Saturday, December 20, 2008

get on board... 2009 here we come...

In a few hours we'll be boarding the train... this time for the "short" trip (34 hours, or so) to Winnipeg for Christmas celebrations with my family (in other words, HOLIDAY time).

Not like that longish train trip I'll be doing in Feb/March... Edmonton to Boston by way of Seattle... just posted the beginnings of the 2009 performance schedule so you can have a look if you like...

So I'm "signing off" until 2009... Merry Christmas, and see you next year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

subversive singing... subversives, singing

We're "plotting" our route for some lightning-strike "guerrilla caroling" tonight... now that we live in town, we can just WALK from house to house and sing our songs, no matter what the weather... nobody knows we're coming, or that we're going to be recruiting people along the way, anybody that wants to join us as we fan out across our unsuspecting sleepy little town...

So LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW! Perfect "cover" for an operation like this, and it'll cover our tracks in minutes.

We're not alone. It's not just our town. We're part of a bigger, broader movement of folks whose songs will not be silenced, no matter what is blaring from shopping mall speakers in the increasingly frantic attempts to get people to do-their-bit-for-the-economy and SHOP. They can crank up the volume all they want, but that won't keep the alternative songs from being heard and sung and passed along...

Singers like that teen-ager Mary... old Zechariah... Simeon and Anna and - get this - a whole ARMY of angels... all singing their songs, typically in small venues (although that open-air stage on the hillside is pretty big, I guess, even if it is mostly just a local shepherd hang-out)... Luke has some pretty good posts about those performances and audience responses (check out Luke 1:46-55; 1:67-79; 2:13-15; 2:28-38 for some set lists and lyrics as well).

So spread the word... and KEEP ON SINGING! And if you feel like it, come on over for hot chocolate later on tonight...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

jeremiah and christmas

Christmas, it seems to me, is the best and worst time for anyone who cares about prophetic literature and thinks it matters (which, I suppose, are two ways of saying the same thing).

Lately I have been greedily devouring Walter Brueggemann’s collection of essays “Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah.”

Brueggemann’s writing has always impacted me deeply, ever since that first reading of “The Prophetic Imagination” many years ago while sitting in a green double-cab Toyota pickup truck at 6:00am, slowly inching around the block waiting in line to buy gas in Cochabamba, Bolivia. (Lots of time for reading!)

His articulation of the vocation of an “alternative community” - as depicted throughout the biblical text and engaged with characteristic clarity, nuance, and unflinching honesty in Brueggemann’s own writing - has been formative for me in so many ways.

And lately, as I have been growing into (and wrestling with the implications of) my own vocation as a songwriter of and for the church, I find myself deeply moved by Brueggemann’s obvious love and respect for - and keen insight into - the function of poetry in the life of the “alternative community” throughout scripture and in our present age.

Somehow this Christmas I find myself responding differently to so many of the texts and songs that speak of good news, and peace on earth, and the God who comes to set things right. In other years I have found these texts and songs to be inspiring, to be hope-giving, to be reaffirming of a sense of vocation for the church as an “alternative community” in the world.

Somehow this year, in the face of so many cascading crises of economy/ecology and in the expectation of escalating crises to come, I find myself in a “darker” place. I’m finding some of the songs I’m writing have a darker “edge” to them (as will be obvious to the members of my CSM who received my latest “delivery of songs”). I’m struggling to find the words. I’m realizing that I (and, I suspect, we) need to learn to lament.

Not a coincidence, perhaps, that I have of late been drawn to Jeremiah, who is best known to many of us for his words of lament embedded in “the Christmas story” in Matthew 2. Jeremiah, “known as the most troubled of prophets,” and “competent beyond reason in bringing grief to speech” (Brueggemann, pp. 184-185). Jeremiah, thrown into prison and vilified as a traitor because he saw catastrophe coming, and said so, and refused to share the cheery prognostications of official-dom that wanted to reassure the populace that their plans and management techniques would resolve the issues.

And yet...

The same Jeremiah who, after the collapse and in the midst of the chaos, did the most astonishing thing, and bought property. Chose to incarnate hope, in concrete form, “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” (Jer. 32:15)

An action that prefigures in a vivid and dramatic way what we celebrate at Christmas - Word becoming flesh, God “pitching a tent and dwelling among us,” incarnate in the midst of crisis and chaos and confusion.

... the “body of Christ” that continues to be “incarnate” in an “alternative community”...

I once heard a wise man (OK, it was my dad) musing that in the midst of crisis and catastrophe, the most urgent and strategic thing to do would be to plant churches. Local manifestations of “the body of Christ,” called, equipped and sent to live out their vocation and “incarnate” good news in the midst of whatever circumstances arise.

An “alternative community” that is capable of giving voice to (and not papering over) lament and grief. An “alternative community” that is committed to “pitching its tent and dwelling” in the midst of the very place where it seems there is no hope.

As I read in Brueggemann’s essay this morning:

“... What is at issue is how a griever can be a hoper.

“I submit that holding these two texts together (Jer. 8:18-9:3 and Jer. 32:1-15) may be our most important agenda in our societal context. The vision of the promise cannot be abandoned because we are charged with a vision and cannot renege. But the poet of grief cannot be silent, for the word burns to be spoken. Our problem is how to hope so convincedly and yet to discern so deeply at the same time.

“...It is the embrace of and engagement with the hurt and forsakeness of 8:18-9:3 that permits Jeremiah to move on past despair to buoyancy. Indeed it is in the specific, concrete expression of despair that there come the seeds and possibilities of hope.

“I conclude that tamed cynics and chastened radicals, if they are to continue their vision of an alternative world, must find concrete ways of giving voice to their despair that is likely also the despair of God. It is the utterance of the hopeless poem of 8:18-9:3 that creates the rhetorical, psychological, theological possibility of hope in 32:1-15.

“...If Jeremiah had not spoken the despair of 8:18-9:3, it would not have been verbalized anguish but would have become immobilizing, unexpressed rage... Thus the despair of 8:18-9:3 is not the anithesis or denial of hope. It is an essential “door to hope” (see Hos. 2:15).

“... Out of this I submit a liberating juxtaposition for radicals who can move in and through and beyond despair to a new buoyancy. On the one hand, there is need for concrete, public acts of hope, public risks for newness, and public assault on conventional hopelessness.That is the meaning of the land-buying in 32:1-15...

“... On the other hand, and prerequisite to the concrete public act of hope, is the pathos-filled expression of despair.

“... So I argue it is the grief of Jeremiah that is the ground of hope. It is the pained word that precedes the anticipatory word. It is liturgy that grounds public action.

“... Speechless radicals are bound to be hopeless radicals, left only with their wishes, stridency, and coercion. Grief-filled speech permits hope-filled action.”

(Walter Brueggemann, “Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah,” pp. 186-188).

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

news flash: artists doing creative economic thinking

Just came across this - some folks in New York City working at "economic revitalization for performing artists" - including a variety of creative ways of seeking "alternative business models for the arts"...

And here's someone who "proposes a way to adapt the business plan followed by most Community Supported Agricultures (CSA). Like the CSA model, Stolen Chair hopes to build a membership community which would provide ‘seed’ money for the company’s development process and then reap a year’s worth of theatrical harvests."

Sound familiar?

As my "Community Supported Music" initiative heads into its third year of operation, it's neat to see how various people in various places are picking up on the idea, and/or developing similar initiatives independently of each other... At what point does this start to look like a "movement"...? (GRIN)

I've also been glad to see a number of new "memberships" coming in over the last couple of weeks... with a few more messages saying there are others on the way...

The circle is growing! Small-scale and humble for sure... but hey, in the midst of so much turmoil, isn't that a bit of good economic news...?


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

the last shall be first

Saturday night's house concert was my last performance of 2008. It's been quite a year, as you can see. I'm grateful. 2009 is shaping up to be very full and varied as well (not sure when I'll get around to posting the beginnings of the 2009 performance schedule).

Saturday night's event was also, I hope, a "first." I had never done a "house concert" before, and we were experimenting with a unique "smalltall" format, with an initial 1-hour set of especially child-oriented music, and then a break for refreshments and visiting, and then childcare was provided at a friend-and-participant's house just down the street, and we did a second set with just the adults.

I had a blast, and my sense is that the group did too. I think people expected to come for a fun time, and had that, and were a bit surprised at the intensity of the "inspirational" element of the experience as well. I know I was.

That adult setting was especially a highlight for me, as it gave me a chance to do some songs that I've never (in three cases) or rarely (in one other) performed in public before, and that don't really "fit" in the context of more typical concert or worship settings...

I'm hoping to do more of these house concerts. Please let me know if you're interested.

Now it's time for a bit of a change of pace, and to focus more on recording for the next two months. Looking forward to what might emerge from that process as well!


Monday, December 08, 2008

insisting on vocation

What a deeply moving experience it was last week to gather with leaders of numerous Christian denominations to focus on "sustainability."

To hear from David Radcliff (of the New Community Project), Fletcher Harper (of Greenfaith), Jeff Woods, Stan McKay, Mark Vincent (of Design For Ministry).


And as I read this column in today's Toronto Star, I am struck again by how well this writer, and so many others (as I've blogged before), is actually articulating something that resonates deeply with our calling and vocation as "alternative community," as church. The vocation/identity that was the focus of the daily worship sessions that I led with last week's ecumenical gathering (Genesis 12:1-4, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 3:10)...

In the words of today's article by Carol Goar:

"... ways to achieve full employment, reduce poverty, cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep government finances in good shape without economic growth. People would have to live differently - work less, buy less, and pollute less. Values would have to change. The economy would have to fit within the biosphere.

"Victor (author of "Managing Without Growth - Slower by Design, Not Disaster") admits many readers will have trouble getting their heads around the idea of life without economic growth. It's alien to everything they've been taught. "If I can at least get the to open their eyes to alternatives, I'll think I've accomplished something."

"... Something's stirring. It's not a groundswell. But a conversation is beginning about what recovery really means."

Do we have ears to hear?

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