Thursday, December 9, 2010

Answered Prayers?

Before I get rolling, I don't want anyone to get the idea that I'm picking on their religion.....which I am....but try not to get that idea. Thing is, I hear lots of people say that they pray for this and that and how God answers those prayers. Furthermore they are appropriately thankful and like to spread the news, via conversation, Twitter, Facebook or whatever.

I'd like to say that it's probably not a good idea to spread the news about your answered prayers. I see it as making God come off looking petty, random, and unworthy of any thanks at all. Lots of people are very serious about their religion, no matter what that religion is, and I understand prayer is a big aspect of that faith.  The angle I'm going to come from is Christianity, since most people who read this, are likely to live in the USA. If not, then imagine I'm talking about the God of your choice.....should be easy to imagine.

I've seen and heard people pray for, or ask to have prayed for, the following things over the past couple of months;

* Get a new job
* Get a raise
* For protection on a trip
* Help on scholastic endeavors
* Relationship help
* For help finding a mate

Also, we all know that prayers are always being asked for, for the following;

* Personal health
* Matters of the health of children
* Health of a friend or relative
* Protection of a friend or loved one at war
* Help to those who are victims of a disaster

The latter are very prayer worthy. And any God worth praying to should at least take those into consideration. I submit to you that the former reasons shouldn't really be put out for public consumption, basically because they are things you may have control over yourself and it's pretty selfish to ask God to help you with a blown radiator hose when there is a child dying of starvation, AIDS, or cancer every minute or so. When a person posts that they want to thank God for finding that "special someone" out there, I can't help but think that it was a wasted prayer. What if God said, "OK, I'll answer your next prayer." and you ask to not get a ticket for running a red light?

I realize that the Bible says that you should bring all your stuff to God (not really sure what the Koran or Jedi handbook says on the matter), but praising God for helping you out on trivial matters when we all know damn well there are parents crying, begging, and praying over a dying child, or a soldier praying over a wounded friend, and those prayers probably won't be answered. Perhaps in some cases they are, but not anywhere close to a majority. I'm not saying don't pray for little things. I'm just saying that, in the grand scheme of things, it's silly to advertise an answered prayer over something insignificant, when there are so many people who are praying in earnest over matters of life, death, and health.

Maybe if you got a new job, you had a good interview and have done well enough at other jobs that you deserve a better gig. Maybe if you got that raise, you worked hard and deserved it. Perhaps you studied and worked hard and that's why you passed algebra. I'd say if you met a potential mate, that you were probably deserving of finding that mate due to your own character as a human being. If those little things are actually intervened on, for you, by God, what are we to make of the people who are praying for uncontrollable life altering circumstances? Are those things God doesn't feel like getting into? Is it too tough for God to make the heart disease of a 40 year old not kill him/her, leaving behind a wife/husband and kids?

Really, you all know it's none of my business what, when, where, and to whom anyone prays. I just want to make people aware that it really seems to cheapen the process. Most of you guys know I'm not all. Again, is there a God? I don't know. But I do know that if God is helping Joe Blow hit the Pick 3, and some child is abducted and tortured, but no prayers get answered in that horrific scenario, I don't have any use for that God. Plus, if 5 billion believers in the world are praying all the time and God is also listening to the thoughts of the total world population (over 6 billion), then why tie him up with little things and draw his attention away from stuff that matters? I'm not making fun of anyone for praying or believing that God has answered some of the things I'm talking about. So, if anyone believes I'm writing about anyone specific, that's not the case. This is truly a post that is just my thinking out loud in a very general manner.

For full disclosure, there were some things I prayed for very hard. Like, when my grandmother (the most wonderful, caring, giving, and selfless person I've ever known) was dying. I can say without flinching that there was an instance of unexplainable progress in her situation, though it was only temporary.

There have been studies done on prayer. Does it work? Is it nonsense? I don't know the answer to that, and this stuff that I'm writing is not asking anyone to NOT pray. Just to use some discretion in announcing an answered prayer. Anyhow, here are a few links to some of the research done on prayer. Interesting stuff.

The above links come out in favor of using prayer to help out in matters of health, and I'm not surprised. The mind is powerful and if there is a God, well......why wouldn't it work?

Now troubles are many
There as
Deep as a well
I can swear there ain't no Heaven
But I pray there ain't no hell
Swear there ain't no Heaven
And I'll pray there ain't no hell
But I'll never know by livin'
Only my dyin' will tell, yes only my
Dyin' will tell, oh yeah
Only my dyin' will tell
Blood, Sweat, & Tears

***This blog is dedicated to my wonderful wife, who, I'm sure, prays for me daily. Hope it works***

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Country Music : RIP

Well, this is long over due and someone has to say it; country music is dead.

It's been dead for quite some time, though most listeners don't know it. It's a shame that there is no room on country (and I use that term VERY loosely) radio for the pioneers and hit makers of the past. The tradition of the past isn't really a part of what Nashville (or L.A. or New York) are selling these days. Artists (and this is another term I use loosely) such as Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and Keith Urban may want to be "country", but buying a cowboy hat and driving a pick up doesn't qualify anyone.

Now, there are some folks out there who try to continue the legacy of the greats. George Strait, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, and Dwight Yoakam are out there beating the drum for those who went before them. Not to say that these artists have not changed their music to fit in with the new crowd, but at their core level, they are still about the music and less about the show.

Today's country is a hybrid of twangy guitars, hopped up fiddles, and drum machines. It's got no soul. There is no life behind it. The performers and songwriters have not lived the lives they sing about and they have no real connection with the very things they say they are all about. Honestly, aren't we passed gimmicks and half-assed hillbillisms? "Achy Breaky Heart"? "I Shaved My Legs For This"? "She Thinks My Tractor Is Sexy"?  Really......those were hit songs? If I didn't know better, I would have thought these were Weird Al Yankovic tunes.

Once upon a time, country music was rooted in musical sensibility, simplicity, and experience. The stars of the past paid their dues by playing in small bars, county fairs, and street corners. They pedaled their songs around Nashville, working odd jobs and gaining life experience until they could catch a break. These people came from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other areas that were generally populated with small towns. You probably couldn't find too many of them that came from New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Today's music is all about marketing. If you have a pretty face, who the hell cares if you can sing, play, or write......your producer and label can make you a star. How many of today's stars look like they have seen tough times and have drawn on those experiences? When you see a picture of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, or Merle Haggard, you know where they have been.

There is some good roots music out there, it's just tougher to find, because you won't hear it on hit radio. Artists/bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, Son Volt, Scott Miller & The Commonwealth, Kelly Willis, Drive By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, and Whiskeytown (which was fronted by Ryan Adams) are all much closer musically to authentic country music than almost anyone you can hear on hit country radio. They are the artists that use steel guitars, fiddles, and banjos as serious instruments and not just background noise.

The pioneers of country music lived life on the road, with little time for awards shows, banquets, and living like stars. They sold their music the old fashioned way......they played the dives night after night to earn their chops and sell their music. Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Bob Wills, Patsy Cline, Jimmie Rodgers, and The Carter Family branched off from bluegrass and started country music down the road that led to the legends. For my money, artists like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, and Kris Kristofferson should go down in music history with the likes of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and others. They made real music and made no apologies for doing things their way. Those performers from the past may have been coined "country" but really, they just played music. Music they loved and felt good about. They didn't care about genre. They cared about the music.

How many people realize that as recently as 2004 Don Williams released an album? Bet you didn't hear that on the radio. What about Loretta Lynn? Surely at her age, she has long since retired or is hitting the oldies circuit, right? Nope, in 2004 she released a great album "Van Lear Rose", which was produced by none other than the White Stripes own, Jack White. But, it didn't get radio play. At least one of the most artistic people in music today appreciated Lynn and still felt her relevant. Loretta Lynn is also planning two new albums this year. Willie Nelson? Still making records (and still taking the pot). Hank Jr? Still making records. Oddly enough, the real country artists are no longer welcome in the modern world of country music.

So, with that, I proclaim country music, at the chart level to be dead. I urge anyone who loves good music, regardless of what genres you think you like or don't like to give some of these tunes a listen and discover how good some of that old (and new, but underground) stuff really is. Good music is good music and reducing what we love into genres limits our ability to expand our mind and find quality in areas we ordinarily wouldn't look.

Waylon Jennings (I Don't Think Hank Done It This Way) w/intro by Johnny Cash

Ryan Adams & Whiskeytown (Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart)

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard (Pancho & Lefty)

Kelly Willis (Take Me Down)

Scott Miller (I Made A Mess Of This Town)

Son Volt (Catchin' On)