The Mo Bottom Project’s CD Now Available

Friends and readers…

I am happy to announce that my band — the Mo Bottom Project — has released our first CD, “Well Traveled Road,” a collection of 11 original songs that span some of our favorite musical genres from Americana/folk to bluesy old-time rock ‘n’ roll and are lyrically inspired by the history, landscape and stories of  the Missouri River Valley near where we live and grew up. These are stories of out-of-luck farmers, young lovers, old men in even older houses, flooded roads, and the car cruisin’ culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (Though not specifically religious, we’d like to think these are songs of faith and redemption…)

If you’d like a copy of the CD, there are a couple of ways to do it. You can visit the band’s website — mobottomproject.com — and order a direct download from ITunes or CDBaby, or you can write to me at givenscreative@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how you can receive a good old-fashioned CD copy.

Thanks for reading…I’ll be back soon.

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Video Meditation: Presence, Gratitude and Extraordinary Lives

Back in May, I posted an essay and a song called “Extraordinary Lives.”

Here’s a little slideshow/video for you…relax and enjoy. Be grateful for the day. Extraordinary Lives, by Phil Cooper and Steve Givens. Copyright 2016, Potter’s Mark Music.

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The Creative Spirit: “I’m busy…”

Marking time. SJG photo.

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”  - Galileo Galilei

I was up before dawn today and sitting on the screen porch as the world went from dark to light once again. It does this every day, or so I’m told, although I’m not always there to watch it. Or perhaps I’m up and about but not present enough to notice. This morning, I had scripture across my knee, a pen in my hand and a journal nearby, my favorite posture and attitude for taking in the world around me — silent words, quiet thoughts and the prayer of solitude.

I just finished one of the busiest few weeks of my professional life, orchestrating the logistics and planning behind the second presidential debate of this electoral season, a massive event at my university that attracted thousands of journalists of every ilk and angle and an estimated television viewership of some 60 million. I’m both exhausted and invigorated, honored to have been a part of it all (despite the content and tenor of the candidates, which I have no desire to get into here…) and glad that it’s in my rearview window.

Read the rest of The Creative Spirit: “I’m busy…” »

The Creative Spirit: Giving Notice

To be alive on this fresh morning. SJG photo.

“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
- Mary Oliver

All too often, it seems, we take the world and our role in it all too casually.  We wake with a yawn and stumble through our mornings, gulping coffee and rushing to work or elsewhere and paying little to no attention to what’s happening around us. But in fact, there is serious work afoot, always. And the world indeed is broken and in need of mending. There’s work for us to do and there’s a space in our very midst where God is already at work, if we will only sit still long enough to notice.

So I’m giving my notice today. Read the rest of The Creative Spirit: Giving Notice »

New American roots CD out soon

Mo Bottom Project. From left, Pat Dillender, Phil Cooper, Steve Givens, John Caravelli and Gerry Kasper.

Friends and readers of my blog…

I am pleased to announce that my American roots music band, the Mo Bottom Project, will release our long-anticipated first CD this October. Titled “Well Traveled Road,” the collection is 11 original songs that span some of our favorite musical genres from Americana/folk to bluesy old-time rock ‘n’ roll and are lyrically inspired by the history, landscape and stories of  the Missouri River Valley near where we live and grew up. These are stories of out-of-luck farmers, young lovers, old men in even older houses, flooded roads, and the car cruisin’ culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (Though not specifically religious, we’d like to think these are songs of faith and redemption…)

Read the rest of New American roots CD out soon »

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The Creative Spirit: An Open, Aware Heart

Outside Sedona. SJG photo.

“Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film.” – Ansel Adams

What the great nature photographer Ansel Adams knew and showed us in his haunting, elegant black and white photographs is that there is so much to be seen and experienced in the world if we only slow down and pay attention — not only to the image in front of us but to the light and shadows that surround, encompass and overlay what we see. Adams would hike miles, laden with his heavy equipment and supplies, to get to the perfect place at the perfect time of day. Then it became his job, to paraphrase the renowned words of the poet Mary Oliver, to “stand still and learn to be astonished.”

There’s lesson in that for us somewhere, surely.

Read the rest of The Creative Spirit: An Open, Aware Heart »

Living Extraordinary Lives Begins with Gratitude

It’s an ordinary time on an ordinary day,
It’s the simple things we do that take our breath away.
And the more we pay attention to every day that fills our eyes
The more we live extraordinary lives.

- “Extraordinary Lives,” by Steve Givens and Phil Cooper

Day's Beginning: Surprise me. SJG photo.

Gratitude, it seems to me, is the starting point for our lives of prayer, creativity and living well among others. But gratitude is easy to say and harder to live by because it’s hard work. Saying “thank you” to God and to others around us is the simplest thing to do and, yet, we so often forget to do it. Or don’t make time to do it. Or don’t make it a part of our daily experience.

Today I offer a short reflection, a brief, two-pronged approach to a life of gratitude, followed by a new song called “Extraordinary Lives,” composed with my friend and co-creator Phil Cooper. [The song will be on the forthcoming CD by the Mo Bottom Project, scheduled for release this summer. If you’d like to reserve a copy shoot me an email!]

Read the rest of Living Extraordinary Lives Begins with Gratitude »

The Seven Last Words: Spirit

During the hours when Jesus hung on the cross leading up to his death, he uttered seven “words” (actually short sentences, as recorded across the four gospels), and these words continue to be meaningful and insightful to us today if we’re willing to spend some time in quiet with them. For they are not only remembrances of that day and of Jesus’ suffering and death, but also serve as reminders of how we are to live in our own moments of suffering. As we enter Holy Week, I offer seven short reflections on these words and ask you to consider what they might mean to you, today.

Into your hands I commend my spirit. SJG photo

Seven: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23: 44-46

It is the middle of the afternoon and darkness has descended over Jerusalem and its environs. This is no passing storm. Even the universe is rebelling, it seems, against the injustice of what is happening on Golgotha. The sun has been eclipsed, covered over by a lesser light, as seemingly has the life of Jesus the Christ. The veil of the temple — separating the Holy of Holies from the people — has been torn down the middle. There is no longer this hidden distance between God and humans. Jesus summons one last burst of energy and cries out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” With those words, he breathes his last. Will this be the end of him and his idea of a new kind of kingdom where love reigns?

For those who believe, we know this is not the end of the story but rather the beginning of something new. It is a communion between God and the rest of us, born out of this painful death and Jesus’ surrender and giving up of his Spirit. For as Jesus gives his last breath he gives the promise of a new breath and new Holy Spirit that will continue to live in us — as Church, as individuals, as citizens of the world who must come to know that we need each other. (How are we doing with that?)

It is, indeed, his Spirit that matters. “Spirit,” from the same Greek word — pneuma — that gives us “breath,” Jesus is leaving us more than a memory. He is giving us an indwelling of God in our lives. Never again will we be alone, if we are prepared to watch and listen for the Spirit’s gentle movement. For like the gentle Jesus, this Holy Spirit is more like a whisper than a roar.  More like an expired breath than a shout for attention. More like love than anything we can imagine.

Ask yourself in silence: How can I better still myself to experience the spirit of God breathed on the world?

Happy Easter to all!

The Seven Last Words: Finished

During the hours when Jesus hung on the cross leading up to his death, he uttered seven “words” (actually short sentences, as recorded across the four gospels), and these words continue to be meaningful and insightful to us today if we’re willing to spend some time in quiet with them. For they are not only remembrances of that day and of Jesus’ suffering and death, but also serve as reminders of how we are to live in our own moments of suffering. As we enter Holy Week, I offer seven short reflections on these words and ask you to consider what they might mean to you, today.

It is finished. SJG photo

Six: “It is finished.” John 19:30

Jesus sips the sour wine and — in this last purely human act — knows that his end has come. But notice his words. Not “I am finished” but “it is finished.” This tragic scene before us, filled with passion and drama, is about much more than a man dying. This is beyond a sad tale of a failed prophet and teacher. This is the end of something bigger. This is the culmination of the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world.

From the manger in Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary, the Incarnate Word of God visited earth and lived among us so that God might draw us all to himself. That experiment in divine interaction was coming to a close, and none of us would ever be the same.  Bowing his head, Jesus handed over his spirit.

The overall scene is brutal, violent and bloody, but the end reflects the gentleness of a God who only wants us to embrace and say yes to him. As he has done throughout his ministry and passion, Jesus does not lash out. He does not hate. He does not promise retribution to those who persecuted and killed him. He does not scream. He bows his head and “hands over” his spirit. No one has taken his life from him, for he has freely given it.

Here, in these simple and surely whispered words, is the model of living and dying that he has left us. Even as Jesus pours out his life for us, we are called to a life of surrender to God, to the creator and author of life who knows us better than we know ourselves. I am reminded as I write this of a prayer called the Suscipe from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, that prayer of abandonment and detachment from the things of this world in exchange for something much greater — the presence and grace of God:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Perhaps the best and most authentic response to the grace offered to us on the cross is giving away our own lives to others and to God. We are called to be servants. We are asked to be more for others than for ourselves. We are invited to love in the face of fear, confusion and hatred.

Ask yourself in silence: What in my life needs to change so I can pray, “Take, Lord, receive…all is yours now?”

Tomorrow: Commend

The Seven Last Words: Thirsty

During the hours when Jesus hung on the cross leading up to his death, he uttered seven “words” (actually short sentences, as recorded across the four gospels), and these words continue to be meaningful and insightful to us today if we’re willing to spend some time in quiet with them. For they are not only remembrances of that day and of Jesus’ suffering and death, but also serve as reminders of how we are to live in our own moments of suffering. As we enter Holy Week, I offer seven short reflections on these words and ask you to consider what they might mean to you, today.

I Thirst. SJG photo.

Five: “I thirst.” John 19:28-29

Jesus, on the cross for many hours now, is losing bodily fluids like a wrung-out sponge. He is growing weak, his body emaciated and dehydrated from sweating, crying, even breathing. He needs to drink something. There is not much time left, he senses. His lips are parched and dry, his head spinning. Aware of the end, and in order that once again scripture might be fulfilled and we all might come to belief, he says quietly — for certainly the time for crying out has now left him — “I thirst.”

Once again, he is hearkening back to the psalms of his Jewish heritage (Psalm 69:21-22):

Insult has broken my heart, and I despair;
I looked for compassion, but there was none,
for comforters, but found none.
Instead they gave me poison for my food;
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar.

Indeed, there was a vessel nearby filled with common sour wine. So someone — was this person helping him with such a drink or not? — soaked the simple wine on a sprig of hyssop (the same small branch from the mint family that Moses dipped in blood for the Passover sacrifice) and put it up to his mouth. Jesus sips from the “sacramental” wine — however sour — and prepares for his final words.

If we have any doubt of Jesus’ humanity — and that he is truly suffering — this simple and natural urge to slake his thirst ought to set us straight. Throughout his life, Jesus shows us over and over again the emotions, traits and urges that make him human. He weeps and cries, he mourns, he gets angry, he becomes tender, he eats and sleeps and thirsts. It is his incarnation — Word of God into flesh and bone —that binds and attracts us to him. God the Father knew we would need this, would need someone like us, if we were to believe and be drawn back to God despite our sins that separate us from the Divine.

As Jesus thirsted for drink — a human need in the midst of his physical and spiritual turmoil so, too, do we thirst. We thirst for God and for a relationship with him. We thirst for spiritual nourishment in the midst of our busy, physical lives. We thirst for the one thing that cannot come from any place other than Jesus — living water that never dries up and never fails to satisfy. Tonight at our Holy Thursday mass we sang:

O let all who thirst, let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord.
Without money, without price.
Why should you pay the price, except for the Lord?

John Foley, SJ (Come to the Water, 1978)

Ask yourself in silence: In my life, for what I am most thirsty? How do I feel as I answer that honestly?

Tomorrow: Finished