Saturday, May 29, 2010

New Music........

This new project with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi is really out of this world. Getting to play in a band with my brother Kofi after over ten years is better than I can explain with mere words. This week we have TWO sets of brothers in the band. Kofi and his little brother (me), and Derek and his little brother Duane. Too cool. I don't think I've ever done that before!

Sometimes the best things in your life come much later than you would think. we've been rehearsing and writing a ton. Its been really cool because we are pooling resources from friends old and new. Our list of composers includes myself, Kofi, Derek, Susan, Mike Mattison, Tyler Greenwell, Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch, Nigel Hall, Oliver Wood, Doyle Bramhall,............ It goes on and on. How can you go wrong with so many cool people pitching in? The live shows are so much fun (if you haven't caught one yet) and the music keeps getting better and better the more we play. I hear it evolving just in rehearsal. Usually more of that happens live because of the energy from the audience but somehow we're getting that energy even without the crowd!

I have a great sense of anticipation about heading out to California to spread the word on the Left Coast. I'm also excited to see what the fans of the various bands will think of the new stuff. We haven't really preconceived as much of it as you might think. In fact, it has turned out a lot different than what I pictured. But, now that I look back on it, it makes total sense. When you consider all of our influences it all fits perfectly. If you're looking for a rehash of the Allman Brothers Band you're might be a little let down. Every song does not have two long guitar solos in it. I'm really excited that Susan is getting equal time for her guitar solos too. She rips it. If you're expecting all the songs to be short for the radio then you might be a little let down too. We do some jamming! Hey we're all lovers of jazz so that's gonna come out too. If you come to it with no preconceptions though, you're gonna be blown away because you'll get what you want plus a lot more.

What a great group of people to work with and for. Like I said before, sometimes the best things in life come later than you think. How sweet to know that your best days are definitely NOT behind you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More Irony Than I Can Stomach

My friend Tyler, who plays drums in a band with me, took a cab with me at about 4am one morning to catch a really early flight back home to Atlanta. Our cab driver was a black man from the Bahamas. An earthquake had just devastated Haiti and in our casual conversation we brought it up. He proceeded to tell us that islanders were used to hurricanes but not really earthquakes and he thought it was strange. At one point Tyler mentioned what a bonehead he thought Pat Robertson was for saying that God caused the earthquake to punish Haiti for something that they supposedly did over a hundred years ago.

The driver then stated that he agreed with Pat Robertson and that he had always admired him for having the courage to speak his mind. Tyler and I were in shock. A black cab driver from the Islands siding with Pat Robertson? He said that Haitians did worship the devil back then, and that God was in fact punishing them. I was wide awake all of a sudden. The next exchange went something like this.

Me: Was New Orleans was punished by God too?

Him: Absolutely.

Me: Then explain to me why the strip clubs and whore houses in the French Quarter were spared and so many churches in New Orleans were destroyed.

Him: Many times God kills non-believers in the Bible. I think we should do the same. We should go to Afghanistan and offer them Christianity and whoever doesn't accept Christ should be immediately executed. I'm tired of the US wasting so much time and energy on it.

Me: Where did Jesus say that??? He said "Thou shalt not kill" and "Forgive your enemies"!

Him: The bible says you shall not shed "innocent blood".

Me: Jesus said no one is innocent. Remember "He who is without sin cast the first stone."?

Him: You are a good debater.

Me: I'm just trying to figure out what Bible you're reading! I thought you said you followed Jesus for Christ's sake!

Isn't it ironic that Jesus' own words are the strongest argument against so many Christian's beliefs? I guess I really need to cut Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens some slack, as much as I am loathe to.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Divine Parent

After 45 years one thing that I have figured out is that I have a very Jewish view of God. I've checked out other religions and they are just fine but what helps me connect, pulls me out of despair, inspires, and lifts my spirit, is this Jewish idea of God as a divine parent. A good parent of course. Most questions that I had about God I answered by putting myself in God's place as a good parent.

Why would God create us knowing that we have this frightening power to do evil?
Would I decide not to have children because they might turn out to be murderers?

Doesn't that make it His fault that evil continues?
Does that make it my fault if I have children and they do evil?

Why doesn't he stop us?
Why don't we stop our children?

Should I be afraid of God?
Should my kids be afraid of me?

How about if I put myself in the place of the child? Does my parent really forgive me? Can I really trust my parent? Does my parent really love me? Should I feel guilty about asking my parent for what I need or want? Should I really be pissed off if my parent refuses to give it to me? Am I grateful for what my parent has already given me? Do I let my parent know that I am grateful?

God seems to talk to us in the Tanakh and the Message (New Testament) exactly the way our parents talked to us; "Why do you do exactly what I told you not to? Didn't I tell you it was going to turn out badly if you did that? You can't understand why yet, you just have to trust me. I know you really want that, but believe me, I'm doing you a favor by not giving it to you. This is really gonna hurt for a while but its the only way. Its ok I forgive you, but for my sake, yours, and everyone else's, please don't do it again. Don't make me have to spank you! You'll be back."

One of the few questions that can't be answered this way is, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Personally, I believe the answer is twofold. If it is a result of nature, then its just random and is just one of the things about earth that is a drag. The Bible says this pretty explicitly in Ecclesiastes 9:11-12:" I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift 
or the battle to the strong, 
nor does food come to the wise 
or wealth to the brilliant 
or favor to the learned; 
but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: 
As fish are caught in a cruel net, 
or birds are taken in a snare, 
so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them."

If its a result of one human's actions against another then maybe it is allowed so it can teach us about the nature of Love and the cost and consequences of our freedom. Even though we tell our children not to stick their hand in the flame, we've got to let them do it to really learn. And certainly we can admit that Love is not true unless it is freely given. If God made us robots then its not real love is it? He has to give us the freedom to reject him. (And I use the term "him" out of convenience.)

I often hear what a bad thing anthropomorphism is in the Bible, and it certainly has had some very bad consequences in history when certain groups of people have taken the imagery so literally. But I think image of the Divine Parent can also be a great idea that can help us understand the nature of Love. And I believe that God is Love.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The Hunger Site and its sister sites provide a way for you to give to charity by simply clicking on an icon. It costs you nothing. When you click on the icon a corporation that is partnered with the website has agreed to donate the money. You can only do it once a day but I try to start my day by clicking on each of the sites. Its an easy way to give everyday and it costs you nothing but the time it took to do it. One site gives provides food for the hungry, another medical treatment for children, another is buying up rainforest, another provides books for underprivileged kids, etc.

It couldn't be easier.



Saturday, May 22, 2010

Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

I have a strong suspicion that Jesus was a disciple of a Rabbi named Hillel. A man approached Hillel and challenged him to sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. He balanced himself on one foot and said,"What is hateful to you, do not do to your brother, all the rest is commentary. Now go and study." Then he returned his foot to the floor. One day while researching Hillel in more depth, I came across a Jewish tradition that says "when a person repents, all his sins are forgiven and he becomes like a newborn child." Sound familiar? Hillel was born about 80 years before Jesus' commonly accepted birthday. This was my first clue that Jesus might have been in his academy at one time.

The interesting part is that Hillel was a Pharisee. Not only that, he was the leader of the Pharisees. Him and his opponent. You see the other really interesting part is that Hillel, as with Jewish leaders before him, always had a theological opponent with whom he sparred throughout his tenure. There were always TWO leaders. Hillel's opponent was Shammai. (Before Hillel and Shammai were Avtalyon and Shemaya and after them, Akiva and Ishmael.) Hillel was known as the one to judge mercifully and Shammai was said to be stricter, more harsh and less forgiving. I guess you could say that Hillel was the liberal and Shammai was the conservative. Hillel was said to have prevailed on most counts. Imagine that, respectful disagreement was not only allowed in Judaism, it was and is a cornerstone of the faith tradition. Wow! Can we get some of that over here on the Christian side? The Talmud is actually a record of these debates, disagreements, agreements, and interpretations over hundreds of years.

The point is that Jesus' debate with the Pharisees was a debate that they were already having with themselves. This makes me think that there's a chance Jesus could have even been one of the Pharisees, like the Apostle Paul! Now wouldn't that change the way we see things? If you read the Tanakh (I don't like to call it the Old Testament because it is disrespectful to my Jewish brothers) and the Talmud (The Jewish commentary on the Tanakh) you will find the context out of which Jesus' thinking and teaching came. I really think most Christians believe that by 6 years old Jesus already knew everything and developed this "new" teaching all on his own.

Amy Jill Levine, a practicing Jew who is a professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN has written an amazing book called, Jesus The Misunderstood Jew. Fortunately I have some basic knowledge of Judaism thanks to Abraham Joshua Heschel and William Barclay. However, her book is written for those who don't. Her thorough knowledge of Judaism helps her understand the New Testament in ways unknown to most of us. There are things in the Bible that seem to mean one thing to us (non-Jews) on the face of it, but actually mean something quite different. That, coupled with her sense of humor and irony make for a fascinating, funny, and very enlightening book. Abraham Joshua Heschel has a great book called, God In Search Of Man for a Jewish perspective of the Tanakh. If you're really nuts like I am then try his other book, Heavenly Torah As Refracted Through The Generations for a walk through the Talmud. Any of William Barclay's commentaries will give you a great background in 1st century Jewish, Greek and Roman history and customs.

I think there's more to the story than what we're commonly told.