Saturday, November 28, 2009

Affluence


I am sitting in the living room of my new palace here in Berkeley California. My deck has a view out over the rest of the city, the bay, and all the way to San Francisco. In the distance is the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. All morning and afternoon as we have been here eating breakfast, practicing, planning the cover of our new cd, the clouds, fog and sun have been putting on a graceful and dynamic show. When I awoke the bay was a bowl for an immense cloud of fog, hiding everything but the closest trees. Later it burned away, revealing the pristine city, bridges, barges, and silhouettes of the land like the backs of great animals. Now the great sun is shining through clouds, causing the whole panorama to appear to be made of gray steel – cold and hard in the shadows, brilliant, burning white in the open light.

As we spend night after night in different locations, homes, communities I am struck by the fact that we have been received gently, affluently, and beautifully without fail.

I am sitting in a home that is nicer than one I could ever own (unless I sell A LOT more cds…) and yet, I get to sit here. I am given this beautiful affluence, not because I have a lot of money, but because the idea upon which I am trying to build my life, is able to support that life. A few days ago we were up in the mountains of northern California, motor biking around the golden hills. The sun was raking across them, causing the great black cows to blink their beautiful eyes, filling the sky with pink. And we sped through it all, our scarves trailing and flapping behind us, tears of speed making trails on our cheeks. I thought I might burst with the beauty of it all, and in that moment I realized with amazement that I live in a world where glory is a concept. Enough of us have had this feeling of glory to give it a name and understand it together as a concept. It is very likely that I will never own a motor bike, or a ranch in northern California, yet, I do not go without the glorious experience of that joy, the eyes to see that beauty. Though I have been given a career in which people are more often spoken of as "starving" than as rich, I do not lack the joy of glory, or even the beautiful views, motorcycle rides, or delicious meals. What does it matter if we experience these things by buying them with money, or providing folks with a vision of beauty and joy that causes them to want to give it to you? Life is experiences, and God gives experiences broadly.

The thought that comes to mind now, is that Life is affluent. God causes us to take on his work – the work of blessing, forgiving, inspiring, and opening doors for others. This work causes us to do things that are "risky" or unusual, or simply surprising. But it is Life, God, itself who is affluent, and it is Life, God who has brought this "risky" work into being. The "risky" work, in as much as it brings redemption, clears the glass of vision, and causes us to understand God better, has affluence, safety, and joy stitched naturally into its fabric.


the view from our beautiful Berkeley pad


Tough guy, motor biking in the wilds of northern california

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Melting the Ice of Fear

again and again the message that comes out of this adventure of expression is "dont be afraid of the way they look!"

sometimes at the beginnings of shows the crowd seems totally disinterested. or, even later in the show, one of the audience members seems bored, or even surly. or, most recently, the whole audience at the youth dentention center in eugene, oregon, seems uncomfortable beyond belief, surly, sarcastic, and disinterested.

BUT! see, it turns out, its all just a big fake! every time, and i mean EVERY TIME, at the end of the show, it is not so.

this experience at the youth center was the final example, the final proof, that has helped me to know that i never need to fear their faces. hanging with and performing for these kids was like watching ice melt. we did 2 45 minute sets for 2 different groups and each time when we began they were so stiff and uncomfortable. yet, as we were energetic, silly, sincere, and unflinching in our message of expressiveness, connection, and spirituality, the stiffness melted. when ben began beatboxing (he sounds really funny) the audience cracked up and the day was won. soon they were full of questions - how did you meet? where do you come from? how did you learn how to play guitar? and my personal favorite, from a girl who had been derisively laughing at us towards the beginning of the show - don't you evet get embarassed, like that people are going to laugh at you? this was just after i had sung "let love rule in me", perhaps the most personal and revealing of the songs i sing. from that moment, i watched, and her face was calm and appreciative, sincere, relaxed. and if she did laugh from that time on, it was with us, not at us. it is amazing, again and again to watch this ice melt. in crowds of "at-risk" youth, as in crowds of church congregations, as in us when we are performing. the warm love of the spirit of Life, breaks down these walls of self consciousness, fear, separation, and leaves us feeling natural affection and togetherness.

below, some photos from our most recent shoot, at the Quadros Ranch in Yreka, CA.

bless you!


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Question

For those of you who have been to concerts of mine, or Blessing Tree concerts, or somehow know the music...

what songs that you have heard, that arent on Tree Of Life, would you most want to hear recorded?

Recording a New Album

God is good and generous!

At a recent show in Portland OR, one of the folks there let us know that he has a recording studio in town and invited us to come do some recording for free! we have spent the last 6 days recording new material, (songs that are not on Tree of Life, or the Beatitudes) and are now mixing it! hopefully by the end of today we will have a new cd of 10 songs to share! of course it will then need to have a cover, and be duplicated, etc, but it will be available soon!

one fun thing about this is that the material we are recording has grown out of our performances, the nature of this group, and songs that each of us have written are now different than they ever were before. the ideas of each band member contribute to the handling of the songs in new ways. several songs that i have written, which had become old to me, have found new life from the excitement of these folks. new harmonies, a bass line played just so, or just simply new enthusiasm, have given these songs a new birth. and some of them ARE brand new. we cant wait to share them with you.

For those of you who know some of these songs, or have seen shows, here are the songs we have been working on...

Ever Near
The Name Of Today
We Need Your Love
Psalm 107
People R 4 Feeling Love
Comin' Home
The Prayer of St. Francis
You're Serious
The Mourners
The Merciful
Water Hymn

Hoping to see you all at upcoming shows!

Monday, November 16, 2009

yesterday was a banner day for us, The Blessing Tree.

we are in portland oregon these days, and will be for a few more days. yesterday we played 4 shows!

the first 2 were performances for sunday school congregations at the Imago Dei church. the church was held in the Franklin Middle School here in portland. the adult service was held in the school auditorium where they projected words for songs etc., up on a big screen. the service was well attended (about 250). but we were down with the kiddos in the sunday school, where most were ready to jump and shout. we did 2 great performances of the musical beatitudes plus some others songs. the newest version of the beatitudes includes a part where all dance like robots.

our 3rd performance was at the PDX (it means portland) Home. it is a church for homeless folks which includes a meal and a short talk on spirituality and community. the room was loud, and friendly, about 150 folks eating chili, talking, petting dogs. to be heard we all got up on chairs and hollered our songs at the top of our lungs. i had to sing about 3 intervals up from where i normally do, in order to be heard above the din. it was wonderful. no matter how loud a room, when someone sings at the top of their lungs, others notice and respect it. there was joyful applause, hi fives, and warm thanks. we finished by singing The Lord Is My Song (a 3 part a capella prayer) as we walked about, between the lunch tables. the pastor of this congregation has a gray mohawk and sings the virtues of community.

finally, in the evening we were one of 4 groups who played at a christian anarchist coffehouse (yes, such a thing exists!). we were invited by a new friend we met at the homeless church. there were piercings a plenty, tight black jeans, and jackets with red stars sewed to to the backs, much talk of the virtues of community, and lots of hugging and warmth. our new friend (who played first) did lots of serious and heartfelt singalongs, including a bold and brave rendition of God Bless The Grass by Malvina Reynolds. It was wonderful to follow him and sing to this audience of punk rockers in our style, using our words. we opened with Ever Near, another of our a cappella prayer songs. the concert went on for another 3 hours after us, and ended with a powerful band called Medicine For The People. All of the groups sang in one way or another of unity, love, and action.

it is cleansing and powerful to walk between groups, ways of thinking, appearances, and share what is yours. it is requiring some work from us to make our way into other communities, but when it does happen, then we find ourselves invited to continue on there. (we were invited at the homeless church to play at another homeless church down in santa barbara CA). so, we are continuing to play for communities who are familiar to us, but are delighted to branch out and explore.

god bless you all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

just finished up a super fun house concert in olympia washington. a new part of the show involves teaching the whole audience to do a series of coordinated fist pumps to our new setting of psalm 107. the psalmist would be proud.


dig this video from a show in LA a few weeks ago. just the other morning in a fit of nostalgia a friend and i watched some clips of Little House on the Prairie on youtube, and all the shots of Pa were from this same angle. let us hail the virtues of a powerful jaw bone!



I hope you all have jumped into the river today!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

By my God have I leaped over a wall!

hey friends!

check out this, a new video taken by a friend at the Asher House LA show, from a few weeks ago. Climb the Ladder and Yes, both from the Tree Of Life cd. (www.stonebalancer.com)



in other news, dig this graceful story of the goodness of god (a recent development in the unfolding adventures of The Blessing Tree):

so, we were happily planning on driving down the coast when, a week or so ago bryan, our cellist, (and the owner of the truck we are/were driving in) found that he was called back to canada to do a weeks worth of work on a project he is involved in up there. what?! so we would be left in seattle, truckless, and no way to play the shows we had planned, all the way down to portland oregon. (he would be meeting us down in portland a week later...)

before i knew anything of this whole issue, i received a message from our good friend jo (hi jo!) in portland who says, sort of randomly, "hey alex, is there any way you could drive my car down from seattle to portland on your way down?" this, she says, knowing full well that we have a truck to drive down in. why on earth would we need another car?

so, you see, we picked up the car, bryan went back to canada, and the flow of good continues.
jo gets her car, we get a ride, (that can carry a bass amp, 3 guitars, a banjo, a cardboard drumset, and all our other gear) and the tour is not stopped.

psalm 18:28
For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.

this is not even to mention the time we spent at the canadian border on our way back into the states. we had heard all kinds of stories about canadians being turned away at the border and had been praying long and hard about all of us making it across the border. as it turned out, we were pulled over and questioned for about an hour- (one of our number has dreadlocks. can you blame them?) and sang several of the beatitudes in 3 part harmony right there in the line among all the other unsavory characters. the room went from a feeling of silence and separation to warmth and conversation among strangers. we were ultimately allowed to cross the border.

Acts 16:25
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Self Immolation

i never knew how much dang work it is to be a traveling musician.

it is the same as being a logger, or a long distance runner, or a... well, you all know what it's like to work hard. so, even if i/we play a show every night, thats only working for like 3 hours a day, tops, right? except that there is then making connections with folks 200 miles from here, so that there will be shows to play next week. (oh facebook, what can i say of you?) and then, rehearsing all the songs so i will know the words when i am singing them for others. how embarassing to forget the words to your own song! and then, the indispensible thing - the REMEMBERING that this music is not just music, but is about the perfect Lord, the Almighty, and we are specifically directed to never ever speak about him without being totally sincere (Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain). and from that i begin to realize the amazing opportunity it is to sing about the Holy One, with and for others, in all sincerity.

it is one thing to stand in front of folks and play the songs and get the notes and words right, but oh, it is something entirely different to entertain the angel of NOW, the holy spirit, in a performance and mean every word, every note, and know that the room has felt it.

i had a conversation with a couple who put me up a few days ago in bellingham washington, after a show. we talked about spiritual progress and a phrase which stuck with me was "self immolation". now, that has often sounded like an uncomfortable thing, but, i am learning, that it is what happens in good performing. and it is not uncomfortable at all. in fact, it is wonderful. it is what the performer is forced to do as the voice grows. there is no way to sing the songs, again and again, day after day, filled with life and love, unless it is the actual Voice doing the singing. so, the more and more i play, the more i feel this blessed immolation happening. i gladly submit to it, and find that endurance, joy, soul, inspiration are right there with me. not coming from me, but coming TO me, from the great, ever-presence. and we ALL share in the affluence of that Voice.

there is ALWAYS something to be doing, but oh, it is the most fun work in the world. we are taking the steps that need to be taken, and the path appears right there beneath our feet, the moment before we take the step.

God bless you all, and may you find this same self immolation clearing your path!

Below is a short video i took recently from a Ferry to Bainbridge Island, off Seattle. You will see the great light of the Lord shining on the gray waters of Puget Sound.

video

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Things Work Together

My life has been filled, to the brim and overflowing, with beauty. The outcome of that has been that over the years I have made, and made, and made things - paintings, songs, poems, and all the rest. Sometimes it has gotten to the point where I felt some distress about what to do with it all!

Sometimes it has weighed heavy on me - how can I, in all this richness, SHARE it successfully? it seemed impossible at times. Yet, growing and growing over the years, there have been successes in sharing the spiritual richness, the holy beauty, the ever-singin voice.

But recently, with this new tour, album, etc., I have felt a blessing like I never have before.

Lots of times I have tried to put bands together. I have dreamed, over the years, of getting out on the road, singing my heart out to whoever would listen. But I never could get to to HAPPEN.

And then, this tour, this band, just happened. thousands of miles of traveling, coordinating the lives, creative inclinations, and desires of 5 musicians, not to mention the hundreds of people we have worked with, played for, and will play for, just happened.

I have never felt such a network of folks wanting to be part of a creative endeavor. All these people, up and down the west coast - friends and perfect strangers, filled with enthusiasm for this music, this message, this aliveness.

As I look ahead to the next 5 weeks, in which we will be traveling down the west coast, I look forward to meeting all the people who have embraced us. They will be taking us into their churches and homes, and we will be sharing with them the brightest, most living images of musical Christliness that we have. There is a lot of beautiful sharing that is going to happen. And it is clear that this coming together does not happen without a lot of people doing close intimate listening prayer.

Thank you to all of you reading this, all the folks who are loving us, loving our music, and this new expression. Truly all things are working together.