Listen: ‘Fresh’ presenter Sam Robinson chats to singer-songwriter Tyson Motsenbocker
When Tyson Motsenbocker lost his mum to cancer, he dealt with his grief in an unusual way. The singer-songwriter hit the road – on foot – walking more than 800 kilometres across the state of California.
His month-long journey from home in San Diego to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, was his own way of taking time out to process and wrestle with God over his loss.
The result? A debut album called Letters To Lost Loves, full of songs written on the road, and a new perspective on his faith.
Watch: Tyson Motsenbocker’s ‘Evangeline’
“I had been playing music and touring at the time [my mum] died, and I didn’t have time to process through what it meant to have such a loss,” Tyson said.
“None of the things in my life mattered that much [any more] in the face of the bigger things. I spent a month walking and lot of that time to reconcile to the things I believed in with the things that barged into my life. I prayed a lot and came up with a lot of thoughts and melodies that became the record.”
He said the walk helped him to think a little less about his own broken heart, and start feeling a connection to the wider world.
“Basically every day I would be walking along, people would be driving the other way, so they would look at me and keep driving,” he said. “I was struck with the idea that my grief stopped being about me. and started feeling a lot more universal. I started thinking that everyone is full of these little tragedies and heartbreaks in their lives and we are all just driving past each other, without realising the things we are missing every day.
“Sorrow is universal. We all have the idea of loss and sadness. In some ways that is one of the great uniting factors – which is a great comfort.”
Rebuilding His Faith In God
The unexpected outcome of his walk, was a discovery that his faith needed to go deeper and broader, instead of being boxed into a set of neat Sunday School beliefs.
“For me going through this process with my family and my mum being sick and all this praying for her, and then that prayer not being answered – God not healing her, and meanwhile people all over the place were saying that God was doing all sorts of things – It was insane to me that God was doing these things and not bothering with this thing that meant so much to me,” he said.
“My faith looks so different now. I feel like I have an eye-contact with God that I didn’t have before.”
“So I had to separate in my own mind, what were the things that I really thought Jesus had his hand in? What did Jesus do and not do? What [in my belief system] was just the culture, the way people had spoken about God in my community, and what was actually authentically from Jesus?
“[I went through a] deconstruction of my upbringing, and a re-evaluation of who He is. It started by me basically stripping everything away and starting from ground zero.”
He had to rebuild his faith around the knowledge that God won’t always answer every prayer the way we want Him to.
“My faith looks so different now,” he said. “It is a lot less sure, but I feel like I have an eye-contact with God that I didn’t have before.”
Discovering The Difference Between Christian ‘Culture’ And True Faith
Tyson said that after releasing the new album, he was surprised to discover that his non-American friends didn’t have the same faith struggles he had been through.
“I didn’t realise this, but America has a culture of ‘evangelical Christian’ in it,” he said. “For example if you go to south in particular, it’s hard to tell where the culture begins, and the [genuine] faith ends.
“The culture of Christianity [in America] is not necessarily Biblical. My friends from Canada or the UK don’t really understand some of the things I was struggling with on this record, because it has to do with people who have woven Jesus together, with the things they want to believe.
“You can see it now with the elections. The evangelicals are supporting a person who has nothing to do with Jesus. In America people love to attribute the things that ‘go their way’, to Jesus.”
Tyson said that his record Letters To Lost Loves carries the message that it’s OK to have doubts, and to ask questions.
“I want to be a broader voice to say it’s OK to feel this way, it’s OK to question the things you believe and that’s human,” he said. “I want to show people we have more in common [than] the things that divide us.”