Wednesday, March 30, 2011


If you surf the internet or spend enough time in conversation with people, you will discover that, apparently, one of the greatest sins a person can commit in the world these days is to be shallow. Or, at least, to be thought of as shallow. To be shallow is to be an object of disdain. Heaven forbid.

And the second runner up is the sin of unoriginality. Followed closely by the sin of being boring. And then there’s the sin of not being “honest and transparent,” which is the arch sin of sins. You must be perceived as “honest and transparent,” if you want to be taken seriously in this world. You don’t necessarily have to actually be honest and transparent. I mean, how do you know that anyway?

“Oh, I just know.”

Oh, really? That’s some talent you have there.

The beauty of it is, if I call you “shallow,” that means, automatically, that I must be “deep.” And who would know better than me, right? Deep is good! Deep is special! Deep is holy! Well, at least it’s better than shallow. If I’m deep, then I’m what? Intelligent? Thoughtful? Serious? Passionate? Wow. I must be pretty amazing if I’m all of those things. And all I need in order to be all of those things is for you to be shallow.

How easy is that?

But what if it’s you? What if it’s me? What if I’m the shallow one? What if you are the unoriginal, boring fake? How would we know?

Don’t worry, I’m sure some deep, original, interesting, honest and transparent person will be sure to let us know.

Proverbs 20:5
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

From a Lawnchair

We sat on the driveway in cheap lawn chairs, looking at the first edge of the sunset. She seemed timeless to me then, like parents do to their children, but I know now how young she really was. She had been throwing the ball to me so I could learn how to catch. Then we sprayed the driveway with a hose to clean it. Then we sat in those chairs, smelling the cool, clean water clinging to the air.

The grass, the whole front yard was immaculate. She took pride in it. She had a green thumb, just like her mother. So there were flowers. It was all very green, very alive. And so were we.

I looked up and down the street. I knew the people there. Most were okay. A few were risky to know. Unpredictable. One house, across the street, at the end of the block, was rumored to be a drug house. In the middle of a small, suburban neighborhood. And it probably was. But people weren’t so ready to shoot each other over drugs back then. It was much safer to sell or use drugs than it is now.

For the most part, though, the neighbors were nice people who ate spaghetti and fried chicken and meatloaf and potato salad, who went to work long hours and came back home looking for a little quiet. Just like us, they watched M.A.S.H. and the Carol Burnett show and Happy Days. We waved at each other and smiled. It was the right thing to do.

We were floating in this place, at that time, drifting slowly from day to day. Being. Doing what seemed right to do at the time. We had our place. There were shadows there, but we learned to live with them.

We sat on those chairs on that summer evening, looking at the sunset, wishing the day would last just a little bit longer.

Psalm 39:4-5
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gilligan's Pathos

I was watching an old episode of Gilligan’s Island with my kids. Overall, it’s not an especially good show, but it is still strangely compelling. The raw use of stereotypes to create comedy somehow draws you in. And then there's the lagoon. Man, when I was a kid, I loved the lagoon on Gilligan’s Island. How I wished I lived near that lagoon. Still do. But, I suppose, the real beauty of Gilligan’s Island was that you could watch it with your brain turned off. It’s oddly cathartic.

So imagine my surprise when I was watching it the other day, and I found a really poignant moment that had a lot to say about friendship. Who da thunk it?

In this episode, there’s a typhoon headed for the island, so they find a cave and, with no time to spare, they realize there isn’t enough room for all of them. What to do? The men quickly draw straws and Gilligan gets the short straw, which means he has to wait it out in the storm, tied to a tree. Then the Skipper realizes Gilligan broke his own straw to protect the others. The Skipper is moved by Gilligan’s bravery, and decides to go out into the storm and wait it out with Gilligan. Then the Professor decides the same thing. Then all of the castaways are out in the storm, holding onto one another, braving the typhoon together because it’s just not right to stay in the cave when your friends are out in the storm. It’s not right to be a coward when your friend is being a hero.

Skipper: Professor, I order you back in the cave!
Professor: After the storm.
Skipper: Look, I'm out here. I'll take care of Gilligan.
Professor: I know you can, so I'll take care of you.

This was on Gilligan’s Island? This episide, “Hi-Fi Gilligan,” was a nice piece of work, blending the slapstick comedy elements and the character elements really well. Come to find out, the episode was written by a woman named Mary C. McCall, Jr. Her real name was Mary McCall Bramson, and she was a founder and the first woman president of the Writer’s Guild of America. One of her screenplays for a movie called “The Fighting Sullivans” had been nominated for an academy award years before. It’s considered a classic war genre film. And this was her only episode for Gilligan’s Island.

They should have had her do more episodes.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cash: Bootleg Vol II

Johnny Cash’s son, John, has been gathering and releasing what could be called “historical” pieces of the Johnny Cash music catalogue. Four or five years ago they released Bootleg Vol I, “Personal File,” which was two CDs worth of demo recordings, just Cash and his guitar. And now they’ve released another two CD set called “From Memphis to Hollywood.”

The shining star of the new release is Johnny’s first recorded show, which he did for radio. They think this recording was actually made by Johnny’s wife at the time, Vivian. An amazing person in her own right. It’s a rough recording in the sense that it lacks the sonic quality of modern recordings, but it really shows how, from the earliest stages, Johnny had a very personal quality in his presentation, and his voice is a bit higher too. Plus, you get to hear Johnny try to sell awnings for the “Home Equipment Company,” which is where he worked at the time. What could be better than that?

Then the CDs goes on with some demo recordings, long lost vinyl B-sides and such. One of the “rockabilly” demos called “You’re My Baby” was actually recorded and released by Roy Orbison. Cash’s demo has the line, “you’re my sugar . . . little wooly booger.” It’s just fantastic. Johnny didn’t mind getting a little goofy sometimes, even though it’s not normative of what he did. Roy chose to leave that line off when he recorded it.

I’ve seen a few people on the internet over the past few years make snide remarks about John Carter Cash (Johnny’s son) releasing this stuff. They say the same kinds of things about Rick Rubin for the posthumous recordings he’s released. It’s that tone of “they’re just doing it for the money” thing, as if releasing music for the money is something new.


I’m thankful they take the time and effort to get these things released. Some of us are interested in the over all body of work that Johnny Cash produced: the phases he went through as a song writer and musician, as well as the stages he went through as a human being. All of these things matter when it comes to Cash. It is a big source of his popularity that he struggled through life and tried to be faithful to God in Christ while being honest with his art. He had a certain broken nobility.

If you like roots, traditional or folk music at all, you can’t miss this stuff.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Simply Complicated

Occasionally I’ll meet someone who has a very simple life. It’s very rare, but some people still pull it off. They don’t have too many responsibilities. They don’t try to do too much. They aren’t buried in commitments to other people. They don't have too much stuff. And I kind of admire them.

It's also true that some of these same people are very lonely. They don’t have strong ties to very many other people. They have ties, but not necessarily strong ones. That’s part of the reason they’re able to keep things simple.

Relationships complicate life. It’s just how it is. I think Jesus, for instance, probably had a pretty simple life until he took on those twelve guys to train. Then everything changed.

And then there are all of those other things that add to the mix. The extra curriculars of life. I personally have a somewhat innate desire to be a polymath. It’s really more of a passive thing, but I have recognized it in myself. Unfortunately, I’m not really smart enough for it, but the desire is there, and it always has been. It’s a part of who I am. I am nothing if not curious. But, while this makes life interesting, it also complicates things. It creates a lot of clutter.

A part of me wants a simple life. But, at the same time, the chaos of many friends and family, many things to learn, many things to do, is exhilarating.

I wonder sometimes if there is a way to balance these things. If it is possible to embrace the fullness of life and somehow keep things simple?

If you figure it out, let me know.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Listening Habits (c.03.2011)

Just found out that Paul Simon is releasing a new CD called “So Beautiful or So What.” There are only a few artists these days whose music I automatically buy right when they release it. Paul Simon is one of them. If he puts it out, I get it fast, I listen to it over and over again, and I spend time wondering why the rest of the world isn’t listening to it too.

Lately, for some reason, I’ve also been listening to some things I’m not exactly sure why I like. For over a year now I’ve been listening continually to this Chinese musician named “Mamer.” Peter Gabriel sent me an email telling me I’d like it, and he was right. I’m telling you, it’s great, great stuff. I have no idea what the guy is saying, his words are just part of the music to me, but the music is amazing.

Then there’s this “band” called “Owl City,” which is actually a guy named Adam Young. It’s overly processed on purpose, electronic stuff, which I usually can't stand. I didn’t much like Kraftwerk when they started all that stuff, and I’m hard pressed to enjoy much of that kind of music. But Owl City is a very fun bubble gum version of that, with really strong pop sensibilities, and it makes me feel good when I listen to it. Also, the imagery the guy uses in his lyrics is interesting. I heard he started by recording things at his house. Like I do.

For the most part I prefer more organic music. Less processed. I get excited about music that is carefully crafted, especially with real instruments played by gifted musicians. And if it has masterful lyric writing, well, that’s even better. Which brings me back to...

Paul Simon is a unique piece of work. He has no excuse being a pop star, but there he is. Stubby little genius with the odd, slightly warbly voice. If someone said, “You could write lyrics as good as Paul Simon but I’d have to take your left knee cap,” I’d have to spend some serious time talking myself out of it.

Some things are worth a limp.

Genesis 32:22-32
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Some of the people who have hurt me the most over the years are completely oblivious to it – people who treated me like I was more of an idea or a thing than a person. And there were times when what was the most painful about it was their ambivalence and ignorance. They were so wrapped up in themselves and what they wanted that they had no idea what they were doing to me. Or they didn’t care.

I’m not saying I’m any better. I know it must be true of me as well. I know I’ve done this to others, especially when I was younger. It’s a trait of the immature and the self centered. And you’d think people would grow out of it, but some don’t. It’s so easy to objectify people in the pursuit of our own desires. We care about causes. We care about ourselves. We care about injustice and religion and politics. But all of those things become sticks and stones for hurting others if we don’t genuinely care about people like we should.

I’m saddened by the fact that, in my weaknesses and my inability, I fail to care for some of these people like I should. Like I want to. People I care about. People who might not even want to, but they will hurt me with their thrashing through life.

So you learn. You learn that sometimes it doesn’t much matter what you say and do, certain people are not going to listen to you. They aren’t going to take any lessons from you. You learn sometimes that you are not the person who is going to be an agent of change in their life. And, despite what you may have been told, meaningful relationships are about how we change one another. If your friendships, your relationships, don’t involve good, healthy change in your life and in the lives of the people you are connected with, then those aren’t relationships. They’re acquaintances. If you aren’t growing in kindness and compassion and peace through your relationships, then something is wrong.

The reality is, like it or not, there are some people you could love perfectly, if that were possible, and it still wouldn’t be enough because they’re too busy loving themselves or hating themselves or taking care of themselves or making sure they have what they want, or what they think they need. There’s no room left for you in their life. You can come or go, they don't really care. You're of no use to them except, maybe, as a punching bag. And they will hurt you over and over again if you let them.

Sometimes it isn’t a question of forgiveness. It’s a question of survival.

Luke 23:34
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lifestyles of the Psychosociopathic

I was doing some research recently and I came across a mental health website called “Mental Health Matters.” On this site, they published a certain article because there happened to be some serial killer making headlines at the time. They pointed out that the word “psychopath” is not a clinical term, but that there are disorders like “sociopathy” and “Dissocial Personality disorder” that are pretty much the same thing as what we mean when we say “psychopath.” So I was reading through what kinds of behaviors you might find a “psychopath,” or a “sociopath,” doing, and here’s what they listed:

    * Glibness/superficial charm
    * Grandiose sense of self-worth
    * Need for stimulation, with a proneness to boredom
    * Pathological lying
    * Conning and manipulating behaviors
    * No sense of remorse or guilt
    * A very shallow emotional affect - they display emotions they don't really feel
    * A lack of empathy for others
    * They are parasitic - they live off of others
    * They are impulsive, and show poor control over their behaviors
    * They tend to be promiscuous
    * Their behavior problems start early in life
    * They cannot form long-term plans that are realistic
    * They are impulsive, and irresponsible
    * They do not accept responsibility for their actions - another caused it
    * Marital relationships are short, and many
    * They display juvenile delinquency
    * Their criminality is diverse

Is it just me, or isn’t that kind of a description of our society as a whole? It kind of creeps me out. The “they” being described could easily be “us.”

I suppose some sociopaths are nice people, I don’t know. I’m not being all inclusive here, but aren’t most serial killers sociopaths? That’s what I’ve read, anyway.

So, what if “we” as a whole are becoming a psychopath? What if “we,” as a whole, are mentally ill, but we don’t do anything about it because the individual parts that make up the whole can’t see that there’s a problem? See, another trait of the psycho/sociopath is:

They do not perceive that anything is wrong with them.

Jeremiah 17:9
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kitsch Me Baby One More Time

It makes me sad sometimes when I see someone apologizing for something they like because it isn’t cool or hip to like it. Just watch some people backtrack when they say they like a movie, and then someone else starts attacking, explaining why it was terrible. It’s easy to feel ashamed of liking something when others think it’s horrible or stupid. We think that means we’re stupid, because we like it, I supposed. But that’s a pile of nonsense.

I, myself, have always been inextricably drawn to some of the worst kinds of art and popular culture imaginable. And I am NOT sorry about it. It’s part of what makes me me.

Hey, I know good movies when I see them. Usually, anyway. I have spent time learning to understand the art of cinema. And I’ve read a lot of the classics. I’ve got a good sense of what makes for great music. For the most part, I can recognize the good stuff. I just don’t always know the bad stuff. In fact, a lot of the “bad” stuff just isn’t bad to me. I happen to like it.

I can watch Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia or Sunrise, and enjoy every second. Then I can watch Teenagers From Outer Space or Invaders From Mars and enjoy every second. I can read masterpiece novels and enjoy every word, then immediately read some cheesy sci-fi hack piece and enjoy every word. I’ve always liked kitschy things, as far back as I can remember. Gumby and Gilligan’s Island and the Ghoul. I liked ALL of the Planet of the Apes movies. Elevator music. Donny and Marie. I even liked Elvis at his most Vegasy..

I think it’s not good that some people don’t appreciate higher or more complex forms of art simply because they don’t want to put in the effort it takes to understand and appreciate it. It’s a great loss. But it’s also not good to look down on other things simply because they lack a certain finesse, or they don’t measure up to something else.

It’s not that I don’t think there are bad novels or movies or music. I can't stand certain things. But sometimes we like things and it doesn't matter that it's bad. What makes something “bad” to me is not that it’s made cheaply or that it’s stupid or cheesy. Sometimes it's "bad" simply because it's corrupt. Or preachy. Or obvious. Or manipulative. Or who knows what. My first reaction to a lot of things is simply an emotional one. Some things click with me, while others don’t, and I don’t always know why. Do you?

If I like it, maybe it’s because it reminds me of something my mind has forgotten but my heart needs to remember. Maybe it makes me think. Maybe it taps me into feelings of childhood. Maybe I’m moved by the artistry of some things, the innocence of others, and perhaps the audacity of others, or perhaps it makes me feel like someone out there understands me. Maybe it’s all of those things and more.

Maybe I just like it...

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

When Knievel Was King

Oh yeah, I was totally and completely an Evel Knievel fan.

What? Like you weren’t? Right. Only if you weren’t born yet. And still, even then...

Of course, at first, my mom wasn’t too sure about this . . . fascination. After all, his name was “Evel.” It couldn’t have been more clear. But it wasn’t clear at all. Turns out his name was more of a gimmick. Hyperbole. And it wasn’t actually “Evil,” right? It was “Evel.” Vowels make all the difference. Turns out he was a nice guy. At least as far as Evel’s connection to me as a kid, he was an all American daredevil who jumped motor cycles over rows of cars, trucks or whatever else he could find, in ever increasing numbers while telling us kids to stay clear of drugs.

He set world records, jumping over things with that motor cycle. It was magical, my friend. Magical.

I didn’t know much about what he did with his private life. That was the stuff of legends. All that mattered was the joy of waiting for him to jump, then the joy of watching him approach the ramp, then the joy of seeing the jump and seeing him land. When he crashed, it really upset me. I wanted him to make it. I didn’t want him hurt. It really was all about the jump, the risk, the daring do, and the flash of a smile when he was through.

For Christmas one year, I received a treasured gift. It was an Evel Knievel action figure with stunt bike. The most popular toy in the land of America at the time. It made the toy company over 300 million dollars. Viva Americana! Oh yes. It was a little Evel on a little motorcycle that you wound up with this round lever on a little red plastic platform. Zim zim ZIM, louder and louder. You would launch Evel and he would ride and jump over a ramp, over whatever you might put in his path.

Here’s what happened.

Someone broke my Evel. And when they did, they just shrugged their shoulders and walked away, like it didn’t matter. And no one did anything about it. It was not replaced. It was not fixed. I was left holding the sad and tattered remains with no hope of justice.

Now THAT was evil.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Chip and the Shoulder

 In the days of my youth, you’d hear this expression pretty often. People would say: He’s got a chip on his shoulder. Sad to say, this expression is being lost. You hardly hear it anymore. But that doesn’t mean the chips are gone. Oh no.

The phrase apparently goes all the way back to the 1600's, and the “chip” was a piece of wood. But the way I understood the expression back in the day was informed by a very popular TV commercial featuring an actor named Robert Conrad, who played tough guys in TV shows. He was selling batteries by putting a battery on his shoulder, looking into the camera, and saying, “”Knock it off. Go ahead. I dare you.” He was playing with the idea of the expression. If you want a fight, mess with my battery, the idea being the same as the chip on the shoulder. You can bug me about a lot of things, but if you bug me about this particular thing, my chip, my sensitive issue, the thing in my life I don’t have any patience about, you will get a fight. Or an angry response. Or I will pour out all my insecurities and frustrations on you. Or I’ll just get snarky.

Do you have a chip? Or chips? Is your shoulder getting tired yet?

If you want a clue as to what your chip might be, just fill in the blanks:

One thing that really gets on my nerves is ______________.

If there’s one thing I really hate, its _______________.

I just can’t stand people who _______________.

The thing about these chips is that they’re kind of like another kind of chips. Once they’re off your shoulder, and on the ground, they’re kind of like...

Cow chips.

If you get my drift.

We have a tendency to step in them and, well, you know how it goes. We spread the chips all over the place. We make a big mess. Smelling up the place. Because of that thing that gets on our nerves, that thing we really hate, that we can’t stand.

That thing which reveals how little we really believe in grace and forgiveness.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011