Sunday, February 15, 2015

Coming To A Festival/City Near You...Or Not

February is upon us!  Sure, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and assured us of another six weeks of winter.  Since then, Boston and the Northeast have been pounded by snow storm after blizzard after snow storm.  The mountains of Colorado and plains of Wyoming are preparing for a fun couple of days of snow.  Heck!  They're even talking snow in the deep south (Carolina's, Missisippi, Atlanta, Tennessee) for next week.  Despite all the snow, and the seemingly constant rain in the Pacific Northwest, there are many planning for summer.  Not just any summer either.  I'm talking the summers spent in a lawn chair with the sun umbrella covering you from any potential burn.  It's just you, your family and friends and the sound of good music from afar.  Well, maybe the music isn't too far off, and maybe you have 30,000+ other friends with you.

That is right!  Music festival after music festival is nearing the final stages of securing your favorite band to play your hometown festival.  Maybe your hometown festival is a couple hours away, but it is your festival and you can't wait to attend it every single year!  They always bring in some of your favorite bands, occasionally you get to meet some of the artists, and you always get to buy a T-shirt (or five) and a couple CD's.  So, now that you are getting just a little excited for your hometown festival, did you know there is something wrong with it?

Yes, you heard right.  There is something drastically wrong with many of today's Christian Music Festivals.  From the smallest and newest upstart festival to the well established attended by the tens of thousands, there is indeed something drastically wrong with them.  Most people in attendance don't see it though.  Sure, maybe you notice that there just aren't as many people as last year, but maybe they had other things to tend to or they just couldn't afford it.  Other than what one sees on the outside, you just don't see what is wrong.

Sadly, today's Christian music festivals are all a reflection of the music industry as a whole.  People just don't care.  We tend to like what we hear on the radio.  Maybe our friend likes a band, persuades us to give them a listen and we like the one or two songs of the band.  We decide with all the music we listen to and hear that we just want the songs we know.  We head over to iTunes or Amazon (or our favorite digital download site), cop the songs we know and love, and done.  We have the music we love.  We have effectively supported our favorite artists.

Great, we have supported their music through a purchase or two.  But, we haven't purchased their whole album.  We only know the radio friendly songs.  We don't realize that song 7 on their newest album is the one that reflects who they are as people and a band.  But, such is the plight of today's American society - like what we know, get what we like and want, and only have enough attention span to download just the one or two songs.  There is always something better to do with our time than download music.

Now, dig a little deeper than just being familiar with an artists music.  Festivals are long.  Having been to many, I'll confirm they are just long.  They start between 9 and 10am and by the time the headline act for the night is walking off stage after their encore, it is 11pm at the earliest and midnight at the latest.  Of course, some festivals (no longer around) ran even longer on their busiest days.  But the length of time is only the beginning of how long the festival is.  Add to that, you have to camp!  So not only are you sticky and sweaty from being in the sun all day, you might not get a shower, probably won't go to sleep until 1 or 2am, and then won't sleep well anyway since you're not in your own bed.  Repeat this cycle for two to four days, and you have one very long festival.  But, this is what makes a festival.  Yet, many are just not that into camping, going without showers (maybe getting a washcloth bath), living on minimal sleep and hanging out with thousands of others that are sticky, sweaty and smelly.

Another big hold up in attending a festival is paying for a ticket.  Why would anyone want to pay close to $100 (sometimes more) to go be uncomfortable to listen to mostly bands no one knows (unless you are indeed a local or are really into music).  This might seem shallow, but it is very true and words I have heard.  And really, most people don't want to pay to go to something they might not enjoy as much as they had hoped.  Which leads me to: why wouldn't anyone enjoy a festival filled with bands/artists they love?  Don't they have other things to do besides just the music?

Yes, there is the skateboarding/bike exhibitions.  There are the kids bounce houses and art areas.  There is the merchandise tent as well as the seeming miles of non band related merchandise to browse through.  There are prayer tents and baptism tanks, basketball hoops, video game consoles and more!  But, people are increasingly more apprehensive to pay to get all this and music when they can stay home, do the same activities and listen to the music they like and know as opposed to the lines and music they aren't familiar with.

Yet all the above mentioned aren't the biggest problems facing Christian festivals.  With decreased attendance, these festivals are now faced with decreased revenue.  This leads to decreased sponsorship money.  This leaves less money to bring in your favorite band.  Fewer bands with notoriety means fewer people.  Vicious cycle.  One that many festivals have not found and easy resolution to.  Those festivals that have figured it out, are now partnered with larger parent companies.

Years ago, many festivals blamed the economic crash.  Today, this excuse just doesn't work.  I blame money management, over priced bands (seriously, the just starting local doesn't need $1k, and the nationally recognized hot band of four years ago doesn't need $25k ),  Yes, each band deserves to get paid, but are they (or their management) asking to much?  Yes, many festivals charge admission to help cover costs, but is that admission to high an asking price?  Or is it not high enough?  Are people not thinking they are getting value in their purchase?  Tough questions, no easy answer.  But, there are some great examples festivals could turn to in their quest to maintain and increase success.

1. Free!  Of course many cynical individuals believe you can't get good quality for free.  But, I know you can.  In a sermon on how to reach people, churches needed to employ in reaching out to their neighborhood.  Free, food and fun - the three F's.  If festivals can't provide free food (vendors would go out of business), the least they could do is make the festival free and fun.  One of the largest and most successful festivals is Lifelight Festival.  It is free!  If you don't want to give them a dime as you walk in the park, you don't have to.  But, they do have collection buckets as you walk in, and then again during the evening session offering.  Somehow, they have managed to have money for every band and some for the next year.  And yes, when I attended there, I contributed at the gate and at the evening offering...just like many others did.  If people see a value, they pay for it.
2. Stop hiring a "professional" to fill the roster spots with the favorite bands of today.  Wouldn't it be just as easy to have an internal person listen to the radio, watch Radio U or JCTV, and stream music from the major stations across the nation to help determine which bands to book?  At the worst, they could cut their costs and leave a little more for the bands.
3. If they can't make the festival free, why not make them much cheaper to attend.  Road Show seems to be capitalizing off cheap tickets.  Sure, this is a festival and not just a few hours, but make them cheaper (closer to $30 tops).
4. Bands need to work tirelessly to put on a good show.  Yes, they are probably running on little to no sleep, but put on the best show you can.  People love to be entertained, and you just standing in one spot singing isn't entertaining.  Make people want to see you.  Make your performance the one people want to see and never forget.  Capture us and pull us out of out our ADHD culture placing us in a few minutes of pure bliss.
5. Lastly, even though it is hard, for the love of big hairy smelly people, provide showers for those camping.  Sure, it might cost a little extra, but provide that amenity - junior high girls, moms and germaphobes everywhere will thank you.

Finally, what is it that has killed...or is killing Christian music festivals?  I don't find just one thing.  I see many.  Ticket prices, poor band selection, a passive society, bands (or management) seeking to much, boring bands, festival saturation, financial mismanagement and more that I probably have overlooked.  All of this spells doom for many a festival.  So, if you love your music as much as I do, and you live close enough to a festival (nearly one in every state now), go check them out.  Support your favorite bands by supporting the festival.  If you're blessed enough to be going, it might just keep that festival afloat.

Good bye to: Purple Door, Tomfest, Rage, Music in the Rockies and Cornerstone.  Welcome back Ichthus and Heavenfest.  Glad to meet you Soulstock and Elevate.  For all the rest of the festivals, best of luck and many blessings to your coming year.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hardcore Show, Softcore Lessons

Many of you know the love affair I have with music.  Well, maybe not a love affair.  Maybe it is more of my sometimes daily trip to the therapists office.  Yes, music is my therapy.  Mostly it is through streaming that music, sometimes via CD while home alone or in the vehicle, and every once is a while it is by attending a live concert.  Monday, I was blessed to go see a live show.

As a former promoter (who dreams of playing that roll again), I have seen numerous concerts.  Some of those concerts I saw from afar, some I only saw tending to the constant demands of being the promoter.  One of those shows I saw from a prone position in a prayer circle in a makeshift prayer room.  Still others I saw backstage.  And, as any promoter has the privilege of doing, I've taken in my fair share of concerts/festivals as a guest of somebody (promoter or band).  But, this is not about those concerts.  No, it is about the once concert I attended Monday night.

August Burns Red, Miss May I, NORTHLAND, and Fit For A King were featured Monday.  Being a resident of Cheyenne, a tour this big rarely, if ever, travels through town.  So, along with a friend and acquaintance, we made the trek down to Denver to take in this show.  Sweet show.  Enjoyed Fit For A King (better than expected).  NORTHLAND was a huge surprise for me, and I found them pretty darn good.  Miss May I is not for me.  I wasn't impressed.  Sure, they are for some people, but I am not one of them.  August Burns Red was my highlight.  If you ever want to take in a hardcore show and they are on the bill, I highly recommend going to see them.  I would put them in my Top 10 list of hardcore bands any fan of the genre should go see.  Of course, this post isn't a review either.  Nope, it isn't.  This is a post of a few observations from Monday night.  Some serious, mostly just things that caused me to chuckle.  Hopefully, I present my observations in a way that will cause you a chuckle as well.  Now, sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride of a hardcore concert through the eyes of me.

1. If you have ever been to a hardcore concert, you are familiar with the circle pit.  Which also means you are familiar with a mosh pit, stage dives and crowd surfing.  Riddle me this: why is it ALWAYS the big hairy sweaty dudes that take of their shirts thinking no one cares?  And, why are they always so eager to crowd surf?  Yeah, this is one reason I stay out of mosh pits.
2. Scene kids apparently believe they are entitled to the mosh pit.  Yes, you may have been waiting at the front of the line to get in the doors the second they opened, and yes, you had to go outside to get some fresh air after the first band.  But, you are now 5 songs in to the 7 song set of the second band, and returning from outside does not mean you are entitled to that spot you abandoned.  And please, for the love of my ribs, stop using your elbows to push your way back to that spot!!!  Okay, so I only got elbowed once, but one of the guys I was with was pushed and elbowed many times, including a couple times where beer spillage occurred (including once on me).
3. Amongst the items seen flying through the air: shirts, shoes and a couple bras.  Here I thought the throwing of bras was a thing reserved only for 80's hair bands.  Silly me.
4. Headbanging is a must for many in attendance.  So is drinking for those over 21.  I do neither.  I don't drink and my body is to old for headbanging.  However, the whole drinking while headbanging is a feat not easily done, especially for the guy in front of me.  The level of frustration over not being able to make solid beer can to mouth contact while moving head rapidly to the beat was too much for him, so he gave up...a lot...many times over.  Not sure if he ever finished the beer.
5. Apparently, all tall people migrate to the area in front of short people.  Yes, this happened on more than one occasion to me. 
6. Previous hardcore concerts I have attended have always had at least one band feature, "The Running Man," while on stage.  It is the only hardcore dance move that I not only know, but could actually pull off.  Monday was devoid of said move...until the second to last song pre encore.  I almost thought the days of hardcore were dead.  I was also ashamed that I would miss that little move.
7. People still haven't learned dress codes for concerts.  NEVER wear a band shirt of any of the bands on the bill.  Even if you buy one from their merch table before or during the concert, DO NOT put it on!  Nothing says, "I'm cool cause I'm wearing you product," by doing this.  It actually says, "I only wear this because I want to prove I'm a big fan but really know nothing about you."  Maybe I'm a snob, but I know I'm not the only one that feels this way.
8. Last but not least, band life is hard.  I see these guys on stage giving their all.  Sure, the accolades they receive are many while on stage and at their merch table.  But, what about before and after the show?  What about on the road?  They may see your tweet or post on Facebook, they may even retweet or respond.  But, how often do they do that?  How much support do they receive any time else?  Do you buy their merch?  Do you buy an album?  Or, do you put money in the tip jar?  Do you ever ask them how their day was or if they need a meal after the show?

Yeah, this is how my mind works.  Call me crazy, but I sure did enjoy all these observations...no matter how gross the thought of that big fat hairy guy that just rubbed sweaty belly to elbow/forearm with me is.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stranger At My Door

What would you do if you had a random stranger show up at your door asking for some food?  Or, what would you do if you had a friend show up at your door in tears asking to use your phone and grab a glass of water?  Of course, the other fun scenario is that drunk guy on the corner of Main Street, USA asking you for your spare change for, "some food."  What do you tell him?  Do you give him your change?

These questions are the premise of a book I completed reading last week.  "Strangers At My Door" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a biography of sorts.  He (Jonathan) chronicles the adventures of making his family home an outreach/mission.  Not just any mission or outreach that you might be familiar with.  He and his wife decided to take the Bible at its word, decided to open their front door to anyone and everyone, and watch what happened in the lives that walked through the door - including theirs.

Such a powerful book.  Despite it being different than I had anticipated, the ending was indeed challenging.  Open your door.  Don't be afraid, no matter how scary the act might be.  We know the knock is coming, so be ready.  Even when the knock interrupts a meal, a family movie, or your alone time, just be ready and answer.

But, this is not a book review.  I'm not good at writing reviews.  I have a hard time finding anything wrong with books.  If I don't like the book at the beginning, I'm not gonna read it.  If I like the book, I read it and will recommend it to people.  But, to write a review, yeah, not my calling.

Let's revisit the questions above.  What do you do when you have a knock at your door?  Usually, I'm curious wondering who it is that is knocking.  But what if the knocking at my door is just a metaphor for something bigger?  What if there is a broader application of that door?  Is it possible that any knock on a door is a reference to the hungry guy on the corner as I walk through downtown?

As the book concluded, one line really spoke to me.  Jonathan is talking about family meals, the banquet John saw in his dream while on Patmos and his haphazard family sitting at his table.  "You do not know what tomorrow will bring, but you whisper the only grace that makes sense at such a meal: 'Thank you. Help us. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.'"  Simple right?  Wait, what were those two words after thank you?

Help us!  Help with what?  Reading the book, Jonathan speaks frequently of what he needed help with.  He was often hesitant to ask for help, especially when it was seemingly the same people being asked of.  But, he asked, even when it was hard.

Asking, this is what this blog is about.  What is the hardest part of asking for help?  Is it the pride keeping us from seeking help?  Or is it the shame in acknowledging our need and inability to provide for that particular area in our lives?  Maybe it is even the simple lack of knowledge of who could help.  Whatever it is, there is a huge void in our lives when it comes to asking for help.  Even more tragic, is the fact that for those of us that attend a church regularly seem to avoid seeking help even more than those that don't attend church.  Oh SNAP!!!  I just admitted that!

Yes, I'm call out myself and others that attend church.  If we need help, why are we so afraid to seek the help?  And if we are so afraid to ask for help, does that prevent us from opening our door to those who knock seeking help?  Doesn't God tell us that if we seek, we find?  If we ask, we receive, don't we?  Well, do we believe what he says?  Or is it just lip service?  And for those that are knocking at our door (literal or figurative doors), they must not be to afraid to ask.  But, are we too afraid to answer?

Am I making sense?  Am I the only one seeing this paradox?  I must confess, I'm not perfect at any of this.  Sure, growing up as a pastors kid (or church board members kid) there were times I remember a knock on our door at odd hours of the night, during meals or family time.  I remember my dad being late to pick up my brother or I because of someone needing help.  Answering the door has never really been a problem as God has always provided both the example to teach, and now continually provides a way for Janda and I to provide.  Yes, we've received calls and knocks at odd hours from bands and friends needing a place to stay, or needing a meal, or just someone to talk to.  We love that, but it doesn't mean we've been perfect.  But the part I struggle with (even after learning how) is the asking for help.

Going through my battle with cancer taught me it is okay to seek help.  I had to ask for help.  There was no way to survive without that help.  I marvel still today over how much help we received during that year.  Yet, it seems I still have a long way to go in learning how...and when to ask.  I find that I'm not alone in this lesson.  I know too many people who are afraid to ask for help, especially from the ones that are supposed to be helping.  It shouldn't be this way.  Christians shouldn't be afraid to ask other Christians for help!!!  Yet, we are.  We just don't, and it needs fixed.  But how?

Here is my challenge:  Ask.  Ask for help, even when it is gonna hurt, ask for help.  Even if you don't know what you need help with, ask.  When you're done asking, then open the door when you hear a knock.  Maybe, that knock you hear is more than just someone needing help.  Maybe, just maybe that knock is someone there to help you when you need it most and don't know how to ask.  Helping them turns out to be the best help that you can not only provide, but receive.

Yes, that is the one thing in "Strangers At My Door" that I learned.  Jonathan wound up providing so much help, that eventually, those he was helping became the ones that helped him the most.  Helped him learn to lean on God more than he ever knew he was going to have to.  Helped him to trust, even those that could hurt him or his family.  Helped him pray when he had no idea how to pray.  Helped him to just ask.

Who is your stranger?  What is your door?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thank you,from Anonymous

Dear Family of Stuart Scott,

Thank you!  Thank you for sharing your son, ex-husband, father, boyfriend and brother with us.  I could tell you all the positives I know about him, but you already know those attributes, after all, you knew him personally.  I might have lived with him in my house nightly, but you saw him daily.  You had him at your side every minute of every day.  So really, I don't need to tell you what you already know.  Rather, I just feel you need to hear an average Joe thank you for your selfless sharing of the man you knew and loved.  Or is it know and loved?

I'd also like to ask a few questions, ones that you have no answer for...at least not one for me.  But, there really isn't one you need to offer to me.  Actually, these are questions that I have found myself reflecting upon as I look at my own mortality.  I had to ask myself these questions once before as I began my battle against cancer.  In light of Stuart's passing, I've found the questions resurfacing. Please know, these are from the heart and are meant for nothing more than reliving the joys and triumphs of the life you lived with Stuart.

First, what a roller coaster life you live!  What was that like?  Seeing him graduate from high school, and then North Carolina, you couldn't have been more proud.  What was it like seeing him move south to Florida to work his first gig reporting the news?  Did you miss him?  Were you able to see many of his reports?  Better yet, were you able to take a little vacation yourselves, mom and dad, to sunny Florida to spend time with you son?  What kind of a celebration did you have with him when he was offered a position at ESPN?

Former Mrs. Scott and now current life partner, what was it like sharing your husband/other with the world?  Was your house always on some sort of sport?  How often were you able to enjoy a work trip with him?  What was your favorite city to visit?  Hearing all the stories of his passion for family, I'm sure he helped around the house, took you to dinner frequently (or even cooked a meal or two during the week) and probably watched your favorite movie with you every so often.

Taelor and Sydni, I'm sure you knew how much your dad loved you.  He spoke of it often to his peers, and I'm sure he told you every night.  Heck, he even told the world during his ESPY's speech, including hugging you, Syndi, on live TV!  Yet, I'm sure you find yourselves asking, "Now what?" and "When will I wake up from this nightmare?"  Sure, you certainly had your disagreements on when homework should be done, which friend you could have spend the night, or even which boy you could go out on a date with.  Rest assured, as a father to you, he was doing it out of a love that only fathers know.  It is that love, that fathers love, that you will hopefully one day understand how deep and unspeakable of a love it was.

Lastly, to Stuarts siblings, how many fights did y'all get in growing up?  How much mischief did he cause that somehow got you into trouble?  Did he ever blame you for being mom and dads favorite, or was it the other way around - him being the favorite?  What about the times you picked on him just because you could?

I say all this to simply say, I can't imagine what you are going through.  However, I do know the emotions of cancer.  I do know some of the thoughts Stuart had during his battle with cancer.  I have faced the prospects of death in my battle with cancer.  I struggle daily in accepting my diagnosis despite being in remission for two plus years.  I know my cancer can, and probably will return at some point in the future.  When faced with death, I asked myself if my kids, my wife, my parents and my brother knew how much I loved them?  I'm certain they had emotions that I will never understand, just as you had when watching Stuart stare face to face with both cancer and death.  I also wondered what kind of a legacy I would have left behind had I not won my battle?  I believe Stuart wondered what he could leave behind for all of you to remember his legacy by.

What now?  Words of encouragement fail me.  Sure, his colleagues, friends and peers have sent you many cards, flowers, condolences, called and what not.  But me, I only have this letter and I'm certain you will never see it.  I'm okay with that, maybe it isn't for you to see.  Maybe it is only for me to write and other random people to read as an opportunity to cope with their thoughts and grief.  It is something therapeutic for me to write these thoughts, and maybe that is all it is.  No problem, at least I hope it isn't a problem.  I hope and pray that if somehow this reaches you, you can reflect on the many great times you had with Stuart, and that these questions caused you to find solace in one of the memories.

Again, thank you for sharing Stuart with us.  Know, that if he never impacted anyone through anything other than his battle with cancer, know that he has encouraged thousands with his attitude and his never give up spirit over the years of fighting this horrible illness.  Know that my life is forever impacted by how he continually stared at cancer, spit in it's face and told it to kiss off.

Sincerely and God Bless,

Aaron C Casey
Average Joe America

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My last blog was a prelude to what this post is all about.  I have been accused of being a bit of a Scrooge.  Far from the truth.  I love Christmas!  My love for Christmas doesn't start until after Thanksgiving though.  Sure, I'll get a few things as gifts for the kids before Thanksgiving, but only if I'm out with Janda.  But, I'm usually waiting until what I believe to be the appropriate season for all things Christmas related.  This is also including my Christmas music playlist.  

Typically, I'll come up with a list that I post to Facebook throughout the Christmas season.  This year, I changed things up.  I wanted more depth to the list.  Something that caused me to work just a little harder than posting what the current song being listened to.  You know, the type of work that causes a little bead of sweat to run down your forehead.  And unlike Lebron melting in an non AC'd arena, I am pushing through the heat of getting this done.  Apparently, I am a little like King James returning to Cleveland as I find myself back in Marysville, WA - home for 21 years.  Speaking of a king, I'll get to the list of Christmas songs for the year.

Christmas Song List 2014 consists of songs with meaning to me.  Creating a list is always a fun task no matter the subject.  But, to compile a list specific to a season narrowed by a prerequisite of emotional significance makes it just that much more difficult.  That said, here is a list of Christmas songs that hopefully shed a little light into why I love this time of year.  Additionally, I hope you can take your own little stroll down memory lane and discover/rediscover what Christmas should and is about.

Growing up, my mother loved Christmas.  To this day, her love for Christmas has grown to new levels I never recall experiencing.  One thing is certain though, Christmas isn't the same without watching a little Rudolph and singing along with Burle Ives.  Song number 1 will always bring memories of sitting down, watching Rudolph and singing, "Holly Jolly Christmas."

Another song invoking those childhood memories isn't my typical desired genre.  Heck, it isn't even from an artist I listen to anymore.  Should I say, I don't listen to them except during Christmas.  Yes, the first ever concert I went to was headlined by this artist.  Yes, they are a very gifted songwriter, musician and singer.  Yes, at one time they were on a constant rotation on my record player (kids, ask your parents what a record player is...and you still won't believe that anything like that existed).  No, I have no reason to not listen to their music other than I just don't enjoy their music.  But, even after a career in music spanning five decades, and a song that maintains it's place on my Christmas play list, Amy Grant's "Tennessee Christmas" will bring me back to the many Christmas' spent in the old farm house I grew up in.

Another song that is older than my kids comes a song I love.  Sure, it made its way onto a couple Amy Grant Christmas albums, but as covers of Michael W. Smith's version.  I'm not sure when this song was originally released, or by whom, but it is the voice of  Mr. Smith that is forever etched in my memory.  I can't say I'd consider it a Christmas song.  However, those who developed the whole "WOW" collection of all things Christian music decided it is indeed a Christmas song and placed it on their 2002 Christmas album.  I must admit that every time I hear the song, I do immediately think Christmas.  For a simple song with minimal lyrics, "Emmanuel" says more than anything I could ever say.

Next up on this list is a classic.  Song yearly by many generations and in various settings, this song tells a story.  It wasn't until this past Sunday that I learned of the whole evolution of this song.  Had I not been attending church with my brother at his church, I can't say I'd have learned of the depth of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and all that surrounds the song.  Of all the versions you can listen to (and there are many I enjoy) The Civil Wars take on the song captures the chant feel that was a part of the songs centuries old start.

As I deliberated how to mix the flow of the songs, and how best to transition from old to new(er) songs, I soon realized there was no way to have a brilliant segue.  Thankfully, Joy Williams and John Paul White have made that transition much easier.  Hopefully, your still moved by their take on the fourth song.  If you are still moved, then please, go grab a tissue or two for song number five.  I know, these are only Christmas songs, but when you can have a song made into a movie, have said movie debut on The Hallmark Channel and suddenly find your song topping charts across the nation with no regard for genre/market/format, then you have done something right.  That something right came in the heart grabbing, tear jerking original from the guys in Newsong.  "The Christmas Shoes" stirred emotion in me the first time I heard it.  That was the same year I had the privilege to perform a human video for that song with Ethan for our churches kids performance.  Fast forward to 2011 - I was looking a the real possibility of celebrating my last Christmas with my family.  Cancer is a scary word and a scarier reality to live with.  To this day, I cry every time I hear Newsong's original.  So many artists have their own version that I enjoy, but none of them get to me like the original.

Another favorite of mine does take us back to my high school days.  And yes, that does mean this isn't an exactly new song.  But as you search for your favorite version of "Mary Did You Know" your sure to find artists from original artist Michael English to Pentatonix's newest version, or one of several from Mark Lowry to even Cee Lo Green.  Yet, I have always enjoyed listening to the version from Christian hard rockers Spoken.  Yes, guys used to rockin on stage show their softer side and it is a beautiful sound.  Even more beautiful than the sound is the message of the song.  I often wonder about the emotions Mary went through, and this song captures the questions I'm sure some of which were asked by Mary and, yes, even Joseph.

Another song that I absolutely have to listen to at least a half dozen times is actually a cover by a group of guys I listen to periodically.  Of course, the irony in the song is that it is a cover from a group of guys.  "All I want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey is a good song.  When a group of guys cover the song, and I find it better than her version - genius.  Thank you, House of Heroes, for making every Christmas with this song that much better.

My next to last must listen to song in this list has quickly become a family favorite.  The mark of many artists from years ago was their ability to tell a story in the song.  Not many artists today are able to do that.  I don't know if many artists even try.  But one group captured the story telling ability in this one song.  Capital Lights, though no longer together, have forever captured Christmas popularity with "His Favorite Christmas Story."  At first listen, you might hear a catchy little tune and miss the story.  Go ahead and give it a good listen a couple times through and you'll hear of a love story that was sadly missed by two people in the right place at the unfortunate wrong time.  You might need a tissue for this one too.

Finally, to end this long list for eight songs, I bring you the reason for Christmas.  In between the hustle to buy gifts, eat food, spend with family and for many others to miss their lost loved ones, there is really one reason to celebrate Christmas.  Relient K has always been a band that can provide catchy tunes.  They have also been one of those bands on my must see bucket list.  And then they came out with "I Celebrate the Day."  It is a song that stirs my thoughts and motives as to what I'm doing, and what I'm teaching my kids every Christmas.  And, am I really celebrating a season, a day, or more?

That's it!  Eight staple songs on my Christmas playlist.  Eight songs that mean more to me than most songs.  Songs that speak life to me.  I pray they have blessed you.  Mostly, I pray that as you celebrate Christmas this year, you reflect on what you are celebrating and why you celebrate.  May you find a joy that words can't explain, and a contentment that no matter what you go through, God is in control.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Songs

Tis the season!  Or, is it something else I should have opened with? Oh well. Whatever it is supposed to be, consider that is what I said.

The last few years I've posted songs daily leading up to Christmas. I've had some fun with this little exercise. Heck, the lady two years I've followed a 12 Days of Christmas pattern by paying the songs on the 12 days leading into and on Christmas. The songs had no rhyme or reason to them, except they were Christmas songs and they were/are some of my favorite tunes for the season.
So why am I telling you all this?  Yes, I'm doing the songs again, but this year there will be a reason for the season...I mean reason for the list.

Sure, the list will contain my favorite Christmas songs.  Yes, the song will be fun as well as hopefully inspirational.  Most importantly, this list will be one of songs that mean something to me.  Each song will have a meaning to them.  That meaning may be one of sentiment from years gone by, maybe a family song of today or one that means a lot to me and the Christ I call friend and savior.

Over the next few days I'll be busy spending free time, slow time and many other moments of the day compiling the massive list of fun and loved Christmas songs into a simplified list of songs meaningful to me.  The paring of songs might be more painstaking than enjoyable.  It is a task, however that must be done and will be done.  I'm not sure where I'll post this list, but it will be posted sometime before Christmas.  

As I leave you to begin this time consuming labor of love, I'll leave you a fun little tune from a fun loving band I had the privilege to meet and host for a concert.  The song is more tongue in cheek fun than truth, because it does snow in Charlotte,  Enjoy this song, and check back for my list.  Signing off for now, Aaron, with Philmont taking you out with, "It Never Snows in Charlotte."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Joy or Me As Mr. Grinch

Oh the Holidays.  The joy of family, food, fun and relaxing.  Well, maybe not relaxing, but most people try to relax just a little.  Of course, there is the pleasure of shopping, music, long lines at retailers, a movie or two and a whole lot more of other stuff one does during the holidays.

Speaking of shopping, how many of you are going out for a little Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving?  You know, Black Friday shopping?  Wait, I forgot, Black Friday is a thing of the past isn't it?  Okay, fine.  How many are going out anytime between after Thanksgiving lunch/dinner and Sunday close of business?  Typically, Janda and I participate in the fun.  Last year, we were among the masses of mean people that shopped Thursday night.  I know!  We were a part of the reason the retail workers were working.  Actually, it wasn't our fault.  We just took advantage of what was being offered.

Last year, I briefly touched on the topic of retail stores being open on Thanksgiving.  This year, I figured I'd get a little deeper into the subject and my thoughts on it.  If you are a very traditional person who does not want to change their perspective of things, you should probably stop reading now.  Or, if you don't mind seeing/reading someone else's point of view that might make you uncomfortable, then continue reading.

Not very long ago, life was simple.  Sunday's were meant for church and then family time.  Family time for my family typically meant lunch out at Burger King, Arby's, Royal Fork or Golden Corral (others were options, including a home cooked meal).  Sunday's also meant grocery stores were closed along with most of the city not in the gas or food service industries.

Fast forward a few years you find that grocery stores were now open.  Malls, movie theaters, roller rinks and almost everything else considered Sunday just a normal business day.  Sure, churches were still open.  Some of them were even adding a second or third service.  My church, we expanded to two services and were in the process of building a new building.  For the most part though, the holidays were still sacred.  Nothing, and I mean nothing was open.  Well, say for the airlines and a few gas stations, everything was closed.

Over the years, the demand to have more open on holidays grew.  Movie theaters, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and anything you could think of was now open.  As America became more of a McDonald's society, more things opened on holidays and for longer hours.  The one thing we could always count on though was Thanksgiving and Christmas were mostly closed.  Black Friday and the day after Christmas were shopping days (or return days) that had a buzz built up to.  Excitement and anticipation were reasons we bought the newspaper on Thanksgiving and Christmas (or had it delivered to your house).  This was the case up until just a couple years ago.

A couple years ago the retail game changed.  Instead of stores opening at 8am a couple of them upped the ante and opened at 6am.  Then Kohl's, Target and others opened at 4am.  Despite the cries from employees and those steeped in tradition, the masses bought  goods.  Not only did we buy goods, we bought a lot.  So much that a few stores began opening at midnight!  Now, all that has been tossed out and retailers are opening on Thanksgiving night.  Certainly, people wouldn't go out on a holiday and buy stuff, right!  Well, consumers did, and did so in record numbers.  Of course, record numbers were for Black Friday, which was now Thursday through Sunday.  Traditionalists, unions and employees didn't like this "new" shopping phenomenon, but they did so because that is what employers wanted.

So here we sit today.  Christmas items have been out since November 1st - at the latest, stores have been having sales for Christmas items almost as long.  Huge markdowns have already been announced.  And yes, many retailers are planning on opening early for sales, and by early, I mean Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - at 6pm.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear the outcries?  Stores are going to be open on Thanksgiving!  How could stores open on Thanksgiving and let people shop for Christmas?  That is what Black Friday is for!  The cries have gotten so loud that Wal Mart employees have threatened to strike in over 1200 stores across the nation (yeah, kinda ironic that it is Wal Mart - non unionized - threatening a strike) as their protest.  I guess, since you have all these retailers opening on Thanksgiving and forcing people to work means anyone shopping is going to hell.

Not so fast!  Businesses are only doing what is best for their business.  Yes, I think I just pissed off one or two of you by saying that.  It is so true though!  Businesses have an obligation to make money for themselves and for their stock holders.  Plus, we as consumers have forced their hands in catering to our desire to have things now.  When looking at the choice to be open and make money to please us the consumer or to be closed and lose out on the money that comes with the shopping, I can't blame these businesses.  I'm sure if you were put in that same position, you would think long and hard about closing the doors and losing money.

My next question lies in the non retail side.  What makes this any different that those working at a hospital or gas station?  What about the EMT, police officer or fire fighter?  How about those working in a hotel caring for your family visiting from another state?   Or the flight crew that was working the plane they just walked up the Jetway from?  I don't hear the outrage over these people working.  I don't hear of them staging a strike.  In contrast, I hear well wishes, pleasantries or laughing.  I see a genuine care, a smile and if your lucky (or unlucky) a tip of the cap as your asked for license, insurance and registration.  In these industries, people are mandated to work just as retail is now being mandated.  Sure, some of them are public service and there is no real value being made off of serving.  But, in other service industries there is money to be made.  There is a bottom line that these businesses are trying to make, and by providing these services, they too are meeting their bottom line.

Am I anti holiday observance.  Not at all.  I wish all of us could have to fortune of not working on holidays.  I wish we hadn't become a Jimmy John's society.  Reality, however, has dictated differently.  I so wish that we could enjoy each holiday as it comes.  Again, reality has shifted and hurried our celebrations earlier each year.  But, this is indeed what America has come to.

So, before you cry foul, think about more than just the retail.  Think about the service side of things too.  Think about those making life a little more pleasant for you and your family.  If your in retail and hate the fact you have to work, realize you aren't the only person unable to spend the full day with your family.  Yeah, it may suck having to work, but it is only temporary.  Make it a challenge to yourself to make an angry shopper smile - it may make both of your nights.  Lastly, if you are a consumer, one flying, getting free breakfast at the hotel or the one needing the public spanking, try giving the ones working for you a smile and a well wish.  Better yet, try making everyday a day of Thanksgiving, Christmas or Presidents Day.  Really, isn't that what life should be about instead of the chaos that surrounds some of these holidays?

Let the outrage begin.