Imagine you have experienced perfect health for decades. That is, until a regularly scheduled doctor's appointment reveals the worst – incurable bone marrow cancer. For Ken Mansfield, a former stoner with an Indian guru and a ramshackle reputation led to Christianity by a lovely Southern beauty who eventually became his wife, the ominous news felt like an invitation to his very own funeral procession.
Best known as the U.S. manager of the Beatles' Apple Records in the late '60s, Mansfield was unequivocally floored. "Why did I have to get cancer?" was an oft-repeated question to God during those days of pity and self-doubt. But through the bleak ordeal, the record executive-producer's firm faith in something bigger instilled a deep belief that his race was not over, not by a long shot.
Given one to three years to live, Mansfield has incredulously beaten the odds. He is alive and kicking over 17 years later and claims a few recent notable distinctions among his diverse résumé: best-selling author and motivational speaker. Stumbling on Open Ground: Love, God, Cancer, and Rock 'n' Roll painstakingly describes Mansfield's remarkable passage through the valleys and back to the mountain tops. Along the way, anecdotes about hanging out with George Harrison and Waylon Jennings provide ample levity.
In part two of an exclusive interview debuting in this column today [you can catch up with the debut installment by visiting "Fascinated By Far-Away Places..."], the longtime Capitol Records promo man sheds light on exactly how he became a Christian and the importance of maintaining a daily dialogue with God.
Fittingly, Mansfield later zeros in on the concept of stumbling on open ground. In his words, "No matter how deep your belief is – if you hit a really heavy trial and you’re up against horses or you’re in the jungle – you will start stumbling." Stick around for the perfect remedy below.
The Ken Mansfield Interview, Part Two
What do you recall about the first time you spoke in front of a crowd?
It was strange because I never wanted to be a speaker. I started out as an entertainer but that was in a group. When my first book, The Beatles, the Bible, and Bodega Bay: My Long and Winding Road, came out in 2000, I kept getting these invitations to speak in churches. I always turned them down.
Finally, a giant church convinced me to come and speak. I thought, ‘Oh great’. To make a long story short, I felt like God told me to go do it. I told him, “I’m gonna go do it. If it’s terrible, you’ll never get me up there again. But if it’s great, I understand that I’m supposed to be in the ministry.” Well, I went and it was incredible. The whole experience just blew me away. We’ve been on the road ever since speaking at churches, colleges, conventions, etc.
I don’t get scared anymore. It’s interesting – there’s a certain kind of nervousness. If you say you don’t get nervous when you speak – especially when it’s a large crowd – you’re probably lying. When I was with Andy Williams at the height of his fame, he said one time, “After all these years, each time before I go on a stage, I think I’m gonna throw up. I’m so scared.”
I greatly admire your diverse life and career. Is there anything you can’t do?
I guess sometimes I just don’t know any better [laughs]. A lot of it has to do with naiveté. I tend to decide I want to do something on the spur of the moment. I’m not really qualified to do it, but it ends up coming out okay.
The first record I produced was a hit [The Deep Six, 1965]. The first song I wrote was a hit [Al Martino's "Wake Up to Me Gentle", 1968]. The first book I wrote was a major book. But after my first production credit, it was a really long time before I had another one. The same credo applies to my songs and books. If I methodically pursue a task, it isn’t so good.
I could probably go and represent somebody in a law case tomorrow and probably do a pretty good job. I’m not a lawyer, though [laughs]. I thrive when things come on the natch and from the heart.
What is your perfect day?
Getting up in the morning and making it to bed in the evening.
What would you say to someone who does not have a personal relationship with God?
When I had an Indian guru and was struggling with the concept of becoming a Christian, I turned to him for advice because I had been under his non-denominational teaching for almost 10 years. He knew I became a follower of his when my life was really a mess.
He simply asked me, “How is your life now, Kenji?” His reasoning being that I would have to admit it was better since I started meditating and all that stuff so why should I change faiths. I thought for a minute and said, “Now that I consider it, my life sucks!”
I realized that living a life based on works and doing what feels good wasn't working. Once I accepted Christ as my Saviour, I found a peace that truly does pass all understanding.
So my answer to someone who would ask me that question is, “How is your life now?” If their life sucks, I can tell them I know a better way – a way of peace and a beautiful eternity to look forward to.
Why did you ultimately choose Mercy Ministries as the charity to donate some of the book proceeds?
When I met my wife Connie I wasn’t a Christian. Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Ministries, was one of Connie’s best friends, and they were going to church together. Here I was – this stoner with a guru and bad reputation – and I was really messed up.
Once Connie and I began dating, all her girlfriends were saying, “Get away from this guy. He’s trouble.” But Nancy, for some reason, was the only one who encouraged Connie not to dump me. She told her, “I think there’s something there.” Connie eventually brought me to the Lord. I’ll always remain eternally grateful for Nancy’s confidence in me.
I’ve walked down the halls of Mercy and seen the girls and lives that have been changed. It’s a pure ministry and every cent that goes in there is used to redeem lives. I’ve seen the hopelessness that has walked through the doors of that ministry and the heart of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just powerful and beautiful.
And here’s Nancy, this little blonde girl, traveling all over the world redeeming these young girls. I’ve known her for almost 30 years and every time she starts speaking, I start crying.
Would you consider writing a song named “Stumbling on Open Ground” and is it true that you are writing new material with Contemporary Christian singer/guitarist Phil Keaggy?
I might. I’ve had more than one person say, “Hey, “Stumbling on Open Ground” is a great song title.”
Recently my wife and I were on vacation on the Gulf Coast with Phil – one of my dearest friends – and his wife, Bernadette. I sang “Between Wyomings” for him in the living room one morning after our devotions. A couple weeks later Phil sent me a tape with his arrangement of my song. He absolutely brought it to life.
“Between Wyomings” subsequently became the lead track on his album, The Cover of Love . In case you didn’t know, Between Wyomings is the title of my third book prior to Stumbling on Open Ground.
A few months ago I rang Phil up and said, “I think I have a new song idea that I want to write with you. All I need is help with a melody and a few more lines, and we can go from there.” We met in Nashville and finished the song in an afternoon.
It was a song that I was originally working up decades ago for Ringo Starr called “Drums in Love”. We worked with the basic concept and turned it into “My Guitar’s in Love”. Once again Phil brought life into the whole idea.
We haven’t done anything with it yet other than a quick demo in his studio. If “My Guitar’s in Love” does eventually see release, see if you can listen to that song without admiring Phil’s talent and walk away without a smile on your face.
What led you to the interesting book title, Stumbling on Open Ground: Love, God, Cancer, and Rock 'n' Roll?
I had the title in the back of my mind for many years (I’ve always got 10 or more concepts floating around). I wanted to write a book about a single thought, yet I didn’t know if I could stretch it into an entire book. So I actually started writing Stumbling on Open Ground more than once, but I could never take it all the way.
The Bible scripture in Jeremiah 12:5 always fascinated me: “If racing with mere men has wearied you, how will you race against horses?” If you stumble and fall on open ground what will you do in Jordan’s jungles? I interpret that to mean if you have trouble dealing with everyday life, how are you going to do when you’re really up against something stronger?
No matter how deep your belief is – if you hit a really heavy trial and you’re up against horses or you’re in the jungle – you will start stumbling. Maybe not much at first, but it will happen. When I was diagnosed with incurable bone marrow cancer in 1996, I thought, ‘Wow, this concept definitely applies here.’
I questioned God repeatedly about the situation: “Why did I have to get cancer?” People think, ‘If I question God, that makes me a bad person. I’m supposed to have faith and trust. Oh gee, God’s not going to like me anymore because I’m stumbling and fumbling about here.’
But hey, we’re all human. It’s absolutely okay to talk with God, it’s okay to get mad, and it’s okay to ask him questions. I call that praying! You’re having a dialogue with God and that’s the point of the book – he wants to talk about it with you.
After much soul searching, I realized that I believed everything God says is true. I had his promises that he would be with me and never forsake me. He is my strength, and I learned to just trust him. My battle belonged to the Lord, and he pulled me through. I can’t praise him enough for his loving mercy.
Count on God, and you’ll remain on open ground. No matter what happens, you don’t have to stumble and fall because you have his promises. Simply put, God always has your back.
How do you pray to God?
When God wants us to pray, it’s not like he wants us to sit down and go through this formal ritual where you have to confess first, praise next, pray for other people, and finally towards the end ask for something for yourself [laughs].
Of course, this is all good if you do this, but I would encourage you to pursue a dialogue with the Lord. Thank God for the good things in your life, trust him during the bad times, tell him what you don’t like, and tell him what you would like.
At the end of your prayer, don’t forget to add the following necessary element: “Okay, you’ve heard me out Father. Now I place everything in your hands, and I thank you for your answer.” I often say, “I thank you for your perfect answer to my imperfect prayer” [laughs]. If the book encourages someone to examine their relationship with God, I have done my job.
DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! A seven-image slideshow, entitled "Ken Mansfield: The Christian Life – Featuring Phil Keaggy, Mercy Ministries, Bodega Bay, and a Jordanaire's Son," accompanies this article. If you arrived late to the party and missed Part One of the Mansfield interview, simply head on over to "Fascinated By Far-Away Places..."
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...Did you know Steve McQueen was a Christian? The King of Cool actually rivaled John Wayne as the most popular actor of the '60s and '70s, scoring with audiences in such iconic films as "The Magnificent Seven", "The Great Escape", "Bullitt", "The Getaway", and "Papillon." In fact, noted evangelist Billy Graham visited McQueen and inscribed his personal Bible to the star. His widow, Barbara Minty McQueen, recently sat down and spoke about her husband's faith and how it became his bedrock during his painful struggle with mesothelioma. Their charming wedding day also receives much attention. Read more by visiting the following link: "When You're In Love With The King of Cool: Sweet Memories..."
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Exclusive Interview No. 3: Production manager Kent McCray was Michael Landon's best man and proverbial right hand on three beloved television series – Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven. Landon's firm 30-year stranglehold in television remains unprecedented and could very well be attributed to the star's propensity for Christian-themed stories celebrating the human spirit. In a wide-ranging conversation commemorating Landon's 76th birthday ["The Brother That He Never Had..."], McCray recalls their memorable first meeting, Landon the practical joker, visiting a terminally ill teenager and ensuring her controversial last request happened, and what happened when the actor didn't have a driver's license at a Los Angeles airport. Don't miss it.
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