Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing...

In honor of last Sunday's music ministry presentation, I'd like to share this piece. It was written by Rev. Johanne Dame who was my supervisor when I did my internship.

Why don’t we sing more?

Music is one of our natural, God-given graces. We begin to sing as a very early age. Mothers and fathers croon to infants. The rhythm of music soothes babies by reminding them of the rhythms of the heartbeat in the womb…. Music connects us to the rhythms of life.

But all too son, somebody – who? Society? – says we should only sing… if our songs are good… if our voices are perfect. We become, those of us not gifted with exceptional voices, self-conscious. This is why so many of us will only sing in the shower. We sound better there and no one else will hear us! We beat down the songs embedded in our souls.

Worse, we come to an acceptance that only “professional” music will do. Radios have replaced work songs in most of the cultures of the world. We have radios in our homes, our cars. At great and important occasions in our lives, we hire people to sing for us. They have beautiful voices! But we cannot sing for ourselves or together, we must hire someone to do it for us.

And in church. Well, there is singing in church, but not much in white protestant churches. This is a shame, because the hymns of the church are a great gift to us, a great resource. For most protestant hymns are a means of prayer and dialogue with the Spirit. They are what icons are to the Orthodox and stained glass windows are to cathedrals in Europe – windows into the soul.

We have big debates now in the church about what to sing, the older style music or the newer style. But mostly music scares us these days in the church. Because through it the Spirit catches hold and moves us, changes us. Enough of that kind of singing and we might be dancing in the aisles.

But dancing in praise of God is throughout the Bible. We read this morning a snippet of the oldest song in the Bible (Exodus 15:20-21), sung by Moses’ sister Miriam after the defeat of Pharaoh’s army. And we read that beautiful song, the Magnificat of Mary. Remember these words from the NT letter of James? “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry – let him sing!”

But it’s a funny thing. We really don’t celebrate singing in church. In preparation for today I was researching prayers, and I could not find any about music! Listen to this list of titles of prayers for special times in the lives of congregations: Before a budget or business meeting; installation of a pastor; dedication of church doors; prayers for annual meeting…. There were no prayers about music or musicians or singing……..

But music, the urge to praise God through music is so deeply imbedded in us! Joyce Blackburn says “as ancient as our race is the urge to sing, to perform on instruments. Why, who knows how old cymbals may be? This morning here we used a tambourine, a timbral… and timbrals are mentioned in the Song of Miriam…. Music is an expression of the joy we have in living, in the joy we have in faith, in the joy we have in the gifts of God.”

She continues, “let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Because you are, you can respond! Praise is response, the voluntary response of our total selves or even a part of our selves to the presence and doings of the Lord, Creator, Redeemer, God. Praise is the astonishment we express when touched by His infinity, by His intimacy, by His attention concentrated on each of us. Praise is the silence of awe we feel when we recognize a miracle, the wholeness we feel in the arms of Almighty Love, the freedom we know, once captured, changed, kindled. Let us respond to the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Let us praise the Lord!”

Music is praise, praise in honor of the One who loves and sustains us. We need to sing more!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Say it aint so Joe....

It's a sad day in the Yankee Universe. Peter Abraham, who is a beat writer and writes the best blog on the Yankees, is leaving to come back home to Boston and cover the Sox for the Globe. While I wish him all the best, now I'll have to figure out another way to waste my time when I'm supposed to be working or writing a sermon. For all the Sox fans out there, you will simply have to follow his writing and his blog. He's the best!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It's begining to look a lot like... wait it's September

If you've seen my front yard in the last few years you know that I love Christmas. I've already begun thinking about this year's display, planning it out and looking through catalogues about what might be added, and I like seeing things in the stores so I can get new ideas.
In the next few weeks I'll also have to start pulling out pieces to make sure they are working properly and fixing things that need to be fixed. For those who are really serious about decorating (and that phrase really scares Linda) they've been at work for a while and will start putting things up in the yard at the end of October.
But, when I hear Christmas music playing in stores before Halloween I go a little crazy, and this story is just over the top.
The picture to the left is from a town outside of Manchester, England, which put up their Christmas decorations in August! Now, that is going a little too far.
I don't want to be rushing too far forward, so rather than discussing all the problems with this I will leave that to Advent when we can talk more about the rush to jump forward and the need to refrain.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Now I feel old...

Each year Beloit College in Wisconsin puts together a list of what the entering freshmen class have always known (or not known). Here is this year's list:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013
Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991.

1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
3. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
5. Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
7. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
8. Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
9. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
10. Rap music has always been main stream.
11. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
12. Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
13. The KGB has never officially existed.
14. Text has always been hyper.
15. They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
16. Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
17. They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
18. Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
19. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
20. American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
21. Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
22. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
23. The European Union has always existed.
24. McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
25. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
26. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
27. Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
28. The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
29. Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
30. Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
31. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
32. The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
33. Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
35. Women have always outnumbered men in college.
36. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
37. Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
39. It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
40. Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
42. Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
43. Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
44. There have always been flat screen televisions.
45. They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
46. Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
47. Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
48. Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
49. Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
52. They have never been Saved by the Bell
53. Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
54. Most communities have always had a mega-church.
55. Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
56. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
57. Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
59. For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
60. Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
62. Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
65. Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
66. NATO has always been looking for a role.
67. Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
68. Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
69. The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
71. Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
73. Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
74. Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
75. There has always been blue Jell-O.

Now that's something you don't see everyday

I know I am running woefully behind on posting, and my ideas for posts are backing up. Once my schedule becomes a little more squared away with school, work and family I promise to keep back on top of things, but I have to share this.
The above picture is of Harvey Cox and a cow grazing in Harvard Yard. (The cow was grazing not Dr. Cox.) Dr. Cox is the Hollis Professor of Divinity, which is the oldest endowed professorship in the country. Established in 1721, part of the gift stipulated that the holder of the chair would have the right to graze his cattle in Harvard Yard. As Professor Cox is retiring, he decided to claim this right and acquired "faith" (her actual name is pride, which of course is a sin everywhere else but at Harvard) in order to graze his cow in the yard.
One of the lessons to be learned here is to think very carefully about what you want people to be doing in perpetuity. I'm sure that Mr. Hollis never even imagined that people would not still need to graze their cattle in the future, but look at what's happened. It would be like saying a professor had a guaranteed parking space (thank you Professor Gomes) and then not knowing what to do with that 300 years in the future.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Congratulations go out to Derek Jeter for tying the all-time hits record for the New York Yankees, held by Lou Gehrig. With all of the amazing players who have been with the Yankees it's surprising that we have never had a player with 3000 hits. What was great about the moment was not only the classy way that Jeter handled it, as he always does, but also the way the Rays handled it. The players in the dugout all came to the top and joined in applauding Jeter on his accomplishment. That is the sign of a well managed team and credit goes out to Joe Maddon. This is what he had to say about Jeter: “I’m very happy for him,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “He carries himself in a manner that’s worthy of passing Gehrig.” So do you Joe. During the game Maddon also removed BJ Upton who was not hustling after balls hit to center field. It's nice to see managers let the entire team know that inferior play will not be tolerated and removing them to make the point.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Message

On Saturday I presided at the memorial service for Joe and Muriel Plonko. During the graveside service, after I had said the words of committal, I began the prayer which thanks God for their presence in our lives and commends their souls back to God. As I began, a beautiful dragonfly flew over and rested right at the top of my book and sat there until the prayer was done, then flew away. Now it could be that it just happened that the dragonfly needed a place to stop for a moment, but with the love that Joe and Muriel had for nature and God's creation, I took it as a sign to me and to all of us that they are okay and just wanted to let us know.

Crime and Punishment

Let me applaud the University of Oregon for their handling of the situation regarding LaGarrette Blount. For those unfamiliar with the situation, following Oregon’s loss to Boise State (I didn’t know Boise was a state, but I digress…) Blount sucker punched Byron Hout, a player for Boise. Later he had to be held back from going into the stands after being harassed by some fans on the way to the locker room. Oregon immediately suspended Blount for the season. This is not just any player on the team. This is the starting running back, someone people had mentioned in pre-season Heisman discussion. This is going to hurt the team, but Oregon made a clear statement that they are not going to tolerate this type of behavior regardless of the consequences. This is an action rarely seen at any level of competitive sports.

Boise State, on the other hand, is going to privately discipline Hout for his actions after the game. It was Hout who sought out Blount, then proceeded to taunt him and hit him on the shoulder pads to make sure that he heard what was being said. This behavior, which is totally unsportsmanlike as well, should be treated much more harshly than merely having “a private conversation with the coach.” Boise State should have also suspended Hout for a minimum of one game, but apparently their concern for what they will and will not tolerate is not as clear as Oregon’s. The commissioner of the WAC said they will leave the review open for further study if the case warrants it. That means he is sticking his finger in the air and if he thinks something needs to be done for PR purposes that they will follow-up, but if no one is up in arms they will let it pass. Nice to see that the conference also supports the wishy-washy tactics of their schools.

While I do think Blount’s punishment is appropriate (and the severity deals from him wanting to go into the stands, not from the punch) I am also still troubled. This is his senior season which means his college football career is done, and there is no means for getting back in anyone’s good graces. Most analysts are also saying that there is no way he will play in the NFL anymore either. Where is forgiveness found in this situation? Where does rehabilitation play a role? This is not the first trouble Blount has been in, which also played into the severity of the punishment, but maybe this is the incident he needed to realize he needed help and needed a new path. I don’t have any easy answers for this.

I hope, for his sake, that he has taken his class work seriously and will graduate with a good education and be able to do something else with his life. But I fear that he is like so many Division 1 athletes that he has put all of his eggs in one basket, and now that the basket has fallen apart has nothing left. (The coaches, colleges, the NCAA, television networks and all of us are just as responsible for this situation as the athletes themselves are)

On one other note, I was telling someone else about this situation shortly after it happened and my disgust at what Boise State was doing/not doing, they said, “let me guess, one player is white and the other is black, and it is the white player who is not being penalized.” I told them they were correct, not having seen the racial ramifications myself, and they responded “when will they ever learn.” (In my non-existent free time I’ll try and find a study conducted in California of the language differences used by teachers in relation to black and white male students and post some information on that)

Labor Day

I greatly enjoyed my day off yesterday, although I actually did do some work and was even at the office for a brief period. But I can’t help but marvel at the irony of so many people enjoying a day in honor of the labor movement, especially given the sentiment towards unions these days. Strangely I have heard no business, who routinely denounce labor unions and how terrible they are, decrying this day and demanding that it be taken away. Nor have I heard the same from regular people who see no use for labor unions.

Even if we are just to see it as a nice remembrance of when unions were needed would be to recognize that capitalism has some serious issues, the business does not always do the right thing, that unions were needed and useful (once upon a time) and that workers need to be protected. Even that recognition I think would be impossible for some conservatives to agree to or even to recognize.

Now I will admit my biases here. I come from a pro-union family, although I think I am the only member of my family from the last two generations to actually belong to a union, and was one of the union reps the Harvard University Clerical and Technical Workers Union when I was at Harvard. The United Methodist Church also recognizes and supports the employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively.

But do you know how Labor Day came into existence? Here is a brief story:
The first labor day was celebrated in New York in 1882 after labor organizer Peter McGuire witnessed a celebration in Canada, which had passed the Trade Union Act which legalized and protected union activity in Canada in 1872. But the US did not recognize the celebration until 1894, when President Cleveland pushed for legislation recognizing the day in order to appease the labor movement. This was not done out of the goodness of his heart, but instead to try and quell any upheavals after he ordered the US Marshall’s to interview in a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company (manufacturer of the Pullman railway car). Their strike, caused as a result of cuts in pay due to a down turned economy (sound familiar), resulted in 125,000 railway workers refusing to handle any Pullman cars. Under the guise of saying the strike interfered with the delivery of the mail, President Cleveland ordered the US Marshalls, along with 12,000 members of the Army, to stop the strike. In the end, 13 strikers were killed, when they were fired upon, and 57 were wounded. Putting labor at the top of his agenda, President Cleveland pushed through legislation creating the holiday just six days after the end of the strike, and was unanimously approved by Congress. September was chosen not only because that was when Canada celebrated, but more importantly to keep it away from May 1 which is the international date to celebrate labor movements.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Football means it's fall and blogging!

Coming in a distant second to my love of baseball is college football, which officially began the season last night. What football season also means is that my favorite non-baseball blog also starts. Tuesday Morning Quarterback, which comes out on Tuesday's (I know shocking) covers the weekends NFL games, but more interestingly also covers everything else going on in the world. The author, Gregg Easterbrook, is a fellow at the Brookings Institute and a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. Even if you don't like football it is a must read, and you can skip over the football parts. You can find him here.

Here is a bit from one of his most recent postings:
A Cosmic Thought: Researchers led by Swinburne University of Technology, in Australia, released this map of the "nearby" cosmos. The map contains about 100,000 dots. The dots are not stars; each dot represents a galaxy, and galaxies are thought to average about 100 billion stars each. Thus the area depicted contains holds roughly 10 to the 15th power stars, a number far too huge to bother attempting to fathom. And the map merely shows galaxies nearby. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is at the center of the map. On the cosmic scale, a place with 100 billion stars is a dot.

His book The Progress Paradox is excellent. Read it some time when you are pessimistic about the world. Go here for some of his other writings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Some people have asked what I did on vacation, and one of the most important things, besides trying to get some down time, was eating Mexican food. Although to be specific in this case it was to eat New Mexican and Sonoran food. I know people will disagree but you can't find good Mexican food in New England, and here is the perfect story to illustrate the point:

Before moving to New England I was working for Kinko's and so I transferred to work at the Coolidge Corner location in Brookline. Shortly after I started the two brothers who run the Phantom Gourmet came in to have some work done. Of course, since I was new to town, I had never heard of them so they began telling me all about what they do and their new television show. Since we were new in town and didn't know where to eat I decided to ask them where to go for good Mexican food. They both began to rattle off four or five restaurants and then they asked me where I was from. I said New Mexico, and they then told me "oh, never mind, your not going to like anything here." So there you have it, not only do I say you can't get really good Mexican food here but so does the Phantom Gourmet; and so while on vacation we ate really good Mexican food almost every evening. Besides for wide open skies it is what I miss the most about the Southwest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Catching Up

Well I'm back at it. With more than 210 emails waiting for me yesterday, as well as a memorial service to plan I did not have a chance to write.

What's happened since I've been away: The Yanks took 2 out of 3 from the Sox, we saw an unassisted triple play (the 15th in history and only the second to end a game), and Andy Pettite flirted with perfection. Like I've said every time you go to the ballpark you have the chance to see something you've never seen before, and here is the perfect example:

We went to see the Diamondbacks play the Astros in Phoenix. In the bottom of the sixth inning, John Hester, who was just called up from the AAA team, came in to pinch hit for his first major league at bat. With a full-count he smashed a home run to center field. With that swing he became the 101st player in major league history to hit a home run in his first at bat. With nearly 17000 people having played major league baseball that means that 1/2 of one percent of major leaguers hit a home run in their first at bat. I had never seen it before and will probably never see it again. (of those 101, 3 hit grand slams, and 19 never hit another homer).

The weather's getting cooler and the sun is going down earlier, which means the season is winding to a close. But, nothing like a September pennant race to get your blood warmed up....