December 2010


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A note to readers:  I know that each of you has a variety of perspectives and experiences when it comes to spirituality.  This blog entry, unlike most you’ll find here, is unique to my own spiritual tradition and experience, which is that of Christianity.  Of course, I hope you’ll all read along regardless of your feeling on the topic, but if you prefer not to, please join me again next post.  I love having you here.

If you know me, you know I’ve made a habit of moving.  In the last twelve years I’ve lived in Seattle, three different parts of San Diego, Illinois, and now Tennessee.  I’m all too familiar with pulling nails out of walls, turning off the lights for the last time.  At times I feel that I’ve said, “Nice to meet you,” and “Nice knowing you,” more often than, “See you tomorrow.”  Lucky for me with each move I’ve had some sort of built-in community.  Teams, classmates, churches.  There have been lonely times to be sure, but more often than not I was able to move directly into a welcoming and like-minded community of people as much as a place.

Moving to Nashville, however, has been a different ballgame.  Jaron and I came without jobs or connections, beyond a couple of acquaintances.  We are getting to know folks as quickly as possible, which means quite slowly.  We have been in town for five months and several times have experienced the excitement of meeting people whom we never thought we’d get to meet.  We’ve also had a few great moments of camaraderie with like-minded artists and thinkers.  And in between we’ve endured long periods of loneliness.  Times when I want to get in my car in the middle of the night, forget that we have work in the morning and bills to pay, and drive to Illinois for a breath of familiar friendship – for just a moment of knowing for sure that we are with people who love us.

Living with spiritual community has been a hugely important part of my life, of our married life, and of our vocational lives.  We have been blessed with generations of loved ones, spiritual family, to lean on and bounce off of, most notably our dear small group in San Diego.  It has been when trusted Christians speak into our lives, who know us and have invited us into their lives, that we experienced profound, seemingly tangible, almost measurable, growth.

Part of the appeal of living in Nashville is community with other art-seekers, and it’s definitely available here, however quickly or slowly you find it.  Some of our favorite influences live in the vicinity, and they continue to put out challenging, thoughtful, and Scriptural art.  In large part they do it together.  Throughout history waves of great artwork have come from good workers with great influence on each other;  these folks have recognized that they need one another.  They have actually embraced that need and made great strides together.  And I’m so glad they did.  (Behold the Lamb tour, anyone?)

I’m so glad they did, in fact, that there are times I get distracted by the beauty of the artistic community, when I forget that community is not the source of art.  There are times when I forget that great ideas, great expressions, great movements, do not come merely from having the right set of people around the table.  In our current (and temporary) loneliness I find myself thinking that what we really need is a strong social and spiritual community surrounding us and until that happens we won’t feel the comfort of friendship or experience the growth that comes from people speaking into your life or the very important feeling of being needed by someone you need in return.  I forget, in all honesty, about the fellowship of Christ.

Like the very sad VHS my parents had of the making of “We Are the World” in the eighties.  All the talent in the world brought to the same room does not supply the super-natural experience we all expect will result.  Christ supplies it.  It is his story we tell and his in-dwelling by which we are sustained whether with a crowd of support or in a quiet room with a whispered prayer.  Without him our cries for beauty echo to nothingness and our hope dissipates along with them.

What good news this is to me.  Lest I confuse my spiritual health with the group of people with whom I am able to associate.  Lest I forget that Jacob had to wrestle with God in solitude.  Or that Job’s friends called him to turn from God in his anguish.

I am incredibly grateful, and forever improved by the art that comes from the Rabbit Room and its surrounding community, and others like it.  But what I have learned in my first months in Nashville is not the power of community. Receiving others, being received by others, while important and worthy, is a pale reflection of receiving and being received by Christ.  When people come and go from our lives, we know that Christ stays.  When others betray us, we know that Christ is faithful.  And when we are surrounded by beauty and laughter and loved ones, we know that Christ’s is the grace that supplied it.

We had been dating for less than a month when Jaron and I first exchanged Christmas gifts.  I was head over heels and very excited for what I expected to be a Hallmark moment.  But, it was not to be.  Several small gifts, some nerdy books, and a tool set later, we realized that maybe we weren’t done getting to know each other yet.  🙂

We all have memories of receiving a crappy gift.  Maybe it was thoughtless.  Like lotion.  Maybe it proved how little that person knows you.  Like a grandmother who gives you expensive perfume to which you are very much allergic.  Maybe it was even an insult, or a passive attempt to change you.  Like the Mom who gives her Goth daughter a pink blouse.  Or maybe you watched your siblings open their toys and then as you unwrapped your electric toothbrush, you realized once and for all that you were not the favorite.

Never wanting to be the perpetrator of such events, I’ve given some pretty sweet gifts in my day.  Jewelry, a remote control airplane, musical instruments, a trip to Ireland.  I enjoy putting thought into gifts, making sure that person knows that I appreciate them and want to encourage who they are, or even who they want to be.  I’m very motivated by the opportunity to affirm the people I love; it’s my favorite part of gift-giving.  I think.  I don’t think I’m motivated by imagining the perfect gift reception scenario, where it becomes clear to that person that this is a truly fantastic gift and I must be one of the most important people in their life.  It’s not that I just want to be liked.  It’s not.

Okay, it is.  If I’m honest, I have two hearts.  One is full of love and one full of lust.  One is wrapped up in the edification of others and one in owning that person’s affection.

When I put more thought into the gift-receiver’s amorous reaction than I put into how this gift will actually effect their life.  When I spend more than I should to make sure that my gift stands out.  When I subconsciously attach strings to my gift, expectations for its use or how prominent it will be among that person’s belongings, I start to reflect that other motivation.  Pretty soon, just like I’ve sometimes done with facebook (and my blog), I’ve used gift-giving as an attempt to paint the most flattering picture of myself to present to the world, or at least to one person.  One that they will admire.  One that they will (dare I name it?) “worship”.  A far cry from the gospel and a great irony for a season of celebration of the humble birth of our Savior.

Selfish giving has been on my mind a lot this week.  The obvious reason is Christmas, of course.  Which is part of it.  But last year, largely through the help of Crown and Advent Conspiracy, I managed to limit my gift-giving and even stay in budget (almost).  Jaron and I gave each other time and unhindered presence (no screens in our house were turned on that day).  We enjoyed our very favorite holiday celebration to date.  This Christmas will be even more simple, strictly within budget, and I’m even staying within the gift wish-lists I received.  No above-and-beyonds this year.

What really has giving on my mind is the pre-order and immediate download release of our album last week.  We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, preparing for it directly for almost a year and indirectly for many years.  We’ve made sacrifices and taken risks for it, and mostly felt good about those risks because we were “serving the work“.  It wasn’t about us; it was about these songs that we believed should be recorded, and recorded well.

Now, after cutting the ribbon and watching the trickle of response, I find myself face to face with doubt.  With the loneliness of having finished a work and realized that I cannot control what will happen with it now.  And with that I find that I was not entirely serving the work – I was in fact serving myself, too. My desire for acceptance as a musician, to solidify our involvement with the musical works we so admire.  So, in this advent season, in this uncommonly cold and snowy weekend in Nashville, I find myself looking out the window as the stark beauty of the snow reflects the lack of beauty within me.  It reflects, actually, the reason for His coming and with it the blessing of being a person not just in need of redemption, but who has had their need fulfilled.  The same light both shows my blemishes and warms my face.

As I’ve learned over the years about other submissions, like forgiveness and loyalty, serving the work is not a one-time decision.  I will be asked time and time again whether my work is for myself or for the glory of bringing order from chaos.  Of shaping scrap into beauty on whatever level I can achieve.  Freedom to do the work comes from submitting myself to the outcome.  Even, it seems, after the work is complete.

So from Jaron, Banjo, and myself, I wish you a warm and reflective Advent season, a time for wonder and gratitude.  And I invite you to check out our work at our new website, kaminmusic.com.

Merry Christmas from the Kamins!