We sang a few songs for family and friends at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian in the afternoon on March 4th this year. We wanted to celebrate them and thank them for all the support they give us throughout the year! We had a blast, and ended with a BBQ! What a great day!
This, the third and final month of our Pastor’s sabbatical, the CL7 again ran a Sunday morning service from start to end. This month, we did songs that mostly came from secular radio and lent themselves to a sacred reinterpretation. Music by The Wood’s Brothers, Carly Simon, Levon Helm, The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Glen Campbell and Ronnie Milsap all had a spot in the service.
Here’s the YouTube playlist of many of the pieces:
We led an entire worship service at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, (our home church) this morning. All the interludes, responses, hymns, and anthems were songs either written by Bill and Gloria Gaither, or performed by one of the Gaither ensembles.
Here is a YouTube playlist of the full songs we sang:
We had a wonderful time worshiping with our church last Sunday. We led off with some Hank Williams, I Saw the Light. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwijrpAxJmk&t=0s
In place of a sermon, we sang three songs:
- An old hymn, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tW2sU1qp3o&t=0s
- Chaz took the lead on Grampa Jones’ Turn Your Radio On. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vj1UxQm7xw&t=0s
- And we finished the trio with Terry Smith’s Far Side Banks of Jordan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moOFQ_KZaog&t=0s
For the Offertory, we sang another old classic hymn, Oh How I Love Jesus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaIytS5Tm2E&t=0s
We also sang some fun hymns with the congregation and with the kids during the Time with Children. You can see the whole service at this YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIkFmnP-8ADnMxK6eLM1pQz4OIgx0Iv5T
Our pastor, Jamie Schultz, is out on a Sabbatical for August, September, and October this year. The CL7 volunteered to run one service a month during this time. Greg decided to organize them thematically around musical influences of the CL7.
The first, on August 13th, is an Old Time Music Service, with hymns like In the Garden and I’ll Fly Away, and with anthems like Turn Your Radio On and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.
The second, on September 24nd, is inspired by the Gospel music of the Gaithers.
And the third, on October 22nd, is based on music from outside the normal realm of Gospel, but having spirit-filled meaning. Songs like My Church by Maren Morris, and a number of songs from The Wood Brothers.
Don’t miss ’em!
Christmas is almost here. I hope your holiday bears space for you to slow down, to find your still point, to see wonder and sacred within your life. Personally, I like to believe any season could be about that—that the sacred is always in season. I discovered that in San Francisco many years ago.
San Francisco was my home in 2002. My newlywed wife and I had an apartment on La Playa Avenue in the Sunset neighborhood, the foggy, cold, western neighborhood that edged the Pacific. We had moved there so that I could study Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese Philosophy in graduate school. No, I didn’t have a clear idea where it was leading. Not surprisingly, we struggled. The distance from loved ones, the finances, my partner’s depression, and my own guilt and anxiety about what I was putting us through made things difficult. We were together and in it together, but felt utterly alone at the same time.
I often walked the beach. Sometimes I would just sit and stare. The immensity of the water was unlike anything I had ever known. Even when it was overcast, you could sense the mass and greatness of it all. One’s smallness was always palpable. The scene—the whirring wind in my ear, the rank smell of seaweed that had washed up on the beach, the surfers in wetsuits chasing the swells—usually soothed me or cleared my head.
One day, this scene held an argument. I found myself walking on the beach—steps from the water—venting about my life. I don’t remember what I said, but habit would suggest I was feeling persecuted by God or the universe for not having an easier life. Likely, I was avoiding taking any responsibility for how I had ended up on that beach or what I different life I might create when I got off of it. I was an angry hot mess.
Mid rant, I saw something in the water out of my peripheral vision. When I turned to look at it, I saw nothing. Just as my head turned back ahead, the image returned. I stopped, turned my head back, and found 2 eyes looking at me. Maybe 20, 25 feet away. A wave was cresting, so they were only there for a second. They came back, and I could see they were on the dark face of an animal. And then another wave crested, and it was gone. It took a few swells before I figured out that I was staring at a sea lion and he/she was staring back at me.
I had seen these animals before, but never up close and never one that seemed to have an interested in me. We stared for a minute or two, and then I turned from the water. It was as if a stop light had halted my walking rant. Brief pause until the light turned green. Then, the walk and inner noise resumed.
At some point, I realized I had just walked away from something pretty unique. Something I had never seen before and might not see again. So, I turned back and strained my eyes if I might spot the animal at a distance. Impossible. And the longer I looked, the more idiotic and angry I became with myself for what I had lost. When I gave up—when I turned so that I might resume my walk down the beach—I found him. Still 20, 25 feet away. Still looking right at me.
This time, I stopped. And the maddening noise inside my head stopped, too. I took it in and everything else fell away. For some time, the breeze, the air temperature, the smells, and the people, all stopped existing for me on any conscious level. And the anger about my lot—which I had chosen—that anger went away too. Eventually, external noises crept back in. The first thing that I connected with were the conversations of people passing behind me. And as they flitted in and out of consciousness, it was clear to me that they were missing the same thing I had first missed. The sea lion.
And, so I became something of a marine life evangelist.. It began with some simple pointing and “Look!” and it culminated with interrupting mothers and small children who were peacefully tucked back by the sand dunes on blankets to make sure they didn’t miss it. How many I spoke to, how it was received, whether anyone cared—I don’t know. It’s all really foggy now.
I do know that I eventually went back to the apartment. None of the particular challenges I was facing—clarity on my future work; a strong, local support network; more money; better understanding of depression; more forgiveness for my actions—not a single wish I had had been granted on that beach. And yet, something had shifted. I felt a little less alone and a little less overwhelmed. I began feeling like God was with me and us and might always have been. I began thinking I just needed to slow down and open my eyes.
I live in Minnesota now. There’s no sea nearby and no sea lions. And yet, I believe something about this translates. The Israelites, the story goes, wandered but they also found water in the rock and food on the dessert floor. Maybe we’re all supposed to wander from time to time. Maybe there’s grace bubbling up in around lives that can be witnessed and absorbed. Maybe you’ll experience some of that this season.
After a few years of impromptu singing in the bar, the manager asked us to sing for their Mothers’ Day Brunch. Billed as the Cedar Lake 7 Men’s Choral Group (to avoid offending anybody,) we sang 3 sets and then ate for free at the buffet. I love the poor family who chose the wrong table for Sunday brunch. We sang such songs as Walk Them Golden Stairs, Working On A Building, I John, My Rock, Children Go Where I Send Thee, Loves Me Like A Rock, and all our other great hits. So much beloved we were we that Old Chicago invited us to sing again the next year .
We sang a great show yesterday at the nursing home, Augustana Hastings, and then we closed the season with two songs at BMPC with Noah Bauer, a young man from our congregation with an awesome bluesy voice, singing lead.
This Little Light of Mine/ She Loves Me Like a Rock
I’ve had someone rolling around in my head. His name was Travis. I use past tense because I knew him a long time ago. I’m sure what I knew of him was limited then and has only been distorted by memory and time. Still, he was an interesting character with a unique, defining trait that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Travis and his trait came to mind this week for the first time in many years. It felt significant, personally, and possibly worth sharing with a bigger circle.
Travis had a habit of saying “God Bless Ya.” He said it in a very particular way and he said it a great deal. This piece is about that expression. What I think was behind it, how it came back to me out of the blue, possibly about the power of blessing and letting go of that which we don’t understand or immediately cherish.
To start, I want to share a little about Travis.
I met him in grad school in San Francisco. A fellow Midwesterner, I never found out what brought him from Iowa to the coast or how the place had changed him. When I met him, he was well into his studies, was rail thin, had a scraggy, impressive, sandy blonde beard, and may have been easily mistaken for a homeless man as he stood in his t shirts and worn jeans from a distance. That assumes, though, that you had found him at a rare, still moment. He was the departmental assistant so he was often running around before or after class to help a professor prepare materials. When he wasn’t helping the faculty, he was engaged with classmates delving further into ideas that he had encountered in class or in the drafts of papers that he had read. Unlike myself, he didn’t display a frantic, overworked, how will I get everything done energy. But, he pulsated energy. It appeared something like excited teenagers who were entering a concert venue where their favorite rock group was about to perform. Travis was in love with the sprawling conversations that arose from the coursework, with the eclectic mix who had chosen an even more unorthodox program, and with the larger, vibrant city that it was embedded in. There was something about Travis that attracted this rich diversity to him. It seemed that he was always good for a story about the person he met on the bus or subway or at the grocery story that was unpredictable. And, he would engage with them about anything–politics, religion, hallucogenic drugs, the intentional community he hoped to build one day, and a variety of alternative lifestyles and practices. Somehow, even innocent grocery store line conversations could turn into an earnest exchange of ideas about the world and how it could be. And tension could build within those earnest conversations until some ideological impasse had been reached. Time and time again, Travis would end the conversation by saying, “God Bless Ya Lady” or “God Bless Ya Man” and walk or skip away.
I heard Travis retell many stories out there. I don’t ever recall thinking that he was an instigator–someone who enjoyed riling others up grinding an axe. And, I don’t think that he was a comedian–retelling stories of the people he encountered because he thought they should be judged or scorned or turned into a soundbite. I believe he was an ideological revolutionary–engaged in study of philosophy and the cosmos and ecology and alternative ways of knowing because he desperately yearned for a better world. I think he engaged with all sorts of people because he knew he could not bring about that world in isolation, that it could only come with sharing ideas, understanding how they connected with others, and dreaming together. He often failed–which led to the tension in the conversation–but he didn’t lose hope or sew acrimony. That’s where the “God Bless Ya” came from. I think I t was his way of trying to put a clean karmic bow tie on a conversation. He never explained it, but my best guess is that it could have been interpreted as:
I have no idea how you can actually believe what you’re saying or that these actions are ok. But some people assume I’m crazy, so, who am I to judge? Years from now, maybe we’ll both know the truth, like the big TRUTH, and have some peace that comes from knowing it. For now, just know that I’ve enjoyed talking with you, that this will be rolling around in my head for a while, and that I bid you no ill harm. And, I’m kind of hoping we both see things differently and more fully the next time we get into this type of conversation. Until then, take care of yourself and farewell.
His “God Bless Ya” was sincere, warm, generous, and true. He was a joy to be around, to argue with, to talk politics with, to commiserate with. He was wonderful, and I wish I had gotten to know him better.
So, what brought Travis to mind after all this time? A text message. It was the final text in a series of texts that put me in a funk. Whatever meaningful, constructive conversation the sender and I had been engaged in had clearly ended. I felt stuck most of the day and then Travis came to mind. I could see him standing before me, saying the words, “God Bless Ya” to both myself and the person I was so frustrated with. For no logical reason, it changed how I felt. I tried to amplify the affect–closing my eyes, imagining that I was offering a blessing instead of just receiving it–and things improved even more. Half a dozen “God Bless Ya’s” later actually brought me a smile.
Something about Travis and his expression felt like a key today. It feels as useful as Jim’s stop light prayers (which I hope he’ll write about sometime) and I’m going to try it on for a time.
If you’re going through a thing, I hope this story of Travis or a tool buried in your own past can help you move forward. Whatever you’re up against, God Bless Ya.
At Bryn Mawr Presbyterian in Minneapolis, we sang another Gaither tune, Loving God, Loving Each Other, on Palm Sunday.