Checking The Boxes

Call it: #1 gratuitous bragging, or #2 unnecessary roughness, or #3 cynicism.

I am: #1 a proud Pops, #2 an old man that has earned my turn to speak without a filter (I however use my blog rather than Twitter like other old, filterless dudes.), and #3 Yes, I am a cynic.

One of our Grand-Girls recently came home with a written report from the principal’s office. YIKES… The title at the top of the form however, was: “Positve Office Referral.” I had no idea such a thing existed. My parents never received a report like this from my principal or any other employee of the school system.

Of course I’m proud! And yes I am bragging. If I could find one of those bumper stickers that says, “My Grand-Kids Are Smart,” I would use it.

I have redacted much of the glowing report, but I wanted to share the checklist portion of the form. Notice that she checked ALL the boxes. 


But this essay is only partially about bragging. Just for fun (or to deepen the collective depression) pick a politician, any politician, up to and including the one currently occupying the “highest office in the land”. Now, check all the boxes that apply.

What if we were to make a pact that in any forthcoming election we would only vote for candidates that could check half these boxes?

For more than thirty years, I worked with teenagers in local churches. Then and now, young people hold a very dear place in my heart. When it comes to youth, my cynicism melts away. I am an eternal optimist in this area.

Looking back over those years and those kids, I hope that I was honest with them and realistic and straightforward. One of the things I loved about that role was trying to walk with them as they navigated adolescence. Sort of a guiding principle for me came from a verse in the Book of Luke, 2:52. I liked it a lot because it is the only verse in the Bible that says anything about Jesus as a teenager. The Bible pretty much skips the years of his life between 12 and 30. 

The verse says: “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” I’m not a theologian; never have been, never will be. I did not go to seminary and the only Greek I know is the guy that runs the gyros food truck (flam on the snare, crash cymbal).

My take on the verse is that Jesus grew in four ways: intellectually (in wisdom), physically (in stature), spiritually  (in favor with God), and socially (in favor with man). And there you have a balanced picture of adolescence.

One of the crazy parts of the whole adolscence journey is figuring out what is up with these changing bodies? (I have similar questions as my 60-something year old body is in full mutiny.)

If you will recall, getting to know and figuring out what to do with these uncertian physical urges was a challange for teens.(And apparently for old politicans too).

As I hoped to convey, there is also inside of us a spiritual curiosity and life worth exploring. It’s just that it doesn’t demand attention like the physical part does. So as a youth minister you try to creatively help, or offer tools, or encouragement. Sometimes I did more harm than good, I’m certain. 

I do know this: as someone who wanted to help teens develop their worldview, as they began to clarify and define their values, you always hoped there was a part of their culture that was solid, that would support them. When President Clinton did what he did to Monica Lewinsky and then went on national TV, wagged his finger at us and lied to us, I hated that. He was undermining culture, kicking stones from the foundation; in my opinion. I hated the plague of sexual abuse of young people by church leaders.

When the current POTUS, and proud owner of his own illicit sexual exploits, says that he wants to see Roy Moore, an unrepentent pervert who took advantage of teenaged girls, elected to the United States Senate because he needs his vote; our culture is undermined. We become more base as a nation and as a civilization. And by “base” I mean more unprincipled, with squishy values. And even more tragically, there is that misguided, ugly thread within the “evangelical church” that is supporting this twisted reality as well. 

And we wonder why young people today mistrust institutions.

I am so grateful that my Grand-Kids have amazing, loving, grounded parents, solid spiritual communities and schools where a little girl’s teacher and principal will give them a report that affirms virtue.

This same little girl said something to me a few days ago about the president of the United States. I asked her if she knew who the president was? She said, “Abraham Lincoln?” I couldn’t bear to tell her otherwise.

How long will it take to see justice?

"How long? Not long because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I hope he’s right.

Bang The Drum

Q: What do Mr. Tambourine Man and Mrs. Robinson have in common? 

A: The same drummer played on both recordings—a phenom named Hal Blaine.


Check out this PARTIAL list of recordings where Hal was the drummer. Did I mention this is a partial list? The actual number of recorded songs where Hal was the drummer exceeds 4,000. Can we all agree, this is what prolific looks like? 

Be True to Your School, The Beach Boys
The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel
Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Simon & Garfunkel
California Dreamin’, The Mamas & The Papas
Can’t Help Falling In Love, Elvis Presley
Dedicated to the One I Love, The Mamas & The Papas
God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys
Help Me Rhonda, The Beach Boys
Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel
I Got You Babe, Sonny & Cher
MacArthur Park, Jimmy Webb (Richard Harris version)
Monday Monday, The Mamas & The Papas
Never My Love, The Association
Rhythm of the Rain, The Cascades
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Nancy Sinatra
Up, Up and Away, Jimmy Webb (The 5th Dimension)
Wichita Lineman, Jimmy Webb (Glen Campbell)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice, The Beach Boys

As I was playing my own drum set the other day, I became aware that my favorite patterns, rhythms and fills are those I learned from listening to songs like these, and thus I tend to and have always tended to play like Hal Blaine—a drummer most non-drummers have probably never heard of. Hal had a significant impact on a significant point of view for me.

Stay with me here: In drum lessons, I learned that the typical pattern in pop and rock drumming is to play the snare drum with your left hand on beats 2 and 4, along with the your left foot on the hi-hat. My cousin Beth Ann, who is a few years older than me, had a solid collection of 45 rpm records. One day, while visiting her house, I heard a song called “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, coming from her bedroom. “WHAT IS HAL BLAINE DOING?” I thought to myself, (even though I didn’t know at the time that Hal was the drummer). He was playing a hard snare drum shot on the 4th beat ONLY! Can you do that? Can you, so to speak “march to the beat of your own drum?”

It changed my point of view instantly. The next time our little rock band played at a school “mixer”, not only did I not play the snare drum on 2 and 4 consistently, I actually played on the “and” of 4 occasionally. I felt like a rebel with a cause.

basic rock beat 1.png

While Hal had an influence my drumming, these songs influenced my psyche. There, I said it out loud. So, for all those traveling evangelists who warned frightened parents about the impact of the rock n roll; yes! yes it does. You were right. I am a much happier senior adult today because of the influence of rock music. Listening to the oldies that were the big hits when I came of age confirms it. I have no idea what “House of the Rising Sun” is really about, but I am transported to a wonderful place every time I hear it.

Fortunately for me, I was exposed to a wide spectrum of music. So not only do I stop whatever I’m doing and listen when I hear The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, I also love to hear John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”.

Here’s the thing about stepping into dogma, like saying the snare must be played on beats 2 and 4; or “christian” music is the only music God loves, you miss the wonder of MORE.

Today, we are all asked to take a side, to choose a pigeon hole to be pigeon holed into. Choose your news source: MSNBC or FOX News. Choose your party. Pick a side. Repeat the creed. Sign the pledge. Line up. Know the “Truth”.

But what if maybe, from time to time, we actually stopped to think, to listen, to not start every discussion with OUR point of view. What if, every now and then, even if we believe unwaveringly that everyone should play on 2 and 4, we let someone else bang their dang drum on EVERY SINGLE BEAT! (Really who wants to hear a song where everyone is playing the same beat anyway.)

I just finished a wonderful little book by Madeleine L'Engle called “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”. I would like to share a quote from the book. And, I would like to humbly ask you to do something: as you read this quote, think first how it might apply to you (because, I’ll admit, our first thoughts on reading something like this is to think of all the people who need to hear a message like this, and miss that fact that maybe we need to hear it too).

“We all tend to make zealous judgments and thereby close ourselves off from revelation. If we feel that we already know something in its totality, then we fail to keep our ears and eyes open to that which may expand or even change that which we so zealously think we know.”

The other day I heard someone use the term “political climate” to describe the warring worldviews of the day. I though to myself, “Maybe climate change wouldn’t be a bad thing to wish for.”

Back to Mrs. Robinson and Mr. Tambourine Man for a minute—

I don’t know what kind of place she was in, but check out the first verse of Paul Simon’s lyric:

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
— First verse of “Mrs. Robinson”

Now suppose as she’s strolling around the grounds she meets Mr. Tambourine Man. They strike up a conversation. We hear him say as they leave one another:

Let me forget about today
Until tomorrow
— last line of last verse of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”

And maybe, just maybe, as he is walking away she would say to him (because she heard someone say it to her):

And here's to you, Mr. Tambourine Man,
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mr. Tambourine Man,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey
—somewhat edited chorus from “Mrs. Robinson”

#MarchingToMyOwnBeat #Peacemaking


The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.
— e.e. cummings

For a minute or two, it’s sort of flattering when someone says something like, “I’ve noticed you haven’t posted anything on the blog in awhile. I miss it.” That feeling quickly gives way to feelings of failure and foreboding because the words won’t come, or maybe no matter what words I write someone is going to be hurt or offended, or I’ll make a fool of myself, or someone will add my name to their prayer list because the words at the front of my mind are degenerative. For some reason I’ve let the language of the current public discourse affect me. These words are words of frustration and despair, and are a dam holding back better words and thoughts.

So, I’ve been trying to say nothing, and the result is that I have nothing to say. I try. I open my journal to a blank page, or lay my fingers on the ASDF — JKL; keys on the keyboard… Nothing.

Here’s my plan. I’m going to carefully and mindfully try to type this out of my system.

At 66 years old my values are pretty well set. I’m not likely to change much at the core, although I do want to always be a “learn-it-all” rather than a “know-it-all”. My values, including my aspirational values lean toward humility, service, honor, love, peace and freedom (not just in a constitutional rights kind of way, but in a freedom to BE, in all the fullness of the gifts, grace and goodness of God).

So right now, in this cesspool of political divisiveness and narcissism my prayer and plea is for PEACE. That’s the word and the attitude I hope will give me something to say so I can move on to saying other things. I know the whole “give peace a chance” thing is idealistic and naive, just like it was in the 60s when that message made sense for me. Back then, I wore a “peace” button and put a peace sign bumper sticker on my VW bus. I remember once getting out of my bus in a parking lot and a man, seeing the bumper sticker said, “The footprint of the American chicken! You one of them hippie draft dodgers?”

I pretended to ignore him. I should have said, “Why is it rednecks always use pronouns when they need a good adjective?” That would have showed him. But I was a “Peacenik”. Better to turn the other cheek.


Now I’m taking it to the streets. I’m not going to buy a VW bus or start wearing bell-bottoms, or let what little hair I have grow long, but I did decide the least I could do was wear a peace button, sort of like wearing my feelings and opinion on my sleeve. This time the demonstration will be a little more laid back than in the 60s, more appropriate for someone in their 60s.

The first hurdle to my little revoltion was finding the peace buttons. I did find some on Etsy (whatever that is), but while I’m a big believer in Peace, I’m not going to pay three bucks from my buttons, so I had some made for less than a dollar. 

This peace thing is for me all parts spiritual, political, personal, physiological, psychological, selfish, selfless, emotional, prayful, playful, antiestablishment and a quiet shaking of my mini-fist in the face of institutions (in a peaceful, loving way of course). I believe Jesus when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

NOTEIn this day of twisted religious/political worldviews, I feel I need to offer this: Not to try to speak for Jesus, but I’m am highly confident that when He speaks of Blessed he is not in any sense of the word speaking of the concept of “blessed” espoused by the properity gospel preachers and creepy, narrow religion of “fundamentalist evangelicals”. In fact, I am certain that when it comes to comparing that worldview to the actual Gospel, the phrase “prosperity gospel” is an oxymoron. Sorry, sometimes honesty doesn’t seem very peaceful.

Let me throw this out there. If you would like to jump on the “Peace Train” (music and lyrics by Cat Stevens), you don’t have to burn your draft card, your AARP card or your bra, just pin on your button; literally or figuratively. If you don’t have one, next time you see me, ask for one. If you promise to wear it, it’s yours. Of course, if you would like to pitch in a dollar to help the cause… Peace costs. 



Remember 1971?

Richard Nixon installed a secret taping system in the White House, and Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali. You could buy a new Malibu Barbi for $1.94 and an Etch-A-Sketch $2.83.

Jimi Hendrix's arrangement of the "Star Spangled Banner" was broadcast over Radio Hanoi, and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" won the Grammy for best song.

A highlight for me was the passage of the 26th amendment which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

The USSR performed numerous nuclear tests, as did the USA. And, there was trouble in the Middle East, and at home. The Supreme Court upheld busing as means of achieving racial desegregation, and Charles Manson was sentenced to life for the murder of Sharon Tate.

On a brighter note, the State of Washington became the first state to ban sex discrimination, and Apollo 15 launched (Scott & Irwin) and completed the fourth manned landing on Moon.
"Ed Sullivan Show" aired its last broadcast on CBS-TV, and the White House Plumbers unit was formed to plug news leaks.

Late in the year, Don McLean's 8-plus minute version of "American Pie" was released. John Lennon released "Imagine", and a book called, "A Theory of Justice" by American philosopher, John Rawls was published.

From assorted websites I was reminded that in 1971:
Average Cost of new house $25,250.00
Average Income per year $10,600.00
Average Monthly Rent $150.00
Cost of a gallon of Gas 40 cents
A Ladies Beret and Scarf Set was $6.00 (apparently those were a thing).

Let's go back to John Lennon and John Rawls. I don't know if this singing/songwriting Beatle and this philosopher knew each other or not. I hope they did. I wish I could have been in a coffeehouse with the two them, maybe John the Philosopher would have mentioned the book he had just written, and I would say, “You know, John the Philosopher, the concept of your book reminds me of the idea of a song that John the Beatle just wrote, called "Imagine”.” Lennon might say, tell me about your book John, and he might say:

Imagine that you have set for yourself the task of developing a totally new social contract for today's society. How could you do so fairly? Although you could never actually eliminate all of your personal biases and prejudices, you would need to take steps at least to minimize them. Now, imagine yourself in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. Behind this veil, you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities, or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes. Behind such a veil of ignorance all individuals are simply specified as rational, free, and morally equal beings. You do know that in the "real world", however, there will be a wide variety in the natural distribution of natural assets and abilities, and that there will be differences of sex, race, and culture that will distinguish groups of people from each other. (From Wikipedia)

Then maybe John the Beatle, would sing the chorus to his new song:

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

And I might mention, John the Apostle, who told about one who was life and light, and this light shone in the darkness but the darkness did not understand. Imagine that.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I have five Grand-Girls, and NOW A GRAND-BOY. You may not know though that there is another little girl who has a piece of my heart. Her name is Maimouna. I have never seen her in real life, but I have seen her picture. She writes me letters and I write to her. She draws me pictures and I tell her I think of her and pray for her often. I send her a little money every month and a little more on her birthday and at Christmas. She is eleven now. I’ve been her "sponsor" since she was five. She is beautiful.

Maimouna lives in Burkina Faso. In Africa. Her family subsists on little. Life expectancy in Burkina Faso is low. There is a strong chance that she will suffer genital mutilation at puberty. Over 70% of girls there do. Her favorite subject in school is art, and she obviously loves color. 

The pictures Maimouna drew for me in her last letter.

The pictures Maimouna drew for me in her last letter.

I know I’m naive, proved by the fact that I prefer anecdote to anaylsis, metaphor to methodology. At least I’m willing to admit the dangers in that kind of rhetoric. For example, consider Inhofe’s Snowball, to coin a phrase. (Maybe this will catch on like Pandora’s Box or Schrödinger's Cat.)

You remember Inhofe’s Snowball right? Jim Inhofe, our long, long, long term senator from Oklahoma, infamously carried a snowball into the Senate Chamber one very cold Washington D.C. winter day. He stepped to the podium and said, basically, that his snowball was proof that global warming was a hoax. That’s a really big conclusion from one snowball, but that’s what anecdote and metaphor can get you if you’re not careful.

Imagine, though, if the rules we play by were written behind a veil of ignorance. What if you didn't know if your were going to be born to healthy, loving, caring parents in the USA? What if there were a possibility that you would have been born a little girl in Burkina Faso? Imagine if the rule makers were humble, if they were selfless, if they could imagine the full impact of their rule and rules on the world, the whole world, not just the one of privilege. Imagine light in the darkness. If John Lennon is right, "It's easy if you try."