Friday, March 31, 2006

Five Things My Mom (or Dad or Grandmother) Used to Say

Name five things you used to hear your mother or father (or even a grandparent) say, especially things you might be surprised to hear coming out of your own mouth. [RevGal Friday Meme]

1. What in the sam hill? [Or is it Sam Hill? Who the heck was Sam Hill? When Mom would say this, I would say, "Ooooooh, I'm calling Grandmom 'cause you cursed." Which always made Mom laugh.]

2. More hurry, less speed. [I actually say this all the time myself now.]

3. God made one like you and threw the mold away. [I always took quite a bit of pride in hearing this one.]

4. No singing at the table. [This was Dad's thing. Mom was against it. There is always singing allowed at our table now.]

5. On evenings when my brother or I might be especially wound up and full of giggles, my Mommom used to say with a sense of caution to it, "You're going to be crying before bed." I guess she had grown up believing that any abundant expression of emotions that were on one end of the spectrum would easily transform into the other end. I don't know. Anyone else get that one?

6. Bonus: Go clean your room! Sure heard that one a lot.

7. Bonus bonus: Get the Ax! [How could we have forgotten this one, Brother? This was Dad's famous line when he couldn't get the distributor cap off of the engine of the car. It wasn't a joke either. He was in all serious fury telling Mom to go get the ax so he could chop the damn thing off! But it quickly became the phrase of choice whenever we met with some impossibly frustrating task.]

Ahhhh, the Symphony

The symphony last night was spectacular. Even better than the first night. I love Shostakovich. At least what I heard last night. I don't even know how to write about the experience. But I'll give it a try, however clumsy.

The first piece was Suite No. 1 for Jazz Orchestra. It was full of whimsy! Composed around 1934, it really shows the young Shostakovich's appropriation of the new jazz form. I love the way the very composition of the piece is intertwined with the political realities of Russia at the time. In fact, all the pieces were very intimately related to the political world--and this made them all the more moving, intense, demanding of the listener. But the jazz piece, in its own way, is significant because it was composed very shortly before jazz was outlawed in Russia. So the whimsy of it is set against the backdrop of the deathly serious.

The instruments were great, too. There was a banjo, a steel slide guitar, saxophone, violin, piano, percussion (of course), and a few others.

It was terrific to have E there for this opening selection. It's ready accessibility, as well as the laughter that rippled appreciatively through the audience, was wonderful for him to experience. The harder stuff would follow soon enough.

The second piece was Violin Concerto No. 2. Like two weeks ago when we saw Sarah Chang, this piece features a virtuoso part, performed by Alexander Barantschik. But as flat as the performance was last week (I believe due to the conductor most of all), this one was vibrant, transcendent, utterly beautiful. Barantschik's part would merge and emerge through the music over and over. You could fall into the notes he played and tumble there endlessly. The rest of the orchestra was right there with him. Sometimes this sounded like they were playing right alongside him. Though others it was more as if he were critiquing them or subverting them somehow. It was really magical. I wish I could hear it again tonight.

During the intermission we walked around in the lobby area so E could stretch his legs and get some wiggles out. He really rose to the occasion last night (as I had full confidence he would) and was beautifully behaved. He had dressed up in his suit from last Easter (he loves that suit), complete with snap-on tie. And work boots. I thoroughly enjoyed the looks he was receiving as we walked around.

The last part of the program was Symphony No. 13, called Babi Yar. This one featured a baritone and the Men's Chorus. This was the most demanding piece of all--for everyone. I mean, I can imagine the musicians, performers, and conductor go home utterly spent from a performance of that piece. But also, I feel as though we were done for by the end of it, too.

It is here that the political realities of the Soviet Union are woven into the poetry and the music in ways that utterly overwhelm and disturb. It was the music of lament--and it seemed to grab us by the throat and push us against the wall.

There was a moment, at the end of the fourth movement, I guess, in the piece called "Strakhil" or "Fears" in English, that I saw the relationship between words and music in a completely new way. (Though likely rather indescribable.) The end of the piece ends with these words:

Fears are dying out in Russia.
And while I am writing these lines,
at time unintentionally hurrying,
I write haunted by the single fear
of not writing with all my strength.

There was something about hearing those words, overlaid on the notes as they were in that moment being played, that seemed to set both of them free from one another somehow. As if the words could dance anywhere along the surface of the music. I suddenly saw the words as margin notes, maybe even furiously written commentary. Somehow borne out of the music, but also the music born from the words.

Though the subject matter of this last part of the program was deeply anguished, it also played with whimsy. But whimsy in a most defiant sense. In the piece called Humor, the poet Yevtushenko writes of the ways the government is seeking to destroy humor. "They've wanted to kill humor, but humor gave them the finger."

But they cannot destoy humor because he is eternal. And "from time to time humor looks at himself humorously."

Hm. More to say about this but I have to go put icing on E's cupcakes. I need to bring them into his classroom in about 45 minutes. So I better get going.

The beginning of a fun, full weekend. Joy.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Symphony Night!

Alright! Getting ready to go to the Symphony shortly. And tonight is an extra treat for me. Two of our companions are not able to make it to this evening's performance which means D and E are able to join me! It took a bit of gentle convincing, especially of the boy (who turns 8 in a couple days!). When I first broached the subject with him, he immediately began scrambling for suggestions of who could babysit. :) Unfortunately, the prime babysitting candidates are the wonderful women who couldn't make it to the symphony tonight. Ahhh, catch-22.

But I asked the boy again today, and he ended up being more open to it. "I knew it would make you happy, Mom." He said. What a wonderful son.

And it's no less great that D is going, of course! It will be such fun to share this experience with them. At the very least so they can picture where I'm traipsing off to these days.

Tonight we'll be hearing Shostakovich all evening: Suite No. 1 for Jazz Orchestra, Violin Concerto No. 2, and Symphony No. 13 Babi Yar. The conductor is Mstislav Rostropovich.

I had a productive morning studying for the Theology Exam (which will happen a week from today). I'm trying to remember everything I once knew about Tillich. Ugh.

And we had fun shopping birthday gifts for the boy. Our big celebration will be a day early since our Sunday is so chock full right now. There's been talk of going ice skating that day. But maybe we'll stick closer to home and play with all the cool new stuff. We'll see.

Tomorrow we bring cupcakes to E's class. I've never been a very good cupcake baker. They always come out especially squat for some reason. So we'll have to see if they'll be homemade or bakery-bought . . .

Alright, better get dinner for everyone. Then off for the evening's delight!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dearheart Comes From Behind to Win Hometown Tournament

I thought I'd share with you the mock press release I composed for our family in honor of E's exciting, unexpected Chess Championship this afternoon. As you can tell, identifying info has been changed for all people and places. :-)

Hometown, Sta., March 27, 2006 (R-uters) In a sudden change of events, second-grader E.W. Dearheart brought home the first-place trophy after winning the Hometown Chess School Tournament at Hero Elementary School this afternoon.

After a strong performance in the six-week-long tournament, Dearheart had suffered a disappointing last-minute loss in his penultimate match last week against Tyler. “It was one of the worst things that had ever happened to me,” Dearheart reflected this afternoon on the events of last week. The loss had been especially difficult to bear because Dearheart had maintained a decisive lead until the very end.

Going into today’s match, Dearheart hoped to regain his focus and control of the game. In the end, it was partly due to the intangibles of competition that contributed to Dearheart’s dramatic victory today. Dearheart’s 100% attendance throughout the tournament exhibited not only his commitment to the game, but provided him the leg up he needed in today’s competition.

Dearheart’s opponent from the week before unfortunately was home sick for the final day of the tournament this afternoon, creating an unexpected run-off competition among the four next-highest ranked players now tied for first place!

Dearheart faced off with third-grader and long-time rival Mark for the competition. The powerful brothers Salizar and Santino also settled in across the board from one another. (Dearheart previously defeated each of them earlier in the tournament.) Their match would end in a stalemate prior to the end of Dearheart’s match—making the Dearheart—Mark match the championship round!

Dearheart remarked later that he was glad for the opportunity to face his rival Mark once again in the tournament. He had faced him on the first day and suffered his only other loss of the tournament to him. “He’s definitely one of the stronger players,” commented Dearheart, “He went undefeated for the first three games of the season.”

By the time the brothers had stalemated in this afternoon’s match, Dearheart had worked himself into a clear advantage. “I couldn’t have been in a better position,” he told reporters later. “I had snuck my queen into position to attack Mark’s queen. He didn’t see it. He moved one of his pawns forward. This didn’t block the attack. Naturally, I figured, ‘What the heck, nothing is guarding his queen.’ This was not too sneaky. I just walked my queen up to his and took it.” This effectively marked the end of the match. Dearheart whittled down Mark’s remaining pawns with his queen and rooks and eventually checkmated him.

Acknowledging that the fickle Lady Luck had favored him this afternoon, Dearheart also
experienced a great sense of satisfaction with his victory today. “I feel excellent.” He admitted. “I feel like I earned it and like I deserved it.”

Dearheart reflected on what he had learned about himself as a player through his tournament experience. “I learned that if I put my mind to it, I had a shot to go for any goal. I learned that if there is a chess tournament, I’m good enough. So if there are any chess tournaments at Hero Elementary in Hometown, expect to see my name on the sign up sheet: E.W. Dearheart.”

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Being My Body

One day shortly after I had turned thirteen years old, I remember I had gone through an especially moody day. I'd been ecstatic and miserable, delighted and lost--all multiple times within a span of hours. I remember a particular moment that day (Virginia Woolf calls it a moment of being) as I walked through our dim cellar, ducking my head under the low pipes, passed the old stagecoach toy trunk my Dad had made for my brother and I, over to my Mom who was moving the wash over to the dryer. I remember it was somewhere in that space that it dawned on me: I was an adolescent!

This thought was accompanied by one of those ecstatic moments of utter delight. It had happened to me, finally! That night, I wrote in my diary: "Today I officially entered adolescence. I was happy one minute and miserable the next. Then happy again. And this is exactly what happens with adolescents." I loved being aware of it in the moment, even if I can see now that it was a bit contrived. I was marking my own passage. I knew my body and myself were changing. It was a threshold moment.

This morning, during prayer at church, I sat staring at my hands. I had been noticing them all morning, actually. On the drive over I'd become suddenly aware of them. The skin on my hands is changing. It seems thinner somehow. And the lines in them are more visible, deeper. The wrinkles and crinkles are not just on my knuckles, but ease along the whole back of the hand. The night my grandfather died when I was sixteen years old, I sat beside my grandmother with her hand in mine. Her hands were deeply wrinkled then, with skin that seemed loose to them. Her veins were clearly visible. I held her hand and thought: "I'll always know how old I am by my hands. Some day my hands will be beautiful like this."

Lately, too, I've taken no small amount of delight in the grey strands that are starting to streak through the front of my hair. They greet me every time I check the mirror. I'm very, very fond of their joyous appearance.

Also, I see the lines around my eyes that betray how much I've smiled, out-right laughed, and squinted into the sun over my lifetime so far. Like my hands, the skin on my face is changing. Subtly, I'm sure. But I see it.

These are small things, but certain. Small ways that my body and myself are changing again as a woman who can now see 40 on the horizon. And just as I did when I suddenly realized I'd "officially entered adolescence," I celebrate these changes. They amaze me!

A week from today we'll celebrate E's eighth birthday. It dawned on me recently that that means it has already been nine years since I was pregnant. Now that nearly floors me, because I remember it all so well. As if it were last year, not nearly a decade ago.

Now I have this wonder-filled privilege of seeing my boy grow into his own body (even as I continue to grow into my own). E and I both had a pretty rough time this past week. E had his disappointment with the chess match on Monday, but also generally had a week where his emotions were close to the surface. Lots of tears. And I lived into that no-where-land of trying to meet daily obligations while keeping the long-term destination in close focus. D wisely suggested to E that his recent tears have been the sign that he's in the midst of changing, in a time of transition. "Maybe it's turning eight," he said.

Yes. Marking changes.

Friday, March 24, 2006

"And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?" --Tillie Olsen

So much talk, lately, about getting things done (or not) around here.

Well, at my Dissertation Writing Seminar the other day, a colleague recommended to folks this free (shareware) program available to download at

The program keeps track of the amount of time you are working on the computer and sends you little reminders of when to take microbreaks (to stretch, rest your eyes, etc.) and when to stand up and take a rest break (every 45 minutes). It even suggests the kinds of exercises you can do.

The idea behind my seminar the other day was to use the small amount of time that we have to be as productive as possible. The facilitator pointed out that it is ideal to work in 45-minute units. It seems counter-intuitive, because after 45 minutes your at-tention has increased and continues to rise. However, more importantly your re-tention and comprehension decrease drastically and immediately.

If you take a break of about ten minutes where you get up and walk around, do something else (like scrub the bathroom sink or ideally step outside for fresh air), then you restore your mental powers and are able to crank out another productive 45 minutes until you're at the end of your allotted time.

This program by WorkRave helps you to keep track of that time without making you watch the clock yourself. I worked with it today. I kept the microbreak timer on and tried to obey it for the most part. But I found the microbreaks a little distracting. You can, however, turn them off by changing the preferences.

Try it out if you're interested! Pretty cool.

PS For those of you keeping track at home: the car needed a new alternator and battery and . . . hmm, something else. A nice chunk of change, but possible. We just celebrated exceeding 100,000 miles on this car, so I guess it's time for this stuff to start happening.

PPS After several weeks away from it due to D's shoulder injury, the boys are finally off playing hockey again this afternoon. Hooray!

PPPS Congratulations to Katherine's sister for winning a spot in the Scrapbooking Hall of Fame. Wihoo!

PPPPS Current favorite insights from Wednesday's Seminar: "For you, it's not about managing time. Because you will never get everything done that you want to get done. It's about managing guilt."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

CPT Hostages Rescued!!!

Great News!

The remaining CPT hostages were rescued! See this NYTimes article.

Oddly enough, the CPT website seems to be downplaying the role the military played in the rescue of the hostages. In fact, they make no mention of their role at all. They merely state that the hostages were "released."

I heard the news first from Cyenobite. Thanks, Bro!

A New Day

Alright. A good night's sleep does wonders.

We got up this morning and decided to make the most of our situation by walking E to school and stopping off along the way for breakfast at E's favorite diner downtown. E was delighted. And so was I, really. :) It was wonderful to be out in the cool air of morning just around 7:00. Being outside that early always reminds me of camping when I was a little kid.

The walk was great and fun. And there is something really wonderful about seeing E walk into the schoolyard and greet his best friend. Our boy.

So today we'll deal with the car stuff. Must be some kind of thing wrong with the electrical system. I think we'll be able to get it jump started and will be able to manage to drive it to the mechanic we trust.

In the in-between of the day, I think I should be able to make some progress on all of that planning that was packed into yesterday.

All is well; Every manner of thing shall be well . . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Enough is Enough

Wow. I'm exhausted.

I was in a Dissertation Writing Seminar from 10-3 today. Great, great stuff. But tons of information to take in over a relatively short amount of time. Intensive stuff. I took ten pages of handwritten notes. I can't remember the last time I handwrote ten pages of anything. That in and of itself was exhausting! :)

But immediately from there, my friend S and I had to rush off to our (much beloved) academic advisor's home for afternoon tea. It was really lovely, but the timing was a bit unfortunate. The reason for gathering? Well, to talk about our progress (or lack thereof) on our comprehensive exams. And to map out what absolutely has to get done between now and September. So, you know, slightly stressful event.

So I said we had to rush off, which we did attempt to do. But when we climbed into my car and I tried to start it--nothing. At all.

Which meant we had to walk the 1-1/2 miles to S's car first, making us quite late (needless to say).

On the way home, at 7:00, we got lost multiple times.

At 8, after S, D, E and I hungerily gobbled up our dinner, S was kind enough to call AAA for us. They arrived after not too long and jump started the car. D sat in it for a half hour to charge the battery. But when he tried it again at the end of that (about five minutes ago) it was dead as a doornail again. Nothin'.

Meanwhile, the whole time I've been writing this (it's 9:40 pm), our upstairs neighbor has been vacuuming their hardwood floor, causing the most god-awful vibrations to reverberate through my living room (and skull).

This whole day was built off of about four or five hours of sleep the night before.

I think I need a good cry.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What's Not Impossible is Doing the Work for Today

I decided to delete yesterday's posting because in retrospect it seemed just a little too self-pitying. (Although sincere thanks to Canticles for posting a kind and encouraging comment. Unfortunately, the comment met its demise as a consequence of deleting the posting.)

I've set today aside for beginning vigorous work on the course I'll be designing for my pedagogy class. At this moment I have over two dozen books on worship piled up next to me. And that in and of itself is marvelously exciting.

One of the first things I'll need to do is to decide for certain which seminary I'll be designing the course for. (I think I've narrowed it down to two. But it's soooo hard to decide.) Deciding that, though, will then help me decide better what the focus of the course will be--whether it will be a straight Intro course or one with a narrower, more specialized focus.

So, rather than being overwhelmed by the great unknown future, (as I wrote in the deleted posting), I'll just go ahead and keep at what I'm doing today. Who knows what it will lead to. I never ever would have imagined myself here ten years ago. So why would I think I could accurately predict ten years from now?

In other news. . . There has been lots going on around here, but I've hardly had a moment to sit and write and reflect on it all. Last evening as I was preparing dinner, I thought, "Hmmmm, I wonder at what point I'll have to admit to myself that I'm not actually having a Lent this year?"

Even with all the fullness of these days, though, it's been good. Really good. Although I'm doing tons of work, I'm fortunate enough to be doing work I love. And that's something.

E had a disappointment in his Chess Class yesterday. They are in the midst of their tournament and he went in to yesterday's game tied for first place. Sounds like he played great, but the kid noticed a lucky move, took it, and suddenly the game was over. E really wanted to come out the champion for this tournament. And it was hard to see him disappointed. At the same time, although he was understandably sad, he handled it alright. And that's such an important thing to learn how to do that I'm grateful for the experience for him. It's hard, no doubt about it, but it's part of growing up. (And, boy, is it hard to let that happen!)

Well, guess that's it for now. I better get to work.

Peace & Love.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Still Here

Still putting that foot in front of the other one over here. Very busy. Spent all day yesterday, hmmm, all day and well into the night, writing comments and grading papers. A huge task. Very time consuming.

All day today with church stuff. Going there. Coming home and spending the rest of the day preparing for the small group I'm facilitating. Then doing the facilitating.

It has been especially difficult because the weather this weekend has been fantastic--the most spectacular blue skies after too many days of rain. (Not that I've had the time to even notice the rain.)

Hmmm, this is not saying much of anything. But I think I'm a bit worn out. I guess this is just to say, still here! Will write more soon.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

One Step in Front of the Other

A fantastic day of studying. Hooray! I made great progress in gaining a better, more defined understanding of liberation theology, especially as it was imagined by Gustavo Gutierrez. Liberation Theology has long been one of those schools of theology that has seeped into my bones, but never one I studied systematically. Rather, I had picked it up through reading so many other people who were influenced by it. In that regard, I celebrate the extent to which Liberation Theology has shaped theological thinking. Not in all parts of Christianity, I know. But in the parts of Christianity that I tend to be engaged with, anyway.

Part of my breakthrough in studying today was to take the question I'm working on and think: how would I prepare this information for a lecture, if I had to give it? This was a great way to turn it on its head. It had three immediate effects: 1) It took out the emotional element of preparing for an exam; 2) It helped me think about what I would most want to say in order to distill the ideas and get them across in a clear, memorable way; and 3) It made the exam seem less like a hoop to jump through, and more like actual preparation for a lecture that I would likely, truly use someday. Beautiful.

After a good, solid morning of work and synthesis, we walked downtown to our current favorite Indian restaurant and enjoyed a fantastic meal. Then walked around a bit, to the post office (to finally buy two-cent stamps!), into a gorgeous store that was like being in a museum, and finally to get some good coffee for the rest of the walk home.

I love walking through our town. There are always flowers blooming. And interesting architecture. And beautiful colors. And amazing sights. Today, I saw someone had put an elephant in their side yard. It's the coolest thing! Maybe I'll go back and take his picture for you to see, because describing him will not do justice. He's made out of old tires! Stands maybe six or seven feet tall. And from across the street, had the most amazing eyes. I don't know how they did it. It didn't look junky. It looked, well, living.

Tonight is symphony night again! I cannot wait . . .

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Und lass uns wieder con der Liebe reden

Today has been a good, if full-to-the-brim, day. I spent the majority of it doing the first read-through of papers. Overall, I am really quite pleased with the quality of the work and writing. Looks like it's really going to be a great semester!

It was a beautiful day today, after some days of rain and cold. This afternoon I got to go up to the campus and play baseball with E. Apparantly he told his Dad today that he's "starting to worship baseball again." D told me he quickly corrected him, saying, "Well, you shouldn't really worship baseball. But you can love it!" But D also told me on the inside he was saying, "Hooray!!!!" D is a huge baseball fan, and he's been wonderfully patient as E has fallen in love with just about every sport but baseball.

That's not entirely true, on E's part. His first love of baseball was when he was not yet even two years old. He would play 'catch' for hours. And his favorite stance was to crouch down like a catcher. He also always insisted on someone playing the role of an umpire. He loved to play up until about four-years old. At seminary, the three of us spent many-a-day playing ball out in the grove (after which this blog is named). E's love seemed to culminate with playing tee-ball, the summer just before we moved across the country.

After that, he loved football, then basketball, and now hockey. But a couple days ago, the baseball cap suddenly reappeared. And now, we're off!

Monday evening I came out from my workshop to find D & E playing ball on campus. Not expecting to see them, I was astounded at how big E has gotten. He turns 8 in just a couple weeks. I don't know. There was something about the unexpectedness of it, that made me see him anew. My dear boy.

Well, I think this may be it for me tonight. Creative energy is low at the moment. Perhaps I ought to include one more poem, as tomorrow night is symphony night for me again! What the heck, how about two today?

Ruhe, meine Seele
by Karl Henckell

Nicht ein Luftchen regt sich leise,
Sanft entschlummert ruht de Hain;
Durch de Blatter dunkle Hulle
Stiehlt sich lichter Sonnenschein.

Ruhe, ruhe, meine Seele,
Dein Sturme gingen wild;
Hast getobt und hast gezittert,
Wie die Brangung, wen sie schwillt.

Diese Zeiten sind gewaltig,
Bringen Herz und Hirn in Not--
Ruhe, ruhe, meine Seele,
Und vergiss, was dich bedroht!

Rest, My Soul!

No breath of air stirs.
The field is wrapped in soft sleep.
A shaft of sunlight
works its way through the dark leaves.

Rest, rest my soul.
Your storms were wild,
they raged and trembled
like the waves as they crest.

These are violent times,
endangering heart and mind--
rest, rest my soul,
and forget what threatens you!

by Hermann von Gilm

Stell aug den Tisch die duftenden Reseden,
Die letzten roten Astern trad herbei,
Und lass uns wieder von der Liebe reden,
Wie einst im Mai.

Gib mir die Hand, dass ich sie heimlich drucke
Und wenn man's sieht, mir ist es einerlei,
Gib mir nur einen deiner sussen Blicke,
Wie einst im Mai.

Es bluht und duftet heit auf jedem Grabe,
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei,
Komm an mein Herz, dass ich dich wieder habe,
Wie einst im Mai.

All Souls' Day

Lay the fragrant flowers on the table,
put the last red asters here
and let us talk of love again,
as we did in May.

Give me your hand to hold in secret--
but if anyone sees, it's all the same;
just give me one of your sweet glances,
as you did in May.

Today, every grave is covered with fragrant blossoms.
For one day each year, the dead are free.
Come to my heart, so that I may have you again,
just as in May.

For cd's where some of these poems can be found see the end of this entry: Habe Dank

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Today's Symphony Poem

by John Henry Mackay

Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen,
und auf dem Wege, den ich gehen werde,
wird uns, die Glucklichen, sie wieder einen
inmitten dieser sonnenatmended Erde . . .

Und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen,
werden wir still und langsam niedersteigenm
stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen,
und auf uns sinkt de Gluckes stummes
Schweigen . . .


And tomorrow the sun will shine again,
and on the path that I will take
it will unite us, the happy ones, once again
in the heart of this sun-breathing earth . . .

And to the shore--wide and blue with waves--
we will descend quietly and slowly.
Silently, we will look into each other's eyes,
And upon us will descend the happiness of
speechless silence.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Why Bother with the History of Worship?

I am feeling happy tonight, because I got through another huge to-do list over the past 24 hours. I am tired, worn out. But it is a good tired. Akin to the tired from working in a garden, I think. A tired that feels like my energies went to the appropriate places.

This morning I was responsible for a couple pieces in our Intro to Worship class. I had about five minutes to talk about the Revival/Frontier 3-part worship structure. Then later I had about a half-hour to talk about the lectionary--what is it? where did it come from? what theology went into shaping it and how does that theology end up shaping how we hear the texts? and what are the benefits and challenges to receiving (or rejecting) the Revised Common Lectionary?

I got to everything but the last question. We'll have to pick up there next week. It strikes me as funny to think about how impossible it is to say all of those things about the lectionary in thirty minutes--when just two weeks ago we were going through the history of Christian worship in the same exact allotment of time! Ha! [That's a perverse sense of humor.]

Sometimes I learn more from what I end up saying spontaneously in a lecture as I do in the hours of preparation beforehand. Today two things came up that I hadn't exactly thought about before saying them, but felt as if the words were called out of me.

The first was a brief explanation about why we slog these poor MDiv students (who are mostly UCC and UMC, but also Baptist, Mennonite, Brethren, Pentecostal, Disciples, and UU) through this history of these various elements that we talk about. Why does it matter to know how lectionaries developed over time?

One big reason, I told folks today, is because history is often used in an authoritative way. If there is a sense that something was done in a certain way a long time ago, then this can be perceived to have some normative claim on our practice today. It's as simple as the Liturgical Movement of the 20th century seeking to reclaim early church worship practices as ideal ecumenical models for our worship practices today.

It is a macro-version of "we've always done it this way." But sometimes, it's not the way we've always done it; it's just the way we believe it was.

We teach folks the histories of these various rites and pieces of worship at least in part to give them the ability to critically engage with it themselves. If you know what the history is, then you can ask: how is that valuable to me? what does it teach me about current practice? are there things that I can learn from how previous Christians engaged with this?

A lot of folks who are in free church settings also tend to be a-historical. There is not a recognition that we are part of a history of Christian worship practices. It comes down to the autonomy of the local congregation--and that congregation is in no way indebted to the practices of the church universal.

Interestingly enough, the person who had the most significant influence on the 3-part worship model from the frontier tradition, Charles Finney, also challenged the church to be a-historical. The frontier worshipping tradition was based on a model of extreme pragmatism--it was intended to reach the unchurched who had been dispersed across the giant land of the United States. The frontier model was based on seeing results. How American is that? The results they were looking for were lots of converts at the end of the service.

The three part service was created to enable the most results--it begins with songs or a praise service (often called 'preliminaries'), then the sermon, and concludes with the altar call. Finney said the church needs to be willing to employ whatever means necessary in order to bring the most results. The church should feel no obligation to history, if history does not serve to produce more converts. It was with all intention an a-historical approach to Christian worship.

So, fine. But that was two hundred years ago now. And the irony is that there is now a frontier tradition with its own history that these churches have to take into account. Because the truth is, this model of worship is deeply in the bones of the people who worship in it. In this model, the sermon is truly the apex of the worship experience. And the altar call has become truncated for the most part, because nearly everyone in church is already a baptized believer.

Church leaders who attempt to change this pattern, by introducing the prayers of the people after the sermon, or the offering, or other "response to the Word" elements, will likely be met with vehement resistance.

In the pbs documentary The Congregation, we see just how divisive such changes can be. Although this documentary mostly tracks the story of The Rev. Beth Stroud as she comes out to her congregation and consequently faces a trial in her United Methodist denomination, it also includes the story of her co-pastor, Fred Day, who had the audacity to try and change the order of worship at their otherwise "open" congregation. The idea that the service would no longer climax with the sermon (and end immediately) afterwards, was too much for this congregation to handle. It was as if it went against nature to try and do it any differently.

Fred Day was simply trying to integrate the changes suggested by the new worship book of the United Methodist Church, which suggests a model of worship that has four movements: Gathering, Word, Response, Sending Forth. [Based on what the early church model of worshipis currently perceived to be.] But it couldn't be done. The Frontier tradition was too embedded in the expectations of that congregation who had always known its rhythm.

Well, sheesh. I've gone on forever here. Tomorrow I'll try to take some time to write about my afternoon workshop on Disability and the Practice of Worship. But this is enough for now. Surely you have other things to do than read this all night! :)

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad turned 70 years old today. I can't believe it. 70!

Day's like this it stinks to be 3000 miles away.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Habe Dank

by Hermann von Gilm

Ja, du weisst es, teure Seele,
dass ich fern von dir mich quale,
Liebe macht die Herzen krank
habe Dank.

Einst hielt ich, der Freiheit Zecher,
hoch den Amethysten-Becher
und du segnetest den Trank,
habe Dank.

Und beschworst darin die Bosen
bis ich, was ich nie gewesen,
heilig, heilig an Herz dir sank,
habe Dank!


Yes, you know, dear love,
that it is torture to be away from you.
Love makes hearts sick.
And for that, I thank you.

Once, drunk with freedom,
I held the amethyst goblet high,
and you blessed the drink.
For that, I thank you.

And you exorcised my demons
until I became what I had never been:
holy, and holy I sank to your heart.
For that, I thank you!

To listen to some of this poetry as interpreted by R. Strauss, here are some cd options:

Jessye Norman sings Traum durch die Dammerung, Allerseelen, and Heimliche Aufforderung accompanied by pianist Geoffrey Parsons in a collection of Strauss songs on Richard Strauss: Lieder. Available used on Amazon here.

Felicity Lott sings Das Rosenband; Ruhe, meine Seele; Freundliche Vision, Morgen! and Zeuignung accompanied by Neeme Jarvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Available from Amazon here.

I actually heard the songs performed by a baritone, so the women's voices in the above recordings sound strange to me. I found this recording by Fritz Wunderlich on Amazon, with Morgen! and Zeuignung. Available from Amazon here.
(Some of these poems will be coming in the following days . . .)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Traum durch die Dammerung

I got up this morning with a considerable list of things-to-do. I have Living the Questions to prepare for on Sunday night, part of the lecture to give on Monday, a three-hour workshop on Disabilities and Worship Practices Monday afternoon, and a research assignment due Tuesday.

So far today I've worked on none of it. And I am happy. Wha?

I'm happy because I FINALLY wrote my devotional pieces for the RevGalBlogPal book project "Ordinary Time." I had procrastinated my assignment practically into the ground. And reached that terribly uncomfortable place of having to admit my failure, before I could fulfill the obligation. Ugh.

But I survived it. And I sat myself down and spent the day writing about David's last words. I'll say no more about it here. You'll have to wait 'til November 2006 to find out what finally came about. I'm just glad to say I've finished it. And now feel restored to my RevGal community.

I wrote at the beginning of Lent about wanting this to be a season of rest this year (see Lenten Lives). I still do want that. Though I don't have any fewer demands on my time. So the question is: is it possible to live a spirit of rest while being fully involved? I have a feeling the answer is somehow yes. It's my hope. Because right now, it'll have to be the best I can do.

Here's today's poem from the symphony:

Traum durch die Dammerung
by Otto Julius Bierbaum

Weite Wiesen im Dammergrau
die Sonne verglomm, die Sterne ziehn,
nun geh' ich hin zu der schonsten Frau,
weit uber Wiesen im Dammergrau,
tief in den Busch von Jasmin.

Durch Dammergrau in der Liebe Land;
ich gehe nicht schnell, ich eile nicht;
mich zieht ein weiches samtenes Band
durch Dammergrau in der Lieve Land,
in ein blaues, mildes Licht.

Dream at Twilight

Broad Meadows in gray twilight;
the sun darkens, the stars appear.
I'm going to meet the loveliest woman
far over the meadows in gray twilight,
deep in the jasmine bushes.

Through the gray twilight, in the land of love.
I don't walk quickly, I'm in no hurry.
A soft, silky rein pulls me
through the gray twilight in the land of love,
in a gentle blue light.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gotterbilder leuchten aus dem Laube

Well, very prolific at the beginning of the week. A little reserved later in the week.

I've been wanting to post some of the lyrics to the R. Strauss pieces that I heard at the Symphony last week. And I thought today would be good, as there are many who post poetry on Fridays. Maybe I'll post one a day, over the next few days. This first poem was written by Otto Julius Bierbaum.

Freundliche Vision

Nicht im Schlafe hab' ich das getraumt,
hell am Tage sah ich's schon vir mir.
Eine Wiese voller Margeriten;
tief ein weisses Haus in grunen Buschen;
Gotterbilder leuchten aus dem Laube.
Und ich geh' mit einer, die mich lieb hat,
ruhigen Gemutes in die Kuhle
dieses weissen Hauses, in den Frieden,
der voll Schonheit wartet, das wir kommen.
Und ich geh' mit einer, die mich lieb hat,
in den Frieden voll Schonheit.

Friendly Vision

I didn't dream this as I slept.
I saw before me in bright daylight:
a meadow full of daisies,
a white house deep in the green trees,
visions of heaven glowing in the leaves.
And I am with one who loves me.
We rest in the cool
of this white house, in peace,
this beautiful place that awaits our arrival.
And I am with one who loves me
in the beauty of peace.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Religious Me, through Time

For my pedagogy class this afternoon, we were asked to reflect briefly on our "childhood experience of religion."

I was so amused in writing my response, that I decided I really wanted to share it with you. (Even though I already wrote my blog entry for the day!)

As a child I experienced God as my companion, physically (if invisibly) standing beside me in much the same way as I experienced my invisible friends. (Except that God was a constant; whereas I had a line of thousands of invisible friends and if the one next to me annoyed me, I would simply "pow" her up to Mars with a swift right hook and the next invisible friend would step into place beside me.)

I began to attend church regularly while in elementary school. I felt like a newcomer to the church, as it was clear some kids had always gone there. I also felt deeply invested in learning as much about faith as I could. I was asked to preach a sermon at the youth service when I was in fourth grade. I took this responsibility extremely seriously.

I read the Bible in the sixth grade, underlining and noting sections which troubled or confused me. I wanted to set an appointment with the pastor to discuss my questions, but could never find my entry point.

I took home the hymnal one Communion Sunday to re-write the communion prayer because I despised the embedded theology of “We are not worthy even to gather the crumbs under thy table, O Lord.” I planned to submit it to the Hymnal People (whoever they were) so they could do a better job next time.

I designed Bible Studies for my neighborhood friends. I talked with my friend Lori about co-leading the Bible Studies. (They never got off the ground.) I talked with her about the Scripture that tells us not to use the term “father” for anyone but God (it was on my list of questions for my pastor). Lori was Catholic. We tried to get our parents to let us visit each other’s churches, but they would not allow it.

Beginning in Middle School, my family became devoted to the teachings of the televangelist Kenneth Copeland who preached a health-and-wealth gospel message. At this time I “named and claimed” a horse. (I loved horses and desperately wanted one of my own.) I gave God a specific day that I wanted the horse to be delivered. I asked for the horse once. Then every day would thank God for answering the prayer. (Thus fulfilling the formula of naming and claiming, you see.)

It turns out that within days of God’s deadline, our family went to the circus. That year, you could walk around in the midst of the circus animals and talk with their keepers. We stopped to pet the horses and Dad engaged the keeper in conversation: “What does it cost to keep a horse? What do they eat? How much? What if you don’t have the space in your own yard? How do you go about getting a horse stabled?” I listened with an increasingly heavy heart as I grew slowly aware of the burden I was about to place on my family’s finances. God was about to deliver my horse, but I didn’t think we could afford to keep it. That night, not without tears, I cancelled my prayer.

I also cast Satan out of my pimply, adolescent face saying, as I glared passionately into the bathroom mirror: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I cast you out, Satan!” But the prayer/spell hadn’t been strong enough to actually make me wash my face every day, so results were limited.

In high school I became obsessed with Hal Lindsay and the end of the world. I read every book I could by him. I “saved” my Catholic boyfriend. (Clearly we still had lots of issues with Catholicism!) I petitioned the Christian Education committee to allow me to teach a senior high Sunday school course on The Late, Great Planet Earth. I had nightmares about the rapture and getting separated from everyone and everything I loved.

My junior year in high school I engaged in a time of intentional and rigorous agnosticism while also pursuing New Age perspectives espoused by the likes of Shirley Mac Laine and Richard Bach. I attended a Transcendental Meditation seminar with the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. (I had a kid in my youth group drive me to the hotel where the seminar was being hosted and lied to my parents about going to a movie in order to do so.) By the end of my junior year, I re-embraced Christianity because I was overcome by an experience of Easter, as I recall, feeling that the resurrected Christ was a meaningful reality in my life and therefore undeniable.

My Blanket in the Grove

A huge "Thank you!" to my brother, who designed the new banner for my humble little blog. The picture he used was one that I took about five years ago at my seminary one fall afternoon. The brilliant, red leaves had blanketed the grass in a most inviting manner. I had just received my first-ever digital camera as a promo from Dell after buying our new computers. So I took my camera outside, lay across the slightly damp ground, and took a bunch of photos with my nose in the leaves.

The grove, after which this blog is named, is just a stone's throw away from where the picture was taken. While I was in seminary I could often be found out in the middle of that grove, on my blanket, lost in delight and wonder as I read for Old Testament, Theology, Liturgy or whatever else was on the plate for the day. Truth is, I felt the only safe way for me to read and write theology was to lay prone against the earth. Anchored there, I could be permitted to soar.

I often experienced a feeling of ecstasy while in the midst of my studies at seminary. This was one of my clues that I was going to follow the academic path and not the pastoral one. But this was a bit of a catch-22 for me. One of the things that made my experience of seminary so spectacularly wonderful was its life-and-death relevance to people's lives. I worried that if I chose the academic life, I would immediately lose the relevance.

I remember walking across the grove after a class in the first semester of seminary, convinced that at any moment I was going to spin off into the sky, gravity having no hold over me any more. But by the time I got to the steps of my apartment building, just on the other side of the grove, gravity had already begun to re-assert its dominance. By the time my hand was on the door, gravity had shaped its question: can anything this fantastically pleasurable be real? How can this en-joy-ment stand against all the weight of the world? The experience had been one of ecstasy, born out of enjoyment of engaged learning. And it felt suspect.

I've experienced this conflict for years now. When I went to the Oregon Extension my junior year in college, the first day of class we had to go around in a circle and say why we had come to study there. When my turn came, I said only two words: "To know." My earnestness and headiness embarrasses me now. But it was truly my answer at the time.

Learning, teaching, knowing are erotic, passionate, ecstatic processes for me. Sometimes I love what I'm studying even before I step into the classroom--I love words, or reading, or theology. Sometimes I come to love in the midst of studying--I discover, uncover, fall off balance, search. Sometimes I'm given language for something I've always loved, but hardly knew people had developed entire language systems around such a thing--this was my experience of studying liturgy for the first time. And sometimes it's the people who are doing the teaching whom I love. All of them are interwoven.

Reading bell hooks Teaching to Transgress has served as the catalyst for these thoughts--my Ode to Learning. :) One of the things I've heard myself say most often when I'm asked why I want to teach Worship to free-church folks is that I want to help free-church folks fall in love with worship. This is true. And it delights me to think of teaching in this way: teacher as matchmaker.

Well, thanks again to my brother--for helping to make my blog a familiar place.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Symphony

Last Thursday night I went to the Symphony for the very first time. Going to the symphony has always been an ideal of mine. An unrealized ideal. Until this year. Along with some friends, I bought a subscription to this season's symphony in The City. We bought the student package. And our seats are not in the back row of the balcony. Those poor saps sit directly behind us. :)

One of my all-time favorite movies is the (non-animated version of) The Little Prince. At one point, the Little Prince is on one of the planets and he admits to what he does not know to the overbearing man who runs that particular planet by saying, "I'm ignorant!" This is how I feel about music. And, like the Little Prince, I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm ignorant. I've never taken a 'music appreciation' class; I didn't grow up listening to symphonies; and I never practiced (nor learned) piano despite twelve years of lessons.

So as I sat there on Thursday night, one row from the back wall, all I could do was experience the music. This, for someone immersed in a PhD program, is pure delight. I don't have the language to think the music through. I don't have a single tool in my box to take any piece of it apart. I don't know enough to know if I'm being manipulated, charmed, or legitimately astounded. I'm ignorant. A musical simpleton. A blank slate. Naive. A dolt. And I loved it.

The first piece was a premier of a modern composition by Wolfgang Rihm called Verwandlung (Metamorphosis). It was nearly impenetrable. It followed not a single conventional rule of music. Rihm comments, "I felt instinctively that I had no other choice but to do what I really wanted, what stemmed from nothing but my subjectivity." These words put me on alert--as an artist in other ways, I think such a beginning place leads to tremendous self-indulgence. This is fine, if one is creating for the sake of self-expression. But not all such creations need to be made public.

Even so, I opened myself to the experience of this composition, Metamorphosis. And in all my ignorance, I was moved by it. Truly.

As impressive as any part of the work itself was in the moments directly leading up to it when the conductor waited, for the most delicious amount of time, in utter silence. This, alone, I was captivated by. To hold silence with an entire crowd of people, gathered to hear music, in a room meant to conduct sound--it was inexpressibly breathtaking.

But then, the first notes opened out. They came together to give the distinctively uncomfortable feeling of feedback. Those strange harmonics merging into a nonsensical note. Beginning, then ending into nothingness. If there was any kind of motif in this composition, it was the discomfort of these notes joining up.

The composition was constantly beginning and ending, and breaking in between. Until, somewhere in the middle, a rattle began to gather. Gather. Cohere. The rattle itself unsettled because it was unintelligible--it fell on the ear like noise, nothing else. A mistake. But as it gathered and cohered, it began to be intelligible, but no less unsettling. Because I slowly realized it was the sound of a military drum. A march. And not long after it becomes intelligible, it swells terrifyingly close, then almost as quickly distances again. A perfect doppler effect created of troops marching close enough to rattle the living room windows. Images of the Prague Spring seemed to flood the space for me. I can only imagine invading troops through the images of movies.

In the midst of these drums, which came in close one more time, one of the percussion guys grabbed two pieces of plywood hinged together at one end, and slapped them together several times. It was a whimsy to the piece that was entirely visual. I loved it.

After this, the composition, well, de-composed again. It fell off into pieces, beginnings, false starts, endings, broken. The motif of feedback trembled back now and then. Until the same opening note(s) quivered again, and the piece ceased.

Later, as my friends and I pondered it, one of us asked why it would be called Metamorphosis--because nothing happened in it, the composition went no where. The question got me to wondering--if you engaged with the piece as though it started with the opening sounds, moved through a middle (whose point would have been the military drums), and ended with the closing sounds, then the piece, indeed, went absolutely no where. But what if the beginning were not the beginning? And the end, not the end? What if the beginning for this piece was the military drums? And the rest of the composition moved out from the center, like ripples do after a stone is dropped in a lake? Then the metamorphosis is the shifting of space through music that results despite the terror of invading soldiers. Then music, even broken music, becomes transformative of terror.

And now, as I write this, I glance down at the playbill from that night's composition. And I discover this paragraph:

Yet for all the presence of traditional genres and instrumentation in his music, Rihm's approach to composition eschews linearity and the classical concepts of beginning and end. Much of his work involves a fascination with juxtaposing fragmentary elements. He learned, too, from Debussy, the dynamic nature of form not as a pre-existing pattern but as something that must be invented 'from scratch' with each new piece. For Rihm, form is 'the shape of change.' Like the self, form must be constructed according to specific and unique circumstances.

Well. How 'bout that??? Not bad for a neophyte, huh? I still don't know if the piece has any real artistic merit. I worry that I was taken by the nose and manipulated into thinking that because the piece was so impenetrable, surely it must have meant something. But I was glad for the ride into a world where I was not asked to be expert.

I know this entry is ridiculously long already, but I've been wanting to write about this stuff for three days now. So I want to add one more observation.

We moved into more acceptable territory for the remainder of the evening's performance, with R. Strauss and Brahms rounding out the bill. And yet, because of the first piece, my ear was opened to hear the dissonance and occasional cacophony of both Strauss and Brahms (and both surprised me). And, because of the gorgeous silence which opened us out at the beginning, I felt the moments of silence which dappled through the evening to be every bit a part of the music as the notes themselves. Even the rustle of the pages as the musicians switched pieces between songs (and before the agreed-upon concluding applause) seemed to play a secret-laden role in the night's performance.

It was just a lovely, magical experience.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lenten Lives

I think Lent may be my favorite season. (Or it may be that my favorite season is the one I'm in.) There is a deepening that takes place in Lent. A constant sense of invitation. There is a sense of urgency to it, but it's the urgency of a shoot breaking out of the soil. Not the urgency of things that need to get done.

I have spent Lenten seasons weeping, weeping. Feeling the awful burden of broken life. Weeping through every prayer. Only ceasing to weep when I would sing. I have spent Lenten seasons feeling the absence of alleluias.

And I have walked through Lents in contentment, beautiful contentment. Feeling Spring break in around me. Drawing my hand across the bark of every tree I passed. Noticing the yellows and startling greens of Spring's first growth.

I have had silent Lents. And barely noticed it was Lent. Surprised all the more by Easter's triumph.

I have knelt to receive ashes and I have refused ashes altogether. I've been the penitent. And I've lit cigarettes and tried surly on for size.

This year, a recurring theme I've heard already for Lent has been rest. One student in our class said her church is using the phrase "Rest and Relaxation" as their Lenten slogan this year. She kind of rolled her eyes, because the phrase struck her as shallow. But I'm not sure.

Yesterday, at the Episcopal Church, the pastor in her homily talked about the quietness of Lent, the sense of time set apart for study, prayer, and to open ourselves to God's relationship with us. She spoke of the wellspring in the desert, of our need for the "moisture of our baptism," and the wellspring in our hearts.

Last night, I heard similar themes. An invitation to put aside busy-ness and rest in God's presence. Not a command to do so. A demand of the season. But an invitation. Slow. Breathe. Rest. Bask. Open.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"You've got something on your head there..."

First, to say this--I felt my first ever real earthquake this morning! Wihoo! So the earth really does move, it turns out. Here I grew up thinking it was rock.

So I went down to the Episcopal church nearby to take part in their noon Eucharist for Ash Wednesday. I'll be going to my own church tonight, but I went to this neighborhood service as a sort of 'freebie.' Just a chance to sit and not feel even a little responsible for any part of the service.

It was lovely. About thirty people there in a tiny chapel (not the main sanctuary). The homily was beautiful--a gentle, warm invitation to slow down, notice God, open ourselves to God's relationship with us in the days ahead. It was like soothing balm after the sandpaper scriptures for the day.

The lectionary folks were really at their most brilliant/persnickity selves in their selection of the day's texts, weren't they? Especially the gospel for the day! It starts out with a bang:
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven."
So, what do you do with that?

After the service, I walked down to the Thai place and got some lunch to bring home for D and me. As I stood considering what to get, the woman behind the counter scrambled to get a napkin for me: "You've got something on your head there," she said, kindly offering me the napkin.

"It's okay." I grinned at her, "They're ashes."

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" she said, clearly embarrassed. I assured her it was okay, and laughed with her. "I just got them." I apologized, with the gospel text still ringing in my ears. As if to say, "I don't mean to display my piety! My bad!"

When I got home, I rubbed off the boldness of the ash. But I couldn't quite bring myself to remove all of it. I so rarely get to express my faith in a physical sense. I was loathe to erase this particular embodiment of my faith.

So my question, I guess, is: In a culture that believes faith is a private matter, might the counter-cultural nature of 'displaying your piety' be more radical than keeping it hidden? How long do you keep the ashes on your head?