Thursday, January 20, 2011

Frustration...


I have decided to allow myself one blog post to rant, vent, and otherwise wallow in and try to express my displeasure at the current circumstances.

As many of you know, about a year and a half ago, a non-profit organization called the Dirty Roots Revolution was formed. This action was the organic culmination of many things: the college ministry I ran with my wife, conversations with friends, frustration with the status quo, etc. Many wonderful people were involved.

The organization was dedicated to empowering individuals with the knowledge that one person CAN make a difference. It caught on and grew quickly. Around the time of our one-year anniversary, we hit the milestones of me being invited out of state for the first time to share the message of the DRR and us being approached by a high school youth group from Indiana, requesting that we coordinate a week-long missions trip for them in St. Louis.

We did the missions trip and it proved to be both our crowning achievement and our swansong as an organization.

We never got to travel to Ohio to give the first out-of-state presentation.

And that’s because we made the tough decision to fold up the organization this past summer.

This painful decision was the result of numerous factors. The first being the quite practical matter of me not having enough hours in the day. The DRR grew enough that the administrative duties associated with it could have been a full time job for me. But I already had a full time job. And I’d begun taking vacation time from my “real” job; not to spend with my family, but to meet the demands of the DRR.

When I say “meet the demands”, please know that it was a joy to do such. Nothing made me happier. But the fact remains that as a husband and father I was working one full time job and volunteering at another. I continued to do my weekly radio show and my wife and I continued to lead the college ministry. I was running out of waking hours and risking losing out on quality time with my young family.

Had the DRR been in a financial position that it could have provided me a salary, I would have leapt at that opportunity with no hesitation. But therein laid another conundrum: The DRR was too big to be small, but was still too small to be big.

Part of the beauty of the way we’d set it up was that the DRR was able to operate on a minimal budget. There were obvious drawbacks.

Perhaps most frustrating; I truly felt that, given the rate of growth we’d experienced all along, and given the response that audiences consistently had to the message, that we could get it to a self-sustaining point, where I could draw a salary from it and make it work. But, that would require extra work and effort. Return to the realization that there simply were not enough hours in the day…and there’s the rub.

When I realized I couldn’t keep up the pace, I and my fellow DRR board members decided to let the organization lie dormant for a time. We called it a “period of prayer and fasting”. We wouldn’t do any DRR work, wouldn’t promote the DRR, wouldn’t talk about the DRR, and would try not even to think about the DRR. And we’d listen for the still small voice of the Lord, seeking His guidance for how we should proceed.

After a period of several weeks, with no discernible direction, it became clear to me that, mostly due to my actual job (the one that paid), I was going to have to leave the Revolution behind. We examined the options and decided that we would dissolve the corporation.

We urged folks to carry on the revolution; to keep up the good fight. We stressed that they didn’t need us…they were already and could continue to change the world on their own.

We pledged to continue one particular aspect of the organization: the homeless outreach that we conducted in St. Louis every Saturday. This was the program that folks gravitated to the most.

We named the homeless outreach The 3.11 Project, after Luke 3.11 which states that, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same”.

The outreach continued unchanged for several months and then our volunteers – mostly college students – got busy. That’s not a complaint or a criticism. College students live hectic lives. And The 3.11 Project is definitely not an official part of their college career.

But, after several weeks of no one showing up for the outreach trips, I decided that A) we shouldn’t be telling our homeless friends that we were going to be there every week anymore and B) that I wasn’t willing to continue putting in the still-lengthy hours required to organize and prepare the supplies for the trips.

So The 3.11 Project has disbanded as well.

And I hate it.

I hate that we had to fold up the revolution.

I hate with a passion that the revolution mostly had to fold up because of my job.

I hate that it came down to me having to make a decision based mostly on money and benefits.

I resent that I believe some of the factors that came into play were based on un-truths , and I resent that I can’t prove that.

I feel like “The Man” won. We set out to buck the status quo and “stick it to the man”, as they say. And, I feel like The Man won, just like he always does.

I feel like I abandoned a dream. I feel like I gave up. Or at least gave up too easy.

Those who claim to live their lives for Jesus Christ are called to live radically. To step out in faith and lean on Him to provide our daily bread. Did I do that? Or did I take the safe road? Am I wrong for choosing the path I did?

My main priority in this earthly life is to provide for my wife and daughter. So I did. But Christ calls us to a radical life of obedience to Him alone. Did I set that example for my daughter?

A friend of mine posted a blog entry a while back that said she’d been dreaming that she was standing before God, continually avoiding His gaze. He’d try to meet her eyes and she would continually turn away. Even when He shouted, “LOOK AT ME”, she diverted her eyes. That’s exactly how I feel. And I’m not exactly sure why.

I feel like it’s because I’ve done something wrong. Let Him down. Or is it because I pity myself? Is it because this worked out His way and not my way?

I’m growing closer to a point where I’ll be able to look Him in the eye again. Healing is coming. But it’s coming slow.

A song that has become a favorite of mine recently declares, “Lord, I hope I’m doin’ this right.” And I can’t say it any better. I chose my path. I sure hope I’m doin’ this right.

But I hate this path I’ve chosen. I see the path I’m on as the easy, paved, well-worn, much-traveled, wide, Western-ized, American Dream version of Christianity that I hate so deep within myself. But am I on it for a reason? Is this where He wants me now?

Am I here because I didn’t choose the right path?

Or am I on that path at all?

I hate the way this feels. I hate that I may have made the wrong decision. I hate that I couldn’t and still can’t see what the alternative would have been, had I chosen another path. I hate not knowing.

I hate that people still ask about the DRR. I hate that people still try to donate supplies and money. I hate that some people haven’t heard that we folded up.

I hate that this dream still burns within me. CORRECTION: I LOVE that this dream burns inside me. I hate that I don’t know what to do with it. I hate that I can’t tell anymore if this is my dream or His dream. Could it still be both?

I’m looking for you, Lord. I want to be radical. Not my will, but Yours be done.

Dirty Roots Radio to Welcome Dan Charnas & Marty Reinsel and Feature HARD TIMES & NURSERY RHYMES

Big doin’s on the Dirty Roots Radio Show tonight!

First off, we’ll visit with Dan Charnas, author of a great new book, “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop”. Charnas is a journalist, screenwriter, record producer, and teacher. He was one of the first writers for The Source and part of a generation of young writers who helped create hip-hop journalism. This amazing book has been getting VERY POSITIVE reviews everywhere from Rolling Stone Magazine to Amazon.com.

Our second special guest of the night is our good friend Marty Reinsel, drummer for the Seattle-based band GravelRoad. Marty has served as the tour manager and drummer for the legendary Mississippi Delta bluesman T-Model Ford (both T-Model and Marty have been on Dirty Roots numerous times).

T-Model Ford has released a brand new album, “Taledragger”, featuring GravelRoad as the backing band. It’s good stuff and Marty will tell us all about it!

Toward the second half of the show, we’ll play the new album by Social Distortion, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”, in its entirety.

We’ve made two bold statements that we’re sticking with: #1) Just three weeks into the year, this is the best album of2011, and #2) This is Social Distortion’s masterpiece) so far!). We have two copies of “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” to give away.

In addition to all this, we’ll feature new music by Cake, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, T-Model Ford with GravelRoad and more!!!

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio this and every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central). Listen locally at WGRN 89.5 FM or listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net. BE SURE TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND INVITE THEM TO JOIN OUR FACEBOOK PAGE!!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LONG LIVE SOCIAL D


I have a lot of favorite bands. A lot of favorite albums. And a lot of favorite songs. I use the phrase “one of my favorites” a LOT as I introduce songs on my radio show and in general conversations.

But I can safely say without hesitation that the mighty Social D is my absolute favorite band, bar-none. And that’s saying something, as to claim that title, they’re beating out The Clash, The Rolling Stones, The Bottle Rockets, and a handful of others.

I discovered Social D in the spring of 1992, back when MTV still played music occasionally. The single from their new album, “Bad Luck” was something of a hit and I remember seeing the video and being intrigued. I took the gamble and bought the album, “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell”. I was an awkward 14-year old, trying to figure out life and find my place.

I won’t say that the album helped me accomplish either of those things, but no one I knew was into Social Distortion, or had even heard of them. (Not that they were a super-well kept secret…my friends just hadn’t been initiated). So, I kinda had them all to myself.

Listening to “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” repeatedly, I remember thinking – for the first time, but not the last – that the music I had imagined, and hoped existed, was in fact real.

I have always had an affinity for what I can only describe as a certain kind of imagery…all of those 1950’s rockabilly, pin-up girl, hot rod, switchblade knife, B-movie, Americana graphics and whatnot. And nothing I’d found in the mainstream as far as movies, music, books, etc. (remember, I was only 14…I hadn’t learned how to go off the beaten path to dig for stuff), had the edge that I felt from those images. I couldn’t find music that sounded the way those things looked and made me feel.

That is, until I discovered Social Distortion. I knew deep inside that music like that existed…I just hadn’t found it until then.

For what it’s worth, I had a similar experience the first time I heard Tom Waits’ debut album, “Closing Time”. The experience has thus far been reserved for those two artists/albums. An infrequently occurring experience that produces enough joy to make it WELL worth the wait.

The other significant development that came through my discovery of Social Distortion is my passion for “going backwards”.

When I listened to Social Distortion, it made me wonder what Mike Ness and his crew were listening to that influenced them. So I dug up everything I could on him and the band. If they mentioned Hank Williams, I dug into Hank Williams. When they praised early punk bands and doo-wop groups, I checked them out. Etc., etc., etc. Not everything stuck, but it turned me into a musical expeditionary and Social Distortion and this new process I’d discovered became a source and influence for much of the music that has colored and informed what I listen to and, ultimately, who I have become.

I’ve been blessed to see Social Distortion live in concert numerous times, and Mike Ness in solo settings twice. I met Mike briefly before one of the solo shows, just long enough for a picture and autograph.

Eventually, I was able to interview Mike on two separate occasions. In preparing for the second interview, I realized what a privileged position I was in to be able to speak with such a public person who has had such a major impact on me. I wouldn’t call him a “hero”, but he – and especially his music – has definitely been a huge part of my life.

I wasn’t sure how Mike – a known tough guy (the pain from all of his tattoos alone would have killed a weaker man!), ex-junkie, and ex-con – would respond to me pouring out my heart to him. But, I worked up my courage and as the interview wound down, I told Mike I “didn’t want to get all sappy on him”, but that I wanted to take advantage of the unique opportunity that I had and thank him for what he and his music have meant to me.

I told him that, outside of maybe The Stones, I hadn’t stuck with any band as long as I’ve been into Social D. I told him lots more about how I appreciate what he’s done and, while I realized one person’s opinion won’t validate or invalidate what he does, that he’s definitely made a difference for me. I ended by telling him that no matter what I’ve gone through in my life – at any age, from high school into my 30’s – his music has always been there for me.

He was very gracious as I shared my feelings, offering a simple, “That’s awesome, man. Thanks.” And when I said the last bit about his music always being there for me, he said the most perfect thing in response: “Me too.”

And that’s what it’s all about.

God bless Mike Ness. And long live Social Distortion.

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO TO HOST MAVIS STAPLES


Several days ago I had the opportunity of a lifetime to speak with the great Mavis Staples. We talked about her new album, "You are Not Alone", and about her legendary career.

Mavis Staples began her career with her family’s gospel group in 1950, when she was just in her teens. The Staples Singers were referred to as “God’s Greatest Hit Makers”. They were heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement. The group has been recognized with numerous awards for that involvement, as has Miss Mavis, as an individual.

The Staples Singers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Mavis was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. She’s been nominated for many other Grammy’s including two in 2010; one of them for an album, “Live: Hope at the Hideout”, that was named one of the best live albums of all time by Amazon.com.

The City of Chicago declared June 12, 2005 as Mavis Staples Day, and the State of Illinois did the same on June 19, 2007.

Miss Mavis’ latest album, “You Are Not Alone” was produced by Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco. It was released this fall and she’s promoted it on Jay Leno, David Letterman, and the Colbert Report. She was also featured at John Stewarts’s “Rally to Restore Sanity”

Rolling Stone Magazine says, “Mavis Staples is the most underrated diva of the century. She has an almost superhuman ability to implant the pure power of passion and emotion."

You can hear my interview with Mavis Staples in its entirety this Thursday night (January 13th) on my Dirty Roots Radio Show. It will be part of our annual Martin Luther King Tribute. The first hour of the program will be devoted to songs of hope, struggle, revolution, and change. We'll feature some clips of Dr. King's greatest speeches, as well as audio of some of our friends reading their favorite MLK quotes. In the second hour, we'll air the interview with Mavis Staples, with tracks from throughout her career interspersed.

See the full details on Dirty Roots Radio and this week's special show by clicking HERE

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO AIRS EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT FROM 8 TO 10 P.M. (CENTRAL) ON WGRN 89.5 FM. LISTEN ONLINE FROM ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD AT WWW.WGRN.NET. Just click HERE and then click on "Listen Live" in the upper right-hand corner.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I HOPE I'M DOIN' THIS RIGHT...

The last several days have brought with them many stresses, changes, challenges, etc.

I was just notified by family that my grandfather in Arizona, who suffered a stroke a few weeks ago, has been made comfortable and is surrounded by family, preparing to make his transition from this world to the next.

Earlier this week, I permanently closed down a ministry organization that I started with some close friends. We made an impact, grew quickly, and then it seems over the last few months, watched it slowly come apart. I’m at peace with its passing, and at some level, know it’s the right thing. But I can’t stop wondering…More on that later.

Many other changes have taken place. All of these things calling into question decisions made, and the impact of each of them.

As is usually the case, I have found solace in music. Particularly at this time in a song that I discovered just about the time things became tumultuous.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a song so perfectly capture my thoughts, fears, stress, and confusion.

I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT
By Paul Thorn
From the album “Pimps And Preachers”

Sometimes I wonder how I made it this far
I’ve won some trophies and I wear some ugly scars
Before I go to bed I kneel and pray every night
I wonder if God’s proud of me
I hope I’m doin’ this right

I know lots of people they appear to have it made
I battle with jealously, why can’t I live that way
Maybe they’re just better than me
At playin’ the game of life
Maybe I need to change some things
I hope I’m doin’ this right

The more I learn, the less I know
The more I change, the more I grow
I pray the road I’m travlin’ on
Will lead me to the light
God, I hope I’m doin’ this right

Most of my friends
Are from the wrong side of the track
Here’s why I do not have a problem with that
Hank Williams was in the darkness
When he sang “I Saw the Light”
I believe there’s good in everyone
I hope I’m doin’ this right

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Little Drummer Boy

My favorite Christmas tune is “The Little Drummer Boy”. I don’t know much about the origins of this song and up until this year, I hadn’t even seen the “classic” movie that was based on it (or for all I know, that the song was based upon).

I know it’s not Biblical. But I love what is symbolizes.

I love that a boy, who I always presume played his drum to make meager funds to support himself, somehow hears about the birth of a savior and has to check it out. And, like the shepherds I wrote about in a previous post, he believes.

The Little Drummer Boy believes without a doubt that what he finds in that manger in that barn in Bethlehem is the most beautiful and most important thing he’s ever seen.

When it comes to be his turn to approach the new baby king, the Little Drummer Boy realizes that many of the others have brought gifts. And he knows that the messiah before him deserves a gift.

But he has none. So he thinks…

And he offers the only thing he possesses…the music of his drum; “I’m good at playing the drum,” he thinks…”Maybe I can play Him a song”…

“Shall I play for Him / pa-rum-pa-pum-pum”…And Mary nodded

So the boy plays. And I can only imagine that he played like he has never played before. With every ounce of effort and soul he can muster, every bit of skill and heart that he has within him.

Even the beasts around them recognize the beauty of the gift; “The ass and lamb kept time / pa-rum-pa-pum-pum”. And then…

The baby smiles at the Little Drummer Boy.

Truth be told, I see myself as the Little Drummer Boy. I guess he represents all of us.

Jesus Christ is there, right before me. And I recognize how great and worthy of a gift He is. But what do I have that I can offer him? At best, I am an insignificant peasant, dressed in the rags of my own sin and depravity, who doesn’t deserve to take up any amount of space in the presence of such a wonderful Being.

But, there I find myself. Not only in his presence, but at His very request, in a relationship with Him. And I have nothing that he needs. But, even though He doesn't NEED anything I have, he wants me to play my drum for him.

So, it’s my job to approach His throne, or His manger as it were, and play my drum with all of the effort and soul I can muster, and every bit of skill and heart I have within me.

What’s my drum? I’m not sure…but I’m working hard at finding out.

So, play your drum. And I’ll play mine. Don’t worry how your neighbor plays his. Don’t worry what your friend’s drum looks like, or how hers is different from yours.
We all have different drums and will all come up with different tunes to play. And it’s supposed to be that way. I’m pretty sure He wants it that way.

And as we play them…as we play our meager little drums, as best as we can…

He smiles at us.

CHRISTMAS REFLECTIONS...I wanna be a shepherd...

As I look back on this past weekend, and the best Christmas I’ve ever had, my thoughts turn to a friend of mine; a homeless man named Alexander.

I met Alexander in February, through the work I was able to do through a non-profit organization I directed for a time. Alexander had arrived on the streets fairly recently, having been released from prison, following a lengthy sentence.

I stumbled into the middle of a discussion he was having with some of our volunteers. I remember him saying, “If Jesus came to earth today, He’d be out here with us! He’d be homeless! Sleeping under a park bench, hanging out with prostitutes and drug dealers, and WOULDN’T NOBODY GET IT!!!”

I knew instantly we’d get along well. I’ve always thought that was pretty much exactly how Jesus did behave when He walked the earth…and I’ve always interpreted it that most folks didn’t really “get” what He did.

I think Alexander got it exactly right. If Jesus came to earth today, I think He would arrive among the homeless.

Look where He did arrive. A manger. Surrounded by animals. In a barn. In a little town in the middle of nowhere. To unknown parents. With an audience of…shepherds.

How would you have done it? If you were the creator of the universe, would you, in your infinite wisdom, choose shepherds as the audience to receive your one and only son, sent to save humanity?

Shepherds were pretty much the scourge of the earth. They were despised. Dirty. They were looked down upon. They weren’t even allowed to testify in court because society had determined that all shepherds collectively possessed disreputable character. They were completely unworthy.

But the angels of the Lord came straight to them to announce the arrival of our Savior.

Would you have done that? Or would you appeal to the celebrities, the movers-and-shakers, and/or the mass media? You know…a more “worthy” audience of such a major announcement? I currently make my living in marketing and have worked mostly in the entertainment industry. I woulda made the nativity a BIG OL’ party.

So, why did it happen the way it did? Why the shepherds? Because they needed the Good News.

The shepherds had nothing. And when you have nothing…you have nothing to lose.

I’m not a class warrior and I’m not criticizing wealth. I’ll also insert the requisite disclaimer that money, possessions, and being rich aren’t bad or sinful in and of themselves. But, the Bible does make it abundantly clear throughout that wealth and possessions DO make it very hard to follow God/Christ.

Think about it…When you have everything you need…what do you need God for? When you’re totally secure, does it make sense to lean on the Lord? When you’re self-sufficient, how do you RELY on someone/something else?

I’ve wrestled with this as I’ve thought through this. Does God appearing to the lowest of the low cheapen this whole thing? Just because the shepherds had nothing, does that mean God appealed to the “easiest” audience?

I’ve always said that everything in the Kingdom of God is upside down. Everything. The last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers. Die and be born again. Die to yourself to truly live. Find freedom through slavery to the gospel. Turn the other cheek. Give what’s asked of you. These are NOT the ways of the world. Upside down.

Another of my homeless brothers, Duane, asked me point blank last year why God came to the shepherds. I shared with him my philosophy of God’s Kingdom being totally upside down in an earthly sense. And Duane finished my thought…”So…you’re saying God knew that the shepherds would be ready to accept all that and that the fancy folks wouldn’t have?”

Without really knowing it, that was exactly what I was saying.

Think about it…

Knowing what you know…being as reasonable as you are…Put yourself in those days and imagine that someone comes to you and says that the Messiah has arrived…in the form of an infant…in a barn…in a nowhere town…to a nobody family. Are you going to give up everything to jump on that train?

It IS a crazy story. And it does demand everything.

I like to think I would have accepted the nativity enthusiastically. But, in truth, I kinda don’t think I would have.

I know some folks who would have, though. Alexander would have. Pops (RIP) would have. Prophet Antoine would have – and would have been among the first to hit the streets and spread the word. Duane would have accepted it whole-heartedly. So would Old School. And Derrick. And so many of the other homeless folks I’ve been blessed to know.

If Alexander was right, and the nativity happened today, among the homeless…Of course we’d accept it, right? Of course we’d give up everything to follow Him. We’re good, upright, righteous people of faith, right?

We’re not anything like those good, upright, righteous people of faith who shouted, “Crucify Him!”, when that baby grew up to be a crazy wildman demanding that we give up everything that we have, to love others as much as we love ourselves, and to take care of dirty people.

Am I secure because of where I am and what I have? Or am I blinded by it?

I don’t exactly know what it means…and I sure don’t know what it looks like yet. But, I’ll throw in my lot with the shepherds…..