resolved, a little clearer on my life path. But again, it is also deeply discouraging to feel I am getting better for something God might not have for me.

He
Most people define themselves by their marital status. I seek to cling to an identity that transcends that—something deeper, more lasting that begins with God and His Kingdom. It is easy to define oneself as "I am single" or “I am married” rather than "I am a leader", "I am an artist," etc. Both even those are extrinsic. Perhaps it is about clinging to something intrinsic: "I am an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven", "I am free", "I am aware." I am not sure. Those are some recent thoughts that are giving me a lot to consider about identity.

She
I like these thoughts.

He
Contrarily, though, the Bible suggests that we are made needing other people, to be defined by community to some extent.

She
So, there has to be a balance in there somewhere.


Chapter 5

She
So . . . I totally had a text conversation with him last night.

He
How did you feel after the conversation?

She
Still like I like him.

He
Does he seem to be making some of the conclusions that you need?

She
Interestingly, yes. I mean, I haven't expressed my conclusions to him. But last night he paid me three unsolicited compliments.

He
Do you feel encouraged by this?

She
I do. I mean, I don't understand why he would do that. But I think he is still processing things, and I want to give him the space to do that.

He
Well, that is admirable of you. I cannot say that I know of another woman giving a man that chance. Though it is predicated on your still being interested in him to some degree.

She
Do you think I am being unwise?

He
No, I think that it is admirable.

She
Thank you. I think I struggle with that idea—that I am not doing things the "right way" and that I "shouldn't talk to him" because I ended things.

He
The idea that there is a "right way" is very deceptive. And confusing. And generally rubbish—in my opinion.

She
Maybe I am confusing myself. Maybe I am setting myself up for heartbreak. I don' t know. I just know that I know what would be needed to keep going forward, and until that isn't there, a little part of me is still in this.

He
So there is enough there to keep you going? That is important to recognize.

She
And I guess, I am in a way trying to practice loving a person. Not romantically, but like, in an “I want what is best for you” way.

He
Loving someone is always risking heartbreak. In fact, it probably guarantees it. But heartbreak is not a permanent state, or need not be, nor is it always unhealthy. It can grow us stronger. It is about exposing and being aware of one's vulnerability. Only by recognizing that can we truly live in freedom.

She
I guess I keep wondering if it is wise to invest in someone in this way when I really have no certainty of the outcome. But in a way, I feel like this is beyond my control.

He
We are all vulnerable. We are all afraid. We cannot control the outcome. We can only trust—first God, above all, because He is the only perfect, reliable power. For trust is absolutely necessary in love.

She
Yes.

He
In human-human relationship, we can choose to protect ourselves, to "keep control" by never stepping out into the real wilderness, the real struggle, of love. Or we can step out into it, struggle through it, fail at times, grow, and come out of it with a realer awareness of security and safety and trust. But we have to step outside and risk everything to really understand that. There is no other way.

She
Yes. I enjoy talking with you, friend. I think it helps to voice things that I think or struggle to understand.

He
I am glad that I am one you feel comfortable processing through the messiness with. And it certainly is messy. Messy and uncertain.

She
Yes, totally. I mean, you aren't the only one, but I think your perspective is refreshing.

He
I am glad. That is what true friendship and community are about: processing with different people, gaining from the wealth of experience that only a community can provide.

She
Agreed!

Mar 30, 2015

Song Travels: Ainulindalë

Read the Introduction to this series, "Song Travels," here.

Creation
Listen to “Ainulindalë” (Track 11, “There was a Song”, There was Music 2011 version)

I distinctly remember the conception of this song.

It was a pleasant day—either a Sunday morning or late Saturday afternoon. The sun was warm, the air fresh. Birds were chirping. The scent of life was in the air: the leaves of whispering maple and aspen trees, thick tufts of grass, and grape vines consuming the yard’s chain-link fence. It may have been springtime. A lawn mower hummed nearby. I was living in Colorado Springs, sitting on wooden folding chair outside the backdoor of the Yampa House’s cement patio. The square-shaped area was sheltered by a corrugated metal roof, which was often a playground to a family of squirrels.

I was preparing and rehearsing a set list for Tim & Emily Duguid’s wedding. As sometimes happens when I “warm up”—playing whatever my fingers instinctively guide me toward—I entered a blessed time of unbound inspiration. The opening melody was more or less discovered by exploring the possibilities of the A-scale, which I was quite fond of at the time—and still am.

Side Note: I am mostly interested in fostering unusual chord structures. This has sometimes garnered a “What is that?” or “I have no idea what that chord is” kind of response. It is the result of my simply combining notes from a scale with a pioneering spirit, yielding such uninspiring names as “A-variant” or “E-variant”, which can actually signify a variety of different fingerings. Sometimes they do not work, but sometimes I come upon something intriguingly beautiful. Such is how I feel about the composition of “Ainulindalë”, though one of my favorite chords—featured in the “chorus”—is a simple open A-variant first used in the original chorus of “Follow Me.”

I originally composed the song with marriage in mind. I considered calling it “Union,” but thought the title might be too limiting. I did not want audiences to just associate it with sex. I then considered calling it “Pearl”, inspired by Jesus’ parable about the man who discovers a pearl in a field, and thereby sells everything he owns to acquire it. Such a title suggested finding something rare and precious, and sacrificing all to gain and nurture it. I wanted to convey a beauty that is real, that can be found, but that is also transcendent.

Having recently read J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Silmarillion, I found something very compelling about the title of the book’s opening segment, “Ainulindalë.” The first chapter is about the creation of Arda through the Music of the Ainur (the holy ones): the great song at the beginning of time. Arda was to be the dwelling place for the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). The Elves awoke in the quiet wilderness of Arda looking up at the stars. I remembered a painting by Ted Nasmith, “At Lake Cuiviénen” that depicts that scene, which had hung from my wall during high school as part of a Tolkien Calendar, and decided that “Ainulindalë” was indeed the right title for such a song. It is, of course, ironic how it actually requires more explanation than any of its potential predecessors. However, the poetry of the word alone conveys beauty even without explanation, which is a testament to Tolkien’s adoration of language. So that settled it for me.

There was a Song
Noting the version of the song linked above, “Ainulindalë” was actually first listed as “There was a Song” in my first musical sketchbook, There was Music. This refers to the story of There was Music, a novel I completed during the following year.

Overall, the story is about a woman’s long and harrowing journey toward freedom and healing. In prison and then a wilderness, she defies all hardships and oppressors through her survival. Yet survival is never easy. Furthermore, there is something deep and unalterable within us that knows that survival is not enough. Human begins need more. She begins to understand this through the gift of music that a mysterious traveler offers her. She is first drawn to him because of a song. Never named in the novel, “There was a Song” is an expression of that song. It is a song that she receives as a gift, and it is a song that she can nurture and ultimately share as a gift with others. It is about transcendence and frailty. As musical sketchbooks, both There was Music and Why are you here? tell that story.

The Recordings
Listen to “Ainulindalë” (Track 6, Between Meadow and Sky 2011 version)

In addition to There was Music, “Ainulindalë” is also included in my second musical sketchbook, Between Meadow and Sky (as Alaudidae). It features a beautiful piano accompaniment by Regina van der Eijk. In terms of accompaniment, this version probably works the best in maintaining a kind of detached ethereal sound. The classical guitar track is actually the exact recording from “There was a Song,” which had been given a softer, larger room effect using Garage Band by its original producer, Elliott Irby (Redwood).

Listen to “Ainulindalë” (Track 9, Why are you here? 2012 version)

The third presentation of the song is in my third musical sketchbook, and first album as Myshkin, Why are you here? “Ainuldinalë” was re-recorded at a slightly different pace with a rawer, more intimate emotional feel in its less produced sound. Angela Sawtell adds a stirring voice with the cello, which I would like to explore further because my low tech recording mic did not do the cello justice. I am also fond of the subtle additional layer of classical guitar that I provided during the swelling “chorus” lines.

Overall, there is an interesting distinction between the two essential versions of this song. I only realized this recently, which serves as further testament to the traveling nature of a song. One version of the song suggests a more spiritual, transcendent character: the mysterious traveler in There was Music. The other version conveys a more flawed, human character: the protagonist. In a way, that is perfect because the song in fact really embodies the gift exchange of those two characters - of any two people, really. This is the power of human connection.

This is the power of music.

Mar 27, 2015

Teenage Romance

An example of how film unifies my artistic passions - writing, cinematography, music, direction, acting, and editing - here is a fresh adaptation* of one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays:



*HSM (High School Ministry at WestGate) Oscar winner of Best Short Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Most Creative.

Feb 24, 2015

Song Travels: Follow Me

Read the Introduction to this series, "Song Travels" here

The Lyrics
Listen to “Follow Me” (Track 5, Stories Go 2015 version)

I originally wrote “Follow Me” in 2009.

It began as raw emotions expressing my failing to garner any notice from a young woman I was attracted to. This discouragement is what fueled the questions presented in the opening stanza below.

If I come hoping for you
What will I find?
Even see me, could you love me?
Tell me the truth.
Even see us, could you love us?

Phrases like “Even see me” and “Even see us” demonstrate the gnawing question of whether I was invisible to her, whether there was any potential for attraction. It is about whether she could even imagine us together—whether she could love me as well as love the idea of us as a couple. In short, it is a stanza that suggests a heart already weary from unrequited romantic pursuit. The words express a heart that wishes to see the future, to know whether the effort of pursuit is worthwhile. They are words of longing for honesty—for an answer, really—from the start (e.g. “Tell me the truth”).

Of course, that is not possible, so I was left wondering what it would take for me to be noticed—to be known by her. Thus the thoughts and emotions drift to the next stanza:

If I die, surrender for you,
Would you believe
That I care for, that I dare for
Your heart to change?
That I care more, that I dare more.

Will you follow, follow me through?
Can you keep your faith, can you find the strength for me?

Copyright Myshkin (Joshua D. Grubb)
The death referred to at the start is not so much about physical death, but about sacrifice—the death of self. I believe that the ultimate vision for intimate love is that of two people serving one another: surrendered foremost to God, and secondarily to each other. I have written extensively on this subject—“Why marry someone?”—so will not delve deeply into it here.

The real question remains whether my actions can change someone’s heart for me? I am not sure. Sometimes, yes. Mostly, no. There can be influence, but real change seems to be in the realm of God alone, with a bit of independent human will in the mix. Regardless, an essential question that love asks is whether the other will share in the journey (“follow me through”), trust, and be resilient enough (“find the strength”) to love through the peaks and valleys, ascents and descents of life.

As the song continued to take shape, I began to realize that my questions were fundamentally or ultimately not my own. I remembered that Jesus Christ—who I love, follow, and worship as friend, teacher, and lord—asks me these same questions every day. The voice in the song, therefore, began to shift from being my heartfelt words to a woman to being what I perceive are the words of Jesus Christ to me. His heart yearns for me to know him more. He asks, “Do you ‘see me’? Do you ‘love me?’”

A deep cave: darkest Hades
I have gone through
It was for you, key to free you
From narrow worlds.
Endless promise, endless kingdom

All is done; offered to you
Will you receive?
I am with you, always love you
Past your last breath.
Spirit in you, never leave you:

Jesus surrendered to God on our behalf. He suffered on a cross, died, and descended into hell because of that deep love. It not only transforms my relationship with God, but all of humanity’s connection with God here and now by his Holy Spirit. Jesus cared more and dared more than any other human being in history. The question remains: Will I follow—follow him through every hardship, every joy, every failure, every triumph? Will I trust him? Will that faith strengthen me? Will it move me to act courageously?

Will you follow, follow me through?
Can you keep your faith, can you find the strength for me?

The Composition
This song has been one of the more frustrating in terms of musical composition. Until recently, I have generally not liked it, ignored it, and even considered leaving it buried in the annals of my musical sketchbooks. That is not uncommon. Sometimes songs just do not work. I am not entirely decided about this one yet, but my connection to the lyrics compels me to not give up on it quite yet.

Musically, the song began as an attempt to use spaces of silence effectively. My friend and fellow musician, Elliott Irby, who plays keys and produced the original Redwood recording, had encouraged me to explore that more.

Listen to “Follow Me” (Track 9, There was Music 2011 version)

Copyright Joshua D. Grubb
Originally, the djembe adds a steady heartbeat to the song that I still do like. The disconnection for me is rooted in the long redundancy of it. I simply find it tiring and rather boring to play the verses. Furthermore, the E/C#m chord often sounds a bit too dissonant. Tyler Griffith’s stirring fiddle and Elliott’s more subtle organ padding is what redeems the original recording for me, especially the instrumental outro of the song. That alone makes the original sketch valuable to me.

A technical challenge to the original composition was that I really struggled to keep the rhythm perfectly—I still do. Elliott had me use a click track for the original recording, just to keep me in line. Aside from that instance, I have never used a metronome. I absolutely recognize that I need to improve my musical timing, however relying on a device to do so just feels too mechanical. I prefer leaning toward the more flawed, but more organic nature of allowing the song to find its rhythm. There is a necessary balance, of course. The recording process is helping to reveal such weaknesses. I am attentive to them.

With a desire to re-examine the song for my re-release of Stories Go, I wrestled a few hours with this same problem again. It was exhausting. I initially tried using the exact same approach as the 2011 version. Only this time, thinking to add a degree of resonant padding with the guitar, I sought to incorporate a guitar tapping technique instead of the single strumming technique used in There was Music. In the end, I just could not get the timing right. I tried recording the guitar track first as well as the djembe track, but neither to any avail.

It was time to take a dinner break, to step away for a while. That is absolutely necessary in art sometimes. Not to mention that mounting hunger seldom aids mental productivity.

Like in relationships, sometimes it is by realizing what does not work in a song that one understands what will work. Days earlier, trying to renew a musical vision for the song, I played it with the mandolin instead. This gave the song a very different feeling, while at the same time retaining its original heart. In fact, I felt more compelled by where the mandolin was leading. It changed the vocal style during the chorus somewhat, but felt more united with the rest of the song. While I love the A chord of the original version, the leading E/C#m chord continued to feel and sound problematic.

After dinner, recording the mandolin as the base track—the track from which I record other tracks and build the song—I felt reinvigorated. Some elements from the original version had to be abandoned because they did not fit with the new approach, but the subtle verse harmonics and chorus melody of the acoustic guitar, spiced by the djembe and tambourine, yielded a very satisfying result. Unintentionally, it almost sounds eastern in genre, or reminiscent of early Sufjan Stevens.

I have always felt that my vocals are the weakest element in my music. While I ultimately imagine my music lead by a female voice like Colbie Callait; to preserve the vocal idea in the meantime, I found it interesting to adopt of more classical vocal style with this song. I am not vocally trained, mind, but it sounded more choral in nature—tenor perhaps. This actually influenced the direction of this song sketch as well. I played with some post-production effects on the voice, such as mild reverb, but nothing seemed to fit what the song seems to be asking for. What began in 2011 as a grand vision, a swelling crescendo of passion and longing, has now reached a quieter, more intimate dialogue. The passion has not changed, however. It is just more fragile. It has just found a deeper, subtler soil to continue taking root in.

Thus it remains for now: raw, still marked by questions, and yet a willingness to serve and sacrifice in love stronger than ever before.

Read about "Ainulindalë".

Song Travels: Introduction

Song travels.

It is a living, growing, wild thing.

It travels through the soul: the wondrous architecture of the mind and the restless backcountry of the heart. As our personal stories go, so lives a song. Parts of it may stay the same, but other aspects inevitably change. To the artist, the creative starting point—the spark: the memory or emotion that conceived the work—may never really change. It is the foundation. Yet if the song aims to engage real life, it will and must grow. For growth is the mark of life. Such transformation is what I believe defines great art.

Copyright Joshua D. Grubb
For the best of songs, like the healthiest of relationships, new layers of meaning will be added along the way. Inspiration matures into revelation. Revelation guides toward vision—toward action. Action may return to the starting point with new eyes. Wisdom will hopefully result. The cycle continues. As life unravels its choice mysteries to the adventurous and attentive, great art can offer a widening lens of understanding. This can be true for the artist and patron alike. While it certainly does not happen with a majority of songs, it is certainly possible.

To me, the music of Andrew Bird is an example of this beautiful evolution—this shared journey between artist and patron.

Granted, it is a very subjective relationship. One song will resonate with someone, but not another. One person will cherish the song as a gift while another will treat it as a commodity. The artist cannot really control the outcome, but he can offer the gift. Like a personal journal entry, a song’s history alone will sustain some level of meaning, even if only for the creator. But ultimately, it needs the movement—the fresh, vibrant air—of people to continue living and cultivating it as a gift in the life of community.

That, at least, is my aim in writing this series. I wish to expound on why certain songs—songs that I have written and composed—seek to be gifts from me to you by revealing their history: past, present, and possibly future. I will offer you a glimpse into each song’s story, in other words. For, to me, a song is meant to welcome others into a movement. Its journey is richest when tracing the intersecting pathways of human life. I invite you to share in that with me.

Song travels. It connotes both movement and a narrative larger than any one song—a chapter into the soul: mine and yours.

Will you follow?

Read about “Follow Me”, the first song examined in this series.