Silver and Gold Sunday, Jul 22 2007 

I stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. I remembered finding this piece of silver at a garage sale years ago, one of many I had rescued over the years. Tarnished and ignored, it had sat in someone’s cabinet or drawer and now after what I assumed was a tortuous process they had decided to part with it.

More than likely it only cost me a couple of dollars, still, I took it home and with care and love polished it, hid it away, treasured it. I imagined the grand dinner parties I would someday give, of friends remarking on the beauty of every place setting, each one unique and refined. Of the joy I would have in telling them how little I had actually paid for everything. How I had found this particular piece under a pile of junk on a folding table or that one in a box of someone else’s discarded dreams.

I have always loved the idea of an elegant dinner with a few close friends. The ideal wine served in fine crystal glasses; chosen not only for its subtle nuances that precisely matched the palates of the dinner guests, but whose characteristics were also in perfect harmony with the entrée.

Perhaps I did use this silver tray once, I can’t be sure. I ended up after so many years with so many garage sale finds that I stopped polishing each piece, stopped displaying them in my sideboard. Instead I would wrap each one carefully, place it in a plastic container and hope that the oxygen wouldn’t get to it too much, so that when – if, I ever had that party I could simply unwrap everything and not have to spend too much time in preparation, silver polish in hand. My time it seemed was becoming more precious and less.

But now I found myself at a crossroads. A widow, a single mother of three, selling the only house my children had ever thought of as home. I never had a home myself, I am a nomad by nature and by experience; my home has always been wherever my feet have taken me. Once again I had no idea where the path ahead of us would lead; no expectations of what our lives would look like in the future.

I had struggled for years collecting things, bits and pieces of a life lived here and there. I moved so often I finally lost count of how many times I had packed and unpacked, each time dragging with me not only cherished memories but tangible evidence of them as well. Souvenirs of each experience, each friend, each place that had been a part of my life. But now, seeing all these things together in one place, well, the burden of carrying them any further began to overwhelm me. I had my children in my arms now and I was beginning to feel that some things needed to be put down so I would be able to hold them well enough, close enough.

So I stood, looking at my long forgotten silver, wondering should I now be the one to place this tarnished beauty, this treasure lost in the garage sale pile? I might still use it – I could have that dinner party one day, when the kids were older and off on their own, when my friends and I weren’t quite so busy.

Then it suddenly hit me like awakening into a sunrise after a dark and moonless night. Yes, someday I may actually find the time to polish all the silver treasures I had found over the years, but if I did finally have the time, would I really want to spend it polishing silver?

So I stood there holding in my hand what once had appeared to me a fine and precious metal, but now only looked like weighted lead

You see the truth is I do have dinner with friends quite frequently and sometimes the wine is spectacular, but more often than not it’s a beer drunk straight from the bottle, which is more than fine. What I realized in that moment, that epiphany, is that my priorities have become such that I would rather eat on paper plates than fine china. That it’s more important for me to have leisurely yet great conversations with friends then spend time washing crystal carafes and polishing silver. My priorities were never that far off-center actually, but in my youth I had an unrealistic expectation that I could somehow do it all. I think perhaps I had the notion that I would be a better friend, maybe even a better person if I could live a life touched by elegant things.

So the silver tray was placed, with a certain amount of joy on the garage sale table next to an old waffle iron and some spatulas. As I laid it down a lightness found me and I realized I have with age and wisdom arrived at a resting place, a place where I don’t desire silver treasures anymore, in fact it is quite the contrary. They have come to represent to me all the immaterial objects that I have held onto throughout my life, the things that don’t ground me but in reality pull me just below the surface of the water. Now more than ever my time, especially the time I have been given to spend with ones so loved as my children and friends is gold.

Travelin’ Light
Written by: Allison Mellon, Marc Byrd, Brown Bannister and Steve Hindalong
“Well I was doublin’ over the load on my shoulders
Was a weight I carried with me every day.
Crossin’ miles of frustration and rivers a ragin’
Pickin’ up stones I found along the way.

I staggered and I stumbled down pathways of trouble
I was haulin’ those souvenirs of misery.
And with each step taken my back was breakin’
‘til I found the One who took it all from me.

Down by the riverside,
I laid my burdens down now I’m travelin’ light
My spirit lifted high,
I found my freedom now and I’m travelin’ light.

Through the darkest alleys and loneliest valleys
I was draggin’ those heavy chains of doubt and fear.
Then with one word spoken the locks were broken
Now He’s leading me to places where there are no tears.

Down by the riverside,
I laid my burdens down now I’m travelin’ light
My spirit lifted high,
I found my freedom now and I’m travelin’ light.

From the album: Songs from the 23rd Psalm/Traveling Light
Music inspired by the writings of Max Lucado and the Psalmist David
Available at http://www.independentbands.com/cd/travelinglight.html
Copyright 2002 Mellon/Byrd/Bannister/Hindalong

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Being Jonah Friday, Apr 20 2007 

“What was that like?” I asked.
“It was like being Jonah, it was an overwhelming experience.”

A friend was telling me about hearing God. The difference is when most people say that they are speaking metaphorically. We usually refer to a “hearing” of God when we are having somewhat of a leading not an actual physical experience. Mike had had a very in body experience, not ethereal, but physical. A very clear and powerful directive from God Himself telling him to move to Sacramento. Hearing Mike talk about it some thirty years later I could see it still freaked him out a little, it freaked me out too. Not because I didn’t believe him and thought it strange, but precisely the opposite, because I did believe him and that requires a completely different set of rules to govern your life by.

I have often thought that if God would simply tell me exactly what to do and where to go, I would quite happily walk along content in the knowledge that I was right where I was supposed to be, and perhaps somehow life would be easier. Honestly though, after my conversation with Mike I wasn’t so sure I wanted that anymore. Knowledge comes with a responsibility to take action. Knowing exactly what is expected of you can be frightening, especially when there seems to be no common sense to it.

Mike Roe is an incredible guitar player and songwriter who knew from the time he was a teenager that he wanted to use his music to bring people to God, and now God was telling him to move to Sacramento. Sacramento in the 70’s wasn’t exactly a magnet for great musicians. No one in his right mind would move from San Francisco to Sacramento to jumpstart their musical career. So Mike, using logic and rational, and tinged with a bit of fear, did not move to Sacramento, at least not immediately. Instead he found himself not too much later in the belly of his own whale – a psychiatric hospital in Southern California. God will get us where He wants us to be, by any means necessary.

By the time Mike finally arrived in Sacramento, Warehouse Ministries had been growing for nearly five years. Patterned after Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, “the Warehouse” as it was known, was not only home to legendary Saturday night concerts but soon their studio was pumping out some of the best music on the cutting edge, Christian or otherwise. One of the first albums they released was “Ping Pong Over The Abyss” by the 77’s, a band fronted by Michael Roe.

I honestly don’t know if Mike has fully realized yet how his listening to God has affected so many individuals, I personally know quite a few of them. One of my dearest friends, Van has told me on more than one occasion that the album “Ping Pong over the Abyss” helped him “get through” high school. He listened to it so much he wore out two copies. Last summer I left him a voicemail at midnight while standing at the side of a stage at the Cornerstone Music Festival in Illinois. I couldn’t wait to tell him that I was there watching the 77’s play again. Van called me the next week and said when he listened to that message he almost cried. Like so many of us Mike ended up right where God wanted him, though not before first running away, just as Jonah had.

Which brings me back to Jonah, or rather God brought me back to Jonah a week later. I’ll admit after talking to Mike I thought I should go back and read Jonah again, it’s only four chapters after all, but I’ve seen the Veggie Tales version several times, I know the story, I grew up with it. What else could I possibly learn by reading it again? So I didn’t.

I hadn’t been to my little church for a few weeks, and so I was pleased to see the place overflowing once again on this Sunday night. After worship Tommy invited a young man to come up to give his testimony, something that happens on occasion in our church. He was in his early thirties, and his name was Jonah.

Jonah had one of those stories that I cannot relate to at all but am still awed by. The wounds of his life had left him at a point where he was addicted to drugs and doing everything he could do to get the money to buy them. He had been to church, had felt the need for a change in his life, but drug addiction is a beast and it wouldn’t let him go. Jonah was so broken he felt that he wasn’t worthy of salvation or love.

Fortunately about 10 months ago he was caught with drugs and stolen property and was hauled off to jail. The arresting officer told him she saw something, sensed something in him that was different. He was a good person she thought, he just needed a chance to get past his drug problems. She asked him if there was anything else she needed to know, anything else he needed to come clean on. “No” he told her bluntly. She told him to clean up his life and that she believed he could do it. The next morning waking up in jail, facing five felony charges, God worked a miracle in Jonah’s heart. He knew now, beyond a cerebral knowledge, but a true knowing, that God loved and forgave him. “He put in my heart that He loved me,” Jonah said. “That I didn’t have to hurt myself anymore. And I was able to quit drugs, quit smoking, quit drinking.” He was released on bail five days later.

What Jonah did next is what so amazed me. He went home, stood in his house and looked at an additional four thousand dollars worth of stolen merchandise. He knew what he had to do, God was telling him what he had to do. “Take it to her” God said.

What would you do?

Jonah listened to that voice. “God put it in my heart that I had to take it to the police department and take it all to this woman that I had lied to, who was giving me a chance. I packed up four thousand dollars worth of stolen electronic equipment in my mom’s car. My mind was just screaming, ‘Don’t do this, sell this on the street, get rid of it.’ (But) God was telling me ‘You have to turn this in, face the music for what you have done,’ only then could I move on and get healed.” So Jonah walked back into the police station that night, found the Sergeant who had arrested him, believed in him, trusted him and this time came completely clean. Miraculously, when he left the station, he was facing only the original five felonies. He had done the right thing, finally, and a weight had been lifted.

“Jonah believed he had no character of his own, so God was going to make him do things His way to prove to him he does have character.”
Tommy Green. October 8, 2006

A few weeks later, while driving to a one-day temp job at Home Depot, Jonah asked God to “Let me be a light, an example of what You want a Christian to be.” Several hours later while stacking cinder blocks a woman approached him.

“You’re a Christian aren’t you?” she asked out of the blue.
“Yeah, I am,” he answered – a little stunned at the proclamation.
“You’re just like a light,” she said “Your kindness and everything that your doing; you’re just like a light, I could tell you were a Christian”
Jonah started to cry, “It was like my Holy Father reached out and gave me a hug and encouragement in everything I was trying to do.”

Because Jonah had courageously done the right thing, the sergeant who had sensed in him a depth of character recommended leniency. Five felony counts were reduced to one, and instead of jail time he was given three years probation. I don’t know what the next few years of Jonah’s life will look like, but I know what he will look like, he apparently will look like a man of God.

Tommy returned to the microphone and said that because he’d been talking to Jonah earlier that week he had be inspired to go back and read the book of Jonah and was going to teach about it that night. Apparently God was going to tell me what I needed to hear – one way or another.

When Jonah (the one from the Bible) heard quite clearly the voice of God telling him to go to Nineveh and tell them they were to repent or be destroyed, there were many reasons he didn’t want to go. The main reason however seems to be that Jonah, simply put, hated the Ninevites and did not want them to have the opportunity to be saved. He knew God was merciful and would hear their pleading. At the end of the book he actually is screaming at God, angry as can be, that God had allowed them to repent.

“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ “ Jonah 4:1-3

I never saw myself as having any similarities with Jonah, until Tommy began to talk that night. He spoke as he often does, of the big picture and our inability as human beings to see it. The fact is God sees things in His eternal light and we are temporal creatures and extremely shortsighted. Tommy went on to say:

“Nineveh centuries later became the capitol of Assyria, the same country that God ordained to come and judge the Israelites. It’s interesting because Jonah didn’t realize his place in history, God sends a dude in there years before we see them become who they are, and who they were was bad. So even in the roots of the nation of Assyria, at one point God had sent someone in there to tell them who God was.

“This is the best part. Jonah doesn’t realize that the things that God does in him over the next forty years could result in impacting lives generations later. Just like Jonah didn’t realize that preaching to the Ninevites and having them switch, he didn’t see that as having anything to do with (Israel) later on. It’s all a part of the plan. Jonah you have no idea who you’re going to effect. But the reality is, because of the message that God puts in our hearts you share that with what God has given you and you let God deal it out. You don’t know, but you could flip the whole destiny of families, and people, and scenes and cultures. If you don’t understand that God has set us here for just a short period of time for a specific reason, you’re going to feel like you don’t have a place.

“You don’t know what God has for you but every one of us has a destiny with God, He’s ordained the days of your life. He knows where you’re supposed to go and how you’re supposed tot get there.”

I knew God was trying to tell me something. It was clear, as it usually is, that something was going on. But I’m human and therefore pretty darn stupid sometimes when it comes to spiritual matters. So I waited, quite impatiently and started looking for Ninevites.

I looked for them everywhere. That is everywhere I would have felt comfortable finding them. I would find myself screaming out loud sometimes, “Just tell me already” when God would put little reminders in my path to go to the Ninevites. Frankly I was beginning to get a little worried; I just wanted to know where I was supposed to go, what I was supposed to do.

It didn’t take very long really, my Ninevites showed up a week later. But I didn’t want what was obvious and right in front of me to be the answer; it was too close, as close as my skin. Surely God wouldn’t put this on my plate, I didn’t have the strength for it and He must know that. It was my soon to be ex-husband. I sat still and prayed that there were Ninevites to be found elsewhere, and I kept looking.

I have never been one that adheres to the idea that God creates pain in our lives, but what I’ve learned over the past few years, the experiences that I’ve had, have shown me that what I want to believe, what I am comfortable with is irrelevant. The character of God is constant and He will do whatever it takes to put us on the right path.

I had been separated for nearly three years and my marriage was over, completely. I considered myself to be divorced; the paperwork simply hadn’t been signed. I had no hopes for any kind of reconciliation, my only hope was to somehow, someday land on soft ground. I longed for a relationship with Dave that would at the very least be civil both ways, for our sake and for the sake of our children. I never got it.

I knew how I should pray, I had known for years, but I was never been able to bring myself to it. I knew I should pray that God would do whatever it would take to get my husbands attention. To soften his heart and break the hold that anger and resentment had on him. Anger and resentment towards me for leaving, towards his mother for dying, towards his father for giving up on life and pouring himself into a bottle.

I was never able to pray that prayer, because I knew in my heart from what I know of the character of God, that He would answer, and the answer would very likely be something that would be a wound to my children. I had actually talked with my father about it two years ago and he said that he would pray it for me. I simply couldn’t do it, I didn’t have the strength, my instinct as a mother was to protect my children. But my mother, someone stronger than me, had been praying as well.

One day at her Wednesday Bible study she shared with her group that she saw Dave as Saul, and she prayed that God would do what He had done to Saul on the road to Damascus – bring him to his knees. The next day, December 14, while riding his motorcycle to work, a car pulled out in front of him. He hit it going thirty miles an hour, flew thirty feet through the air landing on the curb. He shattered his ankle, punctured a lung, broke several ribs, and collapsed both lungs; he nearly died. He was airlifted to USC Medical Center where the next day a CT scan was performed to check for internal injuries, what they found left everyone stunned, Stage IV lung cancer – terminal.

The moment I heard I knew what I had to do. I packed up my kids and when Dave was released from the hospital we moved back into the house I had left three years earlier in tears. I don’t pretend to imply that it was easy, it was in actuality the most difficult thing I had ever done up to that point, even harder than leaving my marriage. But it wasn’t a decision I made, I simply recognized where I had to go and I went.

God had led me to it, He had been preparing me for this moment for years. He had pushed me, shoved me, than cradled me in His arms. I had been allowed to fall, to fail, to suffer. And through it all God had taught me things in ways that gave me the strength to be a woman who could, with compassion, take care of a man who had shown her none for years. But even as strong as I had become, this was still beyond me. It had to be done with complete and utter faith, and the prayers of hundreds of people.

For two months I had been listening to Mike, Jonah and Tommy over and over again in my head. God was speaking to me through them. There was no audible voice as Mike had heard, but a quiet gentle knowing. On one hand going back was a very easy thing to do, because God was allowing me to see a glimpse of that big picture Tommy was talking about. The future generation I would be influencing, that I would be effecting for decades by my action or inaction was my own children. I could look directly into the faces of the boys I had given birth to, whose characters were being formed through this experience, who would soon become men – men of God I hoped. I knew that what God had laid before me, was the opportunity to minister to them, by ministering to their father. I was given the gift to do something that would affect their future, the rest of their lives.

It is remarkable to me how God gives us through grace exactly the tools we need before we ever know we need them. Because of His understanding of who I am, how He created me, He had whispered in my ear for weeks – “Something’s coming”. He placed little things in my path knowing that I would string them together, that I would look for a clear picture from seemingly insignificant, unrelated events. My personality is to find commonality in random moments of my life, then try and chase them down to a singularity, at which point I start looking for the purpose in it. That is the only reason that I had the strength for this. He had prepared the path for me, placed in front of me the tools I would need, led me to them, than let the decision be mine. I simply continued to do, what I have been striving to do for 32 years; hold onto to the hand of God and walk, reluctantly perhaps, where He was telling me to go. It was very much like being Jonah.

Dave died six weeks after being diagnosed. He had the opportunity to say goodbye to his children, to see how many people truly loved and admired him. He was given the gift of knowing that his time here was nearly over. He was able to make sure he made everything right, as right as you can make a life from your deathbed.

I don’t pretend to know why Dave got cancer and died at 48, leaving behind three young boys for me to raise alone, but I know God will use it for glory if we allow Him to. Dave and I were able to lay down most of the baggage we had picked up over 16 years. We were able to show our children that no matter what, they were of the ultimate importance to us both and that God is holding them through it all. I know that in the big picture, the one that I still cannot see clearly, God will use the wounds of my children’s lives. The wounds I was so desperate to protect them from will become scars, that may someday help heal the hearts of others.

I don’t think trapped in our humanity we can truly ever catch even a small glimpse of what is really happening to us. God our father does for us what may seem to be cruel sometimes, He allows us to experience the painful repercussions of a life lived by self-determination. But He also gives us direction along the way. Situations that may appear as roadblocks, which we may interpret as punishment or cruelty I think may be placed there to stop us, to cause us to make a turn sharper than we ever would have without a brick wall suddenly rising up in front of us.

God will use every loss, every hurt, all of our suffering to expose our purpose here. To rip away the veil of fear, the insecurity we cling to. He will draw us out, violently if necessary, to force us to use the gifts He has given us for eternal glory. To see ourselves as He does – worthy. We so often disregard as insignificant our abilities until we are cornered and required to use them as He walks us through the fire.

“A thousand roads, a thousand ways.
Why am I so afraid to move?
I crossed the line, I’m stepping out so come what may
I give it all, ‘cause I’m drawn to You.

As long as my heart is beating….

Where You lead me, I will follow.
Where You lead me, I give my life away.
Where You lead me, I will follow,
Forever and a day”

‘Where You Lead Me’ by Mercy Me.

I have never been able to reconcile the reality of what my marriage was, with the reality that God had, years ago quite clearly told my husband and I both that we would marry each other. He spoke to each of us years apart and in different ways, and we both listened; yet what we made of that marriage seemed to be nothing that was of any use to God. But I know there is purpose in it.

I have always scoffed when people say they have no regrets because every decision they made has brought them to where they are now. But with age and experience I can now understand the sentiment of it. There are things I have done, decisions I have made, that I hope if placed in front of me again would see me making wiser choices. But even through my mistakes, my selfishness, my humanness, God has delivered me right where He wants me to be, here.

Perhaps there was a smoother road I missed which could have gotten me here as well, but I doubt it. I don’t think I would be as useful to God, that I would be strong enough without having gone through that fire. ` As Tommy is fond of saying, “It’s the wounds that make us who we are.” I think he’s right, but I also think it is how we experience the healing of those wounds that reveals the true depth of our character.

Art Too Monday, Mar 26 2007 

When Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge set out to “cleanse” the Cambodian people in the 1970’s, their targets were very specific. Not only did they take aim at the crippled and lame, but the educators, the social elite and those who had close ties to the West as well. In addition, to make sure they would not only gain but also maintain control of millions of people’s bodies and minds, they targeted and killed all of the artists.

I remember watching in horror a few months before the attacks of 9/11 as two ancient Buddha sculptures, which had been chiseled into the sandstone cliff’s of Afghanistan in the 3rd and 5th centuries, were packed with dynamite and exploded into a million tiny pieces of rubble. I’ll admit I didn’t know much at the time about the horrors happening in Afghanistan, the Taliban was something I was familiar with only in passing. But as I saw those beautiful works of art and religion crumble to the ground, a wave of pain and sorrow overtook me and I knew we were all in trouble.

Art can be a very dangerous thing. Tyranny requires a silencing of opposition, and art has been used throughout history as a sometime subtle, sometimes bold form of resistance. Even when a people are kept ignorant and uneducated, unable to read or write, art has given them not only an outlet for dissention, but also a way of discovering the differing points of view of others.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
John Keating

Any artist who tries something new, something different, who is honest and unguarded has my respect, whether I enjoy and appreciate the art form or not. Pushing the envelope, risking, is as much a part of the artistic expression to me as the end resulting art itself. Even when I find things distasteful, I generally respect an artist’s attempt at something new, as long as it’s done with complete honesty.

Does art have to inspire the entire world to be important or is effecting one person, one community enough? Great art does not have to alight a revolution of ideas but the potential for it should always remain and never be dismissed, especially by the artist himself. I have been witness to artists who dismiss their creations out of hand, as if they had done nothing more important than take out the trash. Thankfully dismissing the significance of ones own work does not dilute it of it’s potential.

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Anais Nin

Throughout the years I have rooted for artists to make a living at their art, but almost none of them do. Most must do some other form of it to survive. Producing artists they don’t necessarily believe in, writing music for television or film, working on commercials, all to be able to fund their true creative endeavors. I don’t slight them for doing what is necessary to earn a living, quite the opposite; I’m impressed with how hard they work for it. But when they cease to purely create at least on occasion because being creative doesn’t pay, they cease to be an artist. I have seen artist start down a capitalist road, taking work that will pay the bills so they can afford to continue their creative pursuits, only to eventually refuse to be freely creative in their artistic expressions because doing so might jeopardize the cash cow they have found at the tit of the record companies. It is sad to witness artistic brilliance quashed sacrificially by an artist, for fear of rocking the boat. The same boat that artist refused to ride in at the beginning of their journey, and that by all rationale should have been sunk years ago by it’s own acceptance of mediocrity.

So when I hear someone who wants others to believe that they are an “artist” ask “What is the incentive to create, I will not see a dime from it.” I begin to question everything they produce, where is the passion? Can true art be created dispassionately? If you cannot create for the sake of creating, but only when it has the potential to offer you a paycheck, then go become an accountant already, because I want to hear about your heart, not how big your mortgage payment is.

So why create without the guarantee of financial reward? Because it is your passion, if it is no longer a passion, you have no business doing it. Art and commerce are mixed together in a soup that cannot easily be separated. But an artist who puts commerce before art, is no longer an artist, at least in my opinion.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”
Paul Gauguin

I have heard some artist claim that music is all the same, there has not been anything new in rock and roll in the last forty years so what’s the point. I’m trying to imagine My Chemical Romance or Powder performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, somehow I don’t think they would have made it past the 1950’s sensors.

Louder or offensive does not necessarily mean new, the music my nephew listens to does have it’s roots in blues, jazz and rock after all, but it certainly doesn’t sound like any of those to me, so I do consider it something new.

Seeing a band on stage that is free and passionate in what they do makes me love their music even when the style is something other than what I would normally be drawn to. Watching someone who is passionately free in their expression is liberating to my soul no matter what form that expression takes.

This summer I walked through the Chicago Institute of Art. I saw all of the “Great masters”. I stood and cried at the self-portrait of Van Gogh, yet felt no emotions in front of the Rembrandts. I appreciated their beauty but they did not speak to me. Dali’s “Birth of Monster’s” however disturbed me so much I felt sick to my stomach. I hated the subject matter; I hated what I was looking at. But I forced myself to study it for a few minutes until I got chills and had to leave. He had something to say to me. It may not have been something I was comfortable hearing, but it was passionately expressed – so I listened.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
John Keating.

For centuries art has been a catalyst for change, from Shakespearean plays, renaissance paintings, to counterculture poetry. Satirically poking fun at the king or calling for the overthrow of a tyrant has been tolerated through art when freedom of speech was not even a concept. Most of us have come to take for granted those freedoms, and it seems therefore we have stopped expecting artists to move beyond the pale.

So what of those still oppressed by tyrants, held in poverty, consumed by the ravages of ethnic cleansing? I wonder, given the tools of artistic expression what they might have to say. Is there a young Van Gogh, Mozart, or Yeats wandering amongst the refugee camps of Darfur? Is there someone there, who, if given a voice, the tools to express them selves might someday set their world on fire?

“ I don’t tell the other kids I am sick because they will bully me and torment me. I just wish I had some crayons and some books to write in.”
Noah age 8 – HIV positive – Africa

http://www.invisiblechildren.com

Bar Stool or Church Pew Tuesday, Mar 20 2007 

“Do you feel more comfortable sitting on a bar stool or a church pew?” That’s a question I have asked numerous times over the last year while I’ve been interviewing musicians from several “Christian” bands. I thought I knew the answer for most of these boys, but I haven’t received the responses I expected. Some were honest, a few who said church pew, the ones who I expected to say bar stool either glossed over the issue or said they didn’t have an answer.

Honestly I have rarely felt uncomfortable in a bar, I wish I could say the same about churches. I don’t drink or smoke and I rarely dance in public, still, I can walk into almost any bar and feel completely accepted. Contrast that with the fact that I have actually been accosted at churches when I showed up not dressed “appropriately” or when I haven’t played by their rules of when you need to sit, stand or get up to use the restroom. A church I went to for years began filming the service for television broadcasts and suddenly there were rules about when you could get up to go pee! I left and have only been back once years later, by then the imposed structure of the service had become extreme. I was nursing an infant, who I brought into the sanctuary with me, the ushers were not happy. “He might start crying” they said. I was also saving seats, apparently a mortal sin. My nephew who attended this church, a somewhat mellow kid usually started panicking. “They’re about to start,” he said “they’re going to come and we’re going to get in trouble, you can’t save seats.” My heart was broken, he was terrified of these people, a child should never have a sense of fear going to church, I’m fairly sure it’s unscriptural.

Twenty years ago, at the end of the service, the pastor of this church would walk down the front steps of the stage and head directly to the back door where he would stand and talk to anyone who needed him. When I went back to visit all these years later, he was ushered to the pulpit, preached for thirty minutes or so, then was quickly ushered off the stage not to be seen or heard from again until the next week. I would not have been at all surprised to hear an announcement as the service was ending, “The pastor has left the building.”

Contrast this to the first time I visited my parent’s church, a medium sized community church in the mountains of Southern California, I guarantee you there are no visions here of a worldwide televangelism empire. During the worship I went to check on Cole, my youngest who was about three years old at the time. I heard him before I saw him. He was in the nursery kicking and screaming; furious that he had been left somewhere he was unfamiliar with. Seeing the teachers pleading look, I took him out, brought him to the lobby and began trying to calm him down. After a minute or two a middle aged man dressed in kakis and a Hawaiian shirt approached me and said, “It’s ok you can bring him in with you. I don’t mind kids making a little noise – they’re kids.”

As I walked into the sanctuary a few minutes later with Cole in tow, now sufficiently calmed down, I looked up to see the man from the lobby approaching the pulpit. This man who had graciously invited me to bring my screaming child into the sanctuary was the senior pastor. Quite a difference in attitude to say the least and given the choice, which church do you think I will return to?

“Suffer the little children, do not hinder them from coming to Me.” Matthew 19:4

SUFFER:
A verb – To put up with someone or something unpleasant.

A few months ago while on my way to my tiny store front church with a teenage friend, we drove past the “mega church” in our town. She jokingly said, “Hey, let’s go there instead. We could go shopping at their mall.” I have never once heard any of the tatted, pierced, smoke-covered teenagers I know, mention that church with a positive reference. One had gone there while homeless, and stood looking on, his stomach empty, as patrons excuse me – parishioners, filled up on Lattes and donuts at one of the TWO overpriced coffee bars. He doesn’t go to church anymore.

Another after getting saved at this church was told by a youth pastor there if she continued to dress the way she did she would end up pregnant by the time she was sixteen. It’s been a long time since I attended Health class but I remember it fairly well, I must have been absent the day they showed the “Clothing That Can Get You Pregnant” filmstrip. This girl never went back to that church and I wonder exactly what has been gained by berating and embarrassing her. Is she in more jeopardy now that she doesn’t go to church? But perhaps the question really should be, “In jeopardy of what?” Would it have been better for her to stay there, change her appearance and become as judgmental of others as this man was of her? Honestly I think it may be more prudent not to attend any church if the message your getting there is that you’re unacceptable to God simply because of the way you look.

I’m sure there are many wonderful people who attend this church, but it’s a sad commentary that all I have heard from those on the outside looking in are negative experiences. In fact the one time I set foot in the parking lot of this church on a Sunday morning I was accosted by two security guards before I could get anywhere near the buildings. To be honest I was not in anyway trying to attend the service, I was there, dressed in shorts and a tank-top hoping to find someone in the office on this Sunday morning who could answer a couple of questions I had about their bookstore. As I walked towards the office – which was closed by the way – two men approached from different directions and asked quite sternly, “What do you want?” Don’t be mistaken, I was not being offered help, I was being told, in a not so subtle tone that I was the wrong person in the wrong place. As I turned to leave, a little shaken and ticked off, I heard one of them ask the other, “Did you hear the alarm go off?” I picked up the pace walking back to my car. I was more than a little upset and angry as I drove away, not because I had not been given the help I needed and was treated rudely but because I could have been a woman who needed some real help. If I had been a someone searching for love and assistance from Christians I would not have found it there. What I found instead was condemnation which I can only assume was because of the way I was dressed. It saddens me and turns my stomach that there are people seeking God who will forever be turned away from Him because of the way they look, act or dress.

Are you uncomfortable sitting in church when the infant in front of you is crying, or that teenager next to you smells like smoke and is wearing a pentagram pendant over his “f*** you” t-shirt? If, in your discomfort, you welcome that person in without condemnation or judgment you are doing exactly what Christ requires.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of being judgmental myself. I tend to be more than a little uncomfortable in a church where all the men are wearing suits and ties and none of the women are wearing pants. It’s because of my history. Last year I went with my father to a church in New Mexico that has supported him for over 30 years, I wore very conservative clothes yet still was prepared to be judged for the way I looked. To my surprise after the service I found myself talking to the youth pastor, who was a little younger than myself, about alternative music, his tattoo and his Harley. I had prejudged the people of this church based on my past experiences of such churches – shame on me.

Everyone should be able to find a church they are comfortable in; I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is our insistence that every church and every person in them must look something like us.

I wonder if it’s just too simple for us? Have we become so arrogant that we think Christ might have actually missed some requirement for salvation that we have somehow stumbled upon? Or is it, that in our selfishness, in the protection of our comfort zone, the idea that we must be right is so much more important to us than someone else’s soul?

Jesus died and ripped the veil between the Holy of Holies and us. He gave us, for the first time since Adam, the freedom to walk “naked” before God in all of our filth, humanity and failings. But instead of rejoicing in that freedom, we –and I mean all Christians – seem to have in our complete arrogance, rewritten that law, one law at a time only it now mirrors our own prejudices. I do not understand why we insist on making it so complicated, when Christ made it so very simple.

My father tells me that when he was a youth leader at his church in the early sixties, the youth services were held on Friday nights. When he asked the Youth Pastor why and could this be changed, the kids wanted to go to the High School football games on Friday nights, the pastor said that was exactly the reasoning behind it. “What would happen if Jesus returned and you were at a football game,” he asked. “How could He possibly find you amongst all those sinners?” I’m happy to say this man has changed significantly over the years but the underlying problem remains, we’ve only shrouded it better. I hate religion, because all religion is, is a means by which we can take Gods words and twist them in such a way that Christians feel holy and justified by separating ourselves from the world. Yes Jesus spent time in the temple but that was not where he lived.

I’m fairly confident that when Christ returns He’s going to go to the streets, filled with the lost and needy looking for His church. I think He’ll be more than a little disappointed to find most of us not there, but sitting in our air-conditioned sanctuaries sipping Lattes and lamenting the sinful state of the world.

“To the Moon”
By Sarah Groves

It was there in the bulletin
We’re leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we’re going to
Take our church to the moon

There’ll be no one there to tell us we’re odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here at our church on the moon

We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’ll be leaving soon

Last week my father, who has been a missionary for over 30 years, stopped by a church he happened to be driving by to see if he could speak to the pastor there. He wasn’t dressed in a suit, but jeans and a t-shirt. He walked around for a while looking for someone to talk to and finally found the church offices. Walking down the hall still looking for someone to help, he was approached by a man in his early thirties who asked what he needed. The question was not posed as an offer of help, but rather a not so veiled accusation questioning his motives for being there. My father asked to speak to the pastor at which point he began to be interrogated by this man, who still had not introduced himself. After refusing to tell him whether or not the pastor was there, this man, who turned out to be an assistant pastor at the church, said to my father, a man he did not know but who was simply standing in his church asking for help, “Well I don’t know you do I? ”

“I don’t know you.” I don’t know you? Does that sound at all familiar? It should for those of us who are familiar with the Bible, it sounds an awful lot like Mathew 7:23.

21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’

23 And then I will declare to them, ’I NEVER KNEW YOU; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

One friend I was interviewing when asked the question, “Bar stool or church pew” gave the most thought provoking and honest answer I’ve received thus far. He said, “I’m equally comfortable in both. In fact they’re very similar, there are a lot hurting people in both places.”

So ask yourself where do YOU feel more comfortable and if you have the courage, go and ask your neighbor. But don’t be surprised it they say they feel more comfortable sitting in the bar on the corner, then in the church down the street.

So then, what to do? We could start serving beer at church I guess, one church I attend does on occasion tap the keg after worship, especially when we have visitors from England. But better yet, perhaps we Christians should go to the bar on the corner with our neighbors, buy them a beer and watch the game. I could be wrong but I think that’s precisely where Christ is expecting to find us.

“ I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
John 17:15-18

Amazing Grace Tuesday, Mar 13 2007 

This is my favorite song in the world. I have always loved it, I think initially because grace is described as a sound, something physical. I like the idea that God’s grace is so powerful that it can be experienced as a “sweet sound.” I grew to love this song even more when I learned the story of it’s writer. I have heard recently some people say that they were saddened when seeing the movie to find out that John Newton, the lyricist of Amazing Grace, remained for years afterwards the captain of a slave ship.

How truly amazing that we are the recipients of Gods complete, unwavering, and continual grace, despite the fact that we remain in our sin. The same sin that has led us here to rock bottom, to this last ditch sinking of our souls, to a place where we have nothing to cry out for but Gods grace.

THAT is precisely the point. That WE are not required to be perfected at the moment of receiving grace, but that Gods grace is sufficient to cover us while we remain, as humans always will, in sin. I think that is why this song moves me so. I know the story of it’s writer, how while still on a ship full of slaves, while still caught in sin, causing such suffering and agony not only to the very being of so many others, but also to his own spirit, while still there he caught a glimpse of grace, perhaps had an epiphony like many of us have – fleeting, yet life changing. That it is not a requirement for us to become perfected or even palatable for God to bestow on us His forgiveness is the definition of grace.

If we can live with that truth in front of our eyes continually, we surely would be less judgmental not only of others but of ourselves as well. I have often disregaurded a leading from God to do something He put in front of me because I saw it as something that required one more holy, more worthy than myself. How many of those things He asked of me never got done because I believed the lies that Satan told me instead of believing in Gods Grace? The lies that I was not worthy, not capable, not deserving of that grace. God is gracious and we need to accept it readily because only then will we actually realize that there is no human being capable of doing Gods work, but God is doing it ALL through us. We are only a vessel and He is miraculous and gracious in His willingness to use such flawed and ugly hands.

Read the lyrics carefully. John Newton is not saying in those lyrics that he was a wretch, he is saying that he is a wretch. He WAS lost – now found, but still a wretch. That, I believe is why this song moves me so, because I understand his amazement. I am a wretch who has been granted grace, and it is amazing.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far
And Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be 
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this heart and flesh shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Miles and Miles Thursday, Feb 22 2007 

I have been seperated for nearly three years and going through a divorce for over two years. It has been a difficult experience but has brought me to a place where I am stronger, closer to God and able to handle whatever life can throw at me.

On December 14 life got very complicated. Dave, my ex was in a serious motorcyle accident. When they performed a CT scan the next day they found that he had Stage IV lung cancer. He passed away on January 29, just six weeks after being diagnosed. I have not had time to write lately but all I and my children have been through in the last two months is floating in my head and I know I won’t be able to be silent much longer.

The following is an email I sent to my friends.

All that is meant for destruction when laid at the feet of God with prayer and faith is returned to us as blessings. (Romans chapter8)

I have been through every human emotion there is in the past few months and just in the past three weeks the differing shades of grief I’ve experienced or been witness to have astounded me. There have been so many things to grieve and they all seemed so clear so vibrant as I sifted through a lifetime worth of photographs, trying to narrow them down, searching for a handful that would sum up a life. What I found were memories of hopes, of dreams, of sorrows. The loss of innocence of my children. The loss of a marriage that seem to be derailed from the start. The faces of two hopeful people I could barely remember, but I did remember them. The starting out – still seeing mostly the good in each other. The wedding photographs, smiling, dancing, laughing; sharing a joke long forgotten, but the dreams of a bright future still clear on those faces. The father holding his firstborn son as they stared into each others eyes for an hour. A train ride to San Diego. Feeding the dolphins at Seaworld. Three boys who couldn’t wait to show their parents every seashell they found on the beach “Look mommy, this one looks just like the rings of Jupiter.” The first flight in a jet plane, then the first plane ride with daddy as the pilot.

So many firsts to remember and yet so many still left to be experienced without him. A nine-year old boy, too grown up for his age, “I keep thinking about all the things daddy won’t be here for.” The heart can break in so many ways it seems, even when it’s already shattered.

A Grandmothers prayer, that her grandson would have dreams of his father in heaven – at peace. Then the answer found in the stars. The night of his fathers memorial service, Miles came to me with a picture of him and his dad that he had drawn. He does this every night now, it is the only way he knows how to express himself, to ask his mom to hold him so we can cry together. To take the time to ask the questions that there are no good answers for, “Does daddy miss me as much as I miss him?” “I’m afraid that daddy is sad.” ‘Where is heaven?” But this picture was different, every picture thus far was him standing next to his father. After two weeks the portrait of himself was the same…tears. But the expression he drew of his father had changed. No longer standing beside him, but above him now, kneeling on a cloud looking down on him and smiling. He had seen him in the stars he said, a small cluster that he knew was his father’s smiling face, telling him he was ok. Then tonight a picture of the entire solar system with him standing here on earth and his dad, beyond the asteroid belt, Saturn and Neptune, in a small circle he labeled as heaven. He is letting go. He is allowing the realization of the distance, the time, the sorrow to slowly seep into his heart. It is a painful road to walk with him, but we are not walking it alone. The prayers of the saints are poured out at the feet of God in Revelation, nothing is ever wasted with God. In the end those prayer are all returned to Him as songs of praise. (Rev 5:8)

I see that Shakespeare was right “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at the scenes that have played out in my life thus far. The curtain has come down on the second act of my life, but only the first act of the children’s. What scenery will be on that stage as the curtain rises in the next few weeks is up to us.

“You have your whole life ahead of you,” a friend told me Saturday. I do. I am only thirty-eight after all, yet I am a widow and a mother of three, my life is still being written and there is much still to tell. The curtain is about to rise on the third act of my play. If I am blessed with a long life I know that I will someday sit in a rocking chair, reminiscing with my great-grandchildren at my feet. I will tell them of “the old days”, when men did not yet live on the moon and I went through trials of fire that made me stronger, wiser, gentler; and that all these years later when I look back, I can see in every one of those moments, the merciful hand of God pulling me through.

2-11-07
The memorial service was a beautiful gift to my children. Bill Baumgart, Dave’s best friend since high school, spent two weeks putting together a video of friends and family telling the story of Dave’s life. The day of the service he hadn’t slept in over 50 hours…apropos considering that is how he and Dave finished every album they ever did together. The video was filled with memories, photos, videos and songs, it is something my kids will be able to watch for the rest of their lives and catch a small glimpse of who their dad was. Bill playing piano and accompanied by a cello also obliged one of my requests and sang “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” from the new Chris Tomlin CD. I don’t know how he got through it, I was weeping, but that song always makes me weep.

Rick Elias – someone Dave considered a brother – opened the service singing “Pilgrims”, a fitting song. He also ended with “Stripped” from his first album. He did a great job of it, remembering every note though he hadn’t sung it in over ten years. He never missed a lyric though he had to dodge several Lego’s shot at him from the catapult my kids had constructed at his feet – he is a true professional.

Lary Melby (from Liaison – an 80’s Christian band) was also there as was my brother which meant all of the groomsmen from our wedding were there. We also had Doug Mathews (drums) and Marc Hugenberger (piano) playing so the band was nearly the same one as at our wedding, I thought that was fitting. It was a difficult day but a defining one. I tend to mark my life with punctuation and that day was a definite period.

Once again thank you all for your prayers and support. I have been shown again and again how truly blessed I am to have true friends, it has been noticed and felt in our hearts believe me. God Bless.

Beth

Filling in the Gap Tuesday, Nov 28 2006 

There comes a time in every person’s life when a little assistance is required. When they encounter a gap in the road, no way around, no way across the chasm they are confronted with. Poised on a precipice which separates who they are from who they could be if simply given the chance to reach the other side. The distance may appear to them impossible to traverse, but the canyon they face may in actually be quite small and crossed fairly easily with just a bit of help from another.

Recently while having dinner with a few friends I was relating a seemingly insignificant incident which occurred this year involving a couple of members of my family and was quite shocked at one friends response to it. A little background is required to get a clear picture of the situation. My sister has only two biological children, but has “adopted” dozens of others simply by opening up her heart and her home to them. They come to her when they need a bed to sleep in, a shoulder to cry on, or a prayer said on their behalf. As a result my parents are also now considered “grandparents” by dozens of hard-core, tattooed and pierced teenagers. My mom delights in cooking them special vegan and vegetarian dishes, not an easy task when you grew up on southern cooking. But she’s quite creative and the kids are always surprised and appreciative when she makes them something they can enjoy with the rest of us. She prepared her first “Tofurkey” this Thanksgiving to the delight of many who had not been able to find suitable sustenance at their own family’s celebrations.

The story I told my friend was this. Last March Dawn and I were in Nashville visiting some friends but not all of the kids in her small town knew that we were not in California that weekend. About 4 AM Dawns cell phone rang. It wasn’t one of her two kids or even one of the other four who were living with her at the time; it was Adam, Josh and Joseph. It had been snowing in the local mountains all day and always up for an adventure they decided to take a drive to check it out. They brought with them no chains, no snow tires, just excitement and the ignorance of youth.

It continued to snow all day and late that night as the boys tried to make it up and over the last hill before freedom was theirs, the reality of the situation smacked them square in the face. They ended up sliding into a snow bank and armed with nothing but their wits could not get themselves out of it.

These boys are from San Bernardino, where it rarely gets below 50 degrees so they weren’t exactly dressed for 25-degree weather and 10 inches of snow. Being in the mountains they also found themselves without cell phone service. So there they sit at two o’clock in the morning dressed, well – like teenagers from Southern California. Luckily the people who live on this particular stretch of road are used to stranded motorists and actually sit on their porches when it snows to watch the “lowlanders” slide down the hill into each other. My mother and I were rescued in the exact same spot, by several teenagers who lived on this street not one week earlier. Not only did they bring shovels to dig us out, but also their mom took my kids inside her home and gave them hot chocolate while her heroic children rescued us. So when these boys walked up to a house at two am, knocked on the door and asked to use the phone, they were welcomed in with open arms.

At four am in Nashville Dawn gets a call, “HELP!” She explained to Josh the she was two thousand miles away but that she would call her dad who lived near by in the mountains to see if he could help. So, at 2 am my 66 year old father, drags himself out of bed, puts the chains on his truck, loads up some coats, more chains and ropes and he’s off to rescue some teenagers he’s never even met. He couldn’t pull their car out that night so instead he loaded them into his truck and brought them home for the night. The next day he took them back to their car and called a tow truck, which managed to pull their car out of the snow bank. You would think when talking to these boys now about their little adventure that night, that they had been lost at sea for a week with no food or water and that my father had come steaming to the rescue bringing the entire US Navy with him.

When I related this story quite casually, to my friend Steve his first question was to inquire which of Dawn’s kids it was. “It wasn’t one of her kids” I said “it was friends of her kids”. “Why were they calling her then?” he asked indignantly. I just sat there and stared at him confused. “Because they knew she would help.” I said. He couldn’t believe it. “They’re not her kids she shouldn’t be helping them, they should be calling their own parents.”

This little story tends to makes Steve sound like a jerk but in truth he really isn’t. Which is exactly the reason I guess that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him. I argued, to no avail, that they were after all somebody’s children and human beings deserving of help no matter how foolish their actions may appear. He was unwavering. They should not be rescued. In his opinion they should have been taught a lesson. I tend to disagree that being left in a car overnight in below freezing weather is an appropriate response to a teenager’s reckless need for adventure; after all, it’s exactly the type of thing my father would have done at 16 – or 66 for that matter.

It may not seem like something very significant, it wasn’t to Dawn or to my dad, they have rescued people out of much more dire circumstances I assure you and on occasion have been in need of some rescuing themselves. They are always there when someone needs help, even at two am when it’s snowing – it’s just their nature to help someone when asked.

Upon hearing Steve’s reaction I began to wonder why it is such a difficult concept for so many in this day and age to understand, the simple idea of being a helping hand.
I do not understand the argument that a teenager in crisis is not my problem. If I don’t take action when no one else does that teenager may fall through a gap and become everyone’s problem. Prisons today are filled with good people who were left to fend for themselves when no one showed up to help bridge the distance. Stranded on the wrong side, I have often wondered who they may have become if they had managed somehow to reach the other side.

I have heard many people question the worth of not only my parents life spent dedicated to other peoples children, but now Dawn’s tireless efforts on behalf of these kids. She works a full time job, which is over an hours drive from her home, yet she sees her real work, her purpose in life when she walks through her front door.

She has tried to bring others in to help on occasion, but they usually want signed releases from parents saying it’s ok to feed their kids, or take them to church or to a concert. One person even mentioned getting liability insurance! Perhaps a prudent coarse of actions considering the wild and crazy Tuesday nights they all spend at Bible Study in her living room. These kids don’t come with disclaimers, they come with broken hearts.

Most people just stand in awe of her – as do I. Many have given not only praise and prayers for Dawn’s home, but furnishing, food and occasionally a little financial help. But it’s the few who never give, but seem overly concerned with the details, not having any understanding of why she does it; she gets no grants no subsidies after all. It’s those few people asking the value in it, the purpose of it that confounds me.

Numerous people have asked me why she does it. Because they are there, they just show up needing her. Does she get financial help? No. What about the parents of these kids? That is a question I do not have an answer for. Some come from wonderful homes, some have survived home-lives I cannot begin to relate to. But here they find complete acceptance of their music, their tattoos, the searching for their own identities.

My sister has on her wall the lyrics to a song entitled “Mercy Live Here”. She practices it and simply put that is the answer to why these kids keep showing up on her doorstep.

Mercy Lives Here
Words and Music by Derri Daugherty
From The Choir album:
Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen

An empty street in Ohio
Lookin’ to kill some time
We stumbled into Cairo
Egypt must be divine
And the jukebox plays
While a little clown sways
Hey it’s two songs for a dime

Mercy lives here
Oh mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

A girl in the corner is crying
The silver haired lady’s alone
And the queen of the boulevard’s trying
To hustle somebody home
The smokin’ man shakes
While the broken girl aches
And the clown starts to sing his song

He sings mercy lives here
Oh Mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

Mercy, oh mercy
Mercy, oh mercy

Dawn’s cupboards are always bare. Several rooms in her house smell like “teen-age boy”. She gets very little sleep. But she would never turn her back on someone in need. My parents and I help out as much as we can; however we can. Most of the time it’s just prayers, hugs and a shoulder to cry on, but sometimes it’s a snowy midnight rescue at five thousand feet.

Occasionally Dawn will find herself rescuing a child on the edge of that precipice, most often not even aware that they are about to fall in. It is those times, that we can look back and see days, weeks, even months later, a clear picture of the broken road they were on, patched like quilt work, every stitch directed by the hand of God. It is in those moments that I truly understand how a simple gesture, an outstretched hand, can not only mend a heart but fill the gap as well.

Not to get all political but… Tuesday, Nov 7 2006 

Seeing that today is Election Day here I go. I have in the past enthusiastically encouraged everyone I know to get themselves to the polls and vote. I’ve stopped doing this recently not only because it seems hopeless, but because I realized those who I took so much time convincing to vote were voting exactly the opposite of myself.

What seems so hopeless to me is that no matter what the outcome of an election, there will be it seems very little if any change to the welfare of those oppressed around the world.

I recently read “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. I don’t remember ever reading anything by him before and only think of Waldon Pond upon hearing his name. But I saw it at a garage sale and remembered I had just been told by a nineteen year old less than twenty-four hours earlier, “How do you expect to become a better writer if you don’t read”. Ok he’s apparently smarter than I am.

So I read it, only 48 pages, but that’s all he needed. I never knew Thoreau was such a rebel. Well I knew he was a rebel, but not THAT kind of a rebel, you know the kind that agrees with me. He obviously must be right.

First take into consideration the context of how he came about writing this declaration. Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” when he began practicing it, he wasn’t all talk no action as most of us are. In 1849 he had been arrested and spent the night in jail for refusing to pay a “poll tax” in protest of the Mexican-American war and slavery. Upon his release he went home and wrote ‘Civil Disobedience”.

I think Lincoln must have read “Civil Disobedience” before he said, “Government should ONLY do for the people what they cannot do as well for themselves.” Perhaps he hadn’t read it, perhaps, just maybe less than 100 years after our nations birth, the ideas this country was founded on, the ideals of Payne, Jefferson and Franklin were still very clear to thinking Americans. It was a pleasant surprise to read Thoreau referring to States rights versus the Federal Government just as Jefferson did 100 years before him, which tells me the idea of it had not yet been lost. I was taught in school, and quite wrongly, that when America was founded the overriding, accepted principle was a strong centralized Federal government lording over the people. The concept of States governing themselves without much intervention or interference from the Federal is barely ever mentioned in today’s textbooks, although the debate for a less intrusive limited government actually won the day.* Our children are taught, as if it were truth, that the Founding Fathers believed in very limiting States rights. I have to wonder when we lost the notion of people governing themselves. I guess it must have been during the Great Depression. The idea that “We the People” are not in actuality capable of solving our own problems, that we must look to the government to step in and govern to protect us from ourselves seems to have gained prominence then.

The “New Deal” did solve many problems, but it was a quick solution to serious problems many of which remain to this day. Look closely at those problems and you will see they were caused in great part, BY the government overstepping it’s bounds in some areas, and neglecting for political gain those areas for which they were responsible. A solution that stops the bleeding on the surface while the actual wound remains under the skin is not the healing of it, it only hides the wound and gives a false sense of well-being. So was the New Deal and yet it changed everything. It fostered a notion in the American psyche that the government not the people should be the solution to most problems, not only financial and legal, but social as well.

We as a nation have headed down this path of relying on the government to be the solution to our problems for three generations and I pray it stops, if not with mine than with my children’s. But the idea of individual responsibility, of a single person being able to effect change seems to have been somewhat misplaced even in Thoreau’s day.

“I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name—if ten honest men only—ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this co-partnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission.”
H.D. Thoreau
‘Civil Disobedience”

The idea Thoreau was trying to get across is a simple one. Do not expect the government to take action on your part. Voting does not dismiss your obligation to humanity to act on your principles. Go ahead and join Bono’s “One Campaign”, I have, but do not think that you have done your civic duty when you cast your ballot. You are required to act upon your ideals, not just vote for them.

Of voting Thoreau said, “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote. “

The simplest way that I can put it is this. Get off your butt and DO something. If you think your hands are clean because you are not actively participating in injustice, or because you have gone to the poles and voted your conscience, you are wrong. If we do not get down in the muck, crawl through the dirt and fight tyranny face to face then we are dripping in the blood of the innocent. We cannot as our grandfathers did, say, “We didn’t know about the gas chambers how could we stop them.” Mass media has changed that; the oppressed are in front of us every day, there is no excuse any more for non-action. There are children being slaughter and victimized every day in Africa, listen to their screaming, their blood cries out, and it’s crying out to you and me.

It is not great thinkers who have changed our world; great men who took action have changed it. The ideas of Martin Luther were nothing, until he not only wrote them down, but also took a hammer and nailed them to the front door of the church. He saw injustice and tyranny in the form of religion and he knew it was wrong, so he took his life in his hands and acted.

In the same way Martin Luther King not only had a vision – a dream, but he formed a plan and carried it out forcing change through civil disobedience. He was a spark that helped instill in others the boldness to risk their safety and take action.

I am not a radical, I am not advocating sit-ins and peace rallies though those can be useful tools to bring about awareness and change. Risking a little physical comfort or your financial security seems like a small sacrifice compared to what others in the past risked to change the world for all of us. I am talking about actually becoming a participant in the solution. Not hoping for a solution to come from government or an impotent United Nations, but taking action and becoming the solution ourselves.

The probability of becoming a martyr is slight in this day in age. But the possibility of actually making a difference to the future of another human being by not only reacting to a situation but also responding with action is immense. One man’s vote may not make a difference, but one man’s actions always will.

http://www.womenforwomen.org
http://www.one.org
http://www.twloha.com
http://www.invisiblechildren.com
http://www.feedthechildren.org
http://www.savedarfur.org
http://www.WorldVision.org


• Read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers
http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/
http://www.constitution.org/afp/afp.htm
http://www.wepin.com/articles/afp/intro.html

How Does God See You? Thursday, Nov 2 2006 

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.”
by John Newton 1779

How does God see you? I think how we interpret the way God views us determines what OUR relationship is with Him, which in turn determines what kind of God we show the world. He is the same, though our response to His love, His mercy is often based on the relationships we’ve had with other people, especially our earthly fathers.

Unfortunately I have witnessed too many Christians use the dysfunctional aspects of their own relationships to justify the condemnation of others and do it in the name of God. We each seem to regard our relationship with God as the word-perfect gospel truth, the obvious way He meant it to be, then we attribute and assign our ideals to Him rather than to ourselves. The church has pushed so much the idea of a God who looks at us with anger and disdain, waiting quite happily in heaven to punish us, that it has become the complete representation the world has of Him. I think though the reality of our punishment actually breaks God’s heart, in fact I know it does.

Why did Jonah refuse to go to Ninevah? Because he viewed the Ninevites with absolute contempt. Sound familiar? They were dirty and unclean sinners, not worthy of Gods grace and love – according to Jonah. To really grasp a true understanding of why Jonah refused to go one should read the entire account, it’s only four chapters after all, less than two pages in my Bible.

God told Jonah he was to go and proclaim to the Ninevites that they were to repent or be destroyed. One might think Jonah would be elated to deliver to his enemies a message direct from God of their eminent demise. But Jonah knew something of the character of God. He knew a magnanimous God, one of truly abundant grace and mercy.

In the last chapter we see a clear picture of why Jonah was so adamant in his refusal to go – HE DID NOT WANT THEM SAVED! So angry was he at God’s mercy towards the Ninevites after their repentance that he actually begins yelling at God!

Jonah 4:1-3
“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O Lord, take away my life for it is better for me to die than to live.’ ”

It seems that quite often we go about witnessing to others with the same attitude as Jonah had, not with love and the hope of their salvation, but with anger, seeking condemnation. Do we think we are fooling God when we do this? Can we honestly go to the lost, indignant, with animosity and bitterness, then say to God, “See, I told them of You and they refused to hear it.”

What of love and compassion. What of acceptance, not of the sin, but of the sinner even while they dwell in sin. The church has placed itself in the position as the oldest son in the Prodigal Son parable. When the prodigal son returns home and is not only accepted with open arms by the father, but also is given everything in the kingdom – do we rejoice? No. We are jealous, angry and resentful and at that moment at least, we look nothing like Christ.

What I have found in the New Testament is a Jesus sitting comfortably with sinners who were still in their sin. It’s God’s inexhaustible unconditional love that draws us to Him, not His condemnation. In your relationships with others do you seek out those who condemn you or those who love you no matter what your failings? If that is our nature then, to seek acceptance, why would anyone ever desire to be in the presence of a God who despises them? But that is exactly the picture of God that the church is giving to the world. When the world looks at Christians, condemnation is what they see. Until we can move beyond our hatred of the sinner, until we can separate the sin from the soul, we have no hope of bringing them to Christ. We are not showing them Christ, we are showing them us, and we are a very pale imitation of grace on our very best day.

My nephew handed me a track last week. He had visited a church youth group with a friend and was asked to pass out these tracks to total strangers on the street. I thought the days of the handing someone a piece of paper which told them they were good-for-nothing excrement that God could not possibly love in their sinful state was over twenty years ago. Unfortunately I was mistaken.

These tracts were made up to look like money. The same size, same color, a picture of a president on the front. It even had the texture of money. Christopher told me how they would hand people walking by these worthless pieces of paper, and watch them at first get a slight thrill, then when they realized it wasn’t real money, see disappointment and disgust wash over them. Should the initial introduction of Jesus to an individual be based on deception? Isn’t a true picture of Christ enough to cause someone to want a relationship with Him?

I was appalled to say the least. But I hadn’t even read the tract yet. I hope that most people who come across these things simply throw them away without reading the fine print. Because what it had to say, is the very reason the church has so miserably failed at having any kind of positive impact on the world.

It read in part: “The million-dollar question. Will you go to Heaven? Have you ever…..” It then proceeded to list some of the favorite sins of the church, the Ten Commandment ones. But the statement that followed the listing of sins so many of us have committed ourselves is what blew my mind. “If you have done any of those things, GOD SEES YOU AS A LYING, THIEVING, BLASPHEMOUS, ADULTERER-AT-HEART.”

I almost threw up.

Is that really the God we want the world to see?

I know I was blessed as a child. My parents are two of the greatest human beings to ever walk the earth, I say this knowing their faults and failings because I see the same failings in myself. But because of what they have shown me of themselves, I have a clear picture of God as a loving and compassionate father.

When my dad would punish us, before the punishment was soled out, he would take us into a room alone, set us down and talk to us one at a time. He was often angry, but always more quietly disappointed than anything. The talking was the worst part of being punished to me. I just wanted the spanking or the grounding or what ever else was going to come to be given out and for him to stop talking already. The reason was not because I felt unloved by him, quite the opposite in fact. I had done something that brought disappointment to my father, and I could always see it in his eyes. But instead of yelling at me, viciously, angrily telling me he could not bear to look at me because of what I had done, he sat there, loving me.

I had disappointed the man who loved me more than anyone on this earth, and knowing that would always be punishment enough. He quite often cried and always told me he didn’t want to punish me but it was necessary. No matter what the punishment, the fact that I was still loved and was always accepted, and given a second, third, fourth chance is what made me strive everyday to do everything in my power not to disappoint this man again. Because of his love I knew then and know now, that no matter what mistakes I have made and continue to make, he will always accept and love me unconditionally.

It I not a requirement to be without sin to come to God. It is not even necessary to clean yourself up to return to Him. Just as the prodigal son returned, smelling of pigs, broken and empty, so are we. Come in your filth, the smell of your transgressions still lingering. He will open His arms and comfort you. He will clothe you in His finest garments and prepare a feast of His best just for you. Because you are NOT seen by God as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer-at-heart. You are seen as His child, and His love for you overwhelms any sin you could ever have committed. All you have to do, is come.

All who are thirsty
All who are weak,
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away,
In the waves of his mercy
As deep cries out to deep, we sing.
Come Lord Jesus come
Holy Spirit come
As deep cries out to deep

By Brenton Brown and Glenn Robertson

Psalms 42:7
Luke 15:11-32

ART Thursday, Oct 26 2006 

A few weeks ago, I turned on the stereo in my van and heard Bob Dylan coming through the speakers. I don’t own any Dylan I’m ashamed to say, the CD belonged to my nephew Christopher. My sister had borrowed my van the day before and as usual her 15 year old son had left behind a mix CD. Four Bob Dylan tunes abruptly followed, by some screamo band; quite a rude awakening for me.

I smiled as I listened to Blowin’ in the Wind, Knockin’ on Heavens Door, and Ballad of a Thin Man. Not so much because they’re incredible songs I haven’t heard in a long time, but because my nephew has “discovered” Bob Dylan on his own.

A week later we were driving together for several hours, he had been playing his screamo/hard core music just a little too long for me so I put in Peter Gabriel’s “So”, he suffered through it well enough. When it was his turn to pick a CD again I begged for something we could both agree on, he brought out the Dylan. We listened and discussed the lyrics and how his voice had changed over the years. Christopher had read a book about him, I had recently seen the documentary by Martin Scorsece. This music isn’t 40 years old to Christopher, its brand new. Every lyric, every note could have been written yesterday. Watching someone get excited about something you’ve taken for granted for years makes you appreciate it as if it were new to you as well. One of the miraculous beauties of music, any art form actually, is it’s ability to transcend time. My nephew and I don’t agree on much music, but Dylan brought us from Underoath and Peter Gabriel, to common ground.

A songwriter friend of mine, when I interrogate him too long about his craft, always responds the same way. “It’s only a song. It’s not important. It’s like a painting. Someone might work on a painting for months, and when they’re done somebody buys it and hangs it in the bathroom or the hall. There are other things that are more important, right now somewhere there are children dying.”

Every time he says this, I want to punch him in the head. He doesn’t like museums so I’m assuming a great painting doesn’t move him as it does me. Besides, it’s an invalid argument anyways. It’s like telling your child to eat everything on his plate because there are children starving in Africa. It’s irrelevant, a non sequitur. Your child could eat everything in site, he’ll simply get fat and children will still be starving in Africa. One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Art, almost every kind is extremely important to me and I seem to find it everywhere. I believe the manifestation of God’s artistic expression is us. The ability to create art is one of the greatest gifts He’s endowed human beings with. We are created in His image, and art is the outward expression of the human soul. Is it sacrilegious of me to say we are continuing what God started with our creation when we use the abilities He gave us to create?

Even the Universe when looked at through mathematics is art. I recently saw an interview with Stephen Hawking. When he mentioned Einstiens Special Theory of Relativity he smiled, “It’s so beautiful,” he said, “it has to be right.” Hawking sees God in the equations of physics, I hear God in music. I do not understand the creative process of writing a song, nor do I understand the physics of the universe. But I will always be awed and inspired by them both, because in them I see the beauty of God’s creativity.

The creative expression that impacts me the most, will always be music. Sometimes I’m stunned by how profoundly music affects me. There are so many songs that have connected my heart and my thoughts with my experiences. But there has also been music in my life that lifted me out of where I was, to somewhere beyond my experience.

The music during the flying bicycle sequence in ET makes me believe in magic, but it’s the final scene of farewell that always makes me cry. First with the sadness of goodbye, then with wonder and awe that I can still believe in a special friendship of an awkward grey alien and a wounded little boy. It’s a wonderfully crafted movie, but it is the music that emotes those feelings. The end of the theme is remarkably emotional. The melody carried by a lone flute, taken over by French horns, echoed by a single trumpet, joined by tympani then the entire orchestra into crescendo. It doesn’t matter how old I am I will always believe in ET.

When I go back and listen to any John Williams theme from a Spielberg film, five notes in and I’m overwhelmed again ,with the same emotions I was full of walking out of the theatre. Blown away by the wonderment of Jurassic Park. Knowing the human spirit will always triumph after watching Empire Of The Sun. Being unable to move, filled with too many emotions at the end of Schindlers List. Go back and listen to the anguished, lamenting cries of Itzhak Pearlmans violin, and you’ll be amazed at the emotions it may stir in you. Scientist say the sense of smell is the strongest sense we have linked to memory, but I think they’ve forgotten about John Williams.

MUSIC FROM THE FILMS OF STEPHEN SPIELBERG
Various Artists released May 10, 2005

Two years ago, I stopped at the post office on the way home. A new CD from The Choir was waiting. I didn’t know what to expect, it seems every album they’ve put out in the last 15 years has been a surprise. But even knowing that I was taken aback.

The third song ripped at my heart. Even before Derri’s sweet and empathetic vocal began, some kind of sadness in the drums pulled me into it. I listened to it three times sitting in the driveway.

“She’s Alright” was written about a woman going through a divorce. The beginning of the third chorus Derri’s voice is almost alone, it hit me hard and I found myself weeping.

“She’s alright,
She’s alright now,
Flying over mountains,
Comin’ through the clouds.
She’s alright,
Like an eagle in the wind.
I know she’s gonna make it through,
Cause shes got true blue friends.”

I was going through a divorce, which may have been part of the reason those emotions were so easily brought to the surface. But hearing Derri sing those lyrics, knowing that he had also recently been through a divorce and knowing how much he still cares for her, I think I was crying for him as much as myself. I called him immediately and asked how in the world he was able to sing that song. He said nonchalantly it’s what he does, he’s a professional. I’m still amazed. I don’t listen to it often, I can’t get through it without weeping. Steve and Derri were was once again able to craft a song, that made me feel sorrow, joy, hope and grief all at once. It’s a rare and precious gift.

O HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN
The Choir
buy it at http://www.thechoir.net
http://www.myspace.com/thechoir

There is one song, which is probably more special to me than any other, because of my experience with it. You may laugh but it’s “Return to Pooh Corner” by Kenny Loggins. I’ve always thought “Winnie The Pooh” had the greatest wisdom of all cartoon characters.
While pregnant with my first child I went through my hope chest and found my favorite teddy bear, I’ve had it since I was six years old. I took it out, being careful not to losen the button eye that was about to fall off, and placed it on a shelf above the crib. It triggered the memory of that song, so I found the album and the last three months of my pregnancy I played and sang that song to my son every day.

I had a easy pregnancy but it was a difficult birth. Many complications left me weak and barely able to sit up for several days. The night we brought my son home from the hospital he wouldn’t stop crying. He’d been fed, changed and swaddled, but neither his father nor his grandmother could get him to settled down. I managed to sit up and said “Give him to me.” They placed him in my arms and I began to sing to him.

“Christopher Robin and I walked along,
Under branches lit up by the moon.
Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore
As our days disappeared all too soon.”

I looked into my son’s eyes, he looked up at me, stopped crying and I saw in those eyes the recognition of who I was. He knew me because I was singing our song. It was at that moment that I became a mother.

For the rest of my life when I hear that song, it will trigger the memory of him cradled in my arms, a memory so strong I can almost feel him there still. No matter how old he gets, that’s where he will be, at least in my heart.

“It’s hard to explain how a few precious things
Seem to follow throughout all our lives.
After all’s said and done I was watching my son
Sleeping there with my bear by his side
So I tucked him in, kissed him
And as I was goin’
I swear that old bear, whispered
Boy welcome home.”

RETURN TO POOH CORNER
Kenny Loggins

So, if you are an artist and believe your art is not important, be bolder. If you feel you have nothing new to say, be braver. If you think no one cares about what is in your heart, be more honest. But please know that it is not just a song to me, those are moments of my life you are playing.

There are great songs out there waiting for me to discover them. There is also music that has not yet been written. Whose writer may be at this very moment, experiencing the joy or agony, that will someday when penned and put to a haunting melody, stir something in my soul, bring me to tears, and heal my broken heart.

PS: All of the music mentioned above can be purchased on iTunes

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