Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"You are the music while the music lasts." -T.S. Eliot

I've dubbed this summer the "Summer Concert Marathon" summer. Never in my life have I devoted so much consecutive time and money to such a cause, but I feel good about the commitment to a concert marathon for this particular summer. My soul is in need for "the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life," as Beethoven so eloquently mused. I think his description is spot on. The spiritual life is one that often seems abstract and distant for me, but music is that one bridge between things that are concretely available to my very active senses and things that occupy my mind and heart but are less available in that concrete way. Music is concrete, but it is also abstract. That dichotomy serves the human soul well, I think.

I want to share with you about my first two concerts of the summer concert marathon.

1. Fitz and the Tantrums at the Vogue Theater
The first thing I want to say is that if you have not heard this band's stuff and you like Motown or Raphael Saadiq, please check them out. I heard their music thanks to one of those weird facebook sidebar adds (also how I found out about one of my other favorite bands, Company of Thieves), but I was attracted to the add because of the look of the band. The frontman and founding father of the band, Michael Fitzpatrick (Fitz), has this strange rock look-- a full vintage solid-colored suit, white shoes, long in the front side-parted hair with a large white streak, an oval middle-aged face with piercing blue eyes. In all honesty he looks a bit scary, but in real life he's actually not scary at all. The other face of the band is a voluptuous beautiful black woman, named Noelle Scaggs, who wears these show-stopper sequin dresses that you would find on the Supremes in the 1970s. Fitz and his lady are quite the pair, but their dynamics on stage are surprisingly electric.

I have been listening to their album Picking Up the Pieces consistently from the time it was released up until the concert. Their tunes are very catchy, especially their radio hit Moneygrabber. I could sing and dance to that song for hours straight and be really happy...what I'm trying to say is that the band has this amazing energy and style to their sound, and I hoped that the concert would be that energy and style incarnate. I was not let down!  Despite the surprising age of the band members (on average maybe 35?), every person added their own high energy and distinct personality into the mix. Their performance is proof not only of their delight in performing music, but also their musical abilities and talent. These are some seasoned musicians. My favorite part of the show was that the band was not afraid to interact with the audience members. Fitz and Noelle demanded audience participation and made us all feel comfortable dancing in the square foot of room we had to dance. This is in part due to the intimacy of the venue, too. I have never been close enough to a band to see how much they sweat...well, that could have been due to the fact that most of them were wearing three-piece suits... but the Vogue is such a great venue for that intimacy.

All-in-all, it was one of my favorite concerts, and I felt totally engaged and excited for the majority of songs. They threw in a few covers that were fun to sing along with, and they ended on my favorite tune of theirs, Moneygrabber. Fitz also gave a sincere thanks to the audience members and acknowledged our role in making them able to pursue their dream of performing their music, which I thought was really unique and wonderful of him to do. The chemistry between the band and the audience was just unlike any other. A true connection. I left the Vogue that night with a smile and a bounce that lasted for a few days, I think.

2. Josh Garrels at Muncie Alliance Church
I came into this concert a bit less familiar with the artist and his music than compared to most other concerts I attend, but a lot of my friends are big fans of Garrels's music, and I knew I would enjoy it from the bits and pieces of his stuff that I have heard. This man has the voice of a siren and the lyrics of a wise poet. He breathes life and voice into words taken straight from the texts studied in churches for centuries. His melodies are unique, and his beats stop you in your tracks long enough to convict your heart.

This concert was very much a homecoming concert for Josh. He spent a lot of his spiritually formative years in Indiana (especially Muncie and Indianapolis) interning and pastoring at churches in the Alliance movement. My pastor is really good friends with Josh, so it has been cool to get some inside scoop on his music and life journey backing his music. 

But I didn't know much about Garrels coming into the concert and wasn't sure what to expect musically. His new album has a full band sound, but when the concert started, the stage consisted of Garrels sitting in a stool with his guitar and his friend alternating between bass guitar, accordion, melodica, and sometimes a combination of more than one of those . I found out as the show went on that Josh also had a device with tracks recorded so that he could play along to his beats and string parts, which was awesome. At one point he put aside all live instrumentation in order to stand and passionately MC along with one of his tracks for his song called Resistance (one of my favorite moments of the show).

The thing I love most about Josh's music is his personal heart in each song. You can tell that his songs derive from a deep, deep place, whether from his own life experiences or from the truths that have been enlightened and revealed to him through his strong faith in God. They are songs of a man hurting, seeking, and trusting. I honestly don't remember much else from the concert simply because it was so overstimulating. I found myself sitting still and staring blankly at the end of his show because I was trying to digest everything I had just heard. My mind was completely engaged and I related a lot to the struggles and grace of which he sang. It was most certainly a compelling spiritual and intellectual exercise for me, and I look forward to spending more time with Garrels's music.

    Watch this and be compelled:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scaredy Cat

I'm not afraid of spiders, and I'm not afraid of snakes.
I'm not afraid to let you know that my heart breaks.
I'm not wishy-washy--I'm passionate and free.
I just have problems knowing when to let you in to see.

I don't know how I end up in unnecessarily vulnerable situations. It seems to happen, especially during the months where I am living alone.

When I first moved to Indy-- car got broken into.
Winter time-- a person who I thought I could trust persistently invited himself to my home.
Today-- door-to-door solicitors sneakily made themselves comfortable with me and my furniture, asking for food, something cold to drink, and to use my bathroom.

I get really shaken up by this stuff, even if not on the outside. My heart starts racing, and I feel my face turn red from the embarrassment of not knowing how to get out of the situation. I become fearful-- fearful that I said too much, fearful that I put myself too far out there, fearful that I will be taken advantage of... Maybe I expect too much from people. Maybe I have too high of ideals for the world around me. I carry the innocence of a child a lot of times, and that innocence begets a pestilent ignorance, whose pestilence begets a sharp and nasty sting.

My parents always taught me to be overly cautious, to the point where I have develop a severe struggle with a lot of anxiety and self-deprecation. Since the start of college, though, I have been working to overcome paranoia, anxiety, and unnecessary fear in order to live a life full of trust. Unfortunately, when trying to overcome something so extremely ingrained, one may tend to fall extremely into the opposite way of life.

In my case, when I went to college, I saw people who were capable of and willing to loving me, and I embraced vulnerability a bit too much, only to be hurt and confused. I am still learning to balance vulnerability with discernment in my interactions with all people, whether intimate friends or acquaintances. I am learning about maintaining boundaries. I am learning that no one and nothing can separate me from the love and mercy that God has shown me, and that even though I may make mistakes and trust people too much or not enough, I do not have to fear those mistakes. I should not fear the strange men who waltzed into my apartment today. I should not fear saying the wrong thing at my interview tomorrow morning. I should not fear what my neighbors think of me when I sing worship songs with my windows open.

Though the world around me may crumble, my God still shelters me in his hand. Though I may die, emotionally or physically, my God remains faithful. Though I fear and struggle, he does not leave me to struggle on my own. Though our struggles are abundant, we grow in character, learn to trust in the unseen, and learn to help others trust as well. I hope and pray that my struggles bring others to understand the God I am learning to trust more and more. Our God is the most faithful and caring friend. He always holds us, loves us, refines us, and saves us from ourselves. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Snapshot of My First Day!

Today was altogether chaotic, energy-draining, and exhilarating. Today was my first day working as a camp counselor for the Y here in Indy. So far, my impression of this camp program has been that it is highly organized, high quality, and high standards. I loved that impression, especially coming from my past experiences working with the Y and being able to see the potential there for all those things to be true of our program, too, but not getting to stay in Belleville to see it happen. My impression of the Y here in Indy, though, was just that-- an impression. Today I got a better understanding of what my summer will look like. While a director of a camp can hire competent staff, organize them as much as possible, train them in all the rules and regulations, and plan exciting themes and games, we still come to realize that we are working for children instead of what we would like to believe is a well-oiled machine.

Let me give you the context before going more into my day-- it's my very first day. Already some of the camps have been in session for a week, some for two. Originally, I was assigned to work at an offsite camp with ages 6-12, but was informed this weekend that I would be switched this week to the on-site camp, working with the Pre-School and KG camp. Total switch. Since I had been scheduled to work at an off-site camp, I never received a full tour of the on-site facility during our training. I literally walked into work today knowing nothing about what I would be doing, and surprisingly, I wasn't the only one. Communication breakdown has occurred already in the Discovery Camp's third week of camp.

There are site directors in the mix, too. While the director oversees, the site directors run the show. Sometimes the site directors are overwhelmed, and the show, therefore, stops for an intermission. This happened today. There was a moment where our site director simply sat down, spouted off in frustration, and huffed a breath of steaming air, imitating many of the 4 and 5 year olds we were working with. It is hard as an experienced staff member to see that happen, but I knew I just needed to be independent at that moment and come up with something on the fly. Honestly, that's what camp is all about. Nothing really ever goes according to plan, and you have to be prepared for that. If I had been a first-year counselor today, I would have been so clueless about how to handle that situation, though. Hopefully I was able to set an example to those counselors in what they are capable of bringing to the kids in unexpected moments like that.

Actually a snapshot from 3 yrs ago...
The kids! I almost forgot! I would love to tell you about every child I held, hugged, rocked, high-fived, bandaged, grabbed, chased, played with, smiled at, frowned at, but that would lead to at least 1 paragraph on each one, and I just don't have the energy to write 70 paragraphs! It was seriously overwhelming the amount of children and disorganization that went into this day. That combination is a bit of a disaster, but we made it through.

I had one child whose favorite word of the day was "NO!" and whose favorite activity of the day consisted of hitting, spitting, kicking, yelling, stomping, and running away from counselors who were trying to discipline him. He was my buddy for the day, even though he wasn't in my group. It's cool to realize that all the experience I have had with disciplining children in the classroom and during past summers has truly helped me grow in my confidence in working with kids and standing my ground.

We had another child who spent most of his day crying-- he's a sensitive one, and one of the younger ones (maybe 3 yrs?). He even cried after being asleep for about 15 minutes during naptime. He woke up disoriented, and I happened to be rubbing the back of the girl laying next to him. He started crying and seeming like he didn't want me to hold him. I picked him up anyway, after some encouragement from my site director, and rocked him back to sleep. I think he just got cold and needed to be warmed up again. It was such a tender moment. I can't remember the last time I had the privilege of rocking a child in my arms. It felt so good to be needed and to be able to give love.

Towards the end of the day, a girl from my group was crying as she approached me accompanied by another counselor. The counselor told me to to hold the little girl so she could go grab something from the other side of the room. When I picked her up, I let her cry on my shoulder, and I tried to talk to her and see what was wrong. Then I noticed that my arm was wet. She explained to me that she didn't want to change her pants because her mom was going to be really mad at her for having an accident. She continued to cry as the other counselor came back with dry clothes, took her into the bathroom to try again, and changed her. I told her that I was proud of her for being so brave and changing into her dry pants even though she didn't want to. She came back and sat in my lap, and I gave her a sticker and said that I knew she wouldn't have an accident tomorrow. She said, "But I always have accidents!" I said, "Not tomorrow. Do you believe that?" She was hesitant, but I finally convinced her that if she did not have an accident tomorrow I would give her another sticker. She got up from my lap with dry pants, dry eyes, and a big smile. Her self-concept seemed to have shifted.

These were only a few of the many personalities present in my day. It was so interesting to jump right into this  unfamiliar position and have to step up as a leader while learning about all the different personalities of the children and adults I am working with. While I am exhausted, a little disillusioned, and needing to do some preparation for down times, I still feel so fulfilled. This may sound weird, but I know that I have been given a gift of deep love for children. When I am not working with children, I feel like I have so much love stored up in me that I might burst. Sometimes the relationships in my life receive the explosion of that need to love, and it hurts those relationships. Someday I will be able to spread all my love around to the children I serve everyday, whether that be my students, my campers, my neighbors, or my own children. I thank God for each day that I get to exercise this vast love for children that he has given me. When I get to work with kids, I don't feel the need to be loved by anyone else. The exchange of love that occurs in these times is more than satisfying for my soul.

Now I just need to figure out how that will play out for the rest of my life. Will I open an orphanage somewhere across the ocean? Open up my home to adopted and/or foster children here in the US? Teach music in the same school for thirty years straight? Lord knows. I just hope I always have kids to get to know and to love. They are the most valuable gift to this earth.
Also from 3 yrs ago-- the girl with the beads was one of the worst (and one of my favorite) campers I have ever had.