Viewing: Jewish Americana - View all posts

Teshuvah, Truth, and Goodness 

Each year, we dig deep to look in the mirror and closely examine the wrongs we may have done to our fellows and against our Creator. We confess what we’ve done, we have real regret, and we make a promise to not do it again. We go through this every year at this time and while we don’t need to wait until the High Holy Days to reset our course, this is a community-wide time to focus on it. The danger, I believe, is in losing sight of the good. 

When I was young, I believed that I was a burden on everyone around me. I was another mouth to feed and a true mistake. I thought that my only value was at a distance but if people got close, they would only see what had been confirmed again and again – I was useless. I didn’t talk a lot about it but all the signs were there. This was usually masked by trying to be funny or entertaining. It was not a wonderful way to grow up and I convinced myself of a lot of lies. Thankfully, I met someone who loved me hard enough to change my mind and I eventually learned to love myself. 

I mention the above because I believe it can be the danger in doing Teshuvah the wrong way. We should closely examine the wrongs we have done but the key is in acknowledging the mistake without thinking that we are the mistake. It’s one of the things we focused on when raising our son. You may have done something wrong but it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It was a choice and you can make another one. Acknowledging our sins can be painful but there is a difference between owning our action and beating ourselves up. If we do that, we start lying to ourselves and in a sense, committing Lashon Hara against ourselves. 

It’s no secret that you will find all kinds of validation if you go looking for it. If you go looking for villains, you will find them. If you start trying to convince yourself of negative things about yourself, you will eventually do it. Our minds are beautifully designed to help us and if we start turning pain on ourselves, our brain will assist. We have to teach it what the truth is so that it knows how to help us the right way. 

So here is a truth for you. You are not damaged goods and you are not broken. You are whole and complete and loved by the One exactly as you are. You may have done something wrong but there is nothing wrong with you. It was a choice and you can make another one. You are not a mistake and you are not a burden. You are part of the wonder and beauty of creation. This world is a tremendous gift and you are part of that gift. 

There is far more good in the world than evil and there is far more right than wrong. We are surrounded by so many examples of this, but it is easy to lose sight of it when the good is everywhere. After all, fish probably don’t think about water. When the bad comes in, it’s often louder than everything else because of the contrast. The danger in that loudness is in letting it consume us and allowing it to become the dominant sound. If we do that, the world can seem bleak and less than the wonder it is. The same goes for us. 

As we go into the High Holy Days, I hope that you are kind to yourself in your honesty. I hope you remember how incredible you are and if we have not met yet, I can’t wait to shake your hand. The world needs you and I’m glad that we’re sharing a lifetime together. 

This song is called “Return” and is all about the work we do at this time. Please feel free to share with anyone you think might enjoy it. The amazing singer with me is our dear friend, Abbie Strauss. She’s a tremendous artist and if you haven’t heard her music, you should really go check it out. She’s currently in Memphis doing wonderful work with the community at Temple Israel as their Cantorial Soloist and is the founder of the Institute of Jewish Rock. 

Here’s to you for all the good you do. Make it a brave and sweet new year. 

- Joe

It Has Begun! 

It's tough to put into words what the last several days have felt like. We've wrapped up the sessions at Fantasy Studios and are now in the editing process for the album. For anyone who might not know, that's where we listen like crazy people to every second and try to make sure everything we need to record is in and all the pieces are fitting together as they should. 

The only thing left now is to spend a little time at Sugar Hill in Houston to do some vocals on a few tunes and we'll be all good to go!

Since you helped inspire this music and supported so much of it, I thought it would be fun to share a few moments from the first three days. Enjoy these and I'll be back soon with an in-depth breakdown of the experience at Fantasy Studios. 

 

 

The Long Walk Home 

So there he is, looking down at his son, a knife raised high. He's a father and a husband. He is someone who championed the innocent and ran out to greet others, thinking of them first. He opened his tent at all sides. He is Abraham, friend of G-d, and he has bound his son as a sacrifice without questioning. 

We all know what happens next. An angel appears and stops his hand from the killing stroke. A test has been issued. Would you be willing to sacrifice a life to your G-d, specifically, your own son? Many believe that Abraham passed this test and his devotion to the task shows his devotion to G-d. I believe that Abraham failed his test and the results of his failure come rolling in once the knife has been stopped. G-d, who once called Abraham "Friend", never speaks to him again. Isaac also never speaks to him again and is forever changed. This is also when we learn that Sarah dies. 

So what happened? Why would Abraham not fight for his son?

Let's go back to Sodom and Gomorrah, which is where I believe all this started at. Abraham is there, arguing with G-d for the lives of the people in two great cities. G-d is about to wipe out everyone there and Abraham is not having it. If you believe in the Creator, try your best to picture what this might be like. Not only is Abraham defending people he does not know, he is arguing with G-d! He says, "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?!" Woah. That is about as intense as it gets and from there, he negotiates down to the number 10. If only there are 10 righteous people, G-d will not wipe them out. It is also interesting that the text states that G-d finished talking with Abraham, not that Abraham finished talking with G-d. 

There are so many folks in the cities below that it only makes sense for there to be at least 10 good people. There has to be. Abraham's faith in the goodness of humanity is so strong that it doesn't make sense to him that EVERYONE there would be wicked. How could they be? His negotiation with G-d ends and he returns home. We all know what happens next. Only smoke and ruin are left in Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knows this. There were not even 10 good people. 

Next, he travels to Gerar and says that Sarah is his sister and not his wife. When confronted about his lie, he says that he thought the people there would kill him for his wife because there is no fear of Gd in the city. There is no way for him to know that but he assumes it's true. Why? Because he just came from two huge cities where not even 10 righteous people lived. He has been shaken to his core and is already assuming the worst in people. 

Fast forward to the offering. 

G-d tells Abraham, "Take your son, whom you love, to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you." While gathering the wood, Isaac even questions what's going on. He asks his father where the sacrificial lamb is and the Patriarch explains that G-d will provide it. He lies to his son. He lies to his son that he is about to sacrifice for a G-d that has NEVER asked for this kind of thing. A man who once argued with G-d to spare life now will not even argue for his son. Why?

I believe that Abraham lost faith in the sanctity of life. So much had happened around him and when he challenged G-d on behalf of others, the outcome did not change. If Abraham did considering arguing, his second thought must have been along the lines of "Why does it matter?" He gives everything up to G-d, even his own free will. He has defeated himself and binds his son to the rock as a sacrifice. We know what happens next. 

Abraham should have argued for his son. G-d does not want blind obedience. We are not sheep. We are made in the image of G-d and given free will to build the world together with our Creator. Human life is sacred and sacrificing it is something that G-d detests (Deuteronomy 12:30 - 12:31). Abraham should have said "No" and I believe it is what G-d wanted him to do in order to show that he was still the same person he was before. "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

So why test Abraham to begin with if there is a chance of him failing? I believe in the awesome power of G-d but I don't believe our actions are pre-determined. If that were the case, we wouldn't have the chance to CHOOSE right or wrong. I believe that our free will means that our choices are unknown to G-d. After all, the Torah was given to us and helps to guide those choices. 

Also, we have to be careful to not make the error that G-d is somehow a human being. G-d is not a person but I believe we have similarities. After all, if we are made in the image of G-d, then the Creator surely understands what fear, jealousy, anger, doubt, worry, and love feel like. G-d also understands lonliness. Why else would the Almighty say that it is not good to be alone? Interestingly, the only person we ever hear referred to as a "Friend" is Abraham. 

I believe that the Almighty tested Abraham to see what he is no longer willing to stand for. Sadly, human life is the answer and G-d turns away from the person who was once a friend. It's a heartbreaking moment and everyone is affected by the choices that were made. My Rabbi teaches that there is a reason it's called the Law of Moses and not the Law of Abraham. 

So, I did what songwriters do. I tried to find a way to summarize a huge idea into a handful of minutes through song. "The Unbinding" took two solid years to write and is told through Isaac's eyes as he looks up at his father, begging him to remember the man he was. At the same time, it's a call out to all parents to not bind their children to their own past or cycles. 


This song will be featured on the upcoming album and if you'd like to help us get it made, please click here and become a supporter today: SUPPORT THE NEW ALBUM!

Thanks for all the support and I'll see you on the road! 

L'Shalom,

Joe

 

Pass the Guitar 

See that guitar that I'm holding? It's a beautiful instrument but it isn't mine. It's been played by a whole mess of folks but it isn't theirs, either. It belongs to a fella named Rick Recht. This year at SLBC, while I sat in the morning prayer service, I kept seeing something incredible. I watched Rick Recht hand his guitar to person after person and it dawned on me that this act was a perfect metaphor for the kind of person Rick is. 

For anyone who has been to the Songleader Bootcamp National Conference, you've seen this in a variety of ways. You see it at the lunch song sessions led by multiple folks, the courses taught by various experts, to the concerts at night and especially at SLBC Late Night (open mic). This concept of shared leadership is something that is not only important to SLBC - it is something SLBC is built on. 

When we take the time to engage from the stand point of "you can do THIS" and then help to support so that folks can, we find that we empower people in incredible ways. The leadership team at Songleader Boot Camp does this by demonstrating the value of leadership and then giving everyone the tools they need to lead themselves and to empower others to lead as well. It is called "Songleader" Boot Camp but the emphasis is definitely on the leader aspect. 

A common misconception is that you have to have some kind of musical ability to get anything out of the conference. Not true at all. In fact, music is only a small part of what is happening at SLBC, even though it is the bridge that binds it all together. I fell in love with this conference not because of the music but through it. At its heart, at the very core, is an abundant love of community, Judaism, and where we can go as a people. The folks who attend SLBC are usually looking for something they can bring home or into their lives, or both. Rabbis, Songleaders, Recording Artists, Teachers, Lay Leaders, Scholors, Rabbinic Students, Cantors, Camp Staff, Camp Directors, and ANYONE looking for something great to bring back to their world. When you fill a JCC with that many seekers, you are bound to find amazing things together. 

This was my 5th straight year at Songleader Boot Camp and the goodness I get from being with the community there lasts all year long. I learn beautiful Torah from inspiring Rabbis. I learn new melodies and connect to prayers in powerful ways. I meet new friends who are seekers as well and we grow together and I spend valuable time with colleagues and mentors. It's a place that not only opens a door, it holds the door for you and anyone else who wants to bring something amazing back home. 

I can't recommend it enough and I hope that if you haven't been - no matter what you do, you go. 

IN OTHER NEWS

Our crowdfunding campaign is rocking and rolling along! If you have not donated already and would like to, please head on over to the campaign page and find a perk that works for you! We look forward to having you on board!

CLICK HERE TO CONTRIBUTE TO ALBUM NUMBER 2!

 

I hope that your week is a good one and that you find all that you are seeking!

L'shalom

 

Joe Buchanan

The Second Album! 

Folks,

The train has pulled out of the station and we are flying down the track! I am so proud to announce that we are officially crowdfunding album #2. The reception for Unbroken was more than we could have expected and in the time since its release, I've been blessed with the opportunity to travel to different communities all over the US and pray and sing with folks from every walk of life. I've seen people from multiple faiths come together around the commonality in spirituality and in simply being together. Our time together has been inspiring and I can't thank you enough for all of the tremendous support. 

During all of that travel, a ton of songs and prayer settings have been written and we are all set to finally make Album #2. I'll be back working with producer Saul Kaye and heading into the studio in May to bring to life this full-length collection of original, Jewish Americana. 

Together again in studio!

Proud to be working again with my holy brother and dear friend, Saul Kaye!

These are songs to gather by, to bring folks together, and add more chairs to the table. Since my conversion to Judaism, I found that there is more that binds us than separates us and this music reflects so much about those discoveries. They are songs for the good times, the hard times, and the times between.  Songs about struggle and celebration. I hope you join us in getting the album made and I can't wait to welcome you onto the team. 

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE CAMPAIGN VIDEO AND JOIN THE TEAM!

If you want to join the "street" team, the best way to help spread the word on the album is to do exactly that - spread the word! Share it on Facebook, email folks that might be interested, and if we've spent time together - please feel free to share it with your community if you feel comfortable. I know the goal is high but I absolutely believe we can reach it and build something incredible together.  

We are also booking for 2018 still and if you'd like to get together for an Artist in Residence weekend, Shabbat service, or concert - let me know! I'd love to pray with you. 

Finally, the latest episode of the Emerging Artist Showcase is out and you can check it out on Jewish Rock Radio (www.jewishrockradio.com)! We air every Monday at 11AM Central  and every Thursday at 7PM Central. Featuring artist from a wide range of musical stylings, this show is all about the new artists who are absolutely rocking the Jeiwsh music world. The best part is - you don't have to be Jewish to dig good music. :) So check out the show and feel free to reach out and let me know what you think! 

Great music from great folks!

Thank you so much for being here, for your support, and just being exactly who you are. I'm glad that we share a lifetime and I'm looking forward to seeing you on the road in 2018.

 

L'shalom,

Joe