Jumping the Shark

There’s this scene in Happy Days. In the later years, when it was all falling apart, as great shows tend to do. (See: Steve Erkel cloning himself, the cast from Everybody Loves Raymond not being able to get a line out because of the audience cheering so loud when they would run on stage with a weird look, etc.) And Fonzie, The Fonz, inexplicably enters a water-skiing contest, and subsequently jumps over a shark. And that was the day people realized that the show had somehow faded into irrelevance.

It was a couple years ago, now. I was sitting in a meeting, as the 28-year-old wonder kid worship pastor at one of the fastest-growing churches in the city. All my life I had been praised for being advanced beyond my years, mature beyond my experience. So when I decided at eighteen years old that my life’s goal would be to serve God by being a vocational worship pastor, no one stopped me. Instead, they praised me for the spiritual wisdom seldom seen in someone my age. The problem was, someone should have stopped me. Someone should have looked at the lights, and the amplified guitar sounds pumping through the best venues in town, and the stages, and the subtle prestige only expounded by humility, and really everything we call ‘worship’, and talked to this eighteen-year-old kid in depth, asking him if this would still be his dream if the church were to change tomorrow, and his vocation of ‘worship pastor’ went back to playing an organ from a hymnal in the back, or starting the countdown for the congregational accapella chant. But no one stopped me. (Or at least if they tried…I didn’t listen whatsoever.) Because I was living the American church dream.

To be a rockstar, a CEO, or a famous personality, but it’s also a righteous endeavor because you’re ‘doing it for God?’ That’s a very enticing offer, especially for a young person like me who struggled with an inferiority complex. Looking back, I realize that I truly believed that my motives were pure. My heart was in the right place. But like so many people in history whose hearts were in the right place, I was also dead wrong.

So here I am, ten years later, watching a sermon from a famous pastor. One now marred in scandal, and one with whom I have been very vocal about disagreeing. And he was teaching on how Jesus is our prophet, priest, and king. Not necessarily a doctrine I have a problem with. And then I listened in horror, as Jesus Christ, the savior of the universe, was reduced to nothing more than a flow chart. Rather than the face value of being our guide, our intercessor, and our master, He was now just an example of whom to hire in your church. Three categories that really would have really stretched the imagination as a Biblical exposition; except that I had been taught them before…in the corporate world. But now we were bending Bible verses so that this flow chart had ‘Biblical’ authority.

To me, it was at best, logical fallacy, at worst, outright heresy. I spoke with people in person and with various peers later. I said I believed that when the Bible mentions Jesus as king, the subtext is that we should obey him, not that we should hire more administrators in our 501c3 church institutions. Interestingly enough, some told me that I really didn’t feel that way, but that I was just a ‘priest’ (i.e. “feeler”) who was just upset because the pastor preaching the sermon had used some word like ‘pissed’. And therein lies the problem. We’re concerned about piss. And we’re not concerned about twisting the words of the Bible.

After hearing that sermon, after months and years of questioning why we do what we do and how if we had really used the Bible as our basis we had ended up where we’re at, …… I made no decision whatsoever. This is where you’d think I would’ve felt as if we’d as a universal church jumped the shark. But you have to remember, that this was the only life I had ever known. I have friends and people who have lived as Christians far longer than I have, who agreed with this sermon. And the last time I said I disagreed with a nationally renowned pastor, I was berated, both in person and on this blog. So I’m sad to say, I walked out too afraid to, right then and there, say something is terribly wrong with the majority of how we as a western civilization run our churches, if this can pass for nationally recognized church doctrine and practices. Rather, it was as I went about the rest of my work day, that I realized that church aside…I personally had jumped the shark.

I looked at the rest of my schedule for the day, and it read fix lighting, test sound system, change out songs in church playlist, re-string guitar, buy new delay pedal, make new graphics for signage, edit intro video, and a hundred other things that bore little relevance to my love for God and what was over the last couple of years my newfound desire to actually worship Him…not put on a rock concert that subconsciously stroked my ego, but worship: react to…God. God. God. My life, ministry, and occupation, had slipped into irrelevance towards the things I wanted to do most and the things we humans desire deep within ourselves…selfishness, and the constant lust for power, prestige, and affirmation. And I had let those things, unbeknownst to me, take a hold in my life by burying myself in an institution that I had mistakenly confused for God Himself.

Remember God. Remember that church only exists for His purpose. Remember that pastors, even nationally renowned ones, are fallible human beings; a fact that becomes all too apparent after the scandals, but a fact from which we seem to never learn the next time. These, among other things, have renewed my faith in God over this past year…and hopefully caused me do a backflip back over the shark…or something like that. ;) Has the church jumped the shark? Maybe not; but we’ve certainly put on the leather jacket and entered the water-skiing contest. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I fully believe that we have to stop making church into a god, we have to stop making servants and shepherds into rockstars, we have to stop making worship into a Coldplay show, and we have to start learning and obeying the Bible at face value rather than being “tossed to and fro by every new doctrine”, or in our case, every new podcast before it even has a chance to become doctrine. And this is coming from a guy who passionately lived those four follies, and finally took a step back towards just plain and simple…God.


P.S. For clarification purposes, I have no problem with new and original takes on Biblical doctrine, provided the following: 1) that the goal for the doctrine remains to be true to the Bible as opposed to being new and original for the sake of being new and original, for the sake of shock value, or for the sake of YouTube ratings, 2) that new doctrine be researched, tested, and peer-reviewed much like it is in the academic world, rather than being “insta-authority”, 3) that logic, reason, and common sense prevail and that people would actually be encouraged to question new ideas rather than being chastised for opposing a thought from a famous personality, 4) that corporation and psychological ideals we happen to like (i.e. Meyers-Briggs) not be re-purposed with a quick Bible reference underneath, and 5) that the doctrine remains expository…i.e. “What is the Bible saying?” as opposed to “I want to say this, and what verses can I find to back it up.”


Here You Go, Way Too Fa-a-ast…

The perfectly hued lights cast shadows in all the most dramatic places on the worship leader’s face as it is stared at by thousands on the video screen as they chant the lyrics they know so well from who has been described by themselves as their favorite band from the cd being sold in the lobby, and the music swells to a screaming crescendo as the guitar player trem picks open the ears of heaven so at the perfect moment the worship leader can scream, “I must decrease so He can increase!” Downbeat stop lights out. Punch in full lights. And the crowd goes wild.

Curious culture we’ve made for ourselves.

Not all of it is bad, but I think we need to pull it back a bit and ground ourselves once again in who it is we’re worshiping, before we come to a crash. The most frightening thing is that if we don’t, I’m not even sure we’re going to realize it when we do crash.


Heroes – By Their Podcasts You Shall Know Them

- Dwight K. Schrute

So I was at Target the other day (pretending to shop, but actually just playing with the new 3D marble maze toys…those things are awesome!), and at the checkout counter, I was struck by the number of magazines on Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding. And when I say ‘struck’, I mean, as in they actually struck me. They literally attacked my eyes, there were so many of them. One even went so far as to say, ‘Panic! The Dress Didn’t Fit!’ And of course I don’t blame the media moguls who produce the magazines. If the magazines didn’t sell, they’d stop making them. I blame us, and our culture of heroes.

That instance isn’t exactly what I want to talk about, but it did give me the little push over the edge that I needed to talk about this hero worship in our culture. And of course, in our church culture. Because for as much as we like to scream that we’re counter-cultural, a vast majority of what the church has done and continues to do, follows very closely with each decade of culture. In our culture, celebrity is god. Someone appears on our magic box of anti-boredom (because above all else we humans fear boredom and uncertainty, and the television cures both in perfect half hour installments), and suddenly, they are our hero. Sure, most of us won’t say that, but yet why then do we model our lives after people we don’t know? Working in the entertainment industry and the church media industry for many years, I feel like I can put forth a good idea of why. Because a lot of the time, reality sucks. So in order to sell advertising space, the media companies of course don’t give us reality. They give us a highly dressed up version. We see that highly dressed up version as reality, we of course prefer it to our own, and we end up desiring something that isn’t real or possibly attainable outside of lighting, studios, Photoshop, and highly edited story cuts. We desire and strive for the unreal, while the glorious real of actual life slowly passes us by.

Culturally, mainstream Christianity follows suit. A fantastic case in point is Duck Dynasty. I don’t know the people portrayed in the show Duck Dynasty. I’m guessing that you don’t know the people portrayed in the show Duck Dynasty. But because someone says ‘Bless this food, Oh Lord’ on television, they are our new cultural role models. We buy their t-shirts, we defend them as if we were defending Almighty God, we make theological points on Facebook using their memes, and we even go so far as to include them in our sermons. Our co-worker might show the fruits (Matt. 7:16) of 40 years of following God even through the death of a child in a completely unedited life, but we don’t quote him in our sermons. No, we quote the highly edited and produced television characters who said ‘Bless this food, Oh Lord’ but seem to treat their families in a fairly misogynistic way. We even miss the misogyny and the non-Christ-like interactions between the characters, and dare I say even start to implement them in our own lives and pervasive Christian culture, because these produced television characters are our new role models because they dared to say ‘God’ on tv.

The same can be said of someone as loved and respected as Denzel Washington. The dude seems like a wonderful guy, talks about God a lot, makes movies that bring about great moral questioning of ourselves, and gives to charity. But it would be erroneous of me to base my life off of that guy. Not because I think he’s a bad guy, but because I do not know him. I have no intimate knowledge of him. Let’s go a step further here. Billy Graham. Says some wonderful things. A pillar of faith, some may say. But to base your life off of, in essence to make someone into your mentor and elder (literally in the book of Acts…one of age and experience) that you do not know personally, is a dangerous way of wasting your life.

I’m going two steps further. Some of you may know your pastor. I really, sincerely, hope you do. Biblically, pastor means shepherd; and it saddens me that we have created some churches into places where you have no intimate knowledge of your shepherd. I hate to break it to you, but as you’re undoubtedly intelligent enough to know, churches spend thousands and thousands of dollars on lighting rigs, video equipment, microphones, and Vimeo subscriptions. The pastor spends hours practicing his affectation in his sermons. The worship leader (this is true for me and hits close to home) spend hours practicing his songs and affectations. The production you see on Sunday morning is just that, a production. And while that’s not necessarily an evil thing, it does function to make you feel as if you know the guy giving the message, or the guy singing the songs, or the guy giving the announcements. But in reality, you do not know them any more than you know me. And the last step I’m taking this…most of you do not know me either. Sure, I’m saying all this, but if you’ve never been to my house and talked with me personally, don’t take my word for it or base any life decisions off of this. Run it by someone you actually know and actually respect.

We need to make our lives and circles smaller. We can’t base our Christian lives off of Duck Dynasty, Denzel Washington, Billy Graham, Mark Driscoll, our pastors, or blog personalities. If you really want to, then go get to know your pastor. Or get into a church where you can know your pastor. I highly encourage that. The point isn’t that pastors are evil; the point is that, when push came to shove, you would have no idea if your pastor was evil or not because you don’t know them. We need to stop modeling our lives, our families, and our cultures after people from whom we’re too far away to tell if they have actual fruits or just the appearance of fruits. Jesus says that by their fruits you shall know them. Not by their podcasts, their stages, their tv shows, their public speaking ability, or their many anecdotes. Create a culture in your family where your models, mentors, and elders are people that you know intimately. Real people, weathered and life-beaten, but unmoved…and you can say, I want that. Not people who say all the right things, but people whom you can view their lives of 40 and 50 years of solid faith and integrity through ups and downs and questioning of their faith and whom you have seen come out the other side real, unedited, un-produced followers of Jesus.



I’m confused as to when “being an evangelical” became more important than “being a follower of Jesus.”

We’re so worried about our own identity, that we’ve missed the identity of God, and who we should be as His followers…whether that is comfortable and validating for us or not. This is not a club. You are not the podcast you listen to. You are not the party you vote for. You are not the church you attend. Somehow it seems like we created all these ingenious ideas to worship God, and then He fell through the cracks and nobody noticed. We are missing it.

“…nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” – Luke 17:21

In Christ’s love,

Things I’ve Learned from the Ocean

About a year ago, I moved to the beach. I remember when I first started this blog, my morning ritual (which incidentally I couldn’t wait to do and even dreamed about occasionally or not so occasionally) was to wake up, pour a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and surf eBay for new pedals. Then I’d finish that bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, convince myself that it was really only half a bowl and that the new pedals would only be done justice when fed into a new amp, and get another bowl and surf Gear Page for a new amp. I chalked it up as work, because that’s what worship leaders get paid to do. It might not ever be stated that that’s what we get paid to do, but when every little piece of a Sunday morning worship set gets critiqued each week from the sound of the speakers to the length of the pauses to the color of the pedals, as reasons for the congregation not raising their hands to the appropriate level…then getting the sounds and the visuals perfect is by definition what we get paid to do. And surfing eBay a lot and buying many things is often what it takes to get that perfect 1.73 second transition while modulating into the key of the next song that just has to be played, but in a key that the female vocalist can sing, while changing the click track to 6/8 timing and signaling the tech that the lights are 22% too bright.

Not that I was completely without fault. Okay, I was a lot at fault. This is what I knew I was signing up for ten years ago. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to run a worship production, and even made many suggestions at many a church to increase production quality. Basically…you can serve God by buying new delay pedals and larger speaker columns and you get paid for it? Ya. I’m in.

But this past year, my ritual has changed. I wake up, go to the beach, jog in the sand, and then wade out into the waves. I close my eyes, still my mind, and see what God’s gonna say, if anything. Turns out, usually quite a lot. More than He did in my ritual of past years (even when switching to rolled oats and almond milk…hey, we all get old). It’s been a little bit like that story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Sometimes God isn’t where we expect Him to be. In fact, about a month or so ago, it was raining all day. And I went to the beach for a jog. The storm had driven everyone away, and it was literally just me. For miles. And no matter how many times I’ve sung Chris Tomlin’s “How Can I Keep from Singing”, this was the closest I have ever come to not being able to keep from worshiping. I almost didn’t have a choice. I felt very much like Elijah, sitting in that cleft in the rock. The wind was throwing my voice back at me so strongly that it was as if I wasn’t singing at all. It was just me, and the creation of something much, much bigger than I. Not lighting copied from a Coldplay concert so that I get the same feeling as at the Coldplay show, but this time it’s called the Holy Spirit. More like, if you take one more step, you might be crushed by that wave, and My plan, My Being, My glory…would still go on just as before without you. You are inconsequential. But by and in My grace you are able to live and move and have being. And I threw up my hands and sang How Great Thou Art.

Two different morning rituals. Both looking for God. And I still have some delay pedals, and I still enjoy playing some worship songs on them. But it turns out God talked to me a little more in the simpler one…the one with less of me.


For Worship

It’s been almost six years since the start of this blog and this little gem, and about one year since I posted that everything on this blog was about to change. And now…it’s changing.

I’ve taken the last six months or so to work outside of full-time ministry for the first time in about ten years…my entire adult life. I did this after becoming convinced and convicted that God had to be bigger than the marketplace we’ve created, then working to effect change from the inside with very little luck, and then finally realizing it was time for some time away. I was too close to everything. I really didn’t know any life apart from western institutional church ministry. I needed a break to look at things as an outsider, and gain a clear perspective. And I knew that after about 6 to 8 months of that, one of two things would happen: I’d either come out stronger in my convictions, or realize that all I needed was a healthy sabbatical and then continue to look for a new worship pastor position, continuing the guitar, and the voice, and the production…for worship.

And after those 6 to 8 months, I’ve come out……

……stronger in my convictions.

When I think of worship, and what to write on this blog, and what should be “for worship” of a very real and a very frightening yet very loving Creator, some of the last things that come into my head are pedals, tone, stages, flow charts, soundboards, music stands or no music stands, playing together as a band, and a lot of things I’ve blogged about over the years and have been paid for in ministry over the years. I still love these things (and probably still more than I should), they’re just not what I think should be the most time-consuming parts of worship anymore. What do we need “for worship”? How do we express what God is worth to us? A Strymon pedal or a handshake? A well-structured setlist or a Psalm of abandon? Sitting in a church office ‘researching’ yet another Vimeo service or working through a coworker’s pain with them?

This is where my heart is at. And what is exciting, is so are the hearts of many people, both Christians and regulars, that I’ve spoken with over these past months. We’re ready for more. We’re ready for what we read in the Bible, and not just the parts that have had chosen interpretations preached to us. I’ve been so surprised and overjoyed to learn these past months that much of what I’ve been convicted about is nothing new…Lewis, Moody, MacDonald, Schaeffer, Bonhoeffer, have espoused these views for hundreds of years. But we have overlooked, reinterpreted, and rationalized them, years of church history, and the teachings of Jesus Himself in the name of relevance over all. Relevance, tone, pedals, org charts…they all have their place. That place just shouldn’t be above everything else. And it has crept above.

So in the name of integrity, something that once lost is so very hard to ever fully recover, just as I can no longer be paid to lead worship in its current form, I can no longer blog about guitars for worship to keep my stats and google ranking up, and to get free gear from companies. This blog is going to become about worship. Worship in the real world. Worship for the other 167 hours in a week. There will still be the occasional guitar post, as it relates to inviting everyone into my garage with their guitars to sing some hymns, and who knows…maybe there’s a great guitar string that I’ll want to tell everyone about that’s conducive to that worship setting. But this place is going to become a community of people looking for God, and what our response should be as we continue to find Him.

As I still love music, and continue to work in the industry, my music website will continue all the sarcastic musician posts, pedal demos, and random nonsense that you’ve come to expect. That stuff is wonderful, and I still unfortunately believe that tone equals life just a little bit. ;) But here…is for worship.

Worship & God: (Guitar) For Worship

Gear Demo’s and Musical Musings: Karl Verkade Music

I love you all, and I have appreciated the years here more than you know. I look forward to many more years with those of you who choose to stay into this new chapter. (Even if it’s just out of morbid curiosity. ;) ) Goodbye, Guitar for Worship. Let’s worship.


You Know You’re a Post-Hipster Worship Guitarist When…

A while back I explained how you knew when you were a hipster worship guitarist. It was about 90% autobiographical, but a tongue-in-cheek look at myself from a couple years earlier. So here is a look at me now (I’m makin’ paper), and those like me. We add ‘post’ to ‘hipster’, because post makes everything cooler. You know you’re a post-hipster worship guitarist when…

  • …when you’ve sold all your Strymon pedals for Boss pedals. Well, almost all of them. You still have the Timeline, but never miss a chance to talk about how you’ll sell it as soon as Boss releases the post-hipster-legend DD30.
  • …when you keep a Digitech pedal on your board and force yourself to use it every once in a while…just to say you did.
  • …when you maintain that The Stand is really just Transatlanticism.
  • …when you wear Uggs instead of Toms.
  • …when you can’t wait to wear those comfortable Toms again as soon as the last hipster stops wearing them.
  • …when you listen to Nirvana on the way to church, and make sure to crack your windows a bit (like you forgot) when you turn into the church parking lot.
  • …when you talk about the state of the church, and how everything’s become a show, and worship is just an industry now. Except the church that pays you. They’re cool.
  • …when you hate JHS.
  • …when you worship to Arcade Fire.
  • …when you can’t stand how much everyone treats pastors like brands and only refers to them by ‘Driscoll’ or ‘Ramsey’ so much, that you listen to no exegesis. Ever. That’ll show them.
  • …when you rail on worship guitarists for spending thousands of dollars on boutique pedals, as you pull your Boss pedals out of the back of your Escalade.
  • …when you own a Timeline, but still suggest the DD20 in every internet thread.
  • …when you pretend to be all confused when hipsters use worship guitarist nicknames like Droff and The Duke. But really you know exactly who they are.
  • …when hipsters talk about how overused delay is, you use it anyway to show that it’s so overused that it’s so hated that it’s cool again.
  • …when you’re all about chorus. You really can’t get quite get it to sound good, but you’re all about it.
  • …when you pontificate that the only worship music you can really stand is John Mark McMillan, and even he isn’t that great.
  • …Radiohead.
  • …when no one really needs the Strymon Big Sky……except you.
  • …when you can’t stand how much everyone is on their iPhone during the message. You have to use yours for work.
  • …when you refuse to use sheet music, because worship shouldn’t be so produced, man. Ya, I know that C was supposed to be an A. First inversion, bro.
  • …when worship should be all about improvisation, and worshiping with your instrument in the moment. Except the bass player. Ya, he needs to play 8th notes. And the drummer. That kick should be straighter. Hey, why isn’t the keyboardist just holding pads?
  • …when volume pedal swells are so overused. You use reverse delay, where the initial attack of the note is cut out, and the sound seems to swell in…wait…
  • …when you’re still trying to find a way to work ’90′s hip-hop into worship. You’re very white, but you understand the struggle.
  • …when you sit through the message in all four services just to prove a point. You’re answering emails, on your computer in the back, or just plain zoned out, but man you’re there.
  • …when God has become a means, a brand, a podcast, or an overall life feeling.
  • …when you don’t listen to Hillsong. Except Brooke’s solo stuff. You call her Brooke. You’re not on a first-name basis with her, but if you ever met, you’re sure you would be.
  • …when you’re all about homeless ministry over worship ministry. Yet your pedalboard could still feed the entire city of Los Angeles for a year.
  • …when you don’t play Telecasters because everyone does. But strats look like you’re trying too hard not to play Telecasters. You wanted to play a Les Paul, but U2′s newest video shows Edge playing a Gretsch which will be mistaken for a Les Paul, so of course Les Paul’s are out. And Gretsch’s. It might even have P90′s. And we don’t even have to mention hollowbodies. Mustang’s are awesome, but even you can’t convince yourself they sound good. It’s all very confusing. So you play a Tele.

Ah, some of that hits way too close to home. Okay fine, all of it.


New Elixir HD Light Acoustic String Review – Where Are Ya, Marshall

I was fortunate enough to be able to try out some of the brand new Elixir HD Light acoustic strings recently. These are brand new, designed specifically for the redesigned Taylor 812ce and 814ce as well as on all Grand Auditoriums and Grand Orchestras, with the help of Taylor’s own Andy Powers.

As some of you may well know, I do not have a Taylor 812ce or 814ce. Nor do I have a Taylor at all. In fact, this test driving of these new strings proved very problematic indeed as my whole style has never been very conducive to the vast majority of Taylor guitars and Elixir strings. Taylors tend to be very bright, powerhouse guitars, equipped with smooth, balanced, modern, bright, and auditorium-filling Elixir strings. Perfect for big, percussive chord players. Whereas I tend to have a somewhat softer touch, and look for no frills steel core bronze responsiveness in my strings, that meld with my touch, have some percussiveness and vintage vibe to them…coupled with just a bit of the rough and unexpectedness that comes form working to bond with a string that rips your fingers to shreds as I rock sensibly on my folky cedar Seagull that used to be super high end until I started playing it lovingly (wrecked it). Blood is tone. In a nutshell…I’m not the Elixir demographic.

Which in turn, always proves even more problematic, as Elixir’s have the coolest name ever hearkening me back to simpler time named 1997 when I could sit around all summer break on my newly cd-drive equipped Compaq shooting two-dimensional cowhands gone bad all the while searching for the precious elixir bottles that would bring me back to full health. (That game is called Outlaws, and it is the best game ever created. I am on this point, as I am on all points, firm.) (And if you catch that reference…wow.) All that to say, somewhere deep inside of me, I’m a frustrated cowboy who’s lived in surburbia all his life and it makes me feel good to play strings called Elixir. It also makes your fingers feel good. Bar none, they have always been the best feeling strings on your fingers. Even though I myself do not bond with them well, I have for years recommended them to all my guitar students.

So there’s my bias. Elixir’s and I don’t usually get along. So I threw them on my guitars…showdown.

The Players

Elixir HD Light (13′s)
Elixir Nanoweb Light (12′s)
Martin SP Phosphor Bronze (12′s)

The Acoustics

Seagull Artist Mosaic (solid mahogany with solid cedar top, beat to all get-out and sounds better with each new scar)
Taylor 514ce (the only Taylor that seems to almost fit my style…borrowed from a friend)

Initial Response

I was surprised by how well these split the difference between regular acoustic strings and what I’ve come to expect from Elixir’s. They were way more responsive then Elixir’s Polyweb pack (which I’ve always thought of as a chord-player’s string), but they were also slightly more responsive than Elixir’s Nanoweb pack (which are supposed to be less balanced and more for lead players). They are still though, for good or for bad, obviously Elixir’s, and obviously built for the Taylor tonal quality. Though more responsive than I’ve yet played from Elixir, they are still very smooth and very balanced. I found myself immediately moving from fingers to a pick, and immediately changing my touch from soft to percussive. It was then that I started to hear what they were quite obviously built for. Big strummed chords, on an already open and bright guitar.

I then moved them to the borrowed Taylor (albeit a darker Taylor), and they sounded a lot more like they were meant for it. They complimented each other nicely…filling in for each other’s low points. The bright and sometimes harshness of the Taylor was curbed by the roll-off of the Elixir’s. I had a lot of fun playing with them on this setup.


Very natural sounding, on both guitars. And of course, very smooth through the eq spectrum. Definitely built with a bright acoustic in mind. I’m thinking spruce-style stuff. One of the main differences, according to Taylor and Elixir, in these new strings is a custom gauging so that the lower strings maintain tension for a big, responsive bass sound while the higher strings provide less tension so that the soundboard does not become overloaded. That’s where that ‘balanced’ sound comes from, and they did quite well. Extremely balanced.


Balanced, and feel good on your fingers. I tend to like more bounce and twang in my strings, but these seem perfect for medium to heavy gauge picks with a strong strumming attack. They balance out the stronger attack. First Elixir’s that I’ve tried where I didn’t feel like I had to dig in super hard when switching from chords to lead or picking. I did keep every other Martin string on my acoustic when first changing to these Elixir’s, so that I could hear the difference. And two-month old Martin’s were the same loudness and percussiveness as brand new Elixir’s. So it depends a lot on what you’re looking for in your guitar tone. I would not put those Martin’s on a Taylor 814. But they are perfect on my cedar and mahogany Seagull. The Elixir HD’s definitely seem engineered for bright guitars. It’s a great complement of each other.

Feel (Tone)

To me, tone definitely has a feel. It’s that unquantifiable factor when you pick up an instrument. For me, I wanted more guts and less balance in these strings. However, the balance was quite lovely and I can absolutely see that the vast majority of folks, especially big chord strummers, will love these strings.

Feel (Classic)

As in, the fifth sense (like…opposite of Bruce Willis finding the red doorknob). Elixir’s, bar none, feel the absolute best on your skin over any other string. It’s like being caressed by a cloud of cold titanium on a hot desert night. (Makes sense if you’ve ever been to Vegas in August and ended up just hugging the pillars in the MGM Grand all night because it’s still 100 and infinity degress at 4 am.) Elixir’s have the market cornered on good-feeling strings, and the new HD’s are no different.


This is something I haven’t yet touched on, but from my previous experience with Elixir’s, the longevity was also bar none. So they end up being a big money-saver. Since I currently lack the required 1.21 gigiwatts, I am unable to travel to the future and test the longevity of these new HD’s, but I can only assume they match up with Elixir’s high standards in this category.


This is a word I just made up to describe the string’s ability to stay in tune over long periods of time. Of course, the string is powerless if your guitar can’t stay in tune, but mine can. And I must say that I was blown away by how well these HD’s stayed in tune over periods of time, and periods of playing. Super props.

Final Conclusion

Definitely my favorite Elixir string, and probably a no-brainer if you have a spruce-topped guitar, or any brighter-sounding guitar, and you’re big chord strummer and picker. Balanced like a champ, and they really do smooth out the randomness in the guitar’s wood. Though my style is admittedly not the demographic for these strings, I was thoroughly impressed by how they performed for the demographic for which they were designed.

Oh ya, and here’s Outlaws:

(Can’t beat those graphics. Yes you can. You can tell I don’t need any Elixir here because I have a full set of heart poker card health. I’m pro.)




Worship & Aliens

So this alien walks into a church. (When you read the title, what’d you think was going to happen?) He’s like a Men in Black (oh! my references are so current) alien, so no one can tell he’s an alien. He and his team have been sent to earth and charged with finding its supreme being. On their planet, it has long been rumored that earth has a being who created everything, sacrificed itself for everyone, and then continued to be immortal.

A being of that caliber would probably be revered by many, the aliens had reasoned together with their mind-melding powers, so they first checked the place where people most congregated on a regular basis: Disneyland. This search proved fruitful, as they discovered a being who looked different from all the rest, had an abnormally large head which they reasoned was due to brain size, had likenesses of itself branded on buildings, windows, what they thought to be food but turned out to be a very tasteful form of plastic, the clothing and even sometimes the skin of the humans, and appeared on an island every night to slay a large fire-breathing lifeform who was apparently threatening the lives of the humans. (They also had a lovely time riding something called Space Mountain.) However, upon investigating further, they discovered that the action of each heroic battle never seemed to change, and that perhaps the supreme being was not really using his imagination to conquer the fire-breathing lifeform, as the wonderfully catchy music would have the humans believe. So after stowing away on the island and finding that the supreme being could take off his head and was really just one of the still-developing humans who routinely served them pepperoni pizza when they had clearly asked for cheese only, they decided to move on.

They next tried sporting stadiums, as the humans tended to congregate in those on a very regular basis, wear the stadium branding, indoctrinate their children in the way of the branding, and sometimes even kill each other depending on what the humans on the field wearing the stripes said. However, as they soon discovered that everyone on the grass stage was being ruled by an inanimate object that they all seemed to want to possess but then acted surprised and angry when they threw it away, they quickly deduced that the reason the humans congregated in those places must be a wonderful substance called ‘hot dogs.’

Government however, provided them a clue, as almost every government leader in every nation, no matter of belief or political system, mentioned receiving their powers from, or in fact called upon for blessing, a supreme being called ‘God’, or some derivation thereof. They deduced that this ‘God’ must be a very enigmatic creature indeed, to bestow so many conflicting visions and blessings upon warring groups of humans.

Their interest piqued, they naturally looked for where to find this God. And they realized that once every week, millions and millions of humans flocked to things called ‘churches.’ Sometimes the churches even had more people and were built larger and grander than the sporting stadiums. A few even surpassed Disneyland and some were said to serve actual human fuel. (Upon trying said fuel though, something called ‘organic whole oat non-gmo soy communion wafers’, they soon went back to hot dogs.) Discovering that there were millions upon millions of churches, they decided to split up and each investigate some of the larger ones.

So this alien drives into the church parking lot. (See? It’s all coming together.) Wishing to be inconspicuous, he tries to pull into the first spot he sees, but is frantically waved and yelled at by a very zealous (and large) human. From the large human, he learns that he is apparently something referred to as ‘A Visitor’, and is only allowed to park in brightly marked spaces at the front of the church. Noting his consternation at this prospect, two of the other humans try to reason with the zealous one on his behalf. The zealous one laughs them off in such a way and mentions that he is showing ‘the love of God’ so much that the alien wonders if this might be God. He makes a mental note of it as he pulls his rented car into his designated space that he now knows he has been given out of something called ‘love.’ He gets out of his car and tries to take stock of his surroundings. On his left is what appears to be a mall, but with brands he has not seen anywhere else on earth. There’s Noah’s Arkade, The Overflowing Cup, Jonah’s Fish & Chips, Coffee Bean and Fig Leaf, and The Seven Judgments Acai Bowl. Turning to his right, he sees spectacular multilevel fields, each with their own wedding chapel. And behind him an army of human family units approach. Oddly enough, few of them seem incredibly overjoyed to see their God. And finally, in front of him, looming like a great hulk of space and time, is the greeting team. He can only assume this is what they are called due to the banner above the tent out of which they started pouring when his car hit that visitor space. He tries to avoid them, but they are on him in an instant, barreling over all those whom he realizes must not be visitors.

Sixteen hugs, seven handshakes, four life stories, and three-and-a-half nametags later, he is walking up the steps to the most ornate building of the landscape, wondering if perhaps ‘god’ is ‘pluralistic’, and the greeting team is it. They certainly seemed to answer to no one. He makes a note of it. As he climbs, he starts to think that perhaps visitor parking was actually necessary, as it seems they located the church farther back from the street so as not to get in the way of the waterfall, cascading down the steps next to him. Perhaps the waterfall is God. It is lined with gold plates on which are inscribed different human names, and monetary amounts. That may be how they pay tribute to the Waterfall God. He makes another note.

The alien steps through one of the six sets of ornate double doors. On each set, there are posted two more greeters, with a line funneling to each. Having learned from his last Greeting Team experience, he quickly forms a third line in between the two, and escapes the greeters, followed much to his surprise by many humans, all too happy to reach the church foyer unscathed. Feeling strangely compelled to do so, he walks quickly to one of the three lobby coffee shops and orders the sweet, sweet human drink that seems to do nothing for his sustenance, but strangely…his brain no longer seems to care. After standing in line for about twenty minutes and deciding on the Javalleluia over the Abraham and Latte, some sounds start to emanate from what the signs refer to as ‘The Center.’ He gets out of line, expecting all the humans to follow, as it seems this is signaling the entrance of God’s presence. At least the human singing melodically just said that. Perhaps God is instead in the coffee? The humans certainly seem to think so, as none of them are getting out of line.

Coffee-less he heads into The Center. Surely God must be here. The room is enormous, with probably thousands of seats, all pointed at a very small stage. Everything is dark, lit only by aisle lights, except for the brilliant moving colors on that stage, lighting up beautifully the rolling smoke. The perfectly crafted music draws him as close to the stage as possible, without daring to enter the unseated section at the very front, filled by a mass of humanity. Some of them are weeping, some of them are yelling, all of them have their arms raised out towards the human on the center of the platform. He certainly doesn’t look like a god, with his unkempt hair and laced-up boots, skin-tight jeans and loose belly, lens-less glasses and chest hair that looked to be a lifeform of its own. Yet the humans seem to follow his every move, his every word. They yell when he hits a long musical note, and weep when he plays an instrumental section. This must be God.

There are also nine other lesser gods on the stage. Well, seven…two of the gods keep bending down to worship shiny metal boxes at their feet. (I’ll go ahead and break the fourth wall here… ;) ;) )

But after the song, the central god seems to offer some sort of prayer to a god of his own. At least, he says the words ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ alternatingly about every three or four words. But yet the prayer is largely focused on himself, and the alien concludes that the prayer must be a form of tradition among the gods on the platform, and nothing more. This is confirmed when the music begins again, and this time the chants do not mention God or a supreme being at all, but end up repeating lyrics from a song his rented car had started playing when he couldn’t figure out how to tell it to stop. Lyrics by someone of the name of ‘Lady Gaga.’ This version currently being played shares lyrics, but the music is only vaguely similar and much worse. But even though the lyrics mention nothing of God, the humans do not lower their arms, or stop yelling for the gods on stage. Therefore, the alien concludes, the central God must be God, as he is worshiped no matter what.

The third piece of human music confirms this still further, as it mentions God, but only as it pertained to ‘showers of blessings’ upon the humans. No worship, except for that of the hands and voices directed at the human on the center stage. He must be the God the alien was looking for.

Yet then he leaves the stage. All the gods do…even the shiny metal boxes are carried away by humans dressed in all black, scurrying away in such a manner as the alien had only seen when a human of importance was about to arrive. And surely it was so. A lone jester enters The Center, and everyone laughs at his words and anecdotes, as he outlines the activities for the humans for the upcoming week. Yes, this must be where God lived. Each day had a different activity for which the humans were responsible to attend. Each activity was announced, then followed by a joking comment about the ridicule they would receive should they not sign up. But behind each joke, there was the note of seriousness. Surely, these are the tactics of a king over his kingdom.

And then it happens. The jester gives another prayer of tradition, for which no one applauds, but then breaks out suddenly to announce in a loud voice the name of the human which was on all the programs, the large screens above the speaking topic title, and even the buildings themselves! Wild applause breaks out, and some humans even stand in admiration. The supreme being humbly accepts the praise, and then gives another prayer of tradition, focused on what they would receive that day. After the perfectly crafted prayer, the supreme being jumps up, and runs through a perfectly-timed anecdote about a humorous situation that had happened to him that week. His manner is well-practiced, his affectation wonderful. The alien looks around at the faces of the humans. They are lost in his glory, hanging on his every word. They laugh when his voice goes up, and sigh when it goes down. Every eye is on the lone figure on the lighted stage. Every light is on the lone figure…both behind and in front, to the side…he looks like a three-dimensional god. At one point, the screens do not change when he wants them to. A dagger’s look shoots from the supreme being to the back of the room where the alien assumed the lowly humans doing his bidding resided, but he passes it off quickly with a smile and a round of applause for the humiliated servants. Handled eloquently like a benevolent dictator. This must be him.

The supreme being mentions the word God many times, and refers to a book in which the humans found their guidelines on how to worship this God. The human playing the music had not mentioned this. For a few minutes, the alien thought that perhaps the lone figure on stage might actually not be the supreme being. However, the book in question is never opened. And in both instances that it was quoted, he found that the book in the seat in front of him said something wildly different, as did the book in the lap of the person sitting next to him. No explanation is given for this by the human on the stage. Surely if this were the guide that showed the humans how to follow their supreme being, they would be more cautious than this? He concludes that it must be yet another tradition, and decides to focus again on the more immediate and obvious signs of love and adoration, which were of course directed at the one figure who held the attention of thousands. How could one human have the answer for everything and hold everyone in perfect stillness without any dissent, unless he was their supreme being? There was dissent at Disneyland, at the stadiums, especially amongst the government. But here, no one dared question the speaker, even though the alien was sure he heard at least two or three contradictory or at least logically questionable statements. No, this must be the God he had been looking for.

As the speaker nears his ending, he slows up beautifully. Each word holds new meaning, and every pause is rich with presence. Some of the humans begin crying again. Some yell out in agreement. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, soft drones of melodies can be heard. The supreme being asks if anyone who wants God would come to the stage in front of him. Many do. There they were, crying, all congregated at the steps, looking up to their leader. His face melts in compassion towards them. The alien feels a strange tug to go down there with them. Is it the music? The melodies? The soft voice of the supreme being? Something spiritual… Nope, it’s an usher pulling on his shirt so that he can grab and pass a small metal bucket. He looks into the bucket. There is much of the human’s currency in it. Here was assurance! Surely the humans would not give their wages to anyone who was not their supreme being. He quickly passes the bucket and looks into the church program he had been given. He looks for the financial record, as he knew from his study of earth, must be listed by non-profit organizations. And here it showed…profit! What a wonderful government certain humans had created to allow themselves less taxes but still be able to make a profit for themselves. And where did all the profit go? The graph showed some to what the humans called charities. This would be a wonderful place to find God, he had originally thought, but very few of the humans had seemed to care. And sure enough, that was the lowest part of the graph. He went up the graph to find that the second largest was the sustenance of the supreme being’s temple. And largest, was the money to the gods. And the largest amount of that, went directly to the supreme being. It was finalized. Here he had found the center of the human’s attention, the center of the church’s building, the name on the church literature, the one with apparent disregard or at least disinterest for what the book he claimed to be his guide said when compared to his own agenda for his words, the one for whom most of the applause and tears were given, the one who was congregated towards after the programmed production ended, the one whom no one spoke against, and the one whom received most of the humans’ collective wages. He had found, what in his mind, constituted a supreme being.

Ecstatic, he returns to his rendezvous point with the other eight aliens. Oddly enough, however, he finds that each of them also believes they had found the supreme beings at the churches they investigated. Upon further investigation, they concluded that perhaps there was an invisible God to which all the church leaders were responsible. But they soon abandoned that notion, as a look into the theological statements of each leader found that each believed something different about the book they all believed they had received from God. Each mentioned that they believed this book, but each disregarded whatever portion of it they saw fit to promulgate their particular view and agenda, or vision as they called it. Surely if this were the words of their supreme being, they would be cautious above all else to find out what it actually said and to never put their agenda above it, no matter how difficult it may be? They concluded then, that earth either had no God, or if it did, He had been lost by the humans amongst their unquenchable desire for stature, security, and personal comfort.


I am an imperfect person (who incidentally would be very scared if someone viewed my life as closely as these aliens viewed these churches, haha). And we are an imperfect people, trying to worship a perfect God. I get that. But I also get that that is a reason, and should not be an excuse. So while I do not think that we as a God-believing whole are at the point in time at which the aliens visited these churches (with their time-traveling powers, of course), I do think we might be closer than we’d like to think we are. And I know that it would be nice if someone could walk into a church, and unmistakenly see that the focus was on God. And the fact that I’m the one on stage, with everyone staring at me with a moving gobo light pointed at my face so that I can look right for the recorded version of the service on Vimeo, so that we can go over our Vimeo stats in staff meeting and make decisions on how much tithe money to spend on new RED cameras because that’s what Mars Hill uses, makes it so blasted hard for it to seem like we’re focusing on God’s presence when a logical mind might say that we’re focusing on me on stage, saying things, making sounds with a gigantic pedalboard, and my lighted face on the screen. (Okay, the gigantic pedalboard might just be a personal problem. ;) )

I applaud the churches who are serving God; imperfectly, but with whole hearts. Most of them have done more for God than I ever have. But just for a second…dream with me. What if there was a place without a stage. Where ‘worship leader’ means someone who worships with their life by example, and just happens to play guitar. Where ‘teacher’ means one of the gifts people are given, not necessarily CEO. Where church oversight means the elders (literally, people of age and experience) who have been through it before and have been proven to be people who seek God through bad times, good times, and through times when they question His very existence, rather than people who graduated from their respective country’s school system having chosen to major in theology. Where servants are referred to as such, and free from the stresses of running a business called church, and are able to serve the people as they are hurt, sick, or in need spiritually. Where the church ledger reads zero dollars in and zero dollars out, because all tithes offered are encouraged to go to charities, or donate-able goods (literally…’bringing the tithes into the storehouse’), and acts of love are encouraged to be carried out by the members. Where no electricity bills are needed to be paid, because the folks hosting the gathering would’ve had their house lights on already. Where giant gatherings of celebratory worship are carried out in fields or backyards, using donated sound systems or none at all because the people’s chants of how great their God is are more important, more infectious, and more emotionally captivating than any guitar solo ever could be. Where perhaps…just perhaps…people would come because they see God, actual God, and not because of any music or marketing or technology that gets them in the seats so that we can then assure them again and again that God really is there.

In the world and country in which we live, some of that seems wildly impractical and implausible. I have learned that unfortunately there are some ‘necessary evils’ in running church that may be, well, necessary. But oddly enough, I’m pretty sure the dream in the preceding paragraph seems very, very Biblical and book of Acts-ish.

I’m not saying we’re doing it wrong; but I’m absolutely saying that I think we can do it better. At the very least…when you’re on stage this weekend, or attending church, try to see things from an outsider’s perspective. And more importantly, from the Creator’s.


Huge thanks to the following people, who helped me with this post. Pulling me back when I went too far, and pushing me when I didn’t go far enough.

Rev. Dr. Robin J. Dugall (Pastor, Doctorate in Ministry, and someone with more hands-on ministry experience than I will ever have)
Dan Verkade (Church Musician, Software Engineer, Logical Expert, and one of the wisest men I’ve ever known)
Matt Quillen (Professional Session Musician, Church Musician, Sound & Media Tech Director, and forward theological thinker who’s not afraid to say what needs to be said)