Monday, September 29, 2008

Benjamin Franklin

"The absent are never without fault. Nor the present without excuse."

"Words may show a man's wit, but actions his meaning."

"The proof of gold is fire."

Benjamin Franklin was a very, very smart man. I've been a student of history for as long as I can remember, mainly from my father (who is a history teacher) and from internalizing the words of the great 19th century philosopher, George Santayana, who said "those that forget the past are condemned to repeat it".

Well all know the story of Franklin "discovering" electricity with a kite and a key in an electrical storm (which probably never happened) and some of us might remember Poor Richard's Almanac, and even fewer of us remember that Franklin was really the last great renaissance man. What always impressed me about the man was his uncanny ability in phrasing things in such a way that the listener was forced to view things that they had "locked down" in a completely different and satisfying way. Franklin's approach was winsome, but it had weight. And meat. And potatoes. A full meal deal.

So, I'm re-reading my post from Saturday about my horrifically sad gig; and I'm watching the markets go marching into the toilet; and I'm listening to stories about 16 year olds driving power boats while under the influence of alchohol into the backs of sailboats and killing people; and an old friend pops up on a chat to comiserate about life and times......., what are we gonna do about this?

There is an old saying, "Many people complain about the weather, but few do anything about it", (I believe Samuel Clements wrote that) and while that's a funny statement, again there is a weight to it. Seems like these days, most folks wait for someone else to do something about whatever the mal d'jour is. Today, it's become paramount for others to find their empowerment first, and we get to complain about it as our primary role, but I submit to you, my most humble reader, that this is the very reason we are in the boat we are in. We look to our government to provide bail-outs for company's who have trampled over the very laissez-faire spirit of capitalism that got them there in the first place; we look to our church leadership to make choices that are far, far better than they are equipped to make; we look to our own municipal bodies to enforce the rules for us- but we don't vote, don't stand, don't voice, and don't move.

I'm guilty here, too- lest you think I'm all about pointing fingers and nothing else.

Franklin's quotes were all about accepting responsibility for one's actions. Ben's thrust was that we have been given the tools to do the right thing and our reaction to the things around us are ours to make our own, and the only person that gets in the way of that is US.

So, what are we gonna do about this?

I'll tell ya what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna shoot straighter than ever. I'm gonna raise my game, and I'm going to lower my bullshit ratio. I'm going to get better at doing the things I do, and I'm going to quit making excuses for it. If I ever get a call from JA about playing at that church again, I'm going to tell him "no" and I'm going to tell him why. I'm going to vote. I'm going to make my voice count, and I'm not going to slough it off to others for their empowerment and then complain about it.

See, the great thing about this country is that we can do that. We have the voice and we have the tools, and all we need to do collectively is to stand up and take it all back, and stop waiting on everyone else to do the right thing. The right thing starts in your chest and radiates outward, not the other way around.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


This could be a long one…

From August, 2005 through March of this year, I was playing pretty much every single week at a largish church in Everett, Washington. The band consisted of some of the very best players in Western Washington, and we functioned like a well-oiled machine, able to take whatever was thrown at us. The worship leader, DT, is one of the best worship leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure to throw down with in any setting, and the music director, CH, is one of my dearest friends and an absolutely great sax player.

Trouble is that the senior pastor is….well………he’s an interesting character. He’s a control freak of the highest nature, and to boot, in the almost three years I was there, he never even got to know me or anyone else in the band. Oh, we tried, but he was “above” us. Additionally, he was at great odds with CH and DT because he figured that he didn’t need them. There’s much, much more here, but I just can’t go into it. The main thrust here is that while DT has been on staff for 9 years, the senior pastor and the gutless elder board would never add DT to the position of worship leader- he was always the “interim”.

Last summer, CH split the scene. He just couldn’t take it anymore, and no one blamed him. Immediately after leaving the senior pastor began one of the worst played power plays I’ve ever seen in moving DT to the background. There were innuendos and politicking that made the Obama/McCain race pale in comparison. There were also bald-faced lies told by everyone in charge. The keyboard player in the band, EW, and I finally had enough and left, and have found refuge in CH’s new endeavor, a new small church in Everett that has big plans and a lead pastor who is just fabulous. The old church finally made a decision, and instead of hiring DT (as they had promised the congregation so many times) they made an end-run and hired a completely different guy into DT’s job, and relegated him to part-time status. A class act if there ever was one. The new guy is, according to all accounts, somewhat wanting in his directorial and people skills.

This last Wednesday, one of the guys in the band at the old church called me and asked if I’d be available for the Saturday service tonite. I told him that since I hadn’t “embraced the horror” first hand, I really should- it had been awhile since I’d been there, and I missed several people in that church very much. I took the gig- and it’s choir weekend, so they’re gonna pull out all the stops.

I meet the new guy. He can barely look at me. I’m thinking he feels a little threatened by the fact that as I walk in, the whole choir breaks ranks and begins making a big fuss that I’m there. (They like me- they really like me…..) We rehearse- wow- I’ve never heard the choir sound this bad. The new guy – we’ll call him JA – seems to treat all the musicians as second-rate citizens because they’re paid- a fact that is confirmed by drummer BA. When JA hands me my check for the evening right after rehearsal, I turn to him and smile and say “hey- thanks, man! I appreciate that!” and he literally skulks off. After the service, I meet him with drummer BA, and I walk up to him, stick out my hand and smile and say, “I just wanted to say thanks for having me. I hope we get to do that again.”, and his response is something that’s a little hard to put into written words- so I’ll put it this way:

“Yeah,thanksitwasgreat” – and he gets out of his chair and walks away from me.

The senior pastor saw me, and made no attempt to talk to me at all.

Neither of these guys knows me. Neither of them know my walk, or if I even have one. They don’t know if I’m married, saved, baptized, homosexual, Martian, college educated or what I do for a living. They’re too wound up in their own little worlds to even make the attempt at a connection. They’ve taken a vibrant, topical, relevant church and reduced it to their own little empire where a sermon that is based on 4 words that all have the same starting letter is all they need. They make no attempt at a relationship with anyone- another fact borne out by me asking other choir members “So, how’s it been going here?” and me receiving the same vacant 1,000 yard stare and the words, “Not good”. And, what’s even worse is that JA and the senior pastor and their elder board don’t care as long as the offering plates are full.

In my earlier years, I was a drug addict. My dealer, Skip, had a saying of “Christians are God’s worst P.R.” and folks like JA and the senior pastor make that a reality and it’s very, very sad. It’s taken me years to get to the point where things like this roll off my back, and every time I think I’ve arrived at “You-Can’t-Touch-This” land, I see the faces of people like DT, BA and choir members who have given their hearts to a principle only to see it stomped on, and I get mad again. In the meantime, senior pastor, elder board and JA will continue to hurt folks who’s intentions are among the purest, and even though God can and does get glorified in this process, it is still very difficult to bear.

I guess I have no great lesson here to give. Only to ask that my readers pray for places like this, and that they take time to treasure and protect those fragile relationships.