Things I Learned from R. B. (April 5th, 2020)


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Episode 10

We decided to settle into Shreveport, Louisiana, where I took a job as a professor at a Bible college, teaching drama and also Music Director at the adjoining church.

The college was very small—only twenty students—and the church maintained a faithful fifty. But it garnered me living quarters and a small weekly stipend.

I took the opportunity because I thought “college professor” would look good on my resume.  I also speculated that it would give me several months to think things over before the evangelical church, which financially supported the college, grew tired of me and my creative ways.

R. B. accompanied us, but only in body—somehow absent the heart and soul which had once plumped him up into being human. The misadventure in Minnesota had left him defeated, devoid of confidence. So upon arriving in Shreveport, he found a young couple who had an extra room, and he moved in.

Although he was only ten blocks away from us, we gradually lost contact.

He despised the director of the Bible college and came to church services very infrequently. I did not agree with him about the founder of Hope Bible College,  even though the man wore cowboy shirts, bolo ties, boots and stabled two horses on his property. He and I were not a natural match, but still maintained a strange respect based upon the fact that he yearned for my youthful intervention at his dream institute.

And I certainly loved having my rent paid and enough money to fund my addiction to lunch meat.

There was a small dormitory on site which housed six students. One was the onsite janitor, whom the college touted as “recovering from mental retardation.” He was not really challenged—just a young kid with the shit intimidated out of him. There was also a black student, fulfilling Hope’s MLK moment. And then there were four gentlemen who certainly, in the real world, would have been prescribed anti-depressants, but were instead being sustained by prayer-healing.

Now, I knew my stay would not be long, so I launched.

I wrote two original plays and staged them in a small auditorium where we built a stage and I wired in two banks of overhead colored lights. The proctor of our “college-ette” was thrilled beyond measure when we presented the first play, and not only was the auditorium filled to the brim, but the local newspaper arrived to review it.

Yet R. B. only showed up when I asked him to play organ in the church. He arrived attempting to play with a black gospel-jazz flair. Unfortunately, R. B. was not black, nor jazzy.

In a nutshell, he was frustrated and confused.

He took up smoking, started to socially drink (which the congregation found quite unsociable) and he was touchy. I guess “touchy” was an old-time word we used when a human being was always ready for a fight. For R. B, a grimace had replaced his grin.

My stay at this institute of higher learning turned out to be seven months. It was eventful, troubling, and even though the president of the college loved my talent, he hated the challenge and the competition.

Truth of the matter is, so did I. I was weary of having ideas that had to come under the bar of religious prejudice.

So I left Hope on agreeable terms. R. B. gladly left with me.

I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I was not madly in love with Shreveport, but even less inclined to pack up one more time and darken the road. My wife had a job; my kids had schools.

So I stayed—and so did R. B.

But it wasn’t a mutual friendship holding us together. Rather, it was the need to hold onto one another during a mutual disintegration.

Things I Learned from R. B. (March 22nd, 2020)


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Episode 8

The tour ended in a rather joyous splash.

Of the ten thousand original dollars offered by the investors, we were able to complete the entire project, travel all across the country and still return five thousand dollars to them.  It wasn’t great—but considering the industry of music and theater, not too bad at all.

The cast gave hugs, promised to write, took addresses, and in a matter of two hours, what began as a dream ended—leaving me with a deep sense of loneliness.

For me, it was not just the end of a tour. It was also the demise of the music group I had been traveling with for eight years. My partner from the inception had grown weary of pulling her makeup out of a suitcase and was going back to Ohio to begin the next chapter of her life. I didn’t have the heart to go on without her. Singing voices can be replaced, but memories and passion are rare and come at a premium.

On top of that, I was reunited with my two older sons, who were rather pissed because they had spent two months with their grandma—especially since the littlest one rattled on about stories from the road.

The rent was due, and the refrigerator needed to be filled. I had no money. Worse—I had no plan.

About five days after the tour disbanded, I was sitting in my small apartment in Nashville, musing my fate, when the phone rang.

It was R. B.

I had completely forgotten that he also lived in Nashville. He was calling to ask my advice on where to find a reasonably priced place to record some of the music he had written. This was back in the time when “reasonable” and “recording” were two words that couldn’t be used in the same sentence.

I was also a little needy to be needed.

So I offered to use my gear at church nearby, where the pastor and I were friends.  When we arrived, I asked R. B. to sing me his songs. There were six in all.

The problem with sitting and listening to a singer-songwriter is that he or she often feels the need to take ten minutes to explain the origin of their three-minute song. After about an hour-and-a-half, we finished, and R. B. asked me my opinion.

“There’s only one way you can tell if a song is any good,” I said. “Without hyping it, telling its story or sharing a tearful story, just play and sing it and see if people dig it—just for its own worth.”

R. B. frowned at me. Part of the frown was due to the fact that he didn’t know exactly what I meant, but most of it was caused by R. B. being very unfamiliar with criticism.

I listened to the songs individually one more time, and told him that of the six, there were two that people would enjoy hearing and other artists might like to sing.

That afternoon we recorded those two songs. I overlaid some piano, organ and vocals and did a quick mix on it over to cassette tape, so he could take it home and listen.

He was thrilled.

I must have gotten about seven calls in the next two days—R. B. pointing out things he had just discovered and expressing how grateful he was that I took the time to help him.

Meanwhile, I made a contact with a minister in Mobile, Alabama, who was just beside himself—overjoyed to have my wife, kids and myself come down and join the staff.

I had never done anything “churchy” before, but the opportunity came with a house, free utilities and a small salary. So I looked past my apprehensions.  I buried my dreams and made plans to move my entire entourage to Mobile, Alabama.

Shortly before we left, R. B. came to dinner and told us that he had just hired on with an electronics firm in Minnesota. We shook hands. I think he even mustered a hug.

As R. B. left, I remember thinking, “I’ll probably never see him again.”

 

Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 8) Fruity Labors … June 19th, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

Meningsbee sat in his car panting, with sweat dribbling down his face.

What just happened?

His mind raced to retrieve some sanity.

He had gone to the grocery store to pick up some fruit, and was standing in the produce section, trying to decide between blueberries or blackberries, when he was tapped on the shoulder. He turned around to discover that he was surrounded by three irate women in their seventies.

There was no escape.

Woman One piped up. “What gives you the right to come to our town, break apart families and remove our sense of community?”

Without affording Meningsbee a chance to respond, Woman Two inserted her piece. “What was so wrong with our little Garsonville church? I think we were a loving sort until you showed up.”

Likewise, Woman Three intoned her complaint. “We dedicated that organ in the church to my grandmother, and now I’m not even able to go.”

Meningsbee tried to figure out a way to respond without becoming defensive, but the women continued to bombard him with their frustrations, refusing to allow him to leave. It caused such a commotion that the store manager called the local police, who uncharacteristically arrived within three minutes.

The constable felt it was his job to get to the bottom of the story, so he listened patiently as the women outlined their grievances.

When Meningsbee was asked to describe his take on the situation, he chose to remain silent, realizing that he was not only outnumbered, but also that his rendition might seem anemic compared to their enraged profile.

Unfortunately, a local reporter for the newspaper was in the store at the time, and she felt it was her responsibility to interview the participants, with Meningsbee politely declining.

He just quickly grabbed some fruit, went through the checkout and exited the store. Now he sat alone, bruised and a bit infuriated at being ambushed.

Yet the situation did not go away.

Two days later when the newspaper came out, there was an article about the incident and a background about the ongoing struggle between the Garsonville Church and the new Garsonville Christian Church, meeting at the Holiday Inn Express.

The closing line of the piece was provided by one of the women, who shared, “If the people who are still at the Garsonville Church really love us and respect us as neighbors, they will at least come out to our new gathering and give it a chance.”

Even as Reverend Meningsbee was in the midst of reading the article, the phone rang. It was the first of thirty-five or forty calls he received from parishioners, saying that they were torn and conflicted, and felt it would maybe be good for them to show their respect by going to the Garsonville Christian Church this week.

Meningsbee didn’t know what to say. Honestly, he wanted to cry. He never intended to split up families nor bring conflict–just share Jesus.

Upon arriving at the church on Sunday morning, Meningsbee discovered there were only twelve in attendance–and eight of them were the visitors who had come over the past several weeks.

Because he didn’t want to deal with unresolved hurt, he shared his heart with those who were present, and explained what he believed to be his mission and desire.

He dismissed the service and headed for his car. All the other attendees left the parking lot and he sat alone. He couldn’t help but feel cheated–and maybe even, in a strange sense, jealous.

After all, his congregation was somewhere else, listening to someone else–being torn between their new discovery of faith and their loyalty to tradition.

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Good News and Better News … February 15th, 2016

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Good News and Better News Windsor UMC

A carefully constructed bulletin.

Beautiful building.

Decorated altar.

Gorgeous organ.

First-class sound equipment for the praise band.

Prepared minister.

Eager ushers.

Hymns meticulously selected.

Fresh doughnuts.

Delicious coffee.

Ample parking.

Batteries in the wireless mics.

Sunday school lessons.

Nursery workers.

Handicap accessible.

Bathrooms stocked with paper products.

Children’s church.

Carpets swept.

Library open.

Prayers uttered.

Choir rehearsed.

ALL IS PREPARED.

Whosoever will may come.

But they don’t.

Never has there been so much tender-loving care put into the prospect of receiving an audience which refuses to arrive.

It was a bitter-cold Sunday morning in Columbia, South Carolina when I found my way to Windsor.

Absolutely delightful, engaging, intelligent, fresh human beings.

Just not very many of them.

And I guess it would be fine if there wasn’t a general understanding among those attending that something is missing–or rather, a bunch of “someones” absent.

Some of those who fail to attend are former advocates who have left, either through disagreement or just “growing weary in well-doing.”

But many are human beings who have been taunted into believing that there are no real answers within the stained glass windows.

The church has become the standing joke for those who want to poke fun at a group of people they truly do not understand. So there’s a tendency for those who are still warming the pew to turn cold and lose faith.

The good news is that we have the facility to receive our fellow-travelers.

The better news is that while we’re waiting for them to make up their minds, we should work on our own lives, our own joy, our own understanding and our own tolerance.

Jesus was interested in a following that had lips with heart. In other words, what is spoken comes from a place of passion. The beauty of passion is that even if you’re wrong, because you have not hidden your feelings, they can be corrected. And if you’re right, the energy can bring life to those around you.

When you remove heart from lips, you get words that sound dry, dusty and old. But when you add the personal joy and testimony of reality, then the lips can speak the desires of the heart and bring revival.

So to all the good friends I met at Windsor, let me remind you:

While we are waiting for the world to get tired of crazy, let us look to ourselves and overcome our lazy.

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Symphony 150 … March 15, 2012

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The Book of Psalms.

It is a collection of songs and poems depicting the victories and struggles of human life, punctuated by the pursuit of God. Its closing stanzas are reserved for an explanation—no, more than that—an orchestration of what truly is praise and worship. Yes, it is a symphony in four movements, carefully constructed, sensitive to the needs of mankind and seductive to the ear of the Divine.

It begins with the trumpet—a fanfare. I envision four measures of our brass in unison—a clarion. “Wake up! Life is good! Notice the beauty of God and join the chorus.”

In the fifth measure, a second part is added, introducing diversity but still maintaining the integrity of tone. In the ninth through the sixteenth measures, the trumpets blare a quartet of harmonies, announcing the beginnings of well-deserved appreciation.

 And then suddenly, the brass are replaced by the lute and harp, establishing our melody—a recurring theme of sweetness and gentleness that accentuates our deep sense of awe and wonder over creation. It is genuine, pure and simple. “Be still. Know. Relax. It is time to exude the unity of your internal orchestra—heart, soul and mind—and let it come forth in the jubilation of your strength.”

An ascending arpeggio and our first movement ends—with the awareness that all is well.

It is quickly followed by the second movement, which explodes with rhythm—tambourines, hand-held noise makers, stimulating the dance—like a Chopin Polonaise—the affirmation that human life not only is functional, but also fruitful, because there is no reason to believe that God would do anything to stop us from achieving our best. It is time to rise, to move to the music. “Produce a visual for your joy. Reject stagnation. Pound the tambourines. Dance.”

Then, at the peak of this exaltation, the strings are introduced, blended with the organ. We hear the first fruits of our original theme from the lute and harp, now played with greater intensity and flow from our orchestra. It is time to take the jubilance of our dance and find the tunefulness of our heart’s desire and express it freely, without fear. The strings and organ give us the freedom to be unashamed of our humanity—to be willing to let all of our parts connect in a joyous repentance, absent of sadness, but filled with the expectation that God is forgiving, God is light and God is love.

Our second movement ends with this reassurance.

Fully absolved of our insecurities, frustrations and sins, the third movement begins with loud cymbals. It is a chorus, flirting with cacophony but still maintaining a control over intensity. It is a time to confirm that we are salvaged. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! Trumpet the conviction true spirituality is not escaping human life, but rather, finally confirming its dynamic. Don’t be afraid.”

Our loud cymbals are joined by high-sounding cymbals, producing a fevered pitch. Our worship has now entered into a thrilling lack of intimidation. We are in awe of God, which gives us permission to honor of ourselves. We are surrounded by sound without complaining about the volume. We are lost in the moment without shame.

This ends movement three.

Suddenly … stillness—a two measure rest. Recreation—and then we begin movement four, the finale, where everything that has breath joins the orchestra to bring praise to the Lord. The brass, the woodwinds and even a chorus of voices blend, revisiting that original melody by the lute and the harp, exploring it as an anthem—a victorious march to triumph. Breath unites with breath, building in volume, the pace picking up to a glorious climax, a place where the sopranos can find their highest note. The tenors join just beneath as the altos gloriously bellow their second and the basses resound the bottom.

The ending is held, vibrating the sound waves through the room with such an intensity that chills run down the body, when all at once the conductor stops the orchestra. Another two measure rest, when …

The entire ensemble culminates in a lower inversion C chord. Peace, be still.

Thus ends our fourth movement—and our symphony.

It is how the Psalmist describes what true praise and worship of life and God should be—not merely the droning of well-rehearsed, “special music,” but a fresh, burgeoning composition extolling the great potential of being alive.

Symphony 150, in four movements—always available, always beautiful—always penetrating the heart of God.

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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