Saturday, January 31, 2009

Singing together

Beloved and I saw Bobby McFerrin in concert last night, along with the wonderful local group Cantus. It was terrific. If you haven't seen Bobby live, GO when you have the opportunity. One thing that's wonderful about seeing a really top-tier artist (of any kind) in concert is that they're absolutely ablaze with that thing they can do. Joy comes spilling off the stage and into your lap. But Bobby has something else, too. He's alive with the power of song in himself, but he also recognizes and lights that spark in his audiences. We got to do this with him:

Singing in community is exceptionally powerful.
You get people together in a room and get them singing,
and you instantly knock down all the walls--
the creeds, the gender, age and race differences.
You're all one at that point, lifting your voices.

Bobby McFerrin

Friday, January 30, 2009


It's all about relationship.

Seriously, why is this a surprise? People can do what chemistry cannot (in fact, that chemistry is messing with us in lots of ways).

Friday five: nesting

WillSmama of the RevGals writes:

As some of you may know I am in the midst of my first home purchase. It is a new-build and so some of the fun was picking out upgrades and major decor items to my taste rather than walking into a previously owned home that needed to be upgraded room by room (pink and teal tiles in the bathroom, anyone?). As much as decorating is not my thing, I did try to embrace the moment because just how many times do you get to have a do-over on kitchen cabinets/floors/countertops?

And so, my questions to you this fine Friday involve your home past, present or future...

1) If you could, what room in the place you are currently living would you redo first?

Hmmm...not a room, but the roof. Needs help. And new garage doors. And a sturdier deck. And better heating for the (wonderful, full-of-windows) kitchen, most of which was an add-on by the previous owner. Gets a little chilly in there when it's below zero outside (all hail the MN January). Heated floor, anyone?

2) What is the most hideous feature/color/decor item you have ever seen in a home?

That'd have to be the wallpaper in my high school bedroom. My family moved into an old English Tudor when I was a freshman, and wow--there was this ghastly wallpaper with giant flowers on it. It gave me nightmares. Seriously. The flowers were reaching out and strangling me. I covered it as much as possible with posters.

In our present house, I was pretty tickled with all the decor choices the previous folks had made, save one: the downstairs bathroom was painted peach. Yech. It took several tries to find the right replacement color (a pale seafoam green), including a shade of green that was great on the paint chip, but a whole wall's worth made me want to glue Hershey bars to the wall in a random pattern. You see, it was the exact color of mint chip ice cream.

3) What feature do you most covet? Do you have it? If not, is it within reach?

I absolutely love the glass-brick wall in the same bathroom, but would caution against putting one in on an eastern wall. Showering at sunrise is BLINDING.

4) Your kitchen - love it or hate it? Why?

Love it--big and colorful, lots of light, lots of counter space. We could use more cabinets, but hey--who couldn't? Also, my magnet collection lives on the fridge, chronicling vacations and funnies and gifts from friends. The floors are beech Pergo and the walls are forest green, which sets off some really fun art:
  • this goofy clock (I found the link by googling "clock fish carrot"--it was first on the list!)
  • a small, mobile sculpture a la Calder
  • an original pastel by an artist friend
  • a Kandinsky print
  • a poster from Ravinia, bought on a lovely, surprise weekend trip with College Roommate.
There's something about art that makes a home feel like it's really yours--even if the bank owns more of it than you do. (wink, wink)

5) Here is $10,000 and you HAVE to spend it on the place you are living now. What do you do?

In order: new stove, roof, garage doors, deck, and heated kitchen floor. Beloved is really good at doing most of what needs doing, but for some things (roof), it's just good to let a pro do it!

BONUS: Why do you think there was such a surplus of ugly bathroom tile colors showcased in all homes built from the 1950's right through the early 80's?

It is indeed mysterious. But I think that cutting-edge fashion gone mainstream often turns into the mullet/Flashdance sweats/Zubaz of the next generation. This also applies to home decorating.

But, despite our better judgment, sometimes they come back.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday five: cabin fever

Singing Owl of the RevGals writes:

Here in snow country we are settled in to what is a very long stretch of potentially boring days. The holidays are over. It is a very long time till we will get outside on a regular basis. The snow that seemed so beautiful at first is now dirty and the snow banks are piling up. Our vehicles are all the same shade of brownish grey, but if we go to the car wash our doors will freeze shut. People get grumpy. Of course, not everyone lives in a cold climate, but even in warmer places the days till springtime can get long. Help! Please give us five suggestions for combating cabin fever and staying cheerful in our monochromatic world?

1. Get a dog, and take the dog outside to romp in the snow. Linus & Lucy's first experience of snow meant lots of joyful hilarity--they LOVE it. Linus immediately stuck his whole head in the biggest snowbank he could find and came out snuffling & happy, which made Beloved and me giggle. It's impossible to be in a bad mood while watching any creature that happy--especially one that you love! This is an excellent example, found through my friend Diane:

2. Go outside and play a while, yourself. Walk in the woods, enjoy the blanket of quiet, notice that the air is somehow clearer. It's easier to discover other creatures out there with all the leaves gone, and the monochromatic backdrop. Ski, snowboard, skate, build a snowman, have a snowball fight. PLAY. The snow is more than just something you have to keep shoving off your windshield and sidewalk.

3. Then come back inside and have some hot chocolate and a cookie or front of a fire, if possible. With a book or a snuggly someone.

4. Set up bird feeders outside your window. The birds will be grateful...and birds--pretty in the spring--can leave you gasping with the beauty in the winter against the stark backdrop of black & white.

5. Do something goofy and out of the ordinary routine. Festoon your house with paper snowflakes. Call five friends and have a spur-of-the-moment "silly hat" party (or a Scrabble tournament!). Make snowman cookies by dipping oreos in white chocolate and decorating them. See which member of your family can wear the most items of clothing all at once, Joey-style (commando status optional):

Bonus: Go & visit someone who really can't get out of their house due to illness or infirmity. Set up bird feeders for THEM. You'll both feel better!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our patchwork heritage

In his inaugural address, President Obama referred to our "patchwork heritage" as a nation, which was evocative for me on several levels--racial, cultural, religious, political, and "use whatever is at hand to fix what's broken." It seems to me an apt characterization, and a hopeful one.

I have friends who are quilters, who keep ragbags in their homes. They fill the bags with old clothes--worn out, outgrown, but with more life in them. Those castoffs become the basis of something new and beautiful as they're trimmed and stitched together. It's thrifty, it's aesthetically lovely, and it's packed with meaning to go to sleep covered by an item composed of Baby's first jumper, Dad's old work shirt, Mom's apron, Big Sister's favorite dress from 3rd grade. It's the story of a family, its warmth put to good use, sometimes handed down through generations.

Our patchwork heritage. Different textures, different colors (some dark, some light), put together in a beautiful, hard-won pattern for the sake of our common life. What a wonderful way to frame our shared story as Americans. It honors each person while reminding us that each of us is part of something larger than ourselves.

Just before the swearing-in, music demonstrated that idea. Four brilliant artists performed a new piece by John Williams which fused newly-composed music with an American Shaker song whose lyric reminds us that

'Tis a gift to be simple; 'tis a gift to be free;
'tis a gift to come down where we ought to be
and when we find ourselves in the place just right
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Here's the extraordinary music:

It was Rev. Lowery who really brought it home for me, though, with a pastiche of his own. His benediction brought together lyrics from three different songs of faith (at my count), several scriptural passages (loved "tanks beaten into tractors"), warmth, honesty and humor. And at the end, he invited everyone to participate with an allusion to Micah that invokes the same humility that permeated our new President's speech.

Am I a bit sentimental today? Maybe. Sue me. :-) It's been a long time since I found politics inspiring.

God bless President Obama, and God bless us, every one.

What a great day

Maya says it all.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Warmth on a REALLY cold day

The thermometer by our kitchen window currently reads -14 fahrenheit. No matter. My friend Diane did a sweet thing, and it warmed me up. She sent me this blogging friends award.

It's funny--I hear about how we're all getting sucked into the vortex of the internet, cutting off our social circles and developing eyestrain. But what I've found is a really lovely circle of people. They take an interest in each other's lives across a lot of miles, and reach out to one another in real friendship.

I've been fortunate enough to meet Diane, as well as Magdalene and Rachel. I also feel like I've got to know Fran, Ruth, Songbird, Catherine and Jan. I know I'm supposed to stop at eight, but Peg got me into this whole blogging business, and I'd love to have a beer with Shalom some time. All of them fit this description well:

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

Thanks, friends.

Integrity, thy name is Sparky

The genius is in the details.

My love of Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang is no secret--right down to the names of my puppies, but I had to grin when I read about this today. Schulz took such care when he put the strip together...the characters were fully fledged; the stories had honesty, resonance and humor; and he cared about the detail.

Not to mention his love of things musical and theological. ;-)

Thanks, Sparky.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In sickness and in health

There once was a girl with bronchitis
resulting from bad gingivitis:
she had such a cough
that her head popped right off,
and teeth flew both leftus and rightus.

Her wife (herself wracked with pneumonia)
slapped her forehead and was heard to groan-ia
“Oh, no! With my wheezes
or a fit of the sneezes
I worry that I got some onia.”

“Never fear,” said Wife One with great vigor;
“It matters not WHAT pulled the trigger.
Put to rest your compunction;
what we need is an unction
that’ll keep us from becoming sigger.

I’m sure there’s a cure pharmaceutical;
don’t gnaw on your very last cuticle!
We agreed, when we married,
we’d both bear what each carried.
Now gimme a smooch matrimootical!”

Thursday, January 8, 2009

If you're feeling just a bit left of center...

...and I KNOW that many of you are...

I offer you the following for your amusement and delectation:

Far Side Reenactments

The Nietzsche Family Circus

There now. Don't you feel better? :-D

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The sound of silence

Beloved and I are part of a book club that meets every month. We've been going for about 3 years now, and it's a lively, hilarious, insightful group of people...and we actually discuss the BOOKS! But I digress. Already. :-)

Here we go: because of the busyness of our lives, we often choose the unabridged audio version of the club's monthly selections, rather than the printed pages. So I was listening to this month's book on my way to work this morning. Terrific story, but as I was enjoying it I also got to thinking about the efficiency of my method and how it may not be helping me.

I can get a lot more done if I listen to the story while I drive, or walk, or do the dishes. And all of those mundane activities are more entertaining with my portable storyteller.

To be honest, if I'm not listening to the book, I'll still have my iPod with me: it might be podcasts of MPR programs that make me think or get me giggling. Or it might be music--works I'm learning for my choirs, long-loved songs, something new that stretches me, or simply a good beat that gets me bopping through the day.

This is all good stuff. But what I'm missing is silence.

Ssssshhhh. Just sit there for a minute. Really. Stop reading and sit there until you're not thinking about how you're just sitting there.

OK, what happened? Where did your imagination go? What did your heart say?

Imagine, if you will, the scene that plays out most Sundays at my church (and most churches, based on my experience): the person leading (or--sigh--reading) the prayers gets up and zips along to the introduction of the petition in which we ask God to hear "all those prayers now offered aloud or silently," counts to three, and off we go again.

I can't even remember what my prayer intentions are during that pause, never mind offer them. We keep going because it feels weird to just be quiet, and because we Important Things To Do: we have to get ready for the meal, for the singing, for the mission.

Well, yes. But.

This morning, I was noticing how little time I've left for silence in my life...and what do you know: in the course of one of my tasks at work, I came across this article by one of the professors at Universitas Majoris.

I live in Minnesota, a place rich with the history and culture of Chippewa, Ojibwe, Sioux and many other tribes. Even my Lutheran church has a name of Ojibwe origin. However, my real experience of Native American culture is limited to a fondness for Dances with Wolves and the Huron Carol, a liking for wild rice, and the reading of historical fiction and American history that was mostly written by white men. This is not my culture, but I love Wilkins' take on the power of silence:

Reconnecting with the power of silence will not be easy, living as we do in one of the loudest, most boisterous societies in the world, a society where it is difficult to find a space that is not already inundated by noise. But as Waters’ stunning language shows, silence is indeed a voice of deep profundity and has a power that if rigorously exercised could help us as Native nations and individuals to reclaim aspects of our sacred knowledges and histories that will more comfortably guide us forward.

Maybe that power transcends culture, and the richness is available to any pilgrims quiet, relentless and thoughtful enough to seek it. I hope so. I think that, next time, I'm going to try a printed book for book club. I'll be forced to sit somewhere quiet to read it. More importantly, I'm going to try to reclaim some white space in my head from the white noise that's overtaken it. Then I'll see what path has opened before me.

And I wonder what would happen if we tried to get past our Anglo discomfort with silence in corporate worship. What if we took silence seriously as an invitation to something deeper? Could we get quiet enough to witness and to participate in the "inextinguishable imagination of our God," as my brilliant friend Milton put it today, so that we might choose life, so that we may have it more abundantly? And do we dare to define abundance as something that is neither material nor within our control?

And, by the way, what if we looked for it in other cultures as well as our own, instead of displacing them or blowing them up?

Ssssshhhh. Let's try to find out.