I'm called a lot of things.

Mi nombre es Dean, although chances are good that you use a different title or name for me. That's cool. You can read all about that or check out what I've been writing below.

Thoughts on the Ben Folds Orchestra Experience

A Quick Recap of the Ben Folds Orchestra Experience in Detroit

Yes, Norm.

A pop/rock pianist doing a symphony orchestra tour isn’t the norm.

A pop/rock pianist composing a piano concerto is something just above never. So when this all comes together in the same person….


Thanks to the sponsorship of Acura, the Ben Folds Orchestra Experience is happening all over the country. Folds is a director of the Nashville Symphony and is using this tour to introduce tens of thousands of his fans to their local orchestra and encourage them to become regular attendees.

The crowd was diverse. Some regular symphony-goers, families, teenagers, and people like me. People who grew up on Ben Folds in high school and college in the 90s and still are goofy/die hard fans.

I commented before the show that I was the only one wearing a tie, so Ben responded:

First set

It contained some of his newer music (the post Ben Folds Live album stuff) which seemed less familiar to the audience. He also played the third and final movement of his piano concerto which, DAMN. It’s good. He admitted before playing it that there isn’t a recording available, saying “record labels don’t get excited about piano concertos these days.” I hope beyond hope that you can get this someday. I can imagine listening to it a lot. Ben…vinyl please, at least in time for the holidays?

Standard orchestra intermission. Apparently if you talked to the Acura reps in the foyer you might get back stage passes. Not my jam. But the one rep had an awesome beard.

Second set

If I remember correctly, he opened with “Zak and Sara” which got the audience fully engaged. Powerful opening. He played another song or two (maybe Cologne was in this set ) including some explanations of where the songs came from. It was early in this set where he moved the microphone and prepared to give a speech, when the “Rock this Bitch” calls started. So he explained this tradition too:

On the Ben Folds Live album, somebody shouts “Rock this Bitch.” Ben says it back and vamps a song in a few seconds by the same name, cementing this tradition of composing a song with those words at each live show. Detroit with the DSO was no exception. It was impressive. He broke down the orchestra into sections, chose a tune, assigned progressions for his orchestra and choir, and had a song in less than twenty minutes. Behold:

They wrapped up the set not long after Rock this Bitch. I think Fred Jones Pt 2 was near the end but I can’t recall for sure (he finished with One Angry Dwarf). I was in Ben Folds love/trance at this point. See:

Perhaps my favorite part was the standing ovation at the end of the second set. First off their seats? Those who are probably traditional orchestragoers. Made me smile.

Ben and then the orchestra left stage but the crowd seemed intent on getting an encore. Like, minutes and minutes of standing ovation. The orchestra is packing up their instruments, the house lights are on and they stay and applaud.

Perhaps he is doing this at every show this tour, I don’t know, but Ben came back out and gave us Annie Waits and Army as an encore. The conductor sat in the first viola chair and seemed to love it. I got this bizarre video as he ended Army.

Final Thought

Holy crap. I hope this does amazing things for the symphony orchestras in America. This was some of the most fun I have had at a concert in a long, long time. Throughout most of the show, you could simply look around and see how happy everyone was, smiling and singing along. On the way out, I saw a mom/dad/son combo that were definitely enjoying themselves and I asked the dad “so who is the bigger fan?” Dad smiled and said “well, I think I got passed on that list tonight.”

Bravo, Ben Folds. Bravo, Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

On Beautiful Words: A Review of Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness

Preston Yancey has lived a beautiful story. He has taken his twenty-five years and tied them together in a narrative that seems utterly familiar. The characters, his college haunts, and the churches that shape him all seem like they could be places I have been to and experienced a thousand times over.

As with any books that can be described as “Christian memoir,” some fans will try to make Preston’s story represent a generational movement. Others, the critics, will dismiss it as a youthful, angst-filled reflection of an entire generation. I’ve pondered those options for a few moments but honestly, neither of those ring true to his text.

Instead, I think Preston’s words reflect a powerful and important personal journey. A journey that includes churches and liturgies, yes, but a journey centered on hearing and discernment. Hearing God. Hearing others. Hearing the words and stories that have changed lives and generations. In my experience, the most profound moments in this book are those pages where he encounters the brokenness of not hearing.

I do not know Preston well so this is a guess, but I think he would say that his book is not a “must read,” not like Flannery and Dante are must reads. And there are those who probably shouldn’t read Preston’s book, specifically those people who want it to be a battle cry of a generation or something.

Treat this book as a profound person. The person whose life captivates your imagination in such a way that you constantly want to know the fullness behind it. That is what Preston has given us here. The words dance off the pages, the people come to life as he describes how they have impacted him. This is one o the few works of non-fiction that has brought me to tears and it has a book that has given me a renewed sense of openness to hearing God and the lives of those around me.

buy the book here.

I have Depression

Note: I’m not writing this because a famous actor died, although that has forced some important conversations into the limelight. I’m not writing this to garner any sympathy because we all have our own diseases and struggles. I’m writing this for me, to try and give me a small step toward healing.

I don’t remember when I first encountered the Betrayer. I know it was a long time ago, and I think I had encounters with him as far back as high school. He’s the worst kind of companion. He doesn’t tell me when he’s going to show up, suddenly appearing at my door in the middle of a good day or a bad one. Other times he drops in when I’m on vacation, or with a friend, or at work. Or really, anytime and any place.

The Betrayer has two modus operandi with me. Like a boxer, perhaps, The Betrayer swings hard from the right with his fist – Anxiety. Anxiety comes in rapid-fire jabs. Sometimes I can’t even catch a quick breath in between them. Then The Betrayer follows with his intended knock-out left fist, Depression. It’s staggering. Time slows to a crawl, and the dull and growing pain of the blow sets in for a long, long visit.

I’ve painted around the edges on this subject at times, even using the “d” word once or twice in writings online. But I’ve realized over the past week that there are some things here I need to voice, I need to name, I need to post for my own good.

This week has been hell, but not because a famous actor who struggled with depression committed suicide. It’s definitely sad and it sucks, but that’s not why this week has been hell.

The week started out incredibly well. But the Betrayer showed up in a cup of coffee. It was evening, I was with friends, and I was offered a coffee with dessert. Due to the Betrayer’s existence, counselors have recommended that I avoid caffeine in the evenings. But that’s okay, it’s decaf. No big deal, right? Except.

The Betrayer’s jabs of Anxiety set in. “You know what, it’s probably caffeinated? You know that there is some caffeine in all coffee anyway. You’ll probably be awake all night because of the caffeine.”

That’s how it started. A damned cup of decaf coffee. And the Betrayer has been at it all week since.

But because depression is a thing, because it is real, it rolls down upon me like the fog settles over San Francisco and stays for as long as it wants. Sometimes it’s mild. Sometimes (usually in the winter) it’s a lot worse. This week has been worse than most I can remember.

I’ve read a lot of good things this week as so many who are coping and battling with it daily have shared their wounds openly. We’re moving the conversation a little bit this week, and that’s incredible. But I need to put this out there, in my words, and shine some light on where I’ve been.

Every time you negate or belittle the truth of depression, you’re piling on somebody. Debating mental illness and suicide with somebody who suffers with the disease is callous and cruel. Stop it.

Mental illness isn’t something I’m going to debate. I don’t have the energy to debate whether the Betrayer is real. He is. He lives in my brain. I know it. Professionals know it. I don’t care if you do or not.

Every time someone tells me that the Betrayer can be defeated if I just have a little more faith, a little more joy in Jesus, I wonder if they’ve read the entirety of the Psalms.

Because I’ve been there. I’ve been curled up in a ball on the floor crying for no reason. I’ve spent days moving through the motions while my mind screams how awful I am, how worthless, how everything will surely fall apart.

That’s the reality of the Betrayer. I’m trying to learn how to anticipate his arrival, but he still finds new ways to appear. And his stays are unexpected and as long as he wants them to be.

So, yeah. I have depression. Somedays it’s horrible, nearly debilitating. Some days it isn’t.

But it’s real. Some days my brain hates me and tries to destroy me. That’s the disease, the illness, the battle I face.

Nish Weiseth sums it up best. Nish is an incredible woman who shared her own suicide story this week. Her words are beautiful and broken, truthful and profound. You should read her post in its entirety.

God does heal, absolutely He does. But sometimes, healing happens through good doctors, counselors, practitioners, and yes, medicine. God’s grace can look like a sliver of light on the bathroom floor, but it can also look like a life-changing counseling session or the right combination of drugs to regulate your brain chemistry.

Prayer and a deepening faith have helped many along the road to depression. But it doesn’t always work out that way. It didn’t for me. And you know what? That’s okay. It doesn’t make us any less of a Christian believer. It doesn’t diminish our value in the eyes of God if we find His grace in our name printed on a pill bottle.

And finally, as Christians, we should never be pointing our fingers at the hurting and calling them selfish.
Rather, we should be looking at them with our eyes wide open and saying, “I’m here. You’re not alone. Let’s get help, together.”

Dear Politician

Dear Politician,

Years ago, you and I had an understanding. We respected each other. Our worldviews were by no means identical, but they had space for appreciating our similarities and differences.

Your principled stands earned you a lot of respect and some accusations of insanity, but I for one had no trouble defending you. I could understand that your views were consistently based upon your principles. Even as I aged and grew further away from your political beliefs, I still found space to respect you as a principled person of integrity.

Since you retired from office a few years ago, I had not thought much about you. Your political action campaign people keep signing me up for your emails, and I unsubscribe, and back and forth we go, but most of the time your emails are caught in my spam filter. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t want to hear from you in any forum, so I didn’t mind that my email blocked you from my life. But one got through today, and it’s the last one. We’re done. You’ve wounded me and I need to tell you why.

In years past you professed to be a faithful Christian and I haven’t heard anything to the contrary since, so I’ll assume we’re still working from the same shared value of Scriptures, even if we come to some different conclusions. So I think this should make sense to you.

See, for the past few months I have been preaching at a church in Canada, a lovely congregation who are kind and humble and generous. But they don’t know me all that well, so I’ve been introducing them to me through various stories that reflect the Scripture texts for the week.

This past Sunday’s lectionary readings included a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, from chapter eight. It’s a rough and tumble passage about future fruits and heaven and eternity and suffering. But one passage stuck out to me in particular:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV)

I thought it was extremely important to focus on this text, but rather than just be the pious outsider telling them to get over their suffering, I shared with the congregation one moment of grief and suffering from my own story.

One Sunday two years ago, when I preached at church on the Transfiguration, the power of the kingdom of God breaking into the world, only to come home and find out that one of my students, a sweet 15-year old girl, had been shot and killed while waiting to drive to the mall. A wrong-place, wrong-time murder. A now-two-year-old unsolved murder on a street not far from my house.

I realized Sunday that I’m still grieving her death. She sat in the front row of my class, Politician. She had a smile and a kind greeting every day. She had a ripple effect on her friends. Their days were brighter because of her. And they have had to grow through this suffering and grief the past two years in ways that must be unspeakable. My grief is heavy and yet I barely knew her compared to so many others.

And because this came up again Sunday, Mr. Politician, I’m raw again. The tears came back again, like they do every few months. And I’d hoped you would understand.

But then I got your email today, the one that happened to get through the spam filters because I moved around some settings on my server. And your email made it worse. Because you offered me the chance to win a free AR-15 assault rifle for donating to your cause.

A free gun for a man grieving the death of someone at the hands of a gunman. Free guns for a country that grieves the death of people by firearms to the tune of 80-some per day.

It’s hard to feel any sympathy or solidarity with you anymore, Mr. Politician. I’d like to think you’re still principled and such, but it seems like you’ve really missed the point. Normal people throughout this country are touched by gun violence every day, and you’re giving away guns for political cash.

I’m not saying you’re more or less principled than any other politician, Mr. Politician. They all might be less ethical and consistent than you, I don’t really know. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you. And me. And a 15-year old girl killed on the streets of Detroit. And all of the others in all of the other states.

I thought we understood each other. But then you tried to give me a free gun.

So this will be the last time I write to you, Mr. Politician. I can’t help but shake my head and wonder where things went so wrong. I hope someday you realize that cheap political points are less important that the lives and principles you used to care about, or at least used to espouse.