Monday, December 31, 2012

The Physical Cliff

     Someone I love asked me to explain the “physical cliff” about a month ago.  Rather than correcting the proper delineation of that phrase, I proceeded to offer my best explanation of that which will transpire if our elected officials fail to reach a reasonable compromise on the absurdly large and pressing economic issues we face in our country.  I was happy to speak to my dear one in basic bits of data because it helped to clarify the confusion in my own mind, as well.
     Following on 30 minutes of our fumbling back-and-forth at the breakfast table, we were both reasonably satisfied that we understood the circumstances and possible ramifications of the “fiscal cliff.”    But then I had another thought: she may have had it right in the first place.  Perhaps a physical cliff rising hundreds of feet above a rocky canyon would be an effective incentive for 535 senators and representatives to make a decision.  Line them up on the edge and give them five minutes to figure out a solution.  The alternative awaits them below…
“Come senators and congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled…”
From “The Times They Are A-Changin’”
By Bob Dylan

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Electoral Absurdity

     Last month (November 2012) the U.S. electorate exposed its troubled character in a profound way. As millions of Americans entered voting booths across the country Gallup reiterated their polling numbers reporting that Congress had an approval rating of 18%. This means that of the 535 members of The House and Senate a mere 97 were considered in favorable terms. Or, looking at this from the opposite perspective, our citizens were discontent with 438 members of our governing bodies. 
     Given these astonishing statistics logic would predict a tremendous shake-up in Washington, D.C. But this didn’t happen. In fact, the re-election rate for incumbents in November was 91%. Again, in terms of actual numbers this means that 358 of 393 incumbents retained their seats in The House and 21 of 23 incumbent Senators also retained their positions. 
      What does this say about us? We are either mesmerized, paralyzed, incapable of acting logically on irrefutable data or corporately frozen in the fear of the unknown. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these things. 
     Whatever it is, nothing will change because we have, essentially, changed nothing. Shame on you, shame on me, shame on us…

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Bomb For Jesus

For about 200 years, between 1069 and 1279, The Christian Church conducted violent, brutal and destructive campaigns across continental Europe and into the Middle East. These war-like events were intended to bring people into the faith and annihilate the unbelievers—mostly Muslims. As these campaigns progressed they became less about religion and more about gathering wealth and power. Nonetheless, it is a dark shadow on the face of Christianity, no doubt. 
On the other hand, Christians have also been persecuted, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing through this very moment. Stephen, Peter and Paul are not the only purveyors of the faith that met a cruel demise. Millions of Jesus believers have died because of their convictions and this is not likely to change. 
But let’s examine this very moment. How often throughout the course of a typical week do we encounter reports of Christians strapping concealed bombs to their bodies, boarding a bus, walking into a crowded movie theater or strolling into a shopping mall? How many Christians learn how to fly large passenger jets for the sole purpose of crashing them into heavily populated skyscrapers? How many Christians storm foreign embassies and murder government employees from other countries? How many truly Christian regimes (if any exist) slaughter their citizens with the singular goal of absolute and unquestioned power? 
One may question the horrifying acts of Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Anders Breivik and the Ku Klux Klan—all of which claimed some variety of Christian motivation. Branding these individuals and this organization as examples of Christian terrorism would be justified but for the simple fact that most believers thoroughly reject the twisted interpretation of faith that caused them to act in such brutal ways. 
It is also logical and legitimate to question the moral rights of nations to engage in conflicts and all-out war against those deemed dangerous to global security. Focusing only on recent decades one could ask what justified the US (and its allies) to send troops into Iraq, bombs into Libya, drones into Afghanistan and warships into the waters of the Middle East. Many also challenge those that choose to express utter support for The State of Israel. I can understand this challenge intellectually but I surely cannot defend it when most of Israel’s neighbors have vowed to wipe her off the map. Which leads me to ask: what is the essence of that which we are fighting against? Is it a form of government with which we heartily disagree? Is it the collective brutality of a dictatorship? Is it a small faction of citizens we are trying to protect? Or, I ask boldly, is it a religion antithetical to Christian beliefs and values? 
Perhaps my thesis on this subject is sophomoric. To put it plainly, how many committed Christians with whom you may worship from week-to-week are likely to strap on a bomb and cause human havoc in the cause and name of Jesus? I would answer this question like this: none. The cause and the name of Jesus are about salvation, forgiveness, redemption, love and peace. The true gospel gives life and life more abundantly. The human havoc caused by an encounter with The Truth does not result in bloody destruction; it results in the beautiful transformation of a human soul.

Friday, October 26, 2012


My favorite contemporary theologian is A. W. Tozer. I say contemporary; he died in 1963. However, in the long arc of Christ’s Church he is as recent as William Coffin, Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis and many others. Tozer made this statement, “"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  
You may or may not agree but I find it to be an observation both profound and prophetic. What comes into your mind when you think about God? Do you imagine that ancient fellow with a long white beard and robe sitting on a throne? Or perhaps you conjure the image of a young Jewish man walking across dusty roads trying desperately to get the truth across. I suspect some in our midst reflect on the beautiful sanctuary of Woodmont Christian Church and others consider the gentleman standing on the corner selling newspapers. Do you see God in nature, science, music, art, intellect or human relationships? Far be it from me to judge your perceptions. 
However, I would like to share my own. When I measure the greatest blessings in my life, these top the list: being born into a loving family that included a devoted Christian mother; learning about and loving God at an early age; meeting, marrying and spending my life with Sarah and our shared joy in raising three lovely rascals. It is this last blessing I wish to lift up. 
Who knows what our children say about us in private conversations? “He’s mean, she asks too many questions, he’s a tightwad, she’s selfish or they’re the best parents that ever lived.” I will say this about myself as a father—it is impossible for me to imagine anything that I would not do for the betterment or protection of any of my children. That is not an arrogant comment; I believe every dad and mom reading this will agree. Would you spend every last cent you have (and more) to bring medical care for them when they are ill? Would you run onto an athletic field in the middle of a game when your child went down from an injury? Would you raise Cain with a teacher if he/she treated your child with disrespect? Would you sleep in their tiny bed all night to make sure that the fever didn’t get out of hand? Would you read to them, hug them, wipe their tears away, tie their ties, braid their hair, drive them to soccer practice and dance lessons, bake them birthday cakes, put a quarter under their pillow from the Tooth Ferry, buy them khakis, whisper that you love them for ever and always, hold them so close you think your heart will break, pray for their future and hope upon hope that their lives are good? Yes, I believe you have and you will and you will and you will… 
That is my idea of God…and I am His child…and you are, as well. 
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

Now That I'm a Racist

I am a white, conservative male in The United States of America, which, according to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and the-going-out-of-print Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, makes me a racist. 
I never wanted to be, acted as or knew I was a racist until this week. I am 60 years old; why did it take me so long to know this and why did it take two white guys about my age to point this out to me? I am humiliated. I really don’t want to be a racist; it’s an awful thing to be. I don’t want to be a murderer, a psychopath, a drug dealer, a child abuser, an alcoholic, a Satanist, a thief, the antichrist, an arms dealer, a pervert, a porn producer, a woman hater, a welfare basher or a living, breathing, walking, talking demon of hate. I am so sorry. 
Should I suggest that Mr. Matthews and Mr. Alter are arrogant, elitist, race-baiting, over-compensated, loud-mouthed, out-of-touch, politically incapable, incompetent, bile-spilling “journalists” I would also be deemed something worse, I suppose—a Republican. 
Well, these fellows can spew anything they wish. They are burying themselves in the Great Pit that buries all Liars and throwing the dirt upon themselves. The good news is that they are so impressed with their own minds and tongues that they have no concept of their ineptness. Their current perch upon The Throne of American Journalism will soon be toppled. 
Who are these so-called “men?” Was there not a bar of soap in their childhood homes that should’ve been shoved into their deceitful little mouths? Who raised them and why have they turned out to be so loud and so wrong? Yes, if they can accuse me and countless other guys like me, I can ask those questions! I am utterly offended by these across-the-board, generalized and ugly accusations. Why, because I’m a Republican, defensive racist? No, because I’m neither.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Obvious and Hidden Glitch

     I’ve had the great joy and privilege of knocking around Nashville’s Music Row for 35 years. I have made dear friends and also experienced hard times. It is the way of the world, not only in the music business but in this life, as well. It used to be that the hard times were, more often than not, traced directly to my own laziness or lack of focus. That is also a universal truth. However, in recent years I contend that there are other reasons for this current and prolonged season of hard times. 
     This is not a tale of sour grapes. I have loved my time in this great city and have been blessed with lots of wonderful opportunities along the way. I have some regrets: poor decisions, bad timing, spending too much money and putting my professional life on coast from time-to-time. Nonetheless, it’s been a fulfilling experience and I would change very little, except for this: the plummeting caliber of the country song and my suspicion about why this is so. 
     The grand old truth about Nashville’s enduring success as a music center is not simply generations of wonderful singers and entertainers, The Opry, WSM Radio or The Hall of Fame. The broad shoulders of Nashville’s music industry is music publishing—the companies, both large and small, that own (publish), exploit and collect revenues from the thousands of songs you and I have enjoyed over the past 80+ years. That’s where the real money is. Did Eddy Arnold, Dolly Parton, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks and Alabama (to name just a few) make lots of money in their careers? Yes, of course. However, with few exceptions, artists’ incomes cannot compare to the money earned by owning copyrights like “The Gambler,” “Always On My Mind” and “I Will Always Love You” (again, to name just a few). 
     Perhaps a not-so-subtle question is appropriate here: Where did these songs come from? The answer: everywhere. The songwriters, composers and lyricists that created this remarkable body of work lack definitive description but for one common characteristic: they had the gift—intrinsic, God-endowed and unstoppable. And here is where this tale takes a turn, both sad and despicable. Guess what? It has to do with greed. 
     The music industry has unraveled and is in, as it were, the tank. There are many reasons, not the least of which is the arrogance of the Big Boys—the (formerly) Big Five corporate giants EMI, WEA, BMG, SONY and UNI that have been compressed and merged, in recent years, into the Big Three, more or less. One extreme managerial conclusion to “stop the bleeding” in the Nashville sector of the music industry was to sign every new recording artist to a contract that includes revenue participation in every conceivable component of their activities: live performance, record sales, merchandise sales (as in t-shirts and bumper sticker) and, yes, you guessed it, their songwriting and publishing efforts. So, it is now incumbent upon any record label executive to manufacture ways to ensure that Johnny-Come-Lately becomes a songwriter. Fiscally wise, culturally abysmal.
     Johnny-Come-Lately may be devoid of any inclination or talent to write a song.  That doesn’t matter. The bottom line is now in control. Left to his own devices, J-C-L will likely fail at this endeavor, unless, of course, he does have a gift. If he does not have the gift he will sit in a room with a songwriter that does and pretend to participate in the process of composing a song. During this period of time it is likely that he will receive phone calls from his manager, agent, record label, spouse and stylist. He will text with old friends and family members and, if he is paying attention, will make more coffee for the professional songwriter with whom he is not engaged. He may say things like “J-C-L would never say that,” “Are you hungry” or “Is there any way we can mention Skoal in this song? My peeps would really relate to that.” 
     There you have it. No matter how great or awful the song turns out to be, the executive at the label will demand that it be recorded because, after all, the company will participate in the revenue stream. How small, how unthinking, how culturally demeaning is this circumstance? Take a brief excursion through your musical memory. Yes, there have always been awful songs that have done well. But my goodness, we can do better than this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Average Joe

It is reported this morning that VP Joe Biden will be delivering a speech this afternoon in Youngstown, OH lambasting Mitt Romney’s career as head of Bain Capital. A quote from his prepared remarks (as if he’ll stick to the script) states: “In the 1990s, there was a steel mill in Kansas City, Missouri. It had been in business since 1888. Then Romney and his partners bought the company. Eight years later it went bankrupt. When the company finally filed for bankruptcy, they reneged on their contract with the workers. No health care, lower pensions. Everyone lost their jobs. But not everyone got hurt. The top 30 executives walked away with $9 million. And Romney and his partners walked away with at least $12 million." 
Having, myself, grown up in one of America’s great steel towns, I am well aware of the tragedies visited upon that industry—a tragedy rightfully laid at the feet of management, unions and government. The point is, any U.S. steel producer still doing business in the 1990’s sustained their profitability well beyond the industry average. 
Nonetheless, this is campaign season and we can expect lots of “glove’s off” parlance in the coming weeks and months. To be fair, what follows is an in-depth, step-by-step analysis of Joe Biden’s history as a productive member of the public sector workforce: 

Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When Bubba's Eyes Are Crying

I’m not sure why the event of Bubba Watson’s victory at Augusta on Easter Sunday has gotten all up inside me. When he hooked that wedge (or whatever iron it was) 30+ yards off those pine needles and onto that evil 10th green, my body left the easy chair. The fact that it stopped so absurdly close to the pin was miraculous. Several tedious minutes later his 2 putts found the cup and he had accomplished something very few human beings have ever done. And that’s when this event took an emotional turn for me and, I suspect, many others.
Bubba Watson is not a country club kid. He is not, in the current despicable parlance of our culture, a product of the 1%. Bubba Watson is a public school kid, an average Joe whose dad was military and whose mom was determined to keep the family on track. He was not privileged to everyday golf lessons at a well-groomed, gated facility in the exclusive parts of Florida. In fact, he never had a lesson. This sets him apart from so many we have come to understand as “The Golf Set” in America. Surely this is part of the story. Bubba’s is an unorthodox game with a swing that seems to change dramatically based on the end result he desires. He can move the ball in any direction quite significantly: towering fades, low hooks and the occasional, dreaded straight ball. He is not unique in this ability but he demonstrates it regularly and with little fanfare. He putts well (or he would not be wearing a green jacket) and his on-course demeanor is easy on the eye. Significant immediately following his victory was the number of other players that were there to greet him at the end of the round. When do you remember seeing that happen during a regular tour event, let alone The Masters? (Of course, I didn’t see Mickelson or Woods there). That speaks volumes about Bubba’s personality. His peers, comrades and competitors hold him in high esteem. But enough of that. When he sank that mini-putt and captured The Masters’ Championship he was overcome with emotion. Far be it from me to analyze what was going through his mind. Memories of his father, thoughts of his brand new child, love for his wife and mother, friendships, the journey, his pals? Yes, I suspect all of this and more. But hell, for a sport so veiled in propriety, so intensely focused on the individual, so steeped in tradition, so buttoned-down and exclusive, this was a most refreshing turn of events. When I saw—and the world saw—what this meant to this man, I wept with him. When I forced myself to weather the arrogant storms of Piers Morgan just to see Bubba again, I wept with him. When I walked through the minefield of the absurdly-hard-to-watch “Morning Joe” just to see Bubba, I cried with him. It’s funny, I never became emotional watching Nicklaus, Mickelson, Woods, Miller, Player, Strange, Faldo, Crenshaw, Love or most of the other masters of the game. They seemed distant to me, as if they had spent far too much time on the range working on every detail, every angle and every subtle inch. Not so with Bubba Watson. This guy is playing golf—a game he learned on his own—and having fun, honoring those he loves and…winning with tears in his eyes. That’s a man in my book.