Monday, December 25, 2006

Telling the stories and singing the songs

As I write this, Only Son and I are listening to a rebroadcast of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. The Twins are changing radio broadcasters this year, and the new station has been airing back-to-back all 14 games of the 1987 and 1991 World Series (with 30-second commercial breaks between innings instead of the usual 2 minutes). We've resisted listening round-the-clock (it is Christmas, after all), but we've been listening to this game from the first pitch.

Any of you who are real baseball fans will remember this game, and the series -- many believe it was the best game of the best World Series ever. The score was 0-0 through ten innings. Each team had opportunities to score but couldn't, sometimes because of spectacular fielding plays, once by an inexplicable base-running mistake. Twice late in the game each team had bases loaded with one out but hit into a double play. It was close and it was exciting.

Even though I know how the game "turned out," I'm on pins and needles. Many details I'd forgotten are coming back anew, brought out by the real-time radio announcers describing the game and the sound of the roaring crowd's surge and gasps. The fact that I know who won isn't taking away the experience of the game at all, and it really isn't the point.

Listening together with Only Son makes a difference. He was only five months old when the game was played, asleep in his mother's arms for most of it, except for being startled every couple of innings at some exciting play or another. We've reminisced about the game before, and have heard highlights of it, but this time we're listening to it together, pitch by pitch, inning by inning.

But the point of this post isn't about baseball, it's about Christmas. I know how that story turns out, too, but I never tire of retelling it, or of hearing it told. It always is alive for me, always fresh, always teaching something new, something deeper, something hidden that I'd missed before.

It's like this for all the important stories. It isn't how the story "turns out" that matters. The importance is in the telling, especially the retelling together in community where all listen together.

Here's one new insight I picked up this year. As the children get older, I've been reading more of the prophets during our Advent Sunday evenings in addition to the Matthew and Luke pasages. This year, I reached a few verses back from the Peaceable Kingdom passage of Isaiah 11 and it was like unwrapping a gift. Here's how that chapter starts:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
A branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and might,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
I love the spirits that rest upon the branch of Jesse, and the promise to "decide with equity for the meek of the earth." To a lawyer, this is a striking passage. The coming Messiah will not necessarily be even-handed in his application of the Law, deciding for the little guy only when the Law is on his side; the text says that he will decide for the meek, which either means that the Law is always on the side of the meek, or that the Law isn't a neutral set of principles after all but is a tool or weapon for righteousness.

And what is this about smiting the earth with the rod and slaying the wicked with his mouth and breath of his lips? And the girdles? These are amazing images, to me, and helps me understand "the fear of the Lord" in a new way.

I don't intend to meditate on the passage just now, but just to mention how telling the same story again can open new doors of understanding.

(As I was typing the last sentence, Gene Larkin hit in the winning run and the Twins won 1-0.)

* * * * *
This was a very good Christmas for singing. We sang carols during the adult education hour before meeting yesterday, and then after the Christmas Eve evening meeting for worship, this afternoon at a Catholic Charities shelter, and then again at a gathering of friends at a friend's house. The singing was vigorous and enthusiastic (even though it wasn't shape note). There is nothing that makes me feel better than singing.

* * * * *
Speaking of singing, we just watched the movie Joyeux Noel twice over the past few days, and I recommend it highly. It tells the story of Christmas Eve 1914 when German, Scot, and French soldiers met in no-man's-land and, well, fraternized (i.e., acted like brothers). The film is very nicely done with only a few over-the-top moments.

I had first heard of the incident from John McCutcheon's song Christmas in the Trenches, and again in an NPR interview with one of the last survivors of the events. (Apparently, in real life this happened at more than one place along the front. Also, a certain corporal Hitler was disgusted when he learned what happened and refused to participate.) The thing that Joyeux Noel and Christmas in the Trenches have most in common was that it was the soldiers' singing that started everything.

This does not surprise me. Singing the old songs again is a lot like retelling the old stories. It keeps alive a common memory over time, like passing a bit of genetic material from generation to generation. If singing could encourage soldiers to lay their arms down once, it can do so again.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

God jul

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Christian life is jazz.

I probably have Quakersauer over at Friendly Skripture Study to thank for pointing me towards, Faith and Theology , a self-described Barthian blog. It's a bit -- no, a lot -- more academic in orientation than I am able to comprehend; most of the references are unknown to me.

Nevertheless, my recent immersion in the life and writings of William Stringfellow -- who, as a young lay theologian during Karl Barth's 1962 tour of the U.S. was singled out by Barth as one of the few who really got what he was saying -- gives me appreciation for at least some of what I read there.

Today, there's a particularly interesting essay entitled Ten Thoughts on the Literal and the Literary that that addresses much more powerfully the point I tried to make in my last post about how art can convey Truth better than most intellectual discourse. There is a particulary interesting though brief thought on something called "virtue ethics" that struck home, and about which I'd like to learn more.

The whole essay is worth reading, but here are a few tantalizing excerpts:

The more literal, the less literary a person is likely to be – and vice versa. . . . To plagiarise Paul, the literal crucifies, the literary resurrects: meaning walks through closed doors. “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” Emily Dickinson).
* * *
Fundamentalist ethics are rule-based, and the answers to moral problems are found, decontextualised, at the back of the (good) book. Jesus’preferred method of ethical instruction, however, is the parable, “subversive speech” (William R. Herzog II). Indeed Richard B. Hays argues that a “symbolic world as context for moral discernment” is fundamental to the entire New Testament. “The kingdom of God is like this.” Enter the story, work it out – then act it out!
* * *
Rules are not excluded, but they function heuristically, as “perspicuous descriptive summaries of good judgments” (Martha Nussbaum), to inculcate habits appropriate to the development of Christ-like character. Moral theology works best when it tells the stories of the saints. Virtue ethics is narrative ethics,where the script is unfinished and improvisation is essential. The Christian life is jazz.
* * *
One of the great filmic send-ups of biblical literalism: the opening scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The camera pans to Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount, and then to a group at a distance where our Lord’s voice doesn’t quite carry. “Blessed are the cheese makers,” one character hears. “What’s so special about the cheese makers?” asks a woman. “Obviously it is not to be taken literally,” her husband replies; “it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.”
* * *
If we are ignorant of science we lapse into Idiocy 101-102: Creationism; or Imbecility 201-202: Intelligent Design. But if we are ignorant of literature, mere ignorance becomes downright dangerous – witness the nonsensical interpretations of biblical apocalypse by the religious right and its pernicious influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

I like this. It changes the question from "What do you think?" to "What's your story?"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

La Natividad

It's been uncommonly warm and dry in Minneapolis and I've had some trouble getting into the Christmas Spirit. Baking cookies for St. Nicholas Day helped a bit (it was cold that week, actually), but not so much. But I'm gradually getting there.

First was a couple of Sunday afternoon singings -- one from the Sacred Harp, the other of Christmas carols from Worship in Song. These got the right juices flowing a bit.

On Tuesday, our men's group went to the home of one of our members who is recovering from surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for esophogeal cancer. We had arranged with his wife that our coming was OK, and we entered the unlocked door singing, of course, God rest ye, merry gentlemen. We were warned that John tired easily and that 15 to 20 minutes might be all he could take. But we ended up staying two hours, alternately visiting and singing and had to pull ourselves away at 11. There were four of us singing, and each of the others knew his harmony part, so I could sing melody and it sounded wonderful.

Then came last night.

Two weeks ago last Friday, I was at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theater for a meeting concerning next summer's FGC Gathering. When the meeting was over, I went upstairs to buy tickets to HOBT's Christmas program, La Natividad. I happened to remark that I was disappointed that the leaflet seeking volunteers arrived at my home arrived two weeks after rehearsals started - I had wanted to sing in the show's choir. Not to worry, someone said, we still need volunteers, and what do you know?: I was made the star of the show.

That is, I was given the job of carrying the Star of Bethlehem, a swirling 4-foot wide four-armed star (think swastika with the arms spiraling inward) painted brilliant white and lashed to the end of a 15-foot wooden pole, lately a trunk or branch of a tree. It isn't quite as easy as it sounds -- the whole contraption weighs 15 to 20 pounds, with the bulk of the weight on the top end where the wind adds the weight of its own opinion -- but all in all it doesn't tax my dramatic talent very much.

The show is beautiful, as usual for anything HOBT does. It follows the Nativity story as told by Matthew and Luke, and is based on the Mexican Posada tradition. It begins in El Mercado Central on Lake Street with the Annunciation to Maria and José, after which the audience is herded across the street for the census which strongly resembles an immigration port of entry with all the associated indignities.

Then to the theater a half-block away where snoring and scratching shepherds on the stage are awakened by a couple of dozen of star children in blue and little white stars on sticks (can you say "cute"?) -- and the angel choir. After they leave for Bethlehem, the Star (ahem) rises slowly and settles stage left and the three Magi enter. They -- and the star -- are seen by a buffoonish but dangerously insecure Herod who defines the situation as one of insecure borders and poor intelligence, with "them" coming in "by land; by sea; by wooooman" he sneers. The Angel Choir sing the Magi's part, informing him that they seek the Holy Child, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, etc. Herod is understandably worried since he is the Decider around here thank you. He sends the big blue Kings off with the false request that they tell him where they find the Holy Child so he, too, can worship him. Ha. He fools no one.

The Star then leads the entire throng -- Magi, angels, star children, shepherds, audience, and masked oversized Maria y José riding their donkey -- north on 15th Avenue (lined on both sides with luminaria) towards St. Paul Lutheran Church three blocks away. The choir and brass band leads everyone in singing “En el nombre del cielo pedimos posada. . .” (In the name of heaven, we ask for a place to stay.) Over and over. And over. (I guess, if you're going to get a tune stuck in your head, you couldn't ask for a more lovely one.)

But there's trouble ahead. As we approach the bridge over the old railroad right-of-way that is now a bicycle greenway, we see a sinister border fence with Herod stands on a raised platform with a megaphone. He bars the way: You have no papers, no money, turn back. The scene is lit with spotlights and looks truly frightening. The procession stops just short of the fence. José three times steps forward and asks in the name of Heaven for shelter via large banners in English and Spanish; finally, he says "We come in peace" but Herod will have none of it.

While this confrontation is going on, from the far side of the fence -- from St. Paul church to the north -- comes Neighbors (led by the pastors of St. Paul) with star-torches and a giant banner saying "Bienviendos." They first appear as twinking lights but we recognize them as people as they gradually come closer and the tension at the border rises.

As they approach the fence, the Neighbors hold up signs saying "Tio" and "Tia", "Uncle" and "Aunt" and "Cousin" and "Hermana y Hermano" etc. recognizing the homeless couple as their relatives and welcoming them, despite the fence. Eventually, they hang the signs around the necks of Herod's henchmen (who are holding up the crossed fence poles) who realize that they are keeping their own relatives out in the cold. They slowly carry the poles over to Herod and gradually bury him creating an opening.

The procession is then welcomed by the Neighbors from St. Paul and everyone continues through the breach, following the Bienvenidos banner to the church. (The building is a beautiful old Swedish Lutheran church with Bible verses in Svensk on the stained glass windows; it is now predominately Hispanic.) The audience goes in, and then the Star leads in the Angels, Maria y Jose (now masked life-size figures) and the rest into the sanctuary. Maria y José take their place on a raised platform in front of the altar (and the Star). The choir sings a beautiful Mexican lullaby.

Then come the animals: a giant white crane; sheep; white deer or antelopes; mice; chipmunks; two blue-and-green timberwolves on all fours (with old Herod being the adult wolf -- we say he does wicked well); a Bison; etc. They and the Magi and the Star Children form a kind of screen around the creche, whereupon the masked Maria y José slip out and the living ones -- who we last saw at the Annunciation -- take their places along with their real live (5 week old) baby boy in arms. The adorers then part, and the congregation sees the living Holy Family and gives the most amazing sigh and gasp, and then applause. (That's when I started crying.)

Narrators then recite -- in English and Spanish -- portions of the Peaceable Kingdom prophecy from Isaiah 11 about the little child leading them, and the pastors invite everyone to a Fiesta in the church hall adjacent to the sanctuary and the band and choir start singing sprightly dancing songs and the entire congregation and performers join in.

I was pleased that my brother, his wife, and three of their four children came to the performance with us. I worried a bit initially that the political references might turn them off, but my friend Greg (one of the wisest of the wise men) talked to me at a rehearsal about the importance of the Living Word, of the Word manifesting and incarnating itself anew all the time, addressing the concrete circumstances of real people, not storybook characters. That reassured me and I stopped worrying about it.

It is so much fun being part of a production like this, but fun doesn't begin to describe it. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have a small part in giving a gift like this to our community, helping the dark streets shine with an everlasting light. I am more and more convinced that the Truth is conveyed more fully in the "arts" broadly defined -- story and literature, theater, song and music, poetry, all of them -- than in all the theological or philosophical disourse in the world, and I am so happy that In the Heart of the Beast gives me and hundreds like me the chance to participate.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A great teacher

Today I learned of the death of a a man who made a difference, not only in my life, but in hundreds of others.

The phrase "bigger than life" is such a cliche that it's insulting to use it about Walt Reiner, but I can't think of anything better. The obituary below just hints at it.

I can't even begin to describe how he influenced my life. I met him at Valparaiso University shortly before I went on the Urban Studies semester that he founded and was on the staff of. Upon returning to campus, I worked some with the organization that he helped to found that had helped the first black families move to Valparaiso, and gradually learned from him about how a committed Christian (though I was neither) engaged in the world. He was very political -- at least he talked a lot about politics -- but unconventionally, and radically. He never talked about elections or candidates or policies. He talked about "principalities" and "powers" and "technology" how they had lives of their own, independent of the people who worked for them, and that it was foolish to think they could be brought under control. They were to be contested and resisted even though resistance is futile. He said it was OK to be vegetarian, as long as we didn't think we were changing the world.

He was a friend and disciple of Jacques Ellul and I participated in several groups he led that read and discussed Ellul. To be honest, at the time I couldn't understand hardly anything that either Walt or Ellul said, except that I knew it was true and powerful and important and pointed to the way I wanted to go. I have only recently, through my growing acquaintance with the life and writings of William Stringfellow begun to be able to articulate what it was that Walt (and Jacques) were trying to say and understand why I always found it so powerful, even if it was mysterious.

But it wasn't just what he said, it was how he lived. He was a man of action. He was a builder, of a new house so a neighbor could move there from Chicago, or an addition to his own house so his mother-in-law could live there. I don't think he was very scrupulous about getting permits or anything like that; he didn't need Nike to tell him to just do it.

I remember when, on Urban Studies, there was a Very Important Discussion one morning about how unfair it was that everyone got the same number of CTA bus tokens when those of us who lived in Lincoln Park could walk to most of the class meetings but the folks from Uptown had to take the el and a bus each way. Someone stood up and proposed that everyone in the Lincoln Park group give X% of their tokens to the Uptown contingent, except for the ones who had a car who would get half the number etc. Walt stood up and said, don't make a program out of it, don't make a rule about it, just do it. Give up some of your tokens to your fellow students, but as friends helping each other, not as penance for some imagined injustice.

There was another telling thing about Walt: In the 1970 Valpo yearbook in the faculty section, many professors were shown lecturing in their classrooms, or maybe a couple riding their bicycles to class. But in the middle of that section there was a photo of a mass of people -- almost all of them black -- at some sort of a demonstration in a park in Chicago. I must have looked at that picture a hundred times before I noticed that, in the middle of it all, and looking in the opposite direction as most of the people, was Walt. There he was, in the midst of where it was happening, like he always was.

There was one very personal thing that I will never forget and for which I am eternally grateful. When I was 23, my girlfriend got pregnant. We didn't know what to do, so we did what was natural for any of us who had studied with Walt, we walked down to see him and Lois. We told them the news, and Walt's and Lois's response confirmed for us that this was in fact good news, the evidence not withstanding. We left saying, "The machine is not going to get this baby." It is not very much of an exaggeration to say that a beautiful 29-year old woman owes her life in large part to him.

Oh, this is so inadequate, but I like to think that I have continued however hesitently or indirectly down the path he steered me towards, and for that I am grateful for his life. Here's what the newspaper had to say:

Walt Reiner Valparaiso, IN. On December 5, 2006, Walt Reiner, who described himself as a "community resource redistributor" died surrounded by family and friends. Walt, 82, was born on December 29, 1923, in Tampa, Flordia, the youngest of three sons, to Otto and Frances (Mugge) Reiner.

Growing up during the days of the Great Depression, Walter helped support his family from a very young age, eventually enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II where he participated in the first wave of attacks on Omaha and Normandy beaches, and subsequently served tours in North Africa and East Asia.

Following the War, Walter attended Springfield College in Springfield, MA, and, upon graduation, accepted a football coaching position at Valparaiso University. During his tenure as "Coach" Walter led the Crusaders to its only bowl game in VU's history, coaching such legends as Fred "Fuzzy" Thurston (Green Bay Packers) and earning hall-of-fame status in 2001. Walter was given leave from his coaching duties to serve his country during the Korean War.

In 1952, he returned to VU and married the love of his life, his partner, his "Schatz" (treasure), and wife of 54 years, Lois (Bertram Dau) Reiner.

In the early 1960's, Walt was asked by former VU President, O.P. Kretzmann, to begin the Youth Leadership Training Program, which sought to connect young people to programs serving the broader community and world. In 1965, Walt moved his family to Chicago where he served as Director of Prince of Peace Volunteers, guiding 34 teams of volunteers in U.S. inner cities and overseas, whose work was captured in the documentary film "I Believe" which aired on NBC in 1966.

During the 1960's, Walt supported Vietnam War Conscientious Objectors and became a civil rights activist in his own right. His leadership activities and commitment to human rights sustained him through a heresy trial before the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1967. From 1960 through 1968, Walt served as Director of Camp Concordia, a Lutheran camp in Gowen, Michigan. During the late sixties, Walt was a founder of the Association of the Colleges of the Midwest's Urban Studies Program in Chicago, offering students at Valparaiso University as well as a consortium of liberal arts colleges, the opportunity to truly experience the diversity of the city and to connect with those who were creatively addressing issues of racism, poverty, violence and other issues faced by thousands of people on a daily basis.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What Sacred Harp singers look like to others

I was tickled by this report of the music committee for a past FGC Gathering. It is meant as a suggestion to future music committees and follows descriptions of other singing opportunities at the Gathering. It is as accurate and succinct description of Sacred Harp singers as I've ever read. (The line breaks were in the original; it reads to me like a poem.)

Shape Note/Sacred Harp.
They need to stand in a square and have good live sound.
They like a space with lots of resonance, not drapes and carpet,
where they can be loud.
If they don't like where you put them, they'll find their own space
and leave you a note.
They are very self sufficient.
They do not need a piano.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Blogging the Bible

I haven't been writing much lately, for a lot of reasons, but think it's time to share how much I've been enjoying a series by David Plotz called Blogging the Bible at I've been reading it from time to time, but not consistenly, for several months.

I love that he takes the story seriously as an ordinary reader in the 21st century, without a lot (hardly any, actually) academic commentary or textual criticism or modern know-it-allism. He just retells the story as he reads it and comments on it in thoughtful, and frequently funny, ways. It doesn't replace friendly skripture study, of course, but it is a little easier to take in small doses.

I especially liked the way Plotz treated the long slogs through Deuteronomy and Numbers and makes them interesting. I guess I'm writing this now because I loved his re-telling of First Samuel, particularly the Saul-David relationship.

Here's small part of today's entry:

The Book of 2 Samuel
Chapter 1

Did Saul really kill himself? The final chapter of 1 Samuel made a big deal out of Saul's suicide. But the first chapter of 2 Samuel rebuts that story. An Amalekite messenger brings the news of Saul's death to David. When questioned, he says that he knows the king is dead because he killed Saul himself. The wounded king begged the Amalekite to finish him off, so he delivered the blow. You just know it's not going to end well for this regicidal Amalekite. Even though it was a mercy killing, David has the Amalekite executed. No matter what the reason, you're not allowed to murder the Lord's anointed. David is very savvy about protecting his own interest.

Always a good weeper, David cries again for Saul and Jonathan. He feels genuine and profound sorrow. David, let's remember, never touched a hair on Saul's head, even when Saul was trying to kill him. David sings a gorgeous lament about the deaths. (Hey, language mavens! This song is the source of the phrase: "How the mighty are fallen.") David reserves his deepest sorrow for Jonathan, of course: "Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." More speculation.

P.S. You can get to the entire series of Blogging the Bible here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keeping our eyes on the prize

As requested, I'm posting here a lightly revised comment I made at The Good Raised Up the other day and mentioned in my previous post. It was written in response to Liz's discussion of the FGC Long Term Plan, and may make more sense if your read her post first. (But then you wouldn't need to read my comment here. . . .)

I'm just back from a Friends Journal board meeting where we did some soul-searching -- Who are we? What is our job? What would happen if we didn't exist? What should we look like in ten years? Etc.

This led to questions about whether the market for what we had to offer was inherently small (i.e., Quakers) -- which implies certain business and financial realities (i.e., Friends Journal will always depend on financial contributions over and above the cost of subscriptions and advertising revenue) -- or is it potentially very large (i.e., those who are hungry to hear the Everlasting Gospel) for which another business model is possible?
I was reminded of the chestnut about the janitor at NASA who was asked, "What do you do for a living?" And he answered, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon."*

I think the problem with Quaker organizations -- from the smallest worship group to the largest yearly meeting and all of the alphabet organizations -- is that they tend to act as if they're sweeping floors instead of putting men on the moon. (This is true for all religious organizations, of course.) Sweeping floors is honorable work and needs to be done, but it is not the end in itself. I see FGC's long-range plan as intimating some sense of its place in God's larger plan, but it isn't as explicit as it might be. It doesn't do much good to help people find Quakers if Quaker meetings are Lifeless and impotent.

If a Quaker Organization sees its primary mission as serving its own constituents, as FGC appears to have done (for perfectly understandable reasons) that implies a certain approach. But if its primary purpose is to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth (or however you would state the mission of the Church), it will think of itself and go about its work in a different way.

In other words, is FGC seeking to serve the Society of Friends (or a certain branch of it) and do what those Friends want? Or is FGC's primary mission is to serve God and the church and God is telling FGC at the moment to help strengthen monthly and yearly meetings in all the ways its strategic plan says? These are very different questions and eventually produce different fruit.

The same questions could be asked of our monthly and yearly meetings.

I suspect that our Friend Martin Kelly's critique of FGC in particular and of the RSoF as a whole is that they (we) see our mission as sweeping floors: publishing curriculum and books, increasing intervisitation, creating a presence on the web, increasing our size and racial diversity, holding potluck suppers, making sure everybody feels comfortable, etc. -- instead of manifesting the Kingdom promised by the Gospel by these particular means. One reason is that we can't seem to agree on what the larger purpose is, and to avoid resolving that question we work on the best methods of keeping the kitchen floor clean.

I largely share that critique, though I see evidence that FGC is getting it right in some ways and that it's not a lost cause by any means. But neither is it inevitable. Watch and pray.

* I realize that the janitor's answer might just as well have been, "I'm helping to maintain and preserve U.S. hegemony over the world", but that wouldn't have made quite the same point, would it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Some catching up to do

I've been too busy to write anything recently, but here are a few things I've been reading and found to be valuable.

Marshall Massey has a very good post on how to read the Bible -- as an insider reading a family album.

Liz Opp has generated a lot of thoughtful comments with her discussion of the FGC Long Range Plan and whether it suggests that FGC is part of the convergent Friends movement. (I have a longish comment there that probably should have been posted here.)

I've just finished Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge, the third of his massive and masterful history of America in the King years. This one covers 1965-68. As any of you know who've read the earlier books, Branch is a magnificent storyteller, full of detail that makes reading the book like chewing a sandwich made with 7-grain bread -- you feel like you've accomplished something when you're done with it.

One of Branch's best points is how he weaves strands of different stories together to create a vivid picture of the time he's writing about, making connections that you hadn't seen before. In Canaan's Edge, for example, he weaves the rise of the Vietnam war with the ultimate demise of the Civil Rights Movement per se in such a way that made sense of a time that seemed nothing less than chaotic -- obviously important and historic but chaotic nonetheless -- during the time I was 10-14 years old and watching all this stuff on TV. For example, I knew in my memory that Dr. King was murdered only five days after LBJ abdicated running for a second full term, but I had forgotten how it felt to have the world fall apart all around me like that. Branch's book reminded me again. I can't recommend the book highly enough.

This past weekend, I picked up and am carefully reading Catholic Quakerism by Lewis Benson. (Although I bought the book at the FGC bookstore in person, it doesn't show up in its on-line catalog, for some reason. So the link is to New Foundation Fellowship.) I must have read it before because parts of it seem so familiar, but I couldn't have told you before rereading it much detail.

I love reading Benson, though his intensity and the challenge he poses usually scares me. It is as if I would like to believe as he does, but I haven't yet found the courage to do so. He, more than any other Quaker writer I've read other than ole George himself seems to be describing an alternate universe that exists and to which I have access if only I am willing to go there. In doing so, he explains the unique power of the Quaker message and gives us a reason to be. I'm especially impressed by his discussion of Quakerism's place in the ecumenical movement and how powerfully he argues that we are not merely a branch of liberal Protestantism -- or, at least, we need not settle for that weak soup.

On the plane to and from Philadelphia this weekend I read most of this month's issue of Friends Journal, which is a special issue on "What are Friends Called to Today?" (I was going to and from the Journal's board meeting.) Bloggers Robin Mohr and Martin Kelly have articles in it that I hope will lead many readers to their and other blogs to learn more about what this convergent Friends stuff is all about.

I also enjoyed fellow Northern Yearly Meeting member Kat Griffith's article "Conversations from the Heartland" about her experience talking politics with fellow home-schooling mothers who hold dramatically different political and religious views than she does. Or do they? I always enjoy Kat's writing which I find courageous and strong.

The entire issue is worth reading, and I hope that others find it useful in sparking something in their meetings.

I'm beginning to prepare to give a talk on how Quakers approach the Bible as part of an interfaith dialog sponsored by the St. Paul Council of Churches. There is a five or six week series where two or three speakers a night from the Abrahamic tradition -- Jews, Muslims, Christians -- discuss their respective approaches to the Book. I'm on with a B'hai and a Unitarian, which tells you something about how the rest of the Christian world places us. This is one reason why Marshal Massey's post mentioned above was so welcome. I am also interested to see how this experience influences how I teach Quakerism 101 again after the first of the year.

And there's lots more going on, actually, at home, at work, and in the meeting that is making me feel quite busy and just this side of frantic. I could use a long nap. But in the end I count it all a blessing to be so engaged. I just wish I had the time to do them all as well as I would like.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Where is thy sting?

The Minnesota State Sacred Harp Convention was held this past weekend. Attendance was less than some past years, but the quality of the singing was excellent, as usual. There was a good number of first-time singers at the singing school conducted by Bruce Rye on Friday evening. I'm afraid, though, that he left many of them overwhelmed since he jumped into singing almost right away, with too little instruction. But his energy and passion was infectious. I was impressed by how he taught without a book in his hand -- he simply called out the tunes he wanted by number and sang them -- including shapes -- by heart. (And a good thing since the book he was carrying was the 1936 edition, not the 1991 revision we use.)

In addition to the reliable visitors from Chicago and St. Louis, there were several visitors from the United Kingdom -- mostly from Derby, as far as I could tell -- who we were very happy to have with us.

I had been asked a couple of weeks ago to give the memorial lesson, a time before dinner on Sunday when we remember singers who have died since the last convention or who are sick or shut-in. The custom is for a singer to say a few words, read the names, and lead a song in their memory. I put quite a lot of thought into what to say, mainly because brevity is encouraged and because I wanted to avoid being overly sentimental, which sometimes happens. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and ended up with two entirely different texts and not sure which one to use.

But then, on the Monday morning before the convention, the 93-year old mother-in-law of a favorite local singer died. She had welcomed us to sing in her home several times, and some local singers sang at her funeral. (I was unable to attend.) Then, we learned that the family emergency for which a singer from Portland, Oregon, had had to leave on Saturday afternoon was the impending death of her infant niece. So much of what I had prepared seemed inadequate all of a sudden, and I had to let go of my prepared remarks and let the spirit lead me.

As the morning progressed, every one of the seven songs that I had chosen to sing for the lesson had been used. (I'm not sure whether the rule against singing the same song twice in he same day applies generally to the memorial lesson, but I was advised not to use a song that had been taken.) During the break immediately before the lesson, the co-chair asked me if I had noticed how so many sad songs had been led that morning. It was as if all of us were being moved by the same thoughts.

When the time came, I spoke from the heart. Here's a rough idea of what I ended up saying (or think I remember saying) :

When Christine asked me to prepare the memorial lesson for today, a phrase came to me: There is no such thing as “Sacred Harp singing.” There is only people who sing Sacred Harp.

But that seemed a pretty thin reed to support a memorial lesson, so I began to think about how Sacred Harp singing, especially at a convention like this, is a kind of Brigadoon experience, a reality that exists for a short time every once in a while, largely invisible to non-participants, during which we singers experience life in a different, deeper way than usual, after which we return to our mundane lives until the next time.

I was going to talk about what we experience when we sing is a reality that transcends time and space during which we are present spiritually with those who have gone before and will come after, as it is and will be in heaven.

But on last Monday morning, Death made a personal visit to our community of singers here in Minnesota and took our sister, Helen Stevens, mother-in-law of our chairwoman Christine. And yesterday, our friend from Portland had to leave early for a family emergency, which was the impending death of her infant niece.

While I believe with all my heart that Sacred Harp singing creates the experience of life eternal in the company of all who sing, have sung, or will sing this music, I realized that talking like that can sound an awful lot like cheap grace, as if we’re wishing death away too easily without counting its cost. We need to remember that our brother Death is here with us at every singing we have, ready to take any one of us.

But we don’t shrink. We give Death his seat, but refuse to cower. We recognize his existence, but we deny his sovereignty. We will each die, but that is all we will do for Death; we are not on his payroll, as Edna St. Vincent Millay put it.

And so I returned to the first inspiration I had for this lesson: There is no such thing as Sacred Harp singing. There is only people who sing Sacred Harp. It is the people who matter. We aren’t here because of the shape of the notes, the structure of the melodies and harmonies, the poetry of the texts, or even dinner on the grounds. Those things are important in their own way, but are incidental. What is essential is the actual men and women – past, present, and future – whom God calls together to sing this music.

And so we take this time to remember those men and women who are now singing from the benches in back of us, invisible to our eyes. Each of them was loved by someone in this room, and their passing has brought the grief of love as we sang earlier.

As I read the names of singers and those loved by singers who have died since we last met, please say a silent prayer of gratitude for the love they gave us and for the comfort and solace of those who loved them who grieve their passing.
I then read the names, a little more slowly and deliberatly than is usually done, putting just a moment or two of silence between each one. It felt very reverent and real.

We then sang 566, Hebron:
Thus far the Lord hath led me on,
Thus far His pow'r prolonged my days;
And ev'ry ev'ning shall make known
Some fresh memorials of His grace.

Much of my time has run to waste,
And I, perhaps, am near my home.
But He forgives my follies past,
And gives me strength for days to come.

I lay my body down to sleep,
Peace is the pillow for my head;
While well-appointed angels keep
Their watchful stations 'round my bed.

2006 Minnesota State Convention
Town Hall, Historic Murphy's Landing
Shakopee, Minnesota

Friday, September 01, 2006

Awake my Soul

The much-talked about documentary Awake my Soul arrived yesteday, and it is beautiful. Anyone who is interested in what this Sacred Harp stuff is all about could hardly find a better introduction. Experienced singers will enjoy seeing old friends (including the magnificently whiskered brother of a favorite Quaker blogger friend of ours).

I was especially taken with the interviews with Raymond Hamrick, who I've not met but whose compositions I love to sing. (Especially this one, which came to him in a dream that he describes in the film.) He had presence and dignity, and a gentle accent, that reminded me of Pete Seeger.

The DVD is 75 minutes long, giving it enough time to introduce many aspects of the tradition: origins and history, musical theory, interviews with contemporary singers, dinner on the grounds, and lots of well-recorded singing. I recommend it without reservation.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Crossan: Universal v Particular

Here is another fascinating -- and to me enlightening -- quote from Crossan memoir. It comes near the end of chapter 4.

In context, he is explaining his idea that the Christian Trinity -- Father, Son, Holy Spirit -- correlates to comparative religion understanding of the "structure" of the Holy which includes the categories of metaphoric (God, or the Holy, can be comprehended only through metaphor -- God as Father is a metaphor), Locality (the Son places the Holy here on Earth, in history, among the People), and Particularity (the fact that the metaphor and locale are recognized by believers, but not by non-believers). He then writes:

That mystery of particularity closes the Trinitarian loop, and here the best analogy to divine faith is human love. You must experience faith or love as if it could not be otherwise. Imagine this. I wake up tomorrow morning next to my wife and say, "If I had not met you, fallen in love with you, and married you, I would probably have met someone else, fallen in love with her, married, her, an be waking up next to her this morning." That would be a very imprudent way to start my day, yet it is probably true. It is also unspeakably crude in its denial of human particularity. Or imagine this. A young couple have just lost their firstborn child and I tell them, "Don't worry. You can always have another one." That, too, is unspeakably cruel in its denial of human particularity. So also, then, with your religion: you must experience it as if no alternative were even possible. But at the back of your mind, you must also recognize that alternatives are always present. Particularity is not relativity, not the belief that anything goes or that everything is the same, but the acceptance that our humanity, at its deepest moments and profoundest depths, is individual and specific.

For individuals, groups, and communities this metaphoric and that locality, this seeing-as and that seeing-where, seem absolutely true, and all other possibilities seem but heresy, apostasy, infidelity -- mistake at best and treason at worst. Whether through genetic or ethnic occasions, personal or cultural drives, psychological or social forces, this metaphoric and this locality are experienced as choosing us rather than our choosing them. I do not say (although I know it is true): "I might have been a Muslim or a Hindu, but I was born in Ireland and so I'm a Roman Catholic Christian." Particularity, too, is part of the structure of the Holy, and it is only through it that metaphoric and locality act upon us.

pp 105-06

I've long had the sense that the relationship of a person to his or her church community is analogous to one's relationship with a spouse or partner, but haven't been able to put it into words as well as he has.

What fascinates me about this is the notion that "this metaphoric and this locality are experienced as [my emphasis] choosing us rather than our choosing them," as if it could not be otherwise, even while knowing at a different level that it might have been.

This certainly is what it feels like to me -- Christianity (or was it Christ?) chose me at birth through being born to my particular parents. (Would anyone say it was my "choice" of parents??) Though I experimented some with other religions while a youth, in my deepest soul I have always known that I belonged to the Christian (but not necessarily the Lutheran) community -- over time and space -- and so eventually stopped denying the alternative possibility and have since tried to learn how to be most useful and faithful to that community.

To the extent that I can say that I chose to be a Quaker kind of Christian (or a liberal member of that family), I can give lots of reasons, but in reality -- to me, in other words -- it feels that I was drawn inexorably to it, no more my "choice" than a fish "chooses" the bait that reels it from one world to another.

If this is true (and I think it is), then it seems impossible to be "religious" in a general sense (though one may have a predisposition to think about religious things), any more than one can be a "lover" in a general sense (though you may have an amorous temperament). You need a religious community --this one, not just any one -- just as you need a lover -- this one, not just any one.

The implication seems to be a variation on the "think globally, act locally" idea. If we believe it is worthwhile being Quakers, we must preach the Gospel as understood it as Friends -- with our words as well as our lives -- without apologizing for our evangelism. But at the same time we must remember that we are one of many ways, some of which may be equally authentic and effectual. (I'm not willing to say they all are, or even most.) We show that we know this latter to be true by the way in which we do the former, avoiding the twin traps of fundamentalism and pseudo-universalism.

(There's more in the Crossan book which I'm finding strangely captivating, including a discussion that I may summarize later of the distinction between "universal or functional" and "patronal or influential" societies.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading John Dominac Crossan's memior

A Friend lent me her copy of John Dominic Crossan's memior, It's a Long Way from Tipperary thinking I might like it. I read some of his writing about the Holocaust many years ago but I haven't been very interested in the Jesus Seminar stuff, so I wasn't sure whether I'd like the book. But I am enjoying it quite a lot.

Here are two quotes that made me go "Aha!"

When I read, in the New Testament, that Jesus called God "Father" or when I hear, in a seminar, that my colleague can believe in God only as "Father," I recognize that my own early experiences filter that title into a very different consciousness. It is not, on the one hand, just a general distaste for patriarchal hierarchy and the delusion that God must be, literally or metaphorically, male rather than female, father rather than mother. If, in fact, you want a parent metaphor for God, I think father is much more appropriate than mother. It is the mother who is publicaly knowable, visibly provable, and legally certifiable. You do not need faith to know a mother. You need faith to know a father, because he is known only on the mother's word and sometimes not even that (at least in the days before DNA testing).

p. 37

Writing about his younger years studying for the priesthood and being taught that the vow meant "no personal possessions and that all things were held in common. What you were given was for your use (ad usum) and not for your possession":

The vow of poverty is not about poverty, but about community. It does not mean personal destitution, but communal possession. It is, actually, a subdivision of the vow of obedience.

p. 63

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Present Joys

I stayed up waaaay too long last night writing a comment on an Important Subject only to be foiled by an anti-spam password test that I think I solved correctly (9+9 does still equal 18, right?) but couldn't get past the Pixilated Guards. Alas, I'll mull it over a bit more and I'll post it someday soon, perhaps here.

But at this very moment, early in a perfect Minnesota evening, I just want to list some of the present joys of my life that I've experienced in the last 48 hours as an exercise in gratitude:

Listening to Youngest Daughter practice Vivaldi's Spring and Holst's Jupiter on the piano. Over and over again.

Hanging laundry in the backyard on a cool summer morning.

Bringing the laundry in at dusk, all stiff and fresh smelling.

A cold bottle of beer.

The way the big lilac tree looks after I've pruned it and how now I can see the neighbors' backyards.

Sitting in the passenger seat as Only Son drove the car to his friend's house on his learner's permit.

Listening to the Twins game on the radio, on the porch, in the dark.

Solving the Saturday New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

The first cup of coffee in the morning.

Finding my nametag hanging right where I left it at the meetinghouse so I can slip it on when I'm just in time for meeting.

Looking around the room at the 8:30 meeting for worship and seeing nine Friends who were in Quakerism 101 classes I've co-led, only one of whom did I know before the class. (That would be Lovely Wife.)

Folding laundry in the yard and hearing through an open window 15-year old Only Son shout good-naturedly "I'm a man I tell you!" as his explanation to his sister as to why acne treatment doesn't work on him.

A freshly picked -- still warm -- and sliced home-grown tomato on a slice of rye bread.

Walking in my new pair of Crocs shoes.


Practicing "Soldiers Joy" on my banjo.

The way Youngest Daughter rolled her eyes and smiled at me on the train today when she caught me telling a tall tale.

The pretty bouquet of flowers from our yard Youngest Daughter set on the table on the porch.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Second annual Ogema singing

What a weekend.

It was our second annual Ogema, Wisconsin, Sacred Harp Singing School and singing weekend at Nils' & Peg's place. There was a nice size crowd there, about twenty or so, of whom twelve to fourteen sang at any one time. There were seven of us from Twin Cities meeting (including 15-year old Dylan who was in our workshop at the Gathering and who came with his dad -- Dylan already has his favorites: Amsterdam, Russia, and Mear and knows them by number, too) and the rest from various points in Wisconsin. The mix of experienced and new or relativel new singers was good, too, and the parts were balanced as long as I sang as the third alto, which I did almost all weekend.

Doing so was a very instructive experience. I've noticed before that life looks different from the tenor section than it does with my fellow basses, but it looks really different from the alto bench. I think it's because they sing all those thirds that are usually sung as passing tones by the other parts, but the real thing was singing in the middle of the chord. I found it harder to tune properly -- perhaps as a bass I just do the best I can and expect the rest of the square to tune to us, but the altos are squeezed between the basses on the one hand and the trebles & tenors on the other without as much wiggle room. I did OK, I suppose. At least I sang the wrong notes boldly as I'd instructed the others to do.

I also noticed was how exhausting it was to be learning the part anew with each song -- I realized that half the time I sing bass on auto-pilot and only have to occasionally glance at the words to be sure I'm on the right verse. But I didn't know squat about the alto parts, and each time through was a trial -- I have much more sympathy with new singers whose noses are stuck in the books: they have to be until they learn the parts.

The quality of the singing in general was good. We sang again in the screened-in building between the two lakes, and it was surprisingly easy to sing in given the lack of solid walls. The ceiling and wood floor must have helped a lot. The volume was never overwhelming, but the sound was sweet.

The sonic and spiritual highlight was certainly singing David's Lamentation (sound file; words here), which we did in memory of our Friend Hibbard Thatcher of Nashville Monthly Meeting who died on August 5. Those of you who know the song know that there's an agonizing, three-note descending phrase sung to "Oh my son" followed by a full measure rest, reprised with "Oh my son" just a little more softly. For my money, these phrases are the best marriage of text to music in the Sacred Harp, or in all of Western music for that matter. (How's that for a bold statement?)

When we sang the words and came to the first rest, we could hear the echo "Oh my son" ringing from the hills. And then again. It gave each of us goosebumps as we heard it together and caught each other's eye. I'm sure Hibbard would have been pleased. (It's funny -- that was the only song where we produced that ringing echo -- even others that had brief rests after a phrase didn't resound so clearly and distinctly.)

Besides excellent singing, the food was magnificent and abundant. And the fellowship joyful and rich.


I came home and was relieved that the house hadn't burned down, as usual. But I woke up this morning with a splitting headache so I took a sick day and did household chores. The headache was gone by supper time, so I rode my bike to Loring Park to join my friend Anne and other friends for a music & movie in the park night. The music, buy a band named "Vicious Vicious" I missed, but I had a great fun time watching the movie. The best line: "Lawyers shouldn't marry each other; it's in-breeding and makes idiot children who become lawyers."

Then I rode home along the almost-completed and surprisingly busy (for 11 pm) Midtown Greenway and saw a 3/4 moon rise orange and gigantic from the east looking like one of those orange candies in the sky. At one point, the moon was in line with the red lights of the KSTP towers and it looked like a light sculpture. I love riding my bike at night on a cool summer night.

And now to bed.

Tomorrow is Second Daughter's 26th birthday, and the Feast of the Assumption.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reading Stringfellow

Reminded by Kwakersauer (scroll down to July 21 or so) of William Stringfellow, I went to our new library and checked out three of his books. (I'm indifferent to the new building in general, but I'm delighted that upwards of 90% of its collection is now on the open stacks for browsing; previously only about 60% was, that made browsing a drag.)

I first heard of Stringfellow when I edited a story in my college newspaper about his visit to campus. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him. He is usually described as a lay Episcopal theologian, and it is also usually mentioned that he was a Harvard-trained lawyer who practiced for ten years or so in East Harlem. He is of the generation of my teachers, and now 30 years later I finally am getting a clue as to what they were talking about, trying to get us to learn.

I've found his writing to be at once provocative, challenging, chillingly contemporary and yet in a language and writing style that is so quintessentially 60's that he takes me back in time. A brief excerpt illustrates both the style and substance of Stringfellow's writing:

According to the biblical witness, death is not the decisive moral power in history, but it is the only moral power the State (or any other principalities) can invoke as a sanction against human beings and against human life as such. That is, also, plainly to be seen now in this nation: death is the moral power upon which the State relies when it removes citizens from society for preventive detention or other political imprisonment, or when it estops free speech, or when it militarizes the police, or when it drives youth into exile, or when it confines millions in black ghettos and consigns millions more to malnutrition and illiteracy, or when it manipulates inflation and credit to preoccupy, demoralize, and thereby conform the middle classes, or when it purchases grapes of lettuce to covertly break a strike, or when it collusively abets a governor's defiance of the courts, or when it hunts priests as fugitives.

No wonder, in the earlier circumstances, when the State confronted Christ the king -- Christ the free human being -- that it should find him a criminal and send Him to the cross.

And no wonder, at this moment, in this country, where the power of death is so militant in the universities, in the corporate structures, in the churches, in the labor movement, in the political institutions, in the Pentagon, in the business of science, in the technological order, in the environment itself, in the realms of ideology, in the State, that, as with Jesus, the Christian, living as a free man, living in transcendence of death's power, living, thus, as an implacable, insatiable, unappeasable, tireless, and resilient revolutionary, would be regarded by all authorities as a criminal.

As in the time of the trial of Jesus Christ, so in this day and place, to be truly a free man is to be a criminal.
(from Suspect Tenderness: The Ethics of the Berrigan Witness, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (1971) (written with Anthony Towne).

The quote is from a sermon Stringfellow gave in 1969 at Cornell University, prior to Daniel and Phillip Berrigan's failure to show up for prison after exhausting their appeals of their conviction for obstructing conscription by (with seven others) burning draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1968. Eventually, after an amazing time in the underground, where he surfaced to give sermons in several prominent churches only to slip away again, Dan Berrigan was arrested by the FBI at Stringfellow's and Towne's home (called "Eschaton") on Block Island, RI. Stringfellow and Towne were later indicted for harboring a fugitive, but the charges were dismissed by the federal judge.

I just love his long, precise, digressive, parenthetical-filled sentences, a writing style that is long out of fashion but which I love. Kwakersauer complained mildly that Stringfellow is hard to read, and it's an accurate criticism, but only in the same way that it's hard to eat a sandwich made with thick slabs of 7-grain bread: you've got to chew a lot, and it takes a while, but when you're done you feel like you've accomplished something worthwhile.

But more important, I am captivated by his message which is largely captured by the quote above. I may write a little more about my responses to his writing later, but here is (free registration with Sojourners required) an essay that summarizes what he was about. One thing I'm mulling over is how his theology, which is radically Gospel, resurrection, and biblically based and focuses on how Christians engage a fallen world jibes with Quaker understandings of the nature of the world.

Revised 8-5-06 to try to fix the Sojourner's link and to insert paragraph spaces in quote.

Friday, July 28, 2006

F.S.S.H.S. (frequently sung Sacred Harp songs)

At our Sacred Harp workshop at the FGC Gathering, I shared a list of characteristics that Sacred Harp singing and Quakerism have in common. One of those is a practice of careful record-keeping. I'm not certain that Quakers today are as careful in documenting the historical record as they once were, but everyone knows how valuable their (our) records are for all manner of historical research.

Similarly, Sacred Harp singers have a long-standing practice of recording minutes of their singings, noting (no pun intended), among other things, what songs were sung and who led them. The minutes are then collected and published in one volume annually. This give us, and historians of the future, a wealth of empirical data from which deeper knowledge of the actual practice of Sacred Harp singing can be derived.

Glenn Latimer, a singer from McDonough, Georgia, compiled the report that follows and gave me permission to post it here. (I got it through the fasola.singings listserve which you can learn more about here.) As you will see, he has meticulously gone through the recorded minutes of 274 Sacred Harp singings and analyzed just about every interesting statistic one could derive from those minutes. (This, of course, includes only to "official" singings for which minutes are kept; they do not reflect the thousands of local singings that are held weekly or monthly across the country, or ad hoc singings such as our afternoon singings at the FGC Gathering.) For Sacred Harp singers, this is a treasure trove of information about ourselves. But these records are not simply of academic interest, they have practical uses, too.

For example, I am resolved to learn and lead at least one of the three songs that was not led at all during 2005 at our next convention, just so they aren't skunked two years running. (Maybe I'll learn why they've been ignored. . . .) And I'm using the list of frequently used opening songs to expand my repertoire when I am called on to lead an opening song. Similarly, it is good to see what others frequently lead for closing and memorial lessons and may expand my options.

I'll just make one observation of my own. Of the 274 daily sessions recorded, the most frequently sung song -- Hallelujah -- was sung in just 53% of the singings. In other words, the favorite song of 2005 was sung in only a little more than half of the singings.

I am so grateful to live in a world where people sing this kind of music and for people like Glenn who care enough about it to document its practice and to share it with the rest of the singing community.

The 2005 Sacred Harp Minutes book contains 274 daily
sessions in 227 Sacred Harp Singings (an average of
1.2 sessions per singing). The singers sang a total
of 19,804 songs. They sang anywhere from 25 to 103
songs each session averaging 72.3 songs per day.
Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church achieved the
2005 record of singing the most songs (103) in one day
(pg 139).

"The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition," "The B.F. White
Sacred Harp" (Revised Cooper Edition, 2000), and "J.L.
White Revision of the Sacred Harp" (1911) were the
only books with enough songs sung from them in 2005 to
determine their "top songs" (except "Other Sources").
Note: "The Missouri Harmony, 2005 Edition" came out
with different song numbering than the previous
edition, so it was not clear which singings used which
book. Therefore, my results for the Missouri Harmony
singings were inconclusive and were not included.

Top Sacred Harp Songs in 2005
"The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition"
1 142 146 Hallelujah
2 140 155 Northfield
2 140 480 Redemption
3 134 282 I’m Going Home
4 129 475 A Thankful Heart
5 126 68b Ortonville
6 124 99 Gospel Trumpet
7 123 45t New Britain
7 123 171 Exhortation (First)
8 121 142 Stratfield
9 120 59 Holy Manna
10 119 40 Lenox
10 119 335 Return Again
11 118 569b Sacred Throne
12 117 63 Coronation
12 117 178 Africa
13 115 276 Bridgewater
14 114 143 Pleyel’s Hymn (First)
15 111 47b Idumea
16 110 203 Florida
17 108 384 Panting for Heaven
18 107 34b St. Thomas
18 107 300 Calvary
19 106 112 The Last Words of Copernicus
19 106 358 Murillo’s Lesson
19 106 503 Lloyd
20 105 32t Corinth
20 105 159 Wondrous Love
20 105 454 The Better Land
21 103 101t Canaan’s Land
21 103 186 Sheburne
22 101 270 Confidence
23 98 168 Cowper
24 97 47t Primrose
24 97 318 Present Joys
25 96 84 Amsterdam

Top Sacred Harp Songs in 2005
"The B.F. White Sacred Harp" (Revised Cooper Ed. 2000)
1 32 559 Will You Meet Me
2 26 571 Not Made With Hands
3 25 505 Cleansing Fountain
4 21 572 We Will Sing With the Angels There
5 18 500 Sweet By and By
5 18 563 Jesus is Mine
5 18 573 Trusting Jesus
6 17 133 John 4:14
6 17 478 March On
6 17 497 The Bitter Cup
7 16 54t Palmetto
7 16 336t Hester
7 16 511t Brown
8 15 38t Sessions
8 15 63 Coronation
8 15 99 Gospel Trumpet
8 15 171 Exhortation
8 15 270 Confidence
8 15 522 Shades of Night
8 15 567 Child of Thine
8 15 574 Sweet Peace
9 14 47b Idumea
9 14 98 Glory Shone Around
9 14 282 I’m Going Home
9 14 450 Leaning on Jesus’ Breast
10 13 36b Ninety-Fifth Psalm
10 13 138t Song to the Lamb
10 13 229 The Great Roll Call
10 13 384 Longing for Heaven
10 13 393t I’m Wandering To and Fro

Top Sacred Harp Songs in 2005
"J.L. White Revision of the Sacred Harp" (1911)
1 19 517 Not Made with Hands
2 10 486t Trusting
3 6 492 Love at Home
4 5 491b Jesus Died for Me
5 3 36b Ninety Fifth
5 3 54t Georgia

Top Songs from Other Sources (Including New
Compositions) in the 2005 Minutes
1 14 Joshua
2 12 Ashley
3 8 Nothing But the Blood of Jesus
4 5 A Light at the River
4 5 Mercy Seat
4 5 Sweet Beulah Land
5 3 Plum Grove Church


The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition 553 17256
The B.F. White Book (Cooper, 2000) 393 1843
J.L. White Revision (1911) 147 217
The Missouri Harmony 61 97
Christian Harmony (Carolina Edition) 48 56
Jeremiah Ingalls Christian Harmony 44 45
Social Harp 42 42
Christian Harmony (Alabama Edition) 31 38
Southern Harmony 28 31
Eclectic Harmony 21 21
Colored Sacred Harp 12 12
Oberlin Harmony 12 12
Eclectic Harmony II 9 9
Lloyd Hymnal 7 8
New Harp of Columbia 3 3
The Sacred Harp, 1936 Edition 3 5
Old School Hymnal 1 1
James Edition Book 1 6
Other Sources 52 102
TOTAL 1468 19804


Top OPENING Songs:
1 31 32t Corinth
2 26 59 Holy Manna
3 18 34b St. Thomas
4 12 49t Mear
5 10 31b Webster
5 10 47t Primrose
5 10 52t Albion
6 9 30t Love Divine
7 8 48t Devotion
8 6 101t Canaan’s Land
9 5 36b Ninety-Fifth
9 5 37b Liverpool
9 5 82t Bound for Canaan
10 4 31t Ninety-Third Psalm
10 4 171 Exhortation (First)

Other OPENING Songs: 27, 28b, 33t, 33b, 38t, 39t,
39b, 40, 45t, 46, 47b, 56t, 60, 61, 63, 65, 67, 68b,
72b, 73t, 73b, 75, 77t, 77b, 81t, 84, 111b, 114, 124,
129, 141, 145t, 145b, 155, 161, 168, 173, 176t, 212,
274t, 276, 277, 312b, 313t, 318, 319, 321, 335, 345t,
381, 410b, 415, 448b, 452, 475, 479, 481, 565, 567

(During Memorial Lesson):
1 5 122 All Is Well
1 5 45t New Britain
2 4 30b Prospect
2 4 159 Wondrous Love
2 4 285t Arnold
2 4 348b Fleeting Days
3 3 146 Hallelujah
3 3 163b China
3 3 425 Golden Streets

Other Songs Sung IN MEMORY OF THE DECEASED (During
Memorial Lesson): 28t, 32b, 33b, 34t, 34b, 48t, 50b,
52t, 61, 68b, 69t, 70t, 74b, 80b, 82t, 86, 97, 114,
128, 134, 138b, 144, 176t, 179, 209, 212, 229, 236,
270, 288, 299, 303, 312t, 330b, 338, 339, 340, 341,
347, 358, 389, 390, 418, 420, 430, 448b, 452, 454,
460, 475, 498, 499, 542, 547, 549, 564, 566

(During Memorial Lesson):
1 9 340 Odem (Second)
2 4 70b Save, Mighty Lord
2 4 179 The Christian Warfare
3 3 33b Abbeville
3 3 68b Ortonville

Other Songs Sung FOR THE SICK AND SHUT-INS (During
Memorial Lesson): 26, 30b, 34t, 39t, 45t, 57, 58, 61,
65, 72b, 81t, 86, 97, 101t, 107, 111b, 129, 143, 146,
154, 163?, 183, 201, 218, 225t, 274t, 277, 288, 294,
315, 318, 344, 347, 348b, 371, 385b, 389, 400, 421,
425, 452, 457, 472, 475, 490, 499, 510, 515, 531, 542,
546, 566, 569?

1 57 62 Parting Hand
2 36 46 Let Us Sing
3 27 347 Christian’s Farewell
4 9 146 Hallelujah
4 9 323t Mullins
4 9 521 Parting Friends (Third)
5 8 56t Columbiana
6 7 45t New Britain
6 7 45b Imandra New
7 3 69t Minister’s Farewell
7 3 267 Parting Friends (First)
7 3 549 Phillips Farewell

Other CLOSING Songs Used: 28b, 30b, 32t, 34b, 36b,
37b, 39t, 57, 59, 63, 75, 78, 83t, 98, 127, 128, 133,
142, 143, 145b, 155, 157, 159, 198, 208, 212, 217,
235, 240, 270, 276, 277, 278b, 282, 312b, 323b, 331,
335, 343, 345b, 348b, 362, 452, 475, 481, 488b, 494,
503, 512, 544, 559b, 566, 569b

SONGS SUNG ONLY ONCE IN 2005: 41, 69b, 80t, 116,
160t, 263, 275t, 293, 414, 423, 449, 483, 488, 493,
539, 541, 553, 562

SONGS NOT SUNG IN 2005: 169, 407, 465

Compiled by Glenn E. Latimer
(, July 30, 2006

(Revised on 7-30-06 at Glenn's request to correct the identification of the Cooper Book and other small items. On 8-22-06 I deleted the "Discrepencies" sections at Glenn's request.)
Your blogger, leading in Missouri, in his convention shirt.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Why I believe I am not God

A long and thoughtful amount of comment has been generated in the last week or so about Rich's objection to his meeting citing the concept of "that of God in every one" as the principal basis for the Friends' Peace Testimony.

Pam, in her own posting on the topic at Reaching for the Light, asks why it makes any difference what George Fox meant by the phrase; if our modern understanding of the words rings true for us today, why shouldn't we use it in our own way?

I commented on her post and concluded:

I confess I used to hold to the modern, proto-pantheist understanding of "that of God" until I read the Benson pamphlet, and the references to Fox he cites. I'm now convinced that Fox's use of the phrase is more meaningful and more powerful not because he said it or because it is more "authentically Quaker", but because it rings more true.
Pam replied, identified herself as a "pantheist" and asked:
What I am yearning to know is that - why and how is that interpretation more true for you???

I have to admit that for me it's disturbing because I hear overtones of a statement that leaves me cold -- that people are inherently separate from god, that they may be infused with god, inspired by god, but that left to themselves, they are utterly god-less.
So, here's my attempt to reply to Pam's question and tell why (or, perhaps "how") I believe that God is God and I am not. That is, I understand God as having a distinct identity and existence from myself or any other part of Creation. Creation is the Creator's work, and reflects much about the Creator's nature, but is nevertheless distinct, just as an author of a book or painter of a painting is distinct from the book or painting.

I therefore recognized as true Lewis Benson's explication of what George Fox meant by "that of God" in every person, referring not to some piece or spark of God's "essence" that is innate to a human being, but refers rather to that part of every human being that reflects and is aware of God and which, if answered, will increase and deepen the person's awareness of God.

Fundamentally, I can't "explain" why I believe as I do; I just do. I got here by a long spiral of spiritual and religious study and growth that is peculiarly my own, (and who knows, I may someday leave it by the same route). I certainly didn't get here by a strictly logical analysis, though I do think it makes the more sense than any alternatives I know of. And I don't believe it solely because it is the way God describes himself and is described in the Bible, though it would be difficult for me to accept a concept of God that cannot be squared with the biblical account. And I don't believe it solely because it is the way Quakers have understood God, though knowing that this has been Friends' understanding confirms that my understanding is correct.

I can't date exactly when I first tilted towards this view, but I think it might have been when I took a class on "Holocaust Theology." The rabbi who taught it explained that, to Jews, the relationship of God to human beings is analogous to that of a parent to a child. By that, he meant that the Living God created and loves humankind in the same way as a mother gives birth to and loves her child. The two beings are distinct, but in a relationship that is intimate, loving, eternal, and evolving; the child is made in the image of the mother and father, but is not identical to either of them. This explains in part why so many of the characters in the Hebrew Bible are depicted as conversing with God, or arguing or bargaining with him as a child might with a parent. (Ever have a teenager?)

I can't vouch that the rabbi's statement is an accurate representation of Judaism, but in the context of what we were studying, it began to make a lot more sense than my previous I-am-God-and-God-is-me-and-we-are-all-together understanding. That is, we learned that the Holocaust happened in large part because of human beings' idolatrous deification of themselves as the ultimate source of moral authority. When freed from the belief in a transcendent God, distinct from themselves and in relationship to them, they goose-stepped into the void and commited horrific crimes without as much as a blush. The 20th century should be Exhibit 1 in the argument refuting the proposition that human beings possess anything "divine" as part of their natures.

But the fact that God is God and I am not is only half of the story; the other half makes us Quakers instead of Calvinists.

Being human and not divine does not imply an unbridgable gulf of separation any more than the fact that two human beings are distinct from each other eternally prevents them from becoming lovers. Rather, it means that we -- God and humanity -- exist in relationship to each other, despite our ontological differences. To cite another rabbi's analogy, God says "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit. For without me you can do nothing." The vine is not the branch, but they exist only in relationship to each other; they are inseparable, but not identical. There can be no branches without the vine, of course, and the vine may exist without branches, but it won't bear fruit. Each is needed.

As long as I understand God to be distinct from myself -- but accessible to me -- I have someone to talk with, to guide me, to be accountable to, to bind me to my fellow human beings. I am not separated from God but in an intimate relationship.

So, apprehending God as a parent -- or as a lover, to use another commonly held Christian analogy for the relationship -- to whom I relate feels much more real and congruent with reality than the apprehension of God as an impersonal force of which I am a temporary manifestation. It gives meaning to my own existence as a human being while simultaneously ordering my relationship with all other human beings and the rest of Creation with which I'm irrevocably connected.

As firmly as I believe all this, I also realize that it is difficult to grasp. It's hard for me, and I believe it; I can only imagine how hard it must be for one who doesn't understand or accept the basic vocabulary of the argument. That's why I am so grateful at having been told the good news of the gospel by the Quakers. For me, Quakerism (or, more properly, God as preached by Quakers) has saved me from a life of isolation, fear, uncertainty, and impotence, terminated by death. Because of this, I fervently want others who are mired in such a life to understand that they have already been saved from such a fate and to live free from it. (If you're already free, then good for you; you don't need the gospel.)

I also realize, with my apostolic namesake, that no matter how logical, eloquent, or clever my explanation might be, if I can't say it with Love, it's as useless as a tinkling cymbal. For me, the hard work isn't in explaining what I believe, and why, it's in demonstrating it in my day-to-day life.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Finding love in all the wrong places

At, during, and after our post-Gathering gathering last night, several additional moving moments from the Gathering came to my mind. In remembering them, I realized that they came during parts of the Gathering that I have usually found to be among the most disappointing, and that part of why they feel so important is that they surprised me, coming from the last place I usually find anything worthwhile. (This is somewhat comparable to the "oh no" experiences that turned out to be blessings Martin Kelly describes.)

Plenary sessions. To my surprise, I enjoyed and got a lot out of two of the plenary sessions I attended.

The first was a talk by Sallie McFague, a theologian Vancouver School of Theology. I have a prejudice about so-called "earth-centered" theology that often makes it difficult for me to listen very seriously to anything so-labeled. I also have a prejudice about non-Friends addressing the Gathering -- especially about religious topics. I won't defend either prejudice, I'm just acknowledging that they're there and may taint my reception of what I hear, as well as reinforcing the prejudice.

But McFague curiously drew me to her message. Her main point, as I recall it, is that when God declared creation to be "good", he meant all of it, from the smallest bacteria to the blue whale and Sequoia tree. Therefore, man's dominion over creation has to be understood as involving a responsibility as well as a prerogative. It denotes the office of steward rather than overlord, and that our failure to recognize this is a direct cause of the environmental crises we face today.

I can't say why she touched me, exactly, but it had something to do with her affirmation of her Christian identity and her willingness to fight the good fight from inside that narrative rather than going into self-exile, and her ability to do so on Christianity's own terms.

I also appreciated her drawing the distinction between "pantheism" -- everything is God (or God is everything) -- and "panentheism" -- God is imminent in everything, in active relationship with the universe but nevertheless maintaining a transcendent and distinct identity from it. In other words, God is not Creation any more than a mother is her child, but rather is involved with and cares about creation the same way a mother loves and cares for her child; they are distinct but inseparable. I learned and accepted this distinction in a Lutheran college theology class years ago, but haven't heard it as simply expressed in a long time. I found this a refreshing correction to the pantheism I think I hear in a good deal of Friends' talking and writing about our witness on the environment.

I also appreciated her frankness during the questioning, especially her response to a question asking, If human beings are simply one organism among zillions and has no privilege over any other, how can we justify fighting diseases like small pox and HIV-AIDS? May not they be the Earth's way of rebalencing or protecting itself? As I recall, she simply acknowledged that that was a hard question and that she didn't have a ready answer. I found that refreshingly candid, though I did think it was funny she hadn't developed her thought on this obvious question.

And, I was impressed with how long she continued to answer questions after the talk -- to the point that Bruch Birchard had to call it to an end because he was exhausted. I then got involved in a conversation with Friends Journal colleagues, and a half hour later turned around and Sally was still talking with Friends in the front of the room. This to me was a sign that her message was a genuine ministry and not just a stump speech.

I was also deeply moved by Sue Williams. She had a solid, peaceful presence, and her message of hope in desperate situations was inspiring. I loved the way she gave concrete examples, stories of how people in different circumstances -- many of them horrific -- simply did what needed to be done with what they had at hand. They didn't wait for permission or a grant. They simply went to the prison and asked questions, or discovered the one house in a village where the fugitives came for surreptitious help at night and got supplies to those houses. It reminded me of the workshop I attended last year about La Chabon, the French village that sheltered and protected Jews during the Second World War and whose residents described what they did as nothing extraordinary, they just did what had to be done.

This message gave me hope.

Do Quakers believe in evil. One afternoon, I attended an Advancement & Outreach Committee program called "What do Quakers believe?" I didn't know what to expect, and found what I expected. I didn't find it to be particularly inspiring or enlightening. But there was one moment.

The leader had been asking us to align ourselves on a continuum on several questions about belief, from "absolutely yes" on one end to "absolutely not" on the other. One question was "Do you believe in evil?" Most Friends (surprisingly, to me) clumped more-or-less near the "Yes" end of the continuum. But one young woman stood far at the other end, indicating that she did not believe in the reality of evil at all. The leader asked her to explain herself, and she gave what sounded to me to be a niave, almost Pollyannaish answer about the good in everybody.

But then an older Afro-American woman Friend who was observing the exercise looked at her and asked with astonishment, "Haven't you ever faced evil?"

The question answered itself.

Closing worship. Finally, I found the closing worship on Friday morning to be unusually deep and meaningful. Though it was nearly as talkative as most closing worship meetings I've attended at the Gathering, I found nearly all of the ministry pertinent and connected. I remember three messages in particular.

The first was from a disabled Friend in a wheelchair who said, with great difficulty, "I felt very welcome at this Gathering. But I will not rest until everyone feels welcome."

The second was by a Friend who called upon Friends to reclaim the prophetic Power that the apostles and early Friends had, and that without that Power all of our good ideas would do nothing but gather dust alongside all the other good ideas of history. His ministry was with a powerful and fervent voice that told me that he was speaking what he knew. I also noted how he removed his ballcap when speaking, in the manner of previous generations of Friends.

Most unexpectedly, I was touched by the epistle read calling on Friends to take concrete action to reduce emission of greenhouse grasses. It was read by members of a workshop, all of whom stood as a body. Again, my prejudice against explicit calls to political action in meeting for worship was initially at work, and again it was overcome. I found the statement to speak directly to my condition as someone who had not yet actually accepted the urgency of the crises and who has discounted the value of individual efforts to reverse it; perhaps influenced by Sue WIlliams' message the evening before, while hearing the epistle I felt compelled inwardly to examine my individual contribution to the problem and to find ways to reduce it, not because it will have any discernable effect, but as a matter of faithfulness.


I was glad to rediscover that, even though I am a man of many opinions and prejudices, I still have the ability to be surprised and to modify or abaondon them when necessary. I've always known this about myself, but sometimes have evaluated it as an unfortunate inability to take a stand or sustain a commitment. This time, I'm seeing it as a good thing.