Here we collect the diverse interviews from all of the sections of Metatron mag. We know you will enjoy the musicians, painters, poets and other creatively unique featured in our pages..
Trevor Parkers Sings with the Angels
October 2012 from Golden Notes
Trevor Parker, a high school English teacher, husband, and father of one, never imagined he would someday perform with a worship band on stage, but that is what he is now doing as part of a regular lineup of worship leaders at Greater Chicago Church (GCC). Trevor has been singing since he was a child—he did his first solo in Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah as a kindergartner, and he studied voice throughout college—but this new role was not part of his vision. Nevertheless, when I talked to Trevor for this interview, I could feel his excitement about this opportunity that has seemingly fallen into his lap.
Trevor says his favorite part of leading worship at GCC, where he has been attending for four years, due to his wife Megan’s original enthusiasm and in spite of his own original heel-dragging, is being in the moment. He explains how that is also what makes the best music for the congregation to worship with—when he forgets about everyone else and lets the music and the presence of God take over. Though he admits it is sometimes hard to let go of his concerns about whether the crowd is enjoying the song or wondering how or if the Holy Spirit will fill the room with glory, he knows that everything unfolds best when he forgets about the questions and lets himself worship through his voice and music.
Trevor grew up in the Lutheran denomination and being part of a more charismatic congregation with modern music was not appealing to him at first. In fact at first, the biggest turn-off for him about GCC was the music itself. Over time, however, he has grown not just to appreciate the music and the musicians, but to become an integral part of the community, even writing songs that are regularly sung during services. Trevor explains that Megan was the one with the original hope that he would be given the opportunity to lead worship at church, but Trevor felt like “it was a lottery ticket type of prayer: That’s never going to happen, but I would like it to happen.” In fact, just singing in a band at all is a dream come true for him. He explains,“I always had a dream of singing in a band, but I never stepped out in that way… I still kind of pinch myself every time I realize I get to play with a band of musicians.”
Trevor began songwriting in high school when he recorded a tape of “probably terribly melodramatic and romantic songs” for a girl, but the writing continued throughout college as he began composing both songs inspired by passages of scripture and by his wife who he dated at Carthage College. He explains, “My first year of college I wrote my first kind of worship song… on this idea I had from Psalm 5 about lifting my morning supplication to the Lord.” The only songwriting “drought” he ever experienced was during his first couple years at GCC as he struggled with questions about faith. “I wasn’t able to confidently write a piece of music or song. I want to be totally confident in the idea I want to press into… I wasn’t sure what I was I supposed to be writing, or I wasn’t sure who I was as a person or a believer or who God was fully for me to be able to write for him at that point anymore.” When speaker Dan McCollum visited the church and prayed an impartation over Trevor, all of that changed, and he experienced a new evolution in his songwriting.
Two pivotal songs came directly to Trevor from the Dan McCollum conference. He explains that Dan “said one phrase, and I took that phrase and ran with it. He taught on this idea of your song being unique to God’s ear and that the worship you provide to God touches his heart in a special way. I was like, ‘That is amazing. That feels like a revelation I am believing in, and I have to write about that.’ I guess that’s what makes me a songwriter. When I feel a revelation coming, I have to write about that. I don’t want to think about it and I don’t want to write a poem about it, I want to sing about it.”
Trevor’s musical inspiration comes from a few different sources. “The first band that kind of broke the mold for what I thought Christian music was or had to be was the Newsboys. It was like they were saying something real but they weren’t saying it the same way every other Christian music artist was saying it.” He also liked them because, “they were a real band, not just a Christian band, if that makes sense.” Additionally, Trevor felt like their lyrics were accessible: “You could think about them, but you could also easily receive them… You could receive what they were saying to you and not feel judged or feel like you were striving, but you could also feel this inspiration of what God had for you through their music.” On the other end of the spectrum, opera (namely Wagner’s operas) is Trevor’s “music of choice.”
As a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, learning to let go while leading worship has been Trevor’s path to rewarding experiences on stage. “Early on when I was leading I would want to pick the perfect songs and the perfect set and I wanted to get through all the songs because that was important to me… It was like the song was the thing that was important. Since growing from that, knowing that he is going to do something that you are not expecting is more exciting. Feeling his presence come and knowing that if I give the Holy Spirit space to really move, then I get to be a part of that too and not have to feel like I am in control. Once I started operating out of a place of fullness with him rather than from a place of trying to balance everything and be perfect on everything, then I saw him moving more in the places where I was leading worship when really I was letting Him lead the worship.”
Trevor gets enthusiastic when he explains what it is like letting go and giving the Spirit control. “There’s just a joy that wells up in me. Not that I am people watching up there, but I feel like I have the best seat in the house sometimes… To get to look into people’s eyes and see the pureness they are experiencing God with and just the joy that they are praising him with or just that they are getting wrecked by his mercy or by his grace. A lot of times I can’t open my eyes. I have to keep my eyes closed because I am so emotionally wrecked myself by what’s going on out there. ‘I can’t take that God. Let me just be personal with you and not experience what everyone else is experiencing.’ It’s just so overwhelming that he is able to move and work in people so differently at the same time. I guess that’s what I am taken by the most. He is doing something different in that person; he is doing something in that person; he is doing something in that person. But it’s still all happening right now. Just to be part of that constant presence is miraculous. It’s amazing. That’s why I continue to pursue it all the more, because there is nothing like that for me and for other people… And that’s why I lead worship. That’s what it would come down to.”
Of course I had to ask Trevor about hearing angels sing during worship, something that numerous people have reported from time to time. He spoke as nonchalantly about it as he would describe a member of the band. “It feels like there is a choir singing or there are some other harmonies going on that we are not producing up there. Sometimes you question that. Is that really possible? Is that really going on, you know? And then you just realize how powerful His presence is, and that’s the actual reality. That’s what I consistently want to be broken of, the idea that my reality is the highest or the thing that needs to be valued most. It is actually this mystery and this thing that can’t be fully understood that we want to experience more… not to try to understand it more in a knowledge sort of way but just to be wrapped up in it.”
Recently, two other opportunities have opened up for Trevor. He was invited—apparently, by accident—to join a street evangelism team over a year ago, and he agreed to participate. As these coincidences go, being involved in praying for people’s healing and their hearts on the streets of Chicago has become one of Trevor’s very favorite activities. He explains that he would even choose that over leading worship if forced to pick one. Additionally, in early October, Trevor was asked to perform as part of a line-up of GCC singers in a non-church setting, at Fitzgerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn, IL. Suffice it to say, you should be on the watch for studio albums to come from Trevor.
July 2012 from WOW
Terry Hogg: A Mystic Revelation
“Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives.” –Thomas Merton
I first heard of Terry Hogg when he came to Chicago to lead a weekend retreat on Celtic contemplative prayer for our church. I had no idea what to expect, but Terry was going to be staying at our friends’ house, so I knew that I would have an opportunity to meet him. Once he arrived, my friend, Carrie, was eager for me to meet him, convinced I would be intrigued. And she was right. I have met few people in my life who I highly respect without feeling insecure about the things I have not yet achieved, but Terry is someone who impressed me with his wisdom and thoughtfulness while making me just want to enjoy being who I am. Terry has been working on a book for a long time, and I was given the opportunity to interview him about his writing.
For many people, including me, the book of Revelation has come to embody something terrifying. But the truth is that it is meant to be a book of pastoral encouragement for us. It is about the glory of God in its baffling entirety being revealed—what has been hidden since the beginning of time being made known to all. Every knee shall bow. Every tongue shall confess. Every eye shall see. Every ear shall hear. And though there is terror associated with something so powerful being uncovered, it is only as terrifying as the love of the triune God. Jesus: the One God sent to shed His blood and suffer death, even death on the cross, and all the sorrows and shame of the broken world, for one such as me. The Spirit: the One hovering over the waters, the One from whom we can never flee, the one who stirred John in Elizabeth’s womb, the One who is a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come, the One who dwells among us.
During the summer I met Terry, my husband, three children, and I were in the process of moving. We had rented our home out, but we had not found another place to live. We felt nervous and unsure of what the future held. During that time, Terry talked about the goodness of being empty, because it means we are ready and available to be filled.This idea is very different from what we hear in the media and in most areas of our culture where being full of food and stuff and money is the best way to be. Terry is a vessel. A vessel on the waters. Waiting to be filled. Empty. Eager for the catch. Terry has spent about half of his life in this readiness. He has made conscious choices to be pared down to the sheerest version of himself in order to remain as the thinnest filigree—transparent—so that the Spirit with whom he is filled is clearly visible as He pumps through the veins of Terry’s body and soul.
Terry lives consciously in the natural and the supernatural, in the present and in the eternal. He is at once an aging man with a white ponytail, rosy Irish face, and clothes his daughters and wife have bought for him, and a timeless expression of who the Father is. Someone said of Terry that he was “so into the mystics that he became one himself” and we joke that Terry is our “resident Irish mystic” here in Oak Park, IL. A mystic is “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.” And I believe dictionary.com has it right, at least as far as Terry is concerned. He is someone—an empty vessel–who desires his very life to be an expression of God’s love, and he is confident that we cannot know all there is to know about God through rational thought alone.
Terry makes you realize—even if you are someone whose faith is so dusty and neglected it could scarcely be defined as faith—that there is room at the eternal table for everyone. Terry makes you realize that anyone can be a mystic. Anyone can be a follower. Anyone can be working towards that ultimate goal–as you would discipline your body to run a race or perform a perfect pose–of unity with the Father. There is always room for another mystic, and the only mystic you can ever be is yourself. The trick is allowing yourself to become empty enough to be filled.
Darsana (or Darshan) is the Sanskrit word for sight, vision, or glimpse, most often in terms of a vision of the divine, such as a deity, or holy person or object. As followers of Christ, we are to live in a state of perpetual darshan, perceiving the world around us with eyes unveiled and mind and soul unfurled. This planet and the people on it are not just physical beings. As Terry often points out, in Hebrew there is no word for supernatural—the natural and supernatural are one and the same. Which leads us to the book of Revelation.
Revelation. Apocalypse. Unveiling. In Greek, the language the Revelation of John was written, the words all mean the same thing, but in recent decades, with movies like Apocalypse Now and A Thief in the Night–from opposite ends of the cultural spectrum but with similar connotations of the implications of the end times–our associations, conscious and unconscious, with the apocalypse are frightful and gruesome. And if we were raised in the Christian—particularly Evangelical—subculture, these vague but emotionally vivid images of what is to come are part of our earliest memories and most internal notions about the world. In the United States and other parts of the industrialized West, where the Evangelical Protestant and Catholic subcultures dominate, these ideas permeate the culture at large, religious and secular alike. In 2011, yet another end times book, The Leftovers, chronicling the religiously linked “sudden departure” of a large portion of society, was published by an uber-famous secular writer, Tom Perotta, and went on to become an award-winning bestseller.
Terry Hogg’s first book, 30 odd years in the coming, unapologetically contradicts all of the indoctrination that we have been fed since we were toddlers surrounding the book of Revelation. According to Terry, there are three main principles we must remember when we read (or are read to from, as it was originally intended to be shared) the last book of the Bible: 1) the book of Revelation is meant to be pastoral—it is meant to provide security, not to terrify; 2) the book of Revelation is intended to be an unveiling of an, better yet “the”, ultimate reality—the true supernatural world in which we live “that is more beautiful and terrifying than what we could humanly imagine”; and 3) the book of Revelation is prophetic in that it is God speaking to humanity and to each of us individually—“prophecy is the mind of God, how God sees things”—not as a futuristic foretelling of what is to come.
Terry explains, “John’s description of heaven is actually the rebirth of images that are coming to fulfillment so that we can have a language to articulate the invisible. Rather than going back, he is bringing to fulfillment the imagery of the Old Testament…” Moreover, “If you see yourself as part of the bride of Christ, then what you see is a city that is people. The new Jerusalem is actually a perfect human community.” Daniel prays three times a day with his window open towards Jerusalem—“the only thing that can keep a person sane in the midst of this life.” Once you get the sense that the city is the bride of the church ready for marriage—the city is all the good interaction—pure-hearted interaction of genuine integrity.
Terry believes that, “‘The apocalypse of Jesus’ is intended to take us into the cloud of infinite mystery—to reintroduce us existentially to the real God by giving us a language and context to free ourselves from the superficial perspective of idolatry.” His book “is not an attempt to do a theological exegesis, but an attempt to draw us into a meditative engagement so that we can experience that space that the apocalyptic is intended to create.” He hopes that the book will lead us to experience Revelation as a blessing and encouragement, and we will start to see the world as “preternatural.”
Furthermore, the individual who reads the book for others is a surrogate John, who is a surrogate Jesus. Reading the book aloud will actually allow the reader to be the voice of the Lord. As disciples of Jesus, we are provided an opportunity to “sit with the Master” when the book is read person to person.
Terry has translated the Book of Revelation from the Greek for us again, but this time with an awareness of its poetic, oratorical intent. He envisions people listening to a recording of verses from the book being read, then meditating on his devotional for each passage, and finally, listening a second time with awareness of the strange, poetic words, this time with a more intentionally “unveiled” posture. His book is not an attempt to do a theological exegesis, but instead to draw us into a meditative engagement so that we can experience that space that apocalyptic literature is intended to create and to then walk in it.
In the words of George MacDonald: “The gospel itself, and in it the parables of the Truth, are to be understood only by those who walk by what they find. It is he that runneth that shall read, and no other. It is not intended by the speaker of the parables that any other should know intellectually what, known but intellectually, would be for his injury—what knowing intellectually he would imagine he had grasped, perhaps even appropriated. When the pilgrim of the truth comes on his journey to the region of the parable, he finds its interpretation. It is not a fruit or a jewel to be stored, but a well springing by the wayside” (from “The Last Farthing,” Unspoken Sermons, Series Two).
June 2012 from IM(age)
An interview in quotations
I tend not to make decisions on whether it is right or wrong but on whether it will bring life or death.
How do I creatively take an hour out of my life like a fourth period class and make it into the most awesome experience these kids will have all week?
I will jump into this river of creativity—“What will it look like for me to do these things?” And I will act on what I see in my imagination.
I had this one teacher who had said, “Hey, if artists do things differently, they end up thriving, but if they do things the same and get caught in patterns, they end up getting kind of stiff in what they do and it ends up squashing down creativity.” It kind of put a theme to my life and after that… I would try to drive a different way to work or I would try to walk differently into the house.
God is so spontaneous and so creative in the way he does things that I have often grabbed a hold of God’s voice and asked, “What are you doing right now?” And He’s like, “I’m painting a picture,” and so I’m like, “Alright, let’s paint a picture.”
I stayed in this place of creativity until… the creativity was churning and churning and churning, and I wouldn’t let it go until I was like, “Now I am ready.”
I call it a river. I know that other people probably call it the same. Creativity is a river, and it just flows. Sometimes I sit in it, sometimes I let it take me places, and sometimes I intend to go places in it.
Francesco Sideli is a Sicilian-American artist from New York who has been exploring what it means to be creative for his entire life. Talking to him over the phone, Francesco sounds a lot like a really nice, enthusiastic Michael Corleone. He currently lives in Redding, CA, where he teaches art to high school students and enjoys life with his wife of one year, but his identity as an artist has been unfolding since he was very young. When Francesco showed an interest in sketching as a child, his family—his parents and his cousins and aunts and uncles—recognized and showed immediate support for his budding talent.
During our interview Francesco imitated his father, a traditional, aggressive businessman’s, curious, eager encouragement of his work and how he regularly asked, “What are you painting now? What are you drawing now? What are you creating now?” Francesco recalls selling a series of drawings in art school and having his father photocopy and frame the $500 check he received for them, proclaiming that it would be the first of many and that he would “make ten times this.” His father would say, “This is perfect. You see what’s happening here? You’re getting paid to do what you love.”
What does this sort of moral support do for an individual exploring his creative soul? It provides him confidence and opportunities that most of us will never have. This support for his experimentation with painting and drawing blossomed into full-blown, no-holds-barred freedom to be curious in life. Francesco has learned to “thrive with spontaneity… I love quick line drawings.” His two biggest artistic inspirations were Picasso and Antonio Lopez, a fashion illustrator. Picasso used charcoal or pencil to capture different emotions or did thumbprints of people to create a portrait in order to capture an idea.
Francesco’s favorite art involves problem-solving and is public, changing, and influenced by those around him. Francesco began to explore sidewalk chalk when he participated in a street painting festival a couple years ago. Observers of his drawing, a circular staircase that appears to be leading from the sidewalk into the depths of the ground below, were shocked to learn that it was his first experience with the medium. But Francesco felt it simply used the same principles as some of his other favorite media, such as pastels, and he loved the interactive, transient nature of the work.
Another time, when Francesco was going to paint on stage during a church service, his wife suggested that he do an abstract painting using a specific color scheme. Because he had no other strong feelings on the matter, Francesco used her idea. And then, while he was painting, Francesco felt an almost preternatural connection with his wife as he felt the joy coming from her in the congregation, and the painting ended up being a powerful expression of his love and joy that reached far beyond the limits of paint and canvas and brush, which had never been the original intention.
Francesco also shared about living each hour with the goal of being creative, from surprising his students with unusual methods of teaching to using an 8-foot tall chopped-down birch tree as a decorative accent in his home (that looks like it is growing through the house). He explained that sometimes he just goes with the creative flow as it comes, while other times—as he did on a recent night when his wife was away and he wanted to work on a painting of a trip they took to Italy, so he drank espresso and listened to Italian music in the kitchen—he lets the creativity build and crescendo until it reaches a breaking point that demands expression.
Francesco describes becoming a Christian and coming to the conclusion that his new life would require him to give up his art for his faith. He remembers thinking, “I guess I am not going to be an artist anymore; I am just going to preach the gospel.” He had yet to realize that part of living for Christ is becoming the truest version of one’s self, and for Francesco, that meant being an artist. But even as he considered giving up his chosen vocation, his father still supported him, in spite of all the years of college tuition and art supplies and classes he had funded. His father said something like, “‘With all the money that we paid for you to go to school and all the student loans that I was paying and still am paying… with all that… everything you have done is still worth it to this point.’ It was almost like he was saying, “I wouldn’t be bothered at all if we spent all this money this money for you to go to art school, intending for you to be an artist, and then automatically God changed the whole course of your life.”
It is evident that Francesco’s creativity lies very close to the surface, always rippling, while for many of us, the creativity is hidden and requires intense effort to mine. I have heard that creativity is a learned behavior, and I asked Francesco if he believes that is true. He recalled a professor from art school who told the class about how creativity requires doing things differently all the time, and Francesco has embraced this concept in his daily life by driving home different ways and changing the order of activities as basic as breakfast, email, and showering, just for the sake of cultivating his mental energy. He believes this is what the scripture Romans 12:2 communicates to him: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” While “the world relies on patterns and forms and structures,” Francesco seeks to rely on the source of creativity, God’s voice.
May 2012 from Golden Notes
Interview with Mark Williams, Urban Farmer, Musician, and Servant of the Poor
I have tons of insecurities, but they all go away once I start playing.
Sometimes I wonder, “Am I ever going to write another song? Maybe I have written all the songs I am meant to write.”
If I set aside a certain amount of time with an idea, it is possible to come away with a song.
Dream big, and then take an actual step towards it. It’s a big world with lots of possibilities, and yes, it’s messed up. But if you think of a dream that‘s big enough to change the world, take a step that would lead towards that.
End goal, we would like to own a farm somewhere and live in the country and play lots of music and grow lots of food.
Occasionally, you come across clear examples of art being used as a tool: poetry as an expression of love or painting to relieve sadness or a repressed memory. Mark Williams uses music to foster community, empower the helpless, and create moments of transcendence—where the power and beauty of words and the cadence of voice take us beyond the mundane and the tragic with which we are surrounded. He explains that he considers much of his music “modern field music”—music to be sung out in the fields. He likes the idea of call and response songs, creating unity in a crowded room or on a front porch or in a field of laborers, backs bent over the dirt. Mark knows that “the field” has changed; for many, the field has become the cubicle, but he believes the need for human connection and the need to rise above the human sorrows we all share remain.
I met Mark Williams in college. My best friend, Courtney, introduced me to him. It was 1999. He was a junior, and she was a freshman, and there were undeniable sparks. He was dark with really long, ponytailed hair and she was light with really short, spiky hair, but they both wore matching blue and white pin-striped denim overalls, which I don’t know where you would buy. I also remember that she was often barefoot, while he was usually riding a skateboard. And I think they met in Gospel Choir.
Mark and Courtney went on to date for the rest of Courtney’s time at college, and after many years of hard times and good for both of them, they got married in the summer of 2006. So Mark has been a part of Courtney for pretty much the entire time I have known her. Not a stressful part or a cheesy part, but a real part. I don’t know too many couples that seem as right for each other as they do. I don’t believe in soulmates, but if I did, they might be one of my arguments for it.
Courtney and I would watch Mark play guitar and sing at his college apartment with his friends on Friday nights, during what they called Chai House. Mike Sethi would make delicious chai tea for everyone on the stove in the kitchen, and Mark and some of the others would play guitar and sing. It was definitely, “Good times.”
When you think of Mark, you think of singing and guitar music and laughter and yes, good times with friends. Mark and music are inseparable. My sister plays her entire, enormous, obsessively collected collection of music on random, and the CD that Mark and Courtney gave away as their wedding favor is part of that massive song library. From time to time, my sister will mention to me how Mark definitely ought to be famous for his music. And I don’t know about the fame part because I don’t know if Mark would even want it, but Mark is an artist who should be making music. His job should be to make music. His music brings people together, and it makes life better. It is entertainment as entertainment was meant to be—respite from life’s challenges.
When you listen to stories about Mark’s life, unanticipated, synchronistic, incredible musical opportunities are a theme. He performed in the choir at church as a child and early on developed the confidence that comes from messing up in front of congregation of people. During high school, friends heard Mark singing at camp while washing dishes and invited him to lead a ska band, though he didn’t know what ska was. They went on to open for every ska band that came through Pittsburgh. Mark even learned to play guitar by accident. He brought a bass of his dad’s to play with some friends one time, which led to a mentor offering to teach him how to play not only the bass, but the guitar.
Mark adds, “What really inspired me was going to Wheaton and seeing John Steinmeiier, Andru Bemis and Paul Bessenbacher,” all of whom have become full-time musicians. Getting to play music with friends and learn from them shaped Mark’s skill and desire. Eventually, these contacts led him to tour Illinois and Wisconsin, performing at the Mennofolk Festival and even getting the offhand opportunity to play for Garrison Keillor. “Through performing with people like Andru and Brad Yoder, I realized it was possible to make music in a way I had not seen before, in back yards and communities. Possibilities really opened.”
Mark currently works at the Pittsburgh Project as a community gardener. This past year the organization lost funding and is severing their staff from 50+ people to 14. This summer, Mark will not be able to hire people under him to work the gardens. He optimistically described this challenge as a blessing in disguise, because the dream has always been to make the garden an inherent, community-supported project. Due to the budget cut, more than 20 neighborhood families have volunteered to step in and provide the labor. Mark will spend the summer working from sunup to sundown tending to the plants and plots of earth in order to provide local food to the neighbors and local farmer’s market.
As a musician, Mark leads the music at his church, performs with friends at an annual Johnny Cash event, and puts on house shows for friends and neighbors in a band called “The Neighborhood” when the opportunities arise. They affectionately reference Mr. Rogers who hailed from Pittsburgh.
Mark’s music is powerful. It transports you. His voice is shockingly powerful. When he begins singing, you are immediately engaged, but he then takes his voice to the next level, losing all inhibition. I have never heard music that takes me out to the fields somewhere in the south a hundred years ago as much as his does. He sings about a world where life is hard, but God is good. His lyrics reference trains as a mode of escape, not only physically, but into eternity. His music makes you feel like the world is a beautiful place where there is potential for good—children are picking orange cherry tomatoes off the vine and old folks are playing banjos and mandolins. So I asked Mark where this music comes from—how he gets inspired, and I was shocked by his answer. He explained, “The songs often come when I am going through something difficult or I am up late. I struggle so much with depression, and many of the songs I write are really hopeful and idealistic.”
At first, I thought that I had not heard him correctly. But he went on to elaborate, sharing that he is responsible for envisioning and carrying out lofty idealistic visions at his church and his job. It is hard not to notice how often the reality is so far from what he and those around him are imagining. On top of that, he has a wife and two children relying on him at home, heightening the potential to feel like a failure, not only as a visionary and laborer, but as a husband and father. He summed it by saying that he often finds himself “asleep on the couch.”
Personally, this was beyond eye-opening. I idealize Mark and Courtney’s lives because they are living out the dream—they are living the way life was meant to be lived, or at least far closer to it than anyone else I know. Mark himself described this ideal as, “Living simply, growing your own food, making music, loving people that you are close to.” If everyone followed suit, I think the world would be a far better place. It was bizarre, then, listening to him describe the feeling that he is a societal “freeloader” when maybe he should be making lots of money in the free market so he can just support himself as a musician.
Mark performed a house show for us recently. Before performing the first song, he told us about some of the children he teaches through the Pittsburgh Project. He teaches them ecology and gardening and canning, among other things, but he has realized that before he can teach them to take care of the earth or how to can pickles, he has to teach them that they are loved, because many of these children are not getting that message at home. The first song Mark sang, then, had the repeating (and very catchy) line, “Ain’t nobody that the Lord don’t love!”
A little later, Mark told us about one of his favorite students, a girl who would tell all the other kids to shut up and pay attention to Mark during class. Her mother and brothers were involved in gangs and drugs, but she and her twin sister were not. Her dad would bring her to church. One day she died in a drive-by shooting. Some men who were angry at her mother or brothers or someone in her family decided to shoot up her home, and she was the only one to die. After the weekend, Mark returned to the ecology class where she was missing. After Mark told this story, I began to understand what he meant when he said that not all of the kids were getting the message that they were loved at home.
I began to get a more realistic idea of Mark’s depression. He is living on public assistance and working for a floundering organization and making very little money doing so, because he believes in helping these children. Music is his passion and his gift to the world, but he doesn’t have the time or the resources to make it a priority, especially when he is surrounded by so many people in need, not only of love and education, but an escape from poverty.
Mark and Courtney are not quick to elaborate on the darkness with which they are surrounded—it is something real for them, but it is so far from most of our sheltered realities. I think it almost feels cheap talking about their experiences, because they don’t want us in our own wealthy worlds to romanticize them as heroes in some sick way. The people, living and dead, with whom they are surrounded, are real.
Mark and Courtney told me stories of numerous people—youth—getting shot and killed in their neighborhood. Courtney described pressing on the bullet wound in the back of a “huge” man as she held him and tried to convince him that it was a good idea to call the police. Mark described how one of his best employees, Anthony, would take gardening breaks to quietly meet with his gang members. This particular individual ended up getting convicted after killing a local, beloved shop owner in an attempted robbery. When he was put in prison, he ended up on the same floor as murderer of the girl who had been killed in the drive-by shooting. Turns out, she had been his cousin. Mark had led a small devotional with this young man and a couple others, but he lost faith in the endeavor after Anthony killed the shopkeeper. But not all had been lost. They received a letter from prison in which Anthony told about realizing he was on the same floor as the killer. At first, his plan was retaliation, but he ultimately decided “to try forgiveness.”
Mark’s music is a cry to God from the depths of poverty and dreamless, hopeless lives. He has captured hope and transcendence with his songs, even as he himself is losing faith in a vision that does not seem to be making a difference.
In addition to running a farm with his family, Mark has a dream of community supported music. Mark explains, “One thing we started doing at the non-profit is offering CSA shares. This is a great model with agriculture, but I bet you could do it with music too.” Just as individuals and families buy into community supported agriculture (CSAs), they would buy a share in his art. He would perform shows for the community members during the year and they would have access to all of his recorded music.
Mark has tons of music waiting to be recorded, and he is currently working on releasing another CD, though he is not sure if people still use CDs. I assured him they do. I think. I know my sister would take one.
Check out some videos of Mark here:
April 2012 from Miracleshout
Beni Johnson Interview: The Glory Cloud
They are like these clouds that burst. They show up like smoke, and then they just burst, and all this gold or whatever it is starts going everywhere.
You have this gold, and people have it on their shoes and on their bodies and on their hair.
I felt like I was a child. Almost like a child would feel if they went to Disneyland and they were just like in awe of what was happening.
I felt glory, I felt that peace, I felt that holiness and that reverent fear, and I felt like it was God saying, “This is what I am bringing. I am bringing this,” and it was all-encompassed in that gold, the feeling and seeing of it. I felt like He was saying, “This is heaven. This is what I am bringing,” and it just rocked me.
When I felt that peace in the midst of that awe, I thought, “This is His glory. This is a piece, a very small piece, of His glory.”
We are not trying to explain it. We are not trying to figure it out. We just know that it was God, and we are just letting Him do it. And we are still like a bunch of kids. Whenever it does show up, we are like a bunch of kids.
We can say it is His glory or His presence, which it is, but we don’t know why He’s doing it.
It stays. One of our staff members had his favorite T-shirt on and I still don’t even know if he has washed it yet. He’s like, “I don’t know if I want to wash this. There’s still gold all over it.”
Since we have a black ceiling, it’s really easy to see. I joke around with people, pastors: “If you have a white ceiling, paint it black.”
Nobody that has experienced it is skeptical, because they experience it firsthand.
The atmosphere is anticipation. We are anticipating that anything could happen, not just that, but anything could happen. I am not disappointed, but I really wish it would happen like that again.
People are not going to want to live in compromise when this kind of stuff is happening. They are going to want to live right before God and make the right decisions.
Brenda Johnson is known by most as Beni. She and her husband, Bill, have been the senior pastors of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, since 1996. Bethel is a very large church in a small town. The church has changed and grown over the years, and there are now numerous school associated with it, including the School of Supernatural Ministry, which began in 1998 and trains about 1,200 students annually.
One of the messages that sets Bethel apart from other churches is the doctrine that, “Every believer is a supernatural minister of the gospel of power whom signs and wonders should follow.” Individuals from the church have reported experiencing the healing of physical infirmities, dreams and visions sent to them from God, viewing angels and other spiritual beings, and being “given” messages and meaningful images of love from God to share with other specific humans.
In the past year, there has been a previously unreported supernatural experience that many people have shared. It has been called the “Glory Cloud,” and it is a billowing, floating mass of sparkling, gold-colored dust that takes shape and grows below the ceiling of the church sanctuary. It then moves around just under the ceiling of the room, exploding into more of the golden dust, which then showers everything. I was given the delightful opportunity to interview Beni Johnson about this strange occurrence.
Beni is deeply respected for her leadership in the area of “intercession,” or “prayer, petition, or entreaty in favor of another” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). God’s response to her committed prayers has been credited with overcoming spiritual and physical challenges. It has also been associated with bringing about some of the significant achievements that occurred in the church community. Beni authored a book on the subject, entitled The Happy Intercessor, and she has a special commitment to individuals who are hopeless and seeking encouragement.
When Nathan Stanton reached out to Beni about the possibility of this interview, she was eager to share with us about the Glory Cloud. She is a busy individual, but she did not put any limits or requirements on the interview. Her kind, humble personality radiated through the phone as we spoke. And this is what she told me.
On one particular night in August 2011, during a conference especially for women, some of the ladies in attendance began to rush the stage in response to a cloud of pulsating golden dust that had appeared above their heads. Though many people at Bethel and other churches have reported seeing and discovering mysterious gold dust on their hands and other places, there has not previously been a visible, floating cloud. Neither Beni nor Bill was present on the first night it appeared, but they both heard all about it from their friends and congregants.
Over the coming months, they both were able to experience the cloud for themselves on a couple occasions. Beni describes a feeling of peace “that gets rid of all the head clutter” that goes with it, along with a sensation of childlike awe and a desire to live in a way that would please God. It would be difficult to explain it any better than she does, so you should listen to the interview or watch one of the many videos of the cloud.
One of the most notable things about this apparently miraculous demonstration is the universality of the experience for everyone in the room. I have heard about times when certain people report hearing or seeing angels in a church sanctuary while others do not, but the Glory Cloud is a corporate experience; everyone in the room—believer and unbeliever, old and young—sees it and loves it.
Though there have not been Glory Cloud appearances in the last month or so, people are still visiting in hopes of getting to experience it for themselves and the congregation is still waiting in eager expectation of more “signs that make you wonder,” as the supernatural experiences are called by those in the community. The church believes that God is bringing revival and healing not only to their church, but their city and the world. They believe that is what is meant by, “Thy Kingdom come”—that it is not some futuristic coming, but something that is currently happening among us.
I asked Beni about some of her other noteworthy supernatural experiences, and she described for me an encounter that took place when her husband, Bill, took her to the revival in Toronto some 17 years ago. As a child, she had been told by many people that she was a shy person. Beni described being absolutely terrified to speak in front of people, even into her forties. However, while she was at the church in Toronto, a man touched her, which sent her into convulsions on the floor. When she asked God what the experience meant, she felt Him tell her that He was, “shaking out of you that lie and that stronghold of that shyness and that fear of man. I was igniting in you who you really are.” Now Beni speaks in front of thousands of people and leads numerous events and workshops and studies. Nevertheless, she claims, “The things I am doing now, you couldn’t have paid me for.”
I asked Beni what her chief message for the world is. She said, without hesitation, that it would simply be: “God is good. And it is his goodness that leads us to repentance. And as far as being a person of prayer, your prayers should be hooked to heaven. They should be full of joy and full of creativity and full of life and answers. Even in the times of travail and great crying out before God they should always finish with how good he is and giving declarations of what He is going to do. That is pretty much it.”
March 2012 from Ripe Fire
An Interview in 8 Questions: A Conversation with Dana Gioia about His Art
March 1, 2012
I met Dana Gioia when I was a freshman in college. He came to do a poetry reading at Wheaton College (Illinois) in 1999, and I was able to ignore my papers and social life long enough to attend. Because I liked his poetry so much, I asked if I could please correspond with him. Probably because there was no other polite option, he said yes. He did not remember exactly who I was when I sent him my first letter, but he wrote back. I asked various questions about his poetry and life, and always, he wrote back, with long, thoughtful answers on beautiful, typed pages. Eventually, I felt too busy and stopped writing.
Last fall, Nathan Stanton asked me to do interviews for Metatron, and in January, he mentioned featuring a poet sometime soon. When I asked my sister, Melissa Jenks, for some poet suggestions (thinking of perhaps a mutual friend or former professor), she remembered Dana. She said something like, “I think he has gotten pretty big. I think he may have won a book award and worked for the NEA.”
Upon investigation, I learned that he received the American Book Award in 2002 for Interrogations at Noon and served as Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 2003 to 2009. But one night, instead of watching my taped episode of The Bachelor, I got up the nerve to email him. Much sooner than anticipated, I had received an answer, in which he agreed to do this interview, in writing, if I would give him a couple months. To me, it feels like grace: a great, undeserved kindness that I am unable to repay. All I had to do was ask.
1. From my perspective, it seems like you could have been the champion of any artistic endeavor you had chosen to pursue. You have shared that your mother recited poetry often when you were a child, but that was not the only art form you learned to appreciate at a young age. Why did you first choose poetry as your mode of self-expression? Why poetry?
As a child, I was drawn in equal measures to music, writing, and art. I like to think that I could have become a good composer, and I remain devoted to music. It wasn’t that I chose to become a poet. Poetry chose me. Other artists will know what I am saying. There comes a point in an artist’s life where a vocation takes possession of you. That happened to me with poetry in my 19th year—ironically, when I was studying music and German in Vienna.
2. You have an MBA from Stanford, an MA from Harvard, you won the American Book Award, you were the hugely popular head of the National Endowment for the Arts, and you are a prolific writer of critically acclaimed poetry. You are smarter and more driven than the Average Joe. Poetry happens to be your language of choice. What is your advice for other hopeful artists, who have artistic potential, but not the intellectual acumen or sheer willpower to achieve so much?
My advice to aspiring writers is very simple—read and write. You must immerse yourself in your art. Or to put the matter slightly differently—work. Bring passion and dedication to your chosen work. I have been able to achieve a great deal because I focused on the things that mattered most to me—writing, family, and making a living.
It is important to work regularly. You don’t need huge blocks of time if you can write for an hour or two every night. That’s what I did for years, even after working a ten hour day at the office. You also need to give up unimportant things. You won’t really miss them. Most people plan to wait until life gives them some great expanse of free time to write. That will either never happen or happen too late to matter.
3. You have taken many bold steps in your life. You wrote a wildly disputed essay in the early 90s, you left the field of business to become a poet, and you became the chair of a troubled governmental organization. Now you are becoming a professor, after challenging the field of academia for monopolizing poetry. It appears that what people think of you does not affect your choices. Is there anyone or anything you do fear?
I fear my own conscience. Once you decide to be a writer in any serious sense, then first and foremost you face the obligation to tell the truth. This is harder than you think since there is so often the temptation to utter a resonant or pleasing lie. But writing demands candor. This honesty is not simply what appears on the final page. It includes everything that shaped the work from the start. You must strive to think truthfully to write truthfully.
I’ve noticed, for example, how most young academics don’t write about what interests them. Nor do they write in the ways they want. Instead they write in ways that they hope will please their institutional authorities in order to advance their careers. Once they get a job and get tenure, they feel then they will write with greater honesty and authenticity. But by then, of course, they have internalized all the crippling conventions and mendacities of their profession.
4. After all your achievements and accolades, do you ever feel self-conscious about your work? Is there anyone you would be nervous to read a poem for?
Of course, I feel self-conscious about my work. That is why I revise so assiduously and often take years to finish a poem. I once spent a day with the novelist Anthony Burgess, one of the most brilliant men I have ever met. When he found out I was a poet, he said, “If you are a poet, then remember that you write for God.” That has been enduring and invaluable advice. A poet must write for a reader who can see through all pretense and look into our hearts. I’m not sure I fear that reader, but I certainly respect him.
5. Early on, how did you realize that your poems were not bad, but in fact, pretty awesome? Where did your confidence come from?
When I was young, I thought I saw dim glimmers of talent in my poems. I worked hard to write better and spent years writing and revising. I spent nearly every afternoon one summer working and reworking two or three poems. All that work, all that sustained and devoted meditation on the art, and its craft slowly made me into a poet.
The hard part is having the confidence to write the way your Muse directs, even when that way is in opposition to current fashions. At least that was the case in my own career. I was attacked often ferociously from the very start. I had the choice of giving up, changing my approach, or continuing to pursue what I felt was my own direction. There is really no choice if you want to write well. You can’t pretend to be anything other than what you are. Confidence is everything, and so—oddly enough – is humility. But it isn’t humility before the experts, who are so often mistaken. It is humility before the art itself.
6. How do you access your creativity? Do the poems appear, grow, and collect in your head until you write them down, or do you have to set yourself up with the right inspiration at a blank paper in order to create?
Poems come when they want to, not when I want them. All I can do is keep my life open to the possibility of their arrival. I wait. Sometimes I wait and wait and then wait some more.
7. What role does faith play in your poetry, if any?
If faith is part of who you are, then it must be part of your poetry. I am a Catholic, and my faith and traditions permeate my sense of myself and the world around me. I have never thought of myself as a religious poet. I’ve rarely ever written what could be considered a devotional poem. And yet I see my work as deeply Catholic in its constant concerns with finding meaning in a fallen world and trying to be open to the grace necessary for redemption. Because I don’t announce these themes with overtly religious titles or subjects, it took years for readers to notice them.
8.. You have accomplished much in your lifetime thus far. You have written amazing poetry, you are responsible for students memorizing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of poems that they might never have encountered, you have helped members of the armed forces share their emotions, you have exposed youth to theater, and you have broadened the role poetry plays in society. This is an abbreviated list. You have seen dreams come to fruition in your life, some to levels you had not even anticipated (e.g. the number of students participating in Poetry Out Loud). What do you dream of for the next 30 years?
It would be nice to imagine that I have another 30 productive years, but I am more modest in my planning. I hope to write poems and essays. The problem is to write well. Most poets never write well enough, and even the best poets often go soft. Just look at the careers of Wordsworth and Coleridge, two of the greatest poets in the language. Coleridge’s best poetry was all written within a single decade. The second half of Wordsworth’s long career was a great falling off from his early work. My deepest hope is to keep writing at the height of my powers for as long as that is possible.
9.. What have you been working on most recently? What is your latest publication, and why should we read it?
I am happy to report that I have a new book of poems being published this May. It’s called Pity the Beautiful. It feels both reassuring and slightly astonishing to be a poet again after 8 years in prosaic Washington, D.C.
Why should you read Pity the Beautiful? Well, I hope because it will enchant, delight, and enlighten you. But then again, a poet can never be objective about his own work. So perhaps the real reason you should read my new book is to tell me what you think about it.
Erica Henry, Editor-in-Chief
Pity the Beautiful
Pity the beautiful,
the dolls, and the dishes,
the babes with big daddies
granting their wishes.
Pity the pretty boys,
the hunks, and Apollos,
the golden lads whom
success always follows.
The hotties, the knock-outs,
the tens out of ten,
the drop-dead gorgeous,
the great leading men.
Pity the faded,
the bloated, the blowsy,
the paunchy Adonis
whose luck’s gone lousy.
Pity the gods,
no longer divine.
Pity the night
the stars lose their shine.
— Dana Gioia
Feb 2012 from IM(age)
David Nyquist, Painter/Dreamer
Art became an avenue for me to discover freedom.
I had this piece of fabric that my roommate and I called my ‘painting skirt.’
My wife was concerned that I was too weird to like.
Eventually, I had a pretty significant encounter with the Holy Spirit–it was ecstatic.
I have never felt the need to live in the studio. There are people like that, but they are probably more introverted than I am.
I found this metal at this place I shop. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I was going to paint on them.
…Struggling with form and spirit; frustrated with how people limit God.
I give myself complete freedom when I start; my objective is to enjoy the experience of brush strokes.
I have never met David Nyquist before this interview, and I still never have. We did this interview via web camera over one year ago. David is a painter and “church architect” who lives in Oakland, CA. He is working to create a new church community. What stands out to me about David is his confidence in his identity. He is comfortable with his life’s path, and he knows he is an artist and pastor. Furthermore, he believes that the two can and should be interwoven–that it is possible to pastor and love and connect humans through art and the shared experience and language it provides, a language which is often more accessible than the Christian dialect we have learned to speak without actually hearing.
David was raised in a Christian family in Chicago. He stayed in the city for college, attending North Park University, where he studied art. David spent much of college partying with friends he had grown up with, but at some point not long after graduating, he arrived at the realization that he needed to make a drastic life change for his own well-being.
“When I was partying, I got to a point to where I didn’t want to do it any more, but I couldn’t stop. I kept doing it because it was what I was stuck in. I would be trying to read my Bible stoned and drunk. I felt like it had to be more true than it was. What I ended up finding were all these odd inconsistencies–Jesus would say one thing about the life of a Christian and my experience would look nothing like that. I decided I had to get out of Chicago… I knew God had other plans for me and I needed to get away.” So David got into a car with a friend and drove across the country.
But leaving Chicago and arriving in Berkeley, California, did not provide any new answers or clarity. David says, “I did not have any clear direction or vision. I was unsure what to do. Ministry was the farthest thing from my mind. I knew I was passionate about Jesus, but at first it was a religious remorse. I thought I was failing the religious community I grew up in. That caused me to experiment a lot in the Holy Spirit—feeding homeless people and having them sleep on my couch.”
He worked at an art store down the street from his house and “started building a little stash of supplies.” David explains, “Art became an avenue for me to discover freedom. I would just kind of be reading scripture and then painting… I had this piece of fabric that my roommate and I called my painting skirt. And that’s how I started painting–I would just go at it in my bedroom…” In fact, this newfound freedom was not always traditional. Before he married his wife some years later, David explains, “My wife was concerned that I was too weird to like.”
“I started going to a church out here, and I think I went because they were meeting in a movie theater… Eventually, I had a pretty significant encounter with the Holy Spirit–it was ecstatic. The Holy Spirit filled my room, and I had this intense joy and peace. I realized I didn’t need to lean on a religious establishment. I was introduced to a whole lot of other spiritual ideas, like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but I remember thinking, ‘This is totally a sham.’ People were suggesting a vague spirituality, but the Holy Spirit inside of me had become the great discerner of truth.”
Over the years in the Bay Area, David has had a variety of work experiences. “I had two corporate jobs–one as an art teacher, which was amazing. I couldn’t believe how much they were paying me. The other job was a church planting job for a homeless organization, but it was too corporate for me.” None of these careers completely matched what he was looking for, but David explains, “All these experiences added up. I was so sure I had some calling that I just kept going… I worked at the art store, tutoring at an agency, waiting tables… All these things were building blocks inside of me—it was an obvious thing when I stepped into planting this church.”
“I became a pastor, in title, two years ago.” Before that, “I was trying to live the normal Christian life in what I had seen reflected in Jesus. I started doing a lot more hands-on ministry stuff. I was interested in the plight of the poor. I would see people in need and try to do something about that. I worked in a church office for a while. I had my eye on church leadership since a young age. I remember thinking the pastor I worked for was kind of a normal guy and wanting to relate to a pastor as a normal guy. I was trying to make my life work… I did some education. I was trying to figure out who I am—I basically tried everything but ministry.”
But art has always been a theme in David’s life too. A couple years ago, David set out to do a mural of his own design instead of the work he had been hiring himself out to do (another one of his many jobs) to decorate other people’s homes and buildings over the years. But David’s method of selecting a location was bizarre. Instead of asking to paint an interesting visible space in his community, David offered himself out for hire publicly on the internet. For free. To anyone.
“I got on craigslist and posted in five major cities.” There were several responses, including an individual who wanted a mural in his living room for the monthly parties he hosted. But one offer stood out. When he contacted David, he explained, ‘I am a gallery owner in NYC. I have a courtyard.’” After looking up the gentleman, David learned he was an erotic art gallery owner located across the street from Hotel Gansevoort, where Coldplay stays where they are in town. He envisioned the mural on a small stairwell enclosure on his rooftop, a location visible to the surrounding buildings. So David sent out a fundraising letter to friends and family saying he would be blessed if they chipped in. In response, he “got a good chunk of change.” When he left for New York, “there was still money coming in.” In fact, when he added up the total donated and compared it with the cost of trip there was a difference of exactly forty cents.
In spite of the darkness David says he felt while painting, he allowed himself the freedom to do whatever came to him through the paintbrush. The painting turned out to be of an emaciated man with a serpent wrapped around his leg, but the man is grabbing the snake by the neck in domination. David explains that during the process he felt like he was out of his comfort zone and “functioning on autopilot.” But when the gallery owner saw the painting at the unveiling–an event at which both the gallery’s S&M community and David’s wholesome-looking friends attended–”he really liked the piece, and he was so happy that we were there.”
David is an artist, but his current vocational priority is his church, which he and his partners have intentionally designed to be a place to encourage dreaming. They believe “the church is to be the most creative organization on the planet.” And in reference to painting, David explains, “I have never felt the need to live in the studio.” He continues, “Artists who do feel that way are probably more introverted than I am.”
Nevertheless, one of David’s goals “is to do a painting a week. I will find space and time to make art. Art remains an avenue into relationship with God. It helps me to hear him or know him when I am creating. I value being led by the Holy Spirit in painting.” When I asked how he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit, David explained, “I start by picking a brush that I feel like painting with. I give myself complete freedom when I start–my object is to enjoy the experience of brush strokes. The brush I may pick or the color I may choose may be a process of expressing my frustration or challenges I am in. Ultimately, my goal is to connect with God and work that out on canvas. Most paintings are a visual journey of my life.”
As for the church David is investing in, “For right now, I wear every hat–from preaching to fundraising , prayer ministry, etc. I have a vision of raising up leaders who can offset my strengths with theirs.” The church demographic is “primarily younger, not families at this point. Some seniors, mostly young people–average age is late 20s… We are offering a unique thing. We are preaching the gospel, and people are hungry for that.” The church gatherings have an average of about 15 participants, and David expresses that “some people would prefer more anonymity,” a commodity which is not available in a church of such intimate size. But creativity does seem to be a common thread: “The arts are obviously in me, and I am amazed at how many people in our community are committed… I am seeing how God is bringing creative people, dancers… We are going to see how that artistic expression is released. I feel like there is a lot yet undiscovered in how God can use the arts to bring about healing and deliverance.”
Since David and I spoke some twelve or thirteen months ago, his church has evolved. They now have house-group-like meetings in an art studio in Oakland. He explains, “This year I am looking forward to monthly communion feasts, artistic experiences as a community, some DJ’d worship parties, and gatherings centered on encountering God.” David and his friend, Sarah Yang, are also about to begin leading a three-month course called “Emerge,” designed to “draw out your creative, God-given identity.”
David’s energy and creative mentality is contagious when you speak to him. He has allowed himself freedom to be an artist and live life differently, and that freedom has allowed him to find perspective, direction, and vision. It seems like he actually likes his life choices and that he has not wasted any time but only followed the path, albeit slowly and hesitantly at times. You can tell that he lives life with an awareness that only a true creative can—with eyes open and senses piqued to inform him about the souls and beauty around him.-EH
Are you curious what David’s paintings look like? CHECK OUT THE LINKS:
David Nyquist, Painter: http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Nyquist-painter/278386655864
Tree of Life Church Bay Area: www.tlcbayarea.org
Jan 2012 from Golden Notes
An Interview with Exodus Music Group’s Samson and Rob Vick
This is my quest, to follow that star,
no matter how hopeless, no matter how far…
to fight for the right, without question or pause…
to be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause… –Joe Darion, “The Impossible Dream”
Pieces from the Interview:
The first time for me was actually in school. I remember the bell schedule would be weird sometimes. It would change from day to day, and certain days we would have a lot of free time. And sometimes people would bring up the topic of rap. So and so could do this, so and so could do that. I do vaguely remember rhyming for a group of people in the hallway once and they were like, “That was pretty good.”
I dipped and dabbled with it just jokingly growing up but nothing I really ever considered ever doing in my life. And then I met Alex and his brother, and I thought, “You know what? I may just start writing rhymes too.” And I started writing rhymes, like they were doing, and it just kept going.
Growing up, musically, I know I have always been into hip hop, and I would watch my brother. He would write rhymes on the yellow notebook paper and I would take ‘em when he wasn’t around and memorize them, and then go outside and say them like they were mine. The older I got, I would try to do it myself, and it’s just been a part of me.
I wrote the rhymes on that same yellow paper. I don’t know why we just ended up writing rhymes on that yellow paper. It’s crazy thinking about the process, because when we were that young we would read ‘em to each other. Like we would write rhymes and we would be upstairs in that bonus room and we used to read our rhymes to each other. We weren’t rapping them. We would read them to each other like stories.
We would say, “Hey, that was cool man.” We always liked each other’s rhymes.
You get into the middle of the circle, and as soon as someone stops—I mean you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes—I know Rob can attest to that. As soon as their rhyme is coming to an end, you kind of jump in. It’s like verbal jump rope. Boom. You hit ‘em with a flow. Drop ‘em with a 16.
The media portrays rappers in a certain light. To the older generation, my parents definitely looked at that and kind of summarized what all of rap was about. I definitely wasn’t helping them along the way.
We would have one or two songs that would glorify God, and then we would have like ten more that would basically tell you everything that we would do to hurt you, the best is me, no one is better, no one is greater.
I had to get to a point of being honest with myself and kind of fusing the honesty in myself into my music and into my talent and being who I was meant to be, who I was born to be. That’s why I eventually tied everything in with my love for God. I had to put it all together. I hadn’t quite figured it out yet. That light bulb hadn’t quite gone off.
My father was a deacon at church, so growing up I was always in the church, so some of those things just stayed with me. It was always in the background. We would always do one song that included religious subject matter.
As you become a man, as you grow up, you start to evaluate certain things. It’s just like God pruning you. He is making you into who he wants you to be. You can’t continue to stay the same.
Why am I doing this, when everybody is trying to rap and everybody wants to be their own individual? You want to have your own lane; you don’t want to be like everyone else. Everyone is searching for a uniqueness and an individuality. Why don’t I rap about God? That’s what I know. From that point on, I never turned back.
You don’t want anything less than what’s real… The notion of keepin’ it real is built on the foundation of the enemy and what is detestable to God. The things they aim to keep real are things that are detestable to God. It really is mind-boggling, but I want to keep it real with myself and talk about who Christ wants me to be as a man and go against the grain. A lot of times you are a minority when you speak on these things, but I welcome the challenge.
It’s really just the fruition of everything I have been through in my life, every situation, every encounter. It’s actually just the fulfillment. I finally did something I can rest easy about as far as music.
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I don’t know much about hip hop. I enjoy Jay Z and Kanye, but I get offended by Snoop Dogg. Lil Wayne sounds and looks, er, interesting, but I get the feeling he is scary. I am drawn to Tupac, but I have yet to actually listen to his music. Suffice it to say, my knowledge is limited. Bob Dylan and the Beatles and Elvis got in the way. I had to work myself chronologically through music history, and maybe now, at age 30, I am ready to explore hip hop.
A couple weeks ago I was given the opportunity to not just listen to hip hop, but meet and interview two best friend hip hop artists, Rob Vick and Alex (aka Samson). Truthfully, I was nervous about talking to them, but I decided to play it safe, and be the overly-honest, extremely candid, self-effacing individual that I do best. “Yes, I know nothing about hip hop, and I will poke fun at myself while I ask you about it.”
That being said, the two men I interviewed were the nicest, easiest interviewees I could have imagined. I am intimidated of artists as it is, and not having a solid foundation in the medium put me at a further disadvantage. Moreover, after listening to their music—that sounds to the untrained ear [read: my ear] a lot like Jay Z or Kanye West (in a good way) minus the profanity and plus phrases you notice that point to God and echo Christian themes—and reading their respective profiles on the Exodus Music website, I felt anxiety about dialoging with them and finding a common vocabulary. But from the beginning of the interview, as they talked about writing rhymes in their yellow notebooks after listening to the rhymes of older siblings and friends, I felt a connection. They are wordsmiths, seeking time and space and freedom to create. They string words together to tell stories and convey messages and ideas.
More importantly, Rob and Alex exude a humble persona you would never expect. The profiles on their Exodus Music website were a little intimidating, and part of my anxiety in talking to them was due to my associations with the hip hop industry—my impressions of huge egos with defensive personalities to match. While listening back to the interview, I sound clueless, but in the moment, while we were speaking, they treated me without condescension, like I was talking to old, funny friends.
But nevermind the fact that they were nice. What I am leading to is that these guys are amazing musicians. Yes, they were nice, and yes, they got on the conference call before me and treated my ignorance with respectful, patient kindness, but what is significant is that their music is good. Before coming to the place where they unified their fervent faith and their music, they put time and devotion into becoming good rappers with great rhymes. They are the rare trifecta—nice people, intelligent musicians, and true to their beliefs.
Rob and Alex tell the story of two men, friends since youth, who followed, have followed, no—are following—their artistic dreams. This is more than most of us can claim in a lifetime. But that’s not all. After choosing to follow their musical dreams in lives where the choices were to be a church leader, a rapper, or make money, they had to overcome the intense pressures from every direction—most prominently, the pressure to conform and fit into a prescribed box or definition—in order to do what they were meant to do.
Rob and Alex met when they were in high school in Nashville, and both continued on to Morehouse College in Atlanta. Music and faith were common threads in both of their lives, threads that continued throughout college and on as they returned to Nashville after school and began families. Rob now works as a student advisor at Bethel University, and Alex is a claims analyst at a health care company, but they continue to record and perform their unapologetic Christian rap music.
For both of them, their faith used to be an occasional visitor within their art. They would write and perform songs that are similar to any of the rap you can hear on the radio, with some of the same sexist, destructive themes. It was not necessarily what they believed or practiced themselves; they just knew it was what people seemed to like to listen to. But after years of battling the conflicting feelings within themselves and ignoring the disparity between who they truly were and how they portrayed themselves through their music, they gave in and started to sing about what they cared about most—God.
There are a lot of Christian musicians– country singers and rockers. Additionally, many rappers seem to be okay with God—it’s culturally normal to have Christian roots. Rappers rarely seem like atheists—there is usually some acknowledgement of God at award shows, for example. But being “okay with God” is a far cry from making God your trademark. While some musicians make music with positive undertones and messages, few make their faith their work’s one common, constant theme, especially if they are not in the traditional Christian music industry.
I was nervous about interviewing these guys because I thought they would have big egos, but during the conversation, I was most impressed with their palpable love of God. It was not put on for the sake of the interview; you could tell they were speaking the way they would speak to anyone. If anything, I did not ask them much about God; they simply could not help talking about Him, because He is so tied to what they do. In Alex’s profile, it says he “wants to begin the musical deliverance of an era oppressed by misogyny, materialism, murder, and mayhem.” I believe I was even nervous that his outspoken Christianity would be stifling and oppressive, but just like everything else about him that contrasts so much with the rap he does well, it was gentle and humble.
Rob and Alex make bold music without sacrificing their souls and what they believe. They do not fit into any Christian music prototype, but they have not let that lack of a prescribed identity keep them from making good music. Their rhymes and beats are intelligent and catchy and memorable. It is good rap; it just happens to be about Jesus.
Rob and Alex have taken their own road. They are not following in anyone’s footsteps, but forging their own, creating something new, not only with their music, but with their identity. They are excellent musicians who have not let fear force them into the false security of labels. They are freely “keeping it real” in every facet of their lives. -EH