Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Engagement


Engagement



A privilege of human life is to engage our experience thoughtfully. This animals cannot do.

We reminisce to engage our past.

We imagine to engage our future.

Without these engagements our present is a thin tapestry, threadworn, faded, mostly dominated by a vague light shining through it, unable to offer illumination of its own.

An engaged life reveals new colors to the human world with every passing year. From it, by God’s grace, we are hopeful and encouraged such that we encourage others.

This engagement gives context, a frame of reference or base line on which to build understanding. And where there is the pain of suffering, God’s grace brings the miracle of healing the human heart for He loves us. His love, our love, our heart, memory and imagination are evidence we are made in His image. 
Only humans in all creation can hold this to be true, for we apart from all creation can know truth.

(Written by the side of Hwy 97 by Mt. Shasta on August 17, 2017, after visiting my family in Oregon and Washington.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Long Song Story


I like stories about the inspiration and writing of songs. Here’s a rambling ambling down memory lane about one of my songs.
In 2005 I finished a poem with a traditional (grade school) structure I thought might someday be a song. That will raise an eyebrow if you are familiar with the fact that a lot of contemporary lyrics for a long time now are not exactly grade school structure. Well I’m unconventional enough to think overly conventional is avant-garde. Yeah, I know…   anyway.
The story of the poem is that I was reflecting on the irony of how white pop/rock music giants like Eric Clapton (and an army of white blues guitarists), the Beatles and the Stones often mentioned the inspiration they found in the old scratchy recordings by black bluesmen from decades before. From musing on that came the phrase “a white boy standing in a black man’s blues” which stands a stereotype on its head and indirectly mangles a hit song title from Elvis who in spite of his early regard for white southern gospel was a champion of black pop and R&B artists. That phrase was the spark and possible hook. The verses sprang from the idea of a figurative conversation between New World and Old World dudes addressing each other across the ocean. To this I added the irony of ancient races that reveal the way of salvation amidst a modern world’s troubles. It is a stretch that I like.
As mentioned the poetic structure of the song tended to frustrate developing an interesting melody and more than a few attempts were dispatched into the infernal abyss of acapella moaning in Sheol. Then one day a talented musician/songwriter Mr. Michael Roe announced a Kickstarter for his new album “Guadalupe” (awesome, go get it). One of the awards was to have him record or help you record your song. I bit and began the search for which of my old dusty tunes, most written 30 years before I would submit. Settling on my opus “Benedictus” (that’s right, Luke 1:68-79 set to music) , I practiced like crazy just so I could record a rough demo. Sent Mike the tape and he said, “nah… that song would take more work to arrange and record than intended”. So I sulked for a good long while, went into rehab, got my hair cut, changed my wardrobe, sold my gun collection, donated my fourteen beer-can mobiles to Good Will because the Salvation Army wouldn’t take them, and stopped my subscription to Mad magazine… changed my guitar strings and went to work on another song. I thought, “dadgum it how can he not want to record my opus?!  I know what I’ll do, I’ll make up something so simple he’ll be embarrassed to record it and embarrassed not to.” I have a kind of dark side like that.
So I grabbed this poem from 2005 and came up with a song lickety-split. Sent it to Mike and he said “That’s a good tune and I believe we could do it justice. Be thinking about how you would like to hear it fleshed out.  We could easily do this one in a light country rock vein a la The Eagles/Poco/Daniel Amos, but for some reason I am hearing electric 12 strings and harmonies like the early Byrds records in my head when I hear you sing this, which would give it a more 60s electric folk rock feel.  Gosh that would be beautiful for this, as your voice is already reminiscent of Gene Clark in his later years.”
Well I was excited to hear that and dreadfully flush with flattery. Sadly I didn’t like the tune one bit because it wasn’t cool (you probably noticed Mike did not mention Clapton or the Beatles or the Stones). Yet another musical idea flushed down the sewer of discordant harmonies and malodorous melodies. As the sullen mood persisted, I started playing with the chords and tune from a song I tried to write in junior high school which I still remembered because I never stopped believing it was cool. I even taught it to the garage band I was in at the time. Unfortunately it was unfinished and no one then had the panache to co-write anything. We were too busy figuring out what being cool really meant. So I threw out the old lyrics and tried the music with this poem and started liking it enough I came up with a change for the chorus and bam, there was my “second version” in all its coolness!
Mike’s comments, “Are you still planning on us cutting the second version of SIBMB?  Only asking ‘cuz I really like the first version a lot, but didn’t wanna be learning the wrong version in case you weren’t sure.  Either one is fine, I just dig Version One ‘cuz it reminds me of The Byrds …. old hippies die hard, I guess …  The second version will most definitely be simpler ‘cuz I won’t have to layer a bunch of electric 12 strings …. LOL” and that was that.
At 10 am on a hot and sultry Saturday, June 14, 2014 I reported to Mark Harmon’s home recording studio, the HarmFarm, and he and Mike began laying down the tracks. The challenges from my end were “I’m hoping you will take care of the guitar chores. I’m a bit fumble-fingered no matter how much I practice, and really look forward to your ideas.” And “I’m just starting to sing a little again, my lungs are more clear and one ear is hearing almost normal.” Yes that is right, “just starting to sing again” after having a combination of four or more colds and flus through late winter and spring that left me half-deaf and my pipes clogged with ongoing congestion. Hence the rather subdued quality to my vocal.
Mike laid down the first acoustic track on a Martin which is on one side of the final edition and ran through it again on a bright Taylor with low E dropped to D (you can hear his octave changes on the musical hook). Mark who was at the controls put that on the other side. This second track makes the rhythm pop and really propels the song. Then I sang three straight through takes to be pieced into a vocal without the disgusting parts. Mike and I went out for lunch and by the time we got back Mark (also a phenomenal musician) had recorded the bass which I was not expecting (and is excellent) and added a back beat on a floor tom. It was so incredible to hear that for the first time. Then Mike recorded three tracks on his electric blue Strat (with Clapton electronics = cool) and he and Mark worked through the editing of the all the instrument tracks. After that Mike took over the controls and he and I crafted the vocal, selecting the best of the three takes by phrase.
Mark made the master and we listened to it on Mike’s car stereo, the ultimate sound test, and after ten hours we had the finished version you hear in the attached link. It was extremely satisfying. Because we had listened to it piece by piece all day long I told myself I would wait awhile to listen to it on the two-hour drive home. That lasted about three minutes and I played it the whole way. It took me about three years to stop listening to it at least once a week.
I wrote Mike not long after, “Played the song for my wife and she really liked it (surprise!), brought tears to my eyes. Then we went to my daughter’s for Fathers Day [the whole family was there]. I put the CD on their player and they were all blown away, especially our sons-in-law. They let it play on repeat for about half an hour and they want copies. I was playing the song for our older two grand kids last week and our three yr old grandson was dancing up a storm, kinda like Elaine on Seinfeld… he gets it, man.”
It was cool and still is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Abide Already





Abide Already

While praying this morning my mind wandered into a review of troubles. Troubles inspired critiques, and critiques descended into judgement. Then I think I heard a soft thumping that sounded like the distant galloping of a horse. It was God drumming His fingertips on the arm of His throne waiting for me to get back to my prayers. At that moment I was aware of how small I had become languishing in my discontent and blaming everyone around me. King David, a very earthy guy like me, put it this way, “How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Psalm 13:2)
None of us wants to be small-minded, consumed with petty debates. We want to be significant. I was reminded that when I am connected with the Almighty I am significant. Not in a way where it is obvious how I loom large in life. Anyone else looking on the outside would not see a difference. It’s like being a leaf on a tree. From our office window I can see fifteen trees of nine different species in our front yard which is about fifty feet square. They completely cover the view from the bottom to the top of the window. Trees are spectacular. When I am connected to God I am part of something spectacular. The tree doesn’t call attention to me but that is ok. The tree does good things. A leaf eventually falls to the ground and decays into dirt. There is goodness in that but we might question the contribution of a single leaf to the dirt. Indeed it seems to be as likely to be as much trouble as helpful. Why else do we haul a ton or two of leaves off to the dump every October? Given all this I wondered how much time a day I spend being a discarded shriveling leaf on the ground versus being part of a tree?
            Jesus gave us another botanical metaphor that was understandably more relevant for His time. In their day they did not have a supermarket down the street from which they could fill their cupboards. Significant plants for them were mostly ones that fed them. His metaphor used the grape vine. He said He is the vine, we are the branches, and the significance for a branch is to bear good fruit. That’s pretty neat. But a branch that does not remain connected to the vine does not bear good fruit. At best it bears fruit that shrivels up and wastes away, and the branch itself dries up and becomes firewood. Jesus was really good at this metaphor thing, wasn’t He? He put it this way, “I am the vine, you are the branches. All who abide in Me, and I in them, bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” This is from the Gospel of John chapter 15. Because Jesus was the Teacher, He develops the idea eloquently and to the utmost relevance. He has a lot of very important things to say about abiding as useful branches. Go read this chapter. It’s a good idea to pay attention to what He said there.
            So I thought I’d throw all this down on paper to remind myself what is the bigger picture. I’m feeling very fruity right now, let’s see how I do today.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Sunshine


Sunshine

Yesterday I was reading outside in the morning as the sun was rising. While shade blocked its direct light to my face, the dappled light filtering through the trees brightly illuminated the book and my surroundings.  It was wonderfully radiant and cheerful, highlighting colors and textures wherever it was reflected, near and far.

Then I leaned forward out of the shadow. The direct sun struck my eyes with such brilliance I retreated immediately to seek shelter from its overwhelming intensity. The book I was reading was the Bible so it was no stretch to imagine how much like God Almighty was that experience. Indeed the Bible tells us more than once He is too glorious for mortals to look upon. When he revealed Himself to Moses, God passed him by and let him see only His back and said, “You cannot see my face… and live.”

The sun’s unique qualities in our experience inspired numerous ancient peoples to view it as their god. Yet it is only one of the wonders of creation for our enjoyment - given to sustain life on earth, and to inspire our worship of our true Creator God.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Jesus is not the Politician of Politicians


Jesus is not the Politician of Politicians. 

   There has been a fad among Christian teachers to proclaim that Jesus was political. It seems they imagine this is a modern, relevant depiction. One that speaks to the superiority of good governance, the republic of heaven, perhaps even the greatness of American democracy. But this lowers His authority.

   Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. His rule is not political; it is holy as He is holy. He is light unapproachable which represents perfection (I Timothy 6:15,16). The best politics serve to maintain order and civility in the societies of imperfect humans. The King of Kings comes to restore perfection where it has been lost. Jesus is not our best choice for leadership once we get it right. His authority is completely without our interaction, without our vote. It is not “by [or] of the people”. It is entirely separate from the people, thank God.

   Jesus declared, “For I did not speak on my own initiative but the Father Himself who sent Me has given a command to Me – what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (John 12:49-50)

   No politics of man can approach this form of authority and rule. God’s rule is utterly intolerant of that which does not conform to His commands. Its equality for all lies in this intolerance. Every one of us is equally undeserving of His favor. Scripture declares, “There is none righteous, no not one.” Herein lies the beginning of our liberty: we are free from trying to be something we cannot be. We cannot be righteous enough to deserve God’s grace. Without His intervention for us we are all equally condemned in His presence.

   Jesus came to say what the Father told Him to tell us all. He also came to die, an innocent man executed as a criminal. He came to die for each of us in our place. And when in His full humanity He was repelled by death, Jesus appealed to His Father to be spared from this extraordinary unfairness, humiliation, suffering and pain. In answer to this request God affirmed it was His command that His Messiah and Son would not be spared.

   Humans reject God’s allowance of pain and suffering. They claim He is unfair and capricious; that He does not exert His power to protect us. But scripture says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) This is the paradox to note: God does not protect us as we want to be, but as we need to be. We need to be protected from His wrath or, more properly, delivered from it. And in the death of Christ Jesus is His great deliverance, His grace, blessing and help.

   But why is God wrathful? Well He is not in the human idea of that word. God is not full of wrath. All that is not perfect is unable to be in His presence, except here on earth. Therefore there is no eternal life with Him possible to His own cherished creatures unless He restores perfect righteousness to each of us. This He does on the Cross for those who accept His death on their behalf. God loves us and is therefore angry at that which keeps us separate from Him.

   To wish Jesus to be our political leader is to wish for our own death. We are not fit to live under His authority without His authoritative intervention. He is our Savior, not our President. It would be wonderful if our politicians were more like Him. It would be horrible if He were one of them, even as their Chief.

   As cited above Paul wrote to Timothy, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see - to Him be honor and eternal dominion, amen.” John recorded His vision of the apocalypse in the book of Revelation and includes “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: King of Kings and Lords of Lords.” (Rev. 19:11-17)

   The disciples of Christ clarify it is not a matter of how we vote but how we believe. Peter said, “There is no other name under heaven… by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

He is Risen. Happy Easter!