From my other blog: Peace Events on the International Day of Peace
From my other blog: Peace Events on the International Day of Peace
Fords haven’t received much respect in my family. I have never owned one, and I’m pretty sure my sisters’ families haven’t, either. My parents had an Aerostar van for a couple of years, but I was more or less conditioned to Ford-aversion—which is interesting, because they’ve been around a long time, and such models as the ’65 Mustang and T-Bird are classics. Contemporary Ford paint colors are the best, and founder Henry Ford, despite not being the inventor of the automobile, is justifiably an industry icon.
I cracked a new book the other day, and I immediately read this:
Henry Ford died, with exquisite irony, during a power failure on the dark and stormy night of 6-7 April 1947, whilst sleeping fitfully at his vast Dearborn, Michigan, estate. On the 9th, his body lay in state in his mansion’s cavernous ballroom while almost 100,000 people filed by to pay their last respects. The next day, 20,000 spectators gathered in silence, and in the pouring rain, outside St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral . . . .
So begins the impressive, attractive book The Life of the Automobile: The Complete HIstory of the Motorcar by Steven Parissien (St. Martin’s Press, 2013). When I read the opening words about this integral figure in cultural and industrial history, I immediately wondered whether new employees of Ford Motor Company today are introduced to the company’s founder. If this page is any indication, I’d guess that new employees probably at least receive some literature in order to give them some sense of the founder and the history of the company.
And what about churches? When a person is brought into a church, is s/he introduced to the Founder and to the early history of the group? Does the new person hear communication designed to connect a new person with the Originator? Or is s/he merely made into a “member” of the organization, perhaps like new employees of most companies?
“Well, of course I am connected to Jesus in my church!” you say? I sincerely hope so. I still feel justified in throwing out this caution: just because the name “Jesus” is mentioned a few times on Sundays doesn’t guarantee the connection to the Founder—the real, living Lord.
One summer many years ago, when I was back home from college with my family of origin, I took the opportunity to make a Wednesday evening “talk” (sermonette) at church. My talk was based on the last part of Ephesians 3. This was during the days of the burgeoning popularity of the NIV, but I had chosen another version of verses 14-15:
I fall on my knees before the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), . . . – NT in Modern English, J.B. Phillips
A man in the congregation—one I remember as good-hearted and enthusiastic—complimented my talk in general terms but mentioned his disappointment in my choice of versions. This man was in a phase of emphasizing the congregational “family,” so he preferred the NIV:
I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. . . . – NIV [previous edition]
It happens that most reputable English translations have used the word “family” there, but the Phillips version opted for something different. Never mind that my growing lexical and linguistic senses now tell me that neither “fatherhood” nor “family” does the idea complete justice. The point here is that people want to think of church (and work and other) groups as “family.” Language like that makes us feel good. Except when it doesn’t.
At some point in my late teens or twenties, I had learned that certain Restoration Movement churches make a point of not having Bible classes on Sundays. These are the NC (Non-Class) congregations. My sketchy understanding of their point of view is this: they feel that, when the whole church comes together, it should not be divided. Perhaps that is another way of saying, “We’re all one ‘family,’ and we don’t split up and live in different Sunday-school-room “houses.” I would counter-assert that, while it would seem natural to be together every now and then, the sense of family does not necessarily vanish when the members are not in the same place.
A couple decades after college, a preacher raised a rather thoughtful challenge within the church setting: why do we insist on calling church “family” (a) when it is not really described that way in scripture, and (b) when in fact that language is likely distracting or harmful to a great number of people in the pews? Could there be more people who have negative associations with “family” than with the term “father” to describe or address God? (I think I’m doing justice to this preacher’s gist here.) In other words, many people don’t have very positive experiences with earthly family, so it’s probably a bad idea to insist on family language to refer to church.
Every day of every week of every year, divorce impacts people. Families are divided and re-divided, and as a result, the family—the unit that could be a bastion of devotion and love—has crumpled in the experience of way too many. While divorce was relatively unknown in my childhood neighborhood or in the church in which I grew up, the number of divorces I know of personally increases exponentially as each decade passes. I think of the kids my age or slightly older as I grew up, and I realize there is a higher and higher incidence of divorce . . . how few have had “normal” nuclear families of their own.
Within the last month, right here in our town, vandals in their early teens have been caught multiple times on top of buildings. They have done damage amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Apparently these youths are notorious characters with the town police. Family is either absent or incapable in each case, and the police say there’s nothing they can do about the vandalism, because of legal limitations on criminal charges. Things could be different for these boys if broken family were not a factor.
After someone dies, some families are never quite whole, while others seem to grow closer. A teen-aged boy’s father dies, and the boy’s life takes a different direction. Estate settlements may bind siblings together, or they (the settlements and the siblings!) can turn ugly. A young husband or a young father dies, and life is forever changed for the survivors. Some falsely hold to a false legacy, and others honorably try to honor. Some of us are more resilient than others, but the effects of death in a family—whether untimely or not—are deep.
At just about any juncture, family can be a sphere of loss . . . and it can also be a beautiful part of human experience. Family can be broken for a while, and the most stubborn may go to their deathbeds feeling justified about something or other while estranged from those who should have been family. Other times, renewed relationship or reconciliation may occur. Family can be made of “blood” ties (plus my adopted sister!), or, whether or not that kind of supposedly familial tie fails, we may find family in other ways. Just yesterday, my wife referred to our study-partner friends as “family,” and told them where the glasses were so they could help themselves.
During this holiday time, some readers will be at large family gatherings. One generous family in our town is hosting a come-all pancake breakfast. Various members of my extended family are roughly 8, 15, 20, or 24 hours away, so the three of us will be enjoying a little day trip and some sights by ourselves. Wherever you are, and whoever you’re with, you might consider both the benefits and the failings of families. Turn from the not-so-good, and be thankful for the good.
For two extended periods in my personal history, Christian camping played a very important role in my spiritual and social life. I began my summer Christian camp experience as an eight-year-old at Camp Hunt, a fairly small camp in upstate New York. I was stomach-sick that week and had a bad time, transferring the next summer to a much closer camp with burgeoning loyalty.
Camp Manatawny in Southeast PA always offered something to look forward to. From age 9 through 17, I annually spent a week there as a camper, and I also served a few weeks of my later years as a staff member (dish washer and counselor). In 1998-2001, I returned as an adult and counseled and led hymn sings and devotionals, forming some lasting relationships. My memories include cabin devotionals, hymn sings, campfires with equally rich silly and spiritual sides, and girlfriends. It was an athletic experience, too, actually: I have a few athletic awards to my credit, notably including placing in the softball accuracy throw and winning the push-ups event at least one year. I don’t think I ever placed higher than 4th in a track event. Manatawny and I parted ways (arguably its choice, not mine), but I still have many fond memories.
I was pleased last year to learn a little of my nieces’ Christian camp experiences. They are growing similarly at other camps. Last year, my son Jedd went to a day camp at Camp Wyldewood and enjoyed himself. This year, baseball and a theater camp are filling the first half of the summer for him. At some point within the next year or two, I want to find a good camp at which he can grow relationally with God and with others. I want to start him fairly early, not waiting until the pre-teen or teen years for this important part of summer.
Academic buildings, dorms, and fields, etc., are often named with the largest donor’s name. This practice has always bothered me a bit, feeling that the “money talks” principle could end up compromising academics. The problem becomes more acute when it’s a church room or building that’s named for an individual. I’m such a purist about this that I don’t even think church facilities should be named for one of the twelve apostles. Of course, this problem doesn’t occur when a Christian group owns no real estate. Keeping it simple is better. And living rooms are more homey and comfortable, too.
Time was when more pro baseball stadiums were named for their teams (Dodger Stadium, Astrodome, Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium). A couple 1970s-built parks were named for their settings near rivers. These days (see complete list here), only three stadiums use their teams’ names, and the rest appear to have large corporate sponsors that presumably paid for naming rights. The ballparks now sport such names as Comerica, Miller, Citizens Bank, Minutemaid, and Target. Having some knowledge of the Kauffman Foundation’s work in the Kansas City area, I don’t mind that the Royals stadium is named Kauffman, but I end up doubting the philanthropy of major insurance companies and banking conglomerates. Incidentally, we’ve enjoyed one Royals game already and look forward to another. Kauffman is my second favorite stadium experience, just behind Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, but Kauffman is easier to get to.
Kids’ baseball teams also have sponsors, and this scene is good for the community and for the kids. Personally, I’m glad that my son Jedd’s team is sponsored by the River Cities Credit Union and not by a denomination or para-church organization like one of the other teams is. I wouldn’t prefer to play a role in advertising for churchy business concerns.
The mulberries have just about stopped attracting the birds, which probably spend half their time now nesting in diabetic comas. It is almost safe to park our cars in the driveway again. See Mrs. Shuck and the mulberry tree for the backstory. I’ve since learned that Mrs. Shuck did indeed have quite a Christian legacy, and that she passed from this life a year or two ago.
Time was when a friend and I attended a few Philly Orchestra concerts at the Mann Music Center. One could often get cheap or free tickets to sit on the lawn. Good times.
This year, I’ll again be missing the summer Concerts Under the Stars at the Garden Theater at UNC. There is really only one UNC, by the way, and it’s in Greeley, Colorado, not in North Carolina. Since I was a UNC grad student and was able to participate in one or two of said outdoor concerts, I’ve only been able to attend one or two other concerts there. It’s always a nice time. For some reason, I feel more loyalty to UNC than I ever did to my high school or to two other universities I had attended prior to my last degree. I’ve never been a rah-rah type, but hey, “Once a Bear, always a Bear.”
Summer sounds in eastern Kansas have so far involved raucous, sporadically nocturnal neighbors who don’t handle the clock or their booze very well. On the plus side, Jedd and I heard the Kansas City Symphony a few weeks ago, and I look forward to hearing a local jazz group and a children’s folk singer in July.
Bonus: the Android “Gumdrop” ringtone sound
And now for a cool sound that has nothing to do with hot summer. At some point while listening to this “Gumdrop” ringtone on my phone, I realized it included asymmetric meter.¹ I couldn’t resist writing it out. For us rhythm geeks, the fun is built into the 7/8 bar, which makes it seem like the repeat comes an eighth-note too early.
¹ Since none of the first six WWW sources I found had a very good definition of “asymmetric meter,” here is my simple one: a unit or measure of music in which not all pulses (beats) have the same duration.
In the above case, the 7/8 bar
Worship words for Messiah Jesus on Sunday morning . . .
We have been with Jesus, believing in His name,
And we have known His saving blood. We refuse to be the same.
Ancient words of kingdom spread—confirmed in wonders true.
Life’s Prince was raised Who once was dead—God’s Messiah, giv’n for you.
Gathered here, devoting all at table, pray’r, and song.
We pledge to heed His loving call; to our LORD they’ll know we belong.
Jesus, Son of the Father—risen, ascended, reigning at His right—
We are compelled in worshipping You, Lord.
You’re present both here and in eternal light.
Lord of All, we come to You with our hearts and our voices.
Now we sing with one accord to the Lord of All.
Oh, sing to the Lord of All.
Words and Music by Brian Casey
© 2004 Encounter Music
A meditation for Saturday: on unfinished responsiveness to finished work . . .
It is finished. It is complete—
The work of Jesus, Lord of history.
He gave in once and for all—
The Lord on Skull Hill.
Now His Spirit calls,
And I thank You for Your grace.
I would have been nothing without You in my place!
My Jesus waits for me
With the Father in heaven—God of all that breathes.
Great is Your love, eclipsing my sin.
Your hand invites me,
And I enter in.
There’s no greater love than this,
And I in return lavish my love with a kiss.¹
It is finished. This I believe.
Regeneration I would receive. . . .
Words and Music by Brian and Karly Casey
© 2004-2011 Encounter Music
¹ The reference is to Luke 7:37-50—and particularly to the apparently spontaneous gesture of the woman. The notion of a kiss as a worship gesture is seriously limited, but the woman of Luke 7 and the etymology of προσκυνέω | proskuneo (although not used in Luke 7) suggest that it is not entirely inappropriate to make the connection.
Opening post from this seasonal series: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/in-this-time-of-year-1/
Seasons and Times Seasons come and go. I tend to like spring and fall better than summer or winter, although the best summer and winter days can be great, too. For many, the spring season is associated with Easter. I don’t get into bunnies or pastel colors or egg hunts; most years, I haven’t done much more with Easter than with any other Sunday. I do think that it makes a lot more sense for Christian believers to pay spiritually based attention to both Passover and Easter than to Christmas, but there’s no requirement. “Holy Week” as a whole merits some attention as a time of remembrance and observance—especially for those with high church background and/or present-day liturgical inclinations. Palm Sunday festivities¹ are of moderate interest to me; they have their place, especially for children.
Terms and Traditions Words such as “ash” and “Maundy” go right over my head. I’m not drawn in by invented labels such as “Maundy Thursday” and “Holy Communion” that seem to draw significance based on notions of sacrament, tradition, and trappings. If you have a “communal meal during which we’ll memorialize the Lord’s death in a focused way,” invite me, and I’ll likely be there. On the other hand, if you call it a “Maundy Thursday Service of Holy Communion,” I’ll probably pass.
I don’t suppose it matters much whether Jesus was crucified in (what we now think of as the year) 27 or 29 or 30 or 33. What matters is that it was a very real event, at approximately that point in the world’s history. The historical and symbolic connections to the Passover are important, too.
Good Friday This Easter season, I was glad to be asked to be one of seven readers at a local church’s Good Friday event.² The plan is thoroughly conceived and very well laid out, with exceptionally nicely put instructions for all who will be involved. I am looking forward to participating in this way, because I really enjoy public reading, and because I am of the strong opinion that such reading should be intentional and as well executed as possible. I don’t even mind ignoring the (10%? 40%?) chance that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, not a Friday.
At any rate, my assigned readings are relatively lengthy ones from John 19 (“woman, behold your son . . . behold your mother”) and Ephesians 2 (bringing together Jew and non-Jew the through the cross). I’m working on a hybrid rendering that will communicate in the best possible way. I might even translate a little on my own, but I want to be careful not to get too far off the beaten path. To call attention to history and theology through public reading is good, but it would be unwise to use words so unusual that they distract from the message.
During the next few days, I will share some additional Easter-ish ponderings. At the moment, my spring thinking has sprung from songs, so those lyrics might be springboards. (Also, I rarely turn down the opportunity for wordplay. Jesus seems to have done that on occasion, too. I imagine He would smile at my efforts. Or perhaps not.)
In the meantime, this “Easter songs” post from two years ago might provide some devotional opportunity for those so minded and spirited.
¹ Exploring the word “Hosanna” can be interesting. I’d suggest that in many places, it’s a word that has changed in meaning.
² I can’t make myself call it a “Good Friday service,” because I find that use of the word “service” neither scripturally based nor helpful. The Good Friday program involves a well-thought-out sequence, so it is admittedly more appropriate to call this a “service” than a regular Sunday gathering in my ideal world.
Maybe I could have been a photographer . . . if I had had some training and equipment and patience, that is.
I went on a quick ride this evening. As I was starting out, I caught this in my field of vision, so I went to a high spot and took a quick phonecam shot. Depending on your screen resolution and your ability to see beyond the photographer’s limitations, you might have to use some imagination here. Look between the lowest two power lines. Believe me: it was impressive in real life.
Ignore the lines and the soccer goals. It’s not the budding trees or the meadow or the typically nice western sky at this time of evening that struck me. The fiery, floating clouds at the top are nice, but, specifically, I was awed by the sharp line that reveals some mostly hidden but seriously potent light behind a wall of clouds.
Often that’s the way God seems to me.
The glorious Psalm 19 records a burst out of David’s soul: “The heavens declare the glory of God. . . .” Or, as Eugene Peterson has it,
1-2 God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Yet the exhibited glory is not always visible or even satisfying.
“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire!” asked the prophet Isaiah. Is it possible that we should be grateful for God’s hiddenness, rather than disappointed?
Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, © 1988, p. 75
– B. Casey, 4/5/17
400. It’s not a magic number, but when it refers to a collection of songs by a single person, it might just elicit a “wow.”
Almost four years ago, an acquaintance had been in touch with a mutually respected undergraduate music professor. My parents regularly see the same man at church meetings, and the subject of the prior dialogue came up in conversation with him. Within a couple of weeks I was in contact with Carole, a dear lady, and we began work on her musical creations together.
The backstory: Carole Obrecht, born in 1935 in rural Indiana, now lives in Nebraska. Now a widow, a few years ago, she was taken to the hospital with a serious illness (MRSA), and her children were told she had about two weeks to live. She spent 43 days in the hospital, recovered, and was referred to as “a miracle patient.” With a new lease on life, about a month later, she experienced a fountain of gratitude in her soul and began composing words and melodies—most of them in the broad category of congregational gospel songs. Many times she has looked back in amazement at this burst of creativity. For each song, Carole would eventually
By the time I got to know her, Carole had created more than 100 songs. She needed someone to edit and notate them properly for potential church use and for posterity. That’s where I came in. It takes a certain complement of proficiency and experience to do this type of work. I happen to be agile with music notation/engraving, I have some good software, and I know fairly well the kind of music Carole creates. In the spring of 2013, I also had some extra time available, so Carole sent me a handful of songs, and I began work. It soon became clear that I would not be able to use her keyboard work as a basis, so I would work out new harmony in all-vocal arrangements.
Carole and I worked with each other patiently (she, all of the time; and me, most of the time) in the early phases, trying to figure each other out. Almost always by e-mail but periodically by phone, we would discuss this issue or that. We worked through a standard template (the style, typeface, size of musical staffs, how to show her name, the copyright, my name, etc.). I believe she still overestimates the limited value of filing her materials with the U.S. Copyright Office, but one of her goals is to make things easy to navigate for her children, should any issue arise, so it’s understandable that she would spend time and money on copyright filing. Carole has been a perpetual model of consideration and grace in responding and thinking out loud with me, even when she doesn’t quite agree.
Behind the backstory: When Carole and I began our partnership, I was deep into what I might call a disadvantaged phase of vocational life. My musical creativity had begun to be squelched and constrained. I have written more than 100 songs myself and have arranged many more than that, not to mention a sizable catalog of instrumental works, but I’ve had little inspiration to produce music in the last decade. When one is discouraged, he needs something to do in order to feel useful, and a little extra money would be good, too, but how to negotiate. . . . Although I had arranged for hire before, I had not engaged in any sort of ongoing relationship. Carole and I easily reached an agreement under which I would be paid on a per-song basis. Now that that was out of the way, we moved ahead with the substance.
The process: I receive a dozen songs at a time, each song consisting in a .docx lyrics file and a .wma audio file. These are the three phases of work on each creation:
When a sheet music draft is complete, I e-mail it to Carole, in the form of a .pdf file with an accompanying .mid sound file for her to listen to. She will often note words or phrases she wants to change; seeing music and words on a page together can give her new eyes. (At times, the changes can be extensive, and it’s back to the drawing board, but this is relatively rare.) A typical song might require 75-90 minutes of initial work on my end, 2-3 e-mail exchanges, and 15-20 more minutes of editing work. The final steps for each song are (1) my sending edited files (to the left is a group of the .pdf files) and (2) Carole e-mailing to confirm the files are received and saved on her end.
Carole had piano instruction as a young girl and also remembers vocalizing with her mother at the piano. After childhood, Carole was not trained as a musician. She hasn’t studied, for instance, any principles of melodic contour or the important balance between unity and variety (so, for example, some melodies are relatively predictable), but she produces some pretty good songs! Most of them are tuneful and accessible to the average person. During the process of notation, if I find a measure or two almost like the melody from two lines above, but not quite, I adjust the notes, and Carole is fine with this. When a melody has too great a range or suggests a nonstandard harmonic progression, I often recommend a change, and most of the time, we move in that direction. The style of many of the songs tends to reflect the generation in which Carole grew up and perhaps a halcyon sense of congregational singing that is on the decline, but the music is an expression of her genuine faith, and she trusts that the Lord will use the songs according to His pleasure.
A few challenges: Carole’s voice is remarkably strong, so it’s rarely difficult to take melodic dictation on her tunes. She has a wide range, but she sometimes starts a song too low for congregational soprano lines. This doesn’t typically present much difficulty—I just transpose it up two or three steps—unless the melody ranges high as well. Once in a while, she seems to meander a little, and I suspect such instability is attributable to her having had a cold at the time, or perhaps she was less focused than usual because the next song was on her mind, too. Sometimes, apparently feeling some out-of-genre expressive impulse, she changes keys midstream; on a few occasions, we have decided to leave the key changes intact in the final product. (Changing keys is difficult for an a cappella group to navigate.) Her sense of rhythm is fine but sometimes presents challenges, as do a few other technicalities that require adjustments.
If I can’t figure out how to notate one aspect or another, I just say so, and Carole suggests something else or sometimes goes back to the drawing board herself to record another version of the melody. My Sibelius music software has some bugs in the way it handles lyrics as they are being imported, matching syllables to notes: it thinks “trials” has one syllable and “Savior,” three, so I have to manually divide those words and a few other frequently used ones. The software also has no idea what to do with the word “reigns,” so I have to trick it and correct after the fact.
A few characteristics: Carole loves words and phrases such as “thrill in His glory” and “our Savior has conquered sin.” Even more, she loves faith- and hope-filled expressions that look toward Heaven. In her catalog may be found strong notes of gratitude to a loving God, and of evangelistic concern for others, that they might share in what she has found.
Carole loves choruses and codas, and I have sometimes picked up that her others-conscious heart just can’t bear to let a song rest with the last word in the final stanza. She is compelled to say just one more thing—in the hope that, eventually, some soul will be a bit more inspired to faith in God . . . and so she adds a chorus or a coda to say that one more thing.
Sometimes, in our e-mail exchanges, one or the other of us will refer to a song as though it is a “child” of hers: “this one seems a little unruly and needs some parental love” or “you must feel this is a special child.”
My feelings: We have been working together for nearly four years now, and I remain grateful for this working relationship. My available time for “Carole songs” ebbs and flows, and Carole understands this and works with it beautifully. She has become a friend. We surprised her once by dropping in on her at church while we were traveling. Carole is also my elder sister, sort of a “great aunt” in faith. She prays for me and my family with great empathy, even as she cares for many others, including her own family.
Carole, thank you for your constancy and your example of faith. They are treasures, as are the poetic expressions of your sincere heart—a heart so very thankful to God. At times, you and your songs have amounted to a spiritual rope to hold onto—a constant in a sea of uncertainty and negative circumstances.
Our respective loose-leaf binders full of songs grow by the month. A couple of days ago, we reached song number 400. As we celebrate this milestone, and as we move into what may be the last hundred, Carole, I pause in gratitude for you.
B. Casey, 1/29/17
ADDENDUM: More info, along with song samples, may be found here: