Truck Yeah

A couple weeks ago, a coworker caught me on my way out the office door. "Headed home?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered. "Well, actually to the store first to get pig food, then home." He looked at me funny and asked why I'm getting pig food. "For a pig. I have pigs." He looked even more confused so I added more. I live on a farm. We have pigs, horses, goats, chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

He started laughing. "For real?" I nodded. He said, "So you're telling me our super geeky system access administrator lives on a farm. That might be the most North Idaho thing I've ever heard." Our farm might not be in Idaho but it's close enough and his point is legitimate. This region is where nerds get a little dirt under their fingernails.

If you've been following along over the past year and a half, you'll know this has been a season of change. I left the apartment and relocated into the country. My family lives on acreage and we're raising an assortment of furry and feathered friends. I got a horse of my own and frequently wear my cowboy boots to work. While I'm still a giant nerd, I'm now a rural nerd. I am becoming equal parts giddy up and all your base are belong to us.

Last weekend, I did something I never imagined doing. As a result, my farmer transformation is almost complete. I traded in the sedan and got myself a truck. But not just any truck, I bought one with a lift kit.

There's some grief and loss here. I miss the Honda's gas mileage, heated seats, sunroof, defroster that doesn't take 20 minutes to warm up, remote keyfob for keyless locks, soundsystem with a decent subwoofer, and windshield I can easily reach when it's frosty outside. But we needed a truck. We need something to tow the horses during rodeo season and a way to haul hay for the animals so we can avoid paying extra to get it delivered. And it'll be nice to drive it out behind the back pastures on a warm summer night, park it, climb into the bed, lay down, and appreciate the beautiful and vast expanse of galaxies stretched above us.

Don't worry though, I'm not going to become a complete redneck. Everybody knows you never go full redneck.

As we drove home from the dealership, Annie asked me if I'd be her geeky farmer. I think I can handle that. Country living is alluring with this strange and inexplicable romantic feeling. I am being assimilated. Resistance is futile.



Last Monday was your birthday. On Wednesday, we celebrated with our family. And on Saturday, we threw you a big party. You're now six years old and this last week has been all about you.

How you like carrot cake far more than a typical kindergartner.
How you're excited to participate in simple household chores.
How you sing when your favorite Jojo song starts to play.
How you squeal at the sight of the dogs after being gone at school all day.
How you jump when you're happy.
How you exude joy even in sickness.
How balloons can fill you with wonder.

Every day with you is a gift. You see the world from a peculiar perspective where there is always reason to laugh or dance or speak gibberish. You have a superpower - the ability to bend this universe to your imagination where anything is possible.

There is a light in your eyes that refuses to be dimmed. A song in your soul that will not be silenced. A bounce in your step that cannot be discouraged. We hope to teach you how to navigate the complexities of existence, to lead and guide you through your childhood to a fruitful life. However, watching you has shown me how much we have to learn from you.

So shine bright. Dance and laugh and play and be wild. Happy birthday, Joylyn. May your sixth year be the greatest yet.


Hip-Hop & Me Part 2: I Love Rap Music

As a 19 year old kid working in a record store, I selected a Master P album from our display racks and started reading out loud through the track listings. After each title, my friend Jeff and I would take turns making a joke about the song. When I got to the song 'I Miss My Homies,' Jeff shouted across the store, "Then you shouldn’t have shot him!" We thought of it as light hearted humor at the expense of our homophobic coworker who also happened to be Master P's biggest fan. We mocked an entire genre for cheap laughs without understanding anything about the music or culture.

I quit the record store job early in 1999 and by June I was contemplating if Seattle had any purpose in my future. In August, I moved away from my folks and relocated to the Boise area. I got a job stocking merchandise for Old Navy, unloading the delivery trucks and folding stacks of clothing to be displayed for customers to peruse in the morning. After the store was closed, we would turn the radio up for the graveyard crew - most frequently tuned to an urban music station. Jay-Z, Ludacris, and Outkast were huge at the time - their songs played often while we stacked jeans and t-shirts into neat piles to be toppled and torn asunder by the time we returned for our next shift.

But it wasn't their music that helped me fully celebrate rap music. Instead, it was a sextet of albums which turned me into a real rap fan - four of them released from the same label. Common's Like Water for Chocolate, Mars Ill's Raw Material, Tunnel Rats' Tunnel Vision, MG The Visionary's Transparemcee, Sup The Chemist's Dust, and Dilated Peoples’ Expansion Team. These six records challenged the way I thought about rap songs, hip-hop culture, music composition, racial reconciliation, and the disparities between urban black communities and the world in which I was raised.

As I got older, I related more and more to hip-hop. The circumstances of my life exposed me to tragedies and people and environments I had never seen while growing up in Marysville, Washington. I saw the effects of poverty, drug abuse, broken homes, and racism. Gradually, rap made more and more sense. When they talked about struggle, I knew what it was like. When they talked about justice, I looked from their perspective. All those elements of hip-hop I previously despised took on new meanings.

Finally, I understood all of it. For many rap artists, their talk of violence and criminal activity was an explanation of their situation and not a justification of their actions. They were telling listeners about the challenges they faced. They were not glorifying their flaws, they were looking for a way out. They were describing the world around them. The objectionable lyrics focused on the lives they had, not the lives they wanted.

I could relate. Even white boys from the suburbs can comprehend when life doesn't turn out the way you dreamed.

These days, my youngest son wants to be a rapper when he grows up. Either that or a professional athlete. Maybe a police officer if his first two options don't work out. I carefully filter his musical options; I’d rather steer JJ away from destructive voices and curate instead a collection of superior aptitudes, attitudes, and messages. There are some awful rappers out there and always will be, yet there are many more talented artists out there trying to change the culture. JJ and I will geek-out over some of his favorites: Lecrae, Social Club Misfits, Canon, KB, Derek Minor, Tedashii, and NF. Today, I'm more encouraged by the state of hip-hop than ever before.

If you see me bobbin my head, there’s a good chance I’m listening to Propaganda. Or Chance the Rapper. Maybe Sho Baraka, Talib Kweli, Pigeon John, or Kendrick Lamar. I’m not just listening to their music, I’m hearing their perspectives. And I’m learning. Because of these artists, I can return to the hook of the very first rap song that got me hooked. I love rap music. I always have and I always will. Come listen with me. Maybe you’ll love it too.


Hip-Hop & Me Part 1: Can I Kick It?

Dad was raised in Kansas and Mom grew up in Wyoming. Collectively, their childhoods were surrounded by corn fields and cattle ranches. Their westward migration brought our family to Seattle where Aaron and I spent our youth in a small, predominantly white suburb 45 minutes north of the city. We attended a conservative Christian church that prohibited dancing and looked at pop culture with disdain.

My parent's vinyl collection contained albums from ABBA, Keith Green, Simon & Garfunkel, Amy Grant, The Carpenters, and Chicago. Sunday mornings, before church, we listened to Seattle's Christian music station, or as I called it: the Sandi Patty station. During the week, Mom's radio was permanently tuned to oldies, but Dad flipped between sports radio where we'd listen to Dave Niehaus announce Mariners games on KJR or the lite rock station which played through the hits of artists like Phil Collins, Peter Cetera, and Richard Marx. Dad occasionally listened to classic rock and one of his favorite stories to tell was about a time he set the song 'Wipeout' on several consecutive replays through a jukebox at the local diner before leaving the building.

Aaron had different tastes in music. He was a huge Stryper fan in the 80s; as he got older, his music preferences got heavier. My brother also introduced me to what became some of my favorite musicians. Poor Old Lu, Guardian, Five Iron Frenzy, MxPx, and The Swirling Eddies.

When the grunge scene exploded, I was in seventh grade - the perfect age to be drawn to the sonic playground and angsty lyrics of bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots. Many of my friends started bands wanting to be the next Nirvana and I buried myself in alternative music. If it isn’t already apparent, allow me to be blunt: my musical roots are about as white as it gets.

My parents were not overly restrictive. We were never the "Christian music only" kind of family like many of my churched peers. While they permitted us to listen to anything, there were artists they actively discouraged: Michael Jackson, Mötley Crüe, Tupac Shakur, Van Halen, Smashing Pumpkins. Stylistically though, there is only one genre my dad made known would never be approved: rap. For the most part, that didn't bother me. Aaron was a metal head and I was a grunge baby. For a long time, my dad's anti-rap bias was never challenged because we never tried.

Until I was in the youth group at church.

The evangelical culture of the early 90s insisted there should be an appropriate Christian substitute for any form of popular music. If you liked Bon Jovi, the church would recommend Petra. If you like New Kids on the Block, the church would recommend Audio Adrenaline. If you like rap music - anything from De La Soul and Arrested Development to NWA and Snoop Dogg, CCM marketing had one group it would suggest: DC Talk.

In 1992, DC Talk released a music video compilation called Rap, Rock, & Soul which featured all the singles from their first two albums. One of our youth group leaders played the videos at a Sunday night event; it was my first real (ish) introduction to hip-hop. The song that stood out the most was 'I Luv Rap Music.' Even today, I still get the chorus stuck in my head with little provocation: "I love rap music, I always have and I always will. There ain't no other kind of music in the world that makes me feel quite as chill." The music intrigued me but I still had a hard time shirking my dad's attitudes about rap.

When Wu Tang Clan and Public Enemy started getting popular with my peers, I eschewed it. Dad taught me rap music was bad, and these two groups seemed to exhibit everything my dad said was wrong with the genre. Aaron dug into hip-hop before I did. He stuck within the Christian subgenre and shared the albums he bought. He played records from ETW, S.F.C., Gospel Gangstaz, and T-Bone. I liked the music but felt guilty about listening.

Something in me believed Dad would not approve even though the artists were all Christians. I overcame that fear because of DC Talk. Aaron took me to see them live when they were on tour with Michael W Smith. When I bought their 1992 album Free At Last, it had already been out for a couple years. As a band, their music had shifted to a more pop-rock sound but TobyMac still rapped in every song. I finally had a rap album I was brave enough to play around my dad. He told me he didn't like all the rapping but he thought it was good music.

By the time I started my sophomore year of high school, I still loved grunge music and started getting into the punk scene. However, there was only one radio station allowed on the bus ride to school and our driver avoided alternative rock. The station she selected played the same two songs every morning: Sheryl Crow's 'All I Wanna Do' and Seal's 'Kiss From a Rose.' In my junior year, the two songs played each morning were TLC's 'Waterfalls' and Coolio's 'Gangsta's Paradise.' The Coolio song is the first rap song from outside Christian culture that I embraced. 23 years later I can still recite the lyrics like an educated fool with money on my mind.

Even then, I didn't consider myself a real rap fan. The biggest musical influences in my life were Billy Corgan, Steve Taylor, and Tim Taber - all singers, songwriters, and producers. I was still bothered by the subject matter and vulgar language of hip-hop hits. I was flirting, but not quite in love.

In 1998, I got a job at a record store. One of my coworkers loved rap music. He was also homophobic. My other coworkers and I mocked him relentlessly for both. I used to criticize him when he didn't ask his customers to say "Uhh," a reference to his favorite rapper, Master P, whose biggest hit was a song called 'Make'Em Say Uhh!'

My attitudes about music began to change while working at that store and my coworkers love for hip-hop began to rub off on me. I bought two rap albums during this time; the first was Wyclef Jean's The Carnival, the other was Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys. I was hooked and started listening to more hip-hop. Still, rap was only a mild fascination, but I wasn't a fan. I enjoyed the music but didn't understand the culture.


a word

For the last five years, I’ve selected a word to be my theme for the years. It was either an addition to or a replacement for New Year’s resolutions, because (if we’re all serious) resolutions rarely last. Instead, a thematic word serving as a filter for all you say, think, and do throughout the year is practical, motivating, and achievable.

However, I have a dilemma. I don’t have a word for 2019. At least, not yet. It’s been on my mind for the past few weeks and nothing seems to fit. My mind is an empty canvas. Or a blank page. All I need is a word. A good one. The right one. (note: this is where my fiancée would call me a perfectionist.)

2014 was the first time I selected a word for the year. My word was INTENTIONAL. I wanted to do everything on purpose, to be intentional in all my actions. I never wanted to do anything on accident or because it was easy or convenient.

In 2015, I chose the word HEALING. At the time, I was in desperate need of some healing. Newly divorced, struggling with my physical and emotional health. Trying to redefine my identity and learning how to parent on my own. I spent the year looking for healing and I found it in abundance.

My word for 2016 was BETTER. Long time readers might remember a post I wrote about it. I just wanted to be better. A better man, a better dad, a better friend. And, should I ever fall in love again, I wanted to be a better partner. I also wanted a better life. This was the year I met Annie, so I’d say my hopes for the year came true.

2017’s word was a repeat. I kept BETTER, using it as my theme for the second consecutive year.

Last year, my word was blend. I knew that Annie and I would be intentionally blending our families in 2018. I proposed in January and she said yes. We spent the year on farm projects and home remodeling, creating space for our kids and animals. New family traditions have been formed and we have stayed up many nights dreaming and planning for our future together.

Now, 2019 has arrived and I am in need of a new word. What word will guide me through next December 31? What will be my theme? It’s gonna be … I don’t know. I got nothing. For the next couple weeks, I’m going to be scouring the internet, searching for a word, something meaningful to be my cognitive north star. If you have any worthy ideas, let me know.