Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guess I'd Rather Be . . .

Guess I'd Rather Be . . .

I guess he'd rather be in Colorado
He'd rather spend his time out 
where the sky looks like a pearl after a rain
Once again I see him walkin 
Once again I hear him talking 
to the stars he makes 
and asking them for bus fare
I guess he'd rather be in Colorado
He'd rather play his banjo in the morning
 when the moon is scarcely gone
In the dawn the subways comin 
in the dawn I hear him hummin'
Some old song he wrote of love in Boulder Canyon
I guess he'd rather be in Colorado
I guess he'd rather be in Colorado
I guess he'd rather work out where 
the only thing you earn is what you spend
In the end up in his office
In the end a quiet cough 
is all he has to show
He lives in New York City
(Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado by John Denver)

I think what makes God happy is when creation becomes what it was created to be . . . I think that God is happy when people become who God created them to be.  I think that it sometimes takes a lifetime--if ever--for many of us to find the courage to take that risk to be who God created us to be.  In the meantime, I think most of us sell ourselves short of the potential of who God created us to be, and that we spend ourselves settling for "good enough"  . . . "good enough" when we know deep down within ourselves there is more to us than we are willing to discover and live.  I think we end up a lot like that the guy in John Denver's song, Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado, wishing we were someone else, somewhere else, than where we are.  Haven't we all said, "I'd rather be . . ."

One of my favorite writers is Joseph Campbell, a mythologist, who wrote about pursuing one's "bliss".  Bliss was the word that he used to describe one's purpose in life . . . the reason for one's existence . . . the reason that a person got up every morning, excited and raring to live life to its fullest.  He believed that in discovering one's bliss a person discovered who he or she was created to be.  And, he often wrote about the sadness that accompanied a life that was unfulfilled because people did not pursue, embrace, and live their bliss . . . their purpose . . . themselves as created by God.  Though he did not quite say it this way, Campbell was saying that a fulfilled life is the life that is lived to be what God created it to be . . . Jesus said the same thing.  Campbell writes: “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” Bliss . . . purpose . . . meaning.

The tough thing about pursuing one's "bliss" is that more often than not, "bliss" is not too practical when it comes to supporting a family, putting food on a table, and having a roof over one's head.  Because of that, most of us end up with thoughts of "I'd rather be . . . someone else . . . somewhere else . . . anywhere but where I am right now."  That is why--when I hear the song by John Denver about the New York wannabe--I feel a bit melancholy about my life.  I am not too sure that I have quite taken the risk and pursued my "bliss" . . . that I have quite lived up to who God created me to be . . . that I am settling for second best.

 Of course, I might not be too sure what my bliss is . . . and, that could be a problem.  I imagine that there are a lot of people in my life who might have an opinion or two about what my bliss should be.  I have been told that photography seems to be something that I enjoy and that I am fairly decent at . . . others have told me that I seem to write fairly well.  Both are things that I enjoy, but I will have to admit that I am lazy.  With photography I do not want to take the time to edit and improve photographs I have taken . . . I want to be a one-shot wonder when it comes to photography . . . I want my pictures to stand as they are without doing any photo-shopping.  Of course, every photographer knows this . . . you have to take a lot of pictures to get one perfect picture.  Same with writing . . . I am not real adamant about proofing, editing, or revising much of what I write.  I just like to sit down, write something, and throw it out for whoever wants to read it.  Do people know something I don't?  Are these apart of the bliss I have been searching for?

I don't know.  Like everyone else, I do not want to be second guessing myself my whole life . . . and, like any follower of Jesus, I want to find and live who is it that God created me to be . . . to discover that bliss and live it to its fullest.  I don't want to sit in some office moaning and groaning that I was someplace or someone else.  I don't want to be saying, "I'd rather be . . ."

Life is risky business when we decide that we are going to be honest with ourselves and strive to be who God created us to be.  Risky because what God has created us to be may not be something that puts food on the table or pays the monthly mortgage payment.  To step into the unknown and put everything on the line . . . well, that is scary.  True, God will provide, but will God provide at the level I have become accustomed to?  Also, true, is that if it is God's will it will be . . . that takes courage and faith to follow.  It would be so much easier if God would just put a big neon sign up telling us exactly what to do with our lives.  But, God doesn't.

Instead God gives us hints . . . gives us signs . . . whispers in our ears . . . and, basically challenges us to discover what it is that we are created for.  There is nothing simple about it.  It is scary.  It is risky.  It is certainly safer to sit in some cubicle in New York City, dreaming about the mountains, than to put on the line to follow what might be a pipe dream.  Isn't it the American motto to be better safe than sorry?

Again, I don't know.

What I do know is that I do not want to feel like the guy in John Denver's song.  I do not want to find myself longing for something that I am too scared to find out whether or not that is where I should be.  i do not want to end up in my twilight years regretting any part of the life I have lived.  Am I there yet?  I doubt it because there is still that longing within my heart.  I might not be there yet, but I do think that I am where God wants me to be . . . that I am constantly getting closer to what God wants me to do and be . . . and, that I am still waiting for that neon light to show me the way.  I am not quite there yet . . . but I am getting closer.  I think that makes God happy too.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In the Space of a Dream

Jacob dreamed of angels descending and ascending from heaven on a ladder.  Jacob wrestled with God.  Joseph could interpret dreams getting himself in to trouble and saving his hide.  Another Joseph, Jesus' father, had a dream and fulfilled a prophecy.  Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that he had a dream and a movement was born.  So why don't we believe that God speaks to us in dreams?

There are a lot of people out there who state that they do not dream.  Oh well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news . . . but we all dream.  We do.  Whether or not that we remember our dreams is a whole different matter.  Exhaustion from long days in life and work can make us oblivious to our dreams.  Medications that we might be taking can stymy our dreams.  And, some of us are just to lazy to admit that we dream.  The fact is, we all dream.

Now I realize that everyone has different ideas about dreams.  For some people dreams are a rehash of the activities that have taken place in a person's life.  For other people dreams are nocturnal adventures filled with spine tingling recaps of the day's activities . . . a sort of entertainment.  For others it is a confrontation of the day's activities . . . the shortcomings, the triumphant, and the failures.  For some it is a psychological battle between the ego and the Id;  and yet, for others, it is God speaking to them.  

I imagine there is great debate about whether or not God speaks to people.  There are those out there who firmly believe that God is way out there, watching over the human race, and pretty much having nothing to do with anything . . . particularly the human race.  But, who could blame God . . . watch the evening news . . . read the daily newspaper . . . there is not a whole bunch in the news that makes the human race attractive.  For these people, God is there but in a non-participatory role.  For others God is there . . . God is present, but only pops up when there is a need or a concern to be addressed.  Sort of the burning bush crowd.  When God sees a need, God speaks; but in this scenario, God is selective.  I noticed that when the lottery got up to a ridiculously astronomical sum, and my bank account was at a never-ending low balance . . . that God did not speak up and give me the winning numbers.  Maybe I should have bought a ticket . . . Of course with this crowd the voice of God is primarily a voice of gloom and despair of the end times.  The Y2K scare and Mayan calendar would be two of the more recent hearings of God's voice.  Considering the "signs" of the end that Jesus spoke about--famines, wars, etc.--that God probably would never stop talking if this were the only time God speaks.  Those signs have been prevalent in every generation from the beginning.  And, of course, there are those who will say that God speaks through prayer.  The bottom line is that there is rarely agreement about whether or not God still speaks, and if God does, how God does speak.  Sometimes it is a debate that puts Democrats and Republicans to shame.

I believe that God speaks.  God speaks to us in the space of a dream.  And, why wouldn't I believe that since the Bible is filled with examples of God speaking to the people in dreams.  I know that this is true because God has spoken to me through my dreams.  Granted the voice of God has never been crystal clear when speaking to me through my dreams . . . more like crackling, distant radio station trying to come through . , , and, that could be because the voice of God in my dreams--and the dreams of others--is filled with symbolism, myth, and storytelling.  God likes to talk in metaphors, irony, and great humor.  It takes a little effort and time to truly discern the voice of God through dreams . . . to discern the message; but, God does speak.  Over and over again, I have been amazed at the power of God's voice in my life through the space of a dream.  God speaks . . . 

. . . but, we rarely listen.  It is human nature.  We have selective hearing . . . we hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest . . . even the voice of God.  Sadly, that is one voice we should not ignore . . . particularly when it is God who has our best interests in mind.  God never did shut up . . . we just quit listening.  Which is a shame and counter-intuitive when we consider the Apostle Paul's urging the followers of Jesus to be conscious of God's presence at all time . . . twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  He calls it praying without ceasing.  At least that is how I interpret Paul's words.  Prayer is putting one's self in the presence of God . . . making one's self aware of God's presence.  Sometimes it is words, but more often than not it is with feelings . . . but, how does one do this when one is sleeping?  Dreams.

What I am sharing only scratches the surface of dreams as a means of God speaking to us.  Trust me, this conversation is much deeper and broader than I can share in a few paragraphs.  Nor is what I am sharing intended to settle the argument about whether or not people dream (they do) or whether or not it is the voice of God that fills our sleeping minds as dreams.  It is only to tease the reader into at least considering the possibility of dreams as a viable means of God communicating with us.  It is to begin a discussion.

Dreams are real . . . a few years ago I was moved when singer/song writer Billy Joel admitted to the power of dreams with one of his songs.  Though he is not quite sure about whether or not the dreams are the voice of God, he definitely admits that there is a message in the dreams.  The song, In the Middle of the Night, I think I will let his words finish this discussion about dreams:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To a river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it's too hard to cross

And even though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
And try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I've been looking for

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the valley of fear
To a river so deep
And I've been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

I don't know why I go walking at night
But now I'm tired and I don't want to walk anymore
I hope it doesn't take the rest of my life
Until I find what it is that I've been looking for

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To a river so deep
I know I'm searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
In the middle of the night

I'm not sure about a life after this
God knows I've never been a spiritual man
Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river
That runs to the promised land
In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We're all carried along
By the river of dreams
In the middle of the night

In the space of a dream . . . God speaks.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Picking Fruit

Picking Fruit

I am a brief guy.  I like my snuggies when it come to underwear.  I have never been a free-wheeling proponent of boxers . . . almost seems to be too liberal for my tastes.  Nope, I have always been a brief sort of guy.  All of my sons are boxer sorts of guys . . . and, they have been since childhood.  I am not sure why this is, since their father was a brief sort of guy, but I do think that it had something to do with the fact that there were a heck of a lot more cartoon characters available in boxers than in briefs.  Whatever the case, they are among the free-wheeling while their old man sticks to the snuggly fitting briefs . . . Fruit of the Loom to be exact.

I think that underwear is an individualize and private thing.  I do not think that it is a public issue . . . though it seems that in this day and age, with the current fashion trends, that underwear is the new outerwear.  Whatever the case, I still think that the underwear (if the individual even wears underwear) is up to the individual and is private.  I don't think that it is up to society to dictate what underwear an individual does or does not wear.  That is up to the individual.

One of the big stories of the 2014 Winter Olympics was concerned with underwear . . . in particular the ban of lacy panties in the country of Kazakhstan (plus Russia and Belarus).  It seems that the government in that particular country has decided to ban lacy underwear in a trade agreement.  Their reason?  Well, because the lacy underwear did not have a six percent absorbency rate for moisture.  Because this particular underwear could not absorb a minimum of six percent moisture the government was going to ban them from the public.  As one could imagine, this created quite an uproar . . . both with males and females.  To protest, women placed lacy underwear on their heads and marched around the capital of Kazakhstan.

One woman stated, "It irritates me the most that the authorities want to decide what I should wear. As if all other issues in the country are solved and the only outstanding issue is ladies' panties."  Who cares whether or not the poor are taken care of, that everyone has some sort of health care, that the homeless have homes, that the economy is solid . . . as long as we have the most absorbent underwear in the world.  Remember, our mothers always told us to have clean underwear on . . . in Kazakhstan that mean underwear that will absorb more than six percent of the bodily fluids.  I'll tell you what, if I am in an accident I do not think that any pair of underwear will absorb all of the bodily fluids that my body emits . . . I am going to wet my pants! Kazakhstan's reply . . . yeah, but we are dry!

Though I have broadcasted it to the world, I do not think that it is anybody's business what sort of underwear I wear.  Nor do I think that it is up to the government to tell me what sort of underwear that I wear . . . or its necessary absorbency it must have.  I think that is up to the individual to decide. If he or she wants super-absorbency in their underwear . . . well, good for them.  That is their choice.  This act of government is nit-picking . . . or should I say, fruit picking.

This is a situation in which the government has over-stepped its bounds.  I stand with the people of Kazakhstan (even though I could never pick their location on a map) and their protest against this lacy underwear ban . . . though I will not stand out in the public square with underwear on my head (even if it is Teenage Mutant Turtles underwear).  I know that my underwear would pass the six percent absorbency rate . . . it is Fruit of a Loom.  Any underwear in which four guys dressed up as fruit has to be acceptable in society.

So . . . I want it to be known.  I want it to be known that I do not care what sort of underwear you wear.  I do not care whether or not it has the capability to absorb six percent of the bodily fluids you emit.  Nor do I care whether or not you wear lacy panties, boxer shorts, or those snug-fitting briefs.  That is your business.  The bottom line, literally, is that what you choose or choose not to wear is up to you.  No individual (except our mothers) can tell us what to wear (except that it must be clean in case of an accident).  We need to stand with the people of Kazakhstan and let people they have no right to pick on our fruit! Let freedom ring . . . or at least our underwear!  

Locally Made

Two of my children and their spouses have gone to the "other side" . . . they have taken my wife with them.  The "other side" is the organic health food kick in which everything that we eat or drink must be organic and healthy for us.  So far, I have not been been dragged into the fray even though I really do not have much choice in the matter . . . I am not the chief cook in our household.  What the wife cooks is what I have to eat . . . or, I can do the cooking.  I have eaten a lot of foods I would not normally eat because I choose not to starve to death . . . and, so far, I have survived.  I can honestly say, I am not a health food nut . . . I do not care if my food is organic . . . and, I am still alive . . . though my two health crazed children and wife say that practically one foot in the grave with my good ol' American diet of meat and potatoes (I must tell you that I do not consider chicken or fish to be meat when it comes to being American . . . unless it is the Colonel's secret recipe cooked in deep fat friers).  Hey, I do not want to be accused of being un-American!

This health kick of food--in particular, organic food, has probably added a couple of days of extra life into my warehouse . . . but, I am not sure it has added enough for me to jump in with both feet.  I have noticed that it has increased our weekly grocery bill and made my wallet thinner . . . I am glad someone or something is getting thinner from all of this healthiness!  I have also noticed that it seems to make those who are whole-heartedly into this health craze . . . well, happy.  Not being the one who is the stick in the mud, I have been supplying the whine for all the meals.

A part of this health kick is in the adventure of finding foods that are organic . . . and, even better, locally grown or made.  Organic because it is better for the body without all the chemicals and antibiotics . . . locally grown or made because it is important to support the local economy, plus know who is providing the food.  I figure that if the local fast food restaurant isn't god enough for locally made food supporting a bunch of local high school youth scraping to make a little money . . . well, nothing is.  Trust me, I do not win this argument at family gatherings.  Honestly, I understand the argument . . . I understand the principles of the argument . . . and, I even understand the morals of the argument . . . but, I want my grease with my Whopper.

But, this is not a blog about health or organic food.  I will save that rant for another day as the wife keeps adding days to my life while I keep trumping them with those nasty fast food dishes.  No, this is not about food at all.  This is about the little cartoon at the top of the blog of the woman receiving communion. As the pastor offers her the bread he speaks the familiar words, "The body of Christ."  Her response? "Is it locally made?"  When I saw this cartoon I was struck by its theological implications . . . this is deep . . . and, it is funny.

A little theological background.  In New Testament writings the body of Christ is the church, not a piece of bread . . . though there are those who would argue about this . . . but, not in the denomination that ordained me.  The church is the body of Christ.  Those who make up the church are the body of Christ . . . individually and corporately.  Those of us in the church say this all of the time . . . we are the body of Christ to the world around us.  If we truly believe this, then the question of the woman has some serious theological and practical implications . . . is the church "locally made"?

For a long time the church has been a center piece in the community and neighborhood . . . it has been a gathering place for people to come to worship and fellowship . . . and, the focus has pretty much been in side the four walls of the church.  The emphasis is in that people "come" . . . the problem today is that no one is "coming".  Mainline denominations are in decline . . . and, so are the mega churches.  Churches everywhere are in decline as people have quit coming to them even though they have remained "spiritual, but not religious".  The biggest complaint?  That the churches are not connecting to where the people are.  If this is the case, I would argue that the church is not "locally made".

Now that is a simplistic explanation of the problem, but I can promise you that it is much deeper than that.  Yet, at the same time, I think that sums it up in a manner that we can all understand . . . the church needs to get out into the neighborhood and community . . . be our among the people . . . and, instead of saying they are the body of Christ, be the body of Christ.  This is the idea behind the missional church movement . . . this is the idea behind the Open Circles movement.  The church cannot be a silo unto itself, it must become a sort of 24-hour convenience store to meet the needs of those around it.  It needs to be local.

Jesus strikes me as an individual who did not wait for people to come to him.  No, he strikes me as the sort of person who took his show on the road to the people.  Time after time we witness his ministry . . . his presence . . . among the people.  He was being "local"!  And, that is what he calls the church and those who make up the church . . . the body of Christ . . . to do.  He calls us to be "local"?  The question is: are we?

I will not answer that question as it is a question that I think we all need to struggle with as individual followers of Jesus and as the congregation that proclaims itself to be the body of Christ.  All I do know for certain is that the way we are going about being the "church" today is not working.  The writing has been on the wall for a long, long time.  It is time to start being local . . . actually venturing out into the neighborhoods we exist in . . . getting to know our neighbors . . . getting to know their needs and concerns . . . of being the presence and body of Christ where we are.  It might not taste great at first . . . but, it will add life to the body.  I am sure there will be plenty who bring the whine because no one enjoys change.  Being "local" involves change.

"Is it locally made?"  My prayer would be that wherever a church exists . . . wherever an individual follower of Jesus is . . . that the answer would be "YES!"  It is time for the church to be "local".

Sunday, February 16, 2014

We All Want to Belong

One of the big stories this past week had to do with Facebook and its move to be more inclusive of the various genders of people signing up for or using their accounts.  In the past there were basically two options . . . male or female.  Now people will have more than the two options . . . they will now have fifty different options to choose from to explain their gender.  That's right . .. fifty!  That is quite a list of choices of which I found myself hard-pressed to know the meaning of a good portion of them after checking them out for myself.  I did not realize that there were so many different words or phrases that could define one's gender or gender choice.  Now Facebook has gone this route to be . . . well, more inclusive . . . and, to allow people who do not fit into the so-called normal definitions of gender to let others know who they really are. Of course, as with any change that Facebook does, this move has brought more than its fair share of complaints and jokes.  The jokes have been the worse because they make fun of an issue that is apparently important and vital to a group of people who do not feel included and accepted for who they are.  Such humor is cruel and insensitive.

I am all for inclusion.  I believe that God is for inclusion . .. after all, we are all God's children created in the image of God . . . and, God would love for us to be one big happy family.  So . . . I am for inclusion.  I think everyone should be loved and accepted for who God create them to be . . . no exceptions to the rules.  I don't think that it matters what gender, race, age, ability or disability, nationality, income level, educational level, or even the size of someone's feet . . . everyone should be invited to the party.  Yet, as much as I am for inclusion, the sad reality is that all of us still live in a pretty exclusive world where not everyone is welcome.  If everyone was welcome, then there would be no need for such things as a list of fifty words to help assist us in defining our gender.

I think that the most basic human need is acceptance . . . to be accepted for who God created us to . . . to be accepted for who we are . . . to be loved and respected . . . and, to be fully included in this thing that we call life.  I think that is what we spend most of our lives looking for . . . those people, places, organizations, and groups that receive us, embrace us, and allow us to be a part of the whole.  We want to belong.  One of my favorite all-time comedies has always been Cheers.  It was that sitcom about a sports bar in Boston where the bar crowd seemed to be like a big family in which everyone was invited to the party and accepted for who they were.  I loved the song . . .
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

Isn't that what everyone wants . . . to be accepted and included for who God created them to be?  Isn't that inclusion?

I would love to emphatically state that the "church" is such a place of inclusion . . . but, it is not.  We all know that it is not . . . yet, at the same time, we would love for it to become that place of inclusion.  And, why shouldn't it be?  After all we are the religion that is based on love . . . love of God . . . love of others.  We are the religion that is based on drawing circles that bring all in and not exclude anyone.  We are the religion that claims to speak out for those who are on the outside looking in . . . seeking peace and justice.  So, why shouldn't it be a place of inclusion?

I have often been told by those who attend the "church" that they attend because they feel like they belong.  Isn't that the reason any of us attend a particular church . . . because we feel as if we belong . . . because we are included . . . because someone knows who we are . . . someone knows our name.  I am thankful for the opportunity each Sunday morning to be able to come and worship with a group of people who know my name . . . it is a good feeling to be accepted and included . . . even though, and I realize this, I am the minister.  It is a good feeling to be accepted for who I am . . . to be called by my name . . . and, to be included not because of my gender, education, race, wealth or non-wealth, abilities or disabilities, but because of who I am as created by God.  I like that feeling and I want others to have it too.

Inclusion . . . that is what God desires . . . inclusion.  Inclusion begins where we are as individuals as we look at own lives . . . who is not at the table that should be at the table (ours and God's).  Inclusion grows beyond ourselves to desire to have others in the family with us.  It won't ever be accomplished by creating a nifty list of adjectives to describe ourselves to other . . . though that might be seen as being at least a start.  It begins opening ourselves and our hearts . . . just as God has done for us . . . to allow others to come to the party . . . to take their rightful place at the table (ours and God's).  It begins by learning names.  How biblical is that!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Well, That is Your Opinion

The title caught my attention . . . 16 Songs Everyone Over 50 Should Own.  Being over fifty I was curious to see what this particular author, Jacquelyn Mitchard, thought I should own.  I was also curious to see how my own musical taste as an old fogey would stack up with . . . what I assume was another old fogey . . . and, maybe even an old fogey who knew what she was talking about.  Unfortunately I think that Ms. Mitchard really did not know what in the world she was talking about.  I only had half of the songs . . . eight . . . she suggested.  Plus of the eight that I did have, only six of them were songs that a person must have.  To say the least, the list was lacking . . . and, she caught a lot of heat from those who read the article on the AARP website.

Of the seven artists that I did not have in my collection of songs necessary for anyone over the age of fifty: Frank Sinatra (Once Upon a Time), Stevie Wonder (Lately), Dionne Warwick (A House is Not a Home), Joni Mitchell (Little Green—though I have quite a bit of Joni Mitchell, this is not one of them), Coolio (Gangsta’s Paradise—I’d have to have died and gone to hell before I would have had any rap), AC/DC (You Shook Me All Night Long), and George Jones (He Stopped Loving Her Today).  Now, granted, I have never been a big Frank Sinatra or Stevie Wonder fan . . . I like Dionne Warwick, but not enough to be stranded on an island with only her music . . . AC/DC was okay, but there were better big-hair and donker donker bands . . . and, I never like George Jones because there was just something icky about him.  Outside of Joni Mitchell, which Ms. Mitchard picked the wrong song, these are not normally artists I would listen to if I had to.  The eighth one, the Beach Boys . . . again, it was just her choice . . . God Only Knows pales in comparison to Barbara Ann . . . especially after a few beers.

On the other hand, I was surprised that the author actually picked a few songs that I love: Harvest Moon by Neil Young; Landslide by Stevie Nicks; Hotel California by the Eagles; C’est La Vie by Emmylou Harris; For What It’s Worth—Stop, Hey What’s That Sound by Buffalo Springfield; Crazy by Patsy Cline; Jailhouse Rock by Elvis (though there are much better Elvis songs, especially when he sang gospel); and the classic, In My Life by the Beatles.  Apparently the author spent more than a few nights sitting in front of a eight-track player, sipping a beer, and listening to a few tunes by the light of the moon.

Sadly though, she left out so much.

As we get older, we old farts like to ponder our past lives . . . we like to remember the past.  Who wouldn’t?  As we get older we get better . . . and, so does the music we loved.  Music we listened to under the covers of our blankets on those itty bitty transistor radios . . . music we cranked up in our dorm rooms while the people in the next room pounded on the wall . . . music we cruised the back roads, drinking beer, and looking for cows to tip . . . music in which we had our first kiss and beyond . . . music that marked an event or a place.  Music . . . no matter what our age . . . defines us.  And, even as we sneak past age fifty, music is important. 

Missing from the author’s list were lots of people I listen to . . . Louis Armstrong . . . Billie Holiday . . . Linda Ronstadt . . . Elton John . . . Billie Joel . . . Simon and Garfunkel (together or alone) . . . Jackson Browne . . . the Rolling Stones . . . Little Feat . . . John Prine . . . Judy Collins . . . Bing Crosby . . . Doris Day . . . Dolly Parton . . . Johnny Cash . . . Waylon Jennings . . . Willie Nelson . . . Janis Joplin . . . Journey . . . Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (or any combination there of) . . . Fleetwood Mac . . . Joan Baez . . . John Mellencamp . . . Eric Clapton . . . U2 . . . and, many, many more.  My old mind just cannot name all of them at once.

Also, the author makes the assumption that we old folks don’t like any of the new music that is out there today.  I must admit that I have been spoiled as I have children who have made it their mission in life to keep their old man up to date on the latest music.  I have lots of artists that I enjoy that they have exposed me to (and a few I have exposed them to): Elephant Revival . . . Jack Johnson . . . Amos Lee . . . the Avett Brothers . . . the Civil Wars . . . Band of Horses . . . Carolina Chocolate Drops . . .  Mumford and Sons . . . and, lots of others that are making great music.
The author also left out a lot of great music that I enjoy listening to and that is in the category of musicals . . . where were the songs from the great musicals (or at least musicals that I enjoy) . . . like: Jesus Christ Superstar . . . Cats . . . Into the Woods . . . Fiddler on the Roof . . . West Side Story . . . Godspell . . . Rent . . . Oklahoma . . . and others that kept me tapping my toes as I sang along.

Well, credit for effort must be given to the author . . . she tried.  Unfortunately, music is a taste like any other taste . . . and everyone has his or her own taste.  It is not the same across the board . . . it varies from person to person.  The fact is that not all of us like vanilla ice cream the best.  I imagine that the list is different with each person who is asked to name the “must have” songs at age fifty.  Shoot, she didn’t even have the Beer Barrel Polka or In Heaven There is No Beer . . . who can make it to age fifty without those two classics! 

I love music.  Because I love music, please do not dictate to me what I should and should not have in my music library.  It is all good . . . well, for the most part . . . I still cannot stomach rap.  Outside of that one blip, music is good and I have my own top sixteen list . . . actually it is more like top sixteen hundred.  We all have our likes . . . what are your top songs in your life?


Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go
(Chorus from “Angel from Montgomery” by John Prine)

As old as I am, I should know better.  I should know that reality is often a far cry from the presented illusion.  It has been a tough couple of weeks . . . nights without sleep . . . days interrupted by invading thoughts . . . twisted words . . . illusions being shattered . . . life in general being a far cry from what my optimistic self would like to believe.  It has been days since I have felt rested and centered on my life and the world around me . . . probably a combination of anxiety, stress, disappointment, and disillusionment . . . of things not being the way I think that they should be.  It has just been a “hard way to go”.

With my employment with the university I have been drawn into the politics of academic life . . . I have been drawn into the business of education.  The idealist in me believed that universities—bastions of higher education—were created to encourage learning and growth; but, I have learned that universities and places of higher education are nothing more than businesses that sell education.  Like any business, the bottom line is profit.  When times are good in higher education there is the illusion of the greater good of educating future generations for the betterment of society; but when the profit is down or there is actual loss, universities and places of higher education are nothing more than businesses that would rival the practices of WalMart or other corporate entities.  When people are scared the only mode of operation is the survival of the fittest . . . lots of politics, back-stabbing, and unethical practices taking place.  It has not been a fun place to work the past couple of months.

Within the job that I do at the university I promote professional development for educators.  This is a task that is offered for the Montana Office of Public Instruction.  For the past few years the emphasis has been on the Common Core Standards . . . something slowly embraced by the educators, and even embraced at a slower rate among the state’s constituents.  It has been a battle that has been nasty and seen the group I work for being quietly pushed out.  Again, there is a lot of half-truths, politics, and questionable ethics used as everyone races towards the money and survival.  It has not made it fun to come to work each day.

Into this tense mix has come a sadness caused by a fellow clergyperson breaking the boundaries of ministry . . . a confusing case, but a breaking of the boundaries.  I was one of those called upon to investigate the situation, discern the issues, and suggest the consequences . . . it was not easy.  The region in which I serve as a pastor is small . . . everyone knows everyone . . . and, it hurts to see a mistake made by someone you know and care about.  Lives have been touched . . . lives have been changed.  There is anger, confusion, disappointment, heartbreak, and lots of sadness.  This has weighed heavy on my heart for a couple of weeks now . . . I have lost more than one night tossing over this situation.

Then there is the constant concern for family . . . for children who continue to move through their lives . . . for children who continue to run into obstacles in their lives . . . for children who seem to be paddling like hell to stay afloat while the world wants to pound them to a pulp.  There are relatives . . . brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and even a parent . . . who we have not seen in a long time who are getting older and dealing with the issues that come with getting older.  There are friends we hear from . . . issues in their lives . . . and, being miles apart unable to help beyond a kind word and prayer.

Life has been no fun lately.  Where is the party I thought life was supposed to be?  Where is the joy?  Where is the laughter?  Where is the life?

A benediction is a short invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance from God asked at the end of a worship service.  Each Sunday morning I pronounce a benediction upon the congregation for God’s presence in the days to come.  It is a prayer of hope . . . a prayer of expectation . . . a prayer of presence to help those gather make it through the days to come.  Lately, I have needed a benediction . . . not to make it through the days to come, but to make it through the day that is.  It has been my evening prayer each night as I lay my head upon my pillow hoping to fall asleep . . . a benediction.

John Prine’s song, Angel from Montgomery, is about an old woman who longs for what she had hoped for when she was a young woman filled with dreams.  Life is routine and a far cry from the excitement she thought life would be like.  Dreams are broken . . . desire is lost . . . time has not been good to her . . . and, each day it does not get any better.  Her despair is summed up in the line she has about her husband: How the hell can a person go to work in the morning and come home in the evening and have nothing to say.  Life sucks . . . she needs a benediction.  Hers is simple: Just give me one thing that I can hold on to; to believe in this living is just a hard way to go.

Isn’t that what any of us want at the end of the day . . . something to hang onto?  A benediction . . . God, are you listening?