How My Ministry Ministers to Me (Or… How I’ve Been Called Into Nakedness)

Sometimes Friends approach me after performances, on the internet, after a Meeting for Worship, and praise me, noting how deeply my ministry affects them.

With all due respect (and thank you, truly), we might be going about this thing all wrong.

Invited Into Fully Being

When I take on a new project, I find that it is more often because there is something about the subject matter that I don’t know than because I do. That is to say – I receive a leading to go where I am blind, not where I am familiar.

When I lived at Pendle Hill in 2006-07 I named my project The Art of Fully Being. I saw that our shame and fear of judgment causes us to live limited lives in which we allow ourselves to experience openly only a narrow scope.

Rather than feeling that “I have figured out the way to live fully and now it is time to tell everyone else”, I felt that I was being invited into knowing that my own shame and fear of judgment limits my ability to love myself, to allow myself to be (which undoubtedly affects my ability to love others and allow them to be!).

To be specific, I tend to panic when emotions arise in me that I am not proud of or comfortable with: anger, jealousy, doubt, shame. My panic exacerbates the emotion that I am trying to avoid. What if, instead of hating and fearing these emotions, I allow them to rise in me and examine them lovingly…?

“Why don’t you try it and see what happens?”
-The leading to make The Art of Fully Being

What a gift is art. And what a challenge.

Invited to Clothe Myself in Righteousness

My current project is about nakedness. On a similar vein to TAoFB, I have found that our shame and fear of judgment hinders our authenticity in the world. We care deeply about being loved and being accepted, and we often will go to great lengths to prove our worthiness and hide aspects of ourselves that we perceive to make us unworthy.

I see that I wrap my perceived value up into my identity. My ability to be a clear and loving presence is hindered by my anxiety about how others perceive me and what I see as my value level in the social hierarchy. I have found myself clothing myself in my value as a musician or as a well known Friend. In this project I have been invited to dig past those layers, and it has caused a great deal of soul searching.

…and the project is not done. I am still in the final stages of recording (just posted this update on the CYiR website) and surely will continue to be ministered to by the project (often it is in the presentation and reaction to the project that I am the most stretched, as you might remember from my last music video).

But I can already point to major shifts in the way that I approach art. Instead of comfortably nestling my voice into layers and layers of instruments, production, and backup vocals, I have felt called to “strip it down”, lift my voice out and place it, bare, out in the front of the mix. The guitar work, similarly, is bare, with few layers and other instruments to distract.

I am videotaping each part of each recording session and will post videos online. This is taking something that once was a very private, solitary process for me and exposing it.

I am putting the project (my baby!) into the hands of others for the mixing and mastering.

Each of these things is dramatically new and different, and oh, how naked I feel! I am certain that the songs will speak to people, but while I am glad that others can benefit as witnesses of my projects, I wonder if passive observation is an easy way out.

We are all able to listen to the ways in which we are called into radical experiments in being. It is fine to appreciate “my” ministry, but I would like to encourage us to see others’ ministries as a beginning, or as the inspiration to follow the leadings that would minister to us.

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

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!

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”

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.


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

FGC’s Quaker Information Center responds to a question about “Dance Party Erupts” video

QQQQandA is a great resource: a blog made up of answers to questions sent to FGC’s Quaker Information Center. Recently they received a question inspired by my music video, “Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship”:

Please explain — what is the deal about Quakers and music? Is it true that music is considered sinful? Why? If music is bad, how do you explain the video “Dance Party Erupts at Quaker Meeting for Worship”?

I recommend that you check out Joan Broadfield’s response.

Bringing our Quaker family into dialogue

Six days ago I released this music video, which has been shared widely among Friends.

Some of the lyrics have provoked dialogue, specifically about the relationship between modern Quakerism and Christianity. Here are a few of my own thoughts…

Let’s start with:

“I’m not a Christian
but I’m a Quaker
I’ve got Christ’s Inner Light
But he’s not my savior.”

Full Lyrics

If you visited my website seeking an anti-Christian Quaker manifesto, you were probably disappointed. After a Guilford College education and a year living in community with all types of spiritual seekers at Pendle Hill, I am decidedly “Christian-curious” and have no illusions about the roots of my religion.
Continue reading “Bringing our Quaker family into dialogue”