A Post-Election Liturgy

A liturgy is a guided prayer that takes you through song and poetry and meditation, etc. I put this together after I couldn’t sleep last night, all stirred up from the election. What a difficult season it’s been!

I hope you find it centering for your soul, friends. I prayed through it this morning… It was good.

https://theliturgists.bandcamp.com/album/a-post-election-liturgy

(BTW, I partnered with The Liturgists for this. They do incredible work for the spiritually frustrated and homeless.)

It Seems Like Some Thanksgiving Goodness is Needed Today

Last night is still sitting heavy in my heart this morning, so we are taking pause to just be quiet and thankful for the goodness and beauty that is around us. As I am writing this, my three girls are sitting in the sunshine making a strand of beads for our Thanksgiving tree. I am listening to one of our old Thanksgiving mixes and watching the flurry of activity out on my window bird feeder. I’m feeling like we need to be a little extra gentle with each other today. Here are some little bits of re-centering Thanksgiving goodness that are bringing me joy today.

A New Thanksgiving Playlist we put together for 2016 –


These really wonderful Chocolate Chip Zucchini muffins. Warmed up with a little butter, they make everything feel like its going to be OK.
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A lovely stack of Thanksgiving books from our local library inspired by this reading list.

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Write a note to someone today to tell them you are thankful for them. Here is a thank-you-note-printable I designed to get you started. Print as many as you like 🙂
(Click the link to open a printable pdf that is already sized and ready to print. I think it works best on cardstock paper, but whatever you have on hand will work.)

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How Do You Define Success? (I Needed a New System)

How would you describe being successful? What is “success” in your field of work? in your family and relationships? for yourself, personally?

I’ve been asking myself questions like this for years. “What is success?” or “How do I know when I’m successful?” or “What’s the main goal here?”

This question has been in the back of my mind especially when it comes to being a singer-songwriter. Probably because, according to the definition I’ve been using, I’m a failure! Here it is:
I have a hit song or album and have a tipping point of critical mass and make lots of money and am famous with lots of people loving my music and I make a good living from the sales and tours and acclaim. 

I’m being a little facetious. And, to be fair to myself, this definition always seemed like it was lacking something; like it was based on realities only involving economics and importance. Surely my being a singer-songwriter has been about more than that?

To push the point, by that definition I have been unsuccessful. So was all this a great waste of time and energy? What about all the great things that have come from making music? The stories and moments of connection? What do I do with those? If I should I have gone into a different field where I could have been more successful, what would that field have been? Where would that have taken me and how would I define success there?!

And this is just in the small part of my life as a singer-songwriter. Let’s go bigger- What about the other things I do and love?

During a quiet, reflective day a few weeks ago I started asking those questions again. “What is success?”

And I decided to approach things differently. I began to boil things down to a single word for each of the main roles I play in my life. A word that answers the question of “Was I successful here? Did I do all I could to shoot for this as success?”

I’m sharing this because I’ve struggled with definitions of success for years. No doubt, it’s very self-focused but I think there are things that go beyond just me here.

Here’s what I did:

1. I named the roles I play in my life. This is something I’ve heard from business books or self-help material. Understanding your energies in terms of the roles you have in life is helpful. We usually have 4 or 5 roles and if it gets beyond that things get strange. Here are my personal roles:

*Spiritual Being – Being a Christian I view one of my roles in life as being a human who longs for connection with his creator. At my core I am a spiritual being and that part of me needs attention and intentionality.

*Husband – Being a married man one of my roles as husband is that, again, attention and intentionality needs to be given to my marriage.

*Father – Having 3 little girls and a boy on the way means I have the awesome role and responsibility of “dad”.

*Producer – My life’s work can be summed up in this word. Whether I am in charge of a church service and creating that space in which people encounter God, or whether I’m gathering musicians to release an album I’ve written or whether I’m releasing a line of colognes I made in my basement… I view my work as “Production”. It often involves creativity and events and communication, and relationships, but in the end I think producer is the best word for it.

What 4 or 5 roles would you say you play in your life? 

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2. I came up with a word that summarizes my end goal for each of my roles.  This is how I hope to define success for each of my roles in the seasons to come. What words would you come up for the roles you have in your own life?

Here’s mine:

*Spiritual Being – ABIDE
If I abide in God then I have achieved success as a spiritual being (it’s an ongoing process isn’t it?). So I listen to podcasts, I read books, I pray, I take communion, I have quiet days every other month… all so I can approach this idea of abiding. It becomes the healthy foundation, really, for my other roles.

*Husband – TOGETHER
The word I really had here was symbiosis. But together is prettier and cleaner. Betony and I are completely a symbiotic relationship- when she’s thriving I’m thriving, when I’m down she’s down and vice versa. I want to approach my role as husband with this word in mind. If I’m working towards her flourishing and she mine, it’s a solid dynamic in marriage.

*Father – PRESENT
It took a lot of thought for this. I went through a lot of words but, in the end, I’m not primarily a guide or protector or shaper or any of that. I simply want my kids at the end of my life to feel like Dad was always present. Engaged. Listening and completely reliable. When they want to share an anecdote I turn my attention to them. When one of them comes in from a nightmare, I rise and make sure they are comforted.

*Producer – GOOD
That word is too simple isn’t it? The way I’d really put it is “Good & Substantive Work”. For example, if I produce an album I want it to be GOOD. But I don’t take that word lightly. I mean good with a bass note. I mean good as in a dinner at your best friend’s house is good. It’s rich and thick and has layers and depth. Does that make sense? When I get done with a worship service I first ask myself, “Did our work honor God?” But the second question is “Was it GOOD? Did it have great substance to it?”

So I’ll be leaving some of my old definitions behind (like the ones I had for singer-songwriter). This how I’m defining success this next season: As a spiritual being I want to ABIDE in God, as a husband I want to reach for living life truly TOGETHER, as a father I want to be fully PRESENT, and as a producer I will be making GOOD & substantive work.

Again, this is all very self focused. How would you define your roles? What do you find yourself heading towards in those roles that define your success?

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Big 33 List

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Every year for my birthday I have this funny little tradition of making a “Big ___ List” (insert number of years old). Each year, I make a bucketlist of goals/activities to try for the following year. There is one list item for each year old I turn.

(By the way, the Garden Arch picture is up there because it was an item on my Big 32 List!)

BIG 33 List:

  1. Get a Hammock
  2. Plant a fruit tree
  3. Read a Classic (I always put this one on the list, but I need a suggestion)
  4. Have a baby boy/4th Child (pretty inevitable this November… 🙂
  5. Make homemade croissants
  6. Go Camping with the whole family
  7. Have a “no spending month”
  8. Get awesomely fit after pregnancy
  9. Go see a musical in Denver
  10. See another cirque du soleil show
  11. Visit a new place
  12. Finish the Bellwether series
  13. Create/design a “sacred space”
  14. Go to the KS State Fair
  15. Finish the dining room redo
  16. Have a great solid first year of homeschooling
  17. Keep moving towards “Clearing” and minimalism in our house
  18. Complete the UNC tree walk and learn some new tree names
  19. Do the Nature Pal Exchange with the kids
  20. Finish my braided rug
  21. Finish my sunshine quilt (I hate to admit but this has been on at least 4 years of lists)
  22. Always make a double batch when cooking
  23. Be a better friend when it comes to birthdays/gifts
  24. Get something published in Uppercase Magazine
  25. Stop texting and looking at my phone while driving
  26. Redo my kitchen countertops
  27. Keep in monthly blog log of our homeschooling adventures
  28. Learn how to wire a light.
  29. Drive the Poudre Canyon road during the peak of fall colors.
  30. Eat at Acorn in Denver (or….. other suggestions?)
  31. Eat more vegetables/Get my kids to eat more vegetables
  32. Apply for an artist in residence program
  33. Don’t cut my hair so I can actually grow it out

An Update on Beatrice & on Us

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How’s B doing?

A few weeks ago our 1 and a half year old, Beatrice, caught a stomach bug and threw up all night and the next day. The following day she had four seizures in about 20 hours.

After the third seizure Betony and I found ourselves driving to the Children’s Hospital emergency room at 4am. We watched an incredible moon-setting and sunrise on our drive. I remember humming a hymn and Betony praying. I’m sure we were quite sleep deprived as we cried and felt so much fear for B.

They let us know at Children’s that this was actually normal; that when a child is coming out of a stomach virus it can cause a seizure or cluster of seizures to occur. We’d never heard that.

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Since then the CT-SCAN, EEG, and EKG have all come back normal. We are watching to see if B has these continued problems after stomach bugs or it also could be linked to her getting really upset and holding her breath.

The important thing- she’s doing great and feeling better.

We are so relieved.

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How We are Doing 

This medical emergency actual came at the end of a really difficult month for the Coons family. While readying everything for Easter (I’m a church worship director) we found out two big things: the pastor I work for was leaving so my job’s future was uncertain and we were pregnant with our 4th child. In the midst of this uncertainly and these hard discussions is when B had her seizures.

So everything has somewhat come to a halt for us. All our energies have gone towards these big things: Making sure Beatrice is okay, coming to grips with a new future and processing having a fourth little one, and vocational questions. (Another good update: it looks like I’m remaining at St. Andrew, continuing the work of the church service we’ve started but also getting involved in other areas too!)

When this year started we decided we were going to choose a theme each month and let that guide our exploration of belief, the subject of our next music & art project for Giants & Pilgrims.

This month’s theme we’ve chosen? Re-awaken. After so much to process, figure out, and re-imagine, we are simply letting ourselves re-awaken to dreaming the new future. It feels a little like we’re just about to leave a holding pattern.

We are taking our time and I, personally, am beginning to feel those great warmths of hope and optimism.

An ending note: We’re SO thankful for all of your prayers and well-wishes and calls and encouragements and Facebook comments during this time! The care and concern for Beatrice and the Coons family was so tangible. It was humbling.

Thank you.

Here’s to this May being about “re-awakening”.

Song Story: “Ghosts for Tinder”

Betony and I are both from Kansas. When I tell people this they often comment with something Wizard of Oz related. I usually joke with them back and say, “Have you ever driven through Kansas? It’s like driving through Purgatory. There is NOTHING on I-70. Its a sea of blue and brown.”

But then I assure them with something I also truly believe. That Kansas does have an incredible beauty; like enormous, open skies that hold vast sunsets or intense changes of season. When Betony and I are in Kansas we feel home, we feel safe, and we visit often (we currently live in Colorado).

Being from the midwest I remember being taught something fascinating about the plains ecology: that it’s actually adapted for wildfires to burn through. It happened so much in the thousands of years in our region that plants and life have evolved to assume it’s likelihood. (The government actually pays money for certain acres of prairie to be burned. The CRP program helps all the ecology to have areas remain native and they do controlled burns to preserve that correctly! It’s amazing to watch!)

Here’s a science-y run down from a museum site of how fire actually helps the grasses of the plains:

“The roots and growing points of prairie plants form thick networks underground, where they are protected from fire. Prairie fires move quickly, so the soil acts as a buffer protecting prairie plants’ underground growing structures.

After prairie fires, the dark surface of the soil is warmed by the sun, and in the spring this helps seeds germinate. Existing plants grow stronger after fires. New seeds carried into the burned soil start new plants. For some plants with hard seed-coats, fire burns some of the seedcoat off the seeds and actually helps the seed germinate faster.”

I think there is something profound here in this story of nature. That fire can actually lead to better growth.

http://www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/prairie/htmls/eco_fadapt.html

How many of us know this scene: In order to get over the relationship, in order to move on, the broken-hearted takes all the love-letters and keepsakes and momentos and, in ceremony, collects them in the pile outside. Slowly and deliberately a match is lit, maybe a prayer is said, and the fire begins- a fire that will hopefully clear things for new growth. In the pain of letting go there is the hope of new life.

How many of us know this scene? but a bigger question is How many of us have lived it?

Betony and I’s album and art project Becoming looked at this metaphor and saw truth in it worth creating from. She created a stunning piece of a prairie fire after I wrote the song “Ghosts for Tinder”.

It begs the questions,
Have you let things go that hurt like a fire, but now with distance you see great life came from it?
Are you in the process and pain of letting some of that go now?

Here’s the lyrics to “Ghosts for Tinder”. And you can listen to it here as well.

GHOSTS FOR THE TINDER lyrics by Tim Coons

Come and keep by my lovely fire
I’ve got pieces I’m scheming from the liars with in me
You’ve replayed in my darker mind
You’re re-lived in the days I have assigned without you

Yes, I’ll leave it behind
Yes, I’ll leave it behind
Yes, I’ll leave it behind
Yes, I’ll leave it behind

Burn it down here
burn it down
it will come again
come up, on up from this ground
Up and around
So burn it down

I’ve got ghosts for the tinder glow
I’ve got pages to wash clean as snow to warm me
I’ve got memories for matches now
I will lighten the load so sad and loud for
When I see you

Heaven knows it will light
Heaven knows it will light

A Work of Art for Lent

Tim Coons writing:

I teamed up with Jeff Cook, the pastor of Atlas Church in Greeley, CO, for this project. (Atlas is a wonderful community we started with a group of friends and we’re all still connected to this day.)

We’re calling this Atlas Observance: beauty for the spiritual season. Basically, Jeff wrote and performed this six minute teaching piece about Ash Wednesday and Lent and I scored it so it leads into our new Giants & Pilgrims’ song “Empty”.

We hope it holds spiritual resonance for all types of travelers and fellow observers of this season.

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February Practice and Process: “Balm”

(image is from a Chinese cloisonné painting factory we visited in China 2008)

In creating our new project, Bellwether (an art series and album due winter 2016) we’ve decided to share what we’re doing each month before it’s released.
We’re calling these posts “practice and process“.

They will detail the spiritual/life practice we’re doing,
give a look at our in-process art that we’re creating in response,
and then include a whole host of resources and activities! (like the new desktop wallpaper, book/music/movie lists, recipes, explorations for kids, etc. This is so as a entire family we can engage in this year’s exploration of “belief” we’re calling Bellwether. 

FEBRUARY Theme: BALM

February is in the heart of winter, close to the edge of a hope for spring. And with Valentine’s Day sitting in the month we’ve often treated February as a time to put into words the way we feel about the ones we deeply love. It’s a way to warm up the cold. We’ve chosen our theme of “balm” with some of these lines drawn.

Practice:

The very definition of balm is “something that has a comforting, soothing, or restorative effect.”

This month we are

  1. exploring what service looks like for our family. We want to start being restorative in an intentional way. For us that looks like partnering with a local charity called “Turn Around Bikes”. They restore donated bikes and give them to people in need. Honestly, since having children we’ve had a hard time being consistent and feeling effective when it comes to giving of ourselves in this kind of way. We’re open to getting better at service. Furthermore, it’s our hope to instill a great sense of compassion in our children. This is at least a first step.
  2. For our second spiritual/life practice we’re setting up a table altar like we did last month. This time before dinner we’ll be praying for people in need of “balm” or some extra love and care. Then on Mondays we’ll be writing and mailing postcards, sending that love out in words.

Here is a really cool free printable postcard designed by our friend Kyle Steed, if you’re needing a great design:

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Process:

Tim is working on recording a song called “There is a Balm in Gilead” this month while I’m gathering ideas and paper tidbits for the overall series.

Resources for “Balm”:

FEBRUARY Dates to Take Note of:

February 7th – Superbowl 50 (with the *ahem*, Denver Broncos! Bake these, I promise you won’t regret it.)
February 8th – Chinese New Year (year of the monkey!) – We love to celebrate by ordering Chinese takeout and reliving our China trip 🙂
February 9th – Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday – we love to listen to this sweet mix curated by Starbucks
February 10th – Ash Wednesday
February 14th – Valentine’s Day
February 15th – President’s Day
February 17th –  Random Acts of Kindness Day
February 28th – The Oscars

Local: Greeley, CO events:

February 5th (and up through the end of the month) – Soundscape a group art show at the Atlas Theater that pairs music and art (right up our alley don’t you think?)
Soundscape Art Poster
February 27th – Tim and Charla are opening for the lead singer of Everclear at the MOXI theater!
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Let me know if you have other fun Greeley events I should add to this calendar!

EXPLORATIONS:

Here in Greeley, CO we have had just buckets and buckets of snow. We haven’t seen the ground since December 1st. I don’t even remember what it looks like. During winters like this, I think the best possible plan of action is to find a warm tropical greenhouse to visit. Usually we make a trip to the Butterfly pavilion. This year, I am thinking we are going to visit the Orchid Showcase (Jan. 8-Feb 22) at the Denver Botanical Gardens.
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Participate in Turnaround bikes workshops this month and other service related activities.

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Make a visit to the Cranford Cove to get a new selection of looseleaf teas to enjoy this month.

Speaking of tea, the girls and I are planning a lovely Valentine’s tea party with lots of tiny delicacies, fancy china, and, of course, hats and dresses.
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ART:

Spend some time digging into Picasso’s works and share with the girls.
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Their are some really fun art activities in this book.
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Make all sorts of homemade valentines

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READING lists:

Here are some of the kid’s books I have on reserve at the library this month. I was looking for books that deal with Compassion. I would love to hear your recommendations if you have any.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton, The Lion and the Mouse,  and A Sick Day for Amos Mcgee

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I am also reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane out loud to Lucy. It is an absolute favorite of ours. The themes are nested in kindness and compassion and the journey of self-discovery. It’s a good one for adults too.
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Mary Oliver poetry books – these are ABSOLUTELY balm to my soul.
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As a little personal “balm” against the dreariness of February, I love to order my garden seeds. (my favorite is Baker Heirloom Seeds – just reading their catalog is therapeutic)
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LISTEN:

Oxygen by Willy Mason. The video is only ok, but the song is so good.

This Great Valentines Mix curated by Personal Practice

Announcing the Giants & Pilgrims’ New Art & Music Project: Bellwether

So it’s time for announcements and proclamations.

For each Giants & Pilgrims’ project we choose a theme and explore that theme with art & music. Last year we released Becoming, about the constant process of growing up. The year before that was Almanac No. 1 and the art & music was centered in the realm of family and proven love.

Where are Betony and my hopes and dreams taking Giants & Pilgrims for 2016? What will fuel the works of art & music?

Here’s what we hope to explore this year, in depth:

Belief.

What do Betony and I believe as individuals? As a married couple? What do we really cling to? What do we want to pass on to our children? What do we hold as important and utmost in our lives? The thing behind the thing behind the thing? What are the values and vision and world views that truly shape where we head as a family? What are the words we put towards the big questions of God, metaphysics, doctrine, discovery, and experience?

And this is just a starting place of the questions!

We’re calling the project Bellwether. It’s actually an old shepherding term. A bellwether is a sheep that is a little more aggressive, a little more obnoxious and hungry. (It’s known to get out of pens for food).

And so a bell is placed on it. This not only helps the shepherd know where the sheep is, but it also helps the sheep. As the bell wether wanders for greener pastures, the rest of the sheep follow to new fields of grass.

Betony and I are looking for bells to follow. We’re asking questions. We are hungry and we hope to find great fields this 2016.

We’ll be creating towards an end project to be released this fall/winter, but we plan to share the process as well. Each month Betony and I are choosing a theme that will be our centering of exploration and practice. We will dig in to this Bellwether theme to as the year progresses. January’s Bellwether theme is “clearing” – see our full exploration of that theme here tomorrow.

“Monarch Migration” Painting Story and Process Photos

Over the course of this month, we will be sharing some of the stories behind the paintings and songs in the Becoming series.
You can purchase prints of this piece here.

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“Monarch Migration”
15X30  mixed media on canvas

The farm I grew up on is in the heart of the prairie in Kansas. It is a 30 minute drive on dusty dirt roads to the nearest civilization. My parents apple orchard is surrounded by 180 acres of native prairie and forests. Their driveway is over a mile long – and because the county maintenance trucks won’t maintain driveways, it was usually in pretty rough shape – horribly muddy in the spring, treacherously icy in the winter, and full of sand pits in the summer. Our mailbox was at the end of the driveway and a daily ritual was to walk and get the mail.

On this particular day in September, when I was probably about 8 years old, I remember turning the corner at the mailbox and feeling like something was different. There was a quivering energy to the air. I looked up and noticed hundreds of monarchs in the sky above me. And then, as I looked closer at the trees lining the roadway, I gasped, because what I had first thought were leaves fluttering in the wind were actually wings. Thousands and thousands of wings. I had happened upon the migration of monarchs.

I’m not sure why the butterflies ended up in KS that year. It’s out of their normal migratory path. After I left home, my parents had them come through one other year. But I have never seen them again.

We are losing monarchs. There are less and less every year. Their main source of food, the milkweed plant is being displaced by fields and housing and mowers. The older I get, the more I am becoming aware of how fleeting everything around us is. How delicate the beauty of these tiny wings. How necessary it is to pause and notice the flutters hidden in the branches.

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