Monday, June 30, 2014

L'Orchestre des hommes de l'orchestre ont soufflé mon esprit ...

Today is total chill time - that's been part of the plan - so small wonder that we slept for 11 hours! Yesterday, however, was full tilt boogie and what a gas as we picnicked on Mount Royal for my birthday, wandered around McGill University and then headed to the Jazz Festival for the most incredible musical theatre I have ever experienced: L'Orchestre d'Hommes-Orchestres' performance of Cabaret Brise Jour (Shattered Cabaret - a tribute to Kurt Weil.)
Here's the recap: Mount Royal is THE place to be on a stunning Sunday afternoon in Montreal. People of all ages stroll through the rolling fields and trees. Periodically they will stop along the way to share some bread, cheese and wine so we figured we should join them. After all, this was to be my birthday celebration with the kids, so quand à Montréal ... Our sweet children brought baquettes, brie, tomatoes and cukes plus red wine (you can drink in public place throughout Quebec IF it related to a meal!) They even brought along some incredible French pastries for desert. So, we feasted and talked, gave thanks to God and even took a bit of a nap on the grass.

In time, little Louie woke up so we played and giggled before heading over to

encounter les Tams Tams - a place, my son in law said, that time forgot - as it is always a scene straight out of Woodstock. Hippies of all ages, sizes and races gather every Sunday at 12 noon for a drum circle. Others from within the ranks of the gentle unwashed line the perimeter with tie dyed dresses, various silver bracelets and rings, hand-tooled leather goods and other
paraphernalia needed to affect just the right 21st century hippie groove. We danced and enjoyed the toned down bacchanalia for 15 minutes and then moved on. Upon leaving I was heard to say, "You know, I've always loved that style but never really fit in - then or now - because I prefer to wash my hair on a regular basis." 

After another hour of walking and talking, the kids got ready to head back to the USA where they'll spend the next week on Cape Cod. We quickly regrouped at our flat, said sweet goodbyes and headed back to the Jazz Festival for Cabaret Brise Jour. I am a huge fan of genre-bending art - we discovered some wildass creations in London 8 years ago so I'm always on the lookout for new experiments - and the description of this show captured my imagination a full six months before we arrived:

Originally founded as a music ensemble in 2002 in Quebec City, L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres (LODHO) came to be over the course of various projects which catapulted innovation into a makeshift interdisciplinary workshop. The ensemble’s raw productions take on a unique role as they transform the music concert genre into “music that can be seen”, with a raw vigor and captivating stage presence. Having previously performed their enigmatic take on the music of Tom Waits to sold out crowds at Theatre Junction GRAND, L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres are back to take on the music of another outsider genius – Kurt Weill, the great composer who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on The Threepenny Opera, and fled Germany in 1933 to France then eventually New York.  In a Franco-German-English mix, the eight musicians-singers-actors revive the horrors of war, the lights of Broadway and the cozy atmosphere of music halls.

And did they ever deliver on recreate the horror, thrill, decadence, fear, shame, joy and tragic innocence of those who chose to live on the edge and explore life to the fullest in the Weimar Republic! This was not a note for note reproduction of Weill, but a total reinterpretation that pulled you ever deeper into the angst of that era. It was often visually disturbing. One song featured a vocal quartet of two women and two men: when the men sang they clamped their massive hands over the faces of the women forcing them into ackward posses of submission; when they were released, they sang with beautiful innocence until the final chorus when they themselves resumed the postures of subjugation. Another song featured the lead singer performing with a plastic bag over her head as she moved closer and closer to suicide. To be sure, there was also humor and massive amounts of creativity in both the staging and sound.
By the end of the 90 minutes, it felt like you had entered a twisted time-war. My legs were weak and my bearings uncertain. Reality seemed unreal for about 30 minutes afterwards. I wanted to weep as well as talk through everything we had just encountered, but I didn't know where to begin. Robert Lapage, writing about the troupe in his presentation of the Glenn Gould award, put it like this:

Finding yourself out of your comfort zone is something extremely stimulating - that's exactly what L'orchestre d'hommes-orchestres does for you. Somewhere between music, poetry and visual performance, they create their own art form and you suddenly find yourself treading territories you never knew existed. They turn the ordinary into extraordinary, the expected into the unexpected, and noise into harmony. They are truly unique. (read more @http://

I can only say that I cannot wait to see these artists again. They have created a show celebrating the music and vision of Tom Waits - another genius who is well-acquainted with the troubling and sweet underbelly of contemporary life - and it must be equally riveting. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Des moments comme ceux-ci revivre mon âme ...

Yesterday was filled with walking - another of the many joys I experience when we come to Montreal. Not only is this city filled with fascinating people, but the boulevards are beautiful and the shops are stunning (most of the time.) And wandering around the Festival of Jazz at any time of day or night is just too kewel for school.

Our day began at Marché Jean-Talon: our favorite gathering spot where farmers truck in fresh produce almost every day and various other merchants offer incredible cheese and bread.I got in a bit of jazz dancing with my little man avant le petit déjeuner and that set the tone for a sweet, sweet day. And after crepes avec pommes, jabon et frommage it was off to the Place-des-Art and some people watching.

The band that grabbed us was a wild ensemble called the Lemon Bucket Orkestra (check them out here: are truly a guerrilla folk ensemble playing Roma-like music in a style that encourages dancing, acrobatics and lots of improvisation. Even the blistering sun didn't keep us from being a part of their parade around the Festival site. Then it was inside one of the underground malls for iced chai, air-conditioning and a chance to watch a new performance  for children.
One of the truly creative things the Montreal Jazz Festival does with increasing frequency is find ways to both entertain and educate children. There is a HUGE play area in the center of the Festival, but there are also 2-3 well done music/rhythm events geared towards teaching children of all ages the history and message of jazz creativity. Even before I became grand-père music education for young people was dear to my heart - and now that my little man Louie LOVES to dance and clap and shake his bootie, I am thrilled whenever we come upon musicians who obviously love their art AND the children who are drawn to them light moths to a flame.

The night came to a close with the kids treating Di to a special and unplanned birthday dinner in the Mont Royal section of town. As we strolled back in the cool evening breeze it was clear that we were both grateful to be loved and have the chance to share that love with our family in our deep albeit broken ways. These times are among the most tender I have known.

Today is Di's actual birthday and we're going to see our first "big" show later tonight:orchestre d'hommes-orchestres doing the music of Kurt Weill. We'll have an early supper with the family again - check out La Petite Ecole du Jazz, too - and then crash a free Diana Krall show to close things out as the kids head back to MA for part two of their family vacation. 

These times renew my soul.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Errant avec leurs proches à Montréal,,,

Day two at Montreal Jazz Fest was stunning: the weather was crisp and sunny, the people were ready for a party and in time the NY chapter of the family arrived in Canada. What is there to complain about, yes? So, as is our preferred style of mobility, we wandered: we wandered through our neighborhood (Little Italy), we wandered through Marche Jean Talon, we wandered about the festival grounds watching people (mostly children playing in the fountains) and we even wandered through some conversations.
William Wordsworth once put it like this:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

That is, I suspect, another favorite about these types of vacations: there is NO destination or goal, just time to see what strikes our fancy and then follow that impulse until it is over. These two street performers working the Place-des-Arts METRO station capture the soul of wandering as they improvise on U2's "With or Without You."
We wandered about later searching for a park where we might host an impromptu Middle Eastern picnic - when what should present our wandering eyes but Parc Dante with a lovely bust of the poet himself. So we parked ourselves - and a sleeping baby - and shared white wine and schwarma, falafel, hummus and those great pickled turnips the Lebanese do so well. And as evening fell, the kids wandered some more and we returned to the scene of the jazz crime for a late night digestif of jazz funk
Today will be much the same as yesterday - and it will all be sacred. In easing into this morning I came upon this poem by Mia Anderson, winner of this year's Montreal Poetry Award

The antenna is a growth not always
functional in all people.

Some can hoist their antenna with
remarkable ease—like greased lightning.

In some it is broken, stuck there in its old winged
fin socket way down under the shiny surface

never to issue forth.
Others make do with a little mobility,

a little reception, a sudden spurt of music

and joy, an aberrant hope.

And some—the crazies,
the fools of God—drive around

or sit or even sleep
with this great thin-as-a-thread

home-cobbled monkey-wrenched filament
teetering above their heads

and picking up the great I AM like
some hacker getting Patmos on his toaster.

And some, with WD40 or Jig-a-loo
or repeated attempts to pry the thing up

or chisel at the socket
do not give up on this antenna

because they have heard of how it works
sometimes, how when the nights are clear

and the stars just so and the new moon has all but set,
the distant music of the spheres is transformative
and they believe in the transformation.

It is the antenna they have difficulty believing in.

See more at:

credits:  all pictures by dianne de mott

Friday, June 27, 2014

Laissez le bon temps et les grands groupes commencent!

Somebody once asked me "Why do you guys LOVE Montreal for vacation so much?" That question kept surfacing last night as we wandered through the Jazz Festival groundsa and there is no complete answer. There are, however, a few clues worth noting:

+ First, Montreal is a big, multi-cultural city that moves to its own groove. It isn't wildly fast-paced like NYC nor is it obsessively chill like New Orleans. It is a place that feels human-sized to me without the worries of rushing to and fro with something to prove.

+ Second, it is clean and wildly family friendly: there are things for children to do everywhere. That means little ones and their siblings are to be found in the Jazz Festival as well as the Contemporary Art Museum. It is a bicycle friendly urban area too so people of all ages are riding through the town well into early evenings.

+ Third, it is a relatively safe city. To be sure, bikers have taken up residence in places outside the urban area to ply their meth trade - and the presence of the mob infects construction and other building trades - but the truth of the matter is that our visits rarely encounter those scenes. The most troubling thing we encounter is the presence of First Nation street people who are often wasted and/or asleep in public places. And while Canada is far ahead of the US when it comes to its aboriginal tribes, there is still massive alcoholism and homelessness.

+ Fourth, the multi-lingual/multi-cultural reality is too kewel for school. I am a HUGE Francophone - I need to really strengthen and deepen my ability to both hear and speak French - but I am so grateful to the Quebecers who patiently allow me to practice and try my best. And the French-thing touches everything here from fashion to cuisine - and that is a blessing, too. 

+ And fifth, this place knows who to make the most of their FESTIVALS! They fill the summer months with creative street parties and concerts that run the gamut from free to upscale. Not only has that generated a buzz about the user-friendliness of Montreal, but it brings in millions of creative tourists each year eager to experience jazz, indie-rock, comedy, French music, film, visual art and so much more. I have learned more about the creative economy by simply walking around this town each summer for the past seven years than from almost any where else - and this has implications for my own home as well as our ministry to the community. What's more, the depth and breadth of the jazz shows - free and ticketed - is always a blast and an educational endeavor.

I suspect the last reason I so totally dig being in Montreal is that it has become a place liberated from the heavy-hand of the church so that thriving congregations have had to reinvent themselves in a brave new world. In one generation Montreal has gone from a municipality dominated by the presence of the Roman Catholic Church to an urban community that intentionally disestablished the church from its political life. Some congregations simply shattered because they did not know how to survive in this open context. But others, like Gesu or St. James United Church of Canada found new ministries that have allowed them to be embraced with love and respect by greater Montreal.  That, too, holds important lessons for me as our small congregation wrestles with our version of American disestablishment in the 21st century.

Ok, the truly last reason - number seven - that I adore making my way to Montreal each summer with my honey:  it is a hip place where I can simply let my hair down in anonymity. Does that sound weird? Being such a public person in Pittsfield - a small city - means I am always on display. And while I love my ministry, I totally need decompression time, too or else I get cranky and resentful. Here, not only am I unknown, most of the time I have to work hard at listening rather than speaking, so even the enforced silence becomes a salve for my soul.

Today, before the rest of the clan arrives, we're going to take in the young big band jazz performers in the high school and college age level. They are always smokin' and evoke hope in my heart. Laissez le bon temps et les grands groupes commencent!

credit:  all pictures by Dianne De Mott

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Today we settled into a gentle groove...

When my meetings were done yesterday - and our friends picked up Lucie in
mid-morning - Di and I decided to head out of Dodge 12 hours earlier than planned. She scoped out a budget lodging in Brattleboro and after Eucharist (and some packing) we headed for North Country. There was an horrendous rain storm halfway into this trek that was unnerving. But by the time we arrived at the Tibetan Buddhist Motel on Route 7 in South Brattleboro, Va all was well with the world.

How to describe that lodging.  Well, modest is a good start: it was clean and basic, safe and um... that's about it. But who doesn't want to support creative and enterprising refugees from Tibet?So after a stunning dinner at a locovare eatery, we crashed early and enjoyed being frugal. With the sun threatening to break through the haze, we wandered around Brattleboro for the better part of the morning. Given the blessings of smart phone technology, we found the best "home cooked diner breakfast" in town.

And as we were chilling to omelettes, hash and caffeine a 40 something mom and her 18ish son sat next to us. After they ordered the "big boy" - two of everything on the breakfast menu - we couldn't help but start a conversation. And what do you know: this dude is a rock and roll, indie band drummer who is leaving today for a 30 day road trip of the Northeast! Hot damn! We had a great old time talking jazz, early influences and the joys and sorrows of living in a van with four other band members. Check him out at: http://dionysia.

We made it into Montreal by early afternoon and I have to say that this place feels like home. We've been taking a small flat in the are of March Jean Talon for the past few years and I just love the gentle groove of this place. In due time we made it down to the Place des Arts where the Jazz Festival is just getting underway. After my second ever bison burger, we sat by the main bandstand and watched the Montrealers get ready for the biggest festival of the summer. 

Tomorrow our dear daughter, son in law and grandson arrive and it will be more of the gentle jazz groove. What's more, we're going to celebrate both of our birthdays here next week (an annual tradition.) And just to add icing to the cake, I got word tonight that our first pick to cover my sabbatical next year told the sabbatical committee that he would be thrilled to cover for me.

So, like is sweet in our little part of the world right now. I give thanks to God for the blessings and for the chance to step back from the fullness of ministry. More soon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Et commence notre voyage à Montréal...

Every year at about this time we slip out of town and head north for at least a week at the Montreal Jazz Festival. For the past two years one of our daughters has been able to join us - sometimes with her husband - and this year they'll be bringing my little man Louie! It is a time of walking the streets, engaging in our dreadful French, eating great French food and soaking up as much creative music as possible.

We are so grateful to John and Lauryn for taking on another week of Lucie care - she loves them dearly - and also to my sweet colleagues who cover for me during this retreat. For sure we'll be taking in shows that include Bobby McFerrin, a gypsy jazz rendition of Kurt Weill music and Zappa Plays Zappa (on my birthday of all things!)

Et commence notre voyage à Montréal...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Small steps in peace-making...

Two days to go before we depart for Montreal and embrace two weeks of rest, renewal and refreshment. But before we depart there are still miles of ministry to do before I sleep (my regrets to Robert Frost.) Yesterday, for example, I met with a colleague from one of the town's synagogues to plan for some shared gatherings we hope to kick off mid-summer. He told me that after a recent presentation we did about Israel-Palestine he felt emboldened to toss away his sermon notes and talk with his congregation about what it felt like to be among the vast center of the political spectrum. He noted that too often this "voice" has been rendered silent by extremes on both the political Left and the Right. What would it take, he mused, to empower the broad center so that compromise and change might emerge in pursuit of integrity and peace?

Our shared hope is that we might reclaim some common ground so we're exploring ways of bringing our two congregations together for shared study and reflection. This is an act of courage and faith on his part given the profound polarization that exists around anything having to do with Israel and I am humbled by his careful and compassionate commitment. So what we're going to do this summer is create a forum for trust building. We'll start by bringing together a small group from each congregation - all of whom know in advance that our goal is to study and explore our take on the current stalemate between Israel and Palestine - and share together some of the poems of our traditions. Our hope is that the beauty and nuance of poetry will not only help us learn to speak with one another - and create the potential for trust and safety - but also help us grasp the complexity of our endeavor. 

A small step? Of course.  Will it change the political landscape in Israel or the United States? Not likely. But it will bring two very different but simultaneously similar congregations from unique faith traditions together. And it will give us the chance to carefully practice talking about hard things together in pursuit of peace and understanding. In its own small way, this calls to mind Psalm 133:

How very good and pleasant it is
   when kindred live together in unity! 
It is like the precious oil on the head,
   running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
   running down over the collar of his robes. 
It is like the dew of Hermon,
   which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
   life for evermore.

As our time grew to a close yesterday, I said, "This is a unique and sacred moment that I don't want to waste. At this moment in my life, unlike when I was younger and thought I could always go back and grab an experience, I know that time waits for no one. Life is too short and precious to put off what has been presented to us."  So we hope to seize the moment in faith... 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A day of deep gratitude...

Today was one of those day that made me simply sit back in awe and
gratitude. First of all, it was a physically stunning Berkshire day with sunshine, soft winds and almost no humidity. Second, all of my encounters today were profound and satisfying; clearly blessings abound even in the midst of trials and challenges. And third, although the week has just started it is also almost over for me as we're leaving for vacation in Montreal in two days!

Three different poems - one suggested by my rabbi friend and colleague - speak to a time such as this:

The Art of Blessing the Day - Marge Piercy
This is the blessing for rain after drought:
Come down, wash the air so it shimmers,
a perfumed shawl of lavender chiffon.
Let the parched leaves suckle and swell.
Enter my skin, wash me for the little
chrysalis of sleep rocked in your plashing.
In the morning the world is peeled to shining.

This is the blessing for sun after long rain:
Now everything shakes itself free and rises.
The trees are bright as pushcart ices.
Every last lily opens its satin thighs.
The bees dance and roll in pollen
and the cardinal at the top of the pine
sings at full throttle, fountaining.

This is the blessing for a ripe peach:
This is luck made round. Frost can nip
the blossom, kill the bee. It can drop,
a hard green useless nut. Brown fungus,
the burrowing worm that coils in rot can
blemish it and wind crush it on the ground.
Yet this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun...


Welcome Morning - Anne Sexton
There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.


Otherwise - Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday afternoon musings after worship...

We've been winding down at church for the past few weeks getting ready to enter a different groove with summer - and today that new beat was realized in our very informal worship conversation about adult Christian formation. We celebrated our Sunday School teachers and students, awarded Bibles to two 4th graders and honored our dedicated leaders. Then I tossed away my prepared notes and talked with the congregation about "how to do adult Christian formation int he 21st century."

My set up was Mary Chapin-Carpenter's song, "Stones in the Road," which evokes a childhood guided by concern for the common good vs. contemporary living shaped by the race to get ahead. It is, of course, an incomplete paradigm - as some of our younger folk noted - but it evoked a deep conversation about how to help one another grow in faith and community given the realities of this moment in time. Because, let's face it, while I have the luxury and inclination to "unplug" more and more, that is not a real option for people with children and careers.
My sister Karen was a teacher about this for me in a unique way. At our daughter's wedding a few weeks ago she told me that her family was no longer going to worship. "Every week we were made to feel inadequate and guilty about not being able to do MORE! Nobody on the church staff seemed to realize that in addition to the two adults in the household working 12+ hours each every week and then helping our son with school work - with Saturdays given to shopping and home repairs - there simply is not any time left to do more than be present and prayerful on Sunday morning." Then she paused and said, "It doesn't help to be shamed and guilt-tripped over and over... so we're not going anymore. Besides," she smiled, "it feels SO good to sleep late on Sunday mornings for a change!"

That rang true to my folk, too so we talked together about three ideas that do not add any more demands to their days but builds upon what is already good within and among us:

+ First, an annual adult formation retreat (perhaps scheduled two times so that both parents might attend separately.) There was energy about doing a REAL retreat - not a working meeting in another locale as so often happens with Protestant congregations - but a time to rest and be still, to listen and pray.

+ Second, a well-publicized in-worship book study done twice a year. We would read together at our own speed and then use my message time to highlight and discuss a book that matters to our life of faith.  

+ And third, periodic inter-generational celebrations that start in worship but extend into a congregational party. Think Epiphany pageants with singing and story-telling after worship. Or Pentecost drama that morphs into an all church birthday party. One key element is to avoid doing these events when life is ALREADY overloaded like Advent/Christmas.

None of these ideas precludes any of our more traditional offerings shared midweek, of course; rather they simply acknowledge was is real right now and finds a way to playfully engage it.  This summer we're going to try two different experiments:  a) more jazz meditation at the start of worship; and b) a discussion of Walter Brueggemann's book on Sabbath as Resistance to the Culture of Now.

In the back of my mind I have been considering Naomi Schaeffer-Riley's essay re: Seven Ways to Bring Young People Back to Your Church.  She writes:

Religion? How to Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley explores why young people have left religious institutions and what can bring them back. Here, she offers seven suggestions for bringing young people back to your faith community.

1) Pray Local: A church rooted in a particular neighborhood is a big attraction for young adults. They don't like cars as much as previous generations. They like running into people they know from their religious communities during the week. It gives a religious community a sense of accountability and deeper connections when those daily interactions occur.

2) Buy American: Even in an era where we embrace diversity, religious institutions that retain too much of their immigrant heritage are bound for failure. Future generations will not be comfortable praying and learning in foreign tongues. They may get some moments of nostalgia from their grandparents' food and music but ultimately, they will choose a religious life that feels like it is of the new world not the old.

3) Demand Better Service: Young adults have been raised in a generation where service learning was part of their college and high school experience. For many, the connection between faith and service has been severed altogether. But now that young adults have so many years between college graduation and settling down for a family, religious groups should ask that these young people do full-time service for a year or two. Not everyone will say yes, but those who do make the sacrifice will remain committed for a lifetime.

4) Leave the Light on: Young adults like to tell pollsters that they don't
like commitment and that they are distrustful of institutions. But once they are inside the building, once they have made a couple of friends, suddenly churches, synagogues and mosques seem less like stodgy institutions and more like places to hang out. Even if it means letting them come to sample without a firm commitment, we need to send the message that institutions matter and roving bands of friends connecting on Facebook will not be able to preserve or even remake those institutions in the years to come.

5) Send Singles Signals: Religious institutions have for too long depended on marriage to bring back young adults who have dropped the practice of faith. With the average age of marriage getting higher, it is time for houses of worship to figure out a way to speak to singles. Whether that means giving them a community of their own, integrating them more into a multigenerational church, or making religious messages more applicable to their lives, faith communities cannot afford to lose this demographic.

6) Clean House: It may not seem like a nice thing to do, but it's time to fire the old people. Emerging adults are not real adults in part because we don't give them enough responsibility. Whether it's their fault or ours, they live in their parents' basements, hold part-time jobs, put off marriage and drop in and out of school. But you know what? They're old enough to plan holiday events or community dinners. They can teach children and help with fundraising. They will step up when they realize that they are needed. Until then, they'll assume that the older, married members of a congregation will shoulder all the burdens.

7) Open Borders: It may be time for a new era of collaboration. Young adults may simply have become too accustomed to high-cost religious entertainment, the kind that would bankrupt any one church or synagogue. But cooperating on some of the big events with coreligionists would serve to lure young adults back into the fold while at the same time appealing to this generation's desire to see greater unity in their faith communities.

Naomi Schaefer RileyNaomi Schaefer Riley is a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor. She is the author of Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, God on the Quad, and The Faculty Lounges. She lives with her husband, Jason, and their three children in suburban New York City.

This isn't perfect - no one summary can hit the mark all the time - but Ms. Riley points to realities that all too often escape old dudes like me. One of the blessings of staying connected to singles and young families is that it forces me to rethink the assumptions I have been trained to celebrate in ministry. This is a brave new world - so we're going to step up and shake some dust off as summer 2014 unfolds - and we're going to do it in ways that make sense to people who can dig this.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What's going on? More thoughts on liturgy and jazz...

In yesterday's NY Times, a columnist quoted the always incisive Frank Zappa re: the paradox of rock and roll journalism: Rock journalists are people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read. Is it any wonder that the Mothers of Invention grabbed my heart and soul at a tender age? On so many levels, that band embraced a host of competing truths simultaneously that refused to be squeezed into the mold of social conformity. They were rock and rollers par excellence and also brilliantly accomplished jazz and classical artists. They spoke hard words of social critique but offered them up with humor. They evoked the counter culture of the 60s without succumbing to either drug abuse or romantic sentimentalism. They blended order with chaos and beauty within cacophony. (Just LISTEN to this cat play!)
And, at least to my mind, Zappa and the Mothers celebrated what I have come to call the community of God: a way of being in the world that creates a safe place for everyone, honors the unique gifts of every person and invites people to share themselves fully in joy and responsibility. From Zappa - as well as Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Leonard Cohen and my time in Christian worship - I came to the awareness that words matter. 

I also learned that while the way we use words matters, it is simultaneously true that our words are always incomplete - more simulacrum and poem than hard, cold fact. That is why the deepest soul truths are better expressed in music and poetry rather than doctrine and catechism. Not that dogma and commentary are wrong. I have learned a great deal from them both - especially when I remember that they are statements that must always remain unfinished by nature.  As St. Paul says, "Now we see as through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face."

So, in my ongoing reflection on how public worship can express both action and contemplation - the inward journey of reflection with the outward act of embodied participation within the context of jazz worship - I have a few hunches. And when I return from vacation in Montreal, I want to explore and experiment with them in collaboration with my Director of Music. Here's what I am thinking:
Currently each liturgy is divided into four parts:  gather, reflect, engage and bless. Keeping these categories as touchstones, what would it look and feel like if our gathering work in worship (noting that liturgy means the work of the people) involved more physical and musical participation and movement? Could the WHOLE people of God become part of a sung procession merging young and old together? People might enter into the quiet of the Sanctuary - listening and taking time to become grounded - and then physically move and sing in a shared procession that marked a deepening of community in service to the Lord? We might need to move our "time for children" to this opening sequence, too so that the children joined me in the Chancel at the start of worship before moving into Sunday school

And if such a change might shape the "gathering" portion of worship, could our "engaging" time become a combination of silence, song and shared prayers? This might wed our awkward yearning for inward journey with various outward expressions of sung and spoken prayer so that both contemplation and action were embraced and honored. The conclusion of our engagement could easily become "the passing of Christ's peace" and our South African sung response. This would mean flipping parts of the current liturgy's order, but such a change could help us express the both/and of our jazz spirituality.

Next would be our reflection - spoken and sung articulations of the readings for the day as well as a time for dialogical reflection (teaching and questions) - followed by a brief silence and then reactions from the congregation. The beauty of shaping our reflections in this way is that it becomes a form of theological jazz in worship.  First the tradition is shared and then it is explored with respect through improvisation; there is active participation and time to sit with the morning's insights, too.

Lastly there could be our time for "blessing" - sometimes prayers and offerings and others times Holy Communion in community. At the close of either we could build in another time for quiet reflection in anticipation of returning to our work in the world. In fact, this inward act could become a helpful way for the folk to concretize how they are going to be different after our celebration of God's loving grace is finished.

Parker Palmer has observed that all too often our work in the world is shaped by our roles in ways that divorce us from the wisdom of our souls. Perhaps the time has come for us to explore how Sunday mornings can not only call this divorce into question, but offer soul satisfying alternatives. Again the apostle Paul offers wise counsel saying:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Could it be that a more serious exploration of jazz liturgy might offer our folk a way to practice disengaging from conformity?  Stay tuned after we return from Montreal...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Jazz, action and contemplation in worship and life...

Last night my sabbatical team met to discuss the practical necessities for the time I am away in 2015. One aspect of our conversation, having to do with exposing the congregation to more jazz meditation encounters in worship, continues to grab my imagination: specifically that the essence of jazz worship is contemplation. To share jazz in public worship is to encourage the gathered faithful to enter a personal journey with sound, spirit and soul. At its best, this type of musical meditation becomes the inward equivalent of the outward sounds created and expressed in jazz improvisation. To my mind, jazz meditation in public worship expresses the paradox of being on both an inward and outward journey in the same moment.

And for our faith community this creates a unique creative challenge: we have worked hard to make public worship a fully participatory experience. My messages are usually dialogical and informal. There is space in most gatherings for movement of body and mind as well as the exercise of our senses and imaginations. How, then, do we continue advancing participatory worship when the jazz medium is primarily contemplative? We're going to use the next 10 months to experiment with ways of weaving jazz meditation into our celebration of  God's awe and grace in Sunday worship. Clearly, the inward beauty of jazz vespers works for those seeking a meditative encounter. Now we have to find a way for it to work on Sunday morning.

Two clues came to me this morning: one from Parker Palmer and the other from Richard Rohr. In Palmer's book, A Hidden Wholeness, he offers these examples of what a divided heart and life looks like in contemporary America:

+ We refuse to invest ourselves in work, diminishing its quality and distancing ourselves from those it is meant to serve.

+ We make our living at jobs that violate our basic values, even when survival does not absolutely demand it.

+ We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirits.

+ We harbor secrets to achieve personal gain at the expense of other people.

+ We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge and change.

+ We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.

In a word, we live part of our public life divorced from the inner beauty that God has created within us since before there was time. And continuing to live in with a divided heart forces us farther and farther away from grace and rest. Could it be that finding a way to experience both active participation in worship as well as deep contemplation is part of the antidote to the status quo? 

Clearly today's reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr points in that direction. Rohr is currently writing about the unity of 12 Step spirituality and the wisdom of Jesus. His insights about the sixth step are brilliant.

We were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character. — Step Six of the Twelve Steps

Step Six, although not commonly followed, is thoroughly biblical. It struggles with—and resolves—the old paradox of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. It first recognizes that we have to work to see our many resistances, excuses, and blockages; but then we have to fully acknowledge that God alone can do the “removing”! But which should come first, grace or responsibility? The answer is that both come first.
All we can do is get out of the way and then the soul takes its natural course. Grace is inherent to creation from the beginning (Genesis 1:2), just like springtime; but it is a lot of work to get out of the way and allow that grace to fully operate and liberate.

Step Six paradoxically says that we must fully own and admit that we have “defects of character,” but then equally, we must step back and do nothing about it, as it were, until we are “entirely ready” to let God do the job!This really shows high-level spiritual consciousness. The waiting, the preparing of the mind for grace, the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, and the actual willingness to change is the workof weeks, months, and years. But the recognition that it is finally “done unto me” is the supreme insight of the Gospels, which is taught practically in Step Six. It is the same prayer of Mary at the beginning of her journey (Luke 1:38) and of Jesus at the end of his life (Luke 22:42): “Let it be done unto me!”

We named our whole work after this dilemma: “The Center for Action and Contemplation.” It seems we must both take responsibility (action) and surrender (contemplation).

Over the next few weeks as we vacation and rest, I will be holding this challenge in my heart. My hunch is that the answer is already within us and we simply have to trust God's grace to make it clear.  We shall see - but now it is time to get my instruments ready as I have a jazz gig tonight. 

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...