Vegas

This is the third of several “song blogs” I’ll be doing to tell the stories behind the songs on “Protest Songs“. (You can listen or download for free or whatever you want to pay here.) Today we’ll talk about that city built on greed out there in Nevada…

 

I have spent a week in Vegas on 3 different occasions, for work. I remember marveling at the surreal nature of what I think of as a colossal monument to sin and greed and avarice. And it seemed designed to numb you to it the longer you spent there. I remember a cab driver telling us that fairly often, a well-dressed businessman would get in his cab, hand him 10 or 20 bucks and say, “Will this get me to the airport? I came here with thousands of dollars in cash. This is all that’s left.” How sad.

I didn’t gamble while I was there, didn’t want to. Didn’t even pull the “free slot” at any of the casinos. Gambling is a bit of a hot button issue with me. But I’ll say this, if you’re not into the gambling and schtick entertainment in Vegas… it really has very very little to offer whatsoever.

If You Can’t

This is the second of several “song blogs” I’ll be doing to tell the stories behind the songs on “Protest Songs“. (You can listen or download for free or whatever you want to pay here.) Today we’ll talk about the first song and that little intro music I added just because I could…

The intro is simply an excuse to mess around with two-voice guitar on my Line 6 Helix and grab the listener’s ear for a few seconds. That’s only one guitar, the delays on the guitar have a bit of high octave added and the reverb has a whole bunch of schmaltz. If none of that makes any sense, you should have skipped this paragraph…

I remember one time getting up early to take some sunrise photos on a vacation and wondering how anybody could see all this wonder in the universe and not see the God behind it. These words came to me, and a LOT of years later, I finished the song. Honestly, I really like it, but I can’t even tell if it’s good, so skip it if you don’t.

I admit I’m not happy with how “preachy” this song came out, and tried to soften that tone, but it didn’t capture the way I felt on that particular morning in the Grand Tetons.

My Favorite Memory

This is the first of several “song blogs” I’ll be doing to tell the stories behind the songs on “Protest Songs“. (You can listen or download for free or whatever you want to pay here.) I’m going out of order because track 7 is the most important song on here, and it’s very timely, as my wife and my 30th Anniversary was just yesterday.

 

This is the most personal song I’ve ever written, and it’s the whole reason I stuck all the other songs on here for you. I have a favorite memory. It’s of my then-girlfriend soon-to-be-fiancée’s smile as we were walking one day. I’ve always loved, and still adore, my wife’s smile, the way her eyes smile along with the rest of her face. It slays me every time, and immediately takes me back to that moment.

So yesterday afternoon, just before I activated the web site, I brought my guitar into the living room, sat down and said, “I have a present for you”. I think she liked it.

Wesley Covenant Prayer

Not too long ago I wrote a contemporary wording with music of John Wesley’s covenant prayer. Here it is… for free or whatever you want to pay.

Here’s the recording at this link.

Here’s a link to a lead sheet and chord chart if you want to use this in your church.

And here are the lyrics if you’re interested.

Wesley Covenant Prayer

Chorus:
I don’t belong to me, I belong to you
I belong to you
My life is not my own, it belongs to you
It belongs to you

Verse 1:
Have me do what you want
Put me with whoever you want
Put me to work, or set me aside
Let me be exalted for you
Let me be humbled for you
Fill me up or empty me out

Verse 2:
Grant me everything in you
Or take it all away for you
Give me joy, or fill my heart with tears
Because everything I have
I surrender it to you
Let me serve you, with a humble heart

Bridge:
Glorious God, Blessed One
Creator, redeemer, sustainer and Lord
Let this promise I make
Reach from earth to the heavens
You are mine, and Jesus, I am yours

©2016 Peter J. Hamm, based on John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.
If you use this in your church, please contact me to let me know. Thank you.

Gorilla Experts Unite

So now we’re all gorilla experts.

Gorilla

Gorilla Smiling… (or is he…?)

It reminds me of a story. Years ago I took a class from a guy who’s hobby was tigers. No… real tigers. He had found a couple guys who were taking care of a pair of tigers that were part of a US Government program to breed more “docile” tigers. The program was over and the tigers were due to be euthanized unless they could find a home. This guy who told me this story evidently was made of money (I have no idea where it came from). So he offered to pay for the upkeep of the tigers for the rest of his life and pay these guys’ salaries… if… these guys would teach him all about tigers.

It took years for him to get to the point where he could get near the tigers, but one day, he was allowed in the cage with them finally. But… he knew the danger. These tigers would never be tame-able, domesticate-able or friendly. They learned to act friendly, but if anybody in that cage (very large open pen actually) ever turned their back to the tigers, it was over. In seconds. And these were docile tigers.

So one day right after the Siegfried and Roy incident, somebody reported on the news that the tiger that hurt Roy was actually trying to protect him because he loved him. “NONSENSE!” Not one to call and complain about news stories, my friend this time couldn’t stand still. He called the HQ of the news channel and somehow got through to somebody in charge to explain that they don’t understand tigers and to stop making stuff up. The news channel issued a retraction almost immediately.

All that to say…

You and I don’t know about gorillas. Stop saying he was protecting the child.

The parents weren’t bad parents. It was a crazy day and it could have happened to you. And it might have. And I hope it never happens again.

The guy who pulled the trigger made the right call. a 400 pound male gorilla is an immediate and dangerous threat to the child between his legs at that moment, and there was no other alternative. With his training and knowledge of the situation, under that much stress, most of us would have done exactly the same thing, and I fear the rest of us would have watched that boy die.

I’m thankful that he pulled the trigger. That boy is alive because of it.

We can all stop second-guessing now. The internet has made us all experts? Let’s just agree that no, it hasn’t…

Standing Up for My Beliefs

My friend Tony was having a discussion today about how “Christians like to lust after this persecution complex.” And I had this thought as someone pointed out that movies along these lines (like the “God’s Not Dead” films) inspire them to stand up for their beliefs.

What beliefs, though?

 
If “standing taller for my beliefs” means fighting for or demonstrating in support of those who choose bigotry over love… if that’s “standing for my beliefs”, I don’t think Jesus would be part of those demonstrations and has little in common with those people. (Especially the ones where people hold signs that include words like “hate”.)
Too often, Christians who make news are more concerned about their right to own devices designed to kill other people or being allowed by law to refuse to bake a cake, or perhaps even to deny service to someone that is different enough from them that they fear them… than they are concerned with feeding the poor, clothing the naked… all the stuff that Matthew 25 talks about, the stuff that Jesus seemed concerned about when he walked the earth.
So…
 
If “standing for my beliefs” means being an advocate for the poor and downtrodden and disenfranchised, that seems like God’s character revealed in the one who ate with sinners and died with thieves. I know ordinary people that take a lot of time out of their lives to do practical things to help those poor all over the world. I think Jesus would hang around with those people… and he’d die with them.

But he wouldn’t “fight” I don’t think… with anyone…

The Shift

My son is turning 14 this year. And he has shot up like a weed, like they all seem to do so quickly. He’s already 5’5″ and I think he grows a half-inch every time he takes a nap.

A little while ago, I noticed “the shift” had begun. Let me explain.

Phase One is where he might do some stuff as well as you do as the parent. For instances, in general, when he’s paying attention, he does the dishes as well as I do. He takes care of his laundry quite well, and even folds it after about the fourth time I ask him to.

But Phase Two has begun. I thought about this today as we were shoveling snow today. I’m old enough that I’m losing the joy (yeah, I said joy) that I used to get out of this task, popping in my iPod headphones and listening to a favorite record, new or old. (for the record, favorites for shoveling include anything by Rich Mullins, Aztec Camera’s “Knife”, Bruce Cockburn, Gungor, and U2. eclectic, I know)

And in Phase Two, Charles is now better than me at things. This is new for me, I’ll have to get used to it. It’s not just the typical things kids are better at (operating the remote control, figuring out video games, stuff like that…). He’s better at shoveling the snow and not feeling it for days. Pretty soon, it’ll make more sense for him to mow the grass than for me to (another favorite activity of mine, and no, he can’t have all of it all the time… another iPod music opportunity).

Ironically, God (our Father in Heaven, as he is called in the scriptures) loves it when we make a different kind of shift. Where we rely on him more for stuff, and not less.

So… today… let’s shift!

How to Ruin Christmas

UPDATE! I’m not removing this article, because I think that it was still a bad idea, but only because when seen out of context it’s misunderstood.

The creators of this piece have explained the context for this.

We are SUPPOSED to be offended by the number, as it is, in the context of the Christmas show it was part of, a metaphor for Herod’s response to hearing about the baby Jesus. But I’ll let this stand, because I’ve been in churches that made decisions like this that ended up being a bad idea even though intentions were good and context mattered.

There is a year-old performance of Silent Night that has suddenly started to go viral in the circles I frequent. Here it is.

This church in London violates what many of us have learned is the cardinal rule for churches in December. You. do.not. mess around. with. Christmas. Recently I had a conversation with a guy who does, for his job, what I do (music in the church) who was thinking about not doing Silent Night this year and his pastor was okay with it. I told him he should probably update his resume if he goes through with the plan. It’s not to be messed with.

An upbeat jazzy version of Silent Night? Seriously? As of this writing, there are about 1500 people who’ve voted on the video. Just around 3% have given it a “thumbs up”. That’s not a misprint. 3%. Not 30%.

Here’s how I think this church went unhinged on this. Somebody had a great idea in a meeting, and this church likes to bust boundaries and break down traditions and somebody else in that meeting where this was decided didn’t speak up and say, “Hey, wait a minute, not all traditions are bad, and not all boundaries should be busted.” They didn’t because maybe the person with the great idea had a history of great ideas, or it was a leader who you can’t talk back to, or because nobody in the meeting had the sense God gave a chicken that day, or a combination of those factors… I don’t know…

But practically speaking, here’s why I actually got upset seeing it, upset enough to write a blog post about it.

Thanks to that church, I have one more “I’m a Christian, but…” disclaimer I need to make with friends who are far from God. I don’t need that. The song was defended by somebody saying “If only one person comes to Christ because of that, who’s to judge” without wondering about the 100 who didn’t come to Christ because they thought Christians looked even more ridiculous now than they did before.

You don’t mess with Christmas.

You don’t mess with Silent Night.

That is, I promise you, not a bad thing. Some traditions actually point to Christ and don’t need to be totally deconstructed.

Here’s my favorite version of Silent Night for you, to cleanse your musical pallette if you made the mistake of watching the link at the top of the page.

Merry Christmas

And, for what it’s worth, here’s my little instrumental version. It’s not as good…

Christianity is not American

This is from a discussion I had recently on a forum. We were talking about this excellent blog post.

Here’s why “american Christianity” has lost me…

Many of the “facts” (like certain videos) that certain conservative Christians (and some who are presidential candidates) have been using for justification of our outrage at Planned Parenthood have turned out to be outright lies, fabrications used by certain people (I won’t mention the internet troll posing as a “pastor” who I’m referring to), knowingly or not, to even justify and perhaps exhort people to violence against an organization whose budget is almost entirely NOT used for abortion.

We keep telling people Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory. That is a tiny part of what they do, and most of the Christian rhetoric I’ve seen lately has been a lie. (For the record, I am pro-life.)

Jesus. would. never. do. that.

We have Christians insisting on keeping refugees out, when our Bible tells us to welcome the stranger OVER AND OVER!

Jesus. would. not. do. that.

We tell a lot of lies about guns and such, as well, among Christians. Evidently, we’ve erased “well regulated militia” from the 2nd amendment. We’ve decided that being ready to kill a stranger is some how Christian.

Jesus. would. not. do. that.

Read this next statement twice if you’d like:

When our arguments are based on lies and ignore the parts of Scripture that don’t line up with the Republican party’s positions on stuff, we have no moral high ground, regardless of whether or not our position on an issue is right. Christian or not, we become wrong. We become the enemy.