Don’t Stop The Music 2023

I love looking back at the music that mattered to me over the years.  The tone and timbre of my choices reflect my emotional state at the time and it’s insightful to remember where I’ve been and why these songs spoke to me.

I mark the eras of my life with music, and Spotify is getting into that game with their year-end data dump on every subscriber. They have so much data on me, it’s staggering. They informed me that I am in the top 1% of their listeners who consume the most music.  And I would buy that.  Music fills my house and headphones from morning to night.

But even with their Moneyball approach to data, the songs that they said were my favorite were really the ones most listened to, not the ones that spoke deepest to me. For my sake, I thought I would reflect on what mattered and share these with you.

If you are a friend on Facebook, you’ve probably seen me post my periodic game I call All-Play Friday. I don’t do it as often as I once did, but I poll my friends and ask them for their music recommendations based on a particular theme.  My favorite topic was In Her Words. I wanted people to send a song that had lyrics from a point of view that could not be covered or sung by a man.  Here’s that playlist:

To commemorate this New Year’s Eve, here are five songs that mattered to me in 2023.

I Am The Fire (acoustic version)  by Inglorious.

I cut my teeth on hard rock and roll as a kid and have never lost the penchant for loud guitars and heavy metal thunder.  One oft missing component among this genre is the skill of the lyricist doesn’t always match the virtuosity of the musicianship.  The song might rock, but the words sound cliche and embarrassing.  KISS is my case-in-point. While we all want to rock and roll all night and party everyday, it not very inspiring.

Hall of Fame Canadian power trio Rush, is an exception.  Until I saw them play live, I didn’t have a concept for how much sound can emanate from three musicians. but sometimes their lyrics float in a stratosphere so high, they leave my ears feeling like they can’t fly to that height. Rush has the ability to make me feel uneducated, but I bowed to that altar anyway.

Steel Panther is an interesting beast and is the most enigmatic band I know of and at the same time, the most vulgar band on the planet.  Their music is NSFW and if you track them down because I said so, I will deny I ever did so.  I wouldn’t recommend them, but the point I’m making is that their music is congruent with their lyric writing. Not sure what their thought process was as they decided to build such a band, but they went on to marry the honed craft of metal guitar with crude, but funny (to some) sexual references. They disregarded innuendo and went straight to overt, blatant vulgarity.

Two years ago, enter the British rock group Inglorious. And Spotify told me they were my favorite band, which to a music lover like me is like telling me which of my kids is my preferred.  But I listened to them a lot because I like their sound and singing along didn’t make me feel embarrassed that I am saying that out loud.  Seldom do I come across a song that feels like I wrote it, because every line touches something of my story.

Call It Dreaming by Iron & Wine

Sam Beam is who I want to be when I grow up.  He is masterful at crafting a lyric that has a distinct feeling attached to it. His voice and his acoustic guitar are a seamless story.  As a writer, I am drawn to artists who can say things I wish I could say, but lack the musical talent and words with which to gift the listener.  I can cut and paste this lyric alone, but it falls so short without his voice to deliver the gift.

“Where the time of our lives is all we have
And we get a chance to say
Before we ease away
For all the love you’ve left behind
You can have mine”

Call It Dreaming, Iron & Wine

Spotify told me this song was #11, but I have to disagree with the data and go with my gut.

King of Pain by The Police

The Police is a band I would never want to attempt to cover any of their songs. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copland each had an internal metronome that ticked on a special cadence. When the three of them came together for their tumultuous 7 year career, they came up with songs that sounded so different and distinct, to attempt to reproduce them would be moot.

The song matters because the title matters.  I am drawn to beauty and pain, however or wherever I encounter it. It might be in nature, or in listening to a stranger’s story. I’ve always had the peculiar ability to sit with grief and not run from the person suffering it. 

I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

King of Pain by The Police

King of Pain ranked #27 and I’m not sure why it was so low.  Maybe I started listening to it later in the year?

Particles – Island Songs VI by Olafur Aranalds

I listened to a podcast earlier this year titled Why You Like The Music You Do. Susan Rogers is a music producer-turned-neuroscientist that became fascinated by how people choose the type of music they listen to.  Some are drawn to the lyrics, others not at all.  Some prefer the intellectual stimulation, others for purely how it feels.

This song falls into the latter category for me. It’s all about the feeling it invokes in me.  I think it’s why I have specific playlists for rainy days. And this one is canonized among each of them.

Black Joy by aja monet

I guess this should be in the genre of spoken word, but the rhythm in her rhymes invoke imagery in a song-like way.  She presents thoughts, scenes and scenarios from her childhood neighborhood.  She recalls her cultural connections that are way outside my rural Oklahoma heritage, but lets me in to see what it is like to see the world through her eyes.

Here’s to where the music takes us in 2024.  Don’t stop the music. Here’s a bonus track.

Don’t Stop the Music by Jamie Cullum

Storyteller.

I’m a writer.

And like some of my other titles, it took a long time to embrace it.

It took about two years of owning my restaurant before I was ok with referring to myself as chef. I refused to wear a chef coat when I started. I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

In March 20/20, when I started writing my typewriter thoughts and poems, I cringed when someone called me a poet. I thought to myself, “that’s what T.S. Eliot does. How can I put myself in that category?”

Writer. Chef. Poet.

Is that what I do or is it representative of who I am?

I think the answer is yes.

November 16, 2017 was the 320th day of the year 2017 in the Gregorian calendar. There were 45 days remaining until the end of the year. The day of the week was Thursday.

And I had a most important coffee with Randy Bretz that day.

The writing was on the wall. My restaurant was doomed and internally our ownership and I had begun to plan out our closing date and strategy.  In a preemptive plan, I began meeting with other leaders in my community network to ask them this question:

“Knowing me as you do, what could you see me doing next?”

Many only knew me from the restaurant environment. Some I hadn’t talked with in years.  For others, this was the first conversation we ever had.  I was looking for their observation about me and my life, hoping they could see something I could not, and speak some encouragement and insight for me as I was bracing for the coming storm that would appear in the next two weeks.

Bretz is a trusted friend and voice of counsel to me. Among his many accomplishments, he curated the TEDx Lincoln event for several years. Most recently, he helped organize the Nebraska StoryTellers Festival last Thursday, in which I was a participant.

Over coffee that morning, I asked Randy my question, “what could you see me doing next?” His answer was swift and blunt.

“I have no idea what you should do next, but I do know that you’re a good writer, and whatever your future holds, you better keep writing.”

It was the timely word I needed to hear.

After I left the coffee shop, I went home, opened my computer and purchased a URL. I called it 55degrees.us (dot com was taken).  I had been writing for years, but all of it was under the scope of the now defunct restaurant and I wanted a new beginning, with a new name and new emphasis.

55 degrees is considered cellar temperature in the wine world.  Dig low enough under the surface of the ground and it’s that stable climate that can become incredibly useful in the process of aging wine.  Put something good in the cool darkness of 55 degree air, and leave it alone. It will emerge in a better state than when it went in.  It only needed the time and temperature to improve it.

55 degrees is a metaphor for my story. For many years, I felt in the dark. I went from a season of thriving to one of uncertainty and doubt. My faith wavered. My mental health suffered.  My marriage was challenged by the insertion of cancer into the already stressful mix. But ironically, in the year of 20/20, the year of the pandemic, clarity started to return.  It wasn’t because my eyesight or vision was improving. I had just been sitting in the dark cellar for a season of aging and improving.

I think Gratitude can easily be misunderstood. I’m encouraged to give thanks in all things, it doesn’t mean I am thankful FOR all things. I’m not grateful for the cancer that led to Late Wife’s nine and a half year dogfight until it took her life . But I am grateful in how I emerged from that battlefield. 

Stronger. Seasoned. Refined. And with new clarity.

The vintage of Kevin Shinn continues to rest, age and to be poured out.  Drinking from the 2023 year is different from opening a bottle of 2019 me.

I felt the difference last Thursday at the Nebraska Storytellers Festival. The one in which Bretz was a part.

I was chosen to be the last of 12 stories. Which meant I had to wait nearly two and a half hours to tell my story. That’s a lot of time for the nerves and butterflies to flutter. I kept fearing the anxiety was going to cause me to go blank and forget my opening line. But once it was my turn, all that emotion disappeared, and I was able to step out and open up the 2023 vintage.

It’s a story I’ve told dozens of times, but this was the first time it felt like it had such significant weight to it.  It was a story that had rested with me in the cellar at 55 degrees. And as I served it to the audience, I could tell that it had improved exponentially.

I think I can now add Storyteller to my new list of titles.

KS

{p.s. I will post a link to the story when it become available}

Clarity and The Number of Your Days

I turned 21,915 this summer.

On day 21,963 I had a near miss with a speeding vehicle as I was a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Changed my outlook. I feel like I got a mulligan.

It’s part of why I number my days now, not my years. This way, I get to have more to consider. I get to have more moments to express gratitude. And I like the way that feels.

On Day 19,896, I began the process of bankruptcy.

On Day 20,582, Late Wife passed.  She was allotted 21,923 days. No more. No less.

On Day 21,722, I was cleared of the burden of bankruptcy. I could start over.

On Day 21,128, The Portico was officially born as a business.

On Day 22,025, Season 4 of The Portico was complete. Over 100 tables set.

And on Day 22,033, I sit in a sidewalk pub with a Guinness and reflect on the days I have numbered.

There’s been a lot of life lived in this short span and I don’t want to miss out or take anything for granted.

I went to the doctor today. Annual wellness check. Everything looks good.

On Day 17,280, Late Wife did the same thing with her doctor. The diagnosis changed our lives.  Three days later, she’s in surgery. Two more days, we got the devastating news.

So what’s the point of all this? Am I depressed and in despair?

Far from it.

The ancient psalmist encouraged:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I don’t know how many I have been allocated.  But thanks to a handy online calculator, I only know the number of days I have lived as of right now.  It does no good to worry about something I can’t know or control in the future.

It’s quite possible for me to carefully craft doomsday scenarios, and never live long enough to see them fulfilled. This was especially true after sitting in bankruptcy court having to face witnesses that are filing a complaint before the judge. It was one of the most humiliating feelings ever.  I thought for certain that I would never recover.

But I did recover. I recovered financially.  I recovered meaningful work.  I recovered my health. I recovered my creativity. And in the process, I recovered my faith.

This is why I am so intent on writing as honestly as possible about the dark places. Everyone eventually finds themselves there, but not everyone has the courage or the companion who can sit quietly while the lights are out and bring comfort, often times without words.

Your eyes may work perfectly and have 20/20 vision. But keen eyesight is moot when it’s pitch black with no candle and you’re not sure where the door is, or if the room even has a door.

This off-season, I plan on exploring this work more formally with people who are in need of a guide through their dark places. I call it Clarity Counsel. My goal isn’t to solve your problem, because like me, there may be consequences that need to be suffered. instead, I hope to shed a little insight that brings clarity and hope so you can see what you’re dealing with, and give it a name. I will write more about this in the future.

I’m taking a break from cooking for a few weeks. I plan to return to more writing and restoring my creativity.

Thanks for reading.

KS

Look On The Dark Side

Three weeks ago, I nearly got hit by an inattentive driver as I was crossing a busy street in the crosswalk. I’m still processing the experience.

I was walking home from the grocery story, which is only three blocks from my house. I often feel lazy for driving such a short distance. In my year and a half experiment of going without a car, I got used to walking out of necessity. I still maintain that practice now that I have a vehicle.

On Day 21,963, I had my two bags of groceries, one in each hand, and waited at the curb for the red hand to turn into a white pedestrian figure. When the signal changed, I took a step into the street, but instinctively looked both ways as we were taught as children with the little jingle about street safety.

My dad had a saying that he burned into my psyche as he was teaching me how to drive.

“Son, you may have the right-of-way here, but you can be dead right, too.”

That came to mind as a car made a right hand turn in front of me, forcing me to stop and wait for the driver to pass.

After the coast seemed clear, I continued into the crosswalk, and a driver from the opposite direction began a left-hand turn. I heard his engine rev and suddenly noticed he was speeding up into his turn. He was coming straight towards me while I was halfway into the street.

The human brain is an amazing center of calculations. And in what was a split second evaluation, in retrospect, it felt like it took much longer for me to decide what to do. I remember three options:

First, was to freeze and take the hit. My rationale was that I would not have time to get out of the way, and if I went limp, the blow might have less effect.

The second choice was to jump up onto the hood of the truck. In doing so, I might roll off to one side and not face the blunt force of his front bumper.

The third was to run through the crosswalk to the center median, even though I may run into the path of another vehicle.

I chose the latter and missed getting hit by inches. I could feel the rush of air as the pickup blew by me.

I continued to the other side of the street. I was shaking so much, I had to sit down. As I did, I looked back across the way. The lights turned green and traffic resumed.

I said out loud, as if needing someone to hear me, 

“What just happened?”

My first impulse was to brush it off. No harm, no foul. Carry on. Right?

But if it wasn’t a big deal, why was my body trembling uncontrollably? 

I was taught growing up to always look on the bright side of every situation. “Be thankful for what you miss out on” was a common saying in my family.  And the bright side was that I was OK and nothing bad happened. But a voice kept calling out to me from a deeper place. It was inviting me to look on the dark side.

Just as my mind had processed the options available to me in the split second reaction of the ordeal, I intuitively knew that I would have to do the same thing on this side of the near accident. I would have to process the “what if…?” side of the equation.

My personal experience with grief and loss in these latter years of my life has taught me that, while fear might always be present, I cannot allow it to prevent me from summoning the courage to explore the unknown places where possible pain might still reside.

At that same crosswalk are the weathered remains of a makeshift memorial.  It serves to honor the lives of two young women who lost their lives when hit by a speeding car on the night of May 30, 2022. I walked by it intentionally during walking trips to the supermarket over the last year. I stopped and looked at the pictures taped to the light pole.  It was a sad reminder of what will no longer be for these friends and family.

Why in the world would I do that to myself?

Because I don’t want to use their tragedy to make myself feel better.  

A very common strategy for dealing with traumatic situations is to compare my circumstances to someone else’s.  How often have I said, “At least my problems aren’t as bad as some people.”  I no longer buffer my pain in this way. 

Most of us who have been the recipient of some type of medical care are familiar with the Pain Scale. The healthcare worker will ask the patient, “from 1 to 10, how bad is your pain?”  The reason this is an effective tool of analysis is they aren’t looking for an average or comparison. They are looking for how it feels to YOU in that moment, not how it’s supposed to feel based on a cross section of historical data. There is no standard for how a migraine should feel versus how a sprained ankle should feel. They are there to treat the pain, however it feels  All pain has its acute effects and it does no good to downplay it because I think I shouldn’t be feeling this bad.

It took a solid week for my body to move out of its trauma response. Even then I caught myself in a comparison cycle. “Is a week enough? Am I overreacting? Should I be feeling this way?

I will summarize this post in one statement: listen to your body. It will tell you everything it needs to know. It’s the keeper of trauma and pain. And it needs the ears of the attentive heart to heal.

Does Prayer Work?

We had another loss in our family last night. Complications due to surgery took a young man’s life too soon.  We all knew it would be a risky procedure but it had to be attempted.  And to cover all the bases, a support thread was set up among all of us via the smartphone to dispense updates and information, and to solicit prayer for specific needs along the way.  

Late evening, I got an urgent message asking for prayer. The situation was dire.

We all prayed for recovery. And the opposite happened.

The next message was not what any of us wanted to hear. Instead of good news, all of us on the family text chain got the dreaded word. He had passed.  As I sat in the pain of shock, I could not help but ask why? Why is this our answer?

I’ve dealt with my share of loss over the years, I knew if I was going to take faith seriously, I would have to grapple with these questions: Does prayer have any relevance? Does anyone out there even hear our pleas for help?

Does prayer work?

To which I would now answer, no, it doesn’t work.

I don’t believe it works, much like the old clock in my hallway doesn’t work.  I can wind it with the key, but I can’t expect it to start ticking.  Neither can I anticipate the predictable chime on the quarter, half and top of the hour.  The clock is broken. It doesn’t work.

In the same way, prayer doesn’t work. 

But I still believe in it.

I’ve lived in the same house for 31 years this month. When I took ownership in April 1992, there was a little cultivated plot sectioned off in the northeast corner of the backyard. I didn’t have to do much to plant a garden that first year. And every year since, I’ve tended that little area with an array of vegetables and flowers, to levels of varying success over those years.

Never once has any friend, visitor or guest asked me how my garden works. That’s because there is a general understanding that people have about plants. 

They grow. They don’t work

That’s why no one asks me how my garden works. Instead, they want to know how I do it? How do I keep the pests away? How do I keep the weeds back? How do I get such colorful produce? How do I know when to plant? Do I do the same thing every year? 

These are questions for a gardener, not a mechanic.

Organic life grows. Mechanical devices work.

Herein is the fundamental shift I had to make in order to understand the ancient practice of a prayer of faith. It doesn’t work. It can’t work because it is organic, not mechanical.

My understanding of my Maker is living and biological, not automated and mechanical. It is mysterious, not logical. There is no owners manual with step by step instructions and a separate parts list in case something breaks and I need to order a new one. Some would argue that the Scriptures are that guide, but from my vantage point, I would have to disagree. The 66 books of text tell a story that moves and breathes. It doesn’t follow orders.

If we want to have a dialogue about prayer, I won’t have much to say about how it works. But I can tell you how I’ve seen it grow.

A gardener doesn’t have to know botany or own a book on gardening to begin the activity. All that is required is to put seeds in the ground and stand back and pay attention. As movement begins to be evident, the gardener watches sprouts come up, leaves to expand and roots to sink deeper. As fruit appears, a hand reaches to pluck one and sample it.  Joy ensues. A garden has grown.

And in 31 years I’ve nurtured a garden, I’m a much better gardener now.  I still plant every spring despite last year’s hail storm and tomato blight.  I keep trying and keep improving the process.

Yes, I believe in prayer. I just don’t believe it works.

What The Portico Experience Has Done For Me

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Amid the drivel and minutiae of social media, one subject that will eventually emerge whenever I choose to access it is the practice of gratitude.  At the writing of this post, there were 37,916,065 references tagged #gratitude.  When an idea or thought becomes so familiar like that, it’s very easy for it to become unfamiliar.  Repeated exposure to a good thing without concerted consideration can lead me to miss the original intent.

Gratitude is a fairly new practice for me. And I use the word practice intentionally. Much like practicing my guitar in the hope that I will achieve some improvement, gratitude has a similar process for me. It’s a little like this:

I like to play my guitar. I don’t work it.

In order to become a more grateful person, I seek to play with gratitude rather than work at it.  It still requires intentional effort and discipline on my part, but the outcome has been so much more fulfilling.

April 15 begins the fourth season of my little culinary project called The Portico Experience. It all began at the onset of the pandemic, when the entire hospitality industry was shut down. I had no job at the time, was recently widowed and in a state of trying to figure out what my next step should be.

This was not the place in life I had dreamed of. I didn’t craft a plan to go broke at age 55. Instead, I had envisioned creating a little enterprise of original restaurant concepts.  But none of that turned out.  I let a lot of people down in the process. And bankruptcy was the only way out. A very unfavorable way out, I might add.

But the Phoenix began to rise from the ashes in May 2020, when I received the first request to cook again. It was for a couple celebrating their anniversary when their original plans were disrupted by COVID. Photos posted on social media, combined with word of mouth referrals led to 38 opportunities to cook for guests that summer. One table per night. All in my backyard.

The Portico Experience in full summer color.

Without too much boring detail, 2021 provided 75 occasions for guests to dine. Last year I topped 90.  And thus was how a full scale micro restaurant was born. I have titled it, The Portico Experience.

For me, gratitude is not about being thankful for all the bad things that happened. I don’t wish for anyone to experience bankruptcy, or to lose a spouse or watch multiple businesses fail. I’m not glad those things happened. But I can be grateful for what those things produced in me.

All of us have experienced unfavorable circumstances. Loss is chief among them. My friends who have had to bury a child will describe it as hell on earth.  They want their son or daughter back. They are not thankful for cancer, or car accidents or suicide.  This is not how gratitude works.

Gratitude and Grief can coexist. They can be interwoven, not necessarily independent of each other.

Gratitude makes room for Grief.

Gratitude and Grief make odd bedfellows. They are not mutually exclusive. But Gratitude knows when to be quiet so Grief can be expressed.

I’m not grateful my wife died. I’m not grateful I lost my businesses. I’m not grateful I couldn’t make a final payroll. I’m not grateful that I owed so much to so many.

Even writing this brings back the inescapable pain of each experience and circumstances surrounding them.

But I am grateful for what germinated from those deaths.  The seed that is buried in the ground has to die in order to become something new.  When (not if) something in my life dies, I must grieve the loss and be watchful for what will emerge.

The Portico Experience is one of those resurrections for me for which I am full of gratitude.

In 2007, I became a chef and opened a restaurant because I wanted to create a space where people could connect and reflect.  I wanted to support that goal by serving simple, memorable food and drink that was handcrafted, with seasonal products. I think I accomplished that. But the demands of the workload and unpredictability of the market created a difficult burden to bear.  Even though it was hard, I would do it again in a minute. The intangible profits came in the form of the people who worked alongside me and the guests who still remember special moments at that place.

Chef Kevin Shinn

Fast forward to 2023 and The Portico Experience. I’m a chef once again, doing the same things I described above.  I feel like I own a restaurant again, but I am doing things now in my tiny little backyard space that I could never have done in the traditional restaurant setting.

  • I couldn’t have served one table per night.
  • I couldn’t have allowed you to stay all evening because I would have had to turn your table twice.
  • I couldn’t have curated your experience personally and specifically accommodated your dietary restrictions.
  • I couldn’t have hosted you, cooked your food and served your meal with a deeply personal touch and made you feel uniquely cared for.

I am not grateful for the losses that got me here, but I am grateful for the opportunity to transmute those painful circumstances into relational gold.

I am experiencing more joy in my work than ever before, and for this I am grateful.  

So with this, I invite you to consider dining with me this season in The Portico.  It’s not just a meal. It’s a complete culinary experience for an entire evening.  Not only does it include a personalized menu of food and drink, it includes space for you, my guest, to slow down and relax with your friends and allow the conversation to flow into meaningful places.

I keep a box of Kleenex by the table for those moments that become moving and turn personal.  One woman told me at the end of her meal shared with four lifelong friends that this evening was one of the top five moments in her life.

That compliment gives me yet another chance to practice gratitude. Not grateful for the pain, but very grateful for what emerged from it all.

To find out more about The Portico Experience, email me at 55degreesUS@gmail.com

I hope I can serve you soon.

KS

My Starting Point for Growth and Change

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Social media has its myriad of ills, but to be fair, it also has a few cures.  I can waste a lot of time scrolling through reels of beagles and ornery dogs, but occasionally I come across a tidbit of wisdom that makes me pause and pay a small receipt from my otherwise diminished attention span.  

Am I better for it?  Maybe. I don’t know. Who knows? Who’s counting?

I guess I could obsess over the data that is tracked about the minutiae that is provided to me in my statistics tab.  But where does that lead? Am I better for knowing the average eyeball gaze at my latest typewriter post?

As a writer, I hope that my words will matter. I hope someone will find something I said meaningful, or better yet, lasting.  But that is a metric I can’t change or control.  I can’t tell you what to feel from my writing.  I can’t make my words mean to you what I want them to mean. I can only choose to publish the words I have written or leave them be and never tap them out on the keys of my Remington Quiet-Writer.

Have you ever wondered why we share words and quotes we find inspirational?  Ever wonder why they have a “share” button to click on every post?  We read something that resonates and impulsively feel the need to click it? Or repost it for our followers to see?

Why do we do that?

I consume lots of content that is intended for self-education (a term I prefer over self-help). I have a few YouTube therapists that I check in with regularly.  Their perspective is informative and it resonates, but does it do me any good?

So what makes a word like that effective?  Am I just posting words that produce a warm feeling?  If so, I’m ok with that, but I think what I really want is to be a part of producing change.

Even this morning, the algorithm gave me a recommendation of a video titled Three Things You Can Do Right Now To Change Your Life. Like Hank with the ball, I bit on it quickly to see what the author had to say, to see if it was a rehash of everything everyone else has to say.

I found his advice reasonable and resonating, but I couldn’t tell what I felt was missing from his presentation. So I sat with it and decided to write to see if I can put words to the feeling.

He even qualified his three points as being unique to other motivational speakers and that nobody else will tell you this advice.  

Yet from my experience, I still felt there was something missing from his counsel.

I’ve been on an intentional road toward emotional health and restoration for a few years now.  The collapse of my business was its impetus and continues through the other losses I’ve experienced since then. In this time, I’ve immersed myself in countless videos, messages, sermons, sound bytes, quotes, poems; you name it. All of it intended to help me become a better man.  But none of it was as helpful as this unearthing that unfolded in front of me in 2020.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Nothing was ever going to improve until I addressed my pain.

2020 was the year I began work with a therapist that understands trauma and pain.  LIke Haley Joel Osment said in Sixth Sense, “I see dead people,” she sees broken people.  She saw things I couldn’t see in myself, and the chief of what she saw was the pain I was carrying of which I was not aware. This was when the lights went on and real change began to take place.

Until I confronted the pain I was unknowingly bearing, my goals were a moot point.

All the books. All the videos. All the journaling. They all finally started to come into focus as I no longer viewed them through the blurry spectacles of pain that obscured everything I saw.

My weight began to decrease as I connected the dots between how I ate and how I felt.  My eating habits made perfect sense in light of the pain I was dealing with. I felt bad, therefore I ate to feel better.  The numbers added up.

I’m a chef. I know food. I know how to cook. I know how to prepare a delicious meal.

Didn’t matter.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Goal setting didn’t matter. Dreams didn’t matter. Discipline didn’t matter. Aspirations didn’t matter.

The pain was all that mattered. And that pain was demanding to be soothed.

It was apocalyptic.  

I like this word better than epiphany. Apocalypse is easily misunderstood. It’s usually applied to the end of days or the prediction of catastrophic events of the future.  But its simplest definition is to reveal (literally, to pull the lid off). An apocalypse is a revelation, an uncovering of what is underneath.

And nothing survives an apocalypse and stays the same.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Water From the River That Isn’t Supposed to be There.

I recently purchased a vehicle, one that I never imagined I would own.  Not that it’s extravagant or far nicer than I deserve. It’s just different. A make, model and color that I wasn’t looking for. Not even close.

Buying the vehicle was the end of a personal experiment that I began over a year and a half ago. (you can read the story here) It was a decision that was part of my faith journey. In July 2021, my car had mechanical failure, putting me in a position to repair it or get a new one. I chose a third option. I decided to wait and enter into a conversation with my Maker about it.

So how do I pray about something when I don’t have to? I was not in a place of desperation or dire need. I had the financial means to replace the broken down car. So why did I go a year and a half without owning a vehicle?

All I can say is I have a tendency to do things a little differently. I like to look for what I can’t see. I like to imagine what doesn’t exist. My drum beat is at times in compound meter.

The Asbury Revival falls into the same category for me.

In my previous life as a collegiate pastor, I was praying towards a certain end. I wanted to see spiritual awakening on my campus. I joined the prayer gatherings, and if there wasn’t one, I organized it.  I had an image in mind of what the Hound of Heaven wanted to do. And that vision looked alot like what played out at Asbury University.

In no way do I think what happened there was illegitimate, false or even dangerous (as some critics say). I only saw images and heard a bit of audio, but it all looked and sounded like a move of young people that yearned for something more than what they had been handed and beyond where they had been led.

But then the crowds showed up, along with the media outlets and every religous podcaster with an iPhone. (I can’t help but wonder where they all parked and took a leak?) Throngs of folks who had a similar yearning or just severe FOMO wanted in on it and to see for themselves.

And why wouldn’t they? It was an unusual event, and it scratched an itch for both believers and naysayers who wanted positive or negative affirmation for the spectacle.  Had I been in the area, I’m sure I would have wandered in.

As I said, there was a time when this would have been the manifestation of what I had been pursuing during my 18 years serving on the college campus.  But I hold a different picture in mind now. And I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing Asbury in order to grasp something more.

It is good that you grasp the one 
And do not let the other slip from your hand. 
For the one who fears their Creator
Will end up with both of them.

--The Preacher

I’ve been attached to Isaiah 43:19 for nearly 40 years. Or I should say it’s been attached to me for that long.  Ever since I was a young man of 18 years, when I first discovered the scriptures, certain passages have seemed to have leapt off the page and clung to me. And I could never shake them from me. These words are among them:

See, I am doing a new thing!     
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a roadway in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

There are plenty of scholars who would immediately stop me and tell me I am taking this out of context.  I know this because I was taught to think this way 40 years ago.  But faith has a way of shaping me and realigning me, away from the rigid and narrow certainty to which I once subscribed, into a more wide open space of beauty, freedom, awe and wonder.

I now get to ask new questions.

“What does new look like?”

The movement in Asbury isn’t new. Some say there have been eight in the history of the school. And they tend to look the same; a standard meeting that turns into an all day and night vigil, with prayer, worship, repentance, healing, forgiveness, etc. And it goes on and on.

And it doesn’t diminish the movement that is burgeoning there.  It’s just not the new thing I’m being drawn to watch and wait for.

For a year and a half. I had my mind set on a Ford F150, preferably red. I drove one for 18 years. I knew they were reliable. My father was a Ford guy and his dad was a Ford mechanic.  This is why I was reluctant to consider anything else. I had my mind made up. A red Ford truck was the end-goal.

When my auto dealer friend called me with an option I hadn’t considered, I turned him down. It wasn’t a Ford. It wasn’t an F150. It wasn’t red.

A few days later, he called me back, apologizing for being pushy, but recommended I come out and at least drive it.

I drove it off the lot two days later.

So did I compromise? Should I have held out for what I had my heart set on? Was I bending and giving up?  At the time, yes. But the answer now is definitely no.  It took someone who knew me to suggest a different option I had never considered.  Someone I trusted.

Faith is being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I don’t see.  I’ve learned to put my desire for awakening in that category.  We know what it looks like when a movement breaks out in a meeting on the campus of a Christian university. What about at a movie, or in a city park. What will it look like in a drag show or on a dorm floor?  Or simultaneously in individuals listening to the same song, at the same time, all around the world?

Or none of the above.

Start With The Pain

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

I have an occasional practice when I eat lunch at home. I flip on YouTube and scroll through their recommendations based on what they think I would be into. They get me pretty good and fill the list with gardening, food related documentaries and how things work. I typically don’t click on anything more than 5 minutes long, but Intervention drew my curiosity like a smoldering dumpster fire.

Intervention is an AMC production that follows people who have a severe substance addiction. The premise is the same. Meet (add name of family member) who consumes (fill in drug of choice) per day and can’t hold down a job. Now meet friends and family who are very concerned and want this person to get help. Each one interviewed describes the person as loving, wonderful and full of life and they hate to see (____) throw their life away.

The show is fairly predictable, which is why I find it fascinating.  Everyone involved is focused on the addiction, even to the point of being angry about it. An intervention is eventually staged and the behavior is confronted by a group of people in hopes that the person will change.

My fascination with the show is what gets overlooked and I watch for it in each episode. It only takes about five minutes to reveal the real story. In the interview with the addict, the reason for the addiction always gets exposed.

The pain.

It’s the pain from verbal abuse, of rape or incest or other childhood trauma. It’s consistent in every story. The once bubbly, happy child has become a shadow of that former self. 

But the attention is diverted away from the pain and all the focus is on stopping the behavior.  And that’s why it doesn’t always work. Just Say No is well meaning, but terribly misguided.

The pain is why the woman drinks six bottles of wine a day. It’s the pain that drives a man to keep stealing to obtain fentanyl.  The pain propels the addiction. In this way, the substance becomes secondary, merely a consequence of the unresolved inner turmoil.

And the pain is accelerated and fueled by shame. The addict feels the agony of it all.  An intervention that does not go beyond the substance toward understanding what pushes it will likely fail.

To best help the addict, start with the pain. Find the pain and you find the problem.

Emotions as Messengers

I’ve been feeling lonely lately. But to be fair, I think I’ve been lonely for a long time. The difference between then and now is my ability to pay attention to what is already there and begin to dialogue with it.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

There was a time growing up when I couldn’t be lonely. It was too dangerous to feel that way. As a little boy growing up in rural Oklahoma, I had no neighbor kids to play with, therefore I was alone much of my early childhood. I learned to play alone. I learned to get along by myself. It was a skill that served me well in the pandemic. While everyone was freaking out about being isolated, I reverted to the skillset that served me as a child.

I knew how to get busy doing things. I knew how to be productive. I painted my house by myself. I began writing music again. I started a podcast (Spotify) or (Apple). I indulged my interest in plants and gardening. I started working out again and losing weight.

I traveled. I wrote a lot. I started a business by accident that is now in its fourth year of growth and development. I got busy and stayed busy.

But underneath it, I was still lonely.

My outward busyness was an effective shield to hide the inner condition that my heart was feeling. This stragegery worked until it didn’t.

I’m grateful for the forces that shaped me growing up. Big Kev is a direct beneficiary of Little Me being shrewd and smart enough at an early age to figure out what it was going to take to survive. I would not be the man I am today without those influences.

But that doesn’t mean I have it figured out yet.  I am older and wiser now and have perspective on what the young version of me had to face. Little Me was not able to sort through complex emotions like loneliness. But he was savvy enough to persist and keep it together.

It’s up to the adult version of me to go back and revisit the past and remember what loneliness felt like.

I’ve discovered that this is not an intellectual process. I can’t think it through. I have to feel it. If I don’t, my adult choices won’t make sense.

Alcohol was my drug of choice in my darkest season of depression and self-doubt. It helped me drift off to sleep when my body was wrecked with stress and fear. It was effective medicine until it wasn’t.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

I started feeling guilty that I was drinking so much, but I wasn’t that interested in stopping. I didn’t put the two and two together that drinking wasn’t my problem. It was only a symptom of something deeper that needed my attention. My life and everything I had worked for was on a downward spiral towards an eventual abyss.  

Shame was my problem, not the bottle.

Once I connected the dots between my shame and subsequent destructive behavior, the solution came into focus. 

As any normal human, I want to feel better, and I’ll use whatever I have at my disposal to achieve that end. That’s not hard to comprehend. This kind of clarity helps remove judgment and is highly effective in countering shame.

Through the intense work of a therapist, I started to confront the shame, and the habit of drinking began to release its grip on my soul. I was doing the work. I was addressing the real problem.

As an emotion, loneliness is no different to me. It’s unwanted and undesirable. And I can deal with it by staying busy or finding another soul-numbing drug.

Or I can see it as an invitation. 

I get to invite loneliness to have a seat and begin a conversation, however difficult it may be.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn