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.”

 

Good News and Better News … January 15th, 2018

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Sunday morning, I woke up with laryngitis.

Having dodged a cold most of the week, I was finally overtaken by the little booger and my larynx (voice box) was completely surrounded and incapable of screaming for help.

I sat on the toilet seat, realizing that in two short hours I was supposed to share at Saint James United Methodist Church in Goose Creek, South Carolina. That hardly seemed plausible. The word “unlikely” came to mind.

Yet I must tell you, I’ve never been content with accepting my first look at anything. My initial observation is always full of fear, culture and predictability. So realizing that I could not call these fine people and bail out at this late hour, I asked myself a valuable question: “What is it you can do this morning that will edify your brothers and sisters?”

Candidly, we all wake up every morning, each one of us a little lame simply due to being human beings. Yet it is our purpose to find ways to edify.

Singing was out of the question. My singing voice yesterday morning resembled a child’s squeal after falling off the monkey bars.

But I was able to speak.

I was able to think.

The ten fingers on my hands were not infected whatsoever, so playing the piano was available.

I had no congestion in my sense of humor.

So without troubling Pastor Susannah, Vance and all the cherished, human folk at Saint James, I just launched into what I still had at hand.

I made no explanation because it would not have been edifying.

I made no excuses. Once again, not edifying.

Edifying is when you take what you’ve got and instead of proclaiming it insufficient, you use it to bless other people.

It was a bit of a mine field–guessing when my voice would crackle or crunch–but after three blessed hours, I was able to make connection with my new brothers and sisters, and from what they tell me, lift their spirits.

The good news is that God’s spirit is sufficient to our every need.

The better news is that if we want to tap that grace, we need to humbly admit when we have found ourselves buried under the weather.

 

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 23) A Full House … October 2nd, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

The church was full–invaded by human beings of all ages. Two of the older deacons had to remember where the ancient folding chairs had been stocked to be retrieved for sitting possibilities.

The Bachman family had requested that Reverend Meningsbee offer the closing thoughts.

The memorial service began with Alex’s father offering some memories about his son. It was painful. Over and over again, Mr. Bachman had to stop and fight back tears before he could continue sharing about a fishing trip, a crazy journey to Disney World and popcorn-and-movie night with Alex.

The Girls’ Ensemble from the high school sang, “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” careful to change the lyrics when God was mentioned.

There were a couple of poems and a projection on a screen–a collage of visual memories of the young fellow.

Then, when the audience exhausted itself of possibilities, the service was left in the hands of the local parson, to culminate the event and terminate the misery with some sort of inspiration–minus divine content.

Reverend Meningsbee rose to his feet just as a gentleman on the back row suddenly launched into a coughing fit. It was so severe that people had to turn around to make sure he was all right. After his well-being was assured, Meningsbee strolled to the middle of the room, turned and began:

I didn’t know Alex. I wish I had–not just because I can always use another friend, but because I would have something to say about him today. So because I was at a loss for words, two days ago I decided to drive to the school and go down into the furnace room where Alex completed his journey.

I was surprised. First, I was surprised that there were two very long flights of stairs. I thought it was a little odd that they were made of metal. But that’s neither here nor there.

When I finally got into the furnace room, or what I guess you might call the area, I noticed how warm it was. Not hot. Just toasty–makes you want to sit down in the corner with a pillow and go to sleep.

I looked around for a few minutes. You know what I was looking for? I was looking for that pipe where he took his rope, threw it over, put it in a noose, tied it off and ended his life.

It was so peaceful down there. I suppose I could tell you that I felt Alex’s presence in the room, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel anything but machinery at work. It made me think about the note our friend left behind.

“They said it would get better.”

Who’s “they?” Alex didn’t write, “YOU said it would get better.” He wasn’t blaming friends and family. He was talking about “they–them.” Those individuals over there. People who sometimes fail to realize that what may seem to be temporary pain to one person is unbearable agony to another.

“They said things would get better.”

What is better? Gee whiz, I wish we could ask Alex that. Let me do that.

“Alex! What would you consider better? Would better be pressure taken off of you? Bullies leaving you alone? A sense of hope? Maybe just a girl smiling at you. Or maybe girls weren’t the problem. I don’t know.

But better never showed up. How do I know? Alex told me. He said, “They promised it would get better. BUT IT DIDN’T.”

I guess I have to ask myself–and ask you–if Alex was going to be in this room today, sharing a piano piece he had written (by the way, that’s one of the things I learned. He loved to play the piano.) Yes, if he had invited us all to a private concert, would we have packed the joint? Who would have showed up?

Apparently, to get our attention, Alex felt he had to die. That makes me sad. That makes me want to go out and break something. That makes me…well, that makes me want to make sure it never happens again.

I know I was instructed not to mention anything about religion, God or heaven. So I won’t.

But I will close with this thought–it’s a sensation.

Alex might concur.

Because as I climbed back up those metal stairs from the tomb of our loss, I thought to myself, “If there is no God, then we sure as hell need one.”

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Ask Jonathots … October 22nd, 2015

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I am a senior in high school and they want me to declare my major for planning my college career. I can’t make up my mind because there are too many things I like to do. I play piano and french horn, I’m very good with computers, and I also love to write. How do you decide “what you want to be when you grow up?”

If you don’t mind, I’d like to give you two parts to this answer.

First of all, it’s difficult to know, when you’re a senior in high school, that the reason family and adult counselors are trying to push you to discover your major for college is that they want to brag to other people about it.

It has little to do with you. The relatives want to say, “Well, Brian is going to be an attorney…a doctor…a professor…an engineer.”

It allows for the “oohs” and “aahs” which cause grown people around you to feel they have succeeded in raising you up to be a fine young person.

Yes, I’m asking you to be a little suspicious of people who are in a hurry for anything. You’re on the verge of making two major decisions which will determine your peace of mind and your sense of soul satisfaction:

  • How do I make a wage?
  • Who am I going to live with for the rest of my life while I make that wage?

Making the wrong decision on either of these proposals is the main ingredient in unhappiness.

So don’t be in a hurry. There are people who do not declare a major until they’re juniors or seniors in college, and as long as they’re willing to buck up to the course requirements, it doesn’t make any difference.

But as to the second part of your question, “What do I want to do when I grow up?”–that is a bit more intricate and a deeper issue.

It’s a good idea to peruse what you enjoy, but I believe there are three things that go into picking an occupation or answering a calling:

1. Can I do what I want to do for long periods of time without complaining, while still finding new ways to enjoy it?

Boredom is your worst enemy in life. It is the source of poorly timed accidents, and bad choices which can lead to all sorts of misfortune and sin. Make sure that what you choose to do evolves enough that it keeps you interested.

2. Is it going to help anyone else?

If you are able to make money and make blessing for other people at the same time, you will never have any trouble sleeping or have any misgivings about your choice of work.

3. Does it offer a branch?

Here’s a fact: if you go into a line of work that allows you to branch out into other aspects of your interests at the same time, it is most excellent.

So of the things you listed–music, computers and writing–use your great intelligence to find a direction for your efforts, where all three of those might come into play.

Just a thought.

But since you’re in the thought process, also remember: thinking, by its very nature, requires that you slow down and not be in any big hurry.

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G-Poppers … September 25th, 2015

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Practicing: working on something to get it to where you want it to be.

Practicing piano, football, dance, law–each one has a process. Each has a defined path which determines quality.

So let’s look further:

  • Practicing Judaism.
  • A practicing Muslim.
  • Practicing Buddhism.
  • A practicing Republican.
  • A practicing Democrat.
  • A practicing atheist.
  • A practicing Christian.

No difference?

In each case, there is a philosophy, a platform, a journey, an insight, a doctrine or a purpose which has to be acted out faithfully in order for the practitioner to be proven worthy.

G-Pop feels that we err when we think the conclusion of all the organizations and religions listed above are moving in the same direction. As ignorant as it is to be intolerant, it is equally as ignorant to be unaware of what the end result is to the religions, politics and procedures around us.

To find out what a Muslim believes, you have to study Mohammed. He is their prophet.

To find out what a Jew believes, you must combine the Torah with the prophets, and a study of the Jewish kings.

To understand a Buddhist, one must consider Buddha.

A Republican is comprehended by looking at the climate of the Party in its present form and also perusing the platform.

Likewise with a Democrat.

An atheist seems to make it quite clear that his or her pursuits are absent any recognition of a deity.

So it may seem to be intelligent or even high-minded to throw everybody in a big pot and say we’re all the same, but as long as the people in that pot believe they are unique or even superior, then you’re not making a human stew–just a pot with stewing humans.

Even as G-Pop looks at his life as a Christian, he sees that it falls into three categories:

Is he a Judeo-Christian, believing that the Old Testament has as much anointing as the New Testament?

Is he a Catholic Christian, in the sense of finding his solace in the teachings of the Roman Church and the authority of the Pope?

Or is he a Pauline Christian, pursuing the instruction of the Apostle Paul as regards the formation of a New Testament congregation?

G-Pop offers a fourth alternative: Jesonian–basing one’s faith and practice on the heart and mind of Jesus.

So before you condemn others–or condone them–sit down and read up a little bit on what they treasure, and realize that in the eyes of God there are only two standards for a civilized and spiritual society:

1. How do we treat women?

Are they equals or subordinate in any way?

2. How do we educate our children?

Do we lock them into a narrow-minded curriculum, force them into a limited culture or give them more of a world-based view?

G-Pop passes this information along to all of his children.

“Study to show yourself approved unto God.” Don’t make so many blanket statements.

Understand who and what you’re talking about, and realize that what people practice they will not only preach … they will also act out.

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G-Poppers… December 12, 2014

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G-Popper

One of his granddaughters asked G-Pop about music. She was curious, thinking he might be old-fashioned in some of his views.

“What is your favorite song?”

G-Pop: The next song which is performed with so much passion that I can feel the meaning through the talent and heart of the performer.

“Well, G-Pop, do you like today’s music?”

G-Pop: I like good music, and since good music is timeless, there is no today or yesterday in it. Just the living emotion of the moment.

Amadeus, Frank, Paul and Beyonce bigger

“Do you like playing piano?”

G-Pop: It’s great fun as long as I realize I am out-numbered, 88 keys to 10 fingers. Obviously, I’m going to lose some of those battles.

“Okay, G-Pop. What do you think God thinks about music?”

G-Pop: God is a groupie, hanging around backstage, hoping the crowd is moved by the hits…and waiting to spend some personal time with the artist. 

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Untotaled: Stepping 35 (May 8th, 1967) The Sanbobs … October 11, 2014

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(Transcript)

They were called the Sanbobs.

They were one of three rock and roll bands in our school, although I use the term “band” loosely, to cover a multitude of whims.

They were headed by a guy named Chip Sanford. He worked with a fellow named Bob Wigglesworth. Thus, the Sanbobs.

Now, Chip did not like me, which caused Bob to follow suit in loyalty. I think the reason Chip didn’t like me very well was that he was chubby, wore glasses, and people were constantly saying that we “could be brothers,” which is a certain way to make sure that people won’t have an affinity for each other. I think another reason was that Chip played piano and so did I. I used my gifts in the gospel field, while he was drawn to the Troggs, the Beatles and the Kinks.

The Sanbobs had four members. As I already told you–Chip was on piano, Bob Wigglesworth on guitar (knowing an amazing five chords), Mark Jackson on drums, who was highly recommended for his loud playing, and Larry Mankins on bass–even though he couldn’t afford an electric one, so instead thumped on a stand-up, which left him appearing to be very vigorous, but unheard.

The biggest happening in the spring of 1967 in our school was that Chip got a new electric organ. It was so cool. So it was decided that the Sanbobs would be scheduled to play for the spring dance, and the diligent members of the quartet went out and learned six songs.

The only problem was that one of the songs they selected was Louie, Louie–which had already been banned by the state of Indiana for having obscene lyrics. Now, we lived in Ohio, but certainly did not want to seem immoral by advocating such a “loose tune.” When word got out to the principal’s office that the Sanbobs were planning to play the piece, a meeting was held and it was forbidden.

The FBI had investigated the lyrics, and had come to the conclusion that they were basically unintelligible. (The Kingsmen had made sure of that.) But just to play it safe, the song was still considered to be nefarious.

On the night of the dance, after they had played each of their five songs three times over, the Sanbobs decided to rebel against authority, and began to play Louie, Louie. The girls screamed in delight and the young men clapped their hands, peering at each other lasciviously.

It took a few minutes for the adults to figure out what was going on, but when they did, they proceeded to the stage to stop the performance. To my surprise, about twenty-five of the kids rushed the platform, locked their arms, and forbade the teachers from getting near the band, as the Sanbobs continued to croon the bewildering poetry.

(I was one of the participants who scattered to a corner of the gym in horror, like a mouse being chased by the handmaiden’s broom.)

When the teachers were unable to get through the “Red Rover, Red Rover” line-up, they decided to kill the electricity, which left the gymnasium encompassed in darkness.

At first there were some “oohs” and “aahs” and screams, which gradually became whispers and culminated in silence. The teachers, not sure what was going on in the dark, restored the juice and discovered that the students were making out with each other.

So it became a choice–which vice did you want to promote? Louie, Louie, with its garbled goodies, or a make-out session in the high school gym?

So the Sanbobs were allowed to finish their song, but an early termination of the dance was proclaimed.

Of course, as the years have gone by, it is obvious that nobody was really defiled by a single rock and roll song. It was prejudice, fear, apprehension and narrow-mindedness which did that to us.

 

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