hi, god

Hi, God.

I should probably apologize and ask forgiveness before I do anything else. I’ve not noticed you like I should. I’m sorry. I’ve probably missed the point of a million pretty things and a thousand precious moments along the way. And I’m quite confident I’ve enjoyed a lot of goodies at your bidding without even considering how kind you are. I really am sorry – and thanks.

I wonder sometimes what kind of an influence I am. I wonder what my coworkers and my friends and especially my kids and the others I love think about you because of me. As much as I want to represent and mimic you and your approach to things, I think I do it wrong a lot. I probably owe them all an apology for being such a mishmashed example sometimes, and one to you for misrepresenting your heart. Saying out loud that I’m a Christian probably carries a whole lot more responsibility than I’ve been giving it.

I've been meaning to thank you for the cheaper car insurance. Better coverage too! Thanks!!

I’ve been a bad Republican. I don’t know if that requires a confession or not. But I mention it just in case. I’m having trouble figuring out the wealthy/needy equation. People with lots and people with little living so close to each other… I get mixed up on whose side Jesus is on. I do think though that some of your people are kinda getting distracted - making hay for horses that ain’t hungry. Not that I'd be a better Democrat. I don’t know for sure what a Tea Partier is. I'll beg your indulgence on that one.

I felt really bad the other day at church. The guy sitting about three seats down was bouncing his leg like a pogo stick. I think he was nervous. But the whole row shook and it got on my nerves. I could’a been a better worshipper, but I was being jostled. No doubt, the sermon was spot on, but I was distracted. I probably shouldn’t have, but I stared at him till he stopped – for a while. I think I made him more uncomfortable. I hope he comes back this Sunday. I'll do better. Nudge him if you will.

I said the word fool back on April first. Mom always said we shouldn’t. Wanted you to know.

Speaking of bad words, I cursed the gas prices this week. Well, it really wasn’t a curse word. But it was one I wouldn’t want Mom to hear passing my lips. I don’t know what the point was anyway. It’s not like numbers have souls. I certainly didn’t mean it as a curse on the people who rob, er’ decide what we pay. I don’t want anyone to go to hell. I don’t think anyone heard me, but when the pump stopped and the total jumped out on me like that chainsaw guy at the end of the haunted forest, I just blurted it out. I really am sorry.

I’ve had a lot of meals lately without thanking you for the bounty. So I thank you now with incredible and sincere appreciation.

I plan to wake up tomorrow. Thanks in advance for the fun, and my apologies for the mess.


god or not

"I prefer to help people of my own accord following God's individual direction rather than forced charity through the government. Those who invoke religious motives when attempting to justify the immoral redsitrabution [sic] of wealth are using the lazyiest [sic] possible argument [sic]"

I found this quote the other day on Leland's Facebook page. It was his response to a liberal friend who was trying to appeal to his religious convictions. One of them was talking, I think, about God's charity; the other about God's government.

I've been debating in my own head these same conflicting and frustrating arguments for a while now. I’ve moved a great deal from where I was, but I'm still not solidly settled on a position. There are reasons that I agree and disagree with Leland.

I can't not admit that I'm a hypocrite when it comes to personal denial. I've enjoyed nice vacations knowing there is a kid somewhere who could make a year's worth of necessities out of my week of extravagance. A mom who works the hard soil with bare feet would wince at my shoe stash. A lot of nice coats hang in my warm closet on cold, cold nights.

I've earned most of what I have. In the morning, when the alarm goes off, I get out of bed, feeling it or not, and get myself to the place that pays me to be productive. I work for my stuff, and I feel I deserve my stuff. But I also feel compelled to give as generously as I can to help meet the needs of others. I think that's the point my friend Leland was making, and it makes great sense.

There seems to be something missing though in Leland’s spirit. I absolutely do not question his commitment or relationship with God. I don’t qualify to even sit on that jury. I want to ask though, in the Scripture, which was more evidently important to Jesus Christ, caring for the poor and making sure that the hungry get to eat even a little, or protecting the wealthy and ensuring that they always have more than enough? Where did Jesus stand on political power? What was his position on keeping the government under control or in the control of the right people? Jesus Christ didn’t seem too interested in patriotic motivation or conditional compassion.

There is also the issue of the long range premise of Leland’s words. There are lots of very conservative Christians in the United States who are working incredibly hard to make sure that their idea of the teachings of the Holy Bible is the law of the land. Lawmakers who promote “family values” admit they are influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas. But if religion is no good reason for a government to be morally compassionate, then is religion a good reason for a government to be morally judicious?

"I prefer to live my life of my own accord, following God's individual direction, rather than forced morality through the government. Those who invoke religious motives when attempting to legislate moral 'family values' are using the laziest possible argument."


sacrificial couch

There's a burning couch in the middle of Euclid Avenue. That either means they couldn't find the cigarette, or the University of Kentucky basketball team did something incredibly big.

Our team is now one of only four still in the running for a national, big tourney title. Two more wins and the Wildcats will be the only Div. I team this year able to brag about winning their very last game. Nearly every kid studying at UK right now was in the single digit years of their life the last time that happened. So if anything is worthy of a good, old-fashioned, public couch burnin', this probably is.

Basketball is a near religious experience in Kentucky. During the season, wins (gratefulness) and losses (faith) make for perfect sermons. God is UK. Satan is the versus. Visiting evangelists are made aware. Church services are subject to game times from October to April. Like the crusaders, we conquer and rename cities, e.g. Catlanta, Big Blue Newark Nation, Blue Jersey, and whatever Houston ends up falling to. Restaurants are louder when we're winning. The people smile more. Benevolence increases. Jesus is thanked. And evidently, when we win the big, big games, we sacrifice furniture.

I try to be a live-and-let-live kinda guy, so I didn't give the flaming furniture a lot of scrutiny. If I'd been the parent who paid for it I might have, but otherwise I didn't think much about it. Except to wonder how the conversation went that led up to the moment of combustion.

TV Announcer Jim Nantz: "And that will do it. The Wildcats, going back to an old Kentucky home, the Final Four!

College student #1: "Yes! Yes!! YES BABY!!! We're going to Houston, baby!! Woo hoo!!! Oh my gosh!! Can you believe it?! We're going to the Final Four! We're going to Houstoooonnnn!!!"

Chest bump. High five. Chest bump. Tight hug. Awkward stare. Chest bump.

College student #2: "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! We gotta celebrate, man! We gotta par-tay!!"

College student #1: "Oh my gosh, man! Everybody's going to the street! We gotta go!"

College student #2: "This is crazy, man! We-are-gon-na-par-tay!!"

College student #1: "Hey, man! Let's do something off the hook! Get the other end."

College student #2: "What?"

College student #1: "Get the other end, man!"

College student #2: "Why?"

College student #1: "We're gonna burn it, man! Woo hoo!!"

College student #2: "What?

College student #1: "Seriously, dude. Get the other end."

College student #2: "Dude. You sure? This is Kendall's couch."

College student #1: "Kendall shoulda been here to protect it."

College student #2: "Woo hoo!! We're going to Houston, man! We're gonna par-tay!!"

Local news announcer: "Worshippers took to the streets in Lexington tonight, celebrating the Kentucky Wildcats' first NCAA Final Four appearance in thirteen years. A couch was burned in honor of the occasion. No word yet on whether it was a virgin."


for japan...

“The splendor of a King, clothed in majesty; Let all the earth rejoice, all the earth rejoice. He wraps himself in light, and darkness tries to hide. It trembles at his voice, trembles at his voice.”

These were some of the lyrics that called us to worship this past Sunday morning. We sang it, but it didn't mean much to me. I mouthed, “How great is our God! Sing with me, how great is our God! And all will see how great, how great is our God!” I wondered if I could convince a dazed and devastated Japanese to sing such a thing right now.

It was too easy - singing about the earth rejoicing and trembling and all. Is that what it was doing last Friday when it shook and rolled and killed tens of thousands of my fellow humans in and around Sendai? It was no trouble at all to turn to my pew buddies and share the Peace of Christ knowing that the calamity and turmoil in the headlines is 7,338 miles that way. In my safe place, where the air and water is clean and a meal within the hour is not if, but what, I had a hard time not feeling guilty.

I don’t think I personally know anyone who so much as lost a light bulb in Japan. Still, I wince and get a knot in my belly when I see cars and boats and all the deeply personal and sentimental pieces of people’s lives scattered among the splinters that used to be houses, and know that rodents will find some of those bodies before the recoverers do. I’ve cried or wept or sighed every single time I’ve seen a picture or a video or heard an interview – all from strangers, but still very moving.

When I was a kid I once had a Sunday school teacher who told the class that we should never question why God does what He does. I always wondered why God let drunk drivers and drug dealers and robbers do bad things and keep on living. I thought that was her point. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me then that God did earthquakes and tornadoes and blizzards and stuff. Then I got older and learned that attorneys and insurance companies (and show promoters) hold God accountable for destruction beyond man’s control.

Maybe if all the bad people in the world lived where the tsunami hit, I’d feel bad but not so bad. At least it would all seem more reasonable and give God a better image (at least among the conservatives). At least I’d feel like the evil-doers got their comeuppance – and the good, hard working, honest people were spared. But that didn’t happen.

In spite of my Sunday school teacher’s warnings, I question God about a lot of things. Sometimes it’s about the curious, like why the circle of life needs chiggers. Sometimes I ask Him why He doesn’t stop the selfish, mean people in their greed and violence. I often question His apparent lack of interest when kids and innocent people get sick and don’t survive. I always wonder why He’d let His nature, HIS nature, do angry deeds.

In Japan, when the planet stopped shaking and the ocean flowed back, the overwhelming majority of us looked on at the ugly mess from far away. A lot of us prayed, but found our meditations sprinkled with little fits of futility. Probably because we’re Christians with no answers, and that’s hard. The only thing left is for us to believe as best we can for those who can’t. So for the beautiful, precious, incredible people of Japan I sing, even in my misgivings, in honor of you.

“And age to age He stands. And time is in His hands. Beginning and the end. Beginning and the End. The Godhead, three in one. Father, Spirit, Son. The Lion and the Lamb. The Lion and the Lamb”.

Very pretty words and music by Chris Tomlin.


perfectly good trash

I use forks and spoons cause I can't throw my hands in the dishwasher and go to bed. It's likely though that nothing in my ol' Kentucky kitchen's utensil drawer is fit to land an appearance at the big William and Kate event coming up. As flatware goes, it's nice and all, but it ain't even distant kin to real silverware, and it's certainly not fit for royal occasions.

A couple of years ago I went through a little plastic ware phase - mostly because I was lazy. But I justified using and tossing a few dozen Dixie pieces cause it saved local H20and stopped the drought in East Africa. Actually, neither is hardly true. And as it turned out, it was a dumb idea.

In the meantime, I got myself some nice, fancy looking plastic spoons and forks and knives for when company came for dinner. They were pretty cool - if you didn't get too close - and if you didn't pick them up - and if your meat wasn't too tough. The pieces was coated with a really shiny silver. But this was quite obviously not real silverware. It was plastic. And every one of my friends who used it knew it was plastic. You can pay a little more for the silver version, but still all you've got is plastic.

While the reusable stuff sat ready and clean but unused, I was eating with the throw-away stuff, using it once, and, well, throwing it away. It never occurred to me that that didn't mean it was broken; that it could still feed me; that I could use it again. It may have been unconventional, but it wasn't like it was against the law or unbiblical to clean the spoon and use it again - just like new. The label told me it was disposable and useless once it got dirty. So I threw away lots of used spoons because that's what we do with used, plastic spoons.

After a while I started associating again with better spoons. In the end it was actually more economical. And I got tired, even weary of throwing away perfectly good trash.


political justification

Zac is a boy with a dog named Baxter.

Baxter and Zac are close to each other.

Zac takes a step and Baxter does too.

Baxter is Zac's closest dog.

Zac is Baxter's closest human.

Baxter and Zac love to play games.

Zac and Baxter sometimes play hard.

Baxter forgets and sometimes bites Zac.

Zac must teach Baxter and bites Baxter back.

Baxter now thinks it's his turn to bite Zac.


matt didn't mean no harm

Matt Paul used to own Sunday night radio in Richmond, Kentucky. If you liked bluegrass music, and I did (do), his show on WCBR was the one to know and never miss. He knew the singers, the pickers, the promoters, the writers, the history and the gossip in the acoustic git-box music world. He had his own local band, he was funny and as far as I knew, he was a great guy.

Matt played "secular" songs early in the show. Then about 8 o'clock or so he'd start slipping "sacred" songs into the rotation. That's when the good-living, God-fearing folks who just got out of church started tuning in. By 8:30, all the drinking, loving and cheating songs were done. It was all about Jesus, Heaven and dying till 10 o'clock. On Sunday, in Central and Eastern Kentucky, just 'cause church was over didn't mean it wasn't still the Lord's day.

Matt did most of his commercials live. His sponsors preferred it. He'd have a note in front of him so he could know what was on sale, but usually he just went with the top of his head. Every spot ended with, "and you be sure now to tell 'em Matt sentcha."

Every once in a while Matt would accidentally offend the sensitive spirits with something PG. He knew who his audience was, so I can't imagine he did it on purpose. But when pretty much everything short of a King James version of the Beatitudes with an old Red-Back Hymnal chaser is a sure sign of slipping, or as our tradition calls it, back-sliding, it's hard not to transgress with an unintentional piece of clever radio every now and then.

"Hardy Brother's over in Irvine is having a whale of a sale!"

Everybody in Irvine knew where the Hardy Brother's Market was. The "Y" is where the three big roads came together. It's also where the brothers kept shop. They sold batteries, lard, seed corn, hard candy, salt blocks, bibbed overalls, pork chops, work socks, butter, Mt. Dew, roastin' ears, chewing tobacco, hair spray and dog food. Pretty much anything a small river town dweller or a farmer would need was somewhere in there, including what had to be the widest selection of pickled stuff this side of the Mississippi.

"Run over to the "Y" in Irvine and say hi to Ray and Pepper Hardy," Matt said one night around 9 o'clock. "The Hardy Brothers are having one whale of a sale." Well that was pushing it. Everybody knew that "whale" was a safe word for something else. And the good church folks who heard it were sure he probably used the real word earlier in the show while they were worshipping and he was playing honky-tonk songs.

"Well folks, it's about springtime! And that means it's time to get the cabbage in the ground. Ray and Pepper over at the Hardy Brother's Market have what you need to get your garden going and growing. While you're there, have Maimee back in the kitchen fix ya one of her famous chuck wagon spreads. And oh yeah, since the weather's gettin' warm, the brothers are putting all their long johns on sale. So run on over and take a look while Pepper's underwear is half off. And you be sure now to tell 'em Matt sentcha."

According the reverend, "He probably didn't mean no harm, but Matt's going to hell."


what did i pray?

I tried to pray while I was driving in to the office this morning, but that blasted driver smiling in my mirror was intent on making our cute little rides the newest Kia couple in town. We were certainly close enough to mate out our own little Spectra. Yesterday it was the hay wagon in front of me that robbed Jesus from my mind. Sometimes God has a hard time keeping my attention.

When I was a kid our family attended a lot of small, independent Baptist and Pentecostal churches. They were usually out in the country, usually way out, and the people there usually worshipped with a lot of loud. They also usually moved a lot when they felt the Spirit, which meant they usually got hot and sweaty. The little buildings usually didn’t have air conditioning, so they’d usually raise the windows and expect God to bless them with a breeze. He usually did.

Along with the air, it wasn’t uncommon for an insect critter or two to find a place in the place. Not thinking like a bug (but willing to try), I’m not sure what the arthropods thought they were buzzing into. But watching them flit and flutter for dear life among what had to look like human pandemonium was a sweet treat for us kids. With a house full of jumpers and spinners and fainters and jerkers in full-on worship, you’d think there was plenty to entertain the young set already. But bring in a fly or a moth, or especially a bee or a wasp, and spectacular things can happen among the saints.

God is big. Huge even. But as large as He is, a thing with wings and a stinger can sap His spirit right out of the most holy place. Let one distracted parishioner take their eyes off Heaven and spot a hornet and God is done for the night – or at least until one of His most faithful declares it an attack from the devil and breaks the sixth commandment on the innocent little guy. Eternal death for one of God’s tiny creations is justified when it momentarily distracts us from Him. (Crying church babies excluded.)

This is when the preacher seizes the opportunity, says God gave him a revelation, and warns us not to open the windows of our souls, even when the inside is hot and uncomfortable, lest the devil (a bug) comes in to distract us.

It’s still hot in the church though, so no one closes the window.

I have set-aside time when I remove the distractions and concentrate on prayer. But I talk to God all the time. I drive and talk, listen to the radio and talk, read and talk, eat and talk, sing and talk, take a shower and talk, watch TV and talk, workout and talk, run and talk, walk and talk. I talk – and I listen. But it’s usually in spurts. Sometimes I have to ask God what I was talking about before I got distracted. I tell Him I’m sorry for wondering off, and apologize if I’m about to say something I’ve already said. I imagine He rolls His eyes; we both smile and resume the visit.


one thousand, 10

My warm-weather average is probably at least four cups of coffee a day. And by cup I mean mega-mug. (The official size of a cup of coffee is around 4 oz. Who ever?!) I never, ever miss a day, and the colder the day the morer the java. I'm guestimating that I sipped down more than 1,500 "servings" of mmm hot caffeinated deliciousness last year. Probably more. I likely did more coffee last year than I did meaningful prayer. Sorry, God and Mormons and Adventists and old-time Nazarenes and whoever else thinks caffeine should be sold in liquor stores.

According to the calendar on the ol' iPhone, I got my hair cut eleven times in 2010 and my teeth cleaned twice. I was scheduled to see the doctor three times, but cancelled once because I wasn't supposed to eat, forgot, woke up and had a biscuit.

Last year I shared songs on stages and platforms in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Tennessee, California, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina. (The acoustics in the little trailer terminal at the Salt Lake City Airport were pretty fun, so I hummed a little in Utah. I'm not counting that one as official though cause it was unadvertised.)

The state capitol building in Kentucky hit the big 1-0-0 back in the summer. The governor officially invited me to officially sing the official state song at the big official b'day party in the official rotunda where bad notes linger and you can harmonize with yourself if you do it quickly. That was a historic, official treat for me.

One of my fave days every year is the one I spend with the thousands of breast cancer survivors who come out to the Celebration of Hope. Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear asked me to host the show again, and I think I said yes before she said would you... Fran Drescher and UK coach John Calipari talked too. I forget what they said.

Tony Greene left us. That was hard. It's still hard.

I sang a handful of jingles, put some BGVs on a few records, did voice-overs for two or three TV commercials, and had a couple of writing sessions with some incredibly humble but still intimidating song-crafter-artists in 2010.

I got to lead-sing on a classic gospel song with one of the classic performers who actually made it a classic gospel song. Then I got to harmony-sing with one of the the coolest, funnest, most tuned-in-to-God groups around. All of that in a matter of hours. Way cool!

I spent a couple of days recording Gaither Homecoming videos. As always, it was like a family reunion where you're content to wave across the room to some and can't wait to catch up with others and load up on hugs and stories knowing you won't again until the next reunion - or funeral. Bill always feeds us good. We laugh a lot and cry almost as much.

I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a movie theater for the very first time - rice, newspapers, flashlights, confetti, toilet paper, toast, cards, hot dogs and all. They confiscated our water pistols at the door.

The Fourth of July fireworks look different from the middle of downtown Lexington where buildings used to be but an open pasture with a pretty fence is now. I learned that the big Halloween zombie walk down Main Street really is big.

I "accidentally" dropped my iPhone 3G repeatedly until it broke. The new iPhone 4 is really neat.

Zac gave me a new smarter-than-I-am camera for my !#th birthday for which I'd have to switch majors to figure out. I gave him a bicycle for his, but returned it and got him another one cause his feet couldn't touch the ground, but returned it too cause although it was shorter and he's an adult, his feet still couldn't touch the ground. It's all good. Kid's bikes don't cost as much.

I flew away to Ft. Lauderdale, New York, Miami, Denver. St. Louis, Chicago, SoCal and Pittsburgh for a few days. Mortgages, car payments, and a vanishing dog sitter forced me to eventually fly back.

After nearly 15 years of dedicated soccer grunt-n-grind, Christian did his senior year thing on the field for the last time back in the fall, making his dad sinfully proud. Even though their last game went down ugly, it was my son who scored his team's only post-season goal. My one man victory lap would've been louder if some bound up parent hadn't swiped my vuvuzela. I was sad when it was over. My little boy is really a man.

Casie is all girl - all very pretty girl. I always thought I'd spend a good part of my daddy years judging, deeming unfit and turning wannabe boyfriends one after another away from her before she even knew they were interested. I knew of no living male who met the well justified qualifications. Still don't. But it looks like she's doing an admirable job, policing things very well. Good girl.

My sweet friend Ty got married and grand-opened her own business called Twirl Boutique. If a guy ever measures up, Casie will wedding shop there.

Since our extra, extra, extra, extra long lunch was perpetually tying up one of their Saturday afternoon tables, the fine chefs at 6 Friends Cafe in Lexington decided they might as well make good use of our hijacking. So me and my friends Amy and Renee got to taste test some deserts and name the best one after Nay Nay and John's new handsome and always smiling baby boy. The "Candy Case" crepe is delicious of course, and forever belongs to him. You're welcome, Lexington.

Right before Christmas, cute-as-a-button baby Zak introduced himself to Mom and Dad as Bishop grandchild #10, via my youngest brother, Chris. His adorability reminds everyone of his uncle Kenny.

The Spoon Bread Festival made history back in the summer when they discovered their most gorgeous little gem ever. Abby, the so far one and only Bishop great-grand was crowned Tiny Miss and then strutted her hot little stuff on the runway at state where bribery is the only possible explanation for her not coming home with a tiera, title and world tour.

Two of the best friends I've ever had in the whole of the world moved away, and I cried for a while. But now Anthony and Greg are settled in Ft. Lauderdale where I've already started my quest to hang in their extra bedroom way past the awkward stage.

In July I played producer for a big Kentucky Lady Legends show on a big stage on the river in Louisville. The weather worked pretty while Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn and Wynonna Judd turned the crowd into puppets. In the end it was like Thanksgiving. All that work for a two hour meal.

Just before the ladies, I pulled executive producer duties for a one-man play called, "The Kingfish" at Louisville's Actors Theatre. Don't know if I'm more in love with the play or the theatre.

I've recently been treated to a reconnection with an old friend from long ago. Tim makes me feel wealthy. I reluctantly thank Mark Zuckerberg who is really, really wealthy.

Ronnie has been a close friend. Lately he's become a very dear friend. We connect on things like puking at the thought of seafood and an unhealthy passion for meatloaf - but only good meatloaf. I tolerate his fried green tomatoes like a real friend should.

Something I didn't last year that I wish I did was spend more time locked away with my recorder, keyboard and writing stuff. I also wish all that coffee was water.