|I do not expect my beliefs to work for anyone else. If they do, so be it. But at the very least, I hope that anyone reading these words--whether they agree with me or not--will consider the question for themselves. I would encourage anyone to write these things down. It is a great experience to try to elaborate the unspeakable.
There will be those who will take issue with my talking about Bible characters the way I do. They'll say I'm adding to the Scripture, because I say certain characters did certain things not mentioned in the Bible. My response to this is that I'm a storyteller and writer, not a scholar.
Some of strict Bible-thumpers will really jump up and down over my references to Chinese, India-Indian, African, American Indian, and other old lore. They'll say: "But these people were heathens." Well, that may be. But in most of these cases, the heathens and their cultures lasted far longer than our culture appears to have a chance of lasting, and I suspect if we could lay down our pride for a minute we'd stand to gain from listening to the wisdom and insight of countless generations of untold savage peoples who built walls extending hundreds of miles, who survived under conditions that most people couldn't stand for an afternoon, and whose beautiful stories are told in a simple and breathtaking beauty. Aside from these simple qualifications, studying a Chinese text, for instance, helps me to see my trusty old King James Bible with a fresh eye, much like going to Japan when I was 31 years old caused me to see my old hometown of Macon, Georgia, with fresh eyes.
I want to know what works for me. My station is the roadside, not a testing-room. Or, perhaps more to the point, the roadside is the ultimate testing-room.
Scholarly documents about the authenticity of recorded and written documentation supporting or discounting the veracity of supposed historical possibilities and the account thereof bore me senseless. I respect the work, but I'd just as soon pull nutgrass.
Scientific-minded people will often ridicule me as simple-minded because I take on faith certain things which are unprovable, such as grace and healing. My response to that is simple: Get back to me after you've gotten out of the fire you will one day be caught in the middle of.
I offer these so-called justifications up front because I have heard them before and I know I'll hear them again. I just want to have it on record in the beginning that I'm not trying to get a degree, and I'm not trying to win the Nobel prize for scientific proof.
I'm simply trying to figure out how to live my life to the fullest amount it can be lived and to use any means at my disposal--which mainly consist of a good imagination and a willing heart--to gain understanding and meaning from what has worked for generations.
I know what I know because I've experienced it in my own life.
And I know that stories--my own and those from anywhere I can gather them--have helped me immensely.
And I know that our culture is in desperate need of something.
I say we need a story.
I've spent many afternoons in kitchens talking to old folks--old coal-miner wives, old farmers, old mechanics. They never had degrees or citations of greatness on their walls. They had pictures of grandkids, old pretty framed faded magazine covers that struck their fancy, and usually a picture of a dead spouse. These are the salt of the earth folks who don't worry their heads over silly arguments about fancy things. They have learned how to get through their difficult lives, and have emerged at the end of their fiery life with a smile on their face, hope in their heart, and a faith that glows like a well-tended fire. Every single one of these people had a well-thumbed Bible on their kitchen table, and they usually had a notepad with pencil next to it. At some point in our conversation, each one of these people--without exception--these people would have occasion to reach over and tap an index finger on top of that old Bible: "If you look in here, you'll find it."
The old hymns describe what I like about the God of my understanding.
These are great old phrases that tell more and more as I live my days:
"Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me."
"How I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sin-ners was slain."
"And I know whom I have believ-ed, and am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day."
"When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."
And I love this one:
"When the roll, when the roll is called up yonder. When the roll, when the roll is called up yonder. When the roll, when the roll is called up yon--der. When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there.
Yes, sir, I will. Praise God for it.
And you ask, what do you believe?
Here is the short version:
1. I believe that God hears our prayers and moves in our lives.
2. I believe the 12 steps are a valuable guide to one's life.
3. I believe there's a dark time coming and we need light-givers.
4. I believe that as humans, we are all deeply wounded, and for the most part, ignoring it by burying our head in the various types of sand.
5. I believe we can begin to heal these wounds in different ways--by expressing appreciation to Vets, for instance; and by talking to old folks, for instance. These simple-sounding things will break down our stout walls of shame and we will make connections with one another.
6. I believe--I know--that I have a calling to do the above, to live the above to the best of my ability, to trust God moving in my life and bringing things together in ways I cannot understand. And I have a calling to speak and sing and write about these things so that other people can hear at least one person say it. And sometimes, that's all it takes, and sometimes that person who hears me speak begins to work on being a light giver.
7. I believe there are two forces--fear and love. When I look at the world through that lens, then it helps things become clearer--sometimes.
8. I believe there is a level at which we are all alike, and that level is described by the great myths, whether they be the Bible, or any other myth.
9. I believe we are desperately in need of a myth--a great story expressing great truth--to work with.
11. I believe that I love playing the guitar, and that I love doing my stories and my concerts. And though I have not seen economic windfall as the result of "following what I love" I have seen a great amount of peace and clarity in my mind as a result of it. I feel very lucky. I am one of the few people I know who loves what they do. And that's one thing people say after my concerts--they love watching me because they love to see a man who loves what he's doing, because it gives them some sense of hope that it is possible. In that way, I inspire others--to what I do not know, but if they're inspired then God can act in their lives.
12. I believe we are all children of a higher power that I call God, and that God loves us more than we can understand. God's love is only limited by our ability to receive, which I have learned is often quite limited because of our fear.
Now, the long version:
I was raised in a Christian setting, in the good ol' Southern Baptist Church. The preacher who first made a deep impact on me was a storyteller of the first order. He talked about Bible characters as if he'd gone to grammar school with them, instead of that dry, far-off description one so often hears that sounds like it's a weakly convincing argument about a historical character who may or may not have lived in some undetermined time. This preacher made these characters come alive.
Having departed from my upbringing in various ways along the way, I have come to understand that the Christian story is my story. My brand of Christianity doesn't always fit in with what is popular and accepted, but that's not my problem.
I have studied the Christian story from many angles, with the point being of what it means to me. It continues to be an ever-growing source of living meaning for me. The more I study it, the more alive it becomes, because I see more and more of the story in my own life.
The most important way-- perhaps the only way--for this or any other story to have meaning is on a symbolic level. The historical truths have been debated for years and I find that they are all irrelevant.
I do believe there really was a Jesus, but I don't have to prove to anyone why I believe that. I do believe he was the living son of a living God, and I don't mind saying so. But I am not interested in debating my truth about it with those who would like to try to tear it apart. And in my experience, this might just as easily be a "Good Christian" as it would be an atheist. Come to think of it, it would more likely be the "Good Christian."
This last comment makes it sounds like I've got something against Christians. I don't. I am one. But I know of no commandment that says thou shalt feel compelled to argue with a fencepost.
I just believe.
|And sometimes, you just have to believe.
The intellectual-minded person might make fun of that seemingly naive belief. My response is that all the intellectual people I knew hauled ass when my Mama got Alzheimer's, and I had to go that road alone.
That's where I learned to listen to intuition and learned to just believe. I reached that place Jesus talked about when he said "except ye become as little children." I was a child in my understanding and power over Mama's situation, and that was when I began to see God's hand move with power in my life.
I like Peter, for instance. His story is one we could all stand to pay attention to. He was a working-man. He cussed. That tells us enough right there--if we use our imagination, and look in the mirror, perhaps--for us to come up with the rest of Pete's description. He was coarse and clumsy in polite company. He was quick to tell a man to go to hell. Peter was quick to use his fists. He was a braggart and loved to talk about what he would do when confronted with a situation. He would fit right in these days as so many people talk about how they'd turn the sands of Iraq to glass.
You have to know Peter was proud. That's why he stepped out of the boat to walk on water. Pride is the perfect reaction to the fear all the boys were feeling as they were huddled down in the bottom of the boat during the storm.
We're not told who it was that first saw the ghost-like figure walking on the water. And in the old sailing legends, which are the oldest of legends anywhere, the sight of a ghost on the water meant the sailor's number was up. They were done for.
So you take a situation that was frightening to a bunch of men who had seen many storms in their lives as fishermen.
Then you add to it the appearance of the death angel coming to get them.
The adrenaline was high.
And then--Peter shouts out: "Who is that?" He was going to shout down the angel of death, and why not? He was going to die anyway, might as well die shouting.
If we can own what our own reaction would have been if we had been in these wet shoes, we can understand Peter's joy when Jesus spoke while sauntering across this body of water that seemed certain to swallow the boat: "Hey, man, it's just me. Don't worry."
And who wouldn't have immediately said: "Hey, I want to do that."
I've heard it said that Peter took a stand right then, to walk on the water.
For my money, I say Peter wasn't close to taking a stand. He was scared out of his wits, and was reacting with the arrogant pride any human feels when confronted by mortal danger.
And Pete did ok, as long as he was walking towards Jesus, keeping his eye on this ghostly figure still approaching through the mist.
But then it ran through Peter's mind that maybe it was just a trick by the death angel.
And when he started thinking, he looked down--which is what we all do when we start thinking about grace instead of just accepting it--and saw that he was walking on the water. His first thought was probably that he had already died.
His shield of pride melted, leaving only his fear. And fear is a heavy weight on a person. And so, being overly burdened with his fear, Peter just naturally began to sink into the swirling chaos of water. Isn't it easy to see the symbolic meaning of this part of the story?
And then, for the first time in his life, according to our account, Peter reached out.
Can't you understand that story? I can. It makes perfect sense to me. I see myself all over it.
And can you further understand that when Peter reached out, there was Jesus, taking his hand. And suddenly, they were at the boat, and the storm was gone.
There are, I suppose, many points to this old story. But for me, the main point is not the storm, the fear, the boat, the walking, or the sinking.
The main point is that when Peter finally reached out, Jesus was there. And suddenly, they were at the boat, and the storm was gone. The storm was gone.
What this story tells me is that if I will reach out, Jesus will be there. I know from experience that is so. And I know from experience that suddenly, the storm was gone.
I share a lot of Peter's qualities. A key difference is that I don't fish. I like to ride in a johnboat on the river, but fishing bores me senseless. It's too much like work to have to fool with all the stuff, the equipment, the worms, the line, the poles. And then, what if you catch something? Then you have to clean them.
As far as fishing goes, I've found it to be far more sensible to have friends who fish.
But the rest of the stuff--the cussing, proud and arrogant, clumsy in polite company type of guy who was willing to tell a man to go to hell--I know all about that. I've never used my fists, though. I used words instead.
The story of Peter is like a looking glass into my life. I have been on a couple of different sides of that story.
When Mama got Alzheimer's, I became her caregiver. This is a quaint-sounding term for the person who has to make decisions that one would just as soon not have to make--life and death stuff, monetary decisions, working with medical people to try and find the right way to help a woman being carried off by a grinning and evil monster.
To add to this wondrous experience, it was pure poetry that I didn't like my Mama most of my life. And I don't think she liked me. We loved each other, but we didn't like each other.
I'm not the only person who understands this odd relationship.
So, here I was, 39 years old or so, suddenly becoming charged with the welfare of a woman I didn't like. And this task took over my life. Mama needed help immediately. Daddy didn't know what to do. My brother had had a stroke and couldn't help make the decisions, though he was a great moral support throughout the experience. My sisters lived far away and weren't available.
As Winston Churchill would say about Generals serving in lands far from England during World War II, I was "on the ground."
We got Mama situated. I was going to visit her every day in a Personal Care Home on the outskirts of the little town where I live.
She was pulling her hair out by the roots, screaming all the time, tearing her clothes, hitting people. All these are typical actions of a person with Alzheimer's, but this was new territory for me.
It was overwhelming.
Almost every day, Daddy would ask me why this was happening.
And you have to understand: I loved and greatly respected my Daddy.
He had an unshakable faith throughout my life, and this experience had shaken him to the core of his being. And he was turning to me for guidance.
I became afraid. I don't know why, exactly. I just woke up one morning like any other day, but before the day was half over I was paralyzed with fear.
I guess we had reached a little calm spot in the storm, perhaps, where I had a chance to realize that everybody in the local family was leaning on me. Mama depended on me. Daddy depended on me. My brother depended on me. The people at the Personal Care Home were calling all the time with various problems, and they wanted me to fix it.
I had been praying, or so I thought.
I had mostly been asking why.
As far as the task at hand of talking to medical people went, I was doing fine.
I was doing ok at helping Mama calm down when I was with her. I was learning a new language--the language of heaven's edge. I didn't think I was much help for Daddy.
I felt quite guilty over this.
I was alone. Alone. I had no one to talk to, no one to hug, no one's shoulder to cry on. And I was scared.
I was in my office in town. I called a friend of mine who lived in another state. I told her I was scared. She was at work, and it really wasn't the time to talk about it. She said: "Well, pray about it."
And I slammed my fist on the desk. "I have been praying. To hell with a bunch of prayer. God ain't listening to me."
My friend was startled by this outburst, I'm sure. But she said again: "All I know to tell you is pray."
I repeated my fist banging statement. "To hell with a bunch of praying, I tell you. God ain't listening, God ain't listening."
I was crying. I had my head on the desk and was banging my fist on the desk.
Then, suddenly, there was a knock on the locked door. And I said to my friend: "Hold on, some sonofabitch is at the door."
I looked through the peephole on my office door. There stood a retired priest I had met some months before. He didn't know anything about my situation. I didn't feel like talking to anyone. I was afraid. I was exhausted. I was angry.
I opened the door. "What is it, preacher?"
"Ah, I was just riding by, saw your truck, and I turned around to come back by to see how you were getting along."
And here was this little leprechaun of a man, with his little baseball hat on, looking up at me.
But I heard what he was saying. Even though I didn't want to admit it for a second, I knew God had sent my own personal sonofabitch to knock on my door to see how I was getting along.
Angels come in all shapes and sizes.
I slumped against the doorjam.
Then I remembered my friend on the phone. I told the priest to hold on. I went to my friend and told her I'd call her back.
I went back out to the priest and told him what had just happened. I told him I had been telling God to go to hell. I told him I had been banging my fist on the desk. I told him I was convinced that God wasn't listening to me.
And this baseball-hat wearing sonofabitch busted out laughing.
And I bowed up, and said: "What's so damn funny, preacher?"
"Ah, doesn't God have a sense of humor?"
"What's so funny about all this?" And I burst into tears.
And this wonderful little man, who subsequently became a dear friend, reached up and put his hand on my shoulder. I looked at him through tear filled eyes and said: "What?"
He said: "Don't you see? You finally gave up, and God finally had room."
Writing about this experience carries none of the fire and high drama of the moment. But if you think about your own life, you can fill in the blank of your own drama, your own fist shaking, your own doubts in a God hearing you.
This experience is the men huddled in the bottom of the boat. The intense fear I felt is the death angel walking on the water. I was determined to shout down that death angel. I was making good progress at handling everything, until suddenly, I became afraid in a way I've never known afraid. And I started to sink, sink, sink. That's when I called my friend. I argued with her good advice--the same advice I would have given.
But I don't believe I had ever truly prayed in my life until the moment when I banged my fist on the desk and hollered out: "To hell with a bunch of praying. God ain't listening to me."
This was no impress-them-with-eloquence prayer. This was what I've come to learn as honest prayer.
And I guess ol' God was watching, and just about the time the water was around my chin, ol' God said: "Alright, boys, let him up. He's had enough."
And in preparation for this event, my priest friend just happened to look up from his driving to see my truck parked on the side of my building.
And my priest friend just happened to turn around, right about the time I was banging my fist the first time. By the time I was banging and hollering the second time, he was walking to the door.
Some people would say the whole experience was a coincidence.
God heard my prayer. God's hand moved in my life.
My banging and hollering and telling God to go to hell was the equivalent of Peter reaching out a desperate hand to Jesus.
All I know, is that after my priest friend and I talked for a few minutes, the stormy seas inside my heart were calm. And though I had many a tense moment with Mama for the next thousand or so days of her life, I was never afraid again.
It was Peter's bragging that gave him such a prominent place in the gospel story, because he set himself up to be standing by the fire when Jesus was in hot water. He set himself up by promising to follow Jesus to the death, and then bailed at the first chance of trouble. Where was Peter at the crucifixion, anyway? He had skedaddled.
But he heard that rooster crow, and he wept bitterly. I imagine he was still weeping for a while, too.
I relate to Peter, because I have denied my friends in front of the fire. I have been the one who's been denied, too. I have heard the rooster crow from both sides of that story. But look at what happened to Peter. The fire of the Holy Spirit lit on top of his head and stayed there like a July mosquito. And that man--that coarse, cussing, gutless man we know and love and can so easily identify with--he became a man who God used as God saw fit.
What I figure is this: If God could use Peter, he can use me. I don't know that I've walked on water, but I have dang sure sank in it a few times, and the main point being that when I could not make sense of things--like when Mama was sick--I would reach my hand out to a ghost on the water, and suddenly we were at the ship and the sea was calm.
Having said that, I will tell you that I believe God hears our prayers and moves in our lives. At least, I know God moves in my life.
I believe that modern denominations and what is called "organized religion" is probably one of the most harmful things in this country today, and has been for at least several centuries.
At the same time, there is a huge value to the community it offers, so like most great things it is both bad and good.
But the only religious belief that means squat to me is the one a person finds by going through fire. The worst of the Organized Religion folks will let you off that hook if you give money. I don't have a hook nor way to let people off it. I just know that at some point each person has to know why they stand, or why they grovel in the dirt.
And the point is, that when a person chooses to stand, he is given a power to do so.
I quite frequently reference the 12 steps and that program. Sometimes people mistakenly think I'm a drunk or a drug addict. I'm not.
I began going to see a counselor after Mama died because I could not cry. My retired priest friend recommended the only local counselor we had in the county. He turned out to be an addiction counselor.
He was a good fit for me because he worked by using conflict, and thus got at my fears (which was my addiction if I ever saw one) and shame (ditto) and basic humanness.
In experiences at a weekly group meeting of addicts (not a 12 step meeting) I saw that what worked for these courageous folks fighting the uphill battle was also working for me just trying to make sense of my life.
That was an eye-opening experience for me, because I could easily see I had no excuses for not being free and for not being able to fulfill my abilities and talents. At least these folks have the burden of their addiction as a hindrance. I had no excuse whatsoever, other than stubbornness, which kept me from "receiving the gift." And to the extent I have been willing to receive, it has been bountifully given.
I had already become somewhat familiar with the 12 steps because a recovering junkie friend had written me and remarked that my columns sounded like 12 step material. I didn't know what my friend meant and thus the explanation began. This was before the work with the counselor began...so the original light of the steps was shone by just one person-- which is exactly how it's supposed to work.
This translates into the work I presently do. I'm just one man and I might only touch one person but that is the work I have to do.
Now I know, after working with it, that I was writing about the 12 steps before I knew them, because the 12 steps are based on the Beatitudes of Matthew, which is one of my favorite passages.
But then, in the counselor's office, I mentioned this to him, so we began exploring how the steps could be used on a wider basis than just for folks recovering from drugs/alcohol.
So I spent time studying all this and how it tied in, using not only the steps but the Bible, and studies of Carl Jung's writing, the I Ching, American Indian stories, and Uncle Remus stories.
In light of that, what do I believe?
I'm powerless over my humanity and have to turn that power over to a higher power as I understand that power to be.
When I do this I am ok. When I don't I get in a boggeyhole.
The short version is to say I believe God hears my prayers and moves in my life.
And I believe that if I write and speak and sing about these things that other people will remember they believe this, too, and they will learn to love themselves so that they can better love their neighbor. And if we loved ourselves and each other we might have a better world. Why do I go on the road and do this when I could just stay home and get a job and forget it? Because I have a calling that I have to answer to.
Why? I don't know.
I just know I have to go and do, I have to stand, and when I go and do, when I stand, a power is given to me to do that.
It doesn't make me perfect. It doesn't make me right for everyone. It doesn't mean my bus windshield wipers don't sometimes quit working in the rain. It just means that when I go and do, that there is a power that comes into play, and things work out.
I greatly appreciate freedom, and have exploited the stew out of my freedom to live my life in the past few years. I travel around--freedom of movement, and gather people together--freedom of assembly; and speak my mind--freedom of speech. And no one asks for my papers or tries to stop me.
And I talk about this every night, even though it sounds corny, but to remind people of freedom, so they might tell their kids about it, and by telling their kids about it they will remember what they know and might sharpen their eye, so they might be concerned when they see civil liberties being taken away little at a time, that they might be willing to rise up and stand if it ever becomes necessary to defend our homes against any sort of enemy.
I believe we are beings capable of light.
And I believe there is a dark time coming, and much more quickly than most people know--because most people never go anywhere and have no source on input but the news media -- and this dark time is going to not only be dark but difficult. And this country will be in great need of light-givers--people who know how to stand, how to make sure others are fed, guided, cared for, people who act with love in times of trouble.
Knowing human nature, dark times will bring out darkness in people, but mostly it will cause people to simply cower in fear in the beginning. And anywhere there is a light-giver, that fear can be abated and love can be present in that situation.
Sounds corny, don't it?
A dark time is coming, and much of it is already here. Our eyes are slowly adjusting to the light and so we don't realize that we are already being taken in and taken over by this darkness.
Our country is dying in its sleep. I am trying to wake their ass up.
We are suffering from some huge cultural wounds. Some are so old I don't know if we'll ever be able to rebalance the karma of it all--the way we treated Indians and slavery are good examples.
But there are other wounds which are more present that we can address. The simplest I know of is the deep wounds on my generation and the one just before me over how the Vietnam vets were treated-- think of the urine-bucket greetings to returning soldiers. So I say "Welcome Home" at my concerts to Vietnam and Korean vets. Each night at least one man cries in my arms afterwards because he says I'm the first person to say this and he's been home for 25 years.
We can heal this wound, and I'm trying to spread the word to do it.
We are suffering from a lack of guidance in my generation. We desperately need to talk to the old folks--the WW II generation. With any and all their flaws they are our guide into the next phase; their wisdom and what they've learned through their hard life's trials could really serve us--especially in the dark time to come--but my generation is too busy working and watching the ball game to talk to them. They're also too busy working and watching the ball game to talk to their kids, too.
I realize that some of this energy is because I have lost both my parents and so thus appreciate that era greater than I did when my parents were alive and healthy.
So, I speak to this, so that anyone in the audience who has any sensibility will have that encouragement to go do something about it.
I believe that in many ways we are lost, mainly because we're so comfortable that we haven't had to pay attention. We no longer have any sense of what is important because we think the only thing that matters is ourselves. We don't know how important food is because we've never gone hungry. And you can go down the line with the various ingratitudes one sees around one.
And so, the culture is unhappy.
And so, the cultures tries to escape by drugs, alcohol, working, and spending money.
And I'm trying to remind people of what they know to be true--that our selfish behavior is not right, that we shouldn't run over others to get what we want, and that we need to join together and be together. We did this in the days after September 11. I was out on the road at that time watching it happen. It was remarkable.
And so last year I thought I'd go out and remind people to do it again, over and over, to get together just because, without having to have a catastrophe.
What an idealistic dummy I was.
What I think I learned is that people don't give a damn about being together, and it will take a catastrophe for us to change, just like it takes a junkie having to hit the wall before he'll get clean.
We are an addictive society, and so anything that applies to the individual junkie also applies to the society.
And we will have to hit the wall.
And my point is not to stop us from hitting the wall, because I don't think I can do that. My point is to talk about light so that others who have that gift will respond to it, so they will begin preparing to shine it, because when this country hits the wall there will need to be some folks around who know how to put the pieces back together, or else it will be done by manipulative politicians and preachers, and we do not need that.
I believe that I have made more mistakes than anyone I know. I have done some stupid-ass stuff. But I have learned from all of it.
I was born with fire of music and leadership ability. I don't know why that is so. But now I know that Mama was a singer in her youth and I came by that talent honest. She was also a great organizer and could direct others, sometimes to a fault. My Dad was a great observer of nature and spirit and the quiet workings of God, and from his example I learned about faith, and when I finally came to the point that I saw how utterly powerless I was (when Mama was sick) I began to learn about my own faith.
And so here I am.
In the old days I would have been called a circuit rider.
One difference is that back then, people wanted to come hear a man who came to speak, because if they were listening to him it meant they weren't in the fields working.
Now it's not so easy because of a modern thing called the sofa.
Also, I can't just breeze into a town and have a "sanctioned" place to work, that has a built-in crowd.
I work mostly in theatres, not churches, in part because many Christian churches aren't really open to a man who isn't ordained or who doesn't have some dramatic crime/prison/got saved story to relate. Also theatres are not perceived by people as being a "club" they won't be welcome in, like so many churches these days.
But there is a similarity (ever notice how close similarity is to hilarity?): While I am riding a circuit of my own finding instead of one prescribed by some office somewhere, I am coming to town to stir people up.
My experiences with Unitarian Universalists could be called a revival meeting of sorts, in that I challenge them to think about certain things, and because some people at the least get quite uncomfortable with what I say and at worst get angry, very angry--and any good preacher (or counselor, or 12 step sponsor) will tell you that's when you've hit home.
And when I get the chance to speak to a Baptist church, for instance, I make them uncomfortable, too, because I'm asking them to look close at the teachings they say they know and accept.
So, part of what I do is I am a preacher. I don't use that word in my descriptions because it conjures up too many images and preconceptions which are too far removed from where I am. This goes back to the organized religion thing in a lot of ways.
Also, I operate on a different playing field as just a guitar player than I would as a preacher. People hear me differently than they do a preacher. People have built in defenses against preachers.
And then, part of what I am is a teacher, because I talk about the old stories and myths. Most people have never thought about it and once they begin hearing about it they are interested. But I don't call myself a teacher because it sounds boring.
Part of what I am could probably be called being a medicine man. I had only vaguely considered this until I was approached by one Episcopal priest I know. He asked me to come to his church to do a series about Lent. I asked him what he wanted me to do. He said: "Just come and be David Clark in the way you do that. It's sort of like we're going to have the medicine man visit, and then the people will have that point of view to work with."
And I take the notion of being a medicine man seriously, not because I'm Indian, but because I have my own sense of what the term means and has meant in all times and places, and because our culture doesn't really foster that type of person, and because I'm just as comfortable listening to someone talk about a dream they had as I am in talking about the Bible.
I do not tell people I'm a medicine man because it would sound crazy.
I'm not sure what one would call a person who encourages folks to believe that it's ok to be who they are, just like they are, but that is one of my central beliefs and themes. It's ok to be who you are.
All of us need to hear that, and there is much about our culture that speaks the opposite--"You're only ok if you buy X, or take X, or subscribe to X."
And I say we're ok just because we're here. That is one of the deeper parts of my calling, I think. Because if a person feels like they are ok, and not a worthless piece of crap--which is all the unspoken rage in this country to feel, then they can see the world differently. They can be a positive part of a changing world instead of constantly defending themselves from the world.
I talk about holy ground within us and between us. I talk about shields of defense and chains of holding a grudge. These are, at their root, basic spiritual topics that I believe in addressing, but I get at them in a sideways sort of way.
I have met many people who don't think their life has a purpose.
I have no proof that anyone's life has a purpose, other than proof for my own life from my own experience. But I would encourage anyone to give opportunity inside themselves to finding a purpose in all things they encounter. In my experience, this is an important step to finding that purpose--just to be willing to give the idea of purpose a chance.
What I have seen is that if we are willing, then a mysterious higher thing will use us for work beyond our understanding.
I believe we will all answer some questions in our last few moments of living. One of them will most certainly be: "Did you live?"
I intend to answer: "Yes."
David Clark's website is www.outofthesky.com. Feel free to write him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at P.O. Box 148; Cochran, GA 31014. He is presently engaged on his "Passion Tour" throughout the country. See his website for a concert schedule.