I am Finley. James Finley, specifically— though the specificity of that is low too as “James” is the most common name amongst Finleys.James Finley, specifically. I am a Christian, a father of four, a software engineer, an amateur instrument builder and woodworker, and a bard.

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I have released a Christmas playlist every year since 2015. The last three years a version of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day has made it on the list and this year I centered my playlist around it.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The beauty of this song hit me years ago and as I have wrestled the dark I have fallen more and more in love with it. The poem was written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, two years after his wife was fatally burned in an accidental fire and his son joined the Union army without his blessing.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along, the unbroken song,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Til ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound, the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The Civil War was a dark time in American history. Around 620,000 Americans died, around 22% of Southern men aged 20-24. 2% of the American population at the time. More Americans died during the Civil War than WWII. Much could be written in many directions here, but much of it has been written by men greater and wiser than I.

This poem has been on my heart for many years because I hear the cannons firing, I hear the voices trying to out-volume God.

And in despair I bowed my head;
There is no peace on earth, I said;
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Hate is strong and mocks the song. This line weighs on me. These last few years has seen our family understand despair. It has licked at our feet.

Despair, the opposite of hope. This world doesn’t understand hope. And it revels in despair.

Somehow I Stand

My family has been mocked, jeered at, hated, threatened, slandered, despised. We have felt it from many directions. My kids have felt it too. Yet, our God has not failed us. Our family has been blessed abundantly. As the earthquaks have rent our hearth-stones, our house has become home to two more children. The amount of joy in our home overflows. To quote Rend Collective, “I’m not afraid of the dark, the darks afraid of me. I’m not afraid anymore, Your love glows in the dark.”

We’ve got songs, Psalms, hymns and verses galore. We have things we say when the darkness looks us in the face.

This period of our lives has made us more resilient, more resolute, more faithful.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

We trust our Lord. He conquered death. He is the light and we lightbearers. “[T]he pain of betrayal, of vitriol, of hatred doesn’t get better. What gets better is the strength of our faith and our training in lifting the shield.”

Raise [your children] strong in their faith, ready to provide reasonable argument for their faith, prepare them to cling to the Cross no matter the taunts, the jeers, or the songs the drunkards make about them. Teach them to respond to the hateful songs of drunkards with praise for the Lord and love for their enemies.


God works all things for good. Like the residents of Whoville, let the Grinch try to ruin Christmas. Your enemy doesn’t understand your joy, doesn’t understand your peace, doesn’t understand the reason you sing praise. He will fail. But God will not. Let the drunkards sing, jeer, taunt, and fire their cannons. Do not despair, raise your voice loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.

This is a big update, as the last couple weeks were crucial to finish this and I haven’t had the time to post updates here. I have kept the Instagram up to date, though.

Last photo I shared here was a hollowed out— very rough— body. That got cleaned up on the router table. Braces were added to the inside of the box and to the top, a beautiful piece of locally sourced sassafras from Lumber Logs. Lumber Logs is a great place for all wood-loving guys and gals with really good prices on locally cut lumber. It’s all rough sawn, so my buddy at River Soul helped clean it up with his planers and jointers.

The Bigger News

I mentioned in the last post that I couldn’t yet show the headstock. Why? Well, when this instrument was conceived— heh— the plan was a simple, cheaper banger for travel, campfires, and having everywhere I go. That meant cheaper hardware, no electronics, and locally sourced top— my previous build had a $125 top. But then my wife told me we were expecting our fourth child.

So as any sane man does when his legacy is expanding, I got up at 4 the next morning and started drawing an inlay. I had yet to do a complex inlay, so this was a big first. I wanted yellow and white mother of pearl, but the prices were not right and I don’t have the tooling for cutting MOP in my shop. So I did what I do: I sourced from SendCutSend brass and titanium, laser cut pieces for the inlay. Four leaves for our four children, a butterfly for my wife, and my Minotaur brand.

So the banger got a bit more complicated and the price went up a bit, but still under $300 total. It is my cheapest instrument yet. Final photos and videos will be coming soon.

A Baby!

Enough about that: baby is healthy, growing quick, looking to be as big as our oldest two, and another boy. Yep, three boys now. We cannot be more psyched and are prepping the house for another baby. So as I wrap this beautiful mandolin up, I am going right back into the shop to work on a kitchen island, a queen size bed, and more over the next couple months. Let’s go!

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