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Russ Lee Interview
"I am one of the best tea party Barbie doll people in the world. I am great at playing dolls and I am not ashamed to tell you that." The remarks came from what some people would consider an unlikely source, singer/songwriter and pastor Russ Lee. The comments came within the context of the former member of both NewSong and Truth talking about the importance of communicating love tour children and our spouses.
"I always say that the greatest gift that we can give to our children is to love them, but how does that flesh out and become a reality? There is no substitute for time. I am learning to love listening to my children," Lee said before drawing an example from his own family, "My six year old daughter had 'show and tell' at school and she was showing me some items, dolls from Poland, a drum from Fiji and a carved wooden pig from Papua New Guinea. She told me to feel this little pig to see how smooth the wood was and then asked me to close my eyes and smell it telling me that it would remind me of Papua New Guinea. The fact that she is six years old and even knows about Papua New Guinea is amazing. This is a beautiful creature (his daughter) and I don't want to be so busy trying to provide for physical things for my family that I miss out on the opportunity to get to know them. I think that the most important things my wife (Mary) and I can offer to our children are our ears and our time. It doesn't hurt that we try to get down on their level for something that they are interested in, and want to share with us. It is important that we do not diminish the importance of who they are and their self-esteem by acting put off by that. I want my daughters to grow up knowing how a man should treat them, and I think that time together, investing in them and smiling with them is going to bear fruit for a long time."
Russ and Mary Lee have invested a great deal of time not only in their children's lives, but in ensuring that the lines of communication and an attitude of servitude also exist in their marriage. "One of the things that I have treasured over the years is my wife and I spend a lot of time doing a friendship relationship. When we started dating back in the day, we wrote a lot of letters, long before there was instant messaging or everyone had a cell phone," Russ Lee said before adding that one of the foundations for their marriage has always been friendship. He continued, "The longevity of our relationship is twofold, number one it is centered on Christ and we both have a desire to serve, not be served. (Secondly), we decided to do life together; I don't try to build success outside of the realm of my relationship with Mary. We try to have successes and failures together. I think that is why our marriage is built for the long haul. That is why we are best friends. We celebrate victories and we lament tragedies together."
It is that same sincerity of love and desire to serve that has nurtured a friendship between Lee and America's military leaders. In 2003 through his friend and fellow songwriter Doug McKelvey with whom he penned the song, "Live What I Believe," Lee received a request from McKelvey's brother-in-law who was a serving in Iraq as a chaplain with the 101 st Airborne Division of the US Army. The military leadership wanted someone to come in and raise the morale of the troops, and they wanted to accomplish that through the chaplain's corp.
"They wanted someone who would come in, stay for several days and visit the places where the troops were stationed. I was asked if I would pray about going. The troops were so grateful and many of them said to me, 'We are here because we have to be, and it is our duty, but you are here because you want to be. We know you are here because you care about us.' Out of that (trip) came a great relationship with the military, a return trip to Iraq, as well as a trip to Germany and Okinawa. I have also visited Fort Jackson (SC), Fort Bragg (CA), Fort Campbell (KY/TN) and Eglin Air Force Base (FL).
Despite the difference between Islamic beliefs and Christianity Lee said the chaplains in the American armed forces are widely respected by the political, spiritual and military leadership in places like Iraq. "The Middle East is a theocratic culture and they regard their spiritual leadership as insightful. They are viewed as the mouthpiece of God. Because the Middle Eastern military leaders rely heavily on their spiritual guides, our chaplains are viewed as important. In fact, some of their leadership wants our military leaders to bring our chaplains with them when they meet because they understand the importance of guidance and God's intervention. They literally live and die based on what they think God expects from them. Our military leaders realize the diplomatic importance of our spirituality," said Lee.
Lee says there is another factor to consider in the message that he brings to the military through his music, and that is one of hope. "They (American military leaders) have said to me, 'We realize that the chaplains provide for these soldiers support that sustains them and is beyond explanation.' The chaplains are critically important and they (the leadership) are realizing that because it is wartime," Lee observed.
Lee's time in Iraq has made the war personal for him. Before one major campaign he said he had the opportunity to spend time with the marines who were about to be deployed. "We talked about life, sports, faith, and music and then took our picture together. We just did guy stuff and hung out. The next day when I saw the report (from the war zone) I was in a different place than a lot of people who would have seen the same report. There were names, faces and realties to go along with war," said Lee.
As he continued to talk about the soldiers who serve our country Lee noted, "These soldiers are the same people that grew up in my neighborhood, whose families shop at the same malls, go to the same movie theaters and eat at the same restaurants that I do. I see their faces in those places. When I had the opportunity to go to Iraq, I saw it as an opportunity to sing these songs of hope, not an opportunity to support a war. The reality is there are men and women over there just like you and me who have the same needs, have families and are making a great sacrifice in the name of honor and duty. The least that I can do is to go over there and thank them that my children can go to the mall, church, the rink and the bowling alley without worrying about what is going to happen to them. These people are taking the conflict out of our backyard and taking it to where it originated."
Early in his songwriting career, two veteran songwriters took Lee under their wings and taught him that, 'Whatever truth you write, once it becomes an audio file, it lives beyond you.' One would have to think that songs such as "I Smile" recently recorded by country music star Pam Tillis will be with us for a long time, as will be the legacy of love that Russ Lee is building.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs,
www.rivetingriffs.com . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his
late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright
and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.
Note from Writer