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Pray This Drunk Makes it Home Alright

Pray this drunk makes it home alright. Pray this drunk makes it home alright. Though I sway from side to side, Home is in my sights Pray this drunk makes it home alright.

I hear there's wine and it won't run dry. I hear there's wine and it satisfies. I hear it's a better year than this bum's had in his life. I hear there's wine and it won't run dry.

I know my path ain't all that straight, But I'm leanin on some arms that bear this clumsy weight. My heart is light. My tongue is loose. My eyes are not so dry. Pray this drunk makes it home alright.

brennan-manningThose are lyrics I penned only a month ago, both as a prayer over my own wandering soul as well as a tribute to you Brennan, the raging alcoholic, once married then not, ex-priest, who set me on this wayward ragamuffin journey into the endless love of God.

Had you not died on Friday, I might have sent you a copy of the album.

Truth be told, you only taught me one lesson, but oh boy was it a doozy.

Jesus loves.

"Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity–that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain–that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be?" –Brennan Manning, All is Grace

"...as you are and not as you should be?" 

No Brennan, I didn't. I liked to sulk in my inability to be anything more than a swindler and a self-righteous facade of spirituality. I believed that God was furious with me, every moment of every day. That though He was obligated to love me, beneath the feigned passion, I was His single greatest disappointment, broke down on the side of the freeway, while he prize children flew by at 100mph.

But now Brennan, I think I'm starting to get it. It was painful at first, when you saw past my charades, when you parroted the thoughts deep in my heart, knowing just how to draw me out of my shell. You knew it was all an act of insecurity and shame. But you didn't condemn. Unlike so many I could only hear speaking disappointment, ignoring and unable to receive their love, you mirrored the heart of the father, screaming I LOVE YOU in poetry and narrative until I finally thought it might be true.

God was not furious –He was furiously in love.

My undoing ended and my ability to receive love began with a single paragraph of yours that I read on a bus driving across Siesta Key.

Laugh with me! Death is dead! Fear is no more! There is only life! There is only laughter! If the darkest night is upon you as you read these words, know that the risen Jesus is wild about you even if you can't feel it. Listen beneath your pain for the voice of Abba God. Make ready for my Christ whose smile like lightning, sets free the song of everlasting glory that now sleeps in your paper flesh like dynamite. -Signature of Jesus

After reading those words, I stared at passing by mansions with matching boats worth more than the apartment building I live in. I fought back tears as I hated the idea of crying in front of my classmates, but your words grew in me and left no more room for those tears to stay inside. That was the first moment I began to believe that just maybe, I was beyond lovability and yet loved, actually loved, not out of obligation but with passion. Or as another friend puts it, that was the moment I realized that Jesus thinks I'm the best thing since sliced bread.

So Brennan, thank you. Oh, and enjoy some of that wine as it was meant to be. I hear the Nazareth 33 A.D. is a fantastic year.

In the words of St. Francis, after conversing long with Brother Dominic on the road to Umbria, "Bye. I'll miss you."

-A Fellow Ragamuffin.

 

You can get your own copy of the album Knowing here.

 

Songs That Stick

There are two types of songs that stick. Type 1: The chorus to REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Lovin You," for example, is just obnoxious. (Every time I hear it I picture a Double Whopper slowly rotating on my TV screen.) And yet, after covering it this weekend at a show, along with other 70s, 80s, and 90s top 40 picks, it refuses to exit my synapses.

Type 2: John Mellencamp's "Longest Days," which I also covered this weekend.

Nothin lasts forever Your best efforts don't always pay Sometimes you get sick and you don't get better Life is short, even it's longest days.

I was running short on time and needed more covers. It was the second song that came up on my White Stripes Pandora station. And it's a gem. Released in 2008, It's a song that took Mellencamp an entire lifetime to write, though I'm sure only a couple hours to translate it to sound waves. Had T-Swift penned and strummed the song, this would be a post making fun of her.

So you pretend not to notice, When everything has changed, The way you looked and the friends you once had So you keep on acting the same.

How many times have I seen that one played out? Would you like a second mortgage to go with your new sports car Mr. Almost40?

My notions of what made a good song used to be about whether or not it was "Christian" which meant it had the specific subject of God, (unless you wanted to write about a girl, then you could reference Jesus in the bridge).

Sigh.

Not that there weren't (or aren't) good lyricists and musicians who also try to follow Jesus (Derek Webb, Rich Mullins, Andrew Osenga, Johnny Cash, Michael Gungor, Reese Roper,  et. al.) But there was a time when "secular" (Which I'm guessing is so popular a term because it sounds like something you can make more evil by saying it like a snake would, sssecular). But I don't look for the divide anymore, I look for true songs, or even for truth re-expressed in a stanza or a verse or a word. I look for songs that actually say something, anything that I can embrace or fight with. For goodness sake just give give me something that punches me in the face.

There is enough music in the world parroting toothless words both "holy" and profane. But I dig on, knowing I have to move mountains of dirt to get to an ounce of gold, for those songs that stick for the right reasons.

Meme Repost Culture

36800590Memes –I grow weary of you. Reducing the world to soundbites, giving us a quick and easy way to feel like we've created something special. You're like prostitution for art, but free. So really just promiscuous, satisfied to be used and re-used ...and reused.

I understand, I really do, you're like a modern day Renaissance poem, the challenge of variation within rigid boundaries is exhilarating. But for all the good you've done, helping us express emotions we didn't know how to let out otherwise, you're beginning to stunt our emotional growth by giving us the sugar-high-feeling of sophistication that only comes with caps locked snarky ideas on pastel next to people dressed for a victorian tea party. frabz-One-Does-Not-Simply-Change-an-individuals-entire-worldview-by-po-bdcfbb

Then, of course, there is your religious cousin, the one that shows up at a party to remind people what chopped up babies look like or what God thinks about marriage –again, with the all caps. Can you let him know that everyone, even the people who sort of agree with him sometimes feel awkward when he's around, and not the "I'm ashamed of Jesus" awkward that he talks about either. In fact he's usually interrupting a great conversation we had going about life, faith, and it's implications –a conversation based in relationship aware of the nuances of human interaction. For all I care he can go hang out on Xanga with that post about a girl I dated five years ago. 

Of course, Meme, it's really not your fault, you are simply an image expressing what we asked you to. So really I'm shooting the messenger in the hopes that the sender gets the message.

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Week of Music '13: Aging Wine

Forgive the narcissism, but I'm recording my own album at the end of January. I'm convinced that there isn't much value in pointing out a weakness unless you're willing to stick around and help bolster the deficiency. So today and Thursday I'll be offering up some of my own lyrics for consideration and criticism. Aging Wine:

I know that the Journey's long And your heart is bleeding. I know you don't have song, though your hearts still beating.

I understand. I stood where you stand. And I still say.

It's so good be with you. It's so good to see you.

I know that your still afraid, That my scars are fading. Please my friend don't be afraid, The wine of my blood is aging.

If there's been a thread that I've seen through my own writing it is this: The world we live in is a chaotic and frightful place offset by the glimmer of a locomotive headlight at the end of a long tunnel. That often comes off as more bleak than hopeful, partially because we've bought into all sorts of blind optimism, but mostly I think because we don't want to admit we are afraid and doubtful as we are. But for me, the keener my awareness of the chaos of being human, the brighter that hope seems, and in the middle of doubt I've found that hope holds up as I lean hard on it.

May He guide you through the wilderness. And protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.

Week of Music '13: What a Lonely Astronaut Taught Me About Marriage

I first heard about Andrew Osenga from a friend and fellow writer in Kentucky. After spending a week in the wet blanket summer of eastern Kentucky with 30 or so teenagers in desperate need of a shower, she handed me a fistful of CDs to check out. As is usually the case, I was skeptical of her enthusiasm toward this Osenga character and his fictional counterpart Leonard the Lonely Astronaut. I don't tend to trust other's opinions of my taste, particularly when it comes to all things spiritual, especially when it comes to music of the Christian variety. While most of the lesser recommendations didn't hit home, I listened to the Osenga album 5 times on the 6 hour drive home, then three more times that week.

Leonard the Lonely Astronaut is a concept album about the fictional Leonard, whose wife dies in the process of their divorce. In a bout of frustration and pain, he accepts a job as an astronaut. His mission is to travel to the opposite end of the universe at the speed of light, which means, according to the laws of relativity, that by the time he returns he will have barely aged, while anyone with any memory of his failed marriage, or himself, will be long dead and gone. On his space ship, he records the album. To help set the mood for the album, Osenga and some friends went so far as to sew up a space suit for Osenga to wear, as well as construct a spaceship like room in Nashville to record in.

You might be surprised to hear that this album about loss and failure could be so inspirational, but its words quickly became a catalyst driving me to hold my own wife just a little closer at night. As Osenga described the fictional breakup of Leonard's once vibrant matrimony, I see my own failures, the simultaneous intimacy and mileage between a couple. As Osenga asks through Leonard, "Why do lovers fall apart. When they want so badly to be one heart." There has been more than one instance where the brutal honesty of Leonards confession gave me the courage to reach a hundred miles across our bed and over an argument to pull us back together.

Osenga speaks about the loneliness of marriage, the frustration when our ideals die, even the pain and ongoing love after a marriage ends. While I can't attest to the latter, on Wednesday you'll be hearing from a friend who listened to this album three years after his own marriage ended. By his estimation, Osenga knows what he's talking about; if Osenga hasn't gone through a failed marriage himself, he is close with people who have.

While I found the musical approach of the album to be bold and diverse child of an adept guitarist (he has played at various times for Derek Webb, Jars of Clay, and others), the strength of the album is it's lyrical content. My favorite line would have to be from the song "First Born Son" where Leonard bemoans his training of self reliance:

"We prayed each night to the risen God For our loved ones health and safety Then we locked the doors and windows shut So there was no danger, and we were not free"

The chorus shouts a line damning to our North American sentiments with the twist of an idiom: "God help the man, who helps himself; he needs no other devil." It becomes obvious that Osenga used no idle words. I've gone through this album with my cliche radar and a fine tooth come. It's not often that you can say that nearly every word in an album would be sorely missed if removed. Props Andrew.

I've heard a lot of marriage sermons in my lifetime, mostly warnings against pornography and infidelity, none of which I can bring to mind though I'm sure I can recreate their premise. But Osenga's sermon will stick with me for a lifetime in the way that only music can. It gives me both a drive to be a better husband and a greater compassion for those who mourn that they can't be one anymore. Whereas most 'Christian' songs regarding some sort of one off anthem about a singular and severely limited aspect of marriage, Leonard the Lonely Astronaut is a lonely exploration that shines light on some very dark places, letting us know that we aren't alone in our dysfunction.