Archive for August, 2009

19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above [1] proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice [2] goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

– Psalm 19:1-4 ESV

LORD God and Savior,

I thank you for your great glory, goodness and majesty, which I see in the heavens and all creation. Thank you for the Sun, Moon, planets and stars, and for the telescopes you’ve given me to view and appreciate them.

I thank you for salvation in Jesus Christ, for the gift of faith, for the blessings of worship and fellowship yesterday with your people at St. Luke’s Lutheran and Chippewa Lutheran. Bless the people of these churches, and bless Chippewa as we wait to see how you lead the man to whom we recently issued a call to be our new pastor. Give him wisdom and peace.

LORD, I believe you’ve called me to be a writer. Help me to be disciplined to carry out this task. Thank you for the opportunity to write devotionals for the W. Douglas County Record. Thanks for the recent interview with Hollie, Natural Family Planning instructor. Help me to be a good steward of the things I learned, and help me this week to finish at least a draft of my first article based upon this research. Bless her and her family.

Thank you for the recent Writer’s Conference and the insights I gained there. Especially bless Reg and his wife as they direct similar conferences, and bless Jim as he seeks to build his own writing career.

Help me to carry out the daily schedule I’ve planned for myself, so that I have time for writing as well as all other important tasks I have each day.

Bless the nursing home residents, shut-ins, and hospital patients of our church as I visit them during this interim period. Help me to carry out this task. Bless the churches where I have served as pastor, and bless and encourage their current pastors.

I intend to write about being a good listener. Help me to be a good listener to you, to my neighbor, to nature, and to my inner self.

Help me to have a clear mission, both in what I write for a Christian market and for a secular market.

Thanks for opportunities to minister, bless, and entertain through music, at St. Mary’s Church where my wife belongs, and other places as well. Help me to be a good steward of my musical gifts by practicing cello regularly, and help me to share joy and life with others through music.

Bless my wife as she prepares to reopen her small bookshop. Give her success and good health. Bless my Mother and family, and the people I work with at the industrial plant.

Bless all those who may read this prayer, and I agree in prayer with them as they bring you their prayers, praises, burdens, and requests according to your will.

This is a time of change and controversy among Lutherans. May Lutheran Christians be encouraged to follow your will and your Word more closely, and may your true followers in all church bodies find, bless, and encourage one another, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

All this I ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Astronomers are abuzz about an unexpected impact of a sizable object into Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, fifteen years to the day since fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy dramatically collided with Jupiter in July 1994. You may read more in this Sky and Telescope article, or watch the music video:

Apparently music videos like this one, the Large Hadron Rap and Born To Heterodyne are the Next Big Thing in science education. Mercy.

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In the fall of 1992 I was working as an Activities Coordinator in a nursing home in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. About one third of the residents were Jewish, and since I did lots of music on my job, I decided I should learn some traditional Jewish music. About all that I had in my repertoire were selections from Fiddler On the Roof, which people genuinely appreciated. But I wanted something more, something older and more traditional. In our Activities office I found an interesting book with Jewish songs and stories about the songs, and the one that stood out for me was Oyfn Pripetshik, or “At the Fireplace:”

This well-known Yiddish lullaby, by Mark Warshawsky (1848-1907) describes a rabbi teaching a group of kindergarten-aged boys the Yiddish alphabet. It is symbolic of the Jewish tradition of studying Torah, the Five Books of Moses, as well as the passing down of heritage from one generation to another.

Oyfn pripetshik brent a fayeri, Un in shtub iz heys;
Un der rebbe lernt kleyne kinderlech dem alefbeyz;
Un der rebbe lernt kleyne kinderlech dem alef-beyz.
Zet zhe, kinderlech, gedenkt zhe tayere, vos ir lernt do;
Zogt zhe noch a mol un take noch a mol: Komets alef o.

Oh, the fire burns in the fire place, and the room has heat.
And the rabbi teaches all the little ones all their ABCs;
And the rabbi teaches all the little ones, all their ABCs.
See now, little ones, listen children, don’t forget it, please.
Say it once for me and say it once again, All your ABCs.

The book told more. I don’t remember the exact words, but it quoted another verse in which the rabbi told the children that, though they didn’t yet understand, the letters of the alefbeyz they were learning held the joys and tears of their people. Later, there were those in the Holocaust who wrote other verses saying, no matter what the storm troopers and the prison guards do to you, never forget your first lesson, Komets alef o.

So I learned to play this simple, lyrical melody on my cello, and then began to play it for people at the nursing home. It was as if I had pulled on a twig that opened a dam that released a mighty river. A suave gentleman named Harry had been a Jazz saxophonist, and a great one. I know because he played me a recording from the height of his career. But he could no longer play. He always had a polite reserve, but when I played him Oyfn Pripetshik the guard came down, and with tears he recalled his mother singing it to him when he was a small child. I was afraid I had made a mistake, but he made it clear that he appreciated hearing it very much. Others had similar reactions; tears, childhood recollections, letting the guard down.

A year or so later I saw Schindler’s List . Many have been moved to tears by that film. For me the tears came at the point when, in the background score, a children’s choir sings Oyfn Pripetshik.

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Oyfn Pripetshik

More about this song and its power tomorrow.

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The Second Chapter of Acts

Llelandj played bass with The Second Chapter of Acts years ago, and is now posting clips on YouTube from a 1987 performance, as well as from a Matthew Ward concert from the same era. It warms my heart. I hadn’t heard some of this great music for 20 years. They were among the earliest pioneers of what was first called “Jesus Music,” and have an original, unmistakeable sound. Completely forthright and honest about what they are, their message is clear, and they make no attempt to sound unreligious. They grew up listening to lots of Gospel music and lots of Progressive Rock, and what you hear is what came out. Annie Herring leads the way, Matthew Ward tends to go bananas in live performances, as if he’s about to derail at any moment, yet without ever losing the tonal center. Nellie Greisen just keeps on blending and making everyone sound good.

The three siblings haven’t recorded as Second Chapter of Acts for a couple of decades, yet they are a gift that keeps on giving. Pick up an Annie Herring CD, and you’ll hear background vocals by Matthew Ward and Nellie Greisen. Pick up a Matthew Ward CD, and you’ll hear background vocals by (you guessed it) Annie Herring and Nellie Greisen. Hmm. Matthew Ward also produced and provided background vocals for an early CD by Jordin Sparks before she was on American Idol.

On his own Matthew likes a slightly more aggressive sound. Here’s Put On the Armor:

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In conjunction with NASA’s current unmanned Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, the LCROSS spacecraft is expected to collide with the Moon in its south polar region at about 6:30 AM Central Daylight Time, October 9, 2009. Scientists plan to study the plume of debris to look for evidence of frozen water at the lunar poles. It’s possible that the impact plume will be visible from earth through amateur-class telescopes with apertures of ten or twelve inches. I don’t know if I can hope to see it with my homebuilt 8 inch reflector telescope, but it’s what I have, so weather permitting I’ll be watching. Click for details.

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My two favorite segments of Disney’s Fantasia 2000 are Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and The Steadfast Tin Soldier:

The music in this segment is the Allegro from the Piano Concerto #2 in F Major, Opus 102 by Dmitri Shostakovich. If the Die Hard films were silent films, I would recommend Shostakovich’s music for the film score, because much of his best music has a Die Hard quality to it. It’s the sound of someone working one’s way inch by inch through an ordeal: Die Hard at the piano (or the cello).

No ballerina ever had a braver hero than this humble one-legged toy soldier as he faces down the Jack-in-the-box and the sewer rats. Die Hard in the nursery. He must have Klingon blood.

There are those who criticize this segment of Fantasia 2000 for giving it a happy ending instead of the more bittersweet one in Hans Christian Andersen’s original story. Indeed, when Disney isn’t being charged with terrorizing and abusing children, it’s being accused of “Disneyfying” or sanitizing reality. The Urban Dictionary offers the following as the fourth definition of Disneyfication:

The transforming of the world into a place devoid of all things even mildly unsavory to “family values.” The world thus becomes as a magical fairyland, thus it resembles a pointless Disney story. It is important to note not only the contribution that the word “Disney” makes to “disneyfication,” but also the contribution that the word “fiction” makes. The “-fication” root is, as you will notice, only one letter removed from “fiction,” which provides extra emphasis on the unrealisticness of things that have been disneyficated.

The soccer mom’s efforts to have Hooters shut down was part of the larger disneyfication of the formerly tolerable suburban neighborhood.

Interesting word, “unrealisticness.” I wonder if the author would argue that this alleged connection between -fication and fiction applies to other words, such as qualification, identification, mortification or cornification. Indeed, it’s a sad world in which a neighborhood must have a Hooters in order to be “tolerable” or have realisticness.

It’s possible, of course, to be in denial about the harsh realities of life, but I think that most people who love happy endings do so, not out of denial or “unrealisticness,” but because it’s natural to hope for happiness, success, peace, justice, and an end to conflict. Why should we not tell stories about what we hope for? For those who prefer Hans Christian Andersen’s original, it’s still untouched and available for those who wish to read. The original story and the Fantasia 2000 version are two different things, each with its own merit. I love Disney-style happy endings, and I love darker stories and moods as well. I believe there’s room for both loves in a realistic world view.

By the way, another good reason for the happy ending in the Disney version is simply this: the film is about the music, and the Disney animators set out to tell the story told by the music. Shostakovich’s music ends on a triumphant note, a hard-won triumph, and so the animated story does as well.

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