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08 August 2014

The Perils of Taking Center Stage

You may be inclined to stop reading (because you'll think I'm a complete jerk) before you get through the account below. I encourage you to read it all before making a judgment call, though.

It was a slightly breezy, cool evening and I'd set up my guitar and microphone as part of a trio to play music for an outdoor festival on a mountain for a moderately affluent community. I had to arrange my stage area on the front porch of a small white house; I believe it was an old historic landmark. The odd thing about the setup was that my friends Chris and Quentin (or "Q"), the bassist and drummer, had to set up their their instruments (insert your own joke about drums not being an instrument) in an open area off to my right at a fairly substantial distance for a typical band layout.

We didn't get a sound check, and I remember being particularly nervous about a couple of the songs that hadn't gone too well when we practiced. Strangely, though, at that moment I couldn't remember which songs those were. Stage fright, most likely.

When it was time to start playing I stepped up to the mic and said, "Hello. My name is Dean Lusk," and immediately noticed that the crowd seemed disinterested; still mingling without so much as a glance at the stage. I reacted by throwing out a fairly dumb one-liner. Mercifully, it received some chuckles. Continuing the schtick, I put on my best Liverpool accent (or whatever dialect it is when you really don't know which dialect it is) and proclaimed, "I'm actually British," and started to wade through another stupid anecdote.

Suddenly, while I was still talking and before I even realized it was happening, Q gave a four-count with his drumsticks and he and Chris began to play the first song, "Dock of the Bay." I fell in easily enough, though I felt incredibly awkward. I guess I had been talking too much.

The first few words I sang were fine. And then it struck me like lightning that this was one of the songs I'd been anxious about. The hard part came quickly: the last half of the first line of the chorus... "watching the tiiiiiide roll in." It was slightly too high for my vocal range, and my voice almost cracked so I took a step back from the mic even before I'd finished singing the phrase. And I noticed something that was surprising and embarrassing.

This wasn't even my song. It was Q's song, and he was singing. It had been his microphone I had heard when I began to sing. I was mortified and wondered what Chris and Q thought of me (which bothered me far more than what the crowd thought); I'd essentially tried to hijack the performance with my awful comedy routine at the beginning and then by trying to sing over the top of someone else's vocal.

I put my guitar down and walked away in embarrassment and shame. The song was still going. Q sounded great. Matter of fact, even though the music was now just drums, bass, and a vocal, it sounded surprisingly good. I don't even remember if anyone in the crowd gave me weird looks as I walked through the middle of them, over to another little white house near the back of the audience, where I woke up.

I was more than relieved to realize it had been a dream, but it did reveal to me a darker side of my personality. Jesus talked about it.

“When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 14:8-11, NLT, emphases mine)

While I wouldn't dare execute this dream in real life, it illustrated the extent to which I sometimes live as though the world revolves around me. I've come to learn over the past few years that self-centeredness comes in many forms, all of which are corrupting and damaging to nearly every relationship, beginning with our relationship to God and extending to our families and friends.

For that reason, I hope this dream sticks in my memory for a long time to come.

08 May 2014

You've Gotta Know When To Fold 'Em

This is yet another fun account of me doing something dumb. After considering several spiritual parallels (and even consulting my friend Lee the Enabler, who helped me edit the post) I decided to leave it as just a story. I'd be happy if you'd like to comment on what you see as allegorical in it, though.

My wife and daughter had almost finished setting up my daughter's new bed by the time I got home from work. All I had to do was obtain a couple of oddball bolts from my tub of oddball bolts (to replace the obligatory forgotten ones missing from the parts packages) and attach the headboard.

Well, that's almost all I had to do. Callie helped me dismantle the old frame before heading out to a very important ladies' shindig, about which I remember nothing because I'm a typical male, sadly. My daughter went with her and my son was at work, so the task of putting the old mattress and frame into the attic was, both figuratively and literally, on my shoulders.

As I folded the three-segment attic ladder down and listened to its squeaky voice punctuated by the the occasional "Toinnngg!!" interjection of the springs on the sides, I thought, "This attic ladder contraption is actually a remarkable achievement. I'll bet the inventor made lots of money." After I pondered it for a few seconds I mused that anyone with a rudimentary understanding of geometry could probably have figured it out eventually, so I forged ahead with my task: transporting awkwardly large objects up rickety steps through a rectangular hole in the ceiling.

It went well until I was down to only a few pieces of wooden frame leaning against the wall, sitting on a smooth laminate floor. Darn you, physics.

I had folded up the ladder to give myself some headroom as I pushed the remaining pieces a few feet down the hall. That may have been my first real mistake. Maybe I didn't wait to see if they were stable as they leaned against the wall.

Before I continue, I'd like to note that the upcoming wound healed rather nicely. No scar, even.

I reached up, grabbed the bottom rung of the ladder, and pulled it toward me, letting it swing up and over so I could catch it on the way down.

Just as the unfolding ladder was reaching the upper part of its arc before descending (seeming to hang in midair for just a moment), I heard the headboard start to slide away from the wall behind me. I instinctively lurched my head and body to the right to save the day (still holding my left hand up to catch the falling ladder), grabbed the headboard before it fell, and thought, "Oh, yeah, I rock!" and then turned back to permit the ladder to gracefully fall into my outstretched hand.

Imagine my surprise when, rather than feeling the ladder fall gently into my palm, I was greeted with a sudden splash of white light, a loud (yet strangely not loud), wood-against-bone noise, and the sudden realization that I was stumbling backward down the hall.

<i>Falling... ladder...       Hit...  in... head...         Blood...         Home... alone...     Must... get... help...</i>

It turns out it wasn't quite as bad as all that, but I realized I'd been smashed just above the eye by a rogue attic ladder.

Similar to Gloria Gaynor, though, I survived. (As I did in my last post.)

I was admittedly disappointed that I only had a small gash right next to my left eye but no cool shiner because I still think on sixth grade levels in some areas. Remember -- I'm a typical male. Regardless of the lack of a really good contusion, I received mostly acceptable levels of pity from my family when they got home in spite of my stupidity.

It was a neat experience, all told, but I doubt I'll do it again.

06 May 2014

A Journey of Self-Awareness

My bad attitude ramped up on Tuesday evening.
Oh, it would've started at least a couple of days earlier had we not been bombarded by "significant weather event" warnings that began Thursday or Friday the previous week.
But I was distracted as we rode out a bumpy Monday night packed with considerable paranoia (and we were packed into the bathroom) as tornadoes ripped through Mississippi and parts of Alabama, laying waste to sections of Athens, a small neighboring city, as well as other towns and areas I know you've heard about.
But in the end we were safe and I was able to get back to the task at hand: having a phenomenally poor attitude. Looming ahead was the weekend.
Among other music-related things I do, I play with a band. We had three gigs coming up, crammed into two days: one Friday evening, one Saturday afternoon, and one Saturday evening. I knew in advance how tired I'd be.
They say you don't get paid for actually playing music; rather, you're paid for loading equipment in and out.
Okay, maybe only our drummer says that. But he's right.
Everything I did that week was bathed in the dim, miserable fog of the thought, "I have to play three gigs this weekend and it's gonna be awful." As miserable as my self-pity was for me, I have to imagine it was doubly (even exponentially) miserable for my wife. But she was a trooper (wow, that sounds patronizing, but I'm leaving it in the post, anyway). So we all slogged through the week.
But sort of like Gloria Gaynor, though, I survived.
Sunday morning we met with our church group for corporate worship. (Full disclosure: I was, indeed, humongously tired and I went out of a sense of obligation. My wife was the only one who knew this until you guys just read it.) We had an enjoyable and relaxing lunch with some relatively new friends from our not-to-be-called-a-small-group missional community. I grilled scallops that evening, and they were even good enough for me to have served them to friends without offering up self-deprecating comments throughout the meal.
At some point on Monday, or maybe even Sunday night before bed, I realized I'd taken a boat-load of gifts God had given me and tossed them into a miry swamp of indifference.
I'm not talking about the "good" things from Sunday -- the scallops and the happy lunch. I'm referring to all of the missed opportunities to be an integral part of what God was and is doing on the world and in people all around me. That isn't a passive religious idea. The God Who created everything gives me the unmerited privilege of playing a small part in what He's doing. And that is mind-boggling.
So how many people did I come into contact with over the weekend who were hurting in some way? How many wanted to tell someone about how God had blessed them? Who needed a few dollars to pay his utility bill? Was there anyone I came across who was at wits' end but was trying to maintain a happy face so no one would see how devastated he was? And what were the names of any of the families that lost their houses on Monday night?
I've no idea.
So help me, I have no idea whatsoever.
Instead of being aware of -- or, heaven forbid, acting upon -- the myriad chances to "be Jesus" to someone (those opportunities and people are constantly in every facet of our lives), I was consumed with something rather finite and insignificant.
I was consumed with myself.
I'd like to say it's a lesson I've learned before, but it appears it's only a lesson I've been taught before.
So it's another week of embarking upon a journey of repentance and awareness. Not a journey of self-awareness, though. Those tend to take me where I don't want to go.
They keep me from going where I need to go.

09 January 2014

Abstinence of Evidence

"Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." (Jesus in Matthew 7:20, NLT)

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jesus in John 13:34-35, NLT, emphasis obviously mine)

Believe it or not, unassailable doctrine, large churches, observance of strict moral codes, etc., are not the best indicators that we're followers of Jesus, although they may sometimes come along for the ride. But it doesn't get much simpler than this: our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Jesus' disciples.

Is it possible that followers of Christ tend to live under the impression -- and teach and imply -- that our abstinence from such-and-such "evil" will prove to the world that we're indeed Jesus' disciples? Certainly there are codes of conduct that are taught to the believer in Scripture, and often those things begin with "do not." I'm not saying or implying otherwise.

The problem, though, may be that we're so concerned with the "do not" parts that we tend to forget the "do" parts. Consider the fact that Jesus did not make any of these statements:
  • "If you do not associate with sinners, you will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not use foul speech, this will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "Your abstinence from alcohol will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not support businesses that act in a way that is contrary to Scriptural principles, the world will know that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not gossip, it will be obvious to the world that you are my disciples."

Some of those things are fine (unless they're accompanied by legalism, at which point they're tainted), but according to Jesus, none are the most solid evidence that we are His disciples. In fact, our reliance on "do not" rules can have a tremendous negative effect. (Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' eye-opening 2007 book, unChristian, is a great place to start in learning about this, and I highly recommend it.)

One of my favorite quotes about the Church is one made by a man known as Julian the Apostate, emperor of Rome from 361-363. He wrote in a letter to Arsacius, the high priest in Galatia, "These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes." It wasn't that this early group of believers stood up for their religious rights, abstained from certain foods and drinks, or didn't associate with pagans. It was direct outward evidence of their love for other people (which blossomed out of their love for Jesus) that was evidence that they were followers of The Way.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, let us become a generation of believers that is known for what it does rather than what it does not do.

(This post was originally made quite some time ago; you've just read a re-post. But that's okay. It was free!)

23 January 2013

Mostly Harmless

GARDENDALE | Wed Jan 2, 2013 8:15am EST -- Several years ago in Gardendale, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, a group of people with similar interests began to meet in a community center they rented every other Saturday. The facility in an upper middle class section of town; an area where people took pride in their landscaping, had solid high-paying jobs, two and a half kids, etc.

There was nothing at all unusual about people meeting in the community center, but when word got out that the crowd was made up of parolees, convicted felons, and people who'd been accused of any number of crimes from petty theft to rape and arson, the community was none too happy, for obvious reasons.

Fairly soon it was discovered that the meetings were essentially seminars where attendees were given what amounted to step-by-step tutorials on topics like disarming alarm systems, offensive combat techniques, and weapons training. As this leaked out, the well-to-do neighborhoods nearby became paralyzed with fear. Sales of high-end security systems, video monitoring systems, and home window security bars nearly tripled in the first two months of the group's meetings.

Over time, however, the community residents were surprised that although there was an occasional burglary in the neighborhood or a petty theft at a nearby convenience store, the crime rate didn't actually rise. On top of that, the extra income generated by the facility rental allowed the community center to make improvements on its property, initially adding a baseball diamond and after a few years, a swimming pool. The leader of the group continued to make occasional appearances on local-access TV channels and in spite of being outspoken and having rather alarming commentary on some issues, his ideas never gained traction outside the group.

It wasn't very long before the group of people meeting in the community center came to be classified as "mostly harmless."

The above is a work of fiction; a parable submitted for your consideration. Has the Church become all bark and no bite? Are our meetings just informational seminars that rarely result in action or implementation? Do we expect to get by on our reputation or things we've done in the past? Are we really "mostly harmless"?

If we lived and practiced what Jesus taught and what we teach in our meetings, wouldn't we expect to see some crazy changes in our communities?

22 December 2012

Christmas Thoughts...

As I noted a bit earlier this morning via Twitter, I discovered last night that the version of It's a Wonderful Life that exists in my memory is notably superior to the Frank Capra film.

I feel unChristmas-like when I say that it was not only boring, but for some reason I had a hard time believing that Harry Bailey was graduating high school at what appeared to be something like 36 years old, and that George Bailey was only slightly older than your typical college-aged guy when he looked 52. Kinda like Napoleon's classmate and antagonist Don in Napoleon Dynamite.

In other news, we're about to go get the ingredients for Christmas Eve fondue! I'd like to point you to, where last year I discovered an incredible beef fondue recipe. I made the mushroom dipping sauce, too. Not only did the family not hate it, they (and I) actually loved it. I think it kept our Christmas Eve fondue tradition from dying. Had it been bad we might not have planned to do it again this year.

Finally, stop by and download the absolutely free Green Hill Christmas Music Sampler! It's a straight-ahead, mostly traditional (and on occasion easy-listening) Christmas album.

Merry early Christmas!

06 December 2012

Christmas Classics Flash Poll

Okay, dig in:

1. Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
2. Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole?
3. Andy Williams or Frank Sinatra?
4. Dean Martin or Bing Crosby?
5. Jimmy Durante or Burl Ives?

Your responses and vicious arguments are solicited. Leave your comments below.

05 December 2012

Ten Least-Loved Christmas Songs of 2012

I have about 750 Christmas songs on my iPod. The problem, if it could be called that, is that I've cycled through most of them a few times already. (That's okay, because albums like "A Charlie Brown Christmas" never seem to get old.)

So, after listening to our two local Christmas-music-only radio stations in an attempt to enjoy a little variety, I have determined that only about 50 Christmas songs must have ever been recorded other than those on my iPod. Among them are three versions of "Last Christmas" and roughly 26 versions of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (all nearly identical, which makes me wonder why they bothered to record the other 25 versions).

As fate would have it, those two songs are on my "Ten Least-Loved Christmas Songs of 2012" list. It's not enjoyable to wake up to an alarm blaring either of those, so I've decided to start using the buzzer on the alarm instead. It's more inspiring.

Because I enjoy not enjoying certain Christmas songs, I'd like to present the complete list for you. It varies a bit from last year's list in that it's a little longer. Please reciprocate by listing your bottom 10 (or however many you'd like to include) Christmas songs.

Dean's Ten Least-Loved Christmas Songs of 2012:
  1. Last Christmas (Wham!, Taylor Swift, the Glee Cast)
  2. Step Into Christmas (Elton John)
  3. All I Want for Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey)
  4. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee, etc., etc., etc.)
  5. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) (John Lennon, etc.)
  6. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (Jackson 5, Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, etc.)
  7. The Christmas Shoes (NewSong -- it's a huge victory that I've only heard this song once so far all season!)
  8. Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed the World) (Band Aid)
  9. Little Saint Nick (Beach Boys)
  10. Run Rudolph Run (Chuck Berry)
Don't forget to post your own list!

01 December 2012

Christmas 2012 Freebie 2

Here's the second set of freebies of the 2012 Christmas season! Like the first, this set of freebies is Christmas music. However, you'll need to be much more selective with these songs than you were with those in the first post.

During my hunt for instrumental (and tasteful) Christmas music last year I uncovered Some of the songs will make you feel like Christmas in a way that makes you all warm and fuzzy and makes you pine for olden days -- happy golden days -- of yore. Some may make you recoil in disgust like that one time you heard your Aunt Erma singing Christmas karaoke. It's okay if none of you has an Aunt Erma or has ever heard a family member doing Christmas karaoke. You'll still recoil in disgust at some of these recordings. However, some are excellent!

But they are all free.

First I recommend visiting the Traditional Instrumental Christmas music page. You can preview a song by clicking on its title. Then you'll be taken to a page where you can click the play button and preview it. Like it? Then just right-click on the title of the song and "Save as" to your "My Music" folder (assuming you're using a PC).

If you mouse over the "FREE CHRISTMAS MUSIC DOWNLOADS" menu item you'll see a pop-down of a few other categories to explore.

Your mileage may vary, but hopefully you'll find some great new renditions of old favorites.

30 November 2012

More Sleigh Bell!

Were the classic Saturday Night Live cowbell sketch with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken executed in a Christmas setting, Walken would be Arthur Fiedler and Ferrell would be the person who played the sleigh bells on the quintessential Christmas favorite " Sleigh Ride." Of course, Blue Öyster Cult would be the Boston Pops Orchestra. (If you're not familiar with the SNL sketch, click here to see an excerpt at NBC's website. Mild language warning .)

"I've got a fevah (fever)... and the only prescription is more sleigh bell!" Although I'm not sure Arthur Fiedler put it that way, this is what comes across in the Boston Pops recording (link goes to's MP3 store), and although one rarely hears a percussion instrument droning in an orchestral song from start to finish, I'd have a hard time imagining "Sleigh Ride" without it.
The 1867 lithograph "A Brush for the Lead" by Currier and Ives
For this post I made a moderate effort to find the name of the Boston Pops member who played the sleigh bells on this song but I came up empty. If you know, I'd love to hear from you. It's a little odd; the person who has one of the most important parts in the song has gone relatively anonymous since 1949.

Fiedler has enjoyed fame as a conductor, the Boston Pops Orchestra has been in the limelight (if you consider orchestras as being in the limelight), and according to a reference at Wikipedia, "'Sleigh Ride' ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."

But for all that, the sleigh bell player remains an unknown. He did his job, did it quite well, and his effort has assumed its place in history. If he could have foreseen the popularity of the song (written in 1948, lyrics added in 1950), do you think he would have said to himself, "I can't see the benefit for myself in this. It will just promote the conductor, the orchestra, and the record company will make loads while I'll remain a nobody," and as a result decided to let someone else play on the record? I rather doubt it.

Raise your hand if you can tell that I'm about to draw a really obvious parallel here.

As we put our gifts to use as one of many parts of the body of Christ, we are called to play our part and do so to the best of our ability. We are not given direction or license to envy someone who has a seemingly more important role or to have resentment if someone else gets credit for what we think was our work or our accomplishment. That's not easy.

"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ." - Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)

"In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary." - 1 Corinthians 12:22 (NLT)

I've got a fevah... and the only prescription is more sleigh bell!

27 November 2012

Christmas 2012 Freebie Number 1

I've no idea how many of these I'll be passing along, but here's the first freebie of the 2012 Christmas season!
I stumbled across classical guitarist Jon Sayles' holiday music site and found a plethora of well-executed traditional instrumental Christmas songs. He's posted them all for free download here. You'll have to right-click and save them one at a time, but the investment will be well worth it.

If you visit his site and download his music, I encourage you to send him some feedback. There's a contact link at the top of his Holiday Music page.

NOTE: after you save the songs to your computer you should ideally edit the song names, artist name, genre, etc. (the ID3 tags) for each MP3 so that when you play the songs on your computer or put them on your MP3 player, the correct song title and artist will display. If you don't know how to do this or don't know what I'm talking about, you can contact me and I'll do my best to walk you through it. I couldn't find anything very usable on the web -- just a glut of "free" ID3 tag editors you can download -- but it's all confusing if you've never thought about this before and I'll do my best to help.

Don't be intimidated and don't let that stop you from grabbing these tunes, though! If you don't want to contact me or mess with the ID3 tags, worst-case, you'll have a handful of songs called "Untitled" on your MP3 player.

Keep checking back for more free Christmas music over the next few weeks.

May you be a blessing to someone this Christmas season!

25 November 2012


I believe I'm part of the first generation that grew up with video games. I haven't really ever known life without them. I remember the Christmas when my brother got a Pong console (the APF "TV Fun" console) -- two built-in paddle controllers and a handful of games that featured lines and squares and three sound effects.
Eventually I enjoyed the Atari 2600 (we actually had the Sears Tele-Games system, the OEM version), then the Apple IIe, and a while after that was the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, an IBM PC, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and several others along the way. I still fondly remember playing Yars' Revenge and turning the score counter over 33 times. Another game that sticks in my mind is Lode Runner for the Apple IIe.

The nice thing about having grown up and having technology grow up right along with me is that many of those games are available and playable now in the exact form in which they were released. It doesn't happen too much, but occasionally I'll have the urge to play a classic from yesteryear, so I fire up my browser and hit a few of my favorite sites for old video games. is the first place I usually stop. Abandonia hosts all kinds of old games that are legal to download for free now because the games have been abandoned by their copyright holders (that's the gist of it). This kind of software is, appropriately, called "abandonware."

Suppose I wanted to get my retro video game fix and I visited, only to find out that it had been shut down due to lack of funding. For a moment or two I'd be disappointed, then I'd Google for some more classic gaming sites. It's just what we do these days. I don't have to maintain a website or a huge archive of old games; I just get to enjoy the resources of those who do.

You see, I like old video games -- I'm a bit of a fan. But I'm not a hardcore classic gaming freak. Many people are, and many of them run websites devoted to the genre. If I find myself of a mind to act on my fandom, I expect that there will be plenty of resources out there to help me indulge that impulse. I'll play for a while, enjoy it, then forget about it until next time.

This kind of habit is rampant in Christianity. Not gaming (though that's certainly something Christians do), but the up-and-down fandom and periodic indulgence in a form of perceived holiness. I'm sure it's been a trend since Christianity's inception, even since worship of YHWH was instituted in ancient Israel. We fondly remember some of the good things in our past when we've experienced God doing great things. Maybe we recall Christmas Eve services as a child and remember how inspiring they were. When the impulse comes to do something about it, we run to the people who maintain a deep walk with Christ or people who simply fit into an established, revered religious office. There we can hear religious truths, be made to feel good about ourselves, but have no accountability or longevity. Ultimately, there is no change.

When we're done we put those feelings back on the shelf from which we got them, happy to have been able to experience something good and religious, and maybe even Godly. But all too often we leave it to someone else to maintain the websites and offer free downloads of abandonware. We can be pseudo-fans of Jesus and think we're doing something acceptable.

"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!" (Revelation 3:15-16, NLT)

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