The Open Hand of an Honest Christian

IMG_6143 There was once a man who told me to hold my faith with an open hand. Isn’t that the point of faith? Believing that it will stay, not because of the strength of your own grip, but the strength of the One you placed your faith in. I have grown to believe, that should anything arise to question my faith; I would face it unafraid. This means that I will allow myself to relinquish my hold on to what I know to be true, and trust that the beauty of God will draw me back time and time again. There will be many who will feel uncomfortable about this, and I don’t blame them. Deconstructing yourself is a terrifying process, even if it isn’t done in its entirety. It even feels unfaithful at times. But what is more unfaithful – to understand so completely that faith is a gift, that you can trust the One who gave it to you to keep you from falling off the cliff even if you leaned forward, or to second guess this gift to the point where you find yourself in the fetal position as far away from the edge as you can get?

A quick aside – this is what my song “God of My Doubt” is about. I looked at the terrifying prospect – that my doubt was not my enemy, neither was my lack of faith, but a tool to sharpen me as I navigate a world that is deliberately foggy and mysterious. I don’t need to know the future. I just need to know that God is there, and what better way to experience that, than letting Him hold you?

There are many ways that God moves me. Through His Word, the preaching I hear while I’m sitting in a pew, the stinging rebuke of a friend, or the gentle encouragement of a listener. But I’ve found that God has spoken to me most, through my own songwriting. I know how that sounds. Rather strange to learn new things by talking to yourself. But perhaps the pacing and mulling does knock a few things loose for me to begin to shift and sift through the tightly knit mess in my mind. Or perhaps, there is a more mysterious work at hand.

When I write a song, I withhold all judgement for the moment. There are no awkward cadences, cliché lines, even theologically questionable lyrics. It is just God, my guitar, and I (and maybe every now and then He brings His guitar too). This is a time of vulnerability. All the wondering about whether the Church would give my song its stamp of approval goes out the door. I do this for two reasons, and in my opinion, they’re very good reasons. Firstly, I want my songs to be honest. If there is a theological flaw in my thinking, I want it to show. This is because I’d much rather my theology be fixed in my life before it gets to my listeners, than for my listeners to agree with my music, but find out that I don’t. If faith is a journey of imperfect souls, why should my music be perfect? Secondly, I want to hold my music with an open hand.

Time and again, we read in the Bible (and in modern day testimonies) about how God uses weak and untalented individuals with open hands (even reluctantly open hands). I want to be David, when He got up to worship after his son with Bathsheba died. I want to be Jonah, after he rose from the ocean to preach to Nineveh. I want to be Moses, after hesitantly picking up a snake which turned into a staff. I want to be a musician, leaving my music and lyrics open for God to use to touch the lives of people in spite of myself and shortcomings, and I urge you to want the same.

It's Not Over Once You're Married

DSC_0253As I began to set up my guitar at a café, the sound guy and I started a conversation. We talked about music genres, what audio gear we were into at that point, then it began to get personal. I slipped into my conversation that I was married and had a son. This shocked him. He told me I was brave for pursuing music even though I had settled down. Unfortunately, I’ve heard this before – many times. There is a strange notion among artists that once you are married, your life of freedom is over. Perhaps this notion stretches far beyond the artistic circle and into the general public. While I don’t subscribe to this mindset, I do understand the heart behind it. We can try to brainwash ourselves with as many underdog stories that tell you to follow your dreams, but when real life happens: bills, mortgages, taxes, wants and needs, our idealism crumbles and you do what you need to do to survive. And survive you must. Work the job you work and do it with excellence.

But here’s the part where I speak as an Evangelical. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I give glory to God as a musician and a songwriter. I know that He will provide for me, even if it means working a nine to five job on top of my music. There is certainly pressure when your life is eternally bound to someone else. Every choice you make must be made in tandem with your partner. This can sound very restricting to the artist who would be happy with a can of beans every night as long as his elbow rests on the edge of a guitar. But as an Evangelical, confinement and enslavement are defined by being estranged from the will and heart of God. Yes, God provides food and shelter. But don’t forget that He also provides a way for you to worship.

When my son Kai was born, I feared that that was the end of my music. But something unexpected happened. I wanted to become a man that he would look up to as he grew older. As I evaluated what that entailed, I realized that the example I wanted him to follow, was that of a man who served God, abandoning the tight grip of fear, fully trusting God to provide both for his family, and for his vocation as a musician. I am testament to that.

When I received my calling as an artist, I kicked back. I said it was impossible to do so with a wife (let alone a child). God brought me to the point of certain death and back to show me how small “impossible” was for Him. It is only in hindsight that I’ve come to the understanding that I’m not to juggle my music, wife, and son, but that my wife, son, and I had to juggle the music. As I said – God provides a way for you to worship. If not for my wife and her encouragement; if not for my son and my desire to be a better man for him, I would have left my music a few years ago. God used what society saw as my ball and chain to set me free. He is the god of all; not to mention the god of irony.

So here I am now, a musician by vocation, an artist by calling, and a missionary at heart. God will provide, even if it’s in the form of fundraising. To the artist who feels tied down and domesticated. If your spouse has always supported your craft, you not pursuing it is on you.

True Songwriting

12002276_879499145419601_2913290808945145682_n.jpg A word to the aspiring songwriter. I don’t claim to be a master, but in my decade and a half of fervent songwriting, I’ve learnt a few things. This quick blurb is not a tutorial on how to write a song (I don’t think anyone can learn how to do so from reading a blog) but I do hope you will walk away with something – a new perspective, some extra drive to write, or simply a little encouragement.

Firstly, songwriting is not one of those skills where you either have it or you don’t. Sure natural born talent helps. But as a guy who sucked at literature in secondary school, I think I can give testimony to the fact that hard work can get you somewhere. I started writing when I was 15 (I’m now 28… Do the math) and I churned out songs like a burst water pipe back in the day. I’m talking up to 4 songs a day. I wasn’t trying to show them to anyone, or even create anything I thought was radio worthy. I was just experimenting and expressing myself.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was honing a skill – songwriting. As I got better, I realized that while I wasn’t famous or rolling in the green, people were moved (sometimes to tears) by my music, I figured there was something to my writing. Only then did I start to write more intentionally. I slowed down my pace and expressed myself with more precision. But even then, I was pretty quick. Some songs would take a little longer because I’d revisit them a few days later. But for most songs, I’d finish them in one sitting, sometimes as quick as half an hour. I’m not deliberately rushing the process. I just knew how to put an idea into a song proficiently.

So if I had to give a new songwriter practical advice, I’d say, finish your songs. Don’t wait for them to be perfect. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit. Just write, sing, perform, receive criticism, feel bad, write again. Sounds like grueling work doesn’t it? Well, it is! Which leads me to my next and final point – where does your motivation come from?

If it comes externally, from a cheering crowd, or your loving grandma who buys your album from Bandcamp, then your motivation is short lived. At best, it’s hinged on the response you get from your thousands of adoring fans. But even then, there’s a huge draw back. You see, we are wired to create to please. If you are pleased by the adoration you get from your fans, you’ll write for your fans.

This is toxic to the songwriter. Songs written for fans (even fans as sacred as Christian congregations) are impersonal and false. They’re impersonal because you’re not communicating with a specific person, you’re communicating with a statistic. It’s false because what pleases your fans isn’t what’s truly on your heart, and if it is, it’s really just a coincidence. You should always write to an audience of one – yourself. If you’re writing a love song, write it as you would a letter that you don’t intend to send. When you do this, you’re free from any expectation, and when you’re free, you’ll realize how much pain, emotion, and sincerity can fall onto your paper. This goes for songs written as prayers to God. Sure He knows what’s on your heart, but you can always trick yourself into writing this way.

I see this as true worship because when you offer your songs to God (regardless if your songs are praise or lament), you’ll be offering all of you, not just the parts you want Him to see. This can be applied to your fans. Your fans, or the recipient of the love song, want to see what’s really on your heart. For that’s where the true beauty of songwriting, or any form of art, really lies. It doesn’t lie in polished recordings or insane vocal riffs. It lies in the space between your pen and your paper; when it’s just you, your instrument, and an empty room.

What is A Violent World of Neon Color?

After over a year of toiling, I’m finally in the final stages of my latest album, A Violent World of Neon Color. While all of my previous work has been distributed primarily online, I decided to collaborate to create something tangible. A Violent World of Neon Color will be released as an album booklet containing photography, art, stories, and lyrics. This piece of art will therefore be more than just music and will produce its message most effectively as a whole. A Violent World of Neon Color is an ode to the era of physically produced music – a true form of cross medium collaboration. Working with musicians such as Joshua Lee, Anton Kompare, Joy Martin, Taylor Phipps, Alex Boddy, and Isaac Jacobsen has been a humbling experience. On top of the fact that this will be the best work I’d have produced, this album will also feature soundscapes recorded around the city of Chicago blended into the prologue, epilogue, and its two interludes. A Violent World of Neon Color is a piece of work I’m excited to soon bring to you. Look out for our release date soon.




New Reality

Our new single entitled “New Reality”, has been recorded, mixed and mastered, featuring fellow musicians Joshua Lee, Joy Martin, Ben Sanford, and Anton Kompare. The concept of this song was to sample sounds from everyday life to create surreal synths. So what you’ll be hearing in the song will be the sounds made from bowls, lamps, wires, toy pianos, cubes, drawers, and cabinets on top of your traditional instruments.

New Reality speaks about the new life we receive from Christ and how it should look different from the old life. Often we find ourselves reliant on false securities guised as money, or even healthy relationships. If Christ truly calls us to be completely dependent on Him, we can find no security in our human born wisdom. This is a terrifying notion, as we are sometimes called into dangerous and volatile situations. Just remember - Christ is our true and only rock.


Look out for Daniel and the Sparrows' new single "New Reality", out on February 3rd!