Well, I guess it has all come full circle. Back in 1988 music changed for me. While in college, my then-girlfriend's roommate had this strange album (yes - album). It was Amy Grant's Collection. I was intrigued. I like the music and she said it was Christian. What a concept. The only "Christian" music I had ever heard was "Just as I Am" thirty-eight times at the end of a sermon. This was different. I wanted to listen to it - all the time. By July of that year, I had yielded to the Spirit behind the lyrics and gave my life to Christ. Music became a tool for transformation.
Shortly after I squeaked out a prayer to God that if I could be used to impact someone through music the way Amy Grant had been used in my life, I was game for it. In 1991, I moved to Louisville from Memphis, TN because I believe that I have been given a calling to get involved in Christian music here in Louisville. Most people back home though I was a bit bent: isn't Nashville the place to get into CCM? I moved here with $150, a place to stay for three weeks and one interview. At times I thought maybe I was a bit bent. But God provided: I got a job, my own apartment, and I jumped into the CCM scene. My buddy from college, Keith Fowlkes, and I began making the youth group circuit, playing every chance we got.
I devoured any Christian music I could get hold of on my meager paycheck. Michael W. Smith's Eye to Eye, Whiteheart's Power Tools, Glad's Accapella Project, dcTalk's Heavenbound. The style wasn't important to me. It was the lyric. The lyric is the dividing line between positive pop and a gospel presentation through a musical story. I became like a lot of music fans - a liner-note geek. I read who played what on what song, which studio was used, who wrote the music, who wrote the words, who got coffee for the engineer. I wanted to know everything I could about this powerful medium.
I began to write my own songs. Most of the stuff really stunk from an "industry" perspective, but they were honest. I was following my call from God to express my faith through music. Over time they got better. I learned you don't need to write a four-minute intro to have dramatic impact - two minutes will do just fine.
Then another milestone: Phil Keaggy - Live - Unplugged! I watched that man squeeze sound out of an acoustic guitar that could only really be reproduced by the London Symphony. That was a turning moment for me. I realized that I could be mediocre at several things or I could focus on one and chase excellence. I chose that path. I was not going to try to be a Jerry McPhereson on the electric guitar, I would not be a Michael W. Smith on piano and I had no delusions that I would be a Phil Keaggy on acoustic. I was just going to be the best at what I do with the skill level I had.
Next came the Jubilee Coffeehouse. That little hole in the wall was the starting point for many ministries over the years. I can remember in the mid-90's sharing the stage with great Louisville artists like Dreamhouse, Fish Tales, Dave Evans and Nashvillians like Jennifer Martin. We were all striving to excellence in our calling. God gave me so many wonderful opportunities here. Opening "JoyJam" at Freedom Hall, gigging with Jennifer Knapp and hanging out with the incredibly creative community here in Louisville. Two CD's with great coverage by Louisville Music News just added to the already wonderful experience.
But somewhere along that road I got off track. I don't know where or when it happened but somewhere I went from giving my best for God to trying to be better than everyone else. I would get so ticked off if someone else got to open for the label artist coming through. I thought I was deserving of all the breaks. I did get another break. God broke me. When I was playing a worship gig, I got nailed. In my head: I heard God say, "You are getting in the way!" That was not what I wanted to hear, but it was true. God lead me to let my music career aspirations die. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do. So many years. So much money spent.
"So where do I go now," I thought. Enter Youth for Christ. I was given the opportunity to develop a ministry surrounding the creative arts. Not just music but theater, dance, graphic design - any form of art. I have been given a second chance to help others come closer to God through honoring Him with the gift they have been given. Through operating within their passion they more passionately share about the Giver and His gospel. I get to work with teenagers and adults to develop their talents and opportunities for them to use their gift to point people to the Creator. This is a cool gig.
So full circle. From the background to front stage to the background. Not exactly as I planned it - it's better. So as this opportunity to write for Grace Notes develops, I pray that I can help encourage the artistic community here in Louisville that will honor the Giver with their gifts. So if you got any ideas for the column, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Together let's raise the bar for the musical Gospel here in Louisville. Are you ready for a new circle?