The Old Blue Lincoln

I can buy an air freshener at Walmart that will supposedly fill my car with “New car smell,” whatever that is. But what about the “Old car smell?” That isn’t so easily obtained. That there is something to be earned. The old car smell is a blend of oil, grease, and wear and tear. It smells mechanical. It’s a smell with a story. It’s what would fill my brain when I lowered myself into the 1987 Lincoln Mark VII. Science tells us that smell is the sense most closely tied to psychological response. Maybe that’s at the heart of the puzzle.

It’s the puzzle that makes my mom shake her head with the, “I’m glad you guys are excited about it… but for the life of me I just don’t understand,” smile. It doesn’t make sense. We don’t make sense. Car guys are weird. Normal people buy a car to transport themselves and groceries or to look good. Cars are either equivalent to a vacuum cleaner or a peacock’s feathers.

So the old Lincoln didn’t make sense. It was never an appliance or a status symbol for me. It didn’t go particularly fast. With primer spots and tattered paint it wasn’t pretty. It sure as heck wasn’t practical. “Wrestling a guitar amp in and out of the back seat of a foxbody,” is right up with “Driving a riding lawn mower into a spruce tree,” on the list of things I’ve done once and would prefer to never do again.

But none of those things mattered because in the old Lincoln on a summer evening, pulling from 30 to 50mph, two things would happen. I would smile and I would forget about life’s little troubles. All those little things that bother a person throughout the day would go flying out the window and drown in a cocktail of small-block Ford burble and straight pipe symphony. I enjoyed it. Or it might be more accurate to say I appreciated the beast for exactly what it was.

It was an old blue Lincoln with a soul. I couldn’t but help project a character onto the car, the old fighter who doesn’t have the moves of his youth but hasn’t lost any of the guts. There’s a story there. It was embedded in the mechanical smell and was told with a gruff V8 voice every time it cleared its throat and rolled away from a stop sign. That story was in every bounce, creak, and foxbody-shimmy as the old cruiser rolled over pock-marked Michigan roads. It’s intoxicating and strangely emotional. I’ve only had the car for one summer and I’m genuinely sad that it has to go live somewhere else now.

But to most people it’s just a gas guzzling pig that took up space and left oil spots on the driveway. Not old enough to be an attractive classic but not new enough to be a nice useful car.

But to some of us, to the real car guys, it makes sense. Yeah, we’re weird.


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This Post Doesn’t End How it Started

Here’s a train of thought for ya:

I don’t have anything new to say right now.  Really, that is too bad.  I’m in the back of a vehicle somewhere between Atlanta and Home-Sweet-Michigan.  Perfect time to be productive.  The vehicle is full of my family.  At least none of them smell more than mildly funny.  A wedding.  That was the reason for our presence in Atlanta.  Weddings in general aren’t usually my favorite.  I’m all for celebrating a joyous occasion and supporting…

…mountains.  We are driving through mountains and I want to stop and climb one…

…a happy moment in a friend’s life but I think I’d rather switch a letter and attend a welding.  That’s probably my fault.  I suppose I could choose to enjoy sitting in a chair for a while and then dancing with people I don’t know and will never see again.  I’m told some people do enjoy that kind of thing.  Sometimes it’s called, “Clubbing,” which, contrary to my first thought, actually has nothing to do with primitive seal hunting.

I hope my wedding will be interesting.  I hope it will involve raccoons, Highland piping, and an athletic contest of some sort.

That is… assuming I get to that point in life.  Then there’s that.  Weddings make a mind think about the future.  Unless you’re old.  Then you probably think about the past.  Don’t tell my mom I said that.  She doesn’t like it when people talk about being old.

So… futuristic thoughts.  That’s annoying because it doesn’t take me long to think about my personal future.  It usually goes, “I dunno.  Dangit now I’m stressed out,” and it’s done.  A friend of mine recently posted a blog post echoing those thoughts, albeit in a more eloquent fashion.  I have too.  Come to think of it… In the past two weeks I have read at least many different articles/blogs/things about being a twenty-something who follows Jesus and thinks about their uncertain future.  It usually goes like:

“I’m a Christian twenty-something and I’ve graduated college and my some of my friends are getting married but I’m not so I feel lame and I have a job but no real career direction so I feel lame about that too but then I stop and realize that life is about making the most of where I am now and following God’s will for my life now instead of worrying about future plans because the future happens when it will and spending time dwelling on it now is pointless.”

Yeah.  That’s me.  Hand raised and situation acknowledged.  It’s an important mindset to get right, especially as someone who follows Jesus Christ.  I’m not able to do effective work for the kingdom of God in the present if I’m not trusting God with things that aren’t happening yet.

That’s not what I’m writing about though.  It’s been written about.  We are aware of it.  My question is, “What’s the big deal?”  Firstly, why is this the case?  Are we bored with the formula we have been handed?  Have a bunch of young people like me decided that there is more to life than “Education, Work, Retirement” but haven’t yet figured out what that something more is (or are stuck somewhere working because of money owed to the government thanks to stupid expensive college?)

Secondly, is this a problem?  Some might say so.  Some would say that it’s selfish to want more out of life than a job that makes money and a family.  They might say something like,  “We live in America.  Time to suck it up and just make a contribution to society.  No, writing stuff on the internet that no one reads doesn’t count.”  Now, I do have a job.  It’s a fun job.  I get to teach highschool kids how to play fun music and play basketball.  They look up to me.  I get to love them and be a role model.  That’s the real reason I do it.  The youth need role models.  They need Jesus.  I can at least give them that.

It’s not a career though.  It would never support a family.  Heck, thanks to the chunk of cash I give back to the government every month it barely supports meself.   (Here’s a tip, kids.  Don’t go to expensive college just cause it’s the thing to do after high-school even if your parents say so.  It’s not worth it anymore.)  So is it a problem that I would rather do something to advance the lives of others even if it means I have to live at home off the grace of my parents?  Living at home is kinda lame after all…

But then I realize that I’m just rambling on stuff that doesn’t really matter.

You know what I think a problem is?  All the church-going folks who go to work every day, earn money so they can support themselves and their families, and don’t share the gospel with anyone.  Hey, if you believe Jesus saved you then it’s time to repent and follow him.  That’s what matters.  I know why so many people don’t.  I know why I often choose not to.  It’s scary.  Sharing the gospel is inconvenient.  It will cause people to dislike you.  It will cause friction in your community.  It could cause you to die.

But you know, it’s worth it.  When somebody realizes that they need saving, when they realize that Jesus is the only one who can save them, when they find that new life.  That’s worth anything.  In my case, it’s definitely worth living at home after college and putting up with my parents.  Maybe someday I’ll go share the gospel in some far-off place.  Maybe not.  The important thing is that I find a way to do it wherever I am.

One more thing.  We need to do it together.  We are the church.  We need to act as a body.

Yeah, sometimes we will fail because it’s scary and we are human but we gotta try.

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Empty Morality

James Bond always has a bad guy to outwit.  The brave prince always has a formidable adversary standing between him and the princess.  Superman would be pointless unless there was something that Metropolis needed saving from.

It’s ingrained in everything we know.  There is good and there is bad… and we want good to win.

Where does that idea come from?  Yes, it’s part of what we would call morality, a system of right and wrong.  That’s a good place to start.  But not good enough.  Morality can be explained by the necessity for survival.  Human beings last longer when we aren’t eating our neighbors’ food and trying to explode each other.  Survival is a good thing so we should be nice to each other and raise our children to do the same.  Well… ok.

It’s a nice thought but I can’t accept that.  This is the part where I stop trying to make general intellectual arguments.  I’m really not much good at that.  However, I am good at observing the world around me.  I see what happens when people try and live their lives according to the premise that morality is just something to help us make a more stable and happy society.

Oh, and this is also the part where some people might get offended…

Sometimes that premise works for a while but eventually it turns up empty.  Suicide rates in the UK are a good example.  That’s a place that has embraced the above-mentioned view of morality and religion for a while.  I see broken homes.  I see kids from Detroit who are full of pain and anger and who don’t know anything else.  I could go on all day but it’s not the bad stuff that convicts me.  It’s the good I see coming from Jesus that points me to the truth.

I have, or those I know and trust, have seen lives changed, addictions miraculously defeated, disease healed, and hard hearts made loving.  That stuff doesn’t just happen by itself.  It happens when people are walking with Jesus.  I’m not saying that because I’ve studied it.  I’m saying that because I’ve seen it and I’ve lived it.  Find a place where Jesus is truly working and you will see the same.

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The Evil in the Children

The good Doctor would have us believe Abraham Maslow.  Humanity is basically good, right?  In our bones there is always the ability and desire to do the right thing.  If humanity were left alone to actualize themselves and find their true being then we wouldn’t be evil.  After all, evil comes from culture and social structure.  Or not.

That idea should be laughable to anyone who has ever spent time around small children.  Kids don’t start out as “basically good” beings.  They want what they want and they will do whatever they can to get it.  If they were “basically good” they would start out perfect and over time be corrupted.  I know that’s not true because part of my job is to turn them into better people as they grow up.  They didn’t learn the bad behavior.  It’s what parents (should be) trying to unlearn. 

And no, it’s not basically good to shove a smaller kid over so you can take their toy.

And yes, I know there are situations where kids learn all kinds of nasty stuff from their home life but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

That’s a very basic argument but it doesn’t need to be complicated.  You can turn a blind eye but it should be obvious that mankind, left alone, never finds a happy ending.  Deep down, you have to know that to be true.

So why is this important?  Well… that leaves us with a choice.  Humanity is naturally evil or suffering is all just part of natural selection and there is no such thing as evil.  If you agree with the latter you can stop reading now because the problem of evil and pain shouldn’t bother you at all.

Hopeless, yeah?  Maybe not.  That’s why I follow Jesus.  He addresses the problem of sin and he is the only way to defeat the problem.  It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

That’s all for now.  I must go chew on some more thoughts.

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Why Play? A Guitar Man’s Journey

It’s only taken me ten-plus years but I think I’ve found a good reason to play music.

I picked up the guitar because it wasn’t basketball season and I was bored between driveway-free-throw shooting sessions.  Boredom doesn’t last.  So then what?  One day I saw a guy playing guitar in the street somewhere in Detroit.  He played a blues lick and all I wanted was to make that sound come out of my guitar.  Then it was a challenge to overcome.

Eventually I figured it out and got to be, as Prof. Erickson would say, “Really pretty good.”  Then I played because I thought I was good at it and I liked being good at something.  Yeah.  That lasted until I saw someone play who was worlds better than I was.  The thing about being good at anything: there will always be someone better.

I was still pretty good though.  I figured that showing off was pretty cool.  Showing people talent makes them like you.  Sometimes.

Maybe I could use my guitar and my songs to make some great change in the world.  A cultural revolution fueled by lyrical poetry and slick riffs.  Did destiny call?  Nope.  That’s the problem with music these days.  Musicians take themselves too seriously.

Maybe I could just make a living with it?  Hahahahahahahahaa…….. Heh.I eventually figured it out.  I play music because I can share it with other people.  Folks enjoy it.  Kids get excited about guitar lessons.  People like a guitar at the campfire because they like to sing.  That’s good enough for me.

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I’m approximately one hour I will be arriving at a summer camp in Howell, Michigan to start training for my job as a summer camp counselor.  I’m looking forward to the experience.  I enjoy working with kids.  I enjoy being outdoors.  Spending a summer as a camp counselor is great way to grow as a person.  You learn a lot of patience, that’s for sure.

But it wasn’t my original plan for this summer.  This is my second summer as a college graduate.  I spent last summer setting up microphones and taking out the garbage at a recording studio.  The internship was productive, in that it convinced me the music industry is not the place I want to build a career.  Last summer was also productive in that the girlfriend of three years decided she had better things to do with her life.  So, apparently she’s not the girl I was going to marry after all.  In short, last summer was a summer of doors closing.

The road I was confidently traveling down promptly disappeared.  I thought I had a destination but I was oh so wrong.  Silly me.  I suppose it was more than a bit naive to assume that I knew what the future should hold.  Which brings me to where I am now.  Like so many of my peers, I am drifting.  Some are in this place by choice, unsure of what they want to do and hesitant to grow up.  Many are forced into the drift by the economy.

So am I failing since I don’t have a strong career track planned?  I suppose that depends on the definition of “success.”

Sure, if success means graduating from college into a high paying job, marrying the first girl that comes along, and soon living in a nice house with a nice yard and two suvs in the drive, then yeah, I’m probably not on the right track towards success.

But frankly, I find that version of the American dream to be slightly abhorrent.  It’s boring.  What good is a nice house and a picket fence?  Yeah, I want to have a family someday and provide good stuff for them but that shouldn’t be what we use to define our worth.  That family and stuff may or may not come someday.  If it does, great but I’m not going to sit around waiting.  These days, success is defined by comfort… and it’s killing us.  In case you haven’t noticed, our society is in a bit of a mess.  It starts with the youth.  As a part-time teacher, I stare that in the face everyday.  I teach music and stuff.  I don’t do it to just to teach or because I want to be a teacher for the rest of my life.  I do it cause it’s a good chance to make a positive impact on the kids.

Forget the picket fence and two cats in the yard.  If I can use this summer to make a good change in a couple kids’ lives, then that will be success.

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A Reading List for Dudes

As summer comes so also come opportunities for men to engage in traditional manly activities.  Fire, sweat, old cars, competitive violence, meat, dirt bikes, and heavy metal.  It’s all good.  What about reading though?  Many guys I know, especially around the high school age wouldn’t give reading a second thought.  No reason that has to be the case.  Here are a few books that go just fine with a bonfire and singed bratwurst.

Mark of the Horse LordFrontier Wolf, and The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff

Mark of the Horse Lord is about an ex gladiator who ends up fighting tribal wars.  Frontier Wolf tells the story of a young Roman officer in command of a frontier outpost.  The Shield Ring drops you in the last stronghold resisting the Norman conquest of Britain.  Sutcliff’s uncanny knack for description means you smell the earthy bogs, feel the thundering hoofbeats, and get lost in the chill mists as the forgotten (and often violent) world of ancient Britain comes to life.

To the Limit  by Tom Johnson

Vietnam.  So many books (and films) have attempted to capture the essence of a complicated war.  Many do that well.  This book is one of the best.  It is the true (and sometimes graphic) accounts of a Huey pilot flying missions as part of the 1st Air Calvary.  The book is incredibly well written.  As a result it is also incredibly hard to put down.  It’s relatively short and relatively easy to read but that doesn’t make it any less intense.

Dune by Frank Herbert

It’s a science fiction classic.  What more do you want?  There is a desert world (which inspired the Tatooine of Star Wars,) an outcast prince, politics of a space empire, and some fighting.  It isn’t the easiest book to read but if you can get through the difficult bits it is well worth the time.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

This book is often assigned reading in school.  It’s also, in my opinion, the best survival story ever written.  A plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness and the protagonist, Brian, has to survive with his wits, the clothes on his back, and a hatchet.  The premise is nothing unique but it’s Paulsen’s uniquely gritty writing style that makes this book special.  He manages to tell the story from inside Brian’s head.  It’s short, easy, and will shake you up a bit.

Woodsong by Gary Paulsen

Paulsen lives what he writes.  These are his own accounts of, among other things, running sled dogs, surviving the woods, ripping his kneecap on an icy tree root, and completing the grueling Iditarod.  Things don’t get more hardcore than that and no one can describe that kind of experience the way Gary Paulsen can.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Long has “LOTR” been nerd territory.  Yes, there are elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and magic rings, but this classic trilogy is more than a simple fantasy epic.  It’s a grand tale of good vs. evil, the power of friendship, facing adversity, and more important stuff of that nature.  Also, lots of swords, fighting, battles, and other manly stuff.  Yeah, it’s long but you have all summer.

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