Comfort those closest, entertain the rest.

David Bazan living room show

There’s this song David Bazan sings, that may or may not be autobiographical. It’s about this guy who’s pretty disillusioned with being on tour across the country. One night in a convenient store he tries to pick up a cashier, gets rejected, and sets a car on fire in the parking lot. At least that’s how I hear it. I’ve never been on tour, I’ve never tried to pick up a cashier at a convenient store, and I’ve never set a car on fire. But, dammit, when I sing along with David Bazan all sad and matter-of-fact, I fell all the self-loathing and regret that one would presumably feel, gas can in hand, standing in a wet parking lot in front of a blazing Honda.

That’s a songwriting gift.

This weekend I got to see Bazan play live in a living room with thirty other people. At eight o’clock, he walked in the front door, nodded to a room full of strangers, sat down on a stool, pulled out his guitar and started singing. It was pleasantly surreal.

A few songs in he greeted the audience and asked if anybody had any questions. That was the rhythm for the rest of the night. Few songs. A little conversation. Few songs. More talking. It was really fun. Bazan is incredibly warm and amiable. Afterwards Sara and I told him how much we enjoy what he does and I got a picture with him.

Great night.

Sunday Valley is dead, long live Sunday Valley

In 2003, shortly after my first wife decided she’d rather live in California than Kentucky, my buddy Leo decided I needed to get out of the house and stop feeling sorry for myself. We went to dinner, went to a hockey game, and then ran by a little bar named High On Rose to see his friend’s band, Sunday Valley. I had no idea, that night, I would be seeing one of my favorite bands ever for the first time.

Sunday Valley, at the time, was four guys - Stu, Gerald, Eddie, and Billy. They wore overalls, cowboys hats, and played this strange form of rock/country/punk music that I didn’t have words for. For a while, in those early days, whenever someone would write about the band, they would always throw out these high concept descriptions of the music. Eventually it felt like everybody quit trying to pin it down and just enjoyed it for what it was - really great music.

Soon after that first show, I went on a mission to introduce everybody I knew to this band. I can’t remember ever taking anybody to one of their shows that didn’t immediately become a fan. I don’t know how many times Sunday Valley played The Dame before it was torn down - but I feel like I have a million distinct memories of seeing them there, with my best friends around me, singing, dancing, and laughing. Some of my favorite adult memories happened at their concerts.

I also don’t know how many times over their career the band actually broke up. In my foggy, highly unreliable memory, it seems like it was more than once. How ever many times it happened, I always took it hard. And I was always excited every time they got back together or put on a reunion show. In the lean times, between shows, I survived on every recording I could get my hands on - be it their early studio recording, their Red Barn Radio show, or some sketchy bootleg my buddy Paul got a hold of.

A little while ago Sara arranged for the band to do a private birthday show for my friend Erin and me. It was an incredible night. For the first time I got to interact with the band on a personal level - and get to know them as a group of genuinely nice guys.

The last couple of years have been full of a lot of big moments for Sunday Valley - a tour, a new album, a move to Nashville, old members leaving, new member joining. I’ve watched the whole thing from a distance and wished nothing but good things for the guys.

So, of course I was really sad this morning to see the following announcement posted on the band’s official Facebook page:

Welp kids,…Lord knows it’s been a long road with a great many tears of joy and sadness and some very hard lessons learned but I know I speak for all four original members of Sunday Valley when I say we gave it everything we had and then some. Out of respect and honor for Billy, Gerald, & Eddie and the sacrifices we all have made for this thing over the years, I could never under any circumstances feel good about continuing my musical journey under the Sunday Valley name. There are no words I can think of that would possibly express our love and appreciation for you all and your support over the last 8 years…it means more than you could ever know. New band, new sound, new album coming very soon…as they say, the next chapter is always better, that’s why we turn the page.
“To the wind and on to heaven…”

For me, this really is the end of an era. That’s not to say I’m not excited to see what comes next for each of the guys. They’re all talented musicians and have an automatic fan in me - but Sunday Valley was big for me. They are inextricably tied to the year I really crawled out from under a broken heart. They were the first band to help me see there was more to country music than the crap you hear on the radio. They were a connection to the music I grew up around. They made me proud of this city and it’s music scene.

So, pull your hat down over your eyes to hide the tears, and raise your glass in the air. Thank God for great local music and thank God for Sunday Valley. Let’s see what’s next.

Local: Lexington

I was looking at this picture hanging in my office today and realized, I’d never really posted anything about it, other than an Instagram picture or something a couple years ago.

Let me tell you about it.

Local was a comic book mini-series written by Brian Wood and drawn by Ryan Kelly. Each issue was a stand alone story about a girl named Megan, set in a different city. Wood and Kelly would set the stories around real landmarks and neighborhoods - sometimes they were personally familiar with the towns and sometimes friends and readers would provide photos and information to help them flesh out the setting.

It was a great series. I read it in single issues and purchased the really nice hardcover collection.

A couple years ago, Ryan Kelly announced on Twitter that he would be doing a small number of Local themed commission, first come, first serve. Send him a picture of a landmark in your town, or just a spot that meant something to you personally, and he would work it and Megan into a drawing.

I apparently got my request in early enough.

I sent Ryan a picture of The Dame.

The Dame was a music venue here in Lexington, Kentucky. It, and the historic building that housed it, were demolished a few years ago to make way for a still unseen super-mega-awesome-high-rise-hotel-courtesy-of-the-Webb-Brothers. I thought it was a shame then and I think it’s a shame now.

The Dame was a great old place. It was a dive. I saw a lot of great bands there. Chris Whitley, Frank Black, The Avett Brothers. Old Crow Medicine Show, Over the Rhine, The Begonias, and Sunday Valley (about a thousand times).

Sara and I sat in the Dame one night and confessed to each other that we secretly really liked each other more than we had been pretending to.

So, yeah, it was a great place. And it’s gone. But it lives on, for now at least, in this picture from a great artist, along with a character from some great stories.

I’ll take it.

Almost Amish launch party at Morris Book Shop

Nancy Sleeth, a friend of Crossroads, has written a new book called Almost Amish - One woman’s quest for a slower, simpler, more sustainable life. I’m a big fan of Nancy and her husband Matthew and the way they’ve seamlessly combined their love for this planet and their faith. Both Matthew and Nancy are thoughtful, articulate, and open-minded.

On March 23, Morris Book Shop is hosting a launch party for Nancy’s book. If you’ve never been to Morris Book Shop it’s an incredible local, independent book store. If you visit it once, you’ll be back. It has a charm and authenticity that’s too often missing in the modern world of national big chain book stores.

So here’s your chance to support a great lady, purchase an interesting book, and visit a cool bookstore all in one move. More info below in the flyer below. Click it to make it bigger:

The Greenest Church In Lexington - An Interview with Caleb Mathis

I love where I work. As far as churches go, there’s not very many like it in my experience. One of the things I love about it is the people I get to work with. We have a diverse staff with diverse passions that are all being put to use trying to love God and love the people around us.

One of the people that I particularly love is Caleb Mathis. Caleb is a young, inteligent guy with a great heart - and there’s not an ounce of pretense in him. What you see is what you get - and that, to my mind, is a pretty rare thing. Caleb is extremely passionate about taking care of the environment. I love his heart and his vision in this area so much that I asked him if I could ask him a few questions about it and post it on my blog. He graciously agreed. It’s a long read, but totally worth it. If, after reading this, you have any questions for Caleb about starting a Green program at your church, hit me up in the comment section and I will get you in touch with him.

Patrick: On staff you’re known as the recycling guy.  The Green guy.  The dirty hippie (sorry, I’m the only one that calls you that).  It’s obvious to anyone that spends a little time with you, that you’re passionate about caring for the environment.  Have you always been that way?  When did you first kind of become aware of this passion?

Caleb: Haha! Actually, my parents love to tell that story of how, as a kindergarten student, I fussed at my dad for leaving the water running while he brushed his teeth. I’m not sure if I learned that lesson at school or from watching Captain Planet – but as a child, I do remember being “creation care” minded.

That being said, as I grew up, I abandoned that type of thinking for a long while, mostly as a way to “fit in.” I grew up steep in the church (my dad’s a pastor) and Christian culture (like I didn’t seriously listen to secular music till college), and environmentalism was something that Christian culture always associated with “liberals” – and that was certainly not something I wanted to be a part of! I just took on the predominate thinking of that Christian subculture which, ironically, didn’t value the creation.

In college, propelled by a number of books I was reading, I came to the realization that Christ wanted to redeem much more than just my heart – he wanted my whole life. That meant rethinking my views on everything, including environmentalism. Even just a cursory search of the scriptures shows that God cares very deeply for what He has made and expects mankind to care for it as well. Honestly, I have no idea how the Christian culture of past years was able to maintain their negative stance on environmentalism when nothing in scripture supports their view.

That was a long answer, haha, sorry.

Patrick: You’ve started a “Green Team” inside of Crossroads’ student ministry.  What’s that all about?

Caleb: Last summer, we offered a “summer school” for the students in XSM. We’d meet, every Thursday, for a lesson and activities, and then we’d go out to eat together. I was put in charge of this summer school and kind of just went out on a limb with the topic of Creation Care – I knew how important it was for the students, early on, to realize God’s love and mandate for us to care for the planet, but I wasn’t sure if kids would attend. Surprising, a good number of students showed up, week-in and week-out, and we had an especially large showing from the middle school students. When summer school was over, many of the kids expressed a desire to keep meeting together – they were now full of knowledge about the environment, but they needed an outlet to work toward change – so the Green Team was born.

We meet once a week to take of all the recycling in the church, and then at least once a month for a different type of “green” activity – we’ve painted storm drains for the city, gone on camping trips, right now we’re in the middle of changing the church’s light bulbs from incandescent to CFL. The kids are really the heart and soul behind the Green Team – every week they come in excited, with new ideas to implement – it makes heading up that time very easy!

Patrick: You guys have recently joined in a local competition of sorts.  Tell us about that.

Caleb: Sure thing – the Green team enrolled our church in the Live Green Lexington Games, which is a competition between local schools, business and churches to see who can implement the most “green change” over the course of a year. Somehow, I missed the boat on that for the first half of the competition, but we enrolled in the Games at about the six-month mark. There is a huge checklist of green changes, and each one of them corresponds to a certain point value. As we go through our church making changes, we earn a certain number of points – and the school, business and church with the most points at the end of the competition (July) wins! 

The games have been great because it gives the Green Team a checklist to work on – we’ve recently changed all our Exit Sign bulbs to LED (using much less energy), set out cigarette butt receptacles at the entrances (cuts down on litter) and created a green policy for our office workers to follow. The games have really energized the Green Team kids, as it gives them a goal to work toward!

Patrick: In a recent email to the rest of the Crossroads staff you mentioned a desire you and the kids in the green team have to make us “the greenest church in Lexington.”  Why is that important and how do you get there?

Caleb: I firmly believe that the way we treat the creation (the planet and the 7 billion people living on it) reflects our feelings for the Creator. God places extreme value on His creation, but if our daily lives do not reflect this value, then there is a disconnect between us and the Creator. 1 John explains – “If anyone says he loves God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” I feel the same way about the planet, we can say we love God, but if we recklessly use and abuse his Creation, do we really love God? One of the first commands given to Adam from God was for him to take care of the garden that God had created for him (Genesis 2:15). That commands travels through time and is our command today… how can we say we value the Creator when we abuse His creation? Our churches, among other things, are a place where humanity should correctly connect with God. Our church buildings need to preach the same love and respect for God as our Sunday sermons.

Just yesterday, I read an article about a little church in Germany who’s outfitted their roof with solar panels – they make enough electricity to power eight more churches their size! And by switching to solar, the energy they are using doesn’t come from burning coal, a process that not only pollutes the air, but destroys the earth through mining.

Many people are scared by the prospect of going green because they perceive it to be expensive and time-consuming, like having to retrofit solar cells on your roof. And that is a great idea, but I would encourage others to start small. Before you install solar panels, work on increasing your recycle, or printing less, or choosing to not purchase sytrofoam anymore. Small changes really do add up – and if you can get into the habit of continually add another small change, another there, you’ll eventually find yourself in a place where purchasing roof solar panels isn’t such a wild or extreme thought.

Patrick: In recent years we’ve seen more and more churches embracing the idea that we need to be good stewards of the planet, but there are still some that are resistant to that that sort of thing.  Without trying to get into their heads too much or demonize them, why do you think some religious bodies resist the idea of environmentalism?  You obviously see it as something that fits very comfortably into your faith - how did you get to that place?

Caleb: I’ve thought about this for a while. Some people seem to equate caring for the environment as a slippery slope that could lead to something extreme like worship of the earth. Of course, every movement has its “crazies,” and there’s some people out there who deify that planet. For a Christian, that’s obviously not an option – we don’t worship the earth, rather we care for it because we worship the one who made it.

Other folks, I believe, are turned off from the green movement because it’s so long been tied to the political left. Many churches seem to want to ally themselves with a political movement, and your more traditional/fundamental churches seem always identify with the political right – a branch of politics with little use for environmental stewardship. Like you said, I don’t want to demonize these churches, but it seems they are more concerned with stopping a political agenda, or electing a certain official, then they are with following God. The entire body of scripture teaches and supports care for the planet – to ignore this issue just because it’s favored by a certain political party, is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

My feelings about care for the environment, as I said earlier, really blossomed in college, when I finally sought to personally know God, and not just be told my others what He was like. As I sought after Him, and spent time in prayer and the scriptures, it became obvious that this was something He cared about.

But I also look at environmentalism as a way to engage in justice. The scriptures make it very obvious that God cares for the poor. Poor environmental stewardship has affect the poor in vastly greater ways than everyone else. For example, if climate change increases the temperature on earth, Americans with their air conditioners will be fine, but children living in rural Africa will die. Water contamination doesn’t affect us, because we have plants that filter and purify our tap water, but if a company’s factory in a third world country is allowed to pollute local bodies of water, then disease will spread. The examples could go on and on and on. I find it hard to believe that a Christian could look at the scriptures and not recognize God’s desire for us to care for creation, but even if that was the case, they should support environmental efforts as a way of pursuing the type of justice for the poor that God so adamantly cares about.

Patrick: Environmentalism has been highly politicized by people on both sides of the political spectrum.  For you, is this is a topic that transcends traditional politics?

Caleb: Washington wants to politicize every issue, and this is especially detrimental in the case of environmental sustainability. I hope that, one day, environmentalism can transcend political boundaries because (at the risk of sounding a little dramatic), the future of our lives depends upon it.

That being said, I’m not willing to wait around for Republicans and Democrats to agree. I’ve learned to stop looking to political parties, agendas or candidates for my hope. Let’s be honest, a politician’s job is to get elected, and once there, stay elected – it sounds a bit cynical, but every decision they make revolves around that. In the past few years, the word compromise has become taboo in Washington; Democrats and Republicans don’t want to work together – and of course, each party blames the other way. I’m afraid that environmentalism won’t become a unifying issue until its too late, so I hope and pray that the Church leads the charge on championing this issue. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned above, the Church is uniquely qualified to lead the creation care movement – and if its something we believe that God supports, we should be doing it anyway.

Patrick: Any closing thoughts?

Caleb: For anyone who is skeptical about the issue of mixing Christianity and environmental stewardship, I would just encourage them to look to the scriptures. Put politics aside, put even what you think aside, and take time to be educated on what God thinks about the issue. This could be very eye-opening for many believers who don’t currently embrace environmentalism.

If you find yourself ready to make changes to your lifestyle, I would encourage you to start small – you don’t have to sell all your possessions and buy a Prius immediately. Work your way up; add a different green change to your lifestyle each month. So there so much each one of us can do to lessen our impact on the environment – find friends who are doing the same and share ideas! Find me, I’d be happy to talk about it.

Meeting People You Admire - Anthony Bourdain

So I’ve detailed in other posts a list of people that I wanted to meet - people whose work I enjoy or am inspired by; people whose hand I want to shake and say, “thanks, I like what you do.”

One big name on that list is Anthony Bourdain. I enjoy everything the man does, whether it’s writing, making television, or public speaking. He is a lovable curmudgeon. He is open-minded, but opinionated. He is a rockstar, and a chef, and a libertine, and a leftie, and a citizen of the world in the truest sense of the phrase. He has an insatiable appetite for life in all of it’s forms and it’s infectious.

Sara and I got a chance to see him speak a few years ago at the Kentucky Center in Louisville and we both loved it. His live talks give an interesting behind the scenes look at his show No Reservations and his travels around the world. So when we heard he was coming again, and this time bringing his best friend Eric Ripert, chef, author, and restaurant owner, we knew we had to go. This time, however, we decided to shell out a little extra cash and pay for the privilege to meet Mr. Bourdain and Mr. Ripert after their talk at a small reception.

Sara and I intended to make a day of it. We planned to go to Louisville early and have a nice dinner at one of several restaurants we’d been wanting to try - then leisurely making our way over to the Kentucky Center.

Unfortunately, poor Sara fought a migraine most of the day - so we ended up leaving as late as possible, grabbing fast food (which I promptly got all over my shirt) and then sliding into our seats moments before it all started.

Once we were in our seats (second row!!), though, the fast food and hectic pace disappeared into oblivion. The talk was great - two profane hours about Paula Deen, Iggy Pop, eating pig anus, and punching racists in the nose. And food. They also talked a lot about food.

One of the best parts of the night was during a Q&A at the end - someone in the audience asked Bourdain where he ate lunch. Bourdain said some really complimentary things about his meal at Proof On Main, a local restaurant. From the back of the room you heard someone shout, “I cooked that for you!” When you turned around and looked there was a kid at the back of the room with a smile you could have seen from space, practically dancing with excitement.

Afterwards Sara and I made our way to the reception where I was second in line to meet Bourdain and Ripert. I nervously handed Mr. Bourdain my copy of his Les Halles cookbook to sign and asked him some questions about the graphic novel that he recently wrote for Vertigo. He was nice and energetic and I was a complete nerdy spaz with Arby’s sauce on my shirt.

Best night ever.

One more off the list: Anthony Bourdain