Posted in Writing

Poem: The Rain Prayers

The Rain Prayers  

Underneath the searing sun
That pierced their skin
Like high beam lasers
Set to slice through metal beams

The bedraggled faithful gathered

And with the sound of a thousand
Rolling one over another like water
Bubbling over spring creek rocks

They prayed for rain.

They prayed with the desperate prayers
Of those with nothing
Nothing left to offer
And nothing left to lose

They prayed until their throats
Were sun dried and parched
And their faces were caked with saline tears
And their eyes were red and swollen
Not unlike a champion
Of a rousing wrestling match

As twilight descended
Their resonate song
Finally defied the sonic laws
That kept them earthbound
And soared to a distant place

They had never seen but only understood
Through ancient fables
Of golden streets and crystal seas
Set against eternal soundtracks
Of angelic choirs

And God Almighty listened deep
And with a majestic nod…

….sent rain.

Posted in Writing

Getting Money Out of Editors

One thing I have learned about writing professionally, is that once you get past an editor’s initial screening process, they are usually dying for good material. If you’re good, professional, and turn in work on time, you can have them eating out of your hand. But, when it comes time for them to pay up, well, that’s a different story.

I’m not singling any editor out. If you’re an editor reading this, and pride yourself on timely payment, I applaud you. You are among the few. I’ve worked with many editors at many different places over the years. And it’s always the same.

You send in your piece, and they may kick it back once or twice for revision, but eventually it’s all good. And then your part is done. They usually have a schedule for you to bill them–probably after the piece comes out, which can be anywhere from a couple of days to a month. You e-mail in your invoice, and per their schedule, they typically take 30 days to mail you a check.

Unless they lose the invoice. Or the check gets lost in the mail. Then after a couple of weeks, you get concerned, and call them. They have no idea. They send you to the accounting office, who after three days of voicemails and e-mails, promises to look for it. They forget. You wait two days and call again. They tell you they don’t know what happened, but they will mail you a check. Three to five business days later, you finally get paid for an article you wrote….last semester.

And if you’re a writer that needs the work, you have to take all of this with grace and professionalism. They will pay you eventually, but if you act like an asshole, they won’t work with you again. And don’t get any ideas on capitalist entitlement—the next publication won’t be any better. Better to deal with the ones you’ve got, than leave in a big American huff.

Besides, while all this is going on, the editor, who has no idea what is going on in the accounting office,  is stroking your ego and sending you more work. Why would you turn down money and publishing credits, especially for someone who thinks you’re oh-so-talented?

I’ve heard the publishing industry is worse. I’ve heard publishers do payouts about once a quarter. Minus your advance. Which, even your advance takes about six months to come.  In installments. And that’s if they’re not disorganized, as detailed above.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t become a writer. I love writing, and I could never do anything else. I would explode if I didn’t write. But, why couldn’t I have been suited for something that pays better? Or pays at all….

Posted in Life, Writing

Grace Unplugged and the Act of Novel Writing

I recently read the book Grace Unplugged, by Melody Carlson. It’s not typically a book I would read. But I had heard there were some similarities to my own novel, so I thought I’d see how close it was. It turns out, I am fine. It’s not close at all.

The story is about a church girl whose father had been a rock star once upon a time. He had gotten saved, and was now a worship leader. His eighteen year old daughter, however, is exploring her own musical identity. She is not at all satisfied with the confines of the worship team in their small church.

She dreams of something bigger…grander. Something that her father, having been there, done that, wants no part of for himself, and certainly not his impressionable young daughter. In a rebellion fueled rage, Grace steals contact information on one of her father’s old music contacts, and then runs away to Los Angeles to pursue her own deal with him.

Her father’s old manager is delighted to have her, and shows her what could be hers. Grace becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the compromises she is expected to make, and is hurt by the lies and manipulation she naively falls for. And of course, what do you think happens? You’ve got it. By the end of the book, she walks away from the music scene, all the wiser. (Would you like some wine with that cheese?)

Sufficiently unimpressed. The plot is as predictable as any, and the writing is bland. I found Grace’s naivete unrealistic. She is dating a big movie star at one point, and an assistant gave her some sexy lingerie to wear with him. Grace is embarrassed by the garment, and comments, “I don’t know if he’s that kind of guy.” Her assistant looks at her dumbfounded. “Every guy is that kind of guy.” Really? At 18, would she really be that dumb? Whatever.

By the end, I was skimming pages just to get the gist. Why can’t Christian books be densely written with intricacies for the discerning reader? Why do we have to have characters go on long spiritual soliloquies? It just annoyed me.  It seemed set up for study group discussion topics. Why can’t it just be art? Expression?

But, on the other hand,  writing a novel is not easy. It’s hard, mind-sweating work. Sometimes at the end of the day, your brain is so dead, you are literally walking into walls.

You’ve birthed these characters, and they live inside you. Breathing, talking, thinking creatures of their own desire. You write essentially a mini-biography of every major character and define them down to what car they drive, any significant childhood events, and the floorplans of their home and the very neighborhood they live in. And that’s all before you’ve written a word.

Then there’s the notes with the outlines, and the pre-outlines, and location research…Then that’s not counting finding an agent, let alone a publisher. …So, I’m not as inclined to be as  hard on the mediocre writing. At least they did it. Which is more than most can say. And at least they got it published. Which is more than I could say. One day, one day….

Posted in God

An Open Letter to All God’s Disenfranchised Musicians

I recently did an article reviewing a concert for a big Christian magazine. It was a good concert, and fun review to write. The day after it came out, I received an interesting e-mail from one of the opener’s managers.

The opener had been a prominent underground band through the 1980’s and 1990’s, and was now doing a coffee house tour. He was upset that the article didn’t give the band more coverage, and  then among a number of things, he proceeded to lecture me on the rich tradition of Christian music history.

And, then  how I, a writer for one of the biggest magazines in the industry, apparently didn’t know much about it. I should take time to educate myself on it, particularly his band, #hyperlink.  “You might find something you like,” he  patronized. I laughed. Really hard. Mainly because I knew exactly where he was coming from, and how wrong he had pegged me.

I am the quintessential 1990’s church kid. My parents were two ex-hippies who got saved in the Jesus Movement. They were the sort of people that loved music so much they named their first child after an Eric Clapton song. So, when they got saved, they knew more than anyone, the power of music upon the human spirit. In an effort to purify their hearts and minds, their burned all their secular records in a church bonfire. I am told my dad cried as he watched his collector’s edition Beatles records go up in a sacrificial flame. I grew up on Christian music.

The Christian music movement was new and exciting, albeit, far from Jimi Hendrix. So, only Christian music was allowed in my household. This is the environment I was born into. But, I guess with a name like Layla, I was destined to love music. Any music would have done it. So, Christian music became my life. I subscribed to every magazine and read each issue cover to cover. I saved my babysitting money to buy tapes, and did the BMG music service more than once. (Anyone remember get 12 CD’s for 1 cent? Haha!) I went to a Christian school for most of my childhood, and then joined the church youth group. I became active in the church youth drama team, and then took a job at a Christian bookstore. Then, I went off to a Christian university so that I could study journalism and write for Christian magazines. Not long afterward, I joined a traveling arts ministry. It was supposed to be a four month interlude. I stayed four years.

We lived in a commune and traveled the country performing at churches and events and staying in host homes. It was an interesting time, and I learned a lot. I learned that Christian culture had changed without my even realizing it. My ministry colleagues were mainly fresh-faced new recruits in their late teens and early twenties. In their professional lives, they were amazing worship leaders, songwriters, musicians, dancers and students of ministry. But, offstage, and in the vans and hotels, they were a new breed of Christian. This was a generation of young and up and coming worship leaders, ministry leaders, the new face of American Christendom trying their fit out in America’s pulpits.

Yet, the Christian music industry was not high on their priority list. They didn’t listen to Christian radio. They thought it was lame. They didn’t really listen to secular radio much either. But as far as Christian music went, they didn’t know much about it. Many of them thought that Toby Mac was always a solo artist, and probably don’t know his full last name. The only thing they know about Jennifer Knapp is that she wrote a book about being gay. Mention Steve Taylor, and they’ll correct you for mispronouncing the guy from Aerosmith, and the subject of vintage underground Christian music, begins and ends with Tooth and Nail Records. And, quite honestly, anything to the contrary, they really don’t care. Not to bash these young people. These things just aren’t relevant to them, anymore than Nancy Honeytree or 2nd Chapter of Acts were ever relevant to me. I understand this, and tried to resist my impulse to turn long van rides into Christian culture history lessons. (Well, tried anyway. Whether I was successful in this, is debatable).

It occurred to me during the time, that people of my generation, are not the fresh new recruits anymore. We are running America’s churches. We are the leadership, the new senior pastors, the ever present “parents” that the youth pastors have to be concerned about. We are the face of American Christianity.

So, when this manager e-mailed me to say that I didn’t know about Christian music, I simply shook my head. To them I say, If you can’t stay relevant to me, then what chance do you have with a generation who doesn’t know the difference between Steve Taylor and Steve Tyler? I understand these guys are defensive toward a church that was hesitant to accept them in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There’s a lot to that, and I get it.

And, having been so well-versed in the history of Christian music, I know that his is far from being an isolated incident. In his day, there were many, many, musicians who left the church because it wasn’t ready for a new sound, a new image, a new day. And, unfortunately, these incidents weren’t always handled the most graciously either. I get that. I even saw some of it, albeit I was about 12. But, honestly, whatever kind of crap went down there, is gone. Those people aren’t there anymore, judging the length of your hair or the decibel of your guitar. The church has got such bigger problems to face.

We’ve got to figure out how Jesus would respond to gay rights. We’ve got to deal with the fact that 60% of America’s church kids are leaving their church by their twenties. We’ve to handle what the long-reaching effects of the ACA do to Christian business owners, and ultimately to the rights of religious freedom at all.

We’re in the middle of a culture war. We don’t have time to worry about what some stick-up-their-butt pastor said about your music in 1993. If you’ve got a guitar, and you love Jesus, then play it. Play it for all it’s worth. Join the war. Love God. Love people. But don’t bitch about the other soldiers. We don’t have that luxury anymore.  If history tells us anything, it’s that you can’t really go back ideologically. The changes that are being made to our nation and our culture, aren’t phases or isolated incidents. They are a new direction. How far it will go, I don’t know.

But, to all you musicians, who have left the church so many years ago in a huff over long hair, and debates over Christian rock and if the song was about God or a girl, I have one thing to say to you: Come back. Bring your guitar, bring your earrings and your tattoos. Bring your love songs and your questions about God and marijuana. Bring your drums, and your amps “turned up to eleven.” Come with your piercings, gauged earlobes.

We don’t care anymore. We are the new generation of American Christendom, and we were too young to remember why you left, much less hold a grudge. But we do like your music. And we need you. This generation needs you. In fact, we’ll not only accept your Beatles records, we’ll show you ours.


The Millennial Church

Posted in Life

Lamentations of the Assertively Challenged

I think I am allergic to confrontation. Seriously. It makes me sick.

My hands warm until they are icy cold, and my face flushes. The butterflies flit around in my stomach something akin to Snow White’s woodland paradise. Their wings beat against my insides until my head swims and I can feel the faintest taste of bile rising in my throat. My ears roar, and I detest the tinny sound of my own voice forcing words into the air. The moment feels surreal, as if I were having some sort of paranormal experience. I have these weird  thoughts dancing about  my head reminding me that this moment actually is a part of my life, reality, and not some out of body experience.

Knowing that I cannot possibly confront someone in such a state, I usually retreat to a private place.  I will rehearse my speech until it sounds polished, well reasoned and eloquent. I will stare down the face in the mirror,  and with steely-eyed confidence present my argument. I will present it over and over, ironing out every kink and reasoning through every counter argument.

The problem is that once I have rationalized my case, I suddenly decide it was no big deal. Then, what was planned to be a forty-five minute sit down, becomes a two minute aside. It is then that I am ready.

I see the person, and suddenly my two minute speech even seems to be too aggressive. I end up settling for a quick offhand joke, or a conversational aside said with a pleasant smile. “Hey, next time could you just…. Thanks , I appreciate it.”

Or maybe I will say nothing at all. Maybe, I rationalize, I made much ado about nothing. And so it goes until I am a tortured being, a victim of my own peaceable nature.