None So Blind… (Part 1 of 2)

Ricky Gervais has written a sermon, of sorts, entitled “Why I Am A Good Christian.”  The humor, if it can be called that, in the title is that Mr. Gervais is an admitted atheist.  I don’t often feel the need to respond quite this specifically, it would be remiss of me to NOT admit that this post came about specifically because I read his article.  I will hit the highlights and respond, and, in doing so, I hope to shed some light on all of us.

In the first paragraph, Mr. Gervais makes a telling statement:

I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians.

I’ll deal with the comparison issue in a moment.  The more important issue is that in this opening statement, Mr. Gervais demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith: Jesus was not half anything.  Jesus was both FULLY God and FULLY man.  This is called the Hypostatic Union. (John 1:1&14, Collosians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3).

Mr. Gervais goes on to say that:

It’s not that I don’t believe that the teachings of Jesus wouldn’t make this a better world if they were followed.  It’s just that they are rarely followed.

I wonder what teachings Mr. Gervais thinks should be followed…

  • The teaching that looking at a another person lustfully is the same thing as having sex with them – Matthew 5:28-30
  • The teaching that it is difficult for a rich person to go to Heaven – Mark 10:25
  • The teaching that the ONLY way to come to God is through (Jesus) – John 14:6
  • The teaching that to see him (Jesus) is the same thing as seeing the Father (God) – John 14:9
  • The teaching that he (Jesus) came to bring a fire (judgment) and division on the earth – Luke 12:49-53
  • The teaching that your love for your family should look like hate in comparison to your love for Jesus and that salvation comes from taking up your cross daily – Luke 14:26

Which one is OK with Mr. Gervais, I wonder?

Later in the article, Mr. Gervais decides to demonstrate his “better than most” Christianity by ticking a point system through the Ten Commandments.  He says:

ONE

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

I definitely do not. Excellent. I get one point.

Do you really?  Now, I get his humor here.  He’s an atheist.  He doesn’t believe in ANY God.  But there is a gulf of difference between saying you do or do not believe, believing and the truth.  “You shall have no other Gods…” means, quite simply, that if ANYTHING is more important to you than God (your career, your family, money, fame, success, your favorite sports team… ANYTHING) then you have set up an idol (Oops.  Looks like you broke number two as well.)  Additionally, I’d like to say that, while I am HARDLY innocent of this (or of what I am about to say), it’s true that one of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn was that worry was the WORST kind of (forgivable) sin.  The moment we worry, anout anything at all, then that thing has become God.  So, tick two points AGAINST all of us.

RG continues:

THREE

‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’

I never do.

Now, he goes on after this, and I have to say that he is spot on with his understanding of this one (if not his execution).  [Forgive my mish-mashing of his statements and mine in the next few lines…]  Few people understand that God’s name is not “God.”  This commandment has everything to do with attributing credit to, swearing by God’s (actual) name with intent to not honor the oath, or “honoring” God for something in a hollow manner.  RG points out that:

The commandment could equally be, You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in “vanity” e.g. when your enemy is hurt or defeated saying, “that’s God’s wrath,” or when you win an award saying, “thank God.” This is using his name in vanity. It’s suggesting that you KNOW that God helped you win that award because you deserved it more, or because he was on your side. It’s always tickled me that God would have a favourite actor at The Golden Globes.

He’s actually completely correct here.  His understanding of the fourth commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy” while effective and correct on a practical level, demonstrate a lack of understanding of the full scope of the commandment.  The Sabbath was a multi-leveled point of contact for this new nation of people.  Also, we’re told in the New Testament that Jesus is our Sabbath rest.  So, like so many things in the Old Testament, the keeping of the Sabbath was a foreshadow of Jesus and the hope we can have in Him.

With regards to the fifth commandment, RG states:

FIVE

‘Honour your father and your mother.’

I think I get a point if anyone does with this one.

The problem with this is that, as much as RG (or anyone) loves his or her parents, being disobedient – even once – or talking back (giving attitude of any kind), speaking disrespectfully to or even about your parents means you lose your point on this one.

So, in a nutshell, if you place more importance on anything than you do to God, worry about anything, thank God for something without truly meaning it or even mocking the idea of Him, consider the Sabbath Day just a “day off” without recognizing that it is a precursor of Jesus and the redemption rest that can only be offered in Him and talk back, even once, to your parents.  You’ve broken all of the first five commandments.

Sorry, RG.  No points for you… or any of us.  How wonderful it is to know that we don’t win God’s favor or forgiveness based on a points system.

Being The Best Around (or No One’s Gonna Ever Keep You Down)

Ok, so it’s no secret that I’m a child of the 80’s and some of you who were lucky enough to grow up in that wonderful decade won’t have a second wasted in identifying the source of this post’s title.  However, as much as I love the martial arts, they are not the subject of this post.

I have loved many vocations in my life.  I have given careful consideration to being a full-time composer/arranger/orchestrator, teacher, musician, collegiate professor, writer (sometimes books, sometimes game show questions), philosopher, Rock historian (would have been a great avenue whenever VH-1 or A&E did bio-documentaries), and even pursued the idea of being the exclusive biographer and chronicler of one music artist’s life.  I’ve ventured into some of these fields and those have been fruitful and fun. But, a job is one thing… PASSION is another.

THIS is Passion!!!

I’ve had to give a LOT of consideration lately to what that means.  Which leads me to “Bones” (buy the DVD’s here).  I got to thinking about the subject of following your passion – and, more specifically, being the BEST in your field – while watching the adventures of Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, who is, quite literally, the best in the WORLD at what she does (interesting note to those who might care; the character of Dr. Brennan is based on the real-life forensic anthropologist and author Dr. Kathy Reichs).  Governmental agencies fly Dr. Brennan all over the world to do what she does simply because she is the BEST at it.

So that gets me thinking… Have I identified my passion, and the true calling that God has for me (more to come on this in a later post.  HINT: Start reading Psalms 37:4) and, if I have, am I doing all I can to make myself the BEST IN THE WORLD at it?  If I haven’t, who not?

And that goes for all of us.  We are, each of us, unique individuals with a specific calling, prepared by God to do things that ONLY WE CAN DO!  Are we doing what we can?

So, what does that mean for me?  Well, it means I have to work hard at continuing to speak publicly, preaching and teaching; I also I have to spend more time at the piano to hone my abilities and improve my existing skill set.  Additionally, I have to work a little every day, writing and arranging songs.

Finally, I have to spend time with God EVERY day seeking His guidance and asking His blessing on my work.  Without those two things, my Passion is pointless, my work is wasted and my efforts are expended in vain.

When to be a CON Man!

I’m having a crisis of confidence all of a sudden. It probably has to do with being slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work that has come up in a short amount of time. Possibly it has something to do with my reticence to allow other people’s lack of planning to become my emergency. Possibly there are issues of the amount of work to low pay ratio that just makes everything else stressful. But what is really going on with me is the horror of a tentative job offer.

A few years ago, I worked in the worship department of a rather large church. For those reading this who know me (or just those who might be good at Googling) let me be clear; I loved (read: would have taken a bullet for) my boss. I still love him. I loved (read: would have dared people to shoot him just so I could take the bullet for) the senior pastor. I still would. The short version is I can’t disclose the full story of why I no longer work there. I can say that there was no misconduct on anyone’s part. It was right before the big dip in the recession and I will just leave it at that. I “left” on good terms. I love the church, the staff, the people… ALL OF IT! LOOOOOOOVE!

But…

Sometimes, I still feel like I was thrown under the bus. I accepted this call to ministry, and I found a church that I loved… and then the ground fell out from under me. (Sidebar: I know God had/has a plan. That’s not what this is about.)

Then…

Recently, I was told by someone that I really trust, that he didn’t think i was cut out for an “office hours” type of job. I can’t explain why that hurt me the way it did. I can say that it rocked my confidence to the core. The thing is, I didn’t keep office hours at the church; not regular office hours, anyway. I lived about 45 minutes away from the church, so coming back home and running errands (doctor’s appointments, etc) was not easy like it was for other staff members who might live 5 minutes form the church. Therefore, I often took mornings to do my in-town errand running and then went into the church. It was not uncommon for me to, even then, stay at the church for 12 hours or more a day. The last big production week we had, I came into the church on Sunday morning at 8:00 and left the church Thursday night at 11:00. Yes, I slept in my office. The changes being made in the production made the time lost in the back and forth of travel (settling in, etc) counter-productive.

Understand, I don’t say this to glorify myself; I loved doing it! I hated being apart from my family (And that is, I think, a big part of the aforementioned “God plan”, but, again, that’s not what this post is about.) but I loved the work! Then to hear, from someone at the church, that he doesn’t think I am an “office hours kind of a person” has just rattled me.

“Poor, James…” No wait, even all that isn’t the issue. That’s just the background. Now to this tentative job offer.

A friend of mine has recommended me for a position at a church. It’s an associate pastor of worship. Basically, my exact same job except that the expectation seems to be more creative (i.e. arrange songs and see to it that the church makes recordings.) and to be a primary keyboardist. And that’s the rub…

I’m a multi-instrumentalist, but I’ve been playing drums a lot and I haven’t done a lot of arranging in the past couple of years… Put that together with the confidence shaker and I’m a bit of a mess right now. So, what do I do?

Proverbs 3:25-26 tells me everything I need to know.

Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.

If God has called me (He has) and God has ordered my steps (He has) and God has promised to look out for me (He has), then I needn’t worry about anything.

That goes for you, too. If you put your trust in God, then the Lord HIMSELF will be your confidence. I don’t have to have self-confidence, and neither do you. God will be the source of your strength and every ounce of confidence you need.

Because, after all, everybody blows it at least once… Sometimes in a very public way.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NjOaV515iQ]

Ad Hominem – ATTACK THE MAN! (But, you know… love him too)

A dear friend of mine, the great thinker – and a few short weeks away from Ph.D. in Theology (from DUKE People!!!!) – Michael Raburn (Read his AWESOME Blog posts HERE) and I were having a conversation last night on Twitter. The subject: Tim Challiesreview of Rob Bell‘s new book ;” target=”_blank”>Love Wins.” (STOP! This isn’t a post about Rob Bell!!!!! Please continue reading!)

I liked the review, but my friend Michael did not. He said “[Challies] Review begins [by] comparing Bell to the serpent in Gen.3. … Ad hominem has no place in serious theology.”

Now, the fact of the matter is, I have, for years, deferred to Michael on almost all things theological. He is, as far as I am concerned, one of the greats. He is a staunch adherent of truth, a sincere searcher for understanding and absolutely full of love for not just his brothers and sisters in Christ but for all people.

So, is this all about singing Raburn’s praises? No. His stament re: “Ad Hominem” got me thinking.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary “Ad Hominem” is defined as follows:

1: appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect

2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made

So, what my brother is saying is that when someone makes a theological argument, taking an “ad hominem” approach in response is unacceptable.

I want to believe what he says, but, at the same time, I can’t dismiss a person’s character from their affirmations. Ad Hominem may be a “classic logical fallacy” but that doesn’t make it fallacious in every instance. Character matters. Truth is truth regardless of who says it. And these are the murky waters we find ourselves in EVERY DAY in the body of Christ.

HOWEVER…

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) This must be the highest rule of conduct in the Body of Christ. Period. You might disagree with Rob Bell (Or Joel Osteen, or Billy Graham, or Joyce Meyer, et al.) or you might disagree with those who disagree with them, but if you have affirmed a faith in Jesus Christ then your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ must be evident before ANYTHING else (And, yes, I’m preaching to myself here).

P.S.

He didn’t ask me to do this, but Michael has started a fund-raising project to help fund his dissertation year. GREAT benefits for investors and this will, I truly believe, be of great benefit to the Church. Check it out at: Between Love and Doctrine

When The Congregation Attacks!

A friend of mine shared this with me today:

There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to begin.  I once worked in the music ministry and I know that it seemed to be the favorite pastime of some people to complain about the sound volume/mix or the selection of songs or to sit around and talk about how much better they could do the job(s) of the people in authority.

Listen to some of the things this woman says: “If ___ think they have financial problems now…” “I’m gonna give you one more week…”  THREATS!  Have you had to deal with this?  How did you handle it?  If you haven’t how do you think you would handle it?

When Christians Disagree

So last week, Rob Bell showed us all the way* to gain instantaneous HYPER-PR: Hint that you are a [controversial belief holder], you’ve written a book about it and then do a short promo video hinting at [the controversial belief].  In Bell’s case, it was universalism, i.e. the notion that all people go to Heaven eventually (Yeah, a GROSS oversimplification of universalism, but we’ll deal with that at another time).  So, the internet blows up with people lauding Bell for his work, urging caution to those unfamiliar with him and outright damning Bell for all time for this rank heresy.  The problem, of course, is that Bell’s book, Love Wins, isn’t even out yet, so all of the railing against him (or the defending of him, for that matter) is a little premature.

Or is it?

What does Rob, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, mean when he asks “How do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say…?”  Moreover, what’s wrong with responding to this trailer as it is?  No, no one has read the book yet, but can’t we respond to Rob’s comments as they are?  What happened to discourse?

This is the primary question, sort of, in Jonathan D. Fitzgerald‘s, Rob Belled: Corn-Pone Opinions Prevail Amongst The Din On Twitter.  Corn-pone?  CORN-PONE?!?  Read the article and what you find is a general dismissal of any who have a problem with Rob Bell and his pronouncements in this video.  Now, read the definitions of “cornpone” from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: of, relating to, or appealing to people who live on farms away from big cities.

So, if you disagree with Bell, you’re just a hick???

I wish that Fitzgerald was alone in his criticism; He isn’t and the implications are frightening.

*I don’t believe Rob released this trailer solely to generate PR.

Takin’ It To The Streets

In late 1975, Michael Mcdonald was invited to join The Doobie Brothers.  One of his first contributions was a song called “Takin’ It To The Streets” – incidentally, one of my Doobie faves.  As I have considered the point and purpose of my ministry, I often think about this song.

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell
You telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets
No more need for runnin’
Takin’ it to the streets

I love theology.  I love talking theology, I love studying theology, I love living theology… But I find that, far too often, the Church’s theology never really makes it to the street.  This isn’t a general criticism, it’s just an observation.  For many Christians, theology is something we leave in the sanctuary and it never makes it to our day-to-day lives, much less (and far more importantly) our relationships; especially those relationships we have with those who don’t know Jesus.

Hence, going from the Pulpit 2 the Pavement; putting shoes on our theology and taking it out for a walk.  (Practical application: If we teach “love your neighbor as yourself” then we should actually love our neighbors in practical ways.)

Jesus talked about this in Luke 14:

Then Jesus said to the man who had invited him: ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends and family and relatives and rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return, and you will be paid back.  When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  They cannot pay you back. But God will bless you and reward you when his people rise from death.

Then there’s that second verse from “Takin’ It To The Streets”:

Take this message to my brother
You will find him…everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair

So, that’s what this blog is all about.  Lace up.

Owl Droppings

A while back – we’re talking months at the very least – a friend of mine (Podcast Answerman extraordinaire – Cliff Ravenscraft) introduced me to a wonderful social media tool: HootSuite.  It changed my life, really.  I had been on Twitter for a while and had just started to understand how to use Twitter as a social media connection & relationship building tool.  Because I am engaged in various ventures, that meant more than one Twitter account.  “HootSuite,” says my friend, “is the BEST way to handle all of these accounts.  PLUS, you can do it on your computer or your iPhone.”  I tried it out and I was INSTANTLY hooked.

I’ve been using it now, as I said, several months and couldn’t be happier.  I have columns for all of the various bits of  information that I might want.  I have my different accounts all easily accessible in a tab at the top.  It’s been really the best tool!  To top it all of, it was FREE!!!

Until now…

HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes announced today that HootSuite was instituting something called “Freemium” plans. (Catchy name, if I do say so myself.)  The basic idea is this:  HootSuite has instituted several tiers of plans, four paid and one free.  They break down like this:

  • Platinum – $99.99/month.  Unlimited social networks, unlimited RSS feeds with up to 8 team members.  This tier is ad-free, with priority support, enhanced stats and the option (for an additional $45/month) for brand URL’s.
  • Gold – $49.99/month.  Same as the Platinum tier, but with no Brand URL option and an allowance for only 4 team members.
  • Silver – $19.99/month.  Same as the Platinum & Gold tiers, but no enhanced stats or Brand URL’s, and an allowance for only 1 additional team member.
  • Bronze – (Here’s where things get significantly different)  $4.99/month.  HootSuite still allows for unlimited social networks on this tier, but only 10 RSS feeds.  Additionally, on this tier, no team members are allowed, there is no priority support, no enhanced stats and no Brand URL’s.
  • Free – This tier allows up to five (5) social media networks, and 1 RSS feed.  That’s it.

Here’s the thing: Currently I moderate six (6) different networks.  Only one of those is my “personal” Twitter account.  Every other network is teamed by at least 1 other person.  It’s remarkably frustrating to me that:

Starting today, Wednesday, Aug. 11th, all new customers will be required to select a plan when signing-up. Then, the following week, all current HootSuite users will be asked to choose a package. We’ve created a migration wizard to assist you in choosing the best plan for your needs. – Ryan Holmes email announcement

So, even though I and untold thousands of others have been using HootSuite for months a certain way, now things are going to change.  We can’t even get grandfathered in; and that’s probably what really bugs me.

Back in 2005, I signed on for cellular service with AT&T. (Notice how I don’t hyperlink to them)  I was very happy with them until just a few months ago.  With the advent of the new iPhone 4, AT&T decided they were going to change the rules just a bit too.  Gone were the days of the”mandatory” unlimited data plan.  They were going to institute two new data plans, one of which was HALF THE PRICE of the unlimited data plan!  Upon checking, I realized that I rarely use even half of that data allowance in a given month.  I also found out that AT&T was going to (FINALLY) offer tethering (like every other nation on the planet that sells iPhones).  Here’s the catch: the “Tethering Option” is only available on the $25 data plan (sounds ok so far; after all it’s still less than what I was paying), but it costs and additional $20 dollars.  So what AT&T wants me to do, in order to be able what I should be able to do with my phone in the first place, is pay$15 more than I am paying now while at the same time switching me to a plan that will easily put me over the alloted data allowance that plan offers.

“James, you make no sense!!!”

Let me connect the dots.

I feel like I have been the victim of the old “Bait-and-Switch.”  I loved AT&T and never had a bad thing to say about them until June when they decided – in my opinion, it was because they have the market on iPhones (thank GOD for the recent DMCA ruling) – to totally change the rules in the middle of the game.  And I feel like the guys at HootSuite are doing the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a question of wanting to get something for free (even though that’s the way the tool was introduced).  HootSuite is introducing ads.  I can live with that (I haven’t seen it yet, so I’m guessing I can).  And I absolutely believe that they should be financially compensated for offering something different to new users.  I’ll go even further and say that I absolutely endorse and recommend HootSuite to people and companies who are managing multiple social media strategies.  Moreover, if your work garners you $150.00 extra a month to pay for the Platinum tier and you think it will effectively accomplish your goals, GET IT!!!

But, Ryan, seriously, my networks aren’t garnering even the $5 extra (read: EXTRA) a month that allows me to justify paying this.  In our current economy and in my family’s current financial situation we have to make every dollar count. (And, honestly, even if I made thousands upon thousands of dollars a week, I believe the responsibility is that same; I just don’t want to be misunderstood).  I probably wouldn’t be as upset about this (I’d still be upset, just not AS upset) if I hadn’t had to deal with AT&T earlier this summer.

You know, when I was a kid it was not uncommon to have a game that lasted all summer and we changed the rules every time somebody turned around and we had a blast doing it.

We’re not kids anymore.

Disclaimer: It was not my intention to misrepresent HootSuite, AT&T, Twitter or the forces of good & evil in the universe.  Please double check my claims with regards to cost with AT&T and/or HootsSuite.  Also, Ryan Holmes, you have created a great and wonderful product.

Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris

My father introduced me to John Donne.  I don’t know that John Donne was his favorite poet, but he always quoted him to me.  Any time I told him stories about bullies in school, or if I felt like a teacher was not fair with one of my classmates, or if I heard of people being abused (it was the late 70’s/early 80’s and child abuse was coming to the forefront of people’s minds) and said something ridiculous like “it’s not my business” or “I don’t want to get involved” I was sure to get a dose of the Bard of Bread Street.

The work my father loved the most was “Meditation XVI” or as it is commonly known, “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”  It is the third paragraph that has always fascinated me.  The scope of it is enormous.  This paragraph actually contains the colloquial title as well as the cliched “No man is an island.”

As I always say, in the interest of full disclosure, I was motivated to write this post for two reasons: 1) I have used this in lectures and sermons more times than I can count, but have never written it down, and 2) A tweep of mine, Matthew Turner, corrected someone’s quote earlier tonight and it really got me thinking about this.  So, let’s consider paragraph three of Meditation XVI.  Read below:

No man is an island.  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The actual quote correction was due to someone misquoting Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. who said in his famouse Letter From A Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  In light of this statement by Dr. King, let’s consider the enormous scope and tremendous weight of responsibility with which we are confronted by Donne’s statements.

“No man is an island” – I often think of the character Lenny Kosnowski from the TV show “Laverne & Shirley” when I hear this famous quote.  For those who don’t remember this televised gem, Lenny was never seen without two things: 1) His red & black racing jacket which was stitched on the back with his moniker “Lone Wolf” and, 2) his best friend Andrew “Squiggy” Squigman.  It’s a nothing kind of joke, but, nevertheless, I always remember Lenny, because it was this character that demonstrated Donne’s point.  One can consider himself a loner, but it is impossible to exist without community… even if your community is an aging greaser.

“Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” – Here again we see that the underlying thought which Donne is attempting to declare as truth is that there is a connection between every person no matter our differences.  I’ve never been to Washington State.  I’ve always wanted to go.  I’ve never been to Nebraska.  I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to go.  Regardless, both are part of The United States of America, and without them America would be diminished.  That leads me to…

“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were” – This is huge, especially in our “I don’t care if you get yours, but I’m gonna get mine” culture.  Donne says here that if your friend’s house is somehow harmed (think fire, accident, Act of God, termite infestation, etc.) it is no different than if the same thing had happened to us.  This leads me to what is, for me, the most important and life-changing statement in this paragraph.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind” – Donne is, in this meditation, considering death as signified by the tolling of the bell (note: the title of this post translates “Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, you too must die.”); Ergo, his reference to another’s death.  However, this has come to mean something so much more to me.  It is not simply true that another man’s death diminishes me; but an injustice to another person is an injustice to me; physical harm to another is harm done to me; immorality against another is… you get the idea.  But by extension, whatever responsibility is given to the one harmed is placed on my shoulders as well.

Practically speaking, though I may never have known the horror of bing physically abused by my parents, I am responsible to speak for those who have.  Though I may never have felt the sting of police brutality because of the color of my skin, I am responsible to speak for those who have.  Though I may have never known the despair of homelessness, I am responsible to do what I can for those I encounter.

To close, I paraphrase, Any person’s troubles or pain harms me, for I am a part of the whole of mankind.  I add the implication, “As a child of God I am responsible to do whatever I can to help those in need.”

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Prince’s Lifetime Achievement Award Tribute

I make no secret of the near life-long admiration I have held for Prince; composer, arranger, producer, multi-instrumentalist, musician par excellence.  These facts are above dispute.  He is, in fact, all of these things and more.  On June 27, 2010 Prince was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards held in the historic Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.  Some will say that a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by a cable television station might be considered a dubious honor, but one must remember that Prince is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The Lifetime Achievement awards are sure to be rolling in from various camps over the next several years.

I won’t take time here to explain the ins and outs of my history with Prince; the ineffable “why” that might explain to you the fascination I have or the respect and awe that led me to consider myself not a fan but a student of this musical master.  Instead, I have been asked by a couple of people to give a review of the tribute itself.  I had not planned on this… but it sure sounds like fun.  Here we go.

The tribute began with a pre-recorded segment by Stevie Wonder who was, naturally, hilarious.  He gave a brief yet through synopsis of Prince’s talent and contributions to the world of popular music.  This was followed by a peck of performances of songs from the Prince catalog.  This, in my opinion as a musician, must be surely terrifying.  First, the performer has to choose a song.  This is no mean feat where the Princely vault is concerned.  Since 1979, at least one “authorized” studio album has been released every year; some of these have been double- and even triple-album sets.  Of the songs released as singles, many were coupled with a b-side song that was either just as good or at the very least has garnered a love from fans that is unparalleled in this history of popular music (more on this in a moment).  The performer then must find a song in this vast repository that suits their particular style.  That said, two performers in this tribute achieved great success in this attempt, one pulled it off by falling back on her vocal standbys, and one failed miserably.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know about this even until it was already underway, but thanks to the wonder of Social Media that is Twitter (you can follow me by clicking here), a friend let me know what was going on.  The bad part of this was that I changed the channel to BET just as Trey Songz was starting Purple Rain.  Just one word of advice, Trey: PUT THE SONG DOWN AND WALK… NO… RUN AWAY FAST!!!!  This performance was God-Awful.  Then to follow it with a “pray for our troops” video slogan (I’m all for praying for the men & women currently in service, and I am even more so in favor of helping out their families as much as possible.  Please don’t miss my point.) just demonstrates that you are a “big-koalabeanhead” (Thanks Sheila E.) who simply does not get it.  I lashed out a little bit at this treason and the traitors in the audience who had the audacity to “raise [their] hands” in support of this willful act of musical malice, but then I was told that this wasn’t the actual tribute.  So I turned back.

The tribute began with Janelle Monae.  This lady is impressing me more and more over the past few years.  Her talent notwithstanding, this woman’s vision is inspirational.  But, what can you expect from a woman who originally wanted to rule Broadway.  She wowed me with her rendition of the quintessential opus from Prince’s “rockabilly” gems, Let’s Go Crazy.  True Prince fans would have recognized musical quotes from Prince’s B-side Girl (remember how I said earlier that Prince’s B-Sides were almost as important as his released singles?  See?) in the songs introduction.  When I heard her start the sermon at the beginning I had some reservations.  I was put at ease when I heard some of the musical changes before the beginning of the first verse (Prince has always said that it has to be better live than on the album).  As the song progressed it was almost impossible not to get caught up in her excitement and energy.  This was one totally knocked out of the park.

Janelle was followed by Esperanza Spalding.  Miss Spalding is a fine singer and bassist; easily a contender for Best new Artist this year.  I wouldn’t dream of taking that away from her or trying to intimate that she is anything other than a fine musician.  However, If I Was Your Girlfriend is a song that should never EVER be performed by a woman, and Miss Spalding’s choice of this song demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of the power of this lyric.  Consider one line in particular: “If I was your one and only friend, would you run to me if somebody hurt you, even if that somebody was me?”  This song is one of contrition and realization on the part of a man who didn’t treat the woman he loves right.  When a woman sings it, it loses ALL of its innate power.  I don’t want to be considered sexist here.  I think it is the rare occasion that a song is written that can’t be deftly rendered gender-neutral with a couple of well placed word changes, but this song is most definitely one that falls into that category.  Still, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I don’t appreciate or have anything but admiration for Ms. Spalding.  Like I said, Best New Artist is highly probable in this young woman’s future.

Following If I Was Your Girlfriend was a performance of what is perhaps that most well-known of Prince’s love songs: Adore.  I must, for reasons, to be explained a paragraph away, skip over this song and proceed directly to the final song in the tribute: Patti Labelle’s rendition of what is certainly Prince’s most widely-recognized song, Purple Rain.  What can be said about this performance, really?  It’s Patti LaBelle!  I don’t think her interpretation of the song was that great, and she did fall back on some trite vocal standbys.  Still, it was incredible!  However, I don’t think the tribute should have ended with this performance.  That leads me to Alicia Keys.

Miss Keys walked onto the stage to opening strains of Adore, and proceeded from the very first mellismatic ad-libs to own this song.  She took Prince’s aforementioned philosophy, and made the song her own.  This is no simple task.  Prince is all over the octave range in this song, and Alicia vocally missed her mark on more than one occasion.  It’s difficult for a vocalist to truly grab onto this song.  But Alicia hit the second bridge and CLIMBED ON THE PIANO!!!!!  Alicia was giving me a condition most “crucial”.  And it was this act of truly pouring herself into the song’s performance and baring herself emotionally that demonstrated not only an understanding of the material, but a love and respect for the one who created it.  In all honesty, I have to say that I have NEVER seen a performer demonstrate a level of understanding of Prince’s material as well as Alicia did in this performance.  I was reminded of the scene in the music biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire” when Jerry Lee (exquisitely played by Dennis Quaid) furious at being placed lower on the bill than Chuck Berry went out and played a furious two-song set and then at the close of Great Balls of Fire actually set his piano on fire.  At the close of Adore as the announcer began to announce another performer, I actually said out loud in my house (I don’t often talk to my television) “Who would want to follow THAT?!?!?”

All of this leads me to something that struck me during Patti LaBelle’s performance.  The camera cut to Prince a few times and I felt something from him that overwhelmed me.  Here is Patti LaBelle – the R&B legend that Prince (and I, for that matter) listened to on the radio when we were kids, and she was honoring him by singing HIS song.  While her performance was not my favorite, I think it was fitting that she closed the tribute.  Patti LaBelle doing THAT song demonstrates in the best possible way the wide reach and lasting impact of the music penned by the man that is the “Minneapolis Genius.”

(If you would like to see the tribute performance – sadly, minus Stevie Wonder’s pre-recorded tribute – click here.  You won’t be disappointed.)

The ‘Stache

He would have been 121 years old today.

He was an actor, comedian, writer, director, composer… truly, a Renaissance Man.

In support of increased artist control of their own work, he co-founded United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.

Though there were many like him, Chaplin is the most recognizable face of that Silent-Film era.  I will never understand 7 of the 9 people who outrank him on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list.

It does my children good to watch Chaplin’s films.  They are, almost without exception, thought-provoking, enlightening and always hilarious.  In a time when young people are alleged to have attention spans of, at the most, 13 minutes, watching a silent Chaplin film is more than entertainment – it is a benefit.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that Lambeth’s hometown hero is a superb role model.  Even a cursory examination of the man’s life would show this not to be the case.  But he followed his passion and he did so at his own risk and, often, in the face of authorities who were grossly abusing their own power (McCarthy, Hoover… anyone? anyone?)

And so, today I say, Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaplin.  You inspire me.  And, even though Hitler stole your mustache idea, we all know that he used his for evil… but yours was used for the good of us all.

Matthew 18 (aka, The Rules of Fight Club)

Once upon a time, I hated confrontation.  There were various reasons for this.  Mostly, I hate arguing or fighting about anything.  I believe that most anything can be settled by reasoned dialogue.  The other reason is that I find confrontation degenerating into a kind of conflict that becomes physical, and I tend to get dirty fast.  I don’t like that.  So, I have for a long time avoided confrontation as much as possible.

A couple of years ago, I found myself in the midst of a situation where my disdain for confrontation cost me dearly, both professionally and personally.  I like to think that I came out of this stronger and wiser and more able to handle confrontation (and the situations that easily lead to confrontations) or… in more earthy terms, NTSFA (look it up). 🙂

Very recently, I heard (hearsay is lame, by the way) that there was someone speaking not simply ill of me, but saying things that were very nearly slanderous.  It threw me.  I really wanted to go dirty.  I really did, because I know that this isn’t the first time with this person.  Then, I remembered that there is a guide for confrontation.  Matthew 18 verses 15 – 17 read like this:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

So, it breaks down like this…  If a fellow believer says or does something against you (or, by extension, has fallen into some kind of sin of which you are aware and have a reason to engage them), then you are to go and speak with them privately.  Hopefully the two of you can work it out.  If you can’t, you go and take one or two fellow believers (in James’ view of this directive, these believers should rightfully be one to whom the person who has offended is accountable, and one person to whom the one who has been offended is accountable) to confront the person again.  This is where it gets tricky… If the person who has offended you still won’t listen, you are to go before the church and expose the sin.

Here’s where it gets trickier still.  If theys till won’t listen you are to treat them as:

  • pagan or a tax collector. (NIV)
  • Gentile and a tax collector (KJV, NASB, et. al)

Now that sounds AWESOME!  Until you remember how we are meant to treat the Gentiles and tax-collectors.  These people were considered the worst of sinners, and here’s what every Bible says about Jesus:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’

So, essentially… I have no out.  I can’t get ticked off and go slam somebody.  I have to be in order.  I have to do things the right way.  That’s the only way.

Fight Club would be easier.

Am I Done?

A few days ago, I posted a status update on Facebook that went something like this:

I think I may have written every melody I have in me, because everything I’ve been writing is a variation on either my stuff or someone else’s.

In what is a very interesting story, my father bought an Ensoniq EPS sequencing keyboard for Christmas when I was a Senior in High School.  A few months later, at graduation, he bought a behemoth of a computer (my hand to God, the thing had a 5¼ inch Floppy Disk Drive) that had a music notation (not Finale) program on it.  This led to about a year of me writing and arranging music nearly 12-14 hours a day.  I barely slept.  A world I had never dreamed of was opened to me in those months.

In the years between 1990 and 1995 I wrote a lot to try just to find my voice.  It was during this time that my passion for musical theatre was supercharged.  I started no less than 6 musicals during those 5 years.  (Finished, no, but I did start them.) Ultimately, this led to a lot of writing for various theatre ventures while I was at Lee, and in 1999 I was accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program.  Best two years of my academic life!!!!  I was forced to write new material on a weekly basis.  Some of it was crap.  Some of it was good.  Some of it was freaking genius!  (When I say that, let me give it scope: I listen to it and I can’t believe that I wrote it.)

When I was in 9th grade, I left band for a semester to play football.  Long story short (LSS, for future reference), I didn’t condition properly and one day during a scrimmage game with another school, my knee was blown out.  It wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to sideline me long enough to get me back in band.  While I was on the football team I was in really good shape.  There was one excercise, though, that I hated: six inches.  You lay on your back and you raise your legs up off the ground approximately six inches, spread them apart, bring them back together and down, all at the coaches command. “Up! Out! Together! Down!”  I hated this exercise mostly because the coach was prone to take a walk on our stomachs while our legs where up.  That hurt.  A lot!  Nevertheless, I eventually got to where I could do six inches and not be in too much pain because of it.

I tried doing six inches the other day.  I really could not get it done.  I figured I would not be in any way close to where I was… but I was dying.  Hurting all the way into my back.  I had no idea.

I’ve been trying to write some songs for a play called “Hank & Gretchen.”  It’s a reimagining of Hansel & Gretel and it’s an adorable kids show.  I’ve been writing some songs with a friend of mine and he has really turned out some nice lyrics.  They keep with the playwright’s original intent and even use her verbal style (rare, I think when the lyricist is not also the bookwriter, or when the lyricist is not pillaging the book).  So, in writing music for his lyrics I have either pilfered or outright stolen the following songs in either melody or harmonic composition:

  • Can You Feel The Love Tonight (the verse)
  • So Many Things To Say Goodbye To (This one is mine, but still…)
  • Seasons of Love
  • Great Is The Lord
  • We’ve Only Just Begun (I know… sue me)
  • Finishing The Hat

And that’s just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

So, is it that I’ve have indeed exhausted my internal supply of melody or are my melody writing skills in the same place as my “six inch abdominal exercise” skills?  Am I just out of shape?

Sondheim – A Quick Reflection

Eighty years ago yesterday (March 22) Stephen Sondheim was born. The son of Etta Janet and Herbert Sondheim.  He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the only child of well-to-do parents.  After his parents divorced, he and his mother moved to a farm in Pennsylvania.  This move is important because it was there in Pennsylvania that he would meet his mentor Oscar Hammerstein.  (No this is not a full bio)

I have always loved Sondheim.  I remember distinctly that the first time I heard a song by him was on the TV show “Good Times” when a guest star sang “Send In The Clowns” from A Little Night Music.  After that, of course, came the inevitable West Side Story, and an introduction to other Sondheim gems such as Gypsy and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  These along with the exposure to the more traditional kid-friendly musicals like The Wizard of Oz (and The Wiz), Oklahoma (The London Stage Revival is wonderful) and Godspell ignited the love that I have for musical theatre.  I fell in love fast with the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber, but there’s always been Sondheim.

The following is reprinted from Broadway Babies Say Goodnight. It was reprinted in the magazine of the Stephen Sondheim Appreciation Society, to generally hostile reaction from readers:

Stephen Sondheim was a nobody until Anyone Can Whistle.  All he’d done previously was write three solid hits, one after another: West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. But Anyone Can Whistle (1964) was his first cult flop — nine performances and out — and inaugurated the Sondheim we know today — a genius too special for the expense-account set, the bridge-&-tunnellers and all the other schmucks who’d prefer to be vegged out at Hello, Dolly! ‘Is Stephen Sondheim God?’ asked a headline in New York magazine in 1994.  But, if he is, he’s not one of those big-time mass-market gods for Congregationalists and Baptists, but the deity of a remote tribe largely sealed off from the outside world — like those cargo culters in the South Pacific who worship the Duke of Edinburgh.

Yes, Sondheim tends to flop.  Pacific Overtures, Assassins, Merrily We Roll Along, Company all did poorly in their individual runs, but have still become very important and widely respected parts of the Broadway Repertoire.  Sondheim is too… something.  Cerebral?  No, that just insults the listeners.  Clever?  Heady?  Good???

Sondheim is, as most artists are his own worst critic.  I cite the lyric for “Maria” from West Side Story.  In a cursory web search you hear people say things like “deftly written,” “gentle lyric expressing the wonder of love” etc.  Sondheim doesn’t like it.  He has been quoted as saying that “Maria” shows his immaturity as a writer.  Specifically the following lyric:

Maria, say it loud and there’s music playing

Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

Sondheim says that her name shouldn’t be almost like praying, when throughout the rest of the song Tony says what Maria is, not what she almost is.  Well, Mr. Sondheim, that may be your least favorite lyric, but I adore it. A good Catholic boy like Tony wouldn’t blaspheme the Holy Virgin Mother, but he would certainly connect the whisper of his beloved’s name to the same sense of awe he …might find in the midst of his recitation of the Rosary. Excellent work, sir!

But artists can be persnickety perfectionists even on our best days.  Why is that?  In the musical Sunday In The Park With George, Sondheim, along with his collaborator James Lapine, decided to create a musical based on… wait for it… a painting.  That’s right… Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte by French painter George Suerat.  In this show, Sondheim and Lapine tell the fictionalized story of Suerat and the process through which he created the iconic painting.  But the show is, on some levels, about the creative process as evidenced by the opening monologue:

“White… a blank page or canvas.  The challenge?  Bring order to the whole through design, tension, composition, balance, light and harmony.”

Literally, the artist creates something out of nothing.  At the deepest level, the show is about not the creative process, but the creative compulsion.

Below is my favorite lyric from this show (To set the scene, George and his lover Dot have had yet another fight because she feels he ignores her due to this creative compulsion.  George sits in the park and flips through his sketchbook, reviewing sketches of various characters we have met):

Mademoiselles… You end me, pal…
Second bottle… Ah, she looks for me…
Bonnet flapping… Yapping…
Ruff!… Chicken… Pastry…

Yes, she looks for me – good.
Let her look for me to tell me why she left me-
As I always knew she would.
I had thought she understood.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
But if anybody could…
Finishing the hat, how you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world From a window
While you finish the hat.

Mapping out a sky.
What you feel like, planning a sky.
What you feel when voices that come
Through the window go…
Until they distance and die,
Until there’s nothing but sky

And how you’re always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick or the dog or the light,
How the kind of woman willing to wait’s
Not the kind that you want to find waiting
To return you to the night,
Dizzy from the height,
Coming from the hat,
Studying the hat,
Entering the world of the hat,
Reaching through the world of the hat
Like a window,
Back to this one from that.

Studying a face, stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see – It’s the only way to see.

And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself, “Well, I give what I give.”
But the women who won’t wait for you knows
That, however you live, there’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky, Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat..
Finishing a hat…
Look, I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat!

[emphasis mine]

It’s that compulsion that drives the artist; the need to see the vision fulfilled.  Sondheim embraces his flops and has said that even in the worst situation that the show was “exactly what it was meant to be.”  That’s why Stephen Sondheim can flop. Happy Birthday, O Great One!

Health Care for My Student Loans

So, the health care bill just passed.  What does that even mean?  I’ve heard my liberal friends say that it means everyone will get proper health care… I’ve heard my conservative friends say that it’s another (if not the final) nail in the coffin that will lead us to socialism/communism.

I don’t know… I’m conflicted over this whole thing.  Off the top of my head, though, here are some of my immediate issues:

  • Am I seriously meant to believe that the members of congress (all of them who voted – I remain stupefied that as I watch the voting there are still numbers in the NV column.  How can you have a job where it’s OK to NOT do your job???) who voted for this bill have actually read and understand it?
  • With the focus on abortion (a serious matter, to be sure) there seems to be no coverage on the issue of cost except to say that it is going to cost a TON of money.  Whence comes the money?
  • Why does it tax “Cadillac” health care plans?  So, is it that, if I don’t take governmental health care, then I get taxed over and above all of my other taxes???
  • Do people who are high-fiving each other and gloating at their conservative “enemies” realize that the points in this bill won’t even go into effect until 2014???
  • On the one hand I appreciate the fact that maybe, just maybe, there are members of congress who are earnestly voting their own conscience. However, that fact leads to my primary issue.

I’ve been looking into the polls.  I’ve not found one poll (not one) that shows a majority of those polled who want this bill.  The lowest number was 52%, the highest almost 75% against.  AGAINST!!!  And yet this bill still passed.  That’s the problem I have.  I will let where I stand on this bill remain a secret… for now.  However, I read an interesting article the other day that casts a most interesting light on this issue.  I quote Bud Simmons:

The spectacle of a far leftist president literally forcing socialized medicine down the throat of an unwilling center-right America is reminiscent, perhaps more than any other contemporary metaphor, of date rape.

A man determined to have his way with a woman may start off seducing her with lies, flattery and the usual pretense of caring about her. But at a critical moment, when she says, “Stop, I’m not comfortable with this and don’t want to go any further,” he has a choice: Either do the right thing and back off, or abandon all prior pretensions and take her by force.

As president, Barack Obama courted us with sweet talk, but America grew increasingly uncomfortable with his advances and firmly said, “Stop” – in fact, screamed bloody murder for months. Yet Obama remains obsessed with forcing himself on America.

Wow! “Date rape” An interesting connection… possibly riddled with negative repercussions for Bud, but it forces me to wonder… is he wrong?

With an average of 6 out of 10 Americans strongly opposed to this bill, why would they continue to, again in the words of Mr. Simmons, “[force] socialized medicine down the throat of an unwilling center-right America”???

The other issue here is the one of student loans. Now, I went to NYU for my grad degree. Best mistake/Worst good thing I ever did. I wouldn’t trade my education or experiences there for anything, but I came out of NYU (Just NYU) with almost $100,000 in student loan debt. Now, Washington is taking over that as well… That’s a lot for one bill to handle.

To my liberal friends, I say… chill out a little bit and stop saying hateful things like you wish this or that Republican Rep. or Senator would die.  That’s lame and pathetic, and shame on you!

To my conservative friends I say… chill out a little bit.  This country was born out of debate.  We were still debating the exact nature of our country almost 100 years after we Declared that we were a nation.  This health care bill may be one of the worst things to ever happen to America.  But it may not.  Either way, get out and vote.  I looked at other polls too… A lot of conservatives stay home on election day(s) while they count on their conservative neighbors (because whether anyone likes it or not, there are more conservatives in this country than there are liberals… that’s just how it is.) to carry their weight.

One final point… There are a lot of points in this bill that are HUGE selling points:

  • Insurance companies can not reject you for pre-existing conditions
    • That’s a big deal because sometimes you stay on a particular plan for 10 or 20 years, become diagnosed with cancer or something and the insurance company can deny you coverage.  Think you’re gonna get those premiums back?
  • Children stay covered until 26.  This ensures coverage through (normal) college years and even into grad school, which allows a child to have decent coverage until they can actually getting on their feet.

It also has some Mack Truck size holes:

Both the reconciliation bill and the Senate bill call for creating state-based American Health Benefit Exchanges and Small Business Health Options Program Exchanges that will be administered by a governmental agency or non-profit organization. Individuals and small businesses up to 100 people will be able to purchase insurance through these exchanges.

  • One aspect of this bill calls for the creation of “state-based American Health Benefit Exchanges and Small Business Health Options Program Exchanges.”  Individuals and small businesses can purchase insurance through these exchanges.  So, you work at a tiny business that only has 10 people, so the pay is adequate but the possibility of insurance benefits from your employer is laughable, right?  Well, here’s your answer!  The problem is this exchange will be administered by “a governmental agency or non-profit organization.”  So, not only do they lawmakers not have all the answers on these questions, they passed the bill without having the answers.
  • In 2014, everyone must purchase health insurance or face a $695 annual fine.  So, if I happen to go a year unemployed (a not unprecedented achievment) and I don’t purchase one of the governmental sponsored plans, then I get penalized?  What happened to choice?

So, essentially, we have seen tonight the federal takeover of health insurance and student loans.  Forget, corporate bailouts… if we are so determined to go down this road, give me $250,000 to pay off my student loans (or just cancel them altogether) so that I can get out from under the thundercloud of my inability to pay my over $1200/month student loan bill that RUINS my credit and makes me a “risk” to potential employers.

Well, at least if I’m not employed I’ll have health care… maybe.

Just ‘Cause I’m Scottish Don’t Mean I Ain’t Funky

I’m Scottish.  What does that mean?  Well, first of all, I’m not pure Scottish.  I’m also of Germanic descent (the family moved to Scotland where the name was modified from “Mahler” to Marler”) on my father’s side, though my mother comes from a pure marriage of MacKinnons and Hares.  Well, not SO pure, Great Grandmother was Cherokee.  This doesn’t affect me much except for my beard which is nearly impossible to grow.  But, in terms of percentage, I’m Scottish.  That means I’m remarkably pale, barrel-chested and short-legged, and that I have a “gargantuan cranium.”  I like being Scottish.  Kilts are cool, haggis, it turns out is not that bad when made correctly and, as a wise man once said, “If it’s not Scottish, IT’S CRAP!!!

The other day I was flipping through the channels in a rare moment of blissful diversion and I hit the very beginning of “Undercover Brother.”  This movie has quite a long opening sequence before it gets to the opening credits.  It’s these opening credits, and more importantly the music playing behind them, that is the focus of this post.

I don’t insert automatic music into posts or web pages because that gets annoying.  However, if I were to post even just the first two counts of this song, you would know it.  It’s iconic.  It’s definitive.  The song is “Pick Up The Pieces” by The Average White Band.  Yeah… That’s right.  The Average White Band.

Aside from the BRILLIANCE of director Malcolm D. Lee of using this song as the theme (It’s a movie about the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. taking on “The Man” and his systematic attempt to erase black culture from America; in the process of the story unfolding though, we learn that the thing we should focus on is not the things that make us different (It doesn’t make you white just because you like mayonaise on your sandwiches, for example, anymore than it makes you black if you like chicken and waffles – and, yes, this is a parenthetical inside a parenthetical) but how important it is that we strive for equality. And he accomplishes that in THE OPENING CREDITS by using this song.  Like I said, BRILLIANT!!!!), I was struck by the humor of the contrast.  “The movie ‘Undercover Brother” has a title sequence with music by The Average White Band.  I laughed so hard…

Anyway, it got me to thinking about AWB and their influence on me and music in general, so I started to do some research.  Turns out, The Average White Band is still around today in 2010 (in a very different lineup) making music, performing concerts and releasing CD’s.  It also just happens that the album (those black round things made out of vinyl) AWB on which we can find this great instrumental, was a breakthrough in the STATES after being released initially in the UK.  What’s the significance?  The Average White Band was comprised, at its inception, by six WHITE SCOTTISH guys.  I even have proof!

Yes, these six Scottish dudes, wrote, performed and released a song that would become the biggest selling instrumental in rock history, hit #10 on the disco singles chart, #5 on the Black singles chart, #1 on the Pop singles chart; and did I mention that it is one of the iconic funk songs of all time.

This gives me hope.  I often worry that I have lost some funk that I had in my youth.  Once upon a time”Big Money J” (yes, EVERYBODY had a name in the B-Boy era), I could do “The Walk”, “cut a mix on my two turntables,” “get the party started” and still be home in time to get enough sleep for church on Sunday morning.

The past two decades though have seen James focus a LOT on musical theatre, and choral music.  I sometimes worry about my funkyness.  But then, I pull out “Computer Games” by George Clinton, or “Funkadelic” “Maggot Brain” or “The Electric Spanking of War Babies” by Funkadelic, or, basically, anything by Prince and I remember that funk is like riding a bicycle; If you fall off, throw that bicycle on the side of the street and beat it to death with your bass guitar.  Or soemthing like that.

Anyway, in case anybody was wondering, I’m Scottish and I’m still “testing positive for the funk. (I’ll gladly pee in anybody’s cup.)”

Long-Haired Hippie

No, this is not a picture of me… or my dog.

I have a tradition.  It’s kind of dumb, as you will see, but I like it a lot.  Here it is: whenever I am in rehearsal for a show, I don’t cut my hair until the day before the premiere.  I’ve been doing it this way for over 15 years, and I have had nothing but good reviews for every show I’ve been a part of ever since.  A couple of months ago I started working with Humble Swan Productions on “Peter Pan” (Buy the DVD here).  Since then, you know… no haircut.

My wife likes it because it’s getting back to that “Errol Flynn” length (her quote not mine) it was when we met.  Of course, it’s next to impossible to style, but whatever… I like it because, well, I like long hair, and I am finally able to grow it or not if I wish.

You see, in August of 2008 I resigned what was a fairly comfortable position at a church in Hixson, TN.  Unfortunately, my timing was horrible as the “Economic Downturn” or “National Recession” or “Global Financial Crisis” (or whichever label best suits your personal theology of PR) was just starting.  I spent a couple of months finishing a project that had been years in the making and then began a job hunt in earnest.  Sadly, yeah… the whole “national economic global panic” thing…

So, recently, I decided – based on a coincidence/providential occurrence – to expand my vision and go into legitimate business for myself.  I considered my skillset, my contacts, my equipment and abilities and I am making the plunge.  Woo Hoo!  That’s part of what JamesMarler.com is all about.

The thing is though… the other day I lost myself in a serious panic attack.  Business for yourself! That means YOU are the BOSS!!!  Which, in my case, means I am the Boss!!!  It’s weird to think that I am not hoping for a nice comfy corporate or church job to help me  in my retirement planning, or health care concerns.  There will be no such thing as a pay check if I have an off week.  No sick days.  No paid vacation.  None of of the cushy perks that come with being employed by someone else.

Still, in doing the job that made me consider all of this in the first place… I had a blast!  It was hardly work.  And, if nothing else, at least in the interim I get to wear my hair however I want.

I’m A Colored People

People who know me will, I would hope, attest to the fact that I am not one to steer clear of “controversial” subjects.   At the same time, I don’t stir up trouble where trouble is uncalled for.  All that said, I felt compelled to respond to a blog post entitled “Who Will Give It Up?” by my good friend and brother James McClary as well as to responses given him by various others to the same.

DISCLAIMER: I use terms of ethnic identity in this article to for the purposes of clarity only. I wish I didn’t have to… But I guess we will get to that in a minute.

AN INTRODUCTION
First of all, it seems that James had two ideas going on in his article: 1) A kind of general malaise regarding the lack of ethnic diversity in his friendships [summation and verbiage absolutely mine], and 2) the thesis that one cannot focus on both an ethnic identity and a Christ-centric identity.  I understand the malaise.  In high school, I had many friends of divergent ethnic backgrounds (of course, in Mobile, AL that pretty much meant African-American, the occasional Latino/Hispanic and even rarer Middle to Far-Eastern Asian friend).  Currently as I scroll the list in my phone, there seems to be a far greater number of white (ugh! more on that later) people there than of any other ethnic background.   It is slightly incongruous with my high school experience.

Still, there is at least one African-American that my daughters call titi (aunt).  I was more than happy, proud even, to lovingly associate myself as a “twin” with two of the loveliest women I have ever met (yay for June 5th B’Day’s) – and it is, for me, only incidental and ultimately unimportant that they are African-American.  Also, I have had (embarrassing admission forthcoming) many romantic relationships with women of varying ethnicities (NOTE: To be clear, it’s embarrassing only because of the word “many.”), and I am married to a first-generation Puerto Rican.  So, is my malaise, the same as another James’?  Probably not; so, why am I bothering to write?

FOUNDATIONS
Let me lay as a foundation for my thoughts a comment that will most assuredly cause a stream of hate mail, flames, and, at the very least, misunderstandings.  (It is my hope, though, that I be afforded a chance to fully explain.)  I am confounded by the constant descriptor of the upcoming inaugural as an “historic event.” (i.e. “Local Leaders Get Ready For Historic Inauguration,” “Washington in overdrive for historic inauguration,” “Obama’s historic inauguration features music legends, service projects, much more.”)  While I understand and appreciate the very certain distinctiveness of this incoming president and, by extension, his inauguration, I would like to point out that EVERY inauguration is historic.  Every new president is a potential hero that will encounter and overcome massive obstacles that distinguish him (or her) as a leader for the generations.  Likewise, every new president is a potential moron that duped just enough people to get himself elected.  Every four (or eight) years we elect and inaugurate a person who at one point in his life, messed his pants, made fart noises with his armpits, tried to burp the alphabet, cheated on homework, a test or somebody, and is ultimately a dice roll away from becoming either a blazing triumph or a colossal failure.  (OK, James, what is your point? Let me fly for a while…)

I have a very distinct memory from my childhood of sitting in my living room and watching a portion of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech from the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It is such an iconic piece of rhetoric that I can hardly imagine there is anyone in the world that hasn’t heard it, but I, on that day, had never heard those moving and magnificent words.   I still remember the chills that ran over my body and the tears that came to my eyes the first time I heard the words “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  I was seven.  I didn’t really know what character was, but I fully understood what Dr. King meant by the first part of that sentence.  It was then that I decided that the color of someone’s skin would absolutely not matter to me. Period.

SKIN TONE
I have tried through the course of my life to negate skin color as either an identifier or a mark of division.  Throughout my high school, and even into my college career, I always checked “other” on the “race” box and wrote in “human.”   I will not allow myself to be identified as white because I’m not white (in Jen Toksvig’s words “I’m kind of a peachy color, actually”, and by my own demonstration I am actually two toned.); I acknowledge my ethnic heritage (which is VASTLY varied) mostly when I find it funny (i.e. I understand that the primary reason my skull is so FREAKING large is because of my Scottish ancestors.   Thanks.  Also, I can’t grow a good beard because I have just enough Native American (Cherokee) in me to nix that whole idea.  There are others, but the point is that I find all of that funny.), and I do my level best to not use ethnic identifiers for others (especially in front of my daughters).

I recall (embarrassing admission #2 coming) from the third season of “The Real World” (don’t you dare laugh at me) the cast member Cory Murphy, described by housemate Judd Winick in his book, Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss and What I Learned as “an unassuming and naive Christian girl from Fresno, California,” was involved in an incident where she made some, apparently, insensitive comments to her housemate Mohammed’s girlfriend by asking her if she was “half-white” due to her light skin-tone.   This led to a discussion among the housemates which ultimately led to Cory tearfully admitting that she comes from a “rather ‘white’ world.” More specifically, I recall a scene (it could have been around the same situation) where, after a conversation regarding ethnic identity, Cory was crying over the fact that she didn’t have a culture the way that Pam (Asian-American), or Pedro and Rachel (Cuban-American) did.   I was very disturbed by this primarily because it flew so violently into the face of what I had been trying to do my entire life.

I don’t wish to sound naive. I understand that not everyone (for that matter, hardly anyone) shares my view on this.   I also understand that there are people in this world who have been the victims of remarkable prejudice and ignorance, as well as inexcusable behavior based solely on the color of their skin that, in turn, colors (pun absolutely NOT intended) their worldview.   Certainly someone who has been taunted or threatened because their skin is black (or some shade darker – or lighter for that matter – than the moron doing the taunting/threatening) is going to be affected by this for the rest of their life.  I understand that.   I have been at the receiving end of it.  (What?!?!?!?! A “white” guy has been the victim of racism???? Yeah… but I won’t go into it because it’s not the point.)  I have even been present when my wife and mother-in-law were the victims of it.   A friend of mine… a sister really, the titi mentioned in paragraph three, was recently the recipient of a rather back-handed (unintentional, I am sure, but back-handed nonetheless) compliment. It went along these lines, “I always said you were the most beautiful black girl that I knew, but [sometimes] you pass all of us white girls too…”

Am I just rambling now?   Wasn’t I supposed to address some of the points in James McClary’s article (and in some of the responses as well)?   Yes I was, but I needed to say all of the above to establish a basis for my comments.

THE RESPONSE
I believe that James is experiencing both a kind of “white guilt” of the kind that Cory (see above) was experiencing as well as a frustration over ethnic division in the Christian church.  Further, because I know James I think I can safely say without fear of hurting his feelings that the article felt that it was written – as is the danger of most blogs – on the fly.  (That said, regarding the impromptu nature of blogs, has anyone besides me noticed that “blog” is also the sound you make when you vomit? Moving on…)  I read the words and I understand what James means because I know him.  I also understand that those who may not know James the way I do might respond, well, as many of them did.

Now let me respond to some specific comments…

I ran into [a friend from HS] again at UTC with his fiance who was looking for a specific room in the theater department.  I have his number, but I’ve yet to call him… why?

Because John Lennon was right; “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”  Also, James, you haven’t called… because you haven’t called.   It’s not a big deal.   There are many people with whom I was friends in HS and college that I haven’t spoken to in years.  I had, or even still have, their phone numbers, but I don’t call and it has nothing whatsoever to do with their skin color.

Another old friend I met as he and his brother were driving by Brainerd Rd. and as they saw me waiting for the bus they offered to take me to school. …he congratulated me on my successful 3 years of marriage and wished me luck.  I don’t know if I would ever see him or his brother again.

But would you know if you would ever see him again if he was Asian, or Hispanic or White?

[An article] then began to go into how black churches are too preoccupied on neighborhood achievement these days because of the prospect of achieving the “American Dream.”  Ok, so what?  That still doesn’t explain to me why blacks and whites don’t stay friends after high school.

What about all the friends of the same ethnicity we have from HS that are no longer in contact with us?

For instance, I know for a fact that I’m acting so ‘white’ right now because I’m even analyzing all of this.  If you think about it for sec, it’s quite stupid that I am compelled to post my thoughts on a public forum, but for some reason I feel it’s out of necessity.

Yikes!  So, only white people blog?   Only white people are analytical?   See, I know that’s not what he meant but it is what he… well, meant.  Over and over in the news, in various forms of media we see not only white people but people from every ethnicity portrayed as having certain characteristics.  (Most of the time we call that stereotyping, but let’s not get into that here.)  The Big Lie Theory basically states that “people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”  When one hears the “characteristics” and “shortcomings” of white people over and over again, it is understandable that some people will come to believe it, even subconsciously.  So, go easy on James here.

Nowadays, it has actually become part of ethnic identities to be at church; ever think of that?


It irks me that James came so close here to saying, again what I think, what he was trying to say but missed. It disturbs me that the only churches that don’t have ethnic identifiers are “white churches.” (i.e., “You know it’s that black church over off of Highway 153” or “Yeah, they go to the Hispanic church over behind the college.”)  Let me rephrase in such a way that shouldn’t surprise too much: it irks me that churches have cultural/ethnic identifiers of any kind.

Most whites go to church because they otherwise feel condemned not to go because of pressure from their peers.


The real problem here is the word “most.” Or maybe it’s the word “whites.” Conceivably it’s the words “most whites.” You’re stereotyping James.

…it is … difficult to add adults to a congregation, because they have convinced themselves that their identity is already secure.


I buy this statement, in the above vacuum only.

This is also why especially in white churches there are multiple church “members” who continue to dive into alcohol, pornography, adultery, bitterness, murder… they are not there to look for Christ; they’re there to achieve a white identity.


And the response from Kimberly Mathis Brooks:

I HAVE never EVER associated a “white” identity with pornography, bitterness, murder, alcohol, etc. To say that identifying yourself as a “white” person means that you associate with all those things is ridiculous, demeaning, and ignorant of basic human faults.


Kimberly has a point, but, here again, I think it’s mostly because James didn’t take time to edit well.  I feel safe saying that I know for certain that James in NO way meant to imply that “identifying yourself as a ‘white’ person means that you associate” yourself with “alcohol, pornography, adultery, bitterness [and/or] murder…” His point was, rather to illustrate that the church members (specifically the “white” church members to whom he had earlier referred. Again, stereotyping…) to whom he was referring were not at church to seek any kind of real enlightenment or truth but instead to develop a cultural identity (which is FAR broader than simply an ethnic identity).

There were some who responded to James by telling stories about how they had been the victims of prejudice.  To that I respond as follows:

It seems certain to me that you have been harmed by ignorance and prejudice.  I’m sorry for that, but I am not sorry for that as a white person. I’m sorry as a fellow human being.  As a very good friend of mine once wrote, “When any man is wronged, not just one is maligned. The ripples expand to touch all of mankind.”  And, as a much more famous person wrote: “No man [or, for our purposes here, no ethnic group, no race, no group with similar skin tones] is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind (emphasis mine), and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

To James McClary’s post, Donnie Johnson Sackey wrote:

I think that if we move toward ignoring race and ethnicity, as they play important mitigating circumstances in certain institutions (i.e. the black church), this will only help to further the logics of racial supremacy since it appears to favor the status quo within our American culture.  In other words, we would be solidifying the same racial caste system that we’ve been “trying” to eliminate for over 100 years.


Categorizations in the human race based on phenotypical characteristics are the mark of intolerance and division.  To agree to your above statement is to say that the best thing for all people to do is to embrace an almost Garvian anti-miscegenationist worldview, come together and assign to each category a specific land mass and group them all there for all time.  I understand that may not have been your intent, but it is the logical extension of your statement.  I understand your thought that race and ethnicity “play important mitigating circumstances” in our collective experience (see paragraph 8), but if we can’t “move toward ignoring race and ethnicity” then racism will NEVER cease to be a problem.

And that is my real point.   What difference does it make what to which ethnic group your friend from high school or college or that past job with whom you have lost touch belongs?  What difference does it make, ultimately, which ethnic group claims our in-coming bi-racial (ugh!) president? What difference does it make, between you and me (whoever you are), what difference there is in our skin tones.  We’re all colored people to one degree or another.  I haven’t even met an albino that was truly achromatic.  I say again in paraphrase for purposes of closing that, the harm that comes to any person of any ethnic group for any reason diminishes me, for I am his brother and he is mine because we are the both of us, human.  We are, the both of us, a colored people.

Dumb Teens or Jaded Adults???

Symbol or Fad

In her article “It’s Official – Teens Are Getting Dumber” Jennifer Jordan makes the following assertion:

We all know that teenagers are stupid. Rather, they act stupid. Having been teens ourselves and now being adult enough to be able to reflect back, most of us agree that at one time or another, most teens are, well, dumb. Pregnancy pacts, virginity rings and Marilyn Manson obsessions aside, now it turns out that sentiment might actually be true!


Now, I don’t usually slam people who write this kind of stuff (for the sake of clarity and full disclosure, Ms. Jordan’s article is not, in fact, about the stupidity of the three items she mentioned on her opening paragraph.), and I mean no disrespect to Jennifer as a person, BUT…

  • Pregnancy pacts – Dumb
  • Marilyn Manson obsessions – dumb
  • Manic viewing and pining for the life of “The Hills”, The O.C.” etc. – dumb
  • Most things that teenagers do – at least partially dumb

Virginity rings?  This is probably the sanest thing I have heard come out of teendom since I was one (app. 17 years ago).   It’s bad enough that teens get ridiculed by those older than they for doing and saying all of the dumb stuff they do and say, (and you remember what it’s like to be a teenager… you have intense feelings, you say and do all of these things that you realize – maybe in the moment, maybe later – are dumb, but you don’t need people to point it out to you. Anyway…).  The last thing teens need is for people older than they to tell them that the good stuff they do (i.e. virinity rings) is dumb.

Let’s focus here for a moment.  We live in a world where having sex even one time can be a death sentence (or even just a remarkably embarrassing trip to the doctor’s office); even oral sex can be physically and emotionally devastating, and let’s not forget to mention the potentially devastating effects of unplanned pregnancies.  Here you have a group of teens making a valiant effort to resist not just peer pressure, but their own urges and make a stand for physical sexual fidelity.   We are all a visual people and this group of teens has determined that an excellent reminder of their pledge to remain chaste and faithful to their FUTURE (no less) spouse is more important than wantonly following the crowd or their hormones.  Also there is the added bonus of allowing other teens to know what they are getting into should they choose to pursue a relationship with them.   And, finally (at least for my purposes here), there is the open door created to discuss sex in a healthy way with their peers which is afforded to these teens by their choice to wear Virginity Rings.

Short version: Don’t disrespect the youth for something to which you might never have the fortitude to commit.

So… What do you think?

Only In America

Today I look back on our national history and I note some things:

  1. Less than 150 years ago, Africans and their descendants were slaves in this country.
  2. Less than 100 years ago, Segregation laws vexed and divided our nation along the lines of color.
  3. Less than 50 years ago people of every color began to work in earnest to achieve civil rights for all without regard to race or ethnic origin.
  4. Less than 10 years ago, Islamic terrorists achieved a stunning victory in their campaign of terror against “The Great Satan” by flying commercial jet liners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
  5. Less than 1 minute ago, I watched a man named Barack Hussein Obama, born of a Kenyan father and an American Caucasian mother (Racial identities noted for clarification only.), take the oath of office and be sworn in as the President of the United States.

Only in America.

As I reflect on the import of this day, I remember an exchange between my best friend Lee Arthur D., my six-year-old self and an adult neighbor. Lee Arthur said that one day he was going to be president. The adult neighbor said to him, “we’ll never have a colored president.” I said to the neighbor, “you shouldn’t say things like that.” And that was the end of it. We left. I guess even at six years old, we understood that there was no sense engaging that level of ridiculousness.

I don’t share the level of excitement that some I know are feeling today. I appreciate it. For some, their candidate got elected; for some there is a connection to the importance that President Obama is African-American; for others they are simply excited for change (however reasonable or unreasonable their own expectations might be for President Obama’s ability to affect that change). I didn’t vote for President Obama (I didn’t consider him experienced enough; also, it troubled me that early on in his senate term he said he would not run for president. Anyway…), I am not African-American (I barely care about that as those who know me and/or have read previous posts by me – insert knowing chuckle here – are sure to understand, but I appreciate that excitement.) and I am, as I have been with every new president since I have been old enough to care, cautiously optimistic. I hope for good things. I dream for great things. I have seen how the office and its burdens bring potentially great men low.

Still, today is an awesome day. I see in the faces of many a kind of joy in being an American that I haven’t seen in a long time. And, even more importantly, never again can anyone say that there is a limitation on dreams. Lee Arthur… I told you that man was stupid. There is no glass ceiling, not anymore. Every child, regardless of their skin tone can say, with certainty, I can be a janitor or the President of the United States. It’s up to me.

Only in America.

Six16en Things

So, there’s this thing going on over at Facebook.  It’s one of those forwarded notes that most people equate to SPAM.  For me, it’s an exercise in transparency.  Also, it says as much to me as it does about me.  The task is simple: Write 16 random things about yourself.  So, here goes…

  1. I remember where my parents were sitting when they told me they were getting a divorce. We had a nice living room in our house on Amhurst Drive; there was a couch on the long wall opposite the front window and two reclining chairs facing the wall to the couch’s left. One was my mother’s and one was my father’s. They called me into the living room and my dad was sitting on the arm of his chair and my mom was sitting on the arm of hers. I knew they had been crying and I knew that whatever was coming was not good. I remember my dad saying the actual words “Your mom and I are getting a divorce” and I just broke down. I was seven.
  2. I have loved three women in my life. I have been inspired by or completely enamored of several. Yet, I find it completely sad that we live in a world where I can’t tell these people what they have meant to me.
  3. I am writing four books at the moment; One is a book on the Spring Feasts, One is a book on the Fall Feasts, One is a devotional for musicians and one might hopefully rectify at least one situation mentioned in item #2
  4. Speaking of musicians, I am one… Most people know that, but here’s the random part: I wish I had the guts to be a full-time performer because, in private, I rock the entire house.
  5. I understand the “vanity of pleasure” better than I ever thought I would.
  6. The 28 months between February of 1997 and May of 1999 was the second best two+ years of my non-married life.
  7. I love Prince and every note of music he’s ever written, and I could not possibly care who knows it.
  8. I have one dream job that I know I have virtually no chance of getting and, every now and then, it makes me sad.
  9. My daughters have unusual birthdays. One was born on August 20th (which was a very significant day in my life); and the other was born on September 29th, the birthday of the person who helped to make August 20th such an important day in my life. I bring it up here because I believe with every strand of my DNA that my daughters were born on the days they were born as a message to me from God that He was restoring what had been stolen.
  10. Bookshelves are the most important part of any house to me. In the house mentioned in item #1 my dad had installed these blue bookshelves that lined almost completely lined two walls in my bedroom. They were filled with books and I loved to read (still do) at least a little every day. Ever since my parents divorce, if I ever move into an apartment a house, a job with an office whatever… I am not truly moved in until bookshelves are in place and full. The pitiful part of this is that I still sometimes hesitate to do this part of the move in process out of fear that I will only be there temporarily, and I will have lost home again.
  11. Though I am in love with learning and hope to be in the educational process until my heart stops beating, I despise academia and reckon diplomas to have just about as much intrinsic value as the rolls of Charmin in my bathroom. The problem is that, while I believe this I do love to learn and have earned a few of those pointless pieces of papaer along the way (I am currently in the process of getting another one), but that has caused some people in the “real world” to think that I view the living world like the “hallowed halls of academia”; conversely, peers in the academic world view my approach as too feral to be applicable in the ivory towers of learning… so either way I’m toast.
  12. I secretly beat myself up (metaphorically speaking) because I despise how I am so able to be jealous of other people’s success. It’s not that I don’t want it for them… but I want to be truly successful at what I have chosen to do as well. Still… It makes me feel like a punk.
  13. I’m very intimidated by my father; not because he’s been horrible to me or has achieved some remarkable level of success. I think, it is instead because I have – for reasons I am completely unable to pinpoint – never felt like I could possibly be good enough for him. He’s never said so, at least not that way (in fact it’s been almost the opposite). Weird, eh?
  14. (Note: This is the dumbest thing about me, but I am trying to be honest) I am completely megalomanical in that I am terrified to truly finish anything that might be great because I fear that upon its completion I will die.
  15. I have never had more than 2 real friends in my immediate vicinity at any point in my life. In the course of my life I think I have had 6 real stick-with-you-forever-take-a-bullet-for-you-and-know-you-would-for-me friends. I love those people with everything in me and would love them even through betrayal.
  16. The fact of the matter is, I am SO bad at playing my cards close to the vest that it’s hard to find any list of things about me that can be simply random and not horrible. Most of my secrets are things that are secret because I am too desperately afraid to share them with anyone.