Sunday, June 29, 2008

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Worship this morning was gorgeous. Wonderful Colleague preached welcome. He didn't just preach about it, he preached it. Tears of recognition were rolling down lots of faces as he talked about the many and various ways in which people have been decidedly unwelcome in the Church, as well as the ways our own little piece of Church lives out its welcome pretty well. And he challenged us to think about what genuine welcome looks and feels like, and to make it happen. Beautiful and inspiring. And then we sang a hymn that always makes me cry—All Are Welcome, by local musician and songwriter Marty Haugen. Verses 1 and 4:
Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell

how hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions,

rock of faith and vault of grace;

here the love of Christ can end divisions:

All are welcome, all are welcome,

all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach
beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,

and live the Word they've known.

Here the outcast and the stranger

bear the image of God's face;

let us bring an end to fear and danger:

All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

He and another amazing staffer also talked with the kids during children's time about who is and who isn't God's kid. Based on their responses and the spirited vibe they created, these kids know right now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every one of them is God's kid. That every one of us is God's kid. What a lovely thing.

And I just read something wonderful here, from Episcopal priest Susan Russell. If you've ever wrestled with the "sacrifice of Isaac" story, scroll down to the post "A Ram in the Thicket." One particularly lovely nugget:

What I hear in the good news of "The Lord will provide"
(which is the punchline of the story)
is a call away from being cornered into
the "either/or" messaging of the world around us

and open ourselves up to the "both/and-ness" of God.
We do NOT belong to a God
who calls us to kill our children
in order to "earn" God's love
we do NOT belong to a church
that calls us to sacrifice ANY member of the Body of Christ
in order to "earn" institutional unity.

Amen, Sister.

The mainlines are all in the throes of answering the "unity vs. justice" question, and it's playing out differently all over. Anglicans are slouching toward schism, Presbyterians inched toward ordination of GLBT clergy, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy is cracking down all over with "believe and live this set of tenets, or you disfellowship yourself." When I posted about a local controversy this week, a commenter wondered what it all has to do with me, as a Lutheran (though the comment itself was rather rudely phrased, I think this is where he was going).
  • It has to do with me because I am baptized, and therefore a member of the Body of Christ; in a sense, what happens to them happens to me. We are many parts, but one Body.
  • It has to do with me because I'm gay, and have experienced the un-welcome quite clearly, and the welcome just as clearly, and I'd like for everyone (not just GLBTs, but EVERYONE) to be more familiar with the latter than the former.
  • It has to do with me because, as God's kid, it's my job to help make it possible for everyone to know that God loves them, no matter what—not by force, but by welcome.
Wonderful Colleague, in today's sermon, was talking about a current news story, in which a small-town MN church that took out a restraining order on the family of an autistic boy who was disruptive during Mass. I don't know enough about the church or the family to comment with any certainty about the rights and wrongs of the situation, but I agree with WC that it's incredibly sad that the situation has ended up in court. Because a welcome isn't really a welcome if you have to demand it. The particulars of the situation are sad from any angle. The only up-side here is that it has people talking about welcome, and just how far it really extends. And, one way or another, we're better off when our abrasions get a little light and air, ya? Healing starts there.

Wouldn't it be great if we could find that "third way" together, the one that allows for both unity and justice, as Rev. Russell suggested?

I wish for you, Gentle Reader, and for everyone, the ability to rest in God's extravagant welcome.

And I wish for a global Church at least as warm as these folks, who ended every episode with "Y'all come back now, y'hear?"

P.S. Lest anyone whose comment appears at the aforementioned "local controversy" post worry that I was talking about them—no. I didn't post the rude one. I try not to give an arena to someone who's just trying to pick a fight.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday five: oh, the places I'll go (in a book)

This week, a Summer Reading Friday Five from Songbird, who writes:

Back in the day, before I went to seminary, I worked in the Children's Room at the Public Library, and every year we geared up for Summer Reading. Children would come in and record the books read over the summer, and the season included numerous special and celebratory events. As a lifelong book lover and enthusiastic summer reader, I find I still accumulate a pile of books for the summer.

Girl, this one's close to my heart! And I remember Mrs. Waldhauser, the children's librarian at our branch library, very fondly. She encouraged my love of books and made the library one of my favorite places. Seemed like a miracle that I could just take the books home for FREE. (Sort of like Francie's reaction in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, now that I think about it, but she had a much less congenial librarian!)


1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not?

I usually have more time for reading in the summer, though I'm a person who'll be reading two pages as I'm in line at the bank--I'll make it work somehow. But the slower pace of summer is a luxury. I'll take 3 books along on a weekend camping trip, just to be sure I don't run out of material. :-) Sitting on our deck with a book and a tall diet Coke is kind of great, as well.

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach?

Nope--can't read at the beach. Too much light, and all I want to do is watch and listen to the water. But, as I've mentioned before, I love to read in the hammock at the lake, and I do nod off a bit there!

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime?

Where do I START? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Little Women, lots of Judy Blume and Dr. Seuss and the Peanuts gang, my mom's old Bobbsey Twins books (when I'd read everything else; they were a bit treacly for me)...

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading?

Eclectic! David Sedaris makes me laugh; Anne Lamott and Madeliene L'Engle write beautiful, real spiritual memoir; Jodi Picoult writes a good, frothy page-turner; anything by Wendell Berry; Kent Haruf and Leif Enger write prose that's like honey from a jar. Anything that explores the reasons that humans do what we do interests me. On the rare occasion that things are really quiet, I'll go to poetry...Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Walter Brueggeman's psalms, too many to list, really.

5) What is the next book on your reading list?

The proverbial stack next to the bed is actually several stacks; I've lost track of 'em all! I want to read these, for sure:
  • Take This Bread (Sara Miles)
  • So Brave, Young and Handsome (Leif Enger)
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames (David Sedaris)
  • Madeleine L'Engle's Crosswicks cycle (re-read)
  • The Memory of Old Jack (Wendell Berry)
That's just the first layer. Anything on the "Longing in my heart" list in the sidebar could show up here at any time...

Gotta go read now. I'm in my happy place. :-)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An open letter to Archbishop Nienstedt

So my favorite local Roman Catholic parish is in the doghouse again. Already blogged about an issue they had with the Archbishop last month. This time, the flare is about a prayer service that they've held annually for years, one that speaks directly to a decidedly under-served constituency in the RC church as a whole: God's GLBT children. And so...

To the Most Reverend Archbishop John Nienstedt

Your Grace,

I'm writing to ask you to reconsider your position on the place of GLBT Christians in the Church. I could make Biblical arguments; have done so a number of times, in a number of situations. I'm not going to today. I'm just going to try to get you to see this issue from my chair, and with a pastoral heart.

The St. Joan of Arc community, in small, quiet ways, helped me to come to terms with myself at a time of tremendous crisis in my life, one that I'd tried desperately to avoid. I was coming to the realization that I, a church kid from my very beginning, am a lesbian. St. Joan's helped me enormously, though I was only a visitor among them. They welcomed this stranger in a manner so fresh and simple and full of integrity that I could begin again to pray to a God I thought had left me in the desert. This welcome began with their visible presence to the GLBT community, which told me that they were a safe place in which to work out my deep, painful questions of faith in the darkest night of my soul.

If I may, I'd like to invite you back to your elementary-school playground for a moment. If it was anything like mine, there were a couple of kids in every class who seemed to have a permanent case of "cooties;" that is, they were the kids who got picked on. They were nominally part of the class, mostly because the teacher said so...and anyway, they had to be somewhere. But these kids, for whatever difference they possessed, suffered. For the most part, they suffered alone, because there was a social cost attached to any association with them.

In my second-grader's mind, these sounded like the people that Jesus would hang out with, and so sometimes I took the risk to do so, too. Turned out that they were interesting, worthwhile people who enriched my life when I had the moral courage to reach out. Sometimes I was that "cootie" kid.

Imagine being that kid. Imagine being that kid for life, most evidently in the place to which you're supposed to be able to bring your whole self in all its belovedness and in its brokenness: the church, the Body of Christ.

I'm now a "cootie" adult in your church: nominally a member of the Body of Christ, but never invited to play kickball, and sometimes beat up on the way home. I'm a lesbian. Didn't choose it, spent 20 years trying not to be, but there it is. And, in my 42-year-old mind, I still believe that Jesus would be sitting where I sit, because he came to do a new thing, to make the circle bigger--which mystified the "in crowd" of his day, and still continues to do so now.

God and I are OK. I have a happy life spent with my partner, living out my vocation as a church musician in a community that welcomes us.

I understand your ecclesiastical and canonical positions; I just disagree with them. And I don't see Jesus as someone who, in any instance, supported the doctrine of the day in place of justice. He stood with the outcast.

The St. Joan of Arc community is one that lives out Christ's missional gospel in a number of ways. They minister to many on the outside of the circle and speak with a clear, prophetic voice among the marginalized of many kinds in the Twin Cities:
Your representative said that there was no refusal of this prayer service in the past because the Diocese couldn't possibly monitor all of its many congregations. I have a hunch that you're paying attention to the St. Joan of Arc Community now. I hope, Your Grace, that you will come to respect the integrity of their welcome and their groundedness in the Gospel. Though many members of St. Joan's would disagree with you on doctrinal issues, they serve the same God, and they do so with fervor and with a great deal of grace. And they are now paying the social cost of sticking up for the outcast.

And the "cootie kids" of Minneapolis and St. Paul are grateful. This one surely is.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I am very small.
Pick me up and cuddle me.
How can you resist?

Hello, little one.
You have such expressive eyes!
You may have a treat.

4 a.m. whimper...
you want me to pee on WHAT?
Please take me outside.

Mosquito zone! Be
on alert for bloodsuckers!
There's one on your fur.

Yes, oh, yes, oh, YES,
I'd love to have some breakfast!
WOW—my silver bowl!!!

Handsomely outfitted
in blue nylon, her harness
is her sumo belt.

Linus grabs it, pins
Lucy—grrr, she throws him off!
Splat! He hits the floor.

Sunny afternoon:
pile of puppies fast asleep
in their big back yard.

MOMMY'S HOME! (pant, wag)
Where has she been all this time?
(slobber) We missed you!

Mommies look funny.
Their eyelids are droopy. It's
like they're not sleeping.

4 a.m. whimper...
Seriously. Please...outside?
Woo hoo! Now let's play!

6 a.m. cuddle...
We all could use a wee nap.
What will today bring?

Mommies are happy.
Puppies are fast asleep. Well,
"Sleep when baby sleeps!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday five: a Bill Murray moment

Singing Owl's got a fun plan for today's Friday five, based upon word association. Every time I think about word association, it's Bill Murray's voice I hear, in What About Bob. "Some free associations from my infancy: a beach ball, a dog, a frog, a lock, a poodle, a noodle, a doodle..." Hilarious movie.

Anyway, here we go:

Think summer......are you there? Below you will find five words or phrases. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem, a memory, a recipe, or a story. You get the idea:

1. rooftop

Francie and Neeley talking on the roof in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, after their father dies. Tender and poignant.

Oh, and my house needs some roof work.

2. gritty

Trailers for TV cop dramas of the '70s were always described as gritty: picture Harry-O's squint, Streets of San Francisco's back alleys and Karl Malden's thoughtful gaze, Pepper Anderson undercover as a hooker in Police Woman, etc.

Also, food eaten at the beach. Puts the "sand" in "sandwich."

3. hot town (yeah, I know, it's two words)

Can't get that song out of my head!

OK, after a giving myself a good shake, a memory has surfaced: catching fireflies in the back yard with my sister, wearing our PJs, sweaty hair sticking to our foreheads and necks.

4. night

Crickets! Post-fireflies, lying in bed in front of a big box fan stuck in the window, listening to the crickets in the back yard and making sure my sister's foot didn't wander to "my" side of the bed.

5. dance

Well, since I've spent practically this whole post in the '70s, gotta go with "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band.

Thanks, Singing Owl, that was fun!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meet the newest members of the family...

Linus and Lucy!

They're litter mates, part beagle, part terrier...rescue dogs, 20 weeks old. We cuddled them for an hour tonight, and they'll come home on Saturday. :-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bless 'em

This makes me smile. Especially the last three lines of the story.

May the God of love bless and keep Del and Phyllis.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Preach the Gospel continually...

and, if necessary, use words.
— St. Francis of Assisi

I'm reading Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. It's the story of a woman (mother of four, writer) whose husband was killed while on duty as a state trooper. He'd intended to go to seminary upon retiring from the force, in order to become a UU minister and law enforcement chaplain. She did so in his place, and found work she loves.

Holy cats, read this book. She's earthy and wise and funny; in the last half-hour with the book, I've wept and I've laughed out loud more than once.

Anyway, she tells a story of the day her husband died that perfectly illumines that quote at the beginning of the post, long a favorite of mine:

Perhaps forty minutes after I had heard the news of Drew's death, I was sitting in the living room with my friend Monica when the doorbell rang. The sergeant was on the telephone, so Monica sprang to answer it.

A young man stood on the front steps, clad in a spiffy dark suit, his hair neatly combed, exuding a scent of soap and virtue. Holding out a pamphlet, he beamed at Monica. "Have you heard the Good News?"

For a long second, Monica glared at him, not sure whether to punch him or laugh hysterically. She compromised by slamming the door.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang again. This time, I answered it. It was my neighbor, an elderly woman I had exchanged no more than a dozen words with in the ten years I'd lived in Thomaston. She had pot holders on her hands, which held a pan of brownies still hot from the oven, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. "I just heard," she said.

That pan of brownies was, it later turned out, the leading edge of a tsunami of food that came to my children and me, a wave that did not recede for many months after Drew's death. I didn't know that my family and I would be fed three meals a day for weeks and weeks. I did not anticipate that neighborhood men would come to drywall the playroom, build bookshelves, mow the lawn, get the oil changed in my car. I did not know that my house would be cleaned and the laundry done, that I would have embraces and listening ears, that I would not be abandoned to do the labor of mourning alone. All I knew was that my neighbor was standing on the front stoop with her brownies and her tears: she was the Good News.

We mainliners aren't usually doorknockers. I'm not. There's something about it that just doesn't quite sit right with me. But I am very verbal (stop laughing, Friends of Mine), and I do love to discuss that old, old story when the right moment presents itself. It's just that...well, it seems to me that Big Truth rests much more comfortably in the passenger seat of a vehicle that looks a lot like Love. And that Grace shows up in hands and eyes of God's children in a much more compelling way than any abstract discussion can manifest.

Don't misunderstand me; I'm a Lutheran, and a good sermon is right up there on my list of favorite (and, for me, most necessary) things. But the Church Basement Ladies in my life (of all ages, arenas and genders) live out some serious wisdom: preach continually, and lead with your hands.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday five: sand in my bra

So in honor of summer, please share your own beachy memories, plans, and dreams with a "Beach Trip" Friday Five.

1. Ocean rocks, lake limps? Vice versa? Or "it's all beautiful in its own way"?

This may be weird for a midwesterner, but I crave the hugeness of the ocean. Love the peace of the lakes, but there's something about standing in front of that giant, clean horizon that moves me deeply.

2. Year round beach living: Heaven...or the Other Place? first impulse is "heaven" because the sound of the sea is so fantastic. However, once I beat back my weeping romantic side for a minute, I remember that I have a fairly low tolerance for sand in my food and underwear. Also, as much as I'm starting to whine about MN winters, I've got to have snow for at least a couple of months, so I'll go with a lake home as the Third Way.

3. Any beach plans for this summer?

Not so far; lake cabin visit (mmmmmm) and camping with two different sets of friends. One of these camping trips will be at a women's campground that we love to visit, but it makes me chuckle—nothing but Toyota pickup trucks, big dogs with bandannas around their necks, and women in tank tops and Tevas, as far as the eye can see. We ARE the stereotype. ;-)

4. Best beach memory ever?

The first time I saw the ocean. I was on choir tour to California in college, and we went to the Santa Monica Pier for an afternoon. The roar of the ocean and the constancy of the waves were so vast. I'd have happily sat and watched and listened for about three days.

5. Fantasy beach trip?

Hmmm...Beloved and I, a hammock, a large stack of books, a private cove. I'd read for a couple of days, and then—well, you can't read all the time. Hee hee hee.


Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what the beach means to you.

Weirdly, I just did; I guess it's truly about the ocean, but as a place to land at the end of the journey, it totally works.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The courage we can muster up inside

Been thinking a lot about courage this week. About how it doesn't have a thing to do with whether you're scared or not. About how it has everything to do with putting one foot in front of the other, having the hand of someone who loves you on your shoulder, and keeping your head up.

I have three friends who are summoning theirs right now—one because of a sudden bend in the road; the others, due to a long view of the climb ahead. To you three, I submit The Wood Song, written by the tender and talented Emily Saliers.

the thin horizon of a plan is almost clear
my friends and I have had a hard time
bruising our brains hard up against change
all the old dogs and the magician

now I see we're in the boat in two by twos
only the heart that we have for a tool we could use
and the very close quarters are hard to get used to
love weighs the hull down with its weight

but the wood is tired
and the wood is old
and we'll make it fine
if the weather holds
but if the weather holds
then we'll have missed the point
that's were i need to go

no way construction of this tricky plan
was built by other than a greater hand
with a love that passes all our understanding
watching closely over the journey

yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide
seems more than all the courage i can muster up inside
but we get to have some answers when we reach the other side
the prize is always worth the rocky ride

but the wood is tired
and the wood is old
and we'll make it fine
if the weather holds
but if the weather holds
then we'll have missed the point
that's where i need to go

sometimes i ask to sneak a closer look
skip to the final chapter of the book
and maybe steer us clear from some of the pain that it took
to get us where we are this far

but the question drowns in its futility
and even i have got to laugh at me
cause no one gets to miss the storm of what will be
just holding on for the ride

the wood is tired
the wood is old
and we'll make it fine
if the weather holds
but if the weather holds
then we'll have missed the point
that's where i need to go

We may not get to miss the "storm of what will be," but we're all in this little boat together, and the hull is weighed down with Love.

Courage, friends.

CG1: Behind the Music

Here's a meme I picked up at Ruth's place...

Get out your iPod and play a random list of songs. Post them and show everyone your taste in music.

Well, this is the Reef; let there be music! Hitting "shuffle" now:

1. Papa Come Quick (Bonnie Raitt)

LOVE Bonnie. She's got game; she can seriously play that guitar, she can rock, wail the blues, and sing such a tender, plaintive melody that your heart tears slowly in half just from hearing her. Best concert I ever saw was her and Lyle Lovett together at the Minnesota State Fair; they enjoyed each other completely, and so did everyone in the stands. This song is pure fun.

2. O Magnum Mysterium (Francis Poulenc)

Poulenc's choral music is among my favorite stuff to sing; he deals with traditional texts in unusual harmonic ways that just seem to work--and tell new truths at the same time. It's like my spiritual journey; I can't predict what's coming next, but it's always worth the trip--and sometimes it's just achingly beautiful.

3. The Unicorn Song (Wayne Faust)

I don't know who these fine folks in the (borderline excruciating) video are, but this song is one of the best memories of my high school years. My best friend and I (and usually a bunch of other people) would hang out at the local Ground Round when Wayne came to town, singing along with ketchup bottles on our heads, laughing our butts off to this (and "Masochism Tango," and "Cockroaches On Parade"). We were geeks, but we were HAPPY geeks. :-)

4. Message to Myself (Melissa Etheridge)

Melissa. Yes, My People love her. She's One of Ours. But she's also a good musician, a positive, socially-responsible person, and a helluva lot of fun. Funny that this song should come up; I've posted about it before!

5. Sir Duke (Stevie Wonder)

Instant joy, and the best brass riff ever. That's all.

6. Crown Imperial March (William Walton)

...and it's back to high school we go AGAIN. Played this in orchestra; aforementioned best friend was my stand partner (cello). We'd holler out a request to play this one whenever we had extra time at the end of rehearsal. Yep, we were geeks, but we were happy geeks.

7. Agnus Dei (Frank Martin)

Oh, YUM. A recent acquisition, recommended by Young Poet Friend. My iPod version is sung by the local Dale Warland Singers (formerly world-famous, now two years gone). Arcing and transcendent.

8. John the Revelator (John Mellencamp)

Yep, the old spiritual, by the guy who recorded "Jack and Diane." He keeps evolving. He makes the music he cares about, with lyrics that are honest and, sometimes, even prophetic. No YouTube of this one, so I'll link you to another of my favorites of his music, "Walk Tall." (Embedding has been disabled; you'll have to click the link!)

9. One (Billy Jonas)

He's a folk artist, to whom my friend Frau Doktor introduced me. Got a website. Go there, click the "listen" tab, and find "God Is In" for a really wonderful lyric. Fun stuff, interesting writing and improvisation, accessible to all ages. This is one of my favorites of his, though the video doesn't really do him justice.

10. Galileo (Indigo Girls)

If I were a non-choral musician, I'd want to be Emily Saliers. Love her voice, but am awed by her writing. She's simply a brilliant lyricist with an additionally huge gift for melody. (And her dad, Don, is one of the preeminent church musicians in the country and a retired professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology.) I met them when they were in St. Paul on their book tour. They spoke together about the power of music to unite people in a reverent way...whether on Saturday night or on Sunday morning. Both have my profound respect; Emily also has my affection, as the Girls' music spoke to a very deep place in me, just when I needed it. This song was the first of theirs I ever heard; I'm very glad it came up in the shuffle! Click the link to play.

You're a great audience; I love ya. Be sure to tip your wait staff.

Oh, and TAG! YOU'RE IT!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Serenity now!

Mad Preacher, this one's for you. :-)

I don't know if you've ever visited Savage Chickens, but this is a particularly fine offering; captures my mindset today quite nicely.

Follow the link; Doug's hilarious!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Teach your children well

I love to sing.

Always have, from my earliest memories. I credit my parents with a big piece of this. Neither of them has any training as a singer. They sing like most people sing: sometimes a little off-key, sometimes with an uneven tone, never with a well-developed technique. I remember a number of occasions in church when Mom would give Dad an elbow to the ribs because he was singing lustily and in a key just slightly southwest of the rest of the congregation. Dad, bless him, didn't care a bit. He sang for all he was worth.

Mom used to wander around the house, singing and whistling as she worked (sometimes simultaneously!). She'd take popular songs and make up nonsense words to them, which made my sister and me giggle when we were little...and roll our eyes as we became all-knowing adolescents. Mom sang because it was fun.

I sing for a living. I also sing for life. I truly believe that heaven will be one great big songfest...maybe even just one really great chord, in tune and multi-timbered and brilliant and originating somewhere in the deepest layer of our souls. I credit my parents with this, because they found joy in singing with abandon, and they let my sister and me see and hear that joy.

I'm reading Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song by the cosmically wonderful hymn writer Brian Wren. In it, he discusses the "indispensable" nature of singing together in worship, as well as the fact that congregational song is in trouble. These assertions aren't new to me. In fact, my whole life as a church musician is to guard that little flame and to blow on it gently (from my diaphragm, of course).

I think he's onto something about the reasons for this situation; he lists all the standard reasons about how performance-oriented our modern culture has become, about the soloistic construction of modern music, about spectator culture. But I've never quite been able to articulate the concept of "electronic discouragement" as he does:
Studio recording demands a high level of professionalism, with retakes, multitracking, mixes and fine tunings. (It) has become normative, as it is lip-synched in videos, TV appearances, and even sometimes in "live" concerts. The result for many is "electronic discouragement," as the quality of recorded sound persuades us that our own voice has little value.

Most popular music today is delivered through high amplification. Audiences expect a thumping, throbbing, enveloping, sometimes ear-damaging sound. The knock-on effect is that, in other contexts, such as church worship, singers and instrumentalists often crank up the volume unnecessarily and diminish their personal connection with the congregation. The microphone takes over, whether or not it is needed, and whether or not there is a live musician in our midst. So the sound is bigger than life, and the person who makes it is regarded as bigger than life. If that person then tries to encourage audience participation without dropping the volume, the amplified voice overwhelms the communal voice and discourages the participation that was sought.

In other words, we unwittingly create situations that feel "normal" to the worshiping assembly which both:
  • discourage their participation in the music, and
  • say to them "you're not good enough to be part of this."
I think he's spot on, and I have serious practical and theological problems with that result. Is the message we want to send really anything like "listen to the cultural norms; they should be your guide" or "you're not good enough to be part of this?" Cripes.

Further, Wren writes:

So congregational song is in trouble, nowadays not because authority frowns on it, but because our culture undermines it. One result, as composer Alice Parker (one of Choralgirl's personal heroes) records from conversations with public-school music teachers, is that many children come to school with no musical background except music videos and TV advertisements. "They have never heard an adult they know well sing for pure pleasure; have never sung around the house." Their idea of music is shaped by electronic music (Choralgirl speculates: perhaps those toys that play little beeping tunes...the ones I'd like to run over with my car), soloistic styles, high volume, and instant gratification.

Jesus wept.

I have a giant soft spot in my heart for pastors who are willing to sing in church, no matter what their level of skill is, and despite raging self-consciousness. Because it models what we want to model, right?
  • That, in order to truly lead, you must be brave and honest, and not Take Yourself Too Seriously.
  • That some things are just more deeply real when they're sung.
  • That we're all members of the Body of Christ, and that's more important than anything.
  • That, in the end, it's not about us...about our skill, about our competence, about any label we can wear. It's about being part of something bigger than ourselves. It's about making a joyful noise (according to God's invitation), not a perfect one. It's about news so good that we must sing.
Can badly-done music be distracting? Certainly. But perhaps we could model our Christian charity in worship, encouraging one another along the way and making room for mistakes and growth and, well, color. One thing is sure: I'd rather err on the side of earnest imperfection than that of disenfranchising one singer of God's song.

And that's what I want the little ones at my church to see and experience, so that they might have access to the joy of singing like my mom and dad and I have. They're not getting that training in most of the places that previous generations have got it, and we need to find a way to help 'em out.

So please, SING. Whether you "can" or not. Sing to your kids, sing with your congregations, sing at birthday parties and family gatherings and for no reason at all.

Sing because it's a purely human thing to do, and because all you need in order to do it is "inspiration"—all you need, literally, is breath.

I have to go call my parents now, to thank them for being brave and silly and joyful about music-making.

Because I love to sing.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

There have been inquiries

If you're wondering what the "cowbell" business is about, push the "play" button. :-)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Finally, enough cowbell!

Idolatry is the worship of the part as if it's the whole.
–Rabbi Harold Schulweis

Strap yourselves in, folks. This is a big one. (As the medieval poem says, I'm going to stuff "heavene and earth in littel space.")

I posted on Tuesday about community, and about how we all hold pieces of truth. In that post, I referred to a story of Truth as represented by a shattered mirror. As it happens, I've discovered that it's actually a combination of two stories, both heard on my favorite-in-the-whole-world radio program, Public Radio's Speaking of Faith. I'm about to break those stories apart, so that you might have a more accurate sense of their origins, and then bring them back together, so that you might have a sense of the extraordinary thing that happened to me tonight.

SOF is regularly wonderful and thought-provoking; if you haven't heard it before, it's available for podcasting and for streaming here. The archive is a treasure chest. Seriously.

My favorite program was entitled Religion and Our World In Crisis. It was a conversation between Muslim scholar Dr. Khaled Abu el-Fadl and Jewish scholar Dr. Harold Schulweis. They both find a strong relationship between truth and beauty, as well as numerous reasons in their respective holy books for people of all faiths to listen to one another. Their conversation is both fascinating and full of hope.

In humankind, God has created you, male and female,
and made you into diverse nations and tribes
so that you may come to know each other.

–the Koran

To know is to love, and to love is to know.
–Rabbi Schulweis

So...the first half of the composite story in my head came from Rabbi Schulweis:

There is a most remarkable parable illustration that's used in the Talmud. The question is: how could it possibly be that 600,000 Israelites were at the bottom of the mountain when revelation took place, and God spoke with one voice to the entire group, but everyone was convinced that God addressed him or her individually? How could that be?

The answer that a Rabbi Levy gives is: because God appears like a mirror, and everyone looks into that mirror...and, inevitably, a portion of his own self is reflected. But you have to understand that there are multiple visions and that there is no Immaculate Perception.

Everybody sees according to his particular history, according to his narrative. So what should be done? What should be done is that we should find out from each other: what did you see? When we gather together and form a collective kind of image, then we have a clearer picture as to what God is.

So. Pretty great.

Story Number Two came from Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who (a cancer patient herself) has an unusual way of interacting with her patients: she listens to them. (Not slamming doctors here, but if you listen to the SOF program Listening Generously, you'll know what I mean.) Dr. Remen's grandfather was a mystic; he told her a story for her fourth birthday that stuck with me...about the concept of tikkun olam, the repair of the world (which Schulweis and el-Fadl also talked about):

Ms. Tippett: You recount this idea of the Kabbalah, which I had known, but — I don't know, I think maybe because you're a storyteller, it was very vivid for me. That — this idea that at the beginning of the creation, the holy was broken up, right?

Dr. Remen: Oh, the story of the birthday of the world, yes.

Ms. Tippett: Is that how he told it to you?

Dr. Remen: Yes, exactly. Actually, Krista, this was my fourth birthday present, this story. In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Dr. Remen: And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you.

Ms. Tippett: The world into which you have proximity.

Dr. Remen: That's where our power is, yeah. Yeah.

And now you can see this warming up, right?

So...Beloved and I went to the orchestra tonight. On the program was a percussion concerto on the tune Veni, Veni Emmanuel (that's right, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," the one you know!) by Scottish composer James MacMillan. MacMillan is a devout lay Dominican who often employs religious themes in his work.

It was extraordinary, performed by the excellent Minnesota Orchestra and the virtuosic percussionist Colin Currie. (Soloist part includes 6 temple blocks, 2 wood blocks, 2 bongos, bass tubular bells, 2 cowbells, 2 congas, large cymbal, sizzle cymbal, bass drum w/pedal, 6 gongs, 5-octave marimba, 2 tam-tams, 2 timbales, 6 tom-toms and vibraphone.) Whew! VERY exciting music.

This clip is the last two of five continuous sections, described thus by the composer:

The climax of the work presents the plainsong as a chorale followed by the opening fanfares, providing a backdrop for an energetic drum cadenza. In the final coda the all-pervasive heartbeats are emphatically pounded out on drums and timpani as the music reaches an unexpected conclusion...

At the very end of the piece the music takes a liturgical detour from Advent to Easter—right into the Gloria of the Easter Vigil in fact—as the proclamation of liberation finds embodiment in the Risen Christ.

About five minutes into the clip (which is not the MN Orchestra), you'll notice a tinkling sound. Listen for it.

That sound is the rest of the orchestra playing little bits of broken mirror, tapping them with small metal rods.

Theologically speaking, that is a home run for me. Not in the sense that "Yea, Christianity wins!" Yech—far too simplistic. Instead, it seems to me that Christ—who came to repair the world—is represented as a beautiful expression of the Kabbalistic broken light...of the Muslim connectedness of truth and beauty...of the Talmudic coming together of many points of view.

I think old Abraham must be grinning right now; the three Abrahamic faiths shared a lovely dance tonight.

What if that depth of beauty underlies everything in our world, which waits for us to know and love one another, and to heal what's broken? And all we have to do is find that hidden light?

But that's a whole separate post.

Shalom, y'all.

P.S. It's Saturday morning now, and my friend Ruth also has some loveliness to share on this topic. Check it out!

P.P.S. And now it's Tuesday, and you've GOT to read Shalom's sermon using these ideas. Wow.

Puddles of patience

I want to give a shout-out to our friend Shalom over at Mine Unbelief. She wrote a really wonderful post about waiting, which is not something I enjoy or do particularly well. Check it out, and be sure to click through to the poem!

Friday five: the view from my chair

A visual Friday five (thanks, Sally!) answered by an aurally-fixated soul:
1. How important is the "big picture" to you, do you need a glimpse of the possibilities or are you a details person?

I serve in a leadership capacity (mostly big-picture) in several arenas, and a support capacity (mostly little details) in my day job. Feels a bit bipolar to me, but I'm trying to see it as a spiritual practice to balance the two–to find the "third way," if you will.

2. If the big picture is important to you how do you hold onto it in the nitty-gritty details of life?

Big picture is MUCH easier for me than details (with the caveat that I may occasionally be deluding myself; see this post, below). For the details: lists. Love writing 'em, rearranging 'em, crossing things off. :-)

3. Name a book, poem, psalm, piece of music that transports to to another dimension (one...what am I thinking...)

The choral music of Arvo Part (really any of it) pops a big tranquilizer dart into my "monkey mind" (wow, I'm such a Buddhist today!) and suspends me in midair, up by the rose window of a beautiful cathedral. Mmmmmm...

4. Thinking of physical views, is there somewhere that inspires you, somewhere that you breathe more easily?

Two views come to mind that ease me into a feeling of presence in the moment: a vista of Big Water (almost any) and Beloved, asleep (awwwww).

5. A picture opportunity... post one if you can ( or a link to one!)

Again, mmmmmm... this was taken on our honeymoon, from the deck of the lake cabin where we stayed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Half in Ten

Just read an interesting commentary about poverty by John Edwards. In it, he asks a series of rather stirring questions:
  • Why do we accept that the waitress who just brought us lunch needs the church's food pantry to feed her daughter for the rest of the month? She's working and that should be enough.
  • Why do we accept that the man who just bagged our groceries is 72 years old and lost everything when his wife got sick? He's worked all of his life and retirement shouldn't mean more work.
  • Why do we accept that the men and women who wore our uniform are committing suicide in their trucks because they can't afford to see a doctor? They served us and they shouldn't even have to ask.
  • Why do we accept the family living in their car, the mentally ill and the addicts who die on our streets, and the children who go to school tired and hungry? Maybe we accept things as they are because poverty has always been with us and we think nothing will change. Or maybe we accept things as they are because it's so easy to look away.
  • And that demands that we ask another question: why has it been so easy for us to look away?
It's a lead-in to an interesting initiative: the Half in Ten campaign to reduce poverty in the U.S. in ten years. Whatever your political persuasion, this is a worthy effort. And it's POSSIBLE. As economist Jeffrey Sachs said,

Ours is the first generation in the history of the world with the ability to eradicate extreme poverty. We have the means, the resources and the know-how. All we lack is the will.

I agree that it's become too easy too look away. It's also evident, with the economy in this precarious place, how many households are one medical event, one job loss, one lost car away from financial disaster.

There's another article, a book review in the NY Times, on David K. Shipler's The Working Poor: Invisible in America, which attacks the problem from another angle. I haven't read it yet, but intend to--and would be interested in hearing from anyone who has!

So...once we're willing to see, the world can change.

What'cha looking at today?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sally Brown, Jed Bartlet and the church

I know a lot of believers who don't belong to a church community. There are a lot of reasons for this...many, but not all, of them resulting from a combination of these two themes:
  • "I think the institutional church is a mess, and Christians are a bunch of hypocrites" (for many thoughtful reasons, and some based on untested assumptions or bad experiences) and
  • "I can meet God as easily on a walk through the woods on Sunday morning...maybe more easily than in a worship service that doesn't feed me" (one part love of nature, one part frustration, one part consumerism, several parts institutional cluelessness, in my estimation).
There's something missing in the woods, though, and that is community. We are shaped by the experience of seeing the same people every week...of trying, along with them, to live out our lives as followers of Christ. There are lots of things about this that are important:
  • the experience of communal gathering around word and sacrament, and SINGING about it :-)
  • intergenerational contact (which is less and less available in our lives with every passing generation)
  • the opportunity to NOT act as consumers in one arena of our lives, but to "ask not what our community can do for us, but what we can do for our community"
  • the ability to accomplish more as a group in mission than we can as individuals
  • a place to work out the moral/ethical questions of our time (not to pontificate, but to really knock ourselves up against the hard stuff and try to understand it and fix what's broken)
  • and MANY more things, not the least of which is the gift of knowing and being known...of having a group of people that gently reminds you that maybe (just maybe) you don't see all the boats...and it might be good if you learned to count 'em, to look more deeply at a question, to change your angle of approach.
I think this is one of the elements of community that is most critical for our development as human beings. Here's a clip from one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing, in which President Bartlet is playing chess with various members of his staff. He's given them all chess sets that he's received over the years, and playing a game with Toby, one with Josh, one with Sam. The games also become teaching that gentle way that grandparents and tribal elders and leaders of many kinds have passed on wisdom since there have been younger generations.

I was particularly moved by Jed's nudging of Sam to "look at the whole board." To find as many well-thought-out perspectives as you can to a question. To incorporate as many pieces of truth as you can get your hands on, when you are making a leadership decision.

Of course, none of us can see the whole board alone. And that is why we need a community. There's a wonderful story in the Jewish tradition about how truth is like a giant mirror that was shattered at Creation, and now we each hold a piece of that mirror...a piece of the truth. The more pieces we put together, the closer we are to seeing a larger truth than that which we can hold onto alone.

I think that almost all of us are more like Sally most of the time, even when we want to be like Jed. It's certainly true for me, and the older and wiser (!) I get, the more grateful I am for community. And I pray that the church may be a place that lives up to that vision of community, in which everyone holds a piece of the truth, whether they're two years old or ninety-two, whether they're homeless or gay or poor or an immigrant or a person with an illness...where we recognize that the truth can only be fully realized if we commit to picking up all the little pieces and putting them together.

And where we remember that we follow a God who DOES see the whole board.