Sunday, January 31, 2016

Not a Space in the Lot

Last week my wife and I went to a funeral home to attend a wake.

When we arrived, shortly after the calling hours were to start, we found that there was not a single parking space available. Anywhere. Not only were all of the spaces filled, but cars were parked along the outskirts of the lot, making it one-way traffic only (which was a pain when a car approached from the other way). Not only was the parking lot for the funeral home full, but people had filled the lot for the building next door. Not only was the lot for the building next door full, but people were parking across the street and crossing a very busy state route to attend.

A pastor once said that even Jesus had his levels of intimacy. He had the 70, then the 12 (disciples), then the three (Peter, James, and John), and then the one (John - the only one at the cross). Layers, better known as circles, of intimacy are common to each and every one of us. No one can honestly count the hundreds of "friends" on Facebook as being part of ones "inner circle".

So, when I asked my wife if it was okay if we just left, she was okay with it. You see, though we knew the one who departed and the surviving family, we were not that close. We were part of the outer circle.

I want to say what everyone says, this person "died too young." Indeed, she WAS too young. When the life expectancy of a female is 80+ (as of 2010 statistics), 48 is way too young.

I came to the conclusion years ago that old age is 15 years from wherever you are at. When you were 15, 30 was OLD. When you were 25, 30 was not old at all - 40 was old. Yet, somewhere along the line, as we find ourselves with more calendar pages flipped than we have left, that conclusion gets reversed. As a 50-year old, I can honestly say that 65 is no longer old to me. But 35? That's YOUNG!

There wasn't a parking space in the lot available. Nor in the lot next door. And the one across the street was filling up rapidly. For sure, many different circles of intimacy were represented. How many were there from outer circles like us? And why were they there?

Of course, there was the care and comfort of the family. And that is good. But I think there is another, more unspoken reason: during such tragedies we are faced with our OWN mortality. And coming face-to-face with finitude has a way of bringing out compassion - for those we haven't seen, or even consciously thought of, for a long time.

May I suggest something? The next time someone crosses your mind, even if that thought feels so out of the blue, take the time to reach out to that person. Remember, more than oil or natural gas, time is the most limited resource we have. And once it's gone, it's gone.

(In solemn remembrance of Wendy Houlahan. Go with God.)

©Emittravel 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

And a One-a And a Two-a

In my previous post, "More Than Words", I make a side reference to the classic "Help" by The Beatles. My point was that, though an upbeat song, the lyrics warranted a much slower version:

"Help, I need somebody
Help, Not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me?"

(Songwriters: Paul McCartney, John Lennon)
© Sony/ATV Tunes LLC

As you can tell from reading, the lyrics really don't fit the upbeat tempo, but you can't knock the song: it WAS a number one hit!

There is a great version by Cleveland native Michael Stanley. He captured the sincere cry of the writer. Give it a listen!

I bring that up because on the day I'm writing this I went to church. It's the same one I've had the blessing of going to before and playing with their music team. We had a pretty good song list, which we ran through at rehearsal on Wednesday evening. When we got to the church this morning, we were informed that the last song, which follows the sermon and ends the service, was being changed.

(My wife and I went shopping at a local Guitar Center so I could purchase a couple of percussion instruments; one of which I needed for the last song of the set. Well, there's always next time!)

The reason for the song change was that the pastor was going to be preaching on grace (for which the original selection wouldn't fit). What's the first song you think of when you hear the word "grace"? Me too. "Amazing Grace".

"Amazing Grace" is a song where the words were initially written (published) by John Newton in 1779. In 1835, the words were sung to the music of  "New Britain", which is the common melody known today.

The version we sang was by Chris Tomlin, "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)"

"Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace"

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

The reason I bring this up, is if you again take a moment to read the lyrics, you'll see that, though the music is normally slow, the song warrants an upbeat - even joyful - accompaniment. "I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see"!! Makes you wanna jump up and run around!

I’m no song writer. I've written my share of poems over the years, but none have been set to music. That's something simply outside of my wheelhouse.

I guess this post is to honor those who DO create the music that moves us. Whether it makes us dance till we drop, or weep till we drop, either way, thank you.

©Emittravel 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

More Than Words

I, like many of you, am a music lover. We listen via different means: through the scritch scritch of vinyl records; highly compressed MP3s over cheap ear buds that came with our iPhones; or, sitting right next to the speakers while the band jams their third set at the local tavern. No matter the method, there is something magical in the consumption of music.

My wife and I listen with different ears. She is a lyric person. She can tell you the words of most any song (given enough time and repetition), whereas I would need the lyrics to songs I had been singing over and over for years on the worship team. I'm an instrumental person. I play blues harmonica (which is one of those instruments you can't play and sing with simultaneously). I also play percussion, and, as a person from a predominantly Caucasian family, I have no rhythm. I'm the weird guy who actually counts while playing a tambourine. Needless to say, I can't very well sing while trying to keep the rhythm.

When I listen to a song, the singer's voice is just one more instrument in the mix. I remember listening to Sarah McLachlin's "Angel" (before it came to be synonymous with abandoned puppies) for weeks before I realized she was singing words. I was just so mesmerized by the SOUND of her voice, and the way she used it.

So, when the lyrics do come apparent, there is a lot to be said for having GOOD lyrics.

The other day, my wife played me two songs (over her iPhone speaker . . . Yeah, I know . . .): "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction, and "Locked Away" by R. City feat. Adam Levine. Take a moment and check them out.

Musically, they are both really good. They have great hooks that kick those endorphins into gear. Lyrically? That's a horse of a different name. (I may be mixing "horse of a different color" and "I went to the desert on a horse with no name" - whatever!)

"You're insecure,
Don't know what for,
You're turning heads when you walk through the door,
Don't need make-up, to cover up,
Being the way that you are is enough

Everyone else in the room can see it,
Everyone else but you

Baby you light up my world like nobody else,
The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed,
But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell,
You don't know, oh oh,
You don't know you're beautiful,
If only you saw what I can see,
You'll understand why I want you so desperately,
Right now I'm looking at you and I can't believe,
You don't know, oh oh,
You don't know you're beautiful, oh oh,
That's what makes you beautiful."

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC)

Now, do me a favor and go back and read those lyrics again SLOWLY. The words are a contrast to the music's upbeat rhythms and instrumentation. And that is okay! Ever give "Help" by The Beatles a good listen? The song is a CRY for help, but musically "you can dance to it"!

"What Makes You Beautiful" is a fantastic song. I for one, had no idea who One Direction was, but I walked away from that song thinking, "Yeah, that's good. What else you got?"

And now, the contrast:

"If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

Right about now…
If a judge for life me, would you stay by my side?
Or is you gonna say goodbye?
Can you tell me right now?
If I couldn't buy you the fancy things in life
Shawty, would it be alright?
Come on show me that you are down

Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know would you stick around?

If I got locked away . . . "

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC)

Musically, the above is a really good song. But lyrically? The first line ended it for me: "If I got locked away". Later, "If a judge for life me". I get the impression that we have a borderline criminal here, who is simply testing the waters of a relationship. "Now tell me would you really ride for me? Baby tell me would you die for me?" Either that, or the singer is looking for a getaway driver.

I walked away from that song thinking, "I'm good. No, really. I don't need to hear another."

The difference? Not the music. I would love to hear an instrumental version of either song. But lyrically, the choice is simple. There is only so much time to listen to music. I'm not going to actively pursue negative lyrics shrouded in good music.

But maybe, just maybe, if there were pictures of abandoned puppies . . .

(Title: "More Than Words" - Extreme)

©Emittravel 2016

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Giving God a Bad Name

Is it just me, or has news of crazies doing things in the name of "God" been increasing? Recently, a police officer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was shot at point-blank range by a person citing he did it in the name of Allah. Last year a "pro-life" individual attacked an abortion clinic (which means that the lives of the doctors and patients aren't of value) in Colorado Springs, Colorado (I cite this because the majority of Christians confess to be prolife).

It doesn't seem to matter if it's standing outside of a Planned Parenthood with signs of aborted fetuses on display for children of all ages to view, or if it's someone strapping a bomb to himself and walking into a crowded market. I’m sure God (by whichever name) is really proud of His followers.

In case you missed it, that last sentence was swimming in sarcasm.

For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you are probably aware that me and religion have had a bit of a falling out. Not me and God, mind you, me and religion. Two different things. Completely. (And you don't need to write to me about the bad grammar - it was on purpose.) And the more I hear about wackos doing such heinous things to their fellow human beings, the less interest I have in religion.

Attention: harming people in the name of your religion is NOT an effective recruiting tool. You can't convince me that the God of all things has chosen nut jobs like that as a means to bring more people into His "fold". I don't care if it was Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Peter, Paul, and Mary. ANYONE that claims your needing to harm another life is God's way, is a FALSE voice of God.

Since my knowledge of Islam is limited, I'm not going to devote too much time here to it. You can watch the pundits on FOX News for all of that. What I am going to do is focus on Judaism and Christianity.

No one can read the Bible (I'm capitalizing "Bible" after a thoughtful exchange with a friend. "That's for you, Mike!") and not walk away without a mixed understanding of who God is. We see a vengeful God in the Old Testament, and loving, sacrificial God in the New.

There are parts of the Old that make me doubt the validity of it being "of God". Those parts are those specifically where God seems to use individuals to do his "bidding". You know, when He uses the Israelites to wipe out cities (including women and children), or when He uses other nations to "punish" the Israelites. Why do I have trouble believing those are of God? Because elsewhere you find God doing things without other individuals. You know, like the flood that took place in Genesis where He wipes out almost all living creatures (outside of Noah, and his family, and some animals, and the fish in the sea), or raining fire and brimstone down upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

In the New, God sends Jesus to take upon Himself the sins of the world and pay the price that mankind cannot pay. To make a point, you can read where it is emphasized that man cannot do it on his own, that he NEEDS a savior. And if God makes it a point of bringing salvation upon all mankind by His own hand, why did He need The Spanish Inquisition?

If you find yourself following anyone who claims to be the voice of God, RUN!! The God who created all of the universe, things seen and unseen, does NOT need the likes of anyone else to get anything accomplished. Especially if the accomplishment requires harming or taking the life of another.

Quit giving God a bad name. Especially IN His name.

© Emittravel 2016

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Point Me to the Buffet

There is an interesting story in the bible that I found pretty descriptive of where my life has come. In the book of Acts (see chapter 10), Peter is tanning on the roof of the house of a guy named Simon, when he gets hit by heat stroke and starts to hallucinate.

Okay, Peter is staying with a guy named Simon who is a tanner, when he goes up on the roof of the house to pray. He gets really hungry and falls into a trance. Happy?

Anywho, he sees a vision of a sheet being let down from the sky, with all kinds of different animals on it. A voice tells him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." Apparently, some of the animals were of the types that the Mosaic law forbid him to eat, because he replied, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." (And apparently, Peter believed the voice to be of God, and he had no problem telling God no.) The voice replied, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." And, since Peter is stubborn, the vision was repeated two more times.

Later in the chapter, Peter goes to the house of a guy named Cornelius who was a "devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms (money to the poor) generously to the people, and prayed to God always." During this visit Peter comes to an understanding of the vision. Cornelius was not a Jew, and up to that point, Peter believed that the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins was ONLY for Jews. What Peter finally understood was God meant that he was not to call ANYONE common or unclean. That what Jesus did was for all mankind, and not for Peter's particular brand of religion.

My wife and I went out to dinner this weekend and I ordered the Lobster Garlic Noodles (I'm a sucker for seafood), which contained shrimp, crab, lobster, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, and parmesan cheese. As I was reveling in the taste sensation before me, I was struck by a thought: There are religions who would frown (a really, serious frown) at the idea of eating such items. Others forbid pork (which we always have on New Year's Day), and others would freak out over eating anything but fish on Fridays (at least during Lent - oops! Did I give that one away?!?)

You see, my wife and I are "foodies". We even shape vacations on what is available to eat. We absolutely love eating. You want to spend quality time with us? Guarantee food will have something to do with it!

Now, let me connect the story at the beginning with the thought I had over dinner.

For starters, I have formally departed ways with the church I had belonged to for many years. I am officially "church" homeless. And the clincher? I have no "want" to look for another.

I have found myself with a distaste for anything "religious" (which comes from an old word meaning "to strangle"). Oh, I'm still a Christian. The good news that Peter was sharing with Cornelius is still truth. I just believe that one does not have to hold to the manmade tenants of any particular religion in order to hold to that truth. And there lies the reason I have no "want" to look for another church.

In the bible it says that no scripture is for anyone's personal interpretation. But, what is happening within the different religions that cause such separation (and for the sake of simplification, I'm referring to different Christian religious "sects"), is exactly that: personal interpretations of the bible. And for me, I find that the bible was never meant to be taken to be an equal in the Godhead, based on the very writings it contains. Of course, that's just MY personal interpretation. If only I was a licensed or ordained minister (or televangelist). THEN my interpretations would be right! (sarcasm font)

What this means is that I find in every church things I agree with and things I disagree with. Of course, some would say the idea is to find one where what I agree with outweighs what I don't agree with. I can tell you, at this point in my journey, I'm not looking to settle. Nor, do I think I will find a church that believes 100% with me. And you want to know what? I'm okay with that.

I will still be loving God. I will still be worshipping God. And if you are looking for me, I'll be at the buffet.

© Emittravel 2016