Friday, December 9, 2016

WORSHIP – PART 3: Dispelling The Myth Of Formula

In this installment, I would like to dispel the idea of trying to apply a formulaic approach to worship, and why doing so is actually dangerous.  The reason that this is important might not be immediately obvious, so let me try to explain.

What is a Formula?

Simply put, a formula is a pseudo-mathematic concept that allows the user of the formula to achieve consistent results with a dynamic set of input criteria or stimulus.  Things like “2+2=4” are simplistic approaches that we all know, but things like “if I hit my head really hard against a brick wall, it’s going to hurt” are also considered formulaic- but in a more applicative sense they are really “stimulus and response”. 

The Point of Reduction to Formula

Like I said, the point of formula is to be able to know a particular outcome given a set of mitigating input or stimulus.  There is nothing wrong with trying to approach things in the fashion, because like it or not, human beings embrace the idea of formula approaches all the time, whether they realize it or not.  If we take that to place of a group event like a concert, we know things like “when the lights go down, the show starts and we clap” or “when the band finishes, stay put for the encore” – things like that are actually formula.

While there is nothing wrong with a formulaic approach, there is a serious flaw in trying to always apply formula where the input series is too rich and varied, especially when the user of the approach assumes that it’s more important to just achieve a higher number of like responses that to really consider the formula’s appropriateness in the first place.  When the higher number approach is applied in a worship setting, it’s especially inappropriate- but why is that?  What is so wrong here?

Simple: our response set should always equal 1.  And that 1 is God, not the congregation.

But, there is an undeniable and appropriate metric in looking at your congregation as a response set, albeit a lesser one to be concerned with.  In actuality, the congregation is the only immediately tangible response that anyone is going to see or hear- it’s not like God shouts thru the PA, “Hey- that was GREAT!” – or if He does do that, I’d suggest a CAT scan might be in order…..but I’m starting to digress.

The trouble here is that when a formula is applied by someone who is only considering their thought processes as the “success” measure – or to put it another way – when most of the congregation likes a song that you like and that is “success”, and you measure that “success” at the same time saying things like “well, the rest of them just didn’t get it”, whether you like it or not, the important response set of 1 is actually getting missed.  Worship is exactly like driving a car on a freeway- if you manage to miss all the other cars and only hit a part of your bumper on 1 car, you’ve driven badly and you’ve had an accident.

A Personal Example of Inappropriateness of Formula

Years ago I was part of the orchestra at The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California for a live simulcast Christmas concert.  I was the sole upright bassist in a 20-piece orchestra, and since I was alone, I was placed at the edge of the stage.  At my feet was a television monitor that was showing the simulcast of the live TV broadcast that was happening.  During the service, one of the songs that was on the list was “What A Mighty God We Serve”, which as some may know is kind of a country-ish 2-step song, and an orchestral arrangement was supremely lame.  The conductor and most of the orchestra members had made fun of this song choice during rehearsal.  So, when the tune launched, I rolled my eyes and went into the 2-step, and no, the camera did not catch me rolling my eyes.

The song is really easy, so I didn’t really have to read the music, and I started glancing around at the other orchestral members.  More than a few of them met my gaze with a slightly wry, bored grin and a hunch of the shoulders, and I felt somewhat vindicated- the tune was terrible.  I glanced down at my chart, because I had forgotten which repeat we were in, and that’s when the TV monitor at my feet grabbed my attention.

There, onscreen, was a woman who had to be in her early 80’s.  I couldn’t place where she was in the sanctuary and I didn’t know her.  But she was singing the song exuberantly and clapping her hands out of time.  Joy was all over her face.  She stopped clapping, and raised her hands and shut her eyes and actually kind of danced in place.  And, all the while this was happening, tears were streaming down her face, making a mess out of her carefully applied makeup.  She didn’t care- she was enrapt in the moment, and was singing to her God.  I was met with an immediate thought, and I remember mouthing that thought silently on my lips-

I am an insufferable shithead, and I am wholly unworthy to be on this stage.

This song meant something to this woman, and it wasn’t her that didn’t get it- it was me that didn’t get it.  Moreover, if I were to be measuring my success the right way, then this wasn’t a base-hit – this was a grand slam homerun, because we offered something to someone who clearly needed it, rather than what I mandated that they needed.  This was a watershed moment for me- I had been playing music in church for years and thought I knew what was what, but I learned in that one camera shot that I was suffering a near-fatal case of rectal-cranial inversion, and that, in reality, I knew nothing at all.

Why God is Not Formulaic

This brings me to my uber-point- if the congregation is not the important part of the sought-over response set, then we need to understand how God does not respond to our meager understandings of stimulus/response.

First off, as you know (if you’re reading this far) God is the creator of the universe.  We’ve all heard that before, but if you really believe that, and you can acknowledge that the universe is a somewhat complex thing, then the very nature of God would be at the very least as complex as the universe.  That’s obviously an over-simplistic statement, but you get the drift here.

Second, since God knows all of us personally and better than we know ourselves, and all of us have slightly different stimuli that can bring a myriad of responses, we have to acknowledge that the input set for our formulaic approach to worship has a completely uncontrollable scope, and we cannot possibly hope to understand a response set for success from a “veritable plethora” (thank you, Carl Sagan) of possible responses.

Third, even if God, as the response-prime set were to respond to our stimuli, how arrogant are we to think that God can be controlled in this fashion?

Preparation vs. Manipulation

After spending many, MANY years doing the worship thing (in many, MANY different forms) I’ve come to see the hidden danger in the formulaic approach to worship- and let’s get one thing straight here:

When I use the term “worship” here, I am not necessarily talking about the playing of music.  My use of that word here is the totality of a congregational interaction, from the music to the message, and including all the other trappings- greeting, announcements, small groups, missions- all of that is “worship” – or rather, it should be.

And this is danger- we’ve separated and compartmentalized it, and that is wrong.  We are supposed to do everything in a spirit of worship.  But, what we’ve done in our formulaic approach is to compartmentalize the idea of “worship” as a singular act of singing songs.  With that compartmentalization, we have also compartmentalized the thrust of that action.  While singing songs of worship is supposed to be an act of preparation for the congregation to enter into the presence of God, we use this formula now to manipulate the congregation to “get them ready” – and make no mistake, there is a difference.

There is a fine line between the idea of preparing a group of people for a task and manipulating them to all be in the same frame of mind for a task- let’s be honest - they can and do roughly equate to the same thing.  The issue here is not with that preparation, but rather it’s the spirit with which it is done.  Since most of the worship I’ve seen is pulling tunes that are “popular” in some circles, I would suggest that the preparatory ideas are actually secondary and the manipulation is more for my aforementioned topic of “perceived relevance”.  When it comes to how “worship” (the act of singing songs) and how it relates to the rest of the service – specifically the message – that is almost completely ignored if the music directory can’t find a “popular” song in some radio playlist or can’t find a SongSelect “chart” to play.  They’ll force feed something that has almost no real meaning with regards to the rest of the service – or worse – they don’t realize that the meager lyrical content (that will be repeated over and over like automatons) has as much to do with the message as playing “Love Stinks” at a wedding reception.

If the music isn’t relatable to anything else that is going on in the service, or if it merely chosen because it is “popular”, then simply put the preparatory nature of worship is not there, and the worship team is doing nothing more than attempting a mass congregational manipulation and trying to measure their “success” by how many of their friends say “that was AWESOME”- and by hearing that, they assume success with absolutely no thought to the people who didn’t think that.  If we follow on down this trail, you can see why measuring “success” by the slickness of the new jumbotron, the slickness of the announcement video, the pastor’s penchant for nothing more than sermons that alliterative titles and no substance- all of that is completely hollow.

And in the meantime, our response-prime set – God- is basically being ignored.

What Do We Do About It?

Rather than just gripe about it, I intend to try and fix this and I do have suggestions for this- simple, tangible solutions.  To get there, we need to go back and take a refresher course in the actual meaning of worship.  We’ll do that in the next installment, Part 4: Why Do We Worship?  Who Are We Playing For?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

WORSHIP - PART 2: What's Wrong With Worship Today?

The short answer: Nothing.  Wait.  Everything.  Wait- what?  Who’s says what’s good?  Or who says what’s bad?

Wow.  That was clear as mud, huh?  (this is probably why I’m not a professional writer…..even if I do think I write gooder than others do…..)

This is a difficult topic to make into some kind of esoteric, individualized grandstand topic.  It’s really easy for people to say, “oh, you just don’t like the music” and leave it at that.  Let me be clear on this part of the topic- it’s not that I don’t like the newer praise music.  It’s not that. 

It’s that I hate the newer praise music with a passion that burns brighter than the sun in late July when viewed from the bottom of Death Valley while standing under a giant magnifying glass. 

I hope I cleared that up.  Moving on.

Here’s why that’s so important- worship music today is a microcosm of what is wrong with the church as a whole today.  It’s pablum.  It’s grossly over-simplified.  It utterly lacks depth and impact.  It’s the same thing over and over again.  It’s hype.  It’s messy but claims to be “cleaner” and “simpler” and “more accessible” but in reality it is ill-contrived, formulaic drivel that has no real topicality.  It has been reduced to (and, yes, I’m thinking of a certain South Park cartoon episode even as I write this) nothing more than initially filthy R&B music with the nouns changed from “her”, “she” and “baby” to “Jesus”. 

Look- I said from the outset I was going to offend.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oh- and I’ve heard all the arguments, too. 

“Hillsong United sells more records worldwide than…..”

“It appeals to the masses……”

“I really feel connected…..”

Geez.  Give me a break.  Those are probably the most myopic reasons anyone can ever give.  Bands like KISS and Abba have sold more records of single albums than Hillsong United ever will.  “It appeals to the masses” can equally be applied to Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and American Idol.  And, “I really feel connected” can be applied to all kinds of things like mass riots, genocide and a host of other things.

The really scary part of this is that almost no one can really explain why this is so important, especially within the church and especially when talking about worship.  But, folks- yes, I do know the answer to this, and I expect many people reading this know the answer to and don’t/can’t admit it.  So, here goes:

We (the church) want to belong to the world at any cost.

There.  I said it.

Oh, I know that a lot of people are going to rail against this full-on.  You can if you want to, but if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll admit that when Hillsong United does sell all those records, you find some kind of gratification that the world has acknowledged something you like, and you feel better about having made the choice in the first place.  Still fighting me on this?  Just stop it and back up a second, and try really hard to not equate the fact that you are a Christian and therefore saved with the idea that somehow this means that those ideas are ok because you are a Christian that is saved by Grace.  I got news for you:

You’re still a sinner, and you’re still capable of the same amount of corruption as everybody else.  And, that doesn’t change because you call yourself a “Christian”.

So, yeah- I’m saying that if you think that worship music is more relevant today because of the above arguments, you are wrong.  Period.  Just wrong, and you need to get over it. 

(At this point, I feel the need to point out that I said I wasn’t going to pull any punches when I started writing this series.  It’s about to get a whole lot worse.)

The church, as a whole, has found it absolutely necessary to sublimate every single thing it does in order to “appeal to the masses”, and since corporate worship is the cornerstone for the western church (way more so than solid teaching or theology) it begins there.  It began with the “seeker sensitive” movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and has morphed slightly into something even more pablumized like smaller churches attempting to become larger ones like Willow Creek or Hillsong.  We’ve gotten into the mindset that unless we directly correlate absolutely everything we do with today’s pop culture, we’ll be seen as “non-relevant” or “not hip” and people will leave- but in doing that, we actually make the people who have been in the church their entire lives feel “non-relevant” and “not hip” so they leave.  And, somehow that’s ok?  Huh?

It’s now as though unless your church isn’t filled with 18 to 30 year olds you’re not “successful”.  If you don’t do things that directly appeal to millenials, you’re out of touch and non-relevant.  Yes, I totally get that the generation I’m speaking of is growing larger by the moment while my generation is steadily moving towards room temperature and the generation before that has largely already kicked that nasty oxygen habit.  The issue here isn’t one of generation, but rather the lack of finding value in the entirety of the congregation and serving it. 

Let me try this another way: worship today is about serving the ones that agree with leadership’s vision and no one else.  If you don’t agree, then leadership sees YOU as the problem, not themselves.  In fact, it’s rarely ever even examined any other way.  “Oh, you know- that guy’s old and he doesn’t like what we do here, so he can just go somewhere else…..” – who hasn’t heard that in their own church?  Better yet- who hasn’t been guilty of saying that?

Right here- this guy has said it.  Hell, I’ve done worse than that- I’ve engendered it many times.  I admit it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so.  If you are one of the people that I have somehow marginalized like this, I apologize and if you are someone that I work with and I do it again, I actively ask that you call me on it when I do it, and I don’t want you to be kind about it, either.

So why did I do it?  Because it was easy. 

And this, right here, is the crux of the problem- easy.  It’s really easy to only want to partner with a small group of select individuals that agree with you.  It’s a LOT harder to work with those that don’t, and in a church congregation there is disparity and diversity in it’s rawest forms and those people have just as much right to be there and have their needs attended to as the ones that do agree with you.  Worship – real, authentic worship – is hard, hard, messy work because it’s all about people, and people are messy and hard to deal with.

As worship participants, we have completely lost sight of this, and it translates everywhere if you know where to look.  The music is easier, the charts are “easier”, the technology is easier, the communication methods are “easier”- we’re so concerned with being “relevant” that we never actually stop to think if we are serving our entire congregations or just a select few.  We can plan a service that is so complicated that a year’s supply of Ritalin won’t begin to cover the attention deficits we create, but we never stop to wonder if that’s what our congregation needs.  We can create elaborate and hip videos, use the technology we have access to to make our meager bands on Sunday morning sound like the London Philharmonic by using loops, and we can obsess about “dead air” during a service, but we can’t be bothered to consider the ones who don’t agree with what WE are “trying to do” because the mission has become the mission, and Jesus is very often marginalized in the process. 

As the church, we are supposed to be set apart from the world, not trying to garner its favor by turning everything we do into something that looks like a major concert event.  But, instead we have somehow decided that it’s more “relevant” to be “relevant” by the means and measures of the world, and the whole time our congregations actually do suffer for it.

And, before you say something like, “that’s not my church” – ask yourself this: are you saying that because you are part of the agreeing crowd?  If that’s the reason, then you are actually part of the problem.  That is, unless you want to do something about it by rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty.

Hey- this whole topic is difficult.  I get it.  And I know that I sound angry in this installment, and that’s because I am.  Yes, it’s partially because I am now in the generation that is being ignored in a lot of cases.  It’s really more because I realize that the excuses being given by the people who do this are bullshit at the very core.

If you find yourself being angry at what I’ve written here, all I can say is that being angry is part of taking the easy road.  If we can’t talk about this honestly, then I am forced to wonder what the hell we all do this for in the first place.  People are messy animals and have warts and horns and things we don’t want to see – especially ourselves – but if you are a worship participant in any form, you signed on to work with these messy animals, and to think that there’s an easy way to do that makes you delusional.

If you are someone who organizes worship services, or even just participates in them, there is nothing wrong with some introspection here and you know that.  No doubt, I’ve ruffled some feathers here, and as I said when I began this series, I will not apologize for that.  A good feather ruffling is necessary sometimes, and just because the writer of this blog has been a “behind the scenes” player in a lot of this doesn’t make my viewpoint any less valid.  I understand your job is difficult, but so is mine in supporting you and I dare say that the job of supporting you is even harder for a congregant who feels like they are on the outside looking in.  All I would ask is that you consider those people – even before you consider me – because those that are on the outside don’t really like being there.

WORSHIP - What To Expect

Just in case you might be thinking that this entire series is going to be nothing but sour grapes, I actually do have a plan here.  Here’s the parts to the series, and I’m going to try to get these done one per week, as time allows:

Why Am I So Passionate About This?

What's Wrong With Worship Today?

Dispelling The Myth Of Formula

Why Do We Worship?  Who Are We Playing For?

Is Bigger Really Better?

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

The Performance vs. Worship Conundrum

Words Or Music- Which Is More Important?

What Does Success Look Like?

WORSHIP–Overview and Part I: Why Are You So Passionate About This?

Over the years, I have run my mouth time and time again about the topic of worship in church.  Numerous times during my rants and raves, I’ve been asked to write down what I’m talking about, and a recent post on Facebook by some friends really spurred me on to finally doing it.  But, before I do, I wanted to give a brief overview of what I intend to cover in my little “series” – mainly to provide context, but also to warn folks.

The first warning is this- if you aren’t the least bit interested in worship music or playing in church, then this will be extremely boring, so just don’t bother.

The second warning, tho- I am probably going to offend some people deeply with what I’m going to say.  In fact, I absolutely guarantee it.  More than that- I’m not going to be apologetic about it.  What I’m attempting to do here is to spur some thought on this matter that is very, very close to me and I intend to pull no punches here.  It’s not that I seek to cause pain or even be controversial, but as someone who has spent 40+ years playing all kinds of music – worship and otherwise - and has done so largely behind the scenes, I think I have a rather unique viewpoint that has been pretty much disregarded of late, and might prove to be expository.  Exposition is sometimes painful- I don’t wish to cause this pain, but I’ll tell you right now that it’s gonna happen, so just be ready.  I’m also pretty sure that this will cost me some playing time and I dare say a few “friends”, but I really don’t want to remain silent on this any longer.

Everything is discussable, however, and I welcome any and all discussion on these matters.

Before I begin, I want to give some context: I am not a Biblical scholar nor am I a pedigreed theologian.  What I intend to talk about here is more “behind the scenes” stuff that a lot of folks don’t want to necessarily talk about- but I have no intention of doing this as a dissertated series.  This are things that have come from my POV and I have seen the first-hand fallout (both good and bad) of these things over many, many years.  What I am, however, is an educated and skilled musician and audio engineer who has more than earned his stripes in order to voice these opinions.  So, let’s get to Part I:

Part I: Why Are You So Passionate About This?

A few years ago, when I decided to get out of playing regular worship services, I wrote a series of articles about my journey.  The thrust was to point out that not only had I “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” , but that I had actually helped build the actual t-shirt factory.  This was really more a passive/aggressive way of me giving myself the “out” I needed in order to move on.

What I didn’t say in that series is this: participating in worship services at a musical level actually saved my life.

Now that’s a pretty serious statement to make, but the fact of the matter was that I was a drug addict who considered himself to be a Christian (and I still maintain that I was, too) but had some self-destructive habits in his life.  Yeah- we all have those, but this was a little different: it could have literally killed me.  It never did, though - I never overdosed; I never lost a job; I wasn’t homeless; I had lots of friends- in fact, I actually had a good time being that addict, truth be told.  But, the inescapable fact is that this behavior would have eventually led to my death.  And I knew that- and more than that- I wanted that.

Let that sink in for a moment- I was an addict, and a musician, and a Christian, and I wanted to die.

Lest you think this is a trite story, no, I didn’t not start playing worship music to save me or my soul- I was actively playing it WHILE I was an addict.  I can’t tell you how many times I would show up at church to play stoned or drunk out of my mind and was barely functional.  I did it a lot.  I mean a lot.

We could go in to why I was a drug addict, but that would be a very deep tangent.  Rather than avoid the topic altogether, I will say that my mother was a prescription drug addict.  After she divorced my father when I was 7 years old, she married an incredibly angry man who physically abused (beat) me for many years.  My mother also beat me many, many times.  I ended up abusing drugs for all the reasons you’re thinking and more- but we’re not here to discuss that, and that’s all the farther I intend to go on that topic.

When I first got cleaned up, I had to stop playing in church for a bit because no one trusted me, and they shouldn’t have.  I don’t begrudge them for that (and I didn’t then, either) but what I found was that I was aching to actually play music that had a depth to it that transcended just making semi-linear noise with other people.  Music has always been something spiritual to me, regardless of it’s impetus.  When I got clean and re-dedicated my life to God, I needed to play for Him rather than myself.  I would try very, very hard to consecrate anything I played for God- and in a largely secular arena that was sometimes difficult to do.

Before I thought I was really ready to return to playing in church, I was asked by people in my church to do so.  I told them no.  Not yet.  I had a feeling I would be “let know” when the time was right.  And, that happened, too- and I’m not gonna lie and tell you that it was some magical, epiphanal moment when it happened.  It literally happened one day when I was talking to a friend who happened to be a choir director at another church who had asked me to do some choral transcription work- and I just asked her, “So- do you need a bass player?” – and that was it.  I went back.

However, what I found when I did go back was epiphanal.  Here I was, surrounded by people who’s same purpose was mine.  Everyone wanted the same thing.  It wasn’t richter jazz-fusion, either- it was for a performance of a JS Bach piece – and for some reason I just “got it”.  Not the music, and not the performance of it- it was kind of on another plane, much, much deeper than that.  I knew that Bach had written absolutely everything for God (he famously signed the bottom of his scores “für die Herrlichkeit Gottes im Höchsten”, or “for the Glory of God in the Highest”) but I didn’t really get what that meant until I cleaned my act up and re-dedicated myself.  I’m not even sure I can explain that now, some 30 years later.

In doing this – waiting to get myself right – I realized that I would never go back to being that addict again.  Yes- I did stumble a few times, but always momentarily and always with immediate accountability – but not because I was scared of the potential outcome, but because I never, ever wanted anything to come between me and that feeling of “got it”.

So, sure.  One could make the case that I have limited objectivity due to a life changing event on a certain topic, and they would be right.  But ask yourself this question: does that make me less qualified to want to make this type of experience any less?  Does my prior experience here invalidate the subsequent experiences?  The answer here is a clear and resounding “no”, and the reason I can say that without any reservation whatsoever is because time and time again, I have first hand witnessed what that spirit of “got it” has done for me and done for others even and especially when I wasn’t looking for it.

And now, some 33 years after that, I am literally watching one of the most unique and life-altering art forms die and become non-relevant.  Yes, I said “die”, because that’s exactly what it’s doing.  The worst part of it is that it’s dying because we as musicians are killing it.  No, I don’t think that this is God’s doing (forget the idea of ‘seasons’ here) and I don’t think it’s the work of Satan, either.  It’s US that’s doing it- because we’ve somehow decided that there are rights and wrongs, do’s and don’t do’s, trappings we have to have and formula to play it all out and measure “success” as though it’s a number.  We, as a church, have completely lost touch with the idea that we have an individual community to serve within our congregations, and we do that by trying to be like other churches in order to garner that success.  We ignore the needs of that community wholesale in the form of doing things like making Sunday mornings into something that looks like a sporting event, and when anything or anyone challenges that idea we’ve started saying things like “they’re prideful” or “they’re just trying to draw attention to themselves” without any consideration at all.  As musicians and worship leaders, we try for “easy wins” for our participants in the form of non-challenging music and non-challenging messages in the hopes that a constant state of kum-by-ah will enamor people enough to decide to pick up an instrument or twiddle with knobs on a weekend without practicing or knowing what they are doing.  We’ve created a faux hierarchy of certain people in certain positions that are more important than others, but we dare not speak of that until things get challenged, and then our teeth get bared and people leave.

It’s easy to say that since the church is run by sinners (since all of us are) that we can and will have problems.  That’s a true statement, and it’s always going to be the case, but what I’ve seen recently is the delivery of that statement and a hunched set of shoulders to go with it as though we just have to accept it.  And if we don’t, we’re a “malcontent” or worse- our faith is questioned.

And worship music – whatever its form – is at the center of all of this.  The fact is that more people leave churches over the topic of the music played than they do for bad teaching or theology.  As musicians, it is incumbent upon us to provide what needs to be provided- but we are always told that our job isn’t that important; until it is. 

I just can’t stand by and watch this happen.  I just can’t do it.  Yes, my life would be infinitely easier if I just rolled with these punches, but for me it’s all about the authenticity and “realness” more than it is about just placating.

So, here we go, folks.  Buckle up- or not- you don’t have to read this.  I might be the most arrogant guy on this particular rock in space for thinking for a moment that anyone would be interested in what I have to say here.  It’s gonna be 100% me trying to help, but also 100% cathartic, too. 

All I hope for is that someone, somewhere will at least take the time to think about this, because if they do then it was all worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

a supposed conversation (a work of fiction)

It’s 8:41AM on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.  I’ve just finished my 8AM scrum call with the members of my dev team, where much of the conversation revolved around the election and almost no talk of work – and my cell phone rings.  It’s Dad, and it’s his every-4-year post-election morning call.  I settle back in my chair and take a nice long drink of my now lukewarm coffee.  This is gonna be good.

“Hey!  Somehow, I knew you’d call.” I answer.

“You didn’t really think I would miss this chat, did you?”, Dad says.  I can hear him smiling.

“So… long did you watch last night?  Was there much yelling at the TV?”, I ask knowing at least part of the answer.

“Not a lot of yelling.  Some hand wringing for sure.  I think I fell asleep right around the time Wisconsin went to Trump.  I still can’t believe that happened.” he says, flatly.

“Can’t believe what?  Wisconsin or Trump?” I ask.

“Well……both.”, he replies.

“You voted for Hillary, right?” I ask.

“Of course I did.  Did you vote for ‘The Donald’?” he asks.  He never refers to him as anything else, and he always votes straight Democrat ticket.

“Absolutely not.  That guy is a fool.  I actually voted for Johnson.”

“Well, I’m just glad you voted.  Weren’t you afraid of wasting your vote?” he asks, wryly.

“I gave that some thought.  I don’t look at it that way.  I’m just tired of the establishment, and I just cannot stand the thought of another Clinton.  I would have happily voted for Bernie.  If there was a Bush in the running, I couldn’t have voted for them, either.” I answer.

“That’s my boy.  Any vote isn’t a wasted vote.  I’m proud of ya.” he says.  Not the answer I expected.

“I’m really curious as to what you think happened here?” I ask.  I’m genuinely confused.

“That’s the real question now, isn’t it?  I think what we just saw was a replay of the 1948 Truman and Dewey election.  The press was so sure that Dewey was gonna win, they all but called it for him before the vote was cast.  You’ve seen that famous picture of the Chicago Daily Tribune, right?  I remember that really well.  My dad brought one of those papers home.” he says.  I’ve heard that story so many times.

“I have seen that picture many, many times.” I reply.  “I have never understood how the Tribune could have made that prediction.  Didn’t it take a long time to get election results back then?” I ask.

“It did, but that apparently didn’t matter to them.  Remember that Chicago wasn’t exactly the bastion of political reality back then.” he replies, laughing.

“I’m curious as to what Grandma and Grandpa’s reaction was to that headline.  Were they happy about who actually won?” I ask.

“They weren’t exactly happy and they weren’t exactly sad.  The whole country was still very much for anything having to do with FDR, and Dewey’s campaign seemed to not be very in touch with that.  I think my folks were more worried about Dewey being out of touch than they were about Harry.” he replied.  That makes sense, knowing my grandparents.  They were die-hard Democrats.

“So, where did the Dems go wrong?” I ask.

“It’s probably a bunch of things.  My guess would be that they tried to force a candidate that no one was really terribly interested in.  She was perfectly capable of doing the job, and would have done a great job, but after that news came out that the DNC kind of railroaded Bernie, it seems like they lost steam.” he says.

“Would you have voted for Bernie?” I ask.

“If he were the candidate, I would have.  I voted for Hillary in the primaries.  I don’t think Bernie could have won, though.  He was too old.” he says.

“Yeah, but wasn’t Reagan older?” I ask.

“I honestly don’t remember who was older, but the Democrats have had a habit of always wanting someone younger since JFK.” he says.  “Besides, you’re asking about a Republican.  I can’t answer that because I don’t think that way.  Those people are crazy.” he says.

“Nice.” I say.

“But, seriously, I don’t think that Bernie was electable, but not just because of age.  I think his ideas are not really in keeping with the rest of the people he’d need to be working with.” he continued.

“I agree with that, unfortunately.” I answer.  “I gave that some thought.  If the Dems didn’t field Hillary, who would you rather they have fielded?”

“The fielded the right candidate.” he answered.

“So what went wrong?  Why did this happen then?  No one saw this coming.” I ask.

“I really think what we saw last night was more of a rejection election than anything else.  Hillary has made a couple of major mistakes like the email thing and her handling of Benghazi.  I don’t think she did anything illegal on either of those, but the way she handled it wasn’t very good.  She always seemed to appear above it all to me.  I think the American people saw that, too.  And then there’s the problem with the Mid-West.  She didn’t do well in most of it.” he says.

“Yeah.  I know.  It always seems like the Dems ignore fly-over country, but Barry did that, too, and still won over Romney last time.” I say.

“I really wish you wouldn’t call him ‘Barry’.  It sounds disrespectful.” he says, admonishing me.

“I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.” I reply.

“Mr. Obama has done some great things for this country, you know.” he says.  He’s angry.

“Name one thing.” I say.

“Obamacare is a great thing.  He’s gotten your children insurance.  He’s gotten the economy back on track after George ruined it for everybody.  He’s united his party during a very difficult time, and he’s made a lot headway in getting moderates a voice in the government.” he says, flatly.

“I don’t see it that way.  Obamacare is nothing more than a tax being paid by people who can’t afford it in the first place.  And the economy didn’t tank because of W.  It tanked because there were a lot of greedy bankers in this country that made bad loans, and everything tipped over.” I retort.  I hate it when he brings this up.

“Yeah, but it happend on George’s watch and he didn’t do enough to stop it when it did.” he replies.

“He was working with an all Democrat House and Senate.  And, as you like to point out, that’s where the money is.” I spat out.

“Whatever you say.  All I know is that we’re in a better place for Mr. Obama than we were before he was elected.”

“Are we?  The Dems just cratered, Dad.  Did you forget?” I reply.

“No, I didn’t forget.  Do you want to hear what I think happened last night, or do you want to try and teach me history?” he asks.

“I do want to hear what you think.” I say, backing off.

“So, you know the farmers.  They always think no one cares, and they are always just about to go out of business, right?” he asks.

“Yep.  I know that well.”  I reply.  I’ve heard this first-hand since a lot of my family are farmers.

“They are always looking to blame someone for that, and the US Government has always been a favorite target.” he replies.

“But what is different this time?  They blamed ‘Mr. Obama’, too.” I say.  I have my fingers up in the air doing air quotes.

“I think what they did was to more actively vote against Hillary instead of voting for The Donald.”

“That seems like an over-simplification to me, Dad.” I reply.

“I think it’s really that simple.  You have a better idea?” he asks.

“I really don’t.” I say.

My coffee is now ice cold.  Great.

“Ok, I have another question.  What do you think is going to happen with a president named ‘Trump’”?  I’m baiting him.

“Absolutely nothing.” he says.  That surprises me.

“Why do you say that?” I ask, confused.

“Because The Donald has made way too many enemies.  No one is going to help him do anything.” he says.

“Yeah, but the Congress is all Republican.” I say.

“He’s made way too many enemies there, too.  Remember him holding up Mr. Graham’s phone number during the campaign?” he says.

“I don’t.” I say.  I didn’t pay much attention to Trump during the campaign.

“Well, he did.  That was pretty low, and he made the whole campaign very personal.” he says.

“Oh, and Hillary didn’t?” I ask.  Wait- am I defending The Donald?

“No, she did, too.  In fact, that’s probably the single biggest thing she did wrong.  She should have ignored him and let him dig his own hole.” he says.

“So you’re saying that he won’t get anything done, then.” I say.

“Not much, I think.  He’s gonna have a heckuva time getting anyone to do anything he says.”

“What about executive orders?  Can’t he do that?” I ask.

“Those are very much double-edged swords.  The rest of the government really doesn’t like it when the President does that, regardless of their party.  They want to have a say in things, and if they don’t get it, they pout.” he says.

“Yeah, but he can still do it.”

“And, when he does, it makes it that much harder for him to push through real legislation.  Every time he does that, he makes himself a target by the powers that can impeach him, too- and you just know that they’re just looking for a reason to do that.  Constantly embarrassing people like that is not a good thing.” he says.  That makes sense to me.

“What about things like gay rights, illegal aliens, the Wall and mass deportations?” I ask.

“Those are things that could happen, actually.  He could sign an executive order to do some of those things, but the problem is that he won’t be able to sustain it.” he says.

“How’s that?  If he writes the order, they have to do it, right?” I ask.

“They do and they don’t.  He can start things moving in a direction, but someone has to pay for it.  That’s where the Congress comes in.” he says.

“Yep.  And they’re all Republicans.  That’ll be easy.” I reply.

“Not so fast, junior.  There’s an election coming in 2 years for House seats, and a lot of folks are really, really nervous about keeping their jobs right now.  If they think that supporting The Donald is going to cost them votes and their job, they’re going to think about making that decision at least twice.  And, once he doesn’t get his way on an executive order, that makes it easier and easier for people to refuse him when he issues more of those orders.” he says.

Holy hell.  He’s right.

“So, what you’re saying is that he’s going in as a 4-year lame duck?”

“Not exactly that, but pretty much.” he says.

“So what worries you about him?” I ask.

“His mouth.  He has no filter and he doesn’t act like a President should.” he says.

“And, that’s all?” I ask.

“Ha!  Hardly.  The man is a walking hormone.  He can’t keep anything to himself!” he says.

“Isn’t that the same thing as ‘his mouth’ being the problem?”

“Maybe.  Yes.  No.  Er…..I guess.  All I know is that I’m pretty sure he’s going to say something terrible to someone important, and that’s not going to go well for anybody.” he says.

“At last!  Something you and I agree on!” I exclaim.

“I dunno.  Mr. Johnson said some things that made me cringe on an almost daily basis.” he says.

“And he was a Democrat.” I answer.

“Barely!” he says.

“So, do you think we’re going to get 4 or 8 years of Trump?” I ask.

“No one knows the answer to that, but I’ll be surprised if he makes it 4 years.  I’m way more interested in Mr. Pence than The Donald.  I think we’re gonna need to know a lot more about him.” he says.  He can call the VP by name, but not Trump.  Funny.

“You think it’s likely that he’ll get impeached?” I ask.

“Pence?  No.  I meant The Donald.” he says.

“I know what you meant.  You think Trump will be impeached?” I ask.

“I think we might see it happen, actually.  It’s really, really hard to do, but The Donald does seem to be someone who will motivate people.” he says.

“That’s funny.” I reply.

“Not really if you think about it.  When Johnson was impeached back in the 1800’s, it was very messy and ended up being something of a joke because it was toothless.”

“And Johnson was never removed from office, either.” I reply.

“Nope.  In the end, they just couldn’t get it together, and we ended up with Grant because he was a war hero and not much other than that.  And, he was an absolute abysmal choice.  He spent most of his time in office drunk, and got nothing done.” he says.

“Kind of like Trump?” I ask.

“Worse.  Grant did things like perpetuate the Indian Wars and had a lot of people killed as a result.  I don’t see The Donald doing that.” he says.

“I don’t either.  At least I hope not.” I say.

“Nah.  Even The Donald is not that stupid.  At least I don’t think so.  There’s too many other things that would get in the way of that like the ACLU.” he says.

“Ah, yes.  The Anti-Christian Luciferian Union.” I say.

“Yeah.  Right.  At least I know where you stand on that.” he says.

“I’ve made no secret of that.” I reply.  “So where does this leave us, then?” I ask.

“We’ll just have to see.  All I know is that we’ll survive this.  It’s gonna be interesting, that’s for sure.” he says.

“Yeah.  We agree on that.” I say.  Its now after 9.

“Dad, I gotta scoot.  Thanks for the talk.” I say.

“Anytime.  Bye-bye.”

“Bye, Dad.  I love ya, even if you are a Commie.”

“I love you, too.  In spite of you actually being a Republican and you just don’t want to admit it.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

well, we’ll see

So, tomorrow it all ends.  Personally, I can’t wait.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure it won’t end.  DT hasn’t got a chance in hell of being elected, despite the media saying the race is “close”.  When he loses, I’m 100% sure he’ll contest it.

Remember- the goal of DT is to accumulate attention and money no matter how he does it.  I’ve been convinced since 2013 that he’s really in this for the book deal, and there’s a ton of Kardashian-watching sheep that will buy this book and make him richer.  That’s the goal right there, kids.

Now, when he contests the election, the media is going to ignite a veritable firestorm and say things like, “this has never happened before” and that we are on some kind of legal precipice.  The short and non-dramatic answer here is that elections have been contested before, and the losing party does not have to acquiesce to make the election legitimate.  The phone call from the losing candidate to the winning candidate is nothing more than political theater and holds absolutely no legal context for the finalization of an election.  It’s just gonna be a “sore loser” thing, because once the Electoral College and a judge certifies the election results, that’s it.  It’s over, and that’s all there is to it.

So, when this happens, don’t panic in the least.  I’d go further and suggest a quick change of the TV channel to something more topical and accurate, like Golden Girls or M*A*S*H.

The other side of this is even more interesting.  If, by some chance DT does win, it is absolutely, positively not the end of the world or the US.  If you paid attention in US Government class in school (ahem) you know by now that the POTUS is the weakest 1/3 of the US governmental body, and all the crapola that DT (and HRC) and every single other POTUS candidate has ever thrown out there as “policy” takes votes everywhere to happen.  DT has absolutely no friends in Washington, and while I typically hate the whole “political machine”, it will prove extremely useful in quelling DT’s hysterical policies.  No one will side with him, no one will vote for anything he proposes, and if he does win he will be the single most flaccid POTUS we’ve had since Warren Harding.  And, for those of you who are sheep and believe the whole “but he has his finger on the bomb” BS that you’re being fed, think again- the US Armed Forces has safeguards in place that are not being mentioned by the media (or HRC) that keep him from just launching a nuclear attack on anyone.  He won’t build a wall, he won’t deport anyone – he can’t because for him to do it means that he has to control the money – and he doesn’t – and he has to have votes – and he won’t have them, either.

The other thing to remember is that there is legal recourse in this country to recall a POTUS- impeachment. 

No listen carefully here- to date, there has been no completely successful impeachment against a sitting US President.  There have been a total of 3 attempts: Andrew Johnson (right after Abraham Lincoln), Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  None of them were actually impeached and removed from office- and Nixon’s proceedings never even started because he stepped down before it could start.  Impeaching a POTUS is an incredibly difficult thing to do from the standpoint of having to have all the resources lined up PERFECTLY to do it.  In the case of Johnson and Clinton, there just wasn’t enough people in agreement to get it done, and the initial cause on both proceedings was too ambiguous for people to really get behind.  DT has both a foot that likes to live in his mouth and absolutely no friends on The Hill, and when (not if) he steps in it, I think we’ll actually see it happen and he will be removed from office.  That’s ok with DT, because he gets another book deal out of it.

What I’m getting at here kids is this: the difference between tomorrow and the next day is absolutely nothing, regardless of who wins.  The media will have you believe differently, and since most people only seem to care about the actual state of governmental affairs when there’s an election on, the media will be able to cultivate that panic.  Don’t be fooled.  Read your history, the Constitution and realize that the guys that wrote that document and formed the idea of “checks and balances” were getting us ready for a day just like tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

raise your hands

A couple of hundred years ago, and after much griping and complaining about the sound mix at church, the music leadership at my church decided some training was in order, and they asked me to do it.

This was actually quite a coup, because the sound personnel we had were constantly at odds with our musicians.  To better understand this, the musicians were all nationally known players and had both national and international credits for both studio and live dates.  Our sound folks were literally “weekend warriors” who had absolutely no experience outside of a Sunday morning service.  The musicians had started out asking for things politely, but they were honestly never attended to, and over time this relationship eroded away until it became an “us vs. them” scenario at every turn.  It was not healthy at all, and I will reluctantly admit that I played a part in furthering this division many, many times- I was not making things better. 

After a time, the leadership approached me and asked if I would be willing to offer an olive branch by showing the sound team a few “tricks” – what I really wanted to show them were basics like proper gain staging, the use of compression and eq, etc.  When the music leadership finally came up with a time and event to have me try, they put out the word that all sound team members should attend.  If it went well, we’d do this again, too.  The response was pretty lukewarm, and this made it doubly hard as this was a “church-in-a-box”, which meant that every single service required a complete sound load-in, and if there wasn’t help to do it, it would be tough.

The evening of the concert finally came, and I arrived to do the load-in.  Not one single sound team member showed up to help.  This meant that I had to rally the troops that were there to do the load-in, and we accomplished it.  I got set up, got the mikes and monitors going and we did a soundcheck- all was well with the band that had come in to back the concert.  (Different band by design.)

Just after the concert started, 4 or 5 of the sound team members appeared and quietly took up chairs on the opposite side of the soundboard where I was, making observation from them completely impossible.  This was by their design- when they hadn’t showed up for load-in, the music leaders had called them all at home and pleaded with them to come down, which they did, albeit grudgingly.  When they did arrive, they all decided to protest by sitting on the opposite side of the room.

When the musical leadership saw this, they were very, very upset, and joined me at the soundboard where I decided to show them what I was doing and why.  We went through things like what unity gain was, using the low-end rolloff filters and eq notching to make vocals more present, eq’ing the kick and bass and employing a quick side-chain for them both to provide space- and the leaders were pretty amazed that things sounded as good as they did, especially since I was using the exact same gear that was used on every Sunday morning. (The crew was always complaining about the equipment) We had a great time back there, laughing and talking, and everyone (including me) learned a lot that evening- for me, I came to have a much better understanding of what the leaders were looking for in a service (it wasn’t what I thought it was, either) and got to hear from them about some of the misgivings over organizing others.  It was a great night, actually.  But, I had to show them what “the next level” looked like.  I motioned to the music director:

“Check this out- I don’t know if you realize this or not, but a well organized and knowledgeable engineer can really make more of a difference during a service than you might think.”

“Really?” he answered.  “In what way?  I assume you don’t just mean volume.” he added.

In typical fashion, I had set up two Yamaha SPX90’s with hall reverb settings (that should tell you how long ago this was) and had them assigned into auxiliary returns and back to sub-mixes; one for the vocals and one for some of the instruments like snare drum, guitar and keys – pretty standard stuff.  This allowed me to decide how much reverb I wanted at any given time.

“I’ll show you.  Watch this.”

I quickly grabbed the aux send for the instrument reverb and added everything into it except bass.  Then, I raised the reverb levels into the 2 sub-mixes that they were feeding.  The room suddenly got a lot bigger sounding, and really smoothed out with the vocals swimming in a shimmering pool of reverb.

Instantly, every hand in the auditorium went up.  And, I mean every single one of them, including the recalcitrant sound team.  And one of the music leaders, too.

The guy I was talking to was amazed.

“That’s not the cool part.  Wanna see me make them put their hands back down?” I asked.  He nodded.

I took the reverb away. 

And, almost every hand went back down immediately.

Now, while that may sound funny (and it was) it shows that artistry exists in every facet of a performance, if you know where to look.  There’s no shortcuts to experience, either.  One has to embrace a couple of things to be an artist – whatever the medium – and paramount to that is to realize that there’s always someone who is better at your job than you are.   At the same time, all the training in the world for a given task doesn’t give anyone the right to say they know it all.  I had a lot to learn that night, and was changed by being willing to receive and acknowledge that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

words from different people mean different things

A very good friend of mine sent me this cartoon as a thought provoking item and asked me what I thought of it.  While it is thought provoking, my response to this is a little too complex for a quick Facebook answer, so I thought I'd write it here instead.

At first blush, this is something of a "societal statement", but it underpins a dangerous thing I see in how people perceive news and the occasional "microwave moment".  You see, there's a penchant today for trying to find the optimal trump card for an argument (pun somewhat intended) that really serves no purpose other than to shut down any kind of dialog.  This cartoon is totally in keeping with that sentiment.  I'm not trying to cast my friend in the light of being someone shallow enough to just stop a dialog from continuing, but there are a lot of people who do that sort of thing, and it really bothers me- because these types of memes are extremely superficial and do absolutely nothing in helping people change their thought processes.  No matter what anyone may say about this, all additional dialog is met with nothing more than the content of this meme, and a wry statement like, "made ya think, didn't it?".  Yeah, it did, but there's a whole lot more to this dialog that this meme doesn't cover and no one is going to be better about processing what could be construed as "cognitive dissonance" with this in their face.

There is a tremendous difference between the two statements and an even bigger difference between the reaction to them.  Before you start arguing the meme's superficial argument, permit me to tell you why that is a fact.

First off, Mr. Trump is on his way to attempting to be President of the United States.  (Let's call that POTUS for brevity) and Colin Kaepernick is not.  What that means is that he really should have a plan for changing what he calls "not great", and even though I agree with about 10-12% of what Mr. Trump says, he does have a "plan".  Is it a great plan?  No.  Is it an attainable plan?  No.  Will he make it happen- most likely not- and that's not because he's an idiot (he is that) but, rather it's because he lacks both the political clout and the mental ability to make it happen.  What Kaepernick is saying is without a plan to go forward- that is, he wants everyone else to do the work.  He isn't in any position - nor will he ever be - to make a bit of difference other than to try to illuminate a "problem" that he sees as there.  In the end, Kaepernick's protest is doomed, (so is Trump's for that matter) but the thrust of their statements actually has a completely different weight.

The reaction, though- that's what's really different.  What the issuer of the above meme is actually saying is that there is something wrong with society because they react differently to the speaker.  This is really the crux of the matter for me, because what society thinks is that unless we all agree on everything, there's something wrong with us.  What society would call the correct response is that everyone agrees with everyone else on all topics- but it's more than that- they want agreement on the issues to come from the same thought process.  What's super-dangerous about that is this:

Who dictates what thought process is right?  This is where our freedoms really come into play.

Let's call it like it is.  Mr. Trump wants to work and continually does work (despite what you may think) and has spent his career amassing his wealth by years and years of business acumen.  (You can say whatever you like about it, but the man is a smart business man.  Do I agree with everything he does?  Hardly.) Mr. Kaepernick has his $11.9 million dollar salary guaranteed because he plays with a ball.

Do Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Trump have the right to say what they say?  You bet your bippy they do.  They both have an equal right to their opinions under the law.  But, as a society do we have the right to say "yeah" to one and "boo" the other?  Again- your bippy is in danger here because we absolutely do, and there is nothing wrong with a difference in the reaction.

Why is their nothing wrong with that difference?

Because one of them has more value than the other.  Yes, it's that simple.

Or, think of it another way- Mr. Trump's opinion could have MUCH longer living ramifications if left to it's own devices.  Mr. Kaepernick's opinions effects will only last as long as he is in the limelight, and only if he actually does something about it, and I guarantee that won't happen.  Even if Mr. Trump does not win the election (Dear God, hear our prayer.....) his opponent is going to have to address the statements he has made in the form of stated policy and a path forward.  (That has already happened.)  If Trump's opponents were to base their policy reform on what Mr. Kaepernick says, most of the conscious US populace would roll their eyes and call them on the carpet for it, and the rest would go back to watching "Keeping Up With The Kardashians".

But, make no mistake- both of the people above are complete and total idiots.  They aren't worthy of being paid attention to, but Mr. Trump has a slight advantage in validity because he is running for POTUS.  Both of them have a right to say what they say, however misguided they might be, and both of them can get different reactions and that is not wrong, and there is much more to the dialog than a stupid meme can possibly offer.

So- what does one do when they run across a cartoon like the above?  I say, post it and ask the thought provoking questions, but be ready to be corrected and don't use something like this as an argument-ender.  The really cool thing about these kinds of memes is that they do start conversations.  The bad part is when they are used to just stop that dialog before it starts.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

ability != talent

For the uninitiated, the symbols “ != “ in the title, when used together, are a programming operator that means “Not Equal To”.  The title tells you kind of where I intend to go, but I should forewarn you, gentle reader- this entry is probably one of my most opinionated offerings, and you should take it worth a grain of salt.

Years ago, the late, great jazz bassist Charlie Haden made some statements regarding artistic integrity.  (I tried to find the quote on the internet, but failed to do so.)  Basically, Mr. Haden did not cotton to artists taking money for art, because it cheapened the whole experience and corrupted the noble expression made by an artist.

While I find that the ultimate end of that statement to be a little naive – we all need to make money to live – there is some truth in it.  In fact, there’s a lot of truth in it.

In days gone by, for an artist to be successful meant a lot of work on their part.  Practice, practice and more practice and then the application of that practice were commonplace.  No artist would ever have thought to watch a 5 minute video on something and claim to be an expert- not just from the standpoint of there were no 5 minute videos to watch, but because just doing something by wrote and imitating others is not a personal statement.  Audiences of the day were keen to pick up the lack of depth that comes from efforts like this, because they didn’t have a constant barrage of “new and improved” whatever to try and take in.  People like John Coltrane and Miles Davis would push the edges of what they did by trial and error.  This didn’t just happen in jazz circles, either- the whole Rock And Roll world did it, too, and McCartney, Lennon, Jagger, Plant, Page, Beck and more would reinvent themselves by listening to others and then applying it to what they did, rather than to become the others.  Record companies rewarded this kind of forward thinking by putting money behind the projects and inventing marketing campaigns to move these folks into the spotlight.

No, it wasn’t perfect.  Lots of artists ended up losing their shirts in the deal through corruption and bad contracts – some died penniless, too.  I had an occasion many years ago in Nashville to engineer on a session with the great Dee Murray, the bassist for Elton John.  Murray had played on all John’s early hits like “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – and at that time, he was living under a freeway bridge along I-65 near Berry Hill.  He didn’t even own a bass anymore, and I had to lend him mine for the session.  He was brilliant during that session, but he was also very sick and had absolutely no money or a way to get the care he needed.  I bought him lunch and dinner that day (the first “meals” he had had in almost a week, he said) and gave him a couch in the apartment I was renting at the time to sleep on for 2 nights.  Dee suffered a massive stroke about 3 months after that session and died without so much as two dimes to rub together.  While it would be easy to blame John for Murray’s plight, it wasn’t all his fault- the label insisted that John make changes in his band several times over his career, and John wasn’t in a position to refuse.

But, I digress from the point I’m trying to make.

Today, the “machines” that propel an artist forward are in place way before the artist is found.  If you remember the Brady Bunch episode where Greg becomes “Johnny Bravo”, you remember that the only reason he made it was because he “fit the suit” and the producers really didn’t care if Greg could sing or not.  In the movie “Rock Star”, Mark Wahlberg becomes “Izzy” of the band Steel Dragon largely because of the same reason.  Yes, those are fictional accounts, but nowadays it is common practice and quite real.

Technology has had a hand in this paradigm shift, too.  Anyone with a computer and Garage Band is now a “producer”, and fairly decent sounding tunes can be made with absolutely no one playing any instruments at all.  Singers who can’t sing are autotuned to get them into pitch – something that wasn’t possible 20 years ago.   It’s very common for players who do actually play on tracks to have played together with other players they’ve never actually met.  (That has happened to me so many times, I’ve stopped counting the occasions.)

So what the heck does all this have to do with ability not equaling talent?

I wanted to try and give context before going into what I’m getting at.

Let’s take the strange case of Justin Bieber.  Bieber was “discovered” by Ray Braun, a “producer” who was looking through videos on YouTube for new talent, and stumbled across him accidentally.  He was impressed enough to sign Bieber to a record contract based on those videos.


Ray Braun signs someone because he accidentally stumbles across a video of some kid?  Oh, sure- I’ll bet there was at least one meeting between the two of them to find out if the kid could do what was on the videos- maybe.  Let’s say that did happen.  What are Braun’s qualifications for knowing what constitutes talent?  Who else has he worked with?  What else has he done?

(In the not-to-distant past, to get signed to a record label took a lot of work- showcases, gigs, try-outs, refusals, schmoozing- and many, many talented bands never got them at all.)

Turns out that Braun founded his “record label” to promote his son.   Did his son have any talent?  Probably not- can you name his son?  I bet you can’t.  Braun saw dollar signs, and Bieber bit.

Bieber can play drums (fairly well, actually) and guitar (if you like nothing but barre chords) and he can dance (quite well) and his singing voice is so-so.  His real appeal to Braun was no doubt his looks.  Braun’s marketing department pushed only a few of those things and hired “songwriters” (people with GarageBand that know how to drag and drop) to “write” (read: program) songs for him, but Bieber didn’t actually write them.  (How do I know this?  If you look at the song credits, they are listed as “Words and Music by xxxx, yyyy and Justin Bieber” – whenever the artist is listed last, it means they didn’t write it- they bought it.)

What this means is that it was never about Bieber’s talent- it was about his ability and availability.  The talent is in the marketing team that saturates the marketplace.  If you want “talent” in this equation, it starts and stops with Braun, but I wouldn’t really call it that.  I’d call it "a seized opportunity". (There probably is talent in being able to recognize when to do that.)

And, since the market is saturated, the audience just assumes that there is something to this equation.  People who don’t know better automatically assume that since this kid is everywhere, that he is “talented” and lack the critical thinking to think otherwise.  (yeah.  Lack of critical thinking ability is something of a trigger for me.)  It doesn’t even matter if it’s good press or bad press- it’s just press, and you eat it up.

In recent days, I’ve gotten into several “debates” with people online about what constitutes talent, and more than a few of them have confused “ability” with “talent”, and they aren’t the same thing at all.  When I offer them my side of it, they rail against it, because they think I’m calling them stupid because they can’t tell the difference.

Let me be clear: I am calling them stupid.  Because they are.

The very second that Mr. Bieber becomes not-popular, he will be jettisoned regardless of his so-called talent.  And, when he’s jettisoned, the press will have a field day and everyone who was a Belieber will say things like, “Yeah.  I knew it.  He was a flash in the pan.”  But they didn’t know it, and they didn’t admit it, and they are about as talented at discerning these things as Mr. Bieber is without his autotune and without his marketing machine.

Don’t confuse “ability” with “talent”.   This is actually a little more important than you might think- it doesn’t extend just to art.  It extends to many more important things.  Take the POTUS race we’re in right now- Mr. Trump has ability in the form of a marketing machine that pushes him forward, but no talent where it’s gonna count in being a statesman.  Mrs. Clinton has ability in the form of being able to say the right thing at the right time, no talent where it’s gonna count in having integrity with the US citizenry.  This confusion has brought us nothing but problems in the recent past, and if we can’t identify this when it comes to something like art, music and dance, then we’re gonna have real problems discerning this difference on anything important.  If you are one of these people that watches “The Voice”, “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol” and truly believes that you are seeing talented people, then you are part of the problem.  If you are one of the people who actually cares about what Kim Kardashian, Caitlin Jenner or any other reality show celebrity has to say about things that matter, you are part of the problem.  (Personally, I think that if you watch reality TV, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote.)  The people you are watching on these shows have the ability to get on a show, but no talent to make the world a better place.

Monday, August 8, 2016

my dad

This past weekend, we had my father's memorial service at Anaheim United Methodist Church in Anaheim, California.  I had prepared a eulogy for him, but since I'm such an absolute cry-baby, I asked my good friend, Kieran Scott, to read what I had written, since I knew I wouldn't get through it without completely losing it.  It took me quite awhile to figure out what to write- what does one write about someone you've known your entire life to sum them up?  In the end, I just decided to start writing and see where it took me, and just held my breath and hoped for the best.  Kieran read this masterfully - as I knew he would - and it seemed to go over quite well.

But I really wasn't prepared for the reviews I did get.  I was truly astounded - one of my cousins, a woman who has known my dad FAR longer than I have said that I wrote the things she thought of - a compliment of the highest order for any writer. Several people wanted copies.  Instead of sending them out, I thought I would just use my blog and share it with everyone.  I hope you all enjoy it.

When eulogizing one’s father, there is a temptation for one to go through the person’s life and give a recounting of everything that this person meant to you.  It’s a tried and true technique, although it can be a somewhat tiresome practice.

Let me assure you that I will not be bucking this tradition.

As all of you know, my dad was a very intelligent man.  He grasped some very heady concepts, and could make salient and cohesive arguments on a great many topics.  Broad topics like history, politics and the US Constitution were his playground, and more specific topics such as the reasons for the beginnings of World War II, the lives of the actors in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s were his swing set and monkey bars on that playground.  He could internalize these periods of historic movement and could add color and richness to them in a way that most can never do.  He read voraciously about these and many, many other topics- not only to be informed, but to challenge himself and his beliefs.  He would even occasionally change his mind and stance on these items.

But, what separated my father from a host of other pseudo-intellectuals was his ability to relate to people and find those things that would resonate in their hearts; to appeal to that without making them feel uncomfortable.  He could find that area – no matter how small – and place those topics inside others as to be able to give them a desire to find out more.

You see, Dad wasn’t just intelligent - he was smart.  Intelligence is the measure of being able to retain and recall facts and data, but smart is the ability to know when, where and to whom to do that with.  This not only made him a fantastic conversationalist, but it propelled him to the very top of his chosen profession, that of a teacher of children.

As his child, I can tell you that to be in his house and have those conversations was a sometimes daunting task.  My father was not just talkative and inquisitive – a sometimes defeating personal trait when you’re 16 and trying to pull the wool over his eyes – but also he also had the innate ability to tell when you didn’t know your stuff.  And, he would mercilessly call you on it, as some of his students who are here today can readily attest to.  If you hadn’t studied the topic you were talking about, he would know immediately, and then propel the discussion headlong in to the very thing you knew the least about.  God help you.

But, here’s the thing- right behind his having caught you would come the forgiveness.  If you didn’t see it, he would offer it first, and then show you the error you had made in a way that made you want to do better.

My father taught me many, many things.  Oh, sure- he taught me things like how to ride a bike, how to build a model airplane, how to train our dog- all the “Dad Things” – and he would make those terrible “Dad Jokes” we all know about.  He taught me scholastic things like history and helped me with US Government classes in high school – how could he not? – and even went as far as to enlist help from his teacher friends on topics that I didn’t understand well like math and science.  He did all that, as any good father would do.  In my early life, my mother and father divorced, and he taught me how to move on from something traumatic, merely by his being “present” and engaged.  When I rebelled (which I did a lot) he taught me that he wasn’t interested in being my friend; rather, he taught me the value of being my father, something I did with my own children.  All of these things are the stuff of a “good father”, but there was one thing my father taught me that supersedes all others, and unfortunately it is something that I don’t see much of these days.

My father taught me that the true measure of a man is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

This means that it really doesn’t matter what visual trappings your life may have.  Having the appearance of being protective and nurturing means absolutely nothing if you can’t do it when there is no one around to see it.  This means that, to be a man, you have to not only provide, but to do so authentically and without reservation.  You always put others first, and you never ask for consideration above anyone else.  Failures will happen, and when they do, it is your election, and your election alone to either dwell on them or to see them as lessons to learn from, for life is a series of lessons that no one truly ever arrives at a final destination.  Material possession, money, fame and power are fleeting things, and at the end of the day, all one really has is their own personal integrity.

This lesson is one that I learned over time.  To be honest, I did not embrace it right away.  And, even though it was paramount to my father, he never berated me for it.  He was patient with me - yes, I did frustrate him many, many times – and sometimes that frustration came out at higher volume – but there is no doubt in my mind that my dad ever did anything other than to love and accept me – even though and especially when I did not deserve it- because, you see that is part of the “do the right thing even though no one is looking” process.  Now that I am much older, I do understand this and I attempt to do this very thing each and every day.

My dad taught me that people matter.  Their well-being is something that we each should be constantly aware of.  This isn’t to garner favor with them , but rather it is just the right thing to do all the time.  Consistently.  Without fail.  Without a personal safety net, but with complete and total abandon.  Do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.

And, through all of this his cornball sense of wit would never diminish. Everyone here remembers his Nebraska Cornhusker and Northwestern hats, and his shirts emblazoned with “Bald Guys Rule” or “Ugly, Mean and Nasty”.  And he always had metaphors for whatever was happening that would defy description – and there was no end to them, either. He had a quip for all occasions.  My father had a truly unique sense of humor, even in the oddest of times.  I’ll finish with a personal story to illustrate:

One night, when I was about 17, I did the typical rebellious youth thing of going out and partying with friends.  I returned home at about 2AM, and let’s just say that I wasn’t shy about consuming some “adult beverages” at that party.  I stood on the front stoop of my house, popping breath mints at an alarming rate so as to cover my “Eau de Pabst Blue Ribbon” cologne.  I thought I was completely cool and in control, when in fact I was wavering around like I had been spun in a centrifuge, and my voice, while normally coherent, now sounded like Floyd the Barber from the Andy Griffith Show.  I unlocked the door and stepped in the house, intending to just go to my room and go to bed.

Instead, I’m met just inside the door by my father.  He’s in his bathrobe, leaning in the kitchen doorway.

“You mind telling me where you’ve been?” he asked, flatly.

“Oh.  I was out with friends and lost track of time.” I thought I said.  What I really said was unintelligible.

“Fine.  Go to bed.”, he answered.

That was it!  I had escaped.  Except…….

The next morning at about 6:30AM,  I awoke to the sensation that someone was in my room.  My head felt like I had been hit by a Louisville slugger, and my stomach was deciding which direction to push everything to- it felt like all directions.  As I opened my eyes, I saw my dad standing in my doorway, and he’s holding a small saucepan and a wooden spoon in his hand.  Before I can say anything, he literally leaps on to my bed, pinning my arms at my side.  With a quick hand motion, he runs my window shade up with a “WHACK!”, and sunlight immediately fills my room and my stomach begins to take flight.  He then takes the saucepan and holds it right in front of my eyes, and starts hitting it with the wooden spoon – it’s like a jackhammer in my head.  He then drops the pan and spoon, and covers my rapidly filling mouth with his hand.

“GOOD MORNING!” he yells in my face.  He’s got the most evil grin you’ve ever seen.

“Don’t you barf on me.  And don’t you believe for one second that I’m dumb enough to believe that you ‘lost track of time’ last night.”, he says.   And then he sits there, smiling at me, for almost a full minute.  He finally let me up, and I raced to the bathroom.  When I came back to my room, he was just sitting on the edge of my bed.  I could tell that he had been laughing, but when he sees me he gets a stern look on his face.

“If you want to go drinking with your buddies, I can’t really stop you.  But I can tell you that you had better not lie to me about it again.”, was all he said, and he stood up and walked out of the room.

Years later, he and I recalled that morning.  At first, he didn’t remember it, but as he did he told me that his first thought when I returned home was, “Oh, thank God he’s ok”.  His second thought was that this was a “teachable moment” (he actually used that term before Mr. Obama did) but he knew that he’d have to pick his time to teach it, and judging from the shape I was in that wasn’t it.  He went to bed not really knowing what he was going to do, and only formulated his response when he woke up that morning.  I asked him why he did that, and his response was priceless:

“Because I wanted to make sure that you understand that I loved you, and that wasn’t something I really approved of.  Acting like a kid is one thing, but lying about it isn’t something that a real man would do.”

And, right there, is why I love my Dad and will always aspire to be like him.

Friday, July 15, 2016

what's in a name?

Since my email address is 'prezbass', I get asked all the time the significance of that alias.  I usually tell people that it's a long story and that I don't come out well in the story.  I also get told that I need to write a book about experiences I've had a a musician on the road- and perhaps I will one day, but it's high time I at least told the story behind that alias.  And, bonus: it's actually two stories in one.  Buckle up.

Way back in 1987, while living in Southern California, I got hired to play with a band from South Africa.  Their bassist had had an accident (I believe it was skiing- he had never seen snow before) and I got hired with just a few weeks notice before they were to begin a tour of the western US.  Our buses were filled with various sizes of water bottles- pretty much strewn everywhere, and it wasn't uncommon for folks to just reach between seats and find (and drink) whatever they found there.  (When you're in close quarters, hygiene becomes secondary quite quickly)

We had just finished playing a gig in Denver, Colorado very late on a Saturday night and were headed back to our accommodations for the evening.  I was in the equipment van (which was in the lead of a small convoy), sitting in the passenger seat, with our local contact, Laura, driving the van.  The rest of the band was in a car following the van.  All of us were dog tired from the day.  It had begun to snow lightly, and we were trying to keep the other car in view so they wouldn't get lost.  We had just passed through an intersection, and the car didn't make the light, so Laura stopped the van under a freeway bridge to wait for the car.  As we waited, I reached under the seat and pulled out a bottle of water, and while Laura and I chatted, I took a drink.

My first thought was, "Wow.  Who brought booze?"  The underside of the bridge had made the inside of the van very dark.  I took another, larger drink.  And then another.  The van moved forward as the light behind us changed.  I took another drink.  We went directly under a streetlamp, and in the glow I could see the bottle.

I had just taken several huge gulps of anti-freeze.  Being an ex-medic, I knew that I needed to remain calm to keep the ethylene glycol from getting into my system too fast.  I turned to Laura- who was still talking, and I interrupted her.

"Uh, Laura.  We've got a problem.  I just drank a whole bunch of this," and I showed her the bottle.

Laura stepped on the gas and we were flying down the road.  We had no cell phones in that day, so all the car behind us could do was to try and keep up without knowing the reason why.  Laura knew her way around the area, and she was headed to the nearest emergency room.  Trouble was, the anti-freeze was going to work very quickly, and I quickly started getting extremely light-headed.  We went roaring by a Denver police car, who immediately went to lights and sirens and pulled us over, and Laura quickly jumped out of the van and ran to the police cruiser.

At this point, I decided it would be a good idea to induce vomiting, so I opened the door and jammed my finger down my throat- and that didn't work.  I kept trying, all the way up until the Denver paramedics showed up.   I scratched the inside of my throat with my fingernail, and started coughing blood.   By this time, I'm getting pretty out of it- my speech is getting really slurry and I can't keep my eyes open.  I'm also not entirely sure where I am- you see, ethylene glycol causes blood to turn to the consistency of jelly in your veins.  I was becoming hypoxic from lack of oxygen to my brain- I was dying.

The medics got me on their gurney, placed oxygen on my face and then started putting me in restraints.  I was not combative at all, so this confused me further.  The Denver cop then comes and hovers over my face and starts telling me, "You have a lot to live for" and "Why do you want to hurt yourself?" - he thought I was suicidal.  Laura corrected him as they loaded me in to the ambulance and we went to the ER.  Once we arrived, they started treating me with heavy oxygen flows, IV's and activated charcoal to neutralize the toxins.  I would be ok, but the doc said, "You're going to have the hangover from hell in the morning" - and he was RIGHT.  I felt like I had been hit with a shovel the next morning- and the band had a gig the following Sunday morning.  (That gig is story #2)

When I told this story to my good friend, trumpet player Ron Cole some 20 years ago, he started calling me "Prestone".  This eventually (de)evolved into "Prez-Bass" and thus, the alias was born.

I did tell you I didn't come out well in the story.

On to story #2.

The very next morning, the band was to play at the original Vineyard Church in - I think Lakewood, Colorado - which, at the time was being housed in a former liquor warehouse.  (You can't make this stuff up.)  This church was one of the band's sponsors in the US, and it was a huge "church-in-the-round" sanctuary, with the stage in the middle of the room, kind of like a boxing ring.  We played- I had to sit down to play because I felt like......death might be preferable.....- and we sat down to hear the pastor deliver his message.  While cradling my hurting head and rising stomach, during that sermon, that's when it happened-

There was a trucker who couldn't be too far away who's CB radio burst in to the PA.  And he was cursing something awful, and it was VERY clear to the congregation.  Before anyone could do anything, a guy stood up about halfway back in the sanctuary and started yelling.


The pastor stopped his sermon as the soundman dropped the mains.

"We are not rebuking inanimate objects.  Sit down." said the pastor, who was clearly miffed.

The man sat down, and the sermon continued for a few seconds.  The trucker breaks in again, cursing wildly.  The man stands back up, his arms in the air.

"IN THE NAME OF GOD THE FATHER, I REBUKE YOU...." he yelled.  The soundman dropped the mains again.

"Look.  I already told you to sit down once and stop that.  If I have to do it again, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." said the pastor, sternly.  "Let's just try to do the rest of the sermon without the PA." he went on.

All the while, I'm in so much agony I just want to leave and go to bed.  Forever.

The pastor got perhaps 5 minutes in to his sermon without the PA, but his voice just couldn't take trying to make it go to the back of the room that size.

"That guy is probably gone by now.  Let's turn the PA back on." says the pastor, motioning to the soundman.

I swear that within 15 seconds, the trucker is back, badder and louder than ever.  The man stands up, again-and this time, he's really into it.

"SHE-KANDA ZOOM GLORY SHEKINA IN ALEHU!" he screams. Oh, good Lord.  He's rebuking in tongues now.  As the mains come down again, the pastor motions for 2 of the ushers to come down and remove the screaming man from the sanctuary.  Since I'm sitting the front row where everyone can see me, I'm doing everything I can to not throw up onto the stage, and my skin color is alternating green and purple while my head feels like it's in a slowly tightening vice.

As the ushers reach the screaming man, one of them reaches out and touches his upraised elbow.  The screaming man wrenches his elbow away suddenly, spins around in the row a full 360 degrees, and when he returns to his original position, he hits the usher with his fully balled up fist, dead in the middle of the face of the usher.  The usher goes down, hard.  The second usher literally vaults the row he's in (which is full of people) and performs a forearm smash to the back of the screaming man's head and shoulders, pushing him over the first (dropped) usher and fully into the row behind the fallen man, knocking over at least 4 people that I could count.  He barely stays down for a second, hops to his feet and charges usher #2 - still screaming in tongues (I believe he was now rebuking the usher, but I can't be sure- there was no one around to translate....ahem......) - and grabs him by the necktie and begins raining down blows on usher #2.  Usher #2 manages to grab the screaming man's belt while being punched and spins him around while he begins kidney punching the screaming man.  Both men are now cursing wildly.  At this point, usher #1 regains consciousness and stumbles out of the row, bleeding pretty profusely from his nose and mouth and collapses about 10 feet away from me.

All of this happens in mere seconds.

And, the congregation is totally silent for those seconds.

"WILL SOMEBODY GET THOSE GUYS OUT OF HERE??!??" yells the shocked pastor.

Several large men lurch forward and grab these two men - who are now in what looks like a hockey fight - and literally throws them out the front door of the church and into the parking lot - where they continue to fight and yell vile curses at each other.  And the police arrive.  And, when the police arrive, pretty much the entire congregation goes to the windows on the front of the church or leaves it entirely to watch the fight.

The service has come to a monumental, completely unceremonious end, and all the while, I just sit in the front row- now completely alone, save for the dazed usher - and try not to throw up.

I was not successful.

As luck would have it, that day was the last leg of that particular part of the tour, and I returned home to Southern California.

Thank God.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

a dying art

Today, while perusing Facebook, a friend had posted a link to a story about a Baptist minister who was telling his congregation that the shootings in Orlando this past weekend were a good thing.

 Here's that story- please watch the video for context.

I have many, many friends that I love dearly that are atheists and agnostics.  Some of these friends are even a little hostile where the church is concerned, and I try very hard to assure them that 99.9% of Christians are not the hate-filled, hyper-judgemental jerks that the media would have them believe they are.  This guy makes that job even harder.  Having said that, it is to my agnostic/atheist friends that I write this blog entry- if you are a Believer, this might not interest you all that much.

For some strange reason, the Christian church has created a lot of terms for things that seem to require a ton of research in order to fully understand.  As an atheist or agnostic, this probably fuels your fire as there really isn't much of a reason for you to do that research.  Surprisingly, as a Christian, I actually agree with you on that- it just shouldn't be that difficult and a lot of it is total nonsense.  It seems like as soon as you've drawn a bead on one groups beliefs, something else comes along and negates everything, and confusion reigns supreme.  This kind of story comes along, and all of the sudden you get the idea that since this is a "Baptist" church, it's like the Baptist church that is on your nearest street corner, so that means that all Baptist churches will be in agreement with the "pastor" in this story.

I want to assure you that I completely and totally understand why you might think that.  I also want to assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth.  Or, let me put it another way: this "pastor" no more represents Christianity than the Islamic extremists represent Islam as a whole.

But, I digress.

The media, in it's absolutely relentless attack on "hateful Christians" has done you a vast disservice here.  I know you have heard that kind of statement before from Christians about an attack on our faith, but that doesn't change the truth of the matter.  It is happening, but it isn't due to Starbucks Christmas cups or anything like that- this is real, and this story is proof of that.  Since this "church" calls themselves a ""Baptist church", the media- who did no homework on the topic at all- has tried to lump this group into the well of the Baptist denomination, and some will immediately jump to the conclusion that all "Baptist churches" fall in line with this group.  I do not blame you for thinking that.  In order to discern what is truly real, we have to embrace some of these "terms" I mentioned earlier, and we need to do some Critical Thinking.  So let's do that, and I'll do the work for you to show you what I mean.  I'll even cite sources for you.

On the Verity Baptist Church web site, there is a section that tells what they believe.  They would have you believe that they are a strict, no-nonsense, Bible-Only-Believing fellowship.  We'll take them at their word here- and, that means that everything they believe must be Biblical, and that will be our basis of thought and postulation of all arguments made.

The 3rd line of their belief statement:
"* We believe that the King James Bible is the Word of God. We believe God inspired and preserved it. "
The King James Version Bible was written in 1611 AD.  (Some scholars believe that William Shakespeare had a hand in writing it, too.)  The texts used in the Bible existed before that, and the KJV is a translation of the original text.  If we take this church at their word here, this would mean that the translation was made from a non-God inspired and non-God preserved text.  The Bible says that:

John 14:6 KJV
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

And, since Jesus is God, that means that God is truth, and truth cannot lie.  Therefore, according to Verity's own words, they contradict their own statement of the veracity of Scripture.

But, there's more:
"* We believe in the autonomy of the local church. This means that we are independent of all denominations, conventions, and fellowships. We have Jesus Christ and the Bible as the head of our church and not some Pope, Prophet, President, or Board of directors.
* We believe in the “local church” we reject the teaching of the “universal church”.
This text is very telling- they admit here that they do NOT line up with any denomination, and that would include the Baptist Church- the one on your street corner, or even the one Donald Trump might visit next week.  Further, since they have no other governing body other than the Bible, and the pastor is the leader of this church, this pastor has no one to "check" him or sources. That is an extremely dangerous thing:

Acts 17:10-12 KJV
"And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. "

What's happening in the above passage is that the Bereans basically heard what St. Paul and Silas were preaching, and then double checked everything that was said.  They did not take the word of the very men who were the de-facto scholars of the day.  And, Paul refers to them as "honorable" because they did that.  If Verity was truly Biblical, they would have some kind of check/balance system (which most churches do have) instead of leaving it to one man's interpretation.
"* We believe that church membership is a privilege and not a right and church members are subject to be removed from membership and not allowed to attend the services if they violate the qualifications of church membership as set forth in the Holy Scriptures and the by-laws of Verity Baptist Church. "
This one is interesting- it seems that you have to "apply" to be a member.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say that membership of a church is required, nor does the Bible say that membership is even important.  The early Christian church was a community of Believers with no membership.
"* We reject the teaching of Calvinism and believe that God wants everyone to be saved."
I'll stop short of saying that Calvinism is something they must believe in (I am a Calvinist, btw) but, the idea that God doesn't want everyone to be saved is actually very anti-Christian:

Matthew 28:19 KJV:
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"

That text says "All" and if God wasn't interested in "all" we wouldn't have been commanded that way.

And finally, there's this:
"* We believe that sodomy (homosexuality) is a sin and an abomination before God which God punishes with the death penalty. No sodomite (homosexual) will be allowed to attend or join Verity Baptist Church. "
This one is very interesting in its sub-text.  The Bible is very clear that sin is not measured in degrees- no sin is worse than any other sin,  and sin is what separates us from God.  The rules of that separation and the definition of sin are found all over the Old Testament- most notably in the 10 Commandments - and are referred to as "Mosaic Law" or simply "the law".  It is impossible for man to not sin according to this law, and that is why we, as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ came to save us from it and redeem us.  Again, from the same Bible that Verity Baptist says is the unerrant word of God, and these are the words that Jesus said:

Matthew 5:17 KJV
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."

This means, plainly and simply- Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law, and the law is no longer in effect as it was.  The law is still in place, but the punishment for not obeying it is no longer required.  The really interesting part of the topic of sodomy is that it isn't the only sin.  Murder, gossip, being mean, cheating, lying, being disrespectful of your mother and father - all of those are sins as well, and Jesus' death on the Cross paid for all of them, but Verity singles out sodomy as something that is at another level and requires the sinner to die for it- that is patently un-Biblical.  This tells me several things, chief among them is what you are thinking, too- somebody probably has something to hide.  And, while it might be fun to point a finger at these folks and yell "hypocrite!", if it were anyone else hiding their sexuality like this, you would say it's sad.  Let's do this instead- let's agree that it's also sad that the members of Verity having to hide whatever is going on in their own bedrooms is just as sad, and we'll just leave it to God to judge them.

I think I'll stop there.

Here's the deal- I don't want the media to have to become theologians in order to write a story, but I do want them to have some responsibility when they just write a story in such a way to defame the 99.9% of Christians that don't believe the way these people do.  All they would have to do is call someone who is a theologian to vet their story - like they do for darned near anything else - and they would have realized that these people are a cult, and not write the story this way.  But, in the media, "if it bleeds, it reads" and we as the public are given a shoddy, over-generalized statement that would make you believe that all Christians are homophobic.  And, we are not.

What I'm really getting at here is this: Critical Thinking, as an art form, is dying.  We just accept all the drivel that is handed to us and we have lost our ability to ask questions and discern what is real and what is truth.  You may not believe in God, and that is your right- and I, personally, would defend to my death your right to believe that way - but those of us that do believe in God are not the enemy.  The Christian Homophobes are in the vast minority in Christendom.  When you read these stories, do yourself a favor: suspend your beliefs for a minute and check things out for yourself or feel free to drop me a line and I'll be happy to help.

You never know- you might learn something.