Welcome!

Welcome to my blog! I hope that you will find items of interest here. Maybe some words of comfort or some words of challenge. Who knows what will come! But, let first things be first.
My name is Mark Dickinson. I am an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), a husband (1), a father (2), a grandfather (2+), a pastor, a musician (clarinet and guitar), and a budding writer (science fiction and mystery). I live in a very comfortable small southern town in South Carolina (USA) and have two brothers who live far north of me.
My father was an immigrant from Canada (that was a thing in 1946) and my mother was a native of Philadelphia (PA, USA), where they met. Besides the Palmetto State, I’ve lived in New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
I hope I have the opportunity to virtually meet some of you as we go through these posts. But whether we do or not, all I ask is that you be courteous to others whom you may bump into around here. To quote a dubious House-of-Mouse production: “We’re all in this together.”

WordPress wants me to tell you why I started this blog. Well, One reason is to keep the practice of writing. I enjoy communicating in the written word and a blog seems like the best and most effective means to do that. I am also trying out some ideas and looking forward to what might get ‘traction’ in the “blog-iverse.” Something that I could use to turn into a larger work, either fiction or non-fiction.

About the name, “CrossPurposes.” A few years ago, I attempted to start a blog while still in Seminary – mistake! However, I still like the idea. That blog was supposed to focus on the intersection of music and God, a subject that still intrigues me. I will touch on that here from time to time but will open it up to the arts in general. There is much ground to till in that area.

The other reason for the name comes from my desire to write fiction and my calling to preach the Gospel. Those may be seen by some to be at “cross purposes.” I only need point you to Tolkien or Lewis to show you that that is not the case. Still, I liked the pun!

Right now, that is pretty much it. Other reasons may “come to the for” as I work through it. But, for the time being, that should suffice.

Happy Reading! -Mark

By the way: a gold star to anyone who can identify the selection of music for winds that “come to the for” is used in as a direction of dynamics and balance!

What If Wednesday…Pt. II

What if…we really did listen twice as much as we talked?

There is a popular saying that goes something like: “You have two ears and one mouth so that you will listen twice as much as you talk.” What if we actually did that? For every minute you speak, you have to listen for two.
Imagine how quiet things would become. Imagine political debates! There is an art to listening as much is there is to “The Deal.”
This should go for us bloggers and writers as well. We should read twice as much as we write. I fail here but I’m working on it. As I read more, I find my own creativity being fueled.
This also opens us to new perspectives and new ideas. It was Aristotle who said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I’m trying, are you?

‘Tis the season…for graduation.

This is the time of year for all order of commencements. Families will be traveling all over the country to attend graduation ceremonies of high school and college seniors. Robes will be bought. Caps will be thrown. “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.” But what does it all mean?
For one thing, it means the end of one leg of a journey and the sad fact of parting with those we called friends. I know of a few people who still remain in contact with their high school or college besties. But not me. In fact, the only person from my college I still talk to is my wife. I haven’t seen anyone from my high school since a funeral a few years ago. Facebook does NOT count!
Like this year’s graduates, and every year’s graduates, we all promised to stay in touch. I still have the signed yearbooks. The memories are more faded than the ink. In some ways, it is sad. I do miss some of those days. But I’m realistic, too. Most of my high school days were angst-ridden. Nothing I’d care to repeat.
College was better. But, for me, even the closest relationships there were superficial. We didn’t drift apart as much as fly apart. The same will be true of most of this year’s graduates, though they may deny it for now.
Another meaning behind the ceremony is the one most commencement speakers remind us of — commencement is a beginning of something. High school seniors step into a new reality; one of more independence and more responsibility. Most will survive, some won’t. Some will realize their dreams, most won’t.
Adolescent dreams, like the sand on the shore line, shift with the waves of time and life. For some, the sand will be ripped from under their feet. Life is cruel like that. Others will see the shift and build sand castles. I envy them.
We ritualize these times in order to capture that moment when something amazing is accomplished and something even more amazing is a gleam in the eye. They walk across our stages as aspiring engineers, actors, teachers, doctors. We encapsulate them like that. They will forever be: Future ‘whatever’.
They are just people, of course. Kids trying to make a life. In some ways, we do them a disservice in making Much Ado About Nothing. But I’m cynical like that.
What we need to be telling them is that they’ve done hardly anything, yet. There is a lot of life to live after 18 or 22 or even 24, 25, 26… Are they prepared for that? What real skills do they have? I don’t mean checkbook balancing (though that is a dying art). Can they hold a rational conversation outside of their cell phone? Can they make a reasonable argument in more than 144 characters?
I suppose that all of this is just the ramblings of someone who has seen their fair share of commencement exercises (I taught high school for 13 years) and forgotten all of those speeches. Maybe I should be more hopeful of the rising generations. Maybe. Perhaps.

‘What if…’ Wednesdays – Part I

In order to get into a weekly rhythm, I thought I would start a series. So here it goes: ‘What if…’ Wednesdays. This will be a space where I muse on some sort of ‘what if’ and you can muse right back.
Episode One: What if The Beatles had never broken up?

As you can tell, I am a pretty devoted fan of the Fab Four. Part of the legend that is The Beatles stems from the fact that they left ‘on top’. What if, like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles had never really quit being The Beatles? Can you imagine the musical output?
Certainly, a lot of work would have to have gone on to make that happen. But suppose it did? From 1970 to 2001 (assuming that Lennon had not been murdered), the band would have had thirty more years of writing and recording. But what intrigues me even more is that the technology would have caught-up with them and they could have added the complex studio cuts to their live shows.
Hearing them perform the Sgt. Pepper tracks live would have been awesome! Or what would have been the stage production that accompanied “Revolution No. 9” from the White Album? It staggers the imagination.
What about you? What song would you have loved to have heard live by The Beatles themselves? Is there another group that you wish were still together? I’d love to hear from you. -Mark

Three Reasons Why The Beatles Are Still Brilliant

Fifty years is a long time for almost anything so it is fitting that we would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most important pop music albums ever – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I re-listened to the record just the other day and was amazed at its staying power. This got me thinking about the longevity of The Beatles themselves. I won’t bore you with the numbers, you can look them up for yourself. But it’s safe to say that The Beatles amassed a record number of number ones and top tens over the relatively short time they existed. During their less than a decade run, they blew the charts away.

I know that many people have written about The Beatles and will continue to do so. I’m certainly not an ‘expert’ although I might know more than the average fan. I’m just going to look briefly at three areas that, I think, The Beatles excelled in; three areas that, quite frankly, we could use more of in contemporary music – melody, variety, and execution.

Melody is the one characteristic of music that is sorely lacking these days. To my ears, if a piece of music is lacking any melodic content, it ceases to be music. It’s sort of like a car without a steering wheel. What good is that?

The three Beatle composers (Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison) all understood melody; Paul still does. They understood key note. They understood contrast. They understood rise and fall and cadence. Listen again to the Sgt. Pepper playlist and focus on each melody – gold!

The next area is, to my mind, the one area that sets this group apart from all others: variety. All four members had vocal chops and they didn’t fear using them. Add to this the variety from song to song in chord structure and instrumentation and it is simply astounding. Brass horns on the opening number, a solo clarinet on When I’m Sixty-Four, the sitar and tabla on Within You, Without You. And those are just Sgt. Pepper songs. Consider for a moment any other album.

Listen to any other group from the same period and the lack of variety is obvious. With The Beatles, you were never sure what you were going to get when you dropped the needle. But you knew it would be amazing. Which brings me to the third area.

Every single song on every single album is executed to near perfection, or as close as flawed humanity would allow. Here there is no auto-tune, no band-in-a-box, no electronic orchestra. Listen again to any track off of the Sgt. Pepper playlist and remind yourself of the now archaic means with which they were produced: Reel-to-reel tapes; Manual over-dubbing with limited tracks; and four principal musicians who could not read a lick of printed music.

Is it any wonder why, after fifty years, this album still works? Would it that more so-called pop stars focus back on the melody, add variety to their corpus of works, and rely more on their own abilities to execute their art apart from electronic gimmicks and trickery.

What do you think? Have you given it a re-listen? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Mark

P.S.: Please refrain from telling me of the contributions of Sir George Martin. We all know how important he was to all the areas above. But the relationship between producer and artist in this case was a cooperative one. It was The Beatles who created, who sang, who imagined. Martin guided and polished, yes. But the name on the cover is theirs. -M

Dear Kathy Griffin…

A well reasoned response!

BeautyBeyondBones

Being a millennial New Yorker and actor, I’d like to think I’ve got pretty thick skin.

Getting rejected is par for the course in the entertainment industry. The city doesn’t do you any favors — just try battling the check out lines at Whole Foods at 3pm on a Sunday.  Heck, even the squirrels seems to have a certain undeniable hutzpah on these streets.

http---mashable.com-wp-content-gallery-new-york-city-animals-and-animals-everywhere-else-Squirrels

Really, nothing quite comes as a shock to me anymore, for better or for worse.

However.

Earlier this week, opening up my Buzzfeed app to find Kathy Griffin’s infamous photo of her, carrying the bloodied head of a decapitated President Donald Trump…I literally stopped in my tracks.

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Just. No.

And I have a few words.

This is not okay. I don’t care how much you hate the President or his policies, that went. too far.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is one of –…

View original post 594 more words

My Parents, Their War, and Norman Lear (Lengthy)

 

(For my non-American readers, this post is in honor of the American holiday of Memorial Day)

My parents, Mae and Bert, were members of the “Greatest Generation,” that group of Americans who stepped up, despite a strong isolationist trend, to defend freedom across the globe during the second world war. But their story is not complete without mentioning my “step-father.”
I put that in quotes because there is no legal designation for Jim, my mother’s first husband, They had no children and were only married a short time. As we don’t have clear records, any dates are guess work except for the dates that everyone knows, like December 7, 1941.
On that Sunday, my mother was hanging curtains in her apartment in Philadelphia when the news broke in with the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The nation’s thin veil of isolationism was ripped off and within days, we were at war with all three of the major aggressors: Japan, Germany and Italy.
Very soon after my mother’s husband Jim enlisted in the Army Air Corps and they were off to basic training in the mid-west. After basic, Jim was trained to be the radio operator and flexible gunner on the B-17 (think: Memphis Belle). His first tour took him overseas to the European Theater. There, his squadron was assigned a bombing mission that took him into northern Italy/Austria. While on that first mission, his bomber was attacked and strafed by Luftwaffe Messerschmitts and Jim Ferguson died instantly.
My mother joined the ranks of a Gold Star wife. I can not imagine what she went through. But I do know that she was strong, stronger than I ever gave her credit for being. She did not wallow in her grief. She took action.
Before long, my mom was graduating from basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina – a Marine! She went to work in Washington, D. C. as a typist. She spent the rest of the war typing copies of correspondences sent through the War Department, no doubt she copied many ‘condolences’ letters. This whole time, my actual father was an active airman in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He spent his early years as a crew member on the Vickers-Wellington, a bomber nicknamed “The Whimpie,” flying out of English airbases to bomb industrial sites in northern Germany. He was a wireless air gunner, the same assignment that Jim had on the B-17. After his European tour, he was assigned crew duties on the west coast of Canada until he finished his enlistment. Upon his discharge from the RCAF, he moved to Philadelphia, PA, USA to take advantage of new opportunities in the exploding post-war economy of America.
They met (in a bar), got married, had three sons, moved around (a lot), finally settling in South Carolina. My father, having been a life-long smoker, died from Emphysema and that is where the story doubles back.
My mother never pursued anything about her first husband. She had their marriage license, his Purple Heart, and his death notice, but that was it. It wasn’t until she became a widow for the second time that her sister (HT: Oprah) became aware of a pension for the widows of WWII soldiers killed in action. If she had the needed documentation, then the government had some money for her. She did, and my mother soon began receiving a monthly pension that allowed her to live comfortably until her death in 2003.
One interesting piece of memorabilia that my mom kept was a handwritten letter from Jim’s C. O. describing the circumstances around Jim’s death. The officer wrote in prose that was respectful and dignified. He was tender toward my mother, although they had never met. That Commanding Officer’s name was Norman Lear. All the years of watching All In The Family, and this was never mentioned until we read the letter that she had kept.
So, the man she first married, her high school sweetheart, ended up caring for her in her later years, even though my father could not. All three of them did what they could for their country and the fight for freedom, one, Jim Ferguson, “gave the last full measure of devotion.” For that, I will always be thankful.
One time, when mom was alone and still independent, I called her on Memorial Day with the joyful greeting: “Happy Memorial Day!” Her response? “What’s ‘happy’ about it?” I never truly understood the meaning of this day until that moment. She had lost a husband, she had seen her world turned upside down, then righted again by brave men and women whose ranks she joined. She understood the cost, the sacrifice, and the long-term scars that never truly heal.
May we, at least once a year, take time to consider all that has been done for us by those who have passed on. May you have a prayerful, respectful, and thankful Memorial Day.

Three Reasons Why Our National Debate Is Failing

Every time I bother to catch the news, my soul is disturbed. People just don’t discuss anymore. They scream and shout and protest. Talking heads talk over each other. No one, it seems, is interested in a true debate, an exchange of varied ideas. ‘Debate’ now means verbal boxing, scoring points with ones own audience in hopes of energizing them, rather than any attempt at winning over the other side through a rational presentation of the facts.
We are in a sad state of affairs. Among the many reasons, let me just present three as I see them: Polarization, Emotion Over Reason, and an Elevation of ‘Me’ Over ‘Us’

Polarization
I suppose that this is a by-product of our unique system of government, a two party system. It has its pluses as well as its minuses. Where other systems find a center through the formation of coalitions gathered from a variety of minority parties, we seem to struggle to find a center. We seem to constantly swing between the Scylla of conservatism and the Charybdis of progressivism – Republicans versus Democrats. Just a quick glance over our recent history is enough to tell the tale: 1977-Carter; 1981-Reagan/Bush, Sr.; 1993-Clinton; 2001-Bush, Jr.; 2009-Obama; 2017-Trump. And so the pendulum swings. All of this seems to pit ‘us’ against ‘them’ every election cycle. Combined with point number two, it is nothing less than toxic.

Emotion Over Reason
This point was expertly discussed by Mike Rowe in a recent Facebook post . His primary point being:

“Our country is filled with people who believe their feelings are more persuasive than their arguments. I don’t know if this is a symptom of arrogance, impatience, laziness, cowardice, or all of the above, but there’s no denying it – millions of Americans are no longer interested in persuasion – they are interested only in telling the world how they feel, and then using those feelings to justify their actions.”

Simply put, we are valuing our emotions over our reason. How I feel is far more important than the facts. When something doesn’t go my way, I’m offended, hurt, angry. And, through the expediency of social media, I can tell the world about my righteous indignation. And I expect you to listen to me and sympathize. If you don’t, you become the problem. I totally disregard any reasonable argument. It’s all about how I feel. As long as my emotions lead over my reason, there will never be a true debate. We see this all the time: health care, police violence, climate change.

‘Me’ Over ‘Us’
Along with the above, we seem to have forgotten the ‘united’ in the United States. The aptly named Greatest Generation understood the term ‘united’. They knew that, like Benjamin Franklin said over two centuries before, we all hang together or we will all hang separately. Let us pray that we never find ourselves in a situation like 1941.

This tendency spills into all areas of our lives. The millennial generation is delaying marriage longer than the generations before it. One reason is surely the idea of ‘me’ over ‘us’. Churches are dieing at an alarming number. One reason must be that, at the very minimum, church must make me ‘feel good’. If it doesn’t, I don’t have the time. A reasonable faith no longer has a place in the public mind.

I wish I had a solution. There is work that needs to be done in all areas – education, politics, religion. When we begin to address the methods of our debate, maybe we can begin to really debate the issues and make significant progress. Thoughts?

“The Most Perfect Song”

We just saw Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2. I don’t think this is a spoiler, but just in case, you’ve been warned.
You may already know that the main character, Peter Quill, lives life alongside his mix tapes from the 1980s. A characteristic that draws me to him. Yes, I’m that old!
The picture opens with the song Brandy by Looking Glass. Later in the movie, this song is called “one of Earth’s greatest musical compositions, perhaps the greatest.” which got me to wondering – why would anyone say this?
One reason is simply the outrageousness of the statement. Of all the music composed in the history of Earth, Brandy is called ‘the greatest’. Not Bach, not Beethoven, not even McCartney, but a little known songwriter with one hit song. And yet, there is something about it, isn’t there?
On the surface, it’s a simple story-song: a barmaid loves a sailor who can’t stay and even though he leaves her, his love remains in a locket. Even in its simplicity, it manages to capture something that resonates with all of us – loneliness. This is the point that the character in the film makes, though not overtly. He is lonely so the song, for him, is “the greatest.”
“At night, when the bars close down; Brandy walks through the silent town; and loves a man who’s not around. She still can hear him say…” This is the line that gets me every time. There is something so sublime and heartfelt. It paints both a visual and emotional picture of emptiness, loneliness and unrequited love.
Putting my own spin on it (I’m pretty sure that the song is just a song), let’s say that the sailor is Jesus and Brandy is a disciple, any disciple, maybe you.
Jesus came “bearing gifts from far away.” He also made it clear that “he couldn’t stay.” But even though he is gone, the disciple holds onto the love that accompanied his presence. As Christians, we live that existence.
We love, and are loved by, the Son of God, yet he is not physically present. That separation is real, like the separation we feel when a loved one dies. It is also our hope – that we will one day be in his presence again. Someday, that sailor will call in port again and Brandy will have her beloved back.
One day, we will see our Savior face-to-face. That is our sure and certain hope!

Blessings – Mark

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Many years ago, in another job, I learned of a relatively small church in a beach front community that took the Cheers theme song to heart as a way of life. They wanted to be the place where everybody knows your name. They wanted to be so welcoming that people who visited felt like they instantly belonged. It is a wonderful goal, especially for a church. For Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island, it worked.
I have been very pleased with the church that I serve. Being a family church, sometimes welcoming those ‘outside the family’ can be a struggle. But not for them. This was highlighted recently by the visitation of a young couple.
About six weeks ago, a young couple joined us for our morning worship hour. They were immediately recognized. Living in a small town has its advantages and disadvantages. This couple were recently arrested on drug charges. And here they were, in our worship service.
It is an unfortunate reality that, in many other churches, this couple would have been ‘dis-invited’. In fact, I recently heard that there are churches that ‘dis-invite’ those who are ‘differently-abled’. There is nothing Christian about that. Imagine a hospital turning away sick patients because they’re sick or because they cough too loud.
When I had an opportunity to talk to this couple alone, they reflected to me the welcoming spirit that the congregation had. I was very pleased. Not because I had spent time teaching this, I haven’t. But I was pleased because I know that the Holy Spirit is pleased.
This couple has a road ahead of them. If you can, please pray for them.

-Mark