Some excellent new music and blogging

I don’t make friends easily. When I do make a friend, the relationship tends
to be pretty casual and short-lived, especially if my friend or I moves away.
Currently, I have only two old friends who I really keep in touch with. One
is Jeff, webmaster for the town of Peachwater,
Texas
. The other is my oldest friend (in terms of duration), Matt Nightingale.
I met Matt in college in 1990. The first time I saw
him, he was doing an exuberant impression of Tina Turner singing What’s
Love Got to Do With It
and I thought, "What a freak." When I
actually met him, though, we became fast friends. We both studied music in
college—he as a vocalist and I as a clarinet player. He finished with a music
degree while I wandered the country and somehow ended up with a journalism
degree.

I remember walking down the hall of my college dormitory one
day
long
ago. I remember this day specifically, because I heard the song How
Long
Will Be Too Long
coming from someone’s stereo. I had heard the song before,
but this particular version featured a high, whiny, weak voice as the soloist.
I immediately became enraged that someone had the gall to so badly butcher
that powerful song of yearning, then I became even angrier that anyone
would validate such a musical travesty by playing it loudly enough for innocent
bystanders to hear. I rushed into the room that housed the stereo and demanded
from its owner the name of the "musician" and his rationalization
for supporting him. I was informed, rather sharply, that the singer was one
Michael
W. Smith and that any disparaging remark I might make about him would be better
discussed outside. I left quietly, partly out of fear that such a discussion
would have been depressingly one-sided, but mostly out of shock and amazement.

MWS was probably the first musician I ever considered my "favorite." I used
to consider him one of the finest musicians in the world, and I still have
a great deal of respect for him. The problem was
that
I had
heard
that
particular
song
performed
much better by my friend Matt, backed up by the rest of our college vocal group.
His strong baritone voice (which has since changed to tenor) supported the
message and the music infinitely
better than MWS ever could. Years later, I was a groomsman at my college roommate’s
wedding. Matt was there as well. He sang I Will Be Here,
and his interpretation gave me chills in a way that Steven Curtis Chapman never
has. Matt possesses all the elements of a great singer: incredible voice, commanding
presence, distinctive style, and talent pouring out of every pore. For that
reason, he has been and is currently my favorite. It makes me feel really cool
that
I’m friends with my favorite singer—Mrs. Happy can’t
even get a "hello" out of Sting.

I bring this up because Matt has, at long last, recorded and released a CD,
produced by Mike Roe of The 77s, if that means anything to you. His song Always
Entertaining Me
is currently ranked sixth on Indieheaven
Radio
. The CD is called
Still Standing, and it is listed
on Amazon
but for some reason
not sold there. Fortunately, there are other ways to purchase it, the most
exciting of which is via iTunes download. Another way is to go to Matt’s
web site
, where you can listen
to a few songs
and purchase
the CD
. Also on the site, you’ll find his relatively new blog, where he
discusses matters of faith and art and the many different ways they come together.
Please give him a
visit
. As a bonus, if you browse through his blog archives
you can find out what I named my son. Just don’t tell anyone.

Pop quiz, hotshot

This has been a long day, and tomorrow holds the promise of just as much length.
I’m having trouble thinking original thoughts, so I’m just going to follow the
lead of my geek friend MCF,
who recently administered
a pop quiz
on his blog.

1) They’re finally making the movie of your life and, after narrowing the
role of YOU down to three actors, they’ve asked for your choice. Who are the
three actors, and which person do you ultimately choose?

Neil
Patrick Harris
, John Francis
Daley
, and David
Hyde Pierce
. I would choose David Hyde Pierce.

2) You’re at a fancy
restaurant with your significant other, when your arch nemesis shows up with
his gang to rob the place. You left your costume home
tonight, and you wouldn’t want to reveal your true identity unless there
was no other choice. How do you handle this one?

If I had an arch nemesis, I would also have superspeed. There’s lots of things
you can do with superspeed. Or if I didn’t have superspeed, I would just start
telling my nemesis a story with no point and no real action, like the time
in nineteen-dickety-two (we had to say "dickety" back then because Hitler had
stolen "forty") when I was chasing the Kaiser and wearing an onion on my belt,
which was the style at the time…

3) 4 +X/8=15Y-23Z; solve for
each variable.

No.

4) They’re turning my blog into a sitcom! Quick, who’s playing
me?

Patton Oswalt.

5) What was the scariest moment of your life?

There have been a couple of times I feared imminent death, but I think the
fear when I saw the positive pregnancy test was more profound. Oddly, that
moment also ranks among my happiest.

6) After much thought and deliberation,
you realize the best thing you can do with your life is form your own team
of superheroes. Keeping in
mind that you don’t actually possess any powers or a dual identity in
this scenario,
how do you go about selecting your team, what abilities do you look
for in
potential allies, and what do you call your group?

I would select Mrs. Happy and Baby Happy. They’re not the most powerful heroes
in the world, but I’m not looking for the best fighters—I’m looking for the right fighters.

7) If a hypothetical
train is traveling East at 70 MPH, and a hypothetical truck is traveling
North at 55 MPH, then name 3 famous people you
feel shouldn’t be famous.

Paris Hilton, Ashlee Simpson, and Keanu Reeves.

8) A freak accident caused by lightning
or radiation or genetic engineering or whichever origin suits you, bestows
upon you the
ability to step
INSIDE your television set and interact with the characters.
Where do you go
first, and why?

If Firefly were
still on, I’d step in there because they need someone like me now since –spoiler
deleted
–.

9) After winning a karaoke contest, you’re awarded
the grand prize from a local radio station: you get to perform ONE song
alongside
your favorite
group! Who
do you sing with and what song?

Barenaked Ladies, and I’d sing Enid.

10) A blogger you read regularly
posts a pop quiz. Do you take it? Please list your reasons either way.

I take the first one I notice, then ignore all the rest that follow. Unless
I have nothing better to do.

11)
The quiz goes all the way up to 11.

Here lies the Mysterious Cloaked Figure, and why not.

Blog Party 6.0

For his sixth
blog party
, MCF asks the question, "What three wishes
can I grant you?" My gut reaction is, "Uh, dude, you got nothin’ I want." But
then I consider that he’s asking from the perspective of a fictitious genie,
and it’s all just in fun. So, if I could snap my fingers and just receive any
three things, what would I wish for? I have problems with games like this,
because I tend to overthink them. The whole three-wishes thing never works
out very well in non-Disney stories, and I’ve experienced enough of life to
know that if I got everything I asked for, I’d be much worse off than I am
now.

For example, I used to pray fervently for God to bring a specific kind of
woman into my life. I had a list of qualities I wanted in a wife, and all I
expected in return was for her to tolerate my presence and treat me kindly
for the rest of our lives. Instead, God gave me a woman with few if any of
the qualities I requested, though with quite a few better ones that I hadn’t
thought of. Even better, she loved me with a devotion I never thought possible.
I didn’t get my wish, and I’m so glad.

I think the problem is that when we sit around and think of what we would
wish for, the wishes almost invariably grow out of our insecurities. That’s
probably why God doesn’t actually allow genies to exist, and why he doesn’t
grant wishes like a fairy. He’s completely secure and in a far better position
to know what would be good for us and what would kill us.

I don’t mean to spoil the fun of the blog party. It is supposed to
be fun, after all. But now I’m all self-conscious because everyone knows that
my wishes reflect my deepest uncertainties. Oh, well. Here are my wishes, with
no further explanation:

The wisdom of Solomon

A golden egg-laying goose

Super speed

TEX revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a guest post for Peachwater,
Texas
. I’m not
sure how many people clicked through, but I get the feeling from talking to
Jeff (Peachwater’s webmaster) that it wasn’t many. The topic of the post is
close to my heart, so I’m taking this opportunity to republish it
here, with a few minor revisions. Even if you don’t entirely identify with
this particular experience of mine, maybe you will at least find it interesting
or entertaining.


In the summer of 1994, I moved from Greenville (a city in Northeast Texas)
to the city of Austin. I was 22 years old, full of angst and devoid of hope.
I
intended
to
stay for
three months and then return to Greenville. I had been attending East Texas
State University for three semesters, and for a
change
of
scenery
I
decided to transfer to The University of Texas at Austin. That was a monumental
decision for me. To explain exactly how I felt about the transfer, and about
life in general at the time, would drive
readers away from this site out of maddening boredom. Suffice
it to say that I felt all alone in the world, with no real home and
with no
friend
who
understood
me.

So I transferred—another epic ordeal whose explanation would drive readers
away. I took the step in an attempt to improve my lot in life, but I still
felt empty and isolated. Registration at UT was done by phone at the time,
so I figured out what classes I needed and made the call. I expected that the
automated registration system would engender the same sort of frustration and
phone-banging that most of them do, so I prepared myself mentally, knowing
the process would take only 30 minutes at most. I was entirely unprepared
for what actually happened.

When I called, I didn’t even hear a tone indicating the ringing of a phone
on the other end. I just heard a soft click, and the kindest, most generous
grandfatherly
voice
in the world say, "Welcome to TEX, the Telephone Enrollment eXchange for
The University of Texas at Austin. TEX is now registering classes for the…fall
semester." Although TEX was
an acronym for the phone registration system, not one student in the 50,000
at UT thought of TEX as a program. TEX was a person.
He was a gentle old soul who guided and supported us all in some of the most
stressful times in a difficult education. The inevitable mid-sentence pauses
that occur with automated phone systems added distinctiveness to his personality
rather
than drawing attention to the fact that he was merely a recording.

Take for instance the way he would let you know that a particular class was
added to your schedule. He would say, "Class…number……3…1…5…1…5………has
been added." In the silence between the final number and the ultimate
verdict, your mind raced with possibilities. Will the class be added? Will
I have to try
a different section? Will I have to find a completely different class? What’s
going to become of the rest of my life?! But TEX always offered reassurance
in the way only he could. That pregnant pause never failed to raise my fears,
and TEX never failed to calm them. This always happened in spite of the fact
that when a class was full, he would simply say "This class was not added"
without repeating the five-digit number. Even then, he softened the blow with
a
simultaneously
apologetic
and
encouraging tone.

I can’t really explain the effect that voice has on those who hear
it. The soft central Texas drawl combined with statesmanlike intonations
just make you feel like you had an ally in your registration efforts. And he
ended every phone call with the eternally comforting words, "Good-bye
and…good luck." Though TEX will be disconnected on Friday, July 15, I will
hear those words in my mind until the day I die.

If you’re so inclined, you can give TEX one last call at (512) 475-9950.

A weekend with Billy Graham

I had the privilege this past weekend of singing in the choir of Billy Graham’s
last New York crusade, and perhaps his last ever. There were services on Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday. Mrs.
Happy
and
I
both
sang at the Friday service (hence the lack of a post for Friday), then I went alone into the scorching heat and oppressive
humidity that surrounded the
Sunday
service, preferring not to have my pregnant wife pass out and fall out of the
stands and fifty feet to the ground.

I was especially looking forward to the Sunday service because the choir would
get to sing Because
He Lives
with the Gaither Vocal Band. That would have an
enormous amount of sentimental value for me, because Bill and Gloria Gaither’s
songs have had a huge impact in my life. The first concert I remember attending
featured The Bill Gaither Trio along with Sandi Patti and Carman. I think it
was at that concert that my parents bought me a vinyl record of the Gaithers
and a group of children singing Gaither songs. I think it was the favorite
record of my childhood, with the possible exception of the soundtrack from The
Muppet Movie
(though that one I had on a cassette tape). Anyway, three
Gaither songs in particular have always had a special place in my heart: I
Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary
, I
Am a Promise
, and Because He Lives. I can’t find any accurate
lyrics for Because He Lives online, or else I would link to them, but this
verse holds an especially powerful meaning for me now:

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still, the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He Lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

Sadly, some technical problems prevented us from rehearsing the
song on Sunday, so the entire choir simply sang the chorus in unison. At least
we still got to sing with the GVB, but I felt more like we were singing along
rather than being a part of the performance.

What a thrill it was, though, to sing How Great Thou Art with
George Beverly Shea. Apparently, he introduced that song to America in 1954
when he sang it at a Billy Graham crusade. He has sung that song at every crusade
since, I think. He’s 96 years old, and he can barely walk, but he still sings
the heck out of that hymn. I barely made it through without breaking down into
tears.

As for the Rev. Graham himself, I’m in awe. As I sat in the stands
behind the stage, I thought to myself, "Why would any non-Christian come to
an event like this?" Everything about the services seemed geared toward Christians,
from the hymns and praise music to the prayers and testimonies. He is no longer
even a dynamic speaker. He spoke softly for only 15 minutes on Friday
and 25 minutes on Sunday.
His
messages
were simple
and
plain,
infused
with humor and straight talk. From my perspective, he said nothing life changing
or earth shattering. But nearly 10,000 people claimed that their lives were
changed. I could see nothing remarkable about him. He was not exciting,
or controversial, or even pleasant to look at. He’s nothing but an 86-year-old
Christian who happens to be loved and respected by millions upon millions of
people all
over the world.

After the crusade was over, I saw his interview with Larry King
on CNN, and I think I finally figured out why people respond to him so readily.
It’s all about grace. He has grace in spades,
and he exudes it. Graham’s love for humanity is obvious to all,
and the message he speaks comes from a genuine desire to help people reconnect
to God. He doesn’t make people feel judged, and even when Larry King pressed
him for his stances on divisive political issues, his demeanor made it clear
that issues are not people, and that God loves everyone. Billy Graham is
not the agitator that Jesus was, but I think maybe no one since Jesus has exhibited
so much grace toward humanity.

Creativity and the Christian life

I mentioned a couple of weeks
ago that Mrs. Happy and I are leading a small group study about fostering artistic
creativity in the Christian life. Some commenters asked for "tidbits" or other
information about what we’re studying. We had our first real meeting tonight,
and I had some time when we got home, so I thought
I might write a little about the premise of the study.

We are all created beings. God created us in his image, which means that we
are creators at our very core. When we create art, we express ourselves
in a way that mirrors God’s expression of himself in his creation. When we
create art, we imitate God the way a child imitates a parent. That’s part of
our God-given nature, and it’s a part that we often ignore or deny.

If you assemble a group of 100 adults and ask them, "How many of you are creative,"
you may see ten hands (but probably fewer) raised tentatively. Ask
how many are artists, and the response will be even more tepid. If you assemble
a group
of 100 children and ask them, "How many of you are artists," the number of
hands raised will be closer to 200. All children are creative, and all children
delight in artistic expression. Kids love to make up stories, illustrate their
stories, make up songs, dance their emotions, play games of make-believe, and
more. They revel in their creativity. Unfortunately, practical-minded adults
tend
to beat
that
out of
them as they grow older.

So vibrantly creative children grow into practical-minded adults who beat
the creativity out of other children. They encourage young people to be "sensible"
or "responsible." They demonstrate how to live in a way that squashes creative
expression. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to share my
creative endeavors with someone, only to be told, "Curt, you have too much
time on your hands."

The sad fact is that when we squash our inherent creativity, we’re squashing
an important part of how we relate to God. It used to be that when you wanted
to hear the best music,
or see
the
highest
quality
paintings,
or
examine
the most
innovative architecture, you went to church. It is a horrible turnabout that
in the 21st century, church is the last place you go for true artistry. Nowhere
has creativity been more squelched than in church. Fortunately, that is starting
to change. More churches are seeing the value in creative worship, especially
in music.

In any case, my small group is going through the book The
Creative Call: An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit
.
Here are a few discussion questions from the first week:

  • How do you define "artist"?
  • Write three words or phrases that describe how you feel when you’re being
    artistic (or when you used to be artistic).
  • Write three words or phrases that describe how you feel when you’re engaged
    in activities that don’t involve creativity.
  • What do your answers to the previous two questions say about how you view
    these two sides of yourself?

I’ll try to post something more each week as time allows.

Ministering to the ministers

I wrote the following e-mail yesterday and sent it to about 50 blogging pastors:

I’m writing to you and other blogging pastors because I have a question only
a pastor can answer. I’ve been growing increasingly aware of how difficult
the job of pastor can be. I know that pastors often receive a lot more criticism
than encouragement, and that can lead to all sorts of bad feelings. I think,
though, that most congregations truly love their pastors but don’t understand
how much encouragement is needed or how to practically provide that encouragement.
I also think that pastors are generally and understandably reluctant to ask
for
such encouragement or display any human weakness at all.

I personally love my
pastor, and I’m keenly aware of many things that beat him down in his ministry.
Most of those things are entirely out of my control
or
influence. I would like to provide encouragement to him myself and incite others
to do so as well. But I know enough to know that I have no idea exactly what
issues a pastor faces that members of the congregation could alleviate. I just
don’t know what to do or how to go about providing the most effective encouragement
for him.

My request to you is that you respond with a blog post (or a link to
a post if you’ve already written one) listing some practical ways a congregation
can
encourage
their pastor. If you’re reticent about revealing that sort of thing on your
own blog, I would be happy to post something you write on my blog and remove
your
name from it–sort of an "advice from an anonymous pastor" kind
of thing. I really want to know this, and I want the flock to stop being
unaware
of their shepherd’s humanity and needs.

If you decide to write a post about
this, please let me know so I can read it and link to it.

Sincerely,
Curt Hendley
The Happy Husband
http://www.thehappyhusband.com

This is really weighing heavily on me right now. Being a Godly pastor must
be the most difficult job in the world. CEOs of corporations must weather attacks
from competitors, and leaders of countries must deal with other countries’
leaders as well as politicians within their own countries, but pastors have
to protect themselves, their families, and their churches from attacks by Satan
himself. The fact that so many pastors get little love and support from their
congregations goes a long way toward explaining why so many pastors resign
every day.

I’m going to set up a permanent page on this site with links to pastors’ blogs
where they offer advice on how to encourage your pastor. I have already received
a few responses as well as a few promises. Check out these links and see how
you can serve
your pastor:

  • Steve
    Pedersen
    : "My Pastors’ Prayer Group met today on a 30 foot
    sailboat.…I asked the guys a question to start off our conversation:
    How can a congregation encourage their pastor? The guys on the boat responded
    with these ideas"
  • Tod
    Bolsinger
    : "If you ask any of my executive staff, they will tell you of
    how many people have come along side them, joined them in ministry and cared
    for them personally. And it is my confidence in this community of people that
    allows me to promise my staff that together we will all aim to have ‘a
    great ministry and a great life.
  • Mark
    Van Der Hurst
    : "What has my church done to encourage me? I have shared
    this with several pastor friends and have had a blogger ask for some ideas
    to encourage his pastor. So, here is my experience/feeble attempt at talking
    about a time OUT."
  • Craig
    Williams
    : "Begin here, trust and respect, until we prove untrustworthy
    or unreliable."
  • Glenn
    Buzbee
    : "Churches can be like middle school. Or like playgrounds beset
    by a handful of bullies. It only takes one or two kids on the playground to
    stand up to the bullies and say ‘Stop! No more!’ God just may be
    calling you to be one of those kids to stand up and speak out; but while it
    is scary to defy a bully in your congregation (and even a best friend could
    be one) if you don’t, then who will?"
  • Noel Heikkinen:
    "For me, [this question] takes more the form of ‘Things I Wish
    People Knew.’ I
    think if these things were realized, more encouragement could happen organically. "

I will share more responses as they come in, and I’ll keep adding them to
the permanent page once I build it. If you’re a pastor who doesn’t
blog or I didn’t include in my e-mail, please feel free to respond in
the comments or in an email to happy-at-atimelikethis-dot-net.


Update: I have created a permanent
page
with a link in the
sidebar. I will post further responses on that page alphabetically rather than
continually updating this post.

MCF’s Blog Party 4.0

Here’s my entry into MCF’s
Blog Party
, which asks for "Your top femme fatales
and/or formidable females of all time, from Comics, Cartoons, Television, Film
and MORE!":

No. 5 Formidable Female—Your Mom

If there is any single larger-than-life woman in everyone’s life,
it is Mom. Life giver, lawmaker, character molder, ruthless enforcer, and provider
of the tenderest loving care, Mom may be the biggest influence anyone has.

No. 4 Femme Fatale—Bathsheba

I’m never quite sure how much to blame her for leading King David
astray. On one hand, it seems like it would take an awful lot to seduce such
a man of God into such atrocious behavior. On the other hand, he was a man,
so maybe it took very little. In any case, both she and David were redeemed
through their offspring and became part of the earthly bloodline of Jesus.

No. 3 Femme Fatale—Jo Polniaczek

For some reason I can no longer fathom, this character portrayed
by Nancy McKeon on the ’80s sitcom The Facts of Life embodied my prepubescent
ideal woman fantasies. She resembled no one I have ever met in real life, and
yet she was what I thought a woman should be. Seriously, I was just a kid.

No. 2 Formidable Female—Eve

We could argue all day about whether Eve ruined it for all of
us or Adam failed in his duties and thus ended paradise, but either way she’s
the mother of us all and casts a shadow over time and history that we will
never escape as long as we’re on this earth.

No. 1 Formidable Female and Femme Fatale—Mrs. Happy

For sheer life changing influence, this one trumps them all for
me. Shattering my notions of what I needed/wanted in a wife, she showed me
how much love I’m capable of and how much I could be cherished.