Thursday, May 27, 2010

unproductive... or fallow?

On the face of it, there doesn't seem to be much difference between a field (or a time) that is "unproductive" and one that is "lying fallow." In both cases, it's not "producing" a crop.

And yet the difference - in our understanding - is immense.

"Unproductive" is a negative word... value comes from producing, right?... and if something is unproductive... well... there's something wrong. It's not doing what it's supposed to do. Anxiety.

"Fallow," on the other hand, is a positive word. It's a healthy and indispensable part of a broader process. Land that is lying "fallow" is not "unproductive" at all - it is resting, rejuvenating, replenishing and restoring and preparing for future seasons of growth and "production"... Land that is lying "fallow" - as a healthy part of a broader process - is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. Rest. Trust.

This summer marks the completion of 7 years of my "SmallTall Music" ministry... that is, 7 years since my music ministry stopped being a "side thing" and became my "main thing" both vocationally and economically.

I can't help but feel like the past 5 months or so... since the new year (since I injured my finger at the beginning of January)... have been the most "unproductive" time since this music ministry began. "Unproductive" particularly in terms of new writing. I've simply been struggling to even sit down to write. The ruminating (key part of the songwriting process) continues unabated... the list of "songs to write" and ideas to work on continues to grow... but actually working on new songs... very little.

For the first time in the four years that I've been operating my "community supported music" initiative, I missed a "delivery of songs" to my members. There simply wasn't anything there. A difficult "growing season."

I am grateful for the understanding and support of that community, the "members" of my CSM, which, like the "Community Supported Agriculture" system by which it is inspired, is intended to be a "shared risk" system. Rather than just "consumers" of a "product," the members are partners in the production and consumption/enjoyment/use of food (music)... where good growing conditions mean abundant portions for everyone, and the risk of poor growing conditions (hail, unseasonal frost... injury...) is not born by the farmer alone.

To be sure, it has been a busy and "productive" time in other ways (interesting how those two words tend to go together in my mind... I'm not sure that's altogether accurate/healthy). The new Gather 'Round curriculum CD and extensive spring touring schedule have been good.

And yet...

It seems like a "desert" season in other respects too (again, interesting how terms like "unproductive," "fallow," and "desert" can rattle around and intersect...). Walking with my spouse on her own "in-between" journey of seeking employment and career-wonderings... economic stresses... considerable uncertainty...

One of the stresses about leaving a field "fallow" is when you feel that you need the income... leaving a field "unproductive" when it could be generating crops and income can be a difficult thing to do... and yet allowing for "fallow" times can be just what is needed to enable long-term, sustainable health (including "production")...

After 7 years of this ministry, I find myself acutely aware of peers and colleagues in various ministry roles (particularly pastors and professors) who have structured "sabbatical" times built into their roles. I wonder if I'm sensing the need for a "sabbatical" too. If the fields of my ministry need a time of "Sabbath" as well.

But for me to take a "sabbatical," to leave some of the fields of my ministry fallow for a time, feels like a bigger risk. It's one thing to take a sabbatical when you're still drawing a salary (or portion thereof)... with a "secure" position to return to... What happens when I sense a need for a sabbatical of some kind right when economic concerns are acute?

It strikes me that this is precisely part of the "wilderness curriculum" with which God was instructing the Israelites for so many years in the desert. How hard it would have been to live on manna day to day, having to trust that there would be enough. How hard to be receptive to instructions to extend Sabbath rest to the land on the 7th year...

Can the farmer (and community) afford to let the field lie fallow? Can the farmer (and community) afford not to?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

forgotten songs

In the bathroom, about 2 minutes before the beginning of my concert in Akron, Pennsylvania, I suddenly realized: "Hey - I'm in Akron, Pennsylvania!"

Of course I'll understand if this flash of insight doesn't have quite the same effect on you as it did on me. It may strike you as just a tad obvious. But allow me to continue...

The town of Akron PA, you see, is the headquarters of the Mennonite Central Committee, and I had written a song back in the fall, called "New Wine," specifically for the use of Mennonite Central Committee in it's "New Wine/New Wineskins" process.

So it suddenly occurred to me: "If ever there was a time to sing that "New Wine" song, this would be it! Now, how does it go again...?"

I sat there and wracked my brain trying to remember the lyrics and the chords (I could remember the melody no problem, but the chord progression was a bit unusual, and I didn't have the chance to go to the guitar and renew my acquaintance with the tune).

Partway through the concert I decided to take the plunge and give it a try... and I couldn't for the life of me remember the chords. On the second try I made it through the chorus, but that was as far as I got. We made a joke of it and went on... good times... but I lost that unique chance to sing that song with these folks where it would have been particularly "at home." Arli Klassen told me later that if she had had her Blackberry with her, she could have called it up and showed it to me (she received it as part of one of my "deliveries of songs" through my "community supported music" system).

I've also been trying to find a song that I wrote and sang at the Iglesia Menonita Nueva Vida in Toronto on Easter Sunday, 2009. I can remember the chorus, but I don't remember the verses, and can't find it written down anywhere (I remember finishing them up in the parking lot and on the front bench that Sunday morning... I guess the scrap of paper didn't make it back into my guitar case). I seem to recall they sometimes record their services, so I'm hoping I can get a hold of a recording somewhere, and maybe re-learn the song (I seem to remember it was a good one).

And this weekend, visiting with some friends, Luke showed me another scrap of paper that he had found in a Wendell Berry book I had lent him... the paper had a scribbled lyric that was an early version of one of the verses for "Infiltrating the World," which is on my most recent CD.

If anyone else has found other forgotten songs of mine hanging around in whatever form, please let me know. I just might be looking for it, and if not, I may have some use for it.