Have you ever wondered what to get that Christian music fan on your list who already owns every album ever released? Have you ever wondered what would be a good gift that has absolutely nothing to do with their recorded music?
Rest assured, I'm here to tell you this: Plenty of artists have side gigs to keep stimulated creatively, or just to make ends meet (because believe it or not, you probably make a higher salary than most of them), and thus, here's my year-end shopping guide of non-music gifts for the Christian music fan.
(By the way, I'm going to get my jolly on this month, and thus, will be taking a bit of a break from the column. We'll see you at full force again in January, although I may sneak another blog in before then.)
THE YEAR-END SHOPPING GUIDE OF NON-MUSIC GIFTS FOR THE CHRISTIAN MUSIC FAN
NG in this case stands for 'Need Gift'
Natalie Grant earlier this year unveiled her "NG by Natalie Grant" product line, which includes inspirational shirts (some featuring her song lyrics) and jewelry. In the jewelry section, Natalie has necklaces with inspirational messages on them ("be still", "baby burn bright", "worth more than diamonds"), as well as cross hoop earrings and various bracelets. (ngbynataliegrant.com)
An Artist's Art
Kathy Troccoli also just announced her own jewelry line, and she's been selling what she calls "life-giving art" for years on her site. These prints she sells feature photos and decorative fonts to present an inspirational message, such as: "Play the music, live the music", "Love you to the moon and back", "I celebrate you", and "Walk a different road," among others. (store.kathytroccoli.com)
Ariel from Icon For Hire is not only a dynamic frontwoman, but I'm pretty sure she stays up 24 hours a day because her creativity never will rest. Besides her DIY show, Ariel has a thriving Etsy store called Custom Catastrophes, where she sells rocker-ready corsets, hoods, gloves, wrist cuffs, tank tops and more. I'm partial to the zipper wrist cuff. (www.customcatastrophes.com)
Whatever You Want, Basically
Well, sort of. This busy pop-rock outfit has come up with custom merch in a site called Emphasis. You go on there, pick your favorite lyrics from the band's discography, pick a shirt and font design, and bingo--you have a one-of-a-kind band shirt. So far, it's only Sleeping At Last songs on there, but they're looking to get other bands involved. Pretty cool since sometimes you like lyrics nobody else does. (emphasis.is)
What DiverseCity Dwellers Wear
TobyMac's longtime DiverseCity drummer, Brian "B" Haley, has long dabbled in fashion and clothing design, and his latest line, "Thee United 1,"features messages aimed at driving a movement of unity in love. (www.theeunited1.com)
Andrew Peterson's Books
Probably the most well-known thing on this list is the fact that musician Andrew Peterson is also an author. He's created an entire fantasy world with this Wingfeather Saga, and so yeah, it's a great way to see another side of this gifted, creative artist. Side note: There's another author named Andrew Peterson who has written military novels. Not the same guy. (wingfeathersaga.com)
Shuree's Got One Too
And hey, while we're talking about books, it's worth noting that new BEC Recordings artist Shuree has a book of her own: One Girl Can Change the World. It's a story about a little girl who wants to make a difference and the mysterious visitor who helps her discover how she can share hope and love with others. Shuree put her money where her mouth is and let 7th grade artist Leah Allman illustrate the book, too.
Jody Davis Has Some Pipes
Newsboys fans know Jody Davis can sing. He frequently lends his voice for background vocals behind Michael Tait, but did you know he has quite the pipes? Actually, in this case, literal pipes. The guitarist moonlights as a maker of actual pipes, and while I could never ever ever ever ever condone smoking, I do have to appreciate the skill it takes to make these wooden crafts. If you decide to buy one, have him sign it. I bet it would totally freak him out! (www.jodydavispipes.com)
Steve Taylor's Movies
He just came out with his first new music in two decades, but between records, Steve Taylor was making movies--his most famous being 2011's Blue Like Jazz, loosely based on Donald Miller's memoir. The movie is basically a film version of what Taylor is known for in his music: asking tough questions, pushing the envelope, and getting real. Snag it on DVD.
Cook with Smitty's Mom
The true Smitty fans have known this for a long time, but 15 years ago, Michael W. and his mom, Barbara, released a cookbook, appropriately called, Cooking with Smitty's Mom. The book features 300 of some of Barbara's best recipes. And they're bound to be good, as Mrs. Smith was a professional caterer for 15 years. If you didn't gain weight during the holidays, you likely will after utilizing this book.
Got any to add to this list? Post it in the comments below.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Here's the truth: I'm tremendously thankful for some great fans in our Christian music community, an incredible NRT staff, inspiring music that seems to get better and better every year and the ability to share it all with you. Seriously, the blessing of our digital age is so huge, that we're able to communicate with one another and encourage one another with the sounds that move us. So awesome!
And speaking of awesome, in the spirit of the holiday, a couple weeks ago I asked you guys to replace one of the words in your favorite band's name with the word "turkey." And you delivered! So, to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I'm going to do something totally ridiculous and illustrate some of my favorite contributions.
Have a blessed, happy and memorable Thanksgiving, everybody! Be filled with His spirit and may Jesus be the most honored guest at your table! Now... onto the silliness!
I had the incredible opportunity to see the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular: West Coast Edition last Sunday in Portland, and of course it was just that--spectacular. It's always encouraging for me to see so many artists, representing so many different genres, styles and even generations, uniting as one to lift up Jesus' name.
And naturally, there were many fantastic moments, from Disciple's face-melting set to Trip Lee's spoken word presentation of the Gospel to Tony Nolan's heart-wrenching testimony to VERIDIA's cool acoustic set on the second stage. And don't even get me started on Hillsong United...
But in the midst of all of it, one moment sticks out to me more than the others. It was a moment fans couldn't witness and the bands and crew probably didn't notice.
It was the picture of a mother holding her young child while worshipping to a song she's likely heard hundreds of times. It was the picture of a family that is sold-out to the mission God has given them to proclaim the name of Jesus, even when it's anything but comfortable.
Oh, the mom? Adrienne Camp--Jeremy's wife and the former lead singer of The Benjamin Gate.
The soft-spoken South African had one hand raised while the other wrapped around her daughter, who was sitting on crates to the right of "Daddy"--who was singing one of his more recent hits, "Overcome."
"Adie" undoubtedly knew the song by heart, and easily could've checked out and been relaxing backstage, but there was something about her presence to Jeremy's right. You could tell she was present--even intercessing?--for her husband, participating in the worship experience, knowing the pricelessness of every one of these opportunities for people to see Jesus.
Not only that, but she also likely knew the pricelessness of showing her children how to worship, even when there's every reason for it to become routine, or even mundane. As a dad, that's a model I desperately want to present.
Lost in worship, Adie only was interrupted by individuals who stopped by to say hello, to whom she responded with patience and grace. Being the former frontwoman of a crazy-good Christian rock band will bring out the fans (this writer included), but rather than be short or distracted, she looked them all in the eye, and with as much worshipful intentionality as she had moments before, making herself available for whatever God had in that moment.
In an industry that can many times be a subculture rather than a counter-culture, it's tremendously refreshing to see the Camps in action. We don't need more Christian rock stars. We don't need entertainers whose songs lead people to a place of worship. We need worshippers who lead people straight to Jesus.
A Christian music subculture replicates the traits of its host. But we're called to be different. Even Christian musicians working in the mainstream world should know we're called to participate in, but not replicate the world's system.
So many times, when we're professional Christians--and I find myself in this camp, for sure--it's easy for God to be our co-worker or our boss more than our Savior, Lord and love. How beautifully refreshing when you meet people who glow with God and act as if He's standing right next to them--even when they're not on the stage.
It seems a bit like we've skipped over Fall and right from Summer into Christmas, doesn't it? And I say this as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest--not, say Nashville or Florida, where in the South that's pretty much the case every year.
I mean, we JUST pulled our swim bag in from the car, which we had with us in case our schedules aligned and my family and I could hit the local pool. Change happens fast!
As we race towards Christmas (and that OTHER holiday before it, Thanksgiving... not sure if you've heard of it), I know there's going to be lots of talk about remembering Christmas and putting "Christ" in Christmas. And I know the heart is right... but I just think that before we crusade in honor of Christmas, we might want to remember an equally important part of the season: Advent.
Once upon a time, most of the Christian world followed a liturgical calendar of some sort, which spelled out the celebrations and focuses of worship for the year. The season leading up to Christmas Day was (and still is) called Advent.
It seems that as a culture, we lose the whole "Jesus is coming" vibe to Advent, instead being in this awkward place of "Jesus is here... but His birthday is later this month!" You get what I mean? And then at that point, the only thing we're waiting for is our presents and Aunt Sally's famous ham.
And then, when Christmas finally does come, we're left with a bit of a "thud"--a general feeling of, "What was THAT all about?"--an inevitable letdown.
In a time and culture that's not accustomed to waiting for ANYTHING, the tendency is for us to celebrate His arrival when we should be mentally and spiritually in a posture of waiting and seeking.
So what's the answer? It's all about remembering.
Remember Thanksgiving. While retailers love to extend their mega-shopping season for as long as people will allow, mentally, we don't have to follow suit.
Remember Advent. Let the songs you choose to play and sing reflect that sense of waiting. Prepare your heart. Read devotionals. Remember the fact that we are, in a sense, in a second advent season, as we anticipate the return of Jesus someday.
Remember Christmas. This one seems fairly self-evident, but the truth is, for centuries, the Church didn't STOP celebrating Christmas on December 25th; they BEGAN celebrating Christmas on December 25th. That's where the whole "12 Days of Christmas" thing originated. Christmastide, as it is known, lasted/lasts from Dec. 25 until Jan. 6, ending in the feast of Epiphany, which remembers the Magi's recognition of Jesus as divine. His birth is just the beginning, and while culture tells us that we must purge every semblance of Christmas on December 26th, in our hearts we know that we must celebrate and react and respond to His coming longer than just one day.
Remember that Christmas is a response.
Some great soundtracks for this advent season:
Advent to Christmas by Page CXVI
Advent Christmas Volumes 1, 2 & 3 by Future of Forestry
Advent by Young Oceans
Advent Volumes 1 & 2 by The Brilliance (that's Michael Gungor's brother, who has a new album coming in 2015, y'all)
Let every heart prepare Him room... and THEN... Heaven and nature sing.
This is the time of year when everybody's Facebook feeds are clogged with reasons why they're thankful each day. I say this completely stoked about it, because after yet another polarizing political season, it's great to have the social media conversation steer around much brighter, more worthwhile things.
This month (and always), I'm thankful for NRT and how we found each other.
When I was in high school, I worked for a Christian bookstore. Besides being an opera singer, one of my dreams was to work for CCM Magazine--the print edition--which was the premier publication in Christian music at the time.
As any good journalism professor would tell you, the important thing when you're an aspiring professional is to get clips. Clips, you see, are examples of your being published that you can share. It's a visual resume of sorts--proof that your work has been print-worthy. The concept of clips started in print, but also extended to online sources.
It was a little reviews site called The Solid Rock online (click to view it frozen in time), and its web address didn't really even make sense: TSRocks.com. (Nowadays it has changed hands and is a sketchy lyrics site.) I'm not entirely sure how Powell found it or why he chose to site it in his book, but it was included. It was a one-man show run by this webmaster by day, uber Christian music fan by night who injected some snarky comments into his reviews, which were almost solely pop/rock.
I contacted the webmaster, asking if he could use any writers. He was kind of shocked at the request, and said he was happy to share the load with a willing volunteer. So, I reviewed a number of albums, including KJ-52's breakout record Collaborations, and enjoyed getting some free CDs in the mail. (Oh wait, I think I just reviewed CDs I already owned.)
Oh... important detail: The guy who ran TSRocks? His name is Kevin McNeese. Ring a bell, NRT fans?
Not long after working for Kevin at TSRocks, he had created the first incarnation of NewReleaseTuesday as a marketing vehicle for his current employer at the time, Family Christian Stores. I wrote for him and his new site for a few years, before I found myself a newspaper reporter, and then later an editor. When writing and editing was my full-time job, I didn't have much bandwidth for writing as a volunteer. But all the while we kept in touch.
When Kevin relaunched the site in 2007, he approached me again, asking if I would join the staff again. You know, sometimes, when you participate in something, you think it's going to be means to an end. You think, "This is great, but I'm waiting for God's ultimate plan." And the truth is, sometimes in the waiting, God reveals that His plan is already unfolding.
You hear all the time about getting in on the "ground floor" of something, and many times it just doesn't materialize. But sometimes, as in my case, you completely stumble into something pretty amazing, that you never would have thought would happen. As a writer, Christian music fan and follower of Jesus, I grew right along with NRT, and over time (more than 10 years), got to see that it not only met my dream of working as a Christian music journalist, but it fully exceeded it. I didn't need to get to CCM, because NRT became that and more in my eyes. And in the process, I've made lifelong friends who I work with. God never ceases to amaze me.
I guess I say all this as my own public "thank you" to God for taking what I thought was a path to my dreams and making the path itself my God-given dream. I also say this to encourage you to know that God's plan is always bigger, better and more audacious than even our best plans, if we submit them to Him and are faithful in the process. And part of that being faithful is being responsible, able to be counted on, and a relationship builder (not for the purposes of success, but because you have God's heart--which loves people).
This journey is far from over, and I'm excited and grateful to be doing what I do.
I've told this story a number of times to many different people, and only recently did Kevin McNeese hear the full story. He said he not only didn't know he was in The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music; he didn't know that book had even existed! And that goes to show even when you're not trying, God can work behind the scenes.
What are your big "thank yous" to God? Where has He surprised you in life bigger than you ever dreamed?