Sunday, December 21, 2014

Preparing for the Night (2): Telling It

James Taylor
Go Tell It On The Mountain

Different from the usual with Taylor's unique styling and voice.

Fourth Sunday in Advent


Thus begins the last line of the first verse of the Advent hymn- Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers. It is a song of waiting and preparation based on the parable of the virgins waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. Some were "foolish" and weren't prepared when the groom finally arrived and they ended up on the outside.

Those words struck me last week during our Advent Lessons and Carols. They are blunt, quick, and basic words. There's no deep theology hidden in them. Sure they aren't words from scripture, but they are words that call our attention to Jesus.
  • Up- Don't just sit around. Do something. Move. Get your work done.
  • Pray- Keep in contact with God. Don't allow the waiting to pull you away from God's presence.
  • Watch- Be alert. Be mindful. There may be (and probably are) many signs of the coming of the Savior. Don't miss them.
  • Wrestle- Uh, wait a minute. What is wrestling doing here in this list of Advent tasks? 
Actually, I realized that wrestling is what I was talking about in last Sunday's post here. It is never becoming complacent with what I think I believe. It is never be willing to accept the "easy" answers that promise instant success. It is much deeper than that. Wrestling is being willing to face one's doubts and uncertainties within the certainty of God's presence- whether we feel it or not. Wrestling is allowing oneself to dig- deeper and deeper into one's own soul to discover the presence of the Savior right there.

And what we often discover is the same humility, awe, and power that Mary proclaimed in her magnificent song.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

To which we can only add:

In the name of the Father who created us;
the Son who brought us salvation
and the Holy Spirit who sustains us.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 22 ~ Peace

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Preparing for the Night (1): Waiting

The Reliques: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Music video of a folk version with all the feel of the song in great ways.
The first of five days of video to prepare for the night of birth.

Following the 10th Armored (10): A Critical Time

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, part of Patton’s Third Army.

19 – 20 Dec
Two days of 24-hour combat was faced by most of Combat Command B (CCB). Nichols, in Impact, describes Team Cherry’s experiences:
With tanks in the lead and dismounted doughs around them, the shot-up force pushed north… The enemy did not emerge lightly from the Team’s determined stand as it lost 15 tanks, 1 armored car, 2 halftracks, 3 anti-tank guns, 184 Germans killed and an undetermined number wounded. Our Teams lost 11 Mediums, 7 light tanks, 17 halftracks, 1 tank dozer and 2 recovery vehicles. In addition 1 Tiger officer was killed, 1 officer and twenty enlisted men wounded and 2 officers and 44 men were missing. Cherry’s Tigers were a tower of strength and fortitude as they held off numerically superior enemy forces to help prevent Bastogne from being captured on December 19.

It was not fully known until studies were made after the was, just how enormous was the German strength…It is difficult to imagine the utter hopelessness of Team Cherry’s situation in view of the tremendous forces arrayed against it, plus the fact that the team was confined to just one road, and to maneuver was out of the question… [While it may have been a minor victory for the Germans,] Cherry’s [Tigers] softened the enemy and… gained precious time for General McAuliffe’s airborne battalions to deploy east of Bastogne

Team O’Hara, meanwhile was attempting to prevent the enemy from gaining the town of Marvie. Even with a position on higher ground, O’Hara was powerless to stop the enemy halftracks from smashing into the town. There other troops from 327th Infantry routed the Germans in a house-to-house combat that lasted into the early afternoon. Later in the day snow flurries began to fall. Nichols reports:
…as the ridges became white and the drifts deeper, the most pressing problem became that of getting the defenders indoors in order to escape the icy blasts of the Ardennes winter.
As this important 48-hour period came to an end, the 101st Airborne was able to place several battalions on the front. It was the critical defense by the Tiger armor that had bought the needed time. Nichols writes:
It is likely that without the determined stand taken by the CCB Tigers east of Bastogne, the defense of the city would have been impossible. Subsequent newspaper accounts, movies, and magazine articles about the Battle of Bastogne have given little attention to the significance of the Tigers’ role, but the men who fell and those who survived are themselves the most eloquent testimony that the first twenty-four hours were the most punishing and the most crucial of the German winter blitz…. [The defense by the Tigers] resulted in a major upset of enemy plans, giving General McAuliffe time enough to bring in his troops and drape them around the Bastogne perimeter.

Buechner on Preaching

I will be preaching tomorrow at the church where we are now members. I came across this on Facebook from Fredrick Buechner, preacher, writer, storyteller extraordinaire. I will let it speak for itself about preaching. (I have edited the presentation of it, but not the content, to show my emphasis.)

I HAD NEVER understood so clearly before what preaching is to me. Basically, it is
  • to proclaim a Mystery before which, before whom, even our most exalted ideas turn to straw. It is also
  • to proclaim this Mystery with a passion that ideas alone have little to do with.
  • It is to try to put the Gospel into words not the way you would compose an essay but the way you would write a poem or a love letter—putting your heart into it, your own excitement, most of all your own life.
  • It is to speak words that you hope may, by grace, be bearers not simply of new understanding but of new life both for the ones you are speaking to and also for you.
  • Out of that life, who knows what new ideas about peace and honesty and social responsibility may come, but they are the fruits of the preaching, not the roots of it.
-Originally published in Telling Secrets

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 21 ~ Sing

Friday, December 19, 2014

A 70-Year Memory: On the Homefront and Abroad: Christmas 1944

With all the work I've been doing on following the 10th Armored Division through their European campaign on 1944-45 the situation at home hasn't been far from my thoughts. My Dad had just been married in May of 1944 and then shipped out in September. The American homefront was clearly invested in the war- rationing, recycling, extreme and extraordinary commitments and sacrifice were all over the country.

As 1944 was coming to a close there was at first a sense of hope. D-Day had been successful. But by Christmas, as the news began to be reported, a number of days late, of the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes, tensions, fears and uncertainty became very real.  I did a quick search on Christmas 1944 and found a few postcards and posters that were from that era.

 While in the Ardennes, the picture was very, very different. They tried to make the best of the situation, but it was often more of a short break from the constant fighting of the Battle of the Bulge.

Roots Music Rocks in 2014

To me one of the most exciting and innovative musical genres today is Roots Music. It can be "Americana", blues, bluegrass, rockabilly or country, some exciting things are happening there.

The wonderful people at Bluegrass Situation have come out with their list of the Best of 2014. If you think you know what "roots music" is, give their list a try. Some good, old boot-stompin' music, some amazing storytellers, some old-timers and some newcomers. It is nothing short of amazing.

Here's one of them from an amazing young musician named Parker Millsap who, as Bluegrass Situation says deserves to be on the list for using the name Tucumcari in the lyrics.

Then there's 22-year old Jonah Tolchin bring Delta Blues into the 21st Century with power!

And one more, this one a plaintively beautiful and haunting song by Water Liars.

Amazing music- and this is only a small sample.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 20 ~ Comforting

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Greeting Video 2014

With only a week to go, here is my Christmas greeting video to all of you. I have done some work learning the video editing software and I hope you enjoy some of the fun things I have added.

Merry Christmas to all!

Following the 10th Armored (9): A Serious Affair Indeed

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, part of Patton's Third Army.

16 Dec - 18 Dec
The Battle of the Bulge Begins

Map depicting the Battle of the Bulge German counteroffensive.
  • The 10th Armored was down in the lower right, south of Luxembourg when the attack began. (See map below)
  • Combat Command A (CCA) and most of the 10th stayed in that south eastern sector as part of the defense near what became the extent of the offensive.
  • Combat Command B (CCB) continued on to Bastogne where it was instrumental in holding the city until enough reinforcements arrived with the 101st Airborne. Bastogne survived in spite of the siege that made it a surrounded enclave.
16 Dec- all units of the Division were alerted for movement
 north with the mission of counterattacking a major
 German drive. Little more than this was known at Division Headquarters in the little town of Apach on
 the Moselle River just south of Perl.

17 Dec- At 0330 orders were received attaching the Division
 to VIII Corps of First Army and directing the Division
 to march toward Luxembourg City immediately. By 0630 the column recrossed the Moselle at Thionville. Along
 the route to Luxembourg City the situation became somewhat clarified and the Division was split into two
 major units to perform entirely separate missions.
While CCB moved to the vicinity of Bastogne to reinforce the troops in that area, CCA and the rest of the Division continued almost due north from Luxembourg City to protect the town from the threat of being overrun by the enemy. Everyone began to realize that the Major
 German Drive "was a serious affair indeed." (Note: the 10th Armored Division was the first US unit to be diverted from another mission to reinforce troops in the Bulge)

18 Dec- CCA completed a seventy-five mile march to an area some twenty miles northeast of Luxembourg City in the early morning of the 18th and went into action at once. Their mission - to protect the city. Their plan to carry out this defense -- attack. This attack stopped German advances in Luxembourg.

With CCB, Colonel Roberts led his column into the town of Bastogne late in the afternoon of the 18th. When he dispatched Teams Desobry, Cherry and O'Hare to defensive positions north and east of the town immediately, all hands realized that the situation was even more serious than most of them had suspected.

My wife asked if the legend of Patton speeding north into the Bulge was true. It appears that his 10th Armored definitely accomplished that feat.

Where was my Dad? That is probably an unanswerable question after all these years. Company B collecting company of the 80th Armored Medical Battalion is listed in orders of battle as supporting CCB around Bastogne. CCB is also mentioned as having taken some medics along. So far I have been unable to determine or discover anything more than that.

But taking a look at pictures, movie clips and reading, it is very clear in my mind that no matter where he was along the battle front, it was, at best- hell. A white, fog-bound hell. Snow, cold, the ever present sound of battle- tanks, artillery, small arms. You name it- it was there. If he was in Bastogne proper, the tension and the level of combat would have been unbearable. Nichols, in Impact, the battle story of the 10th, describes that at one point Team Desorby had to retreat 100 yards.

100 yards is the length of a football field. The difference between danger and a place of defense was that small. At Team Cherry's HQ, enemy troops managed to get as close as 5 yards to the building before being "cut down." My mind was filled with the images in the recent WW II movie, Fury. I am getting the feeling that even that image was cleaned-up from what the pure hell must have been like.

I will never be able to understand what Dad went through, how he felt, and how it impacted the rest of his life. I am grateful that I can get this sense of his life all these years after his death. He was one of those citizen soldiers, his own band of brothers, facing the destruction of everything they knew. They fought back- or in my Dad's case- helped bring relief to those who did.

War is hell. Perhaps for those like Red, that may be the hope of grace in a heaven of peace.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 19 ~ Filled

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not Just a Job

Being a pastor was never just a job. Far from it. I did what I did because I was called. That word is not about hearing voices or some vision of heaven. It is living at the center of what God has given us the gifts to do.

For thirty years it was almost entirely within the context of a local church and a larger denominational setting. It was exciting, challenging, always new, and never what I expected it to be. I was honored, blessed, and humbled day in and day out with the opportunity to walk with people in their struggles and pilgrimages. I was able to sit in sick rooms, at death's door, in times of deep tragedy. I was also able to sit at weddings and baptisms, confirmations and graduations. I was there in some way or another as myself and as a servant of the church that called me.

At the heart of the call is to trust God. As believers we listen to Jesus' call to live in a faithful way. None of us does that well, which is where grace enters the picture. We all have different ways of doing that. The call- and ALL Christians are called- will change, grow, evolve. My ministry has been outside the institution for 10 years now, working with people who, in many cases have been hurt by the church or were afraid of setting foot inside one. It is no less important than when I was in the parish.

When I was leaving the parish ministry I would speak of "leaving the ministry" since that is often how the church sees it. I never left the ministry. I finally heard God calling me to a "secular-based" ministry. (That takes another couple of pages of description.) There is no difference between the ministry within the church and outside. Ministry is ministry is ministry. We all as followers of Christ are called to do it.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 18 ~ Speak

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On This Date: A Loss of Music

Dec. 16

There is no news here of the expected arrival of Major Glenn Miller, who took off from England yesterday in freezing rain in the plane of a US Army colonel. His band has been ordered to Paris by General Eisenhower. All other Channel flights were grounded. His band, due to give its first concert here on 21 December, still does not know that he is missing. In six months in England, his American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force gave 71 concerts, mostly at US air bases, with Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore among guest artists.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 17 ~ Vision

Monday, December 15, 2014

Following the 10th Armored (8): Waiting and Regrouping

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored.

30 Nov - 16 Dec
Regrouping in the Saar-Moselle Triangle

10th Armored area early December. Distance about 13 miles.

30 Nov – 1 Dec- Combat Command B (CCB) had almost reached its mission objective- the bridge over the Saar at Merzig. Just as they arrived, the Germans had blown it up. The next day, December 1, 1944 CCB cleared Hilbringen, just west of Merzig, and continued to straighten its lines.

2 Dec - The Division Commanding General ordered CCA to relieve CCB.

3 Dec – 16 Dec- CCB assembled in an area north of Remeling and the weary tankers began the move to an assembly area in the vicinity of Montenach, ten miles northeast
of Thionville. In two and a half weeks of incessant combat they had reached their objective only to find their mission – the capture of a bridge across the SAAR in the vicinity of Merzig - incapable of accomplishment. Units, however, had received their baptism of fire and had ironed out many kinks in operating technique. These and other lessons learned proved invaluable in time to come.

{NOTE: CCA continued to occupy positions overlooking the Saar until just prior to the Division
 move to Luxembourg on the l7th of December.
It engaged in no serious combat, and was used primarily to "beef up" the depleted forces of the 90th Division who were primarily responsible for the zone. CCB remained in the Montenach area during the entire period.}
Information from a research report from the Officer's Advanced Course at the Armored School, 1948-49.

Saar-Moselle Triangle (2014 map)
13 Dec
At this point in the month, the main direction of the Allies in the area continue to be the Saar-Moselle Triangle.
  • The U.S. Third Army III Corps accepts the surrender of last of the Metz forts--Jeanne d'Arc
  • The U.S. Third Army draws up plans for an air-ground assault on the West Wall. In the XX Corps area, the 90th Infantry Division prepares for an all-out effort to take the rest of Dillingen on 15 December, regrouping and building up supplies.
What happens next will be a surprise to all involved. It would appear that Allied intelligence had no idea that there was a major build-up of enemy troops, spreading out along a 75-mile battle front. The goal was to push the Allies west and open up a route for the Nazi troops to the port an Antwerp.

But today all was quiet. Mopping up was finishing on this phase and plans were ready for the next.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 16 ~ Light

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent: Believing While Waiting and Not Knowing You're Waiting

In a discussion about faith, religion, spirituality and the like the other evening a moment of insight came to me.

I have never been an agnostic.

Even when I didn't know what I believed, or how it all fit together; even when I was unchurched, semi-churched, irreligious or non-religious, I never doubted the existence of "God." My understanding of "God" has undergone more than my share of transitions, revisions, revolutions and revelations. The breadth and depth of my understanding of God has changed drastically over the years and I know far, far, FAR less about God today than when I was younger. At the same time I am far, far, FAR more convinced of God's presence, grace, love and all those other words I have been posting daily in my picture devotional.

What I came to think about in that discussion on Friday evening was "waiting," which is what Advent is all about. Waiting- and being accepting of where I am at in any given moment of my faith journey. Pilgrimage is how I name it- my movement through my days seeking, in each day, the signs and grace of God. Waiting is not "inaction," which is how we often think of it. Waiting is actively moving forward in the direction of grace. Waiting is knowing that if I am honest I can admit that I don't know all that I need to know.

Waiting is finally realizing that if I ever get to the point where I really, totally, completely understand and can explain God- I have gone off the path- or I have died. Even then I have a hunch that I won't know it all or have all the answers- they just won't  matter any more.

So perhaps I should stop worrying about finding "the answers" now and instead learn to live in the presence and the grace. Yes, we are in the Advent season when waiting is uplifted. But in the waiting, we are still active in God's world. The pictures I have been posting at times have attempted to illustrate that.

The Holy Spirit is still hovering over the depths of the earth whether those are the depths of the oceans or the depths of our human souls. The Holy Spirit continues to inform our waiting and perhaps even illuminate us more deeply.

It was in God's time (Greek- kairos) that Jesus came. It is always in God's kairos, far different from our chronological time, that God gives us the next part of our understanding.

So let's wait and watch and live what we already know.


Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 15 ~ Joy

Saturday, December 13, 2014

He Still Can Make Music

Yusuf Islam is back. When he (and I) were younger (he's 25 days my senior) he was Cat Stevens. He later converted to Islam and dropped out of the music business for many years. I am happy to say that he is back. He was on The Tonight Show with Jimmie Fallon last evening performing this song. Enjoy.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 14 ~ Path

Friday, December 12, 2014

I Get Angry - Very Angry

If this law is enacted in Michigan, it will be another step backwards in the fight against discrimination. It would allow doctors and EMTs to refuse care, repeat REFUSE CARE to people whose lifestyles they disagree with.

If it wasn't from a local CBS newsfeed in Detroit I would have thought it was a headline from The Onion.

It says something very unhealthy about American politics when a bill like this is even considered as a possibility. It goes against every ethical standard of every health care license issued. It contradicts every basic human value and every bit of Christian faith. It is a perfect opportunity to dig into a) The Parable of the Good Samaritan and b) The story of the woman caught in adultery - let those without sin cast the first stone.

What kind of nation are we becoming when we justify torture because someone else attacked us so we can respond with revenge and anger? What kind of human and humane value systems are we discarding in the name of an abusive understanding of religion? It is a good thing these politicians were not in charge in the civil rights era.

Oh, wait a minute, they were. And they were proven to be on the wrong side of history, faith, and ethics.

If we allow that kind of thing it is no different from the radical Islamist sects who want to impose sharia law. It lowers us to a least, and pretty damn low common denominator.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 13 ~ Patience

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ask Someone Who Knows Something About It

The release of the Senate report on torture by the CIA has drawn a lot of attacks from Republicans. There are justifications, explanations, anger, fears and all kinds of things going around. When asked what made it legal, former President Bush said, "because our lawyers said it was." Most studies of torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques" in 1984-type Newspeak) have found that it is a useless way of gathering information. It doesn't work because the prisoners have often been trained to give wrong answers, incorrect information, and misleading directions.

How do we know this? Because that is what we train OUR troops to do when tortured. But, of course, we are smarter than our average enemy and won't work on us will work on them.

The man who may know the most about torture-based interrogations is of course, a Republican, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). And of course he is attacking the report. Oh, wait. No he's not. He knows the truth behind torture and its impact. It does not save lives, it only gives the "torturing nation" a sense of power. It gets more mis-information than truth and ends up eating away at the soul of those who do the enhanced interrogations.

John McCain has said and done many things that I disagree with. He has, however, been doggedly consistent on this issue. For that I am glad. Thank you, Senator. Too bad your colleagues aren't listening.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 12 ~ Eternity

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NOT a War on Christmas

I didn't get a picture of the sign, but it sure made me smile- so I will share it with you in written form. This was the sign in front of a local bread bakery:

Have a Happy Challah Day.
But let's be serious.....

Okay, just a quick look at history and you will find that a lot of the war on Christmas has historically been from that really radical group called Christians- or at least certain ones anyway...

And one more for the road:

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 11 ~ Messenger

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My Guilty Pleasure

A guilty pleasure is something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it.
Thanks to author Steve Almond, I can say I am one of the millions who have a pleasure we should feel guilty about.

Simply put, it is NFL football.

I am hooked. The adrenaline pumps when the music starts. The great green field with the white lines is a visual stimulus that gets the heart going. I wear the team tie on most game days and make sure the team hat is handy. Sometimes I'm a little more subtle and simply wear the team colors without the logo. Even college football has its exciting place in my life. In all of this I am not alone.

Football has become America's game. Baseball, my #1 favorite sport, has lost its top spot, though it is still the National Game. No one can beat the Boys of Summer. But that's a different guilty pleasure.

Football fits the bill when it comes to feeling guilty. Author Almond, a self-confessed football fan, lists all the reasons in his book, Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto. There's the monopoly the NFL has developed. Oh- a tax-exempt monopoly. There's the way the NFL gets cities to give tax breaks and tax money to NFL owners to build new stadiums. On his web page you will find these three questions that pretty much sum it up:
  • What does it mean that our society has transmuted the intuitive physical joys of childhood—run, leap, throw, tackle—into a billion-dollar industry?
  • How did a sport that causes brain damage become the leading signifier of our institutions of higher learning?
  • Does our addiction to football foster a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia?
In looking into these issues Almond presents information that indicts the sport's leaders, the team owners, the politicians who fit so nicely into the teams' back pockets, and a nation that has helped make all this possible. That, unfortunately includes me.
Sidenote: This is being written on Monday evening as I am (yes, you already know) watching the Packer game on ESPN. I stop typing when the play gets intense. It is a closer game than I want it to be. My Pack will win, I am sure, but why do they have to make it so difficult for me. Oh, I even used a football picture last Wednesday for one of my Advent devotional pictures. Shame on me.
I have absolutely no idea how to change this without government intervention. Our individual and national addiction to the game(s) will probably keep the NFL (and other football genres) at he top of their "game" and we will truly be the losers. No one of us alone can do it- and it's a tough road ahead of anyone who wants to bring some sanity to any of our professional sports. It may sadly take a major disaster or death before anything is done and any investigations be held.

The recent Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson problems are nothing in the great scheme of the NFL. Hopefully the owners own greed may be tempered before they hurt some people very seriously.

Yes, I will continue to watch. (The Packers won last evening. Of course!) The Super Bowl is on my calendar. I will watch and not just for the commercials (which are, in this context, like the articles in Playboy.) The game is the thing. But I will be aware of the guilty pleasure it has become.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 10 ~ Promise

Monday, December 08, 2014

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 9 ~ Way

Thirty-Four Years Gone

He was an artist.
Why would you want to kill an artist?
--Yoko Ono

Every moment in our lives is a miracle
we should enjoy instead of ignoring.
--Yoko Ono

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent- Like Watching Paint Dry

Some people hate waiting.

They get in the line that ends up moving too slowly and they begin to get restless. If they are in the 10 items or less line they start counting the items in the carts ahead of them. Not that they will confront the person, but it does make them feel better about themselves.

We are all like kids at Christmas when it comes to waiting.

Imagine the first Christians who lived with the unfaltering certainty that Christ would return very, very, VERY soon. Excitement, hope, promise. And then some of the brothers and sisters started dying before he came back. Pretty soon many of them noticed that they were no longer young.

Where is he? What's taking him so long? Life has gone on too long since he said he would be back.

Some probably "fell away" from the faith as a result. Enough of this crap, they no doubt thought. It really was a hoax after all. Others developed all kinds of theologies (yes, plural) to explain it. We still haven't figured it out and we are still waiting.

Dull, isn't it. Kind of like waiting for paint to dry- while standing there watching it.

So go do something else.

Meditate on what is happening. Look inside your own soul and figure out why you are still restless. Glance at that drying paint and discover the changes in it as it dries. That's us- you and me and all of us humans seeking hope and direction. What are you grateful about today. Name three, four, five things. Then do it again tomorrow, but you can't name the same things. Find new ones. Look around your life and see something you didn't remember was there. Find some new things that your life has produced- or your family and friends have given you- or that God has placed in your presence.

Waiting is not a time of dull boring nothingness. That only comes when we stop looking around and within.

Once in a while I even find Jesus standing there and am surprised again that I hadn't even noticed.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 8 ~ Love

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Powers of Music

My wife and I were sitting discussing music on the way home from the Brule concert last Sunday. What had struck us was the similarity of some of the Native America-style music that sounded very similar to ancient music we call "Plainsong" or "Chant." We thought about how in all kinds of places in the world the plainsong-style of music was a very basic and foundational style. At times it is played on different tonalities with different types of scales that are far different from what we in the more modern west are used to. It is still the same style, though. It most often has a single melodic line and a free flow to it that carries the words or tones from one to the other in an almost unbroken tune.

We kept thinking about what it is that makes "chant"-style music so foundational? Whether antiphonal where a line or musical phrase is sung by one group then repeated by another (cantor and congregation, for example) or when all sing the melody together, it is a powerful style.

I thought on my own experience in liturgy as a worshiper. Several of the old hymns of the church came to mind as well as the style of the Anglican/Episcopal liturgy I participate in during worship. I realized that what I experience is that movement of the music within me. It lifts me, it touches something within the neurology of my brain and takes me into a different state of mind.

There are all kinds of studies that show that we are born with a musical sense. Other studies have discovered the impact of music in all kinds of settings from pediatric ICU to Alzheimer units. Perhaps it is somewhere in there that we have a cross-cultural, human instinct that comes out more naturally in chant or plainsong.

Sure it can be boring and put us to sleep. That isn't all bad. Listen to O Come Immanuel in a basic chant style or even Silent Night for that matter. Check out some Bach pieces and see that they are at times based on that same style.

Then, as the music on my 1Tunes shuffle switched to an antiphonal style, the chant begins to take on a multiple layered feel. That's where we got the idea of harmony. What an amazing gift music is- and it is always within us.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 7 ~ Kingdom

Friday, December 05, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A 50-Year Memory: Another Death for a Teenager

Not to be too dramatic but today is the 50th anniversary of my brother and me becoming orphans. December 4, 1964 our dad died in the Veterans' Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

As those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know, I have been spending a lot of time digging into memories and history of my family, and at this point, my dad's service in World War II. He had surgery that discovered a brain tumor in 1958. It was not malignant, which meant it wasn't the kind that spread.

But it did grow back, slowly but surely.

He spent the last year of his life in the hospital and quietly died on this date in 1964.

Already our Mom had died in 1962, Dad's brother in 1959, and Mom's father in 1958. We were raised by Dad's sister.

One becomes aware of the uncertainty and fragility of time and life in those events.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 5 ~ Alert

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Capturing Earthiness

Hebrew is, of course, a very ancient language. Before it was revived in modern-day Israel, it had a relatively limited vocabulary from a time when things were a lot more down to earth. When we read the Hebrew Bible we don't really catch that sense of the language. We "sanctify" it to make it more acceptable to our modern ears. Fortunately we do have more words that we can use.

Last Sunday I was sitting listening to the Hebrew Bible text being read. I don't usually read along; I like the sense of listening to the word. Suddenly a word went skimming by. Did I hear that, as thought? Did it really say what I think I heard? I pulled out the bulletin and double checked it. Yep. That's what I heard.

Here's the passage from the Common English Bible which we use:

Isaiah 64: 5b-6-- But you were angry when we sinned;
you hid yourself when we did wrong.
We have all become like the unclean;
all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag. [Emphasis added.]
What an excellent example of the earthiness (and not mincing words) that one can find in the Bible!

Other translations use "filthy" or "greasy" to describe the rag in question- our deeds. Fitting and descriptive, but not with the overwhelming power of this translation. In fact, knowing the importance of "clean" vs. "unclean" in the ancient Hebrew lifestyle, the use of the word "menstrual" adds an extreme of "uncleanness" that filthy and greasy don't.

I later dug into a concordance and found that the Hebrew word is only used once in the Bible- right there in Isaiah 64. To get its translation. scholars had to look at other similar words and other ancient languages. The root and words really do have to do with the menstrual cycle- a time of uncleanness for a woman. The phrase "menstrual rag" really is a descriptive, powerful, down-to-earth, and appropriate translation.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 4 ~ Ready

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

This Brought Me Up Short

An interview with a rapper on the radio the other day made me think about something in an entirely new way. He was discussing some of the more common themes found in rap songs that have been used- and criticized- over the years. You hear a rapper sing of something- and you naturally think the rapper is telling his own story- especially if it is an African-American singer.

Well, this particular rapper made the statement:

When people hear Johnny Cash sing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die [from Folsom Prison Blues] no one really believes that Johnny Cash really did that. If I [the black rapper] sang those words they would think I really did it.

How true is that! He would also be condemned and told he was corrupting youth and encouraging a Black culture that was violent. But Johnny Cash made millions from that song. And, on the most famous version, Live at Folsom Prison, the audience cheers (!!!) when he sings that line.

This is what many of us mean when we talk about "white privilege" and "systemic racism." We don't even notice the racism. Myself included.

No one questions Johnny Cash's deep and abiding Christian faith. No one challenges his glorifying a violent "white" culture. He doesn't even have to justify it. He actually wrote the song when he was young, in the military, and unknown.

It was just a song.

Well, as I said, this brought me up short and as so often happens, made me think more about my own wrestling with the ongoing demons of racism. Systemic racism, white privilege is NOT the result of people being racist. It is built into the system and we don't even notice it. We have a long way to go.

Advent Picture a Day ~ Day 3 ~ Rule