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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day here in America. It is probably a good thing because we need at least a yearly reminder to intentionally draw our focus back to being more appreciative of our mothers, our wives and even many of the other women in our lives.

I have not been known for being adept at conveying appreciation or knowing how to show affection very well. Unfortunately, like some clumsy husbands I tend toward perfunctory fulfillment of expected traditions at such times, maybe more to prevent disgust from others than from genuine spontaneity. That is not to say I have no feelings or desire to be more effusive in my affection. Rather it is a symptom of my own brokenness and lack of mentoring that now needs much remediation. But God is working to repair all of that and I am seeking to cooperate more readily.

Since once again I have backed myself into a corner by failing to purchase the obligatory Mother's Day card for my wife this year, and running into town at the last minute would cost far more than the card itself, I decided that a more meaningful token of appreciation might involve something requiring more effort anyway, as well as expressing more fully how I really feel. So I will try my hand at writing out my memories and recollections and thoughts that are meaningful and important to me related to the wife and mother that I am married to today.

When I look at old photos of my wife hovering over our children when they were young, I am reminded of how beautiful she is, which of course is one reason why I was attracted to her in the first place. She has always been deferential in this regards feeling that she is far less attractive than she really is. But after observing other men over the years openly seeking to win her attentions even knowing she was married to me has been a reminder of what a special person God gifted to me.

Of course it is not just her natural external attractiveness that is important but much more valuable is the internal beauty that has so long emanated from her spirit that draws the attention of not just other men but many people in general. As an example, over the past couple weeks she has been caring for an elderly lady who was dying and finally passed to her rest. During this time many of the people of that family along with even the physician repeatedly complimented and thanked her for her spirit of kindness, gentleness and personal considerate care that she gave their mother over the past few months.

My wife has the gift of kindness and a natural knack for understanding the elderly that goes beyond the average. She has been in the caregiving business since before we were married and this too was likely one of the reasons I was drawn to her. Her gentleness, kindness, thoughtfulness and sweet disposition while caring for those around her has captured the attention of many over the years. Of course there have been times when her health has become worn down as a result of all the long hours and excessive work required from her by exploitive employers; and she has at times become very discouraged and even suffered severe health problems. But her tendency to want to be cheerful and to rebound in her spirit, even against great odds at times, has been an inspiration and even rebuke to me. She is a woman to be admired, respected and honored by her children, her husband and likely many others who never express their gratitude openly.

Over the years as we have grown closer and matured together in marriage, I have increasingly realized how her influence has affected my own journey. God knew that I needed someone who had an inherent desire to hum or sing and carry a more positive attitude than me many times. Countless times when I have been depressed or just out of touch with my own heart, I have been reminded by her soft whistling of some pleasant tune or her sudden breaking into a cheerful song that I was being reminded of an alternative to the naturally darker mood in my own mind. The spirit of cheerfulness even when she is tired and hurting has definitely affected my own healing process over the many years we have been married and I become more motivated to change myself.

But of course, this is Mother's Day and I have hardly mentioned the special bonds that she has with her own children. Maybe I am not the one to best express what that is since it is beyond my ability to understand this well myself. Providentially God has given me a woman who is far better at listening and caring and nurturing than I have ever been. I shudder at what might have happened to our children if she had not been around to buffer and soften and modulate my less than positive influence. Not that I have always been a harsh father, but because I grew up feeling very little love from a father myself, the wife God provided for me has been an influence to attract me to want to be more than the product of my own upbringing.

That is not to suggest that my own parents did not love me. I lost my birth mother not long after I turned sixteen and I now struggle to remember much about her this many years on. But I do recall her seeking to relate to me significantly differently than how most of my siblings had been raised previously relying primarily on the popular approach of severity more than gentleness. By the time the last two of us arrived on the scene, I am told that my mother urged that maybe it was time to try a different approach, to seek to use love more instead of simply demanding strict compliance through intimidation and punishments.

This decision of my mother to experiment with a new approach to raising her children did not go over well either with my own dad or with my brother who was the oldest child. To this day my brother insists that our mother became infected with what he believes was a false idea of the times pushed by Dr. Spock who insisted that children needed more love instead of strict control. That was a very unpopular message to some in that day but one that I believe was and still is sorely needed. But because my dad really wasn't in agreement with her desires to experiment with a new method for motivating her children, the mixed messages I received from them tended to produce a spirit of rebellion, resentment and defensiveness on my part that has left me struggling for years since then.

God is in the business of repairing all who are willing from the extensive damage caused by all sorts of sins passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, by the time I began to realize that my childhood contained many seriously unhealthy elements that were destructive to me, I had already passed too much along to my own children, treating them similarly to how my own dad had dealt with me. This of course, has brought me a great deal of regret as I now discover that the ways of God are nearly opposite to what I thought was normal growing up. I wish I could go back and raise my children differently than what I did, but the past is locked in the past except for the power of God to redeem it and to repair damage wherever it is found when He is given access. So I leave the damage I caused in God's hands and focus my attention on how powerful His love is to overcome all the effects from the past.

In my own early years, the dissonance between my own parents led me to play them against each other. I took advantage of what appeared to me then as the weakness in my mother's ways which I now see was really an awakening in her to the truth about God that only in recent years have I begun to discover myself. Feeling increasingly resentful, bitter and angry as a result of my dad's harsh treatment in his attempts to force me into compliance with the 'standards of truth' as he saw them, I found my own heart hardening, withdrawing and sealing itself against any attempts from my mother to reason with me, to love me or to help me to be changed by love at any level. At that time love was more torment for me than it was to be welcomed.

Given this background, I now realize how providential it is that God led me to the wife that I married. My own life at the time was in emotional chaos and I had very little social skill for relating to women in general. (Many would agree that I still have very little social skills and I would have to agree.) But given the turmoil in my life when I met this woman in college I am amazed that she even allowed me to get to know her, much less start wooing her to marry such a messed up guy.

Yes, I am aware that she was herself a product of emotional and social problems and that her family had its own set of dysfunctions that led to her having gaps in her life in need of healing. As we came together in marriage we of course brought to the union our own unique problems inherited from our dysfunctional families of origin. Over the intervening years those deficits of character from childhood produced a new blend of problems in our own home resulting in yet another family struggling to raise children with little experience of what love looks or feels like. But we made a brave attempt nevertheless and as I look back from a vantage point many years later it is easier to trace the hand of God working at various times and in various ways to steer us in a better direction.

Like so many others, both of us entered marriage assuming we could eventually shape the other person to become more like what we wanted in a mate and we spent too many years trying to do just that. Of course we were told this would never work, but the human heart can be quite stubborn nonetheless and we tried to force each other to fit into our preferred mold – something on my part than hers I suspect. Throughout those years of financial struggle, emotional tensions and spiritual growth together, we somehow continued to bond together and began to learn how to accept our differences and to even respect and appreciate some of them. And although our personality types in some respects seemed too similar (we both tend to want someone else to make the hard decisions and hate to confront conflict), I now can see that in other key areas we were designed to compliment each other.

These complimenting characteristics are becoming more evident as we grow older together. I have learned that I am far too left-brain oriented even though my heart has had very intense feelings over the years. Because of my intense fears of being shamed or punished when growing up, I have tended to suppress emotional expression or to be open about what I really feel inside. As a result I have lived life primarily from my intellectual side where most other people operated when I was growing up. My wife similarly has felt unsafe to be open about what is deep inside of her and given the modeling from our respective upbringing we both struggle to communicate honestly about what our hearts long to express.

The woman I married and who did most of the successful raising of our children had far more compassion and tenderness and solicitude than I ever felt capable of having. As a result our children now feel more open to relate to her much better than with me. I do not say this to their discredit but because it is a symptom of my own damaged heart that never knew how to love and relate the way she can. My children can have a conversation with me, but when she is on the phone they can feel safer to be more open which is something I long to be able to enjoy with them after God does more extensive repair in my own heart.

In the end, I sense that the real hero on Mother's Day is not the mothers that we tend to honor and praise and appreciate Rather the real hero is our loving Parent in heaven who is drawing every mother and father into an improved life of love for each other, for their children and for everyone. At times like this I find it problematic to refer to God as only a Father, for I have come to realize that God is never to be constricted by our narrow gender bias in our perceptions. God is neither male nor female but is beyond even both of those combined, yet at the same time God is the epitome of both of those.

Over the years God has brought into our family influence other young women who have functioned as daughters in our lives. One of them in particular had previously suffered under severe religious, emotional and other types of abuse growing up to the point where she wanted nothing to do with Jesus, the name utilized as the reason for much of her abuse. As a result she was looking for meaning wherever she could find it outside Christianity. Her damage though caused her to drift somewhat when it came to her ability to be honest with people. She tended to say whatever she thought people wanted to hear which of course created problems in relationships that caused problems at times. But one thing that caught my interest was her desire to relate to God as a Mother instead of just a Father. And this was more surprising because her own mother was one of the primary abusers in her life.

This concept though has intrigued me for years even before I met this young lady. I realize that many strict fundamentalists recoil in horror at such a thought, but I believe there is support for this concept in the Bible. Insisting that God should only be viewed in the male gender mode is a product of the patriarchal mentality of most religions rather than truth that I find in Scripture. There I find a God who created humans as a binary reflection of God, not a hierarchal structure designed for top-down authority and control. God is love and love is very different from the way we run our world now. By what I have been discovering lately this means that God is just as much feminine in character as He is masculine if not more so. We just find it more convenient to use male adverbs because our language doesn't accommodate anything else readily and because tradition has forced us into this mentality.

As I think of it honestly, God is the real Father as well as Mother who is the only one who can lead us, mentor us and salvage our hearts and lives back to that original design that He created in the beginning. Salvation is not so much about getting us to stop sinful behaviors or for getting us into paradise as it is about restoring us to be the Mothers and Fathers and siblings and children that we were designed to be in the first place. To become godly is to become all that God is – kind, loving, gentle, compassionate, solicitous, caring, forgiving and encouraging. From my experience most of these attributes tend to show up on the women's side of humanity more than the men's side. Maybe that is why Jesus came as a man – not because He wanted to reinforce male dominance in our world but because He needed to redeem the male psychic from the severe damage it has suffered and to model to us what He originally wanted males to look and act like.

As I learn more of the real truth about what God is really like in sharp contrast to the views of God I grew up with, I realize that much of what is considered normal for males is actually rooted in misapprehensions about God that now are embedded in what we consider normal male behavior and thinking. Many accepted male characteristics promoted by religious and non-religious people alike are more reflective of false views about God than they are reflective of God's design for husbands and fathers. As a result it seems that mothers and women in general are more reflective of the kind of person that Jesus revealed than do many men. That has a lot of potential for serious consideration.

So, what does all this have to do with Mother's Day? In all my left-brain meanderings and musings and rabbit trails, what I want to say here is that I appreciate what God has done, is doing and continues to do in the mothers that surround all of us, and particularly related to the one that I married. I want to be a more caring husband and she is seeking to help me learn how to do that. I also long to be a more connected dad with my children, and although she may not be able to lead the way fully to what that looks like, she already keeps the connection open and is praying and encouraging me as my own healing heart slowly learns how to reach out for better relationships with my children.

Most of all what I appreciate about my wife and the mother of our children is that she is open to the leading of God's Spirit in her life. Like me she at times struggles to be consistent in responding fully to that Spirit, but I shudder at what my life might feel like if she were one who had little or no interest in knowing God herself. My life has been made far easier than many connected with people antagonistic to their desire to follow God. And although we struggle to be more transparent with each other, we are learning how to be more open, more vulnerable and how to avoid exploiting each other's vulnerability. For this I am deeply grateful and appreciative and thank God for giving me such a woman.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:28-31 NIV)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Forty-one Years Ago

Forty-one years ago this morning was a significant day, a turning point in my life. I still remember it rather well because I had come to an impasse in my life, not only spiritually but emotionally as well. But a little background needs to be explained to make sense of that statement.

I grew up in a conservative religious environment in the sense that I had been led to believe in a very strict, arbitrary, demanding God who expected everyone to keep His rules perfectly or face punishing. Very likely this was because that was the way I was generally treated by my parents, particularly my father who was not adverse to using corporal punishment whenever he felt it might be useful to force me into more obedience. Thus my view of God increasingly was filled with fear and intimidation.

As I entered my teen years my heart began to rebel more and more against this kind of life. But at the same time my conscience had been trained to always be honest, to try to be good and to seek for holiness as far as I could figure out what that meant. I now realize that this is the double-mindedness that James speaks of in the Bible. And as I learned all too well, double-mindedness always leads to instability.

The religion of my childhood in many respects resembled the cultural religion of America in those days, a culture where authority demanded implicit, unquestioning obedience and every infraction of the law was met with stern retribution. But as I was approaching adulthood in my early teens things were changing in our country; the Vietnam war was raging and coming to a climax and young people both there and at home were chafing under the abuse of a country exploiting them and using them essentially as cannon fodder in a far away land.

Protests began to break out, but not just over a stupid war that was going nowhere but in reaction to increasingly abusive authority here at home. Hypocrisy was on the rise among the older generation and the youth were hungry for more authenticity, for something that addressed the real issues down inside instead of just repressing everything for the sake of keeping up appearances. Out of this environment the Hippie movement was born with a rather colorful history and mixed reviews.

Whatever you might think was going on with the Hippie movement (which was slightly before my time in some respects), it was truly a mix of reactions to the abuse of power, not only by the government but by religion and adults in general. Some of the young people in that movement were honestly seeking for real freedom, to explore uncharted waters not unlike Columbus who had 'discovered' America long ago, and they also wanted to a better love and learn to real. As with any revolution there were also those who took advantage of the uprisings to express their selfishness by exploiting others and causing havoc. But it cannot be denied that the repressive atmosphere of abuse by those in charge brought on this massive movement not unlike what we are seeing all throughout the Arab world today.

My own life was being lived out in an even more restricted, protected environment. I was carefully shielded from nearly all outside influences such as popular music, movies and most other cultural activities that were considered worldly in society. I am not saying that this was all bad but simply stating that this is what shaped my thinking and perceptions during my formative years. But because of the intensity of the pressure to conform to the rule of law both at home and in my church as well as in society at large, I found myself increasingly chafing under the pressure for conformity and started having my own urges to revolt myself.

As I mentioned previously, my conscience had been trained quite intently to act as a guard against my straying too far into off-limit activities. I had great ability to heap enormous amounts of guilt and shame on myself whenever I felt I had sinned. The problem was that I had very nebulous ideas about just what sin really was and this was part of what fueled my confusion and growing resentment against authority. My conscience had become very sensitive, but without experiencing real love I increasingly lived in growing terror of losing my soul if I did not 'confess' every last little 'sin' that might still be lurking in my past or present.

I came to believe from the teachings/threatenings of well-meaning religious instructors that God, who could see all things even in the deepest recesses of my soul, was always looking over my shoulder waiting to condemn me to burn in hell if I did not perfectly conform to every last requirement/demand expected of me. To make matters worse I never seemed to be able to determine just what demands were from God and which might just be petty demands of those in authority. For it was not unusual – in fact it was the popular method in even secular culture – to make up rules more for the convenience of those in charge than for the good of those under their authority.

So in many ways I entered my own 'Hippie movement' in my own way, but not necessarily at the same time as the one going on outside my home. And even though I did begin indulging in listening to forbidden music on a radio I discovered in my house, which raised the friction level between me and my parents significantly, the pop music I listened to was more reflective than instructive in my life.

During this period in my life I began to experience an internal conflict that I can only describe as resembling schizophrenia. Because of my very dark views of a demanding God waiting to punish me reinforced by a father who was very similar, and an overactive conscience that did its share of condemning me as well, I found myself in essence 'doing penance' that increasingly consumed more and more of my waking hours. During this period of time when I was around 11-13 I took on my first job as a paper-boy for a Chicago newspaper and suddenly had access to far more money that the pittance my parents had given me for an allowance each week. That gave me resources to do many more things but not necessarily all beneficial for me. But pervading my conscious mind through whatever activities I found myself involved in, and like a computer virus running behind the scenes consuming more and more of my mental CPU, was a mantra of sorts that ran over and over and over and became more and more obsessive and compulsive.

This virus that increasingly took up more and more of my waking moments was a cycle of confessing whatever violation or past sin I might be able to imagine or remember and begging God to forgive that sin so I would not face punishment for it. However, even this activity brought very little relief for I had no way of being sure that God had relented and chosen to wipe that sin off my records in heaven. Thus I would find myself repeating the same confessions again many times because I still wasn't sure if I had gotten it right and removed it from the list God was using against me for the day of Judgment.

This may sound very bizarre to some but may resonate a great deal with many others. Whatever the case, this was my situation and no one around me had any clue that this was what was going on inside my head nearly every moment I was awake. Things progressively got worse though, for my overactive conscience pushed me harder and harder to comply with the expectations of religion as I perceived them, which meant that I was also supposed to close my eyes, bow my head, kneel down and fold my hands whenever I prayed. But since this cycle of fearful, compulsive 'penance' was happening during many of my waking moments, increasingly it was impossible to do all of those things at the same time. That of course, brought up the potential that I was adding even more guilt to the list of sins I was trying to whittle down with all my frenzied, obsessive praying.

I can remember riding my bicycle through car traffic in town trying to recite my penance routines and feeling compelled to close my eyes in because I was praying but with dangerous results. Finally I had to just keep reciting my mantras without doing any of the outward physical requirements just to stay safe but in turn that only increased the weight of guilt I was already feeling. My condition could easily be compared to the situation of Christian in the story Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. He is described as having an incredibly heavy burden fastened on his back that he could not escape. That description of the Christian life truly resonated in many ways with my own journey toward God.

This obsessive-compulsive habit that was developing in my internal world finally became so disruptive that people must have begun to wonder about me, yet no one ever bothered to ask or to allow me the freedom to share my fears and confusion with them. The only thing I got from the adult world were more expectations and ever-increasing requirements that I needed to conform to in order to be accepted as well as prepare my life for heaven.

With this background explanation it can be more readily understood why I felt the way I did when I woke up on my sixteenth birthday and lay in bed pondering my predicament that cold morning. A number of things crossed my mind that began to inter-relate to each other. One thing was the popular notion that the age of sixteen may be some sort of magical transition point in life from which the expression “sixteen and never been kissed” emerged. And while it was true that I had never been kissed by a girl, being the pragmatic sort of mind I was, I rather disdained such notions. But that morning I began to ponder that just maybe there might be something significant about turning sixteen that was outside my frame of awareness. I began to wonder if something might potentially be different for me that day, something that might surprise me, that might cause me to take a different direction in my life. Little did I realize that I was indeed about to turn one of the most significant corners that would affect my journey for eternity.

As I lay there in bed pondering whether there was anything to this sixteen business or not, another thought began to emerge more forcefully from my heart. My resentment had been building up for years against my internal picture of God who demanded impossible levels of penance and expected me to live such a dysfunctional existence as I had been experiencing for several years. My heart was so suppressed and squashed by all this abusive internal frenzy that I was finally ready to consider throwing in the towel so to speak and giving up on all of it. Maybe this religion was too crazy for me, and certainly it was becoming clear that the direction I was heading was untenable. It was impossible to live much longer with this compulsive obsession sapping more and more of my energy and it was interfering with my relationships and even my ability to concentrate on normal activities. It was only increasing my levels of shame, guilt and fear rather than diminishing them and it was starting to become clear that this must not be the right road to heaven. The way things were going I would soon have a mental break-down rather than a breakthrough into holiness.

As I lay there and thought back over the past few years of my life in connection with this obsession, I decided to make what felt like a very dangerous decision that morning. In the light of the pain and dysfunction this obsession was bringing into my life, I decided that for at least that one day I was going to attempt to suppress this compulsive urge to confess and grovel every time it presented itself no matter how insistent it might feel. Only if I obviously committed some egregious sin would I choose to try to make it right, but for all the other real or imaginary sins that seemed to never go away anyway, I decided that for this day I was going to fight back and refuse to obey this internal dictator any longer.

As I made this decision I felt a threat emerging from the demon (I now see that is really what it was) that was driving me to live this way. I could hear him threaten that I would surely burn in hell if I didn't continue to obey this obsession. But in response I decided that it couldn't be much worse to burn in hell than the miserable existence I was already experiencing. And somewhere deep inside I felt just a flicker of hope suggesting that maybe, just maybe what I had been doing was not really God's plan after all. And if that was true then maybe this decision might possibly open me up to a better option than the one religion had produced in me thus far.

That day became one of the most significant turning points in my life up to that point. Because of my choice to begin to turn away from desperately dark pictures of God in my head and move toward a more healthy picture of Him, my life has been on a different track ever since. I am not suggesting in any way that it was the intention of my parents or religious guardians to lead me into such insanity. But nevertheless it was the product of a legalistic approach to religion that always results in malfunction and a loss of peace in the heart. And peace is one of the most important ingredients for a Christian to experience if they are to grow and thrive and mature.

As I thought back on this day that changed my life 41 years ago this morning, I couldn't help but feel again that I am in some ways continuing that choice again today. I find myself in the middle of even more intense questioning of my dark pictures of God, pictures that still pervade the thinking and teachings of most of those around me in religion even today. The same atmosphere of fear still pervades not only my own church but every brand of religion throughout the world to some extent. Only recently have I begun to discover that the real truth about God is even more radically beautiful than I could ever have dared to imagine that day I turned sixteen. Now here I am still processing and rejecting faulty opinions about God so many years later and wondering how much longer it will take before I can be free of the inhibitions and rebellion that all of those lies instilled into my psyche during those formative years.

I made a decision back in those days that I was going to take the harder road than many of my friends were choosing. Rather than throw out religion as being worthless or impossible or a fraud as many others chose to do, I decided that the real problem was that I didn't have a correct perception of what was really true about God or religion and that I needed to figure out what was really true in contrast to what I had been taught all my life that made me so terrified of God. That choice has shaped the rest of my life up to this day and continues to be the basis by which I live my life.

I am now more convinced than ever that the real problem, not only in my life but with all of us, is that we have grown up in an environment so saturated with lies about God that unless God intervenes to show our hearts the real truth about Him there is no hope of us every figuring it out. But on the other hand, if we allow Him enough respect to give Him a chance in our hearts, He will begin to share with us a love and will ravish our hearts in ways that cannot be matched by anything else we could imagine. The human heart was designed to be satisfied by only one thing, and that one thing is the passion of the God who created it to start with. But the thing that keeps us from embracing that love are the myriads of lies we still believe that prevent us from trusting Him with our hearts.

Religion has miserably failed to present the real truth about God, not just to the world but to its own adherents as well. Religion still insists that God operates primarily through laws and even so-called liberal theology is obsessed with resolving our legal standing with God. What I have been discovering is that God is far more intent on winning my respect and my affections than He is on me achieving perfect conformity to a list of demands. Trying to fulfill a list of rules actually diminishes my ability to love, yet love is the only thing that prepares my heart to live in His presence. The only way I can live in love is to lay aside my obsession with rules and first learn to appreciate the real truth about what He is really like in contrast to all the lies religion and/or culture has foisted on me. Then as I come to know Him more and more intimately my life will naturally begin to gravitate toward being like Him without me obsessing over whether I have offended Him or not.

I still have a long ways to go to get rid of the many lies that still lurk deep inside me and get triggered from time to time. But God is faithful and His love is everlasting which is the only thing I can depend on when it comes to my salvation. The more I focus on knowing who He really is the more I sense my own heart beginning to heal and to increase in its capacity to respond with reflective love back toward Him. And this, I am discovering, is the real preparation for heaven that my heart has been longing for all along.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Temporary Beach Bums

Leaving behind the sweltering heat of the midwest, wifey and I flew out to chilly Northwest Washington last Monday to visit with our daughter for a few weeks and see some of the beauties of this region. Knowing how little pictures really convey what needs to be seen and smelled and experienced firsthand, I sometimes fail to take enough pictures. Yet they can serve as reminders of the fuller memories of cherished experiences for those who participated in what the pictures represent.

Today we went out to the 'ocean' such as it is in the straits of the sound. I can see how I could very quickly get addicted to just spending weeks strolling the beaches exploring the millions of kinds of life in the tidepools available here, smelling the scent of the sea and soaking up the peace inherent in nature as God designed it. I missed seeing the Bale Eagle on the branch that my daughter caught with her camera, but we did finally come across some amazingly beautiful creatures in the tidepools before retreating ahead of the returning tide.
Sea Anemone

Sunflower Starfish
At the risk of boring those who find this commonplace, I will share a few pictures of how our morning transpired today. It sure beat the baking sun of Illinois but did require that I wear a few more layers of clothes than I am used to having this time of year.

Multiple Starfish of bright colors

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Upcoming Director

A week ago my wife and I went to the last practice of the Barbershop Chorus I am a part of before their annual show last weekend. Since I was not singing in the show we decided to sit in on the dress rehearsal which would be the next best thing to attending. At the end of each rehearsal every week it is a tradition worldwide for Barbershop choruses to sing the anthem of the society, “Keep the Whole World Singing”. Our director usually selects someone from the group to direct it and the chorus usually pays close attention to that director to follow whatever they might do in their leading of the song.

In the past when I have been chosen I have usually made the song rather unexpected which requires the men to watch quite closely to my directing. Since I have not been to practice much over the past couple months I suspected in my mind that he might select me to direct the song. I said to myself that if he chose me to do it I would get my wife to do it in my place.

Sure enough, the director asked me to lead the song so I turned to my wife and invited her to lead it in my place. She was extremely reluctant and embarrassed to be so assertive in front of so many people, but upon a little physical coaxing and encouragement from the men she finally stood up to direct.

Since she has never done anything like this before and had no idea of what is involved in directing a chorus and didn't even know the song, she asked me what she should do. I told her to just wave her arms around and see what might happen.

Sure enough, as soon as she began moving her arms the men began singing the song according to her gestures. She seemed rather shocked and sometimes just stood there while they were stuck holding a note. I had to encourage her to keep moving her hands so they could finish the song. It was all very interesting and after the song we all gave her a standing ovation. (Well, they were all standing anyway)

If any of you like to sing I would encourage you to check into finding a Barbershop or Sweet Adelines (the female counterpart) chorus in your area and at least listen to a practice or concert. These societies are open, relaxed and have a lot of fun together. Its also a great place to make friends and improve your musical abilities. You don't have to feel obligated to be a professional but if you want to learn they are always teaching skills that can help you learn how to be a better singer.

For more information or to find a chorus in your area you can visit their worldwide web site at Barbershop.org.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

On That Note

We are blessed to be able to live out in the country. Because of that we are much more aware of the rhythms of nature, and this year is one of those rare moments that only happens every seven years. This is the year we get to enjoy the serenade of the cicadas.

It began with many small holes suddenly appearing in the ground around our yard. It almost looks like someone fired at the ground with a large caliber machine gun in places. The cicadas emerge from their underground hiding places once every seven years to take over the surroundings by storm. I have recently heard stories about campers being overwhelmed with cicadas covering their food within minutes after placing it on the picnic table. We have not seen near that many here, but our dog has enjoyed a few as tasty morsels on his daily walks occasionally.
The other morning as I listened to the constant singing of these cicadas I decided to guess what note they were singing, what pitch they were using as they all sang in close unison all through the surrounding woods. I guessed that it might be the note A, but after checking it on the piano I discovered it to be E instead. So much for perfect pitch on my part, huh.

Today we noticed in the times we spent outside (though it was a very hot day) that there is another competing, or complimentary, chorus in concert with the cicadas. The tree frogs have their own symphony going on that is different than the constant note of the cicadas. Their song intensifies and diminishes in a cycle with no distinct note like the other background song of the cicadas.

It reminds me of the truth that “all nature sings and around me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world...” I am gladdened by the songs of the birds that arrange their wake-up chorus of intense praise early in the morning, though we don't hear it too well with the windows closed. The cheerful expressions and colors of the Oriels when they come to the hummingbird feeder brighten our day on occasion and the buzzing and chirping of the many cute hummingbirds and their occasional dive-bombing over our heads when we walk by are reminders of a Father's love for beauty and variety.

Of course there are uncomfortable things in nature that remind us that sin has marred many things. The deer flies that attack us when we walk the dog present daily challenges to keep our head covered while still having to flap our arms around gracelessly as we walk down the road. But it is still better to be close to nature and away from the many distractions and isolation from much in nature that those living in town experience.

This year we will enjoy the cicada's songs for as long as they last. I'm not sure how long they sing for, but it is not very often that they come around so we will enjoy them and remember them after they are gone in anticipation for their next grand appearance in another seven years.