In the early spring of 2001 (while still on the job with the State of IL) a coworker/friend gave me a copy of a paperback book by Lee Strobel, “The Case for Christ.” I started reading it without thinking much about it, one way or another. I was not a practicing Christian at the time. Actually, I did not ‘believe in’ organized religion at the time. I felt religion was “too personal” to be organized.
With the small Strobel paperback book I didn’t know (as they say) what I was “in” for. At the end of it author puts reader “on the hot-seat” and asks (something like), “OK, I’ve presented lots of evidence/information . . . you’ve heard from many leading scholars and experts . . . you’ve heard testimony that would hold up in a court of law . . . so, now, you have to choose . . . WHO was Jesus (of the Gospels)?
In agreement with C.S. Lewis, Strobel argues that there are only three possible choices: (1) Jesus was a liar; (2) Jesus was a lunatic; or (3) Jesus was Who He claimed to be — God — King of Kings and Lord of All Creation. Because if He is *not* #3, then he HAS to be #1 or #2, or both! The one thing he could *not* be is a “good” man. Good people don’t lie and/or think they are GOD (when they are not) and misrepresent themselves to an extreme degree.
Well, I didn’t expect this — didn’t expect that I would be ‘forced,’ right then and there, to choose. I didn’t want to choose. I didn’t want to submit to the answer I knew was true. I didn’t want to go to church! But I knew Jesus was REAL . . . I *knew* He was God . . . and STILL IS . . . and agreed with Lee when he said that HE expects me to HONOR HIM as such . . . and so I went . . . I went, but went kicking and screaming. Sometimes I think I’m ‘still’ kicking and screaming.
So, at that time, with the help of what I believe to be the Holy Spirit, I became keenly aware of three things:
- I was a wretched creature . . . compared to God, and His Holiness, I was filthy and odious. Compared to His Power and Might, I was ineffably feeble and impotent. In/by the “light” of God, I could “see” how truly foul and fallen I was and am. If God is a “Straight Line,” I could clearly SEE how “crooked” I was.
- It didn’t matter what “I” wanted — it mattered what God wanted — HE was the Creator of Reality — the RULES OF THE GAME. God wanted me in church. God wanted me in ‘organized religion’. It’s THY will be done — not TY’S will be done. So, I went. Do I ‘always’ do what God wants? No. There are still pockets of rebellion within me.
- The Christian life is all about surrender and submission (to the Bible, to a Monarch, to a King’s Will) . . . on a 100% voluntary basis . . . solely (as much as possible) out of LOVE for/of GOD.
So I started looking for a church . . . a place to go hear the preaching and proclamation of the Word. I knew I wanted a “Bible-based” church. To my surprise, I ended up at West Side — a “mega” church. I was baptized there on Father’s Day, 2001. I stayed there until the spring of 2005 when the main pastor suggested I might be “happier elsewhere.” At this time he and I had developed some significant differences of opinion about church (and some Biblical doctrines). He explicitly encouraged me to avoid reading any John Calvin. I found much of Calvin’s exposition to be quite powerful and compelling. His book, Institutes, had been regarded as essential Protestant reading for centuries (mid-16th through mid-19th).
At that time (2005/06/07) I working on a Master’s Degree (in counseling) at Lincoln Seminary and reading many diverse and interesting books. One book, “Feed My Sheep,” swayed me to a position I’ve held ever since — preaching should be *expository*. So, as prompted by the West Side pastor, I went looking for a church that preached that way. Thing is, I found out, most churches that preach that way are REFORMED — they believe in the Five Solas and that salvation is through Grace alone. To one degree or another they hold to the same teachings and positions that the very first Protestants held (in the 16th Century), when Luther and Calvin broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and began powerfully speaking out. Once upon a time, ALL (or most) Protestants were Reformed. Today, Reformed Christians are smaller (in number) than Arminian Christians, who believe salvation is Grace + works (by an individual). It’s somewhat more involved than that, but that’s one of the key points.
Around this time I was still in a small/neighborhood West Side “community” Bible study group. I eventually left this group as my new and emerging Reformed beliefs informed me re: certain things and more or less caused me to fall “out of step” (to one degree or another) with my West Side brothers and sisters. As I began to read Reformed literature I was able to slowly “connect the dots” that allowed me to understand the Word as a whole . . . how *one* part of the Bible supported and informed *another* part of the Bible. I ultimately made a very deep and thorough study of it and found myself among the ranks of those who believed that Reformed Christians had the most accurate understanding of what the Holy Scriptures actually said.
One of the first Reformed books I read was THE SOVEREIGNTY of GOD by A.W. Pink. He is brilliant! Every time he referred to a passage (in the Bible) I looked it up, eventually looking up well over a hundred. I collected them all in a document . . . did proper exegesis on each . . . and learned how they worked together to support each other. Each was just one more link in his very long chain of evidence (for his position). Since that time, I count John MacArthur; R.C. Sproul; Francis Shaeffer; A.W.Pink; J.C. Ryle; Charles Spurgeon; James M. Boice; Tim Keller and various Puritan-era writers as my ‘go to’ authors and commentators. My current pastor also likes John Piper quite a lot. I think the authors before the 20th Century had a lot less distractions (than we do, in our time), and were thus perhaps more lucid in their thinking. It was the era of the *printed* word (and reading) . . . not the image (and watching).
I eventually found a small OPC Church in Springfield and attended there until shortly before I moved to Nashville (the weekend of Thanksgiving, 2007). I have since ‘softened’ my theological views. Most Christians agree on the *essentials* . . . so “fellowship” with most any Christian is, for me, feasible. Even those I’m closest to at my current church do not agree with me on certain non-essentials . . . and we can still fellowship and worship side-by-side.
Why did I move to Nashville?
In (and during the next few months after) May of 2007 I graduated from Lincoln Seminary with a Master’s Degree . . . retired from state government after 30+ years on the job . . . lost my father to a progressive illness . . . and, at long last, moved from Illinois to Tennessee.
I was thinking of trying to either teach theology or preach the Word but email and phone conversations with various academic advisors around the country informed me that no one, anywhere, would hire someone of my age . . . that they would always hire someone younger — someone more or less at the beginning of their professional life.
So . . . plan B was pretty easy. I’ve pretty much ‘always’ been a songwriter. So, I came to Nashville with a big bag of “we’ll see.” As in, “I think my songs are pretty good . . . but, we’ll see.” I knew that Nashville is where the “heavy hitters” were . . . some of the best in the world.
My plan was to “. . . give it a year.” So I rented a place (in a gang infested ‘hood — oops!) and started playing around town at various “open mics” and went to the Bluebird Cafe to audition when I could. In December of 2007 a lot of people had left town (to go back home for the holidays) and I was playing somewhere in Nashville almost every night. Slowly, but increasingly, I was getting to know some of the other writers in town. Almost everyone was from someplace else — hardly anyone was from Nashville. My ear was good, so I could tell/discern who was a *good* songwriter. I could distinguish the good from the *very* good. I began working with some of the best talent in town (and therefore, in the world!). Nashville is a “talent magnet” and most people who come to Nashville think they are pretty darn good . . . and many of them ARE. So, one could say the city attracts artists of high caliber.
In July of 2008 the manager at one venue asked me if I would like to host my own writer’s night . . . he said he noticed I was ‘good’ at ‘networking’ and ‘taking photos’ and what-not. I had not considered the idea before, but jumped at it! Pretty soon I was hosting TWO weekly shows (at two different venues) and the list of strong songwriters I would invite to play my shows (some of them hit writers) was growing by leaps and bounds. At any given show I would book about 12 writers . . . each writer doing three songs. I would usually perform at these shows as well.
Residence-wise, I did not feel *safe* in my initial rental property (Nov. 2007) and so in short order decided to *buy* (so I could get into decent digs at an affordable cost). After about six weeks of looking I found a small house (1330 sq. ft.) not far from Opry Mills Mall and the Grand Ol’ Opry in a subdivision built in 2001 that was formerly farmland. I *was* in the 100-year or 500-year flood in Nashville in 2010. It essentially forced me to remodel. It cost about $35,000 to get back in my home (and going into debt with the federal government — I did not have flood insurance).
Now here it is May 2016 and the only show I host these days is a monthly show at a coffeehouse in E. Nashville. All the other places I’ve hosted at (all told, about 10 – 12 different venues) all “let me go” after about a year because they said I was not bringing in “enough business.” Even though in October 2012 the readers of the Nashville Scene magazine voted me as having the 2nd best Songwriter Show in Nashville — right behind the Bluebird Cafe! I had one venue manager tell me, “I don’t care if you book the worst of the worst, so long as they bring people in who will spend money.” Ugh. I found this quite discouraging. Nashville *is* a town where “most people” play/sing “for free”. . . the venues are accustomed to getting quality entertainment for nothing (or next to nothing). That’s just the way it is.
I hosted a talk/interview radio show on Radio Free Nashville from Dec. 2010 – June 2015. It streamed (live) over the internet and also locally on FM. Some of those songwriter shows, as well as many of my venue songwriter shows, can be viewed on my YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/tybrando
I am presently working on my 5th CD project. All four (4) of my prior/current CDs are available wherever music is sold and/or downloaded online. All of my recorded and released music is also available via Spotify. I did my first professional CD in August of 2012 (That’s Just the Way That It Goes); my second in December of 2013 (Don’t Go To That Well); my third during 2014 (If Thoughts Still Cost a Penny), and my most recent one last spring and summer (Burnt on One Side). I hope to release my current project this autumn.
In addition to the above, I have about seven *independent* cuts on other people’s musical projects — mostly those I have co-written with. For example, Haley and I will write a song and she will put it on her new CD project (and also play it around town or around the country at live shows).
I think of all the things/people/opportunities/etc. I would’ve missed had I not moved to Nashville! I would’ve missed them and not even known (I was missing them)! And my life would’ve been ‘less’ (for having missed them). This includes the church I’ve been attending since January 2008. Besides excellent teaching and preaching, when I was flooded out of my home for 14 weeks in May 2010, the amount and quality of general assistance and support from my church body was truly amazing (and quite exemplary).
Nashville truly IS a place to grow and develop (as a writer and musician . . . and as a Christian pilgrim). However, I *love* getting back to Springfield to spend time with family and friends. Thanks for taking time out of your day/night to read this!