Sunday, December 31, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Sacrifice

The Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
Sacrifice as Resistance

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the church calendar the days after Christmas are not filled with peace and joy. First, on the 26th was St. Stephen’s Day. He was the first martyr as told in Acts, chapter 7. He was quizzed, tried, and killed for preaching and believing. Then, two days later on the 28th was Holy Innocents, the remembrance of Herod ordering the slaughter of all male children under two in order to stop this new King of the Jews. (Matthew 2: 13-18). Maybe that’s why the days after Christmas find so few people in church? Maybe they don’t want to lose the pink cloud joy and warm fuzzies of the season. But this is what happens when you follow the church calendar- you are reminded of the world into which this Prince of Peace was born. The light in the darkness that we celebrated on Monday did not suddenly and miraculously turn things around.

Two thousand years later we continue to struggle with that as well. There are innocents being killed today. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas are just new names and places added to the seemingly never ending list while many even refuse to debate ways to deal with it. Racism and poverty prevent many from discovering their hopes and dreams. Terrorists of all kinds aim at non-combatants since that is the way to undermine the will of those they oppose. In many places around the world those who speak out for change or justice are shouted down, demeaned, and from time to time, killed. While in many ways we are living in a better world than could have been dreamed of 2000 years ago, much of it is still in need of progress and hope.

But after Christmas we are no longer just a people of hope, who have been loved, found peace, and are filled with joy. We now become the light in the darkness. That is what it means to be a follower of the ways of God. We are not to just sit and let the blessings flow onto us. We have received the light; now we live the light. We would like to think that all we have to do is wait and pray and it will happen. We would like to believe that if we do the right (or wrong!) things that God will intervene and make it happen. The illogic of that can show up in more ways than we can catalog. A paraplegic is told they don’t have enough faith or God would have given them back the ability to walk. A woman in an abusive relationship is told she has to stay with her husband/partner since that is how God would witness to the other. We can push tensions in the Middle East so that the Second Coming will happen faster.

That is not how progress and justice happen. It happens, as Dr. King’s quote says, through sacrifice, suffering, and struggle. These are the ways of Christmas- the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals- God’s people.

The prophet Amos (5:23-24) challenged God’s people to live, not just sing, to practice justice not just pay lip service:
Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Another prophet, Micah, (6:8) echoes it so poetically that the depth and challenge can be missed:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice,
to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Isn’t that what we have been discovering throughout these past weeks of Advent?
reaching out with unconditional love,
fills us and others with joy
so that peace is found within and around.
Then, in humility we respond to become part of this call of God, and
we become bearers of light pushing back the darkness.
Because of that we sacrifice and stand up for justice.
As I have said a number of different ways this past month, resistance is not passive; non-violence is not a call to be a doormat. It is a way of life that puts the inner life together with our outer life. It melds us into a unity of purpose and hope. Then we live it. Again, and again, and again I say- we live it. It will do far more than bring some physical light and warmth to the darkness of winter, it will be our way of affirming the ways of God- however we may each understand God- allowing us to find the deaths of grace.

How better to end the year and the Christmas season of posts than the amazing words of poet, author, theologian, teacher, and mystic Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

When Light Was Made

The moment before time,
there was nothing
and there was everything.
All that was and all that is,
and all that ever will be was contained
in that pre-eternal moment.

Physicists call it singularity.
The one moment when all was one.

It was a massive yet infinitely small
black hole with gravity so great that nothing,
not even light,
could escape.

Then it was spoken,
"Let there be light!"
And there was.
From the All in One,
the Nothing and Everything,
Energy became visible,
containing and spreading the Essence of Life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

3.27- The Tuning Slide- Connecting the Dots

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
-Seve Jobs

This week’s quote from last summer’s Trumpet Workshop owes its existence to a 2005 commencement address by Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. In the first story in the address he talks about the journey of life (our theme this month) as connecting dots. But, he points out,
You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
We can only see our path of dots looking backward! The resulting summary quote, then, from last summer:
✓ Therefore make good dots
I made some good dots musically this past year.

  • I met Doc!
    • A dot of inspiration and humility
  • I attended the Big Band and Trumpet Workshops at Shell Lake for the third year.
    • Dots of learning and staying open to growth.
  • I have practiced every single day since March 24 (and only missed 7 days before that this year.)
    • Dots of discipline and commitment.
  • I am now regularly hitting an E above the staff in my daily routine and almost getting F.
    • Dots of patience and improving skill
  • I volunteered at the Eau Claire Jazz Festival as a “room host”
    • Dots of seeing the great future of jazz music and instruction.
  • I took several lessons and spent time with some amazing musicians
    • Dots of accepting my need for outside input and support.
  • I have learned how to relax while playing a performance.
    • Dots of acceptance of Self Two doing its work.
  • I published my book, The Tuning Slide, of the first two years of this blog.
    • Dots of sharing what I have learned so others, too, may learn.
  • I continue this weekly blog!
    • Again, dots of discipline and commitment,
As a result of these and other dots, my skill level has increased, my self-confidence has improved, my tone and rhythm have gotten better, and my life continues to be filled with music and more music! These dots also add to the ongoing theme of my life that how I do anything is how I do everything. To be honest there are non-dots from last year. Or perhaps it might be better to say attempted dots that somehow didn’t get connected in this rear-view summary. They represent things for next year (and next week’s post!) But what I know is that because I have made these dots this year, I am moving in a direction that these can be applied to more and more areas of my life.

Dots of:
• Inspiration
• Humility
• Learning and openness to growing
• Patience
• Discipline and commitment
• Volunteering and sharing
• Acceptance
In short it has been a good, and growing year. As I am continually amazed, even old dogs can learn a lot of new tricks! Thanks to all of you who have helped make it the year it was!

What dots did you make last year? How do they connect? How do they lead to your future? See you next week in 2018!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Holy Night- A Christmas Story

I've been writing a number of short stories this past year.
Needless to say it led to a new Christmas story.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A Holy Night
Barry Lehman
Christmas 2017

What makes a night holy? Why is one night different from other nights? One night can seem like just another night, until the light breaks through.

Angela hadn’t been to church for twenty-five years, not since her brother Lucas died of that awful disease. Things were tense and difficult. No one could help him; few wanted to. Angela, only nine at the time, and her mother moved from town not long after the funeral. She then went on to school and a career as a nurse. She had only recently returned for a new job. She hadn’t thought about the church or that she would be in this part of town tonight. Gabe, a friend from the hospice where she worked, had invited her to a quiet Christmas Eve dinner with friends. So here she was, in her old neighborhood walking by her old church. How odd, she thought. Of all nights to be here. Lucas’ funeral had been the week after Christmas.

She stopped across the street at the small park that had been a favorite place for her after church. The early Christmas Eve service had started. The lights from the church lit the rose-style stained glass window over the front door. She could faintly hear the organ.

She remembered Mr. Ben, the organist when she was a child. He was such a gentle soul and yet his playing encouraged such power from the old organ. She could still feel the chills tingling her neck with joy when he would play. “How can music do that?” she wondered at the time. It was uniquely powerful on Christmas Eve for her. Where did music come from? How could it do so much? Was music magical?


She had always been filled with questions. Her mother would get so frustrated with her. “Just accept things as they are. Don’t put so much thought into things- let them be.” She always wanted to know- especially about God and what God was all about. She never understood the idea of God. She wanted people to prove God or show her God. If they couldn’t, then she didn’t want to hear it. She had given up on those questions when Lucas died. There were no answers and little comfort. Some people tried, but to Angela it felt uncaring. Others pointed fingers, saying Lucas got what he deserved, which only hurt more. Since she was only nine they didn’t say it directly to her, but she heard her mother talking about it- and crying. It was clear to her as a child, the questions had no answers, so why ask?

She stared at the rose window. All the colors of the design around the outside seemed to flow into the center circle and the multi-pointed white star it enclosed. She started to feel light-headed as she stared. She stumbled back onto a bench in the park. Maybe I’m coming down with something and should call Gabe and tell him I’m not coming.

As she sat trying to get her bearings back she saw the front door of the church open. A young couple and a child walked out. For a moment the music got louder as the door opened and closed. The child grabbed her mother’s hand and pointed across the street at Angela. The parents looked at the girl and then at Angela. She could see both of them shaking their heads and attempting to get the child back into church with them. The girl stood her ground, pointed again, and, loud enough to be heard across the street said, “That’s her. The one I saw in my dream last night. I told you she would be here.”

Angela looked around, wondering if she was having a hallucination. “Too many cheesy Christmas specials,” she thought to herself as she tried to stand up. The dizziness was still there. She slumped back down and closed her eyes. When she opened them the couple and child were standing in front of her.

“Are you okay?” asked the girl.

“Please excuse us and Sarah,” the woman said quickly. “She insisted that we come over and talk to you. She said that her Christmas depended on it. We are taking her home if she can’t calm down.”

“I saw you in my dream last night,” Sarah said quickly to Angela. “You were looking for someplace to find God.”

“Sarah,” said the man, “let’s not bother her with your dreams.” He turned to Angela. “Are you all right? You don’t look well.”

“I just think I was a little overcome by walking too fast,” Angela replied. “I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner. I used to live around here and even went to this church when I was young. I decided to stop here and rest while enjoying the lights on the church.”

“That’s not what you told me in my dream,” Sarah said. “You told me you were lonely and missed your brother and that here was the last time you were together with him.”

“Sarah!” said the woman. “Enough of that. Your dreams are of no interest to someone we’ve never met.”

“That’s okay,” said Angela, feeling more confused than dizzy now. “Come here, Sarah.”

The young girl moved closer as if she had always known Angela. Angela took her hands and leaned forward. “Tell me more about your dream. Please.”

“Well, I asked you why I had never seen you here before. We come here all the time and this was the first time we met. You told me that you have lived out of town and you don’t believe anymore and don’t go to church because of that. It was Christmas Eve in my dream and the church was all lit up like it is now with the candles in the windows and the star shining through above the door. I invited you to come in but you started to walk away.”

“It’s not the dream Sarah,” her mother said. “You just think she looks like the person in the dream because you want it to be true.”

“What else did I- did the woman in your dream- say?” Angela asked.

“Like I said, you told me you were lonely and just wanted to remember your brother. You said that if you found your brother here tonight you would find God again. Did you lose God? Did He go away with your brother?”

“Sarah! Enough!” her father jumped in again.

“Yes, Sarah. God left. I was so angry that my brother had died and that no one cared he was even sick. He had a disease that you couldn’t cure in those days. Many people were mean to him and us when they found out why he was sick. They were afraid and didn’t understand.”

“But what about God?” Sarah asked. “Why get mad at Him?”

“Because God didn’t make him well again. People said it was because my brother was a bad person and God was punishing him. It was an awful time. We stopped going to church because they weren’t being very Christian.”

“That must have been a while ago,” Sarah’s mother said cautiously. “How old were you when he died?”

“I was only 9 and Lucas was 24. He was more than a big brother to me. He was a grown-up who cared about me. Not many did. My mother was too busy doing other things, and I never knew my father. Lucas’ father had died in Vietnam a year after he was born when my mother was only 19.”

Angela stopped suddenly. Why was she sharing all this with this young girl she never met before?

“I’m nine now,” said Sarah, hardly missing a beat. “And my mother is…”

“Sarah- stop!” said her father. He turned to Angela. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Angela,” Sarah answered quickly. They all turned to look at her.

“You’re right,” said Angela. “Was that in your dream, too?”

“Yes,” she said as she looked at her parents with an I-told-you-so grin.

“Sarah,” asked Angela, “how did your dream end? What did the Angela in your dream do?”

“I woke up before it was over. But you were walking with us into the church. You and my mom and dad were hugging and crying but I couldn’t hear what you were saying. The music and singing was too loud.”

“Did she find her brother here? Or God?”

“Maybe I can help with that,” said an older man who had walked over from the church while they were talking.

“Dad,” said Sarah’s father. “What are you doing out here?”

“When you didn’t come back I got worried so I followed. I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation.” He turned toward Angela.

“I have often wondered what happened to you over these years. I’m Sam Ellis. I was the assistant pastor here 25 years ago when your brother died. I have never forgotten him or how you and your mother were treated.”

Sarah’s mother turned toward Angela in a moment of realization. “You’re Angela Leonard?”

“Gramps,” said Sarah. “You weren’t in my dream.”

He laughed and touched her shoulder. “Well, I guess I’m here now. Can I stay?”

Angela stammered. “I, well, I don’t know what to say. What… or why… or…”

“Then let me tell you,” said Pastor Ellis. “Your brother’s death was the end of a way of life for me and many here at the church. We saw the hatred that people aimed at him and your family. The pastor at the time was definitely ‘old school’ and didn’t know what to do or how to handle a funeral for a person who died of AIDS. There were some members of the church who insisted that he not allow the funeral. People might get infected, catch the disease. A sinner like that shouldn’t be allowed to have a proper church burial, things like that.

“Abbie here,” he pointed toward Sarah’s mother, “got her dad to support your brother’s service. He was the organist. He was a few years older than I was but still full of passion from his youth like many of us were. Abbie was your babysitter and told her dad how you and your mother were being treated.”

“You’re Mr. Ben’s daughter,” said Angela quietly.

“He went to the pastor,” Abbie continued, “and insisted that the service be held in the church. He said he would be the organist and help plan the service. The pastor was embarrassed by the whole thing and gave the service to my dad to do. He left here six months later. That’s when Sam took over as the pastor.”

Sarah’s dad started talking. “Half the choir quit on Ben because of what he did. Several board members went to the District leadership asking to have my dad removed and his ordination taken away. It was a terrible year. The District Bishop stood with us, though. In the end our church became one of the pioneers in social ministry in the city and the District.

“I didn’t know any of this,” Angela said. She was shaking her head in disbelief.

“You moved quickly,” Sam said. “No one could blame you. It was an awful time. Your mother worked hard to protect you from it. You were only nine and very vulnerable. We lost track of you. It was like you dropped off the face of the earth.”

“We were both upset,” Angela started. “Mom did what she could. But she had her own reactions. She tried to forgive and forget, but it didn’t work. After I went off to college she spiraled in depression. Then she got cancer herself and died last year.” Tears formed and her voice halted. “We never went to church again. Not even for her funeral. God was a forbidden subject.”

“Your brother’s funeral was an important time in our history here.” Pastor Sam sat down next to Angela. “It’s been 25 years but some still remember him and how he made us look at ourselves and see if we are really doing what we should be doing. It sounds trite, but now we try to live in order to serve the least and the lost. Lucas is still reminding us of that. Come, follow me.”

They walked around the south side of the church. A Christmas carol was being sung and she could hear it through the window. At the back corner was another building connected by a walkway to the main church.

“We decided a couple years after Lucas died that we wanted to do something in his memory. We decided we wanted to build a community center to help us minister to the neighborhood. We got some grants and a lot of donations. It took us about five years to bring it all together. Things move slowly sometimes in the church, but we did it. This is it.”

They opened the door to find a group of people watching the service on a large screen. They were singing along. “This is an overflow space for special services,” Abbie said. “These are some of our members who take this space so visitors can be with their families in the sanctuary.”

“This is what I meant when I said your brother is still here.” He turned around to a sign by the door.

A picture of Lucas hung next to a sign with the inscription:

Lucas Adams Community Center
In Memory of a brave young man who challenged us
to be more than we were and to live for others.

Sarah walked over, “Remember in the dream you said that if you found your brother tonight you would find God again. Here he is.” She took Angela’s hand and led her to the picture. Angela reached out to touch her brother’s image.

Maybe all nights are holy. Sometimes it takes a child to help us see.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Merry Christmas and may you all have a blessed 2018!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Light in the Darkness

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

Christmas Day
December 25, 2017
Light as Resistance

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light!
- Dylan Thomas

I wonder if people at the time of Jesus’ birth felt hopeless? Were the “good, old days” the vision they kept in their mind? Might they have said these things?
• Remember when our people were led by Moses? No one like him since.
• Remember the bravery of the Maccabees reclaiming Jerusalem? Where are they now when we need them again?
• Remember the way Isaiah and Jeremiah had such great contact with God? Why are our religious leaders so dishonest now?
• Remember when Judea was great? Who will make us great again?
As a result of being human, did they believe that the world was winding down into some kind of darkness?

It wasn’t physically any darker than it had ever been. Bethlehem on the first Christmas was as dark as ever. The fields where the shepherds were quietly taking care of their flocks was as dark as any such night might be. The manger was as surrounded by darkness as it would always be in the middle of the night. Light came only from oil lamps or torches. Defeating the darkness was one of those basic human drives whether by campfires and torches or today’s LED flashlights and streetlights blocking the light of moon and stars.

We 21st Century westerners have little to no idea about such darkness. Or at least not exterior darkness. We have conquered the outer darkness and hidden the stars from view. The darkness we often rage against is an inner darkness found in our hearts and the actions of others. We may argue whether the times are any darker than they have ever been or what to do about it. We may disagree about how that darkness manifests itself. The past year has seen many examples of darkness attempting to conquer the light many of us believe God has placed in the center of humanity.
• Terror in Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Manchester.
• Devastating historic-level hurricanes.
• Threats of nuclear attacks.
• Ravaging wildfires.
• The rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
• Terror in the Bronx, Barcelona, and Manhattan.
• Sutherland, Texas murders.
• Attack on congressional ballgame.
We have experienced a daily onslaught of tweets and counter-tweets, the seemingly unending attacks on social programs aimed at helping the least and the lost, the regular twisting and spinning of news to fit “my” ideologies, the degradation of science as a way of understanding our world, the misuse of the title “Christian” as a political “big stick”, and smaller, but just as hurtful, abuses and assaults on decency and character.

But we are also growing and improving.
  • The amazing shift in dealing with sexual abuse and harassment is causing a long hoped-for movement into honesty, empowering women to speak out. 
  • The Women’s March in Washington started that movement and gave it early momentum. 
  • The election victories in Virginia and Alabama have given many an awareness of what can happen when people do get out and vote. 
  • The solar eclipse was a cross-country unity of awe. 
  • The many pictures of individuals reaching out to strangers in the midst of terror and destruction reminds us that we are better than the headlines might indicate.

It would be easy at the end of this year to be sad, discouraged, or even angry. To do so would be to surrender to the power of the darkness. Most, if not all, myths and cultural foundations remind us that to do so is counterproductive. From the "Odyssey" to "Star Wars", light does find a way to win. We get that image from simply watching a sunrise- or just turning on a light in a dark room. One cannot turn on a darkness switch. It does not work that way. We can hide the light, put it under a covering or a basket, but there is still light and it shines somewhere.
  • Let it shine and defeat the darkness.
Dylan Thomas may have written the above words when his father was going blind and dying, but they are words to be read each day when the darkness surrounding us seems to be getting stronger. It is not. The light must not be allowed to dim. To “rage against the dying of the light” is to shine more brightly ourselves, to affirm what we have already celebrated through Advent:
  • Hope
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace.
To live these each day is to push back against the darkness.

One commentator on the web forum Quora said this about Thomas’s poem:
It is a strong invocation for us to live boldly and to fight. It implores us to not just "go gentle into that good night," but to rage against it. Even at the end of life, when "grave men" are near death, the poem instructs us to burn with life. The poem's meaning is life affirming.
Light is not just resistance, it is the way resistance works. It is a light in the darkness, a word to break the night into a place of revelation, an action to push for life. Always for life!! As long as there is light, there will be the promise and hope of life.

Christmas is the Word become Flesh and the light shining in the darkness, breaking through hate and fear, despair and greed.

Sing it loud, let it shine.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Humility

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2017
Humility as Resistance

In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, 
but it seems that God continually chooses 
the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. 
If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. 
If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, 
then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, 
or God's glory with our own.
― Madeleine L'Engle, 

We seek power in a savior and instead are guided to a lowly manger. A baby has been born who, we are told, will throw the great from their thrones and let the oppressed go free.

We expect strength and self-assurance when God becomes human and yet we are told he is in a small out-of-the-way place like Bethlehem of Judea. A baby cries, like any baby, intuitively knowing that when they do that they will be heard.

We watch for armies and weapons to come to take the world back for God yet the most defenseless of humans is where we are led. A baby whose arms can hold nothing and whose legs can’t stand on their own is the unarmed Prince of Peace.

The paradox of Christmas is nowhere more apparent than tonight. The great sounds of music will peal with bells and instruments to proclaim a holy miracle. Pomp and pageantry will be the order of the night from all corners of the Christian faith. It will be anything but a sign of resistance. It may even look like the ceremony, spectacle, and trappings of worldly powers will have co-opted the night. Christianity has conquered the world. We dress up in our finest clothes, we venture into our places of worship to pay our yearly respect for something beyond our understanding, but still underpinning our hopes.

This is not a night known for humility- as resistance, revolution, or anything else.

But in that is the paradox we can so easily overlook. Mary’s song months before the birth talked about that:

…he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 51b-53)

Perhaps our first act on this night is one of confession for what we have turned this night into. But I think that would also miss the importance of the displays and ceremony. They are not just for us, they are for the world to see. They do not proclaim our greatness, they scatter the proud and bring down the powerful. They lift up the humble- the hungry and lost, the lonely and least with the hope, love, joy, and peace that we have been seeing throughout Advent. A little child IS leading us- a baby who has no choice but to be powerless and dependent, a baby who doesn’t know the word proud or control or self but who can only cry an unknowing cry.

It is when we are willing to live within the paradox of a humble baby who is God become flesh, that we can start to understand who we are. No, maybe it is not about understanding for if we could truly understand this night’s miracles, it would no longer be a night of miracles. By definition we cannot understand or explain what this night is about- other than perhaps to humble us for we, too, are the proud who need tone cast down from our self-made thrones where we have inaugurated ourselves as the saviors of the world.

There is the beginning of humility as resistance. To become as a little child in order to grow into a spiritually mature person of soul. “God humbled himself,” Paul said in Philippians. How can we do anything else.

  • Tonight, meditate on the presence of God in our world.
    • As a child.
  • To show us how important it is to simply be human.
    • Humility.
These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one's self.
To mind one's own business.
Not to want to manage other people's affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one's dignity.
To choose always the hardest.
― Mother Teresa

Spirituality as Resistance: Peace

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

4th Sunday of Advent 
December 24, 2017
Peace as Resistance

While you are proclaiming peace with your lips,
be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.
― Francis of Assisi

We have come from hope to love and joy. As we end our Advent journey this morning these three move us to the heart of the matter, I believe, no matter how we look at it. We come to peace.

  • Peace, not as the absence of conflict but the presence of serenity.
  • Peace, not as a compromise ending discord, but a way of life that impacts others.
  • Peace, not the result of violence, but as a foundation of unity.
  • Peace, not the privilege of dominance over others, but as the seed of embracing God’s love for ourselves and others.

  • In a world of conflict, peace is an act of revolution.
  • In a world of war and violence, peace is resistance to the ways of the world.
  • In a world where many seek dominance, peace is to be willing to be powerless for the sake of others.

  • It was but a few decades ago when many marched and pushed for peace we were called traitors.
    • That was peace as resistance.
  • Gandhi preached nonviolence as the way to bring about a major societal change.
    • That was peace as resistance.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. followed Gandhi’s lead to break through a century of post-slave era discrimination.
    • That was peace as resistance.

As Francis reminds us to have peace on our lips without living it from the heart is to shortchange the meaning of peace. It also keeps us from finding the way into deeper hope. We deprive our world of what we have to share and may even cut off the path to peace.

There is no path to peace,
but peace itself is the path.
― Richard Rohr

One cannot find the way to peace. The peace leads us on the path. Peace is not something that we can build, but something we discover as we walk a path that in itself is peaceful. It is one of the great paradoxes of life that the harder we work for peace, the more we depend on power and control to find it in ourselves, the less peace we will have. That, too, is an act of resistance since it seems so counterproductive to the ways we are told to live. There has to be a willingness to surrender to peace before we can find it.

Being a person of peace does not mean that one becomes a doormat or a victim who has no power. Power comes in living as a person of peace. Peace is not passivity. Sharing a life of peace is active and empowering. When one lives in peace, it can be seen that hope, love, and joy are present. Peace is standing in place when chaos erupts. Peace is knowing the way, the truth, and the life. Peace has discovered an inner source of wonder and direction that the world cannot overcome.

Tonight we begin the season of Christmas. It is a season when peace is proclaimed by angels in the fields of Bethlehem and in the cries of a newborn. It is a season when peace is proclaimed and for a brief period we may begin to believe, again, that peace is possible.

More than that, it is the final Advent call to move forward with the hope we have discovered, the love that loves us unconditionally, the joy that overcomes doubt.

Tonight will be the night when we are reminded that the ways of the world are turned upside down.

We are ready. Advent comes to a close.

O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

An Extra for the Season

Many thanks to the Allentown Band for posting this excellent arrangement of variations on our classic Moravian Christmas Eve hymn.

Jesus, mine, in me shine,
Fill my heart with light divine.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Getting a Little Less Serious

Sometimes this blog is too serious too often. Let's remedy that with some music videos.

First, from this professional 4th trumpet to all of you, this is what it sounds like at that end of the section.

Second, we trumpet players are not known for our subtlety. Which explains why there is no Trumpet Christmas like the Tuba Christmas. Yes, even a 4th trumpet wants to scream up there with Maynard et. al. Split personality? Not me. (Or me.)

Third, ever wonder what these joyous Christmas melodies would sound like in a minor key? (No, me neither.) But here's the US Army Band playing "Minor Variations." Have fun! It's the season!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

3.26- The Tuning Slide- Whenever You Can- Share

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
When we share, we open doors to a new beginning.”
Paul Bradley Smith

I am in the midst of three months of posts from the closing summary at this past summer’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. I continue this week with the theme of the month- The Journey- and a quote that guides us in what we can and need to be doing on our journeys as musicians and humans:

✓ When given the opportunity to share- do it.

This is not a post of how to be a better musician or how to expand your range to triple High C. It will not give you any new insights into how to practice “The Carnival of Venice” or learn the secrets of “rhythm changes” in jazz improvisation. That quote from trumpet workshop is one of the classics from Mr. Baca and says more than at first meets the eye. Like so many such quotes, it is not about what to appears- it is a statement of the health of ones spirit or soul or life.

Let me repeat it:

✓ When given the opportunity to share- do it.

I was surprised when I started digging into the word that there aren’t a lot of synonyms, words that mean the same. Not that it is a unique word, but it is almost always the main word to describe a number of different things:

Share: To give a portion of (something) to another or others.
Share: To allow someone to use or enjoy something that one possesses.
Share: To use or enjoy something jointly or in turns.
Share: To talk about personal experiences or feelings with others.

Some words can be used in the sense we are talking about it here:
• communicate
• disclose
• impart
• reveal
• let somebody in on

Okay, I’ll quit playing fancy wordsmith here and get right down to it. Put all these together and it boils down to
  • reaching out beyond ones own life and situation and helping, supporting, guiding, or giving to others.
  • It means being caring and generous with others.
  • It means it is more blessed to give than receive.
“What does all this have to do with a trumpet workshop?” one might be tempted to ask. As I said above it doesn’t directly unlock anything about the mechanics or process of playing the trumpet or any instrument.

Yes, I waffled there, didn’t I? I added the word “directly” to what it doesn’t do. So let me ask a couple of questions:

What good would a musician be if they weren’t willing to “share” their music and gifts with others? They would be a lone person playing notes in an empty room. Would they get anywhere in their musicianship? What kind of person does that tell us they are?

Such music would be self-centered and most likely even lifeless. Such a person who only wanted to play their music in a lonely room would perhaps be impressed by their own ability, but isn’t music meant to share? Of course we need to be able to enjoy our music ourselves, but we need to be performers- and that means to share what we have with others. We want them to enjoy it with us, don’t we?

I know there may be those who for various physical or other reasons may not be able to take their music and share it. I am not talking about those circumstances. I have a hunch that those persons will benefit from others sharing with them!

Which brings me to the real point of all this- how we do anything is how we do everything. If we become a sharing person- reaching out to others, not hoarding or being selfish- it will have an impact on our hearts and lives. Then, without a doubt, it will have an impact on our musicianship. There will be greater life in the music because there will be greater life in you.

Be a person who shares.

• Communicate with others in a way to uplift and give them hope.
• Disclose who you are in your heart to help others.
• Impart whatever wisdom and insight you have been given so that others can learn from it.
• Reveal the hopes and dreams, secrets and gifts of your life and others will share in your blessings.
• Let others in on the joys and hopes you have discovered in music, in reading, in life.

Have a great holiday season:
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa
May joy, hope, and peace be yours!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Joy

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

 3rd Sunday of Advent 
December 17, 2017
Joy as Resistance

 Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Joy, according to one dictionary entry is:
the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight.
Have you watched some of the people making pronouncements these days? Is there joy there? Do they exude joy or seem to suck it right out of the atmosphere? People of all persuasions try to persuade me to be happy or joyful while looking anything but. Ads for the many great and wondrous medications make life look amazing while the voiceover (or voice-under?) tells us all the things that could go wrong.

May God protect me from gloomy saints.
--Saint Teresa of Avila

How in the world can we talk about “joy” as a way of spiritual resistance? What is the role of “joy” in standing up to the powers of the world? How does “joy” make a revolutionary statement to confront the powers and principalities? Just remembering political (or advertising) campaigns would give a hint, I think. Much of what passes for political discourse or advertising wants to build on the supposed fact that we are not currently experiencing “joy.” All we need to do to turn our current sad and depressed state of affairs around is to elect the right politician, support the right party, buy the newest, latest and best product. Think about the longing face desiring their dreams to come true under the Christmas tree. THEN, we will find “joy.”

The “joy” we talk about at Advent and beyond is not that type of joy. It is not about acquiring or having a particular theology or ideology. It is something internal, something that can be who we are.

The website Theopedia defines joy this way:
Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.
That begins to take us in a different direction. We are now in the area of contemplation and mystery. We are entering the territory of mindfulness and meditation, perhaps even the mystical. We are heading toward a joy that is intuitive and the result of the “hope” and “love” we have already discussed. Perhaps “joy” comes from living a life based on hope that is made real in “love.”

One of the other things about us humans is that we look on “emotional” words like “joy” as if they are these great and overwhelming feelings. We are inundated by information and noise and people and things that in order to feel any of these things they, too, have to be overwhelming and big and loud. We don’t know it’s joy unless it is over the top ecstasy. We don’t know it’s real unless it can break through the clutter of noise and distractions to get our attention in the first place. Joy is not loud and boisterous, although it can be. Joy is not fireworks alone. It is also that awareness of something greater that is both around us and within us as a quiet sunset over the Gulf of Mexico or the wonder of a sleeping child.

It is a state of mind - the openness to see it; and an orientation of the heart- the aiming of our soul toward the very source of joy.

M. Ahlers, in the book 50 Things to Know About Practicing Spiritual Discipline, puts it this way:
Joy is a choice based on being content regardless of circumstances. Understanding what encourages joy in your life can help you cultivate it and build up your resources for when circumstances are difficult.
Yes, I can choose to be filled with joy, content no matter what. It also means to cultivate the things that bring joy into my life, which will in turn increase and enhance the joy I am able to be aware of.

The radical nature of joy is beginning to be revealed. The revolutionary attitude to be content regardless of circumstances can confront the ways of the world around us and say a clear “No!” to those calls to our lesser nature; to the desire to separate us from our brothers and sisters based on color or creed or country of origin; to the victimizing of others so that we can have joy even at their expense since they are the ones keeping us from having joy. There is a promise inherent in joy that if we live with the hope that life is worth it and that love of even the so-called enemy is essential- something unique and powerful will happen within us.

Advent is a time of patience, though, since this does not happen overnight. Rumi, the wondrous Muslim mystic and poet wrote:
If you are wholly perplexed and in straits, have patience, for patience is the key to joy
Impatience is what the ways of the world feed on-
  • impatience with how slowly we are getting ahead,
  • impatience with having to wait to get what we think we need or deserve,
  • impatience that leads to seeking instant gratification,
  • impatience that kills joy, and
  • impatience that allows the world to call us away from hope and love into a joyless uncertainty.

But Rumi adds,
When you feel a peaceful JOY, that's when you are near truth.
Moving from hope to love and into joy brings us closer to the truth that thaws of the world are not necessarily the final answer. In fact that movement into joy moves us to a place closer to the truths that are greater than we are, the truths that transcend religion and race, ideology or nationalism. We Christians can point to Jesus as being “the way and the truth” but that is our experience. Many others have experienced the same truth in myriad ways. Even Christians, if we are honest with ourselves, know that we have found joy, true joy as we have discovered the truths of life in hope and love in many non-religious but highly spiritual ways.

When you feel joy, the truth is near (Rumi)

And, the truth can set you free (Jesus).

The journey of Advent as resistance reminds us again that it is not in the political or ideological or materialistic or even religious ways that truth will be found. We don’t have to give in to the siren calls around us, or the “dog-whistle” pronouncements that reinforce hate or discrimination. Truth is not to be found there.

Live in hope
Love unconditionally
Joy will guide you into truth.

The journey continues.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

3.25- The Tuning Slide- The Unexpected

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.
— J. R. R. Tolkein

This month’s theme is “The Journey” of being a trumpet player, musician, and human being. Last week we talked about that all important “first step” that gets us moving. This week we continue with two quotes from the board at the end of Trumpet Workshop this past summer:

✓ Be comfortable being uncomfortable [Expect the unexpected]
✓ Always have a relaxed breath. Warm, moist air

Don’t worry, they are not as disconnected as they seem. They are two more essential aspects of the journey you are on. As Bilbo used to say any journey is a dangerous business. When we truly set out on a new journey of any kind- outer or inner- we do not know what’s ahead or where it will take us. We plan and practice, gather resources and support. We step out the door and we meet a “black swan.”

What? You’ve never seen a black swan? Here’s Wikipedia talking about it. Black swan

is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying which presumed black swans did not exist, but the saying was rewritten after black swans were discovered in the wild.

The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain:
• The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
• The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
• The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event's massive role in historical affairs.

In other words, black swans are the next-to-impossible-to-predict events that have HUGE impacts on life. Looking back we can rationalize them, but that never helps us predict what the next “black swan” event might be in our lives. Whether it is the 9/11 attacks, the wildfires in California, or Superstorm Sandy, the BIG events that have the greatest impact on people’s lives are often unforeseen and unpredictable. They happen and change the world. We will often look back and say “we should have known that!” but in reality if we could have we would have.

We can respond to this situation in different ways in our lives. First, we can live in terror and fear of the next black swan event. That will always be an existential, unconnected, free-floating fear that can never be pinned down or done away with. By definition we can’t know what the next big event will be. To live in that constant state of uncertainty is not any way to live.

Second, we can live with a carefree, not-give-a-crap attitude, rushing headlong into whatever is ahead. Life is a gamble for all of us. You can get the most toys, but in the end we all die. This may have a lot of adrenaline-pumping action; it may move us to do some brave and courageous or dumb and dangerous things. The result may very well be a toss-up.

Third, we can combine the two with that wonderful first quote and description. If you always expect everything to go smoothly and the way you want things to go, you will be disappointed. In spite of things like the “law of attraction” and certain ways some of us pray at times, we don’t always get what we want. That will make us uncomfortable! Can I put up with discomfort? Do I see discomfort as an enemy or a sign of what needs to be done?

I have talked a number of times about the process I continually go through as a learning, growing musician. I reach a point- usually quite unexpected- when things don’t just feel right. I may have a lousy performance where even that good old 2nd line G comes out like mud. Or I find my endurance slipping for no apparent reason. Maybe there’s a new piece that doesn’t look that hard that just doesn’t want to fall under my fingers.

I become quite uncomfortable at those times. Have I reached the end of my line? Is this as good as it gets? Was I being too comfortable with where I was and not expanding the envelope? I can easily be tempted at that point to cut back, even give in. I rationalize- well, after all, I am nearly 70 years old. I can’t expect to continue to improve like I would if I were 30 or 40. Then the picture of me with Doc Severinsen pops up on my phone and I give that idea up.

Is it okay to be uncomfortable? Sure it is. Usually it means I am at a turning or growing point. I look for adjustments I can make- perhaps work on some different exercises in my daily routine or pull back on some of my intensity to do everything right away. If I am expecting the unexpected, it shouldn’t bring me to a halt. If I have learned anything in these past 3 years of expanded trumpet playing and growth in musicianship, it is that the journey is real and is never in a straight line!

Which brings me to the second quote above about relaxed breath and warm moist air. Yes, that is how we are to play our horns. Doc calls it a balance between tension on the side muscles and relaxed on the center. If every time I pick up the horn I am tense and dry, nothing good will come out. Relax. Breathe calmly. As Bill Bergren rightly describes it- “Say ‘M’ and then breathe gently like cooling a cup of coffee.” How do we learn how to do that if we are always tense.

In a recent concert we were playing the beautiful, slow piece “Ashokan Farewell.” I realized in one of the rehearsals that I was tensed up so as not to over-blow or lose any tone by playing too loudly. Self Two caught that Self One was uptight. Self Two simply said, “I can handle this. I do it all the time in the practice room.” Self Two was right, of course. I am never tense like that in my practicing. I may lose endurance, etc. but it is not usually due to tenseness. That comes when I am afraid of—(among other things) the unexpected.

Take that relaxed, warming breath. Put the trumpet to the lips- and play.

Live with awareness of the unexpected- not in fear of what might happen but in order to go with it when it happens. Live with the breath- in and out in a simple rhythm. (Remember rhythm? It’s one of the foundations of all music.) Stay warm, stay relaxed, stay quietly focused. When we learn how to do that in our practice room, we will move closer to being able to do it in performance. When we can do it in performance, we can relax some more and learn how to do that when we are doing other things.

It is one of the secrets of our life’s journey. Go with it, as Bilbo used to say, “you don’t know where you might be swept off to.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Love

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

2nd Sunday of Advent, 
December 10, 2017:
Love as Resistance

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love,
and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I found all kinds of ways of putting “love” into this post as a form of resistance. Where do we get the idea that love is a spiritual discipline?

• Love the Lord with all that you are
• Love your neighbor as yourself.
• Love is how we turn what we say into what we do.
• To live in love is to live in God.
• Love is the embodiment of our beliefs. The only place where the beliefs can be seen.
• We learn love from God!

Love as a discipline of spiritual resistance is important because it crosses barriers and boundaries and allows for no exceptions. Love is acceptance and it’s what I meant when talking last week about our interconnectedness.

On top of all that we don’t often think of the spiritual discipline of “love” as countercultural, resistance to the ways the world deals with love and life. Stop and think about it and we realize that it is the natural extension of the basic so-called Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do to (or for) you!

Meditate on that; place it as the Golden Rule, i.e. the best rule for living. (Go ahead. Take some time to do that if you want before you read on. I have already done so.)

What did you get? What comes to mind?

First it was the awareness of how seldom I think of that let alone try to actually live it. From there it moved to asking myself another question. “What would such love look like?” Without missing much of a beat it came to a halt at Jesus’ words:
I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you… (Matthew 5:44, Young’s Literal Translation.)
Now Jesus is REALLY meddling with the ways of the world. Jesus is actually suggesting that we do the exact opposite of the ways of the world. Love my enemies? You’ve got to be kidding! That would be unheard of, even suicidal.

That isn’t just countercultural, it is downright revolutionary. If we all started practicing that this would be a far different world.

And that is exactly the point! What else would be the purpose of such spiritual resistance but to make the world a far better place? What else would be the result of living a spiritually resistant lifestyle than the overturning of the logical way of living and relating to others?

Now, with all that in mind, let me ask you another question to continue to build this discipline of love.
Do you remember being loved in such a way that it changed your life?
Two things come to mind. The first, that set the foundation for me was a remarkable quote from theologian Paul Tillich:
“You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
That quote has come to me a number of times over the past 45 years- always at a time and place of needing to be loved- and what is love except an awareness of being accepted as I am. Me. Just as I am!

The second thing that came to mind happened many years ago but only sunk in recently. A few years ago I was working on following my Dad’s Army unit through the last year of World War II. I called one of my Dad’s cousins to ask some questions. (I should note that my Dad died in 1964 when I was 16, 2 1/2 years after my mother had died. What I knew of both of them was therefore limited.) In the midst of our conversation she mentioned how her mother and others around our small rural town had worried about my brother and myself losing our parents at such young ages. It was an opening of light as I realized that in those years- and many since- I was loved and cared for simply because I needed it. They were worried and wanted to support us.

I have been loved - and it was a great feeling.

How could I not want to share that? How could I not be willing to live that love through my own life? I have spent my adult life in service to others in ministry, in mission, in addiction counseling, in trying to be a good husband, father, and friend. I am who I am because over these 69 years I have been loved unconditionally by many people.

The revelation that “love” has been at work in my life in countless and often unknown ways was one more reason to live in love.

To repeat, that is all quite revolutionary. Not that family or friends loved me, but the feeling of being loved is so powerful even when you don’t know it’s happening, it can change your world.

However to name someone as “enemy” and therefore not worthy of my love is dangerous. My heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Have pointed that out. They attempted to live in ways that loved instead of hated. Not long after I typed these words, my friends at Mindful Christianity Today on Facebook posted a meme. Here it is:

We are in a time of great divisiveness and even angry hatred. It may be couched in either nice language or spoken with all its vitriol spewing forth. Such anger and hatred leads to violence. Such violence will always be deadly- emotionally, spiritually, or physically. As part of the counter-culture of spirituality we must remember what it means to be loved and how it works miracles in each of us. Then, in radical acceptance and revolutionary hope, we live that love, no matter what.

It may be resisted or mocked; it may be seen as weakness or illogical. It will empower us to be who we are called to be.

And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of God and the name of that river was suffering - and I saw the boat which carries souls across the river and the name of that boat was love.
— St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

3.24 The Tuning Slide- Start the Journey

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I decided that for the next three months I will be basing each post on one of the “quotes” from the summary of last summer’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. I went back to the list (Link) and picked out three months worth that fit into three general categories. For December I will be talking about The Journey of being a trumpet player, musician, and human. A good way to end another calendar year, thinking about where we have been.


It is good to have an end to journey toward,
but it is the journey that matters in the end.
-Ursula K. Le Guin

I will start with the obvious, simplest and maybe simultaneously the most profound quote from the Trumpet Workshop 2017:
✓ The best way to go 1,000 miles is to take the first step.
Life IS a journey. It continues to be a great metaphor for what happens in these days between birth and death, or as someone once called it- the hyphen years (Born Died). At some times the journey is fairly straightforward. Other times it wanders and curves in spirals and cycles all over the place. It may even seem like the movie Groundhog Day. (Didn’t I just do that?) If you want to get anywhere, however, the simplicity of the quote is painfully obvious.

The obvious: Doh!
None of us is going anywhere if we don’t get off square one. We can talk all we want about what we want to do, our dreams and hopes, the kind of musician or person we want to be, but to do nothing to get there will be the surest way to not get there. Life isn’t a magic trick where we say “abracadabra” or “cowabunga” or anything else and we get it.

There are, of course, many things that keep us stuck on square one. Fear is probably the most powerful thing that keeps us stuck. We don’t want to fail, make a mistake, seem silly, or incompetent. So we don’t do anything, or we do the safest thing. The result is we are stuck.

Lack of self-confidence is another way we remain where we have always been. “I really cannot do that!” becomes a mantra. It ends up with “See. I couldn’t do that.” The result again is that we are stuck.

In the end many of us find ourselves doing the same things over and over and feeling dissatisfied. We forget to take the first step. In 12-Step groups it is often said that the first step is the most important one that you have to do perfectly and at a rate of about 100%. Nothing else can get done if you don’t do the first step completely. Which leads me to:

The profound: Aha!
The first step is the foundation. It isn’t just some silly saying. Of course you have to take the first step. Tell me something profound so I can do it. It’s the deep and profound and mystical and even magical that we are really looking for. We want an answer that will lead us into wherever we are going with little to no effort. The simplicity of just taking the first step hides the power of
taking the first step.
Fortunately the first step we have to take in our journey is so obvious and profound that it can be summer up in those four words! Stop arguing. Stop procrastinating. Do something! Get moving.
Make it a good first step!
The Psychology Today website ( posted seven strategies when you feel stuck. It was originally written for a post on women’s health, but it is as real and important for all of us.
1) Let go of the past. ...
2) Change your perspective. ...
3) Start with small changes. ...
4) Explore your purpose. ...
5) Believe in yourself. ...
6) Practice being hopeful. ...
7) Consider talking to a professional.
Everything we have learned from Trumpet Workshop and the Inner Game directions can be found in those seven jump starts. Let me translate those seven into a different way of seeing what these suggested first steps can be. Numbers correspond to the numbers above:

1) (Letting go…) Trust Self Two to get you where you need to go.
You are NOT the same person who missed that note last year- or even last week.

2) (Perspective…) Practice “mindfulness”
Instead of noticing the things you aren’t doing, see the things you are doing.

3) (Small changes…) Go back to the basics and practice them in your regular routine.
Record yourself and listen to what needs to be improved- then zero in on one of those

4) (Purpose…) Why am I doing this?
Always a good question to ask. The answer may simply be “because it’s fun!”

5) (Believe…) Start thinking of yourself as a “musician” moving forward.
“I am not able to do that” quickly takes on new meaning when you add the word “yet!”

6) (Hopeful…) Start keeping a journal and write down the improvements you will see
Watch for your expected improvement and don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t happen overnight.

7) (Professionals…) Take some lessons, if you aren’t already doing so!
You can’t always see other perspectives. Ask for support and guidance.

Those of you who have been around this blog for the past few years or have read the book I published from it, know that these are some of the ways I have been able to move from a mediocre 60-something trumpet player into a better 60-something trumpet musician. Last weekend, for example, the quintet I have been part of played for a church worship. As the service came to an end I noticed that among other things I was
◆ relaxed, not tense from performance anxiety
◆ comfortable with how I had played, not kicking myself for days afterward
◆ aware of my sound throughout the playing, not worried about my ability to do it
◆ able to answer the purpose question, in this case, in order to provide music for people to be touched and moved by its power.

What a change in a few years! But I had to take a step and move into uncomfortable territory and attend the first Big Band Camp at Shell Lake. No, there was the step before it of starting lessons again after 50+ years. No, there was the step before that of saying “Yes!” to the invitation to join the quintet in the first place. No,….

I think you get the idea. The best step to take next is the one that will move you in a direction you would want to go.

Then just do it.

By the way, Christmas is coming....

Here are my books available at Amazon.
They are both in Kindle and paperback.
They make really nice Christmas gifts.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Hope

Advent begins today. It is the time of preparation for the coming of the Savior on Christmas. It is a time of challenge and spiritual growth. In spite of the seemingly bright and cheerful side of the holiday that Hallmark cards often present, the next six weeks are a time of wrestling with important truths about humanity, about God, and about what God has done and is doing for our release from captivity to sin.

Over the past year many of us have been facing a crisis of faith and spirit with many difficult and uncomfortable things happening around us. Last year I wrote a series on the Dark Night of the Soul in the political era we are living in. I followed it up with a series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a time even darker than ours. We have made it through another year and the word that has come to describe what many of us are doing is “Resistance.”

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

1st Sunday of Advent, 
December 3, 2017
Hope as Resistance

All resistance movements have been based in a sense of hope. In recent history we have had the Resistance in France in WW II. Back in the 60s, those who opposed the Vietnam war saw themselves as a resistance movement. Non-violent resistance- has had a long history, with people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. being the most famous. In the past year a number of different groups like Indivisible have formed as grass-roots actions to overcome the extreme right-wing. Without the hope that they could be successful against evil and wrong, they would not have done what they did.

Let me start by looking at spirituality and how it is Resistance. I am not looking to get into arguments about the existence or nonexistence of “God.” I believe spirituality in general is far broader than that. Each “religious faith” adapts “spirituality” to be part of its own history and understanding of the world. In general, let me define spirituality this way:

We are connected!
  • First, we are connected to something greater than ourselves.
    • Therefore we can’t do it alone (and don’t need to) and
    • Therefore that is a challenge to narrow vision and easy acceptance of many self-centered beliefs and
    • Therefore “Me First” is not an option.
  • Second, we are connected to others interdependently.
    • Therefore we have a responsibility to others as we would want them to have responsibility for us and
    • Therefore we are to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us without exception and
    • Therefore we are to be kind to the “stranger” and “foreigner” in our midst.

Spirituality appears to be an evolved human response as a means of survival. Alone, the individual could not survive. It is in the evolution from nomad to tribe to village and city to nation-states to an interconnected world. This is the basis of Spiritual Resistance. It is standing for the many ways we can experience, live, and share the basic message of our continually evolving interrelationships. This is even more important today when all it could take is two individuals who can push each other- and all of humanity- into a world-ending war.

The survival of humanity depends on our getting along and finding ways to interrelate and accept others. Because we have had such experiences in our lives, because we can discover that in our daily lives, and because it is possible to live that way in new ways, we can have hope. Our hope is believing that we can do something to enhance the options for our survival.

That is heavy! That seems like an impossible task. But when we fell that, we go back to the definitions and calling to spirituality. We are not alone! We are connected and can work at increasing that interconnectedness! It is not- and cannot be- about me alone!
  • The spirituality of hope is to challenge the false hopes we can all fall prey to. 
    • It is resistance to the false hopes presented as variations of “Me First!” 
    • It is resistance to the call to be selfish and ignore those who have less than we do. 
    • It is resistance to myths propagated by many and varied sources in our society and other societies that seek to control rather than heal. 
    • It is resistance to anything that denigrates and kills others in body, mind, or soul. It is resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, poverty. 
    • It is resistance to straw men raised by “leaders” who want to consolidate power over others.
  • Hope tells us that life is worth living. 
  • Hope tells us that if we are willing to work together we can get things done. 
  • Hope tells us that the power of “we” is always greater than the powers of “me alone.” 
  • Hope tells us that there are other like-minded people who see the world as we do. 
  • Hope says that each person is a person of value and worth and forgiveness and care is at the heart of what we are to do. 
 We will look at other ways this happens as we journey through Advent. In the Christian tradition Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Savior. It is when we take time in meditation and prayer to hear the words and follow the life of the one we Christians call The Word Become Flesh. We believe that when we watch Jesus and hear his words we are hearing the way of hope for all humanity. That is not meant to mean the exclusive, we Christians are the only ones who have the answer. It is rather from my faith and cultural perspective in a religion that has just as often ignored or turned those words upside down for their own benefit. Jesus has been called the beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega. Omega, the symbol of resistance can be seen as the symbol for what Jesus calls humans to do- resist the life-denying calls of the world. There are life-affirming actions and ways of the world. Jesus calls me to uphold them and keep them active.

My description of spirituality above is open to many ways of following a power greater than ourselves. Admittedly my definition is one that is based on my understandings. It comes out of my experiences of nearly 7 decades of living. I can see no other way for me that encompasses the hope, love, joy, and peace of life. I hope others can see these in their own spiritual evolution. Hope as resistance is the first step in a journey into deeper hope. It helps us to cope with what the world often throws at us and others. Resistance is an immunity against fear and hate, death and selfishness.

Focus on hope this week.

Hope can be more than wishful thinking. It is a sense of expectation that something possible is coming. We must be ready to see it when it comes. We need to be focused, not distracted, but turn toward hope and not despair.

Listen to the still small voice of hope when things seem to be falling apart.

Join with others in hope!