Friday, January 27, 2012

Evening Scene

From my balcony.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012


Last week, I officially “jumped ship” from the Roman Catholics and joined the Episcopalian church. 

For Roman Catholics, it’s pretty much an easy process – Just sign on the dotted line. The Big Main Bishop laid his hands on my head  and proclaimed me to be a member of the Anglican Communion. I then went online to have a monthly donation made to the church  and the process was complete. 

Easy Peasy.

But for me, becoming an Episcopalian was a really big deal. This is my third time at joining a Christian denomination and each time, the experience was pretty significant. Bottom line: My motives in the past were messed up.

April 1968: I was nine years old and I had been pressured for some time to make my “profession of faith” in the local Southern Baptist church. That’s where one walks down the aisle during the last hymn and says to the congregation that you’re a sinner and that you “accept the lord Jesus Christ as your savior” (I doubt that anyone  knows, theologically, what that actually means) and that you want to be baptized. I did that when I was nine. It was embarrassing  and frightening. 

June 1993: I had spent the previous year attending classes at the local parish in order to become a Catholic. I was doing this for the sole purpose of joining a monastery. I had become obsessed with monastic spirituality, (I wanted to become another Thomas Merton or St. Thérèse of Lisieux) had found a monastery to join, but the one hitch was – I needed to be Roman Catholic. 

Much like Thomas Merton, I was admitted into the monastery two months after becoming Catholic. I remained in the Order for the next seven years and came awfully close to being ordained as a priest. 

Having completed a huge amount of graduate studies in philosophy and theology, in retrospect, I realize that I idealized religious life far too much. Turns out, it was a disappointing, painful and potentially disastrous experience; much like many episodes in our lives turn out to be. 

January 2012: I had spent the past two-and-a-half years as a member of the choir at St. James (Episcopal) Cathedral and it’s been a wonderful experience. I came there having distanced myself from spirituality and having been awfully jaded by it.

Bottom line: I missed having music in my life. I came to the Episcopal cathedral hoping to join a really good choir. I found that. 

What I didn’t expect was to be nourished. 

Emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and musical enrichment became a huge part of my life because of this Episcopal church that I found two-and-a-half years ago. For that, I am truly grateful. 

In retrospect, I’ve got three years of monastic life and four years of seminary toward the priesthood behind me along with an inordinate amount of graduate theological studies. There were a few years of embracing atheism as well. 

As an Episcopalian, do I believe in God?

I don’t know. 

Philosophically, I have a great deal of trouble thinking that I can marvel at my own existence, that I can realize and create such beauty with my music, and the fact that I can love without Something-Greater-Than-I causing it.  (Consult Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas for the actual philosophical references). Could all this about me have been created without a supernatural First Cause? My training as a Catholic seminarian gave me the ability to posit these things. As an Episcopalian, I can question them. 

Do I believe in life after death?

I don’t know

As a Catholic, we were always led to believe in a life and consciousness after we die. I’m now free to think that, actually, I’d be very surprised to find that we exist after death; or at least in any humanly-recognizable form of existence. 

When you think about it, isn’t there something incredibly meritorious and supernatural in living our lives without the knowledge of an afterlife?

Didn’t Christ (God) experience the same emptiness and nihilism upon his death when uttering “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Did Christ do all that he did with a quid pro quo mentality?

Cannot we enter into a solidarity with Christ by not expecting a reward? Are we brave enough to do this?

Why does such horrible affliction exist among the innocent?

I don't know.

During my years in religious life, I wrestled for so long with that “ultimate” question as to why there is so much unjustified affliction in this world. There was never an “answer” to why it exists. I can often only hang my head to the horror if it all.  But the best response I could ever come up with was to develop an observation of my own; 

An unlimited amount of supernatural beauty exists and can be discovered when one finds solidarity with the God (Christ) who chose to experience the affliction and annihilation to which we humans are continually shown.

That statement above pretty much distills all the insights I've gleaned so far. If I had to submit a "Credo", that would be it. 

I still love the visions of the 20th century philosopher, Simone Weil (1909-1943). I’ll paraphrase her thought: 

“In the beginning, God was all that existed and there was nothing but Himself:  . . . Perfection. 
Therefore, God’s greatest act of love was to create something outside Himself."

The journey continues. . . .

Peace and love, my friends.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Starbucks Scene

Sunday morning, I was at my usual Starbucks on the way to church. There was a family of three consisting of mom, dad, and a boy about five years old just in front of me.

Mom placed her order and the barista asked, “Would you like Pike Place roast or dark roast?”

“Dark roast,” was her reply.

Then the little boy piped up: “I prefer dark roast, too!”

I laughed and said, “Hey, the man knows what he wants.”

I then placed my order: “Grande. Dark roast.”

The mom turned to me, smiling, and said, “It comes highly recommended.”


Monday, January 23, 2012

Finding Bigfoot

For a long time, I’ve had a strong interest in the creature known as Bigfoot. Ever since my cousin claimed to have encountered it near our family ranch when I was about thirteen, my interest has bordered on being a phobia.

Now don’t get me wrong. Intellectually, I know this creature called ‘bigfoot’ or ‘sasquatch’ doesn’t exist. Most likely, people are mistaking a bear for it. But the thought of encountering one still gives me the willies; so much so that I will probably never go hiking where they (bears) are believed to exist.

So, this brings me to the subject at hand. There’s a new series on Animal Planet called “Finding Bigfoot” that features a group of eccentric Bigfoot hunters who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to track this thing down. In each episode, the four of them creep out into the woods with all sorts of tracking and recording equipment in hopes of obtaining proof of this creature’s existence. (And might I add – a creature that doesn’t exist.)

Like I said, I’m a longtime Bigfoot fan, but these people bug the hell out of me. Here’s a typical episode:

They’re in the woods at night and hear a knock on a tree in the distance. “That sounds like a ‘squatch!” they whisper to each other. (They shorten the name “Sasquatch” to ‘squatch, indicating their extreme familiarity with this creature – a familiarity with something that doesn’t exist.)

They shine an infrared camera across a river and spot the outline of a bear waddling along the bank. But no! That could be a ‘squatch! Because when ‘squatches walk on all fours, they’re often mistaken for bears.

That’s because it is a bear, you fools!

Then, they come across some bear-poo in the forest and start analyzing it to see what the bear ate. Why? Because this will tell them what the ‘squatches are feeding on as well.

No – you’re digging around in bear-poo and now you know what bears enjoy.

They analyze a hiker’s video in which the hiker captured a humanoid shaped thing walking in the distance. “That sure looks like a ‘squatch to me!” they proclaim. “Look how tall it is!”

No, it’s a tall, humanoid-shaped thing because it’s a tall human. Most likely foraging for a Starbucks.

Then, they find some large, human-looking footprints in the mud -- The holy grail. They attempt to rule out that the tracks were caused by a bear. After all, “bear tracks can often be mistaken for those of a ‘squatch . . . .” and on and on we go.

I would really love, just once, for a big ‘squatch to come lumbering out of the forest at these people and just stand right in front of them. Most likely, they would end up leaving behind a good amount of poo for a bear to encounter.

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Oh, Say Can You See?

Indiana Senator, Vaneta Becker (R), has proposed a bill that would impose a fine on anyone who deviates from singing The Star Spangled Banner as it was written.

As a liberal Democrat, pretty much any bill by a Republican makes me bristle. But as a musician, this Republican would get my vote. 

I get so weary of hearing performers ad-lib the melody and insert their own style into this piece. Newsflash to performers: This piece was not written to be used as a springboard for your own, freewheeling style. Use a bit of self-restraint and humility when performing this piece. The melody is difficult and impressive enough on its own.

We don’t need to hear you sing thirteen notes on the word, “brave.” 

Here’s Mariah Carey performing it. (She really goes all over the place toward the end.)

Yes, she’s talented and, yes, she’s got an impressive instrument. But, honey, use it on pieces that were meant to be improvised.

I think anyone who wants to perform this piece should be given the following test:

“Can you tell us what a ‘rampart’ is?”

“It’s, um, like, um, it’s like. . . .”

“Sorry! Next?”

In Becker’s bill, I’d go one step further regarding our national anthem: 
Change it altogether. 

In my opinion, a nation’s anthem should be free of texts about bombing, battles, and killing. Our nation has done way too much of that – we don’t need to emphasize it at every sporting event, especially every time an American athlete wins the gold at the Olympics. 

We should also change it because 99 percent of our population cannot sing it; few people have the requisite vocal range of an octave-and-a-half. 

And no one can remember the words, much less, knows what a “rampart” is.

Evidence by:

My solution?
Change the national anthem to something we all know and can sing. My solution is the theme to The Brady Bunch.

Seriously, can’t you just see it at the next Olympic Games? 

“Here’s the story 
Of a lovely lady 
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. . .”

We all know the words and melody. We've heard this piece many more times than The Star Spangled Banner. 

Everyone from every country would join in singing our anthem! 
(You know they would.)

Such a scene would be so much better for our nation’s image than reminding everyone of our bombs bursting overhead.

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