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CHApter FOUR notes

I hadn’t seen Chad Cates in a long time. He and I had written a couple of songs together in the past, including a couple for my Sweet Redemption album, but as things sometimes happen in Nashville and with the amount of talented folks in the city, we lost touch and hadn’t crossed paths in a while. Nashville can be really big world some days and then really small some days and thankfully I ran into him and his daughter at our local Kroger, and learned that his daughter just started attending the same elementary school as my son. We only had a minute to talk, but I immediately thought about the Joel project, thinking he might be excited about it. I followed up with an email and more details and we set a time to get together to write for it.

As I’ve done with each co-writer for this project, I’ve come into the sessions overly prepared with pages of notes from Jaco’s book and the particular passage from Joel that we are writing about and with Chad, we were focused on Chapter 4 entitled ‘Receive: God’s Spirit and the Promise of Spiritual Practiceand the latter half of Joel where God begins to pour his spirit out upon his people. For this session with Chad I didn’t have any music at my fingertips, and was feeling pretty worn out, without any musical ideas brewing. I don’t think I have ever written this many songs in such a short period, so the musical well was feeling long past dry, but one of the gifts that Chad brings is a seemingly endless stream of music that comes forth with great freedom and confidence. I was grateful for that because as we spent the whole morning talking through themes, we started and chased at least eight or so different musical ideas, but none of theme felt quite right. We wrestled thematically with the idea that God would send the plagues of locusts and hardship and in the same breath of Joel, promise restoration. We wrestled musically with where the project needed to go next after the response and recognition song in ‘I Am Not Alone.’ We narrowed our focus in on the beautiful description in Joel of God pouring out his spirit in the first half of Joel 2:28. All of the promises that Joel lists to set up that one statement and then all of those promises that come after… and we created an exhaustive list of these promises (picture on left) and after a few hours of this, we knew that we needed to take a break for lunch, so as not to exhaust ourselves.

Chad and I went down to my kitchen and I started making us some food while we caught up on all of life that had gone on since we had last crossed paths. As I was making our salads, I asked him if we wanted grilled chicken on his salad and he said that he wasn’t eating meat anymore. I asked why and he proceeded to tell me about getting diagnosed with colon cancer and that he had beaten it post surgery by completely changing his diet and avoiding chemo treatments. I just listened as he told his story and was amazed by the journey that he had been on and felt a sense of kinship because of watching my Dad go through that process with the same disease that eventually took my Dads life. It made my heart both sad and grateful to hear Chad’s story. Sad to hear how hard his journey had been and to remember my father and the hardship of our family journey; and yet grateful to hear that he had been healed and was doing so well and could live to talk about the process. But it wasn’t like he got sick, got treated, was healthy and was done with it. Chad is still wrestling with God about why it all happened, and trying to figure out how his faith fits in it all and what he there is to learn from it. And as Joel writes, that God is in control of even those moments; which is perhaps the hardest thing to wrap our minds around. 

Through our conversation I think we were both able to see and recognize moments of the outpouring of God’s kindness  and mercy upon him and his family, despite the hardship, and that truly set us up to re-enter the writing process for song #7. It was through those moments of sharing our hard stories with each other, that we found the common ground and language and spirit that the heart of this lyric could be built upon. Just like Joel calls us to all throughout his book - 

Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.

Summon the elders and all who live in the land

to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders,

gather the children, those nursing at the breast.

Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.

Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.

So we went back upstairs to the piano and guitar and picked up where we left off (and in some ways got to start over with) and the song flowed forth pretty easily, like a new wind had been breathed into the process and the song had taken on a life of its own. We were able to write a lyric that spoke to both our tangible physical needs, as well as our need for God to meet us in those places. And to have the lyric turn outward to community in the midst of recognizing those needs. It is one of the more poignant songs on the album to sing live and to lead folks in singing, and truly was the most beautiful God moment that I got to be a part of in the process of making We Will Remember and I’m grateful for it.

As I continued to move through this heavy content and trying to match songs and lyrics to themes I felt like the next step in the journey was to take a stab at writing a more hymn sounding song that beckons us to look at the awe and wonder of God in response to ‘Pour Your Spirit Out.’ I’ve only ventured into that territory a few times, although I do have a deep love for those old sacred songs, as well as the new modern re-tuned hymns, so ‘Dwelling Place’ was a fun journey that I enlisted my friend Rachel to join me in. The beauty of the content for this song is that it after God pours out his Spirit, his promises flow forth, so Rachel and I took most of the lyric for song #8 straight from Joel. The trick was matching the music and it’s feel to the heart of the Old Testament lyric that came quickly knowing that we needed to begin to turn our hope towards God’s promises. Joel 2:28-32 reads:

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem

there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.

Jaco challenges us in The Millennial Narrative to follow this path of restoration as we individually and corporately experience the wonder of God as his life force is poured out. For when we do this, it causes us to practice open-heartedness, practice heartful-ness and better see the resurrection power within our own lives. And then in turn, as we are in community, we naturally invite others to call out and embrace the locusts in their own lives, oftentimes helping give word to something that may not be fully understood.

To share our story, silence the noise

To hear the wisdom in the tremble of a voice

To carry healing for all the scars

To know we’re more than our broken hearts

I need you. You need me.

This is why we gather. This is why we gather

To remember why we matter. This is why we gather

When we help each other

Fight the fear be present with one another

We will find that’s where the life of God is lived

I need you. You need me.

This is why we gather. This is why we gather

To remember why we matter. This is why we gather

It’s been amazing to me to see how my GATHER album set the stage and in some ways, became the foundation that I was able to build these songs upon. As I look back at the lyrics from that album, in particular the title track… it is all connected together. We help others feel known when we offer ourselves in that way. When we can see the resurrection power of a merciful God in our lives, it helps others see it in theirs. And in a world that is fast moving, chaotic and ever changing, what a gift it is to find a place that is steadfast that we can dwell within. Thanks be to God.