“If I didn’t think music would save the human race, I would not be a musician.”
So said Pete Seeger, who died today, January 28, 2014, at the age of 94. Seeger was a songwriter and social activist who advocated peace, unionism, environmentalism, and other left wing causes through his gift of music. Some of the songs he wrote and/or popularized include “We Shall Overcome,” “If I had a Hammer,” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?”
Seeger was convicted of contempt of Congress during Congressional Hearings by the House Unamerican Activities Committee during the 1950’s. By the 21st century, however, Washington, D.C. welcomed him as he played his unique brand of folk music at a presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. He was widely admired for his influence upon subsequent generations of singer/social activists such as Bob Dylan and Don McLean.
“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”
Whether or not one agrees with Seeger’s politics and social agenda, one can admire his clarity of vision and the complete utilization of his gifts in service of his goal. God gave him talent and he used it to foster a humanitarian message, to uplift the downtrodden, and to try to make his corner of the world a better place.
Seeger’s death makes me wonder: Do I have clear goals? Do I use my talents to move toward my goals? Do I take risks for my beliefs? When I die, will I have made this world a better place?
I have no idea what Seeger’s religious beliefs were, if any, but I think he lived according to the golden rule as he tried to usher “God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Rest in Peace, Pete Seeger…..and thank you for making the rest of us restive until God’s kingdom is here and now.
New Years Meditation
This year I fulfilled a lifelong desire to attend the Rose Parade in Pasadena in person! It was a particularly moving event for me because I also helped to work on the OneLegacy float the day after Christmas. What an awesome experience to then see the float, not remotely on a television screen as I had done for years, but “up close and personal” from the sidewalk where I staked out a good viewing position before sunrise. My pleasure was heightened by knowing that my tiny contribution of cutting dried flowers to later be glued to lantern-shapes on the float, was one among hundreds of small contributions that enhanced the whole.
Church membership, relationships with God, with family and with friends, are also dependent upon each person contributing one small bit to the eventual outcome. No one can do it all or go it alone, and sometimes the most humble of tasks is the most important task of all. For instance, spectators near me on the sidewalk clapped and cheered loudly for many floats as they passed; but the loudest clapping was reserved for the men and women who followed the various horses in the parade, picking up their droppings with a shovel and putting them in a large garbage can on wheels. Without these humble servants covered in overalls, the parade might have been a disaster.
In 2014 and probably beyond, I shall think of those who cleaned up after the the horses whenever I hear the Biblical phrase “the least of these.” If, at the beginning of a New Year, you are feeling low or lowly, please remember that God has a special place in God’s heart for “the least of these.”
Christmas Shopping Thoughts
The shopper’s frenzy known as Black Friday approaches this week and marketers tell us that retailers will make nearly 70% of their annual sales between now and Christmas this last weekend of November. In contrast, they also tell us that 52% of us will not enter a store this weekend; we prefer to stay home. Whether you are a shopper or a homebody this week, this season encourages us to think before we spend our money, and to focus upon The Reason for the Christmas season.
Who is richer: Those who shop or those who stay home? In his classic book about the first U.S. Depression, John Steinbeck describes a scene in which Samuel, a poor man, seeks to find water for his rich neighbor, Adam Trask, using a Y-shaped tool known as a divining rod. Samuel has a knack which none of his neighbors can imitate: Wherever Samuel’s for pulls toward the earth, there is water, but wherever the rod remains calmly in his hand, no water exists. When Adam asks Samuel how it works, Samuel strokes the fork and says, “I don’t really believe in it save that it works.”
This poignant scene calls us to question who is the rich man who is the poor one; and what is symbolized by the water which we all seek. It all depends, of course, upon how we define riches, and how we distinguish needs from wants. Adam is rich in money, but Samuel is rich in family, friends, and faith. Adam wants nothing less than a Garden of Eden, but Samuel has learned to thrive in humbler surroundings. To Samuel a small bit of water is a source of wonder and thankfulness; to Adam, a small bit of water is merely a hint of bigger, better things to pursue. Our society offers us many examples of rich people who never settle for less than the “best” of everything – Donald Trump, for example, comes to mind, …but our society also offers many examples of people who are deeply content with whatever comes their way, although their bank accounts are empty.
Each of us must make our own decisions about lifestyles and values, but there is no doubt that all world religions teach us that contentment is dis-connected from money. Jesus told us that “Love of money is the root of all evil” and Buddha taught us that the path toward enlightenment is through relinquishment of al desires. Each of us must decide for ourselves what works for us? Does continual striving after more and more things, even perhaps more and more living water, lead us to contentment? Or is contentment what we feel when we learn to appreciate what we already have? Great questions to ponder as the Christmas Shopping Season is upon us.
Thanksgiving Thoughts by Rev. Diane Ryder
One of the hallmarks of great people of faith is that they always exhibit an attitude of gratitude, regardless of their circumstances. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians contains the compelling instruction to “…give thanks in all circumstances: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Considering that Paul was most likely in prison at the time he wrote those words, these are powerful words indeed!
Each of us, too, is imprisoned by powers that prevent our gratitude; and one of the most insidious is the idea that we will give thanks later but not now. Many of us are waiting to get enough of something before we give thanks: enough money, a bigger house, a different spouse, a higher-paying job, etc., etc., etc.
Every year during this season of Thanksgiving I turn to the story told of the best selling author Joseph Heller who was invited to a party hosted by a billionaire businessman. When someone told Heller that his host made more money in a single day of hedge fund trading than Heller had ever earned from his best-selling book, Catch 22, Heller replied, “Yes, but I have something he will never have: Enough!”
Do you have enough of what you need this season? If so, thank God and share it, as I hereby share some quotes about thanksgiving with you:
Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world: It is not he who prays most or fasts most, it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.
Melody Beattie Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
Frank A. Clark If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.
May you and your loved ones have enough this season and recognize it. May the sufficiency of God’s love surround you with joy!
As Halloween approaches, our thoughts turn to scary things like bloody masks, ghosts and goblins, fright nights and so on. Some conservative Christian churches use this time of year to remind us of theologically scary concepts like hell and eternal damnation. My youngest child once attend a public (!) school where she was told in a brochure she received from the principal that if she dressed up as a princess and went trick-or-treating for candy, she would burn in hell forever!!! Personally, I find that principal’s behavior scarier than any theological idea ever imagined!
My belief is that there are plenty of scary things right here on earth and we don’t need to be looking for scares in the afterlife. In the King James version of the Bible, Matthew 6: 34 reads “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Or, as New Revised Standard Version has it, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of it’s own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
So, in the spirit of the season, here are some of the things that scare me TODAY. The best thing about this list is that we can do something about them TODAY, too:
-16 million children or one in 5 children in the U.S., go to bed hungry every night (NoKid Hungry)
-14 states have legalized gay marriage; 35 ban gay marriage (Gaymarriage.procon.org)
-In 2011 there were 12,644 murders in the U.S., of which 8,583 were due to firearms. On average, 32 people are murdered each day, 8 of whom are under 20 years old.
-In 2012, the top 1% earners in the country made $717,000/year while the overall average income was $51,000. The top 400 highest earners pay only 18% taxes on personal income. (Forbes.com)
-The Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska has retreated at an average rate of 170 feet per year since 2005, exposing an ancient forest and causing sea levels to rise, thus decreasing Alaskans’ access to drinkable water.
What scares you more: a theoretical idea about hell or the above statistics?
More importantly, what will you do about it?
Which came first – the chicken or the egg? This classic question is asked whenever the temporal relationship between objects or events is unknown, whenever it is unclear which came first and which came last in a list of two or more items or events. Did the chicken precede the egg or did the egg precede the chicken? It is almost impossible to answer this question.
A similar question exists regarding the development of corporate religion. It is likely that individuals have worshipped a power greater than themselves, a power we call God, for as long as humans have roamed this planet. But the development of group or corporate or communal religion requires a level of cooperation that has long been thought unlikely among early humans. Until recently,most scholars assumed that when the Ice Age ended approximately 9600 BCE, early humans learned to farm and to domesticate plants and animals, which then gave rise to permanent settlements. Permanent settlements, in turn, gave rise to corporate religion after basic needs for food, clothing and shelter had been met. This scenario more or less relegates corporate religion to a non-essential afterthought in the evolution of humankind.
Current scholarship, however, reverses this trend. The June, 2011 edition of National Geographic magazine told of the excavation of what is thought to e the world’s first temple. In an article entitled, “The Birth of Religion,” scholars suggest that organized religion came first and was followed by the domestication of plants and animals, by agriculture, and by permanent settlements, in that order. In this scenario corporate religion is the impetus for all subsequent socialization and civilization; thus our human desire to worship a Spirit greater than ourselves, together, takes on a primary, causative role.
What do you think? Did the chicken come first or was it the egg? Did civilization develop in order to better worship together or did we engage in corporate worship only after we were settled farmers? Either way, the nourishment of both body and soul is important; and we worship best when our corporate and our individual worship are in sync. Amen.
Surveys: We all receive them and we sometimes complete them. From those annoying phone calls that always seem to interrupt our dinner time, to the multi-page marketing questionnaires we receive in the mail, it is difficult to avoid surveys. It seems that our opinion is being solicited for everything from political stances to Coke recipes, usually for the purposes of marketing. With the recent advent of tweeting, television shows now solicit our input about such matters as which dancer deserves to be booted off the dance competition show, and which bachelor the bachelorette should pick.
Marketers know that people like being asked their opinions. It makes us feel important, valuable, and heard – even when our opinions are in the minority. Parents know that asking their child, “Would you prefer peas or broccoli for dinner?” will result in a child who eats their vegetables more often than asking an open-ended question such as “Which green vegetable would you like for dinner tonight?”
Today must be my lucky day because I received one email survey, one snail mail survey, and two phone surveys within 10 hours – which started me wondering if God if ever takes surveys. Certainly God does not ask us if the sun should set tonight or rise tomorrow, nor does God ask us if we like the shades of green God chose for our varieties of trees. But God does ask us the same question Jesus asked three times of Simon Peter: Do you love me? (John 21: 15-17) Three times Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, and three times Jesus answered, “Feed my sheep.”
To stretch the metaphor, God is offering us a survey every day. Every day, God asks us, “Do you love me?” and we answer neither by circles filled in with #2 pencils, nor tweets nor emails sent heavenward, but with the way we serve others in God’s name. Like the spectrum of answers from which many surveys ask us to choose, we answer God’s question somewhere along the spectrum from “not at all” through “somewhat” to “very much” by the way we serve others in God’s name. Reversing the role of most marketers who use surveys to change their products and/or to sell us something, God ‘s survey aims to change US. Are we ready to be changed?
Vocal artist Aretha Franklin is a proverbial legend in her own time. Known for such hits as respect, Chain of Fools, and This Will Be an Everlasting Love, Franklin has won eight Grammies; and she was the first woman ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Obama’s first inauguration. In 1986 she became the second African-American ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Other accolades include the receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, multiple honorary Doctorates of Music, and Rolling Stone magazine ranks her #99 among the 100 Greatest Artists of all Time.
Lesser known than Franklin’s numerous musical achievements are her gospel roots and her deep faith. She learned to sing in the Baptist Churches of her childhood, where her vocal genius was first noticed and nurtured. Her father was a well-repected Baptist preacher. Many of her albums include Gospel songs; and her 1972 album entitled Amazing Grace sold over 2 million copies which makes it the best-selling gospel album of all time.
Franklin’s first paid gig as a musician came at the age of 14 when she received $15 for singing in church. She took every penny of that $15 and bought the best pair of roller skates she could find at that price. When asked why she did not save some of the money, or spread it over a variety of purchases, she said, “I’ve got faith.” Presumably she meant that she had faith in her God-given talent, faith in God’s intention to open more musical doors to her, and faith that she was doing exactly what God wanted her to do. Unlike the Biblical Israelites who tried to hoard manna in the desert, Franklin obviously knew – she had faith – that more good things and more of what she needed would eventually come her way, thanks to God’s grace.
During these tough economic times, Franklin’s faith raises some questions about our own faith which are well worth considering: Do we truly believe that God will provide for us when we do our best? Are we hoarding resources that might better be used to embrace the joys that can be ours today? Do we respect that, as the current jargon goes, “it’s all good” when it is offered up to God?
Spring can be a month when big egos grow bigger, Spring provides many opportunities for self-congratulation and over-the-top displays of accomplishment, in ways as diverse as graduation and commencement exercises, winter sports playoffs and spring weddings. Everyone wants to excel and to be loudly applauded during springtime!
Last year, a Time magazine obituary was the unlikely source of my musings about the fine line between big accolades and big egos. In his obituary for former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, former president Bill Clinton wrote that Christopher “had the lowest ego-to-accomplishment ratio of any public servant I’ve ever worked with.” Clinton went on to say “That made (Christopher) easy to underestimate.” Regardless of ones feelings about the politics of either of these men, this phrase caught my attention because the same accolades could easily be applied to many world religious leaders, including Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad. They, too, had extremely low ego-to-accomplishment rations, although no one probably put it quite that way during their lifetimes.
What is your ego-to-accomplishment ratio? How will folks measure it after you are gone? A truly huge effect upon humanity may be hidden within a humble spirit. Conversely, a huge ego may be hiding a lack of accomplishments. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Where are you on the ego-to-accomplishment scale? Is it a comfortable place? In spring which is the season of new growth, may your spirit and your accomplishments grow more than your ego!
Holy Week Musings
As I write this blog in the midst of what is known as Holy Week, I remember the phrases “resurrection” and “eternal life” which, according to orthodoxy, are the reality and the goal of Easter. In the background, television news reports that public support for gun control in this country has dropped 9 percentage points since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier this year killed 26 people, mostly 6 year old children. Which makes me wonder: Do we really understand what “eternal” means? When our opinions are as fickle as headline news, when nearly l/2 of all marriages end in divorce, when nearly l/3 of the population changes address in any given year, what meaning does “eternal” have?”
In order to understand the depth of Jesus’ gift of life to us, and in order to comprehend the concept of God, we need to have some understanding of the word “eternal.”
What does eternal mean to you?
What does eternity have to do with God?
Is there anything in your life which you consider eternal?
Is there anything in your life which you strive to uphold eternally?
And what about the generation of people raised on instant messaging, instantaneous downloads, and up-to-the minute news? Does “eternal” have any meaning to the young? If not, how is their world view different from that of previous generations?
These are a few thoughts to ponder as we proclaim the Easter good news: God loves us eternally! God loves us so much that God gave His/Her only Son to us! Halleluiah!