Ernest Borgnine

It’s been several weeks now since I returned from the eleventh annual Ernest Borgnine Memorial Music Appreciation Society weekend. I know. Odd. Strange. But way cool. A long way back about fifteen of us, all good friends and intense lovers of music, decided we would get together several times a year to play our favorite types of music. We needed a name. Somebody tossed Ernest’s name into the title. It seemed to fit. So, for over ten years we’ve been getting together, each of us usually arriving with CDs burned of 30 to 45 minutes of music-representing our lives, pain, joys, etc…It’s been incredibly rewarding.

At most of the events a giant smiling placard of Ernest sits in front of us and we play the theme music from McHale’s Navy to begin the event. On our turn, we each usually give some introduction, explaining where we are personally, and often include extensive printed packets of lyrics, pictures, artist biography, or our own written reflections on why we picked our particular music and artists. It’s a sacred, playful and sometimes raucous time. We usually pray for each other and someone usually plays some live music. There is always great food, cigars for some and a featured wine sampling by the resident bartender in the group. During each man’s “set”, no one gets up, except for the bathroom, or speaks much at all, respecting each other’s offerings. Last year was the culmination.

One of us got the idea of writing to Ernest and letting him know what we do. He was so touched that he boarded a plane and joined us for our 10th annual event. We each included a song on a compilation CD we made for him and shared why something about the quality and delight of his person made him the perfect fit for our yearly shindigs. One of us created wonderful artwork on the CD and on the matching t-shirts, bearing his smiling mug. He danced, laughed and sang to the music. I wrote and read a story of his life. We listened to his stories about Lee Marvin and Betty Grabel and we all spoke to his wife on his cell phone. It was a rare and beautiful weekend. Two statements he made during the weekend stay with me. He said, “Gentlemen, I’ve been honored all my life for what I’ve done. How odd, at this stage of my life, for the first time, amongst men half my age, I would be honored best for who I am.” And on Sunday morning, after we laid hands on him and prayed over him, he cried and said, “If all church was anything like this, I’d come all the time.”

So, then, why didn’t I want to come to this year’s event? I’m still not fully sure. Maybe a number of reasons. First, like everything, it’s changed. These almost all used to be people in my close circle. Time can change that. Many don’t go to the church I’m in or are involved in the ministries I’m in. Also, I can feel alone in such a group. It’s just common insecurity, but it’s easier to just avoid than face. And in any group that stays together in any meaningful way, there will be strains, hurt, pain, rifts and lack of forgiveness. Maybe I just wanted to be begged to come, to be told that I was important, to be so missed that they couldn’t do the event without me. Sad, but that motive was probably there also. And it felt like EBMMAS’s time had passed, maybe ending well with Ernie’s weekend amongst us.

But I went anyway-with all my fears and issues and unresolved relationships. And an amazing thing happened. All seventeen of us showed up…and God showed up. He always shows up. But this time He went out of His way to reveal Himself. There’s a principle God is teaching me these days. It goes something like this:

“What if there were a place where the worst of me could be known, and instead of being loved less in the telling of it, I would discover that I was loved more? What would happen? Among a dozen beautiful outcomes, I would discover that my unresolved hidden issues were becoming healed.”

These guys know me. Sometimes I don’t want that to be true. I want to run and find an entirely new group of friends, who will love me better, know me better, honor me better. But these, for better or worse, are the ones I’ve been given. And so their affirmations, when they come, are profoundly greater than anyone else’s. That Sunday, we spent over six hours affirming each other. It was one of those profound times that suddenly displays what God’s been doing in the background while you weren’t looking. It was incredible! Most of us wept and shook our heads at what God was doing. I discovered once again that trust, humility, vulnerability, love, failure and fragility all stirred together with some measure of time and just showing up-allows God to reveal the supernatural, sacred life of Christ in us. I’m getting old enough to be exceedingly grateful that I haven’t always run from such community. The payoff is pretty incredible.

John Lynch