Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two Smiling St. Vincents ( Ebo & Vera) saved my life....or at least my preaching

Note: I know this article is rambling and not sorted out yet. But this is 
how it came out for now..If I have time later, I might organize it...and might ruin it!
Besides, I am "not in a finishing mood" (if you recognize that reference, you'll especially appreciate the article)

all i want

hating it
baiting it

waiting to be

unfound by anyone but Messiah Man

dying to be
crying to be
not trying to be
consistently insistently persistently
in the place where He is all

all i want
is to walk on water
to break bread for thousands
to touch the hem and hand it to the world

all i need to get there
safe but not sound
is holy impatience
focused fury
to pray with gentle violence,

"Thy Kingdom come

on earth
on Fulton Mall
on time
on me

in Africa
in hell
in droves
in me.

Gethsemane me, Jesus
Moriah me, Messiah

till i bleed and breathe nothing but You"

i won't wait anymore

it is finished

i walk on water
i heal the sick
i do works of Jesus
or i die

Exhilirated, wide-eyed and hugely hopeful.

I don't know if that's how you felt after reading it.
But that's how I felt when I finished writing it.

But thank God someone misunderstood (?),  and feared it was nearly a suicide note.

Poetry can be like that.

The emotions and intent of my line:

"i do works of Jesus
or i die"
were about as far removed from depression/suicide as I can imagine.

They were birthed in dogged determination to finally fulfill my destiny and dreams.
They were my version of Paul's "To live is Christ" and "Everything else but knowing Christ is s#@!

I felt cathartically healed up; free and finally ready to get started with life; carpe Kingdom, baby..

Or not.

Poetry can be like that.

Maybe it was (instead? also?) a veiled suicide threat.

Maybe all poetry is.

Maybe all honesty inevitably is.

Maybe Bono was right again:"Every artist is a cannibal/Every poet is a thief/All kill their inspiration/And sing about the grief."

Maybe it was a Dear John letter to Jesus.
And I grieved not grieving.

We have been talking in our Sunday gatherings about "holy juxtaposition," the delightful irony build into the Hebrew mindset that sees no contradiction in such "obviously" contradictory
Psalms such as..

Psalm 22, for example.

I have preached on this elsewhere ("The Lord Be With You...Even When He’s Not"), but to refresh your memory, it starts with an encouraging, chipper:

"My God, My God... why have You forsaken me...."

It gets worse...and more suicidal... from there.

But it's an honest and healing prayer journal.

Now just guess what kind of song title would this depressing diary entry merit?

I am sure that the correct answer would be the farthest from your mind.
But check your Bible; I'm not making this up...this depressing ditty is "To be sing to the tune of..

"Doe of the Morning'"


There is something holy and healing ; something ironic and irenic; about the brutally honest/intentionally dishonest juxtaposition happening here. The Hebrews, the Psalmists, know it. Eugene Peterson is accurate in locating complaint as a subcategory of praise in the psalms. But to mix our metaphors and media; to mishmixmatch, cross genres and expectations is simply crossing streets and bridges; and just being real...

yet in Peterson's words, such is often misheard by Pharisees and gnostics as "a loud fart in the salon of spirituality"

We talked about how parable (comparing two disparate things) and paradox is at the heart of the gospel, and embedded in life. We collected, wikichurch style, examples of contemporary songs of any genre where the music/mood and the mood/theme of the lyric seem to contradict (example: sad/depressing lyrics to upbeat music or nice happy lyrics to "down" tune).

It was fun.

Charlie Peacock's "The Last Hurrah," a brilliant pop number about the funeral procession of a druglord came up, as did his prophetic "No Insult Like the Truth."

Some others:

Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," Aha's "Losing You" ,"Goodbye Earl" by Dixie Chicks, "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" by Neil Sedaka, U2's "The First Time," "No Regrets" by Green Day, "Quicksand Jesus" by Skid Row, 'But Anyway' by Blues Traveler, "You're gone, I'm here' by Precious Death, "Most of the Time" by Bob Dylan, "Mother's Little Helper" by the Stones, "Born in the USA" by Springsteen.

I love our church.

Keltic Ken offered a classic example:

."Alone Again, Naturally" by Gilbert O' Sullivan---a chirpy little melody to carry along a story of depression and tragedy. It's got it all: talk of suicide, doubts of God's existence and the death of his parents.

I suggested that much of the 77s catalog would fit; Scott said "anything by the Dave Matthews Band". How could we not include many songs by Steve Taylor (" The news of my impending death came at a very bad time for me"...)

"I ain't missing you at all," John Waite sang convincingly.

Yeah, right.

Several songs were brave enough to entitle themselves by something like "I think I'm Going To Kill Myself" (Elton John), of course (!) put to a happyclappy vibe.

"Here Comes My Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown"

And you can dance to it.

It may be denial, it may be psalm, it may be some of both.

Like all of life.

But you can't talk about that in church...even if it is in the Bible.

Charlie Peacock laments, "We don't live in an environment anymore that values the mixing of musical styles and genres." ( link).

Take a break right now.

Leave this website for a minute to enjoy a song.

Watch this music video of a song called "We Can Make It Work"...note the mood and personality of the singer.

Go ahead, don't read any further down on this page yet; enjoy the song and click back.

Welcome back.

The one who believed that anything can work, miracles can happen, the one who sang this song with all his heart in our church sanctuary in unforgettable tangible optimism in November 1993..

...meaning every word...

...took his own life just days later.

Poetry can be like that.

Sometimes it is us giving our down selves and up pep talk; sometimes (even a t the same time) it is our suicidal self masking and masquerading/serenading.

All poetry of course is open to interpretation and reading between the lines and terrible judgement..

or is it? Consider a fascinating quote from an intriguing source:

"...(I) confuse some, anger some and make some people feel at home. There’s no way to misunderstand what I do—but everyone can understand it differently. That’s the only way I’ve learned to embrace art—it has to be a question mark, not an answer."

All because private diary and journal ...like graffiti and dirtly laundry and sermons....are public.

Vince Ebo had dinner at our house before the concert that night. His smile was contagious and his spirit gracious.

His autograph is still on the wall in the church youth room...

..those two words are chilling poetry; holy juxtapositon. Bittersweet and upbeat.

I have no idea how very close friends of Vince's (like Charlie Peacock) dealt with all this so well.
But I know music is part and parcel of any answer. How many post-Vince Charlie Peacock lyrics would Peacock himself say have something to do with Vince?

I try hard to defuse and refuse the "shame and blame" game that we default to playing in the wake of suicide. "Is there anything I could have done?" "There were signs."
And of course as a pastor who had this man in his home and church, I could complain to God about myself, "Of all people who should have known and could have done something...."

But remember that after the most famous suicide in history, the One who incarnated "someone who could have done something" submitted to sovereignty.

As Brennan Manning says "Don't 'should' on yourself!"

The stunning story of the news anchor who killed herself on the air
is a classic in the preacher;'s repertoire. It creates a stilling, chilling silence in the room every time.

Yet I sometimes felt voyeuristic and cheap "using it" as a sermon illustration.

Until I recently heard that someone who heard me tell that story years ago (in the same pulpit that Vince Ebo sang from) may now be alive because I told it.

So I also defuse and refuse the temptation to "never mention the word 'suicide' as it may trigger people to do it.

There are many words we are not "supposed to use in church." (see "God loves donkeys, sweat, entrails and menstruation" for a bit of corrective devotional reading!) But Rob Bell is right:

Our assumption is that Church is where you say the things that have to be said. So people will speak but say, "Oh, I wouldn't say that in church." Well then, where would you say it? To me, it's the place where you would push it the furthest. A faith community should be the place with the most honesty and vulnerability and prophetic culture—calling things what they are. So when I hear people say, "That's nice but you really couldn't do that in church," I can't even fathom that. My understanding is it would lead the culture in reality.

Struggling with "what i could have done...yadayada" after Vince Ebo, I reflected on how the celebrity culture/hero worship which we pastor types can easily spiritualize, baptize and sexualize is demonic and deadly. I hope Vince had a place to go where he could be just Vince.
I failed him around the dinner table. Not that I went gaga, or asked for an autograph. It just seems impossible to divorce the relationship from the image..

I could have looked him in the eye, and asked him "You know, brother, I hardly know you, but how are you really doing?"

Or would that have been date rape; seeking intimacy prematurely?

I don't know, but I did look him in the eye..

...and asked him to pass the potatoes.

My pastor friends and I used to laugh at the "accountability question" recommended by Promise Keepers groups; after asking various tough questions about thought life and financial accountability, we were prescribed to ask at the end: "Have you just lied to me?"

We lied about not lying.

We should have prayed some psalms and Pink Floyd numbers and been healed instead.

In a haunting moment in a desperate song, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd speaks to the celebrity/honesty syndrome:

And if I show you my dark side
Will you still hold me tonight?
And if I open my heart to you
And show you my weak side
What would you do?..

Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?..

We always want to sell our stories to Rolling Stone; and ours souls to the devil.

Our at least get Roger Water's or Vince Ebo's autograph.

When Sinead O'Connor retired from music and the spotlight to study theology, she asked everyone to, if they saw her in public...

kindly leave her alone.

I don't even need to mention Britney Spears.

But I will quote Janis Joplin, partly because I am partly responsible for her death:

"Onstage I make love to 25,000 people, then I go home alone." (link)

I am glad it never (?) crossed my mind to seek Ray Bradbury's blessing or autograph when I met him; even though he was a childhood hero. Maybe that's why he prayed with me.

Thank God I never asked Dack Rambo for a signature; even though I tossed out a glass he once shared with Jesus...

Did I let Vince Ebo down by asking him to pass the plate?

Vince Ebo did leave a suicide note. It stated that he
knew Christ had forgiven him; he just hoped people did, too.

It is hard and required to forgive people who walk out on your life.

But we betray them again if we don't.

From a Charlie Peacock song; from a record with Vince's amazing vocals all over it; highlighting and haunting the message:

You don't ask a drowning man
If he wants to be saved
When you know he's sinking down
Down beneath the crashing waves

Betrayal wears two faces
Both easy to explain
One is what you say and do
To bring another human pain
When you refuse to act
Though you know the good to do
When you refuse to speak what's right
You've worn the face of number two
- "Drowning Man"

I need to simply not sweat about missed opportunities, and pray I never accidentally betray someone again I was minding my own business (literally...I was speaking at conference in (Charlie Peacock's hometown of Yuba City, interestingly). As part of a sermon, I mentioned in passing, as an illustration and moment of vulnerability, that my son had been abused.

Of course it got quiet.

So the soft sobs of someone who had a story to tell were all the more audible.

This was not an interruption of a sermon; it was life touching life. The conregation handled it gently, and the woman received healing. This holy moment may have even saved her life.

Since then, my "sermons." have become more wikiinteractive; maybe even a. habitat...(see"doing collages..instead of preaching a sermon??") .

They might even save someone's life...like a blog on Vince Ebo who gave up his.

The reason Vince sang at our church in Delano, California in 1993 is that one of his managers went to our church.

I would like to introduce you to another honest troubador, another young man who can't sop smiling...whose manager goes to our current church. I told Vincent Vera, after he sang a song with "bathroom stalls" in the lyric that God would bless him

for his honest psalms.
I suppose I should have pastorally looked him in the eye and said "Man, I hardly know you, but how are you really doing?"

Maybe i sinned by not telling him he reminds me of everything Vince Ebo would have been if he were still alive on earth today.

Or maybe I did...over laughter and donuts.
Breaking of bread and prayers.

My goodness, I honestly didn't realize until just now..

..though I knew the whole article would wind up linking these two smiling singers..

that they share the same first name.

Vince Vera, I doubt if you get very discouraged or suicidal..

..but if you do, rush over. Maybe I'll read you one of my poems:

i walk on water
i heal the sick
i do works of Jesus
or i die

and have you put it to music for me;
juxtaposing it,
prophesying it back

to me.

Maybe setting it to a Vince Ebo number..

..yanking you and I both back to life.

I won't ask for your autograph..



  1. I remember Vince's smile. Who could forget it?
    We went to highschool here in Sacramento & I was lucky enough to have a best friend who happened to be his road manager -- Roy Arimoto.
    His death haunts me, I suppose, because I never ever realized or detected the pain, anguish or depression he must have been experiencing.
    I spoke with his dad about a year after the tragic event and he refused to believe that Vince would take his own life but had no reasonable alternatives of what really could have happened.
    Just Tragic. The power he had was undefineable.
    Thank you for your beautiful blog
    Peggy Bakarich

  2. Peggy:

    what an honor to hear your story.

    If we could just live out his smile..

  3. I met Vince after a show with the Peacock trio, shortly after he came to Christ. I remember saying I hoped he'd have an album of his own. When I heard it finally happened, I was really happy for him. When I heard he'd committed suicide, I had questions...so many about my own conversation with him. I'm sorry he's gone.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  4. This blog makes me think... Funny Vince Ebo popped into my mind and I went searching for him even I played his cassette (yes, cassette). I did not realize the suicide actually did occur until now. Your thoughts while rambling makes this long time, holy roller, think... thanks, I needed that...

  5. Great to hear from you, Anonymous. Vince's manager went to our church..i had that cassette and saw stacks of them back in the day..Blessings

  6. Was just digging through our CD's and found the west coast diaries by Charlie. Looked them up on Spotify and noticed that "live in the Netherlands" was on there. I was in that audience. They hit like a hammer. It was the single most impressive musical moment of my life. And all of us were devastated five years later. Halfway round the world. The guy made am impression.

    So, I went looking for some insight into the why but it seems there is none. Above blog is all I could find.

    Look up that recording. It's magnificent and Vince shines.

  7. Thanks for that post.

    I so love the Netherlands album.
    We had a similar experience seeing them on that same tour: amazing, palpable. Vince's voice lit up a room. His smile lit up or living room.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!