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.