Life Lost And Found: Connecting My Past With The Hands And Feet Project

Anyone who knows me personally knows that the last couple of years, and the last 12 months in particular, have been a rough time for me. My Dad’s 16 month decline and ultimate passing due to a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor shook my life to the core. My wife, my kids, and I all had our happy, normal lives thrown into a hurricane spin that, nine months after he passed away, we are still in the middle of trying settle back down into some sort of rhythm.

Coming to grips with the idea that all of the conversations my dad and I have had throughout my life are now in the past is a rough, ongoing process. I always had a lot of questions for him and he always listened and did his best to answer. While the questions continue the lack of a response is painful each and every time my mind turns back to him. The only thing I can do now is to think back to what was important to him, what he loved, what he wanted for me, for my family, for his grandchildren, and honor him in that way.

He had a heart for those in need. I know that he, along with my mom (divorced as soon as I finished high school) both took a step

My dad (1940-2012) preparing breakfast for guests at the local homeless shelter

forward in faith with a willingness to adopt me when I was about a month old from a mother who I never met, but, from the accounts of those who knew her, simply wasn’t capable of keeping me. Throughout my life I watched him visit and help neighbors, elderly and otherwise, whether by making repairs, taking garbage to the dump, building something, or just visiting. Even in the last five years of his life, after moving south from New York to be with us and provide daycare for his new grandson, he continued to be a helper and a friend to his new neighbors and, on many Saturday mornings, he would pick me up around 3 o’clock in the morning so that we could go to Wal-Mart to buy and prepare food to serve to the entire population of the local homeless shelter.

He was the constant model of Jesus, to me, yet he never attended church. Fortunately, in his final months and days, he accepted Christ. It was because of this acceptance that, I believe, he finally let go of the brain tumor-induced agitation that fell like a dark and ominous blanket of pain onto his home in the final couple of weeks.

His mind and his ability to cope with the stress of the position he was in started slipping just before the tumor robbed him of his ability to form words. His thoughts and his needs were trapped in his head and, for me as his primary caregiver (as well as his brother who was also there for the final two weeks), it became frustratingly difficult to understand what he wanted, needed, and was going through, just as his needs for comfort and understanding surely hit their most critical peak.

The result was a lot of guesswork regarding what to do in various situations, consulting with doctors and hospice nurses, and, surely, a number of mistakes in how I handled things. There were times, I’m ashamed to admit, when I didn’t want him to know that I was in the room because I knew that I couldn’t help him and I didn’t know how to handle it. In fact, over the past few weeks there were distinctive moments when it seemed like my presence there was irritating him. My memory of those final days and moments continues to be heavy burden that I am struggling learn how to carry. Though, I know, I am making progress, it is slow and I have a long way to go.

What I can find comfort in is the way he responded, on the final afternoon that he was with us, after being particularly agitated and uncomfortable, when I said something to the effect of (not sure that I can remember the exact words), “Uncle John and I are doing everything we can to make you comfortable Dad. It’s up to Jesus now and he’s going to take care of you.”

It was the last thing that I said to him while he was awake. Fairly immediately, he calmed down and, before long, fell asleep. He slept for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening until, just after midnight, with my arms around him and my head on his chest, I listened to his heartbeat slow to a stop.

He had given his life for my benefit from the moment I was adopted until brain cancer robbed him of the happy life that he was enjoying as a Grandpa (my kids were undisputed joy of his life), living a mere ten minutes from our house in North Carolina so that we could spend time with him almost daily. He lived a simple life. He was selfless and he was happy. Until brain cancer ripped it all away.

Matthew 25:37-40:

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

John 15:13

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

James 1:27

 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world

Currently I’m in a stage of my life where I’ve never been more aware of the blessings that I have had and continue to have surrounding me on a daily basis. As somebody who was adopted into a life that prepared me to grow and develop, albeit with bumps, bruises, miscues, and detours along the way, into somebody that I know my Dad was proud of, I recognize wholeheartedly the difference that a helping hand can make.

After disbanding due to Mark Stuart’s vocal issues several years ago Christian band Audio Adrenaline has reformed, with the stellar voice of Kevin Max supplying lead vocals, with a new album and tour to come in support of expanding the orphanages that they originally established in Haiti to care for “the least of these” in 2004. In addition to the relaunch of the band, several members of Audio Adrenaline, along with others, are participating in a marathon in Las Vegas in December 2012 in order to raise funds.

When I first read about the marathon effort, as somebody who just started running in the last two years, I was intrigued. The prospect of supporting such a noble organization, that addresses the exact need the bible instructs Christians to address, by doing something that I’ve grown to love such as running really appealed to me. But, the timing, injury issues, and distance between North Carolina and Las Vegas ruled me out from participating. Since learning about the Las Vegas effort, though, I’ve learned that they are also planning a similar effort for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April 2013 which I am committed to taking part in.

It is because of the example set by my Dad to help others, in combination with my love of running (albeit, slowly), the biblical directive given to all Christians, and my admiration of the guiding principles of The Hands And Feet Project that I am making this commitment to participate.

If you would, please read about the Beards, Hands, & Feet Project that I am launching in an effort to raise at least $500 to fulfill the requirements of becoming a Hands And Feet Project team member in the 2013 Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Please at least read through it. Then, if you are inclined to contribute toward this effort, please do so!

The Beards, Hands, & Feet Project: Growing Whiskers In Order To Support Haitian Orphans

‘Like’ The Beards, Hands, & Feet Project Facebook Page

Check out the making of the video for the new Audio Adrenaline single “Kings & Queens” which provides a good deal of insight into the mission of The Hands & Feet Project

View the video for “Kings & Queens”

Damn Our Complacency!

There is an echo that keeps reverberating in my head and I just can’t get rid of it. Tragedies of gigantic proportion have occurred in the last couple of weeks in places like Myanmar and China. These events surfaced on the daily news without regard for and in addition to injustices that rage daily all over this planet in other places like Ethiopia and Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of people, living in circumstances unthinkable to those of us who walk through our daily lives cushioned by the golden calves of American culture, suffering and dying in the wake of oppression, starvation, disease, human greed, and natural disaster.

Yet, here I sit. Typing on my laptop in a comfortable living room, nursing a bowl of ice cream as I type about the deficit that exists between the death and hopelessness that so many experience in the world and the multitudes of hypocritical, complacent Christians who just ignore it all so that they can plug in their ipods, attend praise and worship concerts for $25 a pop and listen to the latest Tobymac album while sipping grande Starbucks Frappuccinos.

I’m a walking black hole who executes a quick online payment to some relief organization just to take the edge off of the guilt that amazingly surfaces through my thick shell in response to the news that the cyclone in Myanmar ripped a child right out of the hands of her father, never to be seen again.

There are certainly times, when despite my faith, I have no answer to give. Perhaps sometimes the questions are larger and come faster than my prayers can leave my lips. Then there are times when questions and answers are pointless and we should, instead, be focusing our attention on what we can do to help those in need. That time is now. Yet, here I sit asking questions.

“Oh My God”

Oh my God, look around this place
Your fingers reach around the bone
You set the break and set the tone
Flights of grace, and future falls
In present pain
All fools say, “Oh my God”

Oh my God, Why are we so afraid?
We make it worse when we don’t bleed
There is no cure for our disease
Turn a phrase, and rise again
Or fake your death and only tell your closest friend
Oh my God.

Oh my God, can I complain?
You take away my firm belief and graft my soul upon your grief
Weddings, boats and alibis
All drift away, and a mother cries

Liars and fools; sons and failures
Thieves will always say
Lost and found; ailing wanderers
Healers always say
Whores and angels; men with problems
Leavers always say
Broken hearted; separated
Orphans always say
War creators; racial haters
Preachers always say
Distant fathers; fallen warriors
Givers always say
Pilgrim saints; lonely widows
Users always say
Fearful mothers; watchful doubters
Saviors always say

Sometimes I cannot forgive
And these days, mercy cuts so deep
If the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep
While I lay, I dream we’re better,
Scales were gone and faces light
When we wake, we hate our brother
We still move to hurt each other
Sometimes I can close my eyes,
And all the fear that keeps me silent falls below my heavy breathing,
What makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder
We all feel the need for wonder
We still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the thunder

Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give
Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat all the wounds that money causes,
All the comforts of cathedrals
All the cries of thirsty children – this is our inheritance
All the rage of watching mothers – this is our greatest offense

Oh my God
Oh my God
Oh my God

If you should feel so inclined to contribute to those in need in places like Myanmar and China, please consider World Vision. Because of their pre-established child/community sponsorship programs, have been able to distribute resources directly to victims in Myanmar and China.

Christian. Really?

Men are a very poor reflection of God. The basis of true Christianity is the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God, the infinite and eventually incomprehensible Creator of life. All of the Old Testament leading up to the birth of Christ and everything that has happened since are subject to the One who was born homeless, in a borrowed barn, and laid in a troth. Whether an atheist, a Buddhist, or anyone else believes this is true or not is irrelevant to the point that this is the foundation of Christianity: the character and being of God was revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ here on earth.

With the foundational belief that Jesus was God revealed in human form, it is perfectly logical to place great emphasis on the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ as being synonymous with the characteristics and wisdom of God. While here on earth Jesus taught, fed, healed, and served. His daily life was humility and selflessness manifested in human form and he instructed His followers to live the same way:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:37-40

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” John 13:14-15

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

The failure of most Christians to embody these teachings, characteristics, and values in their daily lives is undeniable, but, the fact should be recognized for what it is: humans are imperfect, human reflections of a perfect God. If I didn’t know anything about Jesus and I only had the lives of Christians to go by as a testament to Christianity, I fear that I would also think of the Christian life as foolishness because of the gargantuan gap between the way that Christ lived on earth and the way that so many Christians, including myself much of the time, live now. Pompous piety will achieve nothing without the embodiment, through grace, of Christ’s character and teachings in our daily lives.

Album Reviews: OPEN by Jason Morant (2006) & BELONG (EP – 2007) by Jason Morant

I will start by noting that I’ve been a music fan for a long time and have likely read hundreds of album reviews since reading Rolling Stone’s review of Stryper’s IN GOD WE TRUST (1988) juxtaposed with a Slayer album review when I was 12. After writing my first album review (Kevin Max’s THE BLOOD) a couple of weeks ago, reading some other current music reviews, and considering the unique perspective and responsibility that a Christian might have in critiquing music labeled as being Christian, I want to state my intent to never post reviews of music that I don’t personally find intriguing. I will only post reviews of albums that I think are notable enough, in my opinion, to be featured in a blog that is not especially bent toward discussion of music. That being said, OPEN (2006) and BELONG (EP – 2007) are at least worth a post.

I’m grouping them together in this review because, essentially, BELONG is a mini-collection of rekindled, reinterpreted tracks from OPEN. I first fell in love with OPEN while listening to samples of the album when it was featured as a staff pick on iTunes some time ago. It is a rare occurrence when I purchase a whole album on a whim without any prior exposure to an artist, but, this was a complete impulse buy based on my first listen to a couple of 30-second song snippets. More than a year later, it is still a favorite on my ipod and in my car.

In trying to characterize the style and mood of OPEN, I can say that it is not pop, but, does feature layered melodies amongst more solitary undertones in a manner slightly reminiscent of Coldplay, but, with a New Orleans tint. Infectious and addictive? Yes, but, thanks to the lyrics, the listener’s thoughts are effectively focused on the substantive, yet basic, foundation that Christ laid out and that Christians should be known for, throughout the album: servitude through Love. In the title track, Open, Morant sings:

Its time for something more real than all these words
While the least of these are broken and dying
We count the pearls in our purse
It’s time to live in love
So open up your doors
Let the Son shine out into the night you’re hiding from
Let your hearts bleed with love because when all is said and done
Love’s the only voice that’s heard

Like in Open, the lyrics throughout the album do a tremendous job of focusing the listener’s attention on non-denominational, Christ-centered issues that cut to the chase of what Christ really wants from us. The songs aren’t about sentimentality, or overused, lifeless Christian wordplay. Morant sincerely sings about seeking in desperation, finding, and displaying gratitude to God through service to “the least of these.”

The 2007 release of the BELONG EP brought fresh versions of a few of OPEN’s tracks, namely Open, Offering, Belong, and Display My Love. In comparison to the original versions found on the OPEN LP, each of the reworked tracks exude more solitary tones, but, in a manner that amplifies the power of each song. Each of the EP’s tracks were appropriately seasoned with time since their original release.

I think that, for me, it is the wondrous marriage of articulate, focused lyrics with music that bleeds artistic integrity in a Christian music market that too often showcases so much less. Morant, is relatively under the radar of popular Christian music, but, that is the fault of the Christian music market machine and a testament to the substance of Morant’s music. I would find it hard to believe that he’s out there to sell T-shirts and become another ironic Christian celebrity. His music is less like the fast food snack-style of music so predominant in contemporary music and more like a gourmet meal meant to be savored and enjoyed.

Jason Morant on iTunes

Jason Morant on myspace