Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
I think she's the bravest human being ever. I try to place myself in her sandals--those of a 14-or-so-year-old good girl, future mapped comfortably for her, brave enough to risk everything...her husband, her parents' goodwill, her whole social circle, her daily bread, her very life, because an angel passed on a message from God...which probably was not a form even as comforting and recognizable as Dan Akroyd and John Belushi "on a mission from God."
Weird. Seriously. This strange creature just zooms in on a little Segway-cloud and asks her for everything she has: her past, her present, her future. And--get this--she says YES.
The biggest, most reverberant "yes" the world had ever known. Madeleine L'Engle described it thus:
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
there'd have been no room for the child.
I love that. The irrational season. This Advent, the phrase "irrational season" feels real-er to me than it ever has before. For Americans, things are shaky. The buttresses are cracking (pardon the expression...the 5th grader in me really couldn't resist). Rational beings from every sector seem to exist in a state of barely-controlled panic as wars continue, epidemics rage, and the economy grinds to a near-halt. This is an extremely up-close-and-personal reality for several people I care about, and I'm aware of my own family's precarious position as state budgets tighten and jobs are lost, because we both work for the state. I like my house. I like knowing where my next meal is coming from.
Reason is not the only influence here. Reason speaks in the voice of safety, of manageability, of stability. God's voice is very different. God calls us out into deep water and promises to teach us to swim. That's a radical thing. In Jeannette Lindholm's words,
Ever-loving and -sustaining is the peace of God's embrace.
If we falter in our courage and we doubt what we have known,
God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own.
Still more radical to me than God's call and promise is Mary's "yes." God is big. Mary was little. God, I'm assuming, had a longer view of the situation than Mary did. And she signed up for the whole thing, unhesitatingly.
We churchy types are taught to revere Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. As if her sexuality (or lack thereof) were the thing that makes her extraordinary. I think that, rather than seeing her as a prim guardian of purity, it makes sense to see her as a most open soul, generous and humble and brave. What a mighty heart she had, able to open wide enough to contain the mystery of God's presence and brilliance and grace, though her own life was thrown into such complete chaos by any practical measure.
What an amazing response to ponder deep in our own hearts in this irrational season.
to embody God's compassion for each fragile human life.
God is with us in our longing to bring healing to the earth,
while we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior's birth.
There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.
So let's make this easy, if we can: tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.
1) Shopping. Though we've scaled w-a-y back this year, there are a few things I need to get, and I have not started yet. Bleah.
2) Godparent duty. Godchild 1 is Mary this year, in her church's Christmas program--Beloved & I will go & be with her tonight as she ponders it all deep in her heart.
3) Rehearsal. I'm almost there: choir and bells are ready for Christmas Eve and even the first Monday in January, but tomorrow morning, I'm a supporting utility infielder for my children's choir director, who's leading the kids' Christmas program. It has been an odyssey this year, but hopefully it won't be anything like THIS:
4) Worship planning. Because, amazing as it seems to me today, there will be MORE worship services after the 25th.
5) Answer 1.4 million e-mails. December, man. Sigh.
All that having been said, I'm in the stretch! Hope the same is true for you.
*<@:-)% <---Choralgirl Elf
Thursday, December 18, 2008
P-E Obama has asked Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his swearing in. There it is. There's sort of a hubbub about this in progressive/GLBT circles today.
Do I particularly like Warren's theology? No.
Do I think he's been an obstruction for GLBT folks? Yes.
Is it possible that this is a statement about our relative position on the Obama Chain of Influence? Maybe, but not necessarily.
Do I think we should raise a great big stink about it? No. And again, NO.
Here's the thing: if this administration is going to have a chance at reformation of the political process, we all need to accept that we're not going to get everything we want. And that, particularly as Christians, we need to remember that Brother Warren IS, in fact, a member of the same Body of Christ as we who disagree with him. That living together and working together and learning each others' stories is the only real way forward. That we have an opportunity to extend that broad welcome that we're working for ourselves. AND that a rant at this moment is probably not going to be helpful in the long run, when we want to address the issues that REALLY affect us, like legislation.
I think Lee Stranahan's got it right.
Patience, people. WHATEVER happens, Obama's election is a step forward. If he's the leader I hope that he is, he will do as little pandering to ANY interest group as possible (and that includes mine), and more bridge-building between disparate groups. He will likely not do this perfectly, but I'm willing to give him a chance.
It's early. Breathe.
UPDATE on 12/23: This is kind of cool.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Wrapping paper! In my gift-giving glory days, I worked for a Hallmark store. Now, if I can get paper all the way around the gift, and a bow slapped on it, I'm pretty happy. To date, I have achieved exactly ZERO shopping for this particular Christmas. Sigh.
2. Real tree or Artificial?
Real. Frasier Fir, if possible. Need the smell. Like the short needles!
3. When do you put up the tree?
Whenever we can find a couple of unfilled hours in mid-December. Last Sunday afternoon, this time around...though, if circumstances would permit, I'd do it the old-fashioned way, putting up the tree on Christmas Eve and taking it down on the 12th day of Christmas. Oh, well.
4. When do you take the tree down?
Whenever we can find a couple of unfilled hours in mid-January...and the gumption, since this is much less fun than putting it up!
5. Do you like eggnog?
In a paraphrase of the old Alka-Seltzer commercial: "I like eggnog, but it doesn't like me!"
6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Hmmm...I'd have to go with boxed sets of the "Little House" books and five Judy Blume books, whose covers were read right off.
Embarassingly, I have a picture of me at 12-years-old-or-so, looking rather enraptured over Shaun Cassidy's first album. :-)
7. Hardest person to buy for?
8. Easiest person to buy for?
Beloved, hands down
9. Do you have a nativity scene?
Beloved collects interesting "folk art" sorts of nativity scenes; we have them from Finland, Colombia, the Maasai tribe, lots of places!
BTW...they are NOT anything like this.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail, but not 'til Epiphany...it's one of Beloved's favorite projects to write and illustrate a newsy account of our year. She's great at it; they're funny and warm...much more interesting than we actually are!
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
Two words: stretch pants.
12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
We have a tradition at our house...Beloved & I watch the following together (usually all in a row) every Christmas week:
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- A Christmas Story (this goes back decades in Beloved's family)
This scene, BTW, may be the reason I wanted to name my dog Linus; it's the most consistently meaningful cultural Christmas experience of my life:
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Spotty. No good answer.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Homemade lefse and pepparkakor.
16. Lights on the tree?
White, please. Red wooden beads. Ornaments in mostly red and clear-varnished wood, with the exception of Beloved's penguins and my Snoopys.
17. Favorite Christmas song?
- Best CD Anne Sofie von Otter, Home for Christmas. FANTASTIC. Her version of "Dancing Day" alone is worth the purchase price.
- Classical Britten's Ceremony of Carols
- Congregation Silent Night, done simply and in candlelight. This year, we're having a harp accompany us.
- Radio Amy Grant's "Tennessee Christmas" or Michael W. Smith's "All Is Well"
- Choir "Before the Marvel of this Night" or the Schulz-Widmar version of "Midnight Clear," both found in the Augsburg Choirbook:
I especially like this verse, which is so relevant this year:
the world has suffered long;
beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
and warring humankind hears not
the love-song which they bring;
oh, hush your noise and cease your strife,
and hear the angels sing.
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
It's the most churchiful time of the year (save Holy Week), so we're in town on Christmas Eve (traditional dinner with friends between services), and usually my sister's place on Christmas Day. Big family thing over New Year's weekend, for which we travel.
19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph (the most famous reindeer of alllllll)
20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
Rodney the Reindeer
21. Open presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Whenever we're together is OK with me.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
Vacuous parties, the fact that the retail season now starts in September/October, and electronic trees/snowmen/santas/ reindeer/penguins/night-of-the-living-ceramic-carolers beeping out carols.
23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
24. Favorite for Christmas dinner?
Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, green been casserole (with crispy French onions), lefse, a pretty tossed salad with pomegranates, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. Mmm.
25. What do you want for Christmas this year?
- A light that shines through these rather dark times.
- Peace on earth.
- Safe travel for everyone.
- Time to sit down and just BE with Beloved and the pups.
- Practically speaking, more memory for the computer...so we can install the operating system upgrade...so that I can use my new orange iPod.
Hope, goodwill, and great choral music!
Friday, December 12, 2008
In the last couple of weeks, my thinking has been split between the fruition of this concert season and the beginning of the next one--planning with Mark (my co-creative director), ordering music, talking with instrumentalists, assembling packets of new music for singers. When Mark & I plan, we think about texts. We think about tunes. We think about performance practices and compositional styles. We think about where the music comes from, trying to use music by local composers and music from parts of the world we may never see. We think about the musical forces at our disposal: number of singers, types of instruments, timbres, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, likely concert venues. We think about musical styles...pacing of program, fit, length, difficulty, familiarity vs. freshness, and the ever-elusive "fun" factor. We try to see and hear the music from the perspectives of our singers and our concertgoers.
At the end of this process, we put this series of juxtapositions in the hands, hearts, minds and voices of our singing friends...and, for the next few months, we listen. We listen for what's working, and for what isn't. We listen for problems and for beauty. We listen to intonation, vocal technique, blend, tempo, articulation, dynamic contrast...for all the things that make it possible to get ourselves out of the way and make room for the magic to happen.
A couple of posts ago, I spoke of the alchemy of music in making connections between human beings. I love the concentrated goodwill of choral singing--a bunch of people getting together to do this thing that makes them vulnerable, that asks them to simultaneously dig into themselves and forget themselves--to work cooperatively toward something beautiful. No winners and losers. Just striving and risking and trusting and blooming, creating together.
But there's one more element of music making that makes it so...well, opulent for me. There's a way in which texts and tunes, glued together and all laid out in a row, have a way of making you see familiar stories differently. And each of the dozen singers and 150 or so listeners--every person has a slightly different experience, based on what we bring to the table.
One of the pieces in our current program is a familiar carol in new clothing. Joy to the World is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous sacred Christmas songs going; however, the complexity of the version we're singing changes the experience of the song substantially. We're singing an arrangement of the carol by local (brilliant) composer Stephen Paulus. It is not simple...and yet, it is. The dimensions of the piece are extraordinary; horizontally, it's polymetric. In addition, there are up to three different lines going on at a given moment, with layers and complexity increasing as the song progresses. Vertically, from the very first chord, it's full of great sheets of sparkling harmonic fecundity that change with every beat.
I've known it before as a simple song, hummable while baking Christmas cookies. This version is not hummable. But, as one listener at our first concert noted, "That arrangement just turned the prism for me. I thought I knew that hymn, but this version made me see it completely differently."
Richness. There are new layers of meaning hiding even in a carol we've sung since we were first able to sing. That's what serious art is all about, Charlie Brown. The RevGals' Friday Five today is about what we see (see previous post), and one of my fellow RevGals included this quote in her answer; I'll leave you with it, and the invitation to make time to reflect on the richness of the familiar in your life:
This Friday Five is inspired by my husband's Lasik surgery yesterday....He'd been contemplating it for a while and was pushed over the edge by the fact that we put too much money in our healthcare spending account this year and it would have been gone anyway. (There was only enough for one eye, but the kind people at the eye clinic figured out a way to divvy up the charges between surgery and followup in January=next year's spending account). So please say a little prayer for his safe recovery and share with us your thoughts on eyes and vision.
1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family?
Got Dad's eye color, I think--I'm hazel, and the color of my eyes depends on the color of my shirt! Nifty to have a wardrobe accessory that requires exactly NO effort on my part. ;-)
2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them?
I'm happy with what I have, which is the same as what Beloved has! When I was a kid, I wanted them to be Scandinavian blue all the time; I've also grown to appreciate deep, rich brown (Linus & Lucy's eyes!).
3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em?
Reading glasses, that bane of middle age. But they sure cut down on computer-related headaches, and I do like the way they look! Besides, they've been a long time coming: I remember being really jealous of Christine Lunde in 4th grade, when she got big, cover-your-whole-face, early-'80s-pink glasses; I thought they were the epitome of cool. Now I have some, too (though they're about 1/3 the size of hers, and silver). Nyah nyah.
Hee hee hee.
4. Ever had, or contemplated, laser surgery? Happy with the results?
No need, thus far. Which is good, because the idea kind of creeps me out. We dissected ox eyes in 8th grade biology, and Charlie Rutherford saved a lens to throw into Ann Gano's mashed potatoes at lunch. I've never quite recovered, and it wasn't even my lunch!
5. Do you like to look people in the eye, or are you more eye-shy?
I'm pretty direct, but try not to be aggressive about it. I like eye contact; you can learn a lot by looking someone in the eye, and there's an undercurrent of integrity and openness there, too.
Bonus question: Share a poem, song, or prayer that relates to eyes and seeing.
From one of my favorite teenage "almost a stalker" movie moments in Say Anything (John Cusack and Ione Skye--yeah, baby!):
In my "church musican" mode...
One great thing about being an alto is getting to sing the recitative in Handel's Messiah that offers such a beautiful vision of promises fulfilled:
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap as an hart
and the tongue of the dumb shall sing!
Finally, I'm also a big fan of this one, which I'll offer as a sort of benediction for today:
naught be all else to me, save that Thou art!
Thou, my best thought by day or by night;
waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
I can't imagine anything else but music that could have brought about this alchemy. How is it that you can have a chord here...and then another chord there, and then your heart breaks open? I don't know the answer. Maybe it's that music is about as physical as it gets. Your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We're walking temples of noise, and when you add the human heart to this mix, it somehow lets us meet on a bridge we couldn't get to any other way.
YES. What a miracle to get to participate in it--to create it, to lead groups of people who are doing something so natural, so stuffed with goodwill, and so mysterious. I'm grateful. :-)
Friday, December 5, 2008
"Imagine a complex, multi-cultural society that annually holds an elaborate winter festival, one that lasts not simply a few days, but several weeks. This great festival celebrates the birth of the Lord and Saviour of the world, the prince of peace, a man who is divine. People mark the festival with great abundance- feasting, drinking and gift giving....." (Richard Horsley- The Liberation of Christmas)
1. I long for our country to steady itself...to stanch the financial bleeding; to rediscover its own moral compass; to do justice, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and innovate our way into a new energy (both in the inspirational sense and the make things go sense). I long for our new President to step calmly into the gap and start helping us clean up this mess.
2. I long for a global religious community that values humility, compassion and reason as much as it values dogma. That's the macrocosm...in micro, I imagine a world in which each of us could remember and take seriously the words of Wonderful Colleague: "...but I might be wrong about that." It'd be great if we could all stop grasping for the Moral High Ground, and instead reach out to each other. Not up, not down--across. I long for the wisdom and courage to live this myself.
3. I long to stay centered in gratitude, music and humor...whatever is around the next corner. The gifts of my life are remarkably abundant: Beloved, pups, friends, church community, music (choirs!), books, creativity, purpose, home, enough to eat...even in this increasingly unstable global picture, the home front is a remarkable gift.
4. That having been said, would a bag of money sufficient to pay off the credit cards be too wild a request? :-D
5. And on a practical note, I long for time. Time to walk the pups, to sit and read, to write, to sit with Beloved and just be. To get quiet enough to create and to be the catalyst for the things I listed above in my own little corner of the world. To ground myself in joyful hope, as the liturgy says.
Here, friends, is one of the great storytellers of our time, from a musical perspective, singing about longing:
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
First, it was about eight feet tall by three wide. The bottom third was mostly black, with some gravel embedded in the paint. The top section was varying shades of deep blue. From the top center down to the horizon, there was an straight-but-uneven, energetic swath of yellow and white varying from 4-8 inches wide, streaming directly and forcefully downward into the black earth, where it became an orange glow.
In other words, a field of deep darkness, through which came a stroke of glory so powerful that it turned the very earth to embers where it struck.
Sweet-smelling straw, gentle animals and smiling humans...not present. Just radiance and power.
It got me thinking. About the meeting of heaven and earth. About the story that I knew by heart, with the sentiment removed. About the starkness of the contrast between light and dark, despair and hope.
I couldn't form words around it for quite a while--not until I'd experienced some despair firsthand. A couple of years later, my personal ground was laid; I was at the lowest point of my life, and trying to re-energize myself at the St Olaf Conference on Worship, Theology and the Arts.
I had signed up for a hymnwriting workshop led by the wonderful Mel Bringle. On the first day of the workshop, we were supposed to write a text to go with a particular tune (Bill Rowan's STILL WATERS, to be precise). It could have been about anything, as long as the syllabic count and speech rhythms matched the line. This text flowed from my green felt-tip, almost of a piece. It was finished by day's end; the easiest writing I've ever done. It's about the world that so desperately needed (needs) that stroke of glory and light, which I'd come to understand as I hadn't at first view of the painting.
all earth waits for Love's bright dawn.
Send us your light, promised of old:
oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!
Whisper of wind, blow through the trees:
heaven's breath, meet flesh and bone!
Stir us again, life-giving Breeze:
oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!
Rupture the night! Sing in the stars,
Radiant One, make us your home!
Bathe us in light; blaze in our hearts:
oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!
Oh, come, Lord Jesus, come!
Blessed Advent, everyone.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Come as you're able; see whose child you are.
There is room at the table of the Lord.
Bring your burdens and your cares;
take them to the Lord in prayer.
In our weakness God is there; can't you see?
Come to the table; come as you are.
Come as you're able; see whose child you are.
There is room at the table of the Lord.
In the mercy that abounds,
and accepting love we've found,
by the blessed tie we're bound as family.
Won't you come to the table, come as you are,
come as you're able--see whose child you are.
There is room at the table of the Lord.
There's a persistence in this text--I think it does a really good job of painting God's utterly open invitation to all comers. I like that it puts that invitation in our mouths. I like that it acknowledges our burdens, our need for mercy. I like the combination of plural and singular pronouns that sets a context of "us," instead of only "me" (and yet, it feels personal to sing it). I like that it assures that mercy and grace are available for the asking. Most of all, I like that it helps us to sing our way into a love that's so much bigger than we are, it can't help but spill over the rim of any cup that tries to contain it.
Perhaps inevitably, as a member of the GLBT community, I care about that. Not for the sake of using a hymn to promote "diversity," but because it's authentically healing. Beloved and I chose it for our wedding; a lesbian friend later told us that it moved her to tears with its radical welcome at a time when her own recently-former church community had made her decidedly unwelcome. This hymn has offered the same message to many other people who have felt themselves outside the embrace of God and community, whatever their reasons.
It's robust, bountiful.
Musically, it sings with the ease of a hymn, in four parts...and yet, there's a harmonic and melodic freshness that accomplishes what so many don't--it bridges styles to the point at which style is no longer a question. It's eminently singable and, well, just appealing.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and we'll go to my sister's house, to her welcome table. Today, I woke up before the alarm (thanks to Linus's paw on my nose) with this hymn playing in my head. In the half hour or so before the beeping began, I started compiling my "I'm thankful for..." list. It's a long list. Afterward, I popped out of bed, humming "Come to the Table."
Thankfulness is powerful. I think it's helpful that a day is set aside for it on the American calendar this week, in the midst of so much anxiety about the economy and many other, very real boogeymen of this period in history. Because thankfulness is an antidote to anxiety: it grounds us in our giftedness; it locates us in relationship to God and to one another; and on this particular day, it plunks us down at a table of comparative plenty to receive again the gifts of the land and the fruits of our (and many others') labors. We finally take a moment to notice the people and the things that make our lives meaningful...that make them possible. And while our eyes are fixed on those gifts, we turn away from the fears that cow and shrink us. We live large, inside the promise of goodness to come...of goodness that has already come.
It's a holy communion table.
And so, friends, my hope for you on this holiday is that you come as you are to the table, remembering who--and whose--you are.
Thanks be to God.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
For behold, I bring you sensible tidings of great sanity and compassion:
More information is available at www.AdventConspiracy.org.
Because, after all, that McGiftcard may not be as powerful as you think, where the spreading of joy is concerned:
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
That doesn't seem to be a worry for me. The fraying and spotting just, well, happen when I'm not looking...no extra effort required. It seems to me that my clothes actually conspire to look "lived in."
And so it goes with the dailiness of my life. A number of its finer points seem to dull in late November and December; e-mails go unanswered, clutter heaps in the kitchen, and by the time I get home in the evening, I'm too used up to do much about it. Cumulatively, I don't feel like I'm at the top of my game, but rather in a "put your head down and muscle through it" kind of period.
It leaves me feeling frayed at the edges of my self. The things that quiet me and mend me seem to be the only "optional" items on my agenda...reading, writing, family time, time to just be. (Hmmm...maybe I need to stop regarding them as "optional," no?) Music, which normally feeds me, is a substantial cause of the drain in this season--there's just so MUCH of it! Everything just ramps up, this time of year, for musicians and church geeks like me.
Add to it our context right now--the part of the lectionary cycle which depicts so clearly the darkness and the light of the world. Lamps go out and talents lie buried; God keeps promises, saves us from outer darkness and invites us again into relationship. Likewise, the news cycles of recent weeks tell of disasters all over the world...war and financial peril, blood and hunger and pain, set against a hopeful new chapter in American political leadership, arriving even as we're on the brink of our several potential disasters.
Pain and hope, death and renewal, darkness and light.
We're coming into Advent, my favorite liturgical season. Because it's a time (if we dare to keep it) in which we can acknowledge that, as temporal beings we're sometimes weary and lost...that we're frayed and even a-frayed. And that this is not The Final Answer. That kairos shines behind our smoky, cluttered chronos. That, even as we're the people who walk in darkness, we also live in the promise that we'll see a great Light. That, on hearing that promise repeated, we remember that we have seen it: a rip in the fabric of the chronos, through which Light pours, throwing everything into sharp relief, making sense of the layers of chaos around us and dispelling the cold dark.
As Tony Campolo often trumpets, "It's Friday...but Sunday's comin'!"
Be not afrayed, friends.
Friday, November 14, 2008
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence along with these instructions on your blog (or facebook wall).
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.
Addendum: feel free to post the sentence in the comments, and you are tagged.Here's mine:
Funny that should be the case--the character who says this is in the middle of a mini-soliloquy that snarkily anticipates a pain-in-the-butt Christmas. Which is my general feeling about the holiday season. Love the theology and fresh/authentic interpretations of the music, love the goodwill that always presents itself in lots of ways, HATE the shopping and crazy schedule and slap-on-plastic-grins-even-though-we're-
collapsing-from-stress cultural side of it.
Oh, and the ever-present mechanical music. Did I mention the mechanical music? If God had wanted plastic trees that beep out "Here Comes Santa Claus," we'd find them in natural forests, not retail ones.
The other funny thing about the way this turned out: the book is "The View from Mount Joy" by Lorna Landvik. I always look forward to her next book. They're all funny and insightful and just good stories, that have sweetness but not treacle. They're also about people I recognize, sometimes literally: she's a daughter of the congregation I serve! She isn't a member any more, but her stories take place in neighborhoods that are very reflective of mine. That's just fun. :-)
Incidentally, if you haven't seen Home for the Holidays, I thought it was hilarious!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
After an exhausting election here in the states it's time for some spirit lifting! Join me with a nice cup of tea or coffee or cocoa and let's sit back and read the Funny Papers!
1. What was your favorite comic strip as a child?
Peanuts, of course--even now, my puppies are named Linus & Lucy! Schulz was a genius who could articulate deep truths with just a couple of little strokes of his pen--and he lived up to Oscar Wilde's advice:
Maybe that's true of ALL cartoonists!
2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?
I'm a fan of both Hilary Price's Rhymes with Orange (sort of Far Side-esque) and Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For (lots of characters I recognize!).
3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?
I think I have most of Snoopy's playfulness, a soupcon of Charlie Brown's "everyman" melancholy, Woodstock's willingness to take the scenic route, all of Schroeder's musical obsession, a dash of Peppermint Patty's control-freakiness and, mostly, I aspire to Linus's wisdom.
And if we're going by stereotypes, Peppermint Patty, Marcie and I share one other trait...ha ha ha.
4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?
Sure--I think the writers of a lot of strips have a better handle on human nature than many people I know...and the brilliant, economical ability to say big things in four small panels! Smart, smart people--Gary Larson, Berke Breathed, Scott Adams, Lynn Johnston, Bill Watterson, besides the ones I've already mentioned--blazing insight, groans of recognition, affectionate chuckles, gutbusting laughs.
5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
Part of it is honesty; part is nostalgia; part of it is the cathartic ability to laugh at ourselves in a safe way. And, again, the writers are smart.
Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
So many--but my top three would be Peanuts, Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes. I have so much affection for all those characters!
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
that America is a place where all things are possible,
who still wonders
if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time,
who still questions
the power of democracy,
tonight is your answer.
--President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, 11/4/08
Last night, I wept openly as I watched history being made by an articulate, visionary, cool-headed, brilliant man; as inspiring a president-elect as I have witnessed in my lifetime. I am grateful to have been a tiny part of that moment; one little star in the Obamaverse.
A large part of the beauty of his campaign, for me, is his insistence that America belongs to all of us. I heard one Minneapolis civil rights activist describe it thus, on the radio this morning:
Barack Obama is that dream.
YES. I am hopeful about so many things today:
- That the American electorate is re-enfranchised, re-energized, and has wrenched the reins away from those driving us apart and driving us to destruction.
- That Obama might find a new way of governing, in which every person is valued and nurtured and not only welcome, but expected to offer her/his best to the common good; in which we don't have to be each others' enemies; instead, maybe we can be partners in solving the serious problems of today.
- That the next Supreme Court justices will be chosen by such a man/administration.
- That he has a Congress which is situated to help him.
- That perhaps the bitterness of Rovian politics is over, or at least knocked out for a while; that we can attack the issues instead of one another.
- That the Republican party now has the opportunity and incentive to reinvent itself--to know that the hawkish, screeching divisiveness of its recent years has contributed to their upset yesterday; to remember how to be the party of Lincoln and an important counterbalance to the Democrats.
- That the world witnessed what happened here, and may again take us seriously as a partner, as a leader, and as an idea.
- That the symbolism inherent in this election may heal some of the hurt and division that bleeds our country of its power and goodness.
I don't get it.
The same forces that held African-Americans down for centuries are at work on GLBT Americans. The Bible was used to support slavery; "this is how the system works" was the cultural argument espoused by many slaveholders; a prevailing attitude of "their actions have brought them to it" on the part of white people has been used to justify the raging economic and social inequalities of the last 150 or so years since slavery was abolished. And many people who have spent their lives experiencing and opposing these forces voted against marriage and adoption rights for people like me.
I'm not trying to blame one particular group of people for the oppression of mine. It's not fair, and it's counter-productive. Please understand that I truly want to move forward into a new era...one in which Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are accessible for everyone, without qualification. It just mystifies me that a society that is so excited today about how much better we've become around issues of diversity is still willing to overlook--to enact--blatant discrimination against 10% of its members.
Donna Brazile told CNN this morning that this is a moment in which people chose to throw off the labels that divide us and see ourselves as Americans. I wish I could completely agree with that statement. I think that's true to a greater degree than ever before, but we're not there yet. It's still OK to see GLBT folks as "other."
I don't mean to be a wet blanket on this wonderful day, but I can't completely celebrate yet; even in the face of the blazing hope of an Obama presidency, GLBT folks took four more body blows yesterday. I hope that, now that Americans seem to have recovered most of our collective senses, we can truly all get to work together...that we can make Donna's statement true. That President Obama can help us to remember who we are, and to dream of who we can become. That we can truly live into the idea that faith, hope and love are all-encompassing, and that the greatest of them is love.
For all of us.
Congratulations, America, on embracing as much of this ideal as you can get your arms around today. This is an incredible moment. I have a dream that our minds and our arms can continue to open a little bit wider...that tomorrow we may embrace an even broader American identity than the one we hold today.
Yes, we can.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I'm in a state of agitated hopefulness today; can't really concentrate on anything but the election. I cried a little when I filled in the oval next to Obama's name this morning. Voting felt good and important again, for the first time in a truly long time. I felt like a citizen instead of a victim.
I'm full of hope.
Monday, November 3, 2008
I've long been an admirer of Maya Angelou as a multifaceted artist and as a moral leader; have posted about her before. There is a peace that permeates her presence--both physical (I heard her speak last winter, and was seated no more than 50 feet from her) and on the page. I think it results from the wisdom and confidence to call things by their right names, combined with hopeful compassion, the ability to see the good in every person.
She is a gift.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Greetings friends! It's been awhile since I've contributed to the posts here at the revgalblogpals website, but I agreed to step into the Fifth Friday of the Month Friday Five slot.
So here I be.
As I zip around the webring it is quite clear that we are getting BUSY. "Tis the season" when clergy and laypeople alike walk the highwire from Fall programming to Christmas carrying their balancing pole with family/rest on the one side and turkey shelters/advent wreaths on the other.
And so I offer this Friday Five with 5 quick hit questions... and a bonus:
1) Your work day is done and the brain is fried, what do you do?
Play with the puppies! Good for what ails you. They're goofy. :-)
2) Your work week is done and the brain is fried (for some Friday, others Sunday afternoon), what do you do?
If it's Sunday afternoon, chances are decent that there's a family nap going on, all piled up in the bed. And then, Beloved and I try to keep Sunday evening as Date Night--usually cooking a nice dinner together and clearing out part of the TiVo, pups draped over our laps on the couch. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
3) Like most of us, I often keep myself busy even while programs are on the tv. I stop to watch The Office and 30 Rock on Thursday nights. Do you have 'stop everything' tv programming or books or events or projects that are totally 'for you' moments?
Actually...blogging. I love to write, and the RevGals ring has quite a community going. I'm happy to be a part of it! We used to have "Grey's Anatomy" pause on Thursday; like the characters & the dialogue, but the storylines have sort of dropped in viability and interest. When "The L Word" first came out, that was a regular feature of Date Night, but same story there. If I've managed to stay awake long enough, The Daily Show is always worth a look.
4) When was the last time you laughed, really laughed? What was so funny?
Oh, jeez, every day! (see previous quesion) The pups crack me up on a regular basis, I have funny friends, and choir rehearsals are always full of jokes...from me and from the choir (particularly the bass section). The Vicar of Dibley is a recent discovery at our house, and it's a gutbuster!
Also, this got me going a couple of days ago:
5) What is a fairly common item that some people are willing to go cheap on, but you are not.
Culture. Live music and theater. Must hear several concerts a year; call it professional development, spiritual care, whatever. It's food to me, and I'm fortunate enough to live in one of the major cultural centers of the midwest. Two excellent orchestras, many choirs, lots of local theater and dance companies...an embarrassment of riches!
Bonus: It's become trite but is also true that we often benefit the most when we give. Go ahead, toot your own horn. When was the last time you gave until it felt good?
Got up in the middle of the night, two nights ago, with a puppy who needed to go out, and we managed to be quiet enough that Beloved could stay asleep! She's cute when she sleeps, all peaceful like that. :-)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
It drives me nuts when the conversation is reduced to "I like (or, often, don't like) that one," or "Hey, that was catchy." That's too impoverished, too auto-pilot. It misses out on the richness.
And so, I got to thinking. If I could choose ten hymns that together have truly shaped me, that speak to me, that comprise my theology, what would they be? It's really a tough exercise for me, because there are so many wonderful candidates in the history of Christian music. But I think I have a fair representation here of texts and tunes that will always live in me, and the reasons for each.
1. Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service (BEACH SPRING)
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.
When I was in the National Lutheran Choir, I sang the founder's (Larry Fleming's) choral arrangement of this one. Its musical simplicity and textual richness got to me, and provided one of the first prods for me to go to the seminary and study church music. Now, about 12 years later, I see the text (of which I quoted only the first of four stanzas, above) as a really wonderful depiction of that place where worship and mission intersect, to the enlivening of both.
2. For the Fruit of All Creation (AR HYD Y NOS)
Songbird posted about this one recently. Here's a men's choir singing an alternate text to the tune, in the original Welsh. I love the "For the Fruit" text (available at Songbird's blog) because, just lately, I've been trying to see every day through a lens of gratitude, and this text is just stuffed with it. This is the very last line:
That line ALONE might be theology and prayer enough for me. Often, when my congregation sings it, we do a verse a cappella. The bread-and-butter beauty of the sound of all those voices, many singing alto, tenor and bass, seems a perfect living out of the text being sung--we give thanks with the very air in our bodies. POWERFUL stuff.
3. Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises (HALELUYA PELO TSA RONA)
I love the fresh joy that's inherent in so much African choral music. It feels immediate, as if God were close enough to touch. We had this at our wedding. And at our choir wedding shower. And at an impromptu party thrown by my church choir last week for our anniversary. They surprised us by writing special words to it for each occasion...and singing the wedding version AFTER the "regular" version we used as the congregational closing hymn:
Hallelujah! We sing a blessing: may your union last forever!
The only version I could find on Youtube comes in two parts:
4. Children of the Heavenly Father ( TRYGGARE KAN INGEN VARA)
safely in his bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge ne'er was given.
OK, admittedly, this one is sentiment and safety to me. It's my dear grandma singing it as I sat next to her at age 3 and watched her dear chin wobble. It's my Scandinavian heritage. It's a "heart hymn" for lots of Lutherans, who tend to sing it well and lustily, which is a pleasure in and of itself. It's the simple confidence of trust in a parent God who loves each of us kids in a way uniquely suited to that kid.
5. Silent Night (STILLE NACHT)
It's got a great back story. It's got a beautiful, simple melody that needs no adornment to really WORK. It's popular enough that people are able to sing at least the first verse (and sometimes two or three) without reading along...and yet, it doesn't grate on me by Christmas Eve like so many other Christmas carols that are piped in to every single place you go in December. It's still widely enough used that, when doing it on Christmas Eve, I have a sense that churches all over the world are doing the same--that we're all part of something so much larger than our own congregations: the great cloud of witnesses, all together. Most importantly, it uses imagery beautifully to depict the Light that Shines in the Darkness and Is Not Overcome.
6. O Sacred Head, Now Wounded ( HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN)
Text attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. Tune by Hans Leo Hassler. Harmonization by J.S. Bach. Quality and timeless beauty all the way along the line. And there's something about the text of this verse:
for this, thy dying sorrow--thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever, and should I fainting be
Lord, let me never ever outlive my love for thee.
Love and commitment to the very end, coming from and going back to God. Powerful. Profound.
7. Will You Come and Follow Me (THE SUMMONS)
Sometimes a song can change your life. This is mine.
Let's go back eleven years. I was in seminary, newly in love, deeply in the closet, and terribly conflicted. As a music student, I was drafted to sing in the choir for a campus hymn festival, and heard this hymn for the first time. It's about vocation, which is personal under any circumstance; I was seriously doubting mine at the time, not believing that God could possibly be inviting me into both vocational church work and a love that many of God's people wouldn't understand.
I brought all that angst into the chapel with me like a backpack full of bricks. When we got to stanza 4, I wasn't singing any longer. I was broken open, at peace for the first time in a year, weeping openly. Because God spoke to me in that lyric, in that moment:
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the love you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you, and you in me?
God knows all of our dark places...and just lights 'em up. :-)
A side note: the lilting melody is Scottish traditional, and it beautifully supports a well-crafted text. Folk music of all stripes is often really good at this--easy to learn and remember, but carrying the character of its culture into the interpretation of the music.
8. O Day Full of Grace ( DEN SIGNEDE DAG)
It's an anthem of Lutheran theology. Saved by grace through faith. Simul justus et peccator. Not to mention the whole Christian story and continuing mission compacted into five stanzas. And a side note...this arrangement was created by F. Melius Christiansen, founder of the St. Olaf Choir and catalyst for the whole midwestern Lutheran choral movement. He'd love that a high school choir is singing this, and so well. Crank this sucker up!
9. Shepherd Me, O God (SHEPHERD ME)
This setting of Psalm 23 has, simply, a beautifully crafted melody line that is perfectly married to its text. The tonality captures both the solitude and the presence; both the danger and the trust. I couldn't find an online recording that does it justice.
beyond my wants
beyond my fears
from death into life.
10. I Want Jesus to Walk with Me (SOJOURNER)
Because I DO. Because African-American spirituals can be so deeply evocative of lifelong pain pierced by a clear, strong ray of faith. Because they can be sung with equal integrity whether they're done with congregational simplicity or soloistic virtuosity. Because this is a haunting melody that carries the prayer for God's presence along with me wherever I go...and still doesn't become an earworm. Because it's beautifully simple, and still richly textured. Like the presence of God.
Now, all that having been said, there are so many more that I value...for all the reasons listed in my opening paragraph and for some that are too deep for words.
So, TAG, Gentle Reader--PLEASE join in! I'm really interested to know what yours would be and why. What group of hymns tells the story of your faith?
Oh, and If you'd be willing to link to this post, it'd be fun to see the conversation that's generated!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Marriage, apparently, requires serious protection from the likes of my wife and me:
- We've been in a committed relationship for eleven years, and were married in the church a year and nine days ago.
- I'm a Lutheran church musician. She is a speech pathologist, working with inner-city preschoolers.
- We helped to found a choir that sings concerts to feed the hungry.
- We have two puppies.
- We drive small, fuel-efficient cars.
- We own our home (well, really, the bank owns most of it, but you get the idea...).
- We mow our grass, rake our leaves and shovel our snow.
- We have a wide circle of friends and a wonderful church community.
- We have clean criminal records.
- We are monogamous.
- We recycle.
- We spent last weekend buying groceries, doing laundry, take the dogs to the dog park, mowing the lawn, adding shelves to the linen closet, doing music at church (choir, recorder, drum, guitar) and editing a line of Lutheran choral music.
- We support a little girl in Africa and have seven godchildren between us.
- We make charitable contributions to worthy organizations.
- We try to eat our vegetables, exercise regularly, save a little money and pay our bills on time.
- We vote.
- We pay our taxes faithfully, seeing them mostly as contributions to the greater good that make society run.
It seems that we represent a major threat to civilization, intent as we are said to be on dismantling the very nature of family.
The tax part is where the argument against my marriage breaks down for me. There are more than 1400 federal rights and protections that accompany a marriage license. We have exactly zero legal standing as a couple, despite our eleven years together. Every day, straight people marry in Vegas after a night of drinking, or on a whim. People marry for all kinds of reasons. Some marriages last a lifetime, and some marriages don't even last a month. Yet members of straight marriages automatically get hospital visitation, power of attorney, inheritance rights, joint ownership, Social Security survivor benefits, adoption rights, bereavement leaves, protection from domestic violence, and a long, long list of legal and financial conveniences and protections.
My wife and I get none of those. Our tax dollars do nothing for us in this regard. We have wills, we have power of attorney, and medical decisionmaking for one another because we paid hundreds of dollars for the legal work to get...hmm...about seven of those 1400+ rights that come with a marriage license. And even this much protection is subject to legal challenge by her less-than-sympathetic family of origin.
We are conscientious, contributing members of society. The hysterical campaign of those who need to have someone to blame for their discomfort with differences has a real cost to us, financially and psychologically. It's exhausting after a while, to be someone else's designated scapegoat, due entirely to a characteristic which is beyond my control. I'm tired of being demonized for someone else's political agenda.
This is a simple issue of fairness. I don't want "special" rights. I want the same ones that my straight loved ones have. No more. No less.
Really--is THIS what everyone is afraid of? Are you KIDDING me?
Want to know what scares me? That she'll get sick or hurt...that I won't have the legal papers with me in that critical moment, and will therefore not be consulted about her care or even get to visit her. That she could die alone in a strange emergency room because I left the paperwork at home. That her family could contest her will, kicking me out of my own home and leaving me out of decision making about, or presence at her funeral. That I'd be without her and destitute because they could lay claim to the property we've acquired together, and I won't be entitled to any federal survivor benefits, her pension, etc.
Think I'm paranoid? It happens all the time. I know of a guy whose partner's family wouldn't even tell him where his partner of two decades was buried.
Whatever your feeling about GLBT relationships, no one deserves this. To those of you who have a vote in this matter: PLEASE consider us and the millions like us around the country. Here, but for the grace of genetics, go you. To those of you who have any kind of voice in the process wherever you live, please speak up for your GLBT brothers and sisters. We're no different from you. We're no more or less likely to do right or to do wrong than anyone else. The one and only difference is the physical makeup of those we love.
As far as the future of marriage is concerned, we have no interest in destroying it. We just want to participate in it.