Tag Archives: music

Three Things I Learned from Three Dog Night (It’s a Band; From the 60s…Sigh)

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I went to a Three Dog Night concert last month to celebrate my birthday–the tickets were a gift from my dear wife. Several things surprised me about the concert. First, was that Three Dog Night was still rockin’ and rollin’ after these many years. They got their start in the 1960s (yes, last century). The second surprise was that they were playing in the metropolis I now call home.

But, the concert was fun. The guys played most all their well-known stuff and the crowd rocked along–in actual rockers. (Yes, that was an “old people” joke.) I’m not saying the crowd was old, but the synchronized, motorized wheel chair line dancing was a thing to see. “Reach high, when you sway those canes!” Three Dog Night shouted. “What’d he say?” the guy next to me asked. “Highway cones,” his wife said. “What the what?!?”

I’m not saying the crowd was sedate, but the police officers (all two of them) assigned to S.W.A.T. patrol kept chuckling as the attendees shuffled in and out of the concert hall like they were in the line for the dessert trolley at the cafeteria. By the way, S.W.A.T. stands for Something Will Ache Tomorrow.

A woman seated in front of me tried to dance…it was not pretty. At least I think it was dancing; it may have just been a pacemaker flameout. Then there was that one 1960s-era rebel carrying pot with him…no, not weed; it was an actual pot. The bathrooms were on a distant shore.

I was having a good time laughing at all those old people, up until I encountered the old, bald, fat guy staring me down in the bathroom—I was stunned to realize the old, bald, fat guy was me in the mirror. Turns out, these old people were my people.

But as the concert got underway and I was “present in that space” (sorry, that’s a line that makes me gag that I heard from a chaplain once), I figured out that I was learning a thing or three. So, here they are:

One:  Old dogs should keep doing what they’ve been gifted to do as long as God empowers them to do it. The Three Dog Night guys are old–at least the original members of the band are. We’re talking not leathery skin, but busted up, frayed in all the wrong places, pleathery skin. We’re talking encore appearances that took hours to get underway because the Dogs had to limp off and shuffle back onto the stage. We’re talking that when they sang their hit, “Celebrate,” it was because they had managed to not trip over their mic stands. But they still have it. Those God-empowered vocal cords can still “dance to the music.”  The Christian community has bought the culture’s notion of retirement. So, we look to artificial age benchmarks to begin thinking about not doing anymore what God has gifted us to do. If you want to retire, fine, but don’t stop doing what God has gifted you to do because Uncle Sam thinks it’s time. Or because some young pups think it’s their time.

Two:  Old dogs need to stick around to help the new dogs. It’s a shame that old dogs shuffle off the stage (or are shuffled off the stage) at the precise cultural moment when all the research says the young dogs not only want but need mentorship and friendship and the benefit of experience. The young dogs want to be wise, but wisdom is a commodity acquired over time. And part of that wisdom is learning from the old dogs. Shared wisdom is a biblical mandate from the very beginning. It’s one of the reasons that Christians lean into the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the Bible. It’s one reason why we “test the spirits” against the systemic teaching of Scripture. If I want to navigate Snapchat, I’ll ask my grandkids. When I wanted wisdom for navigating life’s speedbumps, I asked my Dad.

Three:  Old dogs can learn new tricks. Three Dog Night introduced a new song at the concert. It was an acapella rendition of Prayer of the Children. It was grand and it was good and it gave lie to the notion that “older” means done. Three Dog Night was self-deprecating about how age had made them a bit slower, but when it came time to create something new, there was nothing “slowish” about it (yes, I made up a word).

I have to go now. I am about to install a new eight-track player in my component stereo system. But I should go to the bathroom first–someone said something about blue teeth–and the bathroom is very far away. 

© 2016, All Scripture quotations from the New International Version.


With Respect, Gene, Failure Is An Option

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They made a movie about it; they called it, “Apollo 13.”  The film dramatized the heroic and herculean efforts by the ground and space crews to get three astronauts home after a malfunction that cost the Apollo 13 crew their moon landing and had real potential to kill them outright or leave them stranded to slip into a deep and cold space death.

When confronted with the breadth of multiple systems failures, Ed Harris, portraying Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director, crisply insists that “Failure is NOT an option.”

Ironically, the words actually came from the “Apollo 13” script writer, Bill Broyles, and not Gene himself.  Kranz later adopted the phrase (which certainly characterized the NASA mindset…and his own), and used it as the title for his autobiography.

But, with respect to Gene, it is actually the case that failure is, not only an option, but an all too frequent reality for many, many, many, maybe most, perhaps all.

I was still in high school and was, ahem, “mastering” piano playing of the: you-can-be-in-a-party-band-and-plunk-chords-but-don’t-get-any-professional-real-musician-ideas kind of way.  My piano teacher had been offered a gig at a small honkytonk in Vermont.  He was not available, so he offered me the gig.  Problem: they did not have a piano; they had a two manual (read keyboard) Hammond B3 organ instead.

Now, I had seen Hammond organs before and heard some folks who could play really well, but I WAS NOT ONE of them.  I had never, ever even actually sat down at an organ to try to play.  When I mentioned this to my piano teacher (who was, in the “by the way” department) COMPLETELY AWARE of this, he said (and I quote because the entire episode is seared in that part of my memory labeled, “trauma”), “No problem; come on over this afternoon and I’ll run you through the basics and you’ll be fine.”

Assuming he knew what he was talking about, I went to his studio and sat with him for (another “ahem”) WHOLE thirty minutes, during which I apparently grasped organ playing to a degree he thought would bode success way up there in Vermont honkytonkdom.  Vainly trying to adopt his confidence (but not his skill…really and truly), I got in the car for the two-hour trip to the aforementioned honkytonk.

[Aside number one:  assuming you can play the organ because you play the piano and they both have keyboards is like assuming you can drive a tandem tractor trailer rig for UPS because you drive a car and the car and the truck both have tires.]

[Aside number two: this was before they had “The Voice” or any of the other searching-for-new-talent-because-there-is-a-worldwide-shortage-of-superstars shows.  I suppose there could be a show called “The Organ” but I’m confident too many people would get exactly the kind of wrong idea you’re getting right now.]

I got to the honkytonk.  I took my place at the organ on what passed for a stage.  I went on at 8:00 p.m.  I left at 8:25 p.m.  During the intervening 25 minutes I slaughtered several songs–killed them dead, dead, dead–mashing them into unrecognizable pseudo zombie songs; notes falling off like appendages from the undead.

Faux music was flung from the defenseless Hammond B3 by the sad combination of my less-than-novice organ playing and my mist-like confidence that vaporized when a honkytonk patron said (upon sighting this then skinny high school kid with his BIG FAKE BOOK of music), “Do have any idea what you’re doing?  We’re partial to GOOD music here.  You don’t look like you know what you’re doing.  Get me another beer!”  [That last part was aimed at the barkeep.]

After 25 minutes of organ-based torture (since outlawed by the Geneva Conventions), the honkytonk proprietor (who was kind of nice enough but insistent…really, absolutely insistent) said (again, words seared into the previously mentioned trauma memory section), “You can go now; we’ll just drop quarters in the juke box.  You wanna donate some quarters?”  [I made up that bit about him wanting me to donate quarters…but with the look on his face, I could tell he wanted me to feed the jukebox on my way out.]

Failure is most certainly an option.  Since the “organ episode,” I’ve had a not exceptional, but successful military career, been moderately effective in the classroom, had an advancing business-world effort as a health care administrator, and, in my primary vocation, pastored not “mega,” but certainly (except for one purposeful “church hospice” experience) churches that moved in forward directions (by those things we can measure).  Some super sweet kids and a terrific wife and blessingly adorable grandkids round out the resume. [I know, these should have been first on the list…mark my list making fail as yet another, ummmm, failure.]

Now, I am beginning to feel “failure” again on the horizon.  It seems tantalizingly close by.  It is stalking me–I see its shadow and its reflective glimpse when I turn quickly.  But this time with much bigger stakes.  And it scares me…really scares me.

And it raises so many questions.

After mustering experience-based wisdom and genuinely seeking God’s heart and plans and purposes for my enterprise, what if I fail?

Or, can it not be failure and still look like failure?

And, where is God in the middle of the failures?  Are they lessons in humility?  If so, why do so many other people have to be affected or tainted by my failed effort?  I am most certainly handicapped by lack of eternal perspective in moments of failure.

And, how much of our failures are we supposed to own?  Because, honestly, my tendency is to own all of it–even those pieces well outside my illusory control.  But if I haven’t purposed to fail (and who, in their right mind, would), then it seems as if failure is a divinely permitted dagger aimed straight at the core of my spirit.

And I know that God is sovereign and that we are called to live by faith and not sight.  But how much faith?  And is any sight permitted in the process?  No sight?  Never? Never ever?

And I know that conflating what we do (for good or ill) with who we are is always problematic.  Lean in one direction and you get pride; lean in the other and you get despair.  Traveling the road of pride is a recipe for disaster; taking the byway of despair drains one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual energy.

I could (and do) run to the scriptures in these moments…but is there anyone else who is left unsatisfied with the delayed response that they most always offer?  I know I’m not supposed to think that or (certainly not) say it out loud.  But there it is.  How many “somedays” and “perseverances” and “patiences” is one soul called upon to endure?

And I know that this feels like a little (ok, maybe a very lot) of whining when people around the world lose their lives or their livelihoods for their faith.  But it is real; it is here; it is scary.

Failure is most certainly an option, Gene.  When I am on the cusp of one, I struggle with all of the above and more…and I do not know what to make of it.  Do you?

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