Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Better days are coming...

Today was a shitty day. They happen from time to time, yes? And the only thing that makes sense to do on a shitty day is own it. Shitty days are rarely someone else's fault. God knows you can't change them no matter how hard you try so it is better to just accept it and go with the flow. Anything less is self-indulgent and boring. I could list the details, but why bother it was just shitty, ok?

Then we went to Maison Symphonique de Montreal to see Wayne Shorter. Usually we hike Mont Royal and take the Metro but we were both feeling played - so we drove. Good thing, too because later there was an unexpected rain storm. But driving was only part of the unexpected blessing. First of all, the hall is incredible - it looks like this - and who can stay trapped in a funk while sitting in this place?
Second, a 12 year old piano prodigy, Joey Alexander, opened the gig. He is totally Mr. Asberger's - awkward and goofy while talking about his music - but damn can this kid play. He needs to work on subtlety to be sure, but what do you want for a tween? Mozart? And then Wayne Shorter and his crack combo took the stage (after an interlude of re-tuning the piano because Mr. Alexander pounded it to hell and back.) OMG... this was free jazz beyond anything I have heard or experienced. Was there a time signature? Perhaps. Clearly there were cosmic, mind boggling charts because these cats were all playing in the same key at the same time, but they had to be part of the stratosphere. 

These weren't tone poems, but contemporary, improvisational art songs of the wildest and often most beautiful variety. They soared, they squawked, they rumbled and then exploded in ecstasy or anguish. And they pulled the listener in by the heart. What stunning intensity these players gave to each composition. And then they had fun, too.
I would not be able to listen to most of these art songs on CD or radio - waaay too bizarre for my quotidian tastes - but to enter this zone in person - and after a totally shitty day? It was a taste of heaven and Mr. Wayne Shorter - at 80 plus years of age - was a messenger from the sacred saying: deal with it, man and hang in there because better days are coming!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bad Plus Joshua Redman: sublime!

Last night we took in the Bad Plus Joshua Redman concert at Theatre Maisonneuve at the Jazz Festival in Montreal. It was stunning. Of a recent show in Great Barrington, MA, Albany’s Metroland said, “The newly christened Bad Plus Joshua Redman took the stage … and proceeded to raise the roof. In a word, the music the quartet produces is sublime. More than that, it's as though Redman is the long-lost fourth member of the group, just waiting to be snapped snugly into place.”


First, each of The Bad Plus players - Ethan Iverson, piano, Reid Anderson, bass; David King, drums - are subtle masters of their instruments. They can evoke longing in one passage and passion in another. They know how to utilize timbre and rhythm to bring the audience IN to the song's story in ways that change sound into a journey. Second, Joshua Redman is a master of the tenor saxophone who can play hard bop and funk as easily as tender ballads and classical composition. To put them together gives the ensemble a breadth of musical diversity that certainly rivals anything The Bad Plus has done on its own. This isn't to say that BP is compromised without Redman. Far from it. But together they create soaring solos in the jazz tradition rather than sound clusters.

Third, the music B+Redman are making truly is church for those introverts committed to the contemplative journey. Each composition evokes feelings that the extended solos - and silence - amplify. Indeed, given the length of each piece, the listener is able to go wherever he/she needs to go on an inward journey before being returned to the safety and community of the concert hall. 

I have long admired Joshua Redman and been intrigued by Bad Plus. At last year's festival, Redman shared a program with a string orchestra playing lush and romantic ballads in the company of Christian McBride and others. It was the highlight of Montreal for me. I also went to see the Bad Plus in a small venue and the chaos and cacophony of that night sent me scurrying into the street after only 30 minutes. Last night redeemed the event and helped me appreciate their gifts and genius in a new way.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On a quiet, cool, rainy Sabbath...

It is cool and drizzling in vieux-Montréal and the whole neighborhood is moving slowly. We walked Lucie a short time ago and no one was in the park - and almost nobody is on the streets. It is a fine day to stay inside to read and think (and practice) before heading back down to the Jazz Festival for a dose of Joshua Redman avec Bad Plus. 
 
+ We are at the half way point in our sabbatical - 10 weeks left - and that both sounds too soon for returning but also like a healthy time period left to keep going deeper. IIn ten weeks I still have 70 days to work on the bass and 100,800 minutes for reflection and rest. Knowing that there is a closing to this gift encourages me to make wise choices for the time that remains. I may not get to do everything I imagined before the sabbatical started, but I will certainly get to the key aspects in greater depth. In that light, a few meandering thoughts call out for articulation...

+ We visited with friends from home yesterday for part of the day - showing them our hood and favorite eateries - and both Di and I realized this was the first time we've been "social" in over 70 days. Being serious introverts - and living in a Francophone neighborhood - has given us the chance to listen more than speak, hang out mostly with just one another (and Lucie) and order our days in ways that create ample times for silence and resting. Whatever we wind-up doing after we return, it is clear to us both that we are going to need more quiet, alone time in our daily/weekly routine than ever before.


+ We covered our TV and will likely mostly unplug when we return to the US. It would be fun to have access to some films - and a few programs - right now, but mostly it has been a sweet release to let go of the tube. We have returned to an old practice of reading out loud to one another in the evening. And reading a lot more literature and non-fiction, too. As Leonard 
Cohen singsI'm sentimental, if you know what I mean, I love the country but I can't stand the scene. And I'm neither left or right - I'm just staying home tonight - getting lost in that hopeless little screen. It clearly has been time to unplug.  

+ We need to get a CD player for our flat. One of the benefits of turning off the TV has been making more room for music. We've made an investment - thanks to the Lilly Grant - in some great jazz CDs, but there isn't much to play them on except my computer. And that's fine for me when I am in my study, but not so satisfying for evening listening or while preparing a late supper. Don't get me wrong, the silence is lovely, but it is also refreshing to hear Bill Evans making beautiful music through satisfying speakers, too. Not having access to our sound system has been an awakening.


+ We have discovered both how complicated - and wonderful - it is to share caring for our special needs dog. While in the Berkshires, Lucie's anxieties can easily be managed: we live in a quiet place, we rarely have guests into the house, we have a sun room with a gate to maintain her private space, she has free access to our secluded backyard for her personal needs, etc. Not so in Montréal.  Here we must accompany her everywhere. Here she is almost always on high alert. Here she experiences sounds and people totally bewildering to a nervous country puppy. At first, it was exasperating - mostly because she was demanding more of our time, creativity and energy. But as we learn more about communicating with her in her own way - and simply caring for her as she is rather than how we might like her to be - it has become an adventure. And I would even say it has become another unexpected blessing in slowing down and paying attention to a love that matters. I think it has been good for Lucie in an odd way too because she really loves being with us in a new way now.


+ I have discovered how much deeper I want to go as a bass player. IIn the busyness of life before the sabbatical, I had forgotten how important it is to carve out regular practice time. The three gifts I am receiving as a musician in this quiet time are clear: 1) humility - realizing how much I don't know; 2) patience - working to correct bad habits and go deeper into the craft of playing; and 3) gratitude - it is fun to play this crazy instrument - and even more fun to play it in community with musicians I love and respect - so I'm loving my time alone and anticipating my time with others. with a renewed vigor.

This time of solitude has already been invigorating and even healing. I look forward to what the next chapter will reveal. In that resting and trusting, I think of something Rilke wrote: 

Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away... and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.... be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.... and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

NEVER give up hope...

Three times in my adult life I have lived through events I never expected to see realized: 1) the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain; 2) the election of an African-American as US president; and now 3) Marriage equality for same sex couples in the United States. Each has been breath-taking in its own way; each has evoked unexpected tears of joy and gratitude. As the President said this morning: sometimes justice comes to us like a thunder clap. To be sure, this SCOTUS decision was a long time coming. And the struggle makes Justice Kennedy's words even sweeter than I could have ever imagined

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people becoming something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it. respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgement of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered."

My Christian faith rests on a trust that the Creator not only loves us, but empowers us to deepen that love every day. Ours is not a God of retribution and shame, but the Source of compassion, hope, integrity and justice. This God set in motion freedom. This God is adored by Jews and Christians and Muslims and others regardless of what name we have discovered. And what this God has begun - CREATION - God continues until it is fully realized. Today was another part of the unfolding blessing and a reminder to me NEVER to give up hope. Thanks be to God.

  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

a sweet day...

We're listening to "Blue Trane" by John Coltrane and his killer band from 1957 including one of my favorites: bass men Paul Chambers. We spent the day wandering the Outremont neighborhood of Montreal - once mostly an Francophone stronghold - but now very mixed with a large Hasidic population. It was a gas - especially the bookstore "Drawn and Quarterly" - a specialty shop with tons of graphic novels. Tomorrow is the kick-off for the 36th Annual Jazz Festival and we'll be très occupé.

So just for kicks, here are a few visuals from our neighborhood - and dinner table - tonight. I thought it would be fun to share them with you before I practice the bass...bonne soirée mes amis!
This is what it looks like coming down from out flat whenever we take Lucie out for a walk...

Here are a few shots from le petite balcon at the front of our apartment...

And here's a street side shot of our hood...

And our twice daily destination avec notre chien Luciie...Parc Baldwin.




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

jazz communitarianism...

"Musical communitarianism in America has a long and wonderfully eccentric history." Now that is a sentence that resonates with me! (Spirits Rejoice!, Jason Bivins, p. 112)  In his chapter, "Urban Magic: Jazz Communitarianism," Bevin's asks the question, "What makes people establish counter-institutions?" and "To what are they counter?" One word dominates his historical reply: freedom.

With each wave of centralization or period of political-economic realignment, Americans have - in varying numbers and for diverse reasons - built cultural moats. Whether railing against "bigness" with echoes of populist traditions, retreating into agrarian communities, or establishing organized resistance to the state (in examples ranging from the Hutaree to the American Indian Movement), American self-fashioning has often involved the establishment of different spaces and places to cultivate virtues hard won in a corrupt "mainstream."

This reveals something more than the truism that resistance to political authority is written deep into the American grain: rather, by foregrounding these themes at the outset, we see how religio-musical communities are situated in a constellation of improvisational efforts to enact selves and societies on terms other than the given. Walt Whitman's vistas and barbaric yawps, Herman Melville's character Bartleby preferring not to, the MC5's kicking out the jams, all operate on a frequency of creative refusal that is alive in jazz communitarianism... So it is in warehouses and living rooms, church basements and coffee shops, community centers and storefronts that sounds come into being and fade into air, that musicians play into being experiences that simply by their existence are radical in McWorld. (Bivins, ibid, p. 114)

What a fascinating insight. Not only is my artistic impulse rooted in a long history, it is shaped by the certainty that freedom, integrity and compassion can best be nurtured by participating in a community of resistance. Further, our best selves are strengthened for the common good prefiguratively; that is, in the practice of making shared music we learn how to live in harmony and peace. This is never perfect, of course - and idealistic communities of resistance are usually short lived. But their insistent rebirth throughout American history points to their value, yes? How did Dr. King put it the night before his death?  "I've been to the mountain top..."

Yes, we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!


As this sabbatical time ripens, I can't help but sense that my return to ministry is going to include a more intentional - and intense - exploration of jazz communitarianism. Especially as it applies to a community of resistance in the spirit of peace, compassion, civility and radical hope. I might as well face it...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

all things jazz...

Today was given over to moving slowly, playing arpeggios in every key between Eb and C on the bass (as well as on my digital piano, too!) and following up on various Jazz Festival details. I ordered Ray Brown's Bass Method and Ron Carter's Building Bass Lines books and we nailed down two additional shows for the Jazz Fest. It will be quite a party: 

+ On Friday the 26th, we see Bebel Gilberto

+ On Sunday the 28th, it is Bad Plus with Joshua Redman

+ On Tuesday the 30th, incomparable Wayne Shorter (at 81 years of age and still wild!)

+ On Thursday the 2nd, chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux

+ And on Saturday the 4th of July, my hero Ron Carter


Tomorrow is St John the Baptist Day - La Fête nationale du Québec - the Quebecois national holiday celebrating their origins and French heritage. Unlike the US, most commerce comes to a close on this holiday; rather like Thanksgiving in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So a massive parade rolls by Mont Royale et St. Denis about 1 pm and we'll be there. Having grown up in Calvinist New England, I knew nothing about St. John the Baptist until serving our church in Tucson. (NOTE: I'm not a Mason either so I was really in the dark.) In the Southwest, San Juan Day marks the unofficial start of the monsoon - so water play and baptisms are all the rage. In time I came to love this festival as it honored the archetypal wild man who mentored Jesus in the wisdom of Mother Earth. As James Carroll notes, it is likely that Jesus spent up to 10 years with his "cousin" learning the ways of prayer, asceticism and the ways of the desert. Then, of course, Jesus discerned another way - the way of balance that honored the feast as well as the fast - and he parted company with the Baptist. I am eager to see how things shake out here. 

NOTE:  We took Lucie out for a later than usual "constitutional" and from a park just north of us a head-banger rock band is serenading our small community. I LOVE this place:  heavy metal in honor of St. John the Baptist! Although let me add this theological corrective: they have it backasswards:  Jesus was the party boy while John was all about the fast. Oh well, it is summer in Montreal and like people everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere know about Solstice time: the days start getting shorter so let's do some dancing in the street.
On Thursday it is off to the Outremont neighborhood - literally beyond the mountain - to the land of bagels, the curated Anglophone bookstore and the fictional home of Inspector Gamache.  And then... it is all things jazz!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jumpin' Jack Flash, Pork Pie Hat and Kairos time in America...

I have never had the time - nor taken the time - to saturate myself in the music that feeds my soul. Before this sabbatical, except for the hours we stole from something else in high school, music has been squeezed into the extra spaces of my life: after the children went to bed, after my meetings or studies were over, after the "important" things had been accomplished and paid for. Yes, more and more, I've been carving out music project time as an integral part of my ministry, and that has been grand. But there is always a tension for me - and now I have a reprieve and can simply rest into the sounds.

So, in addition to working with an on-line instructor and practicing the fundamentals in a systematic way, I am also reading about various aspects of jazz and the artists who have created this art form. I am starting to listen to key bass players, too. Last night I spent some times with Charles Mingus, the big, bold bass man born in Nogales, AZ who was raised in Watts, LA California. He was provocative in almost everything he did. He had an aggressive commitment to civil rights and justice, he was often belligerent to both audiences and band mates if they weren't listening carefully - and he knew how to share tenderness and beauty with those he loved in the most vulnerable ways. When the American civil rights movement became radicalized and harsh in the mid-1960s, Mingus created his most beautiful music "as a sign against the violence and naked degradation he felt around him." (Jason Bivins, Spirits Rejoice, p. 74)

I am attracted and energized by such counter-intuitive creativity. It is subtle, invitational and holds within the music the possibility of healing. There is a season to be confrontational, to be sure. Last night I read the Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite's challenge to White American Christians  and she is right: now is the time for a bold break with our past. Entitled "A Break in Time: Five Ways White Christian Theology Must Change after Charleston,"she calls this a kairos moment:

A crisis of racism as an idolatrous ideology is upon white Christian theology. White Christian theology needs to decisively break with this ideology, or lose the right to call itself Christian. I believe we have reached what we should call a kairos moment in the U.S. Kairos is an ancient Greek word and concept; unlike chronos, or time understood as the ordinary sequence of events, kairos actually means a break in time, a time out of time in which everything happens all at once.

And it has. The immediacy of Twitter hashtags captures this break in time so well. #TrayvonMartin #MikeBrown #TamirRice #Tanisha Anderson #EricGarner #Ferguson #ICan'tBreathe #HandsUpDon'tShoot #McKinneyPoolParty #BlackLIvesMatter and now, #CharlestonShooting. And, of course, the list goes on.

The massacre by an avowed white supremicist of nine African American church leaders, including the pastor, in a Bible Study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC is clearly not an isolated incident. It is so much more. It is everything happening all at once. If you look carefully at what produced the massacre in Charleston, you can see American faith and life exposed, a freeze frame, a break in time.

The great twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich spoke frequently of kairos. For Tillich, crises in history are moments that demand an existential decision by human beings. That means, as he writes, a moment of history had appeared which was "pregnant with a new understanding of the meaning of history and life." (Systematic Theology, III).

There is a new meaning of history staring us in the face today in the United States, or, at least, a new meaning to many white Americans. White America has never dealt with slavery and its aftermath and now we are living with the accelerating destructive effects of that historical failure.

check it out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/a-break-in-time-five-ways_b_7633382.html

As the scriptures teach: to every thing there is a season. Simultaneously, there must always be a place for a counter-intuitive creativity, too lest we become lost in our our own zeal and/or self-righteousness. This is not about caution or quietism - especially right now. Rather, it is a plea to honor artistic contemplation as a part of this kairos moment. Artists show us that there is never just one size that fits us all. There is never just one way to play a song or do a dance.There is never just one task to be accomplished. And never just one right answer that makes everyone else wrong. That is totalitarianism, not liberation or hope. 

Take a listen to what Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton do with this old Stones classic: in my heart they have turned it into a lament about the cruelty and suffering of real life AND the possibilities of transformation. They bring out the pathos of the lyrics and then let their instruments - her voice included - take us on a journey into blessing. To me they show us how hope comes into the world by taking what we know and loving it creatively until new possibilities are revealed.

I sense that is part of what my evolving calling in ministry is all about. It is not about opposing the hard and more confrontational work of this - or any -kairos moment.  No, it is about being allies with truth and compassion and using the power of beauty as a counter-intuitive invitation to hope even as we weep. And so the practicing deepens...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

sublime and tender...

We have been in Ottawa at their Jazz Festival - and it was a most blessed event. In addition to hanging in this great city, we heard three incredible performances:  Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton, Bruce Cockburn and The Roots. This was soul food, people: sweet, tender soul food that strengthened the spirit and nourished the heart for compassion and community. 

And what a holy gift to share with us? In the wake of grief and anger over the Charleston, SC shootings, each of these artists opened their hearts with us so that together we could weep and mourn, laugh and pray and renew all that is sacred in our everyday lives. They were intentional about this even though these concerts were never intended to have deeper significance. But each artist let themselves be opened so that their talent might nourish the greater good. It was as if T.S. Eliot's words had become flesh for a moment in time.

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

If you get the chance, please make every effort to see Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton: they are musicians of stunning ability and finesse who reinvent songs you've known all your life in ways beyond the imagination. And when they closed Friday night's gig with "Gimme Shelter," after Ms. Fisher said something like, "There is so much sorrow and pain in us right now... but it hurts too much to stay sad..." the heavens opened and our stillness did became a dance through grief into love. She wept as she sang, her bass player wept as he played a lament, she wept as he played and the 700 people who gathered in Ottawa at this place wept in awe and gratitude.

On Saturday we started off at Bruce Cockburn's gig with another 700 closely packed people who gave him a standing ovation before he started to play. He is one of my favorite singer songwriters - an activist, a mystic and a lover - who is also a kickass guitar player. It was too hot to endure more than 45 minutes in the tent so we slipped away shortly after "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." (That title and song, by the way, strikes me as the essence of the new band I want to form on the flip side of this sabbatical:  lovers of all that is holy and human making beautiful and challenging music together for these dangerous times.  More on that to come...)
So we sat and sipped fresh lemonade and made our way towards the main stage for The Roots. En route the PA was playing funk songs from the 70s and 80s - and when we got to our spot Cameo's "Word Up" was groovin the festival. Now I LOVE me some "Word Up" and started to dance and sing. And at just that moment the woman behind us - who bore a striking resemblance to Angela Davis - smiled and started to dance and sing with me. It was a total gas as we shook our aging booties to that funk. (see photo above) Then we settled in for The Roots.

Truth be told, I am not a huge hip hop fan - but damn if these cats can't make it happen! For 30 minutes Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter rapped and grooved while the band played every style of rhythm you might imagine. Not only was it emotionally engaging and intellectually satisfying, you could not help but shake your ass, too!  Now, for the entire first 30 minutes, two very interesting sociological events were taking place: 1) the older white folk (40+) were fleeing in droves; and 2) the younger people (18-30) of a variety of races were packing the festival. I wished I could have taken a photo of real white flight in action. And, I get it aesthetically: if this music doesn't touch you, you really have to work at it to get anywhere.
So we were determined to hang tough - and am I ever glad we did. After the hip-hop these cats took on some wild Herbie Hancock jazz funk that included moments that carried me back to the days of George Duke and Frank Zappa. The next 45 minutes mixed James Brown and the Ohio Players with Guns and Roses, Zep and sounds from the islands. They worked the crowd into a fever pitch - Black and White, young and old, male and female - until like Funkadelic proclaimed: we were one nation under a groove. It was brilliant - and totally unexpected by me. But I'm going to see these cats again, too!

The power and potential of sacred soul music grabbed me again this weekend, beloved. Now we're back home in Montreal - and it is time to get back to my practicing!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Grief and anger embrace...

This  morning I awoke to the news of yet another act of terrorism has taken place against African Americans in my land. I first read of this in a posting from a man who was my dorm counselor during my freshman year of college. He wrote: "Commentators are calling this act of violence an isolated incident. Isolated from what? History...?!?" Another colleague put it like this: It is a sad, sad day in America. A massacre, a hate crime, domestic terrorism, AND political assassination (two state senators were murdered.) 

My friends at Americans for Peace Now note the horrific connection between this hate crime and the vandalization of a church in Israel (likely by Jewish ultraconservatives) thought to be the locale where Jesus shared the loaves and fishes - taking special note that today marks the start of Ramadan: Today, as we join our fellow Americans in mourning the victims of the hate-crime in Charleston, South Carolina, and as we re-commit to fighting political violence, racism, and bigotry, Americans for Peace Now (APN) also condemns the torching and vandalizing of the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Israel. The attack on the historic Benedictine Monastery near the Sea of the Galilee, which caused damage in the millions, is apparently another in a series of arson and vandalism in Christian and Muslim houses of worship in Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, carried out by extremist Israeli Jews.

APN, an American Jewish organization that works to ensure Israeli security through peace and the viability of Israel's democracy and Jewish character, is alarmed at the proliferation of religion-related hate-crimes and hateful speech in Israel. A day before the historic church in the Galilee was torched and vandalized with graffiti admonishing "idol-worship," Israel's own Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulai, was quoted as saying that Reform Jews are "a disaster for the people of Israel."

As the holy Muslim month of Ramadan starts today, we call on Israeli authorities to show zero tolerance toward crimes of hateful, extremist Jewish nationalist-religious zealots, especially ones directed at Israel's religious minorities. Violence directed at Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites in Israel should be treated with the same zero-tolerance approach as an attack on worshipers at a historic church in South Carolina.

And within the hour Dianne and I leave for a few days in Ottawa for a jazz festival. Life and death, joy and sorrow are always intermingled, yes? My heart is full with sorrow and anger. My soul is not at rest. My spirit is rightly troubled. Perhaps no one captured this aching paradox better than a colleague, the Jewish rabbi of North Adams, Rachel Barenblat who put it like this in her blog: What can I do to change the reality in which this kind of hate crime is possible? (Please read her entire reflection here: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2015/06/more-gun-violence-more-racism-more-grief.ht)

This morning we prayed Psalm 34: how long?

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.

The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,

To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,

And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 He guards all his bones;
Not one of them is broken.
 Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.
 The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.


NOTE:  I will not be posting for the next five days.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A mid-course correction...

Today is mid-course correction day when it comes to the sabbatical - and that mostly means rearranging our living space so that I have more privacy for practice. We've been here for 4 weeks. Tomorrow we leave for a few days in Ottawa and their jazz festival. And truth be told, I haven't accomplished as much practice as I had hoped for. 

Partly that is just natural, yes? After all, it has only been 28 days - and the first week or so was given to settling in. Partly it stems from the way we're set up, too:  we're both working in the large center room. This is lovely for together time, but less so when it comes to me playing scales for 30 minutes or puzzling through a practice drill on both bass and digital piano. And to be completely honest, partly it has to do with being free and without timetables. So, put it all together and there has been less time to nourish my chops. Oh yes, add to this the surprise of learning to deal with a nervous dog in the city. She continues to be a sweet blessing, but a demanding one !

So last night (at 1:30 am) we talked about making a mid-course selection in how we organize our remaining time (12 weeks) as well as our living space. We're going to turn the guest room into my practice studio. We're going to give over 90 minutes each morning to my study and rehearsal. I'm going to stop blog writing first thing in the day, too. That will likely come at day's end so that I get serious time on the bass in 4-5 days each week. That leaves us the afternoon for wandering and the evening for music and play. 

In this morning's reflection, Rohr wrote about integrating our failings into our hearts and souls.

Francis had a genius for not eliminating the negative, but instead using it, learning from it, and thus incorporating it. He goes to the edge and the bottom of society, he kisses the leper, he loves the poor, he wears patches on the outside of his habit so that everybody will know that this is what he is like on the inside... So much of religion has taught us to deny or hide our shadow, which forces us into a fatal split from foundational reality. 

Owning the many changes and challenges of this sabbatical - as well as my own resistance - and making a shift strikes me as a blessing. I don't want to waste this sacred time given to rest and renewal. And part of not wasting it is recognizing how easily I could fritter it all away. As Rohr continues:

Just as we grow by ultimately accepting and forgiving our own failures, conscious people, like Jesus and Pope Francis, are able to say about others, "Who am I to judge?" (Luke 12:14). That's quite the opposite of religion as exclusion! In my fourteen years as a jail chaplain, I met people who had done things that are wrong, sinful, immoral, or "bad"; and yet when I drew close to a particular life, I found that the human heart was most often either sincere, mistaken, or afraid. Inside of that frame they sought apparent good but not the true good. It did make them do some stupid things, for which they are now suffering because evil is its own punishment. But, in fact, the human heart has a kind of tenderness, sweetness, and littleness when you draw close to it, even in its fragility and fear.

So let the next and deeper phase of this sabbatical begin.

credit:  photographs by Dianne De Mott

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Night songs and grace...

Well, no more about the "peace train" right now, ok? Let's shift to a related commitment: contemplation. Fr. Thomas Keating, father of the "centering prayer" renewal in the west after Vatican II, has noted that contemplation is "divine therapy." That is, with grace and patience, it integrates our shadow into our consciousness so that we can live "fully alive." It does not mean that we are "healed" or "released" from our shadow - the shadow is with us in this realm forever - but it does mean we can be aware of it - and with love and humility embrace it.

Richard Rohr suggests embracing our shadow consciously into our lives is what sets us free from the obsessions of addiction. In Breathing Under Water he writes that living under the influence is life without consciousness. We are enslaved to our addiction whatever it may be: we deny it, we hide from it, we fight it and we are bound to it in shame. But resting in the presence of God - trusting that God's love is greater than our wounds and actions - can both embrace our shadow so that we live with it consciously, and, lead us into the way of gentle humility. How did the old TV show, The Outer Limits, put it?

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to: The Outer Limits.

In other words, when we commitment to resting in God's grace, God does the rest. We cannot control "the divine therapy." We cannot change or transform our wounds. We can, however, accept in trust that the love far greater than ourselves, who set creation into motion, can do this. Not only does God want to bring us into a fully alive consciousness, but God offers multiple invitations to grace. In a recent blog post about St. Francis of Assisi, Rohr wrote:

"You can show your love to others by not wishing that they should be better Christians. We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good." 
Francis of Assisi

Yes, the quotes above are correct. The first quote was considered untrue and impossible that Francis would write such a thing, that for centuries the word "not" was deleted from his text. The point seems to have largely been ignored or denied until the very same sentiment was taught in the 19th century by St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In both quotes, I purposely italicized the word "not" to emphasize that our instinct would have been to do the same. The piously corrected versions provide us with an illusion about our own superiority that very much appeals to the ego, especially the religious ego. Francis' statement comes out of a highly enlightened awareness and the humility of honest self-observation.

It seems counter-intuitive that God uses and finds necessary what we fear, avoid, deny, and deem unworthy. This is what I mean by the "integration of the negative." I believe this is the core of Jesus' revolutionary Good News, Paul's deep experience, and the central insight that guided Francis and Clare with such simple elegance. They made what most would call negative or disadvantageshimmer and shine by their delight in what we ordinarily oppose, deny, and fear--such as being small, poor, or disparaged; being outside the system of power and status; weakness in any form.

The integration of the negative still has the power to create "people who are turning the
whole world upside down" (Acts 17:6), as was said of the early Christians gathered at Jason's house. Now some therapists call this pattern "embracing your shadow," which makes it into a "golden shadow" with gifts for us to receive. Such surrendering of superiority, or even a need for such superiority, is central to any authentic enlightenment. Without it, we are blind ourselves (John 9:39-41) and blind guides for others.

I think he is right: so long as we hate our imperfections, wounds and sins they remain our masters. We stay locked in bondage and addictions. And no matter how much we hate our broken self, it is not going any place. So either we remain trapped in shame, denial, fear and anger; or, we come to own our shadows as a real and ever changing part of our whole self. As Rohr writes elsewhere: 

In a spirituality of imperfection, we have a universal basis for how God "saves" humanity - and perhaps also a clear naming of what God saves us from - which is mainly from ourselves and our own feared and rejected "unworthiness." We find it hard to love imperfect things so we imagine God is just as small as we are. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever received from Francis is found in the seventh chapter of the Rule of the Friars Minor. Here he tells us not to be surprised or upset by the sins or mistakes of others (and I would add, by our own sins and mistakes) because, he says, "such anger and annoyance make it difficult to be charitable." His analysis is that simple, that hard, and that true. If we expect or need things (including ourselves) to be perfect or even "to our liking," we have created a certain plan for a very unhappy life.

There are so many times I go to sleep fretting over my shadow - dreading it in shame, fighting it for control - but nothing changes. Last night I moved towards sleep first wrestling with all the parts of my shadow that I hate. Then, in a moment I can only name as grace, I heard myself consciously saying, "And this shadow ain't going no where. It, too, is part of who you are along with the joy and the blessings. What's more, God even loves your ugly, broken shadow. So be still and let God love you." Then I fell asleep. Three hours later I awoke and fretted some more about the same old shit. And in time that same gracefilled word of integration visited again - and I went back to sleep for another seven hours.

When I awoke, it took me a moment to realize there was a song singing in my head. It was: "In the presence of God's people" a verse of which I was praying deeply - even in my unconscious: "Let us celebrate your goodness and your steadfast love. May your name be exalted, enthroned on the praise of Israel." And I was at peace. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

thoughts about the peace train - part six

NOTE:  For the next week, I am going to post my thoughts, reflections, concerns as well as an alternative action to the current BDS strategy of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning all of Israel in pursuit of Palestinian justice Not only does the BDS shotgun approach denigrate the whole of Israeli society rather than focus upon the ugly actions within the Occupied Territories, I believe the movement's ambiguous goals can all too easily be manipulated to advance genuinely antisemitic objectives.  Further, as a Christian contemplative, I have been persuaded that a bold people-to-people strategy - along with prayer, creative economic incentives and real political pressure directed towards US legislators - introduces effective, albeit costly nonviolent strategies geared towards long-term change rather than symbolic actions that create the illusion of righteousness without significant results. Let me state at the outset, however, that I don't pretend to have a monopoly upon wisdom. I also recognize that people of good will are likely to disagree with my conclusions. I welcome your insights but ask that you share them in the spirit and tone of peace and respect.(This is part six of a six part series.)
For the close of this six-part series re: my reservations about the BDS movement, let me change directions and offer some qualified support for Palestine as well as some alternatives to BDS. As should be clear to all, as a 21st century Christian, I accept our unique responsibility to oppose and even heal aspects of the historic antisemitism that has polluted the Christian tradition since early in the first century of the Common Era. That is why I am ever cautious and deliberate in my endorsement of ways to engage the quest for justice when it comes to Palestinian statehood. 

Like many I condemn the continuation of Israel's presence in the Occupied Territories. I recognize that for a variety of reasons - some honest and others deceptive - Israel has not moved expeditiously towards supporting Palestinian autonomy. Since the collapse of the Oslo Accords the willingness to move towards peace has become nearly non-existent - and sometimes overly violent, too. This is not to say that Palestine has been blameless or victims during this agonizing stale-mate. Provocation, frustration, the inability to embrace Israeli security as an existential issue to say nothing of the internal mistrust that defines their own political leadership has relegated most Palestinian efforts towards peace and stability to the dung heap of history. With rogue elements of Hamas in Gaza sending periodic missiles into Israel to destabilize the current joint conversations about a truce; with  IDF acts of violence towards unarmed Palestinian civilians taking place with some frequency;  with right wing religious elements in the US and Israel funding the agenda and propaganda of Israeli settlers; and with an increasingly demoralized population of radicalized Palestinian youth on the rise, the prospects for change and peace seem nonexistent.

A deeper truth exists under the obvious, however, for people of The Book: God never quits what God has started. The overwhelming message of the Abrahamic faiths is that even when God's people are sinful, the Lord remains faithful, just and loving. Further, the more God's heart is trusted, the more the possibilities for peace and compassion grow stronger. So let me first offer two small examples of how people-to-people efforts embody the way of redemption and hope. And then outline a comparable strategy - with Palestinian allies - to advance the cause of peace. 

One path on the road of redemption that is currently being paved is taking place in Music in
Common. Their work strikes me as a creative alternative to BDS in the spirit of Yusuf Islam ‘s “peace train” that unites hope with personal acts of creativity. A recent article described their mission like this:

A Berkshire-based nonprofit, that works to promote tolerance and teamwork through music, plans to bring three Jewish Israeli, four Arab Israeli and two Palestinian students from the Middle East, to engage in song making on the Great Barrington campus of Bard Rock at Simon's College, in August. "Working together on a creative activity is such a powerful force for people," said Lynnette Najimy, spokesperson for Music in Common, of the determination that MIC's Summer Youth Summit not be derailed by the escalating war between Hamas militants in Gaza, and Israel."This is the first year we are doing the summit. We have made four trips to the Middle East over the last four years, and have done similar programs in United States' schools, but we wanted to bring all those students together in one place." Founder Todd Mack, a Sheffield-based musician, added the "increased conflict fuels us even more to do it. It is the reason why we do it. There is another way to figuring out the problems that exist between cultures and faiths because of differences, and figuring out the things we share in common is a good starting point,"

Last summer I had the chance to speak with these young people who, together with a similar number of US youth, were learning the hard work of peace.  It starts small. It is a slow process. And not a lot changes in any discernible way. But as the seminar was drawing to a close, one young woman said:  “Next year I will be drafted into the IDF when I come of age. I know the fear and anger alive between Jews and Muslims. I know the danger of being on patrol and the hatred born of that whole experience. But after my time here, working and creating with my new friends, I can no longer see just “the enemy” – and I don’t know what I am going to do.”   

Another project, Artsbridge, Inc. in Williamstown, MA, uses the visual arts to help Israeli Jews, Arabs and Palestinian youth to find their voice in pursuit of peace. By bringing young people to the United States, these youth are given a chance to be creative with peers they are often segregated from in contemporary Israel. They, too, suggest a path beyond BDS that makes connections rather than furthers isolation. I do not want to see such long-term commitments to solidarity diminished by current frustrations and short-sighted strategies.

Rather I would like to build upon a suggestion - and amplify it with political action in the US - that was first articulated by Rabbi Arthur Waskow. He has asked activists to fashion a positive grassroots movement with specific goals that could include boycotting selected products from the Occupied Territories and definitely would include bringing Jews, Christians and Muslims - Israelis, Palestinians and Americans - together for a series of conversations about history, daily life, religion and our shared call to shalom/salaam. I would add to Rabbi Waskow's suggestion:

1) a commitment to a vigorous lobbying of US elected officials to hold Israel 
accountable for the current stale-mate – especially as it applies to the occupied territories;

2) an honest discussion/study of anti-Semitism in the Christian and Muslim traditions;

3) periodic travel/study events to Israel and Palestine;

4) and the purchasing Palestinian goods as part of a campaign of solidarity.

Rather than pass resolutions at national church gatherings that have almost no impact upon local congregations, why not use our time and resources to develop measured study resources and focused lobbying actions? Why not outline a three year commitment for local churches that would embrace study/discussion; travel and conversations in Israel and Palestine; and bold and consistent lobbying of US legislators? 

+ One group working along just these lines i Churches for Middle East Peace. (go to: http://www.cmep.org/) One need not re-invent the wheel with this group as they offer study material, study trips and advocacy.

+ Another is Americans for Peace Now (http://peacenow.org/).

+ A third is Interfaith Peace Builders (http://www.ifpb.org/)

+ And I would be remiss in omitting Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org/) a fascinating and important Palestinian resource.

I also believe using the financial resources of a congregation to purchase Fair Trade products
from Palestine is a creative and informative way to engage in this struggle for peace, too. Here are a few trusted markets:

+ Zaytoun (http://www.zaytoun.org/home/the-zaytoun-story/) a collective offering a variety of excellent Palestinian products.

+ Canaan Fair Trade (http://www.canaanfairtrade.com/) another trusted resource.

+ Palestinian Fair Trade Association (http://www.palestinefairtrade.org/)

+ And in the US the people at Koinonia Farms in Americus, GA are offering Fair Trade items from Palestine, too. (http://www.koinoniapartners.org/catalog/)

Add caption
Earlier this summer I was introduced to another fascinating, creative and important resource: The Gaza Kitchen. Telling the stories of ordinary Palestinians as they try to live into their culture and tradition in the midst of the Occupation, this book is quietly subversive in all the best ways. It nourishes compassion and solidarity. It does not demonize. And it is something the opens the feasting tables of our various traditions to the way of the peace train. Learn more here at:

When I first began to explore the way of peace-making after seminary, I discovered two things:  1) my heart was changed when I actually knew the people my country/ideology/fears labeled as enemy. Being in their loving presence impelled me to become active on their behalf.  And 2) the more my heart and eyes were opened, the greater the common ground. I remember in what was once Soviet Russia seeing a small girl about the age of my own daughters at a Christmas Eve rehearsal outside of what was then Leningrad. I was stunned - she looked just like the little girls I would hold in my laps and read stories to each night - just like the children I cherished and prayed for daily. It was unconscionable to not work for peace as I meditated on this connection.

The more I trust “the peace train,” the more I have to opt for more creativity and community-building at this moment in time. And that is why I am unable to support the BDS movement.




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