Perception and Grace

dressI seem to have fallen off the wagon here again with the writing thing…but once in a while I write elsewhere, so here’s a glimpse of what’s in my head. I’ve got a new post up at the Church at Charlotte blog, in which I address “The Dress” and talk about Andy Gullahorn. So it can’t be all bad.

(P.S. Though this post vauguely indicates otherwise, I actually do see the dress as blue-and-black.)

On Thursday evening, I got home late and before going to bed I hopped onto Facebook to see what had happened in the world in my absence. My newsfeed was filled with debate and discussion about the color of a dress in a photo that seemed to take over the internet with surprising rapidity.

Because of the lighting in the photograph, and the way the human brain perceives color from visual cues, some people see a blue and black dress and others see a white and gold one. It’s a bizarre little phenomenon and probably no more than a two-day’s wonder.

What I found so fascinating, though, was the passion behind the arguments put forth by everyone from Joe-on-the-street to celebrities and politicians. Those who saw the dress at blue-and-black thought the white-and-gold folks were crazy—and vice versa—until they spent some time looking at it. Then, more than one of my Facebook acquaintances changed their position. “I originally just saw white and gold… But now I can see both. So weird,” one of my friends wrote.

I was reminded of a song by Andy Gullahorn, “Line in the Sand,” in which he begins by saying how offended he was as a child when his father would mix up his name with his brother’s—he thought that if his dad really loved them equally, he wouldn’t mix up names. But now, with three kids of his own, Andy says, he “loves them and confuses them just the same.”

Read more.

Moments

I tried to keep my eyes open for something today, something that would trigger a long-past memory. Instead, at every turn, the memories brought to the fore were all recent, remnants of full days with good friends. So, a few glimpses:

***

photoThe voices singing a hymn this morning from the opening of Bible study at church reminded me of Jenny & Tyler’s performance last Thursday evening.

Andrew Peterson announced them and they stood, and I—surprised—turned to my friend Leah with delight. “Jenny and Tyler are here!” I said. “They have this one song…there’s no way they’d play it, but it’s one of my favorite songs in the world.”

And they reached the stage and began to sing an old hymn, their first of two songs. And then, from all their repertoire, they pulled out their second song: “Skyline Hill.” My song.

Of all the bands with all the songs in all the world—Jenny and Tyler sang my favorite to me last week.

***

I ran my fingers over the cover of The World of Narnia this morning as I ate breakfast. I like the texture of the stock.

When I handed Jonathan Rogers a stack of my books to sign, he asked if I’d met his son Lawrence. I had not, so I turned to him and struck up conversation (in part so as not to awkwardly watch JR signing, trying to read his messages upside down).

“Lawrence, hello!” I said. “Where are you in life? What’s your story?”
Lawrence took a breath. “Well, it’s really a coming-of-age tale.”
“Yes?” I was already delighted at the direction this conversation was taking. “What genre would you say? Drama? Horror? Comedy?”
“Comedy, I think. Maybe even a Romantic Comedy,” Lawrence said.
Jonathan was distracted for a moment from his signing. He looked up. “Romantic Comedy!? What don’t I know about?”
I ignored the anxious father. “Ah, I see.” I said to Lawrence. “And the soundtrack? What style? Bluegrass? Pop? Southern Rock?”
Lawrence shook his head. “K-Pop,” he stated. “Definitely K-Pop.”

***

imageI took off my shoes when I arrived for a visit at the Kellers’ house this evening, and I recalled the moment I sat down on the floor at the front of the room where Nate Wilson was showing “The Hound of Heaven.” He sat in a chair, talking about the film, and I sat at his feet—and he had purple-ish shoes that matched the carpet perfectly. And that made the moment even better.

***

My wine at dinner tonight at David and Kelly’s house made me smile, remembering Jason and Jeremiah at dinner on Saturday night.

Taking a sip, savoring the flavor, Jason said, “This is the first alcohol I’ve had in a few days.”

Jeremiah held up his glass, looking into the inky red liquid. When he opened his mouth he spoke with as much relish as Jason. “It’s my first since midnight last night.”

***

I finished a story draft today, the seed of it sown in the phrases of two songwriters:

Arthur Alligood stood to play and strummed a chord on his guitar. “I wrote this song a couple of years ago,” he said. “I actually wrote it on Andy Osenga’s guitar. He let me borrow his guitar and I stole a song from it and gave it back.”

Just a few moments later, Andy Gullahorn followed with this: “There’s a lot of times I just show up with a color or a feeling and see what the guitar gives me, ‘cause I feel like it’s so much smarter than me.”

***

Andrew Peterson challenged us to fill our lives with liturgies that train us to love rightly. May these momentary memories be just that—daily reminders of what is good and beautiful and full of laughter.

Backdrop

RedeemerI’ve spent a significant portion of the past two days sitting in a sanctuary at a church in Nashville which I can only describe as “warm.” It is a building which seems to stretch its arms out in welcome. The older parts of it are made of wood that holds the patina of the years. In the sanctuary itself, a newer section, a deep crimson wall, inset with a large leaded glass window and an unadorned wooden cross has formed the backdrop for words and music that have shaped me in the past two years.

It’s the place where I first heard N. D. Wilson describe the Fall as the man failing to fight the dragon and save the woman, and the Second Adam as the one who rescued His bride by sacrificing Himself in her place.

It’s the place where I saw Eric Peters as a noisy Chewbacca and Jonathan Rogers as a properly electronic R2-D2 in a Shakespearean rendition of Star Wars.

It’s where Ron Block sang the words, “Let there be beauty for beauty is free.” Where Andrew Osenga shouted, “Space!” Where Pete Peterson has wept and Andrew Peterson has geeked out over Rich Mullins.

It’s a place I heard words of healing as Andy Gullahorn sang, “The story isn’t over yet.” And I’ve heard words of challenge from Father Thomas McKenzie. I’ve heard words of encouragement in art, faith, love, community, hope.

And in the past two days it has been the backdrop for moments like Son of Laughter singing “The Meal We Could Not Make” and Jenny and Tyler singing “Skyline Hill.” It has stood behind Rebecca Reynolds talking of the Blue Flower and Russ Ramsey holding up a Vermeer print and Andrew Peterson plugging in his phone to play Marc Cohn’sWalking in Memphis.”

It is a backdrop full of memory for me—and I’ve only visited on yearly occasions. For those who come weekly, it is the backdrop for the breaking of the bread, the drinking of the wine of the new covenant, the truth of the gospel taught, of prayers covering and lifting pain and sorrow to the ear of heaven’s throne.

Rebecca Reynolds said this morning, “Any old church is a familiar friend.” Arms open, they invite us toward the altar of worship.

Rabbit Room Listening Party – Andy Gullahorn

Andy Gullahorn's Beyond the Frame

There’s a listening party going on over at The Rabbit Room today for Andy Gullahorn’s new album, Beyond the Frame. I heard the song that inspired the title almost a year ago – “Grand Canyon,” the first thing I ever heard from Andy – and it has remained with me since. If the rest of the album is half as good as the reviews I’ve been reading say it is, I’m in.

Each hour, a new song will be posted with some notes and comments from Andy. I’m going to come back to this post and note my initial reactions throughout the day as I listen. If you want to listen as well, be sure to do so today; the music will only be live until midnight.

So go check out the listening party yourself, and keep dropping by here to see my thoughts on the matter. (Update: All of Andy Gullahorn’s comments from the listening party day have been combined into a single wrap-up post over at the Rabbit Room! Check it out.)

Track by Track

Track 1: “I Will”

A lovely, heartbreaking-in-the-best-way song. If I could be this kind of friend…

Lyrics that struck me:

“If you’re looking for something broken
I am.”

“If you need a friend to do some dying with you
I will.”

Track 2: “The Surface of Things”

There are so many hurting marriages around me. My heart breaks for my friends who are going through these hard times, knowing this is not the way it is supposed to be. My prayer is that this song will speak to those who are there – and point them to seek the River underneath, in which they are rooted and from which they grow.

Lyrics that struck me:

“When’s the last time we forfeited the last word
Last time we didn’t care who won?”

Track 3: “Any Less True”

Just this morning a friend posted on Facebook, “Ponder anew/ What the Almighty can do” and commented that she likes the “Ponder anew” because she so often forgets. There is a truth outside of me. I am a believer in that Truth. But sometimes I have to remind myself, because sometimes the whispering of the world gets so loud.

Lyrics that struck me:

“Say it back to me
‘Cause it’s hard to believe.”

“They say God listens to our prayers
When you’re suffering, He holds you
I don’t feel Him anywhere
But that doesn’t make it any less true.”

Track 4: “Line in the Sand”

I am so often saddened by the gracelessness I see in myself and in other believers. I have been hurt by it. I’m certain I have hurt others without thinking when I drew my lines in the sand. A beautiful companion to “Any Less True”: truth doesn’t change, but perspective can.

Lyrics that struck me:

“What I thought was right
Sure looks a little different after all this time
No the truth won’t change
But perspective can
So much for the line in the sand”

Track 5: “The Same Song”

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” May we also show each other that as we go about our daily lives.

Lyrics that struck me:

Maybe you came with a sad melody ringing in your heart – Ooh
Maybe your notes are like flickers of hope trying to light the dark – Ooh
Oh and I bring stories of my own from a broken life
But if we dare to open up to each other I think we’ll find
We’re all singing, We’re all singing, We’re all singing
The same song

Track 6: “Favor is a Foreign Tongue

Grace and mercy are mysterious things. We are dead beings – the very spark of life is such a strange thing to us that we often don’t know what to do with it. May we be messengers of grace to those in need of grace. May we learn of the mercy of God through the mercy of our fellow man.

Lyrics that struck me:

“You can’t help the world you were born into
Where you learned to walk with a limp that you didn’t even know was there”

Track 7: “Flash in the Pan”

I love that in his intro for this one on the RR site, Andy uses Britney Spears’ flame out of fame as “good news” for those in the middle of something that seems like it will last for ever – even though we don’t want it to.

Lyrics that struck me:

“Well, hindsight’s got some kind of power
Makes years feel like half an hour
And troubles melt away as quickly as they came”

Track 8: “My Language”

Andy wrote this song for his wife Jill Phillips – just one more off this album that celebrate the beauty of long-term love, of deep relationship, of commitment.

Lyrics that struck me:

“And every person on those streets
Is walking with their head turned down
They scurry past cathedral bones
Born in the thirteenth century”

“But I heard a song there in the deep
Rise from your paper and your pen
A song that I’d heard others sing
Oh but this time I could understand”

Track 9: “The Other Side”

I love that Andy juxtaposes the good with the bad here – no, you can’t take your things or your pride or your fame with you. But you also can’t take your errors, your shame, your sin. On the other side, we will all be changed. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Lyrics that struck me:

“All your worst mistakes, you can’t take them with you
All your secret shame, you can’t take it with you”

Track 10: “Skinny Jeans”

I’ve been hearing about this one for a while from friends who had this album before me. And I laughed out loud while I listened. I’ll give ya the lines that made me do so, but you really need to hear it to get the humor.

Lyrics that made me lol:

“I don’t wanna wear those skinny jeans
How can they even breathe?
<in a falsetto>I guess that’s why they sing up here
<à la James Blunt>You’re beautiful”

Track 11: “Sleeping Sound”

A word of encouragement for a worried father.

Lyrics that struck me:

“Well, even if turning back the clock was a choice you had
You couldn’t give him any more love than you already have
And that’s all he needs from his dad”

Track 12: “Nowhere To Be Found”

An achingly honest look at the pain of loss. And the lostness of we who are left looking for God after we fall with no safety net.

Lyrics that struck me:

“When the long line of dinners came to an end
We made a meal of our own
Out of cold habit we both bowed our heads
And felt the silence of our home
Where you were nowhere to be found”

“Now I look at the world like a crystal ball
Usually from the outside in
I see people I love get the life that I lost”

Track 13: “Grand Canyon”

I’ve been waiting almost a year to hear this song again, and I’m now lying flat on my floor with tears streaming down my temples. I had never heard of Andy Gullahorn before the night I heard this song. I’ve had it in my head ever since. The refrain, “the story isn’t over yet” has been the theme of my song for the past year; it has weighed on decisions I’ve made and influenced conversations I’ve held. If for no other reason, this song is the reason to buy this album.

Lyrics that struck me:

But there’s a bird out there
Still singing in the dead of night
Like it knows there’s a season
When the sun’s gonna set
But the story isn’t over yet”

We’re done folks. The songs will be streaming until midnight tonight. But the album will continue to be for sale at The Rabbit Room (I recommend getting it there!) and other places like iTunes and Amazon.