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The Bible, The Spirit, & Diet Mountain Dew

Faith, Life, Humor

And Justice for All… – A Rhythm Section Story

On August 25, 1988, Metallica released its first full studio album with new bassist Jason Newsted, And Justice for All…  Newsted replaced legendary bassist Cliff Burton who died tragically in 1986 when the band’s tour bus overturned while they were on the road in Sweden.  Burton had recorded on all three of the prior Metallica studio albums, including Master of Puppets, which is widely considered the Gold Star Standard of the 80’s Metal Movement.  In an era where MTV Video & FM Radio plays determined success, Metallica had built a large following up to that point without the benefit of either…  They had done it all through just album sales & touring.

So to say Newted had some big shoes to fill would be a HUGE UNDERSTATEMENT.  Sadly, his photo for the Justice album cover tells the entire story…

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There’s no hiding the pain & frustration on his face here.  In short, its nearly impossible to hear Jason Newsted’s playing on the Justice album for two primary reasons… 1) In large part, Newsted chose to double-up nearly note for note behind the massive Rhythm Guitar of the one & only James Hetfield.  Truthfully, this was a fairly standard approach for many bassist on the 80’s Metal scene, so its hard to fault him.

However, then there’s… 2) He’s playing behind the MASSIVE Rhythm Guitar of James Hetfield.  That probably sounds alot like #1 off the cuff, but I’m speaking less here to the notes being played, and more so to the band politics & credibility at stake here.  There was NO WAY as this album was being mixed down, that founding member James Hetfield’s Rhythm Guitar wasn’t going to get preferential treatment.  His sound & playing was as much the core of the Metallica sound as any one thing about the band.

And so…  You get that picture of frustration above on the album cover above.  But as redemption stories go, the band re-shaped their entire sound on the following album… the infamous Black Album, which has only gone Platinum 16 times now & is the highest selling album of the last three decades… IN ANY GENRE…  Pretty impressive given that it was born in the decade of the 90’s Grunge & Alternative Scenes.  And fwiw… Newsted’s playing on this album is locked into a tight groove throughout with drummer Lars Ulrich & plays more of the counterpoint to Hetfield’s riffing.


So all that’s great, but how does this apply to Electric Guitarists on a Worship Team?  Well, let me speak specifically to the Rhythm Electrics…  You’re primarily competing for sonic space on your worship team with… 1) the Acoustic Guitar… & 2) Bass Guitar…   And unlike the studios where Metallica recorded & mixed down their albums… the Rhythm Electric will not win many mixing battles on the worship scene.

So what can we do about it?  Well for starters… Let’s not make the same mistakes that Jason Newsted did on the Justice album…  Wait… He’s a bassist, right?  Well yes… But the lessons still apply…  Let’s have a closer look…

  1. Try not to double with the bass…  As a Rhythm Player, if you’re playing muted chunky power chords that essentially double with what the bass is playing… You’re begging to get buried in the mix.  If there’s one axiom that’s true among Worship Sound Guys, its this…all-about-that-bass
  2. Try not to position yourself with the acoustic…  Acoustics are typically played with a Capo to give it a nice open sound.  That can also be a nice approach to use on Rhythm Electric.  But if you’re both sitting in Capo 2, using the same strumming/picking pattern… again, you’re begging to get buried in the mix.  Move on to option 3…
  3. Try a different Capo position…  If you can play open chords in multiple keys…  C, D, E, G, & A for instance… you can almost always find a way to separate with the Acoustic. But if that’s not your cup of tea…
  4. Drop Tunings…  Whenever I see a key of B or F# on the lineup & I’m playing Rhythm Electric… I immediately consider tuning down a half-step so I can play open chords in either C or G.  When combined with an Acoustic in Capo 4… this can produce some THICK sounds.  I use this approach on Hillsong’s Glorious Ruins & it meshes…  Well, gloriously… (see what I did there?)
  5. Alternate Tunings… If you lived through trying to learn how to play guitar in the 90’s, you know how frustrating it was as seemingly every new band had some secret combination of alternate tunings.  And while its not particularly my cup of tea, there are some alternate tunings worth exploring.  Try out a DADGAD or an Open C tuning sometime… It can open up whole new worlds…
  6. Strumming/Picking Patterns…  If you absolutely can’t get away from the same Capo position as the Acoustic, you should at least try to avoid the same Picking & Strumming patterns.
  7. Effects Options…  Rhythm Electric doesn’t have to equal a dry signal into an amp. Delays, Reverbs, Tremelos…  All of these can help you stand out in the mix, just be cautious with the decay lengths.  I typically run mine shorter for Rhythm than I do for Lead… Helps give a little clearer definition on chords.

This is not nearly an all inclusive list… So experiment on your own & shout me back some feedback!

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Baxter’s Story Part 7 – Beauty From Ashes

The following is the final post in Baxter’s Story…  If you’ve been following the story, you know that these were initially presented as a series of Facebook Notes back in January & February of this year.  If you haven’t been following and want to catch up, here’s a link to Part 1


I’ve held off writing this final entry for Baxter’s Story, probably because I was so hoping to be able to put a nice pretty bow on this story. We Christians like to do that sort of thing… put Happy Bows on sad stories. I think its because we don’t like to embrace suffering as part of the Christian experience. Way back in 2010, we took a small group of college kids to Passion 2010 in Atlanta and in one of the breakout sessions, Francis Chan forever changed my perspective on this… He started with the book of Matthew in the New Testament, quoting scripture from each book of the New Testament on Holy Suffering… He made it all the way to 1Timothy before he admitted that there was in fact a book of the New Testament with no mention of suffering. And then he goes on to quote NINE instances in 2Timothy that referenced Holy Suffering. Its all there… just google Suffering and New Testament if you’d like to see for yourself.

Yet somehow, it doesn’t get a lot of play from most pulpits… or in your typical Sunday School or small group… You can find a handful of books on it in your local Christian bookstore, but they’re largely overshadowed by much shinier, happier books like Your Best Life Now… I believe it is this lack of transparency in the Christian experience that turns off so many that choose not to believe. Western Christianity sells the shiny & happy BIGTIME… diminishes the much harder topics… and the end result is a perceived experience that does NOT match at all with the trials we face daily on this side of Eden. People either can’t buy into it at face value or they give it a try for awhile & when the results don’t line up with the promised prosperity, they move on… We’d reach far more people for Christ if we were just honest about things… The truth is… SALVATION IS HERE!… But it must also be “worked out with fear & trembling” (Philippians 2:12)… And it is not always shiny & happy… It is in fact, quite messy and humbling…


SIX DAYS after “R” witnessed Baxter’s brutal death at the hands of two pit bulls, the above picture was captured by my brother-in-law… R & his pit bull Bo… That picture gets me through A LOT these days… Its a LOUD reminder of what God is capable of… You see God built the universe in 6 days… And he healed some deep wounds in R’s heart in that same amount of time… #BeautyFromAshes

That is not to say that things for R are perfect. She waffles between periods of being her vibrant self, followed by periods of deep sadness. She passes the location where his crate used to be… SADNESS… We walk by the pet food aisle in the grocery store… SADNESS… She still won’t sleep in her room alone… BUT… She is not terrified by the images from that day… She is not afraid of dogs or animals in general… She is still R and for that, I am grateful..

There have been SO MANY acts of kindness that have come out of this tragedy. Flowers… Cards… Gifts… Some for all of us… Some just for R… So sweet… and SO NECESSARY!… Every one has been precious…

Likewise, the breeders have been so awesome… Even though they have more expensive bloodlines than the one Baxter came from, they’ve guaranteed us first pick of whatever litters they have this Spring…

Response to these stories I’ve written has also been overwhelming… My hope in sharing all of this has been to move people… get you to consider the things that have happened in your own lives and re-consider them in a new light. Some of you responded publicly… Some of you have responded privately… Some of you haven’t responded at all, but I know you’re reading… 😉 I won’t go into any details here, but it is so good to know that it has connected with so many…


REGRETS… For my wife’s birthday, I put together a picture book of Baxter. I scoured every electronic device in the house for pictures that we’d forgotten about. R’s ipod was a treasure trove. My wife’s ipad as well… I even got pictures from some dear friends that saw Baxter in the park the weekend before. It was excruciating & it was necessary… so many happy memories.

One thing that became obvious as I pulled it all together though… I didn’t have one single picture of me & Baxter anywhere. That makes me so immensely sad on so many levels. I despise having my picture taken with a passion that’s probably way beyond healthy. And in this case, it cost me… leaving me with nothing but memories now. There’s a lesson in all that and I’m not sure I’m really ready for it. But there it is…


And on that sad note… The Enemy continues to be loud & active… So many of our closest friends are being attacked in ways I can’t explain. Just know that it is exactly what I said in Part 2… He is relentless in his pursuit to take us out. We either confront that head-on or he wins…

This latest round has impacted my oldest “A” the most… She lost it last night in a way I haven’t seen before. Probably the culmination of Baxter & everything else that is going on. Thank God it finally all came out…


This weekend, our family is starting a study of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters… If you aren’t familiar with Lewis’ works, please check them out. His ability to wrap the realities of the Christian struggle into works of fiction are both spot on in their accuracy and yet completely disarming because they are NOT overtly churchy. I specifically picked this book because it dives deeply into the spiritual warfare happening all around us.
You see, I’ve come to realize that while scripture does promise us beauty from ashes… Our reality is this… IT MUST BE FOUGHT FOR…

So you’re not Yngwie Malmsteen – Part 2

So what if you can’t defeat a three-headed dragon with your shredding guitar solos…  I mean seriously…  Book of Revelations aside…  What’s the job market even like for that skill set anyway?…

No, being a mere mortal guitarist is not the end of the world…  If you need a refresher, go back & check out Part 1.  Otherwise, let’s pick up where we left off with some practical tips for being your best you…


PREPARATION

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Admittedly, its probably the former Boy Scout in me, but I REALLY dislike the idea of being THAT GUY at rehearsal that isn’t as prepared as they should be.  I mean, its happened from time to time, but as a general rule… If I can’t commit to being ready for Wednesday Nights, I’m more likely to decline the opportunity to serve.

So what does “ready” look like for me?…  Let’s dive in…

MONDAY NIGHT: Generally, this night is focused mainly on setting up delays, reverbs, & other effects, followed by a first run through of what looks like the most troublesome parts.  If its a new song or a song I haven’t done in awhile… I’ll take more time to figure out all the parts I’ll need to play.  If they’re all very familiar songs, I may take less time.  In total though, this night usually requires a minimum of an hour to get it all done.

TUESDAY NIGHT: This night is all about repetitions… As the old saying goes… Amateurs practice until they get it RIGHT… But Professionals practice until they CAN’T get it WRONG…  I tend to shoot for somewhere in between… Or whenever the kids start complaining that they can’t sleep with all the noise.  Usually, this is at least another hour in total.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT:  A former Worship Leader I worked with drilled into our team that PRACTICE is what you do on your own time.  When we all get together, that’s called a REHEARSAL… And that is not the time to be figuring all of your parts out.  Rehearsals are about putting the pieces together.  If everyone isn’t ready, that can become a very difficult & frustrating situation for everyone involved.

THURSDAY – SATURDAY NIGHT:  Some of this depends on how well or how poorly Rehearsal went.  But generally, I’ll always get in at least one final run-through on my own before Sunday comes.  More typically though, its two run-throughs. At this point, the run-throughs don’t take as long… maybe 30 minutes each.

So all total, that’s 2.5 hours of commitment at a minimum whenever I’m on Electric.  And that doesn’t count Rehearsals, Soundchecks, or the Services themselves.  That may seem excessive to some of you, but its what I need to feel really confident going live.  Your mileage may vary, but I do strongly suggest everyone do some introspection on what you’re putting into your own personal preparation.


So what’s the biblical perspective on all this?…  Well, there’s lots of good quotes from the bible on bringing God your best…  But leave it to the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament to really put some fire in your belly…

All except you. Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is God speaking to you! ~ Malachi 1:13-14

I was going to make some kind of quippy remark about how over the top Malachi seems to be here, but then I remembered…  You just don’t mess around with those Old Testament dudes…

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***Courtesy of Lucasfilms, Disney, & Paramount Pictures…

When I was 10 years old, this scene gave me nightmares for weeks.  So I’m just going to back away slowly with my eyes closed like Indiana Jones told us to & change the subject…


WHAT PREPARATION DOESN’T LOOK LIKE

So as, Epic Train Wreck stories go…  This is the one that the scars run deepest from.  Our Acoustic player was slotted to start the 2nd song in our set that week.  Only problem was that it was in a different key than Song #1… and he forgot to move the Capo.  So Song 2 starts and here he goes starting it in the wrong key.  Like slow moving dominoes, each player eventually figures out that we’re not all in the same key & adjusts to the key that the Acoustic & now Singers are in.  The player on Keys did this by making a quick Pitch Shift adjustment to get to the right key.

Just one problem…  The Keys started Song 3 and guess who forgot to reset their Pitch to neutral?  You guessed it…  So Rinse/Repeat on the slow dominoes of figuring out that we’re yet again all playing in different keys.  Somehow we recover and mercifully, that was the last song before the sermon.

But we did have to come back for a closing song, so we debriefed the whole thing in excruciating detail, but had a good laugh about it in the end.  And btw Keys…  You’re starting off this last song, so don’t forget to adjust the Pitch back to neutral.  Got it?

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Okay… So maybe that train wreck wasn’t all about Preparation or Lack Thereof…  Definitely some absentmindedness going on… But my point is this… ANYTHING can happen when you “go live” on Sunday morning… The better prepared you are, the more effectively you can deal with it.

Baxter’s Story – My Unit (Part 6)

From a February 2016 Facebook Note…  See all the earlier entries for the back story…


Life is hard… But you don’t need me to tell you that… If you need a reminder, just take a trip to your local Walmart… Indeed, life is hard and to try to do it alone is next to impossible. For one, we weren’t meant to do life alone. Look no further than the way Jesus lived. He spent the most critical years of his life with The Twelve. Sure, there were others around too… Quite a few of them at times… But when the stakes got really high, he turned to his inner circle: Peter, James, & John. When he went in to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5)… At the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17)… In Gethsemane, when the stakes were at their highest (Mark 14)… Each time, he pulled his closest, most trusted friends in for support. I believe this was more than just a coincidence or a biblical factoid. I believe it was meant to model something for us.

Since the day Baxter died, I knew at some point, I’d have to approach the other family to nail down exactly where we go from here. Lots of things were promised in the drama of that Sunday, but a few days had passed now and you just never know how time changes things. I set up the meeting for Thursday Evening… And I made sure I contacted my unit…

The picture above shows nine guys that fight as a unit. They’ve all got a job to do. And they’ve all got each others back. Lots of good Christian books have been written on the Band of Brothers concept. I could recommend a few if you’re interested. But I’m mostly interested in giving you a live action example of how this thing works in the trenches.

For starters, my unit is not all that big. Far less than nine… The key to this thing is that each man has to know the story of the other. ALL OF IT!… Yes, even the things you don’t like to admit to yourself… They have to know all of it because in order to watch your back effectively, they have to know what traps you’re blind to. And they have to be willing to call you on your own B.S. Because at some point, you will try to gloss over something out of embarrassment or self-preservation or whatever…

And know this… It is not easy!… I have failed my guys at times… Didn’t pick up on some things here… Couldn’t put the pieces together there… That sucks the absolute worst. But we keep going & fighting for each other because the alternative is we all get caught in the crossfire.

So as this Thursday evening meeting approached, I knew I was going to need them. I almost waited too late too… One of those things where you meant to do it all day long, but you keep getting pulled in other directions at work. I’m not proud to say that I gave them all of TEN MINUTES NOTICE that this meeting was about to go down & I needed them to cover it in prayer. But that’s the thing… My unit already knew what I was going through & was on high alert. 10 minutes of notice was at least 8 minutes more than they needed… They’re THAT good… So this meeting that could’ve gone sideways so easily… Well simply put… God showed up!… My unit delivered…

The other family right out of the gate, volunteered to cover our costs with the breeder for another King Charles Spaniel puppy this spring. See Baxter’s Story – Part 3 for a refresher on that not small fee. They literally had a check to the breeder the next day.
Next, they confirmed that they’d had the two attacking dogs put down and all of the grief & anguish that caused them. Obviously, they loved their dogs. But they wouldn’t ignore what had happened to Baxter.

As the conversation continued, I could see & feel their torment over what had happened. They re-counted bits & pieces of what had happened that day from their perspective. I got really choked up at one point and the dad… a former Marine… said in his own words… “Hey… I’ve cried like a B- over this thing”. Then we all got choked up for a few minutes.

The best moment though, was when the son… the one trying to get the small dog that day to go for a walk with Baxter & R… came into the room. I was able to look right into his eyes and say “It’s not your fault….” “We don’t blame you…” “It was just a tragic thing that happened, but its not your fault…”

In my experience, its not all that often that we get to breech the lines of the spiritual realm to see or feel the warfare that goes on there. But this was one of those moments… I could literally see the weight lift off of him… And by weight, I mean it was almost like whatever attack he was under spiritually just… STOPPED!… He was smiling again & out the door to Tae Kwon Do with his brother & sister.

Yep… My unit is THAT GOOD!…

I pray you’ve got you’re own unit to support you. If you don’t, please reconsider how you’re approaching life. Find some trustworthy… godly souls, open a bottle of wine, & get to know each others story. That’s where it starts… God makes beautiful things happen from there!…


Continue on to Part 7 here

Baxter’s Story – Neighbors (Kindness + Glass Houses = Grace)… Part 5

From a January 31st, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4 for the backstory…


I mentioned yesterday that something unexpected happened in all the chaos of last Sunday. I’m standing there holding little Baxter’s body, watching R run home when I noticed our next door neighbor’s teenage daughter. She had just backed her car out of their driveway when R had started her run down the hill. She had the car in drive, but she was barely moving up the hill. Her eyes were fixed on R. She crept slowly forward, but didn’t take her eyes off of R until she made it into the house. She’s halfway up the hill now & I see her head turning from R and now she sees me. She’s still creeping forward, but now she’s locked on me. I can only imagine what was going through her mind… R… R’s dad… What is he holding?… She was about 10 yard past me up the hill when she stops the car… She had added it up…

Our immediate neighbors have kids on either side of the ages of our kids. The oldest daughter is older than A (driving obviously)… Then they have a son & another daughter both younger than R by a few years… We have a quasi-cordial relationship with them, but don’t really chat like neighbors should. Life is busy for both of us, but that’s not a good enough excuse.

She steps out of the car and walks towards me… “Is that Baxter?…” Tears are beginning to well up in her eyes. I confirm with a silent head shake… And I take a deep breath to try to compose myself. “Is R okay?…” And there went all of my composure… “What happened?…” I do my best to explain it, but if you’ve been reading all of these notes this week, you know it was a complex situation. But her kindness in that moment was just tremendous. Teenagers get a bad rap for so many things these days, but this kid was a bright spot in a dark place. “You know that those same dogs attacked our dogs too, right?”…

I think I had a pimento cheese sandwich for lunch on Sunday, but I’m honestly not sure. Whatever it was came halfway back up my esophagus in that moment and then slammed backed down HARD!… Did she just say that the same dogs that had just killed Baxter had attacked other dogs in our neighborhood?… She must’ve read my expression because she started explaining the whole scenario to me. I had a later conversation with her dad and got the details on all the vet bills and other damages incurred. How did I not know this?!?!?… He also describes an attack by these same dogs on another neighbors’ dog. A different neighbor confirms that these dogs frequently harassed walkers & joggers at that end of our street.

By now, I’m guessing that many of you are perhaps seething with rage. Aggressive dogs… multiple instances… Why hadn’t this been dealt with long before Baxter lost his life? How irresponsible!… Justice should be demanded!… A pound of flesh!… that’s what they owe!…


John 8:1-11 is one of my favorite Jesus moments ever. These self-righteous religious types were always trying to trap & test Jesus during his time on Earth. They wanted desperately to make him look bad… unqualified… out of his league vs. their clearly superior knowledge of The Law. And Jesus frustrated the hell out of them over & over again. In this particular passage, they’ve caught this woman in an act of adultery and by The Law… she should be stoned to death.

Have you ever thought of Jesus as being cunning? It’s not a quality most would associate with him, but consider it for a moment. These pious little men harass Jesus most everywhere he goes and he very deftly side-steps their traps & landmines again & again. It drives them into such a frustrated state of frenzy that they hatch a plot to kill him. And even in that, he’s still three steps ahead of them.

Back to the woman… She’s expecting to die at any moment. But Jesus throws it back on the accusers… “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” he says… The little men slink away… beaten again by his cunning & guile… “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Don’t get me wrong here… I felt that same outrage about the dogs that you probably did… That Baxter’s senseless tragedy could have, no should have been prevented… I was there & gathering my stones… And then Jesus reminded me of my own glass house…


We adults have lots of responsibilities that we’re accountable for. Enough of us tend to manage them well enough that we maintain some sense of credibility as a species. But you’re kidding yourself if you can’t admit that you’ve been negligent at some point with SOME of those responsibilities. Oh you might have gotten away with it… Maybe there were no repercussions at all. Or maybe they were just minimal… perhaps so minimal, that you’re the only one that knows. Or maybe the consequences were greater.

So what makes one person’s negligence… recklessness… better than anothers? The consequences?… Let’s just call that crap & be done with it. When you’re negligent about something… you usually lose control of the consequences. Sometimes you get lucky & they aren’t that bad… And sometimes, IT all hits the fan so hard that it becomes a literal POO-POCALYPSE… Its the same way with sin… Big sin… Little sin… They all place us in Hell apart from God’s grace…

And there it is… The only logical response… Grace… I screw up regularly… So do you… Thank God his grace is generous enough to handle it all. Thank God it never runs out. Thank God his mercies are new every morning, because sometimes, I’m barely out of bed before I start ruining the day.

Nothing at this point can bring Baxter back. Nothing at this point can make my girl UN-SEE the things she saw. Adding to someone else’s guilt & suffering, to make me feel better accomplishes nothing. Their dogs are now gone too… And though we haven’t gotten to that point in the story, they’ve made it as right with us as they can…

So Grace then…


Continue on to Part 6 here

Baxter’s Story ~ My Story (Part 4)

From a January 30th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, & 3 for the backstory…


Its funny what you remember from your childhood. Take this picture above… I have always hated that picture… It might be because of that haircut… which I didn’t get to change until high school. Or it might be because it reminds me of how much hair I used to have. Or maybe its because this picture MUST have been given out with free Tide samples at JC’s Grocery, because every friend, relative, & acquaintance from my hometown seems to have landed a copy of it somehow. I have worked DILIGENTLY to keep this picture off of Facebook. It was easy in the early years of FB, but increasingly harder as more & more relatives, friends, and elementary school teachers migrated onto this platform.

I also remember that the house I grew up in was approximately 25 yards from the edge of Highway 158 when I was a wee lad. Then the state decided to put in a turn lane and 25 yards turned into 10 yards somewhere around the late Elementary School years.

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I remember that distance really well because it made pets EXTREMELY problematic.  You see, we did not do indoor pets in my house. That was just a thing… Pets, unless they swam in a bowl or a tank, were for outdoors. And really… fish are more decoration than pet. So, I cannot really remember how many dogs we attempted to have growing up, probably because each experience ended up the same way… with that dog dead in the middle of Highway 158. We had better luck with cats… Not with all of them mind you, but enough to be statistically significant.

But I do have one very vivid memory of the last dog we had while I was growing up. He was a mixed breed (see my last post), but if I had to name it… I’d say he was a Yellow LabraBeagle… I don’t remember his name. In fact, I don’t remember the names of most of my pets growing up. That’s not a small detail btw… But anyway, this memory is etched permanently in my brain…

It was the summer of ‘79… I say that because I’m pretty sure I was younger than 10 and I was definitely wearing shorts… and I really like that Bryan Adams song… In truth, it could’ve been ‘80 or ‘81… (my sister later confirmed it was 1980)

I do not remember what I was doing at the time. I was outside my house, playing I think… and my dog was nowhere around. I heard an extremely loud YELP and my big ears pinpointed it to my left and at least two neighbor’s yards away… And it was definitely my dog… I took off in a full sprint and arrived in one of our neighbor’s yards… My dog was under the rear wheel of a mammoth car I did not recognize. He was alive, but he was not moving. A lady I did not recognize started apologizing… At least, I think she was apologizing… But I’m pretty sure she was also the voice actor for that school teacher in all the Charlie Brown cartoons.

They say that wounded animals can act in unpredictable ways and frequently bite people that are trying to help them. I did not know this at the time and it totally would not have mattered. I was moving to pick up the dog out of complete reflex… He did not bite me though. I scooped him up in my arms and ran for home. I remember that one of his hind legs was drooping very badly (it was broken)… And I distinctly remember his blood running down my right leg as I ran…


Let’s pause here & acknowledge something… My dad came from a completely different era than most of my readers can imagine. He was a man’s man that grew up on a farm in central NC… And when animals got hurt on a farm in the mid-20th century, they did not take them to fancy hospitals to be patched up while you sipped complimentary lattes… There was no money for that sort of thing… That animal usually got put down, depending on the nature & severity of the injury.

Now I did not know any of that at the time I arrived in my yard. All I did know was my dog was hurt badly and needed help. I’m standing there with this dog in my arms, his leg broken, his blood all over me, pleading without words… PLEASE DO SOMETHING!!!

And my dad did what a REAL man’s man does… He came through for me & we took that dog to the local vet. Doc Brown patched him up & he wore a little makeshift cast on that leg for awhile. He healed up pretty good… just a minor limp to show for it… And then one day not too far removed from that day in the summer of ‘79… ’80, he must’ve gotten interested in some vehicle that was going down Highway 158 and…


Now flash forward about 35 years to Sunday and I’m standing there holding Baxter’s body in almost exactly the same way as I did the other dog in 1980. He’s wrapped in a towel that was completely soaked in his blood. My coat that I’m wearing is now also covered in his blood. I am not running like before… Instead, I’m watching R run… Down the hill towards home… Completely hysterical… Tears streaming… But she is not running home to get help like I did… Doc Brown was a VERY gifted Vet, but there was nothing he could’ve done to help Baxter that day.

I watched R run down that hill… I turn to the right & see my wife talking with the other family… She is BARELY holding it together… And I think… “DEAR GOD… HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO COME THROUGH IN THIS?”… There is no voice from Heaven that responds. Something else does happen though, but its for another entry… Maybe tomorrow’s…

Come through?… You cannot be serious… Its all I can do to not stand in the street & cry like a toddler. I can see R made it into the house… And I can see my wife is winding down whatever conversation is happening off to the right… And I’m still standing there, holding Baxter… My only thought at this point is, “I can’t let either one of them see him like this.” So I walk slowly down that hill… Its still pretty icy… Somewhere in between, I realize I’ve got to bury him and it cannot wait… I carry him around to the back yard and set him down… I’m returning to the garage to get the shovel and see that my wife has made it back now… That’s good… R won’t be alone…

She says, “We need to take pictures…” My heart stops… I know she’s right, we don’t know how this thing will play out… And that means I have to take the pictures…


>>>STOP… I’ve left most of the details of the other family ambiguous intentionally up until this point because there’s a whole other entry I need to make there. That’s unfortunately left a lot of gaps in the story for people to fill in on their own and I need to clear this up for the moment. That other family is CRUSHED!… They not only had to see the whole thing play out in front of them on their front lawn… They also had to make the decision to put those two dogs down. They have made this thing as right as they can for now, I promise… and my heart breaks for theirs as much as it breaks for my own family’s.


Pictures… right… I have to take pictures… So there I am, unwrapping Baxter in the snow to take pictures. I want to throw up now… Not because of what I’m seeing in front of me, but because the weight of it ALL is starting to settle in… I turn Baxter one direction & then the other… And it is HELL!… There are so many wounds that I cannot tell where the killing blow landed. There is a very large hole in his jugular though, so I’m guessing that was it. Based on what R later tells us, we believe this was the first blow, so at least he didn’t suffer long… Finally… all the pictures are done…

Now, where to bury him?… Well, live in a typical subdivision, so the options are a bit limited, but I settle on a spot just behind our yard through the woods a little bit. The ground was hard and covered in ice & snow. It took awhile to dig that hole, probably because I had to stop frequently to wipe snot & tears off of my face. I laid him as carefully as I could in the hole, paused and spoke words of truth over him. I’ve buried lots of animals over the years… never felt compelled to do that before. I covered him up gently and took a step back.

I need to make a cross or something to mark his grave. I’ve NEVER done that before… I find some old pallet wood I had left over from some wine racks my wife asked me to make for Christmas the year before. I cut a short piece from a longer piece, then nail them together in the shape of a cross. I wrote Baxter across it with one of those fat Sharpie’s I found in the garage. And then I take it back to his grave & drive it into the ground.

My wife shows up about this time… I tell her its done and then she points out the bloody towel laying in the snow. I hear R coming… I manage to fold that towel faster than any other laundry in my life and somehow, manage to find a section of it without much blood on it to leave folded out. R is almost there & I decide to take no chances so I toss the towel behind a tree where she can’t see it. Now we’re all there, standing around Baxter’s grave… We had an informal burial ceremony right then & there. It was mostly blubbering & crying… Later on, we added a wreath that had been made from the clippings of a Christmas tree. It had hung on our front door through the Christmas season. We picked it up the same day we got our tree. Baxter had gone with us that day to pick out out the tree… He had an awesome day & was the superstar/VIP of that very busy tree farm… It had been a perfect day…


A tragic thing happens to most of us as we grow up… We tend to lose little pieces of ourselves along the way to adulthood. Sometimes its in large chunks… And sometimes its 1,000 paper cuts… Sometimes the pieces are taken from us… And sometimes we willingly give them away… But worst of all is that many times… we don’t even know that it has happened.

For instance… I willingly gave us musical training when I was in the 6th grade… Because I thought playing piano was for sissies… Then I bought my first electric guitar when I was 19 & fell in love… Now I wonder what my musicianship would look like if I hadn’t given up on it… Or would I have found my love of guitar sooner?…

I also gave up Singing in public when I was about 5 or 6 years old… Must’ve been something traumatic, right?… No, not really… I just couldn’t stand how uncomfortable it made me. So I told myself, I couldn’t really sing all that well. Even worse… I convinced myself I sang quite badly… Trying to sing out of the Methodist Hymnal helped reinforce that too… Those hymns are theoretically written in keys to fit the “average person”. But I was constantly having to switch octaves mid-song because it either went too high or too low. Pretty soon I just mouthed the words like the older men did. I bought that lie that I couldn’t sing for about 30 years. God eventually pulled it out of me kicking & screaming. Now I LOVE to harmonize and I’ve got a good ear for it. I lead songs at church every so often and I love that too. But every time, that fear & discomfort are still loud & present. I just choose to feel the fear & do it anyway… God takes care of the rest…

And then there’s writing… I NEVER EVEN GAVE WRITING A CHANCE!… I figured out pretty quickly that I could absolutely crush it in Math & Science and that was enough to get me by. We humans tend to glam onto things that work for us and Math & Science were my B-’s… So Writing never stood a chance… Who knows how that could’ve turned out differently?… Maybe that’ll be my retirement plan…

Gave up on Jesus too!… For about 12 years or so… I couldn’t reconcile the faith I grew up with to the world I lived in. How could God allow ____fill in the blank___? At the time, I didn’t truly understand that Evil I talked about a few days ago. Didn’t get that spiritual warfare was happening all around me. I was literally Neo in The Matrix before he took the red pill… (pause to give credit to John Eldredge on that analogy)… I found my way back eventually, but it was touch & go for awhile there.

Back to Baxter… I realize now that at some point in my childhood, I gave up on pets too. Now, we continued to have pets after that Yellow LabraBeagle died. And we’ve had plenty of pets over our married years too. And I loved them all to some degree… but always at a distance… Always with something held back… I realize now that at some level, I was expecting that they’d inevitably end up in the middle of Highway 158.

But Baxter was having none of that… Without even knowing it, I did try to hold back at first. But it didn’t last long. He wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, I loved him deeply and I held nothing back. And I didn’t realize that either until he was gone.

God had a design in mind for each of us. And we usually manage to screw that up… giving away what isn’t taken from us… Or life does it for us in chunks & papercuts… But “the Glory of God is man fully alive!” ~ St. Irenaeus.  So we must fight to get those chunks back… We must work out our salvation with fear & trembling. ~ Philippians 2:12… We must commit to being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ~ 2Corinthians 3:18…

Baxter reminded me of this in the most beautiful & tragic way possible. And that’s really when I realized what I had to do for R. For while this would forever be a defining moment for her… I refuse to allow it to be a RE-defining moment for her. God defined her perfectly and I will fight like hell to help her hold onto that as long as I have breath in my lungs. That is how I come through…

So dear reader… What chunks have you lost, or had taken away over the years? What papercuts became so relentless, that you just gave in & bled out? What have you willingly given up & now regret? Jesus can heal all of these wounds if you invite him to. And even if you don’t, he’ll keep pursuing you… Its what he does… Beauty from Ashes…


Continue on to Part 5 here

Baxter’s Story (A Reprise) – Part 3

From a January 29th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1 & 2 for the backstory…



He was born on August 29th, 2015 along with three brothers… Bill, Brock, & Buzz… & one sister, Bailey. He was the runt of the litter… And they called him Bertie, not Baxter… Its okay that they didn’t know, but he was always Baxter. His Dad was Dickens and he came from a bloodline of Grand Champions. His Mom was Belle… also AKC registered. They were a perfect family.

By mid-October, Bill & Brock & Bailey had all been adopted. Just Buzz & Baxter now, holding the fort down. And that’s when we showed up… October 25th, 2015. We went to visit the pair and it was not long at all before we knew, Baxter was ours. Or were we his?… Its hard to tell the difference.

I remember so much about that day that changed us… changed me, forever. For starters, I dated the check wrong… 10/24, but it was definitely Sunday, not Saturday. We went to get him after church that day. We had no leash… no collar… and no harness…  As it turns out, its really hard to manage a puppy at an active Interstate rest stop with no leash, no collar, & no harness… We played zone defense as we coerced him to get his business done instead of roaming & trying to play with all the other dogs.

After the rest stop, we had to go to Pet Smart for a leash, a collar, & a harness… And of course Sonic, because we were within 5 miles of one and its the law… Also… Baxter HATED riding in the car… whined the whole way home. Fortunately, that wore off before the road trip to Orlando. He whined just a bit that first night when we all went to bed, but hardly ever after that. After that, he had our routine down… Or we had his routine down… Again… its really hard to tell.

And then there’s that monkey… His first chew toy… He loved that thing… Chewed the ever-living snot out of it… One day we came home and found my oldest daught “A” in the dining room (she home schools) with Baxter… & it looked like it had snowed. Apparently the monkey’s head had LOTS of stuffing… Lots & LOTS of stuffing… Key word there is “had”… R sleeps with whats left of that monkey now… It helps… But he did have other chew toys he loved too… a fox… a weasel… ipod cords… laptop cords… table legs… Good times!…

We officially registered him with the Continental Kennel Club with the name Elkay Baxter <last name omitted>. The first name was my pick entirely… You see, where I grew up, pure breed dogs were something that occasionally appeared on ESPN when there was a lull in programming. In my young world… Dogs came into your family in one of three ways… 1) Someone dropped them off near your house and they followed the smell of food, 2) A close friend or family member had a female dog with a litter of pups & you were obliged to “help them out” by taking away one of the mouths to feed, or 3) A hunting dog with no tags gets lost and… follows the smell of food. Notice that in none of those three scenarios is an exchange of money required.

And then there’s Baxter… We paid…. Well lets just say there was a fee for him… If you really want to know, google King Charles Spaniel breeders and you’ll get an idea. So I felt the need to mock the situation because my humor is dark & twisty like that…  So I gave him the first name Elkay… Actually, I gave him initials… L.K. … which stood for Left Kidney… Because that’s about what he cost… L.K. became Elkay…

Ironically, I would TOTALLY give my Left Kidney to take what happened Sunday away. And its a GOOD KIDNEY people… My love of good beer has seen to that…

Did he just say that?… Yes, I just said that… Loves Beer, Loves Jesus… That’s a bumper sticker that will sell people!… But I digress…

I wanted this post to be happier & lighter today because yesterday’s note was not and I have a feeling tomorrow’s post won’t be either. So take a deep breath with me and soak in the happy times with Baxter.

Today, he would have been 5 months old exactly…


Continue on to Part 4 here

So you’re not Yngwie Malmsteen – Part 1

Here’s a straight up truth-bomb for ya…  I am not a great guitarist…  I am not the guy at Guitar Center that drops everybody’s jaws with his amazing displays of speed, technique, & all around chops…  I’m just not that guy… And I’m totally okay with that…

I figured out a long time ago that this ship had sailed for me already and I made peace with it. I decided that I’d work what skills I did have to be the best me I could be & so far, that’s worked out pretty well.  Fortunately, as a worship team guitarist… we’re not often called upon to produce blazing solos with 32nd note precision…  Unless that is, you see something by Lincoln Brewster pop up in Planning Center…  But we’ll double back to that later…  What I’d like to offer you here are some easy to apply suggestions to help you be the best YOU possible…  So without further ado…


SIMPLIFY

Whenever I run into a challenging guitar part, I will first make every effort to try to nail the part before Wednesday Night Rehearsal.  Just doing this one thing will stretch the boundaries of what you’re capable of over time, even if you can’t nail it perfectly.

However, if I get to Friday and I’m still struggling with it, more often than not I’m going to simplify that part.  Personally, I’d rather play something that’s close & I can nail 9 out of 10 times vs. playing something more difficult that I’m more likely to botch when we go live.

So what does that look like?  Well, here’s an example from the beginning measures of the Bridge for This I Believe (The Creed) by Hillsong.  So first of all, I’m convinced that Nigel Hendroff has 6 fingers on his left hand and finally, we have the scientific evidence that proves it…

6-fingers

So with the pressure of living up to that off of us, let’s look closely at the recorded Lead Line…  This is at the 2:22 mark of the song if you’re listening in Planning Center…

e-------5---8--------8---8--|------7-7------8-7-5----|
b--5\h8---5--------5---5----|----8--------8-------8--|
G----------------5----------|--7--------7------------|
D---------------------------|------------------------|
A---------------------------|------------------------|
E---------------------------|------------------------|

I’ve looked at several different tutorials online & this seems to be the prevalent arrangement demonstrated.  Personally, I take a slightly different approach…

e-----------8--------8---8--|------7-7------8-7------|
b-------8----------8----8---|----8--------8-----10-8-|
G--5-------------5-----5----|--7--------7------------|
D---------------------------|------------------------|
A---------------------------|------------------------|
E---------------------------|------------------------|

So what’s my thought process here?…  For one… I can get through these two measures (which repeat several times) with just two chord shapes…  A 5th chord shape in the first measure… And a D-chord shape in the second measure…  That makes for a very repeatable lead line.

What else am I thinking?…  Well, for one… I’m betting the congregation probably won’t miss that B-string hammer-on…  And once you’ve added in delay, you’re casual worshiper won’t be able to tell the difference between the two with the entire band playing.

Lastly, take note of the subtle change in the second measure where I’ve subbed the 5th fret High E string for the 10th fret B string.  Its the same note, but by moving it to the 10th fret B, I can maintain that D chord shape & play the 10th fret with my pinkie.  If I stuck with the original tab, I’d have to break the chord shape to accomplish essentially the same thing.

This is just one example of many where I’ll shamelessly make things easier for myself to deliver in a live setting.  But the principles can be applied many places…

See you at Part Two…

Baxter’s Story (A Reprise) ~ Part 2

Dear Readers… In case you missed yesterday’s disclosure, the is a re-posting of a series of Facebook Notes I wrote earlier this year in the wake of personal tragedy.  It is dark… And it is real…  Written four days after “the event” while sitting on gym bleachers during R’s basketball practice, sobbing as quietly as possible… As I read it back now, its a SOBERING REMINDER that this fight for each other in this world must never end…



In the movie A Time to Kill, Matthew McConaughey played the role of lawyer, Jacob Tyler Brigance. Ladies, I’ll pause there & give you a moment… Ok, that’s enough… At the end of the movie, he gave as his Closing Argument, one of the most disruptively brutal, yet beautiful monologues ever captured on film. Its easily one of the best movies of the 90’s and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Ashley Judd alone… … … … but I digress…

WARNING: If you have a weak stomach… If you have delicate sensitivities… If you are easily offended… If you cannot handle the unfiltered truth… PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE… Skip down to “end Jake Brigance”… Because before this thing can get better, it necessarily has to get worse… We process this whole thing or risk glossing over it as inconsequential… And it IS NOT inconsequential…

[channeling Jake Brigance…]


I’d like you to clear you mind for a moment and imagine if you would, that your best friend in the whole world is of the canine variety. And that even though you’ve only known him for 3 months, he is like the air you breathe… you just cannot believe that living without him is possible. Now imagine that you’ve had one of the best weekends ever. School was cancelled… You played all day… no seriously… ALL DAY LONG in the snow… sledding & snowball fights & just everything any kid could love about winter. And towards the end of that amazing 3-day weekend (& counting), you decide you want to share that world with your best bud before it all melts away. He’s so excited to see you, just like always, and eager to get on that leash & out the door with you. He trusts you completely and without question. The two of you, in a winter wonderland is just PERFECT. Close your eyes for a moment & really try to picture it… No seriously… Stop reading this, close your eyes, & picture it…

Now imagine that faster than you can blink, that friend is being attacked right in front of you. The leash is jerked out of your hand as he is drug one way and then the other. You are completely FROZEN in terror… unable to speak… unable to scream… Time is completely standing still… Images flash in front of your eyes that you somehow CANNOT command to close… His head completely inside of the mouth of one of his attackers… And the blood… so much blood… You hear him whimper, was it really just the once? And then all you can hear is the sound of his attackers, still biting & tearing at him viciously…

Now imagine that there are other people there trying to intervene… They are struggling to free him from his attackers… Everyone is yelling… Everyone is screaming… The barking… The growling… The sounds swirling in this cacophony of absolute terror… And finally… its over… The attackers have been subdued by the others… removed from the scene… And there you are… still frozen…

Can you see him?… His broken… bloody body lying there on the ground in front of you… Can you see him?… His completely lifeless 7lb body… No longer breathing… No sounds at all… His eyes are still wide open with terror permanently etched on them…
Now close your eyes again… Can you see him? Your friend… Your BEST FRIEND!… Is he still in one piece?… You’re not even sure… CAN YOU SEE HIM?

Now imagine you’re not you… Because if you’re reading this, you’re an adult or almost an adult… And the adult in you can’t see him at all in this situation… Imagine you are the 9 YEAR OLD YOU and this has just played out in front of you… Close your eyes again… CAN YOU SEE HIM?

[End Jake Brigance]


Jake Brigance used a similar approach in his Closing Argument to try & produce an emotional response from the jury. His case was full of holes, so he did the only thing he could think of… He told the jury the raw & unfiltered truth, because it was all he had. So you may be asking, “The movie reference is great, but just what in the hell were you trying to do by telling that morbid story?”

Well, for starters… That is the end of Baxter’s story. He no longer has the opportunity to tell his story. And he meant too much to us… endured too much… to not have his story told.

This is also R’s story… Thank God it is not over!… I cannot praise God enough for sparing her any physical harm in this event. Literally that VERY SAME DAY, a 7yr old boy in a nearby community lost his life in a dog attack. Thank you Jesus for your protection of her! But nonetheless, R cannot adequately tell her story either… Too much trauma for a 9yr old to process completely. If you’re wondering, all of the fragments she has been able to recall are in the account above. For your sake, I won’t say which are which.

Maybe I used that approach because we live in such a desensitized world these days that it would be all too easy to gloss over this… “It’s tragic… It’s hard… It’s unfair… Now walk it off… And what’s for dinner?” Baxter deserves better than that. R deserves better than that. This is NOT a little thing… So maybe I wanted to put the reader into the story as much as I could so they could feel the actual gravity of this situation.

Or maybe I’m just like Jake Brigance… full of holes (feels that way)… left with nothing but the raw & unfiltered truth. And here it is…

EVIL IS REAL… I am not saying these dogs are evil… I am not saying that their owners are evil… (They aren’t) But this thing that happened was PURE EVIL… And the Father of Evil is SATAN… And he is alive & roaming like a lion, looking for someone to devour [1Peter 5:8].

I just freaked a bunch of you out… That’s okay by me… Maybe you’ve never known a Faith in your lifetime & this concept makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you’ve been exposed to church, but this Satan thing, you’re just not ready for it. Maybe you’re even a true believer and your church just happens to downplay the spiritual warfare that exists all around us… I’ve attended churches like that myself.

So maybe you feel that I’m overblowing this Satan/prowling thing… I can say unequivocally, that he [Satan] probably likes it that way. You’re much easier to take out when you can’t even acknowledge that any danger exists.

Back to this story though… I just want to state loudly & clearly… I SEE YOU SATAN!… I see what you’re doing here… And I swear by Christ’s authority, IT WILL NOT PASS…
Just lost a few more people probably, but it doesn’t matter. R is my priority here… Satan is trying to take her out… Hell, Satan is trying to take all of our kids out!… Satan is trying to take all of US out!… It’s what he does!… Sometimes in big ways & sometimes in small ways, but his assault is relentless.

In this case, Satan is trying to take my bright, shiny, animal loving, life loving R & wound her deeply. He’s hoping she’ll blame herself (and she has tried). Hoping her love of animals will diminish, which could alter the course of her entire life (among many things, she’s talked about being a Veterinarian someday)… He’s hoping her radiance will become dimmer… that she’ll be less likely to love so easily… That she would become at least significantly tarnished or at best, deeply scarred by this event. He’s hoping that she becomes a fraction of the woman God designed her to be.

He can hope all he wants because IT WILL NOT PASS!…

We do not deal with this by playing prevent defense here… We rebuke Satan’s attack with an all out offensive of Love. Love of R… Love of Baxter… Praying for the other family and the tragedy they also experienced… And we confront the self-blaming head on… I feel like I have been playing Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting for four days straight because I’ve said to her “It’s not your fault…” so many times. Today, before I could say it to her, she said to me… “Its not my fault…” [pauses for verklempt moment]…

And we talk about it… If you know R at all, you know we talk about it ALOT … There is no under the rug sweeping going on here… There is no downplaying what she saw… Whatever she remembers… whatever images give her nightmares… We confront it head on… We focus on images of the good times we had with Baxter. And we pray for healing for all of us.

And I do not fight this battle alone… I’ve been progressively reaching out to the guys in my “unit” to pray over this thing. Collectively, we will beat back the gates of Hell here, because there simply is no other option. Thank God I have brothers who have my back, because I can’t do this alone.

R will be impacted by what happened Sunday, we ALL will be impacted by what happened Sunday. But by God’s Grace, she will remain her shiny, happy self and there will be Beauty from these Ashes…


So dear reader… My prayers for you are this… 1) If this story has surfaced anything from your childhood that was traumatic… big or small… Something not fully dealt with… more like glossed over… I’m begging you to go deeper with it. Why do you feel that way? What could/should have happened? Find a friend & talk it out… 2) Really give some thought to Does Evil Exist? And if so, where does it come from? Or more importantly, what should we do about it? Where should we turn for help? Whatever you do, don’t just ignore it… 3) Your kids, if you have them… when you have them… BE PRESENT and guard their hearts closely!… Do not be afraid to fight for them & do not try to do it alone!…

“To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit without hope. Then they will be called oaks that are right with God, planted by the Lord, that He may be honored.” ~ Isaiah 63:3


Continue on to the next part here

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