RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

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This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Music…sacred time

This last weekend was busy. There was a funeral visition, a baby shower, watching the news coverage of the “March for Our Lives”…and I attended three concerts in three days. Not something I normally do, but  the music just happened to fall that way.

They were three different concerts. The first was an organ concert on a new organ. The second was a symphony concert with Yo-Yo Ma as the guest soloist. And the third was a choral concert of film music.

All three were enjoyable. All three had moments that touched me.

But there was one moment that reminded me that music can create sacred space and sacred time…and brought me to tears.

One of the selections in the symphony concert was by Leonard Bernstein, whose music I enjoy. However, this was music of his that I had not heard before–“Three Meditations” from Mass, arranged for cello and orchestra. The conductor gave us some background, both of Mass and of these specific pieces–that are the reflective times as the mass celebrant is struggling with a faith crisis…when all he has known / believed is being shaken.

They’re powerful pieces–and Yo-Yo Ma presented them with soul and passion.

But…and this is the sacred experience…as the last one quietly ended, leaving questions hanging in the air, there was a moment, a breath, and then the ‘cello began the “Prelude” from Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite #1 in G Minor .

There was a hush in the hall…a sacred hush.

When the piece ended, I think everyone recognized that we had experienced something special…a sacred time. And it somehow seemed sacrilegous to break the silence with applause…although we eventually did.

We shared in moments of questioning…of, perhaps, our own faith crises. We had seen young people asking–no, demanding–help in creating safer places. Much of what we have known in the past doesn’t seem to hold true any more, and there seem to be questions…more questions…and yet more questions, perhaps without answers.

Yet in that sacred time in Helzburg Hall in Kansas City, Yo-Yo Ma and Bach acknowledged those questions–and responded with a prayer…the music of hope.

Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Memories…part 2

Memories are funny things. They can lie dormant for years, but when you awaken one, it’s as though you sent an electric shock down the line and the others burst back to life, demanding your attention.

In my last post, I talked about some of my memories from my childhood years in England. I had no sooner hit “Publish” than I began to think of other memories I could have (should have?) included. So…here are some more!

I remember sitting in the living room of Uncle John and Aunt Ann’s home (above their bakery), watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on their small black and white television. It was a big deal! And I still have some of my souvenirs from then–both purchased and also given to all of us kids at school.1985-franklin-and-freda-schofield-nuneaton-england

I remember another wonderful couple–Franklin and Freda Schofield. I honestly don’t remember too much about where we knew them…just that they were always a part of our experience in England.

I remember the gypsy caravans (trailers to my American friends)…their colorful-ness as well as the fear that was far too common of their otherness.

I remember the tinker who would come around in his caravan, offering various pieces for sale–as well as offering to mend broken pieces and sharpen knives.

I remember my piano lessons with Mrs. Mee–and her frustration when I went to one of them having completely sight-read through a new book of pieces before my first lesson! Along with those lessons, I remember the “competitions” (don’t think that’s the exact name–more like a national examination) that involved scales, sight-reading, pieces you had worked on, ear training… I’ve always been gra1955-aug-helen-pam-don-dv-and-john-lents-at-edinburgh-castle-in-scotlandteful for those emphases.

I remember falling in love with bagpipes on one of our trips to Scotland…and watching people toss the caber and the Highland dancing at a Highland Games competition.

I remember visiting castle ruins…and trying to imagine what life must have been like for the folks who lived there.

I remember discovering that there really is a high road and a low road around Loch Lomond.

I remember being glad that we came back to the States before I was old enough to take the national exams that would determine whether I went on to college-prep education or to vocational training. Later I heard too much talk of the pressure that placed on young people my parents knew.

I remember the first time my mother shocked people around her–but was forgiven because she was an American. She and the mother of my best friend had gone to some movie–perhaps a war movie–and when they came out, my mother commented on what a bloody movie it had been. She would have been much better off to have called it a gory movie instead!

I remember the traveling groups of kids who would sing Christmas carols at our door for a penny or two. And I remember when family friends of ours spent the night, Karen and I quietly sang from my bedroom, trying to see if we could convince our parents that there was someone at the door. (We did!)

I remember when we hung a wreath on our front door for Christmas…and when my mother went to market, she began receiving condolences and q1952-sep-pam-and-don-lents-bourton-on-wateruestions about who had died.

I remember visiting the model village in the Cotswolds…an entire village built to 1/9 scale. It was the perfect size for kids to enjoy!

I remember riding the double-decker bus. I loved riding the upper level…what a fun experience!

I remember my father helping me fly kites in Wicksteed Park–and me getting a rope burn as he was pulling the kite in, because I didn’t want to go home, so I was trying to hold onto the string.

I remember making tapes to send back to my grandparents in the States…and I remember my mother encouraging my brother as he was sharing some of his speech therapy. He was going through his words–and my mother was trying to get him to pronounce them…but she was using the American pronunciation for “tomato” (with a long “a”), and I knew that just wasn’t right. So I corrected it for her (with a short “a”).

1953-jun-don-and-pam-lents-blackpool

I remember visiting the beach at Blackpool. I had a small bucket and shovel–and dug holes in the sand. As we were walking, my brother fell in one of the holes the tide had dug, but fortunately Dad was right there to pull him out.

I remember my father leading campfire at a church camp in Enfield. There wasn’t any place for a fire, so the event was taking place inside the church building…and I remember sitting on the hard bench (and eventually falling asleep there) as he was leading the singing.

There will undoubtedly be more memories resurrected now that I have opened the door…and I will thoroughly enjoy revisiting the past.

Memories…

I recently had a friend ask about some of my memories of my time in England when my dad served as a minister there. I’m not sure exactly what kinds of memories he was hoping for…maybe not some of these, but since I was 5 when we moved to England and 8-1/2 when we came back, they’re not going to be adult memories!

I remember some of our ship crossing on the HMS Franconia and our return on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Part of the crossing was stormy…and I remember my dad and me being two of the few in the dining room–where the table rims were up to keep the dishes from sliding off!

1952-aug-pam-and-don-lentsI remember loving our house. It was a typical English row house with a small front yard where my mother put my youngest brother (who was born in England) to sun on those days when the sun was out.

I remember going to the hospital to see my mother hold my youngest brother up to the window so we could see him. The hospital seemed so big, although it was only two stories high.

I remember the fog! We were still burning coal, and so during the winter there was lo1953-jul-whitsuntide-paradets of fog to walk through on my way to school.

I remember marching in the Whitsuntide parade as part of our church group…

I remember my baptism in our little church in Nuneaton. It was on my birthday–in March–and it was cold!! But it was such a special day.

I remember gathering rhubarb in the church yard…and the tangy taste of the pies.

I remember playing for church on an old reed organ. Someone else (I don’t remember who) had to pump the pedals for me because I couldn’t reach both keyboard and pedals. In some ways I’d like to have a time machine to watch myself playing…but in other ways I’m just as glad I can’t. But I am appreciative of the congregation allowing me to share in that way.

I especially remember Uncle John and Aunt Anne Coggan. He was the pastor of our congregation and ran a bakery in Nuneaton…a wonderful bakery.  In fact, the bakery was how the church got started. When kids would come for a sweet, Uncle John would ask if they went to church. If they did, that was fine; if they didn’t he invited them and their families to their house for Bible stories on Sunday morning.  (The bakery was still in business when I went back for a visit 25 years later–then run by Uncle John’s son.)

I remember bonfires on November 4, celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. I wasn’t aware of the violence behind the day…just the fun for us kids.

I remember visiting Stratford-upon-Avon…and attending one of Shakespeare’s comedies at the theatre there.

I remember traveling with my folks to Germany for a family camp…and learning just enough German to ask for a cold drink of water, please.

I re1953-coventry-cathedral-ruins2member being at Trafalgar Square and the pigeons swarming my brother’s white-blond hair as we fed them.

I remember visiting Coventry and enjoying two very different experiences. One was loving the statue and story of Lady Godiva while the other was much more somber. It was not all that long after the end of the war, and visiting Coventry Cathedral was a reminder of the damage and horrors of war–as well as the challenge to what it meant to Christians…

I remember being vaguely aware of the food rationing. We got one egg per person per week, and so there were often decisions about whether we were going to eat them or save them for a cake.

I remember feeling completely British–and being annoyed when an older classmate called me “a Yankee.” Dad suggested I call him “a limey”…and he was not happy about that! But I also remember thinking when we came back to the States that I was only going to stay here until I was old enough to go “back home.” All my friends and memories were there. By the time I was 18, though, I had come to feel more comfortable here–but it was not until I went back for a visit 25 years later that I really knew where my home was.

As I said in one of my poems in my book People, Places…and Other Musings

Each home has its problems;
each home has its joys.
My home is now the world–
that’s where my heart is.

 

Why not music?

I grew up in a generation that seemed to be surrounded by music…classical music. It was in concert halls, churches, movies…and cartoons.

Yes, cartoons.

There are some pieces of music that even now I can’t listen to without seeing the characters…

I didn’t know what the music was at the time, but I recognized it when I heard it in its musical context in concerts or on our FM radio station. And I think that surrounding of us with these pieces gave us an appreciation for music without it being forced on us.

Then things began to change.

I don’t remember what the name of the cartoon was (perhaps a Batman cartoon?), but I remember that there was no music…or at least, none that  I was aware of. Instead, there were word clouds: “Bang!” “Pow!”

It didn’t take long before that became the norm, and music was shoved aside. Not just in cartoons, but also in school as well.

And we’ve become poorer for it.

Music has become an “extra” far too often in schools…something that is first on the chopping block when budgets need to be cut.

And, at least in my own denomination, music–at least classical music–is often seen as something that might be nice but that doesn’t relate well with the “average” person (whoever that might be!). To sponsor a fine arts program? well, if there’s money in the budget, we might be able to do that…but what’s the purpose? Where’s the value?

There have been lots of studies that show that music (and the other arts) help children learn. They help us connect to other people…to the world around us…to the creative parts of who we are.

Music is a language…a language that helps us express emotions and feelings that we have no words for. It helps us connect to the Divine. It is a universal language, even if it is expressed in different forms.

And so…why not music? Why not…in our schools, our homes, our churches?

Music is the voice of the soul