AS I RECALL …

I guess we can’t actually be sure they weren’t witches.

For all we know, the Salem witch trials made pretty good cases against the 200 some-odd people they accused and the 19 people they killed. You certainly don’t want witches in your colony. That’s for sure.

Anyway …

As we all roll our eyes at incidents in our past, like the Salem witch trials, it’s always good to remember that incidents like that were considered in the founding of the United States. The whole “innocent until PROVEN guilty” thing was pretty revolutionary for its time. It was revolutionary for any time, for that matter. The idea that you could be at the scene of a crime, with blood all over you, leaning over a victim, and the state would still have to prove that you weren’t giving him CPR, is a serious built -in protection for every citizen of this country.

I, for one, embrace the idea …strongly.

Because, You. Cannot. Prove. A. Negative. It’s a universal principle that is philosophical and existential and all of those big words, combined. But what it means is simply this: I can accuse you of pretty much anything. I can say, “you look like a child molestor …prove to me that you’re not.” And there is no human way for you to prove you are NOT something. At least, not without running a real-time movie of every second of your entire life.

The real-time movies we have at our disposal are our memories. Our brains store all the information we’ve ever learned and all the deeds we’ve ever done …in theory. The problem is our ability to recall everything that has ever happened in our lives, is simply impossible to access. And in some cases, it may even be false …

We are learning some interesting things about memory that we may not want to know. A lot of research is being done that suggests our brains sort of discard things we don’t want to remember about ourselves and then even make up things that we want (or believe) to be a part of our story.

I read a piece, just today in medicalxpress.com (by Giuliana Mazzoni), that talked about how we make memories …or how, sometimes we even make up memories.

“Memories are therefore very malleable, they can be distorted and changed easily, as many studies in our lab have shown. For example, we have found that suggestions and imagination can create memories that are very detailed and emotional while still completely falseJean Piaget, a famous developmental psychologist, remembered all his life in vivid detail an event in which he was abducted with his nanny – she often told him about it. After many years, she confessed to having made the story up. At that point, Piaget stopped believing in the memory, but it nevertheless remains as vivid as it was before.”

This is intriguing stuff. But it’s also disturbing.

I’ve been reminded lately, of things I did in my past (not bad things …just things), that I literally have no recollection of. In fact, going through a closet, this past weekend, I found a trophy I won in high school, that was some sort of award for having “Christian character.” Some of my high school friends saw the picture I posted and remembered the day it was awarded to me. Some of them have even remembered how and why it happened. I still cannot recall a single thing about it. I sat and stared at it for a few minutes. And honestly, I was disturbed at the lack of information I could access regarding said award.

Maybe I’ve decided to discard a memory of something redemptive about myself, in order to retain the image I’ve created, of someone with a little more edge. Maybe there was something positive about me …I simply don’t want to know. Or maybe I’m just getting old and have simply sipped too much whiskey through the years. All I know is it bothered me that I couldn’t (and still cannot) remember anything about that little trophy, when there were other people who remembered it vividly.

The trouble with relying on memory as an accurate source of information is that it simply may not be all that accurate.

Our nation is embroiled in yet another “he said/she said” incident, regarding Supreme Court Justice nominee, Bret Kavanaugh. And the madness that always surrounds these things is bubbling yet again.

Every woman who has ever been assaulted, is overlaying her own experience onto this one. Every man who doesn’t know whether to shake hands or bow when meeting a woman, is overlaying his experience onto it as well. And the arguments fly.

The core of it is politics: everyone thinks this nominee is the deciding vote in overturning Roe V Wade, hence reversing the legal precedent on abortion in The United States. Most people’s hopes and/or fears are completely unfounded, legally speaking. But legal misinformation aside, the stakes seem to be as high as stakes can be. So, is this man fit to sit on the bench?

Enter memories …

We are being asked to form judgments on a man (and a woman) based on their individual memories. We’re being asked to solve a mystery that cannot be solved. And in the process, we’re being invited to place our own memories in their room. And that is the most insidious thing of all.

This is why the founders placed a burden of proof on the state or the accuser. Because the truth about what happened 36 years ago, in a room, at a party, will actually never be known …quite possibly even by the two people in question.

Does she remember it wrong? Maybe. Is his not recalling it at all proof of anything? Absolutely not. He may have simply decided to not remember this dark thing about himself. Who knows? I still don’t recall my little award. God knows what else I’ve forgotten.

The standard, then, has to come from the aggregate of a life. Every woman who has ever been raped or assaulted remembers it vividly and should always be heard out. Victims of assault are nothing to joke about or take lightly. However, in the absence of proof, what do you do? My father (the Phd counselor), always says that people behave in patterns. If they’ve done something once, they’ve probably done it many times. So, when several women come forward, who have similar stories about a person, there is a more than good chance the man in question has a problem and is what they say he is (Bill Cosby, anyone?).

In the absence of a pattern, however, we’re right back to one memory against another. And that is a frightening thing.

I don’t know what happened with Bret Kavanagh and his accuser. Neither do you. But the thing that nags at me more and more, as I get older, is …quite possibly, neither do they.

 

R

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GHOST WRITER …

So, I’m writing a new book. It’s about a songwriter in the mid 90s, in Nashville (go figure – write what you know, I suppose). This young man finds himself in a very precarious position, one Halloween night. And his actions on that night, will haunt him for the rest of his life.

My other books are spiritual journeys with redemption at the end. They will leave you crying and cheering and feeling good about life. THIS one will scare you and haunt you (I hope) and also take you inside the dark places of the music business.

If you care to join me on this ride, you can click the link at the bottom of the page and join my Patreon site. Subscribers to the site get my daily blog as well as all kinds of extras. One of those is having access to my books. THIS one is literally in progress and I will be posting a chapter a day until it’s finished (sometime around Halloween).

Okay …I hope you enjoy the first chapter …

 

THE BLOOD AND THE PAGE …

Danny couldn’t bleed on the page. And he knew it.

It wasn’t that he was too privileged or wealthy or even sadistic, lacking the basic empathy required to understand the struggle, heartbreak, tragedy and majesty of the human condition. He wasn’t emotionally bankrupt, lacking the proper development of the frontal lobe. The problem might’ve been that he was none of those things.

Still, Danny knew true heartache, triumph, pain and pinnacle all too well when he saw it …or HEARD it. But he knew deep in the core of his bones that he couldn’t access it. Not like his heroes could. Not like he needed to be able to do, to do the job at the highest level. He’d never broken through to that sublime contrast of comfort and discomfort inside the muse. He’d never balanced himself on the head of that elusive pin and become a truth-telling angel.

He longed to find the simplicity and ache of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” or the plaintive resignation of “Crazy.” How does one find the handle on a narrative like “Hotel California?” So far, in his twenty-nine years, all Danny Jones had found in his soul was fools gold and an impostor’s heart. He WANTED “it” …but he feared that he didn’t HAVE “it.” He could recognize genius …but he couldn’t tap into it.

Maybe it wasn’t there. Maybe Danny was mediocre and incapable of greatness, and it was just that simple. As he stared into the mirror, one week before his thirtieth birthday, he was being forced to face truths he’d been allowed to skirt for almost a decade, now.

He and his guitar had been the center of attention in small town America. He’d crooned at parties and weddings, and brought on inadvertent smiles from maids-of-honor and tight little coeds, dizzy on one-too-many Bud Lights. His simplistic rhymes and slightly awkward melodies had wooed the hometown crowds of Samson, Alabama. Then, he’d won favor at the small-but-stout Blazers College with his frat-house party band, “Elroy Jetson.” They did jam band covers of classic Saturday morning cartoon theme songs. They were an ironic version of something already ironic. But they played all the parties in town and learned a few more chords than just C, G and A …a few.

Danny made his way through the minor college as a minor celebrity of sorts. He had one song that got sung at pep rallies called, “We’re Fired Up Tonight.” And he was featured in the campus paper a couple of times as “the one to watch.” Whenever he would be at a party, at someone’s dorm or apartment, to drink cheap beer and hit on girls, someone would always ask him to pull out the guitar …then they would eventually tell him how great he was and how they just knew he was going to make it one day. That became his main drug of choice; applause and adulation.

Danny and his guitar were inseparable and a campus fixture. He’d designed his identity and chosen his part in the powerful play. He was going to be the troubadour; the songsmith; the soul singer. And he knew where people like him went to become kings. He decided that after graduation he would move to Nashville, Tennessee and take the town by storm.

Nashville was unassuming and sleepy compared to New York or LA. It was his speed and it churned out the music he loved – Country, Gospel and Bluegrass; music with roots; music with a lineage. Surely someone with his ability would be a wake-up call for the gate keepers there. Sure, they’d heard Kris Kristofferson and Tom T Hall. They’d heard the songs of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson and Harlan Howard. But Danny? They’d never heard anything like Danny. At least that’s what he told himself at twenty-two.

Now, almost eight years later – most of those years spent waiting tables and delivering newspapers at five in the morning – Danny knew he was reaching the end of the line. Thirty was the death nail in the music business. If you can’t do it by then, you probably can’t do it. Danny knew this.

And so, Danny Jones, would-be words-and-music icon, was on the verge of giving up his dream, one week before his thirtieth birthday of November fifth, 1994.

It was October 30th and Danny had had yet another fight with his long suffering girlfriend, Jill, the night before. Jill was beautiful in a somewhat nondescript way. She was lean and curvy with full lips avery man in any room wanted to taste, with straight, short-blunted brown hair and deep brown eyes you could get lost in. Danny got lost in those eyes on more than a few occasions. And in his flailing, had made promises. Promises he fully intended to keep, but somehow feared he would never be able to.

Jill worked as a Dental assistant and was already making a steady income. She was a grown-up with health insurance and vacation days. Her apartment was nice and her furniture was nice. She was ready for a life.

Danny was still lost in his dream and eeking out a meager existence through turning tables at the Cooker Bar and Grill and throwing papers for the Tennesseean. The Cooker was the place to work if you were an up-and-comer in the music business, in Nashville. It was also where those on the way down worked. After working there for almost six years, Danny was stalling and knew he was morphing from on his way up …to on his way out.

He had seen a few of his friends serve iced tea for a year or two, then catapult to stardom. A singer here …a studio player there. One or two hit songwriters and even a record executive had spawned from this proving-ground. He’d seen them come through the ranks of the service industry …into the ranks of the music industry. That’s where he wanted to be.

But Danny wasn’t making that same leap. Oh sure, one or two of those people took phone calls from him. He even got a few meetings. And through the years he learned that he wasn’t as good of a singer as he thought he was. He learned he definitely didn’t have the chops to be a session guitarist. And now his age and already slightly thinning hair was leaving him the one choice left for troubadours …professional songwriter. But Danny never seemed to have “the right song” at the right time. And this was getting old. It was getting old for Jill, too.

She didn’t need a knight in shining armor. She didn’t need a millionaire super star. That wasn’t the point. She needed a man with direction. She wanted children and a home and a man by her side that gave it all purpose and leadership. She needed a partner, not a boy in a man’s body, still hanging on to an adolescent dream.

Danny was weak-in-the-knees gorgeous to her when they first met, at that crazy Halloween party, three years earlier. She was dressed as Genie, from the old I Dream of Genie series. Danny was dressed as Zorro. And she could feel his dark eyes piercing into hers through the mask, from across the room. He looked like a thief in his loose, black shirt, unbuttoned to below his chest – just enough chest hair showing to announce he was a full grown man in every way. His sleeves were rolled to just below his elbow, revealing the bulging veins and sculpted sinew of a man who’d been gripping a guitar neck most of his life. The brim of his ranchero hat was shadowing his chiseled jawline and prominent check bones. The 6 foot, 170 lb. specimen, in the mask and black square toed boots, was striking and dashing and made her heart beat faster.

Jill had caught Danny’s eye as well. Her 5’4’’ frame was delicate yet fit. Her supple, mocha skin was partially hidden by the absurd genie garb. But her flat, midriff breathed in and out and tightened when she laughed. Beneath the red costume vest, Danny noticed her pert breasts leading up to a shoulder and neck line that looked to be almost drawn it was so perfect. She turned to get a drink and he saw her hair tied in a whimsical pony tail that bounced and danced with her every move.

The tight small of her back cascaded downward into that careless bob and jiggle that causes men to howl and gather for the hunt and go to war. Two tight, lean legs silhouetted through pink taffeta, led to her tiny, pristine feet, traced and restrained by the bejeweled Genie sandals. Each toe was in perfect harmony with the next, capped at the nail in high gloss, naughty red. Danny knew if she ever reached up to kiss him, she would have to raise herself up on those beautiful toes and it made him breathe harder.

Behind his mask (and two beers in), he summoned the courage to walk through the crowd and make an impression. He swaggered up and said, “Hello. I’m Danny …I mean …Zorro.”

Jill giggled like a school girl and replied, “I’m Genie. You’ll have to take off the mask to get my real name.” Then she smiled coyly. Danny didn’t remove the mask. He just took her hand and kissed it. Then said, “Nice to meet you, Genie.” The sheer courage in that move made Jill giggle even more. Danny had orchestrated the ultimate “meet cute.” And the night was on …

The two costumes were metaphorically sexual in nature. Hers made her feel more feminine. His made him feel more masculine. And the combination of sights and scents and fantasies attached to the archetypes of each garment, swirled in their collective consciousness to produce a hailstorm of pheromones and emotional charges that whisked both of them into a torrid euphoric mix of uncomfortable laughter, too many drinks and uncontrollable touching.

By the end of the night they literally couldn’t keep their hands off each other. The host of the party walked in on them in the bathroom, making out. They rushed past him laughing and embarrassed and knowing that they were now “together.” From that night on they had nicknamed each other, “Zorro” and “Genie.”

As the sun came up, they were still talking about childhood and college and favorite books and TV shows. Danny had long since removed the mask and they had made plans for the following night.

But this morning, three years later, Danny didn’t feel much like Zorro. And he knew he was losing his Genie …his Jill.

He stared in to that mirror, donning his blue buttoned-down shirt and black, cotton slacks. His black leather tennis shoes still had smatterings and smudges of shaved carrots and caked gravy. No matter how much you wipe them, a waiter’s shoes are never really clean. Danny stared at himself and realized this was it. He wasn’t Zorro. He was in a blue shirt and black pants. He was a cog in a wheel. Nothing more. He wasn’t special. He wasn’t “the one.” He was just a guy getting people meat loaf and iced tea.

For years, Danny had tried to capture the poetry of Jill in a song, but it never was as perfect as she was. It never had her curves or brilliance or undiscovered mystery. It was never as unexpected and whimsical. It was never as deep or as passionate. He could never reach the heights or depths of her spirit. He could never quite capture her breath on his skin or that look of surrender when he was about to kiss her. Danny was captured by this woman he couldn’t paint on the page.

And that page, that damned lyric page he’d spent so much of his life pouring over and re-writing and starting fresh and ripping up and throwing away and crossing out and underlining and putting tittles and hooks at the top of …well …he would have to let it go. It had beaten him. He was never the master of it. He just wasn’t good enough.

He wanted to be Zorro. He wanted to open his soul and let the pain and longing and disappointment and trauma and defiance and beauty and love and hate and sex and prayers and rhythm and anger and hope and lust and murder and heroism and his very own devil and his very own God …spill out. And he wanted to be known for it. And he wanted to be praised for it. And yes …he wanted to be paid for it. But his soul was too cautious and his pen was too weak. And now, he had to face it.

Danny couldn’t bleed on the page …and blood was required.

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9/12 …

“And our flag was still there,” was the line delivered by Julia Roberts, as she choked back tears.

She’s either a better actress than I thought or she was genuinely moved and emotionally shaken than night. Not to take anything away from Ms Roberts’ acting skills, but I actually believe it was the later. For all the performers and celebrities who contributed to the 9/11 telethon, mere days after the attacks, in 2001, you could see that was true.

People were shaken. They were broken. They were moved to action. But most of all …they were scared.

We just – literally yesterday – celebrated (although I think that’s the wrong word) the anniversary of 9/11. There were solemn remembrances and TV specials and social media memes …and yes …even blogs. 9/11 is seared into our collective consciousness as a nation. And it always will be. It is as a part of the American story as the Alamo or Pearl Harbor.

But the day I never forget, is the day after. 9/12. THAT’S the day everything sank in. That’s the day people around the world decided where they stood regarding America. Everywhere in the free world, people flew American flags and cried and grieved along with us. There was an outpouring of support for our nation and our people. The allies of this nation understood all too well – immediately – what was at stake in the human story.

But Americans themselves also went through an identity correction. We went from our frivolous in-fighting and political back-and-forth games to contemplating a larger question that loomed over us …could this nation end? Could America as we know it cease to exist? And if that happens …then what?

That question is the question we should always keep in the back of our minds, when we are rolling our eyes at flag wavers and no-questions-asked patriots, and people who cry every time Lee Greenwood sings his song. We should think about 9/12.

While I watched the aforementioned telethon, I almost snickered at a few of the celebrities. Because I had just seen or heard one or two of them poke fun at America and its people. Chris Rock had likened America to the rich uncle who molested you, in the special he’d put out, weeks earlier. Now, here they were (Chris included), arm in arm, singing God Bless America with all the earnestness of grade-school children. Why? Because they were actually face-to-face with the notion of losing America. And that thought leads you down a horrible trail.

Where else do you go for justice? Where else do you go for freedom to be and do whatever you choose in life? What other country on earth will protect you while you protest it? There are some. But the ones who do, all learned it from one place …America.

When I was writhing in a fever, in a hotel room, in China, one thought kept racing through my mind: If I can just get to America everything will be okay. They’ll fix this. Somebody will fix this. I’ve just got to get to America.

That thought was completely involuntary. But I believe a lot of people around the world think it often. And I know why.   

We are in an ongoing war of words in the culture, at the moment, over the idea of standing or not standing for the national anthem. Nike and the NFL and individual athletes are making waves and “starting conversations” about injustices they see in America. Okay …fair enough.

But the next logical question, and the one that keeps the other side so enraged, is simply this: what’s the alternative to America? Where would we go and what would we do, if this nation, its ideals and its protections went away? We actually felt the sting of that answer on 9/12 …and it was terrifying. And isn’t that something worth at least acknowledging before we tear into ourselves?

Look, there are many things we can fix in America. It’s made up of people; human beings. And human beings are flawed creatures …which makes America a flawed place. But it is incumbent on us to at least recognize, on a daily basis, that in the course of human events, the idea that was founded on this continent, two-hundred and forty-one years ago, was a good one; that America has been a force for good in the world; that without this idea and this place, the globe might still be languishing in darkness …literally and figuratively.

9/11 brought us to our knees and shook us to our core. But 9/12 made us reflect on why. And it’s because for the first time in many of our lives, we had to contemplate a world without the United States. And as many atrocities and injustices as our country has lived through, from slavery to interment camps, to segregated water fountains, the thought of a world without this experiment terrified us beyond just the possibility of death. It terrified us for what kind of a world our children and grandchildren might live in. Even if it wasn’t a conscious thought, we wondered what the world might look like in the absence of liberty and justice for all.

And those thoughts brought us together. Those thoughts made us embrace each other …and embrace our nation …in ways we might not have until then.

We are always going to fight amongst ourselves in this country. There was never a time when we didn’t. But there was one day in our history when we collectively recognized something existential about our unique nation. And we honored it without embarrassment, for one brief moment.

We talk about never forgetting 9/11.

But we should also never forget 9/12.        

R

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THE DIRT ON MY SHOES …

The soup aisle made me think about the peppercorn wars.

Somewhere in the 15 or 16 hundreds there were skirmishes out on the open seas, involving trade routes and fancy spices. Peppercorn was kind of a big deal and it sparked a lot of ships to set sail and a lot of sailors to put their lives on the line, and there were pirates and there was territory and there was seized cargo and lost fortunes and blah, blah, blah.

Now, you can buy all the pepper you want on aisle 3. It costs around four bucks …with tax. You can literally get it pretty much everywhere. We have no pepper shortage. It’s not a delicacy anymore. It’s not rare. It’s nothing anyone will lose their life over. And every waiter, in every restaurant sporting a tablecloth, will ask you if you want it freshly ground on your salad. See …it’s just pepper.

My stroll through the supermarket, the day before Labor Day, made me remember all of this. I suddenly marveled at all my choices. I was struck at the magnitude of opportunity I saw before me. And I wondered how someone from the 16th century would react if they walked through any garden-variety American supermarket today, where you can get almost anything you need.

People don’t often wonder why they have all these choices. How do the sweet potatoes get here? How does the bottled water get here? Why do we have so many flavors of Pringles? And how are they ALWAYS stocked? My little neighborhood supermarket is literally a never ending supply of steak and chicken and fresh vegetables and canned vegetables and fruits of all kinds and sugary treats and beverages of all brands. I never say to my wife (as some homesteading “paw” might say to “maw”), “I just hope they have molasses this month.”

Yeah …molasses is on aisle 10. And they’ve got plenty of it. If they don’t, the grocery store two miles away has it. You can count on it.

What made this marvel of human survival emerge? Why aren’t we still praying for rain and hoping the crops come in? Why don’t we fear our food supply is running out?

Well, it’s really quite simple: the FREE market has created this masterpiece.

Buying and selling goods and services, on an open market, has created a world where we never run out of eggs or butter or gasoline or underwear or cardboard or plastic bottles or paper or booze, or …or …tennis shoes.

If you spend any time at all reading about our past, you have to recognize that what we have access to is unprecedented in human history. Everyone in 2018 lives like a millionaire in 1968. We all have hand-held devices that posses all the information ever collected in the world. We have large-screen TVs that pipe in first-rate entertainment, 24-hours a day. We touch a button and the lights come on. We tap a few things on our phones and we’ve booked a plane ticket halfway around the world. We can have any food we can imagine delivered to our homes. We can tap one button and have a car pick us up and take us anywhere we want to go. Then we can tap our phone and tell our friends about it …via video.

We actually live in the brave new world. And I, for one, think it’s amazing.

But we disagree on so much. And rather than going to war, these days, we choose to fight our battles in the world of commerce. If someone does or says something we don’t like, we hit them where it hurts …in the wallet. The hope is they will get the message and “stand down” from their position.

We boycott everything: chicken, burgers, music, movies, car companies …and now, tennis shoe companies.

I just bought my son some Nike tennis shoes two weeks ago. He loves them. We got em on sale and he and I got to spend the day together, trying on shoes all over town, rather than his mother just ordering them online like she usually does. I didn’t actually care what brand he chose, as long as they were comfortable and he liked them. So we settled on the Nike’s.

Now, Nike has decided to embrace Colin Kaepernick as the face of its new ad campaign. I’ve written about this kid’s actions several times. I don’t resonate with where he’s coming from or how he went about it, and I think he kind of single-handedly destroyed the NFL. This is all well documented from me. But I’m getting a tad weary of trying to keep up with all the things I’m supposed to buy or boycott.

Our brands are becoming code language for where we stand on issues. I have this Bob Marley t-shirt that I love to wear. Stoners and uber liberals always give me the head nod or the thumbs up or come out and say, “Bro …love the shirt,” when I have it on in public. In fact, it happened JUST today. But I don’t wear it because I particularly loved Marley. I mean, I dig Three Little Birds and One Love. But I’m not a Marley freak by any means. I don’t wear it to signify my solidarity with pot legalization people. I don’t wear it because I want to send anyone a message of any kind. I wear the stupid shirt because it’s quite possibly the most comfortable shirt I own. And at my age, THAT’S the biggest deal of all.

Look, you can only protest the United States BECAUSE of the United States. You have protection from the VERY THING you’re protesting. You can only flip off the flag …BECAUSE of the flag. Also, being willing to “lose everything” is easy to do when you know you’re not going to lose everything. I actually DID lose everything over a choice I made, once, and trust me …losing everything doesn’t involve maintaining endorsement deals.

Finally, if you want to launch a campaign about people “losing everything” then maybe you should price your items toward people who have lost everything …instead of people who can afford everything. Are none of us paying attention to the paradoxes built into all of this nonsense?

My problem with all of it isn’t as much the politics as it is the fact that apparently half the world has lost its sense of irony.

Having said that, I’m not boycotting anything or anyone. If you want to …be my guest. But I’m so weary of what’s about to happen: wearing the “swish” will start to mean “being woke” or some other stupid term that means nothing. NOT wearing it will mean you are on the #maga side of things. And on and on it will go, and in the balance of it all will be people with jobs, just trying to get the kids to school on time and keep the bills paid. Even in China, that will be the case. Much has been made about the meager wages paid to the Chinese employees who make the shoes. But working for Nike is actually considered a good job over there.

In the meantime, I hope Nike doesn’t actually don’t lose everything. I hope none of us do. The free market has created a wondrous world of choices and options not seen before in the story of mankind. And we shouldn’t have to think about the politics of In & Out Burger to enjoy them. There are plenty of people I probably agree with and/or disagree with at that company. Those burgers tho …

The same can be said of every company on earth. And my politics will never line up perfectly with all the companies that make all the products I buy. And that’s as it should be. That gives us choices. The invisible force of self-interest creates a level playing field for all products, goods and services.

In other words, if Nike drops the prices of all their products, the boycott will probably be over. And they’ll never have to change one thing about what they believe.

 

R

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JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS …

“I KNEW it!”

“See …what did I tell you?!?!”

“There it is …it’s EXACTLY what I thought it was!”

These are some of the most satisfying thoughts and phrases in human existence. Nothing makes us feel more secure in the world around us, than for all of our assumptions about something to be reinforced. We get to rest securely in the world we’ve created and we don’t have to grapple with any complication.

I contend one of the reasons we talk so much about Hitler, is because he’s easy to stereotype. We don’t have to think about Hitler, or wrestle with anything in his character. He’s a monster; maybe the worst person who ever lived. We’re not like him. We share nothing in common. He’s a guide post as to what NOT to be. End of story.

As humans, we often need for everything (and everyone) to be as simple, and as easy to asses, as Hitler. We need people and circumstances to be that cut and dried. The problem is most things in life are not as simple as Hitler.

I am amazed at how often we now jump to conclusions about everything. The easily accessed information floating around the internet can allow anyone to bolster their already deeply-held beliefs, with the click of a link. And while we are all aware of how much complete hogwash is being written and shared, somehow we refuse to believe we have just read any of it.

This scenario plays out upside-down and backwards, almost every minute of every day, these days. Sometimes we get so invested in a belief, that we cannot WAIT for the proof. We KNOW it’s out there. It also works in reverse. We are so convinced something IS NOT true, that we will gobble down whatever news calories we are fed, no matter how lacking in nutrition they may be.

Months ago, Senator John McCain was being lambasted by many people (some were my very own friends) on social media for acting like “an idiot” during a congressional hearing. He was making no sense and stuttering and his words were trailing off into babbling. I read post after post (from seemingly “loving” people) about how he was becoming a disgrace or too old to keep doing his job. “What’s with this guy? Is going crazy?” was a common theme.

As it turns out, Mr McCain had a brain tumor. And that is why he was acting the way he was. If we had simply waited for more information, and not jumped to conclusions, we would have understood. That doesn’t mean we would magically agree with Mr McCain on everything. But it does mean we wouldn’t conflate a brain tumor with a disagreement in policy. And there’s where the rub seems to be these days.

Every little thing that happens in the world must have bigger implications or point to the conclusion upon which we have already jumped. If you hate Trump, you’ll find fault in every move he makes …even the innocent mistakes. If you love him, you’ll find an excuse in his every misstep …even the big ones. And THIS is how tensions rise and arguments escalate. It’s also how we start comparing people to Hitler. Because we need them to be that simple.

A year ago today, Joel Osteen’s church in Houston was under fire for not taking in flood victims. As fate would have it, while I was watching people pile on Mr Osteen online, I happened to be hanging out with one of his friends …that very day. It was interesting to watch the juxtaposition of people acting like third-graders on social media, while in real time, watching someone actually TEXT Joel.

Needless to say, what was being reported WAS NOT what was happening. The anti-Osteen chorus was rising and telling the tale of how he was refusing to get his hands dirty to help the people of Houston. While that story was being told and believed, my friend was getting texts about all the meetings he was in with local authorities, and all the safety assessments they were doing of the building.

“I keep telling him the PR is killing him,” she said, casually. “But he just told me the city is mainly looking for beds and showers …which his church does not have. So he and his staff are trying to help them find what they need.”

The truth was actually in the middle. Osteen was indeed NOT opening his church. That part was true. But it wasn’t for the reasons people thought. His church wasn’t a desirable place for what was actually needed.

On and on this went, and it was fascinating to watch and listen to.

In the end, if you love Joel Osteen, you didn’t believe he would turn anyone away. If you hate Joel Osteen, it didn’t surprise you he would do such a selfish thing. And neither side probably cared much about the facts on the ground, as they were actually playing out. Both sides just needed their assumptions reinforced. Because that is easier than having to deal with complication and nuance. The truth often requires us to say, “you know what? I actually get that. I suppose that makes sense.”

I don’t hold myself up as some sort of beacon of objectivity. I too jump to conclusions and have beliefs I want proven to be true. But there are some pretty good rules of thumb, when it comes to information, I’ve learned over the years:

1. Always assume your side could be wrong.

Being a lock-step soldier for your belief system can put you in peril of being on the wrong side of something, and having to back-pedal for the rest of your life. If I want to believe something, I try to hold that belief to a tougher standard than the belief I’m rejecting.

2. Don’t allow your identity to be wrapped up in a person or an institution.

People are human. They all fail. Some of them fail spectacularly. And the institutions they create are imperfect. If you find yourself constantly defending a PERSON or a group of people, rather than an idea or a concept, you will eventually have egg on your face. Because I promise you on a stack of bibles …nothing and no one is as perfect as you want it – or them- to be.

3. Don’t completely believe the news until you have THREE sources, from THREE differing news outlets. 

I don’t share news links. I just don’t. I’ve seen too much news get written wrong. I take it all in and weigh it against what else is being reported. I’ve often said, these days …we have to triangulate the truth. Even then, we may not completely get to it.

When President Trump says “fake news is the enemy of the people” he is actually correct …whether you hate him or love him. News that isn’t fully vetted, but that bolsters certain belief systems, is our enemy. Because it brings out the worst in us. It causes us to jump to conclusions that may or may not be true. And it eventually turns us into babbling fools, who don’t know which way is up.

And once you get there, jumping in any direction, to any conclusion …is dangerous.

R

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TRUMP, OR SOMETHING LIKE HIM …

“Give me an asshole who can play …”

This is a famous quote from iconic drummer, Buddy Rich. Buddy only wanted the best on stage with him. He didn’t care about their “moral character” or if they were pleasant to be around. He didn’t even care if he, himself, liked them. He hired only guys who could burn the room down with him …not boy scouts who were mediocre. Hence, the famous quote.

President Donald Trump appears to be in trouble. A series of confessions and convictions, of and by people around him, are casting a strange, dark light on his presidency at the moment. There is a perception (at least) that shady stuff has gone on around this guy. And when shady stuff constantly goes on around someone in charge, you have to conclude that the guy in charge is okay with shady stuff.

Has he hung around tax evaders and money launderers? Clearly. Did he pay off porn stars and Playboy Playmates to keep their dalliances quiet? I think we can safely conclude that he did. Is he a petulant child in the Twitter-verse? One hundred percent. Does he say things in public my mother would slap me for saying? Literally, everyday. Did he conspire with a foreign power to win an election? Maybe. Will any of this make a difference to his supporters? That’s a complicated answer. Let me explain …

I have a theory that all presidential elections are reactions to the sitting president at the time. I’m old enough to remember Jimmy Carter getting elected (in large part) because he was a wholesome, moral breath of fresh air in an atmosphere of corruption and scandal created during the Nixon years. I was only a kid, but I distinctly remember entire churches being excited to go out and vote for an openly Christian man for president. Then, after four years of that disaster, I remember those same people breaking speed limit laws to get to the polls to vote for Reagan as fast as they could.

The conditions that created a “president Trump” kinda started with Bill Clinton, who led to George W Bush …who led to Barack Obama.

By the time we got to him, Mr Obama was going to be the antidote to incompetence and corruption and war mongering and, yes …even racism. But a very strange thing happened during Mr Obama’s presidency. Racism didn’t end. Corruption didn’t end. Wars didn’t end. And incompetence might’ve actually gotten worse. My full day of talking to the customer service agent at the newly created healthcare exchange, did NOT leave me confident.

And what was discovered during Mr Obama’s 8 years, was that in a free market nation, over-taxing, over-regulating and a leader who constantly berates the business community and supports policies that place more emphasis on celebrating the “diversity” of people groups than on law and order for every individual, and foreign policies that take everything but the nation you’ve been elected to lead into account, simply doesn’t work.

What was also exposed in those 8 years was how feckless and weak Republicans had actually become in their opposition to such things. And with candidates literally talking openly about socialism and nationalizing private institutions, a guy like Trump comes along and promises to re-set the foundation of the nation the way Americans understand it …and the way they want it. Is he really that much of a surprise?

I talk occasionally about the fourth revolution. And Donald Trump is the leader of it.

If you’re appalled at the lewd behavior of your president, you’re behind. That ship sailed when one was getting blow jobs by an intern half his age, in the Oval Office …AND. NOBODY. CARED.

If you wish your president was decent and measured and refused to return fire at his critics, you’re behind. We already had that guy and he was called a war criminal, who should be tried at the Hague (Rosie O’Donell’s public announcement) and “retarded” (Chris Rock’s word – DEFINITELY not mine), someone who should force his daughters to go to war (Matt Damon’s suggestion) a monster who deliberately broke the levies in New Orleans to drown black people (Spike Lee’s claim) and on and on and on …AND. NOBODY. CARED.

If you wish your president was upstanding and righteous and said all the right things, you’re behind. Mitt Romney already ran. AND. NOBODY. CARED.

If you wish your president was a humble and honorable true public servant, without moral blemishes, you’re behind. Bob Dole (a man who gave his right hand to his country) and John McCain (a man who gave both arms to his country) already ran. AND. NOBODY. CARED.

Donald Trump was the last branch to grab before the nation hit the ground. But he has changed the game in some ways. Nobody believes a nice guy can get it done, anymore. We’ve had nice guys …and nothing changed.

Cutting taxes and repatriating a trillion dollars was the right thing to do. And it’s working. And only a guy who doesn’t give crap about what people think of him could’ve gotten it done. Moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was the right thing to do. It sends a message to the rest of the middle east and, in turn, creates a stability hard to quantify. Presidents on BOTH sides of the aisle have promised to do it. It should’ve been done decades ago. But only a guy who doesn’t give a crap about what people think of him could’ve gotten it done.

Taking Kim Jong Un on …head on …is looking like it was the right thing to do. But only a guy who doesn’t give a crap about what people think of him would’ve even attempted it.

While Mr Trump’s lawyers and campaign people were perp-walking in and out of ivory towers, a teenaged girl in Iowa – as middle-America a place as you can find – was being murdered by someone in the country illegally. That creates real world fear for Americans everywhere. We have enough fear of our own citizenry, breaking our own laws. And reasonable Americans don’t think it’s UNreasonable to ask people wanting to come to our country …to sign the hell in. They don’t see how that makes them racists. It simply doesn’t compute. And the only elected leader giving them any cover is the flawed president.

So, did Donald Trump collude and conspire with Russians to win an election? What the media and his opponents (and even a lot of Republicans) STILL don’t or can’t or won’t understand is that it doesn’t matter. He didn’t have to collude with anybody. He was going to win either way. He had millions of Americans at “build a wall” and “cut your taxes” and especially at, “I don’t give a crap what people think.”

Donald Trump may get impeached or arrested or disgraced or unseated or whatever. But what people had better realize is that if he’s gone, a large percentage of the population will be looking for something or someone JUST like him …to replace him. There’s too much at stake; too many socialists on the horizon, too many empty suits looking for lifetime political gigs, too many “nice guys” with great smiles and weak spines, to take anymore chances.

We just want an asshole who can play. And with the economy roaring and North Korea neutralized and ISIS basically contained and defeated, it appears that despite all the weirdness that surrounds him, he can, indeed, play.

R

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GETTING TO THE GRAND CANYON …

I highly recommend that everyone, at some point in their life, drive across the country.

It’s important to know about where you live and be familiar with what things look and feel like in different parts of our nation.

I’ve driven across several times. And every time I do it, I’m reminded of how much I genuinely like Americans. As divided as we can be, we also share some inexplicable spirit; a drive tempered with a kindness that can only live in people born free.

My drive across the nation this year was done with my 11-year-old son riding shotgun. It was more of an introduction for him, but it was no different in the results it yielded in my heart and soul. I came away with a newfound respect for certain things and a surging optimism about the future and the general state of the world. In short …I think we (the United States) are gonna be okay.

There are things I might change if I had the power to. There’s some trouble with which we’re always going to have to contend. Still …I like us. A lot.

One of the stops on our journey was the Grand Canyon. If you’ve never seen it, and you live close to it, finish reading this and then get in your car and go see it …now. There’s a reason it’s a wonder of the world. It has become a bit of an American punch line and it resides in the ubiquity reserved for Elvis, apple pie and Christmas morning. But looking over the great expanse can and will put everything – including your own existence – into perspective. And, if you’re really looking, you’ll never be the same after seeing it.

The tricky thing about the Canyon is how long it takes to get to it. It’s not a road side attraction. You don’t just pop off the highway, grab and ice cream, see the Canyon, then head back to the water park. Getting to the Grand Canyon requires time and commitment.

My father took me to see it when I was 10. It took my breath away. But even so, I didn’t fully appreciate the moment I was experiencing. I was tired and hot and sleepy and grumpy. And I allowed all those things to influence what could’ve been a truly transcendent moment.

As it turned out, by the time my son and I reached the Canyon, he was all those things I just described. We had driven all day. We were hot and hungry and by the time we paid our $30 bucks to get in to the national park, I was starting to think jaded, “they’ve-turned-this-national-treasure-into-a-money-grab” thoughts. The traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. My son couldn’t stop whining and wishing we’d just forgotten the whole thing and gone on to Vegas. If I’m honest, I was agreeing with him.

We’d already driven over 70 miles of two lane road. That was AFTER driving for six hours on the interstate. Now, we were trapped in throngs of people and vehicles creeping toward some destination that seemed like it was getting farther away with every agonizing minute.

But finally we got to a parking lot. And we found a parking place. We jumped out of the rental car and stretched our legs, arguing about which direction to walk. As we both huffed and puffed and sniped back and forth about how hot we were and how much of a bad idea this was, we round a corner and topped a rise. And just as our whining began to wane …there it was. A gorge sliced into the earth so far deep and so far wide it can hardly be described with any accuracy.

Once again …it took my breath away.

My son, who had been impressed with very little to that point, was silenced instantly. And as we stood dumbfounded and spell bound, a woman yelled out the word “yes!” and people broke into applause. A man just had taken his girlfriend out onto a jutting rock inside the canyon and proposed. My boy and I looked at each other and kind of smiled. That’s something you just don’t see everyday.

We were both fairly silent while exploring the southern rim and getting whatever inadequate pictures we could snap. We took in every angle we could get to and tried to take it all in. But two human eyes simply cannot take it all in. So, finally we sorta half saluted the marvel …and headed back to the car.

My son fell asleep on the drive to Vegas and kept quiet for most of the rest of the drive. The Grand Canyon had settled us down a little.

Since we’ve been home, we haven’t talked a lot about the trip. And I know that he was miserable for much of it. I can’t say that I blame him. Locking a kid in a car for 5 days is a tough proposition. But last night something on TV was showing the Grand Canyon. I blurted, “Hey buddy! There’s our Canyon!”

He stared at the screen and finally said, “Yeah. But it’s a lot more beautiful in person.” I smiled to myself. He was right. It is. And I’m glad he recognizes the wonder of it …after the fact.

Getting to the Grand Canyon is not easy. For us, there was nothing fun about it. It was grueling and God awful …until we got there.

That is a metaphor for the truly great things that happen to us; the wonders (if you will) in life. Very often the journey isn’t what you think it will be. It is often laced with uncertainty and deflated expectations. Sometimes we have pressed on toward something for so long and we’ve worked so hard to get there that we doubt the destination will live up to our efforts. Is it worth it? Should we keep going? What’s the point, anyway?

All I can say is that if you press on long enough, you will eventually get to a true wonder. And it will be so deep and wide and life-changing that you will forget the perils of the journey completely. They won’t even matter anymore. Because the wonder will re-set your eyes and reshape your beliefs on how amazing things can actually be …if you just keep going.

They say it’s about the journey …NOT the destination. Maybe that’s true.

But sometimes the destination is the Grand Canyon. And true wonders are worth every horrible mile.

R

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FRIENDS AND ENEMIES …

People see things differently. They just do.

We humans will argue over everything from the proper way to scramble eggs, to how taxes should be collected …to whether or not we should even HAVE taxes in the first place.

We form our opinions based on our experiences. I’ve read where people who graduate from college tend to lean more liberal in their politics. People who go directly into the work force, tend to lean more conservative.

I fall into the later category. I didn’t get a scholarship to any college and my family couldn’t afford to send me for four years. So I dropped out after they had paid for as much as they could afford, and I went to work. I chased my dreams. I worked multiple jobs. I cleaned buildings and waited tables and did odd-jobs and hustled my butt off. In the cracks of all that, I wrote songs. A lot of songs.

And over time, I was able to turn a weird little talent into a big house and a nice car and great vacations. And nobody at any government agency helped me get there. THEY didn’t build that …I did. And I didn’t take public assistance, or food stamps or anything I probably could have. I just used their roads and infrastructure. And I paid them for it …I paid them A LOT for it.

In my own experience, government has never been anything efficient or sleek or state-of-the-art or cutting edge. I have always seen it as a necessary slog that operates at a functionary level. Because government floats toward mediocrity.

There’s nothing inherently evil in or wrong with people who work in government. I find many of them to be doing it out a sincere sense of duty and honor to their country. The problem with government is simply the nature of it. It, in and of itself, has no built-in incentive for anyone or anything to excel. There are no bonus structures built in for people who hustle. There’s no upward mobility for a job well done. There’s no reason to innovate or revolutionize. There are no brainstorming meetings where ideas, possibilities and (dare I say) dreams are batted around. Nobody stands up with a “eureka” moment, in a budgetary conference meeting, and says “Wait! What if …”

Day-to-day government business is static, non-dynamic and liability encumbered.

In other words, the United States government might get to Mars before Elon Musk does. They have unlimited resources – because they can extract money from the population. But him (or someone like him) will make it a fun place to go. And he’ll do it with money that was voluntarily given to him for goods and/or services he provided the world.

Anyway …

Some people see the government exactly the opposite of how I just described it. Some see it as a savior of sorts; a playing-field-levelor; a refuge from the evils of greed; a backstop against the darker side of humanity. This difference in points of view is at the core; the essence of our continuing national debate. That debate has gone on for as long as this country has existed. In fact, that debate is the REASON this country exists in the first place. And that debate often makes us so angry at each other we cannot control our emotions …even when friends are in the mix.

I sat in a room yesterday with a long-time friend. I’ve known this woman for over twenty years. And we’ve worked together to try and keep each other in the music business. I’ve worked to make sure the company she works for has big hit songs to license. She has worked to make sure I’ve gotten paid for those things. I think, in nature, this is called a symbiotic relationship.

She finds herself in the eye of a hurricane she didn’t ask to be in. The company she works for is owned by a bigger company that is openly proposing an amendment to a certain piece of legislation that directly affects songwriters and music makers of all stripes. This legislation is important. Everyone knows it. She knows it. I know it. The people openly proposing the amendment even know it.

But she is fending off hate and vitriol from people she has worked with for years, because they see her, and her company, as trying to kill their chance at finally getting an equitable solution to an inequitable problem. So rather than sitting down with her and talking about it, they’ve chosen to simply decide she must be a casualty of the fight. I don’t think like that. She’s my friend. And she’s earned a face-to-face meeting.

I’ve net with the other side many times. I know their position. They are friends of mine as well. So this is a weird time for all of us.

My songwriter friends probably want me to get into the specifics of this issue. But it’s all very complicated and convoluted for anyone who doesn’t make a living as a songwriter or a song publisher. And quite frankly, more non-songwriters are reading this than songwriters.

But politics, livelihoods and passions have brought all the personality types to the surface …   

There are the pragmatists who just want something …ANYTHING …done at all costs. There are the casual band-wagoneers, who know what the general issue is and want to be on the correct side of it, so they post memes and talk in general terms. There are the  flame throwers, who want this to be a much bigger conspiracy, complete with evil and greed, than it actually is. And, sadly, there are the straight up cowards who dare not dig into the issue any deeper than political expediency will allow them to. They won’t risk their co-writes or their relationships with people in power, to actually make a phone call. I have no more time for those people. I don’t care how many number ones they have to their name.

Where do I fall on the MMA? I hope it passes and gets signed. And I hope everyone involved gets to stay in business and not have to fold their tents. If it passes …as is …I’ll deal with it. If it passes …with an amendment …I’ll deal with it. None of it changes the fundamental problem of getting people to hear and like your music in the first place. It only deals with what happens when they consume it. In other words, this is always going to be a tough business no matter what the laws are.

I’ve resigned myself to only allowing people to consume my music LIVE or directly through me, anyway. I’m not interested in the masses anymore. I’m only interested in you …the one still reading this. The music business for me, has gotten incredibly small and boutique. And I kind of like it that way.

As for my friends still biting their nails over sales figures and chart positions every week? I actually believe the MMA will pass, even with this hiccup. Everyone concerned (even the big, bad corporation asking for the amendment), has a reason for this to get done. And nobody wants to see us have to go back to square one. But amendments get put on bills all the time. Like, literally every day. I’m not exactly sure why everyone can’t be heard out.

I sure want to be.

R

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GHOST BUSTERS …

That was the first movie I ever saw in a theater …Ghost Busters.

I was 16-years-old. And quite frankly, I was worried sick. My brother and I had skipped a pretty major church service our father was overseeing, to go see it …with two girls.  We were straight up rebelling …on a Sunday night, no less. And as we exited the theater, my head was on a swivel, looking for anyone who might’ve seen us coming out of that place.

Because the service was such a large event, and we weren’t scheduled to perform that night, my brother and I  were able to come up with a decent alibi as to where we were; early dinner with friends; youth group gathering; I can’t recall. I’m sure we massaged enough truth in there for it to not be a total lie. But to this day, whenever I see Ghost Busters on TV or a movie channel, I get a little quiver in my stomach, thinking about all the trouble we could’ve gotten into and the trouble we could’ve gotten our father into that night …just by walking into a movie theater.

Walking into movie theaters was just one of the things I wasn’t allowed to do, growing up. The church I attended didn’t allow such things, worldly and such. When I say “attended” I mean roughly 200 days a year. I was in church every Sunday morning and night as well as every Wednesday night. That’s just when my family wasn’t on tour. When we were touring, I was in church 7 nights a week.

I figured it up once. By the time I was 14, I had been to church more times than most people (averaging once a week) would attend in a lifetime. I knew all the books of the bible by the time I was in kindergarden. I understood the concept of Paul becoming an envoy to the gentiles and writing letters to new converts from prison, thus creating the framework for the new testament, by the time I was 10.

I knew all the hymns. I had been exposed to some of the most intelligent, cogent preaching for my entire life. I studied Greek, Life of Christ and Old and New Testament surveys in my Christian high school. And by the time I graduated, I could recite the entire book of Psalms. I cannot do that now …but I enjoy them more now that I can’t recite them.

My father was a preacher, who was raised by a preacher, who was married to a preacher, who was raised by a preacher. At one time, there were 21 licensed ministers in my family. The church organization we belonged to was tightly knit and relatively small.

The organization grew out of the Pentacostal movement of the early 20th century, that essentially sprung from a meeting at a place called “Camp Creek,” at the turn of the last century. The organization came complete with a figure head (ala, the Pope), a governmental structure, a list of “truths,” another list of rules (referred to as simply “advice”), stringent membership requirements, and (oddly enough) …a flag.

This organization taught me some wonderfully important things. Women were respected and revered in this organization. My GREAT GRANDMOTHER was allowed to preach in it, only a few years after women were allowed to vote in this country. I wasn’t raised knowing that women weren’t supposed to be ministers. I had several of them in my family.

All the races worshipped together. The first church my father pastored was a “black” church in Nashville. And I was almost 3-years-old before I fully understood that I wasn’t black …and that brother Jackson wasn’t white. The marriage of my mother-in-law (a white girl from Clarksville, Tennessee), to my father-in-law (a Mexican from California), was accepted in our church long before it was accepted in the mainstream of the United States.

In some things, the church I was raised in was light years ahead of its time. In other things, however, it wasn’t.

The focus on holiness and righteousness was as the center of my upbringing. And that center didn’t allow for short pants in the summer time or roller skating or bowling or rock concerts …or movie theaters. I was the first person in my family to get pierced ears or even wear a wedding band. My mother didn’t wear anything but full length skirts in certain parts of the country. And my father was excoriated many, MANY times …for having sideburns.

Once you create a world of rules, there will always be those who use those rules as weapons and wield them like swords. So, while my parents were deeply spiritual, wonderful people and taught me better than the “party line,” I knew who they worked for. And I knew who was watching.

And so, God and all things spiritual, became labor for me. The rigid guidelines became sacrament and  communion with the creator of the universe. Church politics and church business and personal business and making a living and making a life, all got tangled up in God and Jesus and the bible and right and wrong and heaven and hell. And when your eternal soul is continually in the balance, at 5 or 6 or 8 or 12 or 18-years-old, it leaves an indelible mark you might spend the rest of your life trying to reconcile.

I wrote a whole book on this subject (Angels and Idols) and I feel like I’ve come to my own understanding of God and my own salvation. And it has more to do with a Chinese orphan than it does rule number 26.

But I’m not alone in my background and story. There were thousands of kids just like me, in that organization. All the churches in that organization were connected throughout the states and there were “state conventions” every year, where we all got to see each other. Then there was a mass “assembly” every year, where all the members from around the world gathered to see each other. Those were fun events. I have such fond memories of seeing my friends from all over the globe, every year.

People ask me all the time, if I really know all those people from all those countries. The answer is absolutely! I’ve met them all and talked to them all …and I’ve probably stayed in their homes.

The other thing our organization had was its own college. It was never larger than a mid-sized, middle American  high-school, but it was there. And that’s where I attended for one year, where I carried a SOLID 2.0 GPA. By the time I reached that college, I was pretty much on my way out of the church of my youth. While attending that college, I never went to chapel. I cut all my “theological” classes. I simply wasn’t interested anymore. I’d heard all the sermons and read all the literature. And it didn’t do much for my soul. And I wasn’t alone.

In fact, there was a mass exodus (if I can use that word) of people from my generation, from that organization. It was almost like we all got the memo at the same time and realized it was time to go. We never really even talked about it all that much, to be honest. We just all inherently knew that going to movies was okay. We knew that piercing your ars was no big deal. The last sermon I ever heard in one of those “assemblies” was a guy preaching on why Jesus was returning in 1988. There were 88 reasons. Get it? 88 reasons he’s returning in 88?

I distinctly remember sitting in a section of the large convention hall (we called it the Tabernacle) with several of my friends, and us laughing hysterically at the sermon and openly mocking it to each other …WHILE it was being preached. The nonsense had finally gone too far. It was now just satire and we were incapable of taking any of it seriously anymore. As it turns out, we were correct. No supernatural entity returned to earth in 1988 …unless you’re talking about the 49ers.

This past weekend, a reunion of all alumni who had ever attended that small college was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They asked me if they could use my song, “Time Of My Life,” as their theme. Then they asked me to come perform it. I agreed to both.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have agreed to either thing. For many years I wanted to hide from my past. This little cult-like church I was raised in was an embarrassment to me. It was incredibly difficult to explain to all the “cool” people I hung out with, where I had come from. It was too long of a conversation to explain why I didn’t own any Prince records or why I still hadn’t seen Star Wars …at 27 (I now have ALL the Prince records and I’ve seen all the Star Wars movies I can stand …but I digress …)

But I felt like it was time to go back and embrace my roots and the people I came up with. And I’m glad I did. We all seemed to have a “knowing” toward each other. We know what was real and what wasn’t. We know what was ridiculous and what wasn’t. I found myself in a room full of people who, like me, went into the world and discovered it …and realized it wasn’t going to send us all to hell.

We’re all older now. Our bodies have betrayed us. In some cases our lives have betrayed us. And as we’ve aged in the world, we have realized what is important and what isn’t. We gathered there as people JUST as entitled to love and respect as everyone else in the world. NOT just “peculiar” and “separate.”

Everyone was wearing some form of gold ornament (a no-no in our youth). There were wedding bands being worn and divorced people and openly gay people and people who drink and people who not only go to concerts, but perform in them. And we all sort of inherently knew that that stuff was the surface stuff. It felt like I was in a group of people who understood that love was the whole thing …and THAT was the real quest of any religion. What we were being taught as children was trying to get us there. But it often got lost in the weeds.

A friend of mine asked me recently, why people are abandoning church as a concept. My answer was that many of us have simply seen a lot of it as something silly. God got bigger than church for us. And we couldn’t keep up the facade anymore or keep him squeezed into that small space. See, we know the earth isn’t flat, now. We’ve got pictures. It’s a ball. And no matter who preaches the flat earth doctrine to us (metaphorically), we simply know it isn’t true. So, God had better be bigger than your incorrect science, if you’re going to preach to me.

You can apply that principle to all facets of Christianity. This is why I no longer call myself a “Christian.” It comes with too many cultural connotations that are too small to embody something so large and unfathomable.

I’m a big believer and follower of Jesus. I’ve got no problem with him. But I’m not sure how much “church” he’d want to be a part of if he were around today. I’m not sure how many sermons he’d sit through or how much fundraising he’d tolerate or how many mega structures he’d be comfortable in. At some point, I’d like to believe those droning, U2 rip-off worship songs (about him) would get on his nerves and he’d have to pop in some Ray Charles or Beethoven just to maintain his sanity. I know I have to.

And he might think that “the world” wasn’t all bad. I kinda believe he’d have an iPhone with some cool apps. I’m fairly certain he would make sure the party continued and that wine would be available to the very end.

And, I’d like to believe, that he would tell a nervous 16-year-old to go see the funny movie at the theater …and laugh his butt off.

Because ghosts are only real if you keep them alive in your mind.

 

R

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THE HEDGES AND THE MIDWIFE …

I have no idea what the voice of God sounds like.

I don’t really claim to have ever heard it. In fact, I live in a constant state of wondering if it’s even a thing …if GOD (as I have learned about him) is even a thing. But sometimes I get these …I don’t know what to call them …feelings? Promptings? Thoughts? I dunno. I’ve gotten them my whole life. Sometimes they are feelings telling me I should NOT do something. Sometimes they are feelings telling me I SHOULD do something. I often dismiss them if they run counter to conventional wisdom. But sometimes, they’re so strong I cannot ignore them.

When I was fifteen, I had a temporary job at a book publishing company. I made five hundred dollars working there and something told me to give fifty of it to a friend of my family, who had been visiting us from Indiana. It was a clear and distinct amount and a clear and distinct person to whom I was supposed to give it. I didn’t really want to do it. I wanted to keep the money. But this feeling (or whatever it was) was almost guiding me without my even having control of it.

I went to the guy and told him I felt like I was supposed to give him the fifty bucks. He didn’t really need the money and tried to refuse it …but I insisted and he reluctantly took it.

Later on, he recounted to me that as he was driving back to Indiana, he came up on a woman who was broken down on the side of the road. He helped get her towed to a mechanic, who then fixed her car. It was a small thing and the price for the repair was …wait for it …$49.44. She didn’t have the money. But HE just happened to have an extra fifty dollars on him. With the remaining 56 cents, he was able to buy her a soft drink (this was 1982).

It was JUST what was needed …JUST when it was needed. So whatever it was prompting me, was pretty much dead on …to the penny.

I don’t care what you think about him, some weeks I watch and listen to Joel Osteen. Please (my professional Christian friends) save all the theological mumbo jumbo and righteous indignation about what he does or what he doesn’t do, or how much money he makes or blah, blah, blah. I get it. And quite frankly, I don’t care. When you live the kind of life my wife and I live – day in and day out – sometimes all we want to hear is someone tell us we’re going to be okay. Sometimes I need an impossibly innocent face smiling at me and a corny southern accent telling me that God likes me and wants good things for me. Sometimes I just need to feel good about life. Sometimes I just need Jesus to be uncomplicated and child-like. Yes …sometimes I need Mr Rogers in a tailored suit. Whatever …I’m glad he’s there being shallow while everyone else is drowning in their depth.

Anyway, this particular week, Joel was talking about listening to the voice; the one that tells you to tend to the small things. It’s a nagging voice that isn’t telling you to move mountains but rather telling you to do something as simple as taking out the garbage. And THAT voice is telling you this for a reason. It reminded me of the fifty dollars when I was a kid. And it also made me think about those damn hedges.

You see, for about a month I’d been hearing this voice telling me to trim my hedges …MYSELF. I have my yard done by other people. I started mowing my family’s yard when I was nine. And I decided that when I was an adult, if I could afford it, I would always do two things: have my yard done and ALWAYS pick whatever I wanted on a restaurant menu, regardless of the price.

To this day, I do not look at menu prices …and I have my yard done (even though right now I should probably do it myself).

But this voice (or whatever you want to call it) was nagging me to break out my stored hedge trimmers and do my own hedge trimming. I don’t know why. But it has been strong.

So, an X-box ordeal with my son turned into re-arranging the play room. And THAT got me in the mod to tackle other projects around the house. And having to take a phone call outside, because the service inside my house is sketchy, got me walking around my house, inspecting those hedges. And so, while I was on the phone, I actually started clipping and tearing off hedges. And something weird happened …my phone call started turning into something very positive.

My lack of focus on the call itself, and my tending to those bushes, led me to come up with ideas I was barking into the phone, that led to something happening I’ve been waiting to happen for literally years. The not caring so much about what to say and what not to say, because I was preoccupied with foliage, allowed me to be more in the moment on the call. Finally, the guy I was on the call with said, “Wow …these are really great ideas!”

After the call, I went in the house to hydrate. My wife was watching some Netflix show called “Call The Midwife,” and there was a scene about a deformed baby being born. A nun took the baby in her arms, while the baby was dying, and declared it a beautiful creation; a child of God, and that when it passed through the water or walked through the fire, God would be there with it. My wife and I stood and cried. We always do that when we encounter themes about damaged people …because we’re raising one.

I wiped my eyes and went back out to those bushes. I hacked and clipped and buzzed and cried some more. And the only thing that kept coming to mind was, “I have the ability to do this, when SO many people in the world don’t. Therefore I SHOULD do it. I thought about my daughter and how she loves music. She always claps for anyone who sings. And so we who can sing, must …for those who cannot. We who can dance MUST …for those who cannot. We who can write MUST …for those who cannot. We who can trim hedges MUST …for those who cannot.

While I was trimming those hedges, I got three more phone calls. All of those calls were good news that I and my family needed. I don’t know if trimming the hedges had anything to do with it. But cutting away those vines felt like a metaphor to me. And with every weed stripped away, I felt something myself getting freer.

Before attacking those hedges, I wrote a blistering political manifesto that was going to be this week’s blog. If you want to read it, go subscribe to my Patreon page. I’ll post it there.

But politics isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. And when it seems that we’re about to forget all the things we need to remember, a teacher shows up in the way of a TV series …or a damaged daughter …or Joel Osteen …or some overgrown bushes. And that teacher reminds us to listen …just listen.

R

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