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?
#11 - When's Your Favorite Band Coming to Your Town?
Whenever we petition fans to ask their favorite bands a question for an interview or our NRT LIVE show, we can pretty much expect the number one question to be: "When are you coming to [fill in the blank]?"
That's a pretty telling question, because it illustrates that people are more interested in finding out when they might experience a band in person than learning more about the band themselves. It's funny because, really, they could just go on bands' websites or Facebook pages and immediately take a look at all public tour dates.
But I think to some extent, people are thinking that, maybe by asking about their hometown, it'll increase their chances that the artist or band will consider booking a show there.
If only it worked like that.
Being in the Pacific Northwest, I know a thing or two about shows not coming our way. The truth is, many bands' tours start and end east of the Mississippi (with Texas likely thrown in for good measure). And there's a good reason for that: That's the heart of the Bible belt. My friends northeast of Pennsylvania can understand, too. Blue states don't get a lot of love when it comes to Christian concerts. The Bible belt is where shows tend to sell out, and travel between cities is pretty seamless.
Out in the West, there are many well-populated California towns to visit, but beyond that there's Portland and Seattle--and MAYBE Spokane and Boise. And the distance between those cities is substantial enough that bands will surely lose money to play there. And in an industry where touring is what pays the bills (music sales sure don't), it's a pretty easy decision to make not to go.
But of course, there's a spiritual issue to consider. The places where bands are least likely to be supported are the places that most need to hear them. Preaching to the choir certainly has a place, but there are still millions of people out there who need to hear the Truth of the Gospel in culturally relevant ways.
So what's the answer? The answer could be to follow the Luis Palau model of free festivals underwritten by a conglomeration of local churches, passionate about the outreach (but, really, how often can you tap that well?).
I think the whole stripped-down, Living Room Tour idea is a pretty good one. It guarantees money each night for artists while bringing them to cities that may otherwise never see a concert by a recording artist. It presents a sort of New Testament, traveling apostle vibe, where bands stay in host homes and have the time to personally tell their stories and get to know the communities in which they perform.
The problem is that this model leaves the bells and whistles at home. No fog machine, pyro or even a full band, really. But it's better than nothing.
Bands should really consider this model for a season every year, or every other year, in order to engage the forgotten parts of the country. We're whining out here in the Northwest, but there's an entire cluster of "flyover states" in the U.S.'s nougaty center that rarely experiences live music from Christian bands.
It would change things up a bit. In some ways, touring would be easier and in some ways more difficult. But the money would be guaranteed and it would fight against the whole "celebrity" mindset that can creep into the large show tours. It would be a season of staying grounded.
Of course, there's a whole world out there, too, that doesn't enjoy the Christian music subculture we have here. And a whole world that needs Jesus. Hillsong UNITED, Michael W. Smith, Skillet and Shonlock are a few examples of some artists whose heart for the nations translates into intentional tours to those nations.
"I don't know why it is, but there are very few artists from our genre that do that. I don't know why. It's unfortunate. It's a sacrifice a little bit, and this is not a guilt thing on anybody, but I would just encourage everyone to just challenge themselves--[asking] are you supposed to sing someplace besides America? We're just a small little field in terms of if you think how big this world is. Everybody says how small it is. I think it's big and you see all the places that there's great possibilities for the music to--that you can go and sew something into a country, just like Bahrain. I was in Bahrain last year. It's a miracle that I even got into the country. I had to be invited by the king. Just crazy. Again, it's just favor, nothing but God's favor.
While it's true that artists have to pay the bills in order to keep making music, I think there are creative ways out there to go to the seemingly forgotten places in our country and world to point more people to Jesus--which is the ultimate goal, right?