Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Yours Forever, Amen"

It's been nearly two years since a crazy morning of software development drove me leave my house with a head full of chaos and return having written a new song without ever picking up an instrument.

On the morning of March 8, 2016, I was indeed struggling with an excessive amount of mental noise—stress at work and general busy-ness in every facet of life—and wanted to talk a walk in the woods to clear my thoughts.  There on the walking trails at nearby Pharr Mill Park, I was able to walk and enjoy nature and commune with God, and I found myself praying through the prayer that Jesus gave as an example to his disciples, the one most folks refer to as "The Lord's Prayer".  But I was blessed in that moment to have a melody form in my thoughts as well.  So I came home from that little detour feeling much refreshed, and scribbled down the essentially fully-formed song that had been captured in bits and pieces on my phone's voice recorder app while walking the park's trails!

In the two years since, I've been blessed to be able to share the song—which I titled "Yours Forever, Amen"—with various audiences and accompanied by various wonderful musicians.  One of my favorite ways to present the song is to have the text of Jesus' prayer read in chunks over the song's instrumental interludes.

So here's "Yours Forever, Amen", with those biblical readings added in quotes:
Yours Forever, Amen

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven."

Oh, Abba Father, High King of Heaven,
Holy, holy, is Your Name.
Your kingdom come and Your will be done in
Heaven above and earth the same.

"Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Oh, Abba Father, High King of Heaven,
Give us daily all we need.
And please forgive us, as we forgive those,
Who, like us, caused Your Son to bleed.

Yours forever is the kingdom!  Yours forever is the power!
Yours forever is the glory, amen!
Yours forever is the kingdom!  Yours forever is the power!
Yours forever is the glory, amen!  Amen.

"And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil."

Oh, Abba Father, High King of Heaven,
Rescue us from the evil one,
And lead us far from every temptation —
This bride keep spotless for Your Son.

Yours forever is the kingdom!  Yours forever is the power!
Yours forever is the glory, amen!
Yours forever is the kingdom!  Yours forever is the power!
Yours forever is the glory, amen!  Amen.
Yours forever, amen.
Yours forever, amen.

"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen."
I've included here, too, the hastily-recorded demo I assembled back in 2016.  It doesn't have the textual readings because, if I recall correctly, that idea didn't occur to me until after the recording was made.  But either way, I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Where You Lead (Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer)"

There are a great number of wonderful Christian hymns which are passing into obscurity in large segments of the world's geography.  (When Fanny Crosby writes 8,000+ hymns herself, it's easy to understand how a few of these things could go unnoticed!)  These songs offer solid theology in their lyrics, but are often musically inaccessible to modern worshipers.  I was recently inspired by the folks at Sovereign Grace Music to do my part my preserve the important parts of these songs — their beautiful, poetic words — while enjoying the liberty to set those words to a different (even original) musical arrangement.

So I've taken my first crack at this.  At my church, we are beginning an emphasis on the topic of prayer.  So I searched the collection of public domain songs (those whose copyrights had expired) in the CCLI SongSelect database for songs with a prayer theme.  I found in that list the hymn "Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer".  This song was written around 1859 by Love Maria Whitcomb Willis.  It appears to have gone through some minor edits over time, but I took the version that SongSelect presented to me and set its words to a simple melody.  I then added a short chorus for summary and variety (trying to maintain the authorial voice of the original hymn).

The following lyrics are the ones I used; the italicized bits are my little addition.
Where You Lead (Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer)

Father, hear the prayer we offer.
Not for ease our prayer shall be,
But for strength that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.

Not for ever in green pastures
Do we ask our way to be,
But the steep and rugged pathway
May we tread rejoicingly.

Let not these words ring hollow,
This we plead.
Lord, make us brave to follow
Where you lead.

Not for ever by still waters
Would we idly rest and stay,
But would strike the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness.
In our wanderings be our guide.
Through endeavour and failure and danger,
Father be there at our side.

Let not these words ring hollow,
This we plead.
Lord, make us brave to follow
Where you lead.

Father, hear the prayer we offer.
Not for ease our prayer shall be,
But for strength that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.
Almost immediately after recording a demo of the song (which you can listen to below), I learned that there was another verse to the original hymn.  So in live settings going forward, I'll use the following verse as the final one instead of repeating the first stanza:
Let our path be bright or dreary,
Storm or sunshine be our share;
May our souls in hope unweary
Make Thy work our ceaseless prayer.
Here's the aforementioned demo recording:

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Pause" t-shirts redux

It's the design that keep on giving!  The t-shirt design I co-created for a youth ministry Disciple Now event back in 2011 and was re-used by another ministry in 2012 seems to have a life of its own.

Back in September of this year, I was approached online by John Copeland, a youth pastor from Georgia, who had stumbled across the blog post I wrote about those "Pause" t-shirts.  As it turns out, his youth group was in need of a similar event tee, so he reached out to request permission to use the design.  As I've demonstrated before, this is perfectly acceptable (and appreciated) request to make!  So, naturally, I was happy to see the design used yet again by someone else.

When it was all said and done, I was even able to connect John with the fine folks at Contagious Graphics, who still had the design artwork on file from the first time they printed up the shirts.  All I asked in return from John was that he send me a photo of his youth group wearing the shirts, and I was so pleased this morning to see that he had made good on his promise!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Custom countdown video generation (the ... complicated way)

At Providence Baptist Church, where I serve on staff as Worship Leader and Technology Coordinator, we occasionally employ countdown videos ahead of our worship service start times.  Now, a countdown video is little more than a video clip that shows a "minutes:seconds" countdown, usually overlaying some subtle motion graphic loop or still image.  You can buy these things from media sites (such as Worship House Media) for a nominal fee, often as part of a collection of videos which bear a common visual theme — a countdown video, a few motion loop videos without any overlaid text, etc.  But sometimes I want a countdown video that I can't purchase, perhaps because I don't like the font, font size, positioning, or background motion loop of what is available for purchase.

Now, I'm sure that expensive video editing software can generate these things willy-nilly with full customization.  But I'm not really an expensive-video-editing-software kind of guy.  I'm familiar with a handful of less-expensive (or free) options, though, and many of these offer the promise of a workaround for my itch to design custom countdown loops.  So tonight, I decided to see what I could work out using my current favorite of these editors, VideoPad.

Like many other timeline-based video editors, VideoPad allows you to create text objects which can overlay another video track.  I figured that if I could create a VideoPad project with a whole track full of 1-second text objects, each of which showed the countdown text I wanted ("4:59", "4:58", "4:57", and so on), I could use this as a template for various specific countdown timers in the future.  I'd simply swap out the still frame or motion loop video that served as the background, and re-render as needed.  But it only took me a few minutes to realize that I really didn't want to manually create and sequence 300 of these frames (5 minutes x 60 seconds per minute).

So I took a slight detour.  What if I could reverse-engineer the VideoPad project file format?  Was that possible?  It only took a few minutes to realize that VideoPad project files are simple text files with Unix line endings and URI-query-encoded lines of data.  Unfortunately, while I could make sense of much of what I saw in my sample project file, I failed to successfully edit it to affect a simple change — the addition of one more countdown text object properly sequenced.

I was about to give up hope, when I remembered that VideoPad also supported the use of PNG image overlays — with full alpha-channel support!  If I could generate 300 PNGs, each one a transparent rectangle with the countdown timer text rendered in the frame, then VideoPad would let me import those as an image sequence (much like the "create a slideshow" feature of other editors) and then I could layer that whole sequence atop the background still/video of my choosing!  Finally, I was in familiar territory.

After about a half-hour of hacking around with Python and Pillow (née the Python Imaging Library), I had something that worked for my purposes!  I quickly generated the 300 image files, successfully imported them into VideoPad, shoved another motion loop video underneath them, and rendered my first custom countdown video!  And since my wife and kids were away from home, I then spent another hour polishing up my script a bit more, allowing it to be driven with various options (controlling the size of the generated frames, the font specifications of the countdown text, and the rough positioning of the text), adding some error-checking and documentation, and published the result to Github as gen-countdown-frames.

To those with oddball interests and similar needs:  you're welcome!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Parenting by the Sixes

I suspect that at some point every Christian parenting seminar, magazine, or discussion eventually finds a way to bring up the opening verses of Ephesians 6:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
[Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV]
And to be sure, this is not a bad thing.  The author and apostle Paul does a good — if concise — job here of addressing both "sides" of the oft-opposed factions within a household.

But I was surprised and enlightened this morning when I found conviction and instruction for the parent as I read the opening of not Ephesians 6, but Galatians 6:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  [Galatians 6:1-3 ESV]
I can't tell you how many times I've admonished my children for some behavioral shortcoming only to find myself succumbing a similar (or identical!) issue shortly thereafter.  So while Paul may not in this second passage be addressing parents and children specifically, I think the prescription applies nonetheless.  As a father, my supreme aim for my children is that they increase in holiness.  But I need to offer guidance to that effect in love, with gentleness, and in all humility as I openly confess my own failures, my insufficiency, and my outright dependency on the grace of God as He works out holiness in me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

WOBO Wallet Review

Prompted by a follow-up email request to review the WOBO wallet I recently purchased for myself, I composed the following review:

I bought the WOBO wallet for three reasons:  (1) I tire of replacing cracked drivers' licenses, banking and loyalty cards, (2) my previous (trifold) wallet was a giant lump in my pocket, stuffed so full with such cards that cash bills had to be literally crammed in, and (3) I know the WOBO wallet's designer personally.   
Now, let's face it -- there are other solutions for reasons #1 and #2, and #3 is not a product-based reason at all.  As such, my expectations were moderately high, but tempered by prior attempts at solving my wallet problems.  It is with pleasure, then, that I can report here that my expectations were met and exceeded. 
This is a solid product, well-conceived and well-constructed.  The 15-17 cards I carry around (including freshly replaced, now-crack-free NCDL and debit cards) are securely held and easy to access.  The whole package is about the same size as a small flipphone (which means I can comfortably and more safely carry it in my front pocket), and it's easy to slip bills in and out of the elastic strap.  And when I run into the WOBO designer around town I can continue to greet him with a smile and the promise of word-of-mouth marketing for his product. 
So my three reasons for giving the WOBO a shot are now three reasons to give it a shout-out.  That's a successful experiment in my book. 
(Though, I confess I was disappointed to learn from the designer that "WOBO" didn't stand for "Working Our Butts Off" as I had supposed...)
 A couple of additional thoughts for the WOBO folks to consider:

  • Closing the wallet can be a challenge if the "top-most" card in the stack isn't smooth-faced (for example, if it has raised/embossed letters and numbers).  Consider providing a smooth, clear, plastic card that folks can put on the top of the stack if they really want a "bumpy" card to be the first one they see upon opening the wallet.
  • While the video instructions are great, a paper-set of illustrated open/close instructions wouldn't hurt.  (I wonder if the IKEA folks outsource their artists...)

Friday, July 15, 2016


One of my favorite smartphone apps is the Voice Recorder.  These days I feel like I can barely remember anything, so I use it whenever a piece of musical inspiration strikes.  Over time, pieces and segments of song ideas get refined into something whole that's perhaps worth keeping, and I'll usually take the time then to record something of higher quality as a memento/demo.  Eventually I'll delete the original Voice Recorder files that no longer serve as songs-in-progress.

Earlier this week while performing just such a cleaning-out, I stumbled across a recording that I made back in January of a single song section.  The theme of the verse (as it later came to be) was about heavenly homesickness.  I recall picking up this theme from C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.  Here's a relevant section of his text:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. 
Of course, the notion of Christians having the citizenship right in heaven rather than in the material world is more directly biblical.  Philippians 3:18-21 reads like so:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
I spent some time churning on this notion and on my little song baby, and was motivated to fully mature it into something worthy of a demo recording (lyrics follow):

And here's the lyrical content:

On this road I walk along,
Seasons dim and seasons dawn
And the years keep rambling on.
They ramble on.
I know well this world I see,
Shared with friends and family,
But a voice keeps telling me
I'm sick for home.

Jesus, only You can satisfy.
You alone make all things new.
You're the Way, the Truth, the Life and I'm,
Oh I'm, coming home to You.

The rugged cross that Jesus bore
Draws my thoughts towards Heaven's shore
Where the One I'm living for
Prepares my home.
Lord, the beauty of your grace
And the promise of your face
Bid me make this world a better place
Until I'm home.

Jesus, only You can satisfy.
You alone make all things new.
You're the Way, the Truth, the Life and I'm,
Oh I'm, coming home to You.
Lord, I'm coming home to You.

When my final day is done
And this earthly race is run,
I will bow before the One
Who calls me home.
Yes I'll bow before the One
Who calls me home.
© 2016 C. Michael Pilato. Available for use under the cc-by-3.0 license.
I hope you enjoy the listen.  Leave feedback if you feel so motivated.

UPDATE(9/4/2016): Due to the rather personal perspective of this song, I never dreamed it would have a life beyond this crummy little demo recording.  But as it turns out, we had a rare revival-like sermon today on "The Preciousness of Heaven" presented by Rev. Rody Carland at my church, and he allowed me to share the song as a musical special ahead of the sermon.  Thus, a song that nearly fell through the cracks and was unlikely to ever be publicly performed is now being considered by some as the best thing I've even written.  I'm continually surprised by how God works stuff out sometimes...