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why? [two artists tuesday]

even nature is asking why

i have asked more than one person if they feel as i do – like they are living in an alternate reality.

from the moment i broke both my wrists to now, the smack-dab middle of the pandemic, it has felt that way – like we are in some kind of alternate reality.  a reality with different rules.  a different set of mores.  different judgment.  why?

when i used to be a minister of music, way-back-when in florida over 30 years ago, i worked with a wonderfully-southern georgia tech pastor, kirk.  we had a long tenure together and implicitly relied on each other.  at a distinct point in time, he decided to turn over all the wedding rehearsals to me.  i remember the moment of that decision, the moment he sighed, exasperated at the disrespectful lack of regard for simple guidelines.

the rehearsal ahead of time went well.  we lined up the wedding party and they walked up the aisle to their chosen music, went through the faked vows and such and then walked back down the aisle.  kirk, in his treasured drawl, slowly reiterated the guidelines to them about the next day – their wedding day.  the guidelines were common sense:  reminders about what to do or not do and how to be sure that this very-important-day would escape judgment by the perspective-of-time years later.

they did not heed his advice.

instead, the groom showed up inebriated, as did the videographer.

the groom stumbled multiple times over his vows, and, literally being held up by the bride, finally punted out, “forever and ever, till we die” in lieu of the more delicate loving words of the standard vow.  the videographer vaulted over the stationary communion rail in the front of the sanctuary and sprinted to the back of the church in an effort to beat the wedding party there and film their exit.  it was a circus.  i wonder how they view all that now, decades later, with judgment-as-it-passes-through-the years.  did it stand the test of time?  i wonder if they ask, ‘why?’

we are living this now.

we have a choice.

to decide to prevail by the pandemic safety guidelines and be able to look back with clear consciences, knowing we did all we could to heed advice, or to throw caution to the wind and see what happens.

looking around, watching as people react and push back against this very-important-time, i suspect judgment will not be on our side; it will not stand the test of time.

and years from now, we will ask – why?

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY

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the organ bench. [k.s. friday]

organ pipes

no one else.  there was literally no one else i knew who took organ lessons.  eight years old and i was the only one.  everyone else i knew took piano lessons.  they went to the new local music store –munro music on larkfield road in east northport – and had lessons in itty studios downstairs and came back upstairs to pick out sheet music from a big wall featuring the latest hits and books of collected artists, written out for various levels of piano-playing ability.  me?  i went to mr. i-never-knew-if-he-even-had-a-first-name sexton’s house (now, think about the torture my peers had with that name) and took organ lessons in the addition adjacent to the garage.  there was no wall of sheet music, were no cool guitars hanging up begging to be purchased, no amplifiers or drums.  just that one organ.  no windy or ode to billie joe or i’m a believer easy piano for me.  it was beautiful dreamer and long, long ago.  and hymns.  lots of hymns.  but i had been asking for lessons since i was five and the little chord organ that was my grandmother’s was moved aside and a ‘real’ organ with two manuals (keyboards) and real pedals and cha-cha button settings was added to the corner of the dining room that was next to the kitchen and the living room.

when i was ten i tearfully played the pipe organ for my brother’s wedding, the processional as my sweet sister-in-law walked down the aisle to my big brother.  yesterday i was talking to john whelan, a master celtic accordionist the exact same age as me, and we talked about the first real gig we did.  his was at 12 and he actually got paid.  mine was this wedding and, for obvious reasons, payment was out of the question.  i got to wear a really pretty peach-colored party dress and white shoulder stole and wept my way through the difficult piece.

after some time, i somehow convinced my parents that they needed both an organ and a piano and they signed me up for piano lessons.  joan ostrander, the very chic music teacher, was my first piano teacher and i adored her.  she pushed me and i adored that too.  i spent long hours practicing on the piano bench with my dog missi sleeping underneath, my dad whistling in the background.

in years to come i studied with the teacher-of-all-teachers alan walker and was convinced that the piano and i were kindred.  i taught more piano lessons on long island (and later florida and even wisconsin) than i can remember, back then driving from one house to another, delighting in each student’s joy playing the piano and progress no matter the pace, hoping to emulate the teaching style of this amazingly kind man.  after lessons we talked life and ham radio and ate open-faced crunchy peanut butter sandwiches.  music is not just about music, you know.

during my undergrad, i studied piano in college with one of the professors but kept bringing in pieces of original music and kept veering off course from assigned large scale pieces, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

as no real surprise, i majored in music composition, the first (?) step toward living as an artist, the first step in a road that leads to here and now.  so much in-between.  the gigging composer music timeline is filled with albums, concerts, performances, cd sales, radio and tv, qvc appearances, barnes & noble and borders, listening wall placement, phone calls, yamaha, traveling, shipping and more shipping, recording labels, carrying boxes, standing in the rain on flatbed trucks playing and singing, driving, driving, driving, press releases, graphic design, writing, recording, supportive family and friends and coworkers and a person named hope hughes.

but that organ.  it has kept on re-appearing.  somehow it is one of the threads that has woven its way through my life.  there aren’t that many of us out here:  people who play the organ, who can finesse a chosen timbre through the pipes and who can actually play lines of bass notes on the pedals.  those lessons from the very beginning somehow set the stage for me to work for three decades already as a minister of music.  conducting choirs and handbells and ukulele bands and worship bands, choosing music for services and performing groups, leading and shaping worship and, yep, playing the organ…it has been a constant.  there are days that i will pull out all the stops and play as loud as the organ pipes will allow.  its bellowing echoes through the sanctuary and i giggle as i think of my ten year old self, sitting on an organ bench in williston park on long island and crying.

what would i have thought if i had known that fifty years later i would still be sitting on an organ bench?

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noodling. [k.s. friday]

the art of noodling

we can never repeat it.  that piece we played together during a quiet moment in the service.  moments where notes suspended, combined with hearts and lingered in the air.  we noodled our way through it and, even just after it was over, we could not speak to how it was shaped or where it went.

it is my absolute joy to work with someone who can join me in this.  jim, our beloved guitarist, is a ready partner.  hand signals of the key, head nod count offs and we are on our way.  sometimes the noodling takes us to a more intense, busy place and sometimes it is the stuff of nirvana, peaceful, thoughtful serenity.  always it is rewarding for both of us; we share a smile when it’s done and know that the ethers now own that piece of music.  never to be repeated.

improvisation is a driving force – we play at least seven pieces of music every service.  with skeletal lead sheets we choose how to perform each one.  sometimes we liken our performance to ‘how it was done on the recording’ and sometimes we have our own agenda, working it into the style or feel we wish it to convey.  but, because we don’t simply read every note on the page (since they aren’t on the page), we know the performance of each piece will also never be repeated.  it is not likely that most realize we are drawing from deep inside, from knowledge or experience, from heart, when we play.  they likely think we are reading music that is all written out.  i don’t suppose it matters what they think as long as we deliver what we intend.  as long as we shape the service emotionally, for that is what the music is all about.

as a composer, my favorite moments, in addition to those sweet moments of harmony when we, with our respective instruments sing and can hear the lining up of the stars, are those moments of noodling.  we have no fear of what’s next.  we have no preconceived notion of where to go.  we just start.  and we follow where the music leads us.  it’s ephemeral.  it starts from the dust and returns to the dust.  and is never to be repeated.

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rough cuts. [k.s. friday]

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rough cuts.  there are lots of them.  recorded on an iRiver or an iPhone so i don’t forget.  scraps of paper with lyrics and chord indications, rhythms jotted above the words, a few melodic notes scribbled in the margins or throughout the page.  songs that haven’t yet been recorded.  songs that may some day be recorded.  songs that will never be recorded.  rough cuts.

before the cantata i prepared for this holiday season i had carefully selected music – all contemporary pieces, all meaningful lyrics that i felt would resonate with those watching, making the experience touch their hearts.  but, as i mentioned in a past post, i’m pretty picky and there was this one song.  after playing around with it with the band, i deleted it from the line-up.  with a spot still to fill in-between narrative, i decided to write a new song to fill the slot.  this is the song i wrote –  YOU’RE HERE – and you can listen to a very rough cut of it recorded on my iPhone played on an out-of-tune church piano if you click here.

it’s been a long while since i recorded an album.  more time has passed than i ever thought possible.  i wonder which songs in my rough cut collection will make it onto the next album.  i wonder if there will be a next album.

in the meanwhile, i’ll keep paper by the piano and have my cellphone ready.  the iRiver is in the drawer, along with the microcassette recorder and a pile of cdr’s.  maybe the presence of at-the-ready songs will eventually tilt the earth and i’ll be back in the studio.  maybe people buying cds will come back into vogue.  maybe i will record on vinyl (again).  maybe it will all be virtual.  more to stream.  (note my tone of voice.)  maybe.

or maybe i’ll just put the piano at full stick, pull up a boom stand, throw on a mic and sing.

listen to the rough cut of YOU’RE HERE by clicking here or on the image just below:

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“you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” [merely-a-thought monday]

dream

i found a note the other day, tucked inside a book.  it was a jotting-down-of-a-memory and was a quote from The Boy.  he was five and he said, “look at how i can snap (my fingers).  at 5 years old!!  i could become a snap teacher and teach everyone how to snap!”  never too young to dream.

jen is zealous.  she is reallyyyy zealous.  i don’t think i have known anyone who is as zealous a learner as jen.  it is invigorating and inspiring to be around someone who embraces all she does not know with questions and a hope for understanding, as opposed to resistance or suspicion.  she actively seeks out ways to learn the new, the unknown, wholeheartedly jumping in and swimming.  she knows that vitality comes with opening yourself to new things.

pantene recently ran a new video series.  it’s referencing the holidays and in it transgender people talk about what it’s like to go home.  it’s breathtakingly sad the number of LGBTQ women and men who are not welcomed at home because someone cannot learn, ask questions, try to understand.  instead, resistance and suspicion and a whole lot of judgement fiercely reign and the dream of being all together celebrating is devastatingly dashed.  squelching another’s dreams is not the ultimate job of our job as humankind.

yesterday i conducted a christmas cantata.  ahead of time, i had, for hours and hours on end, researched songs to find the pieces i felt would resonate with people, the pieces that would be generously bestowing of spirit and not off-putting.  i looked for the language i thought would tug at their hearts and remind them of the light, the miracle of the season.  when one song didn’t quite fit for me after i had chosen it, i wrote a new one.   they were labeled ‘contemporary’ songs, with melodies, rhythm, chords, years of copyright differing from the hymns in the hymnals.  over thirty people participated:  a choir, a ukulele band, a worship band, a violinist, a violist.  the result was truly beautiful, the message clear and the music gorgeous.  our little church – a church that proudly purports to be reconciling and all-embracing – had moments truly holy in that service.

h is 93.  every week at rehearsal he is ready and willing to learn something.  he is steeped in traditional – after all, he is 93, his year of copyright long ago.  and yet, those new melodies, harmony, challenging rhythms he has learned to sing have brought a freshness of life to him.  never too old to dream.  he knows that vitality comes with opening yourself to new things.

but back to yesterday.  i remain unfulfilled in one way.  because the sad part about yesterday?  all the work and time that these dedicated volunteers had put into this cantata – with my careful choices based on over thirty years as a minister of music – was not seen by the first service folks.  the word ‘contemporary’ made it unfathomable for that service to host without complaint, relegating it only to the second service.  the spirit of camaraderie, the support of the efforts of others in their own church, the truly beautiful music that was made was lost on this first service.  i try to understand their dedication to traditional music, to choice, and i heartedly honor it in selecting music for every other week of the church year.  but i fail to understand their unwillingness to even try to embrace something else, something ‘new’.  i fail to understand any reinforcement of ‘different’, of divisiveness. especially as simply one day and a festive community celebration of the holiday.  especially when churches are constantly looking for relevancy and vitality is one of the necessary ingredients.  they do not know what they missed.  closing off.  what they are missing.

jen and h would like each other.  they both openly embrace new.  they both openly embrace others.  they both dream dreams, happily engaging in life, snapping.  what a gift to be around.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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picky. [k.s. friday]

christmas composing

this is at least the 30th christmas.  the 30th one that i was responsible for making sure that other people – in various congregations through the years – feeeeel it.  the 30th one where i have chosen music to reflect the season, the love, the light…and to be certain that it was all accessible to the people listening, to be certain it touched them, to be certain it made them think and celebrate, to be certain it spoke to their faith.

i am pretty picky.  i don’t like kitschy.  i don’t like trite endings.  i don’t like certain chord progressions.  i don’t like when songs, in an inane effort to be interesting, modulate up in key (the kind of modulation where you expect bubbles to be released into the air).   i don’t like certain kinds of lyrics or songs that are preachy.  i don’t like songs that imply elitism in any way, including any kind of religious denominational dominance.

i have reviewed a zillion cantatas through the years.  (a cantata for a church is a combination of narrative and song, telling a story, embracing a theme, usually anywhere from 30-60 minutes in length.  the more traditional cantatas are oftentimes stunningly beautiful but are difficult for volunteer choirs to sing and, frankly, for congregations to sit through.)  many more recent cantatas are like buying a record album…many of the songs are really good but there’s always one or two that are throwaways.  i have revised every cantata i have ever purchased for a choir.  ask any choir director and she/he will tell you that they are revising and improvising on the fly.  if they aren’t, well, i just don’t even know what to say about that.

one year, in particular, back in the late 90’s, i was particularly displeased with the cantata samples i had been sent.  so i sat down one night and started writing my own.  it was the beginning of november and, because we published the actual faxes that went back and forth between me and my producer, you can see that i composed all hours of the day and night and he arranged all hours of the day and night.  i had the choir working on drafts that were printed out in the wee hours of the morning, as we continued arranging and re-arranging.  the pieces pretty much dropped out of the universe to my hands and i loved conducting this cantata THE LIGHT IS HERE! that year and a few more times through the years since, honing the narration and revisiting the language in an attempt to keep it contemporary.  after all, surprisingly, the late 90’s were two decades ago now.

a few nights ago at band practice we were running through the pieces i had selected for this year’s special music schmear (my word instead of ‘cantata’ which is sorely outdated and makes people stay away.)  one song, though well-intended, was just plain wrong.  so i pulled it out.

the next day i reached for paper and a pencil and wrote a new song for that slot.  it’s a solo so at least the choir and the ukulele band don’t have to learn it at this late date (although they are used to having to go-with-the-flow).

in my position as a minister of music, it’s not my job to just play any old thing or direct any old piece, dis-regarding how it speaks to the listener, ignoring whether it is accessible, whether its message is relevant or timely, whether it invites someone in.  instead, it’s my job – as i see it – to open listeners’ minds and hearts, to wrap them in music and lyric that resonates, that challenges, that reassures.

someday i will no longer be a minister of music.  i will sit on a mountaintop or at the edge of a lake or on a riverbed and i will listen to the sounds of this beautiful earth in celebration of every season.  i will not be responsible for making sure others feeeeel it.  i will just sit quietly, all the music i could ever need surrounding me.

in the meanwhile, i will be picky.  it’s a curse.  and i guess a blessing, as they say.  picky.

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maturity in season of life. [two artists tuesday]

maturity with background

this came across my desk last week. “maturity in season of life.” part of a minister of music job description, i was struck by the unguarded language, the bow to what only time and experience can teach.  i have never seen this written as such before.  it was bracing in every GOOD way.  it was appreciatory.  it was a breath of fresh air.

in a society that seeks to remain youthful and puts less emphasis on maturity in season of life than on staying young, we need remember there’s a place for everyone.  some places require youth, fresh and breathing hard from the sprint.  other places recognize the need for the steadfast wisdom of the ages, a decision-maker-doer who brings a lifetime of positive and negative experiences and knows how to differentiate between them, has an intuition built on time and the ever-growing wealth of lessons.  the seesaw has room for both; the fulcrum can only balance with both.

as two artists living together, we are more than aware of the challenge of ageism, the challenge of time spent in our artistry and how that relates to value.  more than a thousand times we have each been admonished for thinking we need to be paid when we should be grateful for the “exposure” we are being “granted”.  more than a thousand times we have each been in a place where we have had to explain why our artistry needs to be financially rewarded just like anyone else’s work.

indeed, pay scales have been built to reflect time spent and job descriptions use verbiage like “pay is commensurate with experience.”  experience.  maturity:  “the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner.  being aware of the correct time and location to behave and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances and the culture of the society (read: job) one lives in (read: one works in).”

i recently was having a written messaging chat with a hard-working young adult whose job is in the arts.  with these challenges facing him every day, he said that people do not realize that “they’re paying me to know what to do if things don’t go well.”  intuition.  working on the fly based on training, knowledge and an ever-building bank of experiences.   he will continue to face that challenge; it will only deepen.  how is that maturity measured?  how will he be paid for that maturity, for that which he cannot describe and for which others cannot fathom?  for some reason, in this society, it is easier to answer that question if you are doing a numbers job, something seemingly more concrete, more measurable, more quantifiable.

but maturity in season of life touches others as well and we have dear friends who have been ‘let go’ from their jobs simply because of their age.  now, their companies would never testify to that and are careful to avoid such language – for that would set them up for all kinds of legal problems – but it has been clear to our friends, struggling to find a new way in later days of their lives.  few and far between are those who are able to benefit by pointing out the error of their ways to the company that is undervaluing a later human-on-this-earth season.  other friends are fortunate enough to be working somewhere that has deeply valued the long time they have spent in their work and these friends have retired with spoken words of gratitude and wishes of continued good living.  where is the fulcrum?

in this particular document that came across my desk, the whole phrase read, “maturity in season of life and maturity in ministry experience.”  shockingly, they are seeking this as a qualifier and they are willing to pay for it.  speaking directly to that qualifier that beautifully honors the wisdom of the ages, there are things that, as a minister of music at 19 i did not know.  there are things that, as a minister of music at 32 i did not know.  likewise, as a 30-years-as-a-minister-of-music at days-away-from-60, of course there are things i do not know.

what i DO know is that every experience i have had as a minister of music has built upon the last.  instead of a chasm where learnings have dropped rapid-fire into an abyss, i have learned what the important stuff is and how to attempt to keep those things foremost.

like anyone in any job, mastery is commensurate with time spent, with growth in that work, and yes, without exception, with maturity in season of life.

“take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” (desiderata)

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY

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chicken marsala monday

sometimesfaith WITH EYES jpeg copy 3“…well, i will walk by faith, well, even when i cannot see, because this broken road prepares your will for me…” (lyrics from a really great 2002 song by jeremy camp called ‘walk by faith’)

“we walk by faith and not by sight….” (19th century lyrics from a 1984 hymn ‘we walk by faith’ by marty haugen)

trust.  practice.  faith.  repeat.  not necessarily in that order.  through the ages, a common challenge – faith without seeing.  ‘we’ are no different now than ‘they’ were ‘back then.’  faith.  it’s ambiguous.

it’s funny.  you might think that the most faith-reinforcing moments come during a service and this true for some.  as a minister of music for three decades, i have always sought to create those moments for others…when all things come together:  music, lyrics, emotion to amplify the words (and the word) spoken in the service and resonate within someone’s heart and reinforce their feelings of faith. it is a job i take seriously; sometimes you only have one chance to help connect a service with a person’s heart, one chance to reassure, one chance to raise awareness, one chance to have them ask questions within their faith, to challenge their assumptions for and otherwise.

for me, though, the most faith-reinforcing moments are outside of the faith-based venue, be it a church, temple, cathedral, mosque.  they are the moments that i can feel the hugeness of this universe of God and my absolute tiny-ness within it:  walking in the woods, standing in the sunlight, looking out on a mountain, holding hands, seeing the moon rise over the lake, watching the surf, seeing love pass between two people’s eyes, hearing my children’s voices, finding the right chord for a song, eating breakfast on the deck in the sun with cardinals, hearing music swell…

as a minister of music, i have heard a lot of sermons and been at an un-countable number of services.  think about it.  (and this is not counting all the years not spent in this position, nor does it count all the extra services at certain times of the year…you’re thinking, “ok, ok, ohmygosh, we get it!” )  so thirty years multiplied by 52 weeks multiplied by at least two services a sunday (sometimes three, but we will round it to two, as you roll your eyes.)  that equals 3,120 services and sermons.  and let me just mention, some have been…ummm…way better than others.  so you would likely deduce that i would know all the stories of the old and new testaments pretty well by now.  well, i beg to differ with you.  for me, those stories are peripheral.

what really counts for me is the stuff you can’t see with your eyes, the things you can only experience:  love, kindness, peace, generosity…  simplicities.  complexities.  these are the foundations of my faith.  faith in goodness.  faith in being held.  faith in grace. choosing actions that are life-giving.  knowing that if i fail today, i can try again tomorrow.  walking the broken road, faithfully believing that there is a higher power that i can’t see but i can experience.  one that surrounds me in my joy and in my pain.  ptom, in his lenten sermon the other evening, said, “God is for you.”  it takes a little (read:  a lot of) practice; it’s a new day every new day.  but i believe.

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always an honor.

img_3625.jpgi played for a funeral today. the family celebrated the life of a beautiful young woman who i didn’t know, but who, through the stories told, sounded lovely. the sanctuary was full and boxes of tissues were numerous throughout the pews. my heart hurt for them; i was upstairs in the balcony, separated from this family, but joined in the feeling of what grief can do.

someone asked me if it was hard to play for funerals, if i would prefer not to. completely opposite of that, i am honored to play for a funeral. it is the last public celebration of someone’s life; it is sobering to think that you can play a part in maybe, just maybe, providing something that might be comforting to people in pain. as a minister of music i often play for funerals and for weddings as well; both are gifts, reminders of holding on to the people we love, letting these people know we love them. trite, maybe. but sitting in a balcony gazing down at those who have gathered to celebrate the coming-together of two lives or the time a person has spent in their midst cuts to the core of my soul and i always find myself weeping. i am fortunate to work with an amazing pastor whose extra-tall physical presence belies his soft heart. his voice cracks in emotional response in these difficult times. i feel lucky to be around someone who has so much empathy and compassion; our world truly needs more pToms.

years ago i played for my brother’s funeral. in recent years, my dad’s and my sweet momma’s. they were devastatingly hard to play for, but i wouldn’t have had it any other way. i chose music i knew my dad and my mom would want, hymns that were their personal favorites, melody and lyrics that have meant something to them. i played a song i wrote for each of them. it was an unbelievable honor to have this important role in the celebration of their lives.

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my big bro and me. way too long ago.

today is my big brother’s birthday. wayne would have been 67 today.  i have often spoken of him in my writings. i don’t think there is a day that goes by without my thinking of him. i miss him. i say that each year. it never changes. grief is like that. it’s just there. the desperate moments, well, they ease up. but the i-wish-he-was-here moments – they keep coming.

today i sat on the organ bench and, in a moment of overwhelm, dug my phone out of my bag. i texted d…that this young woman was so…young. and that it took my breath away. it made me want to hug both of my children that very moment. impossible, with the girl in the middle of a move from one mountain range to another, and the boy in the middle of a beautiful boston day. so i texted d, who i knew understood all the layers of heart that playing for this service today touched. hard. not my favorite thing to do. but always, always an honor.


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the view-master

a couple sundays ago i had the honor of speaking for a few moments to our church congregation.  normally, the hat i wear at trinity is a minister of music hat, but i was happy to speak a few words (ok, maybe more than a few…i am not the most succinct person on this planet) during that service.  the service was called “a joyful noise” sunday and it was day dedicated to a hymn sing.

taking into account the lessons to be read during the service and expanding on a recent writing, i prepared a few words on Joy.  a couple of  people have since asked me to publish this here and so, this is what i said:

IMG_0021This is a view-master. It’s pretty old-school.  Each time I push the lever a new snapshot is available to look at, to ponder. I recently realized that this is the way I write. And so, with respect, I’d like to offer a few viewmaster moments that make me think about joy.

It’s that time of year. There are pictures in the Kenosha News of students moving into campus at Carthage. Any day now there will be pictures of the first days of school at Unified. Nine years ago, right around now, i stood on the University of Minnesota campus. We had packed up the little Scion till you couldn’t even fit a Snickers bar into any of the spaces left. The entire car was glowing pink. The girl – that’s my daughter Kirsten – and her roommate were decorating in pink. Pink everything. Pink comforters, pink bins, pink rugs, pink shower pails. We unloaded into the dorm….traipsing with everyone through the halls, lugging huge futon boxes and armloads of clothes. Organizing the dormroom through the day I struggled to keep finding tasks, maybe to delay my leaving for just a little longer. We walked outside and started to stroll on campus when she turned to me and said, “I think I’m going to go.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I am going to go – to the union.” I realized it was time. Every word of wisdom I had wanted to relay to her dropped out of the synapses in my brain and I stood staring at her. I told her to go be her, to be amazing and I loved her. She walked away, with great anticipation, grace, excitement. With great joy. I stood and watched, tears in my eyes. My cellphone buzzed. There was a text from her. It read – “Don’t be sad, mom. Be ecstatic. I love you.” I drove home – alone. When I got there I put on laundry, cause that’s what my mom did when she was upset. In the putting on of laundry, I had to move one load into the dryer. I took out a dryer sheet and out of the dryer sheet box flew an index card. It read, “Thinking of you. With love from Minnesota.” The girl had hidden 31 of these around the house. Bringing joy.

Be ecstatic. Joy. Joy is our right. Joy is our responsibility.

My momma was rushed to the emergency room. Because we were there in Florida visiting her, we were able to meet her there at the ER. She had fallen and was in tremendous pain. At 93 a fall was dangerous and there was worry about her hip. For hours we were in the little examining room, waiting, watching, reassuring. It was the middle of the night and the attending nurse was obviously exhausted. She was a capable young woman, but had little patience and wasn’t friendly or smiling much. My sweet momma, in her pain, gazed up at her, smiled gently and said, “I wish I had your beautiful smile.” That moment. The moment that she brought joy to someone else, changed everything. The nurse was deeply affected by her words, which changed everything in the room, and, I suspect, in all the concentric circles that reached outward, including ours.

Joy. Our right. Our responsibility. Doesn’t one lead to the other?

When I interviewed for the job of minister of music here at Trinity they asked me several questions. Then they asked me if I had anything I wanted to add. (As you would suspect) I said that I did. I wanted to add that my mission as minister of music had formed through about 25 years of work in churches and with people volunteering to be a part of the music programs in those churches. The most important thing to me to tell them was that I feel deeply that the music and the music program in a church is about JOY. It is not about perfection. Like any musician (or anyone for that matter) I love when things go perfectly. But if perfection is the mission that they wanted at Trinity, I was not the right person. I have found if you expect perfection, you lose joy. If you expect joy, you find perfection.

We worship together and sing in community. Each of the songs we sing is a moment in time that we bring to worship, whether it is in a traditional hymn or a contemporary song. We offer songs of praise and songs of love and songs of yearning and songs of hope. We don’t come here expecting to get joy. We bring joy. And that? That begets joy. Our right. Our responsibility.

We were walking through Menards (like Home Depot, for those of you not in Menards-land)  and passed a sign that read “Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.” This immediately made me think of my best friend since the time I was three. This saying was what she had chosen to put in her yearbook under her picture. Somehow, forty years later, because I am ridiculously thready, I still remembered this. What was really funny was that when she and her husband visited this summer, she didn’t remember this at all. (I believe she just set about to live it.) These days we are surrounded by sayings and words of inspiration on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Menards. Sometimes they feel trite. But that’s only because they are so prevalent. They are no less real. No less worthy. They just flatten out because we see so much of them. We tend to not notice as deeply anymore. Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.

Sally’s momma’s farmhouse is for sale. Although, with a deep root there, she is able to find her way around the rooms, she doesn’t recognize it as hers anymore because she is in the throes of dementia. So when they were there, Sally said her momma saw the for sale sign and told Sally she’d like to buy it. Sally explained that then her momma would be far away – hours -from her grown children and they wouldn’t be able to be with her. She asked her momma what she would do all day. “Play the piano,” she said. “I’d play the piano.” Joy is not really complicated.

I read a striking CNN article about Hurricane Harvey and a man named Mr. Harding. I want to share part of it with you:
One of his sons is an avid piano player and was concerned the family’s piano would be destroyed by flood water. When Mr. Harding found the water hadn’t covered the piano, he sat down and began to play. “I decided to take a moment and play and take it all in,” he told CNN on Thursday. He posted the video of the moment on Instagram with the caption, “I think it’s all finally sinking in a little. What we used to have going as a city is gone. I really think God is going to do something completely new here. I am excited to see the new beauty in the suffering.” Joy.

Early yesterday morning we sat in bed, sipping coffee, early morning sunshine streaming in the windows, a cool breeze crossing the room. We could hear the birds, the squirrels, the sounds of our sweet neighbors John and Michele clinking silverware and plates, making breakfast. Babycat and Dogdog laid on the bed snoring. IMG_0024No matter the worries or sadnesses, challenges or problems that would befall us in the day or days to come, that moment was a picture of JOY.  A view-master snapshot of what is in our very fibre if we notice. Our God-given right. Our God-given responsibility.