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Thursday, August 20, 2015

If Being Like You Commentary

At the beginning of August I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. These songs were a product of needing to process and talk throug issues long met with silence. Now a tangible compilation, I feel a deep need and desire to invite others into those very processes and conversations that are woven around and within each song. That's why every week I'm holding a live stream Q&A via Periscope to open up discussions about each song, to give greater insight and hopefully to receive some from you the listener.

Last week I shared about my song At The Lighthouse, the first song on the album. This week I'm changing things up slightly and I'm going to share the story behind this week's song, If Being Like You, here on my website and use the live Q&A to answer questions and give fun facts and inside scoops to the song. After the live stream I'll post another blog with the script of what was talked about on the livestream for those who weren't able to or aren't able to make it.

The Story

I worked as a volunteer for 2 years with a religious humanitarian organization. Since I was 15 I had been making choices and planning my steps based on the idea that I would live my life overseas in service to others, but when I got over there I felt the ill-fitting nature of what I had sewn for myself; it didn't fit and it didn't feel natural. Not only was I wrestling with trying to fit in a box too small but I was having to fight to survive and protect myself under abusive and exploitative leaders and conditions. It was orchestrated, I believe, to push me out so that I could find a better way and push me out it did.

So I came back to my hometown of Gainesville, Florida and I returned to my church that had supported me financially and had once been a very close family for me- I hoped they would be again. But, I wasn't the same person they sent 2 years prior. I was beaten and battered and fragile. I was desperate for help and I was in a place of re-evaluating and questioning everything since nothing had worked for me.

I was perfectly comfortable in this space. I felt confident and assured that that space was exactly where I needed to be. I was finding God there. I could breathe there. But no one in that church was comfortable with me being in that space; it made them nervous and suspicious of me. So they began to push me out right around the time that I began stepping out having realized that I was, again, trying to fit into something that was ill-fitting. But before I left, I wrote this song from the outside looking in.

I was labeled as one that had "fallen away" and was lobbed into the ranks of all the secular heathens going to hell (which I was kinda okay with. People are nicer over here). This song wasn't written from a point of being upset with how I personally was treated, but moreso from an angle of being upset with how they were treating everyone else- everyone that wasn't in their club aka their church; how they talked about the world and the people in it with such condescending eyes and words so drenced in judgement. I saw or heard nothing of God. This song is what I saw.

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So that's the story behind If Being Like You. You can listen to it here or you can download your own copy of Pissed at the Praxy on iTunes.

Tune in to the live Q&A on Periscope Monday, August 24 @7pm on Periscope. You can send me your questions ahead of time using the hashtag "#IBLYQandA". Hope to see you then!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

At The Lighthouse Q&A Notes

At the beginning of this month I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. And although I've always respected artistic restraint in letting the interpretation be at the listener's disposal, I felt the need and desire to invite my listeners into the stories and secrets behind and within each song. Being pissed at the praxy opened up my eyes to look at everything in a new way, one that allowed me to see a clearer glimpse of a God that I wanted to know- a God who, oddly enough, was nothing like the one I had been giving up so much for. So that's why I'm doing these Q&A's. That's why I'm telling my story. I want to let you know you're not alone. I want to be vulnerable and share these stories with you, maybe hear yours, and let's talk about this stuff that is felt so deeply and that which needs to be given space and grace to be felt.

The Story

For two years I worked as a volunteer for a religious humanitarian organization. My last year with that organization was working in Adelaide, South Australia and it was the most wretched season of my life to date. One, because I was working in a very dysfunctional, abusive, and neglegent environment and two, because I myself was driven by very self-destructive beliefs. A broken person working for broken people in a broken environment only begets more brokenness and I was feeling the toxicity of my lifestyle and my choices come to a head.

I was six months into it and had decided enough was enough. I couldn't take it anymore. So I decided to quit and go home yet awoke the next morning with doubts. I couldn't simply save myself, you see. I had to be told what to do like the good little soldier I was trained to be. So I went to the only place in Adelaide I had ever felt any kind of hope or peace to demand and wait on God for His instructions on whether or not I should stay and suffer or save myself and quit, so I went to Port Adelaide and I waited at the lighthouse there by the ocean. I waited and I waited and I waited. I scribbled on pages in my notebook, "should I stay or should I go?" over and over again until the words blackened the page. I was desperate for God to speak to me. I kept throwing out these crazy challenges like, "Okay if I'm supposed to stay have someone come up to me and say _____." And when that didn't happen, "Okay if I'm supposed to go have that man pick up that piece of paper on the ground." And nothing would happen. I was desperate for a sign. I felt I was on the verge of drowning and I needed God to speak so that I could justify saving myself. But He didn't speak. The sun began to set and Port Adelaide wasn't the safest part of town so I left because it was simply no longer wise to stay. I left feeling abandoned, hopeless, ignored, and left to drown. I figured that it was better to stay and suffer through it than to leave and learn that He had wanted me to stay.

Five months later God would speak about the lighthouse. One day the shit really hit the fan making it impossible for me to stay. I finally felt that last chord that held me duty bound be cut and the image of the lighthouse and the wisdom and common sense that met me there saying, "It is no longer wise to stay." began to play in my mind. And I realized He had spoken, He hadn't left me to drown, He had heard me and He was using the lighthouse to save me now.

Why It's Important to Me

There's no pretty little bow at the end of this song, no hope to wrap it up nice and neat. This song dwells in the frustration of that moment, it recognizes it and validates it. Yes, God would speak, but I didn't know it in that moment and those feelings I felt there at the lighthouse in Port Adelaide were very real and raw and demanded to be felt as all pain does. It was accepting that frustration and letting it have its way that allowed me to see things myself and my choices and my environment in a new light. The lighthouse may not have shone that night, but my frustration acted as a light for awhile- revealing things that had long been hidden by a lifetime of good behavior and duty. And that's why this is the first song on the album because it marks the beginning of this journey Home.

Lyrics

Verse 1: I waited at the lighthouse for someone to come and save me for some word to come and raise my sinking boat. All my anchors had failed me. Sea and kraken had scared me close to that cape where light should wave some hope amidst the shadows. I waited at the lighthouse for any kind of sign but the silence gave voices to my doubts.

*All my anchors had failed me... [Before I left in 2010 to live overseas, I had a dream that I was at the airport saying goodbye to my family with tears in my eyes and I turned to get onto the airplane and Jesus was standing there with his right hand stretched out to me and He took me by the left hand and walked with me onto the plane. Anytime I was scared or felt alone or needed to feel Him I would clench my left fist in remembrance of that dream. About 3 months after the scene at the lighthouse I asked God to speak to me again, any word at all to get me through and He told me "holdfast". I looked it up and a holdfast is an anchor and I remembered my dream and I was reminded that I just needed to holdfast to Him, that He was my anchor. That is what that lyric recalls for me and it represents that feeling I had that God had let go of me, that my anchor, everything I held onto in fact, had failed me.]

Chorus: This ship is going down down and I'm going down with it. I am damned to the depths if someone doesn't save me now. I'm going down.

Verse 2: I waited at the lighthouse wishing, praying, begging should I stay or abandon ship now? I had no captain to steer me. No wind or waves to console me. The bottom of the ocean knows me by name and it beckons loud. One last chance dear lighthouse. Cast a glance my way. If you don't I'll give my last breath to curse you as I drown.

*One last chance dear lighthouse. Cast a glance my way... [I remember as it was getting dark and I realized that I may actually have to leave without an answer, I remember being so angry with God saying, "Are you seriously going to let me leave and not say anything?!" I was furious. I demanded He speak, on the verge of making any threat that would make Him speak.]

Verse 3: I waited at the lighthouse. Darkness ever grew with no light to answer to. Overwhelmed by orphaned demands. Salty tears lost in the sea. All my sails bleached by failure, I surrender my challenge to the deep.

*[It's that whole scene at the end of my story: the sun is setting, I know I can't stay and at the same time I know that leaving means I surrender. I raised my white flag and I gave into fears and lies and shame and pride. I stayed because I could not save myself because I could not accept that I was worth saving.]

Q&A

Q: @wordsbyshay- "Can you tell more about the 'ship' you refer to in the song?"

A: The "ship" is me. As a ship relies on a lighthouse to guide its way to safety in a dark storm, so I was waiting at the lighthouse for the same rescue.

Q: @jadefrances4- "What song stretched you the most vocally? What about instrumentally? Emotionally? Why?

A: Vocally- If Being Like You. It was the most bluesy song I had ever done which made it a stretch but since my voice has dropped about 3 octaves since recording it, it would literally be a huge stretch to try and sing that song again. Instrumentally- Selah because of its complexities and the focus being the instruments rather than my voice or words. Emotionally- At The Lighthouse and The Cobblestone Road by far! I had to really sit with these songs after I wrote them. They both flowed so beautifully but as soon as they were on the page, I could only weep from the raw and barren nature of the memories that had just bled out on the page. I've also found them incredibly healing as such.

Q: @jadefrances4- "What has been the most challenging part of this process?"

A: VULNERABILITY! These songs represent some of my most delicate and fragile moments and some of my most precious. To not only share them for others to hear, but to share them with the knowledge that I'm going to share ABOUT them has proven to be a challenge. Fear of being so naked and exposed by my songs has made me want to hold back and withdraw many a time along this process, but it's also made me press on because I believe one person's vulnerability can make another feel safe and not feel so alone- it has the potential to bring people together and that's what I want. That makes the uncomfortability of being vulnerable worth it. Because we are not alone.

Q: @jsorgi- 'What brought you out of that depravity/ what ended that depravity?'

A: Frustration. That frustration with how things weren't working made me look deeper and that revealed all the deeper issues that were only aiding and abetting my world of dysfunction and self-destruction. I've never been so thankful for frustration. Anger is simply a stage of grieving and repressing and supressing that anger only delays one's healing. I think Pissed at the Praxy is really a representaion of the stages of grieving actually now that I think about it.

ending

Thank you all so much for your questions, for tuning in, and for listening and supporting Pissed at the Praxy. Feel free to email me privately here or on facebook or twitter with any more questions or comments. If you've ever felt hopeless or mad at God for not speaking, ever felt ignored or abandoned by Him, I get it and I'm here if you want to talk and process some of that with someone who's been there. I don't just want to do all the talking. I'm here and I'm available and ready to listen. :-)

 

Love,

Stephanie Gray

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pissed at the Praxy Commentary

Last week I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. These songs were a product of needing to process and talk through issues long met with silence. Now a tangible compilation, I feel a deep need and desire to invite others into those very processes and conversations that are woven around and within each song.

I've always respected and looked up to those artists that refrained from being obvious and let the meaning and motivation behind their songs be left up for interpretation (restraint that is incredibly difficult to hold). But, this album isn't just a story, it is a commentary in and of itself- a commentary that was birthed out of tension, a tension that Silence and Unease bore.

I want to meet with you here. I want to, not only tell the story that each song holds- unveiling secrets, treasures, and emotions within- but I want to dialogue about them. I want to hear your thoughts and opinions and questions. Let's ask them together. Let's unveil them together. Let's tell our stories.

So for the next few weeks I'm going to be hosting live online discussions via Periscope app (Download Here) around each individual song. I want to share the story, yes, but I also want to answer your questions. Each week I'll announce which song is up for discussion on social media with a specific hashtag for you to use to send me your questions, discussion points you'd like to hit, or your thoughts via twitter, facebook, or instagram. Following the live stream, I'll post a blog with a written script of what was talked about for future reference and for those who maybe can't make the livestream. I'm really looking forward to this and I hope that you'll join me.

To start this off I want to tell you the story and the meaning behind the album title because I think that will give a great platform from which to start these discussions.

The Story

Pissed- adj. annoyed, very angry

Praxy- noun. origin: Greek (taken as a stem of "praxeology"); study of human action and conduct, esp. in relation to one's orthodoxy (practice or doctrine).

I was raised in a church that was adamant towards its views on how a christian should live, behave, and appear; views that were harsh, demanding, and costly. It was engrained in me that if it doesn't hurt, if it isn't hard, then you're doing something wrong and so I Iived for difficult and, essentially, abusive situations believing that it was proof of my love and proximity to God- proof for Him and for me. This thinking helped direct me to a Bible college to study World Missions. It was my intent to get my BA in World Missions, graduate, and move overseas to live the rest of my life as a missionary. I cut my time short there having only been met with arduous resistance by the staff and students to my being a woman in ministry; I was worn out by their insane shovenism and closemindedness and so I graduated early and left to pursue my role as a missionary with an organization called Youth With A Mission. My innauguration into the organization was a smooth transition, my commitment to stay in it, however, was brutal. I staffed on a base in Australia for almost a year. Looking back I can say that I had to feel the extremes of my praxeology that inevitably followed my toxic orthodoxy in order to truly understand how ill-fitting, unnatural, and heavy they were; and feel the extremes of them I did. The toxicity and dysfunction of my environment only helped to speed up the revelation that needed to come which was: This is not right. And so I left and returned to the US so broken and feeble and wounded that for the first month I wept day and night. I came home and went back to the church in which I was raised only to find that it too was ill-fitting, unnatural, and heavy. I could not find any trace of God there, not that I was welcome to remain there anyway. I was broken. I needed help. This untamed reality frightened and unnerved them and therefore they encouraged me to leave (a fact I had already gladly come to terms with). And so I left that church. I left that way. And I began to find God, for the first time I think.

Frustration had been brewing for years towards the praxeology I was seeing around me, but when that frustration turned inwards and I began to become frustrated towards my own praxeology- when I could no longer tolerate my own orthodoxy- that's when I started to see, that's when I started to feel free. Leaning into those frustrations, giving ear to them and allowing space for them to be whatever and however they were going to be, was like a steady slew of rain kissing a dry and parched land cracking from the heat and neglect.

Pissed at the Praxy, for me, is not about anger or frustration, but rather, about where that anger and frustration took me. I never believed that anger or frustration had any place in a christian's life, but I am so glad I let it wreak its havock on my wretched beliefs. I've never been so thankful.

Behind the Scenes

The actual name of the album came about because of a song I wrote called "If Being Like You". I had just recorded and was about to release my second EP called "Eve of Regret". On the tail end of recording that EP I wrote and recorded "If Being Like You". It had absolutely no place on Eve of Regret and I knew that there would be more songs to follow. I looked at where I was at, what I was feeling, and where I was headed and "pissed at the praxy" just seemed pretty fitting.

Questions

So what are your thoughts?

Have you had similar experiences? If so, did you (and how did you) encounter frustration?

What does the album title mean to you?