Archive Page 2


Mother’s Day inkblot test

So, as one of my mother’s day gifts, I took the comforter from our bed into the cleaners.

Over a year ago, I was trying to get some work done late at night and I fell asleep in bed with a pen in my hand.  I woke up with blots of ink all over the comforter, my hand, my arm, and the sheet.  

Not necessarily a big deal, except that my wife had spent a lot of time picking out the comforter, pillows, and sheets for our bed, and we painted our bedroom to match.  It was practically brand new.  She went out of town for a few days to take a class, and when she returned and saw the stain, she burst into tears.  

Of course, I felt terrible.  So, after a year (I know, I know) I finally followed through and took the comforter to the cleaners as a mother’s day present this year (shhhh!  don’t tell her).  It remains to be seen whether they can get the ink stain out.  I’ll pick it up tomorrow (Monday) and see how it turned out.  It should be ready for her when she returns from her trip on Tuesday night.  

Speaking of ink (love that segue), I took an inkblot test on Facebook and the result was “perfectly sane.”  When I told my wife, she broke into a laugh and questioned the validity of the test.


Poodles of Love

Well, it finally happened.  We had our puppy groomed, and she lost her beautiful brown and black puppy highlights.  (sigh)

So, now she’s a peach.  But at least her ears still have the dark patches on the ends.  I’ll post a pic soon.


An Era of Violence?

Last weekend, I took my youngest son to a Renaissance fair.  

It seemed like every other booth had lethal weapons for sale.  Knives, swords, battle axes, arrows, etc.  One person even gave us a little speech about the tactics and strategies for using medieval weapons, including a graphic description of how the archers would urinate on their arrows to cause infection, and how best to use a long-sword as a pike to stop a charging enemy.  My five-year old was entranced by the whole thing.  I kept trying to drag him away, but he wanted to hear more.  Since we don’t have any arrows or long-swords around the house, I suppose it didn’t do any harm.

But one of the other children insisted we go over to the archery range, where my boy expertly (so he perceived) shot a wicker deer.  (Environmentalist daddy cringed.)  

I thought, then, let’s go over to the mock sailing ship that they had set up by the pond.  That started out much better, with a young woman giving an amazing demonstration of how to use authentic navigation devices, such as a sextant, to find one’s way across the sea.

Then, however, it came time for the evening firing of the canon.  I thought it was to be one canon, but it turned out they had ten canons of various sizes all around the “boat,” and they fired them off in succession.  They showed us how to cup our ears rather than cover them, to avoid puncture of our ear drums.  I took my boy over to the side, where I imagined we would be further away, only to realize that the largest canon of all was right next to us.  

Isaiah did just fine, cupping his ears obediently, and jumping a few inches off the ground with the fire of every canon.

I guess that was a pretty violent time in the Middle Ages, but then today isn’t much better.  Some nights from our living room we hear the gunfire from a few blocks away.  Our next-door neighbors were burgled a couple of days ago at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I had left at about 2:15 to pick up my boys from school, and it happened by the time I returned at around 4:00.  They went through two doors and napped their VCR.  Now, they have security doors on all their entrances, a security system in the house, and motion sensors on their lights outside (although this wouldn’t have done any good at 3:00 in the afternoon).

Our neighbors keep telling us that the people who lived in our house before us moved out because someone threw a brick through their window.  They also said that our neighbors across the street kept coming into our house while it was vacant and taking various things.

Down the street, there are always a group of young men hanging out, and a few weeks ago there were four police cars with their lights on in front of one house.

So, before I go judging past eras for violence, today isn’t much better.  We think we’ve grown and progressed, but I’m not so sure.  We’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths because of our military campaigns over the last few years.  Is the armor our soldiers wear much different from the armor worn in previous eras?  Armor is a privileged defense.  Most people in the world are armed with nothing more than their skin and perhaps some garden tools.  

My mother’s Mennonite background has instilled a deep commitment to pacifism in me.  And yet violent movies and animated TV shows seem to make a case for getting even, for retribution, and for violence.  My older son struggles with these messages.

So, I sat my boys down the other day and said I was going to read something to them from the Bible.  They groaned.  I said, “Well, would you rather clean the toilets?”  So, they gave in.  I count it a source of great pride that I have trained my boys well enough that they prefer reading the Bible to cleaning toilets.

Anyways, I read them the passage where Jesus goes to the garden, Judas betrays him, a disciple cuts of the ear of one of the scribes’ slaves, and Jesus tells them to cut it out and heals the slave’s ear.  See?  Jesus didn’t come to overthrow or get revenge, he came to bring grace and forgiveness.

I didn’t read them the passage where Jesus says he came to bring a sword to separate families and peoples.  They can find that for themselves later and come back and say, “But, Dad!  Look!”  

My oldest son informed me that the passage I read to them wasn’t really a sword fight, but just one person with a sword cutting of somebody’s ear.  But I think he got the point I was trying to make.  I can only hope.


Funny preacher, or inspirational comedian?

Hi everyone.  

Sorry for the delay in posting.  I’ve been working hard, getting lots of gigs, unfortunately very few of them paid.  

The good news is that I’m making lots of great contacts, and business is growing.  

One gig has opened a few doors.  I’ve been looping for a comedy show the Barkin’ Dog bar and grill in Modesto, and getting some exposure.  Even though there were only three or four paying customers last Thursday night, one of them may hire me for a gig in May that could open some more doors.  I don’t know where all of these doors may lead, but as long as God keeps opening them I guess I’ll keep going through.  

I do sort of feel like I’m living several lives at once, sometimes.  Integrating all of these various activities can be challenging.  For example, at the comedy show, I have been surprise how much stand-up comedy resembles preaching.  The question is, am I a really funny preacher or an inspiration comedian?  Maybe a bit of both.  

I’ve looped at the Queen Bean a few more times, and am getting some gear together to make my equipment safe, and improve my sound.  Basically, I have four regular gigs now, but none of them pay.  Two are basically open-mic gigs, and two are church-related:  one is the monthly jazz service at the 1st United Methodist Church, and the other is a Taize service at the College Avenue Congregation Church.  

And then there’s the occasional preaching opportunity as well, and sharing music on Sunday mornings as a guest musician.  I led the music at my home church last weekend, and wondered if a prophet would be welcome in his hometown – it worked out just fine (i.e., not one person threatened to throw me off a cliff).  

But amidst all of the work and development of this arts ministry business; amidst the fulfillment that comes from using the gifts God has given me; the most important part of my life remains a work in progress – being a husband and father to an incredible family.

My wife is doing incredible ministry – helping to start new churches and pastoring a congregation.  I’m so proud of her, even though between the two of us, our busy schedules sometimes make it hard to connect.  

And my boys have been struggling with behavior at school.  When my youngest was born so prematurely, I struggled with figuring out how to be a father to a baby in an incubator.  Now, I wonder how to be a father to my two boys who are both so gifted.  I think they get bored at school, and are both extremely competitive (I have no idea where they get that – oh, wait, from both of their parents, I guess.).  

Anyways, I’m just trying to be the best model I can be.  Simon has been trying to “get even” at school with people who he thinks have done him harm.  So, I sat him down and read the passage about when Jesus healed the ear of the slave who one of Jesus’ followers had struck with a sword.  The boys were both pretty attentive.  It’s hard to get through to them, when all of the shows they watch seem to be about retributive justice and getting revenge on “the bad guys.”  I think they got what I was trying to say.  Jesus didn’t come to beat the bad guys, but to save them with grace and forgiveness.  Sure, it’s good to be strong, but its better to be compassionate.


too young, too old

Here are the lyrics to the jazz song that I wrote about the life of Jesus:

“Too Young, Too Old”

Copyright 2001 Michael Carlson and Dave Seely


C7   D7+5  B7+5    Em


Em7                                Bm7

“He’s just a boy!” That’s what the elders said

Em7                         Bm7

“Who put this wisdom in his tender head?”

Am7                        C7

They were amazed at all he had to say

        Em/B              B7+5

`Til his mom burst in and drug him away.


       Em  Em/D    A7/C#   Am/C

He was ang-rily collected;  

   Em     Em/D   A7/C# Cm/A

Embar-rassed and confused.

    Bm7             Em7

Too young to be respected,

     C7  D7+5  B7+5     Em

too old. . . . .to be excused.


Em7                  Bm7

Years later, home in Nazareth.

Em7                    Bm7

As a man he spoke with heaven’s breath.

Am7                            C7

But when he challenged ancient prejudice,

    Em/B                       B7+5

The tried to throw him off the nearest cliff.


        Em   Em/D   A/C#  Am/C

He felt lone-ly & rejected;  

Em   Em/D      A/C#   Cm/A

Aggressive-ly refused.  

    Bm7            Em7

Too young to be respected,

     C7  D7+5  B7+5     Em

too old. . . . .to be excused,


Em7                      Bm7

He gained a following in later days.

Em7                         Bm7

That drove his critics to a jealous rage.

Am7                       C7

At thirty three he was condemned to die;

     Em/B                 B7+5

They nailed him down, and hung him high.


       Em   Em/D          A7/C#  Am/C

It was just. . .as he’d expected, 

    Em  Em/D    A7/C#  Cm/A

His innocence  accused.

    Bm              Em7

Too young to be respected

     C7  D7+5  B7+5     Em

too old. . . . .to be excused.


GMaj7                   CMaj7

Maybe you say you’re misunderstood

GMaj7                  CMaj7

Other folks think that you’re no good

Bm7                       Cm7

There was another one who suffered long

Am/C    A7/C             D7         B7

And rose again to sing a sweet love song


       Em  Em/D       A/C#  Am/C

You’ll soon. . .be resurrected;

     Em  Em/D             A/C#    Cm/A

When God heals. . . what’s been bruised

    Bm              Em7

The Young will be respected,

    C7  D7+5  B7+5     Em

The Old. . . . .they will be, too.



jazz vespers: making something beautiful for God

Tomorrow I’m going to another planning meeting for the jazz vespers service at the 1st United Methodist Church in town.  

I’ve been involved in a few jazz worship projects over the years.  At a big church in Louisville, Kentucky, I served as “Minister of Fine Arts.”  The senior pastor had arranged for jazz musicians to provide music for a Saturday evening service on a quarterly basis.  That was my first experience with jazz in worship.

The musicians played jazz arrangements of traditional hymns, but the structure of the service was pretty much the same as a traditional worship service.  The freedom and spontaneity of jazz music was contained by the rigid structure.  The music was great, but it seemed to fight the reigns and tried to go its own way, only to be restrained once again.  Even so, it was the only time a person of color was involved in worship as far as I can remember at the Saturday evening service.  (The bass player was African-American.)

For me, one of the most important aspects of jazz in America was the powerful force it represented for integration of cultures, be they white, African-American, Hispanic, or others.  It seems to me that jazz takes the best of all worlds – the advanced harmonies of European traditions, the advanced rhythms of African and Caribbean styles, and provides a context for the cultures and people thereof to create something beautiful.

To me, worship is creating something beautiful for God, so jazz seems a perfect medium to experience multi-cultural worship.  

Of course, the jazz era wasn’t all roses.  The white crime bosses of Chicago and other major cities held the most talented African-American musicians under their thumbs well into the 1940s.  But even threats of violence and the lure of big money couldn’t restrain the reconciling force of the music.

So, it’s especially meaningful for me to help plan the jazz vespers now, and to help give the whole service itself more of an interactive, spontaneous structure to complement the vitality and fluidity of the music itself.  I even get to share an original song that I’ve written titled ,”Too Young, Too Old.”  I’ll post the lyrics in a separate blog entry.   

Along with helping in the planning for the jazz vespers service and leading the singing, I’m auditioning singers for a new a cappella jazz singing group as well.  I’ve heard several singers so far, and haven’t quite found the right voices yet.  But give it time, and the music will again prevail, with God’s help.


organ donation, removal, and sequestration

One of the most difficult parts of ministry, and the most honorable, is presiding at funerals for beloved church members.  But I’m not going to talk about that in this post.

What I want to talk about is the obligation of accepting donated items to a church, and then deciding about their disposition when they don’t really contribute value to the life of the congregation.

This is a touchy subject, so I’ll try to be sensitive.  It seems, however, that when something is given to a church, and later a plaque is attached to it saying “Donated in memory of <blank>,” or “Given by <blank> in honor of <blank>,” some sort of emotional force field is activated that prevents anyone from critizing the item or suggesting that it might have outlived its usefulness.

In one church that I served as pastor, there was a rocking chair in the nursery that had been there for years.  Only a few of the members of the church remembered the woman in whose honor the rocking chair had been dedicated.  Her name was on a small plaque on the chair’s back.

The chair had been repaired several times over the years by one of the members in the church with carpentry skills.  But the leg braces were still a bit loose.  I had put them back in place a few times, and had discovered that the chair was a bit unsteady, but didn’t really think too much about it.  Every now and then someone talked about getting rid of the chair, but then someone would repair it again and there it would sit.

Our second son was of the age to be spending time in the nursery, and one morning one of the matriarchs of the church sat down in the chair holding him, and the chair completely fell apart.  She wound up sitting on the floor on top of the shattered pieces of the rocker, holding Peter up in the air above her.  Luckily, no one was hurt.  Needless to say, the pieces of the chair were in the dumpster in a matter of minutes.

There were also toys in that nursery that had been around for decades.  I am honestly not exaggerating, because the chair of the board of the congregation remembered playing with some of the toys when she was in the nursery herself over forty years ago.

So, in an audacious act of bravery, the young women’s group (who called themselves the Other Circle), decided to make it a project to clean out the nursery.  Books were tossed.  Toys were cleaned or replaced.  Later on, my wife and I found a garage sale with tons of pre-school toys and books, and we bought $75 worth and filled the nursery with cool new toys.

Someone also donated an old pipe organ to that church, which had some challenges.  First, we had to pay $500 to have it delivered to the church.  Then, we had to pay to have it repaired.  So, the donation soon became and obligation.  It was nice to have an organ in the chapel, but it was rarely used.

So, the other day when a family decided to donate an organ to the church here in town, in my mind I thought, “Here we go again.”

This electronic organ was in the home of an elderly member who was going to be moving to a nursing home.  One of her sons decided that the organ belonged in a church, and offered to donate it.  As an act of pastoral care, the pastor (my wife) agreed to accept the donation.

So, I was recruited to help remove the organ (from the member’s home, that is).  Luckily, the family had access to a truck with a lift, a piano dolly, and two strong young men.  That made it much easier.

When we got it to the church, I made sure that we found a home for the organ behind a partition in the fellowship hall.  Setting it up in the sanctuary would have been problematic, since we are hoping to diversify the music to include more “contemporary” music.

I had a lot of fun updating my status on Facebook that day with posts like:  “Michael is removing an organ this afternoon,” “Michael has placed an organ behind a partition at church,” “Michael hopes no one discovers the hidden organ at church this morning!” And, my favorite was: “Michael is so glad that the organ remained unexposed at church.”

It gives the whole idea of organ donation a new meaning.  So remember, don’t donate an organ unless you know someone needs it, and will really use it.