Monthly Archives: May 2013

Song of the Week: Blessings

Blessings

Our choir at church is doing an SATB version of this song by Laura Story. The words and ideas struck me, and I heard the solo version on the radio while doing some painting at our church yesterday. I took that as a sign that I should post it here. Enjoy!

Here’s a condensed version of an interview with Laura Story in which she talks about how the song came to be written.

Laura Story had a highly successful career as a contemporary Christian singer. She would have described herself as blessed in the conventional sense of the word. In 2005, she married a handsome athlete and began working in music and women’s ministry at the 4,000-member Perimeter Church in Atlanta. Her 2008 national debut Great God Who Saves, won a Dove Award for Inspirational Album and earned Laura two consecutive nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year
But a brain tumor hospitalized her husband in 2006. The faith Story sang about was put through the unexpected fires of fear and loneliness. Most young newlyweds don’t imagine being kept alive at one point by breathing machines or having to find their way through significant post-operative vision and memory loss. Could grace notes resound from such a life-altering struggle?
The answer, according to Laura, is a resounding “Yes!” She declares, “We have a voice that wasn’t there prior to this suffering. I can hardly begin to tell you of the hundreds of hurting people we’ve prayed with, people going through more than we have. This is a chance to share the Gospel.” The song “Blessings” came from her experience.
She says of it:
The song shows that we still have more questions than answers. But there’s a decision that I find God is asking us to make. Are we going to judge God based on our circumstances, or are we going to choose to interpret our circumstances based on what we hold to be true about God?
Our circumstances have magnified the blessing of marriage. As high school sweethearts, we faced the strong chance that our long-awaited marriage bond might last just two years. Once you’ve rallied through a life-threatening illness together, the rest of it is like a surprise; every day is a new gift that might not have been there. It’s not as big a deal now if he leaves his socks on the floor.
It hasn’t been easy. Everyone wants to be a mature and equipped follower, but would I have signed up had I known what it would take? God has grown us up, deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for Him as a Savior, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it.
Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship Him. Martin hasn’t received complete healing, and that can be hard when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, “Yes, this is how faith works. God has proven to be faithful.”
We have been truly blessed out of a circumstance that at first didn’t seem like much of a blessing at all. God is love. He tells us so repeatedly in the Bible. Yet sometimes it doesn’t feel like He loves us. What if we pray for our loved ones to make it through, but they pass away before we even say goodbye? What if we pray for our children to grow up healthy but instead we watch them suffer a life-threatening illness? What if we pray for that little extra money to make ends meet, but we end up losing our home?
It’s devastating when we don’t see God’s answers to our prayers. “We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.” What if the very thing that is best for us isn’t the same as what we’re praying for? All the while, God hears each spoken need. He loves us way too much to give us lesser things. God is watching over always, directing every moment we experience. So if He isn’t answering our prayers how we think He should, does that mean He isn’t answering? Or could it be something else? Could it possibly be that He’s really blessing us?

Wise words, and wise thoughts to think about.

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Waltz of the Cicadas

Cicada

Well, the cicadas have been out for about three weeks or so now, so I suppose I need to write about them.  I recall they came out the year I graduated from college,  in ’70. That would be 1970, not 1870, as you might expect. They were all over the place then, and I associate them with my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, who squealed and jumped every time she came across one of them. And there were a lot of them on the sidewalks. The way she reacted to them is one reason I broke up with there. The other reasons are not important now.

I hear the eerie siren call (except I don’t need to be tied to no mast to resist it) of the cicadas every time I step outside the house, and sometimes when it’s really quiet, I hear them inside the house. When that business started a while back, I thought a pipe had burst. No, donkey, it’s only the invasion of the seventeen-year insectoids. Their sound reminds me of the noise made by alien space ships in the ’50’s sci-fi films. They’re out there in the woods, and they’re planning to take us over! Maybe they’ll start with Washington and take over Congress. You know, that might be such a bad idea. They could turn out the present crew in power, enact a bunch of thoughtful and far-reaching legislation that would change everything for the better, and then go burrow in the ground for seventeen years and leave us alone until we needed them again. Does that sound like a plan to you? It does to me!

I also think cicadas look like something from another planet. I know they’re an entomologist’s dream. [I wanted to write “etymologist,” but that’s someone who studies word origins, like the origin of the phrase, “sci fi.” It’s a contraction of the phrase “science fiction (duh), and Britannica’s 1955 Book of the Year used it, so that’s when things underwent a contraction. Now it’s even the name of a cable channel, but they spell it funny: “Sy Fy.” As if, you wacky cable channel people!] Anyhow, cicadas just creep me out. I know they can’t help it and their life cycle is amazing (if you can call it a life: hang out underground for seventeen years, come up out of the earth, sing your heart out, mate, and die. Almost bad as a penguin’s life. Hatch, march to the sea, jump in, eat, maybe be devoured by a sea lion, jump out, waddle back to the mating grounds. If you’re a lady, lay an egg. If you’re a male, sit on the darn egg until it hatches, herd the baby penguin to the sea where you eat for the first time in who knows how long, maybe be eaten, and repeat the whole process over again. Lather, rinse, repeat. No, thanks. Even with this messed up world, I like being a human. So good luck to us all, cicadas, penguins and people we’re all going to need it!

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Evensong Bells–Candlelight Concert, Bruton Parish Church

handbells

Here’s a video of the group, shot by friends of bell player Jane Cole. I’m in the back, mostly hidden from view.

The concert runs about 54 minutes and features a variety of music. Enjoy!

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Poem of the Week: For All This

Sunrise

For All This

 for the victims and survivors of the Oklahoma tornadoes, May 20 and 21, 2013

It’s a matter of degree and distance and accretion, after all—
The objects, possessions, acquisitions, events, memories and conversations gathering
Under a roof, adding on to themselves, second to second, year to year.
In the kitchen, pots and pans, glassware, silverware, plates, cups, appliances.
For the rest, furniture for the living room, dining room, family living area, bedroom:
Sofa, chair, desk, bed, table, bureau, chest,
The accumulations of a household, the toys, the clothes, the food, the tools
And the family itself, again a matter of degree and accretion
Two people—a start—then the little one added and another perhaps
They grow and go to school and they grow.
And there are breezes, a matter of degree and accretion again,
They become winds and air masses which collide
Warm and cold, and the winds start a slow rotation
They turn and turn and turn
And coil on themselves. Mere wind becomes
A miles wide obscene ram of air a coiling snake
Crushing exploding bursting apart
All these accretions
All these possessions
The objects
The persons
The children huddled in their school
Leaving
A tattered unimaginable horrid landscape
Of grief and loss.
It’s a matter, after all, of degree and accretion
Of which we are suddenly
And brutally
Bereft.

–Dan Verner

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The Instruments of the Orchestra

Instruments of the orchestra

The Instruments of the Orchestra

We went to the Hylton Center a while back to hear an orchestra concert, and it occurred to me during intermission that I could identify all the instruments in the orchestra by sound, which might have been because I couldn’t see the oboist, bassoonist or trumpet player until they stood up for a bow. I knew they were there, though. Now, being able to identify instruments in an orchestra is no big thing, especially if you are semi-musical as I am. But it got me to thinking about how proud my elementary school teachers would have been of me if they had known I could do this. It was part of their mission, after all.
If my elementary school had a mission statement, which it didn’t since no one had thought of such a thing at the time, it would have been something like “to prepare boys and girls for further education and to make them civilized, cultured, and contributing members of society.” The school worked not only to improve us intellectually but also culturally. I remember our sixth grade teacher telling us repeatedly, “You will not grow up to be a burden on society. You will be ladies and gentlemen who will contribute to the good of the country and the world.” Well, I have tried.
An important part of culture for our teachers was, of course, music, and music was an important part of school. There was no such thing as musical specialists then (who, by the way, do a wonderful job in our schools today) and so the classroom teacher led music, with singing and theory, music history and so on. Part of this curriculum included listening to orchestral masterworks and learning the instruments of the orchestra. Almost all the teachers seized on Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf to do this.
Unless you have lived in total seclusion for most of your life, no doubt you have heard Peter and the Wolf. If you’re like me, you had to listen to it several times a year. The main musical feature of Peter and the Wolf is that each character is represented by an instrument and has a musical theme. Peter’s is played by the strings. There’s also a bird (flute), a duck (oboe), a cat (clarinet), grandfather (bassoon), the wolf (French horn) and hunters (woodwinds, timpani and bass drum). Once you’ve heard the work a time or two, you’ve got those instruments. We knew them well by the time we went to intermediate school. It could have been worse, I suppose. Some teachers had an “instruments of the orchestra” record and forced their students to play what my wife calls from her music degree days in college “drop the needle.” (Attention younger people: this was done with something called a record player which produced sound by running a special needle over a disk of vinyl. I am not making this up.) I did get to play drop the needle with the instruments of the orchestra record in seventh grade and was not very good at it. Thank goodness for Peter and the Wolf.
Unfortunately my eight grade music class was taught by a lady who hated students and I think hated her job. She made fun of the boys because our voices came out in unpredictable ways and was in general surly and irritable. I sat in class hoping we would be invaded by aliens and taken off to other worlds where my teacher wouldn’t be. I think I managed to survive by fixing my attention on a large chart on the wall of the music room showing the instruments of the orchestra. I looked at it so long and so desperately I learned their names and eventually their sounds. I suppose it’s a good example of finding something useful in even a bad experience. It took me about eight years, but I eventually got back to loving and appreciating music. That helped me not be a burden on society, and for that I am grateful.

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The Myth of Fingerprints

Umbrellas

Actually, this is not about myths or fingerprints. I just liked the line from the Paul Simon song, “All Around the World, or, The Myth of Fingerprints.”

Rather, this is about umbrellas. My younger daughter Alyssa has a theory about the number of umbrellas every individual needs.

Actually, it’s not a theory at all (I’m full of misdirection today). It’s a sensible plan for making sure you have an umbrella wherever you go.

Alyssa says each person needs six. Two for work, two for the car and two for home. More doesn’t hurt. That way you can loan them to people who need them. Then they will like you and be your friend.

My problem with umbrellas is that I leave them places. I wonder how many I’ve left at different times and venues.

They, like pens, are regarded by most as community property. When was the last time you heard of someone being arrested for stealing a pen? Or an umbrella?

I actually have six umbrellas (I drive two cars, but not at once. I’m not THAT talented). My office is at home, so that cuts the number down by two. In our household, we have about ten or twelve of them. I think. I never stopped to actually count them. I just know they’re where they should be when we need them.

They’re for a rainy day, after all.

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Friday Poem of the Week: Life as a Metaphor for Baseball

Zimmerman at Bat

Life as a Metaphor for Baseball

Listening to my team lose on the radio this afternoon
I thought about all the phrases baseball players use to encourage each other
Like “Easy out!” and “I got it!” “Make him hit it to me!” “We got this one!”
And “Wait ‘til next year!”, and also
About philosophical outlooks: everybody gets three strikes and
You’re alive until you strike out or fly out or ground out
But then you might hit it big and homer for a grand slam
And every team gets twenty-seven outs and the game isn’t over until it’s over
You win some, you lose some, and some are rained out,
But you have to dress for them all.
So keep your eye on the ball, choke up and just try to meet the pitch,
Swing level, follow through and see what happens.
And oh yes, hold your head high, cheer up and be of good faith:
Here comes another pitch.

–Dan Verner

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