Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summer Cruise 3

I'm kinda' shocked that Carmen hasn't beat me to the blog, but not really surprised given how exhausted we three hosts of The Morning Cruise must have been this weekend. It's bedtime Sunday, but I just have to throw down these few post-mortem thoughts on last week's Summer Cruise 3 before the week starts.

First, for those dear souls confused: the Summer Cruise 3 was not actually a ship-cruise. It's just the name we gave to the week we take our morning radio show on the road. For us, it's one of the most strenuous weeks of the year. We do it annually, in the middle of the summer -- a non-ratings period, which seems to make little sense from an effort-impact perspective. But we believe the relationships made last week will both help the show/station in the long run and somehow serve the cause of Christ. Ratings aside, it was a great week.

Second, the factors we consider in order to say "great week" include meeting so many enthusiastic listeners, giving a face to the station and our morning show, and building a deeper relationship with our guest artist.

The most rewarding part of the week was meeting so many listeners (we had an average of 350 listeners per stop, I estimate). I am constantly amazed at the level of ministry experienced by listeners of The JOY FM. The station is more than a service, it it is a servant -- it serves listeners like a friend indeed. We heard more than a couple stories about how someone "couldn't have made it through" a difficult life-experience without the encouragement and uplift The JOY FM provided. I am personally thankful the Lord has chosen to use the station for this purpose. I do not take it for granted. That unique ministry has been given freely by the Lord for his purposes, and he can just as freely take it away.

For many, a circle of involvement with the station was completed by meeting the personalities they count as friends. I call this "putting a face on The JOY FM." These are ordinary families who have been touched in some way, either by attending a concert that had a transforming effect, by discovering a faith community as their spiritual home, or by the more nebulous but equally emotional connection with word shared in a song or by a personality.

And the experience of meeting and spending a few personal moments with an artist definitely factored in to making the week great. Matthew West turned out to be a perfect fit for the 2008 Summer Cruise 3. We knew landing him as our special guest was a coup, but we couldn't possibly have known how much he would buy into the week. He did, and he quickly became part of the team.

Matthew was not only a great entertainer of each cafe crowd, he was also an able minister of gospel encouragement wherever we went. He proved himself a trooper, conforming to Carmen's rigorous daily schedule without a complaint: rising early to hide the pink flamingo, performing twice a day, resting little and traveling lots. Matthew rode with us, ate with us, laughed with us and gave himself to listeners, one at a time, all week long. His reward? He got to go do another concert Friday night in Orlando. Hopefully he has gotten some rest by now.

So, another edition of the Summer Cruise pulls into port. Much more will be said, analyzed, planned, improved and celebrated as we are able to process our thoughts, but this quick summary will be complete with a few simple thank-yous.

I am thankful for Dave and Carmen, the best partners anyone could labor with in this business. Dave is the uberchef of much of what we do, providing not only talent but staging and production skills that make our product excellent. Last week, he was the equipment manager, on-site producer, engineer, etc. in addition to being the "Cruse" after which the show is named. Carmen is not only the most prominent personality on the station, she is also the road manager, quality-control expert, hostess, artist-relations specialist, chauffeur and public relations guru. She is a woman driven to excellence for God's glory and pleasure.

In support of the week were EVERYONE at The JOY FM. From our General Manager to the office staff, to a week-long volunteer named David and a new Nashville friend, Tara, it took all hands to make this week happen. Special mention goes to G.T., our "fourth partner" on The Morning Cruise, Mary Douglas, our promotions director and Kris Byerly, our morning show producer. Further, the folks at EMI records in Nashville were personally invested in the week, not only helping us secure Matthew West and arranging details, but also sending Brian Thiele down to spend part of the week with us -- kudos to Grant, Josh, Brian and the rest of the EMI team.

And special thanks to Matthew West, his lovely wife Emily and little Lulu for their generous involvement with us. We appreciate how much Matthew was missed, and conversely how he missed his family. We sat with him on the bus during bedtime prayers (cellphone) and short domestic updates. We know what it's like to be away from your family for the week. And that brings me to my final thank-you: to Kimberly and my five little Martins for adjusting to dad being gone all week (not that there isn't an equal amount of relief with me out of the house!). It was good to spend the weekend at home, following Adam to his all-star baseball games, making my famous tuna salad for Kimberly and having to deal with the realities of teenagers down to the five year old. Glad to have gone -- glad to be home.

May God be glorified through what this last week represents: a community sharing together as God has individually gifted and called them, serving one another in love.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Breaking Out the Hopkins

EDITOR'S NOTE: Blogless Bill has been waiting for inspiration and time to come together. Well, they finally intersected over a poem.

Dave, Carmen, Mary, Jayar and I were all sitting together at a planning meeting last Wednesday, chatting about business and nonsense, when I broke out the Hopkins. (Note: the slang phrase, "broke out the Hopkins," while not yet catalogued, will someday find its way into gansta lyrics; thereafter it will become part of the Webster's lexicon.) In other words, I read a poem out loud. Right there in Panera, a fit environment for a little half-baked artistry, I launched it.

The experiment met with varied results. Dave, sitting behind my left shoulder began facial contortions. Carmen, seated at my right flank, held back the giggles - at first. Jayar began his left-right eyescan, looking a bit like a cornered animal. Mary just grinned at the whole scene. Eventually, contortions bred out-loud guffaws, incited more wideyed puzzlement and shockwaved into opentooth hehees. Nonetheless, they listened. In fact, Jayar secretly told me he liked the poem, and Carmen had me break out the Hopkins on the next morning's show. Dave didn't slam the rhyme-scheme, so I counted the project a success.

Now let me break out the Hopkins for you:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The poem is called "God's Grandeur," and it was written in the latter half of the nineteenth century by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Now you can see where the phrase break out the Hopkins comes from.

If you choose to read this poem, please read out-loud. Poetry was meant to be recited: not like lines in the high school play, but with acute awareness of the experience the author captured in a verbal art. Poems are not abstract. They are perhaps the most concrete form of language. They are dense, rich, like double chocolate cheesecake. They are compact and economical, terse. Terseness is partly what makes the difference between poetry and prose.

"God's Grandeur" is a social commentary and a doxology packaged together in a simple sonnet. Read that sentence again: how do you do social commentary and doxology at the same time!? The poet can do what ordinary mortals can hardly conceive. Critiquing industry's overrun of nature, Hopkins captures his experience in sense-charged words like the assonant trio seared, bleared, smeared and the alliterative position of the word smell (emphasized by the consonance with toil, soil and feel).

The octave's similes startle: like shining from shook foil and like the ooze of oil. Compare these sensate descriptions of spent-ness with the two similes in the second stanza: the apocalyptic blackness of (I assume) the post-Industrial West contrasted with the earthy, brown womb of the brooding Holy Spirit revealed in the nascent light of New Creation's coming to its fruition ("The New Earth") -- brown but bright against the fruitless pavement of man's creeping, covering technology. The doxology is plain. God's creation and care cannot be undone by the exhaustion of man's uncreate advances on nature.

We can speculate on the poet's experience. Born in 1844, the same year as The Nottingham project, Hopkins would likely have seen, smelled, and seared his feet on the fruits of England's vanguard technology: bitumen bonded roads. Both nature and history (Roman roads) were tarred. When I was a boy, the sand-shell road in front of my house was paved. No more bicycle donuts, skid contests or relatively safe ramp jumps and wipeouts. Part of my boyhood was forever buried under that asphalt. I have no way of knowing if Hopkins wrote out of similar feelings, but the same general lament can be found in "God's Grandeur."

I have only scratched the surface of this lively artifact, and lest my untrained eye damage, I don't want to try to dig much deeper. I've said enough to make the point that, for me, breaking out the Hopkins is a spiritual, emotional experience. One final observation. My favorite line is line 8: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. For me, the whole poem is thrust here in one pointed statement. Can you feel the force of the irony? We run barefoot in meadows, over knolls and on sandy beaches. We run, not walk, because we enjoy the sensation. We butt in on nature with asphalt, which requires walking shoes, which rob our feet's feeling. How much sense does that make?

I bring this analysis and affection to reading "God's Grandeur," and I share the faith of the poet. So when I break out the Hopkins, I read with as much feeling and as little artifice as I can capture in my soul. Otherwise, poetry is just prose with style -- yesterday's fashion. But this poem captures me today, and it is fit to capture my children's children, who may find their own analogues in it. That's the power of a poem. Poetry is more than rhyme. It is, as my friend and mentor David Miller says (of metaphor), the world in a grain of sand. If sand can chafe or soothe, depending on how it is understood and used, the experience of reading "God's Grandeur" is a barefoot romp on a powderwhite beach. Take off your shoes and join me.