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Archive for November, 2010

The tributes to Leslie Nielsen (R.I.P.) are everywhere, and rightfully so. He gave us some of the funniest memories in movie history.

But he started out as a serious actor. And in this Jitterbuggingforjesus.com exclusive (well, sort of exclusive–it’ll be all over the place by Tuesday noon, I’m sure), we’ve got his screen test for the role of Mesalla in “Ben Hur” that he didn’t get. Stephen Boyd, who won the part over Nielsen, went on to have a less than illustrious career.

Nielsen went on to deadpan one of the most hilarious lines ever–and lots of others to-boot.

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So frankly, I wouldn’t pay 10 cents for Def Leppard music–it’s just not my taste–but Rick Allen is the greatest one-arm drummer ever, not to mention an inspiration to millions.

For those who may not know, his arm was severed by a seat belt in a car crash and it appeared to all the world–and to him–that his life as a rock drummer was finished. It’s one of rock history’s most amazing stories–one of determination and redemption.

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So, as a co-founder and chaplain of the All-Night Underground Steely Dan Fan Land Cult Club–comprising graduates of the some of the best drug and rehab clinics* in the world (and then there’s me, never an addict to anything but cigarettes for many years in my misspent youth)–I have to put up some Dan music (or Donald Fagen stuff, which is basically the same as SD) to appease the cultists once in a while.

So here’s a couple vids from Fagen’s great “Nightfly” album, his ode to the old days –and more.

(For Steely Dan devout fan “Louie Louie,” way up there in his West Virginia cabin this weekend. Too bad you can’t be a member of the Dan Lan Cult Club but getting up at 4 a.m. every morning when so many of us are going to bed at that dreadful hour disqualifies a lot of Steely Dan fans. I’ll see if we can make you an honorary member but can’t promise anything.)

Less a band than a concept, Steely Dan was one of the most advanced, successful, and mysterious pop units of the 1970s. Combining pop hooks with jazz harmonies, complicated time changes and cryptic, often highly ironic lyrics, the band sounded like no one else. Because of the perfectionism of founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the outfit rarely toured, and toward the end, was composed almost entirely of session musicians, while Becker and Fagen began to play less and less on their own albums. Producer Gary Katz became Steely Dan’s “third member,” as much because of Becker and Fagen’s insistence on pristine sound quality as for Katz’s role in forming the band. With Becker and Fagen fronting a version of Steely Dan that toured to great success in 1993, they proved that their long-lived cult was very much alive. And the 2000 release of Two Against Nature resurrected the band as a viable recording unit, and also won Steely Dan several Grammy Awards.

Meeting in 1967 at Bard College in upstate New York, Becker and Fagen played in amateur bands, ranging from jazz to rock to pop to progressive rock; one — Bad Rock Group — included future comedian Chevy Chase on drums. Becker and Fagen began composing together and toured from 1970 to 1971 as backing musicians for Jay and the Americans under the pseudonyms Tristan Fabriani (Fagen) and Gustav Mahler (Becker).

— From The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

And finally . . . some great horn work here, with Mike McDonald on lead vocal . . .

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When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.

— Bronnie Ware

BRONNIE WARE


Bronnie Ware is a singer, songwriter, a healer and a wonderful free spirit of a woman who has several blog sites including one she calls “Inspiration and Chai.”

This think piece from that blog, about the “regrets of the dying” she heard when she worked in palliative care, really resonated with me since a large part of my ministry is in palliative care. I think anyone who has ever worked in a field where one has the privilege of walking through the final days of life with people will relate to Bronnie’s list here.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

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Happy Black Friday to all my friends out there in the cult of the All-Night Underground Steely Dan Land Fan Club*, a loose federation of Dan fans from around the world who who chat, email and call each other all hours of the night, long after normal Earth People who keep regular hours have gone to bed.

*Yours truly is of course a co-founder and co-leader of the Dan Land Fan Club and was recently named the Club’s Chaplain. Which goes to show once again that God runs in mysterious circles.

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“His truth endureth to all generations.”

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!
Pastor Paul & Jitterbugger

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This Thanksgiving Day painting, Freedom From Want, was one in a series of paintings that Norman Rockwell created celebrating our American freedoms and inspired by a speech given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It should also be noted that this painting was created during World War II, a time when our freedoms and families were perhaps more acutely treasured. This artwork is an oil painting on canvas and measures 45.75 x 35.5 inches, and can be seen at the Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

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Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.
— John Lennon
 
 
 

 

Last night at the hospital I visited with a woman who retired from her career in education two years ago.
For whole decades, she told me, she dreamed of retirement with her husband–of her golden years in which she and her hard-working mate could travel and finally (she emphasized the word “finally”) enjoy life and have some fun.
 
 
 

 

Her husband died, about a year before the long-awaited retirement, of a sudden, massive stroke. She stuck out her final year in the work place, however, and retired with new plans to travel on her own around the U.S. and also France and Spain and all the wonderful places in the world.

But within mere weeks of retirement she suffered the disabling effects of a rather rare kind of disease. She could still travel if she wanted to, she noted, but has determined that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle and anyway, she fears spending very much time away from her doctors.

I’ve heard this story many times. It comes with variations, but the essence of the story is always the same. Someone works like a mule, often working second jobs or enterprises on the side so that some day they can relax and enjoy life.

This sort of parallels with the previous posting at this blog about our conceits and deceits and our tendency to believe that if we live a certain lifestyle and believe in God and try to live by the Golden Rule our every dream will come true. And never mind that Jesus said the rain falls on the evil and the righteous alike.

Another way of saying that is, that the one thing you can count on in life, other than death, is that life ain’t fair. We all know it’s not fair, we all say that all the time, but we tend to believe it’s always going to be mostly fair to me. Or that it should be fair to me. It’s like Hell. Many people believe there’s a literal place called Hell where bad people will burn forever and ever and ever (what a loving God THAT would be), but no one thinks he or she is so bad that he or she going to be the one go to Hell and burn forever and ever and ever. That kind of Hell would make God a monster, but few people think they are so bad that they’d have to worry about such a Hell anyway.

Life really is unfair, and dreams really do die hard. The dreams of retirement. The dreams women have of a Prince Charming and men have of finding a woman who looks like Charlize Theron and cooks and cleans like Beaver Cleaver’s mom. The dreams of finally getting that plum job or promotion that will finally bring in enough coinage, as if we can ever make enough coinage to satisfy us and give us peace.

Few things sadden me more than stories I hear from people who have spent their entire lives fantasizing about the many and various things they thought would finally fulfill them and make them happy. They dreamed of how wonderful life would finally be when they reached retirement, or when they found the dream lover and spouse, or when they finally had eye-popping paychecks coming in.

Having quoted from a John Lennon song at the top of this posting, another song lyric comes to mind from Don Henley: “We’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales.”

If you’re not living for today–if you’re not living in the present moment, you’ve already died and gone to Hell. You may not realize it until your dream retirement “finally” arrives only to blow up, or until your dream lover turns out not to look eternally like Charlize Theron or not to be so pampering as she was in the courtship and honeymoon, or until you lose your magnificent job and the big paychecks aren’t there but the big mortgage payment on the McMansion is.

None of this is to suggest that we shouldn’t plan and dream our dreams and work toward fulfilling those, but dreams don’t come with lifetime warranties or money-back guarantees.

Breath deep, and thank God for the breathe God breathed into you at this moment, because God and life itself are in every breathe and every moment of the here and the now.

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FIND YOUR BALANCE

“Wrinkled women lifting their faces, chasing their youth.
Fat men sucking in bellies.
Poor folks putting on airs.
Sinners acting like saints.
All of us keeping pace with our companions, stepping lively in this dance of deceit.

From “Home to Harmony: A Harmony Novel), by Philip Gulley*

Maybe conceit is just another word for deceit, and we’re all conceited people, some of us more than others.

Yours truly the Jitterbugger wayyyy more than others, so you can charge me guilty of conceit and deceit under what my prosecutor friends refer to as “the plenty guilty rule of law.” I’m OK with my wrinkles (most men are) but do suck in my belly a lot (I’ve been known to actually do that; intentionally stand up straighter and suck it up!).

The conceit of the times we live in–which my own “Baby Boom” generation started–is that if we eat reasonably well, exercise hard and intensely enough, challenge our minds and bodies enough with bold new tests of our wills, we’ll be golden. We’ll live a long, long healthy life and die in our sleep with a smile on our face.

Granted–we’ll have to believe in God and try to be good people, but if we just live by the golden rule we’ll be golden. Believing in whatever our vague notion of God might be and trying to be good people is the best insurance of all to spare us any discomfort in life, not to mention any pain, suffering or death.

Take a scripture here and take a scripture from there and yeah–you can cobble together that so-called “prosperity theology” and then you can make the woefully wrongheaded case that, if we just try to be good people God not only will deliver us from any pain or discomfort–God will actually reward us and enrich us with plenty cash left over for “Black Friday,” that day in which Americans, in all their conceit, run over each other in the effort to get great deals on great stuff like treadmills and wrinkle removers that will feed their conceits and deceits.

There are plenty of preachers and churches out there that are perfectly willing to exploit this conceit and deceit theology to the fullest. They build megachurches on our conceits and deceits. But then, they are only one pack among the wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. Politicians, the giant corporations (they who actually elect our politicians), advertisers–all the many and varied wolves out there don’t even have to attack us. We’re plenty williing in all our conceits and deceits to keep them fed down to our bones (or our last dollar), and they know it.

I’m thinking in my reflection times with God today about what my conceits and deceits are, and how I might get myself detached from those and get closer my God to thee. Sucking in my ever-inflatable belly has always been a strain and a drain on my energies and just ain’t working for me anyway.

*(Click here for another website of Philip Gulley, the fine and might fine writer and Quaker minister.)

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Actually that would be four cool black dudes: We got your Bill Withers singing with the great sax man Grover Washington Jr. on the fabulous love song “Just the Two of Us.”

Three songs I never, ever get tired of and doubt at this late date that I ever will.

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