Category Archives: Relationships

Remembering my friend

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

My co-worker, bandmate and close friend passed away almost a week ago. Today we held his memorial service at a local church, which was filled with his family, friends, fellow educators, and many students – past and present. I was asked by his sweet wife to speak on his behalf and to play the harmonica. I stayed up until nearly 2 a.m. writing and practicing “Amazing Grace.” Though it was strange to play solo without my buddy by my side on his guitar, I asked my friends and family for prayer, and the Lord delivered. These are the words I shared today for my dear friend and for my hurting co-workers, bandmates, and our students.

Before I share some memories and thoughts about my friend Darren Ryan, I want to share something else with you.

Like many people in this room, I experienced a flood of emotions when I got the news. I was sad, angry, confused, distressed, and mostly stunned. It didn’t make any sense that my friend Darren was gone.

Here’s what has encouraged my heart the past few days. I hope it encourages you.

Though I don’t have any answers, and I don’t think God promises us answers, I do believe he promises us peace. I find this promise in scriptures like Philippians 4:7 which talks of a peace that surpasses understanding to those who trust in Him. Jesus talks about this peace in John when he says, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives… Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The passage that I’ve thought on the most has been in Psalm 107. We are told “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress… For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”

I believe these promises are for you and me, especially in times like this. Are you troubled? Cry out to the Lord. He’s not bothered by your doubt or shame. He knows, and his response is love and grace and mercy. He’s rich with it. And He’s longing to pour it out. So ask him.

Mr. Ryan prayed hard over me when I was unconscious in a hospital bed in Denton more than two years ago, as did many others. My family told me stories later of his fervor in prayer and how it blessed them in those desperate moments. God heard those prayers. So I don’t think he’d have any problem with me asking you to plead with God for peace in moments like this.

Darren Ryan has been my dear friend for the better part of the last ten years. We were colleagues and bandmates. We bonded over good food, bad puns, and great music. I want to speak briefly to a few groups of folks here who knew Darren.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

To my bandmates in the Grenadines and anybody who ever came to hear us play, I’m so glad for you and for music. Because that was my entry point to bonding with Darren and getting to see his beautiful spirit and loyal friendship for all it was. Darren had a habit of wearing sunglasses on stage when he played, even indoors. I know it’s because he got a touch of stage fright before our performances. But all that melted away when he started to make those Fender guitars moan and wail, and a smile as wide as these Texas skies would stretch across his face. Occasionally, he’d turn himself over to the music completely – it was usually late in the evening – during a performance of Mustang Sally or Play that Funky Music or Fire by Jimi Hendrix, and he’d go completely off-script on a solo – and we’d follow him. I’d throw a glance back at Eddie on the drums, he’d shrug and smile back. Darren was in a good place, lost to the music.

To my fellow faculty and staff members at LHS, I know well how much love you have for your own, and how much more for someone as beloved as Darren. I know you’ve already gone out of your way to care for and support Pam and his family, just from the way I’ve experienced it as his friend. Here’s what I’ll remember about Darren as a colleague. How much he cared about doing what we do so well. How he always got to school early, was always going the extra mile to prepare for his classes and support his fellow teachers, especially those in his department. And how he did it all with that 100 watt smile and signature sense of humor… I’ll miss bumping into him in the hallways or the faculty workroom where he always called me Dr. Hale, and I always called him Dr. Ryan. It’s impossible to measure how much LHS meant to him.  Which brings me to the last group…

His students… past and present. I knew when I was gathering my thoughts for this moment that you would show up here by the boatload… and I was right. I know this because, like many of his friends, I remember so many times out and about in Lewisville with Darren when we were interrupted by “Mr. Ryan! Mr. Ryan!” So many former students would come out of the woodwork to speak with him, and I swear, hand to God, that Darren would remember the names of practically every one. He’d remember details too… or even the fact that he had their brother or sister in class as well. You loved him. And he loved you too. You must know that. He rooted hard for all of you. He was a role model to me in that sense. I asked my students time and time again to tell me what their hardest class in high school, and almost every time I’d hear AP Psych with Mr. Ryan. Then I’d ask the same students who their favorite high school teacher was, and without hesitation, they’d say Mr. Ryan. You could not have paid him a higher compliment. Truly. I mean that.

From Darren's Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

From Darren’s Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

Darren told me once years ago that he was considering leaving the teaching profession. I asked him what he thought that he might do. He didn’t have a clear answer. And he stayed on the job. The next year he was named campus Teacher of the Year. Have no doubt, that Mr. Ryan could have had any number of careers and been successful. He is one of the most capable, reliable, talented men I’ve ever known. But I believe God made him a teacher. And I see evidence of that in the pews here today. You are Darren Ryan’s legacy. And if he meant something to you, take that to heart and live your lives well. Live passionately and love others extravagantly. That’s what Mr. Ryan would’ve wanted.

Thank you.


When the idea of authority is shattered…

I enjoy reading, though I don’t read novels nearly as often as I should. I really enjoy a well-turned word and phrase, but even more, I love the authors who can take a really difficult, abstract subject and make it easy to understand. I’m much better with the short and simple. It’s the same for photography. I love complex compositions, but I don’t seem to have an eye for them myself.

A few nights ago, I started the first chapter of All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I’d never read this World War I novel written from the perspective of a group of German soldiers. Other people I’ve spoken to have vague recollections of this book being assigned in the 9th or 10th grade. It would have been completely wasted on me at that age.

I chose to start it a little late in the evening… and fell asleep. I picked it up again the other day and was really impacted by the following passage.

I think Remarque is doing what Roy Peter Clark calls “climbing the ladder of abstraction,” but I could be wrong. The context: the soldiers have just mentioned that someone in their group received mail from their old schoolmaster, Kantorek. He was the one who really pushed them to “do their duty” and enlist to serve in the war. Even Behm, the one student to resist, eventually conceded to Kantorek’s appeal to his masculinity and bravery.

Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for dead. We couldn’t bring him with us, because we had to come back helter-skelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man’s Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and fetch him.

Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best– in a way that cost them nothing.

And that is why they let us down so badly.

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress– to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards– they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

On one hand, this makes me think of my role as a teacher. It makes me give more consideration to the words I say to my students, the charges I give them. They are listening even when I think they aren’t. I’m always surprised at the things I’ve said that resonate with them years later.

On the other hand, it makes me think of the nature of authority. We all reach that point where we realize that all of our teachers and mentors and guides are just men and women like us, subject to all the natural forces of this world and all the chaos and hurt and pain that a life here can hold. And when we see them as they are, fallible and feeble and flawed – just like us, our hope can be shattered. And that’s where I believe we reach a fork in the road, a point of decision.

One choice is to abandon hope in any kind of authority and fall into a life of self-reliance with trust placed in what you can reason from your own experiences.

The other is to acknowledge that the problem is not with hope itself, but where it’s been placed. To realize that there is “a greater insight and a more humane wisdom” though it’s not found in any human authority. That the only thing worthy of full trust, faith and hope in this world is the being who created it. To realize that even the people who believed and spread the message of the Creator were themselves not to be respected as the authority, but only as rough, imperfect signs to point to Him. Incidentally, it’s also when we do this, that we are able to see other people in a different light, without all the expectations that we had previously shackled them with… we see them as we should see ourselves, as creatures bearing our Creator’s resemblance. At this point, I think we become truly free to love them.

Faith and trust and hope in Christ is the other path, and it’s not an easy one to follow. It’s not even difficult. It’s impossible without divine assistance. But if we trust the words of Jesus in the Bible, then we can find that divine assistance there for the asking.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.       – Luke 11:9-10

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.     – Jeremiah 29:13

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”     – Romans 10:13

That’s the way I see it. Two paths you can take when the idea of authority is shattered. Trust in yourself. Or trust in Christ. I’ve tried to choose the latter. Partly because I’ve come to know Him, and partly because I know myself all too well.

I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s not the point. His perfection is demonstrated in my weakness and it’s taken me 33 years to realize what a beautiful thing that is.

All of this is a departure from the plot and theme of the novel, sure, but it’s where my mind was led.

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Kiwi, hold the keys

I was blessed today to share what might be my last meal with a good friend, at least perhaps the last North American meal.

I met my friend Paul James and his brother Mike at Weck’s for lunch. I’ve known Paul for a few years, one of several great people I’ve met through several incarnations of a homegroup at the Village Church. I once drove him to Dallas so he could get his eyeballs laser-beamed or something like that. He’s actually come to hear my band play more than once. We’ve even jammed some together with mutual friend Adam in my living room.

We drifted apart a bit when he moved to Tyler a while back, but we’ve always kept up via technology, blogs and texts and Twitter feeds. And this is the second time in the past six months that he, Mike and I have gotten to meet at Weck’s and share what’s going on in our lives over a plate of tasty goodness.

In a little more than a week, Paul is hopping a plane and moving to New Zealand. He’s in love with a girl named Lydia who lives there. I’ve never met her, but she must be pretty great, because Paul is one of my favorite people on the planet.

He’s sold his car, and is boxing up everything but some clothes, his Mac, a digital camera and a baby Taylor guitar, which will accomany him on his flight to the land where they filmed the Lord of The Rings, and to a lesser extent, Xena: Warrior Princess.

During our lunch, he noted that when he checks out of his apartment in Tyler, he won’t own a single key.

“Do they use keys in New Zealand?” I asked. “Or do they just scan your thumbprint?”

“They used to have them in Old Zealand,” he replied quickly. “But they left all that behind when they came to New Zealand.”

I love this guy.

The rest of the conversation was good – with goofy jokes about putting a video evidence on YouTube of how New Zealand toilets flush backward, and good affirming talk about both of our struggles to feel accepted and loved by our Creator. I left feeling so thankful for the time together, for the friendship, and for the guidance that seems evident in each of our lives.

We paid and said our goodbyes… Paul gave me the heads up to go ahead to start looking for a plane ticket to NZ so I could come visit him. I told him I’d do my best. I gave him a semi-awkward but totally sincere hug. And then we left… both heading the same direction because we had parked near each other.

“Isn’t it awkward when you say goodbye to someone and then have to walk with them to get to your car?” Paul said.

“Don’t say goodbye again,” Mike added.

“Don’t even make eye contact,” I chipped in, laughing.

It was a great way to leave a guy whom I’ve always felt on the same wavelength where sense of humor is concerned.


Thanks for Paul and Mike. Thanks for a great meal and conversation that ran deep and full. Bless him as he leaves the States. Bless he and Lydia and whatever you have in store for their future. Thanks most of all for loving all of us with a love so big and wonderful that we can lose ourselves completely in its midst. And give us the grace to do just that.

In Jesus’ name,


Year in review

Dear friends,

Even though I’m still at work, surrounded by papers to grade and e-mails to send, and lessons to plan, I still feel a definite excitement not just for the new year, or the next semester, but just life itself.

2009 ended well for me. I reconnected with an incredible woman through a series of circumstances that just don’t seem coincidental, and today marks one month since our second first meeting. I feel God is growing and stretching and shaping me in new ways as I discover, for the first time, what it’s like to really experience this kind of relationship. I’m thankful that Dani is a part of my life and I’m looking forward to getting to know her and her very cool son, Spencer, more and more.

It was also a very good year for my newspaper. My kids put together three top-notch issues, earned the Best of Show award at the state convention, and pulled in a slew of national awards for last year’s papers. I’m thankful to them for making me look so smart.

It was also a good time for family. Three different occasions this fall, either my brother, sister, Dad, or a combination of the three were able to come to Texas for a fun weekend. Whether it was “Screams” with Graham, UT-Baylor with the whole bunch, or UT-North Carolina hoops with Truman, I had a blast and reminded how blessed I am to have these bonds of love and friendship with my family, not to mention how rare it is that we all share the same faith.

But most important, I got to have an incredible time of revival during my Thanksgiving visit to my hometown. It was something that I prayed for with a pastor at The Village, and God definitely answered that prayer with abundant blessings. Even as I got the difficult news about the health problems of a spiritual mentor, the Lord turned it to good by awakening a spirit of prayer in me that I hadn’t known before. 

2009 was a good year. And 2010 is starting well. It just feels like a bit of reset in my life. There’s been so much starting and stopping and stalling and starting again over the past 32 years. And while I know the road ahead won’t be easy, I’m confident that it will be good.

My hope is in Christ and my prayer is to learn to trust and love and enjoy him more each day.

Wishing the same for you, Happy 2010!


He’s not heavy…

Graham and Ava

I created this image as a Christmas gift for my brother Graham in December. It’s some shots I took of him on my first visit to Fort Smith to see my niece.

He came for a great visit this weekend. With a young family and his job at the church, he doesn’t have the huge reserves of “free time” that I do. But when I found out my man Tres could hook us up with a pair of tickets to see the Mavericks play the Pacers, I called him up and it was on.

It was a great time. Graham got to hang out for the end of my fourth period class and then got to meet a few of the great people I work with, including friend and bandmate Darren “The Axeman Cometh” Ryan (that’s a new nickname which hopefully won’t catch on).

Then we grabbed some Chipotle and went to the house to chill a bit. We had a great conversation on the way to the AAC and after two missed attempts at getting into the parking lot, we finally got into the arena. The game was great (Mavs won 116-97, JKidd had 12 assists) and the entire experience was dazzling. Kudos to you, Mark Cuban.

After that, we headed back to Lewisville for Bahama Buck’s and victory tacos courtesy of the Mavs’ 100-point performance and Taco Bueno.

When we got back to the house, Graham strapped on a few therapeutic electrodes to his back and we watched a couple of episodes of “Who’s #1”, “Cheap Seats”, and the greatness of “Fight Quest” (Krav Maga-style).

In the morning, we met about eight guys from my home group and the Village at Weck’s for breakfast. Graham and I both had the stuffed papas and I think we both left feeling satisfied. I was happy Graham got to meet so many of my friends, since I talk about he and Leslie and Ava Grace a lot. The conversation was spirited, fun and fruitful.

After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and led Graham out to Highway 121 (five of us had to make a run to Ikea). A few more hours on the road and Graham was back home with his family, in time to spend a few moments with them before they left the next day to visit family during Leslie’s spring break.

It was a short but full visit. I love spending time with Graham. I’m thankful God has blessed me with such rich bonds with all of my family. It’s amazing how God has changed all of our hearts. There once was a time when we couldn’t be in the same room together for fear of bodily injury and/or property damage. Now he’s a friend and spiritual mentor.

I’m hoping he’ll get to come down again soon, especially in October, so we can make another drive south for SCREAMS. And I’m looking forward to my next trip up to Fort Smith to see him, Leslie and my sweet little Ava Grace.

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What I did over my Christmas vacation

 Christmas Day afternoon

  • Conway, Ark.
  • 37 degrees F
  • Light snowfall mixed with rain

Here’s my family, post-Christmas morning gift opening, pre-Christmas dinner having. It’s become tradition over the past few years to spend the whole day together as a family in our pajamas (I’m not sure if there are misplaced modifiers in that sentence or not).

Clockwise from left: My dad, Truman, with Sugarbear, the family pooch; my mom, Renee; my little sister, Casey; yours truly; my sister-in-law Leslie with my little niece Ava Grace; and my little brother, Graham.

Big Family

But it’s not just us on Christmas morning. The rest of the crew included my aunts, D.J. and Ann, from my dad’s side of the family; and my grandmother, Loweta; my Aunt Cherie and Uncle Wayne; and my cousin Amber with boyfriend Ben, all the way from Foster, Rhode Island. They just missed getting here in time for our annual Christmas Eve trek out to my Uncle David’s house, an amazing spread just outside of town which you really have to see to believe. Each year, my Aunt Ann Turney (David’s wife) prepares a sumptuous brunch of scrambled eggs, a special Christmas sausage, bacon, juice, coffee and this year added biscuits and gravy. It’s hard to beat.

It was the first time in a few years we were able to spend Christmas eve and morning with Amber. But growing up, Graham and I (and later Casey) would spend each holiday with Amber and her older brother P.J., staying up late, laughing at P.J.’s ridiculous jokes and getting a visit every 15 minutes from one of the adults telling us to get to sleep or run the risk of Santa skipping our house that year.

We’ll get to renew the Santa visits for the next few years with Ava Grace around and I’m looking forward to it.

My remaining holiday plans:

  1. Rent “Hot Rod” (thanks Jesse) and watch it tonight with Casey and her friend Amanda.
  2. Catch a few football games here and there and try to get a bit of grading done.
  3. Head to Bee Branch on Saturday for the “Ward Family Farm Christmas” with my mom’s extended family. Think 35-50 people, a home-cooked meal, homemade gift exchange, a freshly-felled Christmas tree, and carols and hyms sung around an old upright piano. Then you’ve got the picture.
  4. On Sunday, I’ll head to Central Church with my parents. My mom is singing a solo during the service.
  5. Then on Monday, it’s off to Texarkana for the Bryan Burke-Michael Christian Big Barn New Year’s spectacular. Should be fun.

 Hope the rest of your holiday season is just as rich as mine.

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Waiting for the rain


Here in an hour or so I’m heading to Fort Worth to a house that serves a coffee bar/live music venue for two weekends each month. I’ve played at the Apostle Credo maybe 8-10 times, mostly with a band formerly known as the Amanda Brock Band.

When we had the fullest lineup, we had an eclectic collection of instruments: My harmonica, Anna’s cello, Laura’s flute, Mike’s guitars and mandolin, Amanda’s guitars, piano and fantastic voice, and Garry’s ever-expanding collection of percussion elements from across the globe.


With an odd but well-chosen little selection of covers and all of Amanda’s melodic and introspective originals, we played semi-regularly for a year-and-a-half, maybe two, with things seeming to come to an end (for the full band anyway) after a late night show at the Liquid Lounge in Deep Ellum. Amanda and Mike are married now, with a beautiful daughter, but still play music  with Garry and others, including me as they are tonight.

It should be a good time tonight to play some old favorites and several Christmas songs and just be around good friends and music. Here are a few logos which I had created on Photoshop in my spare time back when I was working in Lancaster.


And here are a few photos someone took from a show at the Cornerstone in Arlington back in the day. Just click on the thumbnails.


Looking in all the wrong places

So I had a bit of a meltdown today.

Between things at work and things at home, things I could and should have controlled and circumstances beyond my grasp, I lost it. I gave into the flesh. I yelled. I worried. I transferred my stress and despair to a couple of others who did not deserve it.

I forgot Christ. I forgot He was there. I forgot who he is in my life. I forgot the promises He made. I forgot his perfect track record of faithfulness. I forgot to trust Him.

And the foolishness of it all was the fact that I was in despair. I needed hope. I needed help. I needed a hand to pull me out of the muck. And if I don’t look to Christ, where do I have a prayer of finding any of that? Who’s coming to my aid? Who will rescue me from this body of death?

I’m thankful for my friend Coley, for a providential phone call and a good conversation of a tasty gyro from down the street. I’m thankful for Jesus and new mercies tomorrow morning… and help at the ready when I need it.

I pray that my heart will be turned back to Him to receive it from the only source who can provide it.

I lift my eyes up to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber or sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil,

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore. – Psalm 121 (ESV)

O Death, where’s your sting?

This is for LLT, who taught me a thing or two about the Grace and Goodness of the Lord over the past two weeks, even if he didn’t know about it. 

I hope (and believe) I can be forgiven for any bitterness and unforgiveness I kept over the past few years; I confess it as sin. I think I’ll always be conflicted about the way I remember you. But I do have some good memories and some funny stories, and I definitely can rejoice in the redeeming work of Christ and the inescapable, indescribable, inconceivable but altogether true fact that He loved us when we were our worst and made us worthy to be called Sons of God.

From “Mornings and Evenings” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon…

Blessed is the fact that Christians can rejoice even in the deepest distress; although trouble may surround them, they still sing; and, like many birds, they sing best in their cages. The waves may roll over them, but their souls soon rise to the surface and see the light of God’s countenance; they have a buoyancy about them which keeps their head always above the water, and helps them to sing amid the tempest, “God is with me still.”

To whom shall the glory be given? Oh! to Jesus–it is all by Jesus. Trouble does not necessarily bring consolation with it to the believer, but the presence of the Son of God in the fiery furnace with him fills his heart with joy.

He is sick and suffering, but Jesus visits him and makes his bed for him.

He is dying, and the cold chilly waters of Jordan are gathering about him up to the neck, but Jesus puts His arms around him, and cries, “Fear not, beloved; to die is to be blessed; the waters of death have their fountain-head in heaven; they are not bitter, they are sweet as nectar, for they flow from the throne of God.” As the departing saint wades through the stream, and the billows gather around him, and heart and flesh fail him, the same voice sounds in his ears, “Fear not; I am with thee; be not dismayed; I am thy God.”

As he nears the borders of the infinite unknown, and is almost affrighted to enter the realm of shades, Jesus says, “Fear not, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Thus strengthened and consoled, the believer is not afraid to die; nay, he is even willing to depart, for since he has seen Jesus as the morning star, he longs to gaze upon Him as the sun in his strength.

Truly, the presence of Jesus is all the heaven we desire. He is at once “The glory of our brightest days; The comfort of our nights.”


Neil Young, Matt Chandler and David Wilcox on intimacy

It’s funny how often it happens just this way.

It’s Sunday night. I’m at The Village, watching “Flat” Matt Chandler on a big projector screen. And it all comes together.

Something I had been feeling and seeing all weekend gets verbalized for me. Let me explain. 

Matt’s been preaching the last two weeks on Biblical manhood and what it means to be God’s man… not just male in the most immediate sense.

In the middle of his talk, he hit on this point which I’ll paraphrase:

It’s strange that men will stay awake after their wives have gone to bed to sit at computers and talk to other women in chatrooms or to look at other women on pornographic Web sites when they’ve got a real, live woman in the other room.

Chandler went on to say that he didn’t think lust was the only or even the main explanation for this. He thought it really boiled down to laziness. Men are lazy because true intimacy is really a lot of hard work.

The chatrooms and the porn sites are much easier to manipulate because they can be controlled and put on the man’s timetable and because they’re free from the anxiety that comes with an actual relationship.

I think there’s a lot to this. Especially since it was already on my mind from two masterful, though very different, singer-songwriters.

A few months ago I picked up a CD after hearing it played on a local radio station: Neil Young’s “Live from Massey Hall, 1971.” I’d never been a fan of Neil, save to halfway borrow a harmonica lick from “Heart of Gold.” I thought he was strange and I thought he had a funny sounding voice. After listening to Massey Hall, I still think he’s strange with a funny sounding voice, but he’s also a master songwriter and a modern poet with few equals.

My favorite song on the album, “A Man Needs A Maid,” was introduced as a new tune by Young on the album, since it was recorded a year before “Harvest” was released with that song and others like “Old Man,” “Needle and the Damage Done,” and the previously mentioned “Heart of Gold.”

I had never heard “A Man Needs A Maid” before and was initially drawn to it because it was a pretty, melancholy, strange piano tune that broke into “Heart of Gold” midway through.

It wasn’t until I saw a recording of Young from about the same time performing it on a BBC show (without the “Heart of Gold” insert), that I really caught the power of the song. I think Young is singing about his struggles with and fears of intimacy.

“I was thinking that maybe I’d get a maid.

Find a place nearby for her to stay.

Just someone to keep my house clean,

fix my meals and go away.” 

My interpretation, again, is that Young is finding it hard  to deal with the struggle for real intimacy with another person who is subject to changing moods or feelings or just the need for space (or perhaps wants more openness of him than he’s willing to give). 

Rather than adapt to this uncontrollable relationship, he muses about hiring a maid to fulfill his needs for companionship and to quench his loneliness. But without having to cast himself into the choppy waters of intimacy. 

This seems to be a similar view, although in a much lighter tone, to that of David Wilcox’s friend, “John,” in Wilcox’s mid-song monologue during “Good Together” on the “Live Songs and Stories” album.

Wilcox, also a master songwriter, tells how John, a practitioner of “serial monogamy,” has broken up with his latest girlfriend. Though she seemed to be a warm, vibrant, attractive woman, John insists that she’s “changed” because now she has all these “emotional needs” and constantly needs to “talk” and get things “out in the open.” John goes on to make a rather “harsh analogy” between relationships and cars before Wilcox stops him.

“And I said, ‘Well it doesn’t really carry over. It’s a limited analogy, John. I think this car thing doesn’t really work as an analogy.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ I said ‘Well, when you work on a car, the car gets fixed, you know… but when you’re working on a relationship, you know, that’s the only way that we get our ownselves tuned up. You know, that’s how we become who we need to be. That’s how we get hittin’ on all eight.”

“Because the thing she needs the most is the thing that’s hardest for you to give. And you need to learn to give it.”

John responds  that while maybe David signed up for all that, he didn’t. In fact, he says “it sounds like a lot of work.”

I love the hope I find in David’s answer.

“Well, yeah. But it’s good work… if you can get it.”

And I think that it’s more than just a man-woman thing. Real intimacy in friendships, with family, with God. It’s hard, but it’s worth it, worth sweating and losing sleep and struggling and fighting for.

Chatrooms and maids and a string of shallow relationships are easy. But they’re pale imitations, crude drawings, faint echos of what’s available to the one who’s willing to walk the hard road.

I pray that I’m willing to walk that road and that Christ will guide my steps.