The music is in the making

On Friday, I had the privilege of doing one of my favorite things. I stood on a stage with about 100 other singers plus a full orchestra and sang like everything.

It was the spring GAMAC Masterworks concert, “Brought to you by the letter B”: Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms; Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes, and Beethoven’s 9th (the final movement).

Brought to you by B Now, this might surprise some of you, but I really love this stuff. Not so much just listening to it, though I have days when it’s time to set aside the Led Zeppelin or the prog metal or the Bon Iver and really soak in the genius of Rachmaninoff or Bach.

Mostly, though, I prefer to be a participant in the process of making music, and preferably for others to enjoy. I’m glad the audience folks get to enjoy the cool tunes. But I think I get the better end of the deal – a deep acquaintance with brilliant writing, an insider’s view of the process, an ingrained familiarity that comes only through repeated exposure.

Take, for example, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of this piece before Don announced it would be on the spring concert slate. I didn’t go listen to it either; I figured the read-through would be it’s own cool experience. So I just showed up, started sight-reading…. and 20 minutes later collected the scattered bits of my psyche from the floor.  What stunning music this was!

Four months later, Bernstein has taken up residence in my brain. I can’t concentrate during meetings because the 7/4 rhythm of Psalm 100 is beating away in the back of my mind. As I’m drifting off to sleep, I hear the solo from Psalm 23 or the final haunting notes of Psalm 131.  I mutter to myself as I walk around at work, reproducing the turbulent tenor/bass lines of Psalm 2 “Why do the nations rage?”  churning below the soaring, lovely melody in the women’s parts as we sang the rest of Psalm 23, “Thou preparedst a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

It’s this insider knowledge, this intimate awareness of the interlocking choral fugue of Beethoven’s 9th or the stunning sense of key and tonality woven throughout the Brahms, that keeps me coming back year after year to sacrifice three hours every Monday night to the dull work of banging out notes, learning parts, repeating difficult sections again and again and again until I’m sick of them. Getting bored with the parts I already know, getting bored with other sections that I might just find boring.

Knowing that a powerful alchemy is at work: the emergent reality that will arise from the union of the conductor’s baton, the energy of an expectant audience, the tense pause in the chorale before we hear opening notes. Making music.  On the spot. In the flesh.

I confess. I had a better time at that concert than you could have. I really did.

Thanks, Scalzi

Several years ago we somehow ran across John Scalzi’s excellent book Old Man’s War. Probably because it was nominated for the Hugo Award that year and our household tends to take note of things like that. And behold, it was good!

As a side note, if you can tolerate science fiction at all, meaning if you’ve watched anything from Edge of Tomorrow to the rebooted Star Trek movie series and liked it, much more classic gems like The Terminator or Blade Runner or the brilliance that is the original Twilight Zone series, go find yourself a copy of Old Man’s War and give it a shot. I promise you’ll be entertained, amused, and intrigued by the story.  Plus it’s a quick read so you don’t even have to possess a long attention span.

Anyway, that’s what got us onto reading stuff by Scalzi. We happily mowed through the rest of the OMW series, caught up on his other works like the Hugo-winning Red Shirts, and signed up in advance for anything he decides to publish from now till he meets his unfortunate end.

It’s not that Scalzi is a brilliant writer whose gorgeous prose will change the face of literature… But he’s witty. And thoughtful. And opinionated, which means you can actually disagree with him and it’s fun. And he creates interesting characters who inhabit interesting worlds.

But that’s not actually what I came here to say.

Hate MailA couple days ago, on a lark, I decided to order a used and cheap copy of Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a print compendium of Scalzi’s blog posts from Whatever, the site where he posts something (usually short) daily.  He’s a writer and these are his daily training exercises, if you will. Keeps him limber.

The book has been delightful for several reasons. One, Scalzi is hilarious. It’s true in his fiction, and it’s true in everything else he writes, from commentary on current political messes to acerbic responses to angry readers.

Second, Scalzi writes every day (more or less). I really respect that. And he doesn’t let some weighty sense of “I need to write about stuff that’s important” drag him back from accomplishing what is really a very straightforward goal: Put some words on the blog. Every day. Words that are worth sharing with others.

I don’t write for a living (er, to make a living) so I don’t feel the drive. But I’d like to borrow a cup of Scalzi’s self-discipline and push myself to write regularly, for my own good. And to get better at it.

By the way, here are a few of my favorite posts from Whatever. Prepare to be entertained and probably offended.

I Hate Your Politics (in which Scalzi skewers every political viewpoint equally)

The Existential Plight of Chester Chipmate (in which Scalzi imagines a terrible void in the life of a store-brand cereal mascot)

Leviticans (this one will make most of the Christians I know angry, but he makes an excellent point: following rules =/= following the Gospel… and this from a man who considers himself non-religious)

The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment (in which Scalzi dispenses with the notion that George Lucas has anyone in mind besides himself when making these movies)

The 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing (a fantastic post that you should share with all the young writers in your life, even though his honesty will probably piss them off)

Being Poor (a great piece for understanding the nitty gritty realities of being poor)


Acceptance: A Gospel Posture toward Gay Christians

I really hate to be misunderstood, so do read all the words in this post before you start commenting. 🙂

51JbkfA4lqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished reading Ken Wilson’s short book A Letter to My Congregation, in which he explains (to his congregation with the rest of us listening in) his decision to accept LGBT+ Christians into the membership of his Vineyard church.

This comes in the midst of the raging debate about gay marriage, the Church’s response to homosexuality, and the American culture war. In short, it’s not really a safe time or place to be talking about any of these issues. Not if by “safe” you mean “not being shot at, yelled at, skewered, misunderstood, or shouted down.”

By both sides. It’s rough out there, folks.

Ken is one of a few Evangelical voices growing in prominence in this conversation. I use “conversation” loosely since most of what I see passing for “dialogue” on these issues barely qualifies as civil discourse.  So after reading the message from the elders of CityChurch (San Francisco) to their congregants about a similar shift, I wanted to read more.

See, most of the argumentative support regarding the Church’s posture toward LGBT+ folks has come from those outside Evangelicalism. And that creates problems for those of us who actually want to live under the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, viewing it as inspired and relevant for life.

When the only arguments you offer are built on tearing down the Bible itself as irrelevant, out of date, culturally aberrant, merely human, twisted mythology, or whatever, you’re going to alienate Evangelical believers.

Maybe I’m an idiot for adhering to my conservative roots in this regard, but here I am, and I’m not going to change what I believe to make someone else happy. I believe the Holy Spirit works with us as the Helper, the one who opens our eyes to truth. So I’ve been praying for wisdom and truth within the community of faith, within valid exegetical frameworks, for the deep questions surrounding our posture toward gays, lesbians, trans+ and others who cross our paths.

As I see it, we now have the following split among Christians when it comes to the Church’s response to these questions:

I got scratchpad skilz, yo.
I got scratchpad skilz, yo.

The YES crowd is currently primarily located among Christianity’s mainline denominations and more liberal wings…. Oh, and Millennials. The solidly-Yes position in Christianity tends to align with people who don’t hold as tightly to Scriptural authority. It’s not across the board, but it’s a generalization that works.

Plenty of people vocally oppose gay marriage, gay relationships, and gay rights. Among Christians, the NO crowd exists as a huge variety – and this is important. It’s way too easy for people to assume that the NO crowd are bigoted or discriminators. Often this is simply not true.

The problem is – and here is where Ken Wilson’s book really shines – the NO position leaves us all in a deep pickle.

Wilson argues that pastors, not academics, work on the front lines of theology. They rarely have time to learn the ins and outs of every Greek word related to sexual behavior in the New Testament, but they do spend a lot of hours each week working with people living in the middle of problems, failure, sin, suffering.

In his pastoral journey, Ken noticed – like the elders of CityChurch did – that our narrative of “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t working. It’s breaking people.

Likewise, trying to label same-sex attraction as a temptation (therefore, “not sinful,” though clearly bad / broken / non-normative) while encouraging that person to live a celibate life if he/she cannot pursue monogamous, married, heterosexual sex is also hurting people.

Few of us truly accept the idea that God would create something good (marriage) and then create people to want something entirely different (non-hetero attraction), thus requiring them to forever foreswear that good thing and try to live without it (celibacy). Within Protestantism, this is a very tough sell. And within the science and psychology communities, the evidence is mounting that non-hetero sexual orientation is biological rather than “a choice.”

And then there’s the reality: There are thousands of Christians who identify as LGBT+. They aren’t the rebellious God-haters of Romans 1. They aren’t the inhospitable gang-rapers of Sodom. They are just normal people who, for as long as they can remember, have been attracted to the same sex. And whether that’s a sin or not, these people are our brothers and sisters. And they want healthy relationships grounded in biblical love.

That central category in my drawing above – the MAYBES – are those of us caught between our consciences (and an unwillingness to jettison biblical authority) and our duty to love others. 

Hello, everyone. I’m a MAYBE. Are you?

3d-bookEvangelicals are struggling to find scriptural foundation for anything beyond heterosexual marriage and sex. There is some new work in the field – I heard Matthew Vines speak a couple weeks ago and I found much of his interpretive evidence to be solid overall. You can listen to the core argument from his book in that talk.

Does Vines present a satisfying exegetical argument that Evangelicals are ready to jump on board with? Honestly – no.

But it’s strong evidence that our interpretation of Scripture is as much influenced by our own cultural context as the sentences in the biblical text were influenced by the authors’.  

And that should at least make us pause long enough to put down the rifles and angry words and clobber passages and consider that we might need a different approach.

In my drawing above, I see the MAYBEs pursuing two paths out of this cognitive dissonance. The first is Matthew Vines’s approach: Look for a valid exegetical framework that can acknowledge monogamous, homosexual relationships within the boundaries of the Christian walk.

Vine’s argument centers on the recognition that the Bible’s discussion of marriage a) varies within itself (i.e.: OT polygamy vs the Greco-Roman culture of the NT) and b) isn’t anything like our modern view of marriage in the West, which is a union between two equals.  Sex-as-conquest, whether inside or outside marriage, isn’t a virtue in our society, while in the ancient world that was one of the primary avenues to power. The rules of the marriage game have significantly changed, Vine argues; therefore, we should be open to the idea that the Bible never explicitly condemns the kind of “gay marriage” being espoused today.

The second is Ken Wilson’s approach, which is to acknowledge the mess in the theological arguments and recognize that it’s going to take some time to get this sorted out…..and that in the meantime, we have scriptural decrees that cover situations like this.

In short, here’s what Wilson says:

  • We must acknowledge that the Church sometimes sets aside what seem to be clear biblical mandates when it’s obvious that we must make allowances for broken people in a broken world. The best contemporary example of this is divorce. The textual data on divorce is so tight that up until a few decades ago, churches disciplined or expelled members who divorced and/or remarried. (That happened to my parents.)  Yet things changed.  Only the most hard-line fundamentalist groups would argue for a 1950s-era view of divorce now. Pastors have recognized that their work in the counseling room isn’t “righteous” if we’re beating people with a Bible-club.  Sometimes we must allow for divorce even outside the “exception clauses.”
  • Romans 14 sets up a pattern for Christians to follow when two sides are dug in and emotionally battling for control of an issue. Paul discusses the “weak” and the “strong” groups as they sparred over whether to eat meat offered to idols or to observe certain days. The language in the passage makes it clear that the weak (i.e.: those who refused to eat the meat because they thought it was sinful) were condemning the strong (i.e.: those who saw no problem with eating) and the strong were belittling the weak. The argument had gotten that bad.
  • In ancient Rome, these groups of believers weren’t arguing over a peripheral issue. Clearly the meat-eating question was a big one for the NT church – Paul takes 3 chapters in Corinthians to sort it out there. People could argue viciously for either side and claim God’s authority.  It’s not like these kinds of arguments are unusual in the history of the Church.
  • Is gay marriage a similar “disputed” question? Wilson argues that it is, and I think (having read his book) that he’s right. Therefore…
  • While we allow the Church and its theologians and pastors time to sort this out, we must follow Romans’ commands to accept one another in the Gospel.  The goal is not to stay in this fog of “disputation.” But while we’re here, we are commanded to stop condemning and belittling.
  • The Gospel does not demand tolerance. It does not demand that we “affirm” someone else’s ideas or life choices. But it does demand that we accept other believers on the basis of the Gospel.

For that reason, Wilson opened his church to gay Christians for membership. He concluded that until the big questions are answered, his duty is to feed his flock. All of the members.

Neither of the options open to the MAYBEs in this debate will satisfy those who want an iron-clad defense of old-fashioned marriage. I think it’s a lot more attractive to Evangelicals to complain about being “persecuted” than to do the very hard work of living a Romans 14 life: loving people who hold vastly different views, and recognizing that although marriage is a key tenet in church doctrine, it is not a matter of separation.

The Gospel can – and will – survive the gay marriage debates.

Whether the church in general destroys much of its credibility in the eyes of Millennials and the outside world while it sorts it out – well, that’s a totally different question.

How Your Travels Around the Internet Expose the Way You Think | WIRED

How Your Travels Around the Internet Expose the Way You Think | WIRED.

What a great idea! Building on a classic 1945 essay that predicted the rise of the Internet, among other things, a New Zealand startup has developed Trailblazer, a Chrome extension that tracks HOW you wandered across the web in your search for the perfect pasta recipe or investigation of that niggling question.

How we jump from idea to idea in our web searches is just as valuable as what we eventually found. The journey is important too, and sometimes those connections bring us additional insights.

You can sign up for the Trailblazer extension in beta form at Twingl’s site.  And the Wired article linked above offers a quick overview as well.

Bravo, Rachel.

RHE: For much of my life, being a Christian was all about believing the right things, finding the right denomination, living the right life. My faith had, in many ways, been reduced to intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It took watching that faith completely unravel in the midst of the doubts, questions, and frustrations of my young adulthood to realize that you never really arrive at “right.” “Right is not the point. What I longed for with church, and what I think a lot of people long for, is not an exclusive club of like-minded individuals, but a community of broken and beloved people, telling one another the truth and taking it all a day at a time. What I longed for was sanctuary — a place to breathe, to be myself, to wrestle with the mystery, to confess my sins and explore my doubts, to experience God rather than simply believe in God. The liturgical church, and especially the sacraments, have offered me that sanctuary, but I also believe sanctuary can be present in any number of traditions, including evangelicalism. One need not attend a church that uses sacramental language to experience the power of the sacraments — to break bread with one another, to baptize, to confess sins, to offer healing and support. But I have found that it is in those moments when we recognize God’s presence in ordinary, tangible things — bread, wine, water, words, suffering, singing, a gentle touch, a casserole on the doorstep — that we create church, we create sanctuary.

via Searching for Sunday and Finding Home: An Interview With Rachel Held Evans | Zach J. Hoag.


I’ve had my shingle out for years doing freelance graphic design work, but a recent personal brand/identity project spurs me toward making a more formal announcement.

So yeah. I’ve been doing print layout and design for about half my life, longer if you count my teen years when I learned calligraphy (the start of my design career, really).

If you know me, the yellow spatter makes PERFECT SENSE. Yeah?
If you know me, the yellow spatter makes PERFECT SENSE. Yeah?

Have I ever told you the story behind the nickname “RameyLady”? It’s not really that much of a story. A teenager who wasn’t one of my students but who became a dear, sweet friend after I met her (thanks to my students, with whom she was friends) dubbed me “RameyLady” in contrast to “The Mister.” The honorific stuck and picked up wider usage among the kids we were working with at the time. I like it.

And below are a few work samples, mostly poster design or associated web graphics. You’ll notice that I have done a lot of show posters for The Fire Tonight. It’s a fun creative outlet. But I thoroughly enjoy page layout and design for books and magazines.

Link: Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane | Mockingbird

Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane | Mockingbird.

^ A review of what sounds like an excellent read.

We all want to think of ourselves as special and we deeply wish there were meaning to every task we do at work.

But what about the massive parts of life that are just … mundane? What about the millions of jobs that are honestly kind of boring?

A message of Grace for the everyday is what we need. And Redmond offers that, according to this reviewer.