"Whether it's an analytical essay for class or a short story, I like to feel like my words are jumping out of my hand. I like to cross things out, literally, and write arrows and asterisks and I like the way my hand smudges the words..."
When I came home from Houston last week, I realized something: The Canvas was one of the best events I’ve ever had the opportunity to participate in. It certainly ranks high on my list of shows that I’d tell my mom about during her interrogations at family dinners (you know those year-end, top-ten mealtime Q&As).
I suppose I just wanted to thank the folks who put in hours of service to make it work, the other artists whose talent is astounding and humility more-so, and Joseph Solomon for birthing this brainchild and really blessing a lot of people - us as artists, and audience alike - through the vision he has for The Canvas.
Although LTP came up more in the hardcore music genre than within the slam / spoken-word / hip-hop realm, it’s a world I've followed and been privileged to enter into more and more, and I have enough experience with it to know that the artists selected for this year’s event are in a class of their own. Frankly, I walked in pretty far outside of my comfort zone wondering what in the world I was doing there.
Joseph prayed something before the evening began that struck me as significant because my wife had prayed a similar word over me that morning before I got on the plane. Joseph prayed that we, as artists, would be confident in our gifts as writers and communicators because our boasting is not in ourselves, but in the Giver of that gift. Brandi, that morning, had prayed that I would be protected from the fear that I didn't belong at the event at all.
Confidence is something that I truly struggle with. Maybe that’s an unprofessional admission (whatever “professionalism" looks like in the world of a guy who feeds his wife by rhyming confessions). Sometimes it comes across as humility but my fear is that it's actually self-absorption. Negative navel-gazing can be pride every bit as condemnable as a leg up on my high-horse. But, I don’t want this to be that, either. My point is that I appreciated those prayers because they reminded me that we really do have a place to rest both our anxieties and our boasts, and they’re on the same Person.
I came home from The Canvas encouraged by the people I was privileged to meet, and inspired by their love for the people they spoke to serve. Perhaps that was the most inspiring thing - the communal awareness of how easy it is to, as Luther described it, “curve inward on yourself” - incurvatus in se - and the petition for our eyes to be set outward, to the author and perfecter of our faith (and whatever gifts he’s given to express it).
To artist and audience alike - thank you for including and welcoming me. My wife told me that when Joseph originally called to connect about diversifying the talent for this year’s Canvas, Brandi interrupted him and said, jokingly, “Oh! So you need a white boy - Levi’s the whitest of white boys!” - and they laughed about it. Admittedly, my white boy ignorance feels tenfold watching the news recently and observing so many people suffering through the current social and political climate (let alone listening in on conversations and poetry from this year's artists and realizing that I simply have no way to sympathize with the pain), and perhaps I'm taking a risk in sharing this memory, but: When I was growing up as a little boy, I used to always ask my mom why God didn’t make me black. I always thought black people were cooler than white people, and that really hasn't changed, so I must say that - all poetry and showcasing aside - as the minority in last week’s event, it was a wonderful place to be.
The Canvas was a truly privilege and a joy, and I came home humbled and thankful for the opportunity. To whomever among you that attended (or participated) and happen across this “thank you” - thank you. For the kindness. For the jokes. For the Keller conversations. For the encouragement. For imaging Christ well. Hopefully this won't be the last of our opportunities to jam it out together again in the future.
Here are a list of the artists that participated in The Canvas this year, along with their Twitter handles (because Twitter is still the best social media platform out there). If I have forgotten anyone, I apologize. Check them out.
Joseph Solomon - @whatisjoedoing
Jackie Hill Perry - @jackiehillperry
Preston Perry - @preston_n_perry
John Givez - @johnGivez
Beleaf - @BeleafMel
Jamaica West - @jamaicawest312
Itohan Omolere - @toloveandobey
Alright, well, my DONT SINK tour starts tomorrow out west. I’ll see you soon.
About three weeks ago, I got the bright idea that it would be fun to write two new poems for Good Friday and Easter, and that I would wrangle my friends into the chaos: Donovan Medina on the editing, Alex Sugg on the music, Drew Schrimsher on the video, and Andy Othling on the audio recording.
It was a crazy week. And I wrestled through much of it leading up to the releases because I didn't want to commercialize Jesus as a means to selfish ends - either perceivably by you, or truthfully by me. I didn't want to be a glory-thief. My heart's desire was to create two resources that would be an expression of the depth of what we remembered and celebrated this weekend... but scripture doesn't have a lot of great things to say about the desires of the heart. I talked a bit about my own heart's tendencies in Tetelestai. Paul asks the Corinthians why, if everything they have is from God, they would ever boast as though it were not a gift...?
It's all a gift.
So I went back and forth before and throughout this weekend - checking motives and praying that, even in the times that pride began to swell, Jesus would work in spite of me to redeem those wanderings - the same way that he worked to rescue us from all of our wanderings away from the foot of that cross we just celebrated together.
All of that to say, I am still thankful for the feedback, and I am still thankful that Tetelestai and Joy Seekers seem to have accomplished what I had hoped for - a resource, a relatable expression, and worshipful rejoicing - for you who were able to enter into those stories with me.
Thank you for helping me share those poems this weekend. We have no need to relevant-ize scripture, because it is timeless, and timely, always. I hope that whatever of it expressed in each of these recent poems will prove to have a similar quality, and that they will be helpful to you beyond the borders of one weekend.
For the honor and the glory of the one from whom, through whom, by whom and for whom all things exist,
it has been a joy.
Have you found what you've been looking for?
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” - Blaise Pascall
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” - C.S. Lewis
For quite some time, I have been confused about what to do. Maybe even who I am. I recently rediscovered a quote from a man named Augustine: "Love God and do whatever you please, for the soul trained in love toward God will do nothing to offend the one who is beloved."
In all of my confusion, this is one thing that I know: I want to bring glory to Jesus. Sometimes that's explicitly with words like those in this poem, and sometimes it's implicitly, with a story like Correspondence (a fiction), that I hope testifies to a greater creator than I am. Either way, this Easter, I want to rejoice in the fact that glorifying Jesus and receiving joy are one pursuit in the same. (By the way, if you get a chance to check out Jackie Hill Perry's The Art Of Joy, I'd highly recommend it. Solid lyrical pronouncement of that beautiful truth.)
Joy Seekers - today, we get to celebrate our resurrected savior, Jesus Christ. May this poem be a means toward that end for you, my family.
For the honor and the glory of the one by whom, through whom, for whom and to whom all things exist, be free.
It is finished.
Three words that I can't comprehend.
The Jesus Storybook Bible says this about Jesus' crucifixion: "God was going to pour into Jesus' heart all the sadness and brokenness in people's hearts."
Last week, I wrote my wife an email (sometimes emails are good for spouses who's spouses run off at the mouth for so long they never quite get to their point...) after having read through Sally Lloyd-Jones' rendition of what Jesus set his face to do.
I told Brandi that it struck me - the weight of my own struggle alone feels like it's going to crush me. But the whole world's pain?
Can you imagine - just put yourself in the place of Jesus - weeping and sweating blood in Gethsemane, knowing what was about to take place in his body? In his heart?
"The central issue of Jesus' death is not the cause, but the purpose - the meaning... the controversy about which humans killed Jesus is marginal. He chose to die. His heavenly father ordained it. He embraced it." - Piper
I wrote Tetelestai because I wanted to try to capture some of what welled up in my heart when I read that children's bible. I wrote it because I wanted it to be a resource for others who hoped to put words to the weight of this day that we remember together. I hope it accomplishes that end for you. I hope that it proves helpful for the rest of you who seek to rest on this promise with me:
IT IS MY 4 - YEAR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!!!
Brandi and I have been married for four years today, but we've been "a thing" since 2007. When I first met Brandi, I was still in high school with a curfew at my parent's house, and she lived in her own house with an associate's degree close at hand. I guess she robbed the cradle...?
Whatever she did, I love her. I wrote a blog for her a couple of months ago after reading Stephen King's "On Writing", where he describes his wife's crucial support with thanks.
Every year on our anniversary, I have hosted a Bandcamp Sale on all of my Levi The Poet albums. I guess it's a way to invite you all into the celebration. This year will be no different. Beginning right now, all of my albums are available for $4 at levithepoet.bandcamp.com, until 9 AM Friday morning - even Correspondence (a fiction). (For those of you that stay up late, I guess you get a little more than 24 hours).
In addition to that, I wanted to share a video we recorded of The Beginning / The Separation with you in honor of Holy Week. If you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, you can download that single for free this week, here.
Proverbs says that he who finds a wife finds a good thing. I believe that's true. I'm certainly thankful for mine. I hope that you enjoy both the sale and the video. Have a beautiful Easter weekend... and keep your eyes pealed.
I may have something else for you soon.
Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.
When I read the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, and he gets to the place where he sets his face toward Jerusalem, I hear something like the Inception soundtrack in my head, just droning and foreshadowing and terrible.
This city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent there.
This house left desolate.
And Jesus set his face to go. He set his face to die.
There is such a weightiness to that reality. "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." And yet, God makes it clear that I wasn't even his friend - I was his enemy.
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent began telling a lie that we have since longed after. You can wear your own crown.
Surely God is suffocating me. Surely God has his foot on my neck.
Adam & Eve's opportunity for obedient worship was made to look like constriction when loving boundaries were distorted as wrought iron bars. Oh the irony of the prisons we build for ourselves in believing the deceiver's lies.
Today is Palm Sunday. I've not a clue whether or not everyone who receives this mailing list believes the things that I believe, but the gospel of Jesus Christ who set his face toward Jerusalem to set captives like me free is the only hope that I have. This God-man who submitted himself to a shameful, counterintuitive crushing of the serpent's head through his death on a cross.
A little over a year ago, I was privileged to be a part of a hip-hop compilation that came out of Holy Culture called The Drop. Thirteen different artists each took a piece of the scripture's redemptive historical narrative and told The Story Of God. I was asked to begin the compilation with a piece about the creation story as it led up to our first parents' dismissal from the Garden of Eden - the first Adam that necessitated the coming of the Second.
Today, and throughout Holy Week, I'm making that poem - The Beginning. The Separation. - available for free on my Bandcamp page. Don't get all worked up about it - it was only 99 cents in the first place - but I guess I just wanted to put a reminder out there about something that, from the very get go, I hoped would be a helpful resource for others. Perhaps it's especially pertinent as we enter this week remembering the reason Christ had to set his face toward Jerusalem in the first place.
"Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet." - Thomas Watson
I pray that, as we enter into this season together, Christ would be sweeter to all of us than he has ever been.
There is life outside of the window that I pull shades over every night. Real life people with real life problems and pains and joys and life, and I want to love them more than I do.
I've got to be honest, I think reading books for a living is a dream job. I'd LOVE to narrate for Audible - fiction or nonfiction. Here's why.
Today, I am happy to announce my upcoming DONT SINK tour. Booking for the West Coast has begun. I will be performing Correspondence (a fiction) in its entirety, offering extended Q&A sessions at every show, and working with hosts to create an experience unique to each stop along the way. We are booking this in the same vein as our Beginnings Tour (Pt. 1 of that documentary was posted yesterday), which means WE NEED YOUR HELP. If you are someone in a state listed above who is interested in booking, hosting and promoting a show in your area - or you know of someone who is and would like to pass the information along - we are now accepting offers, and would ask that you get in touch with us as soon as possible so that we can discuss specifics.
It's been too long since we've gone left-coast. I can't wait to be with you again. Let's talk if you've got an idea for a show, and we'll have dates and details soon to follow.
I feel like the Lord has had a lot of grace on me lately. I mean, he always has a lot of grace on me, I suppose, but I have felt things inside of my heart changing, and I don't even necessarily know what that means, but I want to be open to it.
I used to write a weekly inspiration blog titled Like You Care - I may get back to that. Considering how common of a question "what's your inspiration" is for artists, it seems like a good idea.
I have made it a goal to read a lot of books this year. I've already read a couple (I know that "a couple" is laughable to some who are twenty novels in already, but give me a break). Here are a few others that I'm interested in.
I have a lot of ideas. They're overwhelming and I never really get to them. If by some ridiculous amount of discipline (or miracle) simply thinking smarter is a result of this undertaking, I'm on board, and only forgetfulness is going to take me out of the challenge (if so, I'll lose 100 bucks and keep writings lists, anyway).