Learning to Walk in Sobrioteousness

To those dear souls for whom this level of honesty is awkward: grab your inhaler, a pillow or two, and Just. Look. Away. What follows are a few thoughts outlining my slow, daily march of sobriety.

And, never one to mince words, it’s been (insert happy superlative, or expletive, of choice) awesome. Like, so way much more awesomer than usual. I’m choosing to call it a time of sobrioteousness.

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It is an awkward and wonderful marriage of sobriety, riotous joy, and deeper righteousness. The result has been a clearer head. It has scuttled out some pretty confusing stuff and ushered in a season of newness and productive self-reflection.

And, as one who has spent inordinate amounts of time in the swirling eddies of his own head, this would otherwise be dangerous, even inadvisable.

But times they are a’changin’ as someone once said. Thank you, Mr. Dylan.

I am presently experiencing that which those like me most avoid but for which we most long:

wait for it…

a normal life. 

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I know!

Just a few years ago such a prognosis would have struck terror in me. I mean, the very thought that I was anything less than stage-ready remarkable would have been an unthinkable travesty. Like Madonna with no marketing plan. Kanye West, the guy, not the god. Taylor Swift without the whining. Or the Kardashians, at all.

Much of our lives are lived in pursuit of that which we possess already – acceptance and love. It has certainly been the case for me.

Upon honest reflection, my life has often aimed itself at two primary goals: self-knowledge, and the safety found in praise and adulation. It can be hard to know the difference. It has prompted many, including myself, to ask the question, will the real Rob please stand up?

Of course, I don’t think it either right or prudent to simply write off all pursuits as efforts toward attaining acceptance and the praise of others. There will always be those things to which we naturally aspire. 

For example, it would be hard to disattach from me all things Celtic. The skirl of bagpipes, the wild scuttle of Celtic music and the dark, mystical history that weaves it all together. This is the cut of my jib. 

And, words. Long have they held sway over me, sometimes in euphoric, hypnotic ways. To read words placed well, taste them under the tongue, swallowing them raw and whole is genuinely nourishing. Those occasions when I feel I’ve written well leave me breathless. I’m seldom out of breath, but trying all the same.

I’ve always loved laughter and the humour that takes me there. I love whatever is funny and however I can be funny. From distant memory I recall possessing the ability to make people laugh.

That makes me happy.

I love to run. To some degree it has become every bit the addiction alcohol was, although with more respectable results. It too has defined how I see myself. How others see me. How I want to be seen.

All of this and more lines up to take its place in the panoply of influences, pursuits, passions, and proclivities that have come to represent, Rob

Ironically, the older I get, and the deeper I move into the blessing of sobriety, the less interested I am in being unique and remarkable.

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I do not spend as much time and energy looking for the wow factor, and that relieves the constant pressure to be unforgettable, memorable. Not dull or without significance or ability in my own right. Just part of something bigger; something beyond myself in which I can play a small part.

My part.

Instead of rejoicing in all the ways I am unique, I now find considerable comfort in all the ways I am just like everyone else. And, to my surprise, I’m no longer lonely.

Go figure.

I’m calling this phase of life, sobrioteous. I’m clean and sober, happily, riotously normal. And all of that may, in some small way, contribute to righteousness or the Bible’s description of “the good life.”

Thanks for listening…

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Sam Still Sings in His Sleep

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Sam’s urn, made by Lane Damberger from the wood of a 100 year-old chair

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Today, we laid a good man to rest. And we did it just how papa Sam would have wanted – with belts ‘n boots, hats ‘n hoots, songs ‘n roots. Today, we celebrated him even as he celebrated us.

Friends (to Sam that was pretty much everyone), family (to whom he gave himself unreservedly), and lovers of music (Sam was a magnet to these types) all gathered in the heat and humidity of an Alberta-in-July afternoon to remember. Not just remember, but tell stories, maybe a joke or two, and sing songs – often at the same time. 

 

 

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A place to pay respects
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Papa Sam, still smiling

I was honoured to act as host to an event rightly called “A Celebration of Life.” There are those who would be aghast at the idea of such revelry at an event generally reserved for more sombre fare. “Funerals are for closure,” they tell us. Unless we can see the cross and communion table, and sing In the Garden, it’s just not right. 

“They’re welcome to it,” says Sam. “I prefer to have all my friends a-cross from the picnic table, communing together in God’s garden. For me, it’s just right.”

I acted as host, as I often do at these things. Beaming like high-beam headlights, Mom introduced us all as her family, as Moms do. This was to be a day for all of us, anyone even remotely related to Sam. It was an open door party. There were few expectations. Perhaps a love for tapping toes, sharing a humid afternoon with horseflies, and a belt with enough holes to allow for a belly full of pulled pork and potato salad.

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Mom, in typical fine form

Small price to pay for a heavenly hootenanny. And this affair was that, a gathering of fellow sojourners with happy hearts and hungry guts. This was Sam’s world, where the two always go together. And this celebration was designed to satisfy both.

To know this man was to celebrate in general. If Sam was in the vicinity, a gathering would soon follow. He attracted musicians like Alberta mosquitoes. Just more welcoming. It was best if you knew a song or two. Play an instrument? Not to worry, you were always welcome. If so, that much better.

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One of Sam’s many guitars – signed by those who loved him

All those gathered here in this place did both. Very well. And, their voices held the weight of grief borne of cheer-filled music and laughter. The Willows would be our home for the day – nestled in a little aspen grove carved out of the broad, Alberta landscape. 

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Three of my favourite Canadian gals: left to right – Marianne (courtesy sister), Cyndy (my sister), and Judy (my step-Mom-in-law)
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Brother and sister share a cuddle
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Grieving is easier with friends and music
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Lane and Mom share a moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Young. Papa Sam. He was a man of surprising talent, energy, industry, kindness, and complexity. Mom might have called it chaos. She’s gonna miss the bugger, as are we all.

This little man of a big heart kept her in the happies for over twenty years. In fact, I have observed a pre and post-Sam woman. The former was much more anxious, uncertain, ambivalent. The latter, engaged, hopeful, courageous, a risk-taker; a woman fully alive.

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Bagpipes – cowboy style

 

Sam never lived life from the periphery. The edges were much too flimsy, too safely suburban to support his wild west spirit.

No, Sam was a deep-sea diver, plunging off the bow head first, wrestling sharks and singing them songs all the way down. It’s likely why he never drowned. Life was his rodeo. Saddle up, cinch up, shut up, and giddy up. He sang songs to soothe the ornery beast that tossed him to and fro.

 

 

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A place to sit with Sam
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The Métis Nation and Canadian flags
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Chris and Jan

But, mostly, for Sam, life was a campfire – a gathering around a welcome heat and light for friend and stranger alike. He’d kickstart countless singalongs and jam sessions, enough to cheer us all and then some.

A single hour with Sam at the ranch promised at least two things: evidence of the trade in every corner of the house. It would be easy to step on musical instruments, strewn about from stem to stern. He was always boasting some new guitar, mandolin, banjo, or other. 

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Dale

But, the second thing one encountered at papa Sam’s was jovial conversation. Lots of it.

Lots and lots of it.

Get Sam going on a topic and he was a wind-up doll. Best to just let him run with it. Otherwise, you would only encourage another pull of the string and off he’d go again. Short visits were rare.

But they were good. Very good. At least a song or two found its way into every one of those visits. Or, perhaps some new insights on resetting a fiddle bridge, restringing a mandolin, or shimming a bone saddle. He had taught himself the luthier’s trade. I wish we’d spent more riding that horse together.

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Young Charly Doll sings Dolly Parton

I generally consider myself to be reasonably conversant in the physics of stringed instruments. That is until any visit with Sam. Then, I discovered just how little I actually knew. Much of what I called know-how was often just a lot of pretentious bullshit.

But, regardless of poorly veiled lack of insight into the topic, the time spent was always worth the time spent. I value every moment and, whenever it is I go to join him, we can pick up where we left off. Besides, Jesus will need a break from Sam talking his ear off.

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Bruce and Doug Rawling
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Roberta and Melva
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Saying a Métis prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Good, you’re finally here…can you take over for awhile?”

“Lord, isn’t patience a virtue?”

“Of course. But, the Baptists ran out of potato salad, the Pentecostals are squabbling over something, and I need to break up the Presbyterians – they’re starting another sub-committee.”

“No worries. I got this. We’ve got more songs to write anyway.”

“Thanks. While I’m gone, I’ll ask Pop where my fiddle is.”

“Perfect. When you find it, meet us back here, we’ll be singing ‘Back to the Mountain’ with Peter, Gabe and the boys at the campfire.”

“Just don’t encourage Barnabas. He thinks he’s being funny when he sings ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Oh, by the way, Peter’s on probation. He’s been hitting on the female angels.”

“He won’t be a problem. I’ll just tell papa Sam that he loves stringed instruments. That’ll keep ‘im busy for awhile. But, hey, we’ve got nothin’ but time on our hands…”

My gut tells me he’s already broken up a squabble and tricked the Presbyterians into singing “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.” If nothing else, with Sam pluckin’ and singin’, heaven won’t be stuffy, and eternity will seem like half an hour.

Have a listen to Back to the Mountain

 

 

 

 

It’s not a party till the piper comes

This blog has been kind of a one-stop shop for all things spiritual; the stuff life throws my way and what, by God’s grace, I get to hurl back. Much of that is intimately tied to my Celtic DNA. A Canadian by birth, an American by address, a Scot by history, bloodline, and luck – I gain much from this tossed salad of personal ingredients. 

Perhaps none more so however than the joy and pride I take in being a Highland Bagpiper.

bagpiper.jpgNow, I recognize that many out there might consider it an oddity for such a thing to be a point of pride. Well, to those misdirected naysayers, I share the following excerpt from a delightful book I’ve been reading entitled A Celtic Miscellany. It is a varied, and utterly delightful collection of literary bits ‘n bobs, all masterfully translated from early Celtic literature by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson.

From a section on humour and satire (something in which the Celts took great delight and did astonishingly well), I give you “Welsh Harper and English Bagpiper.” It describes the self-pity of a self-congratulatory Welsh harper at being upstaged by, you guessed it, a bagpiper.

Enjoy (he says, trying unsuccessfully to rub the silly grin off his face).

“Last Sunday I came – a man whom the Lord God made – to the town of Flint, with its great double walls and rounded bastions; may I see it all aflame! An obscure English wedding was there, with but little mead – an English feast! and I meant to earn a shining solid reward for my harper’s art. So I began, with ready speed, to sing an ode to the kinsmen; but all I got was mockery, spurning of my song, and grief. It was easy for hucksters of barley and corn to dismiss all my skill, and they laughed at my artistry, my well-prepared panegyric which they did not value; John of the Long Smock began to jabber of peas, and another about dung for his land. They all called for William the Piper to come to the table, a low fellow he must be. He came forward as though claiming his usual rights, though he did not look like a privileged man, with a groaning bag, a paunch of heavy guts, at the end of a stick between chest and arm. He rasped away, making startling grimaces, a horrid noise, from the swollen belly, bulging his eyes; he twisted his body here and there, and puffed his two cheeks out, playing with his fingers on a bell of hide – unsavoury conduct, fit for the unsavoury banqueters. He hunched his shoulders, amid the rout, under his cloak, like a worthless ballad-monger; he snorted away, and bowed his head until it was on his breast, the very image of a kite with skilful zeal preening its feathers. The pigmy puffed, making an outlandish cry, blowing out the bag with a loud howl; it sang like the buzzing of a hornet, that devilish bag with the stick in its head, like a nightmare howl, fit to kill a mangy goose, like a sad bitch’s hoarse howl in its hollow kennel; a harsh paunch with monotonous cry, throat-muscles squeezing out a song, with a neck like a crane’s where he plays, like a stabbed goose screeching aloud. There are voices in that hollow bag like the ravings of a thousand cats; a monotonous, wounded, ailing, pregnant goat – no pay for its hire. After it ended its wheezing note, that cold songstress whom love would shun, Will got his fee, namely bean-soup and pennies (if they paid) and sometimes small halfpennies, not the largesse of a princely hand; while I was sent away in high vexation from the silly feast all empty-handed. I solemnly vow, I do forswear wretched Flint and all its children, and its wide, hellish furnace, and its English people and its piper! That they should be slaughtered is all my prayer, my curse in their midst and on their children; sure, if I go there again, may I never return alive!

(Welsh; authorship uncertain; fifteenth century).

Well then. I’ll just leave this here, shall I?funny_bagpipes_cards-r3e45aedba9bb4a898a576c4c32274e9e_xvuak_8byvr_512

 

Friends, fellowship, fun, frolic and…a contest

From time to time God bowls me over with a renewed sense of God’s faithfulness, goodness and, frankly, sense of humor. Many of my best life experiences can find their way back to times spent with quality people discussing quality things for quality reasons. These are the times that refresh me when too much rust builds up on the underbelly of my life. Good friend, fellow blogger and writer, Chadwick Walenga, is celebrating new pathways of grace in his life together with a wonderful woman, Amy. (Follow them on Twitter).Chadwick

Chadwick and I have history. A short history but a good one. We both studied Spiritual Formation and Leadership online through Spring Arbor University, Michigan. In that place was forged a meaningful bond that will last to our dying day and beyond. He is deeply sensitive, spiritually aware, devilishly handsome (sorry, I promised), extremely funny and just…a good man. He has pastored churches for many years and is father to four of the coolest kids, like, ever.

He and Amy have recently begun a new website with a rather unimaginative but to the point title (dude, really?). I want to endorse not just their website but them, the road they’re on together; the shared invitation to explore life, both theirs and ours. It’s what lives lived openly and honestly can look like.

What I’m particularly jazzed about however is a writing contest they’re hosting through their site. I’m always down for these kinds of things. Anything to keep me writing. Besides, I love this guy and simply want to support he and his new life, his own writing and to say, “dude, you’re awesome!”

Check it out, friends, and throw your hat in the writing ring. I’m gonna. They’re not exactly promising a new car, but if you saw what he typically drives, you’d be grateful.

Let’s have some fun, shall we?

Your partner in shameless shenanigans among the jokes, words and cries for help…Rob