Sunday, October 13, 2013
Gaspingly blue sky,
Trees shouting orange and yellow glory,
Tang of fresh-pressed cider on my tongue,
Still-ringing morning song,
Neighbor kindly checking in,
Birds whistling while hanging their storm windows,
Dogs gamboling, patrolling,
asking the neighbor dachshund where to find fresh voles at a reasonable price,
Fleece-filled hammock gently swaying,
Tender book of poetry,
Sleepy wife curled against my side:
"Thank you" is not enough.
Friday, August 30, 2013
A fun play from MaryBeth:
Firsts. With so many folks starting school, college, seminary, etc. I've been thinking of a lot of other firsts in my life. Share with us, if you will:
Your first "place" - whether it was an apartment, dorm room, or home with a new spouse, the first place where you really felt like a grown-up:
My first apartment, post-college--the one I got all by myself. The one where I kept a hammer under the bed in case of intruders. The one where a forgotten head of lettuce turned to soup in the crisper. The one that was over a computer-repair shop. The one where I went downstairs one morning to discover that my my car had been squished by a truck in the night (and the trucker left a note, shoring up my faith in human nature). The one that my dad helped me to wallpaper, instilling in me one of my first Important Life Lessons:
Your first time away from home. Construe this any way you want. College? Girl Scout Camp? Study Abroad?Oooooo...Girl Scout Camp! Many interesting things were discovered:
- Oranges impaled on peppermint sticks, through which the juice was sucked out. Mmmmmm.
- Cliques, which left several girls in tears...and me, just mad as I watched it unfold.
- My first earworm in memory, sung repeatedly with Julie Elswick in our tent after lights-out (listen at your own risk):
Your first job in your field of endeavor (so, not babysitting, unless you are A Professional Babysitter today).
I had two church music jobs while in college; actually, I'd been leading since I was about 13, but these were my first steady, paid gigs. The real job was at a campus-adjacent church, where I led Saturday night Mass from behind a guitar, with a talented teenage girl singing along. That was fun.
Less fun was the situation with our college chapel services; our liturgist (who I adored) left over the summer, and she hadn't been replaced. The sister in charge of the chapel services fully expected that I'd lead the music in her place until such time as a new hire could be made...without any sort of compensation (my first experience of the "undervalued musician" dynamic). I tried to explain to her that I'd be happy to bring my gifts and years of training to bear on the dilemma, but that I'd like to call it a work/study situation (at the princely sum of $7/hour...quite a bargain was I!), as I needed to eat that summer. Otherwise, another paying job would need to take up the hours she was looking to fill with music. Let the record state that summer chapel services were music-free that year.
Your first time hosting. Again, construed broadly, this could be a dinner for the in-laws, your first time to have guests for a holiday meal, etc.
My best friend/roommate and I, post-college, decided to host our church "young adults" group for a sloppy joes/beer/movie gathering one New Year's Day. This was a particularly close group of people; we spent a great deal of our free time together (one couple had got rather publicly engaged at the Christmas party), and almost all of us lived within a radius of just three miles or so.
So, that morning, as I cleaned the apartment, Roommate went to the kitchen to start cooking. We had no ground beef.
No. Ground. Beef.
This made the planned menu rather difficult to prepare. So, thought I, "I'll just go over to the grocery store and pick some up." On New Year's Day. You can see where this is going...
So we got on the phone and called the guests, inviting them to bring a pound of ground beef along, if they had one.
Every party we hosted (or attended) that year, we were given ground beef.
Your first love.That can be a person or something else!!
I was absolutely nuts about my elementary school music class. Singing, playing instruments, talking about music...I was absolutely HOOKED. Mrs. Ewald (to whom I will always be grateful) made it so much fun! I loved "music stations" days, where we rotated around the room, trying out various instruments and music games. I loved that she got us to bring in the instruments we studied privately, to demonstrate for the rest of the class (my first performance experience!). I loved that we frequently sang this song (expressing my nascent inner hippie):
...and that, every Halloween, she got out crayons and drawing paper, and had us draw this music:
Besides being fun, it opened my mind to music as a vehicle for storytelling, art and other forms of expression. Well done, Mrs. Ewald!
Friday, August 2, 2013
Yes, Ro and I will make it legal (likely in October).
Yes, I'm so full of joy about this step that my heart could burst from my chest.
But I can't write about it. Not yet. My heart is too full.
So I'll offer this instead. The joy fairly leaps off the screen and into your own heart, no?
Thursday, August 1, 2013
It's nothing like the grievous drudgery students often feel at an English teacher's request for three pages on the use of symbolism in "Jude the Obscure" (which request, I confess, never seemed to bring me down as it did my classmates). Nor is it about Ralphie's sly ambition, hoping that a school writing assignment will fortify his case when asking for a particular Christmas present.
I'm talking about the simple joy of listening deeply to another person speak fully about something/one that matters to them, or about an event or place they've astutely observed, or about a question pressed hard against their heart/mind/spirit. (Listening as you are now, Gentle Reader. Thank you for your generosity.)
Anyway, as you know, there's joy to be found in making that quiet connection, in reflecting on what binds us, on our common experience, our shared pain, our human aspiration. I've laughed and cried with Anne Lamott often, and chuckled at the mordant Bill Bryson; however, I've always thought of myself as a fiction reader. One of those limiting labels, I guess.
I've serendipitously been nudged toward three particular literary features in the last couple of weeks, and each of them has moved me deeply. They're not just non-fiction; they're about what's true.
First, NPR correspondent Scott Simon's Twitter feed this last week, which comprised the last days of his mother's life. Simultaneously aching, gorgeous and tender, they're like grief haikus. For all its strengths and influence, I never thought of Twitter as a vehicle for beauty, until now. Read them; you'll see what I mean.
Secondly, my fiction-junkie side has been aware of Chris Bohjalian for years; I've enjoyed many of his novels, including (last month) The Sandcastle Girls, which takes place during the Armenian genocide in Syria in the early part of the 20th century. It was a great read, and it led me to look for more Bohjalian books...so I found Idyll Banter. It's a compendium of his columns for the Burlington Free Press between 1992 and 2004--observations of life in small-town Vermont. Part history, part social commentary, all of it his lens on his life and the lives of those nearest him. One of these pieces, "Losing the Library," was particularly touching to me. His small-town library was drowned by the overflowing New Haven River during a storm. In eight short pages, he packs town history, literary history, meteorology, and reporting...all tinged with grief at the loss of a beloved town resource and the hope that underlies its rebuilding:
By their very nature, libraries are generationally democratic. They cater to everyone. School and work or classes and clubs may separate us, segregating us by interest and age. But libraries remain one of the few places in this world that still bring us together...on the morning after the waters had drenched much of the library and the town gathered to try to save what remained, I saw dazed adults crying softly as they worked...not for the roads or the bridges that had been lost...but they did cry for their books...
Stories like this are generously augmented with lighter pieces such as "Dead Cluster Flies Serve As Window Insulation for the Inept" and "Surly Cow Displays No Remorse," in which he and his wife, driving on a country road near their house, are pinned down by a herd of cows. They try to chase them back toward their corral, and
a number of times I even explained that I was a vegetarian, but obviously these cows were female, and they knew they were in no danger of becoming Quarter Pounders.His columns are condensed generosity, humor and honesty, fortified with interesting reporting and observation. Well worth a look!
Finally, and most auspiciously for me as I plan for a new choir season, I found Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others." Author Stacy Horn is a 20-year veteran soprano in the Choral Society of Grace Church, NYC. For the most part, each chapter is grounded in a major choral work; within that frame, she explores her life, the history of choral singing, the foibles of a community choir and its directors, her soprano psyche...
Jesus Christ. How am I supposed to count this? It's in seven. Is that even rhythmically allowed?...and the magic of finding such beauty and shared humanity in the simple act of opening your mouth and making a sound.
I actually read most of a chapter aloud to my wife, who grinned at Horn's horror-turned-to-wonder as her conductor switched her from soprano 1 (melody) to soprano 2 (harmony): after some disorientation and paddling around in the music,
I was feeling harmony. Not just singing it, but physically feeling it. It was a rush. You don't experience this when you're singing the melody. I was completely in the power of the sound we were making together and I just stood there, afraid to move, thinking, Don't end, don't end, don't end. And it took nothing. A couple of notes. A D against a B flat. That's it. Two notes and I went from a state of complete misery and lonesomeness to such an astonishing sense of communion it was like I'd never sung with the choir before.If you've ever sung in a choir, read this book. You'll grin in lots of places, learn some things and generally enjoy the ride. If you haven't, read this book. You'll be auditioning for choir by the weekend...and I have some openings! :-)
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Friday, April 6, 2012
For me, the experience of conducting is simultaneously one of suspended animation, dance and deeply analytical, multi-layered thinking. At any given moment, I'm immersed in rhythm, pitch, motion, melody, harmony, textual interpretation, phrasing, articulation, vocal technique, conducting technique, classroom management, collaboration with singers and accompanist, learning styles, teaching styles, how to ask a question, how to phrase a directive, how to paint with my arms and hands, facial expression as teaching tool, where to inject a bit of humor and where to push harder.
It's deep engagement with people, a task, an experience, art.
It's about interpreting a composer's road map, fostering my singers' abilities and inspiring something fresh. It's about inviting and leading; offering and receiving; pointing and looking; diagnosing and demonstrating; understanding and explaining; wondering and deciding.
It's choreography, storytelling, question-asking and getting people to use their heads, hearts, instruments and pencils.
It's play, prayer, proclamation, lament, exultation...in short, a deeply internal yet total out-of-body experience. Sound mysterious? It's shared alchemy that can turn black dots on a page into an experience of the sublime.
I'll let Robin Williams close, with a line from Dead Poets Society:
“We didn’t just read poetry, we let it drip from our tongues like honey. Spirits soared, women swooned, and gods were created, gentlemen. Not a bad way to spend an evening, eh?”
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Friday, July 2, 2010
I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.
I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.
I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.
I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.
I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.
A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.
My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.
I want to be part of that church too, and at the danger of trying to add to such a wonderful litany of dreams/ visions and prayers I wonder which five things would you echo from or add to this. What kind of church do you want to be a part of in the 21st Century?
Bonus: Is there a hymn or a Bible passage that you would make your inspiration?
I want to be part of a church that is
- humble–that can find a different standard of belonging than dogmatic “right” and “wrong.” That can be fully in conversation with people and institutions whose ideas, strengths, commitments are different from its own, for the betterment of all. That can admit when it’s wrong by its own standards, repent and do better next time. That cares less about its image in the world than its effectiveness in the relief of suffering and of spreading (or, at the very least, not impeding) the love of God. Talk with me about babies and bathwater all you want; I’m pretty sure that genuine love is the fulfillment of the Law. I want a church that isn’t so comfortable that it has all the right answers; that’s a kind of living death. I want a church that will recognize its own “-olatries” and work to tear them down. And could we maybe even (dare I say it) laugh at ourselves sometimes?
- engaged in a positive way–that truly sees the suffering/injustice within its walls, down the street, and around the world (which will require a good dose of characteristic #1, particularly in first-world environments) and wants to provide that cold drink of water to a child more than it wants to preserve itself. That seeks out the gifts of its body and brings them to bear on the problems it finds. However, the church should act within the political system of its country more as a voice of conscience than as a political power in its own right; it should be about raising questions about how we are to live together, instead of seeking power for its own sake. And–hear me now–its methods are every bit as important as its results. Scapegoating and scaring people into thinking they’re losing their grip on everything they hold dear so that they’ll support a particular political engine is hypocritical, reprehensible and, in the end, counter-productive. Witness the treatment of GLBT folks in the last twenty years as just one of many examples. We should be about tikkun olam.
- awake to the unfolding beauty of the world–that observes, listens, ponders and responds creatively. Where beauty is taken seriously as a characteristic of the Divine. Where the planet is celebrated and protected as our astonishing home. Where spirits open in song, art, dance and story, in response to the unbelievable gift of being alive and together under the sun, in God’s gaze, as part of the ongoing story of God’s people. Where, as the hymn says, “through the church the song goes on.”
- un-self-conscious about holding love of God and neighbor as its highest values. Period. Worship is vibrant, fresh, the central practice/equipment to the life of faith for all people–and I do mean ALL people–so that they may be sent out to love all the world. Not to convert them, just to love them. It must be extravagantly welcoming to everyone, as if love really does cast out fear. Doctrinal agreement and social conformity are not defining characteristics of this community; for once, it’s more about “us” than about “me.” And–don’t get me wrong–I’m not talking about a squishy “we are the world” sentiment here; I’m talking about honest, vigorous, creative, brave, get-your-hands-dirty love. Not onstage; in the trenches. And sometimes, we are the ones in need of help and teaching. Two-way relationships.
- hopeful, faithful, confident and patient enough to pour itself out as Christ did.
And let me just say this; it’s easy to talk about it on this level. The hard part is when we try to answer the question, “But how, then, shall we live?” Because working all this out is messy. Feelings get hurt. Dignities are affronted. Turf is impinged upon. Scabs are pulled off. Put your helmets on, people; this is a contact sport. But if those things don’t happen, from where does the growth come? Truly, if we’re not changed by the experience, what are we doing? And this is where the good stuff always comes–where we can be surprised by grace, by joy, by love.
Oh, and my answer to the bonus question? Albert Bayly's wonderful hymn does it for me (sung to BEACH SPRING):
Lord, whose love in humble service bore the weight of human need;
who, upon the cross, forsaken, worked your mercy's perfect deed.
We, your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart;
consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart.
Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread;
still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead.
As you, Lord, in deep compassion, healed the sick and freed the soul,
by your Spirit send us power to your world to make it whole.
As we worship, grant us vision, till your love's redeeming light
in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight,
making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear;
stirring us to ardent service, your abundant life to share.
Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go,
to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show;
hope and health, goodwill and comfort, counsel, aid and peace we give,
that your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know and live.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
- (Art is) the beauty that is there in the world; things that, being part of the movement of life, elevate us...grace, beauty, harmony, intensity.
- Most people, when they move, well, they just move depending on whatever's around them. At this very moment, as I'm writing, Constitution the cat is going by with her tummy dragging close to the floor. This cat has absolutely nothing constructive to do in life, and still she is heading toward something–probably an armchair–and you can tell by the way she is moving that she is headed toward. Maman just went by on her way to the front door. She's going out shopping, and in fact, she already is out, her movement anticipating itself. I don't really know how to explain it, but when we move we are in a way destructured by our movement toward something. We are both here and at the same time not here, because we're already in the process of going elsewhere.
- What makes the strength of a warrior isn't the energy he uses trying to intimidate the other guy by sending him a whole lot of signals; it's the strength he's able to concentrate within himself by staying centered.
Friday, June 18, 2010
As I opened up my computer this morning, I directly went to my blog and RevGals to see what the newest Friday Five would be! Nothing was here, which seemed odd. Then I went to look at the calendar and counted the Fridays, and it is the THIRD Friday! How did that happen so quickly? It's my turn, so here's a quickie:
1. Do you tend to be a late person or one who is timely, arriving on time or earlier?
I'm used to being the one who runs the meeting/rehearsal/event, which means that I take being prepared and punctual seriously–it's a matter of respecting those good souls who have volunteered their time and effort for that which I've asked. It backs up on me sometimes, though:
- I'm (unreasonably?) irritated by lateness. I know that life sometimes gets in the way, but I have a hard time not seeing habitual lateness as a sign of disrespect.
- I drive Beloved nuts when we're going somewhere together–I'm the little bouncing animal gasping "Are you ready? Can we go? We're gonna be laaaaaaate!" She is gracious about this. :-)
3. Is procrastination your inclination? Why or why not?
4. Do you like schedules or spontaneity? Which works best for you?
5. How do you stay on track with the various things you need to, people you must meet, etc., etc.?
BONUS: Whatever comes to mind about forgetfulness or lateness.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
- by daring to be both gay and Christian,
- by daring to be both divorced and Christian,
- by daring to be both mentally or physically ill and Christian,
- by daring to be both homeless and Christian,
- by daring to be both broken and Christian,
- by daring to be both doubtful and faithful,
- by daring to admit that sometimes the only way to God is through a pig sty, or, in short,
- by daring to admit our brokenness and to reclaim our core selves in the company of the body of Christ.