Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshoppers-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were little, they grew up around music.  I played my guitar for them all the time.  Our youth group was always singing together.  I took them to concerts.  We listened to all different kinds of music, most everywhere we went.  Sometimes, me and Mimi would even have disagreements over the types of music I would let them listen to.  She still gives me “that Mimi-look” when I’m listening to some of the music I like.  It can get pretty loud and crazy!

One of the reasons I love music so much is because I believe God has put music inside our hearts.  It’s a form of communication that’s been around since…well, since people have been around.  The writers of the Bible wrote about singing and making music as much, or more, than just about any other topic.  Music can motivate us, soothe our sadness, touch our hearts on the deepest level, and speak for us when we have no words.

I want you to grow up loving music.  I want you to sing and make music in your hearts.  I want you to be little rebels in the culture you are growing up in and not be embarrassed to sing at church or in the school choir or at the top of your lungs in the car.  God made us to sing.  God gave us lungs to express our joy and sadness…and gave us music to make it beautiful.

I have a song I want to give to you.  Of all the songs I have ever heard, this is my favorite. It’s an old song (written around the time your daddies were born!)   It’s a really simple song and the style is no longer popular.  Just a guy singing and playing the piano.  I knew him.  His life and his story were amazing.  By the time you guys grow up, I hope he will not be forgotten.

rich-mullinsHis name is Rich Mullins and the song is called “If I Stand”.    Every single word of this song is important and it speaks to me in a very personal way. But there is one line that stands out.  To me, this one line is the single greatest line in any song that has ever been written.

It will always be my prayer that these words will come to mean as much to you guys, as they have meant to me:

“The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.”

Be wise, Grasshoppers.




Maybe someday you’ll watch “Ragamuffin”, the movie of Rich Mullins life.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Music. Part 2.

ListeningI have memories of sitting in the living room of my home in 1964 (I was ten years old), watching the Beatles sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” before a live audience on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The shadowy black and white television introduced these long-haired young rock and rollers to mainstream America…and nothing has ever been the same since.

My parents were in shock.  Musical shock wasn’t new to them, though.  Elvis Presley’s gyrating pelvis had already been doing that for a few years.  The church I grew up in, much like the conservative white church around the country, was working hard to make sure I knew all the things I couldn’t do, if I was going to grow up to be a fine Christian young man.

Good Christians didn’t drink, smoke, cuss, play cards, dance, go to movies, stay out late on Saturday nights, sleep in on Sundays, sport long hair (boys), sport short skirts (girls), question authority…and absolutely no listening to that evil devil-music: rock and roll.

Even though I don’t think they really realized it at the time, parents and church leaders were creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  More importantly to me, they were building a sacred vs. secular philosophy into my life…one I learned to respectfully rebel against in my high school and college years.

(If you ask my wife, she will gladly tell you that since I never had a typical adolescent rebellion back when I was a teenager, I have been going through an extended and particularly awkward post-adolescent rebellion ever since I hit around 50.  Maybe I will self-analyze that mess in another post someday.)

In the early years, when my favorite bands would sing about sex and drugs and anarchy and who knows what else, I would pompously tell my church friends and leaders, “I’m not listening to the lyrics.  I’m just listening to the music.”  The truth is, I knew what they were singing about, but it didn’t matter to my young, respectfully rebellious heart.  The music was touching me on a deep, personal level.

I know they were afraid the music was going to lead me into the darkness inhabited by Satan and his minions.  But I never had that concern.  To me, music was art.  It was the creative expression of the musician.  Look, based on the lyrics and perceived lifestyles, I’m pretty sure most of the bands I was drawn to were not “christian”.  But they were making art that I was blown away by.  Their imagination and innovation drew me in.

When I first understood basic principles of music well enough to recognize that Led Zepellin was playing in these bizarre time signatures, my head exploded and I was hooked.  I always have been.  But it wasn’t until I got older that I was able to give definition to what I was feeling.

When I first looked at a black and white Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite Falls, I didn’t stop and think, “Gee, I wonder if Ansel is a Christian?  If he’s not, I need to be careful when I look at his pictures, lest I fall.”.  Nope.  I look at his pictures and simply say, “Wow.  Those are amazing.  I feel like I am right there.”

Most people know I’m not much of a connoisseur of movies.  But there are some actors who I really enjoy.  Morgan Freeman.  Matthew McConaughey.  Sandra Bullock.  Honestly, as I watch them perform, I’m not thinking much about their standing before God.  I’m usually just enjoying their art.

I don’t cheer for my favorite athletes because they are christian.  I cheer for them because I’m caught up with their performance.  And whether or not they are helping my team win.  Athleticism is artistry of the human body.  I love watching them.  Christian.  Buddhist.  Muslim.  Atheist.  Hedonist.  It just doesn’t ever really factor into my enjoyment.

(Before you get preachy back at me, I believe there should be common sense limitations on the first amendment.  There are amazing artists of all types, that are criminals whose values and lifestyle seriously affect my enjoyment of their art.  Open hostility and disregard for the things of God will always leave pain in my heart, no matter how great the artistry.)

So, because I see music as art and I have experienced it, both as a listener and as a musician, my love and appreciation for the beauty of musical expression is pretty broad.

You like the Cowboys.  I like the Chargers.  You like Leonardo DiCaprio.  I like Sylvester Stallone.  You like country or pop or classic rock.  Me?  Old school rap metal rocks my world.

Don’t knock it till you try it.

Music. Part 1.

ListeningThis week, I heard one of my favorite bands was coming to Dallas for the first time in a while (thanks, Chris M.).  Although I have listened to P.O.D. for years, I have never heard them in person.  To be honest, it’s a bucket list item for me.  And even though I would look seriously out of place in the crowd, I was excited by the possibility of seeing them this fall.

But my excitement turned into a major bummer, when I saw who else was playing with them.  Even though Insane Clown Posse is not my musical cup of tea, I wouldn’t mind seeing them.  But from what I’ve read about and seen online, the craziness of their concerts and the unruliness of their hardcore hip-hop fans are enough for me to stay home and watch Sunday Night Football from my recliner on that night in October.

Like I said.  Bummer.  But it got me thinking tonight before I head off to bed.

I used to really, really dislike country music.  Twenty years in Texas have softened me.  Now, there are days I choose to listen to Brad Paisley, the Zac Brown Band, and even some Willie Nelson.  Whoa.  Not to mention my deepened love and appreciation for the greatness of Southern rock, the likes of ZZ Top, Lynryd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and the Marshall Tucker Band.

In my early teenage years, like many kids in the 60’s, I was mesmerized by rock and roll.  I played bass in a garage band for the first time when I was 13.  I can’t remember the name of the band, but we played a mean “13 year-old” cover of White Rabbit, by the Jefferson Airplane.  Listening to the three-record, live album from Woodstock in 1969 changed my life.

I was a jazz musician in high school and my early college years.  My trumpet hero was Miles Davis Jr.  My love of horns and my love of rock and roll was given a whole new perspective with bands like Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, and the Sons of Champlin.

Because I was really a wannabe hippie in the early 70’s (I didn’t do the sex and drugs…only the rock and roll part), my life as a follower of Jesus was still able to grow.  The early years of “Christian” rock was super important to me, especially as a young youth minister.  Thank you, Larry Norman.

Somehow, I lived through the cassette-burning, Satan-influenced, backmasking phase of the church with my love of Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Queen, The Who and loads of others, completely intact.

Youth ministry in the 80’s forged a whole new direction in my musical taste, because of a little-known band from Ireland.  Although I still loved Van Halen and Metallica, U2 changed everything for music-loving, church kids in Southern California.  For me, also.  My musical tastes broadened as I identified more and more with the music kids were listening to.  It became “my” music, also.

I grew to love all of it.  Classic rock, hair-band metal, hard-core, punk, ska, Seattle, college and indie rock…it was all good to my ears.  And all the while retaining my love of classical and jazz.  Go figure.  And it’s never ended.

When Aerosmith collaborated with Run DMC on “Walk this Way” in 1986, little did I know I was listening to what would become my favorite style of music.  When we moved our little family from the surf community of Huntington Beach in 1990 to the urban turf of East San Diego, the door to rap and hip hop was busted down.

Maybe it was my close association with kids and families we shared life with (in our community and our church plant) or just my openness to listening to all kinds of music.  Either way, I spent the next five years deep in the world of urban music.  I am still blown away by the flow and artistry of rappers like Eminem, Dr. Dre, and Jay-Z.

But it was the merger of rap and rock that won me over.  Beastie Boys.  Rage Against the Machine.  Faith No More.  Early Kid Rock.  Linkin Park.  Thousand Foot Krutch.  P.O.D.  Project 86.  So many more.  The music is harsh and always aggressive.  Loud and driving.  Lyrically moving.  Definitely my favorite.  My playlist is never without this style.

Enough history for now.

But there’s more to this story.

Way more.

A surprise redemption

ThinkingAt 4:15 this afternoon, I put on my workout clothes to go the gym for my dreaded old man sweatfest.  I had even put on my back brace and both knee braces.  I was pumped.

At 9:20, I finally got there.  Hey.  At least I made it.  So, I got on the treadmill, put my earbuds in, and decided to plug into one of the house television monitors, instead of my iPod.

I generally make it habit to avoid CNN and Fox News, especially the personality-driven programs.  It always feels like they exist to pour fuel on the fire.  But there was some pretty big stuff happening on Capital Hill today, so I thought I’d give it a listen and hear what the pundits were saying.

After 25-30 minutes, I plugged back into my iPod.  I was weary.  Both stations were attempting to feed into my baser nature, trying to touch my fears and my prejudices. Neither station was innocent.  Neither station took anything that resembled the “high road”.

So it was time for music.

I don’t normally put my iPod on shuffle, but that’s where I landed when I turned it on. The first two songs that came up were mysterious gifts…messages that I needed to hear right at that moment.

The first was “Alive”, by P.O.D.   It might be just me, but the world would be a little better off if people listened to some P.O.D. everyday.

The second was “All Creatures of our God and King”, Crowder version.

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
Oh, praise Him

Let all things their creator bless
And worship Him in humbleness
Oh, praise Him

The contrast of the moment, did not slip past me.  I am still one who believes that Jesus’ words trump any commentary or cultural interpretation I hear.  God is always present, even in the madness.  Praise is the only real antidote.

My evening was redeemed.

For your listening and viewing pleasure:

Only a lad…

oingo-boingoso wanda and i are sitting in taco casa (a totally americanized fast-food taco joint with great green chile sauce and crack tea) up in denton the other day and in the middle of working our way through a couple of bean burritos, i’m actually listening to the muzak playing for our eating ambiance in the back ground.

somewhere in between willie nelson and brad paisley, i’m totally blown away by the song that comes on.  “only a lad”, by oingo boingo.  oingo boingo?  the socal, new wave ska band that defined my youth group in huntington beach in 1981?  right here in the heart of texas…in 2013?  you gotta be kidding me!

talk about walking down memory lane.

but it’s got me thinking about something deeper.  i really liked the sound of oingo boingo.  a lot.  i still do.  in fact, when wanda’s not in the car or if i’m traveling by myself,  loud 80’s punk or speed metal will always take a prolonged spin on my ipod.  and not just for nostalgia.

when it comes to music or sports teams or art or whatever, we like to joke and banter and enter into fake arguments about what style is superior or who’s version is better.  we do it as friends.  we do it in fun.  nobody gets hurt.  there is no deeper agenda.

but as i’m preparing to leave for our trip to mexico tomorrow, i am reminded of something more profound.  a war that simmers just below the surface in each of us.

we live in a world…both locally and globally…where people are different.  different customs and traditions.  different palates.  different interests and values.  different cultures.  different colors.  different ways of doing things.

one of the greatest joys of my life has always been to take kids into mexico for the first time.  past the tourist traps and familiarity of downtown…and into the neighborhoods and barrios where we often go to help.   it’s there where the contrast is so vivid.

looks and smells and textures and lifestyles and possessions are not what we are used to.   and the immediate internal reaction is one of superiority.  oh, there is an initial wave of pity…but that quickly gives way to “ewww.  how they live that way?  how can they eat that?  how can they stand that smell?  can you believe what they are wearing?”

and what’s subtly implied in that inner dialogue is this:  we are better.  we are smarter.  our way is superior.  there’s something wrong with them.  if they thought like us and a did things the way we do them, their lives would be better.

and we don’t have to go to mexico to have that attitude.  it can creep in anytime and anywhere.   and we have to fight it.

different cultures…different people groups…different nationalities and backgrounds are simply that:  different.  not better.  not worse.  just different.  it’s one of the first and most basic lessons we learn as followers of christ.  jews and gentiles couldn’t have been more different.  they were disgusted by their cultural differences.  they despised each other’s religious and philosophical backgrounds.  they had nothing in common.

until jesus died and rose again and leveled the playing field.  all are now equal.  all come to jesus the same way.  they learned that god is no “respecter of persons”.   they had to learn to live side by side and stop judging each other.  they had to learn to sit at the same table and drink from the same cup.

differences were no longer excuses to judge.  differences were now the distinctives of the new community.  requiring people to change (or even smugly or secretively expecting it), gave way to appreciating differences.  and that needs to be true for us today.

i like fish tacos.  i prefer to drive older vehicles and not make payments.  i like the national league.  i’ll never own a gun for my own protection because i could never kill somebody with it.  i know myself.  i like crowds.  long conversations with teenagers still energize me.  i don’t understand algebra.  i don’t like steak.  i stay awake until 1:30 almost every night.

and i like oingo boingo.   so show me some love.

and then show it to everyone else, too.

just in case you’ve never heard of oingo boingo…

Wow. Just wow.

my friend luke told me about noah gundersen this week.  you probably don’t know him.  he’s an indie folk-rocker from the seattle area.  i’d heard his music before, but i didn’t really know much.  his music is amazing.  he tours with his younger sister and together, they are genius.

but that’s not why i’m writing this.  i’m writing about a song he wrote, called “jesus, jesus”.

there’s nothing that leads me to believe he’s a follower of jesus.  luke told me the guy grew up in a christian home and walked away from it all.  it wouldn’t surprise me.  this song reflects his spiritual journey.  it’s raw.  it’s brutally honest.  it’s incredibly sad.

listen to the song when you have a few minutes to absorb the pain of his seeking.  my final thoughts are after the video (studio version with the lyrics) and a link to a “live” version, if you want to see he and his sister singing in front of people.  both are good.

* warning.  he drops an in-your-face f-bomb in the middle of the song…and a g-d shortly after.  this kind of honesty is not for the faint of heart.  proceed at your own risk.

live version

as unfiltered and visceral as his words from the heart are…and as painful the attack is on my faith…i was moved.  the song leaves me hopeful and motivated.  the questions he asks and the hopelessness he sings about affirm my reason to get up in the morning.

chances are, i will never walk with young noah.  but i walk with many others like him.  nearly every day.  people who don’t see what i see.  the “light” that i live in is nothing more than darkness and desperation to those who carry the scars of pain and hollow answers.

please don’t let the brutishness of a couple of his words rob you of the joy of hearing a common cry of those who are trying to touch the hope you possess.

may your sunday rekindle a passion for those who live without hope.