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Keeping Your Antennae Up

Occasionally I’m asked how I go about writing songs. Do I write the music first? Do the lyrics come first? Where do I get my ideas?

Honestly, the “music or lyrics” question is kind of like the chicken and the egg. It’s hard to say which comes first. In fact, I’d say it varies by song. But one thing that never varies is where I get my ideas. Or more accurately, how I get them.

antenna-my-favorite-martianI keep my antennae up.

No, I don’t have strange pointy things growing out of my head. I’m also not an alien, although I can look like one on a bad hair day. But what I do have is a pretty keen awareness of my surroundings. An ear to the ground. An eye to the environment. I notice things. And that’s where the vast majority of my song ideas come from. It’s pretty rare when anything else works, at least for me. I can’t just go into a room with a pen and paper and go, “OK, I’m going to write a song now.” If I were to try that, chance are I’d get bored within about 4 minutes and pop on Netflix for an exciting episode of Breaking Bad. Continue reading

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The Amazing Serendipity of God

Anyone who hangs around me long enough finds out that I’m sort of a word nerd. I’m fascinated by the way words sound when we speak them, and how they work together when we form thoughts and sentences. If I say, “The sun smiles on my face,” it evokes a completely different emotion than if I say, “The sun is in my eyes.” I believe my word fixation really helps me as a songwriter. It keeps me (hopefully) from singing words that sound bad when you sing them, or pairing words that make for awkward phrasing.

I’m particularly fascinated by words known as “ideophones,” which can be quickly defined as words that give a vivid representation of an idea by their sound. In other words, they sound like what they mean. Some examples in the English language are pitter-patter (the sound of rain), twinkle (something sparkly or shiny), swish (the sound of swift movement), and ta-da (the sound of fanfare). Ideophones don’t really work as written elements … they don’t take on the characteristic unless you say them aloud, or at least think about how they sound when spoken aloud.

PitterPatterOne of my favorite ideophones – or at least I think it’s an ideophone – is the word “serendipity.” It just sounds happy. Musical. Joyful. Colorful. And with good reason – serendipity describes a chance event that occurs in a happy or beneficial way. Basically, serendipity is a stroke of good luck.

It’s interesting. The more I read scripture, the more I begin to see that serendipity actually comes from God. Continue reading

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Trust Me – a song for when all feels lost

Christmas – it’s a funny time for me.

You see, my family makes lists. Each year, we have to come up with a laundry list of stuff we want for Christmas. And I struggle more every year to come up with such a list. Truth is, I already have the things that matter … a God who has gone to extreme lengths to guarantee my eternity, a beautiful family that loves me unconditionally, and more material things than I could ever need.

Mug

The best Christmas gifts are the ones we don’t expect.

That’s what makes the unexpected “little” gifts so enjoyable. The ones that come from friends or family, with no aid from any list. This year, a great friend and coworker, Nicole Forget, gave me such a gift, a mug that instantly evoked feelings of comfort and warmth. Not from the hot chocolate or coffee inside, but from what was artistically emblazoned on the outside.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

Amazingly enough, Nicole didn’t even know that Jeremiah 29:11 is my favorite bible verse. It’s a beautiful reminder from God than when all feels Continue reading

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God gave us dominion over smartphones

On my day off recently, I was on the first tee at Copper Creek Golf Course, getting ready to play a round with my friend. As we were waiting for the fairway to clear, a group of three young men – they couldn’t have been older than 20, maybe younger – pulled up behind us to wait their turn.

I couldn’t help noticing something peculiar about these three young guys … they were all glued to their smartphones. smartphones_good_or_evil

My friend and I looked at each other and said the same thing at almost the same time: “How sad.”

Here were three guys, presumably friends, about to play a round of golf, a highly social activity – and they were absolutely and utterly disconnected from each other. We waited about five minutes to tee off, and none of them said a word. They weren’t joking with each other, talking about golf, or enjoying each other’s company in any way. They never looked up from their smartphones. To be perfectly honest, they looked miserable, like their Continue reading

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What will be your legacy?

Once

In “Once,” a down-and-out busker meets a girl who shows him kindness … and changes his life forever.

Last Friday, I had the chance to see the musical Once at the Des Moines Civic Center. Already one of my favorite movies, Once immediately solidified itself as my favorite stage production ever. I could write a 10,000-word blog post and still never cover all the reasons why I like it so much. All I can tell you is to see it if you have the chance.

The story centers around a young Irish man who is a “busker,” which is simply a person who performs in public places for gratuities. In this case, he’s a singer-songwriter who plays original tunes on a beat-up acoustic guitar, most of which center around lost love. He’s ready to give up — both on music and life — because he senses that most people are just walking by, not paying a bit of attention to the art that has consumed his entire life. He feels his music impacts no one.

It’s easy to relate, isn’t it? Whether it’s performing music or simply going to work every day, we can fall into the miserable trap of believing our lives Continue reading

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Was Peter’s denial an act of cowardice? I have my doubts.

“I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today, You will deny three times that you know me.”
— Luke 22:34

Wow. Talk about your proverbial slap in the face. Here is Peter, the unquestioned leader of the disciples, the outspoken one, the man known as “the rock” – and Jesus is basically telling him, “You’ll turn tail and run when the heat comes down.” Man, that had to hurt.

Here’s what I want to know … why did Peter deny Jesus?

An easy answer would be that Peter was simply afraid. And who could blame him? After witnessing the unbearable thrashing and thinking about the horrible death his Lord was about to suffer, it’s not a stretch to think that Peter would say, “Nope. Don’t want no part of that.”

Applied to most people, the fear theory makes a lot of sense. Heck, it would make sense for me. I’d be more scared than a cat at the Westminster Dog Show. But I have a very hard time believing the fear theory applies to Peter. Continue reading

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Be careful what you pray for

USS_Simon_Bolivar

USS Simon Bolivar, SSBN 641.

Back in December of 1992, I faced a crisis in my life.

During those days, I was nearing the end of my 13th year in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service, serving on board the USS Simon Bolivar, SSBN 641. If you ever wondered what the alphabet soup stands for, the designation immediately tells you almost everything about the vessel. It’s a submarine (SS), it carries ballistic missiles (B), and it is powered by a nuclear reactor (N). My designation was Electronics Technician, but in truth it was my job to ensure safe operation of the nuclear reactor used to propel the ship and provide electricity.

Ballistic-misslie submarines essentially had one job: To troll around in the ocean and wait for the message none of us hoped would ever come, which was to actually launch our missiles. We didn’t spy on enemy shorelines or hunt down Continue reading

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Faith says, ‘Go jump off a cliff’

Jump_off_cliff

My name is Bob, and I have a confession to make: Even though I work in a church, I don’t like churchy words.

You know what I’m talking about. Head-scratchers like “sanctification” and “born again” and “consecration” and “transubstantiation.” Words that nobody ever uses except in church. Throw out enough churchy words, and you seem … pious. Intelligent. Faithful.

Come to think of it, “faith” is one of those churchy words that gets tossed around like a fruit salad. We make it sound like the Holy Grail, capable of curing diseases, destroying armies, and crushing sea monsters. “You must have faith, my son,” the pastor says to the boy who has just lost his mother. “Your faith will Continue reading

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