Monthly Archives: May 2013

Song of the Week: 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


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


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


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
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

–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


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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Small Actions, Large Effects

Grand Canyon

I don’t know if you have ever thought of the effects of small actions. Without the erosion caused by innumerable drops of water over thousands of years, there would not be the large and incredible spectacle of the Grand Canyon or Niagara falls. Without billions upon billions of tiny snowflakes piled up over centuries and centuries and years there would not have been the slow movement southward of the great glaciers of the North American continent and their gradual retreat. And the Great Lakes, which are really inland seas, would not exist.
Wesleyan University, where I started college, had several buildings which dated to 1831, when the school was established. Some classrooms buildings which were built around 1890 were still in use when I was there in the middle 1960’s. These structures had wide stairs made of slate leading to the upper floors. Now, slate is rated a 6.5 on the hardness scale for minerals. The scale runs from 1 (talc) to 10 (diamond), so slate is not a softy but neither is it a girl’s best friend. And yet those steps, as hard as they were, were hollowed in their centers by the action of hundreds of thousands of footsteps over the years. Small matters do add up.
I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when I decided to take all the change that I had squirreled around the house in assorted bins and boxes and jars and pockets and have it counted at the coin counter at the credit union. I chose that one because they didn’t take a cut of the payoff. I expected my haul would total less than fifty dollars. Instead, as the counter churned and churned some more and heads turned all over the office to see who was cashing in big, my haul came to over a hundred dollars, which I promptly deposited in our credit union savings account since I did not want to face you if I had spent it all on ice cream at Nathan’s. I couldn’t eat that much ice cream at one sitting and you were all at work. I know you understand. And it was cold out.
The point of all this is that small actions done for the Lord do have large results. We are reminded that all Mother Teresa wanted to do was provide a decent place for the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta to die in dignity. And I’m sure you can think of other examples of small deeds which have had large results.
There’s a story told from the earlier days of aviation of an airplane loaded with orphans which was running out of fuel and needed to land at night on a local airstrip. The power failed as the aircraft was some distance out, meaning that it would be impossible to land safely on the airfield. The plane did not have enough fuel to divert to a field with power, but the airport manager thought quickly and called as many people as he could think of. (The landline phones still worked which was fortunate since cell phones had not been invented at the time story took place—and it’s also a reminder that it’s a good idea to hang on to your land line in case the power goes out.)
As I was saying, the manager asked the people to drive their cars to the airfield. They lined up on either side of the runway with their headlights illuminating a safe path for the airplane. It landed successfully because of the coming together of the light from the cars. A number of souls were saved that night, and this story serves as a parable about what we can do if we do indeed let our light shine before people, in small actions, small deeds of kindness and small words of consideration.

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Fixing the Beans

Green Beans

Fixing the Beans

I would like to be a better cook, but I don’t stand a chance. I am part of a family of phenomenal cooks, including my wife, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my daughters. When it comes to special family meal occasions, they do the heavy lifting and I am consigned to making the iced tea and rice (Uncle Ben and I are tight like that). I can make a few things, but at this point I don’t think I will ever achieve Paula Deen or Rachael Ray status.

There are even specialities within the family menu: my mother-in-law makes wonderful deviled eggs; my sister-in-law does incredible rolls and baked products; my younger daughter has a deft touch with a taco dip; my older daughter has green bean casserole (GBC) all tied up; and my wife fixes green beans that could serve as a meal by themselves. Recently she ran into a time crunch before a family meal and asked me to snap the beans. I was excited to be asked to be part of a signature dish. I cut the ends off the pile of beans and then broke them into pieces. I am here to report that beans, or at least the ones we used, do not have the strings they used to. The agronomists have done some good work over the years. Back in the day you ended up with a piled of bean strings as big as the pile of beans. And they were tough enough to weave a rope that Indiana Jones could use.

While I was snapping the beans I found I soon fell into a rhythm that was comfortable and familiar. Then I remembered all the times my mother asked me to help her string beans. It was not my favorite chore–in fact, I didn’t have any favorite chores since I was a lazy slug and preferred reading and watching television. So I would reluctantly string the beans, missing enough that my mom had to go back through then. When I broke them up, I broke them into large pieces that would take less time. Again, she had to redo them. It’s a wonder she asked me to help. Maybe she was thinking I would catch on. I’m pleased to report that I did, decades later, and can break beans with the best of them.

Sometimes we learn from our parents in ways we’re not even aware of later on. My love of poetry and music came from my mother. She would walk around the house reciting poems she had memorized, Tennyson and Browning mostly, and I ended up majoring in English (with more poetry classes than anything) and teaching English for over 30 years. She also sang as she worked in the house or the garden, and music has been an important part of my life from the days of teaching myself to play guitar to currently being in four musical groups. She was also an inveterate reader, as I am.

Of course, not all of her interests took. She was a master gardener, and I can’t make anything grow. Gardening always seemed like hard work to me. I know, there are rewards but I can’t seem to get to them. A number of years ago I told her I was considering putting in a vegetable garden. She looked at me and said, “Just go to the farmers’ market instead.” She knew.

I never thanked my mother as such for these interests that she gave me, but I believe she understood without my saying how much they meant to me. She wasn’t much on expression through words or overt recognition. She didn’t care at all for Mother’s Day, thinking it was a false and extravagant occasion. She said, “Everyone is nice to their mothers on Mother’s Day and mean to them the rest of the year.” I told her I would be mean to her on Mother’s Day and nice to her the rest of the year. I always saw her then or if I couldn’t, I’d call her and tell her I was doing so because that’s what you were supposed to do on Mother’s Day.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I hope you will express your thanks to your mother for all she has done for you if you are able. If you do not have a good relationship with your mother, I hope there was someone who acted as a mother for you. If you are unable to tell your mother in person, I hope your memories of her are good and strong. And to all you moms and all you women who have acted as moms, thank you.


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Poem of the Week: Train Station

Train Station

Train Station

Imagine a small red brick train station

On dual tracks of the Southern line

Mansard-roof, red clay tiles

Waiting room, luggage room, ticket office.

Go sit on one of the green-painted benches

On the platform

Listen to the rain and

Wait. Wait patiently if need be and

When this poem pulls in

Climb aboard.

–Dan  Verner

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