Monday, January 17, 2005

Counting the Days, Counting the Cost

I write about music for a Christian literary magazine called The Mars Hill Review ( As you might imagine, I have a little more freedom to discuss my faith in MHR than I do in Paste Magazine. This is an article that appears in the current issue.


My brother-in-law Jim died of cancer of the everything in mid-April. The cancer started in his colon, and in true egalitarian fashion gradually spread to every major system of his body. It’s the American way; no organ left behind. Jim would have appreciated the irony. Jim was a big, tattooed body builder, but when he died his shrunken body was a hollow, emaciated shell, eaten out from the inside. He was my longtime friend, and these days I walk around with a Jim-shaped hole, an imprint of twenty-three years of a shared life, slowly fading in spite of my best efforts to retain every common and uncommon moment.

I cope by playing his songs. I love music, and every aspect of my life has its accompanying soundtrack. A couple years ago I carried a Bruce Cockburn song called “One of the Best Ones” around with me just before my twentieth wedding anniversary, pulled it out of my head whenever I needed to remind myself of the mystery and wonder of the marriage dance. This spring and summer I have played one album far more than any other. I play it on my drives to and from work and I play it at home late at night. When I am not near a CD player I play it in my head. It’s my Death of Jim soundtrack, an album called Regard the End by the intriguingly named Willard Grant Conspiracy.

There is mystery and wonder here, too. There is no Willard Grant, as far as I can tell, and I have no idea why he would be involved in a conspiracy. There is only a man named Robert Fisher and a loose affiliation of musicians who play with him. Robert is fiftyish, heavyset, and has black horn-rimmed glasses and a big, thick grey beard. He looks like Moses as college professor. And true to his image, or lack thereof, he makes distinctly unhip music, the kind of music that might have been popular during the Civil War, but which scarcely has an audience today. His various conspirators play acoustic guitars, mandolins, fiddles, cellos, pump organ, piano, and trumpet. Robert writes lyrics that sound as ancient as the Psalms, and he sings in a craggy baritone that wanders in and out of pitch and yet still manages to find just the right mix of soulfulness and grit and weathered imperfection. He reminds me of a deeper-voiced, less nasal Willie Nelson, or the world-weary Johnny Cash of the American Recordings years, two of Jim’s favorite singers. It’s a hopelessly non-commercial venture, but I cherish it, take it out and listen to these wise old contemporary tales as if they were the prayers of a desperate saint. And maybe they are.

On “The Trials of Harrison Hayes” Fisher entwines acoustic guitar, cello, trumpet, and piano in a lovely waltz, but his lyrics sting:

Misery doesn’t come from the earth
Trouble doesn’t sprout from the ground
People are born to trouble
Just as sparks fly upward
Into the clouds

It’s an echo of the Book of Job, a decidedly Old Testament pronouncement that leaves little room for mawkish sentiment or we’ll-meet-again-on-the-other-side platitudes. It’s plainspoken, no frills, to the point. Jim would have liked that. He was an engineer by talent and trade, and he had little patience or use for flowery poetry. But it leaves me uneasy, unsettled. It’s true enough, but I want more. Is that it? Is trouble the final word?

It is on Regard the End. On “The Suffering Song,” the epic final song on the album, a mournful fiddle weaves between the verses, an electric guitar drone builds and builds, and Fisher waits until the cacophony is a wall of sound behind him before he delivers his punch line:

Suffering’s gonna come
It’s as old as the world
Suffering’s gonna come to everyone someday

He could be Jeremiah or Job. He could be me on the black days, the days when all the minor joys – the impossible beauty of a bright green day in May, the easy dinnertime conversations with my wife and children – seem to collapse into that aching hole. But I don’t like the relentless nihilism. I wrestle with this music the way Jacob wrestled with the angel. I want to pin death, drive its shoulders to the mat and proclaim the end of sorrow and suffering. Enough already.

On Ash Wednesday I used to walk around with a cross of holy dust inscribed upon my forehead, a badge that proclaimed to a watching world the knowledge of my inevitable death. “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return,” the priest declared. Remember? It’s not that difficult these days; I track Jim’s dust wherever I go. Jim was a tough kid from a tough neighborhood in Cleveland, an ex-soldier and a boxer, and he never bargained for colostomy bags and morphine injections and hospice care. Who bargains for these things? But he got them.


Robert Fisher’s music is haunted by ghosts. On “The Ghost of the Girl in the Well” a fourteen-year-old slave girl, fleeing from her abusive master, falls into a well and drowns, never to be found. Fisher uses echoing feedback to great effect, and he and Throwing Muses vocalist Kristen Hersh wail softly in tandem, a lament that is both eerie and heartbreakingly lovely. On “The River in the Pines” a young Wisconsin riverman drowns in a boating accident, and his new wife dies shortly afterwards from a broken heart. Stark fiddle accompaniment only accentuates the gloom. It’s genuinely spooky music, the horror based not on the fantastical or the macabre, but on the common tragedies of everyday life. Death comes casually and with shocking swiftness, at any time, without notice or fanfare.

Jim battled cancer for four years, went through round after round of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. You’d think that I might have been prepared. But Jim was upbeat, even defiant. He was a battler, and there was no way the Big C was going to lick him. I believed that, everybody believed that, right up until a few days before he died. Even at the funeral home I half expected him to sit up in his coffin and laugh heartily, saving his best joke for the last.

Now I am haunted by a ghost. This one loved the Cleveland Browns and Jack Daniels whiskey, sailing on Lake Erie and listening to Johnny and Willie, loved most of all his wife and son and daughter. He was a real flesh and blood human being, holy and profane and utterly uncategorizable in all the ways that people we deeply know and love tend to be, and now he is turning to dust.

And so I want to hold on to this time, and I want it to pass in the worst way. I don’t like the pain, the constant, jarring reminders of a life that is gone. But I must be a glutton for punishment because I keep coming back to the same Willard Grant Conspiracy album again and again. I want to hold on to this hypercharged reality, this sense that every moment is fraught with meaning, this certain knowledge that these tiny, insignificant choices – the choice to wash or not wash the dishes, the choice to listen or not listen to my daughter as she recounts every detail of her school day – echo into eternity. It’s “Carpe Diem” and it’s “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may;” it’s every tired Hallmark Card cliché you’ve ever heard, and it’s as real as the man I saw in that coffin. His name was Jim. He had, as they say, a history; twenty-five thousand days upon which he made his imprint on the world, five hundred thousand choices that defined the man he was. He lived a long time, and he died too soon. Time stretches out endlessly, and there isn’t enough of it. There isn’t nearly enough.

Robert Fisher states it in deceptively simple language in a song called “Day Is Past and Gone.” In what sounds like a fiddle-driven campfire folk song for Puritans, Fisher sings:

Day is past and gone
The evening Shades appear
Oh may we all remember well
The hour of death is near

Moses, whom Robert Fisher resembles, at least the Charlton-Heston-gone-to-seed Moses I conjure in my mind, said the same thing: The only Psalm credited to the great lawgiver contains these words:

For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom

The idea of divine fury rests uneasily with me. It seems so unlike the God I know. The God I know loves the little sparrows, has numbered the very hairs of our heads, and knows us all personally and intimately. “Fear not, little flock,” Jesus told his disciples, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” That kind of God I understand – a God of comfort and solace.

But the divine fury is inscrutable, mysterious. It manifests itself in cheerfully decorated hospice rooms, the tasteful way to die, and in IV drips and the antiseptic smell of hospital disinfectant. It shows up in Oxycontin prescriptions, in pain so searing that the strongest drugs in the world have no effect at all, in the sickening smell of flesh rotting from the inside. And it packs a wallop. This is how it is, and how it will be. Look closely, and remember. Another day is past and gone.

We lay our garments by
Upon our beds to rest
So time will soon disrobe us all
Of what we now possess

There is, apparently, hope for intractable souls. Moses knew it, and Robert Fisher knows it, too. There is a heart of wisdom, a way of living that lessens the divine fury and ameliorates the sting of death. It comes from remembering the end, the constant, ever-present knowledge of our finite span. It’s the simplest thing in the world, and it costs us everything. And so we enter a new classroom every morning, trying to learn this most elementary of math lessons – counting the days, counting the cost, over and over again. It’s revealed in the choices we make, the way we spend our limited time. It’s revealed in what we hold dear, and in the mystery of choosing messy, frequently unrewarding relationships over pragmatic material gain. Perhaps it’s revealed in what might be the greatest mystery of all – finding the love of God in the midst of the fine art of dying. I wouldn’t know yet. But I’ve seen some clues.

I listen to the news, the daily litany of the horrifying and the mind-numbingly banal – suicide bombers and Ricin in the water supply, the Afghan rebels and the New York Yankees, American Idol and Survivor. Survivor? Here’s a clue: Death is the ultimate reality programming, and nobody wins. None of it matters compared to the unfathomable intersection of cancer of the everything and mercies that are new every morning, the promise of inevitable death and the promise of new life. I walk through these hypercharged days, and I want to shake the world from its complacency. These silly squabbles, these petty diversions – you don’t have time for these things. Let them go. Life is too short. Another day is past and gone.

Lord, keep us safe this night
Secure from all our fears
May angels guard us while we sleep
‘Til morning light appears

If there is a heart of wisdom, I’d like to apply for that transplant. Everywhere I look there are numbered hairs on numbered heads, living out their numbered days between the love and fury of God. I’m holding out for love.


My favorite song on Regard the End is called “Beyond the Shore.” Behind a mandolin-driven, Celtic-tinged melody Fisher sings of love and loss, and it sounds like the kind of classic folk song that Bob Dylan used to toss off every other week or so in the early 1960s. It arrives as a soothing reprieve in the middle of the album, surrounded by songs of senseless tragedy and suffering and unremembered ghosts:

The time has come to leave this shore
No more will I find my way
And those I leave behind me now
Will soon take my place
I’ve struggled long with shame’s great load
And shouldered my share of pain
To feel the caress of the long black veil
I’ve worked, but not in vain

I’m bound to go beyond this shore
In Glory I will be placed
Goodbye, my loves I’ll not forget
Your sweet familiar grace
I’m bound to go beyond this shore
In Glory I will be placed
Goodbye, my loves I’ll not forget
To share this sweet embrace.

Nobody told me that it would be like this; left holding on to a sweetly sentimental song instead of a live human being. It’s a lousy tradeoff. But nobody told me that a song could reach me so deeply as soul music, either, could serve as a balm for a raw, open wound, could work so well as a soundtrack for a plea and a prayer. I don’t know that it’s true, but I take it on faith that it is. It’s the kind of homespun, pie-in-the-sky twaddle that cynics will despise. But I’m not a very good cynic these days. In fact, I don’t know if I ever want to be a cynic again. I don’t want to hear it, don’t want to hear the objections to the sentiment and the sweetness. I don’t have time for it.

Jim would have probably scoffed at the sentiments. He didn’t talk much about Glory, didn’t go to church, had been burned a long time ago by people who wanted to forcefeed the love of God down his throat. But he knew something about shame’s great load, and he had more than his share of pain. He knew a lot about the sweet, familiar grace of those he loved, and he knew enough to embrace his family warmly and freely, quite regularly, even more frequently after he had been diagnosed with cancer. He would get it; he would understand what the song was about even if he didn’t agree with every line. So I pray the song for him. Even if he wouldn’t mean it in quite the same way, I play it over and over again, work it like rosary beads, my little private offering between God and Jim and me.

If I were a priest I would re-write the Ash Wednesday liturgy, balance it out the way Robert Fisher does on Regard the End. Listen: invest your life in those you love. This world is just the terminal ward; the real action is yet to come. Remember, man, that thou art dust, but remember Glory as well. The heart of wisdom matters, and it starts with numbering your days. It starts with regarding the end.

That’s how I would write it. But I’m not a priest, and I’m not good at composing liturgies, and I don’t have a congregation. I only have a Jim-shaped hole and a CD. And so I pronounce my homely benediction silently, talking to myself, talking to my friend, talking to God. You’re gone, and I miss you. You did well; your work was not in vain. May you be found in Glory, and may you know Love’s sweet embrace. I carry around these songs, Robert Fisher’s songs, Jim’s songs. They are new songs and as old as the world, and I pass my days with the sound of ancient music humming in my ears.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Kate wants to remodel the family room. So she’s been going to furniture stores and fabric stores, bringing home swaths of fabric and wood samples, holding them up before my eyes and saying bizarre, esoteric things like, “Does the houndstooth pattern clash with the mahogany stain?” I can no more answer these questions than I can flap my arms and fly to the moon. It is a foreign language, and I don’t even have the vocabulary to enter the conversation.

It’s the story of my life these days. I’ve been to seminary, and I can read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew and Latin, but I scarcely know my own heart. There are spacious, empty rooms in there, and I keep the doors closed and locked and the window blinds pulled down tight. No entrance except by special permission, and no remodelers allowed. You won’t find any light there; just stubborn, recalcitrant sin, in all its ugliness and destructiveness, the kind of sin that threatens to beat you down and undo every good thing in your life. And I don’t even have the vocabulary to address it What do you call a simultaneous desire to surrender fully to God and a stubborn refusal to open the door? Oh, yeah: you call it an addiction. But knowing the term doesn’t seem to help.

In our kinship meeting last night Jeff Cannell talked about different types of prayer, one of which is the “flash prayer” – the quick, in-the-moment prayer where you dialogue with God in the midst of busy life. My flash prayers have been quite repetitive of late. They sound like this: Help me, God. When my manager says “You understand data warehousing, don’t you?,” and I say “No,” and think “why in the hell would anyone in his right mind want to understand data warehousing?”: Help me, God. When my daughter Emily says, “In eight more months you won’t have any control over what I do,” and I can think of about a dozen clever retorts, all of which begin with “As long as you live under this roof …”: Help me, God. When I am sick of work, sick of rain, sick of grey, lowering skies, sick of endless responsibilities: Help me, God. When everything within me screams out Fuck it, all of it, just get in the car and drive away: Help me, God. Here is your mighty prayer warrior, Lord, muttering the same three words under his breath, again and again. And sometimes I don’t even make it that far. Sometimes it’s just a wordless cry, what the apostle Paul calls “groanings too deep for words.” And I find myself groaning to God with all my heart. Or maybe two-thirds of it. I want to let go. I don’t want to let go.

You can’t put a new fabric over this. A new stain isn’t going to make any difference. It’s the old, old stain that needs to be stripped away. The doors need to be opened, the blinds raised, the light shining in to reveal all the dirt and scuff marks and nicked human hearts. I need a new vocabulary. But for now, this is all I have: Help me, God.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Paste in the News

Here is a link to an article about Paste Magazine that appeared ni yesterday's (1/9/05) New York Daily News:

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Other Wainwright

Another new article for Paste Magazine.


Rufus gets all the headlines these days, but his old man deserves more than a passing mention. In truth, though, the mention may not thrill him. Loudon Wainwright III (and make sure you include the Roman numeral; it adds that smarmy touch that perfectly suits this prep school scion of wealth and privilege) is an asshole. But given his heavily autobiographical songs, he probably wouldn’t dispute the claim. He’s a very funny asshole, and his witty, literate songs will frequently leave you laughing out loud. But no one in contemporary music exposes his shameful behavior and cringe-worthy moments more openly than Loudon Wainwright III, and it’s difficult to like him based on what he reveals. For better or worse, Loudon is the King of Confessional Creeps, the simultaneous winner in both the Best and Worst Musical Jerk categories. He is simply the most nakedly honest songwriter in a long line of navel-gazing tunesmiths. But in Loudon’s case, he always manages to find the lint in the navel and hold it up for public viewing. His personal revelations are shocking, disturbing, and frequently distasteful. They are also what make him great.

The “New Dylan” tag has been the kiss of death for more than one aspiring singer/songwriter, and it probably didn’t help the young Loudon Wainwright III that he was touted as a songwriting genius, favorably compared to His Bobness, and signed to a big contract with Atlantic Records when he was still in his early twenties. He scored a Top 20 hit with his 1973 novelty song “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road,” a decidedly mixed blessing that saddled him with the unfortunate reputation as a musical comedian (he’s funny, but he doesn’t play the Weird Al Stupid Parody game), a reputation that he’s never entirely shaken. In any event, he hasn’t, uh, sniffed mainstream success since “Dead Skunk.” All he’s done – over the course of a thirty-five year, twenty-album career – is provide a running musical commentary on his marriages, the births of his children, their nursing habits (“Rufus is a Tit Man” was the title of one of his early songs), his extramarital affairs, his divorces, his besotted nights, his woeful parenting skills, his ambivalence toward the music industry, his dread of growing older, and his grief over the loss of his parents. Those who know Loudon only from “Dead Skunk” are merely missing an entire life.

It’s a life that has been captured in all its tattered glory and frank ignominy, complete with clear-eyed, unflattering appraisals of his own role in its frequent relational disasters. Other great songwriters have chronicled the devastating effects of divorce on their psyches, and on the psyches of their loved ones – Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, Bruce Cockburn’s Humans, Richard Buckner’s Devotion + Doubt. But there may be no songwriter who has so fully plumbed the depths of his own voracious appetites, of his own wretched libido in contributing to the relational rubble.

On “April Fool’s Day Morn,” a song from the 1983 album Fame and Wealth, Loudon finds an archetype in having emerged from the womb ass-first, and then spins a tale of a drunken night of partying. The “fool” in the title finds himself staring back in the mirror:

I tried to take a woman down
Right there on the bathroom floor
She refused, I threw her out
Screaming “bitch” and “whore”

It is hard to love a musician you want to slap silly. But there are compensations everywhere in Loudon’s music – the moments of heartbreaking pain where an unfaithful father tries to explain to his small children why their parents are no longer living together, the 3:00 a.m. stare-at-the-ceiling sorrowful clarity of having thrown away the deepest of human connections, the awful inventory of perusing a dead parent’s photograph collection, the after-the-fact generosity of “Father/Daughter Dialogue” where he gives his daughter Martha the last word:

You can't undo what has been done
To all your daughters and your son
The facts are in and we have found
That basically you're not around.

There are also moments of staggering, transcendent beauty. On “Thanksgiving” from the 1989 album Therapy, Loudon recounts a typical holiday gathering -- the underlying tensions, the words not said, the important topics meticulously avoided. His words will resonate with anyone from a dysfunctional family:

Lord every year we gather here to eat around this table
Give us the strength to stomach as much as fast as we are able

Then, the final verse:

I fall asleep I have a dream in it is the family
Nothing bad has happened yet and everyone is happy
Mother and father both still young, and naturally they love us
We’re all lying on a lawn at night watching the stars above us

The moments of regret and remorse, the wistful, yearning memories of a bygone innocence, are what finally tip the balance in his favor. The asshole has a heart and a soul. Loudon Wainwright III is a poet of brokenness, and there may be no contemporary songwriter who examines the shards more closely, who recognizes that the missing piece from the shattered puzzle is himself. Thirty-five years down the line, he remains infuriatingly great.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Louvin Brothers: Sin, Redemption, and the Wreck on the Highway

For those who might be interested, this is a new article I wrote this week for Paste Magazine.


It may be the most startling and strangest album cover in music history. In 1960 the Louvin Brothers, arguably the greatest country duo of all time, released an album called Satan Is Real. The cover art has become something of a kitsch classic. A beaming Charlie and Ira Louvin stand in the foreground, adorned in snowy white suits, arms outstretched in a come-home-to-Jesus pose. Behind them a bed of smoldering lava threatens to inundate the would-be evangelists. And in the background is the cheesy masterstroke: a 12-foot cardboard cutout of Beelzebub himself, a crude rendering of the devil complete with horns, slanted eyes, a pitchfork and vampire-like protruding fangs. It is so garish, so over-the-top, that it would have amused even the most zealous of Bible-thumping fundamentalists.

The devil looks like he’s ready to pounce. And Ira Louvin would have certainly confirmed that that was no laughing matter. Ira would have told you that the album title simply reflected personal experience. He alienated and abused almost every single person who crossed his path. He drank constantly, cheated compulsively, married and discarded three wives, and walked around with three bullets buried near his spine — the work of his third wife, who shot him five times after he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. “Ira Louvin was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met,” one of his former managers stated flatly. And therein lies the conundrum; Ira Louvin lived like he was haunted by demons, and sang like a slumming angel.

Ira Louvin and his brother Charlie, three years younger, were born and raised in the hills of northeast Alabama, and even when their music took on a more sophisticated, urbane sound in the late 1950s, they never lost the characteristic bite and yelp of their Appalachian heritage. They also never lost their lifelong enmity for one another. They occasionally loved like brothers, but mostly they fought like brothers, and when their voices intertwined, they sang with a transcendent beauty and a palpable tension that perhaps only brothers can create.

It was a tension between the sacred and profane, and it defined both the lives and the music of the Louvin Brothers. Ira, the raging drunk, and Charlie, the pious churchgoing teetotaler, could not have been more different in temperament, and their differences reveal themselves repeatedly in the music. Sometimes they played it straight, and songs like “The Family Who Prays,” “The Christian Life,” “The Angels Rejoiced Last Night,” and the be-saved-or-be-nuked Cold War classic “Great Atomic Power” are now recognized as standards of the country gospel genre. Sometimes they played the part of grieving, heartbroken lovers, and songs like “When I Stop Dreaming,” “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” “You’re Running Wild,” and “You’re Learning” provide the template for the close-harmony singing of The Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. Gram Parsons, who recorded their songs as part of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, brought the Louvin’s music to a new generation of rock ‘n rollers, and then passed it on to Emmylou Harris, who has carried the Louvin torch throughout her career.

It is as fine a body of work as country music has produced. But it is Ira’s gospel songs, the songs of the conflicted, raging drunk -- full of not love, but fury, not grace, but judgment, not joy, but deep regret – that continue to haunt and trouble me. Ira fought a pitched battle with God and Satan, who were very real -- and lost on both counts. In early 1965, on a song called “The Price of the Bottle (Is Just a Down Payment)” he sang:

I talked to myself one night in my room
And looked back on my wasted years,
Just me and my conscience while facing my doom …
A slave to the bottle that makes a man fall
And sink to a life of regret.

It’s the stuff of classic country music, played on honky-tonk and truck stop jukeboxes all over America. But Ira Louvin was simply singing his life.

So maybe he knew, somehow, what the end was to be. It is startling, in retrospect, to hear the number of Louvin Brothers songs in which drunk driving and violent death figure prominently. It is the logical end of those for whom Satan is all too real, who cannot escape the clutches of their addictions, and Ira sings these cautionary tales with the sure knowledge of one who wishes to be saved and yet knows he is doomed. One of the last songs the brothers recorded, the suitably melodramatic “Wreck on the Highway,” finds that potent mixture of the sacred and profane that characterized all their best work. Now it sounds prophetic:

O who did you say it was, brother?
Who was it fell by the way?
When whiskey and blood ran together
Did you hear anyone pray?

In June, 1965, Ira and his fourth wife, singer Anne Young, were killed by a drunk driver in a fiery collision outside of Williamsburg, Missouri. He was forty-one years old. At the time of his death, he had a warrant out for his arrest on DUI charges. Charlie, now in his late seventies, still occasionally performs, and toured with the rock band Cake as recently as 2003.

The brothers’ harmonies remain; soaring and otherworldly, alternately sweet and jarring, beautiful and harrowing, a musical tug of war that echoes into eternity.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Bar is Open

Welcome to my blog. I suppose an introduction is in order.

My name is Andy Whitman. I am 49 years old. I've been married to Kate for 22 years, and have two wonderful teenaged daughters, Emily, 18, a social butterfly, and Rachel, 15, a shy, retiring bookworm.

I'm a liberal arts guy living in a technogeek world, and I'm currently designing a new web site for a State government agency. But that gig tends to change every year or two. I'm a member of Central Vineyard Church in Columbus, Ohio, which I dearly love. I love Jesus, although many days not all that well. I love music of all kinds, from classical to punk, with everything in between. I love to read, and I'm particularly drawn to history, the standard English major great books, theology, and music. In my spare time, I write for two magazines -- Paste Magazine (, a bi-monthly music/arts publication, and Mars Hill Review (, a Christian literary journal.

I am also an addict. If it offers instant gratification and/or escape, then I'm probably drawn to it. In that sense, then, the title of my blog -- Razing the Bar -- is a very intentional play on words. It expresses my desire to become a better human being -- less self-absorbed, more giving, more attuned to God, closer to Jesus, less attuned to my sometimes all-consuming wants and needs -- to raise the bar in terms of my own personhood. But the bar is also metaphorical. I don't hang out in bars, and my addictions have centered on more dangerous and more illegal substances. But it represents that place in my life where addictions still hold sway, and my heartfelt desire, with God's help, to bulldoze that sucker to the ground.

Stick around, love me, kick me in the butt when I need it, and watch what happens.