Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sixth Week of Lent: The Star Thrower

Once in a lifetime, perhaps, one escapes the actual confines of the flesh.Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons,the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort.
-Loren Eiseley

Stories are the lifeblood of the spirit. I have a handful of such stories that have formed, informed, and built my life over the past 45 years. The wondrous preacher Fred Craddock, the amazing Tony Campolo, pastoral care guru Howard Clinebell all contributed. Only Loren Eiseley contributed a unique and enduring story in the midst of some of the most scientifically enriching writings of his day.

Loren Eiseley was called a spiritual wanderer and naturalist in the title of a 1986 essay by Joan Rosen in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan. Rosen wrote:
Nature is Loren Eiseley's teacher. In the creatures of the natural world, in the stars, in the flora and fauna, he witnesses the miracles and wonders of the ages…. [When Eiseley] describes Thoreau as "a spiritual wanderer through the deserts of the modern world” in "Thoreau's Vision of the Natural World" in the essay collection The Star Thrower he is describing himself.

Trained as an anthropologist he had a poet’s feel for words and an amazing eye for the unique and wondrous things of the world. Some quotes from Eiseley that shape his ideas and his incredible spirituality:
If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water
he wrote about the very beginnings of life on our planet, coming out of the primal seas. But there was a growing of life that at some point produced the human race and then:
For the first time in four billion years a living creature had contemplated himself and heard with a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, the whisper of the wind in the night reeds.
That loneliness, sadly, can turn to hubris. The result as we are seeing can be dangerous. Eiseley, who died over 40 years ago saw it coming:
When man becomes greater than nature, nature, which gave us birth, will respond.
Humanity is on an incredible pilgrimage within nature, as Thoreau and Leopold, Dillard and Olson have seen. It is not easy and never ends. Eiseley was one of the tour guides for me.
The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.
Of all the descendants of Thoreau, Loren Eiseley stands alone in my estimation. Some of his anthropology and science have been changed in these 40 years. We have broader and deeper understandings of the world and how we have come to be where we are. But his foundation is as unshaken as it was when I first read him well over 45 years ago. He calls us to pay attention equally to both the little and big things. He calls us to be aware- mindful in our 21st Century language- of what we do and how we live. He calls us to see within us the spirit of one greater than ourselves.

His greatest story, told and retold countless times over these years, often without attribution, has become almost a trite motivational trope. I found a number of “quotes” that were supposedly from Eiseley, but are paraphrases, retellings of retellings of the original. It is powerful, mind-boggling, and more than just a nice motivational story. It is the story of our calling as humans with nature and each other. Here is a very short version of "The Star Thrower." What a perfect way to prepare for Easter in a week and a half:
In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.

"It's still alive," I ventured.

"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.

..."There are not many who come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"

"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. "The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."

I had seen the star thrower cross that rift and he had reasserted the human right to define his own frontier. He had moved to the utmost edge of natural being. I had been unbelieving, hardened by the indifference of maturity. I arose with a solitary mission, to find the star thrower beneath his rainbow. I found him on a projecting point of land in the sweet rain-swept morning. Silently, I sought and picked up a still-living star, spinning it far out into the wave. I spoke once briefly. “I understand,” I said, “call me another thrower.” Only then I allowed myself to think. He is not alone any longer. After us there will be others. We were part of the rainbow – like the drawing of a circle in men’s minds, the circle of perfection.
I picked and flung another star. I could feel the movement in my body. It was like a sowing – the sowing of life on an infinitely gigantic scale. I looked back over my shoulder, and small and dark against the receding rainbow, the star thrower stooped and flung one more. I never looked back again. The task we assumed was too immense for gazing. I flung and flung again while all about us roared the insatiable waters of death, the burning sun, for it was men as well as starfish that we sought to save, a thrower who loved not man, but life. -Link

The Loren Eiseley Society.

Tuning Slide 3.39- The Plateaus of Movement

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist.
— Paul Harvey

It has been a long week with some difficulties in traveling, snow storms, major delays on the highways, and a lot of being tired. I just was unable to get this together before right now. So let me start right off with the myth of the week. I have heard a number of variations of this from all sorts of places and people among trumpet players. For those who are not professional musicians and who have to make time to be a musician while doing other things, this myth can be tempting- and dangerous to one’s growth.
When I stop improving maybe I should just be satisfied with where I’m at.
I did a Google search and found all kinds of reactions and rationalizations about what to do when we reach a point where improvement isn’t happening. Many were “comeback players” who had not played for many years and were getting back into their music. Others were people who had been playing for years yet the excitement has gone. Some were satisfied with there they were and had no desire to get any better. Others were sad or frustrated having hoped to be far better than they had become.

In many of these situations they simply stopped where they were. Some quit playing altogether. They stepped away and turned to other things. Some continued to play but were at a plateau. They never got better, but were content to be what they had been.

Now I don’t want to put any value judgement on any of these responses. We are all different people with different dreams and goals. Sometimes there are physical issues and limitations or injuries and setbacks in life that get in the way. But there was a sense of sadness to many of the things I read. These players had wanted to do so much more but just couldn’t seem to get there.

It is not unusual for any of us to get discouraged, bored, or tired. I have talked about some of the ways of dealing with that:
  • Switch up your routine while keeping all the basics.
  • Find a teacher who will take you to some new places.
  • Find friends to play with.Find a new band or group to join that could
  • give you new perspectives.
But that is easier than it sounds when you have been working and doing some of those things and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere new. What I have heard and seen in so many different ways well beyond making music are that there are basically two things that get in the way.

First is expectations. If we have wanted to play like Doc or Maynard and just can’t ever seem to get there, that is a potentially dangerous expectation. You are not Doc, I am not Maynard, nobody else is Miles or Wynton. Expectations like this are comparisons. Very few will ever be able to compare to any of those musicians. But I can still be the best musician I can be.

The second thing that gets in the way and is seriously impacted by expectations is a lack of patience. So often we want the fruits of years of practice without putting in years of practice. Over the years I have often wanted to play guitar. The problem was that Iw as a far better trumpet player than a guitarist. Why? Because I have been playing trumpet a long time and know how to do it. I wanted to be able to pick up the guitar and play it as well as I did the trumpet. It never worked. Impatience. Getting the gold medal without working for it.

What I have discovered in my life- and have been applying it to my musicianship these past three years is that there are ways of getting through the plateau. There are steps we can take. Here are four of them:
Review- Plateaus happen. They are normal, natural, and essential. They allow our learning to sink in and become a more natural part of who we are and what we do. When they happen or when our human tendency to slow down gets going, spend some time in reviewing. Get out some older pieces you have moved past or exercises that used to be a little bit challenging. Play them. Take them for a few days and include them in your routine. I am often surprised at how much better I can play them today.
Revise- Plateaus mean you have reached a new stage in your growth. Where do you want to go next? It’s time to review your goals and expectations. Make sure you are doing the things that will move you there. Name the joys and wonders of what you have been doing- and where that can take you. I am always surprised when that happens- mostly by how blind I have been to seeing the growth and movement I have been experiencing.
Regroup- Pull it all together. The new band or group, the new attitude that gets you back into optimism, the inner excitement of knowing that there is movement ahead. Go for it.
Relax- Stop letting Self One control your thinking. You enjoy that music. You enjoy the possibilities. Take it easy and go for it.

There are a number of ways, then, of naming this week’s holy truth. Some of them were in the summary of last year’s trumpet workshop:
• Your best trumpet playing hasn’t happened yet
• Your best trumpet playing is only a thought away

The truth is you can always continue to grow as a musician and as a human being. The minute you quit- you’ve lost the edge, the growth. Yes, things get in the way, like the problems and barriers I faced in the past week of travel. Yesterday I didn’t have the energy to write this piece. I didn’t feel like picking up the horn. My plan was to be satisfied with going 360 days in a row of daily routine and/or practice. I was giving up the dream of a solid year five days early.

But in the back of my head I heard “Isn’t that what you were writing about this week? Being satisfied?” So I pulled out the horn and did a variation of my daily routine for about 30 minutes. I could feel myself relaxing, falling into the notes- and the notes flowing into me.

If you are not ready to quit- don’t!

Holy Truth for the week then:
  • Plateaus happen- and they are good. They are a place to regroup so we can move on!
Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.
— Jim Rohn

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The FIfth Sunday of Lent: Living Morality

Aim above morality. 
Be not simply good, 
be good for something. 
-Henry David Thoreau

I must admit that I wasn’t sure where this week’s post was going to lead. Morality is a BIG topic and one that can bring much controversy as we have seen very clearly in the last year or so in politics. As usual with something like this I started with a dictionary definition. Merriam-Webster said:
Definition of morality for English Language Learners. : beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. : the degree to which something is right and good : the moral goodness or badness of something.
Again, a lot of ways to go with that. What is it we believe about “right behavior?” Where do we get those beliefs? How do they change over a lifetime? How do we determine the rightness or wrongness, the goodness or badness of something? It seems to me that some of what we say we believe about these is very cultural and even situational dependent. It even varies depending on the person doing the action. When person X does something it is wrong; when person Y does the same thing maybe it isn’t. Is morality situational? Is moral decision making based on variables that can change?

Phew! My head hurts thinking about that. It can be a deep intellectual, philosophical, and theological exercise that brings more questions than answers. So what was it that Thoreau was thinking about? He does give me an answer in the rest of the quote. Morality is not just about being a good person. There may be lots of good people in the world who are good because they just are and never do anything with it. Their “morality” may be nothing more than just not having an opinion or in a position to do anything. Thoreau says that morality is being good for something. What is it you stand for and how do you live it.

I am writing this post early on Sunday evening instead of the day or two before. As we were traveling on Friday afternoon my wife stepped off a curb coming out of a restaurant and fell, causing pain, abrasions, and, we found out later, a torn ligament. That threw off all my writing schedule until now. The next two paragraphs are from an email I sent to the general manager of the motel we were to stay at for Friday night, just one night. I think the morality of this is obvious and captures what Thoreau was talking about.
My wife and I had the pleasure of staying at [your motel] on Friday and Saturday evenings last week (March 16 and 17). Before we arrived, my wife had an accident when we were leaving a restaurant and was in great pain. We knew that we would not be able to continue the trip the next morning as originally planned. When we checked in on Friday we were told that there would be no rooms available for Saturday night due to a tournament. But [the desk person] did say that she would put us on a waiting list. I checked in before leaving for supper with some friends but she said there was nothing available. I called a couple hours later and she was excited- she had a room for us for Saturday night!!! When I got back from supper we took the necessary steps to reserve the room! Friday was an extremely busy afternoon and evening and she had hardly anytime to catch her breath, but she pleasantly and efficiently took care of my needs. Her personality and honest caring for our needs was amazing.

Saturday my wife and I spent most of the day at the hospital making sure there was nothing serious in her injuries. Fortunately there was not. After the day there, when I checked in for the second night the same desk person was again working and helped me through a couple things, including setting up my Wyndham rewards account and helping get a reservation for Sunday night up the road.

That desk person was a little bit of Jesus to my wife and me. Her willingness to pay attention to us in the midst of an incredibly busy evening (there were never less than 3 people in line when I was there on Friday afternoon and evening). She took care of me- and all the other customers- with no sign of frustration or short-fuse or being tired. She smiled; she helped; she did what she had to do and gave all of us a little bit of herself.

It would be easy to say, “Of course she did. That was her job.” But what I saw and received was over and above the basics of her job. She could have done her job just as efficiently without the extra TLC she gave us and the cam attentiveness she gave others. That is morality. That is right behavior. That is goodness in action.

I have a hunch that this IS what Jesus meant. It seems to have struck enough resonant chords:
  • Don’t preach me a sermon; live one for me.
  • Preach the Gospel; if necessary use words.
  • If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
  • Faith without works is dead. (James 2:26)
Our morality is in what we do and in the end how we treat others. We have enough hatred in our country and world; we have enough division and preaching with fingers pointing in all kinds of directions. It is time to kneel down with Jesus next to the woman caught in adultery. He looked at the men about to stone her and made on simple statement: Anyone without sin can throw the first stone. No one dared. We should not either. That is morality at its highest as we support others simply because they need it.

  • Who has acted with morality and care to me this week?
      • Lord, I give thanks for these people who have helped make my life a better this week.
  • When have I not acted with the care and compassion?
      • Lord, forgive me and help me make amends.
  • What can I do better in the week ahead to preach the Gospel without words?
      • Lord, direct me inward to find your Spirit filling me.
  • Where is God directing me to be a witness of faith alive?
      • Here I am, Lord. Show me your direction.
Such actions are not a burden. Morality is not a chore that we do out of fear or from having no other way to act. When we begin to live with the power of morality in action, we may find joy and others being helped. Perhaps even ourselves.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.38- The Myths of Practice

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Misunderstanding is generally simpler than true understanding,
and hence has more potential for popularity.
― Raheel Farooq

Last week we looked at the myth/misconception about equipment. While I used the never-ending discussion of the best mouthpiece to use for the example, we could have taken all kinds of twisty, overgrown back roads about equipment. The answer was, of course, that equipment doesn’t make the music. We do. Hence “Holy Truth #1” was

Equipment is not the answer.

Well what might be the answer? Not hard to guess what the answer to that might be.

Practice, of course.

But if you’ve been following the Tuning Slide for a while you know that just the thought of “practice” brings with it all kinds of myths and misconceptions that never seem to go away.
  • Just practicing as we have seen in a number of different series of posts over the past three years can do nothing but keep us mediocre if we don’t have goals and plans.
  • Just practicing for the sake of practicing gets pretty boring- and getting bored with practice ends up with us not practicing.
  • Just practicing without working at what we need to work on keeps us doing the things which keep us mediocre without improvement.
But I found a couple myths and misconceptions on the website Trumpet Journey that we might have missed, depending on how we have learned our practicing skills.

Myth #1 is that old saying

Practice makes perfect.

Stanley Curtis, author of the Trumpet Journey blog says:
Perfectionism, while seeming to be a noble goal, is actually not that good for trumpeters. More than most instrumentalists, we miss notes, and we need to get on with life. By becoming fixated on our weaknesses, we never let our spontaneous self naturally blossom.
Another way of saying that might be, if we work at being perfect, we are just feeding the ego of old Self 1 who likes nothing better than to find out what ’s wrong. I like that second sentence in that quote where Curtis says that we may very well miss more notes than most instrumentalists. It is a humbling thought which may be why we work so hard at perfect. But Curtis is right, the more we work at perfection, the less likely we are to be perfect.

That does not mean that we should ignore what we need to work on! We know what particular aspect of our playing is not going as well as we would like. It is painfully obvious to us. So we then make a plan, a deliberate practice goal, to do something about it. It’s not rocket science.

Before one of the concerts in the community band last year I realized that I was having some difficulty with intervals beyond fifths. An interval jump of an octave or more just wasn’t falling into place. So I dug out the lessons from the Arban’s book and worked on them. The problem was I was not hearing or feeling the interval and my flexibility was sloppy. It didn’t take much to improve. I just had to do it. Deliberately. Intervals are now on my once or twice a week practice plan.

Myth # 2 that I found on Trumpet Journey:

If practicing makes me better, then MORE practice will make me ever better.

Why sure, that makes sense. If I can do a two-hour practice today, maybe I can make it more tomorrow, and on and on.

Curtis nicely sums up why that’s a potentially dangerous misconception:
The error here is that there is a limit to practice, especially the physical aspects of practice. Practice is a lot like a great paint job on a fine automobile. Instead of one sloppy, thin coat, it’s far better to paint many thin coats to avoid runs and smears. When we practice too much, we start to get sloppy, and then we get used to being sloppy. I like to think of weekly practice goals, so that each day can be a little different.
In my own reading and research into practicing, I read somewhere (which means I didn’t note where I read it) that we should make sure we stop our practice session before we have exhausted ourselves, our lip, and our mental capacity to keep growing. The reason is simple, we will learn the exhaustion stage more than the place where we were sounding good. This is the same as an athlete. They do not set records in practice. They want to build themselves to a point of 80% of maximum. The only time they need to give 100% is the race or game when the extra push is needed.

We have to do it slowly. We have to build. We don’t blow it all in one marathon practice session a day. We will hurt ourselves that way. Slowly, surely, build it up. Curtis’s statement about building many thin coats of pain reminded me of what the master Leonardo da Vinci did. He would add very thin layers of paint slowly over time. The Mona Lisa or Last Supper were not done with thick layers. The wonder of his artistry was how he built it slowly, one layer at a time.

So, again, we have seen a couple myths and misconceptions of practice. There are more. We will surely invent them (or re-invent old ones) on a regular basis. We think we have all the answers, which as the quote at the start of this post indicates, will lead us to more misconceptions. So slow down and keep it patient, balanced, and deliberate. After all this is supposed to be fun, not torture.

Which brings me to the Holy Truth for this week. I think by following this, I may be able to keep that patience and deliberateness that is essential to better musicianship.

When you practice, rest as much as you play!

By the way, Stanley Curtis at Trumpet Journey has a series of weekly lesson plans for trumpet practice over three years. While many of us have adopted the basic routines that we have learned from teachers who were taught by William Adam, there are also other lesson plans that we can use to build certain aspects of our musicality. If we remember it starts with the sound, these lessons may be helpful. Just thought I would pass it along. It should take you the rest of your life to get through it. What a great thought!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fifth Week of Lent: Needing Wilderness

Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity,
an antidote to the high pressure of modern life,
a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.
— Sigurd F. Olson

There were many benefits from my first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness 25 years ago. Far from the least of them was to experience the world that Sig Olson had so beautifully chronicled in his books. He stands in the rich tradition of Aldo Leopold and Annie Dillard who I talked about two weeks ago. Dillard was in the eastern forests, Leopold in the plains of Wisconsin. Olson was in what I consider one of the incredible spiritual places set aside for wilderness.

Sigurd Olson (April 4, 1899 – January 13, 1982) was an American author, environmentalist, and advocate for the protection of wilderness. … In June 1921, Olson took his first canoe trip where he fell in love with the canoe country wilderness of northern Minnesota that would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (with his help)…. He spent most of his life in the Ely area, working as a canoe guide during the summer months, teaching, and writing about the natural history, ecology, and outdoor life in and around the Boundary Waters.

Other benefits from my first trip (and others that followed for several years) included:
  • A new and expanded experience of nature
  • Hard work to get there was a reminder of our advantages
  • Dependence and survival on community
I love being in the “natural world”. Growing up in what they now call the “Pennsylvania Wilds” there was a sense of “wilderness” that I took for granted until I didn’t live there anymore. Since then I have looked for it and found ways to be connected with it. I always knew there was much that was essential about a “wilderness attitude” or an openness to the natural beauty of the world and what it had to offer.

Sig Olson was able to express that essential need in much of his writing.
There is a hard core of wilderness need in everyone, a core that makes its spiritual values a basic human necessity. There is no hiding it....Unless we can preserve places where the endless spiritual needs of man can be fulfilled and nourished, we will destroy our culture and ourselves.”
— Sigurd F. Olson
  • “A hard core of wilderness need…”
Most of us don’t know we have that need. It may be one of the great losses of humanity’s growth into civilization. Not that civilization is a bad thing. It has allowed many great things to get done. But in our disconnect from the world of nature we have lost a sense of being a part of that world. Most of us can’t see the amazingly filled night sky with its countless stars. In many places it is impossible to even see something as iconic in the Northern Hemisphere as the Big Dipper. A 20-something young person watching the Gulf coast sunset last week turned to me with a huge grin and a sense of awe. “I have never seen such a spectacular sunset.”I hope he discovered the need for that wilderness in that moment.

I have been blessed by countless sunsets in more places than I can remember, even over the parking lot in back of our apartment or from the top of the Empire State Building in New York City. But there is something different about a sunset over an ocean or lake, the Gulf of Mexico or a flowing river. There is a power as the sun sets behind a rolling hill, a distant prairie horizon, or a rugged Rocky Mountain peak. It is at one and the same time inspiring, humbling, and downright exciting.

In my language and life I would call that spiritual. As Sig said in the quote above, our need for wilderness
  • “…makes its spiritual values a basic human necessity…”
Again, I have had amazing spiritual experiences in urban settings, including sunsets, although they more often include some interaction with other people. An experience in nature has its own unique energy. I notice as I keep writing that I tend to be talking in generalities and could even be running in circles around some central theme that is next to impossible to describe. Leopold and Dillard had that problem. Olson does to, as did Loren Eiseley who I will talk about next week. It is because there is something beyond words, deeper than insight, and broader than the horizons in all this. Poets sometimes will give us a lead. A couplet by Robert Frost may do so for what I am trying to say:
We dance round in a ring and suppose
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows..
The mystery of life can perhaps best be felt or encountered in the wilderness as we listen.
I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard.  Everyone has a listening point somewhere.  It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but someplace of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.”
— Sigurd F. Olson
"Thin places" is a theme that I have personally explored and experienced. They are Sig Olson’s listening points.
The Celtic Christians believed that there were mystical spaces, called “thin places,” where the veil between the holy and the human is traversed. A place in which the physical and spiritual worlds are knit together, and if we are so attuned, we can transcend the ordinary for a glimpse of the infinite. -Link
  • Lent is a time for us to discover our own thin places, our listening points.
  • Lent is a time to explore the spiritual calling or callings within us.
  • Lent is a time to contemplate the universe from the aspect of God’s love as the underpinning of it all.
  • Lent is a time, a season, of renewal of our inward journeys so that we may have a stronger foundation for the other seasons we have in front of us.
  • Lent is a time to develop the habit of listening in thin places in every aspect of our lives.
To resign ourselves to that influence may be the most important act of surrender we will make.

Live in each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit,
and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Lent: Let Justice Roll

Justice is sweet and musical;
but injustice is harsh and discordant.
-Henry David Thoreau


A powerful word. An even more powerful ideal. Yet we so often mess it up. Whenever I am teaching ethics I have to stop and explain that from an ethics standpoint justice is not what we normally think it is. Legally, it is usually seen as giving someone what they deserve.
  • “We want justice to be done against that criminal.” 
    • (Justice is the appropriate penalty for having done something wrong.)
  • “Justice was served!” 
    • (They got what was coming to them.)
In ethics, however, justice is all about equity and equality.
  • Justice is about appropriate use of resources so people are not left out. 
  • Justice is making sure that people get what they need, not what they deserve.
A Google search gave me this definition:
  • Just behavior or treatment.
    • synonyms: fairness, justness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, even-handedness, impartiality, objectivity, neutrality, honesty, righteousness
  • The administration of the law or authority in maintaining this.
Hence Thoreau’s quote above is a great way to start thinking about justice- it is sweet and musical!

I love the thoughts that come with that phrase. When justice is done it is more than just good. It is sweet. I has a sense of rightness and purpose to it. Justice helps people look at a situation and not let preconceived notions or ideology get in the way. Justice helps people recognize the needs of neighbors as much as our own needs. Justice, in God’s universe, is giving people what they need! Using the musical metaphor, there is harmony to justice, the justice that helps people get what they need brings us together.

One of my favorite quotes on justice is from the prophet Amos, chapter 5, verses 23-24:
Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (NIV)
Institutionalized oppression was the rule instead of the exception. God didn't like that.
  • Prayers and sacrifices do not make up for bad deeds.
    • "Practice of religious acts is no insurance against the judgment of God"
    • Behaving justly is much more important than ritual.
  • By oppressing the poor and failing to practice justice the Israelites were behaving unrighteously.
    • Social justice was to be enacted as a core of God's message in Amos' prophetic teachings. (Link)
Yet we humans are not good at this kind of justice. The prophets remind the people regularly. Jesus tells the parable of the workers waiting in the village square waiting to be hired for a day’s work. Some are hired at the crack of dawn, others at noon, and a few more are hired with but a few hours left. At the end of the day they all got paid the same. It was the amount promised to the first worker and the last. In the parable the ones who worked all day get upset.

“We worked all day out there and these loafers came along at the end of the day. They shouldn’t get the same. At the least they should get less.”
“This is what I promised,” said the owner. “Do you begrudge me my generosity?”
You better believe we do!
It was just, no one was wronged. Everyone got what they were promised. Generosity. Justice. Grace!
God is telling the people through Amos that even their best and most sacred music (music, again!) is useless if there is not justice in the land. Jesus is telling his listeners that a promise is a promise. Words must lead to appropriate responses. Heavy-duty stuff. Again, a common theme it seems this Lenten season: Words aren’t what it’s all about. It is in our actions that we show what we are made of, that we show what we believe.

God is the different drummer, the one giving the rhythm to a more just and loving world. God is telling us to be "just" as God is "just."

Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven!

BUT, I don’t want God to be just to those who aren’t as good as I am. I don’t want the sinner over there to get the same grace as I get. It’s all about me! What I want. God being “just” or giving “justice” is different.

Thanks be to God!
  • Do I truly believe in God’s justice, God’s justness, God’s generosity, and finally and eternally, God’s grace?
  • Do I truly believe that God wants true justice to flow like an everlasting river?
  • Do I truly believe that my actions are more important than my prayers and my “humble” words and worship?
    • This Lent, may I be open to hearing the words of justice from a loving God.
    • This Lent, may I seek ways to be a channel of God’s justice.
    • This Lent, may the words of my mouth and the meditations from my heart lead to true worship in standing with those who need God’s justice.
    • This Lent, may I discover the wonders of grace lived and acted out in God’s Name.
That may be the most beautiful thing I can share!

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, March 09, 2018

It's Been a Long Time: 15 Years Today

March 9, 2003.

  • There was a sense of impending war with Iraq. (It started 8 days later.)
  • We were still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. 
  • Our troops were in Afghanistan.
  • I was 54 years old.
  • I started this blog.
  • Today, obviously, I am 69 years old. 
  • I am still writing this, although not as frequently as for many of these past years. 
  • Perhaps I am more focused? 

No, probably not. But I keep trying.

There are days when I wonder about quitting. But then I come up with new ideas for things to write about. Right now I am doing some preliminary work to dig more deeply into my Dad's service in World War II. I wrote about that on the 70th anniversary 4 years ago. I have found some new places to dig and new ways to find information. With the 75th Remembrances of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and my Dad entering the war coming next year, that will take some of my time.

I also continue the Tuning Slide blog and posts and try on a regular basis to make some interesting - or at least personal - comments from my faith and political perspectives. There's always something.

So, I guess I will continue. While I continue to work part-time (right there is something I should talk about one of these days) things like this blog sure keep me off the streets and in the coffee shops writing. Write a comment some time and let me know how you're doing- and even who you are. I may be just throwing dust into the wind. But at least I'm having fun.

So, now for some music to kick off the sixteenth year....

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Tuning Slide: 3.37- Summarizing and Moving On

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
In the past three months (December through February) I reviewed a good number of the summary statements we put together at the closing session of last summer’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. Directly or indirectly here they are, alphabetically arranged, to jog your memory.

• Always have a relaxed breath. Warm, moist air
• Always play with your best sound
• Animals can’t change emotion- we can.
• Be comfortable being uncomfortable [Expect the unexpected]
• Be yourself at your full potential- Example of the rose, Inner Game of Tennis, p. 37
• Best way to go 1000 miles is to take first step
• Can’t do it alone
• Circle of influence is important
• Have to schedule the not urgent/important or it gets lost
• Hear it, study it, make it become natural
• If you panic you will die
• Just have fun! It will happen faster.
• Keep a journal/log
• Listen to your body.
• Negativity is exhausting. You will be negative about others if you are negative about your self.
• Never give up
• Never put out someone else’s light to make your light shine brighter
• Obstacles appear if we take our minds away from the goal.
• Only see our path of dots going backward
• Power of ask
• Setting goals (short, intermediate, long term) for practicing etc.
• Shoot high- don’t sell yourself short
• Taking the theoretical and making it real.
• The way we do anything is the way we do everything
• Therefore make good dots
• There’s always time to practice
• Trumpet’s a skill, but it impacts everything.
• When given opportunity to share- do it.
• Worst sin is feeling sorry for yourself- because it’s all about me
• Your best trumpet playing hasn’t happened yet
• Your best trumpet playing is only a thought away

An impressive list of ideas and thoughts that can keep us all busy for years. Take a look at it again and see where you might need some prodding- then do it.

Oh- this year’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop is less than five months away! I’m already registered and excited.


This month’s series I am calling
Myths, Misconceptions and Holy Truths.

It is easy to live under many misconceptions and myths. They are often based on seeming common sense or just plain old personality quirks. Over the past three years of digging into trumpet playing in many ways that are completely new to me, I have faced a few of these. Each Wednesday this month I will start with a myth or misconception I or others around me have had, talk about it, work with it, then summarize it in what I am calling a “Holy Truth.” You’ll get the picture.

My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.
-Various sources

A few trumpet players were having a discussion. As is often the case it turned to mouthpieces, perhaps the single most common area of discussion among us. We all have had experiences and all have our opinions. Opinions are, of course based on our subjective look at what has happened to us.

The question became, “What mouthpiece do you use?” The usual answers were there: Bach 3C, Bach Megatone, Schilke 14A4a. Discussions then wandered around to “cheater” mouthpieces, that is those that give an advantage for use when high register lead playing is a necessity. Again, we shared experiences.

“I just never felt comfortable with….”
“I liked it but my lip seemed to collapse with…”
“I got better range and endurance for the first time with…”
“Did you know that so-and-so has only ever used…”

Just for the fun of it I looked up Schilke’s list of standard trumpet/cornet mouthpieces. There are 53(!) and 11 heavyweight mouthpieces! That’s just one manufacturer!

Mind boggling and probably confusing as hell to anyone trying to figure it out. But we all have our opinions and they are, of course, right. Until we change our mind because we think there must be something better out there.

Looking for the better mouthpiece may be the #1 task.

But what really got me thinking was a very simple question. One of the trumpet players wondered if getting a mouthpiece that improves your upper register would hurt your mid-register playing, up to the G at the top of the staff, for example.

Well, I guess it could if you used one of the really upper-register-type mouthpieces for all your playing, but on a more general level, I am not sure why it should. Here’s why…If we are truly working on our overall sound and musicality, the equipment we use will not be the most important thing. It will be the practice and the sound.

Which brings me around to the misconception or myth this week:
the exaggerated importance we put into equipment as the magic bullet that will turn any one of us into the next Doc or Maynard.
In our pursuit of being a better musician, however each of us defines it, we may at any given time think that a different horn, a different mouthpiece, a different lead pipe could push us that one bit closer to Doc or Miles. Yes, a better horn or mouthpiece can make a difference in our playing. An old clunker horn that has too much (or too little) back pressure or valves that are poorly made will not sound as good as a good horn. Yes, a different mouthpiece may work better for you. I am even told that a model of a horn by the same manufacturer can even be different depending on the year it was built.

It can also degrade our playing if we think that all we have to do is get a new (fill in the blank) and all will be great.

The Holy Truth for the week then is simple:
  • Equipment is not the answer.
Okay, let’s amend that, equipment alone is not the answer because it can make a difference. But at the heart of it is the sound we make and the practice we put into it.

The question about a mouthpiece that improves upper register hurting middle register is a good example. A year ago I bought a new mouthpiece that has definitely increased my range and endurance. I am, as I said in last week’s post, hitting upper register notes I would never have thought possible with greater endurance. It also has a brighter and better projected sound. My wife, a non-musician, noticed that right away. I like it. AND, it has not caused any problem with my middle range because I made sure it didn’t.
  • I did not concentrate on the upper register. I continued to do my routine of expanding long tones starting at G on the staff. I kept going higher while maintaining the lower end. I made sure that I did not sacrifice that middle range.
  • I also concentrated on the sound I was producing in that range. I was letting the mouthpiece and the horn work together. When I am playing they have to be a single unit. Together they produce the sound.
  • Finally, I also worked on pedal tones. Guess what- I am also playing pedal tones better than I ever have. I realized that unless I was truly using a “cheater” mouthpiece to get to the upper range, the whole sound has to be there. Pedal tones are one of the “secrets” of high register playing because they help with the flexibility of the embouchure. Makes sense.
I will admit that I continue to look at mouthpieces as ways of improving my sound. After all, I am a trumpet geek. But it is going to have to be significant for me to spend the money on it, after all, again, the Holy Truth is

Equipment is not the answer.

6,700 and Some Music to Celebrate

One of those relatively "round" numbers today.

This is the six thousand seven hundredth post in the ongoing saga of the Wanderings of a postModern Pilgrim.

Next week will be the blogiversary date so I will save any more comments until then.

Thanks for being here.

Here's a video from the great people at Playing for Change to help celebrate the milestone:

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

4th Week of Lent: Living Your Beliefs=Happiness

In a gentle way, 
you can shake the world.

Thoreau did not just have an impact in the United States. Among his widest impacts in the wider world was through Mohandas Gandhi, the non-violent protestor fighting in India for freedom from the British. He read Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights advocate in South Africa.
He first read Civil Disobedience "while he sat in a South African prison for the crime of nonviolently protesting discrimination against the Indian population in the Transvaal. The essay galvanized Gandhi, who wrote and published a synopsis of Thoreau's argument, calling its 'incisive logic [...] unanswerable' and referring to Thoreau as 'one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced'."
Talk about shaking the world! It is also changing the future.
The future depends on what we do in the present.
We don’t often give much thought to what influence we can have on the future. Maybe that is the life of “quiet desperation” Thoreau mentioned in his writings. What is the sense of what we do? We live until we die and then we are gone. Very few of us will have the level of influence that a Thoreau or a Gandhi had on the “future.” Perhaps, though, we need to remember that we are still in our own spheres of influence quite significant. Our words and actions go together because they are what we have right here and now to share. Gandhi recognized this in Thoreau. Here is what he said about Thoreau in For Passive Resisters in 1907:
Thoreau was … a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself. He was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced. … He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable.
Words are made real in actions. They speak louder than words. Even though Thoreau’s act of civil disobedience was quite small, even appearing trivial in comparison to what Gandhi was going through, the fact that he was willing to take the action in and of itself gave power to the words. They caught Gandhi’s attention as “sanctified” words, words containing the “holy.” Therefore Gandhi paid attention and the world was changed. I doubt that Thoreau would have ever thought his words would have such power more than 80 years later on the other side of the world.
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
In many ways that is what Lent is about. For me it is a kind of time to take inventory of how my life and my faith, my words and my actions, work together. Each year I discover new things about myself since I am not the same person I was last year let alone 50+ years ago when I became a Christian. The world is also far different. Perhaps it needs the same words but with different actions. Perhaps I need to understand God’s call to me today and not what it was when I started this journey.

So my questions for this week in Lent lead me to thinking about the melding of thoughts, words, and deeds

  • Who has had this kind of impact on my beliefs?
  • What  have I learned from them?
  • This Lent, how can I more deeply be a living action of what God wants me to do with my words?
  • This Lent, where are my actions not showing the truth of my beliefs and therefore undermining my words?
  • This Lent, how can I confess and be transformed from them and be guided into a more holistic life?
  • This Lent, how can I be open to the life-giving surrender to the power of God in Jesus to bring me healing?
To be in constant conflict with ones beliefs and actions is a sure way to lose ones sense of self and direction. If I am not open to living out the beliefs of my conscience, and my Creator, it will steal any sense of peace and hope I might be able to find. To be honest and live a life of integrity to what I believe is essential to mental and physical health. Perhaps Thoreau was right in saying that such would lead to death itself instead of the life promised by God.

Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?
Through this wound a man's real manhood 
and immortality flow out,
and he bleeds to an everlasting death.
― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent: The Truth of Friendship

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.
It is an intelligence above language.
-Henry David Thoreau

A number of years ago I was involved in the development of a Christian renewal movement within our denomination. One of the directions of the movement was “evangelism” which at that time (mid-1970s) was not quite as loaded a word as it has become. In any case it was a gentler version that we talked about in that movement. It was based on “friendship” with the mantra being
  • Make a friend,
  • Be a friend,
  • Introduce your friend to Christ.
Not a bad idea in and of itself. It was always based on the idea that when something is important to you, or touches you deeply, you are almost always ready and willing to share it with your friends. We often talked about how when we see a good movie or read a good book, we are excited to share it with friends. Our natural conclusion was we should be ready to do that with our faith.

There were those, however, who saw it from a slightly different angle. They saw it as a technique to win souls. I am over exaggerating a bit, but it became for some, “Let me find some non-Christians, befriend them, and then when they are ready I’ll talk about Jesus.” (As I said, an over-exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

The problem with that was often in the reasoning and not in the ideal. Becoming friends with people had turned into a technique to get someone to believe. In its most raw form it lacked the true heart of both friendship and evangelism. It lacked caring and compassion and was simply the often seen “numbers” game of “How many have you saved today?” It was “Who can I make friends with?” not “Who needs a friend?”

A big difference!

I always liked the “Make…Be…Introduce” approach to evangelism. I still do. I liked it because it was how I became a Christian.

A close friend and his family befriended me when I needed it. They reached out to a lonely teenager whose mother had been sick and died. They were already friends before my mom got sick, but they saw a greater need than just being a friend. They became a second family with many hours spent with them. They eventually invited me to church with them. Of course they did- it was an important, an essential part of their life. Why wouldn’t they want to share it with me? They weren’t out to “win souls”; they were out to help me be introduced to their friend Jesus.

It took a number of months for me to say okay to their invitation. When I did, I kept going back. They knew I needed something and were sure that Jesus would be right for me.

They were right! The rest is my own history. From my baptism at age 15 through college and then seminary, years of being a pastor and a counselor until now, just two months shy of 55 years later, their friendship at that important point in my life made all the difference! They were kind to the hopes I didn’t know I had and to the dreams yet undreamt!

Friends . . . They are kind to each other's hopes. 
They cherish each other's dreams.

I have had many friends over these 55 years. They have all known about my faith in its various stages and understandings. Some were members of my church; many were not. Some were Christian; some were not. My faith always informed my relationships. Again, not because I wanted to win them to Christ, something I cannot do, but because my faith is who I am. I can no more separate my faith from my personality and personhood than I can change the color of my eyes or the genes of my European ancestors.

I reflect on all that today with the quotes from Thoreau for this Sunday of Lent. It is tempting to use the friendship thoughts to think about my friendship with Jesus or God. (What a friend we have in Jesus / All our sins and griefs to bear…) That is naturally the foundation. Instead, what I have been led to this week is to think about the friends I have had- and the friend I am being. Jesus’ friendship toward me is the model of what friendship means.
  • It means openness to the friend and their needs. 
  • It means supporting their hopes and dreams for them.
  • It means sharing my hopes and dreams with them. 
  • It means caring and compassion, not asking for anything in return. 
  • It means grace.
All trite cliches I know, but cliches become time-worn because they are true and get repeated.
  • Lent reminds me of the spiritual path of friendship as Jesus himself lived it.
  • Lent reminds me of the treasure of friendship that I have been given by and with my friends.
  • Lent reminds me of the gifts of friendship that I have to offer to my friends.
[S]urely my Friend shall forever be my Friend, and reflect a ray of God to me,
and time shall foster and adorn and consecrate our Friendship,
no less than the ruins of temples.

  • This Lent, how am I living out my friendship to others?
  • This Lent, how can Jesus teach me more about being a friend?
  • This Lent, how can I grow in my closeness to God through Jesus?
  • This Lent, how can all these be consecrated by the Holy Spirit working in me?

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, 
not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; 
it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one 
when you discover that someone else believes in you 
and is willing to trust you with a friendship.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Detecting Precious Metals

The beach person that most intrigued me last week was the gentleman who slowly walked up the beach with a metal detector. They are quite common. I assume they are looking for metal that someone has dropped out of a pocket or whatever.

Once in a while I see someone with a metal detector being pulled from their own walk to help someone find something. The crew who was putting the beach chairs out for the season corralled a passing metal seeker to walk around to find something that was lost. It took about ten minutes but it was a successful job.

The usual pattern, though, is the slow walk up the beach, the detector at the end of a wand that is slowly moved back and forth in front of the walker. Headphones are used to transmit a sound of detected metal. When that happens the prospector stops. He then double checks, moving the wand back and forth making sure the sound was correct.

If so, the next step is to do some digging. Down on their knees they go to do some pushing around of sand and seashell fragments. After a moment or two of digging the detector is brought back into play over the spot. If the sound is still there, the digging continues.

I realized that the metal seeker is a good metaphor for what I do as a counselor/therapist. Whether in group or one-on-one my first task is to detect what's happening. I rummage around the edges. I ask questions. I listen carefully to what 's being said. I pay attention to what is NOT being said. If it's someone new it takes more time than if it is someone I have worked with previously. It takes concentration and an attitude of acceptance- "Something is in here for me to discover," is my opening thought.

Then I hear it. It is sometimes subtle and sometimes so blatant that it's like alarms going off. A key word, an attitude shift, a change in tone or body position. "Hmmm!" I think. "Let's do some digging." I ask different questions, give feedback on what I might have heard- the old Rogerian-method "What I hear you saying..." or just simply repeating what they said and see what they do with it. In essence I am the metal seeker getting into the story. Was the intuitive "ping" I felt real or just a false alarm?

Intuition is an important piece here for me. It is often built on experience. Very few times do I hear something so completely new and different that it is totally unlike anything I have ever heard before. There may be a new twist to it, but the underlying concern or issue is almost always something I have seen and worked with in the past. That is why more experienced counselors tend to be better at intuitively understanding situations. We aren't smarter, just been around the block a few more times.

That is why counseling/therapy can be so rewarding. It is a "treasure hunt"- a stroll along the shore of another person's depths and worries, hopes and disasters. In so doing I am hoping to be able to help them find the answers they seek- or at least help them ask the questions that will move them in a healthier direction.

Counseling is not magic nor mumbo-jumbo. It is an engagement with another human being on an exciting journey. I am humbled to have been able to do it for so many years in so many different ways.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Tuning Slide: 3.36- Ask! Just Ask!

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see?
The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story.
It is a balancing act and it is a dream.
-Neil Gaiman

All of us who know Bob Baca from UW-Eau Claire and the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop know that he likes to tell stories. Actually he is as much a storyteller as he is a master trumpet player and teacher! We listen because we know the story will be interesting and have an application for us. Personally, I am a big believer in stories. I write fiction stories because they can illustrate truth in ways that real events may find difficult. Those in 12-Step recovery programs tell stories about what people “used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” The goal is to illustrate what works- and what doesn’t. The result will be a new understanding.

I had another one of my events in the past month that needs to be told. It is a story of learning what I thought I already knew and a reminder that we never know as much as we think we know. It will also illustrate eight more of the summary thoughts from last summer. As usual, these summary thoughts will be indicated by a check mark.

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think,
but to give you questions to think upon.
--Brandon Sanderson, fantasy and science fiction writer

I have been on a great roll with my trumpet playing. A few ups and downs with the usual plateaus and then moving forward again. Toward the end of January I following my routine and Arban’s lessons. I was at a slight plateau but I was not worried. Plateaus happen. I noted in my journal that it was beginning to improve with some solid sound in the high C - E range. I was playing them with a solid sound and confidence. For me, that is a huge step forward. A week later I noticed pain on the inside of my upper lip, almost like a pressure sore where my lip and teeth came together. That was a first to that extent. I remembered what I had been told at Shell Lake:

✓ Listen to your body
  • It was telling me it hurt.
  • It was telling me it didn’t have the range or endurance.
  • I didn’t want to miss any days of doing my routine. I have not missed a day since the end of March last year. Yes, that was ego at work, of course. I want to go a whole year of not missing a day. I also had a concert coming up and didn’t want to lose anything of my endurance, even though that was happening any way.
  • I had bragged a few weeks ago to one of my trumpet friends how I was regularly playing notes in the upper register - now I was struggling and finding even my upper mid-range register was beginning to sound mushy. It was the worst setback in my playing since I started this part of my journey almost three years ago.
An important reminder from the words of Bob Baca:

✓ If you panic you will die.

Yes, Self 1 was in panic mode. That meant, for me in this case, that I wanted answers and wanted them fast! I couldn’t afford to lose my ability. I was doing so well in so many ways and now here I was, almost floundering, seemingly overnight. I was “dying”.

I wondered whether it is possible for Self 2 also to slide toward panic? Self 2 is supposed to naturally do what is the best. All is generally cool with Self 2. But, what happens when there is something out of even Self 2’s control? Whatever the physical reason(s) behind my inner lip problem/blister/sore, it was hindering what I was doing. I was hurting. I didn’t want to make it worse and have to stop.

So I did the normal plateau things of not pushing beyond pain limits; I went to slow easy pieces in the lower and mid-register; I worked on pedal tones. Nothing was working.

Oh- even my wife had noticed something was wrong. “Your playing sounds tired, exhausted. Take it easy,” she said. “Nah, I’m fine,” I said at the time. Typical.

✓ Circle of influence is important
✓ Power of ask

More words of wisdom from the board at Shell Lake.


So I turned to the community. I went to the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop Facebook page and posted a question, explaining what had been happening:

ME: OK, gang of trumpet gurus: I have developed a pressure sore (not a cold sore) inside my upper lip where it hits against the tooth. I have been practicing daily for almost 11 months. I had gotten to a good level of endurance and range! That is now going backward. Knowing opinions about taking a day off, etc. what might I do until sore eases so I don't make it so bad I can't play? Any thoughts?

Quentin replied first with a good practical question, but right behind him was the one who knew more about my embouchure than anyone else at camp. Bill Bergren. He worked with me on it last year-

BILL B: This can be caused by a crooked tooth, braces, or bad playing habits. Are you still playing with open lips? [He was remembering our private lesson last summer.]

ME: Thanks! More info: Bill- if you mean breathing, I have been working on it. …. Blah, blah, blah… more blah, blah, blah… Any other ideas or questions? [When you don’t get an answer, just talk more, add more information, fog it up with words. I can be good at that!]

BILL B: I reiterate; This can be caused by a crooked tooth, braces, or bad playing habits.

ME: I would agree since it …. Blah, blah, blah… It happened so suddenly, though. Oh well. I keep on playing. Thanks, Bill. [Ramble on my wayward son.]

I thought we were done. But I hadn’t heard Bill and he knew it. Bill, not one for extra words (or putting up with fools like me being dense) had one more, simple six-word reply.

BILL B: You are over analyzing. The sound..................

Mumble, grumble, huff and puff.

He was right. I was doing what I hate when other trumpet players do it- analyze the life out of everything. Ramble on and on about what’s happening looking for a quick solution. By focusing on the pain and lip and the sudden lack of range/endurance I was ignoring what Self 2 can do best- play with the right- and best- sound. Back to the board at Shell Lake:

✓ Always play with your best sound
✓ Just have fun! It will happen faster.

Self 2 knows how to make sound- good sound. It needs to convince Self 1 that it can still happen. “Be easy, man,” it was telling me through Bill’s words. “Don’t get so hung up on all that crap. Make the best sound. Always.”

I went back to the long tones and Getchell with slow and easy playing. I let the sound go from the horn. I stopped nerding-out and obsessing about what I was experiencing. "It’s a plateau, dummy. You pushed too far, you didn’t pay attention. Relax! Have fun. Make music!”

✓ Your best trumpet playing is only a thought away [therefore]
✓ Your best trumpet playing hasn’t happened yet

It’s been over a week now. I have regained the mid-range sound- simply by playing it the way I was before. I have regained the fun of playing. I am watching that I am not pushing the limits- I am paying attention to the body and what Self 2 is saying. The body does not like it when I push to playing tired. It unlearns what it has learned. It wants to feel good playing, not exhausted.

I've played two concerts in the past 6 days. The second was last night. I played well, with range and endurance! It was fun and I liked what I was doing.

Sometimes we have to listen to those around us.

As always and every time, thanks, Bill!

If you're going to have a story, 
have a big story, or none at all.
--Joseph Campbell, mythologist, writer and lecturer

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Third Week of Lent: The Wilderness Path of Light

We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.
-Aldo Leopold

Most people would agree that Thoreau was the original American nature writer. His reflection on his two years on Walden Pond is classic and the root from which many others have grown. One of the greatest of these was Aldo Leopold.

Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) was an American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), which has sold more than two million copies…. Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation…. He emphasized biodiversity and ecology and was a founder of the science of wildlife management. -Link

What does Leopold as an heir of Thoreau have to teach us this Lenten season? How can we discover new insights into our spiritual lives in this world from him? I for one believe that wilderness and nature is always an excellent starting point for any spiritual journey. It is not coincidence that we use Jesus’ wilderness temptations as the starting point for Lent or that the Desert Fathers and Mothers went into a wilderness to find their own souls closer to God. The presence and possibility of nature in all its hope and danger is a place to learn about the limits of our human condition.

Leopold began the Foreword to A Sand County Almanac:

THERE are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. (P. vii)

Leopold was in the forefront of a movement that saw great danger in what we humans were (and are) doing to the natural world. He understood that his view can only begin to be discussed once we have enough food to eat, that is, we are beyond basic survival mode. But unfettered progress was not necessarily a good thing either.

The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not. … (P. vii)

I am currently reading a truly interesting history of the two sides of the debate of the future of humanity. In The Wizard and the Prophet, Charles Mann tells the story of the “two sides of a century-long dispute between what Mann calls “wizards,” who believe that science will allow humans to continue prospering, and “prophets,” who predict disaster unless we accept that our planet's resources are limited.” (Kirkus Review)  Leopold was part of the side Mann calls the “prophets.” They see the earth’s resources as limited, needing to be protected or we will misuse, abuse, and eventually eliminate them to our own and the world’s detriment.

These two sides have not been reconciled and remain clearly opponents in the debate. Leopold concludes his Foreword with these words:

[O]ur bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to tum off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. (P. ix)

Many of us raised in the environmentalism of the 60s will easily fall on the Aldo Leopold side of the debate. Such a view is based on an understanding of ultimately limited resources, maintaining stewardship of what we have, the absolute interrelatedness of humans and nature, and finally, the dangers of a consumer-driven society where more and bigger is always better (even as we gladly participate in it.)

I am a fugitive and a vagabond, a sojourner seeking signs.
- Annie Dillard

Many of us also know the advantages of “nature.” Books like A Sand County Almanac and Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) have opened many of us to the amazing world around us. They have shown us both the “otherness” of nature and our connectedness, even dependence on it. It is a place that, as others have said, one must go prepared, or not at all. I am one of those who believes that the “spiritual” is the best way to be prepared for what it has to teach us and what I need to learn.

I don’t mean just wilderness, either. It can be the town park, the woods off the side of the road, the Bald Eagle’s nest along the river on the edge of the city. It can be a bike trail, a neighborhood street, or the nearest state park. If we go there with an openness to what’s there, what’s new, and what’s old, we will never be disappointed. Sometimes we look up at the canopy or the sky; at other times we get down and explore the square foot of earth beneath our feet. They are both filled with wonder and beyond.

They are filled with God and the words of God. They are icons- images that open to the indescribable. They are sacraments- outward and visible signs and means of God’s grace.

The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.
-Annie Dillard

I pray that we not lose sight of this value of the natural world. I pray that as we go through our days, the possibility of finding God in all places will deepen our spiritual health through the world around us. The inward journey of Lent can prepare us for that. It is why we return here every year. We walk our inner labyrinths in order to circle and then touch the holy center of who we are.

There are many lessons to be learned, explored, and acted upon in these writings of Leopold and Dillard, heirs of Thoreau. We in the faith community know some of them, in our own imperfect human ways. We preach stewardship but often forget about the stewardship of the world around us. We sing of our “awesome wonder” at all the works God’s hands have made, yet pay little thought to how we can help protect and enhance that. We know of the value of community but overlook the greater community of the interconnectedness of the world.

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you can rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
-Annie Dillard

This week of Lent, may I walk into the Light, put myself into the path of it’s cleansing and healing beam. Then sail into the presence of the Creator! Let us do it together.

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.
-Aldo Leopold

Monday, February 26, 2018

Waiting in Imagined Fear

It is not a new subject. We have been through this numerous times in the past 19 years since Columbine in 1999. After the latest school shooting in Florida I was taken back in my memory to the two early incidents that had an impact on me. Beyond those directly involved, we are seeing that many are being affected. For those who are not at the scene, I wondered, "What does imagined fear do to a soul?"

Columbine. April 1999.
It was nearing the end of my daughter's senior year in high school. Living in a smaller Wisconsin city where school was often the center of the community and my daughter being a senior the events in Columbine seemed way too real.

I thought about my daughter sitting in school, in a study hall in the commons area right inside door 1, the main entrance. I thought about members of the church who worked in or near the office, right across the commons or my best friend, one of the band directors down the hall. I thought of all the young people I knew, through our daughter, the church or community activities.

Then, within a couple days, there was a threat made to the school just as has happened across the country in the past two weeks. I knew that student as well.

The school made a couple of immediate decisions, including changing the location of graduation. It had been held outside at a local park for years. People would bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the wonders of spring along the river while the students marched in graduation. It was quite a celebration for the students and the community. Now it would be held in the school gym, more formal, but safer to protect. Some of the seniors protested but to no avail.

Red Lake Shooting. March 21, 2005
Six years later short a month I was in southern Minnesota working as a chemical health counselor in the local schools. A 16-year old on the Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota took his grandfather's police weapon, killed his grandfather and grandfather's girlfriend then went to the school and continued the murders. He was wounded in a shootout with police and then committed suicide in a vacant classroom.

The shooter was only a year or two older than the students I worked most closely with, and had lived in our district for a short period of time. In the odd way of coincidences, I also knew his mother. My office was about fifty feet from the main entrance, the only unlocked door, of course, into the school. I often sat in there working with my office door open. The days after the shooting I became very aware of the proximity of that entrance and how quickly someone could get to my office. I vaguely remember having discussions with other staff, but we never really went into any detail that I can recall.

The students seemed naturally subdued for a few days. None of them ever mentioned to me that they knew the shooter when he was in our district, although they may have. All kinds of thoughts ran through everyone's minds I would guess. It's easy to become a sitting duck in many of the buildings in any school district.

I would call this "imagined fear." It is fear of the unknown that can easily come with an awareness of powerlessness, loss of control, the unplanned events that "can't happen here!"

Reaction as a pastor and counselor
I first thought of this after Columbine when social workers and others reflected some of their feelings on what had happened. They missed clues, they believed progress was happening with the two shooters when the youth were faking it. It was still a rare event in 1999 so even the best trained social workers didn't know what to look for. (By the way, in many ways they still don't. But that's another post.)

As a pastor in the community as well as an addictions counselor working with adolescents and a close friend of two guidance counselors in the school system, I wondered with them over coffee how we would know. We didn't have any answers, just as the counselors in Colorado didn't either.

In Minnesota I worked closely with the school counselors and staff. I was officially working for the county and was part of the school social work group. While the Red Lake incident did not have the larger impact of Columbine, we all shook our heads wondering what we miss on a regular basis. Since we all worked with severely "at-risk" youth we knew that just about any of our students could potentially break and cause such a disaster. It is not as easy to identify the future shooter as many would like to believe.

Rage, extreme anger, being bullied- these are all triggers and potential symptoms of school shooters. But these youth are also very, very good at masking it- sometimes by becoming bullies, sometimes by extreme introversion, sometimes by just being damn good actors. Every counselor or social worker in any school is painfully aware of this. It may be the nightmare for many that they miss the cues of suicidality or a shooter and the unthinkable happens. I have never had a shooter, but I know the pain of missed signs of suicide. I would guess the missed murderer is even worse.

Don't attack the counselor or social worker who misses it. Even though signs and the understanding of causes are clearer now than in 1999 or 2005, they are still variable. Plus, we don't know how many we DID prevent without ever knowing it was a possibility. There, I believe, we have most likely done more good than we will ever know.

Safety and Security Reflections
I was also aware then and still am in many ways of the impossibility of security and safety. Looking back at the four schools I worked with in Minnesota, they were all active places. At times of the day there were people entering and leaving the main entrance- people like myself, the social workers, shared teaching staff who traveled from school to school as needed; parents bringing forgotten papers to school or picking up a student for some appointment somewhere. Sure, having one main entrance to watch helps, but that does not prevent a mass shooting with multiple casualties.

An armed teacher would not be in the same position as an armed guard or patrol. The teacher is hopefully more focused on a day-to-day basis with teaching. They are working with some significant number of students on a regular basis. They are lecturing, proctoring, helping with homework, watching for misbehavior in their own classroom. If they are doing a good job as a teacher, they are not in a very good position to respond as quickly as they would need to if an event occurred near them.

It is already tough enough to be a good teacher. We can't also require them to be a good armed guard. Many don't want that job. I wouldn't. Improved security is important, of course. But we should probably expect that an armed guard at a main entrance to a school may well be the first casualty, not the last.

Students today
Malcolm Gladwell wrote the famous book The Tipping Point which essentially laid out that before any significant change occurs, there has to be the point where a critical mass of people say, "Enough!" For some reason, at least as I write this at the end of February 2018, we seem to have hit that point. Why the students of Parkland, FL, have reacted this way when others haven't to this extent will be something for social scientists to ponder somewhere down the road.

It is not that they have been fed by some left-wing, anti-gun conspiracy. It is not that they are more liberal than any of the students in the other places. They survived what their friends and teachers did not. Instead of survivors' guilt sending them into a dark frenzy of self-questioning, they shouted, "Enough."

When these students responded, so students in schools across the country were reminded that they, too, have been living in fear of such an attack. As a nation, since 9/11 we have all lived with such a fear of terrorists. The government in all kinds of overt as well as subtle ways, has been reminding us of that threat for seventeen years.

Maybe this last school shooting, an act of terror if not terrorism in the usual sense, was a tipping point to deal with those fears. Here is something that we might be able to do something about. More of us are getting killed by "shooters" than terrorists. Students in schools, worshipers in church, concert-goers having a party, workers in offices. Terror-inducing scenes.

People are tired of being afraid. People are sick of fear. People want to be able to do something that might have an impact on the culture of mass shootings we seem to be in the midst of. (That, it should be noted, is also why gun sales increase after each shooting.) Nothing will be 100% effective at stopping mass shootings. No one should ever believe it would. What the students of today are saying is that they are tired of being on the front lines of a war they never signed-up for. They want to have a say. They want to throw off the fear and do something.

Courage is not something that means we are fearless. Courage is, as an old, trite phrase used to say, is simply "fear that has said its prayers." What that means is that to act with courage is to know that there is strength in action, with confronting what is causing our fear. Courage is doing the next right thing to make a difference. There is a generation out there, a whole school generation since Columbine, that is now saying they want courage, not fear, to be their guiding principle.

We should listen and then be willing to truly sit down in dialogue to find out what is possible. We need to stop throwing ideology and patriotic misunderstandings at them. We need to support them and perhaps in so doing cast off our own fears.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fascinating History

Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied HospitalBellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital by David M. Oshinsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing history of an iconic hospital, public health in New York, and medicine in America. Quote a story of epidemics, change, riots, wars, AIDS, and a Superstorm. It is fascinating to read of how different medical care was not that long ago!

View all my reviews