There Goes Ryman Simon


I reserve the right to post a more detailed review later, but this was the thought going through my head during Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville:

Whatever I do next, I want to love it in the way that Paul Simon appears to love music.

In fact, forget limiting that to career. I want to love Heather the way Paul Simon appears to love music. I want to love the boys that way. My church. Improv. Everything I care about.

I read an article 20 years ago about the 1991 concert in Central Park arguing that Paul Simon is much more a studio musician than a concert musician — that he’s very much a deliberate perfectionist who focuses on getting things “just so” on the recording. Live shows, then, are just an impossible attempt to recapture what was done perfectly in the studio.

And I would agree with that assessment of his studio work. If I had any criticism of his most recent album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” it’s that at times it’s seems too meticulous, too deliberate, too intentional, too perfect; that at times the combined artistry and craftmanship seem to have lost a very little of the feeling.

But I was aware of that perception of his concerts — as well as a perception that he can be a bit dour, dating back to old SNL appearances and the “You Can Call Me Al” video — when I saw him solo for the first time at the Ryman.

I was surprised at how much fun it was.

I guess maybe I was picturing music appreciators sitting respectfully in a performance venue while a respected artist shared classics of the medium.

Late in the evening, Paul Simon played “Late In The Evening,” and it captured the mood perfectly.

When I come back to the room, everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play

It was late in the evening, and I blew that room away

It was like he was that kid again, with his funky electric guitar, having fun rocking for a crowd that was eating it up.

We were having fun. He was having fun.

“Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” from the last album captured the dichotomy for me. It’s perfect on the album. It’s raucous live. Both are great. They’re just different.

And that’s how Paul Simon seems to love music.

He loves it devotedly.

He loves it as a studio musician who pours himself into it, studies it, wants to understand it, wants to do it right, wants to be dedicated and meticulous and deliberate. He invests, and works, hard.

But he also loves it passionately.

When he was on stage Thursday night, he looked like there was nowhere he would rather be. He looked like he couldn’t be having more fun that night than he was having on that stage playing those songs.

And that’s what I want — I want a job that I can love in a way that engages me and I’m absolutely dedicated to doing and doing well, but that I enjoy. I want to be to Heather and the boys someone who loves them devotedly and works hard for what’s best for them, but who also can’t imagine anything more fun than being with them.

Devotion and passion. I don’t think that’s too much to strive for.

Review: David Levithan’s “The Lover’s Dictionary”

Heather gave me David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary for Valentine’s Day.

I moved it pretty high up my reading list (I still haven’t read the book she gave me for my birthday) because it looked interesting, and it looked like a quick read.

I was right on both counts.

As an author, I’m jealous.

In part, I’m jealous because, through the clever formatting of the dictionary-entry-esque approach of the book, Levithan has turned what is, at best, a novella’s worth of writing into “A Novel,” as it declares on the cover. It’s a clever approach; I’m much more comfortable calling the book novel than a novel.

I’m jealous in part because Levithan has captured the mood of a novel I’d hoped to one day write better than I could. The book is the story of a relationship, the good and the bad, both told with equal weight and believability. The out-of-chronology storytelling approach portrays the relationship as a series of moments, set in a variety of emotional landscapes, that captures the ups and downs of love without weighting the one through the filter of the other. In a relationship, it’s hard to remember the good during the bad or the bad during the good, but here both coexist side-by-side.

Finally, I’m jealous because it’s a good book. Levithan is talented. The book may be sparse, but it’s nuanced. There’s great emotional depth in the interwoven vignettes. The dictionary motif places a lot of focus on words, and Levithan is well aware of their power, and uses them well.

Lori McKenna — “You Get A Love Song” Lyrics

(“You Get A Love Song” is from Lori McKenna’s album Lorraine. Additional Lori McKenna lyrics can be found here.)

You Get A Love Song

Well, they ain’t gonna make a movie
About a couple of fools like us.
No one’s going to write a book
About our little love.

You don’t get picture on the local front page
For falling in love at a reckless age, No, no.
For saying ‘I do’ when you’re 19,
In a hand-me-down dress with a pawn-shop ring,
For having no money for a honeymoon
‘Cause you’re saving it up for the baby boom,
For knowing a love that’s hard when it starts this young,
Well, you don’t get much, no, no,
But you get a love song.

The Sunday sermon won’t mention all the work we put into this love.
They ain’t gonna hang a billboard congratulating us
For surviving every rise and fall, for being more hard-headed than a wrecking ball.

For letting me chase a hopeless dream,
For giving up on trying to change me,
For drinking your way so far down
I almost thought I couldn’t pull you out,
For knowing the only thing harder than letting go
Oh, is holding on,
Well, you don’t get much, no, no,
But you get a love song,
You get a love song. (Love song.)
Oh, you get a love song. You get a love song.

Next time a hurricane comes through
They won’t name it after us.
And how could you paint a picture
That looked anything like love?

The six o’clock news don’t give a damn,
That by the grace of God we worked it out again. By the grace of God.

For working all the time and living week to week,
For letting your dreams fall into me,
For being a man with a damn good heart,
I’m going to hold you through the hardest parts.
For being in love that will last even after life is gone,
Well, you don’t get much, no, no, no, no; you get a love song.
You get a love song. You get a love song.
You get a love song. You get a love song.

You get a love song.

Quote Backlog

I keep a folder of quotes that I like to use in my sidebar, but I come across them more frequently than I can use them, and some just never really fit where I am when I update. So here’s a whole bunch of them I haven’t used.

“Life is rarely about what happened; it’s mostly about what we think happened.” — Chuck Klosterman

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” — Henry David Thoreau

“I’m not perfect, but you should’ve waited. I’m worth it.” — Lee Christmas, “The Expendables”

“Only a growing man can help other people grow. Therefore the first qualification for leadership is not having arrived.” — @immanuelnash

“You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.” — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

“There are honest people in the world, but only because the devil considers their asking prices ridiculous.” — A Fine And Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.”
— The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.” — A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher

“The secret of patience is to do something else in the meantime.” — Anonymous

“You let your past destroy you, or you use it to create something better” — Tyler Perry

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” — Malcolm Forbes

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” — Confucius

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams

“Life is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be.” — Jose Ortega y Gasset

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” ― Zelda Fitzgerald

“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

“If He who in Himself can lack nothing, chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed.” — C.S.Lewis

“Loving someone does not simply mean doing things for them; it is much more profound… To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them.” -– Jean Vanier

“Every breath is a second chance.” — Switchfoot

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” -– Confucius

“The most important time in your life was the time you spent with these people. That’s why you all are here.” — Christian Shepherd, “LOST”

“Life is too short for drama and petty things, So kiss slowly, Laugh insanely, Love truly, And forgive quickly.” — Anonymous

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis

“It’s your fault; I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” — James Rhodes, “Iron Man”

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” — Mother Theresa

This Is A Test

Working with Photoshop CS5 -- new feature: Sha...

Image by Sebastian Anthony via Flickr

So I’ve switched over to a different editor format for my blog, and added some new features, and so I’m writing this post purely for the sake of trying them out (for myself) and demonstrating them (for you, my readers, who probably don’t care).

I don’t really have a whole lot to say at this point, but you have to write so much before the new features start working. For example, after that sentence, there’s a button that will let me make the word “editor” in the first paragraph a link to the “editor” article on Wikipedia, and the words “new features” a link to, well, something.

I can also automatically insert pictures that said new features believe relate to the post, but apparently I can only insert one picture at a time.

Also, when it let me link to Wikipedia, it gave me a choice of multiple places I could link it to. That’s kinda neat.

It automatically suggests tags for the post, and gave me a list of related articles that I can add to the post.

There’s a feature that allows me to declare this post “super-awesome,” but I have no idea what that means.

Also, I now have a feature to add a “more” cut to the post.

Continue reading

my own two arms

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Self-Sacrifice.”

Today’s two bits of theology are brought to you by an episode of Friends that I’ve never seen and by Rebecca St. James. How far wrong can you go?

Apparently, from what I understand from friends (the people I know, not the show) is that there was an episode of Friends (the show, not the people) that argued that nothing is truly selfless. Basically, anytime you do something, you have a motivation, a desire to do it. You get something out of it, even if what you get out of it is selflessness. If I sacrifice for you, it’s because I make the choice that’s what I want to do, and get the selfish benefit of having make the sacrifice I wanted to.

To which I say, sure. To quote a contemporarily popular show, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Rather, I would argue that’s a good thing.

I would argue that giving is about the heart. I believe firmly that God is less interested in what we do than in who we are. A good deed done for the wrong reason is of less benefit that the transformation of the heart into something He can use. He doesn’t desire that we sacrifice in spite of our hearts; He desires that we sacrifice because of our hearts. A heart that gets its fulfillment from service to others is a beautiful thing in His eyes.

So, the Rebecca St. James part, then. She has this song I like, Carry Me High. And toward the end, there’s this spoken word bit — “Until you find something worth dying for / You’re not really living.”

And I could accept that as an axiom. But I also believe it should be taken a step further: “Until you find something worth living for / You’re just slowly dying.”

It’s easy for me to say I would die for something. My God, my country, my niece, someone I love. Heck, given a chance to fly, I would risk my life for the cause of human space exploration in a heartbeat.

But the truth is, it’s unlikely I will be called upon to die for any of those things. It’s a good thing to say those are the things that are that important to me, but I doubt that will ever be tested or demonstrated. Truth be told, I hope those will never be tested or demonstrated. I’d like to think I’d be willing to die for those things, but I don’t have any great desire to do so.

And that’s true for most of us. Most of us don’t end our lives by laying them down for something more important. The ends of our lives generally come in more divers and less epic circumstances.

So what do we do in the meantime? I would argue that the important thing is not what we’re willing to die for, but what we’re willing to live for. What we’re willing to give our time, energy and money to while we’re on this Earth. What we’re willing to pour ourselves into. What we’re willing to be passionate about.

For who, for what, are you willing to make yourself a living sacrifice?

To Love At All

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Love.”

“Don’t know much about love
Think it starts with belief
I’ve seen it there for healing
Can feel it beneath my feet
Don’t know much about love
Don’t think it can replace belief
I can feel it when I’m kneeling
Coming up from underneath
Wondering at the mystery.”
— Sarah Masen, “Jenni’s Face

The older I get, the more time goes by, the more I realize how little I know about love.

And, really, I’m OK with that.

Sometimes, the best thing, the most important thing, you can learn is that you have learned nothing.

The apostle John wrote in his first epistle that God is love. I read in the book, The Knowledge of the Holy,an argument by A.W. Tozer that any desire to take this phrasing to mean that love is a particularly important attribute and defining attribute of God above other attributes is misguided, and that we should know that phrasing isn’t meant literally because if it were, algebraically, it would require that the opposite also be true — Love is God.

Now, some today might call me a heretic for saying this about Tozer — or Piper or Augustine or Driscoll or Calvin — but I’m gonna side with John on this one.

What if he’s right? What if John, who was the beloved apostle of the incarnate Christ Jesus and who of the New Testament writers was particularly intrigued by the power of the word, wrote that, more than once, for a reason? What if God is love?

If God is love, if love is God, the two would have to be interchangeable. You would have to be able to take 1 Corinthians 13, and write it something like this:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not God, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not God, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not God, I gain nothing.

God is patient.

God is kind.

God does not envy

God does not boast.

God is not proud.

God is not rude.

God is not self-seeking.

God is not easily angered.

God keeps no record of wrongs

God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and God. But the greatest of these is God.

And, you know, I don’t know that I’m uncomfortable with that. I read that, and I read truth.

If God is love, then love is God. And God is infinite and unknowable. And if love is God, love is infinite and unknowable.

I could spend the rest of my life seeking to know God and know Him no more than I did when I began, because any percentage of the infinite is no greater or less than any other percentage. And if love is God, then the same is true of love. I can no more about love no matter how much I learn about love.

And so I’ve given up trying to understand.

I will continue to learn, and continue to love, but knowing that the best I can hope for is that tomorrow I do so better than today and less well than the day after.

I can do no other.

Another Sunday — Sojourn II

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday, I was back at Sojourn, teaching kids again.

On a practical note, I am still working on my approach. I’ve been doing this since January, and am still finessing it. I think I’m doing much better than I was in the beginning, but I’m still working kinks out. This month I think was not quite as good as the two before it, but I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe next month with be better. And, as with improv shows, I’m open to the idea that sometimes the audience is just in a different place from one to the next, regardless of my work.

The lesson was about love and service, and specifically about Christ washing the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. The kids were taught that the act was a demonstration on Christ’s part that He loved His apostles, but also a lesson to them that just as He was not too good to take on the role of a servant in washing their feet, they should be willing to humble themselves to serve others. A good reminder.

The funny thing is, this story has become so linked in my mind with the Biblical picture of marriage that I have to remind myself that, strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with marriage at all. At least, there’s no direct mention or application to marriage in the passage.

Everybody likes to get all debate-y about the verses that instruct that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, but generally are much less concerned about the verses that say husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Possibly because “love” is such a much more agreeable thing to do than “submit”; and possibly because it’s easy to parse “as Christ loves the church” modifier to mean something as simple as, like, “a lot,” which we’re totally comfortable with.

I did some research last year about what that phrase might actually mean, Biblical ways in which Christ loves, and how they might apply to the role of a husband in marriage. But if I had to pick one passage to be the answer, to serve as a picture of what that might mean, that would be it — Christ humbling himself into the role of a servant to wash the apostle’s feet. The gesture is very much one of putting yourself beneath another, submission not just in authority but in worth; a higher calling of putting one’s spouse ahead of oneself than wives are called to.

Next week — back on the road. I think I may be supposed to go to some place called Grove Baptist, but I’ll let you know when I’m done.

Sing A New Song

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “The Poetry of King David.”

I’ve written about this idea once before:

This — whatever “this” is — is your testimony.

In Christian circles, the word “testimony” is often taken in a very limited context. In Hollywood parlance, it’s your meetcute story with God. “How did you come to know Jesus?” Which, really, means, “How did you reach the point of accepting salvation?” A “proper” testimony begins with lostness and ends with baptism.

And by that meaning, the Bible is full of testimonies; short vignettes of how people came to God. And those, to be sure, have their value.

But the Bible also has, in my opinion, two real testimonies. A love story shouldn’t stop at a wedding; a testimony shouldn’t stop at baptism. To me, the Bible has two stories where people tell about their actual relationship with God. Not just how they met, but what happened afterwards.

One of those is told through the epistles of Paul. We get some of his story, including a third-person account of his meetcute testimony on the road to Damascus in Acts. But in his letters, he talks about his relationship with God after that. And it’s not always cute. But it’s a real love story, warts and all, with disappointments and dedication. It’s honest.

And then, there’s David. As with Paul, someone else tells us David’s story. We get the facts, third-person.

And then we get his psalms.

Possibly the most beautiful love story with God ever written.

I’ve had the question asked about how people in the Old Testament were saved. And I’m pretty unopinionated about the whole thing. Really doesn’t matter to me.

But I do know this — David? He got it.

Save for actually using the name Jesus, how much different would the Psalms have been if David had read the gospel? A thousand years before Christ, David understood the concept of brokenness. He understood grace. He got forgiveness, and redemption, and salvation. He understood reverence; he understood relationship. He got it. All of it. As much as anyone in the Bible save Christ Himself.

And the great thing is, David was transparent about it. Here he was, “a man after God’s own heart.” And 3,000 years later, we know that even for this great man of God, it wasn’t easy. He hurt, he struggled. He strove with God, ardently and passionately. He admitted his own shortcomings; he acknowledged his own brokenness. But he also expressed his frustrations with his maker. He didn’t hold anything back, from God or from us. He lived out loud, fully and completely.

And we today benefit from that. We see that it’s OK. God doesn’t expect your relationship with Him to be perfect. He doesn’t expect that you’ll never get upset. He doesn’t expect you’ll never get hurt. He doesn’t expect that you’ll never get mad at Him or frustrated with Him or impatient with Him or disappointed with Him. You’re human. He knows that. And, you know what? Being human? He kinda invented that.

And David knew one other thing. Without question, without doubt. God loved him. I mean, like, crazy deeply passionately loved him. And he loved God. With everything he had and everything he was. All of that — all the hurts and frustrations and brokenness and regret and disappointments and forgiveness and anger and redemption and grace — all of that was part of their love story. Anyone who’s been in love knows that. Not the meetcute Hollywood love story. But a real relationship love story? Yeah, it’s not perfect. It’s not airbrushed. It’s real. So was David’s love story with God.

And so is everyone else’s. We sometimes feel the need to pretend otherwise. We feel the need to act like our relationship with God is completely smooth. That we’re completely happy in Him. That our testimony is a Hollywood love story. Because, otherwise, who’s going to want that sort of God. Because everyone else tells that sort of story. Because, otherwise, what’s wrong with us?

Here’s what’s wrong with us — we’re human. You’re never going to be completely happy in God. Not because He’s not perfect. He is. But because we’re not. Our ways are not His ways. Our thoughts are not His thoughts. You’ll never be completely happy with what He gives until you can perfectly want what He wants. And as long as you’re on this Earth, you’re not going to. So get over it.

Instead, what you have is a relationship with a God who loves you anyway. Who doesn’t need you to be perfect. Who doesn’t need you to be completely happy. Who doesn’t care if you get mad or disappointed or if you screw up. Who loves you anyway. Who is there for you anyway.

And that love story is lived out every moment of every day of your relationship with Him. During the meetcute salvation parts. During the mountaintop glory of God parts. During the where-the-hell-are-you-God parts. And He’s there, and He loves you, and He’s loyal to you, and He’s dedicated to you every moment of that. And He’s going to bat for you in ways you could never dream of, even when you have no idea where He is.

This is your love story.

This — whatever “this” is — is your testimony.

May 27

NOTE: I originally published this a year ago today. I’m republishing the post as it appeared a year ago, with a few additional thoughts for this year.

One of my quirks, I remember dates. They get lodged in my head, and I can’t get them out. Some useful, like birthdays (though I’m getting worse with adding those), and some not, like the anniversaries of days certain things happened. It’s a reflex, to the point where, apparently, it can be annoying.

Anyway, May 27 is one of those dates, from events that occurred in two consecutive years.

On May 27, 1992, I graduated from Huntsville High School.

Doing the math, I graduated from high school 17 years ago today, when I was about two months shy of my 17th birthday. In other words, high school is now just over half my life ago. I’ve lived more since that day than I had before. It’s just weird to think about; I certainly don’t feel twice as old as I was then. I’ll admit that my days at HHS are a distant and remote memory at this point, but I’m still young, right? From graduation until our 10-year reunion, sure, a good bit of time passed. But the reunion was hardly any time ago at all. And now the 20 is just around the corner. Where does it go?

On May 27, 1991, Beth Ladner died.

Beth was a member of my class at Huntsville, was a fellow part of the staff of the school newspaper, and ran against me for senior class vice-president. She was brilliant, pretty, and a genuine and easily likeable person, with a promising future, most likely as a marine biologist. She died in a car accident right before final exams.

And that fact has always stayed with me. This was high school, and final exams were huge — the studying, the stress, the work. If the accident had occurred a week later, she would have gone through all of that. And still been dead. The effort all in vain. We all know we’re going to die, and that it could happen at any time, but Beth’s death was such an object lesson in that. We strive, we struggle, we hurt, we laugh, we dance, we love, we cry — all for a tomorrow that one day won’t come.

Beth’s loss made us all the less. But the rest of us took final exams, and went on. And went to college. And married. And divorced. And had kids. And got jobs. And strived and struggled and hurt and laughed and danced and loved and cried. More of us have been lost along the way. But the rest continue to continue.

And hopefully the world is better for it.

May 27, 2010 coda — Since I wrote this a year ago, it has become one of the most-viewed posts on my blog. Someone even linked to it yesterday, and it was viewed a few times because of that. Because of that, I decided to republish it today in hopes of these words continuing to find homes.

It being a year later, I have to add a couple of additional thoughts since I first wrote this. First, and obviously, Beth was loved. I wrote this purely for myself, to let out what was in my heart, some of it had been with me for quite a while. I never really thought about it resonating with anyone else, and certainly never imagined people sharing it with others. But it’s been amazing to see how many people still remember her and still care. It’s an incredible tribute to who she was, and the lives she touched.

Second, perhaps less obviously but more importantly — you are loved. I can’t imagine it; if things had been reversed, if it had been the other candidate for senior class vice-president on that road that night, I can’t imagine that 18 years later anybody would be writing about me, and that so many people would still be reading that 19 years later. But, you know, I doubt Beth would have imagined that either. She’s been gone from this Earth now longer than she was on it. I doubt she would have dreamed that she’d touched so many lives, that so many people cared, so that more than her lifetime later, people would still be remembering her fondly.

The lesson of all of that? Yes, that Beth was loved. Yes, that she was special. But, also, this: Right now, there are people out there whom you have touched in a way you have no clue about. Right now, there are people out there who care about you more than you realize. Right now, there are people out there who will remember you long after you could dream they would.

Right now, you are loved, more and by more people than you know.