Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Word of Thanks


I've been reviewing the stats on this blog and have been pleasantly surprised by what I see. In the four years I've been sporadically posting, I've had over 11,000 page views. I'm sure some of those hits were bots or misdirected clicks, but according to Google, most came from Facebook, Twitter, or direct searches for my name or Achilleshealed. I don't have a Twitter account, so that means other people posted a link to one of my posts on their feeds, and that's cool. Maybe I should be Tweeting?

The post that garnered the most views is about dealing with disabilities as a married couple and is titled "What Happened to My Wife?" Number two is the moody tribute I wrote to our old green Dodge, "Ode to a Dead Van."

Not many people leave comments, which to me is fine because I don't need to moderate any discussion! I know you're visiting...

And to all who have dropped by to do some reading, thanks! Thanks for investing a few minutes of your day. I hope what I wrote encouraged you or entertained you. I appreciate your time and interest.

As I continue with this little project, I pray God is honored by it; I hope more and more my love for Jesus is evident as I continue to seek real joy in Him and chronicle some of that pursuit here.

I've got a list of topics yet to come, and a ton of things that I find wonderfully interesting (and yes, I realize I have failed terribly at writing about food [he says in a pathetic run-on sentence]) and I've got a few other permanent pages to post, so I'll keep at it.

Again, thank you all!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Spoiled Lot

Recent news: pastors resigning from burn out, moral failure, conflicts and personal blunders in leadership, etc.

Because ministry is hard. Because we all struggle, but pastors struggle more, and they can’t ever admit it. Because vocational ministry is tough on marriage and family, and publishing books takes so much out of us and multiple services beat us down and leave us lonely and exhausted. Yeah, yeah.

Been there, done that. Sorry for my lack of compassion. But I’ve got a beef about all that—and I’m going to say it, once, here, then not bring it up again.

I’m tired of the whimpy, life-is-so-hard-in-ministry, self-pitying complaining I hear a lot from vocational pastors.

I was there. I spent 23 years in full-time pastoral ministry. I was ready at any time to tell people how hard it was, how burdened, how consuming, and how privileged I was to be called.

And it WAS hard. I don’t want to minimize that reality.

But in other ways, I had it EASY! And so do all of you in pastoral ministry. Well, most of you.

I had control of my own schedule. I could cut out time for whatever I thought was important. I could meet, study, plan, retreat, confer, and write AT WILL. And if I was having a hard day, I could call my secretary and say, “Cancel my appointments and hold my calls. I need time away.” And the church gave it to me. They loved me. They wanted me to succeed as a pastor in every way. I had real support. I don’t have any of that now. I’m at work, on a clock. I can’t just shut my door and study. I have a real job. Boy, was I spoiled.

I had budget to buy books. Fly to conferences. Take mission trips. Speak at retreats. Eat meals with people and buy THEM books. I had a comfortable office in which I hung up my collection of vintage fly rods because they made good conversation starters. I could play music while I worked, and I could take time to stop and talk to anyone who dropped by, and could even meet with people on the golf course. Can’t do that now. I don’t even have room in my house to shelve all the books I collected, and I don’t have time to read them.

Back then I could take time to study, hours if necessary, ON A SINGLE WORD. Not now. I’m doing well to have time in the Word every day. Like I said, I was SPOILED! I would love to have unfettered time to study, time to prepare, time to pray. REAL time to pray.

Yes, dimensions of ministry were difficult. But to be honest, not THAT difficult all the time. Sure, moments of tears and heartache, but days filled with the glorious privilege of seeing God at work in the lives of people. What wonderful days those were.

Pastors, quit complaining. You’re blessed beyond measure. Maybe if you start seeing things that way, you’ll stop burning out.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Meaty Parable for the Discerning Steak Lover

Going through old files I recently found this article I wrote back in 2000 for a church newsletter. Seems to me to be just as relevant today. Shared here for fun...

I am a steak-lover. Nothing beats a good New Yorker hot off the grill, rubbed with garlic, chili powder, onion salt, and a mix of other spices randomly chosen from the cupboard. Such a prize is best seared over high heat on both sides and served medium rare with a baked potato. I get hungry just thinking about it.

I even have my share of steak stories. Like the time I are at a ranch house restaurant in the middle of west Texas where they offered a free 32-oz. steak to the man or woman who could eat the whole thing in one sitting. The price was $29.99, charged to the customer only if the meal wasn’t finished within a reasonable time. Since it was my birthday, I bought into the deal and was served the toughest, rarest sinew riddled chunk of beef I had ever seen. At least I think it was beef. I almost finished the edible parts, but had to relinquish the 30 bucks when I couldn’t cut the final shreds off the bone. Big bone, tough meat, dull knife, stupid Californian – you know how it is.

The best steaks in my life have included one I ate at McClintock’s, one at the Basque restaurant in Los Banos (though the water on the table sure had a funny taste), and the ones I enjoyed with Deanna on our honeymoon (maybe it was the the locale?).

On to the parable. What if I treated this love of mine – the steak, not Deanna – as many believers treat the truth of God’s Word? What kind of testimonial would I write?

I love steak. It has become my reason for living. There is nothing so victorious as a tri-tip on a Friday  evening, or a fillet mignon served on a special occasion. I would surrender to the grave if I didn’t have the strength and joy that comes from eating steak.

I remember the time I first discovered steak. I had been living on vegetables and oatmeal in a commune in Marin County back in the days when the health food elite eschewed all processed food and red meat. Euell Gibbons reigned supreme. Though I followed the rules as best as I could, I was never truly satisfied.

I was introduced first to tri-tip by a fellow member of the commune who had returned from a trip to Santa Maria. He smuggled a small portion to me after the evening meal, and though it was a few hours old, and a bit cold and tough, I knew I had discovered real food.

Months later I was kicked out of the commune when I was found in possession of a kilo of top sirloin which I had been cooking over a small fire behind the well. I took the rejection well. I was ready to be out on my own, freed from the bondage of bran and broccoli.

I spent many years growing in my affection for steak. I joined a club of steak-lovers. I could travel hours for a good feeding, having heard about some new chef or restaurant. When not eating out, I would feed myself, and even though I didn’t have the gifts of the master grillers, I could still be full and satisfied.

I bought books about steak. I collected pictures of steaks for the walls of my home. I listened to cooking shows on the radio and watched food TV, anxious to hear anything about my favorite meal. I put bumper stickers on my car to tell the world about my first love; “Honk if you love steak!” and “Steak lovers aren’t perfect, just full!”

After all those years, I can say I had truly arrived. I had become a steak connoisseur.

But I noticed that my love was not shared by many others. In fact some openly criticized my affection for beef, and claimed it was doing me harm. But I knew better. Still, how could they be convinced? The question perplexed me at first, and I found no good answer apart from giving them steak to try for themselves. But this only worked with a few. Many still rejected. The problem became an obsession for me.

I knew how a good steak is cooked, and how it is served to a true steak-lover. What I didn’t know was how to win over struggling vegetarians in the market place.

I embarked on a personal study of the kinds of things the other side was embracing. I spent time in salad bars, coffee bars, sushi bars, and tofu bars. I collected some statistics, analyzed the results, and reached some startling conclusions. And I am now ready to offer my services to restaurants around the world as a consultant and evaluator. Here’s what I would advise:
  •   Stop serving such big portions! People can only handle so much steak. If you give them too much, they’ll get turned off to red meat altogether and spend their time and money on coffee. Serve no more than one or maybe two morsels with each meal. Fill up the plate with lots of French fries. People can digest French fries. Just don’t give them too much steak.
  •  Only serve steak once a week! It’s too much to think that steak can be digested properly when served too often. One meal a week is sufficient. People are busy. They commute and work and play and can’t take the time to sit down to a real meal but once every seven days. That should hold them over.
  •  Spend more time on ambience! Steak is nice, but what really makes it fun is when it’s served in a great setting. Get some hot music for the restaurant, comfortable seats, a cool lighting scheme, and some bubbly waitresses. In fact, if you can disguise the place as a coffee bar, all the better. Then people may not even know they’re getting steak!
  •  Find new steaks! I, like many other steak lovers, have already eaten top sirloin, cross-rib, fillet mignon, center cut, and New York steaks. Why would we want to eat the same steaks again and again? Try finding new cuts, new meats, new forms. This will hold our interest and show the vegetarian world that even steak lovers can have variety and fun.
  •  Stop criticizing vegetarians! They have their own way, and though we don’t think much of it, they’re content, so let’s let them be. such criticism only drives them farther away.
Recently, I visited a restaurant in another town. One of the members of my club took me there. I was so unimpressed. The place looked like a steak house; sawdust on the floor, bench seats, smoky interior, and decorations that looked like they had come from a cattle ranch. I was served a huge slab of beef. I managed to eat only half of it. It was too rich. And it reminded me of a cut of meat I had already tasted. I couldn’t understand why my friend raved about the place. He seemed satisfied, but I was missing all the other side dishes and attractions.

I found the manager and complained. I gave him my five pieces of advice. He thanked me kindly, and then asked if I was mistaken when I called myself a steak-lover. Of course I am a steak-lover! I am just concerned about the non-steak-lovers.

They’re welcome anytime, he replied.

But what if they don’t want steak?

He smiled pityingly and directed me to a coffee bar down the street.

I don’t mean to be simplistic with my analogies. But true Christians are truth-lovers. They hunger for it, even when they have heard it before. They long for others to experience the truth. And when they try to make the truth palatable to unbelievers, they run the risk of losing their own hunger and love for the very thing they are trying to promote.

Jesus said He is the truth. He said the truth sanctifies us and sets us free. He calls us to speak the truth in love. He tells us His Word is truth (John 17:17). And of unbelievers, the Bible says, “…they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (II Thessalonians 2:10).

May God make us to be truth-lovers. And may He protect us from becoming so full of ourselves that we have no hunger for Him.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gentle, self-controlled thoughts about WHY I NEED MY AMP!

My blog is usually more spiritually bent than this, but a recent conversation provoked the following response...

Dear Soundman,

I need my amp. I really do. I know, it makes your job harder. It creates a lot of sound on stage. It’s hard to mic properly, and you would much rather make me go into the system directly. And yes, I concede, there are plenty of stomp boxes out there designed to replicate the sound of my amp. I SHOULD be able to run my signal into the system. But I can’t, and I hope you will bear with me while I explain why.

First, I am a musician. I’m not a recording, a machine, a patch, a signal, a pad. I am a musician. I create music in the now. I play nuance. I play dynamics. I play articulations and improvisations. I play melodies that lead and harmonies that support. I play rhythms that blend and accents that don’t because I plan them to intrude and punch and hit hard. I play sustained notes and chords that live and die naturally, with resonance and touch and taste. I want them to sound like a warm scent clinging to the air long after the beauty left the room. I can’t answer for other guitar players. But for me, I need every ounce of freedom I can get so I can sound as good as I’ve worked to become.

That means I need to hear myself and every nuance of my playing. And I can’t do that through a monitor, especially in-ear monitors. I can’t! I’ve tried. But as soon as I give my signal to someone else to control, I end up in a losing battle. I play out. The sound guy turns me down and never turns me back up again. I counter with a signal boost. He counters with a cut. Soon I’ve lost all my headroom, I can’t hear the fine touch of my guitar, and then I’m over-playing, looking for my signal and losing tone. Tone! That thing I spent so much money and effort to get! And now it’s lost because I can’t finesse any notes.

Mr. Soundman, I appreciate how hard your job is. But you still have to let me do my job, the job of being a musician. When I can hear my sound in balance with the other instruments, I can play like me.

Second, I need my amp because it’s actually a part of my sound. I’m sort of a purist. I don’t much care for digital re-creation. I want analog. I want my guitar to go through the tubes I bought with the speakers I use because the whole system is warm, and sweet, and rich, and the digital stuff, in my humble opinion, is just never as good. It’s missing something. So putting a mic on my amp allows me to sound like I want to sound.

Finally, I know you don’t trust me. I don’t take that personally. You think I’m an egocentric diva. You think I want to hear me because I LIKE hearing me and the rest of the band can just take a back seat to all my self-absorbed solos. And, yes, I know a lot of my fellow guitar players have earned that reputation.

But know what? I’ve met some sound guys who are real jerks. They’re worse divas than the musicians I’ve worked with. They want all the control, and they have lots of attitude about it.

So seriously, let’s start by respecting each other and we’ll get along fine. Let me be free to be a real musician, even if I’m not a great one, and I’ll listen to you as we try to get the best placement on stage for amps and mics and stands and lights and all that stuff. We’re really on the same team, and I’m willing to say you know what you’re doing at the board if you’re willing give me the same level of respect.

If you don’t want the volume level that comes with a guitar amp, don’t ask me to play. I’m not offended. I’d rather sit out than be frustrated. If you need to keep the sound down, go acoustic. Tell the drummer to use brushes. Explain to him what brushes are and how the great percussionists have used them in the past. Get a bass player who does the upright thing. And use a real piano. Use condenser mics. Unplugged is cool. Enjoy it. Live it. But don’t ask me to play plugged at unplugged levels. And stop asking me to use in-ear monitors on small stages. We’re not in a stadium, for crying out loud. Let me blend like a musician should.

Because if you want my sound: me and my Gibson playing through my Fender Deluxe amp (and that alone is SUCH a winning combination!!!), then let me play at the volume such music needs. We’ll all have a lot more fun at the gig, and that includes the audience!