Category: Music

A Saturday tune-up

For a relaxing note on your Saturday, here’s a six minute music video of 7-year-old cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his 11-year-old sister, pianist Yeou-Cheng Ma in 1962. Both were born in France to Chinese parents who migrated to New York. You can listen along with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

That six-minute interlude may be all you need from this post today. If you’d like a bit more, you can read about an autobiography of Carlton (Sam) Young, 96, Professor Emeritus of Church Music at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He was editor of the 1966 and 1989 Methodist hymnals.

When I was a student at Candler (1973-1976), Young taught at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Young brought a Perkins choir large enough to completely encircle Candler’s chapel. In 1975, he moved from Perkins to Scarritt College, then to Candler.

Young’s new book is I’ll Sing On: My First 96 Years.

From Yo-Yo Ma Official Website

The work of Christmas

At Saturday’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, I was flooded with powerful sights, sounds and scents. The liturgy proclaimed a radical acceptance based on unconditional love and a renewed hope for peace on earth.

Friends and strangers knelt to receive an ancient-yet-new gift. The range of emotions was embodied by one communicant who radiated a joy that couldn’t be contained while another wept with deep sobs of brokenness.

My mind went to war-ravaged Ukraine, to migrants at our southern border, to China’s current COVID-19 surge, and to folks in grief. The “hopes and fears of all the years” meet on Christmas Eve, and then our work begins.

From “The Work of Christmas,” by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

The greater good

I love my grandmother. I love ice cream. I love America. I love you. “She loves me, she loves me not.” In my AA meetings, I experience tough love. My first experience of unconditional love was at a Kairos prison meeting. I love my dog. “I need somebody to love.” “What’s love got to do with it?‘ “Love me tender.”

In 2022, what does it mean to love my neighbor? In what practical way can I love planet earth? Is justice (as in “liberty and justice for all”) society’s way of expressing love, of living out a love ethic? How do I live into the fullness of loving relationships through my faith, through my citizenship?

Love is a well-worn word, with multiple meanings in many different contexts. What is the greatest expression of love that I can imagine or muster? I’m moving toward an understanding of love as embracing the greater good. Love is working toward the greater good. It’s a first cousin of the old word commonwealth.

From “Working for the Greater Good,” a blog post by Charlie Efford

No greater love

A few days ago, maybe on Pearl Harbor Day, a recurring thought began to appear in my consciousness: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The key words, “no greater love” have lingered with me. It comes from a quote attributed to Jesus.

The words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are strikingly different from the words attributed to him in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Those three synoptic writings “look alike.” I think of three tightly designed Norman Rockwell paintings, standing alongside a free-flowing Picasso.

The last few years have been difficult. In the midst of COVID-19, Donald Trump, a wave of secessions in my faith tribe, and the personal losses that accompany longevity, I was invited by my friend Joe Elmore to double down on love, as expressed through grace, or unmerited favor.

The task, for me, during this season of life, is to love. At times it means saying “no,” so that I can say a greater “yes.” It means, I believe, living with a greater love for the planet, for humanity, for all of life. I can be, humans can be, incredibly self-centered and short-sighted. That’s what I’m working on today.

From “No Greater Love,” by Rudy Currence and Chrisette Michele, via YouTube

The price of bondage

Georgia is on my mind. The tragic 1/6/21 insurrection overshadowed the huge impact of 1/5/21 in Georgia–the dual runoff elections that flipped the US Senate by sending Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to Washington. Then, last night, in yet another runoff, Warnock won a full six-year term.

Several Georgians are on my mind: John Lewis, voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, elections official Gabriel Sterling, all the poll workers who help facilitate democracy, and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a panelist during CNN’s coverage of last night’s runoff election.

Duncan is candid about the cost of his party’s bondage to Donald Trump. Duncan said, “If Georgia Republicans want to keep laying in the mud with Donald Trump, it’s going to be a purple state.” The GOP and the nation may thank Georgia for demonstrating the price of political bondage.

From “Ray Charles–Georgia On My Mind,” the Official Music Video, via YouTube

Upside down

Most Sunday mornings find us in a diverse class of wonderful people led by John and Kathy Draper. It’s the SALT Class (Serving And Learning Together) at First Church, a 150-year-old United Methodist congregation in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

In recent weeks, John has led the class in a study of some themes from Don Kraybill’s book, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Some excerpts from Kraybill about the poor:

Discarded on the human trash pile, they have not, however, been trashed by God. … God’s blessing falls on them. God cares about them. Meanwhile, the rich and haughty … too will have new life in the kingdom if they cast off the shackles of possessions. …

The outcasts–sinners, prostitutes, children, homeless–can enter the kingdom more readily than the elite, the righteous, the strong, and the pious.

The poor …. (have) fewer entanglements, they are freer to abandon all else for the kingdom. They have little to give up.

Jesus offers good news to the poor. Their poverty isn’t a sign of divine disapproval, a common view of the time.

Jesus also made it clear that the rich too were welcome–if they shucked off the shackles of wealth,…

Last Sunday’s lesson included Tevye (Chaim Topol) singing/praying “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Click here for a 5 1/2 minute YouTube clip.

An unclouded day

My mother’s favorite hymn was “The Unclouded Day.” I thought of that when, late Friday evening, I read Robert Hubbell’s “Dispelling the clouds of uncertainty.” Here are some excerpts:

Americans did something on Tuesday that was both extraordinary and unremarkable: they voted in a vigorously contested election that unfolded in peace and security.

Fear has been replaced by renewed confidence that America has more heft and momentum than its critics and opponents imagined.

…all it took to dispel the clouds of uncertainty about America’s future was a reminder that its people look to the Constitution and the rule of law for governance. It is in their bones—as it should be. It has been so for more than two centuries and will be so for centuries more—so long as the majority of its citizens remain diligent in defense of the Constitution. Each of you is part of an unbroken chain of faithful servants of democracy. 

A friend shared the All Saints’ Sunday anthem by the choir of Trinity UMC in Homewood, AL, “I’ll Be on My Way.” The livestream recording is on Facebook. You can fast-forward to the 1 hour, 17 minute mark of their November 6th service.

Election music

Christian nationalism is in the air. Some of those who have railed against “the deep state” fail to see the irony in hoping for (a big) government to function as a self-conscious Christian state, a theocracy.

Christian nationalism was in the air when Israel was a colony of Rome and various “messiahs were ready to lead a revolt for independence. (The word christ is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word messiah.) Many of Jesus’ first followers hoped he would lead that revolt.

The story of Jesus’ baptism includes his hearing a “voice” from heaven echoing two pieces of music from the Old Testament: from Psalm 2, a coronation song–like “Hail to the Chief”–used at the anointing of a new king (the Lord,..said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”); and from Isaiah 42, a suffering servant song–like “We Shall Overcome”–a song of hope, likely sung during the Israelites’ exile in Babylon (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”)

With this radically new (non-violent) concept of leadership, Jesus emerged from his baptism only to be immediately tested/tempted, including the possibility of ruling a territory as far as the eye could see (the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”)

More tomorrow.

From “The Temptation to Rule the World,” by Angela Becek, Journey Through Scripture, January 6, 2022

Artistic resistance

Tyrants tend to underestimate the opposition. Early war reports emerging from Ukraine quickly made it clear that the Ukrainians would not be easily overrun. An August 14 article by Javier C. Hernández in The New York Times describes an inspirational “artistic resistance” to the Russian war by Ukrainian musicians. In “An Orchestra Supports Ukraine, and Reunites a Couple Parted by War,” Hernández quotes Yevgen Dovbysh, “I don’t have a gun, but I have my cello.”

Dovbysh and his violinist wife, Anna Vikhrova, were members of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, they are among the 74 musicians in the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra.that gathered in Warsaw, Poland to begin a world tour. The Canadian Ukrainian conductor is Keri-Lynn Wilson. The tour itinerary includes London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and Washington. They will play at the Lincoln Center in NYC on August 18 and 19, and at the Kennedy Center in DC on August 20.

In the 1990s, a choir of Cuban Methodists visited the US. They were mostly professionals–attorneys, teachers, and various others. The Cuban economy was reeling from the US boycott and the collapse of Cuba’s Soviet benefactors. Everyone in Cuba was poor. The choir arrived in Birmingham with paper sacks for luggage. A host congregation took them shopping for shoes. The unforgettable moment for me was their closing song, in English, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

From “Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra review – tears and roars of delight for new national ensemble,” by Flora Willson, The Guardian, July 31, 2022

Hope–a basis for action

My friend Don offered some helpful insights about hope. From Walter Brueggemann’s commentary about Jeremiah in Hope Within History (p. 67):

…history makers may see clearly that things are deeply wrong, while they may not see how in any way a turn can happen, they are characteristically not voices of despair. History-makers and historical action do not proceed out of despair but out of hope that acts against the data at hand.

Don also passed along this quote, which seems to have originated on Twitter, from Matthew (@CrowsFault) on March 10, 2022:

People speak of hope as if it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider’s webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of the cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.

Don and I have conversed about Fannie Lou Hamer. This quote reminds me of Hamer and her thought-provoking rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s A City Called Heaven:

I am on a pilgrim of sorrow. Tossed in this wide world alone. I have no hope for tomorrow. I’m trying to make Heaven my home. Sometimes I’m both tossed and driven. Sometimes I know not where to roam. I’ve heard of a city called heaven.

From “A Pilgrim of Sorrow: Fuller Story of Fannie Lou Hamer Told In New Documentary,” by Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press, March 4, 2022