Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday five: potpourri

Will Smama of the RevGals writes:

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 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

Sung theology meme

I spend a lot of time thinking about hymnody. Selecting a hymn for my community to sing can happen for so many reasons...because it fits with the texts; because it fits the liturgical season; because it fits our particular context at the moment; because they love it or because it will challenge them; because it's theologically sound; because we need to remember that "me and Jesus" isn't the whole story, or because we need to remember that Jesus loves each of us intimately; because it has a tune that will live in their hearts and embed the text in their consciousness; because it prays; because it praises; because it laments; because it thanks; because it celebrates the gifts all around and within us.

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)

Lord, whose love in humble service
bore the weight of human need;
who, upon the cross, forsaken,
worked your mercy's perfect deed.
We, your servants, bring the worship
not of voice alone, but heart:
consecrating to your purpose
every gift that you impart.

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:

Most of all, that love has found us, thanks be to God.

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! You just got married! And we're singing at your wedding!
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)

Children of the heavenly Father
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:

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend
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 love the you you hide if I but call your name?
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.

Shepherd me, O God,
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

Write to marry day

Marriage--right up there with "abortion" as a hair-trigger cultural issue, virtually guaranteeing an emotional response from a large percentage of the population.

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.
Oooo. Scary.

It seems that we represent a major threat to civilization, intent as we are said to be on dismantling the very nature of family.

Go figure.

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.

OK, seriously...

THIS is the guy trying to purge the priesthood of gay priests?

And now, for something completely different...

Trust Monty Python to provide the antidote to a gloomy news cycle...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Descartes with marshmallows and brown sugar

Friday five: where the heart is

Songbird of the RevGals writes:

Tell us about the five favorite places you have lived in your lifetime. What did you like? What kind of place was it? Anything special happen there?

1. My family home as a child--for all the usual reasons: fireflies in the back yard by the lilac bushes, Christmas trees in the living room, the mysteries of my parents' bedroom dresser closet (what the heck is a cuff link for?), my bedroom covered with Tiger Beat posters of Charlie's Angels, Shaun Cassidy, John Travolta, the Captain & Tennille...not an inch of wall space available, really. :-)

2. My sophomore dorm room--my sanctuary. I absolutely loved having my own space!

3. My first apartment--above an electronics store, with a leaky roof and wallpaper that wouldn't stay up. Absolute crap, in retrospect, but it felt FANTASTIC at the time.

4. My seminary dorm room--again, a sanctuary, as well as a tangible sign of the new direction in my life. Simple, in sort of a monastic way. However, living in a dorm with all those other people at thirty...ummm, no. :-)

5. Our home now--the best of all. We dreamed of it for years, and it's better than I could have imagined. Often full of of all now that it's full of puppies. We had a house blessing when we moved in, led by dear friend B. Showers of blessing, really. Every year, it's more our little place in the world.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Charity or justice?

When I first saw that title at Inward/Outward this morning, I thought, "Well, either/or? Why?" And then I read it:

Charity is commendable; everyone should be charitable. But justice aims to create a social order in which if individuals choose not to be charitable, people will not go hungry, unschooled or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance. Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table.

--Bill Moyers, as quoted in Foreword, Faith Works: From the Life of an Activist Preacher by Jim Wallis

Justice contains charity.

Important to keep in mind as we paddle out into the icy waters of recession, no?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pretty fictions

We American types are at a crossroads. The election is part of what got us there...the financial crisis, the war. But I submit that there's an element of the American consciousness (maybe just human consciousness) that we don't talk about much. We need an intervention. We're addicts, all of us...and I'm not talking about Drugs of Choice, or even about oil. I'm talking about our insatiable hunger for shiny, simple answers in the face of urgent, complex questions. Pretty fictions make the world go 'round:
  • Your call is important to us.
  • You can lose all the weight you want with no exercise and no dieting!
  • (internal voice speaking) I've got the answer, so all these other people must be wrong. Besides, they talk funny and they dress funny and they eat weird things for dinner.
  • I LOVE your (dreadful) haircut.
  • Jesus wants you to be rich.
  • Please take this internet poll; your opinion is crucial!
  • I believe in everyone pulling himself up by the bootstraps (even if he doesn't have boots).
  • Of course you don't look fat in that outfit.
  • Easy credit terms available.
  • The good Lord never gives us more than we can handle.
  • I'm entitled to a happy, comfortable life; I've earned it.
  • This won't hurt a bit.
  • I love the sinner, I just hate the sin.
  • I know just how you feel.
  • This product will render you happy/healthy/irresistible for the low, low price of $19.95/month.
These are all around us. I don't know a single person who has never used one, often for the kindest of reasons...but sometimes not. Also, the Whole Truth is sometimes too much to bear. But I think we've created such a cloud of static with our pretty fictions that it's sometimes hard to distinguish truth from falsehood...and we end up putting our collective trust in lots of things that can't support the substance of that trust. It's not just our physical infrastructure that needs investment, but our collective spiritual one, as well.

So, how do we recognize Truth?
  • It probably won't fit on a bumper sticker.
  • It's not available for purchase.
  • It may not make us feel safer.
  • It will ask something of us, and may well be inconvenient.
  • No one holds all of it; the more we listen to one another, the more facets of it we will understand.
  • It will point us toward love and justice, if we're willing.
  • If we're truly listening, it will sing quietly in our inmost soul.
  • It will give us moments of deep peace and rest, if we manage to honor it.
Isn't continuing to grow into something of deep and lasting value a bigger deal than being skinny and sweet-smelling, and dying with the most toys?

So how, then, are we so often seduced? Are the demigods of security, greed, sloth, & ego really so powerful that we'll willingly bow down to them instead of locking arms and pointing ourselves toward faith, hope and love?

Our national conversation seems to be mostly geared toward the least common denominator of humanity. Mud is flung...epithets and half-truths and easy answers. Small, tasty fictions that somehow never quite make it to the remainder table.

Is it possible that, instead, we could each nurture a small groundswell of honesty, faith, hope, and love? What if we went on The Patch for our addiction to pretty fictions?

What would happen if we tried?

Just askin'. :-)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Navelgazing extravaganza II: the wordle as I see it

Just made a Wordle. It's a visual aggregate of all the words in my blog...and an interesting way to see if my writing actually matches up with my thinking. Other than a mild sense of alarm that "get" is bigger than "God," I'm reasonably happy with it. :-)

BTW--click on it; you'll be redirected to's gallery, and a larger version!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The inner vocation of the singer

I was reading at Search the Sea yesterday, and amid the stark riches there, I found three nuggets that capture the thinking of three very wise guys (thanks, Gannet Girl, for your honesty; peace to you!). They became the basis last night’s choir devotion.

Know yourself.

Be yourself.

Give yourself.

The life of a person of faith demands that we try to live into all those ideas, and each is a pilgrimage of its own.

The first, the way of self-knowledge, is the beginning. It happens in the context of community and in the presence of God. It requires as much honesty as we can bear; in learning to truly know ourselves, we have to get quiet. We have to be strong enough to strip away all that is not real or true, like peeling away a bitter orange rind to get to the sweet fruit underneath. The context of loving community keeps us honest; the presence of God grants perspective; both are a comfort and a continual challenge, pushing us on to the second path: self-actualization.

If we think about that in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy, it’s about getting our basic needs met so that we can to move on to greater things. I think that’s certainly a piece of the puzzle, but if we are to get to the third path, there needs to be one more element included. We become fully ourselves in large part by striving and failing and learning and striving again. It makes me think of one more chunk of wisdom from Wise Guy #4:

It's not that easy, being green.
Kermit the Frog

New growth is tender and vulnerable and fresh. It takes courage to keep on becoming the people we are. But the risk in that process also means brings us to the understanding that we have something to offer…and perhaps also the courage to do so, which is what Jesus asks.

At some point, each of us stands for a time with two metaphorical “feet” on the ground of God, realizing that we are endowed with a purpose…a vocation. For us in this room, a part of that vocation is song.

A life of faith asks us to keep growing; the life of a singer does, as well. We have to understand what we’re good at, and what we need to work on. We must have the patience and quietude to see and hear clearly, and to listen intently. We have to tune in to the numinous, the transcendent. We need the courage to try new things, and to keep improving old ones…and we do all this in the context of a group of fellow-travelers who are striving for the same things, each of whom has a part to sing in the final offering. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our own ego or comfort or preference for the good of the community.

We have to love this ephemeral thing into existence. And we have to trust that, once we do all that, what we’ve created will find ears that can hear it.

Sort of like discipleship, isn’t it? It requires everything of us—our full engagement in the work at hand. And we never really know which of the seeds we’ve tried to sow will come to fruition, or what our own final destination will be…except for this:

It all begins and ends in God.

Thanks be to God for real work in all its forms, and the many ways it teaches us to follow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: your deep joy and the world's deep hunger

It's Blog Action Day today! Bloggers around the world are writing about poverty, and trying to combine our small, individual, vocational actions into a movement to alleviate the suffering of others. Frederick Buechner defines vocation as "the place where your deep joy and the world's deep hunger meet."

I'd like to tell you about some friends of mine. Three years ago, we decided that our vocation-- music--could be used to address hunger issues. We formed a chamber choir called InVocation, a name that invokes Buechner and invites God's presence and others' participation in our work to feed the hungry.

We choose a new charity partner each year--one that addresses hunger issues--and perform eight concerts each year to support their work. There are many open hearts involved in making this happen: our rehearsal space is donated; our concert venues are hosted by churches in the metro area who also provide a reception for concertgoers; our recording time/space, our printing, our photos, our website--all are donated. The members themselves buy their music and concert dress, commit several hours each week to rehearsal and concerts, and run the organization (charity interface, webmaster, management, publicity, creative direction, etc.). More information is available on our website about the specifics of the organization and our first two charity partners.

Our first year was spent singing for Loaves and Fishes, which feeds meals to the hungry at eight sites in our metro area. In our second year, we supported Feed My Starving Children, which packages and sends meals to over fifty countries around the world. Our partner for the coming year is Second Harvest--Heartland.

We love to sing together. It's a joy to get to use our creativity this way, and to be conduits for a whole big bunch of goodwill from our supporting organizations and audiences. That feeds US. It also feeds a whole bunch of others: we fed 1700 meals through Loaves & Fishes in 2006-7, and sixty children will eat all this year because of last year's concerts for FMSC. Who knows what will come of this year's partnership?

I tell you this not out of a desire to boast about my friends (though I am proud of this group), but because this is a joy to us...because there may be an idea like this lurking in the back of your mind, Gentle Reader, and you need a little bit of encouragement.

Why not light that candle in your hand? It's surprising how much darkness can be dispelled by some shared goodwill, and that's a blessing for everyone concerned.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Konduktr puppeh haz a reehursl happee

Bread and circuses: commentary roundup edition

I'm getting to be a bigger and bigger Bob Herbert fan with every column I read. Yesterday's offering in the NY Times is an especially important one, I think.

I've posted before about bread and circuses. The point I was trying to make is that our security is in God. I believe that with every cell in my body (at least, on the days that my head is screwed on more-or-less straight). However, that does not absolve us of our responsibility to ourselves and our neighbors--from our part in tikkun olam, in repairing the world.

Now we're in another crisis; no surprise, as there will always be another crisis on the horizon. My issue is not so much the financial crisis at hand as the "amusing ourselves to death" mindset that underlays so much of American culture right now. We fear substance; we love sparkle. We dislike actual debate (as evidenced by the rather porous substance of the electoral "debates"), but we sure do love a good shootin' match! (Have you ever noticed that the word "argument" has ten different shades of meaning, but it seems to mean "contention" almost exclusively in common parlance? The other nine imply both multivalence and logic.)

This lower nature of the public is routinely and cynically exploited by many who seek power. It's a distraction, and it WORKS. But some media voices are getting to deeper issues, if we learn to listen and to make plain our desire for substantive analysis and truth-telling:
And that's it, really, the heart of the problem. We, ALL OF US, need to stop screwing around with Diverting Shiny Things and gaping at whatever manufactured conflict presents itself, and get down to the issues at hand. And I truly mean at hand: for most of us, that will happen in small ways. For a few of us, it will happen in arenas of large-scale influence, but maybe it'd be good to remember that it's not the size of our sphere of influence that matters--it's what we do with it. It's our willingness to tear ourselves away from "reality" (!) television and get busy fixing whatever problem is in front of us. In Cotton Patch: Parables of Liberation, Clarence Jordan writes:

We've all been given ideas, perhaps not in equal proportion to others.
Maybe we haven't done any postgraduate work, but we've got hold of some explosive ideas.
But we say, "I might lose out tradin' on these. I might lose my neck or my job or my house."

And we're right. This is risk capital Jesus has given to us.
But that doesn't excuse us from activity...the time of harvest is here.
If we don't get off our back ends and start doin' somethin' with these ideas,
God Almighty is gonna take these talents that he's turned over to the church
and give them to a people that will bring forth the fruits.
You gonna wrap them up in some theological junk
or are you gonna get out in the streets and do business with these ideas?

I get that people may be feeling overwhelmed. Some days, that's me, too. But it'd be really great if we could at least keep our eye on the ball.

I'm a big West Wing fan; it was an intelligent show that asked real questions about serious issues. It made me think. Its forerunner was a movie called The American President. At the climax of the show, President Shepherd (running for re-election against an opponent who sounded suspiciously like the John McCain of the last few weeks) made a speech that contained this:
For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested
that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character,
and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me,
I've been here three years and three days,
and I can tell you without hesitation:
Being President of this country is entirely about character.

This is a country made up of people with hard jobs that they're terrified of losing.
The roots of freedom are of little or no interest to them at the moment.
We are a nation afraid to go out at night.
We're a society that has assigned low priority to education
and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated.
We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious (people) to solve them.
And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you,
Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it.
He is interested in two things and two things only:
Making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.
You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters
who remember with longing an easier time,
and you talk to them about family and American values and personal character.
Then you have an old photo of the President's girlfriend.
You scream about patriotism and you tell them she's to blame for their lot in life,
you go on television and you call her a whore...

We've got serious problems, and we need serious (people,)
and if you want to talk about character...and American values, fine.
Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up.
This is a time for serious (people), Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.
My name's Andrew Shepherd, and I AM the President.
Shepherd, who had been distracted, remembered (within the structured conceit of a movie script) two things: who he was and what his responsibilities were. And then he got busy. He told the truth. He got back to work on the bill that was before him. He jumped back into both his presidency and his personal agency with that speech.

Would that we, as citizens, could do the same.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Soup is good fooooood...

So, Linus (see sidebar for photo) had a difficult weekend, where matters of gastroenterology are concerned. Let's just say it was...ummm...messy, and leave it at that. Some friends at church recommended chicken broth and rice for a couple of days, to settle his tummy. We gave it a try.

After a first, tentative slurp, he looked up at me with an expression on his face that seemed to say,
Do you mean to tell me that,
the whole time I've lived with you,
you've given me
regular water,
chicken-flavored water was available?
Are you nuts?

Scarf, scarf--it was gone in seconds. And it cleared up the (ahem) problem, too.

As you did to the least of these...

Found this at my friend Peg's place:

This Wednesday, October 15th, is Blog Action Day—which means thousands of weblogs across the internet (including this one) will post about a single topic: poverty. The purpose is to raise awareness about the interesting ways people from all walks of life are helping those in need. We're putting together our Blog Action Day feature story now, and we need your help. What experiences do you have in fighting poverty? What are your favorite charities, volunteer opportunities, or projects out there related to poverty? Tell us your story in the comments—and when you can, include links, images, videos, anything you've got—and we'll feature our favorites here on Wednesday. If you're a blogger, be sure to sign up to take part in Blog Action Day. Thanks in advance for your help and participation.

Let's join in, my bloggy friends!

RIP, Brother Spear

A brave, patient Minnesota statesman died on Saturday. An editorial in the local paper about his impact is available here.

Thank you, Senator Spear, for your courageous leadership. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

All of Tatooine's Buddhists agree...

...this IS the answer to the old koan (courtesy of Doug Savage):

Found grace, part deux

Yesterday, between my day job at Universitas Majoris and a worship planning meeting at church, I took some time out to prepare for the meeting. I love this part of the job--sitting with my colleagues and peering into the readings, figuring out how to exegete them musically in our particular context. So I try to get my head in the game ahead of time, in order to participate fully in the discussion.

There's a route from the U to church that follows the river, with a parking lot at a particularly lovely spot. I pulled in there to appreciate the view and to do my "pre-game" thinking. It was an absolutely beautiful fall day, with the late-afternoon sun hitting the colorful trees along the riverbank--the perfect setting for thinking about transcendent things. I rolled down my car window and got to work, Bible and hymnal in hand.

After a few minutes, a truck pulled into the spot next to mine. Two high school-age kids got out, sat on the hood and began to talk and laugh as they took in the view of the river. My first response was to be sort of annoyed--it was a big, unoccupied parking lot, and they had to be making noise right next to me? (You can see the "transcendent" thing doing its work, right? Ha ha ha.)

Cranky me. And I was about to get reframed in a BIG way by this "annoyance."

I got back to work, and noticed a few minutes later that they'd moved to the edge of the bluff, about ten yards in front of my car. Further, I noticed that these two kids are in love--nestled together, laughing, occasionally sharing a kiss, gazing into each others' eyes as if they were the only two people in the world...just being totally in the moment on a gorgeous, sunny day.

Now, add in the factors I haven't mentioned yet: this unself-consciously smitten couple was both mixed-race and all-female. And, in that moment, their joy became my joy. They were beautiful.

Love generally is; especially when the sun is allowed to shine on it.

Maybe things are getting better for gay kids. Maybe this next generation will finally get past the racial and sexual barriers that have been so divisive for mine and those that have come before.

I hope.

Late-breaking news: Fantastic. :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Found grace

My friend Mags can preach. I'm just sayin'.

I was poking around her blog today and stumbled upon a sermon on one of my favorite poetic themes, that of knowing and being known.

I read, and the joy just welled up.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This man is my brother

Never met him, or even heard of him before today. But I play the guitar...

And I play the cello.

And we played the same damned thing in my high school orchestra.

And I just laughed my butt off, thanks to my friend T, who sent me this (thanks, T!):

Oh, and we're bugged by other similar things, as well. Bless 'im. :-)

Mrs. VanderVennet...

... was my eighth-grade English teacher. I've mentioned her before--she turned me into one of Those Grammar People. I suspect she has spent the last eight years whirling in her grave, if the public comments of our current, "lame-enough-duck-to-be-trapped-in-an-iron-lung" Commander in Chief have reached her heavenly berth.

For her sake, we simply must keep Governor Palin from a permanent place on the national stage. Kitty Burns Florey makes a compelling case.

Please. For the sake of that kind woman who dedicated her life to the creation of articulate adults, we must not allow this vice presidency to happen.


Monday, October 6, 2008

The blues and the blessedness

Sheesh. What a bleak newsday: the Dow plummets, Europe gears up to share our financial crisis, the personal attacks have "ramped up" (to co-opt a favorite phrase of a trailing VP candidate) in the election, and ONE IN FOUR mammals is in large-scale trouble, with extinction as a possibility.

For a long time, my friend D had an email address of "romanseight3839" as its header. Pretty powerful faith statement:
For I am convinced
that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Good thing to keep in mind today, ya? And...special prayer request for D, who's having a health issue today.

Peace, friends...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sarah's secret strategy

Frighteningly close to the truth, as evidenced by the fact that she could not actually talk extemporaneously about anything more substantive the wording of "Drill, baby, drill!"

It would have been nice to hear her actually answer one or two of the questions posed, rather than reverting directly to her talking points. Thus far, there's little evidence that she comprehends any of the giant issues of this election on more than a schmoozey, superficial level.

Hats off to Biden, though. Thought he did just about everything right. And, as he stated twice, this is the most important election of our lives.

PLEASE, God, let it be determined by questions that go deeper than those addressed on "American Idol." The fact that she didn't actually drool is not reason enough to elect her to such a critical position.

And I just can't bear another four years of "folksy" being more important than "competent" or "visionary" or "smart." Nor can the country, BTW. Sheesh.

Oh, and her closing remarks? Check this out.

Friday five: St. Francis

Sally of the RevGals writes:

Today is the day that we remember and celebrate the life of St Francis of Assisi, here is a description of his early life:

Often named the Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment, there is much more to St Francis:

Saint Francis is called the little poor man of Assisi. He was born in the year 1182 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father's name was
Bernadone. Bernadone was a very wealthy merchant of Assisi. Francis was a very good-looking boy. He was merry and soft-hearted. So he had many friends. All the noble men's sons were his companions.

Francis was brought up in luxury and gaiety. He spent a considerable portion of his wealth in extravagant pleasures. He used to drink with the young princes of the land.

One day Francis was joking and laughing with his friends. A beggar came along crying for alms. Francis, who was soft-hearted, gave whatever he had in his pocket to the beggar. His companions mocked at him for his charitable act. Dispassion dawned in his heart. The sight of the beggar set him thinking about the poverty and misery of mundane life. He gave much money to the poor. His father thought that Francis was wasting his money and rebuked him.

Sometime after this, Francis was laid up in bed for many months on account of some serious disease. He was about to die. But the Lord saved him as he had to carry out a definite mission in his life. The nature of Francis was entirely changed. Francis prayed to the Lord for light and guidance as to his future. He had a vision of Lord Jesus. He made a strong determination to renounce his old way of living to tread a life of purity and to dedicate his life to the service of humanity.

As soon as Francis got well, he informed his parents of his determination. They were disappointed. They became angry with Francis. Francis gave up his old ways and habits and set up to serve God. He distributed clothes, goods and money to the poor. His father was very much annoyed towards his son. He said, "Is this the gratitude you show to me ? I laboured hard and amassed wealth. You are lavishly wasting it on these miserable wretches".

Francis' friends mocked at him and teased him. His father turned him out of the house. Francis lived like a beggar. His old friends even pelted him with stones and mud. He bore everything with patience. He wore a coarse dress and ate simple food.

Francis went on to travel from village to village preaching the love of God. He invited people to join him in his life of service if they were willing. Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was very much attracted by the saintliness of Francis. He joined Francis. He was the first follower of Francis. He placed all his wealth at the altar of God. Eleven others also joined Francis. They distributed all their wealth to the poor. Francis and his followers went all over Italy preaching, teaching, healing and blessing wherever they went.

The gospel of kindness and love of Francis soon spread all over Europe and earned for him the name of St. Francis. People called him the little poor man of Assisi. He lived for ever in the hearts of all men.

St. Francis collected many followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. The members of this Order have to take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience.
St. Francis gave up his mortal coil in 1228.

I would like to dedicate this Friday Five to St Francis of Assisi.

1. Saint Francis experienced a life changing call, has anything in your journey so far challenged you to alter your lifestyle?

Yes. In my twenties, I was a corporate trainer. Not a happy one, but a successful one. Wanted the security of a steady job with a financial services company, and I was good at it. Further, I'd worked my way up from customer service, and was proud of my accomplishments. I'd been a music major in college, but that didn't seem particularly stable, so I gave it up. Not only was I not doing music as a career, I wasn't even making any in a serious way.

So then, a friend of mine took me to see the National Lutheran Choir in concert. I didn't even breathe through the entire first half. I auditioned at the next opportunity, and got in. As I was singing at the choir kickoff retreat the next fall, I had a moment of complete, serene clarity that this was my gift. I actually heard a voice saying "This is for you; go do something with it." (And yeah, I know what they say about auditory hallucinations being a bad sign...) A year later, I entered seminary in the Master's of Sacred Music program.

That was twelve years ago. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. I make about a third as much money as I would be making if I continued on that track, but I really do feel like I'm set down in the center of my purpose in the world. Vocation is more compelling than security for me, I guess.

2. Francis experienced mocking and persecution, quite often in the comfortable west this is far from our experience. If you have experienced something like this how do you deal with it, if not how does it challenge you to pray for those whose experience is daily persecution?

I guess the closest I get to that is being gay. It was very weird when I was coming out, realizing that there are places in the world where I could be killed for it. That there are people who hate and fear and disapprove of me based upon that one thing--without even knowing me. That was new for me, as a middle-class, white American; by acknowledging that one aspect of myself, much of the privilege I was used to disappeared. I was pretty scared for a while. Then I got tired of being scared, and decided that, if this is who I am, I'm going to live it well.

It changed how I heard a lot of the Bible. All of a sudden, instead of being an observer, I WAS that woman with the hemorrhage. It changed and deepened my faith in a profound way.

And so, I now have a heightened sensitivity to those outside the circle for lots of reasons. I pray and work for change on a large scale, but I'm also more likely to seek out the person on the sidelines and try to bring them in. Because at one point, I needed someone to do that for me.

And it strikes me, as I write this, that my own journey has thus far been exponentially safer than that of many others, for whom I am grateful and hope to honor by continuing to work for peace and justice.

3 .St Francis had female counterpart in St Clare, she was influenced by St Francis sermon and went on to found the Poor Clare's, like the Franciscans they depended on alms this was unheard of for women in that time, but she persisted and gained permission to found the order. How important are role models like St Clare to you? Do you have a particular female role model whose courage and dedication inspires you? If so share their story....

There are so many...but today, I'll talk about Hildegard of Bingen. Amazing woman, whose contributions were sort of trivialized by her trendiness a decade ago. Mystic, visionary, artist, musician, ecclesiastical leader and activist, preacher, healer...a Renaissance woman before the Renaissance actually happened. Integrity, courage, creativity and attentiveness to social justice were the hallmarks of her life. I'm a fan.

Honorable mention to Eleanor Roosevelt, Coretta Scott King, Sojourner Truth, Emily Saliers, Hillary Clinton, and the list goes on and on and on...

Finally, Mary. Yes, THAT Mary. What amazing courage she had--just a kid, dealing directly with God, risking everything and changing the world with a simple "yes."

4. Francis loved nature and animals, how important is an expressed love of the created world to the Christian message today?

It's central. Love of God and love of neighbor absolutely contains reverence of God's creation and stewardship of neighbor's home. Not to mention the need to have somewhere to live ourselves as we carry out this love. Attention must be paid.

One other note...we have much to learn from Creation about authenticity, simplicity, and beauty.

5. On a lighter note; have you ever led a service of blessing for animals, or a pet service, was it a success, did you enjoy it, and would you do it again?

I led music for a couple of them. It was fun (with the exception of the behavior of one dog with dominance issues), and it was meaningful. You can learn a lot about someone when you see them with their pet! It was a new kind of community experience, and I'd absolutely do it again--especially now that I have pups of my own!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thanks, Fran.

I saw this at Fran's place. I think it's rather wonderful.

Warmth, depth, reason, honesty, humor

Hello, everyone! It's been a crazy week; I'm fully engaged in All That Is Autumn--rehearsals; church & nonprofit planning/administrative stuff; prepping the homestead for winter; keeping the pups active, healthy & happy; having the happy occasion to invite dear ones to dinner, after a summer of everyone being scattered to the four winds.

So it's been a crazy week, but a good one. I'm feeling chin-deep in love and richness. But things are moving quickly, and I haven't been as present to the blogosphere as I like to be. And friend Ruth sent some loveliness my way last week, and I've been pondering a response, but it's taken me a little while. She sent me an award, which made me grin:

There are a lot of blogs I read, for many different reasons. Blogs I really love have five things in common:
  • Warmth--I want to know the writer a bit, to understand what makes them tick. I want to read people who know themselves but don't wear ego like a big orange hat; who I can imagine chuckling from somewhere behind their kneecaps; with whom I'd love to sit down and have a long chat over a cuppa.
  • Depth--These bloggers turn the prism a bit for me; they ask me to take one more look, and invite me into places I might not have gone. They offer places of rest and reflection and insight and goodwill.
  • Reason--Good sense trumps hyperbole for me; these people are grounded and principled and smart. And as an added bonus, they can write.
  • Honesty--They call 'em as they see 'em. They're not afraid to admit what they don't know. They'll say the tough thing that needs saying, and they swim hard toward reality at all times.
  • Humor--Karl Barth said that "Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God." These women make me laugh. At myself, often. :-) Snorting, running-to-the-bathroom kind of laughing. What a gift!
So, I'd officially like to thank these people for all those things, and tell them that I love their blogs!
and, of course, though I don't say it as often as I should,
Y'all are a blessing to me, every day. Thank you.