Craig McConnell:A Man Among Men
The news of this past Friday hit me unexpectedly...and, in truth, sent my heart a bit sideways.
Craig McConnell was in hospice care. After years of battling leukemia - and oh, so close to remission - a sudden turn put him close to the end of his epic and heroic battle and even closer to where I (an imperfect man following God) long to be.
This morning - on Tuesday - I awoke from mysterious dreams at 2:00am to find the single dot of flourescent light pulsating on my smart phone...incoming. The email - from John Eldredge and the Ransomed Heart team - shared the news that Craig had passed "...from glory to glory..." at 6:30am yesterday morning. He was now fully healed - and in the presence of the God he loved so much.
As the tears began to flow (even now, later in the morning and sitting at work, they still do), I am somehow not sure what to say or feel. Sadness...goodness, yes. But...joy?? It seems...well, scandalous. But, of course, it would be to those who didn't know (or still don't know) the Jesus that Craig helped introduce me to through his work and mission with Ransomed Heart (www.ransomedheart.com). Moving through the pre-dawn hours, I sat watching a video session that came from a Wild at Heart Advanced Boot Camp I attended in 2014 out in Colorado...I didn't know it then, but it was the last time I would see Craig. His teaching that night - focusing on the Poser that all men have and hide behind - was centered on relational styles and the freedom that God is after in our individual personalities. It was, in a word...holy.
Craig was many things in his life: a husband, a father, a father-in-law, a grandfather, a pastor, a friend, a teacher, a mentor to many, a leader, and quite the knucklehead. In the past 7 years, I've been out to Colorado several times to attend the Boot Camp events. I only had the privilege of meeting and speaking to Craig once, back in 2009. I remember thanking him for his spirit of laughter and humor that he would bring to his teachings, the podcasts he often did with John Eldredge and others at Ransomed Heart, and the live sessions at the Boot Camp. What I really wanted to tell him was, "Yeah, man, me too - I got that part of me that uses humor to deflect intimacy and I see it in you 'cause I got it in me." I came to learn that he knew - and God revealed to him as well - how that part of his relational style at times made it difficult for people to love him...not because he was unlovable but that it kept a distance between his heart and the hearts of others. And yet God used that beautiful heart and the humor in its wellsprings to draw me into Craig's story...and a deeply wounded part of my own.
So, I name it: Craig McConnell was a man among men. And I wanted to share just a few of the thoughts he passed along to me - through his teaching and mentorship - over the past 7 years:
From Wild at Heart Boot Camp (2009):
The whole design of The Poser is to keep me from being exposed (Adam and the "fig leaf")...
A boy needs to be loved by his father and to have an answer for The Question ("Do I have what it takes?")...he needs the validation of the father...
My story has been shaped by how my father handled my heart (the story of my Wound)...
Behind every posing man is a wounded boy...
God is saying, "Where are you, John?" so He can come in to heal all my wounds...
From Wild at Heart Advanced Boot Camp (2010):
The Poser gets in the way of my integrity in Christ...
Repentance & Healing - both are needed to move away from The Poser; I don't have a choice...
Assumption: My sin is much deeper than my behavior. What's the motive? Do I settle for the "superficial" in me?...
Assumption: The life I most deeply desire is only found in Christ! Do I settle for the "counterfeit" in me?...
Assumption: There is a mystery that is part of the life I long to live with God and it requires engagement. Do I settle for the "giving up" in me?...
Assumption: Loving others is the true test of my spirituality! Do I settle for "liking" others in my life?...
The greatest task I have in life is to love God, myself, and others wholeheartedly...
My Poser contains my personality - it's a well-constructed approach to living that reflects my holiness AND sin...and I am not honest in looking at it...
What's my relational style? Do I move towards others? Move away from others? Move against others? Is my style of relating coming from The Poser or Christ?...
Repentance is knowing this isn't the life I want...repentance is present tense...
Do I have a picture of the life I want to live?
Question: God, why do I need to "sell" others on who I am instead of being filled with the love and acceptance You have of me?...
From Wild at Heart Advanced Boot Camp (2014):
The primary work of God walking with us is for us to love others...
A loving relational style is the only true indicator of how we love God...
All of my spiritual gifts, calling, etc. without love are nothing...
There are not outs with love...
Sin manifests itself most frequently and deeply within our personalities...
Have I consecrated my personality to God?...
Behind every man's personality and his relational style is his story...
God wants to change our relational style - that means He is after changing our personality!
As I think about the wisdom and the love of God that Craig shared with so many men across the world, I am both humbled and encouraged that our paths and stories intersected in the ways they did. You can find all of his blog posts and podcasts at Ransomed Heart...I know I will be mining them for the riches they contain.
And I look forward to seeing Craig around the campfires of the coming Kingdom...someday but not yet!!
In loving memory and fierce gratitude...
Strength & Honor...
August 2, 2016
Memorial for Craig McConnell - Click on Picture to View on Vimeo
Recorded 8.27.16 @ Discovery Christian Church
Colorado Springs, CO
Courtesy of Ransomed Heart & DCC
The Wellspring #2
I've had two of my three older brothers die in the last 20 months.
With one (Jeff) I had repaired damage - the kind between brothers that can keep brothers from being brothers. With the other (Mickey), I hadn't seen or spoken to him in 22 years.
Blood is thicker than water, right? Bruddas.
Mickey (pictured above) was the oldest of the six siblings; even at 66, it was too early.
I'm still at a stage in my walk with God where I'm faced with inviting Him deeper into the healing of a heart that took a lot of wounds at the expense of those closest to me. I was taken aback recently when one of my sisters began to reach out regarding Mickey. She indicated he was very ill, hospitalized for some tests, and would be released to return home and for hospice care. Death.
At first, I was pissed off...as if a young voice inside wanted to say, 'And what the fuck do you want me to do about it? He hasn't bothered to reach out to me in a very long time. So, what, forgive and forget?' Her texts to me on the last day of November - asking me to call her as soon as I could - were indication enough that the news was in.
There was nothing slow, even in my faded memories, about Mickey. He didn't so much move but breeze through life. When my sister informed me that he had passed at 5:45am that morning, I thought back to getting out of bed for the day...and I confess there are days where I wish it could be over for me. Done...clock me out of this bullshit.
It wasn't until the following day that I began to feel this odd wave of memories and melancholy come across my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will. He was the one who taught me how to tell time. He was the one who taught me to tie my shoes. Sweet recall, yes, but there was also the flotsam and jetsam of life shared as brothers. The time I rescued him and his girlfriend after they nodded out, high on heroin, and almost set fire to a room of our upstate New York home. The way he used to yell and hit his very young children - something he could have only learned from our father. Confusing, yes, but Mickey was also (in my memory) a paradox of being larger than life and also out of touch with me and my story.
A week has passed since I learned he died. God has been using this news to prepare me for some heart work that I've been putting off for a while - and, as I said to a trusted heart of a friend in an email this week, "I feel like Frodo packing his bag to leave the Shire."
Mickey did things I never would: he met Bobby Kennedy and George Harrison, survived the muck and mire of Woodstock, gained higher educational degrees and certifications, traveled the world, rode Arabian stallions across the sands of Egypt, and was a husband and father. He was part Aragorn and part Gandalf, part Marlboro Man and was cool before Don Johnson ever was.
Memories fade. The last time I heard his voice was in 1994 after our mother died from lung cancer. I heard the pain and loss in his voice, the struggle to believe what he didn't want to admit was true. As I give mercy to my own heart, I do wish I could steal back some of the chasm of time that was lost - to both of us - and tell him that heroes are truly hard to love when they are human and also your brother.
Strength & Honor...
December 7, 2016
The Day the Music Died
"Saving up your money for a rainy day
Giving all your clothes to charity
Last night the wife said
'Poor boy, when you're dead
You don't take nothing with you
But your soul - think!'"
(From The Ballad of John and Yoko - 1969 by Lennon/McCartney)
If I blink my eyes through tears that still rise to the surface 37 years later, I can picture myself in December of 1980...an 18-year old freshman at Manhattanville College in New York, vibrant, alive, full of myself and the stuff dreams are made of. In a word: bulletproof.
Nearing the end of the first semester, it was a cold Monday night in the tony suburb of Purchase in Westchester County. Spellman Hall - the freshman dorm digs - was humming and hopping with the 6-to-1 female to male ratio congregation of students. Somehow blessed, my freshman year roommate, Scott, had abandoned all hope of one day going to medical school and left the 'Ville and gifted me with a double-room all to myself. For a young man with dreams of my own of one day going to law school, such digs were conducive to minoring in sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll - and I certainly didn't squander the opportunities.
Having finished a few hours in the college's radio station that night hosting one of my turns as a disc jockey, I returned to my room from the showers, flipping on the television to catch the score on Monday Night Football. I was literally naked and toweling myself off when broadcaster Howard Cosell uttered these words:
"...remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News from New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival..."
Nearly four decades later, I can still feel the way my knees began to tremble and the acceleration of my heart inside my chest. I remember dropping the towel in my hand, suddenly shocked and surprised by the hot, wet tears that began to uncontrollably flush from my blue eyes.
"No," I said in a whisper, the only breath seemingly in my lungs. "NO!" came the next utterance, something guttural and primal from my belly and my balls. Within seconds, outside of my dorm room on the first floor of Spellman, I began to hear the shrieks and screams of young women and others. I threw on some clothes and rushed into the hallway, finding friends and foes alike walking around in a sudden trance, zombies in pain and disbelief. A girl named Kathy came up to me, practically collapsing into my six foot five frame, wailing and sobbing and holding onto me as she shook with pain and grief.
Born in New York City in 1962, I grew up listening to The Beatles and felt a part of my heart break when they parted ways just eight years later in 1970. Of course, like legions of fans across the globe, I, too, believed in the dream that they would, could, or should one day reunite. As I stood there in the hallway holding Kathy up and letting my own tears fall and mingle with hers, all we could say to each other was, "The dream is dead."
For the rest of that night, my room, Spellman 139, was filled with the music of all the Beatles albums I had inherited from my oldest brother and sister. People came and went all night, singing along, crying, or just hanging out in a dazed silence. Our campus radio station, WMVL, wanted to close the following day. Instead, I asked the station manager to allow me to man the control booth.
In my own pain and loss, I began in the morning and didn't leave until very late in the evening, playing song after song, sharing my memories of what those young world-changers from Liverpool meant to me and so many others. It would be years before I could process the anger of having a childhood idol stolen away so violently and senselessly. Many people thanked me for the giveaway of music and memories, but for a young dreamer there was a part of my heart that was broken in ways that I didn't understand. This was a life lesson I never saw coming and that they weren't teaching in the storied classrooms of Manhattanville.
The words of a song so eloquently sung by Paul sums it up best for me, even now - today - 37 years later:
"And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, yeah
There will be an answer, let it be."
(From Let It Be - 1970 by Lennon/McCartney)
I still miss you, Johnny. And, yes, there was a day the music died.
Strength & Honor...
December 8, 2017
Memories from my 20's - and the tale of when endless love began to die.
An excerpt from JOURNAL TEN: "Thunder Road, Part Two (Thriller)"
Last night was a tragedy, each minute grinding away, a search for love to come but ending in a realization. Patty felt pushed and forced. I feel like David in Endless Love. Our love feels as if it has lost something, and I really hope she doesn't show up for lunch, like I have a feeling she might. Because I don't want to see her...this rejection hurts more than getting the manuscript back in the mail. I look at her eyes, and I see her rejecting me over and over again, finally our lives becoming a frustrated, and soon to run-out-of string, yo-yo. Everything else is less important in my mind. I just want to make love to her, that's all. And she feels forced. It's not worth the risk. Is it that important if we don't make love? Are you any less in love with me?
All of those questions, or statements, circulated throughout my mind and dreams last night. Patty has off from work today, and I contemplated taking the day off, but why? So we can argue? Spontaneous lovemaking, even in the basement of my parents' house, used to be delicious, totally satisfying for the short amount of time we had. I love to satisfy her, then myself, but now that risk is too great. And yet I ask what risk can't be great enough to sacrifice being together, body to body? This whole day sucks, from the moment I went to bed last night. She thinks I'm forcing her passion - well, that's too bad for me, isn't it?
I really want to start saving for an apartment but my heart towards her feels lighter, not so much broken but bruised. All day, all I do is think about her, fantasize about making love to her. And she says the same, supposedly. Yet's she's off today, horseback riding in Iroquois Park with her brother while he's visiting from Long Island, probably thinking about how I rescued her from North Babylon and all of the times she spent there without me. For each day that goes by, no, each hour, I long to make love to her, I would die for it. I truly feel apart from her, my need for acceptance great at this time. Love pours from inside of me, oozing out with no purpose...and it is raining in my soul. My thoughts race to her, trying to perceive what she's thinking, blocked by this sign...
I cannot help but think back to the beginning months of our relationship, since we still refer to it in months. 22 months on Monday. 2 years in October. I want everything to be changed by then, but how do I live a life of day-to-day passion when none of it is returned to me? I love Patty, and I know with every sense of me that her feelings are the same. Sexuality is the concern here, and 20 months ago we couldn't fuck each other enough. Now the situation is different, granted, but has this change put out a part of the flame which I incessantly thrive over? Is this the same girl who slept with me - secretly made love to me - in a room full of people, up close, under foot, risking it ALL for it ALL?
That's my trouble in understanding: why won't she risk it? I shouldn't call her "a girl," for being a young woman, I find her both mature and adolescent. Maybe it's the young girl in her that keeps me so hard, but a woman would realize that the satisfaction of her man is tantamount and reciprocated to her. You get just as good as you give.
So, save for an apartment, hope she realizes the pressures - but when I was looking at her last night I found my eyes seeing her hurt me, never intentionally. I wanted her so badly, so strongly, and I thought she would see that, sense it, act accordingly upon and not away from it. I was stunned, but how can I run from feelings that constantly chase me? Last night I asked Patty what we would do if only one of us (namely me) had to risk it all in the future and where it would leave the other one. Silence...
Losing desire feels so entwined with my the outcome of my destiny, which I once considered sure, my life planted in a style so determined that it wouldn't matter what came along. Nothing could sway it. But that long time ago is gone, security the only thing I believed in also having departed. Wondering which avenue love has strayed to is a full-time job, and heartache to boot. I am distracted by so many things, so many memories highlighted by the thought of her. I am unable to sleep well enough, though I am not tired. Listless is the word. I don't even care that my pot runs out tonight. If someone offered me 10 ounces of Tai weed as opposed to the chance of Patty making love with me, I'd take the risk.
My hand is a pen for my heart, and I tried to explain it yesterday but I fear going home, seeing her there and feeling uncomfortable. Afraid to be rejected in lesser areas. How do I climb the mountain again after falling? I wish she would desire to make love, not want to hold or kiss. I want it all, selfish as I am. Yet I do not see her desire.
So here I am, filling up the last pages of "Thriller" with disappointment. This last time, I sincerely would like to try something different, some way out. But I love her, and this last hour of waiting to see her, waiting to see if she'll react in any way, shape or form is brutal. I still want to make love to her after being rejected, not relenting as we stalk each other, but I am the only one advancing. My dreams are alone, without her, because she is not there, not wanting me...all of me.
Romeo was a limp-wristed motherfucker in love with Juliet compared to the feelings I have for Patty. But I am scared to open myself up again, to hear "No" or "You're pushing me." I thought that making love, no matter the place or the time, the circumstances, pressures or risks was a place we would always go together.
But so much is ahead...I feel it, and the pressures of what go through my mind create many scenes for me. I see her dancing freely across a field of tall grass, a brilliant moon rising behind her. I see her alone as she looks out upon a river bathed in soft sunlight. And she is alone, without me. This day has been worse than yesterday, and now I must go home to her...after wanting her all day.
"Love pours from inside of me, oozing out with no purpose...and it is raining in my soul."
"My dreams are alone, without her, because she is not there, not wanting me...all of me."
To The Beat of a Different Drummer
Keith. Buddy. Don. Carl. Neil.
Common enough first names - but put a pair of sticks into any of their hands and common had nothing left to do but drop its jaw, stare dumbstruck at the ferocity of hands, arms, and legs moving across and around the kit like no other mere mortal could possibly accomplish, and realize that what they were seeing and hearing was no simple wind-up toy or banging around on pots and pans.
Little drummer boy? How 'bout BIG DRUMMING MAN!
With the passing earlier in the year of Neil Peart - drummer and main lyricist for the Canadian rock trio, Rush - I found myself taken back in time to the age of 12 (for historical purposes that would be the year of 1974). This retrospective is going to focus on how I came to love drumming and drummers, especially a diverse class of traps masters: Keith Moon of The Who; big band and jazz legend Buddy Rich; the wild man behind the locomotive of Grand Funk Railroad, Don Brewer; prog-rock virtuoso in Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Carl Palmer; and The Professor himself, Neil Peart of Rush.
But, as all good stories go, it most logically begins with a small boy (me) growing up in the Bronx of New York City in the early 60's. That could only mean one name: Ringo.
The Liverpool Beat
He always seemed a lot fucking happier than he should be, you know - playing the drums and all. I mean, after all, it's just a couple of sticks, wood shells and steel rims, and some animal skins, come on am I right?
Sittin' up there, right on his throne, I'd be keyed on that guy in the back kickin' those cans like he was the King of England or somebody special. The Beatles were royalty, an invading army of four that mowed 'em down wherever they took the fight to. And it was Peter Starkey - aka Ringo Starr - that lined up the shots.
I mean, who didn't know a Beatles tune...one they could hum or strum air guitar to or, like me, tap out with anything in my hands on top of anything in front of me. Drove my mother crazy, as the saying goes. And here's this guy, just bouncin' up and down on the throne..."yeah, yeah, yeah..." and chicks were just losing it. He was definitely marching to the beat of a different drummer.
This guy was definitely not some mid-level brush swiveler looking for a steady gig on the weekends. I think it physically had to hurt to play drums dressed in Brian Epstein's branding suits but man, did Ringo kick the shit outta those cans!
I couldn't turn on a transistor radio (my musical weapon of choice from the age of 5 until 9) without hearing a Beatles song on some radio station up or down the dial. Everywhere and all the time. Yes, mania, hysteria, whatever the fuck I wanted to call it - it was infectious and I didn't care for nor want the cure. My oldest brother, Mickey, was in a rock band of his own - made up of a few close cousins from New Jersey and local boys from the Bronx. This was the same brother who made it to Woodstock and who also witnessed the madness of Shea Stadium.
Not being a rock critic or properly credentialed historian of music, I don't have a dog in the fight of whether or not Ringo - technically - is counted by others as one of the best or may be the lighter end of the drummers I'll highlight here for this discourse. You always remember your first love...and I loved this smiling mop-top from Liverpool. By the time Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was mainlined into the veins of humankind, Ringo had become the epitome of too cool for school with me. With The Beatles, Abbey Road, and Let It Be, he - along with John, Paul, and George - became more important to me than God, girls, or giving a fuck if any other music ever got made.
It was sometime in the Spring of 1970 when I first cried in front of someone I would consider a stranger. Nearly eight years old and precocious as fuck, I was sitting in the throne of pain that belonged to our family dentist, Dr. Brittan. He was a burly, balding man with strong hands, stale breath, and smelled of Old Spice. I was under the white hot light of the dental chair, getting some torture done on my crooked teeth when suddenly the drilling stopped. I looked up into Dr. Brittan's face and saw tears begin to well up in his eyes and stream down his cheeks. His dental hygienist pulled up in her seat next to me, and I heard her gasp for breath.
"I don't believe it," she said. "Oh, no..." Her voice trailed off into empty silence.
"What happened?" I mumbled through Novocaine lips and curiosity.
As always, Dr. Brittan had a radio playing loud in the background while he did his work. Trying to connect the dots with this man and his tears, I watched as he struggled with the words that kept trying to come out of his open mouth.
"The Beatles," he said at first, as if that were a complete sentence. "They broke up."
In the background, "Come Together" began thumping out of the office radio. My tears didn't need any permission to come together as Dr. Brittan picked up the drill, resumed road work inside my mouth, and the three of us cried silently together.
It would be a long while before I gave my heart to another drummer, but this one would definitely bring a different beat into my life.
The Big Band Swing
From the ages of 9 until 14, I began to listen to music through a totally different filter. What was the drummer up to? The youngest of six children - and with parents who had their own diverse musical interests, I began to discover new frontiers beyond the Fab Four. One such vista intersected with my father and mother's affinity for the Big Band, Jazz and Swing bands of their courtship days.
One force of nature, in particular, began to catch my eyes and ears - oddly enough, I didn't discover him through listening to their old vinyl records but by his appearances on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show.
Bernard "Buddy" Rich was a Brooklyn raconteur, establishing himself in the 1930's with such legendary bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, and Harry James. He was a known virtuoso of drum technique that combined both speed and power that made me sweat just watching him behind the kit, bent over like some Ludwig Quasimodo, hands and feet a blur while he grunted and smiled as if you'd never get the fucking joke so don't even try.
As a young boy and teenager, I first laid eyes on this whirling dervish of a drummer when I would stay up late during summer vacations from elementary and junior high school while living in upstate New York in the village of Coxsackie. If confessions are ultimately true, I would gravitate towards watching Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show on NBC for the chicks - those captivating female television and film stars that would show up and flirt with The King of Late Night. For some reason, the likes of Elke Sommer, Connie Stevens, Jill St. John, Raquel Welch, and Angie Dickinson come to mind.
Yet it was the times that Buddy appeared on The Tonight Show that started something akin to a paradiddle in my heart, bones, and balls to want to play the drums. Now, to be fair, the Tonight Show band had a kick-ass drummer of its own under the leadership of Doc Severinsen. Ed Shaughnessy had this massive kit perched high atop the band stand. Whenever they would pan the cameras to him while playing, something inside of me said, "Yeah, I wanna play like that!"
Not many knew that Johnny had received a drum set as a gift from Buddy, and was not too shabby a stick man himself. Buddy made the most appearances of any jazz musician on the show, and every time he appeared he would either do a number with the Tonight Show band or engage in a solo for the audience's pleasure. Transfixed is the perfect word to describe how I would sit, watching my old black and white television as he literally made those cans his bitch. His cross-hand techniques alone would render me stupefied, mystified, and lead me to believe that only God could see how fast those hands actually moved.
Around the age of 13 (1975), I began to pester my parents to buy me something cheap to kick the shit out of myself. My oldest brother, Mickey, had gifted me with an old Kent snare drum that I would practice on with a pair of borrowed sticks from my elementary school band room. During those days, I was taking piano lessons in town from Christine Kuiper, the sweet and talented wife of a local Unitarian church pastor who everyone suspected of being in the closet. Some more truth be told, I had a crush on Chris and couldn't wait each week to go with my sister, Amy, to the Kuiper house on Washington Boulevard for our lessons. We had a piano at our house that was available to practice and perform on, but sitting next to Chris each week, feeling her leg tight against mine, the delicious aroma of her body, her smile and kindness, well...I digress. I was also second chair trombone with the elementary and junior high bands at Coxsackie-Athens school for a number of years, and it was through this affiliation that I began to meet other peers my age who loved to drum, play other instruments, and encouraged me to join them in a band.
I'm not sure where Kenny Vetter is today. I know my other drumming compadre, Julian Starr (absolutely no relation to Ringo), died way too early in life. These two cats were also beginning drummers - and it was an elementary school talent show where I saw Kenny on his own kit on stage playing his ass off to the Theme from S.W.A.T. that literally made me want to drum on my own. I would go over to his house and just stare at his Ludwig kit, adult sized and with those gleaming Zildjian cymbals that made my mouth water. I had little to no rudimentary skills, no formal drum training, but I've always been able to keep the beat and play by ear to music I loved listening to, so Kenny would let me sit on the throne and we'd put records on his turntable, blast the volume, and just take turns having fun with it. Oh, he had twin older sisters (Vicky and Veronica) that were to die for - so maybe, like a lot of wannabe drummers I was in it for the girls.