Photography by Gilbert Nanlohy
Gosh guys. I am back. Getting back into the swing of things, just before embarking yet again on another leg of the tour. As I may have mentioned before, I took a week off from the shows to be a part of the recording of Common Hymnal’s first batch of songs. It was a one of the most special weeks of my life, and I wanted to share some of it with you.
Common Hymnal, in essence, is a collective of creatives who are bought into the idea that my brother’s voice matters more than my own. It is a group of people who are bringing their gifts to the table and laying them down there before God in hopes that the sum of our gifts might be used by God to be more meaningful and significant than we could ever think or imagine alone. I don’t know how many there were in total. Maybe forty of us, living in community. Sharing meals, sharing ideas, sharing time, and creating together. We lived on a property in the hills of Franklin, TN just outside of Nashville… and on this property we rehearsed, ate, slept, partied, and recorded a crap ton of songs. It was like summer camp for creative adults. Heaven basically. One of my favorite things about the experience was its hilarious sketchiness… The house looked like a house from the future that was also stuck in the past. It was straight from the movie Ex-Machina, where I would not be surprised if there were robots in the closets. We could only flush the toilet when we pooped because there were so many of us there that we would have easily destroyed the septic system. Everyone brought one plate to use the whole week. The house ran out of water. I am convinced at some moments, there was more whiskey available than water. No cell signal. We had a bat living in the house with us. Chaos. New age spirit posters on the wall. I split my sleeping hours between a hidden bed in the loft of the living room and a reading nook in the main hallway in a sleeping bag I stole from the other house (sorry to whoever that was).
The recording and rehearsal process was a puzzle with 40 moving pieces. Two bands, with interchanging musicians and lead singers. All designed so that everyone in the family could share in some capacity. This week, I played electric guitar in “Band 2” and also got to hop in on the most epic drum circle to ever be created. We worked hard… rehearsing songs from the morning until dinner, then performing those songs in the evening. Days would typically last between 10 and 12 hours. I got REALLY used to playing the guitar :).
It’s hard to put into words exactly what this week meant to me. I think I’m still in some form of shock/exhaustion. But these are some of the main things I am thankful for and have learned from being a part of this amazing project.
Sharing is inefficient. The whole heartbeat of our group is that every voice matters. Every player matters and every opinion is valuable in the expression of the whole truth. But what we were able to experience is that sharing and creating a space for everyone is inefficient. It takes more time. It takes more thought. It takes more sacrifice. It takes humility. In a culture that idolizes productivity, efficiency, and “something to show for your efforts,” the model of the priesthood of believers and the equal value of every voice is challenging. But the beauty is… you find family in the slowness. You begin to realize that without relationship, the things you can create don’t mean too much. I am addicted to productivity. I feel like my life isn’t worth as much if I don’t make stuff and show it to people. But during this week of recording, I was so able to sit back, enjoy the clumsiness and slowness of weaving 40 dreams together, and I ended up loving being able to be and serve in whatever capacity I could. I no longer had to be a part of every production, play a main role in the what was going on, or be the center of attention… but I just was able to cheer on the whole project and whoever was taking the lead at that point in time. And while everything took 3 times as long as it normally would… its clumsiness was beautiful because I felt like we all connected over it.
God will heal our wounds. We recorded dozens of the most beautiful, truthful, and life-giving songs. Our songs cover topics like sexual abuse, racial reconciliation, alcohol, and a Jesus that might not exist to give us everything we’ve ever wanted. A, non-American-dream Jesus, if you will. I am about this. There is a gap in the culture of our current Christianity that I, and probably you, experience - where there is this whole void of silence… Like we’re all hiding something. For those involved in our current Christian culture, we could probably vocalize a lot of things… yes God is healer, yes God is justice, yes God speaks to the broken… these are things we have heard our whole lives… but there is a silence in the specificity. From my perspective, the church teaches a Catch-22. God loves you were you are vs. you ought to be better. Don’t get drunk, but here is no framework for the why. Don’t have sex before marriage, but here are no examples of people who have struggled and overcome. God is represented in the nations, but your church is only white people. We love everyone, but don’t be gay. Here’s where you ought to be, but here are no examples of process to get there. I’ve always heard of God as the rescuer, but in my churches everyone pretends like they don’t need to be rescued. Our perfection is our currency… what we have to offer. I have felt this my whole life, and what results is the deep haunting feeling, “I Am Alone.” We sang one song this week that, somehow, shifted my whole world. The chorus rings, “When we stop loving on our own terms, God will heal our wounds. When we stop loving on our own terms, grace will lead us home.” What an exchange. Love God’s way…without pretense, without prejudice, and what you will find is that your land begins to be healed. The soil opens up and something beautiful can grow there. I’ve loved on my own terms in most areas of my life up until now. And I’m working on it. But that song changed my heart and humbled me. Would I be willing, would we all be willing, to have hearts of joyful repentance…that God’s way is the better way. The Common Hymnal songs are bravely specific. I think they are going to change a lot of lives.
The Pebble’s Ripple. As I drove back from Nashville, I stopped in Atlanta for a caffeine injection and to slow down and internalize what the heck just happened. I was at a lost of words for the whole experience. The only word that I could accurately describe my experience was, “Lucky.” I do not exaggerate when I say that every person that is part of the project is a hero to me. Seriously. In music, in curiosity, in passion, in their faith journey, in their weakness and strength. Each person is a hero. I felt like I was able to study the greats and learn from them. I was able to be with the hidden treasures of the whole world. I learned so much. I was transformed. I was inspired. I was humbled. Lucky.
I think about the things that were deposited and the potential that this week had for the whole world. And that’s not hyperbole. The DNA of the whole thing is, “my voice is nothing without the person standing to the left and to the right of me.” What is the potential for forty of us learning, in the core of our being, that our most powerful asset is not our talent, gifts, or platform? But our willingness to serve. How would the world change if forty people truly began to understand, “this story is not about me.” How powerful would it be for forty people to truly understand that their brothers’ victories were more significant than their own? If you win, we all win. If you lose, we all lose. This is family.
Common Hymnal, as I see it, is a collective of the unseen, pitiful, and burnt out. It’s a collection of the hungry and the thirsty… the people on the fringes that have scratched their heads at the current state of the blind, consumer, hobby-Jesus culture. It’s a bunch of worship leaders who want to know what worship actually is beyond platform, fame and notoriety. Common Hymnal is a table that stretches beyond the horizon, with more seats than the eye can see. It’s a group in which each person’s voice and story adds another piece to the puzzle, and each person’s personality and experience adds another stroke to the painting. We need every color to be seen. We need every voice to be heard.
In my spirit’s eye I perceive that, last week, a pebble was dropped in a sleeping pond. Would we be awakened to what matters and what lasts. Would we begin again on God’s terms, that He might heal our wounds and do what He does best: make something beautiful out of nothing.