When It All Gets Too Real

I enjoy the great privilege of knowing Dawn Wisner Johnson, of Crumbächer fame for those of you who know your ’80s Christian rock, as a beloved friend. Dawn has a heart that cannot be measured, demonstrated over the years by how she has not only taken care of, but taken in, abandoned and abused kids as freely as animal lovers take in stray cats and dogs. It’s what she does.

Earlier today, she posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday, my family went to a funeral for a young woman who was killed as a result of her being a victim of human sex trafficking. Out of honor to the family of this victim (they are “family” to us), that is all the information I will give at this point.

When I found out this news a few months ago, I was devastated. For the past few years, I’ve been working with, helping, and supporting a non profit – Forgotten Children – headed by my good friend, Paula Daniels. I never thought that this would hit so close to home.

Friends, please take a moment to watch this interview with a victim that escaped. If you don’t have the time to do that, would you “like” this post? The more likes, the more people will see it.

I’m also very sad that when I post on Facebook about human trafficking I may get 5 “likes.” Yet, when I post about my vacations or family, 50 to 100 “likes”. How sad that is to me.

We have many working in this field to change laws and make sure that these traffickers and those “buying” the girls are caught. For that I am grateful. San Bernardino is a leader in this fight because of our district attorney Michael Ramos.

This funeral we attended yesterday was one of the hardest I’ve been to. The young daughter of this victim, wept and gave tribute to her mother. We all cried along with her. It’s time to make a change and get this horrible crime under control in our nation.

Not much more to say, is there.

Love In Action

Kerry Livgren, of the band Kansas and songs “Dust In The Wind” along with “Carry On Wayward Son” fame, recently penned a lengthy muse on Facebook:

Miracles. Everyone has heard of them, some of us have experienced them, perhaps even multiple times. I will enthusiastically confess that I am of the latter group.

The dictionary describes a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” For the less theologically inclined, “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.”

Anyone would have to admit, the Parting of the Red Sea, or Christ feeding the Five Thousand are miraculous events. But how often do relatively minor miracles get overlooked, because they are not so dramatic? Are we embarrassed to mention them, or do we even notice them?

Sometimes we have to notice that a naturalistic explanation of an event is simply not going to work. The evidence is too overwhelming.

I will give you an example, (actually three), from my own life. Although there are many others I could tell you about, and they are MUCH more dramatic, I am going to relate these three because they could so easily be explained as “just peculiar occurrences.”

Guitars. Now what could possibly be miraculous about guitars? Well, I will tell you the tale of three “miraculous” guitars I have owned.

(this segment of the story appeared in the book “Between the Strings” by John August Schroeder)

“Miracle” Number 1: (1991) In 1970, while I was in the first Kansas band, we were touring the southwest. The dryness of the atmosphere around Albuquerque caused the neck of the Gibson SG I was playing to warp beyond playability. It got to be a really serious problem. When we got back home, the band bought me a new guitar—a brand new 1969 Les Paul Deluxe Gold Top.

I played that guitar for years, writing dozens, if not scores of songs on it. It was, in fact, the only guitar I played for many years. When Kansas landed their first major recording contract a little more cash began to fill the coffers, and I decided I needed a new guitar. So I traded in that Les Paul for, of all things, a Hagstrom Swede.

It wasn’t long before I began to miss that Les Paul. It didn’t seem to matter what guitar I played; I always regretted getting rid of it. It’s something all guitarists seem to do sooner or later. Like most guitar players, I have a long list of instruments that I wish I had never gotten rid of. I don’t know why we do that, but we do.

Years went by, and guitars went by, and Kansas achieved its multi-platinum success, and still, I never forgot that Les Paul, even though at that time I could have had any guitar I wanted.

One day in 1991, my wife had gone to visit her parents. Well, I was home alone and it was a beautiful day, so I thought I’d get into my Piper Turbo Arrow and just fly around. We were living near Atlanta at the time, and I “got a wild hair” to fly off to the north west. As I continued, I got the crazy idea to fly on to Kansas and drop in on some of my old friends.

I landed in Topeka, rented a car, and drove down to “Steam Music,” the little music store where we used to hang out. As I walked in the door, a fellow I had known for years who worked there looked at me as though he had just seen a ghost. At that very moment, he was hanging a guitar up on the wall—my old Les Paul. Somebody had come in that day and traded it in.

He began to tell me the story of that guitar since it left my hands, where it had gone, who had owned it. It ended up being stolen in the southwest somewhere, and was recovered by the police. It somehow found its way back to Kansas, and when it came into the store, he immediately recognized it. And so had I.

I had played that thing so much that I literally sweated off the gold top finish. I eventually stripped it down to bare wood. And I knew that serial number; there was no question that this was my guitar. And seeing it again after all those years—and ruing the day I let it go—I told him, “Don’t even hang it up. Don’t even tell me what you want for it. Just sell it to me here and now.”

I put the guitar in my plane and flew back to Atlanta. I sent it up to Ken Hoover, who refretted it got it back into shape. But it’s not leaving again. I suppose it will go in my coffin when they bury me.

“Miracle” Number 2: (2015) I walked over to my ringing phone and picked it up. It was Bob Tolford, and friend from Atlanta. Bob would call periodically, and it was always good to hear from him.

“Hi Bob, what’s up?” He replied that he had just seen our documentary, “Miracles Out of Nowhere.” Then, he said something puzzling. “I was wondering – do you want your guitar back?” he said. Now I have many friends who are guitarists, but Bob was not one of them, so I got very curious about his question.

“You know,” he said, “the one you wrote Dust in the Wind on.”

The silence on my end of the phone spoke volumes. When I came to my senses, I said “What?? You mean you have had that guitar all these years?” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had always wondered what happened to that guitar. Not knowing what a huge hit “Dust” was going to be, I had sold the guitar. It was an Aria acoustic, a mid-price model, and I didn’t even remember who I had sold it to. Later, of course, I regretted that decision, and often found myself wondering where it was, and who had it.

“Are you serious, Bob?” Would you ship it to me? “I’ll do better than that Kerry,” he replied. “I’ll drive it up to you.” Never was Bob so welcome in our house! The legendary Dust in the Wind guitar had returned home.

“Miracle” Number 3: (2016) I drove down to the little Berryton Post Office in order to mail some CD’s that had been ordered, and to pick up my mail. The clerk handed me the day’s mail, among which was a letter to me from one Tony Camardo, from Chicago.

When I got home, I opened his letter and began reading. At first, I just thought it was a fan letter, until he began saying that he had been to one of our shows long ago in Chicago, and that he was the guy who had traded me an old SG for the Les Paul that I was playing at the time. Once again I got very curious.

I remember trading that guitar, but I had traded several guitars back and forth and my memory was not that clear. The memory of the guitar itself was crystal clear, however. It was (another) example of trades that I would later regret.

Just the week before, I had watched our documentary again on VH1-C. The scene that caught my attention was the second Don Kirshner show, where I was playing a Tobacco Sunburst Les Paul – the very guitar mentioned in Tony’s letter. Then, to my astonishment, he went on to ask me it I wanted it back! He was willing to trade it for another guitar.

So I agreed, thanked him profusely, and a week later I had another of my old guitars back!

So are these things miracles? Are they simply instances of exceeding kindness, or are they divine interventions? Perhaps they are just extraordinary circumstances. I have my suspicions, but alas I don’t know. You tell me…

The first guitar Livgren discusses – a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe – is a jumping off point for my own guitar tale.

I start by noting two facts. One, although I am approximately as far back in talent from Livgren as Justin Bieber is from The Beatles, I do have some small amount of musical ability in terms of playing and writing. So there’s that. Second, while the Gibson Les Paul is the second most popular electric guitar in the world, expertly wielded by such guitar deities as Jimmy Page and Slash, there have been multiple models of said guitar over the decades, some more popular than others. The Deluxe, despite its name, is pretty much at the bottom of every Les Paul aficionado’s list. This is due to it using smaller pickups than the Les Paul Standard model, thus giving it less output and a less meaty tone than the Standard and variations thereof. Adding to the Deluxe’s lack of desirability is during its primary years in production (1969 through 1980 or thereabouts) Gibson was owned by a company named Norlin. Despite its music industry origins, Norlin was acquired by an Ecuadorian adult beverage manufacturer that apparently freely dispensed its product to everyone involved in decision making, as the demonstrated knowledge of quality guitar making during its Norlin ownership period was as far removed from a single clue how to go about it as … well, refer the aforementioned Bieber-Beatles comparison. One piece body for best tonality and sustain? Forget it! Let’s do slightly upscale plywood! One piece neck? That’s crazy talk! We’ll glue three pieces together! (To be fair, there are several top-flight guitar makers who prefer multi-piece necks; however in this case it was for cheapness sake as opposed to a quality issue.) And to top if off – literally – we’ll make the headstock bigger, thus making it more likely to snap off if the guitar gets dropped or otherwise jostled! BRILLIANT! Long story short: in terms of desirability and collectibility the Les Paul Deluxe is none of the above.

Naturally it’s my favorite Les Paul model. I love its sound, somewhere in-between the cut and bite of a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster and the traditional humbucker pickup roar of most every other Les Paul. To me, it’s the perfect combination. So, despite its scorned state of being, the Les Paul Deluxe is dear to my heart.

I first owned one in my tenderheaded … er, tender teen years. It was used. (The guitar, not my head.) I had longed after it when it hung for months in my favorite music store, but the price tag was above my reach. Then someone bought it. Then a few month later it returned, definitely the worse for wear. The once pristine wine red finish was in a sorry state, with scratches and gouges a-plenty. Unfortunate, but it did serve one useful purpose: it brought the price down to where I could successfully beseech my parents for the guitar. Soon it was mine. As an added bonus, my Dad agreed to pay to have it refinished, so off it went, returning a couple of weeks later in a beautiful walnut.

Reference the aforementioned tenderheaded uniform of youth I wore. Eventually I traded my Les Paul for a Fender Stratocaster. Not that there is anything wrong with Stratocasters; they are awesome. Unfortunately, the one I acquired was anything but awesome. And someone quickly snapped up the Les Paul. I lamented my decision then, and I lament my decision today. (The Stratocaster has long since been sold.)

Fast forward thirty years. I had been surgically repaired and could once again play guitar; a tale for another time. Anyway, my regret over getting rid of the Les Paul still hung heavy. I had the money to buy one, sort of, and I wanted to rectify my previous error. So off to look for one at my preferred music store … whaddyamean they don’t make the Deluxe anymore? Swell. Okay, let’s look for a used one in good shape.

In the “too soon old, too late smart” department, I decided to scour eBay. Not that there’s anything wrong with buying most things off of the site, but when you are looking at something as personal as a guitar, especially a used one, you’re taking just a wee bit of a gamble. As in a ridiculously big one.

Nevertheless, I plowed ahead. Ah-HA! There were several listed, but one in particular caught my eye. Made in 1976. Natural finish. Professional setup (so the description said). Zillions of high quality photos of every inch of the guitar. Looked clean and sweet. Okay. Take a deep breath and click the Buy It Now button.

Then the guitar arrived.

Three things became rapidly apparent. One, the guitar was in remarkably good condition for having thirty plus years on it. There was some cosmetic damage here and there, but overall it was excellent. Two, the professional setup claim was a bit of a stretch; it immediately required readjustment of most everything adjustable, and there was a problem with the nut that had me slide a small piece of paper in-between one of the strings and its slot in order to keep the string from buzzing. Three, the previous owner or owners had played the guitar a ton. The frets were extremely worn. They also apparently never washed their hands before playing, as both sides of every single fret bore a thick cake of grime. Also, whether it was because of the incredible amount of playing needed to wear the frets down to where they were, or some other factor, the fretboard inlays – like the frets, all of them – had worked themselves out of the fingerboard to where the edges sat just above the wood, with grime caked against all edges. Swell. The guitar was still playable, and sounded wonderful, but it was an uncomfortable mess to play.

I did what I could: clean the fingerboard (which didn’t reset the inlays, alas), replace some broken or worn out plastic parts such as the toggle switch tip. An improvement for sure. Still, a far cry from satisfactory, especially considering the money I had shelled out. The end result was a seldom played guitar and me deciding what to do.

Finally, one day I had my Popeye moment. You know, that’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more? I grabbed the guitar and went to a well-recommended repair shop in San Francisco. Didn’t like the vibe there; for some strange reason being treated like an inconvenience doesn’t warm the cuckolds of my heart. That, and the fact it would be several months before they could even look at my guitar, made it a no-go. So I went to a different well-recommended repair shop where I wasn’t laughed out of the place the moment I opened my guitar’s case and pulled out my mangy mutt.

My original idea was to have the inlays reset flush with the fingerboard and leave it at that. Said idea flew out the window when the main repair guru took one look at the guitar and, after commenting he had never seen inlays working their way out of the fingerboard like that before, said, “You have got to get this guitar refretted. These things are gone.” I reluctantly agreed, choosing the slightly more expensive stainless steel frets over the usual nickel one in order to pretty much guarantee that no matter how much I played the guitar going forward the frets would outlive me. They also replaced the nut and gave everything else the once-over. And, during the initial meeting, carefully went over with me what kind of guitar player I was as far as style so they could select the right size and shape frets to best match my playing. I appreciated that.

About a month passed. Then the call came. Guitar is done; pick it up whenever. So I rushed over. The repairman discussed how, in order to fix the inlays, they had to very carefully remove them all, re-route the fingerboard spots for them, and glue them back in. A bit out of the ordinary, but the results were flawless. I picked up my guitar, played a few notes, and immediately realized this was the best guitar I had ever played. Ever. It was perfect. Took a while to get there, but it was perfect. I’ll always miss my first Les Paul Deluxe, but this one was a more than worthy replacement.

I’ve often wondered about the person or persons who owned the guitar before the Floridian online dealer I bought it from acquired it. The grimy fingerboard aside, they took very good care of it. They obviously loved it. And, they obviously loved playing it. So why did they let it go? A somewhat melancholy thought, given how the the likeliest answers are they were either no longer able to play, or were no longer here to play, this guitar which now resides with me.

And that’s the story of my guitar. Hardly miraculous how it came into my possession. Yet, there is a touch of the miraculous how this particular guitar came to be mine, and how once given the loving care it had been more or less given its entire existence it sprang to life as a truly fine instrument. Sometimes, the least desirable turns out to be the greatest prize. All it takes is skillfully, actively applied love in action. So it is with my guitar.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to practice my playing.

The Nice Guy

(Written for a friend.)

Hey there. You know that guy? Sure you do. We all know that guy. You know … the nice guy.

Great guy, the nice guy. The nice guy is always there when you need him. Need some advice, someone to lend an ear, maybe a shoulder to cry on? The nice guy is there for you. Every time.

But … well, you know. He’s just the nice guy. Nothing exciting. Nothing special. Good guy, sure. Great guy, really. But he’s … well, he’s the nice guy. That’s all.

You don’t hang out with the nice guy: don’t go out for drinks, don’t include him with the gang when you go out for dinner. None of that. I mean, let’s face it. The nice guy isn’t all that exciting. He’s probably got plans anyway, or something to do. No need to ask him to participate.

Wait … what’s that? A date? Are you kidding? No way! The nice guy doesn’t set off sparks. No sizzle. Oh, he’s good for comfort when the boyfriend goes wrong. But to actually be the boyfriend? Are you crazy? He’s just the nice guy. No way could he be Mr. Right. Just no way. Besides, what if you did date him and things went wrong? Who would you turn to? No, can’t risk it. Gotta keep him at arm’s length.

The nice guy will understand when you explain it to him. You’re sure he’ll meet some nice girl someday that’s more his speed. It’s nothing personal. It’s nothing against him. But … well, he simply doesn’t fit into your world like that. Yeah, he could probably make some girl happy. He’s the nice guy. But it’s not you. No, it never could be you.

Still, sometimes you wonder about the nice guy. Every once in a while the smile seems a little forced, the eyes a bit distant. And he does seem to be alone a lot.

Well, he probably prefers it that way. He’s fine. Of course the nice guy is fine. Isn’t he always the first with the quip, the first one there for you when you need someone? He’s fine. We all have our off days. He’s fine where he is. He must get his happiness from helping others. He must be fine. He’s the nice guy.

Although come to think of it, don’t see him much anymore …

I’m Not OK, Who Cares If You’re OK

A phrase oft heard during any given sporting event where the heavily favored team finds itself on the score’s short end is “the other team practices too.” Meaning: nothing is a given and no matter how talented, or better on paper, someone or a collection of someones is than the competition, if you dismiss the other team out of hand and don’t compete up to your ability level you will not win. Ever.

The same principle applies to life. We all have our burdens and battles; our private little hell that can and all too frequently does consume us. These must be tended to, otherwise they can severely damage us. Sometimes irrecoverably.

This duly noted, it is easy but dangerously shortsighted to exclusively focus on our own situation, neglecting to note that the other person has problems too. John Donne was right; no one is an island. We all have oppressive elements besetting our every day and every step.

To behave as though we alone are suffering while everyone else is on their own under the veneer of “they know their problems and I don’t” is pathetically short-sighted. Empathy is not contingent on complete understanding of someone else’s pain. We are all human, and we all share humanity’s common threads.

It is equally short-sighted, with a hefty dose of narcissism on the side, to focus so heavily on our own problems while neglecting to value others sufficiently to, at the least, inquire as to how they are doing that our life becomes a one-note samba of “woe is me.” The other person hurts too. Their hurt is equally important as ours. Ignoring them while bemoaning our state helps no one. It makes the other person quite apt to wonder why they should help, or care for, us when our actions and words make it apparent our concern for them extends only as far as their willingness to feel sorry for us. And, simply put, in such a scenario we are doing more than enough feeling sorry for ourselves to where the other person has zero inclination to join our pity party regardless of how deeply they care for us. We are pushing them away at a time when we most need them.

The other person matters too. Ask them how they are doing. You will be surprised how much it helps you both face the wounds and scars we all – all – bear.

Pop Goes The Culture

Something touched on in the previous post is the notion of cultural relevancy, or if you prefer engaging the culture. A common cry amongst the conservative new media echo chamber… er, realm is the need to actively pursue entry into popular culture via the assorted reigning entertainment mediums — music, television, film. The irony of how this is most often discussed within closed circles is apparently lost on those thus engaged with talking about engagement but never doing anything that can in any fashion be construed as genuine outreach. But I digress.

One of the greatest challenges facing anyone who seeks to influence pop culture is that despite its apparent pervasiveness, even for the biggest names it is surprisingly limited in its at least initial outreach. Take as an example U2, its record label, and Apple’s agreement to make what is easily the biggest band in the world’s new album available for free to everyone with an iTunes account, number of same being some 500 million. How many thus far (the deal was announced this past Tuesday) have taken advantage of the offer, said offer being mentioned and promoted by virtually every media and medium in existence? Around two million. This for a band that has sold over 150 million albums in its career. The days when The Beatles could change the world with the change of a hairstyle are long gone.

Another example of pop culture’s limited appeal is at the movies. The general rule of thumb is that a movie with $100M in box office business is a success, bloated special effects-laden outings that cost more than $200M to make not withstanding. But how many people, as in individual ticket sales, see a blockbuster movie? The biggest movie this year to date is Guardians of the Galaxy, with an as of yesterday estimated domestic box office take of $297.8M. Translated into ticket sales, the best guess is that comes out to 35.7M tickets sold. Figuring there is quite probably a good percentage of repeat viewers… you get the idea. A large number, but not universal. Also, factor in the film’s built-in mass audience appeal from the Marvel Comics/Disney connection, the tens if not hundreds of millions spent promoting the film, and so on. This isn’t a film designed for viewerships at your local art cinema; something to give you cause for reflection and discussion. It is mass market product, designed to sell tickets and merchandise.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, pop culture is sound and fury; tales told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is the entirety of pop culture: a soap bubble, momentarily pretty but fatally fragile, inevitably popping to be seen no more and quickly forgotten in favor of the next bubble blown.

Yet despite this, enter into the pop culture fray we must. We have examples of what happens when we withdraw behind our walls; witness the utter failure of the evangelical American church, despite its size, to have any impact on society. Certainly the odds are stacked against us. We do not have multi-multi-million dollar promotional budgets at our disposal, nor will we have industry support no matter how potentially profitable our efforts may be. However, the need to reach people remains paramount. We cannot sit idly by, barking at the caravan as it moves on, then believe we are accomplishing something by barking. At least not if we are being honest. If we reach but a few, we have done far better than if we reach none at all.

We also have to be honest with ourselves. Echo chamber jingoism is great at rallies of like-minded people but utterly useless when presented to the general public. Be they ever so superficial and slick, pop culture successes convey whatever message they offer with sufficient skill to penetrate multiple societal layers. Clumsy cliches need not apply. Lee Greenwood already did “God Bless The USA.” There is neither need nor room for a sequel.

Now, promoting conservative artists in whatever field immediately presents a problem, that being dealing with artists. Most — not all, but most — creative people are fundamentally insane and correspondingly hard to handle. Why this is so is seldom understood by those not similarly gifted, or for that matter many of those who are gifted. To be an artist of any genuine skill means, regardless of whether it is acknowledged, that one has opened him or herself to the creative spirit that is a direct gift from God. When human (that’s us) is touched by divine (that’s the Man Upstairs), simultaneously beautiful and terrible things happen. The beautiful is what is created; the terrible is how such overwhelming intimacy with the Creator can all too easily drive a person mad as in our limited human state we can only handle so much beyond ourselves. There is also the pain factor; Bono was completely accurate when he sang every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief; all kill their inspiration and sing about the grief. Little Miss Sunshine would have been a lousy artist.

So, these are the challenges facing anyone who wishes to engage the culture. It is expensive, it is an insular world that does not take kindly to outsiders with views outside its hedonistic hyper-liberal own, and the people best equipped artistically to enter the fray are often borderline, if not full-fledged, self-destructive lunatics. Yet engage we must, for there is far too much at stake to let things go as they are.

Back To Basics: The Four Tenets Of The Blogging Evangel

So, after an extended silence that I oft doubted would ever end, I’m back. Had to blow the dust off my password and sweep the cobwebs out of the site, but thankfully it and I are still here.

Choosing a topic on which to hang my return was a tad difficult; it’s not like there’s a dearth of available points of discussion. That duly noted, one demanded immediate attention, that being blogging itself.

Blogging is in danger of becoming the compact disc of social media. It’s a marvelous medium through which to communicate, but in today’s world it is rapidly being superseded by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Why? Brevity and immediacy. The other formats are quick, easy, and instantly before your intended audience. A blog? Well, since no one uses RSS feeds anymore, you have to tell people new content is there (and tell them and tell them and tell them), then hope people will step away from Twitter and Facebook et al long enough to pay your site a visit. The hip and hot social media vessels have apps for most every mobile device. A blog depends on someone opening their browser and entering the address at least once, hopefully bookmarking it while there so it can be more easily accessed should return visits be part of someone’s online media consumption strategy.

Another problem bloggers face in attracting and keeping, along with growing, an audience is the deep level of funk out there about bloggers individually and collectively being unable to get over themselves. Delusion of glory and grandeur abound. It’s high time bloggers individually and collectively get back to basics and what made blogging a vital communication form.

Blogging works only when you remember it’s one voice, one opinion; consider it as you will. When you’re blogging, remember it’s a venue to express your thoughts and opinions on any given subject. That’s all. You are not going to save the world. Hopefully, prayerfully you can help open eyes and minds to truth. Be content with that, as it is futile to frustrate yourself by striving for more when there is no more to be obtained.

When blogging, be yourself and be real. Say your piece, and be at peace. Be consistent with what you say. Be consistent with who you are. Let your words reflect who you are. Don’t be one person online and another away from the computer.

Blog not for social media fame or accolades. Blog from and for the heart; the belief what you have to say can help other people. The echo chamber is already full, and it is not accepting applications. You don’t need it or its residents for validation.

Blogging for a paycheck is not blogging; it’s casual format column writing. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s be honest about what it is. Far, far too many people pass themselves off as bloggers when they are nothing of the kind. Working toward monetizing your blog is not a shame, but should you start straying from yourself and the reasons why you first started blogging you are going down the wrong path.

When blogging, always remember this: no matter what, never, never become what you profess to oppose. You say you’re a citizen journalist speaking truth to power at professional journalists living in ivory towers? Don’t live in one yourself. You say you’re against punditry elitism, where writers speak only to others in the same profession? Don’t do the same thing. You say you’re too busy to answer your emails; that there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done? Too bad. It’s your job.

If you want the “glory” of being a popular blogger, you have to do the necessary work. That involves far more than writing blog posts. To be a successful blogger means you embrace the belief that blogging is a communication tool from one person to another. Every individual who reads one of your blog posts is an individual, and deserves to be treated as such. Unless it’s a troll – and not everyone who disagrees with something you say is one – when someone communicates with you, communicate back. They’ve taken the time to read and respond to your writing. Simple, common courtesy dictates you do the same.

Again, unless it’s a troll, answer your emails. Every time. Respond to tweets and Facebook posts. Every time. It takes very little time to type a simple “thank you.” Do it.

The wise blogger does not see him or herself as a great written orator, or leader of people. The wise blogger does not see him or herself as one blessing teeming throngs with every word of wisdom that comes from their fingertips. The wise blogger sees him or herself as a retail clerk whose livelihood depends on the quality of service they provide all who come by.

Think about the pleasant retail experiences you have had. What is the common thread that connects all of these times? Invariably, part or all of it was interaction with a worker who was friendly, personable, knowledgeable, and genuinely helpful.

As it is in retail, so it is in blogging. The blogger who treats their audience with respect and as a welcomed guest will succeed. The blogger who treats their audience with distain, or believes its sole purpose is to praise their words of wisdom, will fail.

We say we must change the culture. Well, culture change happens one person at a time. Culture change happens when you reach one person, one heart and mind, with ideas that helps them see things in a new light. Culture change comes when we talk with people, not to them.

Be a positive force for change. Treat people as you yourself wish to be treated. This includes blogging. Interact with your readers as you yourself wish other writers would interact with you. Not as a haughty lord, but rather as an equal.

To summarize, please remember the four tenets of the blogging evangel.

First, the ability to broadcast your opinion neither elevates nor validates said opinion.

Second, blog from, and for, the heart; not a paycheck.

Third, answer your email. Every time.

Fourth, and most important of all, never become what you profess to oppose. Never.

May I always follow these tenets.

To Be Alive

April Thompson is one of the most beautiful women I know. This conclusion is drawn not from her looks, although she is very attractive. Rather, it is from how she is deeply and passionately in love with God, her husband, and their kids. That is a beauty no Sports Illustrated model, save one who possesses the same qualities, can ever hope to approach.

In-between sessions of her very full-time gig known as raising the rugrats, April is wont to pen assorted thoughts in her blog. Her most recent post nicely expresses a frustration oft voiced by creative Christians, that being how a segment of American Christianity instantly recoils in horror the moment an artist, in any given medium, attempts crossing over from the Christian marketplace into the big bad satanic secular cesspool:

As Christians, we have to be careful not to be mindless consumers of whatever is served in the name of entertainment. But you know what’s not good? Hiding in our little Christian or conservative ghettos, yelling nasty things at the world from the walls, and throwing stones at anyone who tries to take the message outside the gates. Ya know, like Jesus said to.

Mrs. Thompson continues the point by bringing it into the political realm. She mentions how many conservatives (she is unapologetically one) are so conditioned to a knee-jerk response and blanket condemnation of most everything pop culture-wise, completely hung up on an artist’s political bent regardless of whether it carries over into their art, they disassociate themselves from everything under the mantle of avoiding anything “unclean.” This takes the form of not supporting via buying a CD or download or movie ticket or what have you any individual not on their side of the political aisle, along with, when discussing said artists among those of like mind, participating in a top-this game of who can trash-talk them the most. Because, you know, that will win the culture war every time.

She’s too young to remember, but Steve Taylor brilliantly skewered this mindset some time ago:

So you need a new car
Let your fingers take a walk
Through the business guide
For the born again flock

You’ll be keeping all your money
In the kingdom now
And you’ll only drink milk
From a Christian cow

Don’t you go casting your bread
To keep the heathen well-fed
Line Christian pockets instead
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

Turn the radio on
To a down-home drawl
Hear a Brylcreem prophet
With a message for y’all

Well I have found a new utensil
In the devil’s toolbox
And the heads are gonna roll
If Jesus rocks

It’s all a worldly design
God’s music should be divine
Try buying records like mine
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

So you say it’s of the devil
And we’ve got no choice
‘Cause you heard a revelation
From the still small voice

If the Bible doesn’t back it
Then it seems quite clear
Perhaps it was the devil
Who whispered in your ear

It’s a telethon Tuesday
For the gospel club
Send your money in now
Or they’re gonna pull the plug

Just remember this fact
When they plead and beg
When the chicken squawks loudest
Gonna lay a big egg

You could be smelling a crook
You should be checking The Book
But you, you’d rather listen than look
The implication

Guilty by association

Life for the believer is neither a scenario of doing whatever one wishes (sorry, libertarians) or hiding in a reverse leper colony. It is a call to the reality of Christ and life in Christ. It is personal holiness combined with mandatory outreach to others. Jesus was not a drunkard, yet He drank and His first recorded miracle was at a wedding reception when He changed water into wine so as to keep the party going. He associated, without compromise, with society’s outcasts. He didn’t tow the religious progressive’s continually shifting line of relative morality, telling them everything was cool and they could continue on their merry way without repercussion. He loved them where they were at while calling on them to change first their heart, and from that change their life. He didn’t commend the adulteress whose life He saved from the crowd seeking to entrap Him by what He said should be done with her, knowing full well the penalty for her actions under Mosaic law was that she was to be executed by stoning. He didn’t condemn her either. He offered her life with the admonition to leave her life of sin.

There is a powerful witness in the polite destruction of clichés. Systematically execute them by living life among other people in a Godly manner. Contrary to some opinions, living a Godly life does not mean acting like you are God, nor does it mean shoving your faith down the throat of another, nor does it mean never speaking up for fear of “offending” someone. It means tearing down the false image of what constitutes a believer by being both the human being you were created as and the child of God you were created to be.

There are no magic formulas for this; no superdeeduper secret initiation rites, magic words or self-induced guilt trips about what you should or shouldn’t do to say the magic words in response to which God will give you a hundred blessings. There is honesty, with yourself, others and especially God.

There are stones in the road. You will trip and fall. You will fail. You will know hurt, frustration, despair, rejection, grief, and anger. But you will also know what it means to truly be alive.

To be alive is to live, with all of life’s joys and sorrows.

You cannot hide from life. You can live life.

If others think you are crazy for doing so, so be it.