Song for My Father

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience an amazing event with my father. We attended the David Letterman and Rachel Maddow Conversation at Ball State University. It was definitely fun, thought-provoking, and entertaining. At the end of the “conversation”, both my father and I were surprised at how much time had past…time literally flew in Emens Auditorium last night. My father commented that he was “ready for them to go that long again!” It was another great experience in a long line of great experiences that I owe to my father.

Last night on my way home, I began to recall some of the great experiences I owe to my father. Here is a list of some of the things I can recall:

– He introduced me to the music of Frank Zappa!

– He took me to my first Indy 500

– He took me to my first drum clinic (Louie Bellson, the old man could play)

– He took me to my first Rush concert (which was also my first official “real” rock n’ roll show…the Christian rock shows my mom took me to didn’t really count)

– He let me “borrow” most of his good records

– He took me to Franks Drum Shop…when they were still located in their “old” location…where surviving the elevator ride was just part of the adventure.

– He introduced me to good jazz

– He inadvertently shaped my love for NPR by forcing me to listen to it when he was driving (which includes my great appreciation for Garrison Keillor).

– We saw Barack Obama while he was on the campaign trail…it was a pretty powerful moment.

That’s not an extensive list. And, let’s not forget that my mother provided a lot of great experiences too! But, since last night was father/son time, I thought I’d take a moment to recall some of these experiences I’ve shared with my father.

So, thanks dad!

And So It Began

It was late in the Fall of 1991…I was a sophomore at Delta High School, located in the middle of a cornfield just outside the thriving metropolis known as Muncie, IN. There were a handful of things that consumed my time and attention…swimming, skateboarding, soccer, socializing, and most of all…music.

As a 16-year-old with a license and a car, I enjoyed some new-found freedoms. The greatest of these freedoms centered around music. I was able to drive myself to my percussion lessons. But, even better…,I had the privilege to drive to record stores!

One of my favorite spots to hit in Muncie was the Discount Den (R.I.P.). New and used CD’s filled the east wall…add a cheap fountain soda into the mix…and I was set for lengthy periods of browsing and annoying the workers with questions about release dates and their ability to get a larger selection of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention discs.

On one of my trips to the Den in that fall of ’91, I picked up a new-ish release…Ten by the Seattle band Pearl Jam. In all honesty, this would be a life-changing purchase. I had read a lot about Pearl Jam in various publications. But, being that I was living outside of Muncie, IN, I had not had much exposure to the music of the band…yet! In the days before everyone and their grandmothers had hi-speed internet…one had to depend on outlets like the radio, record stores, MTV (remember 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation), Spin and Rolling Stone to get exposed to new music.

I remember rushing home (well, I’m sure I observed the speed limit) and quickly heading up the stairs to my music room (now my fathers music room), eagerly anticipating throwing the disc into my CD player (yes, this was before every vehicle in the world had a built-in CD player so I had to wait until I got home…Listen, I was lucky to have a tape deck in that 1988 Cavalier).

What I experienced was sheer joy. The music was incredible! Intense, passionate, skillful, and beautiful. I was quick to throw my headphones on and begin learning the drum parts. I played along with Ten more than any other album for a good six month period.

And so, my affection for the music of Pearl Jam began. But, there was a moment in the Spring of 1992 that solidified the bands place in my heart. When the band appeared on MTV’s Unplugged, my appreciation for the band sky-rocketed. I believe it was the intensity of the performance of Porch that lit a little fire in my heart. I remember being overcome by thoughts and feelings that, “Yes, this is good! Yes, this is what I enjoy!”

Later, in the summer of 1992, I would travel to the World Music Amphitheater outside of Chicago and see Pearl Jam perform as part of the Lollapalooza tour. It was amazing. And, I’ve been fortunate to see PJ numerous times throughout the years!

I’ve been a fan ever since that day in the fall of ’91 when I purchased Ten. And…now, on Labor Day weekend of the year 2011, I will once again enjoy the live music of Pearl Jam! Twenty years of following a band. Wow!

Methodist Coloring Book

Growing up, I was a big fan of The Dead Milkmen. They are a funny little punk rock band. Sometimes, they found a way to poke fun at various groups of people and still make a point. They wrote a song called “Methodist Coloring Book” (see below), which is a hilarious little song about God sending people who color outside the lines to hell. Hilarious! And yet, aren’t Christians known for condemning people to hell over some seemingly minor issues???

Yesterday, as I was listening to Gungor’sWhite Man“, I was reminded of how Christians (including myself) have a tendency to reduce the Gospel message into these nice little points of who God is, who God loves, who God hates, and who will get into heaven.

Different Christians will have different points determined by their culture, their past, their values, their political preferences.

And so, we hear Christians say things like:

– God is a ______ man (fill in the blank with your particular racial background)

– God is Father

– God is Mother

– God is neither male nor female

– God loves conservatives

– God hates liberals

– God loves white Americans

– God loves those who love Him/Her/It

– God hates Muslims

– God hates homosexuals

– Drinking is a sin

– Dancing is a sin

– Playing euchre is a sin

– God hates you

– The United States is God’s new chosen nation

– Only people who believe the same things I believe will get into heaven

So, these statements get out there and help create stereotypes and generalizations about Christians and Christianity. Often, these statements turn people away from the Christian faith…rather than draw them nearer. These statements reduce the beauty of the Gospel of grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love to a list of do’s and don’ts…a list of who is in and who is out…a list of generalizations that are often wrong.

The ones that really get me are when we try to decide who will and will not get into heaven. When we make statements along these lines…we’re really getting out there.  Jesus makes it fairly clear that we shouldn’t be too sure about who is in and who is out. We all might be in for a big surprise come the judgment day! I just hope you don’t color outside the lines!!!

Generally, I find that it’s best to focus on myself and try not to be too harsh on others. I’ve got enough baggage to work through that I simply don’t have the time to decide who is right, who is wrong, and who will get into heaven. At best, all I can do is cling to my faith and do my best to live out the hope I profess.

Jesus had some pretty solid words regarding these types of things…

“Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you. God will be as hard on you as you are on others! He will treat you exactly as you treat them. You can see the speck in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the log in your own eye. How can you say, ‘My friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You’re nothing but show-offs! First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.” ~Matthew 7:1-5

“Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. On the day of judgment many will call me their Lord. They will say, ‘We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles.’  But I will tell them, ‘I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight, you evil people!'” ~Matthew 7:21-23


Lady Gaga’s God Talk

While reading the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, I found Neil Strauss’ interview with Lady Gaga to be quite interesting. There are parts of the interview that make me think Lady Gaga is deeply troubled. There are parts of the interview that make me think there is hope for her. Whatever your thoughts are about Lady Gaga, she is tearing up the charts right now and has figured out the key to making popular music at this point in time. I found a few of her comments about God to be thought provoking…It reminds me that there is often more to a person that what we see on the outside…more than the image they portray.

RS- You seem to have become more religious or spiritual in the last year or so.

LG- I’ve had a few different experiences. I’m really connected to my Aunt Joanne, and she’s not with us anymore. And then there was my father’s surgery. And also, my life has changed so much. It’s hard not to believe that God hasn’t been watching out for me when I’ve had such obstacles with drugs and rejection and people not believing in me. It’s been a long and continuous road, but it’s hard to chalk it all up to myself, I have to believe there’s something greater than myself.

RS- Like a higher power?

LG- Yeah, a higher power that’s been watching out for me. Sometimes it really freaks me out – or, I should say, it petrifies me – when I think about laying in my apartment (in New York) with bug bites from bedbugs and roaches on the floor and mirrors with cocaine everywhere and no will or interest in doing anything but making music and getting high. So I guess I’ve come a really long way, and I have my friends to thank for that, and I have God.

It appears that Lady Gaga is thankful that God carried her through some difficult moments in life. What do you have to thank God for today?

Wesley’s Directions for Singing

Yesterday, at our 8:15am service, I shared some of John Wesley’s Directions for Singing. I’ve always appreciated Wesley’s thoughts on congregational singing. He makes some strong points for active participation among all gathered together for corporate worship. Here they are (emphasis’ added by JBM):

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first. (I’m thinking Wesley was a punk-rocker!)

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761 (as printed in the United Methodist Hymnal).