CHApter Five notes

One way to quickly inspire songs is to book studio time without having all the songs completed because the firm deadline forces you to write, as you really can’t make an album without having enough songs. I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way, but unfortunately this is not the first time I have gone about making an album this way?! I wouldn’t say that the writing of these songs snuck up on me… but more that Jaco’s book release date snuck up on me… which drove my need to write these songs ASAP and my summer plans of writing all of them didn’t quite work out like I had hoped. So there I was at the end of August with studio time booked for the end of September with my friend Paul, and only eight songs written with one or two of songs 1-7 that still needed bridges to be completed, plus an incredibly busy September of travels and shows. But then came perhaps my best idea yet, build in a couple extra days after a weekend in CA, and schedule time with my old friend Justin McRoberts. 

For those of you who don’t know Justin, you should! He is a (self-proclaimed) short, hilarious dude, an incredible songwriter, vocalist, author, speaker, podcaster, and just an amazing human with a deep soul and a penchant to call things out for exactly what they are. He and I have known each other for a lot of years and he was crucial in my life for helping me get back on the road after my Dad passed away. And when I say crucial, I mean a true blessing, as he lost his Dad as well, many years before me; so he had much wisdom and support to offer me in the form of spoken and unspoken words, and we had many conversations in between playing in-the-round concerts sharing songs and stories together. And that tour helped me get my feet back underneath me in that setting and for that I am grateful.

I can’t remember exactly, but when I reached out to him I don’t think I told him the gravity of the situation and that I had only two and half weeks to complete 4+ songs; but I had a good sense that knowing his work ethic and the depth of our friendship, we could be pretty productive, even though we had never actually written any songs together?! As I did with all of my co-writer friends, I brought all the notes, themes, and scripture, but with Justin I also played him every song I had written up to that point to help give him the full scope of the musical journey, as well as hear his suggestions on the missing pieces (bridges). One thing Justin is gifted at is writing simple catchy soulful hooks and he did just that as we hammered out bridges for Remember and Proclaim (track #5), Dwelling Place (#7) and he offered other suggestions for the earlier songs that we’re still needing a little tightening up. That would have been enough of a gift, but what came next was even more of a gift! Two new songs and a lot of laughs in under 24 hours.

Chapter Five in Jaco’s book is entitled ‘Be Accountable: A Just God and the Promise of Political Restoration’ and in conjunction with Joel, it calls us to live with a responsibility before God and with care towards our neighbor. It challenges, as well as awakens a hope within the people who have been exiled through the devastation of the locusts and calls us to focus on practicing accountability, transparency, non-defensiveness, responsiveness instead of reactivity, and the somewhat difficult theme of practicing paradox (more on that one in song #10). Interestingly, these character traits were incredibly similar to the ones my friend Justin had already shown to me in our long friendship, which I don’t really think I was fully aware of until I started diving deeper and writing this particular chapter note. And when we sat down to write together, he was transparent, responsive to the spirit and helped drive me to be accountable to the story I was in the midst of telling and living first hand.

When I moved to Nashville in 2004, as many of you have heard me talk about over the years, I came in search of finding authentic community that was committed to living life together. My wife and I found that community through the church we were a part of and the neighborhood we chose to buy a home in. We were invited into a small group of folks, who became our family, and who we met with for over 12 years. Unfortunately about a year or so ago, through a lot of hard conversations and tears, that group came to a place and a decision to part ways and stop meeting regularly. It was incredibly painful for all involved, but probably the right decision with the changes that had happened in various families and the directions we were all going. After several months, the men of that group showed a desire to start meeting again every other week to share our lives, laugh a lot, cry and pray together. While that has been beautiful, it has also been hard, as we’ve had to navigate our individual understanding of what both the ‘ending’ and the ‘new beginning’ has meant for our friendships and what expectations come along with that. Without going into more detail, what grew out of these conversations over late summer was this question - how could we come into these times together holding our hopes and desires, yet still calling each other to a higher obedience, accountability and faithfulness. And what resulted from these conversations was this understanding that we have no ability to individually offer anything worthwhile to one another unless we are drawing wisdom and strength from a deeper well, which in our case, is walking actively with God. If we are not in tune with God’s compassion and mercy for our own lives and stories, we will not be able to have compassion and mercy for one another, and therefore be unable to extend Holy wisdom to one another. As Jaco writes, to practice accountability means to take responsibility for one’s actions, have emotional maturity and an internal backbone; not shifting blame to external factors (ie: locusts). And transparency will compliment accountability by making the invisible, visible. 

Ultimately, we need God to assist us with this… and that is what the song Deeper Well is all about. It’s a prayer asking God to rain his mercy upon us, to guide us and deepen the well we are drawing from. I have learned that at my core, I am a selfish person and I need his grace and mercy, as well as my community to remind me to continue to return and draw from his well, and not my own. 

What do I do when I do what I want to?

What do I want when I want what I want?

Help me see that the way that I’m living 

Don’t hurt just me. I’m hurting you too, hurting you too

Where do I turn when my heart gets lonely?

And I am afraid no one’s coming for me

Ain’t got no friends cause I sold them for silver

I keep on blaming everybody but me, everybody but me 

Rain your mercy. I am thirsty

Rain your mercy. I need to drink from a deeper well

After we cranked out Deeper Well that afternoon, I went to bed pretty satisfied with our progress and would have been happy heading home with all that we did, but we awoke in the morning and had just a couple hours to get after another song. Several months before this project, while I was walking my sweet dog Cody, I had this lyric and melody come to me that I never did anything with and thankfully it resurfaced in my preparation for this album. The lyric was inspired by a Capernaum Young Life staff person named Vince who lives in the Bay Area and when I played a concert for him and his friends with disabilities he told me his story about leaving his corporate job. He offered up a prayer to God that basically said, ‘break my heart for what breaks yours,’ and God responded with a word about disabilities which cause Vince to faithfully leave his job to do ministry full-time. He felt an overwhelming need to minister to our friends with special needs and so that’s what he did. 

I’ve always wanted to write a song with that lyric and upon reading Jaco’s words about ‘practicing paradox’ I was reminded of those words, especially in light of thinking about the way that Jesus lived a life of caring for the marginalized and vulnerable, the strangers and the broken. He was able to hold the complexity of peoples experience - and the often opposing realities. And as Jaco describes, much the same way we are called in faith to believe in an omnipotent God who loves people, as well as the locusts that come to devour landscape and lives. A God so full of mercy, yet also the same God who holds us accountable with loving judgement. This can be a hard reality to hold, but as Joel states in Chapter 3, ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations… there I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people.’ The text later continues with ‘The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem, the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people and a stronghold.’ 

It’s that last part that inspires and challenges me - can I be a refuge for others? Jaco explains the literal meaning of the word ‘politics’ as the ‘shape of the city’ and continues to unpack it like this - we are either partaking in creating relationships and places for people and the earth to thrive and flourish or we are destroying the gifts we find in others. That’s a hard definition for the shape we find ourselves in, if you truly take it to heart with our current political situation across the board. But I don’t want to get in to political talk here… I just want to be a person who helps shape the city by creating and awakening hope, not one who destroys the gifts of others. I want to be one who responds and not just reacts. I want to take responsibility for my actions. I want to help call my community to transparency, through being transparent myself. But I know, as the bridge of Send Me re-states those famous words from the old hymn Come Thou Fount, ‘I am prone to wander’ and I need to have my heart re-tuned by God’s mercy and compassion so I may sing that song of hope and justice. Then and only then will I be moved and sent into action.

Send Me

Break my heart for what breaks yours may I be moved like you

Renew my mind and heal these eyes to see my world the way you do

Break my heart for what breaks yours all who are left alone

Your sons enslaved by wealth and power; your daughters stolen, traded and sold

Send me, to the refugees and strangers

Send me, to the powerless and poor

Send me, in the strength of your compassion

Move me into action, oh Lord

Break my heart for what breaks yours chase out my fear with love

Teach me this song of hope and justice

Let it be upon the earth as in heaven up above

O to grace how great a debtor I am constrained to be

Let thy goodness, like a fetter bind my heart to thee

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it to leave the one I love

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it for thy courts above

Send me, to the refugees and strangers

Send me, to the powerless and the poor

Send me, in the strength of your compassion

Move me into action, oh Lord

Teach me this song of hope and justice

Let it be upon the earth as in heaven up above

(Joel 3:1-16)