Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On my iPod

Someone recently asked me if I run with my iPod. What a frightful idea. Yes, I have an iPod. No, I do not listen to it when I run, and especially not when I am cycling. As for cycling, I can hardly imagine anything more dangerous than tuning out my surroundings while on the street, nor more depressing than tuning out my surroundings while on forested bike paths.

And as I answered my running friend, I have so many voices going in my head, I could hardly stand the competition of an iPod while exercising!

Which is not to say I don't have music going in my head when I ride, and when I run. I suppose there would be some performance-enhancement from pumping into my head the kind of music typically used for working out. I hear this in indoor cycling coaching sessions, during the winter. And, while I don't listen to that kind of music on my own, I don't mind it for 90 minutes twice a week. I get it. (Not to mention that it meant I knew at least a few songs when I sat down to "Rock Band" last winter ...)

But I find the soundtrack in my head works quite well, thank you very much, for riding and for running. My mind, as fragile as it may seem, is quite capable of setting the metronomic pace for the exercise. And what a surprise and treat it often serves up! It may be a Beatles tune, an old children's song, a hymn (lots of hymns), or a sacred anthem. I almost never set out with something particular to "accompany" the exercise ... the songs, or snatches of song, come unbidden and serve their purpose. And more often than not, I find they serve more than one purpose. In addition to pacing, getting my soundtrack from within generally ends up serving my spirit as well as my workout.

I can't say how many solo rides have ended up solving particular choral problems or issues I've struggled with. Or how often an old song, long forgotten, will come back to me fully formed. Running is a new enterprise for me, but I am finding the same to be true on foot as well.

There's a place for my iPod, and I'm thankful for it. But I'm sure glad I don't need it to provide internal motivation. I have lots to learn from those internal voices!

Anyway - on my iPod; listed here as it comes to mind, since I don't have it with me at the moment:
Podcasts from Public radio: Wait Wait Don't Tell Me; The Sunday Puzzle; Writers Almanac
Music Genres: pop, rock, classical, choral, world music, indie rock, folk, country
Surprises: Johnny Cash, The Decemberists, U2, Harry Nilsson
Favorites: Concordia College Choir (Moorhead); Paul Simon (almost everything); Christmas choral music; the last thing I downloaded
First item I loaded on my iPod: Bach Christmas Oratorio, complete (and yes, I did listen to it; I also put it on first so I could say it was the first thing on my iPod. I know - lame.)
What I'd listen to if I did ride or run with an iPod: nothing! What would happen to all those songs in my head?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Heavenly Worship

Like many, there was a time when I wondered just how boring heaven is going to be ... just one long worship service! Kids of a certain generation, in particular, had I think the sense that the unengaging services we sat through held some kind of eternal threat for us. Is that really what we had to look forward to?

(An interesting sidelight observation: To the extent that children ever actually thought this way ... or was it really just me? ... there was an interesting connection being made, that somehow our weekly worship supposedly modeled the heavenly. Which, I think it can be argued, it ought to be - or at least we ought at least to be conscious of heavenly worship when we are gathered "here below." The Orthodox aspire to this intentionally. I think we can get there in any tradition.)

Aging, if not actually maturing, I have a deeper sense of what might just possibly be in store in the eschaton, the new heavens and new earth, the new creation which we are experiencing now only vaguely, in fits and starts. Cities and rivers and fruit trees and seasons and feasting ... it boggles the mind, in a way I wish I had known enough 20 years ago, to begin to instill into my own children's imagination. I pray they are gettting that at some level anyway.

Today (and I really mean, today, 17 August 2009) the notion of a never-ending "worship" service is more appealing than ever. Yesterday at College Church was timed to the minute, and I spent the day fretting over hitting all the marks. In a church already pretty uptight about the clock, we wound it up pretty tight and put every staff person on alert as to their responsiblity to "make the services come in on time." I was a wreck. We made it, morning and evening, but am I glad we don't live like this every week.

I could never function in a church tied to a television or radio broadcast. I've seen the service outlines for some of these churches, with their cues and time-lines. No thanks. It's bad enough just trying to make a 3-service morning work without mobs forming in the narthex and parking lot, as people go and come.

So I am adding this to the arguments for a single-service congregation: let us relax, focus, and breathe as we are likely to in heaven.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Last night Bill and Kevin played the evening service. Piano and guitar, with one singer and me. While we generally have at least another instrument and maybe another voice, the makeup for congregational song was pretty typical. But the playing was anything but typical.

We are rich with resources at College Church. If I let myself, I can be smitten with the embarrassment of riches. I'm just as likely to take them for granted. I try to stay somewhere in the middle - appreciating the many who give so much for this great work, and not being apologetic that other churches would pay huge sums to get any number of our volunteers on a regular basis.

But with Bill at the piano, and Kevin on guitar, we enjoyed the subtle dynamics of two skilled servant musicians, whose primary purpose was to play so that the people can sing. Not because they can't play to impress! Kevin is capable in many styles, on every guitar-type instrument (I love to have his mandolin and his banjo involved); Bill is a repetiteur with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The men are no slouches. But each gives himself to the support of others. And, man, what they give!

It has been a while since they played together in our evening service. So in rehearsal it was a delight to be reminded what they bring - individually and in ensemble. They listen to one another, without a word changing roles and parts, complementing and drawing each other out. Kevin would pick up the melody, and Bill was immediately chording. Bill would brig out the melody, and Kevin would slip into a new rhythmic accompanying pattern - completely apt for the melody, and altogether surprising.

I don't know how much the typical singer in the pew could have said what was happening. But this interplay evoked some extraordinary singing. Our evening services tend to be laid back. They mix hymns - classic, modern, gospel - with new songs that may or may not be Praise & Worship (but are normally not identified with that genre, whatever that may be). Another planner would turn up the heat a bit in the services; and these musicians would be right there for that, too. But the beauty of their leadership last night was that even with this laid-back vibe, there was variety, energy, and a musical vitality ... a fecund creativity ... that lifted us all in glorious song.

It was something like jazz, spontaneous and responsive. It was a treat to stand in front of them and lend my very average voice to the mix, with a sweet soprano also on mic, and be caught in the middle of a beautiful night of song. Because Bill and Kevin gave themselves the way they did, we had a true ensemble of the whole - a room united in voice, heart, intent, and worship. That's glory.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Robinson

Having finshed Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, I don't know whether to a) wish she had more fiction to spend time with, or b) be thankful that she has so carefully paced herself and only produced works of beauty. Housekeeping was published in 1980. Gilead in 2004. Home in 2008. What gifts, and what discipline to not "crank out" more along the way.

When I finished Housekeeping I knew I would re-read these books, and would buy them to re-read and share. And I am pretty sure that when I read them again, I shall do so out loud. If my Karen can stand it, or if I can find a place where neither she nor our dog, Truman, will be bothered by my croaky voice. The language is compelling, and I'd like to hear these books as well as read them.

So, the essays (The Death of Adam) came between the first 2 novels. This morning I began the last item on my Robinson Summer Reading List. It is another coffee shop book, non-fiction, published in 1989. Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution. I mean, the range of interests and subjects boggles the mind. Written as it was in the waning years of the Cold War, it is an engaging snapshot of an era. And again, it has such a balanced socio-political perspective. A rather depressing topic, to be sure, and I'm interested to see how she plays it out.

Then, I'll have to decide how to keep this kind of beauty in my reading. Thankfully, there is Wendell Berry. On vacation last week I read A World Lost, and began essays (What Are People For? 1990) Berry is a triple threat author, and it seems people know him for either his novels, or his essays, or his poetry. I have found wonder and delight in all three.