Wednesday, March 25, 2009

songs sound different now

In recent performances it's been a running joke, when I play the title track and other songs from the "My Money Talks" CD, that "little did we know, way back in 2005-2007 when we were working on this project, that it would so quickly become dated and irrelevant... that nobody would be thinking or talking about economics anymore..."

Ha ha. Not much of a joke, I know.

Quite a number of those songs sound different to me now. I realize, when I was researching and writing and working on the album, I was approaching the task largely from the point of view of "what do affluent North American Christians need to hear? What do we need to SING? What is God trying to tell us, if only we'd have ears to hear...?"

As I read and thought and prayed and researched and conversed and wrote, I felt in many ways like another voice from the "fringes," trying to call attention to the reality that our fossil-fuel addicted, uber-endebted, hyper-consumerist way of life is not healthy, not sustainable, not in tune with God's intentions for the world... and that it will not last.

And I was trying not only to call attention to that reality, but to articulate (and to find new settings for Scriptures that articulate) the possibility of another reality, another way of living that can be more in tune with the health of the environment, the health of our communities and families and bodies... more in tune with God's intentions for the world... more full of joy and community and meaning...

"I want to live a different kind of story
I want to find another way
A way to live without this constant worry
So you can year my say... My money talks..."

(you can listen to the song here)

Now it seems that what once seemed like "fringe" analysis from various sub-cultures and counter-cultures has become surprisingly mainstream. In my train travels over the past month I was amazed how often I heard - in conversation with people, and in overheard conversations between others - the terms "climate change" and "fossil fuels" and "sustainability" and so on. Mainstream newspapers and broadcasts talking regularly about "living beyond our means" and the hazards of "consumer debt" and the new acceptability (and even trendiness) of "old-fashioned" ideas like "thrift" and "local food" and "cooking at home." I saw wind farms in Montana, read an article on the Amtrak's "Arrive" magazine between Boston and New York all about Community Supported Agriculture and alternative energy sources...

This strikes me as good news. And yet I'm also struck by a fairly broadly held and barely suppressed (and sometimes expressed) sense of guilt and anxiety and near-despair. The two video-game designers from Seattle on their way to a ski weekend, talking about their sense of guilt as artists working on war games (one designs the "worlds" and the other is a "weapons and vehicles" specialist)... The trucker from Montana talking about pollution and climate change and "we really should learn to live with less" and "why the world hates us so much"... Myself, living the contradictions by touring all across the continent (by train - hopefully a somewhat "greener and more efficient choice) while professing concern about carbon emissions and sustainability...

There now seems to be an abundance of analysis and debate - even in mainstream media and society - about what is wrong and unsustainable about our current economic systems and structures and patterns. And there is more and more grassroots movement toward change in some significant ways (the dramatic growth of the "local food" movement being one example). And yet I'm finding it hard to get a "read" on whether we are in fact on the brink of transformative change in a more hopeful and sustainable direction, or whether the newly "mainstream" analysis and macro-initiatives are merely co-opting some of the language of that "alternative" thinking in a frantic effort to prop up a system that is not going to last.

Back to the songs. I'm finding that "My Money Talks" feels very different when I sing it now... "wondering how to make the payments on her home" in a context of so many foreclosures and layoffs and unemployment. The element of "trust" in "I Can Give With Joy" and "Speak To The Rock" speak with a different king of poignancy when we sing those songs together. "To Be Content," a song I hardly sang at all when the CD first came out because I was terrified it would be misunderstood and misused (by relatively affluent people telling others - "you should learn to be content with what you have"), is one that I seem to be singing more often again, as I find more and more people - in the midst of hard economic times - taking those words from Philippians - "I have learned to be content" - as important and meaningful for them. "Take Good Care," which still feels and sounds strident to me sometimes, but also seems to be heard and received - perhaps increasingly - not just as a critique and a challenge but as an invitation.

I find myself cringing at this line in another song from that collection... "may my choices declare... You are the Lord of each investment I make..."

And the "Prayer of Agur" continues to strike a chord...

What do you think? How have the current economic realities been changing the songs YOU sing, and the way you sing them?

What do we need to be singing now?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

how can you tell...?

Top 10 signs that Bryan's back from tour:

10) blogging is back to its normal once-a-week-I-have-a-life-you-know rhythm

9) the smell of burnt grilled cheese sandwiches wafting through the air

8) spotted wearing something other than those 2 all-purpose tour shirts

7) father-son competition for household airwaves (Guitar Hero vs. CD collection)

6) refresher (remedial?) course in "where things go in the kitchen" and "which items go in which recycling bin"

5) back to daily rhythm of yerba mate at 3:00 pm

4) instruments and books again sprinkled like manna all over the apartment

3) first father-son session with the ball and gloves this spring, with attendant fervent and forlorn hopes for the Blue Jays

2) spousal celebration of safe return with an evening out (yes, a date!) enjoying Crooked Still at Hugh's Room

And the number 1 sign that Bryan's back from tour?

1) laundry


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

houses and fields, brothers and sisters everywhere

I had finally figured out a train schedule that would work for that elusive jaunt from Washington DC (where I was leading worship in the morning) to Lancaster PA (where I was doing a concert in the evening). The train schedules have worked remarkably well this whole tour... except for this one day... these two cities looked so close on the map and - “well, it’s the east coast, I’m sure there’ll be lots of options”...


So I called on Sunday morning, just to confirm with the Lancaster folks that my train was scheduled to arrive at 5:55... and I was really REALLY hoping it would be on time so I could make it for the 7:00 concert... It was definitely too close for comfort, but I didn’t see any other option...

“Oh... but the concert is at 6:00.”


So off we went to the morning service, and I still didn’t know how I was going to make it to my evening performance... maybe I could take the train to Philly and rent a car from there (if I could find someplace open on a Sunday afternoon)...

As I was wolfing down a smallish portion of the delicious potluck spread after the service (in time to catch that train to Philly), Eric came over and said “Bryan, I’d like to drive you to Lancaster.”

I nearly choked on my pasta. “Really? You would do that?”

This past month of touring has been a miracle of generosity from start to finish. To each family who shared their home and their dinner table, to each person who gave part of their day (sometimes a large part) to get me to where I needed to go, to each one who planned and organized and put up posters, to each one who set up and ran sound, to each one who sang and smiled, to each one who prayed and supported in ways seen and unseen, I am so deeply grateful.

As this tour concludes (I'm writing this at the border stop at Niagara Falls, waiting to begin the last leg of the journey home), I feel like I have experienced Mark 10:29-30 again, and again, and again:

“Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

a multiplicity of musicians

After that musical conversation with the brothers at Weston Priory...

Two nights ago in Charlottesville I did a joint concert with Jonathan, a singer-songwriter and good friend (we go back a long way, to riding around in the back of a pick-up truck as teenagers in Bolivia).

My contact person and coordinator-person-and-sound-tech-and-conversation guy for the Harrisonburg concert last night was Matthew, a composer.

Tonight I'm staying in the Washington DC area at the home of Adam and Maria - Adam is a hymn-text writer whose first book of hymns is being published by GIA very shortly (he showed me the proofs. He also showed me a couple of my songs that have been published in a new John Bell book of "global songs for children" and the new Church Hymnal 4th Edition of the Church of Scotland... I hadn't seen them there yet...)

And you thought I was touring as a "solo musician"...! Ha!

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

singing with the brothers of Weston Priory

The evening before I left Vermont we worshipped at the Weston Priory and then had supper with the brothers there - a silent meal, with one of the brothers reading out loud from a recent book of biblical/theological scholarship (I'm afraid I can't remember the title) - and then, when the prior rang the bell, a burst of robust conversation.

After the dishes are done the brothers have an hour of recreation before evening prayers, and we all gathered in a room (which was the original farm house when the Priory was founded in 1953) to talk and sing together. The Weston Priory is known for many things, including their music - the music they use in their liturgies has grown out of and been written by members of their community over the years, and is available to order or download.

What an honour and a delight to meet them and worship with them and sing with them (they were eager to hear as many of my songs as we could squeeze into the time we had). One body with many members indeed!

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

hearty vermonters...

... could not be stopped from coming out to the Londonderry concert on Sunday night (with a snowstorm imminent) or the house concert last night (after a full day of constant snowfall, and very icy roads). Hearty and kind and generous folk... an astonishing number of whom signed up for my Community Supported Music initiative...

And if you're going to be snowed in somewhere, can you imagine a more beautiful place to be? (This is the "little cabin in the woods" where I'm being hosted by Carol and Delores, who have been dear friends of our family for - let's see - about 28 years now - beginning in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when I was 12 years old, and learning to play guitar by watching Carol's fingers on her ukilele and singing all the songs we knew...)

What a gift!