Thursday, April 28, 2011

Autonomic Art

I’ve been involved in music since I was a kid. I tried to write songs at a very early age, and I started instrumental music with piano lessons when I was 6 or 7. The piano teacher told my parents I just didn’t have the talent to play because I struggled with it so much, but what was really going on is that my eyes were bad and I couldn’t see the music. No one knew it at the time, but after I got my first pair of glasses, it all went clear. Yet, I didn’t go back to the piano because it cost a lot and too much time had passed, which is a very sad thing for me.

But no one could keep me out of music. I kept trying to write songs. I listened to music like people drink water to stay alive. Then, in fifth grade, they put some of us on recorder flutes and started to teach us melodic notation and, as we prepared for sixth grade, our band teacher asked us what instrument we’d like to play. I said “trombone.” I was very enamored of the trombone. Who wouldn’t be? But she looked at me and said, “You look like a drummer.”

So I was a drummer.

I went on to play drums with school band, drum and bugle corps, a local symphony, rock bands, a country band, a rockabilly band, church bands, so on and so forth. With drums and percussion, I was better at the symphonic and drum corp stuff than playing on the set, but I did okay. I always liked to sing, so I tried my hand at that and did okay. I eventually took guitar lessons and a few piano lessons to get the theory down, and kept writing songs which, for me, was and still is an autonomic response to life.

But I’ve known some musicians and other artists who quit. They just quit playing, quit singing, quit painting, quit their crafting, quit making quilts or building cars and whatnot. They quit producing their art pretty much completely. Which has always been strange to me. I honestly don’t understand it. It makes me wonder why they were doing the thing in the first place. I mean, there are all kinds of petty reasons we might cling to in order to justify our expression of art or craft or skill, when we shouldn’t be trying to justify it at all.

I like this quote from Stephen King. He said,”"Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."

I’m with that.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


What is time?

If you think you know for certain, go ahead and put your definition in the comments section. It would be interesting to see what you think. But I’m not certain about what time is, and I haven’t found any science books or scientists that have given a particularly satisfactory answer to the question. It’s much like the concept of gravity, in that no one can really explain it.

Is time just an idea, or does it have some tangible reality to it?

It seems to me that “time” may only matter to us, as a concept or otherwise, because it “passes,” and as it passes we experience loss and decay. So it’s not so much time that matters to us, it’s the loss and decay that matters. As Chinua Achebe wrote, “Things Fall Apart.”

What if entropy is the real issue? What if time only matters because entropy occurs? What if time is only the distance between one state of being and the next state of being, and the “difference” between those two states of being is decay? And, on the other hand, what if decay didn’t happen? Where would time be then? Would it even make sense to talk about time? I’m fascinated by the idea of an existence that functions without entropy.

But, for now, it makes sense that we would devise some way to keep track of this commodity of “time” as it decays away from us, or whatever it’s doing. And our measuring tool, for the most part, seems to be the clock. Clocks help us to keep track of the loss. They are the measure of what’s gone and what’s potentially ahead. Because of this, sometimes just having a clock nearby can be a bit oppressive. But not having a clock can be worse, because the treasure of life can slip away, wasted, if we don’t pay attention.

It all just makes me want to fly like an eagle. To the sea.

How about you?

Romans 8:20-21
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Death In His Grave

A songwriter I really like, John Mark McMillan, wrote a great song called “Death In His Grave.” It expresses the realities of Good Friday and Easter in a beautiful way. Here are the words, and the video is below. Pause the music to the right before you play the video.

Peace to you.

Death In His Grave
John Mark McMillan

Though the Earth Cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
for the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke holding keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

© LW Publishing 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jesus Movies

 It being time for Easter, people ask me what is the “best” movie about Jesus life. The Passion of the Christ is the first one many might think of, and it is a great film, but it’s not exactly about the life of Jesus. It’s really more about the death of Jesus, and there are some other great films that bring out much more of the account of the Messiah.

My personal favorite is Jesus of Nazareth, which was made for television, but it was done on a huge budget and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It is a masterpiece in many ways, though it is very long, running at 6 ½ hours, but it’s worth every second. The attention to detail is amazing. The acting is natural and restrained, and the whole thing makes you feel like you’re there, 2000 years ago, in the middle of it all.

My least favorite are two films, one being the 1999 made for TV movie called “Jesus,” which was so bad it’s best to just leave it alone and hope it fades into the mists of oblivion. Then, on a larger scale, there is The Greatest Story Every Told, starring the blond haired, blue eyed, Swedish actor named Max Von Sydow as Jesus. I like Max Von Sydow as an actor, and he has done some cool things, but what were they thinking? He is horribly miscast in this film. The whole thing is a giant mess from start to finish. Over blown, over acted, obvious in it’s presentation. It’s an embarrassment.

Other versions like the two versions of King of Kings are okay. But not great. Most are a bit maudlin and preachy when they aren’t being pompous and over done.

A big exception to all of that is this newer version that we watched with our kids the other night. It’s called The Miracle Maker, and it is done in stop motion animation. If you don’t know what that is, it’s how the old Rankin and Bass TV shows were made, as well as modern films like Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas and, like the Henry Selick films, this is light years beyond Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer..

The Miracle Maker succeeds on every level. It is a great retelling of the life of Christ that the whole family can watch. My kids were into it for the whole show. And, on top of this, it is one of the best pieces of stop motion work I’ve ever seen. The sheer number of characters on screen throughout the film is outrageous from a stop motion perspective. Given that they have to move all of those character one little increment for every few seconds of film, it leaves you stunned and wondering how in the world they managed it. It is a co British/Russian production, with mostly Brits doing the voice acting (Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job with the voice of Jesus), and the Russians doing most of the animation. It is stunning to look at, with character design, backgrounds and lighting informed by the paintings of Raphael. Regnault and Botticelli. And it is very respectful of the Bible.

You could easily read through the four Gospel accounts this week and see a few of these movies. It would be well worth your time.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me

At one time in my life I was very devoted to chocolate. I was known for this. People made jokes about how much I loved chocolate, and I didn’t mind because it was a love affair worth celebrating. And I thought it would last forever.


I still like chocolate, but I am no longer as devoted as I once was. Once upon a time I thought we were mated for life, and if given the choice I would have taken the chocolate every time.

But, over the past few years, if I’m to be honest, some of the spark has gone out of the relationship. I mean, I still like chocolate. I enjoy it sometimes. But it is no longer always my first choice, and I’m not exactly sure why. Sometimes I’m just feeling more like lemon or lime or who knows what. You could say I’m kind of “playing the field.” The other day, for instance, I was inexplicably drawn to something called “Blueberry Pie” ice cream. Swirls of blueberries in vanilla ice cream with chunks of pie crust mixed in.

Oh my.

In the freezer, right next to the blueberry ice cream is the chocolate. And it’s not just chocolate. It’s Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream with all kinds of wonderful things in it. But it simply glared at me balefully while I left it sitting and took the blueberry instead.

Perhaps I should seek counseling? I just don’t know.

Occasionally, I’ll dip into the world of chocolate again, trying to capture some of the old romance. But, while I enjoy it, it’s just not what it used to be. And I feel kind of bad about it.

It’s not you, chocolate. You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s me. It really is. Somehow I’ve changed. I don’t know how or why. No one is to blame. Well, maybe I am, but I don't know what to do about it. It just happened. We can still be friends, can't we?

I promise to visit from time to time if you’ll have me.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just Another Everyday

 So, Sunday afternoon my kids had some friends over. We almost always have a lot of kids over here. There were half baked humans whirling about, laughing loudly, imagining who knows what kind of whatnot, blissfully unaware of the wider weirdness of the world.

It’s a beautiful thing.

At one point I looked outside to be sure everyone was still breathing and noticed that one of my kids and a few of the others had strange wet spots on their clothes that made it look like they’d all peed their pants. At first I thought they must have sat on a wet swing or on the ground and gotten their butts wet. But they cleared up the mystery.

Them: “We put ice cubes in our butts.”

Me: “You what?”

Them: “We put ice cubes in our butts.”

Me: “Why in the world would you put ice cubes in your butts.”

Them: “Because it’s so warm today!”

Me: “It’s not that warm.”

Them: “But it feels good!”

Me: “Well. Um. Um. Uh. Well. Just don’t take them out and lick them or anything.”

Them: “We won’t!”

But they had this look on their faces like the only reason that wasn’t happening already is because they just hadn’t thought of it yet.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011


The coach would hit the balls out to us on the field. I liked being out there. I liked the other guys. I liked the smell of the grass and the blue sky overhead.

We spread out past the bases, waiting on that ball. But I was never very good with the “I got it!” I was always a little afraid of that moment when the ball might come towards me. I wasn’t afraid of the ball. I was afraid of not catching it. There was a better chance that I’d miss it than catch it. I could get to the ball, my hand eye coordination is pretty good, but no one taught me how to set myself, to be ready for it. You had to walk in the door with certain skills or you were quickly pushed to the sidelines and simply put up with.

I caught it sometimes. But, mostly, I fumbled the ball before dropping it. There was a certain clownish aspect to the whole thing. Fumbling was normal for me. Trying to get the grip. Trying to gain some control, but failing. That kind of peace and security is elusive. At least for me.

Later, I found out that fumbling was more of a football word than a baseball word. With a football, you have your hands. No glove. And the hands either get it or they don’t. You either complete, or you don’t.

I never much went for football either.

I’m just kind of a fumbler. I’ve fumbled a lot of things over the years. Goals. Dreams. Hopes. Ambitions. Friendships. Moments that could have mattered a lot more than they did. I just couldn’t get a grip. A lot has slipped through my fingers.

But while I still struggle with this, while I still fumble all the time, I have some peace because I know I’m held for eternity by hands that never fumble. Ever.

Jude 1:24-25
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Church Songs

I have been involved in writing music now for over 30 years. It started when I was a kid, before I had even learned an instrument. I would use two cassette decks and sing my song ideas onto them. I’d sing a melody line on one, then play it back while recording on the other and add parts as I went along, back and forth, trying to piece things together.

For many of us who are caught up in this behavior of song writing, it is somewhat pathological. When a song starts humming in the mind, you either get it out or you get a little crazy. It’s hard to concentrate on other things. It’s like having a radio playing loudly in one ear while someone tries to talk to you in the other. It really is a compulsion, and it can be a good one if properly managed.

I’ve lost track of how many songs I’ve written over the years. People ask me sometimes, and I honestly have no idea. It’s in the hundreds. I’ve recorded a few things along the way, but I’ve never been very happy with the results. Some friends are helping me do some things now with new gear that has finally become financially accessible. But it’s still very, VERY challenging to produce anything even half way decent. My talent has some pretty severe limits.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve primarily written songs for use in churches. For those of you who don’t go to church, this might seem a little odd. I know when I was a kid, I thought all those songs we sang in church had always just sort of been there. Didn’t God write those songs? But the fact is that song writing for Church use is a long and honorable tradition. Artists have done it all throughout history, people like Bach and Handel, John Newton, Charles Wesley and W.C. Handy. And Hank Williams Sr.

Hank saw the light, at least for a little while, and he wrote about it. It’s what he did.

And there are moderns still writing for the Church. Contemporary artists like Phil Wickham, Chris Tomlin, the Fee brothers, Darlene Zschech and many others who are doing the best they can to tap into melodies and song structure that clicks with the contemporary heart and mind, while still communicating eternal truth. Other artists are trying to express their hearts in relationship to God, people like John Mark McMillan and Jon Foreman and David Crowder, who are great artists and very gifted musicians.

I’ve been drawn into this tradition, and I enjoy it. Especially the music for churches. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when you write something, like a prayer set to music, and you lead people with it and they learn it and take it to heart. You become a kind of Cyrano de Bergerac between people and God. It’s very different in some ways than a performance oriented approach to music, but I love it.

It’s an honor.

Psalm 33:3
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011