Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Third Week of Lent: The Wilderness Path of Light

We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.
-Aldo Leopold

Most people would agree that Thoreau was the original American nature writer. His reflection on his two years on Walden Pond is classic and the root from which many others have grown. One of the greatest of these was Aldo Leopold.

Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) was an American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), which has sold more than two million copies…. Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation…. He emphasized biodiversity and ecology and was a founder of the science of wildlife management. -Link

What does Leopold as an heir of Thoreau have to teach us this Lenten season? How can we discover new insights into our spiritual lives in this world from him? I for one believe that wilderness and nature is always an excellent starting point for any spiritual journey. It is not coincidence that we use Jesus’ wilderness temptations as the starting point for Lent or that the Desert Fathers and Mothers went into a wilderness to find their own souls closer to God. The presence and possibility of nature in all its hope and danger is a place to learn about the limits of our human condition.

Leopold began the Foreword to A Sand County Almanac:

THERE are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. (P. vii)

Leopold was in the forefront of a movement that saw great danger in what we humans were (and are) doing to the natural world. He understood that his view can only begin to be discussed once we have enough food to eat, that is, we are beyond basic survival mode. But unfettered progress was not necessarily a good thing either.

The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not. … (P. vii)

I am currently reading a truly interesting history of the two sides of the debate of the future of humanity. In The Wizard and the Prophet, Charles Mann tells the story of the “two sides of a century-long dispute between what Mann calls “wizards,” who believe that science will allow humans to continue prospering, and “prophets,” who predict disaster unless we accept that our planet's resources are limited.” (Kirkus Review)  Leopold was part of the side Mann calls the “prophets.” They see the earth’s resources as limited, needing to be protected or we will misuse, abuse, and eventually eliminate them to our own and the world’s detriment.

These two sides have not been reconciled and remain clearly opponents in the debate. Leopold concludes his Foreword with these words:

[O]ur bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to tum off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. (P. ix)

Many of us raised in the environmentalism of the 60s will easily fall on the Aldo Leopold side of the debate. Such a view is based on an understanding of ultimately limited resources, maintaining stewardship of what we have, the absolute interrelatedness of humans and nature, and finally, the dangers of a consumer-driven society where more and bigger is always better (even as we gladly participate in it.)

I am a fugitive and a vagabond, a sojourner seeking signs.
- Annie Dillard

Many of us also know the advantages of “nature.” Books like A Sand County Almanac and Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) have opened many of us to the amazing world around us. They have shown us both the “otherness” of nature and our connectedness, even dependence on it. It is a place that, as others have said, one must go prepared, or not at all. I am one of those who believes that the “spiritual” is the best way to be prepared for what it has to teach us and what I need to learn.

I don’t mean just wilderness, either. It can be the town park, the woods off the side of the road, the Bald Eagle’s nest along the river on the edge of the city. It can be a bike trail, a neighborhood street, or the nearest state park. If we go there with an openness to what’s there, what’s new, and what’s old, we will never be disappointed. Sometimes we look up at the canopy or the sky; at other times we get down and explore the square foot of earth beneath our feet. They are both filled with wonder and beyond.

They are filled with God and the words of God. They are icons- images that open to the indescribable. They are sacraments- outward and visible signs and means of God’s grace.

The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.
-Annie Dillard

I pray that we not lose sight of this value of the natural world. I pray that as we go through our days, the possibility of finding God in all places will deepen our spiritual health through the world around us. The inward journey of Lent can prepare us for that. It is why we return here every year. We walk our inner labyrinths in order to circle and then touch the holy center of who we are.

There are many lessons to be learned, explored, and acted upon in these writings of Leopold and Dillard, heirs of Thoreau. We in the faith community know some of them, in our own imperfect human ways. We preach stewardship but often forget about the stewardship of the world around us. We sing of our “awesome wonder” at all the works God’s hands have made, yet pay little thought to how we can help protect and enhance that. We know of the value of community but overlook the greater community of the interconnectedness of the world.

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you can rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
-Annie Dillard

This week of Lent, may I walk into the Light, put myself into the path of it’s cleansing and healing beam. Then sail into the presence of the Creator! Let us do it together.

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.
-Aldo Leopold

Monday, February 26, 2018

Waiting in Imagined Fear

It is not a new subject. We have been through this numerous times in the past 19 years since Columbine in 1999. After the latest school shooting in Florida I was taken back in my memory to the two early incidents that had an impact on me. Beyond those directly involved, we are seeing that many are being affected. For those who are not at the scene, I wondered, "What does imagined fear do to a soul?"

Columbine. April 1999.
It was nearing the end of my daughter's senior year in high school. Living in a smaller Wisconsin city where school was often the center of the community and my daughter being a senior the events in Columbine seemed way too real.

I thought about my daughter sitting in school, in a study hall in the commons area right inside door 1, the main entrance. I thought about members of the church who worked in or near the office, right across the commons or my best friend, one of the band directors down the hall. I thought of all the young people I knew, through our daughter, the church or community activities.

Then, within a couple days, there was a threat made to the school just as has happened across the country in the past two weeks. I knew that student as well.

The school made a couple of immediate decisions, including changing the location of graduation. It had been held outside at a local park for years. People would bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the wonders of spring along the river while the students marched in graduation. It was quite a celebration for the students and the community. Now it would be held in the school gym, more formal, but safer to protect. Some of the seniors protested but to no avail.

Red Lake Shooting. March 21, 2005
Six years later short a month I was in southern Minnesota working as a chemical health counselor in the local schools. A 16-year old on the Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota took his grandfather's police weapon, killed his grandfather and grandfather's girlfriend then went to the school and continued the murders. He was wounded in a shootout with police and then committed suicide in a vacant classroom.

The shooter was only a year or two older than the students I worked most closely with, and had lived in our district for a short period of time. In the odd way of coincidences, I also knew his mother. My office was about fifty feet from the main entrance, the only unlocked door, of course, into the school. I often sat in there working with my office door open. The days after the shooting I became very aware of the proximity of that entrance and how quickly someone could get to my office. I vaguely remember having discussions with other staff, but we never really went into any detail that I can recall.

The students seemed naturally subdued for a few days. None of them ever mentioned to me that they knew the shooter when he was in our district, although they may have. All kinds of thoughts ran through everyone's minds I would guess. It's easy to become a sitting duck in many of the buildings in any school district.

I would call this "imagined fear." It is fear of the unknown that can easily come with an awareness of powerlessness, loss of control, the unplanned events that "can't happen here!"

Reaction as a pastor and counselor
I first thought of this after Columbine when social workers and others reflected some of their feelings on what had happened. They missed clues, they believed progress was happening with the two shooters when the youth were faking it. It was still a rare event in 1999 so even the best trained social workers didn't know what to look for. (By the way, in many ways they still don't. But that's another post.)

As a pastor in the community as well as an addictions counselor working with adolescents and a close friend of two guidance counselors in the school system, I wondered with them over coffee how we would know. We didn't have any answers, just as the counselors in Colorado didn't either.

In Minnesota I worked closely with the school counselors and staff. I was officially working for the county and was part of the school social work group. While the Red Lake incident did not have the larger impact of Columbine, we all shook our heads wondering what we miss on a regular basis. Since we all worked with severely "at-risk" youth we knew that just about any of our students could potentially break and cause such a disaster. It is not as easy to identify the future shooter as many would like to believe.

Rage, extreme anger, being bullied- these are all triggers and potential symptoms of school shooters. But these youth are also very, very good at masking it- sometimes by becoming bullies, sometimes by extreme introversion, sometimes by just being damn good actors. Every counselor or social worker in any school is painfully aware of this. It may be the nightmare for many that they miss the cues of suicidality or a shooter and the unthinkable happens. I have never had a shooter, but I know the pain of missed signs of suicide. I would guess the missed murderer is even worse.

Don't attack the counselor or social worker who misses it. Even though signs and the understanding of causes are clearer now than in 1999 or 2005, they are still variable. Plus, we don't know how many we DID prevent without ever knowing it was a possibility. There, I believe, we have most likely done more good than we will ever know.

Safety and Security Reflections
I was also aware then and still am in many ways of the impossibility of security and safety. Looking back at the four schools I worked with in Minnesota, they were all active places. At times of the day there were people entering and leaving the main entrance- people like myself, the social workers, shared teaching staff who traveled from school to school as needed; parents bringing forgotten papers to school or picking up a student for some appointment somewhere. Sure, having one main entrance to watch helps, but that does not prevent a mass shooting with multiple casualties.

An armed teacher would not be in the same position as an armed guard or patrol. The teacher is hopefully more focused on a day-to-day basis with teaching. They are working with some significant number of students on a regular basis. They are lecturing, proctoring, helping with homework, watching for misbehavior in their own classroom. If they are doing a good job as a teacher, they are not in a very good position to respond as quickly as they would need to if an event occurred near them.

It is already tough enough to be a good teacher. We can't also require them to be a good armed guard. Many don't want that job. I wouldn't. Improved security is important, of course. But we should probably expect that an armed guard at a main entrance to a school may well be the first casualty, not the last.

Students today
Malcolm Gladwell wrote the famous book The Tipping Point which essentially laid out that before any significant change occurs, there has to be the point where a critical mass of people say, "Enough!" For some reason, at least as I write this at the end of February 2018, we seem to have hit that point. Why the students of Parkland, FL, have reacted this way when others haven't to this extent will be something for social scientists to ponder somewhere down the road.

It is not that they have been fed by some left-wing, anti-gun conspiracy. It is not that they are more liberal than any of the students in the other places. They survived what their friends and teachers did not. Instead of survivors' guilt sending them into a dark frenzy of self-questioning, they shouted, "Enough."

When these students responded, so students in schools across the country were reminded that they, too, have been living in fear of such an attack. As a nation, since 9/11 we have all lived with such a fear of terrorists. The government in all kinds of overt as well as subtle ways, has been reminding us of that threat for seventeen years.

Maybe this last school shooting, an act of terror if not terrorism in the usual sense, was a tipping point to deal with those fears. Here is something that we might be able to do something about. More of us are getting killed by "shooters" than terrorists. Students in schools, worshipers in church, concert-goers having a party, workers in offices. Terror-inducing scenes.

People are tired of being afraid. People are sick of fear. People want to be able to do something that might have an impact on the culture of mass shootings we seem to be in the midst of. (That, it should be noted, is also why gun sales increase after each shooting.) Nothing will be 100% effective at stopping mass shootings. No one should ever believe it would. What the students of today are saying is that they are tired of being on the front lines of a war they never signed-up for. They want to have a say. They want to throw off the fear and do something.

Courage is not something that means we are fearless. Courage is, as an old, trite phrase used to say, is simply "fear that has said its prayers." What that means is that to act with courage is to know that there is strength in action, with confronting what is causing our fear. Courage is doing the next right thing to make a difference. There is a generation out there, a whole school generation since Columbine, that is now saying they want courage, not fear, to be their guiding principle.

We should listen and then be willing to truly sit down in dialogue to find out what is possible. We need to stop throwing ideology and patriotic misunderstandings at them. We need to support them and perhaps in so doing cast off our own fears.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fascinating History

Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied HospitalBellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital by David M. Oshinsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing history of an iconic hospital, public health in New York, and medicine in America. Quote a story of epidemics, change, riots, wars, AIDS, and a Superstorm. It is fascinating to read of how different medical care was not that long ago!

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Second Sunday of Lent: What Drumbeat? What Path?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
-Henry David Thoreau

Okay, I better address something this week. Why in the world am I using someone like Thoreau for leading me deeper into the world of Lent? Thoreau was not supportive of Christianity. In fact his “diary” entry for Sunday in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack is more about western religions' faults and hypocrisies. On top of that he is often seen as self-centered, narcissistic, pompous, and hypocritical. An article in New Yorker magazine in 2015 by award-winning author Kathryn Schulz severely criticizes Thoreau.
The real Thoreau was, in the fullest sense of the word, self-obsessed: narcissistic, fanatical about self-control, adamant that he required nothing beyond himself to understand and thrive in the world. From that inward fixation flowed a social and political vision that is deeply unsettling. -Link
She goes on to analyze and question how in the world such a person could be so honored and even deified by so many?

I am not here to defend Thoreau. To some extent I agree with Schulz’s general review of him. He was a very strange man in so many ways. In spite of the popularity- and importance- of his ideal of civil disobedience, or his ideal of Walden pond, his arguments as presented do not always hold water, especially in the 21st Century. He was an excellent naturalist and the founding father of so much of what has since been written, but again it may not be all it seems. In many ways he was writing a metaphor, not a strict natural history. But again, we are dealing with the pre-Civil War 19th Century! The world of New England in 1845, which Thoreau presented as the seeming pinnacle of civilization, looks nothing like our world. It is, for me, the principles and directions of his thought that impress me.

As we remember that we are not dealing with a contemporary of ours, so too we should understand that he was not a “wise elder.” Thoreau never made it to being an elder; he died at age 45 of tuberculosis. He was 28 when he moved to Walden, 30 when he left, and 31 when he delivered the lecture that would become Civil Disobedience. In other words he was still a young rebel. He never left that behind.

Which is why I am so impressed by him and why the quote at the top of this post is his legacy for me. He was always marching to a different drummer. I believe that we as Christians should never forget that thought. We should find ways to move our own lives with an attitude of following our own music- or more fittingly for this series- the music of the soul and spirit as we Jesus-followers experience and discover it through Jesus Christ; him crucified and resurrected. Jesus told us that we should learn the ways of the world because he was sending us out
like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (NRSV)
Part of that, Thoreau would remind us, is to listen for the beat of that different drummer! That is what Lent reminds us. Here is the call of this season for us-
dig deeply, look inside to find the drumbeat of our lives. 
More to the point may be that we are hearing the heartbeat of God when we do so. That heartbeat can be restless. That can make it a heartbeat that animates us, gives us direction and meaning and life. It keeps us moving.

A friend on Facebook posted a challenge to his fellow Baby Boomers last week. He asked what happened to the idealism and hope, the fresh ideas and directions, the radical and revolutionary understandings that propelled so many of us in the 60s and early 70s? Instead we have become “elders” (read: old), often more interested in the status quo than the possibilities of growth and peace, grace and spirit. “Have we lost our soul?” was my personal response. Have we become afraid of our own shadows, or even ashamed of some of the naive and innocent ideals of our youth? As a result have we turned away from asking the hard questions for fear of offending ourselves or others? Have we turned off the drumbeat and simply given up on making the world a better place?

But the word naive comes from deeper roots than that.
1650s, "natural, simple, artless," from French naïve, fem. of naïf, from Old French naif "naive, natural, genuine; just born; foolish, innocent; unspoiled, unworked" (13c.), from Latin nativus "not artificial," also "native, rustic," literally "born, innate, natural" -Link
Maybe we weren’t as “foolish” as some think we were. Maybe we were listening to what is more innate, a more natural way of living. Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond was a similar move. No, he did not leave the world behind and live like a hermit. Far from it. Instead he used that time to dig into his own soul and the spirit of the world around him, to hear the different drummer’s beat for him.

That’s what I am doing this Lent. I am using my faith and my experiences to bring that beat into clearer focus. I am using the wrestling with Thoreau to help me fine-tune my ear for the music and the ways to bring what I still believe as important from my “naive” years into this time and place.

  • Where am I turning to hear the beat of God’s drummer?
  • How can I pay closer attention to what the Spirit is calling me to do?
  • What is the path in front of me that I may need to follow?
  • What of my past is valuable to translate into this new century and the next decade of my life?
  • How can I leave a trail that others may follow and find their own place in the work of God?
Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, February 23, 2018

Literal or Serious (3)- What is Success?

I had originally just planned on this being two posts from last Friday and Saturday. Wednesday I realized that these are answering the questions raised by a friend a few weeks ago that I have not been able to put into words. I was challenged to be as specific as I can about what Trump policies I disagree with. Because so much of what we have seen is wrapped in his language, tweets, and rhetoric, I really had to start with the first two that set out some of the ideas.

One thing I have seen asked of liberals like myself is

Do you want Trump to fail?
The inference being that any good, patriotic American wouldn't want the President to fail at what he wants to do. To wish for him to fail would be to wish ill to the country.

I don't agree with that argument.

It assumes that I agree with the direction he appears to be taking the country. It assumes I agree with his ideas, politics, and plans. It assumes that if the President fails, then the country has failed.

Over the eight years of the Obama administration there were many Republicans and others who wanted Obama's policies to be stopped. They took some of them to court and won. Others never happened because Congress didn't agree. In other words, they wanted his agenda, and therefore his plans and directions, to fail.

That is where I am today.

Let me start then by saying if Trump's policies do result in a even stronger economy than we have had growing these past three to five years, then I am with him. I want him to succeed. If his policies provide safe and fair immigration and security, then I am with him. I want him to succeed. If his health care policies provide good, positive access to the health system for Americans, then I am with him. I want him to succeed.

But if he does succeed at those,
  • I don't want it to be at the cost of who we are as Americans. 
  • I don't want it to undermine the system of social support that has been around since at least the mid-1930s. 
  • I don't want it to result in hatred and racism becoming more prevalent, further dividing us as a nation. 
  • I don't want it to be because he was unwilling to stand up to American values against white supremacists and Russian hacking. 
  • I don't want it to be at the expense of the first use of nuclear weapons in nearly 75 years.
If his policies result in those things, then yes, I want him to fail, and fail miserably. We will be a better nation if he does. That does not mean I am against our country. Much the opposite.
  • I want him to fail at those so that we may remain a strong and vibrant nation, offering hope, and opportunity, even to those who were brought here as children and have made America a better place because of their contributions. 
  • I want to see children feeling safe at schools, not because we have turned their buildings into locked and armed institutions, but because we have become willing to stand up to the false god of guns as a national symbol.
  • I want to see the middle class be given the opportunities to benefit from the advances we as a nation make and not simply receive some crumbs thrown out to them while fanning their fear and dislike of immigrants or others.
  • I want to see him challenge his friends in that upper 1% to give of themselves like many in the middle and lower classes do on a regular basis. Yes, many do, but they are being given some incredible advantages in the new tax law that should bring with it greater responsibilities. And not just to shareholders or in one-time bonuses in place of real salary increases.
  • I really do want him to face Russia and say in no uncertain terms that meddling in our elections is NOT the way we want. The hell with collusion. This was, and continues to be, an act of aggression against the basics of who we are.
We do not blindly follow any President. The GOP didn't blindly agree and follow Obama or Clinton. Democrats did not blindly follow either Bush or Reagan. We don't have to! We can debate and disagree. And yes, when it comes to specific policies that we feel are detrimental to the health and welfare of our country, we can hope he fails.

This is called democracy!

(I think there will be one more of these in the next week.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Gripping Book

Oliver LovingOliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is only by coincidence and not planning that I started reading a novel about a fictitious school shooting. But it opened worlds and thoughts. A marvelous and gripping book of pain and loss, anger and fear, lost hopes and dreams that are hard to let go of. From various points of view we watch a family and a town disappear into varied concerns and habits. We get a picture of rage that might more often than not be the underlying root of mass shootings. In the end it is in the power of grief AND of letting go that movement can occur. Quite a book!

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The Tuning Slide 3.35- Aim High!

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…
Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.
– Daniel Burnham

Attitude- how you approach whatever you are doing and how you act on it. With that in mind here’s this week’s Trumpet Workshop Summary quote:

✓ Shoot high- don’t sell yourself short

Yeah, but what if I am only fooling myself when I think I can do that? What if I’m setting myself up for failure by shooting too high? Is it possible to shoot too high? In other words:

How do you know how high to aim?

I found some thoughts in a book a friend recommended to me, Making Music for the Joy of It: Enhancing Creativity, Skills and Musical Confidence by Stephanie Judy. She talks about making a self-analysis of our goals and purposes.
Begin by asking yourself hard questions like these: “What am I making music for? What part of music making gives me pleasure? What kinds of challenges do I welcome, and what kinds of challenges are pointlessly frustrating?” The purpose of such questions is to discover which musical experiences provide, for youth greatest meaning, the greatest connection, the most nourishing environment, the most direct route to your musical self. (p. 22)
Which in many ways brings us back to the question I didn’t dive too deeply into last week: Passion. How do you know what your passion is in order to go for it? In setting our goals, how high to aim and what to aim at, we go back to the questions related to passion.

Each amateur, and most of us will be advanced amateurs who are not earning a living at our music, will have different answers. Even if we plan on being “professionals” there are all kinds of different answers to them as well, jazz, classical, performance, education, etc. Actually the questions are similar in setting the goals. For example,
  • What kind of music do I want to play? Classical, jazz, Americana, pop, rock?
  • What kind of musical tradition do I see myself being part of? Folk, bluegrass, American jazz, Classical era?
  • What kind of ensembles do I want to be part of, large or small? Concert bands or orchestras, jazz big bands, combos- jazz or classical or combinations?
With these questions we are giving ourselves a general direction. Stephanie Judy comments that what we are doing when we find these answers is finding the “welcome soil” in which we can plant our musical seeds.

So here we are, today. Each of us has gotten to today’s musical place. We are where we are, we have accomplished what we have accomplished, we have some idea of what we are able to do- today! This is where we start.
  • Has the type of music I want to play changed?
  • Is there something new I want to learn?
  • Is there a different type of ensemble or group that I want to play in?
  • Is there something I want to get better at doing?
  • What are the strong points of my musicianship?
  • What are the weak points of my playing?
  • What are the ways I can apply the stronger points to the weaker points in order to improve?
Then aim and plan. Set the goals and do them.

We are talking about an attitude of passion AND openness in this post. The passion is what excites us and keeps us practicing even when it would appear to others to be “dull” or “boring” or when we feel that moment of boredom before picking up the instrument. (Not those long tones again!) The passion pushes us forward because it’s who we are.

The openness is the attitude that says “I don’t know if I can do that, but the only way to find out is to do it.” Stay away from “try to do it” and, to borrow a well-worn phrase- “Just do it.” Pick up the horn and play. Pick up the phone and call a teacher. Make a recording of your routine and listen for where it can be improved. Google the ideas you are thinking about and see what others have done to get there.
  • I WANT to do this, it excites me, and
  • I CAN do this if I am willing to work on it.
But what if I fail? What if I’m not talented enough? What if…?

Okay, what if the sky falls tomorrow or the promised warm weather goes south for the winter? See how silly that can sound. “What if?” is good, old Self One being its over-analytic and fearful self. It’s selling Self Two short. Again. Don’t let it happen.

Do it and see what happens. Not everyone can hit a double high C, no matter what some people say. But if we don’t aim at it, we won’t get up to the G a fourth below it. Not everyone can move their fingers as fast as Dizzy or Freddie, but we won’t know how fast until we do it.

And yes, “professionals” do have more specific time they spend on their work. Those of us who have other jobs spend as much time on our “professions” as “professional” musicians do. But that can still leave a great deal of time to do what we want to do with our musicianship. That does not mean we are second-class musicians. I will never be asked why I wasn’t as good as Doc or Maynard. I should be asked, “Are you as good as you can be?” The answer is, naturally, “Not yet but I’m working on it.”

One last thought on attitude. See how this might change you attitude if you are worried about that amateur-professional dichotomy. If you are an “amateur” and have no plans to become “professional” Stephanie Judy has a reminder that puts our “amateur” music-making in perspective and can change our attitude.
To be an amateur is to be, literally, a lover. An amateur pursues a thing for itself alone, not for profit, recognition, or perfection in others’ eyes, but purely as an end in itself. In many ways, there is no higher calling than that of amateur. So be proud of your amateur status. (p. 27)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2nd Week of Lent: Getting Beyond the Idols

The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.
― Martin Buber

My Wednesday Lenten posts this year will be reflecting on quotes from people who were influenced in one way or another by Henry David Thoreau. A good one to start with is Martin Buber. His attachment to Thoreau is not based on Thoreau’s famous naturalist writings but on his political activism.

Martin Buber (1878–1965) was a prolific author, scholar, literary translator, and political activist whose writings—mostly in German and Hebrew—ranged from Jewish mysticism to social philosophy, biblical studies, religious phenomenology, philosophical anthropology, education, politics, and art.

He is most famous for his philosophy of relationships based in the short but extremely influential book, I and Thou. In it he differentiates between I - It relationships which are subject-object interactions and I -Thou or dialogue-based interactions. (Note: A reminder that “thou” in the original English usage is NOT the formal pronoun, but the informal version of close and intimate relationships. It is the equivalent of “du” in German and “tu” in Spanish.)

So without getting too complicated or philosophically technical, Buber sees the main difference between “I-It” and “I-Thou” as the first is an experience by one of another. It is in observation and analysis that this occurs. It can be said that it is also a non-interaction in the sense that there is no back and forth. I watch the sunset; I watch the heron on the beach; I watch the people walking by me.

On the other hand, “I-Thou” is interactive; we meet each other and dialogue or we seek to deepen our understanding of the other. Buber says this dialogue relationship is what happens in love. We live IN love; we don’t watch it. (Again, oversimplified, but that’s my understanding of the gist of it.)

Thoreau, when he went to live by Walden Pond really went into what he was expecting to be an “I-It” relationship. It was a self-serving, selfish motive on some levels when it began. How could it be anything else? He didn’t know the pond or its inhabitants either present or past, human or animal or plant. It didn’t take him long.

He dug into the ground and found history with old foundations and burial grounds of previous villages. He went out and discovered his fellow residents. He began to enter into a dialogue with them and discover what they had in common and what he had to learn from their teaching.

Every major naturalist writer since him has had the same experience. To repeat Sunday’s Thoreau quote, they discovered heaven is under their feet as much as it is about their heads. When we discover heaven it might be safe to say we begin to discover and interact in love. When Thoreau did that, he also saw connections he needed to make in other areas; we are all inter-connected whether we like it or not. That led him to his political views and the essay, Civil Disobedience. It was in that writing that Buber connected first with Thoreau.

Martin Buber wrote, of Civil Disobedience:
I read it with the strong feeling that here was something that concerned me directly.... It was the concrete, the personal element, the "here and now" of this work that won me over. … He addressed his reader within the very sphere of this situation common to both of them in such a way that the reader not only discovered why Thoreau acted as he did at that time but also that the reader—assuming him of course to be honest and dispassionate– would have to act in just such a way whenever the proper occasion arose, provided he was seriously engaged in fulfilling his existence as a human person. The question here is … of the absolutely concrete demonstration of the point at which this struggle at any moment becomes man's duty as man....
— "Man's Duty as Man" (1962)
Because Thoreau has entered into an “I-Thou,” personal and intimate relationship with his world and the events of the world, he makes it clear in his essay that any thinking and honest individual would have to do the same when challenged by circumstances. In Thoreau’s case it was the annexation of Mexican territory by the United States and the ensuing Mexican-American War. He was also a strong Abolitionist who saw no way that owning slaves was a moral thing. How could it be when we are all interrelated? How can we turn relationships with other humans into “I-It”, non-dialogic interactions?

Why then was I drawn to Buber’s statement above? We live in a time when there are many false images of God (or gods) being thrown around. There is the angry, punishing God; there are the things we worship as having importance beyond themselves; there is the image of a God that hates the same people as I hate and believes the same things I believe.

The atheist on the other side has nothing to start from. There is nothing of that kind of value as a “God”. The attic is shuttered, but unlike the false images, an attic’s shutters can be opened more easily than a closed mind. Somewhat in the way that Thoreau discovered the ability to be in a personal relationship with the world and others, the atheist has more possibility of discovering an “I-Thou” relationship with “God” because he or she has no preconception about what or who God is.

That is far more technical than my mind wants to grasp. But that is what Lent is about. I don’t understand this relationship with God in and through Jesus. Intellectually I understand it less today than I did in 1964 when I  became a Christian. But I know it better today. I also know that it is just as intimately connected with the world around me than ever before. I continually discover new ways to move from “I-It” to “I-Thou.”

This past week we have seen another school shooting. I will write about that sometime else, perhaps. But what I see happening among the student survivors of the Parkland shooting is a movement into an “I-Thou” based civil disobedience. They have discovered the Golden Calf of guns in the public square and realized that they are not as important as the idol. A relationship to an idol is not a dialogue. It is "I-It" and never built in love. It is often a demand. We say "I will worship you (the idol) and you will protect me and make me powerful."

In our mind the idol responds with a beckoning smile.

The students in Parkland have seen the lie in that. They have lost 17 fellow students and teachers. They were not protected by the idol; the idol was used to kill them.

The power of the interconnections, the relationships, become clear. Students around the country I am sure sat in their classrooms every morning since then wondering if it could happen to them. They saw and lived the relationship between themselves and Parkland. They are tired of it. They see the evil in it on some emotionally deep level and say, “Enough!”

  • What can I learn this Lenten season from paying attention to my relationships? 
  • How can I drop the “observer” role and enter into dialogue with the world around me? 
  • What does love compel me to do for those with whom I am in an “I-Thou” relationship? 
  • Finally, how can I stop being an observer of God, or worse, one who turns God into a false-image idol, and give myself over to the love I can live within?
Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Sunday, February 18, 2018

First Sunday of Lent: Breaking Through the Ice

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
-Henry David Thoreau

Lent. How many of these have I been through now? I became a Christian at age fifteen so that means my first Lent was spring of 1964. Of course as a Baptist we didn’t talk much about the church year like that, but I must have known something. That was a much different religious environment than we have today.

As I grew into a broader and more “liturgical” model of the faith I learned that Lent was about sacrifice and even suffering. After all, that is what Jesus did. That comes from an attitude that we have to tame the things of the body so the things of the spirit can grow. This is an outgrowth of what amounts to a more Greek than Hebrew understanding that says:

Thoreau would probably not agree with that, at least in the ways we often mean it. I picked the quote at the top of the post for this First Sunday of Lent to bring into light the idea that heaven is more than a place we go after this life and the earth is as much a part of our heaven as heaven itself, whatever that may be. This quote comes from Chapter 16 of Walden, titled “The Pond in Winter.” The chapter begins:

I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward! Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. She has long ago taken her resolution. "O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe. The night veils without doubt a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether. [Emphasis added.]
Nature itself is the answered question; the glorious creation, “this great work” extends to the limits of the universe. Even in the midst of the coldest time of the year, Thoreau decided that much was going on that is the Creation itself. He continues:
Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. … Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half… it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more.
The pond is not just some geographic occurrence. Thoreau senses that there is life there. Even at great depths. Many thought it bottomless but he will show more than that. Later in this chapter he will tell of his method of measuring its depth through an understanding of other measurements.  He will look at the water of Walden Pond as being part of all the waters of all the earth. He will understand that in some way more mysterious than magical, all creation is connected. The pond is now like a field.

Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.

Thoreau, in chapter 16, has rediscovered the spiritual under the material. He may have been fooled for awhile by the coldness and seeming lifelessness of winter. In this morning’s awakening he has the answer. Has he cut through his winter state, as the Cliff Notes suggest? Is he now about to open up to find new insight and new spiritual direction? It would seem that way. He has, in the metaphor of looking into the window under his feet, discovered himself and his own soul, alive and well. Heaven is not just some far off place, it is accessible here.

It does take work to get there, though. He had to cut through the soft snow covering and then the thicker, solid layer. Then he can drink from the source. It does not come either naturally or even easily. Our lives, our souls, are like the water beneath Walden Pond. Covered with soft and hard layers. These are the layers we have allowed to accumulate over our spirits. These are what we have felt the need to build in order to protect something we are afraid is too fragile- or perhaps too dangerous- for us to easily touch it. Perhaps there is more to this than that as well. Or perhaps we make too much of it.

Why is is that it takes us so long to become spiritual. I don’t mean religious. We easily and willingly follow rituals, especially ones of our own making. Even those who abhor ritual will do the same things over and over in a kind of religious fervor. Those rituals can and do keep us grounded; but they can also keep us frozen in place. It is when we dig through and discover the window into who we are and what Creation is that we can move beyond ritual into the spiritual.

Don’t get me wrong. I love liturgy and ritual. That is why, even all these years after having left the ministry of preaching I am compelled every Advent and Lent to write about them, to seek new answers and new questions to explore. In that I am part of a long history, my own of 54 years as a Jesus follower and the journey of other followers of Jesus for nearly two millennia.

It has a different meaning today. It was at one point all about some sacrifice on my part. It  meant giving up something, some symbolic action that showed I was serious about being a Christian. We didn’t put it that way, of course, but that was part of what we were doing. Now I write. I pray and ponder some very simple and even simplistic prayers. In the complexity of all that is happening in the world, I need to come back down to earth. I need to look around and find God in the details of every day living and my soul under the mid-winter layer of snow and ice. That snow and ice is not always of my own making. The world pushes and prods, undermines and challenges what I understand as the things that we as Christians are to stand up for. It can get mighty cold and frightening.

These are difficult times we live in. But then again, what times aren’t difficult if one is serious about finding the ways of God as one understands God? What times are not difficult when we are constantly searching for ways to be faithful to the Creator and the Creation? What times are not difficult when we are being pulled away from the task of being more fully in touch with eternity? Which is why we need a Lenten Journey every year.

Adopt the pace of nature:
her secret is patience.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Literal or Serious? (2)- True Believers

Yesterday I wrote about the statement that has been given as a way of "explaining Trump", at least from his supporters side. (See below for the whole post.) I said then:

Trump's critics take him literally while his supporters take him seriously.
The obvious inference is that when Trump speaks, don't take him literally- but take him seriously?
I talked then about how I might not often take him "literally" but I do take him very seriously. In fact, personally, I find the distinction quite difficult to understand. I believe many of his supporters do take him literally. For one, I have talked to enough of them who do believe what he says about, for example, his famous campaign line, "Lock her up!" or his recent agreeing with someone yelling out at a rally that not standing for him at the State of the Union was "treason." When he said it they believed it. Literally and very, very seriously.

But the other reason I think this is a false understanding and even a "straw man argument" is simple. Many of his staunchest supporters, his unshakeable 30% are Evangelical Fundamentalist "Christians". If there is one thing that Evangelical Fundamentalists believe beyond anything else is....

the literal, word for word interpretation of the Bible. They are well schooled in knowing when to literally believe something literally. And that is when it fits their beliefs.
  • They believed that Obama was literally going to come for their guns. They took it so literally they were serious about it. 
  • They believed that Obama was born in Kenya. Literally! It was not just some crazy right-wing extremist idea. When Trump said it, they believed it.
  • They believed some crazy-ass conspiracy theory that Hillary was supporting some pedophile ring out of a pizzeria. Or worse, that there was some uranium-selling deal she fostered through her emails. Fox News said it, they believed it.
That is just the tip of the iceberg I am afraid. There is a very strong undercurrent like this running around the country. Trump feeds it. He himself may not believe all this shit literally, of course. But he has enough people convinced that the FBI is the "bad guys" and the our judicial system is out to get him that it is a literal understanding. Trump's critics don't take that literally. Many believe he is just throwing things out as a smoke-screen or diversion.

The real serious stuff is not what Trump says in his daily mega-tweets. It is what he wants to do to significantly change the social support structure of our country that we have been building little by little over the past 85 years and others that go back to the beginning of last century. He plays loose with facts, but who cares. He said it, it must be true.

Broadcast and cable news has had a very difficult time dealing with this. He is so good for sound bites, they all know it helps their ratings. Whether it's MSNBC yelling on the Left or Fox and others on the Right, they love the hype. The evening news shows, just as dependent on sound bites and good video, have the same issue.

Fortunately the print news has, overall, done a great job of trying to do the digging and publishing. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian have broken stories and dug into the depths they are taking this all very seriously and doing some difficult work. (Go see the movie The Post to see how the print media, esp. the Washington Post, stood up to a previous president who wanted to shut them down.)

It is time those of us on the Left do take Trump seriously and stop egging on his insane posting and statements. It is time for people like Stephen Colbert (who I enjoy at times) to stop making jokes that only serve to make him look like a buffoon we don't have to take seriously and instead focus on what he is doing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a contemporary of Henry David Thoreau once wrote
Your actions speak so loudly that we cannot hear what you are saying.
 Trump, so far, has been able to hide some of his actions by the loudness of his words. Let's move from that and see that his actions get more of the light of day they deserve.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Literal or Serious? (1)- An Excuse?

One of the comments I heard during the last Presidential campaign and in the first year of the Trump Presidency was that

Trump's critics take him literally while his supporters take him seriously.
The obvious inference is that when Trump speaks, don't take him literally- but take him seriously?

Seriously? But I do understand.

When he said that Mexico sends us the bad people (and maybe a few good ones), I knew what he meant and I took him seriously. He was playing to the crowd who didn't like Hispanics! I didn't think that was a good thing- but I took him very seriously!

When he said that we need to prevent immigrants from Muslim-majority countries entering the United States, I knew what he meant and I took him seriously. He was playing to Islamophobia and the fear of terrorist attacks, which there have been very few of. I disagreed with his presumptions and prejudice- but I took him seriously.

When he said he was elected to be President of Pittsburgh and not Paris and that we need to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreements, I knew what he meant and I took him seriously. He does not believe that global climate change is real (or of human causation) and we should not burden our country with trying to do anything about it. I disagreed with him- but I took him seriously.

It is clear that he is good at hyperbole and speaking to a clear constituency. It is clear that he may say things that sound over-the-top, but that he is clearly telling his supporters and all of us what he means. The news media in general loves sound bites and he is an expert at giving them what they want. Twitter is the new headline maker. But they get hung up on the ridiculous, self-serving ways he says it and the real meaning does get lost.

Through it all, he is serious. I take him seriously. Some feel he is a sloppy communicator. I don't think so. He really does know what he is doing and is enjoying every minute of the spotlight and attention.

Which is why I don't like what he wants to do. He makes it clear in many ways.
  • Cut Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Huge tax cuts that in the long run will help the top 1% and hurt the rest of us.
  • Huge budget deficits. I know, people talk about the "Tax and Spend" Democrats. The Republicans are, for sure, different than that. They just Spend without adding to the taxes, lining pockets until we are bankrupt as a nation.
  • Talking about "due process" when he has been known to make statements undermining such due process.
  • Increase the "nanny state" the GOP has hated for years by taking choice of food purchases out of the hands of SNAP recipients, replacing it with this year's idea of a "Harvest Box."
  • He plays a game of nuclear chicken with North Korea and wants to increase nuclear arms when we don't need any more. We still live in an era of "mutually assured destruction" if they start flying.
Don't take him literally? Take him seriously? I am not sure he is able to tell the difference himself. If he says it, I am afraid he believes it. Many of his supporters outside of D.C. do often take him literally. That's why they voted for him remember? "He speaks his mind. He let's us know what he's thinking."

In the midst of all that, then, we are being given a bunch of bullshit to hide the depth of what is happening. So I for one am willing to not take the specifics of what he says literally.

But I do take him seriously. He is deadly serious! Which is why I am scared to death.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Tuning Slide 3.34- Passion and Doing What You Love

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Nothing is as important as passion.
No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.
— Jon Bon Jovi

We continue to look at the theme of attitude. Here’s this week’s quote from the summary board at last summer’s Trumpet Workshop:

✓ Love What You Do - Do What You Love
A Sidenote to start: I don’t usually like to start on a cautionary note that could bring us down. But as I was researching this week I had a strong realization that statements like this can be both helpful and harmful. I read insights that said, if you don’t love what you do in your job, quit and find out what you love to do. Without getting into sociology or politics, that is a great statement for any of us who have some place of privilege in the world. But not everyone can do that with what brings in the bread! I am one of the fortunate and privileged ones who has more freedom and opportunity than many. There are many, however, who can very well be stuck in a job that brings no pleasure. It becomes simply a way to pay the bills. This post is not about that. This post is about finding what you are passionate about no matter what you do for a living. We can all find some way of doing that even if you don’t have a job that you can love.
So, then, let’s get that quote again:

✓ Love What You Do - Do What You Love

I am not first and foremost a trumpet player. I have been fortunate enough to have “day jobs” that I loved and that allowed me the opportunities and freedoms to pursue my trumpet passion. I was also passionate about my vocations and careers. I didn’t exactly expect it to work that way and to this day I shake my head in amazement. You see forty-some years ago I would meet “retired” ministers, my profession at the time, who just couldn’t seem to let go of being pastors. “Why don’t they just retire and enjoy what they have. They’ve earned it!” was my general comment.

Now I am in the position to finally understand what they didn’t tell me- because I never asked. They loved what they did! It was not work, as such. Sure, they probably liked the extra income, but they did it as much out of the joy of doing it as anything. I call myself “semi-retired” today because I don’t work full-time. But as I turn 70 years old this year I still enjoy what I do. Over the years I have fallen in love with what I do, not because it defines me, but because it gives me joy.

In a post on Huffington Post I found a quote from our old friend Steve Jobs:
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.
Even if you can’t do it with your “day job” it is often possible for most of us to find it in our passions. Sometimes it does take courage to follow your inner voice. Why, at age 65 did I start pursuing my trumpet playing to where it has by now become something that is an integral part of me? I am passionate about it. I can’t “quit” because I’m not done loving it yet. “All that time I spend practicing and going to rehearsals and gigs- aren’t there other things you want to do, Barry?” Sure- and I am doing them. But the music, now that’s something in its own unique place.

Even practicing long tones day in and day out. At least 10 minutes every day followed by 10-15 minutes of thirds or a triplet exercise. Every day. How boring.


Because it is part of what I am passionate about. It is not in my make-up to be mediocre about something I am passionate about. That has meant several things. First it means that in my life I have minimized the time I spend doing things that bore me- that don’t raise my passion. Again, I am fortunate to be in the privileged group that can do that. But even for me there were years when I couldn’t spend the amount of time at the trumpet that I am spending now. Today I can do it- and I am loving it. Balance your time and give yourself time to explore what you are passionate about.

Second, I am not easily bored. I have cultivated that attitude for my entire life. I am intrigued by what’s around me and what I don’t know yet. I may not be expert at many of these things, but I like learning and having some knowledge. That I also bring with me to whatever I am doing. Curiosity can add to passion as we want to see what we are able to do. Curiosity is "beginner's mind" that allows the newness in today to captivate you. Playing long tones can be interesting if you don’t feel you have to rush through them and get them done as some chore. They are far more than that. They help me move beyond mediocre. Cultivate curiosity as a seed of passion.

Third, do what you need to do today to improve where you will be tomorrow. Back to Steve Jobs’ comment above, life is limited, so stay in the moment and grow from here. If we allow the regrets from the past or the fears of the future to get in the way, we are missing the only time we have- today. That doesn’t mean don’t plan or dream. That means utilize where you are today to get where you will be tomorrow. Act today to grow the dreams for tomorrow.

When you pick up your horn today, be surprised at what passion you can bring to even the most mundane part of long tones or Clarke #1. Be surprised by what a difference it can make to find that you love what you are doing and grow from there.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

1st Week of Lent: A Different Drummer

Today, Thoreau's words are quoted with feeling by liberals, socialists, anarchists, libertarians, and conservatives alike.
— Ken Kifer

Before Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, and Sig Olson-
~~ there was Thoreau.
Before Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.-
~~ there was Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a writer, philosopher, naturalist, abolitionist, and political activist. Part of the “Transcendentalist Movement”, he is best known for Walden and Civil Disobedience.

My interest in Thoreau began in the 60s, of course, when he was one of the mentors and heroes of both the anti-war and new environmental movements. It was recently reignited by a conversation last year with an early twenty-something who was clearly conservative and a Trump supporter. He said to me one day, “I have just found a great book that I really like. It’s kind of old though.” My first thought was naturally Thoreau. Who else but him would be an “old” writer that captures the imagination. I was right. This young man then went on to quote the opening of Civil Disobedience where Thoreau famously wrote that “that government is best which governs least.”

I didn’t try to dissuade him from his liking Thoreau, instead hoping that getting into reading it would perhaps move him a little away from his right-wing views. I have no idea how Thoreau himself would have looked at our 21st Century American government nor how he would respond to it. As an anti-Mexican War and anti-slavery activist (the reasons he wrote Civil Disobedience) I am hopeful he would not be on the Tea-Party side as this young man expected. From his willingness to go to jail if only for one night on a refusal to pay taxes to support a war, I would guess he would not be happy with some of the current budget and tax proposals.

Underneath and supporting his political style, Thoreau was part of the transcendentalist movement of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Transcendentalists are strong believers in the power of the individual. It focuses primarily on personal freedom. Their beliefs are closely linked with those of the   Romantics but differ by an attempt to embrace or, at least, to not oppose the empiricism of science…. Transcendentalists desire to ground their religion and philosophy in principles not based on, or falsifiable by, physical experience, but rather those that derive from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human.
For Thoreau this was based on an almost intuitive interest and understanding of spirituality.
one of his first memories was of staying awake at night "looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them."
Among other things this spirituality took him to Walden Pond for a two-year period when he took the notes and started writing his famous book named after that pond. These are not separate areas of interest, each in its own compartment. The philosophy and spirituality of Thoreau are intertwined. His political stance fits into his view of the world which fits into his environmental understandings.

As I thought about this year’s Lenten season I felt I wanted to take a look at things from a little different angle. For the last year and a half, since Advent 2016, I have been looking at politics and faith and resistance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was my guide last year and I grew immensely in my thoughts. Advent of 2017 was tying the themes of Advent to resistance to injustice, racism, and hatred. It is important to me- and part of my unshakable faith- that our faith as individuals must inform and expand our political and social views.

Thoreau is a perfect person to help with this.

I have chosen a number of Thoreau quotes to use for Sundays in Lent through Easter. I will use them as starting points for some reflections and interpretations. They will start this Sunday, Feb 18. I am not sure what I am going to do on Wednesdays in Lent. Today, Ash Wednesday, is obviously this introduction. I will see as we progress what happens, perhaps quotes from those who Thoreau influenced. [I have moved The  Tuning Slide posts on this blog to Thursday for the next seven weeks. They will still be posted on Wednesday on the Tuning Slide blog.]

For today, let me end with a quote from his mentor and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is perhaps Thoreau’s greatest achievement:

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

3.33- The Tuning Slide- Beyond the Negative

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age,
which means never losing your enthusiasm.
-Aldous Huxley

The topic this month is attitude. It’s that simple- and that difficult. There are a number of good thoughts from last summer’s trumpet workshop that can guide us in looking at attitude so let’s not waste any time and get right to it.

One of the worst things we can have is a bad attitude. Here's one of the quotes from last summer's Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop:

✓ Negativity is exhausting. You will be negative about others if you are negative about your self.

We have all been around Negative Norman or Debbie Downer. Nothing is ever right for them.

Me: What a beautiful day.
Negative Norman: Yeah but we’re going to pay for this nice weather one of these days.

Me: I really enjoyed that book.
Debbie Downer: Yeah but the author did use a lot of big words.

We soon give up being around them. I once heard a preacher say, “There is no way to make a whine sound good.” Anytime I hear “Yeah, but…” after a positive statement, I shut down. I can almost feel my own energy being sucked out of me and my attitude starting to head down.

Unless I’m saying it, in which case I probably don’t hear it and just fall into my own negativity. Then I wallow in the bad attitude and usually ramp it up so I can feel even worse.

One of the reasons for this type of negativity is that we often have this fear that there’s only so much good stuff to go around or that happiness is what’s called a “zero-sum” commodity. In the end, I fear, I will have to balance all this good I have with bad so that in the end it’s just plain old average- ten good days has to be offset by ten bad days. I can’t be that lucky.

Notice that this is all about me? I can’t be that lucky…. I can’t have all these good things…. I will eventually fail… Pretty soon that permeates everything and naturally the bad “luck” begins to happen, the “good things” sour, and I “fail.”

My best friend in college was just the opposite of that. Everything always seemed to go well for him. He never had “bad luck.” Those of us around him would shake our heads in disbelief that everything always seemed to work out for him. How lucky can you be to fall into that proverbial vat of manure and come out smelling like a rose?

Except it wasn’t luck. It was attitude… and a willingness to learn and change.

✓ Animals can’t change emotion- we can.

That was another of the statements on the summary board at the end of the workshop last year. I am not entirely sure that non-human animals can’t change their emotions since I’m not one. What we do know is that human animals can! It happens all the time.

Now, one note of caution. Changing emotions or attitudes to avoid feeling them is not good. Emotions are present in our lives for very good reasons. We have evolved with them; they are signs and indicators. It is right to feel sadness when someone important has died; it is right to feel fear when something is attacking us; it is right to feel angry when someone has hurt us. The issue is not that we have emotions and attitudes- of course we do. It is whether they are appropriate, based on reality, and do they lead us into doing something positive about them and ourselves?

Negativity is the “attitude” that keeps us from doing something helpful and positive about what’s happening. It allows us to get stuck and to wallow around in that depressing and unhelpful place.

As I was working on this I came across an article from New York Magazine from last March. It was titled “How New Evidence Supports the Classic Advice From a 1972 Book About Tennis.” Yep- the Inner Game which we spend a great deal of time putting into practice around here- because it works. That’s what the article was about.

The author pointed out that the book is still a best-seller and that is because its premise works:
you need to get out of your own way — is not only a timeless key to peak performance on the playing field, but also off of it. But what’s especially fascinating is that more than 40 years after the book first came out, now-emerging science supports nearly all of its insights, many of which, like how to thrive in unsettling times, are as relevant as ever.
He goes on leading toward an excellent example:
“It is Self-1’s mistrust of Self-2 which causes the interference known as ‘trying too hard’ and that of too much self-instruction.” Both result in tightening up, overthinking, and losing concentration. We are better off “letting it happen,” trusting instead of fighting our Self-2, Gallwey writes, than we are “trying to make it happen.”
The example he gets to next in the article is “performance anxiety.” This can, we all know, be devastating. I have written a number of times about my personal struggle with playing solos. It goes back in many ways to a couple of incidents over 50 years ago that I have only been able to deal with constructively in the past three or so years. I would often tell myself, “Just relax, Barry. You can do this.” I would be pressuring, pushing, dragging myself into making sure that I got it right. Usually I didn’t. The article picks up on this and the Inner Game approach:
When you tell yourself “I need to relax,” your Self-1 is sending a signal that something is wrong — that you are stressed — and begins trying to fight the physical sensations of Self-2. Yet, as Gallwey writes, this often just leads to further tightness and angst. When you stop trying to fight the sensations and instead embrace them — telling yourself that what you are feeling is excitement, that the body is engaging all the systems it needs to be fully alert — an enhanced experience and outcome often follows.

Guess what? That was also on the board at trumpet workshop.

✓ Are you nervous or excited? Read yourself

Nervous means something is wrong- I am stressed.
Excited means I can hardly wait to play this and share it with the audience.

One is negative and unhelpful; the other is positive and helpful. Self-1 doesn’t trust itself (you) or Self-2 (also you). Self-2 knows it (you) can do the solo or performance and is eager to show it and wants Self-1 (again, you) to watch and see.

The study the New York Magazine article was reporting on concluded:
Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement perform better.
Now obviously, this doesn’t mean you can pick up the Haydn Concerto and just rattle off the solo. It doesn’t work that way- it is not some magical way of getting by without practicing. Self-1 is essential to keeping us on track and focused on what we are doing and raising warning signs. That’s why the quote from Shell Lake ends with “Read yourself.” That is the hours of practice from long tones through the particular solo piece. That is the “woodshed” of getting to know the piece and internalizing it. But “read yourself” does not mean to allow fear or uncertainty (Self-1) block you from doing what you (Self-2) can do.

Attitude change works!

LINK to article.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Doing Nothing Rots the Brain (Not)

Just thought I would check in here with something different- a post. yes, I know that I have been less than regular this winter. This snowbird time has been one of the most easy-going, even lazy times I have spent other than when recuperating from surgery. I have been doing next to nothing. That includes writing.

I promised a few weeks ago that I would post what I disagree with over Trump's actions and policies. No, I haven't done  it yet. No energy to write about that, though I have been thinking about it.

I have been reading a lot, but that's normal. No, I haven't written about any of them.

I have been practicing my trumpet, a daily routine and playing with the local community band. That is nothing but normal daily life for me now.

I have been taking pictures and wasting time working on them and posting them on a couple websites and Facebook. It doesn't take much energy to do that. It just happens.

We've seen a number of movies and one of these days I'll get around to writing about them.

I'm thinking about doing more research on my Dad's 80th Armored Medical Battalion with the 10th Armored Division in World War II. Notice I said I'm thinking.

I guess that's all good. It has been cooler than normal here, but not as bad as in the Bold North. The Eagles won the Super Bowl. That, too, is good. I spend too many hours surfing Facebook. I don't think that is good.

So, I am hoping that this post can be a kick in the ass to get me off square zero. My brain hasn't rotted yet- it's still working and connecting with fingers writing this. So  be warned. I'm still around.