Transitions Part V – Forty

Today – July 25, 2017 – is the final day that I will be in my thirties. At 11:48 PM EDT, I will have completed 40 trips around that giant flaming ball of hydrogen gas. That is 480 months. Or 14,610 days. 350,640 hours. 21,038,400 minutes. 1,262,304,021 seconds.

You are probably wondering where the number of seconds came from.  The Bureau International de l’Heure (BIH) and the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) added 8 and 13 leap seconds respectively since the day I was born. Yes “leap seconds” are a thing. I remembered reading about them a few years back and spent five minutes looking it up just so I could have the right number of seconds for this post.

Don’t give me that look. That’s not even the most useless piece of information I know.

According to Mom, her regular physician was out on vacation, so his partner was supposed to deliver me. Keep in mind that this was her fourth pregnancy, so she probably already knew how everything was supposed to go. The doctor insisted on using anesthesia for the delivery, which Mom was completely against after a bad reaction during my sister’s birth. There was an argument where he refused to deliver me without it and things left at a stalemate. (Apparently the dynamic between doctor and patient was WAY different in the 1970’s.) The anesthesiologist arrived to do his prep work only to find out Mom wasn’t having it. I guess I was in a rush to make it before midnight, so the nurse asked the old man if he’d like to deliver the baby. His answer? “I’d be delighted.”

That’s right. I was brought into this world by a drug-pusher.

Just kidding. I think. Maybe. I hope. (I preemptively apologize to any anesthesiologists, particularly since I will probably need your services some day.)

The anesthesiologist also told Mom there would be no charge for the delivery, because he would enjoy rubbing it in the doctor’s face. Word is that situation also led to the breakup of that medical partnership.

Yep. That’s right. I was barely born and I was already starting $#!+.

My Decrepit Old Geezer Feet (TM).

The “theme” for the past few posts has been about various “transitions” going on. I know the age “forty” is supposed to mark something, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. My original plan – when I was about half my age – was to earn a PhD in music, land a tenure track position at some university, gig on the side, pay off my student loans, sock away a nest egg, start recording, retire early, and work on the projects that interest me most. (I was woefully naïve in the old days before the internet took off. You young-uns don’t know anything about that. Did I just use the word “young-un”?) I wanted to get married and have a large family much like the one I grew up in, with enough members to form our own baseball team. (Yeah… Don’t ask me how I thought I was going to accomplish all that stuff AND have seven kids.)

It didn’t happen. None of it happened. I could give any number of reasons why, though they all come back to choices I made. Do I regret them? Honestly… No. I regret the consequences, sure, but I don’t regret my decisions. I might have picked a few better options if I had to do it all over again, but most of them would probably be the same.

I love my family. Had I followed through with my original plan and been studying for my PhD when my brother died in the house fire in 2002, I would have dropped out and probably never gone back. If I had been elsewhere when my father’s health started declining, I’d have dropped everything and come back home. Don’t ask me how that would have played out if I were married with children or settled with a tenure track position. I don’t know. Don’t ask me how music would have turned out. Giving it up was never an option. I should know; people have been telling me to do exactly that since I was 16.

Don’t get me wrong. My decisions have come at a pretty hefty cost: financially… socially… professionally. Probably medically, too. I have endured hours of non-academic lectures from “well-meaning people” to the point where I don’t ever want to answer the question “What’s my day job?” If someone does not see the value in what you do, no answer will ever suffice. It doesn’t matter if you juggle three jobs and a contract gig and spend your “off” day shuttling your parents around. There were many times I didn’t even want to step out of my house specifically because I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Social anxiety has always been there. The anti-social part developed over time.

As for what forty really means, I’m not even sure. Many of the things I planned to do when in my twenties don’t even interest me anymore. I’m also facing the reality that many of the dreams I have will remain dreams. Can I really call it a mid-life crisis if it has been brewing since I was 24? Sounds pretty much like “life” to me.

I could compile a list of all the various age-based fears, but there is little point; I’ve already been there. “Dying a laughing stock.” Meh… I’ve lived as one. It’s not that bad once you get used to it and recognize it for what it is. “Never accomplishing anything or making a name for myself.” I’m already a failure by most generally-accepted social standards, so this would make me an overachiever. “Being broke.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!! “Dying alone and forgotten.” I’m petty. If you forget me, I will haunt your @$$.

“My time has come and gone.” Okay… I’ll admit that one is a real fear, even if I don’t believe it at all. (For the most part, fears aren’t rational.) It may not be too obvious given the tone of the rest of this entry, but I actually feel like the best has yet to come. Exactly what that is, I don’t know. There are projects I sidelined earlier this year that I’m looking forward to picking back up. There are new things I’m pretty excited to try and a few challenges I might take on just to see what happens. (Yeah… I do that sometimes. It either inspires or pisses off the people around me.)

As for what the next year or even the next few years will bring… Well… Your guess is as good as mine.

Peace out!

TKP

7/25/2017

Transitions Part IV – Demons in My Head

In case you haven’t gathered from the title of the last few posts, my life is in a period of transition. It doesn’t matter if I plop right down in the middle of the street; I can’t go back to how everything was six months ago. On January 18, my father was arguing with his chronically-unemployed son who had completely given up on music ministry. No, we weren’t arguing about my being chronically-unemployed. Given that day was a Wednesday, we were probably arguing because I couldn’t figure out what real food he wanted to eat.

Wednesday is Free Pie Day at O’Charley’s. Dad didn’t say it, but he wasn’t interested in anything on the menu. He just wanted his free apple pie. I got pecan. Yes, I pronounced it “pee can.” I prefer it slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Hold up… Had to take a break while recalling the memory of that goodness. I may have to find a stock photo of pecan pie ala mode just to put in this blog entry.

Yes… I know. Pecan pie has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

Mmmmmm… Pecan Pie a la mode

Anyway, as of today July 18, my father is probably arguing with Jesus himself. Well… To be fair, I argue with the Lord every day, so that probably doesn’t tell you anything. What I meant is that my father is – well – probably telling the heavenly choir that their rehearsals are drowning out the television. Back here on Earth, I have rejoined the ranks of the chronically-underemployed… in music ministry, even.

It’s okay. I told my employers during the interview that they were not allowed to fire me before Justice League Part One comes out. Hopefully, the success of Wonder Woman convinced the producers to get better writers. Seriously. Batman v. Superman was crap. Especially Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Steaming crap.

Quips aside… Emotionally, I am pretty much all over the place and will be for some time as I adjust to whatever “normal” is anymore. Some transitions are positive and painless. Mine has not been.

Now that I have gone over how I got roped into teaming up with the super villain Vo-CAL-lo to assemble the worship team at Mosaic Church at The Greene, I may as well tell you what unnerves me most about doing it:

ME.

No, I’m not worried about my musical skills, knowledge, or even lack of knowledge in various areas. I’ve got credentials and experience going back more than 20 years. I feel extremely confident in what I do  and I feel even more confident in my ability to learn what I don’t know how to do. (Except organ. **** that $#!+. Not interested. Get a real organist.) I’m not sweating anything that involves any function of the job.

No… What scares me the most about it is my personality.

I am really not a people person. It’s not that I hate people. I actually love people… when I don’t have to talk to them. Okay, I feel fine talking with people I generally know, but otherwise I am an extreme introvert with borderline anti-social tendencies. Actually having to conduct meaningful conversations with people I don’t know really wears me out. In fact, the more crowded that it gets and the closer it gets to me, the more likely I will be in proximity to a distraction or a possible escape route. It’s nothing personal; once I’m done, I’m done.

Trust me… Even when I’m not feeling the social anxiety raging, I can still be a pretty aggravating person. Any day I reach the end without embarrassing myself or angering someone – whether for real or solely inside my head – is a good day. “Colorful metaphors and interjections” are a firmly-entrenched part of my vocabulary that I sometimes struggle to confine to semi-appropriate situations. (I don’t think I’ve killed any fig trees lately.) I can play the piano beneath a prayer, but leading one? Nope. I’ll say grace and it will most likely be one sentence. Look… Pissing off people is bad enough, but the last thing I want to do is piss off people and God at the same time.

Then, there is the whole image thing. Yeah… Uh… Get better role models; I don’t have my $#!+ together in any area. Well… Okay… My beard is pretty rocking despite the Cleaving Cleric’s repeated attempts to chop it off.

Why are all of these things are running through my head now? Beats me. This isn’t the first time I’ve held a church position. In the ancient days when I started serving in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – all of ten years ago… Yes, that is antiquity in digital terms – social media was beginning to take off, but had not yet become integrated into – well – everything. After I stepped away from my last regular position in 2011, I really gave little thought into returning to a regular position in a church. While I have changed a bit during my “sabbatical”, I have for the most part always been this nutso. If anything, I’ve just grown more comfortable with it.

,

Let me get this out of the way now. Politically, I tend to lean fairly progressive. Everyone who knows me is aware of this. While I may not discuss politics all the time, I am not going out of my way to hide my positions. Conformity in the name of acceptability is just an act of self-destruction.

Here’s the cheat sheet for anyone eventually planning to complain about my political positions to my employers:

Health care? Single-payer. Immigration? Interesting how people are only concerned about the dark ones. Same-sex marriage? I book for weddings. Religious freedom? Depends. Does everyone get it or is it a cover to deny civil rights and public accommodations to “different” people? Gun legislation? 20 babies were killed and nothing changed. The discussion is over. Black Lives Matter? Why the hell is this notion even controversial? The flag/national anthem/pledge of allegiance/patriotic symbols/rituals? Yeah… I’m really not interested in any b***s*** loyalty tests where someone else gets to decide how “American” I get to be. It’s like the “What if” game. You can never win. Anything else that you want to know, you can just assume that I will take varying degrees of liberal positions.

Have at it. Every once in a while, you’ll find out more on Facebook or Twitter.

People disagree with me on some or all of these things. Fine. Let’s disagree. We are allowed to be individuals. Many of those I consider my closest friends happily cancel my vote out every first Tuesday in November and I still love them. Except AJD. **** that dude. Just kidding. He only cancels my vote out about 25% of the time. I think. *eyes narrow*

What I do bring – aside from all that stuff on my curriculum vitae – is this mindset that as Jesus came to serve everybody (not just self-avowed Christians), those who follow Him are called to do the same. We cannot be everything to everybody, but we can meet them where they are – with love and without expectation or any “loyalty test.” Despite the potential landmines – and I’m probably the biggest one – I see an opportunity to help assemble and build something amazing that could do a lot of good in the area and serve a lot of people. The possibility to help create something meaningful and lasting is too good to pass up!

This is not to say that other more pertinent things don’t unnerve me. I promised something I’ve never actually done. Mistakes are going to be made while figuring this out and most likely at the time we are working to build traction. How do you incorporate multiple languages into worship with a primarily English-speaking congregation? Social media promotion – including on personal accounts – is an integral part of pushing our message out into the community. I want to share, but I don’t want that to be all I share. How do we manage this partnership between the two multi-site churches who planted us? And then, there is the band. Aaaaaahhhhh… the band. Still working on that one.

Well… There’s also the flexible time-commitment thing with no set hours or facility, but that is actually something I like even more as things kick into high gear. I’ve always done most of my musical prep work in my home office outside of “prime working hours.” There are a lot less distractions at night. If I haven’t learned anything else as a creative, it is that preserving mental space is extremely important.

As much as I am looking forward to Mosaic Church’s deluge of events leading up to our Launch Day on September 17, I cannot say that I am excited out of my mind. I want to be and maybe as the day draws closer, I will get there. The day I accepted the position, I drove my parents to Cracker Barrel for brunch with the Diabolical Dwarf. I didn’t even tell them what I was doing or that I applied until I handed the Renegade Rabble-Rouser the acceptance letter. Dad – being the engineer he was – fired off a barrage of questions about just the concept of launching a church in a movie theater. I’d never seen Dad take such an interest in any church position I’d taken.

Five days later, Dad’s hip broke. For the first two months as I was attending launch trainings and participating in church functions, I was also hitting the hospital twice (or more) a day and watching my father slip away. The last month of his life, I had to explain to doctors and nurses weekly that my father wanted to fight to the very end and if I could not do anything else for him, I would honor that. Today marks two and a half months since my father joined Jesus. When we launch in September, I’ll be wrestling with the notion that Dad would have come. (Of course, he would have been ticked at me, because I would have refused to let him have any popcorn. Popcorn is bad for diverticulitis.) I feel like he got cheated. I feel like I got cheated. There are people who never even got to meet him that got cheated.

Even with the swirling tempest of emotions around me, I recognize that this is where I need to be right now. Doing this. All of it. The fun stuff. The grunt work. The “Are you KIDDING me?” work. The whole bit. My whole life is in a bit of a transition right now, but this part is a positive by far.

Better Together. We Are Mosaic.

TKP

7/18/17

Transitions Part III – Shattered Pieces Make Art

One day in a galaxy far far away in Ohio, two pastors at two different multi-campus Methodist churches went for a car ride together. Yeah, they tell the story better than I ever could. Both of them had planted churches previously and I think wherever they were going had something to do with it. Something happened and they had the idea of their two different multi-campus Methodist churches planting a church together. Even worse, the lead pastors and the boards of both different multi-campus Methodist churches said “Okay.” Now they were committed to it. Sucks to be them, right?

As chance would have it, I am a member of one of these different multi-campus Methodist churches and had become friends with one of these trouble-making pastors. It’s totally my fault. Dude’s an Italian from New York. The last Italian I dealt with from New York – one of my father’s dearest friends – had a habit of hanging three-year-olds by their waistbands from a coat hook. I knew better. I figured since this pastor guy was maybe four feet tall, I was safe.

As we often do, we went to the movies. I don’t remember what movie it was, though I’m sure it had plenty of gratuitous violence. (Don’t give me that look. The Old Testament is far more graphic than anything we saw on the screen.) While we were waiting for the previews to begin, he turned to me and said “What would you think about having church in a movie theater?” Of course, I start thinking of things like set-up/tear down, where to put the band, and all these logistic-type things that I imagine would be a nightmare… but then start thinking about what it would be like to actually experience it. I’m not sure what my response was, but I’m pretty sure I was problem-solving out loud until the first explosion.

Yeah… Problem-solving in my head or out loud. That’s definitely a trait I picked up from Dad. I probably inherited his inability to shut up about it, too. Man, I miss him.

So… the next day, I go to serve at church behind the keyboard and see this:

That little ****** was trying to plant a seed in my head.

Despite the dedicated multi-ethnic/wide net/diverse vision these two instigators from different multi-campus Methodist churches were discussing, I hadn’t thought of anything beyond the logistics of putting it all together inside of a movie theater. I don’t know if it was morbid curiosity or the free meal, but I signed up to attend one of their information sessions. Okay… I admit that it was both. Actually, the restaurant was pretty good and right across the street from the movie theater. My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it right now.

I’m a fat guy; simple deduction says that I can be won over by appealing to my appetite with good food. Good food. Not the dollar menu. Yes, yes… I know I’m digressing again.

As the meeting unfolded and the Despicable Duo from different multi-campus Methodist churches elaborated on their plan and petitioned feedback, I pretty much sat back and just watched. First off, if you’ve been in the room with these two when they get started, the energy goes nuts even before they get excited. A church with a mission to reflect the cultural and demographic richness of the Kingdom of God is a compelling vision that only makes too much sense, especially in an area with one of the highest concentrations of immigrant families in the state. Right there in the meeting, the Sinister Sicilian turned to one of the attendees – an Egyptian who has been holding Bible studies in Arabic at his house – and told him straight out that they wanted him on board and that he was applying.

There was something about that moment. While I knew a number of people at the meeting, I hadn’t even met this guy the Terrible Two were taunting and yet some light went off in my head. I don’t know if that was when I realized how serious they were or what. At that point, I started entertaining ideas of what worship might be like. Prayers and music in foreign language with different instrumentation and feel… but balanced in such a way not to alienate the English speakers. Incorporating music and other art forms from the different ethnicities present. Perhaps an education component to explain to everyone where this comes from and what it means… and…

What the **** are you doing?! STOP!!!

If you read Part II, you know that I had already decided I was done with music ministry beyond playing the piano. Given my employment “stagnation”, the needs of my parents’ care, the possibility of burning out my references, and the experience of interviewing with a church that didn’t have the courtesy to follow up with a rejection, I believed I was professional poison.

Never mind that I am legitimately qualified. Overqualified, actually. (Yes, it’s arrogant and probably egotistical, but still true.) The church is a launch, which means no money. No infrastructure. Since it is being held in a movie theater, that also meant no building. No office. Nothing. Everything from the ground up. And oddly enough, I wasn’t thinking about any of that.

Nah… I was thinking that the Chillin’ Villain is a good friend and brother and I would be doing him a disservice by asking him to deal with me. Just because I’m going down doesn’t mean I have a desire to take everyone else for the ride.

So… There’s this classic meme that says “Controlling my tongue isn’t the problem. It’s my face that needs deliverance.” The Dastardly Dude noticed that after sitting through the session, I filled out absolutely none of the information cards. I was also pretty eager to get out of the restaurant, which isn’t completely out of character for me. (I’ve always been stressed around crowds.) Of course, he asked me what I thought, and my reaction was fairly cool and noncommittal.

The Evil Elf looked me in the eye and said “I know that look. You’ve been disturbed by the Holy Spirit.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Whatever. Like you never lied to your pastor.

I came home, wrote a cover letter with my proposal for multi-ethnic worship, matched it with my background, filled out the paperwork, placed it in an envelope, and set it in my winter coat while I decided if I was really going to do this.

And of course, the Vile Cinephile wanted to indulge his movie addiction a couple days later. I rewrote the cover letter and said to myself that I’d decide after I watched the movie whether or not I would hand it to him. Not ten minutes after I got to his place and tried in vain to win over his puppy, he asked me what I knew about an applicant and I cut him off, told him I couldn’t hear anymore, and handed him the envelope.

Yes. That’s right. Call me Cuz Bill Buzzkill. I ruined movie night. Nah… We still ended up watching the movie, but it was delayed by an hour because I had just dragged a flatulent elephant into the Italian Rapscallion’s living room that he had to address. He was expecting me to join the launch team, not apply for one of the staff positions. Silly Billy from Sicily.

Nah… For real. He was surprised.

As the interview-to-hiring process unfolded over the next few weeks with the Snarlin Marlin and the Biking Viking, the discussion of their vision for the church evolved. Like the Terrifying Twins, I have a partner-in-crime with an incredible talent and vision. We’re in the midst of carrying off concerts that were scheduled months before anyone was even interviewed! (Yeah… The Scandalous Vandal did it. He calls it an act of faith; we call it crazy. Notice that those terms aren’t mutually exclusive.) IT’S CHAOS in the prelaunch stage and I wonder at times what the **** I was thinking by signing up for this.

It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. The timing of everything is about as far from perfect as possible. I’ve got concerns I think about from time to time. That said… I feel like this is exactly where I need to be.

A broken piece that aspires to be used to create something beautiful.

We’ll see how it all goes.

TKP

7/13/17

Transitions Part II – Returning to Music Ministry

In case you haven’t gathered, the “theme” for this set of posts has to do with recent changes in my life. Part I discussed the most significant and painful transition: the loss of my father. I had been reluctant to post it, but I felt like I needed to. It happened and likely nothing will affect me as much in the coming months as I mourn. I have to work on what is next and this is a part of the process.

So… I’m helping launch a church. In a movie theater. Yes, I know. “What the **** am I thinking?” I guess that’s what this particular post is about.

Just to be clear, this is not my first foray into the music ministry. Years earlier, I had served as a minister of music at two parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The first one – St. Andrew Catholic Church – merged with three other African-American parishes to become the Church of the Resurrection. The second one – St. Anthony of Madisonville – I only stayed at for a year, when it became clear my parents’ medical conditions required more day to day care than I could manage while employed an hour away. We parted on great terms and I still substitute there from time to time.

When I started attending Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, I just showed up, shut up, played keyboards in the band, and left. Since I wasn’t an employee, I wasn’t responsible for anything. I didn’t have to attend meetings or make any decisions. I could choose whenever I wanted to serve. I was free to sub elsewhere if I felt like it. (I made far more money as a sub.) If Dad needed to go to the emergency room, I could drop everything and deal with it. It was a completely different relationship than I had with the Catholic churches, which suited me just fine at the time.

Then, I ****ed up everything by attending, getting baptized, and becoming a member. Yes, I’m apparently good at self-sabotage.

Then it gets worse.

A little bit of a Sanctus I wrote.

From Christmas season 2015 through the start of Lent 2016, I substituted for the minister of music at the Church of the Resurrection. It was a two month period with choir folks I consider family in a capacity I was plenty comfortable in. After almost five years away from directing on a continual basis, I was back at it again with a little bit of a different approach. The light went off in my head. I actually missed doing this. The stay was temporary, but I knew that what I had been doing otherwise – just playing piano – had to change.

Easy to say, isn’t it?

I was a 38-year-old man who lived with his parents and hadn’t worked a regular job in five years. Sure, I had credentials, references, and always managed to keep busy, but did that really make me any more employable? Does anyone really want to hear about how I organized my schedule around doctors’ appointments, dialysis treatments, medications, and lunches/dinners? Does anyone care that something as simple as taking both my parents out to lunch meant walking my blind father to the car, loading my mother into the wheelchair, and pushing her to the car? And repeat the same thing into the restaurant, out of the restaurant, and back into the house? Or that my phone would have to be on at all times in case my father had a medical emergency because I was the one who knew his medications or what happened at doctor’s visits? Or that I would drop everything at any moment if Dad had to go to the emergency room? Or that I tried not to leave my parents alone for more than a couple hours because if Mom fell, Dad would not be able to pick her up off the floor? Or vice versa?

Maybe the whole thing was blown out of proportion inside of my head, but I felt like no matter what I did, I had the Mark of Cain. Hell… I still feel that way.

If anything else, though, I figured it was good practice to get into the habit of putting myself out there, even if I was considered bad news. Over the next few months, I would periodically apply to positions. Some of them had a ****ing ridiculous application process. I even had a couple of interviews. Most applications were never acknowledged. Only two churches bothered sending me a rejection letter and one of them was the church I was attending! (Thanks, RE! I did appreciate it.)

For real, Dudes. All it takes is an email. When the churches don’t even bother rejecting you properly after an actual interview, it says they did not respect you. After that, I decided the “experiment” was over and I was done with music ministry. Yes, I was that disgusted.

So, what changed?

I went to the movies. Seriously. I’ll explain it in more detail in Part III.

TKP

7/4/17