Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Gardening

Immediately following Easter, Karen and I had a small window of opportunity to get our gardens ready. The days were warm, and we finally had some daylight after office hours. Bulbs were pushing up but not yet in bloom, and the ornamental pear trees (the early glories of our small yard) were beginning to blossom.

When Karen and I moved into our house in Winfield, there was a back-yard deck/porch with some evergreens around it, and not another plant in the back lawn. Grass from fence to fence to fence, and a swing-set. It was pretty sparse, and for a couple of country kids who enjoy a garden, very unsatisfying. Our first summer in this home, this started to change, and now we have gardens rimming the back yard, and two maturing trees – one of them in glorious bloom the first week of Easter. This is our 14th year here, and if we didn’t have pictures of the early years, even we wouldn’t believe how much the place has changed.

That week following Easter, we got to work weeding, cleaning, and mulching the gardens. Much as wanted to sit and relax, those hours that week were given to work in the gardens. Cleaning, weeding, and mulching had to precede sitting and enjoying them. And we were in a race against nature’s clock – trying to stay ahead of the inexorable emergence of the succession of perennials. So we rushed home after office hours, to get the last couple of daylight hours in our garden. Dinner followed.

One just can’t take a garden for granted! They are a lot of work, and they operate on a time-table that we can’t control. As I spread a lot of mulch, I thought about the care, feeding, and protection of music ministry. We just can’t take it for granted, that our work will thrive, weed-free from season to season. We don’t control the time-table of ministry, and Sundays (like perennial plants) arrive whether we are prepared or not! So with our musicians we work at preparing the soil, clearing out the stubborn old weeds, and protecting against their reemergence. And cooperating with God in the results – for he gives the growth, and it is his beauty on display.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Senior Pastor Emeritus, Kent Hughes, College Church in Wheaton, had the most impressive pastor's library I have ever seen. He once related his response to the most common question he was asked in his study.
Parishioner: "Pastor, have you read all these books?"
Kent: "Some of them twice."

Here is a short list of my other books - those that have not been read, much less twice, but stand apart on a separate shelf. This is where I feel I must go when I need something else to read. Unless, that is, something else ininuates itself. It could be an invigorating summer!

  • Eugene Peterson, following on Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places - Eat This Book and The Jesus Way
  • D.A.Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation
  • Dever, Duncan, et al, Preaching the Cross
  • John Piper, A Hunger for God
  • Paul S. Jones, Singing and Making Music
  • Robin Leaver, Luther's Liturgical Music
  • Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe
  • Scott Hyslop, The Journey was Chosen: the life and work of Paul Manz
  • John Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding
  • John Tyson, Assist Me to Proclaim: the life and hymns of Charles Wesley
  • Jeffrey, Ovey & Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions
  • Martin Luther, Three Treatises
  • Timothy George, ed., God the Holy Trinity
  • D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
  • Jacques Ellul, To Will & To Do
There are many more to be read, the first time. These are not even all the titles on my "to be read next" shelf. And I can't begin to guess what might assert its priority over these. But now being a bit better organized, I think I can set myself to the glories and surprises at hand.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring Cleaning

It isn't always like this, but I find myself with a bit of margin here after Easter. Having sung Quasimodo Sunday, the Octave of Easter, we get this coming Sunday off before galloping on to our final Sunday of the season, June 6. Repertoire is all picked, and I'm caught up on my post-Easter service planning.

While the choir charges on, I have one more Sunday away myself. It is the actual end of a marathon season that began the day after Christmas. With one thing and another, I have a stretch of over a month of evening services that have not required my music planning. And the sun is shining, and I am trying to keep from day-dreaming about the mulch I'll be putting on the gardens over the next few evenings and early mornings.

And here in the the office, this (perhaps naively presumed) "down time" is taking the shape of a sort of spring cleaning. It is not escapist ... really, it isn't. It is a function of organizing and harnessing my resources for a pretty focused push that will drive me through the rest of spring and all of summer.

It began today by spending an hour re-organizing my bookshelves. As a fairly bookish person, this is no insignificant task. I began to realize that I knew I had certain books that I could not find. And the categories were becoming - well, soft. And I had to admit, finally, that there are some books here that I (a) won't read; or (b) won't re-read. My wife will laugh to see how few I have culled, but it is a start, and you book-lovers will understand how painful a start it is! (Karen is also a book-lover, so yes, she does understand.) Duplicates? Gone. Dated issues? Gone. Books inscribed 20 years ago by people from a previous life, with no ongoing relationship or reading value? Ouch, these too are gone. With an  hour's work, I now stand a fairly good chance of finding what I'm after in two or three categories. I don't know how many more hours I can take to do this, but if any are half as productive as today's they will be well spent indeed.

As I finished, I heard a friend's voice in the office. He came in to chat, and of course asked "what have you been doing today?" My first response: "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic." It's an old metaphor, and a powerful one. It's only sort of apt today. But it's always a good joke. I guess more fitting would be "rearranging the ballast on a fresh-water sloop" (which totally lacks punch, doesn't it?). Reading has to be at the center of my work. Today's labors, and any follow-on I can get, should help me stay afloat, navigable, and smooth-sailing.

Here's to spring cleaning., Now, where is that ...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In mansions of glory

It was the most extraordinary time for a Christian funeral. Holy Saturday. The night before, the Chancel Choir sang two Good Friday services; the next morning, they would sing three Easter services. But here they were, at Noon on Easter Saturday, to sing in memorium, for a young woman lost to a fierce cancer. Anne sang in this choir for several years, met and courted Lee in this context, was wed in a ceremony officiated by their pastor/choir director. Four and a half years later, buried, age 34.

But those are just the sad facts. It was an extraordinary time for a Christian memorial service. The night before, the Choir had sung beautifully and powerfully, "this is earth's darkest hour, but You restore the light; then let all praise be given to you who live forevermore. Give us compassion, Lord, that as we share this hour, your cross may bring us joy - and resurrection power!" We lingered at the Cross reflected in the Table, where we sang of the Beautiful Savior, "none can be nearer, fairer or dearer, than Thou my Savior art to me." With the congregation we ended the night with a song unknown: "Here might I stay and sing of him my soul adores. Never was love, dear King, never was grief like yours. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend."

And on Saturday, we had the privilege of spending another day in his sweet praise. Sitting in full view of the breaved Lee, and his parents (also in this Choir) and her parents (former choristers with us), it was again our privilege to lead in the singing of hymns, and to offer up an anthem on behalf of all the assembled. The hymns, the scripture, the husband's remembrance, the beautiful and apt funeral homily - and then the requested choir anthem.

Lee and Anne have not sung with this choir for two years, being charter members and active leaders in a daughter church. They last visited a morning service at College Church this winter, when the Choir sang Paul Sjolund's "My Jesus, I Love Thee" with violin obligatto. Anne had said to Lee, "I'd like them to sing that at my funeral." It was not a long-range request. In January Anne had been finally told, after 3+ years of treatment for melanoma, that there were no more treatment options. She was already facing the end of her life on earth.

And so it was that the choir loft filled on Holy Saturday, between the Cross and the Resurrection, and sang:
My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine ...
I love thee because thou hast first loved me,
and purchased my pardon on Calvary's tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.
And then, for the first time all voices together, in unison, forte:
In mansions of glory and endless delight
I'll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I'll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
"If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now."
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou,
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.

It is a Holy Week we will not soon forget. Anne's death on Monday colored everything we did. Many choristers sang Good Friday with an extra layer of somberness, and a clearer sense of loss, than this service itself gives. (And I have to say, we have a powerful, evocative Good Friday service.) And the glorious truth and promise of Resurrection colored the singing in the memorial service on Saturday. And the reality of Anne's eternal life lifted our Alleluias on Sunday morning.

I have said many times over the past few days, "the choir does the heavy lifting during Passion Week to begin with. This weekend they were heroes." But they? They simply did that thing that church choirs do - they showed up when asked and needed, and sang their very best all weekend long, and pointed listeners to the source of their faithfulness and strength, and gave God glory.

It was the most extraordinary time for a Christian funeral. And a most extraordinary Easter.