What sounds are these…?

Seems a good day to reblog this one.

Rob's Lit-Bits

in the garden of gethemane

What sounds are these I hear

of sobs and sighing, seering pain of doubt.

If leaves could talk what might they say

of a crying God, a hopeful hopelessness wrapped in trust?

* * *

Raked across an endless heart,

the bursting bastions of familial love

come couched in terms of unsteady prayers, yearning, yet wavering.

One, two, three faltering steps toward full submission to…what?

* * *

“Must it be this way? Must this broken sentence require my full stop?

Let it be but a misstep, a simple error in divine judgment, and a world

hurled into disarray is called back again.

Must you kiss away their pain with my blood on your lips?”

* * *

sleeping disciples

Daylight friends become nighttime strangers.

Eyelids, heavy with grief, fear and confusion

flutter and fail. Closed and unseeing they become

when sharp and sure is needed most.

* * *

Jesus arrested

Gruff and groping…

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3 Core Values of a Future Christian Faith

In this excellent post, Mr. Dooley addresses some foundational thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for years now, many of those here on this blog. However, I do it with more ostentation, presumption and perhaps a touch of self-deception! He does so succinctly and with simplicity. I share his thoughts here.

2014 in review

I got one of these per blog. Thought I’d post ’em just for fun.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

In defense of perfectionism

imagesIn these busy-ness hangover days post-Advent/Christmas, I can finally undo my symbolic top button and let the layers of fatigue – built up over weeks of ridiculous work schedules – begin to flake away. It’s surprising just how exhausted one can become doing things one loves to do. It is equally alarming how many hours it is possible to clock in pursuit of what one believes to be satisfaction of job demands when the truth is far more complicated than that.

In my present fog of lassitude I at least have the presence of mind to bring a few considerations to the page since, in so doing, I am led to consider more deeply my calling to this anomalous gig.

December. With nervous sighs and low-decibel groans I prepare for it every year. Advent candle-lighters, extra scripture readers, extra rehearsals for extra ensembles on extra days, Christmas concert with the accompanying P.R., advertising and follow-up, children’s and youth Christmas presentations, pre-school Christmas parties requiring musical and technical support, sick soloists, regular Sunday worship planning mindful of exhausted musicians, Christmas Eve candlelight and carols (2 Traditional, 1 Celtic) that required dozens of arrangements, sketching out post-Christmas services easily executable enough for a skeleton crew of volunteers not still on vacation where I will be once all of the above is neatly tied up. Oh, and a few scattered, but nervous moments spent nodding your head in the direction of those with whom you live and for whom you do all of the above.

For that rare reader not already painfully aware of the fact, I am a local church music director. It is a career I’ve pursued, faithfully for the most part, for much of my adult life. And, were it not for this job I do, I struggle to see any another scenario in which a complicated, non-risk-taking, overly worried, perfectionist, artsy-fartsy like me might even make a living, let alone a relatively stable one. The uneasy combination of squishy self-confidence issues with rabid artistic needs make for poor bedfellows. Translation: I’m not good at much else.

Christmas Eve 2014
Christmas Eve Celtic candlelight service, 2014

Frustratingly, after all these years, I’ve never even come close to mastering the slippery skills generally considered normal, advisable even, for those in my craft: prioritization, time management, delegation, and especially unseen pitfalls prediction – viz a viz, troubleshooting. Make no mistake, when a local church comes looking for jaw-dropping artistic talent (that’s how we market ourselves) to bless the flock and fill the pews, they’re often after a glorified music secretary who happens to sing or play instruments. Make the music trains run on time and make sure my kids are getting free music lessons. One can be the best musician ever heard. But, forget too many clerical details too often and it becomes quickly apparent how “stable” the job really is. It’s the comfort of a well-oiled machine with better than average music that maintains a level of constituent satisfaction, and puts food on our table.

But alas, I wax cynical. It is the tiredness talking. I’ve asked frequently and loudly of God and those close to me, why is someone like me even called to work in a local church? I’ve almost always felt more comfortable anywhere but there. I’m rough around the edges at the best of times and can guarantee inopportunely-timed, off-color humor, and promise at least one offended person within half an hour of meeting me. My job is “Christian music” (whatever THAT is) and you couldn’t pay me enough to listen to it on the radio. I doubt I could name the top five Christian artists right now and haven’t darkened the door of *gasp* a “Christian bookstore” (again, unsure as to the meaning of that) for more years than I can count.

And yet, here I am. Any whining I do surrounding my detail heavy job is generally self-induced. Why? you ask.

An attempted explanation: Probably for good reason perfectionism gets a bad rap these days. Under church roofs it has led to lonely, broken, discouraged souls. People like me, in our rabid pursuit of the perfect performance of the carefully chosen song at the pristine moment in a stellar setting, have often left, burned out and bitter because of it. Those we sometimes ride like donkeys to help us provide the aforementioned often leave for similar reasons, blaming us on the way out (justifiable in most cases).

But, beside its potential for damage, it has also led to some of the world’s most stellar, awe-inspiring art. Those artists credited, directly or indirectly, with everyone else’s inspiration weren’t necessarily those who got the trophy just for showing up or sat in kumbaya drum circles (neither of which are problematic on their own!). Their music is great because it had to be. The inner compulsion, dare I say divine imperative, to produce the highest achievable work to present to the High and Lofty One, asks for nothing less. I can hardly imagine Bach having a lot of B-list instrumentalists in his sacred ensembles. His relentless pursuit of the perfect music for the perfect occasion probably made him many enemies.

But it also made him great.

I am now convinced that the very day I succumb to mastery in the lesser skills of prioritization, time management, leadership team coagulation, etc., will be the same day my muse will flee. My perfectionism has forced me down some dark hallways. It has left me bedraggled, barely able to stand at times. It has forced me to be tweaking song arrangements at 1:00 am…while on vacation. It has taken many hostages. It has kicked my ass, and others’ as well, in pursuit of some crazy ideal, held aloft in my own prideful head. But, in pursuit of the most beautiful art possible wrapped in the most transforming theology possible, that same pride disallows overly simplistic, soul-less, derivative, mass-producible pablum. Then, I’ll be only too happy to say, along with so many other dear souls, “with or without frappe?”

So then, I am tired primarily because I’ve been chasing whatever ideal my own perfectionism has placed before me. This aging treadmill donkey hasn’t quite nabbed his carrot, adangle before his hungry mouth and crossed eyes. If I ever do actually reach said carrot, it will be the day I am discovered, dead, in a pool of my own anxiety. And, after all is said and done, my choir still loves me.

And that alone is worth it.

One picture found here, the other is credited to Piper Renee-Richmond, who sings in my band and was in fact doing so at the time!

Silence; a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

As Remembrance, or Armistice Day, approaches, I felt a few thoughts to be in order. Malcolm Guite’s, not mine. Please, enjoy, and…reflect.

Malcolm Guite

As we approach Remembrance Day I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which is now published in my book Sounding the Seasons.  I’m posting it a few days early so that any one who wishes to can use it in services or events either on remembrance Sunday or on Remembrance day itself. As you will see from the little introduction below, I wrote it in response to the silence on Radio 4, and last year it was featured on Radio 4’s Remembrance Sunday Worship.

So her is how it came to be written. On Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio and when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a…

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Finding light in dark faith

Sometimes writers are confronted with unique opportunities to write; that is of course if one dwells, as I do, among lit-nerds and poetry-geeks. One of the best places of which I’m presently aware, exploring the intersection of faith and the arts, is Transpositions UK. It is based at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. For those like me, who seek a deeper understanding of this crossroads, it simply does intriguing work.

P01519-200x300My first published book review for this organization may be found here. In it I spend time interacting with the wrestling of others who do so with Flannery O’Connor’s enigmatic and richly metaphoric novel, “The Violent Bear It Away.”  If you’ve never had the dark pleasure of reading O’Connor’s novel, do it as soon as possible. Then, pursue “Dark Faith: New Essays on Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away” as a resource for a broader, more tactile understanding of it’s dark depths. And you thought you wouldn’t have homework. Ha!

At such moments of personal celebration I might otherwise have been enjoying a Scotch and a good cigar. But, alas, as a teetotaler now for over twelve years, I shall head to the kitchen for my third cup of coffee and some Cheerios instead.

Cheers, R

Nanaimo

A little piece from a trip to Nanaimo, B.C.

Rob's Lit-Bits

Nanaimo at night Nanaimo at night. Photo: Rae Kenny-Rife

Layers of green-backed mountains muscle their way through bruised-blue ocean. Hovering always beside us, they serve as our constant reminder to look this way, west, when lost (an hourly occurrence with me at the wheel). The air is grey, merging as one with the sky that frames it. Those, like us, whose weather experience is unyielding, unnecessarily hot, desert sun, often boast of the abundance of light. But, unlike the pushy, insistent sunlight of eastern Washington, the light here is complex, nuanced, shy and non-committal, like a teenage girl not quite ready for a boyfriend’s advances. Colors and textures are more discernible; faces, buildings, and backgrounds more sophisticated, not blanched and obvious from the brash directness of a boastful sun. This light is earned and, as such, even more deeply appreciated for its whimsical scarcity.

Rain here is currency, making this a rich place…

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One Stop Shop Blog Hop

If you’d like, come join me on my other blog for a fun game of global “blog hop.”

Rob's Lit-Bits

So, this is part of a fun blogger’s initiative called a “Blog Hop.” Here’s how it works. I was invited by writer/poet friend, Lesley-Anne Evans, to join what amounts to a writer’s pyramid scheme. The rules of the game? Tag three other bloggers, all of whom will answer four questions about writing and the writing process. We post two weeks after the previous crew. Therefore, every two weeks, the number of bloggers posting grows exponentially!

The goal is simple – to connect writers who blog in a tighter community and hopefully, enrich others looking for answers to their own writing questions.   Lesley-Anne is a gifted writer and poet who spends much of her time beautifying neighborhoods, cafes, street corners…wherever really, with poetry “installations.” She also does a fun thing called “Pop-up Poetry.” To see her contribution, click here.  

We begin:

1) What am I working on? 

Light Write, June 26/14 Light…

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To thine own self…

Spiritualk-Maturity

My DNA, such as it is, swims in the veins of two amazing young men – my sons, Calum – 23 and Graeme – 18. Each morning, looking back from the bathroom mirror is a reminder that a percentage of my younger self dwells in their lives. To some degree, when they see their own reflections, they are seeing me. As they experience fear, pain, remorse or joy, they do so in ways similar to my own. Their responses, either good or bad, to the involuntary stimuli thrown out from a quivering universe will be reminiscent of my own. Whatever I’ve been able to cobble together as my present ‘self’, God and I struggling together, is what they too must face. It will be their challenge as they overcome in themselves my numerous knotted patterns of being that, sometimes, can strangle or eviscerate. But it is also their gift, implanted in their psyches to help guide them in those mirky moments that will require whatever small intuition was gifted me.

Watching my younger son graduate from high school last Thursday night (6/5/14) was pause enough to sing the praise of both these men. I cannot claim to be half the man I need to be for them. Indeed, I cannot always claim I’ve been a man at all to them. What I can say with a clear conscience and not inconsiderable pride is how much I wish I were more like them. That more of them might be seen in me. My life, my energy, the very blood in my veins, belongs to them.

Their calling now is to find their calling; to find their truest selves; to be their most passionate selves for a very needy world that awaits them, and needs who they are (thanks Mr. Buechner). Precious few would I trust to write what they should most hear. Today, I entrust this sacred task into the hands of the late John O’Donohue…

For the Unknown Self

So much of what delights and troubles you

Happens on a surface

You take for ground.

Your mind thinks your life alone,

Your eyes consider air your nearest neighbor,

Yet it seems that a little below your heart

There houses in you an unknown self

Who prefers the patterns of the dark

And is not persuaded by the eye’s affection

Or caught by the flash of thought.

 

It is a self that enjoys contemplative patience

With all your unfolding expression,

Is never drawn to break into light

Though you entangle yourself in unworthiness

And misjudge what you do and who you are.

 

It presides within like an evening freedom

That will often see you enchanted by twilight

Without ever recognizing the falling night,

It resembles the under-earth of your visible life:

All you do and say and think is fostered

Deep in its opaque and prevenient clay.

 

It dwells in a strange, yet rhythmic ease

That is not ruffled by disappointment;

It presides in a deeper current of time

Free from the force of cause and sequence

That otherwise shapes your life.

 

Were it to break forth into day,

Its dark light might quench your mind,

For it knows how your primeval heart

Sisters every cell of your life

To all your known mind would avoid,

 

Thus it knows to dwell in you gently,

Offering you only discrete glimpses

Of how you construct your life.

 

At times, it will lead you strangely,

Magnetized by some resonance

That ambushes your vigilance.

 

It works most resolutely at night

As the poet who draws your dreams,

Creating for you many secret doors,

Decorated with pictures of your hunger;

 

It has the dignity of the angelic

That knows you to your roots,

Always awaiting your deeper befriending

To take you beyond the threshold of want,

Where all your diverse strainings

Can come to wholesome ease.

____________________________

Picture found here