Friday, September 15, 2017

Harmony in the midst of chaos

I have written this blog over and over in my mind for the last three or four weeks, but my mind kept racing with the latest in the 24/7 news cycle that has become a staple of life in 2017.

So much chaos. So much confusion. It's almost like someone has taken an out of tune guitar and insists on blaring it full blast, then adding a beginning band, clashing cymbals and all, to parade before our lives.

Triumphant Quartet at Sand Spring Baptist Church, June 15, 2017.
Recently as I reflected on that cacophony, I could not think but how I had been blessed by four concerts since mid-June, all of which reminded me of how wonderful harmony really is in music and in our lives.

If you know me at all, you know I love music, especially gospel, country and bluegrass with some 60s and 70s rock mixed in. As a kid, my life revolved around our farm, playing baseball and heading to one of those “all day singin' and dinner on the ground” gatherings that it seemed like every church in Anderson County, Kentucky sponsored in the '60s.  I remember seeing professional groups like The Prophets, The Blackwood Brothers and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps.

That influence flourished when I was a teen and became a fan of The Imperials, who had sung backup to Elvis, and The Oak Ridge Boys, at the time one of the hottest gospel groups around. There was, and is, just something about that wonderful four-part harmony.

Now in my late 50s, I experienced a two-month run that saw my musical tastes filled by Triumphant, The Oak Ridge Boys (twice), and Ricky Skaggs with his band, Kentucky Thunder.

Four shows. They showcased different kinds of harmony, but amidst the chaos of the world, I needed it.

I don't want to take the contrast too far since all are entertainers who provided a few moments of musical escape from a world that has become infested by the discord of hate.

But when I kept thinking about it, there might have been a reason their harmony was such a blessing: They all shared the message of Christ, which is true harmony in life.

Back on June 15, I was blessed by Triumphant Quartet at Sand Spring Baptist Church, just a few miles down the road from my house. If you are not familiar with this outstanding group, it was brought together by Louise Mandrell for her show at Pigeon Forge, about 15 years ago. The opener that night was His Heart Quartet, one of the finest regional groups around.

During the concert, Triumphant bass singer Eric Bennett, a former pastor, shared about the message of one of their latest songs, Chain Breaker.

If you've got pain
He's a pain taker
If you feel lost
He's a way maker
If you need freedom or saving
He's a prison-shaking Savior
If you've got chains
He's a chain breaker.
--Zach Williams

I don't know of any other lyrics more appropriate for today's world.
Do you?

Nine days later, my wife and I saw The Oak Ridge Boys, my 33rd Oaks concert, at Renfro Valley. It was  vintage Oaks with a ton of country hits and some good old Red, White and Blue flag-waving through the night. 

But maybe the biggest cheer of the night came when Joe Bonsall said, “We're going to sing some gospel!”

The Oak Ridge Boys at Renfro Valley, June 24, 2017.
The Oaks are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame but have never forgotten their gospel roots and they unabashedly talk about their faith. And as Duane Allen stepped forward, they delivered one of my favorites, “I Would Crawl All the Way to the River,” a rocking gospel song from their Fancy Free album – the same as “Elvira” – that sounds like it could have been sung right after chowing down on fried chicken and mashed potatoes in the 60s.

Two months later, we saw the Oaks again at the Kentucky State Fair, their 42nd consecutive year in Louisville. And a tradition inside that tradition is an a capella performance of “Amazing Grace” as an encore. I have no idea how many people were seated on the turf at Cardinal Stadium that night, but I can tell you that hearing several thousand people join in the marvelous harmony of the great old hymn can make you forget about the troubles of the world outside.

I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see.

I believe we live in a world terribly blinded by Satan's lies and the only answer to overcome is the Amazing Grace of God.

Back on July 29, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary with another trip to Renfro Valley. This time, we saw another of my favorites, Ricky Skaggs. As much as I love bluegrass music, it's hard to believe that was the first time I had seen him other than a few songs at the Grand Ole Opry. I knew Skaggs was a committed Christian, but was not prepared for a show in which a large percentage of the songs were decidedly Christian in message in the beautiful harmonies that define bluegrass vocalists. 
Ricky Skaggs at Renfro Valley, July 24, 2017.

Then, after the show, Skaggs went to the foyer for a meet-and-greet. Directly in front of us was a couple with a large manila envelope containing several keepsakes. They started talking with the star and instead of pushing them along, he listened.  For several moments, one of the biggest stars in country and bluegrass music was listening to some fans about something that had happened in their lives. He even jotted down a few notes.

The music was outstanding, but I was struck by Ricky Skaggs' genuine show of concern.

In this world we live in, we need harmony. Real harmony with those around us. As much as I love hearing a great bass or tenor, I want to live life as God wants even more.

Just taking the time to be in tune with God and caring about people is a way to start.

I can assure you it would create miles of good will in 2017.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is a developing gem worth checking out

(Note: This column originally appeared in The Anderson News.)

The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is located on U.S. 25, just north of Renfro Valley.

It’s almost impossible to measure what impact the state of Kentucky has had on the music industry but the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and museum is a place that tells the stories of singers, instrumentalists, song writers, and others from the state who have played even a small part in the rich and diverse music heritage the state enjoys.
Located on US 25, about a mile off I-75 and just past Renfro Valley, the Hall of Fame is one of those must-sees for anyone who has turned on a box radio, seen a concert or watched videos on MTV. It’s almost 20,000 square feet of honoring music in Kentucky.
Music. All kinds of music.
The Ol' Home Place pays homage to Kentuckians in the music industry.
            Whatever your taste, chances are there is something in the Hall of Fame honoring someone who has been successful in the business.
My wife and I made the trip to the Hall of Fame on July 29, spending a good portion of our afternoon with Hall of Fame manager Avery Bradshaw for a tour that was much more than we expected.
The Hall of Fame museum is housed in what was at one time a barn and stable owned by John Lair, who turned the Renfro Valley Barn Dance into a nationally known showcase for country music. The Lair family donated the building which is located just up the road from the Old Barn and New Barn at Renfro Valley. The restored building and an addition was opened in 2002.
But even with the heavy roots in country music, the Hall of Fame exists to honor anyone who has played a small part in Kentucky’s music heritage.
Is pop music your thing? There is a display paying homage to Kentucky natives Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys who were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Are the 60s your favorite music? Mary Travers, the Louisville native who made it big with Peter, Paul and Mary, is another inductee. So are The Everly Brothers, from Muhlenberg County.
Rhythm and Blues from the 50s? The Moonglows, who traced their origins to Louisville, were inducted the same year as Richardson and Littrell.
The story of Florence Henderson began in Owensboro, KY.
The list of inductees varies from saxophonist Boots Randolph (Paducah), to gospel singer Larnelle Harris (Danville) to singer and Owensboro native Florence Henderson, better known as TV supermom Carol Brady.
And, of course, being next to Renfro Valley, the country music roots are deep, whether it is inductees Grandpa Jones (from Henderson) or Loretta Lynn, from Butcher Holler in Johnson County. Woodford County native John Conlee, who grew up close to the Anderson County line, is a member of the Hall and there’s even a mention of Anderson County native William B. Houchin, a fiddler from nearly 100 years ago.
With such connection to country music, it would be easy to think the Hall of Fame simply honors those from the state who have made their name picking and grinning.
 “That is probably the biggest thing we hear,” Bradshaw says of the misconception. “This started out as the Kentucky Country Music Hall of Fame, but Kentucky has had so much influence on rock-and-roll and jazz. Soon after it opened, the name changed.”
Kentucky legends Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs.
Bradshaw is only 20, but already has a wealth of experience in the music industry. The Mt. Vernon native is a banjo picker who has appeared at Renfro Valley and he’s also spent time as a disc jockey at Mt. Vernon radio station WRVK. In June, Bradshaw was in Lawrenceburg as part of his gig running the sound system for the gospel group His Heart when it appeared at Sand Spring Baptist Church.
For a while, the Hall of Fame had its own board but it has since been taken over by the Rockcastle County Tourist Commission which is giving the museum a major facelift. A true music lover could spend hours in the building and not digest it all.
Like most museums, there are interesting artifacts ranging from an old Bible used in the Brush Arbor Movement of 1824 to countless items from Renfro Valley to a dress worn by gospel star Dottie Rambo to an autographed drum that was played by the Kentucky Headhunters.
“We have a room for presentations to school groups,” says Bradshaw. There are several video presentations and interactive displays available.
I got to pick a banjo while at the Hall of Fame, but wasn't grinning.
The museum, in conjunction with the Daniel Boone Society, is preparing a display devoted to music and artifacts brought to Kentucky by the state’s earliest settlers. There is also a small area devoted to the impact of the religious revivals, such as Cane Ridge, in the early 1800s and also of how music developed in Kentucky after the Civil War.
A visitor can even take a seat in a rocking chair to pick a banjo during the visit.
Bradshaw said that entertainers playing at Renfro Valley are generally unable to have meet-and-greets or album and book promotions at the Hall of Fame due to contractual obligations but it is not unusual for some of them to make their way over to the museum. He said some members of Bluegrass band Dailey and Vincent recently stopped by before a show.
My wife, Stephanie, looks over a tribute to HOF members, Exile.
For this music lover, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame was a trip down memory lane. I saw mentions of childhood heroes such as Louisville’s Randy Atcher up to some of my recent favorites like Steve Wariner, a native of Russell Springs. But the tour was much more educational than I expected, with many of the explanations concerning artifacts and displays revealing unknown tidbits about an industry that Kentucky has influenced.
It was well worth the two hours my wife and I spent touring this little gem located about 75 miles from Lawrenceburg.
We could have spent two more.

If you go

Artifacts from Loretta Lynn.
The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is located on U.S. 25, just north of Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for those 60 and over, $7 for children 12-and-under with children under 5 admitted free. There are special rates for groups of 10 or more. School groups can also take advantage of discounted rates.
Photographs are welcomed but no video-taping is allowed.
For more information, see the or see the organization’s Facebook page.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Head-spinning over health care

I recently visited my doctor, complaining of some neck pain and stiffness.
After consultation, some x-rays and all that good stuff he told me that I was going to live and that the popping in my neck had to do with the fact that Eisenhower was President when I entered the world.
In other words, Uncle Arthur Itis had come to live with me and I had no choice but to take him in. That's a true story.
But I really wonder if that neck-popping is from getting older or it is just because my head has been spinning over the last few weeks.
And spinning. And spinning. And spi.... I think you get the idea.
Ironically, my noggin has been going round and around about insurance. More specifically, I am going round and around over the debate – if you can call it that – over what to do about the Affordable Care Act, which we commonly call “Obamacare.”
I will be the first to say I don't know all the answers to an incredibly complex issue. I am not about to try to offer any answers to that.
But I do have tons of questions. 

If the ACA is so great, why do my insurance premiums keep going up while what the company pays keeps going down?
First, I purchase my insurance through my employer and not on an Obamacare exchange. However, all health insurance was affected by the ACA. So with that disclaimer out of the way, let's proceed.
I can only go on my experience, but in January 2003, I had cochlear implant surgery on my left ear. The original bill was somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000. With insurance network negotiations, my deductible and co-pay, I forked over less than $500.
I had the same surgery on my right ear in January 2010. Same hospital. Same doctor. I am sure the cost had gone up some, so this time I paid a bit more, but less than $750.
And I am glad I did.
Last November, I had knee replacement surgery at a different hospital. The original bill was substantially less than my implants (my bill was about $70,000), yet my deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums were much more than the operations I underwent before the ACA became law. Make that MUCH MORE.
If the ACA was supposed to save me money, what happened? 

Why did we have a system in which some people could not get coverage before ACA?
Insurance companies are like any other business in that they exist to make a profit. That's so basic that it seems silly to be making that statement. Yet so many people seem to think they are some kind of philanthropic enterprise.
But with that out of the way, there is still a question about why some people could not get coverage before ACA? I was in the insurance business for 10 years and grappled with that question almost daily.
I have enormous empathy for those who are born with medical issues or have acquired them through no fault of their own. That is the one aspect of ACA that is working as it should.

Why should anyone be forced to buy health insurance?
That is at the heart of the ACA. Everyone has to buy or pay a penalty.
From my corner of the world, it is foolish to not have health insurance, but when did our government get in the business of legislating what anyone buys or does not buy? That I just do not understand.
While we would disagree on theological reasoning, there are religious groups and individuals who shun any form of insurance, saying that God will take care of them. Doesn't the First Amendment say that the government shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof?”
What about the person who simply does not want insurance, crazy or not? Do others' rights supersede his?
Really, where is freedom of choice? A mandate to buy a product? In America?
(I am often amused by supporters of the ACA who argue, “You have to buy car insurance and home insurance.” Last time I checked, one did not have to purchase a car to live in America. He can walk, take the bus or ride a bike if he so chooses. Nor is anyone compelled to buy a house. When ACA became law, it made purchasing a product a requirement for living in this country.)

Why is common sense in short supply?
I vividly recall a “discussion” concerning the rising costs of insurance and how the ACA would cause major hardship on those trying to pay the exorbitant premiums. The answer would have been comical if the person was not so serious.
“There are government subsidies to help people with that,” he said.
Uh.... the United States is nearly $20 trillion in the hole. Make that 20 and 12 zeroes.
It's like getting a loan from a bankrupt relative.

And why could no one get anything done to fix this mess?
You can blame the Republicans or you can blame the Democrats for hurriedly getting something before Congress or a failure to repeal or make meaningful revisions.
The truth is that both sides seem more interested in political points than real solutions and both are to blame.
But it does not stop there. We have a populace that has gotten so accustomed nursing from the government that we might have reached a dilemma with no plausible solution.
To me, that's the scary part of the equation. There really are no answers for real questions from real people.
It just gives us more head-spinning.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Everything happens for a reason

(Recently I was privileged to sit down with Asbury University men's basketball coach Will Shouse. Little did I know I would walk out of his office both inspired and challenged in my faith. This story ran in the July 12 edition of The Anderson News.)
Asbury University basketball coach Will Shouse poses in his office. The commemorative jersey is for 200 coaching wins.

Everything seems to happen for a reason.
It can be something small and insignificant. Or it can be a life-altering tragedy. But everything happens for a reason and you will never be able to convince Will Shouse otherwise.
He’s lived it. He continues to live with that knowledge and an unshakeable belief that God is in control.
“It’s my testimony,” Shouse said last week.
Shouse is no stranger to Anderson County. As a high school basketball player, he was instant offense off the bench for Anderson’s 1997 Eighth Region champions. As a collegian at what was then known as Asbury College, Shouse embarked on a road that would eventually lead back to his alma mater and into the role of a successful college coach.
In that role, Shouse has a platform to share an emotional walk of faith that has had turns that cannot be explained by coincidence. “When people ask me to speak about it, I can’t turn them down,” he said during an impromptu interview at his Asbury office. “I just can’t.”
Two years ago, Shouse and his wife, Whitney, had desired to add a child to their family, but suffered two miscarriages and had an adoption fall through. They learned of a young woman who was serving time in a Florida prison but would be delivering a baby. She wished to give the child up for adoption.
The Shouses gladly went through the adoption process and on August 8, 2015, Ray Hudson Shouse was born. “His middle name is after David Hudson,” Shouse said of his high school teammate who suddenly died in 2010.  
But little did the Shouses know that Ray would be born with a birth defect and how he would impact their lives in just four short months.
“If we had known, we probably would not have pursued it,” Shouse says, “but the Lord knew he needed us.”
Ray was born with a diaphragmatic hernia. The Shouses made weekly trips to Shands Children’s Hospital at the University of Florida, but Ray passed away on Dec. 10, 2015. He never left the hospital.
It was not an easy journey.
Will Shouse, right, and his children spend time with his adopted son, Ray, who spent his entire life at Shands Children’s Hospital in Florida.
“Our four months and two days that we were able to be Ray’s mommy and daddy while he was alive changed my heart and tested my faith in ways I never thought imaginable,” says Shouse’s wife, Whitney, whom he met at Asbury. “When I saw this newborn baby hooked up to so many machines with a huge incision across his belly, I immediately loved him like only a mommy can and it was like when I gave birth to our three biological kids. There was nothing in this world I wouldn’t have done for that little boy, and so many times I heard God remind me that He loves me even more than that.”
Yet, over the four months, the Shouse family saw its faith fiercely tested. “I wouldn’t be totally honest if I said my faith never wavered throughout our ordeal with Ray,” Whitney Shouse continues. “There were many times that I just couldn’t understand why this was happening. Why, when so many people literally all around the world were praying for my baby, would God not heal him and let me bring him home? Why did (the Shouse children) Hunter, Layni and Hattie Jayne have to go through this awful pain at such young ages? I’ll never totally understand those answers, but I can look back at Ray’s life now with total thanks in my heart and feel honored that God chose me to be his mommy for his whole, entire life and He chose Will to be his daddy.”
Ray’s legacy lives on today. “He was only four months old when he died,” Shouse says. “He never spoke a word, but brought so many people together. We had so many people praying for him and for us during that time.”
Through the entire ordeal, Shouse and his family kept reminding themselves of the words of Scripture found in Jeremiah 29:11.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The Shouse family grieved through the loss while Will continued to coach at Asbury as he could. But those plans they believed in were far from over.
Last summer, a social worker contacted the Shouse family concerning pregnant young woman who planned to give up her baby. She was troubled and did not feel she could raise the child.
The question was simple: Would the Shouse family be interested?
“She wanted the child to have a good home,” Will says. “She never wavered. She knew what she wanted to do.”
Whitney adds, “We had no plans of adopting any time soon. Our hearts were too broken. Our initial call from our social worker was on August 8, which happens to be Ray’s birthday.
“My initial feelings were that there was no way I could handle another adoption process or put our family through this again.”
After much prayer, the Shouse family said “yes” and the mother was contacted.
Ruby was born on Sept. 10 last year, exactly nine months after Ray passed away.
No one will ever convince Shouse the nine-month time frame was a mere coincidence. He references Isaiah 66:9.
“‘Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord. ‘Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery,’ says your God.”
The Shouse family fully believes the story was the work of God. “I have never, ever seen an answered prayer quite like God sending us Ruby,” Whitney Shouse says. “Every single thing in Ruby’s adoption process came through perfectly and smoothly. She was even born on my birthday, which happens to be nine months to the day from the day Ray passed away. Nine months exactly. No one but God good have planned that. When I was holding Ray and giving him back to Jesus, He was creating Ruby to put in my arms.”
Will Shouse says the family is grateful for Ruby’s biological mother. “She is part of the pieces that God used to bring this together,” he says.
The story is incredible but reflects the deep faith that Shouse has lived since as a freshman basketball player at Asbury. He’d always been considered a “good guy” but was confronted about his faith at a time when few people were on campus.
“When I was a freshman at Asbury, we had a guy on the team, Art McMahon. At the time, I didn’t see ‘cool Christians.’ During Christmas break, they moved us all into one dorm so they wouldn’t have to heat more rooms,” Shouse says of those days when the hoopsters remained on campus for practice. “We were in the same room and I started pounding Art with questions.”
McMahon is now doing mission work in Haiti.
And Shouse, after two years as head coach at Kentucky Christian University, returned to lead the program at his alma mater. He’s won over 200 games as a college head coach and could probably move up to make a better name for himself in hoops circles.
But he says, “That’s just not me.”
To Shouse, who went 16-14 last year, coaching basketball is more than just wins and losses. It’s about making the people he to whom he is connected better.
“We do so many things here,” he says of Asbury. “We can go on mission trips together. We want to win, sure, but we can change lives.
“The fact that we take vans to road games, some people think that is a negative, but it’s not. When we are on the way to a road game, I can sit by them and talk with them about life. I spend so much time with the team.”
Whitney adds, “As much as Will loves basketball – ‘loves’ may not be a strong enough word – he loves his basketball players even more.”
It’s about more than the fast break, blocking out or the man-to-man. It’s about life.
“I want to be able to help people,” Shouse says. “Just by percentage, I will have some players who will go through an adoption.”
And what those players learn from their college basketball coach will matter much more than hitting a game-winning three.
Whitney Shouse is Will’s biggest cheerleader and knows his ultimate success goes well beyond trophies and winning records.  “He knows his boys and their hearts and wants them to succeed in life,” she says, “not just to win games and set records but become godly men, husbands and dads some day.”

Will Shouse and his family pose for a photo with Family Court Judge Jeff Moss after their adoption of Ruby Shouse was finalized earlier this year. The Shouse family is wearing t-shirts that say “Worth the Wait.” From left are Will Shouse, Turner, Layni (in front of Turner), Whitney holding Ruby, Hattie Jayne and Judge Moss. (Photo courtesy Will Shouse.)