I eased myself into the high passenger seat of a large white suburban. We were men on a mission to see a brick building of interest. The driver, whose quirky personality is difficult for me to figure out, starts up the engine. (I imagine others find it as difficult to see what lies beneath this skull of mine, but he is quicker to smile, laugh, and empathize and thus is seemingly more easy to be with.) Several notes come out of the stereo system, and another man in the back asks excitedly, “Is that the Avett Brothers?” Driver answers in the affirmative, that indeed it is the Avett Brothers. “I knew there was a reason I liked you,” back seat passenger conveys the message of an instant manly bond of music. I take note of band and catch some notes of note, then take some mental notes for later perusal of agreed upon bonding band.
Some days later my wife presents to me a late birthday gift of an itunes card worth, (drumroll please) twenty-five dollars! I haven’t had money for itunes since I wrote my last album review dated May 8th. I figure that an album review here to be forthcoming and begin the search for what to buy… what to buy. I instantly remember the band that brought about the bond that I so much like to experience, of which I semi-wrote about on that one site SIR page. I sent a message to back passenger asking them to remind me of band, then checked them out. Well, they were okay. Not necessarily my style, more on the easy country/rock. My country and/or country rock demands more of a hook and less of, hmmm… shall I say mainstreamism?
I flashed back to my appreciation of 80’s thrash metal, and found nothing that made me want to buy. It is very hard to buy an album when you rarely get the funds to go for it, after all there is so much to choose from and where do you go? Do you pick from your past? Do you go for the stuff you received some moderately impressed praise for having and finding some more of the stuff? Do you go for something new that itunes may recommend? Last time I asked for recommends, I got a lot of no responses or stuff that I wasn’t nearly interested in. Then I remember a song that I first experienced while browsing the net. It showed a kid and his response to a song and the lack thereof. Very funny video, and the song got stuck in my head. The way the kid reacts is the way I am when it comes to music: if it makes me move, I like it.
I found the song and the album, then listened to the samples. It didn’t thrill me right away, but then I remembered how I use to have to work hard to like an album; listening to it over and over again, so it’d grow on me and it became part of me and I could sing it on a whim. Now wait a sec, you may think that I was forcing myself to like something just because others liked it and I could… bond with them? Nothing could be farther from the truth. It wasn’t that I didn’t hate it and forced myself, but that I knew it had potential to move me. I love music, I just don’t connect immediately with the specific sound. Like when your friend posts a video of a guy doing the guitar rhythm to an old song that you liked way back when and says to check out the fret work, you suddenly realize that you never really heard the instruments separately, but always as a whole. You never fully realized the work and talent that went into such simple melodies, and how beautiful each part can be on its own. My goodness! How perspectives can change in an instance. Music is the stuff that shows us how beautiful a gift God gave us when it comes to hearing. Alas, like so many other good gifts given us, we make it ugly and spiteful. Yet I suppose that is a part of human existence too.
Back to the review at hand. Since this is a review of an album I don’t have much of a history with, I don’t know it totally in and out, but will give my initial reactions to each song.
Dog Days Are Over: This is the song that I referred to earlier. Great, haunting, lively intro. Her voice instantly takes me in. Love the deep tones and then ukulele(?). Clapping hands and tambourines and a harp builds up the crescendo to the chorus. With pauses in the middle and strong come backs. This is a great song to jump up and down to and sway in melody.
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up): This one could be on the extreme, alternate, late-night, weekend playing Christian music station. It is a song about offering, sacrifice, change, gifts. Don’t misunderstand, it is not a Christian band as you will soon see, and this is not a Christian song, it just has a great spiritual presence and the beautiful melody will have you swaying.
I’m Not Calling You a Liar: The Machine seems to rely a lot upon the light instrument, harps, cymbals, tambourines. They have great harmony together, and this one showcases that. It is about love and how hard it is to give your heart, it is like dying.
Howl: This one, might be the first to delete. It is a good song, but the lyrics don’t impress me. I do lie more on the puritan side of things when it comes to the gift of relationship God gave man and woman, and this one is just to feral for my tastes.
Kiss With a Fist: Okay, this one is the first I’ll delete. All I here is violence and mutual domestic abuse. In fact it is already gone.
Girl With One Eye: Three songs in a row to delete? This isn’t going so well… but it does get better.
Drumming Song: Another song that I just love her voice. More crashing sounds in this one than usual. It does sound like she is a bit crazy as she tries religion and suicide(seemingly) to rid herself of the drumming. But it is just another one about love and how the emotions inside take over when you see the one you love, the passion is seemingly out of control.
Between Two Lungs: Words and their effect on you? Meh… just doesn’t roll out the barrel, if you know what I mean.
Cosmic Love: Another great one, gotta say her voice is just amazing, they don’t need all the heavy instruments. This one though, reminds me that it should come with a warning that Paul McCartney knew how to do. “You’d think that people would have Had enough of silly love song But I look around me and I see it isn’t so Some people wanna fill the world With silly love songs And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know ‘Cause here I go again.” Okay! I get it. You’re a woman with strong emotions. I guess this is your outlet. Many a great artist creates out of pain. Here is what I’m going to imagine it as: End of the world, deep in the darkness, with only one person… to face the end of the world.
My Boy Builds Coffins: This one is my favorite so far. Just check out these lyrics: “My boy builds coffins with hammers and nails He doesn’t build ships, he has no use for sails He doesn’t make tables, dressers or chairs He can’t carve a whistle cause he just doesn’t care
My boy builds coffins for the rich and the poor Kings and queens have all knocked on his door Beggars and liars, gypsies and thieves They all come to him ’cause he’s so eager to please My boy builds coffins he makes them all day But it’s not just for work and it isn’t for play He’s made one for himself One for me too One of these days he’ll make one for you For you For you For you.” Those are enough for the price of admission. Yes! A song about dying… Wait, what? All these have something about dying in them. This one is different though. Check it out.
Hurricane Drunk: Women have emotions on a level way beyond the average male, and this one is no exception. This time her emotions are carrying her away like a hurricane. Again, this sounds like something that could be on the alt, alt, alt Christian music station. Just sayin’.
Blinding: A more somber and dark one then the usual lighter ones. Heavy drumbeats mark its entry. She cries out, “No more dreaming like a girl.” Apparently dreaming about the love she has always sought, but then she awakens from the fantasy because she kills someone. Just kidding, she doesn’t kill anyone. But there is something deeper here, perhaps the way we now seek out love? Ugh, my manliness is starting to kick in the gag reflexes to upchuck all this emotion about love and stuff… Let’s look at the last one.
You’ve Got the Love: Wait, this one has “love” in the title. Okay, hold up again. I’m going to say that this one is truly about God. Forget about the fact that all these others are about the pain love brings, or the emotions that destroy from unrequited love or relationships that are just physical, or death and dying from poetic broken hearts. This one is about a love that will never let you down. A love that you really need, a love that picks you up. And listen to the harp this time, it sounds like an angel in heaven is playing it. In the end it all comes down to going back to God; He’ll never let you down. At least that is what I’m going with.
Hmm… Maybe this is why I rarely bond with people over music anymore.
Strange Confessions: Problems come about at work: “Ugh! I hate that I have to deal with this all the time! Why can’t work ever be easy? Please Jesus, come back now…” Problems come about while doing ministry: “Oh this is so exciting! How are we going to figure this one out? We’re going to have so much fun *squeal*! What a great time for bonding with God’s people!”
It rained yesterday in Charleston, Missouri: a lot. Two weeks ago the forecast was calling for freezing rain, snow, and low temperatures. As the days went by, outlooks became a little brighter. It was going to be warmer and final percentage for chance of rain: 80%. Nice. I am usually the one who drives the bus for the two and a half hours it takes to get to Charleston and back on the third Saturday of the month for food distribution day at the Shining Light Mission located there. Having 15 people’s lives in your hands can sometimes make you a little tense, especially when the weather turns ugly. It rained the whole way there, but just a fine to moderately heavy drizzle. Once we got to the low-lying plains of the Southeastern corner of Missouri, water was standing high in the ditches on the sides of the road, and my eyes were pealed for chances of a hydro-planing situation. This made me grip the steering wheel tighter and my shoulders try to disappear into my ears. But, we got there safely. Praise God.
We were going to be short this month for help. The only other church with major volunteers were out and most of the experienced players on our team were going to be gone. This third Saturday of the month fell harshly: four days before Christmas. I was volunteered back in November to head up recruitment for this month of trial-like small numbers. Blessedly, I had help. It ended up we scheduled 21 people to come. Hallelujah! That should be enough. We got to the church parking lot at 6:15am to get the bus all warmed up and ready to leave. Our main connection showed up and said several people weren’t showing up, but, there was some unexpected people there ready to go. It ended up being 26 people! We took the smaller bus of 15, someone else took 7 people in their van, and another family of 4 just ended up going on their own.
Once we got there, the pantry was jam-packed with donations for distribution. I told everyone that the first half-hour there was a little slow until we all found our position and our groove. It took a while to get organized because we were so crowded with extra people and donations. What a blessing. My spirit’s were starting to soar. I was getting excited about getting the problems solved that were beginning to show their face. People were looking lost. Others wanted to look around. We needed some organization, some purpose. Moving around pallets and boxes of food with so many people standing around was fun, sort of. Once my wonderful wife got pantry goods sorted for bagging, then things really got moving. I was with a new guy I recruited from my bible study, and a young, eager, local kid who usually only benefits from the distribution. We were busting open boxes of a rice mixture getting them in bags, tying them off and handing them over to be counted. The kid was all, “Slow down!” and I was all, “No way! Keep it coming, we can take it. We got strength and skill from God.” We packed 310 bags from the pantry, 306 for the USDA, and we had boxes full of mini-sausage biscuits, bags of potatoes, containers of bleach, and assorted frozen meats (including chicken feet) to organize and give away.
We broke for lunch at about 11:45 and came back before the distribution time of 1pm-4pm. The head of Shining Light told us to close the regular door we go out of to load the groceries, for he had a new plan. The fields and playground were already flooded and the front was growing; but the rain was staying at a slow drizzle, which didn’t seem much of a threat. Generally, ministers and ministered to, go in circles and arcs to keep things moving, but this rain was causing a problem we had to figure out. The only exit was the front and we had to let people in early to stay out of the rain. We had to reroute the line through another room to clear the hall and had several checkpoints so only 5 people could come back at a time. The teens are usually the grocery herders, bringing goods out to people’s cars. I wanted to do it this time, so I could talk to people and give others breaks from getting wet. It took a while to get those teens inline so we could go past each other and not cause too much chaos; because there was going to be chaos! I would yell at them every time I saw them, “To the right! To the right!” “Hold still! Wait until this group goes through!” “Move it out! Get those loaded!” “Not here! Open up the cart at the back of the line.” All in good-natured commanding, I hope. Someone gave me a full weather rain slicker, so my top stayed dry, but my jeans and shoes? They weren’t going to be dry until next year. These kids though: they were getting soaked, but their spirits stayed high! I had to yell at a couple, including my own daughter, to make someone switch with them. There was some teen boys in the food packing area I made switch out. There was even a determined girl who was having so much fun being utterly drenched, she got mad at me for caring. Can you believe that? No good deed goes unpunished, yes?
At around 3pm, God opened up the heavens to pour the rain down in sheets. Even the raindrops were shedding rain. By this time we had finished most of the line, for our numbers were lower than usual: I wonder why… Anyway, from 3pm-4pm is my favorite time: we’re not too busy, for the line is shorter and not as urgent, I can talk with all the other workers and especially the teens, there is just more time for great fellowship and fun. I was singing carols and cracking jokes, (I am always my best audience) just enjoying myself. My wife told others I have two types of natural highs: the 2am highs and the “just served a ministry” high. It was a tough day for a lot of us, but I felt like I was on both. Santa was there giving out candy canes, and we had this little routine. “Merry Christmas Santa,” I’d yell as I went along on my errands. “Merry Christmas Mark!” he’d yell back. I would turn in shock, surprise, and utter joy in my face saying, “How do you know my name?” He’d laugh and others would giggle. It was a lot of fun. I heard someone say that a group of teenagers could really sing. I searched them out and asked them to sing some Christmas carols. Much to my disappointment, they wouldn’t agree. Hey, I was having fun. Some didn’t like my singing, but they had a smile on their face.
Getting ready to go, I had discovered that the front lot was covered with at least 8 inches of water. It was a shock: how was I to cross the street to get the bus. One of the other drivers and I were scouting out the path of least resistance, or perhaps it was most resistance we were looking for: strong, sure footing. I glanced across the lot and saw the last driver striving purposefully across, wading in water past his ankles. He was unknowingly heading directly toward the now hidden ditch carrying a large bag of clothes, when suddenly he pitched forward into the ditch throwing the bag in the road in front of a moving truck. The truck squealed to a stop and I ran across the water, soaking my shoes to get to him. He went up to his chest in water and pulled himself up, out and to his truck before I was even half-way there. I know if I was in his position, I would have wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I don’t know him that well or I would have called him today to see if he ever got dry. Hopefully he got to some store for some dry clothes before trekking the 3 hours back. I successfully got the bus across the pond and everyone piled inside when we were off. The roads in town were flooded and I was thankful to get to the freeway. Water was higher in the valley than when we came, but the road didn’t have any standing water. Thank God. With the slower speeds we got home a bit later than usual, but with our hearts filled at working together with great purpose at working for God.
I discovered that I just love serving when there is some problem that needs to be solved. We talked about it later, how there was always some obstacle we had to overcome to get the job done, and that is what makes it enjoyable to me. Yesterday was the most difficult day we’ve had there since starting there this year on a regular basis. I cherish these moments of purpose, fellowship, serving, and mission. Yet I wonder why I don’t feel that sense of good, that sense of right, when I do my daily duty of supporting my family, trying to help and guide the companies I work for, giving the employees a good sense of caring and doing a job well. Then I consider the minister in the field; every day filling such a great sense of purpose. Do they look at the problems that arise the same way? Do they groan under the same pressure, under the same issues that need to be dealt with? Our bible study met for supper and a summary of what God has/is doing in our lives this year the other night. We have a few students in our group who shared that they were frustrated that they can’t just go out and start serving God or that they don’t really know what they should be doing or that their sense of purpose is out of whack. I didn’t really want to tell them that that is the way I feel almost every day I have to go to work, because after all, shouldn’t we imagine that this sense of meaninglessness will eventually go away? I was just amazed and humbled that we had such a thoughtful group of youth, wanting to really get on with their lives. When I was their age, I would stay young and irresponsible as long as I could. It is hard to know that there is a purpose out there for you to face and having to wait and wait and wait. But God teaches us patience, yes He does. He has taught me much here in West Plains, and I’m so thankful to be able to see it all and examine it all and write about it all here. Incidentally, God has given us a great and terrible gift here with this technology. I pray that someday I would have the privilege of finding out if I could maintain my sense of joy in the regular problems that would arise in serving Him or at least see that joy in the day-to-day of the work I find such trouble enjoying one single day of the week.
(By the way, do you like my new signature? Also, see my logo and icon below. I like the picture of the single, lonely tree in the desert.)