Tuesday, October 11, 2016

BECOME WHAT YOU BELIEVE - 10 years and still trying

August 15th, 2016

10 years ago this morning, the collected shards of a 10-year journey were sealed into the iconic mosaic mug plastered on our final record, final breath as LAST TUESDAY: Become What You Believe. I knew then, as I know even more so now, that the finish line we didn’t reach with our 2006 release was merely the baton passed on in the life-long relay race in which I still run on the promise that somehow, someway…we’ll make it.

But lets go back a bit in time for it is only in hind sight that we can recognize the depths of life and the sanctity all things have always had. I know now that when we penned Become What You Believe we were but putting into words what had always been. As a missionary-kid, born in Costa Rica/raised in Chile, I grew up fully immersed in the “heart to God and hand to man” work of The Salvation Army. In our younger years we never reflect much, we just do as we see done. My single-handedly all time favorite songwriter, David Bazan, seems to have had something in common with my experience. In his song PEOPLE he writes,

“When I was young
I saw people helping people all the time
…I thought people loving people were the norm”

There was no becoming then, just being; being human and that meant loving/helping people.

In my teens, I started muscling out my own approach to this BEING HUMAN nature through music. I was in terrible bands playing live performances long before my first fingertip calloused. Those were transformative years, however, that both empowered and impassioned me towards people. I always loved LIVE MUSIC for it was on stage or in the crowd that I saw and felt what music did for me and those around me. I believed that as created beings, in the image of our creator, we were to be creative beings. I wanted to be an oar, dipped into mother-ocean’s swelling waters, rowing alongside my fellow men-of-oars with rhythm and song through the stormy and glass-like seas life would have for us. With youthful rage and drive, the 10-year journey had begun, with a splashy paddling of my 4-string bass to BECOME WHAT I BELIEVE.

       Unaware, I was paddling in the ancient wisdom of speaking our dreams into existence which Paulo Coehlo trademarked for modernity when he wrote of the little boy Santiago and his mentors helping him understand that,

“…when you want something,
the whole Universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

Undoubtedly such was the case with me towards my final years of high school in Santiago, Chile where I was able to enlist amongst my first band of thieves called: The Despreciados y Desechados, a movement of young Christian metal-heads set on revamping the Jesus Movement and reaching out to the outcasts by blasting Jesus into every neighborhood that allowed us to bring in our youthful-angst-and-impassioned-head-banging riffs and ruckus. I spent every weekend of my last 2 years in High School loading up an ‘ole pick up truck with our band gear, including my rocking 100-watt Crate Bass amp, and spent my weekday afternoons between practice time, street preaching and bringing bread and coffee to the local punks that were sitting in on abandoned downtown Santiago houses turning them into crack-houses before being scurried out by local police and forced to seek shelter elsewhere. No doubt this time in my life was one of extreme peripheral learning, mentorship and increased awareness. I was the young buck then and to this date fondly admire the zeal and relentless intention of living of those a few years ahead of me, with one foot in the Village and one foot in the Wild.

My time with the Despreciados and Desechados came to a climactic ending upon our organizing and hosting one of Chile’s first mega-festival called CRISTOCK. Magically we drew in over 3000 people for +24 hours straight of music, stirring major media attention which made for an even broader audience to become aware of the work we were undertaking. Again, these were years where I was mostly taking note on what others believed and how they fought to become. The learning I underwent became the walking stick for my own wild journey that lied ahead, in which the making things happen would be more on me as the doer than the viewer.

I left the movement with a myopic-linear-promise of returning after 4 years of Christian Liberal Arts indoctrination. My parents, like all baby boomers, were unquestionably convinced that a college education would assure a career and a Christian would usher further my cliff-hanging salvation. But I too was convinced, and enough so, to leave “the harvest fields” we were neck deep in, reaping souls for the kingdom, to professionalize and certify my ministry as a BS (quite literally) in Christian Ministry.

Thankfully such never took place. After 2 years stateside, a good friend bought be a ticket back to Chile, where I came face to face with what Isabel Allende seemed to have penned specially for me in “My Invented Country”. The Chile of my nostalgia was shattered in under 2 weeks by the baseball present of mine taking cheap blows on what felt like a time, people unchanged. I swept the shards into a pouch as tokens of good faith to carry with me through the next chapters. This time around, I uttered a solid goodbye and flew back stateside knee-deep in the uncertainty of what I would BECOME but clear that it wasn’t what I had thought.

It’s easy to see now that the shook up I went through in Chile would make it really tricky for me to finish off something like a BS in Christian Ministry. One thing about uncertainty is that it opens up possibilities making for a broader world. Following suit I switched majors into the broad spans of Cultural Anthropology and World Religions curious to understand how creed and culture breed, but more so due to what would become an unquenchable thirst to understand how others experience and make sense of the world. This exploration took me into my first mosque, and the opening of sacred texts that were taboo in the fundamentalist home that gave me a solid nugget to go on. Hungry for a visceral experience I signed up for a 6 month study abroad course in Israel but it was closed down last minute due to an outbreak of the endless violence of the region. Make plans, live well but be ready for when the Universe steers you in an unforeseen direction.

Right around that same time, in the spring of 2002, I had jumped in the LT van for the first time, and was granted shotgun next to Steve Gee. We talked from Harrisburg PA to Nashville TN and somewhere in between I knew I had found my next ship to row from. But it wasn’t the music that hooked me. Back then, I was still rocking the late-nineties-hard-core-baggie-pants-with-a-pocket-to-pocket-chain while rocking out to anything within an arm reach of Korn, Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Eat World or even Dispatch. But Punk Rock? It wasn’t in the picture. I was one of those who didn’t understand the beauty of a nice melodic hook surfing over the raging waves of a driving 3 chord progression. More than Steve’s catchy hooks from Dear Jessica and Composition, it was his Resolve and Conviction ‘gainst all Distractions to be a voice and ear to disenfranchised youth. I wanted in on that and not as a hobby but as a life-path. First I felt I had some learning to do though so with the Gaza gates closed off not only to the Palestinians but also to my youthful-anthropological-mining-intentions-dressed-in-faux-open-mindedness I signed up for a newly opened, 30-credit-program called the Contemporary Music Center (CMC) taking place on Martha’s Vineyard.

Little did I know that I would be landlocked not only by the Atlantic waters that wash against Martha’s cold shorelines but also by an eye-opening flock of Christian inclined young artists who shared dreams of stardom yet no desire for the faith, fellowship or liturgy they were writing, recording and signing about, let alone did they seem to have the balls I knew from my time in Chile that it would take to Become what you believe. Many a mornings I found myself trudging alone through one of the 2 full readings of the Bible I would undergo that semester as an attempt to find clues on what I believed and what I would become. I felt a burdensome responsibility to learn what I could regarding the ropes of the music business, while polishing my craft as a musician, performer and songwriting notwithstanding prepping my heart with the convictions and resolve that would be needed when done the program and on my way back to PA set on quitting school and ready to sell everything and leave our friends to become what we believed. And the good lord knows, I would never change anything.

And that’s what we did, for 4 years, 3 records, +800 shows in all 48 continental states and the dream shows we got to play in Ireland, Scotland and Germany: play and play and play to BECOME WHAT WE BELIEVED.

Upon the release of BWYB we were finally bought on to a quasi-major-christian tour which was something we had always hoped and worked for. The days of backyard shows or dive bars, playing for the bouncer and bartender were gone. Our record sales were up. There were roadies to help unload the gear. We didn’t have to book our own shows anymore. Merch was moving. And that is where everything went rancid. It all became too mechanical. It was quickly clear that we would need to live out this new rung of the musical ladder for another year or 2 of playing opening sets of 15 minutes at best for crowds of fans, not friends. That was not what we believed nor what we wanted to become. We quick booked the 2 cents tour and said goodbye: This house is not our home”

Last Tuesday’s final show was @ The Championship in Harrisburg PA somewhere close to March 24th, 2007. The next morning I was in a bathroom stall of the BWI airport shaving off my foot long lazy hawk, pulling out piercings and plugs and trying to smooth out (no iron yet) my shirt and tie in preparation for the teaching gig I’d be starting upon arrival in Esparza, Costa Rica. I would spend the next 7 years there trying to find my umbilical cord and then bringing in to the world 2 more umbilici alongside my beautiful bride.

During my years on the road with LAST TUESDAY I had taken on the personal plight of waking up early on Sunday mornings and hoofing my way to the first church I saw. This made for an incredibly rich experience of a multitude of Christian denominations and expressions of faith and worship. As this wandering went on I grew fond of the more liturgical services, secretly finger-crossing for the good lord to guide me to a sanctuary where the “priests were gone, but the doors were open”. The Catholic church began to really meet me where I was at. No drums, bright lights or distracting arrangements. Ironically, all aspects of worship I had advocated and protested for in my younger years. But with 6 shows through the week, all I wanted was a quiet, dark and dank place to be with my God and occasionally some of his less-task-oriented followers.

From my balcony in Esparza, the cupola of the domineering Catholic Church seemed to beckon me towards what I would learn was more of a deep inside desire for identity within a spiritual community rather than a genuine external welcome home into the Institutional Religion. Over the next 2 years, I settled to sell my rights of faith to the Catholic tradition by undergoing all of the adult-pre-baptismal requisits only to then be shocked by the denial of 2 baptismal attempts which felt like some sort of purgatorial postponement of the community experience I craved for of “heaven here on earth”. Still stunned and recovering from a spiritual post-tramautic-stress I awoke right back where I had been for the past 8 years since hitting the road with LT: spiritually homeless yet with a strong community that lived scattered around the world filling up pockets of beauty in nooks hard to frequent yet even more so to forget. On the road my vagrant home were the books layered with rhetoric void of practice. And so I slipped once again into the endless pages yet never losing the hope or the intention to “become what I believed”, a part of vibrant village in which to feed and be fed.

When 2010 came around, I was doing my best at fulfilling the vows of marriage, getting started with fatherhood and trying to grab hold of the reigns thrust at me in regards to a career in education. I was quite found in all of this but lost regarding my spiritual journey, community fellowship and mission field. My faith in the divine was strong but I was clueless as to how to become part of any of god’s work here on earth. More and more so I wanted less to do with Christians, especially those caught up in what seemed like an ageless feud dating back to the theses Luther spiked to the Wittenberburg door. I knew of spiritual communities that I could possibly relate to but they were thousands of miles from where I was beginning to make my home.

Thankfully, midst our planning and running about succeeding and failing, the Divine always has a construct of her own. As a young boy, growing up in the desert of Atacama, I had learned that unseen seeds could lay dormant, seemingly dead, beneath the most unfertile and menacing soils for years awaiting the due dew that could bring them to germination and a subsequent unparalleled flowering. I’ve come to understand that so were the seeds of my beliefs and desires to become what I believed. Of all places, the divine chose Esparza to be a place for me to begin a new manifestation, expression and understanding of the divine and our participation in the work of the divine.

And just like that ORIGINATEVE was born, a non-profit I co-founded alongside my brother and partner Ronald Green.

Over the past 6 years we have been dreaming and working far outside the reach of the confined institutional church but nevertheless under the church’s mandated work: to love ALL people. Where back in my college days I related to the Moravian missionaries and their creed of “becoming all things to all people” my belief was now growing into a more holistic understanding of my interplay not only with Gods created people, but also ALL the divine’s creation. A profound transformation hence begun: TO LOVE ALL not just all people.  

So what does BECOME YOU BELIEVE mean to me today?

Today I believe that I am a child of amnesia-the great forgetfulness inherited at birth. In the womb we all knew why we were here and who to become but we have forgotten everything. In as much as I have spent my life re-membering my spiritual pursuits, at a physical/organic level I struggled to help even a small papaya tree grow in the rich fertile soils of Costa Rica. I had learned much of the soul but forgotten the soil. This was unsettling. Religion, in its hierarchy of what matters to tend to first, has a track record of leaving mother Earth at best as a hobby to lure in green-inclined-sinners. In my younger days I learned of the need to tend the soul but now I have remembered the soil of the earth and I want to become her steward.

En el vientre de mi madre, the great forgetfulness was woven into my bones and sinews. In her warmth, I knew who I was and why I was here. But all that was lost upon the traumatic c-section that brought me into the cold. Praise be to my mother who endured. What was not lost was the grief passed down from the violence, amnesia, pain and loss of the ghosts of those who came before me. I want to become one in a village fixed on learning how to carry this grief alongside peers, elders, mentors and those I’m lucky enough to tuck under my wing from time to time. I want to be part of regenerating an intact Village in care of each other and the earth we eat and drink from. In other words, a village that knows how to dance.

How bout it?

Today, we set flight to South China. There we hope to do our part, as farmers, sowing seeds in the fertile soils of the kindergartners of the Blue House in Jinjiang alongside our very own 2 apples. The old stories say that the least of these are the ones that will teach us how to dance again.

All love and blessings. 


“Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
It doesn't matter

Ours is not a caravan of despair, come
Even if you've broken your vows a thousand times. 
Come, yet again , come , come.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

On Rock 'n Roll and waiting for it...

I'll write this one as a dad, and a very proud one; both for my patience and, of course, the gift of a prodigy the gods of Rock have given us all: OWEN JAZZ IV.

The out-of-wedlock-child-of-1940s-Blues, Rock 'n Roll, scurried into ears and veins during the long family trip vacations, I hated at the time but cherish deeply now, through the Atacama desert. Alongside my 3 siblings, crammed into a 1988 Nissan Sentra, our missionary father ventured into the rebellious nostalgia of his pre-conversion days and blasted with an extreme sense of loyalty and duty-of-passing-down the endless hits of Wilson and his crew: The Beach Boys. My mother, far more traditionalist consented with this "playing with the devil" solely because it eventually led to the infamous Emmons-4-part-harmonies which come dinner time are only topped by the Vontrapps at the peak of their career. 

Fast forward 20 years. Now it's my turn to infuse my kids and their friends with the sound antidote the gods have given us to make it through adolescence and its reoccurring waves through adulthood. 

Owen Jazz, my first son, has been getting music since his days swimming in the womb. When it came his turn to make music he was keen towards the hand drum. I attribute this largely towards the insurmountable stories he has witnessed always to the beat of the eagles heart. He knows not of a story told without a drum.

But for almost the entirety of the 2 years in our kindergarten in Jinan, I had hoped for him to gather around for a tickling of the ivory. There was no way. No interest. And on my end I stayed true to what I have learned: continue to create the peripheral learning and interest possibilities while from time to time bringing up the question again and again.

Towards the end of our time in Jinan, bordering age 6, already far later than when I had begun playing piano, I started playing Rock and Roll videos for the kids of KeyU Kindergarten while they were working on their drawing. God bless my buddy Matt Thiessen and his soothing melodic punk rock. Owen and his friends were hooked. Next time I was by the piano I started playing Relient K's 2005 hit: Be My Escape and, just like that, the piano became cool! Owen could be found at the keys at all times. His friends soon joined in with drums and vocals and Jazzers first band was born, as they call it: THE ROCKERS.

Last week they performed with the ease of a seasoned touring band on their 25th date on a state-wide tour. Check it for yourself:

Now, there is no stopping them. In the Originateve Holistic Kindergarten we developed programming for, one part of the program was to have SHOWS every 2 weeks. The idea behind it was to make ART a way of life rather than something saved for the "special occasions". For this last show, Owen was not impressed and did not buy into the whole "SHOW" quality. In his own words he said, I WANT TO PLAY A REAL SHOW. Go figure, him and his friends had been juiced up with the Jack Black classic: School of Rock. Now, they are shooting for the stars and they've sure got the rock in them. 

(See also: Owen Jazz covering punk rock classic: At Your Funeral by Saves The Day (Covered by Owen Jazz))