1999 Writings

November 14, 1999
Hello friends,

It’s a little after 6 o’clock on this Sunday morning and i’m in the Colorado Springs airport waiting for a 7:20 fight to Atlanta. i’ve been here working on a video of the song “they are kids” for Young Life. We finished a day early so i’m returning to the farm ahead of schedule, a welcome surprise. To watch the sunrise in Colorado, and to know that i’ll watch it set over the pines in Georgia later today, is a rare combination of blessing. As beautiful as the Rockies are, i more and more enjoy the place that i call home and i’m thankful for the prospect of fall colors later today.

 i’ll let you know how the video turns out. It was a pleasure working with a team of production professionals and we’re praying for a musical-visual tool that will be thought-provoking and useful.

 We’re pleased that the new Tyler project, “Old dogs, New tricks,” is now available. We hope that, like its predecessor, it might be a source of joy, laughter, and reflection. The entire lyrics to the CD are now available on this site at this page. We also have an order form that you can print out easily and mail in. As a Christmas special, we’re giving a copy of the “Joy” CD (a project of traditional and original Christmas music which i did with friends Ed Cash and Bebo Norman) to those who order 2 CD’s by December 20. As reluctant as i am to ever do anything that feels like “selling,’ my mention of this new Cd gives me opportunity to thank y’all again for helping independent musicians like myself. Your orders, in addition to encouraging this work i get to do, is my livelihood. … So, thanks and thanks and thanks for keeping me happily busy.

 i am sometimes asked to explain the origin of and thinking behind the Tyler projects. In the years prior to “talking with Tyler,” i had written some lighthearted songs which were difficult to place in a “normal” Cd song line up. When enough people began to ask for recordings of some those selections, i started toying with the idea of doing a live recording of largely humorous material. Somewhere in that decision making process, i really did write a song called “bad day to be a dog like you,” in which i argue that it’s better to be human than canine. And i really did see Tyler a couple of days later sleeping in the grass, as i was heading in to my law office, and i really did wonder what Tyler might write in response to my argument. That’s how Tyler became the unifying element to the whole project. It’s a funny thing; once you entertain the notion that a dog (or a goldfish or a leaf or a one-yed bird, etc, etc) might have a viewpoint to express, your whole imagination takes on new perspectives.

As i wrote, and continue to write, songs for the two Tyler Cd’s, i was very aware that humor can be an effective vehicle for making serious points. It is my hope that listeners can read between the lines and beneath the surface to get the truer, and more substantial, subtexts of the songs. That kids might enjoy the songs for the mere laughter of them, and that adults might find some genuinely thought-provoking material in the lyrics, makes the writing of them an enjoyable challenge. i think that, in some ways, the Tyler stuff is the most intelligent songwriting i do (not to imply that anything i do is too terribly intelligent.) And, in just the past couple of weeks, new ideas have crossed my mind (like the seeing eye dog that i watched trying to navigate through the Atlanta airport last Friday).

 Now some might wonder about the great affection that i have for my dog. Some might find it even objectionable that a beast gets so much attention when there are so many unloved human souls in the world. Well, let me set the record straight. i do love my dog. Living on a large farm by myself, and having no family with which to share it, i really do find myself talking to and treating Tyler as a friend. He is a gentle animal and shows forth all the wonderful traits that make dogs so likeable. If my love for him is disproportionate, the solution is not to love him less, but to love other things rightly. CS Lewis makes the observation convincingly in a slightly different context:

 “i think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little.

 No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much – i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserves.” (Letters to an American Lady)

 i gather, from letters that Tyler and i receive (he does get a lot of mail himself), that many of you care for the creatures that God has entrusted to you. Might we recognize the fingerprints of the Creator in them, and might we learn from them all that He would have us learn., aware that we live under an injunction to worship the Creator and not the creature (Roman 1).

 Gorgeous autumn at the farm. i am told that there will be a big meteorite shower (the Leonids) this week. Wish you all could join me to watch it from my porch. Maybe i’ll sit outside with my cell phone and share it with some of you long distance. Surely the experience will inspire a song.

Life is good.

Christ’s love, allen

September 6, 1999

Hello friends,

Some rambling thoughts ….

Someone sent me a story about a little girl who, like the rest of her third grade classmates, was asked to name the seven wonders of the world. Some of the kids were able to identify places like the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal. This little girl got it all wrong. Despite her efforts to hide from the teacher’s notice, she is called on to read her answer and hesitantly identifies the seven wonders of the world as follows: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, running, laughing and love.

Summertime has been full of small wonders for me. … Following up with a decision made at the start of the year to take some time off after a busy spring, I stayed at the farm from early June to late July. For the first time in awhile, I was able to live with some rhythm to my days: wake up at 6 for coffee and prayers and talking with Tyler on the porch overlooking the pastures (which were well-watered and richly greened by rains in June), to the studio at about 8 or 8:30 to work on a new Tyler project, lunch in Hamilton each day at one of our two restaurants (the Pastime Café, as quaint as its name, and Hamilton BBQ, par excellence), afternoon work in the studio until about 5:30 or 6 and then knock off to work outside, exercise, visit with friends, write and read. The zinnias and sunflowers around the studio bloomed nicely and treated me to the wonder of sight.

In late July, well-rested and accompanied by my nephew Caleb, I traveled to British Columbia for an almost month long assignment at the Young Life property there called Malibu. I had always heard that it is beautiful but no words or pictures could prepare me for the splendor of the place. Located north of Vancouver, and reachable only by boat or seaplane, the camp (which might much more accurately be called a resort) is situated on the Princess Louisa inlet, a site, I am told, which has been designated one of the ten most beautiful yachting destinations in the world by National Geographic. (If it’s not, I’d like to see the ones that are.) The camp is surrounded by heavily timbered mountains that rise fjord-like out of the cold Pacific water to rocky, snow-capped peaks 5000 to 7500 feet high. There is no civilization for miles (the boat ride out took three and a half hours) and the cool temperatures were a welcome change from the Georgia heat. We had unusually sunny weather (only three or four days of rain while we were there) and were privileged to work with a gifted and energetic assigned team. The summer staff and work crew, high school and college kids who volunteer to perform the operating tasks of the camp (meal prep and serving, laundry, grounds upkeep, recreational activities, etc) were, as always, heroic in their hard work and willingness to serve campers at no cost. Their servitude was the quiet, and often unrecognized, love of Christ that, I’m confident, did much to soften the hearts of kids. In a feeble attempt to thank them for the way they blessed my life, I wrote a song for them that I’ll record soon for the “Song and story” page of this site. The name of the song is “Most of my Heroes.” Stay tuned.

To my pleasant surprise, the teenaged campers, all from the northwest and California, were willing (and some, I think, even interested) to listen to the songs that I shared, despite the fact, one of which I become more acutely aware each year, that my style of music is light years removed from their auditory universe.

Most importantly, the time at Malibu was a front row seat for watching compelling evangelism which was suitably aimed at teenagers. I was struck at how much the northwestern variety of teenagers are just like teens everywhere else I’ve ever been. And how the universals of the Gospel (imperfection, mortality, a hunger for purpose and understanding in life, and the human need for love which can only be found in Jesus) connect with the human heart regardless of age, culture, and experience.

Have you ever met people who immediately made you want to be better than you are? Who made you want to live life richly and generously? I had that experience this summer, another exercise of ‘the seven wonders’. In my small hometown are two sisters who have spent most of their lives in a white, frame house built by their father years ago on the corner across from the Baptist church. Though I’ve heard their names many times, I’d never met them until a mutual friend took me by for an introduction. Mary and Edna Fort, both formerly school teachers, are 93 and 95 years of age. Neither has ever married. Their minds are keen, their outlook on life is thankful and still full of interest, their voices are musical and their hospitality quintessentially southern in the best sense of the word, and they make you feel like the most special person in the world every time you stop by, like you’re some long lost friend that they’ve waited for months to see.

 After my first visit with them, I returned with some zinnias from my yard. From the tone of their thanks, which was totally without pretense or show, you’d have thought they had never seen zinnias before in their lives, so thankful were they. In the course of conversation, they wanted to know what I did, who my family was, etc,etc. I promised them that I’d return and play them some songs sometime. About a week later, I did so. Four songs in the living room. Me and two gorgeous, warmhearted seniors. I don’t know when I ever have played or ever will play for an audience that was more enjoyable, quite an assertion given that I get to play for some of the most wonderful folk on the planet. After the songs, we drank coke and ate cookies. I left the Fort house, on Fort street, with a pecan pie all my own, a pleasant exercise in the wonder of tasting.

On a sadder more sobering note, I have played recently at funerals of two wonderful women. Barbara Lloyd, 39 years old with a good natured husband, 2 teenagers and a 2 year old, passed way on July 4 after a very sudden and intense battle with a brain tumor which was discovered in May. Barbara lived a quiet life, totally devoted to her family and beautifully committed to Christ, just down the road from where I live. And then, just two weekends ago, I played at yet another funeral, this one of another dear friend and disciple of Jesus, one of my heroes in fact, who has fought with leukemia for 5 years. Courtney Farmer was the 35 year old wife of Tim and mom of Costa and Marianna. The world is the poorer for their absence but rich still for the memory of their lives well-lived.

The sudden departure of these lives was a sober reminder of how fleeting, how fragile, how unpredictable our days here can be. Despite the grief that comes with losing loved ones, there comes also, perhaps in a uniquely focused way, opportunity to look thoughtfully at life. “I think,” says John Piper, ” it’s because at these moments of intense emotion we see life for what it really is. The non-essentials get stripped off and life essential shines for what it really is – and it is not trivial. We see things in the light of eternity, we see the way God sees, and triviality has no place in God’s life. … When you see things with the eyes of God, nothing is trivial.”

 Ironically, before Courtney and Barbara’s passing, I was working on a song about the inevitability of death, and about the certainty that, if we live long enough, we will have to say farewell to many we love in this life. Here are the words for your reflection.

The first of us to go

The wise ones know that life is just a vapor
the wise ones know hangs on just a thread
our days down here are thin as Christmas paper
but they open to the gift that lies ahead

whatever kindness we can give
we’re wise to share each day we live
it’s given not for us to know
who’ll be the first of us to go
who’ll be the first to go

The love inside we must not hide or cover
let us give it room to sing and grow and breathe
we’ve just this day, we may not get another
the chances lost can never be retrieved

Days or decades might remain
But his one truth is very plain
It’s given not for us to know
Who’ll be the first of us to go
Who’ll be the first to go

A world without you here seems most unfriendly
It’s not a world where I would choose to be
But we both know one will go before the other
Sometimes I almost hope that it is me

Your smile has been the sun to me
You’ve taught me much how life should be
I’ll thank you now since i don’t know
Who’ll be the first of us to go
Who’ll be the first to go

… Might we live well. And know the hope that Jesus came to secure for all who love and trust Him.

When I’m home, I have a morning ritual of drinking coffee and reading on the front porch of the small house i live in. This week, after very hot weather of late, there was a definite touch of autumn, my favorite season, in the air. I happened to be reading a sermon by CH Spurgeon one morning and came across this passage which I thought worth passing on:

 “(W)hen you walk this world you must believe that everything about you has a meaning. It is no fanciful idea that there are ‘sermons in stones,’ for there really are sermons in stones, and this world is intended to teach us by every thing that we see. Happy is the man who only has the mind, and has the spirit to get these lessons from nature. Flowers, what are they? They are but the thoughts of God solidified, God’s beautiful thoughts put into shape. Storms, what are they? They are God’s terrible thoughts written out that we may read them. Thunders, what are they? They are God’s powerful emotions, just opened out that men may hear them. The world is just the materializing of God’s thoughts; for the world is a thought in God’s eye. He made it first from a thought that came from His own mighty mind; and every thing in the majestic temple that He has made has a meaning.

In this temple, there are four evangelists. As we have four great evangelists in the Bible, so there are four evangelists in nature; and these are the four evangelists of the seasons – spring, summer autumn, winter.” (Sermon title, Harvest Time, I Samuel 12:17)

Some weeks ago, I was in downtown Columbus, Georgia one afternoon, stopped at a red light. An ambulance, siren blaring, came through the light. A pedestrian who was waiting for the light to turn green, when the ambulance drove by, very simply, politely even, tipped his hat. That was all. You got any idea what the song is supposed to be about?

I met a great lot of kids at Malibu. One, Lindsey, sent me an email recently that might explain why I love being with youngsters. Her note illustrates the wonder of laughing.

From: Lindsey Hagen

Date: Friday, August 20, 1999 at 02:05:43 (EDT)

hey Allen, this is Lindsey. Thanks so much ….. The month at Malibu was awesome. Ryan and I were listening to your song “Moses” and we were inspired. We went to the pet store bought five gold fish (named them all moses) and set them all free. It was one of the most fun things I have ever done, I just wanted to share that moment with you. Say hi to Tyler for me! …… P.S. ryan says “HI.” talk to ya later,

in Christ,

 Lindsey

 Speaking of Tyler. This week, I should finish a new project with my genius dog. We’ll make it available in mid-October to early November. Like its predecessor, it will be a combination of live and studio recordings. There will be lots of metaphorical content and humor, as well as some more reflective selections (including “First of us to go”). We’ll let you know when it’s out. The CD will be named “old dogs, new tricks.”

 Again, thanks to all of you for your kindness and encouragement to me. I’m grateful that you allow me to do this work that I love so much.

Everything is special.

Enjoy the Seven wonders.

Life is good.

Love,
levi

April 21, 1999

Dear friends,

OK, I’m sorry for the delay. It seems like every waking hour lately has been devoted to completing a new CD which, I hope, will be finished this weekend. Check the site in the next month or so and we’ll post news of availability.

 On one afternoon recently, since the weather was flawlessly springtime at its best, I escaped the studio to check on bluebird houses around the pastures here at the farm. For me, the color blue is defined by sun striking the back of a bluebird in flight. It is simply indescribable. In the first 10 houses I checked this week, there were six nests and most of those already have eggs in them. Should be a colorful springtime in a few weeks. … Years ago, niece Christina and I wrote a songs after finding a bird egg on the ground in the yard. I asked here what was inside the shell. He answered with the scientific accuracy of a seven year old. “Yolk and goo.” We talked about it for awhile and here’s the song that resulted. It’s called “beyond the shell,” and was to become the title track of a cassette I recorded later that year.

 A little cup of straw and twigs and paper,
A haven where a mother keeps them warm,
Three tiny eggs the baby blue of wedgewood,
Waiting for their moment to be born,

There are songs in there,
There is glorious flight,
There are colors that will shimmer
In the summer light,
We must look beneath the surface,
We must look beyond the shell
To see the life that hides within.

We must live beneath the surface,
We must live beyond the shell,
To know the life that hides within.

 While your “shells” prosper, I hope too that your souls are “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.”

You’ve heard me speak of days in life that stick out like “exclamation points.” I had one back in February. My spiritual birthday, the date from which I date my first step as a Christian, is February 5, 1978. Every year, my brother somehow remembers it and does something special to celebrate it with me. This year on the 5th, it was merely an early morning rendition of “happy birthday.” (Gary is home from Macedonia for a little while but will be heading back on April 20th. Please keep him in your prayers as he returns to work with Albanian refugees.) His song was quite enough. Or so I thought.

 On the morning of February 6, a beautiful Saturday, cars started arriving about mid-morning. First, my college roommate whom I’ve seen only once or twice in 20 years. He had four of his kids with him. Then, Ben and Sally May and Benjamin and Andrew. Ben is one of my board members. Then my parents. My sister Beth and her family had come down the night before. My first reaction was astonishment that people so dear to me would just happen to show up at the same time. Then more and more cars began to stream in. I was still clueless until a barbecue truck arrived and headed to the barn. This was my birthday party, organized to celebrate the fact that half of my life had now been lived as a Christian. It was a gathering of angels. Some of you could not make it, but the 80 or so who did were among the most influential friends that God has blessed me with over my 42 years of life, and my 21 years of “life that is truly life.” The get together said much more about my brother than his brother. It was an unforgettable day, an exclamation point. There are a few pictures of the day at the scrapbook page. No words can describe the richness of the experience. To you who were there, all I can say is thanks and thanks and thanks. And to Gary most of all, thanks.

Said farewell to my oldest and favorite guitar recently. It was like losing family almost though I’ve reminded myself that it really is just some wood and metal. American Airlines somehow broke it in a dozen places and the CF Martin company said it can’t be repaired. I bought the guitar in 1973 or 4 and have played it at every engagement since then. I’ll be writing a song about it, and maybe American Airlines, soon.

 In what is thankfully a very rare occurance, I played for a group recently which, forgive my frankness, was bored and boring, one of those that caused me to sing most of the evening with my eyes closed. Some stared vacantly into space. Some looked at their watches. Most of them gave clear indication that they’d rather be somewhere, anywhere else. I was glad when my part of the function ended. On following morning, though, i read a passage which brought me back to reality and helped me to view those souls in an entirely different light.

 In the passage, Eugene Peterson was speaking of the impact which the novels of the Rusian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, had had on his (Peterson’s) life and ministry. Peterson had seen the insidious effect of suburban life — “the dehumanized dessication of an unGodded life” — and a culture, even in the church, defined by programs, packaging, and bargains. Peterson found himself asking of his own parishioners, “how had I come to think so irreverently of these people around me?” After reading FD, these were some of EP’s thoughts:

“In the flatness and boredom I lost respect for these anemic lives. These people who assembled in worship with me each week had such puny ideas of themselves. In a fast-food culture they came to church for fast-religion help. Hanging around them al week long, I was in danger of reducing my idea of them to their self-concepts. And then, Dostoevsky, who lived in an almost identical society, rebuked me. While showing the greatest aversion to the culture itself, he refused to take the evidence the people presented of themselves as the truth, and dove beneath the surface of their lives; there he discovered in the depths fire and passion and God.

… He trained me antennae to pick up the suppressed signals of spirituality in the denatured language of their conversations. I discovered tragic plots and cosmic episodes, works-in-progress all around me. I was living in a world redolent with spirituality. There were no ordinary people.

 … I had been tricked into taking these peoples’ versions of themselves as the true version.

 Now when I came across dull people, I began to insert them into one of the novels to see what Dostoevsky would make of them. Before long the deeper dimensions came into view: the eternal hungers and thirsts – and, in the background, God. I started finding Mozartian creativity in adolescents and Sophoclean tragedies in the middle-aged. The banality was a cover. If I looked hard and longs enough there was drama enough in this vanishing cornfield to carry me for a lifetime.” (Reality and the Vision, essays edited by Philip Yancey)

 What a powerful reminder — “There are no ordinary people.” CS Lewis has written with equally poignant eloquence on the point:

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. .. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day lone we are, in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it s with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry , snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” (The Weight of Glory)

I had to ask God ‘’s forgiveness for my unkind, and severely incomplete assessment of those bored faces to which I tried to sing my songs. I think it was probably just pride and ego, don’t you?

The new CD should be out soon. It’s 14 songs, I think (?), and has really been fun to put together. We’ll be emailing notice of its completion so, if you’d like to get a message from us, please send us your email address to us. Thanks.

 All for now.

“there are songs in you,
there is glorious flight,
there are colors that will shimmer,
in the summer light,
if live beneath the surface,
if you live beyond the shell,
you will know the life that hides within.”

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Bluebird skies and grace to you, allen