Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Same . . . Only Different

It's bizarre. My kids all have the same birth parents - moi and the better half - but they are totally different. Sure, they look a little bit alike, but they act like they were raised on different planets. Perhaps in different universes. And the thing is, I did not make them that way.

What I mean to say is, I haven’t raised them all that differently. Frankly I don’t have the time or the energy to treat them each as unique and special individuals. But they turn out to be unique and special individuals anyway. They seem to manage it without my controlling it, and that’s fine with me.

But you see these unaccountable differences all the time, from day one. When it’s time to eat we toss the same food in front of them all, but they don’t eat the same food. Toss down a plate with some chicken, broccoli and a slice of bread and kid C will eat the broccoli, kid A will eat the slice of bread and kid B will eat the chicken. They specialize in their own diversity with no help from myself or the better half. We simply try to keep up with the vagaries of their immaturity, which we personally find pretty challenging. We’re late bloomers, so the definition of our current lifestyle is “tired.”

One of my kids is a total people person. Like her mom. It’s all about relationships. She doesn’t like animated movies much because there aren’t any real people in them and that’s pretty much all she cares about. She likes to be with friends all the time. ALL the time. And she like to write stories about people. She’s a storyteller. And a computer whiz.

One of my other kids is a self contained unit. She loves playing with other kids, but she can go solo for hours at a time, fiddling away with toys and dolls and blocks. She likes watching musical movies, but she could watch static, it’s all the same to her, just as long as she can play with her dolls while she watches the show.

My other kid is a scientist. She mixes anything she can find (that isn’t locked down) up in bowls to see what it will do or what it will smell like. She likes to play teacher and she’s a good artist. She likes animated movies, old sci-fi movies and movies with animals in them, pretty much anything, as long as her sisters don’t touch her while she’s watching it. No touchee touchee.

I’m telling you: I have nothing to do with any of this. I did not create or plan their differences. They came out of my wife looking and behaving totally different. And yet they all have one amazing thing in common.

They are astonishingly beautiful.

Genesis 4:20-21
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Work of Art

There are at least two basic theories about creativity that you hear articulated in different ways by different people.

Theory #1: One theory is that a person creates something out of nothing. Sort of – poof – and they have some new idea or some new song or some new thing. They feel that what they have come up with came out of nowhere.

Theory #2: And then there is the theory that a person creates something out of a kajillion things that they can’t even necessarily understand. The mind is full of puzzle pieces that life has tossed in there, and somehow the mind or the spirit or both begin putting the pieces together until the picture starts to make sense.

I am a theory #2 person. To my way of thinking, only God is a theory #1 person. So I go with #2, and the reason is that I can sense the puzzle pieces floating around within me and in the world. I can sense when they are starting to connect. My job is to do things to help them connect. In my mind, that is the “work” of an artist. To develop the skills that enable you to bring about these connections.

If I’m right about this, it suggests that if you want to be “creative” and you’re waiting for some sudden flash of insight from out of nowhere, you’re not likely to create very much. And if you want to be creative, but you don’t train yourself to do the work necessary to put the pieces together, then I don’t think you’ll produce much either.

Art is not for sissies.

Being creative means developing skills. It’s about craft. Songs, poems, stories, needlepoint, paintings, relationships, cars – whatever – the created thing has to be crafted in one way or another. Albert Einstein did not wake up one morning with the theory of Relativity bouncing around in his head. He agonized over it for a long, long time. He found pieces of the puzzle in the work of other scientists, which he added to other pieces he observed in everyday life. He had to develop his math skills because it wasn’t his strong suit, and he knew he’d need to get the math right to present the theory. He pressed pieces thinking they would fit, but they didn’t, so he had to keep looking. Finally, he managed to put it together. He didn’t create a law of nature. He painted it into his mind and into the minds of other people. Well. A few people. The rest of us just scratch our heads.

But the point is the same. Every work of art takes work. You have to do the work. To my way of thinking, that includes your stories, your paintings, your children, your spouse, your church, your songs, your movies, your theories on life and death, your work, your play . . . everything.

Life is an art.

Colossians 3:23-24

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adventures With Rockabilly

Long time ago I was playing in a band, doing drums and vocals. It was a Rockabilly band and it was kind of fun. The success of the Stray Cats had made this stuff marketable again. I sang Little Sister by Elvis and a few other things and it was easy money. We never rehearsed. It was show up and play. We had a guitarist from New York who would have fascinated Mr. Spock, and a bass player who could have been in the Stray Cats.

Then there was the leader of the band. He was a nice guy, in his way, but he was a drunk. And I think it was all due to depression. He thought he was going to be a rock star, like so many other people, and it didn’t work out, which made him sad. You can crush my heart, baby, but don’t you crush my dreams.

One day this guy asked me if I would drive him around to take care of some business. He didn’t just book our band, he was also a booking agent, but he’d lost his driver’s license. So I said “yes,” thinking I could learn a little bit about the business side of music. And let me just say, I don’t recommend you go out of your way to do that. It is a dark and fearful place.

Anyway. We hit the road and, as we moved through the day, he drank more and more, becoming increasingly incoherent. Still, I was able to see him make deals, not only for our band, but for several pretty big name acts. He was trying to work something out for David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, but it wasn’t floating. He did set up a gig for Mitch Ryder at a large club. Weeks later, I drove him to that gig and met Mitch Ryder and his band. The drummer was called “Johnny.” He was on most of the early Mitch Ryder stuff. He said he also played drums on Edgar Winter’s Free Ride, which I thought was Chuck Ruff, and he played on Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare, which makes sense since Alice is a Michigan guy like Mitch Ryder. Johnny was (is?) a very good drummer.

But, I digress. Back to the road trip.

This guy I was driving with progressively anesthetized himself with whiskey while I began to pity him and be angry with him at the same time. He was the kind of drunk/addict who would constantly take advantage of you in whatever ways he could get away with. But it didn’t bother me much. I’d been around a lot of people like that.

This guy had a minor brush with the big time. He’d been in a band that was famous in the late 60's, early 70's, but he wasn’t with them until the early 80's, doing a reunion tour thing, taking the place of someone who didn’t want to do it. He idolized Paul McCartney, and these guys knew Paul McCartney. They’d had a hit with a McCartney song in the early 70's. They were “friends” with Paul and the guy I was riding with had been in a band with them for a tour. It was almost like having met Paul himself, right?

Yes. I know it’s confusing, but that’s how it goes. And that was his brush with fame, which left him craving, like the addict he was, for . . . more. He wanted more.

I wonder about this guy sometimes. I wonder what happened to him. We talked a lot that day. We talked about life and spiritual things, but he made it clear he wasn’t really interested. He already knew what he wanted.

He was practically unconscious by the time I got him home. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand as he climbed out of the car and stumbled across his lawn, into his front door to an unfortunate wife and kids. And he still crosses my mind. I’d have no idea how to get hold of him, and he probably wouldn’t even know who I was if I did, but I wonder if he ever came out of that sadness. I wonder if he ever learned to be happy with who he was. Did he find peace, or did he die with his eyes on the wrong things?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do for people.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lucky (Pt 4 - the end)

So Tipton was kind a famous for a spell. Everybody wanted to get a look at him. Women carried him food over to the jail. Men went to talk to him about the meanin’ of life and death, him being so intimate with both. It made him a expert, I suppose. He held the hand of the Reaper and come back to tell about it. He seemed happy and content. And he begun to talk a lot. He said he was lookin’ forward to the next hangin’, wantin’ to get it over with.

“Boys!” I remember him sayin’, “I done what I had to do, ya’ll know I did.” He had the look of a wise man. “And Heaven seen the debt was paid.” He took a deep breath and looked at us with a deepness in his eyes. “What’s right is right. They ain’t none of us can fight it, you know we cain’t.”

It was hard to argue with the boy. He was lucky.

So the clock moved on and it come time for the hangin’. The townspeople marched along beside Tipton as he made his way to the scaffold. They was singin’ hymns and laughin’ and cheerin’. Tipton smiled so sweet you hardly noticed those missin’ teeth a his. He seemed happier than he been his whole life.

Tipton Lange stepped up to the noose and the Sheriff slipped it ‘round his neck.

“We should count it down!” Someone yelled this from the crowd. It may a been Pete Conroy again. Tipton nodded his head, givin’ his approval.

“Five!” screamed the crowd, clappin’ their hands, whistlin’ and shoutin’.

“Four-Three-Two!” they bellowed, a strong wind beginnin’ to rise up and lift their hair from their foreheads. Clouds filled the sky, blottin’ out the sun. A feelin’ of revelation was in the air.

“One!” screamed the crowd, with wild and joyful abandon. Women begun to faint and men stared wild eyed, upward, at Tipton Lange, sweat pourin’ down their faces, as the Sheriff pulled the lever that released the trapdoor.

Tipton fell without a trace a fear on his face and stopped, a course, halfway to the ground. His body twitched a few times, then it begun to spin slowly in a circle. The crowd was shocked quiet. You could hear the wind blowin’ through the town.

He looked like a old broken watch hangin’ from a chain.

The people drifted on home, whisperin’ quietly, walkin’ softly. I helped the Sheriff take the boy down. There was only us two beside the Preacher.

Anyways. ‘Twas my job. Somebody had to lift him into the ground.


Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lucky (pt3)

At the trial, that prosecutor said a lot a things like: “The law is the law,” and, “With clear premeditation, Tipton Lange murdered Thomas Bradshaw in cold blood,” and, “The jury must remember that their personal feelings must not get in the way of what they know the truth to be! The jury must remain impartial and remember that a life has been taken against every law known to mankind!”

They knowed Tipton killed Bradshaw anyways. They didn’ need nobody to tell ‘em. And that’s the way it come out in court. Sure, they felt sorry for the boy, but they couldn’ deny Tipton killed Bradshaw.

Tipton’s lawyer was ‘pointed by the court. He didn’ have much to say ‘cause there wasn’ much to say. No one blamed him.

So Tipton had to hang.

They built up the scaffold and sent the preacher in to talk with the boy. Tipton repented of his sins and walked with the Sheriff, quietly, to be “hung by the neck until dead.” But when they tried to hang ‘im, the rope broke, just like I already told you. So the Sheriff sent the deputy to the store to get another’n, and they set the boy up to be hanged all over again.

You wouldn’ believe it, but it’s true: The second rope broke too.

Everybody was stunned into silence for a moment or two. Then somebody shouted out, “It’s a miracle!” The crowd begun to yell and clap their hands. They started chantin’, “Innocent! Innocent! Innocent!” The Sheriff just scratched his head. He was rightly dumbfounded. But he got everybody to quiet down and said he was goin’ to have a talk with the Judge. So everybody went home and Tipton went back to jail, a hero of sorts.

The Sheriff talked it over with the Judge and the lawyers and, from what I heard, the Judge was goin’ to let Tipton off. They sentenced him to hang and they done it. Twice. So he served his sentence. But the prosecutin’ lawyer was proud of his conviction and he pointed out how Tipton was to hang “until dead.” He argued and quoted the laws, left and right, ‘til the Judge went along. I imagine he was tired of listenin’ to the windbag.

But the Judge made that lawyer agree that if somehow Tipton wasn’t killed in the next hangin’, they was to let him go free.


© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lucky (pt2)

See, Bradshaw killed Tipton Lange’s daddy. We all knowed he done it. And he didn’ mind us knowin’. But there was no way to prove it ‘cause he was too smart to do it in front of any witnesses. He wanted Tipton’s daddy dead, and Mr. Bradshaw always seem to get what he wanted.

Daddy Lange had got a loan from Bradshaw. It was pure foolishness, but there you go. And, odd thing was, nobody knowed what the old man did with the money. Some say he gambled it away but, whatever he done, when it come time to pay Bradshaw back he didn’ have it. It was like he wanted to die.

Bradshaw warned Tipton’s daddy to pay up or else. It was a matter a pride. He threatened him right in front of Tipton. But nobody else was there. And when
Daddy Lange was found dead, shot four times in the chest, Bradshaw had a air-tight alibi. Three men, all cronies of Bradshaw, said he was with them the night of the murder. So nobody could prove he done it, even though we all knowed he did.

You’d think Tom Bradshaw woulda rather had the old man alive so’s he might get his money back. But most of us figured he must a just killed him for the fun of it. To show he could. To warn the rest of us. And I could believe that of Bradshaw. There was just somethin’ bad about him, underneath all that charm, and nobody could give a reason for it if they tried.

Well. Two days after his daddy was buried, Tipton rode up on his horse to the middle of town, in front of God and everybody. He slid down off his horse and, before Bradshaw could say a prayer, the boy pulled out a gun and shot the man dead.

Four bullets in the chest.

Everybody seen him do it. The boy was dumb about the whole thing. The only way he pulled it off is Bradshaw never figured him to do it. He thought him a coward. Maybe he was.

The Sheriff come out and put his hand on Tipton’s shoulder. Tipton already dropped the gun in the dirt. Tears were crawlin’ down his face. He looked tired.

The Sheriff moved him, gentle like. He walked behind him all the way to the jail house. Tipton never said a word. He went real quiet.


© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lucky (pt1)

The religious folk in town figured God had spared him and would continue to do so. A quiet few figured it was the work a the Devil. I just figured he was lucky.

The first time they tried to hang him, there was a loud snappin' sound, like a whip, when the rope broke in two. He went through the door of that scaffold, screamin’ his head off, and he kept on screamin’ after he hit the ground. His eyes was closed tight and it took him a few seconds to realize he wasn’ dead. But he finally stopped his rantin', opened his eyes, and looked at all of us standin’ there, his mouth still hangin’ open like he had somethin’ to say.

He didn’.

The Sheriff pulled his gun, thinkin’ it might be somebody tryin’ to set the boy free. But it was no conspiracy. At least none we could see.

The crowd broke out in a loud rumble of amazed conversation. Tipton Lange – that was the fella they was tryin’ to hang – he begin to laugh like a crazy man. It was one of the strangest things I ever seen. Nobody knowed what to do.

The Sheriff went over to Tipton and picked him up by the arm to get him on his feet. He pulled the noose from 'round his neck and tossed it on the ground.

Someone in the crowd yelled, “God don’t want this man hanged!” I knowed the voice. It was Pete Conroy. Pete testified for Tipton at the trial, but the prosecutin’ attorney shook him up and made him say the wrong things. Pete growed up with Tipton, they been friends since they was too young to remember, so he had a interest. He shouted, “Tom Bradshaw deserved to be killed!” And maybe he did. But the lawyer knowed a lot of big words. He said, “It is for God to determine whether or not Mr. Bradshaw deserved to die. It is only for the jury to decide whether or not Tipton Lange did the killing.”

And everybody knowed Tipton done it. I seen it myself. I was there.


© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010


I recently chaperoned a field trip with my daughter’s second grade class to the Henry Ford Museum. I had four of the kids with me and they were absolutely great. Kids ask a lot of unexpected questions that help you see things in a different light. Kids are good for that. And at one point we were in the civil rights section of the museum, which is now my favorite exhibit. It is way excellent. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Anyway. As we were making our way through, we came across a mannequin with a full Ku Klux Klan outfit on. It was in a large glass booth – the pointed hood, the robe – creepily staring out at us, and one of the kids asked, “What’s that?”

I responded without thinking. It was automatic. I said, “That’s a coward, kids. That’s what a coward wears who wants to do really mean things to people, but he’s too much of a coward to let them know who he is. He hides behind that mask and outfit.”

The kids just nodded, totally getting it. I didn’t have to explain any further.

This got me to thinking about cowards, about how they like to hide behind things. They hide behind flags. They hide behind laws. They hide behind women and children. They hide behind lies and they even hide behind the smiles on their own faces while they twist the knife.

Most dictionaries will tell you that a coward is a person who is afraid to die or afraid of pain. Don’t you believe it. That is a horrible definition. It is a massive over simplification. That’s not being a coward at all. That’s being normal. The desire for life is built into us. Even Jesus didn’t want to die. He didn’t want the pain of the cross. Why? Because, even though he was fully God, he was still fully human. But he was no coward.

A coward is different than that. A coward is a person who lets fear or a lack of character drive them to do something immoral or unkind or ungodly. They lack the courage to do what's right. A coward hides his true intentions. A coward manipulates others. A coward puts you down behind your back. A coward is afraid to do the right thing when it’s not convenient. A coward won’t recognize his or her own children. A coward is afraid to believe the truth because it doesn’t do for them what they want it to do. A coward is brave about all the wrong things. A coward won’t carry a cross, even if it means saving the whole world.

Here’s something I know: I don’t want to be a coward.

When my grandmother died, the funeral was held in Tennessee. We went down for the funeral and while I was at the funeral home I was looking at the flower arrangements. I found that one of the arrangements was sent by the KKK. Why? I have no idea. Family connections? Who knows. What I do know is that my grandmother loathed the Klan. She knew they were evil. She had told me so herself. She didn’t have a bigoted bone in her body. So, in outrage, I told the funeral director to remove the flowers and throw them away. I was astounded that they would put them there in the first place. They had dishonored her with their misguided attempt at civility. It was madness to me that flowers from cowards would adorn the casket of one of the most brave, kind, Christ-like people I had ever met. She had just faced cancer and lost. She had been afraid, but she was no coward.

I’m just saying. For those who hide behind masks to do their evil – for those who abuse and neglect, manipulate, hurt or slander others while hiding behind a smile or a cause or a Bible – be aware: in the book of Revelation, the “cowardly” are listed among those who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

Peace to you?

© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Snow Angels

I think I was around 7 or 8 years old. I was playing at my friends house, across the street from where I lived, and it was right after one of the deepest Lower Peninsula Michigan snowfalls I’ve ever seen in my life. We were climbing up onto his garage and jumping off into the snow – poof – and it was no problem, like landing on cotton. It wasn’t really that far of a fall because the snow was so deep.

At one point we decided to make snow angels. We fell back onto the snow, staring up into the cold, gray Michigan sky. The snow was so deep, we were sinking pretty far in as we did this. These angels were deep. And there was something hypnotic about laying there, moving arms and legs, together, apart, together, apart. I drifted off into that place we go when we stare at nothing.

When I came out of my angel shaping reverie, my friend was gone. I wasn’t sure where he went. It was a little confusing. I called his name, wondering if he had somehow gotten buried in the snow. But he didn’t answer. So I went to the back door of his house and knocked. He came to the door, pushed through the door roughly, punched me in the face and went back into his house, closing the door behind him. I tried to ask him why he did it. He wouldn’t answer the door.

This was my first encounter with random violence. I have encountered a lot of it since then. It never gets any easier to deal with.

I went home, crying. My nose was bleeding. Like always, his mom fought with my mom about it and they kept on fighting long after we had made up and were sneaking off to play where they couldn’t see us.

He told me later that I had kicked some snow in his face while I was making my angel. He went into his house to dry off his face and his big brother said something like, “You’re not going to let him get away with doing that to you are you?” So he felt obliged to punch me in the nose. Which is how many people operate well into “adulthood.”

The angels melted. I survived.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Song

Some of you know I've been writing songs for churches for many years now. For this holy day weekend, I thought I'd keep it simple and just post the words to one of my Church songs, written for this Holy Day. It's a simple song called...

© 1999 DJM MUSIC

You lift me in my weakness
You take these bones and make them live
You place Your hand upon me
You cause my heart to beat again

So I want to know You Jesus
In the power of Your rising
And the fellowship of sharing
in Your sufferings

You lift me to the heavens
Before Your throne I boldly go
You give me life and meaning
And this life will never end

So, I want to know You, Jesus
In the power of Your rising
And the fellowship of sharing
in Your sufferings

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010