Monday, December 17, 2007

The Leader of the Band...Dan Fogelberg

So Long, Dan Folgelberg...

I almost drove off of the road today as the DJ on KGSR radio followed up the playing of Dan Fogelberg's "Phoenix" with the startling news that Dan had passed away at the age of 56 after losing a three year battle with prostate cancer. I know... Dan was considered kind of a cheesy adult pop star in his more radio friendly days, but I loved the storyteller in Dan, and he was such an understated, gentle musician that dared call out the materialism of the 70's and 80' to sing about "The Power of Gold", and to challenge his baby boomer friends who had been activists in the 60's but had settled for playing it safe ("There's a Place In the World For A Gambler). He was also one of the first musicians to use his visibility to speak out about the alarming state of the environment, long before it was cool and trendy to do so. His album "Phoenix" in the early 80's was such a brilliant synthesis of rock, folk, jazz and bluegrass, with a classic ballad thrown in. I quit counting the number of times I was asked to sing "Longer" at weddings (the song "Longer"...nobody really was interested in listening to me longer than was absolutely necessary). But, I guess the other reason I am shocked and saddened by Dan's death, other than the fact that I am 56 as well... is that his song, "The Leader of the Band" pushed me as I turned 30 to take the time to know and understand all that my father had been through... and then, even more importantly, to embrace him and take the first step to reach our to a dad that I had become distant and resentful towards in my high school, college and young adult years. The same father that I have written so glowingly about in the last 20 years (and actually, just a few posts ago), was a stranger to me, both on purpose, and by default. I really didn't care about understanding him. The combination of hearing Dan Fogleberg talk about where his father had been, what he had come through and the choices he had made, along with becoming a father myself, began to transform my narrow uninformed picture of my father.

The last time I saw Dan perform live was in 1993 at the Starplex Ampitheatre (now know as the Smirnoff Music Centre) in Dallas and I remember distinctly feeling like I was listening to an old friend sit around the living room and tell stories with a guitar. In reality I was hundreds of yards a way on a blanket on the berm hillside along with thousands of other admirers, but I sensed that we all felt the same way.

The final words of the chorus of that beautiful tribute to his musician father ring especially true now as we bid him adieu to this earthly venue, "The leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old...but his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man...I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band." May all of my attempts be so poor...And what a wonderful legacy it is...



Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bummed About that Gut?

Tired of talking about the Mitchell Report and the steroid issue? Here is a little wisdom from Uncle Peyton...I'm going to go get some new shirts now...



Friday, December 14, 2007

Your Cheatin' (Baseball) Heart...

Everybody cheats...right? You bet your britches, crib sheet breath! Nobody drives the speed limit...except for the lady talking on her cell phone and applying lipstick driving 35 mph miles in the fast lane in the pouring rain on MOPAC this afternoon. And apparently nobody in baseball takes seriously the notion that there should be a level playing field regarding the cheating of mother nature's DNA diaper when it comes to being able to hit or throw a baseball. Oh, we who are artisans, suitors and aficionados of the gentler national pastime have thumbed our noses at the bruisers who 'roid up to smack heads in football, smack down in professional wrestling, or even smack very rapidly when it comes to track and field. Never mind the Black Sox scandal of '29(poor Shoeless Joe), the shameless abuse both Maris and Aaron took when they overtook the legends that preceded them in the career homerun totals, the Pete Rose betting scandal, sign stealing, pine tar and corked bat accusations, not to mention my favorite cheating ploy of all...the spitball. So the Mitchell Report on steroid and HGH use in Major League Baseball that was released to the public yesterday, not only pointed the finger at most of the usual subjects we expected like, Rafi Palmero, Jose Canseco, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds...there were also a few startling ones like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettit. Say it ain't so Rocket! So will Roger end up with an asterisk by his name in the record books just like Barry, or will he find a way to prove his innocence and clear his name? The jury is still out on that and the impact this will have on baseball.

I think about the way I was taught to play the game by one of my heroes, my high school baseball coach, Willis Stelly. I remember a preseason game my junior year when we had packed up in the Glen Oaks High School Panthers team bus (it was a 20 year old school bus painted white red and black) early one Saturday morning and drove the 65 miles down old US Highway 190 to Lafayette to play the Sub-varsity team from the USL (University of Southwestern called University of Louisiana at Lafayette) Rajun Cajuns. In those days freshman were prohibited from playing varsity sports so colleges created these sub-varsity and freshman teams to give them playing time...we were punk high school kids, but we had recently won a state championship so we had a pretty good reputation, and good games were hard to come by for these guys, so it was a win-win situation...they got another game against live pitching and we got to play against college level competition before we started our district schedule against other high school teams. The truth...we rarely lost to these teams...We were well coached and were usually underestimated, for good reason, but in my high school career as a starter at Glen Oaks we lost only once out of 7 games. One year we beat Nicolls State College in Thibidoux, the spring before they were the NCAA Division II College World Series runners up...but that is a story for another day. That Saturday in February, we loaded the bus and made the trek to USL. We ran out several pitchers that day, but they all threw well and we jumped out to a 3-1 lead on a series of clutch hits in key situations (none by me, but the way). USL closed to 3-2 in the 6th (we played 7 innings)and we came up for our turn to hit in the top of the 7th inning. I was scheduled to hit second in the inning. Our leadoff hitter fanned on 4 pitches and the tall, lanky southpaw got ahead of me 0-2 on two scorching fastballs. He made the mistake of trying to fool me with a change-up...he should have known that I was seriously overmatched with his speed and he could just put me away with another fastball. Instead, he tried to get cute, and I banged the change-up into left field for a clean single. I was not terribly fast but I was a smart baserunner, so on the second pitch I gambled thinking that this college catcher with a gun for an arm would love to show off that arm by picking off the foolish high school kid who carelessly wandered too far off of first between pitches. The delayed steal was something we had been taught for such an occasion, and I took a walking lead as my teammate took a called strike. As the ball hit the catcher's mitt I made eye contact with the catcher, feigned a panicked look as he whirled and blazed the ball down to first. The only problem for them was that when I saw that he had committed to throw to first I took off for second and the relay throw from the first baseman to the shortstop covering was late...I had a stolen base. The pitcher lost his composure a little and walked the batter on four straight pitches. Our next batter looking for a fat pitch, jumped on a fastball down the pipe, but was a little out front and hit a two-hopper to the third baseman who fielded the ball cleanly, took two steps to touch third and then pivoted to make a throw to first for an inning ending double play. We had been taught to cleanly breakup double plays at second by sliding hard into the pivot man at spikes, no dirty stuff, just a clean hard slide with the shin up to knock him off his feet or make him leap, disrupt his throw and keep him from completing the double play. As the third baseman gloved the grounder and stepped on third, I was sliding into the base to do what I always did at second...break up the double play...I toppled the third baseman, he never got rid of the ball and the runner at first was safe. I got up to get a high five from my coach when I saw a chagrined look on his face and heard the catcalls from the USL dugout of words I won't repeat here. Evidently, in their estimation I had been a little too gung ho for a preseason game, especially on their home field, with them behind on the scoreboard, and their opponents measly high school kids. Both dugouts emptied for a few minutes...ours more slowly than the college boys...we were brash high school kids but we weren't least not about that. I got a 15 minute lecture after the game from our coach (with the whole team listening in) about playing with passion, but also playing with a sense of respect and dignity for your opponent. You don't cheat, you don't kick them when they are down, and you don't purposely humiliate them and make them look bad. You whip them fair and square.

I don't know if all of the players named in the Mitchell Report ever got that kind of speech from one of his coaches along the way, and frankly there have been times in my life when I didn't follow Coach Stelly's admonition either...but somewhere, if the accusations are true, these guys lost sight of the fact that the way you play the game is as important as whether you win...instead they heard, "The end justifies the means"..."you only go around once in life so you have to grab for all the gusto you can"..."winning isn't the best's the only thing".

I'll bet Coach Stelly would be happy to volunteer to chew their butts out for trying to take a shortcut to winning and disgracing the game. So, step up Barry... you have more homeruns than any player in history, but you could still learn a thing or two from the old Coach...



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pierce Pettis - Loves gonna carry me home

Love's Gonna Carry Me Home...

It doesn't happen frequently, but for me there are distinct times when it feels like my heart swells up, and it moves up so far that it is jamming my Adam's apple up my windpipe...and it moves down so far that it is just sitting like a rhino on the top of my stomach. Sometimes I'm pretty sure it is the Carne Asada plate from Taqueria Arandas down on Burnet(my latest favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican food joint in Austin), but most of the time it has to do with a readily identifiable, yet rarely explicable heaviness about life in the chaos lane. I say rarely because this happens to be one of those instances when I know what watering hole in the jungle this rhino drip-dried out from. I know, in this case, that part of it is very very good. I'll get to see all three of my beautiful daughters in a couple of weeks as they make their way home from Portland, Nashville and Arlington. They are all grown-up, independent women at 20, 21 and 24, so I am a realist about the eventuality of their taking their places in the world geographically separated from where my place in the world is... so, I genuinely treasure the times we can be all together. Like last September when they all came in to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and like this holiday season when they will be home for Christmas and for two weddings shortly after Christmas... Hannah's life-long best bud, Katelin Calvert... and our dear friend and traveling guitar hero, Randy Williams.

I also know the other reason for the heaviness is my prayer and concern for my friends Scott, Sarah and Thomas Bickle. I tried to talk about them Sunday as I shared with our faith community, and had to stop several times to compose myself...Thomas, some of you may recall from earlier posts is two years old and has been courageously battling brain tumors since he was 7 months old...the tumors have the upper hand at this moment. Sarah and I talked today and I know I bored her to tears, but I didn't want to let her off of the phone (which is a shock to many of you who know that I am a terrible phone conversationalist...just don't do well on the phone). Somehow her voice kept me connected to the three of them. They are amazing people...

So anyway...I came across this video of one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Pierce Pettis (also famous in my book for being sweet Grace's dad). Watching and listening didn't budge the rhino, but I kinda reconciled his presence there as a deep heaviness that made me swallow harder, breath freer, and trust a little deeper.

And I really do believe Pierce...LOVE's the only thing that can carry us home.



Friday, December 7, 2007

Missing the "Jack" of All Trades

My dad died three years ago Tuesday (4th), killed instantly in an automobile collision on a dark country road in Mississippi. He was 76. I think about him all the time...not in a morbid way, but in a fond, grateful way for the imperfect picture of compassion and servanthood that he was. I got to spend a rare extended amount of time (almost a week) with my mom in Mississippi last week. She survived the accident, and is doing amazingly well living by herself in the woods...she is a tough little (about 4' 10") Cajun lady who grew up one of nine children in the swamps of South Louisiana. The road ended at her property and the bayou ran beside the tiny white-washed frame house where her family fished and trapped and raised sugar cane to make a living. We talked a lot about dad last week...about his impulsiveness and short fuse when it came to anger, especially when he was young...he got it all honestly from my Italian grandfather who was a ruthless taskmaster who demanded perfection from his children, and was not above verbally abusing those around him to get what he wanted. We talked about how God mellowed him (dad) down through the years and while it never took the twinkle and mischievousness out of his eye, it got channeled into one of the most selfless men I've ever met...period. My dad never finished high school, but quit to join the Air Force where he boxed, raced stock cars and worked on diesel engines and airplanes. They married when they were both 21 and looked like movie stars of the day...she like Loretta Young, and he like Joseph Cotton. One of the unique things about my dad was his name... Joseph Ferd Gentiles. Joseph was his dad's middle name (my middle name, Anthony, was my grandfather's first name... A.J. for Anthony Joseph...and they called him Tony). Ferd was for his great grandfather, Ferdinand, and also for his mom's nickname, Ferdie. But everybody called him Jack. And they called him alot. He could fix anything...I'm not exagerating...anything... especially if it was mechanical and had moving parts. Cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, toasters, radios, name it, Jack could fix he literally became the neighborhood handyman...He worked shift work (usually 50 hours a week) at a chemical plant outside of Baton Rouge as a maintenance mechanic (what else?), but in his spare time he fixed whatever the neighbors brought over (and they brought over some strange crap occasionally...yeeesh!) and he never charged anyone a dime that I know of... We never had a maintenance crew or a grounds crew at the little neighborhood Baptist church I grew up in...Jack took care of the maintenance on everything from the tractor, to the school buses, and the air conditioning units and the pump on the baptismal pool. He loved working on cars... he really loved working on cars...and was a brilliant diagnostician. He seemed to be able to get to the bottom of a car problem in no time, and then he dove in to fix it and he didn't quit until he had solved the problem. He was very thorough and on the times when I would try to assist him he would say..."If you don't have time to do it right...then when are you going to have time to do it over?" Sadly then and now...I do not have his gift for doctoring machinery. I was the first person on both sides of my family to go to college... Dad wanted me to be a mechanical engineer...I wanted to coach and play baseball. He wrote on my high school graduation card, "Go on ahead to college son and see what you can do...if they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can make something out of you". I'm not sure he was kidding. He tried to help me be a mechanic, but I was destined for other things...and while he wanted me to love fixing cars as much as him, he accepted the fact that probably changing oil and points and plugs was going to be the extent of my talents.

The reason I bring this up is that tonight I was headed out of town to a men's retreat for our faith community. I drive his old 1993 Ford F-150 with 180,000 miles on it. it is the vehicle I drove the 22 hour round trip to Mississippi in last week. It runs like a champ (until tonight)...partly because he took such great care of it. Well, tonight before I got out of town it decided it was going to have some electrical issues, and so, I have spent the last 6 hours making trips to the auto parts store and working under the hood trying to get the old girl back up and running...I'll be back out early tomorrow morning to finish the job. I told my friend Cory, who called to check on me when I didn't show up at the retreat center, that one of the things that was frustrating was that I know that this is a problem that dad could probably have diagnosed and fixed in 30 hour tops. But I'm hanging in there...and even though I'm not nearly as good at it as he was...I will get it done...that much I did get from him. Also, one of the cool things that happened between us in the years before he died was that when I was in the middle of working on something on one of my cars, if I ran into a hitch...which I always did...I would call him and ask his advice. He always seemed pleased that he was still "the man" when it came to those things...and he was. There were times when I would literally hold the phone up to the engine and he would listen to the engine over the phone and 9 times out of 10 could diagnose the problem. As I was working on the truck tonight, at one point I instinctively reached for the cell phone...

Influence is a funny thing. My dad was a man of few words. We have a culture that longs for the music of the profound lyricist, the political catchword of the statesman, the moving performance of the movie actor and actress, the brilliant hunch of the financial advisor, the word from God through the high profile preacher...but the kindest, most generous, most powerful man I've ever known was a shade tree mechanic named Jack. I still want to be like him...even if I can't fix his truck.



Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Really Do Kinda Like These Guys...

Friday I was at the Warehouse most of the day getting ready for a show that night with Grace Pettis and her band opening for San Francisco band, The Cobalt Season. Ryan and Holly Sharp are the very cool husband/wife team that comprise the heart and soul of this wonderful band (TCS), who have been traveling (along with their adorable 13 month old, Paxton) all over the US in their Prius for the last two months singing and doing shows. We were waiting for the Sharps and Grace to arrive for sound check, as well as helping four of our friends display their photography that would be available for folks to view during the show. As it turns out I missed a cell call from Ryan because they had rolled into town and to the home of our mutual friends, the Carltons. Ryan left a message saying that they were making some plan changes and wanted to get some feedback on that...but that was the last half of Ryan's message. Here's the first... "Hey David, this is Ryan from The Cobalt Season, and I was just online reading your blog right now, and was noticing that on the right side of the page under the heading of 'Bands/Musicians That I Kinda Like...' we're not listed. And frankly, it kinda breaks my heart because I see that you have The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Imogen, Sufjan, and even Grace, but no Cobalt...soooooo..if you could take care of that before the show tonight, I would appreciate it." Of course I laughed, and had to replay the message because I was laughing so hard I missed the end of the message which was the part I was supposed to really be acting on. The show opened well as Grace Pettis in her first show playing with a band was delightful, featuring her voice and songwriting, as well as shaking off the first-show-jitters. Then Ryan and Holly came on with video streaming across the front of the room. Ryan has an old school Dylan/Prine/Guthrie-esque talking/sing flow to his art, but it was derailed early by cable/pedal problems. Unfazed, Ryan unplugged, came down to the front of the room asked everyone to pull their chairs up close, and begin to do the show unplugged...I mean really mikes, no direct box, no eq or reverb, just he and Holly singing and talking. It was fascinating because everyone leaned in to hear the lyrics and strained to hear his startlingly honest and open struggles as a human being and a person trying to make a difference in the world. At one one he paused and observed that he thought someone might need to say something and he wanted to give the opportunity...there were a few playful comments from the audience, but it was a rare move by an artists to communicate that there is more going on at a concert than what is going on up on stage. At one point he confessed his struggles with feeling like the only way of living is that of peaceful non-violence, and that individuals and nations can always get along if they try...then he confessed his feelings of hypocrisy over not being able to have that kind of relationship with his own brother. After he sung a song written for his brother, someone from the audience asked why he couldn't just say to his brother what he has spoken to us...It was that kind of night. I couldn't help feeling that I had been a participant in something very very special...and I'm not even sure exactly what it was.

This morning in worship Dave Madden, Brandon and Harmony sang, "Lean on Me", "Now the Day Is Over" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Some Journey folks shared gut-level stories of the silence of God in the face of pain, suffering and honest questions. Then we watched REM's "Everybody Hurts" video and prayed and went home. I felt the very same way...I felt like i was in the middle of something very special...and I was. You know I feel sorry for those people who spend their lives trying to figure God out...Heck the fun of the faith is just trying to keep up... and go unplugged when the wires and pedals go freaky. And though it is probably a dubious honor, at best...Ryan, you made the list...traveling mercies to you, Holly and little Pax...



Friday, November 9, 2007

Cat Power, Regina, and The Black Eye

My friend Melinda introduced me to this fascinating, enigmatic young artist named Chan Marshall, who records under the moniker of Cat Power. She has a deep sultry voice that is dripping with pathos and sadness, and communicates a journey that, in one way or another, many of us have shared...a year or so ago, just as her record "The Greatest" was being released she went into treatment for alcoholism, and when she returned she decided that the healthiest thing for her was not to return to the temptations and rigors of the road in support of the new album (record companies and fans didn't see the wisdom in that move). She got major criticism, but she stood her ground and now is doing what she loves, with clarity and purpose for the first time in her young career. I am very impressed with not only her music, but who she is and what she has to say to the world.

Last Tuesday I accepted the invitation to attend a show at Stubb's with one of my coolest college friends...Amanda. Actually to call Amanda cool is redundant...the girl defines cool! You of course know that I am NOT in college, and am approximately 100 years old, so that makes this invitation all the more remarkable, but Amanda had an extra ticket and so we hit P. Terry's on Lamar and Barton Springs for a burger basket and then headed to Stubbs to see the young, delightful, Russian singer/songwriter, Regina Spektor. You must know that the name Regina holds fond memories for me of a beautiful lass who was the object of my affections in high school (Glen Oaks High School), named Regina Phillips. She was a vision of loveliness, who dated the school studly man, Gary Duvall (who was actually a really nice guy) and played tight end on the football team and center on the basketball team (Gary..not Regina). Yeah...I had no shot. Interestingly enough though, at the end of our senior years Regina and I were voted Mr. and Miss Glen Oaks (I'm pausing here not for the oohs and aaahs, but for the shocked silence)...yeah, it didn't make any difference...I still had no shot. Anyway, Regina Spektor did not need my "Regina" approval in the least for the sold out crowd hung on her every voice tremolo and clever line. The music was haunting at times and raucous at times and she used her voice as an instrument like few performers I've ever heard live. It was a real treat...I loved the show, and even though Amanda and all three of my girls, (and many many many folks) beat me to the punch...I'm a Regina Spektor fan.

Cleveland is my 17 month old Great Pyrenees (add about 100 lbs. to the puppy picture on the blog and you can imagine this big boy) who is my lone full time boarder these days. He's a frisky, happy, clumsy, loyal, monstrous ball of white fur. and other than snoring loudly when he sleeps, barking at every squirrel in the yard and eating more than me, he is a great pal. Except on Monday...when he gave me a black eye. I have had a few black eyes in my time...though none lately. I got in a fight with a kid on the playground when he called my cousin a bad name around the age of 8. He got the worst of it in the end, by the way (though I am in no way sanctioning needless playground violence) because my sandlot homeys came to bat for me...literally). Speaking of baseball, my sophomore year, my Glen Oaks HS occasionally fighting Panthers team was playing a regional playoff game in Opelousas, Louisiana on one of the worst dirt infields I've ever played on in my life. It was a routine ground ball (although my coach, Willis Stelly used to say, "Gentiles, with you in the infield, there is no such thing as a routine ground ball"...thanks coach) that hit a divot that looked like a pothole and popped up and hit me square in the eye. I chased the ball down and threw the runner out, but by the next inning my eye was swollen closed and I was on the bench holding an icepack on my eye with my baseball glove ( was cold!). Anyway, I digress...Monday I dropped a bit of the sandwich I was working on in the kitchen, and bent down to pick it up. Cleveland, no surprise, was there before the sandwich morsel hit the ground. My head is down, his head is down and when he sees my hand reach for the tasty morsel, he jerks his head up to look at me, and crushes his huge noggin against my huge noggin...right around the ole first shiner since Opelousas, Louisiana.

So that was my was yours?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Am A Rock...I Am An Island...

There are days when I want to be alone...not just in a room with nobody in it but me...just alone...I am not depressed...I'm not being particularly anti-social, though I am painfully shy at times (even though it goes against the grain of my vocation)...Today was one of those...actually the last several days have been like that and I don't want to talk on the phone or write e-mails or sit and visit. I heard a commercial today by McGruff the crime dog saying that in the past the police have told citizens to go inside and lock their doors to be they are realizing that a much better solution is to open your doors and get to know your neuighbors because then you create a community that watches each others back...or back doors and front doors, and get the idea. is not just the name of the finest coffee in the is, as Bishop Tutu expresses in this interview with Brad Pitt, the "essence of humanity".

The interview starts with Tutu explaining the African concept of ubuntu...
Brad Pitt: What is this concept of ubuntu I keep reading about?
Tutu: "Ubuntu is the essence of being human [...] we say a person is a person through other persons. You can't be a human in isolation. You are human only in relationships. [...] So we say that 'I need you to be all of who you are in order for me to be all that I am.' Because no human being is totally self-sufficient. In fact, a self-sufficient human being is subhuman." [...] If you want to be human, we are not going to be able to be human in isolation. It will be that we are human together."

So I get it...I really do...I still tend to be fairly uncomfortable in large gatherings...and being in front of big groups, but you do what you gotta do, right...especially when your job is teaching and being in front of people...but it is bigger than that...and I know that community is more than just crowds, it is relationship and support and accountability...and really good coffee.

"There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community."
- M. Scott Peck



Sunday, October 21, 2007

Close...But No Cigar! Cleveland Loses!

The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.
Robert Ingersoll (1833 - 1899)

Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. William Faulkner (1897 - 1962) The Sound and the Fury

"If you ain't first, you're last." --Ricky Bobby, "Talledega Nights"

Congratulations are in order for the Boston Red Sox who won game seven tonight, defeating the Cleveland Indians and heading off to the World Series to face the upstart Colorado Rockies. After rattling off three consecutive wins, the Indians allowed the Sox to do the same and take their place in the Fall Classic beginning next Wednesday. The Red Sox are a wonderful organization with great athletes and great fans, and while the young Indians acquited themselves well, the Sox did what good ball clubs do...they take advantage of breaks and skill and impeccable timing and get the job done. Still, losing in this competitive culture, one that worships winners, gives them product endorsements, puts their pictures on Wheaties boxes, and sends them to Disneyland and the White House (those are two different trips, by the way) is so disdained that while we cry out publicly against steriod use, we privately wrestle with whether we would succumb to the temptation to juice if it meant the difference between winning and losing. Not coincidentally, Cleveland pitcher Paul of the few veterans on this baby-faced team...a smallish 35 year old with a Kelsey Grammer face, an old school two-armed pump wind-up and a fastball that wouldn't break a window at point blank range will be investigated for using Human Growth Harmones. Byrd, who originally signed with the Indians after a solid college career with the LSU Tigers and then proceeded to bounce around for several years with the Reds, Braves, Phillies, Royals and Angels before resigning with the Indians last year, has been linked to shipments of needles and HGH shipped to the stadium and to his home using his credit card (so if he's trying to hide something he needs to take some cheating tips from Barry). He had a doctor's prescription for it all with a validation that these drugs were used to bring abnormally low levels up to normal and not to give him an unfair advantage. In an interview last night before the game he said..."I wouldn't cheat. I speak to kids and groups all over the country about my faith in Christ and I don't want folks questioning my message because I was doing something illegal. ESPN The Magazine interviewed him recently about a manuscript for a book he's written on his faith and his career in baseball called "The Free Byrd Project". When asked about how honest he was about his past and how his faith impacted that he responded, "Religion can go over into every area, like whether I should cheat out on the field. I write about the desire to just make money at any cost. I share about my temptation to spit on the ball, put KY jelly on it or scuff it, to win more games and make more money. That's a big temptation for me, being a guy who throws 82, who relies on movement. You have a pull, because you have a certain window up here that stares you in the face. Are you willing to take steroids? Because that's available. People viewed that as me being weak. Like, "This guy doesn't want to win."

"This guy/gal doesn't want to win" an athlete, to a salesman, to a rock and roll band, to a politician, to a CEO... to most of our culture, those are major throw-down words. They question our toughness, they question our character, they question our courage, and they question our understanding of what is important in the world. It is one of the reason some friends of mine don't climb on the Jesus wagon. Their words..."Sorry, anybody who says that you gotta lose your life to save it, that you have to put yourself last to win and that the one who serves is the greatest of all is completely out of touch with the way the world works." Perhaps...for those who can't distinguish between playing a game and the way you order your life...hmmmmmmmm, that might have been a little harsh...or any rate, I'll keep loving the game of baseball, pulling for the Cleveland Indians, and doing my best to live out the words of that loser Jesus...



Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Jonatha - "Because I Told You So"

UN-Conditional Love...

Nothing clever or profound to set this up...I was just listening to my old Jonatha Brooke, "Ten Cent Wings" CD and was transported back to a place of deep sadness and joy when the downbeat of the first note of Jonatha's Because I Told You So was played.

If I gave you the sky
If I laid down my life
would you believe me then?

If I promised to change
If I carried the blame
Would you believe me then?

Could you see it like me
And believe what I see
Could you listen, and remember that I love you
Because I told you, because I told you so

If you told me you lied
But I stayed true and tried
Would you believe me then?

And if your beauty was gone
But my love lingered on
Would you believe me then?

Could you see it like me
And believe what I see
Could you listen and remember that I love you
Because I Told You So
Because I told you, because I told you so.

You take the wheel for now
I’m too tired to drive this one home anyhow,
For now

And when you mention my name
Let this one thing remain,
My love,
Believe me now

The reality is that most of us have few, if any, people in our lives who love us, or that we love, unconditionally...oh we have a handful who come close...probably my daughters come the closest to that for me. I can't imagine any circumstance that would deter or destroy my love for them...but then I am a fallible broken, often really stupid, human being and I am probably capable of anything. I really believe that God, as best as I understand him, loves me that way, but again, I'm accepting that on the basis of a bunch of things...and a trust in some written words a long time ago saying "because I told you so" is one of those. All of us have had people tell us they loved us and then the next thing we know we look up and they have done something that indicated they really didn't. To be fair...we have done the very same to others as well. My dad listened to mostly country music when I was growing up, and I can still hear that twangy lyric played on our local AM station, WYNK, "The Country Giant in Baton Rouge", "You stomped on my heart...squashed that sucker flat...guess you just sorta...crushed my ole aorta!" We learn that all relationships are made up of betrayal and disappointment at times...and yet there is a principle of forgiveness and reconciliation that makes them not only worthwhile, but life-giving and exciting if we are willing to ride the roller coaster of human frailty and strength. But...knowing all of that...we still long to be loved unconditionally... to have someone say they love us, no matter what...then actually love matter what. The brilliant Richard Swift in his song "Everywhere I Go", says "I cannot earn your love, I cannot earn your love me just the same...Hallelu, I need to sing with all I have...Hallelu, I need to sing. If I falter, if I fade, you will hold me still so close, and I need you like a Father to be with me as I go...As I go."

I don't often manage to get outside of myself long enough to love like that, but I am absolutely sure that is the model of love we are called to strive for...and the leap of faith that I take believing that I am inexplicably the unconditionally beloved child of God. Because he told me so...



Sunday, October 14, 2007

It's Time To Break Up The Rockies...

Has anybody got the guts to tell the Colorado Rockies that they are not the 1927 NY Yankees? Certainly not me...Sunday night they put the Arizona Diamondbacks in an 0 and 3 hole and are one game away from making their first ever trip to the World Series. They have won a mind-boggling 20 out of their last 21 games on an unprecedented, at least in my lifetime, run to barely squeak into the playoffs, and then proceed to mow down everything in their path on there way to a spot in the Fall Classic. Their fuzzy-chinned youth and complete lack of playoff experience aside, they seem to have no weaknesses...who would have ever thought you would have uttered that previous sentence when you were talking about the COLORADO ROCKIES! Next you are going to tell me that the Baylor Bears are the lock to win the college football national championship, that the St.Louis Rams are the class of the NFL, Jessica Simpson was cast on her last movie for her superb acting chops, and that professional wrestling is a steroid free, legitimate competitive sport. this case, the Rockies seem to be the real deal...and I for one am pulling for them, unless they end up facing my own unlikely underdog story, the Cleveland Indians, who danced away from disaster and heading back home in a 0 and 2 hole against the powerful Red Sox with a Houdini-like escape act hanging on for dear life until they could walk away with the second game of the series with an 11-inning win on Saturday to head back home tied. This is why baseball is so cool... I know that it does happen in other sports...last year's Boise State performance, as well as this years upstart South Florida Bulls in college football are doing the same thing...A group of young athletes figure out a way to defy the odds, not only compete with the big boys, but manage to hold their own, and in some very rare cases even is fun to watch...unless you are Goliath taking a skipping rock between the eyes. The Rockies and the Indians...keep that slingshot swinging...and then we have to decide which underdog has become the next Philistine giant.



Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Hate To Say I Told You So, But...

So... all three of the underdog teams I bragged about last week advanced leaving that trio of pups and the scary Boston Red Sox (who also, not coincidentally, have their share of young talent mixed in with grizzled veterans) as the combatants in Major League's version of The Final Four. Well, even though I am relatively intuitive, fairly knowledgeable in the mystery of baseball, and devastatingly handsome (hey, two out of three ain't bad...Thank You, Meatloaf!), what prognosticators out there picked a National League championship game between two teams that get longer pregame warmups because nobody on the team shaves yet, however, also have to quit earlier so that their mommies can read them a bedtime story and tuck them in at night before the evening news? I'm just saying...Colorado vs. Arizona playing for the NL pennant...boy if you had placed a bet in Vegas on that matchup back in March, you would be a bookie disaster right now. And my Cleveland Indians, the only one of the four remaining teams to lose a game in the division series, will face the powerful Boston Red Sox. I can only suspect that the Fox Network (along with my diehard BoSox friends Christy and Milton) is pulling for the Red Sox facing off up against anybody, because a Cleveland pairing against either of the other two is probably a ratings nightmare for all of those small-market reasons we talked about, as well as the absence of nationally recognized stars.

So my druthers after the infield dust clears on this next week's series is a Rockies/Indians World Series. I wouldn't place any bets on that happening, because the smart money would be on the Diamondbacks and Sox who both have World Series rings in the last six years, unlike the Indians who don't have one since 1948 and the Rockies who have never been to the World Series...ever. But then the smart money would be swirling around the bottom of the toilet and heading south right now if you had banked on traditional wisdom. Hang on underdog fans...get those rally caps's gonna be fun!


Sunday, September 30, 2007

The year of the underdog...Go TRIBE!

Underdog is back! No I don't mean the ill-advised movie about the cartoon wonderpup of the 60's...let's face Wally Underdog. Nope the BASEBALL underdog...

Those of you who know me understood that it was just a matter of time before I posted concerning my beloved Cleveland Indians winning the AL Central division pennant and heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Those of you who are not baseball fans (cover your ears, Mildred...they don't really mean it!) don't get why we horsehide enthusiasts live for this time of the year...and I guess on some levels I get it too...While I watch the Grammys (until the Daylights and Dave Madden are nominated...then that changes) and the Oscars, I don't get fired up over them like a lot of people do. I'll watch a few World Cup matches, or NBA and NFL games...but October is the time of the year I live for, whether the Indians are involved or not. The Cleveland Indians are considered a "small market team", which essentially translates ain't got New York, Boston or LA money so there's no way you can compete with the big boys. We have had a few exceptions to that rule in recent years, but this year it is an incredible, almost eerie phenomenon, because while the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees are back in the playoffs to no one's surprise, the rest of the lineup are a batch of small market, young roster upstarts... including the afore-mentioned Cleveland Indians. The Tigers and the WhiteSox, the last two American league champions were supposed to dominate the Central, but it was the young feisty Indians that came out on top. In the National League the sad sack Phillies who haven't been in the playoffs in 14 years, played flawless ball down the stretch to catch the collapsing Mets and win the division on the last day of the season. The Arizona Diamondbacks, another very young ballclub who folks kept expecting to fade in the final days hung in there to win the National League West and the perennial losers, the Chicago Cubbies, outlasted another young club, the Milwaukee Brewers to take the NL Central. Perhaps the best story of the season is the babyfaced Colorado Rockies with only one post season appearance in their history came from nowhere (they only lost one game in the last two weeks of the season) to tie the San Diego Padres for the wildcard spot on the last day of the season and will play a one-game face-off for the right to enter the playoffs.

Underdogs...we love them...maybe because we all consider ourselves small-market underdogs on some level. Maybe because we all like to see the big boys take it on the chin every now and then. Maybe long odds and great courage define for us what is good and noble in the human spirit...I'm not sure, but I do know every successful sports movie in the last 50 years has this element at its core...someone, some team, some city, some coach does the unthinkable with the unlikeliest of resources and we cheer...whether it is Rocky Balboa hanging in there for 15 rounds against Apollo Creed or the '84 US Olympic Hockey Team stunning the invincible Russians, or Benny "The Jet" Rodriguiz besting The Beast in "The Sandlot", we all know the storyline and yet we are compelled to watch and hope and rejoice when the unlikely victory comes.

In any other year I would love to see the Cubs shake off their century long frustration and win another World Series...The DBacks already have a World Championship and the Angels, BoSox (sorry Milton and Christy) and Pinstripers (sorry Calla and Ariele) are the evil empire so I can't pull for them... I might even pull for the Phillies (Charlie Manuel used to manage the Tribe several years ago) and it would be very tempting to cheer on those spunky young Rockies should they win their way in...but I can't do it. I have to be loyal to my Indians. I have been a Cleveland Indians fan since the late 1950's (yup...I really am that old) when all of us kids on our own sandlot picked our favorite team...and I picked the Tribe. They were not very good back then...actually they were one of the worst teams in baseball up until the late nineties when they managed to make it to the World Series twice ...losing both times. But...through thick and thin...lots and lots of thin...I have been a real fan...I've only been to the city of Cleveland twice in my life...both times to see Cleveland Indians games. It is true they are young, but my hope runs high and my loyalty eternal... They play the Yankees in the first round...and they were 0-fer for the wins, 6 losses against the Yankees this season...but the playoffs are a new season and we'll see if it is the Tribe who dons the cape and flys off howling into the sunset with its first World Series crown since 1948...even Wally Cox would speak up for that underdog...GO TRIBE!



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Marryin' Davy

I've tried to count how many weddings I've officiated over the last 37 years of having the privilege of saying "I do by the authority vested in me as a minister of the Gospel, and in accordance with the laws of this state, do pronounce you, husband and wife...", but frankly I've lost count. The first was for my sister Vickie and future brother-in-law, Alvin, some 33 or so years ago and the last was for my nephew, also a David Gentiles, and his beautiful bride Emily, last weekend. In between there have been a handful of ceremonies for couples I didn't know, but the vast majority of them were for young men and women that I knew very well who had been a part of the churches and youth ministries I was fortunate enough to have served. It, frankly, is one of the coolest things about what I have done for a living all these years, and that is saying a lot, because I have been the beneficiary for way more spectacular moments than I got to serve up...It was one of those cases where you are amazed every time you get paid that somebody actually wants to give you money for getting to hang out with kids...What could be better than that...well maybe collecting several million a year to play second base for the Cleveland Indians (who clinched the American League Central Division pennant Sunday night...but that is for another post) wouldn't be too shabby either, but aside from that, working with kids throughout these years has been an absolute blast.

But back to the marrying subject...and this is a little hard to scares the shit out of me every time I stand there. Don't get me wrong...I still love being there...and I am honored that they have asked me...but I can't help but remember that here I am... a divorced man, a failure at the very thing I'm officiating. I don't know if there is something really screwed up about that...or if it is actually really redemptive and beautiful that God could take my failure and allow me to be a part of this young couple's beauty. I sure know how to speak with candor about the difficulty of the journey they are embarking upon without sugar coating it or dismissing it...but I still have a twinge when they say..."til death do us part". Of course, the reality is that I'm a minor player anyway...I'm like a good baseball ump or basketball referee...the minute people notice you is a sure indication that you've messed up something and called the groom the wrong name, or dropped the ring, or read the wrong passage from Song of Solomon and referred to the brides "breasts like twin fawns" ('s in there...SOS 7:3). But also, because I generally know these young people so well I refuse to just monotone through a perfunctory ritual...I get to talk personally about who these young women and men are as people, and why I am so proud of them...I don't know if it means that much to them, but it sure does to me, so, I still accept when they ask me, and I still am honored and humbled.

So this weekend I stood on the monstrous stage at First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas and officiated over the vows and rings for David and Emily. They both had 11 attendants, so the processional in and out, and the getting in place on the stage was like the Texas A&M Aggie Corp Band doing their half-time show was impressive. We attempted the first-ever "unity laminating machine" ceremony. Lots of couples do a unity candle or unity sand ceremonies, but being the bold adventurous couple they are, they chose to laminate two sheets of paper with colored tissue to symbolize the joining of two colors to make a completely new one, as well as the inseperable the bond between the two sheets. And in their defense, it worked well in rehearsal...the machine ate the paper in the ceremony (of course) and we had a good laugh and I got to improvise the spiritual significance of crumpled laminating paper in the light of the will of a sovereign God...Let's just say it ended up being way funnier than it was supposed to be. Then there was a moving celebration of communion with David and Emily to the soundtrack of Billy Crockett and Milton Brasher-Cunningham's amazing song, "Here's To The Day". And there was so much more...David is a wonderful singer/songwriter musician who is on the worship staff at FBCE, and he and some of his longtime friend/band mates opened the ceremony with a two-song set of rousing rock and roll praise and worship tunes... in their wedding suits, of course. And then there was Jonathan. Jonathan is a friend of David's from his years growing up in small-town Sweeny, Texas. Jonathan also has Downs Syndrome...and there was not a prouder more supportive groomsman on this stage (that looked like a page from Bridal Magazine, albeit, a really crowded page) than Jonathan who broke up the solemn processional in (remember the weaving corp routine) by giving David knuckles and a quick hug as he passed him on his way escorting his partner to their spot on the stage. Of course, after that it was high fives, low fives, pats on the butt, kisses and more for the guys that was great. I love David...we've been about as close as an uncle and a nephew can be, and I've been as proud of his accomplishments as I have with my own girls...and again God allows me to be a part of something that is way bigger than me. I suspect I never will get this figured out...I know the feelings of shame and failure are not from God, and are more about my shadow, so I'll keep reminding myself that like Jonathan, it is much more fun giving knuckles and hugging than feeling like, well you know...



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Publish Envy...

I have a bunch of friends who have books...I don't just mean they have a bookshelf at their house and they have strolled through Barnes and Noble and made an occasional purchase..I mean they have authored books...they have been "published". I had supper last Sunday night with my friend Don Piper who has authored several books, the most successful of which was a little New York Times best seller entitled "90 Minutes in Heaven", at last count it was nosing its way toward the 2 million mark in sales...who knew? The very cool pastor/friend that I work with everyday, Rick Diamond wrote a book called "Wrestling With God" that several years ago was on Border's list of top ten religious books of the year. I have a friend , Jeff Luce who had a book of Aggie (Texas A&M University) jokes published when he was a junior in high school...OK that is kinda sketchy, because it is Texas A&M (sorry, Luce) and because his parents ran a printing business...but actually it was pretty good, and had more business being printed than some other crapola I have seen bound and sitting in the sale bin at the checkout counter. I'd love to see him writing again. My friend Christy Desisto had a couple books, one a collection of her excellent devotionals appearing on the Riverbend Church website several years ago and then a collection of individual God/change stories entitled "The Bottom of the 9th" . Even my own daughter has had articles published by Relevant Magazine and The Burnside Writers Collective including co-editing a publication last year entitled "The Ankeny Briefcase". My friend, Gordon Atkinson, more widely know as the blogging sensation, Real Live Preacher, released a collection of a few of his brilliant blogposts, and it is wonderful. Then there's Donald Miller...Don has written 4 books with a 5th due out in February. The one that is a New York Times bestseller and has him speaking all over the country is entitled "Blue Like Jazz". Donald was here in Austin last night and took the time to do a couple book readings from the new work on "Story" at our little faith community called Journey on his way to speak at a huge conference in Dallas this weekend. It was a delightful evening and he even talked a little about the screenplay just completed that is making a feature length film our of "Blue Like Jazz" and Donald's life...again...who knew?

When I am honest...I have a little publish envy...and while I know that these are all remarkably talented folks who have worked hard and deserve every bit of accolade coming their way, I have a tendency to look at my life and wonder if I have been hiding my light under a bushel...or my reading lamp under the to speak. I wonder if I have anything to say that is worthy of a publisher scratching his chin hair, raising his eyebrow, smiling and saying..."we think you should sign a 3 book deal because this is sheer genius...whaddya say?". Then I think about some other friends who do not have book deals or publishing contracts who are some of the finest writers I know...Milton Brasher Cunningham writes a blog entitled "Don't Eat Alone" that is always movingly insightful...He also has been writing a Lenten Journal for the last several years that has become one of the things about the Lenten season that I look forward to the most as I see those preparatory days through his eyes and experiences. My friend Sarah Bickle is a bright, funny, insightful writer and minister, who has been walking with her husband Scott alongside their beautiful two year old son Thomas as he battles cancer. My friend JJ Peterson is one of the funniest, soulfully connected folks I know, who is a former youth minister, stand-up/improv comedian, aspiring actor and filmmaker who also has a blog to chronicle his uncommon perceptive observations of life...and there are many many more...and we haven't even talked about the guys and gals who are songwriters and poets.

So... what is it that separates the published from the non? Is it is divine it who-you-know connections, is it being in the right place at the right it strong-willing your way to publication, or pain-the-ass-ing your way to the top? I really don't know the answer...but what I did come to realize as I meandered through this post is that I, Lil Davy, have to be unequivicably the most fortunate guy in the world because I get to share the privilege of having these remarkable people in my life...and really, how good is that!

So... what if I wrote a sizzling tell-all book revealing the deep, dark secrets I know of all these authors from down through the years? Let's bring the Weekly World News back to the checkout stand racks where it belongs...throw in a cover story about an alien mating with Britney Spears and then Britney giving birth to the most unfortunate/cursed child on the planet...oh shucks, that's already happened...Oh well, in the meantime...keep writing my make me very, very proud.



Friday, September 7, 2007

We'll Miss You, Magical Madeline

I remember reading my first Madeline L'Engle book and being absolutely captured by it's depth, its playfulness and its incredible ability to connect the world of fantasy and intrigue with the issues of my life...and this was a children's book? It was the summer between my junior and senior years at Baylor, and I was taking several summer school classes so I could graduate a semester early in December. I remember distinctly glorying in the fact that I had the ability to take a Children's Literature class in fulfillment of my education degree requirements...I mean a few picture books, a few pop-ups, throw in a teen reader or two and this would be the easiest coup of college credits since that pansy genetics course...OK, I never really took roommate was Pre-Med and he agonized over that one, but I did have a stressful bowling class one semester...picking up those 6-10 spares can be brutal. Anyway, the reality was that Children's Literature was not the cake-walk I had planned on, in fact, it was actually fascinating work reading the Newberry and Caldecott winners down through the years...very few of which I had actually read growing up. So I was cruising along, zipping through the reading lists when I came to the assignment of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time. I wasn't a half a page in when I realized that I was being pulled into a story in a way I had not experienced before. I would read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings a few years later, but this journey into the fantastical and magical was new for me...and it occurred to me as I read that I never really considered this a children's book. I would read many more of her writings in the years that ensued, but A Wrinkle In Time has always been a marker for me in the way I began to look for and search out narrative...and not just in books, but in movies, in plays, in music, in poetry...and in my faith. Because for Madeline, there seemed to be a natural, powerful connection between the mystical and the practical, the ethereal and the mundane, between the sacred and the that they were often indistinguishable. With the Harry Potter madness of the last decade, many readers young and old were directed back to Madeline's works as a groundbreaking foray into the genre and conceptual structure of challenging, edifying, and episodic fantasy literature for children.

So the news of her death today at the age of 88 came with a paradoxical sadness that one of the great writers of our time would no longer be writing for us, but also with the immense gratitude that I had the opportunity for her writing to help shape who I am and how I go about writing my own story and my own magical journey...

I suspect you are sitting and telling stories to the angels tonight, Madeline L'Engle, and I know they are equally as delighted to be hearing your tales firsthand as we have been to have that privilege here on earth for the last 50 years. You finally got to experience your own passageway through the Wrinkle in Time...But you will be missed...This Pling is for you...



Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I don't get JT...

OK...first of all I'm stinkin' old, so while that doesn't really excuse or explain what I'm about to say, (it worked for Grandma Moses for years and she was still brilliant and talent and people actually cared what she had to paint and say) I also realize that I am the salmon swimming upstream of public sentiment, probably only to reach head of the stream and get eaten by a big bear. I'm not a Justin Timberlake fan...right now, at least...even though he is probably the hottest pop male artist in the world. Curiously...and this probably makes perfect sense for someone who is as culturally clueless as present company...I actually liked him in NSYNC...they had tight harmonies, the dancing was kinda goofy, but impressive, (especially while singing) and they had a very entertaining stage show...their appearance on SNL when "Baby Bye, Bye, Bye" was at the top of the charts is still one of my all-time favorites. I'm sure that JT's stuff would have been a big hit at the rate-a-record portion of American Bandstand back in the day, because..."it has a good beat and you can dance to it"...and there certainly is nothing wrong with that. I just can't help wishing somebody was making songs that mattered these Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence", "I Am a Rock" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water". songs like The Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", Sujan's "John Wayne Gacy", Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind", Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter", The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby", U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and you have plenty you can add to that list. Now this is not to say that there are not some wonderful songwriters out there including Glen Hanspard who just burst into the public eye with the movie "Once". Bono is still writing some good things as well as Chris Martin occasionally, but it seems that the next Dylan, Simon, Lennon, or Peter Gabriel has yet to bubble to the surface...My daughters have this wonderful keen eye and ear for singer/songwriters and bands that very few people have heard of, and maybe it will come from one of those...I sure hope so...the power of music to elate, sedate, motivate and elevate is widely documented, and personally experienced by most of us. The stages at the Austin City Limits music festival here in Austin in a few weeks will be full of pretenders, but interestingly enough it will also have it's share of legitimate hopefuls and legends. And then also, maybe the Ricky and Randy Jacksons' or Dave Maddens' or Grace Pettis' or David Condos' or Jess Cates' who toil quietly and with little fanfare writing songs in their living rooms are the next musical hope to speak to us eloquently and powerfully through notes and chords and voices calling and urging us to feel deeply and love fearlessly. Who might even be JT.



Thursday, August 30, 2007

Amazed, Humbled, and Grateful Tonight...

The same Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons that voted 5 to 3 against at the last clemency hearing on behalf of Kenneth Foster voted 6 to 1 for clemency today and sent that decision on to Governor Rick Perry who still had to make the decision to stay Kenneth's execution...a decision he frankly had not made in several cases previously when the BPP had recommended clemency...But today...just hours before Kenneth Foster was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection, Governor Perry, with a great deal of personal and political courage, made the decision to commute Foster's sentence from death to life imprisonment, essentially stating that the laws under which Kenneth Foster were sentenced to death needed to reevaluated... I am stunned...I am awed at the power of single small, but significant voices, joined with some culturally significant voices like Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu who made pleas on Kenneth's behalf in the last few days...I am moved by the power of prayer...I have no idea how God had his hand in this other than the spirit of justice and compassion of a army of people who would not give up speaking the truth of their convictions on behalf of this man...a man, the vast majority of that army have never and probably will never meet face to face. I am absolutely convinced God was at work...and I am a little ashamed that it took the life of a man on death row to wake me up to the responsibility I, and we all, have to see the world the way God sees the world. To see what acts of injustice and abuse and manipulation anger him...and ought to anger us. To see what acts of neglect, misfortune and indifference break his heart...and ought to break ours as well.

Some of you know that I traveled to Cambodia last September...I saw many beautiful wonderful Cambodian people and many beautiful wonderful people of all nationalities investing their lives in this country still heartbroken over the genocide Pol Pot and the Killing Fields inflicted a mere 30 years ago. A country that had it's parents and grandparents wiped out so that it is a nation of young people and young adults with little to point them to a legacy of generations gone before. It is also one of the places that has become a breeding ground for evil men who have made slaves of children and young adults. Last night I wrote a letter to the head of the department of Tourism in Cambodia to ask him to help put a stop to the sex trade enslaving young boys and girls, men and women. I don't know that it will do any many of us wrote letters to Governor Perry suspecting that it would have little effect on an execution that most people thought would happen at 5:30 this evening...and tonight Kenneth Foster is alive in his cell...It takes my breath away...not in a Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis TopGun sort of way, but in a deep deep soul searching way that sees that our connection with God and with each other all across this planet mattered for Kenneth Foster, it mattered for Rick Perry, and it matters for us...

Thank you for praying, and for writing, and for feeling the heart of God...



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not Even Remotely Proud To Be A Texan...Today

I grew up in Louisiana, came to Texas to go to college at Baylor, returned to Louisiana to go to graduate school and eventually moved back here 10 years later...and have not wanted to leave since. I love this state, and love even more living in Austin...the coolest city I've ever been a part of...but today...I'm not proud to be a Texan today...The reason is that in two days this state is set to execute Kenneth Foster based on an ambiguously subjective and morally questionable statute called the "law of parties". My friend Melinda send out this call to prayer and explanation of what is going down this afternoon...


This Thursday, the State of Texas intends to execute Kenneth Foster,
who is not a murderer. The background on this case is summarized in
an excerpt from Sunday's Dallas Morning News Editorial 8/26, which
calls for the State to reconsider its decision to execute Mr. Foster:

"Ours is the only state in the country to apply the "law of parties"
to capital cases, allowing accomplices to pay the ultimate penalty
for a murder committed by another. Mr. Foster was driving his
grandfather's rental car when one of his partners in crime killed
Michael LaHood.

That night in 1996, Mr. Foster and three of his buddies appeared to
be looking for trouble. They robbed a few folks, chugged some beers
and smoked marijuana. But, as all four have testified, murder was
never part of the plan. Mr. Foster and two others sat in the car
nearly 90 feet away when the fatal shot was fired.

They had followed an attractive woman into an unfamiliar
neighborhood, where they encountered her boyfriend, Mr. LaHood. The
other passengers have testified that they had no designs on robbing –
let alone shooting – him. And the admitted triggerman said that his
friends did not know what he was doing when he approached the victim.

But using the law of parties, prosecutors argued that Mr. Foster, who
was 19 at the time, either intended to kill or "should have
anticipated" a murder. For this lack of foresight, he has been
sentenced to death."

ACTION: Please pray for wisdom and godly justice to prevail. The
Governor has the power to stay Mr. Foster's execution, so a miracle
IS possible.

Just so you know where I stand, I am not a death penalty Gandhi says "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"...and Derek Webb in his poignant lyric offers, "It's like telling someone murder is wrong, then showing them by way of execution". But this is clearly a case, based on sworn testimony, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being sent to the firing squad for it. Why do we as a state government insist that we follow the letter of the law when clearly we are the only one who seem to think the letter in question promotes life and communal highest good...Moral is at the heart of every mean-spirited and bigoted action or thought. Somebody, somewhere thinks that they have the right to speak for God...or they think they know exactly what God thinks...or they think they are God...Moral, spiritual pride...The very first Beatitude in Matthew chapter 5 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit...". In other words, blessed...on the right spiritual path...are you when you recognize that you have absolutely nothing to brag to God or anybody else about...humility and servanthood, not pride and arrogance are the characteristics of those who shall, "see God". I have to put my sadness and anger under that same microscope tonight.

Kenneth Foster has become a man of peace and humility in these last 10 years in prison...he has helped work to change the system peacefully from the inside with the very little power he has as an inmate. He is also a poet that is approaching the seemingly last few days of his life with passion and gut-wrenching honesty. Like this...

a lone star statement
by Kenneth Foster

unbossed & unbought
i don't bow to the
lies concot by
belligerent's slithering tongues
seeking to systemize
my meditative system of
serene silence
allowing me to elevate above this
mental, physical & spiritual violence of
Texas Corrections molestings—
checking me in
boxes of neglected

my seeing came w/
over 300 murders
pacified by fries,
burgers &
whatever you want except
your life,
your rights,
your freedom,
a chance to hug
your mama
who'll die twice after this drama
unfolding on a new age cross.

season tickets are bought
in a new kind of box w/
plexi-glass &
front row seats to gas,

So tonight, along with my friend Melinda, we join our hearts to pray for Kenneth Foster and his family, for Governor Rick Perry who could stay the execution, for a state who should prayerfully consider how it administers its most severe punishment, and for each of us to seek everyday to be "poorer in spirit".



Saturday, August 25, 2007

But Officer, It Was Self-Defense...

It's been a long week...nothing earth-shattering, I've just been on the road most of the last week getting my two youngest collegians squared away at their respective institutions of educational highway robbery...but college costs are a rant for another time...and since we're talking about highways, I spent a lot of time on them this week, and at very wee hours of the morning. Now if I owned satellite radio, this blog would have a different twist, but I don't, so instead, I was relegated to driving with one hand on the seek button looking for signal satisfaction along wide stretches of nowhere. Some of you know what that is like...much Tejano music, various and sundered preachers and evangelist on various and sundered soapboxes, talk show hosts who were living up to their moniker by conversing, some more intelligently than others about UFOs, bleeding heart liberals, Michael Vick, the price of pork bellies, online dating, and how much jail time should Nicole Ritchie, Paris Hilton, and Lindsey Lohan really deserve. It was a virtual broadcast wasteland...Now there was an occasional sane preacher, political pundit, or sports host who had a degree of modicum and a lick of sense, but it became perfectly clear that the vast majority of folks on the radio at 4a.m. are either incredibly stupid or deathly afraid...and I suspect that the latter was much more the case. The propensity to lash out in anger seems to directly correlate to a lack of trust in somebody or something that really wants and is capable of acting out of love, compassion and our best interest. So, apart from the folks who are playing this game for entertainment value, we have a whole lot of people, and not just ones on early morning radio who choose to erect walls, build fences, drop down into foxholes and fight out of self defense. Now, don't get me wrong...there are times when self-defense is necessary for survival, but I don't think it is the paradigm that should define the way we go about life. One of my favorite bands The Daylights, 2/3 of which is made up of two dear friends, Ricky and Randy Jackson, have a song entitled "Weapons" that features these lines "I walked alone to the edge of town, and there I threw my burdens down...and looking up at last I felt, you'll never love if you protect yourself. Lay down, lay down your weapons boy...right now, right're sure to change the world..under it all you're not so tough, every one, everyone wants to fall in love..."

I think they are matter how loudly we rant, or how much we posture, or even how definitively we make our case...we all just want to love and be loved...and our walls of self-defense get in the way of knowing and being down your weapons boy...I really believe that's the way to love...and speaking of love, after this week on the road I have several new websites for hair regrowth, weight loss, male enhancement and refinancing my home courtesy of early morning radio...


Friday, August 17, 2007

The Fat Lady is Christ...

Profundity sneaks up on you in the most surprising places...I'm not just talking about the occasional line of brilliance that fights its way to the surface, drowning amongst the flood of drivel in an Adam Sandler movie...or even the gem of songwriting that gets lost in the pervasive mediocrity of pop music. I had lunch today with a young lady, now a college student, that I met at a youth camp when she was an eighth grader. At that time she was being raised by a single mom who a drug addict and who was not only using, but thought it was a cool thing to do to supply them to her daughter and her daughter's friends. Even at that young age she knew what was going on wasn't good for her, so she left home...moved in with an aunt and uncle who took her in and provided the stable loving home that she craved... and has become an amazingly strong, bright, and productive young woman. As we talked today she was making some observations about relationships that were not only unexpected, but brilliant and profound given what she has had to endure and fight through.

Hannah has been working with less than privileged kids this summer at Austin Sunshine Camps, a wonderful summer long camp sponsored by the Austin Young Businessman's League that brings in 80 kids each week who otherwise would never get the chance to have a summer camp experience. Hannah has told me all summer about a remarkable young man, Paul Mosley who has spent a huge amount of time at the camps even though he is not officially a staffer. Some of you from the Austin area might remember Paul as a standout high school running back at Anderson High School. Paul went on to play for the Baylor Bears and Longhorn fans will remember the long touchdown run he ripped off against UT last year. Paul left the camp Monday to fly to Detroit for a tryout with the NFL Detroit Lions...all of that may not surprise you... what did me was Hannah's accounts of Paul's selfless and consistent time and energy poured into these kids when he could have been hobnobbing with his agent or hanging out at training camp with the big boys (literally). Instead, he finished his tryout and then flew directly back to Austin to be with the kids the last full day of camp for the summer. Now Paul attended Sunshine Camp as a camper, and later returned as a counselor so he has some history with this camp and organization, but I was fascinated by his humility and commitment to this camp of kids who would be far, far from the thoughts of most potential NFL players the second week in August. I don't really know him, but I respect Paul Mosley.

Most people know the work of author J.D. Salinger, deservedly, through his most celebrated writing...Catcher in the Rye, a profound coming of age story, but last year Ariele gave me a copy of another Salinger work, Franny and Zooey. It is another piece of classic Salinger that I certainly enjoyed reading, but when I got to the last two pages I, literally dropped the book and even though I was on an airplane at the time, exclaimed "no way!" After I assured the flight attendant that I was OK, I picked up the book and reread this passage, "...And don't you know--listento me now--don't you know who that Fat Lady (in the audience) really is? Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy."

Billy Crockett released a record a little over 20 years ago entitled, Surprises in Disguises. I like that. It really is true that God shows up in and around and in the middle of the strangest people, circumstances and events. I still don't expect it much in an Adam Sandler movie, but He keeps on surprising me with disguises every day...and that makes following him all the more the adventure it really is supposed to be...Heck, the fun of the faith is often just keeping up...and looking for him in the eyes of the college student, the running back, the Fat Lady in the audience...Which is all the more reason they should bring back Joan of Arcadia...but don't get me started, buddy...



Monday, August 13, 2007

Eagles- Wasted Time

Wasted time?

One of my all-time favorite Eagles' songs came from the Joe Walsh era and was entitled "Wasted Time". The lines that always got me in those days were, "You never thought you'd be alone this far down the line... And I know what's been on your mind. You're afraid it's all been wasted time." Well I was in my twenties then and not married...a few years later I met the girl of my dreams, got married, had three beautiful daughters and 13 years later, watched the girl of my dreams walk out of my life and our marriage. The girls stayed with me and the last 12 or so years have been wonderful, excruciating, amazing, exhausting, and exhilarating all at the same time. In those years, I managed to continue to work 50-60 hours a week as a minister with teenagers and still be a single parent for three young girls. The job and the parenting was all I had time for...or maybe it was all I rationalized that I had time for. Money was always, always tight and there didn't seem to be enough to go around for housing, food, clothing for three maturing young ladies and school expenses, without doling out more to be dating and entertaining. It wasn't a huge sacrifice...and I'm not just saying just didn't ever make it high up on the priority list most of the time. There were a few romantic scares that had me thinking about that kind of relationship again, but they never lasted long and maybe I sabotaged them before they ever got a chance...I'm not sure...I just know that my oldest now lives on the other side of the country in Oregon, my middle daughter finishes up her summer camp counselor job this week and we make the 14 hour drive on Saturday to haul her stuff back up to Nashville for school. And then my youngest gets home on Saturday also coming back from a camp counseling responsibility and we haul her stuff up to Arlington on Monday to get her back in school as well. So, I'm sitting here some 25 plus years after I first listened to those lyrics and wondering if they don't REALLY apply to me now, way more than they did when Don Henley first sung them. It is true that in one sense, I never thought I'd be single this far down the line, but in a very very true sense, I really am not alone, even if I'm still single. I wouldn't trade anything for the relationship I have with my daughters now...I repeat ANYTHING! There are certainly things I would do differently now if I had it to do over...I would probably would still do the paisley shirts and the beard and Afro...the mullet, probably not, the bell bottoms...not so much...bell bottoms on a 5"4" guy look like calf dresses...not so attractive. But, I have way more friends than I deserve and the relationships along the way that still bless me 5, 15, 25 years later are incredibly humbling. So when Hannah and Calla head off for school this week, I'll check in every week or so, Ariele puts up with talking to me every couple of days... and my big lug of a dog, the Great Pyrenees named Cleveland, slobbers on my pants leg every night when he puts his humongous head on my knee...and I have this ridiculously understanding faith community that allows me to do my thing with them and a staff of friends who work beside single maybe...alone...kinda...wasted time...not a chance!



Friday, August 10, 2007

A Portland Poetress

Just a quick opening word...Mr T...Thomas Bickle, the gutsy little two year old who is battling cancer that I mentioned in an earlier blog, had his surgery today to remove another tumor, and his mom reported this afternoon that the surgery went well...I'll keep you updated when I find out more...

And while we are speaking of children, I have three of the grown-up variety, at least they are 20, 21 and 24 years into being grown-up, and I am equally proud of all three. I know parents are supposed to say that even if one of them is an evil Chucky child...which none of mine are...they are, in fact, all beautiful, all smart...occasionally smart-asses...refreshingly cynical, and remarkably independent and free-thinking young adults...and I wish I could take credit for it, but everyone who knows us knows they are just pretty special. Anyway the eldest of that trio is Ariele, which is pronounced like the letters R...E...L... It is Hebrew for "lioness of God", but the traditional pronunciation comes out sounding like "aerial" (you know the thing sticking up on the front or back of your car that lets you listen to annoying talk radio) so we softened the beginning "a". One of our friends early on called her "REL Speedwagon" which regretably, never quite stuck. Ariele lives and works in Portland, Oregon with an organization called The Burnside Writer's Collective. She has been a writer since she was old enough to collect thoughts and put them down on paper, walls, encyclopedia margins and anywhere else she could find. When she was in the 7th grade, she was a part of the gifted and talented program for a school district outside of Austin, and the teacher who worked with that program called me one day and said, "Mr. Gentiles, I'm a little worried about Ariele's choice of reading material for this special literary project we are doing which involves choosing a book regarded a "classic" and then constructing a tangible representation of the great themes and messages of this work." When I asked her what the issue was, she replied, "Well...she has chosen Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" and frankly Mr. Gentiles that is a book most students don't read until upper level college courses, and then they are usually English majors specializing in Russian literature...I'm just concerned that the reading will be too difficult and it would only set her up for failure." I thanked her for her concern and diligence, but assured her that Ariele could handle it...which she did beautifully. When she was a sophomore in high school she submitted a paper on Herman Melville's "Moby Dick", making the case that this classic work was, in fact, an example of one of the first literary works of postmodernity. Now that was in the late 90's when theologians, philosophers and educators had just begun to debate the postmodern cultural paradigm shift. I was not surprised. She entered her college undergraduate work as a pre-med/forensics major. She was CSI before CSI was cool, but at the end of her sophomore year changed her major to English because she missed the outlet that writing and literature provided in feeding her soul...and today she is one of the rare English graduates actually doing work in her field... I don't know all that awaits her along her journey, but her unique passion and insight has left an indelibly written impression on this dad's heart... I'm proud of who she is and who she is becoming.

Here's a example of a post from a few days ago on her own blog Saint Vespertine to give you some insight as to why I love her and her writing so...

human beans.

i like to playtend that we human beans
are more than just ivory sinew and skin,
more than thewless puppets on
stringsSuspended from clouds
dancing us onward to mortal fate’s end.

and those

red beating hearts sagging on shirtsleeves,
stitched and re-stitched with gossamer threads
of hope and the like, repairing the rends
split by those knock-about kinds of dreams
and sinister forces seemingly unseen.

yet then there’s

the art of growing up into cleverish beasts
of vague and clawing responsibility,
stretching our skin and excavating our bones
into adult-sized tombs, long red claustrophobic rooms
to lie and wait, lighting fires for heat
against the cold prospect of death and defeat.


i hold my red kite against the blue of the sky
and count the dust clouds as the ambly pull by.

Roar on "Lioness of God"...



Sunday, August 5, 2007

Baseball Bean Berry Berry Good to Me...

Barry hit 755 and A-Rod hit 500 over the weekend...One more and Barry breaks Hammerin' Hank Aaron's all-time homerun record, which Henry wrestled away from The Babe in April of 1974. Barry will most certainly hit the inevitable "records-were-made-to-be-broken" magical #756, perhaps before this blog is posted,, and his less than warm, fuzzy relationship with the public and press, and his alleged juicing notwithstanding, it will be a hallowed baseball moment...At least it will be for me. See, I had this love affair with baseball long before I recognized how deep blue Vickie Roy's eyes were sitting beside me in my 4th grade class at Howell Park Elementary. Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Ford, Dean, Feller, Dimagio, and Williams were the objects of my affection. I had all of their cards, I combed the boxscores every daybreak in The Morning Advocate just minutes after the paper boy deftly deposited it at the foot of the holly bush beside our driveway... and they were the ones who had me out on our neighborhood sandlot, every daylight hour of every summer vacation day. I loved baseball...I still yes, I care about the homerun record, but it is much more for me about Hank Aaron's name resurfacing for another generation of baseball fans to know and appreciate a genuine real life superstar and sports hero. He came along just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, so he also faced many of the same injustices and endured many of the same hardships that all African-American players faced in those early days. His first professional baseball paycheck came with the Indianapolis Clowns of the storied Negro leagues. He led them to a championship in his rookie year and was signed by the Boston Braves who moved to Milwaukee not long after Hank became a Brave. He was a natural 5-tool (hitting for average, hitting for power, catching, throwing and running) gifted athlete, and although he had great success in the Negro League and the minors hitting crosshanded...left hand over right... he still became a quiet, but powerful leader in the game. I distinctly remember the fall of '67 when Robert "Hiya" Didier came back to our one of our fall baseball practices. Hiya had been an all-state catcher for us the two previous years while I was a freshman and a sophomore. In those two years we were the Louisiana state champions the first year and we had been eliminated in the state semis the next. Hiya was one of the main reasons for our success. He was smart behind the plate, handled pitchers like a sports psychologist, had a cannon for an arm and literally attacked the ball when he was at bat. He was the finest all around player I ever was on the field with in high school or college. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves right out of high school and he was back that fall to visit us and tell us what his first spring training was like with the Braves. We wanted to talk about him and his first training camp...all he wanted to talk about was Hank Aaron...what a classy guy he he yanked pitches a foot off the plate 450 feet into the left field upper deck, and how he had the strongest, quickest wrists of anyone he'd ever seen. I wasn't there to see Hank, but listening to "Hiya" I sure imagined I was, and my respect and admiration for him grew. Everyone knew, both during and after Hank was quietly chasing down Ruth's record, that he endured ridicule for his audacity as a black man to erase the hallowed Babe Ruth's longstanding record,and even received death threats...and yet he handled it all with dignity and class.

Yup. Barry will break Henry Aaron's career homerun record by a few...maybe even a lot... and that record will probably be broken by the same A-Rod who hit his 500th homerun on Saturday when Barry tied Hank, but neither will ever replace the gentleman hero, Hammerin' Hank hero 45 years hero today...



Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Clueless (but learning) Single Parent Dad

I have been a single parent DAD for the last...oh...twelve and a half years...with three kids...with three kids who were GIRLS...yup...I'm bad, I'm BAD! Actually the truth was...there were times, especially early on, when I wasn't very good at it at all. Now, I think I was always a pretty good dad, just not too hot at spinning all of the plates that single parents have to keep an eye on. Because I have worked with teenagers all of my adult life, and I talked with and worked with families of all kinds, I thought (I really did) I knew kinda what the issues were, and that single parents were just like two parent families with a few minor challenges. I was an idiot (on more than just that issue, but that one in particular), because I quickly found out that the dynamics and unique challenges of being out there on a limb by yourself with little or no backup in the daily routine of life is something you don't really understand until you have been there. My girls were 7, 8 & 11 when we started this adventure together (they are now 24, 21 & 20) and they have grown into incredibly amazing young women in spite of the laborious chore of having to help me have a single parent clue, as well as do their own work of growing up in this crazy culture.

So....since I'm new to this blogging thing, I don't know what protocol is, but I think I'll spend a while on this blog talking a little about the single parenting experience, telling a few stories on my girls (with their permission) and myself, and maybe it will be a help to somebody who needs a laugh or a little encouragement for a similar situation...doesn't mean I won't break in from time to time with something I can't stand not talking about it...but that's the call for today. Come along for the ride if you'd like...



Monday, July 30, 2007

What Would Jesus Drive...A '51 Chevy Pickup...?

I'm sitting in a circle of teenagers yesterday when the question was tossed out to be kicked around, "Is there something you always wanted, but never got?" There were several standard "I'm clearly in the throes of puberty" kinds of answers, that I awkwardly identified with, along with several answers that were remarkably profound, and not only way beyond what I would have offered when I was their age, but considerably more self-aware that I would offer now. The answer...a 1957 cherry red Corvette.
Now in my defense, there were very few teenage boys with a pulse in the mid to late 1960's who did not also lust after that high octane beauty...but it got me to thinking. A couple of weeks ago I was in North Louisiana at a camp and my friend John strolled over to my beloved 1993 ford F-150 pickup truck and cattily asked, "Dave, have you ever owned a vehicle that was not at least 10 years old?" It was a fair question...we don't see each other very often and the last three vehicles he had seen me drive were the '93 pickup, a '91 Montero, and a '73 Caprice Classic (yeah, I know , sweeeeet!). The last new car I bought for the family to drive was a 1986 Colt Vista...a bold, but crappily designed, step by the Chrysler Co. to blaze a trail into the new SUV/wagon/van market. 200,000 miles (it had spunk if not much else) later it gave up the ghost, and I decided I would drive pre-owned cars from there on out. My first car, that I bought while in college with hard-earned minimum wage ($1.60 at the time) dollars for $500 cash money, was a beautiful 1962 Impala Super Sport hard top. It's puny little 265 hp engine was about half of the power of the Corvette I had dreamed of, but it was a champ and drove the 1000 mile round trip from Baton Rouge to Baylor U. many many times over the next three years. One of the things I've come to realize about myself as I've grown a lot older and a tiny bit wiser, is that most of my early car dreams were about image and not practicality or utility. So were my houses and my clothes, and a bunch of other things I decided I wanted and needed. A number of years ago, Sociologist Tony Campolo got into a little hot water (not a new experience for Tony) by making the statement that Jesus would never have driven a BMW. I'll let you take that one up with Tony, but the furor and discussion led eventually to a website (not started by Tony) called I'm not kidding...but I love it, because it calls us to examine not only our motives, but out priorities in using the resources God has given... and not only us personally, but the also those he has given us as caretakers of this planet.

So..I'll hang on to my pickup as long as it will run, and I have moved out of the suburbs into town to be close to the office and save gas...and I'll keep looking for ways to be a better steward of my stuff. By the way...even though I still think the '57 Corvette is a beauty, I've set my sights on a new dream vehicle...a 1951 5-window Chevy pickup...yeah, just like the ones in the middle of every Old Navy store with the plastic dog sitting up in the front that is a sweet ride...without the 150 assorted t-shirts sitting on the back fenders.