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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
Graduations are that time when we realize we will likely wind up working for or paying taxes to the kid we picked on in fourth grade for the rest of our lives. I feel for the graduates of 2011. Their high school or college life was lived in the shadow of the Great Recession or whatever we will call this. They have 9/11, two wars (2 and ½ if you count Libya), Katrina, the tsunami and, oh, yeah, no jobs out there.
Looks like the kid we picked on might have to tell us, “Sorry, I’ve laid off everyone but my brother and my sister-in-law, but be sure to email me a resume.” It’s tough out there. I’m not sure what to tell them. Except maybe, “Keep living like it’s going to be fine. Eventually, it may be.”
I once came across a listing of “graduation speeches.” The settings ranged from high schools to prestigious colleges, universities and graduate schools. The speakers were often famous people, usually alumni of the schools who came back to show that they had indeed done well, despite what most of the faculty and administration thought at the time.
I found speeches by Presidents, movie directors (Oliver Stone), politicians, and writers. The coolest list of speakers had to be for the Berklee College of music—wouldn’t you like graduation better if your speaker was James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel or Sting?
The one that truly caught my eye, though, was by award-winning jazz musician Pat Metheny. Metheny is one of the most creative jazz guitarists I have ever listened to. After a lot of typical “graduation” musings, he said the following:
Because for as much as I can stand here and claim to be a successful player, with Grammy awards and winning polls and now honorary degrees and all that stuff; one very fundamental thing has not changed, and I realized that it will never change, and that is this–that the main thing in my life, even as I stand here right now, right this second, is that I really need to go home and practice.
In music and in life–stay focused on the main thing. And the main thing is this—to be in your life, really in it. One shift that has happened for me in the last several years is that I am trying to enjoy getting to the goal as much as reaching it. I know that is so “middle-agey”, but it is real. It’s not the getting there as the being there that makes life so rich and full of promise—and also its peril and vulnerability.
Accolades, financial success and awards do not bring joy. They can reduce some misery, and that’s something. But they can also distract you from success and joy, even though they seem to be the very essence of success. But true success is being who you are, doing what you do, writing what you need to write and connecting to that which is deepest and truest in your life. A well-lived life is when you know at any moment that what you really need is to go home and practice your gift yet once more, if only God is your audience.
Ann Lamott, in her book on writing called Bird by Bird, says that she warns new writers against working too hard on “getting published.” If you’re a writer, writing is what you do. So WRITE and stop worrying about it!
Easily said if you aren’t trying to make a living at it, of course. But songs written half-heartedly and only to squeeze out a living from them are like children you love only for what they can do for you—at some point you wind up either disappointed or blinded to what you really have here. Folksinger Kate Campbell once said in a workshop, “You have to care about what you’re writing.” Believe me, sooner or later, caring or the lack of it is evident to the sharp listener.
I’m sure the same is true of vital faith—it’s most valuable when all hell is breaking loose. And no matter how bad or good it is, you keep practicing. As a guitarist of 48 years, here’s what I can tell you about practicing:
- Money isn’t enough to make you practice.
- No one, even your mother, can make you practice if you don’t really want to.
- If you really love it, the harder thing is to stop playing. Motivation is never a problem.
- The best instrument in the world will not make someone who does not love the craft play better, and the cheapest guitar made is capable of some decent sounds if you are well-practiced.
- You only grow by constantly taking on new challenges. Otherwise, boredom sets in.
- Practice isn’t the same as performing—all those people watching!—but it sure makes screw-ups less likely.
- Five or ten minutes every day is somehow more valuable than three hours once per month. Don’t ask me why. But you have to be “touching” it for it to stay alive in your body.
- Practicing something you love and playing it for the sheer joy of it is not affected by Wall Street, recession, wars, or unemployment. You can keep doing it no matter what. Briscoe Darling, a music playing mountaineer on the old Andy Griffith show once put it this way: “You got time to breathe, you got time for music.”
- You can only improvise when you know the melody, when it’s in your muscles and mind and touch so it’s “right there” when you need it.
It doesn’t take much to put “God-loving and Jesus-following” in the place of music. Practicing that life, trying it out, staying with it, is never a problem if the motives are right. It can’t be about getting what you want or what it does for you or that you’re a big success. Just that the sheer doing and living of it makes us happier than anything. Keep practicing. Even now. Especially now.