Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rock of Faith - performing in comfort

Oddly enough, after all the foolishness with the Franciscans and music, Rock of Faith met to practice.

There, I'm not the lead, and I'm playing and singing with skilled people. I was comfortable there. It was wonderful.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A letter about not playing music

At yesterday's Franciscan Fraternity Council meeting the issue of music came up. It was not a pleasant discussion. As I am the reluctant "musician" for the Fraternity, the discussion sparked some thoughts, and I wrote a letter to the Council. I did not send it. Instead, I called our Minister and shared many of these points with her, and added some details not included in the letter. (I've added notes to the original letter in italics.)

Dear fellow Council members;

Saturday’s Council Meeting discussion of music helped to bring into focus something that’s actually been on my mind for a while.

I will not be providing music for Fraternity meetings after the Profession.

This is not a reaction out of anger or frustration over the meeting; as I said, it’s been growing on my mind for a while.

I am really uncomfortable leading music. I always have been. It’s part of who I am; I don’t like leading or being the center of attention in many situations. I am a pronounced introvert. That’s one reason why I balked at being nominated for a Fraternity office during the last election – and only reluctantly said yes out of guilt. I would rather not even be on the Council, but agreed to that just because I have the key to the church building we use and I have to be there anyway. If you want to go back further, it’s one of the major reasons I left the seminary years ago; the Sunday public Masses where we seminarians were the center of attention at Mass and at the coffee hour after were torture for me. It’s one of the reasons why I’m a writer, not a public speaker or political candidate.

I am a limited musician. I don’t read music. I am slow to learn songs. I only feel comfortable publicly playing songs I know, songs that I can play given my limited instrumental and vocal abilities, and songs that I like and that are in styles that I like. In the band I’m in, I’m a supportive/rhythm player, not a lead instrumentalist. I rely on the good musicians in the group to take the lead and show me what to do. I generally sing back up, not lead. I have turned down lead vocals. I did the same when I was in the choir. In the local folk music circles, although I have been invited to open mics, I have declined to play. (One of the issues that arose was the older members of the Fraternity used to belong to a Charismatic prayer group - the Fraternity evolved out of that prayer group. The older members want the return of the Charismatic prayer songs they sang back in the 1980s. I'm not even sure that music is still played at Charismatic gatherings, but the examples I've heard are dated and unappealing to me. Some members have tried to sing them for me, but they are often off key or don't hold the tune and it's hard for me to follow. As I don't read music, if I don't know how many of the songs they want actually go, and if there are not recordings of them, I don't know how to play them - and certainly can't lead them. And, to be honest, I wanted to avoid getting into conflict with the senior members of the Fraternity. Part of what prompted the discussion was as we were planning for the profession of two new Franciscans I had asked the two women what songs they would like - doing this had been raised at the last Council meeting - and planned the Mass using the songs they wanted. But one of the songs was a contemporary one, and when I sang a verse of it the Council rejected it and replaced it with an old hymn.)

When I started playing for the Fraternity, it was as a supplement to the music (J***) was providing – just a song at first. Then it expanded to two songs some nights, then, when she got sick, providing all the music. I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I found myself getting caught up in dilemmas in selecting songs – based on what fit the liturgical calendar or the meeting focus, musical ability, keys, and differing musical tastes. I worried that my choices did not always sit well or meet expectations. I found myself getting stressed as the meetings approached and on the nights of the meetings before playing, and often felt uneasy and frustrated even after I played. This all interfered with the meetings for me. (J*** is an older member of the Fraternity. She played recorded music and the Fraternity sang along. The Council wanted to start phasing in live music, and I was available. But there were problems. They wanted old Charismatic music, as I noted earlier, not the more contemporary kind of music I play. I do not know the songs they want well enough to play them. And they have not always been pleased when I introduce more contemporary songs. ... When I talk about the musical ability, I mean not my own limitations - which I do have - but also the fact that a member of the Fraternity who is learning to play violin wanted to play along, but she plays really slowly, forcing me to play songs slower than they should be played, and she can only play in a few keys and with sheet music, so I can't transpose songs to better fit my vocal range. ... Another problem is that I play and sing by ear. I need to hear my guitar or be with people singing the melody to sing, especially on songs with which I'm less familiar. Unfortunately, the two singers who joined me in playing include a woman with a nice voice but who sings soprano and often sings harmonies, throwing me off, and a man who consistently sings off key or even creates his own melody, throwing me off even more. The result is I sometimes lose my place in the song and lose the melody. It makes it difficult for me to lead singing.)

Yes, that’s all on me. But it is who I am. As P. G. Wodehouse might say, I’m a sensitive plant.

And I know people might argue that it’s for the good of the Fraternity, it’s using my gifts, and so on.

But I’d rather use other gifts, ones less up front and public. Being the “doorman.” Setting up before and cleaning after meetings. Writing.

So if there is to be music after September 23, please figure out other ways for it to be provided. Maybe someone has musical ability we don’t know about. Maybe it has to be a capella for a while. Maybe someone has recordings we can sing along with.

Pax et bonum

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cardinal Arinze’s Answer to “Personally Opposed” Pro-Choice Politicians

Cardinal Arinze’s Epic Answer to “Personally Opposed” Pro-Choice Politicians

He's saying what I've been saying, just using different examples.

Pax et bonum


I'm 61. An age at which one is supposed to be looking only toward retirement - and certainly not to be in the running for jobs.

Yet in the last two weeks I've had two job offers.

Both were great jobs at wonderful schools. But both jobs came with problems that led me to turn them down. The principals at both are keeping my resumes should something different open or situations change. One just told me a few minutes ago if my circumstances change they really want me.

Sigh. I'm disappointed, but reality and family needs take precedence over dreams and desires. And I do have a job now that pays the bills.

Still, it's quite an honor at my age to be wanted!

Pax et bonum

Friday, August 19, 2016

Spiritual, not religious, is like baseball without rules

Imagine playing a game of baseball.

Without set base paths.

Without fences.

Without a set number of outs per side per inning.

Without a strike zone.

Without limits on the number of players on the field.

Without rules against doctoring the ball.

Without rules about the size and makeup of the bat.

Without rules, period.

Except, of course, rules that are made up by the players as they go along - and change based on the latest fad or whim.

Such a game might be fun for a while for little kids just interested in running around or hitting balls, but anyone who's serious about baseball, or even in playing a real game, would reject such a situation as nonsense.

That's what saying "I'm spiritual, not religious" is like.

If you are just starting out, a child when it comes to spirituality, then it might be okay to say that. But an adult using it as a way to reject organized religion is nonsense.

All too often, what it's really about is that it's a trendy way to discard inconvenient practices - like going to church - or rules - often but not exclusively linked to sex in some way. It tends to be part of self-indulgent pop theology. It's part of the kind of pop theology one might hear among college students, media and self-centered types, and suburban readers of spiritual pablum like Eat, Pray, Love.

Without rules, without paths, without boundaries how do we judge what is fair and good and right? Without religion, spirituality becomes a self-absorbed exercise, and as we all know, exercise without routine and commitment becomes boring and burdensome, and is soon abandoned.

Again, there may be some individuals who are sincerely beginning their spiritual quest and might say they are spiritual, not religious, but I can't say I have actually heard such a person people say this. Usually, they have sincere questions, or humbly voice concerns and doubts and pain.

They want to learn and understand the rules so they can be real participants, and not just folks who are running around aimlessly.

In the end, spirituality based in religion is the best way to get home - or even to know where home is.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Hillary Clerihew!

In her youth Hillary Clinton
helped investigate Richard Nixon.
As her missing e-mails seem to tell
she didn't learn from his fall that well.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The stars prove God (cinquain)

The stars
in their beauty
provide proof God exists.
Skeptic crumples an argument
that failed.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The myth of no alternatives to Planned Parenthood

Some folks on the prochoice side have been touting Planned Parenthood clinics as health care providers arguing that Planned Parenthood is the only health care options for many women.

That claim is not quite true.


Pax et bonum

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trump takes an anti-porn pledge. Really.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump signed an anti-porn pledge, according to the Washington Examiner and others.

As part of the pledge, Trump says as President he will make enforcing anti-pornography laws a priority. The pledge calls for him to "aggressively enforce existing federal laws to prevent the sexual exploitation of children online, including the federal obscenity laws, child pornography laws, sexual predation laws and the sex trafficking laws.”

The pledge was put out by the group  Enough is Enough, which contends - correctly I think - that pornography is harmful to individuals and society.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton declined to sign, by the way. Her campaign says she does not sign pledges.

The group apparently also contacted Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who reportedly did not respond. The group does not mention if it contacted the Green's Jill Stein or candidates from other parties.

Now, while I fully support the idea of controlling and limiting porn and its harmful effects, I do have questions about Trump signing this pledge. This is a man who proudly displays in his office a cover of Playboy with him on it. He engaged in sexually suggestive talk on the Howard Stern show, and has boasted about his sexual activities, including with married women. He had a strip club in one of his casinos. He married a former model who did somewhat salacious nude shots.

Maybe Mr. Trump has seen the light, as he allegedly did about abortion - though he has been disturbingly silent about that issue, allowing his Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence to be the only one in his campaign to talk about abortion lately.

But to be honest, I'm skeptical.

Maybe I'd be more convinced if he took down that Playboy cover hanging on his office wall.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Small IS beautiful

In Matthew's version of the feeding of the 5,000 men, notice who did the feeding.

"When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, 'This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.'

(Jesus) said to them, 'There is not need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.'
But they said to him, 'Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.'

Then he said, 'Bring them here to me,' and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over —twelve wicker baskets full. (Mt 14: 15-20)

The disciples wanted to send the people to nearby villages, but Jesus told them to do it themselves. Yes, he blessed and broke the bread - God will provide - but the actual feeding was small, local, and personal, not relying on others.

I think of this reading and of Catholic tradition when thinking about serving others and the role of government. Ministry should be as hands-on, personal, and local as possible. It should be individual and human and respectful, and should treat those served as individuals and humans and with respect.  Yes, government can have a role, should have a role, but it should be to support these local efforts, not creating all sorts of intrusive rules and bureaucracy that get in the way of meeting people's needs.

So rather than national health care, for example, we should have local programs. The government's role should be to help with funding with as little red tape as possible - perhaps block grants to be divided among the agencies. The people making decision should be the people that are directly providing the services.

The same goes for all the various forms of welfare, housing programs, food programs and pantries, and so on.

The people providing the services know the needs, know the people they are serving. They have relationships with those people. They are brothers and sisters.

And we can't simply rely on others to provide those services. We each should be helping in some way, based on our abilities and situations. It could be direct. It could be behind the scenes. It should not be just paying to have others do it. It must be personal.

As Christians, we are called to serve others.

For those others are Christ.

Pax et bonum