Road trips are a piece of Americana, I think, and that was part of the reason why I thought we should take Mark. Tourists come over here and they do the tourist thing, see the tourist places, and take the tourist pictures. I wanted Mark to see what we see - the bizarre capitalism of interstate truck stops, the gigantic fireworks shops in Tennessee, the miles of nothingness in the Kentucky landscape, and the neverending weirdness observed from the confines of one's vehicle. It was a highlight of my year - not so much the truck stops or the fireworks or the nothingness - but mostly the conversations, the camaraderie, and the flavor a SUV full of different walks of life has to offer.
I'm sure it's almost cliche for artists to say that they feel like most people just don't get them. But I guess there's a reason why things become cliche, and I suppose I can say I'm one of them. I generally don't feel like most people understand why a highlight of my year would be spending a lot of money on a road trip to no great place in particular with two guys I know well and one I just met. I just felt like we were supposed to do it, and my hope was that maybe I could catch a small glimpse of what it was all about later on (though I know that's not likely). Road trips emphasize the "now" of living, and I think for some reason I needed to experience some of that. Jonathan was nursing an injured hip (courtesy of some really aggressive tennis playing), so our 16-hour trip slowly turned into 19 as we stopped to stretch. But it didn't seem to bother anyone, and we were blessed with good conversation and good humor.
What I was thrilled to find were three other guys like me - three other dreamers. I tend to dissect myself a bit harshly and way too often, and I usually count my idealism as more of a character flaw than an asset. Why I do that, I'll never know. But here were three other idealists, three other visionaries who look out at our culture and want to get their hands dirty. They want to be forces of change in a positive way instead of hiding behind the fortress walls of our gated neighborhoods and tightly-nit homogenous social groups. To be lights in the world instead of just kicking back and reading the Left Behind books while waiting for the rapture. I see people who want to help other people, and I found myself wanting to be more like all three of them.
We talked a lot about music, a lot about culture, and a lot about faith and art. We wondered aloud at the questions the intersections of such things raise, questions about the necessity and/or effectiveness of a "Christian music industry", the responsibilities of being a Christian and a musician, and what it's supposed to look like to be servants to our families, friends, communities, and churches. We talked about the things that hold us back, the things we tie ourselves to - credit card debt, social addictions, whatever keeps us from being free to go as God leads. And we wondered aloud if a little record label like Rebuilt could put something positive into this crazy, broken, debt-guilt-and war-riddled culture we live in.
I wouldn't say the earth shook on that trip (except maybe that one time that Jonathan absolutely crushed the ball of a Par 4 hole). In fact, I'd say I have more critical questions about my life and my occupation than ever before. But as we arrived back in Athens a few days later a little worn out from the pace of the trip, I felt nonetheless encouraged. The longer I do this, the more I have come to appreciate encouragement - it is my manna that helps to keep me going. Having no real tangible means to judge the relative success or failure of Rebuilt Records, I take encouragement from the words and actions of others who are compelled to do something in this world. You know, the kinds of things that seem to only make sense to the ones doing them. The people that do things because they felt they ought to and not because they can foresee the ultimate impact or result. The ones who meet someone's need simply because someone needs something.
I've been reading a book Jonathan loaned me called Finding Common Ground, and it speaks a great deal about having the attitude of a sower rather than always looking to be a harvester. We always want to be there to rake it all in, to see how our flowers bloom or how our portfolio accrues because that's more fun and more sexy. But the point in the book is that we must continue to put in the hard hours of sowing in our lives instead of just always looking to rake it in. I know - that seems like common sense - except we don't live that way. When I was a senior in college, I looked at the freshmen class and thought, "Why would I bother getting to know any of these folks; I'm going to be out of here in nine months anyway." What I missed, apparently, was some really great people in my life. Anna, a great Rebuilt supporter, and I are pretty close, I'd say. At least I feel that way. She's important to me. She was in that freshman class, and while we talked some and knew each other, it wasn't until years later that we really became friends. And now that I know Anna, I wish that I had those years because she's pretty terrific.
The trip to Michigan re-ignited that desire in me to keep doing the hard, unsexy work of building relationships, of looking to meet the immediate needs of the people in my life, and to keep trusting that all the time, effort, and drama are in fact making a difference. That is how people's lives change.
And this has never been more concrete than when my neighbor began cutting my grass for no real reason. More on that later...