Meeting God in the music

I know that music is a gift straight from God and that’s where I meet Him.

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I know I sometimes confuse folks in my church during worship service. Many — most — of them grew up singing traditional Baptist hymns. Maybe they had a choir or maybe a worship leader strumming on an acoustic guitar.

I grew up in a small Catholic church at exactly the time Catholics were trying to appeal a little more to the masses (no pun intended). I started playing guitar in church when I was in middle school. Although it was just two acoustic guitars strumming G, C, and D, it was pretty radical for our church at that time.

So for me, church music was always edgy.

Today, I play an electric guitar with full-on effects. Delay, reverb and crunch. I play Jesus Rock n’ Roll. On Sunday mornings I sometimes find myself in the classic rock guitar stance, or standing on one leg, or with my pick hand behind my back for some reason. I wander across the stage, jump up and down and never stand still.

Truthfully, I’m not really that good. Luckily it doesn’t take a lot to chunk out power chords or play some of the Contemporary Christian Music riffs.

I cannot overstate how important that time playing with the worship band is to me. You see, the reason I can’t stay still when I’m playing … the reason I end up in those strange poses … is because there is a time when I am playing with the band that everything goes away but the music.

And that moment is my greatest prayer of thanksgiving to God.

The way I was brought up, rote recitation of the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Hail Mary” is all I was really taught. I agree with my church friends now that prayer is a conversation with God, but understanding and being able to do it are two different things. My prayers are stilted and formulaic.

But that never happens in the music. When we are playing and everything is right, I can throw my head back and let my guitar say, “Thank you, Lord, for this life! I am so blessed.”

I know that music is a gift straight from God and that’s where I meet Him — in the music. And the result of that meeting is a pure joy that causes me to move to the rhythm.

And that’s why I act like I do on Sunday mornings.

So this Sunday, when we play “Set A Fire” and the music swells halfway through and I walk over toward Nathan on the drums and it looks like I am hanging my head and trying to beat up my guitar, don’t worry.

I’m just spending some quality time with God.

How do you get it done?

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On a day when an unsolved mechanical problem called my manhood into question and my son’s bed broke (I was able to fix that one), I am wondering …

How do you do it all?

I am asking because I struggle. I look at the things I am supposed to do and I fail regularly.

Here are just the big things on the list.

  • Work is a must, of course, and it takes time and effort to be good regardless of your calling. A 40-hour week is a luxury I know many of us can’t afford. The time card may say 40, but the after hours emails, texted questions, reports and planning adds another 10.
  • You’ve got to give your best to your family. I’ve been hearing the phrase “quality time” since the day my oldest was born, and it is something I know we all want to provide so pencil in playing with the kids.
  • Faith is important, so church gets a permanent spot on the calendar. And I don’t want to be one of those folks who sits in the pew and does nothing, so add more hours.
  • I am not sure how anyone can have knowledge of the needs of the community and not try and make a difference, so there has to be time for charitable efforts.
  • I am blessed to have a roof over my head and vehicles to get around town, so that means maintenance. Mowing the yard, plunging the toilet, changing the oil … there’s always something to do.
  • And that’s just the sometimes maintenance stuff. My wife bears the brunt of the housekeeping chores like laundry, dishes, shopping, etc.
  • Back to church … I hear all the time that I’m not praying enough and not studying my Bible enough, and that is true. So mark out an hour a day for those.
  • The simplest way to stay healthy is to eat right and exercise. Mark it on the calendar because if you don’t, you’ll die.
  • I also read where we are all stressed too much, so relaxation needs to be a priority for health reasons. Got to schedule downtime.
  • Americans don’t get enough sleep and that’s a fact. Should get 8, but at least try for 7.

And these are just the things to stay caught up. If you want to improve or advance in some way, like going to school, the list gets longer.

This also doesn’t include any of the random items that come up and land on the “must” list, like extended family emergencies.

Sorry for the ramble, but most of my days feel like a ramble … so how do you do it?

Disappointed about self-censorship

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I am disappointed in myself.

I just realized that I have self-censored twice in less than 24 hours in fear of political correctness from both ends of the spectrum. All because of a man in a dress and some holiday decorations.

So much for the fearless journalist protecting the community’s interests. Apparently, I can’t even protect my own keyboard.

There is a fine line between censorship and good taste and moral responsibility. — Steven Spielberg

At lunch yesterday I warned a very upbeat and positive pastor about a fundraiser he was planning. This pastor plans to challenge his congregation to donate money for a good cause, and he will perform a “dare” depending on the level of their giving.

This is a very common type of fundraiser and I’ve run many photos of folks kissing pigs or taking pies in the face under the same basic rules. The dare for this pastor, however, is to wear a dress and the level of giving decides whether he has to go to lunch that way or preach the Sunday sermon.

My knee-jerk reaction to his plan was to warn him that it could be considered insensitive to transgender people and that he didn’t want to lose the value of the good work he was doing in a social media battle over a dress.

That was my first act of censorship.

Then this morning, I was sharing some decorating safety tips on Henderson County Now when I stopped typing the word “holiday” and inserted the word “Christmas” …. all because I was afraid of causing an uproar on my page by someone accusing me of taking Christ out of Christmas if I wrote “holiday decorations.”

For all of my 53 years, I have heard December called the “holiday season,” because even if you ignore Hanukkah — you shouldn’t, but I plead guilty as a Christian — there’s the New Year’s holiday. I’ve heard “Happy Holidays” since the time I was a small child and always knew that it meant “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” See, two holidays = happy holidays.

But even though I am a member of my church worship team and teach Sunday school, I was still afraid enough of being the target of viciousness and being labeled an enemy of Jesus that I made the switch.

That was my second act of censorship.

Twice I flinched under pressure coming from very different directions.

I hope there isn’t a third time, but I feel like there’s a rooster out there just waiting for me so it can let loose.

I can’t sleep, Dad

I am having trouble sleeping. Actually, that is an understatement.

An unusually high number of new projects has kept me up late and that is part of the problem. But only part. The real issue is that I wake up every night between 4 and 4:30 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep.

This has been going on for three weeks now … ever since my father’s funeral.

My wife figured it out. She remembered that the last time I spoke to Dad was the morning I flew from New Jersey back to Texas. It was an early flight and I had to wake up around 4 to get to the airport on time.

That’s when I said goodbye to Dad.

My wife says that the problem is my subconscious, which still hasn’t gotten a handle on how suddenly Dad passed away. Or maybe that I didn’t really say goodbye; I just told him I loved him and left it at that. Or maybe that I didn’t cry enough and that’s why I keep waking up.

I told her I don’t allow my subconscious to run free on its own, but if you happen to see it scampering around trailing a broken leash please give me a call.

I remember the last time I had this much trouble sleeping. It was back in the early ’90s when Loretta Humble made me the editor of The Malakoff News. I was inexperienced, but she gave me a chance and for that I will always be grateful.

Every Wednesday morning I would take the big, pasted up cardboard pages to the Athens Daily Review to get printed. The night before, after going to sleep, there would almost always be a moment of panic when I sat bolt upright in bed worrying about a mistake I might have made.

It was a feeling of being out on a limb, totally alone. My story, my byline, my mistake and the whole town was going to know what I had done. Inexperience will do that to you.

That insecurity faded with time. I was tutored by some great community journalists and I learned to trust what they taught me.

I had faith in the process … and I slept.

Now I feel insecure again. What happened to Dad was a shock, and it was followed up two weeks later by another shock when my mother-in-law entered hospice.

I think that is the real reason for my insomnia: Insecurity. I think the answer will be found in the same place as before: Faith.

I just have to trust what I have learned from some very Godly men. I have to remember my life verse and not worry about the rest.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
— Micah 6:8

And hopefully get some sleep.