PRAYER OF OUR REMEMBRANCE

O Lord let all who gather here

Give thanks for freedoms we hold dear

Remembering the bravest ones

Though facing fear their courage won

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain them by your power

Now what is left when war is done?

Do joy or tears remain unsung

Would mother’s sacrifice and grief

be blessings carelessly received

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain them by your power

So in the fervent cause of unity

And the heart of our dear country beating strong

We rise and stand together here today

to proudly lift our voice in grateful song

The lamp of light, eternal flame

Illuminates

their honored ways

Steel guardians all who gave their best

Lord guide these heroes home to rest

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain them by your power

Thou fount of mercy

Gracious One

Teach us to wield Your boundless love

Restore our nation in this hour

May ways of peace

our hearts devour

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain us by your power

O God sustain us by your power

Amen

PRAYER OF OUR REMEMBRANCE

I love Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Those days have meaning to me because my father and his brothers fought in World War 2, and I’ve lost close friends and classmates to war, particularly the conflict in Vietnam.

War and its residual are tragic..ugly….and it rages on even now as I write. Young men and women, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children. There are casualties, including the dead, wounded and their families. This while we go on about our business, mostly numb to the reality.

The following lyric is set to the hymn tune of “Eternal Father Strong To Save”. It’s my attempt to articulate the feelings I feel on these national celebrations of recollection and gratitude.

PRAYER OF OUR REMEMBRANCE

O Lord let all who gather here

Give thanks for freedoms we hold dear

mRemembering the bravest ones

Though fighting fears their courage won

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain them by your power

Now what is left when war is done?

Do joy or tears remain unsung

Would mother’s sacrifice and grief

Be blessings carelessly received

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain us by your power

The lamp of light, eternal flame

Illuminates

Their honored ways

Steel guardians all who gave their best

Lord guide these heroes home to rest

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain them by your power

O fount of mercy

Heavenly One

Teach us to wield Your boundless love

Restore our nation in this hour

May ways of peace

Our hearts devour

A prayer of our remembrance now

O God sustain us by your power

O God sustain us by your power

Amen

THE BEST WAY

She’s my only daughter. Sarah Nelson Mingle. I need no other. She is enough. She is complete. Sarah is as strong a person as she is kind, and has never given Pam and me one day of grief, and always the one you can count on. (Oh, and one more thing..two really. She talks with her hands and is truly, the fun kind of funny.)

There are no words in the English language or any other mode of communication that adequately describe the love and respect I have for Sarah, or the gratefulness to God I have for giving me this priceless gift. I have only to hold her hand at every opportunity, be a good listener, give her my warmest hugs and whisper my best attempts to tell her how much she means to me. Oh, and yes, I can do one more very important thing .

I can endeavor to be a man after God’s own heart, continue to listen to His voice and understand that as I live my life, I am not making choices that affect only myself, but decisions that will shape Sarah, her children, and their children. And finally, as I love others well, she will realize all the more how much she is loved….It’s the best way for her to feel the truth of these words, “I love you, Sarah Mae. ❤️

THE PLEASURES THAT WE HEAR

O music the transcendent gift
our minds it’s soulful wings
that soar throughout the intertwine
of pain and lovely things

We cannot comprehend but feel
the treasure that it is
This human passion that conveys
in ways words can’t express

For notes on page are soon transformed
into the beauty played
on canvases of quietness
with lines musicians paint

The anguished chords of love and grief
impassioned melodies
Find in rest the irony
that silence louder speaks

And too the voice of romance lost
and feelings that we feel
A calendar of memories
with joys that are still real

For music knows no cruelty
to blame or to forgive
But the pleasures that we hear
yes only God could give

THINGS MADE NEW

The last of fall now whisks away
with autumn’s final breath
Fluttering like butterflies
leaves take their final rest

These desiccated lie in state
on combed quiescent grass
then burned in piles like funeral pyres
and left to smoldering ash

But nature has sweet aspirant dreams
like buds of fall on branch
in wait before the maiden snow
with hope to flower again

Yet they will face dark freezing nights
that dead of winter brings
But one day these will burst to life
as blossoms in the Spring

What meaning does this hold for me
There’s questions left to ask
How were we made and when we die
Is there a second chance

Ageless words say dust to dust
We each have our own view
But in my heart I hold this truth
God makes the flower bloom

A poem by Greg Nelson
© 2020 by Poppie’s Hallel (BMI. Admin. by Amplified Administration)

SOME ROADS

What mystery the North Star beam

That guides on thru the night

Clearly shines it’s brilliant flame

Deep rooted in the sky

With Ursa Minor diamonds lit

Ablaze the scintillant dunes

It burns as midnight slips away

nigh soft the milken moon

Before the myths of Ancient Greece

or Adam begged a breath

Polaris sparkling pendant fired

above the firmament

Close to the north celestial pole

of all the stars to pick

It’s been the ages truest guide

For vagabonds and ships

but now some notion better ways

of finding paths preferred

No want to trust the starlit way

to navigate this earth

Though Sirius more radiant

within the heaven’s spill

Yet North Star far off distant dwarf

each year grows brighter still

this lodestar does not rise or set

and never really changes

a guarantor much safer than

some roads that I have taken

A poem by Greg Nelson

© 2020 by Poppie’s Hallel (BMI. Admin. by Amplified Administration)

GRATEFULNESS

Ever wonder how you ended up doing what you do for a living? You know, like where did that “want to” come from. It struck me that I’m unable to explain to others how that happened for me. I certainly didn’t, in my wildest imagination, dream that I would end up a producer and writer.

My childhood was very uneasy. A musical and scholastic failure in most every way, under a cloud of talented siblings, an annoyance to most people with whom I came into contact, and dealing for a time with an adult who felt that their pleasure was more important than my innocence. I was embarrassed and couldn’t tell anyone…you just didn’t talk about weird stuff like that. It was certainly not a good way to begin my life. I can remember as a 12-year-old boy, sitting on the front lawn of my house at 429 Shirley Street and thinking that I could hardly wait to die because it had to be better than what was happening to me then. There was absolutely no hint of creativity in me whatsoever…not anywhere.

But for an intersection with a living, breathing angel, I have no idea where I would have ended up. It was this teacher, born to be a teacher, who gave me introductory lessons on the cello, and asked me to tell her a little about myself. I didn’t know what to say because my life sucked, and the thought of that struck an emotive chord in me. Upon her asking, I was powerless to conceal the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t understand my reaction then, but as I look back now…it is perfectly clear. No one ever had bothered to ask me about me before….but it confirmed in my heart that she actually cared about me. She introduced me to the cello…and I took to it like stink to a skunk. Playing the cello changed my outlook on life and gave me a reason to live…a reason to hope. It is my real friend for life…not that I’m a great player…but my cello is a great friend.

Why do I bring this up when it is all in my book, “Runaway Horse”? Because it’s the foundational background of how I’ve come to view the origin of my creativity. Was I such a brilliant organized thinker who planned out my entire career step by step? Well if you know anyone who really knows me…that ain’t in the realm of possibility. When you have nothing but a vast expanse of nullity in the left side of your brain (except for a little monkey that sits in a lawn chair and eating banana cupcakes all day long) you will understand that my processing skills are in a continued state of lostness out in the hinterlands of Oblivia, and the possibility of ever finding the remotest logical thought …is like hoping to prove the Loch Ness monster is real.

Other choices surrounding the origin of creativity is the thought that it’s all just serendipitous or…or even genetic. In JD Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy he talks about living in a backwoods culture. His thought was that when you live in an impoverished setting for a long time, you began to internalize inferiority and surmise that your poverty and lack is in a sense, genetic. I understand that because that was my mindset in the early stages of my development as a child. I was beginning to internalize that nothingness.

Finally…..There was a “turn on a dime” experience. I found someone who was a caring encourager whose gift was the ability to nurture the hopeless. Where do you get that? it changed my life forever …it was like… BOOM….. and a creative spark was lit in me. Long story short…what ensued was unbelievable opportunity, awards, honors and recognition. As a result, my despair was transformed into “what could be “excitement, and so much overwhelming attention I could not possibly grasp it all.

My life became an adventure I could never have planned or remotely imagined. It was like going to the candy store everyday. I never had the inkling that I was working. Bricklayers work….construction workers work….farmers work. I got to make stuff up and make music…that just never struck me as work. I had the thrill of standing on the studio floor with the finest orchestral players in Nashville, New York, Los Angeles and London. These are the best American and European musicians you could ever imagine.

I will never be able to adequately convey to you the feeling that rises up through you. You are met with the offering of sum total of these musician’s musical training and experience. The music flows through you in waves of emotion. It is an experience transitioning from rising streams of grandeur reaching a climax surpassing the most epic movie you have ever seen…then melting into moments of tender visceral beauty. As you stand there the beauty overtakes you and you find yourself creating your own sound pictures. Suddenly you’re lost in a vision of something like… a smudgy faced little waif in her colorless torn dress…handing you a drooping dandelion…and the music is so magical that you have to catch yourself almost reaching for her flower. That’s how powerful the experience is to me.

The first time this happened to me was in London and the first of many recording projects at Abbey Road. When the day of recording was complete, I went back to the hotel. As I was lying in bed with my wife, I turned to her and said, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this.” It was incomprehensible to me. You see I didn’t graduate from Berklee, Curtis, USC, Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Miami’s great jazz program, , University of North Texas with they’re great lab bands or Cleveland. Everyone I worked with had….but not me. I remember sitting in the commissary of a studio I was at and everyone was sort of making fun of the other ‘s institution of learning . They were all the schools I just mentioned. As the dialogue continued they asked me, the producer where I studied. I said Mary College in Bismarck, North Dakota. Everything got quiet and they changed the subject.

My answer to the orgin of creativity is this. I can only reckon that he source of my creativity came not by chance, genetics or the sum total of my life experiences alone. The source of my creative abilities came from a power much greater than myself, and I can only view it as a gift… as heavenly charity. I had no more to do with it than I did the color of my skin……no question…I worked very hard, but I have seen just as many people work as hard but did not have this specific gift.

SO WHAT’S YOUR POINT GREG…GET TO THE POINT!!!!! SHEESH!!!!!!!

I believe that how I answer the question of the origin of my creativity has much to do with the way I view others and the world around me. When I come to the conclusion that I was given a gift, I become very grateful …very grateful indeed. But when I have the notion that I’m solely responsible for my success, there is greater ease or tendency to diminish anything or anyone around me. It’s as easy as a quick judgmental look, name-calling, hateful thought or action, because it’s all about me, what I do and….what I’ve done.

Dr. Steven Stonsny, wrote this in his piece entitled, “Anger In the Age of Entitlement”, “Appreciating you enhances life ….Failure to appreciate you diminishes it.” When I’m grateful for what’s been given to me, I’m exponentially more likely to appreciate the gifts in others and value them in kind. My gratitude does not diminish my significance, but moreover, enhances my life. Even when a gift is received, it can be received in a spirit of thankfulness or with the mentality of entitlement …”I deserved it.”  My choice is the former.

Gratefulness is a positive powerhouse in life. In today’s societal swim, gratefulness is a vibrant thread in our moral weave, the marrow of the backbone our country and one of the most important essential oils nurturing every world culture. Gratefulness for what we have been given offers us tremendous freedom…. and that freedom gives our lives limitless opportunities, opportunities for good,,,, opportunities to make this world a better place for our children when we are long gone.

CLOSE TO YOU

CLOSE TO YOU

I’m especially loving Pam today. I don’t have to have a reason, because just knowing her…just being with her evokes something deeply joyful…something thankful in me. The lyricist, Hal David wrote “on the day that she was born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true”, but I don’t think any angel made this dream come true… that decision was made by a much greater authority. He surely did sprinkle moon dust in her hair and a starlight in her eyes. She’s so beautiful to me.

I’m listening to “Close To You”with Ron Isley singing David’s lyric on a beautiful bed of Burt Bachrach’s music. I’ve been in music as long as I can remember and I get amazed all over again by its ability to move my heart in ways that are indescribable. With only twelve notes in a scale, used by truly gifted songwriters, composers, arrangers, orchestrators and artists, their passion reaches down into my heart and take me to places I could never visit in the physical. These are special places, deep… soulful places. Regardless of genre, music of every leaning has a way of speaking to me.

I want to honor all musical styles from all over the world. Valuing the music of a others is a healthy way of learning respect for people groups, countries and cultures. It’s great to have an appreciation of a particular style of music that is meaningful to you. Unfortunately some feel it important to talk with distain about music and a culture they don’t really understand. There are those who think their fellows are ignorant who cannot appreciate the music they revere. Leonard Bernstein alarmed the classical purists with his obvious appreciation of various genres, but he understood the cultural relevance of other forms. Music is not a little harbor…but an expansive ocean of styles and conveyance. When you think about it and see it for what it is, expecting people to only appreciate one musical path, it’s actually refusing to allow for different ways humanity views and absorbs the theatre of life. There are many windows of divergent expression, and all reflected in the creative’s pen and voice.

It is the sum of their lives, what they see, where they’re from, what they experience, their families and the way they were raised, their ethnicity and culture, places they’ve lived, the influence of art, music, writing and political outlook. The confluence of all of this forms a lyrical and musical philosophy. What emanates from these artists is reconstituted in their psyche, and emerges as a unique utterance. After the technical discipline is established, the power of any creative artist is in the sum total of their life experiences.

Music resurrects pain and soothes it all in the same breath. It is a combination of conscious and unconscious thought. It says what we can’t. It can cries when we don’t have any tears left…It smiles when we can’t….it can put its loving arm around us and tell us… “it’s going to be okay.”

 

The abilities of great artists and musicians have certainly been finely honed to be sure, but for me…and again I speak just for me…even though the artist is intentional to be excellent and has diligently worked themself to the bone…the marrow of talent is of spiritual content… and that for me is a gift from God.

 “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? 
Just like me, they long to be… close to you”

Yep.

JUST SAY YES

u.com/link

 

Why is it that some men find it difficult to admit a mistake or be so reticent to apologize? One of the things I have a great problem with is misreading my wife’s expressions. I have a quick reaction if I think my wife is dismissing me. Most times she’s completely innocent and my strong response hurts her feelings. Even if it isn’t innocent (she’s allowed), I don’t need to raise my voice. I know at it’s core it’s a combination of ego, insecurity and anger. That’s a terrible mix. I don’t display that with anyone else, often showing more deference to others around me than her. It is one of my many character flaws. I try to apologize but she doesn’t think I’m really sincere. In her mind, if I was seriously remorseful, it wouldn’t ever happen again…but it does. It’s totally embarrassing to me that I would be so unkind to someone so precious to me. . Probably few have to deal with this, but this is my thorn in the flesh. We get along famously when it’s just the two of us…but if anyone else is in the mix, our mojo is disrupted and this is when the situation is more prone to occur.

HEALING

There are good days, difficult days, ones of expectation and those that speak uncertainty. Everyday I’m so grateful to God for the mercy of a new day…But on those “ I don’t understand” days, I need to be reminded again of Isaiah 55:8-9.

““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

I woke up this morning feeling somewhat downcast. I‘ve had medical testing, doctor visits and still dealing with those suffering from the upheaval of recent tornadoes here in Nashville. That was enough for concern, but now the isolation of family in this present pandemic seems a little much, and I have questions. So God has His way of answering me in ways I can best understand. Simply, clearly and with music.

One of the great joys in my career, was to produce a recording with artist/songwriter, Richard Smallwood. He’s a fabulous pianist, consummate musician and steeped in classical understanding. He has adroitly married the soulful expression of black gospel music with a classical leaning. He took this chronically white, boy from North Dakota, into his world, a culture in which I had no footing. I am so very thankful for his friendship.

I wanted you to hear some of Richard’s music I was listening to this morning, As he sang, I wept at the song’s beauty and truth. God is near in al of this..

BUT STILL

Two of our dearest friends from back home in Tennessee, met us at the airport in Bismarck, North Dakota. Our long time pastor, Gene Mims and his lovely wife, Ann, journeyed to the north country specifically to see the places about which I wrote in my book, “Runaway Horse.”

When we visited their church for the first time fourteen years ago, it wasn’t two weeks later that we were sitting at their dinner table with two other new couples who had visited the church. This is standard procedure for them, and with that, we knew this church was the right place for us. They are loving hosts and caring ministers. It was very clear to us, that to them, we mattered.

We’ve never joined a church for the music, although we enjoy Judson Baptist Church because I can play my cello in the orchestra each Sunday. Our new pastor, Jeff Mims is a dynamic teacher and steady hand for our congregation (Yes, he’s their son). Pam teaches a Life Group class of women ages 40 to 60. We don’t want to be anonymous members but to give, serve and be invested in the people…and be family. There are so many needs in our community, our country and the world. There’s no shortage of work to do

Gene is originally from Texas, but at age 14 moved to Appomattox, Virginia. Ann is from a small, but difficult to pronounce town outside of Jackson, Mississippi. She is the consummate purveyor of hospitality and the epitome of “southern grace.”Gene has referred to himself many times as a “chicken eatin’ preacher”…but in reality, he is a brilliant speaker, teacher, author, a former executive at LifeWay Christian Resources and an amazing leader. He’s ADD, and so we communicate perfectly!!!!

Our two days were spent re-counting Pam’s and my home places, favorite haunts and a trip through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Medora Musical. Got to get together with friend and Medora impresario, Bill Sorenson, in his last year starring in the musical and as speaker at the Medora Gospel brunch. We were also thrilled see and meet with the amazingly talented cast member, Taylor Leet, who along with her parents, Jon and Jennifer, are very close family friends.

On our way home the next day, we stopped at Fort Lincoln State Park In Mandan, North Dakota. It is home to the On-A-Slant Indian Village which thrived for 200 years. The Mandan were hunters and gardeners who lived in these permanent villages. The home in another part of the park is that of General George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby. Also featured in the park are some reconstructed military lookout towers.

Our last stop was to the capitol. This building has great meaning to me because my father served as State Superintendent of Construction. Two weeks before my daughter, Sarah was born, he walked to the capitol from his home two blocks away, sat down for a morning coffee in the cafeteria and fell over dead of a heart attack. I was numb, he was 56.

Dad just loved side pork. He fixed it all the time. He’d suffered a heart attack when he was 30, but he couldn’t let go of that side pork. So when people ask me how my father died, I tell them he died of side pork.

Gene said in a sermon to us, “Death runs in my family.” He’s right. My dad’s passing came way too soon for our family…but in God’s perfect time. I understood that…but still…there was so much that he missed, and that we missed with him.

WHAT BROUGHT ME COMFORT

It was sudden. Just yesterday morning, I finished the eulogy my brother-in-law, Bob Johnson asked me to write for his memorial service, and I sent it to him. By noon that same day, he face- timed me to tell me how grateful he was for what I’d written. I wanted him to hear it before he passed, and to know what would be spoken of him. We joked with each other just briefly and before we hung up I told him I loved him. He winked at me and repeated his love for me. Little did I know.

He was gone at 5:30.

My sister, Sigrid called Pam and me soon after with the news. We were stunned. I couldn’t speak. Sig and I just looked at each other. Her eyes embroiled in tears, and my face as stone. We barely spoke. She was obviously in some manner of shock, but trying to be strong. After dealing with ALS, and everything that entails…she didn’t have a lot of strong left in her. She told us she didn’t want to notify anyone just yet. She needed time to take it all in and have some semblance of centeredness in order to get through these next days. Her boys, Andrew and Peter are with her, and that’s a huge comfort.

I’ve been walking around in a zombie state…and so thankful to have Pam. I just wanted to make today go away. I went to the grocery store to get a few things, and as I walked, I heard a song from a playlist entitled “Lullabye” written by Jeremy Lubbock, a gifted orchestrator I’ve worked with on several occasions. It is sung by Chaka Khan. As I listened, the music brought me to tears as I walked thru the aisles.

When I came to the checkout, the lady could see that my eyes were red. “Having a hard day?“I told her that it was a sad day, a beautiful day and shocking all rolled up into one. Her affirming nod and understanding eyes felt like a hug to me.

I know it’s a lullaby…but it’s what brought me comfort.

GRATEFUL FOR THE BLESSINGS

Today as I was writing with my buddy, Bob Farrell, I snapped this shot of him in my writing room…We were brainstorming an idea,….and just for a moment I was caught in a rush of emotion…mindful of his great impact on my life.

We have written together for decades, but it is not the writing that is the most enduring. Bob and his wife, Jayne are from the South Pole of the contiguous…Texas cured. We’ve lived life together, know each other’s children and grandchildren, their names and what they’re doing. We’ve suffered together. Bob and Jayne lost their home in the Nashville flooding some years back; we have both been nigh unto death and sat at each other’s bedsides. We’ve heard our music performed by people all over the world. We’ve had our disagreements and wrangled over ideas…but it was this willingness to be uncomfortable and walk together in the refining fire, that brought a lyric or piece of music to a place of beauty and great imagery. We’ve written some good songs and our share of less than good. Of course, at the time we were writing these alleged gems, they all seemed brilliant…that is until we listened to them a short time later and wondered what in the world we were possibly thinking just days earlier.

The preponderance of my writing efforts have come in three distinct periods, with three specific compatriots. The first was with Phill McHugh that began in my recording days in North Dakota and then again in my early years in Nashville. Phill was born into an Irish Catholic farm family near Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was commonly hip, politically aware and viewed life from a vantage point that was different than mine. We were on the same page spiritually, but how we arrived at our conclusions came in different ways. I first met him when he came to my studio in Bismarck to record an album. We bonded in that experience and when he recorded his second album…”Canvas For The Sun’, it was picked up by Lamb and Lion records which was distributed by Sparrow Records headed by Billy Ray Hearn, ultimately leading to my move to Los Angeles and subsequently, Nashville.

Just a short time after we made the move to Tennessee, Phill moved with his family as well. This was very important to us both at the time because we had history together and could trust each other’s instincts. This is so chemically important in a writing relationship.

Pam and I were close to him and his wife then, Dorsey. We watched our children grow, got together many times, laughed and made music…Good times they were. Phill has a poet’s heart and his thoughts come out like that. His imagery and theater is stunning. I’m not sure how, but we sort of drifted away from each other after a few years in Nashville…but we did. It makes me sad, because I love this family very much. Dorsey is an unbelievable painter, artist in her own right. You should check out Dorsey McHugh Fine Art.

The last person with whom I would spend a period of creative years was Paul Marino. I met Paul through a friend who I was involved with in the beginnings of Young Life in my hometown. Paul was in a group called; “River” and I produced a couple of albums with them. He was from St. Paul at the time and later, made the move to Nashville with his wife Karolyn. We loved each other from our recording days together, but when he moved here, we became fast friends….like family.

Paul knows all of my personal ins and outs and has helped immeasurably with getting me out of old songwriting habits. He’s funny as funny can be. A couple of days ago we went to a fund raising dinner for a work in the Ukraine that rescues children from poor living conditions in orphanages there. As we sat listening, Paul leaned over to me and said out of the clear blue…”You know….mediocrity has come a long long way”…and then focused back on the speaker, acting as if nothing happened. (He was not referring to the presentation). Paul is also the king of the misnomer….saying things like ..”Boy…I’d like to be a mouse on the wall when they’re talking”. We can pun back and forth for days. It’s these little things I love about him as well.

These men and their families are precious treasures in my life. When you write anything…the most powerful words and music come from those people and events that move you at a high emotional place….from what you live…from what you believe…and what God has given you to say. And for that…. I’m grateful…grateful…grateful, for the blessings of these three families in my life.