Monthly Archives: July 2013

Evolution and Lunch

“I don’t think we’re here for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,’ but I’m anticipating a good lunch.”  -Dr. James Watson


Conservatives and Progressives

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”
-G.K. Chesterton


Holy War?

“It would be almost unbelievable, if history did not record the tragic fact that men have gone to war and cut each other’s throats because they could not agree as to what was to become of them after their throats were cut.”     -Walter P. Stacy

How does violence enter the religious equation anyway? Because I’m right and you’re wrong? Bloodshed over ideas? What good is that? Most religions have been the center of war at one time or another. Why is that? Because of my religious ideas I am going to force you to believe as I do since I have superior knowledge and insight to yours? Is that what is being said through the behaviors of many religious sects, past and present?


Langston Hughes

“God having a hemorrhage,
Blood coughed across the sky,
Staining the sea red,
That is sunset in the Caribbean.”
-Langston Hughes


Is it Black and White?

For some time I have observed security to be described in terms of either black or white. Feeling safe is a right most contend they have been given while feeling unsafe is a threat few would desire. What we think about is either safe or not safe. Often it is in between. We gravitate toward those places and thoughts that make us feel safe and do our best to avoid the discomfort of little or no security.

 

Many ideas about the world come to us from our parents and those we respect. These ideas become “grafted” into our unconscious. We make assumptions about these truths and live, for a time, without questioning them. The existence of Santa Claus and his reindeer are one of the first “facts” we are told. And, for most of us, that reality was as sure as anything else we have ever been told. That is, until someone, perhaps an older sibling, said there was no Santa Claus. That revealing statement became a troubling thought. At first, we denied it. Couldn’t be. No, Mom and Dad would not tell a lie. But then little things gnawed at our suspicions causing them to open like a festering wound that would not heal. The truth was unwelcome and inconvenient.

 

Truth works like that especially when a respected person, usually a parent, shares the “truth” with you. It becomes very difficult to give up the “truth” when it comes from such high authority as an all-knowing and invincible parent. Giving up Santa is like giving up a parent, a very difficult proposition.

 

Given the fact that other cultures have alternative Santa Claus figures best fitting their belief systems, one begins to wonder if a universal truth exists. There is no doubt that many believe in a universal truth but proof is difficult to produce. One accepts Santa Claus stories on faith since the persons promoting the idea have a credible role as parent or adult.

 

If I were born in Utah chances are I would be a Mormon. If I was raised in Egypt I might be Islamic, and if I was born in Thailand I would probably be convinced Buddhism was my religious identity. Much of our religious identity has to do with where we were born and to whom we were born.

 

So, when someone questions religious identities people begin to feel insecure. Their protection and security is threatened. People fear there might be a mistake and so to protect their beliefs they tend to lash out in defense. Some religions will even threaten anyone who believes differently. Some even threaten death. Some are in danger of losing their reputation or even their life over a belief system as an agnostic, atheist or unbeliever. It is true that many pin their hopes on religion to assist them through some of the darkest people experiences. It doesn’t matter where their hope comes from it just matters that they are given something to believe. If one doesn’t believe as the predominating culture does those threatening ideas are subject to being crushed and the person is excluded from the group. The person who does not believe as others do is made to pay for independent thinking.

 

Is it better to shut down those who question the “truth” than to find cogent arguments to preserve a way of living? One can feel secure because the person who has questioned a belief system is presumed to have been intellectually and spiritually vanquished. After all, if you have faith you have all you need. Or, do you?


Authenticity

“I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.” -Oscar Wilde


Libations

Recently,  while at a seminar in Atlanta, one of the conveners mentioned that her brother had died from alcoholism. That tragedy gripped me as I thought of a few of my friends and acquaintances, recovering alcoholics, who have dodged the inevitable specter of death…so far. There are a few others I think about from time to time and how they have managed to escape an ultimatum. Unfortunately, you can see the effects of it etched on their faces. Glassy eyes, pallid flesh, disinterest in former non-party types, and a selfishness that pervades their relationships. It is a life going no where but “dregfully” down. To deal with my emotional reaction to this destructive behavior comes the following…:

 

Libations

 

Talkin’ difficult things, much of it stings,

It’s never enough, someone’s aching

Everyone but him/(her), takin’ it grim.

Liquid amnesia poison.

 

Refrain: He’s livin’ the life, he’s livin’ the lie, he’s livin’ to say “Goodbye!”

 

It’s me, “Me, myself, and I,” glassy gaze in his eye,

Running away from survival.

Take it to the sleep, take it to the deep

Life has become too steep

 

Refrain: He’s livin’ the life, he’s livin’ the lie, he’s livin’ to say “Goodbye!”


Thought provoker…

Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.  Proverbs 18:2


The Warmth of Other Suns

Last year about this time I read an amazing book, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Isabel is a New York Times reporter who took a year off to write a record of Black migration from our South to the North. It was harrowing, explicit, condemning, rehabilitating and redemptive, all in one book.  It gave me an appreciation for what many Blacks of our country have gone through since being “liberated” after the Civil War. I am embarrassed to acknowledge the absolute degrading circumstances we have allowed to take over our nation as witnessed in our minority populations even to this day.

The book got me to thinking, big time. I was inspired to write a song of which I have attached the lyrics below. (Later, I will include an mp3 for those of you interested in the song itself.) The song is about a man named Lincoln West, a pseudonym for a composite story of powerlessness and greed spawned by the stories Isabel Wilkerson wrote about in her profoundly moving book.

Here are the lyrics:

 

Lincoln West

 

There’s a ripple on the water,

Rowboat leaving the scene.

Two shadows row to shore,

Someone sees a moonbeam.

At the bottom of the dark,

Is a body made to rest.

Could that be Lincoln West, Lincoln West?

 

Lincoln lived a simple life

Scratched a hoe over the ground

Farmed 10 acres of green life

Lived to love what he sowed, a simple man.

Lincoln lived ‘til ‘26,

Tilled the land that he loved

No one there but sister Sue,

Mom and Dad laid in the ground, years ago

One night, lit by moonlight,

Two men on the front porch stoop,

Called Lincoln by name,

One held a gun, the other a noose, in the shadow were their friends.

 

Refrain:

There’s a ripple on the water,

Rowboat leaving the scene.

Two shadows row to shore,

Someone sees a moonbeam.

At the bottom of the dark,

Is a body made to rest.

Could that be Lincoln West, Lincoln West?

 

Seconds slowed, the house took fire,

A hellish red, burnt like a pine tree,

Susan running, calling for help,

The house was gone, all that they owned, left nothin’ but the heat.

Lincoln knew the rope could kill,

Heard the powder, bled the hand,

He was caught as just a man,

Whose color is black, just a simple man, a stalwart man.

Flashes of light, smoking torches,

A tight rope, it was over.

A body in the trunk, a lake, a boat,

A splash, a coward’s laugh, men rush to shore, murdered a man.

 

Refrain:

There’s a ripple on the water,

Rowboat leaving the scene.

Two shadows row to shore,

Someone sees a moonbeam.

At the bottom of the dark,

Is a body made to rest.

Could that be Lincoln West, Lincoln West?


Cowboys and Jesus

Cowboys and Jesus

For a few hours I was a “cowboy”. Standing next to a vintage hand-painted blue ‘41 Chevy pickup, I was the real dude. Leaning into the truck, I jawed and pointed to somewhere, then self-consciously sauntered about as a Marlboro man covering the back 40. A pair of crusty boots, attached stirrups, torn and tight jeans and a grease-stained hat augmented my role. The photographer nodded approvingly.

A swaggering gait with a machismo grind deliciously possessed me once I pulled those high-heeled, narrow-toed boots on. The only thing missing was a cigarette, smoke lazily lifting off the butt end and a woman or two squaring up to dance. Don’t know much about smoking, can’t dance very well either. Funny how we make these things into romantic something’s at the time.

As I looked down at my weathered alligator, “pointy-toed” boots and inserted my thumbs into the belt loops of my jeans, I couldn’t help but think of the days, some 50+ years ago, when my younger brother was strapped into a plastic horse head and told to sing. The extravaganza took place at old-fashioned tent meetings conducted by our parents traveling as evangelists to claim America for Jesus. The family took my brother to work the crowds with them. Dad always set the scene for the assemblage with his usual show-biz evangelistic fervor. Something like, “Our little four year-old cowboy is going to sing a song he wrote with his mother called, ‘Let’s be Cowboys for Jesus.’ Cowgirls and cowboys let’s welcome…Little Richy…!”

Generator furnished electricity lit up incandescent lights strung on thin wire between creosoted wooden tent poles. The lights struck my brother’s blonde hair and handsome face with theatrical “glowworm” sheen. He wore a black Hopalong Cassidy outfit sporting silver-studded buttons and buckles, an outfit chosen to lend authenticity to his nightly cowboy role. A toy plastic horse head, the kind you strap to your waist Mom and Dad found in a “five and dime” Woolworth’s store looked proportionately right on my brother’s four year-old body. He sang boldly into a vintage microphone. The public address system responded with a scratch, crackle, and a whimpering pop. All eyes were on him as he sprightly pranced about the stage to the throaty sounds of laughter, little people giggles and spontaneous applause. He was an antidote to boredom while fabricating happiness. A hero in the making.

This was Little Richy, (not to be mistaken for Little Richard). “Richy” later became a medical doctor and while en-route to his practice tasted the legendary lifestyle of Haight-Ashbury and its seductive drug culture. This was a kid who would become student government president of every school he attended. That’s a story we’ll get to later.

Mom smiled approvingly from her piano bench while accompanying Richy on the poorly tuned upright piano near to tipping over on the low budget, hastily assembled, quarter-inch plywood stage floor. He’d sing his song on cue and mean it too…at least, then he did!

I am a little cowboy I ride a buckin’ bronco,

I like to play with lasso, rope, and gun.

I’d love to be a sheriff and capture all the outlaws,

So come to my log cabin we’ll have a lot of fun.

 

Let’s be cowboys for Jesus. Let’s be cowboys for Jesus.

We’ll work and play ‘til break of day and capture the outlaws for Him.

As the photographer circled the Chevy pickup truck I thought about the song “Little Richy” sang. The lyrics got stuck in my throat, just wouldn’t come out. While I clearly remembered the words and simple tune it got me to thinking nostalgically in a bittersweet kind of way. I thought about those days of glory for Jesus, touring the country, doing tent meetings. “Little Richy” was just too young to escape the spectacle of it all. We didn’t see it then, and my parents would disavow this were they alive, but I see it now as a form of child abuse and exploitation. “Little Richy” had no choice in the matter. Just as any kid would, he enjoyed the flattering attention.

Being in grade school at the time, I escaped most of this spectacle. Still, it impacted me forcibly on weekends and summer vacation as it would be assumed I would take part in these performances whenever I was with the family. I learned to lean on the crowd for laughs, tears and acceptance. Can’t say I miss it much today, but then it was vitally important. It had a lasting and profound influence on my life. I discovered you could get people to “love” you by performing well.

Was it really for Jesus? Did Jesus care if I took my pre-adolescent talent on tour for Him? Did He care that I gave up little league baseball and my friends for a chance at a big-time evangelistic outreach sometimes drawing 50-75 people a night? Did He care that our family sacrificed home shelter to live in pup tents, servant’s quarters, “prophets chambers” and trailers so we could have a chance at bringing people to Christ? Did He really care? I wonder! I don’t know. Is it possible that any good could come of this for two brothers, a four and seven year old, who weren’t given the chance to make up their own minds about Jesus? Personal decisions would be put off for later.

That is what I remember of our little “carnival” act; religious passion covered over with street savvy show business. The family business was based on a mix of manipulation and piety, a product of daydreams designed to call others from bedrooms of shame, gambling gaming tables and forbidden drinks. We were going to win these people to our way of life and knew this would be the road to our success. And, we were going to feel good and frothy while making it into meaningful employment. We believed this with all our hearts. We knew we were headed for the big time. And we were convinced there would be a reward of some kind somewhere, somehow.

I felt a grubby shame somewhere near the soles of my feet that sucked the life out of my childhood imagination and creativity while pulling me down into ministry expectations. I bought the whole thing, yes, every bit of it, and passionately preached it as an adult. And, I always made sure it came bathed in passion as one who genuinely believed it to be true. Because I believed it all to be true.

I had a compulsion to perform (I wonder where that came from?). But performance had to be at least good if not excellent for we were singing, playing and praying for God. I mean, this was about, and allegedly for, the God of the universe. The thing is, if you weren’t good at what you did musically forget about a second invitation. You had to be good or you would suffer a personal kind of rejection. It was the people who decided, not God, as some would have us believe. This really wasn’t about worshipping God. This was about worshipping the deliverer of shimmering vocals who could bring worshippers to heights of ecstatic unguarded emotional experience.

You could judge how we did by record sales, or the sale of photos we made of ourselves purchased by admirers for memorabilia and autographs. Yes, autographs! Adolescent idolizers and tearful senior citizens would line up at our product table to purchase a whiff of what they thought was fame. During the span of my musical career sales of 78 and 33-rpm records, cassettes, CD’s and photos were the indicator of just how well we did. And, of course, there was the saving souls angle. We just knew that our notoriety came from winning souls. No one was really counting, yet it was always the reason for our existence; to win and encourage souls. Did we do that? I wonder. The applause was most satisfying, easily distracting us from our mission. Listening to the candid stories of people in deep distress who wanted to come to Jesus was much more difficult than signing the back of an L.P., CD or photo.

There were always the needy and adoring. The tendency was to cater to the supporter and find a way to shorten the road to salvation for the seeker so we could find the quickest way back to the adoring souls and our next gig.

To be continued…

Copyright Ed Anderson, 2013