Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Katie Deter – The Brooklyn Sessions

A few months ago, a friend posted a video of Katie singing the classic Stephen Foster song, “hard times” and I immediately was surprised and drawn in by Katie’s voice. I introduced myself, and invited Katie to come to New York and record some music with me. While we were talking, I learned she was 15. I had no idea she was that young. Katie’s voice feels a bit timeless – truly southern and truly American.

I went to Alabama and met Katie and her parents. Good, beautiful people. And our stories were far more connected than I had realized. Katie started sending me her new demos and song ideas – simple recordings she would record at home – and we started planning out an EP. Her lyrics are simply written and honest. And her vocal timing and melody ideas continued to surprise me. She came to Brooklyn in January and I invited some of my friends to help, and within a few days, we had this EP.

“the brooklyn sessions” is a fine collaboration – Katie’s band for this EP is essentially the Lone Bellow band – friends who were happy to be involved. We worked on a few songs and arrangements with Alex Foote, and then had Brian Griffin help with drums. Matt Knapp played pedal steel and dobro, and Ben Mars added bass. These guys – aside from being decent humans and wonderful friends, are fantastic musicians, and their instincts blended wonderfully with Katie’s new songs.

 It’s always fun to work with new artists and be apart of a person’s journey as they discover their voice, their sound, and their new songs. And of course, music from the deep south always grabs my attention, and it makes me proud particularly when its from Alabama. Katie Deter has serious talent
 – and the best is still to come.

Thanks, Katie

Monday, June 17, 2013

Open Letter Response to Harry Reeder about Homosexuality

After I posted my letter regarding my disappointment about my former boy scout troop being in talks about leaving the boy scouts, Harry Reeder, the pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, one of the largest Presbyterian Churches in America, and the church I grew up in, sent me a response.  I am posting his letter to me, and my response:



I have read your numerous blog posts, writings, and media quotes on what seems to be an important issue for you, (the sexuality of other people, including children) and now that you have written to me personally about the subject, I want to take the opportunity to explain why I think you’re wrong about this issue and why it’s harmful to the people who are influenced by you.

Your position on the Boy Scouts of America seems to be poorly informed. According to the actual statement from the Boy Scouts:, this decision is based on over 1,400 voting members from across the country, representing roughly 116,000 scout troops. They are not endorsing homosexuality or saying that it is good, or even calling it non-sinful. The statement says that “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting." They are not accepting or affirming anybody’s behavior. To put it another way, the BSA is no longer disallowing gay scouts. This is very different from promoting "sexual anarchy,” which is fear-based terminology that you use on your blog and in your letter to me.  Your writings promote your personal conspiracy theory about a small group of sinister, controlling extremists within the boy scouts, which is simply false.

In your opening paragraph to me you state that the only acceptable form of sexuality is within a "monogamous, heterosexual marital relationship".  However, how do you explain the sections of the Bible which obviously promote alternative relationships like polygamy, concubines and taking women as the spoils of war? Some specific verses / questions:

- Multiple wives (Gen 16:3, 29:28, 30:4,9 Ex 21:10, Judges 8:29-32, 2 Sam 12:7-8, 1 Chr 14:3)

- Concubines (Gen 25:6, 1 Kings 11:3, 2 Sam 5:13, 16:21-23)  

- Soldiers and their female prisoners of war. Are they to submit sexually to the men who capture them? (numbers 31:1-18, deut 21:11-14)

Even more interesting to me, in our own nation's recent history, what about slaves who couldn't marry until 1860? I suppose that the slave families who were forbidden to marry were living in sexual sin. We'll get to slavery in a minute. 

What about interracial marriage, which the bible has been used to argue against (Ezra 10:2, Gen 24:-3-4, 28:1, Lev 19:19, Deut 7:2-4, 22:9-11, Neh 13:23-30)? Interracial marriage was illegal (in your lifetime) in Alabama until 1967 when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned Pace v. Alabama. Prior to 1967, was it immoral for interracial heterosexual couples to have sex within the state of Alabama, or did they get an exception since they had no option to marry?  Is it moral now? Along these lines, if you have time, here is a fascinating 3 minute video from a Pastor in Springfield Missouri about segregation arguments used from the Bible.

1. You claim that the church does not mandate sexuality and that you simply teach what the Bible has to say about sex. But those teachings ultimately say that unless people conform to your specific version of normal sexuality, they are disobeying god and run the risk of burning in hell forever! This is really nothing more than a poor way of re-defining a mandate. It reminds me of God wanting his people to love him. How often have we heard that God wants his children to freely love him? And yet, the first commandment is to "love the Lord your God." Commandments ARE mandates. Giving someone the choice of your way or eternal suffering is clearly not giving them a choice. 

3. You write: "Genetically determined homosexual behavior is simply a myth", and "homosexual practice is not an issue of DNA but an issue of influence and choice". Your response about genetics and science and DNA is intellectually lazy. It's unhelpful to make a claim about scientific studies and then neglect to share which studies you are talking about.  Yes, as far as we can tell, homosexuality is not solely a product of genetics. I would quickly grant that, yes, research does seem to show that homosexuality is a combination of genetics, biology, and yes, social/environmental factors. However, that in no way means that it is simply a choice! There are innumerable hormonal, biologic, sociologic, and psychologic variables that lead to human attraction and sexual development.  And while humans and animals are different and I want to be careful to note that I am not making any direct comparisons, its interesting to point out that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but I guess that's because monkeys make a choice to be gay...

Beyond this idea of "choice" stands yet another issue: the idea that homosexuality is intrinsically deviant, depraved and unnatural, while heterosexuality is not. Homosexuality, according to you, is to be lumped in with bestiality, incest, rape, etc.  I realize that your personal interpretation of scripture is truth of the highest order, but results of years of study by the APA on the subject offer a very different perspective:

4. There's no need for us to argue over whether or not you are homophobic. If you say you do not have a fear of homosexuals then fine, I grant that you are not homophobic. But you are a bigot. The definition of bigot is “a person who is utterly intolerant of any different creed, belief, or opinion”. Harry, your personal beliefs cause you to oppress, hurt and discriminate against homosexuals. This isn't just schoolyard name calling. This is simple categorization and confrontation because your writing defines your bigotry. It is equivalent to classifying a segregationist as a racist.  I only confront you with that word because I want you to know how seriously I take your comments about our gay friends, family members, church members, and neighbors. 

5. That's interesting that you meet with two gay people.  In the time since I've posted my initial letter to you, I've received letters and calls from people all over the country, most of them thanking me.  I've gotten several calls from Christian pastors who support my arguments and are encouraging me to speak up. One of them read over a draft of this letter. Believe it or not, I am friends with a LOT of pastors, and none of them agree with you on this issue. I am personal friends with 3 PCA pastors who have told me that they believe that homosexuality is not immoral.

The bible endorses slavery.  Slavery is rampant in the old testament, but in the new testament as well (Eph 6:5, 1 Tim 6:1-2, 1 Peter 2:18). Even Jesus supports slavery! He says in Luke that it is acceptable for masters to beat their slaves, even if the slaves didn't realize that they were doing anything wrong (Luke 12:47-48).  Clearly, no modern person can accept the notion that owning another human being, under any circumstance, is moral. Harry It would be nice to be able to get inside your head and find out the real reasons homosexuality is such a big deal to you, but clearly it's not because it is in the bible. That's just ammo for you.  You and other Christians like you prove everyday that you are cherry pickers and not strict, fundamentalist followers of biblical morality. 

This is an issue that is bigger than religion. The simple fact is, the Christian community does not have a consensus on this issue. There are many Christians who find no relevance in the few passages where the Bible mentions homosexuality, just as they find no relevance in the many passages which endorse slavery. Using divine law to establish your argument against homosexuality is really not helpful because Christians simply do not agree about what divine law is.

My real interest here is fighting to end discrimination against homosexuals. I know very well that there are many Christians who think that homosexuality is a sin, that it is wrong in the eyes of God, punishable by damnation, etc., and as absurd as those ideas are, I support freedom of belief and am thankful for a world where people are free to disagree.  However, in this world of ideas, bigotry and discrimination of homosexuals is in fact coming to an end.  The conversation has already changed.  I urge you to reconsider your position on this important issue.


Brian T. Murphy

below is the letter Harry sent me on June 11.

Mr. Murphy,
Having read your “open letter” per your invitation, in courtesy I will make a few responses. First, in contradiction to your opening statement the issue is not whether there are “gay boys” in Troop 254. There may or may not be. Regardless of that, there have been, are and will be young men addressing the issue of sexual behavior in general and homosexuality in particular at Briarwood. They don’t have to be “allowed,” they are welcomed and we minister to them. The issue facing us by the actions of the BSA Council is the requirement of affirming homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. That is something which we cannot do in our allegiance to God’s Word and our desire to see the power of the Gospel at work in the lives of men and women as they are freely forgiven and transformed from the addictions of this world including any and all addictions of sexuality outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marital relationship.

Secondly, I will respond briefly to your numbered “thoughts.”

1.       We do not “mandate” another person’s sexuality. We simply teach what the Bible teaches. Sexual behavior is to be heterosexual, monogamous, and marital. For instance, we do not have to affirm heterosexual promiscuity in order to minister to the heterosexual promiscuous. Nor do we have to affirm aberration of homosexuality to love those practicing homosexual behavior. To affirm and accept others does not require affirming and accepting that which is unacceptable. Actually, authentic love is “patient” and “speaks the truth” so that what is ultimately destructive – sin in any and all of its forms including sexual immorality – can be addressed by the redeeming and transforming power of the Gospel
2.       Concerning your second thought - Since homosexuality is affirmed as normative by the actions of the BSA Council, if it is surfaced by conversation then there is no basis or reason to confront it or disallow it within the oversight of the troop.
3.       Concerning your personal sexuality as a scout, I would suggest to you that you had numerous “clues” about your sexuality. The point would have been to teach you as a scout what is “morally straight” which is sexuality between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. Your responsibility would then be to fulfill your scout vow by embracing that which is “morally straight.” Genetically determined homosexual behavior is simply a myth - not only does the Word of God reveal this but the numerous studies which are easily acceptable in multiple journals have affirmed time and time again that homosexual practice is not an issue of DNA but an issue of influence and choice.  
4.       Refusing to affirm homosexuality as acceptable behavior is not “homophobia.” Name calling just doesn’t work. Again, it is not necessary to affirm sinful and destructive behavior in order to affirm people. That is another myth. For believers the issue isn’t whether homosexuality makes us “uncomfortable.” On the contrary it is very uncomfortable to identify homosexuality as sin in a culture of relativism and sexual anarchy. The call of the Lord upon His people is not to our comfort but to our faithfulness. So, in a faithful ministry to people of any and all addictions to sexual sins, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the truth of sin must be addressed in the context of the redeeming and transforming power of God’s grace in Christ.  
5.       You are absolutely correct concerning the fact that homosexuals “are not alone.” I meet with two regularly. We care for, minister and shepherd to many more than that. They are not, nor should they be alone. We are now and will continue to minister to them. But not only to them but to any and all whom our Lord allows us to speak of the saving grace of Christ.  But our ministry to them is one of hope – the glorious, redeeming forgiving, and transforming power of the Gospel. It alone has the answer to sin’s shame and guilt. The shame and guilt of sin is not removed by calling what is sin – good and what is good – sin.  It is addressed through the free, forgiving, redeeming, transforming power of the Gospel.  This is why Paul could write in the midst of the decadent Corinthian culture…
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. I Cor. 6:9-11

Paul’s obvious joy expressed in these verses above of the redeeming and transforming power of God’s grace would have never been known or experienced if he had not identified both sin with clarity and sin’s answer in the Gospel with integrity - speaking the truth in love

Grateful to Christ – knowing that “where sin abounds grace does much more abound” – forgiving and transforming grace.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boy Scout Troop 254

An open letter to Briarwood Church, Harry Reeder, RJ Fischer, and Boy Scout Troop 254:

believe it or not, I'm an eagle scout.  I have a certificate to prove it, signed by Bill Clinton, hanging in my old room at my parents house in Alabama.  It's the only thing signed by Bill Clinton in my parent's house.

people who don't know that about me are usually surprised when they find out.  it doesn't seem to go with the rest of my personality / personal philosophy / lifestyle, etc.  but anyone who's ever been in the woods with me wouldn't be surprised to learn that I'm an eagle scout.  I'm the guy who always has extra gear.  and backup gear for when that gear breaks.  I know how to tie nerdy knots.  I never get wet even in the hardest rainstorms.  or cold even on the coldest nights.  the woods is my favorite place to be. 

my mother made me try things growing up.  she made me take tennis lessons once and I was miserable the entire time.  I made the instructor miserable too.  I never had any more tennis lessons after that.  she made me play a season of baseball (the coaches hated me).  she made me join a church choir and I got in trouble for not singing during the performances.  she made me try boy scouts.  I protested.  I told her scouts were nerdy and I hated the dumb uniforms and I wanted nothing to do with them.  My protests were in vain; I went on a camping trip over a weekend and I was hooked.  I had more fun on that weekend boy scout camping trip than I had ever anticipated.  I had friends in the troop that I didn't realize were in it.  we were set free in the woods and the dads who led the troop were fun and taught us things.  from the age of 12-17, it was my secret - I was a boy scout.  

I did other things during those years.  I had a girlfriend and got my drivers license and went to high school and had a part time job at the local ice cream shop.  but once a month, I'd be free in the woods with my friends for a weekend camping trip.  no sunday church.  no saturday chores.  it was never boring, it was always free and exciting and I loved it.  I learned how to pack for backpacking trips and canoeing trips and survival trips.  I spent nights miles deep in caves, and high up on the tops of mountains.  I figured out how to turn a tent tarp into a sail and stop paddling in a canoe.  I learned how to hang food to keep it away from bears at night.  and I learned about how beautiful friendships can be forged simply because you had the gift of time.  I'm still very close to some of the guys I was in scouts with during those years.

And so, it feels worth writing about, that my former boy scout troop (troop 254 in birmingham, alabama), former scout leader, and former church I grew up in (which sponsored troop 254), are now in talks to end the boy scout troop because of the recent decision by the boy scouts of america to allow gay boys to be apart of the boy scouts.  here is an article in which the pastor of my former church (harry reeder) is quoted. here is a link to more of harry reeder's thoughts on the issue. and I recently received a very disappointing email from my former scoutmaster rj fischer where he expressed very negative thoughts about homosexual boys, and suggested that the troop might be ending because of this issue.

here's a few thoughts:

1. No person has the right to mandate another person's sexuality, especially the sexuality of children.  Sorry, religious people, sexuality just doesn't work that way.

2. this new rule says that openly gay BOYS can remain in the scouting program.  lets talk about this for a moment.  When I was in scouts I don't ever remember any talks about sex or any conversations about sex at all.  We talked about the woods.  we learned how to camp and survive outside and tie knots.  Any conversations about sex - no matter the orientation - would have been inappropriate.

3. this is worth repeating.  the new rule says that openly gay BOYS can remain in the scouting program!  listen, when I was 13 years old, I hadn't a clue about my sexuality. my friends who are gay now and were gay then CERTAINLY weren't talking about their sexuality, and it never affected our friendship, or my sexuality.  Like most children, we didn't know what to make of our sexuality.  also, we were all born to heterosexual parents; nobody was a product of any mythological "homosexual agenda".  

4. Christians, if you are apart of a church (and that includes Briarwood Church - the church I grew up in) that ends their boy scout program due to this homophobia, you should be ashamed of yourself.  This is not love.  This is not how you care for children.  This is not how you deal with sexuality that makes you uncomfortable.  If you are a member of this church, or any church currently discussing this issue, I urge you to voice your opinion.

5. if you are a boy scout, or a young person reading this, I urge you to read and think for yourself about this issue!  don't just take what your leaders tell you as fact.  Ask the hard questions about the Bible and morality and sexuality and come to your own conclusions. Think critically about yourself and your friends who are gay and how you feel about them as people.  How do you feel they should be treated?  if you are a boy and you are reading this and you are gay, please know that you are not alone, and that there are people out there like me who are fighting for you. 

homosexuality is not controversial. there is no reason to be afraid of other people's sexuality.  as adults we should not teach children to be afraid of other people's sexuality.

I am thankful for my experience in the boy scouts.  I hope this tradition can continue for future generations and boys, regardless of their sexual orientation.


Brian T. Murphy

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Brad Lyons. Ten Steps

It is one of my favorite stories. I was on the floor of the london-heathrow airport when I first met brad lyons. he was 17 years old, and was minding his own business.

"who is that asshole?" I remember thinking, as the handsome teenager sat there in the busy airport, guitar in hands, perfectly executing dave matthews song after dave matthews song. "can you play satellite? oh I LOVE SATELLITE!" I could hear the girls who were traveling with us, falling in love with him, every chord melted their young beating hearts. it was disgusting. I knew it then, I couldn't help it, I loved brad too. everyone did.

for a few years, brad and I went our own ways, both pursuing as much music as we possibly could. and in 2007, brad moved back to birmingham. I was delighted to hear he was back in town, and it seemed like immediately, we were making music together. at that time I was fortunate to have an amazing studio in downtown birmingham, and it seems like most nights I was there with brad and maybe a few other close friends, making music. we had a lot of things going on - and brad has helped me produce countless records, commercials, and soundtracks. brad has a gift. my favorite producer, daniel lanois, talks about people either having a musical gift, or not having a musical gift. brad feels and gets inside of music in ways that most people live their entire lives simply not understanding. brad has taught me a thousand new things about music, about how to make better music, about how to play better and think better, and he's encouraged me to keep working and to try and make every record better than the one before it. to make every sound count. I remember brad telling me that on my porch, years ago.

I heard some of brad's demos that he had been working on, new songs that were coming to life around that time, back in 2007, and I loved them. I've always been drawn to music like brad's - simple arrangements, honest lyrics, vulnerable vocals, life working itself out in a song. we played some shows around town and quietly got to work on this record, ten steps. its been a labor of love, 4 or 5 years in the making, constantly getting pushed aside as other projects came and went. and after many re-records, re-edits, conversations about starting over, etc., we decided to finish the record. brad drove to brooklyn in november 2011, and with a few friends, and 4 or 5 really busy days, we finished the final major recording here in NYC.

to say its been an honor to work on this record is really not quite putting it right. everything about this record makes me thankful. the songs are familiar to me now, different than how they started, and I really like where they landed. these songs remind me of where i came from, of the music that helped carry me along the way, and the amazing people who've been with me the entire time, the people who never let me go. these songs give me courage about talking about things, especially the things that change you.

brad and I have had many late nights. he's the rare kind of friend who will think nothing of forsaking a night of sleep to sit up with you. he's quiet and present in the best of ways. he feels moments with you and for you. his songs are honest, and his gifts to me are more than I can count. brad, thanks for letting me be apart of these songs, your story, for all of it. cheers to the music and the road ahead. I love you dude, but you know that.

to listen and download brad's new record, which came out today, go here. and if you have means, consider giving brad more than the $7 he's asking.

oh, and brad, not to make it weird or anything, but if I beat you to it, please play enduring chill at my funeral. ok.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm getting better

its been 6 months since steve passed away. It feels like so much has happened.

when I left birmingham, about a year and a half ago, steve gave me a candle. and he told me that when I lit the candle I could remember him. and every wednesday night, I would light my candle in new york and send him a picture of it. and he would send me a picture of his candle, burning in alabama. steve loved symbols; he loved them unapologetically. and he would say that when you remember the people you love, they are not far away from you. they are with you. he wrote to me once that I was never far from his thoughts, and in this way I was always close.

life in new york is better than I ever imagined. I'm finding people and music that are more beautiful than I ever had hoped possible. I love being in the city - a place where I feel like I can be unapologetically me. I find myself being challenged as a musician, challenged with new ideas, and I find myself breathing deeply, for the first time in awhile. I'm getting better.

I'm getting better in all sorts of ways. I'm playing piano better. playing the piano seems like this elusive skill that I've been developing ever since I was a child, but its exciting to see certain skills develop that are purely and visibly a result of encountering so many different and new styles of music, and getting to be involved with so many different types of projects and records. I'm getting better at songwriting. Its fun to meet so many people who are interested in writing songs together. I'm getting better at recording music. I've been making records for over ten years, and I still feel like I'm figuring out how its done. I'm getting better at taking pictures. I'm seeing light more quickly, and I'm seeing expressions and people and knowing I've got shots faster than before. I'm getting better.

and I'm getting better in other ways, too. I'm not fighting so much. I'm letting things go, and learning (slowly) that so many things I thought were important, well, they just weren't. in alabama, I had so much I was fighting. and I still believe I was right to fight everything I was fighting. but it is so lovely to not have to fight anymore, at least for now. I'm taking some time, and I know I'm a fighter, and I think that's a good thing. I'm a lover, too.

and I'm learning to love better, and this is maybe the best thing. to be honest, I've always been a lover. but I've learned over the last few years especially what being a lover costs. it means being far away from people who give you the most life. it means being vulnerable and getting hurt. it means waiting through the silence. it means watching people go, pieces of you with them. and sure it means lots of good things, too. but I guess I keep being surprised at how the sorrow and the love really do, truly, go hand in hand. I carry a lot of sorrow, and I think that makes me better too.

steve died 6 months ago, and I haven't really felt it yet. I remember the last time I saw him, about a week before he died. it was in the hospital, and I was there with brooke and melanie and margaret, and steve was being funny. when I saw him I tried to hide my shock - he had lost all of his weight, and all of his hair. honestly, he looked terrible. he struggled mightily to breathe, and he had a cough that made the room shake. he saw me and his eyes were so bright. and he said "here I am! skeletor!" and for the next couple hours I sat on his bed and we talked and he was as funny as I'd ever seen him. I held back all of my sorrow while I was with him, and once his pain meds took over and he could no longer hold his eyes open, I hugged him and walked out. It was in the hall, around the corner from his room, that I knew steve was really dying. I've had other friends die, but not anyone like this. cancer is so terrible. and I knew it was the last time I was ever going to see him, and I leaned against the wall, and I couldn't breathe. I just wept. brooke waited with me.

where do you go from there? its hard to know. one foot in front of the other, you keep on.

a week later, I was on the road, driving back to birmingham for steve's funeral. it was a terrible, wonderful week. and now, 6 months later, I feel like steve's absence is starting to creep in. the relentlessness of loss, like the relentlessness of the coming seasons, it is unavoidable.

I have so much to be thankful for, and steve's death makes the beauty and love I share in all the sweeter. the laughter of my niece as she sits in my lap and tells me stories. the setting sun casting its golden light across manhattan's skyline. a candlelit apartment, and a bottle of wine with brooke as we talk and watch the city lights and wait for sleep. the peace and comfort offered by my always present, always loyal dog como. playing music in new york city with my newest friends, who give me more life than they ever could realize. riding motorcycles across the american south, sleeping in the forests. long talks with my mom or dad. or any of my brothers and sisters. the constant pursuit of music. the enchanting promise of love still to be found.

all this beauty. its getting better. the bitterness stings as much as it ever has. and yet, the sweetness has never been so sweet.

I miss you, steve.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Steve Malone

Steve Malone, maybe the most influential person I've ever known, a personal mentor and close friend to me since I was a teenager, passed away two weeks ago. Its hard to know what to say, but I wanted to re-post the words I shared at the vigil at melanie's house, the night before his funeral.

Steve Malone

I met steve when I was really just a boy. and ever since, he watched with me and waited with me. I have more memories than makes sense to relate. many nights up late, often with few words between either of us. I've always had a bit of angst in me. general discomfort and anxiety with the way things are, and steve patiently made space where nobody else ever had. he taught me how to be generous. he taught me how to rest, and to be, in the here and now. he taught me what things really cost. he taught me how to love women. he taught me how to be quiet. he taught me how important children really are. he taught me how to find hope when it seemed like there might not be any. he taught me the power of kindness, and an honest apology. he taught me how to not be afraid to let things go to their end, to let things unravel. and he taught me what true friendship really looks like, and how rare of a thing it really is. and along the way he gave me so many gifts. he gave me music. steve gave me his own faith. steve gave me his word. steve gave me the pursuit of beauty. steve gave me his unwavering support. steve gave me so much of his time. all of this, and I don't remember steve ever asking anything in return.

I remember a night out by a fire. it was thanksgiving, I was freaking out. and steve was with his family, tucked away comfortably and warm out in the alabama woods. he called me and told me I should come. and so that night I sat outside with this beautiful family and found rest. steve would say "I just want to be gathered up in love". and in all those little things, making coffee, making breakfast, making sure everyone was warm and taken care of, steve created so much space for so much love. it seemed he made space for everyone he met.

steve had integrity. and even when it cost him dearly, he never lost heart. he always meant what he said. he always held out hope.

to steve's brothers: I've heard so many stories. steve always seemed to know where you were and what you were going through. you know this, but it is just worth saying. steve loved you in the way that only a brother can, and you were always with him.

to steve's parents: steve talked of you often. he was so thankful for you. steve was always counseling various people and it seems pretty much everyone has issues with their parents, but steve used to say to me, "you know brian, my parents are good people. I only have gratitude and love for them" he said it in this sort of unbelieving way. like to say that he had such good parents, it just didn't seem right, few people got to have good parents. the two of you helped him become the beautiful man he was, and he always honored and loved you. he was always thankful for the life and the space and the love that you offered him.

to steve's children: some day I will find the words to tell you how much he loved you. you know this is true even without me saying it, but truly I have never known a father who had that much love for his children. your care was always on his mind. each of you carved a special place in his heart that no one could ever touch. and each of you offered him life and joy, in your own unique, beautiful way. he smiled when he spoke of you. his heart ached when your heart ached. he had more love for you than I ever saw a father capable of.

to melanie: steve loved you and fought for you the most. no question. you made him happier than I ever saw him. and you cared for him better than any of us ever could have. you spoke his language, you explored his heart, you held his hand, you nurtured his mind and his soul, you kept him close. you were his great gift.

steve loved his family. we are all here because we lost a good man. and we're here because we all share in the loss. steve and I used to talk about sorrow. how sometimes sorrow comes at you like a wave. like a slow river tide. and you feel like you’re drowning, or rowing against it, but really its just carrying you along. and sometimes sorrow comes at you like a knife. and it cuts you somewhere deep, and leaves you with wounds that you're sure will never heal.

we all carry heavy burdens. but at least for a few moments, with a song, with a poem, with a quiet breeze. with a gentle touch. we don't have to carry the sorrow alone.

as steve used to say, as only he could: all manner of things shall be well.

love and sorrow, hand in hand. rest and peace, my final prayer.

may we all be gathered up in love.

steve and melanie's blog

Monday, March 1, 2010

leaving red mountain church

(this is what I read last night - when I announced I was leaving)

it is hard to know where to start - since we began, this church has been my home - a surprising oasis for me and so many people I love - for so many years. I have so many memories. james chapin and his orange flag waving from his wheelchair. pickwick center and the special smells in the stairwells. that time I preached a sermon (now that's funny). parties in bars and in brother bryan park and in the pickerings and the williams homes. babies that have come and brought so much new life to our church. so many amazing musicians - truly the finest musicians in our city. so many times of loss and grief - I look around this room and I see people who have sat with me, wept with me and for me, people who have stayed with me. so many times of joy - so many nights of laughing, bellies full of wine, knowing and being known, coupled with an equal amount of nights of sorrow - sitting in the sad silence of grief and not knowing what will happen next. so many memories from this beautiful place.

I have so much I am thankful for. for me and brooke - red mountain has been our family, and our primary community. red mountain is full people we care about; truly, leaving has been a difficult decision - red mountain has been the biggest thing holding us in birmingham for so many years.

and it goes without saying that the music of our church is something that is particularly special and beautiful to me. I say this often, and I will say it again, that the music of our church is way bigger than our small gathering here in birmingham. and it is way bigger than the people who help make it. our music is a collective - a gathering of souls, who, together, bring light and voice to glorious ideas, hopes, ancient texts, and dreams that are way bigger than any of us. the music of this church is the sum of so many small, intricate, important parts. it has been an absolute honor to be apart of the songs that have come together here - to help create the music that has carried me and so many people I love. to be apart of music that has spread so far. and it has been an honor for me to be carried by you - the people of red mountain - who allow me so much space and freedom to be who I am, to wrestle with the things I wrestle with, to question the things I question, and all the while, to stay, to hope, to be apart. I do not say this lightly - especially in light of the last year of my life - you have carried me through so much, and I am forever grateful. the music of this church may very well be the greatest work I'll ever be apart of. I hate to leave it. but the time has come.

brooke and I are moving to new york - I plan to be here through the month of april, and then we will be gone. our reasons for leaving are sad, and they are good. many of you know that I have been pursuing creative work outside of red mountain church (quarterrest) for some time now - and my hope is that I will be able to continue (and build) that work in new york - I am afraid of the challenges, afraid of failing, but I am excited about the possibilities. and at the end of the day, it is something I've just gotta do. I am looking forward to taking a break from church - it has been hard for me to be so close to the inner workings - and I have been in the church for so long - I am eager to find rest in a new place - and, most of all, I am eager to be alone with brooke. we need that.

it is worth saying, I think, that red mountain - our church - this place I have called home for so many years - has changed. we are not who we were when we set out. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, or an easily definable thing, or an unnatural thing, but it is worth admitting - it is an idea worth owning. in some ways, red mountain is no longer recognizable to me, and yet, it will always be a home to me. my hope is that, as you enter the next chapter in the life of this church, that you will take the time to define who you are, what your hopes for the city are, who you are here to serve, what your mission is, and that you will continually consider how the gospel is at work, in all of us, and in spite of us. even when it looks like it might not be.

red mountain music continues. we are putting the final touches on our last record. it will be out this summer. and it will be our best record yet, I promise you. and after that, I will keep exploring ancient texts, I will keep looking for people to collaborate with, and I will keep making this music that carries, the music that makes me feel like I'm not so alone. the music that I feel like I was created to make.

in the weeks to come, I am available to meet and talk with any of you, as long as I have time. I have already had conversations with so many of you, and it would be good to keep talking. I will miss you - I will miss this place - I will miss your kindness and your familiarity - and I will miss the musicians, who have become some of my closest friends -

thank you for giving me so many years here. thank you for creating the space for so much beautiful music. thank you for being a church that for so many years has been welcoming to artists. thank you for supporting me and allowing me to grow. I am forever grateful to red mountain church - you will be missed - and my heart is heavy -

a couple weeks ago I found myself in a catholic church, in a confessional, sitting right in front of a priest. I sat down, didn't know what to do, and the priest asked "are you catholic?" and I said "no." and the priest smiled at me with his kind eyes and said "that's ok, god's love is not just for the catholics." and his idea blew me away. this idea that he hadn't pinned god down - hadn't figured it all out - that god really was that big. one of the things I love about the old hymns we sing - and I say this often - is that they paint a picture of a really big jesus. and my hope for myself - and the hope I have for everyone I love - is that this really big jesus we speak of will overwhelm us and change us - that we will press on and love well and continue to find hope and faith - however that plays out.