This wonderful arrangement was written by our minister of music, Dr. Terre Johnson, after the Enterprise tornado a few years ago that killed several students at the local high school. It has been performed across the country, including the White House. I hope it blesses you today. There is hope.
I put it here today as I mourn the third anniversary of the death of my dear friend, Philip Wise, gone far too soon from cancer at age sixty. God be with us all in our sorrows, that they purify and call us to our better selves and to the depths of love.
Earl Scruggs, “pioneer” as the Huffington Post put it, of the Three-finger Banjo style, has died. For some of us, he has been a mentor and inspiration our whole lives. He was not merely a pioneer, he was the King. And there are many legends on the banjo–Bela Fleck, Ralph Stanley, Jens Kruger, Don Reno, J. D. Crowe, and many greats. But no one like Earl.
As a displaced North Carolina boy moving around the country, my Dad kept me connected to music. He had a Silvertone electric guitar from Sears and a Harmony archtop acoustic guitar. The electric would shock you if you played in bare feet on the garage floor so I tended to play the acoustic. I didn’t know much about Earl Scruggs, but I kept running into him over the years.
When we moved to Irving, Texas in the late Sixties, I learned to play very slow rhythm guitar to a very slow “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (LISTEN)with my seventh grade friend, Brad Phillips, who was the odd combination of a banjo playing Episcopalian. Continue reading “Farewell, Earl Scruggs, and Thank You”→
This week has been Spring Break week for us—others are about to have theirs. For preachers in churches of any size, it is a thrilling time, a high holy day, whether you leave or stay.
Holidays for ministers always include times when large hordes of our parishioners go somewhere else and we stay behind in quiet offices and can only pray for them until they return. Or, in occasional cases, along with the ancient eastern prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” we toss a few prayers from Jackson Browne, “Why don’t you stay…just a little bit longer…” Continue reading “Coming and Going: Spring Break as Holy Hiatus”→
Life-giving leadership is not being in control so much as persuasion of others to offer their best selves to that which matters the most.
I got an email from former classmate, Vicki Butler, now in the Advancement Office of my old college, Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee. She was in town and wanted to visit with us. I do this in my work as a Pastor, so I know that institutions need money. I have moved from being a disdainful idealist as a teen to a reluctant fundraiser to a committed realist.
So my wife Vickie and I met Vickie in the lobby of her hotel. She told us what Carson-Newman College is facing and how they hoped alumni would help out. I was preparing my protests: (“Do you know how much I gave last year? The TaxCut preparer always flags my giving. Americans don’t give this much!”) But our conversation moved on to how things are going, how the school has adjusted to hard times, and to what a great mission it has.
We were at Carson Newman from 1972-1976. Vickie and I married early—Christmas of our sophomore year. I was 19, she 18, and in love. That this did not pay bills had not yet occurred to us. We lived in the little house right behind the infirmary in 1973 Continue reading “The Best Time to Give”→
It’s Spring Break. The Church people with the means and the houses are skiing and walking on the beach. I’m working and doing taxes in my spare time. Tax time is like judgment day. All the whinin’ in the world ain’t going to make it anything other than what it was. So, get to it, son. But the mind can’t help excusing. So, here are some of my inside thoughts, just for you, in case you need them at the audit or while working on your tax program or separating receipts. Continue reading “Tax Help for the Creatively Impaired”→
Love and truth belong together. So why is it that they are so often found separated? Moral life arises from the recognition of eternal truth, the acceptance of the reality of others in that same truth, and the sensitivity to feel the connection between them. Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said love for one’s neighbor is akin to hunger and food connecting. It makes possible a new and different conversation.
It’s become a cliche only because it is so powerful and pervasive. Your “voice,” I once heard songwriter Pat Terry say, is what makes people say, “That’s a Gary Furr song” or “that’s a (your name here) story.’ I have thought about this for thirty years, focused when I once, during a five day solitary retreat started to say a short prayer I had been using to center myself and blurted out, “Father, help me to be myself.”
If that sounds so very self-centered in our culture already so “you-can-be-whatever-you-want-to-be,” permit me to observe that despite our coaching of selves and self-focus I sure meet a lot of broken ones out there in life. People wounded and held back by a voice in their head: “you’ll never amount to anything,” and somettimes not even traumatic voices–just ones we imbibe from our world. “So many people are better than you. What do you have to offer? What’s the point?” Continue reading “Finding Your Voice”→
So, music became a channel of my emotional life quite early, and it is my ongoing therapy. I’d say it is cheaper than therapy, but when I add up instrument costs, time, and how much I’ve invested, I actually think psychotherapy would have been less costly.
Continuing to pray for the many survivors of the storms. We were fortunate to be missed this time around. Plenty of chances for compassion for us all–giving, praying, helping, going, cleaning and building. We may be in for more of this.
But I woke up alive again this morning. At 57, waking up always feels like Christmas. I’m so happy for every day! It’s been a frantically busy time, but I love everything that makes it that way. So, I thought about this song I recorded last year. I wrote it thinking about the Scotch and Irish immigrants to this country who came, struggled, and persevered against resistance (that seems to be the way). And they brought us a lot of wonderful music, a way they escaped the hardships of daily life with dance, laughter and song.
I called it, “Scotch Irish Outburst.” It’s just my musical picture of a group of people dancing on a Saturday night after a hard week. You can feel good even when things seem bad. Art is necessary, even after storms.
I hope you like it. I used drum tracks from Jim Dooley and I played the rest of the instruments. Recorded in my basement, I have no idea when in 2011.
Weather. Someone said to me not long ago, “It is humbling to consider that when you come to die, the crowd that day will be determined by the weather and they’ll sum your life up in twenty minutes or less.” Humbling.
“Shelter” is such a “taken for granted” in America that we live more disconnected from the fragility of life as it is exposed to the elements. It breaks in on us now and then—in California, by earthquake, in other places, snow or tsunami. Here in the South, we live chronically subject to the tornado and hurricanes.
Hurricanes are different in that they are coming for days. There’s always time to get away if you want to skeedaddle, even though it is some sort of honorable foolishness in this part of the country that there is always some guy named Leonard or Dude who never leaves and is filmed with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth while he grins and nails up plywood on his flimsy house and shrugs his shoulders. “I’m going to ride ‘er out.” Sometimes Leonard is never seen again, but often he makes it.
I don’t have any expertise on weather, but this global warming issue seems persuasive. How could billions of us NOT have an impact? Now, what we can do, or whether it’s too far gone, who can tell? We’re going to have to ride ‘er out.
If a hurricane is like watching an approaching army from a mountaintop, a tornado is more like running
into Jack the Ripper. Here in Alabama, when our local weatherman star says, “The sky is falling,” the local Publix grocery store looks like the aftermath of a locust plague and everybody heads for the house and their safe place. My wife and I have sat through more than a few in the dark, sitting down in the basement where my office-studio is, listening to the weather radio and praying for strangers nearby. After last April, the anxiety only went higher.
The closest I ever got to death out in the elements, other than almost drowning when I was six (I got hit by a car crossing the street that year, too, so I have to say, vulnerability I do know as a friend), was out in a rainstorm on a mountaintop in Colorado in the summer of ’73. It came on quickly, and we were surveying in a remote area where there wasn’t even a road. All we could do was crouch under a little hollow in a mountainside and wait. By and by, a bolt of lightening and a thunder clap came simultaneously. I saw the lighting hitting the ground about 100 feet away. My arm hair was standing straight up.
The three of us on that survey crew hollered. I think I yelled, “Whoa!” Surely the most useless word I ever spoke, but I didn’t have time to compose any elegant thoughts. As fast as it came, it was over. And, Lord, we were glad to be alive, we were. Exhilarating.
That’s what tornadoes are like—Jack the Ripper comes down the street and goes on by, and you are so grateful. Missed it this time.
Reminds me, like the time I huddled in the rain, that life is very precious, never guaranteed, and worth treasuring every day. Electric lights, indoor plumbing and the delusion of endless electricity have fooled us. We’re riders in the rain who still have to take cover when the siren sounds.
Since the weather Chicken Littlin’ is going on today, thought I’d post a couple of storm songs. Bluegrass, country and folk have always written songs about duststorms, avalanches, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Take a listen to two if you’re huddling down somewhere. “Galveston Flood” by Tony Rice and “California Earthquake,” a Rodney Crowell song performed by the Seldom Scene.
This earth is where we live. You have to respect it. Like Clint Eastwood said, “Man’s got to know his limitations.”