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The Story We Tell Ourselves Part 2: The Monster In The Mirror

September 24, 2012

I wrote a follow up piece to “The Story We Tell Ourselves” that posted in The Rabbit Room last week. For those of you who might be interested, here’s the link! “The Story We Tell Ourselves Part 2”

The Story We Tell Ourselves (Part 1)

August 30, 2012

I wrote a new piece for the rabbit room and thought I’d post it here as well. Thanks for reading!

A part of what draws us to this peculiar treasure of a community called the Rabbit Room is a shared love of stories and storytelling. We are a bookish and thoughtful tribe who believe a book is more than something to read—it’s a doorway to enter a universe as significant as our own, full of life, wonder, and wisdom. We walk the aisles of second-hand bookstores with the fervor of treasure hunters, smelling the open pages when nobody is looking, intoxicated by them. We love to lose ourselves in grand and beautiful tales, believing that it’s one of the best ways to be found again. We regard our favorite writers with a sacred awe, letting them into the deepest, most intimate places in our hearts.

Yet for all of our love of storytelling, it’s easy to forget that each of us is a powerful and accomplished storyteller in his or her own right, with a vivid imagination and capacity for creating wonderful and terrible worlds. It is a gift bestowed upon us by the Great Storyteller who made us in his image. He whose words are made flesh endows us with the power to bring our own stories to life. When we remember this and walk in the truth and grace of it we tell better stories with our lives.

We are, of course, a story that he is telling, but I believe he also invites us to be co-storytellers with him, participating in the tale, every one of us a novelist and autobiographer. Our work is published in the daily living of the life we lead. It shapes us and everyone we know.

I believe our storytelling falls into two categories, each a part of the other: the story we tell the world and the story we tell ourselves. The story we tell the world is a pro-active and intentional kind of storytelling, paving the road as it opens before us. “What kind of story do I want to tell today?” is a question that helps me participate with purpose in the daily chapters of my life. The story we tell ourselves is responsive and interpretive of events as they happen to us or around us. It’s the way a plot line runs through me before continuing on to others. Together, the story I tell the world and the story I tell myself form the single narrative of my life and either lead me deeper into the life-giving heart of it or drive me away from it.

Though I prefer pro-active story telling in my own life—where I have a stronger sense of participating in the direction of the narrative—I believe I can be just as intentional in my responsive and interpretive storytelling, and this is what I want to focus on here. I am empowered when I’m aware that every moment I am telling a story and that the plot can turn in me, right where I stand. Knowing I hold a pen helps me mean what I write.

But just as I am empowered when I am aware, there are consequences when I’m not. Another voice takes over like a ghostwriter when I’m not looking: it is the voice of my broken nature and it speaks the loudest when I stop being intentionally responsive and instead become merely reactive—left to the mercy of whatever story my emotions, physical condition, state of mind, hormones, etc. want to tell me at the time. When I’m exhausted I am inclined to tell a different story than I would if I were well rested. When I’m sad, I may come to believe that a fiction is truth. When I’m lost in my own insecurity, I find rejection in the eyes of every character in the scene. When I’m full of fear, every shadow hides a bogey. When I’m angry, I may set my world on fire, burning up entire chapters of my life. This is how many beautiful stories turn very sad.

My friend Al, a gifted storyteller, helped me understand the power of the story we tell ourselves. He had a friend who was supposed to meet him for lunch one day but didn’t show up. At first Al was irritated. “It was inconsiderate of him to waste my time.” When Al couldn’t reach him throughout that afternoon to see what happened, he began to worry about him. “Is he okay? Was he in an accident?” By the next day, having still not heard from him, Al began to wonder if he had somehow offended his friend. “Is he ignoring my calls? Is he so angry with me over something that he refuses to talk to me? What did I do?” And so what began as a happy story about two friends sharing a meal and good conversation together was led away into stories of blame, fear, and then shame.

Several days later the real story emerged: his friend had a sudden family emergency and had to catch an early flight that morning. In his hurry to leave, he misplaced his phone and was without it until he got back home.

I recognize myself in Al’s narrative and in it see the kinds of stories that I so often tell myself, though I’m usually not even aware that I’m doing it. How often do I run with the stories of blame, fear and shame? I am vulnerable to this kind of thing everyday and, if I’m not careful, I can become the victim of my own worst story telling—led into the sad, shadowy corners of a confusing narrative and away from the heart of the plot and the characters I care about the most—including, and especially, myself, or at least the self that I most want to be.

Great wars are fought and lost daily in the broken storytelling of our darkened imaginations. But recognizing ourselves as powerful storytellers who have a say in our own story helps us to participate in the tale by inviting the light of grace into our narrative, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and submitting our stories to the ongoing chronicle of God’s larger tale of redemption.

Al’s account helps me to be more than merely reactive. It puts the pen back in my hand by helping me ask the question: “What is the story I’m telling myself in this moment?” Asking this interrupts the sad script that runs on autopilot without my being aware of it. Armed with the knowledge that God has gifted me to be a story-teller, I am entrusted and empowered to tell the kind of story I love the most: A beautiful narrative full of truth and grace.

I do this best when I ask these two questions: “What kind of story do I want to tell today?” and “What is the story I’m telling myself in this moment?”

The first question helps me to enter my narrative with purpose and intention. I shape and am shaped by it. Is what I’m doing right now adding to the beauty of the story God has given me to tell? Or am I writing a scene that I’ll regret?

The second question helps break the spell of the gibbering voices of fear, pride, and insecurity that are always trying to hijack my story. Like Oz the Great and Powerful exposed behind the curtain, I am liberated from the worst version of myself. There in the light of my awareness, the sad, scary lies that bully me in the darkened corners of my imagination are exposed and scattered. I can pick up the pen and by God’s grace I can write something new.

What kind of story do I want to tell today? What kind of stories am I telling myself right now? Do they ring with truth or read like bad fiction? How can I tell a better story starting right now?

Dreaming of a Gray Christmas…

May 21, 2012

Hello friends,

After taking a hiatus from blogging, etc, in order to focus on writing and spending some time with my family, I’m dipping my toe back in to give you an update on what we’re brewing over here.

In November of last year Centricity and I talked about doing a Christmas record for 2012, and as I wondered about what that would like—what kind of Christmas record I could get really excited about—I thought about a Gray Christmas tradition that involves one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors: “Beyond Words” by Frederick Buechner, a kind of dictionary/encyclopedia of religious words and characters that come to new life under Buechner’s observant eye.

Every year I pull the book off the shelf and look up each of the characters who make an appearance in the Christmas story, and every year I’m so moved by the humanity of these people who find themselves unexpectedly in the middle of The Great Story. With all that Christmas has come to represent in the years since, it’s been good for me to be reminded that it actually happened, once upon a time, in a certain place, in the lives of people much like myself.

So I set out to write and record a collection of Christmas songs based on the characters in the story, then filling in the gaps with traditional Christmas carols that would advance the narrative.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into! Here I had an opportunity to just record a bunch of classics and be done with it! But once this other idea took hold of me it drew me deeper and deeper into it until each character presented themself asking for their story to be told. 8 songs later (and several others that won’t make the record) we decided we had to stop and leave some room for the carols that would help identify this as a Christmas collection.

Making a Christmas record is tricky because just about everyone has a different opinion about what a Christmas record should be.  Actually, it’s less an opinion than it is a conviction.  When I let word out about this project on my facebook page one commenter would write something like: “Please do the classics!” and then the very next commenter would write, “whatever you do, don’t just do the songs that everyone else does – original songs please!” Even my own house is divided over the idea of what makes a great Christmas record. 

Throw into the mix the consideration of what kind of songs radio stations might want and what Centricity is hoping for (though they’ve been very generous to let me chase my passion on this) and it makes for a bit of a tightrope walk. Trying to please everybody is the enemy of creativity and at some point in the process I was set free from the various imagined expectations and my guiding prayer became to make the kind of record that most honored, the heart of God, Jesus, and those who there on that holy night at the dawn of redeeming grace. This left me at the mercy of my most demanding critic: myself, but it also put me in a position to be led by my delight.

It seemed like a great opportunity to work with my friend and one of my favorite producers, Cason Cooley, whose work on Katie Herzig’s “The Waking Sleep” and Jill Phillips’ “In This Hour” are great examples of both his playful adventurism and humble service to the song (do yourself a favor and check out both of those records!)  Cason’s work has a quirky and joyful exuberance that I thought would be a perfect fit for this project.  I wanted it to be a really joyful record.

As I got deeper into the story and the characters, though, I found myself in an intense narrative peopled with characters in the midst of great drama! The young girl who carries the secret of angels; the heartbroken young man whose fiancé is pregnant with another’s baby (will he forgive her when it’s in his power to ruin her?); the wisemen with their gifts of gold (will they give the child what he desires most, the gift of themselves?); the harried innkeeper so overwhelmed with his work that it’s hard for him to recognize the wonder on his doorstep that would make him whole.

In the midst of the sober drama is also the exuberance of the shepherds, wide-eyed and breathless the moment after the angels split the sky with their chorus. They are running into town with Gloria! still ringing in their ears—not entirely sure where they’re going, but what is there to do but run!—to see the newborn King. And of course there is the child himself who will make us children again and heal the world with joy.

I’ve played the little bits that we’ve gotten done so far for some friends and I received the greatest compliment I could have hoped for when a friend told me that he thought it sounds more like me than any thing I’ve ever recorded.

Complicated scheduling and a spring full of touring have made it more difficult to pull this project together than we ever imagined, but Cason and co-writing friends like Randall Goodgame, Andy Gullahorn, Nichole Nordeman, and Joel Hanson have been generous in their time and care to help me bring these songs to life. And so here we are making a record (and still writing! Probably until the last possible moment!) that we hope will surprise, delight and give people a sense that once upon a time and a place, among men and women just like us, a baby was born who changed everything. It’s the greatest story ever told, and it’s a story that we are all a part of, caught up in, and inexorably shaped by.

Frederick Buechner, whose writing plays a significant part in these songs, has said that the story of one of us is the story of us all. If we’ve done our job well, then hopefully these characters will feel like old friends, as familiar as the person in your mirror. Hope you like it when we’re finished with it 🙂

A Way To See In The Dark Concert Review

October 3, 2011

Today I’m riding a bus on the Called To Love tour with Downhere (featuring Marc Martel whose viral youtube video with 3.9 million views won him an appearance on Ellen today! Check out the video here and the Ellen performance here), Aaron Shust (whose got the #1 song in the country right now!), and yours truly. (Check tour dates here)  

My new record released three weeks ago, and one week ago I was honored to be able to share the new songs with a CD release concert in Nashville at the Hutchmoot – a gathering of some of my favorite people in the world, The Rabbit Room community.

My friend Breann Stephens was there and wrote a generous and articulate review of the show that she’s agreed to let me share with you. Thank you Breann for highlighting the best of what we can hope for in a musical gathering – an intersection where our different stories can meet and mingle and where, by grace, spaces are created for the Holy Spirit to speak.

Jason Gray A Way to See in the Dark Release Concert
September 23, 2011
Breann Stephens

Fear creeps as a creature in the night.

Two times in one week, the burglary alarm sounded. Both times, police arrived, investigated, and left with no definitive answer as to what set the alarm blaring. Now, I lie awake at night, acutely aware of every sound, wondering what danger may lurk in the shadows. I lock every door, secure all valuables, and keep my phone nearby. My possessions remain intact, but I have been pilfered. There is no sign of forced entry, but an intruder has come. The thief’s name is Fear.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

There, in the still of the night, a different voice whispers. It’s the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls his own sheep by name, the one who lays down his life and has the power to take it up again. It’s the whisper of Christ.

On September 13th, Jason Gray released his latest studio project, A Way to See in the Dark. Last Friday, I had the privilege of attending the CD release show at Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, TN. This concert was to me a whisper of Christ.

The evening began at the end  with the song, “The End of Me.” It’s okay. This is just the end. Don’t be afraid. This is where it begins. “The worst thing is not the last thing,” as Frederick Buechner wrote, “It is the next to last thing.” It is when we come to the end of ourselves that new life opens, a life marked with peace, hope, joy, and love. Thus, the concert began with an invitation. It was an invitation to trust, an invitation to hope in Christ’s presence, his love, and his victory.

The presence of Christ descended in song, story, and the sacred sharing of earthly space that Friday night. His was the mouth that spoke, “Do not be afraid.” His was the hand that gathered, held, and provided. His was the ear that heard both our cries and our gratitude. His was the name as intimate as the sound of our breathing. His was the shoulder big enough to bear the weight of our fear.

In “No Thief Like Fear,” Jason encouraged us to use an angry voice to sing the chorus. The song became a naming, a place where we were given permission to direct our anger at the one who “robs me blind right before my eyes.” The riotous beginning of the song gave way to gentleness as we were reminded of a deeper truth, I am free, I am free, oh my God has rescued me. From these chains I am released for my God has set me free.

Perhaps there is no greater promise of God’s presence than in the name, “Emmanuel,” God with us. Jason introduced, “I Will Find a Way” saying, “This might be a song about a girl or a guy you know, or it might even be about you.” God’s determination to live among us was beautifully manifest in the words, “I found a way.” When we couldn’t find the strength to come, Christ came to us, and he’s coming still.

Joy to the world. The Lord is come. This Christmas Hymn, “Joy to the World” was attached to the end of, “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue (part 1)” If Advent whispers Christ’s presence, then the Crucifixion whispers his love, and the Resurrection, his victory. How fitting then that, Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection came together in this one song at the center of the set list.

Perhaps the most powerful realization of Christ’s love and victory came when Jason sang over us asking, “What are you afraid of? What are you ashamed of?” The music played and images emerged in my mind – an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, a worksheet covered in red ink, pointed fingers and laughter, a hospital bed and the words “brain tumor,” a tornado torn town, disappointment, failure, rejection, loneliness, and loss. These images were the toes of a terrible monster, one that bellows, “You are alone. You are unloved. Death has the final say.” We joined in a cry for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the room, “Break every chain.” And, in the face of a greater truth, the monster of fear loosed its hold. It recoiled, then dissolved.

The next two songs (“Remind Me Who I Am” and “I Am New”) were reminders that fear and shame do not define us; our identity is in Christ. Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1). We are the beloved of Christ, and that is enough.

What better answer can we give to Christ’s presence, love, and victory than gratitude?  And so the concert came to a close as we lifted our voices and sang, “Thank You, thank You, Jesus, we are grateful.”

A Way To See In The Dark Releases!

September 13, 2011

I’m laying in bed as I write, about halfway into a week of CD release concerts that is taking me and my friend Jon Sell from North Carolina to Minnesota and everywhere in between. But before I drift off to sleep, I thought I should officially let everyone know that the new record released today!  We were grateful that the Rabbit Room hosted a listening party posting each of the songs every hour throughout the day with my running commentary on stories behind the songs and the making of the record. It’s only up for 24 hours, so quick go check it out!

I’ll write more later – I’m excited to share some of the reviews and interviews that are coming in. But for now, I will sleep. After I remind you that the new album is available on itunes as well as my online store.

Okay, now… I…… will…….. sleep…………

Listening Party & More

September 11, 2011

Hello friends!  Only three more days until the release of A Way To See In The Dark!  I believe it’s my best record to date and I’m excited to share it.

The Rabbit Room is hosting a listening party on release day, posting a song every hour starting at 9 AM with my running on commentary on them (and hopefully yours, too!)  I’d love to have you join us and let us know what you think of the songs.

I also posted a new blog there called “Little Faith” about my misadventures in faith healing. You can read that here: http://www.rabbitroom.com/2011/09/little-faith/

Thanks for checking in!  Don’t forget you can order the new CD in my store and also now on iTunes

I hope you can join us for the listening party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song Diaries and Other Videos

August 26, 2011

Hello friends! Only three more weeks until “A Way To See In The Dark” releases. We’re really excited and grateful for the early reviews coming in calling it my strongest project to date. I believed that since we started the project, but – ya know – I may lack objectivity, so I’m grateful that other people think so, too.  (You can pre-order the new record here: http://discrevolt.com/artists/centricity/#jasongray – I recommend the Special Edition :- )

I’m also grateful for the fun stuff we’ve gotten to do in anticipation of the record’s release, and I thought I’d share some of that with you here.  We’re doing a series of short videos called “Song Diaries” and two of them are already posted for you.

The first one offers a candid (and humorous) look at life in the Gray household as well as a preview of what many people are calling their favorite song from the new record:
Song Diaries – Good To Be Alive

 

The other is an intimate conversation about what the song “Remind Me Who I Am” means to me:
Song Diaries – Remind Me Who I Am

 

And if you missed it, here’s the official video for “Remind Me Who I Am”:

I also got to be a part of my record label’s comical “Centricity U” series – short webisodes intended to introduce the new singles by all their artists.  They’re really funny and you may want to watch all of them for context (and stay tuned for the grand finale in the coming weeks!), but here are the two I got to be a part of:

 

 

Thank you may I have another:

 

Thanks for watching – if you enjoyed them, please share them with others! Word of mouth is still the best help and I’m grateful for it.