At Long Last

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Jun 272015
 

It’s finally here! My new book Uncle Bush’s Live Funeral is now available for preorder. It’s hard to believe that I will soon get to hold it in my hand. Maybe when I actually hold it I’ll believe it. Until then, this will more than do! Click the cover to go to the Amazon.com order page.

 

cover

May 212014
 

Our heroes today are celebrities. Those are who emulate. Our heroes are athletes, singers and socialites.  They are who we want to be. They are who we emulate, who we model our lives after.

Having had a taste of the celebrity life, I can see the appeal. I never waited in line or paid a cover charge while I was on the publicity tour for Get Low. I never even paid. It was all taken care of. Several times I got bags of free stuff. I got my picture taken, I was in interviews, I was on television and online. People lined up to see my movie, and though they weren’t there to see me, they were there partly because of me. It was a heady feeling.

celebsI will forever remember the day after Get Low premiered. I had lived out a dream the night before. The crowd had given us a standing ovation. Ten years of working and waiting had paid off in magnificent fashion. I had put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that movie. It was a tremendous accomplishment and a life changing moment. But when I woke up the next day, I immediately knew that I hadn’t changed. I was the same jerk I had been when I had woken up the day before. Celebrity changes your surroundings, but it doesn’t change you. If you’re a jerk before you’re famous, you’ll be one after. If you were a saint before, you’ll be a saint after.

When I think of what a hero should be, it seems like they should inspire me to be better. Inspire us all to be better. Celebrities don’t do that. All they inspire us to do is to look prettier and have nicer stuff. It’s all superficial. A hero should be more than that.

Like my sister.

Fifteen years ago my sister weighed over three hundred pounds. Last weekend she won her age group in a 5k race. In between she lost the weight of an entire person. How? She trained her butt off. I mean that literally. She trained so hard over the years that her butt is actually gone, at least compared to what it used to be.  And she’s one of the main reasons I started running. If she could get out and work like that, then my skinny butt could too. I did, thanks in large part to her.

My sister won’t be on the news. Neither will our friend who is battling a brain tumor, or another who is battling breast cancer. I’d wager their struggles are far greater than most of the celebrities we worship, but they won’t get the publicity. They should, because they’re real heroes.

It’s OK. You don’t  need them to be in the news to find them.

I am certain that if you look around, you will find people like them in your life already. People who have overcome tremendous adversity are all around us. They don’t all become super famous, but that does not diminish their accomplishment. To me, their lack of fame makes them more admirable, and more inspiring.

So forget the celebrities. Stop looking on for your heroes on TMZ and ESPN. Instead, look in your phone contacts. Look through your Facebook friends. Real heroes all around you, and you will get farther emulating them than any celebrity.

Jan 242014
 
I despised Thank You Notes before I understood them.

I despised Thank You Notes before I understood them.

I’m from New York, where people value honesty, sincerity and individuality. Up there, you’re expected to tell it like it is and to be yourself. Southerners, on the other hand, value polite formality. Here there are rules about what to say and do, and when to say and do them, and with whom you say and do them, and what you wear when you say and do them, on and on. Learning those rules has been a fifteen year journey that has been difficult and confusing. Fortunately, my awesome Southern wife has helped tremendously. Over the years I’ve learned enough that not only can I manage reasonably well, but I have come to appreciate just how liberating polite formality can be. Here’s a recent example.

We went to a family funeral last week. After the funeral, there was a reception at the home. At the reception there was food. All of these are things that would happen in the North. What was different about this was that not only did a group of women bring the food to the house and set it up, they stayed. At the home. During the meal. They weren’t family or friends of the deceased, but rather a group of friends from church. They organized the entire meal, set it up, then stayed and did all the little things to make sure guests and hosts got to visit with one another.  Up North, having friends be at your house serving food would create, at the very least, a little anxiety. The hosts would be worried about how the servers were doing, would want them to feel welcome and included, and would do at least a little fussing over them. That didn’t happen here. They weren’t ignored by any means. They were most definitely thanked, and the hosts were certainly concerned with their well being.

But there was no anxiety.

That’s because everyone knew the appropriate way to thank these people, and it wasn’t by fussing over them or making sure they made conversation. It was with verbal thanks, a hug, and later the vital note of thanks. That will suffice, because that’s what formality dictates. That’s how you say ‘thank you,’ and everyone knows it, including those being thanked. They felt appreciated, the hosts and guests felt loved and supported by their work, and everyone could feel good about the whole experience without hardly any anxiety at all. Well, as good as you can after a funeral.

The problem with the informality of the North is that people seldom know where they stand. Without rules, it’s difficult to tell if you have served someone well enough, thanked them enough, or really done anything enough. It’s all individual, and that’s more confusing than if there are rules. What I’ve learned is that rules simplify communication. You have to know the rules, obviously, which is where I’ve struggled in the past. But once you know the rules then formality really does make it easier to have relationships, and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate about the South.

Jun 062013
 

Author Dean King and the cover of his new book, “The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys, the True Story”

You’ve heard of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. We all have. It’s as American as apple pie and hating Nazis (and not just the ones from Illinois).  Last night at the Burns Club of Atlanta I got the chance to meet author Dean King and to hear him speak about his new book The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys, the True Story. This story might be old, but it turns out that there is a lot I didn’t know, and that I bet you didn’t either. Dean’s book brings the feud to life with facts and moments that blew my mind. For instance, I had no idea that Devil Anse Hatfield, patriarch of the Hatfield family, was so wealthy that his gravestone includes a life size Italian marble statue of himself. Dean also brings the land to life, showing how the landscape impacted the feud and the people who fought it. It’s a very well rounded book, more so than any other I’m aware of.

Dean’s a good guy too.  I really enjoyed meeting him. Not only are we both lacrosse players, but we have both worked in print and film. It’s always fun meeting someone who knows how fun this business is, and how hard it can be. Dean’s awesome, and his book is too. Check it out.

The Shrinking Church

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Jan 092013
 

 

The River and I are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  The ELCA has a magazine with the clever title The Lutheran, which normally runs articles about mundane things. To borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams, it’s mostly harmless.  The latest issue, though, was different. The Lutheran  ran a story called The Shrinking Church. It describes how the ELCA is declining, and what people and churches are doing about it. Since I’m not the kind of person who just believes what they’re told, I decided to check the numbers myself. The ELCA publishes it’s membership information, so I had a look at them. It shows a decline of twenty percent since the ELCA was formed in 1987.  Since the ELCA was formed, there was not one year where membership increased. We are definitely a denomination in decline.

I give the ELCA credit for being honest about what’s happening. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Is the ELCA willing to change to reverse the trend? That remains to be seen.

The River Meets the Roswell Police. Again.

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Sep 192012
 

Last Sunday we had “The River on The River,” at which our church had an outdoor worship in a pavilion at Azalea Park in Roswell.  It’s a gorgeous spot, and it was a beautiful day, and when we arrived to set up the parking lot was already full. There were, however, boat trailer parking spots available. Six of us parked in three of those, two cars per spot, and we began worship.

The pavilion we worshipped and had lunch in.

I was in the middle of the prayers, eyes closed and focusing, when my six year old son wrapped his arms around me.”You’re going to get a ticket!”  he said. Jolted out of my prayer, I was at first annoyed, but then what he had said started to sink in. Wasn’t he supposed to be with Brittany having Children’s Church? I wondered where Brittany was. Then I saw her, standing just outside the pavilion.

“You need to more your car so you don’t get a ticket,” she told me. I looked over, and sure enough two Roswell police officers were standing by our cars. I thanked her, and my son, and gave her my keys. Everyone who had to move a car did so while I resumed the prayers. Later Brittany told me that the police had intended to give only a verbal warning, but when they saw none of us coming to speak with them, they assumed that the cars either weren’t ours or that we didn’t care. The police had no idea we were praying. When Brittany saw them writing the tickets, she explained that we had been in prayer, and they agreed to let us move them.

This was much better than the last time we met the Roswell police, which was three or four years ago. On that day, we were working with a local group to help fix the exterior of the home of a blind man who had been taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors. There was a miscommunication, though, and the blind man didn’t know we were coming, and the crew leader didn’t think to knock on his door and tell him we had arrived. So when the owner heard people banging on the outside of his house, he got out his gun, called the police, and told them that he was getting ready to shoot. The police quickly arrived, calmed the man down, and told us what had almost happened. We left, and we haven’t worked with that group since.

I don’t know why this stuff keeps happening, and why it only happens in Roswell, but those are two stories I’m going to remember for a long time.

People, Not Programs

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Aug 222012
 

I realized awhile back that when someone needed help, my brain automatically started thinking of programs that could help. And if I saw a need that wasn’t addressed by an existing program, I would think, “Someone should start a program for that.”   It’s how I was trained, and I think it’s how most of us are trained. Then one day I asked myself, “How many programs did Jesus start?”

I’ll give you a hint as to the answer: it rhymes with “Nero,” and it’s not “hero.”

Jesus never started a program, nor was he ever part of one. When Jesus saw a need, he met it, simple as that. I realized that day that I could, and should, do the same. Here’s an example: a few weeks ago, my friend Patti told me about a family that wasn’t able to buy school supplies. Once I found out about it, before I even knew what they needed, I put this on Facebook:

Then I got the list over email:

Please forgive the poor quality.

By then several people had chipped in, someone went shopping, and all that led to  me handing the supplies off to Patti last week:

So the next time you hear about a need, and you start thinking “program,” stop yourself. Think about how you can help, because Jesus doesn’t call us to start more programs to help people. Jesus calls us to just help them.

May 142012
 

Not only did one of my quotes recently appear in a movie trailer, now I am also quoted on the back of a book! Both are quotes that tell you how good the book or movie is, and in both cases I mean it, but I must admit that I never really though my opinion could possibly make someone else want to buy something someone else wrote. It’s hard enough believing that having my name attached to something that I wrote myself would make someone want to buy it, but to think that my name could also make a difference for others is, well, rather astonishing.

The book is called Given Moments, and it’s written by my friend Marie Duquette  and her friend Tracy Lawson.  It’s a collection of stories of sixty one people who were blessed by unexpected events. Some of those events were terrible, which makes the blessings even more stunning. One of those sixty one people might even be someone you know (hint hint).

Not only do I highly recommend you pick up a copy and read it, but I also recommend you turn it over and take a look at the back cover and take a look at my quote. The first time I saw it, I felt like Steve Martin in “The Jerk” when he saw his name in the phone book. Take a look:

Well, enough about me. Congratulations to Marie and Tracy! Now go buy this great book!

The Weirdest Thing That Ever Happened to Me

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Apr 302012
 

I’ve been wanting to share this story for awhile, but I haven’t had a reason. Then I realized that there was no reason for it to have happened in the first place, so why should I need a reason to tell it now? Rather, if I tell it randomly, you, the reader, will get to experience just how random it was when it happened. And, before you ask, this really did happen just as described below. I have witnesses, and I can put you in touch with them.

It wasn’t on this corner, but it could have been.

I went to Boston in 1993 or 1994 to see Sting at the Great Woods Amphitheater. Among those with me were my friend Jason, who would eventually be my best man, and Chris Provenzano, with whom I would eventually write Get Low. I can’t remember if we went to Boston before or after the concert, but I know we spent the day there.

I was standing on a street corner waiting from my friends to come out of a record store, Fenway Park in the distance, when I noticed a woman crossing to the corner across from me. She wore a light blue sweater and dark blue pleated skirt. Her hair was black streaked with grey, and it was long and a little matted. Shaped roughly like a triangle, she carried a tote bag in each hand, and both almost brushed the ground. As she reached the corner opposite us, she crossed the street headed straight toward me. That’s when I noticed that she had walleyes, and no chin, but where one should have been she had a thin, square patch of hair.

She waddled straight up to me and said, in a smoker’s voice, “Are you in this society?”

I suddenly felt like I was facing the Sphinx. The consequences of getting this wrong seemed dire. I turned to look for my friends, who had emerged and looked as confused as I was. Chris’s face is etched into memory- his expression said “What the hell is she talking about?” That’s what all of us were thinking, myself included, but none of us had any idea. There she stood, waiting for an answer. Rather than wanting to give her an honest answer, I wanted to give her the answer that would make her go away. What decided me was the fact that the odds seemed stacked against her being in this society.

“No?” I answered hopefully.

She waddled off, never to be heard from again, and we went about our day with none of us having any idea, then or since, what had just happened.

That’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.