Thursday, September 25, 2008

simple things - september 24, 2008

I went to Minute Maid Park here in Houston last night with some friends to watch the Astros play the Cincinnati Reds. Both teams are pretty much out of the playoff picture. The Astros are currently in third place in the division and the Reds in fifth. I think, and this changes daily of course, that there is still a miniscule chance for the Astros to be the wildcard team, but I’m not sure.

Still, there were probably twenty thousand people there to see the game. Twenty thousand.

This is still a city very much in recovery mode. All over town, there are lots of traffic lights out. Pretty much a NASCAR event when an intersection with three or four lanes of traffic from every direction suddenly becomes a four-way stop. People rev their engines like they’re on a drag strip. Once you’re in the intersection, you’d better just gun it and pray.

There is debris everywhere. What used to be beautiful trees shading beautiful neighborhoods are lying on the sidewalks waiting to be taken away to who knows where. Might be a good time to go into the mulching business.

But I, and twenty thousand of my closest friends, took a few hours off and made the trip downtown to see two teams that are playing for Sunday – the last day of the regular season. After Sunday, they’ll pack up their lockers, put away their gear until next February, gather their families and probably take a long vacation. Fishing, golf, Disneyland, World or whatever the new Disney thing is today. Lots of them will relocate their families back to their real homes, leaving the rented villas or townhomes or country club properties they occupy during the baseball season While some live in Houston, others spend the off season in different parts of the country. That’s where they’ll collect their thoughts and memories of the 2008 baseball season – the things they did right and the things that went wrong. That’s where they’ll begin to recharge for the next season. “Wait ‘till next year” will be on their minds in a matter of days or weeks.

They played the game last night, although it was meaningless to the playoff picture, because that’s what they’re paid to do - play ball. I went to the game because I’ve just always loved the game. In the past, out on motorcycle rides in the country as night was falling, I’d always turn my wheels toward lights in the distance in hopes of being able to sit still for a few and watch a game. It didn’t matter if it were a little league game or a high school game or even a game of softball. It was comfort. It was timeless. Living in the city now, I don’t do that much anymore. But still, when I’m traveling anywhere at night and I see the glow of lights on a ball field, I want to stop and take in a few innings.

Simple things.

My mom is settling into her new life in a great little nursing home in the town where I grew up in Louisiana. She was ready to go. The burden of my childhood home was too much for her. She lived there alone these eleven plus years since my dad passed. Now, she enjoys the security of her room, the attention and love and care of professional medical personnel and the fellowship of her neighbors. She just loves to visit and talk. That’s all. She reads, listens to classical cds (and maybe, some of mine) and watches some television though I suspect most of the stuff on the box these days is way too racy for her. I can see her gasp or sigh at the loose moral fabric on display in current popular tv shows. I shake my head at most of it myself.

Her life might not sound very exciting but the simple pleasures that happen every day bring her happiness. She still finds consolation and peace in God’s Word. She’s never strayed from that rock that’s been the touchstone of her strength her whole life. Even when she can’t reconcile what is with what ought to be, she trusts it to God and the vastness of His mercy and grace.

It’s just that simple.

Our city is getting back to normal but I’m not sure I really like everything about normal. Hurricane Ike set us on our heals and took away a lot of conveniences – things that allow us to go through our everyday lives and routines. Now, the routines have changed. Most of them have been forced slow-downs that involve more waiting. I don’t like waiting. Waiting is so . . . so simple and mindless to some degree.

I can’t imagine the conversations, the games, the forced togetherness that might expose some real needs in relationships. With the television off and the internet down, now might be a defining moment for lots of families. I’ve prayed that it will be for all of us - that we’ll take advantage of the unexpected guest of stillness to sift through some of the issues buried beneath everyday distractions.

You can, too. Wherever you are. There are “power off” buttons on just about everything! Push ‘em.

Thank You, Immovable, Unchangeable, Unflappable Father for Your Mercy and Grace and immeasurable blessing.

Wayne Watson
September 24, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

North to Alaska

The picture at the top of the piece I wrote yesterday must have been confusing. The whole thing was about Hurricane Ike and there I was in the picture standing in a jacket and ski cap in front of a glacier! Some people must have been thinking “Hurricane, heck, it looks like another ice age!”

My website guys tell me to put pictures on the blog. “People love pictures!” So there you have it.

On August 9th, I hopped on the cruise ship Oosterdam in Seattle with some other artists and over two hundred folks from all over the country. We were a small part of the large crowd aboard the ship. I’ve done a few of these Christian Cruises in the past. This one was really appealing to me because the host/sponsors were the folks from the gigantic music festival, Spirit West Coast. I’ve known the head of Spirit West Coast, Jon Roberrson, for almost 25 years. He’s a veteran of Christian concert promotions and he invited me to go on this trip.

I played at Spirit West Coast (both festivals – one in San Diego and the other on the Monterrey Peninsula) in the summer of 2007. Jon and his staff were so kind to invite me to those events. Honestly, the festivals are filled with the strongest current artist rosters you can imagine. Everyone from Leland to Switchfoot. And me. I played these things years ago but not so much lately. But Jon appreciates heart and passion. I’m thankful to still have both for the work.

The other artists were Phil Joel, Bebo Norman (along with his long-time multi-talented sideman, Gabe Scott), Aaron Shust , Comedian - Bob Smiley and Matthew West.

(L to R) Me, Bebo Norman, Gabe Scott, Bob Smiley, Aaron Shust, Matthew West, Phil Joel.

It was a great lineup and I think the folks that came on the cruise were moved, inspired and entertained.

We took off from Seattle headed toward Alaska.

Beautiful, wild country. I think I saw Sarah Palin kill a moose one morning off in the distance.

We stopped at several ports – Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Victoria, BC. The most incredible time was the few hours spent in front of the Hubbard Glacier. These pictures are from the time near the Hubbard. When I heard that we were going to be spending the morning looking at a glacier, I was, well, less than enthusiastic. I figured it would be sort of like watching paint dry, grass grow or the ice machine in my fridge do its thing.


As we were still 10 or 15 miles away, I began to see this incredible work of nature come into view. Didn’t look like much at first but as we got closer, I was overwhelmed at the sight – at just the thought - of this monster wave of frozen tundra. I thought about the time it took to form, the years it took to move to its current position, the stuff caught in it, moving with it. You know, bugs, logs, fish, etc. And then, you see big slices shearing off into the sea and a few seconds later ( I’m not really up on the specific differences in the speed of light and the speed of sound. I just know they’re, uh, different.) earthquake-like rumbles that shook the entire boat. I spent most of the morning sitting bundled up on the deck staring at this thing and taking pictures.

The color was incredible. The ice picks up the blue tint of water and sky. Amazing.

I decided then and there that I would be less generous with the use of the word “awesome” from then on. A taco is not awesome, a touchdown pass isn’t either. This work of nature, the incredibly imaginative hand of God and the intricate work He performs is truly awesome. And what’s the purpose of this work of art? I mean what’s the point? We’re so driven to know “why” and “what is the reason for this or that?” I don’t know and surely don’t have to know. That’s His business.

All I know is . . . it was . . . awesome!

Wayne Watson

Thursday, September 18, 2008

After Ike

Well, it’s been a long, long time. I’m sorry that I’ve not been updating the blog more regularly but I’ll try to fill you all in on what’s going on here in Houston.

Our course, giving you some insight to what’s happened here in the last week could take a while. Really, without being overly dramatic, the city and the surrounding areas are just very badly shaken. It’s unnerving to drive around and see the scope of the damage to property, nature and human lives. People from all walks of life are just meandering in a sort of daze – but trying to keep their spirits up. Most of them are out on a mission. Finding a gas station with a supply and the electrical power to pump it. Finding a station where the wait is less than an hour. It seems that keeping fuel in the tank brings some sort of security to us all. It’s odd, I admit. I try to dismiss it and not analyze too much but when my gas gauge gets near the half way point, I have to say, it’s, well, it’s just weird.

There are pockets of the city – and the pockets are no respecters of class or stock portfolio - where the power has been off since last Friday evening. It’s one thing to drive past during the day and sense the stillness of a once beautiful neighborhood, but quite another to pass through at night. It’s dark and still. Most of the residences are vacant, the owners off to stay with friends or relatives or perhaps, off to a second home in the hill country.

Others that live more normal lives simply have to make do. They spend their days trying to accomplish some simple task. Finding groceries, a restaurant, another gas station.

It’s strange that a city of four million people can be brought to it’s knees by a single force of nature. It’s aftermath magnifies the size of this community. It shows the gigantic scope of it’s business and commerce. I can’t imagine anyone will ever be able to put a price on what was lost and continues to be lost today.

It’s interesting to me that we’re all quick to try and estimate the price of the loss. It’s some sort of twist in the nature of a human, I think. It might say something about what we value. It might suggest that we shift the once important, prioritized items to a lower place on our list. Material things that can be so quickly snatched from our tight hold might not be worth all the energy it takes to protect them. Just sayin’.

The broken record in me still plays “Be thankful, be thankful, be thankful.” And I am. I am unharmed, for the most part, as are all those I love. Unharmed except that my heart aches at the constant sight of tragedy. It’s literally everywhere you look in Houston.

I’ve not ventured too far from here. There is comfort in staying close to home right now. Watching things unfold around me. Lending a hand when I can. A kind word. A sympathetic question? An ear.

And there is mild humor in some of it. It’s still funny to me to watch the televison and hear them tell where relief and aid are going to be set up today. They’re doing a good job, I suppose, but the people that need most of the information they’re dispensing aren’t watching TV – no power! “Go to our website and get info on this or that.” Uh…again, I can’t go to your website if my wall plugs are dead. In 2008, it’s still a good idea to go to Radio Shack and spend ten dollars on a battery operated radio.

Humor and danger mixed together at intersections that used to be governed by traffic lights. Now, four-way stops all over this big city left to the imaginations of a dozen drivers at once trying to determine when it’s “my turn” without adding a car accident to the list of disappointments and stressors today! It’s entertaining in a sick sort of way, I suppose to observe the nature of a human hurrying through a dangerous intersection to get to – where – an open McDonalds? It just seems to be very important to keep moving – make progress toward anywhere or anything. Interesting creatures.

Then, you try to make sense of it all from a spiritual point of view. The Bible says the rain falls on the just and the unjust. So, you see one place spared and another crushed. One church untouched and another disabled. I don’t know. I’m not sure things work like that. I don’t know.

One story told of a couple that left home and took shelter with a relative only to be killed by a tree that fell on them in what they thought was a safe place. What does “safe” mean?

It will be months and maybe years before some parts of the gulf coast are back in order. Parts of it will never come back. Or at least not like before. You have to live with change and believe that change is ok. That it’s cleansing, though painful

So how do you and I pray? We prayed for God to calm the storm before it reached land on Friday. It was only a Category 1 storm but still wrecked this part of the world. What would have happened if it had been a Cat 5? We prayed for mercy and found it. We prayed for survival and did. But what about those, at last count 50, people that didn’t survive?

Fall on your knees and say “thank You” with me.

Thank You that you are Sovereign over life and death, You are still God and I am not. Thank You that I don’t have to know everything. Thank You that You are trustworthy even when I don’t see it. Thank You that nothing can separate me from the love of God. “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?” (Romans 8:35) Nothing.

So in this mess and this upheaval – in this major disturbance and inconvenience, God is unshaken and unmoved from His course of a severe mercy and unimaginable love.

Wayne Watson
September 18, 2008