Remembering 9-11

[Now it has been ten years since I first published this piece. It remains, by far, the most read piece I have ever written on here, not because of any brilliance on my part, but because of the solemnity of the event and the somber reality of loss. Since the original 9-11, the world has only underlined the pain, conflict and brokenness embodied in that day. Walter Brueggemann once wrote that before Israel in ancient times could hear God’s word, they had to grieve in order to understand what they had lost. Forgetting 9-11 dishonors that day. It was a terrible day, not in the way the deluded anarchists intended, but a day that caused the world to stop and consider itself. We should never forget the dead, one or three thousand. They have much to tell us, if we will listen. I hope this might speak to you, to all of us, as we remember today. Perhaps, also, in this moment when the Gulf coast is reeling from two batterings by hurricanes and humankind has been humbled before it that we might reconsider whether we can afford to be one anothers’ worst enemies much longer.]

So what are you readers doing to remember 9-11?   A few weeks ago our church led in a community wide presentation on a Sunday evening with joint choirs and full orchestra as a remembrance of 9-11.  It was inspiring, somber, reflective and hopeful.  I expect that this year will be an especially somber time for our nation as we mark a decade since that terrible day.  It has been one of the most challenging decades of our nation’s history.

One of the most intriguing books I have read in recent years is Rodney Clapp’s Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction.  It really is not, mostly, a book about Johnny Cash.  It is about the religious, cultural and political ambiguities of the American psyche that were embodied in the life of Johnny Cash.  One of the points he made was that whereas the center of community life in New England was the public square, as expressed in the parade, in the South, the center of life became the church, and the great public event was the revival.

The result of this caused the church to bear all the weight of life, public and private.  It was the center of its members’ lives in a way that did not play out the same in the Northeast.  Therefore, patriotism also had to find its way into the church and live there.  I have thought about this a great deal since reading it, wondering if we do not suffer greatly from the diminishment of shared public life so well-chronicled in recent years.  More and more, we live disconnected from our fellow citizens, isolated into interest groups, religious ghettos and our homes with their entertainment centers.  It’s hard to get us all together.  Even churches need to get out in God’s wider world sometimes…

In 2009, I saw Washington, D.C. for the first time in my life (I know, how DID it take so long!).   I was truly inspired by the experience.  In these cynical times, it is hard to find places to connect to a larger sense of e pluribus unum anymore, butlooking at the Lincoln Memorial , close to the spot where Martin Luther King called us to our better selves, I felt something powerful in my heart.  I looked up at the tragic, larger than life statue of President Lincoln, and read the two inscriptions on either side of him—one of the Gettysburg Address and the other the Second Inaugural Address.  I felt a sense of the “hallowed,” one of the few spaces where I have seen public and religious come near one another without either losing itself.

So as we come toward the tenth anniversary of  9-11, we truly need public places to come and remember together.  I wonder what our remembering will be?  It is still so recent that it might tempt us to re-engage the anger and harder emotions, the disbelief and outrage and fury at human evil.

Or we might just be enervated.  Last year, I read Don Delillo’s novel Falling Man, which tells of various characters who were in the buildings that day and cannot seem to get past the tragedy that has suffocated their past and replaced it with a spiritual limbo.  At a critical moment, the main character comes upon a performance artist in a harness who re-enacts a man falling from one of the buildings repeatedly, reminiscent of the terrifying photograph of the same name that so defined the horror of that day.

There is another place to go—and it is remembering.  Remembering in the sense I speak is not sugarcoating or forgetting the pain, but neither do we let the loss become the entire narrative of a lost life.  If there is value in living with the end of our lives in view, it is also necessary that we not merely remember lives by the way they ended.

I once shared this perspective with a friend whose dear aunt had been murdered by a yardworker she had hired, a drug addict who broke into her home at night and stabbed her to death.  She was a caring, devout Christian who taught literacy, helped the poor and gave her life to the unfortunates, only to have one of them take her life.  My wife, a friend to his wife, went over and cleaned up the terrible scene once the police had finished, and it haunted us all.  I said to my friend, “I hope you will be able to not merely remember this terrible end.  However long it went on, whatever horror she went through, it was over in a while.  But her life of more than eighty years far outweighs those few terrible moments.”  He was comforted by this.

We do not have forever freeze the dead of 9-11 in those burning buildings, or falling to their deaths, or the horror of crashing planes.  To do so is to provide the psychopathic fanatics who did it their hollow little victory.  Remembering must stretch out, farther and deeper and wider, to remember all that those 3,000 lives meant.  Neither do we have to sink into endless rage against the sinners.  They’re God’s problem now.  I remember an extraordinary quote from Elie Wiesel, the Nobel prize winning writer who survived Auschwitz.  He said something to the effect that “it is a greater sin to forget our sins than to have committed them.”  Remembering is the path to forgiveness, ironically, not forgetting.  Forgetting is denial and it’s not the same as choosing to relinquish our right to hold on to our resentment.

Ritual and worship are powerful, too.  When times are hard, they can lift us and sustain us.  Many years ago in our little book, The Dialogue of Worship, Milburn Price and I wrote this:

Sometimes people are in crisis when they come to worship.  Their faith is weak, or their life is one of defeat and    discouragement.  The writer of Hebrews warned early Christians not to “neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25, NRSV).  The very act of gathering is an act of mutual encouragement.  We allow ourselves into the presence of others.  We leave behind our solitary troubles and connect with like-minded believers.  We cannot overestimate the power of this fellowship.  But there are mercies of God offered to all, not merely the church.  There was a time when we talked about “General Revelation” as the goodnesses that God revealed to all people–nature, morality, and all the traces of Godself that hint at the divine being at every turn to help us find our way to grace.

I think, somehow, that on this occasion of 9-11 remembrance that we are most in need of this, too.  As a nation, perhaps we could reconnect to that deep resolve, unity of sorrow, and spirit of generosity and kindness that flowed for a while in that moment.

Some events are transcendent, even larger than the church.  They are part of the human condition and its tragic anguish in the cosmos.  God is mysteriously working in this larger picture, but it cannot be neatly explained or rationalized.  It must be simply offered to us, where we can weep, remember, and find some sense that this is not empty in the universe.

I will go to all the 9-11 gatherings I can attend to be with my fellow citizens, forget whether they are a Tea Party Republican or Yellow Dog Democrat, rich or poor, black, white or recent immigrant, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic.

It ought to comfort, not threaten, us who are Christians that God is not just in the place where we come every week, but here, too, and in the terrible, cruel and merciful turns of history.  We will leave our churches, synagogues and mosques, even our agnostic lake houses and condos, and gather together to weep and remember.  And the remembering will help heal our souls.

I close with this beautiful rendering of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, performed on September 15, four days after the attacks, which says what only music and tears can say.  The grief of all humankind, the follies of hate and domination and the thirst for revenge, wars and rumors of war and all the pain and suffering they bring, often to those least intended, is contained in the naked emotion of this piece.  Remember, so that we might be one day healed.

Listen

 

Down the Dirt Road, Aunt Johnnie!

I am continuing a series on the lyrics of my new CD, “Uncle Vance’s Guitar” (listen to samples and buy downloads or CD here.   See and buy all my CDs here

Aunt Johnnie is a real person. She was my “cool Aunt” growing up. Meaning, she was just barely older than all the cousins.  She was Grandmaw’s little late gift in life, the final of eight children. One time during a visit, she got Grandpaw’s old car, I seem to remember it was a Dodge, but I may be wrong, and loaded all us kids up and off we went, down a little dirt road that ran beside the country store my grandparents ran. It had those old gas pumps (Gulf brand, regular and premium only, leaded all) where white numbers on a black background turned slowly while your gas went in.  Johnnie was maybe 13, 14, years old, but off we went.  Crazy.  That we survived was a miracle. Anyway, this is one of those songs that sort of “came out” one day, and it has been a lot of fun in concert for the crowds, who remember those less-regulated, more life threatening days!  Johnnie had a birthday this week.  Happy birthday, Aunt Johnnie!

Down the Dirt Road With Aunt Johnnie

Aunt Johnnie

Aunt Johnnie and Uncle Steve, still ridin’ down the road

with Brent Warren, Don Wendorf, Rachel Turner and Mark Weldon

Hop in the Dodge, pedal to the floor

Down the old dirt road next to Grampa’s store

Hole in the backseat floor and the road flies by

Aunt Johnnie starts laughing and so do I

Chorus

Riding Down the Dirt Road With Aunt Johnnie

Jump the railroad tracks with Aunt Johnny

Its three fourths scary and one half funny

Better hold on for your dear life, honey

Riding Down the Dirt Road With Aunt Johnnie         WATCH THE LIVE VIDEO

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BACK TO SCHOOL DIGITAL MUSIC SALE!

Hey, as you get home from vacation and get ready to get the children back in school, you’re going to need tunes for the carpool, to take your mind away or calm ’em down. As a public service for everyone stressed out about getting back to routine, going to work, wearing out with the daily news, or just like some good songs, I have a deal!  ALL FOUR CDS OF MY MUSIC WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD FOR THE LOW PRICE OF $5.99 EACH!  That’s four albums of original music for less than $24!

It’s easy!  Just go to the store at  for UNCLE VANCE’S GUITAR, WHAT IT IS and OVERLOAD OF BAD NEWS BLUES.

permanent world of pretend is available here

That’s a pretty good deal. I’m leaving the sale on until August 31, so grab your music now!

Come to the Virginia Mountains With Me! Sept. 28-30

Vickie and I are leading a Fall Senior Adult Trip to the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia September 28-30, 2017. We will leave Birmingham on Thursday and return on Saturday eveningt.  I’ll be doing a little playing and singing of old time music and gospel songs as we travel to the beautiful setting of the birth of country music and the location of the State Theatre of Virginia to see some topnotch plays by an outstanding professional ensemble. We have traveled there before and had a great time.

Your payment includes:
Three Plays at the Barter Theatre! “Sherlock Holmes and the
American Problem”, “Clementine” and “The Music Man”.
Backstage tour of the Barter Theatre by Katy Brown
The Barter is the State Theater of Virginia and opened on June 10, 1933 making it the nation’s longest running professional theatre. In 1946,

Katy Brown

Barter Theatre was designated as the State Theatre of Virginia. Today, Many well-known stars of stage, screen and television have performed early in their careers at Barter, including: Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty, Hume Cronyn, Gary Collins, Frances Fisher, Larry Linville, and Jim Varney Katy Brown is an
Associate Artistic Director of Barter Theatre and is pleased to be in her eighteenth year at the theatre. She has directed more than 90 Read the rest of this entry

Down in Bethlehem

Today I am beginning a series of blogs about songs, more specifically songs I have written. I want to write a little about their “births,” as for me, songs are like children, or at least like the ugly ash tray I made out of clay at camp. They are mine, they mean something to me, and I still love singing them. Today, I’ll start with the first cut on my new album, “Down in Bethlehem.” I actually came up with the idea while writing a sermon, I guess it was during Advent of 2015. It’s a bit weird, really, to think of a third of humanity gathering every week to reflect on a two thousand year old set of texts, but in a time when we obsess over the latest thing, it’s a little comforting to me that we can mull over the same writing again and again, and like some prism being slowly turned in daylight, new colors of insight come.

I was struck by the commonality of the major stories about Bethlehem, that of Ruth, a Moabite widow who came as a foreigner immigrating back to her husband’s home’ David, the youngest of eight, who was selected by the prophet Samuel to replace Saul as king, and Jesus, born to a young couple shrouded in unimportance.  Again and again, in the Bible, God “chooses” to work with the “Most Likely Not to Be Chosen.” First I wrote a short poem to use in the sermon, then was haunted by it until this song came.

I was thinking about U2, Springsteen, music that is simple, driving, repetitive and building over time. Brent Warren does some really fine electric guitar work on this cut.  Take a listen and enjoy!  BUY or listen to it here. It still is true, I believe, that hope is a powerful and inexplicable reality, one that rises up unexpectedly and in the most unpromising of moments. That is when I suspect God might be up to something.  (see Ruth, 1 Samuel 16, Matthew 2 for the stories behind the song).  I’ve posted the whole song on my website for a week or so.  https://www.reverbnation.com/garyfurrmusic

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Blessed Are the Meek?

                           How did a meek and mild Jesus fashion a whip and scald the hides                                           of the buyers and sellers in the temple?  How did meek and mild Jesus                                    get angry and denounce the Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs?”

Currently I am preaching a series on the family, around certain words that seem to me both important biblical words for Christians and important skills for families in this current weirdest of times. I have preached about family a lot through the years and if I thought the need was done, I only have to listen to some of the arcane mental gymnastics of a fellow preacher still trying to hammer 21st century people into tiny first century cultural forms. The point of biblical study does not end when we ask, “What did something mean in the first century when the text was written?” Otherwise, we’d simply have to stand up and read ancient texts and proclaim, “Ok, go do that.” It has to be interpreted. Always.

That said, last week’s word was “Meekness,” which is a word not much in vogue, of course. It is one of the Beatitudes in the sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

We have tended to look at the meek as doormats or docile, weak persons without any power. We equate power with physical strength, domination, authority “over” others. You can see why we equate “meekness” with “Weakness.”

The word shows up in the New Testament a few interesting places. This is the Greek word  πρᾳΰτης (“prautes.”) It is often rendered “meekness.”  As in “gentle Jesus meek and mild.”   Yet this is indeed a central remembrance of the church about Jesus.  I’ve always wondered, “How did a meek and mild Jesus fashion a whip and scald the hides of the buyers and sellers in the temple?  How did meek and mild Jesus get angry and denounce the Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs?”

I think “meek” and “mild” need to be permanently separated.  Prautes actually means strength, not mildness.  It is a word that means “having the right tone, soothing the other when they are angry, keeping the conversation the right way.”  It is also a word that is used of the training of animals.  It means “teachable.”

You know people who are proud and hard-headed.  They think they always are right.  No one can tell them anything.  They are virtually unteachable.  And their lives and relationships are miserable for it.  Psalm 147:6 uses the Hebrew of this word.  In the NRSV it says, “The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.”  But the old KJV keeps this sense of the word when it says, “The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.” Read the rest of this entry

Dugger Mountain Update

My apologies to fans who tuned into APTV last night to hear Shades Mountain Air on “Dugger Mountain Music Hall” and saw an older episode instead. Our recorded performance was to play last night but the station changed the program. I will try to find out about the last minute change and give an update about when our show will air. I apologize to our friends and fans, especially if you sat up past your bedtime!

Thank you for your understanding.   UPDATE:

 

Got an update from APTV, who decide about shows on the schedule change. The producers could not get the program ready in time for last night’s broadcast. They have to edit an hour aand a half show down to 30 minutes, and it was not quite ready.  Therefore, Shades Mountain Air’s episode has been rescheduled for July 25, 2017.  

Meanwhile, those of you who watched last night got to meet Chris Golden, who is the son of William Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys (the one with the long beard!). He is a wonderful drummer and musician in his own right.  Here is Chris’ song called “Thank God for Kids”–worth hearing.  

 Thanks for your interest!!  

 Gary Furr

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COMING UP SMA on Dugger Mountain Theater

Shades Mountain Air on “Dugger Mountain Music Hall,”

ALABAMA PUBLIC TELEVISION (APTV) Tuesday, June 27 at 10:30 pm

Back in May, Shades Mountain Air (myself, Nancy McLemore, Don Wendorf, Greg Womble and Melanie Rodgers) loaded up and traveled to Dugger Mountain Music Hall in Piedmont, Alabama. It sits in as unlikely a spot as the crossroads where the boys in “O Brother Where Art Thou” picked up Tommy Johnson on the way to Tishomingo. DMMH came from the vision and ministry of Bob McLeod, a talented and charismatic former professional musician and studio engineer.  Following a profound personal spiritual crisis, Bob McLeod began to seek to minister to people in trouble–in prisons, jails, streets, and those caught in addiction.

Eventually he established Dugger Mountain Music Hall as the public face of Our Father’s Arms, where they take in people in need of help.   He describes the place as “a Christ centered family.” It is located in the middle of open country north of Anniston, Alabama in a former Baptist church that had ceased to exist. The building was given to him for a ministry, and he brought together his love of music with the ministry.  Fast forward, now the facilities include a 30 acre farm with a home for men; a 3 acre home nearby for women, mothers and their children known as Eagles Nest; and a state-of-the-art recording studio, offices, fellowship hall and the Dugger Mountain Music Hall. In 2010, the television program was born.  On the nights of performances, they open the doors to welcome the community, enjoy supper and bands and performers, some touring through and others from nearby places in Alabama, perform. Read the rest of this entry

If You Had A Father….

If You Had a Father…

…and you did, if you’re still standing in this world. Mine is a good man, who worked hard, because that’s what a real man did for his family. He had one little boy, then another, and a third, and finally my mother got an ally, my baby sis. Dad was a basketball star, a talented carpenter and cabinetmaker who built our first house with his own hands in his “spare time.” If he was quiet, he was affectionate and a mountain to aspire to as a child.

Dad and me age 2

Dad and me, 1958.

We wanted to be like him. We were in awe of him, And he was there, always there.  Even if he traveled, he always came back. Not all Fathers live up to that, but if they don’t, they aren’t really Fathers. The fathers God gives always show up, hang in there, are there for you. Yours might have been Uncle Joe or Grandpa or somebody you weren’t related to, but they always came back.

My wife had a father like that—engineer, Dale Carnegie graduate, never came out of the room without being dressed for work at the mill. No complaining, no excuses. If it’s hard, overcome it. If it’s broken, fix it. If you can pay for it, it isn’t a problem. We’re in this world to do for others, not ourselves.

My father in law, Forrest Johnson, with my two oldest girls.

These two men, along with a pretty long list of men who “fathered” me in sports, church and school, grandfathers and neighbors and Sunday School teachers, fathered me.  “Fathering,” to me is this: you take responsibility for the people you love. You protect the weak. You help and defend the helpless. You stand up for what’s right and mend what’s wrong.

Fathering means helping little boys and girls know what a good man acts like. It means sacrificing, working, helping and coaching. It means helping them grow up when you’re still growing up yourself. It means doing whatever you can for your children because they come first.

If you had a father, and if you’re functional, you did. Even if that father wasn’t your biological Dad. If a man adopted you, looked Read the rest of this entry

Princeton On Foot

This week I had the privilege of being away for most of the week to attend a conference at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Last year I had to cut my trip short due to pastoral concerns, so this was  this was the first time I’ve been able to attend the entire conference.

First, a word about Princeton. I’ve only been able to visit this storied place in recent years, and it is a feast for the eyes. This time I was accompanied by my dear wife, Vickie and our friend of many years, Pam. We decided to take a guided tour, which has 18921634_10155361597063908_2519914472517576312_nalways been my practice the first time I’ve been to a place.  Self-guided tours are okay, but I prefer a local guide when first I explore a new place.  

I have written elsewhere about a time years ago when I persuaded a group of fellow ministers to hire a tour guide of our own city of Birmingham, Alabama. We hired a young man who knew the city well and set out in the church bus to see the place where we lived. It was amazing how many significant places and stories we’d never seen in our own city.

Back to Princeton. I had read some background of the University and through my studies in history and religion of course, knew many of the great names not only of the seminary but of the early days of university itself. I set all that aside and we booked a walking tour with The Princeton Tour Company.  As it turned out, we were fortunate to get the owner,Mimi Omiecinski, to walk us through.  Mimi is a transplanted Southerner so we all lapsed into our native dialect.  What followed was a two hour walking tour of the city and university that was as memorable as any tour I’ve ever taken.  We made our way through the history and through the campus and explored its spectacular features. We heard about the people who have been shaped and molded by Princeton University through the years and who have shaped our nation to the present day. Read the rest of this entry