Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two Worlds Collide: A Road Trip to Nashville

I have loved music for as long as I can remember.  At the age of 6, I had my own tape player which was perpetually playing such albums as Music Machine and Bullfrogs and Butterflies along with whatever music my parents were listening to in those days.  I later moved on to Psalty and Colby before growing out of that stage of life.  All the while, I was taking piano lessons, learning music theory, taking saxophone lessons and playing sax in the church band.  Music was an important part of my life.

In college, I became fond of a relatively unknown artist by the name of John Elefante.  I was mesmerized by pretty much anything he did musically.  I know all of my friends found my devotion to him to be a little annoying as I thought the "great commission" was to share with anyone and everyone the good music that came from this particular individual.  There is even a funny story that involves me being on a first date with a girl who had one of his albums playing in her car stereo during that initial date and I figured she must be "the one."  (She wasn't.)

I can honestly say that God has blessed me numerous times through John's music.  At one point in 1995 while in law school,  I was studying with his Windows of Heaven album playing in the background.  I was so moved by one of the songs that I wrote him a letter.  (This was back in the dark ages when writing a letter meant actually putting pen to paper, paper into envelope, stamp on envelope and envelope into mailbox.)   Lo and behold, ten days later my phone rings while I'm again studying.  I answer the phone and a voice on the other end says "Brett?  Hey, this is John Elefante."  The dude called me to thank me for writing him.  I asked him if he called every person that wrote him and he said that I was only the second person that he had ever called.  ("Sure John, I bet you say that to all the...uh, fans.")  He wanted to let me know that my letter encouraged him.  Needless to say, this didn't exactly diminish my respect for him.

Fast forward to 2011..16 years later.  I still love music.  Continuing my trend of liking music that no one else has ever heard of, my favorite musician is now Neal Morse who specializes in what is called progressive rock.  Progressive rock is an acquired taste that is actually very popular in Europe, but not so popular here in the States.  As a result, progressive rock artists typically don't tour the U.S.  However, Neal has just released a new album and was going to put on a concert in Nashville, Tennessee.  Since I vowed that I would go see Neal in concert if he was ever in the the Central Time Zone, I simply had to go.

My beloved wife (who absolutely hates Neal's music) accompanied me on this road trip to Nashville.  Not only that, she had previously laid the groundwork for us to meet with John Elefante if we were ever in Nashville.  As things turned out, I had a very special weekend.  I got to see Neal Morse in concert on Thursday night and then met John Elefante on Friday.

Seeing Neal in concert was great!
Meeting John in person was awesome!
Two day road-trip with Elly...


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Paging Dr. Jesus

Not too long ago I was thinking I needed to talk to a psychologist.  I did a simple Google search for "Columbia MO psychologist."  After looking through Google's top choices, one stood out to me.  This doctor's online bio listed about ten "areas of specialty," with just about all of them being the very issues that I thought I was dealing with.  What began as a half-hearted search all of a sudden seemed promising with this discovery that there was someone out there who specialized in exactly what I thought I needed.

I called the number listed on the website and asked to make an appointment.  The receptionist informed me that "all of our doctors are booked for the next two months."  Undaunted, I asked for the earliest possible appointment with the doctor whose website I had found.  The receptionist replied, "I'm sorry, Dr. So-and-So is completely booked and is not taking any new patients."


That doctor must be really good.  His patients must really like him if he doesn't even need to expand his practice.  Or is it the other way around?  Isn't it the doctor's job to make his patients better?  Shouldn't people be getting healed to the point where they no longer need the doctor's services?  Maybe this doctor really isn't that good at all.  I thought about this for a while.

I call myself a Christian -- a follower of Jesus -- but in all honesty, I am a terrible Christian.  I rarely do the things the Bible says that Christians should do (pray, read my Bible, feed the hungry, give to the poor, etc.) and am much more skilled at finding new and creative ways to sin.  It took me a while before I realized that I was a perfect candidate for being a Christian since I was hopelessly dependent on the saving work of Jesus.  However even in that, I have had a distorted view of Jesus as something other than my living savior and treated him more as if he was my primary care physician.

For example, a typical prayer of mine goes something along these lines:
"Jesus, help me to stop sinning.  Help me to love people better.  Help me to do this and not do that.  I believe these are things that you want for me to do, so please help me to do them.  Amen."
If Jesus is truly alive and listens to the prayers of his followers, then why wouldn't he want to answer such a great prayer?  Why won't he snap his fingers and make me all better?  Doesn't he want me to do all those things?  Won't he be glorified by my good behavior?  Shouldn't good works just be flowing out of me because I am a Christian?  You know, the fruits of the Spirit and all that stuff?

Then it hit me.  I was asking Jesus to give me a spiritual prescription that would take away the symptoms that were bothering me (sin) so that what exactly...I could feel better about myself?  So that I could no longer need his services?  My friend Scott Boyd would tell me that my prayer was nothing more than asking Jesus to help me with the "Brett Barton Salvation Plan."  No wonder that prayer never got answered!  And here I was blaming him for giving me rocks and snakes when I thought I was asking for bread and fish.  But what am I doing asking for bread and fish when Jesus has already given me precisely what I need -- Himself?!?

When Jesus said that he was (and is) the Way, the Truth and the Life, I believe that he is saying that he is not only the means to an end, but he is also the end.  So now it is becoming more clear that I have been praying and asking Jesus to help me save myself, when he is the one in the business of savings lives.  He is the savior.  I am the savee.  He must increase.  I must decrease.  Why am I asking him to fix me so that I don't need him as much?  That's not really fixing me, now is it?

This is how the weak can say they are strong and the poor can say they are rich.  It's not that once Jesus comes into the picture, they will no longer be sick and struggle to pay their bills.  No, it's that the weak have something better than bulging muscles and a clean bill of health.  They have given up their striving to save themselves and are at peace in the hands of the savior.

He is the Great Physician who heals us through manifestation, revelation and impartation.  He is increasing.  He is manifesting himself, revealing himself and imparting himself to us.  This is the goal, the prize...THE LIFE.  This is the kind of doctor who the more he treats us, the more we go back to him.

And he is always taking new patients.

Bibliography: Redemption; Counterfeit Gods

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Think on These Things, Part 1

I have recently read the popular book series from Swedish author Steig Larsson that begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  For those of you who have read these books, you already know that they consist of page-turning plots with compelling characters who happen to be exposed to more violence, sex and the combination of the two than your average person.

Initially, I was slightly shocked as the subject matter was not what I am typically used to in my recreational reading.  I'm not sure why, though, as I have watched numerous movies over the years involving similar issues and cannot remember the last time I was truly shocked or appalled (8MM perhaps?).  This was a reminder to me that a different medium handling a familiar theme can produce such a profoundly novel effect.  This is why the exact same emotion can be evoked through different means, but rarely is as powerful as the first time experienced in any given form.  (Why else is U2 so popular?  It's because their fans act as if Bono is singing about things they have never considered before.) 

Anyway, this realization could have led my thoughts in a number of different directions, but on this particular occasion I was compelled to assess the profitability of engaging my mind on matters in stark contrast to the Biblical values that I hold dear -- a spirital cost-benefit analysis, if you will.  Should I be reading stories (or watching movies, etc.) involving behavior so drastically divergent from what I hope to emulate?  The Apostle Paul's words to the Philippians come to mind:
Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virture and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.
As I considered this verse (Philippians 4:8) in light of the question that had been raised in my mind, my thoughts went down three distinct paths, which I will attempt to communicate in three separate posts to this blog.  In this Part 1, I will lay the groundwork by opining how I believe this verse is to be applied.  I will then follow-up with Parts 2 and 3.

I am of the opinion that the verse quoted above does not prohibit mindless reading, TV and movie viewing and the like.  Paul's whole purpose in writing to the Philippians was to help them find (and be reminded of the) joy and happiness in the Lord in the midst of difficult circumstances.  The verses that immediately precede verse 8 in chapter 4 are Paul exhorting the Philippians to rejoice and not be anxious, while relying on God and His peace to protect them from anxiety.  Verses 8 and 9 culiminate these concepts with practical ways of finding peace and joy when things seem to be falling apart.

I remember as a young child I would occasionally have nightmares in the middle of the night which would wake me up and then keep me awake with fearful thoughts.  I would usually wake my parents and ask them to pray for me.  They would oblige and then they would encourage me to think about happy things to get my mind off of the fears that were tormenting me.  "Think about going to Six Flags.  Think about being at the beach."  While these aren't necessarily things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous and of good report, the process is similar to what I believe Paul is encouraging the Philippians to do.

Invariably, we all find ourselves at times discouraged as the failures and disappointments accumulate over the course of a lifetime.  It is a natural response to be filled with doubt during times of grief and suffering as we focus on the pain and frantically search for the quickest remedy.  Paul's words are calming and corrective: "remember what you know to be true, remember what you know is right, beautiful and inspiring...think about these things."

So I don't believe that this verse is saying you should only be thinking about things that fit the list (true, noble, just, pure, etc.).  Instead, I see this particular passage as an appropriate response to negative thoughts and feelings which can keep us from experiencing joy, one of the very things that a follower of Jesus should have access to, even in the midst of difficult times.

Now wait a minute Brett!  You completely side-stepped the original question which was whether or not you should be reading filthy books and watching rated-R movies!

Yeah, I guess I did.  That's because that question led me to the verse referenced above and as I meditated on that verse, I was distracted by other thoughts which I felt were worth sharing.  I'm just getting started.  Bear with me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


At what point does a thought become worth writing about?

Elaine Benes of Seinfeld fame was known for being stingy with her limited supply of contraceptive devices.  It turns out that I am not so discriminating with airing my random musings.  As I confessed in the introduction to this blog, I am mostly ignorant on just about everything.  Yet there are a lot of things that fascinate me, primarily due to my complete lack of knowledge on any given thing.   I find that when a topic piques my interest, I start pumping my peers for any and all information that they have on the subject.  I start by asking a few inocuous questions of my well-informed acquaintances and like a "sponge," I've soaked up important details that had previously eluded me.  It's a rather efficient way of learning.

Now this is hardly a secret way of obtaining information as all of us inquisitive-types resort to such fact-gathering techniques.  The key to taking it to the next level is to provide a spark with the potential of igniting a debate.  For in the fires of debate is where information is forged into knowledge.  Debate challenges notions, it puts faith to the test, it fosters meditation and alters perspectives.  Debate hones good thoughts into great ones and bolsters faith as the truth shines through the rhetoric.

So what am I going to talk about in this blog?  It is my hope that I can lay bare my life and share those things that I wrestle with -- thoughts that keep me awake in the early hours and questions that may be unanswerable -- in hopes that ideas, discussions, even prayers will flow from those I hold in high esteem.  At times I will be reverent and respectful, while at others, crass and controversial.  For that is what I am -- a mixed bag.

I invite you to join me on this quest, helping me navigate through the cobwebs that clutter my mind.  I challenge you to challenge me.  I want my views to be sharpened, refined.  I want to make sure that they stand up to the wisdom that you, the reader, can bring to this blog.  For your experiences are unlike anyone else's, making you uniquely qualified to expound upon the things that life has presented you.  Your interests and thinking offer a view from a different hilltop than those that I have climbed.  I long to see what you have seen.  Styx said it well, but Solomon said it even better: 
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.  (Proverbs 9:9-10)
Next: Think on These Things