Friday, May 22, 2015

Not Quite Eugene Peterson

Where can I go from your Spirit, O God, or where can I flee from your presence?  If I head for my cabin every weekend from now until September, you are there.  When I leave for vacation, going near or far, you accompany me; your guidance I treasure, though I am still taking my GPS.  If I am on the golf course, even looking for my golf ball in the woods, you can find me (though the whereabouts of the golf ball may remain a mystery).  Even when I sneak away to my favorite secret fishing hole, I cannot escape you, though I trust you will keep the location a secret.


                                    Psalm 139, CNMV (Contemporary Northern Minnesota Version)

Just a little something that will be part of my upcoming church newsletter article.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Baseball

Baseball season began this week, and I look forward to that.  I enjoy baseball, and I like the game for a lot of reasons.  Many of these are rooted in my younger days.  I played baseball as a kid.  I played Little League ball for a number of years, though I was never that great.  In our neighborhood, we often put together pick-up games in open fields.  I listened to baseball games on an old transistor radio.  Baseball is a great radio game.  I remember one year bringing that radio to school one year on opening day to try and listen to the game if I had the chance.  I collected baseball cards.  I can still smell that hard pink gum that came with every ten cards.  I can still feel some of the joy those simple cardboard pictures brought to me.  I played games with those cards, creating an entire world in some ways.
I admit that I went through a few years when my interest in baseball waned.  I was more interested in music on the radio, and thinking deep thoughts.  The cardboard cards became just cardboard.  I was trying to figure out some things about life.  I was exploring literature, psychology, philosophy, and theology.  I was reading things like, “Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of Being?” (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, final line).
I have made my way back to baseball, without leaving these others behind.  Baseball writing is not without its own profundities.  I can’t really imagine where a comparison between Martin Heidegger and Roger Angell would be helpful, but Angell can also write profoundly about time, with reference to baseball.  Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors.  This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our fathers’ youth, and even back then – back in the country days – there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped. (“The Interior Stadium”)
In fact, one of the reasons I really enjoy baseball is that besides all the simple pleasures of the game itself, so much writing about the game is quite exceptional.
No other sport, I think, conveys anything like this sense of cool depth and fluvial steadiness, and when you stop for a minute and think about the game it is easy to see why this should be so.  The slow, inexorable progression of baseball events – balls and strikes, outs and innings, batters stepping up and batters being retired, pitchers and sides changing on the field, innings turning into games and games into series, and all these merging and continuing, in turn, in the box scores and the averages and the slowly fluctuous standings – are what make the game quietly and uniquely satisfying.  Baseball flows past us all through the summer – it is one of the reasons that summer exists – and wherever we happen to stand on its green banks we can sense with only a glance across its shiny expanse that the long, unhurrying swirl and down-flowing have their own purpose and direction, that the river is headed, in its own sweet time, toward a downsummer broadaneing and debouchment and to its end in the estuary of October. (Roger Angell in Late Innings)
It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.  You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops….  Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times.  They grow out of sports.  And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts.  These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion.  I am not that grown-up or up-to-date.  I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles.  I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun. (A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind”)
How can I resist a game that people write so movingly about?  Play ball.


With Faith and With Feathers,


David

Friday, March 27, 2015

Victor Frankl


            My younger daughter was home this past week for her spring break from graduate school.  She brought with her a stack of books that she thought that my wife perhaps might enjoy reading.  Included in that stack was a copy of Victor Frankl’s classic work Man’s Search for Meaning.
            I have read different parts of Frankl’s work over the years and find him engaging and insightful.  I was delighted, then, that during the first year of my Ph.D. program at Southern Methodist University, Frankl came there to lecture.  I still have the ticket stub and the page of notes I took from the lecture.  I also discovered the a clip from the lecture on the web: 



            Here Frankl discusses our need for both a depth psychology and a height psychology, and for both freedom and responsibility.  I agree that we need both a depth psychology and a height psychology, an ability to dig deep within to examine the fears, anxieties, traumas and triumphs that are there, and a recognition that we are symbolic, meaning-seeking, meaning-creating beings.  I agree with Frankl when he argues that in our society we need to balance freedom and responsibility.  Asking questions about the common good has become too rare, and we desperately need to find our way back to them.

With Faith and With Feathers,


David

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Santayana

            I am not well-read in the philosophy of George Santayana (1863-1952), who was educated at Harvard and later taught there, from1888-1912.  I have a couple of his books and am familiar with the name, familiar enough to be interested in learning more.  So awhile back, in a used book store, when I discovered The Philosophy of Santayana, excerpts from his writings, I bought it.
            One of the joys of being a book lover is to stumble upon wonderfully penned words in such discovered books.
            Here are some beautiful lines from Santayana, lines which ring true to me.

The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded for ever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light among the thorns.

            I may choose some words differently, but the basic idea makes sense to me.  The world is not an easy place.  There is poverty, cruelty, destruction, terror.  Families, meant to be places of love and care and nurture are sometimes, instead, places of great hurt and damage.  Religions intended to foster the spirit are used, instead, to justify horrific behavior.  The world is often a tormented, confused and deluded place.  It is also shot through with beauty, with love, with courage, with laughter.  In the end, we choose how we will let the spirit bloom, even if timidly.  We choose how we will let it struggle to come to light among the thorns.

With Faith and With Feathers,


David

Friday, February 6, 2015

Faith, Church and 2015

            Last fall in a post on sojo.net (the Sojourners web page), Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal priest, wrote about eight things he thought the church needed to say.  It was an intriguing list.  It included saying the name “Jesus,” knowing that Christians may mean some different things in evoking his name.  Also acknowledging our diversity, he thought we should be willing to share why we believe in God, and tell stories about the difference God makes in our lives.  The church should not only speak, it should listen.  We should connect our faith with how we are leading our lives.  We should talk about what we see going on in the world.  Finally, Ehrich wrote that we should speak of hope and of joy.
            I like this list a lot.  Though the new year is already a month old, we might resolve to speak of such things this year and beyond.
            I would add some items to the conversation.  Ehrich framed many of the items he identified in terms of Christians talking to other Christians.  He was not precluding wider conversations, particularly as he discussed speaking of hope and of joy.  There were a couple of other things I read last year that also say something to me about what the church needs to discuss, particularly with those in the wider culture.
            For me, faith supports experimental exploration, imaginative conjecture, experiential probes (Michael Eigen, Faith and Transformation, vii).  How does Christian faith support that kind of openness and adventure in living, and why is it that for so long the church has given the impression that faith closes us off rather than opens us up?
            We need a religious view that embraces nature and does not fear science (Gary Snyder, Back on the Fire, 70).  How does our Christian faith embrace nature and work with the findings of science?  Far too many people equate faith with a rejection of science, and it is often those speaking for Christian faith that perpetuate that view.  The church needs voices that embrace faith and science.
            One of my hopes for this new year is that such important conversations will deepen and widen.


With Faith and With Feathers,


David

Friday, January 30, 2015

Coltrane

            The class was “Arts in America.”  The professor looked like he could have come from central casting – coat and tie, balding with glasses, a goatee.  The class was held in a large lecture hall, no doubt to accommodate all the students who were fulfilling their liberal education requirements.  And when did liberal education requirements morph into “generals,” as in “I am attending the local community college to complete my generals”?  I rather prefer “liberal education requirements.”
            We looked at paintings, discussed literature, listened to some music.  I remember appreciating a great deal of it. I think it was in this class that I first heard the music of Charles Ives, and it is music I return to from time to time.
            The music played in one class session, however, penetrated more deeply.  In the darkened lecture hall that day, the record needle (yes, a vinyl record) went down on a recording of a small group jazz combo played a song that was absolutely beautiful.  The small group was led by its saxophonist, John Coltrane.  After the song ended, the professor moved on to a discussion of jazz as an improvisational art.  It is a uniquely American art form.
            This was one of my first encounters with jazz, and I spent some time exploring it.  I built a small collection of records, including some John Coltrane.  I came to a deep and abiding appreciation of Coltrane’s music, from his ballads, like the one I heard that day in Arts in America, to his more experimental pieces.  Listening to Coltrane has provided me wonderful pleasures over the years, even been the occasion for experiences that some might call mystical.  However, none of the Coltrane records I bought at the time had that song I heard that day.
            Over the years, my jazz listening waxed and waned, burning more brightly since watching the delightful Ken Burns series, “Jazz.”  Along the way, I found that song that opened the door to the music of Coltrane, “Central Park West.”



With Faith and With Feathers,


David

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Song for All Seasons


            For the past couple of weeks I have been listening to Christmas music.  I listen to classical songs and classic songs, songs with a rock beat, a jazz swing, a pop tunefulness, songs sacred and secular.  Some of the songs evoke warm childhood memories, some remind me of concerts attended (I heard Bruce Springsteen play “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” live in St. Paul November 29, 1978).  I enjoy the music of this season, but I am also ready to move on, or move back to other music.
            I listen to a fair variety of music, mostly jazz and rock and pop.  I sprinkle classical music in there as well.  When listening to rock or pop music, I probably listen to more older material than newer stuff, either new music from familiar bands like Bruce Springsteen or U2 or Tom Petty, or older music from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  I still enjoy discovering a new band.  The Hold Steady, a band whose music I discovered in 2009, though they had been around for a while, is still a favorite.  I am enjoying TV on the Radio, “Seeds.”
            One thing I find particularly enjoyable, though, is finding what I consider a lost classic – some song on an album that has been around for a long time, but something I had simply not paid much attention to.  A recent such discovery for me is the Simon and Garfunkel song “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.”  The song consists of an overdubbing of Simon and Garfunkel singing "Silent Night", and a simulated "7 O'Clock News" bulletin of the actual events of 3 August 1966 – the death of Lenny Bruce, a controversial Martin Luther King, Jr. march, the war in Vietnam, killings of student nurses by Richard Speck.  Here is a link to the song:


            In many ways it is a seasonal song, a song I should put away until next year.  But it is also a song that transcends the season.  If the message of “Silent Night” cannot find its way into a still broken world, a world where there remains violence, war, political strife, drug overdoses, racial tension, then Silent Night is little more than pure sentimentality.  I don’t think it is.  I treasured this Simon and Garfunkel song this season because it reminded me of my need for a strong, courageous, compassionate and tender faith amid a difficult world, a faith not just for a few weeks at Christmas but a faith for every day.
            This was my discovered classic this fall, a little treasure that was hidden in a field, and I found it with joy, and I intend to keep it close to my heart.
            Next year, when I take out my Christmas music again, I will burn this song onto a new holiday cd.  I expect I will take it out for a listen a number of times between now and then.
           
With Faith and With Feathers,


David