Poplar Tent Memories: album release

I have updated and re-released an album I put together with some friends ten years ago, POPLAR TENT MEMORIES. The name of the album comes from the road where I lived after I was born, Poplar Tent Road, in Concord, NC.  There was no Interstate 85 roaring through, moonshiners lived down the road and my grandpa and grandma were two houses away. I attended Poplar Grove Baptist Church before I could walk. My Grandpa Price led the music, and I have memories of the singing from pre-age five.

Poplar Tent Memories is sixteen songs from the 2011 album and some I have added in recent years. It features several friends, including Michaela Bundon (Take a listen to her on “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”!), Nancy McLemore, Melanie Rodgers and Beth McGinnis among others.

I still have my grandfather’s old Broadman hymnal, a shaped note edition from 1940. The church musicians of Baptist life gave us a rich heritage of hymn singing. My grandfather led music in revivals, every Sunday in church, and sang in a quartet that included my mother. So I grew up, as so many Baptists then did, with an affordable upright piano in the house and a piano bench full of gospel music.

Regrettably, I resisted and won on giving up on the piano, but the guitar found me at nine or ten, and the hymns continued to be a great source of personal devotion for me in all the years that followed. I love hymns because they taught me the basics of my faith.  “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” and dozens of others were my first instruction in the faith.  We sang every time we came together, over and over we recited and sang them until we knew them by heart.

I miss that part of life. I wonder if part of why we’re so messed up now is that we don’t sing together like we used to. I know people sing in arenas to the latest pop microhit, but that’s not the same. Moreover, it’s how we learned the faith. Sermons, other than the really scary ones at revivals, I remember almost nothing. But hymns, I have emblazoned all over my brain. They bubble up all the time.

When I sing, somehow the crazy part of my brain shuts off for a bit and I touch a deep place again, where Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Beethoven and Lowell Mason speak to  me. The hymns give voice to longings, pain, sorrow and hope, and above all, to Jesus, who is always better than most of Christianity. When I keep looking at that beautiful life, I don’t feel as lost.

I once opened for rocker and contemporary Christian singer Ashley Cleveland at the old Moonlight on the Mountain music venue. Like so many in the music world, addiction overtook her life for a while. It was part of her journey back to her childhood faith. During that harrowing time, she said, it was the old hymns that came back to her and carried her through.

I hope you enjoy these hymns, whether you are a church person or not. There is something universal and accessible to anyone in them.

Staying Put

Picture1Gary Furr PR

 

A friend asked me to reflect on what you learn by staying in one place for twenty five years. I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I haven’t stopped much to ponder that, and before I knew it the years went by. I still am surprised to think that I, who never lived anywhere more than seven years, have been here now for nearly twenty-six (at the end of this month). I moved a lot while growing up. Moving to greener pastures is overblown. There’s always a septic tank under there somewhere, as Erma Bombeck once said. So, here are my current observations about staying.

In a way, staying put means just doing the next thing that comes along. Still, there are amazing rewards for staying put so long. How many people can say to a college graduate, “I still remember holding you at the hospital your first day of life?”  No CEO or world leader can.

The world changes even when you stay put.  People change, circumstances change, and the church constantly changes. There really is no staying put, just changing in the same place.  You change, too.  You don’t avoid change, nor does a church, by staying put. You either pastor four different churches in twenty-five years or pastor four or five churches in the same location over twenty-five years.

You sure need friends, colleagues, books, and growth to stay fresh.  You can grow tired of your own voice in your head and look out in wonder and think, just before the sermon, “I can’t believe they’re still here.  It must not just be me.”  Don’t want them to think the same thing. Continue reading Staying Put

Church Penalties

In a sermon, I once suggested that harsh “rulemaking” does not maturity make, either religiously or psychologically.  Nowhere do we see this more than in rigid religion in a person.  All or nothing thinking—and in this regard, dogmatic atheism and fundamentalism look very similar in spirit–makes the building of community with others quite difficult. It requires a spirit of “it’s this and nothing else” in life. This is not to say that there are no absolute truths–merely that to trust that such things are true is not exactly identical with my absolute knowledge of them.

My friend D.r. Travis Collins is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. His hobby, remarkably, is being a referee for high school football. When I heard him speak on this, I thought, “What a nice idea for churches.” Here are some possible penalties. Continue reading Church Penalties

Take the BOTH AND Pledge

“If I spend all day reading Facebook and social media and rant mindlessly over things

about which I know almost nothing and over which I have even less control,

I will either get off Facebook so I can keep my job or seek professional help.”

After what has been pretty much a media-frenzied locust plague over the last three weeks, I began to think, “Hey, what will happen after the election? We’ve been told that if we choose wrong, the apocalypse will come, the sea will turn red and the zombie-takeover will begin. Don’t get me wrong, it matters, but a lot of nutty people have access to the media. I’m at the beach at the moment, and I try to remember that the water is only as sanitary as the least sanitary person sharing it with me. The pool is pretty polluted at the moment with Chicken Littles, convinced that they, alone, know how dire things are if we don’t think just like them. Whew.

A friend sent me a pretty good picture from Oregon. I’m guessing it was a church sign, but I don’t know. Unfortunately, my fellow preachers are all Be coolriled up at the moment, apparently having taken care of local sin and now ready to wipe it out globally. I myself resist this, since I’ve been around to watch a good bit of human foolishness. There’s plenty to take seriously, but there’s so much chaff out there that you need a microscope to find some wheat.  Well, this picture inspired me, so I created my own pledge. I decided to make a pledge for AFTER the election. When we have to carry our shame for all the stupid and ignorant things we’ve believed, forwarded, said and argued. Unfortunately, most of us will NOT get appointed to a new job or, like consultants, get a big fat contract out of it if their guy wins. We have to go back home and eat dinner with Uncle Ernie, who thinks your views are sending America straight to hell. And you yelled at him that he was a racist neanderthal and he looked wounded and looked up “neanderthal” on the web and then stopped speaking at dinner.

And people will have to get offline, and go back to work. And congresspeople will have to do whatever it is they are doing up there, or not doing. So here is a pledge for all of us. I call it the BOTH AND PLEDGE. I am the first signer. Continue reading Take the BOTH AND Pledge