It’s a little small to see… but in our edits of song number 4, a few cross-outs and the word ‘sorry’ added to the change. My friend Rob’s sense of humor… read below!

CHApter two notes

One of my favorite albums of all time is David Wilcox’s ‘How Did You Find Me Here’. Released in 1989, I found it in my early 20’s as I was just starting out and discovering this new folk movement that was booming and albums like David’s made me listen to music and the acoustic guitar in a new and refreshing way. There was something so simple and beautiful and raw about this collection of songs and especially the way each song begins and flows into the next. I drew inspiration for We Will Remember from that album, because I knew that I needed to think creatively about the flow of each of these songs, with the heaviness in content and knowing I was writing them in succession. One of the subtle ways I did that was through deliberately choosing the key of each song. Much like how I plan a Sunday morning church service, as my friend Dave often laughs, most of my intentionality goes unnoticed… but I’m okay with that if it achieves the certain purpose I am going for. In the case of the first 5 songs on WWR… the scriptural content from Joel is so heavy I knew that there needed to be some type of musical lift, so the starting notes / keys of each song #1-4 actually go up a musical step in hopes that the listener, as they listen to the lyrics and are moved emotionally perhaps towards sadness, will sense a hope by the music getting higher in pitch, and that there can be a beautiful tension present as it happens.

For as Jaco’s title for this chapter illuminates (Gather: The Isolation of Loss and the Promise of Community) there is beauty found in holding the tension, and finding that tension is where I knew we needed to aim for these two songs in Chapter Two. And hopefully trying to capture the beauty that is in so many Advent songs… major (happy) sounding lyrics soaring above a bed of minor chords to create a tension that is palpable - ie: O Come Emmanuel’s chorus that is minor chords with the lyric being ‘REJOICE, REJOICE…’ To celebrate the birth of Jesus, knowing the impending sadness that comes in Good Friday.

When I sat down with Rachel at her kitchen island after wrestling ‘Hear This’ for many days, I brought a piece of music that was simple in nature that I felt like might achieve the purpose stated above. It’s in the people’s time signature of 6/8, it never hits the 1 chord (the key the song is in), which sets up tension beautifully, and the first chord is a step above the last chord of ‘Cry Out To You.’ It felt spot on to me, but now came the content… which I thought would be difficult, because I felt like I had just written an entire album around the word ‘gather’… but thankfully the lyrics came. 

In the downloading and conversation about chapters and themes, Jaco and his wife Michelle taught me the South African word and concept ‘ubuntu,’ which basically means ‘I am, because you are,’ and it struck me immediately. What a beautifully simple statement and one that can be viewed on so many different levels. Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained the concept like this, ‘“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, ‘Yu u nobuntu’; ‘Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.’ Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have… We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons…’” Tutu adds: “A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” 

In relation to Joel, as Jaco states, this idea is extended to mean ‘loss makes each person like all other persons.’ We can find strength and hope through others in our loss because we all experience loss. And to take it even one step further, we can find strength and hope in loss through God because Jesus walked upon this earth and he had a deep and intimate understanding of loss as well. So my hope with the song was to write it in such a way that we would find comfort on both levels - in our relationship to one another and in our relationship to our Creator - and I found a lot of inspiration from the Book of Psalms as David wrote out of this profound place often.

When there are no words, you speak for me

When my eyes grow tired, you help me see

When it feels like I have lost everything

It is you my God, who defines me

I am because you are

Because you are I am

When there is no light, but a fire that breathes

I forsake the ground and fall trembling 

With no place to hide, forced a refugee

It is you my God, who defines me

As the song came together, and the same four chords formed the bed for the Verses and the Chorus, it still felt like we needed to take it somewhere for a brief moment of release in the form of a bridge, although I feel like I could play this song for hours and never get tired of it. As I thought more, and reflected on the GATHER album, one thing that I feel like I missed in that batch of songs was a song that was incredibly easy to sing and that could unify a body of people. The overall themes of community and pushing back on fear were unifying, but the music was not as attainable as I had hoped, so the bridge to ‘Because You Are’ was my chance at a re-do of sorts. Thinking about this idea of community in the midst of loss, and following up the lyric from song #2 where the chorus turns at the end from ‘I cry out to you’ to ‘we cry out to you,’ I wanted to write a lyric about that great power that comes when we sing and cry out together. A study has actually been done that proves the most unifying thing to do in a group after tragedy is to sing, because it unifies not only in a word and musical sense, but it unifies a body of people in their breathing (check out the study here). So the bridge needed to be a simple release… and of course, use the word ‘gather!’ In it’s short life, this song has been so powerful to sing live and I can’t wait to continue to share it with folks as I think it might be my favorite off of We Will Remember

Hear… our cry… while we gather…  we gather

We…. are one… because we gather… we gather

I am because you are

Because you are I am

One of the hardest things about this album project was that Jaco gave me the directive that the lyric could not directly turn positive until mid-way through the project, as to stick to the arc of the story in Joel. This was a difficult task, and yet it provided some comical moments, like in the writing of this next song, ‘I Cannot Know You.’ In verse 2 the lyric says, ‘Come and help me set the table / God prepared this holy ground / To our desolation we are bound,’ but originally it was written ‘Come and help me set the table / God prepared this holy ground / In our desolation hope is found.’ But I knew that Jaco would not approve… so my friend and co-writer Rob Blackledge crossed it out and replaced it, as seen in the picture above. 

Rob is a pretty laid back and optimistic guy. Because of mutual friends, we had known each other for a couple years but hadn’t spent much time together, until a year ago when he replaced me as the music guy at the church we had planted in our neighborhood. The church invited me to take the full time job, but my wife Suzanne and I felt as though it was not the right time and we turned it down, which was incredibly hard and beautiful, so they hired Rob. I didn’t anticipate that we would become fast friends but I’m so grateful that we did, because along with Rachel, he has been a crucial piece of helping making these songs come alive!

Rob used to be a part of a rock’n’roll country band and lived a pretty hard life on the road. Over the last few years though, God has transformed his heart in amazing ways and also delivered him into sobriety. Because of this former life, he has a funny and slightly complicated relationship with songwriting, so it was especially fun and unintentionally be a small bridge back into that world he existed in before, but with a totally redeemed purpose and drive. He is such a talented guitar player and melody writer and it was a joy to write with this new friend I had been given. 

We approached song #4 with the eery and slightly apocalyptic vision of imagining a plague of locusts coming through our neighborhood of Crieve Hall where I live, and then in the aftermath, tried picturing people slowly emerging from their homes into the streets. Streaming from their front porches, down their driveways… and it led us to this beautiful line from Jaco’s book, ‘burdened by our isolation.’ From there we we continued to paint the picture of a desperate people through the imagery Joel uses, 

‘Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips. A nation has invaded my land, a mighty army without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white.’ Joel 1:5-7

That’s a pretty bleak picture. But knowing that the hope is coming is a beautiful thing. Because even in the midst of the darkness, we can begin to see glimmers of the light,  

Burdened by our isolation. One by one we come to find

We’re barely breathing holding on to life

Stop and listen hear the whisper. Rest and wait for love to guide

To walk forward we must look behind

There is thing at Young Life summer camp that I’ve only experienced once before and its called ‘The Big Table’ (in the pic below) and its where the entire camp of high school kids (500+) and their leaders get to eat dinner around one gigantic table. It’s something that most people have never experienced, which is what Young Life is all about! Creating unbelievably memorable experiences and incredible hospitality to love kids to the feet of Jesus. Verse two of ‘I Cannot Know You’ was us capturing that image in song form, imagining my neighbors coming out of their houses and taking care of one another by coming around the table together to grieve and be fed, 

Come and help me set the table. God prepared this holy ground

To our desolation we are bound

When we gather in God’s presence. Living out loves mystery

Here we find our true identity

Because it is in this place, not the place of loss, that we find our true identity. We need one another to remind us who’s we are and that as Jaco writes, that ‘the locusts do not define us.’ There is great beauty when we come alongside those who grieve, not to necessarily offer words or comfort, but to just be… with them. 

Gathering: an act of pastoral and prophetic protest in the face of tragedy.

Gathering: supersedes the place we gather, as God’s covenant is with his people, not place.

Gathering: instills identity when identity has been eroded by crisis.

Gathering: awakens our attention of and to the compassionate God.

Gathering: where we can remember and proclaim together.

Gathering: to find hope in belonging.

The good life comes in our belonging

Crying out with those who mourn

Love draws us together to be restored

I cannot know you

I cannot know all of you

I cannot know you, oh God, by myself

I cannot know you

I cannot know all of you

I cannot know you, oh God, by myself