Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Heaven, II

If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.
                                                                        The Righteous Brothers

            Just a couple of days ago, I posted my reflections on some of the wonderful musicians we have lost this year.  The morning after that post, and my linking it to Facebook and Twitter, my friend Dan Doughty “liked” my tweet.  The moment I read Dan’s name, I knew I had forgotten to write about Glenn Frey who died January 18.  Dan is a huge Eagles fan, and Glenn was one of the founding members of that group.  Glenn’s death occurred just near the death of David Bowie, so was not given all that much media attention, but his music also touched many.
            I don’t think you could have been a teenager in the 1970s without hearing Eagles music, whether you liked it or not, and I really liked it.  The Eagles Their Greatest Hits album, which I still have in vinyl, became the highest selling album of the twentieth century when it was released in 1976.  Every song was a gem – “Take It Easy,” “Witchy Woman,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Already Gone,” “Desperado,” “One of These Nights,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Peaceful, Easy Feeling,” and “Best of My Love.”  In high school and college you could put this album on and sing to every last song.
            Late that same year, the  group released their biggest album, “Hotel California,” with that remarkable title track and “New Kid in Town.”  The album was an important part of the soundtrack to my senior year in high school.  Driving my old Buick LeSabre to and from work or school, I loved hearing an Eagles song play on WAKX, big wax.
            Glenn Frey wrote many of the songs, with other members of the group and was lead singer on “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful, Easy Feeling,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Already Gone,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “New Kid in Town.”  The songs ranged from a celebration of freedom, to finding a quiet center, to feeling alienation as the new kid in town.
            So the rock ‘n’ roll heaven’s band is even richer because Glenn Frey is already gone.  Yet we can be grateful for the peaceful easy feeling his music leaves with us.  Take it easy.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Heaven

If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.
                                                                        The Righteous Brothers

            2016 has been a tough year for music lovers like me.  It’s not a dearth of good music.  There has been some wonderful new music released, among my favorites: Lucinda Williams, Ghosts of Highway 20; Bonnie Raitt, Dig In Deep; Mavis Staples, Livin’ On a High Note;  and P. J. Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
            What has saddened me are the deaths of so many whose musical work has touched our lives and our world, people whose music has been an important part of the soundtrack of our lives.
            The Beatles disbanded before I was even a teenager, but their music was legendary.  I remember hearing “I Saw Her Standing There” on a 45 rpm belonging to an older second cousin.  While singing “She was just seventeen” is a little creepy for a man in his fifties, I still sing along at home or in the car.  “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” spark creativity.  “In My Life” inspires wistful recollections of years gone by.  Who worked with John, Paul, George and Ringo to bring their musical vision to reality – producer George Martin, who died March 8.
            My feelings about the music of David Bowie are not as ebullient as others I’ve heard speak since his death in January.  Nevertheless, I appreciated his music a great deal.  “Space Oddity,” the song about lonely space travel made me feel less alone as a young man who sometimes felt distant from mundane realities. “Changes” is a wonderful song about self-transformation.  “Suffragette City” was an air guitar gem.
            I came later to an appreciation of the music of Merle Haggard, died April 9.  When I was in high school and college, liking country music was anathema.  Yet, you cannot appreciate the wide spectrum of American music without appreciating a range of country music, and Merle Haggard was a giant who had a unique way with songs about heartbreak and living on the edge.
            I will also admit that I was not a follower of the music of Prince in the 1980s.  As his star was rising, I was becoming a parent, and did not have MTV – which actually played music videos back then.  It was probably about ten years later that I really came to delight in his celebratory music and admire and appreciate his extraordinary musicianship along with his creative contributions.  I can’t sit still, unless I am driving, when I hear “1999,” Raspberry Beret,” or “Let’s Go Crazy.”  Nothing compares 2 U, Prince.
            Another musician whose music is delightfully danceable is Maurice White, founding member of Earth, Wind and Fire.  The rhythms of “September” and “Serpentine Fire” still bring a smile to my face and a bounce to my step.  EWF could also spin a wonderful slow song for dancing close, like “That’s the Way of the World.”  Maurice White also died in February.
            When I was in college, they were Jefferson Starship singing about “Miracles”.  In the 1960s they were Jefferson Airplane, singing with urgency – “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don’t you want somebody to love?”  Who didn’t?  Jefferson Airplane guitarist and co-founder Paul Kanter died in January.
            People die – that’s the way of the world, and if there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven you know they’ve got a hell of a band.  Yet that music remains with us.  When people in their lives create beauty their lives echo on and we are grateful for that.
            It is also good to remember that while we are not all wonderful musicians, we all have some capacity to create goodness and beauty, we all have an ability to bring a smile to others and to  help them dance.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Monday, March 21, 2016

A Prayer for General Conference

General Conference is the every four-year gathering of United Methodists from around the world.  Persons are elected as voting delegates from their respective annual or central conferences.  It is my privilege to be an elected clergy delegate from the Minnesota Conference, and the head of the Minnesota delegation.

In preparation for General Conference annual and central conferences from around the globe have covenanted for twenty-four hour prayer for General Conference.  This Wednesday, March 23, the Minnesota Conference will be praying for General Conference.  I was asked to compose a prayer that could be used as part of that prayer vigil.  Here it is:

Creative Spirit who broods over chaos to bring order and who initiates constructive chaos when order becomes stilted, Incarnate Love who continues to draw near in the Spirit of Jesus the Christ, Empowering Spirit ever-present, come.  Our prayer for General Conference is simple and direct – Come, Spirit, come. Be again for us a creative presence.  Draw near to us again in love, opening wide your arms that we might open wide our arms and hearts to others.  Empower us again to be your people, sharing good news, creating community, building bridges of reconciliation, doing justice.  Grow our hearts.  Enliven our minds.  Expand our dreams.  As General Conference gathers in Portland, may we gather not simply in the name of Wesley, but in a Wesleyan spirit – committed to having our conversations seasoned with salt, committed to loving alike, even when we don’t think alike.  Come, Spirit, come.  In Christ.  Amen.

Friday, February 26, 2016

MLK Day 2016

I have a dream.
                                                            Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
                                                            Langston Hughes

Every year since coming back to Duluth in 2005, I have walked in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, unless I have been out of town.  It isn’t always easy.  It is January in Duluth, after all.  I was thinking this year might be mild as January was pretty mild this year, until the week of January 18.  January cold returned, though it was not as brutally cold this year as some.  However, though it is cold, we don’t have to walk as high-pressure fire hoses are being sprayed at us, or dogs barking and biting at us.  There are no jeering crowds shouting racial epithets, only a number of people giving thumbs up or cheering from office building windows or the skywalk.
One of the serendipitous delights of this year’s march was that I had the privilege of walking while sharing a banner with Sha’rya.  I had not met Sha’rya before.  She was at the march with her aunt and sister.
As I walked with Sha’rya and our banner, which read “Do To Us What You Will, We Will Still Love You,” I was thinking about the United States and race.  In my lifetime, progress has been made.  Laws segregating blacks and whites have fallen.  Banking practices which segregated neighborhoods have been changed.  Racial epithets, though they have not disappeared, are frequently held in disdain.  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is a national holiday, and his “I Have a Dream” speech is considered one of the landmark oratories in American history.
Progress has been made, but problems persist, and at times we digress rather than progress.  Voting rights which people struggled for are being eroded in some places.  Poverty remains persistently high among people of color.  Incarceration rates for African-Americans are significantly higher than among other populations.  The relationship between law enforcement and people of color is often strained and in need of repair.  King’s dream is held up as a wonderful ideal.  His accompanying social critique, including his analysis of the damage done by our failures to live up to the dream, is not often grappled with.

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed –
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
                                                            Langston Hughes

            There is work to do, so we continue to march.  I want the world to be a different place for Sha’rya as she grows.  I want it to be a better place, a safe place, a place where she can flourish, a place with no artificial barriers are put in her way because of her heritage.  I think of the words of a spiritual: Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around.  Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.  Keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’ gonna build a brand new world.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, January 8, 2016

Old Friends

I can feel friendly, in a very personal and affectionate way, with Spinoza, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson, William James, Whitehead, etc., as if they still lived.  Which is to say that in specific ways they do still live.
                                                            Abraham Maslow, The Farthest Reaches of Human Nature

I first encountered the work of Abraham Maslow in a psychology class in my senior year in high school.  I was intrigued.  There was much in his work that I found insightful and helpful.  Maslow’s work was one reason I majored in psychology, along with philosophy, in college.
From time to time, I find myself going back to his work, and often find new insights.  Maslow’s comment on being friendly with persons from the past comes from an essay on “Various Meanings of Transcendence.”  In this section of his essay he was writing about the transcendence of time.  We can reach through time to connect with others through their writings, developing a friendship of a kind.
I know this kind of friendship.  I treasure my friends, the flesh and blood people with whom I can talk, in whom I can confide, with whom I can enjoy a conversation, an event, a meal.  I also treasure the friends I have made through their writings or their music.  They have challenged me to think more deeply, and to feel more deeply.  They have invited me see my life in new ways, and opened up new vistas in my relationship to God.
I am grateful for these friends, too, among whom I count Abraham Maslow.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, December 11, 2015

Love and Mercy

Brian Wilson, “Love and Mercy”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PISkFEzC5XE

No surprise to anyone who knows me even a little bit, I love music, a wide variety of music.  On the day following Thanksgiving Day I posted a link to Charles Ives, “The Unanswered Question” on Facebook and Twitter.
One of the bands I listened to quite a bit when in college was The Beach Boys.  At the time, the band was seen as primarily a sixties group with good time tunes about surfing and dating.  They had made a bit of a comeback with the release of a compilation called “Endless Summer” – released June 24, 1974, my fifteenth birthday.  Even with that, The Beach Boys were not really considered a “cool” group to listen to in my college years (1977-1981).  I remember going with some of my friends to Florida for a spring break trip, and one friend was determined that we were not going to play any Beach Boys music.  We did not want to come off as a bunch of rubes from Minnesota.
Though I enjoyed The Beach Boys music, I have to admit I considered them little more than a feel good band, with all the depth of cotton candy. 
One of the graces of aging is that you can change your mind.  To be sure, much of the music on “Endless Summer” is pretty simple and the lyrics are none too deep.  Yet over time, I have come to appreciate opportunities for simple joy.  In a complex, difficult and often hurtful world, we ought not to overlook simple joys.  I also came to appreciate the creativity of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as they explored adding new layers of sound to their music.  “Pet Sounds” is considered a rock music classic.  “Good Vibrations” is a complex piece of music, even as it celebrates the simple feeling of a good vibe.
Recently I was given a new opportunity for renewed appreciation of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.  I watched the bio-pic “Love and Mercy.”  At the end of the movie we are treated to a video of Brian Wilson singing the song from which the movie takes its title.  The song comes from his first solo album (released in 1988), and it was a song I was not familiar with.
Listen to “Love and Mercy.”  The lyrics aren’t cryptic, but they touch me.  In our difficult, complicated and often hurtful world, I appreciate this simple good hope and good wish.

Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight


With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, November 6, 2015

Beauty and Grace

I am large, I contain multitudes.
                                                            Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.  The least we can do is try to be there.
                                                            Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

            In the summer of 2014 I was in New York City twice.  The first time was with our church youth group for a seminar on poverty and hunger sponsored by the United Methodist Women.  One of the pastors who accompanied our group from Minnesota had gone to seminary in New York so knew the city well.  Later that summer, my wife, Julie, our daughter Sarah, and I returned to the city as visitors.
            I was quite taken by the city.  I was exhilarated by the activity, the people, the energy.  Waiting in lines we could hear people from all over the world who were also there to see the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Center.  I loved walking over the Brooklyn Bridge with my family.
            This past summer, our family traveled west on vacation.  Being in Yellowstone National Park, seeing the Rocky Mountains, standing on the quiet prairie in Theodore Roosevelt, were all awe-inspiring.  When traveling through the plains, I cannot help but think of the people who roamed there so freely until clashes with the European-Americans of the expanding United States led to their being confined to reservations.  It is almost as if there are “voices” in the silent winds of the prairies.
            I know people for whom New York City would be their greatest nightmare.  They like wide open spaces, or the quiet of the forest, or the pace of small towns.  I know others who would find the quiet of the prairies maddening.  I feel wonderfully fortunate that I find beauty and grace in such diverse places.  Beauty and grace can be found in the multiple faces on the streets of New York, in the wonderfully diverse voices heard, in the human energy generated in the city.  Beauty and grace can be found in majestic mountain views, in the silent whispers of the prairies.
            The least I can do is try to be there, wherever the “there” is.  When I am so present, I contain multitudes, and am grateful for that wonderful flow of beauty and grace.

With Faith and With Feathers,