Sunday, March 18, 2018

Behold Your Life!

The thing about having a baby is ... it makes you think about ... CHILDREN.

Most of my thoughts are about Che who I spend far more time with than any other human being these days.

I talk to her mother Sarah far more than I do anyone else but in terms of waking hours, I spend more time with our 16 month old daughter.

It's very cool ... though I can sense you thinking, "Glad it's not me!"

A couple of times each night, intuitively anticipating her waking, I hear the formations of a cry ... a whimper really ... and spring out of bed so to not wake Sarah ... who believes she's really good at night feedings ... probably is actually ... but there's always Hell to pay for it the next morning ... so it's just easier for us if I'm the one springing out of bed to stick a bottle in Che's mouth.

Immediately our baby falls back asleep though it takes me a good quarter of an hour.

As the sun begins to bubble out of the Ocean, Che wakes excited for the day, dances in her crib when I open the Nursery door ... laughs out loud, retrieves her pacifier and hands me empty bottles ... gets changed and I lay her in bed with Sarah while I stumble to the outdoor shower.

Mother and daughter watch videos on the phone until I grab Che who blows a kiss to Sarah and we take off to begin another day of adventure.

And every day is one!

Breezing inside the Breakfast Club for coffee, Che's part of the family ... is passed around ... helps set up ... eats with the staff ... munches on bacon I put her back in the car seat.

Cranking up the radio to our favorite rock-n-roll ... we cruise down front ... along Butler checking out how many cars are in the Hotel lots ... read the sign in front of City Hall proclaiming, "WELCOME TO TYBEE! For your convenience you can pay your fines in advance" ... make our way pass the Camp Ground crammed full of luxury on wheels ... come to a complete stop at the sign beside the POLICE PALACE and PROCESSING CENTER ... by the Lighthouse and then back to the Club for another coffee to take home.

Sarah takes time to play with Che before diving into work.

After a morning nap, Che and I take one of our numerous walks ... with endless games of Hide-and-Seek ... sitting on benches ... blowing kisses at tourists ... stopping at Benny's to visit friends ... hike to the end of the Pier and admire the catches ... before making our way home again.

Throughout the walk are many encounters, occasional joiners and lots of hugs and kisses.

She's has a profound impact on me.

Walking slower, I see more ... making me stop with each new discovery, Che stretches my patience making me learn there's always time ... shocking me over how much shear joy there is in the red balloon dancing in the wind in front of Wet Willie's ... and Lord knows if we hit the Beach then we're getting wet ... regardless of the weather.

Late in the afternoon, we cook supper together ... until her sisters arrive and the entire world stops spinning as they dance in delight over seeing each other again because they seem to understand ... and we don't ... that every time you see someone you love or enjoy again ... it should be like it's the very first time ... because it might be the very last.

Che participates in dinner conversations by throwing out numerous vowels and if the rest of us laugh over something, she joins in as though it is humor itself we've invented.

Afterwards is bath time, also full of joyous adventure and games, then she blows Sarah and her sisters kisses and hugs my shoulder tightly as I take her downstairs to bed.

Laying her down, she reaches for the bottle with one hand while taking the pacifier out of her mouth with the other.

"Hey," I say looking her straight in the eyes, rubbing the back of my hand across her cheek, "What a great day we had! I love you! I promise we'll do it again tomorrow. Sleep tight. God ... I love you!"

At the door, just before switching off the light, I blow her a kiss.

She blows one back ... and laughs as the darkness comes.

I like to think that 40 years ago when my son was born it was like this but ... it wasn't.

I was too busy.

Don't get me wrong! Jeremy and I share a thousand adventures doing things together long passed when Fathers and Sons hang out together.

Kristen comes two years later and she and I had a remarkably close relationship where the pinnacle was when I left her mother for a new life and ... our daughter came with me.

Eight years later Chelsea's born and happily ... at least I prefer to believe it was happily ... co-existed in two different homes, equally splitting time between her Mother and Dad ... though in the end it's her Mom she focuses on almost exclusively.

I know I romanticize their childhood ... my Fatherhood ... and our years together.

I was young, ambitious, determined ... hungry for success which came quickly ... the world became my oyster and ... well, lots of energy that could have gone to my kids went to the world and each oyster I consumed.

Now they're gone, living their own lives and Jeremy and I talk a lot ... though he's busy with his family and a College teaching career so he's awful busy ... you know "the cat's in the cradle with a silver spoon" and all that.

My daughters though ... we don't talk as much.

They're busy with their own lives too but ... but ... the waters don't flow easily under the bridges.

It's harder when we're together ... for them accepting the realities of me now ... and for me not believing we aren't like we were then.

God blesses me with Sarah ... against all odds ... and she's got three girls of her own who are suddenly at least part my life too.

Have you ever watched a blender do it's work?

I'll make it easy ... open a blender ... toss in ice cubes ... tequila ... lime juice ... syrup ... salt ... things that normally never go together and ... hit the Puree command.

You ever stare at a blender while it works.

It's a violent machine.

Chopping wildly, eating away the sharp edges, taking the different and making them one ... something new ... and ... a Margarita is born!

It's the same blending a family.

Sarah, the girls and I live in the blender.

It won't stop until the girls leave and live their own lives away from us and I already wonder what it will be like then ... who will we talk with most ... which one will no longer need us ... where they'll live ... who they'll become?

Che too!

Every single day I see her change ... hair's thicker and longer ... she does things she didn't yesterday ... her face is every changing, ever growing ... she manages more ... and needs me less.

There's a saying I've always loved ... and believe to be absolute truth ... "When your child takes it's first step ... it's away from your arms."

Damn that's true!

And if you think it out to it's logical conclusion ... that first step leads to others ... each taking her further away ... until she arrives at ... who she is.

Let's be honest ... each of us did the same thing to our parents.

I was a Mama's boy with a Father who challenged me ... he often bordered on bullying ... just as he had been bullied by his parents ... until I finally broke away and ... initially they're horrified at who I become ... but I had success ... so they clung onto that when they could no longer cling to me.

"Tell them what you do," my Dad orders one night at a table full of his friends ... when I'm home visiting ... and my Father's proud as he can be on the one hand ... with no real understanding of who I've become and little of what I do in the world.

"Honor your Father and Mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you," the Commandment proclaims (Exodus 20:12).

The land the Lord your God is giving you is your own life of course and you should honor the two it took to make you.

As my Dad lay dying it's me he needs most ... not  my brother or sister who listened to him most ... mostly obeyed what he said ... never strayed too far from those first steps away as babies.

Who honored Dad most?

I was the one who left.

They were the ones who stayed.

I'm not saying my brother and sister weren't integral parts of his passing but ... it was me ... the one farthest away from him ... he sought as he made his final decisions in life.

"While Jesus is still speaking his Mother and brothers arrive and send a man in to say they need to see him now.  'Who?' Jesus replies. 'Who is my Mother? Who are my brothers?' ..." (Matthew 12: 46ff).

And Jesus ignores them.

Instead of beckoning to Mama's call, Jesus turns his backs on them, returning his attention to his Disciples and the people he's addressing saying, "Here are my Mother and Brothers! Whoever does God's will is my mother ... my brother ... my sister."

That's rough.

I mean I've turned my back on my parents but ... never said it out loud so they could hear.

Whoever does the will of God ... just like living in the land the Lord God has given you ... it's your own life and how you're living it ... are you becoming you? ... or are you being who others want you to be? ... even if it's your Mom and Dad wanting you to become someone other than who you are.

Here's the funny end to the story.

As Jesus is crucified, his Mom's standing beside him as he hangs on the cross ... and he says, "Behold your son," ... "Look at me Mom!" ... "See who I've become?"

The implied question behind the statement "Behold your son" is ... "Are you proud of me Momma?"

Mary's response isn't recorded.

We have no idea if she's proud or not according to the Biblical record ... though theologians and Preachers have forever answered the question for her ... "Of course, she was proud!" ... "She's the Mother of God!" ... "She the blessed Virgin."

All that came later and maybe it's true.

We don't really know.

What we do know is while still hanging from the cross Jesus says to the same crowd he called his "mother ... brothers ... sisters" ... "Take her as your Mother."

And his dying words are, "Take care of my Mom."

So our Mothers and Fathers give us life but ... it's our life they give to us ... not theirs.

It's one of the points Jesus makes anyway.

And God too, because the land your Lord had your parents give you is your life to live.

It's funny watching my kids lives they're in a land that's no longer mine ... just as where I live and who I am is not my parents place.

I'm already fascinated ... maybe because I've already lived through it once ... where are Maddie, Laurel and Cassidy are going to end up ... who will they become ... will Sarah and I be are part of it.

And Che ... well ... I don't want to think about it too much right now ... because what Sarah and I have right now ... is her ... in the same land ... the same life ... at the same time.

She's already taken her baby steps, gets faster every day ... grows stronger ... smarter ... confident.

One day Sarah and I are going to let her go and she won't come back.

She'll be living her life.

Just like our parents learned when we took off to live ours.

Just like God gave us life ... our life to live ... not anyone else's ... ours!

Behold your son!

Behold your daughter!

Behold yourself!

Behold this life!


Micheal Elliott
March 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thanks Dicky

I have no idea who Dicky Trotter is but he's invited me to lunch on his dime at the Liberty Street Fresh Market with an outside restaurant.

I'd always meant to check it out but never had and here's my chance.

Arriving the stocky jovial man meets me, gives a tour, instructs me to get anything I want and we take heaping plates of fresh cooked vegetables with mason jars of sweet tea to an table under a tree.

"You probably have no idea why I invited you to lunch," he muses as though sharing a joke with himself.

"You'd be right," I answer popping fried okra in my mouth.

Nodding his head with mischievousness eyes, he looks away for a moment and goes through the motions of blowing a smoke ring from an imaginary cigarette ...  the silence hangs.

We're the only ones eating outside on a hot Savannah day.

The roar of traffic on Liberty Street is intermittently timed with the Red Lights.

"Let me get you some more tea," he finally says, standing and grabbing my jar.

It's a terrible time in my life.

A thirty year career is blowing up around me ... I'm "suddenly single" ... living alone ... desperately trying to hold onto things that simply aren't there anymore ... uncertain of what to do next.

Placing the fresh jar of tea in front of me, he forcefully states, "I want to thank you."

I stare at him.

"You have no idea why," he laughs.

Shaking my head, his face radiates as he's obviously enjoying the moment, as though it's been rehearsed a thousand times in his head.

"For I was stranger and you took me in," he grins ... quoting Jesus.

"I was homeless and stayed at the place you ran ... we met a couple of times but you don't remember ... no reason you should ... I was in pretty bad shape ... but here I am now and ... I need to say thanks."

And Dicky gives me a lightness at that moment I hadn't felt in years.

We keep up after that.

I left the work.

He did too making his way to Tybee Island, first living in an apartment where he hosted "Fried Egg Sandwich" night to meet his new neighbors.

Sarah and I are there.

Then he found the boat so we rang him up asking if we can bring lunch.

Subs from Tybee Market carried us through a lovely afternoon on his boat though ... his damn cat Noir isn't everything Dicky made him out to be ... and Sarah's starting a Book Club and Dicky wants to attend and bring his friend Jan Elders.

Dicky never read a single book though he brought the most fantastic food which earned him a pass.

The Book Club fell apart and we saw each other only by happenstance.

He starts Dicky Trotter Promotions posting everything that's anything happening on the island.

"It's a good day to do good things becomes his mantra."

The last time we talk is October when I asked if he'll promote a Bar Church service we're having on the Beach to thank God for sparing Tybee Island from another Hurricane.

"Of course," he says ... and does.

You know how you hate it when people you really like die?

Yeah ...

I understand it's illegal to permanently live on a boat in the state of Georgia but Dicky Trotter somehow pulled it off which, of course, make us all love him more.

So ... hey Buddy ... it's my turn to say, "Thanks" ... for giving me some light in a very dark time ... for delighting my wife with the culinary creations you brought ... and for living on that boat right up until you died.

Your story goes on.

Just like you do somehow.

I don't know how.

Like living on that boat all those years.

The Long Way Home

Forty years ago sometimes seems like last night.

It had been an awful day.

I spent the morning and early afternoon in back-to-back-to-back classes beginning at 8 am and ending at 2 on a glorious sunny afternoon I barely saw because I was in the Library ... remember those? ... until 4 when I arrive at my job.

Storming through the heavy metal rear door, I leave the grittiness of a shopping mall back lot full of dumpsters to enter a state-of-the-art kitchen.

On my left Mitch Wesley's already washing large pots and dishes from the prep Audi, the large former women's Olympic Gymnastics coach for Germany had dirtied, sat to my right smoking a cigar, drinking a Heineken under a wild mess of snow white hair.

Audi looks like a clean shaven Santa Claus.

I mutter greetings, enter the bath room and change into a white shirt, black pants, red socks and black shoes and a red vest.

Exiting, I'm greeted by Audi's wife, the Wicked Bitch of the West.

She'd surpassed Witch status decades earlier.

"Hallo Michael," she evilly smiles taking the long black string and magically transforming it into a Bow-tie around my neck.

"Ve shalt be busy tonight so you must be at your best." she grins patting my chest with both hands each finger adorned with diamonds before returning to the restaurant.

Turning I look at Audi and grimace.

Grinning, he nods his head so I grab a crystal stein, stumble to the tap on the refrigerator wall, fill it with Heineken, immediately drink half, refill it and stand between Audi and Mitch.

"How is she?" I ask.

Audi puffs on his cigar and shrugs his shoulder so I look at Mitch.

"It's bad," he explains from behind a mountain of soap suds.

"Vat das von do?" Audi sighs draining his beer, filling it again from the same tap, clicking his stein to mine and we both drink.

A soaking wet Mitch exits from behind the soap suds faces us for a moment, makes a face and quickly fixes a plate of Bratwurst, dark bread and real butter.

I throw a hand full of spatzle into a frying pan with mushrooms, chopped onion, diced ham and bell pepper ... after it cooks I cover with Mozzarella and bake before garnishing with hot paprika.

Mitch gets a Pepsi from the counter and we eat quickly as the first customers arrive.

Within minutes, he's submerged in soap suds as Audi frantically works the stove and ovens as I take orders rushing back and forth from the 8 tables in the restaurant and the kitchen.

The only one moving slowly is Marlene ... the Wicked Bitch of the West ... Audi's wife and owner of Keinle's German Delicatessen serving fine European food, excellent Beers and the richest wines.

She greets and seats and takes their money when all's said and done.

Forty satisfied customers later, she happily counts cash and credit card receipts while Audi lights another cigar and sits as I haul dirty dishes to Mitch before gathering filthy linens and resetting the tables for the next night.

At some point, Audi hands me another beer.

Taking Seminary far more serious than me, Mitch doesn't drink leaving Audi's uncertain how much to trust him.

On a table beside Mitch is a large container where he's been instructed to empty the fine meat leftovers for Marlene's dogs ... things he and I aren't allowed to eat ... as employees we only get the cheaper cuts.

"How ya doing?" I ask Mitch who's drenched in sweat and soap suds.

"It's a night," he sighs.

I spit a big loogie into the container of fine meats for the dogs.

Mitch laughs.

Audi does too.

Marlene enters with a bag full of money, grabs the container, smiles curtly and leaves us to finish up.

"I gotta go," Mitch says grabbing a coat. "Paper due tomorrow," he explains rushing out after he watches the Wicked Bitch of the West drive away.

"Vant a-not-ter von, Micheal?" Audi asks, not wanting to rush home to his wife.

"Nah," I sigh. "It's a long way home."

Home is a crappy apartment twenty minutes away where my son and his mother are already asleep.

Audi embraces me as I turn to leave.

I love the man.

He loves me.

Our common bond is hatred of his wife.

It's cold outside so I stick in Jimmy Buffett music and take Interstate 265 to bypass the North end of Louisville to get to the South side where my son sleeps in the crappy apartment.

Then I don't know what happens ... it's one of those moments when I seem to be at the Exit in no time ... how did I get here so fast? ... it was one of those trances we sometimes fall into where we drive but are somehow not completely there at all ... almost like an out-of-body experience except I'm obviously still there driving.

I don't want it to end so ... I keep going.

Buffett's normally soothing songs aren't doing it so I hit eject and ... Super Tramp erupts from the speaking agreeing with me to ... "Take the Long Way Home."

I don't know remember how many times I drive around Louisville on Interstate 265 that night ... but it was several ... the bright lights of the city on one side ... the dark star lit expanse of Kentucky bluegrass on the other ... I just went round and round ... heading nowhere.

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted ... after fasting for 40  days and 40 nights he was hungry ..." (Matthew 4:1-2).

Here's the dangers of going to Seminary.

You learn things it could be better off not knowing.

God led Jesus to be tempted ... that just doesn't sound right does it? ... but sure enough it's God kicking it off the temptations.

Forty (40) days and 40 nights just means a long time ... it doesn't mean anything else ... it could have been half-an-hour before Jesus got hungry ... it doesn't matter ... he just got hungry.

The Devil shows up ... "Satan" in Hebrew which means "the Adversary" ... not a horrible monster wheeling in death and punishment but ... someone taking the opposing view ... and advises Jesus on how to eat ... nothing more sinister than that ... those Jesus takes issue with it.

By far the most interesting thing, though, is ... it's the "wilderness" Jesus is led into ... follow me here ... in Hebrew there's only about 200 words ... none of them have vowels ... a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y were added by Scribes later ... and depending on where they put the vowels give us the particular word ... the same Hebrew word can mean lots of different things.

The same Hebrew letters that spell "wilderness" also spell the word "word" ... or "speaking" ... or "thing."

If you study it long enough you come to conclude that "wilderness" means "the speaking place."

So God leads Jesus to the speaking place ... away from everything ... so they can talk.

Satan shows up with God and Jesus gets lots of advise ... mostly to take care of himself first ... though Jesus doesn't seem interested in anything other than actually conversing with God.

The Satan disappears.

God speaks to Jesus.

Jesus talks to God.

They reach an understanding.

That night in Louisville on Interstate 265 I was driving through the Wilderness ... where you can find yourself most anytime ... most anywhere ... Super Tramp's blaring on the speakers ... God's definitely got things to say ... and I'm in the right place to listen.

"It's all getting ready to change," God's saying.

"I'm ready," I answer. "I'm ready for different."

And just a little while later, everything changes.

The funny thing is I knew it was going to because ... I don't know ... I just did ... I think it was God ... it could have been Super Tramp ... but I don't think it was ... it was God and me having a moment.

I'm not where I was supposed to be ... doing what I'm supposed to be doing ... and that's often the way it is ... you have to break out of the ordinary to hear God ... not be where you're expected ... taking the long way home ... surprisingly putting yourself in a position to listen.

The ancient Israelites wandered around the wilderness for 40 years before they finally made it to the Promised Land.

That's a Hell of a long time ... but ... in the end they make it ... and I think the reason it took so long is because it's hard enough for one person to get to the point where they can have a moment with God ... add a bunch of others and it's bound to be more difficult.

Jesus' time in the wilderness was "only" 40 days and nights as opposed to 40 years ... a mere drop in the bucket of time ... but he seemed ready for the moment, even in spite of Satan's distractions ... whereas the Israelites took the time to explore each and every one they encountered.

Within days of taking the long way home, a tiny, broken down Church in the inner city of Louisville lost their collective minds and bullied me into becoming their minister ... seriously I was bullied by 5 little old ladies, once with a butcher knife ... and in a moment of quiet after much argument ... I said, "Yes" ... everything about my life changed.

Mitch was the first person I called for help and he brought his guitar and we made music for the sad souls who came.

I left the restaurant a short time later and, after one last beer with Audi, I never returned.

We moved from the crappy apartment for a really nice one in the city's worst neighborhood.

The tiny little Church took off ... taking me with it.

"And it was good,"  as God says when in the midst of creating something new.

So next time you find yourself brooding over a beer with a three mile stare ... or seemingly lost in thought when there's not a one in your head ... that crazy half asleep/half awake state when dreams are still real and reality is foggy and misty ... or you suddenly find yourself at the Exit way before you could have imagined and you decide to take the long way home ...

It means you're ready to listen and perhaps hear something far bigger than yourself.

You're in the wilderness.

And if you make yourself ready, God's ready to speak some words just for you.

Micheal Elliott
March 2018

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Angelic Evaluations

"How's the baby?" she asks erupting into a fit of coughing as she's hacking up a lung and her body shakes so much the dirty robe slips off her left shoulder exposing her breast.

I wait until she finishes.

As I start to speak she holds up her left hand, ignoring the pasty white exposed flesh, takes a drag from her cigarette and a long swig from a tall boy Pabst Blue Ribbon, then she spits pieces of her lung into the yard.

"Che's fine," I say.

"I know," she slurs, chasing the beer with a bourbon.

"Then why'd you ask?"

"Just being nice," she grins finally pulling the robe back over her shoulder.

I understand her already knowing though I'm completely confused that she's being nice.

It's been a long time since my Guardian Angel has shown up and she looks the same ... like she does meth and could die at any moment.

She claims she was once a beautiful Angel and I did this to her.

"A beautiful child," she coughs erupting into another fit.

The pasty white breast pops out again.

"What do you want?" I demand.

A mouthful of stained yellow teeth flash a grin.

"It's annual evaluation time and I need you to put in a good word for me," she says matter-of-factly while wiping snot on her dirty sleeve.

"I haven't seen you in over a year."

Irritated, she thrust her lit cigarette at me and barks, "And why do you think that is Sherlock?"

"I figure Jimmy Cochran's kept you pretty busty."

My Guardian Angel only has two assignments ... me and Jimmy.

"I haven't seen him in a while either. His mother keeps him straight and it frees up my time to concentrate on the things I want to."

"Like what?"

Spitting a loogie that just misses my head but hits the cat feeding next door, she takes another drink before answering, "None of your damn business."

"Did he give you one?"

"OF COURSE HE DID," she yells. " Jimmy's scared shitless of me."

"I dunno," I say picking up "Mr. Brown can Moo, Can You?" a book Che's ripped off the last page, "it's hard to give you a reference if you haven't done anything."

"Listen, I've saved your ass a thousand times!"

"That's true. I wouldn't be here without you and you wouldn't look like you do with me ... let's make it an honest recommendation. Here ... heal this book for Che and I'll say the prayer."

If looks could kill I'd be long gone but ... an index finger with dirt under the fingernail touches Mr. Brown and the back page is restored.

"Dear God," I say with my eyes closed, "thank you for my Guardian Angel. I don't know what I'd do if you ever took her away. Amen!"

She takes a drag from her cigarette.

"Aren't you going to say thank you?"

"Go to Hell," she snaps disappearing and then in the distance, I faintly hear, "Really is a beautiful baby."

Monday, March 5, 2018

Music Heals (most Sundays)

I didn't want to do Church last week.

It's not the same as going to Church because that means I'd simply show up and either enjoy, or not, whatever happens.

When I go it's a shitload of work.

Arriving, I turn off the alarm in the Bar, cut on the Beer lights, unload the equipment, move tables and Bar stools, hang a sign out front, set up the sound system, test it out, make sure my guitars in tune and ... wait on the musicians to arrive so I can tell them how great they are for coming.

Musicians are funny people ... most have talent.

They arrive ... plug in ... and start playing.

If more than one arrives at the same time it obviously means I'm hearing more than one song at the same time.

Musicians prefer to play whatever they believe to be their best song of the moment ... usually something they've just written or learned ... and they need the positive feedback they've already given themselves for (a) writing a really great song, or (b) doing the greatest cover of a really great song ever!

My job is to give them thanks.

It's a non-paying job ... though in fairness the musicians aren't being paid either ... rather coming to have an audience  ... or in rare cases ... give glory to God for the music in them.

Sometimes it's just crap.

Sitting there listening, on a Bar Stool because I mostly function as the the "Master of Ceremonies" ... not the minister ... or a fellow musician ... but as the one who delivers a weekly audience for musicians in need ... I listen and put things in some sort of order and, after throwing in a prayer, some words and a story of two ... a worship service is born.

Most Sunday's it's great!

And sometimes I get to play rock star too though I know ... somewhere deep inside anyway ... that's not what it's about ... but I also know ... deep inside somewhere ... music heals ... and God knows the world needs more healing ... which is why a choir of Angels announced the birth of Jesus ... and not political kingmakers.

So these egocentric musicians show up demanding a sound system to plug into, a ready made audience ... er, I mean congregation ... and share their music believing with everything in them they put choirs of Angels to shame.

But ... there's this miracle that occurs every Sunday ... the music heals ... someone.

Even the shitty stuff seems to touch.

The musicians don't know.

The performance ... er, I mean the worship ... is over and they're rushing home to write the next song, conceive the next cover, rest up for the next performance or tell choirs of Angels they can open the next show.

But I hang around, unplugging the sound system, taking down the sign out front, putting the speakers away, moving tables and chairs back in place and turning off the beer lights.

As I do these things, people come up to tell me ... not them ... how much the music meant ... and they found some healing to hold onto ... and they hope it happens again next Sunday.

Who knows?

Maybe it will.

More often than not, it does.

In spite of who the musicians are.

But because of the music somehow.

It's powerful stuff.

Likely the most powerful way God could conceive to announce the birth of a Savior.

How to Open the Door

Maddie our sixteen year old who knows everything ... if you don't know something, it can be anything, and need to know, just come by and ask our daughter ... she knows ... is taking the SAT to get in College.

Let me just say Maddie made 1200 the first time she took her College Entrance Test and when I was her age I had to take it twice to make that ... 600 both times.

I didn't do all that great in High School ... having too much fun enjoying everything about it ... and was completely unprepared for anything when I graduated.

When the time comes, all my friends received "Letters of Acceptance" and are greatly excited about leaving home for school.

Not a single College writes me.

I was sad at being left behind ... missing out on what my friends were enjoying ... at my Mother's disappointment ... and my Father's sneering words, "You're not going to amount to anything without an education."

So I got in the car and drove to a College an hour away, knocked on a Dean's door, was invited in and talked myself into getting admitted.

All sorts of contingencies were applied but I still remember the satisfaction of throwing my acceptance letter on the kitchen table that night and telling my Dad, "Guess I'm going to amount to something after all!"

"Ask and it shall be given to you ... seek and you will find ... knock and the door will be opened for you" Jesus explains in a rambling discourse in Matthew's Gospel which is mostly about not listening to idiots while remaining focused on what you want most in life.

"May I help you?" the young, pretty Intern asks as I enter the tiny waiting room cluttered with two massive oak desks, several occupied chairs and three walls full of photographs, plaques and mementos.

"Yes, I have an appointment to see the Congressman," I reply giving my name.

Pretty brown eyes dart through a calendar and then darken. Immediately her face tilts to a computer screen and grows even darker.

"I'm sorry Mr. Elliott ..."

"Rev," I interrupt. "It's Rev. Elliott."

"Oh," she exclaims. "I am so sorry. Rev. Elliott but I can't seem to locate you on the schedule. Who did you make the appointment with?"

On the either side of the small room are two doors ... one is the Senator's office and the other is a Conference Room. The Senator's office door is closed but the conference room door is open and in front of a table sat another desk with a name plate with a name on it.

"Steve Green," I say. "He told me I'd be squeezed in according to my availability."

"Oh," she exclaims again. "Yes, sir Rev. One moment please," and she picks up the phone to announce me.

A few minutes later I sit in front of Congressman Lindsay Thomas.

Later I learn Steve Green is Lindsay's Chief of Staff ... and months after that I finally meet the man and he he laughs and says, "Oh I know who you are Micheal. You pulled a fast one to get inside the Congressman's door."

"It was important," I tell him.

"It always is," he laughs.

At the time, getting in front of the Congressman was one of the most important things in my life!

It had something to do with my work but for the life of me I have no idea what it was.

It's funny that years later, Lindsay and I became friends, hung out on the beach together, drank some beers and swapped stories.

Steve became a member of my Board of Directors.

"For everyone who asks receives ... the ones who seek find ... those who knock get in," Jesus goes on to say.

Truth be told, I've never had much of a problem asking for things or getting inside of closed doors.

Others have a difficult time asking for anything ... they're too proud, arrogant or embarrassed ... so they never ask ... don't go looking for something other than what they've got or who they are ... and haven't knocked on a door ... much less been let inside.

Ask ... Seek ... and knock is the advice Jesus gives.

"And it's true," George Harrison said, "if you want to know anything in this life, you just have to knock on the door, whether that be physically on somebody else's door and ask them a question or, which I was lucky to find, is the meditation {that} ... it's all within."

I know ... I know what you're asking yourself ... "He seriously quoted George Harrison after Jesus?"

Well, yeah. I did.

The former Beatle was a man who never stopped asking ... seeking ... or knocking on doors to find better answers ... enlightenment ... and satisfaction.

After knocking on and gaining entry to every door that interested him, he actually looked forward to dying ... so he could hurry and get on to the answers of life's bigger questions.

If you think about it, it's why we bother to come to Church.

We're asking questions about our lives ... seeking answers we don't have ... and knocking on Heaven's Door by gathering for some safety-in-numbers security that ... it okay to ask ... to seek ... and to knock.

Most people don't.

They accept the status quo ... opting to meet the expectations of others ... work hard to fit in ... follow the rules, laws and Commandments of the land ... dress according to societal norms ... and live pretty much like everyone else.

It's why the world doesn't like those of us who ask questions without easy answers.

It's why those seeking new things, ways, answers or lifestyles are shunned.

Worst of all are those knocking on doors to enter and implement new answers, living new ways and expecting so much more than what we've got.

I stood knocking on the door of an abandoned building in the part of town dubbed "The OK Corral" because that's where everyone went to get what's need to shoot themselves up.

It was late in the day so buildings blocked the sun and shadows fell on the building that was built as a Doctor's Office when those who could pay still lived in the neighborhood ... then it became home for a group of Nuns who started a Catholic Worker House to love the people left behind.

They ran the Nuns off and the house sits empty.

No one answers my knock so I push the door and it opens.

It's black dark inside but I am determined, stepping in and begin groping my way towards light emulating from the other end of a long narrow hall.

I have to tell you I was scared silly but ... this was important ... so I made slowly made my way ... until I got to the room where the light was coming from and step inside ... to find two men crouched in a corner cooking crack!

I scare the daylights out of them.

They scare the daylights out of me!

Everyone takes off running in opposite directions.

When I got away though it was with the conviction it was the right place.

The next day I called the owner living in Miami Beach and ask him to allow a year's lease rent free if we renovate the building and purchase the property within three years.

"Why should I?" he fires.

"It's a crack house now but we want to turn it into a place for healing ... targeting people who have AIDS."

He said lots of things in response but he never said "No."

Seven months later ribbons were cut opening "Phoenix Place", the state's first residential healing home for people, at the time, dying from AIDS.

Here's the thing though.

If you're brave enough to ask then you have to be crazy enough to seek answers you're probably unprepared to get.

If you're willing to seek new ways of living with answers you've found then you have to embrace the fact they're your answers and nobody else's.

If you're going to knock on a door, you damn sure better be prepared that it might open and you'll be invited inside.

So if it's money you want, ask for it. Seek it with everything inside of you. Knock down the doors keeping you from it. You'll get it if you do these things.

If it's sex or romance or companionship ... ask, seek and knock ... you'll find yourself with someone.

If it's fame and acceptance ... ask for it ... chase it ... knock down the doors and people in your way of obtaining it.

Understand though it never ends.

Once you ask, seek and knock on the door to get what's most important to you ... then what do you do?

You start over asking, seeking and knocking on the door of something bigger and better.

It's a life time of upward spiral asking ... seeking ... knocking on bigger doors.

It's not about God giving you what you want.

It is your need to ask, seek and knock down whatever's in your way to be at the place you need to be.

It's not pleading with God to give you all the answers.

It is all about your need to ask ... seek ... knock ... because this is what faith ... and life ... is all about and if you're not questioning ... searching ... or entering unknown places then you're not really living and it's in the living where God is found.

I think this is one of the things Jesus is saying as his bounces all over the place to make a point ... if it's God you're asking for ... seeking ... knocking ... block out the distractions and keep knocking ... even when your hand  hurts from the repeated pounding ... even when you stop believing anyone's there to answer ... even though you you're so damn tied of knocking ... and people are making fun of you ... because if you do ... that door's going to open one day ... and it could be today.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Island Faith

"No religion is an island,"  said Rabbi Abraham Heschel, and that may be true but I guarantee you that an island is a religion.

On Tybee Island there are four organized, traditional Churches ... Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist ... with buildings, stained glass, pulpits and three of the four have parking lots.

For the most part they keep to themselves, not bothering anyone, doing the things mainline ... not mainland ... Churches do ... conducting worship, studying Scripture, forming choirs, offering community, fellowship and warning visitors to obey the speed limit or they will be ticketed ... of that there is no doubt!

Annually the four mainline, not mainland, churches get together and sponsor an Easter Sunrise Service on the Pier. It's very popular with hundreds driving to Tybee in the dark to watch the sunrise while a service is conducted in front of it before everyone races to line up at the Breakfast Club and give thanks.

The Churches are to be commended for pulling this off every year and have gotten along famously except for one year when the Baptist pulled out, holding their own sunrise service in their parking lot. Nobody remembers why the Baptists pulled out and everyone's long since forgiven everyone else and the service on the Pier goes on these days without a hitch.

They are not, however, the only Churches on the island.

There's also Bar Church.

It doesn't have a building, stained glass, a pulpit or a parking lot.

It does have a Bar ... which unfortunately is closed during the service because Georgia Law mandates no drinking on Sunday's until 12:30 when most Church services are over so several in the congregation come packing.

There's a lot of rock-and-roll, country and old fashion Gospel music at Bar Church played in front of a pool table converted to a banquet table and all the beer lights are on so we can see which draws tons of tourists looking for a beer or Bloody Mary. They're stunned, of course, to learn the bar's closed, it's church going on and astonished, wondering whether to walk out immediately or slowly ease out without anyone noticing.

There's other religions on Tybee too ... yoga on the Beach ... Native Americans ... Witches ... Moon watchers ... Beachcombers ... and fishermen and women (which is a religion in and unto itself) ... agnostics and atheists.

The miraculous thing is everybody mostly gets along ... especially if someone gets sick or a tragedy occurs ... then you've never seen giving, sharing, community, fellowship and love that borders on Heavenly.

Islands transcend religion, it seems and, well ... maybe that's why you can take all of our religions and stuff them in a Whelk shell and they still wouldn't total the Garden of Eden and those of us doing our very best to live here.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Would Jesus Go To Church?

Like most good Southern boys raised in Southern families in the 1960's, I grew up in the Church ... and yeah ... it was as Southern as Baptists can get which turns out to be pretty southern since the Church was born when it split from northern Baptists over the question, "Is it Biblical to own slaves?"

Northern Baptists said, "NO."

Southern Baptists answered, "Who needs you!"

And that's how the Southern Baptist Convention was born.

The First Baptist Church of Port Wentworth, Georgia had a Sunday morning and a Sunday evening service ... an organ and a piano ... an adult choir and a youth choir ... revival twice a year ... Wednesday night prayer service ... a pot luck supper once a month ... and a firm belief it was the gathering God most preferred.

Of course the Catholic and Methodist Churches believed the same thing.

The black Churches didn't count.

Churches were the cornerstone of growing up in a Southern factory town where we were taught to love Jesus, read the Bible, sing praises to the Lord, pray and know with absolute certainty God is watching ... everything!

God's watching more as adolescence unfolds and admiration of the opposite sex blossoms.

We grew up scared of going straight to Hell if we ever crossed that line ... though a few of us were always willing to take the chance.

Making it worse was the best looking girls in Port Wentworth were all Baptists and a few were always willing too ... and we all believed Jesus was going to come back just before that moment when we reached the Promised Land.

We grew up scared of the Lord and praying like Hell he wouldn't come back until we'd thoroughly explored the land of milk and honey.

The great St. Augustine, who much of modern Christian theology is derived from, once prayed, "Lord keep me from having sex but ... not yet."

In spite of the bad theology he developed, which many Churches are built upon today, it's hard not to appreciate the man for the honesty of this prayer.

And it was the 60's.

The Beatles are on Ed Sullivan, free love is for the taking, Playboy's in Cowart's Drug Store, America's waging unjust war and black Churches are unleashing a Civil Rights movement as leaders are assassinated like it's a third world country.

I remember praying with everything inside of me Rev. Johnson, our minister at the First Baptist Church of Port Wentworth, will shut the Hell up so I'll be home in time to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

The conflict living in the Church and the excitement of the times left me in perpetual conflict.

Like St. Augustine, after I got my fair share of sex out of the way, I gave myself to the Lord and went to Seminary and threw myself into the Church.

It was wonderful ... for a while.

We were young zealots, intoxicated on Jesus and loving the world to salvation, pure and chaste ... until one day it got old ... we grew older ... we sobered ... in spite of our efforts the world kept going to Hell ... we were no longer pure ... certainly no longer chaste.

The Church had a lot of cracks.

After trying to fool the Lord ... perhaps ourselves ... we realized we're no better than anyone else.

We drank, cussed, danced and chewed ... we lusted ... had sex outside of marriage ... ignored things going on around us ... judged with a harshness beyond belief ... believed we were better somehow than others.

It didn't crumble all at once ... no Church does ... people merely left one by one ... though the stones remained in place ... because no one was left to throw them.

It's why most Churches are empty buildings during the week ... partially filled with some holding on when Sunday rolls around ... perhaps filled on Christmas or Easter ... it became a place ... and not an life.

Today's Church is graying they say, meaning old folks go ... not old folks like me but people who are stuck in the past wanting things to be like they were ... and not like they are ... meaning they want to remain as they were ... and not become who they are.

It begs an obvious question.

If fewer and fewer attend Church, what would Jesus do?

I mean would he be graying with the rest of 'em or is he doing something else.

If you read the Gospels and keep up with such things ... I think he's doing something else.

And Jesus sat at the table to eat, and many tax collectors and sinners sat with him and his Disciples ... and a lot of other people too. And the scribes and the Pharisees saw he was eating with them asked, "Why is he eating with these people?"

Jesus answered, "Those who are okay don't need a Doctor ... I don't come to ask things of the righteous ... but of those missing the target. (Mark 2:15-17).

The first thing I get out of this is Jesus likes to eat with people with good stories to tell.

It's important to note the "Scribes and the Pharisees" were the Church people of his day and they made lots of rules and established attendance requirements, creeds, doctrines, Hymnals and a "Zero Tolerance" for sin.

Eating was also not allowed in Church.

It's still not.

Jesus doesn't seem to care for requirements such as these choosing to eat with more interesting people.

Okay, I'm not sure about Tax Collectors.

I don't know Jesus saw in them.

But the fact they have their own category that is separate sinners like me and you says something ... everybody sins but the IRS is even worse than sinning.

Still Jesus prefers these folks rather than people who wear ties on Sunday morning.

I'm also interested in who "the lot of other people eating are with Jesus, the Disciples, tax collectors and sinners.

Let's deduce ... it's not the Scribes and Pharisees, the Church people ... or the Disciples and followers of Jesus ... or Tax Collectors and sinners ... so who are these folks?

It can't be politicians who establish the tax rate or bankers who hold the money once obtained ... and sinners encompass most everything you can think of ... so ... I figure it's people who love to grill, bake, fry, marinate, dip and season ... in short ... "Foodies."

It's possible too that talented people were at the table ... broke musicians with nothing except their voices and whatever their fingers pluck or hit ... lonely folk who need to hang around other lonely people ... even a Silver tongue Devil or two.

So every Sunday, there's some Deviled Eggs sitting there on that Pool Table.

Then Sam Sahr show up with a heavy picnic basket ... Steve brings fresh fruit ... Ricky has doughnuts ... Frank and Karen Kelly who bring things from "Beach View" ... and who know what else?

I think this is the foundation of the Church Jesus prefers.

Food ... sinners like us ... dip shit tax collectors and those make em possible ... foodies ... musicians and smooth story tellers.

Let's be honest ... it sounds more fun than Church.

Jesus was always cool that way.

He still is.

Look around and see for yourself.

If Jesus goes to Church these days where does he go?

You just have to look for the right crowd.

He's in here somewhere.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Foolishly Cool

It's one of those God awful Church experiences when Holiness flees for the hinterlands ... communion's constrained ... Praise turns to pissed off ... and, well ... if the Kingdom Comes on earth as it is in Heaven it drops with a thud ... like that house in the Wizard of Oz taking out the Wicked Witch of the West.

Honestly such things happen all the time.

Simple disagreements fester until they become ... a schism ... a split or division between two or more parties caused by differences of opinion or belief.

There's a lot of great schisms in religious history ... Catholics and the Orthodox ... Protestants and Catholics ... Evangelicals and the Social Gospel ... Southern Baptists and everybody!

It was just a few years ago the Baptist Church on Tybee refused to participate in the Easter Sunrise Service with the other Churches on the Pier hosting their own in their own parking lot!

This one was stupid too ... occurring right here ... in this Bar.

After a couple of years of leading Bar Church from an idea to reality, Sam needed a break and he knew it. Reaching out, he began exploring ways to share the load and eventually turn over the leadership.

Unfortunately none of his efforts pan out ... in part because he's so popular and loved ... but also because he can't quite bring himself to let go.

Then the Sunday came he just can't do it anymore so ... he doesn't.

He'd told a select few he was done and there was a scurry of behind-the-scenes communication attempting to convince someone or another to be present when Sam didn't show.

"You may want to be there with your guitar," is how the message came, "It's gonna shock a lot of people."

And it was.

He doesn't show.

No one knows what to do but, it being a Church and all, several members stand up and share from the Bible ... their hearts ... as they worry about their founder.

During the following days it becomes apparent Sam's not returning.

On the Pier ... on a hot, sticky night almost 20 people gather to talk with my wife Sarah and me about "stepping in and taking charge" for a while.

Honestly it's the last thing we want.

Sarah and I had already been part of Bar Church taking off, first at the Wind Rose, and later as part of the Band at Benny's.

That had been a wonderful and fulfilling time but it had gotten too big so Sam decided to scale back and we were asked to not be part of the music any longer.

It was a bit hurtful and we became occasional "special guests" at Bar Church which suited us fine.

"Will you take it over?" they ask on the Pier that night.

Sam himself had asked me the same thing months earlier as I stroll to the Beach loaded with my chair, music, book and a cooler full of beer.

Pulling beside me in his dirty white van, flashing his million dollar smile, he tells me to get in ... we need to talk ... and he tells me God's calling him elsewhere and for me to take over Bar Church.

"Nope," I reply. "Not gonna do it. Let me out."

Of course he didn't let me out but drives around the island telling me what God had told him I'm supposed to do.

"Tell you what," I say when the beer is gone. "I'll pray about it."

"That's what I'm talking about!" Sam gleefully snaps as he takes me home.

Several months later he leaves and Sarah and I are sitting on the Pier with hot, humid people asking us to do something we really don't want.

And it wasn't as though I was a unanimous or popular choice because I was blogging every day and lots of folks take issue with things I write ... I cuss ... am profane ... and have a reputation full of good and bad.

Still they ask.

"Will you do it?"

Sarah and I look deeply into each other eyes and she gives the slightest of nods.

"Okay," I say. "I'll do it until you find somebody else."

That was almost four years ago.

Obviously I've grown to love and adore this simple little gathering of worshipers in a Bar and in all this time there's really only been one awful moment.

When the schism took place.

Out of nowhere, Sam suddenly wants to return ... not as the leader but ... I'm still not quite certain what he wanted to be ... perhaps the guide but not the one doing the heavy lifting anymore.

Sarah and I do things differently from Sam and over time, his ways are replaced by ours ... and he doesn't like it.

"You have deceived me," he writes.

 Then he calls for a business meeting after Church one Sunday.

We're finishing up the service with "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and Sam's sitting in the congregation dressed in white and I press him to join us on stage. He declines until everyone begs him to ... so he does ... playing the keyboard and singing a verse or two.

Everyone's happy ... wondering if this is the last time our beloved Sam will be in Bar Church, lots of people grab their phone and take pictures as we sing ... and, for once anyway, it was a great ending to a service.

Afterwards, all Hell breaks loose!

The meeting begins and Sarah gives a detailed report on the finances when Sam asks for the floor.

He's angry, speaking loudly and accusatory towards Sarah ... who matches his passion and the two stand confronting one another ... things get out of hand for a moment ... until Davy jump in between the two ... and people call for calm.

Sam storms to the back of the Bar, ranting and raving ... talking about music equipment that's his and not the Church's ... before he finally storms out, crossing Butler and either praying or cursing the Heaven's ... maybe both.

I'd sat quiet through all of this ... much to the chagrin of my wife, whose the one fighting back as Sam's saying not-so-nice things about me.

Let me confess it is not my nature to keep quite.

I've spent most of my years on the attack ... mostly for righteous things ... homeless people, those with AIDS, the sick ... certainly those I love ... but through the years became satisfied my actions were louder than words and fighting typically makes things worse and ... somehow, though I have no idea how ... things work out right even if everything seems wrong.

After Sam leaves, everyone's upset though we try to finish the business meeting he'd wanted and stormed out of, and a feeling of ... "we can get beyond this" ... seems to settle in the Bar.

In the following weeks, many people decide to leave too.

Bar Church is no longer for them.

And Sarah and I work through many feelings about ourselves, giving too much away to others who may not want it, and what is it we're supposed to do.

Since that day, Sam's returned several times, and has always been greeted with open arms, words of thanks for starting our little congregation, and invited to play, sing and say whatever he wants.

And he always takes us up on the invitation.

Sarah rarely attends because of the smoke and our girls though she works tirelessly behind the scenes.

And Bar Church has changed into a revolving congregation mysteriously held together by Mary Nettles ... Sam Sahr ... brave believers willing to search for Holiness in the unlikeliest of places ... musicians who are called to give away their songs ... tourists ... those needing food to sober up ... a few unwilling to give up on religion after Church has beaten the Hell out of them.

People think we're crazy to do this though we stick with it.

But it seems to me that God has displayed us Apostles at the end of the day, and we march like prisoners destined for death row ... we are a spectacle to the whole world ... both Angels and men ... We are fools for Christ' sake ... (1 Corinthians 4:9-10)

These are the words of St.  Paul to Corinth, the greatest of the first Churches which had fallen into fighting factions bordering on splitting up into different congregations ... a great schism!

Paul goes on to say, to paraphrase, "Y'all just and be cool. You're the best thing happening. God loves you. Show it back by loving each other. Keep on keeping on!"

They don't listen to him of course so Paul has to visit and try to straighten things out, which he doesn't so he writes them another letter, which doesn't help either so he returns again ... which apparently is as useless as his first visit ... and scholars say he writes two more letters which no one at Corinth bothered to keep because ... they are fighting ... and enjoying the fights.

Unlike us ... Bar Church simply continues doing what we do ... getting together ... always late ... needing or bringing food ... drinking coffee ... saying "The Lord's Prayer" out loud cause no one can think of a way to improve on it ... grateful for musicians who come to share regardless of their motives ... enjoying the quirkiness of what we do ... laughing at ourselves and sometimes other too ... giving what we can ... not asking for much in return.

Maybe there's been some miffed feelings along the way but I can't recall one fight or challenge to do things different or better.

All of that to say, we've come a long way baby ... though we're not going anywhere or doing anything much different than before ... certainly not by growing ... which seemed to be the major problem at Corinth and most other Churches too.

And today I want to thank God ... and you ... for that!

It's best to not let worship get caught up in the travesties of religion ... as we simply try to mainline with something bigger than ourselves ... with no thought of anything else.

We really do what those first Churches did before they got big and famous.

I hope we keep it this way.

Foolishly Cool!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hunger Pains

We were so damn hungry.

Me ... my three year old son ... one year old daughter ... their Mother.

We had nothing in the cupboards.

There was some rat poison ... pellets really and not even a box ... some wax paper ... and a can of beats ... to this day I remember the can of beats.

"Can you feed this to a one year old?" we asked.

"We need milk," was the answer.

But we didn't have any.

We didn't have a dollar or so for a half gallon of of it either.

There was an eight of a tank of gas in the car though.

We lived in a Church in the middle of the Projects because I was the Pastor and it was a nice apartment ... on the third floor of a three story concrete block building painted yellow/gold.

The bottom floor was a Social Hall, kitchen, clothes closet, food pantry and a really nice gathering room with a sofa only used on Sunday nights for the evening service no one attended.

Yes ... there was food in the Food Pantry and I had a key but ... I wasn't one of those who needed it ... I was the minister ... a Suffering Servant of Christ willing to make my family suffer too.

The second floor held a Sanctuary built to sit 200 so there was plenty of room for the 20 or so who came... a library full of donated books from other Church Libraries ... three offices and four Sunday School rooms.

The top consisted of two apartments ... one large which we lived in ... one smaller ... and three massive Sunday School rooms which were used for storage.

In addition to the Projects, the Church was surrounded by Adult Bookstores, abandoned buildings and homeless people.

We lived there because it was free.

It was free because I was the minister and the Southern Baptist believe poor black neighborhoods should convert to their beliefs and act more white ... so a white minister's needed to lead the way ... and for better or worse, that was me.

The Seminary had taken all our cash and we believed ... prayed really ... the Lord would provide but God's time frame wasn't matching up with the pains in our stomachs.

It's worse when your babies are crying.

And there was nobody to ask because we'd already asked everybody and either they didn't have more to give or we couldn't bring ourselves to ask again.

Pride fuels hunger in all of its manifestations.

So the babies cry, the wife yells, God keeps quiet and I don't know what to do except pile us all in the car and take a drive.

In addition to being a Minister and full time Seminary student, I was the sole waiter at an 8 table German restaurant owned and operated by two old world immigrants who forced me to wear a white shirt, black bow tie, red vest and black slacks ... I looked like a Monkey begging for change working for an organ grinder.

I hated it but the tips were great so I endured the monkey suit 4 nights each week.

Otto and Marlene were a crazy couple, constantly fighting in German, arrogant to customers, derogatory to deliver men and forever belittling the dishwasher and me for ... oh everything.

But, the food was out of this world ... authentic German with no scrimping served with excellent wines and fine European beer ... with a tremendous patronage.

So, I don't know why though it was probably because I had no place else to go, I took my entire family there.

Entering through the rear service door, Otto's drinking beer from a crystal mug, smoking a fine cigar, reading "Der Spiegel, a German magazine and raises his eyes to mine, confusion filling them as he looks at my son ... daughter ...

"Wie Gehts?" he solemnly asks.

How's it going?"

 "Nicht gut," I answer.

Not good.

"Hmmm," he grunts.

"I'm happy so you come by," he says in his crazy English.

"Need you to get rid of things for I before Wicked Witch returns."

The Wicked Witch is his wife, Marlene, but I'm holding my son without a clue of what he's talking about.

Suddenly the big man is a blur of motion in and out of the walk in cooler and in no time is handing me a box full of Sauerbraten, Bratwurst, Spatzle, Red Cappage, German chocolates and Beer.

He grins.

I stand motionless holding my son.

"Ah Scheisse!" he mutters rushing back inside the cooler.

Returning, he hands us a gallon of milk.

At that precise  moment, Marlene enters the kitchen ... long black hair in a red dress with fingers flaunting diamonds ... and is caught off guard with my family holding arms full of food.

"Danke Micheal!" Otto says shoving us towards the door.

"Vat is happening?" Marlene coolly asks.

"Micheal throwing out old food we no use," he snaps more than explains.

German words fly out of her mouth as if fired from a machine gun.

Giving us one final shove through the door we hear Otto's booming voice returns fire with a cannon shot of German words.

We run to the car and drive home as fast as possible.

And we fed the babies and eat.

To this day I love German cuisine.

There's lots of ways to be hungry but the physical pains of being malnourished is perhaps the worst. We say we're starved to death even if we're not really but it feels like it and that scares us to death which is almost the same thing.

It sucks to be hungry.

But it's something we've all shared ... some sadly to extremes.

Sadder still is all of the ways we can be hungry ... certainly for food ... but for company ... understanding ... companionship ... honesty .... truth ... love.

I find it little wonder then that the top requirement to getting into Heaven ... closer to God ... even feeling better about yourself or the world we live in ... is to give a hungry person something to eat.

It's funny because the first requirement of entry isn't loving God or going to Church or doing something magnificent for others ... it's sharing food.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food ... 

After that the requirements pretty much match Maslow's Hierarchy of Need ... thirst ... loneliness ... shelter ... 

It's really sort of cosmic no-brainer isn't it?

Holiness begins with caring for the hungry ... your own and everybody else's.

And if you don't, then there's nothing Holy about you.

It's one of the reasons I love Bar Church serves food during Church!

When I returned to work the next day, Otto greets me with a bear hug and tells me fix me something to eat before the customers arrive.

I do and he helps me cook ... combining spatzle with a scrambled egg, diced onion, fresh mushrooms, diced ham covered in melted Provolone cheese.

He pours me a beer in a crystal glass to wash it down as I eat.

"I'm sorry I caused a fight with Marlene," I mumble eating with a bowed head.

"She's a bitch!" he laughs.

"Hurry up!" he continues, "We have important things to complete tonight."

Just as I finish washing my dishes, Marlene arrives glaring at me and if looks could kill ... well then I'm long dead several times over.

The bell above the front door tinkles as the first customers arrive and Marlene decked in a silk black dress matching her long jet black hair with fingers full of diamonds, rushes out to greet them.

It's a giant party of 16 virtually taking over the entire restaurant.

"What's up first boss?" I ask, willing to do anything at all he wants.

"Grab coat," he grins.

Confused, I do.

"Auf wiedersehan," he whispers towards the swinging door connecting the kitchen to the dining hall pushing me out the service door.

"What are you doing" I ask as he  pulls the metal door shut and leads me where our cares are parked beside the dumpster.

"She handle business tonight."

Otto's the Chef.

I'm the waiter,

Mitch, the dishwasher, called in sick.

That's leaves Marlene hosting, waiting, cooking and cleaning up alone.

Of course Jesus' version of the Last Judgement ends with God saying, "Depart from me  ... Go to Hell ... for I was hungry and you gave me nothing."

There's no great end to this story ... except ... somehow ... it reminds me of Jesus' parables, which have crazy, unexpected endings driving home wild points about ourselves and others.

So Marlene is left to feed an entire roomful of only people who can pay.

Otto takes me to their house where he pour us two beers and, with our stomachs full and happy, we laugh at what we've done.

And I swear to God, somewhere in Heaven they were laughing too.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Let's Do It Again

I was in the Caribbean, of all places, standing with my feet in the aqua-green waters of Orient Bay, when I received the news to return home immediately ... my father's dying.

Easier said than done as airlines no longer give a continental damn about such things so it took me a few days to make arrangements.

In the meantime, bathed in the glorious sunshine of a tropical island, the news was all bad.

Dad was in a coma ... we've almost lost him twice now ... it could be any minute ... HURRY!

Four days later I burst into the room on the forth floor of Candler Hospital and ... there he sat, dressed in a black shirt, black pants, crimson slippers ... staring at his hands ... paying no attention to my Mom and brother standing beside him.

"Hey Dad," I say kneeling in front of him. "You don't look dead."

"Hey Bub," he replies, glancing at me for a long moment before adding, "you look good."

And he has nothing else to say.

Mom and David rush me into the hall to explain how dire everything is.

"He doesn't look like he's dying," I say.

The next day we're back in his room and Dad's again sitting upright, fully clothed, staring at his hands ... the room's dark aside from one light softly glowing above the stainless antiseptic steel sink beside the entrance to the bathroom.

No one's saying much because we're staring at Dad staring at his hands.

The silence is deafening though we hear beeps and buzzes from machines hooked up to patients in other rooms ... Nurses laugh down the hall ... grim, unhappy Doctors deliver good or bad news ... there's groaning and moaning and crying.

The Hospital reeks of antiseptic and death.

"What-do-ya think I should do Mike?" Dad suddenly blurts, still focusing on his hands.

Startled, I literally jump in my seat, see my Mom's staring at me as my brother wants to take charge but Dad's addressing me.

Placing my hand on his knee, staring at his face as he stares at his hands, I ask, "About what Dad?"

He's wringing his hands and it makes me think of Pontius Pilate washing his when Dad's green eyes meet mine as he answers, "I think I'm ready."

The air's immediately sucked out of the tiny room.

Mom gasps placing one hand over her mouth.

David's as still as a statue.

Dad's green eyes have flecks of brown and there's a bit of desperation thrown in but he holds my stare as I ask, "Ready for what Dad?"

His eyes drop and the washing of hands commences again.

"You know," he says staring at them ... "ready."

Sometimes in life, everything stops.

All the hospital noises vanish ... the tiny room is completely silent ... if the world's spinning we can't feel it ... the earth is suddenly formless and empty.

Mom stifles a sob.

"K Dad," I tell him, my hand still on his knee. "If you're ready, we're cool with that."

David almost jumps out of his seat to take my place and speaks in a rush of words.

"Daddy if you're saying you're ready to go be with Jesus, Jesus is ready for you ..." and he says other such things leading up to a closed eyed prayer with Dad who stares at his hands as I stare at my Mom who is crying and can't take her eyes off her husband.

A bit later, Dad's asleep and we're in the hallway,

"The hospital's a horrible place to die," I say matter of factually. "Let's move him to Hospice."

And we do.

Two days later, I sit in the room with him, Dad staring at his hands sitting up in bed, and he asks, "Mike, I heard that when you die ... you ... um ... you mess yourself."

It's the first time he's directly addressed me since the Hospital though I rode in the Ambulance with him as he made the short trek from Reynolds to Eisenhower Street.

"Ummmm," I fumble, completely caught off guard, "yeah Dad. So ... when you die your muscles relax and there's nothing to hold it in."

Silently, without moving, he receives the explanation as I stare at him staring at his hands until he shrugs his shoulder in acceptance and ... that's that!

Over the next couple of days, lots of people come and go and Dad acknowledges some but mostly seems focused on where he's going rather than anything keeping him here.

He waits for me to grab a shower after spending his last night alive with me alone in the room.

Mom arrives with food followed by David and his son Stephen.

My son Jeremy strolls in.

"Something's happening," Stephen, whose already lost his biological father exclaims, and within a minute, Dad leaves the room.

Mom lets out a lone sob from deep, deep inside of the very bottom of her soul.

David jumps up and prays for Jesus to receive Dad.

All of us have our hands on his body.

In no time at all, eight years passes and here I stand.

Dad wasn't especially a religious guy though he served as an Usher for many years in the Baptist Church and those last few years he'd sneak into the next to last pew of the Methodist Church to ... honestly I have no idea why he went ... but he did ... most often alone without Mom.

Dying was something that always frightened him so he hated talking about it, sank into deep depression and drinking bouts should a friend of his pass and really lost it if someone he loved died unexpectedly.

Yet ... there at the end ... he patiently waited on my return from the Caribbean ... was kind enough to let us know he was ready even though we weren't ... worried about the mess he'd leave behind ... it was all quite miraculous somehow.

It was certainly unexpected.

In the kitchen Sarah's placed a photo of Dad very much alive, leaning on an iron wrought staircase in Germany somewhere. He's wringing his hands though he's not staring at them instead focusing on whoever's taking the picture. He's not smiling with the look one gets realizing their picture's being taken and he's not ready.

"Hey Dad, how's the other side?" I ask him almost every day.

He never answers so I don't really know.

But here's what I do know.

My Dad was scared of death but as it came, he got himself ready as best he could, asking for something every now and then but mostly doing it himself ... in his own way.

He asked me for one last bite of ice cream and liked it so much he motioned for more so I fed it to him as he must have fed me once when I was a baby.

Given an honest choice of staying or going, I know he would have rather stayed ... though, those last years it was obvious he was getting tired of everything ... even the things he loved most weren't passionately celebrated anymore ... he gave up lots of things he loved ... his circle of friends grew tiny and tight ... he spent increasingly amounts of time alone.

He made himself so ready that when he died, we weren't all that sad. Don't get me wrong ... it's a bitch losing my Father ... we talked almost every single day ... loved bellying up to a Bar together for cold beers ... Georgia football ... summer and the beach ... cooking and seeing new places and things.

I'd give anything for one more Sunday phone call to dissect yesterday's UGA game.

But he was ready and I supported his decision so, I'm glad he got what he wanted.

It makes me wonder, though, what he was so ready for?

He was skeptical about streets of Gold ... sitting in a choir for eternity singing praises to God struck him as pretty boring ... Lions and Lambs peacefully coexisting meant Bar-B-Que's were likely out of the question ... though I know he'd like to see his Mom and Dad again ... his close friend David ... and his last best friend Billy.

Maybe it was them but ... I've got a feeling ... an intuition if you will ... a hope ... a crazy, inexpiable belief ... a faith if you want to call it that!

"He'll wipe every tear from their eyes," whoever wrote the book of Revelation explains. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away ... He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new."

That sounds a Hell of a lot better than streets of gold, Angelic choirs endlessly singing the same song over and over, undone Bar-b-Que's.

Ah, but the chance to start over! Make everything new! Wipe all the bad from the past away!

What's not to get excited about?

I think Dad was ready for that.

Ready enough to leave everything he ever loved behind ... for the chance to do it again ... but better this time.

"Maybe some day I'll see you again," we sing every Sunday to start this service.

I think so but ... somehow ... I don't know how ... it'll be better ... and thank God ... we'll all see each other  ... and we'll do it again.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Boys in the Bar Church Band

First off there are some women in the Bar Church Band too on occasion ... Kris Nilson, Josephine Johnson and our own Jan, Margaret Lewin, JJ ... and honestly speaking anyone who wants to sing is welcome.

Heath Holly brings lots a of women to sing when he comes though he denies having Harem.

But for the most part, every Sunday it's boys in the band.

Anytime you post a group picture you leave people out so let me begin with an apology to Bob Fulton, Ricky Stokes, Tom Cooler, Chip Zulliger, Thomas Oliver, Tom Freeman, Keith Rea, Joey Solomon, Jimmy Cochran and even founding Bar Church members Davy Cahill, Gordon Hill and Sam Adams ... none of you are in the photo.

It wasn't on purpose.

It  was because I had a spontaneous, perhaps Divine call from God, that we need an album cover.

No other Church has an album cover of their band in a Bar!

Very clearly as Clark Byron tuned his guitar in the middle of Monty Park's song while Tommy Hall figured out the lead, the Lord saith, "Thou Shalt takest a picture of the band after Church with half of you behind the bar and other half in front holding their instruments ... thus saith the Lord."

To which I prayerfully reply, "What?"

Thunder rolls and lightning strikes somewhere in the distance.

"Take a picture of the band!" the Lord snaps.

So we did.

I have to say I like it a lot.

It looks like the Allman Brothers came to Church which is pretty righteous.

I have no idea why the Lord wanted us to do this but SHE did.

It's probably for a poster in Heaven St. Peter can refer to at the Pearly Gates with the warning "NO ENTRY."

Who knows?

I only occasionally question the Lord ... every other minute or so.

But ... when we don't have our head up our asses ... damn we have fun in Bar Church!

And I swear the Lord smiles and people are blessed.

Maybe not!

But for a little while every Sunday morning, we lift as joyful a noise as we can manage, feed the hungry with a Potluck on a Pool Table, drink coffee among other things, eat cake and tap our foot.

And for a minute anyway, no one feels as lost as when they came in.

Except the tourists.