01 April 2021

Hallu Triduum 2021

Jewish  psalms and songs  include a form of praise in the face of adversity called a "Hallu." One such is psalm 113 which cries out praise, there are others which name the pain and difficulty of life and affirm praise anyway. A modern version is the amazing "praise of God in a minor key." 

There is a Christian version, perhaps unrecognized by some, Gospel. Gospel music arises from the horror of slavery, rape, and Jim Crow that was imposed on Africans by whites. In contemporary African American churches Hallelujah often rings out in the midst of sermons. Sermons lamenting pain, loss and horror none-the-less ring out Hallelujah. The songs of praise and pain ring out there.

So how do we praise God when almost 600,000 Americans have died in the last 13 months of Covid? It is not a small question, for the families and loved ones of over half a million people. How do we not fall into outrage, and fury not only at God but at fools who refuse to mask and distance to fight the virus?

Lenard Cohen's brilliant "Hallelujah" is a Jewish answer that should move us all to tears. Sadly, it has moved some evangelicals to substitute Christian lyrics feeding on his music and rhythm. We should not do that! But we do have our own form, and we do share the Psalms.

Authors have been moved to this word before. Perhaps Handel's Hallelujah Chorus is best known in the West. But as we go down to the grave we sing hallelujah and as we mourn 550,000 dead Americans and more than a million people world-wide, we need the minor key of lament, and the cry, "Hallelujah!" We need Holy lament, cries for justice lest we forget George Floyd and other victims of violence, and we this Triduum, these three days to remember, lament, and praise God. Hallelujah and as Louie Crew cried out in the face of bigotry, Joy Anyway!

06 February 2021

Things that make me wonderwo

Here in Illinois, each major step in the public education system comes with a mandatory exam on the constitution and government structure. Neither test would qualify as a BAR exam, but to pass one has to have at least a clue about the way government operates, is structured, and the content of the Constitutions of Illinois and the US. Highschool diplomas also a require successful completion of a 2 semester American History class. Literally, one can not conclude 8th grade or receive a highschool diploma without passing.

Although kids in Illinois know this is coming and treat it as routine, they do learn. So why don't other States, Wyoming for instance do something similar?

I ask because a nearly unanimous vote of the Wyoming Republican State Committe voted to, "censure" Congresswoman Cheney because she voted for the second impeachment of Donald Trump, even though the House did not have a hearing of give Trump an opportunity to defend his actions.

12 year old kids stiill working on their civic educations know that the House of Representatives acts as a grand jury for impeachment anctions, and no hearing or right of defense obtains until the trial which occurs in the Senate. It is a simple idea that appears too complex for Wyoming's GOP. I am not a fan of Congresswoman Cheney, but compared to these intellectual failures she is both morally and intellectually miles ahead.

26 January 2021

A New Day? Really?

Under the alleged Trump plan, which it appears never existed,  Sue and I should already have Covid 19 vaccinations. There is no question that we qualify as "1b" candidates. Sue, is a bit older and probably qualified as a mod 1. 

The County has a web site for appointments. It is a bit primitive but I could live with poor design if the system were working. Large numbers of the "sites" report that they won't schedule appointments until they receive some vaccine. One, Loyola's Mac Neal site is still limiting itself to mod 1's. The rest of the sites, all of them, report no available appointments. 

We qualify and it doesn't  matter.  I  don't think the issue is the county public health staff. There is simply not enough vaccine or staff.

We remain hermits. There is nowhere other than doctor visits, we can go.  Most of our food comes via delivery services. Drugs come from a drive through pharmacy.  We did have a few socially distant outside Sunday evenings for soda and whiskey. It is way too cold and muddy for that now. Church is a Zoom event.

Listening to the talking heads, you might think there is vaccine. Nope. 

29 July 2020

Changing, Shifting, and Moving

Indeed, things are shifting and I doubt we have internalized many of the changes. Here are only a few things I think will be changed, perhaps forever.

  1. Hand shakes arose from Viking gesture which assured a person that one was not holding a sword or knife. The firmness of a handshake was once a referent to male vigor. The handshake is dying as virus transmission makes "elbow touches," and bows more and more acceptable.
  2. I think the teenage hug culture is over. Yes, hugging someone is a way of expressing caring and closeness, but in the age of Covid, it is also murderous. I think the greeting hug will never return. This will have an enduring impact on those churches where "the peace" is a thing.
  3. The cruise culture is dead. Instead of a floating palace of hedonism, the cruise ship is now thought of as a petri dish of infections. I doubt the public will re-embrace the cruise.
  4. There are other changes is in the area of worship. Luther said the church is revealed in reformation. Jesus said he would lead believers to new places. So what might be the changes?

    I am thinking that Zoom(tm) and streaming are changing how we think of community. The verb, to congregate, currently means dangerously gather. I have been having an interesting discussion on the range of a sacramental blessing. Covid has made meetings of congregations distant or electronic for months.
    I do not know where these experiences and conversations lead, but I think the altar is moving.
In a sense this is my argument with Vice President Biden. He sees as a portion of his mission bringing America back to a level of decency and community ripped apart by the racist presidency of Trump. I am not at all sure we can claw our way back to civility. And when I look at the murderous police, and the murder of George Floyd, Lashan McDonald, and many, many others, I am not sure we should want to get to a now lost, largely White Privileged place. We need a new culture. A place where Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and especially Elizabeth Warren set the tone.

Is Biden better than Trump? Of course! He is a decent man. But we may need more radical changes.


23 June 2020

fathers day 2020

So Father's Day has past. The home improvement centers will have to find another reason for me to buy stuff I do not need. Sue and I live in an 800 square foot appartment. I had to chuckle at the adds to sell me a backup generator.

I was touched deeply by the care my sons, daughter-in-law, and grandkids showed. My younger son settled for a web greeting, pointing out that he has not been tested. When it is safe, he will buy the first Guinness, which is enough. My elder son, and daughter-in-law, wearing N95s, brought the masked grandkids, and a gluten free cheesecake. Outside, we served, ate, and cleared without going into the apartment, and without getting less than 6 feet apart. They were heartbreakingly careful.

There is a point here. My family is not afraid of Sue or me: they are afraid for us. They have a lot more contacts, carefully, but they have public contact jobs. Christal particularly, deals with children. We do not hug much now.

This Father's Day brought me to tears. Both of my sons will tell you that is rare. But this day, by caring so much, and social distancing, they did it. I don't deserve this, but I will for sure accept the love.

17 June 2020

music lives on

Yesterday was the scheduled date of a local dulcimer festivaL. There are several activities at one of these. First there are classes offered by experts, festival organizers intend to both attract new players, and provide learning to existing players which keeps them coming back. Second there is a marketplace. Especially for dulcimerists, this is a big deal. One can acquire cds of really good music, sheet music books arranged for our instruments, various accessories, and of course new instruments to add to our collections. Finally, there are jams. Groups of players with or without a leader, sit and play together.

If you have never heard a group of dulcimerists playing together, you should seek out a jam circle, Our instruments tune to the same pitch, but there things become individual: some of us use heavy thick wires, some of us more moderate ones and some like me use very thin very light wires. Yes an A sharp is always an A sharp, but the tone and especially the the shape of the note, what we call the attack and sustain are very different.

We also play instruments that are not standardized. So the material, while most instruments are wood, not all are. And even then, different woods contribute to tone, attack and sustain. You can hear some of this when a diverse group of guitarists play together. But then dulcermists are always diverse.

Our instruments are also different shapes and voices. Part of this is that two very different instruments share the name. One, the "American Dulcimer," appears to have a section of the inside of a piano mounted horizontally. Players strike strings typically group in threes, using devices called, "hammers." Thus the other name for these instruments, "hammered dulcimers." The other instrument, which I play is entirely different. Three to six strings are arranged over a fretboard reminiscent of a guitar or banjo, which on examination is very different. The body of the instrument may look like a box, a violin, or something else. The strings are plucked or strummed.

That is the basics!

Look at an orchestra. You know instantly where the violin players sit. So to the bass and oboe players. But, put twenty dulcermists together and you are not sure they are playing the same instrument. We have multiple shapes and this is important, multiple length fingerboards. Add all that up and even though we can prove we are all playing an A, we sound different."

The effect when a lot of us play together is magical. Or at least we think it is. And this year I miss it. There are no festivals as we all attempt to outlive the covid 19 pandemic.

Ah well, if there is a vaccine soon, there will be festivals next year. Perhaps even later this year in the South. I do not make a living on the ,festival circuit, but a lot of the performers do. I hope they can survive return next year.

Here is a link to a Youtube performance on the instrument. The music lives!

click here for a youtube series of performances.

09 June 2020

What does it mean?


So we have the picture of Mr. Trump holding a Bible, upside down and backwards, scowling at Lafayette Park and the White House. As the combination of smoke grenades, flash- bang grenades, rubber bullets, and, pepper gas ammo, produced an acrid, toxic vapor drifting over the park, and cameras recorded the scene not a word was spoken. We are left to ask what it means.

We also have ten days (so far) of intentionally peaceful protest punctuated by a mix of anarchist and police violence. The entire series of events began with a murder. A white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of a handcuffed black man. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds George Floyd begged for air and then died. George Floyd died tried by no jury, guilty of no crime: he was murdered.

I recall being confronted and called a, "commie" because I wore a "peace symbol" button on my jacket during the Vietnam war. Then the war was broadcast on network news. The world changed and the same people wanted to know where they could get a button. The conscience of the of America had been awakened and confronted when they saw what I and my fellow, "peaceniks" had been saying for years. Suddenly the world was different. Anger at what was being done drove Lyndon Johnson, a consummate politician, out of office.

Social scientists have a word for moments when everything shifts, they call them "epiphanies." Epiphany is also a season of the catholic church year. The season lies directly after Christmas and before Ash Wednesday. The Greek means, "I understand!" or "I get it!" So we catholic types proclaim a season of understanding what the incarnation means. Social scientists use the word to denote a moment when reality comes together and the world is different.

When a Senator, an LDS leader, and former presidential candidate simply joins a Black Lives Matter march, the world is different. We are at an epiphany moment when most people "get it." When Americans are forced, we never volunteer, to see white privilege, and injustice, and must confront that it is being done in our names, at that epiphany moment, their worldview changed. The world changed.

When the world changes because most people have an epiphany moment, there are always those who do not get it. We have the horrible example of the current president of the Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville who defended slavery, and of course Donald Trump. These are the people for whom the old system worked. And their most common defense is, "God said so."

KKK meetings feature a burning cross, and contemporary white supremacists have something they call the Christian Identity Movement whose, "altar" background looks a lot like an SS battle flag. Here we have an answer to the photo op with Mr. Trump holding the Bible upside down and backwards. His theology is upside down and backwards too. He believes and says that wealth denotes intellect, whiteness superiority. Waving that upside down Bible is a sign a signal to the 30% (give or take) of Americans who cling to racism. And unintentionally, it is the sign that leads most of us to understand and abhor the 8 min. 46 sec. martyrdom of George Floyd.

We can also find a meaning in the scowl. For his racist followers it is a symbol that claims God for their injustices visited on George Floyd and so so many others. If Illinois does not have George Floyd, we have no boasts as we have Laquan McDonald. His scowl was intended I am sure, to be the profile of a visionary peering into the future, or at least towards it.

We can find a meaning in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that have now circled the world. With white faces in those crowds we see that the world has changed. Some whites got it. 8 min. 46 sec. to finally get it but the immorality and injustice has been clearly demonstrated and we got it, or at least some of us did. I am reminded of Sir Winston's observation that Americans can be relied on to do the right thing, after trying everything else. The war between the States has been over for 155 years, and now we have an epiphany.

In the pitiless faces of combat gear toting white supremacists marshaled outside Lafayette Park undisturbed by law enforcement, we see the other side. We see those who did not and indeed will not understand. We cannot change them, we probably cannot convert them albeit we must try. But we can squash them. Here then the Christian challenge: when does your polling place open?
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