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.

The Vessel

As winds of change battered the craft
Turbulence wrenched it from its path
Forcing matter over mind
With the anchor dragging behind*

But reliance upon The Highest
Brings strength and perspective afresh
To win this battle of the mind
And the vessel a new course finds

 

*this line with apologies to D. Boon Mike Watt.

Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40)

A few years ago my older brother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. While he and I were never particularly close, we were by no means estranged either, though in our adult lives we had lived in different cities. We would talk on occasion. We just didn’t have a lot in common. And once I declared my profession of faith in Jesus Christ 15 years ago we had even less in common. It’s not that he was outwardly hostile to me or my faith; he just didn’t want to hear about it.

While my brother didn’t seek out conflict, he did not shy away from confrontations as certain situations presented themselves. My brother had an ingrained sense of ‘right and wrong’, and when he felt that he or someone else in his presence, including a total stranger, was being disrespected or taken advantage of, he was vocal in his opposition. And he wasn’t afraid to back it up physically if push came to shove, so to speak. Though broad shouldered, he was short in stature (our family is by and large a bit smaller than average), but you just knew not to mess with him!

Almost 25 years ago, my brother decided he could no longer work for “the man.” He had always had a rebellious streak and, thus, had some difficulty with authority. Consequently, he began working on his own as a mobile car mechanic.

Generally, he was more comfortable with others who were much like him. Hence, on the flip side, he had long harbored a bit of prejudice against non-whites. Also, as far as I can remember, he didn’t much care for non-heterosexuals. He also didn’t like any sort of pretense, especially from the more affluent in society.

With all the foregoing in mind, I received the shock of my life while attending his funeral.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he [Jesus] replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan,* as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii** and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:25-37, NIV]

*Samaritans were a mixed-blood race of Jews and Gentiles. Jews considered Samaritans ‘unclean’; and, generally, the two groups were openly hostile to one another.

**A denarius was equal to one day’s wage.

My brother’s funeral was relatively well-attended. “Would this many people come to my funeral?” I thought to myself. There were quite a few who got up to speak kind, heartfelt words about my brother. It was very moving. Among these were an in-the-process transgender (male to female) and a gay man.  There was a mix of races represented.

The common theme in their words was in how my brother would go well out of his way to fix his customers’ vehicles. On the phone with my brother one time, I recall him mentioning to me how he was going to a salvage yard to secure a part to place on a customer’s car. Apparently, when faced with a car problem involving an individual of very limited means, my brother would call around to find the part(s) in a salvage yard, instead of buying the necessary part(s) new. This may even have involved the extraction of the part(s) from the vehicle; yet, it was obvious my brother neither charged for the labor of taking the part from the salvaged vehicle, nor his time and travel to and from the yard. Or at least he didn’t charge enough to break even on that portion. My brother had a heart – a big heart – to help those less fortunate. And he himself was hardly doing well financially.

My brother was literally a poor (wo)man’s car mechanic. He helped the disenfranchised and disadvantaged. It didn’t matter who you were. He may not have followed a great business model, but he sure modeled loving your neighbor as yourself.

That day at his funeral, I was proud to call him my brother. However, the events of that day caused me to look inwardly: Was I really loving my neighbor as myself? Do I really do enough for my neighbor?

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!