Wednesday, January 31, 2007


It feels like I'm going through an abrupt seasonal shift. And no, this time I'm not talking about climate change.

The last few months have been a fairly intensive time of songwriting - a season I've been enjoying very much. A couple of weeks back I met with a small group of folks and sang through 13 or 14 new tunes to get their reaction and feedback as I work toward the new CD project. I think from that round there are probably 8 or 9 "keepers," some of which I've also tried out with my home congregation and a couple of other groups.

Now it seems I need to make the shift to a more "administrative" season, as I need to:

- get going on logistics for the new recording (figuring out who I will record with, where, when, how...)
- take care of some detail stuff for my March tour in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana
- post my February delivery of songs to the members of SmallTall Music (the songs are written and ready to go, but I need to record them, get the notation done, and write up the accompanying resources)

Another STM membership arrived in the mail yesterday - it's been great to see how word of this "CSM" ("Community Supported Music" - the kind of "musical CSA" that I've been developing) is getting around and, I think, gaining some momentum. So much so, in fact, that another friend and colleague has been in touch with me to help him set up his own CSM...

And speaking of friends and colleagues, it's good to see that Phil and Darryl are up to their old (new) tricks again, and that the word is getting out... (see the "Arts and Culture" section of the January 22 issue - for some reason it won't let me link to the actual article). Not only does Phil build great guitars (he built mine), he also writes great tunes (he was the "guest artist" on my last delivery of songs), and I'm glad to see he's sharing his stuff more broadly. And Darryl's been making great music - and helping other people make their own - for a long time too... So go have a look and a listen and share your own creativity as well...

" everything there is a season...turn, turn, turn..."

(I know, with a title like "seasons" you were probably wondering when I'd get around to referencing Ecclesiastes/Pete Seeger... so there you go...)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 27, 2007

best quote of the weekend (so far)

"Oh... it's too cold to play Scrabble."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

catagenesis... and "financial folk songs"

"Conventional economics is the dominant rationalization of today's world order."

"So... you're writing... financial folk songs...?!"

The first quote is from a new book I just finished reading, called The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon.

The second quote is from the toboggan hill yesterday, as we stood together watching our children hurtle down the slope, and as a group of parents tried, yet again, to understand just what it is that I do...

It's true - I'm in the midst of writing a cycle of songs around "economic stewardship" themes. I've been reading and reflecting and conversing around these issues for quite some time, and now the challenge is to write songs for the church that can help us to sing (and hopefully internalize) an "alternative vision" of the "economics of God's Kingdom"... songs that may even help us to sing our way into new ways of living that are more in tune with God's intentions for the world...

Oh, and they should be fun and engaging and compelling and catchy and meaningful for young and old alike... and readily usable for congregational worship...

How's that for a challenge?

Homer-Dixon's book talks about the possibility of what he calls "catagenesis" - "the creative renewal of our technologies, institutions, and societies in the aftermath of breakdown." Breakdown that is coming due to the convergence of 5 major "tectonic stresses" that are building up beneath our societies (environmental degradation and climate change, energy dependence on increasingly scarce conventional oil, growing disparities between rich and poor, etc.).

I've been struck by how much Homer-Dixon's notion of "catagenesis" mirrors the processes that I was describing in my last post ("exploding eggshells...") - processes of "tearing down and building up" that we were working with, based on the book of Ephesians, during Prayer Week (and that are also reflected in this week's lectionary text from Jeremiah 1)...

In fact, read this paragraph from Homer-Dixon's book and tell me if this doesn't sound like a remarkably accurate - even prophetic - description of the vocation of the church in our world today:

"Conventional economics is the dominant rationalization of today's world order. As we've overextended the growth phase of our global adaptive cycle, this rationalization has become relentlessly more complex and rigid and progressively less tenable. Breakdown will, all at once, discredit this rationalization and create intellectual space for new ideas to flourish. But this space will be brutally competitive. We can boost the chances that humane alternatives will thrive by working them out in detail and disseminating them as widely as possible beforehand." (p. 293)

In other words, among other things, it seems to me that we need songs to sing that articulate and help to disseminate an "alternative economic vision"... and we need to be communities that live that way... already, "in detail"...

Better get back to work...

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

exploding eggs in essex county

It wasn’t pretty.

There I was, on Friday night, toward the end of the first session of the Prayer Week services with the Essex county cluster of churches. So far, it seemed to me, things had gone reasonably well, all things considered. I hadn’t had as much time to prepare as I would have liked, and was a bit more wordy and rambling than I wanted to be, and had included less singing than I had hoped… but the initial activities had gone well, the people were engaged, and we were setting the stage for our weekend of reflection and prayer around the theme I had been given – “Walls: Divine and Dividing” – based on Ephesians 2:11-22.

That morning, after the barn chores and before packing up and leaving for the weekend, I had performed some experiments with the morning’s eggs out by the manure pile. I had heard that eggshells, if squeezed a certain way, were so strong that that they literally could not be broken. “The miracle of eggshells” was a central image (along with membranes, skin, and other “boundary” images like “walls”) that I was planning to use throughout the weekend as we reflected and prayed about the dynamics of identity and vocation, of building up and tearing down, of resilience and fragility, of formation and brokenness and new life…

In other words, about the church… drawing on musings from urban planning, ecology, architecture, agriculture… and the grand sweep of Biblical narrative from Gen 1 to Ephesians… and, of course, my daily barn chores… and a few tunes…

There’s good reason why the session was getting a bit long.

And then we got to the part where I demonstrated the amazing strength of eggshells by picking one up and squeezing it, hard, as I had practiced that morning.

It held. Amazing. Appreciative twitters from the gathered assembly.

Going for more dramatic effect, I invited a volunteer – a big strong one – to come forward and give it a try. As he strode to the front and took the egg in his hand, evidently confident that I knew what I was doing and ready to apply all of his considerable musculature, I had my first premonition that this may not have been such a good idea.

“Wait!” I said, and shifted the egg lengthwise in his hand… “Ok, now give it a try…”

And he did. And the egg held. Amazing. More appreciative twitters.

Unable to resist, I asked: “Are you sure you’re really squeezing it…?”

And as he nodded, he gave an extra effort, and the egg exploded.

I’ll spare you the details.

Let’s just say none of us had ever seen anything like it... It threw me off in a pretty big way, and the insightful climactic conclusion toward which I was building pretty much escaped me… The melody of the song I’d written the day before to conclude the session evaporated as well, so I had to improvise one on the spot to go with the words and the chords that, mercifully, I had not forgotten…

I got down from the platform and took my seat, certain that I’d “blown it”… in more ways than one… and that the weekend was off to a pretty miserable start… and a funny thing happened.

Ed led us in a time of prayer. Paul led us in a closing hymn. I felt like sneaking away… but almost instantly I was surrounded by nearly a dozen people, all smiles and laughter and encouraging words… and eager to show me the proper technique for squeezing eggs without breaking them. It turns out that the crowd was full of experts, and that it can in fact be done. There were plenty of good humoured and effective demonstrations while damp cloths were cheerfully brought out to clean up the mess at the front of the sanctuary.

For the rest of the evening people kept walking up to me, huge smiles on their faces, telling me this was a night they’d never forget. That they couldn’t wait for the next night’s service. Even that this evening’s session, and the exploding egg, spoke to them, and to what was going on in their lives and community, in ways that I couldn’t have realized or intended…

And one person did tell me that my talk was a bit long…

An egg, you know, needs its shell to become what it is. And, for the egg to be true to its vocation, it must be broken.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 08, 2007

back in the saddle...

... almost. Although being "almost" back in the saddle sounds like a rather uncomfortable, if not downright dangerous, position to be in... particularly as the New Year has, for me, moved from a walk to a canter and will soon be in full gallop... perhaps we'd best not dwell on that image too long...

I'm discovering that a break from blogging results in "blog backlog" (another unfortunate image), but I'll resist the temptation to attempt an "update" on the past couple of weeks. Suffice it to say that it was good, and I suspect that some of the experiences and conversations and musings from that time may find their way into various upcoming posts.

I find myself looking to the New Year with a peculiar mixture of anticipation and uneasiness. This is promising to be a very exciting - and full - year, with more songwriting and deliveries of new songs, an ambitious performance schedule including my first-ever tour in the USA, a new CD project (and possibly 2) all in the works for 2007. I continue to love what I do, and am excited about the direction(s) in which things are going.

I'm also a bit uneasy as it's becoming clear that my continuing talk about a "bi-vocational ministry" is in danger of becoming more or less fictional as this music ministry continutes to grow and is, by now, pretty much a "full-time" commitment for me...

That's a good thing, right? But...

... I sometimes wonder how I'm going to get it all done.
... I sometimes get the feeling that I'm not giving enough attention to my other "vocation" of being the "primary home-maker" (and my wife, I think, may have "more than a feeling" about this...)
... the ongoing freakish weather (rain this morning, and still no snow), news about the melting arctic ice, and the fact that "the environment" and "climate change" have now become such mainstream "issues" that even the Conservative government has been forced to pay more lip-service to them (and, I hope, more than lip-service) all have me thinking that, after a number of years of seeking to reduce our family's ecological footprint, we have become quite complacent and it's time for more radical steps...
... I remain acutely aware that we are "living the contradictions" in a variety of ways, and wonder how that will play out in the coming year, as this music ministry continues to develop... I'm sure I'll be blogging about some of those issues as well...

One quick example. A week ago we ate beef sausage at my grandmother's house. It's the famous (to us) Winkler "beef-ring sausage," and it's my great-grandfather Penner's recipe (from his butcher shop in the 20s, 30s, and 40s). Wonderful stuff, best eaten cold, doused in vinegar, with cheese and buns and pickles and the other items that make for a Sunday "faspa." Best eaten, in fact, with my grandma.

The sausage is now made by the Krahns of Shanzenfeld, and there's only one place in the world where it can be found for sale. At the Tempo gas station in Winkler, Manitoba.

The makers of this sausage have been approached by major grocery chains to see if they would expand their production, and increase their distribution, or at least sell or license the recipe.

They won't.

Apparently they're happy to run a small-scale operation, and don't want to "get bigger," even if it would mean more profits. Apparently, they're content.


It's good to be back, and I look forward to many more musings with you in 2007.