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I am and always have loved the process of how books, music, ideas and people find me. Life, for the most part, is an odd assortment of intentional seeking and being found. Some people major on the former, others on the latter. Freedom and providence is what we call it in theology. Too much of either leads to bad theology and a distortion of reality. This is about “how the Milk Carton Kids Found Me.” I love music. Two of my parishioners, Kenny and Katherine Worley, love the Milk Carton Kids. I love Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. They figured, “he might like the MCK (Milk Carton Kids from now on!). So they had an extra ticket and invited me to Workplay, a great venue in Birmingham. I listened to them on YouTube, of course, but I was distracted by the handkerchief Pattengale tied to his Martin 000-15 and waved in a circular motion that reminds me of David Rawlings so much. I came ready to dismiss them as wannabes, to tell you the truth. I was so wrong. Wikipedia’s article about them describes them as:
…an indie folk duo from Eagle Rock, California, consisting of singers and guitarists Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, who formed the group in early 2011. NPR has described their approach to music as “gorgeous contemporary folk”and “Gillian Welch & David Rawlings-meets-Simon & Garfunkel with a splash of The Everly Brothers“, which fairly represents the band’s music while also appealing to the intended audience[i] Read the rest of this entry
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.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Friday night, we are expecting another packed house at the MOONLIGHT as Shades Mountain Air joins with some of our friends: the great JANET HALL O’NEILL, ROB ANGUS and BRENT WARREN from the NEWGRASS TROUBADOURS.. Everything from hammer-dulcimer duets to swing, original songs, rock and roll, blues and bluegrass. It will be non-stop music til we drop (or need to go to bed). Come early and stay until the end!
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.
CLICK TO HEAR “SCOTCH IRISH OUTBURST” and have a wonderful day! God is love.
I was recently in a meeting that included someone who moved here from outside the United States. He and his wife had been here about 10 years. At the end of our meeting as we were talking about various issues, he made an interesting observation. He said “it has been curious for us to see that Americans seem to always need an enemy.” Of course, many Americans I know would cheerfully say, “Then get out!”
I thought it was an insight worth thinking about. Not only do we always seem to need an enemy, it seems that at times if don’t have one we create one. I would not even venture to explain this, not being either a sociologist or an historian, but as a longtime observer of human nature from down below, it rings true. Maybe that competitive spirit that has so many good sides also has some really dark ones.
I am re-watching the Civil War series by Ken Burns. It is powerful, wrenching, and full of the irony that continues to live through our life together. We are still powerfully defined by our most violent conflict. Our nation survived a time when the enemies of our nation were our fellow citizens. As I heard historians talk about that time, I recognized a lot of rancorous conversations we continue to have. The more things change…
Enemies are inevitable in life, if King David is any indication. You aren’t paranoid if they’re really after you. Someone quoted Zora Neal Hurston to me one day that she is supposed to have said at the end of her life, “I have made me some GOOD enemies.” If you don’t do anything and never really live, you won’t have opposition. It took a while in the ministry, but I have come to be thankful for opposition’s role in calling forth the goodness in us.
Still, enemies are expensive—they cost us energy, time and sometimes the best as we try to abide them. They can turn us into their twin if we aren’t careful. Hating ‘em seems, at the front end, quicker.
So loving them seems like a tremendous waste of time and resources. Jesus’ invitation to love our enemies and pray for persecutors seemed to Nietsche a sign of profound weakness, a weakness that made Christianity the morality of slaves born of resentment rather than power and strength. Given the trillions of dollars here and there that our enemies cost us, it would seem that Jesus’ invitation to figure out ways to not always have so many of them is not only high-minded. It might make more practical sense than first appears.
That this plays out in my world, the world of religion, does not need stating. Nobody is worse than religionists at creating demons to cast out. If we would only cast out the ones that are actually there rather than the ones we fabricate from fear and distrust, life would be busy enough. A friend of mine used to say, “If it isn’t termites, its piss-ants.” So we are tempted to spend our lives rooting out spiritual termites and guarding against a sky that is always about to fall.
I continue to marvel at this time of my life at the wonder that we will accept the sacrificial death of Jesus so enthusiastically without also taking seriously the things that He said. I don’t think this was starry-eyed optimism. I think Jesus was brutally real. The cost of hating is too high. The price of annihilating our enemies is more than just nuclear bombs, massive armies and nation-destroying entanglements (though that is pretty costly on its own). We also have to ask, “Is the price to ourselves really worth it? “
“What will a man do if he gains the whole world and loses hisown soul,” Jesus said. Or as another quote from Zora Neal Hurston goes, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” Far as I’m concerned, the cost of hate is way too high in this economy. At the very least, we could try to balance the budget.
I started this little blog in July with no idea what I was doing. I’ve been learning as I go, and I do appreciate each and every one who has taken time to read it. At this point, there have been 6,738 views, which amazes me. I have met new friends and learned about the web and how it can work. Four of my posts have been picked up and shared in other places.I am humbled. Some of you have written about something that really helped. That blesses me.
For all of you, my hopes for a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I hope you’ll stop by again soon. I have posted a song I wrote a few years back and contributed to a local Christmas CD compilation. The song is called, “This Christmas Eve.” I hope you like it.
This Christmas Eve (Gary Furr BMI copyright, all rights reserved)
Band of shepherds in the night,
Without a clue what lay in store–
Heaven and earth brilliant with light,
The hope of something more.
This is the wonder
This is the glory
This is the mystery
That a life of flesh and blood,
Came to set us free
If we can only lift our eyes and see!
Wise men left their homes behind,
Seeking the Truth, with gifts they came
But you can also journey home
And find it just the same
This is the wonder
This is the glory
This is the mystery
That a life of flesh and blood,
Came to set us free
This the world’s desire, this Christmas Eve.
I lift my eyes into the night,
Without a clue what lies in store,
Will I look up and find that light,
the hope of something more?
This is the wonder
This is the glory
This is the mystery
This my life of flesh and blood
Longing to be free
Oh, Divine love
Like a sweet dove
Descend with heaven’s peace!
This my deepest prayer this Christmas Eve.
Without the internet, there would be no Justin Bieber, no way to spread our urban legends so quickly, and no way to keep up with the Kardashian-ization of civilization. Wednesday Yahoo news had among its usual stories a new turn on the “Man bites dog” archetype. “Man is accidentally shot by his own dog.”
Apparently, a 46 year old man in Brigham City, Utah “got a behind-full of birdshot courtesy of his loyal canine companion when he was out duck hunting over the weekend.” He and the dog were traveling in a boat and the man stepped into a marsh to set up some decoys. His 12-gauge shotgun was unattended across the bow of the boat. According to the police report, the dog was excited to join his owner in the marsh, jumped on the bow where the gun was and somehow caused the gun to discharge. The shot hit the man in the buttocks with 27 pellets of birdshot. He called 911 and was taken in and said pellets removed, along with his dignity.
I thought this had to be fictional, but sure enough, there was a news report on the web. Of course, it could be that news
sites are fake, too, or unless television news stations get their news from…the web? Where will this end?
I can see a televised trial coming. Since I have so recently written of the virtues of dogs, I feel compelled to defend this as an accident. I can imagine that postal workers, newspaper boys, joggers and burglars will come forward to claim that this dog has a history of hostility. He will have to hire a lawyer, hopefully a firm with a name like, “Shepherd, Barker and Chow.”
I would suggest that they offer the following defense
1. Most of the prior victims deserved it, since they could usually be demonstrated to have legitimately terrorized the dog–i.e, invading his turf daily, throwing papers on the yard, bringing bills and junk mail to the Master’s door daily with the authority of government, and in the cases of the burglars, breaking and entering. He was just doing his job.
2. “Accidental” shooting is not a crime. The dog was excited and happy and wanted to play with his stupid master. I would subpoena former Vice President Dick Cheney for the defense. He didn’t know how guns worked either. Cheney, a supposedly more educated human, shot his friend in the face, while the canine only put pellets in the owner’s buttocks.
3. There is no other motive, i.e., insurance fraud from recently changed life insurance. To date, only humans kill for money.
4. The man lives in Utah. Strange things happen there, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, and so there is simply a geographical inevitability about this.
5. Investigators might want to look at allegations that the entire matter was staged by the owner. Initial investigative interviews indicate that he had also claimed that his dog ate his homework at age 9, 11 and 14, and that he claimed that his dog was driving the car when police stopped him at 21. Further investigation showed that he had been reported by his dog for abuse when the dog said his Master had beaten him repeatedly with rolled up newspapers.
Friends, if the animal world gets social media, we may come to see that “Babe” was not as far-fetched as first appeared. Payback is apt to be miserable.
A recent Huffington Post tweet cited a Wall Street Journal article that listed the eleven college majors with the highest levels of unemployment at present. The list includes several fields of psychology, history, miscellaneous fine arts, military technology, library science, linguistics and comparative literature, and computer management and security.
What are we to make of this? Are we, when push comes to shove, a society of people who consider mental health a luxury, prefer our books unshelved, our literature uncompared and operate on the internet without updating our McAfee subscription? Are we doomed to repeat the lessons of history and have no art to look at to boot? Will we turn into dullards who only program computers, build stuff, and administer drugs and care for each other in nursing homes? What do we make of these trends?
An education is expensive. The lack of one is even more expensive. I would say that there are some other lists we need to get the whole picture. Consider these two lists before picking your field
Ten most unemployable skills
- Ability to emit odors of all kinds
- Translator for imaginary creatures in the room
- Ability to project your whiney voice through walls and doors
- Photographic memory for others failings, past sins, and accounts of family members’ medical conditions and procedures, especially textures, colors and smells.
- Fiction writing, especially when filling out reports or explaining why you were late to work–AGAIN
- Ponzi scheme administrator
- Burnout prevention detector—formerly called, “Lazy.”
- Process Debater
- Work Thespians—trained in the art of appearing to work without ever actually doing anything. Work Thespians are skilled in walking around, minimizing the Solitaire game quickly, and being clear about what is not in their job description.
- Micromanagers. For some reason, there is a profound oversupply of these folks who are highly skilled in knowing what everyone else needs to be doing
Ten majors that will get hired eventually in any economy
- Team Player
- Multiple major in Honesty, Fairness, Respect and Appreciation
- Insight into Oneself
- Transformers—especially with emphases on turning discussions into actions, competition into teamwork, and problems into solutions.
I have a most wonderful father-in-law. Our initial meeting was a rocky one, when my hair was longer and I lived in Ohio leading him to mistakenly think I was a Yankee, which is South Carolina, home of Fort Sumter, is still a live issue. When I asked for the hand of his only daughter during our sophomore year of college, he balked and seemed to need to do due diligence on me with the CIA first. But he came around and has embraced me as if I were another son.
I never understood in-law jokes. Mine are terrific and supportive in the most healthy ways. They’re not perfect, but I always know they are there for us no matter what. I love them both.
Forrest is in his eighties now, and just returned with my wife and mother-in-law from his oncologist, where he got the report on his latest PT scan. He was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer in the summer of 2009, one of the toughest you can have. He has gone through two rounds of chemo and radiation, the first one six months long, which he called, “character building.” It seemed to me more like living death.
Still, he has continued his life. Except for the chemo, he has continued his routines—walking every day, reading, writing an autobiography for all of us in the family about his life, worked back up to play golf again, and continue his life. He is the most incredibly outgoing and friendly man I have ever known. He’s tough as nails in business, but would give you his last dollar if he knew you were in trouble. I can’t tell you how many times they helped us during our long educational journey through student poverty with three children.
So, when this odyssey of the past two years came along, we all fell apart for about five weeks. He is like a giant old oak tree in your yard that’s a couple hundred years old. It’s always going to be there, right? Giving shade, shelter, a place to play when you’re a kid and a place to sit when you’re old. Then one day it changes.
But then, we all calmed down. There was work to do, it wasn’t the end yet. We could learn—and we have—to live one day at a time and treasure it. Between his illness and the birth of my first grandchild, I have moved work back a few spaces on my priorities. I still get it done, but family comes first, where it always should have been.
How can it be that cancer brought us blessings? Healing, reconciling, reprioritizing, re-evaluating? But it did. We remembered the truth, as my old friend John Claypool always said, “Life is a gift.” It is.
So, they came in today. “No trace of cancer. Come back in three months.” We’ll never be completely free. It did this before and came back. But we got a year of high quality, happy life. So, we are rejoicing today, just for today. We’re happy, he’s back to his books and thinking and continuing to grow. We are thankful. We text each other after every report. Withing 30 minutes, my children all had heard and answered with multiple exclamation points.
So the world is in trouble—protesters, Herman Cain has problems, Greece and Europe are a mess. But we just got a good report and can breathe again for now. Biggest news on the planet in our world. We are grateful to God and Dr. Bridges.
Forrest wrote in his autobiography:
One of the humbling, but wonderful things that came from this illness was to see and feel the love and prayers from my family and friends. All of our children and grand children came from far and wide to offer help and support… Of all the magnificent blessings I’ve had in my life, I believe the three Fs are the crux of life. These three are: faith in Christ, a loving family, loving friends, there is nothing of greater value. If you have these in your life, you are wealthy.
A little perspective for me, on this day when markets are uncertain, the political atmosphere is polarized, and the job numbers stink again. We still have each other, and that is the great gift of any family. Not even death can take that from us, for what has already been given can never be taken back.
In case theological buzz doesn’t get to the world where you live, Rob Bell is a dynamic young pastor from Michigan who is an ordained hipster that a lot of young people and non-churched people read. He writes simply and understandably, but he has cool titles and surprising substance in what he says. Most preachers would look gross if they dressed and cut their hair like Rob (and lots of local megachurch preachers in various towns wind up that way—looking like your Dad trying to be cool—an old white male with a buzz cut and in clothes from five years ago and a mouthpiece microphone, belly hanging ever-so-perilously over the top of his expensive jeans. He tries to look postmodern. He looks, well, like your Dad). Rob pulls it off.
He has hit a firestorm (sorry for the irony of that word) with his latest book, about the subject of God’s love, hell and the damnation of the human race. The title itself, Love Wins, already tells you which way Rob leans. He questions our theology that seems determined that God “has to” consign most of the human race to eternal torture in hell. How is this “good news” he asks. Those who disagree with him argue something like this: “The whole universe deserves to be burned up, so the fact that God saves some is completely merciful. It all deserves eternal torture.” To which Rob asks, “Really? Does the Creator actually give up on the entire creation? Does God delight in torturing us forever if we were born in the wrong place and never heard the gospel?”
Right now, I don’t want to write about his argument—it’s an interesting enough subject that I think I’ll come back at a later time and write about the doctrine of hell and my thoughts on it. I want to comment, though, on the controversy about this book and what it says about theological conversation and the church of right now. I do want to say, unlike a few commentators, I waited to actually read Rob Bell’s book before saying much about it. Short take: interesting, insightful, passionate, easy to read, and bound to be controversial.
Like I said, I’m not finally convinced by it all, even though I wish his vision were so. I liked many parts of the book—especially some keen insights into scripture texts. I am not surprised it has made many upset, but I remember a comment by E. J. Carnell about fundamentalism:
Fundamentalism…sees the heresy in untruth but not unloveliness. If it has the most truth, it has the least grace, since it distrusts courtesy and diplomacy (“Fundamentalism” in A Handbook of Christian Theology (1958, p. 142).
This argument, about whether God’s love in the end completely wins over everyone, is very old, as Bell himself mentions in the book. Having a discussion about it is not wrong or unreasonable. Seminary students at any school worth its salt have to have these discussions to learn church history, theology and pastoral care skills. And here is my major interest in this piece: Why should the larger church be damaged by publicly thinking about them? That is not the same as saying Bell is right—only that he presents a point of view that has appeared many times in two thousand years. I was rather surprised when I read William Barclay’s autobiography, published after his death, I think, in which he stated his belief that God would ultimately save all and that there would be continued opportunity after death (Barclay’s bible study commentaries are a staple of a massive number of very orthodox Sunday School teachers).
Theological conversation, real theological conversation, almost always pushes one to better places, and a deeper search for the existential truth of it all. I remember going to hear Brian McLaren a few years ago to find out what all this talk of “emergent church” was all about. I liked him, and was surprised that his journey was an opening up to things that were “new paths” for him that I had engaged thirty years ago in my theological training. I thought, “Why is this so exciting to people? This is old stuff.” And the answer is, “Not if you’ve never heard it.” The truth is, much of American religiosity and theologizing is journalistic, bloggy, tweety, and superficial. It looks like everything else in our culture—absent of long, engaged thinking, respectful conversation, genuine intellectual depth and a spirit of openness to changing one’s mind.
Among the reviews of Bell that I came across, I liked one by John Dyer in Christianity Today called, “Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers: How social media changed theological debate.”(March 11, 2011). It made me reflect on how much “doing theology” has changed—books are shorter and the spaces between the lines wider. The fonts are bigger, and maybe postmodernism will lead to all pictures in our theology books. A far cry from our doctoral seminars in theology at Baylor—three hours of keen minds tearing apart a 400 page book we were required to read. We’re getting soft, and blog-eology might be a symptom. The real insight is found in the “responses” section, in which a lot of the “dialogue” is vituperative name-calling, ridiculing, condemnation (of a stranger!), correcting others’ spelling and grammar, and occasional profanity—surely the most interesting response to a debate about God. The worst, though, are the self-righteously pious, who declaim another with, “I pray that you will see the light, brother,” which means something roughly analogous to, “When you’re burning in hell for your wrong ideas, you’ll wish you’d listened to me.”
The same kind of shorthand teapot tempest occurred in response to John Piper’s “tweet” in response to Bell’s book, which said, simply, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” Now a firestorm of debate about what “farewell” meant followed.
I wrote a song on my last CD called, “Ballad of Harley the Printer,” that’s about a guy who worked in printing and lost his job with the advent of technology. There’s a verse that says,
Back in the days of pen and ink
Words could stain and make you think,
Today our words are short-lived things
They live on electronic screens
Flashing past too quickly to be seen
I think about this sometimes even though I, too, am blogging—does the “virtual” universe and its replacement of books, journals and papers offer us a tragic symbol that we would do well to consider, the replacement of words as ideas we pick up and “hold” and consider over time and repeatedly with “short-lived things” that flash past “too quickly to be seen”? Worth considering in light of, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
I think Rob Bell is an artist, and as such, was almost destined to create a kettle of misunderstandings. His books are not much fun to analyze, outline and condense. Theological engineers will not like this book, I think—people who like airtight systems and logical mousetraps. Maybe I’m wrong. But artists dart, highlight, ramble and mull. “Maybe that’s what it means, maybe not. But think about it.”
I remember something Thomas Merton said in his little book, Opening the Bible, and it applies to theology as well. He writes something to the effect that we must be careful to distinguish, when making claims for the Bible, the claims we are also making for ourselves. Indeed. Oddly, humility is in danger of decreasing in our blogging time. Speaking fewer words has not led us rightly to think, “We have less to say and with less substance” but the opposite—to assume that just because it is simpler and more immediate that it must be more universal.
Our response to Rob Bell might well be, “Interesting. I would like to sit and talk about this. It is a big deal and deserves some time.”
Unfortunately, we probably don’t have the time it deserves. Or at least the right chatroom.
Christianity Today’s review of Bell’s book: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/lovewins.html
Blog-review in the Christian Century
Articles on the controversy at the Revealer.com
Song, “The Ballad of Harley the Printer” is on the CD “Overload of Bad News Blues” You can hear it on iTunes or Amazon music or go here for more info: http://garyfurr.com/Store.html