New Release: “What I’d Rather Do”

What I’d Rather Do

Hot off the presses, this is a song I’ve been working on for several months! If you enjoy it, please share and download. I’ve got another song on the way soon, so make sure to check back here for updates.

If you want to chat with me, I’m starting a new discord server; you can join from this link to discuss this song, or any of the other songs or blog posts I’ve written: Love Without Fear Discord

Unlike most of my songs, this one isn’t religiously themed- it’s fun one I wrote while dating my wife 8 years ago; I’ll have an upcomming blog post with a bit more details about the inspiration and recording.

Musicians
Drums: StudioPros
Vocals, Guitars, Hammond, Bass: Jeff Sylvester

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Strange Fire

Strange Fire

Strange Fire is probably my moodiest song, and I love the atmosphere it creates. It’s dark and foreboding, and also one of my better early uses of electric guitar. When we recorded the first Steady On album I didn’t even own an electric guitar, so I had to borrow one! Glenna sang the lead vocals for this, while I sack backup and play the guitars. Paul Fruia played drums, Randy Holsapple played Hammond, and Trip Wamsley played the bass (an absolutely standout bassline, as everything he does is).

This song is based on the story of Nadab and Abihu, found in Leviticus 10. A dark and tragic account, Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire for bringing an unauthorized sacrifice to the altar. Which, admittedly sounds pretty extreme, but the takeaway for me has always been to really consider what my goals are in worship and service.

I clearly love music, and I enjoy playing music, whether leading worship or songs I have written. It is naturally very easy for me to get caught up in the art of what I am doing, rather than the ultimate meaning and purpose of the songs. I know some have used this account in scripture to justify a very restrictive approach to worship, but I have always believed the warning is more about the heart and intent. The scripture has examples of a wide variety of worship practices, but always in view is the heart of the worshiper.

I recently participated in an online discussion of modern worship, and there was a criticism over how emotional the music is, with a suggestion that emotional music is manipulative. I disagree. I think music is supposed to be emotional, and our worship is intended to be emotional as well. The accounts of David dancing appear filled with emotion to me. The key is not whether we have emotional elements in our worship, but whether they are serving our purpose to elevate God or satisfy ourselves. 

So, back to the song; Strange Fire is really about being reflective over what I am really doing in worship, and even more broadly in acts of service, giving, or anything else that seeks to please God. It can be so easy to be doing the thing I have been doing, only to realize it has become something else. It is no longer the road I thought I was on. If I take my internal temperature, I will see that my actions feel more about myself and my own goals than pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom.

I think this is likely a natural temptation for any kind of art, so we do want to be vigilant and mindful. If we are doing some cool arrangement, or I found a really neat harmony, guitar tone, or bass line, it is so easy for that thing to become more interesting than focusing on the One I am there to praise. But at the end of the day, if I am trying to show off, I am really going to fall short. That is a great way to crash and burn. If I start thinking I am hot stuff, well, I am going to be disappointed. I am a decent enough musician, but there are way better out there, and even their efforts pale in comparison to enjoying the power and grace of Jesus.

In the song, the metaphor turns from a burning that is dangerous and scary, to one that is passionate and full of life and love. I turn from having “faith in me” to worshiping at the feet of Jesus. That is, of course, the ultimate goal: closeness with Jesus. That is why we get together and sing the songs we do. It is why I write the songs I do. It is why I yearn for social healing and justice. To ultimately be close to Jesus and do the work of His Kingdom in this world. That is much better than an affirmation of my skills, as much as I appreciate a compliment.

Please feel free to download and enjoy this song (along with any of my others), and may it encourage you to be intentional about worship and service to God, and make a relationship with Jesus the focus.

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Hating What God Loves

I recently wrote a blog post asking who we are allowed to hate. It is a topic that appears to dominate much of our discourse. But there is one target of hate I did not discuss, and it is a fairly consistent one: self.

Self hatred is everywhere. I have heard many a Christian say things along the lines of “I am the worst sinner I know”. It is almost a competition for how much we can talk ourselves down (which even can be viewed as a perverse way of talking ourselves up); I think many want to liken themselves to Paul and to own his story, but let us not forget we are talking about a man who went around killing Christians (or seeing that they are killed). When he says he is the “chief of sinners”, he was not just using some grand flowery language: he meant it. We should be very careful before taking on that kind of a label for ourselves.

I once heard someone say “If you are the worst sinner you know, you should probably march yourself down to the police station and turn yourself in!” It is a really good point: in a world with so much evil and people showing a great capacity to harm others, if you really think you are the worst, you probably know you need to be locked up to keep society safe. But, realistically, people do not actually believe that. I suspect a lot of this talk is an interpretation of the doctrine of “total depravity” that views everyone as utterly evil and equally bad. A casual look around at the world, however, tells us there are real degrees of evil; we cannot all be the worst. As a side note, I will mention that RC Sproul taught that there is a difference between “total depravity” and “utter depravity”, and that the former means people are imperfect in every area of their being, but not that they are completely evil with no good in them. More recent thinking about total depravity does not seem to distinguish. But, this is beside my point, and I will leave it as a discussion for the good reformed folks to work out.

I have belabored the point, but all this “talking down of self” really amounts to self hatred. We think of ourselves as evil creatures, ugly and unlovable. And, in fact, I have heard more than one person come right out and say it: they will claim to hate themselves and talk about how awful they are. Some pastors openly preach it. For example, Paul Washer has been quoted as saying “The moment when you take your first step through the gates of hell, the only thing you will hear is all of creation standing to its feet and applauding and praising God because God has rid the earth of you. That’s how not good you are.” All creation applauding your demise certainly sounds like hatred.

But self hate does not square with what the scripture says about humanity, or what Jesus taught. We all know John 3:16- “For God so loved the world . . .” God’s love didn’t come after He redeemed us: it was the driving force. And not only did God demonstrate His love for us, but He commanded us to love others. Jesus and Paul both said it was the highest law. We ARE lovable. We are lovable even in sin. God created us, in His image, to be loved. And if God Almighty loves us, and commands others to love us, who are any of us to say “No, you may love me, but I hate myself”? In a very real way, that would be rejecting the truth about ourselves and placing our own views above God’s views. Definitely a place to tread carefully. None of us should be so audacious to hate what God loves.

I do understand that the scripture teaches us not to think too highly of ourselves, and there is also warning about self love, though it is clear what is meant by self love is narcissism: thinking of oneself so highly that you place yourself above others and care only about your own needs. But, that is not the same as thinking of yourself as a lovable person, created in the Image of God. That kind of love is not self seeking, nor is it sinful. It is an accurate reflection of the love God has shown us.

I have heard of so many people who struggle with self hatred. For some, it is a persistent darkness, and one that their experience with church has only encouraged. This is heartbreaking, and I think we need a reversal; the church should be about showing people how lovable they are. We should encourage people to care for and think well of themselves, because God does. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we are broken. But God has made it clear that we are still lovable. We do need a Savior to clean up our mess, but that does not make us unworthy of love.

Finally, I believe if we are going to take seriously the challenge to “love our neighbor”, we have to see ourselves as worthy of love. When we practice self hate, what love do we have to offer others? When we live in darkness of spirit, how can we bring light to the world? Instead, we should glow with the knowledge that we are lovable, and loved, and that should radiate out to others, our neighbors, and show them that they too are lovable.

When we look in the mirror, we should resist hating what we see; we should work on our vision to see a person created in God’s Image, loved and cared for. Yes, we should love our neighbors, but we should also love ourselves. Anything else is a rejection of the truth God has given us about ourselves and our value. And our value is so great that he sent his Son to die for us. What greater act of love is there than this?

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It Is Well With My Soul

It Is Well With My Soul

It Is Well With My Soul is my favorite song. Not just my favorite hymn, or my favorite worship song, but simply the best piece of music I have ever heard. I love both the music and the lyrics, and recording it has been one of my favorite things to have done. My take on it is quite upbeat (compared to how it is often sung at funerals), which I think is appropriate as I believe the theme to be very hopeful.

This recording features, again, the lead vocals of Jenny Kelly, with background vocals by myself and Laura Sully Davis, who graciously lent her voice to this project. The drums and bass were provided by Studio Pros, and I played the guitars and Hammond. The arrangement is my own, including reverting some of the lyrics back to those of the original poem written by Horatio Spafford, and the vocal harmonies which I have always enjoyed singing.

I first heard the song in, of all places, high school marching band. It was an arrangement entitled, as closely as I can recollect, “On A Hymnsong Of Philip Bliss”. For a song with such great lyrics, it was the music that first inspired and moved me. There is something about how the verses build that just feels inspiring and strong, while the chorus exudes a kind of quite strength. When I found the lyrics, I found that they matched perfectly, and gave substance to the strong emotions the music evoked. Much credit should be given to Philip Bliss for bringing Spafford’s poem to life with so much power.

The theme of the lyrics is the wellness of our souls in times of both great joy and suffering. I believe some people focus primarily on the “suffering” part (a natural inclination, especially given the story around the song), but I think recognizing our wellness during joy is also significant. That is, as Christians, our spiritual health is not dependent on joy or pain. It rests on the faithfulness and provision of Jesus. It is a wholly different axis that is independent of the events and emotions of life. In my view, this really is the entire point of our faith: in a broken world full of sin and pain, that our souls might be healed and rest in the goodness of God, for now and eternity.

There is a version of faith that denies pain and suffering in the world. It sees belief in Christ as a kind of opioid that masks pain with happiness, and manifests itself often as showing joy in the face of trial. While I can certainly appreciate that true faith can bring a supernatural joy at times (and indeed, we see this in scripture), there is a real dark side to making such a response to suffering a prescriptive measure of belief. It is one thing for joy to be granted us in times of trial; it is another to expect joy to always override pain. Yet often, people are told by outsiders to their pain to re-focus away from suffering, as if pain is not allowed to be a part of the Christian experience.

Spafford does ultimately re-focus his view onto Christ and the Cross, but he does so while engaging with the pain. He writes of his own struggle “when sorrows, like sea billows, roll”, and that in the midst of this grief, he knows that it is well with his soul. I really like his choice to write of “wellness”, which speaks to health, rather than euphoria. In the final verses, when he says “A song in the night, o my soul!”, there is an expression of both hope (a song) and current distress (the night). He reminds himself, and us, that pain is not the final word. Our salvation is not a drug that takes away pain, but rather a promise and hope that, in the end, we are, and will be, “well”.

There is much to the story of how and when Spafford wrote the poem that became the song, but the short version is that he wrote it in the place he believed most of his family had perished. He was in real pain when he penned the words, and he placed his hope in the grace of Christ, even as he suffered. But his life did not end with the writing of the poem; in fact, the full story of his life (and that of his wife, Anna) is quite tragic. They lost more children after this event, they were pushed out of a church due to some viewing their repeated tragedies as a form of divine judgment, and in the end, it appears they formed a kind of organization with, at best, cultish tendencies, but also did good through service to others. It is not a perfect ending to their story, but it IS a human one, and it shows their suffering did not end with Horatio putting pen to paper and writing these words, as wonderful as they are.

But, still, I believe, the words hold true. Whatever did happen, whatever pain or joys, it was well for their souls, despite lifelong trauma. And that, really, is the Christian promise. That is certainly the promise I believe: whatever my failures, tragedies, or successes, my soul is well and safe with Christ.

If you are familiar with the song, you will note two lyric changes in my recording. Both of these were reversions back to the original lyrics of the poem. I do not know the story or the reason these lyrics were changed (whether it was for the song when music was added, or some time after), but in both cases I prefer the original

The first change is from “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say” to “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to know”. I actually LOVE this, and struggle to understand the motivation to change it. But the wellness that he is talking about is not just something we speak of, but something we know and live out. It is a part of our reality to walk with the knowledge of our souls’ wellbeing. Whenever I sing this song, this line always strikes me as an important, deeply felt knowledge that comes through faith in Christ.

The second change is from the final verse: “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul” becomes “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, a song in the night, o my soul”. I have always found the “even so” line a bit confusing following the declaration that Jesus is coming back, but clearly the intent is to recognize we are not there yet. So it means “Even though the Lord has not returned, it is well with my soul”, but I find it confusing while singing. “A song in the night, o my soul” is a better, albeit more poetic, reflection on the hope of the Second Coming of Christ, and how that is part of the wellness that we have: that thought we may be in “the night” at present, one day all things will be made perfect in Jesus.

The music of this song has always moved me, and the lyrics continually speak to me. It is such a real and honest expression of what I believe faith is about; I always walk away from singing it or listening to it feeling blessed. Being able to record my own version of it, which carries my own sense of joy and faith in ultimate “wellness”, remains one of my favorite experiences.

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Evangelical No More?

In previous blog entries, I mentioned that I no longer consider myself an evangelical, something I’ve also said publicly on social media and to my friends, in person. But really, what does that mean? Am I deconstructing? Have I left Christianity? Have my beliefs changed? Do I go to church? What kind of church do I go to? In the interest of transparency, so readers who want to know will get a sense of what I am about, I would like to provide a little more information about where I am coming from these days.

Simply put, to answer the big question first, I have not left Christianity. I no longer want to be identified with a sect of Christianity that I believe is far too intertwined in non-Christian goals regarding power and politics. But, really, it is only a label. I do not know if my current church is “evangelical”, and I am not going to avoid attending any specific church because it does or does not claim that label. It is, after all, a fairly loose tem. What is important to me regarding attending or belonging to a church, is that it is living out a Christian ethic, and increasingly, the word “evangelical” is associated (not by outsiders, but by insiders) with goals that do not reflect my faith.

I do want to address the question about “deconstructing”, since it is a hot topic right now. As I understand deconstruction, that is not how I would describe my own process. The term tends to be overloaded with meanings, depending on who you talk to, but my own faith journey has followed much of the same flow that it always has: testing what I assent to, determining if it is consistent with my core beliefs, and rejecting that which does not align. It is true that I have had to reject a bit more in the last few years than previously in my life, but it still feels like part of one fluid journey. And yes, I transitioned away from identifying as an “evangelical”, but I do not think that word should carry the weight of a faith identity change. It would be one thing if I was re-thinking basic Christian doctrines, but I have not. I still believe in the core creeds that have held true since the early life of the Church (not that these items cannot be on the table, I just have not seen a need to change them, as they still make sense to me). It is more that I have seen very clearly how much “evangelical” is associated with things outside of those core beliefs.

Now, a savvy reader will note that I wrote I test to see if what I assent to is “consistent with my core beliefs”, NOT, as evanglicals will most likely demand, “testing against scripture”. I have seen people say the litmus test to whether you are deconstructing depends on rejecting the inerrancy of scripture. I DO hold to a view that scripture is inerrant, but I ALSO believe that this question is one that is “on the table”. That is, if I were to one day come to believe scripture is not inerrant, that would not destroy my faith. I know that early Christianity existed without the full scripture that we have now, and for a period in history many Christians were unable to even read it. If faith is possible without access to scripture, I cannot see an assent to inerrancy as being essential. If I meet someone who follows the teachings of Jesus, but does not agree that scripture is inerrant, I see such a person as a fellow believer in Christ. Ultimately, I believe faith is measured by following Jesus and doing the work he has given us to do in the world. By contrast, were I to lose faith that Jesus is God and has provided salvation through his death, burial, and resurrection, that would be a fatal blow to my faith. So I DO test beliefs against scripture, but this is because a trust in scripture is stilll a core belief of mine.

So what HAS changed for me? What drove me away? For a long time, I lived with a tension about ideas taught in church that bothered me. I wrestled sometimes with how I saw the church treating outsiders (and making people outsiders), but my internal dialog always understood this tension to be a product of finding a balance between living in the truth, and showing compassion and love to a fallen world. This is not to say that in the past I did not hold to beliefs I reject now. For example, there was a time that I believed having women preachers was against scripture and a Christian ethic. I understood women preaching to be a rejection of the truth of scripture, and while well meaning, a triumph of human desires over God’s instruction. To be sure, this bothered me; I did not understand this command of God, but for some portion of my life, I believed that assenting to ideas that were not aligned with my emotions was a true test of faith. Since people I trusted with faith matters told me that this was the only valid interpretation of scripture, I believed it. As of writing this, though, I attend, and serve in, a church where one of two pastors is a woman, and I reject a patriarchal interpretation of scripture.

I started questioning many of the issues I internally struggled with due to two events in my life. The first was my divorce, and how the church responded to it. To put it mildly, I was shocked at how unloving this was. I had always assumed that the church would have a compassionate answer for difficult situations like divorce, instead of doubling down on the pain. I was sorely let down.

The second event was the high degree of support Trumpism gained among evangelicals. I do not want to deal with politics on this blog, but I cannot separate my faith journey from politics this point: I could not understand the overwhelming support the church would give a person who is so transparently antithetical to the Christian ethic, an ethic that that same church had spent a lifetime instilling into me. It felt like failing the very basic Christian morality test. And it was not just that the church was agnostic on the area of Trumpism, but highly supportive, with examples of actually pushing people out who disagreed.

Once I started to see the failure of the church around the issue of divorce, and the large support granted to a personality like Trump, I realized a lot of the “difficult” issues that I had wrestled with were really things I held on to because I trusted the people teaching them to me, and not because I saw them as critical to my core understanding of Christianity. When I lost trust in those leaders, I no longer had a reason to hold on to those teachings. And of course, that led me to understand that many of those teachings were not, as I had thought, grounded in Christ or His teaching, but additions to the faith that served social and political agendas.

Yes, I go to church. I love to be around Christians who profess faith in Christ, evangelical or not. I may agree with what has flown under the banner of “evangelical”, but I love people, whether they wear that label or not. I love to worship God, and I still believe the core idea that we are made by God and need the grace of Christ, provided through his death, burial, and resurrection. I cannot look around the world today and NOT see a brokenness, and that real healing requires outside help; that real healing requires supernatural intervention, and Jesus and His work best explains and addresses our real world situation.

In the end, both Jesus and Paul said the most important thing for us to do was to love: to love God and to love others. I believe that if any interpretation of scripture defies this, we are on shaky ground. And this core idea is what I do not see reflected in the evangelical church today, at least not in the broad sense. And yet, it IS an idea I see reflected in many Christians, and those are the folks I want to be around, and commune with, whatever labels any of us choose to wear.

I do not want to be associated with a group known for its hostility toward some groups, its rigid beliefs regarding some very debatable issues, and its support for a political agenda that is very damaging and harmful to people. Yet I do not want to disassociate from Christ, nor do I believe “evangelical” has the corner on Jesus (though they appear to claim it a lot). Thus, I simply aim to be known as someone who loves and follows Jesus, and would like to work with others who are of the same mind so we can, together, live that out, whatever labels we do or do not adopt.

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Nothing Less

Nothing Less

Of the songs I’ve written, Nothing Less is one of my favorites. Musically it fits nicely into a rock style, and performing it with the electric guitar is a blast. On the recording, I played the electric and acoustic guitars, the Hammond Organ, and sang the lead vocals. Jenny Kelly sang harmonies, and studio musicians from StudioPros.com handled the drums and bass. One part of the song I really love is the guitar/bass duet during the solo; I wrote the two to work together, and the bassist did a great job with it.

Lyrically, this song is interesting, because I am sure if I wrote it today, it would come out a little differently. In fact, I originally wrote it nearly a decade before recording it, and I remember altering the lyrics significantly for the recording. Since this is a song that is critical of the church, these changes reflect how my own relationship to the church has changed over the years.

The core message of the song hasn’t changed, and it is one that I feel deeply: a criticism of not living out a Christian ethic that requires both truth and love, and failing at the latter. Scripturally, I am on solid ground, as Paul makes that point quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 13. How well that describes modern day Christians is the debatable point, of course, and that is where my thinking has evolved over the last few decades (the song itself is probably around 20 years old).

When I wrote Nothing Less, I saw the church I was in as a flawed vessel: an institution with good motives that sometimes overemphasized truth over love. At the time, I’d have said that other churches would do the reverse: emphasize love and not truth. I was not criticizing those churches in the song, as my goal was to call for change for myself and my church. I wanted to praise our desire for truth, while pushing us to be better at loving.

By the time I recorded the song, I was a bit more skeptical of motives, as I’d gone through a painful episode with a church that showed me sometimes the lack of love was not just falling short, but bad motives. I added lines like “We like to bolster our pride”, with an emphasis that I could see all of those same motives in myself. The core idea of the song was still living out the truth in love.

If I wrote the song today, I would not aim it at the church at all. I would self reflect how both truth and love can get out of balance in my own life. As an individual, I feel like I am far more balanced and do not generally overemphasize one or the other (which means I fall short at both, depending on the situation!). My view of the evangelical church that had been my home and identity for so long is something I feel outside of now, so I would be far more reluctant to be critical. I prefer my songs to be self-reflective. Other people write better protest songs!

I do not believe any of this invalidates the song; I regret a bit of the we/they language, just because it can create “out” groups that make contempt easier, but it is not strictly wrong. I am certainly part of groups (the church and otherwise) that can easily stray into being bold in proclamation of truth and failing in action of love. So a song like this can help me remember that “nothing less [than love and truth] could ever be enough”.

At the end of the day, I hope this song can serve as that kind of reminder. Boldness and strong belief are not wrong, but if they do not produce love in the form of action, they are worthless.

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Whom Am I Allowed To Hate?

“Whom am I allowed to hate?” is such an awful question, yet I observe that it is the focus of so much energy for many in our present culture. And it is not necessarily a new question. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He told a man that inheriting salvation required loving God and loving our neighbor, after which the man promptly asked “Who is my neighbor?” Or, said another way, “Whom may I not love?” (the text makes it clear this was an attempt at self justification for not loving widely). This resulted in the story we know as “The Good Samaritan”.

Jesus answers this question very clearly, that our love for others is not dependent on their being the “right kind of person” in “the right kind of group”. The Samaritan and the beaten man he cares for are enemies; they belong to groups that are at odds with one another. We love those on “the other side”, and likewise we don’t get to hate people for being in an “out group”.

For the sake of clarity, I am not of the view that every single person ought to receive our acceptance and approval. We are certainly given examples in scripture (Diotrephes, Alexander the Coppersmith) of those who we are to oppose and draw boundaries against. Likewise, when we see people doing evil and who are full of malice, it is right and just to call that out. This is how we protect and serve  the vulnerable, and show love to those whom these people harm. But this is a very different thing from identifying a group of people we are supposed to hate, and yet that is the behavior I see rampant around me.

There are so many divisions: race, economic status, political leaning, religious belief (or lack thereof), gender, sexuality, vaccination status, even fans of [xyz], and in each I see people determining, rather loudly and emphatically, why it is appropriate to have hatred for those who fall into the other group. And honestly, I do empathize with a lot of these positions. It IS natural to hate those who are in groups that are formed around ideas that do real harm. But I also believe that Jesus calls us to rise above the “natural”. I can empathize with those feelings, and yet I still think it is ultimately our undoing as a culture. Once we all have, justly or unjustly, cordoned ourselves off into groups that hate one another, how do we reach across to actually make progress toward peace and growth?

The church itself has become known for its hatred. If you question this, simply start asking the non-religious what they think of the church. You’ll soon hear it characterized as hateful and angry, and it is not difficult to see how much energy the church pours into answering the question “whom am I allowed to hate?” Is it Hollywood? LGBT? Feminists? Depending on which church you go to, there might be variations, but SO many speak publicly and loudly about who they condemn (though usually this is called “love”).

But it is also not JUST the church. In the US where I live, political liberals and conservatives alike are certain their hatred for others is justified, sometimes even celebrating the death of their enemies. Insults are levied, and the contempt is clear. These groups have crossed the line into “people I am allowed to hate” by folks who no doubt see themselves as loving, kind, and accepting. Extend this by every axis that divides us, and you have a very polarized people who spend a lot of time on hatred. I do not think the church is notable in this regard, with the exception that the church is supposed to be part of the solution, not the problem.

To me, this is clearly the human condition. We feel a drive toward determining the “other” so we can feel OK about our hatred for them, and thus preserve our positive energy for those who we feel really deserve it. And this is where I think Christianity demands more. We are to love our enemies. We are to pour our energy into love and not hate, even when the latter is deserved. Because, of course, when WE were those who Jesus could choose to hate, He loved us instead. We show grace because grace was shown to us. And to be clear, I do not think this is transactional, but rather following a pattern of love: as we know love, we see how to show that love.

To reiterate, bad actors with malice in their hearts, are content to see other people destroyed, do exist. I think it is more than fair to speak up clearly against these kinds of abuses. The story of The Good Samaritan is not the victim pretending he was never beaten or that harm was not done to him. But the vast majority of people in this world, even those who get it wrong and support ideologies of harm, are not malicious. They see themselves as good people, and they want to do good to others. Which is not to say their actions are absent of real harm; they do harm, and sometimes there will have to be consequences, but I am sure we will go further with an attitude of grace that seeks to activate the goodness, than one of hatred, which can only overwhelm with superior numbers, and activates defensiveness and aggression.

If we find ourselves asking the question “Is this person someone I am allowed to hate?” (or worse, if we just assume the answer without even thinking it through), we are living according to the world. We will do so much more if we instead ask “How can I show love to this person, whom Jesus would call my neighbor?”

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No Me

If you’ve been to the Music area of this blog, you’ve probably seen the music video for the song “No Me”. The video was a project Jenny (who sang the lead vocals for the song) and I did with a co-worker of mine, with the premise of a woman feeling “off” and lacking in life/purpose as she goes about some fairly normal activities. When she remembers that Jesus is the center of it all, she is able to fully engage with those other areas again. I think Jeremy (who plays the “boyfriend” in the video) did a really great job of pulling this off and telling the story.

The song itself is one I wrote in the latter days of the San Antonio version of Steady On. I actually intended it to be for another band; a female duo who sang at our church and was trying to go for a more rock sound (think Evanescence) than what we were doing with Steady On. When the duo I wrote it for didn’t take to it, Steady On started performing an acoustic version of it, which was very different (but cool sounding). It’s been through a lot of iterations stylistically, and ultimately the arrangement I created for the “Through The Darkness” album (the one used in the music video) is my favorite. I played the guitars, Hammond organ, and background vocals, while studio musicians performed the bass and drums, and my friend Jenny Kelly provided the amazing lead vocals.

The core idea of the song is that I have found my faith in Jesus to be critical for finding meaning in my life. The lyrics spend time contemplating a variety of concepts and aspects of life, only to assess them as lacking in providing purpose and meaning. I do NOT intend for this to say that such things are invalid or unhelpful. In fact, the ideas I discuss in the song are all meaningful to me, and of course I would never dispute the importance of love in the human experience. It’s just that, as Ecclesiastes says, everything under the sun is meaningless without something more. I believe this, and I believe it is Jesus who has given my life purpose.

However, I did not want to write a song that was just an apologetic argument for why Jesus is real and God exists; that for us to have purpose and meaning there must be a God. That’s a very academic outlook (the kind of thing I’d argue sitting around with friends or on an internet forum), and while interesting to think about, isn’t really the point. The point is that I RESPOND to that truth by praising God for what the purpose and meaning He gave me. I styled the chorus to be more of a worship song than an argument, and likewise I wanted this reflected in the music video as well, showing the main character in a worshipful response to the meaning and purpose God gives her.

It’s one of my favorite songs, and I really love the arrangement and how this recording came out. Making the music video was a lot of fun too, and it reflects the song well. You can watch it on YouTube, linked below, or download it for free from the music page.

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Re-Launching Love Without Fear

So, here we are in 2022 and I’m re-launching my blog!

Wait, what? “Re-launch?”

Yeah . . . so, I did have this blog almost a decade ago, but I let it lag after I got married and became super busy, and I just kind of lost my spark to both make music and shout my thoughts at the world. But lately, I’ve felt more passion to do both things, so here I am (again)!

I took down all of my old posts, so this really is just a fresh take and a clean slate. A lot has changed about me in the last 8 years, and I wanted to start again without having to try and figure out how much of what I wrote before still represents me and what I’d like to change or clean up. I may re-work some of those old posts and bring them back, as some of them represent a lot of effort!

One of my focuses here will be sharing my music, and to that end, please check out the Music page where you can play and download a ton of songs I’ve written and recorded (previously under the band name “Steady On”, but I HOPE to be releasing some new stuff under my own name). All of these songs are free to download and use, so enjoy!  I wrote them to connect with people, and nothing makes me happier than knowing they’ve done that.

Anyway, a brief (too late!) word about who I am, though I’ll certainly be sharing more in the near future: my name is Jeff Sylvester. I live in Georgia with my wife and our 4 children. I write software by trade (which I love, but will NOT be blogging about; that’s a completely different kind of blog), but enjoying gaming and writing music by night (or weekends, or whenever, but you get the idea!).

I am also a Christian, though much distressed with how Christianity has been visibly lived out in the United States. I no longer consider myself an “Evangelical”, but I absolutely believe that faith in Jesus is the most important thing in my life, and that He is still the greatest and only hope for this world.

Musically, I’ve always enjoyed writing and performing music. I started out as a theory/composition major in college, though ended up switching to computer programming for my day job. I had a band in college named “Legacy” (later “Jacob’s Well”), and even recorded a small album (no, none of those songs are available here!).

I got married right after college, and then a few years later I started a new band, “Steady On”, with my wife in San Antonio, TX. We recorded a lot of the music that is now on this site. That band lasted a few years, but had to break up when a work move took me to Georgia.

In Georgia, I went through a difficult divorce that inspired me to both learn and encourage others about abusive marriages, as well as record a new album under the name “Steady On” which I used to process a lot of the emotions that came from my divorce as well as how my church reacted to it.

I got remarried, and with the hustle and bustle of a big new family, both blogging and writing/performing music took a back seat. Also, my faith underwent changes as I began to see more clearly some falsehoods I’d lived with for most of my life. Faith has always been a huge part of my inspiration to write and sing, so I needed some time to simmer before I returned to writing about it. Thankfully, my core beliefs haven’t change, so my older songs still hold up and align with my current thinking, though perhaps some of the topics don’t carry the same weight with me as they once did (no surprise that a song I wrote in college about feeling so eager to get out and DO STUFF doesn’t land the same way now that I’m a computer programmer working at a bank with a family of 6!)

Anyhow, with the present polarization, anger, and hatred in our country, as well as the state of the church and so many Christians feeling hurt and broken (and yet some finding amazing strength), I am inspired to write again. I’ve been recording demos at home and writing some new songs (as well as bringing back a song I wrote for my wife when we were dating- to date my only “non-religious” song; I can’t WAIT to record it).

I am starting a new journey, both blogging and writing music, and I’m not entirely sure how long it will last or where it will lead, but I am convinced that we heal this broken world through connection, and this is the way (written word and music) God has given me to connect with others. Hope you can come along with me and see where this goes!

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