Friday, March 27, 2009

What the...

I could be wrong about this, of course, but aren't institutions of higher learning supposed to support and elevate value the exchange of ideas and to learn to live within their inherent tensions? To make us better thinkers and citizens, able to debate without lobbing grenades at one another?

What's all the fuss, Notre Dame?

Transgendered in Zimbabwe

I don't know how to even begin to imagine what life must be like for Tawanda. It's a terrifying story.

Robert Mugabe is dangerous to Zimbabwe's GLBT community, as evidenced by the combination of his power and his views on homosexuality:

...degrades human dignity. It's unnatural and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs. If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings...what we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police!

Bigotry breeds violence--if not in the bigot himself, certainly in some part of his sphere of influence. And a significant component of Mugabe's legacy in Zimbabwe is violent repression.

This is tragic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Better than coffee and bars... this book, which I began reading today. If you Lutherans out there have ever found yourselves intimidated by theological jargon, consider this definition:

Divine beings, heavenly servants of God, know as purveyors of godly messages, such as recipes for light and delicious food--cake and impossibly fine pasta, or the somewhat rougher traditions of motorcycle fellowship.

There's a longer exegesis (a word which, sadly, they neglected to define) of the topic, a portion of which won my undying esteem:

In art angels are most often depicted with wings upon the back--sometimes two, sometimes six--but it should be noted that in the Bible, most often do not have wings and seem to appear much like people...if you're wondering whether the six-winged angel flies faster than the other varieties, the answer is no, as two wings are used for flying and the other four to cover eyes and ensure decency (Isaiah 6:2). (Now, whether a laden or unladen angel makes better time remains a separate matter.)

This caused a bit of a spew, as I was reading while eating chicken soup. Consider also:

A condition that most people desire for themselves, claim never to get, and have no interest in granting to their neighbors.


Free Will
The belief--which you have no choice but to believe--that human beings are free to make their own choices.

Gentle Reader. Buy this book. You KNOW you could use a laugh. Or thirty. I leave you with these thoughts:

"Corrective" rape

Yep. That's what they're calling it. How do we help fix this?

Because the idea that a woman would be "cured" from lesbianism by getting raped...well, I don't know where to BEGIN to discuss how many things are wrong with that.

I'm angry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Turn that frown upside down

I dare you not to smile. I double-dog dare you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Surround sound

Love this ad, found through CurrentConductor's blog.

And, oh my, what an interesting discussion here about the Whitacre phenomenon! Not just the post, which is thought-provoking, but the comments as well. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who was at his Minneapolis appearance last week...what do you think? I particularly like what commenter Philip had to say about not condescending to young people. About Whitacre, I think he's written a couple of lovely pieces (had a particularly powerful experience hearing his Lux Aurumque once), but he is a bit overhyped. I'm inherently suspicious of any cultural phenomenon at the center of such a splendid marketing machine. I will be interested to see what his next chapter is as a composer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

To err is human

If you've ever directed or sung in a choir, you're familiar with the difficulties associated with certain consonants. For example, a little bit of "S" goes a very long way. An "L" can smudge into the vowels that precede or follow it, distorting both vowel and pitch. And, what has become my personal favorite, the dreaded "R." It has a way of overstaying its welcome, adding a saber-like edge to certain words.

It is a tradition in my choir to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19. In rehearsal, we sing whatever anthem we're preparing for the following Sunday as if we were pirates. The first time we did this, it was "If Ye Love Me," a Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis. You'll have to use your imagination a bit here, but mentally stick a bunch of "arrrrs" in this:

High (seas) hilarity ensued. It has become something of a running joke with us. Last night, I was presented with a gift by my tenors and basses:

Thanks, me hearties. I'll nae be sendin' ye to Davy Jones' locker. Salmagundi and grog's on me!

Yer cap'n,
Anne Bonny

Bonus and malus

I love words. I respect people who use them carefully and elegantly. Our excellent local soprano Maria Jette does just that--with insight and humor--in this commentary on the AIG debacle. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The task of our generation

I was listening to a fascinating podcast of the most recent Bill Moyers Journal. His guest is Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun turned Islamic scholar and author of several bestsellers on religious themes (more info available here).

When she was researching her recent book The Bible: a Biography, a question formed in her mind: what if the Golden Rule were the lens used in interpreting scripture?

Well, this is one of the things that really intrigued me: how frequently the early rabbis, for example, in the Talmudic period, shortly after the death of Jesus, insisted that to any interpretation of scripture that read hatred or contempt for any single human being was illegitimate.

Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, said that when asked to sum up the whole of Jewish teaching, while he stood on one leg, said, "The Golden Rule. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. And everything else is only commentary. Now, go and study it."

St. Augustine said that scripture teaches nothing but charity. And if you come to a passage like the one you just read, that seems to preach hatred, you've got to give it an allegorical or metaphorical interpretation. And make it speak of charity.

Shades of Deuteronomy and the synoptic Gospels!

He answered,
‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart

and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.’
--Luke 10:27

Last year she received the TED prize, which grants $100,000 and a wish. Karen's wish was for "help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion--crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule."

She's getting her wish. Check it out.

The task of our generation,
whether we are religious people
or secular people,
is to build a global community
where people of all persuasions
can live together
in peace and harmony.

--Karen Armstrong

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Little girly gesture language

I sang, at one point, for a (long-term substitute) conductor who did a lot of talking about how our choir needed to learn his "gesture language" if we were to follow him correctly. Every rehearsal, he used that phrase at least once, often accompanied by a sort of wilted clawing motion of his right hand. It became something of a running joke in the alto section; after all, isn't it HIS job to make himself clear? If he's not getting what he wants, shouldn't he try something else? As a conductor-in-training at that time, I was skeptical of what I perceived to be a rather whiny approach to the ensemble and a too-narrow conducting "dialect" on his part. Shouldn't the conductor model, insofar as is possible, the geist of the music on the page, so that the singers may then do the same?

Well, yes. But.

Also, at various points in my career, I have sung for a few "colorful" (read "temperamental, sometimes downright abusive") conductors. You know the stereotype--hollering, baton-throwing, blaming the ensemble for not achieving his (yes, his) superior interpretive vision. Some of these guys were truly visionary; some were just socially impaired and/or insecure. All of them got in the way of my participation and enjoyment as a singer, to varying degrees.

For the most part, now that I've conducted a number of different groups myself, I still think it's true that the conductor bears most of the responsibility for communicating interpretation and vision clearly and succinctly. If my choirs don't get what I'm asking of them, I think it's incumbent upon me to take a fresh approach. Sometimes that involves watching myself conduct a passage several different ways in the mirror. Sometimes it involves finding the right metaphor. Sometimes it's a question of vocal technique. And sometimes--heresy of heresies--it means asking them what they see/hear, and altering my own vision in a more collaborative direction.

When I was in grad school, I decided that I would spend my career finding out if it's possible to make really terrific music with people without turning into a tyrant. Because I believe that it's my job to engage people in the music making, but maybe it's not my job to have all the answers. I've got more training and spend more time thinking about the music than most (not all) of my singers; however, they are bright and talented and insightful, and I'd be stupid not to take that seriously. Does this make me, as Hans und Franz might say, a "little girly conductor?"

Because this is not how most musical ensembles operate. We are used to the sometimes-benevolent dictatorship model. What the conductor says, goes. Period.

Much of the time, this is a practical, time-saving teaching model (as the conductor has completed years of training, analyzed the musical score, thought through interpretation and technique, etc.); however, in order to maintain a healthy relationship, conductors and ensembles need to be open to one another, to really see and hear one another.

There are two main obstacles that prevent this open communication. One is the "conductor's ego as group's raison d'etre" situation I've already mentioned, in which the conductor can't see the ensemble as anything other than a means to an end. The other unhealthy situation arises when the ensemble refuses to really hear what the conductor is saying, for any of a variety of reasons. Orchestral conductor Marin Alsop describes one such dilemma:

When a woman makes a gesture,
the same gesture as a man,
it's interpreted entirely differently.
The thing I struggled with the most
was getting a big sound from the brass
because you really have to be strong.
But if you're too strong,
you're a b-i-t-c-h.

As a woman,
you have to be careful that it's not too harsh.

It's a subtle line.

Marin Alsop, to Barbara Kantrowicz of Newsweek

There is truth in this statement. I have experienced this from a couple of different angles; first, the one that Maestra Alsop mentions. Directness looks to some singers like anger...especially in the world of "Minnesota Nice." However, the converse is also true. If I operate from a less aggressive, more collaborative framework, it has sometimes been treated as a sign of weakness. And, based on many musicians' previous experience, no wonder:

Conductors have for so long been promoted
as imposing, larger than life,
acceptably aggressive personalities
who bend orchestras to their will
and to whom musicians submit in reverence and terror.

--as observed by Anna Hodgson, Contemporary Review

Hodgson really wrote an interesting article on the dearth of women orchestral conductors, BTW.

I really don't see "reverence and terror" as a useful model of musical leadership...and CERTAINLY not of ministry. I'd like to propose an alternative--that conductors and singers should do two things:
  • commit to doing everything they can to bring to life what's on the page in front of them, and
  • treat one another with respect.
I think it looks something like this:

I promise to

  • prepare for rehearsal and share what I know
  • engage my Inner Diagnostician
  • offer music that's worth doing and skill-appropriate
  • start and end rehearsal on time
  • not yell at or embarrass people
  • admit when I'm wrong
  • make our work together as inspiring and fun as I can, which is my way of saying "thank you" for their work and bravery and creativity and time.
In return, I want my singers to
  • come to rehearsal on time
  • trust that I'm trying to bring out their best as musicians
  • take care of their voice and use it well
  • have a pencil and use it!
  • be brave and willing to try something new
  • ask thoughtful, economical questions
  • have a sense of humor about what we're doing, tempered with a bit of wonder.
I want them to really engage with the music. And I want them to not care about my gender, sexual orientation, race, age and the fact that I prefer jeans to skirts. And--this is a big one--if something is wrong, or if they have a helpful idea, I want them to be able to approach me about it, without the slightest fear that I'll throw a baton at them.

My experience teaches me that this model bears much more fruit than an arena of drama. I've been blessed to conduct some delightful groups, made up of wonderful human beings. When I'm on that podium, I don't think the experience should be about whether or not I'm a "girly" conductor. It should be about bringing to life the music on the page in front of us. My "gesture language" is only one means to that end...not even the most important one. My ears (and theirs) are another, as well as our minds. And, most importantly, the full, joyous, brave participation of my singers.

If all of that is working, we can lift right off the floor together.

Friday, March 6, 2009

It oooonly takes a spaaarrrk to get a fire going...

To anyone who went to Bible Camp or VBS, that was your earworm for the day. :-)

My articulate cyber-friend Shalom has bestowed a kindness on me, and it's now my pleasure to pass it on (as in the song). Here are the rules:

List 7 things that you love and then pass the award on to 7 people...tagging them and letting them know they won! You can copy the picture of the award and put it on your sidebar letting the whole wide world know you are KReATIV!

Seven Things I Love

1. the sound the pups make when they wake up in the morning, and the way they're excited about nearly everything

2. really well-crafted lyrics

3. friendships measured in decades

4. the moment when I say a perfectly abstract thing to one of my choirs and it makes enough sense to them that they SING the essence of the thing I was trying to say

5. unexpected kindnesses, of which I have received a bunch lately

6. getting to preach (which is fun on several levels), or getting to hear a really good sermon

7. the hearts of those who suffer when justice is absent...especially when the offense isn't against them personally

Now, to share--some old friends, some new!

1. MomPriest at Seeking Authentic Voice--it's an oasis: calm, thoughtful, deeply kind.

2. Diane at Coexist--lots of original poetry and meditative thought. Got a Minnesotan's love for this one, personally.

3. Christine at Abbey of the Arts--gorgeous, all around. Photography, poetry, and I particularly loved the wisdom in this post.

4. Catrina at The Mad Preacher Liberation Front--insightful, articulate, and sometimes hilariously titled posts (i.e. The Audacity of Nope).

5. Rachel at The Sweet Bi and Bi--visually restful, astutely observed, well connected with resources, sweet and funny. Try this post for a new take on diversity in the church.

6. Mary at Tensegrities--she's interested in lots of things that appeal to a quirky church geek like me, and she writes well and links to fascinating stuff.

7. I've recognized Ruth of Ruth's Visions and Revisions before--still think she's wonderful, but today's shout-out goes to her co-blogger, Smokey. His Dog Parables (right sidebar, scroll down) are really something special!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Moses and the flood: meditation on Exodus 34:1-10

Yep, Moses.

I delivered this meditation at our Lenten service last night. Context: our Lenten theme and the handing out of a rock to each worshiper upon entry into the sanctuary.

Traditionally, many of us think of lent as a time of repentance. We search ourselves for signs of sin, of too-small vision, of the ways that we're broken. Then we ask for forgiveness, maybe not quite daring to hope that anything will really be different afterward, but trying anyway to "get right with God" again because...well, because we should. For some of us this is a dreary season, more about rules than relationship; more about guilt than grace. And going through a 40-day exercise of self-examination and self-denial may not seem so helpful when we're grieving or afraid. But is there another way to see it? There isn't one of us who doesn't need to repent, but is there also good news to be found here in the desert?

Let's take a closer look at the Moses story and the chapters in Exodus that lead up to this point. In tonight's chapter, God and Moses are having a that takes place as Moses is pleading for forgiveness for his people, the Israelites. They have messed up spectacularly. You remember the Israelites--God freed them from slavery and brought them through the desert to Mount Sinai, where (in Exodus 19) God made this covenant with them:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians,
and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.
Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant,
you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.
Indeed the whole earth is mine,
but you shall be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.

It's a grand vision, isn't it? God will be God, and we will be very, very good, and all will be well. Except that it won't, if we have to depend on the strength of our own goodness. We're frail creatures, and despite our best efforts, we can't hold up our end. But at this point in the story, just after making their first covenant, God keeps Moses running up and down the mountain for a while, handing out all kinds of laws about how the Israelites are to hold up their end of the deal, including the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps inevitably, Moses eventually comes down from the mountain, stone tablets in hand, to discover that this "priestly people," this "holy nation," is worshiping a golden calf--a sacred cow of their own making. God and Moses had been off in conversation for kind of a while, you understand, and so the people filled that void with what they could see...which left them
  • worshiping wealth and security
  • admiring their own creation in the place of God's work, and
  • making a god small enough to comprehend and to control.

Those naughty Israelites. We'd do better, right?

Maybe least, I often don't, despite my best intentions. So let's take a minute here, with this tiny piece of mountain in our hands. (hold up rock) Let's think a bit about our worship of the sacred cows that we create...about our own broken places. In fact, let's sort of mentally glue them to these rocks we're holding.

a few minutes of silence

Now, the story continues: God kicks them off Mount Sinai, sputtering, "You people have gotten on my last nerve. Our relationship is broken; I'm not coming with you to the Promised Land." Imagine the desolation of that moment--they know they're guilty, convicted by the law, and now they have to go back into the desert without God's presence.

Bleak, bleak, bleak.

Now Moses, after smashing those tablets on the ground and ranting at the Israelites a while, begs forgiveness for them, and pleads for a reason to have hope for the future: "Show me your glory, God, so that I'll know you're not really abandoning us."

And what does God do? Something surprising. Something absolutely dripping with grace.

First, God commands Moses to remake the stone tablets of the covenant--saying, in effect, "Yes, I'm still in this thing with you; in fact, I'll meet you more than halfway in repairing this breach. I'll go even a step beyond simple justice in order to stay with you."

That's some extraordinary peacemaking. But honesty is also a necessary part of any life-giving relationship. And so God doesn't just gloss over the sinfulness of the Israelites, but acknowledges the reality that "Hey, you guys really messed up here. According to the terms of our covenant, you were supposed to listen to obey me. And now I'm supposed to punish you, and your children as well, to the third and fourth generation after you. But I'm not going to do that. In fact, I'm tearing up our previous covenant. Let's start again."

At one of the most wretched, sinful moments to date in the story of God's people, God breathes new life into the relationship...and instead of 3-4 generations' worth of punishment, God offers them a renewed commitment, drenched with enough hope for several lifetimes.

And so it is with us. As we heard earlier, God promises to do an "awesome thing" with you...and with you...and with me...with all of us. God promises to stay with us not just on the mountain, but in the desert, too. And in that desert, God drowns our sin and renews our spirits in flood after flood of grace.

As we leave tonight, we'll put these rocks in the baptismal font, where they--and we--are washed clean. We'll remember what God is doing and offer our thanks.

And then, God will go with us out that door.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Strides purposefully through the bellowing crowd,
Stately amidst the chafe and scrape
Of her truth against their certitude.

Sidles gently to their sealed, adjacent reason,
Her chest bared to the heedless darts
Of their blind, bewildered fusillades.

Awaits in wonder the fiery bursting forth,
An ardent bloom in gathering light
Of the jointed wills of God and nature.

Faces east.

for B, R and C

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The inflatable doggie of my life

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

No time to post today...or likely tomorrow! See y'all soon...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Peripheral vision

So...a couple of weeks ago, I graduated from reading glasses to all-the-time glasses.


As many of you who have gone through this transition before me already know, there are some adjustments. The weirdest one for me is the interruption of my peripheral vision--as I get close to the inside edges of the lenses, there's a curvature; if I try to glance to the side with just an eyeroll, it's jagged at the outside edges of the lenses. When I'm trying to look at both my choir and the score on the music stand in front of me, the frames create a dividing line between them. Weird.

So I'm adjusting by moving my head more; this is a really minor inconvenience, but it got me to thinking about the way we see things...about how healthy it is to have some sort of challenge to our accustomed point of view, once in a while. And about how we can choose how much significance we assign to edges and dividing lines.

I'm just sayin'.