Wednesday, December 31, 2014

365 (the days of portraits past)

Imagine taking one portrait per day, every day, for an entire year.

That's the project that my beautiful and talented wife, Wendy, started 1 January 2014. Her first shot was of our youngest, Renecita: dancer, singer, artist, a gentle soul who is probably the kindest person you could ever meet.
(She has often been Wendy's assistant throughout the project, as well.)

And today, one calendar year later, Wendy is poised to take her final picture in the 365 Portraits Project.

Like a lot of innovative, artistic endeavors, this one required a step of faith. Putting your creative work out in the public eye is always a risk-taking venture. And doing it for an entire year -- now that takes determination and a strong work ethic in addition to the creative eye and professional skills.

By mid-year, as the newsmagazine video below attests, the Project had already taken on a life of its own.

Along the way, Wendy has taken photos of celebrities, politicians, activists, artists, musicians, fellow photographers, poets, business professionals, moms, dads, kids, families, and even a few pets.

She has had the honor of listening to the stories of volunteer models with terminal illnesses, who wanted one last portrait for friends and family to remember them by.

She has celebrated new life with expectant moms, captured the joy of children, and chronicled many fanciful and imaginative whims together with a wide assortment of people, of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life.

There have been casualties along the way. This trusty little gizmo was her constant companion throughout the Project, and I'd like to think that both MacGyver and Red Green would be proud of Wendy's fix-it skills.

And after an entire year without a proper "day off", Wendy at times can identify with her long-suffering speedlight.

And today, on the final day of the Project, we started the morning as we typically do: I made coffee and brought her a cup in bed. And then Wendy was off for a radio interview about the 365 Project, which isn't typical of our mornings but seemed like an appropriately fitting book-end to an incredible year.

Wendy returned from her interview, and we set about creating the last image for the series: of Wendy. (Sort of a photographer selfie, in triplicate.)

My contribution was mostly moving furniture and pushing the button on the camera whenever Wendy said, "now".

I couldn't be prouder of her. The resulting image is the perfect finale to her 365 Portraits ProjectAs I said to some friends recently, "It's cool being married to somebody famous".

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 (the year of many musical notes)

This year has been a Year of Music in many ways -- currently, I am in some way associated with five different bands in the Okanagan Valley. Band names like Public House Band, Feet First, Easy Fix, J.S. Garcia Band, and the Norm Strauss Band have become commonplace around our dinner table.

I have also had the privilege of serving at The Well church as a part-time worship director, which has been a fun return to leading worship (slightly different from playing bass for another worship leader, which I've been doing, like, forever).

Last year saw me spending the lion's share of my time writing -- The Genesis Café and Post-Charismatic 2.0 were completed in the same year -- although music still played a part, as it has for most of my life.

This year was almost a complete reversal, as music came more to the forefront, although blogging continued (obviously), and I have been writing a novel in my "spare time".

It always makes me pause and reflect on how grateful I am to have the ability and the opportunity to do things that I love doing.

Although I'm frequently unseen at the back of this unusually large combo, 
you'll have to just take my word for it: yes, I'm the bass player here.

A second musical presence in our house this year came with  the return of our son Caleb from YWAM Harpenden. To have Caleb home for Christmas this year -- the first time in four years -- was a treat for the whole family.

Caleb immediately began performing his own original music around the area, recruiting his older sister Jo to sing with him. Can I just say, as a parent, that there is very little than can compete with the sounds and sight of your adult children also doing something they love and are gifted at -- together?

Caleb's first CD was recorded in England earlier this year, and you can download it from his website: All Things New.

Amazing how talented people can do so much with one guitar and two voices

Music is a gift, one that can express joy, sorrow, anguish and hope. And as one of my childhood musical heroes -- Bob Seger -- once said, "playing [music] as an adult is a privilege".

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Did You See That?!?

Maybe it's just me, but the nights have seemed darker than usual. I know, I know... Maybe I'm just a little too jaded and cynical in my old age.

Stoke that fire a bit, would you mind? The nights seem colder, too. At least, they do to me.
And maybe I'm just tired of the same-old, same-old in my so-called "career". Herding sheep at my age? Sitting out here in the freezing cold, night after boring night... Good thing I've got my friends with me around this fire, or I'd probably go nuts.

It's like I was telling some of you -- oh, let me see, it must have been almost a year ago -- that these so-called "four hundred silent years" have pretty much sucked all the faith out of me. And not just me, mind you. A lot of people.

What's that? Are you kidding me? Do you actually believe that naive young punk, Joseph whats-his-name?

Yes, yes, of course I've heard the story. It's a small town; word travels fast, especially when it's so ridiculous. His girlfriend's pregnant, and he claims she's still a virgin. C'mon, did this kid skip his human biology class? That's not how it works.

Have you heard her version of the pregnancy? Don't laugh -- the angel Gabriel brings a message, the baby is really God's offspring. I almost fell off my camel, I laughed so hard the first time somebody told me that one.

A quiet divorce, you say? Well, that's more than she deserves, I guess. Pretty decent of Joseph, no matter how gullible he is.

Oh, come on, now. You can't be serious. Now Joseph is claiming angelic messages? He went ahead and married her anyway? Wow -- there's a sucker born every minute.
All this talk of angels, messages from God -- guys, need I remind you that it's been four hundred years since anything has been heard from the Almighty? Get over it, already!

Wait a second... What's that light...? Do you see what I see?

*     *     *

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them.
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
(Luke 2:8-20)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ssh! Did you just hear something?

Four hundred years.

Four-freaking-hundred years.

That's how long it's been since we've heard anything from God. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Not even a whisper.

He used to talk to us all the time, but those days are long gone.

Granted, it was usually through some annoying prophet -- Isaiah, Amos, Malachi, just to name a few -- accusing us of abandoning our Covenant with God. We usually just rolled our eyes at them. Maybe, just maybe, we should have listened.

Oh, watch your step, there. It's really dark tonight, isn't it? I can barely see a cubit in front of me!

Now, what were you asking about again? Oh, right, the four hundred years...

Now, when I said "we", of course, I really meant our ancestors. None of us were around then, after all. So, why are we being punished for their lack of response? I mean, seriously... four hundred years of silence? Really? For something we weren't even alive for?
Anyway, the local Pharisees (our religious leaders -- now there's a grumpy crew) have been neurotically obsessed with keeping all the rules of the Covenant. And even adding new ones, just in case God may have overlooked something. Maybe they think that will convince God to stop ignoring us.

Our other religious leaders, the Sadduccees, say this is the "new normal", and we just have to get used to it.

And don't get me started on the Romans and their occupying army. Everybody says we are "God's chosen people", but Rome does whatever it pleases on our streets and has for years.

What's that? You think you saw something? Where?

In that corner house? You mean that bright light in the window? Yeah, now that you mention it, that does seem more intense than any lantern I've ever used.

Oh wait... it's gone now, whatever it was. Now it seems even darker out here. Watch your step, okay?

Anyway, I've about given up any hope of God ever doing anything remarkable. I mean, four hundred years is a long time, wouldn't you agree? Maybe God has forgotten about us, or given up on us, or... who knows?

All I'm sure of is this: four hundred years of silence gives me very little hope for the future...
*     *     *

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.” (Luke 1:26-38 NLT)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cramming: It's Not Just for Exams Anymore

Ever since my first piano recital -- in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the advanced age of 8 -- I realized that I love performing music. Granted, in that first-ever public performance recital, I was merely one of what felt like a multitude of awkward children in a hot and stuffy room, each clutching our sheet music in sweaty hands while awaiting our turn on the stage for our single song.

I bought my first guitar just before my sixteenth birthday. It was a classical guitar, with nylon strings and the traditionally extra-wide, flattened fretboard. Completely unsuited to my style of playing and musical preferences. But it was cheap and it was all I could afford, so I was thrilled just to have it.

I was 18 when I first picked up a bass guitar -- almost by accident, but that's a whole 'nuther story -- and discovered that I loved playing bass. If my parents had previously been perplexed by the distorted cacophony I had been creating with my second-hand electric guitar and equally low-fi amplifier, I can only imagine their furrowed brows over the low-frequency rumblings working their way up through the vents from the basement. (Parents of musicians don't get nearly enough credit for their years of long-suffering endurance as we learned our craft.)

My American friends recently celebrated their Thanksgiving Day. I was privy to many social media reports of what my friends are deeply grateful for.
In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving much earlier (first week in October), generally because it's still warm then, and we are therefore more disposed to being thankful.
I'm reminded, by both holidays, to be thankful for the gift of creativity, whether as a writer or as a musician. I thoroughly enjoy performing live, and I also love the creativity and hard work in the recording studio.

Even when I've been spending four-to-six hours a day (as I have been this past month or so) learning and memorizing songs for the various bands I am a part of (Public House Band, Feet First, & the J.S. Garcia Band), subbing in with Easy Fix (when their regular bassist isn't available), special occasions like the recent CD release party with Norm Strauss, or leading worship at The Well -- my mind may be crammed full to bursting with all the songs represented, but I love it. The opportunity to perform with such an array of talented & creative people is a gift and a privilege that I am very thankful for.

CD Release Party with Norm Strass & Band -- more gigs coming in 2015!

And, while we're on the topic, it's also why I haven't been writing as regularly. There is an ebb and flow in the creative arts, and I'm learning how to adjust and flow with it. Especially as  I seek to excel in more than one artistic expression.

I am anticipating a greater emphasis on writing in early 2015, once the "front-loading" of learning so many songs in a short period of time gives way to the more moderate and balanced pace of rehearsal and live performance.

But for now, I'm just grateful. Very much so. (Even for the cramming.)