Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Blue Light

I know, I know, the picture from the return trip looks pretty much like the picture of the going. Except it’s raining and I’m going in the opposite direction.

After playing my concert in Natchez, MS last week, I took off for Monroe, LA where my mom is still on the rehab train after her surgery. Looks like she’ll be there for a few more days then we have some hard decisions to make. I appreciate your prayers.

The drive back to Houston was covered in a hard driving rain from Shreveport all the way home. I knew it was coming so I prepared by stopping in Ruston, LA for a late lunch with my good friends, the Bradfords.

When I called them to find a meeting place for lunch, they told me they were just walking into The Blue Light Café. Hmm, that’s funny. Spell correction put that little sign above the “e” in the word café. There, it did it again! Did you see that??

I attended college in Ruston at Louisiana Tech and never ate at The Blue Light ____.
They said it was time. Soul Food at it’s finest.

I made the turns and found myself in a part of Ruston I’d never seen.

Sweet people of all colors filled the place at noon on a Monday. Good food seems to make people happy – at least for a little while.

I sat down and visited with the Bradfords for a while then went to the counter to order. I wrote down my choices on a little white pad of paper and handed it to a nice lady. I could tell she was one of the veterans of the place. I told her I had heard this was the best place in town and I’d come all the way from Houston to eat there – a stretch, but all in good fun.

She told me she had two daughters in Houston and I said, “Well, why don’t you just jump in the car with me and I’ll take you down there?” “Awe honey, I couldn’t do that.” You know the kind of place now?

When they brought my meatloaf, corn and black-eyed peas, I knew I’d come to the right place. This is one of those places you hear about from the locals. This is the kind of place I look for when trying to avoid the regular chain stores on the highway.

The owners of The Blue Light were African American. So were the waiters and the cooks. It made all the difference to how the place felt (like a welcome home from a long journey), how the food tasted (I guarantee you the recipes weren’t written down – a pinch of this and a taste of that) and the general “come one and come all” atmosphere of the place.

The clock turned back in the best possible sense of the phrase. The world was slower and whatever tensions there were in the outside world didn’t show up for lunch that day at The Blue Light.


The race issue has always bothered me. I grew up in the south (North Louisiana) during the turbulent sixties. They didn’t really seem too awfully turbulent to us at the time. Actually, it was pretty quiet. But I was a white kid. What did I know?

The most intense racial issues I had to confront in my naïve childhood were the awkward misunderstandings of (1) why there was a black window and a white window at the one-of–a-kind ice cream stand in the middle of town. I really thought you went to the white window if you wanted vanilla and the black window if you wanted chocolate. True. I promise you. And (2) the unspoken but clearly understood seating arrangement at the movie theater. White people on the floor level and Black in the balcony. I always thought the balcony was the better seat and wanted to sit there.

I know the very statement of these things is a mystery and a horror to some of you.

The only real tension I remember was the night I woke up with the reflection of flames bouncing off my bedroom wall. We lived right across the street from the high school and that particular night, the KKK had decided to have some sort of demonstration in the school yard. I didn’t understand it but it was strange and frightening.

I didn’t intend for this little piece to take this direction and I could go on and on about any number of issues. There are things that have been debated and will continue to be debated. Who am I to attempt to address anyone on this sensitive subject? The very mention of the word “race” pushes so many buttons. It’s now become a defend/attack point in the current presidential election. Sigh.

I just know this. It falls to me and to each one of you who call ourselves followers of the Christ to walk in love, in kindness, gentleness, forgiving one another even as He has forgiven us.

I can’t fix what’s been done but, as the song says “I can change what will be. By living in holiness that the world will see Jesus.”

Play nice, for God’s sake (literally).

Who’s with me?



Monday, March 17, 2008

The Uncomfortable Chaos of the Cross

I’m no theologian; let me make that brief disclaimer.

During Sunday morning worship, something simple touched me very deeply.

What is normally a very reverent service was that and so much more. With all due respect, church services can sometimes be almost predictable. And I like that. It’s okay. Still, every single Sunday, even with the expected delivered, something always surprises me.

Today as the pastor read from the book of Matthew – the story of the events that lead to the crucifixion of the Lord – the sound of his voice alone was interrupted by a chorus of voices in concert with his.

When the first sounds were heard coming from the choir, you could feel the rustle in the crowd – “Uh, well, that’s different.” And even a few giggles. Then -

He told of the interchange between Pilate and the crowd of witnesses. When Pilate asked whom they wanted him to release, you know their response. The choir, speaking all together responded, “Give us Barabus”. This was, of course, a rehearsed moment in the service, but the beauty of it for me was, even though they were responding on cue, they responded like a mob – some speaking slower than others, some louder and some not speaking at all. It was anything but perfect sounding and that was what was so perfect about it. That was what was so moving. It was uncomfortably chaotic in an environment that is usually quiet and still.

The dialogue continued with the pastor speaking his part from the pulpit and the choir and other individuals taking on the vocal roles (none of the principals were visible to the audience) and spoke their lines in turn.

The whole place went still when Pilate said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” and the crowd responded, “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

A quiet, uncomfortable silence.

It seemed like everyone was holding their breath.

“Truly, this is the Son of God” said the Roman soldier – and all of us.


I’ve seen dozens of pageants, dramas, musicals – heard as many Easter sermons as years I’ve lived but rarely have I felt His presence like I did today. I was afraid to move.

I’ve lead and participated in performances that were technically as close to perfect as we could do. I was pleased when we didn’t have a major meltdown or a serious malfunction. At best thankful and at worst, inappropriately proud.

I never apologize for giving every effort my very best. I believe offerings to God, whether a song or a word, should be the best we can give. But, I’m ashamed to say that, many times, I’ve missed the awe and the glory of it all while stressed out in my pursuit of perfection.

The pageantry of the Easter season might not rightfully communicate the chaos of that day. I’m not sure the literal telling of the story would have them beating down the doors for a seat. When you reduce a moment in history like the crucifixion to a play or something that looks more like a children’s story, though less real, it’s easier to digest.

Reality makes me very uncomfortable.

On the hill that day, were the disciples quietly watching everything unfold? Were they keeping their wits about them or were they about to lose it as they thought, “What is going on?! Is this really happening?” “Is this how this whole thing ends?” “Somebody do something!”

Was the family of the Crucified One properly placed in position at the foot of the cross or were they stricken with grief, with loss – panic evolving into madness?

And the brutality of it all. Many of us saw “The Passion of the Christ” a few years ago and while it was horrible in its depiction of the abuses Jesus endured, most would probably agree that the real thing was still much worse than a film could ever show. It’s impossible to dress that up.

It was horrible.

When the chaos ended and the Prince of Peace came out of the grave, time and eternity never looked the same again.

And I for one am thankful to be entering this Holy Week with the fresh impact of the sacrifice made for me. When I am quiet long enough and allow the truth to settle on my heart, it chills me.

I’m afraid and assured at the same time.

“Lord have mercy.”

He did, He does and He will.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Your call will be answered in . . .

I’ve been waiting on the internet service to be restored at my place for two days now. Haven’t been able to get on line and for the last week, even when I got on, it was slow and very frustrating.

After the frustration, it occurs to me how dependent on this thing I’ve become. And that, too, is annoying.

I watched a movie the other night from the seventies. They didn’t have cell phones or internet or blackberrys or iphones. When they wanted to contact someone, they went to a payphone – a payphone and called a landline. I don’t even have a landline anymore.

Are there payphones anymore? I remember getting to the airport in years past, making calls from the payphone and immediately upon arriving at my destination, stopping at the nearest payphone and checking in with home and office. I can’t remember the last time I even saw a payphone. (In case you’re counting, I’ve mentioned payphones 6 – no seven times in the last two paragraphs.)

So now I’m waiting for the service guy to get here. I made the appointment and got one of those prime spots on their book – you know, the “between eight and one” slot. As Napolean Dynamite would say “Sweet.”

So instead of spending a few hours on the computer this morning answering emails, communicating with business associates, following up on previous days communications, responding to mail from and letters from the faithful, I’ve been reading, thinking and praying.

This sounds like a broken record (records? Payphones?) from me but gratitude has become my launching pad from planet funk. The moons around the planet funk are self pity, woe is me, I think I’m gonna go eat worms. There are frequent asteroids that have their own names – I won’t bore you.

But the stars of God’s heaven outshine all the dim stars of my personal galaxy. In the light of His creation, the reminder of His vast reach and His warm embrace of the universe calms me. The assurance that His eye does not stray and that I am on His mind slows the rapid beat of my fickled heart. How He manages this, I don’t know. But my faith kicks in and I’m more and more confident of His love.

With gasoline in Houston knocking around $3.75 a gallon, I’m directed to keep filling my tanks with gratitude.

Thank you.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Spending time in the driver’s seat has never bothered me. Traveling salesmen call it windshield time. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some good windshield time.

I drove to Dallas to meet with a fantastic group of people in a ministry called
Gospel For Asia. I don’t know many that have the kind of zeal for their work as these people. They are focused on reaching a very hard-to-reach kind of place with the words of Christ.

After that meeting, I went to Monroe, Louisiana and to St. Francis Hospital. St. Francis has always been the big hospital in the area. When I was growing up, if you were in St. Francis, odds were, there was something to worry about. But also, odds were you were going to get well taken care of.

My mom went in to have a complete hip replacement on the last Tuesday in February. It all went, pretty much, as routine would order it. As a matter of fact, the day after the surgery, she was asking, “When am I going to have this surgery?”

The slow and painful rehab started that night.

For an eighty-four year old lady, it presents more than a few worries and fears but so far, over a week later, she’d doing okay.

Thanks for your prayers for her.


I’m reading Frederick Buechner these days along side the New Testament (the book of Mark at the moment). My son, Neal, and his family gave me Buechner’s book “Secrets in the Dark” for Christmas. I’ve not read a lot of his work, but love the way he looks at things of the faith and forces me outside the box.

It occurs to me that I like it outside the box more and more. Outside the box isn’t terrifying. Outside the box, though unfamiliar, doesn’t send me into a full panic. My simple conclusion is this: After a lifetime of in-the-box thinking, living, theology, God is alive outside the box as well.

My right-before-bed reading at the moment might surprise you. European History for Dummies. No, I don’t consider myself a dummy and I have lots of other history books that are legitimate (i.e. long, heavy, lots of words, no pictures and real snoozers) but I just found this book and it looked entertaining.

During my last road trip to Nashville, I listened to an audio book version of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It’s one of my favorite reads so I went to itunes and bought the unabridged audio version – eighteen hours! It helped fill some of the hours in radio wasteland between Houston and Nashville, Tennessee.

Anyway, A Tale of Two Cities got me thinking about the French Revolution, the hardships of the French people that lead to the overthrow and complete revamping of their social and political structure. Of course a few thousand heads had to be lopped off in the process – more than a few, I’m sure, were completely innocent. But “long live the republic” as they say. I don’t speak French.

So, while browsing the history section of the local Barnes and Noble with double shot coffee in hand, I came across The Idiot’s Guide to European History and have been very entertained and enlightened right before dosing off at night. Guess it’s better than watching Seinfeld reruns for the hundredth time.


I played for a small group of church leaders in Pasadena, TX last night. They were mostly church education ministers there for a conference to grow their visions for a wider reach, for fellowship and, I hope, for some refreshment.

I appreciate full-time church staff people more than I ever did before. They hear and see it all and yet, by the grace, keep their eyes on the prize. I always pray that singing a few songs to them will give them a minute of rest, a smile, and a deep breath.


Tomorrow I’m going to get six or seven hours more of windshield time – heading toward the homeland again and scheduled to play a concert in Natchez, Mississippi on Sunday evening.

Thanks for your prayers for that, too. It’s good to have the opportunity to sing again.