50 Shows: Show #40 — Prison and Pioneers

I've been thinking a lot about a metaphor for faith from Brennan Manning. The church is a band of pioneers. Their trail boss is swarthy, strong, often silent. The trail boss's aims are best manifested through the scout who goes ahead of the group in a direction and tests out the way so he can lead the pioneers through whatever he has already endured.

And then there is the Buffalo hunter, dressed in furs, speaking some Eastern European language that no one can get their heads around, and he has a big gun that sounds like a cannon. He wanders into the wilderness and returns with meat for the cook to prepare for the people.

The wagon is the home of the settlers. It is mobile, though not comfortable, often clumsy and regularly in need of repair.

And as for the pioneers, in some sense they are along for the ride, in another sense survival is dependent on all hands on deck. I'll let you pick apart the analogy, and the metaphor has it's weaknesses. But the fresh and vivid imagery has been helpful for me as I've hit the asphalt trail myself recently.

Saturday night I played at the Kentucky State Reformatory. Going into prison as a guest can be quite unpredictable. So I was driving 5 hours for a show that paid nothing, and might not have happened at all, but I went. Perhaps out of nothing more than a divine curiosity, I went.

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I've been thinking a lot lately about some ideas from a good friend Ben Metz' who believes that descending into obscurity, that rejecting the market, the successful, and the strategic, can ultimately produce art with a higher level of impact. I'm still parsing it out, and this last week I did play a 2 hour blue collar show at a local pub for damn good pay—and I enjoy that kind of work. But driving 10 hours to play 4 songs for people who probably couldn't be much of a supportive fan base? That was something altogether different.

In the process of descent, certain things didn't matter any more. When they took my guitar at the entrance and before I knew there would be another for me to use at the chapel, I was already figuring how to turn the inmates into an instrument. I ended up having a guitar, but because I had already written off the expedition as a failure, further failure no longer concerned me.

There is much to be said for strategy and foresight that I so readily lack. I myself have benefitted greatly from the strategy and foresight of others. I'm not sure if I have a gift for responding to crisis or if I've just created so much crisis in my life that I've had plenty of practice. But I suppose foolishness and trust is in itself a strategy, the strategy of pioneers, and one option I hope I always keep on the table.

-Jason