The Nothing

By

Some months ago I had a friend redoing my basement after it flooded last May. During his time at my house he mentioned he had been designing the set for a movie being shot at Grace Chapel’s big old barn out back. He told me some of the plot line, which I found intriguing, being the me that I am, and I mentioned, off the cuff, that if they needed any music for it to let me know. It wasn’t long before my friend told me to come over and meet the folks shooting the movie.

So I became involved. Never having done anything remotely like this, I had no boundaries or “ought-tos” in my head. I also had no idea of what to do except proceed.

One of the things that helped me greatly was the time crunch. The film The Nothing was accepted for the Nashville Film Festival, which put my deadline at the morning of April 6th. We pulled an all-nighter and pushed through.

From a human perspective, offering to do the music was a completely stupid thing to do on my part. With no training, no experience, I opened my big mouth and made my committal. I had my studio, and my instruments, but that was all; I was to make sounds that brought tension, fear, relief, hope, anger, sadness, redemption, and I had little idea how I was going to do it. The end result was that I learned something experientially; that in composition, as in any other area of music, art, or life, the best stuff happens when caution is thrown to the wind, rules are bent, and we refuse to listen to the voices in our heads saying, “It’ll never work!” or “What will so-and-so say?” We step off a cliff edge in faith knowing God will cause us to fly.

From a spirit-view, this was the best thing I could have done for myself. It is easy to spin our wheels holding to old paradigms, other people’s perceptions of us, and especially our perceptions of other people’s perceptions of us. These manifestations of the false self tie us down, shut our mouths, and put the light of Christ in us under a bushel. In some areas of my life I’ve allowed this to happen, especially in the past few years.

But none of that matters. In fact, nothing matters but faith expressing itself through love, utter reliance expressing itself as a wholehearted committal of one’s entire being to a particular project, a particular person, a particular God. We are to create as children create, taken up in the thing itself, not bothering about whether so-and-so will think it is good, burning with the fire of creation, the passion of purpose, the thrill of bringing an idea into manifested, tangible reality.

I don’t mean simply creation of art. I mean any kind of creation – the creation of a marriage, of a family, of a job, of a friendship where only enemies had existed before.

In the end doing this project was an eye-opener. I had real joy in the process, a spontaneous faithing that was nearly continuous, and some ridiculous ideas that actually worked.

The Nothing premiered at the Nashville Film Festival April 14-15. It was a good test run. There’s still work to go on finishing details.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


31 Comments

  1. kelli

    Ron…your music is brilliant! This taste leaves me longing for more. Vivid pictures are painted through each note, and my emotions are stirred. (Will there be a soundtrack for sale??)

    It’s the doing, the faithing, that truly matters. When we stop and listen to those voices of perceptions, of not knowing enough, we allow fear to control us.

    I read this this morning by George MacDonald…

    “Men would understand; they do not care to obey. They try to understand where it is impossible they should understand except by obeying. They would search into the work of the Lord instead of doing their part in it…It is on them that DO his will that the day dawns. To them the day star arises in their hearts. Obedience is the soul of knowledge.”

    and this…

    “While the mind is occupied with the question, ‘Do I believe or feel this thing right?’ the true question is forgotten: ‘Have I left all to follow Him?'”

    How thankful I am that you stepped of that cliff…faithing, trusting. Oh, how you did fly!

  2. Jess

    I wanna see this movie just for the music, if nothing else. 🙂 Great job! And I love the story (spontaneous offers are the best!).

  3. cindy kasten

    Fantastic! I love this! I have the “girls on the bus” spinning in my head sometimes! “faith expressing itself through love” thank you!

  4. sarah

    How wonderful to read such honesty. The beauty of your music is made all the more beautiful in your desire to give honor and glory to God for it. C.S. Lewis said that we must either call Christ a liar, a lunatic, or God, and as His followers how we live out our faith will, and I believe to a great extent should, seem insane to the world lost in the darkness of sin. It is when our lives defy all human logic and wisdom that God alone will get the most glory through us. to quote on of my favorite teachers, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”-John Piper. He has shown His all sufficiency through enabling you to perform above and beyond human understanding because you have trusted the true source of all things. The fact that you stepped out in faith and did what seemed impossible can only mean that God gets all the credit (“so that no man should boast in His presence”). Giving thanks to God for the gifts He has given you and praising Him for your steadfast witness of His grace to the building up of His body for His glory alone and for our good! Love in Christ!

  5. Stacy Grubb

    I know you think you were crazy for taking on such a project, but to me, you are the perfect fit for soundtracking. I’ve always said your instrumentals tell a story. You’ve shared some of the inspiration behind a couple of your instrumentals and those images actually really did come alive in my mind while listening to the tunes. That’s a reminder to me how often we overlook in ourselves how well equipped we are to achieve.

  6. Rob Y

    So, the Nashville flood indirectly led to both this and the Jill Phillips/Andy Gullahorn Christmas album. Hmmm…

  7. Deborah Damaras Jackson Wheeler

    Ron, it never ceases to amaze me; everytime I read what the Lord has taught you, or whathe may be trying to teach you through a series of scriptures and readings, the Holy Spirit points to it and says to me, “See? That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! And you aren’t the only one who I’m telling it to!”

    Thank you, for sharing this. I sing. I play piano at church. Just have not been faithful; discouraged by not being happy in the place God seems to have put us to serve. Two things came to me as I read what you posted. First, if I am not faithful in the little things, how can I expect Him to want me to serve anywhere beyond? Second, Jesus said if we would come to him with the faith of a little child, a faith that does not waver, no complicated analysis, completely focused on believing with the faith we have in Him … wewould Be a blessing To Him, and we would experience unfathomable strength, be cause of the joy of Our Lord when we Trust and Obey.

    God bless you Ron.

  8. Loren

    I love the sound! It’s cool to hear of a situation of resting fully and letting God bring the creativity, too. I’m so often a perfectionist with my art that it takes forever to finish what I start and as a result, little is usable.

    Pondering, though (and I know from what I’ve read here in the Rabbit Room that you have extensive background in art and theology)…. I wonder if we need to be careful about expressing our creativity if we do NOT have a foundation of learning? It seems like a lot of believers nowadays talk a lot about letting God work through us, but they try to let it happen without having any knowledge (Bible understanding, etc.) behind it. One sees it in art, too, where people think they have a natural talent and that’s all they need–forget studying and improving.

    I’m not trying to throw out the faithing aspect. I think that’s vitally important, and I’ve been learning so much about this in the past few years, and learning to rest in Christ and let Him live through me instead of striving on my own. But I wonder–how do we balance this with being wise and trained?

    What’s your perspective on this, Ron? I’d really like to hear it!

  9. Becca

    I love this music. It feels earthy, free, unforced. It reminds me of being out in nature. Like water or wind or trees sighing.

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Loren,

    Building a technique is important. Technique is the channel for creativity, for spirit. If I pick up my daughter’s violin (which I have never learned to play) and start making sounds trying to play Bach, it is likely, no matter how hard I believe I can do it, no matter how much I am “feeling it,” that the sounds will be something less than musical. Listeners will not hear the feeling coming through, because I have not sufficiently developed a technique that is clear enough to let feeling pass through.

    Faith involves endurance. The promise is not given immediately; Abraham had to wait for years for the promised heir. So in playing an instrument, we persevere in faith. If I picked up the violin in a faith-attitude, studied, learned one day, then the next, then the next, after a few years I might be quite a decent violinist. Desire comes first and flows, and then it is that endurance in faith that builds a technique.

  11. Loren

    Thanks, Ron! I think that clarifies things. Your final sentence, though: “Desire comes first and flows, and then it is that endurance in faith that builds a technique,” I wonder, can that be elaborated on? We have the desire to learn an artform or grow in Christ, then through endurance we build a technique (in art) and God tests us and grows us (our faith). As a result, we are able and longing to pour forth what we’ve learned, and so can be “spontaneous”….. And here the paths of art and faith converge. I know I feel the most creative when something has touched me from God’s Word, truth, creation….

    Am I reading your final point correctly?

  12. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Loren yes. Desire comes first. I first saw someone play banjo and was hit by desire. I wanted one. Dad bought me one, and I started playing without any questioning of “Can I do this?” or “Can I be good at this?” All I had was desire, and a sort of innocent faith that didn’t doubt because it had never considered “I might not have talent.”

    Faith endured and has built a technique that allows me to be spontaneous at least some of the time.

  13. Josh Childs

    We are beside ourselves with joy that you would join “The Nothing” on our journey, Ron. I can’t imagine anyone else doing the music, partly because it’s so awesome, and partly because your journey and the lessons you’re learning parallel our own trip of faith with this movie. Thanks for taking these steps of faith with us.

  14. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kelli,
    Love that GM quote:
    “Men would understand; they do not care to obey. They try to understand where it is impossible they should understand except by obeying. They would search into the work of the Lord instead of doing their part in it…It is on them that DO his will that the day dawns. To them the day star arises in their hearts. Obedience is the soul of knowledge.”

    When Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth your hand,” the man could have said, “What will that do?” or “Let me ask my friends what they think” or “Let me check with my Doctor and I’ll get back to you.” But instead he made that single gesture he was told to make: “Stretch forth your hand.” How many times do we try to get the logic behind what God tells us to do, to reason out what might happen? I love when they stand before Rilian tied to the Silver Chair, and Puddleglum says, “Aslan didn’t tell us what would happen. He only told us what to do.” So they did as Aslan had told them.

  15. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh Childs, you da man! Can’t wait to go through the tightening-up process, remixing, etc. We’ll make it everything it can be.

  16. Loren

    Thanks so much for the further links, Ron. The desire to create, but then to hone it, and above all, stay submitted to the One who has given us the gift, is so vital. I feel like I’ve been learning it so slowly over the years.

    I’ve always loved to draw and write, and I’ve dabbled in those things over the years. My parents are very creative people, instilling a love for beauty and for God in me and my sisters, and they never squelched my gifts in the sense of “That’s no good!” But they are also very “practical” people (probably my mom most!) and there was always the underlying thought of, “But do make sure you go into something where you have a steady job!” Money wasn’t ever a big deal (my parents are actually missionaries 🙂 ), but jobs–practical jobs, serving jobs–have been the rule. And so I continued to dabble, but never jumped into creativity full-throttle. It was too uncertain….

    And it’s only been after fifteen years of marriage to a wonderful husband who pushes my creativity, a special-needs daughter who passed away after 6 1/2 amazing years, three younger “typical” kids who are still running circles around me 🙂 –only now am I seeing how much I’ve lived in fear of “the uncertain” and have not let God work through me for His glory and pleasure. Well, I suppose I’ve let Him work–I’ve always wanted Him to–but I think He could do a LOT more; I’m just realizing now how that occurs. The whole trusting-process, the “faithing” as you put it, is still in its baby stage.

    I liked this statement in the second of the two links you referenced:
    “The last thing is that all desire, all talent, all of our being, must be laid out at the feet of Jesus Christ; everything must go to and through the Cross…. When we do this with our talents, we will find that God “really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.””

    Anyway, that’s my rambling response to your thoughts on creativity in action!

  17. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Loren: I have held my gifts in check in some areas through unbelief; even though God has given me everything I need for life (creative life, too!) and godliness (god-like-ness), says 2Peter, I have not always faithed it as true. I am learning lately to let it all go, all those restraints and boundaries on my gifts that I have put there by my false perceptions, comparisons, fears. The thing I am to ask each day is “What does God want from me?” The answer, always, is “faith.” Faith, active, stepping-out and abiding/resting/trusting in Christ, who lives in me. This Power applies to my husbanding, parenting, friendships, and creative/work life. Wherever I step, I am to step in faith that this Power will manifest himself through me, as if it were me. Without faith, it is impossible to have that power flow, just as it is impossible to turn on an electric air compressor without plugging it in. The power is there, resident, waiting, but the machine must be plugged in. That’s our part as human beings, to throw that switch of faith, to plug into that outlet of God’s power. That is our “willed share in our own making,” as George MacDonald puts it. When we do that, and then step out recognizing that Power as our all-sufficiency, Christ lives through his Body – personally, corporately, creatively.

  18. Tom Murphy

    “The power is there, resident, waiting, but the machine must be plugged in. That’s our part as human beings, to throw that switch of faith, to plug into that outlet of God’s power. That is our “willed share in our own making,” as George MacDonald puts it. When we do that, and then step out recognizing that Power as our all-sufficiency, Christ lives through his Body – personally, corporately, creatively.”

    “Men would understand; they do not care to obey. They try to understand where it is impossible they should understand except by obeying. They would search into the work of the Lord instead of doing their part in it…It is on them that DO his will that the day dawns. To them the day star arises in their hearts. Obedience is the soul of knowledge.”

    Amen Ron!

    All of our “faithing” culminates in abiding and resting in Christ. Reaching back to George MacDonald’s quote above, it is an act of obedience to rest in Christ as He dwells in and lives through us. The “Be still and know that I am God” is in the form of an offensive military command in Psalm 46:10. It is a posture of the heart that “faiths” (believes, trusts) from the grace God has given.

    It echoes passages all throughout the Scriptures, but clearly seen in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me”.

    Isa 58:10-14 suggests it feels more like a “pouring out” (v10) that receives power from Rest (v 13-14).

    It is then we can see the fulfillment of Sabbath from the Prophetic Scriptures in our Sabbath (Resting) in the person of Jesus – His death, burial, Ressurrection, and Ascension as the “firstfruits” manifestation of new life for today and the hope of Glory for tomorrow.

    I am pretty intrigued with the title of the movie.

    “The Nothing” as in “A Never Ending Story”? “The Nothing” as in finding hope in the pit of despair? Or am I totally off the mark?

    When does it release for private/public viewing again?

  19. Loren

    I completely agree with this, and it’s been (as I mentioned) a truth I’ve started to grasp over the past few years. It’s been amazingly eye-opening, though I’m finding while I am understanding it with my head, it’s probably the hardest thing to do (the letting go part!).

    This sort of leads back to a thought I started with…. For me, I know that I have a solid foundation of studying Scripture over the years (though the day-by-day input is something I struggle with currently as a mom of three little ones; I try to find bite-sized ways to be fed). I wonder, though, if some believers might excuse studying Scripture and learning what God has to say because they think all they need to do is rest in God and have faith. Do you see this as a concern? Are we losing much in our current society because of a tendency to neglect digging into Scripture? (And if we neglect this, can our creativity, service, outreach and worship truly be as effective as God could make it?)

    Thanks for your continued input on this!

  20. Tom Murphy

    Great questions Loren!

    I think for the most part we have replaced meditation on the Scriptures, with reading the Scriptures. It’s much easier to dwell in small sections and go deep, than to try and cover too much at once.

    In my personal (and communal) walk with the Lord, I have seen the power of dwelling in particular passages for extended periods of time (a week, several weeks, several months) to suck all of the spiritual marrow from God’s Word I can.

    The way I have done this, practically speaking, is by dwelling over the text through song. It’s put me on a quest with some Seminarian buddies to figure out how to do this in community within the Dallas area. We can use all of the help we can get because some of us aren’t musicians. I have begun to develop a form of counseling called Biblical Counseling Through Song based upon Colossians 3:16-17 to meditate upon the Scriptures. The text drives the music selection. You might really like the Sons of Korah if this idea strikes a chord. I’ll post a version of Psalm 91 they recently performed.

  21. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Loren:

    “I trust you, but I’m not really interested in what you have to say” doesn’t really work logically. This can happen in a believer’s life. But it’s akin to saying, “I am trusting God to provide. So I’ll just sit here and watch TV until someone knocks on my door with money.”

    It generally doesn’t work that way. As GM would say, how can we call it “faith” if it isn’t interested in taking the slightest notice of what God says?

    When we come to the Word with expectancy, trusting God will enlighten us, he does. When we step out in faith trusting him to come through financially, he does (though not always on our timetable). It is the outpouring of faith, the action that faith generates, the stepping out that fulfills faith – that’s where God comes through in the Now.

    Any “faith” other than that which steps out, jumps off the cliff edge, is intellectual assent, not faith. I can be a complete unregenerate person and assent to the facts the Jesus lived, died, and even rose again, and even that he did that for sinners. I am not stepping out in faith, though, until I say also, “Jesus died for me, personally.” Until I take hold and appropriate the promise as MINE, it remains only potentially manifested. It is mine, nonetheless, in Christ, but it’s like money that stays in the bank unused; although I may really need to spend it in the moment, because I don’t cash the check it stays in the account.

  22. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    To clarify, of course I don’t mean legalism, the idea that if we trust God we’ll go out and do a lot of good works for him by our human effort. I mean knowing that Christ lives in us, we step out knowing that Power as our total sufficiency, though we are completely weak and helpless in and of our human selves and effort.

    Practically it means things like this. Let’s say I’m driving to Bible study. I’m teaching. I don’t feel like teaching and I don’t feel adequate. But I affirm that Christ is in me and has things to say, and that he is my total adequacy, and that not only CAN he come through me with power, but he WILL. I hammer my stake in the ground and “bet the farm” on God’s promise: “All the fullness of the Godhead lives in Christ in bodily form, and in him you also are filled full of it.” So I go into the study prepared with a faith committal and attitude that Christ is sufficient, and I expect him to come through.

    Or at home. My kids are fighting. I feel frustrated. But then I remember Christ in me is my sufficiency, my power, my peace, my patience, my wisdom from God. I thank him and praise him for it in that moment. Then I step out in faith knowing he will be that to my children.

    The results are always vastly different when I faithe versus trying to do things with my own strength, wisdom, abilities.

  23. Loren

    Ah! I think my muddle is coming clear 🙂 . If one is not trusting in the first place, resting in Christ, then there will be no outflow (or very little to any good purpose). And true faith/trust/rest does not occur unless the relationship is strong (and strength comes through study, reading, and life-experiences, etc.).

    Thanks for the concrete example of letting Christ be your sufficiency when the kids are fighting. I find that’s where I am most tested these days–in the home field–and the fight is between me and letting go of my own nasty attitude. I know I need to rest in Christ, but I fight the desire to let my negative self run free instead. It’s a definite process!

    Tom, I love your idea of putting Scripture to music! I’d love to hear how that progresses. I know that’s a key way for me to get it ingrained in my heart!

  24. Tom Murphy

    Here goes Loren…I thought you may find the Sons of Korah a help in your meditation on the Psalms. I use their stuff all of the time. If you’re interested, I can send you some demo work if you email me at TomMurphy28@gmail.com.

    Sons of Korah – Psalm 91

    Sons of Korah – Psalm 125

    http://www.sonsofkorah.com

    In general, meditation on the Scriptures is a major theme of Psalm 119. Meditation is the same process that we go through when we ruminate on the fears and anxieties of life. If you’ve ever been kept up at night turning something over and over again in your mind, you have the skills to meditate.

    Psalm 77 is a picture of one who makes the transition from meditating on self to meditating on God. In verse 6 the psalmist prays, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart” leads to questioning God’s goodness.

    When he reaches the height of his despair, the psalmist turns to the Lord (repents) and in verse 10, exclaims, “Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’” The rest of the Psalm unpacks God’s provision for His people and capstones in verse 19, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”

    Meditation on God through His Word is a means of recovering the Lord’s footprints in Redemptive History and a reminder of His ever present working the Redemptive Narrative in and through us, now and for eternity. It serves to connect the universal Church past, present, and future as one Body and one Bride.

    The power of meditation comes to fruition when the object of our meditations, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, consumes our life.

    Psalm 119:14-16

    [14] In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
    [15] I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
    [16] I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

    Psalm 119:25-27

    [25] My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to your word!
    [26] When I told of my ways, you answered me;
    teach me your statutes!
    [27] Make me understand the way of your precepts,
    and I will meditate on your wondrous works.

    Psalm 119:54

    [54] Your statutes have been my songs,
    in the house of my sojourning.

    Psalm 119:147-148

    [47] I rise before dawn and cry for help,
    I hope in your words.
    [48] My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
    that I may meditate on your promise.

  25. Stacy Grubb

    In speaking of talent breeding a desire to do and develop, is it possible that some folks have a genuine talent, yet no desire in their heart to really pursue it? I have a few “talents,” such as portrait drawing and probably more talent than the average bear in certain instruments, yet in those things, I’ve never felt the sort of drive I’ve always felt in singing and songwriting to put forth the blood, sweat, and tears to become skilled. When it comes to playing an instrument, I want to be better, but I’m lazy with it. In drawing, it’s something I discovered I can do in high school, but it doesn’t bother me that I never do it and haven’t drawn a picture in probably 7 or 8 years. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the subject over the last couple of years because of witnessing raw talent in people – myself included, though I really only realized that recently – who seem to have no desire at all to improve or do any more than what comes naturally. It doesn’t seem to always be rooted in laziness.

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