The Burning of the Trees

The Burning of the Trees

I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Osage Beach, Missouri. Ben Shive is in here, too, working on a string arrangement for the upcoming CALEB record. The weather is chilly, I’m a little homesick, I’m wearing three-day jeans, all adding to a pleasant melancholy brought on by the fact that today something is ending. A story that started last January, which actually started many years before that, about a little kid from Illinois who grew up and lost his way a million times but was found a million more by God himself, is reaching its final chapter tonight.

I’m glad. And, as I said, I’m feeling a little blue about it too. I’m glad because singing these songs every night has been painful. I’m sad because the little community that gathered to tell this story has been deeply encouraging and Christ-like in humility. You know, it’s not just music that makes high school kids want to be in bands–it’s brotherhood. It’s belonging. It’s that peace-giving fellowship of locking arms with friends in defiance of something. There are few things so moving as watching a team of people with diverse gifting, temperament, and background working together to accomplish something greater than any of them could do alone. It’s a good picture of the church. Whenever someone says, “I want to join a band,” I try to remember the word “band” is older than rock and roll. I think of Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men, or Shakespeare and his “band of brothers.” The kid isn’t just saying, “I want to play some songs,” he’s saying, “I want to belong to something.” I was that kid, so I know.

And so, I’m sad this tour has come to an end. I’ll miss Michael “Raz” Razmandi, our humble sound ninja. He smiles more than anyone I’ve ever met, and he loves eggs more than anyone I’ve ever met, too. I never heard him say an unkind word to any of the volunteers as he worked harder than anyone else on the tour to set the stage, run the sound, and load the trailer after the show. I’ll miss Riley “Squez” Vasquez, our tour manager, whose job from the time he woke to the time he went to sleep was to serve the needs of our little mobile community. Last night after the concert I was near the front of the stage talking to folks, pretty wiped out after the concert, and Riley appeared out of nowhere with a table, a chair, and a waterbottle. I wanted to hug him. I’ll miss seeing Ben Shive on a regular basis. He’s a great musician and a loyal friend (eleven years and counting!). These days it’s harder and harder to find time to hang out in Nashville, so being on the road is a sure way to have good conversations with him–conversations that quiet those voices I’m always griping about. In the same way, I’ll miss Andy Gullahorn, whose skillful, uber-tasteful musicianship disproportionately raises the level of all our playing. Also, any games we play on the road are way more fun when he’s around. He’s a good man. I’ll miss Julia Chapman, who helped with merchandise and, more importantly, Show Hope. She quietly and diligently worked with Show Hope to build that bright, lovely bridge between the orphans of the world and the families ready to adopt them. I’ll miss the CALEB the BAND guys. Scotty Mills, who’s a really great guitar player, though he ended up playing bass on the tour without a single complaint. Scotty treasures his friends in a way that makes me want to be a better one. Also, he has the best hair in North America. Then there’s Will Franklin Chapman. I love it when someone is so completely themselves that they can’t help but make your life richer. He’s as unself-conscious as anyone I’ve ever met, but it doesn’t end there. He’s others-conscious, too. One night after a hard show, Will was the first to ask me how I was doing, and I could feel his concern from across the room. Caleb Chapman’s humility runs deep, evidenced by the fact that when he’s listening to someone talk he seems to be absorbing their words like a sponge–not to evaluate or to criticize, but to learn. He’s quick to laugh, but his level-headedness is the perfect foil to Will’s passion. I look forward to the day when the world knows about this band, and I shall profusely brag about them being on this tour.

One of the elements of this concert that differentiated it from others was the video content. Nathan Willis and William Aughtry of Little Rock, the guys who put together the “Rest Easy” video, interviewed several people in Little Rock about their childhoods and put the footage together into the intro and outro videos. I’ll never forget that rich voice of a guy named Tucker saying, “Oh, morning at the brown brink eastward springs,” reading the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. The people in the video were willing to share some of their pain with a bunch of strangers. Then there’s Christie Bragg, my manager, plus her assistants Andrea Howat (last fall) and Alicia Featherstone (this spring), and the good people at the booking agency, and all the promoters at churches and the volunteers who all worked WAY harder than anyone realizes. All that, and I didn’t even mention the making of the album, with Cason Cooley thrown into the mix, as well as the many musicians and engineers–or the record label! It’s crazy how many people are responsible for that album you download or that show you attend, isn’t it? The humbling thing about all this is that there’s really no way to repay that kind of friendship. You can only be grateful. And in the end you realize that you can only turn that gratitude to Christ himself.

I’m humbled by the fact that all these folks could have chosen many, many other things to do with their time, but they agreed, for a season, to help me tell a story. The fact that so many gave so much is a good reminder that it isn’t just my story that was being told. Sure, the details may have been mine, but the themes belong to all of us. Good old Frederick Buechner strikes again: “The story of one of us, in some measure, is the story of us all.” So let this be my resounding THANK YOU to all of you who came to the shows, and to my band of brothers (and sisters) who gave so much to the Light for the Lost Boy tour.

At most of the shows you guys may have noticed we had fake trees arranged around the stage. They were quite a hassle for Andrea, Squez, and Raz to load in, set up, and load out, all to try and convey to the audience the feeling that we were all in the forest with the lost boy on the album cover. Well, now that the tour is over and we’ve made it out of the woods, so to speak, we’re going to burn those darn trees. I can’t wait to see the faces of my good friends and traveling companions illuminated by that happy fire. From that little Illinoisan-Floridian-Tennesseean kid in my heart who used to dream of being in a band, I thank you guys for your love and friendship.

Here’s a video of us performing “Carry the Fire,” which I here unabashedly dedicate to my tour-mates.