Be Still and March

IT WAS MONUMENTAL. Can we all agree on that? I would even go so far as to say it was momentous.

I wish we could separate the event from the issues that prompted it for just a minute. Of course that’s not possbile; the matter is too emotionally charged.

As if providentially, my watch just pinged, reminding me it’s time to take a few deep breaths. Seriously. Join me. Deep inhale… Exhale. Six more. My watch now tells me my heartrate is at 61 BPM. That’s down from 318 when I started writing this after spending a few minutes on Facebook.

Why does a love for the First Amendment mean you want the Second stricken and vice versa? I love them both. I am happy we have both, and the others as well. I wouldn’t go as far as I heard one citizen opine: “I think the president should switch them and make the Second Amendment number 1, because without guns we wouldn’t have any other freedoms.” But, he has the freedom to say it.

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For me and for this essay, I just want to celebrate the essence of the "March for Our Lives" for a few minutes and words. The “essence”?

Sometimes the most wonderful outcomes of something like this are things that were unexpected and unintended. I worked with teenagers for more than 30 years, and I have to say that any time you can get them to raise their eyes from their smartphones, open their ears and pay attention, something good can happen. It’s an opportunity to awaken a bit, to march on from apathy, narcissism and naivete´.

When you make a poster, join the march, become a part of the conversation, you begin to form a worldview and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Maybe you take a giant step up Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs from safety and security needs, to belonging needs, to esteem needs, to self-actualization.

I know this from intimate experience of working with hundreds of teens and from my own personal experience.

Similar to the highly charged arguments of the day that fill our common air like so much smog, the causes I marched for and against in my day were equally divisive and misunderstood. I wrote about it in a post a few years back. Here’s a snippet:

The Kent State shootings occurred at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds on unarmed college students on Monday, May 4, 1970, killing four students and wounding nine others.

As a result, student protests were organized across the country. Hundreds of universities cancelled classes and locked down buildings. I was proud to be a part of the event at OBU. But as we sat through the day and overnight on the OBU Oval, wearing black arm bands, discussing the state of our country and world, and wondering whether we could make a difference, it all seemed a little silly and isolated. Maybe we did make some difference though. At least I was different. I wanted to DO something. I still do.

Don't skip this part. Back then, no doubt I had delusions of importance and occasional altruism. The fact is I was pretty self-absorbed; oh, not in a Justin Bieber brand of narcissism kind of way, but in a way that dictates at least this: for all of those who knew me back then, please forgive me. Maybe the Washington Elite was right--maybe I was too stupid to vote at 18. The dean of students who encouraged me not to return to OBU for my sophomore year certainly would agree with that.

My intent here is not to romanticize those days, but if I have, well... After all this was my first Coming-of-Age. It should be a bit romantic, right?


There was a recurring experience in youth ministry that I dreaded and hated. I still do. It is the experience of seeing the passion and enthusiasm of youth crushed or belittled. Let me try to explain with a couple of examples:

Every summer I would return home from summer camp with a group of students recommitted and energized to make a difference. I knew that soon they would be met with an indifference that would suck the wind from their sails. There would be patronization and diminishment and “reality”.

Another example. Numerous times in my years of youth ministry there would be a young woman with a strong sense of calling to leadership in the church. I knew full-well that the predominate attitude among baptists was that the role of women was to be a submissive wife to their husband—not a leader in the church. I hated the moment when they this ugly fact would become real for them.

When you pat an energized young person on the head and dismiss them, you plant a seed of cynicism, hopefully seeds of determination and vision will grow strong and choke those out.

You may see their efforts as being misguided, even dangerous, but I am telling you there is value in the experience for them. And who knows, maybe they will survive, get in line, register to vote and fight for a more acceptable cause someday. 

Look at me: I’m still a rebellious liberal, but I’m a functional liberal. And while I love the First Amendment and the Second, and the rest, I believe there is a higher calling, a higher freedom than any a govenment can legislate. It goes something like this:

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. --from the Bible, Micah 6:8, sort of.

I could write that on a poster and march around the capital, the courthouse, the church, and the marketplace; if only I wasn’t so tired and cynical. In the meantime...

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The Thing is

“It’s Your Thing—do what you wanna do.”

That’s the title and first line of a 1969 Isley Brother’s song. It has a sort of live and let live vibe to it, doesn’t it? The zeitgeist. More on that in a minute.

The other day I was sitting in a “waiting” room at the AM/PM; waiting. That’s what you do. I overheard this conversation between a lady and her brother-in-law who had driven her to the clinic:

HER: What are you doing on that phone; Facebook?
HIM: Candy Crush.
HER: You really like that, huh?
HIM: It’s sort of my Thing.

Your THING?! What kind of guy makes Candy Crush his Thing? Maybe I’m judging too quickly. I don’t actually know what Candy Crush is. Maybe if I tried it, it would be my Thing too. Probably not.

Then I had this moment where I imagined asking the guy, in a condescending manner, “What do you mean, Candy Crush is your Thing? How can that be? Is it your only Thing? Or is it just your Thing when your sitting in waiting rooms with your sister-in-law?”

Then I imagined him saying, “What’s it to you, wise-ass?” I imagined him to be the kind of guy who would use a word like that, while giving you a look like maybe Candy is the only thing he would like to Crush.

Then I imagined him saying, “So, what’s your Thing?” And I panicked, because I couldn’t think of a Thing right then. I mean I had already scrolled through Instagram for new photos of the Grand-Girls, and now I was pretty much just checking out the people in the waiting room trying to guess their ailments and wondering about my chances of getting out of there without catching whatever it was they were spreading. But that’s not a good, manly Thing really, is it?

So for the rest of the time in the waiting room I occupied my mind in a kind of transcendental survey of noble Things I could adopt as my own. That kind of stuff has always been important to me—well for at least as long as I can remember. I believed I wanted to pursue noble things, worthwhile things, at least as I understood them to be.

I worry sometimes about becoming irrelevant—not having a Thing, one of those old guys who has been bypassed by the pace of technology and popular culture and the vitality of life. I used to know stuff. There was a time when I could have told you for instance, which artists were up for the top Grammy awards. Now I recognize few of them. I don’t stay up late enough to see them on Jimmy Fallon, so I’m out of touch. And frankly, I’m becoming so geezerish that I’m of the sincere opinion that most of them are not truly Grammy worthy musicians anyway.

I used to have a utilitarian understanding of the kids’ slang and could use some of it in sentences in a way that seemed natural and credible. You might say I had my on fleek moments.

Maybe being able to converse with the kids isn’t a worthwhile Thing for me anymore. Maybe I’ll keep trying though, and that will make me one of those corny old, cardigan guys. I’ll say stuff and the Grand-Girls will roll their eyes and say, “Oh, Pops, you’re silly.” And maybe I’ll say, “That’s sort of my Thing.”

There was a time, not so long ago, I would have said my Thing was being a “creative catalyst”. It all started when I attended a meeting in New York City with a group called the International Arts Movement. I became a part of the movement and even served on their board of directors. It gave me a language, a vision, and a plan to encourage young creatives, and to look for ways to bring them together in a catalytic way to collaborate and to work as only artists can. It was my Thing for several years and I loved it. I cherish the friendships and memories of that experience.

I am convinced, more than ever, that our world needs the beauty, goodness and truth that art and the creative processes alone can bring. We need creatives to do their Thing and we need it more desperately every day.

There’s another line in that Isley Brother’s song that says:

"I'm not trying to run your life, I know you wanna do what's right."

That brings me back to the start of this post—the 60s zietgiest; or my version of it. The live-and-let-live kool-aid was sweetened for me as a journalism major at the University of Tulsa. We were taught that news reporting, REAL news reporting was objective. “Don’t make value judgements,” we were taught, a guiding principle I tended to think applied to life beyond the reporting of news as well. This synced with my desire to not have my values judged, and my Judeo-Christian upbringing to “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Maybe that’s the part of the current zeitgeist (as I perceive it) that is so disconcerting for me. It seems that “lines” are being drawn so hard, so furiously, so emotionally. Maybe a better song for the day is Tina Turner’s mid-80s hit, “What’s love got to do with it?” and her cynical lyric, “what’s love but a second hand emotion?”

Don’t get me wrong I am still hopeful and a bit idealistic. I do believe that there is something within us that will prevail. After all, we are created in the image of a Creator, who created us with a capacity to understand that it all comes down to love, ultimately and eternally.

So, my apologies to waiting-room guy, if you’re listening, “I’m sorry for judging. If Candy Crush is your Thing, crush it my brother, crush it!”

All That Democracy (Jazz)

 Miles Davis

Miles Davis

There’s an organization called Jazz At Lincoln Center. It’s a great resource for Jazz music. This is from their mission statement.

We believe Jazz is a metaphor for Democracy. Because jazz is improvisational, it celebrates personal freedom and encourages individual expression. Because jazz is swinging, it dedicates that freedom to finding and maintaining common ground with others. Because jazz is rooted in the blues, it inspires us to face adversity with persistent optimism.

As I heard someone say the other day, “Let’s break down that prose.”

 from Pops journal

from Pops journal

So there you have it. Maybe you already love Jazz, maybe you do and don’t know it. Or, maybe you haven’t really tried it yet. If you do, give it time. It’s an acquired taste. The Jazz At Lincoln Center is a great resource. Visit http://www.jazz.org

Here’s what I really wanted to tell you about—a project called “Recollect”. I love storytelling, remembering and recollecting. So this project fascinated me from the start.

Recollect is a project of short videos where a famous jazz musician goes into a record store to dig through the crates of jazz albums. While they do this they tell stories. (I'm adding to my bucket list to be present for the filming of one of these episodes). These are jazz stories and so they are also democratic stories. They are important because they can give us a context to understand more about ourselves.

Of course jazz is not the only musical genre that’s important in this way. Country music is also rooted in personal story. And, without a doubt, there is no more heart-felt music than the poetry of the early hymn writers. I can prove it. Read the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul”, or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, of “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”. Here’s a sample:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Talk about remembering and recollecting; I’ve heard those words all my life and they move me like I’ve just heard them for the very first time.

Well, back to the Recollect project. What first caught my attention was a video episode of the project featuring a jazz pianist named Helen Sung. Helen was introduced to me by my dear friend Mako Fujimura. I heard her play with her band at the Jazz Standard in New York City. She is one of those who can tell a story with a piano.

That prompted me to watch other episodes of the project. My favorite to date is one that features Jimmy Cobb.

Jimmy Cobb was one of the drummers I tried to emulate back in the day. He played with Miles Davis on a album called Kind Of Blue, the album that first drew me to jazz. The band on that album is a who’s who of jazz: in addition to Miles Davis and Jimmy Cobb, there’s John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly.

If you haven’t yet, give Jazz a try. This album is a great place to start. At least watch the Recollect videos on Jimmy Cobb and Helen Sung. Listen to their stories. Really, really listen.

In review: Jazz & Democracy. Improvisational=sometimes we have to make it up as we go. Freedom and expression. Swinging=there is a groove. Sometimes we march to the same beat, sometimes we don’t. Rooted in the Blues (stories)=It is important. It’s the thread of our common fabric.

 Pianist Bill Evans

Pianist Bill Evans

Take These

BEST I CAN REMEMBER, I was about 40 when my body began to repay me for the abuses I had wreaked upon it. Thankfully there are medications. But damn the side-effects.

I saw a lovely ad on TV, a happy looking, senior couple, pulling their new Airstream to a pastoral setting alongside a stream. Apparently the old guy was suffering from an arthritic hitch in his get-along and his doctor prescrbed a medication. It was an inspirational scene until the narrator began the fast talking litany of potential side-effects. I don’t remember them exactly but I think they included: loss of hearing and hair, foaming at the mouth, irritability, frequent going, abnormal urges, dizziness, your favorite NBA player betraying you to put on the enemies uniform, and death.

This morning, I was thinking about the state of things and listening to the promises of our political aspirants. So I turned to First Samuel Eight in The Message version of the scriptures (or as one political aspirant might say: "One Samuel".


When Samuel got to be an old man, he set his sons up as judges in Israel… But his sons didn’t take after him; they were out for what they could get for themselves, taking bribes, corrupting justice.

Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at Ramah. They presented their case: “Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else.”

When Samuel heard their demand—“Give us a king to rule us!”—he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to God.

God answered Samuel, “Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king.”

So Samuel told them, delivered God’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king. God said (the side-effects may include), “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”

But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel took in what they said and rehearsed it with God. God told Samuel, “Do what they say. Make them a king.”

And some lifted their red hats in the air, the ones that read “Make Israel Great Again”, and beat their chests. Others yelled, “We want a Queen this time around”. And others looked at the ground and thought, “Oh dear God, is the cure sometimes worse than the illness?” (This paragraph is not actually in the scripture.)