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 .

CL7-old chicago

​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 ​st​ood 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 ​i​​t ​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 a​n​ 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.

CL7 first paying gig 1996Twenty years ago, after a year and a half of singing at Bryn Mawr and informal gatherings, we sang at Friendship Village for an actual ‘paycheck’. Of course, as today, the money was really for a mission fund at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, but we still knew we were crossing a threshold into a new age for the group. We had just picked a name; before this concert we had simply been “The Bryn Mawr Men’s Chorus”. We chose “The Cedar Lake Seven”, because our church is on Cedar Lake Road and, although there were eight singers at the time, we liked the alliteration.

We put on jackets (if you book us today, don’t get your hopes up for the jackets!), pants with creases, and even combed our hair (if you book us today, don’t get your hopes up for me having any hair left to comb!)

The concert was wonderful; we love going to Friendship Village and have since been back many times. Afterwards, we were so pleased with ourselves that we posed around the poster that had been made with the check in hand.

I enjoy looking through the file folder of pictures and memorabilia from across the history of the CL7. The group is a wonderful blessing in my life, and seeing these old things is a great reminder of just how long I’ve been allowed to be, in the words of Bill Gaither, making music with my friends.

Advent is a time of waiting. The word “advent” itself means “waiting.” Aside from the theological implications of waiting for the savior to be born, this time of year always finds me waiting for that moment when it feels like Christmas. Sometimes Christmas arrives at an unexpected moment in mid-December, sometimes when a congregation holds flickering candles in a darkened sanctuary and sings “Silent Night” to close a Christmas Eve service, sometimes when I go to see my family between Christmas and New Year’s, sometimes not at all. Past attempts to make Christmas show up have been unsuccessful. This year I’m still patiently waiting.

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I get glimpses of God’s love from time to time. One glimpse from this past year has managed to lift me up in times of despair and to challenge me out of my own comfort zone. I hope it does something for you and your journey. It started in September when I bought a used car.

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The Cedar Lake Seven was asked to sing a couple of pieces for the dedication of the Garden of Hope and Healing. The new Garden is on the grounds of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian, and is in remembrance of the victims of the shooting at Accent Signage.

Here we are covering the Wood Brothers’ song “One More Day”.

From the archives… April, 2002cl7_in_hungary_1

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area had formed a ‘sister’ relationship with the Trans-Danubian Reformed Churches of Hungary, and when a Hungarian delegation was visiting Bryn Mawr Presbyterian, the CL7 sang for them. That turned into an invitation to tour Hungary and perform six concerts in seven days at churches throughout the western half of the country.


Our hosts were wonderful, the countryside beautiful, the wine plentiful. I came to believe the National Animal of Hungary is the pig, because every meal had pork of some sort – hocks, hams, sausages. Each meal was better than the one before.

We sang for schools as well as for churches, and language proved to be no barrier. I think most everyone in understands a little English, and many have a much better grasp of grammar than me do.

One of our favorite memories is the concert at the school in Papa. We arrived and the large hall was cold and quiet as a tomb. We had met no one at the facility except the janitor who had let us in. We set up the equipment, and changed into our concert clothes. Still, no one. screaming_teensThere we were, at five minutes before the concert, sitting in the empty hall, feeling sorry for ourselves, when suddenly a bell rang, the doors burst open and what felt like every teenager in Hungary poured into the place. The main floor filled, the balconies filled, the kids were excited – it was electric. At one point, I remember that John, our guitar/tenor, was aiming his guitar gun-like at the audience as if he was in a hair-metal band; well, a hair-metal band that plays gospel. Greg got interviewed for the local TV news.

All in all, a great trip. I hope we make it back someday!