Posts Tagged ‘Switchfoot’

“We were just kids just living in wide-eyed innocence, minivan floor like a tenement. We were just kids who believed in more than just dreams, in more than just justified ends to a means” – Switchfoot “Who We Are”

We wanted to help. We did not know what we were doing. We changed the world.

In early 2006, during months a Southern Californian would refer to as Spring, but in Montana the ice is just starting to thaw, I read something that would change my life. The Facebook was limited to college students and prompted status updates (Joshua Fisher is…), so if I recall correctly, it was a post on Shanley Deignan’s Xanga site. There was mention of an organization that had made its way through Nashville advocating on behalf of orphaned children in Uganda. Children in danger of being forcibly conscripted into a guerrilla army comprised largely of child soldiers. I looked up the group online and discovered they had been founded by three kids in their early 20s and had set up their headquarters in El Cajon, CA, the city where I was born.

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Walking from Missoula Valley Church to the Courthouse in Downtown Missoula for the Global Night Commute in solidarity with the children of Northern Uganda (April 29, 2006)

I felt reborn in outrage at the plight of these children and responsible to help both them and my fellow San Diegans in the battle. With that sum of knowledge I found myself dialing the fledgling offices of Invisible Children and asking what we could do to help in Missoula.

I learned that Northern Uganda was in the trenches of a 20 year ongoing war that had left nearly two million people left internally displaced, nearly 60,000 of whom were living in absolute poverty in housing camps. Key to the country’s conflict was rebel Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) comprised of and sustained by kidnapped children, forced to commit terrible acts of violence or have these same acts carried out on them and their families.

By 2006, an estimated 400,000 children nationwide, referred to as “night commuters”, were walking from their rural villages into city centers each night in order to sleep in groups, hoping to avoid the fate of the 25,000 children abducted before them. With a quarter of all Northern Ugandan children over the age of 10 with at least one deceased parent, the kids had banded together for self-preservation. Invisible Children co-founders Jason Russell, Laren Poole, and Bobby Bailey had discovered these children on a 2003 trip hoping to make a documentary on the conflict in the Sudan. Instead they turned their lenses toward this true, untold story in hope of making a positive change.

Armed with a rough cut of their documentary, a non-profit was birthed with a goal of providing resources to the “invisible children” of the world, to inspire and empower the “young and young at heart in the developing world.” A three pronged approach of objectives was formed, to build a grassroots awareness of the war in Northern Uganda and the children it was affecting, to empower individuals stateside to engage in direct action and finally to provide aid on the ground in Uganda.

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Jaime, Lana and Katie get prepped for the Global Night Commute (GNC)

Action step number one would be to “lay down for what we believe in” by participating in a Global Night Commute. Rain or shine, on April 29, 2006, people were asked to both empathize and make a statement of unity with the children of Northern Uganda by walking in groups to their respective downtowns throughout the United States to sleep overnight and peacefully advocate for the end of the war. Late to the game, this gave us in Missoula approximately one month to plan, organize and execute the event. I was put in touch with I.C. National Tour staffer Genevieve Luippold who could have easily told me that Missoula wasn’t a high priority for engagement or participation, but instead matched my enthusiasm and offered full support in getting Invisible Children on the ground in Montana.

In order to gain approval to use the Missoula Courthouse grounds for an overnight peace demonstration, City Officials informed me we would need the approval signatures of the city’s Police Chief, Fire Marshall, City Attorney, County Commissioner as well as the Transportation/Engineering Department and the Maintenance Department’s Facilities Manager. Undaunted and assisted by the relatively small size of the city, I gained all the signatures over the course of a one week period.

We got permission from the Missoula Valley Church to screen the documentary film twice before the 29th and eventually also facilitated a screening on the University of Montana campus. We ordered t-shirts and bracelets to fundraise and set up a church-wide tag sale, which netted approximately $1,400 in to support the organization and sponsor education for the kids in Northern Uganda. I sent out a press release, made a local appearance on the evening news, and made sure our event information was available on the internet. We made signs, put up posters, rented port-a-potties.

It was a whirlwind. With all the wisdom of my 23 years, I had not even viewed the actual film myself until four days prior to our first screening and two weeks before the Global Night Commute. Taking 21 units in my final college semester and working a part-time job as an Afterschool Program Director for the Boys and Girls Club didn’t leave time for much. Adding the responsibility of coordinating an event of this magnitude wasn’t well advised.

I was stressed out and the stress carried over into my relationship with my wife. Jaime was willing to help to a larger extent, for this to be a joint work, and I had not yet learned how to relinquish control over my what I considered my projects.

I got some pushback from church members who were uncomfortable with the idea of the church organizing a social justice event or screening a film with moments deemed questionable.

I received tough questions I did not know how to answer and pretended to be more knowledgeable than I was, fooling no one. I still recall trying to navigate in a public forum how my support for possible U.S. troop involvement in Uganda differed from my opposition to the U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

But throughout the process we did our best to help. We were encouraged. We grew.

The conversation between Jaime and I about how to balance responsibility and ask for help is one we continue to this day raising four children and being pulled in many different directions simultaneously between family, work, social and church responsibilities.

Where my knowledge of the situation faltered I did research and also learned an important lesson that it is okay and often preferable to admit I don’t have all the answers.

For every brother or sister who was skeptical of our commitment to peacefully demonstrate, I was pleasantly surprised by many more who stepped completely out of their comfort zone to offer support and show up. Even more, I was thrilled to meet the cohort of folks who were eager to show solidarity and lend their support for the cause in the face of their antipathy for the church. I learned when the church expands out of the building to meet needs in the community, whether local or global, new faces who will not approach stained glass stand ready to side with the values of God’s Kingdom.

Missoula, MT Global Night Commute (April 29, 2006) at the Missoula County Courthouse

Missoula, MT Global Night Commute participants (April 29, 2006) at the Missoula County Courthouse

Over 100 people showed up, from as far away as Edmonton in Alberta, to our Global Night Commute in Missoula to offer encouragement, write letters to lawmakers, pray on the hour for the children, share in each other’s company under streetlights and eventually get drenched in our sleeping bags overnight.

I will never forget Lana (McCrary) Miller on the morning of April 30, shivering after little sleep, covered in cold Montana spring rain, saturated sleeping bag in hand, smiling.

We were smiling because Invisible Children had provided us an opportunity to put our faith into action, to start being the change we wished to see. It was an opportunity relished and capitalized on by many, but especially by 20-somethings over the course of a decade of work.

After Jaime and I relocated to Connecticut we remained active in Invisible Children’s work highlighted by participation in another overnight commute in 2009. The Rescue in New York City resulted in Jaime (five months pregnant with Shepard), myself and 19 month old Clara sleeping outdoors with friends, family and strangers in Brooklyn Bridge Park raising awareness for the continued troubles of our Ugandan friends.

Via continued advocacy efforts such as Give Peace a Tri, the #Kony2012 Campaign and the Fourth Estate Conference, a 92% reduction in LRA killings has been achieved in the last three years. 1.8 million displaced people have returned to their communities. 2,659 people abducted by the LRA have returned to their families since 2010. 11 Ugandan schools have been rebuilt and more than 6,000 Ugandan scholarships awarded. Two bills were passed in Congress and signed into law contributing to the peace movement.

Invisible Children's The Rescue in Brooklyn Bridge Park (April 2009)

Invisible Children’s The Rescue in Brooklyn Bridge Park (April 2009) with Karen, Chantelle, Garrett, Jaime and Clara

With so much achieved, as of December 31 2014, Invisible Children has officially closed down their media and movement offices. The focus of all remaining resources and future raised funds will be on only the most essential programs in order to complete the mission of liberating every captive man, woman and child from the LRA.

At the beginning we envisioned a full-length feature film to be released by the end of 2006 and a quick end to Kony, the LRA and the need for night commuting. We spoke of expanding the organization to help all invisible children across the globe. We encountered adversity, personally and organizationally, but all hardships only strengthened the foundation for continued advocacy for the thousands of us who learned alongside each other.

Sometimes our visions do not come to fruition. But in the end, we realize that dreams bigger than ourselves are always worth pursuing. That even if we never reach our initial desired ends, perhaps we plant seeds along the way, means of accomplishing much more.

Thank you Invisible Children. Thank you for your willingness to help. Thank you for inviting our assistance. Thank you for changing the world.

 

“Switchfoot is a surfing term… To switch your feet means to take a new stance facing the opposite direction. It’s about change and movement, a different way of approaching life and music.” – Jon Foreman (September 25, 2000)

Just shy of a decade ago, I had fallen in love with a girl who I hoped would one day become my wife. She however was less than sure about our relationship’s long term chances. So, in pursuit, this Southern California boy was visiting New England for the first time, approaching life and love and God from an unfamiliar stance.

One hot summer day in July 2003, Jaime and I took the train into New York City. It was my first trip to the Big Apple and in our travels we came across the now defunct Virgin Records Megastore in Times Square. Jaime’s younger siblings Robert and Cassidy had recently introduced us to a San Diego-based rock group called Switchfoot via shareware mp3 downloads and I remember pledging my musical allegiance upon hearing lead singer and guitarist Jon Foreman quote Pooh Bear as he lamented, “Tut, tut, it looks like rain”. Back in that era reigned by Napster, we were even willing to buy actual albums from this unappreciable band if only we could hunt down their CDs. After coming up empty in Connecticut, we figured if we could find these guys anywhere the Virgin Megastore was a good bet. Sure enough, there was one copy each of “Learning to Breathe” and their just released “The Beautiful Letdown” in stock. With $30 between us, Jaime and I had enough to secure the discs, but in the days before ubiquitous iPod use, the question was who would own which album?

I suggested this be our first official joint purchase as a couple. Jaime was not as committed to this idea and quickly countered, “What if we break up?” Hoping I would eventually be able to win her heart I replied that if we broke up, she would keep both albums. This settled the issue and as a memento I kept that receipt in my wallet for years until the ink faded right off of it. We rode the Metro North back home that afternoon poring over the liner notes of the albums and meditating on the lyrics.

Easy living, not much like your name
Easy dying, you look just about the same
Won’t you please take me off your list
Easy living please come on and let me down

The next summer, being “young and dumb” but willing to commit to God, each other and a life of the road less traveled we were married. We have been riding life switchfoot ever since, trying to embrace the change and movement that comes with living outside of your comfort zone. This choice has undeniably created in us a better story, though in all good stories something important must be at stake. Ours has been no exception, requiring forging ahead through hardship and the unknown.

It has not been easy to merge the lives of a West Coast introvert and an East Coast extrovert. It was not easy to be married at 21 while trying to finish college and make a new life in Montana, a place we had never even visited before picking up the keys to our first apartment. It was even harder to leave that first home together in Big Sky Country along with some of the best friends we’ll ever have in order to head back east. It certainly has not been easy to have three small children just three and a half years apart in an area of the country where raising children before all your ducks are in a row is socially frowned upon. It has not been easy to make it on one income, while trying to pay back loans for two college degrees, in order to allow Jaime to stay at home and intentionally mold our children. I certainly have not always enjoyed the transition from worrying only about myself to carrying a social work caseload between 12-18 families or adolescents involved in the foster care system who rely on me daily to help solve their problems in the face of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse etc. It is not currently easy to live in an experimental communal household, sharing everyday living space with a total of 12 people leaving little, if anything, that is solely one’s own possession. No, nothing has been easy. Instead, it has been beautiful. It has been worth it.

Last month marked the eighth anniversary of being married to the love of my life. In these years that have seen us start a new life and family together, Switchfoot has consistently supplied our soundtrack. Jon Foreman’s voice alternately dancing around and belting out the Gospel has become almost familial and the band’s own maturation over the past decade has seemingly mirrored our own journey and developing theology. Serious fans since that first joint purchase, Switchfoot gradually built up their status to favorite band as our common refrains have grown from “In the economy of mercy I am a poor and begging man” to “Do you love me enough to let me go? Every seed dies before it grows.”

While “The Beautiful Letdown” is an all-time favorite album and “Hello Hurricane” has become my constant companion on business trips down south, it was really Jon Foreman’s solo effort in releasing four seasonally themed EPs in 2007-2008 that set him apart in a class of his own. Acoustic throughout all 24 tracks, Jon artfully and intensely sings prayers to God and pointed criticisms of ourselves that are spot on. Some of the songs are so profound they had us wondering where this guy has learned about God and how we might be able to do the same. But while his recordings have great depth we found only shallow pools of information about Mr. Foreman’s own background. Thus, a pipe dream was constructed. Jaime and I wondered if it would be possible to someday ask him ourselves where he gets his theology?

Enter Hannah Lavoie.

Our good friend Hannah not only is a ginormous fan of Jon Foreman she also has become quite adept at tracking him down, boasting three different meetings with the man. Hannah was also about to celebrate her 20th birthday and had come across some insider information that Jon Foreman was going to be playing a FREE solo concert in New York City on the evening of her special day, August 3rd. Hannah wanted to know if Jaime and I wanted to conspire with her a way to get to the concert and possibly meet Jon. While both excited, my amazing wife took one for the team deciding to stay back with the kids to ensure a solid bedtime routine before embarking the following day on a cross-country family plane trip to San Diego. Meanwhile, Hannah and I formulated plans to get into the City early enough on a Friday afternoon to ensure a first-come, first-serve seat in an old high school auditorium seating less than 600.

Jon Foreman was playing in tandem with a church event facilitated by a newer and impressive group calling themselves Movement NYC and the night had the energy of a youth rally. At 29, I must have ranked in the 90thpercentile of age making me “old” folk for the pilgrimage, but I could not think of a better way to help Hannah usher in her 20s. After a time of worship and a devotional thought from the pastor of the church, Jon and drummer Aaron Redfield finally came out with electricity buzzing through the humid air of the packed facility. Dozens of fans leapt from their seats to crowd the front of the stage and Hannah and I exchanged a glance and thought, “Why not?” We joined the hard core fans up front and laughed at Jon’s jokes, sang our hearts out to favorite tunes plus a few covers and snapped some photos. Jon opened the show with a new song called “First Light” which carries the same soulful acoustic sound that powered his EPs and appealed to my own fascination with the light-dark theme:

Jon opens the solo set with his new unreleased song “First Light”

When your heart is feeling is low
And the weight is on your shoulders
And the tears begin to flow
From the lies

Just remember what you know
Just remember what I told you
The seed you planted, love, will grow
Give it time

And you know it
But your heart has doubts
You believe it
But you want it now

The day is dawning
The day is dawning
It comes in morning
First light

Highlights of the show included Jon mid-song inviting a fan up to play bass on his guitar while breaking out his harmonica and listening to him discuss life and music in between songs. In his humility, Jon stated he writes songs about things he does not understand, namely God, death, politics and girls. He played for over an hour jamming with Aaron and then for an encore asked if it would be alright if he played two songs before launching into pieces he refers to as cousins, “Your Love is a Song” and “Your Love is Strong.”

At the conclusion of the set, strategy ensued about how best to locate Jon for a chance to ask him some questions and maybe get a picture with him. I looked to Hannah’s expertise in this matter, but we found ourselves in a dilemma as Hannah’s tried and true formula had been to wait by his tour bus after the show. In such a small venue and playing as a solo act, there was no tour bus to speak of and there were multiple exits from the building. We made small talk with one of the youth pastors of the Movement NYC church who after hearing we had traveled from Connecticut and that it was Hannah’s 20th birthday stated he couldn’t tell us where Jon would be exiting the building, but did offer that Mr. Foreman had arrived in a van parked just outside the exit closest to where we were standing.

Rather surprisingly it didn’t take long for the crowd to disburse and less than a half hour after the show there was only Hannah, myself and maybe a dozen others waiting around for a chance to meet Jon. Hannah thought aloud about what question she might ask Jon and wondered if he would recognize her, this being their fourth meeting and third in less than a year. As for me, my question had long been rehearsed.

Aaron Redfield, the drummer for Fiction Family (a collaborative effort between Jon Foreman and guitarist Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek) who accompanied Jon during the show was the first to emerge and very agreeable, telling us a little about his life in Pasadena and introducing us to his lovely fiancée. Following Aaron we had a chance to meet and talk with Jon’s childhood friend Todd Cooper who served not only as Switchfoot’s longtime guitar tech, but actually was the one who encouraged Jon to learn to play guitar.

Then Jon came into view and this was our chance. We scurried over to his vicinity and after awaiting a few questions and photo ops from others it was our turn. I couldn’t help but give the guy a hug while explaining that it was so good to see a fellow San Diegan on the East Coast; while he may have been slightly caught off guard he took it like a champ, or maybe a President, though I refrained from lifting him off the ground. I told him of that first joint purchase Jaime and I made nine years ago just around the corner and with sincerity he told me that it was an honor to be included in our lives this way.

Jon did recognize Hannah, this now being their fourth meeting, and remembered her as an admissions ambassador from Lipscomb University in Nashville. He told us the name Lipscomb always makes him want to speak with a lisp which he proceeded to demonstrate for us with a laugh.

I asked him about the comment he made earlier in the evening, the one about how he only writes about things he doesn’t understand. I told him I appreciated his self-deference, but also that he isn’t giving himself enough credit given that his lyrics prove otherwise and demonstrate being well-versed in the complexities of God, death, politics and girls. He smiled a knowing smile and then I asked him our question, “What informs your theology?”

“I read a lot,” he replied while beaming friendliness and continuing to project modesty.

Not wanting to let him off the hook that easy, I countered, “What do you read? Who do you read? I would like to read them too.”

He could tell I was being genuine, that this was not a flippant question. His countenance shifted somewhat, still affable but now with understanding eyes. He responded, “Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Pascal… people who are smarter than me.” Then again with self-depreciating humor he added, “Basically everyone.” The crowd chuckled and I could tell this may be all I would get from the man tonight, and I was content to let that be enough. Hannah and I asked for a picture with him to document the occasion, but as we readied for picture taking position and found someone to take the shot for us, another eager fan named Corey approached with a query.

Hannah leads the way to Jon Foreman after a free concert in NYC on her 20th birthday August 3, 2012

This young man in his early 20s stepped into the frame with his girlfriend and told Jon that he hoped she would soon be his fiancée, but that as a musician himself he wanted to know how to balance being a good husband with being a dedicated musician. “You’re married, right? How do you do it? How do you do marriage and music at the same time?” Thinking about my own wife and some of the dreams we share, the nature of this question resonated with me. In Corey’s voice was a plea for advice from someone further down the path, wanting to know if it is possible to be passionate about your work when the nature of that work will require being drawn away from your family at times.

Again with a smile Jon replied, “The best things in life are darn near impossible. Marriage, it’s darn near impossible. But it’s beautiful. It’s great. Music is darn near impossible. You just have to find a way.” Sounds like riding life switchfoot to me.

“What, then, is the difference between an admirer and an imitator? An imitator is or strives to be what he admires, and an admirer keeps himself personally detached, consciously or unconsciously does not discover that what is admired involves a claim upon him, to be or at least to strive to be what is admired.— Søren Kierkegaard (September 27, 1850) 

Three years ago today, Clara Jane Fisher, literally burst into the world. I suppose we expected her to gradually emerge like a normal newborn, but with an innate flair for the dramatic, her entire little body flew out in one final push.  I distinctly remember Nana’s gasp of “A whole baby!” upon witnessing Clara’s arrival. Three years later she still has people excitedly exclaiming due to her unpredictability and sheer cuteness. I distinctly recall falling in love when she smiled at me just minutes after she was born. And although she lived her first day without a name, labeled as “Baby Girl Fisher” in the hospital, Clara Jane has lived up to her name and demonstrated on a daily basis that it is clear that God is gracious.

Clara has always seemed to be ahead of the game, and this has brought about some quotable quotes and great memories. Like the time 18 month old Clara informed me in the middle of the night while attempting to change her diaper, “Dad, I want a choice.” Of course, I told her no, but who has to tell an 18 month old she doesn’t get a choice anyway?

In part because she is verbally and intellectually advanced, she often has hung out with older children, and attempting to watch her socialize with the big kids has often been humorous. One of my favorite stories occurred while at a park in Cheshire when Clara was just shy of two years old. A boy around four or five years old was playing with Clara on a merry go round when he said to Clara, “Have you seen this movie called Casper the Friendly Ghost? Remember the part where the uncle gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner and he says ‘This sucks!’?” The boy laughed hard and without skipping a beat Clara bent over laughing and responded by pointing to her feet before she giggled, “I wear socks too!”

The kid is full of enthusiasm, just like her mom, and often makes us laugh. Like the time at 21 months when driving from Connecticut to New York to go camping, that we made a pit stop in Massachusetts an hour into the trip and immediately heard Clara’s victory cry of “Camping! We made it! I did it! Yeah!” with hands fully extended into the sky. In the weeks leading up to her birthday, Clara was super pumped about having a “Bayou Birthday” in a tribute to Princess Tiana of The Princess and the Frog and literally took to jumping for joy when telling others about her New Orleans themed party and the planned menu including gumbo and beignets.

Sometimes it is her unexpected skills that bring us joy like the famous “moonwalk” video taken at 15 months. And given her dancing and the fact that she is my genetic offspring, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the following conversation we had just last week:

Clara: What should we name the new baby?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think we should name it?

Clara: How about Michael Jackson?

Me: Who told you to say that?

Clara: Nobody. I just made that name up myself.

Her wit has always impressed me as has her logic, far beyond the capability of the average toddler, as evidenced by this exchange in a Department store around 26 months:

Clara: “What’s that? Movies?”

Me: “Video games.”

Clara: “Can I play video games?”

Me: “Maybe when you’re older.”

Clara: “Can I be older?

So clearly, we have our hands full and it is just the beginning. Luckily, she takes great pride in being a big sister as evidenced in her leadership in naming the still unborn third child, but she wasn’t always so eager. When Shepard first arrived in August 2009, her first words upon seeing him for the first time in the hospital were, “That’s okay.  I don’t think I like this one. We’ll come back another time.” Never without an opinion.

But perhaps my favorite part of our little girl is her spiritual nature. She often will run over to Jaime and I when we are praying together and form a huddle by grasping our legs. It is a common occurrence these days to hear Clara pray for “the new baby, this home we live in, (and) this wonderful meal we just had.” Once at 26 months, I witnessed her pretending to dribble and asked her if she was playing basketball. Clara replied, ““Yeah. I love basketball. Everybody loves basketball. Daddy loves basketball. Nana loves basketball. Jesus loves basketball. Mom loves basketball. Everybody loves basketball.” Yep, everybody does love basketball and Jesus is a part of the family. Can you believe this chica even asked me at the age of 24 months, “Dad, what is your foundation?” I’m pretty sure she didn’t quite comprehend what she was asking, but it challenged me nonetheless.

Clearly, I would die for this young lady and am preparing to do so on a daily basis as is my duty as a father. After becoming a father to a girl, Bryan Douglass encouraged me to read Meg Meeker’s “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” which I did and also highly recommend. Dr. Meeker writes, “Love isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about doing what you don’t want to do, over and over again, if it needs to be done, for the sake of someone else.” This seems to sum up love, life and parenting. Perhaps more poetically, as Switchfoot sings, “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love. If it doesn’t break your heart it’s not enough.”

And so, I am preparing to fight for her and to show affection to her, even and especially during the awkward teen years. I am preparing to make the tough decisions that will not earn me immediate respect, but will protect my little one, even and especially as she becomes not so little. All in hope that through the mountaintop experiences and valley lows, that a strong woman in the Lord will emerge ready to exhibit the unique blend of a tough mind and a tender heart, an independent thinker willing to trust and depend on God alone. I love you Clara Jane. Happy birthday.

For those of you who know her, feel free to add your own favorite memories in the comment section.

P.S. Also thanks to Mark Wade for the picture directly above. Check out his photography at http://bluemarblephotography.smugmug.com/