RICK’S BLOG


TELL YOUR STORY

TELL YOUR STORY

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Usually, during this last holiday weekend, I perform with the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra (the “big band” I’ve been singing with since 2000) one July, at a private event in a beautiful retirement community in Indianapolis we played all the songs we play every year at this time: Glenn Miller, George M. Cohan, John Philip Sousa, etc.  There was ice cream, grand-kids, lemonade and fireworks.  And of course, one of the highlights is to play the Military Service songs and have any audience members who served to stand at their song…like we did this last Sunday morning during our outdoor worship.  It was a good, all-American kind of evening.

As I left, walking through the crowd, arranging their chairs for the fireworks, a man stopped me by touching my arm.  He was surrounded by his kids and grand-kids.  He pulled me aside and thanked me for the music and asked if I had served in the military (my short hair).  I said that I hadn’t, but that I was the son of an Army Veteran.  Then he asked, “Where did he serve, and did he tell you what he did, and share stories?”

“Well, yes,” I said, “He was a peace-time Vet in Germany and Korea…and he told me quite a few things.”

Then he asked me a question that I wasn’t expecting: “Have you told YOUR children?” He asked. “Because,” he said, “It’s important to keep telling the stories.”

He continued just for a short time, before his family led him away, obviously thinking that he had taken too much of my time.  But before he let me go, he said, “We need to remember…and we need to tell our children…and they need to tell theirs.”

I walked to my car wrapping my head around this conversation that took less than a couple of minutes, probably…as it affected me.

“We need to remember, and we need to tell.”

In this time and place, with renewed questions about truth in the news media, is it possible that families and generations become the care-takers of history…as it always used to be?  Is there, or should there be, a responsibility to tell our stories to each generation so that they remember?

Yesterday I listened to an historian on the radio.  He was saying how important it is to remember the story of the United States, because we are “losing our core”, as he put it.  He referenced a relatively new tradition in an African nation, where they get together in their neighborhoods, celebrating their National Day.  Along with the dancing, singing, fireworks, etc.  They “give their testimonies” (tell their stories). These are stories of their own personal survival through the genocide that rocked their people.  These are first-hand stories, and the people who tell them say they are afraid their children and grand-children will forget, grow apathetic and entitled.

A very wise tradition, in my opinion…because it’s true: generations forget.

The Spirit encourages the “telling of one’s story”.  It used to be that the Church carried that tradition out.  In MY home church, Sunday night was a time when the Pastor would regularly ask if anyone had a “testimony”, and someone would stand and tell about a recent “God Moment” they had.  Those times were far more effective on my young mind than reading the Bible…I KNEW these people, I trusted them.  Age and experience has taught me that everyone sees their stories through their own filters, much like today’s blurring of NEWS and COMMENTARY, but I’m not sure that’s all together a bad thing.

The power of someone’s story is evident at Central Christian, when some of our Elders tell THEIR stories…it is one of our most moving seasons of the year.

Of course, the stories related to a nation’s history, such as the beginnings of the United States, need to be repeated.  God’s people in the Old Testament told their history and made each generation learn it LITERALLY word-for-word, so that it did not get changed or edited with every telling.  The oral tradition of the Jewish people is legendarily accurate.

EVERYONE has a story.  Have you ever believed you have a responsibility to pass it on?  Remember that as mundane as you may believe your own life is, it may have an impact on someone else that you could never imagine.

Central Christian Church and THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST) has a story…and our histories, or “core” (the reason our church began) needs to be continually remembered.

The story of America is the story of how, who and why we were ever formed.  That needs to be remembered honestly and repeated loudly to those in power, and to the citizens of this nation.  The story of God is the story of His people and their journey with (or without) Him…and it needs to be repeated loudly and constantly to His children.

Your story; why you were created, your journey with and without God, needs to be repeated…loudly…regularly…and given freely to each generation…we have a responsibility to remember and tell.


MY OPINION, HIS TRUTH

MY OPINION, HIS TRUTH

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A few years ago I traveled back to my hometown in The Tri-Cities, Washington to bury my father’s ashes.  I wasn’t feeling like my best self.  Suddenly, with my Mom gone as well, and being an only child, I felt like the “last survivor.”  I questioned my life, my worth, my “self” – I was depressed.

While there, I got to visit my former High School, thanks to some gracious teachers, I got a tour; walking around familiar halls and passages, remembering things I had long forgotten.  It was a new school when I attended, it didn’t look so new now.

I walked around feeling old, which didn’t help with the current opinion of myself at the time, getting a little more depressed with each corner, looking at the children who wandered the halls and wondering if I ever looked that young.

I turned into the familiar MUSIC BUILDING and walked into a new hall that led to the familiar CHORUS ROOM, where I spent many hours.  A girl I assumed was a student, was looking at a painting on the large wall.  I turned also to look and to my amazement, it was a song I wrote, “SCARLET & GOLD”.  

Because the school had been new when I attended, there were some things the building and school didn’t have when we started attending.  Each graduating class would “gift” something back to the school – and at that time, the gifts were things not included in the original building budget.  My class, the class of ’76 gave an electronic scoreboard for the gym.  The next class commissioned me, already a songwriter, for an ALMA MATER, which the school didn’t have yet.  There on the wall was my song.

I started feeling a little better about myself as I looked at the wall painting of my lyrics and melody.

The girl turned to me and said (since she saw I was a visitorl) “This is our ALMA MATER.”
“Thanks, yes, I saw that,” I replied, “but there’s a mistake in that part of the lyric.” I said as I pointed down to the lower part of the painting where the error was.
“Really?” she asked (with a look that said, “Who do YOU think you are?”) “How do YOU know?”
I said, indicating the name on my VISITOR BADGE and my name on the wall,
“I wrote it.”

Her expression was what I would have if I had suddenly run into Abraham Lincoln; pleasantly shocked, but mostly because I thought he had been dead for quite some time.

Then she whispered reverentially, “Really?”
“Sure enough.” I said.
“Well I suppose you ought to know.  Wow, we sing this all the time and would’ve never thought I would have met, or talked to, the writer!  That makes a lot of difference; knowing the writer and not just the song.”  

Then, she said, “I’m still not sure that’s a mistake.” Pointing to the lyric we were looking at.  She then smiled, gave a little wave, and books in arms, moved on.

What?!

She was standing beside the writer, who pointed out the lyric and the mistake…THE WRITER, ME…who remembers hand-writing the song, who has sung the song, who KNOWS (if anyone would) what is wrong and what is right with the song.  I wasn’t at all angry, just stunned.  At that moment, she felt her OPINION carried the same weight as my “TRUTH”. 

I’ve told this story before, in a BLOG, but the last time I told it I left out her final comment because it wasn’t part of the lesson…however, recently this memory has returned to me WITH her “last line”.  I’m seeing, and reading, SO MANY people who also believe their OPINIONS (non-credentialed) carry as much weight as easily verified facts and truth.  

It’s like saying, “Since I disagree with this it must not be true.”

I suppose this is where our current time and place has gotten to…but God has been dealing with this for all time.  I thank Him for HIS patience and mercy.  A recent conversation with yet another person voicing a “non-credentialed” opinion about a “credentialed truth” made the frustration-futile-anger level in me to rise…and then I heard the quiet, calm, voice of the Spirit.

The Spirit of Jesus took me back to the very beginning of today’s story – the part where my OPINION of myself was low.  That whole time, when I was low, THE SPIRIT was trying to break through.  In every corner of that trip the SPIRIT was showing me how loved I was by my parents, friends, family, and community – showing me that my life mattered…I, of course, didn’t want to listen…my opinion of myself was standing in the front. 

Then THE SPIRIT said, “My FACT carries more weight than YOUR OPINION…especially when it comes to your view of yourself.” 

I find when it comes to self-knowledge, self-identity, and self-esteem, humans sabotage their lives.  We forget that GOD creates by “fiat” – He speaks it, and it is made. He speaks and IT IS so.  He speaks and when He says, “You are MY child.  You are loved.  You are worth dying for.  You are the greatest creation I have made.”  those words aren’t His opinions, they are fact.  They are truth.  And our OPINIONS do not carry the same weight against His facts, and His TRUTH.

It’s not an easy lesson to learn, especially during these times, we are tested every moment of every day.  But if no one says it to you today…listen to the SPIRIT of TRUTH:
You are God’s child.
You are loved.
You are worth dying for.
You are the greatest creation He has made.”

AND, your non-credentialed opinion doesn’t have the weight to stand against His facts & truth.


BOTTICELLI

BOTTICELLI

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I started off the day with my daily “fix” of coffee…but today, over ice!

I have little rituals that I enjoy, depending on the day, including my coffee.  I also have some readings that I enjoy starting off the day with.  I read some from a book called, “A Year With C.S. Lewis” (one of my favorite Christian writers).  I also have a devotional book called, “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants”…that helps guide me through a worship time of prayer for myself, my family and all of you.

But one of the more fascinating daily readings I enjoy (while still sipping my coffee) is a gift someone gave me, a book called “The Intellectual Devotional”.  Now don’t assume that my friend thinks I’m intellectual, in fact, this book is supposed to help you BE more intellectual.  It’s a great book, each day is differently themed with information about HISTORY (Mondays), LITERATURE (Tuesdays), VISUAL ARTS (Wednesdays), SCIENCE (Thursdays), MUSIC (Fridays), PHILOSOPHY (Saturdays) and RELIGION (naturally, Sundays).

Today I read a page about the Italian painter, Botticelli’s painting, “The Birth of Venus” which I saw in person at the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence, Italy a few years ago.

Botticelli loved beauty, as you can well imagine.  His belief was that ALL things came from God, including some pagan beliefs.  His paintings sometimes drew from Scripture AND Roman Mythology because he saw all things beautiful as coming from the throne of the Creator; he had no trouble reconciling both things together.   Somewhat late in life, Botticelli fell under the influence of a very charismatic monk named Savonarolla who believed that all “luxury” items of the Renaissance (paintings, sculptures, etc. that had no PRACTICAL value) were pulling people away from God (he also played a large role in the recent mini-series I’ve enjoyed: THE BORGIAS).  He encouraged citizens to burn their paintings and luxury tapestries, books of poetry and other things that HE considered worthless because they were merely beautiful.  From this act comes a term we are still using today, “the bonfire of the vanities”.  Botticelli also took some of his originals; drawings, paintings, etc and threw them into the bonfire as well.

It struck me while reading this, and because of the incredible beauty in our church building, that there is some sense in the pursuit of “beauty for beauty’s sake”.  I believe that our Father IS the creator of beauty, and investing in something that points you to the True Creator and helps you see God and Yourself in the True Light, is well worth the investment.

When I walked through the Uffizzi in Italy, I was transported to a place that was “higher” than when I entered.  I was inspired to be a better “artist” and creator myself, when I saw the historic works…I was, in short, given a greater glimpse of God.

There was another historic place outside, in the plaza of the Uffizzi…it held more meaning for me.  It was a bronze plaque, set in the stone of the street, marking the place where the monk, Savonarolla was burned at the stake…when the people had enough of him.  A sad ending to the life of perhaps a great man; driven by an obsession that probably started out as a good idea.  Art should never REPLACE God, but should remind us of all that is “Good, Beautiful & True”.

I asked God to provide me with everything I need today…and this message was what my soul needed to hear.  I continued to seek the Lord and found Him in an unexpected place.  I continue to knock on the door today…that God will open and lead me to another great adventure.


DAD

DAD

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I am still my Father’s son.  I carry so many parts of his personality that it’s impossible to escape his influence, even if I wanted to.  My Dad knew no stranger, he was a “friend of the world”…this served him well in the US Army and the US Postal Service where he was a mail carrier.   His letter-carrier days remind me of one of his odd quirks: he hadn’t always been quick with names, but he never forgot an address.  I can remember times when he and I would be out and we’d run into someone who knew Dad and they’d say hi and chat.  As that person moved on I’d ask Dad who it was and, more often than not, he would remember address but not their name.  No matter, it was the “label” he couldn’t remember, not the person.

My parents were both lovers of music and I received the “art-gene” from both, but it is my father who sang, with a rich and deep baritone-bass voice that I can still hear, in my mind’s ear, singing in gospel quartets or as I would accompany him singing, “The Palms” on Palm Sunday at church.  A great appreciator of marches, my Dad could listen to any and all marches and identify them by name because he’d played so many of them in the Army Marching Band…sometimes I’ll listen to John Phillip Sousa as I’m going to sleep (odd, but true)….and can identify by name most every JPS march I hear.

If I’m with my Dad’s family it is obvious in looks and mannerisms that I belong to the “clan”…of course, the same can be said when I’m with Mom’s family as well…hmmmm…I’m not adopted after all!

None of us can escape our family heritage, we carry with us what was given to us.  It is the same with our Heavenly Father:  we can deny it, we can run away from it, we can refuse to believe it…but the bottom line is we are our Father’s children and we carry His breath (“I will pour my spirit/breath on all people”), His features (“let us create humans in our image…”) and His name (“I will call you My own…”).

Some people have problems with this “father-image” thing because THEIR fathers were nothing to brag about…fortunately for many, like me, making the jump from “earthly father” to “Heavenly Father” isn’t all that long a trip.  But for those who are still seeking for a “good” and “faithful” father, our Heavenly Father IS the REAL and TRUE Father, by which all other fathers are merely poor reflections.  He is quick to train, quick to give wisdom, quick to protect and quick to love.  All of His witnesses, the scripture, nature, the congregation, the spirit, His Son, will testify to His “Fatherly” care and love.

On this Fathers’ Day without him here, I remember my Dad.  Whatever you may do to honor or love your earthly father, be sure to take some time to acknowledge the reality of your Heavenly Father and His thumb-print on your own life.  Each of us has something to teach the other about God, because we are ALL created in His image and we ALL carry bits of His personality with us…celebrate that truth and you will truly be free to be who you are.

 


ONE SHEEP MATTERED

ONE SHEEP MATTERED

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Mrs. G. has become one of my favorite teachers, in memory.  I was seven or eight-years-old when I stepped into her class, at Jason Lee Elementary,  she stole my “creative” heart.  Everything we did that year woke my inner artist with the methods she used to teach.  We wrote and bound books (I have two of them) to read to the First Graders, helping them to read.  We made pottery, made butter, made bread, made bricks, learned how to weave, all this to while learning the early history of the Americas, and we wrote, produced, and performed plays that illustrated everything from math, to spelling, to English.

She was, and that class was, very formative for me…obviously building and discovering what are now so many parts of my life. 

One day we took a “field trip”, one of my first.  We traveled as a class to the “big kids school” (the Junior High School) to see a play.  This was one of my first, up close.  It was probably only as good as it could be; costumes and set were probably rudimentary…but for me, at that moment in time, it was an incredible and magic moment.  After the show I went backstage and stood craning my neck to see all the backstage magic: sets, lights, props.  One of the actors came up to me, a girl who played a princess (as I recall), and I asked her a million questions about the stage-craft…really more interested in the everything BEFORE the acting, at that point.  Somewhere during the conversation she asked if I had come with a class of other kids.  It was only then that I realized I had wandered off by myself backstage.  I immediately panicked, knowing they would leave without me; the long walk back to school, the scolding from Mrs. G and worse, from my parents…or the ultimate…I’d be sent to the Principal!

I turned to quickly escape and there was Mrs G.  She looked upset, but bent down and gave me a hug.  She said she was worried and left the other kids on the bus to go ahead as she searched for me through the school, she took me back to the school in her car.

We spoke of it again, many, many years later when she and her husband ended up attending the church my parents attended.  I was an adult, working as an actor, songwriter, church musician…pretty much all skills that were based in what I learned in her class, when I visited my folks and their congregation.  I was grown, married, with kids by this point.  It was a very happy reunion; she hadn’t changed a bit in my eyes. She had saved a couple of my books and gave them to me, and I asked her if she remembered that day at the Junior High Play.  She said she did, that I was her “little lost sheep”.  I then begged her to admit that I was her favorite pupil in all these years.

She said, “You are ALL my favorites…but at that time, YOU were the one in trouble, so I focused on you.”

“What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?   When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders,   and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’   I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.”
LUKE 15:4-7

 Jesus’ shepherd loved ALL the sheep, but at that place and time there was ONE who needed his attention.

Mrs. G loved ALL her students, but at that place and time the person who needed her undivided attention was me.  My life mattered to her, like the sheep matters to the shepherd.  And that has made a great difference in my life.


MICHAEL

MICHAEL

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(reposted June of each year, in honor of Michael) 

Each June I think about my friend, Michael.  Michael was a conductor, chorus master, lecturer, author, musicologist, accompanist & my vocal coach when I performed opera.  He was also my good friend.

I first met him when, as a very young singer, was making my professional debut in opera and he was assigned to me, by the company, as my “coach”; leading me in the method of singing the small role that I had.  We became fast friends.

He was much older than he looked, (we almost looked the same age) and so seemed like a “wunderkind”: a brilliant man with a quick wit and energy that made the rest of us look like slackers…and I do a lot of stuff.  When he learned that I was getting my degree in Music Composition he insisted on hearing every piece I wrote and came to each performance of my new works at the college I attended.  He would analyze each piece, not to judge or criticize, but to ask questions about my choices of phrases, keys, motives, themes and construction…all without ever SEEING the music on paper…just from what he had heard, once.  He made me think about my own compositions in ways I had never thought…He listened.  

He introduced me to his musical love, Richard Wagner.  He knew more about the composer than anyone I had ever met, and was writing a book on his favorite composer…a commissioned work (a publisher payed him an advance to write it…that’s how good he was).

Mike and I would get together regularly, maybe once or twice a month, to eat, drink, and talk about music…his and mine.  He would always have his calendar so that he could write down when my next concert was.  We continued to work together at the Opera Company.  And when Seattle Opera commissioned ME to compose a small touring opera for their company, I dedicated it to him…and he accompanied the opera on one of the three Pacific Northwest tours.

Then one day I called and left a message for him.  He never returned the call.  I called a couple more times over the next few weeks…until at last a female voice answered.  It was a mutual theatre friend of ours.  As I was obviously startled at her voice on his phone, in his apartment, she said, “Rick, didn’t you hear?  Michael is very sick, you know…SICK. He’s been in the hospital for the past three weeks.”

The way she emphasized the word, “sick” was the code back in the ‘80’s, in Seattle, for someone who had AIDS.  I was stunned.  Frankly, I’d forgotten he was a part of the gay community there.  What stunned me was that he didn’t share his illness with me, and we were good friends.

As we continued to talk, she said that he was embarrassed.  He didn’t want me, his one and only Christian friend, to know that he was “sick”.  He was afraid that I would judge, that I would condemn…and most importantly, think that I would leave.  Ironic, since he’s the one that did the leaving.

 I attended his funeral a few weeks later.  It was a doubly-sad affair, for me, at least.  To this day I feel like I had no closure.  And I was angry.  Not at him, but at the notion that he believed any Christian would be filled with judgment and hate for him: one of the nicest, kindest, most generous people I had ever met.

I’m older now…maybe not wiser.  I am, in many ways, more cynical and bitter.  I understand that Jesus tells those who Believe & Follow Him that the world, and sometimes the Church, will “hate” us.  But what really hurts is to think the “world” would hate any “Christian” because “Christians” themselves are filled with hate.  That’s not what Jesus teaches, on the contrary: we are to love our “brothers and sisters” (fellow followers) AND our enemies…I’m pretty sure that covers everyone.  So how could Michael think that I, whom he knew well, would judge him, would hate him, would abandon him?  Not because of anything I did, but because of what some other “Christian” have done, all in God’s name.

I stood on one side of that story long ago…now I stand in both worlds and see both sides.  There are those “Christians” whose FIRST response will always be reminding us of God’s judgment; careful to let us all know that as long as Jesus isn’t here in the flesh to judge the living and the dead, they will be happy to take up that job.  There are those “Christians” who think that Jesus’ command to love is conditional.

And yet, though it’s sometimes more difficult to see it, there are those who understand that to know a person’s heart, read a person’s mind, know a person’s story is something that God and God alone has the power, and the responsibility, to do.  Our job is simple: love them all, and let me sort it out in the end.

 I think about what would’ve happened with Michael had the reputation of “Christians” in the ‘80s been as the most caring and loving, the most compassionate and least-judgmental of all humanity.  I try to bring closure to his death by imagining him telling me everything and me just hugging him in response…because he was my friend, and because Jesus is my King.

Central Christian Church could, and should, be known as the people who love like no one else, accepting those with whom we agree and share our life-goals, as well as those we don’t.  We can, and will, be the ones who others see and say, “If being a CHRISTIAN means being like those people at Central, then count me in…when I was hungry, they fed me, when I was thirsty they gave me something to drink…when I had AIDS and was dying, they cared and loved me without judgment or superiority.”

Each June (Pride Month) my heart remembers what my head may forget: that Michael is as unworthy as all of us to receive God’s love…and yet God loves Him, and loves us all.

If we belong to Jesus, how then should we live?

We can and should be God’s people; people who love others as Jesus loves them – people who remember that Jesus unconditionally loved us…BEFORE we loved Him.


A ROYAL MOMENT

A ROYAL MOMENT

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It was March of 1983.  I was living in Seattle, working as an actor and in my church when a golden opportunity arrived by boat…Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were visiting!  Now you know how much I love the Queen, so you know I had to go and catch a glimpse.  One of the places they were visiting was THE SEATTLE CENTER; a cultural park in the center of town that was, originally, home to the WORLD’S FAIR of ’62.  Since I performed and rehearsed there, I knew all the best, secret, parking spaces…so I made my way (with thousands of others) to that space, early on a cold day.

I ended up right on the rope along a trail that had been marked.  I was thrilled to think I’d be seeing them that closely as they passed by.

I’d been there maybe 30 minutes, when someone gave me a tap on the shoulder.  I turned around.  Standing there were two impressive-looking gentlemen in “official dark suits and coats”, smiling, and with genuine British authority and accent, asked if I would come with them.  The one speaking presented his I.D. and badge, and as he did I could see that he was, discretely, “packing”.  He took me in a friendly but firm manner into the building while his buddy stood where I had been standing.

As I tried to question him about what was going on he quietly said, as we moved swiftly, he would take my back so I wouldn’t lose my place, if I could (once inside) show him some identification and answer a few questions.  Baffled, I followed him…optimistically hoping he was clearing me for a special “tea” with the Queen for random people plucked from the crowd.

Nope.

Once inside I presented my drivers license and business card, he made a call and seemed satisfied.  He apologized profusely…”doing his job” and all that, and then said, ”…but you must admit, the way you look might draw suspicion.” 

What?!

Then I saw myself, through HIS eyes: lots of black, curly (yes, curly) hair and big mustache (some of you have seen the photos from then, if not, think of John Oates or Tony Orlando), mirrored sun glasses (it was the early 80s), black leather jacket, jeans, and boots…my normal “uniform.” But of course, to “007” I looked like a threat.  Hmmm.  He took me back to my place, to the bewilderment of the ever-swelling crowd, while his buddy (“006?”) stood discretely somewhere behind me…keeping an eye?  And then, just a few moments later, they arrived.

Standing to my left was a little girl holding a bouquet of daffodils…she caught Her Majesty’s eye and here came BOTH the Queen and the Prince over to me!  I could sense the tension of “006” behind me as the Queen stooped to speak to the little girl and accept the daffs.

Again, I’m not sure what I expected, but the person who stood right in front of me was small, no…tiny.  If I had run into her any other place or time I might not have ever realized she was a Monarch.  The Duke, on the other hand, was tall, gigantic, blonde, and every inch royalty…in any other place or time one wouldn’t have had to ask if he was royal.

Then it happened.  As I was soaking it all in, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, looked directly at me (“006: is having kittens at this point) and said something like, “Remarkable crowd, eh?” (or something close) and stuck out his hand.  In a moment that seemed to last forever I took it, shook it, and then they both moved on.  (When I called my mother and told her about the incident, she asked me not to wash my hand until she could touch it.)

What a moment in time.  What a lesson in identity. Who are we, anyway?

British Secret Security saw me as someone I wasn’t.
The Queen & Duke were not what I expected.
My perceptions, and everyone elses, were false, or incomplete.  

Are we who SOMEONE ELSE thinks we are?  Are we defined by our TITLES, our jobs, spouses, wealth?  Or, are we defined by place and time?

I believe we are ALL and NONE of that.  ALL, because everything that is temporary in us “tempers” us.  Who I was then, defined by age, place, and clothes, is not at all who I am now.  Their Majesties were only a year into being grandparents…look at them now.  But our “temporal” identities change, and that’s probably why we are always so insecure about “who we are”.  That’s probably why the more insecure we are the more we look to others to define us, not always getting what we want.  That’s why many posts on social media are really just Insecurities looking for affirmation. 

But we are also NONE of those perceptions. The only identity that doesn’t change is our permanent one, our immortal one: the identity first given to us by our Creator. 

 Gods love FOR us, and knowledge OF us precedes our very creation.  We were in his eye before we were in his hands. We are, and always will be, completely enough for God, perfect enough to be called His child, good enough to inherit a lifetime with Him as an heir, a Consort, a friend. HIS feeling for us don’t change. 

I know this much about INVESTMENTS: I need to invest in something sure, and lasting: I should invest in who GOD thinks I am.  What HE thinks and how HE feels about me takes precedent over what anyone else thinks…and My experience with Him is based on my choice to accept He is who He claims to be, and to live as I was designed to live; following His lead. 

God walks beside us as we pass through each moment in our lives.  He watches as we gain jobs and lose jobs, marry, have children, lose family, lose youth…and all the while He says, “…these are phases, these are “coverings”, these are temporary…the REAL you is being polished, trimmed, strengthened THROUGH those things, but they don’t define you.”

That moment in time, when I stood beside the Queen of England, her Prince Consort, a small girl with flowers, and a nervous British Secret Serviceman, was fleeting…but also eternal.  Time stopped when we all stood there, none of us were the people everyone around us perceived.  We were all MORE and LESS: it was simply a new grandmother chatting up a little girl with flowers, while her husband shook my hand and made small talk.

That scene may be repeated with the same cast one day in The Age-To-Come.  In that place, all the temporary labels will be gone.  All the perceptions others have of us will have faded to memory, and we will just be the children of God, in His garden, enjoying each other’s company and the company of our Father…from whom all blessing flow, from whom our true identity comes.


JAZZ

JAZZ

Written By:

We were supposed to be in the New Orleans French Quarter a few weeks ago, once again.  And I was thinking, although I’ve only seen a small part of this major city in southern Louisiana it is a place that appeals to my love for culture, music, history and great, great food!

Bourbon Street, and the Quarter (and surrounding neighborhoods), are interesting places, to say the least. During the day the sounds and sights are in contrast to the sounds and signs of life that engulfs you once the sun goes down.  I can only imagine what it is like during Mardi Gras, having never experienced that.

As it is, there is a variety of live music playing from every open door and window as you leisurely stroll down the street, as the nightlife begins (that would be around 10pm!), but finding what I wanted to listen to has become somewhat difficult.  Amazingly the “first love” of The Quarter; American Jazz, has come down to two clubs on Bourbon Street.

My favorite place is a club to relax and listen to some of the finest playing of jazz standards I have ever heard live, it was the MAISON BOURBON (which saw the apprenticeship of Harry Connick, Jr. for one of many musicians who began their careers in this historic watering hole) where an ensemble was playing to a very grateful group of people from all around the world (the table next to me was filled with folks speaking Russion, and a couple tables over, some Japanese tourists). 

Jazz is an interesting style for musicians that requires a strange combination of musical virtuosity and the willingness to be imperfect;  a theoretical mind and the ability to “swing” with the flow of the song.  All the while improvising counter-melodies following the same harmonic pattern as the melody of the song.  Not only does each instrument present a different tone and style of its own, but each also represents the nuances of each player.  Each player has a “role” also: at different times an instrument may support the whole ensemble, staying low, staying soft, accentuating the rhythm…and then may, through the subtle direction of the band leader (who might be anyone in the band) take the lead and be the soloist for a while, as the other players support them.

The ensemble plays the same song, but each instrument takes harmonic, rhythmic and counter-melody choices to interpret the song freely.

However, it’s not a “free-for-all”, in fact it is only through constant playing together and practicing that a group would find a way to know each other’s styles and techniques, to be able to follow the breathing and singing patterns.  But each player and instrument has its own role to play according to the way the instrument is constructed.

St. Francis’ prayer begins with the words, …make me an INSTRUMENT…  What is it like to be an “instrument”?  Perhaps the best illustration is exactly what I observed.  To be an instrument used of (played by) God is to be something unique, something that by design may be different that the surrounding instruments.  God may play me differently than you.  There are times when you may be called to play “up front”, sounding the melody or improvising your own tune around the melody that the entire congregation of faith plays.  Then there are times when you may be required to step back and support someone else in their solo or melody.  All the while, the song continues, moves forward, rises and falls as each player shows their virtuosity and gifts.  All of this is only possible when “practicing” together, learning each other’s rhythms and styles, getting used to working TOGETHER as one unit, while still presenting each other’s individual gifts.

For the rest of the world, observing and listening, it is a beautiful thing, not a cacophony of noise, but a seemingly intricate song familiar AND new at the same time…

…as beautiful as listening to five guys jam on Bourbon Street.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.


THE MIRROR LIES

THE MIRROR LIES

Written By:

During these last few months (when “travel” is defined as walking from room to room, and “getting out” defined as sitting on the porch and spying on the neighbors) I have spent so much time at home.  I’ve cleaned, organized, and seen more of my house in a few weeks than I have in the two years I’ve lived here.  In my “travels” around the condo, I am horrified to realize how many mirrors we have…in every room!

Mirrors aren’t my friend, at the best of times, and now it seems they are everywhere…lying to me.

 Why do I say the mirror is “lying”?  

I look in the mirror expecting to “see” and I can’tI now have to “lean in” to shave!  The GOOD SIDE of that is, just like a filter on a camera, some things look better, prettier, when “blurred up” a bit.  YOU all look FANTASTIC!  Christmas lights are a wonder, etc.  But on the flip side, the mirror is telling me that I’m losing my eyesight to glaucoma…well, to be honest, the Eye Doctor is telling me that as well.  But no matter WHAT the mirror says, I see perfectly…I KNOW that in my mind, and always will…even when they drag me, screaming obscenities,  from the BMV.

I look in the mirror, expecting to see ME and instead I see my Dad.  The GOOD SIDE of that is I think about my great Dad, I hear his voice, I remember some great times, and I miss him, and mourn him, in a healthy way…on the flip side, I know that I’m NOT as old as my Dad, nor will  I ever be.  No matter WHAT the mirror says, I AM 27 years old, and always will be.  I’m not my Dad, I’m his son.

I look in the mirror and expect to see someone I know, someone who lives inside my head…but I often see a stranger.  The mirror lies…that’s not me.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see an awkward kid who wasn’t good at sports, only moderately doing well in school, unpopular and introverted…the mirror lies, that is no longer “me”.

Sometimes I look and see a failure…the mirror lies.

Sometimes I see a broken man…the mirror lies.

Unfortunately, what I’ve learned through a life of performing and recording is this: in this world, unedited mirrors, cameras, and recordings don’t lie, when it comes to what the world sees.  They are brutal, they are raw, they are ruthless. They are also flat and shallow reflections, looking only on the outside of a person.  They only see a shell.  They also have the ability to trigger lies that we tell ourselves, and lies that the rest of the world has told us.

What I’ve learned as a Believer & Follower is: it’s important that one uses the CORRECT mirror, held by the RIGHT person.

There is one “mirror” that matters in my life, and it’s not one of the 3.5 million that are in my condo…it is my reflection in Jesus’ eyes.  What is seen in this world, on this “physical plane”, is not who I really am…it’s not what is “real” in His eyes…the mirrors here really DO lie about who I truly am.

I am who my God says I am.
And He says I’m whole, not broken –
successful, not a failure –
confident, not awkward –
not a stranger, but HIS child: known, understood, accepted, & loved.

What HE sees, matters.  He sees is my “forever self”, my “real self”, the “diamond hidden within the stone”.   However, in a way, one of the “lies” I mentioned above is actually a TRUTH:  If I choose to let let it be so, if I choose to let Him love me and lead me…

…I can be, am, and always will be, a reflection of my “Father.”

“For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.”
I CORINTHIANS 13:12


IT WAS THE BEST OF DAYS, IT WAS THE WORST OF DAYS

(reposted from 2019)

What I have always called, “the best day/the worst day” actually began the night before.

It was when I was a sophomore, majoring in music performance, at the state university I attended right out of high school. On May 13th (one day before my birthday) I was practicing, after the usual dinner of carbs and soda, in a practice room in the Music Building. The rehearsal rooms were, by design, soundproof to the hallway and each other. But that night, there were a couple of people standing directly outside my practice room door, I could hear them talking as I was packing up to leave. I recognized one of the voices as a friend I was meeting for dinner the next day. I started to open the door to say “Hi”, when I heard her say…

“…remember, tomorrow night at 7pm. It’s a surprise for his Birthday, I’ll get him there by 7:30pm.”

She was throwing me a surprise Birthday party!

Since I had never had a surprise Birthday Party, I was excited. Even more so, since (as a control freak) I like to know about “surprises” before they happen. (I know, that defeats the purpose…what can I say?)

However, even with the knowledge of that good news, the next day didn’t start well. I had a “presentation” to give in my first class, which meant shirt and tie. I woke up late (as usual). I leapt out of my bed and sprinted down the hall to the showers for the fastest shower and shave I had ever done. Back to the dorm room and on with the white shirt, pants…I sat on the bed to slip on both my shoes while tying my tie. Rushing, and doing multiple things to be ready in 15 minutes, I jumped up from the bed where I was sitting – ready to step in front of the mirror and behold my glory – when suddenly, without any time to catch a breath or blink, I was painfully on my back, on the floor.

In my multitasking frenzy I had zipped the end of my tie into my pants. When I stood, I flipped myself on my back and ripped off the end of my tie. After breathing in, I remembered…

…I’m having a surprise party tonight!

OK, so things didn’t seem so bad. I tucked the end of the tie in my shirt, put on a jacket to cover the mangled end of my tie if it slipped out of it’s hiding place in my button-down. Then I grabbed my stack of books and raced to the cafeteria to grab a quick coffee (I was already addicted at this point in my life) before heading to my presentation…

…I’m having a surprise party tonight!

Once I arrived at the cafeteria, I placed my stack of books in a cubby downstairs and took two stairs at a time up to the second floor where the magic bean juice was dispensed. Once my coffee lid was secure I raced (carefully) down the stairs to discover…my books were missing.

Sure enough, someone had taken all my books (a thief who obviously enjoyed reading philosophy, music theory and opera, no doubt). Now I need to add at this point that one of the books was borrowed from my mother. It was one of her prized possessions and I promised her it would be safe, as I tucked it in my car on my way to school from my home, two hours away, some months before.

My first thought was…”I’m dead.”

My presentation notes, my books and my mother’s Christmas Book all gone, with no hope of return. Then I remembered…

…I’m having a surprise party tonight!

And with that thought, the problem was placed in a folder a little further back in my brain and my day brightened despite the shredded tie, my aching back, the stolen books and a presentation that I would have to make up “on the fly”. (a little play on words, considering how my tie got mangled).

The presentation was, miraculously, stunning. (I was carried around on the backs of my fellow students, as they cheered…at least that’s MY recollection). My back recovered (ahhh…youth!) and with every hour of the day, good or bad, in the back of my mind was the constant underscore of a party in my future.

I returned to my dorm room around 4pm to find my wall phone blinking with a message.

(Editor’s note: For the young people: a wall phone is like an iPHONE without the screen or camera. It is, if you can believe it, FASTENED to the wall; immovable. People call, but you don’t know who is calling until you answer. In the case of this particular phone, one could leave a message, and a little light would blink on the wall phone of the recipient…it was a brave new world.)

In any case, I listened to the message and called the number. It was the SECURITY OFFICE on campus.
“Are you missing a rucksack?” they asked.
Not totally certain at that point in my life what a “rucksack” was, I said, “No, but I AM missing some books.”
“Can you describe the books?”
“Well, one of them is big, red, and is titled, CHRISTMAS CAROLS FROM AROUND THE WORLD…inside is the name, Margery Baker.”
“You can come claim your rucksack before 5:30pm today.”

I went to CAMPUS SECURITY. Sure enough, there was a backpack (what Shirley in CAMPUS SECURITY called a “rucksack”) that I didn’t recognize. And after I showed her my campus ID she smiled and handed it to me. My books were inside, along with several other things. That’s right…whomever stole my books had lost their “rucksack”.
“Don’t you want it all?” Shirley asked.
I have to say, as tempted as I was by the idea of obtaining my thief’s stuff: an ANDY GIBB cassette, macramé key chain, WORLDS OF ADVANCED GEOMETRY book, and a corduroy cap, I refrained.

I returned to my dorm room in triumph, saying aloud, “God is good.” (Not realizing at the time, in my spiritual immaturity, that God would STILL be good, even if my books hadn’t been found…since “God, being good.” has little to do with me…but that’s another BLOG).

The party I had dreamed of all day finally came to pass, and it was wonderful. That party had colored my day; causing all that went wrong to be placed in priority after the knowledge of what was happening at the end of the day. It was like knowing that the destination was worth any trouble along the journey.

Even at that point in my spiritual immaturity I realized the Spirit had led me into a Truth that would stay with me: knowing what is at the end of the journey puts everything else in perspective.

Every-once-in-a-while I stand in awe as I look on the lives of the Children of God around me, especially my flock, my congregation. These people who suffer loss, sickness, and circumstances that might cripple anyone else, not only survive, but thrive. They live as if they know what lies at the end of the journey. They let all circumstances, good and bad, all moments, all people, roll over them, through them…with the knowledge that there’s a party at the end of the day.

For those of us who BELIEVE & FOLLOW: how would our experience of each day change, if we knew what was at the end of the journey?

Funny thing…we DO know.