Friday, August 29, 2008
I felt it as an American last night for the first time in eight years, as I listened to Senator Obama's speech. It was visionary, specific, tough and--I think--the corrective that just might galvanize a fragmented, crabby electorate into positive action and unity. I'm too tired to be eloquent about it today, but Andrew Sullivan has done it already. Go and see!
It was an historic moment, in part because of the famous anniversary on which the speech was given; in part because of the long-overdue nomination of an African-American. That's a lovely moment of fruition. However, after about sixteen years of increasingly bitter political discourse, and eight of wincing almost every time I turn on the radio, it was a breath of fresh air to hear this intelligent, lucid man articulate such a compelling vision. I also loved the "regular folks' " speeches and cried during Hillary's speech on Tuesday. I think she would have made a very fine president, and I'm sorry we won't see that--at least this time around. However, I'm ready to enthusiastically get behind Obama. The man is smart and compelling. I'm also interested in seeing what Michelle will make out of the First Ladyship.
Maybe--just maybe--there's a way out of some of the mess we're in as a result of Bush's disastrous presidency.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Today, I offer prayers of thanks for her life and her spirit, which makes many aspects of my own possible. Also, I offer prayers of comfort for her wife and of 55 years and partner in activism, Phyllis Lyon.
Rest well, Del. You have earned it.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Practice makes perfect. You don't want a Beethoven piece to sound like something else—that's disrespectful to the composer.
—Mark Yu, 9-year-old concert pianist
I heard an interview with this kid on NPR. He's a prodigy. He's also pretty grounded, from the sound of him.
I love that statement. It challenges me as a conductor to not be content with "parts learned, sung in tune, good blend..." but to keep listening to the music until I find what makes it special—what makes it true.
Friday, August 22, 2008
It's Friday afternoon, Eastern Time, and this is your faithful Songbird with a calendar-related Friday Five. Due to some confusion with our dates, I'm stepping in today, although I am usually here only on the 5th Friday, when there is such a thing.
Here are five things to ponder about dates. I hope you'll play!
1) Datebooks--how do you keep track of your appointments? Electronically? On paper? Month at a glance? Week at a glance?
I've got a caramel-colored, leather-bound, week-at-a-glance planner that goes in and out with me. I tried a Palm for a while, but I like leather, paper and pen...and the ability to zip other stuff into it, like love letters from Beloved and pictures of godchildren.
2) When was the last time you forgot an important date?
When I don't have my planner with me, I tend to double-book myself, which I just hate. I feel like such a shmo calling the later-planned event person and saying "oops." I'd much rather keep my commitments.
3) When was the last time you went OUT on a date?
Beloved and I went to see Mamma Mia! last Friday at our neighborhood cinema, which has been in operation for 78 years and was recently restored. They have organists come in to play their Wurlitzer theater organ on Friday and Saturday nights--great fun!
BTW, is there anything Meryl Streep CAN'T do?
4) Name one accessory or item of clothing you love even though it is dated.
Well, my Birkenstocks are sort of 1978, but I can't live without 'em!
5) Dates--the fruit--can't live with 'em? Or can't live without 'em?
Love them--especially in this particular cookie that Beloved makes. Sort of an oatmeal/craisin/pecan/date jumble, adapted from that Fount of All Yummy Knowledge, a "church basement lady" cookbook. Mmmmmmmmmm.
Now I'm hungry.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Today, we extract fossil fuels from the earth and make plastics from them. One result is strewn across the living room floor:
Draw your own conclusions. It's too much for me. :-)
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course, it is the cross.
Wow. Yes. And every time we try to domesticate it, we distort it--sometimes in incredibly damaging ways. How do we live in the tension between the simultaneous realities of our lives as
- children of the heavenly Father, safely gathered in his bosom, and
- self-giving followers of the cross?
with your one wild and precious life?
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
It hurts my head. Dammit, Jim, I'm a musician!
I'm suffering some frustration and self-medicating with chocolate. The result:
The tech support is almost as confusing to me as the system itself.
My mood at the office today:
On the upside, there's a real sense of accomplishment when I do something correctly for the first time...
...and I'm grateful for a job that pays my mortgage, for Linus & Lucy's sake! :-)
If you've never seen the websites that birthed these little bits of brilliance, I heartily recommend icanhascheezburger.com (cats) and ihasahotdog.com (dogs) when you need a giggle!
Friday, August 15, 2008
sing and be glad that two are one.
When love explodes and fills the sky,
praise God and share our maker’s joy.
When love has flow’red in trust and care,
build both each day that love may dare
to reach beyond home’s warmth and light,
to serve and strive for truth and right.
When love is tried as loved-ones change,
hold still to hope though all seems strange,
till ease returns and love grows wise
through list’ning ears and opened eyes.
When love is torn and trust betrayed,
pray strength to love till torments fade,
till lovers keep no score of wrong
but hear through pain love’s Easter song.
Praise God for love, praise God for life,
in age or youth, in calm or strife.
Lift up your hearts. Let love be fed
through death and life in broken bread.
I think O WALY WALY is a really good example of the fruitlessness of the argument about musical style that keeps popping up in churches. This tune is 500 years old. It's worn incredibly well, and fits seamlessly in this 20th-or-21st-century performance. It also sounds great on guitar or piano or organ, sensitively played. It's beautiful in a cappella harmony, and it's lovely in a good congregational unison. We don't have to argue about musical style; we just need to know how to sing it authentically, how to lead it invitingly, and how to hear it more fully. We are ALL singers.
Relax, folks. This isn't "rocket surgery" (ha ha)--music is food, and it's FUN. :-) It's also an unparalleled vehicle for those things that run too deep for words. And in order to fully experience that, listening can't be your only level of musical experience. There's too much richness in the country just beyond!
So...let's take a minute here. Turn off the lights in your room, light a couple of candles, get quiet and really listen to this. Then play it again and sing along. Invite the family to join you!
To paraphrase Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, it's the taking part that matters. Let this lovely music live in you tonight. To paraphrase the Psalmist, make a joyful noise unto the Lord; it doesn't have to be a perfect one!
Share with us five transformations that the coming fall will bring your way.
1. Rehearsals! Yea! I'm happiest when I'm standing in front of or inside of a choir, and the rehearsal season will start up again. I'm excited about the music that each of my groups will do, I miss my musicians, and I can't wait to get back to it!
2. Beloved's brief summer break (she's an Early Childhood Speech Pathologist with the public schools, but works summer school) will be over, and the flow of house projects underway will slow substantially.
3. Linus & Lucy (see sidebar for photos) should be pretty close to finished with their major "puppy" growth, but we anticipate two mouthfuls of new teeth and some serious training. It's really fun to watch them grow and learn. (And, BTW, that "sleeping in the big bed" thing is so sweet...)
4. My day job is at the U of M, and the campus will fill up with students. This means more energy and activity, and that the chance of being mowed down on the sidewalk by a random bicyclist or skateboarder increases by about 70 times.
5. It's my favorite season. Crispness in the air, long sleeves, socks, open windows (as opposed to air conditioning), the return of the seasonal Honeycrisp apple (developed here at the U of M, just the right combination of sweet/tart/crunchy), the new season of Grey's Anatomy. For some people, the year begins in January; for me, it's September. Freshness!
Bonus: Give us your favorite activity that is made possible by the arrival of fall.
I love to hike in the woods as the leaves change color, and don't make nearly enough time to do it! This is the year. Really.
* And thank you to Peter Brady for this bit of wisdom...
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
And here are my five picks (among many I could name...the "honorable mention" list is long!):
1) Have to second Diane's inclination to honor Fran at FranIAm. She's fiery, funny, lefty, Jesusy and kind. Part of my daily fix.
2) I've recently become a fan of Wendy's at both I Are a Writer and I Are Writing Sermons. Seriously funny. Seriously insightful. Refreshingly honest.
3) My friend Mags at Magdalene's Musings. How can you not want to read someone whose self-description reads "a liberal Calvinista whose heart is strangely warmed, and whose affinity for a much maligned biblical figure is sort of an obsession?" She had me at hello, and lived up to her description when I met her.
4) LutheranChik was one of the first people I ever read on a regular basis. We share a potpourri of affinities, and she makes me laugh (in a slightly repressed, Lutheran way, of course). "Here I blog. I can do no other, God help me." This is most certainly good stuff.
5) Recently, I've been lurking at A Soprano Steps Out. Jessica offers a glimpse of the not-always-so-glamorous world of a young opera singer. Tales of dance class, of blocking rehearsals, of the repertoire of a "young lyric" and of nightmare (familar!) musical situations will pretty universally make you laugh and feel like part of the action. A glimpse into a different track my life could have taken (if I had more vocal talent, less choir geekiness and a more disciplined approach to practice!). Lots of fun!
And now, back to our previously scheduled Olympics viewing...
Monday, August 11, 2008
It reminded me of this, which I wrote when I was in seminary. This is the belief and the ethic that underlays my decisions and efforts in building and guiding worship ministries, as a leader of the people's song (as the name "cantor" implies). If it raises questions that are useful to you in your context, please feel free to share it. If it raises questions for you personally and you'd like to discuss them, please feel free to comment!
I believe that music is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. It’s rather paradoxical; when we offer music back to God, we gain in the process:
• through prayer, which grants us
∼ communication and connectedness with God
∼ spiritual growth
• through offering praise, which
∼ honors and celebrates the One who made us, and loves us completely
∼ encourages a sense of perspective; a reminder of who we are and who God is
• through proclaiming God’s word, which offers
∼ wisdom and insight to the seeker
∼ comfort to the afflicted
∼ challenge to the comfortable
• through the telling and re-telling of the Christian story, encouraging
∼ a sense of history and heritage, of who we are...both individually and as a people
∼ involvement and education of people of all ages in the celebration of their faith
∼ the spiritual growth of congregants
• through music as a communal experience:
∼ as common prayer
∼ as a builder of community (sometimes immediately, as in a shared celebration, conflict or grief...sometimes as water shapes rock: a tiny bit at a time)
∼ as a unifier of people, in time and space, and in their hearts and minds
∼ as it challenges us to live and work together as children of God:
∗ to keep growing, as Christians of all ages and as musicians, that we might offer our “first fruits” to God
∗ to be humble, honest, loving and respectful with one another
∗ to offer, receive and celebrate one another’s gifts graciously
• through the holistic aspects of music, which
∼ can reveal many levels of truth at once
∼ plants theology deeply in our hearts and minds
∼ expresses/depicts in a way that words sometimes can’t:
∗ when we see that the Good News is so good, we must sing
∗ when we’re so tired/sick/despairing, we can’t even formulate a verbal prayer
∗ when the innocence and trust of our own relationships with God are expressed through the voices of a children’s choir
∗ when the majesty of God is portrayed in a grand, crashing organ prelude
∗ when the God’s gentle, accessible parenthood is found in a beloved hymn, sung with loved ones
∼ practically speaking, is a memory aid; it can help people to recall the Word, the prayer...anything that was meaningful to them in worship, when they need it later on
∼ is a simultaneously physical, mental, spiritual, social and emotional activity
I believe that my role, as a church musician, is to be a good steward of this gift: to continue to grow in my craft and to help others to do likewise, and to make the best possible use of available resources. The practical aspects of this stewardship are numerous, but they should all point to the same thing:
We let the pups into the Big Bed last night. Lucy was in heaven. Linus wanted his space. Jury's still out for Beloved, but I think it's not insignificant that we were allowed to sleep all the way to the ringing alarm this morning, for the first time since the pups arrived!
And it was sweet. :-)
Sunday, August 10, 2008
It is quite easy to found a community. There are always plenty of courageous people who want to be heroes….The problem is not in getting the community started—there's always enough energy to take off. The problem comes when we are in orbit and going round and round the same circuit. The problem is in living with brothers and sisters whom we have not chosen but who have been given to us, and in working ever more truthfully towards the goals of the community. A community which is just an explosion of heroism is not a true community. True community implies a way of living and seeing reality; it implies above all fidelity in the daily round. And this is made up of simple things—getting meals, using and washing the dishes and using them again, going to meetings—as well as gifts, joy, and celebration. A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets.
—Jean Varnier, founder of the L'Arche communities
Where two or three are gathered, there will conflict be also. So is it in families, and so is it in the church. I think the church is a particularly complicated place to be community, to be family together, at these intersections:
- We come in our hunger to be fed, and we come in our idealism to feed others.
- We come in our hope to make something grow, and we come with our egos to wield power & create legacies.
- We come in our gentle honesty to care for one another, and we come with our floundering blindness, hurting one another--sometimes repeatedly.
- We come in our generosity to give of ourselves (even though the world suggests that we're slightly nuts to do so), and we come with our fear & brokenness, bricking ourselves into our safe rooms (just like we do anywhere else).
- We come in our joy, to share it, and we come with our pain, for help to bear it.
- We come to cooperate in building something for the glory of God & the good of the neighborhood, and we compete for resources, energy, time in the schedule & volunteers.
- We come with all our levels of aching, hopeful complexity to lay them before God, in the context of a community.
It's not a simple thing to be in a long-term relationship with a community. Especially when you throw your whole heart into your work. Especially when you don't get to choose the other people at the table, and the person next to you gets on your last nerve.
I really like what Varnier says about "liv(ing) each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets." Because it's so unbelievably easy to get focused on our own part of the big picture, on our own purposes and our own pain. To keep our eyes on the things that matter to us, sometimes to the exclusion of what matters to others. To act as if we're all at the same place on the journey toward the cross, when in fact we're not. To let the conflict be bigger than our own call as Christians.
It's hard to get out of God's way, sometimes. Remembering that God sees a broader canvas than we do is not a natural way for us to act. We're geared to want what we want, and to go after it. Sometimes with the kindest and best of intentions, we inadvertently smack into one another. And the bruising is real, despite what we hoped would happen, despite the heroic picture we had in our mind's eye.
How do we bounce back from that? When we in a community are at cross purposes, how do we heal from the hurt and re-orient ourselves toward the cross? And how do we learn to maintain that focus even in the presence of hurt and mistrust?
Peter, in this week's gospel lesson, steps out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. Easy to be Peter (at least for me), as he's stepping out of the boat; how inspiring! How great to get to do what Jesus does, to do such a spectacular thing as walking on water, to be chosen for that task in the presence of all the other disciples. He's special! He's going somewhere new!
And then he takes his eyes off Jesus. Starts to sink. All of a sudden, he's not so special, and this is definitely not somewhere new. But he does the right thing, I think--he turns his attention, which had been diverted by his navelgazing and the howling wind, back to Jesus, who saves him.
I love Peter, because I do the exact same thing. Over and over. I don't know about you, but my own circumstances are rarely as starkly defined as a literal drowning. Maybe, though, it'd be useful for us, when we're drowning in smaller ways--sidetracked by our own vision, our own hurt, our own need to make an impact--maybe in that moment we must try to focus on Jesus, as Peter managed in his scary moment. (Nothing like a crisis to snap things sharply into focus...)
Because the cross's purposes have little to do with safety. They don't protect us from pain, nakedness, frustration, fear, hunger, or the sensations of being lost, misunderstood and unappreciated. There's nothing easy about this. Maybe it isn't supposed to be easy. But really, what point is there in working at cross purposes with one another when it's the cross's purposes that mark the way of salvation? If we can't live that way in the community of the faithful, how will we do so in the wilderness? (Hmmm...maybe it's actually easier to do so in the wilderness, some days...)
I joked about conflict earlier, but want to close with this thought: Jesus promises, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there will I be also." If there's hurt and mistrust in the spaces between us, there is Jesus as well.
Each of us must decide which we want to embrace, and who we want to be, in order to live together over the long term.
Friday, August 8, 2008
It’s August. An oppressively hot and humid month where many of us live.
I remember the Al Pacino movie (Dog Day Afternoon) though not much about the plot. Just that it was very, very hot. And he had giant sweat stains on his shirt.
As I pass through this year’s dog days in my felon ridden neighborhood (OK, just two housefuls. But isn’t that enough?), I am trying to focus on the blessings apparent around me, past and present, that I might not notice, necessarily. In that spirit, this week’s Friday Five goes thusly:
1. What is your sweetest summer memory from childhood? Did it involve watermelon or hand cranked ice cream? Or perhaps a teen summer romance. Which stands out for you?
Sweetest summer memory...hmmm...there are lots! Going to 4th of July fireworks, getting scared by the loudness and crawling into the safety of my mom's lap; getting my first bike for my birthday (which Dad had made for me); catching fireflies in the back yard with my sister; driving in to Marriott's Great America with my best friend and a couple of other people, and later, with my boyfriend Tony, his best friend Rob and Rob's girlfriend Jenny...jeez, I'm almost a Capra movie here.
2. Describe your all time favorite piece of summer clothing. The one thing you could put on in the summer that would seem to insure a cooler, more excellent day.
When I was 11 or so, I had a reversible halter top that made me feel Very Grown Up. It looped over my head and tied in the back, leaving my back mostly open and creating the illusion of a bosomy presence in the front. I was pretty sure I was 20 when I was wearing it...and because it was reversible, it went with LOTS of my shorts. :-)
3. What summer food fills your mouth with delight and whose flavor stays happily with you long after eaten?
Fresh sweet corn, dripping in butter and gritty with salt. Garrison Keillor's right about this; it's one of life's great pleasures. Maybe not THE best thing, but it's up there!
Strawberry shortcake (fresh strawberries and real whipped cream on angel food cake) is a close second, and my favorite birthday treat.
4. Tell us about the summer vacation or holiday that holds your dearest memory.
My dad's side of the family went to the same family-run resort in northern WI for years and years, starting in the 1930s. We went there every summer, sometimes bringing our best friends along. Often, there'd be another group of the extended family in one of the place's three cabins, so there was always someone to hang out with. They had an old-fashioned soda machine whose lifted lid revealed bottles of Squirt, RC, Orange Crush, Hires root beer...fantastic. Many, many sweet memories there of swimming in the lake, walking in the woods, baiting my sister's fish hook (OK, that's less sweet) and playing cards at the kitchen table while eating chocolate-covered peanuts. Canasta, anyone?
5. Have you had any experience(s) this summer that has drawn you closer to God or perhaps shown you His wonder in a new way?
We got Linus & Lucy. Their groundedness in the present has made them gurus to me on one level. :-) The sweetness of sleepy puppies fills me with gratitude for them and for my family in a new way, too. My friend Ruth has a series of Dog Parables that describe the loveliness of this from a spiritual perspective; check out her musings about her dog Smokey!
Bonus question: When it is really hot, humid and uncomfortable, what do you do to refresh and renew body and spirit?
A cool shower usually can restore me from Supreme Humidity Crabbiness to something resembling reasonable behavior. That, and an icy diet Coke...and as little motion as possible. When I was a kid, before air conditioning was such a "normal" condition in homes, my mom used to take us to the movies. That was fun! :-)
Thursday, August 7, 2008
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wonderful Wendell Berry. There's a limpid wisdom in his work...one which can only come from a long time of "employment" of his own. How great that we don't have to move from success to success, but only to keep moving forward in honesty and openness. Notice the rock in our stream and find a way around it. Lovely perspective!
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
On today's date in 1945 at 8:15 a.m., the crew of the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay released a solitary bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The first atomic bomb detonated in wartime killed the 80,000 inhabitants of that city in an instant, and another 140,000 deaths resulted from the effects of radiation in the months and years that followed. For years, the full horror of that split second of time seemed beyond depiction in musical form -- until in 1961, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki finished a most unusual work for string orchestra.
"I searched for associations," said Penderecki, "and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims." As "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima," this remarkable score rapidly made Penderecki famous worldwide.
I got curious after reading this. I went looking for the music, and there's a link to it below. If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to sit with it and listen. It sounds as if the world has come off its hinge, which must be how it felt to live through the Hiroshima blast. Stark, chaotic, painful; nowhere to really rest, ever.
I wonder what the legacy of the bomb has been to the survivors and their posterity. Surely there has been fallout beyond the radioactivity directly associated with the bomb. I was talking with a friend a couple of days ago about Noah and his family, after the flood...what that must have been like. About how Noah built himself a vineyard and used it to dull the pain of having survived that horror, when everyone else did not. If you don't know the story, his sons found him drunk and naked one day. Two sons covered him up and the third, Ham, took a closer look and mocked him. When Noah sobered up, he cursed Ham's firstborn son, Canaan, making him and his father servants of Shem and Japeth, Ham's brothers.
Poor Canaan. What the heck did HE do to deserve that?
The sins of the parents. They're visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation, according to Exodus. I always heard this as a completely confusing, unjust pronouncement from God. But as I've gotten older, I hear it instead as a description, God saying to us, "This is big, you guys. This is going to leave a mark. It'll mess you up for a long time--and not just you, but those who come after you. Healing from this is going to take generations." For any child of violence, alcoholism, abuse, the legacy is clear and painful.
So, on this anniversary of the most violent single act in all of human history, let's take a moment to remember and to resolve to leave a different legacy to the next generation in any small way that we can.
Peace, friends. Be good to one another.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
For some reason, Blogger declared this blog possible SPAM and locked us down yesterday. This morning, we're free to post again, but there was a fair amount of excitement last night among our contributors, who found a dire notice on their Blogger dashboards threatening that this blog might be deleted in 20 days!
We requested a blog review, and I posted a request at the Blogger Help group, where I found we were not alone. Many other perfectly nourishing and cromulent blogs got the same notice last night.
This turned out to be a very small barricade in our blogging community life, but it seemed appropriate to explore locks and blocks and other barriers this week. Also, I liked the picture of the security team above! Could they be Blogger's Spam Prevention Robots, working overtime?
In honor of their efforts, I bring you the "Lock Me Out, Lock Me In" Friday Five.
1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel?
Sipping on my giant diet Coke, I listen to an audiobook, or play a word game of our own devising with Beloved (if she's along for the ride), and look on with sympathetic amusement as the drivers around me melt down.
Assuming I'm not in a hurry.
If I'm late for something, there's swearing. Lots of swearing. And the drivers nearby look on withsympathetic amusement as I melt down.
2) Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? (And do you keep an extra key somewhere, just in case?)
Nope (though now that I've said it...), but Beloved did. And I was out of town. No extra key, either!
3) Have you ever cleared a hurdle? (And if you haven't flown over a material hurdle, feel free to take this one metaphorically.)
Wow--where to begin? Nope, I'm not a track star, but LOTS of metaphorical experience here. Coming out was a big one (especially since I was in seminary at the time), and a midstream career change was another. Have lost about 20 pounds; hope to lose more! That's the current one. (Envisioning a giant block of chocolate standing in my way...)
4) What's your approach to a mental block?
Sort of birdlike, actually. I'll bonk my head on it pretty hard, once or twice. Then I'll back away and try from another angle. Sometimes talking to someone helps, or just doing something goofy and utterly unrelated to the task at hand!
5) Suggest a caption for the picture above; there will be a prize for the funniest answer!
- The Village People Present: Hands Across America!
- 2025: the post-federal-deficit Secret Service
- Re-choreographing The Safety Dance
- We will assimilate you. Resistance is futile.
- The last thing Harry said to Ron and Hermione was, "Does this polyjuice potion taste funny to you?"