Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Grass is Blue

She loves rock 'n roll ...
and so do I!
As you may have ascertained by now... like Joan Jett, I love me some rock and roll. I have since I was maybe 12 years old and realized that there was more to music than the Osmonds. But far into my life, my husband turned me on to bluegrass – and I was delighted to find that it pushes my buttons too, in very different ways. So here we have...

10 Reasons I Love Bluegrass:

1. It's twangy! Like vinegary easter NC barbecue sauce or Greek yogurt! Tasty and good for you. The banjos, the mandolins, the high lonesome vocals… Some people find it irritating, I know, but it plucks my strings. It's artful, soulful, and shiver-inducing.

Nathan Stanley has been playing with 
his "Papaw" since he was yea big.
2. I love harmony singing. While Gregorian chants and solo singing have much to recommend them, I truly get off on a harmonic blend of complementary tones. I'm not a great singer, but I can never resist trying out my own variations on songs at church on or on the radio. It's a shame that I can't harmonize with myself! (I actually used to know a guy who could hum and whistle at the same time, and harmonize with himself!)

3. The skills. There are plenty of extremely talented musicians performing rock and roll… but BLUEGRASS? You pretty much HAVE to know your stuff. You can't fake it with three power chords and an anthemic chorus. 

I was a townie, but my dad grew up here.
4. It's a family affair. The Louvin Brothers. The Osborne Brothers. The Stanley Brothers. The Carter Family. Doc and Merle Watson. This particular brand of music is populated with bands who are related to each other. I saw Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys the other night and who was with him? His son AND his grandson. Sibling rivalry was intense in some of these groups, but in the case of the Stanleys last night… I saw nothing but love.

Guys in suits!
5. It resonates with my country soul. Yes, my dad was a dentist, my SAH mom a former art teacher. We lived in town and wore preppy clothes… belonged to the local country club, and even went to private school for a while. But you know what? My mother's father came from Virginia peanut farmers, and my dad came directly from a tobacco farm in Granville County. So I was a townie, through and through… even though I would occasionally, as small child, spend time at my grandparents' farm in the summers. They lived out on a dirt road, and I have vague memories of my grandmother cooking huge mid-day meals on her big iron stove for the farm workers. 

Guys in Nudie suits!
That is all to say that them there's my real roots. And though my experience is indirect at best, the music of the rural South rings a bell deep in my soul. A couple of weeks ago, Tom, Bill and I went to the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual convention and I encountered people from all over the world who love this homey, musical art. It's not hard to imagine how it might speak to someone from, say, the British Isles. I mean, that's where it came from to begin with, right? But I had to wonder… what does bluegrass mean to someone from, say, Japan? or Sweden? I don't know.

Does that sound weirdly racist? I hope not! I just know that when I hear it, I feel like am hearing the lives of my people. What do they hear? The lives of hardworking rural people everywhere? (As an aside, when I hear a song that narrates a story, I always picture it playing it out in black and white - enacted by people who look like they could be the members of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show... or maybe the people in my parents' old photos.)

Del McCoury and his
perfect pompadour
6. The clothes. OMG. Guys in suits! Sure some of the whippersnappers like Sam Bush act like every day is casual day, but a lot of those guys wear SUITS. It's classy. Or if they're a bit flash, they might don a Nudie suit, like Jim Lauderdale, or something sparkly like Nathan Stanley wears. It's ALL good.

7. The hair. Don't get me started about the hair, man. Del McCoury, Ralph Stanley and his grandson Nathan… These guys really know how to bouf it up, a la Conway Twitty. It's nostalgic… it's retro… or it's just how they've been styling their hair since they first got it!

8. The humility. Now, I've heard tall tales about Ricky Skaggs being kind of a jerk, but I have no way to confirm that. Maybe it's just malicious gossip… and Ralph Stanley? Well, he can be a bit of a grouch at times. But he's allowed, because he's ancient. In general I've found bluegrass musicians – of the old guard, anyway, to be gracious, humble, sweet… and pretty dang accessible. The manners their mommas taught them are on display for all to see. The other night the Clinch Mountain boys and also Ralph Jr. practically begged us to like them. Of course there was no need for that – we already did! 
This photo of Dewey Brown
of the Clinch Mountain Boys
and me illustrates points 8 AND 9!

And how many rock concerts have you attended that were followed by a meet-and-greet that wasn't part of a fancy expensive "deluxe" ticket package? This is NOT how bluegrass works, my friend. No, you'll find these guys lined up after the show with Sharpies at the ready. Of course they'd love you to buy something, but they'll sign anything you hand them… with gentlemanly charm.

9. It makes me feel young and pretty. Yes, there are young, attractive bluegrass musicians. And, yes, I like looking at young, attractive guys. On the other hand, I also have the sick tendency to look at young, attractive people and think, "Dang, I'm a lumpy old lady." But your average bluegrass musicians? Well they mostly likely just look like regular folks in their Sunday best – maybe with a flashy hat. And I like that. It's a comfortable perspective from which to view the world.
Hooch is definitely a
suitable topic for
bluegrass songs...

10. Saturday Night/Sunday morning. Yeah, bluegrass might be a family affair, but sometimes it's not exactly family fare. You see, the subject matter, well… it doesn't shy away from the underbelly of rural life – dark murders, cheating hearts, jail time and the production and consumption of whiskey... Those topics are not off limits in this genre, and I find them particularly fascinating. Though my people were mostly mild mannered Baptists, I can't help but think I've been granted a peek into their culture – the culture of the rural South. are church, Jesus, heavenly shores, 
and dearly departed mamas.
And speaking of Baptists… A large segment of bluegrass music is devoted to songs about Jesus and heaven and stuff like that – you know, the stuff I love. Seeing a good old country boy in a suit singing heartfelt songs about His Savior is a powerful soul stirrer for me. I always picture people who have worked incredibly hard all their lives and are yearning for the rest of heaven... And as a 51-year-old mom, I can completely dig that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Hundred Percent of the Time, with memes!

Are we there yet?! Ha! Just two more songs to go to spiritualize from Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union album! I am tempted to spit it out quickly and move on... and maybe I'll try that... (although you know that's probably not going to happen) Anyway... click on the title to hear the beautiful cacophony that is this song!


I don't own you
But I know you're mine
Never disown you
Never treat you unkind
But once in awhile you get on my nerves
Once in a while you get what you deserve
I need you ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time

If I asked you what's on your mind
Would you say me
Would they be thoughts unkind
Once in a while I'm not myself
Once in a while I think you're someone else
I want you ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time

Let's move in together
Happily ever after

I can't touch you
But you feel so f*cking fine
Let's just stay like this
And waste some more time
Once in a while you get in my way
Once in a while you know I gotta say
I love ya ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine per cent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time

Sooo... my main point about this, is that human hearts and minds are so changeable. Here's a line from Jeremiah: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) And in I Kings, Elijah questions the people's inconstancy: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” I Kings 18:21) James says "the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:6)

If you're human – and I assume you are – you don't need me or the Bible to tell you that we are illogical, inconsistent and inconstant. And that's just on a regular day. On top of that, maybe we are not behaving our best because we're hungry, angry, lonely or tired... Heck when I had anorexia, I was a holy terror to the people I worked with. Just ask my husband, who just happened to have a desk pretty close to mine at the time. And now that I'm entering... um... that magical time called menopause... I'm thinking my hormones will bring out a whole new level of evil in my moods. 

And the singer of this song says that "once in a while," or more specifically ONE percent of the time, he is not able to whip up the affection and kindness due the person he's addressing. In my case, those numbers are more than a little off. In fact, I find that kindness is one of the more challenging aspects of the Christian life. I bet that more than once, you've met a person and thought, "I can't believe that a-hole is a Christian" or something similar. 

Bet the people in my house think that about me every single day... and I am not exaggerating a bit. Because it's especially hard to maintain an attitude of consistent calm and sweetness with those directly around me. I mean, they're always THERE! People I just see every now and then are easy to be nice to... it's those that occupy my living space that get the crap end of my humanity.

In the New Testament, Paul has to remind the folks he's writing to over and over to just be nice to each other. That's what we're like and there you have my first point. And my second point is ... that while we may be super mercurial, God is the absolute opposite. Here are some scriptures to go with that assertion: 

"God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Numbers 23:19)
"God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”" (Hebrews 13:5)
and how 'bout this classic:

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Here's my favorite – before Jesus went up into heaven, he said to his friends:

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I am sure there are a bunch more verses about God's unchanging faithfulness – it's one of His defining characteristics, after all... but I think I've made my point – There is no 99 percent about it. He is 100 percent love, 100 percent of the time. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Will I Ever Ever Ever Get Over It?

Soul Asylum
Not too many songs left in our quest to pull God out of Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union album... Here's the next one: (Click on the link to hear the song.)

You never grow out of mischief making
You never grow out of taking
You never grow out of complicating
When simple things are waiting
I'm growing into you
I'm growing into you

There's one thing that I know
That's perfectly clear
You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear

You never grow out of contemplating
When it ain't worth debating
You never grow out of mistake making
You never grow out of faking
But I'm growing into you
I'm growing into you

There's one thing that I know
That's perfectly clear
You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear

I'm growing into you
I'm growing into you
There's one thing that I know
That's perfectly clear
You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear

You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear
You never, never grow out of fear
And will I ever, ever, ever
Get over it, get over it

This heavy (but fascinating)
tomewill tell you about
process spirituality.
Well, this one's pretty straightforward, really… I probably don't even have to lay it out for you, right? I will anyway, though, because that's why we're here, right?

It's simply about what I've Ken Boa calls in his book Conformed to His Image "process spirituality." That is, when we are saved, we are saved right away… and completely. But we don't suddenly become perfect and sinless, as I am sure you have observed. No, instead we spend the rest of our lives sort of growing into who we already are in Christ… So while we still might make mischief and mistakes and complicate simple truths, we are also growing into God... It's a done deal, but it's also a process.

Who's the most spiritual
person you know of? That
Gideon at the State Fair?
It's a great song, full of truth... I have to wonder, though, about the singer's assertion that one never grows out of fear. I myself am the owner of many fine fears… but I do wonder if it's possible to be so trusting, and so constantly "in the Spirit" that fear has no place in one's life. Maybe not… I mean, I'm pretty sure one never stops SINNING… hence one's need for grace. So, maybe the guy's right. 

Pat Jacoway?
I mean, think of the oldest, most spiritually developed Christian you know of… Who is it? Billy Graham? Your grandma? That 90-year-old guy who sits just down the pew from you? The elderly Gideon who handed you the tiny Bible at the State Fair? Pat Jacoway? I assure you that this person – who ever he or she is – is NOT sinless. And they KNOW it. Old people go to church NOT because they're perfect… but because (besides the fact it's probably part of their raisin') they are intensely aware of their need for grace.

Remember that story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery? 
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. 
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8)
My point in mentioning this lovely story is that it was the OLDER dudes who knew they didn't have it together. Likewise, the older I get, the more aware I am of my crappiness. BUT my heightened awareness of my crappiness also increases my tendency (and need) to acknowledge God's grace. I am forced to TRUST Him to be the righteousness that I lack. 

Not scared of these anymore...
And you know what trust is? The opposite of fear. And while I am still plenty afraid, I have noticed some of my fears waning with as I age. Such as my fear of french fries (ie. getting fat). Yeah, that's gone. In fact, I am totally the opposite of afraid of french fries. On the other hand, I do have new fears like, "What if I ruin my kid?" or "What if my business stops being lucrative?" My head knows that the remedy for these kinds of fears … just happens to be trust… trusting God with my kid and my business. But my heart knows that this is easier said than done. That's why you gotta kinda grow into it. 

I do sometimes fear I'll
ruin this guy, though!
But can you grow so far into it that you grow out of fear? John says "Perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) Maybe if you so completely understand God's love for you... you stop being afraid? 

As you can see, I'm just puzzling this out as I type. In my interpretation, the singer of this song asserts that he is growing into God, but he is sure fear will be his lifelong companion… or will it? He still wonders in the end… "And will I ever, ever, ever get over it?" And my thought is…  that my life in God is a PROCESS… I just have to keep growing into Him… As John the Baptist said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30) The end result is up to God. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

I joined the Grave Dancers Union

Soul Asylum
Well... I've been a bit busy, as you may have guessed from the long stretches between posts... But my enthusiasm for this series (waxing spiritual over Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union album one song at a time) has not waned, though yours might have! Not to worry, though - only four songs left! Anyway, here's our next song (click on the title to hear the track):

Without A Trace

I fell in love with a hooker
She laughed in my face
So seriously I took her
I was a disgrace
I was out of line
I was out of place
Out of time to save face
See the open mouth of my suitcase
Saying leave this place
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace

I tried to get a good job with honest pay
I might as well join the mob
The benefits are okay
Standing in the sun with a popsicle
Everything is possible
With a lot of luck and a pretty face
And some time to waste
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace

I tried to dance at a funeral New Orleans style
I joined the Grave Dancers Union
I had to file
Trying to do the right thing play it straight
The right thing changes from state to state
Don't forget to take your mace
If you're out walking late
I liked to see your face
You left without a trace
Leave without a trace


This song proved to be a special challenge to me... Its meaning isn't really clear... to me, anyway... It's maybe about a guy who does dumb, embarrassing things that make him want to disappear... which I totally identify with... and then I realized that the guy in the first verse – the one who fell in love with a hooker – could be the prophet Hosea... who, famously, married a prostitute. BUT the thing is... GOD told him to do it! (When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” Hosea 2:2)
Jonah, pre-whale.

And then I thought... Sometimes God requires things of us that don't make sense (like standing in the sun with a popsicle?) and might even embarrass us. Yes, I admit that even though I love God and, like Paul, am not ashamed of the gospel... I am not spiritually advanced enough to NOT feel embarrassed sometimes. And yes, sometimes I want to run away... like the prophet Jonah did when God told him to go preach hellfire and damnation to the baby-eating Ninevites. First, Jonah probably thought they would kill him. Second, he really didn't want them to repent and be saved... so what did he do? He got on a boat and sailed the opposite way. He left "without a trace."

I wrote in this blog entry about times I felt like God was actually telling me specific things, and you might think that's several shades of crazy, but the fact remains, it was very real to me. And some of those times, the thing God was asking of me were NOT easy... and I DID want to flee... to disappear without a trace. Like when He "told" me – a fearful former anorexic – to stop exercising for a while. Or that time He prodded me relentlessly in the middle of a weekend road trip to break up with the super nice guy I was with RIGHT AWAY... nearly 300 miles from home.

Conversely, doing normal expected things like getting a good job with honest pay (second verse) – while not WRONG, per se – can be pointless if God is asking you to do something else. You might as well join the mob, right? For instance, sailing to Tarshish wasn't a wrong in itself, but God had asked Jonah to go to Ninevah... which landed him right in whale's gut. As Jonah found out, God has His ways of getting His way. IF we decide to listen to Him. And believe me, I have tried at times to shut Him out. Not a good idea. I may not have ended up in the belly of a whale, but it's never a good scene.
A funeral? Let's dance!

Anyway, as for the last verse... dancing at a funeral "New Orleans style" may not make sense to people either... it only makes sense if you actually believe that death is not the end... that there's something better ahead for that person's soul... As Christians, we have joined the union of folks who choose to set our eyes on heaven – union with God forever. And that might sound like a load of hooey to some people.

I guess the point is, God sometimes calls us to step out of the ordinary and do things that might make people point and laugh at us. And while there are general rules like the Ten Commandments and the general laws of love and grace, there's really no rule about these kinds of things (the right thing changes from state to state)... God just sometimes has His own ideas about what you should do, and you probably should just go with it. 
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways    and my thoughts than your thoughts.(Isaiah 55:8-9)

And in my experience, if God is in it, it's going to turn out much better than you ever imagined...*

*"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:21)