Friday, February 26, 2010


I am a member of the Jazz Heritage Society. No need to send congratulatory cards. It is a music club to which anyone can belong. I am guessing that such clubs are dying out with on-line purchasing and iTunes and all, but I am holding on. By the way, the club offers on-line ordering. Every so often, I order music through the club (usually by sending the card back through the mail – someone needs to help keep the US Postal Service afloat) and about three weeks later my order arrives in the mail. It makes that day’s mail more enjoyable.
My history with jazz goes back to college. I listened to jazz occasionally then. I remember hearing John Coltrane’s “Central Park West” in a class on Art in America, and I was swept up in its beauty. Every so often, I would listen to some jazz here and there until about eight years ago I sort of “rediscovered” jazz with a passion.
Those who know me or have read this blog for any length of time know of my love for music. That love bursts the bounds of style and genre. Sometimes the wordless beauty of jazz (though I also appreciate jazz vocals) touches me deeply in a wonderfully unique way. The richness of a John Coltrane ballad like “Naima” or “After the Rain” moves my soul, as does the sheer joy of a Louis Armstrong trumpet solo.
My most recent jazz listening, care of the Jazz Heritage Society, has been “Duke Ellington: The Great Paris Concert.” Ellington’s large jazz ensembles could swing with such joy. From the first piano chords which led into “Rockin’ in Rhythm” I was smiling. My heart was smiling. My soul was smiling. The music testified again to the truth of the words of jazz drummer Art Blakey: Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.
And if you’ve not listened to jazz in awhile, click this link to Coltrane’s “After the Rain”

John Coltrane, After the Rain

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, February 19, 2010

Whipped Cream and Other Delights

Last year as I placed ashes on foreheads or hands on Ash Wednesday, reminding worshippers of our bodily life and our mortality, my own father was dying. He passed away last March. I couldn’t help but think about this on Wednesday night during worship.
My relationship with my dad was not the closest. He was not my confidant, nor my role model. The grief experienced during this past year has often been the grief for a relationship that never was. Yet my dad was funny, charming and a hospitable host. I appreciated those qualities. He enjoyed entertaining and parties, and he enjoyed music. Maybe that rubbed off a little, too.
At the house I grew up in, my parents purchased a console stereo and had speakers wired from the stereo upstairs into the basement rec room. It was there, with our walk-out basement, that my parents liked to entertain. The stereo allowed for ten records at a time to be put on the spindle, so one would drop after the previous record had finished playing. I later heard that this was not so good for records, but it worked well for these parties. Among the music my dad enjoyed was the Kingston Trio and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and I appreciate the music of both.
All of this came back to me the other day as I grabbed my Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass CD on my way to the treadmill. Why I picked that particular CD up, I can’t say, but as I listened I thought back to that house and those days, and a certain fondness warmed my heart.
O.K, I enjoy Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The music may not be the most sophisticated, as the song titles may indicate – “Whipped Cream,” “A Taste of Honey,” “Lollipops and Roses.” Still there is something here that lightens the heart, even if the mind may not be deeply challenged. That’s o.k. In the economy of grace, I think there is room for whipped cream and other delights.
More importantly, in the economy of grace, even difficult relationships bequeath gifts.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, February 12, 2010

Sometimes I am asked what I am reading or listening to. I appreciate that some are interested in this, so here is my current reading and listening list.

During the winter, when walking outside can be problematic here in Duluth, I use our treadmill a lot. On the treadmill, I often watch videos, and the most recent video I watched while walking/running was “The Beatles: the first U.S. visit.” I enjoyed watching the excitement this group of musicians brought to a country just months after President Kennedy was assassinated. For three weeks in a row, the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show. Given the fragmentation of media, we are not likely ever to have the kind of attention given to any single entertainer that was given to the Beatles. That they were wonderful musicians certainly helped.

The three CDs played most recently in my car while driving:
Charlie Parker, The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes
The Beatles, Rubber Soul
The Beatles, Revolver


Christian Smith, Souls in Transition: the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults. I have had the opportunity to read this with faculty from private colleges throughout the country and thankful to the College of St. Scholastica for helping this happen. I am just getting into the book, but thus far it is fascinating.

Huston Smith, The World’s Religions. I am reading this with a men’s group at our church. Smith writes exceptionally well and invites us into the wisdom of the world’s religious traditions. This is a nice follow to reading Smith’s autobiography Tales of Wonder last summer.

Ann Patchett, The Patron Saint of Liars. We are reading this novel in an interfaith book group. Again, I am in the early pages, but am thoroughly enjoying the read.

Mel White, Stranger at the Gate: to be gay and Christian in America. Mel White is going to be the keynote speaker at a Duluth-area conference this April, and people in our area churches are encouraged to read this, his autobiography.

I just got back from the Board of Ordained Ministry interview retreat, and there we discussed the importance of clergy reading theology, at least from time to time. None of the books above is a theological work, strictly speaking, though they have theological dimensions to them. One of the theological works I have read more recently is Peter C. Hodgson, Liberal Theology: a radical vision. Hodgson’s brief book seeks to assess the current state of “liberal” Christian theology and construct a vision for its future. I will be adding some more theology to my reading list as space opens.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I admit it. I am a sucker for intriguing titles. I got into the entire Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery series simply because her first book was entitled In the Bleak Midwinter and I spotted it on the store shelf. It was worth the read and I commend her work to any who are mystery aficionados.

So imagine my delight in coming across the story collection by Amy Bloom, Where the God of Love Hangs Out. Talk about a captivating title! So I read the title story with great anticipation. Would it be rich in theological references? Would there be symbolism to engage the curious mind? None of these.

The chief protagonist of the story is a man named Ray who lives in a small town, probably in Connecticut, called Farnham. Ray is a semi-retired attorney who has very mixed feelings about his marriage to a sometimes pretentious and difficult woman named Eleanor. Ellie reminds Ray every now and again that they promised to be married “for better or for worse.” She is not an entirely unsympathetic character, having undergone a hysterectomy at age 33.

The other primary character in the story is Ray’s daughter-in-law, Macy. She is a young woman whose life has been a struggle. Her mother has drug problems and borrows money. Macy was fortunate to receive a college scholarship, but lived in a boarding house and worked hard just to make ends meet. Macy has also lied to Ray and her husband, Ray and Ellie’s son Neil, about her parents and her background. She has told them that her parents are dead.

Another particularly memorable character is Randeane, owner and waitress at The Cup coffee shop. She describes her father as Jewish left-wing and her mother as white trash Pentecostal. Ray believes he is in love with Randeane. Randeane offers wisdom in the story. Visiting Randeane, Ray is offered his choice of a chair or a hammock. He chooses the chair, telling Randeane that the hammock is too unpredictable. “Oh, life’s a hammock,” Randeane said.

What the author provides in about twenty pages are small incidents which tell us something about these people and their relationships, especially about Ray and Macy. We move through moments of disappointment, sadness, embarrassment, small pleasures, and a few deep joys. No grand theology. No mysterious symbolism, save the hammock.

Maybe that’s just the point of the story. Where does the God of love hang out? Maybe God hangs out in the midst of ordinary lives that are sad and disappointing and embarrassing; lives with scars from hurts large and small; lives with small pleasures and a few deep joys. Where else would the God of love hang out? Where else is God more needed?

With Faith and With Feathers,