Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A View from the Cheap Seats

Good morning and yes, I am up early this morning and sitting here in the quiet coolness in dim lighting to not awaken my wife thinking about life, family, our world.  Yesterday afternoon I sang a one hour concert at a local assisted living facility to a sweet group of about twenty or so precious elderly adults.  It was yet another worshipful experience and felt like this amazing ministry God has opened up to me in singing in so many locations like that, getting to meet hundreds of older folks each month, to hear their stories and to see the rapid deterioration of the human mind and body over relatively short periods of time still so striking to me.  With each of those dear people I have met in these last few years of doing this, the precious wisp of the miracle of life becomes even sweeter to me with each new encounter.
As I was singing and speaking to those folks gathered around me, I felt a collective closeness that only comes when you know you have connected emotionally with your audience. For that one hour, while tiring and draining, as I departed I felt that God was clearly in the room as the residents made their way back to the quiet reserve of their rooms and thus the drumbeat of life thumped ever onward.
More and more in doing this ever increasing work which includes meeting family members of the residents, the agony of children and grandchildren watching their parents or grandparents slip into deeper states of emotional separation becomes so strikingly evident. But even in that seeing the loyalty, the love, the gentleness, the caring for that aging patriarch or matriarch is so precious to me. The sadness really comes when I realize how many of these pillars of life rarely if ever have family or friends to invest time with them so they wile away their hours in loneliness.  That, I have come to realize, is why I believe what I did for a spiritual purpose in singing and investing my life in theirs is so vital and uplifting. I do love it!
In another dimension, however, looking into the eyes of these precious older folks that have survived, reared families, lost spouses, are becoming less and less mobile, the minds not processing as we each take so much for granted in our own lives, the brevity of life and its quality, you realize, is more fleeting and precious than gold.  I see eyes staring at me in wanting so badly to fully grasp my words I am speaking which are always intended to lift and encourage that takes me into a song as well intended to lift and encourage the audience.  Some times when you see a gentle clapping of hands to a rhythm or the quiet mouthing of lyrics along with me in a song or see a sweet tear begin to form knowing a particular song has touched a memory or a hope; that is why I feel so much a part of these sweet lives invested in me for a hour or so!
But then when I allow myself to step back, usually driving home after the concert, to think about the escalating craziness of our world in wars, suicide blasts, political craziness on a grand scale in our world, I almost envy these sweet people in coming to a place and time in their lives when all of that is meaningless for they are wonderfully shielded from the landscape carving by world events transpiring just outside their doors.  Frankly, I am so glad that the forces of evil in our world that are blasted on airwaves so readily rarely get much attention by these wonderful people.
These people have experienced wars, deaths, economic depression, physical deterioration, financial deep holes, anger, angst, etc, etc. They have earned the right to not know, see or understand.  That is yet another reason why I feel so deeply that speaking about a God that loves us, singing songs that praise His Name, witnessing God's love and touch in my life can be and I know is uplifting to these amazing elderly people. That is my blessing and it is so rich in its depth.  Seeing their faces get excited when they see me return to sing to them is a Christmas present that keeps on giving.
As well, I have learned all over again the vital nature and ministry of a church pastor and his staff in visiting these precious people if only for a few minutes. For many, that is the only sunlight in their lives that shines into their darkness and I can say the same in watching them light up, smile, touch  me when they see me ready to give them an hour or so of my life in singing, sharing and lifting their souls toward heaven.  You can usually always tell the Christians from the non-Christians by the way they understand what the songs and my words mean versus just enjoying the change of pace by my presence and singing.  
As with the thousands of jail inmates I meet and get to know each year, these wonderful folks in these homes many times are left alone and forgotten by friends and family.  There are similarities I realize in the inmates and the residents but so much resides in the area of commonality of their place in life. True one group is there for just having lived long enough to find refuge in a place that cares for their every need while the other is there for rehabilitation and correction for wrongs inflicted on his or her fellow person but still each are in need, each want to be made to feel special and each yearn to be treated special as they so richly deserve. Core to this in either group is the love of God that can solely bring a sense of joy, a lifting of a burden, an opportunity to bask in the Sonlight of God in word and song. So yes, similarities and I do glean so much joy in working with both demographics.
So my view from the Cheap Seats this morning; invest yourself in others' lives and guess who will get the blessing? That would be you. Do not fear injecting yourself in just sitting and sharing or listening or in reading to these precious souls that have experienced so much. Never forget, each has a unique story to tell and many long to share their stories; so many simply cannot but it is worth the effort to put yourself in the position to allow them to share for it shows them that someone truly does care! And never forget, but for the grace of God each of you will be there sooner than later and find ourselves in that ever narrowing, darkening space called old age.  This work that I get to do honestly makes me feel more vibrant, younger and an overwhelming sense that I am actually doing something of value and worth in the lives of these folks in either a home or in a jail chapel services and it feels Great!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Whirling of Life

Today is my number two grandson's 12th birthday and today we had all five grand kids at our home most of the day. To see now two 12 year old grandsons and three beautiful, fun-loving, loved grand daughters and their exploits at Grammy and Poppy's is, well, wonderful.  Later in the afternoon I sang a concert at local assisted living location where I have sung many times in the last three years. As I was singing to an amazing array of wonderful elderly people I have grown to know and to love, the whirling sound of life became excruciatingly evident in my mind's ear.
My life has been a life around masses of people.  My Goodyear career brought into the world of literally hundreds of thousands of people of all races, languages, beliefs, competencies, religions; and I loved every connection. My military time was vested in thousand of men as we worked complex issues of men, materiel and mission to accomplish assigned goals to a timeline.  I love the challenge and the smell of victory with each accomplished.  Post Goodyear led me to a decade of students as I got to teach and example to seven thousand young men and women.  That decade was a whirl but so many lives I was given access to via this powerful tool called education. I count every encounter blessed though some were better than others; still blessed. Twelve years in jail and prison ministry still takes my breath when I think of the nearly 300,000 men and women I have been blessed to get to know, to learn about, to communicate with and to share God's Will for their lives. So many disappointments  but so few amazing changed lives I have witnessed. But for me, perhaps the most amazing leg of this journey has been in the last four years through music.
As I was singing in one of the twenty-one locations where I sing regularly, I saw, yet again, the pace of physical and emotional shifting and transforming the human body can go through oh so quickly.  Seeing the conditions of vibrant, successful, loving mothers and fathers now aging rapidly and to have such a joyful relationship with hundreds via the music is one of the top five joys of my life.  Part of the joy comes in the reality that it has nothing to do with fame or fortune or ego; just pure, unadulterated joy of using gifts God has given me to give to people that need and love what I am doing. Therein lies the blessing for me.
At sixty-seven, I well realize from my work these last few years around so many elderly people that life as we know it can change so quickly it takes your breath. But in saying that, the gravity of spiritually being ready to go comes to the surface as the overarching pinnacle of why all the time, effort, energy and work required to do the best I can do when singing for these people. I strive with every song to make it the best it can be; why? For it is their life, their legacy and their  future that makes it all so worth it. 
I spoke, today, that I realized in the last few concerts that I have developed a habit of touching my ear with my fingers each time the lyric is about "hearing" meaning when God's is speaking or we are listening for His Word.  So many songs have that resonating theme. We must listen via study, praying, yearning to hear God's Word. God's Word, for many, come through my vocal cords in this wonderful growing ministry.
Not knowing how many more years God will grant me nor how many more concerts I will get to sing or  how many sermons I will get to preach or how many hugs and sharings I will get to experience, I know that it is my greatest hope that when God calls me home, he will grant that I be getting to do exactly as I have just described in doing His Will and not laying in a hospital bed not knowing where I am. I want to go in active mode. I want people to remember that I loved the Lord, I loved my family, I loved my ministries and I loved to ENCOURAGE every person that God put in my path.
So when you think about your own whirl; count it a blessing!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gravity of our Day

Good morning. My fingers feel heavy this morning as my heart feels a sense of gravitational pull with the events happening seemingly daily in our world.  Many people simply choose to not be curious or hungry to understand the connectivity to the events of our global village but many of us, I am one, has this insatiable thirst to understand. Those that know me understand that well about me.
There are several major heavying channels I could plod but this morning I want to take a few keystrokes about our Nation.  Our nation is fractured, disjointed and worrying on a scale I do not recall in my lifetime. Some will rationalize that that fact resides with the 24/7 news cycles, social media, etc, etc but I hold to the belief that our aggregate world and the events do appear to be more gruesome, more frightening and more disheartening than any time I can recall.
When our nation's leader celebrates openly and joyously about Biblical wrongs; I just have to step back and seek to understand.  The hoopla with Mr/Ms Jenner is an abomination short and simple but in our nation today, it is celebrated to the highest levels of our nation.  Murders on an historic scale are viewed as common and, "oh well" as we are becoming numbed by the atrocities.
Then you look at the after the act reality such as, for example, the Holmes kid that was found guilty of murdering those kids in a movie theater. First, it was three years ago and the trial, the first trial of others to come, to get this atrocity to a jury.  This will lead to more years the taxpayers will fund, more time chewed up in an overcrowded judicial system and he will probably ultimately write a book or a movie be made of his poor life when in reality this should already have been litigated and execution exacted. Think of the poor families this evil person has destroyed for two generations; they are the real victims. But my point is, this is now the norm in our nation. A very sad norm!
Negotiating with Iran, of all nations, in "hopes" Iran has been buckled down for perhaps ten years from getting a nuclear bomb.  Iran is untrustable. Iran wants to spearhead the destruction of Israel. Iran is the world's largest sponsor of terror on the globe.  I am reminded of W's comment after meeting with Putin early in W's presidency after they had met and he felt he has "seen the heart of this man, Putin" and believed he a good person. Well, we see W needed a new set of glasses as the world has become more corrupted and Russia is in open war to regain her empire.  
I have to just shake my head about listening to the POTUS try to explain the "deal" and pundits add color but at the aggregate, the deal, sounds to me, is a bundle of needles held together by fog and mist and hope. Iran is and will take grave advantage of this negotiation for as a commentator rightly stated yesterday, you always negotiate from a position of power and power is the reflection of who needs and wants the deal most. America has sent clear signals that we need and want this negotiation more than Iran which puts Iran in the leadership of the negotiation. So all the splash of joy from the "deal" will be short lived plus Iran will now be flush with hundreds of billions of dollars to do what they wish with no metric to measure or monitor. No wonder the Gulf States are scared to death; we should be as well!
Leadership begins with strength, vision, clarity of mission wrapped in a tight bundle which inspires people to want to join in for the journey. I see none of that in our nation and I find that very sad. Our social fabric that was woven by the Framers has been made a mockery and celebration of the debacle of societal evaporation.  I think, for me, this poses the greatest concern for me due in large part of seeing my grandchildren often and being integrally involved in their young lives while seeing this demise of what has been the backstop of our society being dashed in celebration.  I state once more than I believe the core of this cancer is this state of toleration and no absolutes and pose the greatest  deteriorating of our once great nation. It is greater than politics, economics and diplomacy. We are talking about the very fabric of our nation going forward.
It seems appropriate for me to close with a restatement of my fives principles of life that have been etched into my hard drive:
  1. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten
  2. If you do not stand for something you will fall for anything
  3. If you do not know where you are going, you will most assuredly arrive their
  4. Whatever it is in this life you are looking for, you will find it
  5. Stay in the Fight!
There is not enough of Number 5 as the forces of evil and wrong are winning the battles that is eating away at our future. What is sacred anymore? Think about that. What, for you, do you truly hold sacred and what are you willing to do to maintain the value of the nature of that which is held as scared. Christians, seems to me, are the last vestige in our nation that are not to be tolerated but the expectation is that Christians must be tolerant of all the other garbage bags of societal wrong that abounds in our nation. Churches and pastors will face growing litigation pressure to perform marriages that are Biblically wrong. We are seeing it daily so it will arrive at your altar very soon if not already. Pray for our churches and its leaders to be able to withstand the tidal wave that is existential.
Yes, this morning, I feel the Gravity pulling our nation, my nation deeper into a cesspool. God has to be so disappointed with His People!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Memories; The Hall of Life

I was listening to the words of a song by The Hoppers, an amazing Southern Gospel family I have loved since the early 1970s.  When the song was over, the mother, Connie Hopper, spoke and in her words said life is a set of memories. That brief comment began a mental drilling down for me in realizing just how profound that is for life, truly, is about memories.  Singing at a funeral yesterday for a man younger than me that passed very suddenly just a few days before, I spoke about this very reality as the upload to me singing the great song, Celebrate Me Home.  See the distraught wife, the shell shocked sons and five beautiful grandchildren that just really had not had time to process it all, that scene reinforced the immeasurable power of memories.
At sixty-seven years old, my account of memories is staggering with many being good, some simply amazing, some still frightening, still some warms me all over.  Memories of people that have touched my life and my heart along the journey come to me at interesting time such as at funerals or weddings. Events tend to trigger memories don't they? One that stands out to me is in a bitterly hot Alabama summer standing in a small graveyard for a belated funeral of my great grandfather who had fought at Gettysburg for the South. In that same graveyard was a memory etched into my hard drive was a KKK funeral for a distant relative when I was about six years old. I did not understand any of it but I knew the robes and strange hats were abundant. But this time I was asked to sing Precious Memories at the gravestone for it was one of my mother's favorite songs which I later sang at her funeral at her request.  The fact that I started the song out in a key I could not sustain for it was too high is one of the painful memories of that moment but being surrounded by relatives, many of which have now left us for Heaven, was, well, very special and I knew my efforts pleased my mother; a Wonderful Memory.
So many enter and exit our lives and some so quickly we do not relish the time nor the touch that person made on our portrait.  Coach Walter Holt, Coach Riley Whitaker, Joe Stone, Earl Hicks, Ruth Epley, Zeddie Morton, my grand father Williams, Alicia Williams and the list begins to wind endlessly through the canals of my mind. Life is, very much, about the shades, shadows and hues of memories.  Losing friends too young, working through hard, tough, complex issues with people you have to rely on, making decisions on discharging people from jobs knowing they need it but have proven themselves unreliable or unworthy scar you for years. 
At this stage of my life, the nearly 7,000 students I was honored to teach and thus to touch their lives has made an indelible mark on my life and I believe on many of their lives.  Singing has become the defining place for me at this stage of my life that still staggers my mind wonderfully. but singing to many hundreds of a wide array of people each year is a blessing I could never have imagined I would get to do and to enjoy so very much. I know my time with these wonderful people is my touching their lives; that is the true blessing for me in getting to be an instrument via music to touch hearts. WOW!
Relationships are central and core to the memories that create the pathway of life for it is the interface with others both good and not so good that bring the color to HD in replaying the avenues and boulevards of our life.  Watching the photo display at the funeral yesterday deeply reinforced this reality for life does truly move along oh so quickly; so quickly we do not realize it at the time at the etchings on our lives.
In closing, I propose each of you reading this take a few moments and take a trip down your interstate of life. Think about people that adjusted your trajectory and arc and thank God for them even though the memory made evoke pain and regret; still the touch made a difference. I realize how unbelievably blessed I am and realized all over again just how quickly this journey of life can end so quickly and unexpectedly which is what was so evident yesterday. For each of you that read this, please know that if you have entered my life at any point, you made a difference for I am here, now, where I am and while happy, I know the best is yet to come!

Friday, July 3, 2015

There is a Storm Brewing in our Land

A great friend of mine posted that Subject line into a FB thread yesterday and it struck a chord with me. I tossed and turned last night in trying to get off to sleep but that term kept whirling through my brain.  As my mind worked back through the news media, Facebook comments and pleas and acidic rhetoric, sermons, phone calls, texts, emails and that quiet introspection that comes when there seems no answer to the myriad questions, I found myself in a state of calm as I quietly sought God's insight on what it all means. I slept soundly from that moment on.
Our America, that land we love so much, has become a land where far too many Americans act like they do not love our nation as we have known it. There are many culprits to that terrible journey of dissension and angst and so easy to point fingers or unleash the frustrations on the keystrokes of a computer for that is easy, sanitary, and seemingly harmless to the send or respond to. But in the last two weeks we have all seen the seams of dissent that have been there but surfaced under the light of relevancy and camera lights and we do not like what we have seen.  For what we have seen is our new reality and it is not pretty and it frightens us for we know something is badly broken but seem powerless to fix it so we can move on.
The unleashed anger about the Confederate flag literally, like the Civil War, pitted brother against brother, long term friends against long term friends resulting in attacking, threatening rhetoric laced with  this resounding drumbeat of the age old North and South antebellum in America.  The killings in South Carolina, while tragic beyond imagination, was superseded by the presence of the Confederate flag at the State Capitol. The media became heatedly focused on that symbol which fueled days of insults and attacks by people in the South, some of my long term friends,  aimed at anyone or anything with the audacity to even hint that the Confederate was, in fact, a symbol of racial oppression for, frankly and undeniably, it was and it is and always will be. It was an era now gone but I was shocked at the doggedness of those seeing any logical protest about that symbol was translated as hating the South, disconnected from some almost sacred heritage that simply has been washed into the ocean of history.  The pendulum swing overreaction has been dazzling with the removal of the Flag, monuments removed, etc which I think is silly but that is what happens when the stability of history, it seems, is jostled; always overreaction. This will grow sillier until that pendulum hits it's apex and begins it slow swing in the other, less reactive posture; and it will.
The Obama eulogy, which I found soothing and Presidential, was met with harsh criticism meaning the fomented distaste of this man, the POTUS, which I feel as well, was momentarily eased by his excellently delivered eulogy. A black man, in a black church, before primarily black people with a uniqueness to their words and actions and songs at a black funeral allowed Obama to be truly "black" in his demeanor and words and actions and song. I found that perfectly alright and I say that as one that sings and speaks at many funerals. Was there a political edge to his utterances? Most certainly but even thinking about it now I believe he, Obama, for the first time for me at least, showed reverence, connectivity, passion and caring in his words and was, for me, very presidential.  Then, as with the flag, any hint of agreeing with his words such as these previous sentences, was met with hostility on the threads of social media.
As we go into this Independence Day holiday, multiple billions of taxpayer dollars are being exhausted because of or in the name of terror threats against fueled by social media used apparently effectively by the ideology of hate called ISIL. Social media again!
Then the capper was the now infamous decision by the Supreme Court in a very split decision declaring as the Law of the Land the approval of same sex marriage and again even the social media moguls came up with the LGBT colored White House which angered and enraged so many including me for it sickened me.  This decision was simply wrong and Mr. John Roberts will pay a high price for his role in so many landmark decisions that is so dramatic changing the very fabric of our nation.  This decision was simply wrong for it was a direct violation of God's stated principles of marriage. But I also must rely on the fact that it is not I that can or will correct the abomination but God has promised He will take care of this at His timing. Amen I say!
So yes, there is a fever and a storm brewing in our land, the once Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  That Land, sadly, is no more as some of us knew it as Baby Boomers growing up in the mid 20th century post World War II. That land is now pock marked with too many lawyers, too much media, instant communication, never ending corruption, weak, manipulative political machines fueled only by money and, yes, social media.
But you know, I still believe in the American experiment for that is certainly what it is still.  We are still the nation people will fight to come to.  The demographics of our nation are changing before our eyes as a frightening rate. Latinos in America now hold nearly $2 trillion of our $18 trillion GDP and is close to if not already the largest voting bloc in our nation. Let that soak in a minute! 
Our national pride has dimmed and sullied due to shifting mores where we are all supposed to be tolerate of any thing and everybody belief, activity and choice. We, I wholeheartedly disagree with that for if you do not stand for something, you will most certainly fall for anything; THAT describes America today. My level of unsurprising disappointment in our POTUS leadership, our nation and our future is the lowest and most concerning of my lifetime and I see nothing on the horizon that will return us as a nation to a better time.  When Jenner is celebrated as a national hero and icon, well, you get my drift but that is where we are. America is being bullied by factions and now supported at the highest levels of a dysfunctional wrongly aimed higher arm; our government.  This government is no longer for, by and of the people but for, by and of the people of money and voting power.
When presidents are elected solely on the amount of money they can raise; the core metric, they are nothing more than NASCAR drivers acting as prostitutes as I view it. We are, I think a better nation, still, than we are showing.  But the once great tenets of spirituality that led and guided leaders in this land have seemingly gone quiet or people just do not really care nor listen to these tenets. Living unwed, LGBT, same sex marriages, etc, etc is the new normal and that is very very sad. But that sad will translate to a sicker future with diseases for God will not tolerate that mockery of Creation I do not believe.
So the only, ONLY, aspirin for this terrible headache is prayerfully petitioning God for His Hand in cleaning up this national disaster that will grow much worse before it gets better.  Here is all I know ... I have had some great time with my five grand kids this week and I cannot escape that crawling feeling about their lives in their future and what will be their normal.
Dear Lord, come quickly!