Logic in an Illogical World

November 4, 2016 Leave a comment

People don’t learn the way they used to.

When I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, education was mostly broken up into two distinctions, “book-learning” and “common sense”. “Book-learning” is what you did at school and taught you things like reading, math and science, and “common sense” was the ‘real-world’ education that taught you not to not to play with fire or tick your big sister off so much that she would give you a wedgie. The common consensus was that most people had only one type of learning and it seemed only a few would have them both. It was typical that people with “book-smarts” would be picked on because it wasn’t needed for the “real world”, and yet the “book-learned” would look down upon the uneducated as thugs and jocks who would never have a good job.

Somewhere in my 20’s though, I had the realization that there was a third type of learning and it seems to have created a new divide of haves and have-nots in today’s society: logic.

I love to read and although I devour all types of fiction and non-fiction alike, my all-time favorite genre is fantasy. I read all about elves and dragons and trolls and the like and just like movies, TV, or even people, some are more sincere than others, some darker, grittier, and some with only hints of magic or the supernatural while others brim with it. Regardless of the book, series, or author, fantasy demands something of its reader, the ability to suspend your disbelief. If you read fantasy literature and at the first sign of a fantastical creature you say “Whoa, that’s not realistic.”, the genre is probably not for you. But even fantasy aficionados like myself have lines we draw when it comes to what we believe. If the author is able to craft a situation that is logical in its context, regardless of if it’s realistic, it usually works. But as a good friend of mine has as her forum signature: “I am willing to suspend my disbelief, but not hang it by the neck until dead.” When the wizard tries to shoot a fireball under water I might start to scratch my head and say “Wait a minute, that’s not logical.” I think reading the writings of skilled authors helps teach us about a lot of things, logic included. And for me, the more a novel seems logical (in its own context of belief), the more I can buy into it and become immersed.

There are times that I look around at our world and I wonder where we as a society have failed to instill logic into the curriculum that shapes our youth through school. When I see over and over again, people whom I respect falling victim to fallacies of thinking carefully crafted by those who wish to sway their opinion, I get disheartened. Whether we like it or not this world is filled with people who would like to sway your opinion on all matter of things for their own benefit. Whether it be commercials for products they wish you to buy, candidates who want your vote on election day, or friends and family members who may just want you to think favorably of them, people are consciously trying to manipulate you every day.

There are those that sneer at words like “statistics, data, logic, and facts” and instead pick on the speaker of those words similarly to the common-sense crowd on the “book learner”. I have heard phrases like “I know what my gut tells me.” Or “I know a (insert vulgarity here) when I see it.” I am seen where people will shrug off truth like a blanket on a hot day because it’s uncomfortable. As if somehow, the fact that they feel a certain way actually creates a truth greater than the facts themselves. What those people frequently don’t understand is that they have been manipulated, sometimes subtlety and sometimes blatantly by someone who benefits from that “gut feeling”. There are entire lists of techniques that people use to falsely make you feel a certain way. These are called logical fallacies.  If you go here  you can view a list of these which includes pretty much every argument you are currently seeing on campaign ads across the country. For example, most of the arguments around gun control center on “protecting us from murderers and terrorists”. I would call that an Appeal to Emotion, wouldn’t you? Even though the data says that 60% of gun-related deaths in the US every year are suicides. If we followed the data, we would know that if we are in the business of saving lives, we should focus more so on preventing suicide by firearm than preventing mass-shootings and terrorism. But, terrorism is scary and evokes more emotion in people (fear) so that is and will stay the focus. Or how about how everyone who wants to sway your opinion on voter fraud or welfare has a story that starts “I heard about this one person who… (defrauded / took advantage of the system)” even though the actual data says that voter fraud hardly ever happens and welfare is rarely abused. This is called an Anecdotal Fallacy.

To reduce these gaps of logicality, I would like to suggest that society as a whole would be better off if, instead of acting like opponents on opposite sides of an issue or argument, ready to fight to the death, we instead take the role of scientists on the same side of the table, working together to find the truth or at least common understanding. The Scientific Method has three parts. 1) Hypothesis 2) Experiment 3) Evaluate Results. The hypothesis is what we think to be true, such as “lower taxes will cause increased spending”, or “if I drive 9 mph over the speed limit, I’ll never get a speeding ticket”. The experiment is how you test your hypothesis. This is (and here is the important part) an UNBIASED approach to determine whether your hypothesis is correct or not. This approach may be actions, or research, or even unbiased thinking, but it needs to be completely unbiased or you have tainted your results. Too often people will look to resources that will only reinforce their already preconceived notions, such as hyper-partisan websites or like-minded family or friends, rather than challenge their own thinking. We need more challenge in order for us to face the issue unbiasedly. Finally, we evaluate what we have learned. This may mean we were correct all along, but it also may mean we were WRONG. And that’s ok. Being wrong is what causes us to learn and develop. We only learn to walk because we are tired of falling down. It is said that Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb.  When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

We as a people need to discover, to learn, challenge ourselves and discover new things about ourselves and others. We need to stop allowing others to manipulate us with logical fallacies and untruths because we are too lazy to root them out. We as a society can be better than that. It’s always important but especially important at this time of the year when we are being asked to choose our leaders. It is so easy to follow behind a particular party because we “belong” but we need to ask ourselves if we are following for a logical reason and are we applying an unbiased scientific approach to our reasoning? Are we reasoning at all? Or are we just voting without thinking?

And even after the election, challenge yourself. Step away from the hyper-partisan websites and look at opposing views. Try to honestly understand them and their concerns. Form their arguments for them. Expand your horizons by doing or learning something new like coding, or sewing or calculus or model building. Read something that teaches you or expands your view point. Listen to a different style of music or even try a new kind of food. As John Green said in his TED Talk: All of these things help expand our maps and increases the number of places we can go on them. But most of all, learn to be a critical thinker. Don’t accept everything as fact. Think about the source and what they want you to believe. What is their goal in telling you? Fact-check. Understand that things like climate change, immigration, health care and the global economy are complex issues that cannot and will not be handled successfully without real understanding of all of the components and concerns of all involved. Do the things that will ensure that you can stand on your own two feet and describe what and who you believe in without having to resort to the unstable opinions of others and repeating the lines they have given you.

As a PS, for an unbiased view of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s Healthcare and Tax Plans please check out John Green’s excellent videos here and here . And ignore the campaign ads.

Thanks for reading.

Relationship Maintenance

February 18, 2013 1 comment

It has been almost 10 years since my wife Jennifer and I began building our house in 2003. In the years since, the HVAC has been repaired a couple of times, a toilet had to be replaced, holes patched, repainting done and the carpet in the living room has been stretched twice because it was not installed properly. Outside, the natural areas have been re-needled and re-planted several times, plants and trees moved and fence posts concreted. All of this has been in addition to the normal maintenance that any house requires both indoors and out. The cleaning, mowing, washing, scrubbing and vacuuming. The filter changing, light-bulb changing, organizing, de-cluttering and purging that goes on all of the time.

This got me to thinking about how marriage and other relationships are like the care you put into a house.

Many people see marriage as a relationship that you form, flip a switch, and everything goes smoothly. However, this would be similar to buying a house and never expecting to clean or maintain it. It will degrade faster than you think, and before you know it, it will not be worth living in. Marriage requires work. It requires that you do the everyday maintenance, such as saying kind things to your loved one, helping with chores, and generally doing things that show that you recognize their needs and desires and will strive to help them meet them. I think most married couples get this but this is not the hard part.

It gets hard is when the AC goes out in the middle of the summer.

What I mean by this is that couples that love each other often struggle when it comes to large obstacles. They may be great at helping each other out when things are going well, but when one loses their job and it’s hard to make the bills, or when a spouse makes a bad choice that leads to injured feelings or worse,  the relationship frequently starts to suffer. This is where relationships can fail, or they can be made stronger.

When your AC goes out, or a water pipe breaks, you know it’s going to cost you,  but you also know that what is put in is likely better than what it replaced. How many people think of just getting rid of the house when these things happen? Some I am sure, but not many. Our investment in the house is much greater than the cost of overcoming a temporary issue. It is the same way with our relationships. When we have invested in each other, caring for one another, we should not be ready to let it all go when rocky times are encountered. It is through hard work and love that these temporary struggles can forge trust and strength that just cannot be found on smooth waters.

When things get difficult, it can be very tempting to remove ourselves and follow the path of least resistance to an easier place. But to do that is to give up on what can and should be one of the most rewarding things a human can do. Marriage is work, but it takes work to accomplish truly great things. Don’t give up on it.

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Free cookies!

February 10, 2011 2 comments

Quick post — I have a friend of a friend who is giving away free cookies!

Yeah, there is a catch… you gotta win them… She is starting up a new blog and is trying to generate some traffic to her site, so go by and check it out here:


I’ll be posting more soon!

Just Shut Up and Sing

January 26, 2011 4 comments

Well, they say that the best way to get better at writing is to write something every day. Write anything, whether it’s good or not, whether any one will read it or even if you don’t feel like it. Write even if you are sick, sore, tired or if it’s inconvenient. Just write.

 Such has been my problem over the last few months and some would say much of my life. I tend to find excuses, disguised sometimes as over-analysis, why I don’t do some of the things that I really enjoy or that I have committed to do. I don’t have the time. I don’t feel well. I don’t know what to write about. I don’t have any fresh ideas. Nobody will want to read it. I’ll start back again next week. I need to think it over more. I keep finding in many areas of my life where I procrastinate terribly, all while convincing myself and others that it is in everyone’s best interests. 

As a part of the band Sound of Faith, and the larger umbrella of Sound of Faith Ministries, I have been involved with many discussions and decisions, including major ones such as recording and producing a CD and finding a new drummer, to the mundane like paying taxes and developing set lists. It has always seemed like all of the discussion that went around many of these things were necessary; that we needed to understand every nook and cranny and every possible outcome of our decisions and have a robust plan in place before we could move forward and take the next step. In fact, although I am not the only disciple of over-analysis in our band, I certainly could be called the leader by example.

A few years ago, it became common when these long drawn-out discussions would take place that one of the band members, Scott, would say “Let’s just shut up and sing.” Aside from sounding like a quote from Yogi Berra, it was also his way of saying that the reason we were together was because we were a band, so let’s do the thing we exist for and let the details work themselves out as they will. It used to drive me crazy, because I felt like these discussions were not just necessary, but vital to our band’s success.  But over time, I have begun to see the wisdom in those few words.

My wife and I participate in a popular DVD-based exercise program whose slogan is “Just push play”. Their motivation is to get you to get to the point of starting it every day, to get you over the inertia of stagnancy. Once you overcome the “Will I or won’t I?” decision, the muscle memory takes over and you go to work.

Now looking at the band and what we have in front of us for the year, I see a lot of opportunity and a lot of opportunity cost for wasted time. And, although many of the discussions we have had in the past were very necessary, I keep feeling the overwhelming desire to just jump into things with both feet and feel our way along, instead of trying to plan things to the nth degree before starting. I want to get over that at-rest inertia and get to the “body-in-motion-stays-in-motion” part. I think we have a tremendous amount of God-gifted talent and I can’t help but feel that we are suffering paralysis by analysis.

As I look at all of the things in my life, chores that need to be done, hobbies left unattended, friends or family I haven’t seen recently, or the band itself, I keep seeing opportunities where, instead of procrastinating or over-analyzing, I should just jump in and do something. A good friend has been after me to start blogging again, and while I was able to come up with all sorts of excuses as to why I couldn’t, I was never able to say that I didn’t want to. So instead, I have decided that I needed to just write and see what happened. This is the first post of that experiment; we’ll see how it goes from there.

You know, just shut up and sing.

How Do You Define Yourself?

August 11, 2010 2 comments

You see it all the time. In a job interview your potential employer says “So, tell me about yourself.” On Facebook, you fill in the About Me section of your profile. On your first day of class the teacher asks you to tell the class about yourself. If you are like most people, you don’t put a lot of thought into it. You probably say something about your family and your job and maybe a couple of things you do as hobbies. But is this truly how you define yourself? Are you the sum of those three sentences on your profile? I am guessing not.

For the longest time, I defined myself in a similar way. I was a project manager for Wachovia. I was a husband, no kids. I was what’s-her-name’s husband or what’s his name’s son. But for me, I never felt like that was what defined me. You couldn’t sum up my thoughts, fears, experiences, values, phobias, principals, quirks and guilty pleasures all into “I live in Albemarle, NC with my wife and work in IT at Wachovia.”  Anyone reading this who knows me also knows that a lot of time has passed since I felt this way. I live in a different city now with a different wife and we have three children. Wachovia has been bought by Wells Fargo and I am still struggling not to say Wach… er… the old bank name. I have also begun to define myself in a much different way.

Please keep in mind that I am talking about defining yourself, not just describing. If I was to describe myself to you, I would probably start with height, weight, hair color, build, and then would place myself in the world with where I work, where I went to school, where I go to church, etc. But that does not define me. In a dictionary, we could look at the word “see”. A description of the word would look something like this: “A three letter word, beginning with the 19th letter of the alphabet and followed by the 5th letter, which repeats once.” This tells you nothing about what the word means but rather just how to recognize it if you see it again somewhere. The definition of the word, however, is much, much bigger and more important. Looking at the Online Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “see” has 13 different definitions, depending on how it’s used.

The problem with defining yourself by your job, or the people that surround you, is that you have little or no control over how those things change over your life time. I could say I am an IT professional at Wells Fargo, but I could get laid off next week. Then would I define myself as unemployed? OR is this just merely a description of my current situation. I may say I am Steve’s best friend, but I have no control over what Steve may do in the future, and if I define myself by being Steve’s friend, what happens when Steve does things that no longer earns my friendship?

When you are telling someone about yourself, you are essentially telling them which categories or groups you fall in: people who are married, people who play guitar, people who went to college, people who think guinea pigs are evil, etc. If you want to make yourself memorable to others, your goal should be selecting the appropriate set of groups you belong to that 1) best describe yourself and 2) when combined, provide a unique picture of you. If I tell you I am an IT guy at Wells Fargo… Well, yeah and so are 20,000 other people. If I tell you I am married with 3 kids, well, that doesn’t narrow it down much either. But if I think about what really matters to me and makes me unique, I would come up with something much more compelling:

I am a guitarist for a Christian rock rand, a blogger, and I help develop IVRs (those annoying phone systems that everyone hates) for Wells Fargo. In my free time, I enjoy developing online web sites and applications for non-profit Christian entities and playing MMORPG’s. My wife and I have been happily married for almost 8 years and we have three sons, a 5 year old budding geek, and identical twin 2 year old geeks-in-training.

This is not a contest or who has or is doing the most, or who is most interesting. I am probably more boring than most people. What it is, is a way to present yourself in a positive light, and in a way that leaves a good, lasting impression on people. My description above gives you a lot of details without being overly wordy and also gives a lot of hooks for someone to ask about in more depth. More importantly, I am defining myself more by what I do (guitarist, blogger, geek) and less by those things with which I associate myself. Even more so, I am defining myself, even if somewhat indirectly, with my belief system and principals. I think anyone who read this would understand and I view myself as a Christian and as a tech-savvy dad. Those things, and not my job or my hair loss, are the things that truly define me.


What I Learned on Summer Vacation

July 27, 2010 1 comment

My family and I went to Daytona Beach last week. It was my wife and I, our three children, and my mom, step-dad and two of my step-dads grandchildren. So in the 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo we rented, we had 4 adults and 5 boys between the ages of 2 and 7. (Wow that’s a lot of numbers)Whenever I told anyone about our upcoming vacation they would look at me with horror in their eyes, so I hoped I wasn’t being too naïve when I would respond with, “It’ll be fun!”

There were several times on the trip, when my wife Jennifer would say “You should write about this in your blog.” And I would nod. Inwardly though, I was shaking my head. For whatever reason I have the issue, or neuroses, that I don’t want anyone to read or even know what I am going to write about, until I have finished it. I haven’t even let my wife read any of my posts so far prior to publishing them. I suppose inwardly I am afraid that I will expose myself to outside influence, and it will change or dilute what I really want to say. I am also concerned that I will chicken-out in posting entries on somewhat controversial topics, if I get any criticism prior to publishing. Regardless of the reason, I wasn’t crazy about an entry of “what I did on summer vacation”.

So maybe I will go about this in a different way. I always hope to learn something from my experiences, whether exciting or mundane, so let me expound of some of the things I learned in the last week.

  • Denny’s (At least in Daytona Beach) has a “kids eat free” policy all of the time. This was especially fortuitous when the kids outnumbered the adults. Because of this promotion, we ate at Denny’s three different nights. Two of these nights we sat at the same table and had the same waiter who was very good and took great care of this large and rowdy group.  The third night, the waitress accidently dumped a full glass of Diet Coke directly on Jonathan’s (one of the 2 year old twins) head. It was a mess, to say the least.
  • Restaurants that have free appetizers, such as tortilla chips or bread, are much more kid-friendly. When our twins, or the rest of the boys for that matter sit down to the table, they expect to start eating. We have Goldfish for when we need them, but one evening, at Red Lobster, we realized that we had left the Goldfish container at Denny’s the night before. Oops. Thank goodness for Cheddar Bay biscuits. While at Red Lobster, Jonathan also had some tummy issues and threw up all over Jennifer. Luckily, she was already done eating and just took him to the van to try and clean them both up.
  •  DVD players in vehicles are one of the greatest parent-helping inventions EVER. I don’t like the idea of letting the TV babysit your children, but the 8 ½ hour drive to and from Daytona Beach was much more pleasant than it could have been without it. A long car ride is just one of those times when you need your kids to be distracted. We actually do not let our children watch movies in the car most of the time. We try to save it for long trips so is it more of a novelty and seems special.
  • Once you have kids, vacations are not about relaxation and rest. One of the things I used to love about vacation was that we could do what we want, when we want and do nothing if we wanted to. With the children however, there was no sleeping late (at least one of them was up by 8:00 every morning and one morning as early as 6:15), and not much relaxing. On almost every day, we visited the beach for a couple of hours and the pool for a couple more, but even then, it was swimming, chasing kids, playing and having fun, but no rest. We ate out for supper every night, and made breakfast and lunch for everyone in the condo everyday but one. We even played miniature golf one day. I think this was the first time ever that I came home from vacation weighing less than when I left. We were that busy.
  • I love spending time with my family, but I have to have alone-time too. I told Jennifer that I think our week-long vacation was about a day and a half too long. Our final night eating out (at Outback) stressed me out to the point that I was just ready to be home. I don’t think it was specifically the events of that evening although they contributed. (We were there for an hour and forty five minutes, the food got there about 70 minutes after we did, the twins were impatient and screaming and Alex, our 5-year-old, decided he needed to go ‘poopy’ 2 minutes after the food arrived). I think mostly, it was that I am used to having time to myself during the week, and on this particular week, the only time that occurred was when I was in the bathroom. The accumulation of all of the children playing, screaming, fighting, arguing, throwing up, running, throwing things against the walls, etc. had finally exhausted all of the calmness and serenity I had stored and I finally broke. When I got back from taking Alex to the bathroom (20 minutes later), I took Patrick (who was screaming while Jennifer held him and also tended to Jonathan who was unhappy as well) and headed to the van. My mom asked if I was going to eat (I had only had 3 bites of my steak before I had to take Alex to the bathroom). I answered simply ‘No.’ and walked out with Patrick to the van to wait. I stayed in a bad mood the rest of the evening and finally began to get over it the next day on the drive home. It wasn’t until Monday, when I was working from home, not alone because Alex was there but at least alone in my office for several hours, that I really began to decompress.

When people ask how vacation was, I tell them it was ‘chaotic, but fun’ and it really was. But I can’t help thinking maybe Jennifer had a great idea when she said “Next vacation, let’s just take the time off, but stay home.”

She Walked Away

July 16, 2010 2 comments

There is a song by Barlow Girl called “She Walked Away” that Sound of Faith has started covering occasionally when we play live. It’s a very emotional song that is basically a modern-day version of the parable of the Prodigal Son. At Sound of Faith’s last gig at the Kickin’ Bean, Jennifer sat alone on the stage, just her and the piano and sang a simple but powerful version of this song. What made it powerful to me was the memory, one that I haven’t thought of in a long time, which came to mind while she sang. It’s my own memory of when “She Walked Away”.

I don’t remember exactly what the year was, but I would have been about 9 years old, give or take a year, so it was the mid-80’s. My sister, who is 8 years my elder so about 17 at the time, had been doing some pretty odd things that day. I don’t remember why I was home instead of in school but I would guess it was probably spring break. My sister was supposed to be home watching after me while my parents were at work, but she obviously had other things on her mind. At one point, she carried her Casio keyboard and a stereo out to her car and left for a while before coming back. Late that afternoon she left again. She did not return home before my parents got home from work. I remember thinking she was going to be in big trouble, but I didn’t really grasp what was going on.

When my mom and dad got home, I knew something was really wrong. I don’t know if my sister had called them, or if it was just the letter she had left behind, but she had basically decided that she had had enough of following my parent’s rules and had decided to strike it out on her own. She had left a letter for our parents as I said, but it is one I never read. I don’t recall if I tried and wasn’t allowed to, or if I just didn’t realize its importance.  I do remember it was more than one page though, because the memory that came to mind as Jennifer sang was of my mom and dad, sitting at the dining room table, each of them holding a page of the letter she had left, and crying. I knew at the time that they were pretty angry but I wasn’t mature enough to understand all of the emotions that must have really been attacking them at that moment. As a parent now, I can only imagine the worst.

You see, my sister didn’t just run away to a friend’s house or out into the woods or anything like that. No, she had pawned the keyboard and stereo in order to buy a one-way bus ticket from Charlotte, North Carolina to Anaheim, California where a friend of hers had recently moved (a friend that my parents were not very fond of for various reasons).  I don’t believe that my sister had actually told my parents where she was going, but from calling various friends’ parents they were able to figure it out that evening.

The next few days were a blur. I can recall my dad talking to my sister on the phone and arguing. I remember my sister saying it was a 3-day bus trip to California and that she had seen snow on the cactuses on the side of the road. I had thought that was really cool, especially since it was spring. I remember that for whatever reason, my sister’s friend’s family would not let her stay there and that she had agreed to come home. My dad had wired her the money for the bus ticket back, which hurt a lot since our family had pretty much always lived from paycheck to paycheck.

About a week after the ordeal had started, my sister was to arrive back home. That is one of the only times I intentionally skipped school in my life. I told my parent’s that I didn’t feel well and they let me stay home, even though my dad later told me he knew I wasn’t sick. Even as a 9 year old, I remember the love and relief that I felt when my sister walked back through the door. Even though I was the little bother and my sister and I had not always gotten along well, I had truly missed her and was glad she was home.

So as a parent of three children now, it makes me very emotional to think about going through that same situation as a father instead of as a brother. On top of the anger that I knew my parents had for their rebellious child, I am certain that there was a great deal of fear and hurt that was also there. As a parent, you want to do whatever is right and good for your kids. You want to keep them safe and teach them all of the correct ways to do things. To have that ripped out of your hands by the one you care so much about, to have your guardianship stripped away and your loved one forcing themselves upon a world that they are probably not ready for… Well, it would scare this father to death.

I cried while listening to Jennifer’s rendition of the song, because I was imagining what my father must have felt, pure and simple, and at the end of the song, I said a little prayer that I will never have to go through the same thing.

Barlow Girl
She Walked Away

She couldn’t take one more day
Home was more her prison now
Independence called out
She had to get it

A fight was all she needed
To give her reason
She slammed the door with no goodbye
And knew that it was time

Now she’s driving too fast
She didn’t care to glance behind
And through her tears she laughed
It’s time to kiss the past goodbye

I’m finally on my own
Don’t try to tell me no
There’s so much more for me
Just watch what I will be

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in
She walked away

Not a day goes by
For the one she’s left behind
They’re always asking why
And thoughts of her consume their mind

God please let her know
The love we tried to show
We’d promise anything
If you’d just bring her home

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in
She walked away

Tell her we love her
Tell her she’s wanted
One more thing God
Tell her please come home
Please come home

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in
She walked away

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in

The choice is yours alone now
Tell me how this story ends

Luke 15:20-24

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

A Day in the Life of Sound of Faith

July 14, 2010 1 comment

I was surprised a few days ago when I was speaking to a friend about one of Sound of Faith’s recent gigs. He asked how long we played for and for that particular event, a benefit for Make-A-Wish Foundation. It was about a 70 minute set. I then realized that in his mind, we were only “out” about an hour and a half of our day and he had dismissed it as minimal effort. So, with that in mind, I decided to give you guys a glimpse into what it’s like being in a local band and playing around the region. SoF played this past Saturday at a new church-run coffee house, Kickin’ Bean run by House of Worship in North Wilkesboro, NC.

9:00 AM – Wake up. Jennifer got up early with the kids and took the twins to a church fund-raiser breakfast. Alex slept in a bit so I got to as well.

9:00 AM – 3:00 PM – We do various things with the family during the day. When we know we are going to be gone that evening, we try to spend as much time with the kids as possible during the day. I miss not being able to put them to bed at night, so I try to soak them up as much as I can.

3:00 PM – I head to our practice space and put new strings on the Les Paul. I broke a string at our last gig, the Make-A-Wish benefit I mentioned before, and have just used a backup guitar (my el-cheap-o Heartfield Talon IV) for practice. I was lazy, but I needed the Les Paul for the gig, so of course I waited until the last minute to get it ready.

3:30 PM – I pack up the 3 electric guitars (the LP, Hearthfield and my Strat), 1 acoustic (Alvarez), pedal board, guitar stand, cables, and band merchandise and got them ready to load up.

3:40PM – Sean (Bassist) arrives. He and I load all of the guitars, amps, effects, drums, keyboard, stands, merchandise and video equipment into the 2 vehicles for transport. For this gig, we were using the sound system from the venue, so we didn’t need to take mains, monitors, PA amps or the sound board. When we need all of that, we usually rent a U-Haul instead.

3:45 PM – Babysitter arrives. Jennifer (My wonderful wife and SoF’s lead vocalist) gets her settled with the kids while Sean and I are loading up. With both of us in the band, babysitting is necessary for every practice and gig. Most of the time we use family to babysit, but tonight, it’s a wonderful lady from the preschool the twins go to. She has babysat for us before and the kids love her, so it’s not much trouble. There are times when Jennifer and I have to leave to the sound of screaming 2-year-olds. We always joke that the grandparents will be like the ones in the AirTran Commerical.

4:00 PM – We hit the road. Our gig is in North Wilkesboro and we are shooting to get there by 5:30 and play at 7:00. Jennifer and I ride together with most of the equipment. Sean and Scott (Sound guy, roadie and all-around great guy) have the drums. Tasha (Keyboards and Vocals), Vicki (Vocals) and Joe (Drummer) are all going to meet the four of us there. Joe is a pall bearer for a funeral for his ex-grandfather-in-law this same afternoon, or else he would have helped pack and load up.

5:25 PM – Jennifer and I arrive at House of Worship. We walk in and are greeted by the manager / worship leader, Warren. The stage is nice and big and the lighting is some of the best we’ve played with. The coffee shop is bigger than it looked on the web site and would seat 50-60 people with more standing. It’s early though, so only the manager, a barista and one patron are there.

5:35 PM – Sean and Scott show up. They had to make a stop along the way and then they miss the entrance of the venue. Once there, we discuss the equipment setup and realize that the manager is not going to let us take the “cage” down. What is the cage? It is a 5 ½’ tall Plexiglas wall surrounding the drum set for their house band. The drums sit in the corner of the stage and the surround goes wall-to-wall with one section of the Plexiglas on hinges for a door. The surround is not that unusual however. We have played other places that wanted us to use a drum surround. What is unusual is the roof on the “cage”. Sitting directly on top of the 5 ½’ wall is a dense foam ‘roof’ which completely covers the drums all the way to the corner making the drum ‘room’ fully enclosed. The ‘roof’ is pretty low and I have to duck just to get to the drums. Then the drums are mic’d and run through the sound system so that the sound guy has complete control over the drum volume. Apparently the house band drummer is a bit heavy handed with the sticks and has little dynamic ability.

5:45 PM – Sean calls Joe to see how close he is and get his take on the drum enclosure. Joe is still in the Lincolnton area but on his way. He’s going to be pushing it to be on time. He says he will just use the house band’s drums rather than take the “cage” down and put it back up around his drums. He just wants some of his own cymbals and a wood block.

5:50 PM – We carry all of the equipment (minus the drums) into the venue and up to the stage area. I wonder how big we have to get to hire roadies…

6:00 PM – I clear the stage of any equipment not needed for us and then setup my pedal board, wireless system and the video camera (we are videoing this evening). Jennifer gets all of my guitars out of their cases and sets them up on the stand rack. Sean and Tasha setup bass and keyboard equipment. Scott works with the manager to see how the sound system is setup and begins tweaking settings.

6:25 PM – Ready to sound check… except, we still don’t have a drummer. Sean calls Joe to see how close he is but just gets his voicemail. We decide to do a preliminary check anyway, but quickly realize that since the drums will be running completely through the sound system, we really can’t do much without him.

6:45 PM – I call Joe again and find out he is only a mile or two down the road. I wait for him outside and give him the scoop on the setup on the way in. We all kid him about being a diva because he avoided the hard work and just wants to walk in and play.

6:50 PM – Joe tweaks the drums, sets up his cymbals and complains about the ‘cage’. Can’t say I blame him.

7:00 PM – Sound check for real this time. We go about halfway through Hand That Holds the World and then stop. Monitors sound good and Scott says the mains are right. We are also noticing that there are not very many people here. Including the employees, there are maybe 15 people not associated with the band here. Unfortunately this is not that uncommon. Although I think we are pretty darn good, we just have not built up a name to attract a crowd.

7:05 PM – The band, plus Scott and Warren retreat to a parlor-like area where we can pray before the show. We always have a group prayer just prior to practices and shows and usually afterwards as well. Warren leads us in prayer and then we depart for the stage.

7:15 PM – We play our first set. We are trying a couple of new things tonight. One is that to lengthen the set and provide some variety, we have added a few songs that do not use the full band. Each of them just has guitar or piano for accompaniment and a single vocal (in one case Tasha does sing harmony.)

8:15 PM – Break time! We are playing 23 songs tonight and the voices need a break. We get water and iced coffees, hit the restroom, and socialize a bit with the patrons a bit before going back up for the second set.

8:35 PM – Second Set.  One of the patrons has asked us to repeat a song from the first set because they liked it so much. We decide to add it in just before the finale. One of the new songs we are playing tonight, “Your Hands”, is with just Jennifer on vocals and me on acoustic guitar. I only learned this song yesterday and then not even with playing live in mind. I just liked it. But then Jennifer said “I have a great idea…” and now here we are on staging playing it. It goes pretty well. I change one thing up in the song and Jennifer only falters slightly. We pull it back together with little effort. I also mess Joe’s entry up on Mirror because I am distracting him with questions (through the Plexiglas cage)

9:40 PM – Break down time. Joe, Sean, Scott, Tasha, Vicki and I start putting all of the equipment back in the cases and taking them back out the vehicles. The manager gets on stage and asks for a love offering for SoF. It is a modest collection due to the turnout, but we have played for free many times, so it is appreciated. Jennifer does the PR work. She sells 3 CD’s, accepts one other modest donation and gets leads for 2 more possible future gigs.

10:00 PM – The band heads for Wendy’s. I have not eaten since a bowl of Campbell’s soup at lunch time and Jennifer has only had a pack of crackers since breakfast. We go in, get our food and cut up like a bunch of teenagers while we eat. Fellowship within this group of people is amazing and I am truly blessed to be a part of it.

11:15 PM – We drive home. Sean, Scott, Jennifer and I head back to our house since we still have to unload equipment from both vehicles. We remember it’s late on Saturday night so we turn the XM Radio to The Message Amp’d for some heavy Christian Rock to keep us awake on the way home.

12:20 AM – Jennifer and I get home and she goes upstairs to relieve the babysitter while I unload all of the guitars, keyboards, merchandise, etc. from my vehicle.

12:45 AM — Sean and Scott show up and I help unload the drums as well. They stood around talking at Wendy’s after Jennifer and I left so they were running behind.

1:10 AM – Finally get to bed and collapse. Jennifer and I have to get up on Sunday morning at 6:45 because she co-leads the music for the 8:45 church service.

So as you can see, for a gig where we play for 2 hours in front of about 15 people, I actually spent over 10 hours in all on the prep, travel, breakdown, etc. This is a moderate gig. We have played at times where the setup and breakdown were so minimal that we basically walked onto stage with instruments in hand and played. Other times we take our own full sound system, which requires a lot more time for setup and breakdown.

But, I don’t do this because a get a high from playing in front of a lot of people, because we usually don’t. And I don’t do it because we make a lot of money. In 7 years of this, I have never taken a dime for anything I do with the band, except maybe for an expense reimbursement. I don’t do it because it’s easy. It would be a lot easier not to. I play in a Christian band, because I think we have a good message, and as long as there is someone listening, I am hopeful that the message is like the seeds falling on fertile ground. Where it will grow and we will be a part of bringing someone to Christ.

Harry Potter is not Evil

July 12, 2010 4 comments

So… I have now missed my first self-imposed deadline… Oh well… I had intended for this to go up on Friday, but my band had a gig and I got involved with my church’s web site and well, it didn’t. We can live with it just this once right?

I was speaking to a fellow parishioner at my church a couple of years ago, when one of the Harry Potter movies (I think it was Order of the Phoenix) was being released, about whether they were going to take their children to go see it.  Their children at the time were pre-teen and perhaps unsurprisingly, they said “no” because they felt it was inappropriate. Well, the movie is rated PG-13, and has some violence and can been pretty intense, so I didn’t think a lot about it until I spoke about it to someone else, also a pretty close friend. Their response: “Harry Potter performs sorcery and you know where that kind of power comes from.”  Their concern was not about the things that made the film PG-13, it was because the main character, the good-guy used magic.

So, here we are on the brink of a new Harry Potter movie, Deathly Hallows which comes out this fall. So I suppose the question still remains: As a Christian is it wrong to see the movie, or let my children see it? Well, I am not much for suspense, so I will say right away: “No, I don’t think so”. By saying so, I am sure that it will trouble those who feel like my friend above, but keep reading, because you might learn something.

I must make one disclaimer right up front. My oldest child is five, so no; my children will not be watching Harry Potter for a little while at least. We’ll stick to Pixar and Veggietales for now.  Not because of any perceived evil or stain to their Christian beliefs, but because I just don’t think it is appropriate for children that age. But, this question is not just about Harry Potter, right? If you take the argument to its logical extent, any main character that uses magic of some sort would not be appropriate for a Christian child. The list of banned TV shows and movies would include, but not be limited to: Witches of Waverly Place, Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Pokemon, Fantasia and even The Smurfs (Papa Smurf was a wizard). So, we can certainly find from that list age-appropriate material to discuss.  And no, I do not feel like Mickey Mouse or Papa Smurf are inappropriate for my five-year old. In fact, I cannot remember ever speaking to someone who did. So why the inconsistency?

I get questions from my oldest son all the time such as “Are there bad guys in real life?” or “Are there really such things as aliens?” and I always do my best to answer him in a way that is truthful and makes sense to a 5-year-old without being too frightening. I don’t lie (Except maybe about Santa and the Easter Bunny) and I don’t say I don’t know when I do. So I am very prepared to discuss things like Papa Smurf or Harry Potter with my son and help him to understand the differences between truth and fiction and what is acceptable behavior verses what he sees on TV. I have no problem with him seeing a TV show with someone who performs magic, but I don’t want him to go and try it himself. (I feel the same way about high-explosives) I’m not talking about card tricks and disappearing hankies; he loves that kind of stuff. I just don’t want him thinking he is “casting spells” and the like. I know that he can distinguish TV from reality. How do I know? Because we talk about it and I do my job as a father to help him understand.

It seems that many people are not willing to have these types of discussions with their children. It is certainly much easier for them to block out an entire section of popular TV and film and then they don’t have to talk about it. Except… their kids will see it eventually anyway, and since the parents banned it, it will not be under their supervision. It will have been made into a forbidden fruit, and the kids will bite. The parents will not be there to discuss it with them, and since they didn’t take the opportunity to discuss it before, the children will not have the foundational beliefs that could have been provided.

It’s not the easy way, but communication and honest discussion with your children is the best way to instill in them your belief system. Sheltering them from things like magic in a movie will not help them make good decisions when confronted with decisions in real life. But if you can discuss and help them understand what they see, they will be much better prepared when they have to make choices on their own.

I think somewhere along the way , someone decided that Harry Potter was a good example to make and said to their friend “I won’t take my kids to see Harry Potter because he does magic… and that’s bad.”  And their friend had kids and suddenly felt guilty because they had planned to see it, so they said “Oh yeah, of course not.” and cancelled their plans. Before you knew it families in churches everywhere were saying “No” to Harry Potter and instead taking their kids to see movies with talking animals and vegetables and… wait, now where does that power come from?

Newsflash – I Love My Wife

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I am constantly surprised when people don’t see things the same way I do. That sounds a bit egotistical, and maybe it is, but frequently I hear my friends and coworkers say things that seem perfectly reasonable to them and blow me away with what it says about them. One friend holds a months-long grudge against his in-laws and takes it out on his wife with verbal abuse. Another has started ignoring his wife’s concerns because he says it never changes no matter what he does. A third wants to “get-back” at her spouse because he did something she didn’t want him to do, but never actually told him. The more I hear these types of things, the more I begin to wonder if my way of going about my marriage is actually in a minority.

When my wife Jennifer and I began dating in 2001, we both had some baggage from previous marriages. As it began getting serious, we decided to set a few ground rules. The first of which was complete honesty. A few years into Jennifer’s first marriage, her husband had given her a line which included “I didn’t tell you that before we got married because I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me”. In my own first round, I had been known to lie or hide things in order to prevent conflict or because I was not comfortable sharing bad news. So we decided that there would be none of that is this relationship. I made it my goal to tell Jennifer about every skeleton in my closet. I wasn’t trying to frighten her away, but I didn’t want her to get surprised by something later. Needless to say, (why is it that we use the phrase “Needless to say” and then always say it anyway?) I didn’t scare her off.  Even today, when something unpleasant happens, my brain’s initial reaction is to start forming a “story” but then I remember our agreement and immediately try to find the best way to break the truth instead.

The second rule we live our relationship by is that we allow no “game-playing”. When I say game-playing, I mean those little score keeping games that so many couples do, even subconsciously. It goes from the minor issue (I’m not cooking supper tonight because he didn’t mow the yard) to the extreme (She cheated so I will too and get back at her). So often I hear these sorts of things going on in others lives and the people involved don’t usually understand how destructive those behaviors are. When you enter marriage, it is not the whistle starting the game or green flag for a race. Marriage should not leave you feeling like you are ahead or behind. It is a zero-sum cooperative relationship, or at least it should be, not a competition. If you are feeling behind, you should be able to ask for help, or forgiveness or whatever it takes because you trust and love your spouse and want to make the relationship stronger. And what if you are feeling ahead? Well, then instead of feeling superior, you need to slow down and help the one behind catch up, for the same reason, because you love and respect them and want to make the marriage better.  The goal in marriage is not to score the most points, but instead to throw to scorecard out the window and treat yourselves as two parts of a single whole. Then it makes no sense to complete.

The final one of our ground rules, and one which may be the most important to Jennifer and I, is that we do not expect each other to read minds. It is not fair to a spouse when the excuse “You should have known” is used, especially if you have an opportunity to make sure they do know. If Jennifer wants me to wash the dishes, she asks me to. If I want her to stop by the store on the way home, I bring it up. Sounds easy huh? Obviously, there are certain things you don’t need a reminder for. Don’t cheat on your wife; don’t leave the house naked; those sorts of things. The crazy thing is that fights start all of the time over the mundane things like the dishes. I have heard ladies tell their girlfriends about how they didn’t want their husband to play golf on a certain day, and then not speak to him afterwards and leave him completely dumbfounded as to why. I know a fellow who will not give his wife compliments, because he is too “manly” for that sort of thing, but assumes she knows he thinks it. C’mon folks, it is really not that hard. Just assume your spouse doesn’t know unless you tell them. It solves so many issues that you wouldn’t believe!

The reason that these ground rules work for Jennifer and I is that we see our relationship as a 50/50 partnership. We love and respect each other and we realize than anything that tears one of us down tears us both down, and anything that builds one of us up, does the same for the other. So, newsflash! I love my wife. I’m not too macho to say it honestly. I don’t play games or love conditionally, and I don’t expect her to read my mind and use that as a measuring stick to see how much she loves me. What a concept!