“The Hand and the Heart”

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While I love the technology of iPads and laptops, I have rediscovered the immediacy that comes with connecting my head and heart to my pen and allowing that to spill out onto a blank page. It seems more real, though no less difficult.

Typing onto a screen is clean and neat, but writing by hand is chaotic and mesy. But it’s more like real life…like my life at least.

There is a post I’m struggling to write. It’s messy and is demanding a transparency that my own inner fears seldom allow.

Fear has always been my greatest enemy. Praying for freedom from fear, and for the courage to trust in the One who is always trustworthy.

GV

“Listen and Repeat”

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“Let everything with breath praise The Lord.”

Psalm 150:6

It has always been my intent for Project Onefifty to be the artistic expression of this passage, for this verse to live and breathe in the everyday through music and media of all kinds.

So what does it mean to praise the Lord during seasons good and bad? Is it to ignore pain and pretend all is well? Is it to embrace joy when others are lost and alone?

Todays post does not attempt to answer these questions despite needing them in my own heart and life. Today is just about the thoughts and feelings of the morning, a gentle wrestling, with a greater match sure to come…

* * * * *

I am not inspired.

The dawn was once again beautiful, the morning star shining in its loneliness against the background of the coming day. Hours later the crispness of the early hours still lingers, more a foretaste of the fall than in truth a midsummers day in the South.

I sit on my smallish porch in one of two weathered white rocking chairs, a faded pillow against the small of my back. A gorgeous river birch is shading my eyes from the overt glare of the sun. The prevailing sound is that of the wind in the front maple tree, green and full on this July Monday. In the fall it glows a fiery red before letting go of it’s glory, always reaching heavenward even when I do not.

As usual my thoughts stray to music…

But these days music is not the balm it has been. There’s certainly no shortage of great music to enjoy, despite all those people prophesying it’s death. There is more great art to be found now than I can ever remember. My memory is not great for certain things, but it’s filled with a lifetime of music.

It’s not that music no longer holds me in gentle thrall…far from it. It’s my passion as well as my chief (better make that only) export. I hear music even now in the whispering wind and the birdsong from the woods behind my house. Even the occasional shouts of kids playing at the big hill provide accents of sorts.

I still live and breathe and dream in notes and rhythms.

For all the sensory input of the morning, I am not inspired. Yet the fire to create burns as red as the fall maple.

They say that only amateurs wait for inspiration, and that ‘real’ artists and writers simply get up and go to work. I live in the Nashville area, a city built on music built from 9-5. But hey…I have no hits, so who am I to knock the work ethic of those who do?

So I sit here on my porch with my pen and journal, doing the work of a writer…recording thought and feeling, digging for truth in spite of myself. My dog Farley is here with me, sniffing the breeze like he knows something is up. Today I wish I had his instincts.

For some reason I think of my time growing up. Where did that come from?

Back in the ancient days of the 20th century, a diploma demanded two years of a foreign language. The choices were few: German (hard), Spanish (who wants to be called Jorge? ‘hey Whore-Hey!’), and French. Despite being born in West Germany, I chose French. That’s still Europe, right? Little did I know I would be ‘Monsieur Georges’ for the next two years. Sure, it looks innocuous enough in print, but try being a freshman and sophomore with a name pronounced ‘zHOrsh.’ Not the manliest of names for an emergent nerd.

While life with French I & II teacher Madame Gobeill had its moments, I sadly remember few words and phrases. But one still comes to mind from time to time:

‘Ecouter et répéter’ or ‘listen and repeat.’

There’s a lesson here. The great writers are constantly listening to the world around them, soaking in life and revealing it as it is and as it should be. The great musicians listen intently to the music in which they willingly drown, looking for just the right moment to add to the magic their own insight and vision. There is simply nothing else like these moments…

Listen and repeat.

The maple is still reaching toward heaven even as the wind rustles a rhythm for the still-singing birds. Music and magic and inspiration abound.

Father, thank You for the gift of this day. Help me to listen and repeat and follow the song You placed within.

 

 

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“The List”

Courage. Talent. Skill. Dedication. Vision. Belief…

I am a musician. And a songwriter, and producer, and dangerously enough of an engineer to understand how to make all those other jobs work together to create music.
I’ve been doing this now for longer than some of you have been alive. I don’t really consider myself to be ‘old’ but I certainly don’t fall into the ‘young’ demographic…

I began this post with a list. The page of my journal was blank and begging to be filled.

You have to start somewhere.

So I made a list of the qualities I believe you should possess in order to attempt this music thing. I suppose they apply to any endeavor if you think about it. Charlie, my mechanic who speaks in ‘rich and colorful metaphor’ has kept my aging Hyundai Elantra alive and kicking (388K+ miles), and he possesses these list-qualities in no small measure. He is truly an artist of the automotive.

But I’m not Charlie, and this is my post. The fact that I took the time to introduce you to him underscores the following about me:

Of all the items listed, I struggle with very first one.

(I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling back)

Courage. I believe I have enough of the other items in order to ‘do my thing.’ But I SO struggle with courage, or the lack thereof.

I have filled post after post and song after song with my musings and thoughts and feelings. Only on occasion have my shields lowered enough to allow my heart to peek through.

And that’s just wrong.

Art without courage is just noise.

I’ve been working on a post the past few days about war, sadly always a timely topic. But I’m struggling, not because I lack an approach or even words I desperately need to share. I lack the courage to tell my tale of war as a metaphor.

There’s a war in my world and I’m afraid to face it, much less write about it.

But I hear a call to courage. To find the bravery to raise my hand and admit to being human.

If I follow courage, my list would be different:

Cowardice. Insecurity. Anger. Loneliness. Fear.

All the qualities that prevent and negate the art I long to present.

So here’s to the lists we have in our lives. Admit it, we all have them. Choose ye this day which one to believe…

There is a fire inside of me that longs to create. It flames up a bit here and there. Just enough, I suppose.

But I want more…

I want to immolate my fears in a bonfire of creative passion, in the gifts that I’ve been given. Not for accolade or reward, or even for anyone else. I want the freedom that creativity brings to be true to being me.

If I’m honest, I am afraid of this fire, of losing control. Fear keeps me isolated and in slavery. And alone.

Courage can only be found in loneliness. The ‘bravery’ of the crowd is hollow at best.

Father, thank You for the gift of this day, for courage modeled and found. You created me to be an artist. May this be a day of creativity and boldness, with freedom to all who fear.

Now I have a post to write about war.

May you find your courage today. It can be found in the most unlikely of places. Inside of your heart…

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“Fade Away…”

There is something deeply satisfying to me

When the spidery lines on a map becomes real.

When a numbered road becomes a name

And name becomes a place and a memory.

I like it best on days like this,

When the sun is shining yet the clouds look angry.

With music playing in my ears,

And beauty stretching before my eyes,

The fears of the nighttime simply fade away.

Even if only for a little while…

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“Time”

And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun’

-Pink Floyd “Time”

I woke up this morning to find a message in my inbox from a music biz friend. He was wishing me a happy work anniversary.

Since I had left my job back in Birmingham in 2005, I was a bit mystified. Upon closer examination (I read the email) I saw where it’s the tenth anniversary of the launch of Project Onefifty.

For those of you new to the program, P150 is the music missions non-profit ministry we began in Birmingham in 2004 after a tour of Italy and Switzerland.

Ten years gone. Hard to believe. But when I look in the mirror and see the streaks of grey in my hair…and the lines in my face, reality hits.

From the beginning Project Onefifty was to be the musical proclamation of Psalm 150:6, “let everything with breath praise The Lord.”

It is a story too long to tell how P150 migrated from Birmingham, Alabama to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. There are many tales to tell indeed…

Ten years is a long time and a perfect time to look back. I can say that we never really became what I thought we were supposed to be. But instead we did apparently what God intended.

In ten years we played to folks all around the world. We partnered with other missions groups to sing the Good News in Ireland and Japan and Oman. We played coffee shops and churches and retreats and house concerts back home in the US.

We helped orphans in Africa learn that ‘Grace brings Good News,’ and contributed ‘Hope’ to disaster relief when the fury of storms ravaged the Gulf.

In the strangest turn, the song “I Will Trust in You” was published world-wide by LifeWay to teach kids about missions and how God is trustworthy.

Our music literally reaches around the world.

Please forgive me if it appears that I am boasting. I am not. I am just as shocked by all this as you, if not more so.

I am grateful to all the people who have supported this dream and helped make it a reality.

But ten years is a long time. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything.

It is time for changes for Project Onefifty. While there are still projects that can be achieved no other way than through P150, there are some places and projects that require a new vision and a new way.

I haven’t got a clue about what’s next.

All I know is that the times are a’changing, and things that live and grow change along with the times.

Change is not easy. It’s difficult and terrifying. But needed and necessary.

In the coming weeks and months, this new way will have made itself known and we will certainly shout from the rooftops when we figure it out.

I’ll end with a brief story. In the days before P150 I found myself in New Orleans with my church worship team. I was the tech director and we had come to the Baptist seminary to lead worship during their daily chapel services.

At that point in my life I had all but given up playing. Church tech work is a consuming fire and I was crispy on both sides.

During our off time, we made our way to Bourbon Street. Let me go on record that I LOVE N’awlins. It is a place rich in history and culture, and unlike any place on the planet.

I ducked into one of the many music joints when I heard the most terrifying sound. A guy was playing a blues so dangerous and electric…I could not help but fall under it’s spell.

On that day a fire long-dead burst into flames. I wanted to play again. I wanted to feel the fiery wash of sound from a too-loud amplifier. I wanted to coax tender notes from a steel-strung acoustic. I wanted the power and joy that is music to be front and center in my life.

The trip came and went and I reverted to the status quo of church music.

But I never forgot the blue fire of a guitarist in a nasty club on Bourbon Street.

Anointing is not exclusive to the house of God. I felt it wash over me in that club. And I’ve felt it a few times since.

God, send me the fire again. I want to be immolated in the sound of Holy Spirit blowing like the wind through hearts of cold stone like mine.

“Let everything with breath Praise The Lord”
Psalm 56:3

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“God Gives Rocks”

There are days when you ask God for something, and all He gives you are rocks.

With dreams unfulfilled, and a heart that’s been locked
A life will be wasted, and a love will be lost
But to a life overcoming, and a soul that’s been saved
A white stone will be given
And a secret name…
No one else will know my name…

-from “Shadows at Midnight” by George Vinson

The Locked Gate

I started this post this morning while actually walking, dictating a broken version of the following into my phone. I’ve tried to preserve the tone and feel of my thoughts. The image attached to this post still flays my soul…

An old rusty lock on a gate to nowhere

I’ve walked this path at Thompsons Station Park so many times I’ve lost count, but I’ve never noticed this gate until today.

There is no discernible path behind it…nothing but a few acres of trees that form a buffer zone of sorts around most of the park. In fact young but grown trees immediately block the entrance. The rusted padlock tells the rest of the story…

An old locked gate bars entrance to a path going seemingly nowhere. What secrets if any lie beyond? Is the lock a reminder or a recommendation?

My troublesome and curious nature wonders if the key lies discarded somewhere close by. Part of me wants to jump the gate and explore. Curious George up to no good…

Curiosity kills more than just cats. If you’re not careful, it can kill dreams as well. I bare the scars of such death in my own body.

Suddenly I want to run from this spot, and whatever does or doesn’t lie beyond. Maybe I should post a sign, “Do not enter: dead inside.”

I pray that the God of Resurrection would bring new life to what lies beyond all our gates. Mine included.

Courage would have me add ‘especially mine…’

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Iggy and the New Day

Necessity has brought me to this time and place.

The optics of my camera phone are inadequate to capture the imagery I see in these moments before dawn, so I must use the inadequacy of words instead. I start the timer for my five minute deadline. Go!

Snatches of unfinished lyrics spring to mind from songs of another life. Morning stars and indigo skies recall other predawn times. But no new lines offer themselves up in sacrifice, so I will observe and recount the world as I see it.

This morning, the black silhouette of an abandoned silo against a slowly brightening sky stands in stark contrast to the sound of Iggy singing about being fancy. I am her opposite in this early hour; decidedly ‘un-fancy’ with no melodies readily available to me.

Another time perhaps.

Already night sounds are transforming into the soundtrack of the new day. At least the birds still remember music. It may be cacophonous to some, but to me their song is beautiful and random. It is the sweet dissonance of real life, and all the more fitting for this moment.

My five minutes are up and the sky grows brighter with every thumb-stroke. At fifty-two, there are more mornings in the rear view mirror of memory than ahead.

One should never waste a dawn, or the promise of a new day.

“Reckless…”

Some stories are timeless. No matter the form or medium, we never tire of the telling. It was in my mind to attempt a reimagining of one such tale.

Truth is unchanging and eternal, but the distance between pride and love is great. To narrow the gap requires a dangerous grace and a mercy that is reckless…

I could see him from far away.

Call it a sixth sense or a father’s love…I knew what he was feeling. All those long nights when he was lost in whatever pleasure crossed his path, I felt the pain of the next day, and the growing panic that still it wasn’t enough. I felt the emptiness even as he filled the days with the best his dwindling money could buy.

I couldn’t blame him. Had I not done the very same? No one remembers this reckless fool and deeds done in the dark. Or if they did, they kept it to themselves for reasons only known to themselves and the Creator.

So when he left, I waited.

I was angry at first, slighted by his assault on my ‘dignity.’ Words formed in my mind as he took his leave, but not the words my heart screamed in the dark nights long after. I replayed the exchange over and over, and in my dreams the words were soft and persuasive and he never left and my spirit never died.

And so I waited.

When he returned, the wind brought news of his coming.

Even before I saw, I could smell him as he grew near. The stench of travel was there, yes. But mixed in was the stale perfume of the woman he had used even on the night before his return. Despair seeks comfort in the intimate, and even false pleasure knows the loyalty of endings. But love is expensive, and with no money he was turned out unwashed and unloved.

Overpowering even this was the smell of cheap wine and refuse that passed for food. I had fallen low in my day, but had he been forced to steal even the meals of swine?

He was closer now. Yes…the remains of slop and shit still clung to him, his clothes drenched in sweat. The stink of fear clung to him worse than all, triggering memories of my own lavish fears and failures.

Would he love me? Or did he return to mock my fatherly wrath? A thousand questions flashed through my mind as I recalled the judgement I received at the hands of those who loved me. My heart still bled from those wounds.

Bitterness rose in the back of my throat as I saw him. Pride and anger waged war with my longing for him. I could see that he had nothing. All of it gone. Wasted…

I knew he could see me by now, but he looked down, staring at the stones beneath his feet.

A cry escaped my lips and he stopped. And then he looked up and into my eyes…

The waiting was over. I ran the remaining distance and grabbed him and kissed him, my tears washing away the stink and the shit and the fear, both his and mine.

“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:24 ESV)