Of Pianos and What We Miss

Do you ever write to music? Sometimes I do. When writing I tend to stay away from lyrically driven music and stick to just instrumental, ambient or techno music (yes, I used to be a raver and I like techno music). I’m writing this post while John Hinson plays full and rich on the piano in the background. If you enjoy the piano I would highly recommend listening to some of John’s music. The piano has this amazing quality of instantly putting me into a state of reminiscence. My friend Sara used to work at Nordstrom’s in the Mall of Georgia and sometimes when I would go to visit her there would be someone sitting behind the big black piano, playing melodies that made their way from the sheet to the eyes into the brain and eventually down the arms to the hand and then onto the white keys that made sounds that were amplified throughout the entire store via a microphone and speaker system.

I would usually walk into the store with a friend (because who wants to go to a mall that big alone?). But as soon as I saw that someone was playing on the piano I would ask my friend if we could stop and listen to the song being played. This request was usually obliged for no more then 10 seconds before my friend would become restless and need to move onto the next thing. I have always found it hard to walk with people anywhere in public. They seem to be very ill at ease, afraid to stop and watch life happen. Watching life unfold before me is a favorite pastime of mine and one I would like to pass on to others, if only they would stay still long enough to let me show them what I see.

I was going to write about New York in this post but my attention was diverted and it’s all John Hinson’s fault.

New York will have to wait till next time.


Allison's Song

At the age of 12 I met a girl named Allison Owenby. I have known her ever since. Our families took us to the same church and because of that we ended up becoming friends (let’s be honest, when you’re young you don’t really “go” to church, you just end up there because that’s were you’re parents go). As Allison grew into a beautiful young woman so to did her voice. She would write songs and then sing them to her friends, always remaining open for honest opinions and critiques of what they thought.

Early one morning in late December of last year Allison picked up her guitar, walked into my then pregnant friend Susie’s bedroom, sat down on the edge of the bed and proceeded to play a song for Susie. I had my trusty recorder on hand for the event and recorded a small piece of this song she was working on.

I had planned to sit down and edit the song on my computer but life happened and I all but forgot about Alli’s hauntingly melodious tune. Actually, when I did finally make the time to edit the song I could not find the recording. I was distraught at the reality that I might have accidentally deleted her recording (it was recorded digitally).

Hope was restored today as I browsed through some c.d.’s full of recordings I had made in the last year. So now, from the girl who introduced me to Sufjan Stevens, I bring you a piece of this unnamed and unfinished work of art. Enjoy.


The Long Confession

Does a confessional have the same effect when typed out electronically instead of on paper written in ink or pencil? Is something sacred lost between the giving up of the pen stroke and the hammering of the keypad? Asdf and jkl; lack the uncertainty and messiness of the pen sweeping across the page, the bottom of my hand picking up not yet dried globs of ink because I write quickly and with a hook.

I remember one day Pat was telling me of how he used to volunteer at a crisis hotline center and how the woman that ran it wouldn’t allow any computers to be used because she said it made the people calling feel like just another last name typed first into a giant database. There was something about hearing someone flip through a book to find your name, your name written in ink, that made you feel more important. The fact that someone took the time to write out your name and situation on paper in a book meant far more than letters typed and spelled perfectly onto a computers hard drive.

Moving on with the confession. I just returned from a trip to the Bread of Life mission. I went down with the intention of seeing Jeff and congratulating him on a year of sobriety. While I did accomplish what I set out to do I also found myself a very humbled and quieted man by the end of my visit.

I met Timothy about 8 months back when I was working with YWAM and bringing DTS students down to the mission on a weekly basis. Timothy was this unassuming black man in his early 40’s. I don’t exactly remember how we became friends but I’m sure someone at the mission introduced me to him (because that is how I met most of the guys in the program).

Timothy was a bit shy with me and I found out why after a few conversations with him. He had been abused by white people when he was younger and had struggled with racism ever since. Being someone who has struggled with racism myself, my heart broke when I heard him say this and I’m pretty sure I had to hold back a good stream of tears. Racism is usually bred out of two things, ignorance and fear. He talked to me about how he had never been able to trust white people and how he had harbored a lot of hate for many years towards the white race.

As he was telling me all of this I remembered this book I had read a few years back by Fawn Parish called Honor and in that book Ms. Parish spoke of how it was important for people of an offending race to ask forgiveness on behalf of their race for the hurt their ancestors had brought upon the offended and/or decimated race (in this case we are talking about white American guy asking forgiveness from black American guy). So with much hesitation I asked Timothy if he would accept my apology on behalf of what had been done to him many years ago by some intolerant people of my race. He said yes. It was an amazing thing to ask for and humbled me greatly. He took my hand and we prayed together.

A few weeks after that Timothy relapsed back into his crack addiction and I didn’t think I would ever see him again. That was until today when he came walking through the dining room door at the Bread of Life. He saw me; we hugged and then sat down and talked about what had transpired in our 7-month absence. He told me of how he had worked a job, made money and fell back into the same cycle of addiction that he hated so much. I told him of how I had went home, traveled to Kyrgyzstan and upon my arrival back to the states fell into a deep (and continuing) state of doubt over where I stood with almost everything I believed.

He tried to encourage me; he always loved to encourage me. I told him that the reason I came down to the mission was not to give of myself to the guys there, I mean I have nothing to give at this point, but to be surrounded by people who sins are “worse” than mine. To find some kind of twisted satisfaction in knowing that there are people who deal with sins that are easier to point out than my own. If you ever need a pick-me-up (or a reality check) I would suggest going down to your local mission, AA meeting, or any other group that contains habitually struggling individuals and listen to the stories they tell. You might find your life is not half as bad as you thought it was. You might find redemption in the crucifixion of others. But be warned, you may also find that your problems are no different than theirs, yours just come in a more disguisable or socially acceptable form.

Sometimes the reminder of my own depravity is too much to bear; other times it brings me a redemption I didn’t even know I was looking for. As I rode home on the bus I listened to Sufjan Stevens Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou) on repeat and stared out the window, tears rolling down my cheeks as we roared past humanity at 40 mph.


Body of Work

The big yellow orb bears down on me as I destroy the covering of this old house one shingle at a time.
One, two, three layers in all don’t forget the last made from the wood of trees cut down long ago.
Scramble off the roof onto the scaffolding down the ladder and into the house
Hide from the orb.
Dirt piles up on skin and hair, my skin and Virgil’s hair
Freckles blend with the dark brown dust blown from the shingles.
I make a funny face and the shutter opens, closes and opens again
And now I present to you
All that I am
Two eyes, a nose and one awfully disgusting tan.


Truth Without Grace Is Dead (and vice-versa)

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that, changed the world”

I believe there is some point in the near future when I will realize that Truth without Grace is unbearable. Today was not that day. I had a good talk with Katie about how Grace without Truth frustrates me to no end. She then proceeded to tell me of how devastating Truth can be without Grace. It was a conundrum I fear will be played out for the rest of my days.

As anyone who knows me will tell you I am never in short supply of things I think need to be changed. I voice my opinions (and I have an opinion for everything under the Sun) openly and unabashedly. I have never had trouble finding the Truth in any situation. What I have struggled with is allowing Grace to lead me once the Truth is revealed. In my world of black and white there isn’t much room for Grace. She just doesn’t fit into the space I make for her (that is often a very small space).

Grace contains everything Truth cannot hold.


Using the Sun

The thermometer reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, the highest recorded temperature in Seattle since record keeping began some hundred or so years ago. While 98 may not seem like a number worth reporting, you have to keep in mind that this is a part of the country where most folks do not have air conditioning. So on days like today and yesterday the best you can do is set some fans in the windows and try and keep the activity to a minimum.

“Keeping the activity to a minimum” for me came in the form of playing chess with my friend Michael Ashley. He taught me how to play a few days ago and since then we have played around 11 or 12 games, all of which I have lost. But despite my losing streak I have found great enjoyment in the game and hope to find someone who I can beat in the coming weeks (the ego can only take so many losses).

Oh, about the propaganda at the top of the page. The dryer in our house is on its way out. Has been for a while now. It makes an unbelievably annoying squeaking sound while attempting to dry the clothes contained within its bowels. Today the dryer failed to do the one thing it was created to do, dry. So while standing there with damp clothes in hand and a heavy heart an epiphany of sorts came to me, what if, and I know this is gonna sound crazy, but what if the same sun that was heating the surface of the earth (and my skin) to a toasty 90+ degree temperature could also dry out my damp clothing? Grant it that would involve me taking the clothing out of my house (a task that seemed overwhelming at first) and hanging them on the fence, an activity that could potentially involve an amount of work I wasn’t prepared to exert on this overly tepid day. In the end, the success ratio seemed high enough for me to risk it. So after 30 minutes of solar exposure the clothing on the fence had given up the last remnants of moisture, creating the same desired effect as the dryer but without the noisy squeaking sound. I might have even saved us .60 cents and used a few hundred kilowatts less.

Here’s an idea, on the next sunny day instead of throwing your clothes into the black hole of your dryer, find some rope, string up a clothesline and hang your clothes on it. You’re clothes will thank you. You’ll not only save a little bit of money on your utility bill (up to $2,000 a year) but you’ll also save your clothing from an early demise. The fact is that dryers destroy clothing at an unbelievable rate. The dryer industry has another name for those $150 dollar pair of designer jeans you bought last month, lint.



So I was sitting and talking with William after a soccer game a few weeks ago and I saw this crazy face poking out of a shirt hanging from his ironing board. I freaked out! It’s my own “Virgin Mary” sighting (even though it doesn’t look anything like the Virgin, but it’s all good, right?). Here is the video from Williams phone. You may need to pause the video near the middle to get a good look at the face.


A Sinner

The Moviegoer, a novel written by existentialist author Walker Percy, takes place in 1950’s New Orleans. This story written long before the levees broke prompting water and mold to destroy many of the places he talks of with so much nostalgia is a beautiful portrait of the spiritual struggle a man named Binx Bolling undergoes. Since the reading of this book I have been aware of this struggle on an almost daily basis.

The struggle: Living in a culture that is plagued (or blessed, I guess it really depends on who you talk with) by the constant reminder of sin and redemption in everything it does.

Allow me to unpack the thought process behind the struggle. As you walk down any street in Seattle you will see metal boxes containing newspapers that tell stories of the world around you and abroad. Some of these newspapers have less advertising than others and the ones with more advertisements are free, the consequence of choosing the “free” paper is half bit journalism, outright propaganda and lewd adverts. One of these free papers is called The Sinner. Within the pages of The Sinner you will find articles on things that we in our culture associate with sin. Full-page gay club ads, 1-800 numbers, and a veritable plethora of other “interesting” articles advocating a life of, well, sin. Here is where the link with the struggle comes in. The first thing is the title. Only in a culture where the idea of sin (or more specifically the word sin and all of the associations that come with it) is so pervasive would someone take the time to make a newspaper called The Sinner. For those strange folk who don’t know what a Sinner is they could simply look inside the paper, peek at the pictures, read the articles and say, “oh, so that’s what a Sinner is”.

Some of you may say, “well, every culture has some form of sin, they just don’t call it by that name”, and I would have to agree with you. But the fact of the matter is that I live in this culture so I can only pretend to be an authority on that which surrounds me. I have no grounds to speak for the Italians who must deal with this theme of sin and redemption on a much more intense level than we do what with Vatican City sitting amidst a most debaucheries and indulgent modern day Rome.

For the sake of brevity it could be broken down like this, people trying to do their best not to sin, people trying to sin as much as possible or folks trying to wade through the maze of sin and redemption, looking for a good median between sin and redemption.

Walker Percy puts it this way, “wherein everyone is nicer than Christians and naughtier than pagans, wherein there are dreamed not one but two American dreams: of Ozzie and Harriet, nicer-than-Christian folks, and of Tillie and Mac and belly to back.”


The Lemon Tree

For the most part, I hate modern journalism. It tends to hover around like a flock of vultures waiting for death to happen so that it can swoop down and make a story out of the carnage it finds. In media rooms across the world you can hear the slogan “If it bleeds it leads” being drilled into the minds of correspondents as they hop from one tragic event to the next. This was a struggle I dealt with on a very personal level when I had seriously contemplated going into journalism full time. Eventually I came to the conclusion that at this point in my life I just couldn’t handle the cut-throat journalism that has become the norm.

As I sat and read newspaper headlines from around the world concerning the latest chapter in the Middle East conflict my heart went out to the civilians on both sides who have lived with the threat of war on their doorstep for their entire lives. It just so happened last night that a man named Sandy Tolan, a documentary reporter for NPR, was speaking on his new book called The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East. I debated on whether or not I would attend the live reading of his book. By the time 6:40 rolled around I figured I might as well walk the few blocks to the church he was speaking at (hey, what did I have to lose, it was free!). While waiting for Sandy to arrive I observed what kinds of folks were filing in to hear this man speak on a topic I was very ignorant of. They were almost all white, mostly women and mostly over 40. I don’t know if that has any significance or not but I thought it was an interesting observation. Sandy entered the room, read some passages from his book and then had a question and answer time. Now, I have to tell you that Sandy wrote this book to show a compassionate, humane side to this conflict. He did not write the book in defense of either side but wrote it more to show that both “sides” (Palestinians and Israelis) are made up of human beings who have families and live lives just like the rest of us. He spoke about how each side was trying to dehumanize the other so that their actions could seem justified in the eyes of the world.

So when the floor was opened up for questions I was quite surprised to hear very inhumane, biased and seething remarks coming from the members of the audience. It was almost as if those speaking had not listened to anything Sandy had said for the last 45 minutes. I left the meeting disappointed at the people who came only to share their point of view and not to see potentially see things from a new perspective.

I think Saul Bellow had it right when he said, “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance.”


We Can't Keep This Up: Thoughts On A Sustainable Lifestyle

So in an effort to stave off any prolonged effects of my sinus infection I have effectively sat in front of my computer for almost half of the day (my body recuperates by relaxing). The good news is that the time spent in front of the computer did not go to waste. I have researched and compiled a massive amount of interesting information on one of the subjects that is quickly becoming a passion of mine: Sustainability.

What is Sustainability you ask?

The Corey Hau definition of Sustainability: Planning, preparing and creating a world were everything is made to use less, give back more than it takes and last longer.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of Sustainability: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.

This fall, I will be enrolling in college courses that have to do with topics surrounding Sustainability such as global warming (yes I said global warming, because while I may not agree with the extreme views that some folks take on global warming I still think that we have been severely irresponsible with the usage of resources God has given on this planet), urbanization, food shortage, materials used for building, land usage and a whole slew of other things that relate to our impact on the environment.

I have compiled some great links here that in some way correlate to Sustainability:

Design e2: The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious: This looks to be a fabulous 6 part series (and ladies, its narrated by Brad Pitt) that will be shown on Public Television in the next few weeks. I would recommend tuning in to at least one of the 6 parts to begin to get an idea of Sustainability.

Inhabitat: A great site with many fascinating articles on “green living”.

Kicktheoilhabit.org: A blog documenting a road trip that will be taken in a vehicle that runs on E85 fuel. While I’m not sure on whether or not I endorse the usage of this new fuel source the idea behind the campaign is a good one.

Cradle to Cradle:Remaking the Way We Make Things: I have not yet read this book but the synopsis Amazon gives makes it sound very intriguing. “In Cradle to Cradle, the authors present a manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution, one that would render both traditional manufacturing and traditional environmentalism obsolete.”

And last but not least is the trailer for a movie that may or not be playing at a theater near you. The movie is called Who Killed The Electric Car?

Watch and learn.



“You make it beautiful friend,
You make it worth it to the end.”
~Sufjan Stevens

The free wireless Internet signal that streams onto my Mac from some nearby neighbor has once again cut out. We used to have wireless in the house but I think Crapcast wanted to charge us like $80,000 a month or something ridiculous just to have high-speed Internet access. There has been rumor flying around that all of Seattle proper will eventually have wireless access provided by the city. I think its quite funny that the city were the guy who pretty much invented the internet lives doesn’t have a good, free wireless system setup yet. Little known fact about Seattle newspapers: Every other days front headline contains something mentioning Bill Gates or Microsoft (actually, I think by law they have to).

For some reason I just thought about a conversation I have had with my mother many times and I think I will share the topic with you. Funerals. More importantly her funeral and mine. My mom and I have always had a healthy understanding of our finiteness here on planet earth and we have had no qualms about speaking of our funerals and how we want them to be choreographed. We talk of the music we want played, how long we want it to be and where we want our ashes to be spread (after they are done with my organs I definitely want to be cremated, just like my Grandpa). My mom always talks about how she wants the funeral to be a happy affair. She doesn’t see death as an end, but as the beginning of an eternal existence with the One who knows her best. The hardest thing for me is settling on what soundtrack I want played at my celebration (I hold the same view my mother does on who my spirit will be with after the time of my departure and because of that I have chosen to call this ceremony a celebration, because I will certainly be beyond glad to be with Him). When there are so many amazing artists producing solid music my celebration song list is constantly being brought into question. I don’t have a list of songs made up as of yet but I might sit down and do that someday soon.

I’ve always found it strange, our cultures paralyzing fear of death. Its funny how this is one of the least talked about topics and yet we all will go through this experience sometime in the future. It’s the one thing we all have in common (besides birth). So when I’ve moved on, play some Sufjan (Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou) on repeat), drink some good wine (a merlot from the Napa Valley, ask my Aunt Liz to suggest something, she lives in that area) and read aloud any part of The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

What do you want played at your celebration?

A Paper Clip

Check out this story on a crazy Canadian guy named Kyle Macdonald. Why didnt I think of this first?


My Imperfection

Here is a recording of me playing on a very out of tune piano. The piano sat in the apartment that we rented while I lived in Kyrgyzstan. We never really used the piano for much besides stashing money in it (what would be robber would think to open the wood top of an old piano and find thousands of dollars inside?) and sitting on its old, worn bench. The piano wasn’t even ours, it belonged to the old Russian woman who we rented the 2-bedroom apartment from. The apartment was located in this old soviet block housing development that was made completely of cement. The only part of the apartment that wasn’t concrete was the doors. I guess communism doesn’t promote remodeling your home.

Putting this recording on here is a big step for me. I am very self-conscious about the way I sound on recordings (not the music, my voice). This is the first recording I have ever made of me on the piano and actually the first time I have really played the piano since I was about thirteen. I was not as concerned with the quality of the melody as much as the fact that I simply needed to record myself doing something that wasn’t perfect. Something that wasn’t well thought out and planned down to the very last key strike.

Click on the arrow below to hear my imperfection.


The City

There are times when I walk between the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle and feel that romantic twinge of being in a city, the sounds of people all around you, hurrying from this important thing to that, lugging name brand shopping bags from Westlake Centre to buses or cars; pigeons making quick ascension to the tops of 40 story buildings, their wings beating rapidly in an effort to hoist their bread stuffed bellies high above the din of the streets. In late afternoon shafts of sunlight cascade through spaces between the tall steel sentinels to create a beautiful framing of shadows and light onto opposite buildings. Sometimes I close one eye and line up the diagonal edge of one building with another to see if they are square. To my surprise and amazement they usually are. The technology involved in taking a line, stretching it out 600 feet skyward and keeping it straight all the while is a great feet in itself.

But, as much as I have come to appreciate the city and all its romantic qualities, I must admit there are days in which the height and width of a small city growing big become to much for me to handle. You have to understand that I am not from the city. All of this concrete and glass are not the usual fare my eyes fell upon for most of my adolescent life. My family moved often and those moves often landed us in the suburbs. So in my switch from sub-urban life to urban life I thought the quirks I had with the city were a byproduct of bygone days, reminiscing of still evenings spent on front porches with crickets and cicadas being the loudest sound I had to cope with. Now I-5 hums its song to the tune of a thousand cars an hour right outside my window (where are these people coming from?).

Pat handed me a book that answered many questions that have arisen since living in the city. Christopher Alexander writes in his book A Pattern Language, “There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.” He then goes on to cite many examples and studies that show a direct mental and social correlation between high buildings and the dysfunction they create. Within the 1100 pages of this fascinating volume is laid out a completely new way of building cities. Alexander believes that many of the reasons why western, industrialized societies are so disconnected from each other is because we build our town and cities in such a way that they can be expected to do nothing less than isolate us. The problems he writes about (and solutions he gives) are more relevant today than when he first released his book in 1977. I plan to speak more on the things I am learning from this book and have written this entry as a kind of introduction to Alexander and some of his ideas. My interest in societies and the way they operate has always been a fascination of mine. I look forward to sharing that fascination with you.

Here is a shot of the Bank of America building, the tallest structure in Seattle, as seen from King Street Station.


Chauvinism or Chivalry?

“I don’t know what to do, I am a man when I shouldn’t be and not a man when I should be. I’m confused.”

Yes, that is something I have repeated in a few conversations over the last couple of weeks, the most recent being this evening while walking with William through the luscious grass and tall pines of the Seattle Arboretum. So here is my plight (and the plight of many men I suppose); I have grown up in a society that has stressed women’s rights so much that now men, in turn, have virtually none. Well maybe I should rephrase that, they have plenty of rights; the right to be emotional, the right to be in touch with their feminine side, the right to watch their children while women run off to earn degrees and “take on the world”…you see where I’m going with this. Understandably this does not sum up all women nor am I naive enough to believe that all Western women even want to be associated with the pseudo-feminist version of womanhood that has been created within the last 50 years. No, this is not some woman bashing rant, it is however my attempt at an honest assessment of the role reversal that has occurred between male and female in Western society.

For the sake of trying to prove a point, I have chosen not to write this entry from a balanced perspective. Forgive the disjointed nature of this entry as these are thoughts in progress.

I read the bible (from time to time) and even though I don’t claim to understand much of what I read, I do see a pattern that God has setup for healthy interactions between man and woman that I believe we have severely disrupted over the last half century.

I spoke with my sister the other day (an amazing woman). She told me the story of a teacher who already had her Masters and was working towards her Specialist with plans to acquire a Doctorate. She quoted the woman as saying, “I plan to move up very fast [in the school system]”. I asked my sister if the woman had any children and she said yes, two. My sister said she knew the kids and told me they suffered from a lack of attention and affirmation in part because of their mothers ambitious plan to “move up the ladder”, inevitably leaving the kids at the bottom looking up and wondering where mommy was climbing to. Maybe no one has told this woman that in the end she runs the risk of only bettering her own future, her own image and not her children’s. Kids don’t care about money or status; they need attention and love.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman raising her children in a healthy atmosphere in which she is heavily involved (a.k.a. a stay at home mom). In vast majorities of the rest of the “undeveloped” world women see child raising and homemaking as a privilege and take great pride in creating the best setting possible for the development of a healthy family unit.

Is it wrong for me to want my future wife to desire child rearing? Am I a male chauvinist for wanting my wife to enjoy taking part in creating a home for our family?

I know that I have left out various issues (like what the responsibility of the man is in all of this) that might make this a more balanced post, but I felt that I needed to speak into areas that aren't spoken into enough.

Any thoughts of your own?