Sunday, May 23, 2010

Roughly 25 Hours Old

Sorry everybody! I didn't know facebook would be proprietary. I'm working on a link to YouTube right now. It's not working yet...but check back soon if this doesn't work for you.

Casper Augustine Banner

This is what Susanna emailed everybody:


Josh and I are exceptionally pleased to send word of the birth of our son, Casper Augustine Banner, born into water on Saturday, May 22 at 1.03p, weighing 6.3 lbs and measuring 19.5" long.

We'll send pictures soon.

Our sweet one is healthy and doing well, as am I. Thanks be to the Giver....

All good things,
Susanna + Josh + Casper*

*Casper: Dutch form of Persian Jasper, purportedly one of the three Magi and meaning "Master of the Treasure"; Augustine: 5th C. North African theologian and philosopher, derived from the Latin root augere, "to increase." Most certainly: OUR TREASURE HAS INCREASED! (Also, a little family trivia: Casper Augustine Banner is the great grandson of Clifford Ashton Banner and the great great grandson of Charles Augustus Banner....)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Baby-Making, Peace-Making, Patience & The Creative Process

Yesterday was the due date for the baby. For some nine months we've been waiting for that day to come and now it's gone and this morning it is raining outside and we can't take our  hour-long walk to help coax the baby further down into Susanna's hips. I've been joking about this darn nine month arrangement that God designed. Some actually argue that it ends up being closer to ten months, but I'll leave those details for Susanna and the midwives to discuss. My point is this: six months is hard; nine months is excruciating.

I'm starting to work on my final comprehensive paper for my Regent degree. I've been hacking away at this coursework for over seven years and now it is all coming down to one single 40-page paper. Of course I'm glad to finally earn my Masters, but I'm also sad. This is not something that I've waited eagerly to finish and be done with. I love being a student. I need the accountability of a syllabus, a classroom and an instructor to push my learning further than it could go by itself. I love the process of learning.

It has been three weeks since our final Sunday evening service. I've had some bits of work to do for Hope College, but for the most part, I've had access to large amounts of time. Yet, I haven't begun any work on the Ordinary Neighbors record. I know this is the final "push." I could be done with it in just a few weeks--done with this project that I've obsessed over for four years. Part of me is scared to be done, to let go of control, to call it finished. It's a typical struggle of an artist, to decide when the work is finished, to know it is ready for "publication." Another part of me is sad to be done with this particular creative process. I love fiddling around in the studio. I love fiddling around with these songs.

I've been reading through a couple books to get my mind and heart back into the flow as I prepare to write this final paper. Makoto Fujimura's Refractions: a Journey of Faith, Art and Culture is really nice in this regard. His first section has been lingering inside of me the past few days. He works off of some thoughts from Tolstoy on art:
"The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co-operation of man which is now maintained by external means--by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, factory inspection, and so forth,--should be obtained by man's free and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set aside."
There is much to think about here about the relationship between art and peace. I want to dive into Nicholas Wolterstorff's work on justice. I heard him speak a few years ago about justice and art. I'd like to go further with Derrida on these things too. There could be a lifetime of reflection on these things. I like where Makoto starts his thoughts on this topic:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God" Matthew 5:9
He explains that one way to translate "peacemakers," eirenepois, is "peace poets." Makoto comments:
"We need to seek ways to be not just 'peacekeepers' but to be engaged 'peacemakers.' In such a definition, peace (or the Hebrew word shalom) is not simply an absence of war but a thriving of our lives, where God uses our creativity as a vehicle to create the world that ought to be. Art, and any creative expression of humanity, mediates in times of conflict and is often inexplicably tied to wars and conflicts."
Why do people resort to violence in the first place? Perhaps it is because they are impatient with the other means that are at hand. Love requires more patience than violence. Peacemaking requires more grace than violence-making. It has occurred to me that my impatience with the baby coming is in its small way a kind of violence, a violence that brings anxiety, stress and even strife into my home and my psyche. It is easier to be short with Susanna and myself, with the dogs...with the weather. Patience and peacemaking are partners. When choosing peace and patience, we chose to trust something that is greater than our own powers and resources. If God is my greatest means, then prayer becomes my main priority.

Here is a broad speculation: I doubt that families prior to the industrial revolution struggled to be patient during nine months gestation of a baby. They were closer to the patterns of nature and didn't know any different. Today we are so cut off from the natural order of creation. Our machinery has made us an impatient society because it convinces us that we have so much control. My joke in the past month has been this, "Come on, God. Don't you know I'm an American?" I've learned patience in my learning process and in my own art making (okay, perhaps I need to be a bit more impatient with the music and just get it done), but this baby making has revealed in me a whole other layer of striving, an ache for control. That is why I like the story about the fish farm in southern Spain that I posted last (skip halfway through the video to get straight to it). This is a perfect illustration of the kind of "conversation with the land" that Wendell Berry advocates that I mentioned earlier.

To say all of this again more succinctly: as human creatures we need to learn how to live within the created order and not over and against it. If we can learn how to live within creation, then we will learn the peace making, joyful patience that will allow us to be effective stewards of creation, nurturers rather than exploiters. If I can learn this, then perhaps I'll be a more patient and loving father and husband as well.

So, there is of course a lesson of patience in this nine months. The next few days (post due date) seem likely to be long. I'm trying to love this idea that God, our Creator, is the most magnificent of artists as he fashions this child. I've said that I enjoy the creative process even in watching other artists work. I pray that I can continue to patiently enjoy this particular creative process. Here's one way to look at it: how many artists could consistently turn out work on a nine month deadline and have each piece turn out to be completely unique and original? What artist could do this several billion times?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Food Feeds Your Soul? Part III

My friend Michael Mobley posted this video on facebook. This guy is speaking a contemporary version of Wendell Berry speak. It gave me goose bumps. If the video doesn't work (I stink at HTML embedding), the try this:

This is the note about the speaker from

Editor's note: Dan Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in New York, which aims to bring the principles of good farming directly to the table. In 2006, he received the James Beard award for Best Chef: NYC. In 2009 he was named James Beard's Outstanding Chef, and Time Magazine featured him in their "Time 100." TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading," hosts talks on many subjects and makes them available through its website.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Musical Reconfiguration

Below is an email I sent to my brother in law, Micah, a bonafide music geek like me. He's going to see three concerts this weekend. Lucky. I was trying to explain to him on the phone yesterday why it's taken me three years to appreciate Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky." 

RE: Wilco. I didn’t know “Sky Blue Sky” was your favorite of Wilco’s records. I can definitely see why. I really am going through a musical reconfiguring. Brief history to explain further what I was mentioning on the phone yesterday: I didn’t listen to much other than Rich Mullins and Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest hits until I got to college (1993). I’d heard of U2, but I hadn’t heard them. Freshman year I discovered “August and Everything After” by Counting Crows (their only good record because it was produced by the venerable T Bone Burnet) and then there was Jason Harod and Brian Funk, former Wheaton students. Their “Dreams of the Color Blind” was on constant rotation in my dorm room—almost every Wheaton College student’s dorm room. Then I got into James Taylor and several of his descendants (David Wilcox/ John Gorka). So from 18 to about 23 I mostly listened stuff like Natalie Merchant and the Innocence Mission. Radiohead’s “Kid A” really screwed with me. I heard some of it one day on NPR. Oddly enough I had “OK Computer” in my CD collection because a former roommate left it when he moved out. I didn’t even know what it was. Played it once, but didn’t like it. By that time I’d made my first record and the studio became an intimidating/fascinating addition to my understanding of music. Discovering Kid A was like discovering a whole new kind of food. Somehow it immediately made sense to me—so much sense that I went back and listened Ok Computer and it suddenly made sense too. Enter Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and I started to re-think the possibilities of song structure and interpretation. All the noises on these records seemed to be more honest to me than just a voice and an acoustic guitar. The simplicity of folk music seemed escapist by that point—naive (unless it was something like Eliot Smith). The noise elements (glitch beats, static, distortion, FX) sounded like our post industrial society: confused, scary, dark, but yet somehow formed and organized and musical. Its been a way for me to think redemptively about the world, a way to make sense out of senselessness. Thus the journey into more obscure kinds of music. However, I’ve realized in the last year that my mental questions about music have taken me into places that are less and less musical. I find it harder and harder to really enjoy the sum total of the parts. That is all to say that SBS is really nice listening for now.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

FRIENDS & BABIES! Catching Up On Some Blogging

Weekend before last, we had a couple groups of friends come through Holland. To the left is our good friends Jason and Amiee Shattuck and their kids, Aidan, Micah and Clara. It was our first chance to meet Micah, and wow...Clara is a little girl now. We miss them so much! They moved to western Washington state last summer and left a void. Heaven will partly be getting to hang with all our closest friends and never having to say goodbye!

And these monkeys to the right are my good buddies from Oklahoma City, Brian Bergman and Dustin Ragland. They are in Charlie Hall's band and had played at Mars Hill Sunday morning. Charlie and the whole band with Kendall and Quint and the sound man, Paul Colley came out to Holland after the service to have lunch. I was able to show them around campus quickly. It was especially fun to show the studio to Paul because he used to help me out when I was first starting into recording. He'd give me ideas on what to buy and loan me microphones. Paul also mixed the first record I ever tracked, Like a Little Girl for Shannon Horn (Jurrens). It was also fun to show the space to Kendall because he produced my first record, Come And Reason way back in 2000. My what can happen in a decade!

Dustin and Brian stayed Sunday and Monday nights to both catch up and also to help me with the Ordinary Neighbors record. We spent most of Monday (April 19) listening to each track and taking notes on what is left to be done. Really, they just held my hand and made me feel good about the record--helped convince me that I haven't lost my mind and wasted my time. It has been a deep joy to have them collaborate on this project off and on over four years. I'd like to think that I'll have everything finished by the end of the summer.

I have to say "end" of the summer because our baby is due in less than three weeks, and yet still, I'll have to work on the record in small, short bursts.

Susanna moves home for good this next week. Our last Gathering service is this Sunday night, then Tuesday evening I drive down to help Sus pack up her apartment there and bring her home. MAY WE NEVER EVER LIVE IN DIFFERENT STATES AGAIN!

I've been busy getting the nursery ready. My parents purchased a crib for us. It arrives on Wednesday too. I picked out a comfy rocker for the nursery upstairs and Susanna wanted a Herman Miller rocker that we will put on the main floor. I was able to purchase the shell of the chair from Hope College for $25 and we'll order the rocker base off of ebay. It'll be about $100 total for a chair that costs $1k brand new. Hooray for not spending lots of money! I'm also making a paper lantern mobile to go above the crib. Sus has picked out some stencils. We just might actually get the room put together before the baby arrives. Susanna had wanted to work in the garden today, but it looks like there will be thunderstorms off and on. Maybe we'll do some stenciling and painting.

The baby has dropped, so Susanna is waddling around now. And our midwife told her on Monday that her cervix is 90% thinned already. That doesn't necessarily mean that the baby will come early, but it might mean a shorter labor. We appreciate your prayers for a healthy, safe delivery.