Friday, July 31, 2015

My Beach Boys Countdown: 11-1

We have reached both the end of July and the finish line of the countdown of my 55 favorite Beach Boys songs of all-time. I hope some of you have enjoyed this as much as I have, but in any case- I HAVE! To check out last weeks post and discover links to other things I have written about the band, click the Beach Boys tab at the top of this blog.

Our final featured album of this countdown is the 1971 classic Surf's Up. In addition to the two tracks featured in the list below, Surf's Up (#19 on this countdown), #38 Disney Girls (1957) and Feel Flows were incredible pieces of music. You can also learn about taking care of your feet, about the dangers of water pollution and about reasons to hide during a riot. It's quite an eclectic work. Carl Wilson did much of the production work on the album, but the entire band contributed to some extent. The title track was pulled from the SMile tapes and given some new lyrics and a different ending. The album is creative and unique, and Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it #154 on its list of the top 500 albums of all-time. It was also featured in the musical reference book 101 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. And now on with the final countdown...

11)  Sail On, Sailor (1973) - From the album Holland. This song was a late addition to the album because the record company thought it could be hit single. It was a minor hit twice, once in 1973 and again in 1975, when I heard it on the local rock station one day during high school study hall. It was one of the few Beach Boys songs with Blondie Chaplin as the lead vocalist. Favorite Lyric: "Caught like a sewer rat alone but I sail, bought like a crust of bread but oh do I wail."
10)  Do It Again (1968) - From the album 20/20. A bit of "pre-nostalgia," as only 3 years removed from California Girls the guys wistfully revisited their surf music past. They returned to the original formula, with Mike writing lyrics and Brian writing music, and Mike once again provided the lead vocal. Brian once called it their best collaboration- and that's saying something!  Favorite Lyric: "Suntanned bodies and waves of sunshine, the California girls and a beautiful coastline, warmed up weather let's get together and do it again!"
 9)  I Get Around (1964) - From the album All Summer Long. When normal people are asked to pick their favorite song by The Beach Boys, this is nearly always in the top 3. It was their first #1 single and remains a classic, constantly featured in films and TV shows even now. Favorite Lyric: "My buddies and me are getting real well known, yeah the bad guys know us and they leave us alone!"
 8)  Wouldn't It Be Nice? (1966) - From the album Pet Sounds. The opening track on one of the greatest albums ever, this song captures like few others the joys and frustrations of young love. The vocals are classic. And the orchestrations behind them...just wow. In fact, you can watch the clip below and listen to the music without the vocals- Stack 'O' Tracks style!  Favorite Lyric: "You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it...but let's talk about it...wouldn't it be nice."

7)  'Til I Die (1971) - From the album Surf's Up. Along with In My Room (#13) this is considered to be the penultimate Brian Wilson autobiographical song. Brian wrote it all, and got it on the album against the wishes of his band mates. It is emotional and shows Brian's depression at the time. It is featured during a very moving montage of flashbacks near the end of the movie Love & Mercy.  Favorite Lyric: "I'm a cork on the ocean, floating over the raging sea. How deep is the ocean? I lost my way..."
 6)  The Little Girl I Once Knew (1968) - From the album Best of The Beach Boys Vol. 3. I confess that until I started these posts I had no idea that this incredible song never appeared on a regular BB album. I knew it from the compilation Spirit of America, but it was released as a single in 1968. It's considered by many music scholars to be a masterpiece of writing and arranging. The totally silent pause before the chorus was the first time that had ever been done in a pop song played on AM radio, and they actually cause DJs not to play it because the dead stops made them uncomfortable. You may recognize it from the film The Devil Wears PradaFavorite Lyric: "How could I ever have known that she'd be what she is today? Look at how her boyfriend holds her, I'll be moving in one day...'split man!'"
 5)  Long Promised Road (1971) - From the album Surf's Up. This is the late, great Carl Wilson's magnum opus as a singer/songwriter. He also produced it and played all the instruments. It was never a hit, at least in part because it came at a time when The Beach Boys were "out of fashion." It's also very complex, with tempo changes and deeply reflective lyrics. And to me, it's very nearly perfect.  Favorite Lyric: "But I hit hard at the battle that's confronting me, yeah. Knock down all the roadblocks a-stumbling me, throw off all the shackles that are binding me down."
 4)  Good Vibrations (1967) - From the album Smiley Smile. Originally released as single meant to precede its inclusion as the closing track of SMiLE, this was their biggest seller and arguably most famous song. It was referred to by the great Leonard Bernstein as Brian's pocket symphony. It is one of the most complex recordings in music history, especially considering the technology of the time. And you can't help but smile when you hear it.  Favorite Lyric: "Close my eyes, she's somehow closer now, softly smile, I know she must be kind."
 3)  Marcella (1973) - From the album The Beach Boys in Concert. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the list, this song was originally featured on the 1972 album Carl and the Passions: So Tough. It didn't really find an audience until the great 1973 double live album. I fell in love with it immediately and it remains one of the most listened to songs on my iPod. It might not make any other Beach Boys fan's top 100- but it's #3 on mine! Favorite Lyric: "One arm over my shoulder, sandals dance at my feet. Eyes that knock you right over, Ooo Marcella's so sweet."

2)  California Girls (1965) - From the album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!). When I first started listening to the Endless Summer double album I would often play one side and then listen to California Girls, then play another side and listen to it again. It seemed like the perfect mix of amazing music and fodder for daydreams. If you were to surprise me and say "Name a Beach Boys song!" this would likely be the first thing out of my mouth. And it still holds up so well.  Favorite Lyric: "The west coast has the sunshine and the girls all get so tanned. I dig a french bikini on Hawaiian island dolls by a palm tree in the sand."
1)  God Only Knows (1966) - From the album Pet Sounds. After all of the thinking and writing and listing, #1 was a pretty simple choice. My favorite song on my favorite album. It's an amazing love song. Paul McCartney called it the best song ever written. Who am I to argue with Sir Paul?  Favorite Lyric: "If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on, believe me. The world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me? God only knows what I'd be without you."

So that's it. All done after 55 (technically 57) songs, plus 5 "almost songs," selected from 30 different albums spread out over 50 years. I hope you may have learned a few things you didn't know and discovered some new songs you can love at least half as much as I do. We'll close with one more Almost Song of the Week. It's time to Catch A Wave! What better way to close out this tribute to The Beach Boys than with one final surfin' song, right? Enjoy one last ride...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Beach Boys Countdown: 22-12

We have arrived at the final 2 days of my month long countdown of my favorite songs from the great USAmerican band, The Beach Boys! Today features numbers 22-12; tomorrow we wrap it all up with a special Friday edition. To see where we've already been you can click the Beach Boys tab at the top of this blog or the Beach Boys label at the bottom of this post. You may be surprised at what you see, both in previous posts and today! Here we go...

The featured album of the day is the first live album the band ever released, simply called Beach Boys Concert (later re-released with the title Wow! Great Concert!). It hit stores in 1964, shortly before Brian Wilson quit touring with the band to stay home and begin work on what would become Pet Sounds. It is the only live album featuring only the 5 original band members and was their first #1 album in the U.S. Most of the project was recorded live in Sacramento, CA. It featured a few classic BB tunes, like I Get Around, Hawaii, Little Deuce Coupe and In My Room. It also had some wonderfully energetic covers of great songs such as Graduation Day, The Little Old Lady From Pasadena and Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow- and a fabulous Denny Wilson rendition of The Wanderer. It had two really fun novelty songs, Long Tall Texan and The Monster Mash. And finally it has thousands of really loud screaming girls. It's still a great listen. No songs made my list from this album, but Graduation Day was a last minute cut and Long Tall Texan was a serious "blow their minds" temptation. But anyway- on with the songs that DID make my countdown!

22)  Only With You (1973) - From the album Holland. In my humble opinion one of the greatest love songs ever written- and almost no one has ever heard of it. Judge for yourself by listening below. And just try not to be moved...  Favorite Lyric: "I know one thing for sure I wanna' do- I want to spend this life with you. Only with you."

21)  Keepin' the Summer Alive (1980) - From the album of the same name. From the first line- "When it's ice cream weather get the gang back together, roll down your windows and drive!"- you know it's a classic Beach Boys song. Even if it rocks a little harder than most.  Favorite Lyric: "Lay down in the sun and watch the clouds roll by, and be with the one you love in the summer time..."
20)  Surf's Up (1971) - From the album of the same name. Few songs endured the journey this one did before finally landing on an album. Originally intended to be part of the legendary SMiLE album, the complex song took on a particular mystique after Brian was heard singing it on a documentary about the new music revolution of the late 60s. His solo recording of the song on the SMiLE Sessions is simply gorgeous. The record company wanted Brian to add it to an album called Landlocked, which after some hesitation he did. Landlocked became Surf's Up. The title is meant to be ironic- the days of surf music for this band were indeed "up."  Favorite Lyrics: "A choke of grief, heart hardened I, beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry."
19)  Little Deuce Coupe (1963) - From the album of the same name. In my humble opinion this is the greatest 60s hot rod song and a national treasure. It also gets bonus points for spawning the Christmas classic, Little Saint Nick. In the early years this was the song used to introduce the band to the audience in concerts.  Favorite Lyric: "And if that ain;t enough to make you flip your lid, there's one more thing- I got the pink slip, daddy!"
18)  Fun, Fun, Fun (1964) - From the album Shut Down Vol. 2.  This song taught an entire generation that losing your car for bad behavior was not the worst thing that could happen. So live it up! The "immoral" tone of the song led to conflict between the band and Murry Wilson and eventually to his dismissal as their manager. For many years this was the song that closed their concerts.  Favorite Lyric: "Well the girls can't stand her 'cause she walks, looks and drives line ace now..."
17)  Help Me Rhonda (1965) - From the album Beach Boys Today! This long-time favorite of fans was the second #1 song for the band and the first single to feature a lead vocal by Al Jardine. Little known fact- the original version was called Help Me, Ronda, and was reworked by Brian into the version we know now when it was decided to release it as a single.  Favorite Lyric: "Well Rhonda you look so fine, and I know it wouldn't take much time for you to help me Rhonda, help me get her out of my heart."
16)  Heroes and Villains (1967) - From the album Smiley Smile.  Few songs in the history of pop music have as many versions available as this one, including the one from Smiley Smile that reached #12 on the Billboard charts. But having recently heard on the SMiLE Sessions the original vision of Brian and Van Dyke Parks, I can tell you that we missed out on a true masterpiece. And don't miss the video for this one!  Favorite Lyric: "My children were raised you know the suddenly rise, they started slow long ago, head to toe, healthy, wealthy and wise."
15)  Winds of Change (1978) - From the M.I.U. Album. From an album almost no one liked but that I still love, this song is at once thoughtful, introspective and hopeful. It holds special meaning to me because I used as the closing song for the soundtrack to the 1983 Quaker Lake Camp slideshow.  Favorite Lyric: "Winds of change are here at last, the clouds have lifted the storm has passed. Nights we known are on the run and there's a bright and shining sun for everyone to see."
15b)  Our Sweet Love (1970) - From the album Sunflower. Ok, so I'm cheating again- but there was no way I was leaving this song off the list! Another gorgeous love song sung by Carl Wilson, it is yet another high point on one of the best albums of all-time. Soooo sweet it makes my diabetes flare up!  Favorite Lyric: "Lord knows I love her so, I feel it down inside my soul. A precious love like this can flower, there's nothing in this world like our sweet love."
14)  Surfer Girl (1963) - From the album Surfer Girl. One of the first songs to show off Brian's skill as a composer, not just a write or during songs. He paints an image with lyric and melody that made us all we we could find our Surfer Girl. If I were writing on a different day this could easily have been Top 5...  Favorite Lyric: "We could ride the surf together while our love would grow, In my woodie I would take you everywhere I go."
13)  In My Room (1963) - From the album Surfer Girl  The song that warned the world what Brian Wilson was capable of as a songwriter. Childlike but yet exceptionally deep, the song captures so many feelings of the teen years when your room in indeed a fortress of solitude. The number of classic rock stars who list this among the songs that influenced them is simply staggering. Favorite Lyric: "In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears, In my room...In my room."
12)  Add Some Music To Your Day (1970) - From the album Sunflower. A stunning song with complex vocal harmonies and the simplest of messages- music makes the world a better place. The performance of this song on the live recording from the 50th anniversary tour just blew me away. Favorite Lyric: "Music, when you're alone, is like a companion for your lonely soul."

So we head down the home stretch and into the last eleven. Any predictions for #1? I can promise I still have a surprise or two up my sleeve. And speaking of surprises, here's today's Almost Song. You're So Good To Me- how come you are?  Enjoy, and we'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Beach Boys Page of Lists

Over the past month you have been given an overload of music from The Beach Boys on this blog. In addition to the ongoing countdown (finishing up tomorrow & Friday) of my 55 favorite songs, there have been mentions of countless others. There are more than 300 songs Beach Boys songs currently on my iPod, plus I have a number of others still on CD. Fortunately for you, I cannot tell you about all of them. Fortunately for me, I can tell you about a few more here today. So without further delay, here is My Beach Boys Page of Lists!  All of these lists are composed of songs that failed to make the top 55 - but that doesn't mean I love them any less!

5 Weird Songs

  1. She's Goin' Bald from the album Smiley Smile
  2. Take a Load Off Your Feet from the album Surf's Up
  3. "Cassius" Love vs."Sonny" Wilson from the album Shut Down Vol. 2
  4. Amusement Park U.S.A. from the album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)
  5. Here Comes the Night (10+ minute disco version) from L.A. (Light Album)
More Favorite Car Songs
  1. 409 from the album Little Deuce Coupe
  2. This Car of Mine from the album Shut Down Vol. 2
  3. Shut Down from the album Little Deuce Coupe
  4. Little Honda from the album All Summer Long
  5. Spirit of America from the album Little Deuce Coupe
More Favorite Surfing Songs
  1. Catch a Wave from the album Surfer Girl
  2. Girls On the Beach from the album All Summer Long
  3. Surfin' from the album Surfin' Safari
  4. Don't Back Down from the album All Summer Long
  5. Hawaii from the album Surfer Girl
Instrumental Classics
  1. The Nearest Faraway Place (from the album 20/20)
  2. Pet Sounds (from the album of the same name)
  3. Carl's Big Chance (from the album All Summer Long)
  4. Summer Means New Love (from the album Summer Days & Summer Nights!)
  5. Let's Go Away For Awhile (from the album Pet Sounds

More Favorite Love Songs
  1. Hushabye from the album All Summer Long
  2. Caroline, No from the album Pet Sounds
  3. Livin' With a Heartache from the album Keepin' the Summer Alive
  4. Deirdre from the album Sunflower
  5. Aren't You Glad from the album Wild Honey
  6. Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) from the album Pet Sounds
  7. Baby Blue from the L.A. (Light Album)
  8. Wild Honey from the album of he same name
  9. Why Do Fools Fall In Love? from the album Shut Down Vol. 2
  10. The Night Was So Young from the album Love You
More Great Songs from the Early Days
  1. Girl Don't Tell Me from the album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)
  2. Drive-In from the album All Summer Long
  3. Be True To Your School from the album Little Deuce Coupe
  4. When I Grow Up To Be a Man from the album The Beach Boys Today!
  5. Dance, Dance, Dance from the album Beach Boys Today!
5 Great Songs from 1985 - Present
  1. Kokomo from the Cocktail movie soundtrack
  2. That's Why God Made the Radio from the album of the same name
  3. Still Crusin' from the (currently out of print) album of the same name
  4. Getcha' Back from the album The Beach Boys
  5. Beaches In Mind from the album That's Why God Made the Radio
My Favorite Solo Songs by Beach Boys
  1. What You Do To Me by Carl Wilson from the album Youngblood
  2. Love & Mercy by Brian Wilson from the album Brian Wilson
  3. One Kind of Love by Brian Wilson from the album No Pier Pressure
  4. Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson from the album of the same name
  5. Sail Away by Brian Wilson from the album No Pier Pressure
7 Obscure Delights!
  1. The Trader from the album Holland
  2. Vegetables from the album Smiley Smile
  3. Let the Wind Blow from the album Wild Honey
  4. Everyone's In Love With You from the album 15 Big Ones
  5. Time To Get Alone from the album 20/20
  6. We've Got Love from the album Beach Boys in Concert
  7. Mountain of Love from the album Beach Boys Party!
So there you have it- a plethora of bonus tunes to get you warmed up and ready for the final two days of my countdown. I'm still taking guesses on what will be #1? Anyone? Anyone?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Plow the Road

Greetings from NC! Sometimes on the #NarrowRoad our walk is not about us. It's about clearing obstacles for others as they seek to follow Jesus in their lives and their ministries. Sometimes we just simply need to plow the road. Witness the following account...

In November of 2000 I attended the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta. This was my first convention as Youth Pastor of the Union Church of Hinsdale, and I accompanied by David Knecht. David was the chairperson of the search committee that brought me to UC. He was a man in his forties who had built and sold a computer company, and now had lots of time on his hands. He was giving that time to serve God, and especially the youth of UC. I liked David a lot and was glad he was going to his first NYWC. Funny story- we were to stay at a Marriott in Atlanta for the convention, and when the former CEO of Marriott, who was a member at UC, found out he wanted to upgrade us to a luxury suite. I said no thanks, explaining to him that youth workers staying in a luxury suite would be the targets of many jokes and quite possibly an investigation...

As David and I flew to Atlanta, settled into our meager accommodations (HA!) and begin to explore the NYWC, a question that had been nagging me through my first 8 months at UC came to the forefront of my mind. Why had David not applied for the job I now had? He knew the people and high society culture of UC that so frustrated me; he was one of "them." He clearly loved Jesus, students and student ministry. At the convention he was like a kid in a toy store; everything amazed him! I recognized it in him because it had been true for me for so many years. He soaked up everything. I introduced him to many of the legends of youth ministry, and he was a little starstruck. He loved the seminars, the speakers, the music- everything! And to complete his experience, I made sure he got his first ever Chick-fil-A sandwich. David. like so many before him, was now addicted to the NYWC.

At some point during that week I had a chat with an old friend, who knew me well and who had been in ministry a long time. I shared with him some of my frustrations, and specifically my thoughts about David being the right person for the job I currently had. As we talked, Todd reminded me that 15 years earlier I had taken a job with the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. After a short time at that ministry I had similar feelings about Chris Jorgensen who had volunteered years with the youth there, only to see me get the job she wanted. I realized when I left NEYM that God's purpose for me there had been to prepare things for Chris. I was there 9 months, and then she got the job and served them brilliantly for many years. Like a snow plow on the highway, sometimes our ministry is just to plow the road and clear the path for someone else. John the Baptist did it for Jesus. I had done it for Chris. And now, my wise friend was saying, maybe I was at UC to get everything set up and ready for David to succeed. It was, in many ways, a hard pill to swallow. I had moved my family a thousand miles so I could be a "star." I had gone to UC to be a closer, not a set-up man. But those were my reasons. Perhaps God had a different design in mind. And on the #NarrowRoad, God is the one calling the shots.

And that is exactly the way things turned out. Less that a year later I left Union Church and without even forming a search committee the church gave the position to David. He served there for a number of years, doing wonderful things with the youth and the community. It is so tempting to look back on my days in Hinsdale as a failure. But it is also a wonderful thing when you know you have been used by God for His purpose. My time as a plow was a service to the kingdom of God. What else can we ask for on our journey? "LORD...send me!" Even if it's just to plow the road...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, July 27, 2015

Road Trip!

The cover art for the copy I once owned!
As many of you are aware, Marilyn and I left very early this morning to go visit family and friends in North Carolina for a week before going to Myrtle Beach with her family next Monday - Friday. It's good to get away for awhile to the "nearest faraway place," and though I won't see as many old friends as I would like it will still be a fun trip. There will be lots of great times with old friends in a little over a month when we head back to the beach for a reunion. So I hold on until then...

We are driving to NC this time around, a trip that takes us around 11 hours including stops. While not good for things like stiff knees and fanny fatigue, long road trips provide a unique opportunity to jam out to great music! I have nearly 2000 songs on my iPod now, and our Hyundai came equipped with a special plug just for that device. I have many of the songs broken down into the 21 playlists I created; or we could just go with shuffle. In keeping with my July celebration of The Beach Boys I now have over 300 of their songs, including my newest addition, the Stack O' Tracks album. It's a bunch of great Beach Boys songs without the vocals- just the instruments. I owned a rare copy of the vinyl years ago and it was awesome. And now I'm ready to hear it again.

But it is entirely possible (GASP!) that my lovely wife will not want to listen to Beach Boys for 11 hours, so there is a wide variety to choose from. There will be Buffett. There will be Billy Joel, and quite possibly some Beatles or some Herman's Hermits. What other traveling music do I have ready for her? Here's a sample playlist that we might be listening to even as you read it!

  1. Dreams Come True - Brandon Flowers
  2. Shut Up and Dance! - Walk on the Moon
  3. Walkin' On Sunshine - Katrina and the Waves
  4. Hey Soul Sister - Train
  5. Honey I'm Good - Andy Grammer
  6. Don't Bring Me Down - ELO
  7. On the Road Again - Willie Nelson
  8. Some Kind of Wonderful - Grand Funk Railroad
  9. Raging Fire - Philip Phillips
  10. Feelin' Stronger Everyday - Chicago
If you have suggestions for traveling songs, text me (813-919-3755). I'd love to hear your ideas. And know this as well- the greatest "on the road song" ever recorded is one many of you have probably never heard. It's called Rose of Cimarron, it's from the band Poco and it WILL be played! Back me up on this, Steve Semmler! Have a great day and I'll be back tomorrow from beautiful NC!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Church Math

The great singer/songwriter/comedian/MIT Professor Tom Lehrer (Before my time, so WAAAAY before most of yours!) wrote a song around 1965 about a new method of teaching mathematics that was referred to as The New Math. In his introduction to the song on the live album, That Was the Year That Was, he points out his frustration with this new method. He says, "The purpose of the new math is to make sure you understand what you're doing- rather than to get the right answer!"  Sometimes I feel like the Church has adopted the same system. Let's take a look at Church Math...

Many Christians are already familiar with how confusing Church Math can be simply because of the Trinity. Clearly God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three different things. And yet they are one. Today I would like to give you a new math problem, also involving the number 3. If you grew up in the mainline or evangelical protestant church in the in the 1970s, 80s or 90s then chances are that you were taught (although you were probably unaware of it) 3 essential truths about Christianity. Here they are:

  1. Knowledge is the basis of faith, and the scriptures are the basis of that knowledge.
  2. The writings of the Apostle Paul explain what it means to live the Christian life.
  3. If you love the Church, and give your time, talents and money to your church, then you love God.
Over my 28 years of working for churches I came across person after person who had been indoctrinated with these teachings and were trying to live them out in their lives. I hear them being promoted (though seldom spelled out) in blogs and on Twitter on a regular basis. The problem is, there are not three essential truths about being a Christ-follower, there is one. Check my math...

1)  Knowledge is not the basis of our faith, a relationship with Jesus is! The scriptures inform us, convict us and guide us as we seek to grow closer to the living Christ, but primarily they are a record of God's attempts at relationship with humans. Jesus was the final attempt and the final answer. Answer this: If all of the bibles and theology books in the world were to suddenly disappear, would the love and grace of God in our world be rendered moot? Of course not, because Jesus would have still died for our sins and left us with the Holy Spirit. Knowledge is a great, wonderful and powerful thing. But when it comes to our faith, a relationship with Jesus is the true essential.
2)  The writings of Paul are extremely important to Christianity. His letters to the churches found in the New Testament encourage us, warn us and give us hope in all things. Paul was certainly one of the most important Christians who ever lived. But we do not worship Paul. He is not part of the Holy Trinity (last time I checked). So why is he quoted more often than Jesus? Why does seemingly every major argument about our faith begin with the words, "Paul wrote..." People will tell you that Paul was simply trying to elaborate on the things Jesus taught. If that's true, then where is his detailed explanation of the Sermon on the Mount- especially the Beatitudes? Where do we read his deeper exegesis of the parables of Christ? He would have been the first one to say, "It's not about me, it's all about Jesus"- and yet we so often make it all about him. Paul was a great missionary and writer, a committed follower of Christ whose letters have much to offer and much to teach us. But he is not the essential example of how to live the Christian life- Jesus is.  
3)  The third teaching is very important as well. We should love the Church, as it is"the bride of Christ." When we give of ourselves to our churches we help to further the Kingdom. But...when our giving becomes more about building new buildings and getting the pastor a book deal, then we may have lost sight of what's essential. Jesus commanded us to love God and to love each other. I think that sometimes loving our church gets pushed to the top of that list. We think, "If I love my church, then my church will love the least of these." The great commandment was not issued as corporate doctrine- it is up to each of us to love as Jesus taught. We should be able to see this quite easily in our world in 2015, where so many are offended (and not in a good way) by the politics and in-fighting of the church, but still long to feel the love of Christ in their lives. Church is a great thing, a fellowship of believers that can and should change the world. But church does not work without Jesus. He is essential.

So there you go. It seems in the new math, 1+1+1 does not equal 3. It equals 1. And that one essential, the one thing that no Christian can be without, is Jesus.  It's simple, but it's not easy. Head knowledge is always easier to acquire than real relationship. It's much easier to argue about gay marriage than it is to "turn the other cheek" and"pray for those who persecute you." And going to church is a breeze when compared to loving your neighbor as you love yourself. But we must understand and we must articulate that there is only one essential of the Christian faith- and that essential is Jesus. This is what the Jesus Revolution is all about. Theology, dogma and doctrine are wonderful things to know about and seek to understand. But they are not more important than getting the right answer! My prayer on this Sunday is that I will remember that Jesus is THE ONE THING, and everything else is secondary. I hope you will join me in that prayer...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Will Jones- Graduate!

Will & his mom with 2 of his birthday presents from last weekend- speakers
for his turntable and a Beach Boys vinyl. That's my boy!!!
This morning at 10 o'clock my son, Will Jones, graduates with honors from St. Petersburg College, receiving his AA degree. It's great day for Will and for his girlfriend Michelle who will also walk in cap and gown today. We are very proud of them both and excited to share in the moment with them.

With all that Will has accomplished and achieved over these past years it is easy to overlook what he had to overcome to reach this point in his young life. Way back in 2007, as he entered the 7th grade, no one would have been surprised if he had just given up. Because of family moves, he was on his third school in three years. I had embarrassed and disappointed him, and we had pulled him away from some great friends and some wonderfully supportive adults. Starting over is always difficult; starting over in middle school is a nightmare. Will could have just phoned it in and done only what he had to do. Instead, he made the best of it. He found new interests, made new friends and excelled in the classroom. He won awards and broke test score records with his writing. He grew up respectful of others and with a heart for those who are less fortunate. For the past two years he has worked hard and saved a lot of money to prepare for going out on his own. His taste in music is a lot like mine- EXCELLENT!- and we have the best conversations about entertainment and life. Marilyn and I could not be happier with the young man he is today. And through it all, he has been driven by a goal. He wants to write and direct movies. He's known that since he was about 10. And he has never taken his eyes off of that prize.

So as he graduates today I see the event a bit differently than most, because deep down inside I suspect Will does too. You know in the NCAA college basketball tournament how the teams that expect to win it all never cut down the nets when they get through the regional? They celebrate a bit and then focus on their primary objective- winning it all. To me, today is just the regional for Will (and Michelle). He has bigger goals. In a month he is off to the University of Central Florida and the film school there. He will finally be doing what he has dreamed of doing all these years. There is much work to be done and he is so ready to get on with it. So while there will be a justifiable celebration at the Cheesecake Factory later today, we won't be cutting down the nets just yet. That day is still to come- along with the premier of his first film!

So please, leave notes of "congradulations" for my son here today. Let him know you are proud of him just as we are. But just as importantly, get ready to amp up your support for his future and his pursuit of his goals. The journey does not end today. It continues on. 

Love you, buddy!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Ministry of Gumby

Today is another Flashback Friday, and we are headed back to my days (1986-1994) in youth ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting. Those were special years with some incredible people, and in many ways Springfield will always be home to me. What does Gumby have to do with any of this? Read on, my friends...

So today's youth ministry artifact comes with a mystery. You see, as keenly as I remember so many details from 30 years ago, I do not remember at all the exact how or why the Gumby you see pictured here came to be in my possession. It was the late 1980s, during my time at Springfield Friends Meeting,  and I know that it was given to me by Shelley Godwin and Heather Beggs because their initials and a message- "Gumbys live forever!"- are on his tag. I also remember that it was Keri Vinson who first turned his rainbow colored belt into a hippie-style headband. But as far as details, that's all I've got.

So why even bring up Gumby? Because his presence in my offices over the years always served as a reminder of something important. This blog goes on and on concerning the need to be intentional about building relationships with students and how important I believe that to be in student ministry. As our TNT  outreach program took off and we began to reach more and more students from the community, this became a real challenge at SFM. As incredible kids like Shelley and her twin brother Jeremy, Heather and Keri became involved in our ministry, I wanted to make sure we stayed connected and that they knew they were loved individually- not just because we liked having a large group. So I turned to one of my mentors, J. David Stone. He had written a book in 1985 for GROUP Books called Spiritual Growth in Youth Ministry, and one chapter contained a plan for a different type of outreach that would change my ministry forever-  24 Weeks of Caring.

The plan was so simple, yet totally brilliant. You would chose 4 groups of a specified (I eventually settled on 6 after trying 8) number of youth with whom you wanted to build a better relationship- a total of 24 students (using 6 per group- HA!  I did math!).  The program would begin by sending all 24 teenagers a letter informing them that they had been chosen for this special event, and that nothing was required of them. It was just going to happen to them. Each group was given a designated communication category for a specific number of weeks (again I chose 6, so at 24 weeks I could do the program twice in a year.). For the first 6 weeks, I would pray every day for each person in Group 1 and send them a note each week reminding them that I was praying for them and asking for prayer requests. During those same 6 weeks I would give the members of Group 2 a phone call once a week. Group 3 received a weekly personalized post card in which nothing was said about our youth ministry- it was all about them. And Group 4 I received visits once a week- outside of church. Sometimes it was over a milk shake, sometimes at school, sometimes at a community event.  At the end of the first 6 weeks, you simply rotate the groups. When you complete the 24 weeks, you have connected every week with all 24 students in 4 different ways- and your relationship with all of them will be different...

Obviously it could be updated to fit today's high-tech culture, and you could use FacebookTwitter, texting or e-mail to replace some of "mailing" that I did. The last time few times I did it I used e-mail instead of writing the post cards. No matter, the point remains the same- letting youth know they are important and they are loved- and that NONE of that is based on how many times they show up for church.

So why does Gumby remind me of this? I'm not sure I can explain it. But just maybe it's because that at Springfield we reached so many students whose families were not a part of that church, and because of efforts like the 24 Weeks of Caring they became a huge part of OUR family. I look at Gumby and remember that I have seldom had better relationships (or more fun) with students over the years than I had with Heather, Shelley, Keri, Jeremy and so many other TNT survivors. Some of those relationships remain strong to this day. Gumby reminds me that praying for students is crucial. But he also reminds me that those kinds of relationships don't just happen- they require work. Even now that I am out of the professional ministry, it's still an awesome reminder. In fact, I could start up the program right now using blog readers and Twitter friends. Hmmm.  Interested?  :) 

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Beach Boys Countdown: 33-23

The countdown of my 55 (that's one for each year of my life!) favorite songs from The Beach Boys enters its third week, and we've still got 33 great songs to go! You can check out previous posts by clicking the Beach Boys tab here or at the top of this blog or by clicking the Beach Boys label at the bottom of the post. Now on with the show!

Our featured album this week is the 1980 gem (and their 29th studio albumKeepin' the Summer Alive. This was the their last album with Dennis, who would drown in 1983. Another outstanding album that was initially greeted with a lukewarm response from both fans and critics, it nonetheless quickly became one of my favorites. The title cut just ROCKS, aided by some guest guitar work from the great Joe Walsh. Both it and another of my favorites, Livin' With a Heartache, were co-written by Carl and Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Mike and Brian wrote a several new songs for the project. Oh Darlin' and Sunshine are sweet songs with a classic sound, and Goin' On and Some of Your Love appear in today's countdown list. Another beautiful piece is the Brian/Al composition, Santa Ana Winds. A little trivia for you- this album was recorded at the studio of a long-time keyboardist in The Beach Boys touring band, Daryl Dragon. You may know him better as The Captain. As in The Captain and Tennille. Now on with our countdown - and remember, every song title is also a link to a YouTube video of the song!

33)  Honkin' Down the Highway (1977) - From the album Love You. One of the great on-the-road songs you'll find anywhere from the drum opening right through the infectious chorus. Just try to stay under the speed limit when this song is playing...  Favorite Lyric: "Who cares if I gotta spend my money, even if if I have to act funny to go and steal her heart away."
32)  Then I Kissed Her (1965) - From the album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!). This song was a cover of an old Crystal's tune called Then He Kissed Me, but the guys definitely made it their own. It was released as a single and was a huge hit pretty much everywhere in the world- except the U.S., where it was never even released. From the album that paved the way for Pet Sounds, you can hear it below.  Favorite Lyric: "When we danced I held her tight, and then I walked her home that night. And all the stars were shining bright, and then I kissed her.

31)  You Still Believe In Me (1966) - From the album Pet Sounds.  Another classic from the greatest album ever recorded- but I first discovered it on the 1972 live album The Beach Boys In Concert. The sweet lyrics and the touching melody remind us all that we need people who accept us for who we are.  Favorite Lyric: "And after all I've done to you, how can it be? You still believe in me."
30)  Goin' On (1980) - From the album Keepin' the Summer Alive. An electric opening, soaring vocals by Carl and a truly awesome bridge make this one of my most listened to songs on the old iPod.  Favorite Lyric: "I know what is missing, 'cause since you've been gone, My mind keeps on reelin' and my heart keeps on feelin', why is my love goin' on?"
29)  Surfin' U.S.A. (1963) - From the album of the same name. A friend of Brian's gave him a list of the hot surfing spots, Dennis helped him with lingo like "baggies," "huarache sandals" and "bushy bushy blonde hairdos" (Brian didn't surf) and when the oldest Wilson added in the music from Chuck Berry's classic Sweet Little Sixteen history was made. The #2 song of 1963.  Favorite Lyric: "We'll all be gone for the summer, we're on surfari to stay, just tell the teacher we're surfin', surfin' U.S.A."
28)  Some of Your Love (1980) - From the album Keepin' the Summer Alive. Another "later" song by the boys that recaptures much of the early magic. The do-wop "Some-some-some of your love" opening feeds into an upbeat love song, and features some amazing piano work in the backing tracks. Just try to sit still when you hear this one!  Favorite Lyric: "There's nothing like a-romancin' in the stands. walking down the hallway holding hands, punching up our jukebox favorite band, cuddling up in summer moonlight in the sand- kiss me, baby!"
27)  Don't Worry Baby (1964) - From the album Shut Down Vol. 2. This amazing ballad was an early harbinger of the complexity that was ready to show up in Brian's songwriting. Tender, yet a bit dark, it was a huge hit and is listed by Rolling Stone Magazine as the 176th greatest song of all-time.  Favorite Lyric: "Well it's been building up inside of me for oh I don't know how long, and I don't know why but I keep thinking something's bound to go wrong. But she looks in my eyes and makes me realize...don't worry baby."
26)  Sloop John B (1966) - From the album Pet Sounds.  This traditional folk song from the West Indies was suggest by Al and then given new life and spirit by Brian while working on Pet Sounds. It was released as a single 2 months before the album dropped and went as high as #3- the best selling single off the greatest album ever made, despite being the one song that really didn't quite "fit in" with that concept album. Life is funny.  Favorite Lyric: "The first mate he got drunk and broke in Cap'n's trunk, the constable had to come and take him away."  Bonus: Click here to see a promo video for this song- basically The Beach Boys first music video!!!
25)  Break Away (1969) - From the album Spirit of America. Although it didn't appear on an album until the 1975 compilation noted above, the single was released around Christmas of 1969 and hit the Top 40. Two interesting notes- the lyrics were partially credited to Reggie Dunbar, who in fact was Murry Wilson (father to Brian, Denny & Carl). And secondly, Brian has said that The Monkees inspired him to write this song.  Favorite Lyric: "When I laid down in my bed I heard the voices in my head tellin' me now, hey, it's only a dream."
24)  Funky Pretty (1973) - From the album Holland.  Another great song from the album actually recorded in the Netherlands, Funky Pretty has the unusual distinction of having 5 different lead vocalists listed- on the same song! Another eclectic song that was never a hit except among the hardcore fans- but Steve and I both love it!  Favorite Lyric: "She values flowers more than gold, thinks of her men as knights of olde, she's very spiritual I'm told, Whoa."
23)  I Can Hear Music (1969) - From the album 20/20. Originally recorded by The Ronettes in 1966, this song marks a change in the leadership of the band. With this cover Carl took over both the mic and the studio. His vocal is brilliant and the arrangement- especially the acapella section- is stunning. A hit around the world!  Favorite Lyric: "I never had a love of my own, maybe that's why when we're all alone...I can hear music."

Words cannot express how much fun this is for me- and you have no idea how hard it is to limit both the number of songs and the number of words! I'll be back next Thursday and I trust you will be too. In the meantime, here's one of the songs I had to leave off my list- our Almost Song of the Week. It's one of the great car songs I hated to omit. Check out the link to "my 4 speed dual quad posi-traction 409!" See you next Thursday AND Friday as we finish up the countdown!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Are My Sunshine

I am a very blessed man in many ways, but perhaps the greatest blessing in my life has been the gift of friendship. My old friends are plentiful and wonderful. There are friends from my own youth group days at New Garden Friends Meeting who should have given up on me years ago- but didn't! I have high school and college friends who are still part of my life. My days at Quaker Lake Camp connected me with campers and staff who have stayed in my life as we have all grown up- or at least pretended to! My work at various churches left me with dozens of adult friends and hundreds of former youth who are now adults, many of whom are still a very active and important part of my life. My dear friend Lisa is one of the lights of my life. And Marilyn and Will are not only family, they are my friends- the best and strongest kind. Old friends are the best!

Over the past few days this has become more apparent than ever to me as several old friends who had been absent from my life for a while reappeared with a wonderful flurry of activity. It was so great to have them back; but it was also like they had never been gone. That's how it is with old friends. They can move in and out of our lives seamlessly without truly losing the connection we share. It is such a great gift. 

But regretfully, there are partings along the way. There are people we lose track of, either for short periods of time or because life leads us in different directions. Saying goodbye is never easy. Letting go is often hard. Back in 1982 I was working at QLC and thinking a lot about saying goodbye to a wonderful group of high school campers (one of whom gave me the mug pictured at top) that I didn't know if I would ever see again. At that time I wrote a song that was never sung in public. It began and ended with the chorus of the old standard, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear, how much I love you, so please don't take my sunshine away." Last night I found myself humming that, and suddenly the words I wrote back in '82 were fresh in my mind. I share some of them here today- my ode to old friends.

People come and people go through a life like mine
You never know just who you can count on
But whenever I reach out for you you always seem to hear me
And you take time to shine your light my way

The thought had never crossed my mind that I could lose you
'Cause I don't think I could ever let you go
But now I see that we could have to say goodbye and mean it
The pain is real and it just won't go away

CHORUS: I wish that I could find the words
To say how much I love you
I wish that I could know that this really isn't the end
There must be 1000 ways to explain the things that I'm feeling
And to let you know that you'll always have a friend...

I know I've sometimes let you down, I know I've sometimes failed you
But you have always loved me anyway
We've shared some special moments and some special people
I just won't believe that our time has come to an end

But the time will come again when we will walk this trail together
It's part of our past, but yet it takes us home
And even if the sunshine becomes just the flicker of a candle
It still gives us hope that we'll never be alone!

Old songs are much like old friends. They take us back to times of joys and sorrow, times of jubilation and frustration. And they remind us that we are loved. Sometimes we misplace them, but real friends are never really lost to us. Where there is love, there is always hope. My old friends- the ones still present in my life and the ones I have misplaced- are indeed my sunshine. They give me courage, hope, love and support when skies are gray and when the sun is brightest. I hope they know how much I love them. And I thank God every day for never "taking my sunshine away." Have a blessed day, dear ones!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


For those of us who are Christ-followers we understand the architect of and our guide on the #NarrowRoad is Jesus. There is no one on earth, either in the past or present, who is like him. But for me, Rich Mullins came closest. I met Rich in 1990 at a youth conference in NC where he was the speaker and I led music. Yeah- I led music with Rich Mullins in the building. God does have a sense of humor! Rich's influence would be felt in so many ways in my ministry in the days and years that would follow that event. My students who had been there with me came back fired up and ready to follow Jesus!  Rich taught us all that if we wanted to be Christians, we needed to understand the basics. We studied the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes at his feet. From that day forward I taught the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes to all of my youth groups on a regular basis. He inspired me to start taking groups of students to work in our local soup kitchen and later would inspire mission trips. Soon everyone at Springfield Friends Meeting (and then later at other churches) was listening to Rich's music and wearing one of the dozens of T-shirts he gave me. The two shirts carried serious messages. One said "Live like you'll die tomorrow. Die knowing you'll live forever!" The other simply said "Alrightokuhhuhamen," the title of one of his songs (another thing Rich taught me- AMEN means YES- not "the end."). The song was all about saying YES to God, and how that can change the way we see the #NarrowRoad. I made banners to put up in the youth room at Springfield and in "The Attic" in Kissimmee with just Alrightokuhhuhamen printed on them. They were great discussion starters. By my Kissimmee years we were singing Awesome God and Sometimes By Step on a regular basis. His impact on my ministry was tremendous. His guidance for following Jesus was even better.

Along with Mike Yaconelli, Rich was one of the two guys I was ever around who just oozed Jesus. Listen to this quote from one of his final concerts: "Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."  Rich LIVED those words. He moved out of the music scene in Nashville in 1991 to Wichita, Kansas, where he attended Friends University and received a B.A. in music education.  He and fellow Ragamuffin Mitch McVicker (the Ragamuffins were the band he had formed in 1993) moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1995 to live among the Native Americans and teach music. For Rich, "What Would Jesus Do?" was not a bracelet- it was the driving question of his life. And because I knew that, his music was a moving force and a comfort in my own spiritual journey. At times when I struggled with my faith his song Creed reminded me "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am." At the lowest points of my life, when I had let down everyone who loved me and everyone who believed in me, his words reminded me that "There's bound to come some trouble to your life, just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight..." As I lost so many of the things that had been important to me, I found myself praying his words daily: "Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf. You have been King of my glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace?" So many of his words showed me the light of Jesus in my darkest times. No matter how bad it seemed, I knew I was still in "the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..."  Even his final project, The Jesus Record (see picture at top), promised me that "our Deliverer is coming..." We all need people to inspire, to direct us, to comfort us and to mentor us on the #NarrowRoad. For me, both up close and from a distance, in his life and since his death, Rich Mullins was often that person.

Rich was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997. I cried, but Rich himself had already written about going to be with Jesus in his early classic Elijah"When I leave I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.  And when I look back on the stars, it'll be like a candlelight in Central Park- and it won't break my heart to say goodbye..." He left such a legacy in my life. I am a Ragamuffin, a bum who is only important because of the love of Jesus. Rich (along with Brennan Manning and so many others) taught me the more we come like Ragamuffins the clearer we see the #NarrowRoad, and the clearer we see the purer our hearts become. "And the pure in heart shall see God." I know that God still has things for me- yes, even ME- to do, and if I follow the path of Jesus then I will say YES when the time comes. As the song says "You can argue with your maker but you know that you just can't say it...Alrightokuhhuhamen!" 

Because of Jesus,