Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Joy of Singing

Good morning as the snow has finally melted away knowing more is headed our way from the Western side of the US but as I watch the many squirrels scamper in the woods behind our home and the beautiful cardinals eating from the bird feeder, I continue to be astounded at the beauty of God's Creation.  That Creation, much maligned and doubted in light of evolution, is simply unimpeachable in its reality to me.  I think I am just basking in the wonder of it all this day for this day is one of those very special days in my life so let me explain if I can!
Those of you that know me know how much I love music and yes, especially Southern Gospel music.  Many may not care for that genre but there is no music that touches my heart more deeply  and warmly than a well delivered song about Heaven and that is what Southern Gospel music speaks to so how could that be bad, right?  Those of you that know me  also know if I like something, I really, really like it as my wife likes to point out all too often.
Tonight a concert of Southern Gospel music will begin at 5 pm for a means to raise much needed funds for a local organization, the Refuge of Hope. The Refuge is a men-focused homeless shelter in downtown Canton, OH that provides meals and overnight sleeping to keep these men off the streets at night.  My son is the pastor of a local church that embraced this ministry in late January when the weather was uniquely cold and rallied his church to embrace this ministry by opening the doors of his church to take some of the over capacity of men that could not get into the ROH facility for each evening of the still cold February.  What a blessing to see a whole church family invest themselves in these men in preparing bedding in the warmth of the church, food preparation, time investment with these men; that is what churches do and I could not be more proud of my son and his church.
This effort, of course, increases the funding needs to pay for overnight, certified supervisors for these men so from that was borne the idea for a benefit concert to raise funds through giving to off-set the additional spending by ROH so our target tonight is to raise $2800. I am confident God will provide this plus more and I am so excited just to be part of it.
From that let me bridge to the context of my blog this day which is about the joy of singing.  I can never remember not loving to sing.  I played much basketball in high school and college and beyond but through all of that, music and singing was always a thread that wove itself through my life.  The joy I receive from singing is amplified over and over when I see first hand the power of music to lift a spirit that is downtrodden or a person so beset with guilt and disappointment.  Seeing tears of release from the angst is the greatest dividend for the hours of work in preparation to sing.  Getting music, learning music, memorizing music are mechanics of the work.  But God has revealed to me so clearly in the almost decade of working in jails and prisons and now close to  200,000 inmates that a song is a song but a song bathed in prayer, love and caring is more powerful than any sword of destruction.  To be a vessel for God's Work in the lives of those that come and hear is the greatest reward of my life.
So the Joy of Singing for me, I realize, for too many years was to feed my ego when people were very complimentary, applause, etc.  That all changed for me about ten years ago with the advent of the jail and prison work where I saw how powerful music, delivered with love and caring via the message of the song, can change the direction of a life. I have worked with murderers, drug lords, rapists, robbers, gangs, prostitutes and on and on but I now never view these people by what they did but by what they can be. It has been an amazing transformation for me to be honest with you.
Music, for me, now, is not the ends but it is a very impactful means toward that end and getting to be a vessel on that journey is rewarding beyond measure. Tonight, each of these people that will take that stage and microphones, have been prayed over by name that God would use each and every one of us for His Glory and thus to the Refuge of Hope and its ongoing ministry.  Those that come tonight regardless of number I believe will go away having felt blessed and to have been in the presence of people, singers, that love the Lord and are honored and blessed to get to use our voices for God's Glory and knowing the financial rewards from the benefit concert will be well utilized again for God's Glory; how can any of that be wrong, right?
I will close by asking each of you that pray to commit at 5 pm EST tonight to pray for this concert that will feature four groups that have worked very hard to craft the songs so that we can be the very best each of us can be. It is going to be a great experience I know but your prayers will make the experience even more a blessing to each of us that get to be a functional part of this journey.  So do I get joy from singing? That would be a resounding yes and I am so excited right now my belly is tingling with anticipation.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Beauty of Snow

Have awakened to a fresh coating of beautiful, glistening snow and it is 12 degrees as I ready for church.  Having been reared in Alabama, snow was always a rarity but I always loved it.  As I have experienced snow in many, many places around the world, I realize that snow still brings out the little boy in me from Alabama City when I first see it.  That knocking off the noises of the world due to the snow serving as a muffler always amazed me.  Yes, I admit it ... I love snow!
Using snow as a metaphor and its ability to dampen the noises of one's reality, we have so much "noise" in our world, don't we?  Be it personal tragedy or ill health to the global cacophony of events that both scare and concern us, we need that "muffler" in our lives just to exist from day to day.  The continuing saga of ineptitude and gridlock in Washington has grown really like a Greek tragedy.  I doubt our Congress, now, could pass any sort of worthwhile legislation in a time when the power of good law is needed so badly.  I can still get very angry in watching this mess unravel on a grand scale daily. I can, as well, become angry with what I see as an arrogant, out of touch, elitist as our POTUS. Add the Congressional morass to the disconnected spend-nut in our POTUS and the future seems bleak.  But wait, it is snowing and the sounds are muffled.  So what, for me, muffles this ever increasing, laughable horror story in our national leadership?
Let me answer that this way! I heard Bill Gaither on radio a few weeks ago make one of the most profound statements I had ever  heard.  Gaither said that the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago unleashed via that event more art, more music, more literature than any event in the history of Man.  I had to process that but then realized how true that really was for me personally.  I was asked a few months ago to sing to a group of secular people with this caveat; please sing two songs with one being a Christian song and one a non-Christain, secular song.  I found myself in a quandary when I realized that I know hundreds of Christian songs but could not come up with a single secular, non-Christian song! So, they got two Christian gospel songs! I tell that story for, for me, I hear the message of Christ and His birth, death and resurrection embodied in the music I listen to, sing, study and enjoy delivering. That is exactly what Gaither was talking about.
On this Sunday, this is a day set aside in Christendom as the Sabbath.  I cannot wait to be with my many friends at my church, to get to sing, to get to collectively worship with many hundreds of like believers, to have a powerful sermon delivered straight from the pages of Holy Scripture.  This will be my day to get to bask in that music, that art, that literature and that miracle of that birth of a Baby that changed the course of Man; and still does!

Some will read this and agree, some will disagree, some will just blow it off and some will be angered by it.  But for me and my house, we WILL serve the Lord and today is another day in that journey to serve a Risen Savior. I am so blessed to get to type those words of praise, of reality, of my future and that of my family.

Lord, thank you for the snow but thank for being the snow that muffles the junk of this world!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Sun and The Son!

As I sit here on a sun drenched Saturday afternoon after days of dull, dank snow clouds, I really feel the sun will always lifts my spirit.  I lived in the tiny country of Luxembourg for several years and that country was known for the few days of sunshine annually of any country in Europe.  The personalities of the everyday Luxembourger reflected that same dismal, downtrodden, woe is me attitude. I was always puzzled by that having grown up in the South and had sun seems like most of the year. So today's sun is a welcome change and even though still cold, it feels good just to feel good.  Thank you God, for the sunshine!
But let me shift to another Son for the warmth of that Son far outshines the sun in so many ways.  I was reminded all over again during two chapel services last night at a local county jail of the power of song and powerfully delivered sermons bathed in Scripture. Scripture means they are the words God sanctioned to be written to tell His story to Man.  When you get to see hardened criminals soften and melt into tears through a song, a pat of the shoulder, a moment to just listen, your very core is affected in a Godly way.  When those times come, as they did last night, I am reminded that there is no sun that can warm a life like the basking heat of the Son!  Seeing those men last night humbled as they came forward for prayer was touching enough. But seeing those men pull together with arms around each other, feeling gentle taps on shoulders agreeing with the words of the prayer, seeing tears and hearing the gentle sobs of conviction and contrition; wow!
There are times I question why the jail work continues to be so vital to me personally and it is in those experiences like last night that affirms that anyone that is a part of such a process receives an abundant blessing.  That is, frankly, unexplainable for even after these nearly ten years, I still cannot accurately explain to people why I keep doing it and find myself loving the work more and more.  It is a thankless work and you are exposed to the lowest level of culture via harsh talk, profanity and major doses of tattoos and gang signs marking these men and women's bodies. But still they come seeking something outside their iron cages and I must believe, evidenced again last night, they are seeking a greater power than even they can grasp; I still cannot grasp it!
I have wondered and pondered why my decision to take off from teaching at Kent State this semester came so clearly and so quickly to me even though I did not know what lay ahead when the new year launched.  But as we view into February, March and beyond, my calendar continues to fill up with wonderful things; things I could not begin to see just six weeks ago.  Singing in a quartet and a trio with men that love the Lord and sing for His Glory is such a blessing to me.  Seeing how God is bringing the two groups together in sound and blend is a joy but seeing how God is melting our hearts closer together is simply amazing. The opportunities to sing are increasing and that is a special blessing to me.
Those that know me know I love to get my hands into organizational improvement and restructuring facilitation and planning. So in the midst of an already busy calendar, I have been asked to do some corporate level work for a global company in Houston, TX for a great friend I worked closely with during my Goodyear days.  My mind is already aflutter with thoughts and ideas on how to go about this project even in the backdrop of an already crowded calendar. But here is what I believe! I believe if God inspires and creates, He will show the pathway so I am not going to  worry or frustrate about how but I will just let Him handle the When and the How and knowing that, I know it will all turn out for the good! I think I realize this is all part of Christian maturity.  I love the sense of not worrying about how things will happen knowing, for His Glory, they will happen at His timing; you know, the Son!
As as the sun begins to ebb for the evening, I am just feeling warmed by the fire of the Son.  As the song says so rightly; I don't know about tomorrow but I know who holds my hand!   I hope this finds each of you in great spirits. Our quartet, The Pathway Quartet, is singing a great, uptempo song tomorrow in worship service entitled, I Am Blessed.  What a great song! What a great truth!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Life As We Know It -- Henry Ford the Change Agent

Earlier this week I watched a powerful two hour life view on American Experience about Henry Ford.  I have studied Ford, his linkage with Frederick W. Taylor, the Father of Industrial Engineering, his power-driven nature but really never understood the phenomenal impact this man had on us to this very day.  In our world, now a century past Ford, our lives are cluttered in so many ways and I do not use that word clutter loosely.

Standard of living, politics, entitlements, "Cliffs", school killings, gun control, Roe V. Wade, an inept legislative process, school funding, unions seeking to survive and on and on.  When I think about those items of today against the context of the last hundred years, I realize after learning about Ford just what a powerful man he was in how he affected an entire world for an entire century plus.  So having said that, I found my mind tracing through the events of our world in the century where we find now three and four generations of people interlaced by this strand of history as we view into a seemingly dark future.

World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other relatively minor conflicts have scarred we as a People deeply. Through all of these military conflicts rides the drive, the vision, the take-no-prisoner attitude, the entrepreneurial spirit; the epitome and essence of Henry Ford. He detested unions, he sought constant improvement, he was endless in his drive and energy. Sure, he had many flaws but through the flaws, he changed a world with this thirst for invention of the automobile.  That drive shifted our national Gross Domestic Product from being driven by Agriculture into a whole new Age, the Manufacturing Age. Now one hundred years hence, we find ourselves in the midst of a globalized-driver moving us toward the Service / Information Age.

I could go on about Ford but the real question that has run through my brain is simple: where are the Henry Fords today. Where are the men and women that are driven to create something that will truly change the course  of mankind as the automobile has done and still does.  Today we have people that make money from other peoples' money which adds zero tangible value.  We have inequities, biases, frustrations about things we cannot see nor touch nor understand.  I see in my classes semester after semester in my students where only a very small handful would even consider manufacturing as a career path. I watch the commercials of office work today and what you see are "kids" sloppily dressed, looking very unprofessional, lounging or slumped in cubicles all armed with ipods, ipads, tablets, ear phones texting each other. What fantastic technology! But it scares me when I think of being so isolated and insulated from interactivity with real people faced with managing real problems. 
It is perhaps because I am getting older or I try to look at the bigger picture of events in our world in an attempt via understanding to connect the dots to better grasp what and where our world is heading.  But in saying that I am really saying or actually asking, where are the Henry Fords of today?  Sure we have the Gates, Buffetts of this world but where are the people that inspire us via investment in our world that generates real, measureable things. I come from a manufacturing world so I understand what it means and what it takes to make things to very high standards.  But we are more and more leaving, actually running from that world for the digital, wireless, bloodless connectors of information flows.  So what should we be doing now to better prepare my grandchildren for this very different world into which they will be faced with rearing a family, creating a career, living a life?
My point is that there are no simple, easy answers.  But as I wrote on a FB response yesterday on a volatile topic, I am either just smart enough or just dumb enough to believe if you bring the right constellation of minds together, any of these issues can be remedied. We put people on the moon and brought them home. We can bring water from a desert floor. I believe this is fixable as naive as that may read. But the spurs of politics, race, bias, bigotry, anger must be hung up at the door of tomorrow.  The degree of poison, finger pointing, insinuative rhetoric in our world is truly unbelievable to me and all of those create a barrier to progress.
I will close by saying that I have not lost faith in my fellow man to make right things happen. But I am losing faith in the dearth of energy, passion and fueled change to turn this thing around.  "If you do not know where you are going, that is exactly where you will end up."  .... can I get a witness??