Thursday, September 29, 2011

You Alone

So, ever since I joined this church band recently I've been asking myself whether I'm able to write something we could actually sing with the congregation on Sunday morning. In my last post I mentioned the yellow legal pad with song lyrics I was working on. Well, so far I've finished two attempts at a congregational praise song. I haven't succeeded yet, but I'll share what I've got.

Today's offering is a resounding failure on almost every count: it is depressing, it is personal, it is ambiguous, it is graphic, and it is generally inelegant. There is no reason any group of people should ever (ever.) sing this song together.

That said, I do think it is a successful portrait in broad strokes of someone in utter despair finding his only possible solace in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. I just don't know where that sort of a song has a home.

Regarding the music and not the words, the melody I sang on this recording is more than half-improvised. They are not the notes I would choose if I were to try and set the text to sing it in public, but they serve as a snapshot of a sad little creation hobbling up on its new legs to see if it can stand.

You Alone (<-click here to listen)

"When I was accused and my friends ran away,
when I stood still and I couldn't speak,

You alone...
You alone had something to say.

When my father beat me raw with his belt,
when my father threw me out of his house,

You alone...
You alone know how it felt.

When I took the knife and I held my neck on the sharp edge of suicide,
when I chose to die,

You alone...
You alone came out the other side.

You alone...
You alone..."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Portrait of a life told in Thank-You Notes

I snapped this photograph (the first my blog has seen) on Monday morning, September 19th. I was sitting at my kitchen table when I realized how startlingly unexpected the scene before me would have appeared to an earlier version of myself. With the exception of taking a coaster off that stack in the back and placing it underneath the mug, I didn't move a single object from where it had gradually accumulated before I took the picture.

As I sat for a minute and looked at this collection, all I could think of were people I ought to thank for the blessings in front of me. I won't give an exhaustive list, but I will give a long one. I am not the sole author of my life, and I want to duly acknowledge at least one person responsible for each item on the table. Follow with me, if you will, in a sort of heart-shaped spiral from the middle out leftward then back again:

Thank you Mom for the table itself, and for helping me move into the apartment where I now live. It's a much better place than where I was before.

Thank you Sarah Todd for encouraging me to read the Bible start-to-finish this year, and for helping me find a copy of this all-important centerpiece.

Thank you Doug Castle for giving me this Strong's Concordance and Bible Dictionary years ago. It was quite a surprise when I received it, but it has served me powerfully when I've remembered to pull it off the shelf.

Thank you Sufjan Stevens for talking about Flannery O'Connor in your early interviews. As much as I love your music, I have come to love her writing even more, and this little newsletter from her homestead in Georgia (tucked underneath the concordance) is a reminder of the blessing she has been. (By extension, thank you Greg and Beth Castle for inviting me to your wedding in Georgia; elsewise I would likely never have visited O'Connor's home and had the joy of experiencing some of the sights and sounds and smells she did when she lived there.)

Thank you Tim Keller for these couple of books I checked out at the library. I have listened to hundreds of your sermons and profited plenty from them, but seldom do I read a book that causes me to weep openly, and both of these accomplished just such a feat.

Thank you John Piper for complaining so much about the NIV (forgive my choice of One-Year Bible adjacent) and for cheering for the ESV. I'm not so emotionally involved in the choice of one translation over another as you are, but I had never read from an English Standard Bible before, and now this black beauty has become my own personal standard when I'm not reading the daily scripture from the One-Year.

Thank you Daniel and Adrienne Lalli Hills for fostering my love for the state of Oklahoma. Without it I would be feeling terribly ungrounded at this stage in my life, I would not have minored in creative writing or enrolled in the honors college at OU, and possibly wouldn't have come to school here at all. I certainly would not be working on my thesis right now, and I can't imagine anywhere else I would rather be for this season. (Also, thank you Amanda Lack for giving me this sweet Frankoma mug. It's the greatest thing to drink out of I've ever owned.)

Thank you Dad for being a songwriter and providing that example for me from my earliest memories. It has become my own chief occupation, and I never would have thought to even try if you didn't make it seem like a perfectly ordinary way to spend your time. I still write them on the same guitar you wrote yours on, and I still (sometimes) use yellow legal pads to write out the lyrics.

Thank you Tommy Scheurich for helping me both practically and emotionally with my songs. You have listened to, complimented, critiqued, learned to play, and recorded more of my music than almost anyone, and I am terribly excited you're coming back to stay with me for the next couple weeks so we can (among other things) record your parts of my songs for bugs album. (Also, you should take this stack of bank statements or whatever they are back to Virginia when you go. I don't need them. Or your phone charger. Or the giant copper pipes you left on my porch...)

Thank you Michelle Price for inviting me to church after only knowing me for a couple of days. And thank you for inviting me to join the worship band after I had only attended a couple of services! Getting to know the four of you and having a blast learning to play the electric guitar again and having the joy of getting together to sing for the Lord as many as three or four times a week has been the best thing that could possibly happen to me. This pencil would not be resting here were I not working on writing a congregational worship song for the first time in my life. What a surprise THAT would be to any number of my former selves. (Thank you Andrew Eiler, also, for being so enthusiastic for "praise and worship music" and for being a good example to me by leading the church in it yourself. Left to my own, I have been pretty critical and skeptical of the genre, but thanks largely to you and now to my new band-mates, I'm finding myself quite at home with the stuff.)

And if you've made it this far, THANK YOU blog-reader for stopping by this page at all, and for having graciously read so many paragraphs of gratitude that is either mostly or entirely directed at someone other than yourself.

For all of you, and for the many unnamed others to whom I owe immeasurable gratitude, thanks be to God.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Clearly I did not finish what I started last week. I never posted for days 4 and 5, partly because I began to doubt how worthwhile or even humorous a bullet list of disparate titles would be to anyone but myself, but mostly because I didn't finish any songs last week.

I did finish one a couple of days ago, and I should have another done by this weekend. All around, the deadline for having this musical done has been pushed back a little while, which is probably good news.

In other news, I am taking a break from sermon podcasts this week. I went through a lengthy series by Alistair Begg while I read through the book of Ecclesiastes, and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. But it seemed right to let that habit rest. I'm in a period of trying to dislodge myself of the things I value too highly, and I think it quite possible (however counter-intuitive) to let preaching itself to become a sort of idol. This is an idea, ironically, that I have warmed to by way of listening to a lot of preaching on the subject, but nevertheless I need a break.

My feelings about my new church are warming, as well. I'm enjoying both band practice and my fellow band-mates themselves more than I have just about anything in a long long time. I think I was made for this.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sermons/Songs Day 3


"A Word to the Wise"

"The Search for Satisfaction"

"Eternity On My Mind"

"All These Lonely People"

"The Meaninglessness of Mechanical Worship"

"Concerning Worship"

(These are all part of a series by Alistair Begg on the book of Ecclesiastes. I've started re-reading it this morning, and these talks have been astoundingly uplifting. When I've read the book before there's been a certain level of catharsis, but for the first time it seems liberating in a way almost to make me cheerful!)


"Home Sweet Home"

(This one is about trapeze artists who realize they would rather have dinner with their parents than live as traveling performers.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sermons/Songs Day 2


"Following Jesus: Reconciled to Reconcile"

"Making Sense of Suffering" (Part 1)

"Making Sense of Suffering" (Part 2)

"Making Sense of Suffering" (Part 3)

(The first one was a short exegesis of a passage I had read this morning in 2 Corinthians. The other three were a nearly four-hour epic by D.A. Carson. It lasted through my whole shift at the library and left me with as many questions as answers. )


"Sparks Will Fly"
(a tune about a man shot out of a canon in a circus)

Sermons/Songs Day 1

I am writing a children's musical. I have never written music for the theater and I have never written music for children's voices and I have never written in response to a commission, so this has proven to be quite a challenge. I'm coming up close on the deadline, and so in an effort to finish on time, I am determined to write a song every day this week.

As I am typing the present message just moments before midnight, I assure you I did not finish today's song on time. I will not, however, have slept until it was done.

As I mentioned yesterpost, I listen to recorded sermons in my headphones a lot. While preparing meals, taking walks, washing the dishes, or any time where I do not need to be actively listening to my environment, I bombard myself with the sounds of people talking about the Bible.

As a fun experiment, each day this week I am going to post the titles of all the sermons I have listened to that day as well as the title of the song I have been writing. Here goes Monday:


"Hell: Isn't the God of Christianity an angry Judge?"

"Lost People Matter to Jesus"

"How Can I Believe Jesus Rose From the Dead?"

"What Is the Ministry and Mission of the Local Church? Foundations from the Pastoral Epistles"


"Gotta Have Some Giggles"
(It's about clowns.)