thanks for the memories dear friends...

So many friends from so many years and places have been in touch over the past 24 hours after yesterday's blog post that I am overwhelmed - and so grateful. As you each said in wildly different ways: these 35 years have been a blessing given to us all as we shared ministry together in our various towns. It has been my privilege to do this work with you and I thank you profoundly for taking the time to be in touch. Your notes and FB updates filled me with gratitude as they brought back memories that I cherish. I even had a two hour phone call last night with a dear friend I haven't spoken to in ages. Such grace!

It made me think of some of the sweet music we have shared in our various ministries - and how I have been linking popular culture music with the lure of the Spirit in church since 1968. That's almost 50 years!  Back in Darien, CT we played Dylan to start with but soon moved to Quicksilver Messenger Service and even the Mothers of Invention. 

At my ordination (at my home church in Darien) we put together an eclectic opening medley that included "The Internationale" along with "In Christ There Is No East or West" and "De Colores." We did "Good News" by Sweet Honey in the Rock and mixed it up with Dylan's "You Got to Serve Somebody" too. My old buddies Sam Fogal, Al Phillips and Ray Swartzback rocked the house with their words of grace and prophetic challenge.
When we got to Saginaw, MI it took me a few months to get my bearings but then found that "Cats in the Cradle" spoke a true word to over-worked executives while Springsteen's "My Home Town" rang more true for assembly-line folk and the recently unemployed. Given the collapse of the US steel industry in those days and its aftershocks in the auto industry, those were hard times.  We created the first of our Thanksgiving Eve gigs back in that sweet town, too and had a blast singing and sharing together even in the hard times.
Cleveland was a wild ride as we tried to figure out how to do urban ministry in a changing neighborhood. My music director had been in undergraduate school with Dr. King and when we revived the Thanksgiving Eve programs, he brought into my awareness some of the African American classical compositions I had never heard - plus a bit of Scott Joplin.  We tried every possible type of music in those days - from praise and worship songs, the folk music of John McCutcheon to jazz standards and rock and roll - and as I look backwards I give thanks to God for it all. The late Don Wooton turned me on to Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born" and it doesn't get any better than this.

In Tucson we started small but soon created what I thought of as "the liturgical Grateful Dead meets country" with Stranger. Sometimes for our Thanksgiving Eve shows there were 15 people on stage (and in Pittsfield we took that to nearly 30 one time)  I think some of our finest moments outside of those great shows came when we reclaimed the music of U2. We also did some incredible Good Friday gigs mixing David Bowie with Eva Cassidy, Appalachian lament with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bessie Smith. What a blast it all was with incredibly talented musicians with big hearts. For me, this song says it all...

And now Pittsfield - a decade plus of intense beautiful music - with wonderfully generous and gifted musicians. Our Good Friday events have continued to deepen my experiment with non religious music including our take on John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" but also previous years where we mixed U2 with Paul Simon, Allison Krause with Mose Allison, and Benjamin Brittan with John Fogerty. The wildest combination put the prayers of the Easter Vigil on top of a hip hop remix of "Purple Haze." And let's not forget the Thanksgiving Eve shows that created a quasi-gospel choir for "Candle in the Rain" and "Down to the River to Pray." This community is ripe with talent so we've been able to have horn sections, singer song writers, rock and soul and crazy bebop jazz. Here's a few tunes from our first BIG show that was just a total gas...
Now, I'm going to be around these parts for a while to come, and will be working outside my church commitments in an emerging dance band, a rock and roll revue filled with Beatles' tunes and a jazz/interfaith prayer experiment, too. So the music is NOT going to stop - it will just shift a bit - and we'll continue to mix it up in new ways on Sunday worship, too. So thank you from my heart for being in touch. Now let's keep it rockin!


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