Friday, August 28, 2009

Don Mclean - Crossroads

No Matter What We May Have Planned...

I sat in a small, casual music venue on the campus of Baylor University in the spring of 1972, with my jaw on the floor, my brain in overdrive, and my heart in my throat. There were less than a hundred of us who sat and marveled at the guitar artistry and storytelling brilliance that was and is Don McLean. "American Pie" for which he is forever known, had been released the previous year, so there were a majority of folks present only to hear that song...while others of us who loved "Vincent" and "Babylon" had come to see if there was more beauty tucked away in that distinctive voice and those nimble fingers. McLean did not disappoint, and I heard one of my favorite songs of his, "And I Love You So" for the first time.

I do remember that there was one song on the "American Pie" record, "Crossroads", that was hauntingly moving, but disturbingly unsettling for a young man in the throes of trying to figure out what decisions to make at the crossroads that lay immediately out ahead of him. The plan was to go to summer school and then graduate in December. That would have me finishing college in three and a half years, but that was important because I was putting myself through school since my blue collar middle class parents back in Baton Rouge now had three, yup, count 'em, three, kids in higher education at the same time. I had been a youth minister at a small church on the outskirts of Waco since my sophomore year, had a girl there in Waco I thought might possibly be a future Mrs. Gentiles, was debating the pros and cons of seminary graduate school (both if, and where) and trying to get some read on whether my vocational future was in teaching and coaching, youth ministry, municipal recreation, or as a professional ping pong player...what can I say...I spent a lot of time at the Student Union. I knew the "Crossroads" song from the album, and wrestled with it every time I listened, but on that night it sounded and looked like Don was singing that song right at me... just to piss me off, or maybe to taunt me. I brushed it off, dismissed it as I often did (and still do) things that push me and stretch me beyond the comfortable, but I've never forgotten that song. As it turned out, I did graduate in December, headed to seminary in New Orleans and accepted a position on staff at a church in Baton Rouge (I commuted from BR to NO 4 days a week), retired my ping pong paddle, and the Miss Right in question found Mr. Right...I just didn't happen to be the right Mr. Right.

I have an old turntable here at the house and several times a week I break out the LPs and spin the wax, and last night I pulled out the "American Pie" record for the first time in years. "Crossroads" is the last cut on Side 1, and when I heard the opening piano notes, I stopped in my tracks. I think the reason it was so uncomfortable for me back then is that it messed with, not just my theology, but bigger than that, it messed with my idea of how God was supposed to lay things out for me. I wanted guarantees...I wanted a gameplan...I wanted an assurance that if I made the right choices, that I would have the kind of life I had always dreamed I would/should have. So when, McLean says "So there is no need for turning back, cause all roads lead to where we stand. And I believe we'll walk them all, no matter what we may have planned" it was disorienting. It was also an admission that life was messy and imperfect, and I wasn't ready to hear that.

Well, three plus decades later, my illusions about what would/should happen in my life have changed radically. Divorce, bankruptcy, single parenthood, disappointments in ministry and friendships, shattered dreams, colossal failures, et al., have been tempered with unbelievable opportunities, amazing friendships, a new relationship and a fresh picture of a God who trusts me enough to be a Father and a friend rather than a puppeteer or a travel agent/administrative assistant/miracle dispenser.

The entire lyric of this song is worth reading, so here ya go...

I've got nothing on my mind: nothing to remember,
Nothing to forget. and I've got nothing to regret,
But I'm all tied up on the inside,
No one knows quite what I've got;
And I know that on the outside
What I used to be, I'm not anymore.

You know I've heard about people like me,
But I never made the connection.
They walk one road to set them free
And find they've gone the wrong direction.

But there's no need for turning back
`cause all roads lead to where I stand.
And I believe I'll walk them all
No matter what I may have planned.

Can you remember who I was? can you still feel it?
Can you find my pain? can you heal it?
Then lay your hands upon me now
And cast this darkness from my soul.
You alone can light my way.
You alone can make me whole once again.

We've walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather.
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together.

So there's no need for turning back
`cause all roads lead to where we stand.
And I believe we'll walk them all
No matter what we may have planned.

So, Don McLean, wherever you are tonight...I'm a slow learner, but I finally know why you seemed to be singing straight to me that is because you were.



Monday, August 24, 2009

This Is Why I Love Baseball...

Last night in a see-saw affair between the reigning World Series Champion, Phildelphia Phillies and their division rival, the New York Metropolitans, the game ended in a walk-off, unassisted triple play by Phillies second baseman, Eric Bruntlett. First of all, this doesn't happen every be exact, only one other time in baseball history (1927 - Tigers vs. Indians), has the game ended on an unassisted triple play. For those of you who might have difficulty conceptualizing what we are talking about, one defensive player, without a throw or assist from another teammate, gets three runners, or a batter and two runners out on one continuous play... all by himself. It certainly does involve some skill and quick-thinking, but believe me, this is usually a clear case of being in the right place at the right time.

It was the bottom of the 9th for the Mets, who had played catch-up all game long and had pulled to within two runs of the Phillis in their last at bat. The inning started when first baseman Ryan Howard misplayed a ball that went all the way into the corner and the batter ended up on third and Howard charged with a three-base error. The next ball was hit to Bruntlett at second who bobbled the routine ground ball and threw late to first, allowing the runner on third to come home making the score 9-7 Phillies. Bruntlett who came into the game hitting at .198 (for those of you who don't know...that's don't last long in the majors hitting a puny .198) has always been known as a solid glove man who could play a lot of poitions and held his own with the bat, which, fortunately for Eric he did on this night going three for five with a hit taken away on a reversed call. I saw him play numerous times for the local Round Rock Express baseball team when he was part of the Houston Astros organization. He was a clutch hiter, a solid defensive player and I hated to see him traded away.

Again, baseball is a mysterious lover who will tempt you, tease you, then take away her affection at the batting of an eyelash. The Mets have closed to within two, with a runner on first base and the next batted ball is hit to the left of first base. Bruntlett moves quickly to his right but can't handle the ball cleanly and both the runner and the batter are safe. It is officially scored a hit, but most people watching give Bruntlett his second consecutive error...a nightmare for any player, but especially a sure-handed middle infielder. Then it happens...Jeff Francour is at the plate for the Mets and his coach calls for a hit and run, which means that both runners are racing to the next base as soon as closer Brad Lidge sends the pitch to the plate and the batter is swinging away. The play is meant to keep you out of a ground ball double play or even to give the runner on first a chance to score if the ball is hit deep in the gap and tie the score. As the runners break, Francour scalds a screaming line drive past the pitchers ear headed into center field to score at least the runner on second who is off to the races. Bruntlett, in the meantime has edged toward second base in an attempt to be ready for the double play as well as moving in to cover second base in the event that a throw comes in from the catcher to prevent the steal. Eric is in infielder's no-mans-land. He has left a gaping hole in the right side of the infield, but as he moves closer to second base he runs right into the line drive by Francour which normally would be headed bouncing in front of the centerfielder. He catches the line drive retiring Francour, steps on second in one motion retiring the runner from second who is almost to third at this point, and then sees the runner from first barrelling down on him headed to second base. There is an awkward dance, but he can't avoid Brunlett's tag for long, and there you have it...Bruntlett to Bruntlett to unassisted triple play. The game is over, Francour slams his helmet to the ground in disbelief and the Phillies and Brunlett begin the celebration.

Ah, have wooed me once again.



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Social Media Revolution

For those of us whose lives, vocations and callings are linked to connecting with people...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Marching to the Beat of a Different Accordian

I don't write much directly about Journey, the little faith community I am grateful to be a part of. It is not that I am ashamed of is just that it usually comes up in the conversation normally without trying to do a hype thing, and that's the way I like it, but I'm going to make a bit of an exception here because yesterday was a weird and bizarrely interesting day.

Rick is our lead pastor and is our primary communicator and teacher. He's good...very good...but not in a creepy, sketchy, preachery kind of way. He is funny, articulate, incredibly well read, and handles discussion and feedback from the group as well as anybody I've ever seen. Rick was out this week, so when that happens I usually speak in the service, which is all the reason you need for it to be weird, but that's not what I am talking about. Rick also teaches a large group Bible Study between the early and the late worship gathering times. Lately we have been getting some of our talented Journey folks to teach during this time and this Sunday was no exception. David Johnson is a math professor here in town, who is a vital valued Journeyer. By his own admission, David is a cynic and a skeptic concerning the existence of God, but he is in Bible study every week listening, asking questions, and offering important insights. He recently embarked upon a 40 day fast and Rick asked him to share his thoughts about his experience during the Bible Study time this week, which he graciously agreed to do. It was wonderful...he talked about his motivation from a both a curiosity, as well as a health and spiritual perspective, and as always Journeyers listened and questioned and supported David in his sharing.

Immediately following the worship gathering a roomful of 20 folks talked about the way the 10% of all funds that come into Journey are distributed out to various ministries, social service organizations, and individuals as a response to the mandate of Journey that we are to love God with all of our heart soul mind and strength, and our NEIGHBOR as ourselves. Almost all churches are involved in missions and service in some way, but I sat in gratitude and amazement as I listened to the stories of how this tiny little faith community is making a difference in the lives of so many in Austin and around the world.

It was almost two o'clock by the time we broke up and Julie Reese finished her meeting. JC ad I loaded up two beautiful Lazy Boy recliners that were donated for the warehouse into my truck and were led by Julie to the home of two of our Journeyers who are visually impaired and have just moved into a new apartment. They needed chairs for their place so Julie suggested that we give them the two recliners they sit in almost every Sunday morning in worship. We rolled in, told them we had a gift for them and had them sit in their new furniture, and they immediately recognized that these were the very same seats they sat in every week. It was moving to watch their delight, and the tender, genuine friendship Julie had for her friends.

I guess maybe this kind of thing goes on in churches everywhere in some form or fashion...Journey is not really that unique or is just a bunch of regular people doing their best to follow Jesus...but it sure made me proud to be one of his followers along with this delightfully awake and humble group of misfits.



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Joan Osborne - One of us

One of Us

I have one of the strangest neighbors on the planet. I've lived here in central Austin, in this venerable old neighborhood for two plus years. I love it...I rent a modest little duplex that fits my needs perfectly these days. It gets a little crowded when the girls are home, especially with one bathroom, but they are constantly gallivanting around the country and the world so it is plenty of room for Cleveland and me. The duplex is on a corner lot and there is a traffic light at the intersection which makes for interesting vehicular noises most of the night, and the train tracks are less than a mile away, so I get some occasional late night rumblings and whistles, but it is a delightful location with mostly older houses, a few of which have been remodeled and gentrified. My next door neighbors are a delightful young couple who are a writer and school librarian respectively. You probably guessed that the wife was the librarian and the husband the writer, but you would be incorrect. We watch each other's houses and they gave me a sprig off of their aloe vera plant last week and I planted it and put it on my is doing well. They wanted to buy one of the electric companies old electrical wire spools (you can buy one for $5) but they didn't have way to transport it so I took Clementine (my old truck) and picked up the spool for them. They are great neighbors. Directly across the street is a guy who moved in a couple weeks after I did. He is a single parent dad who has his kids every other week so we talk parenting shop fairly regularly, but he has boys, so I have to depend on youth ministry experience rather than parenting expertise to chime in. He's a good guy.

The elderly gentleman laterally across the street is bit of a hermit and I speak to him when he takes his garbage can to the curb, but not much else. I took his recycling out for him a couple of times while he was out of town, but he doesn't socialize much. Then there is the guy diagonally across the street from me. He walks around most of the time with no shirt on, cut off shorts and no shoes. He looks like a refugee from a Jimmy Buffet music video and/or an episode of COPS... and he is loud and profane. He plays music LOUDLY into the wee hours of the night, and has assorted lady friends over, all of whom eventually get into a shouting match with him...usually after midnight. The cops have been to his house at least a dozen times and the EMS folks about a half dozen. Not long after I moved in, a fleet of fire trucks raced to his house, sirens blaring, because he was burning trash Aggie Bonfire-style in his backyard. Several months ago, after an altercation with one of his female companions at 2 a.m., he got into his car in his own drive way and proceeded to sit on his car horn...on then off, on then off, on then off... for 47 minutes (yup, I timed him) until the battery finally gave out, mercifully, at 2:47 a.m. He and I met briefly because he gets upset if Cleveland barks at the postman, but mostly he just goes about his loudly-lost-in-the-70's ways to the chagrin of most of the neighborhood.

So today I took Cleveland outside at 7:00 in the morning to feed him and take care of dogie business, and not surprisingly, bare-chested Bon Jovi boy has got the Hi-Fi cranked up already. I shake my head in disgust, and then stop because I recognize the tune. It is Joan Osborne's "One of Us" and at that moment it reaches the chorus, and Joan's voice is joined by a screechy male voice singing at the top of his lungs, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, What if God was one of us...Just a slob like one of us...just stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home...". Honestly it pissed me off at first, that he was ruining this great song...and then it occurred to me that, I was the one involved in an adventure in missing the point. A very obvious point at that. It is easy to love my sweet, artsy couple neighbors, my fellow single dad neighbor, and my lonely old man neighbor...but come on, God...this guy is a menace to neighborhood peace and quiet, and he hates my dog. So I softened a little and when he came out and flipped me the bird as I led Cleveland through the gate I tipped my Indians hat in a polite acknowledgement. The next song came on and he was back to screamsinging at the top of his lungs...this time to "My Sharona". It would be nice if God could at least sing on key. It's gonna be a while before I can watch "Joan of Arcadia" again.



Monday, August 10, 2009

Time to Begin Again...

Yeah, I has been four months since my last blog post. My friends Milton and Jack have nudged me gently, but the stuff of life kinda got in the way of me writing about the stuff of life. My life is good...much better than I deserve, but there are some things that need a reboot, a new beginning to move to the great next. Twenty five years or so ago a friend of mine, Kenny Wood wrote a lyric for a song...the lyric was initially rejected by execs at Word records. Here's the part they didn't like..."It's time to begin again, let yourself go, stop your holding on. Sometimes you just can't win. That's when you know love will carry you and never let you go." The reason the execs gave for removing it from the record list was... "Christians don't want to hear, 'sometimes you just can't win'". Thankfully Billy Crockett insisted on including it on his record and he and Kenny prevailed, because it is a reality...occasionally we all need a do-over. As it turns out Kenny is one of us who qualifies as well, and after a number of years of battling back from some very difficult times, he has begun writing again. That's a good thing. He has a blog called The Woodman and I wanted to repost his writing from today.


A father took his son fishing off an old pier. They stood 10 feet apart with a red cooler between them. They didn’t talk, they fished.

The boy made his first cast hoping his father was watching. Lucky for him he wasn’t because something went wrong. Maybe he was trying to cast too far out, but for whatever reason he ended up with a nasty backlash. The line looked like a bird’s nest had exploded.

It was his father’s reel, handed down like an heirloom, like an old watch, from his father. The boy had begged to use it. Now look at it. One cast. He turned his back and tried to untangle it. He couldn’t have done it even if he had fingernails. He was afraid the reel was a goner.

His father finally turned and noticed his son wasn’t fishing. He saw him bending over, working on the reel. He knew what was wrong without asking.

“Let me see the old girl,” he said. The feel of it took him back to his own boyhood, to the same pier and to Saturdays like this one---his father’s arms behind and around him, big hands over smaller hands, casting sidearm, practicing.

He worked at untangling the line but it was hopeless.

“I knew this day would come,” he told his boy.

He sat down on the edge of the pier, opened the tackle box, pulled out a new reel still in the package, unscrewed the old reel, wrapped it in his handkerchief and laid it down in the box like a loved one. Then, he mounted the new reel onto the rod, handed it to his son and said, “Now you are ready to do some fishing with your own rig.”

Backlash. There’s no way around it. And it’s easy to get the idea from well-meaning doctors and friends that we are supposed to trace the mess back to the beginning, find the root cause and untangle our knots. But sometimes all we can do is hand it over to someone who recognizes what is beyond repair and needs to be laid to rest. Often it’s the very thing that stands in the way of beginning again.

I encourage you to read Kenny's other stuff as well. Maybe it is time for you to begin again...let go...let go of your attachment to winning...and know that Love will catch you and never let you go.

Pling, Pling...