Musician | Artist | Worshiper
Frank is the front-man for Atomic Opera, a solo artist, worship leader for CrossPoint Church, creative director, public speaker and record producer. He is currently writing his first book, “Search for the Remarkable” which will be published by V.I.P. INK Publishing. He is also a happy husband and father.
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Frank / Albums and Recordings, Art, Living Creatures Project, Uncategorized / Alan Doss, Atomic Opera, drums, Frank Hart, Galactic Cowboys, Home Recording, Living Creatures Project, Music Production, Sam Taylor, Songwriting, vintage gear, Wilde Silas, Worship music, Worship Songs /
The solid foundation of a great drum track is important because there has to be something on which to build everything else. It’s what gets built on top that either makes or destroys the project, though. The guitars, keys and especially the vocal is where the listener is either going to accept this new creation into their heart, or reject it and send it into outer darkness. It was time to find out what this record was actually going to be when it grew up.
Armed with a basic scratch track of acoustic guitar and vocal, a click track, and Alan Doss’s solid rock drums; I went into my home studio cave and began layering tracks. I could hear in my imagination how I wanted the songs to sound and I started building those performances one track at a time. It’s slow work, and I would spend much of the next year sitting in my armless office chair in front of my iMac.
You won’t believe how I recorded guitar and vocal. Whoa! Okay, maybe you will.
I started with electric guitar. This is where the songs started to take their sonic shape and move from imagination to the real world. I put a “telephone EQ” on the scratch track so it took up less space in the mix and I could turn it down and mostly listen to the drums. I didn’t want to be influenced by the rhythm choices I made on the acoustic guitar when they were different from the drums. I wanted to able to lock in with what Alan had played. I needed to hear the scratch track, though, so I could easily tell where I was in the song at any given moment; whether it was verse one, chorus two, bridge or instrumental breaks. The more I could just play without thinking, the better.
I dialed up vintage guitar sounds and started hammering away. I like to record dry and add effects later unless the effects are crucial to how I will play the part. I also recorded all of the guitars direct in case I wanted to re-amp something later, but I didn’t end up needing to do any of that.
I doubled all the guitar parts as I laid them down, which means I would record each guitar part twice; usually panning on hard left and one hard right. I did this with the intension of choosing what would be doubled and not doubled in the final mix. I used a lot of drop-D and drop-C tuning for the heavy guitar parts; these where usually Les Paul doubled with a Tele sound. The cleaner guitar sounds were often Strats doubled with a Les Paul or a Guild hollow-body sounds. Amps were a combination of high gain Marshall, clean Fender, and mid gain Dr Z sounds.
My process for recording guitars is to play along with the track until I feel comfortable with the part and have the right sound dialed in. Then I’ll record a take, not paying too much attention to whether it is perfect, just getting it captured; I might punch in if I make a really big mistake like going to the wrong chord or something. Then I’ll listen to the track to hear if it sounds like I thought it would. Many times the tracks don’t come back to me through the speakers the way I thought I laid them down; they feel different to me when I listen to the playback than when I was playing the guitar and recording. This is where a producer can come in handy; someone to help discern what works and what doesn’t; when something is good but could be better, or when a particular take is magic and should be left alone. This can be a strange world of second-guessing and self doubt.
Usually, I like to record alone. I can imagine perfectly in my mind how I want it to sound and it’s just a matter of comparing the track I just recorded to the imaginary track in my mind. The problem is I need silence to hear the music in my head. When people are around they tend to fill that glorious silence with speaking.
When it is only me in the studio, running the gear, playing the parts and listening for the best takes sometimes things can get past me. I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t notice glaring mistakes until the next day or until I start to add another instrument. Maybe there was a technical glitch, a tuning problem or some other mysterious gremlin. I know I’ll find these problems eventually and then I have to go back and record them again.
The risk is worth it, though.
I have to get into a creative, musical, childlike state when I am recording. This is why I like to work alone. If there are other people in the room it’s too hard to let my defenses down; it’s too hard to let the walls down. People want to have small-talk, make jokes, say clever things, justify their presence; they can make me feel insecure or like I have to prove something. If there is a person running the gear for me I have to talk to them and be polite. On the other hand, the computer doesn’t need me to be diplomatic; I can start, stop, record, delete, edit; all without hurting its feelings.
Don’t misunderstand me; I have had really good experiences recording with other people, too. Sometimes people can pull a better performance and help take the songs to places I wouldn’t have thought of. Sam Taylor is great at this; he would feed me confidence and push me beyond my comfort. He would steer me to musical choices that wouldn’t occur to me on my own. As a songwriter and arranger himself, he would paint the canvas of the song with performances of musicians and singers; one part therapist, one part magician.
After I finished all my electric guitar tracks, not including solos, I started recording the bass. I would usually not recommend the songwriter and guitarist to also record the bass tracks. It can make the record too one dimensional. Usually guitar players don’t think like a bass player and they will either be too busy (like a noodling bombastic guitar solo) or they are too simple (boring whole-notes with no melodic groove). Guitar players usually don’t know the subtle intricacies of how to extract true tone from the bass strings, or how to mute the strings that are not being played. There are a thousand reasons why you should only use a professional bass player who knows their way around a studio session.
My problem is I’m too opinionated about my own songs. It is far easier for me to just play it myself than to explain what I want to someone else. I just have to recall the bass player that lives deep in my subconscious. He lives there so he doesn’t have to pay rent; he’s a bit of a freeloader.
Years ago I was the bass player for the band Love in Grey, and I have pretty strong opinions about what bass should do in my songs. I have strong feelings about how it should sound, too. Also, the look on the bass players face while he is playing, and how he holds his tongue. I want the bass to groove with the drums, lead the chord progressions, and stand on its own as a melodic foundation of the song. In other words, if the bass track is soloed, you should still be able to tell what song is playing.
For acoustic guitar I recorded my Taylor through an AKG tube mic. Most singer-songwriters who play acoustic guitar on their records think the acoustic is too important. Usually they overplay; over-strumming big full chords as if they are performing a solo concert. I like to record the acoustic guitar so it fits neatly with the drums.
The last of my guitar parts were the guitar solos, and guitar solos are strange beasts. I like a guitar solo to add some melodic energy and interest to the song, but not so much that it is gaudy and gross. This is another area where it can be overdone and distracting or underdone and boring. Recording lead guitar is the same process; I hear how I want it to sound in my imagination, then I lay it down, listen, and record again until it works. In some cases it will be the first take, and it others I will record the solo over and over for days until it feels right. Then I might come back a few weeks later only to hate it and redo it again.
The point isn’t to make a perfect record; it’s to make a record that doesn’t have any cringe moments. In some ways I’m just trying to make an album that I won’t regret making. How’s that for a lofty goal?
At this point I had my electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass tracks along with Alan’s drums. The project was starting to take shape and I could turn it up LOUD and listen to the basic tracks. It was sounding really good and I was getting very excited about how this record was turning out.
Two of the songs were mostly driven by keyboards in some parts, and all I had recorded in those parts was the scratch track acoustic guitar. I am not a great keyboard player, but I needed to lay down something that could point a real keyboard player in the right direction. I recorded the main piano parts on “Jesus Give us Love” and “Make Everything New” just to have something to show what the songs should sound like. Amazingly, on “Jesus Give us Love” the final album version is still my piano performance.
Every instrument and every layer of an album is important because all the tracks build on each other, but there is one that is more important than all the others. It’s the part that, if it is not right, no one will ever want to listen to the album. I’m talking about the vocal, of course. Many an album project has been ruined by the addition of a bad vocal track.
Like a chocolate wedding cake that gets puked on in the kitchen and they try to serve it anyway by scraping off the vomit with reverb and auto-tune.
We are all ninjas at listening to the human voice. We can hear if it is out of tune, fake, cheesy, passionate or dull. Most people can’t explain why they prefer one vocal over another, or articulate why they think this singer is better than that singer. They have watched American Idol and The Voice, but they would have no idea how to help a mediocre singer become a great singer. Because we use our voices to communicate, in our subconsciouses we reject bad vocals as quickly as we would pull our hand out of a fire.
I’m not talking about good vs bad like Mariah Carey vs Bob Dillon. Many people will prefer the honest, raw singing of a Bob Dillon over the glossy, polished perfection of a Mariah Carey. That’s only one of the many ways we categorize vocals, though. Others include music styles; opera, country, blues, rock, gospel, too heavy, too soft, too much streaming, or too much rapping. We can reject a singer because of their attitude, tone, accent, language, message, whether they seem too happy, too sad, too serious or too angry. We can reject a vocal because of the way it was recorded, the way it was mixed, and a million other reasons. There have been many times that I have started listening to something I haven’t heard before; at first it seems cool, the music is interesting and everything is fine until I hear the singer; I will usually reject something new primarily because of the singer.
So, recording the vocal on an album it is a humbling and daunting challenge. The lyrics have to be right, the gear has to be working perfectly, I have to be healthy, awake, at my best, in a good mood, focused, warmed up, not worn out, familiar with the material, and up for the challenge. The room has to be quiet, and all the other distractions of life have to be ignored.
One of the most challenging things to get right is the headphone mix. Headphones can put pressure on my inner ear and make me think I’m singing in tune when I am not, which stinks. I have to use open cupped phones, which means I have to keep the volume really low, or the drums and instruments will bleed into the vocal track. It always takes me a long time to get comfortable enough to get the first good vocal track.
Once the gear and the room are ready, then I record a take; I listen to it to see if it comes back to me the way I thought it would. In the vocal this is even more important than with the other instruments. There is so much nuance with the lead vocal; everything from intonation to whether or not I am smiling while I sing; how much rasp, throat, moisture, sibilance, consonant, breath, air, or vibrato to use at any given moment. How loud to sing? How soft to sing? How to pronounce the words when singing as opposed to speaking, the shape of the vowel, and so many more details. Once again, it is a matter of honestly listening to the vocal recording and hearing whether it should be done again. This is usually a fantastic time of self loathing and great tribulation.
Many days I would record ten to twenty takes of a single song, each technically without mistakes, but with slightly different approaches, only to come back later the same day or the next day and start over. No kidding. The lead vocals are where the majority of my time was spent recording this album.
There are lots of ways to approach recording, and this is just mine. The end goal is to capture an honest recording of someone’s musical vision. Music is the art of human emotion expressed as sound; recording is the art of capturing the best possible performance of that expression to experience later. Trapping emotion in a digital box; no one said it was going to be easy.
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Frank / Albums and Recordings, Art, Living Creatures Project, Media, Uncategorized / Alan Doss, artreach, Atomic Opera, Awful Truth, drums, Frank Hart, Galactic Cowboys, Home Recording, Living Creatures Project, ludwig, Music Production, Music Video, oil painting, painting, Production, Songwriting, vintage gear, Worship, Worship music, Worship Songs /
Frank / Albums and Recordings, Art, FrankThoughts, Living Creatures Project, Uncategorized, Worship Arts / Alan Doss, Atomic Opera, Awful Truth, drums, Frank Hart, Galactic Cowboys, Home Recording, Living Creatures Project, ludwig, Music Production, Production, Songwriting, vintage gear, Worship, Worship music, Worship Songs /
The other day my son, Angel told me he wrote a song and asked me if I wanted to hear it. I said I would love to hear it, but first I want you to write four more songs. Write four more songs, then play me the best of the five.
“Four more songs?” he had a look on his face like “You’ve never said that before.”
I explained my reasoning; when I write a song, at first I always think it’s the best song I’ve ever written and usually I have to write a couple more songs before I have any objectivity.
It’s like our kids. When we have the first kid there is a magic filter that causes us to believe they are the most wonderful child in the world; they are the most beautiful (so beautiful we take nine photos every hour, and show the photos to anyone who will stand still long enough to see them), they are the most talented (everything reminds us of another amazing story of teething, sitting, crawling, walking or baby talk illustrating how our child is well above average.) The filter even works on other people; no matter what they say we only hear what the magic filter lets through. Someone could say our baby was a hideous little worm, but we would only hear, “Your baby is so adorable!” Once we have another child we start to see the first kid more objectively; the magic filter stops working, and we begin to see our kid for who they really are; a hideous little worm. Just kidding! Whether parents have another child or not, we eventually start to see our child in a more realistic light. Well, most parents anyway.
Songs have a magic filter, too.
If it wasn’t for this magic filter, most of us would never write a second song, and we would have hidden the first song in a dark place where no one would ever find it. This is where the child analogy completely breaks down, of course. Parents should never hide their children in dark places, no matter how awful they are.
I’m going to back slowly away from the “songs are like children” metaphor before someone gets hurt.
I needed to cut eight songs from the Living Creatures Project from the twenty I had started with. These had already been chosen from about a hundred songs, so it was really a matter of choosing songs that made a cohesive album rather than cutting the hideous worms. Songs like “Open Your Word,” “Christ the Word of God,” and “He is Risen” along with some renovated hymns will probably resurface on a project in the future.
Home Recording For Drummies.
We recorded the drums at Alan’s studio. He has the control room set up in a small bedroom, and he ran an audio snake across the attic to a larger bedroom he uses for the recording room; the place where he keeps his drums and music gear. The control room is dark with a black futon and a colorful disco light that reacts to sound. There is not a window between the control room and the recording room like you have probably seen on TV, which can make communication between the two rooms challenging.
Alan set up his vintage Ludwig kit and had it mic’d up before I arrived. I think it may have been left over from a previous session, which is fantastic because that means the bugs had been worked out. It also means that he already knows he likes the drum sounds. Best of all, it means I don’t have to stand around waiting for drums to be set up and listen to hours of mic placement tests, eq and compression settings and bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk – “I don’t think the kick mic is working.”
We ran everything through some crazy cool analog gear with old transistors and tubes to give everything a nice warm glow, but eventually the signal gets captured digitally on a MacPro running ProTools.
I sat in the control room and ran the software while Alan played drums in the other room. Before each song he would come into the control room and sit on the futon while we listened to the scratch-track. We would both play the drum parts by tapping our foot for the kick and slapping our legs for the rest of the kit; pretty much like two kids playing air-drums. I knew the basic drum parts I wanted for the songs, and this was a great way for us to get on the same page quickly.
Once we had a plan for what the drum part would be; where to play, where not to play, what the groove was going to be, where the fills are, what kind of fills, how busy or minimalist the drums should be, etc. then Alan would go into the recording room, put on headphones and start hammering away at the track.
I would record everything, because you never know when a happy accident might occur. Usually he would play a couple takes before he wanted to listen to a playback. Sometimes when you hear the playback it doesn’t come back through the speakers quite the way you thought it was going to sound, so you record again with slight modifications. The goal is for it to feel the same when you listen to it as it did when you were playing it. Typically by the third or fourth take we were ready to move to the next song.
If I remember right, I think it only took us three days to lay all the drum tracks. I think Alan is a genius drummer who knows how to play drums like a composer; he finds the perfect part to set up the song and make the arrangement come together. He is a bit of a minimalist but he has serious rock chops when he needs them. I’m pretty sure he can read minds.
It felt great to have the drum tracks finished. He made stereo mixes of them, and uploaded them to Dropbox so I could load them on my computer and work on guitar, bass and vocals at home.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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Frank / Albums and Recordings, Atomic Opera, FrankThoughts, Living Creatures Project, Uncategorized, Worship Arts / Alan Doss, Atomic Opera, Awful Truth, drums, Frank Hart, Galactic Cowboys, Home Recording, Living Creatures Project, ludwig, Music Production, Production, Songwriting, vintage gear, Wilde Silas, Worship, Worship music, Worship Songs /
If you look at the credits on the Living Creatures Project you will find “all words and music by Frank Hart.” This might lead you believe I created all the lyrics and musical arrangements by myself in a hermetically sealed vacuum. The truth is I had a lot of help from some very generous and talented friends shaping the final version of these songs. Songwriting abhors a vacuum.
The original list for this project had twenty potential songs. Those twenty were chosen from about ninety that I had written for congregational use during worship at CrossPoint. Sometimes people tell me they have written a song and they want me to do something with it. You know, like listen to it, record it, play it in church or something. I usually ask them how many other songs they have written. “Just this one. God gave it to me.”
Sometimes I think God might give people songs because He doesn’t want them anymore. Kind of like re-gifting.
People usually think their most recent song is their best, but it seldom is. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. It makes sense to be excited about the newest song I have written, but I have been doing this long enough to know I will feel differently about it once it has rested a little. I will feel differently about it once I have written a couple more songs. Most people have to write a lot of songs before they can tell the difference between the keepers and the stinkers. My advice is to refrain from doing anything with a song until you have written one or two newer songs, then if you still like it maybe it’s a keeper.
So, I chose twenty from ninety, but I only wanted twelve songs on the final album.
I contacted a few friends who I believe are great songwriters and asked if they would be willing to go through the songs with me. I wanted to do it live and in person, and I wanted their spontaneous real-time feedback. Although I had recorded demos of all these songs, I wanted to sit in a room and play the songs on acoustic guitar while they looked at a lyric sheet and made notes. This would put all the songs on an equal footing, it would also remove the variables of recording quality and production choices. I wanted them to judge the song in its most simple form; lyric, melody and basic shape. Not whether or not they liked the snare drum sound.
I gave them lyric sheets and asked them to make notes on any parts of the songs that seemed weak, awkward, throwaway, cliche’, confusing, trite, needs to go somewhere else, etc.; basically anything that stuck out in a bad way.
I enjoy getting feedback on my songs from people I respect. I know some people are very protective of their songs and uncomfortable opening themselves up to criticism. That’s understandable, but I have found that I grow the most when I allow myself to be challenged.
I listened to their observations and wrote them down, I didn’t argue with them or defend my original ideas. I wanted to be able to take their suggestions and work on the songs later; looking at the places in the songs where they had made observations and deciding whether changes were actually needed or not. Sometimes I made the changes and sometimes I thought they were best left alone.
This process helped me to see the songs with a fresh perspective, it helped me to gain a little bit of objectivity.
I’ve been fortunate to have many people help find the weak spots in my writing. Sam Taylor, the producer of For Madmen Only, was very helpful in this role when we were working on Atomic Opera material. Allison Smythe, who is a great writer, poet and friend, helped me with many songs by holding up a mirror and forcing me to see my lyrics from her perspective. Dug Pinnick, Kemper Crabb, Johnny Simmons, Jonathan Marshall and other friends have also helped me find the weak spots in my songs over the years.
For The Living Creatures Project I contacted Wayne Watson, Aaron Senseman, Kip Fox and Alan Doss to help me look at the songs. I also spent an afternoon with Nick Taylor and Blake Flattley at my church office going over the songs. Here are a few things I remember from the sessions:
I first heard of Wayne Watson when I bought his album with the song “New Lives for Old” in my Bible college days. I recently met him while working on a Michael Selph record. He came over to my studio to help Michael and I look at the songs and produce the vocals. We hit it off and had such a great time working on Michael’s songs that I asked if he would be willing to help me with the new project I was working on. Wayne came over to my CrossPoint office one afternoon and I played the songs for him. One contribution I remember him making was on “Christ Before Me.” Wayne made the suggestion to cut “Christ” from the fourth line of each stanza.
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in my thoughts and
(Christ) on my tongue
Good call Wayne!
I have known Aaron Senseman for a long time. He is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is also a great songwriter and has written songs for Caedmon’s Call, his congregation where he is a worship leader (a church also called Crosspoint – without a capitol “P”) and his own projects. We also did a songwriting workshop together once, so I knew he had some solid ideas about how to put together a tune. He came over to my CrossPoint office one afternoon and gave me feedback while I played the songs for him.
Kip Fox is a good friend and one of my favorite worship songwriters. We use several of his songs at CrossPoint, including “This Dust,” “We Respond,” and “Free to Worship.” He lives in Arizona so we had to do our session by Skype, which worked adequately for our purposes. His feedback was very helpful to the clarity of each song. One of the many suggestions he made was in “Jesus Has Overcome the World.” The chorus used to have a line that he thought was confusing:
Father the hour has come
To glorify Your Son
And through Your Son we glorify You
Father You sent Your Son
From where He was with You
Where He was glorified
Before the world was new
The line was changed to:
From heaven to be the One
Nick Taylor is a worship leader at CrossPoint, a wonderful guitar player and good friend. He has also written some great songs (that are mostly secret so far). Blake Flattley is a worship leader and singer songwriter who was the frontman for The Orange Effect and has released a few solo projects. I spent an afternoon playing the songs for them and going over the lyrics and melodies with a fine toothed comb, looking for whatever bugged them.
Alan Doss is a long time friend and musical collaborator. I asked him to co-produce the project, we also recorded the drum tracks, mixed and mastered at his studio. I’ll talk more about the recording and mixing process in the next article, but I want to include him here for his contribution to the song’s essentials. Alan was great at pointing out lyrics that sounded unmusical, he also has a keen instinct for when parts of a song should be repeated more, less, or need some harmonic variety. One example is in the song “Jesus, Give us Love.” The chorus used to happen after the second verse and then a double chorus after the fourth verse. Alan said, “I think you should do all the verses and save the chorus for the end. Once you start singing that chorus I just don’t want to go back to the verses, I want to keep singing the chorus.” So that’s what we did. I couldn’t have done this project without him.
I owe the musical clarity of the arrangements and lyrics to these guys, they were willing to lend me their talent and insight. Seeing the songs from their perspective allowed me to have enough distance to be able to choose the twelve songs that fit together for this project. Thank you, friends!
If you want to listen to an all instrumental version of the album; no lyrics, singing, melody or harmony, you can find that version on NoiseTrade.
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Frank / Albums and Recordings, Living Creatures Project, Uncategorized / Alan Doss, Atomic Opera, Awful Truth, drums, Frank Hart, Galactic Cowboys, Home Recording, Living Creatures Project, ludwig, Music Production, Production, Songwriting, vintage gear, Worship, Worship music, Worship Songs /
Frank / Albums and Recordings, Art, Atomic Opera, FrankThoughts, Living Creatures Project, Uncategorized, Worship Arts / Alan Doss, Atomic Opera, Awful Truth, drums, Frank Hart, Galactic Cowboys, Home Recording, Living Creatures Project, ludwig, Music Production, Production, Songwriting, vintage gear, Wilde Silas, Worship, Worship music, Worship Songs /
A solo album is a misleading name. I did not make the Living Creatures Project all by myself. There were many amazing and cool people who came into my life at just the right moments in time to hand me a precious piece of this fragile puzzle I was hoping to put together. Making a record is like putting a crazy jigsaw together, but one where there is not a picture on the box; there isn’t even a box. In fact, the pieces are spread out all over your life and you will spend most of your time looking for them while trying to remember what it is you are building.
Then God sends people to hand you the important corner pieces, and remind you of what you are making.
This is the first in a series of articles where we will meet the people behind the Living Creatures Project, find out where the project came from, learn where the songs came from, and other behind the scenes explorations.
Merry XPmas and Happy New Year from the Harts!
“Christmas is the monster that lurks beneath the plastic tree in our living room waiting to consume us. It marks another year, fills us our schedule and does its best to empty our bank account. Christmas is a synchronized improvisational dance that reminds us of where we came from while showing us a reflection of where we are going; if we look deep enough. May this Christmas be filled with the memories of a bright and hopeful future.”
from Poems of Stinky Christmas Cheese by A. Feaux Authour
HART FAMILY Angel, Von, Frank, Kim. Visit From Jeff in February. Visit from Jeff, Julie, Bella, Petra and Silas in July. Bob Goff Love Does Conference and Book. Black Walnut Cafe. Thanksgiving Break in Sugarland; Bombay Pizza Co., Jus’ Mac, SHIVA, Crown Plaza Swimming.
Each of us will now give you the headlines from 2013 to let you know what we have been doing and tell you of our most remarkable things.
KIM HART 49 High School Teacher Aldine I.S.D. WORK; Big Challenges At School; New Principal, Evaluation System, Alt Block Scheduling, New Curriculum, Four Daily Preps, Received Excellent Evaluation. TRIPS; Family Vacation in New Braunfels; Schlitterbahn, Landa Park, Phoenix Saloon. Mentoring Jr High at Youth Group. Sugar & Spice Conversation with Von Behr with Shopping and Bonding. BOOKS; Love Does, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Helping with Franki’s Book; Reliving the Memories. SUMMER; Sending Kids to Camps. Unrushed Summer House Projects.
FRANK HART 49 Music & Creative Director CrossPoint Church, Katy PROJECTS; Finished New Album; Living Creatures Project. Book Publishing Deal with V.I.P. Ink for Autobiography Tentatively Titled “Search For The Remarkable by Frank Hart; Reliving My Life Through Writing, Giving 7 Messages at CrossPoint this Year. FHBB. New York to Visit Matt in March. TOYS; Black Variax JTV59, iPhone 5s, FrankMas Zombie Frank Celebration. FOOD; Curried Cauliflower and Tomato Basil Soup. FAMILY;29 Anniversaries. Von’s Balloon Animals. Passport to Purity Conversation With Father and Son Bonding Time. TV; Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Homeland, House of Cards. BOOKS; Born Standing Up, Bossypants, Dad is Fat, Through Painted Deserts, Love Does, Searching For God Knows What, Space Trilogy, Speaking of Jesus,Nine Things, Necessary Endings. The beard is longer and greyer.
VON BEHR HART 13 6th Grade Epiphany Jr High Cooper is at Epiphany Lutheran School. Skating Birthday Party & Sleepover; Monster High Lightning Lamp, Guitar Amp, Magnifying Lamp from Grandpa, Looking Forward to Spending Own Money for Christmas Gifts, CYT Camp, Basketball Camp, Camp Lonestar, Playing Basketball at ELS; Playing Against Westlake Prep. TV; Arrow, Grimm, Teen Wolf, VP Diaries, Catching Fire, Breaking Dawn II, The Dark World, One Piece. Colorful Glove/Mittens. PROJECTS; Clay Figures, Drawing Trees, Illustration Included in 2011 ELS Yearbook, Guitar Lessons. THINGS; New Black Coat, Bumping into Cooper at Schlitterbahn, Beginning Middleschool. Catching Fish at Landa Park. Meeting Bob Goff; Reading Signed Copy of Love Does. Jim Gaffigan Mr Universe Special, FAMILY; Dad Reading His Book to Me As There are New Chapters, Closer Relationship with Angel, Staying at a Hotel for Thanksgiving Break; Food was Delicious but Still Doesn’t Like Turkey.
ANGEL HART 11 5th Grade Epiphany School VIDEO GAMES; Minecraft, Lego Marvel Heroes, Call of Duty, Clash of Clans. MUSIC; Drum Lessons, Guitar Lessons, Started Playing Flute in Band, BIRTHDAY; Shelf and Desk by Grandpa and Dad, Electric Guitar and Amp, KA Action Figures, Sleepover and Swimming Party. New Bed. Bought Dad’s iPad. Starting Going to Youth Group. TV: Bracket in Living Room, Once Upon a Time, Arrow, Superhero Cartoons. Camp Lonestar. Landa Park Rope Swing and Water Slide. Two Schlitterbahn Trips.
NEWS Frank’s parents Bob and Barbara Hart are still living with us in Texas. Dad is doing well; working at the church helping out with facilities and sports, he also keeps busy at home taking care of Mom. Mom continues to try and recover from her two hip surgeries and back surgery. They lost a good friend this year when Al Zeigler passed, but they still get together with Bill and the two Carols for cards and movies each week. Their dogs Misty and Willow continue to celebrate the squirrels in the trees outside the window. Our dog, Zack and our cat, Number Nine wrestle hilariously for dominance all over the house. Tigerlilly the Rat survived her sister Tinkerbell, who was buried in our backyard pet cemetery.
LAST WORDS We started sending these Christmas cards in ‘88 which was our first full year in Texas. This was long before Facebook made it so easy to keep up with distant friends. The cards were a way to keep in touch with our friends and family who continue to disperse throughout the world. I started following Jesus when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t know where He was going to lead me; I trusted it would be someplace good. This year I pray you would also trust Him to lead you someplace. That’s why He came here. Frank Hart
Our Father who is in heaven, You are holy. We are Your children and we need to learn from Your only begotten Son, our brother and our King. We need to learn how He taught us to pray. We are here to think about the revolutionary, dangerous words that He gave us to understand how we should talk with You. We trust You for the various things that we need to get us through every day. In this moment we ask that You would open our hearts and minds to understand forgiveness. Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us. Bring into our thoughts the people that we need to forgive. The people who have wronged us. The people who have hurt us. People that are angry with us. The people we are angry with. Keep them in our thoughts as we think about Your word. Help us to hear everything as it applies to them. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. AMEN
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Forgiveness is a big deal. Especially in the church. Of the 66 dangerous words in the Lord’s Prayer, this might be the most dangerous of them all. It’s the one that got Jesus killed. When Jesus told a man “your sins are forgiven” the leaders attacked Him saying “this man is a blasphemer because only God can forgive sins!” But Jesus kept saying it, and they kept getting mad, until one day they had enough and they killed Him for it. The interesting thing is that as Jesus was hanging on the cross, being publicly humiliated, tortured and dying – He said it again. Only this time He said it about the very people that were murdering Him. He prayed “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The same words that they used against Him, He gave to them as a gift.
So, I’m going to talk about forgiveness. Because of Jesus, God forgives us of our sin. Our Sin. What is sin? Do you think you know what sin is? You might be surprised. And in the Lord’s Prayer there is that phrase “forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This sounds like we are making a bargain. What if we have trouble forgiving others? Does that mean God is not going to forgive us? Seems like we are making a bad deal. Also, I thought God’s forgiveness was unconditional, so what’s with the condition? I’m going to talk about that, too. Hopefully, by the end, we will have a better understanding of the forgiveness we receive, what we are being forgiven of, and the forgiveness that we are supposed to give to others.
DON’T PLAY FAIR
Let me paint you a picture of some different people who I have seen struggle with forgiveness.
Have you ever known someone who doesn’t forgive people? Someone who believes in being “fair.” They approach every relationship with every person in their life with the unspoken agreement of “I will treat you well if you treat me well. I’ll be nice to you, as long as you are nice to me.” But, eventually something happens that breaks the deal. I was talking to an elderly gentlemen one day and he was telling me about his family. He went through them one by one and told me how they had disappointed him. He said that out of everyone he knew, there was only one of his daughters who had not failed him. He would play games like chess or ping pong with people, until they beat him, and then he would never play that game with them again. He would be kind and trusting with people, until he saw a flaw in their intentions or integrity, and then he would cross them off with a big X. Once you were crossed out, it was over. One strike and you’re out. He would continue to be polite, but you would never get in his good graces again. The “X” never went away
TREAT PEOPLE BETTER THAN THEY DESERVE
Here’s a tip: If you want to ruin every relationship in your life, it’s pretty easy. Just play fair. Treat everyone well as long as they treat you well. But, for the rest of us who don’t want to end up alone and bitter, then we have to forget about playing fair. We have to treat people BETTER than they treat us.
Remember Jesus’ words: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Over the years I have had conversations with a lot of people about their marriages. Forgiveness is just about the hardest concept in marriage. Many women have walked in on their husband looking at things they have no business looking at. Leading to tearful, painful conversations, one person being filled with shame and regret and the other person being filled with anger, betrayal, and mistrust. Both are humiliated and the relationship is damaged.
I have known of husbands who find out that their wife is having an affair, or wives who find out that their husband is being unfaithful. They see a conversation on facebook, find a series of text messages on their cell phone. I have known multiple situations where right in the middle of the actual act of infidelity a person accidentally “butt-dials” their spouse. The unsuspecting spouse gets a call where they are listening to their husband or wife flirting or moaning with another person. Yikes! There is a verse in the Bible that says “Your sin will find you out.” Believe it.
Relationships get damaged. But where does it go from there? Sometimes the innocent party is so shocked that they are not able to see their spouse in the same light again. They feel betrayed and angry and like all is lost. They refuse to forgive the other, because they think that forgiving is the same thing as giving them permission to keep doing it. To them it feels like forgiving is the same thing as condoning the sin. This attitude leads to permanently broken relationships.
FORGIVING SIN IS NOT CONDONING SIN
But, forgiving something is not the same as condoning it. God does not condone sin, but He does forgive sin.
Sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is ourself. I think we tend to forgive others the same way we forgive ourselves.The way we think that God has forgiven us. Most of us keep holding onto guilt and shame. And we can be the most self-righteously ugly when we’re withholding forgiveness from someone. We think that we are better than them because of what they have done. When we refuse to forgive, or refuse to be forgiven, we make an ugly mess of our lives.
On the other hand, I have also seen a lot of people forgive each other for terrible things. I have walked with them through confession and repentance and to full restoration. It may seem impossible in the moment, but there really can be forgiveness. And with true forgiveness there can be rebuilt trust and restored relationship.
God forgives sin. He never condones sin. And, Jesus paid the ultimate price for all our sin. But what is sin?
Blessed is the one whose TRANSGRESSION is forgiven,
whose SIN is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no INIQUITY,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
There are three words for sin used in this verse. Transgression, Sin, and Iniquity.
Blessed is the one whose TRANSGRESSION (rebellion) is forgiven,
Transgression is open rebellion. It’s when you knew what you were supposed to do, or not do, but you did it anyway. These are all military metaphors in this Psalm, so this is like being on the battlefield and disobeying your commanding officer. It’s like firing your weapon when you were ordered not to, or refusing to charge with the rest of the company. This is a big deal. High rebellion and treason.
whose SIN (MISTAKES) is covered.
Sin is missing the mark. It’s swinging and missing. It’s like when you obey the order to take the shot, but you miss. You blow it. This is also a big deal, because if you miss your target in the heat of a battle, then you and your friends are going to die.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no INIQUITY (WARPED),
And this is where we get right down to it, because iniquity is what we inherit from our common father Adam. We are born broken. Crooked. Warped. On the battlefield, it’s like we can’t shoot straight if we wanted to. Our hearing is poor, so we don’t hear the orders clearly, our eyesight is bad so we can’t see what we are aiming at, our hands are unsteady, our gun is broken and we are out of ammo. Heck, throw in there that we are a coward and don’t even want to be a soldier. This is what we would call our sin nature.
So, when we pray “Forgive us our sin,” we are saying forgive us for our offensive acts of open rebellion, forgive us for the times that we try to do right – but we fail – we miss the mark, and forgive us because we are black-hearted sinners from the day we are born who really just want to throw God off the throne and be the king of our own lives. That’s what we are asking for. All of our sin. Thought, word, and deed.
And he does it. He forgives us. Wherever we are. Whatever we were doing. The Father loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but receive eternal life. This is good news. We are given grace and forgiveness because of Jesus. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
The last line:
and in whose spirit there is no DECEIT (DECEPTION).
Deceit. Deception. Gile. Sloth. This last phrase speaks to our self awareness of our sin. It speaks to our understanding of who we are, and what we have done. It speaks to how we see ourselves in relation to others.
God forgives us for our open rebellion. But we have to be honest about it. No deceit. We have to call it what it is. We have to confess that we did it, that we meant to do it, and that we are wrong for doing it. When He tells us to charge the enemy lines, and we are afraid so we run the other way. We have to admit that we disobeyed an order. We also have to resist the temptation to blame our rebellion on someone else. “Well, I wasn’t the only one who ran the other way!” “I was going to charge the enemy lines, but I needed to hit an ATM first.” “I had to go home and get my inhaler and my epi pen.”
God forgives us for our failures. The times that we miss the mark. We tried to do the right thing, but we did the wrong thing anyway. But, if there is no deceit, then that means we don’t make excuses. We are going to swing and we miss, and it doesn’t do any good to blame the bat or the ball. Or the umpire or the coach or the rest of your team. Or the sun in your eyes. Or the hotdog you ate for lunch.
And God forgives us for our iniquity. Our brokenness. Our dark, sinful nature. The part of us that is warped and mean. But, you know, this goes against modern sensibilities. Because, we say that we think people are basically good. God says that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked above all things. We say that babies are born innocent and pure. God says that I was born a sinner from the moment I was conceived in my mother’s womb. We tend to see ourselves differently than God sees us.
WE JUDGE OURSELVES BASED ON OUR MOTIVES,
BUT WE JUDGE OTHER PEOPLE BASED ON WHAT THEY DO.
We judge OURSELVES based on our intentions. Our motives. But, we judge OTHER PEOPLE based on their actions and words. God forgives us for our broken intentions and motives, too. But, we need to confess that we are not good. No one is good. Not one of us is GOOD.
One of the lies that Christians believe is that we have to be perfect. We might even have the bumper sticker on our car that says “Christians are not perfect, we’re just forgiven.” But, we still think we should be perfect. And we certainly think that other Christians should be perfect. We can forgive people for almost anything they did in the past, but going forward we expect them to keep their act together.
The fact is, once we are forgiven by Jesus we are blameless in God’s sight; but we are still flesh, and we will struggle with temptations and weakness in this world. We have to face the fact that even though we love God and really want to please Him, we will make mistakes. We will fail God, and we will fail the people we love. This is where forgiveness gets really interesting.
LUKE 11:4 & MATTHEW 6:12
There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. In Luke’s version it says:
“forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
and in Matthew’s version it says:
“forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
In Luke’s it sounds like he is saying that God forgives us BECAUSE we forgive other people. Whoa! I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the sound of that. And Matthew’s version isn’t any better, because it seems to say that God will forgive us AS we have forgiven others.
No matter how you look at it there is something going on here that says God’s forgiveness to us has something to do with our forgiveness of others. There is definitely some kind of conditional language here. But, how bad is it?
I think most of us that follow Jesus take the first part of this prayer very seriously, “Lord, please forgive me of my sin!” and we confess our sin to Him trusting that He will grant us mercy, forgiveness and grace. Then we sorta, kinda pay a little attention to the next part and pray, “and help me to forgive the people who have wronged me. As long as what they did wasn’t too bad. And as long as they apologize first. And as long as there is not money involved.”
But, that’s not what it says.
Let’s look at another famous Bible passage on forgiveness, Matthew 18:21
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Peter is asking how many times a Jesus follower should forgive someone. He figures, knowing Jesus, it will be a ridiculous amount of times. So, he guesses seven. That seems ridiculous enough to Peter.
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Other translations of this are even worse. Seventy times seven. Which is 490. But, I’m not sure the exact number is really the point. Or that it even matters. If we keep reading I think you’ll see what I mean.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
A talent was not a unit of money per say. it was a unit of monetary reckoning valued at about 6,000 drachmas, the equivalent of about 20 years’ wages. So, in modern terms this would be like a minimum wage worker who makes $30,000 a year and owes about six Billion dollars. Jesus is making the point that the servant is in way over his head and the debt could never be paid.
So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
It is obvious that we are to see Jesus as the King and ourselves as the servant that He has forgiven a six billion dollar debt. So far so good.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’
What do we, the servant, do with our new life of forgiven debt? We run into someone who owes us and we try to choke the money out of them. How much money in modern value do you think a hundred denarii is? Well, This was still a large amount – equivalent to about 20 weeks of common labor, or about $12,000 in today’s terms. It’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s a big debt. I’ve never loaned anyone 12 thousand dollars. But, it’s nowhere near 6 billion.
So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
These are pretty much the same words that the first servant had used when he pleaded with the king.
He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
That was a six billion dollar mistake. And just in case Peter didn’t understand that Jesus was still answering the question about how many times we should forgive someone who wrongs us, Jesus goes on to say…
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. So, is that it then? If we don’t forgive are we doomed? Is God only going to forgive us if we are able to forgive the people who wrong us – from our heart? Because it seems to me that this is impossible. We are broken, we are bent, and no matter how hard we try or how much we want to forgive everyone who has hurt us FROM OUR HEART we will fail. We will miss the mark. We may as well just refuse to forgive and stand before God in high rebellion. On our own this is impossible.
Hear these words:
It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Galatians 2:20
Greater is he who is in me that he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4
For with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26
What if the actual message of forgiveness is bigger and more wonderful than we ever imagined?
What if when Jesus says that we should pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, our sins, our debts, our iniquity.” He means that we will be forgiven of our rebellion – we will be deemed innocent, our iniquity will be imputed with righteousness and made new – we will be born again! And our sin will be covered, paid for and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Though our sins were as red as blood we will be washed clean and as white as snow. This is spiritual forgiveness. This is heaven and hell, salvation forgiveness. This is the mercy that makes us safe from the wages of sin, death and the wrath of God. We were dead men walking. We were on our way to the gallows, and now we are pardoned. We are free. We are forgiven.
JESUS FORGIVES OUR SPIRITUAL SIN
WE FORGIVE PHYSICAL DEBTS
And what if when Jesus says “forgive those who trespass against us.” He means just that. We are to forgive the debts of the people who personally owe us. If we loan money to someone and they can’t pay us back, we let it go. If someone says an unkind word to us, we don’t return the unkind word, or worse. Because left to our own selfish hearts we tend to escalate things. We return an unkind word with a punch to the face. We return a punch to the face with a bullet to the head. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But Jesus says, Don’t do evil for evil. if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.
Jesus forgives us of our spiritual debt. Our sin. But, what if the debt we are supposed to forgive is physical debt – not spiritual debt. “forgive our sin (spiritual debt) for we forgive our debtors (physical debt). It is conditional. We are in danger if we don’t do this. We stand under grace, so we give grace.
But, how does that play out in real life? What does it mean to forgive someone physical debt? And how do we treat them once we forgive them?
When the King forgave the servant six billion dollars, it means that the servant was no longer required to pay the money back. But, does that mean that The King would be willing to loan him money again? What do you think would have happened if a week went by and the servant came back and asked to borrow a couple million? “Well, since I forgave you, I guess I have to be an idiot and loan you a bunch of money again.” I don’t think so. I don’t think he would get a dime.
When God forgives us of our sin He removes it from our account completely. But He also might put things in place to protect us from doing it again.
When we forgive each other, it’s the same. We still have to live with the ripples and consequences of what we have done.
In the movie “O Brother Where art thou” Delmar O’Donnell gets baptised and says: Well that’s it, boys. I’ve been redeemed. The preacher’s done warshed away all my sins and transgressions. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now.
and Ulysses Everett McGill responds by saying: That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.
GOD FORGIVES US COMPLETELY
BUT THERE WILL BE EARTHLY CONSEQUENCES
If you get caught with your pants down either in front of your computer or with another person, then you pray and ask God to forgive you. – He will. Completely. And your spouse should forgive you, too. But, that doesn’t mean that you should have unlimited and unsupervised access to the internet. That would be stupid. Or that you should expect to go on business trips where you will have no accountability for who you are with or what you are doing. That wouldn’t be good for either of you. It will only breed further mistrust and opportunity for sin.
If someone is cruel to you. If they say or do unkind things. You shouldn’t retaliate. You shouldn’t say mean things in response to get them back. That will only escalate the problem. And you should forgive them. But, that doesn’t mean you have to sign up for more abuse. If you can just walk away, then just walk away. Shake the dust off your feet.
And if they are a family member or a co-worker that you can’t avoid being around, then after you forgive them you need to set some boundaries in place so that they can’t continue to hurt you. Talk with them directly and ask them to stop whatever it is they’re doing. If talking with them directly doesn’t help, then you will have to get a mediator. Someone to help facilitate the conversation. Find some accountability. Most of the time I think people have never actually had the hard conversations to try to repair these situations.
There are going to be times that you are hurt by dangerous people, people who are evil and will only continue to hurt you. In these situations you have to forgive them, but you also have to get away from them. You might even need to get the authorities involved and take legal action. There is not necessarily a conflict between forgiving them for what they have personally done to you, or owe you, and keeping yourself and others safe by pressing charges for a crime.
You might have seen in the news this week when a local stripper sped away from police and crashed into another driver and killed him, and she was charged with murder. And the victim’s sister was interviewed, saying some pretty dark things. The sister said, “It just hurts so bad, “ “I hope she rots in hell one day, seriously. I hate her for taking my brother away from me.” “I can’t forgive her. I will never forgive her.”
Dark words, aren’t they? But, it’s completely understandable. We feel for the victim’s sister. We don’t want to fault her for the anger and sadness she feels at this terrible injustice. Her brother was killed by a stupid girl. The stupid girl is going to be charged with murder, and she should be. But, if the sister doesn’t find a way to forgive she will only be hurting herself.
The forgiveness that we grant to others is not really for them. If we harbor hatred and offense in our heart toward another person because of something they said or did to us, it’s poison to OUR soul. Not theirs. Forgiving them is the only way to stop poisoning ourself.
There may come a day when God forgives the stupid stripper girl. She may end up being one of His precious redeemed daughters washed clean by the work of the cross and the grace of Jesus. And there may come a day in Heaven when the sister of the victim is reunited with her brother. It’s a beautiful day, but as they are walking across the streets of gold they come across the stupid stripper girl. In heaven! At that point I hope nobody makes a six billion dollar mistake, if you know what I mean. I hope she is willing to forgive even as she has been forgiven.
WE HAVE TO BE OK WITH GOD FORGIVING PEOPLE
There is a good chance that we are all going to meet people who have wronged us. – in church. On earth and in heaven. but if God has forgiven them, then we need to be OK with that.
FORGIVENESS IS NOT A ONE TIME DEAL (FOR US)
Forgiveness is not a one time deal. We walk in forgiveness. We forgive someone and then the anger wells up in us and we have to forgive them again. And then we see their ugly stupid face and we have to forgive them again. How many times? As many as it takes. Unto seventy times seven – as long as you’re not counting or keeping track.
At the beginning of this I asked that God would put the people on your heart and in your mind that you need to forgive. Have you been thinking about them? Have you been applying this message to what they have done to you and what you need to do to forgive them? Have you been thinking about how hard that’s going to be?
Think of the person that God has put on your heart. They did you wrong and you need to forgive them. Not for them. But, for you. Think of that person and pray this prayer with me, “Father, Thank You for helping me through the pain and the hurt of what this person has done to me. Help me to forgive them, so that You, Heavenly Father, will forgive me of my transgressions against you, my failings, and my iniquity.”
Lord, there are people who have been wronged in terrible ways. There those among us that have suffered rape, abuse, molestation, had abortions, suffered and committed adultery, a drunk driver has taken someone from us, people have been unjustly fired, slandered, friends and loved ones have been murdered – these and other terrible situations have left us struggling and tearfully admitting that we cannot forgive from our own hearts. Not in our own strength. Not by our own understanding. So, give us a new heart, Lord. Renew Your Spirit within us. Give us Your peace.
May we be a people who know we are forgiven. And may we also share that forgiveness with the people in our lives. It’s not going to be easy. We are going to want to punch back. Fire back with angry words. We are going to want to hide darkness in our heart until it poisons every part of our soul. We are going to want to ignore people and avoid them, rather than lean into the conflict and have the hard conversations that can lead to real healing and true forgiveness. But, may we be a people who are under grace and offering grace to others.