Thursday, July 9, 2015

Grace For the Church

As I sit here in my studio office this cozy, rainy Thursday morning (although... as cozy as the rain is, I would not mind some sunshine!!! Been raining like every day here in Michigan!!!), I feel compelled to write an honest reflection about the church.

There are other things I should be doing, but perhaps this is where God wants me this morning. Those of you who know me well, know I've been going to church my whole life... typical pastor's kid life: Dad was/is a well respected pastor, mother was the submissive tender hearted, supportive pastor's wife, and all of us kids lived life somewhat under a microscope. You know, the glass house scenario: there was always this pressure to be the 'perfect role model'. Needless to say, I have some really great memories of Church, and some not so good.

I've always been a TRUTH seeker. I've always questioned everything, especially if it did not make sense to me. As a pastors kid, I spent countless hours at my dad's feet learning about the Bible and the meaning behind certain scriptures. I also questioned certain practices the church had. Some I could fully understand, others I could not. I come from a rare breed of Christians called the "Anabaptists". They are a simple and peaceable people- they do not believe in violence of any kind, including going to war. They take very seriously to heart Jesus' words about loving your enemy. To this day, I still really appreciate and stand in agreement with this view point. But there were other things in the church I grew up in that I could never commit to- view points, practices, traditions that for me, don't line up with where I feel God wants me.

Now I'll say this: there is NO perfect church. If you've found one, you probably don't belong there because you and I are not perfect. No church has perfect theology, perfectly blameless and Godly staff, perfect services/sermons that meet our every needs- It just doesn't exist. Having said that, as I've grown older, and experienced other churches, I feel like I can see a theme in my life: Satan has always tried to attack this idea of "church" in my life. He's always been trying to keep me out of this place- I know this because of wounds I've carried (deep wounds) from "Christians"...from people in the church. In fact, people who have hurt me the most, the deepest, have all been Christians. I know it's completely unfair and illogical to expect that Christians will never hurt you, since after all, we're all just a bunch of sinners saved by Grace, but one would think- if God has done a miracle in someone's heart, that person would be a person of Grace and compassion like our Maker. The truth is- EVERYONE is at a different stage in their relationship with God. Every Christ-follower is on a journey. Some are just baby Christians, others have journeyed with God many many years and have great wisdom and divine understanding. Mind you, there are those people who have been walking with God for years but have never done any major heart work and so they are in fact still BABY Christians. And there are those who get baptized, and within a few months they're casting out demons and prophesying! ;-) Your spirituality can only grow as quickly or as often as you feed it!! Time is often irrelevant in the Christian journey. Anyways, I sort of digress, my point is, claiming the title "Christian" or labeling someone else "Christian" doesn't necessarily mean much. America claims to be a "Christian Nation"... and well, I need not say much more. Christians are still very capable of hurting people. The Church is very capable of hurting you and me. In fact, if you have not been hurt by the church, you probably haven't been going long enough.

I am in NO WAY giving excuses to Christians or the Church to be hurtful. God forbid. It is my prayer that the church ALWAYS be a safe place for others. It is my prayer that us Christ followers really live up to our calling; that we bombard this world with God's radical, unconditional love- and yet, I want to also remind myself and other fellow Christians, we must also have GRACE for ourselves, our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are still on a journey. We are being perfected daily. I suppose what I mean to say through this blog is I've always had a huge heart of compassion for people who do not know the Lord. My grace, as far as I can imagine, is endless for them. And yet, when it comes to fellow brothers and sisters, when it comes to the Church, it's like my brain shuts off. I know they/we who follow Christ are called to a higher standard--- but WHY OH WHY do we struggle (and I know I'm not alone) with forgiving or not judging Christ followers more than any other 'kind' of person? Isn't that crazy?

I've felt so convicted this past while to be woman of God who creates UNITY within the body. As a musician, an artist who has sung in many different Churches, I am reminded all the time of how God wants all of us to be ONE!! I'm pretty sure God doesn't like all the little Church clubs we make. Google tells me there are about 33,000 Christian denominations. That is crazy. Absolutely crazy, haha!!! However, while the term "denomination" can seem synonymous for "devision", it doesn't have to be. I think it's beautiful to see Churches celebrating God in different ways. The problem comes when we look at or treat other Christians or churches like they're NOT a part of us.

God is convicting me to love His people. To LOVE his Church. My journey is not quite over either ;-) Despite my history of wounds from Churches, guess what I do each Sunday? Lead worship at Church, WITH the Church. If you knew me well, you'd say, "I can't believe you still go to Church". But I do. Because I LOVE the body of Christ. No, they/we are not perfect, but I am so thankful for a people that DESIRES to know God. Even if we don't get it right, the DESIRE is there. God's grace extends not only to the "sinner" ...but to the believers too. Brothers and sisters, what are we saying about others? What words do we speak about Church? Did you know it hurts our heavenly Father when we speak negatively about his people and His body? What is this world going to think about us when even God's people don't get a long? It's so easy to focus on the negative. Lets not forget all the works God has done in OUR heart. If you've been hurt before, remember the time(s) that YOU have hurt others. Lets be a people of Grace. Let's esteem others HIGHER than ourselves. John 13:35, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another..."

When I read this prayer below, it makes me weep. It makes me weep because I think of the ways that I've failed to bring unity. I want to be a part of Jesus' kingdom. I want the UNITY that our Saviour has always wanted.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Life of an Indie Artist

Dear readers, 

I've been telling myself I need to start blogging more. I'm so out of practice and I think I could benefit from this discipline.

As some of you know, for the past couple years I sort of 'dropped off' the public music scene for a little while. Not entirely, but I pulled back. I got married, moved out of Canada, started worship leading, advocating for A21, but more importantly, I needed time to figure out what my next musical step was. What direction musically was I going to head in? I wrote dozens and dozens of songs, spent countless hours scratching my head trying to figure out what I should say in album number two. The answers came slow and painfully, but (and I can't believe I'm saying this) the hard part is finally over. "Unveiled" the new album, has been birthed. 

As I step forward into raising up the funds for this next project, promoting it, bringing it to the public, I'm remembering all over again all the MANY hats that indie artists need to wear. In today's day and age, a musician does  so much more than do the very thing they feel called to do (make music). Often times they need to be their own booking agent, their own web designer, promoter, sound technician, producer, publicist, financial/business advisor... On top of that there are responsibilities they're already doing like putting together their band, writing & arranging the music, putting together show set-lists, developing their skills as musicians etc. And then there's the whole social media world, where artists recognize how important it is to their career that they interact with as many fans/listeners as possible! It's really sometimes more than a full-time job being an artist with only part-time pay. At least it can feel this way in the beginning stages. 

It's a great time to be doing music and also a bad time to be doing music. The good news is ANYONE can be a musician. The bad news, is ANYONE can be a musician. You say, "Amy, you said the same thing twice". Yes. Because anyone can be a musician, it means that you don't have to wait around for a label until you start creating and showing the public your music perhaps on YouTube or some other medium. The bad news, is the music market is SOOO saturated, people have WAY too many options these days that chances are, someone will gravitate to ONE of your songs but move on from you to the next artist because they simply want to see what else and who else is out there. We all suffer from an A.D.D. approach to music. Gripping listener's full attention is becoming harder and harder. That's why building "personal relationships" if that's even what we should call it, through social media is so important. Fans no longer will be satisfied with a song, they need the story behind the song, they need the journey, the inside scoop. Blogging, Vlogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.. it's where people are. Listeners go there to see your story. I've still not mastered these things, in terms of what to post, what not to post. Did I post too much, too little, too random, unrelated, too much promotion... the war goes on inside the artist's head. And can I say this-- NO artist enjoys being their own promoter. In fact, that may be the worst part.

Secretly every artist has pockets of insecurity. Artists constantly throw their hearts out there, sometimes amongst doves, other times amongst wolves. People like it, people hate it. People wish you had done more of this, less of that. And if you're thinking that artists get complimented all the time so they must feel amazing about themselves, I think most artists will agree with me, every time you share something encouraging it goes A LONG way. We get the best and worst of both worlds. It's never easy sharing the deepest parts of your heart (your songs), with others. My songs are my children, what the world thinks of them matters to me, and yet it also doesn't change how I feel about them. 

So this blog goes out to all the independent artists/bands out there. I know there are a lot of you. I'm writing to you because I feel like there have been many times I've needed this encouragement. I want you to take some time to reflect on your life. Your achievements. Your goals. I implore you to continue walking this journey with courage. The world needs artists. It needs beauty, it needs art. Some people think art doesn't matter, hence some schools have cut out the arts from their curriculum. All I can say is this-- nothing tells someone more about culture than the arts. Your voice is important. At the end of the day, I know we all make music because it's what we know to do, and we love it. We don't make music for any other reason. People that do it for fame or money either get what they want or they quit the game early because it's too much work. I know each of us constantly question whether we can continue to make music, for we don't know what the future of the industry holds. People don't even really buy music anymore. And CD's, what are those?! Hah. My answer to you artists is this: the world will always need a new song, an anthem of hope. If not the musicians, who will give it to them?