Thursday, June 10, 2010

Raising Funds to Record a New CD!

Do you love my music? Want to help make it happen?
check it out! It's going to be so beautiful!

Monday, May 24, 2010

new tongues

There is a pattern of human behavior by which people generally relate to the kind of music, language, literature, etc that is popular when they are 18 – 35 and then those forms of expression become the ones they "like". They are the expressions they relate to and identify with.

The trouble is, when we identify with a certain decade or a certain voice, and then cease to be interested in other, newer voices, we cease to be active. We cease to have an influx of new ideas. This cannot be the natural state of the reflections of an infinitely creative Mind!

Why on earth do we cease to be interested in the languages that are being created after that short period in our lives? Perhaps it is because the new music being made is often made by younger people, and the messages they contain don’t feel relevant to us when we are older and more experienced? That seems reasonable to a degree.

But what about all the creativity, the real, interesting language and human imagination that is expressed in new expressions? Regardless of the literal message, there are new elements that are inspired.

Where do new expressions come from? Surely they come from God. Why are there always new expressions, decade after decade? Because the infinite fountain of ideas is constantly speaking to the human race and we are bringing forth those ideas to the best of our ability. Can it be in our best interests to write off these new expressions as the irrelevant works of people rather than to seek out within them the pure, living voice of God?

Jesus said "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;” What are these new tongues? Surely they are new, God-inspired ideas being spoken and expressed in the world. New ideas are being brought forth all the time. New, wholesome, expressive, pure ideas are making their way into the world constantly. These new ideas challenge human thought to grow, to assimilate more of the character and quality of God.

For example, rap music is relatively new on the music scene – just in the last 40 years or so. In terms of its current iteration it could be described as a "new tongue". I frequently hear people decrying rap music as "lewd", "violent", "misogynistic", etc., but that is inaccurate. Rap music itself is not those things. Lots of its songs may have those elements in it, but a drum beat, a rhyme scheme, a confident voice – the elements that constitute rap music - are not those things. They are innocent. They are the pure new expressions.

In a world that presents us with seeming good and bad all mixed together, if we want to grow, to learn, to be open and see the good that is coming forth into the world, we must become willing and good at valuing the good that is right flush against something bad. To continue with this example of rap music, we must be willing to see that there is a brilliant, joyous, expressive drum beat, an authoritative and compelling bass line, and insight, wit, and thoughtful words, right in the midst of those qualities we don’t value. If we are not able to do this we will remain left out. We will render ourselves deaf to this new tongue. And this is all not to mention the countless rap artists out there who are creating songs with a purely positive message.

Having the Mind of Christ, Jesus knew exactly what it was like to have one's best ideas misunderstood, misrepresented, and abused. Still, he knew it was necessary to express those ideas – for the good of all. And, Jesus knew that people, reverently searching out goodness, God, would find new ideas. He knew that because God's ideas are good, we would love them and find it necessary to express them and share them.

Jesus said "In my name," we would cast out evils and speak with new tongues. Reverence for goodness, absorbing interest in reality, and desire to do good for others is this "In my name". That is to say, in the character of Christ.

It should become more and more normal for us to live hungrily, joyfully interested in the voices that are coming into the world. We should listen to all the voices and become better and better at practicing the counsel of John to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."

Why should we not be able to learn and feel a musical language that is invented when we are in our 70s? no age group owns an artistic form. Older folks don’t own classical music (made centuries before they were born). And younger people don’t own rap and hip hop. These expressive languages, both made by and for the glory of God, belong to every one of God's children equally.

Recently I was speaking with a 90 year old woman after a concert I had given. She said "This isn’t my music, but I liked it anyway!" It made me glad, and it also caused me to think, "It is her music." She is as alive today in 2010 as she was in 1935. As a member of the world she has as much a right to call this her music as does anyone else. She doesn’t belong to a decade long ago.

We hear that it is more difficult to learn a new language as an adult than as a child. And this human belief extends as far as we allow it too. New musical forms are no different than languages like French or Swahili. They are sets of sounds and forms being used to express spiritual ideas.

As spiritual beings it is our function to interact with ideas. There is no "time of life" when it is easier or harder for a spiritual idea to interact with other ideas. As reflections of the one spiritual God we have all of His infinite qualities at our fingertips. And, by the same rule, we have every ability to understand and FEEL all the broad, diverse expressions of His Voice.

Let's allow ourselves to be the big, magnanimous, inspired and living beings that we are meant to be. Let's lay claim to the immense diversity of gifts that are ours. Let's acknowledge our ability to hear, feel, and understand the reason why God put all these voices in the world. Let's celebrate them, purify them, and be blessed and renewed by them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

i picked up a hitchhiker

on sunday morning i was driving from cincinnati to steubenville OH for a concert that afternoon. i was speeding along, and was at about the halfway point when i saw a hitchhiker. i dont see hitchhikers very often.

between 1995 and 2003 i did a lot of hitchhiking. many thousands of miles, all over the US and a little in the UK. i loved it. i mean, i REALLY loved it. it felt as expressive to me as painting, as adventurous as gorgeous hikes in the mountains, and as holy as church.

to me it felt like (and feels like) one of the most direct ways to interact with others. i have always loved talking with strangers, hearing stories, finding new things. and the social aspect of hitchhiking had all of those things. not to mention it was a free, exciting way to get me from here to there, as part of my larger journey - wherever it was.

to give a little sense of what i mean: during that time i hitched around new england countless times. my longest trips were from boston to atlanta GA, and from albuquerque NM to missoula MT. when i was in college i would often hitchhike the 8 miles to school instead of taking the bus because i found i could get there in the same time (if not faster) and have a great story to tell all by 9 am.

the first time i ever did it was when i my bike had broken, in the middle of a bike trip, out in the middle of rural upstate NY. it was desperation and exhaustion that led me to do it. and as i lifted my thumb, all the "voices of reason" and normalcy were ringing in my ears - "this is WRONG". they told me again and again how bad it was to hitchhike - how dirty and abnormal and freakish. still, my bike was broken and i was 50 miles from any help.

then, it turns out those voices were completely wrong. hitchhiking that day turned into regular hitching for the next 8 years and changed my life. i learned so much about people, about myself, and about how the quality of thinking influences our experience. during those 8 years, and hundreds of rides, i had 2 rides in which i needed to think on my feet about my safety - and in both those cases, god supplied me with the right things to say and do, both to keep me safe, and to actually help and support the other person.

maybe amazingly, maybe not, over those 8 years, i noticed that about 60 percent of the conversations (and a much higher percentage of conversations on long trips) turned to the subject of god or spirituality. this is why hitching became as holy to me as church. it was so easy to see that people wanted to badly to connect, to open up. i became a good listener with an understanding and forgiving ear, and very often we would talk about tender, intimate, spiritual things, i know we both would leave feeling more alive, and more comforted for it.

i do not recommend hitchhiking to everyone. i know my position as a man, practically puts me in a different position from a woman. and certainly, as in any situation out in the great wide world, we must be wise, sensitive, and discerning. but i will say this - i base my understanding of the world on the firm idea that we are a spiritual family, the children of one good god. and it is as much the fear of strangers, that it so openly purveyed in our culture that causes the problems, the dangers, the violence we fear. i have felt the great love that hitchhiking has given to me - to see the tender familial bonds that can exist between strangers when an expectation of it is present. let's NOT be afraid of strangers. let's actively seek to wisely and compassionately live out our nature as a family.

so, last sunday, i passed this guy going 70, and as i did i peered at him as closely as i could, to discern anything i could discern. for me intuition plays a big part. and, as silly as it may sound, he looked "normal" enough, so i slowed to a stop, about a quarter mile past where he was and he jogged up to the car.

we rode together for about 15 miles. he was about 19 years old, said he was on his way to his dad's house, and was coming from oklahoma. very quickly the conversation came around to his belief that god was taking care of him. we celebrated that together, i gave him a cd and a bag of food, and we parted company. and as i drove away i thanked god for giving me the opportunity to see such goodness and innocence in the world, and for the opportunity to give back just a tiny bit of the great generosity and hospitality that i receive every day.

what do you think about hitchhiking?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

gates of self

i recognize that there are experiences in which fear comes to me as i am moving into some new activity or adventure which tries to keep me from doing whatever the new, good thing is. it's like there is a gate of fear that needs to be overcome, walked through, before the good thing can be realized. this has happened to me a number of times in my adult life - enough that i have begun to recognize it as a phenomenon, and i can see it better when it is happening, and get fooled less.

these gates are moments of shedding self, or, selfishness.

when i was 20 years old i set out on a bike trip. it was to begin in boston and end in savannah, georgia. the previous summer i had tried to bike from boston to chicago, but had not been up to the task. i had made it only half way, and this was my return, to finish what i had begun.

in the preceding weeks people would ask me "are you excited?!" i always tried to sound like i was. but really, it seemed like asking christopher columbus "are you excited?!" and i imagine his response to be something like "well, sorta, but we also might sail off the earth."

on the day i left i hadnt made it 5 miles from the family home when i began to hear some part of my bike making bad noises. i got off to check it out and as i did, a great wave of fear descended on me. thoughts like "i am never going to make it. this is totally pointless. nobody cares if i do this or not. i am going to fail" came in for the kill.

these thoughts were terrifying. they all seemed like valid points. what on earth was i thinking? i really was never going to be able to do this thing that i had set out to do. so, petrified, feeling naked and alone i stood on the side of the road, 5 miles from all familiarity and played out the options in my head. i could A) continue on this terrifying trip which was completely unknown, or i could B) bike back home, and be safe within 20 minutes. interestingly, while option A was filled with fear, option B was lifeless, and drenched with heartbreak.

after just a few minutes of deep listening, i realized that all the fear in the world was not as bad as the heartbreak of self admitted defeat without trying. i set off in the direction of savannah with the screaming voices of fear blaring in my ears.

a wonderful thing happened. i had made my decision. the unknown, fear, with the possibility of a good, maybe really good outcome, was infinitely better than the heartbreak of not trying. when those screaming voices saw that i had made my decision and was not turning back, they simply left. after 15 minutes the fear was gone and never came back.

1100 miles and a million adventures later i was in savannah, shining in glory.

this trip changed my life, and set the stage for a thousand more adventures, glories, lessons.

what if the fear had won, 5 miles from home? what if, instead of shedding that fear of change, that desire to not try rather than to encounter the possibility of failure, i had chosen to remain the same?

it certainly wasnt "personal strength" that made me able to overcome it. rather, it was the simple desire to avoid heartbreak and accept whatever was the alternative - the windy unknown.

do you have a story of shedding self that led to new life and victory? let me know about it in a comment below, or on my FB page.

love to you all, and striving beyond self.


it seems that unselfishness is the key to happiness, progress, all good in life. how do we get there? how do we do it? how do we eradicate selfishness from our lives?

i remember making a drawing years ago, when i was reall struggling with a feeling of being a big selfish jerk, that, at the bottom said "unselfishness is freedom". i made that picture and wrote those words at the bottom and i knew it was true. unselfishness, whatever it was, was freedom.

trouble was, i didnt really feel like i knew what that meant. AND, i was already doing my very best to be nice, to love people, etc... and i still felt like i was not living up to it. and i certainly wasnt feeling free.

now, 10 years later, i feel very aware that being unselfish involves being willing to be changed by god. being willing to become better, to leave the old things in the past and move joyfully on, refusing to be defined by what has come before. really, it is about not even being a "self", but rather, being a reflection of god.

i feel infinitely more free now than i did when i made that drawing with the words "unselfishness is freedom". still, i long to embody that more and more.

this week, as i was wrestling deeply, painfully with a selfish thought that i wanted badly to let go of, i was reaching out in prayer for something new. the idea that grew up through the cracks, that slipped in through what seemed to be the dark walls of loneliness and regret was the forever opportunity to pray for others.

it was sort of an amazing breakthrough. in this dark place where i was feeling so lost and "selfish" the idea came, "instead of praying to be made unselfish, why dont you take this opportunity to pray for someone else - just because you can". and then i realized, while all the actions i was thinking of pertaining to myself seemed blocked and difficult, there was NOTHING in the way of my praying for someone, anyone, else.

so, for the next couple of days i practiced praying for others. anyone. anyone who came into thought, anyone i passed on the street, the factory workers who made the urinal i was using. (really).

sometimes it was very difficult. but it seemed, after i got into the rhythm it was easy. and in fact, really delighting. the pain and heaviness i had been feeling so fully, dropped away. and sometimes when it came back, i would pray for someone else the moment i noticed i was feeling bad about myself, and soon i was back on the track of unselfishness. it felt luxurious - like i had the trick to never feeling bad again. maybe i do.

it caused me to think that jesus counsel to "Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you," is not so much a description of virtue as it is a simple description of how to be happy, and stay happy. it is a gift beyond gifts.

i also found that in times when i felt i just couldnt pray for someone, it was even healing just to think of someone else. i went through my friends, groups, the president, just thinking of what it would be like to be that person. and i found that it caused me to love them more. a simple, easy, unselfing practice.

i am still seeking after what it means to be unselfish, and how to make it a reality in my life. if you have an insight or a practice that you do that is helping you be more unselfish will you please tell me about it in a comment below, or on my FB page?

love to you all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

we are made to do this

to me, it is incredibly relieving to know that god made everything.

i used to have terrible fears that i would run out of ideas. as a person who felt totally committed to a life of creativity and expression, that was an awful thing to think of. if i ran out of ideas, i would not be able to live!

over years i wrestled with the question, and ultimately my fears were comforted and ultimately completely swept away by a growing conviction that all ideas come from god and grow out of simply living life. god will never run out of ideas. and creativity is not a frenzied personal experience of inspiration - here one minute and gone the next.

rather, i have come to see creativity as walking through the orchard of my thoughts, picking and choosing the apples i love most. i dont have to make the apples - they are already there. they grow on the trees. all i have to do is be interested in them. i have to be interested in my thoughts. i need to have a great love for thoughts. i have to notice when i see something that moves me, and then respect that feeling.

i have learned that creation (on my end) is not making anything. rather, it is a record of my exploration of ideas. when i go on one of these walks through that orchard i am encountering thoughts i have never had before. and when i encounter new thoughts, i have to explore them. and as i think and feel because of these new thoughts, i make records of what has happened. these come out in the form of songs, paintings, poems, whatever.

i will never, ever feel afraid of running out of ideas - because life keeps moving forward. there is so much progress to make, so much improving to do, so much to explore. and i dont have to make up a single one of them. they come naturally with exploration.

the only way to not have this happen is to not explore. without exploring, there are no new ideas. if there are no new ideas to encounter, there is no "creativity".

if we want to be creative, if we want to feel the juices flowing, we have to be interested in things. we have to be open to newness. interest, fascination, appreciation, attention - these things are the beginning of creativity. we never do anything first. we are always responding to life, to the inner voice, to wisdom, beauty, wonder, in whatever form it takes.

new ideas cause us to change. they transform us. with creativity there is no remaining the same. real creativity forces us to grow. and there is no way to foresee what this growth will be. it will be what it is, and it will be for our good.

we are made to do this.

progress is from god

i have been thinking about how 2 years ago, most of the songs i am performing these days were not yet written, i was really nervous about performing, and really, the whole thing was only an idea whose fullest expression was me playing my songs at home. oh, and the blessing tree didnt exist.

now, i am in the middle of my second big tour, have sold hundreds of cds, performed for hundreds and hundreds of people, love performing more than almost anything, and can honestly say that my whole life has made a fabulous and interesting change.

it's really quite humbling to look at the events as they have happened, and see how profound the changes have been and how much progress has occurred. and the whole thing is something that i could never have MADE happen. i mean, for abotu 10 years i tried to make bands happen. i tried and tried - put up flyers, played with people, but it never worked when i tried to make it happen.

for years i had been working and working, pushing and pushing, to get over what felt like great nervousness about performing. i loved writing music, but it was never very fun to perform it. i felt self conscious. it was hard to get the notes right, let along to be expressive on stage.

in these last 2 years of continued prayer, hope, desire, and willingness to grow and change - every last fear of performing has fallen away. now, in some ways, i feel more comfortable on stage than otherwise. i love to open my mouth and communicate about things that i believe in. no more do i perform trying to "put on a show". instead of putting on a mask to perform, i am opening the doors of my heart, saying, singing what i think and feel most. it is a great feeling of freedom.

creative breakthroughs are an incredible blessing. and it always is a matter of throwing off self, and telling the truth. and while it has been happening quickly and powerfully in the last couple of years with this music, i am sure that the many many years of pushing and pushing were indispensible in moving that old stone.

sometimes nowadays i tell folks that i used to be afraid of performing and they are shocked. i used to be really shy too! if these things are any precedent (which they are) we all have the logical right to look forward to a time when every fear, limitation, and constraint is gone. then we will live, communicate, love, sing, work, and think with total freedom.

Friday, April 23, 2010

artistic triumph!

once in a while i come across a piece of art that, to me, shows what art can do. like Philipe Petit who in 1974 walked a tightrope between the twin towers in NYC (chronicled in the amazing movie "Man On Wire"), like the movie "Lives Of Others", and the sweet book of essays, "Small Wonder" by Barbara Kingsolver. these truly feel like a victory. a victory over all expectations of failure or sameness - over the awful notion that art is somehow "enrichment" rather than a necessity - over all the cruel voices that tell us not to express.

recently i saw such a thing.

it is called the City Museum, and it is in saint louis.

what is it?

it began 12 years ago with a sculptor who owned an old abandoned building in downtown STL. over the last 12 years he, and lots of others, have filled it with amazing, AMAZING art made entirely of recycled materials, found objects, cast-off industrial materials.

i was near tears for a good portion of my visit to the museum. the art is beautiful, entirely indulgent of creativity, joy, play, and function. there are slides to go down (including one spiral slide that is 6 stories tall), dinosaur mouths to crawl into, a 1920's theater organ, mosaics everywhere, a huge bug collection, arcade games from the 1930's, corndog art, and a maze of wire pathways 100 feet up in the sky.

i can list the things that are there. i can swear to you that it is wonderful. but nothing will do it justice.

apart from being beautiful and well made - it attracts hundreds, thousands of people (and i think they were all there today) and opens countless minds to the availability, wonder, and all around awesomeness of creativity, play, and vision.

if you are ever in saint louis. please, go there.

speak about what you know

on wednesday morning i gave a talk at principia college about creativity as it relates to spirituality.

i love public speaking more and more every time i do it. i was feeling a little nervous before this talk - it seemed like a very broad subject, and, while i have a lot to say on the subject, i feared that i would just blather on, full of enthusiasm, but lacking a real point.

i have come to love the time spent in preparation for a presentation that i dont know how to do. sometimes i have lived for hours, or even days, fearing something that i have to do, but dont know how to do, but, the fear decreases by 80% when, rather than waiting around, i start to plan for it. it comes down to realizing that i dont know how to do it, and then simply thinking of the best way i can think of to deal with the fact that i dont know how to do it.

so, i made some notes, thought of some stories from my life that would illustrate the points i wanted to make, and forged ahead.

i have recognized for a few years now that my style of speaking is largely extemporaneous. i love to give myself a basic skeleton of what i am going to talk about, and then go.

this talk was no different. and, as always, i found that once i started, rather than being afraid, i was in heaven.

we are made to express. and when we get to do it - to express what is truly in our hearts, we feel ALIVE.

i think the fear that we feel before things like this is that stupid old "little hater" in thought that just doesnt want us to know what life is all about. but when we do it, we learn and learn and learn. and others are benefited by our expressing of what is in the heart of hearts.

i recognize that i love to speak to others about art, god, creativity, defeating fear. and i watch for this to open more fully as an avenue of expression in my life. amen!

people are fountains of ideas

also at the principia lower school i have been working on a mural with the 1st through 5th grade art classes. what a great break from singing!

we began with the broad themes of childlikeness and the environment. from (amazing) sketches that the kids made based on these themes we arrived at some central images.

i have to admit, given these themes, i thought i knew what the kids were going to draw - trees, suns, kids playing, maybe some water. i was so wrong!

the kids were way more imaginative!

not just trees, but these wild tree houses with a million stairs, roller coasters that covered the whole page, a sun with a clock face, a fire breathing iguana (which does that fit under - childlikeness or the environment?), and a million other things.

i was delighted to see how not-in-the-box they were.

so, we took the main images that they arrived at and put them all together into a drawing of a fantasy land on a 6' x 10' canvas. over the next 3 days all 5 classes spent one period each painting this thing.

making art is a really good way to play together, meet one another, and share good ideas. our hearts can connect.

drawings for songs - a trade

yo, i been in saint louis, let's get ready ta do dis
i'm writing my blog, sweepin a way the fog
of mystery, that surrounds my endeavors
pushing the buttons and pullin the levers
im about to tell you what i been up to
all kinds information is about to erupt, ooh!

well, so there was a little rap for a friday morning.

just to let you know, i have been rapping a lot. long car rides, the ease of access to rhyme - its an obvious way to pass the time.

anyway, i have been in STL for abotu 5 days now, played 3 shows so far and another on sunday.

last sunday i was at the lafayette square CS society. this awe-dience was great. we all felt really tuned in and together.

another great show was yesterday morning at the principia lower school. now, i have not performed for audiences of kids very much. i didnt really know exactly how it was going to be...
but it went really great. in fact, it makes me want to write lots more audience participation songs and sing-a-longs. these kids were an amazing group, and bold sing alongers (way better than a lot of adults! yes, thats a challenge.)

in fact, they were so wonderful that they made me a book of thank you drawings right afterwards. here are some of them.

how bout them apples?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

a brief history of time

ok ok, im a bad friend. i mean, lazy blogger. but maybe you've noticed, what i lack in regularity, i make up for in charm.

so, let's get down to business-

when last we spoke, it was cold and rainy, (and it might have been the early cretaceous period) but now it is spring for sure, and, at least where i am, it is warm and sunny.

the last concerts i mentioned were in DC. after that the faithless members of the blessing tree left me in the dust and scurried back to their respective homes. while i heroically forged onward, into the warm, blossom laden breezes of the south.

heres a list of what happened:

1) drive to raleigh NC
2) stay with wonderful friends (including 2 fab little boys - lots of playing games and guitar lessons)
3) great little performance at Raleigh church
4) drive to athens, GA, my old stomping grounds (1998 - 2001)
5) stay for 9 glorious days at the Orange Twin Farm
6) painted this truck

7) read a biography of abraham lincoln
8) was given a book of plato dialogues, quickly fell in love with socrates
9) worked on the farm
10) saw this rad grafitti under a bridge on one of my favorite train tracks

11) drove to knoxville tennessee
12) played a fun house show there
13) drove to nashville
14) played 2 shows there in one day - the first was sort of a show - it was where i and the handsome and talented JJ Jones walked around in this park and asked if folks wanted to hear a spiritual song. almost everyone we asked said they did, we had lots of good conversations, lots of handshakes, and even a hug. 2nd show in the CS RR that night. the evening show was rousingly opened by the dapper and creative JJ Jones.
15) on the way to ST. LOUIS, stopped at the national quilting museum in paducah, kentucky. they have an admirable mission:

16) i am here in STL. the arch is rad. i made up lots of raps on the drive today.

i will be here for one week. i will be giving at least 3 shows in the next week, and doing a mural at a high school in the area.

i miss you all!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

the blessing tree have just split up and gone their separate ways for the time being, but not before playing 4 great shows in the DC area. these last 2 weeks have been great, finding our new identity in new places, and learning new songs. in the last 3 weeks together we added no less than 10 new songs to our already brimming repetoire. it was wonderful to have the problem of needing to leave out some songs that we love to play, simply because there were new songs that we also love to play.

ben returns to montreal, ashton to st. louis, and jessica to boston, while i will be continuing on tour for the next 6 weeks. for the time being i am in raleigh, NC, and will be playing my next shows (after tonight) in Georgia - my old stomping grounds. cant wait to get back to the fecund south.

one of the most moving moments of this tour was visiting the national mall together. it was a first trip to DC for ben, ashton, and jess, and first time to the mall, for me in about 25 years! there was a kite flying festival, so the sky was filled with bright colors around the washington monument, and a feeling of delight pervaded the park. but the moment that meant the most to me was walking into the lincoln memorial (which i have painted in a mural!) and being greeted by that great, suffering, and heroic image of lincoln, and then to read these words, of hope, humility, and redemption, from his 2nd inaugural address: (pardon my including the whole text, but i can only hope it will touch you as deeply as it did me)

Fellow Countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured. On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came. One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'. With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Member of the Blessing Tree Family

Jessica Hays, the newest Blessing Tree member is currently on a plane down from Boston to play flute with us for 3 shows in the DC area! hurrah!


Fri, March 26, 7PM

The Saylor’s Residence

15296 Surrey House Way

Centreville, VA 20120

Tel. 703-830-1134

Food and drinks provided.

Please bring a side to share.

Sat, March 27, 7PM

Baughman Residence

4421 Seminary Rd.

Alexandria, VA

Tel. 703-751-0694

Light refreshments

Sun, March 28, 3PM

The CS Reading Room

910 16th Street, NW

Washington, DC

Tel: 202-255-2235

Light refreshments

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hurtling Down To DC

beginning to sing in Grand Central Station...

a machine gun toting policeman causing us to end our singing in Grand Central Station

OK! yesterday morning we awoke in New York's lower east side at 5, and scooted down to Baltimore to arrive for a noon performance at a Christian Science Reading Room in a mall. it was a bear getting out of the city, and at one point only the great care of a policeman who stopped traffic for us as we had gone a VERY wrong way on a huge bridge, kept us on the right track.

the good news is we arrived at the RR in good time, walked around to all the stores and let everyone know that we were going to be playing. we drove through a very depressed portion of baltimore, filled with boarded up buildings, etc. and this mall was quiet, with many empty stores as well. it seemed that the call was for unrelenting acknowledgment of the presence of Life, the spiritual ever-presence.

over and over i am moved to see that these are not "concerts" so much as they are states of mind. what are we thinking as we are singing? what are our interactions with these other folks consisting of? and always in the wide open world you never know what someone is going to say or think or do. it is wonderful to have the opportunity to strive to bring brightness and overbubbling enthusiasm to any environment, especially one like this seemingly quiet and a little depressed mall.

then, down to DC we shot, to prepare for a show at 1st Church of Christ, Scientist, DC. we were warmly met, set up the space, and waited for the wednesday evening service. the service was deep and inspiring, the reader pacing himself like a runner. it felt like a steam engine of spiritual thoughts.

then, a warm and sparkling show. there is no end of the delight in causing perfect strangers to sing along.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Blessing Tree is On The Road!

Hi friends,

we are now in NYC. Played and sang to a rockin crowd in Washington Square Park on Sunday. we are having adventures in singing publicly - this wild thing of being in the wild open world and simply lifting up the voice, and letting it draw folks.

Yesterday we made our way down into the subway to sing to passers by. First thing in Times Square station we saw a group of young folks wearing shirts saying "prayer changes things". we decided to go sing them "Ever Near" - one of our a capella songs about God singing our lives. Turns out they were from Hope College in Michigan on a mission trip. they loved the song and asked if they could pray for us. we joined in a circle and thanked God together.

later, after a dissapointing failure at performing on the subway we found ourselves eating slices of pizza on a balcony in Grand Central Station. Ben, with the light of God on his brow pointed out that we could sing to the great broad masses passing by. with a bit of trepidation in the immense hall, we opened our mouths and sang our 3 a capella songs. We watched with great delight as lots of the folks below turned their heads, searching for where the voices were coming from. finally, they began to realize that we were above. lots of people stopped and watched and listened. when we finished there was scattered applause.

We sang for about half an hour, going through a little set of songs. people coming and going. at the end of each song, giggling to one another at the spectacle we were creating. our 3 voices mingled in the air over all the people, and at each pause we could hear them bouncing around, echoing across the immense room.

this wonderful concert ended abruptly when the machine gun toting police came and let us know that this was not the place to be singing without a permit. as we happily left we waved down to the folks who were watching the whole moment. they waved back, sweetly, and we could feel the love that had been shared between the voices hungry to share, and the ears, hungry and adoring to hear.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Solo at New Church in JP

Hi all,

dig this video on the website of a new church starting up in my hometown, Jamaica Plain, MA. I performed the solo there a couple of sundays ago. The lesson sermon was on "Mind", and the song is called "Mind Of The Holy One".

check out the whole great site, and the video of the solo is the first under "JP church videos.


Monday, March 1, 2010

I'm Not Dead!

hello? is there anybody out there?

i know, i know, i've been away forever.

but, i've been writing songs like crazy. its quite amazing to see how many thoughts we have, and then, to see how much our thoughts change as we navigate life, praying, seeking, adventuring.

and all kinds of new songs come along, along along.

lets see, what songs have been written since i came home from the tour in january?

kindness is a mountain
press on
i'd rather be good than rich
walk on the water
it's you
oh, brother
mind of the holy one
holy happy

a whole new album is arriving, every day a little more, like birds on the back lawn.

how are your thoughts changing?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Press On!

the other day i was feeling weighed down by something. i have forgotten what it was. i was slogging through the evening, feeling oppressed by some trouble or other.

i remember coming to the top of the stairs to my apartment and feeling like i was at the end of my rope. and it was JUST THEN that i realized, i could resist.

it was a great feeling. to realize that right at the moment when it feels like you just can't go on, you can. and in fact, that was the moment that freed me from whatever it was. when i realized i could fight back, even when (or especially when) i felt the most oppressed, THEN i knew i was free.

why? because it was clear that it wasnt me doing it. fighting back wasnt mustering all this strength and pushing laboriously against some scary thing. rather, it was letting go! it was realizing that it is not my job to hold up my life, the world, but rather, it is God's job, and he is doing it!

actually, the first thing i did when i got inside (literally seconds later) was run to my studio and write a really fun song about pushing on through difficulty. whatever the worry was that i had been having, was gone, and in fact, when i let go of the misery, i was given an insight, and a song in its place!

press on friends!

His goodness stands approved,
Unchanged from day to day:
I drop my burden at His feet,
And bear a song away.

from hymn 124 from the Christian Science Hymnal

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We Are Surrounded By Nature

in years past i did a lot of hitchhiking and long distance bicycle travel. those adventures took me through all kinds of places - but most notably, into a city, then out into the country, then into another city and so on.

i soon became familiar with the feeling of observing nature wherever i was. if i was in a national park i would observe nature. and if i was in the parking lot of a mcdonald's i would observe nature. it became one of my favorite ideas that the distinction between man-made and nature is a false one. and it caused my vision to become so much more fascinated and compassionate towards people and the things we make.

for example, when we walk into a mall, to some degree we probably do it thinking that we are in a mundane place where things are normal, and run normally. but, when we think of a mall, and the people inside it, as being part of nature, (not a boring man-made place) we are moved to observe much more. and then we can see so much more beauty, brilliance, and soul within it.

the human race is not superimposed over nature. we are part of nature.

this morning i went for a walk down my street and i remembered this thought i have loved for so long. and again my thoughts on my neighborhood were renewed. i saw how light blessed the houses. i watched the folks walking to the subway, the crossing guard in the street as the kids get off the bus at school. this is nature. this is the world moving like the wind in the trees.

i have often felt so freed by this concept because, rather than having to travel (to the mountains, or the beach, or whatever) to enjoy the beauty of nature, i just walk out my front door. a few years ago a friend and i decided to walk from my house, east, until we came to the ocean. it was about a 3 mile walk and we had only a vague idea what we would encounter. so, we found all kinds of neighborhoods, architecture, interactions with people, views, grafitti, parks, ethnicities... the list goes on.

it is a fascinating, beautiful world, and we miss a lot if we think of ourselves as being unnatural. we are natural. we are part of the world.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

digging deep and living for eternity

One of the things that i love the best about being an artist is that i get to think all the time about creating for eternity. it is wonderful to think of. and i can feel my thoughts changing from project to project. sometimes, i am not creating for eternity. in lots of commissioned projects it's like, trying to infuse a sort of commercial idea with as much eternal quality as you can. yet, because the idea itself isn't built for eternity, it can't get all the way there. it isn't speaking to the very best in people because it has an agenda of its own.

but, the best thing, the most humbling and exciting thought, is to think what will i make for all eternity? what will i make simply because it is good? what is the best, most beautiful thing i can do? or maybe even better, what is the thing that most compels me? fascinates me? makes me feel alive?

To quote from a delicious book called "Genius" by Harold Poole, that i am reading right now, "We all know the empty sensation we experience when we read popular fiction and find that there are only names on a page, but no persons. in time, however overpraised, such fictions become period pieces, and finally rub down into rubbish." and later, speaking of Shakespeare (who Poole adores as the greatest literary genius of all time), "The dead genius is more alive than we are, just as Falstaff and Hamlet are considerably livelier than many people i know. vitality is the measure of literary [or any other kind, says i] genius. we read in search of more life..."

among other things, this "genius" that he talks about in the above quotation, is largely about what people can do when they think in terms of the eternal. not "what will pay the bills?" or "what will keep me happy?", but "what is native to eternity?"

Poole makes another wonderful statement. "My subject (genius) is universal, not so much because world-altering geniuses have existed , and will come again, but because genius, however repressed, exists in so many readers" (implying the public).

and he chooses a quote from Emerson which could be exciting to us all,"The world is young: the former great men (sic) call to us affectionately. we too must write Bibles, to unite again the heavens and the earthly world. the secret of genius is to suffer no fiction to exist for us; to realize all that we know."

What do we know of eternity? what do we feel of it? How are we bringing that knowledge and feeling out in our lives, in what we say and do? in what we make? these are the things which, in the doing give us more life, and in the receiving, give others more life.

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."