Longing for Home

Before I moved to Nashville two years ago, I used to make the trip over from Chattanooga every Tuesday. For two years, I drove up for an 8:30 AM meeting with other composers and score nerds to listen to music and talk about it and learn what we could from the masters, and in the evening I went to a Bible study taught by Mike Card, and later, after Mike’s ended, one taught by Shaun Groves and Brian Seay. During the day, I usually hung out at Centennial Park in downtown Nashville, writing and listening to music and reading. Because I drove back to Chattanooga late at night, sometimes I would take an afternoon nap in my car. I still remember, vividly, one day, about three years ago, when I woke up suddenly from a deep sleep, feeling completely and utterly alone. It was different from anything I had felt before. There was a profound sense of desperation, panic even, a feeling that I had no place to fall, no one to catch me if I did fall. A feeling that I was adrift and didn’t have anything to hold on to, a mourning for the loss of childhood innocence and safety and home. And, in a sense, that feeling, that loneliness, has never left.

I thought of that experience again yesterday while reading the latest post by Eric Peters at The Rabbit Room. Eric wrote:

I am unsettled today. Between the pauses in snowfall, briskly three-dimensional and aloof, I sense a strange lag inside my own skin. Just now, I feel foreign to my space in the world. I am weary of winter and the gray concoctions that inhabit seemingly every second. I find myself longing for more than just the temporal warmth and spring and rebirth of earth and its mavens…

I would wish to be settled, to be at peace with this skin I am given, to pause and recognize that my being foreign to this world is not necessarily all that terrible a thing. For however long I yearn for tomorrow, however deeply I long for rebirth, however fearful or comfortable I am with myself is, in some small measure, an entrenched and guttural hope that God continues to prepare a place at his festival table for the slow and peculiar creatures we are, and the blessings we both unknowingly bestow and undeservedly receive amid all our faith and lack thereof. (full post here)

And while reading that, I was reminded also of a passage from the last book I read by my favorite writer, Frederick Buechner (also a favorite of Eric). In the first chapter, he writes this:

In a novel called Treasure Hunt, which I wrote some years ago, there is a scene of homecoming. The narrator, a young man named Antionio Parr, has been away for some weeks and on his return finds that his small son and some other children have made a sign for him that reads WELCOME HONE with the last little leg of the M in home missing so that it turns it into an n. “It seemed oddly fitting,” Antionio Parr says when he first sees it. “It was good to get home, but it was home with something missing or out of whack about it. It wasn’t much, to be sure, just some minor stroke or serif, but even a minor stroke can make a major difference.”

If we are lucky, we are born into a home, or like me find a home somewhere else along the way during childhood, or, failing that, at least, one hopes, find some good dream of a home. And, if your luck holds, when we grow up, we make another home for ourselves and for our family if we get married and acquire one. It is the place of all places that we fell most at home in, most at peace and most at one in, and as I sketched out in my mind that scene in my novel, I thought of it primarily as a scene that would show Antionio Parr’s great joy at returning to his home after such a long absence. But then out of nowhere, and entirely unforeseen by me, there came into my mind that sign with the missing leg of the m. I hadn’t planned to have it read hone instead of home. It was in no sense a novelistic device I’d contrived. It’s simply the way I saw it. From as deep a place within me as my books and my dreams come from, there came along with the misspelled sign this revelation that although Antionio Parr was enormously glad to be at home at last, he recognized that there was something small but crucial missing,which if only for a moment made him feel, like Gideon and Barak before him, that he was in some sense a stranger and an exile there. It is when he came home that he recognized most poignantly that he is, at a deep level of his being, homeless, and that whatever it is that is missing, he will spend the rest of his days longing for it and seeking to find it.

~ Frederick Buechner – The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections

Andy and the Andy’s

I just posted this over on the Square Peg Alliance site:

If you’re within, oh, about 18 hours of Nashville, you might want to start driving this way now. Thursday evening is the debut performance of Andy and the Andy’s: Andy Osenga, Andy Peterson, Andy Gullahorn, Andy Hubbard (on drums) and possibly another Andy on Bass. At Osenga’s birthday show tonight, he sang a new song, “I’m On Your Side”, that he said would be on an upcoming record from Andy and the Andy’s. You don’t want to miss this. Details here.

Crazy for God, part 3 – Politics and Ideological Purity

On the subject of politics, Frank Schaeffer is not reticent about sharing his feelings. He spends a good deal of time writing about the roles he and his father played in the genesis of the religious right, and how his feelings about their co-conspirators, men like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, evolved over time. For instance, he writes:

What began to bother me was that so many of our new “friends” on the religious right seemed to be rooting for one form of apocalypse or another. In the crudest form, this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component: the worse everything got, the more it proved that American needed saving, by us!

Long before Ralph Reed and his ilk came on the scene, Dad got sick of “these idiots,” as he often called people like Dobson in private. There were “plastic,” Dad said, and “power-hungry.” They were “Way too right-wing, really nuts!” and “They’re using our issue to build their empires.”

On page 347, in a passage that merits discussion this year, Frank writes about ideological purity, the need for intelligent debate and decision making, and possible hindrances to said goal.

It seems to me that by demanding ideological purity on abortion (and other single issues as well), both parties have worked to eliminate the sorts of serious smart pragmatic people who make competent leaders. What we are left with are those willing to toe the party theological line, who are talented at kissing the asses of their party’s ideologues, raising money, and looking good on TV, but not much else.
But what if absolute consistency on any issue from the left or the right, religious or secular, is an indication of mediocre intelligence and a lack of intellectual honesty? What if the world is a complex place? What if leadership requires flexibility? What if ideology is a bad substitute for common sense? What if ideological consistency, let alone “purity,” is a sign of small-mindedness, maybe even stupidity?

Links to parts one and two.

Charlie Peacock

Thursday evening, some friends from Chattanooga came up to go see a concert with me that we’d been looking forward to for some time. Sara Groves, Charlie Peacock, Ron Block, and Christopher Williams were putting on a benefit concert for Young Life, playing “in the round”. They played seven or eight songs apiece, in a show that suffered no lack of variety.

I’ve heard Sara and Ron play several times and enjoyed hearing Christopher Williams for the first time. But the highlight of the evening, for me, was Charlie Peacock. I’ve always been more a fan of Charlie’s writing and his solo albums than his productions, so getting to hear him solo, accompanying himself on piano, was a treat. dc Talk’s version of In the Light (which features Charlie on the outro) is close to the style Charlie first recorded it in, while the version on his album Full Circle is completely different, with Phil Keaggy on guitar, Béla Fleck on banjo, Ken Lewis on percussion, and Sara Groves as Charlie’s duet partner. But I think I prefer it the way he sang it Thursday, slowed down a little and treated more as a prayer. Somehow, it brought out the desperation in these lyrics more: The disease of self runs through my blood / It’s a cancer fatal to my soul / Every attempt on my behalf has failed / To bring this sickness under control // Tell me, what’s going on inside of me? / I despise my own behavior / This only serves to confirm my suspicions / That I’m still a man in need of a Savior // And I may have been the only one that noticed, but I really liked his chord change on the second to last line in the chorus, changing the chord on the word “light” to major from minor.
When he sang Big Man’s Hat, everybody else on stage joined in for a rousing rendition, and Sara joined him on background vocals for a couple of his other tunes. About half the songs he sang were new to me, including one he said he co-wrote with Sara that Chris Rice recorded. My favorite song of the evening was one that I hadn’t heard before. While there are probably several ways you could interpret it, it crossed my mind that it could be seen as a poetic interpretation of Pascal’s Wager. The chorus, that I love, says (from memory): If faith is a construct / my own little thumbsuck / then I’m just a kite in a tree / a kite in a tree. // I’m hoping to get my hands on a recording of it, if one exists.

You can hear a couple tunes off his Jazz album, Love Press Ex-Curio, on his website, and hopefully some clips soon from a duet album he recently finished with Jeff Coffin, the saxophonist from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. He also mentions that “a new batch of singer-songwriter recordings” will be coming out sometime this year. Be sure to keep checking his website for updates.

Reading on a trip to Seattle

Because I had a break in work last week, I decided to make a quick trip up to Seattle for my uncle’s birthday. On Thursday, an organization he started, Voices in Wartime, had a benefit concert / auction that I helped out with, and Saturday was his birthday party where I had several interesting conversations, including one with the guy who writes speeches and articles for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

On Saturday afternoon, we (my uncle, my brother who moved to Seattle last year, my cousin who came up from San Diego, and myself) went for a ride on my uncle’s gorgeous 1929 43-foot wooden yacht, Seven Bells. Here’s a picture from his website, and a couple from when I went out on it back in November.

Seven Bells 03

Seven Bells 01

Seven Bells 02

One of the good things about this trip was that I was able to get some reading done. On the flight up, due to weather delays and the plane being grounded in College Station, Texas for a couple hours, I arrived in Seattle five hours late, which gave me more time for reading. When my flight took off from Nashville, at six o’clock in the morning, I started the first chapter of Jeffrey Overstreet’s novel Auralia’s Colors. And as the plane began its descent into Seattle, I finished page 334, the last page.

I’d been wanting to read it ever since Jeffrey began talking about it on his blog, and after a conversation with him over coffee back in November where he told me some about the second book in the series, Cyndere’s Midnight, my interest grew. I quoted several paragraphs from Jeffrey’s first book, Through a Screen Darkly, in my recent post about a couple of my new favorite movies, and parts of Auralia’s Colors address the same topics of the power of and need for art. I hesitate a little to post these excerpts, because I don’t want people to think that these are a summation of the book or the “primary moral” that you can take away. But hopefully that will be debunked with this first excerpt and they will help peak your interest in reading it.

“What does it mean then? That thing you’ve made.” The impostor crumpled his patch, which suddenly seemed so flimsy and plain. “What is it for?”
Auralia squinted into the colors and shrugged. “Can’t say what it means. It’s not a riddle. It’s not somethin’ you solve. It’s more like a window. Look through it for a while.”

If a crowd looks upon the sea, they all see a different mass of water, for it casts color and light in all directions. In the same way, everyone saw Auralia’s colors, but each saw a differnt flourish. Auralia’s work played all the notes an orchestra can know. And more even than that. Such vision could only have come from someone who had been Elsewhere, seen Something Other, and focused all her energy into preserving the experience in a frame.
For all present in the courtyard, what was real and possible had been transformed. The eyes of their eyes were, for a moment, open to a world larger and more beautiful than they could have imagined, to the luminous presence of every man and woman, boy and girl.
Clouds moved again across the sun, and the glow of Auralia’s colors softened, like a flame drawn down into a pulsing coal.

“Took Krawg’s yellow scarf, they did. That’s why he can’t breathe.” Warney spooned the herb soup into a half shell of a tree-melon.
“Oh, bother,” said Aralia. “It was only a scarf. He can breathe just fine without it.”
Krawg opened his mouth to disagree but was seized with a fit of coughing.
Warney put the bowl on an overturned apple crate beside the bed and then opened his hand to scatter shelled nuts and grapes alongside it. “He insists, Auralia. He insists your makings are more than color and heat. They fix what’s broken.”

And, sprinkled throughout, there are great passages like this one:

“You’ll never know passion,” Radegan said softly, “if you follow the king’s orders. You can’t deny your heart anymore.”
She playfully pounded on his shoulder with her fist. “But my heart’s a mess, and yours is reckless. If we’re true to ourselves, we’re in trouble. That’s what promises are for, like the promise Corvah made me.” She looked into the shadow of the trees. “They give you something to bind yourself to, so you don’t get carried off on a whim.”

You can order Auralia’s Colors from Amazon.

In April, I am hoping to make it up to the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. In looking over the list of announced speakers, I noticed that Jon Sweeney, author of Born Again and Again: Surprising Gifts of a Fundamentalist Childhood would be there, so I ordered his book and was able to read it on the flight back Monday, finishing the last page as the plane taxied to the terminal. It was an interesting read, another book that addresses a lot of the things I’m thinking through now. After I finish blogging through Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God, I’ll spend a couple posts on Born Again and Again.

What have you read recently? Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions about reading more? I’m a firm believer in the old maxim that in ten years you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet (although I’d add “and the films you see”). A couple years ago, a friend told me he had a goal of reading at least 20 pages a day, which seems like a good starting place. What have you tried?

Crazy for God, part 2 – Faith and Desperation

Link to part 1

Crazy for God

In chapter 15 of Crazy for God, Frank Schaeffer spends a couple pages on the topic of faith. In one of the better chapters in the first half of the book, he writes about how most of our big decisions in life are made on faith, not for what we know will happen but for what we hope will happen, what we need to happen. He also addresses a topic that has received a good bit of attention, his fathers occasional abuse of his mother. He has been criticized for bringing that to light, but I think the criticism is unjustified. He talks about it, not out of malicious intent to disrespect his parents or try to paint them as evil – far from it – but because it is a part of his story. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, her book on writing (paraphrasing), “the first thing you have to do when you write your family history is forget about your great-aunt pointing her bony finger at you and saying “never tell anyone about this”.” We are our stories, and while discretion should be used, I don’t think Schaeffer crosses a line here. (For those interested in reading more of his thoughts about this area of his parents’ lives, check out this interview.

Back to the subject of faith, Frank writes “Believers tend to grasp wildly at anything that gives them hope, including clinging to religious leaders who throw things at their wives, then preach on love or run out of food on a pilgrimage to some promised land.” He continues:

Falling in faith and falling in love can be understood the same way. People fall in love with no evidence of how a relationship will work out and no real knowledge of who their partner is, let alone who they will be ten, twenty, or thirty years later. There are no good reasons. And people get “saved,” and pick a religious leader to follow, in about the same way.
We never have any real information about anything important. It takes a lifetime for the ramifications to be worked out…

The irony is that we all – secular or religious people alike – make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well. So we make a leap of faith when it comes to what we should believe in, who we will marry, and our careers. Who we happen to meet, one conversation when you were eighteen, the college course you happened to sign up for, the teacher you liked, the elevator you missed and the girl you met in the next one, decide whole lives. You would have to live a lifetime to be qualified to make any big decisions. And since we can’t do that, we trust to luck, religion, or the kindness of strangers. Only the trivialities – say, buying cars, washing machines, or airline seats – are chosen on the basis of good information. I’ve always known I like aisle seats, but what does one really want in a wife? And spiritual leaders are selected like spouses, not like airline seats. There is never a good reason, just a feeling, just that fear of death that must be overcome somehow by something – by religion, or orgasms, or art, or having children, or politics – by anything that interrupts the contemplation of oblivion.

The paradox is that sometimes the less it makes sense, the better it works. And the less one knows about the “holy” people we follow, the better. One of the mysteries of human need is that religious leaders must become more than the sum of their fallible, sometimes awful, parts, because other people need them to be more. This does not make the religious leader a hypocrite; it just shows that the rest of us are desperate.

So when Billy [Graham] preached, no one wanted to know why he’d gotten his daughter into an arranged marriage with the son of a very wealthy donor. And when my father stepped up to preach at a multitude of Christian colleges, few knew, or would have wanted to know, that my sisters and I sometimes huddled in our beds listening to the dull roar of his voice as he screamed at my mother and occasionally abused her.

Part 3 will be coming soon.