Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fear (In light of current events)

I want to be honest. Lately, I'm afraid. More than any other time in my life, I'm afraid. 

A decade ago it wouldn't have crossed my mind to be uneasy going to a movie theater. Now, each time I enter one I have exits planned and I find myself (unfortunately) judging people out of fear.

With the recent attacks in Paris, I'm reminded that right before our Cancun trip this year, the incident on the beach that killed so many had me afraid even to go relax on the sand. 

There is so much terror in our world, and I think if we're honest, regardless of our politics or faith system, there is an air of uncertainty that is hard to fully write off.

But, I'm smart enough to know that not every Christian is represented by Westboro, the KKK, or Nazi Germany. Those are all examples of hijacking a religion. It happens with gangs as well, who put on the cross bling and pray to the saints before shooting up a convenience store.

I know that just as those are not representative of my faith in Christ, so too terrorists are not representative of Islam as a whole. They've hijacked it, and use it for justification, but it is not the true Islamic faith they follow.

I'm afraid, but I don't want this fear to lead me to condemn or generalize a whole people or faith group; Christian, Muslim or otherwise.

I'm sure many Muslims feel just as frustrated by those killing in that religion's name as many Christians have felt throughout the ages being looped in with the KKK, or to a lesser degree Westboro. Those are simply the first examples to come to mind.

Regarding my fear, My Christian friends will say to trust God to take away the fear. And to a degree, for my own faith, that will help. But it does not fully address the issue. I think as a means of dealing with this crazy world, there are perhaps other, practical solutions.

I'm beginning to understand that living out the loving aspects of our faith systems (or simply our ethics as the case may be) is the only true way to bring people together, instead of tearing them apart.

On my team at work there are Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Jews, and I'm sure a whole host of non-categories, and each of us get along and care for each other as coworkers.

This then must be the model for the world. Our differences will always exist, but we cannot become afraid of those differences. We can embrace them and love, or at the very least be kind, to one another. 

I may be afraid because of events in the world, but I'm learning  that alleviating that fear will come, at least partially, from embracing and loving all those around me.

I can't stop a terror attack any more than I control whether or not I'll wake up each day. But I think I'm going to choose to go forward with a healthy respect for our differences. It may not be the way most would go, and I may not perfectly execute this path, but it's the only way I know right now to let the fear go, and embrace love.

*These are my personal reflections, but feel free to share or pass along if you want. Maybe it can help someone else feeling the same.*

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The End of "The Great Downsizing"

Our experiment, for that is what I believe it always was, has finally come to a close. It was sometime around May/June 2014 when we bought the 1997 Fleetwood Wilderness Fifth Wheel, and commenced what I lovingly called, "The Great Downsizing."

The idea was simple. We would avoid high apartment rent, and gain an asset of value, while downsizing our cost of living and lifestyle in order to pay off some debts, and generally just save more money. How did it go? Well, like most things in life, not exactly to plan.

Once we committed to buying the RV, Juliet decided to go work for her dad with the mission teams in Mexico. At the time, I had 3 days off per week, so I drove down frequently to visit her while she stayed there. The original RV plan had included her keeping her decent paying job that she hated for a year so that we could knock all the debts out, and then begin working for her dad. We essentially flipped that, and did the opposite.

And, for a time it worked. We still managed to pay down some of the bigger debts, and for the most part did not incur too much more, despite her not bringing in an income anymore. And, living in the RV, for me, was a fun experience at first.

Since we bought an older model, I expected at some point we would have to do some upkeep. I am not skilled in the handyman arts, so I planned to either teach myself, or use tips from those around me. When my stepdad moved back to Tulsa with my mom, my initial handyman contact was gone. He was still helpful over the phone, and truthfully it forced me to learn some things on my own, but as more and more started to need maintenance, it began to get too frustrating for my unskilled self.

And then, Tyler moved back into town. My best friend Tyler had just about every tool, and life experience, to fix anything and everything (and he still does). He was kind enough on multiple occasions to help me with some of the heftier projects. We installed new, more stable piping under the sink. We replaced the A/C Motor to give the Air conditioner new life. And, he helped on many small things as well.

When they visited, Juliet's dad also did some small repairs.

I think because of these people around us, I pushed for us to stay in the RV longer than I probably would have if I'd not had the help.

When Juliet finished in Mexico and came back up in May of this year, we knew she'd need to get a job somewhere. We had survived on the little bit she got from the teams in Mexico, so I knew she could work wherever she wanted, for whatever pay she could get. Anything would be an upgrade financially at that point. She chose to work somewhere that makes her happy, essentially playing with dogs all day (her dream job for sure). What I hadn't counted on, was the issue of where to put all of her things once she moved back to the RV, on top of having two dogs taking up space. It was never cramped, but it was also never an abundance of space for storage.

And then it got to be a little too much...

This past weekend, the rain (or at least I believe it was the rain) shorted something out, and we haven't been able to get the AC or lights working. If we're lucky, it'll turn out that the electric pole shorted out and the community will fix it. If we aren't, then something went wrong on the RV, and it became temporarily unlivable. Either way we had to spend 4 nights at hotels because the weather wasn't quite cool enough yet to go without AC in Austin. We had been discussing a move back to a 1 bedroom apartment by the end of the year, but because of the new problem with the electricity/air conditioner, our timetable got pushed up.

We had visited a few apartments to get ideas, but we never imagined we'd be back 24 hours later to lease whatever we could find available at a decent price. It was either that, or keep paying nightly at hotels (way more expensive in the long run).

So, with a measure of frustration, which soon turned to excitement, we sought out an apartment community. We landed at a nice community in the north part of Round Rock, near the outlet mall and IKEA. It wasn't too far from where the RV park had been, so our commute didn't increase too much.

We found a nice 1st floor, 1 bed/1bath apartment with a washer/dryer in unit (so great to have). Today, we got the keys, and paid the move in costs. Because of the short notice, we were able to get some generous, last minute help to meet all of the initial costs.

Tonight will be the first night in nearly a year and a half that I will sleep in a new home that isn't the RV. Honestly, it's a bit of a relief, despite my fondness for the RV lifestyle in the beginning.

Our next step is to get it put in storage and try to sell it. I have a feeling the issues were community related instead of RV related, so the AC and things should still be good. Hopefully we can sell it for enough to knock out a few months rent, and just buy some general flexibility.

Overall, the Great down sizingwas not a bad thing at all. But, as with any experiment, it eventually must end.

The RV allowed Juliet to do what she loved in Mexico for nearly a year. It allowed us to pay off some debts and bills, and learn to live with a little less. I learned a few handyman tricks that I can someday implement on a house. We still have an asset (albeit a fixer-upper asset) and can get some money back on it. Overall, it was a good life experience, and I don't regret it. I think it was there for the time we needed it, but now it's time to move on again to creature comforts like a maintenance team, and a washer, dryer, and dishwasher.

I still would recommend downsizing to someone thinking about it. But, I would suggest paying a little more for the RV and getting a newer model. We bought one that was a bit older, and as such, had a few maintenance items to take care of in our time with it. Overall, it has held up pretty well considering its age. Still, the investment for something a bit newer would be worth it in the long haul and same some headache.

I think we will still do what we can to maintain a lifestyle of a little less. We'll still do our best to set aside money that we can. Ultimately, whatever we end up being able to do, we can do it with a bit more comfort and peace of mind than we've had for the last year. The trade off at this point seems worth it, so it's time to close one chapter, and begin another.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Great Divide

It's been awhile since I have written here. My apologies. Due to a number of factors (summer being one), I have just lost motivation and/or been busy with other activities. A semi-steady music gig, an anniversary vacation, and the acquisition of a "Wii U" gaming system, have cut into my writing time.

Lack of motivation is likely the primary culprit. Perhaps as a creative outlet, writing must come when it comes. As such, if inspiration does not strike, it is easy for writing to get lost in the day to day.

In the past, this blog has served as an outlet for my various views (sometimes unpopular), on Christianity primarily, but occasionally other things.

I've felt in my heart lately that our entire western Christian perspective has lost its way. Looking back in history, it seems our generations of Christians have become the most spoiled. Our biggest concern is that someone on Facebook will disagree with us on a theological or political point. Putting all of our focus on these often petty disagreements has turned us into a congregation of divided views.

Some would argue it has been this way for awhile. After all, there are tens of thousands of denominations of Christianity. But, the political climate of the past few years, combined with the easy access opinion generator known as Facebook, has brought the division amongst Christians more into view. With the instant communication of the internet, there is little secret that Western Christians have divided themselves into camps.

Denominations aside, it has essentially morphed into a sort of political Christianity, where the goal is less about Jesus and His teachings, and more about whose political candidate is more godly (hint: none of them). I used to be of the opinion that church and state should be somewhat integrated. My views leaned more to the right, as I felt that was the more theologically sound side of the Christians. I've since drifted further away from that thought.

When Christians begin dividing themselves by political belief, the gaps and small theological disagreements can become massive. You are either for, or against, with no in between, and no room for either side to give in to the other. This results in a very polarized Christianity. Jesus was more liberal. Jesus was more conservative. Jesus was _____. It's a common debate. My question is why?

Christians in the West (myself included) are spoiled. We sit here debating politics while our brethren overseas are beheaded and persecuted. We build our large churches and value prosperity and the good life over helping and reaching out to those less fortunate. We do a mission trip now and again to alleviate our feelings of superiority, but once we arrive back home, the pursuit of money and happiness again take over, and our Christianity becomes once again a worldly version of Christ's original teaching.

Looking back in context to Christ's time and what was happening politically and socially then, we see that it was often the prosperous (rich) religious people of the day who Jesus specifically targeted as being hypocrites. They had added to God's original commands, and used the religion (Judaism at the time) to keep the rich rich, and the poor poor.

We see numerous times in the Gospels Christ reaching out to the less fortunate and the poor. That isn't to say someone who is well off is automatically disqualified from being Christian. Christ's focus is the heart. It is possible for God to prosper us, but the prosperity should not be our sole pursuit. As I mention in my upcoming book (if I ever get finished), Christianity is a dangerous faith. There is much actually required of those who fully commit. I know I fall short of full commitment daily. Honestly, I'm in a spiritual dry season even as I write this. Not to be hypocritical, but often it's in these dry seasons when perspective becomes a bit clearer. I still identify as a devoted Christian, but I can't say I've invested much time in the kingdom lately.

That being said, what is the best way to do this? Most cannot just drop everything and become full time missionaries (though that was essentially what the disciples did). Most cannot give everything they have to the poor without causing their own families to suffer. To a degree; however, there are things we can do.

I won't write much on these things because I think deep down every Christian is aware there are ways they can be giving back and building the kingdom. God uses our individual and unique gifts and talents to further His will, and what that looks like for me, will likely not be the same as for others. In this way, we do need to seek God's purpose for us, and how best to use our God-given abilities.

So, since we know there is more we need to do, why don't we do it? The primary reason mentioned here, is because we are all too busy fighting one another over petty differences to look to common ground and Christ's call to us.

The far left Christians (I'll pick on them first since they are picked on less) perhaps become so engrossed with acceptance of everyone and everything, that to a degree the Gospel may become compromised. To their credit; though, they are the often the ones reaching out to their neighbors and the less fortunate. In addition, they are less prone to judging the secular world- which is not specifically the Christian's call (as Paul mentioned in Corinthians). The judgment we are to pronounce is actually on those within the faith, and that even is to be done sparingly and with love and witnesses present for the purpose of renewal, not condemnation. The other side of the spectrum is perhaps the more well known and criticized (often with good reason).

Conservative (read: right wing) Christianity has become so obsessed with every political move signaling the falling away of society, that they constantly rally and rail against any perceived acceptance of alternate beliefs and lifestyles. Previously, I would have actually identified more on this end. But, as I get to know more people of different backgrounds and life situations, it becomes abundantly clear to me that they are people deserving of love too, not just from their neighbors, but from God. They are not automatically excluded from God's love because they are different. Right-wing Christianity would argue that they are, or that the ultimate goal of conversion is more important than their immediate feelings. The old adage of catching more with honey (not that these people are flies) is somewhat true. Treating the outside world in such a negative way is not likely to win any to Christianity soon.

Christ did not go into the prostitute's houses to tell them how horrible they were. He ate with them, spoke about His way, loved them, and called them to something greater than their current circumstance. He did not hold up signs of protest about the evils of prostitution. To the credit of the conservative end, many Christians I know who truly strive to emulate Christ's teachings fall on that end of the spectrum. It's not all or nothing, but there is still a problem with the left versus right Christianity.

I have not done it yet (see earlier mentioned lack of motivation), but I think it's time to re-read and really assess the Gospels and what Jesus actually spoke about- in the context of His time first, before applying it to our times. I want to know how he treated others because ultimately if we are to be His followers, I believe modeling ourselves after His life is way more important than our current way of exclusion or the pursuit of prosperity.

I'm sure it will challenge me, but I have confidence I will gain new insight. It sounds cliche, but I really wonder why we can't all just get along? Shouldn't our faith be the one area where we stand firm on common ground, instead of dividing the flock with petty political disagreements. I don't care if you love or hate our political leaders, they are the current leaders, and Romans 13 says respect God's appointed leaders. I'm tired of hating people with my faith, I want to love and draw people to Christ, not push them away with hateful statements or actions.

It is in this we can maybe all find some common ground. When in the Gospel does it say, "Jesus saw the crowds, but perceived some of them were sinful, so he and the disciples made signs to protest their sin and tell them how horrible they were?" I missed that verse I guess. Seriously, why are Christians such haters these days? What is our problem? If Christ's return is imminent, shouldn't we be loving people and giving knowledge of Christ through our actions and attitudes. Railing against the hot issues of the day will not win anyone's opinion. These days, it will push it further away. I know Christ said the world will hate us, but He never encouraged us to Hate the people of the world.

Food for thought perhaps.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Balance of Love

Blogger's note: Reading back on much of what I have written in this blog, especially during my time of intense theological study a few years back, I realize this may be a more "liberal" view to take for me. It occurs to me, having Christian friends on both the far right and far left ends of the spectrum, that a more moderate, balanced approach to the faith and those outside of it, needs to occur before both ends destroy the faith from the inside. The bickering, disagreements and fighting over various preferential issues, and even major issues needs a revision. These were my thoughts a few days ago, as they came to me (edited for grammar, spelling and some phrasing), but reflective of my current thoughts on my faith, and being a Christian in an ever-changing world. Thanks for reading! Chris

Many of us who grew up in the Bible belt going to church each Sunday, attending Bible studies, youth group activities and those things, have not often met any challenge to our Christian belief. With a church on every corner, and Sunday worship commonplace, we were immersed in a culture of Christianity. 

As such, it was typical to develop certain views that we might carry as we move out of the home and into the real world. Even in college, it was possible to be quite actively involved with a church, and still not see much outside of the stained glass window view. I wish I had known more about the faith, and been challenged to develop my understanding of why I believe what I believe as I was growing up in the church. More often it was simply the common routine of the week. It was easier to simply go with the flow, or in my case, read a few books and develop a set point of view, that did not need challenging, and which suited me just fine. 

And, fifteen years ago, that was an easier road to take. It seems now, there is so much disruption in our culture over a number of hot button issues, that it isn’t quite as easy to maintain the same distinct Christian worldview at all times. Just as we physically and mentally mature, so our faith must often mature with us.

As a Christian, I do still want to hold to the primary theological truths that make up the faith (or else why bother tagging myself “Christian”), but I also understand, there are many key issues that the church and Christians have taken a stance on in the past, that are now being revised, or rethought in an effort to match the cultural shifts we are seeing today. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on our approach.

For many Bible Belt believers, we grew up somewhat sheltered from the non-Christian world, and real life interactions with non-Christians. We may have known coworkers or friends who didn’t believe, but it was quite common for the casual Christian to not bother ever speaking up about their faith, in an effort to not rock the boat. And, within the Christian culture that concept has been acceptable for quite some time. We often forget that Jesus was not afraid of being around sinners of his day in order to more completely make them aware of a better way through love and acceptance of their humanity, even while not specifically accepting their sin. 

Jesus being around prostitutes, for example, does not mean he was an avid supporter of prostitution, nor should he have been. What it did show was that the mindset of the religious leaders of the time was so focused on morality and theology, they had forgotten to reach out to those in need, or show God’s love to others.

Jesus turns the religious leaders on their heads by having meals with prostitutes, thieves, tax collectors and other unseemly people of the day. In no way does this make Jesus an advocate for those lifestyles or sins. What it did; however, is show those people that there was another way, and in their situations at that time, a better way. But, it was not done by pointing out the immorality in a condemning fashion. It was done by loving the person, and then, simply asking they go and sin no more, or go onto a more fulfilling path.

And, though not meant as a cure all for our happiness, Christ’s teachings do in fact lead us to a better way of life. We learn to love one another, to help those in need, to look out for our brothers and sisters, and in effect to show God’s love to those who might otherwise not hear or know about it. 

As Christians, we are taught to sanctify ourselves daily, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Fear and trembling seems to imply then, that there will be some discomfort, even for the person who has put their whole faith in Christ and His word. The Bible is cut and dry on many issues, but it does not always speak directly to everything. I do believe it is the inspired Word of God, I won’t deny that. But, I think in some ways, modern Evangelical (and other types of) Christians are missing the point on a number of aspects of Christ’s teachings. 

Before I nitpick too much, I will admit that I do have my own sins and struggles, even as a professing Christian. In fact, maybe that is the most important thing for Christians to acknowledge when asked about their faith. We are not meant to be white-washed tombs- externally displaying perfection while internally housing decay and death. We are a work in progress, just as all of the heroes of the faith were at one time. 

Abraham went against God’s will and had a child with his servant, Moses murdered a man in what he perceived as righteous anger, Paul (While still Saul) killed many followers of Christ before having a conversion experience and going on to be one of Christianity’s strongest fathers. Humanity and humans are broken, and our churches and Christian homes should not be afraid to let the outside world know that we also struggle in this life. 

Now, do we actively sin for the purpose of showing we still fail as Christians? No, that would be missing the point. We should not seek sin. But, we should know that even if Christ is the primary focus of our life, we are going to fail at times. Those who preach perfection, and overcoming in the name of Jesus speak only a partial truth. We are over-comers, and we have Christ as our mediator in the end, but our daily struggle is still real.

So, for the Bible belt believers, surrounded by a changing culture, can we afford to forget how to love those who are different than us? We are on a path now which I am starting to feel paints us more as the Pharisees than the disciples Christ intended us to be. On one far end, we have hate speech and racism bleeding back into the faith, much as it did in the sixties. Remember, the KKK considered itself a Christian organization, and I think everyone can agree that was not the way Christ meant for us to act towards others. We have petty disagreements which end up blowing into nation wide events, that only seek to paint our faith as unloving, and uncaring for those who are different, or who do not believe the same as we do. Then again, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Christians essentially denying aspects of the faith that form the core of Christianity to begin with, sometimes to the point it would be more honest for them to simply drop the title of “Christian.” 

I think we must hold fast to the truths of the faith without neglecting our fellow humans. If the path Christ taught is meant to better us, and to lead us into the existence that was meant for us in the beginning, we ought to make sure we are presenting that road accurately, and lovingly. 

Is every Christian meant to go to a street corner to preach the gospel? No! Is every Christian going to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as strongly during worship? No! There are absolutes in the faith and there are matters of preference, or individual style which God has ingrained in our hearts.

None of us are 100% correct. I can study theology for the rest of my life and develop the most accurate representation of Christ’s teachings that anyone has ever done, and I’ll still not be 100% on mark. There is a message somewhere in that statement. We may be a new creation in Christ, and the old nature may pass away, but it does not forever leave us while we still abide in this world, and we are not going to get it 100% correct. 

So, if my theology says that I must not support a certain behavior, do I need to immediately blow off, condemn or ignore someone who practices that behavior? The answer, if we mean to win hearts to a better way of life, should be a resounding no! I cannot run around treating people differently, regardless of their sins or even my own. And, just as Christ with the prostitutes, we are not advocating those vices, but simply showing the person there is still love for them, and that they need not turn to those vices  or bad decisions as a crutch for what feels missing in their lives. 

To the woman who the religious leaders of Jesus’ day intended to stone for being an adulterous, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more.” Notice, He did not say, “hey it’s cool to be loose and continue living that way.” He said, to paraphrase, “look, I know you are hurting, and I am not here to hurt you more, but there is a better way, I love you, but do not let your lifestyle or your sin take hold of you, do not be a slave to it.” I’m not attempting to put words in Christ’s mouth, but rather to point out that even in the midst of loving, he commanded to not sin. 

So, there is a balance to be had, and being on the extreme right or left of the spectrum is not doing anyone any good. We can love, and encourage to better show a new way of living. We can share our own struggles and hurts in our humanity, so we are not the white-washed tombs, or the people with large blocks of wood in our eyes trying to remove the specks of wood from the eyes of others. We need to not actively make ourselves into hypocrites, though I realize hypocrisy may very well be a struggle or sin for some Christians.

Christians are called to make judgments within the faith in terms of accountability, yes, but not to the outside world in the same way. Paul says in Corinthians that God will judge those outside the faith. This implies to me, we are meant then to love them, and bring them to a knowledge of a new life following Christ. We are also to compassionately rebuke one another within the faith, as necessary, so that once we commit to follow Christ, we hold one another accountable. But, even then, it doesn’t mean there is perfection within that faith. Again, a balance is to be had.

So, why not try a balance going forward? Say hi to the coworker who you wouldn’t normally greet because of their attitude or lifestyle. Have a meal with your friend who believes differently than you and let your light shine in your attitude and your love, not in cramming theology in their face. Theological knowledge and growth can come in its proper time for those who choose to follow Christ, but God drew us in initially with love, should we not also do the same? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Lack of Spiritual Focus

2012 was my year of true spiritual discipline and study. It seems to have gradually fallen away into the background more and more since then.

I was telling Juliet that I always seem to do things in phases. I'll have a video game phase for 6 months or so where my main point of excitement is from games. Or, I might have a songwriting phase, where most of my free time is invested in writing and performing.

My concern, as I expressed to her, was that spiritual discipline was becoming just another of my phases of which I drift in and out. Understandably, this is not an ideal spot in which to be for one claiming to follow Christ.

Now, I will say that I have not floundered my core belief. I still do my best to lead worship at Amen Austin on Saturdays when I am in town and able. Yet, I feel deep down, the hunger for God's word, and even for studying things of a theological nature has been waning more in the past couple of years. It seems I always hit a spiritual high point, some instance or activity that really tells me I'm headed the right way, and then somehow, it just derails.

For example, sometime back in 2012 (+ or - 1 year for lack of exact memory), I was really studying theology. I had even planned out a book that I was going to begin writing. I had a chance to co-lead a seminar with my pastor friend, and overall, most of my free time was dedicated to studying the Bible and theological resources. And, it was my desire to do so. I had an unquenchable hunger to dig deeper into the faith which I claimed. I wanted to know why I believe what I believe. I wanted, as Peter said, to be able to give an answer as to the hope I have (1 Peter 3:15).

Then, maybe a week after helping with the seminar, the interest began to fade. It was still there, but it became more gradually replaced with other interests and activities.

As things stand right now, I have my areas of interest and focus split, and unfortunately, theological study has become less of a priority.

I don't believe that having other actives and interests is inherently a bad thing. The time I am investing currently into music for example, is time spent investing in one of my God-given talents. I think there is a purpose within it which has yet to be revealed. So, my focus there continues. It is also something about which I am passionate. And, since I do still try my best to lead music at Amen Austin on Saturdays, investing in musical performance and skill helps on that front. The more disciplined I become practicing and honing my craft, the better it will be for both the secular and spiritual environments in which I find myself.

Part of my loss of focus spiritually came last year (or was it 2 years ago) around this time when I stopped working on the overnight shift, and my days off got swapped around. Instead of having a Saturday/Sunday off schedule, I ended up having to work a day shift with no Sundays off. This prevented us from attending our home church in Leander, where I was receiving a lot of good teaching that was helping me to keep focused on my study.

Thankfully, I was able to lead music for Pastor Matt's church on Saturdays and still maintain some spiritual focus.

My work shift is changing yet again in two weeks, and now I will be off Friday/Saturday, but work 3pm-midnight Sunday-Thurs. The benefit will be having Sunday mornings free again for our home church. The biggest drawback is that the open mic nights in which I have become so invested, are all on weekday nights, and I will now be working.

So, I can't help but wonder from a Spiritual perspective, if this shift in time slots is to allow more focus on church and spiritual discipline. I've invested more time playing music and performing in the past two months with open mic nights than  I have dedicated to any sort of spiritual study in the past year.

As Christians, are we supposed to dedicate every waking hour to spiritual discipline and study? Or, are some set apart with that gifting, while others manifest their faith through other means?

I don't know that I have an answer. Honestly, I don't know that in terms of writing I've even dedicated enough focus lately for this post to have a point. I look back on some previous posts when I was really dedicated to writing, and they seem a lot more thought out than the more recent ones.

Maybe I'm just over-analyzing small things again. I think the opportunity for a Sunday service again, and the chance to maybe book some Friday night gigs in the upcoming weeks though some of the great people I've met during the open mic nights will allow for plenty of balance.

I'm sure the other Christian brothers and sisters around me could stand to invest a bit more time in the faith, just as I could. There are so many distractions and activities in this world to eat up our time. Some days I wish I was retired already so I could invest my days in reading and studying and growing. But, that type of thinking is probably more excuse than anything.

With a work shift starting at 3pm, I should have enough time to dedicate to God, exercise and anything else I'm looking to accomplish. Here's hoping for a better balance going forward.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Musical Adventure

I'm not sure at what point I stopped writing here, but it wasn't fully intentional. Much has been happening in the past month, and honestly I haven't really thought of anything particularly special to write.

But, in the interest of consistency, I wanted to take some time and put down a few thoughts. This one may not have much of a theme, but hopefully will kick things off again.

When we first moved to Austin in 2009, I had been playing music pretty consistently in Oklahoma. My band, "The Huntsmen," was playing cover songs at a few gigs here and there. At the time, I also loved just sitting out on a street corner singing. There was a confidence there, that seemed to disappear after leaving Oklahoma.

Austin, being the live music capital of the world (their words), intimidated me musically. In Oklahoma, my harmonica/singing/guitar simultaneously was a treat for some, as it wasn't as common. In Austin, everyone sings and plays guitar, and many add in the harmonica for good measure. Or, this is what I had as my perception.

So, I attempted one time to sit downtown on a corner playing, and it went decently enough, but didn't quite have that feel that doing it in Oklahoma had. From that point, it became more of a hassle to motivate and stretch myself to do that.

I wrote a lot in Austin. Some of my newer songs (many not recored) were written in Austin. I did most things at home, and didn't venture out musically. There is a coffee shop next door to the plasma center where we used to work that hosts an open mic night every Thursday, and I didn't once try to make it out and play.

Fast forward to this past week.

With Juliet still in Mexico this month, and feeling like there was nothing to do, I ventured out in Round Rock (north of Austin where we reside now) to a bar that listed an open mic night that evening. I didn't know what to expect, but something kept pushing me to just be confident again, and play. I arrived way too early, but spoke with the musicians of the house band, and they said once their set was over, they would begin the open mic portion. They insisted; however, that they back the acts. I usually do acoustic/singing/harmonica, and haven't had a band behind me since the Huntsmen, so this was an interesting curve.

As I listened to the group, I became aware that their musical style was similar to a lot of the more upbeat cover songs I used to do, so I mentally adjusted my playlist and got ready to perform. I told them what key we would be in, and tossed a few familiar song names at them, and we began. And, it went quite well.

Afterwards, I met a man named RJ, who goes from bar to bar in Round Rock listening to live music. He began to educate me on the best places to listen/play music in the Round Rock/North Austin area. A professional bar hopper, he had some good insight.

So, per his advice, I got off work the next Monday (on a work night) and rushed over to another local joint to sign up for their open mic. The first person I saw walking in was RJ, which made me laugh, but was also somewhat comforting, as he had enjoyed my set that Thursday before. I signed up and ended up playing sometime around 9pm (though I arrived closer to 7:45pm). This locale had quite a few talented musicians, and was basically booked solid for the open mic list. It filled up fast, and each musician got 3 songs to make sure we didn't go over the 10pm stop time.

Inspired by another round of applause for my performance, and some great compliments, I realized this is what I need to be doing when I am able. I don't know that I'll ever be a fully fledged gigging musician, but I'm remembering now that I do have some measure of talent, and can typically entertain a crowd. The rush on stage is much more exciting than sitting at home burning through a selection of Redbox movies (I used all my free codes anyway).

Last night (Wednesday) I tested another venue out for open mic. This was probably the oddity of the bunch, but as the night wore on, I realized I actually liked it.

I signed up way too early here, having been wary of waiting too long due to the long list at Monday night's venue. Due to early signup, I was asked to kick things off (which I did not particularly want to do). The MC for the night said take about 20 minutes (which was also unexpected). I had planned for 3-4 songs, and ended up needing about 5-6 when it was said and done.

On top of that, the crowd was literally (in the correct, unexaggerated sense) just the other musicians waiting to play. There were no patrons at the time I went on stage, just the open mic musicians, one bartender and the MC. It was a slow looking night. (I suppose my use of "literally" up there isn't quite correct as the bartender is not a musician-forgive me my grammatical stretch).

Before I got up, and older gentleman, "Overdue Bill," had approached me and was talking about all of the open mic venues he frequented. Bill is 88 years young, and his wife of 66 "tours" with him as he goes around Texas and other areas playing songs from his songbook. The songbook was thick and heavy as he has collected probably all of the older tunes out there into his repertoire.

My set went fine, despite a malfunctioning cord, and a PA in need of some care. I experimented more with the crowd and song choice as it was only the other musicians watching. Bill got up after me, put his chair on the stage, music stand and giant binder. As he began to strum, I got chills.

Bill was not particularly great at guitar or singing (which he admitted prior to playing), but this same type of love for singing reminded me of Mema (my mom's mom who has passed). Bill, made me think back to her days running her Gospel Singing Barn, when anyone who wanted to sing for the LORD could get up on stage and go. Even Mema didn't have the greatest voice in the world, but she had a passion for people and for singing. Bill reminded me of this. When his final song choice was "Old Rugged Cross," I felt great peace come over me. Bill later said that his two songs that earn him the biggest tips are "Old Rugged Cross," and "How Great Thou Art," despite the crowd being a bar crowd. That makes me wonder if deep down we all feel a connection to God brought about by those beautiful tunes. Or, perhaps people were humoring him.

I heard the MC talking about how he always tries to limit Bill because his style doesn't mesh as well with the others, which honestly frustrated me a bit. To compensate, I went up to Bill's wife and started telling her how much I was enjoying his playing, and how it reminded me of my grandma singing years ago. She was a nice lady, and told a few good stories about how Bill began to be the 88 year old open mic performer (she had talent but stage fright- bill wasn't afraid of stage despite not having a great talent - his words- I thought he was great).

I started talking to some of the other acts as they finished, and realized that even in this venue with nearly no one to watch, there was a nice camaraderie among the musicians. I met Phillip from Houston and Mark who had come from Boulder, CO and was just visiting open mics around town for something to do.

I came home refreshed, but exhausted (I Had worked my normal 10 hour work day prior to this). Today, as I reflect back, I'm anxious to get out and try more open mic venues. My music on reverberation website has put me at #11 locally in the singer-songwriter category (though according to online sources, this doesn't mean much). Locally, is also "Round Rock" in this case, which does not have quite as much competition as the Austin market. Still, it's nice to see that by posting a few songs, and shows, my rank moves up as more people listen and like it.

Today, I plan to frequent at least 1, if not 2 open mic in town to keep the flow going. I figure I can just become the open mic regular eventually, and build a fan base from that. I'd love a solo acoustic gig at some point at a bar or restaurant. At home, I continue playing with my songs, and using my iPad to record backing instrumentation to fill them out. The newest one, "Julie," was finished this time last week.

For more of my musical ventures visit me over at http://www.reverbnation.com/chrisbyersband or http://www.facebook.com/chrisbyersband

For booking around Austin/Round Rock, email at byes.chris@gmail.com

I like this opportunity to get out there and just have some fun performing again. My muscle memory and skills didn't leave me completely (Though I forgot a lot of my cover songs and will need to relearn them).

Hopefully, Ill have some more writing inspiration as I experience more than just sitting at home (Though I plan to do that from time-to-time still as well). Stay tuned, and thanks for reading/listening.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Obligatory New Year's Blog

I've noticed many people are posting that 2014 was a rough year for them. Honestly, this was one of the better, or at least more consistently favorable years for us. 

Actually, until 12/17/2014, a day that will live in infamy (when our precious Puggy went missing), it was going quite well.

After Puggy's disappearance, my mom lost all her hearing in one ear, and a good bit of it in the other. To my knowledge it still has not returned.

My heart is still heavy going into 2015 because of those two things. I desperately wish Puggy would come waltzing up to the door here in Mexico, or that someone would call to deliver him back before the clock strikes midnight. I wish as well as everyone rings in the new year, my mom's hearing would come ringing back to her.

As I write this, I just received a text from our pastor friend:

"I declare and release God's manifested presence, power  and goodness over your life and loved one's in 2015.  Start this year by taking time tonight to dedicate yourself to God in prayer and worship. Thank Him for your 2014 blessings  and by faith declare all the Promises of God over your life.  You are loved! Supernatural blessings.  Pastor Matt"

This lifts my spirits a bit. One thing we must always remember, in good times and bad, is to be thankful. 

Looking back at this year, there is much for which to be thankful.

Juliet and I took steps to allow her to begin working with the ministry in Mexico. We downsized and moved to the RV, and in the midst discovered we can survive on my income. This frees up Juliet to do what she loves, and makes me happy that it's possible.

She may come back to the states a bit this year to work somewhere she enjoys while we hit our debt hard, but the goal will be a potentially life changing move to work towards both using our gifts with the Manos Juntas ministry in Mexico.

I am thankful to have had family in Austin, and that despite their move back to Oklahoma, more family has now moved to Austin. Can never get enough family!

Even in the loss of my mom's hearing (hopefully temporarily) and Puggy's disappearance, I still must thank God for His provision.

Even if Puggy does not come back, or my mom continues to have partial hearing, we must always give God thanks. 

Our purpose in this life, no matter how often we try to hide it with less fruitful endeavors, is to give God the glory. We were created for fellowship with him, and our following of Christ is a large step back towards the intended relationship.

To paraphrase, we are aliens in this world. We see but a glimpse of God's good intentions for us in this life. It must be our joy to be thankful in good times and bad, to grieve, but not as those without hope.

It is often overused, but Jeremiah is correct when he writes,

"I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper not to harm, to give you hope..." (Jeremiah 29:11)

The context of that verse was a time of tribulation much worse than anything we are currently experiencing. And yet, God speaks comfort to us through his prophet.

I've been less Spiritually involved this year (due in part to initially being unable to attend church consistently due to work), and I do want to get my focus back in 2015.

Not due to a misplaced negotiating tactic with God in which I focus on Him more and He then blesses us more. God will bless whom he blesses and put through trial those he loves that they may grow stronger in their walk.

For now, we must be thankful for the 6 wonderful years we had with Puggy. My mom, despite what I imagine is a huge feeling not to, must give thanks even in the midst of her hearing loss. For in all things, there is a purpose. 

We may not know why Puggy remains missing, or why my mom can't hear, but as we enter 2015, I pray we will remain joyful and thankful for all the things these past years with which God has blessed us.