Dearly Beloved, WE…

Prince

I’m originally from Columbia, Tn. It’s a small town in Middle Tennessee. I remember growing up there were a number of even smaller outlying communities but one in particular that was memorable was Summertown, Tn. The one thing I remember about Summertown is there was a group of hippies who lived on something they called “The Farm.”

Anyone who I ever met from “The Farm” were always way different from the “regular” people I encountered every day. They men all had beards, wore very simple clothes and they most of the time wreaked of pot and. B.o. I was taught at an early age that I didn’t ever wanna be like these people or live on “The Farm.” I wasn’t really given a reason but I remember it was pointed out to me that people on “The Farm” shared cars, clothes and even wives I think. I’m not so sure everything I was taught about them was wrong or right but I’ve since come to believe they could be on to something.

I’m a big Prince fan, probably one of the bigger fans you’ll ever meet! I’m not saying that to brag but I seriously love his music. I wasn’t really a fan of his during the 80’s but I really grew to appreciate him about age 15 or 16. His music gave me a sense of identity and purpose. It made me feel connected in a way no other artist I had ever encountered before or since.

I’m not sure I agreed with everything he’s sang about over the years but I admired him simply as a musician and entertainer. I will still argue to this day there has never been, there will never be anyone like Prince. I believe one day his work will be held up next to Mozart or Bach or any other great composer in the history of the world. You may disagree with me but you’d be wrong, I told you I am one of the biggest fans of Prince you will ever meet. I think my affection for Prince’s music may take a backseat only to my friend Robby or Matt.

Robby, Matt and I have seen Prince live, in concert dozens of times throughout the years. He was by far the best entertainer and musician I’d ever seen. He was a true genius. I don’t think we ever would’ve thought he would leave us so soon. I remember the day they announced on TMZ that he had passed away at the age of 57. I was working that day and I remember I was sitting at my desk, choking back the tears, hoping it was just some sort of fake news but it wasn’t.

Anyone who has ever heard the music I make would probably say something like “it sounds like Prince, are you trying to sound like Prince?” Although I would consider that the highest compliment, I don’t really feel that way about my music, (ok, maybe the earliest stuff I wrote was a little derivative lol). I think I spent so much time listening to and studying his vast catalog of music that it just became part of me. I honestly didn’t mean to sound like him on purpose I don’t think, the music just came out that way.

Even though I’d seen him in concert dozens of times and had a couple of backstage shoulder brushes with him I never really knew the man. Although, he did give me a high five over a a crowd at a small after show one night in Mississippi. I screamed like a preteen girl and I felt like I never wanted to wash that hand again…seriously I know he was just a man but I can’t talk enough about his music.

One of the things that had and still has me baffled is how he really was a one man show. He quite literally didn’t need a band. He would go into the studio and literally play every instrument and sing every part on the record. When I found this out I was floored. He was doing this from the very beginning of his career. His first few albums had the words “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince” on the back of the albums. My mind was blown, not only was the music stellar, he did it ALL himself. This was revolutionary at the time he did it and very few, if any artists had done this.

Early in my musical career I decided I wanted to be like this. I wanted to be able to play ALL the instruments and sing all the parts. We had one BIG problem though, I was no Prince. Oh, I tried to be a one man show early on but I couldn’t pull it off, at least not for a whole album. It made me realize even more what an immense talent he was.

My failure at trying to emulate Prince showed me something even of greater value. It showed me the power of collaboration. I had to lean on other musicians to help me pull off what I was trying to do. It was through this process I realized that in this exchange with other musicians, my own music became something different and most of the time way better than I could have come up with by myself.

This process of collaboration is the reason many of the greatest bands of all time worked so well. You’ve got greats like The Rolling Stones, who’s music is really defined by the collaborative efforts of Mick Jagger, their singer and Keith Richards, one of their guitar players. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame are another pairing that, without them, the bands just wouldn’t have been so great!

It’s very interesting to me that THE music Prince is most known for is still his Purple Rain album. Interestingly enough that album was one he credited as “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince and The Revolution.” This was a collaborative effort that really defined his career. If you are a Prince fan, you know what a profound influence that his band mates Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution had on Prince’s songwriting at the time.

I believe that that this idea of collaboration is something the Bible shows us is essential for our lives to be all that they were designed to be. Even the Bible itself, all 66 books is a collaborative effort. I don’t mean to say let’s collaborate just for creative purposes but doing so just to get the most out of life. We are not wired for isolation but for community.

If we look in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis we will notice that God said even back then “It is not good for man to be alone.” So, God creates Eve, someone very much like Adam but at the same time very different. Eve is someone who quite literally completes Adam in every way. I believe we are all like this and I’m discovering that we need each other to bring out the best in all of us. We are, as Jack Johnson once sang, “Better Together.”

I am an alcoholic. It’s been through my recovery process that I’ve learned to move from isolation and self addiction into community for the sake of growth. This has been a slow and often painful realization but Its’s been through the relationship with my sponsor and other recovering people I’ve come to know the value of community. It’s also been through this process I’ve begun to see God’s plan more clearly for my life.

I am still In repair in this area of my life but I’m slowly moving from being someone who wants to be a one man show to being someone who is willing to be vulnerable with others. This is reshaping my life in many ways. I’m discovering as I come out of my isolation that this thing called life is best lived as a collaboration with others and it really isn’t just about me at all.

In Proverbs the Bible states that “as Iron Sharpens Iron, so one man sharpens another.” That simple truth sums up what I’m learning in the new part of my journey. We are all designed with strengths and weaknesses that are completed in our relationships with one another. Even Jesus surrounded himself with community with the 12 disciples, if he did how much more do I need to?

In Romans 12 The Bible talks about the church. He makes the analogy that the body of believers is like our physical body. Just as we have arms and legs and fingers that all serve an individual function so we as believers all have a part to play in The Church body. Each person in a community brings something unique that only they can bring. So even here we can see that we are wired for connection with one another.

So, I’m learning, I haven’t arrived but I’m growing. No, I probably won’t go join a hippy commune like “The Farm” but I will be more intentional with community. I’ll fight my tendency toward isolation and selfishness and try to make myself available and vulnerable to others after all that is more of what life is about and as Prince once so beautifully said “Dearly Beloved, WE are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…”

See, what had happened was…

prodigal son

I think I was 16 the first time I got arrested. I was caught driving the get away car. See, I was out with a couple of friends late one summer night playing a more grown up version of knock and run or whatever you may call it where you live. We thought it was hilarious to drive through a neighborhood with our headlights off, let one guy out of the car and send him up to knock on the door. Then my friend would sprint back to the primer blue Toyota Tercel and we would peel out and speed off into the night. This was all fun and games until that one fateful house in Sunnyside.

Since I was driving the get away car I would just go where they would tell me. I am truly directionless and really had no idea where we were and wasn’t really familiar with this neighborhood. Sometimes we could coast down a hill with the engine off since it was a five speed. We staked out our next house and we were ready. Engine was off, all was silent except frogs and whippoorwills. My friend tip toed to the door and then knocked REAL loud about 4 x and took off through the yard. He was sprinting like he was a football player about to score a touch down when OUT OF THE BLUE came an older man in his underwear who proceeded to tackle my friend. OH SNAP!! We didn’t know what to do.

My other friend in the car with me shouted, “Go man, drive” but I couldn’t leave my friend to the hands of some dude in his tighty whiteys. So I jumped out of the car and tried to pull my friend out from under the hairy middle aged man. Eventually, we got him free and we sped off into the night. We were all out of breath, laughing and trying to recount the incident when all of the sudden we saw blue lights in our rear view mirror. This is it, we were busted.

The officers pulled us over and asked “what are you boys doing in this neighborhood at 3am?” We must have just looked guilty cuz they arrested us on the spot. The police, for whatever reason, took me home that night instead of to a police station. I begged them to take me to jail because I knew that would be better than the reaction my parents were gonna have.

They pulled me from the back of the car and I stood on the front porch of my house handcuffed and surrounded by 2 officers. It took a little while for my parents to wake up, after all it was 3 in the morning. Finally after a few minutes the porch light came on and my heart began to pound. This was it, my life was over as I knew it. There I stood in my baggy, acid washed jeans and backwards starter cap and then my stepdad emerged from the shadows and slung open the front door in his underwear. They began to explain to my parents why they were bringing me home, it was brutal.

The officers then turned me over to my parents. The looks they gave me are hard to describe. Disappointed doesn’t even begin to touch it. They both stood in the living room as I sat on the couch. They were both yelling and screaming and pointing their fingers at the same time. Then my stepdad looked at me and said “well, what do you have to say for yourself.” I don’t remember exactly what I said but I’m pretty sure it started out something like “See, what had happened was…”

See, I had tried to come up with a good story in the back of that police car. I came up with excuses about how it wasn’t my fault and I was just the driver, blah, blah. My parents were so irate they hardly let me get a word in so it didn’t really matter, they weren’t really interested in my story.

Years later, I’m sheepishly sneaking into the back of an AA meeting. I had been battling addiction for some time at this point and had just come out of relapse. I thought if I snuck in and grabbed a seat as usual that nobody would even notice my long absence. Much to my chagrin, they did. I started getting hugs from people I didn’t even know and everyone was saying the same thing. “Welcome back, we’re so glad you made it back.” Wait, what?

See, I had already prepared excuses for anyone who asked me about my relapse. I was gonna tell them how I was just so stressed out and my girlfriend told me I was better off just trying to control my drinking, etc. I had a ton of excuses but it was as if nobody could even hear me. I tried to tell them “See, what had happened was…” and no response just “welcome back.”

There’s a well known parable in the Bible most know as the parable of the Prodigal Son. The story focuses on a man and his 2 sons. One son looks at his father one day and says basically, “Dad, you’re not important to me, I want my inheritance now.” This was basically like saying “Dad, you’re dead to me, now give me my $$” So, the father gives him his inheritance much to the dissaproval of his older brother and I believe as really sad father.

Jesus goes on to say in this parable that the younger brother spent his inheritance on wild parties, prostitutes, crack and late night Waffle House(my more modern translation.) The younger brother finally spends ALL his money and winds up broke and homeless. He even got a job feeding slop to the pigs. The Bible says he was so hungry that he daydreamed about eating the slop he was feeding to pigs.

This is when he hit his “bottom” as we call it in recovery.  The Bible says “he came to himself”, he had a moment where he finally realized what he had done and was ready for a way out. He then made a plan to go back to his fathers house to ask for a job as one of his fathers servants. He was at an all time low.

On his way home he was rehearsing a speech over and over that probably sounded something like “See, what had happened was…” The Bible goes on to say that while he was still a “long way off” the father saw the son and ran toward him. No, it wasn’t to scold him or lecture him on how he had blown it but instead to welcome him home!! The story goes on to say that the father wouldn’t even listen to his story, he basically ignored him because he was too busy welcoming home. The father then threw a party for his son that had been lost and was now found!!

For a long time in my life I thought that in order to have a relationship with God that I would have to clean up, get rid of some of my bad habits, my addictions and what have you. I think religion made me believe that I had to have all the right words for an apology for God to get back in a relationship with Him or even start one with Him. I had worked up my “see what had happened was…” story but I thought it was just too messy for God to handle. I thought I had disqualified myself from ever being in a relationship with God.

What Jesus is saying in this parable is that the Father isn’t interested in where we’ve been or what we’ve done, he’s too busy just welcoming us home and he’s ready to throw a party. He will certainly allow you to use the story of where you’ve been to show others of his love, grace and redeeming power but as far as beating us up over the details, it’s NOT happening, never.

The term “repent” gives me the hee bee gee beez. I think I’ve just heard it used so wrongly for so long. It just simply means to turn the other direction. When I screw up I don’t have to come up with a fancy prayer or go see a priest, I just turn the opposite direction and head back home. I’m just like the Prodigal son, who’d wasted his inheritance and disgraced his family. The Bible says he “came to himself” and headed toward his fathers house, this was simply a turn in the opposite direction of all that was destroying his life.

God is the same way. He is perpetually inviting us into his abundant life(John 10:10). He’s not concerned about where we’ve been or what we’ve done and he ISN’T expecting us to start with “See, what had happened was…” he just wants us to come home!! He’s ready to throw a party!!

Map Out of Madness

Map

One of my biggest Pet Peeve’s is getting/being lost. Literally, I have to use a GPS to go anywhere. I mean even if I’ve been there dozens of times, I still plug my destination into my phone every single time. My kids often make fun of me about it but I’ve always been directionally challenged, I’ve always been this way. The kids will usually chime in from the back seat, “Dad are you sure we’re going the right way.” Ha ha, you’re hilarious kids.

For example, if someone is explaining to me how to get somewhere and says something like “Go west for about 5 miles etc” I immediately begin to freak out internally. I don’t know where West is..unless a sign tells me or a GPS specifically tells me where to turn, I am lost.

We didn’t always have GPS. I can remember back when I was in my 1st band. We travelled around in an old, worn out Ford van pulling a uhaul trailer full of gear. To get to any destination we had to consult a well used and tattered Atlas that we kept in the floor of the van. This usually required some forethought and planning before our trip. We had to map out our trip and destination BEFORE we headed out.

I remember in those days we would have to often stop and ask directions, it was just part of the trip. We’d pop into a convenient store get some Fritos and a coke and ask specific directions to whatever venue we were playing. The Atlas got us most of the way there but many times it just got us close and we had to rely on people who had been to the venue before to fill us in on EXACTLY where it was.

It wasn’t hard to get lost back then. If we read the map wrong we could potentially go for miles and miles in the opposite direction of our destination, just one wrong turn and we could be lost for hours. This used to drive me crazy, especially when were exhausted after a long day of traveling, then a show later on that night and were attempting to head home. I just wanted to get home and crash in my bed but often times it did not happen as we planned. Ah the good old Rock and Roll lifestyle wasn’t as glamorous as I thought.

This got me thinking about something God has been showing me lately. Many times in my journey of life I have taken some small Wrong turns that would land me somewhere completely different than I intended. I was listening to a podcast of a guy named Andy Stanley who said it best when he said “Direction always determines Destination.” Direction, not intention determines destination!

For much of my life this has been the story. I’ve had lots and lots of good intentions but somehow always landed somewhere I didn’t really want to be. For example, I never sat down and said “I want to be an alcoholic one day.” No way, nobody ever thinks things like this. My intention was just to have a drink and “knock the edge off.” My direction, however said something completely different.”

In fact I would go so far as to say my “good intentions“ most often would get me lost. I always INTEND to do something good but often times these intentions lead me to a place of inaction which in turn DO NOT lead me to a destination where I want to be. For example I may have intended to go to Atlanta to play a show but if my direction was toward St. Louis, well, obviously unless I redirected the van I wouldn’t ever make it to Atlanta.

See, getting lost is never intentional I don’t think. Nobody in their right mind says, I’ve got some extra hours, I wasn’t doing anything anyways, I have so much money, let me just waste some of it. Nope, we would never do that..unless we are insane. Often times it’s just that we start out heading in the wrong direction. Have you ever been there?

I was recently thinking about all this and for some reason the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden came to my mind. Adam and Eve are in the perfect place and have a perfect connection to God, they received specific direction about what to eat and what not to eat. Their GPS was on and they were headed in the right direction and were even told how NOT to get lost.

They got distracted and they lost their direction and wound up some place completely different than they intended to. There was the voice of someone who said he knew a shortcut or a better way to get there, despite what the map said. As the story goes they took the DETOUR and wound up lost and afraid. This is where the story gets interesting to me.

God was wandering the Garden as he always did and was set to meet with them as usual. But Adam and Eve weren’t where they were supposed to be, they had taken a detour and gotten lost. They certainly didn’t intend to end up separated from God but because they went in the wrong direction they just ended up that way.

God then asks the question of Adam, “Where are you?” Now, what I’ve learned over the years is that God never asks the question for his benefit. He already knows the answer. He asked Adam the question so he could help him see that he was lost. Adam basically says “we knew we were lost God so we hid from you.”

Has this ever happened to you? I know it has for me. I can most readily relate this experience to my recovery. I know I write a lot about drugs, drinking and recovery but it’s what I know the most about so I’m just sticking to what I know.

When I got into recovery there were lots of people in the rooms of AA/NA/Celebrate Recovery that all basically said the same things. They were the voices of the people who had been lost and were now back on track. Many had been “on the right track” for many years. When I got into recovery that seemed unfathomable to me because I was SO very lost.

To quote Russell Brand’s latest book, they gave me a “Map Out of The Madness.” These “old timers” as they were so often called said things like “go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the steps” they said these things OVER and OVER again. Interestingly enough when I wasn’t actively doing those suggestions I always went into hiding, like Adam. I was so ashamed that the shame would keep me out of the meetings. Talk about a detour, geez. Then I would get a call from a sponsor and they would say “Where Are you?”

What did they mean? They knew I wasn’t at meetings, they knew I wasn’t calling my sponsor or working the steps. So, I feel like they asked me that question for my own benefit, so I could see where I was. I was lost but the good news is I had a map AND a GPS with all their experience, strength and hope.

You see it was always my intention to do all these things that were suggested to get back on track but often times they were just intentions with no action. I’ve learned that I can “intend” to go to meetings all day long but unless I go sit my butt in a chair IN a meeting it will do me no good. I think that’s a large part of why I’ve had such a bumpy ride in recovery. I’m like a guy with a map but I think to myself, “no I know a shortcut, I’m not really that into maps.”

In the south we have a little saying “I fixin’ to.” Meaning we intended to take action very soon. I might say “I’m fixin’ to lose 10 lbs but instead I didn’t take any action and I put on 10lbs. How does this happen? One Twinkie, one compromise at a time. That’s how it always happens. We never get lost overnight. It always happens when when our direction is off, sometimes it seems just by a little bit.

Direction is what determines destination. If I want to get somewhere I have to move beyond my intentions into action. In many respects I’m on the “right road” now because I’ve consulted with the map and I’m headed in the right direction. However, at any point now I could choose to ignore the map and take a shortcut but that’s never worked out really well for me. So as I close I’ll leave you with the question that I have to ask myself all day, everyday. “Where are you?” And “is this the direction that will lead you to your destination?”