All posts by Ken

Ducks and A Blank Page

We had been out of town to sing at an early church service in Frankton, IN, and took a shortcut through the City Park in Pendleton to get home. The February Indiana Sunday morning was typical: overcast, gray, windy, and a raw 26 degrees Fahrenheit.  We saw a woman in a white puffy coat with white fur around the hood kneeling near the pond in the park, with a 2.5 year old girl similarly dressed, except her puffy coat was pink with white fur. The little girl was trying to feed the ducks, who were disinterested and hunkered down against the cold.

For the next 1.5 miles between our house and the park, we created brief stories about the pair, feeding ducks, in the park, in the cold.

  • Shouldn’t they be getting ready for church?
  • Maybe dad was on a bender last night and they needed to get out of the house for their own safety?
  • Maybe dad was a pastor or worship leader at a local church, and the mom and little girl spent too much time at church and needed some quality time away?
  • Maybe the little girl is sick or has cancer, and she asked to go to the park and feed the ducks?
  • Maybe the mom is sick, and they’re making memories one last time?
  • Maybe the woman is an aunt who is trying to teach compassion and love for the environment to her niece?
  • Maybe they just found out that dad isn’t coming home from Iran or Afghanistan?
  • Maybe the mom and daughter live with grandma and grandpa, and the grandparents need a little break in the action?
  • Maybe it’s all the entertainment they can afford, a few bread crumbs, to feed the ducks?
  • Maybe they’re eccentric millionaires and just wanted to hang out at the park?

Many of us do it.  In the absence of a story, we create one of our own, minus facts and figures.  In our “the public has a right to know” information age, we conclude that all stories must be told.  We cross our arms and demand to know.  And when no story is forthcoming, we’re tempted to substitute one of our own construction.  A friend, a psychologist, tells me that what we’re doing is “projecting” our story, or experiences, our problems and difficulties, into the lives of someone else.

Maybe it’s none of our business, and maybe we should just keep our snout out?

Perhaps the greatest gift, the pinnacle of compassion, that we can give someone else is blank page in our hearts and minds, so that people can write their story into our lives, and the world can become a less lonely place because we’ve offered friendship.  Maybe…

Two Hands

I’m blessed to have two healthy hands.  They have been scarred by scrapes, cuts, fish hooks, the ends of musical instrument strings, blackberry thorns, blisters, and chores; under a black light, you can see all the scars as white marks.  Otherwise, my hands work quite well for most of the things I do, except music.  At this point, I confess to the sin of envy.  I’ve envied the accuracy, skills, and speed of my musical heroes (in no particular order) on guitar (John Wheat, Mark Sloan, Nik Sloan, Kenny Brock, Earl Robertson, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Kerry Livgren, Tom Scholz, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Eric Clapton, Edward R. Van Halen, Chet Atkins, Chris Konkoy, Jerry Reed, Paul Bertsch, Dave Tyra, Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Joe Walsh, Don Francisco, Dan Crary, Doyle Dykes, Louie Popejoy, Joe Perry, Roger Gilmore, Mario Widel, Keith Richards, and Ranger Doug, Darryl Jones), banjo (John Wheat, Earl Scruggs, CW Mundy, JD Crowe, Roy Clark, Louie Popejoy), mandolin (John Wheat, Doyle Lawson, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Louie Popejoy) and bass (Neal Edward Wagner, Timothy B. Schmidt, Billy Sheehan).  Despite hours of practice and dedication, lessons, books, and YouTube videos, frustration often haunts me because I can’t play like [insert name here].  At times, I’ve been so frustrated that I considered going to my workshop, pulling out a hammer, and “punishing” my fingers for not delivering up to those high standards and expectations.  Dear readers, I’m certain that some enterprising counselor could help with, or pharmaceutical company makes a drug for, my disordered thinking.  Envy will do that for you.

A story in a recent presentation by one of my guitar heroes has changed my thinking forever.   We all know that the arts have power, and music has a special power, to unlock hearts and minds, to help us feel and think differently.  Because of that power, in some parts of the world, extremists who fear independent thoughts and feelings have initiated a campaign to amputate the hands of artists, especially musicians.   In defiance of that horror, I declare today that I will play to the best of my ability for those who can no longer  do so.  I invite you to courageously join in this effort.

The Night We Closed Down A Town

When my friend Jody Fitzgibbon interviewed me for her blog (see she asked for a funny story. Thought you all might enjoy it too.  Some years back I played in a gospel bluegrass band, Mark Allen and Gospel Train (Mark, Mitch Chalos, Larry Dickerson, Joe Milner, and me). One evening at a town festival in southeastern Illinois, we were setting up on the flatbed of a semi truck (a typical stage in small towns, cool, fun, and it works). We carried in the sound system, got everything set up, cables run, and instruments tuned. All along both sides of the street were people and festival food stands (elephant ears; lemon shakeup; corndogs; burgers, etc.).  You know, all that healthy stuff.  We also had a portable light bar, for outdoor events, so the lights (red, yellow, blue, green) would make us look natural, rather than washed out as happens with a white flood light. Just as darkness fell, we took the stage, paused for the first song, and on the announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mark Allen and Gospel Train” it was my job to step on a footswitch to turn on the light bar. When I did, the entire town went black as night, and our sound system went silent!  The food stands went black, the street lights went out, the courthouse went dark, everything!  We had shut down the town! Thankfully, a representative from the local power cooperative was in attendance, put on his pitons, and climbed the pole faster than a squirrel, with a fuse as big as my forearm. He got the electricity and the lights back up and running in less than 5 minutes, but it was an unexpected surprise for everybody!  An unforgettable evening for all…