Who said the old guys ‘ain’t still got it?’ This is a great tune from (in my opinion) Britain’s best blues band (for over 50 years no less), John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Featuring the great guitar playing of Buddy Whittington and the late Gary Moore. No one plays guitar with more passion than did Gary Moore. And, consider that John Mayall is in his 80’s. What a voice for a man of years.
“That was awesome!” Really? Any more, I’m not sure exactly what that means.
Awesome, used like this, is a descriptor, a label, a name. What does awesome mean? It should have a definite meaning, but unfortunately today it means what we think it means. Oh yeah, it has a dictionary definition but we think the dictionary is out of touch with today’s modern usage. If you rely on the dictionary meaning you will communicate with about 5% of the population. (If you are curious, look up the definition of awesome, you might be surprised).
Standards are low. But, what is my evidence of low standards? The abysmal way in which we use the word awesome. If you can get enough people to repeat and buy into your new definition, it will stick in everyone’s mind and it will become the default definition.
Before we realize it, we begin using awesome in a careless way, almost as a by-phrase that really means nothing.
How was your trip? Awesome!
Want a cherry popsicle? Awesome!
This is free. Awesome!
Recently, I was reading a book and the writer kept referring to Bob Dylan. It wasn’t like he was using some Dylan lyrics to make a point in his book or that he was using Dylan as a metaphor for some internal struggle; no, he was just blabbering on and on about how Dylan was his all-time favorite musician. And, to be honest, after reading about Bob Dylan chapter after chapter I was intrigued.
So intrigued that I headed over to Youtube and gave him a listen. Now, many years ago, I had listened to a bit of Dylan as a teenager (think 1970s) and later in college but he never did anything for me. I think it had something to do with the times changing (yes, mentally insert the title of Dylan’s most famous song). In the 70s we were involved in the Vietnam War (early 70s) and after it officially ended in 1975 we were dealing with the aftermath.
Those times were not pleasant in many ways and protest music was all the rage. Dylan fit into that category and, in my mind at least, I couldn’t understand him. I associated Dylan with other artists that were criticizing the war, in which my dad fought, so I saw protest music as unpatriotic, socially upsetting, and a little limp wristed. The drug culture was also ramping up in the 70s and most rock bands, particularly Southern rock bands, were firmly entrenched in the quasi hippie drug culture, which was also a turn-off to me. So, where did that leave me? I was not a Dylan fan.
Never mind that his voice is a little grating on the nerves and he ends every verse on a high note, which sounds like he is putting an abbreviated question mark and exclamation point on the end of each sentence. Very annoying; or at least it was at the time.
But, back to my re-acquaintance with Bob Dylan’s music. I bopped over to Youtube and did a quick search. The first video to come up was a 1964 rendition of “The Times They Are A Changin'” (see below) and perhaps for the first time I strained to really hear the words. Not just the familiar tune and his grating high pitched voice, but the words. It was like I was listening to it for the first time. I googled the lyrics and read them through a couple of times. And it hit me; this guy had something to say (and still does).
I listened to the song on Youtube again. A couple more times. I don’t know what music critics or social commentators say about it but to me Dylan was saying the times will never go back to what they were. You can accept, adapt, or whatever, but you can’t go back. Of course, he was talking about political business-as-usual as much as anything, but I think that applies to everything in life. Relationships develop, sometimes they decay, sometimes they just disappear, but when that happens new relationships appear. Your job changes, your church changes, the country and the world change, but we change too. The only option not available to us is to ‘not change.’
Sure, I listened to a few more of his tunes. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” Blowing in the Wind,” and so on.
Then, I realized what you probably already know. People don’t listen to Bob Dylan because he’s a great singer, they listen to him because he’s a great storyteller. He touches their soul. He says things that feel familiar but we can’t quite put the words to it. His poetry doesn’t sound like poetry and his ache is our ache.
Dylan is a troubadour, a musician storyteller in the finest tradition. He is part folk, part Americana, part everyman. Even when we listen to his songs over and over we tend to find a new nuance to his voice or a phrase or word that has new meaning, even if we are only reminded of something we already know.
So, what is my point? My point is that we are storytellers and we are story consumers. We love stories and we write our own every day. We may not think our stories are worth much because no one is listening to us like Dylan, but we are mistaken. Everyone we come into contact with hears our stories because it is who we are, what we say, how we dress, how we behave in a tense moment. It’s the jokes we tell, the way we treat others, and sometimes, just some times, it’s an actual story we tell.
Over the years I have enjoyed reading the poems of Robert Frost who, in my mind, is possibly the greatest modern American poet. Some literary snobs may not like him as much because he is popular. Supposedly, it is hard to be popular and intellectually meaningful at the same time, but I like his poetry. It is earthy, real, and he can make me feel what he is saying. My voice gets raspy from the cold wetness when reading his poem, “My November Guest.” You know what I mean, and we love stories because they make us feel something.
Today, Bob Dylan has done that for me. Whether I agree with everything he sings is not the point. The fact that he has told me a story that makes me feel something and think something and evaluate my own existence is the point. Why do people listen to Dylan?
Well, it’s not because he is Dylan, it’s because he is a storyteller that has something meaningful to say. It is meaningful because we, at times, feel the same way he does. He is asking us questions or provoking our thoughts in ways that cause us to be reflective and consider our brief journey on this earth. People listen to Dylan because we become Dylan when we listen to him, suddenly introspective and inquisitive.
And that is becoming increasingly important. The reflective person is the person who can navigate the moral catastrophe we seem to live in. The reflective person is the one who not only copes with society but works to change it. I saw a meme recently that said something like, ‘if you think you are too small to make a difference, you’ve never had a conversation with a mosquito.’ Even if you only change one thing, and even if that one thing is small, it still changes someone in some way.
And, you have to be reflective, able to think about where you are, who you are, where you want to be. Things will change anyway, but why not be part of it? Go change something. Today.
We often hear of the so-called ‘Average Joe.’ But, who is he, really?
Does Joe have a page on Facebook? Probably not. He prefers the telephone network to social networks. And, telephones are properly used to tell your buddy the game is on, to order pizza, and call your momma.
Joe knows politics. Joe votes.
Joe keeps convenience store owners in business. He keeps the memory of Elvis alive and makes Gatlinburg and Branson modern day Mecca’s.
Is Joe smarter than a fifth grader? (Yes!)
He keeps sleeveless shirts in fashion, Friday night high school football well attended, and NASCAR roaring on.
He knew who Hulk Hogan was before Gladiators and has seen all the Rocky sequels. Joe knows Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone are American heroes.
Joe appreciates fine cinema with classic selections like Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Dances with Wolves, and anything with John Wayne or Jack Nicholson. Joe knows that Kramer vs. Kramer, The Color Purple, and anything on Lifetime or with Richard Dreyfus in it (except possibly Jaws) are for sissies.
Joe loves his momma. He knows his momma is the finest woman to ever live and his wife is a lot like her.
Joe can appreciate French fries, chili, and hot dogs without worrying if any are going to his hips. Joe orders a real cup of Joe, rich black brew best appreciated in a Styrofoam cup with guys named Bubba down at the factory, not biscotti chomping yuppies and financier dandies down at Starbucks.
Joe knows that “stock” refers to cows, as in livestock, and not pieces of paper with scantily clad drawings of lady justice in the corner. Joe knows that if you own a company you unlock the door in the morning and your name with “& Sons” goes on the sign above the door.
Joe doesn’t buy futures, but he does buy pork bellies. Oil comes in three versions, crude, castor, and canola.
When it comes to entertainment, Average Joe knows the Beach Boys are better than the Beetles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and Charlie Daniels play real music. Joe also knows who Porter Waggoner, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Charlie Pride, and Conway Twitty are, even if he can’t name any of their biggest hits. Joe avoids tight jean wearing, long haired, wanna-be country bands that have artsy names. Joe knows hip-hop is what bunny-rabbits do.
Joe loves his preacher and goes to church, at least on Mother’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and sometimes on July 4, especially if special music includes the Lee Greenwood song, “Proud to Be an American.” Joe has a family Bible proudly displayed on the coffee table and it’s stuffed full of birth announcements, a few obituaries, and a greeting card he received long ago.
Joe knows that real men drive pickups, go fishing, and eat Vienna sausages right out of the can. It’s not inappropriate to burp discreetly and beef jerky is the real man’s prime rib.
Joe has never used the square root button on a calculator, but, then again, Joe doesn’t need a calculator because he can do simple math in his head. Joe knows when someone is laughing at his simple ways but he is too polite to say anything. His momma taught him that.
But he’ll knock you in the head for insulting women, kicking a dog, or being unpatriotic. His daddy taught him that.
Joe isn’t quite sure what a psychiatrist is but knows he doesn’t need one.
Joe knows that freedom isn’t free and he’s willing to volunteer. He respects soldiers, firemen, and policemen and the job they do. He says “yes, ma’am” and “no sir” when talking to adults and treats kids like kids.
Joe bows his head during prayer and doesn’t think its un-American to pray at football games. He gives to charity but also believes that charity begins at home. He believes in the second amendment.
Average Joe is a rare breed; he’s an endangered species. But, America would be a better place if we had more Joe’s.
A friend recently shared an article on “stress free homemaking.” Well, admittedly, I didn’t know there was such a thing as the stress free variety! But that is not the thing that caught my attention. It was the word “homemaking.”
Homemaking is severely underrated and under-appreciated. We often hear the term “stay-at-home-mom” and such, but I think we just try to relabel it to acquire some sort of legitimacy. But, no window dressing is needed. Making a home is hard work and it comes with stress – but the good kind of stress. Making a home isn’t cleaning the house, it isn’t cooking dinner, it isn’t taking care of the kids – necessarily, although some of those things might be included.
Making a home is putting your arms around your husband or wife and holding them tight. Making a home is not losing your temper when your spouse does something to annoy you or disappoints you. Why should it annoy you – you are on their team – your job is to provide an assist whenever needed. Making a home is keeping priorities straight – God, family, work, and everything else down the line. Making a home is staying up late, getting up early, making the umpteenth PB&J, going to school programs or homeschool activities, and a thousand thankless tasks every day.
Homemaking isn’t an easy way out, it is the dearest sacrifice you will ever make – but, strangely, it won’t feel like a sacrifice because it is what you chose to do. Mom, dad, grandparent, whomever the homemaker in your home is – know that the work you do is the most important work to be done. So, do it well. The results will speak for themselves!
We live in a culture that thrives on disrespect. For the last decade or so, reality TV has educated us on how to kick someone off the island, drop game show contestants through a trap door, and shame wannabe stars by insulting and humiliating them on a national stage. We can easily blame Hollywood producers or talent show judges, but in reality Hollywood only gives the crowd what they crave. Lions only appear in the Coliseum because people demand lions.
All of this leads to an incredibly self-centric ethic; we are happiest when we vicariously triumph over other aspirants, albeit from the sanitized safety of our living room. We have blinders on and all we tend to see is our way, our wants, and our worldview. We think everyone would benefit if only they saw things our way.
Which brings me to how people are perceived by others when they do not share their faith, or lack thereof. For example, Christians are often criticized by non-Christians as being closed minded, bigoted, and uncharitable. If we Christians would just practice what we profess, non-Christians charge, the world would somehow be more loving, accepting, and tolerant. For some reason, they think that the God in whom they do not believe is somehow the embodiment of love, although they do not think God’s people are very loving.
Of course, it is relatively easy to find a Christian straw man to knock down and critics do not suffer from lack of opportunity. They may point a finger at the Rev. Pat Robertson who famously suggested that earthquakes in Haiti were due to Haiti’s historical link with voodoo. Or, perhaps it is misguided activists from a church in Kansas protesting at soldiers’ funerals. Mix in a few snake handlers and shoutin’ fundamentalists and you have the perfect recipe for hate mongering and caustic criticism. However, the caricature of hateful Christians is largely a statistical artifact. Yes, there are hateful Christians but there are also hateful non-Christians. But the good news is that hateful people are a minority on both sides.
What non-Christians may not realize is that they suffer from the same disease as those whom they criticize. Non-Christians want Christians to be more accepting, even affirming, of non-Christian practices. They want Christians to be OK with drinking, gambling, alternate lifestyles, and a general disregard for moral values, but non-believers are not very comfortable accepting persons of faith.
Why not ask non-Christians to be accepting of abstinence, temperance, family values, and regular church attendance? Is it more harmful to society to be a drinker or non-drinker? I’ve never seen a tragic story in the newspaper lamenting the fact that another traffic fatality was due to a sober driver. We don’t give tickets for driving under the non-influence. Abortion doesn’t save a life and gambling doesn’t bring families closer together. If we are concerned about reducing harm, perhaps we should focus on reducing harmful behavior.
But, we realize in our heart that it is not about reducing harm, it is about personal liberty. People, in general, do what they want to do and do not want others telling them they are wrong. To be “intolerant” of socially liberal ideas seems worse than being an axe murderer.
If one reverses the order, one can see that those who espouse tolerance are themselves intolerant. Non-Christians want acceptance and affirmation of their choices but are not willing to return the favor. Christians can’t pray at high school ballgames because it might “offend” one non-Christian in the audience, but when is the last time a movie theatre cancelled the showing of an R rated movie because a Christian in the audience might be offended? When have we heard for a general call for society to accept women wearing modest clothing or for rock-n-roll enthusiasts to embrace their inner gospel singer? The sick are criticizing the physician and we Christians are all too willing to accept the distorted portrayals and embrace the martyr attitude.
Christian, wake up and stand up! It may be true when non-Christians accuse Christians of letting their faith influence their actions (or at least I hope it is true). However, non-Christians are equally guilty of letting their non-faith influence their own behavior. Non-Christians have become the thing they hate the most – intolerant. Non-Christians routinely let their non-faith influence decisions on whom they hire, promote, do business with, and so on. How is this any more virtuous than the Christian whom they criticize.
I don’t know why I did it, other than because I wanted to, but I read a poem by William Carlos Williams to my economics class. I rationalized it because we were discussing economic policy during the Great Depression, and I remembered a poem by Williams, “To a Poor Old Woman,” and I just needed to share it that day. That reason was good enough, so I read it to them.
It did fit with the lecture, but what I wanted to accomplish was more than bring the Depression into view, I wanted to provide stark relief. And, I wanted to share some art. So, I told them about the poem, how Williams wrote it during the Depression, and how its simplicity allowed the reader to feel the goodness of a simple pleasure, by a simple woman. In my mind, it is simply a beautiful poem.
There is a hint that Williams is somewhat condescending to the poor old woman and her simplicity, but I think he more or less is just relating what he sees; he sees a poor old woman enjoying a cheap pleasure, a bag of plums, which is probably the greatest luxury she can afford.
The poem, like most poems, is best when read aloud, so I read it to my class. I saw that the students could smell and taste the plums too. It is a powerful poem. Its words evoke sights and sounds that can really be enjoyed.
One of my students liked the poem well enough that he went to the library and pulled a collection of Williams’ poems off the shelf. He read through them and liked some, didn’t like others.
But, I asked him If he found any poems he liked. And, he said that he did find two poems he liked. “Great,” I said, “you are now two poems richer.”
Don’t be troubled by a few missteps; no one bats a thousand all the time.
I was an unusual kid (in some ways). For one, I liked classical music. Blame it on Looney Tunes, I guess. Bugs Bunny as The Barber of Seville is a classic! Whether or not that was the genesis of my interest in classical music, I did develop an amateur appreciation for classical music. Granted, I never learned to play an instrument, so I am missing out on some of the finer points of refined listening. I may not fully understand the technical complexities of music, but I do know what I like and I know if it sounds good or not.
Over time, I have discovered the difference between playing notes and playing music. Playing notes is the foundation of music but it does not necessarily equal playing music. I can finger the notes perfectly on an instrument but it may lack “flow.” Flow is what makes music beautiful. Flow is when the musician effortlessly plays each note and creates a beautiful experience. He is one with the instrument – in fact, the instrument is just an extension of his being, a different voice with which he speaks and sings. Flow is when the musician loves his art and tenderly expresses himself in his wonderful, melodic language. Love of music drives the musician and his love is passion, understanding, and expression rolled into one.
When I listen to music, I don’t hear notes; instead, I hear weeping and joy. I experience the music instead of just listening to it and this transcends the passivity of being in the audience; I am brought into the moment with the musician. Although I cannot feel what he is feeling, I can at least understand what he is feeling and I am made richer for the experience.
Everyone plays music of one sort of another. In the symphony of life, we have many things to do. Of course, we can get through life, punching the clock, doing what is required, doing what is expected. But that is only doing the minimum; it is the difference between “have to” and “want to.” I suppose “have to” can be satisfying, in a way, but it does not satisfy the soul. We can do our work and make busy, or we can perform our work and make meaning. It is the difference between getting the job done and doing the job well.
Our calling, whatever it may be, is our music. Don’t be satisfied with just playing the notes.
Usually, we tend to think in concrete terms. For example, if I want to go to Niagara Falls next summer on vacation, I will make plans. I will decide which days I want to go and will then work to arrange those days off. Next, I will estimate what it will cost and will start saving money (no, don’t put it on the credit card!). I have a precise destination in mind and I’ll make sure it happens.
However, with so many things in life we can’t determine a precise destination, but we are still better off making plans. When I graduated high school, I had no idea that in the distant future I would be a college professor living in Florida. To me, Florida was only a place where my family once took a vacation; it was certainly not my destination over three decades in the future. Likewise, I do not know precisely where I will be in the coming years, but I do know with certainty that I will be “somewhere.”
So, if we cannot plan our exact destination, is it worthless to plan? If we don’t know where our exact location will be then why make plans to get there? And that brings me to my point. Even though we don’t know exactly where we will be, we know that we will be somewhere; therefore, the question is which direction do I want to take and how will I get there?
Last year I heard a young preacher and his wife who are on deputation for domestic missions. The preacher did a great job presenting his work and preaching a heartfelt sermon. After the service, I remarked to his father-in-law about what a fine young man he is and that I knew he was proud of both his son-in-law and his daughter and of their decision to be missionaries. Then, the father made a very profound observation. He said, my daughter decided to marry a fine young man and serve as a missionary not because of what we did as parents but because of the choices she made. All they did, according to her father, was to instill the right values in her by modelling that in the home and at church. She had to take it from there.
There was no way they could foresee what she would be doing with her life, but they planned and prepared with a direction in mind. The direction was to serve God with a glad heart and they made plans to bring that about. They raised her in a godly home, they took her to a church with a commitment to missions, they demonstrated service through their own missionary work, and they taught her how to be a godly woman. It’s no surprise that she followed that direction (e.g. train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it).
No, they did not know her exact destination, but through diligent planning and preparation, she was able to arrive at a good destination. God only knows where she will be in 10, 20, or 30 years, but she can rest assured that it will be a good destination if she continues to plan and set her sights in the right direction. Planning and purpose are more important than place.