the sun/son

Did you see the show this morning? I hope so. It was spectacular. There it was, big, bright and right on time. We knew it was coming. Several things gave it away. First of all, there was the prelude. Just as the show was about to begin the birds, who'd been quiet and still for the last several hours, started their introduction. They must have received a cue from the conductor. Then gradually, one by one the stars began their disappearing act, giving way to the real star of the show. Then it started. At first just a ray, then a peek. And before you knew it there it was, bright enough and warm enough to dry the dew and melt the fog. The sun came up this morning and what a show it put on. Not that we weren’t expecting it. We figured there’d be another day.

When you last did the laundry you must have been thinking you'd be wearing that shirt again. Otherwise you would've just thrown the dirty stuff away. Same goes for the dishes. And believe me, I'd never bother mowing the lawn if I thought there was a real chance the grass wouldn't eventually turn to weeds.

At my house it can get really hectic in the morning. I’ve learned to do as much night before preparation as I can. I set the timer on the coffee maker, lay out my clothes and even do pre-prep on tomorrow’s lunch if necessary. At the Bishop house, I expect the sun to come up at its usual time or else I wouldn't bother to set that annoying alarm. So I’m really not surprised when it actually happens. (It would be nice though if it didn't happen so early.)

So we wash and mow and clock in and shave and shower and study and answer email because we're pretty sure the sun's coming up in the morning. If we didn't think so we'd probably all stink, let the yard grow into a jungle, live ignorant and max out the inbox. As Christians we read our Bibles, have our devotions and pray because we still expect the sun to come up in the morning. If we didn't, we’d live shallow and miss a lot of great promises, all with a stinky spirit.

So the believer asks, "Kenny, how can you be so sure about this? What if Jesus comes back tonight?”

As far as I'm concerned that doesn't change a thing. Whether it's the sun or the Son, there will be a dawning. Count on it. And since I’m so sure of it I plan to carry on with the business of faith and family and friends. Then once the Son has popped over the horizon all of the chores we’ve gotten good at doing out of habit will suddenly be done. Then the things we once just believed in will be just as real as the fact that the sun or the Son just showed up.

Did you catch the show this morning… the sunrise? If not there's another performance scheduled in just a few hours. If you've seen it before you know it's worth seeing again because every show is just a little bit different. Then there's the one with no repeat performances. It's a one-time only event. Believe me, you really won't want to miss the Son rise.

*I enjoy sharing a few of my thoughts as a contributing writer to several web sites and print publications. This writing was seen far and wide several years ago in the Singing News Magazine and more recently at sgmradio.com.


thanks for...

...God and all the trimmings. Wrap your head around that. When God gets access to you and your stuff you usually get much more in return than you really expected. And what's really cool is most of it is invisible. So, sometimes I just say, "Thanks, God for you and all the trimmings."

More later.


please don't, people

Christian and I had a cold blast last night. We'd been talking all season about going to a University of Kentucky football game, and this was our last regular season chance. The final home game was against Vanderbilt and was it evermore a cold one. As cold as it was down next to the field where we were I couldn't imagine how frigid it must've been up where the wind was really blowing. Even with all the layers we wrapped ourselves up in (think the kid in the movie A Christmas Story), we still did some shaking. But it was worth every bone chilling moment to hang with my best pal and cheer on some blue.

I'd say there were probably 50,000 or better in attendance last night. I always think it's fun to watch the different personalities and listen in on conversations that are too loud to be ignored. Right behind us were to older guys who I'da swore had to be those two old men who sat in the balcony on the Muppet Show. They were grouchy, sarcastic and hilarious. I don't know if they were talking so loud because they couldn't hear, or if they just didn't care to let section 126 in on their conversation. It was good play-by-play commentary though.

Besides the fact that UK lost, there was one thing that really disappointed me about the game. I know we all get emotional when our team is losing. I know we sometimes feel brave when everyone around us is wearing the same color, and every now and then the mob mentality takes over. It made me nearly sick though when I heard this kid sitting on the other side of me using pathetic, degrading names for the other team's players and even their cheerleaders. When an Asian guy in a Commodore uniform came close to where we were this kid screamed something derogatory about his eyes and told him to go back to where he came from. That would be Nashville, kid. You can guess what he had to say about the black players.

This kid didn't represent our team or our university, and he certainly didn't speak for me. But I was ashamed that someone with white skin like mine, wearing all blue like me, sitting in a seat next to me and cheering for my team would say such racist, repulsive things. He and I resembled way too much for me to be comfortable with it. Where did he pick up this sort of thinking? Who ever led him to believe that that's the way you support your own team, that it was funny, or even acceptable?

I've got a good idea that with all of the other games going on last night there were probably other kids, or even adults, at another stadium somewhere throwing out that same kind of language. When the Wildcats get to Vandy next time they may hear it themselves from a 'Dores fan. If I can't handle it being hurled at the other guys I'm sure I don't want my team to have to face it.



Knowing that the variety of my careers has taken me through the thick of political work and some high-level campaigning, a lot of my friends who are not necessarily involved in, but are fascinated with it like to talk politics when we're together. I usually enjoy the conversations, and I've picked up on the value of listening closely and talking without necessarily saying anything. I've also learned not to commit to a position when I'm conversing with a very opinionated political junkie.

One of the most startling observations I've made during my time in politics is the stark difference in the way things are sometimes portrayed, either by an opponent or maybe even the press, and the way things really are. Being on the inside of a real, honest-to-goodness, high-profile political campaign gives you a perspective that most others on the outside don't usually get.

When music was my main source of income I had the fun luxury of doing some small-time political campaign work on the side. I mostly worked for Republicans, but had some Democrat clients too. I've never been hung up on a candidate's political affiliation. Rather, we'd talk issues before I decided whether or not to get involved. I feel the same way today.

It was while I was at a political fund raiser several years ago that I ran into my US Congressman, Ernie Fletcher. We'd met before at other events, mostly charitable and non-political. At this event though he mentioned to me that he had formed an exploratory committee to look at a possible run for governor. He gauged my interest in joining the campaign and told me he'd have one of his folks give me a call. Within a month I was working for him.

Honestly, I was scared to death. My first job was to basically be his handler. I had to stay close enough that he knew where I was at all times. Actually, it was completely reversed. He moved like lightning and I had to know where he was all the time. Even if he lost sight of me, he was never to be out of my view. It was while we were in the car on the way to that first event that I asked him how he'd like for me to address him. I was thinking Congressman Fletcher or Mr. Congressman or at least Mr. Fletcher. He said Ernie was just fine.

That's how we got started. In the years since then he was elected and served four years as Kentucky's governor. I thought the year and a half leading up to election day was tough. The handful of days planning and pulling off the inauguration was grueling too. But then came governing.

No one is elected unanimously. Every person who serves in public office has supporters and detractors. From the moment a politician takes office there are professional and amateur critics who have already started the kick-the-bum-out campaign. Believe it or not, there are people who wouldn't mind us all living through a bit of grief if they thought their political nemesis would get the blame and the boot. This kind of treatment wasn't new or unique to the new governor, but this was the closest I'd been to the action.

In the new administration my job was to make him as comfortable as possible. Sounds crazy I know, but after being fed hours and hours of non-stop information about everything from Medicaid to trout farming, a man has to decompress at some point. He has to have a place to retreat to and scream if he wants to. I gave him that place, at least as best I could. I ran the house that the governor lived in. And I was very, very proud to do it.

When he'd come home and we'd just chat I always tried to avoid the stuff he'd been talking about all day. He'd had enough of that. He always asked about Casie and Christian, and I was always happy to fill him in. Sometimes he just wanted to release, so I just listened. I'll never forget the late night when he we were up in the residence and he just said it. "Kenny, I really do want to do what's right for Kentucky. I want to help the kids and their parents and their grandparents. I want teachers to make more money and I want people to be happier and healthier." No reporters, cameras or microphones. No crowds of supporters. No protesters. Just me and him. And there was frustration in his voice.

I learned a whole lot from the man Ernie Fletcher. I couldn't keep up with his intellect. Sometimes he'd look at me and say something really brilliant and I'd nod like I was right there with him. But a saxophone playing engineer/fighter pilot/doctor/minister/congressman/governor knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things. More than knowledge though, he taught me about sacrifice and service and faith and patience, all to the nth degree. I also learned control. When everyone around him was telling him to take off the gloves, he'd say he was a doctor elected to heal not injure.

After he became governor I didn't ask him how he wanted to be addressed. He would've said that Ernie was just fine. I didn't think so though, and to this day, nearly a year after he got his life back, I still say happy b'day Gov!!


papaw's service

Several years ago me and my brothers had to say goodbye to our last living grandparent. We called him Papaw Henry. He was Mom's dad. I don't remember Papaw as being a man with a lot of words. He always looked like he was thinking, and he never, ever seemed to sit down. As a matter of fact, he roamed a lot, mostly through the woods. He would sometimes head out the door before the sun came up, disappear into the trees and be invisible 'til sundown, sometimes sunup tomorrow. He knew how to live ruggedly and naturally. Papaw was a survivor - in more ways than I probably really knew.

When Papaw got too old to trek through the woods he pretty much figured he was too old to live. Sitting in an air conditioned room or at a nursing home wasn't his idea of living. Life was in the trees, under the stars, beyond the ridge, over the creek. There was too much Indian in him not to enjoy the dirt and the rain and their children. So when he couldn't make it among the elements he wasn't really interested in making it at all. Sadly, that's bound to happen after so many years.

I do remember Papaw driving a variety of cars over the years. He was somewhat of a horse-trader, so trading up to him meant getting a car with a full tank of gas. Honestly, I don't think he ever carried a driver's license. I could be wrong, but it seems like someone told me once that he never bothered to get one. Evidently he didn't see the need.

Knowing what I do about him, I'll bet Papaw learned most of his lessons the hard way. When any of his young grandkids asked him what he was chewing, and even with only a couple of teeth in his head he was always chewing - and spitting, he'd cut 'em off a piece of the tobacco twist he carried around and give it to them. They'd put it in their mouth, it would burn like the dickens, they'd spit it out and never take up chewing tobacco again. It was his way of telling us to do as he says, not as he does.

Papaw lived a very, very hard working and practical life. His pets lived in the trees and under the brush. They were also his sustenance. Squirrels, rabbits, turkeys and deer were part of the provision. His own cattle, pigs and chickens were too. The eggs and bacon came from the barn. He cooked his own sorghum and grew his own vegetables. Tomorrow's milk and butter was grazing just across the little wire fence. Papaw's yelp brought the cows back across the knob every night. We knew they heard him when we heard their bells.

I try when I can to pause and remember. I sometimes think if I could go back to those days and nights at Mamaw and Papaw's house, the one tucked up in the hollow (pronounced holler), just across the creek from the narrow, dirt road, I'd be where I belong. I know for sure there was no air conditioning in that little farm house. On cold days, heat came from the coal burning stove in the front room. I'm sure it got both hot and cold in that small, square box, but I don't remember it as a miserable experience.

Papaw Henry was a veteran. He served his country as a proud, young American. That was long before I knew him. That was long before my mom knew him. I've seen pictures of him in his uniform, but I don't ever recall him making a big deal out of it. We did though. When we were planning his funeral, we made sure that he was honored with a flag and a stone to remind all of us that it is the simple, common, everyday man and woman who keeps us free.


casie, princess, angel, daddy's girl

Looking back twenty years, interestingly enough, a Bush was getting ready to take up housekeeping in the White House. Since he'd been veepin' the last eight years it was just a short move - distance wise and positionally. But any time we elect a new president it's major stuff.

Two days after the vote, it was still break room chatter. And when I darted past the waiting room I noticed it was also still the headline. But if word got out about what was happening down the maternity ward hallway at Pattie A. Clay Hospital there'd be helicopters, news trucks, cameras, microphones and eager reporters all over the place. Presidential elections are big doings, but the birth of a princess is even bigger.

I woke up feeling very melancholy today. I've been reliving November 10, 1988 like it was both yesterday and a million years ago. It was one of the most memorable and remarkable days of my life. A moment of honest awakening that I'd heard about from other people with parental experience became real to me that day. As miraculous as the earthly entrance of my baby girl was, so was the love and immediate sense of baby-Bishop-protector that instantly took hold of my heart.

She didn't have to say a thing. It was automatic love at first sight. It would've been as easy for me to tell her how I felt as it would've been for her to explain the sensation of being born. Words would've cheapened it anyway. No attempt at affection on her part was required. I didn't have to know what her talents were. I had no clue of the beautiful young lady she'd become or of her winning personality. I didn't have to. Absolutely nothing was required of Casie Bishop to win my devotion to her. I was in love with her before I'd ever seen her. But I was madly, adamantly, crazy in love when her wrinkled little face made its very first worldly appearance. I was stunned and startled to be wrapped so tightly around those seconds old tiny fingers.

We try to celebrate the occasion about this same time every year. That's not unusual. Most people remember special days like this. We throw parties and give gifts. We buy cards and make phone calls. This is daddy's girl though. I can't even begin to gift her with anything that can mean as much to her as she means to me. If someone somewhere sold it, I'd trade all my stuff to see that she got it. It sorta frustrates me because I want her to know, somehow, what a precious, precious thing she is to me.

Just last week my baby girl cast her first ever presidential vote. I couldn't imagine that twenty years ago. It never entered my mind then that people today would be talking about a new leader. Not much has changed that way. But in so many other ways that matter I'm richer, happier and more satisfied than I ever could imagine. I owe so much of that to my princess. The world should be grateful. It's a much better place because she's in it.

Happy birthday Baby Doll!!


the rest of the story...

It’s hard to have out loud qualms with anything in the Bible. You can think it all you want I guess, but if you actually say something like, “What was God thinking when he outlawed shopping on Sunday and pork rinds?” someone very religious is likely to hear from Heaven and accept God’s call to get you saved again. So I hesitate to verbalize my little bit of disappointment in a great piece of holy text.

Being sort of a rebel myself, I’ve learned that there is a whole lot more to the prodigal story than just a good son, a bad son, a good dad, a bad son turned good son and a good son turned bad son who ended up disappointing his dad with his selfishness. The basic message of patient grace is wonderful indeed, but what about the unsaid parts?

I wonder what the younger son’s name was. I kind of wish we knew something other than just Prodigal. It would be nice to tell the story and call him Chad or Jeremy or even Kenny. Then again, attaching a name to something as deeply personal as scandal and rebellion and failure might be a bit embarrassing, especially since the story is an international best seller. Still, a proper name might help put a face on the drama. So, I’ll just call him Prod.

I wonder if Prod ever shook the memories of his old pig-pen pals. The smells, the sights, the sounds, the moments, the people… How could those faces not be embedded deep into his recollection of the whole terrible experience? When he closed his eyes, or found a few moments of quiet, it must’ve been very easy for the one time rebel to live the emotion all over again. You don’t share your last corn husk or the loneliest days of your life with someone and not remember. He had to wonder where they were now. Did they ever escape the slop? And if they did, was there even a place for them to go? Having despair and hunger and shame in common would certainly create a bond, and it’s usually not understood by the well fed or the well respected.

Prod’s daddy owns the farm. That’s why the guys in the front office can’t figure him out. Instead of lunch at the corporate table, Prod finds a place in the back field, under a tree with the farm hands. Their calluses, their brows, their eyes all remind him of the ones he worked beside and even partied with when he was running. He feels he owes them something, even if it’s just attention – or compassion. As much as his upbringing had taught him about his rightful place in the family, it was the conversations, the empty expressions and the broken spirits he encountered in his rebellion that led him to discover his place in the world. To forget who they were and where they were and why they were there – to ignore their need and their plight would be as sinful as the rebellion itself.

It’s not just the guys in the suits who don’t understand. No one can unless they’ve risked and lost everything; slept on a cold sidewalk; stared down the barrel of a mugger’s gun; woke up in a stranger’s bed; fought the temptation to drink and shoot up; begged for a morsel and robbed for a dime; hated their very existence; wondered if anyone back home ever even thought of them… Unless they knew what he knew, Prod knew they’d never understand.

It’s crazy what being a prodigal does to you. Prod knows. The throw aways become treasures. The misunderstood are respected. The despised are embraced. Obligation becomes passion. That is the unsaid part of the story.

*I enjoy sharing a few of my thoughts as a contributing writer at sgmradio.com. As older posts are removed from that site I'll be posting them here. This writing was seen far and wide over there during the month of October.