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A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

What can I get for two smashed flies?

The last two weeks have been very tough.

Three weeks ago, my wife went to a sort of family reunion that her folks have every year around Memorial Day. I wasn’t able to go because I had to play in an annual Marvin Gaye tribute the same day. (I wish I could post the audio. We had a six-piece horn section, with strings and four background singers! It was AWESOME!)

In attendance was an uncle (my mother-in-law’s brother), who  rarely visited, due to numerous factors — he lives in Denver, and he has been involved in self-destructive behavior. According to my wife, he was very bitter and angry. I say “was” because while at the reunion he demonstrated a dramatic change.

He was kind, joyful, and he went from person to person apologizing for years of hurt and damage. He had gotten saved and was part of — and resident of — a church mission in Denver where people struggling to get back on their feet came to live and worship. He was known to go out into the streets and preach the Gospel to drug addicts and alcoholics.

Kathy told me about it when she got home.

A week later he was dead.

Just like that. Kathy called me crying and saying that someone had shot him. MURDERED him. A man that he had mentioned, Leon, had been “bothering” him incessantly — taking his things and provoking him. He told his family about it at the reunion. This was corroborated by Uncle’s friends. Leon, who had a gash on his forehead, shot him twice in the stomach. In the kitchen of the church!!! The police arrested Leon.

And Kathy made another trip down to the country for a funeral of a murdered man ten days after he had been the source of so much joy and relief. A man not even sixty years old, and not sick, in a box built for someone — anyone — else. It was horrible! There was, through the anger and anguish, comfort and amazement at how God allowed Uncle to neatly organize and stack his affairs before calling him up.

Insult was added to injury, however, when Kathy got a phone call as she was walking into the funeral home for the wake. They let him go. They let Leon go, saying that it was SELF DEFENSE, substantiated by the cut on his head!!! So just as family members had steeled themselves to view the body, the Denver police unleashed the cruelest cut of all!

I am angry. We ALL are. It is said in the black community that black life is worth decidedly less than white life. I have seen schoolmates killed, neighbors killed, and the perpetrators received “11/29”. Less than a year, or no time at all for killing another black person. I have said and heard it said in fights and arguments that, “if I kill you, I’ll be out before they bury you!” and I saw it happen two weeks ago!

I think about Natalie Holloway, and The Runaway Bride, and countless other white men and women who go missing or are killed by their husbands, or are abducted. The world stops spinning. “Inside Edition,” and “Nightline” run them as lead stories, while all I see about my wife’s uncle are the racist comments left by so many online cowards: “Way to go, Leon! That’s TWO niggers off the streets!! Let ’em all kill each other!” I had to make Kathy get off the computer. She was torturing herself.

It is amazing that a man can be shot in the belly in the kitchen of a church mission only to have the investigation wrapped up before the wake, with the killer released because he was defending his life!!! Against what? Why did he have a GUN?!!? What about unlawful possession and/or discharge of a firearm? Throwaway People, I guess.

Curiously, my wife’s own inquiries revealed that:

A. The “Pastor” of the mission got into an argument with Kathy’s uncle right before he left, the argument ending with Uncle’s declaration that he was leaving the ministry.

B. The “Pastor has been under investigation for shady practices.

C. Leon was heard more than once threatening to kill certain people at the mission, Uncle being one.

D. The “Pastor” has — get THIS — taken out life insurance policies on his congregants (homeless and down-and-out people with no one else to fight for them) with himself as the beneficiary!!!

Smoking guns indeed!

It is cold comfort to know that if I suffer the misfortune of being slain, I don’t have the intrinsic worth to get the necessary attention. Justice’s blindfold has a slit in it when it comes to me. And mine.

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June 22, 2010 Posted by | Christianity, Death, Life, Life Lessons, Race, Racism | 1 Comment

More Time, and Righteousness, Credited to My Account

I’m not supposed to be here.

I’m not supposed to be typing, and double-checking, and breathing right now.

Saturday night, Kathy went to the store to get us something to eat. The line being too long, she left without it. Sam’s Club has these really big oranges in this really big bag for a really low price, and I had to have some, so I jumped in the car to go get them.

I am a lead-footed driver, and I like D’angelo. I was indulging in both. The expressway is about a half mile from our house, and I was on it quickly and and moving swiftly, about eighty or ninety, weaving past those without 265 horsepower at their disposal. The music was blasting and I was feeling pretty good, having spent a whole week with my wife and my babies. Being a husband and a father with so much now to lose, I don’t drive like I used to, but this was such a short trip…

I was in and out of the store in ten minutes. The off ramp where I get off does not merge for those — like me — going left. There is a two-lane stop. As I approached, I saw that an suv, a Tahoe, as in the left lane, and that the right lane was empty. I took the right lane so that when the light turned green, I could jump out quickly and beat the Tahoe on my left. I was racing the whole world and winning.

The music enveloped me — “…she’s alwayyys in my hair, my haiiiiir!” — and I was focused on that red light like a drag racer, ready to launch!

The light turned green! Ready… Set…

For some reason now, I didn’t hit the gas. There was no voice that spoke.

I couldn’t see around the hulking Tahoe from my Maxima, but I noticed that the Tahoe didn’t move either. I’m talking about a span of about one second.

Whoooooosh!! From the left, an eighteen wheeler, carrying death and dismemberment, barrelled through the intersection doing about sixty miles an hour!

Everything changed right then. I sat there at that light in the night at the tail end of a short meaningless trip and shook my head soaking in all that that momentary hesitation meant.

I pulled off slowly, and made my left turn, loing to the Tahoe, and like the aftermath of throwing a giant stone into a pond, the water of my whole life flooded in on me and overwhelmed me.

I thought about Kathy, who waited confidently for me to get back home not ever thinking that I was a pureed mass being poured into a body bag a half mile — and an eternity — away. I thought of how torn to pieces she would be for who knows how long.

I thought about Max, who loves me so absolutely right now, who calls ME every day when he awakes, who yells for ME at night when he has a nightmare, who needs ME to teach him all this stuff I can’t wait to teach him.

I thought about Diana, who smiles so wide at me when the cobwebs clear from her eyes at three o’clock every AM when I feed her, making sure she gets that extra meal she slept through earlier. I though about how she stops crying when I pick her up. I thought about telling her about boys and God.

I thought about how many times I have fed them and changed them and comforted them and taught them and loved them and watched them love me back. And I thought about the fact that no matter how much they love me, one small push on the gas pedal a few SECONDS ago would mean that They would only see me through pictures.

Max would ask, “Where’s Daddy? When’s Daddy coming back?” for days, weeks, and maybe even months, but with each passing second he and his sister would forget me a little bit more until in a short while they would remember me no more. Not at all. All the lessons and laughs would go unfulfilled.

I thought about my parents. I am the oldest and the only son. Gone. With just the slightest release of the brake pedal. I know how much they have loved me.

I thought about my three sisters.

And my few close friends. My church family who would have to hear the news on Sunday morning. I thought about all my musician friends…

My life didn’t flash before me. An alternate future played before me like a dvd on 3x. I saw my body crushed amid broken glass, twisted steel and torn rubber on the street while everyone I loved went on obliviously until the phone rang. I thanked God so much and so many times in that half mile ride.

I am supposed to be dead right now. That is not an overstatement. I am supposed to be as dead as someone mauled by a bear, or crashed in a plane. Based on the way I was driving and jamming — I’ve done it many times before — I was supposed to press that pedal, and no one but God stopped me. I should be sloshing around in a bag in a drawer. But I am not.

I walked into the house, put the oranges down, sat in a chair in front of my family, and cried. Hard.

Tears of  joy and sorrow. Boiling water and ice cubes in the same glass.

Shortly after I began to process everything, I thought about the biggest point of all:

As graphic a picture as the Lord had stapled in my brain, as close a call as I had, as surely as He had saved my life, He did MUCH more than that on a hill, far away!

The picture of eternity in hell is infinitely more horrible than a broken body and crying loved ones. Yes, He surely saved me — and my whole network of family and friends — from an excruciating circumstance, but it all becomes translucent in the face of that from which He ultimately saved me.

And everything I do from here out should be in light of that fact. I have the picture. I have the time. What will I do with it?

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Advice, Children, Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, Death, Driving, Irony, Near Misses, Salvation, Second Chances | 16 Comments

Death Wears Three Shoes. Two Have Fallen…

“Hey, Derrick, we got a possible session comin’ up, and it’s BIG. I don’t wanna say anything yet, ’cause I might jinx it,” my trumpet player friend, Marc Franklin, told me a couple of months ago.

I didn’t press the issue because I’ve had a number of false alarms in the past.

It turns out that it IS happening. Tomorrow, August 11, we are (were) scheduled to play behind Anthony Hamilton and other notables on the soundtrack of the upcoming movie, “Soul Men” directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Spike’s cousin,  starring Samuel L. Jackson, the late Bernie Mac, and the — Lord, help us — late Isaac Hayes! I didn’t even have a chance to be happy about the whole thing because Marc had played everything so close to his vest that I didn’t even know that I was to be part of the music to the movie. I was fired up about the chance to shoot my shot with r&b artist Hamilton.

It hurt to hear about Bernie Mac simply because he was so genuine and funny. I always loved that dude. I didn’t even know I was working on his LAST FILM!

And then today, as I was at my folks’ house trying to get my usual Sunday afternoon nap (since I don’t ever go to sleep on Saturday nights anymore), I heard Kathy screaming from the distance and getting ever closer to where I was. “Isaac Hayes just died!” I sat up.

“WHAT?!?”

“They killin’ all the black people!!” she lamented. “First Bernie, now this! I can’t take it! Who next?!?” She was pretty upset.

You know they always say these things come in threes.

So, needless to say, tomorrow’s session is cancelled. See, Isaac is in the movie, too (unbeknownst to me), and the guys who played on the “Shaft” score with him, Skip Pitts (wa wa guitar) and Willie Hall (all those drums), are in the group that I often play with, and they are doing this project. They were at the studio when they got the news, and it was, I’m told, not pretty.

Isaac is the icon of Memphis music. He was one of the pioneers who got out and did it BIG. I can say with honor that I have played with him a few times and have spoken with him. Cool dude! Truck Turner in the flesh!  And, as I found out, he was a real musician who knew the music.

I was playing in the horn section at a NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) event a couple of years ago (nearly eerily where I met Morgan Freeman). We were honoring hometown Stax Records and Memphis musicians, among them William Bell, Justin Timberlake (when he was still with Cameron Diaz), and Isaac Hayes.

At a rehearsal, he came in to check out the band. We were working on a song of his, and one of the charts had some funny voicings for the horns. Isaac came over with a smile and asked us to play what was on the paper. I was like, “Man! Isaac Hayes is right in front of me listening to me play! Don’t mess up!”

We got into it, and I thought I was killin’ it when he stopped us…

“Play that again. Just the horns,” he baritoned. (“Wow! Sounds jus’ like hisself! I kin dig it!”)

We played the section again, and he looked at me and stopped us again. “Gimme your chart.” Cool as butter.

“See this ‘B’ right here? Play a ‘B’ flat. ” He basically re-voiced the whole chord. But I thought, “Naw. That ain’t right. He must have mis-read it. This is like major, and that note ain’t even in the key. It’s gonna clash, and everbody is gonna think it was me. He IS kinda old. I’m ‘on play a ‘B’ natural.”

So we played it again. See, I’m trying to impress Isaac Hayes with my abilities.

“Stop. Did you play that ‘B’ flat like I told you?”

My black face turned red. On the inside. “Aw. My bad. I musta missed it.”

He was still smiling at me.

So we hit it again, and I played the ‘B’ flat. Man, that chord rang out as pretty and altered as some Miles or some Monk or something!!

I looked up at Isaac and he had a grin on his face wider than an Atlanta expressway! I couldn’t do anything but laugh! We spoke no words, but here is what we said:

“Isaac! Maaaannn, you know yo’ stuff!”

“Yeahhh, young buck, they ain’t just invent music five years ago. I’m thru wit’ stuff you ain’t even heard of yet!”

“I’m impressed! My daddy got your records, but that whuppin’ you just gave me raises you waaay up in my book! I ain’ gone never forget this lesson! (I break verbs an assault adjectives and murder modifiers in my thoughts.)”

“You keep on playin’. You gone be all right. Just listen to the old heads.”

All that with a glance and two smiles. Isaac Hayes is — was — thorough! And now, he’s in the hands of the Lord.

Death hurts. The living as well as the departed, maybe the living hurt more. It is cool to have a few memories, but the pain of all this is a memory, too, and they kind of all go together. Otherwise, it would be like watching the first thirty minutes of a movie and leaving before the end.

I never got the chance to even wonder what it would be like to talk to Bernie Mac at the premiere. And the fact that I have interacted with Hayes makes his passing even more poignant.

It’s just not right to be speaking of these men in the past tense.

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Bernie Mac, Celebrity, Current Events, Death, Hollywood, Isaac Hayes, Life, Movies, Music, News, Show Business, Soul Men, Work | 5 Comments

A Porpoise-Driven Life

Are you like me? Do you sometimes find that you live your life like a dolphin, holding your breath the overwhelming percentage of the time waiting for trouble to come?

I have to constantly tell myself that my Faith is the engine that drives me, and that God will see me through whatever disaster awaits me at the surface. I often am not able to enjoy even long periods of peace for holding my breath dreading the next calamity.

“Max might get sick.” “Diana might get bitten by the giant Great Dane that lives next door.” “My parents might die soon.” “Kathy or I may get fired.”

Things could happen. Things will happen. Bad things will happen. The point is that they will happen whether we shy away or stand there.

I am telling myself and you that it is okay to live in the face of the wind. God is able to transport us through what travails may come, and if we spend our time flinching from a blow that may or may not be on the way, we will miss the joys of life; watching kids grow and become independent, seeing parents become grandparents, relying on the Lord for sustenance when men cut you loose. “Fight back,” my daddy used to say, “They gone hit you anyway, whether you flinch or not!”  You might as well get some licks in.

Life is so much more good than bad, even for the most unfortunate of us, when we have an Eternal Point of View that sees through pain and around obstacles. Life is so much more Florida than Seattle.

All is not lost for the Christian even at the point of death. But you only die once. You live forever. Trust God. He is hurt when you don’t. I have to tell myself this from time to time, so I figured I’d tell you, too.

Come up for air.

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Advice, Christian Life, Christianity, Death, Depression, Faith, Family, Fatherhood, Fear, God, Life | 3 Comments

A GODly ANTIHISTAMINE

My cousin has died. He was the big brother l always wanted, but never had.
It hurts awfully, but not as much as it did yesterday.
Tomorrow will be just a little easier.
What helps is the knowledge that he, being a believer, is gone from his body, but there with God.
The cold water to the face is the fact that each one of us will have to step up to the front of this life line and give our mortality back to our Maker.

Death is an ink stain on the fabric of life.
No matter how many times we scrub it, no matter how clean it looks,
the stain, the hurt, the fact, will never be completely gone.
And it is our own doing.

God, who cannot bear the company of sin, is like one of those bubble-kids without an immune system who cannot bear the presence of the merest germ. The environment must be completely pure.

The fact that one person at the dawn of time committed one seemingly insignificant internal transgression- no murder, no theft, no lie, no assault…- caused God such discomfort, if you will, that the ENTIRE creation suffered. Tornadoes, plane crashes, rapes, cancers, heart failures, carnivorous animal attacks. Arthritis, senators, torn cartilage, cross-burnings, job stress, cavities, chicken pox, murder. Hypothermia, abortion, divorce, perversion, K-cars, BEETS.
All because of one sin.

HE sneezed and the whole universe got the cold.

The thing is, though, that God Himself solved the problem. (This is the beauty of the Christian way that separates it from any other belief system. How can proclamation of this worldview be deemed arrogant? When no merely human hand can take credit?)
We have proven incapable of fixing it ourselves anyway. He clothed Himself in the very kind of flesh which was at the genesis of the issue.
He was, in Jesus, the antihistamine that mankind needed to stem the allergic reaction.

Look at it like this: Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for our crimes. He did the time, so to speak, for our contamination of God’s pure, sinless environment.
(And if you think you don’t deserve to be punished for what some guy may or may not have done thousands of years ago, you have committed enough transgressions of your own to suffice. Check your records!)

In doing so, He allowed us to be viewed by the Father through righteous-tinted lenses. We, still being wretched and depraved, are allowed access to fellowship on ACCOUNT of Jesus’ sinless life and work on the cross.

In the same sense, when l sneeze uncontrollably in early spring, l take some form of histamine blocker to assuage it. While l am still covered in pollen, l live as though free. This is Jesus! My allergies still exist, but l am assured of being able to go out into the world knowing that the Medicine is unfailingly, unceasingly effective.

July 5, 2007 Posted by | Death, God, Jesus, Salvation, Sin, The Fall, The Nature of God | Leave a comment