Re-posting this from October 2011 in his honor: I had my Dad read this not long after I wrote it and I could see, by the tears, he was wiping away, that it connected with him while he was in the midst of his battle against brain cancer.

m e a n d e r s

I could surely count on one hand the number of times that my dad has been to church with me when a grandchild’s role in a Christmas special wasn’t part of the equation. I’d never heard him pray or read from a bible until I was present when he was helping the kids through their night-time routines. But, as I’ve described him to others many times before, he’s always been a model of what a Christian should be.

His interactions with others rarely happened without involving some kind of neighborly kindness. He always enjoyed visiting older neighbors, relatives, and friends, and his 1952 John Deere Model M tractor was kept busy plowing neighborhood driveways during every upstate New York winter that I experienced growing up. I’ve always known him to lend a hand when it came to construction projects, emptying water out of the elderly neighbor’s basement, and taking the…

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Music Review: KINGS & QUEENS by Audio Adrenaline

2013 brings what, to many, is a bit of a surprise. After disbanding a few year’s ago, Audio Adrenaline is back, but, with a new line-up, a new voice at the front, and a new sound. Their album, KINGS & QUEENS, is due out March 12th and the leading single “Kings & Queens” is currently working its way up through the top ten according to Billboard’s songs chart for Christian music. I’ve been soaking in the album preview stream for several days (available to anyone who pre-orders) and I’ve included my take on each of the tracks here.

“He Moves You Move” – A springy vibe that reminds me a lot of “Get Down” – classic Audio Adrenaline. A pop tone that almost defies the gravity of the message carried by the lyrics. A nod to the notion of dismissing the naysayers in your head that prevent so many of us living in the moment and following the spirit when it strikes. Sometimes God’s will doesn’t make sense to the purists who don’t see the bigger picture (i.e., cynical contemporary Christian Music fans decrying the reformation of Audio Adrenaline). I think I’m willing to give Kevin, Will McGinness, Mark Stuart, The Hands & Feet Project, and everybody else involved in this Audio Adrenaline reboot the benefit of the doubt going forward.

“Kings & Queens” – Majestic, dramatic, and sweeping. “Kings & Queens” inhales and exhales with the core, biblical message of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. Indeed, the message of the song is an apt declaration of the backbone of The Hands & Feet Project, the organization started by Audio Adrenaline in 2004 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti. The first single and title track of the album, it is garnering a good bit of airplay and rightly so. The accompanying video for the track is beautiful and, certainly, lends to the impact of the song. For the arrangement, for the message, and for those that the awareness brought by this track will benefit, “Kings and Queens” is a home run on so many levels.

“Believer” – Lyrically, “Believer,” is one of the less interesting tracks on the album. At least, that was my first impression. But, what catches my attention midway through the song, is the vocal passion of Max. “Oh, here I stand, all alone, waiting on you….” It really redeems a song that, in general, is a fine tune.

“King Of The Comebacks” – Instantly, one of the two songs that I go back to the most on the album. Lyrically walking the line between the rightful interpretation of Christ’s second coming and the more tongue-in-cheek perspective focusing on the bravado of a Kevin Max/Audio Adrenaline comeback, “King Of The Comebacks” is an undeniably catchy song that, much like “He Moves You Move,” bounces along on a pop hook that keeps the song on a loop in the listener’s memory long after it has stopped flowing through the speakers. Bittersweet certainly seems like an appropriate term to apply to the cameo appearance that Mark Stuart’s voice makes on this track. While the arrival of Kevin Max as the lead singer to carry the torch of Audio Adrenaline and The Hands & Feet Project forward is, indeed, a welcome development, the reminder that Stuart’s role, as the frontman for the band broke down the way it did (due to vocal cord damage), is at once, a moment of assurance and sadness. Assuring because of his integral and central role in the reformation of Audio Adrenaline, in a new form, and  sad because of the undeniable personality, charisma, and energy that he brought to the band. With few live performances to judge from, so far, the ability of Kevin Max to drive the live show, as well as the music itself, forward has yet to be seen. That being said, if history is any indication, he will have no problems. He’s, quite distinctively, not Mark Stuart. But, all indications are that he has a tremendous amount of respect for the legacy of Mark Stuart and Audio Adrenaline and that he will honor that legacy while driving the band forward with a level of artistic integrity that is sorely lacking in much of the current contemporary Christian music realm.

“Change My Name” – Stylistically, “Change My Name” caught me a bit off guard at first. But, the story in the lyrics drew me in quickly. Perhaps, because they’re so applicable personally. I’m not sure who the bulk of the lyrical credit goes to, though, I know that Max and Stuart were both involved in several songs on the album, but, the lyrics are believable on this one. “You called me on a broken line,” relates so well to me as, I’m sure, it does to others. A sure favorite of mine on the album.

“20:17 (Raise The Banner)” – With a beginning characteristic of an epic cinematic battle scene, “20:17 (Raise The Banner)” celebrates the lesson of faith embodied in the story of King Jehoshaphat, and those that lived in Judah and Jerusalem, according to 2 Chronicles 20. Recorded by another, this track could have turned out to be a fairly generic sounding song, but, as done here by Kevin Max and his new Audio Adrenaline cohorts, it is a triumphantly well done track. The rhythm section forms a strong backbone on which the song stands tall with overtly inspirational lyrics championing the notion of fearlessness through faith in the face of adversity.

“Fire Never Sleeps” – An obvious nod to the influence of U2 from lyric to arrangement, and even, in moments, the manner in which Max sings – seemingly channeling his inner Bono and, in doing so, accomplishing a great track.

“Seeker” – I love the opening guitar on this one, hearkening back to the early 90’s Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Under The Bridge.” It would be interesting to hear how the song might work if it stayed with that opening tone more throughout the song. Lyrically, it refocuses the course of the album on the overall theme of the album and the mission of The Hands & Feet Project: giving hope to those who are most vulnerable and who, otherwise, wouldn’t have any. The short spoken word segment about two-thirds of the way through is well done as a change-up to the ringing, hopeful chorus.

“I Climb The Mountain” – Like “Fire Never Sleeps,” this one has a strong U2 influence. If one is to incorporate a strong a strong and distinctive influence into their own music, there are certainly worse bands to use. But, again, the influence is very clear. The song is well done, overall, with a strong chorus and hopeful tone. Like one or two others on the album, it falls short only in comparison to other cuts on the album. This song could easily be picked as a single if it came from another album that wasn’t so well-stocked in terms of quality cuts.

“The Answer” – A well chosen closer for the album. Lyrically, coming from Max, it’s believable and, personally, at this point in my life, it’s very relevant. Its a story of somebody who’s racked up hundreds of miles walking in the wrong direction who is happy and grateful to simply be a beneficiary of grace. On top of that, it simply sounds great. Parts of the song, the stylistically appropriate and tactfully done rap, for example, remind me of “Unbelievable” by EMF. A strong finish to a strong album.
“The Answer” seems so appropriate coming from the lips of Kevin Max because of the path that his creative endeavors have taken in the years since the “intermission” of dcTalk. Personally, artistically, and perhaps even spiritually, he seems to have explored a wide spectrum of possibilities with little to no regard for what the critics, particularly in the Christian music industry, would think.

One characteristic that he’s always kept in tact, though, is his integrity with regards to taking each corner and turn in the road proactively. Instead of responding to the world, he took steps he wanted to take and let the chips fall where they may.

It is that manner of integrity that he’s shown in the past – to be rather than to seem to be – that gives me hope that the spiritual optimism and hope communicated through the lyrics in these new Audio Adrenaline tracks is truly sincere and that the themes of redemption and hope championed here are tangible to their audience in 2013 and beyond.

Aside from musical arrangements, lyrics, tours, and photo-ops, the real issue at stake here are the day-to-day realities and futures of abandoned and orphaned children in Haiti who, through increased awareness and financial support built up with this Audio Adrenaline album and tour, could be taken in by The Hands & Feet Project. Surely, the potential is there, with an album as solid as KINGS & QUEENS, for there to be a significant level of success for Audio Adrenaline in 2013 and beyond and, in turn, the potential is also there for lives to be changed as a result.

I’m all in for this album.

How To Thank Him

One of the reasons that the focus of the Hands & Feet Project is so important to me has to do with just how clear and concise the bible is about the need for Christians to care for orphans. Some of you may know that, by the time my senior year of high school came around, I had decided that I would attend a Seventh-Day Adventist college and major in theology in order to become a pastor. Well, adolescent indiscretions carved out a different path for me instead. At least partly as a result of this change of course, my college years, in retrospect, can be characterized mainly by how dark and aimless they were. Like many, though, the birth of my first child, Julia, brought the need for more direction in my life back to the surface.

As somebody who was raised Catholic until the age of nine and converted to Adventism soon after, I had already started out with some identity issues in terms of who I was and what I believed. By the age of 27, when Julia was born and after years of arguing against the notion of God in favor of bad habits from my college years, finding something I could believe to hold onto in, in terms of faith, was critical.

Finally, I came (or perhaps was guided to) the conclusion that, if I focused on Jesus, instead of theological/denominational/peripheral details and distractions, I could move forward. So, I started focusing on the following question to form the foundation of what would be my reformed faith: What are each of the gospels in agreement on with regards to what Jesus did, what he said, and how he treated people?

Once I did this, it was easy to see that the life of Jesus was characterized by breaking form from the religious politics of the day and seeking out those who were most in need of help. He intentionally helped and expressed compassion for those who were at their own breaking points and realized that they deserved nothing. He served the hopeless.

I realized then that Jesus was about to become personal to me. My life was a laundry list of bad decisions and hurt that has levied a vast amount of collateral damage in my wake. Despite the blessings that I’ve been given and despite the fact that I was adopted by two great parents away from my biological mother who couldn’t care for me, my life, up to that point, had been characterized by one word: selfishness. I had earned nothing in my life except a great deal of personal and emotional debt to those around me and spiritual debt to Christ.

With the birth of Julia, the love of my wife, and with the assistance of a book written by Brennan Manning called THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL, though, I learned about grace and, in time, I was able to accept it.

I realize now, just how much I have to be thankful for and just how blessed I am. But, how can I thank Jesus, the God who gave it all to me with unmerited favor?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

James 1:27

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? ’The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:37-40

It is completely possible that there is no God and that I am just a naive fool with the wool pulled over my eyes, but, even if that were true, the joy and the peace that I have, due to my faith, is worth far more and does far less damage to those around me than did the life that I led when my back was turned on the God who gave me all that I have.

The beard is, in fact, fully funded through the 4/27 Half Marathon, but, the needs of orphans in Haiti and others in need around this world are not.

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project or any other organization that you see serving and loving those in need in your neighborhood or around the world. Then, please, go visit your older relatives and neighbors who are alone. There is nothing more valuable that we can do with our time and resources than to share with those in need.

http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/The Official Hands & Feet Project

https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProjectThe Beards Hands & Feet Project Facebook Page

Retracted

Fleshed out like a hide pulled tight
Over the breadth of substance
Beyond
The point at which
It could hold the weight
Of the burden I’d placed upon it
Out of my hands it slipped
Ratracting upon itself
Leaving me standing
Stock still empty
Handed
And staring through
My own condensed breath
As it too dissipated
Into the late night
Dark black
Cold

The Beards, Hands & Feet Project: What Is It?

It is an effort to grow and to progress on three levels:

Physically, I want to break down physical boundaries for myself. I want to continue losing weight in order to be as healthy as possible and, in doing so, be around for as long as possible to be the best dad and husband I can to my wife and kids. As a diabetic and a pineal gland brain tumor and skin cancer survivor, and after losing my Dad this past February to brain cancer, I know that time is precious. If I can increase the likelihood of living a full, healthy life and, in doing so, influence my loved ones to do the same, why wouldn’t I do it? I ran my first 5K as an adult at just under 240 pounds in March 2011 to support brain tumor research at Duke University Hospital’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center where my dad was a patient. I’ve run five 5K’s since then and continued losing weight while maintaining a somewhat steady running habit. The goal is to complete the 2013 Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. As an adult I’ve never run over six miles, so, this will be a challenge. But, I’m almost done with the first third of my training plan and I’m progressing as planned. The idea was prompted by The Hands & Feet Project’s Las Vegas Marathon initiative in December 2012 and my desire to take part in a similar effort in 2013 in Nashville to benefit the work they do for orphans in Haiti.

Spiritually, I want to break down the limitations that I’ve placed on myself over the course of my lifetime with regard to what I’m willing to do to help those in need and how much of a priority their needs are in my life. I want to step forward in faith, clinging to what I know, but,  trusting God, knowing that only He knows what lies ahead. For all of the politicizing and inter-denominational squabbling over scriptural interpretation, there is one thing that all believers should be doing that the bible is very clear about in particular:

Isaiah 1:16-17 – “Wash yourselves clean! I hate your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help the oppressed.”

James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Seizing opportunities to make donations, raise money for and, eventually, go on a short-term mission trip to visit and serve at The Hands & Feet Project orphanages in Haiti will certainly take my family and I out of the comfort zone we’ve lived in. But, I believe that, if that is what God has planned for us and the opportunity is there, the dividends that it will pay out to others will far exceed whatever it might cost us in terms of time, money, or energy.

Personally, I want to work through the grief that I continue to experience (as anyone who loses a loved one would) in a proactive way that honors my Dad and what he would want. Faith played a huge role in affording us the opportunity to make a donation to The Hands & Feet Project. Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart then turned around and asked for our permission to honor my Dad’s memory by naming the kitchen of the new orphanage they’re building at Ikondo in Haiti after him. So, “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be providing for the nutritional needs of orphans in Haiti once construction is completed in a few months. I know that Dad would be significantly moved by The Hands & Feet Project’s generous gesture which, in a big way, has helped to paint a silver lining around the dark clouds of grief that have been camped out over my head for the past couple of years since his decline began in October 2010. For further explanation about the connection between my Dad and The Hands & Feet Project, please read my prior posts on the topic: “How To Live Life” and “News Too Good To Keep Under Wraps: Light At The End.”

So, what does this have to do with beards?

The beard is a calling card to raise money for the work of The Hands & Feet Project. I started clean-shaven on November 1, 2011 for “No Shave November” and was inspired to start asking for donations of $5 per day, starting with December 1st, in order to keep it from being trimmed or shaved. Now, I don’t have one of those naturally lush, full, manly beards that comes in nice and even. No. Instead, I have this wiry, sparse, patchy whisker pattern that comes in pretty thick on my neck and mustache, but, that is bare in other spots like my cheeks, for example. Add to the weird whisker pattern the fact that, at three full months without a trim, I’m looking a bit scraggly, and you’ve got a pretty significant eyesore for anyone who has to spend time around me. So far, as of February 3rd, the beard has raised over $600 for orphans in Haiti. Hopefully, it will continue to grow more and more ridiculous looking so that, when people comment about it, I can explain why it is the way it is and, hopefully, inspire them to give a few more bucks to the cause.IMG_2516

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project either directly to them online or by sending contributions my way for me to pass on to them. If you do donate online, please let me know how many days to knock off the sponsorship countdown toward the goal of having the beard fully funded at a rate of $5/day through Saturday, April 27th’s Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. Thank you!

Join The Beards, Hands & Feet Project by ‘Like’ing the Facebook Page!