Where My Great Passion Meets the World’s Great Need, Or, How Music Became My Ministry

I couldn’t see devoting myself to an extremely risky line of work for the sake of nothing but my faith in my own talent. My studies at Guilford pinballed my professional future between subjects in which I have a peripheral interest: psychology, sociology, restorative justice, philosophy. Then I discovered Quakerism. I should say, I re-discovered Quakerism.

The Beginnings of My Vocational Discernment

During my senior year at Guilford (‘05-’06), there was an active discussion about vocation. “Where my great passion meets the world’s great need” was the phrase bouncing around in my head and the community’s collective consciousness.

I had been writing and recording songs as a hobby since my senior year of high school. By 2006 I had even released a few CDs and played some shows. Music was, without a doubt, my great passion. But there were several major barriers between me and committing to my journey as a musician: (1) It is incredibly unlikely that one will succeed in this line of work; (2) Success often comes at the abandonment of the passion or love that brought one to explore music in the first place; (3) The majority of successful musicians are doing no great service to anything but their own egos.

I couldn’t see devoting myself to an extremely risky line of work for the sake of nothing but my faith in my own talent. My studies at Guilford pinballed my professional future between subjects in which I have a peripheral interest: psychology, sociology, restorative justice, philosophy.

Then I discovered Quakerism.

I should say, I re-discovered Quakerism. Or: I was convinced (as Quakers like to say).

Examining My Roots – A Deeper Commitment

I grew up Quaker. I was well versed in the modern Quaker jargon, the institutional acronyms, the banter of Young Friends, the songs of the camping programs and the schedules and rhythms of the FGC Gatherings. I thought I was as Quaker as they come.

The Early Friends said that baptism comes inwardly and powerfully when we make ourselves open to the spirit of Christ. My senior project for the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program was such an opportunity. Tired of music being an isolated thread in my life, I was inspired to write and record a CD of songs about the Early Friends and the beginnings of the Quaker movement.

The experience was incredible, not just for the personal and moving stories that I uncovered about the Early Quakers, but for the way that the world seemed to rise up around me to supply the resources needed to make the project powerful, alive. In sharing that life with my immediate community of Guilford and the wider community of Quakerism, I‘ve seen its impact be deep, meaningful, transformational. I had found where my great passion meets the world’s great need.

Settling into Action

Today, four years later, I spend my time traveling among Friends, exploring art and ministry and our collective history. I see this as being sacred, and very important, work and I am well supported in doing it.

Certainly I would not have discovered such a perfect, unconventional way to use my specific set of gifts had I not been given the opportunity to explore vocation in the safe container of Guilford College. I think of it as threading a needle (or threading several at once), which takes a lot of trial and error, thought and space. It is invaluable that undergraduates be given the space and guidance to do this explorative work, and I am always glad to know that Guilford and QLSP are still out there, helping to shape our soon-to-be ministers, musicians and leaders.

-Jon Watts QLSP ‘06

Reposted from the Friends Center Fall 2010 Newsletter

Bicycling into New York City part II: Biking into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge

This is the second in a 3 part series on biking into Manhattan.
read Part One

Richmond to Boston on a bicycle

Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.
Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.

I recently completed a 1,000 mile bike tour in which I lugged all of my musical equipment from Richmond to Boston and then on to Buffalo.

Continue reading “Bicycling into New York City part II: Biking into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge”

Xtracycle Radish Tour Vlog

For the past three months I have been touring on an Xtracycle Radish. Every week for ten weeks, I recorded and uploaded a vlog. Now, for the first time, each of those vlogs is combined into one window. You can watch all the way through or find the most interesting episodes, all from here!

Xtracycle Radish Tour

For the past three months I have been touring on an Xtracycle Radish. From Richmond to Boston and then on to Buffalo, NY, I ended up riding about 1,000 miles with all of my gear, which turned out to be about 120 Lbs. (!)

Click here to find out how I fit all of

that equipment onto my bike.


Two Wheel Tour Vlog

For ten weeks, I recorded and uploaded a vlog every week, which included footage from my performances and from the ride… and revealed some of the secrets of how I made my trip happen!

Now, for the first time, all of that footage is combined into one window. You can watch all the way through or find the most interesting episodes, all from this page!

Letters of Support and Recommendation

Promise Partner, Olney Friends School

Promise Partner, of Olney Friends School
“One student commented, ‘I hadn’t written that way before. It opened me up, made it easier to write, and I produced things I love.’ Another student, who was already a writer, said that her poetry has changed because of Jon’s workshops: ‘Now I can get out of my head and let the spirit in.’

Read the rest of Promise’s letter…


John W. Baird, Head of School, Westtown School

john-baird-westtown-head-school“Friend Jon connected well with students from both Quaker and other backgrounds. His vibrant spoken word messages touched on themes of environmental stewardship, peace, equality, justice and other quaker testimonies with an authenticity and immediacy that expanded the vocabulary of worship for all of us.”

Read the rest of John’s letter…


Tom Hoopes, Religious Studies Teacher at George School

“Jon Watts brings people together across boundaries of age, theology and musical taste. After Jon’s recent performance at George School, I heard a wide range of affirmative responses from various people. A spiritually-seeking teacher in his late twenties remarked, “Wow. Jon Watts is the real deal. He’s got it.” A very savvy girl of 18 said, “He is SO hot! I have all of his CDs.” A colleague in her 50’s noted, “I love his stuff. And my kids and their friends all have his music on their iPods.”

Read the rest of Tom’s letter…


Walter Hjelt-Sullivan, Academic Dean of Pendle Hill

walter-hjelt-sullivan-pendle-hill“Jon Watts is a skillful and perceptive performer. His performances take on the flavor of a Meeting for Worship. It is clear to me that Jon both prepares the play list to create that atmosphere and listens carefully to follow the leadings of the Spirit in the moment. What I appreciate most about Jon and his ministry is the honesty, sincerity, and transparency of his journey. He continuously seeks to be faithful – to find the true message that has been given to him.”

Read the rest of Walter’s letter…


Max Carter, Director of Friends Center at Guilford College

Max Carter“After witnessing the profoundly positive impact Jon’s work has had on the Quaker community at Guilford, I have felt moved to share the fruits of his labor with the wider Quaker world. I hope that Jon’s music will inspire others to dig deep into the experience of early Friends and discover, as Jon did, deep resources for our lives today.”

Read the rest of Max’s letter…


Bicycling into New York City Part I: How (not) to Bike into Manhattan

This is the first in a 3 part series on biking into Manhattan.
read Part Two

Richmond to Boston on a Bike

Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.
Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.

When I first announced that I was going to ride my bike from Richmond to Boston, one of the first questions that most people asked was: “How are you going to get into Manhattan?”
Continue reading “Bicycling into New York City Part I: How (not) to Bike into Manhattan”

How to Carry a Guitar on a Bike

Trailer vs. Cargo Bike

When I first had the idea of doing my East Coast tour on bicycle, I looked into bike trailers. I couldn’t imagine any way to fit my guitar and amplifier onto the back of a bike without towing something behind. (not to mention my box of CDs, t-shirts, posters, tent, food, clothing, sleeping bag, stove, etc!)

But towing a trailer would have felt bulky… two wheels of extra friction on the road? And where would I leave the trailer when I wanted to ride around without all of my stuff?
Continue reading “How to Carry a Guitar on a Bike”

Interview with Earlham School of Religion

Music and Ministry Among Friends: An Interview with Jon Watts

“One of my favorite Quakers Jim Corbett said ‘Verse can make false inspiration obvious, even when a line almost fits… a line that fails to fit is obvious to meta-conscious awareness, which recognizes contrived inspiration the same way it recognizes an idol. A line that fails to fit holds attention in the present, while the composer stops to listen for the line that has meta-conscious approval.’
Continue reading “Interview with Earlham School of Religion”

How to get through Quantico Military Base on Your Bike

This week I started out a bike trip from Richmond to Boston with my guitar and equipment all packed up. I had done minimal training so my first day was really slow going… I didn’t even make it to Fredericksburg. But my second day was much faster and I was hoping to make up for lost time – until I hit Quantico. It was a huge pain in the ass to get through, so I thought I’d pass the knowledge on. If this helps you out, give a holler in the comments section!
Continue reading “How to get through Quantico Military Base on Your Bike”

Why I’m Going to Boston on an Xtracycle Radish

For the month of April I’m touring up the East Coast, playing shows in every city from Richmond to Boston. But I’ve made a different kind of decision about my manner of travel… instead of taking the train, renting a tour van or borrowing a car, I’m going to be traveling on human power. That is… I’m traveling from Richmond to Boston on my bike.

twt-header

The first thing I said to myself once the decision was made (after are you crazy?) was: how?

I am not simply a traveling minstrel. I am a professional musician, with equipment and merchandise. I can’t just pick up and go, or play a spontaneous show. I have amps, cords, pedals, boxes, t-shirts, cds and posters… not to mention all of the personal gear needed to sustain me for a month. How was I going to fit all of that stuff onto a bicycle?

After a month of research about panniers, trailers, touring bikes, etc., I came across a small company in California that makes extra-sized bicycles for exactly this predicament: Xtracycle. I have found photos of cyclists carrying surfboards, tires, and even other bikes on Xtracycle’s cargo cycles. So I got myself a Radish.

Jon Watts and his Radish
The Xtracycle Radish

The Radish is one of the few out-of-the-box cargo bikes that Xtracycle sells (mostly people buy the kit, which extend the back of any given bike). I was lucky enough to test ride a diverse selection of cargo bikes at a sweet little bike shop in Carrboro, North Carolina called Cycle9, which is one of the few bike shops on the East Coast that stocks these kinds of cargo bikes. The good folks at Cycle9 put a helmet on me and let me ride one of their Radishes all over town, which I promptly fell in love with (check out my review of the Radish).

So with all of the cargo space in my Xtracycle Radish – and after investing in a smaller guitar and amp – the question was answered. I can fit everything I need on a bike.

But the question still stands: why go to all of this work? Why not just drive a car like any other rational American would?

Jon Watts and his Xtracycle Radish 13It would be easy for me to spout off a guilt-based justification about how quickly our society is killing the Earth, and how each of us is individually contributing a great deal to that destruction by owning and over-using personal vehicles. And it would be true. I do feel guilty and hypocritical about simultaneously mourning the destruction of the natural world and contributing to it.

But the deeper reason why I am riding my bike the 600 miles to Boston: I find driving, for all of it’s convenience, to be spiritually deadening.

So let’s turn the question on it’s head… why, when I could be actively using my body, engaging with the land and the environment around me, viscerally feeling the miles go by underneath me, and genuinely living would I isolate myself in a sound-proof, wind-proof, experience-proof chamber?

Why in the world would anyone do that?

Thus it is out of my love for this world, my love for my body, my love for experiential living that has led me to make the decision to bike.

Not out of hatred for what we’re doing to our planet, but out of love for the feeling of wind on my skin, the feeling of having my instincts engage when I’m lost or in danger, the feeling of being alive.

So, my smart answer for why I’m biking to Boston?

Because it’s faster than walking.

Jon Watts and his Radish