It’s easy to get lost in this world even while pursuing a clear objective. Running into so many trees you lose perspective regarding the forest as a whole; unwillingly embodying the old joke about how when you’re up to your neck in alligators difficulty ensues remembering the original objective was draining the swamp. It happens.

At such times it helps referring not to what you should be doing, but why you should be doing it. Clarity comes from purpose; purpose is rooted in core beliefs. With this in mind, time to look at the oft neglected cornerstone that should be at the heart of what we do in this odd little realm of blogs and social media.

Some years ago, back when I harbored hallucinations of joining cyberspace’s high rollers, I came up with what I called the four tenets of the blogging evangel. They were:

  1. The ability to broadcast an opinion neither elevates nor validates said opinion.
  2. Blog from and for the heart, not the wallet.
  3. Answer your email every time all the time.
  4. Never become what you profess to oppose. Never.

These are quite self-explanatory, methinks. Especially in noting how following them permanently relegated me to the blogosphere’s, and social media’s, far sidelines. But I digress. To brusquely summarize, the eighty-fifth post/status update/tweet today yelling about how Obama is a poooyhead and/or Trump is a meanypants, all while offering rip and read analysis from the same ripped and read mainstream news story everyone else has ripped and read, doesn’t add anything to the public discourse. Neither did the other eighty-four. Try finding something worth your, and the reader’s, time. Something that matters. Something that gives something more than bait with which to lure sycophants into boosting your visibility within the echo chamber. Have a reason worth considering.

Here’s mine.

I’ve been a Christian since 1975, and a passionate fan/supporter of Jesus Music/contemporary Christian music/whatever you want to call it since then. I spent several years from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s as a journalist covering the music scene, this time period including numerous interviews with, and feature stories written about, many of the genre’s top artists, all published in the era’s leading magazines.

I drifted away from the scene in the mid 1990s, disillusioned by several people involved in it at different levels and also extremely unhappy with myself and how I had occasionally acted. I came back to the music, and into a walk with Christ that was something more than lip service, in 2005 at a concert featuring several of the ’80s-’90s bands I had loved back in the day. I later interviewed many of the artists from that era and published my work in book form; info at http://godsnotdeadbook.com I also have an online radio show, with info for same at http://cephashour.com

The bands and artists I loved – Larry Norman, Undercover, The 77s, Daniel Amos, The Choir, and dozens more – were bold both musically and lyrically. They addressed subjects like failed relationships, death, suicide, racism, sexual perversion, and other topics usually considered too hot for discussion within Christian circles. They did so understanding and accepting it would permanently put them on the outer fringe of Christian music; minimal airplay, far fewer concert opportunities, a lot fewer Christian bookstores carrying their records. But they did it anyway, because it was their calling.

I don’t listen to much current music of any genre; don’t have as much patience or time as once was the case to seek out the latest and greatest. I’m sure there’s some terrific new Christian rock and pop out there. But I will always hold on to my beloved classic Christian rock. It truly is the soundtrack of my life, and it has been a faithful companion in my walk with Christ. It remains vital and fresh. It can, and does, still bless people. Promoting it, getting and keeping it out there, is my purpose in the online world. It is my fundamental.

What’s yours?

This past Tuesday, the mysterious yet not mythical Mrs. Dude and I took in a one night only presentation of a concert film. Well, to be accurate I took it in; she endured it. Said film was a never-before shown Grateful Dead show recorded in the summer of 1989 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. Given how I’ve gotten into the band in recent years, this is as close as I’ll come to seeing them live (sorry, John Mayer, but Dead and Company doesn’t do it for me).

Although the Dead are commonly and not inaccurately associated with San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, hippies, the Summer of Love, etc etc etc (translation: sex, drugs, rock’n’roll), many non-fans are surprised to learn the band had a huge and fiercely loyal following on the east coast. And I do mean following, with multitudes piling into their VW microbuses and following the Dead from show to show, selling anything available – including themselves if need be – in order to score concert tickets. It truly was a long, strange trip.

Musically, either you get the Grateful Dead’s free-flowing mix of easy blues, Americana, roots rock, folk, free-form jazz, and whatever else came to mind during assorted lengthy improvisation sessions, or you find them quite possibly the most boring rock band in history. Either is okay. I don’t possess 1800 different concert tapes, pouring obsessively over each one and thus able to immediately tell whether a song is from Watkins Glen in 1973 or Boise in 1982. Further, I couldn’t tell you if the band played either of those locations during said years. Or at all. I listen to live shows on Sirius XM’s Grateful Dead channel, I own a few live CDs, and I have all of the band’s studio efforts. That’s good enough for me, sugaree.

Anyway, back to the concert film. It was magic. The band was on that night both musically and personally, with shared smiles the norm from start to finish (i.e. from “Touch of Grey” to “Black Muddy River”). It was good to pretend, at least for a couple of hours, that time had reversed itself and Jerry Garcia along with keyboardist Brent Mydland were still with us instead of Mydland having overdosed a year and five days after the concert in question, followed by Garcia succumbing to the ravages of drug use along with diabetes and other health complications in 1995. They are missed.

The next day, having one of those modest perks of working in retail known as a day off during the week, I took myself into San Francisco. Allow me to backtrack a bit: over the decades, I have loved, absolutely loved, walking around San Francisco. Avoiding certain neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin District, I have luxuriated in the city’s vibrant energy, sampling the multitude of one-off shops and restaurants. It has been an exhilarating time most every time for this hybrid boy comfortable in both pastoral rural settings and amidst concrete and steel.

Yesterday I hated most every minute of it.

One is always best advised to be on high alert in every section of San Francisco, practicing full streetwise caution techniques and staying aware at all times. That said, yesterday I felt not the energy of times before, but rather tremendous disquiet. The street people no longer seemed sadly amusing. Now, they felt threatening, emboldened by a city government blissfully ignoring their excesses and public excrement while labeling any who dare complain as haters, or worse yet in their eyes Trump supporters.

This discomfort is not solely confined to San Francisco, of course. It permeates most every city out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and as friends around the country report, most every major and not a few minor metropolitan areas. There is a palpable anger, a defiant edge marinated in by many on both left and right. It is one that can easy explode into violence, and not just the occasional Antifa versus Trump supporters clash. This is something far worse.

I believe there is a genuine danger of widespread civil disobedience in the very near future. No, not the cartoon kind practiced by those who believe waving a sign and getting “arrested” constitutes making a stand against the evil corporate oppressors who made the phones with which all involved are filming things. This is the kind that lobs live ammunition, and lots of it. Should the current deep state plus establishment (no party line delineation needed) open war against President Trump succeed in forcing him out of office, there will be blood and lots of it as the deplorables embrace a call to arms. I pray it will not come to this, and I pray I am wrong. But I don’t believe I am.

All I can do is pray and be a witness for Christ. His love and life-changing, along with saving, power can change even the hardest hearts into acceptance of others without compromising beliefs. This is what our country needs. Only then will San Francisco and all like it again vibrate with natural energy, not the dark energy of a city and country teetering on anarchy’s edge.

It would help if more people listened to the Grateful Dead too.

This past Sunday marked my fifty-eighth anniversary on this planet. As birthdays go it went all right; a far sight better than has been the unfortunate norm the past several years. Skipping the gory details, suffice it to say the acronym ASB has oft been used to describe another birthday. I add that if you genuinely need me to spell out what the S stands for, you are quite the innocent little waif.

Not that this year’s birthday was entirely minus angst and anxiety, with a dash of aggravation plus animus thrown in for good nature. The days leading toward the event featured several unpleasant moments on multiple fronts, this coming to a head one afternoon when a workplace incident left me quite angry and not a little frightened. I was not a happy camper.

Related to this, it’s sadly noted a lot of people I deeply care about have been wading through some deep mire lately. Relationships, employment/financial struggles, you name it. With no disrespect meant to the divine, it has been one of those times when individually and collectively it has been wondered aloud whether God is out on an extended cigarette break and His answering machine isn’t accepting any more incoming messages. People, good people, are hurting. Bad.

Jesus told His disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, the mountains would obey their command to move. Many of us have faith, yet it seems as whoever may be ordering the mountains about as of late has decreed they fall on top of us. When you are angry and scared; when you keep crashing into dead ends in your job search, when your love life consists of striking out before you can so much as emerge from the dugout, when your loved ones (as Terry Scott Taylor so brilliantly put it) mounted up like eagles but now are dropping like flies, when you see the loudmouth cretin down the road luxuriating with the gorgeous spouse and perfect kids and well lined bank account while you have none of the above … yes, you do start to wonder, even with promised eternity in Christ, what’s the deal. And, how are we supposed to deal with a bitter, seemingly endless losing streak.

Sometimes the only way to deal is burying our face in Jesus’ bloodstained robe and crying our eyes out, asking for comfort and asking Him why. We know the Scripture about how now we see through a glass darkly, but there are times when it seems like the glass is shattered and its shards are slicing us to ribbons. We just want it to end. We need tangible relief. We need something we can grab onto.

The other night, following the aforementioned afternoon when elements both longstanding and sudden were kicking the stuffings out of me, what came to me as a lifeline was a song from over forty years ago.

It was a song straightforwardly declaring faith’s fundamental, calling the seeker home to the One who loves him or her.

The song reminded me of the joy I once knew as a new believer, bursting with love and joy and terrible naïveté about how in so many things not only did I not have the answer, I most likely didn’t so much as have the question right.

It reminded me that through the years, through the high and lows, the doubts and fears, the anger and tears, as well as through all the moments when I felt God’s presence in every fiber of my being, Jesus had remained faithful.

The song reminded me that even in the hurting times He has been and is there, His seeming indifference an illusion belayed by the truth that this, too, shall pass even though in the immediate it hurts like hell.

It reminded me that there is an ending to all this, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with whispering, “Come quickly, Lord; I’ve had enough.”

The song reminded me to trim my sails and turn my ship to the Lord.

It was quite the pleasant early birthday present.

I’ll take it.

My late father was fond of many truisms. One of his favorites was, “Keep your words sweet; you might have to eat them.” Being one who has far too many times made a meal out of self-baked Alpha Bits, I fully testify to the aforementioned statement’s accuracy.

This came to mind yesterday when learning of John McCain’s battle with brain cancer. Cancer in any form is hideous; brain cancer is an unspeakable obscenity. Given McCain’s age and health history, it is impossible to envision this being anything but a brief, final battle before his ascending into eternity.

As a career moderate, one willing to work both sides of the aisle, McCain has garnered more than a few detractors at each end of both aisles. On the right, McCain has been routinely pilloried as the RINOs RINO, a squish benignly or actively bulldozing every hill upon which red pill poppers choose to make today’s final stand; tune in tomorrow for the new indignation du jour. On the left … eh, it’s the left. What aren’t they indignant about? But I digress.

It’s sadly predictable how, in a world where “Obama is a POOPYHEAD!” and “Trump is a MEANYPANTS!” passes as political discourse, the armchair politicians have not universally disarmed themselves in favor of prayer and support for a man now fighting his greatest battle. Be it damning with faint praise via tacking a grievance diatribe onto a get-well wish, or proclaiming McCain’s condition as karma come home to roost, haters gonna hate. And how. Hope they never take ill.

Like it or not, we are known by the company we keep. Those who herald the snarkbelcher for being cool and edgy and speaking truth to power abandon all claims of innocent bystanding when the worm turns. Make no mistake; the worm will turn … after it metamorphosises into a dragon.

Those who blog, post, and tweet as they please with total disregard for the humanity of others will in time discover that which they believed granted immunity from their own words’ consequences was transitory. The day will come when that rock solid, self-made (to whatever degree it actually was, this as opposed to whatever degree we perceive it to be) career will both blow up and throw up in our faces. That immovable object of a third party or outside corporation we’ve built upon? It will move, downsize, change direction, or simply fold altogether. That in-demand, on-demand skill set we have laboriously acquired? Seemingly overnight it will become faded fish wrap, dated and discarded. Your status as the hot hand, the heartthrob, the heavy hitter? As The Eagles succinctly put it decades ago, where’ve you been lately? There’s a new kid in town. Everybody loves him, don’t they. And he’s holding her … and you’re still around.

Remember conservative new media’s early days when all were welcome? Now, CNM is CNN minus a spot on the local cable network, stratified and tied to a totem pole. Used to be we called ourselves an army of Davids. Well, Goliath is still standing, and our slingshot ammo consists of yelling at Jake Tapper on Twitter.

Relying on the new corporation, same as the old corporation (ratings/website hits are KING!) albeit with a different philosophical core as long as it is a solid business model for attracting advertisers, is a risky proposition. An endless drone of opinion pieces makes for an entirely unsatisfying intellectual meal and a dwindling marketplace. Now, there are people in CNM who practice fundamental journalism. They read the bill. They study the transcript. They attend the meeting. They ask direct questions to those directly involved. But these people are the rare exceptions in a morass of clip and comment sludge.

The failure to treat political opponents as people instead of crash test dummies will inevitably consume both its creators and its supporters. As surely as if we signed it ourselves, that which we sign off on will be attached to our names. Therefore, be cautious and circumspect. Fire; a cleansing one but fire nonetheless, is coming. Don’t get burned.

Be careful what you sign.

As anyone who has read more than one of my modest little scribbles here has doubtless noticed, I have a warm spot in my heart for classic Christian rock and the artists who created same, many of whom are still making great music. Doing my best to inform as many people as possible about these artists and their work is, at its core, a holy obligation; one I willingly embrace. At the very least, it’s a far more productive time utilization than spending all day on social media yelling Obama is a poopyhead and/or Trump is a meanypants.

This came into focus earlier today while perusing a Facebook thread involving Mike Roe (77s, solo work, Lost Dogs). Now, if you’re looking for Good Good Father Part II, you’ll most likely be disappointed in Roe’s body of work. If you’re looking for superb songwriting in both the shimmering guitar pop and earthy blues realms, laced with genuine heart laid bare lyrics discussing relationships and philosophical matters as seen through (to borrow a phrase from Roe’s Lost Dogs compatriot Terry Scott Taylor) the tired eyes of faith, Roe is your man. He also plays Clapton-level lead guitar. He’s that good.

Back to the aforementioned thread. A fan had passed along some of Roe’s ’80s work to Stephen Fellows, in days gone by leader of English alt band The Comsat Angels. Roe is a huge fan of Fellows’ work. Fellows had high praise for Roe’s work. Everybody happy happy happy, correct? Not so fast, as said fan after several lengthy dissertations on what kind of music Roe should be doing and which musicians he should be playing with next threw this at him:

Commence butthurt!

Aside from the minor detail Roe has decades worth of work amply exhibiting he doesn’t need anyone telling him what to do, the exchange reveals a mindset far too prevalent on both sides of the political aisle. Namely, that unless an artist is playing monkey dancing to an approved organ grinder’s tune they’re doing it wrong. How DARE you not worship at my sacred cow’s altar!

It’s not that politics are unimportant. But are they that important? The single mom scrambling and ofttimes struggling to keep a roof over her children’s heads is often, doubtless to the surprise of political junkies, perhaps not nearly as concerned about the new menu items at that fine French restaurant Outrage du Jour as she is about silly stuff like paying bills and raising her kids right. People and their priorities; go figure.

It also may come as an utter shock, but some folk are actually cognizant of the fact that life on this planet comes with a firm, albeit unknown, expiration date. This should induce neither morbid resignation nor frenetic efforts to fulfill all life goals by 2 PM next Tuesday. It should help bring matters into focus. Is what any one of us is accomplishing authentic progress toward our goals? If our goal is self-glorification and browbeating others into bending toward our political whim, what are we actually accomplishing? Unless Ozymandias is your role model, kinda spinning your wheels there.

Be mindful of what truly matters: faith, hope, and love. The latter is the most important. We, and one day the memories of us, will pass from this earth. Love is eternal, even as Christ is eternal. The years indeed go down. Live and love accordingly.

This past weekend, the mysterious albeit not mythical Mrs. Dude and I did a quick trip down Southern California way for the primary purpose of attending a beloved friend’s daughter’s baby shower. And, as long as we were in the neighborhood, swinging by to visit the mice and the ducks and the dogs and the chipmunks. In other words, Disneyland. The two events made for an interesting comparison, to say the least.

While at the House of Mouse, it was difficult to look in any given direction without immediately being assaulted by the sordid phenomenon known as matching T-shirts. For those of you who’ve managed to avoid this scenario up until now, this does not refer to everybody in a group wearing the exact same park or character shirt. Rather, it refers to a gaggle of people wearing cheap homemade shirts, said purpose being informing one and all that they, and/or someone in their party, is so special, and so meriting attention, special clothing must be worn so that they may be properly hailed.

Doubtless it is a special occasion to those involved that little Timmy is having his fifth birthday, or the whole family is taking a vacation, or the bridal party has decided to stop by here before running off to Vegas and getting wasted together. Why the rest of the world should know, or care, above and beyond maybe someone saying something so someone else can congratulate them, remains a mystery.

Somehow, in a amusement park dedicated to the realm of fantasy, with tens of thousands of people in attendance seeking escape from their daily reality in said fantasy, the notion that your everyday events (and you) are so incredibly special, and unique, that everyone should take note both amuses and saddens. Frankly, folks, no one else cares, nor should they be expected to care, nor can they be made to care. You and/or your child and/or your grandchild and/or your family event is neither so cute, nor so smart, nor so unique, that the rest of humanity should take special note. The most egregious example of this witnessed to date was a family wearing matching shirts memorializing grandma, for nothing speaks of sincerity like trolling for sympathy at the happiest place on earth.

Now, you are special and unique to God. However, careful Scriptural research has yet to reveal any indication that drawing attention to yourself is a worthwhile, noble, and altogether pleasant procedure. You’re in Disneyland, okay? No one is there to see, or pay attention to, you. They are there to see Mickey and Minnie and Donald and assorted princesses and superheroes. Besides, if you really wanted to be honest, you’d wear a T-shirt saying something like TEAM 37th IN LINE FOR A DOLE WHIP.

Fast forward to the next day and the baby shower. I freely admit baby showers aren’t my thing, but given the family involved attending this one was a pleasure. Besides, someone had to get the baby the right professional sports team apparel to wear. #LetsGoSharks

What most marked the event wasn’t, thankfully, a gaggle of women trading labor pains stories. Rather, it was the outpouring of sheer, unadulterated, unfiltered, pure love. The radiant glow of the mom to be. The floating on air joy of the soon to be first time grandmother. The equally floating on air joy of the soon to be first time great-grandparents. The love for the Lord; the love for each other flowed from and to all who were there. It was a truly special, blessed occasion. Moments like these provide much needed refreshment in a self-obsessed world.

True love never calls artificial attention to itself. It instead flows naturally, any notice of same coming as a normal byproduct of its presence. The expression “true love waits” is often bandied about in relation to abstaining from sex before marriage. This is true, but it has another meaning. True love also waits until the world has exhausted itself with its endless horn blowing and tub thumping. Then, and only then, does it reveal itself to be the genuine.

Seek the genuine. And lose the stupid T-shirts.

The other day, the Washington Post postulated (pardon the redundancy) a lengthy missive dramatically titled Why My Guitar Gently Weeps: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care. Sales are down! Workers laid off! Stores in trouble! Only baby boomers still buy guitars! Chicken Little running around yelling “the Stratocaster is falling!” Etc etc etc ad tedium.

Despite its obligatory embarrassing factual gaffs (no, Mr. Democracy Dies In Darkness dunderhead, the Gibson automatic tuner isn’t an available add-on; it’s standard on their high end models), the article is occasionally almost correct. It’s hardly a trade secret that right now popular music is in the doldrums. Somehow, it manages to be both omnipresent and irrelevant. Joe Walsh says it best:

At the present time, this generation’s edition of pop is machine music minus humanity. It is programmed, precise, perfect, and utterly void of heart or soul. Hip-hop’s endless drone of endlessly repeated beats and loops is as boring as rappers forever proclaiming their greatness is banal. Music today is Gertrude Stein’s Oakland. There’s no there there.

These things are accepted because, sadly, their target audience doesn’t know any better. The current generation, and to a degree its predecessor, has limited if any exposure to true artistic, songwriting, and instrumental proficiency. Like every generation before, the current crop wants its own entertainment icons. They have no idea they’re being fed Cheez Whiz while being told it’s caviar. The concept of a concert being the forum for actual live music is foreign to them. It is perfectly acceptable to exchange big bucks for two or so hours of dance moves, costume changes, and popping out of trap doors, all set to a prerecorded soundtrack. Every note lip synced? Who cares! She’s my idol! SQUEEE!

Nevertheless, all is not lost. Music trends come and go; it is not beyond reason to expect the next genuine, rather than media made, music hero will be a lot more Beatles and a lot less Beyoncé. Country, even in its current popified form, remains guitar-driven, the hotter the solo the better. Gibson has rectified recent production year gaffes; the 2017 models are truly drool-worthy for guitar aficionados of all ages. (Speaking of Gibson, doubtless there is no connection whatsoever between it and its head Henry Juszkiewicz being the article’s chief target for slagging and how the Justice Department, during the Obama administration, targeted Gibson for illegally importing wood, this harassment including a dramatic raid with guns drawn on Gibson’s Nashville factory … only to have the confiscated alleged wood later sheepishly returned once it was proved the lumber was acquired lawfully, right? Er … right? Wait, what, Juszkiewicz is an outspoken conservative? Sheer coincidence!) And, unlike the article’s assertion, buying and playing guitar remains a pursuit for all ages. Evidence? Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your consideration Guitar Showcase in San José, California.

Guitar Showcase has been privately owned and run since the 1960s, boasting a veteran staff that knows their stuff regarding guitars and related items be they vintage and new. It’s long been my store of choice, the mysterious albeit not mythical Mrs. Dude having endured many a lengthy session of me trying various guitars and talking shop with the staff. (She levels the playing field by dragging me to and through the local scrapbook store, but that’s a story for another time.) Unlike a Guitar Center, home of the kids kranking it and not much else, Guitar Showcase is where the serious players shop.

Guitar Showcase’s clientele comes in an equal mix of two flavors: the, uh, seasoned people like me who always stop and look at something new Steve Miller has recently dropped off for consignment before getting on with things, or 18-25 year olds who are usually ridiculously good players. The store doesn’t have nearly a Guitar Center’s foot traffic, but enjoys a far higher percentage of buyers per customers. Introductory models, high flyers (Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls and SGs, Martin or Taylor acoustics), and not the occasional high end vintage or new instrument all steadily march out the door. The bottom line is the store’s bottom line is not hurting. At. All. And there are a whole lot more boutique guitar shops across the land doing equally well.

So no, Washington Post, the electric guitar is not dying a slow death. Newspapers, on the other hand …

There’s a tremendous, oft sadly neglected richness in the English language all of us should use more often. I’m not referring to throwing maximum verbiage around in an effort to appear smart; rather, appreciating how even simple phrases can hold surprising depth. Case in point: someone is getting, or have gotten, the best of you.

The most common association tied to this saying is someone has bettered, or bested, you. He or she ran faster, jumped higher, got the promotion you sought, snagged the one your heart longed for, etc. He or she won, you lost, and you will not be receiving a consolation prize, make-up call, or participation trophy. Suck it up, buttercup. The next competition starts now.

Another implementation exists for someone getting the best of you. Namely, giving someone the best you have to offer: your experience, your support, your love. Sometimes this is gratefully received. Many times … well, not so much.

There are certain things we learn, or at least hopefully learn, as we pass through the years. A prime example of this is coming to grips with how we are best advised accepting the fact that we should not expect respect for our anger, this coming into play the first time during our tender years any of us throw a temper tantrum without reaping the hoped for reward. Unless a spanking was that for which we had a honkering.

We also learn, or should learn, to not expect respect for our tears, or reciprocation for our love. These are far more difficult to swallow. We are taught from the beginning to respect others, to honor the heralded awesome power of love, and that true love always triumphs while conquering all and overcoming all obstacles. Yet through bitter and often embittering experience we learn how love is often impotent, incapable of swaying others in any direction let alone one which we desire. Those who do not learn this, such as starry-eyed women unshakable in their pursuit of utterly undesirable men believing they can transform jerks into jewels, invariably have their ship of hopes dashed against reality’s rocks. You’d think this would be sufficient to teach us, but far too often we embody insanity by attempting the exact same thing while anticipating different results. The Biblical truism that pride goes before a fall is not exclusively reserved for the outwardly arrogant. It also applies to those of us who, while outwardly modest and/or well-intentioned, sadly overestimate our own ability.

It hurts when love isn’t returned. The illustration of a rejected Savior is hard to understand until we encounter a one-sided love of our own. The other person doesn’t look at you in a special way. He or she doesn’t soften when you’re around. He or she isn’t interested in a relationship on any level save perhaps that of casual acquaintance, one quickly forgotten the moment close proximity is no longer in effect. Perhaps the person does allow you to approach them, but even then only within his or her strictly defined and absolute, non-negotiable parameters. Held at arm’s length? Most definitely. Held in each other’s arms? Never. And yes, it makes life a living hell. An accurate description, for hell’s torment is not fire and brimstone, but rather separation from love.

The illustration in Scripture’s most misunderstood and misapplied chapter states that when I was a child, I spoke, thought, and acted like a child; in adulthood laying these childish things aside. It seems strange to think, believe, and act on the notion that there are times when laying love aside is an act of maturity. More accurately, not so much setting love itself on the shelf but learning how to be at peace with the fact others can and will disregard your love for them.

It hurts when love isn’t returned. There is no escaping, no denying the pain. If there is anything good to be drawn from these times, it is from the empathy gained for those also suffering; and how it makes more real our need to embrace — more accurately, allow ourselves to be embraced by — the nail-scarred hands belonging to the Man of Sorrows well acquainted with grief. He knows. He understands. He comforts. And He never rejects our love.

Never.

Many, many times someone getting the best of you is rooted not in their besting you, but rather you giving your best to someone who throws your best away. Forgiving those who have wrongly abused you is brutally difficult. But, it is the highest level of giving your best, one in which we have Christ’s hand on our shoulder as He says, “I know the feeling.”

NOTE: This post was first published in abbreviated form at the author’s personal blog.

In a world where hatred and horror are marching in lockstep, we can all use a good laugh. With this in mind, below is an unsent, albeit sorely tempted to do so, response to an actual customer survey. It must be noted the views and opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the writer and in no fashion speak on behalf of, or represent, the employer of said writer. (As if it isn’t obvious.)

Dear Mr. C(remainder of name redacted):

Thank you for your customer survey response regarding your recent visit to, and purchase from, our store.

We deeply apologize for the store and staff not meeting your expectations, this surmised from both your written comments and your grading the store as a one on all scale of one to ten questions. We readily confess this comes as something of a surprise, given that since late last year, through the course of several dozen returned surveys we had not once received an overall score lower than eight. We appreciate you, unlike the aforementioned several dozen misguided individuals, setting the record straight.

Addressing a specific point made in your response, namely how the store carries far too much Superman and Transformers product, a quick calculation reveals out of the 448 feet of linear shelf space available the two toy lines mentioned presently occupy eight feet. We are grateful for you opening our eyes to how this 1.79% waste of display area is entirely too high, and are presently carrying out a detailed action aimed at reducing this to 1.78%. Regrettably, you did not detail what should be done with this newly available space, this leaving us to our own painfully inadequate devices commonly referred to as “what sells.” Which, to our astonishment and we confidently say yours, includes an alarmingly high amount of Superman and Transformer toys.

Concerning your grievance over the survey containing too many questions, we are compelled to note the survey is run by a third party and therefore is not entirely under our control. However, we have communicated your concerns to the survey provider, and have been assured it is hard at work on a new version which will contain nothing but one emoji happy face and one emoji frowny face. This will greatly reduce the time and effort required to complete the survey, as compared to its present seventeen scale of one to ten grueling questions.

We could not help but to notice in addition to the two items you did purchase, you are a member of our rewards club for frequent shoppers. Given your disdain for our store, the only possible conclusion is you are suffering from retail self-flagellation, a/k/a punishing yourself by shopping at a store you detest. This can result in dangerous symptoms such as monetary loss and a sharp increase in hypocrisy. We urge you to exercise maximum caution and watch for these signs.

In conclusion, we again deeply apologize for our store and ourselves. We hope you will give us another try, especially encouraging you to visit our board game area and pick up a copy of The Game of Life to remedy a noticeable deficiency in this area.

Sincerely,
Someone At The Store You Hate

Do people really want the truth?

If you spend any period of time cruising “conservative” sites dedicated to dissecting pop culture, or “neutral” sites dissecting of culture with one or more conservative writers on staff, the answer comes rapidly. It’s no. To be more precise, the aforementioned writers have little if any interest in proclaiming, via pointing out, truth.

This may seem like a strange summation. Didn’t the late, great Andrew Breitbart say politics is downstream from culture? Aren’t these people, at least in part, attempting to embody this truism by discussing the latest entertainment efforts and societal swings mainstream infomedia declares are where it’s at, or at least should be? Sure. But it is a very, very small and utterly ineffective part.

To slightly paraphrase Paul’s snap to the church in Corinth, said writers are looking only at the surface of things. They see the obvious – the blockbuster movie, the hot entertainer, the even hotter social trend as deemed by whichever upper crust publication wants some free publicity this week via prefabricated “controversy.” They comment, they argue, they strive to score maximum points with the Konservative Kool Kidz Klub. All very nice. And all utterly meaningless in terms of influencing pop culture’s course. Genuine influence comes not from adding a me too with a conservative view. It comes from exploring and promoting the unknown that is worthy of attention.

It’s not like there are no opportunities to genuinely impact people through elements generally associated with pop culture, given how its more heralded items seldom pack the punch many believe they hold. The great movie icons of recent decades – Star Wars, the ongoing spate of superhero movies – have worked their way into the popular lexicon, but outside of the freakishly obsessed few their societal impact is nonexistent. Books and their authors fly high for fifteen minutes and then disappear over the horizon. Heard anyone discuss The Bridges of Madison County or Life of Pi lately? An argument can be made that the Chinese water torture known as network television has moved the morality and mores gauge needles to the left; Will & Grace did much to normalize homosexuality in the public eye, and every time I hear a five year old loudly exclaim “oh my god” in reference to most every item in my toy store I, uh, ‘thank’ the writers of Friends. Pop music is both omnipresent and impactless, streamed today and sent packing tomorrow. When an album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles) first released fifty years ago sells more physical copies than any other album, all’s said needing to be said concerning current music’s place in current society.

Maybe follow Sgt. Pepper’s lead and find music from the past that still holds value today?

Time to shift gears a bit. As today’s greatest songwriter Terry Scott Taylor recently sang, there’s not a holy man who doesn’t know grief well, or thinks the road to heaven doesn’t pass through hell. This truth is embodied in how throughout Christianity’s history, many believers have found their greatest solace not in the New Testament but rather in a chapter written by the Old Testament mystic prophet Isaiah. Written hundreds of years before Christ’s passion and death on the cross, Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah as a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief, has resonated throughout the millennia with those suffering.

Twenty-two years and 22,000 light years removed from today’s Christian music scene, featuring endless recyclings of endless clichés about a good good father, with his band Adam Again the late pioneer of Christian alternative rock Gene Eugene released Perfecta which sadly turned out to be the band’s final album before Eugene’s death due to an aneurism in 2000. There’s a Kickstarter campaign currently underway to finally release it on vinyl as well as remastered CD. Not that there’s a need for cause aside from its dark brilliance to revisit this sadly unknown work, but it’s as good of a reason as any.

If the measure of an album’s potential impact on individuals, who in turn influence society, can be determined by said album’s rawness stripping away all emotional pretense and posturing, then Perfecta would be an instant game changer even today. Laying atop a foundation of simultaneously jangling and snarling distorted guitars, Eugene’s grainy razored vocals ripped through stories most Christian artists wouldn’t dare touch: failed relationships, substance abuse, and Leonard Cohen. For starters. When during the song “Relapse” he cried ‘believe me, I’m fine,’ you know the song’s character was anything but. In “All You Lucky People,” Eugene’s resigned alienation from the Christian music that at best held him at arms length and usually avoided him at all costs spilled out:

Won’t you give me your secret
And allow me a tale to sell
To the guests of the guilty at the gates of hell
I’m after it
I’m after it
And you’ll know
That I keep looking at all you lucky people coming around to say hello
Hello

It’s somewhat doubtful you’ll be hearing this during worship time next Sunday.

Perfecta isn’t a collection of ruminations about lost faith. Rather, it collects tales of what happens when faith gets stomach punched. A lot. Despite this, faith remains, beaten down but not defeated. There is life beyond life’s insidious heartbreaks. There will be blood. But there is also the bloody Cross.

It is Perfecta, and albums like it, by artists and bands such as Gene Eugene and Adam Again, that tell life changing truths. This is the primal scream at pop culture’s center, one often obscured by drek and dross yet still present. If the writers covering pop culture from the right side truly wish to make an impact, they will throttle back on the 378th dissertation this week about Wonder Woman and start actively seeking out that, and those, whose creation can effect change in lieu of rambling on about the latest layer of frosting atop an already oversugared cake.