The Soundtrack In My Head

As you and I begin to get more acquainted, I want to share a little bit about myself.  In everything I do, music will always have a very prominent place.  Music has, quite literally, been my salvation. This is a subject about which I may never tire of writing. And while under this particular heading, I may keep it down to a sporadic article or two (or three, I’m not sure), it may be an underlining theme for many articles to come…

Now, I’m gonna need for the ‘super spiritual’ readers to breathe very deeply and stay very calm.  I am not talking exclusively about Christian music.  There, I said it. Whew, THAT feels better!   

God has communicated with me in ways that I can relate to. And there have been times in my life when the prisons in which I found myself (many not of my own making) had nothing ‘holy’ or ‘godly’ that could penetrate. It was hard to hear the Gospel as it was being presented to me by my captors. It was the same people singing and preaching about God’s love for me that made me feel despised and rejected by God and man. That can alter one’s internal filter for life so that the Gospel cannot come through clearly by any milieu. But God is a great healer!  He used EVERY experience to make me into someone who has covert ops training to find and share God through whatever tool I have at my disposal.

So, let me tell you a little bit about me and the soundtrack in my head by first saying…

I LOVE MUSIC…any kind of music (some of y’all got the reference)!!! Anybody riding in my car needs to have their minds prepared.  I could play the Thommies, followed by Yo-Yo Ma, Kirk Whalum, Kirk Franklin, Audioslave, Mary-Mary, La Coka Nostra, and the Foo Fighters…then, top it all off with entire cds of Israel Houghton and Brad Paisley! Anyone who has ever entered into my office space knows this to be true! I am notorious for playing Switchfoot, sandwiched between Martina McBride and Miguel. I can play the entire John Mayer catalogue and turn right around and do the same thing with Joe Sample, James Taylor and Tony! Tone! Toné! (mad props to my ‘80s groups). I love songs that make me happy, make me cry, make me angry…make me think. 

I LOVE MUSICIANS…I love the sounds that they make.  I love how they can provoke emotion with a single note or a layered chord progression. I love their skill and the concentration that it requires.  I love how, after years and years of practice and training, they can close their eyes and play as if they were simply wishing a song into being. I love the joyous, playful nature of being around a band rehearsing. The ones with whom I am surrounded make hard work look like so much fun! But they WORK! They go over and over and over and over the same 4, 8 or 16 bars until it sounds like they have eaten and slept on nothing but those few notes. I watch them perfect the give and take that is necessary for each one of them to shine, individually and collectively. I must admit, I am very spoiled in this regard.  I know some VERY talented musicians!

I LOVE SINGERS! And, I LOVE TO SING! Soloists, choirs, duets, trios, groups, divas, I love the fearlessness you must possess to stand in front of a room full of people, communicate a thought and, not just hold a tune, but fold it over, flip it back and put a bow on it, like you were on a cooking show, making lemon meringue or bananas foster (I love desert, too…but, that’s another story). The dialogue that goes on between singers and the band is like a sophisticated tango. Hand gestures, eye contact, listening to the words between the lyrics and the notes (singers and musicians tell GREAT jokes to one another while singing to an audience). Every breath and head nod is strategic.  It is a thing of beauty to be revered and appreciated. While, I am not the greatest singer in the world, I do sing pretty well.  It has afforded me the opportunity to sing back up for some very famous people because of the choirs I have been in. I have stood in stadiums filled to capacity with deafening screams. I have also stood alone, in a bar on an open microphone, with the only deafening sound being the thrumming of my heart in my ears. I have harmonized with angels singing praise and worship to God. And I’ve have even sung a couple of songs that have made me BLUSH (all in good fun)!



Superstition Ain’t the Way Pt. 3 (Final)

It has been the biggest trouble of human existence.  Many of us want to please God.  We honestly want to do what He wants us to do.  But, what IS that, exactly? Does it really require me to dress a certain way? Does it mean that if I like a style of music, He won’t be happy with me?  Is it my sin that will send me to hell? But, wait what exactly constitutes a sin? If I accept Christ and I sin again, does that cancel out my salvation? If men wrote the Bible does that make the Bible as faulty as we are? And if that’s the case, does that mean the Bible doesn’t count?

Just, stop…Stop…STOP!  Asking a bunch of questions that take you down one rabbit hole and into another only adds to the confusion. It can send you in a spiral of confusion that will have you shaving your head, picking dandelions for dinner and eating them off of a tambourine in a cave somewhere!

Without question, we’re dealing with a great big God, far beyond the understanding of finite man.  But who would know that better than God?  And because God knows how big He is and how small we are, he kept it VERY simple… very simple.

This, in a nutshell, is the whole reason for your being…the bottom line to the purpose for your existence. Everything else is merely a bi-product of this one, singularly important desire of this great big God of the universe. God wants a FAMILY. As a matter of fact, that is all He ever wanted.  Look at the patterns of mankind.  They all revolve around the familial nucleus.  It’s about RELATIONSHIP!

Even the Ten Commandments are about relationship.  About how to relate to God: How to relate to one another. The whole duty of man (love God, love people) is the central theme of the law. Why is it so important? Because if we can see past our differences to extend to one another the kind of love we receive from God, it is a simple and pure reflection of how much we love God.  Seek to please God by accepting His love.  Return that love to Him and extend it to the rest of His creation.  Only then does everything else fall into place.

It is when we try to complicate that simple formula that we reduce that loving relationship to superstition.  When we perceive the simple acts of loving obedience as DUTY, the law becomes a burden.  We look for ways to quantify the fulfillment of duty, so we introduce WORKS into the law. That way we can discern or judge how well we (and others) are fulfilling the law.  This brings about comparison and judgment and finally condemnation of ourselves and then others (as a way to justify ourselves).  All this serves to do is divide us from one another as well as the One we say we love. This separation from the Father…it is THIS that sends us to Hell. Our unwillingness to accept God’s terms of reconciliation in an effort to create terms that WE can control! We, in our finite, simple, barely discernible definition of intelligence, try to control God and control one another.  And when you believe in things that you CAN’T understand, you will suffer.

Now is not the time to be deep.  Now is the time to K.I.S.S. and make up.  KEEP IT SIMPLE SAINTS…LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Don’t worry about what you don’t get right…apologize to the only one who can truly forgive you, make it as right as you can and MOVE ON!  Let the Holy Spirit sort the rest out…that’s HIS JOB – NOT OURS! Keep loving God by loving each other.  Do right by God in doing right by one another! This is what pleases the Father…to see His children getting along and working together to build up His KIngdom. If that’s all we have the sense to understand, then, that is all we are responsible to do. And since that seems to be our struggle, let’s work that out.

I remember a part of a song from when I was a kid…I am not certain who wrote it.  I bet my friend Chuck Hammond remembers…

“When we are divided, I can hear Him crying.  I won’t be a part of breaking His heart anymore. I won’t do it anymore.  Brother I commit my love to you. Sister I commit my love to you.  Oh! I commit my love to you.”

Let’s try that out and see if it doesn’t deliver us from our superstitions.

With Regard to Father’s Day

BUILD THE KINGDOMI have a pretty hard time with all the familial holidays. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day…take your son/daughter to work day… big brother/sister day…hug your second cousin day. When you come from a family as ambiguously bound together as mine, the true importance of celebrating family members gets contorted and totally lost.

This holds particularly true for Father’s Day as I come from a matriarchal family where men were relegated to either coming home from work and sitting in a chair to watch TV with no intelligible conversation, or drinking themselves into a giddy stupor only to wake up angry at the world, or just coming around to be entertained only to disappear when the real work of being a dad was required. Entertaining a relationship with the fathers in my life proved to be a masochistic exercise in futility.

And (I suppose) that is where my perception of fatherhood would have remained had I not had an experience with God at the age of 12.
God took the time to gently reveal to me that my experience with fathers was not His desire for me and that He was not that kind of father. He patiently showed me that I should be grateful for all of the men in my life…even if all they served to show me was what a man and a father was NOT. (Sometimes it’s more important to be clear on what a thing is NOT to firmly define what a thing should be, am I right?)

He even took the time to show me poor examples of fatherhood in the Bible so that I was comforted in knowing that this was far from a modern phenomenon. And then He taught me about real love with 1 Corinthians 13 and how one of the best indicators of a good father is how a man accepts the role of “coverer”. Not just to cover a woman, but to cover his business or place of employ; how he covers his friends; how he covers his family…HIS mother and father and siblings. If a man is willing to cover ONE WOMAN and those with whom he surrounds himself properly in the exercise of COVENANT…not to stamp them into submission but to encourage them into God’s vision of FAMILY and PURPOSE, that man will be a GOOD FATHER.

My relationship with God as my Father has been the thing that redeemed my hope in the institution of Fatherhood. My hope for fathers been grounded and now flourishes because of the men of my church.

I am privileged to worship with a church heavily populated by REAL MEN. Men of a variety of races, denominations, backgrounds and financial statuses come together several times a week to pray and fellowship and worship with their families and each other. Fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, mentors and friends…they are all over the Lighthouse Church of All Nations in Alsip, IL. I have never known the kind of unconditional love and support that I have experienced there. I take immense pride in the relationships I have with these wonderful, imperfect-yet-always-striving COVERERS!

Now, I have fathers: Like my Senior Pastor, Dan Willis, who corrects and reproves me and tells me he loves me and encourages me in my calling, like Daddy Walt Otto, who comes into church in a white 10-gallon hat kisses me on my cheek and calls me “Young’un”. Like Rick Lett and Frank Cruz who encourage and pray for me.

I have brothers: like Jerome Lockett, whom I’ve known since I was a teen-ager and was the first man EVER in my life to say, “She knows what she’s doing, leave her alone and let her work!” Like Asanti Socrates, Cory Dortch and Gregory Johnson, whom I’ve known since they were teen-agers, sitting on my living-room floor, eating chili and watching movies. Like Chris Duffin and Ethan Noyes, with whom I can laugh and toast, who hear my tears and will sit with me without words until the tears dry. I have a host of sons beyond the two I bore…too many to count or name. All of them the products of ONE GOOD FATHER and they take His example and perpetuate it in our congregation and everywhere they go.

The bottom line, I have discovered is, if fatherhood was easy, every man would do it and the crime rate would be miniscule. But it CAN BE DONE…WELL.

And to those of you who understand what that means and are not afraid to go at it with the dedication and determination to really be fathers, I wish you a warm and grateful HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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Heavenly Father’s Day

Superstition Ain’t the Way Pt. 2

One of the things that has always bothered me is religious bigotry.  Denominationalism.  Dogma. Separatism.  Christian mythology.  Christian Mysticism.  Tradition for tradition’s sake. So much ‘whodo’ mixed into the Gospel that the untrained eye can’t tell whether the things they do were based on a good idea or a God idea.  It upsets me…the things that are perpetrated and perpetuated in God’s name that He had nothing to do with.  These are the things that complicate man’s relationship with God.  These are the things that make God so hard to understand.

I once heard this story told.  I don’t know if it was based on any one person’s account or if it actually happened at all.  Not that it matters anyway, you know I’m going to paraphrase it to death anyway…

This family of three sisters, Gerri, Carla and Kristen, got together for a huge holiday dinner.  Everyone was in the kitchen, pitching in, preparing the meal and table settings. Gerri, the oldest sister was getting the roast ready for the oven and was just about to cut it in half to put it into two medium sized roasting pans.  Carla’s daughter, Grace asked her, “Aunt Gerri, why are you cutting that roast in half?  Wouldn’t it just make more sense to use the bigger pot in the pantry to cook it all at once?”

“No, baby,” Jerry replied, “That’s the way I’ve always done it.  That’s how your grandmother did it.  She learned how from her mother.”

“But why did she do it that way?”

“I’m not quite sure. I don’t know if anybody knows.”

Kristen chimed in. “Wait a minute!  I think I remember Great-Aunt Gracie talking about that when we stayed with her for summer vacation that one year.  I know she wasn’t up to coming into town this year, but maybe if we call her, she might still remember.”

So they gather around in the Living room and get Great-Aunt-Gracie on the speaker phone and let the family spokesperson, Kristen, do all the talking.

“Aunt Gracie, Mom always cut the roast in half and cooked it in roasting pans.  That’s the way you and Grand-mom did it, too, right?”

“Great-Aunt Gracie was a woman of few words.  “Yep. Sure did.”

“That’s how Great-Grandma June taught you right?”

“M-hmm. That’s right.”

“Aunt Gracie…WHY did Grandma June do it that way?  Was it to help it cook faster?  Did it help make the roast more tender?”

“Nope. She did it because we couldn’t afford a big enough roaster. And when Momma died, YOUR momma got the roasters because she had your papa and you three girls to cook for and I only had Great Uncle Henry.”

So often, traditions are born out of some form of necessity, or to create some sort of boundaries to enforce some kind of stability.  And once those boundaries are clearly established, no one understands their value, the tradition becomes stifling and inhibits growth and creativity and incites rebellion. And very often, that rebellion establishes new tradition instead of a constant pursuit of TRUTH.

It’s the same problem Israel had on the way out of Egypt.  They had gotten so used to the things they had to eat and drink and endure in Goshen, the price of freedom was too foreign for them.  It scared them to have new boundaries around them.  It took them 40 years to learn to follow a cloud of pillar by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They complained so much about wanting to go back to leaks and onions that an entire generation of LIBERATED SLAVES died without ever tasting the milk and honey that was only 11 days journey away. Why?  Because they were still enslaved by HABIT and glorified TRADITION.  Isn’t it interesting what you can become accustomed to?

What kind of ism, schism and whodo rut have you fallen into that is keeping YOU out of your destiny? Whose habits and rituals are inhibiting your pursuit of the truth about God?

Superstition Ain’t the Way, Pt. 1

I am an extremely frugal individual. Okay…that’s a very nice way of saying I am on a budget that makes most poor people look bourgeois.  I do my own nails and hair.  If I see something tasty on tv, I find the cheapest way to make it at home.  If they don’t have it at the dollar store, most times it can wait for ‘better days.’

But there are two things I do ‘splurge’ on; Every 4 or 5 months I will splurge on a few movies from the $5 bin at the store. And every other Monday, I go to a place called Will’s Sports Bar, get me a $5 dollar drink of something or other, and sing on an open mic with The 9th Hour Band.  It’s gotten to the point that I am part of the family. I love it there.  We sing and laugh and I clap for everyone who picks up the mic (that’s scary business, laying yourself bare for another’s entertainment).  I said all that to say, it’s the things we do to bless ourselves that can sometimes be the source of our greatest inspiration to bless others.

It was on one of those warm Monday nights that inspiration struck.  It was actually pretty crowded that night so, the crowd favorites had to be sung.  Ms. Natural had just sung, “Whenever You’re Around,”(my personal favorite) and HG Soul was launching into “Superstitious.” I’m leaning against the partition, just digging on the band, when I hear the words, “If you believe in things that you don’t understand, you will suffer…”

My head pops straight up.

“Superstition ain’t the way…”

I sat there, almost spellbound for the rest of the song.  When it was over I spent the remainder of the next song trying to get HG’s attention.  When I finally got him over to me, I grab his arm and tell him, “I am going to write an article about you singing this song called “Superstition Ain’t the Way.”  He looks at me like, “What???”  So I tell him the premise that has dawned on me.

“When you pursue a relationship with a God you don’t understand, you can relegate that relationship to religion and boil that religion into dogma until it is reduced to mere superstition.  It can make you terrified of a God who only wants to bless you and make you a part of His family.  You end up putting him on a shelf with a bunch of other things you assume are just too deep and too scary for you and He can’t work!”

HG makes the cutest Scooby Doo face of confusion and I repeat the chorus.

“If you believe in things you don’t understand, you will suffer.  Superstition Ain’t the Way!”

He looks at me as if to say, “I kinda get it…but, okay.  Have fun with that.” Then he goes off to emcee the rest of the night.

But I am stuck in my head by then…pondering.  Perhaps this is why so many people are so satisfied to go through the motions of church, with no victory?  Content to curtsey and bow, light a candle, say, “Praise the Lord,” and never have the life changing experience of knowing God in the power of his resurrection OR the fellowship of His suffering!  This is turning into a really big thought! I think this one is going to take me a minute to work out.

HG, you see what you’ve started???  Y’all hang on for this ride…it could get bumpy…

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