Artist Practitioner In-Residence, 2012-13
Based on a long-standing relationship with George Fox University, Aaron Strumpel joined the University community as artist practitioner in residence for the fall semester 2012. Aaron's work at George Fox centered around mentoring student music ensembles including Shalom and Chapel band, culminating in the development of a performance with students at the semester's end..
My Peace Testimony
In jazz, melody is often a bit off-kilter, swung, played in a way that lilts rather than marches. Notes travel and race and bend upon one another in measured chaos and mostly, the result is an imperfect perfection...a dissonant beauty - which is a good thing. As I was thinking about this, the term “ghost note” came to mind, also known as “dead note” or “false note.” They are the notes that sit between the dominant melodic notes in a swung melody line. It is the “da” in the “doo-da-doo-da-doo-da”, most often not possessing a discernible pitch but having an implied pitch based on the notes surrounding it. It is an essential part of the line though it is, by definition, without pitch identity.
As I was thinking about this, I was also thinking about the connection of dominant cultural themes and the underlying, unseen, but very felt parts of our lives. Specifically, I was reflecting on how celebrity and violence, fame and dominance, so often contribute to and define our melodic lines pertaining to relationship, well-being, and our sense of shalom. Yet, when these values rule, rather than peace, justice, and compassion, we become ill-equipped, under-nourished, and weakened to function as a society and a Body whose head is the Prince of Peace.
Daniel Berrigan, looking at our society in the 1970‘s, states:
Man is unready for a human future. He has not grown those organs and resources which allow him to function in an alternate way, where he lives, and to reach out with public consequences.
Berrigan speaks in this quote to the inability for society, as he perceived it in the Vietnam War era, to function in a holistic, healthy manner, communicating foundational human needs of peace and affection in contrast to violence and domination. The desensitization, isolation, paralysis, and ultimately, the hypocrisy that our culture has bred throughout its rise in an industrially fueled domination of other countries and civilizations has settled into the roots of our people; it’s settled right into our living rooms where we sit with our upgraded and unnecessary flat screens, iPads built in unhealthy working conditions, trays full of composite, engineered, pink-slimed, steroid-injected foods. Our spirits and personalities are too wilted by uninspired entertainment, degraded dreaming, and monetized news to either absorb the true gifts God has poured out upon us or to react in the ways of Isaiah’s “rebuilders of ancient walls and repairers of broken streets.”
Over the years I’ve come to cherish Wendell Berry’s writings. Part of the reason for this connection is from my growing up in the farmlands of Iowa. Berry’s writings are a lot about sustainable agriculture and living and how this mode of engaging the world healthily translates to our awareness of life around us.
However, at other times, Berry speaks of our culture’s unhealthiness, of its detachment from and inability to absorb reality through current modes of information access. Speaking in 2012 as the National Endowment for the Humanities 41st Jefferson Lecturer in his talk titled ‘It All Turns on Affection’ Berry spoke of a certain kind of destructive knowledge:
We may, as we say, ‘know’ statistical sums, but we cannot imagine them…to hear of a thousand deaths in war is terrible, and we 'know' that it is. But as it registers on our hearts, it is not more terrible than one death fully imagined. The economic hardship of one farm family, if they are our neighbors, affects us more painfully than pages of statistics on the decline of the farm population…It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerical reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits. This brings us to an entirely practical question: Can we—and, if we can, how can we—make actual in our minds the sometimes urgent things we say we know? This obviously cannot be accomplished by a technological breakthrough, nor can it be accomplished by a big thought. Perhaps it cannot be accomplished at all.
When I read this, I am deeply moved; it speaks to a dysfunction in our ability to care for one another...in terms of melody, it’s not simply dissonant (which is valued in jazz), it’s a breaking of melody...the things my humble eyes, heart, and mind see and struggle with in the world have to do with the disconnectedness of stated value and lived reality. I say I am for peace, but am completely happy to live in a safely militarized society. I say I am for holistic living, but am completely happy to use the tools that only a culture who dominates another can possess. I say I am for connection, but am completely happy to absorb knowledge in a way that keeps me from interacting with my neighbor. These questions and conclusions interrupt the shalom – the completeness, well-being, or wholeness – of mind and conscience that I desperately seek... are we relegated to understanding only the plight of our immediate neighbor? Who is our neighbor now that we know, intimately, the lives of [perhaps] too many people?
Can poetry and song speak to these questions at a level that includes but also transcends the mind?
Man of Peace
Five years ago I wrote a song that will finally be released this fall while I am at George Fox on an album called Buffaloes. It’s called Man of Peace and is written from Psalm 120. It goes like this:
My dreams are haunted by those who hate peace//My days are darkened by the deaths of my friends
My nights are troubled by tears I can’t stop//My heart is broken cause I can’t see the end
They buy and sell fear, they try and sell fear//To sheep without their shepherd
We cry and say no, we fight for our hearts//We won’t give in, we won’t, give in
You never gave in//You never stopped
Man of Peace, Messiah who came to save
You never gave in//You never stopped
Even when your tears were red//Even when your robe was drenched in blood
Even when your head was crowned and cut//Even when your hands were nailed down flat
You never gave in//You never stopped
Click here to listen to an early, unreleased, rough-cut version of Man of Peace
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel throughout Europe, South, Central, and North America, Israel and Gaza, meeting people whose lives are variously disconnected by violence, but also often simultaneously connected in a beautiful sharing of peace with others that keeps them going against very many odds . My prayer has become, “let peace rule in our hearts,”, so that:
the violence that surrounds won’t be victorious in its disruption of our lives;
our melodies won’t be broken;
our ghost notes will be healthily undefined, producing harmonious, differentiated tones of peace;
we will choose weapons of personal sacrifice rather than weapons that sacrifice others; weapons that give us collusion with, rather than contestation against Christ, the Prince of Peace.
My prayer is that the Man of Peace – the one who gave his life willingly for all so that all might have life – would be our leader, that his example would become our life style.
If my time in Israel, Gaza, and Haiti in the last two years has shown me anything, it is that our pop-perception of humanity around the world comes through terrifyingly bent and opaque lenses, that the truth and clarity of Christ is best employed and known person to person. It is in these places that the power of the Gospel and the peace, justice, and restoration spoken of by the Old Testament Prophets is fully actuated. And so the songs that I write and sing are best sung and known in the context of sitting with, among, and as a broken people. In this space I find the shalom and faculty to live as Daniel Berrigan says, “a human future” with the “organs and resources” of a connected Body that can “function in an alternate way, where he lives, and to reach out with public consequences.”
I am very excited and honored to be invited to partner with The Center for Peace and Justice at George Fox University.
I fully expect to be challenged and continually matured through this fellowship; I expect to continue to ask troubling questions, to seek to live hopefully and helpfully in the friction of imperfect understanding, and to strive to infuse transcending peace into violent foundations and worldviews.
Points of Continued Connection
Released January 2013
Magic still happens…it was sunny in Oregon when I picked up my friend and fiddler Cameron Schenk in Portland and drove the forty-five minutes to Newberg to meet Nolan Staples, the brilliant upright bass player at George Fox University. We descended into the video studio on campus and began an impromptu session on three songs from the acclaimed Elephants record. Little did we know or expect that there was going to be a birthing of an orchestra within that little space in that little window of time. I sincerely hope these songs get you the way the originals did, the plodding, heavy, dogged heart of the Elephant pushing you further into your journey, one more day through the wilderness.
Strumpel is a nationally renowned songwriter, artist missionary and worship leader. His heart beats for leading the body of Christ deeper into worship, justice and peace through his vocation as an artist.
Born and raised in southeast Iowa, Strumpel is a graduate of Wartburg College, where he studied music education, religion and jazz. From 2002 to 2006, Aaron performed with The Restoration Project. In 2006, he launched his solo career with Chair & Microphone: Vol. 2, a collaboration with the creative worship collective, Enter the Worship Circle. Since then, his prolific and creative energy has been at the center of seven full-length albums and four EP’s.
In 2009, Strumpel released a series of albums marking a bold departure from his earlier, stripped-down approach. The first of this defining series, Elephants (2009), won Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Arts. The second, Birds (2011), earned him a feature in the first Relevant Magazine issue of 2012. Both have received high praise from Christianity Today, Paste Magazine and Relevant Magazine. Strumpel will complete the series with his November 2012 release, Buffaloes.
Strumpel’s imaginative, artistic and missional projects include partnerships with Todd Fadel of Agents of Future, Enter the Worship Circle, Word Made Flesh, Restoration Village, Brian McLaren, and together with Karla Adolphe as The Emporiums.