I have somewhat against thee.

2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Rev 2:1-5, KJV)

I almost began with we, but I should speak only for myself and say I. So…

I can be guilty of doing all the right things, of being orthodox in my beliefs and correct in my values, of even being passionate about doing the right things and “contending for the faith,” but at the same time forget to be passionate, not just about my faith, but about the one who is the “Author and Finisher of my faith.”

Now, since I am passionate about truth, I acknowledge that this passage is addressed to a church, not just an individual believer, so I won’t address the warning of removing the candlestick, whether this can be applied to an individual’s salvation in the same way it can to a corporate body of believers. What I will say is that I am guilty and need to repent, to turn around, and draw closer to the one that has promised to in return draw close to me. Father, forgive me. Holy Spirit, teach me. Savior, help me walk with you daily, whether into battle or beside the still waters. I crave your fellowship. I love you, Lord, my first love.

I know that sometimes public declarations of private passion are saccharin or self-serving. Well, I’m running the risk because confession is good for the soul – my soul.

I’m proud of you.

As I wrapped up my evening ritual with my kids – prayer and a little conversation, I began to think about my own dad and my relationship with him. I always knew he was proud of me because he told me, even after I was an adult. I always knew he loved me because he told me and showed me. Other than God and my mother, I knew that my sister, my brother, and I were the most important thing in his life, that is until his grandkids bumped us to fourth place. How do I know? He said so.

It was not until I was an adult that I realized what a rare thing this was. Too many kids never heard their dad say “I love you. I’m proud of you.” Too many preachers’ kids felt like church was priority over them in their dads’ heart. And as adults they still struggle with this. I was blessed beyond measure to have Bucky Rizzo as my dad. I pray I walk faithfully in his shoes.

So, to my kids, I love you and am so proud of you and want you to know this. And someday grandkids will bump you down a notch……. but that just better not be anytime soon.

Good night.

I grew up smelling printer’s ink.

The kids and I went to Birmingham tonight and stopped at some bookstores, which is one of our favorite things to do. Yes, I know. We’re geeks. Anyway, after we got home Nick was on the couch reading his new book. He sniffed it and said, “I love the smell of books.”

I relied, “Yes, that’s printer’s ink. I grew up smelling it.”

And I did. I don’t mean I grew up sniffing books. I mean I grew up smelling printer’s ink. I still know the smell. Most print shops have gone to copiers. But I can walk into a shop and tell when they’re still using the real thing. I inevitably strike up a conversation. Are they running an offset press? Is it an A.B. Dick maybe?  I grew up hearing these presses seeing them and smelling them and for a short time running them, which isn’t as essay as it might sound. In fact, running an offset press is as much art as it is science. In the good old days you’d have to set type, shoot a negative, burn a plate, put it on the press, ink the rollers and keep the ink and water balanced and plate clean. Today, not so much. Things go straight from the computer screen to a copier most of the time. It’s more efficient, but not nearly as romantic.

So just why do I know so much about printing? Well, because my daddy was a preacher.

No, he didn’t print Bibles.

Prior to becoming a minister or even a Christian for that matter, my father had a profession as a printer. And he was pretty good at it. Even years after he was no longer a printer, he could pick up a paper that had been printed using three-color separation and immediately see if it was even the slightest bit out of register, even without using his printer’s loupe, a special magnifying glass used by printers. (There’s a story for another day about how he made me learn the language of the industry.)  

So, back to my dad being a preacher. My dad began pastoring when I was about five years old. He pastored several small congregations, which meant they didn’t pay a salary. The Bible tells us that a person who will not provide for his own family is worse than an infidel, so of course he continued working as a printer to provide for us. But in addition to the paycheck dad used to feed and house and clothe us, there were perks. We had notepads made from scrap paper and coloring sheets of overruns on jobs, and all kinds of paper strips of different sizes and colors and textures. While this might not sound like much, to a six-year old and his four-year old sister, it was a treasure trove!  

Even after he began pastoring churches that provided a more stable income, Dad earned side income for the extra his kids needed. Paul the Apostle made tents to provide for his companions and himself. Dad printed for the same reason. Printing was the primary side job he worked, though he held others through the years, such gas station attendant, house painter, and anything else he could to earn additional income.   

But it was mostly printing that was his go-to.

In addition to believing he should provide for his family, Dad also believed in being with his family. And if he couldn’t be with his family because he had to work, then he had his family with him at work when he could. More often than not, his part-time printing work was after normal business hours, so he could take us along with him. My mom, my sister, and even my grandmother, and I often accompanied him to his overnight shift. We got to experience many different office complexes and print shops through the years. This might sound odd to some. But Dad wanted us around, always, and we knew it – we felt it. It was nice then. The memoires of nights sleeping on the floor on pallets made from oversized shipping boxes, surrounded by art work and proofs hanging on the walls, listening to the clicking pulse of the press in the background lulling us to sleep, and smelling printer’s ink permeating the air – these memoirs are priceless.

Later in life when I was struggling to make ends meet as a musician, Dad taught me how to print. For several years, I paid my bills with my dad’s skills. But I never was the master of the press my dad was. Still, I learned a lot from him, a little about printing but much more about how to be a man and how to be a dad. You do what you have to do. You work extra and late.  But you also go to games and marching contests.  You show up for band booster and PTO meetings. You make sure your kids know you love them and want them with you and you want to be with them!

So now when I smell printer’s ink, for just a moment I’m a kid again and my dad is there, working late into the night to take care of me.  And most of all I know he wants me with him.

My dad passed March 2016. Christmas 2015, he gathered all of us around him – my mom, my sister, my brother, his five grandkids, and me, and told us one more time – in fact, one last time – that he wanted us with him. But he didn’t mean he wanted us there at Christmas with him. Dad knew his time on this earth was short. Where he really wanted us with him was in eternity. He emphasized that the only way to do that was by repenting of our sins and accepting Jesus as our Savior.

Three months later dad left us for a place prepared for him by his Savior.

Just like my dad always prepared a place for us to be with him, Jesus has done the same, not just for Dad, but anyone who will accept Him. I don’t know if Heaven will smell like printer’s ink, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Why don’t you make plans to go with me and let’s find out?

Cole Veggies

When I get in bed late, I always wake up early for some unknown, perverted reason. When this happens I begin to ponder – or maybe it is a sleep-deprived delirium. Anyway, this morning I happened to be contemplating the recent events in the Catholic Church, and my mind slipped toward my music students. In discussions of Western music history of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, much of which involves music of the Catholic Church, I rattle off the Ordinary of the Mass or translate a Latin sequence (the same ones every semester). Because I know these things, my students immediately assume I’m Catholic. I’m not. But that has me thinking. If I were teaching botany or agri-science and listed the Cole veggies, would my students think I am cabbage?

Self Improvement

(Be sure to read all the way to the end.) 

Self-improvement through personal introspection with personalized support is very important, especially if we want to be successful in this high-pace world we live in. Personal improvement is an investment in yourself. But it’s not selfish because if you improve yourself you can improve the world around you for the people around you. The better you are, the better you can serve. 

But to improve, you have to diagnose and identify areas, not even necessarily of weakness, but areas where you can grow and stretch. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Take the time to reflect on who you are as well as who you want to be. Then make an action plan to move from the person you are to the person you want to be. 

An action plan is just that, a plan of action. But it has to be specific and concrete. You can’t just say I’m going to get more exercise daily or spend more time reading. I’m going to walk 2 miles every other day. I’m going to read a chapter of the Bible in the morning – every morning. Make it realistic, but make it concrete because if it is realistic you can achieve it and if it is concrete you can measure the achievement.

Lastly, remember you cannot do it alone. What is the quote, no one is an island? You need folks around you who will hold you accountable when you let down but who will also hold you up. Confide in someone. Let a select few know what you are trying to accomplish. Let them help you get there.

I truly believe in this. In fact, I believe in it so much I’m willing to put myself out there and be one of those people to help you. I don’t want to just talk the talk.  I’m going to walk the walk. So let me help you. Send me a private message about what you want to accomplish. In return, I will send you my mailing address. Drop $100 cash in an envelope and mail it to me. Then for the next year, one time per month, I will send you a private message of encouragement, and when you have accomplished your goal I will stick $10 back in an envelope and send it to you as a reward for a job well done! (For those who are not sure, this part is humor.)

Now get moving. We can do this together!

Noisy Democracy

I did not like the protests and disruptions during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. I did not believe the allegations. I think the Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee were disingenuous and bombastic. Some of you, my friends, disagree with me. All that said, I do like the sound of democracy. Sometimes it is noisy and rancorous but it is the sound of freedom. 

In the vast bulk of the countries on the globe, the embarrassing display that we witnessed would have been quickly quelled at the point of a bayonet and dissenting voices silenced, maybe permanently. 

Yes, liberty and democracy are sometimes loud and disgusting – but in the end it is still music to my ears.

Getting it right?

As I was driving through Birmingham yesterday, I began to reminiscence. When I drive down the side streets and alleys and rabbit trails that my daddy drove down in Birmingham or even as I explore new ones that I have learned on my own, I feel oddly like I am my dad. When I go to the school because my son has lost his keys, as I walk I look down and see my father‘s feet and legs walking. When I sit on the hillside at a funeral because another family is hurting and because my presence matters, I know I’m living out who he was. 

With all of these things and so many more, like when I look at my hands or my face in the mirror and I see that same little wrinkle of skin on the right side of my neck just as he had, I see my father. I hear his words coming out of my mouth, sometimes in jest, sometimes with admonition, and sometimes in frustration or even anger. 

I haven’t changed that much in the two and a half years since he passed. I was already becoming him. I will never be him, never be as much as he was, but I will always be becoming him. But it’s so stark now, now that the original is gone. And here I am – and my brother and my sister too – his walking, talking carbon copies, so much like the original… but like any copy, not exact and usually lacking just a bit.

I think he would be proud. He said he was. In a strange way it makes me miss him less and more at the same time. I guess maybe I wish I could say, “Daddy, how am I doing? Am I doing it right? I need you to show me just one more time.” 

So one more time I play him over in my mind. And I hear his words and I feel his breath and his big hands and those dark brown, often soft and sometimes glaring eyes, and I think I’m getting most of it right.

That time I considered putting my kids on e-Bay

This is a memory from 2009, but worth sharing.

I’m considering putting my kids on e-Bay. A picture is worth a thousand words and should explain my rationale. (See the picture at the top of the blog.)

No, it hasn’t snowed in my son’s room. The white fluffy stuff covering the floor some six to eight inches deep is Styrofoam beanbag pellets. Before I discovered the Styrofoam blizzard, I knew the bag had a leak and would have to be discarded and a small mess cleaned up. I had to leave it as it was for a while and knew I’d get back to it. Then, I found little pellets scattered in the hallway. I was scolding the kids for having scattered them into the hallway, all the while thinking they had simply walked through the small spill and allowed static electricity to do its magic. So, I began vacuuming and calmly explaining – more or less calmly – how making a small mess worse created more work than necessary and took time away from other things, from more enjoyable things. Then, I turned the corner and saw their room. I had been calm up that point. I wasn’t calm any longer. I was loud.

In life, I really do try to make it a philosophy to laugh instead of cry. I’m trying to laugh. See for yourself and decide what you would do. In the meantime, I’m setting up my e-Bay account.

New Cars

I hate it when the new and shiny wears off. The first dint or ding is the worst. But, after that you quit worrying about the image and focus on what counts, transportation. If it gets you from here to there, it has done its job. Maybe you have to pull through tall grass or mud or even gravel or new asphalt on your journey. If you continued to worry about the smooth shiny surface, you might take the road more traveled by and instead of the one “least traveled by” and would have missed “all the difference.” (My apologies to Mr. Frost for messing with his poem.) So, thank God for dings. It’s His way of saying get beyond the surface and get to traveling. (Proverbs 27:17)