Thursday, December 29, 2011


I was walking the dog the other day and saw some geese flying over my neighborhood. This is a common occurrence, as we have a pond nearby and Canada Geese are wont to make it their semi-permanent home. I find this interesting because there are much more interesting places to spend your time than Oliver Hardy Lake in Milledgeville, Georgia. Notice that the name is Oliver Hardy Lake and not Oliver Hardy Pond even though it’s about the size of the average the cattle watering hole on area farms. People do enjoy making things sound grand, especially when they’re not.

Having a background in both ministry and leadership, I have heard my share of goose stories over the years. Usually it’s the same stuff about why geese fly in a ‘V’ formation and why they continuously give off that honking sound while flying in said ‘V’ formation. The prevailing wisdom that comes from people who are not really in a position to know these things is that geese use the flying ‘V’ because it creates less drag and makes flying easier. Therefore the geese can fly much farther. It’s an example of working together, cooperation and, I suspect, knowing your place in the overall structure. The moral of the story is that we should all cooperate and know our place. The high paid gurus of leadership and evangelism will say it differently, of course. It’s their job to make it sound that acting like a flock of geese is something to which we should all aspire.

Then there is the idea that geese continuously honk at one another as a method of encouragement as they fly. I find this interesting, because I’ve never heard of anyone who spoke fluent goose. Who knows what they are really saying or if they are saying anything at all. Maybe they just enjoy making noise.

On the day that Maya and I spied the geese flying above us, I noticed that there were at first only two of them, honking their black-and-white heads off as they flew. Then a moment later a third goose appeared, honking and doing his best to catch up with the other two. I was fascinated to see that the first two geese did not slow down nor did they appear to even notice their cousin who had, apparently, gotten a bit of a late start. As the flying leadership lesson passed above, I saw the third goose trying to head in the same general direction as the other two, but he was never included in the formation and so was on a bit of a different path. He had to make his way on his own.

A third thing we in the leadership biz sometimes hear about geese is that each goose in the formation gets a shot at being the leader as they rotate in and out of the point position in the flying ‘V.’ So far as I can tell, there is no real evidence to confirm that. Still, it’s a good story and helps keep people happy. "Don’t worry," we’re told. "You geese in back will get your turn eventually, just be patient. Be supportive. Conform."

I have nothing against geese. They are a great part of nature and I love to watch them fly. The wild goose is an ancient image for the Holy Spirit, being untamed and free. Still, I have to wonder if a flock of Canada Geese is the example we should follow in leadership and in faith. Well paid people use this idea to “goose” us toward working in cooperation with the establishment. Is that where we need to be? Do we need to be in a group in which we are simply interchangeable parts? What if we take off late? Will there be no place in the formation for us if we don’t meet someone else’s schedule?

I’m not sure where I “should” be. There are a lot of people who are glad to tell me where I should be, if I ask and sometimes even when I don’t. I have decided that there is a big difference in where people say I should be and where I think I am.

Let the flock move on. My heart is with the wild goose that flew alone.

I wonder where he ended up.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Behind the Masks

 We are one week past Halloween at this writing. I really enjoy Halloween and I don’t care who knows it. For some, it has become fashionable to crusade against the day, calling it an occasion to honor Satan or to glorify evil or be otherwise anti-Christian. Most of those people haven’t done any real research into the history of the day or to consider its origins. That’s not really why I’m writing just now. If you’re interested, there is a wealth of real information on the subject. Just steer clear of the obviously biased and/or fictional writings of those who want the day abolished completely.

I will say, however, that there are those who have taken the day hostage and are forcing us to pay exorbitant prices to survive the event. I refer, of course, to anyone over the age of 12 who goes from house to house demanding candy under the threat of property damage. There really ought to be a law that if you are old enough to shave, you are too old to “trick or treat.” That was driven home to me when I saw someone in a Halloween mask driving an Escalade into my neighborhood.

Still, Halloween makes me think. This year, as I watched the many people from other neighborhoods and even other counties clog the streets of my own neighborhood causing traffic tie-ups and worse, I thought about masks.

There are all kinds of masks. There are masks specifically for Halloween, made to resemble things familiar, scary or unsettling (clown masks are the worst). There are masks used for dramatic purposes on stage. There are masks worn by health professionals to limit the spread of potentially harmful germs. The greatest mask of all time is worn by one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. He embodies strength, mystery and justice with a little violent fun thrown into the mix. He stands head and shoulders above all others. You know who I mean…


Yes. The Caped Crusader himself. Not the one in the silly TV show of the ‘60s. I’m speaking of the Dark Knight, the one whose name is whispered by criminals and malefactors of Gotham City. Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 and was arguably at his best when written Frank Miller. Batman is the coolest of all comic book characters and not because he has the best toys and gadgets (although who wouldn’t kill for a real batmobile?).

What makes Batman the most interesting of all the masked heroes is the fundamental question of his identity. The iconic mask/cowl of Batman hides the face of Bruce Wayne – we all know that. The real question that must be asked is this:

Is Batman really Bruce Wayne or is Bruce Wayne really Batman?

It’s all about who the character really is. Is Batman a persona put on by Wayne in order to fight crime or has Batman become the dominant personality who uses Bruce Wayne as a mask to function in society? Believe it or not psychiatrists, psychologists and writers have discussed this at length without coming to a final conclusion.

The question, or course, is much more than an armchair analysis of a comic book character. It’s the question that we all need ask ourselves about ourselves. Do I wear a mask and does anyone know the person behind the mask? What face or mask do I present to the world? Is the face that I choose to show others a true reflection of who I am or is it a character I create for my own purposes? Do I hide my true self in order to protect myself from the world? Is there anyone actually behind the mask?

We live in a society that values image over reality and style over substance. Because of that, the temptation to create a mask that reflects what society wants to see can become overwhelming. We succumb to the demand and we create faces that allow only a small portion of ourselves to be seen. We hide the parts of ourselves that seem afraid or weak or simply contrary the political and social constraints around us. We become afraid to tell anyone else who we are inside – our “secret identity.”

We may fool others but we confuse ourselves. After a while, we have no idea who we really are. Are with the person or are we the mask?

My hope and prayer is that the question will be answered before it becomes irrelevant – before the mask and face merge forever and a person is lost in the process.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Allergies of the Soul

I had intended to visit my local purveyor of fine coffees this morning. I was looking forward to sitting at one of the tiny tables while writing or reading or observing human coffee house behavior while sipping the special blend of the day. It’s one of the simple pleasures that I enjoy immensely. A coffee house excursion gives me a sense of purpose without giving me anything specific to do. What more could a young-ish retired job-hunter ask for?

As it usually happens, life’s plans didn’t coincide with my own. Instead, I awoke with a headache. I hate when that happens! It slows down the day and slows down my mind. It’s an allergy thing. Something unidentified seems to enjoy sneaking up on me and striking me when I’m defenseless, like when I’m watching the World Series or trying to be creative with words.

After a couple of Excedrin Migraine caplets, I decided that it was time to take the dog for a walk. Maybe a dose of brisk fresh air would help. Also, Maya was giving me that goofy grin and acting like a puppy instead of the supposed 2 ½ year old adult that she is. So I hooked up the leash, grabbed a jacket and hat and off we went, looking at squirrels and stray cats, sniffing anything and everything (her) and looking for quiet inspiration while ignoring an ache in the brain (me).

After our stroll through suburbia, we returned home and the sneezing started. Not only had I not shaken the headache, I had apparently walked through some invisible plague of which sneezing fits are the first sign. Can becoming one of the living dead be far behind? Sigh. Allergies strike again. So what’s a frustrated writer to do? He considers what gives him various types of grief and writes about it. In my case, I began wondering about all the things in life to which I’m emotionally and intellectually allergic. As cruel as nature can be to me sometimes, there are other things in life that give me an even more adverse reaction. Today, one of them seems to leap to mind – Cruel Intolerance. We are a society that, no matter what we say or what’s written on the base of the Statue of Liberty, desires conformity and uniformity. We have little patience or compassion for different points of view or the people that hold them. You say you want examples? Here’s a small taste of my heebie-jeebie hit parade:

- Reactions to Occupy Wall Street. This is a grass-roots movement that has spawned similar events in other cities. People have taken to the streets to make public their displeasure in the injustices of the corporate system in America. Some agree with their stance while others do not. I have no problem with the ones that don’t agree. The same America that permits dissent permits disagreement with said dissent.
My problem is with the ones that are contemptuous of the Occupiers. Instead of simply disagreeing with the conclusions or strategy of the movement, some have resorted to name-calling and questioning the patriotism of the participants. Some have even called the movement un-American. Really? It seems to me that demonstrations were at the heart of the beginnings of our country. Perhaps if the Wall Street occupiers had called their movement a tea party, they’d be more popular with conservative pundits, politicians and Wall Street champions.

- Religious litmus tests. More and more these days we use religion to determine if someone is worthy to be elected to public office, worthy to do business in a local community or even worthy to be a friend. It’s not about personal faith, integrity or honor. It’s about religious labels. If one is labeled “different” in their professed religion, the chances of being accepted or even treated with decency decrease dramatically. Being too “liberal” or “un-Christian” (which is different depending on which Christian you talk to) is enough to make you a pariah these days. People aren’t interested in you – they’re interested in the convenient label you’ve been given. It’s the kind of thing that will get you nailed to a cross.

- Reality TV. Do I really need to elaborate?

- Televised panel discussions. Whether it’s about current events or football, the so-called creative minds of television have decided that adding more and louder people to the mix will somehow give us more insight. Now it’s not about the subject whether it be political, social or something else. Now it’s all about being loud, super-opinionated and talking over one another. If you can shout someone down, you’re obviously right. We don’t need reasoned discourse. We need vitriol and volume. When did this happen? When did we become a society that elevated loud-mouthed pundits to the status of sages? All any of us needs to be an “expert” is a childish attitude and a good vocabulary.

This is only a limited list of the things that give my soul the allergic heebie-jeebies. The list grows longer as we become more fragmented and intolerant as a society. Where will it all end? Probably when everyone has his/her own TV show and an audience of one. After all, if things keep going the way they have been, we won’t be able to accept anyone except ourselves.

Won’t the world be lonely then?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An American Malady

It's Tuesday as I begin this writing process and the weekend is over. Why wait until Tuesday to declare an end to the weekend? Because Monday night football is done for another week. For a significant percentage of America, the weekend begins and ends with the first and last football games on the schedule. That used to mean Friday nights for high school, Saturday for college and Sunday for the NFL. The NFL never scheduled on days when colleges were playing. Nowadays that line has become so blurred as to be downright invisible. You can find college and pro football on Thursdays (as well as the occasional high school game), Fridays and Saturdays. That means that you can get your football fix four days out of the week. You can use the three non-football days to talk about what went right and what went wrong with your favorite teams on the other four days. Then there's fantasy football, which is another story altogether.

Really, do we need fantasy football to fill in the small gaps in our American pigskin panacea? Face it, if your fantasies are about football, you're not doing it right.

As we got closer and closer to the opening of the spectacle that is American football, something strange happened to me. It's never really happened before and I'm not sure how to handle it. Perhaps I should see a doctor or a counselor. At the least, I may need the help of a support group. Somewhere in the process, I realized that I was suffering from Football Overload, a sub-category of something called Sports Saturation. I knew that if I sat through one more analysis of the college Top 25 and whether or not Texas A&M would somehow relocate to the Southeast Conference or heard another story about Peyton Manning or even heard the name Brett Favre, I would begin screaming and possibly projectile vomiting. It's not a pretty image, but it describes the syndrome pretty well.

Being the detective that I am, I decided to evaluate my condition and try to determine it's origin and thereby figure out a cure. After all, can this be normal? What could have led to my unfortunate situation? After hours of painstaking research and experimentation (don't ask), I hit upon it. It's not complex or hard to understand. It's not a bizarre confluence of events. It's actually something very simple. I'm suffering from the continuous football hype that inundates the airwaves continuously. The various networks have decided that what America needs today is not jobs, clean energy or a climate of honest debate instead of jingoistic attempts to take the public hostage to a political viewpoint.

No, my friends. What America needs is to be force fed a diet of football bowl projections, NFL salary information and continuous dirty laundry from the personal lives of players and coaches. We apparently need it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Relax and let the Purveyors of Hyperbole take us to a better place. We'll all feel better about ourselves and won't have the chance to think about real life.

I suppose we must lay the blame somewhere. I suggest that a certain sports-oriented network that shall remain nameless but whose initials are ESPN are keeping the public mesmerized with a dizzying array of colorful graphics and meaningless numbers delivered with the gravity and seriousness of a Baptist preacher confronting an empty collection plate. It boggles the mind. Do we really need to know where some NFL quarterback went on vacation? Are we really interested in how many coaches are on the “hot seat?” I think that when we're honest, the answer to both questions is “no.” Still the Nameless Network (initials ESPN) tells us that we should be interested, so we make ourselves keep up with such stuff.

It's gotten to the point where a friend of mine was called “un-American” when she wanted to watch the U.S. Open tennis match instead of football. Really? The United States Open is un-American? We've come to a sorry pass indeed if that's the case. We've become victims of a huge conspiracy. We've become a populace that is misled, misguided and mistaken in its priorities. We're buying the lie of the people who tell us that they know better than we what is important. We are dumbed down and done in by our quiet acquiescence to the well-groomed, well-spoken personalities that keep us pacified while they call it keeping us informed.

Sadly – no tragically – this is not merely a sports phenomenon. This “sports is life” attitude is just a symptom of the larger issue. Americans have become a poorly informed society. We are content to let the attractive people on cable news networks and talk shows tell us what we should be concerned with and outraged about. They tell us what our priorities should be and how we should respond. They brazenly try to think for us and like so many herd animals we accept it, grateful that we don't have go to all the trouble to think for ourselves. After all, thinking is hard and we're happier when someone else does it.

Oh, we try to give the appearance of thinking for ourselves. We can quote our favorite politician's 10-second sound bite. We can deliver the party line and join a bandwagon or tea party and feel good about it. Honestly, is that the best we can do? So far, the answer seems to be in the affirmative. Until more of us have finally had enough and decide that we do indeed have functioning brains, these Sultans of Self-Importance will continue to tell us what to think and when to think it. They will still give us our opinions when they want us to have them.

It's time for a new type of American Revolution. Not a violent revolution, mind you. We've a violent society already and the last thing we need is more of that. I'm not asking anyone to “take back America” like some of the politicians want us to. What they want is to take America for their party or special interest group. The time has come for us to do something incredibly radical. We're not used to it and it may be a bit painful at first, but it's time. I'm talking about a revolution of thought. The time has come for Americans everywhere to take the bold step of being thoughtful people. Whether we're thinking about something as ultimately meaningless as sports or as important as how we choose to relate to one another and the world, we have do it for ourselves. It's not up to the TV personalities and pundits to determine our opinions and how we translate those opinions into action. It's up to you and me to do that. Don't wait for some pronouncement from the denizens of the Vast Wasteland. Don't wait for a panel of pundits. Think. Now.

The revolution will not be televised.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Passes for a Hero These Days

I've passed it on the road a couple of times now and I still can't believe it. There are all kinds of things that we see on highway signs. We glance at them and immediately banish them from our minds. We've got more important things to think about - our destination, the music on the CD, what we did that day or what we're going to do. The only signs I really think about are telling me about the nearest gas station or where I can get a cup of coffee. That changed one day as I made my way through Dublin, GA.

As I came into town, my eyes moved to the left, prepared to move immediately back to the road. Instead, I did a classic double-take. There, staring at me from a huge sign, was a giant sized image of Joseph McCarthy, one time U. S. Senator from Wisconsin. The writing under McCarthy's picture read: “Joseph McCarthy, The Real American Hero.” It was subtitled: “Right All Along.”

Apparently, according to this sign and a couple of web sites I've found, Joseph McCarthy has become some kind of misunderstood saint, a guardian of the democratic spirit and the embodiment of Truth, Justice and the American Way (sorry about that, Superman).

Joseph McCarthy grossly exaggerated and lied about his military record when running for office while slandering his opponent for the Senate, Robert La Follette, Jr. Three years after being elected, McCarthy suddenly claimed the spotlight by claiming to have a list of members of the Communist Party that had infiltrated the State Department, the administration of President Harry Truman, and the United States Army. For the next three years or so, McCarthy took advantage of America's Cold War fears to lie and slander his way to Washington D. C. influence. In the process, lives were ruined, a climate of fear and hatred was nurtured and we are still seeing the effects of McCarthy's witch-hunt style of politics. McCarthy died in 1957 at the age of 48. The cause of death is listed as acute hepatitis and inflammation of the liver. Other sources list the cause as acute cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism.

We're getting ready for another election season in the U. S. A. (color me underwhelmed). Already we've been seeing more than the usual level of name-calling, half-truths and out-right lies. The once honored system of American politics has become a dirty system that uses dirty methods to achieve selfish results. It's not about making America a better place for all of us. It's now about making America a place that gives us what we want at the expense of anyone and everyone else. People who are the best at making accusations and using vitriolic rhetoric will be called things like “pundits” and “sages.” The true extent of their wisdom is shown in their inability to have a rational discussion and their refusal to entertain the possibility that they may be able to learn from another person's point of view. This is what passes for statesmanship and political acumen in America now.

So now Joseph McCarthy is being seen as a hero by the masters of revisionist history. Is it really any surprise that we're seeing a renewed emphasis on McCarthy-style politics? It doesn't matter who may be right or wrong. It doesn't matter if anyone is right at all. All that matters is which candidate (or pundit or sage or whatever) can speak loudest for the longest time. They are confident that you and I will accept decibels for dedication and tricks for truth.

And they're right – we will.

Year after year Americans make choices (at least those of us who vote) based on who looks good and sounds good. It really doesn't matter what they are saying. All that matters is that they give us the rhetoric that makes us feel important and powerful or makes us feel vulnerable and persecuted. Either way works for them, as long as we vote their way. They like it better when the public is uninformed and would rather watch Big Brother or some other brainless “reality” TV show than spend a little time searching out the truth for ourselves.

Until we do that, our American heroes will continue to look more and more like the late Joseph McCarthy and less like those who founded our country on the ideals of true freedom and cooperation. The sad truth is that we will get the American heroes we deserve. If we demand more of our politicians than inflammatory speeches and divisive policies we might actually get what we want. The trick is to stick to it, which we rarely do. We are content with saying that we want honesty, commitment and bi-partisanship but we continually elect people who embody the opposite. As long as we refuse to change, the system will not change.

So, who is to blame for the failure of the system? Everyone. Who is responsible for making it work? Everyone. Who is taking the lead? No one. The revisionists are winning. They haven't completely won yet, but things are heading in that direction. Is that what we want? If not, it's time to get up off our complacency and stop being led around like so many sheep. Become the kind of person that we say we want our politicians and leaders to be. Speak the truth and expect it of others. Be compassionate and require it of our collective society. That is at the heart of true heroism.

You want a hero? Be one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Islands and the Spaces in Between

I've never lived on an island, but I've visited a couple. I have a dear friend who makes Tybee Island his home and makes his home open to friends who want to experience island living. It's a great chance to feel the ocean breeze, to meet characters that you never believed existed outside of a novel, and try to match your internal clock to “island time” - which is harder than you might think.

The first time I visited Tybee Island was when I was in college and I really didn't get the flavor of it then. I was there with a bunch of college friends and all we cared about was the fact that there was a beach. And girls. And food. Hey, it was college. I had the opportunity to rediscover a whole new (to me) Tybee much later.

I forgot all about islands as I tried to make a place for myself in the so-called “real world.” It was what I was raised to do and if I didn't do that, then I had failed. I went to school. Then I went to graduate school. I got a job working for a major religious denomination as part of my search to answer the “call” to whatever it was I was created to do. There's nothing wrong with any of that and I'm glad for the learning and growing experiences I had in the process. It took years for me to discover or admit that there was more to life.

It began with the call of an island.

I first truly encountered Ireland through music. I heard the ancient and the traditional music of the Emerald Isle and it spoke to me. It told me of green hills and valleys as old as time. It spoke of spirituality and humanity blended and inseparable. I'd never been there, yet it spoke of home. Once I found a book of Wyoming County, West Virginia history, the place my great-grandfather called home. It mentioned our family and that we were of “Irish descent.” I'm not sure exactly what that means, but there you are. There are Wesley's in Ireland and perhaps there is a very old connection to them. I like to think so.

When I visited Ireland, I did a lot of the touristy things – walking through cathedrals and shopping districts and going to shows. I also spent some time trying to open my mind and soul to what the island might be saying to me. I sat in the silence of Glendalough, the site of a former monastery, and listened. I looked at the ancient tombstones, worn to the thickness of half an inch, chipped and ragged around the edges, any names long ago worn away by wind and rain. Ireland spoke and I listened.

It seems that there is more to life than I had experienced and it was time that I knew it. I may never go again (I would in a heartbeat if I could afford it), but now I understand more fully that I am part of the Great Connection – spirit of humanity and spirit of the divine meeting in the harmony what it means to be alive. The song is forever. Ireland is ancient and eternally young and I love her.

Sadly, I had to come back to where everyday life waited. It was too easy to become immersed in paying bills and taking care of mundane things. It was too easy to let the lessons and spirit of Ireland become memories to be visited instead of life to be lived. I had left the island and was in the doldrums of the space in between, where the lack of breeze or current leaves you foundering.

Not too long ago, I reconnected with some incredible friends from the old days of college. We arranged to meet at Micheal's house on Tybee Island and see what happened. A lot happened, including the rediscovery of relationships that had been lacking in my life and had left an empty place where they once lived. Now they are back. It was magical and it still is.

In subsequent visits, I've met more of the folks of Tybee and gotten a small glimpse of what it means to be part of that place. It's a different pace and relaxed attitude, but it's more than that. On Tybee there is a community that loves its members. They take care of one another and lift one another up. They forgive one another when it's necessary and move on. They celebrate life and living. It's epic and intimate at the same time.

Then there are the spaces in between – the uncertainty and lack of direction. It's like the trough between the waves. There air in the troughs is stifling. No breeze, no current to move me forward or carry me back to the island. The doldrums.

There is no way around the doldrums. One can only wait for the wind to change and the ocean to decide to move. Then we can find our way to the shores we long for, be they sandy beaches or green hills. It'll happen. When? In it's own time and in it's own way.

I love the islands I've been to. Whether or not I spend extended time there, they continue to teach me lessons about life and especially about myself. I've still got a lot to learn, but the islands are patient. They will always be there. The winds will blow and the currents will move.

I'm just waiting to go with them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Being a Father on the 4th.

There's a cool snap going on, so I'm writing this on the back deck. When I say “cool snap,” I mean that it's about 86 degrees. Not bad, but there's no breeze and the humidity feels like I'm in an episode of “Swamp People.” I don't do very well with high humidity. It's like wearing a straight-jacket of damp air that won't let go. I may drown without getting near the water.

Yesterday was July 4th. People were grilling various meat and meat products in their backyards, my neighbor was setting off possibly illegal fireworks, and the dominant theme in every fashion choice was red-white-and-blue. I like Independence Day. I enjoy the summer holiday atmosphere, baseball games, and the general party that goes with the day. I also enjoy living in America. Where else could you seriously consider the implications of the freedoms that our forefathers intended for our country while heading out to the local Hyundai dealers' “Sale-a-bration?” Really, does everything have to have some kind of blowout, once-in-a-lifetime, prices-were-never-lower kind of shameless hawking of goods and services? I just don't believe that this was the intention of the Declaration of Independence. If it was, it would be called the “Declaration of Super Savings,” or the “Declaration of Incredible Bargain Madness.” I'd really like to be independent of all this ridiculous selling and from people telling me that I simply must have whatever it is that they simply must sell.

July 4th has another significance for me that I've been doing a pretty good job of avoiding over the years. July 4, 1923 was the day my father was born. He would have been 88 years old yesterday. I would have continued to let this particular aspect of the day pass unnoticed but for a couple of things. On the first of the month, my wonderful friend, Micheal, wrote a beautiful tribute to his own father who passed away just two years ago. It was a moving account of saying goodbye and saying thank you. Secondly, Linda was in the process of cleaning things out of a closet yesterday that had been in there for maybe 20 years (it's amazing how stuff accumulates!). Part of that cleaning was going through old papers and photographs that my mother had stored over the years. I came face-to-face with my father again through photos and documents.

I never had the relationship with my father that others have been blessed to have. There were a number of reasons for that. Being raised an only child often means that the expectations placed on you are heavy. Being raised the only child of an alcoholic creates issues of another kind. There are memories of family that are good. There are others that I have chosen to compartmentalize and seal away, never to be seen again. There are some that cannot be entirely forgotten or put away. They are like old photographs that resurface every now and again, ready to be looked at and ready to bring back old feelings thought gone for good.

I have no intention of recounting any of those memories here. We all have ghosts and memories of the past that we face regularly. I'm just wondering what kind of memories my children will have of me when they consider their own childhood. I guess it's the concern of most fathers. What will be the lasting images and feelings we give our children to carry with them? It's something that I wonder more and more now that both my children have reached “grown-up” age and beyond.

I've done my best most of the time. I'm ashamed to say that there were times when I could have been better, sometimes much better, at being Dad. It seems that the older I get the more I remember the mistakes and the things I should have done. I wonder what impact those things are having and will continue to have on a son and daughter that deserved only the very best. How would things have been different? How could they have been better? Is it too late now to make that kind of difference?

There's no way to really know the answer to those questions. I can only do what I can with what I have in time, resources and opportunity. All three tend to decrease as the years increase, so the odds are not in my favor. Still, trying is all I have left.

If you're young enough that you don't have children as yet or if your children are young, remember this one thing: No one ever came to the end of their lives and said, “I wish I'd spent less time with my kids.”

Monday, June 20, 2011


So, I'm here at the Blackbird coffee shop where they make really tasty coffee as opposed to that bitter stuff from Seattle. It's the middle of the morning and it feels strange to be sitting here listening to eclectic music while sipping caramel crème (don't judge me – it was cheap). In the past I'd be immersed in something at the office – working with an intern, doing a report, consulting with students or figuring out what's wrong with the internet connection this time as opposed to last time. Those days are over. I'm what is commonly referred to as “retired.”

“Retired” is a funny word. It sounds like I was tired once and now I'm tired again. This is technically true, but inaccurate in this context. “Retired” sounds like I'm giving up the daily grind (another coffee reference – get it?) for sunny days and balmy nights at the beach. “Retired” should mean that I've done all I can with what I've got and it's time to rest and enjoy life. “Retired” isn't what we thought it was.

First of all, I made the decision to retire at a fairly early age. Fifty-five is not young, but it's not the equivalent of being ready for the scrap heap. I had planned to begin consideration of this decision in two or three years. Instead, I was presented with a change of plans by the Powers That Be. The age to retire at full benefits was about to be increased. To receive those “full benefits,” I'd have to commit to another seven years. Oh, and the employee portion of my family health insurance was going to increase by about $1,000 per month – the equivalent of an annual salary reduction of $12,000. This from the bureaucracy that always says that people are more important than things or systems. I also had two months to make the decision that would change my life.

So I'm jobless for the first time in my professional life. This should give me the opportunity to do things I didn't have the time to do before. For example, there are squirrels in my back yard that must be counted. I firmly believe that there is a squirrel conspiracy in our little town. They are massing in increasing numbers, gnawing their way into attics and even sacrificing themselves by chewing on power lines in an effort to undermine our communications system. Also, there are songs that are demanding be learned on the acoustic 6-string. If no one learns them, they may go away never to be heard again and that would be tragic. I also need to calculate how much sleep I've sacrificed on the altar of my job over the years and see if those hours can be re-captured.

More important than those things, though, is the need to make the journey of re-discovery. There are portions of myself that have been lost little by little over the years. In the effort to do my job the best I can and to be true to the people I am responsible to and responsible for, parts of my self seem to have faded away. I'm not sure just when they left or just where they went. I'm a little surprised that I even noticed they were gone. I was having one of those “radical-change-of-life” reflections when I reached for something inside and found that it wasn't there. It left quietly and without any fanfare or fuss. I'm not even sure what it was, exactly. I just know that it left an empty spot where it used to be. That has happened more than once and I'm beginning to get concerned that these “pieces of self” won't be back. Perhaps they found someone who will take better care of them, who will give them the proper exercise and the right nourishment. If so, I wish them well – but I also wish they'd come home.

Is it possible to find gainful employment while searching for your identity in the process? I think so. These days, though, no one wants to see you. They just want you to fill out an application online and then they decide whether or not they want to talk to you. It's impossible to tell them what they're missing by not hiring me when they don't want to meet me. Still the search goes on.

The searches are concurrent. There is a need for things like a salary and a job that I feel good about. After all, the squirrels are looking to take over the house and I need money to mount a defense. Woven through that search, however, is the other search – the one that seeks what was lost. Will both of those searches be successful? Maybe. I'd really like to believe that they will.

So, who will I be when the Great Searches are over? That's the frightening and exciting part. I really can't say for sure, except to say that I will be different from the person I was a few months ago. To what degree I'll be different I have no idea.

But I'm really looking forward to finding out.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Acoustic Savages Are Back! (Just Accept it)

I played my guitar a lot more this weekend than I have in a long time. I’m far from an accomplished musician but most days I will pull out the Tacoma 6-string or, more recently, the Peavey bass I’ve been trying to learn and spend some time fumbling through a few songs. I don’t always get the result I want, but it’s fun and it helps relieve stress or simply puts a pleasant cap on the day.

On Saturday, Linda and I motored down to Tybee Island where we rendezvoused with a few shady characters from my college days. Back in the time of our collegiate brand of insanity, we often sat up all night talking about how we knew so much more than our professors, what we thought the state of the world should be or, when it was just the guys, about the girls we knew and wanted to know. We also became a sleeper cell within the BSU and, when activated, initiated a sudden takeover. My dear friend, Micheal, calls it a “hostile takeover.” Certainly shock and awe were involved. It hasn’t been the same since.

Once we decided to investigate a local “haunted house.” If it wasn’t haunted when we got there, it certainly was by the time we left.

Now, a lot older and perhaps not much wiser, we got together at Micheal’s home on the Isle of Freedom and Dreams to talk about days gone by and days to come. I had thrown the Tacoma into the car before we left. That evening Micheal got out his own guitar and we proceeded to see how much music we had forgotten over the years. It was the second time we had played after a layoff of over 25 years.

During that first reunion, we dubbed ourselves the Acoustic Savages and began talking about a tour. This time things got a bit more serious, musically speaking, and Micheal brought out a melody and partial lyric that he had kept in a protected corner of his mind where the jerks and cynics of the world couldn’t get at it. It was good stuff. Together we played through the melody several times and looked at the lyrics. Bit by bit Micheal, Dee and I worked together to add to the body of the song and to take it where it was begging to go. Mark listened and added a succinct rhyming scheme. Linda became our official photographer and historian as she and her trusty Minolta made a visual record of the process. If we ever become rich and famous, she will also be the official accountant.

We played as the evening wore on. Times of intense agonizing over specific words and strumming rhythms were punctuated with laughter and loving name-calling. Finally we wound down. As we looked at each other we realized that we had finished. The song was complete and we had done it! Just what we had done may be open to interpretation, but together we had finished what Micheal had begun and we were able to make it flow. A musical fantasy was born.

The next day we were still talking about how much fun the process of playing and creating had been. We wondered about other half-finished melodies and poems that were rattling around in our minds that only needed room to breathe and fresh creative input. There are some songs and stories and there are some feelings and thoughts that cry for expression. Sometimes these can only be born into the world when others are allowed to bring their fresh eyes and ears to the process.

Much as I have trouble admitting it, my life is often like that. Usually I try to be emotionally self-sufficient - internalizing frustrations, anger, angst, depression, and all kinds of other emotions that generally make life a miserable experience. If you were to ask me why I do that, I’d probably reply, “It’s just who I am.” Not, I admit, a particularly deep or enlightening answer. A therapist once asked me why I didn’t share my pain more openly with others. “Because it’s mine,” I answered – as if that explained it all.

What I meant, I think, was that this is my pain and only I can understand it’s meaning for me. Only I can deal with it. I refused to inflict my pain on anyone else. That meant that I inflicted silence on them instead, which is a thousand times worse.

So, as I became part of a musically creative process while enjoying an island breeze in the deepening dusk, I realized that personal creation is much like musical creation. Collaborators often make the final product deeper, richer and more honest. It helps to have someone listen to the melody of your soul and provide harmony or counterpoint. Whether our lives are, at any given moment, a nursery rhyme or a symphony, the music is better when voices are blended.

So the Acoustic Savages are back. You may not find our CDs in the music section of your local department store or hear us on your radio. That’s OK. We hear each other and that is what we needed.

Look out, America – we’re putting the band back together!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Who Remembers the Bass Player?

Most of my friends know that I love classic rock. I’ve mentioned in previous postings my enjoyment of the music of the past and how it gains increased “texture” over the years as we hear it playing against the background of our life experiences. We remember certain lyrics of certain songs as they resonate with whatever happened in our lives then and is happening now. All of it – music and lyrics, past and present – blends in a marvelous mélange and becomes our personal soundtrack.

As I listen to people talk about their favorite bands (from whatever era), they can all remember the lead singer. The lead singer is, after all, the one who is out front and becomes for better or worse the “face of the band.” This person often doubles on rhythm guitar. Many can remember the lead guitarist, who plays the hot riffs while making distorted faces that lead one to believe that music is a painful experience. It’s obvious that we should be grateful for his/her sacrifice! On rare occasions, someone will recall the drummer. The drummer adds the exclamation point to the band’s lyrical statement. He/she also gets the most vigorous physical workout. I’m surprised we haven’t seen the “Rock and Roll Drummer’s Workout” video being hawked on cable TV.

With all of this, there is a question that screams to be asked: Who remembers the bass player?

Every band and musical group has or is looking for a bass player. Forget about what drummers say. It’s the bass player that gives a song its rhythm and keeps it moving. Take a look at every great band you can think of. Don’t look at the people in front. Look to one side. There’s the bass player, making sure that the song progresses as it should, creating the foundation on which the other members of the band build. Without the work of a good bass player, a band sounds like it has no substance. Their sound is just fluff being blown about in the wind, without direction or purpose.

I’ve seen a similar principle at work in the world around me. As we try to get our act together on this planet and make things a little better for everyone, people seem to fit into band-like categories. The world is full of people who want to sing lead. It matters little whether they can carry a tune or not. They just want to be the ones that stand in front and shout their words at the top of their lungs. To be fair, some folks are born to be lead singers and do a great job of it. Others, however, are just in love with the sound of their own voices and their rock and roll images. We see them in politics all the time. They think that if they shout the same song often enough and loud enough that we’ll be forced to sing along.

There are some folks who like to create screaming riffs or exclamatory beats in support of their chosen vocalist. They do this in the form of “analysis” or “critique.” They are not really being creative – they’re just adding to the din. If it’s catchy and can fit on a bumper sticker, they’ve done their job. It doesn’t matter if we’re really going anywhere or not.

Then there are the bassists. I love these folks! While seemingly standing to one side, they are helping the band progress toward a specific goal while keeping the music the main thing. The bassists of life do much the same. These are the people who remind us that we started this song with a purpose and that it really is carrying us somewhere.

It’s time to recognize the bass players in life. Who are the folks in your life that help keep you on track and moving forward without demanding a starring role or special recognition? Who are the people who understand that in order for us to achieve our purpose and potential as human beings, we have to keep playing in time with one another? Who are the people that see the needs of a world in pain and use their creativity to move us together toward a solution? All the while they are not asking to be stars or to gain great rewards for doing so. For them, it’s all about the music. It’s all about the song of life.

God bless bass players! They provide the heartbeat of the music. The same is true of the “bassists of life.” Without them, our own song would have no power and no sense of progression. If you have someone like this in your personal band, give them a hug! Tell them how important they are. If you don’t have one, it’s time to start looking for one.

Your song is waiting.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Day After the World Didn't End

We're still here. After all the excitement and hoopla about the imminent departure of a select group of religious believers, it turns out that not only did that ship not sail, it was never in port to begin with. People have been calling it the Rapture. They don't mean that cool song by Blondie back in the '80s. The “Rapture” is the term used by many Christians for the anticipated return of Jesus, who will take all the believers to heaven prior to a period called the “Tribulation.” The Tribulation is a term for a really unpleasant time that the rest of the people will have to endure before the final end of the world. You don't want to be around during the Tribulation. I hear it will be a total bummer.

At any rate, the predictions of Harold Camping, the most recent of the end-time prognosticators, have been shown to be, at best, inaccurate. At worst, they've be shown to be fiction. The designated day and time came and went with nary a hint of an apocalypse. This resulted in confusion, derision or disillusionment, depending on your point of view. Some folks are going back to the drawing board under the assumption that they miscalculated along the way. Others are just tossing down their “The End is Near” signs and going home. Still others are taking great delight in pointing out the hubris of trying to make God fit into a convenient schedule.

I have to admit right here that I never bought into Camping's conclusions or his reasoning. I even joined the crowd that had fun with the predictions, finding great end-of-the-world songs to play. The popular choice seemed to be REM's “It's the End of the World as We Know It” with honorable mention going to “Rock 'n Roll Heaven” and “Who's Sorry Now.”

Today, as I think about it a bit more, I'm wondering if there are questions to be answered by those of us who never got into the dire predictions of the day and preferred parties to penitence. May 21st was the day it was all supposed to happen. It didn't. Now what? For brother Harold and his folks, it's time to go back and readjust the calendar. What about the rest of us? What do we do now?

Whether or not you believe in an eventual end of the world with the populace being divided into the “saved” and the “lost,” it's a question that demands an answer. Today is the day after the world didn't end. Life is going on for at least another day. That gives you and me the chance to do something we didn't do yesterday. Whatever it is – looking for a new job, prioritizing life choices or learning to play the bass guitar – we have a new day in which to make it happen.

There are relationships that could benefit from a new day. There are people who haven't heard from us in a long time and need to. We've put off calling or writing or making the trip to visit them. We can change that today. There are people we haven't encouraged who need that from us. We can change that today. There are people who are waiting for us to notice that they are there – they've reached out to us and have received nothing in return. We can change that today.

Each day that we're greeted by the light of the morning is a day that the world didn't end. It's a day to live and to love in a way that is deeper and more complete than we did yesterday. As we consider what Harold and his happy campers should do, we would do well to turn the question on ourselves. We've been given a new day. What should we do with it?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Marching As To War?

For years (decades, really) I’ve been reading and hearing Christians, both leaders and their more enthusiastic followers, talk about their faith using metaphors of war. Frankly, it bothers me. As I understand it, Christianity is a faith that is not based on having power and control over other people. As I read the New Testament, I see Jesus living a life that is distinctly powerless when it comes to war, politics and the violence of human nature.

That’s not to say that Jesus had no power or authority – quite the contrary! It’s simply that his power and authority was and is unrelated to swords, spears, missiles and bombs. Jesus – the same Jesus that war metaphor spouting Christian leaders claim to follow and worship – refused to fight back when the Roman storm troopers came and dragged him before a kangaroo court. He didn’t fight back when he was tortured and brutally executed. Jesus’ victory was complete because he refused to become conformed to the violence that surrounded and ultimately killed him.

Why is it, then, that so many people want us to go forward “as to war?” Why are we supposed to approach the world as if its’ people are there to be conquered, subjugated and forced into the belief system of the conquerors?

Why are Christians so comfortable with going to war with other people?

Right about now someone, somewhere is getting ready to tell me all about spiritual warfare and how Satan is contending against us. "We’ve got to be ready," they’ll say, "to fight the battle for our souls." If you read carefully, you’ll see that I’m not talking about an individual’s battle against the source of his/her temptation or the creator of their spiritual quagmire. I’m talking about how those of us who identify ourselves as Christ followers are comfortable with seeing everyone else in the world as the enemy and with images that seem to condone all out war against them.

We are called to be, among other things, a compassionate people. That means compassionate with all people, not just the ones who believe the things we do in the same way that we do. All people – not just the ones that look like us, sound like us, and act like us. It seems that it’s much easier to preach against people that it is to love them. It’s a lot easier to dig a chasm that it is to build a bridge.

So, here we are – a “Christian nation.” Trouble is, we seem to have little compassion or real care for human beings that do not fit comfortably into however we define what a “Christian nation” is (the definitions are numerous – it just depends on which franchise of Christian you ask). Even the term “Christian nation” gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s as if being American automatically presents one with a membership card into Christianity with an option for religious superiority.

“Onward Christian Soldiers,” says the song, “marching as to war.” The image leaps to mind of people who proclaim Christ while moving forward in lockstep with M16s and rocket launchers at the ready. Is it any real wonder that people of other faiths distrust us when we talk about the love and acceptance of God while trying to make them conform to the image of American Christianity?

I’m not sure where today’s rant is leading me except to say that I’m not at war with anyone else. There are those who believe differently than I and those who believe nothing at all. I welcome the chance for real conversation with those folks as long as it happens with mutual respect for one another. The integrity of my own faith demands this. For those who want me to hate under the guise of preserving our faith, I submit this: It is impossible to preserve a faith that is ultimately based on love and compassion while your speech reeks of hate and condemnation. When you do that, you have already turned your back on your faith and shown yourself to be a liar.

You can “march as to war” if you want to, I guess, but I won’t be part of your parade.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Sun Rises in the Strangest Places

This past Sunday was Easter. That means different things to different people. For a lot of folks, it’s chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and those atrocious marshmallow chicks called “peeps”. I’ve never been able to understand the popularity of those things. For other folks, Easter is another family gathering with a large dinner and maybe scouring the backyard for colored hard boiled eggs. Easter is when the TV networks trot out their library of religious movies. Charlton Heston is very prominent, although I’m not sure showing The Ten Commandments (decidedly an Old Testament film) fits with the overall theme.

Then there are those for whom Easter is a day to head to church. For some, it’s a deep experience of worship. For others, it’s a time to show off the latest spring fashions. The veterans know that they should arrive early at church because the parking lot will be full. There will be a lot of unfamiliar cars belonging to the people who only come at Easter and Christmas. Those who forget this important bit of information will be cruising around the parking lot hoping someone will be leaving after Sunday School and freeing up a space. Then they’ll swoop into the slot like a falcon on Red Bull, grab their children by the hand and hurry into the church, hoping to slip into a pew with as little hoopla as possible. Trust me, I’ve seen it.

Some people like to get up early and go to “sunrise service.” Sunrise service is usually outdoors. That means it actually starts after sunrise, so those of us who attend can read the song sheets and orders of service. It also means that it’s often chilly and the people are looking forward to heading inside for a hot coffee before the “regular service.”

I’ve been to a number of sunrise services and usually I’ve found something positive in them. Some friends of mine on Tybee Island hosted a sunrise service on a pier at the beach, so they could see the sun come up and watch the light waves combine with the ocean waves in a golden dance celebrating the morning. I wasn’t there to see it. I was home where there is no beach, no ocean and the only piers are at the lake where I can’t afford to live.

Still, there was a sunrise service that I could attend. People from several churches got together for a short early morning service in the parking lot of one of the participating congregations. It was a strange kind of setting as this church meets in what was once a Harley-Davidson dealership. We sat in metal folding chairs with the brick wall of the church/Harley dealership on one side and the brick wall of some store on the other. Basically we were in a wide alley, facing a black chain link fence that enclosed a yellow school bus. This is not the usual image of an Easter sunrise service in my mind. There were no Easter flowers decorating the altar. There was no altar. There was just a small riser, so everyone could comfortably see the speaker. There were no ladies with outlandish Easter hats. There were three or four necktie clad participants mixed in with the blue jean crowd.

As the service progressed, I let my vision wander past the speaker, the chain link fence and the big yellow school bus to the trees beyond. I watched the sky change from soft blue-gray to a brighter blue. Yellow rays from the sun that was still playing hide-and-seek topped the pines and spilled down. The light around us began to brighten, reaching first the folks in back and moving in a line towards the guest speakers and musicians.

“How appropriate,” I thought.

The light of Easter was touching first the folks who were relegated to the back of the crowd, not those in the front row or who were standing on the risers, elevated above the people. The first to feel the warmth of the sun (Son?) were the last in line, the ones in the cheap seats and the ones who didn’t have a seat at all. They were the chosen ones, not the privileged people in their nice clothes sitting in the good seats.

Isn’t that what Easter is about?

It was Easter morning. It was a day when people were having services in sanctuaries and cathedrals. They were in stadiums and on parade grounds. Worship was being offered on mountainsides and beautiful beaches. The sun was shining. I can’t speak for anywhere else, but I saw the sun shining in an alley enclosed by two brick walls and a chain link fence. That’s the thing about the sun. The sun shines where it chooses, no matter what the more privileged of us might think. It shines first on the ones who are least likely to be invited to sit in the good seats or worship in the prettiest sanctuaries.

If someone has a problem with that, perhaps it’s time to give up the seat of privilege and stand in the back. Then you’ll be ready for the sun.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting Smacked by Your Own Words

Have you every given someone a word of advice just knowing that you were being wise and that the beneficiary of your sagacity would be enlightened and changed for the better? Have you ever then been smacked in the face with your own words? It's a rude awakening, realizing that the words you spoke with such a knowing inflection are suddenly meant for you and no one else. It's like preparing a salad for someone else and then looking in the mirror and seeing that you are the one that needs to eat that bowl of leaves. I hate it. You do too – admit it.

I had that experience just the other day. My wife, Linda, was talking about how she needed to get things done around the house. The first thing you've got to understand is that Linda has a work ethic that would put a Puritan to shame. She works full time for an accounting firm. Then, on about the second day off she's had in the last three months (tax season, you understand), Linda started talking about more work.

I came back with a well thought out response: “Why?”

Basically, Linda responded that it was something she was supposed to do. That's when I made the profound statement that was designed to remind her how insightful I am.

“Sometimes,” I said, looking wise and compassionate, “life is not about what you're supposed to to. Sometimes it's about what you want to do.”

Doesn't that sound great? It's true that, on occasion, life must be ordered by the framework in which we live and which imposes its expectations upon us. There are other times when we must decide what it is that we really want our lives to be and then act on that deep conviction. If we don't do that we'll never be happy and will, by association, make loved ones equally unhappy. The clinical term for that is a “bummer.”

So here I was being all profound and perspicacious when it hit me – hard and with a loud (at least in my mind) smack. I was speaking wisdom all right, but not to Linda. I was speaking out loud the words I needed to say to myself. I'm in a time of personal transition, to put it mildly. My current job is ending and as yet I have nothing on the horizon. I've got a daughter about leave college and begin a new life. There are family issues and financial issues that demand to be addressed. It's easy to put aside everything except what I'm “expected” to do. It's easy to push down any personal feelings and pretend that they are not important in the larger picture. Truly, you can only do that for so long and then they come back with a vengeance.

I'm at a time in my life at which it's OK to ask myself, “What do I really want? What is the Celestial Guide and Ruler of the Universe saying to me in the middle of all this transitional angst?” I really do believe that there are times when God's priorities for us are simply for us to take care of ourselves, to be creative and happy, and to find a peaceful place where we can discover ourselves again.

Some people might find that to be a bit selfish. Some people might say that we have to keep giving ourselves away no matter what and that our own feelings don't matter. Some people need to tend to their own lives and leave mine alone! I can no longer allow the direction of my life to be prioritized by other people or organizations. I can no longer avoid looking into the depths of my soul and listening for the echo of who I am and who I can be.

Thank God I have a wonderful wife and some very unique and loving friends. They've been asking the same question of me for a while now. “What do you want to do?” It's a question that I've been able to circumvent with a smile and some well chosen, open ended phrases. Now my own voice is added to theirs and it's not a question that can be dodged any longer. Time to go spelunking inside my soul and search for the answers.

I look forward to discovering gold in the depths.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Classics Never Go Out of Style

I love most kinds of music with the possible exception of most rap and opera. No offense to anyone who likes rap and opera – it’s just not my cup of Earl Grey. Because I love music, I became a half-talented musician. I also rarely travel without the radio or CD player on in the car. I like to find music that fits the mood I happen to be in at the time. When the sun is shining, the weather is warm and I just want to have some good times, it’s a Jimmy Buffett kind of day. When I want to approach life with some straightforward, blue collar honesty I blast Bruce Springsteen. When I’m feeling more contemplative, maybe it’s a day for Loreena McKennitt. Need the blues? Then it’s absolutely Jim Byrnes. If it’s time to thumb my nose at society, it’s time for some Joan Jett.

Yes, I usually play old stuff. Some folks tend to mock those of us who like music that’s been around for a while. For my money, there is no such thing as a classic song that is less than 20 years old. I like to listen with a fresh perspective to music that I enjoyed a long time ago. For me, music that still stirs emotions and engages my imagination after all this time is more real than some “flavor of the month” kind of singer/musician that dominates the Grammys and is then yesterday’s news. Not that there isn’t some good music being created right now. It’s just that I like the comfortable texture of the songs I’ve loved for years. I love discovering new meaning in a lyric that I thought I knew inside and out.

Friends are like music. Each one has his/her own melody and rhythm of life. Friends bring their own harmony and counterpoint to whatever song I happen to be living. Over the years I’ve encountered a lot of people with their own unique music. Some were simply passing tunes that were there and gone. Some were in conflict with my song, creating dissonance and interrupting the timing. Others were classics. They were great fun when I first heard their melody. I listened to the verses of their lives and we lifted our voices together on the chorus, laughing when I got it wrong and belting it out when we were in perfect harmony.

Like a lot of music, the old songs sometimes get pushed into the back of our minds as time goes by. New musical styles and definitions clamor for our attention, trying to drown out the melodies that we loved from long ago. Often they are successful and before we know it, the classics are relegated to memories of years gone by. When we do revisit them in our minds we listen to the tunes with a bit of nostalgia, sad that they’re gone and not believing that we can ever sing like that again.

It’s tragic when old friends are allowed to become only memories, their melodies becoming fainter every year. To be sure, we still “remember when” but they deserve more than that. The friends of a lifetime deserve the opportunity to bring their songs back into our present, with their unique voices and styles. Their songs and their lives have new textures and deeper meanings than they did before. They also bring not just the songs we remember, but variations on themes and whole new songs created from their rich experiences. To not share these would be worse than tragic. It would be a sin.

My life has recently become richer – not in money (although I’m not averse having that happen) but in the music found in the lives some special people. These are people that I treasured. I thought that I had lost some of them. It turns out that they weren’t lost at all. They were just learning new verses to old songs and creating new songs to share. The greatest joy has been in bringing together the theme songs of the old relationships and the newer ones. It’s a concert of the soul. It may not be the Hallelujah Chorus, but it’s a harmony that compels one to believe in the divine.

I’m glad people are creating new music. That kind of creativity is always good. The best of the new will become musical treasure one day. I’m glad we have the opportunity to make new friends. Hopefully they will have the chance to become old friends. It is the friends that have been part of my heart for years that make me want to make music again. It’s a simple tune, but it’s from the soul.

Play on.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Political Pre-Emptive Strike

Run for your lives! It’s that time again! In case some folks have missed it or, like me, are trying their best to avoid it, we’re getting ready for another major election year. People are lining up to see who will run for office. It’s a veritable Rogues’ Gallery of pundits, and professional politicians. By the way, why do we call it “running for office?” Maybe because when these people stand still long enough, we can see them for what they really are. They have to run. It’s the only way to look like you’re doing something when you’re not.

I don’t know for whom you voted in the last election and I’m not asking. The truth is I don’t really care. If you voted, fine. I did too. If you chose not to vote, that’s your business. The state of politics in the USA is rank and is rife with corruption, half-truths and outright lies. Any reasonable person with good sense and an inclusive attitude toward his/her fellow human being finds the political environment uncomfortable at best and repulsive at worst.

As I’ve had the chance to connect with people on Facebook (do I really have 282 friends?!) I’ve seen the politics of social media rear its ugly head. People find that a short, catchy status update can substitute for a real and reasoned opinion. That’s the problem with social media. Between Facebook, Twitter and those other web based substitutes for face-to-face and voice-to-voice interactions, we’ve glorified shallowness as a virtue. People can make a strafing run at someone they don’t like and disappear over the horizon before they have to explain themselves. Civil discourse has become a dinosaur – just a curiosity of an earlier time, stashed in a dusty corner of the museum of outdated American values.

Do I sound cynical? Well, I am. I’ve been around long enough to see potentially good people be dragged down by the win-at-all-costs, my-party-right-or-wrong, I-disagree-so-I-don’t-have-to-listen types who populate cable television and organize political rallies. I’m not sure if its naivety or dogged single-mindedness that keeps people buying tickets on this Crazy Train (thanks, Ozzy, for that one).

 So here, in part, is my personal Declaration of Independence:

“When in the course of making a living and trying to be a good, decent human being it becomes necessary for one person to tell other overbearing and self-righteous people to collectively take a hike, it is proper to tell them why (because they won’t see it for themselves).

I hold these truths to be self-evident:
  1. That all persons have the right to their own informed opinions and that they should not have to be bullied or have their character assassinated by those who disagree with them.
  2. That to secure this right for myself and others I am perfectly justified in telling a political bully to get out of my face. Now! Don’t make me angry – you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
  3. That the system would work if we actually cared about making the world a better place for all of us instead of just those who look, act, sound and think like us.
  4. That after the election is over and the final chads have been hung, we should all just go to lunch together.
There’s more, but you get the gist. Whatever your political opinion is, you have right to it. You do not have the right to make snide comments, question my patriotism or mock me if I happen to disagree. If you can’t deal with that, then by all means you are free to move on your next target. There’s no place for you at my table.

For the Facebook Mafia who choose to make this social media thing a soapbox of self-righteousness, please understand that we’re not really interested. Your rants may make you feel better, but they are not a substitute for actually doing something constructive. Go play on your favorite politician’s blog and leave the rest of us in peace.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I read a poem the other day written by my friend, Guy, which was inspired by a photo of his grandfather standing beside a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Guy’s grandfather never took the cross-country trip that he intended on the Harley. His wife deemed the ‘cycle too dangerous, as she’d seen someone killed on one.

It was the poem’s title, “Never Crossed,” and the idea of the adventure not taken that really got to me. I began to let my mind wander and then followed after it to see where it was going. The image that came to my mind was that of a bridge. I find bridges fascinating. There are all kinds of bridges and I’ve crossed a lot of them. I’ve traveled covered bridges (there was one near Statesboro, where I went to college), I’ve walked across footbridges that spanned creeks or ponds and I’ve crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Each time, I remember looking forward to the view after the crossing.

Bridges exist to help us get from one point to another. Without a bridge, some places would be inaccessible, and all we’d be able to do is stand on the edge of the world and wonder what it would be like to continue our journey and maybe see something we’ve never seen before. A bridge is a passageway to adventure. It’s a way to span a river or ravine and reach the undiscovered country. A bridge encourages us to refuse to quit, to keep going because something brand new and exciting may be just on the other side.

As I find myself getting deeper into this transition stage of my life, the image of a bridge is comfort, challenge and invitation. The comfort comes in realizing that where I am may not have to be where I stay. There is a way forward to another shore, to another road and to another part of my life. Let me tell you, that’s a great comfort! No one wants to believe that this (whatever ‘this’ is for them) is all there is. We’re not stuck on the edge of the chasm or the river. There’s a way forward waiting for us.

It takes some degree of courage to cross the bridge. That’s the challenge part. We just don’t know what’s on the other side. It could be the Emerald City or it could be a dark alley. It might be the same as it is here. There’s no way to tell without making the crossing. Fear of the unknown can keep us standing on the edge. We look longingly to the other side but never move toward it, afraid of what might be waiting for us over there just out of sight.

Then there’s the invitation. If a bridge could talk, it would speak to us both in whispers and in shouts, “Come on across – there’s something here you really need to see!” I can hear it when I’m driving, even with the CD player cranking out Springsteen or The Fabulous Thunderbirds. I can hear the voice of the bridge as it beckons me like a friend welcoming me to a home to which I’ve never been. The music of the bridge is a brand new song with a hauntingly familiar tune. It reaches deep inside and pulls me along to the new land, the new adventure. Do I dare move forward? Wrong question. Do I dare stand still?

Truly, the decision to cross the bridge can be momentous. It can change our perspective on life and the world. We’ll see things from a different place and that will give things new and different meanings. For those of us who are comfortable and snug in our current lives with their routine and predictability, making the crossing is uncomfortable and frightening. Still, there will come a time when each of us will face the reality that our lives cannot remain the same and that only an intentional move toward something new will give us the renewal and fulfillment we so desperately need. Others of us know that the time is now and that the crossing is eminent.

I’m there. The bridge is waiting for me. I really don’t care if it’s a giant Golden Gate-type bridge, or a rustic country bridge or even an Indiana Jones shaky rope bridge. The bridge is whispering and I’m listening. My life is waiting for me on the other side.

Friday, April 1, 2011

These Friends of Mine

It’s interesting to me that I can go from being a very hopeful person to a very cynical one in a short period of time. It’s situational. I like to believe the best of people and circumstances. If, however, those people and circumstances consistently disappoint me or at some point betray me, I can move easily into a negative mindset. It’s happened with work situations. It’s happened with social relationships. It’s happened with family.

Of late, my outlook has been a bit dark. I’m in a transition that is only partially of my own making. I made the best choice I could in circumstances that were handed to me. It’s not that I thought I’d never have to choose. It’s just that the timing was forced on me so very quickly. I had two months to make a life-changing decision that would permanently affect me and my family. Fair? No. Still, that’s what life hands us sometimes.

Fortunately for me, my students dragged me onto Facebook a while back. It’s the way college students and increasing numbers of folks of all ages communicate these days. As I became more familiar with the landscape, I began looking for people that I knew from college. You know, the “olden days” of vinyl records, cheap gasoline, and really good music. Incredibly, I actually found some of the people with whom I shared very special times. We made contact and began sharing news about life.

It’s these college friends that have had an effect on the dark attitude that I’ve been carrying around lately. You see, these are not the kind of friends that will ask “how are you” without waiting for an answer. They ask and then look you in the eye expecting that you’ll be straight with them. They will sometimes poke, push and prod until you give an honest answer. Then they’ll proceed to hold up a spiritual mirror until you get an accurate reflection of the person you really are. Sometimes I hate that because I don’t always like what I see. Sometimes I love that because there can be an answer to my questions in that reflection.

It’s complicated, but then so are my friends. When we all got together for the first Grand Reunification, it became evident that we were all going through transition. None of us had the same life situation, but all of us were looking at change and potential change. We still are. We laugh about it. Sometimes we cry about it. We love each other through the process.

I have no idea what the outcome will be. I can’t tell you where I’ll be a year from now. We live in a world of uncertainties. Even so, there are a few things about which I’m certain. Dee will still be our sparkplug and will keep us moving forward because we couldn’t find our way back to the light without her. Mark will still be the steadying influence, a man of few words (in comparison to the rest of us) but whose words are full of insight and truth. Micheal will be one who challenges us to dream of where we want to be. Me? I’m just lucky to be here. These folks keep my dark and cynical side from becoming all there is to me.

Linda, my best friend and companion of nearly 30 years, continues to help me find balance in my life. She’s seen me deal with the fear, frustration and depression for a long time. She stays with me and believes in me. Fortunately, she’s seen the occasional outburst of joy and optimism as well. It’s all about balance, like I said. Together, we find balance for each other.

Sometimes life just doesn’t treat you right. Sometimes it gets downright cruel. There have been times I’ve wanted to curse at it and flail away at it until it just leaves me alone. Still, after all this time I’ve got to give life a great big ‘thank you’ for these friends of mine.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It Starts in Darkness

So another St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the Irish music still playing in the background. I’m wearing green again today because I didn’t have enough time yesterday to reflect on the many thoughts that the day brings to me. I know many folks don’t see St. Patrick’s Day as a time to reflect. For many, it’s a time to party, drink green beverages, party, have a parade and party some more. I don’t mind the occasional party but I haven’t marched in a parade since I was a child. If I see a green beverage, my first thought is that it’s gone bad.

So I find myself thinking Celtic-related thoughts about life. My friends know that I am very interested in Celtic expressions of faith and spirituality. There is an incredible depth to the spirituality of the ancient Celtic people and it profoundly affected how they viewed every aspect of their lives.

One of the more basic things to understand is that the Celts didn’t begin their day with sunrise – the day began with the darkness at sunset. They didn’t begin their year with January 1st – they began with November 1st. November was the beginning of the dark season. The harvest was gathered, and the land lay quiet and cold. The people waited for the dawn and the beginning of spring, but they understood that the process of renewal had already begun in the silence and darkness. It was in the quiet, lightless time that the earth was prepared for the explosion of spring and of life. 

Celtic Christianity and spirituality have spoken to me ever since I first encountered them. I have found a lot to which I can relate even though I am still just a beginner in my understanding. When it comes to the meaning of the darkness and silence of the new day or new year, I struggle. I don’t struggle because I don’t understand it. It’s because I do understand it that I struggle. I wrestle with the meaning that the darkness and inner cold have for my life and what it will mean when they pass.

I have been and still am in a period of darkness and silence. A period of my life is coming to an end as retirement looms in the next few months. I know, I know. I look much too young to retire. You’re right. Still, circumstances have made the retirement decision a necessity. I now find myself in a place of not knowing where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing in the future. I’ll need new employment. That may mean a new town and all the headaches of relocating. It means leaving a place of service and people that have been enormous parts of my life for nearly three decades. That brings its own kind of uncertainty and pain.

My children have grown up. The youngest is finishing her last year of college and is looking forward to her life. I’m glad of that she’s excited about the future. Still, it means that my role in her life will be changing forever. For years, I’ve been protector, advisor, a mover of stuff into and out of apartments, a fellow lover of movies and music and many other things. Now many of the things I used to be in her life are coming to an end, their days numbered. My son is making his home in another town and we hear from him on occasion if we're lucky. The darkness is encroaching upon another aspect of my life.

I’ve reached the age of 55 years. That’s an age that once would never have occurred to me. There was a time when age was only theoretical and I’d be young forever with a bright, shining road ahead. Now I’m sometimes startled to see the face looking back at me from the mirror. I’m younger than that in my mind. Why do the miles show so clearly?

So here I am only a few days from spring, according to the calendar and it’s dark. I pray to the God of the Celtic Christians who is the God of all of us that this is the darkness and silence that precede the light and music of soul-spring.

What is soul-spring? It’s a term that I use to mean the rebirth that follows the extended dark night of the soul, when the silence and cold prepare the soul to receive divine renewal. When is soul-spring? It is whenever God says it is for us. The darkness lasts for varying lengths of time for each of us. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of the darkness that is the necessary beginning of life and light.

Please hurry, soul-spring.