Getting along

Right now I am not happy with our leaders–to put it mildly. When I see what’s going on–and hear some of the rhetoric–it feels like I’m back on an elementary school playground. “Mine!” “No, mine!” “These are my rules!” “If you don’t want to play my way, then you don’t need to play at all!”

Come on, folks!

What happened to civility? to the willingness to work together? Compromise is not a dirty word!

There was a time when individuals who had different perspectives and beliefs were still willing to listen to each other…to talk with each other…to find the overlapping circles where they could agree. But we seem to have lost that–both in “regular” society and definitely in Congress…and the country is the poorer for that.

I think we made what we thought was a wise decision when we decided on term limits for Congress, but I think it’s backfired. When members knew there was a good chance they could be working together for a number of years, there was the opportunity to get acquainted…to develop relationships that allowed working together to happen. But when folks realized they had only a limited number of years, then they knew they had to make their mark immediately–and in a way that would get attention…and that extremism is hurting us all.

At some point, we all have to learn how to get along again. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to have to give up our cherished beliefs. But it does mean being willing to listen and work with each other for the good of all.

Maybe we all need to go back to kindergarten:

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life.

Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.

Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup — they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: look.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

Think what a better world it would be if we all — the whole world — had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

~ Robert Fulghum ~

Connections

You never know when or where or how you’re going connections with someone!

When I flew back from California (attending the Hymn Society Conference and visiting with my brother and his partner), I was on the side of the plane with two seats. My seatmate was an elderly lady who–at least at the first part of the flight–didn’t seem interested in visiting. She was pleasant enough, but she spent much of the time dozing.

That didn’t hurt my feelings. I had some reading I wanted to do, and I was really rather tired from all the activities of the last couple of weeks.

However, about halfway through the flight, we passed through some incredibly white clouds–clouds that looked like you could bounce on them. My seatmate was studying them, and so was I. She turned and made some innocuous comment about them…and one thing led to another.

She had an accent, a German one I thought. So I asked her what part of Germany she was from. Her response was that she was actually from Hungary…and now lived the next small village over from where my brother lives. What a small world! My brother had lived in Budapest for several years when he was beginning his teaching career!

When I asked her what brought her to the United States, she debated about how much of her story to tell me, and then decided to give me many of the details, historical details I was not at all familiar with.

At the Yalta Conference in 1945, when Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt basically carved the world into spheres of influence, Stalin was given permission to import “guest workers” from conquered areas under his control. Maria (my seatmate) was the age they were looking for–women between the ages of 17 and 35. She was sent to Russia to work in a mine.

When her time was up, she returned to her home, but not for long. The authorities wanted her to go to the surrounding areas, encouraging others to sign up for the guest worker program–telling them what a great experience it had beeen. But she refused. She said she had worked but would not tell lies to other young women. There had been 70 taken from her home town–and 12 came back alive.

She had an aunt who had emigrated to the United States and so she was working to find a way to join her. At that time the United States did not have political asylum–the only way she could come was (if I understood her correctly) if she was in the medical field or a religious person. She went to her Lutheran pastor who filled out the paperwork and then told her, “Maria, I have lied, but I think God will forgive me. I said you were a deaconess–but you do not have to do that.”

She told me more about her life after she was here–the trials she and her first husband went through in trying to buy land in Colorado…only to discover that the man they had bought the land from sold the water rights separately. In trying to take him to court, he had strong political connections that caused them to lose their suit…

Her life here has not always been easy–but she still carried a positive spirit, even though she’s had to give up her home and now lives in a nursing home.

Connections…you make them at times and in places that are totally unexpected! But what a blessing they can be!!

Make a Joyful Noise

I love to sing–both old hymns as well as new ones. Usually finding a group to sing the old ones isn’t too hard…but singing new ones can be challenging. Many people aren’t comfortable with new tunes unless they’ve heard them many times–and sometimes putting new words with an old tune gets people confused as well.

I think that’s partially why I so much enjoyed the Hymn Society Conference! While not everyone who comes is a musician, there are enough musicians that we can sightread new hymns and sing them well!

And, boy, did we sing!!

We started out Sunday night with a hymn festival celebrating California hymn writers…some old and some new. Some were easy to sing, while some called on the Hispanic tradition and were a bit more challenging. We sang with organ, piano, bass, drums, flute, and dancers… One of our hymns came from the 1893 Parliament of Religions, still a challenge today…

O prophet souls of all the years,
speak yet to us in love;
your far-off vision, toil, and tears
to their fulfillment move.

There’s more to that one, but it was a lovely call to work together to bring God’s kingdom to fruition.

Monday morning there was a plenary session with Thomas Troeger at which I found myself in tears. We sang many of his hymns–but the one that touched me so much that I couldn’t sing was titled “God Weeps with Us Who Weep and Mourn”…acknowledging the pain of watching someone die, and yet ending with a promise of God’s grace.

Tuesday night we shared in a hymnfest focused on the “gift of African American song.” Song…and worship… It acknowledged pain but through it all yet a sense of hope. The notes on the page were there for guidance–but our ears were more important to sense where we were being called. And one thing that intrigued me was the challenge to sing whatever part we wanted to–if it wasn’t on the page, make up your own(!) because the song is not complete until all voices are a part of it.

My tongue got thoroughly twisted Wednesday night! We sang from the Hispanic tradition–going way back! Chant…mariachi…spirituals… Tiring, but also energizing!!

We also shared in morning prayers–focused on worship from the Asian community…and night prayers–from yet other Christian traditions.

318 people–from 38 states and two Canadian provinces, Brazil, and New Zealand…and 27 denominations represented. I know that there are significant theological differences between us–and yet, when we lifted our voices together in praise and prayer to God, I can’t help but think that God was pleased with the joyful noise we made!

There’s no place like home…

I’ve been thinking of those words of Dorothy’s from The Wizard of Oz the last hour or so. I’ve just arrived back home after being gone 10 days…and being welcomed home by my husband and dog is just great!

The first several days I spent at the Hymn Society Conference in Berkeley, California. Quite an interesting place to visit–and the Conference was wonderful!! Lots of music (as you can imagine)–and it was wonderful singing so many new hymns with such ease…lots of musicians make sight-singing much easier!! There’s a lot of fantastic new hymns being written…keep your ears open for them. (I’ll write more about the Conference later.)

Then I spent a week with my brother and his partner in Palo Alto. We did some hanging out, working in the yard of their house (that they just moved into the week before I got there!), visiting with some friends, doing some of the touristy “stuff”…generally just having a great time.

I’m so glad I went…and so glad to be back home as well. There is something wonderful about being able to visit other places and broaden your horizons–but there is also something wonderful about having a foundation to return to.

Congregational Song and the Arts

I’m going to be heading out this weekend to Berkeley, California, to attend the Hymn Society Conference. The theme is “Congregational Song and the Arts” and there will be a focus on faith, beauty, and social justice. It’s an interesting combination of words, and the publicity has said “we will reflect on some neglected dimensions of justice, beauty, and faith and the interconnections among them. In particular, we will consider the role of congregational song in exploring and voicing them and drawing them together, as the beauty of sung faith awakens us to the power of the arts to express God’s praise and to show us how to work for the healing of the world.”

I am so looking forward to this!

It seems that too often we have identified “the arts” as something nice, but not necessary. When finances are tight–whether in schools or in churches–far too often the arts are the first things cut.

And yet the arts shape us. I can remember growing up hearing the hymnal being referred to sometimes as an additional book of scripture. I still find myself singing some of the old songs I grew up with, even though I no longer agree with the theology expressed in them–and yet, they still provide a connection with the Divine.

And who can think about the Civil Rights movement without thinking of song?

We are what we sing, whether we like it or not…and whether we even realize it or not. Our music shapes us. It comforts us…it challenges us…

Another quote from the Hymn Society brochure:

We do not customarily group these three [faith, beauty, social justice] together. Perhaps we should. All three are rooted in our yearning to draw closer to a holy will and purpose for human living. All three suffer from misues and misunderstanding:

faith can be reduced to dogma;
beauty can be neglected for utility;
social justice can be ignored for the sake of the status quo.

I am looking forward to a time of making a joyful noise…of being comforted…of being challenged…of hearing new ways to express God’s call…