Enriching Life

I want to challenge readers to step outside the box a bit – outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies beyond your safe little bubble, until you do. Whatever that may mean for you, as it is likely different for everyone. I say this for my benefit too.

I’m not suggesting engaging in really risky things, necessarily. It could be something as simple as stepping outside your musical box, trying out some different music. Music is the universal language! It can build bridges.

I have a lot of music that I’ve acquired over the years. A LOT. Since my childhood, I’d try out different types of music – some I’d like right away, others would grow on me fairly quickly, and yet others would take years to appreciate, if at all. Yesterday evening, as it was cold here – too cold for me to want to venture out anywhere – I pulled out a cd I’d not listened to in a while. I knew I liked it, but, as I recalled, it wasn’t on my top tier. Well, I had a very delightful listening session! My opinion – or my recollection of my opinion – changed.

It was a disc by Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, titled Infância, which, in Portuguese means “childhood”. As I heard it afresh, and as I perceive the artist’s conception for the album, the music was intended to evoke the emotions of childhood and adolescence.

In any case, I was struck by a poem in the accompanying notes. I bought this particular album before my journey as a Christian began, so the poem would have meant little to me at that time; the message would have gone over my head. Not this time. It’s quite powerful poetry.

Appropriately, the poem was originally written in Portuguese, as that’s the primary language of Brazil. There’s an accompanying English translation; however, with my theological background and my rudimentary (very rudimentary) knowledge of Spanish, I had a feeling the translation didn’t quite capture the author’s intent. So, along with the aforementioned, as well as the limited help of Google Translate and other online sources, I translated the poem to English. If there are any readers who are well-versed in Portuguese, or who knows someone who is, I’d appreciate any correction or improvement (OK, I know of at least one reader who belongs in one or both these categories).

Without further ado, here is the poem in Portuguese and English:

Mensagem The Message
(by Fernando Pessoa)
O mytho é o nada que é tudo The myth is the nothing that is everything.
O mesmo sol que abre os céus The very Sun that opens the heavens
É um mytho brilhante e mudo – Is a myth brilliant yet muted –
O corpo morto de Deus, The dead body of God,
Vivo e desnudo. Alive and yet bare.
Este, que aqui aportou, He, who transmigrated here,
Foi por na͂o ser existindo, For He was – having not existed.
Sem existir nos bastou. His not existing was sufficient for us,
Por na͂o ter vindo foi vindo For having not yet come, He had come
E nos creou. And created us.
Assim a lenda se escorre Thus the legend descends,
A entrar na realidade, To enter into reality
E a fecundal-a decorre. And to duly enrich it.
Em baixo, a vida, metade The life below – half
De nada, morre. Is nothing, is dead.
Todo começo é  involuntario, Every beginning is involuntary,
Deus é o agente. God is the cause.
O heroe a si assiste, vario The Hero Himself witnesses, various types
E inconsciente Unaware
A espada em tuas ma͂os achada To the sword in your hands –
Teu olhar desce. Your gaze falls to it.
˵Que farei eu com esta espada?˶ What shall I do with this sword?
Ergueste-a, e fez-se You raised it, and it was done.
As naço͂es todas sa͂o mysterios. The nations are all mysteries.

Real Christmas Music

I’ve become increasingly weary of the ‘Christmas music’ barraging all of us during the “holiday season.” As part of my own personal revolt, I do my very best to steer clear of places playing songs about Santa Claus, reindeer, and Christmas trees, cringing when I’m forced to hear them. For me, they serve as reminders of the increasing commercialization and marginalizing of Christianity in general. Maybe I’m just getting old. OK, I am getting old.

As an alternative, I play more traditional Christmas music here at casa Craig.  Well, perhaps not exactly traditional. But it’s my tradition. I don’t have very much Christmas music, but at least I have some variety in what I do have.

charliebrownchristmas

A perennial favorite for years has been Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Sure, it has a song about a Christmas tree (and one is prominently displayed on the album’s front cover), but the theme of Charles Schulz’ cartoon is that Christmas is much more than a silly tree.  Can one remain untouched by Linus’ declaration of Christmas’ true significance as he quotes from Luke 2, the birth of the Christ child? OK, I’ll also admit that I never tire of the song “Linus and Lucy”. And who can dislike “Skating”? Plus, I love the simplicity of the brief rendition of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”.

faheychristmas

A relatively new acquisition – a used record I found somewhat recently – is John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album, which features the guitarist playing traditional Christmas music (see here for track listing and review). The stripped down setting beats any of the over-produced music one typically hears blaring at the stores.

georgewinstondecember

Another perennial favorite is George Winston’s December, a solo piano outing, as is usual for this artist.  This recording contains appropriately themed music not typically heard during the season, such as “Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head”.  It boasts a particularly lovely version of “The Holly and the Ivy.” Incidentally, Winston’s very first record was released on Fahey’s Takoma label.

Another record that gets spun on the turntable – yes, a turntable – is More Mistletoe Magic, a collection of various jazz artists on the then roster of Palo Alto Records, an outfitmoremistletoemagic lasting only five years, from 1980 to ’85. One cut features the infrequently recorded vocalist Sheila Jordan accompanied by acoustic bass (Harvie Swartz) on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman / We Three Kings”.  The disc only crosses over into the more commercial holiday fare on a couple songs.  But the good outweighs the not-so-good, and it’s splendidly recorded in glorious analogue (as opposed to digital). Plus, there are some unusual, jazzy arrangements.

Totally unrelated to Christmas but related to the theme of music in this post, I was dumbfounded yet overjoyed to receive the news (late, as usual for me) that Henry Threadgill won the Pulitzer Prize for music this year, with his In with a Penny, In with a Pound release.  The release features his collective Zooid – look up what that means, I had to.  The group consists of acoustic guitar, cello, tuba, drums and Threadgill’s alto sax or flute, hardly a standard configuration for a band – by any standard.

I have been listening to Threadgill’s very uncommercial jazz-related music for years, thus prompting my reaction. To add to my delight, I recalled that I have an autographed LP, released (and signed) in 2005, an edition limited to only 1000 copies.zooid At this time the Zooid combo was made up of acoustic guitar (same performer as above – Liberty Ellman), oud, cello, tuba, drums (same as above – Elliot Humberto Kavee), and the leader/composer.

It’s been a very strange and disappointing year in myriad ways, but this was one bright spot.  May next year be more luminous.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today North Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving. It is a day to give thanks to God for His provision. It is a day in which many will overindulge, eating too much food.

Yet, we must remember that there are those here who struggle to have adequate nourishment. Let’s pray for them. We must also remember those who, through various circumstances, are spending this holiday alone, isolated. Let’s pray for them, as well. Better yet, let’s find a way to reach these people. I’m sure some of you already have. And not just today, but each time the opportunity arises.

There is much to be thankful for:

Family – warts and all.

Friends, both old and new.

Health.

Pets.

As for myself and fellow Americans, our country, in which we enjoy relative prosperity and freedom.

Though storms, sometimes tempestuous, besiege us at times, they all eventually subside. These trials and tribulations help us to really appreciate the more sunny times. I especially like this quote: “Light is only precious during dark intervals.”1 When the skies are cloudless and blue we tend to take sunlight for granted. But, oh, in the midst of a storm, a glimmer of light can be worth all the treasures of the cosmos! Thankfully, in life there’s much more sun than storm.

Thank God for the gift of life – our temporal, finite existence, with its peaks, valleys and inbetweens. And thanks to the Father for sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to provide the opportunity for eternal life, in which the light is always shining.

__________________________

1 This partial quote is found, uncredited, on the back cover of Keith Jarrett’s album Dark Intervals (ECM Records, ECM 1379, 1988). It may well be Jarrett’s. The full quote is: “TOUCH IS ONLY POSSIBLE AT THE EDGE OF SPACES. LIGHT IS ONLY PRECIOUS DURING DARK INTERVALS.”

USAF Band Performs Christian-Themed Christmas Music at Museum

Saw this at David Alan Black’s Blog and had to repost. This video is from a 2013 “flash mob” at the National Air and Space Museum. The USAF band (and chorale) performs a medley of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Joy to the World.”

Amen!

Joyfully Giving in Service to the Saints and the Lord Jesus Christ

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else (2 Corinthians 9:12-13, NIV 1984).

In his second letter written to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul lays out the ideals for New Testament giving. Paul commended the Macedonians for providing aid to other needy saints out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), yet he advocated a balance in giving, towards equality among the saints:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15, NIV 1984; with Paul quoting Exodus 16:18).

Currently a brother and sister in Christ (husband and wife) are in need of assistance – and prayer.  Without going into too much detail, they left a secure job many years ago in obedience to the call of Christ, and after 15 years of service the husband fell ill to what has been diagnosed as congestive heart failure. Two years ago their ministry was forced to close down due to financial difficulties, leaving a rather substantial debt. Most of this debt has been satisfied, due in large part to generous donations from their brothers and sisters in Christ.   Approximately $10,000 (including legal fees) is currently outstanding, and this balance must be paid in full by September 17th or serious legal consequences will result. They are working as hard as possible but cannot possibly meet this financial need on their income alone.

Will you, dear readers, assist your brother and sister in Christ? The CrossWise blog currently has 290 subscribers. If we average about $30 per donation, the need will be met. But, no amount is too small, and we needn’t limit this to blog subscribers. Will you pass this on to other saints you know?

When Jesus returns in His full, Kingly glory, He will separate the sheep from the goats. Of the sheep He will say:

. . . I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me’ (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV).

Then the sheep will, in turn, ask Jesus Christ the King:

‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?’ (Matthew 25:37-39, NIV)

In reply, the King will say, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

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The Increasing Weight of the Sin of Gluttony

Some folks built like this
Built like that
Don’t you holler at me
Dontchoo call me fat
Ya know I’m built for comfort
I ain’t built for speed

So sings bluesman Taj Mahal in his rendition of the Willie Dixon tune usually associated with blues legend Howlin’ Wolf (Dixon had played bass in Wolf’s band).1 It is a somewhat playful and humorous song; however, the subject of gluttony is a serious one. In America the problem of overeating is increasing – along with the collective girth of the population in general, and the Church in particular.

This is going to be somewhat of a rant, rather than any sort of well-researched article. This issue has been on my mind for a while now; but, the idea to actually write this article came when I went to an Italian restaurant for lunch this past week.

It’s a restaurant I go to only sporadically. It’s a bit far from my office; so, when I do go it’s usually on the weekend. I’d been there a few times during the week, but this particular time was different. I noticed that the restaurant was a bit busier than usual; however, it wasn’t until I sat down that I noticed something was out of the ordinary. There was a spread of food by the bar area. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing. “It’s our buffet,” came the reply from my waiter. An Italian buffet? Sounded oxymoronic to me. This was not a pizza joint; this was a somewhat respectable Italian restaurant. Apparently, they instituted a Tuesday and Thursday buffet somewhat recently.

I tend to stay away from any buffet. It’s too tempting to eat too much just to “get your money’s worth.” But, this is precisely why some frequent buffets. They come to enjoy “all you can eat.” Like the individuals who ordered the buffet at the Italian restaurant mentioned above. Not one was what I’d term “trim” or “thin.” A few might be considered of normal weight; however, most were overfat. Some were probably obese.

About a year ago I began going to a particular Chinese restaurant for lunch. I usually eat lunch alone, bringing material with me to read as I eat. I now go to this particular establishment about two or three times a month. When I first began going there, the restaurant had just ceased their all-you-can-eat buffet. Apparently, they were losing money with it. Yet, I witnessed countless patrons asking about the buffet. A few left upon hearing what they perceived as bad news. Most would eat their lunch, but I don’t think these individuals would come back, as I noticed the clientele decrease with each passing month. Frankly, I don’t know how the restaurant stays in business.

America is overfat. In San Antonio, the city in which I live, we have the distinction of being the 2nd fattest large city in America.

I’ll try to be precise with my terminology here. The term “fat” comes with baggage. It’s viewed as not “politically correct.” It’s just not nice to call another “fat.” “Overfat” seems better, as we all have a certain amount of fat, even highly-conditioned athletes. “Overweight” does not seem helpful, since body builders, most especially males, can exceed the BMI (body mass index) limit for height. Moreover, all things being equal, one with a large skeletal frame will necessarily weigh more than another person of similar height who is small-framed. Hence, the key is one’s body fat percentage.

BMI tables can be used as a guide; however, these must be put in proper context. For example, I am thin – though not exceedingly so (and quite healthy, thank the Lord) – in part because of exercise and a balanced diet; however, according to the BMI table I can gain another 30 pounds and still be of “normal” weight. Yet, if I were 30 lbs. heavier, I’d be very much overfat!

Eating is a necessary part of life. And, it’s used for celebrating. In the Church many gatherings are associated with food. There’s the “pot-luck” dinner in which everyone brings one food item, for example. A somewhat recent Purdue study found a correlation between persons of faith and an increase in both BMI and obesity. Church members were found to be more overfat than the general population, with Baptists having the distinction of being the most overweight religious group.2 We’re setting a very poor example.

We can and should do better than this. Being overfat increases the risk for certain diseases and maladies. It shortens our lifespans. But, more importantly, gluttony is a sin. Overeating indicates a lack of self-control, which illustrates that one is not walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). Moreover, one can argue that it defiles the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

As a Church body, let’s endeavor to become more physically fit. Start slowly if you haven’t exercised in a while (and consult your health care professional). Let’s eat a more balanced diet. Cut down on the junk food (stop drinking sodas, both diet and regular!). Add more fresh veggies and fruits. The money saved can go to the poor and/or missions.

1 Lyrics from “Built for Comfort,” Taj Mahal Oooh So Good ‘n Blues, 1973, Columbia Records, C 32600.
2 See Wendy Ashley, “Obesity in the Body of Christ,” SBC Life, June 2007: http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2007/01/sla8.