Have you ever been treated so kindly that it was humbling in light of what you know you deserve? I once heard a pastor I listen to on occasion say that, as Christians, we should seek to "outdo one another in love." Well, I know that I am now just over a month removed from Parachute Festival 2013, but I wanted - needed - to thank New Zealand and the Kiwi Culture (which I decided to capitalize because "KC" also happens to be the acronym for "Kingdom Culture" - you're welcome, thank me later) for outdoing your artists in love.
From the moment my wife and I stepped off of that international flight that seemed like the entire kingdom of hell was trying to keep us from, we were greeted with unparalleled kindness and hospitality. That is certainly not a knock on other similar events we have been to - it is simply and acknowledgement and thanks to Parachute Festival for their exemplary job of incarnating the gospel they have sought to proclaim through Parachute Music for all of these years, with hearts and attitudes of service and joy.
I never really know how to go about recapping an event like this. Chronologically? Perhaps I will simply share a few sporadic highlights as they come to me…
I was so thankful for our new friends' concern for my wife. Brandi began suffering from severe cold / flu symptoms the night before we left for Auckland. For years, she had wanted to go to Parachute Festival, and her excitement had been building over the month since we found out we'd be able to... just to get more sick than she's been in years the night before. I was heartbroken for her. We spent the entire first day asleep in our hotel room, trying to recover from the travel and prevent her fro getting worse. The second day, she slept until noon while I went to the festival to perform that morning. All that to say, I must've had thirty people come up to me to ask how Brandi was doing - people I didn't even know, and certainly didn't know how they knew she was sick - and say they were praying for her. I love that.
The landscape in New Zealand's North Island was beautiful. The festival was about two hours away from the Auckland Airport, and Hobbiton was about two hours away from the festival, so even though we were in the country for a few short days, I feel like we got to see more than I'd expected. Everyone told us that the North Island paled in comparison to the South, but I didn't feel like I'd missed out on a thing. Our driver told us that there are just over four million people in the entire country. For perspective, there are over eight million in New York City. (You can see a bit of the beauty captured in last week's Hobbiton Photo Blog).
We got to see some great friends. It was really weird, walking into the artist hospitality area and seeing all of our friends from the states - White Collar Sideshow, Sleeping Giant, Oh Sleeper, The Ember Days, folks from The Anchor Nashville, and more. It's like a family reunion every time we play a festival, even this one. It made us feel like we weren't alone so far from home.
I enjoyed performing at the festival. It was unreal to me - that people a day ahead in time on the other side of the world know some random Albuquerquean hardcore kid's poems. There is no way I can take credit for that. Truly, ours is a God who loves to give good gifts to his children. I hope that my poems are as good a gift to those of you who listen to them as you are to me.
One of the most special experiences I had was with one of the Maori's (indigenous New Zealander's) after my performance on the festival's White Elephant stage, where we exchanged a salutation of sorts known as the hongi. Now, I'm going to try hard not to butcher this, but if any Maoris read this and feel the need to correct me, I invite you to do so in the comment thread below. This exchange looks something like an "angel" or "eskimo" kiss, where two people close their eyes, touch noses and foreheads in a close embrace, and then exchange the "ha" or "breath of life". It is a deeply traditional and sacred act - a sign of respect and intimacy. For me, in completing the act with this man, I was no longer considered a visitor, but one of the people of the land. As I have researched a bit on it since, it seems that the longer you hold this embrace, the higher the esteem that is shown. Frankly, I feel a little insecure about that now, because I was so confused when we did it that I think we held the position for a millisecond before I moved away and asked, "Was that right?" So, maybe I'm considered a part of the land. The guy that invited me into this honored embrace was an amazing poet. He performed a short piece for me just before I had to leave, and had to be one of the fastest-flowing linguists I've ever heard before. Perhaps this will not have been my first and last time in New Zealand, and I will have the honor of sharing in the hongi with him again now that I have a deeper respect and understanding of it.
At any rate, thank you. Thank you Parachute Festival. Thank you Kiwi Culture (KC), thank you Maoris, thank you to everyone who made my wife and me feel welcome in your country. Thank you for inviting us in the first place. It was humbling to have attended such a wonderful event.
Lastly, thank you to the group of young men who found me just left of the Palladium after the hardcore showcase, and prayed for me, and encouraged me. Perhaps someday, I will be able to express what that meant to me, and the way Jesus used you to give me hope for the wrestlings that have been happening in my heart. Those prayers were providential, and I believe that God planned them for a purpose larger than you knew.
I hope to see you all again in the future, and whether it is near or distant, I believe it will be so. It will be amazing to worship with you for an eternity.
For the honor and the glory of the One from Whom, for Whom, through Whom and to Whom all things exist,