Category Archives: music

50 thoughts on turning 50: #26 What is Christian music and why do you care?

I amassed quite the collection of CDs over my years covering Christian music, most of which just collects dust.

I amassed quite the collection of CDs over my years covering Christian music, most of which just collects dust

I was contacted recently by a new Christian music magazine about maybe doing some writing for them. I admit I was tempted enough to ask for more information. I miss my artist friends. I miss my publicist friends. I miss my fellow music writing friends. I need the money.

But then I saw this post today about TobyMac, and it reminded me of the reasons why I stopped writing about music and entertainment.

I don’t miss the bullshit.

Is TobyMac singing about the Illuminati? Who knows. Who cares. Do you like his music? Then listen. If not, then don’t. If listening to a song that may or may not be about the Illuminati is dangerous to your faith, then the problem isn’t TobyMac. The problem is that your beliefs are so shaky that they can be wavered by a guy wearing a t-shirt with an eyeball on it.

I wrote the following post back in 2009 for a website called Wrecked For The Ordinary. I share it as part of my 50 Thoughts On Turning 50 series because I learned a lot of lessons in my years covering Christian music. Mostly that there’s no such thing as Christian music, because music can’t be Christian. It’s music.

Or maybe I’m just an idiot. I certainly heard that often enough.

But what I learned, at least by the time I got to writing the essay that follows, is that my faith is not a commercial product, and when you strip away all of the extraneous bullshit, you get … well, God. Faith. The wonder of Creation. No Jesus fish stickers required.

In the end, I didn’t pursue the offer to write for this new magazine, in no small part because every time I asked what the assignment paid, they avoided the question. That’s because in the Christian genre, writers are often expected to write for free, because, you know, it’s about Jesus and all, and you should just do it for the Lord.

But that’s another story for another day.

* * * * * * **

What Is Christian Music And Why Do You Care?
(This originally ran in 2009 on the website Wrecked For The Ordinary.)

I once wrote a post on my blog at in which I threw out this joke:

“You might be a Christian music fan if you didn’t let your kids listen to the Jonas Brothers until you found out they were Christians. But you did let your kids listen to David Archuleta until you found out he was Mormon.” Continue reading

My first post at Paradise Uganda blog

I forgot to tell you that I posted my first post at the Paradise, Uganda blog. I actually posted it before my little musing the other day but it ironically touched on the same theme: being on the outside, looking in, and wondering why you’re there.

For the record, what I originally thought I was volunteering to write is nothing like where my blog posts are going – and with the blessing of my dear friends. Rather than help with the fundraising “rah rah”, I’m writing more about faith and life and … well, stuff that’s where I’m most comfortable. Yay!

Here’s the beginning of the post; there’s a link at the end that’ll take you to the Paradise, Uganda blog where you’ll also see a little video of Jesse in Africa:


When my friend Jesse Sprinkle asked me if I wanted to be involved in a project he was working on, I didn’t ask what it was or what he needed from me. There are moments in your life when someone asks and you say yes and you know it’s exactly as it should be.

I’m not a musician. I’m not a missionary. I’m not a fundraiser or a world traveler. I’m not hip or cool or trendy.

I’m just a writer. For years I’ve written feature articles in magazines and websites on everything from entertainment to dog food. I love telling stories. So when Jesse asked me to join the team for Paradise, Uganda, I signed on for the one task I knew how to do: blog.

It’s never easy jumping into a project that’s already been moving along at mach speed. It’s difficult to find your place, to keep up, to feel part of the crowd. The things I’d originally planned to blog about … well, they just don’t seem like where I’m supposed to be. The ideas I had … someone else has them, too. The things I thought I brought to the table … not so helpful right now.

It would be easy to just back out, just say, “Gee, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here, I think I made a mistake” and go home and hide under a rock because I don’t fit in.

And yet I know I’m supposed to be here. I don’t know how or why I know, I just do. (Click here to finish reading on the Paradise, Uganda blog)

Welcome to Paradise, Uganda

Me. Africa. Not two words you’d expect to hear in the same sentence, right? But it is with lots of excitement (and a few tingles) that I’m happy to share with you that I’ve signed on to help my old friend, the very creative and talented Jesse Sprinkle, and his music partner, the also very creative and talented Kurt Johnson, with an amazing new project: Paradise, Uganda.

For the last few years, Jesse has been traveling to Kampala, Uganda with the Ugandan Water Project. While there, he’s been working with street kids living in Kivulu, a slum hidden in the shadows of the city. Not just working with, not just befriending, but falling in love with these kids and their country.

And if a musician is looking for a way to help his fellow man, it only makes sense that there’s some sort of music involved. Right? Enter, Paradise, Uganda. 

In 2013, Jesse and Kurt will be traveling to Uganda to record music with the street kids for the project, “Paradise, Uganda”. It’s a “musical collaboration of love and hope.” Proceeds from the project will directly benefit the street kids.

My job is to run the blog for I’ll be blogging about the project, Africa, how you can help, and probably lots of personal reflections as I step back into the world of music and faith. (Let’s face it; the last few years of my life have pretty much been spent trying to find meaning in my life and avoiding anything music related. It’s no accident that my search and this project collided head on from out of the blue. God spoke. I’m going to listen this time.)

We’ll also be sharing amazing photographs from Africa on “Wordless Wednesdays”, and Jesse and Kurt will be blogging about the project, their creative process, their thoughts as they work with the kids, and anything else they want to share.

It’s going to be exciting, I promise. Because there’s more …

I’ll also be talking to some of the artists who’ve already signed on to support the project so they can share their thoughts about Africa, serving and our place in this big, wide world – artists like The Almost, Anberlin, Demon Hunter, Dead Poetic, Bill Malonee/Viglantes of Love, Brendan Benson, Poor Old Lu, Kutless, Tooth and Nail Records, Terry Taylor (DA), Eisley, The Choir, Lovedrug, The Waiting, One Republic, and Denison Witmer.

Did you just get tingles, too? Oh, good.

I know your next question: am I going to Africa? Of course I’ve invited myself along on a trip; that’s no surprise. It was mostly in jest, at least at this point. A trip like that costs money (so you know if I do go I’ll be hitting you all up for support). But I also have learned that I don’t need to be involved in everything to be of service. Yes, it would be easier to write about something I’ve experienced first hand. But one of my strengths as a writer (if I have one) is that I can extract great information from people to tell their story. So I don’t necessarily need to go to Africa to tell the story of people who’ve  been to Africa.

But if God sends me to Africa … well, you better start praying now for Jesse and Kurt. Because you know I can be a giant pain in the ass to be around for extended periods of time. Imagine being trapped with me on another continent.

But that’s down the road. For now, you can follow along on the Paradise, Uganda FB page and website. Stay tuned, folks, the ride has just begun.

(NOTE: if you’re not logged into WordPress, you’re going to see some stupid video ads at the end of this post. Please ignore them. I don’t know how to make them go away.)

Caution: influence may appear much bigger in rear view mirror

I was cleaning my office on Sunday – I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor – and for reasons I can’t explain pulled out the old CD player and a box of my favorite CDs and started blasting music.

I mean, blasting music. Windows open, breeze blowing in, music pouring out.

I haven’t done that in a long, long long time, since before I crawled under my emotional rock and curled up into a ball with the dogs and dust bunnies.

But on Sunday? It was rock and roll and sing out loud and dance with whichever dog was closest to me.

I’m no musician, and I couldn’t tell you anything about the art of making music. Which, of course, is why I always felt like a fraud when I was covering music. I just know what makes me happy,  makes my blood tingle and my spirit soar. And doggone it, I love a song I can sing along with. Loudly and off-key.

What I loved about covering music was the people. I’d go to music events and pick the unknown bands to interview, especially the ones who had the time to hang out and talk, who weren’t dishing out pat, rehearsed answers about how they wanted to share Christ with their music when in reality, they just loved making music and being on stage. Which of course was often not only the more honest answer, but the one that may actually have served God the most.

So this music I was blasting away on Sunday made me think of old friends. A lot of CDs were from artists I know or I’d interviewed and remained friends with, or music that was playing while I was with friends having fun times and making memories.

But I didn’t just listen. In between listening to music and doing the cha-cha with Bandit, I actually contacted with those friends. Sent a little Facebook “I’m thinking about you today” hello.

It was awesome.

I had a discussion, for example, with an artist pal who caught me up on the band and added that he hoped big things would happen soon. I told him, “Hopefully big things will happen soon – but remember that just doing what you’re supposed to be doing might actually be the ‘big thing’. You just might not get to see how big it is until it’s in the rearview mirror.” He said that was actually encouraging.

The truth is, that was something I needed to be reminded of, too. Trying to lift the boulder I’ve been living under has been exhausting, and when I look at the work that needs to be done to clean house – literally and figuratively – I can get overwhelmed.

Which is why I am so grateful that, while at a writing conference a few years ago, someone encouraged us to create a writing mission statement to help guide us when things got overwhelming. Here’s mine:

“Connect. Inspire. Change the world.”

Nothing drastic. No plans for world peace (I can’t even manage dog peace in my own house). No specific goals to save the world or feed the hungry – although those are all tasks that happen within that little mission statement (although not nearly as much as they used to happen, which may be one of the contributing factors in my years under the rock. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

I’m reminded of that quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which I often share but will share again because it’s so darned inspiring for me (bold emphasis mine):

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

There’s nothing in there about meeting page view goals, making money, or being a literary rock star. I’m good at a few things: connecting people and encouraging people, and hopefully in the process facilitating others to fulfill their missions in life and thereby be a link in the chain that will change the world. 

So here I am, halfway through the week, feeling so flipping fantastic, so happy to have reached out to people and found them still there, to be reminded that nothing more is expected of me than to do exactly what I’m supposed to do today.

Which, if I’m reading the signs right,  means some serious puppy snuggling.

Davy Jones dies; goodbye, my childhood!

Sad news today: Davy Jones of The Monkees died today at 66. Goodbye childhood!

Of my earliest childhood entertainment memories, The Monkees are at the front of the line (followed very closely by “That Girl” and Carol Burnett, but that’s a story for another day).

In fact, as a child I got to meet The Monkees. How’s that for cool? (And possibly where the seeds for my entertainment writing stint were sown? We’ll never know, will we.)

The Monkees had flown into the Rochester, NY airport. It was maybe 1967 and I was maybe three-years-old, but I was old enough for the memory to be imprinted on my brain. I knew where we were going and who we were going to see. There was a crowd, and I remember being at the fence as the guys got off the plane – this was back when people got off the plane and walked around on the tarmac.

And then they came over to us, and I remember being scared. One of them had a beard and was carrying a movie camera and had it pointed as the crowd; my mom thinks it was Mickey. Someone – she thinks Davy Jones – wanted to reach over the fence to hold me and I started screaming like a baby.

Well, I pretty much was still a baby!

My mom thinks there may be a slide photo of the moment somewhere in the cases and cases of projector carousels I have stored in my spare bedroom that date back to the early 60s.

Yes, Kodak holds a special place in our hearts here in Rochester, and in our personal photo albums. It’s more than the decline of a company as Kodak gets out of the picture business; it’s the end of an era of memory-making. But I digress

Watching the video clip of the opening and closing credits from “The Monkees”, I realize how much pop culture really does shape our lives. It can be for good or bad – methinks today’s music falls on the bad side of the spectrum.

But in this case, it was good. Very bubble gum, pop rock, innocent cutesy, let’s try and walk like The Monkees because it’s fun kind of good. Super innocent, puppy love, Marcia Brady falls in love with Davy Jones kind of good.

It probably won’t surprise you that from The Monkees I graduated to … ta da! The Osmonds!

My sister and I reminisced today about seeing The Osmonds in concert – I was seven years old, I’m pretty sure. My dad took me and my sister, and my cousins came in from Pittsfield to see the show with a guy named Ernie who was dating their mom. I remember the opening act – Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods, of ” One Is The Loneliest Number” – and that my dad bought me a life sized poster of Donny Osmond that hung on the back of my bedroom door until til it fell apart.

Sigh. Innocent pop music. Those were the days.

Today is a sad day. Rest in peace, Davy Jones. And thanks for the memories!

PS: My dad just called. He now lives in Pennsylania and he’d forgotten until he saw the local news tonight that Davy Jones actually lived in Middleburg, PA, just up the road half hour from where he is in Milton. Who would have guessed? See, your childhood never really goes too far away, does it? They’re going to have a celebration this weekend. Wish I could make the trip; it would be fun to have another Monkees moment, even if it is a sad one.

Musicians On Call – using talents for a greater good

I heard an ad for this organization today and thought it sounded really interesting – and it is!

Musicians On Call is a group of artists who donate their talents to people in health care facilities, both through live performances and recorded material.

They give bedside performances, have a CD “pharmacy” of recorded music they provide at no charge to health care facilities, and even help patients record their own music.

What a great way to use a talent to help others! It’s so unique – and makes me wonder about other ways that we can use our gifts for greater good.

Loving our neighbors isn’t just about giving money. And there are many ways to serve others than in a soup kitchen or on a home construction site (two common volunteer activities).

So take a minute today and ponder this: What talents do you have that you could use to serve others?

Page view whoring and the dark side of online writing

Do we really need to know who slept with whom and what other skeletons celebrities have in their closets?

Over on another blog where I cover Christian music, I posted a quick note about American Idol season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino’s alleged overdose on “aspirin and sleep aids”.

I briefly commented in the post – again, because I rant about this frequently on that blog – that I hate writing about celebrity news. I mean, in the whole scheme of things do we need to know that a pop star may or may not have had an affair with a married man, and do the parties involved really need their dirty laundry hung out for the world to see?

But my job on that blog is to write about music, Christian music, and anything remotely related to Christian music, and since American Idol has been one of the driving forces on that blog for two years, I felt I needed to at least mention the story.

That, and I’m expected to generate a certain number of page views every month if I want to get paid.

And after two years, I have learned that news about the release of a new worship album generates zero page views and pop star gossip draws all the readers.

I call it page view whoring, and it’s the dark side of online writing. Continue reading