Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

After the Rain (new ambient song)

This was the last ambient/instrumental piece that I did this spring. It was my attempt to create something a bit longer and less "song-like" than some of other tracks I'd been working on. This one is not mastered and not necessarily finished, but I wanted to make it available to more than just myself. The track is almost 10 minutes long and takes sonic journey with no real chord structure, definitely no verse or chorus or repeating "cliche." My hope is that it can be a piece that creates a certain mental or emotional atmosphere, even spiritual atmosphere, where one can rest, listen, meditate, find a little peace. As I've begun working on this kind of music I've heard some amazing artists out there who have done far more than I and know synthesizers and sound makers far more intimately than I. But, this is my attempt.

When you listen, I recommend good speakers or high quality headphones. In my mini studio it would great and with my recording headphones even better, but not in my car. I recorded a lot a bass tones that are too deep for the cheap speakers of my Mazda 5. The farm truck evidently has much better speakers, sounds pretty good in there. There are things that mastering would clean up and make more sharp, but this is the free version : )

I hope you like it! It's a free download, but feel free to leave a tip.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Acting on Climate

While many of our nation's climate activists were marching in Washington DC on Saturday some of us remained at home and marched in our respective cities. I had the opportunity to march and to speak at the Pittsburgh march. Here's what I said:

Today, humanity sits at a great precipice. One that we may blindly fall into with little chance of return, or that we may creatively build a bridge over. Climate change, with little or no intervention, will create the worst humanitarian and environmental disasters we’ve ever seen. But scientists and entrepreneurs have the solutions that we need to transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy. The bridge that we need is being built, but, will we continue off the ledge and into the chasm?

As a pastor, I believe addressing climate change and environmental issues is a moral imperative. Climate change is not a political issue for me, it is not a partisan issue for me, climate change is an issue of ethics, morality and an issue of faithfulness for those who believe caring for people and caring for the earth are mandates from the Creator.

In November of last year I traveled with some friends to North Dakota to learn what I could from the Dakota Sioux Indians and participate in the resistance at Standing Rock. I learned a great deal about leadership and how to follow. I learned that the transition away from fossil fuels will not be lead by our government or by those who have power in this nation. Rather, the transition will be led prayerfully by those who have been oppressed, by indigenous people, and by regular people like you and me, but rarely by those with influence and power. But, we have the ability to influence those with power. Through our choices, the ways we spend our money, our own personal transitions away from fossil fuels, the letters we write and the banks we choose, we will collectively influence those who believe they hold great power in our country.

I make a very modest living as a pastor and urban farmer. Last year, my family put solar panels on our home. A friend of mine, just this past year, decided to buy an electric vehicle, and put solar on his home. His family of four now uses no gasoline and almost no electricity that doesn’t come from their own panels. We all need to share how we are individually making this transition, and encourage each other to enter into this exciting journey. Another example of regular folks making big changes has come through the thousand of letters we have and continue to send to our banks. Banks like PNC bank, a great company, that unfortunately is still funding the Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

As people who live by love, compassion, ethics and morals, we must stand up and demand change. We must be the change that we are demanding. We must demand and demonstrate the change that must come about in this world.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Music, Meditation and Lent

videoSmoke swirled in the wind as a fire burned on my front porch to make palm branches into black ash for worship that evening. It was Ash Wednesday and BJ had planned a beautiful contemplative prayer experience in the space that The Open Door may be moving our worship gatherings to come June or July. Earlier in the day I had collected the dried palms from last year's Palm Sunday service and now I burned them in a prayerful afternoon.

Palm Sunday is a strange celebration for the church each year. I remember singing loud songs of praise as a child, hearing the full horn section in worship blasting out triumphantly as the pastors would process down the isle, everyone waiving palms in celebration. All this, knowing that it was the start to Holy Week, the time when we reflect upon the death of Jesus. Now, 25 years later, each year I take the palms of celebration and burn them to ashes, ashes that represent our own impending death. Palm Sunday is a little less celebratory at The Open Door, more focused on the start of Holy Week than a pre-Easter celebration.

For this self led prayer service people moved from one station to the next reflecting on their own mortality, Jesus' suffering, and our own suffering in life. I was given the opportunity to impart the ashes I had earlier created on the men, women and children who finished the experience of contemplation and prayer. It was a very powerful experience for me as I told people, "from dust we were created and to dust we will return." I think Ash Wednesday is one of the most difficult Christian practices we have, we choose not to ignore death, but to look it in the face. That's not easy.

BJ had found some great ambient music to play during the service. I think the experience of prayer, of imparting the ashes on friends and reflecting upon the struggles in the life of my family these days inspired me to go home and make some music. That night I recorded this song. It's super simple, two chords with layers of guitar and synth on top. Since Ash Wednesday I've continued experimenting with instrumental music. I've recorded ten pieces, one that's based on an acoustic guitar, a handful that began with swelling synthesizer sounds, and one or two that are all electric guitars. This practice of making music during lent has been great for me, it has been a life giving practice that I hope will be life giving for others in their spiritual practices or just in bringing a little peace and calm in this crazy time. And yes, I find it interesting that a life-giving practice came out of a reflection on mortality. There is no life without death, at least not as we human beings know it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Release Day: Solace E.P.

All three now songs, now available for download and streaming on Bandcamp!

It was Ash Wednesday, just a couple weeks ago, when I come home, ashes imparted to the congregation and to myself, when I came home and started a new project. The contemplative, meditative prayer experience that BJ had designed was a beautiful engagement with pain, suffering, loss, death and the reality of our humanity. Earlier in the day I had prayerfully burned the palms of last year's Palm Sunday worship gathering of The Open Door. Now those same palms that children and adults waved in worship were sorrowfully imparted on the foreheads of those same adults and children. Something about that experience created a deep peace within me during a time in my life that has been extremely difficult. It was a powerful but calming start to the Lenten season when we reflect upon the reality of humanity, the reality of sin, the reality of our finite mortality. Lent is also the time when we recognize that a man named Jesus was killed for his perfect representation of humanity. Well, I'm not here to try to develop the historic Christian theology of Lent and Jesus' passion, but rather allow you to hear a bit of the music that I've been working on this season of Lent.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Solace E.P. For Pre-Order!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

I'm calling it "Solace"

Over the past few months, basically since I returned from Standing Rock in late November, I've put a lot of my mental and creative energy into music. I've played music, written music and led people in worship for over twenty years, since I was about 17 years old. Started playing guitar at about 13. Today I actually get paid to play music for our church, Alyssa and I love doing that, but we also dream to get back to creating music outside of the church setting. Over the past few months I've been able to write more music than I have in the past 10 years combined. Experiencing Standing Rock, the devastation of a Trump presidency and what that means for and about our country, and the difficult struggles that my family is going through have all probably played a significant roll creating a need within me to write and play music. Most recently, on Ash Wednesday, actually, I began recording an album of ambient instrumental music. I was inspired first by Nils Frahm, but he's way too talented a musician for me to copy. His music has taught me the importance of simplicity and minimalism, even when you CAN play something much more technical. Second, on Ash Wednesday, at The Open Door's contemplative service, I was introduced to Moby's recent release "Long Ambience1: Calm, Sleep" a beautiful, meditative work of around 4 hours of music. It's extremely simple, no melodies, just auditory textures, layers of sounds, beautiful chords moving so gentle one cannot discern one chord from the next.

So, I've been taking my turn creating something with my guitars that is meant to be simple, minimal, relaxing and pleasing to listen to. Some of it is more complex than what Moby's album, some of it builds a bit more and have a bit more expression. But I think it fits in with the genre of ambient artists that I have been learning from lately.

Again, if you're like me and suffering these days as you discern a way forward for your work of justice and peace in this world, or your struggling to help a loved one through a particularly difficult time in their life, or you're going through a particularly difficult time in your own life, I encourage you to create. Don't try to be perfect or compare yourself to others who are better at your craft of choice, create for yourself, create for the sake of creating, and when you do that honestly and thoroughly, I promise it will be a blessing to others as well as a blessing to yourself.

I'm calling is Solace, recordings forth coming!