I sent out a summer newsletter to several of my supporters last month and intended to post it publically, but in the bustle of events forgot until a friend prodded me yesterday. Since I wrote it, several of the events listed below have already transpired but I’ll leave it as I wrote it for those of you who want to keep up with what I have been and will be doing. ~Steve
The rain outside has spoiled my plans to mow the lawn and wash the windows which means I have unexpected down-time. So I might as well use it to catch you all up on this work of mine that you so faithfully support.
I’ve just come off six days of concerts and conferences that took place between Winnipeg and Toronto. Last night, at the end of the marathon, my head hit the pillow at 10 pm and I didn’t wake again until after 9 this morning. I don’t often sleep like that….
Then, this morning I spent a couple of happy hours on the couch, with dog in lap, reading and re-reading Gregory Wolfe’s thoughtful editorial in this month’s Image Journal. It speaks of the prophetic role of the (Christian) arts, which is, in part, to unsettle the settled and to reorient the faithful towards the disadvantaged in the face of “utilitarian greed.”
These sorts of words both challenge and sting. I understand that artists need to be truthful, and this means that they must not merely medicate with “delightful deceits” so that we can somehow cope with all that is unpleasant. But I look at the body of my own work and find it to be, quite evidently, far more affirming than unsettling. Lyrically, it bears little resemblance to the brooding prophetic protesters that have been my heroes in the past; the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Mark Heard for example. And I hope this is ok. I hope I haven’t shirked my obligation to faithfully represent the truth in favor of some Pollyanna view of the world.
But I can’t help what I see. And I can’t help what truly surprises me and causes me to burst into song. Evil rarely impresses me anymore. Increasingly, I find it to be relentlessly monotonous. Love, however, staggers me every time. Beauty bowls me over. Goodness, I find, to be outrageously prodigal. And Truth (however obscured) courses golden through every given moment and experience.
Two weeks ago I sang in Newtown, CT at a church that held 9 of the funerals in the aftermath of the Dec 14th massacre of 20 children and six adults. I was expecting to encounter an unbearable heaviness. I was expecting to feel the irresistible gravity of compressed darkness. But what I actually encountered was uncommon hospitality and love. I fully appreciate there is more there than what I experienced, but I’m simply stating what I did experience. I wasn’t sucked into a vortex of despair, but rather, was received with joy and sent out again blessed.
Yesterday I spent a day with several young people from Calgary. They are a choral group (Harmony Through Harmony) who are using the experience of community through music as a catalyst to explore issues of justice in the world. Together we sat under the teaching of Marcel Hadistry, a First Nations elder from Hollow Water Reserve who artfully articulated an aboriginal world-view, and gave a history of how it has intersected with the European settler world-view. Given the history, one might expect to have encountered a significant bitterness if not outright rage. Yet, Marcel’s presentation was warmly invitational; full of grace and hard-won wisdom.
These are but two examples of the triumph of love. This doesn’t justify art that only “lets us off the hook,” for there is indeed need for lament, challenge and outrage. But evil is free to crow unfettered if there isn’t a Good that offends it’s bellowing claims. And I hope to continue to offend evil with my song until my last breath. In this context, wonder, gratefulness and praise (Eucharist) are truly fightin’ words.
But, all this is hardly the catch-up I promised. Below, in point form, are some highlights from the last months and a few to anticipate in the near future:
- I took off two months (Jan-Feb) to pursue healing for my arm. I’ve been in pain for years now as a result of injury and repetitive stress. Among other important treatments, a friend flew me to Orillia to see a specialist for eight days of intensive therapy and I’ve since had significant relief. In fact I’m pretty much pain free these days. Yay! I still need to be vigilant with preventative exercise and some ongoing therapies, but these are understandable given the particular physicality of my work.
- My work has received a few honors of late that I think you might already know about: the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in December, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Golden Baton Award last month. Next month I’m up for a few writing awards for an article I wrote for Faith Today Magazine, and for a lyric (Oracles) from my last album.
- I have just accepted an invitation to sit on the board of directors for a burgeoning national ministry called Street Level which seeks to combat poverty and homelessness in Canada. Street Level will 1) engage the public through speaking engagement opportunities, 2) provide nurturing supports and encouragement for poverty workers who often find themselves to be isolated and uncelebrated, and 3) invest in the next generation of compassionate citizens through education opportunities in the schools. Tim Huff and Pat Nixon are giving leadership to this work. Their combined experience is noteworthy and I anticipate this will grow into a meaningful and important ministry. (See: www.streetlevel.ca)
- I’m performing (with English poet Malcolm Guite) later this month at a CS Lewis Conference in San Diego. Shortly after, I’m performing in Los Angeles: the Vice President of CBS Studios and the President of Biola University are having me perform for a gathering of their colleagues and friends. Between these two events I’ll have a couple of days to retreat with Malcolm Guite where we hope to write some new songs for a new project!
- Mid-summer I’ll be in Vancouver for two weeks. I’m taking a course at Regent College on Poetry, Faith and Imagination (taught by Malcolm Guite), and another at Vancouver School of Theology (taught by Orthodox scholar David Goa) on Reconciliation: “pathways of reconciliation ‘to our deepest distress’, to the healing of enmity and the recovery of empathy between people(s), and, finally, to the restoration of all creation.”
- August to December is as full as always with concerts (mostly solo) as far east as Nova Scotia and as far south as Texas. I have two Symphony concerts this fall: one with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 1st, and the other with the Calgary Symphony on Dec. 18th. I’m excited to announce that the Calgary concert will include the above mentioned choral group, Harmony Through Harmony (see www.harmonythroughharmony.ca).
- Next year will be unique. It marks the 25th anniversary of my first album “Comfort My People.” I hope to celebrate with a new project called Pilgrimage, which will include a CD of new material and a few bonus CDs highlighting the last 25 years of work. I’ll keep you posted.
I cherish your prayers and support. I’m very aware that I do what I do largely because people like you believe it’s worthwhile, and free me up to do it.
I hope you don’t mind that I haven’t personally signed this update. Unnecessary repetitive work is no longer wise for me. What I have enjoyed about personally signing each letter in the past is that it caused me to think about you all individually. I’ll make sure to read all the names before this goes out, and remember you all with fondness, gratitude and prayers.
Thank you so much for your trust. I’ll be in touch again in the fall.