George Michael and 90 Seconds in Hell

Anyone who’s seen much of 2016 would have to acknowledge that quite a few celebrities have checked out this year–and there’s still almost a week to go, so there could be more. What I’m thinking about today, having just heard about Carrie Fisher, is not Princess Leia. It’s George Michael. Why, you might be wondering? I know little of his music, and that video with the “Choose Life” shirts? My goodness. Before I continue, watch/listen to this…and think of the portly doofus in that picture below.

My George Michael/Wham! memory is from an audition for a musical I did back in high school. I did OK on the acting part, and didn’t embarrass myself singing–as part of the chorus, anyway–I didn’t do a solo. The problem was the dancing.

Anyone who knows me knows I lack even the smallest gracefulness.

HS

Yes, I’m that guy. Many pounds and many years later. But dancing was part of the audition. One of the cheerleaders (Mona Nicholson) came up with a short, choreographed routine to the Wham! song Wake me up Before You Go-Go, which was a pretty big hit for George and his silent, guitar “playing” partner. I’m sure he had a name, but I don’t want to look it up.

So there we are–a handful of guys–on the tarmac outside the gym where the play would be performed. We’re standing there while Mona (yes, she was attractive) demonstrated the few steps for us. All I could think of at the time was to pray that no one saw me. The finger-snapping, “Jitterbug!” intro to the song came on and my humiliation began.

My hands/arms were held out from my sides like I was playing a drunken airplane running in a loose circle. I put the “boom-boom” into no hearts that day. I am tall. I am clumsy. And I demonstrated that fully on that 80’s afternoon. 85? 86? I can’t remember that part.

Maybe if any of my friends from those days read this, they can help me fill in some time gaps. I feel like it was springtime of 1986. Anyway, I’ll remember that time as long as I live, even if it isn’t the most masculine thing I’ve ever done.

I also remember there was this big number toward the end of the title song, “The Pajama Game.” We all had to wear pajamas for that last song. Someone (I have my suspicions) decided it would be funny to hide my pajama top. I searched frantically for it, but in the end had to “borrow” one from somebody that was about five sizes smaller than my own. Years later I would see Chris Farley crooning “Fat Guy in a Little Coat,” and it made me think of that. I had to raise my arms and do jazz hands at the end, looking like an obese genie that had just popped out of a bottle of Crisco.

I think my sisters came to the performance, but my mom didn’t, that I can remember. She was alive, but without much health or energy left. Probably a good thing–I put a hurtin’ on that pajama top.

So when I think about George Michael, I think it’s sad he’s gone–I think it’s sad when anyone shuffles off this mortal coil. But I don’t think of his hit songs from the early 90’s when his image comes to mind. I think of that white tee-shirt emblazoned with “Choose Life.” I think of stuffing my midriff into a third grader’s pajama top.

So “adios,” George. Thanks for making my 90 seconds of horror possible.

 

Heart Problem

It seems like everywhere I look lately, there is violence. There is a thesaurus of words related to violent acts. Words like “shot,” or “shot to death,” or “murdered.” Sometimes, refreshing new expressions like “racially-motivated attack. Any incident involving a gun, though, definitely brings out the worst in people. Take the Bataclan shooting in Paris a little while back, for instance. Not going to go too far into specifics, because that isn’t really what I’m after this morning. Today I’m just amazed that so many are doing the blame-game thing already. Just as they did in Paris, and so many other places.

Making the situation a political talking point. It shouldn’t be that at all. For “either” position.

Blame is apportioned and absolved for violent acts. Guns will be taken away, and people will live. Or guns will be taken away and people will die. It’s radical Islam. It’s gun enthusiasts. It’s Wal-Mart. It’s George W. Bush. Skynet has become self-aware.

I do not believe it’s the fault of the gun, however. Or the knife, or Colonel Mustard and the candlestick. I think somewhere along the way, people forgot the value of a human life, if they ever knew it at all.

Violent things are just…expected in this sad world. It’s “the way things are these days.”

It doesn’t have to be.

I didn’t expect to, but I was flipping through one of Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels, and I found a statement I mostly agreed with regarding gun violence, and violence in general:

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I believe our culture in this time has made it commonplace to deny responsibility for our actions, and blame our circumstances instead. Maybe the people we hang out with, or used to.

Except that’s crap, and everyone knows it, whether they admit it or not. Our hearts have become withered things, nearly immune to effect or influence from the death on every side. It’s our hearts, man.

We can’t seem to recognize wrong anymore.

Our circumstances in life can certainly influence our thoughts and opinions, but saying your actions are not a choice–even in a passionate moment–is patently false. We may not be able to affect what happens to us in life to a very large extent, but I believe it is a fundamental truth that we always, always choose our actions.

I grew up in a very blue collar neighborhood in a very blue collar town. Lots of my friends experimented with all kinds of things, and got into all kinds of trouble. You would hear people say things like “he ran with a bad crowd.” Or perhaps, “It’s no wonder that happened. Did you ever see his parents?”

Listen, friend. There are times it may not seem that way, but we really do have the ability to choose our actions, and “I couldn’t help myself” is only as true as you make it. Viktor Frankl wrote that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I believe that statement is true. I know it’s true because with adulthood and the advent of Christ in my life, I find myself making much better choices. I think it came with the ability to stop putting myself first so freaking always. It wasn’t necessarily because I hung out with different or better people. It wasn’t because someone dumped a bucket of “smart” over my head.

It was because I started making better choices, and I stopped believing (and doing) the stupid things people told me to do because it was what they thought was best for me, or true about me.

For example, when I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher tell me privately he thought I should stop hanging out with my friends because they were bringing me down, and minimizing my potential. I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

I didn’t say anything to him then, but I wanted to tell him to screw himself. The friends he was talking about ended up literally saving my life, just a few years later.

I learned a lot about the value of a human life during my teen years, in lots of ways. If you know me at all, you know that story. If you don’t, ask me and I’d be happy to tell you about it. I have links on here somewhere to my Facebook and email accounts.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, good or bad.

My life got me here. It was very hard at times, but it was worth it. And I don’t think I began to explore my true potential until I took the offered hand of a carpenter, rough with calluses and scars.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to realize my full potential, because God made us all to be perfect, and sinless. Our very ancient family chose differently.

So I will never be perfect. Neither will you. Practicing social justice might make you a better person, but you’re still going to make mistakes. At the core of you, and the core of me, we may always be the same person. That does not mean we make the same choices.

From an old Everclear song, “I will always be weird, I will always be lame.”

That may be so (it is with me), but with the growth and freedom that Frankl mentions, and with faith, and maturity, and the ability to love comes a little wisdom, along with the ability to choose wisely. And we can begin to work on our heart problems.

So that’s me. And yes, to re-iterate, I think we, as a society, have a heart problem.

And I think we can fix it.

I think the answer lies in what this coming weekend is all about–Easter. It’s not about chocolate, or caramel, or finding eggs. It’s about how a man came, who was really a lot more than just a man. It’s about how he gave his life to fix our heart problem, and came back so we could understand why.

You may know me, and you may not. You don’t owe me anything, but I’d like to ask you for a favor, whoever you are.

Find a house of worship this coming weekend. You will hear a message there that could change your life, and help to fix your heart problem.

Please, give it a chance. Go there, wherever “there” is.

Hear the message, and respond. It will really change your life–maybe even save it.

.j

RIPs in Advance

So the celebrities have really been checking out at an increasingly rapid rate, especially musicians and singers. The men and women who made the music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are getting a little long in the tooth, and you never know what’s going to happen, or when. I enjoy a lot of that older music (real instruments, and real vocals–good and bad) because I have older sisters that introduced me to it when I was younger. I am really grateful for that.

When they pass, social networking goes bananas with tributes and RIPs. So I thought I would pay some respect to the bands I loved when I was younger, and love today.

Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath and solo. My friend had a Paranoid LP, and we played it a lot when I was younger. Then I got one of my own from my sisters, I think. Such a great and heavy record. Today, Ozzy speaks like a stroke victim in recovery, but he can still sing. Ozzfest 2002 was awesome.

Deep Purple. Amazing band. I only need two works to prove it. Highway Star.

Styx. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

Journey. They rock, and the ladies love them. What’s not to love?

Judas Priest. Oh, my gosh. Still one of my favorite bands from the 80’s. Rob Halford is in his 60’s, but he still has it.

Iron Maiden. A friend had a recording of Live After Death. So good. And Piece of Mind? Please…

Don’t let me forget Bruce Springsteen, either. Not metal, but Born in the USA and The River were like old friends during a really tough time. And then my sister gave me the live boxed set for my birthday, I think. Done–lifelong fan of his music. Never mind his politics.

That’s the beauty of recorded music. The performers will be gone, but we will have the music forever.

Let Your Glory Shine

The song “Let Your Glory Shine,” by Lincoln Brewster came on my mp3 player today, and it gave me a second or two of pause. The song begins with a short but lightning fast burst of guitar that just melts your face. Then he gets into the verse, which is pretty much straightforward blues/rock with a nice groove. Of course, then Brewster and the band go absolutely nuts after the bridge, and there’s another face melting guitar solo.

In the following video, Brewster tells the story of the song:

He talks about when he came from the secular music world (he played for Steve Perry, the original Journey singer) into playing worship music in a church, he always felt restraint, so far as his playing went. But it seemed like God was telling him to just play with what he was given to play, and in this instance, that was crazy guitar skills.

But the chorus of the song really tells the story.

“Let your glory shine, let your glory shine, let your glory shine through me.”

I’ve heard both pastors and worship leaders over the years say things like “church isn’t the time to showboat,” and maybe it isn’t. Perhaps a song like this IS more suited to a concert setting. But to me, that doesn’t meant the song doesn’t carry a valid message.

Let your glory shine through me.

Brewster also says in the “making of” video above, that “If I don’t give Lord everything, both musically and spiritually, then I’m not being obedient.”

He’s letting the talent God gave him shine (worth mentioning is that he always gives God the glory for what he’s been given).

That sounds OK to me.

Certainly, I’m no pastor, no bible scholar. Can’t sing or play.

But if there was something I could do OK, I would do it, and honor God with what he’d given me.

What that is, I’m still doing my best to discover. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe telling people about the Good News.

Maybe it’s simply my work. I would guess that’s it for a lot of people. Steven Curtis Chapman has a song where he says something like “do everything you do for the glory of the one who made you.”

Can I write and edit documents to the Glory of God? I think so—I hope that’s what I’m doing today.

But maybe it isn’t something so glamorous as typing for you, or playing ridiculously awesome guitar solos.

Maybe you drive a cab, or wash dishes.

Maybe you scoop dog poop in a park.

Or you could be a stay-at-home parent who spends a great deal of their time following children around and vacuuming Legos out of the carpet (you can do that, right?)

Try to think that in that moment, you are where God meant you to be.

Handing homeless people a meal, or stacking chairs.

Flipping burgers.

Making bouquets.

God put you there.

You can glorify him wherever you are.

I wish I could sing all the time. I’m the only one in my nuclear family who can’t, including my 4 year-old.

But that isn’t me.

Instead, I am spending my lunch trying to think, and write, and eat something from the roadrunner without getting some meat-sickness.

Then I will go back to Word, and Publisher.

I will write, and I will edit. And I will drop the mic when I am done for the day.

“If I don’t give Lord everything, then I’m not being obedient.”

The Lucky Ones

It goes without saying there are a great many powerful verses in scripture. Everyone who reads the bible likely has a favorite or two. I’m no exception. So tonight—this morning, I guess—I was trying to figure out where to start, and what to read (I usually do my reading about 0330 to 0400, depending on what I have going on and how much work I have left), and I was listening to the sounds of the building around me.

The ductwork.

The refrigerator across the room.

That darn cricket hiding somewhere.

My breathing.

The occasional noise from outside.

All so familiar, and they remind me that some things about night shift are good. The solitude. The time for thinking, praying.

I consider that sometimes the familiar is OK, and that is where I turn this morning.

I turn to Luke 15, verse 20. Maybe my favorite verse ever.

20 So he got up and returned to his father. The father looked off in the distance and saw the young man returning. He felt compassion for his son and ran out to him, enfolded him in an embrace, and kissed him.

Is there a better verse to describe in a tangible way the love Jesus bears us? We, all of us, are prodigals. He waits for us to come back home. He scans the horizon for us. He’s patient, yet always he looks out in the distance.

When he sees us, he rejoices.

Even though we’ve sinned against him, and against God.

He runs to us, embraces us.

We run to him, too. Broken, hurting, steeped in lies about him and his nature. Lies about ourselves and our potential. Lies about our worth to our maker.

He greets us with scar-padded hands, and a kiss. The scars are from us, for us, and the kiss speaks of our worth to him, our value.

But.

We are all broken in our own way. Otherwise we wouldn’t need saving. Otherwise we wouldn’t need to be healed.

Sometimes it feels like nothing in our lives is fair—as if the things that have happened to us and around us are too terrible to endure. Sometimes they are.

We get bruised, and as I mentioned before, terribly broken.

The thing I noticed about myself eventually is that I needed to be broken before I could be rebuilt. That required the realization that I was, in fact, broken. Hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

All busted up in a way only Christ can heal. Thirsty for righteousness only He can bring.

Which makes me think of Isaiah, 42: 1-4.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged[a]
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.”

I am no bible scholar, but I think this is a near perfect portrait of Jesus, many many years before his birth (of course, the suffering servant depicted in Isaiah 53 details the inevitable fate and terrible devastation and aloneness that awaits him, all on our behalf)

But I feel assured, because in spite of my brokenness—perhaps because of it—the justice spoken of is not the retribution or revenge some might think of. In my opinion, the best revenge is surviving. Healing. Carrying on.

Not letting the bricks thrown through life’s windows shatter anything more than glass.

Because a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

That’s good to know.

Lately I’ve been feeling like a bit of a bruised reed again.

I’ve felt tired, of course. Exhausted in nearly every way. Broken in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. I don’t know if that will ever completely heal before Heaven.

But I think of those familiar few verses, and I find myself comforted indeed.

It’s just that it’s so easy to wander off. We wqnder while we wait for him, never realizing he is already there waiting for us.

It’s easy to stray.

Really easy.

Maybe it’s even normal. Maybe if we didn’t struggle, we would be doing something wrong.

But even more comfort lies ahead, because he’s standing there while we are a long way off, and he’s waiting for us.
Those verses describe the nature of Jesus, and what he has in store for us. He’s the waiting father, scanning the horizon for his lost son, lost daughter.

He’s the gentle hand, caressing our bruises and binding them.

Binding our hearts.

We aren’t too far away.

We aren’t too broken to be healed.

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The picture right there? That’s us. That’s me, broken like that reed.

But not without hope.

Let me leave you with that thought, and this song:

Early Early Early

It was kind of a weird morning. I woke up about two because my wife woke up. I got up to use the restroom, and then I went back to sleep. I’m not sure if she did or not. Then I woke up a couple hours later to get ready for work, and the first thing I thought of were the two songs linked below.

A couple of years ago, Jorge, Laurie, and my wife did an almost a capella version of the first song, and it was beautiful. That was the melody I heard when I opened my eye (the other one was already open).

The next is an arrangement my hugely talented father-in-law came up with of an old(er) church song (When We Walk With the Lord). I just had the chorus playing in my immense melon over and over again. I don’t know, maybe I just got some of that direction people are always asking for.

ALL Who Are Weary

My older son hates getting ready for church. Not going to church, or being at church. Getting ready. So much so that occasionally he will throw a giant fit because he doesn’t understand why he needs to get dressed up.

This morning I woke up at 0500 for some reason, and I looked at my phone, of course, because that’s what you do when you wake up. One of my sisters had posted the David Crowder song “Come as You Are” to me on Facebook and mentioned the song being beautiful.

She was right. It is.

That got me thinking about the Gospel, and more importantly, Jesus.

Come as you are.

I think the most beautiful truth about Jesus (in my opinion) that can be found in scripture is that of Matthew 11: 27-28

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In that passage, Jesus doesn’t make any qualifying statements about when you should come.

He doesn’t mention knotting your tie, or wearing a collar.

He doesn’t say anything about being ready, or in the right mindset.

He doesn’t even say you have to believe.

He says come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.

I will give you rest.

In my heart, he sounds something like this:

come to me with your doubt. Come with your loneliness and addiction. Come standing in that sin you just can’t seem to shake. Come mired in the filth of the world with your guilt about all the awful things you’ve done and seen hanging around your neck.

Come to me hurting. Come to me with your wounds still bleeding. With missing limbs. With that chasm down the middle of you that only I can fill. You don’t have to be ready.

Just come as you are.

As the year ends, have you been thinking about what’s missing?

Why 2014 blew so hard you don’t even want to know what 2015 will be like?

If I never write another word, or say another word, I think I would say this to you now.

Consider Jesus.

God.

Consider finding rest for your souls.

You may think Christians are full of shit, and many of them are.

Christ isn’t, I promise you.

You may think your life is too messy, that what you’ve done is too terrible for forgiveness.

It isn’t.

Consider Jesus.

Maybe you’re wondering about God, and yourself, and wondering what to do next.

Consider Jesus. Find a bible. You can get them free in the Kindle store if you have a smart phone.

Talk to someone.

Listen, folks. Maybe some of you will happen across this post and wonder who in the blue hell I am to tell you to do anything?

I’m no one special. I’m a man, like every other man. I’m a person just like you.

I doubt sometimes. I hurt and have been hurt. I am far from perfect. I lust. I hate. I mess up all the time.

But in March of 2000, I was able to literally lay my burdens down and it felt wonderful.

If you want to know more about it, scroll through my blog, or ask me in the comments.

If there’s anything you want to know about Jesus and how to know him from a regular person, I would be happy to answer any question I can without judgment.

If you don’t want to comment here, you can look me up on Facebook and message me. My name is on my blog page.

Talk to someone. Talk to God.

Come as you are.

Don’t wait.