A Conversation with Matt MacDonald of The Classic Crime

In the weeks and months to come I will be posting a series of conversations with my friends and peers who are involved in various realms of public ministry, music, and literary work.  Each conversation will focus on a specific topic that relates to men/guys/dudes today.  This one is a conversation I had recently with Matt MacDonald, frontman and songwriter for The Classic Crime and Vocal Few.  He is a very well-spoken and intelligent individual that always has something insightful to offer.

A little about Matt: When He was nineteen he left his hometown to go to an art school a few hours away in Seattle. He’d broken up with his then girlfriend (now wife) and was desperate to find community, purpose, and hope. He stumbled across a group of friends and started to make music. That music became known as The Classic Crime. They have toured all over the country and other parts of the globe. He also has a daughter and a wife (who he makes music with called Vocal Few).

Though I did not “lead” Matt in his answers, it’s felt like he was inside my head with much of what he said.  That’s not to say both of our opinions on every subject are 100% correct, but it’s interesting when another guy who lives 1000 miles away starts coming to similar conclusions.  Guys, there is a pattern here.  Here is the transcript of our conversation:

Schwab: One of the benefits of playing music in a professional, touring band is the fact that you are able to get the pulse of a greater cross-section of the population than the average Joe.  When on the road, you have hundreds of conversations with people on a weekly basis.  When it comes to guys, what do you think are the biggest areas of spiritual need today?  

MacDonald: The most common conversation I have with guys is about calling, or purpose.  Because I’m viewed as someone who is living out mine, I’m often asked about how to proceed.  To be honest I never really thought about steps to take towards fulfilling your purpose until someone asked me for them.  I got better at answering as time went on.  And more blunt. I think, in order to find direction, you have to first delight in the Lord before He gives you the desires of your heart… but the kicker is that when you actually “delight in the Lord,” your desires change.

The second most common conversation I have probably has to do with belonging.  A lot of the lyrics I write have to do with loneliness.  I think guys connect to these types of lyrics because it’s generally un-manly to be vulnerable in our culture.  A song that speaks to loneliness gives you permission to feel it. Suddenly you’re not alone in your loneliness, and I think that’s one of the great mysteries of music; it’s ability to be therapy for that part of us which is desperately alone.

Schwab: I personally have met countless guys in my travels that are lacking purpose, yet desperately searching for it…especially in the realms of career, relationships, and faith. From your experience, what do you think has caused this “purposeless” epidemic, and what do you think we, as a generation, need to do to change this?

MacDonald:  A lot of folks in my generation didn’t learn the value of a dollar, the value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes from it, or the consequences that come from a lack of integrity/character.  I think a lot of folks were enabled by well-meaning parents to become unstable, co-dependent, always needing someone to catch them.  Those types of folks struggle to connect, struggle to grow, struggle to live. There is hope, though. It just takes being fed up, frustrated, and frankly the folks who suffer from this paralyzing disease have been protected too much from frustration.  Rock bottom is your best friend.

Schwab: One of the sentiments that seems to be rampant among Millennial men today is a disillusionment with the conservative, evangelical, corporate church model of our parents’ generation.  Guys are pretty over church, yet none of us were cut out to be spiritual lone rangers.  Is there an answer to this?

MacDonald: Sure there is.  The answer is like-minded community… that’s all a church is when you strip everything away. A couple years back a friend and I were talking about wanting to find a group where we could connect on a deeper level with others who were as disillusioned with Big Church America.  We couldn’t find one, so we started one.  Whenever we had a spiritual conversation with someone who didn’t have a community to meet with or felt like they didn’t fit into standard church culture, we invited them to our group. Over the last two years we’ve experienced community in a way that most of the members would not have otherwise.  Bottom line is that if you feel like you’re lacking community, create one.  Invite others who feel the same.  Our Wednesday night group has become crowded these days because it turns out a lot of folks who aren’t sure yet about attending church still desperately need community.

Schwab: There is no question that we live in a very unique time in history.  Emerging generations have access to unlimited information via he internet.  Social networks have refined relationships and the way we communicate with one another.  We live in a time of the every-man celebrity as a result.  How do you think this has affected men, specifically, in the realm of the way we relate to one another and how we derive our identity and self-esteem?

MacDonald: Not many things have bothered me more in recent years than the “Follow-Me-Please” culture that’s developed out of social media’s pervasiveness.  Everyone wants to be famous for doing nothing special, because, well, other people are actually famous for doing nothing special.  Part of the reason why that culture bugs me is that the motive is so clear and so wrong.  It says, “If you pay attention to me, I will have more value.”  We think the number of followers or likes or comments will fulfill us in the same way we think money will.  We attach our self-worth to these things, and we allow our social media profiles to dictate our value. I’ve always found the strongest guys to be the ones who either rarely participate in social media altogether, or at least keep it in it’s rightful compartment, as a tool in a toolbox rather than a source of validation.

Schwab: On that note, there is an undercurrent in our culture, a movement of thought which seems to actually believe that meaning in life can be found if you “make it” even in the nominal sense.  People equate fulfillment with fame.  As someone who has seen some success in the music industry… is there fulfillment to be found in becoming “known?”  

MacDonald: I’ve found that on the surface I’d like to be known.  It makes me feel good to have a lot of people know who I am. But deep down, I think I actually want to be anonymous.  The truth is that “making it” is all in your perspective. I think I’ve “made it” because I love my life and I’m free to be myself.  Becoming a celebrity is a process of becoming something to the eyes of the public that you are not… so it’s not very affirming or validating.  It makes you feel like a faker, or a liar… maybe this is why actors make such great celebrities.  Fame is the slow process of isolation.  It only leads to loneliness, just like money, which makes it even more crazy that we all seek it so desperately.  It’s like we’re missing out on the thing that might actually fulfill us.  There are many lessons I learned from chasing fame, but those are some of them.

Schwab: Men today are growing up later, getting married later, having kids later.  I personally know many guys in their twenties who think “settling down” is a bad idea, believe it or not.  You recently became a father.  How has it changed the way you approach your life and where you derive your meaning?  

MacDonald: I could probably talk for hours about how it’s the most mind-blowing experience, cloning yourselves, because it is.  I always tell friends that I’ve been blessed to do a lot of cool things and meet a lot of cool people… but nothing is more crazy than having a baby. I’ve become more of a child because I see things through my daughters eyes.  It’s spectacular.  I can have fun doing things with her that would have bored me half to death before she existed.  In a sense it’s made me understand the idea of unconditional love more… Praise did nothing to deserve my love. She couldn’t speak or even smile when she was born.  She was just born, and because she was born, I loved her.  She was a piece of me.  It’s made me understand, if only just a little bit more, the love of my heavenly Father, whose love is undeserved and unreciprocated yet constant all at the same time.

Schwab: Where is purpose found as an adult guy, you think?

MacDonald: In Jesus. There’s no hip, “Emergent” way of saying that.  It’s just Jesus, I think.

Schwab: What one piece of spiritual encouragement can you offer guys who feel lost or who are having a hard time finding direction in their lives today?

MacDonald: Hit rock bottom. Spend a lot of time alone. Cry out to God and be angry and confused and honest about everything. Then wait. God is faithful to the sincere heart.

My new book The Tin Soldiers is available in print for small groups and individuals here.  It’s available as an eBook here.  Follow me on Facebook here and Twitter here.  Thetinsoldiers.com coming soon!

Follow The Classic Crime here.  Follow Vocal few here.  Follow Matt on his blog here and Twitter here.


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