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.

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!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Resistance is Slow and Steady

I'm good at seeing a problem and working hard to fix it, get the job done, feel good about my work, and move on. I'm good at getting others excited to make a difference with a short concerted effort. I've always struggled with long, slow-moving, work. I've struggled with follow-through when there are other things calling for my attention. I'm often impatient.

Resistance in the face of oppression, hatred, the slow moving and latent racism that put DJT in the White House, requires steadfastness. What I'm feeling lately is that my impatience is a reflection of my privilege as a white, middle-class, straight man. I have always had the privilege of doing whatever gives me energy, whatever excites me, whatever seems fun. Even the activism I do is ego-centered, I have the privilege of being an urban farmer working for social justice through food justice.

I need a community of people that understands the necessity of selfless activism in the face of all that we are facing as a country. I need others to remind me that we will press on. I need people of color to remind me that they've been in this struggle for centuries, not months, and that they know how to resist oppression. I need to follow, not lead. I need people who want to follow the oppressed, seeing them as our leaders. I need people of privilege to join me, not get frustrated when things are very slow, and get in line behind those who are suffering the worst of white America's injustice.

Resistance is slow and steady. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Standing Rock Letter to Banks

Today several dozen pastors and elders of the Pittsburgh Presbytery signed on to a letter I wrote voicing our disapproval of our city's local banks that are lending to Energy Transfer Partners for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read the letter below. Please feel free to cut and paste and write your own! Here's a link to learn more about the funding of this pipeline. DAPL Funding

February 16, 2017

PNC Bank
300 Fifth Avenue
The Tower at PNC Plaza
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Investor Relations:

Dear Bryan K. Gill and PNC Bank Executives,

PNC Bank prides itself on being an industry leader in green building and environmentally sound practices. We have commended you for this in the past. But, it is with sincere sadness that we write this letter in opposition to PNC bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Energy Transfer Partners. We have found that PNC has lent $270,000,000 toward the partners completing the pipeline. It has been clear since before construction began in August of 2016 that the Sioux Nation of Standing Rock have opposed the pipeline for reasons of environmental risk factors and proposed destruction of sacred land. PNC bank has remained invested in the project, while Native Americans have persistently ask that it be halted.

In December of 2016 the Obama Administration, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, ordered the pipeline be stopped pending a full environmental study and consultation of the Standing Rock Sioux nation. We were in support of this decision. Just days after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump an executive order was signed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline with no environmental study and no more consultations with the Sioux people.

The fast tracking of this pipeline represents a continued marginalization by our government and the fossil fuel industry of Native American people and their voices. This pipeline also represents a national commitment to long term infrastructure designed for a future of increasing fossil fuel extraction and combustion. We believe this pipeline is unjust both environmentally and socially and we are calling on PNC Bank to remove all funding from this project. We also call on PNC Bank to take the environmental risks associated with the oil and gas industry more seriously and choose to invest in socially and environmentally responsible projects, such as wind and solar energy production.
It is with our faith and our faith communities that we request you make these changes and hear our voices. We will consider other banking options if we feel PNC continues to ignore the issues most important to our callings as people of faith.

With Faith and Hope,

Rev. John Creasy, The Open Door Presbyterian Church