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.