Monday, July 30, 2007

Drumbeats, Guitar Licks, and Tears

Reconnecting. Genuine Leather was the musical rage in the Hampton, Iowa class of 1977. The rock trio began playing together in junior high, and by high school had attracted a significant -- albeit local -- following. According to the mother of one of the band members, groupies -- mostly female classmates -- regularly crowded into their living room to hear the band practice. My wife happily admits to being among them. But that was a long time ago. Separate ways silenced the music -- the lead guitarist now lives in Omaha, the drummer in Kuwait, and the bassist in Minnesota. So when word circulated earlier this summer that the band would reunite for the 30-year class reunion, excitement began to build.

And tension. You could see it in the faces of the trio as the now middle-aged crowd began to gather and circulate in conversation last Saturday night. A couple of the band members confessed that they had been practicing for two solid days, and that they simply couldn't do some of the things they used to do. He didn't elaborate, although my imagination filled in the gaps with images of Elvis-like gyrations and guitar wrecking acrobatics. Before long the dinner had been consumed and the lights began to dim while the expectations brightened. Wearing matching Genuine Leather 2007 commemorative T-shirts ordered by one of the mothers, the band tended to one last perfunctory tuning, took a deep breath, looked prayerfully into each other's eyes, and...

...launched. Unh, unh, unh. Unh, unh, unh-unh; unh, unh, unh, unh-unh-unh. The heavy bass riff and thundering drums of "Smoke on the Water" drew an appreciative eruption from the crowd, an almost involuntary smile of satisfaction from the band members, and a happy flashback in everyone in the room. Suddenly, we all had more hair, fewer pounds, and stronger muscles. Suddenly, life was out in front of us, war was behind us, and retirement funds were still tomorrow's concern.

Four songs later, the concert was over and even the casual observer couldn't miss the relief in the band members eyes. They had done it -- successfully. They had remade the music and lived to tell about it. And the standing ovation and flickering lighters that miraculously appeared among the crowd merely punctuated and confirmed the assessment. It had been good, and they felt it.

But there was something else in their eyes. I suppose it could have been perspiration. They had, after all, been working muscles -- physical as well as musical -- that had long been out of shape. It's hard work being a "rocker." But I believe they were tears -- of relief, perhaps; of exhilaration, no doubt; but almost certainly of exuberant, awe-filled, and profoundly grateful and moving joy. Something intangible had transpired as their glances had signaled cues and their hands had traced familiar grooves and the cheers enveloped them in supportive embrace.

Standing together, arm-in-arm in their matching T-shirts for a closing photo-op, they smiled -- a kind of mystical countenance that the rest of us not so much noticed as shared. It was on our faces, as well. And, if the truth be told, in our eyes. For we were "perspiring" along with them. It's hard work, after all, reaching across all those years, reliving all those memories, renewing all those relationships, trying to remember the words, and singing -- almost, in a way, praying -- along.

Thanks for getting back together, guys. And thanks for the ride.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Accounting for the Silence

Dormancy. Perhaps "writer's block." Perhaps a simple absence of imagination stirring thoughts. The point is, the blog has been quiet of late. Travels have been part of it -- demands that took me away, both physically and mentally. But travel isn't the ultimate blame. It's not hard to get online. The internet has regularly been accessible; I simply haven't accessed it. Despite meetings and reconnections with old friends and distant relatives; despite debates and reports and swelling worship, I've been quiet. While I hope that I have had a few thoughts over the past week and however many days, the simple fact of it is that I haven't had anything to say -- an admission that is both humbling and, I like to think, authentic.

It could be that my eyes have glazed over. It could be that my nerve endings have calloused to the degree that only the most dramatic is perceived. It could also be that not every flicker of light warrants comment, no matter its welcomed interruption of the dark.

So, I have been quiet of late.

Until now.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Whose Hands Really Matter

I don't think he meant it personally, but the Pope this week declared me invalid. It's a hard thing coming from someone who has never met me, but I've certainly been called worse. In a new statement released Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI gave ecumenism a real boost by declaring the Roman Catholic Church the only real church, alone possessing the means to salvation, and that the clergy of those non-Catholic churches -- however nice and helpful they may be -- are ultimately firing blanks because they lack apostolic succession.

I mean no disrespect, but I think the Pope could benefit from a fresh reading of the book of Acts, in which protocols -- the "right" ways of doing things -- and boundaries and ideas about the "only true church" were quite regularly ripped apart in the face of evidence demonstrating that God's Spirit quite gleefully and regularly ignored them. I rather thought the Gospel message itself was an assault on such limiting thinking about who "qualifies," who is "acceptable," and who are Christ's mother and brothers (see Matthew 12:46-48).

But that's his business. As to non-Catholic churches being absent the power of salvation, I can only say that's not been my experience. And as to my personal lack of apostolic authority, it is true that Peter did not lay his hands on me through the ordination of his direct successors. But all this talk has made me think again of those under whose hands I was ordained -- "lay" people like Albert McAllister and Tom Brittain and Royce Farnsworth and Jack Fulwiler and Dutch Schultz and others; clergy mentors like Jim Oglesby and Larry Keefauver and Earl Bissex and my Dad -- and I can say theirs felt heavy enough.

As far as I'm concerned, Peter's hands would have been just fine that precious ordination day -- if, that is, those other, and frankly preferable, ones had not been available.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tracks and Stems and a Different Perspective

Deer tracks, plainly imprinted in the muddy mulch. Tracks, just beside the stump of a lily stem nibbled down to within a couple inches of its life. The hosta stalks are near leafless as well, though there are no tell-tale tracks. I knew it would happen. Deer regularly pass behind our town home and graze along the way. The truth is, I am surprised it has taken this long to notice their ill-effects. The loveliness I have helped create is, to call it a different name, "attractive nuisance."

All of which is simply to call attention to variant perspectives. If "one person's meat is another person's poison," it is likewise true that one person's aesthetic is another's sustenance.
Secondary vs. primary.
Desirable vs. essential.
Flower vs. food.

We have been trying to get organized enough to clean out our storage room to the benefit of Goodwill or Salvation Army. We have all kinds of things shelved there -- a now replaced VCR, an unused microwave from our old house, dishes beyond counting, one more boom box than we are every likely to use, just to name the obvious. And of course there is more. Like wire hangers that seem to propagate when the lights are out and the door is closed, the "stuff" just seems to multiply. What once seemed like an extravagant amount of space has somehow swelled beyond capacity. We need to purge the boxes and shelves. We need to let go of far too much that we have long since forgotten we are holding.

Our leftovers that well could be someone else's basics. Our seeds that could well attractively sprout.

Our excess flowers, as it were, that could be someone else's food. I'll keep looking for the hoof prints in the mulch, as odd invitations to remember, to whisper thanks, and to offer the nourishment at my disposal.

Eat up. More will grow.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Fireworks of Both Heart and Sky

We are nearing an anniversary -- the 10th to be specific. On July 4, 1997 I proposed. Marriage, if specificity is still required. During the fireworks. I tried to convince her that the colorful explosions were just for her. She bought it -- the proposal, that is; not the bit about the fireworks. Even so, fireworks have been special to us ever since. They are festive, explosive reminders to us of all that has erupted from the chemical reaction of a timid but hopeful "Will you..." stirred together with an exuberant "I will!" So it is that for the 10th consecutive year we will make our way outside with a blanket and a grin, take our seats beneath a darkening sky, and wait for the curtain to open.

It is but the largest way we have tried to practice specificity. Our lives are not, after all, general conditions blurred together, but particular words and deeds and gestures and choices. Some of those particularities, like the anniversary of our engagement, are calendarized. Others are simply noticed and named at the time -- sometimes for the significance and celebration they represent; other times for the pain or the poignancy they have elicited. Regardless, we are trying to practice the fine art of paying attention -- to the details, but ultimately to their significance.

A taste. A touch. A compliment. An insight glimpsed. A kindness extended. A grace conveyed. Exhilaration. Awe. A lump in the throat. A tear.

And sometimes, in the midst of fireworks exploding, all of the above.