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Friday, February 28, 2014

Two masters, Bob White, Lily, Rose, and Violet (A8O)

This is the last of the Sundays we will hear from the Sermon on the Mount, but don't give up hope. It comes in again on Ash Wednesday, and 5 more times on the weekdays of Lent. If it's true that the Lenten lectionary is a road map to Easter, or a crash course in Christianity as the elect approach baptismal waters (and we approach those waters to renew our vows), then the Sermon on the Mount holds a place of honor in Christian teaching about how we ought to see ourselves and one another, reverence God, and live in the world.

The first section of the Gospel today appears to be from a different track than the rest, because the first reading and psalm prepare us more directly to hear the second part of the gospel. But as I was telling folks at a talk I gave this week at the parish on baptismal promises and Lent, the first verses of Sundays gospel are one of many insights we can get from the words of Jesus in the gospel about the meaning of "Repent, and believe the good news." In preaching the reign of God, Jesus was saying, "Compare the world I am offering you under God as Father with the world you have with god as Caesar, and follow me!" Two gods, two masters, this was literally the world of the church in the first centuries of its existence, and it has been pretty much so ever since. Caesar, in Dominic Crossan's language, offers a world of "peace through violence," peace through threats, torture, tribute, and occupation. Peace, in other words, for a few, at the expense of the many. Jesus, on the other hand, offers a world of peace through justice, peace through invitation, mutuality, loving-kindness, and forgiveness.

The world of the empire of God is revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, of which this gospel is a piece. So Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." With that last sentence, the rest of the story turns toward the needs of most peasants: daily bread, survival until work the next day, and the worry engendered by family responsibility. But underlying the saying as a whole is the sense that other gods are competing for the allegiance of the world, and trying to serve more than one can only lead to unhappiness, dissociation, and alienation. The empire of God, Jesus proclaims, is close at hand. What we need is metanoia, a turning-around within, and to start walking in that other realm, living as church in God's world. The "kingdom of heaven" is not, in fact, "light-years away," but as close as turning around. Its home is in this (and every) world. God is already here; it is we who have been absent.

But those first verses are not really in a different place from the rest of today's scripture message at all. Jesus wants us to turn away from god-Caesar and turn toward God-Father, but what is his God like? Is he the vengeful, jealous, violent god whom we think we know from the Old Testament, wielded like a weapon by the some preachers and some belief systems to frighten us into obedience? The answer is right in the text of the Sermon on the Mount. God is not an emperor, or a general, or a bookkeeper, or a disinterested super-scientist, but like the head of a household. What God wants is children who trust in goodness, and who act in the household like a family, and imitate their "Father in heaven."

We have heard the lovely section of Isaiah 49 today that recalls to me Carey Landry's sweet little ballad, "I Will Never Forget You," from which it is derived. God is like a mother to Israel, that is, to all of us together. But even if a mother could forget her child, God's tender loving-kindness will endure. Psalm 62 urges us to "rest in God alone," to trust at all times in God as rock, fortress, and refuge. Then comes that gospel, first the admonition about choosing your god wisely, and then the parable of the birds and flowers.

John Pilch offers a wonderful insight into hearing this gospel, one that we can't get from a casual hearing because it involves some language wordplay. The text is this:
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
What Pilch points out is that the gospel has Jesus uses a masculine noun (birds), and then says, "they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns...." Then, a feminine noun (wild flowers) and says, "they do not work or spin...." His peasant listeners would not have missed his point. I was thinking it would have been like he said, "Look out there at Bob White and Whippoor Will, you don't see them worried about their future, planting, reaping, harvesting. God still feeds them. Check out Lily, Rose, and Violet in the field — they're not spinning a new cloak or worried about how they look, but how beautiful they are!" It's a risk, Jesus knows, to rely on other people. Isolation in the world of first century Judaism was a death sentence, hence the admonition to protect widows and orphans. To be part of the group was to have a chance at survival. The mission to fashion a new world that repents or turns away from its fascination with violence and cooperation by fear and force with the civilizing strategy of Caesar, and turns instead to the task of forging relationships of trust, sacrifice, and concern for the other based on "the golden rule," another teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, will require a community choosing to live that way, and spreading the good news of a different way to others, and building more communities of love.
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Choosing the right god, for Jesus, choosing to live in the community of Abba, aware that every single person in the world, including stranger and enemy, is a beloved daughter or son of the Father, is the beginning of this new life. It is a turning around, it is to repent and believe the good news. It is metanoia, a changing of mind, heart, attitude, and allegiance. It requires all of us together. And it requires a decision from each of us.

That decision, I submit to you, is the decision to renew our baptismal promises at Easter this year, as it was last year. The entire point of Lent, which begins this Wednesday, is to repent, that is, to turn away from sin (i.e., the strategy of violence, fear, and greed) and believe in the good news of an empire of mutuality, just relationships, love, and service. If we can find a way to do these things authentically, then we can answer yes to the questions, "Do you reject sin?" and "Do you believe in God, the Father..., Jesus Christ his only Son,...and the Holy Spirit...?"

It's all of a piece, isn't it? We don't have those Sundays any longer that "counted down" to Lent (L, "quadregisma," i.e., forty), that were called "Septuagesima" (seventy), "Sexagesima" (sixty), and my fave, "Quinquagesima" (fifty). But we could hardly ask for a better set of scriptures to lead into the season of Lent than the ones we have Sunday.
No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
Once again, Christians, it's time to make a choice.

What we're singing at St. Anne's this weekend:

Entrance: Rain Down (Cortez), because of its joyful faith that God's love will "rain down" on all of us, good and bad alike, and that we can trust in its goodness all our lives.
Psalm 62: In God Alone (Haas), because of its lovely, inviting music that leads us into calm confidence that our choice for God is the right one.
Preparation Rite: You Alone (Cooney) or Eye Has Not Seen (Haugen). "You Alone" because it takes the images from the gospel, weaves it with other scripture and St. Augustine, and leads the community to its heart's desire, the God of Jesus.
Communion: Taste and See (Moore), because the world is full of the presence of God, and that presence is goodness, and the Eucharistic meal is par excellence the place where we can experience that divine presence.
Sending Forth: Halle, Halle, Halle (Arr. Bell) - for the "burial" of the Alleluia until Easter

Thursday, February 27, 2014

TBT - A vision of Lent (1999) with thoughts for each week

I wrote this for my parish in 1999, another "Year A" in the lectionary. It's an overview of Lent, with a quick paragraph for each Lenten Sunday intended to be a window into that day's liturgy of the word.

God's beloved daughters and sons
Remembering who we are
by Rory Cooney
Copyright © 1999

In Walt Disney's animated film The Lion King, Simba, the young son of Muphasa, the lion king, gets tricked by his uncle Scar into disobeying his father's orders. His disobedience is indirectly responsible (he thinks) for his father's death. Shamed and confused, young Simba leaves the pride and goes off on a journey of forgetting. Joining with new friends in the savanna, he lives an unlionly life of ease, and eats unlionly food like grubs and insects. By listening to Scar and not his father, he became both a victim of Scar's jealousy and willfully disobedient. He tried to forget who he was, the son of the Lion King. Only the intervention of his childhood playmate Nala and the baboon shaman Rafiki allowed him to finally remember his father's voice and his own destiny. Remembering who he was allowed him to overcome his shame and face Scar, and finally to come to be the Lion King.

Lent is a time for remembering who we are. The forty days of Lent are part of a ninety-day celebration in the church surrounding the Triduum, the three days that recall the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Triduum opens the door to the celebration of Easter, which we observe with a jubilee 'week' of eight Sundays. The liturgical high point of the ninety days is the Easter Vigil, at which the church baptizes her catechumens, anoints them with chrism, and brings them to the table of Jesus for the first time. On that same night and at every Easter Sunday liturgy, all of us renew the baptismal vow that we made, or that was made for us, to be God's anointed, God'sChrist, in our world. During the forty days of Lent, we are invited to look closely at our lives and see whether there are other voices to which we have been listening, other gods whose empty promises have lured us away from our true destiny and have let us block out the voice of the One who calls us out of darkness into marvelous light.

Before our baptism, God has called us to a great destiny: to join the mission of reconciliation by which the destructive effects of sin upon the earth and upon the human family will be reversed in a new creation. The human face of that creation is Jesus Christ. Jesus, at his own baptism by John, hears the voice that is calling him to this very same mission declaring, "This is my son, my beloved." That voice and that mission consume him, and he is faithful to it during his desert sojourn when another voice promises "all this will I give you if you will fall down and worship me." "The Lord alone is God," replies Jesus, "him alone shall you serve." Jesus remembers who he is, and whose he is, holds to the voice that calls him "beloved." The sound of that voice, the name "beloved" sustains him through his darkest hours, and brings him on Easter morning out of his own grave.

Recently, I took my children to see The Prince of Egypt, which is the somewhat romanticized but still powerful story of the journey of Moses. A Hebrew and yet the adopted son of the Pharaoh, Moses too in the court of Pharaoh begins to forget who he is. By a series of encounters, first with his future wife Tzipporah and later with Miriam and Aaron, his brother and sister, he begins to see the oppression of the Hebrews by the Egyptians for what it is. Murdering an Egyptian overseer, Moses flees into the desert in a self-imposed exile, where he meets Jethro, Tzipporah's father, at an oasis. Jethro sees in his son-in-law more than Moses sees in himself, and sings a wonderful song at the wedding of Moses and Tzipporah around the desert campfire with his family. He sings:
A lake of gold in the desert sand is less than a cool fresh spring,
And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy is greater than the richest king.
If a man lose everything he owns has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning of a new a brighter birth?
So how do you measure the worth of man in wealth or strength or size?
In how much he gained or how much he gave?
The answer will come to him who tries
To look at his life through heaven's eyes.
 "Through Heaven's Eyes," by Stephen Schwartz. Copyright © 1998 DWA Songs
To see ourselves as God sees us, as beloved sons and daughters, is to begin to imagine how we ought to act, and what we might become. We begin to remember that our enemies, people we don't know, the poor and forgotten, and people yet unborn are also God's beloved sons and daughters, and we see that many of our habits and ways of acting need to be changed. God calls us to the mission of reconciliation, the mission whose fullness can be seen in the story of Pentecost. There, in the fullness
of Easter time, the whole world hears the good news in its own language, and the damage of sin symbolized by the scattering of peoples from Babel is healed. This Lent, let us prepare to renew our baptismal promises earnestly. Let us remember who we are, called by God into union with Christ for the mission of reconciliation.

            Who is my servant? Where is she?
            My light to the nations, where is he
            In prison and palace my gospel who told,
            And living, my gospel became?
            This is my servant whom I shall uphold:
            His name is Christ is her name.

            Who answers to slander with silence
            And vengeance returns not for violence?
            Whose presence is healing for young and for old,
            To friend and to stranger the same?
            This is my servant whom I shall uphold:
            His name is Christ is her name.
 (from "Servant Song," by Rory Cooney, © 1987 Epoch/NALR)

Lenten Bulletin fervorinos

Ash Wednesday:
Remember that you are dust -- Is that so bad?
The phrase we hear on Ash Wednesday is from Genesis 3, and sounds a little harsh to us. But should it? When we're not in denial about the fragility of our life, we can begin to hear that we are dust as the truth about us. And it's pretty good news, as we read in Genesis. What God can do with dust is make children, God's own beloved sons and daughters!

First Sunday of Lent:
Forty days to listen, remember, and decide

Jesus, having heard the Father's voice at his baptism, is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There he endures the same tests that Israel, God's chosen people, had endured in the desert: their physical hunger, their desire to test God, and the lure of idolatry. Unlike Israel, Jesus responds to his being chosen as God's beloved faithfully. He says "yes" to the election that will shape his identity and ministry. In Lent, we have the same opportunity. Will our lives be shaped by the voice that calls us "Beloved," or by the empty promises whispered by the other voice in the mocking wind?

Second Sunday of Lent:
A glimpse of what might be: the future tasted now!

"Look at the stars, and count them, if you can! That is the number of your descendants." God, faithful to the promise made to his beloved children, gives them a glimpse of their future. Jesus, too, facing the journey on which he will confront the powers that will destroy him, is given a glimpse of the glory that God gives to God's own. The radiant love of children lightens the tedium and frustration of parenting; the tenderness, security, and gifts of a parent's love lightens the frightening burden of childhood. It's not just light at the end of the tunnel: there is light in the darkness because God is with us.

Third Sunday of Lent:
Thirsting for reconciliation: The Beloved know the voice of the Seventh Lover

Jesus and the woman at the well share their thirsts and risk an encounter with a stranger. In today's gospel, the woman, like Samaria and its people, has given her life over to six lovers who are less than the perfect match. The mystic biblical number, the seventh lover, is right before her eyes. The woman and her people choose to quench their thirst with the living water of the gospel. Can we too lay aside our prejudices and comfort with lesser gods, and choose to live the gospel in harmony with all of God's children, even our apparent enemies? It is that choice that turns the elect -- and other seekers -- into apostles.

Fourth Sunday of Lent:
Seeing through heaven's eyes: the chosen and the holy are rarely what they seem!

In the words of the Church father Tertullian, Christians are made, not born. God chooses a people, but we only truly act like God's beloved when we respond to God's election by living a life of right relationships with God and neighbor. God's vision sees beyond names and human value to the heart of us. It is not always the humanly-declared 'sacred' that marks God's presence, nor is the human 'reject' a sign of God's absence. Today we pray with our elect to walk as God's beloved in Christ's light, the light of God's reign of justice and truth, and to see clearly with heaven's eyes.

Fifth Sunday of Lent:
To death, and "fates worse than death," one answer: "Lazarus, beloved friend, come out!"

Ezekiel weeps over the killing fields where the dry bones of Israel lie bleaching in the sun; Jesus weeps at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. We weep over our own mortality when we confront it honestly and don't live in denial by accumulating possessions or nursing addictions to pleasure, power, or narcotics. But even death will not hold God's beloved in its bands: the voice of Christ bids us up from all of our tombs, and we, the living, hear his cry to roll away the stone so that God's glory may be seen when God's breath enters clay once again.

Passion Sunday:
The wages of grace: God's beloved servant surrenders his life

Faithful to the last, Jesus holds to the vision of his election as God's beloved before the human powers in Jerusalem. His rejection of religious law that isolates rather than unites, that creates insiders and outsiders, his insistence that God's rule limits and shrinks the boasts of human authority, his claim of a special relationship to God while uniting himself with the losers and rejects of his nation, all these have led him into the hands of his enemies. Their verdict: capital punishment. We know the outcome for Jesus. Does that knowledge in faith give us the courage to live as he did? Can we renew our baptismal commitment with integrity when asked to do so next week? God is faithful; the call is renewed. How will we respond after this forty days?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


This is the coldest damn winter I have ever experienced, and I'm not the only one. But when I got to Barrington in 1994, in February, it was the coldest one in a long time, and I was driving into town from Arizona, where I had lived under a broiling sun pretty much all my life. I arrived on a Friday night, and Saturday morning I had to direct the choirs for the confirmation mass. Welcome, sit down, and get to work.

The parish had arranged for me to stay with a lovely woman who lived less than a mile from the church. I had, almost literally, nothing, just my clothes and guitar and a few odds and ends. Recently divorced, I had come to try to make a fresh start. At St. Jerome, my former parish in Phoenix, I had tried really hard to make a go of it, and most of the people there were very understanding and tried to help us all through the difficult time. I had had an apartment about a mile from the church and about a mile from the house still occupied by my children and their mother, we were all trying to make that work as best we could. Then, a new pastor was assigned at St. Jerome, and shortly after his "I, me, mine" homilies began there, I knew the handwriting was on the wall. (He was subsequently chased out of the parish, and later indicted in another parish on numerous counts of misusing church funds. Lovely man.)

Courtney Murtaugh
I had been at the NPM in St. Louis the previous summer, and a woman by the name of Courtney Murtaugh approached me after the GIA showcase. She introduced herself as the liturgist from St. Anne's in Barrington, Illinois, and told me they were looking for a music director. I had never heard of Barrington, but I had asked my longtime acquaintance Mary Prete, then of Alverno Religious Books in Chicago, to keep her ear open and let people know I was looking. She had apparently told Courtney, and so Courtney came to me. She gave me an information packet from the parish, and told me to call her. They flew me out on the weekend of the Assumption in August of 1993, and I interviewed with some staff there and played with the groups at the masses. I told them that I thought I would like it there, but that I couldn't leave Phoenix quite yet, maybe not for another six months, so I suggested they might want to interview someone who would be available sooner. The pastor, Fr. Jack Dewes, told me that if I wanted the job, they'd get by until I could get there.

So we had a deal. I was amazed. The reason I'm writing all this is because this is a great parish, and it's in a great little town, and I count my blessings so often that I ended up here of all places.
Best. Fourth. of. July. Parades. Ever.
Barrington is small, actually a cluster of five villages or areas that share a zip code. For you to appreciate the way that I appreciate this town, you sort of have to know what Phoenix is like. Phoenix is a grid, a sprawling city laid out in square-miles like patchwork. Within each square-mile area there is a neighborhood, a school, some churches. At the intersections are the strip malls and grocery and convenience stores, larger malls and metroplexes dot the map. This was the city that was my home from 1958 until 1994, give or take a few years for high school and college in southern California and southeast Missouri.

The church where I work in Barrington is about a block from the Metra (commuter rail) station. Like many communities in Illinois and around the western US, Barrington was a railroad stop, a farming and horse ranching community, before it became a bedroom community for upscale Chicago
Village Hall
commuters. Hopping on a train at any of about twenty daily times, you can be in downtown Chicago for about five dollars or so, no hassles, no traffic. It's wonderful (at least for those of us whose trips to Chicago are not two-a-days, 250 times a year!) From the church, I can walk less than half a mile to the library, the post office, the bank, two Starbucks, my dry cleaners, a grocery store, and to Barrington's own "second run" classic theater, the Catlow. Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin' Donuts, and pizza are in the same radius, and several cafes, restaurants, and an Irish pub. But I can also walk a five-mile path that is mostly parkway and along the Cuba Marsh, a forest preserve.

This is life for a lot of people in this part of the midwest, a neighborhood where you don't really need a car to get around. It's a good thing, too, because for part of my tenure here we only had one car, and Terry needed it to drive to her job in St. Charles. On top of all that, and if that weren't enough, about two years after I arrived, the church had bought a couple of houses to expand their green space in anticipation of our building project which culminated in the new church being built in 2000. They let us rent the house right across the street from the church, so all the benefits of village life were ours, too, benefits which we could definitely never have afforded if we were actually paying what the place was worth in rent or mortgage. The rent we pay was certainly less than a lot of our neighbors' property taxes. In 2009, we bought a house a few miles north of Barrington in Lake Zurich, which is about halfway between Barrington and Terry's teaching job at Carmel Catholic High School, where Desi attended school before tripping off to be a Cornhusker.

Our home from 1996-2009, the once and
future (current) rectory on Franklin Street
All that began twenty years ago this month. It has been a good relationship for these many years. As anyone knows who has been a non-ordained person in church ministry for any length of time, all of this can change in the blink of an eye. A pastor can leave or be moved at any time, and his replacement could be as different in style and personality as is humanly possible—think of what happened in Phoenix, for instance—and I might not fit the bill for the new guy. There is absolutely no recourse: all of us serve at the pleasure of the pastor. Contracts, verbal or otherwise, mean next to nothing in the ecclesiastical world. No amount of clamor by no number of parishioners would make a bit of difference if any of us were let go for any reason; it just doesn't matter. I've seen it happen all over the country.

Still, while it lasts, it's a good job among wonderful people. I have wonderful, committed colleagues who love ministry and we do our best to announce the gospel in our little corner of creation and move people to take care of each other. To get paid for doing something you love is a blessing for anyone. To be able to make music for worship, to work with people for whom faith matters and who want to make a difference in the world, is a treasure. To be able to do that in a little town "where everybody knows your name" and everything is a five-minute walk away, that's just off-the-chart brilliant. As the old song goes, "I don't know what tomorrow holds/ But I know who holds tomorrow." I'll keep my nose to the grindstone and see how this plays out, in Barrington, Illinois, 60010.

Monday, February 24, 2014

SongStories 24: "You Alone" (NALR, 1984)

Over the last few years, I've been fascinated (but not obsessive) about the relationship between loves (eros, philia, agape) in life and therefore in worship, and therefore in song. We aren't always capable at all times and with everyone of all the different variations of love. But I have to believe, I think the Church believes, that all love flows from divine love, in the sense that wherever we drink from the river, we drink from the source. My love for God, at times in my life, might be eros because that is the only kind of love of which I'm capable. At other times, it might be philia, as is suggested by one interpretation, at least, of the reconciliation of Peter at breakfast that morning on Sea of Galilee after the resurrection. It's all the same to God, who waits to welcome us in the ocean of agape when we are ready, finally, to take that plunge.

So worship music, too, will express all kinds of love for God, as erotic, filial and familial, corporate and communal, and ultimately agapic. I might be wrong, but I perceive a lot of "praise chorus" kind of music as arising out of eros, and trying to be philia or storge. I don't think that's bad, at all. Eros is full of divine presence. It's the best we can do, sometimes, and it must be all right with God. I'm trying to get around to saying here that I've written music that wants to be worship music when the God is see is agape but I only have the musical vocabulary or the spiritual wits to respond with eros. I only hope to be moving in the right direction, and open to divine inspiration to get me, eventually, to the right place.

Here's a good example, though it's specifically about the wonderful Liam Lawton's song, "Cloud's Veil." My wife, Terry Donohoo, is featured with Liam on the original recording of his song on his GIA CD, Cloud's Veil. If you are familiar with that recording, you will remember that the lyrics of the refrain were slightly different from the way the appear in the printed music and hymnals. As recorded:
Even tho' the rain hides the stars,
Even tho' the mist swirls the hills,
Even when the dark clouds veil the sky,
You are by my side.
Even when the sun shall fall in sleep,
Even when at dawn the skies shall weep,
Even in the night when storms shall rise,
You are by my side, you are by my side.
For some inexplicable reason, when this song was published, "You are by my side" became "God is by my side." Was anyone really confused about this? As sung poetry, I feel that the Anglo-Saxon word "God" falls like a rock in the line, while "you" breathes into the verb. Furthermore, and this is important, "you" has a wider semiotic field, and frankly, it is a better choice. While the lyric, taken with the verses, never wavers from "you" as God as its central meaning ("Bright the stars of night/That mirror heaven's way to you..."), employing "you" at the end of the refrain allows for a glimmer of semiotic ambiguity that suggests the possibility of an even richer meaning, that lovers, friends, family, and community might be you, the manifestation of solidarity in Christ that is an epiphany of the divine for Christians.

Well. All of that is by way of introduction to "You Alone," the title song from my 1984 album, my first collection of liturgical songs. It was the first song on Side 2 of the vinyl, which is where we put "Do Not Fear to Hope" on the next album, and where "Mystery" appeared on the cassette, though by now we had switched over to the CD where song placement didn't matter so much, side A/B-wise. I remember "birthing" this song in 1982, living with my wife and two children (and mom?) in the house in which I had been born in the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix. I was not yet working full time in music, I was a weekend warrior, who made his "real" living as a travel agent, and frankly, I was being pulled in all kinds of directions, not all of them healthy.

That house of my childhood, to which we had returned to share expenses with my mom, had a carport that early on my father and grandfather had converted into a fourth bedroom/playroom. Like the rest of the house, it was not air conditioned, but was cooled in the Arizona summer by evaporative cooling, which in those days was accomplished by large exterior box fans blowing lots of air over water-soaked asbestos pads (welcome to cancer central...). Amazingly, this managed to work pretty well, at least in those days when air was dryer, making the evaporation work for us for more of the year. Anyway, I found myself escaping on evening to that old bedroom and lying on the thinly carpeted floor, seeking some escape for quiet for my thoughts. The passage in the Sermon on the Mount about the lilies of the field had always been a favorite of mine. I had written a little song about it in my days as a folkie and guitar enthusiast, and Therese Marie and I had even used the passage at our wedding for the gospel. Augustine's famous phrase sentence from The Confessions was also on my restless heart, trying to make sense of the knots and mazes that were part of my life: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. (Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te. 1.1) And I started writing a love song, the song that became "You Alone."

A few things about this song. As I look back now on the melodic contour of the first two lines, with the harmony, it is reminiscent of a song that was on the radio in 1982 and that I really loved, a duet John Denver wrote and sang with Placido Domingo called "Perhaps Love." It was completely subconscious, I assure you, but I think that that song probably affected the shape of the melody. It's not so obvious that I noticed it back then, but I notice it now. It's interesting to me that, though it is a tender love song, it was written by Denver in a time of personal turmoil. My friends in Phoenix took it, though, and in two or three years, when Gary Daigle and John Gallen came to the Casa, "You Alone" became a kind of Advent anthem. I had never thought of it as an Advent song, but Gallen saw in the "unfinished business" of the human heart the restlessness that Advent is about, that is only settled by the incarnation, the awareness of the reality of God-among-us. John also was fond of telling me that "You Alone" was "the Protestant hymn par excellence," not because of its musical style, but because it was an anthem about God alone, not a reference to human goodness or works, but to the enthralling presence of the Lover who calls us into relationship as a people of love.

This was not the first song that Terry recorded on the album. That was "Yours Today." I tell the rest of that story in the "Albums" post on this recording. Here's a link, if you'd like to read it.

The section of the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus's beautiful words about the lilies of the field and the grass are coming up this Sunday in the scriptures, so we're using "You Alone" at St. Anne's this week, something I don't do very often. It will bring up all those different loves I've felt in my life, and remind me of the one love, agape, that is the source from which all of them flow. How about I leave you with this - the bridge lyrics from "Perhaps Love," by John Denver, and the refrain lyrics of "You Alone." I think that makes a good quodlibet, a mixtape to the Divine Lover.

O love to some is like a cloud, to some as strong as steel.
To some, a way of living; to some, a way to feel.
And some say love is holding on, and some say letting go,
And some say love is everything. Some say they don't know. 

You alone, O Lord, can give us safety.
You alone, O Lord, can bring us home.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,
They can rest in you alone.

Lyrics for "Perhaps Love" Copyright © 1981 Cherry Lane Music Publishing Company, Inc.
Lyrics for "You Alone" Copyright © 1984 OCP.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Don't the pagans do as much? (A7O) Part 2

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In preparation for the gospel today, we hear a short piece of Leviticus, and it might seem that the passage is just saying, 'Love your neighbor, your countryman, the guy who lives next door, as yourself.' That's hard enough. But even Leviticus goes on to include foreigners and strangers a few verses later, by saying, "You shall love the alien as yourself, because you yourselves were once aliens in the land of Egypt." (v.34) Jesus expands this even further: not just your neighbor, not just the foreigner, but your enemy.

There is a principle in Jesus study when determining ipsissima verba or, more precisely, ipsissima vox, that is, which words in the gospels did the Lord himself say, or in what passages do we hear the "very voice" of the Lord (perhaps not his exact words) and what has been redacted, shifted, and rewritten over the times the gospels were being assembled. The principle is sometimes called the criterion of embarrassment, meaning that the very fact that the words or actions appear in the scripture is reason enough to believe that they actually happened, because they don't make the story better, or make sense, or raise the honor of those who took part. Included in this might be, for instance, the baptism of Jesus by John, or the dullness of the apostles in Mark. As for me, I think that the passage above, from the Sermon on the Mount that concludes the gospel for today, must fit into this category. While consistent with the actions of Jesus in his life, the command to love the enemy and do good to the persecutor is so counter-intuitive that it could almost only have come from another world. Add to that the haunting question about "making nice" with your friends and locals, "Don't the pagans do that much?"

So much of our parishes' energy seems to be directed to activities about which Jesus might say, "Don't the pagans do that much?" I'm sure that when he said it, if he said it, he spoke with a grin, as if to say, "Look at yourselves! Isn't it crazy that you think you're some kind of 'chosen people'? If you're chosen, what are you chosen for? Why don't you act like it?" I think it would be a good question about every project that every parish council and/or pastor undertakes in the community: "Don't the pagans do that much?" Or, in the other phrase, Jesus said, "Don't the tax collectors do that much?" So we could fill in the blank with whoever it is we think are lost souls: Don't the Democrats/ Republicans/ Texans /New Yorkers /Lawyers/ White Sox/ Cubs/ immigrants/ people on welfare/ Mexicans/ norteños/ Reform-of-the-reform-crowd/ NCR subscribers/ etc. etc do that much?

How can we tell if the project we are undertaking as the cause célèbre du jour is actually worthy of people who are called to the empire of God, those who are addressed in the beatitudes, and called light of the world, salt (fire-catalyst) of the earthen oven, and city set on a hill? Are we supposed to
blend in, or stand out? Catholics make up the largest percentage of any faith group in the United States, ex-Catholics the second largest. Our brothers and sisters of other Christian faiths aside for the moment, with that catechetical patrimony, why do we have Congress at a standstill, no civil discourse, rancorous ad hominems in the press and internet, wars with robotic weapons and acceptable collateral damage, free access to guns, limited access to health care, no humane policy toward immigrants, and an equally appalling record on the environment, the penal system and death penalty, job creation, and other life issues? Catholics vote. Catholics hold office. But who can't look at this country and say, "Don't the pagans do that much?" And maybe add, "And sometimes, more?"

I picture Jesus speaking these words, whether he spoke them all at once or whether they were collected and remembered from many sermons on many mounts and many plains, with his main message right at the top of his mind: "Repent, and believe in the gospel." Or, "Turn around, go in another direction, I have good news for you about a different god and a different emperor than the one whom you think is in charge." He thinks of his audience, and that is us, as "blessed," that is, makarioi or full up with the good fortune of being loved by God who is right here with us in the trenches when we're poor, lowly, thirsty for justice, merciful, peacemakers, single-hearted, and put down because we try to be on God's side. He says we have light and fire in us, we can be a city on a hill.

And he tells us how to show it, too. The law we have is not even close to the way God lives. God is nothing like Caesar, stop thinking that, and nothing like religious leaders who think Caesar's power is the way power looks, stop thinking like that too. God is not an emperor arrayed in gold or a general with armies, or a judge, bookkeeper, or heavenly tycoon. God is a father, the head of the household that we all live in, and what God wants is a functional family of people who take care of each other. What God expects is, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and everyone, especially people with no one to help them out, and especially people who are violent and seem to be God's enemies, everyone is your neighbor.

So before we congratulate ourselves too much on that new building, or being a blue-ribbon Catholic school, or this new program or that new committee, we might just stop and ask ourselves, "Don't the pagans do as much?" With a smile, of course, because we always fall short of where we want to be, but let's never mistake missing the mark, hamartia, or sin, for virtue. We need to repent, turn around, and go in the other direction, the gospel direction.

How is that even possible? How can we be asked to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect? Well, because it's the only way out of the hell we have made of revenge, competition, class warfare, racial profiling, homophobia, and every kind of violence. "He makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." Everybody is God's child, everyone is loved by God, and everyone deserves the love of every brother and sister. That's this God. There are other ones, and they have led us to the world we have now. How is that working out for you? And if we're feeling all right, we'd better check to see whose neck we're standing on, and whose wounds were made by weapons funded by our taxes, and whom we've robbed of comfort and home to build our own nests. Everyone can be kind to the gift-giver, the shogun, and the one with the sunny disposition. Those who live in the city on the hill, those who are the light of the world, are called to be like God, stop the cycle of greed and revenge, and repay evil with kindness, giving ourselves in service to everyone, even the reprehensible and vile. How on earth is that possible? It is possible because God does it, and that energy forged the universe and keeps it and all of us alive. That God serves us.

I just keep thinking to myself, don't think of all this as "the ideal." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is describing what is genuinely real. Life is deeper than we imagine. I don't know what that means, I don't know how it expands beyond our lifetimes. What I know is that it matters what we do now, in this world. This world may be ruled by one Caesar or another, but all the worlds belong to Abba. It's up to us, sitting around Christ on the mountain, to waken to our calling to be that city set on a hill. To be there, we need to turn around. Or, as the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation puts it, when we come together, gathered by the crucified and risen Jesus whom Caesar imagined he had destroyed, ...we might turn again to you, (Father,) and find our way to one another. 

Music we're doing at St. Anne this weekend:

Gathering - We Are Called (Haas)
Psalm 103 The Lord Is Kind (Cotter)
Presentation of Gifts: Be Perfect (Cooney)
Communion: One in Love (Kendzia/Cooney)
Sending Forth: Bring Forth the Kingdom (Haugen)

We also have the Rite of Sending to Election and Recognition by the Bishop this Sunday, so we'll be using "Who Calls You By Name" (Haas) and "I Have Loved You" (Joncas) as well.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't the pagans do as much? (A7O) - Part 1

In preparing for a webinar sponsored by my friends at TeamRCIA in San Jose, Diana Macalintal and Nick Wagner, I was re-reading the little Lent book I wrote last summer, Change Our Hearts. What struck me now and did not strike me as I was writing the book is that half a dozen of the gospels of the forty days of actual Lent, that is, from Ash Wednesday to Spy Wednesday, minus the Sundays, are taken from the Sermon on the Mount! This no doubt struck me because we have been listening to that section of the gospel of St. Matthew all this month, and will continue it through March 2, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Reading over this Sunday's gospel again reminded me that I had written about it in the book, which made me go back and count the passages from chapters 5-7 of Matthew, and there are 6, 5 of which are proclaimed in the first 10 days of Lent.

The reason I bring this up is that one of the underlying premises of the book is that Lent is for the spiritual preparation to make or renew the baptismal promises, and the readings of the lectionary during Lent are a sort of "crash course" in Christianity (that is the subject of today's webinar) for the elect—and a remedial one for the rest of us. Six of those gospels are from three chapters of Matthew, and we have heard all of them during the last month.

Sunday's gospel, though, may be the most challenging of all. It's very concrete, behaviorally-oriented,  particularly when taken together with the direction to which the first reading and psalm are pointing us. For starters:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
(1) When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
(2) If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
(3) Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles."
So we're back at the end of what are called the hypertheses, the statements that we heard last week (in brevis) "You have heard that it was said...but I say to you..." Here, he takes the talion law that goes back past Leviticus to the code of Hammurabi, and suggests to his listeners, "How's that working out for you?" Everyone who has witnessed the brutality of retaliation knows that it doesn't assuage the
pain of the injured party, it just multiplies it into the community and extends its deathly power down through time and space. Then he offers some practical advice, some nonviolent strategy, to his disciples upon whom he is springing such astoundingly difficult behaviors. They are people who understand honor and shame, and who have turned them into an art form. John Pilch and others give us some insight into what Jesus may have been suggesting here.

(1) When we think about this verse, we need to remember that there weren't any "left-handed" people in those days. Right up to the time of my parents, children who favored their left hands were discouraged from using them for writing and, I presume, other activities. I guess being left-handed was seen as some kind of rude disability! But in ancient times, it just wasn't done. The right hand was the honorable hand, only hand used to touch another person. The left was reserved for toileting and other unsanitary activities. So picture two people, standing face to face. One is a Roman soldier, say, and the other is you. Only one of these two people is going to do any hitting, and it isn't you.

So, because you are his inferior, he strikes you like he would a slave, with his right backhand, across the right side of your face. He's not messing around, it hurts like hell. But Jesus says, "Turn the other cheek." So you turn the left cheek, and now he's got a problem. To hit you on the left cheek, he has to either use his left hand (unacceptable, loss of honor) or hit you like an equal, with his right (unacceptable, because you are not his equal.) I'm not sure whether, in fact, it would make a big difference to a Roman legionary under the broiling Palestinian sun, but in the realm of story, you have turned the tables on the aggressor, and maintained your honor without fighting back.

(2) Going to court, according to Pilch (Cultural World of the Gospels, Cycle A) was in itself a dishonorable way to settle differences. But in such a case, the plaintiff could, as collateral or payment, demand the defendant's cloak. Jesus's solution to the problem is, "Give him your cloak as well." This may sound like, "Be, like, way generous with the dude." Instead, it would leave you naked before the plaintiff and the judge and witnesses, and all of them would be dishonored for looking on your nakedness. Again, civil disobedience without violence.

(3) Roman soldiers had a written code of conduct which permitted them to press locals into service to carry their backpacks for them for the distance of a mile. If they went over that distance, they were subject to punishment by their centurion or other officers. So in this case, Jesus suggests "going the extra mile," but it's not to make the oppressor's burden easier. Again, the oppressor is the target of this symbolic action. Now, he has to press for the good nature of the subject, because the bearer has the upper hand. Honor is preserved, no bloodshed.

For a people who have suffered under oppressive regimes for three centuries, and who regularly felt the might of Rome visited upon their populace, this might have offered a way out of the cycle of violence and reprisal or oppression and repression, all of which escalates into war. By breaking the cycle of retaliation and claiming the status of equality with all people as children of God, these simple strategies of political theater, difficult as they might be, might begin to change the world. Disciples of Jesus, like Dr. King and Gandhi (in his own way) used similar strategies of non-violence to assert the human dignity of oppressed people as equals of members of the dominant culture, some of whom themselves claimed to be disciples of Jesus! The Jesus movement rejected violence as a solution to problems: violence was the strategy of Caesar. In the end, when Rome moved against Jerusalem in 70 CE, no symbolic gestures would stop the flow of blood in Jerusalem. The community was instructed to look for the signs that the end was coming, and flee to the hills. (24:15-21)

There's a lot more to this Sunday's gospel. I'll get to it tomorrow. Have a great day.

Music we're doing at St. Anne this weekend:

Gathering - We Are Called (Haas)
Psalm 103 The Lord Is Kind (Cotter)
Presentation of Gifts: Be Perfect (Cooney)
Communion: One in Love (Kendzia/Cooney)
Sending Forth: Bring Forth the Kingdom (Haugen)

We also have the Rite of Sending to Election and Recognition by the Bishop this Sunday, so we'll be using "Who Calls You By Name" (Haas) and "I Have Loved You" (Joncas) as well.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TBT "Nonconformity or Extinction - Simple Choices for Pastoral Musicians" (1997, GIA Quarterly article)

or, How to alienate friends and lose influence with people, by Rory Cooney.

I'm not going to print this entire article again, because even though the events I describe at the beginning of it actually happened, I found that reporting them alienated some people irreparably and probably made the rest of what I had to say unreadable. I excised three paragraphs at the ellipsis about a page down. I have criticized others at times for "telling their truth" without love, or, as Paul Simon put it, "there's no tenderness underneath your honesty," so I don't want to continue in that vein. But I think other parts of this article, while maybe not participating in undying or unchanging "truth", whatever that is, may be worth revisiting 17 years later. Or not. You certainly don't have to read it. 

This article appeared in GIA Quarterly in 1997, under the title:

Nonconformity or Extinction:
Simple Choices for Pastoral Musicians
by Rory Cooney
Copyright © 1997
“...Older writers should find younger writers inimical, because younger writers are sending them an unwelcome message. They are saying, “It’s not like that anymore. It’s like this.” In the present context, “that” and “this” can loosely be described as the thought-rhythms peculiar to your time. Implicit in these thought-rhythms are certain values, moral and aesthetic.”
Martin Amis “Buy My Book, Please” New Yorker, June 26-July 3, 1995.

Malcolm’s reply was immediate: “What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There’s no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told—and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare.…We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just self-congratulatory delusion. Next question.”
From The Lost World, by Michael Crichton. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995, pp. 7-8.

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. (Locutus of Borg, STNG)
Caveat lector! To continue reading, you will be asked to join me in sliding down the razor blade that is the axiomatic paradigm shift of our ecclesial time. GIA has asked me in these few paragraphs to offer some reflections on the state of musical liturgy in the United States. To the extent that my travels, experience, reading, and observations allow me, I am undertaking that request.

Do not expect detachment. I am not dispassionate about this subject. Occasionally, someone wonders aloud to me why I do my own music in my workshops and in liturgies I help prepare. The answer is simple: I began as a Catholic and a songwriter, not as a liturgist. What I believe and what I know and what I love is in my music. Why would I write it otherwise? It is precisely the passion that I feel for the gospel and for the ministry of the Church that drives me both to write the way I do and to do articles and workshops that expand those poetic attempts to express the mystery. I can no more be detached or “objective” about liturgical music than I could stop loving my children.

In the caveat lector department, this is me and my
spiritual director...
I get some validation for this unscientific lack of detachment in an unlikely source: another passage from The Lost World, in which Ian Malcolm, the mathematician/complexity theorist played by Jeff Goldblum in the movie Jurassic Park, declaims, “‘That’s the greatest single scientific discovery of the twentieth century. You can’t study something without changing it.’…It became clear that all scientists were participants in a participatory universe which did not allow anyone to be a mere observer. Objectivity is impossible.” The “Heisenberg uncertainty principle” ought to reassure those sainted architects of theConstitution on Sacred Liturgy that they were inviting Catholics out of a post-Enlightenment faith and into the twenty-first century, to the fractal edge of chaos. Perhaps closer to our own discipline, Ched Myers writes in the introduction to his enthralling exegesis of Mark called Binding the Strong Man, “There is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ site from which to interpret the (biblical) text, although it is widely feigned.…To make matters worse, professional exegetes have rarely been able or willing to address the text to their own historical situation. Because of this, the academic theological establishment has become deeply complicit, however unwittingly, in the ideological maintenance of the locus imperium.” (p.10). The same can be said, I think of some liturgists and some musicians. I would go so far as to say that, by and large, complicity with the American status quo continues to be our greatest sin as worship leaders....

There is certainly a lot of good singing going on in a lot of churches. Furthermore, that singing, thanks to a broader base of music available in hymnals and missalette programs, is of a broader ethnic and stylistic range than ever before. The kind of singing that was once reserved for “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and “Glory and Praise to our God” can now be heard on “Digo Sí, Señor” and “Soon and Very Soon.” Hymnals are better, and along with missalettes and other resources are learning to be more diverse. Publishers seem proactively concerned about cost, about beauty, and about quality. There is evidence in this archdiocese (Chicago) of more trust between pastors and musicians: certainly, there is a great number of full-time liturgical musicians around, and they are as dedicated as they are underpaid. Thousands of musicians show up yearly at NPM, AGO, and HSA meetings, and judging by their salaries, they’re not all paying their own way. Music ministries take on pastoral projects outside the parish, visiting nursing homes and sharing time and talent with less prosperous parishes, helping other musicians acquire some liturgical skills that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.

But significant challenges to pastoral musicians and pastors remain. The challenge of beginning to sing the liturgy has largely gone unheeded. Gathering rites continue to be a suite of three (or more) unrelated songs. The Eucharistic prayer continues to be a roadblock to “full, conscious, and active participation” rather than its apogee. It may be the case that at gatherings like the NPM, when one sees a sung liturgy modeled, it seems so numbingly “high church” (think antiphonal trumpets, dueling choirs, half a dozen cantors) or impossibly dull (think bitonal ritual exchanges in “the glory that was chant”) that the “ritual” baby is thrown out with the “model” bath water. We get overwhelmed and begin to believe that sung ritual is impossible.

As ex officio mystagogs and catechists, we musicians have generally failed to instruct our assemblies as to why we ought to sing (participate in) the liturgy whether or not we feel like we’re capable. Members of the assembly are hard-pressed to articulate that the ministry of music is primarily an assembly ministry, and only entrusted to us musicians as servants and stewards of their song. Singing is everyone’s responsibility, as is ministry of the word and Eucharistic living. As musicians, we just organize the assembly’s song. Perhaps we haven’t been good mystagogs because that might give the assembly too much power. Or perhaps we don’t yet, as a group, believe in their song. We think we can do it better, and therefore we usurp their song. If this is the case, we need a mass call to repentance. We are wrong. We are possessed with an unclean spirit. We need an exorcist, and now. No matter how lovely the song, it is not the song of the prophets and martyrs, but of the king, the banker, and their minions.

There is still a lot of “show” music being done during liturgy. Some of it is by Amy Grant and Michael Card, some of it is by Orlando di Lasso and John Rutter. It’s all lovely, it belongs in church. It just doesn’t belong in liturgy. It needs to be rooted out relentlessly and transplanted to concerts and days of renewal where it belongs.

As is the case with this article, most of what little attention has been paid to the dynamics of ritual music has been paid (and rightly so) to the Eucharistic liturgy. Many musicians have taken the responsibility for learning the dynamics of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults seriously as well, but I am afraid that the attitude among many musicians is like that of their pastors: that the rites are an intrusion into their Sunday program. I am aware of a case in a parish in which the paid, full-time music director refused to lend any choral or instrumental resources to the Easter Vigil because they were all too busy on Sunday morning, so the Vigil was done with a cantor and accompanist. Other ritual celebrations suffer from this Sunday-Eucharist syndrome too. I know of otherwise peerless liturgical musicians who will do anything at weddings. Yes, they will tell stories and complain about it, but they’ll do anything. Some will justify their excursion into Phantom of the Opera or The Lion King by saying, “Well, it’s ‘pre-service’ music,” as though they had never heard anything Eugene Walsh had ever written about gathering rites “beginning in the parking lot.” Well, let’s just say the seventies weren’t that long ago and I’ve done my share of pandering, too, but how about it, folks. When are we going to grow up? And by the way, “can you feel the love tonight?”

Pastors have failed, too, to use their influence with the faithful and their education and privileged position in the church to intercede on behalf of sung liturgy with their congregations. Priests need to take what they know—for instance, that the Eucharistic prayer is, with the communion rite, a high point of the liturgy—and help musicians translate that into ritual practice, the time be damned. To use Tom Conry’s phrase, we “cooperate with the pathology” of convenience-based Sunday worship, and are afraid that assemblies will “vote against” necessary reform in the collection basket. It won’t happen. We like being Catholic. We are hungry for the presence of God. And “good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Bad celebrations…destroy faith.”

Perhaps worst of all, in my belief we have continued to promote the status quo and the stranglehold of the ruling powers of maleness, capital, and beauty by not making a conscious effort to prune our repertoires of mindless (and heartless) “praise” songs, of “power” and “glory” songs and their macho paramilitary imagery. Friends, this is not part of the problem: this is the problem. Until we can rid the liturgy of unmitigated personal-salvation, praise-the-Lord, isn’t-it-great-to-be-together music with no referent to the salvation of the whole human tribe, with no suggestion that we are praising One who casts down the powerful from their thrones and raises the miserable to high places, with no apparent awareness that being-together is a death march against the winds and tides of human greed, territorialism, and narcosis, then our liturgy is in danger of being “assimilated” into the very culture which it has been given the commission to change. If the message of Jesus was just “Praise the Lord,” no one would have crucified him. No one would have noticed him. Lyrics are liturgy. Language is symbol. They are elements of celebration. “Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Bad celebrations…destroy faith.”

I may be as guilty as the next person here. I have a song called “We Will Serve the Lord” which is very macho and tries to conjure the spirit of Joshua and the tribe at Shechem with its martial cadences, sort of a liturgical “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I won’t take that song back—it has other redeeming qualities!—but what I will do is try to come up with another song that might be called, “We Will Not Serve the Lord,” because, I might say, that our God is a servant, not a “lord” as human beings know lords. I have quoted before theologian David Powers’ Berakah award acceptance speech, wherein he said that in saying “Jesus is Lord,” Christians do not define Jesus by human lordship, rather, they define lordship by who Jesus was. That may be true at Catholic University. In my heart, I believe it. But it is not the experience of the church and the world for the first two thousand years of Christianity. Leadership in the church is modeled on human structures of power. The mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., is not of a footwasher or the Crucified One. It is the picture of an emperor. Specifically, a Roman one.
I suggest to you further that, again, as ex officio catechists and mystagogs, we need to spend more time studying the scriptures and praying in small groups with the lectionary as we are preparing music for the Eucharist. By studying, I mean reading commentaries by the distinguished scholars of Catholic and Reform tradition who are helping us get a clearer idea (not infallible, but clearer) of what the original context might have been of the distilled texts that we have today. They further help us to clear away the grammar-school (or worse) baggage we’ve brought with us to understanding the core documents of our faith. This is a discipline, but it is one we must begin to practice together or risk singing and dancing idiotically around our sacrifices while the prophet next door calls down the real fire.

If you have reached this point, gentle reader, you have reached the end. Thank you for your time. If you find that what I’ve written resonates with your experience, then you and I have allies in each other, and we can go about our work knowing that we are not alone. We’ll keep pushing (gently, gently) for “full, conscious, and active” participation of the whole assembly and have our concerts outside of liturgical time. We’ll not be seduced into doing new music every week because we know that the assembly sings a song once for about every thirty times that we or our choirs sing it. We will not be misled by those who continue to judge the quality of musical art by the printed page and not
Dinosaur skull, embedded in the marble communion
rail in a 17th century Italian church. Coincidence,
or cosmic irony?
by the performance event itself, judging formal music to be be “better” than popular music, a “Western classical bias,” in Fr. Ed Foley’s words, that does not duly respect folk and popular art forms. We’ll do our homework in other important church rituals, particularly initiation rituals, and recognize that a great Easter vigil music program is more important than the Christmas program preceding midnight mass. And we’ll keep a wary eye on our texts and music to be sure that we aren’t saying “God is great and all is right with the world” when in fact the truth is that God is great, but maybe not "great" in the way we want to think, and all isn’t right with the world.

If you are angry and disagree with what you’ve read, well, you may be right. It’s just liturgy, after all, so let us reason together. CSL itself confesses, Deo gratias, that “the liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church” (no. 9). Let’s live the Gospel together, and see what happens to our discussion. For now, I insist that we must resist. Christianity must not be assimilated, lest justice recede like the glaciers, and hope go the way of the dinosaur.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Choosing life or death in the reign of God (A6O)

It was (God) who created humankind in the beginning,
and he left them in the power of their own free choice.
If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water;
stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.
Before each person are life and death,
and whichever one chooses will be given. (Sir. 15:14b-17, NRSV)
For me, at least, it was painful to hear the "short version" of Sunday's gospel. It was like reading an outline, bullet points without nuance, in a passage which is already just a snippet of a longer passage which gives it its context, that is, of the Sermon on the Mount. We all understand that, as believers and Christians, there is a sense in which this should be all right. We are not, supposedly, hearing these
Sermon on the Mount, by Laura James
words for the first time. We are living these words already, the Church imagines. The little passages are just a reminder, a remembering, of what is already going on in our lives. The good news isn't really news to us. But hearing the short version of Sunday's gospel, one could wonder in fact if it were good. That was certainly borne out in my parish in the homilies, where the gospel was portrayed as some kind of "ideal," an unreachable goal, a way of behaving that only angels could achieve.

I don't think Jesus was interested in idealism. His point is that the only real life is life together in the kingdom, here and now, in this world. The entire Sermon on the Mount was a discourse on life in the empire of God, a domain that is already present and in which Jesus was living, and to which he invites disciples and others to join him. Jesus had taken up the cry of John the Baptizer (Mt 3:2) with his own proclamation of "turning around," because the "kingdom of God is at hand." (4:17) Matthew has Jesus gathering his disciples and others on a mountain, a traditional place of theophany and probably an allusion to Moses as well, and begins to teach them.

We need to keep hearing these succeeding passages as part of that larger announcement of what it means to live in the reign of God. As I said when discussing last week's gospel, the announcement isn't about something that will happen later: it's an unfolding of a current reality, of what it means to turn and find oneself in the empire of God, and not imprisoned in the empire of Tiberius or some other Caesar. He challenges his listeners to "think different," to drop the preconceptions and limitations of law and to live and love lavishly, as daughters and sons of Abba, a city on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt-catalyst for the earthen oven's fire. "God is already among you, makarioi, you who are blessed, fortunate. God is in your mercy, your hunger and thirst for a just world, your desire for peace, your mourning, your very lowliness. They've been telling you about the wrong God! They want you to think that God blesses the rich and powerful, but I've got good news for you. They're wrong."

The first reading Sunday seems to point us right at this interpretation of the gospel. It is about the choice between life and death, which, in the gospel, is the choice between empires. The hypertheses, or the set of sayings that have the form, "You have heard it said...but I say to you...", are Jesus's description of the "law" in the empire of God. "Look at the talion law. Where has that gotten us? An 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'? The violence never ends. Here's a different idea: stop your violent thoughts and violent speech. You are brothers and sisters, children of Abba. Act like it." Jesus's description of the outcome of continuing on the path of the old ways as leading to Gehenna is not about future punishment in hell, but about living with the consequences of an empire based on power and privilege. Gehenna was a site of child sacrifice near Jerusalem. If you don't want to be a part of that old-time religion, ritual murder that temporarily lances the festering boil of rage, violence, and lust, you have to turn around, make a change, live for a different God. Stop substituting religion (sacrifice at the altar) for actual reconciliation. Leave your gifts there, and start building a better world by authentic connections with difficult people.

These sayings continue next Sunday with what is perhaps the most under-rated and under-preached section of the Sermon on the Mount. Is there a more difficult commandment in the entire Christian Scripture than "love your enemy"? Does any verse of scripture more rankle modern self-help Christians than Christ's urging that we "be perfect"? And yet, in our restlessness, poverty, desire for peace and thirst for justice, we are already makarioi, fortunate, happily blessed, full of makar (big-ness). What can that mean, "be perfect"? It would be impossible, it seems to me, if Jesus hadn't already shown us the path for it, and introduced us to a God who has bent so low that we can see the pattern in a Samaritan's kindness, the dynamics of a shared meal, or a grain of wheat, planted in the ground.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Songstories 23: Song of Songs (lyrics by Claire Cooney,GIA, 1998)

Claire and I on her birthday in 2010
Since I wrote recently about Claire's and my incursion into music together, the collection entitled Keep Awake published in 2000 by World Library Publications, I wanted to share with you the one song we wrote together that is not on that collection. It's a short story, but that's all right, because it's Valentine's day, and you have better things to do.

Claire wrote her paraphrase of a famous section of "Song of Songs" and gave it to me with other texts. Who couldn't be taken by the directness, almost the formal equivalence, of her take on this divinely inspired paean to carnality and desire:
"There you are, a stag upon the hill,
Strong and silent, swift as a gazelle.
You bid me dance away,
'The winter rains are gone,' you say.
The flowers know the time for singing comes."
As I sat with the song and was thinking about a musical setting, I thought of the harmonies and ballads of Randy Newman, and wanted to in that direction. I started with a little introduction that became an interlude as well, and went on to write the melody. A couple in our parish were downsizing their home, and gave us a 1910-era Steinway upright grand that needed some work, but we had never had a piano, and took it. We put a few hundred dollars into making it playable and tunable, and I used it to write a number of songs, including this one, before we too gave it away to a family whose children were ready for lessons. I dedicated this song to them, since it was the first song I wrote on that piano. Dick Meinhard had been a member of the choir at St. Anne for years before I had arrived, and his wife Mary was active in the parish as a grief counselor.

When Gary and I were culling through the songs for inclusion on the Keep Awake collection, I could tell immediately that he liked "Song of Songs," but he didn't think it was appropriate for the teen audience. Something about needing to smoke a cigarette after singing it, I think he said. So we held onto it, and it became one of the pieces we included on the GIA collection Today in 2006.

Here's a link to last year's Valentine's Day song, "Every Morning in Your Eyes," my setting of Psalm 34 for weddings.

Have a lover-ly day. iTunes link to the songs, with some Valentines Day specials, below. ;-)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unbegun book III - the first 25 years

It may well be that someone has already done this better, but this is another page from my "unwritten book" about my life in liturgical music, which was to be titled Amateurs Only Need Apply. I wanted to draw the major lines of world and music history (as I experienced it, of course, therefore in a narrow sense) and developments in the church and in US church music from The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy to twenty-five years forward. 

Clearly, this is a personal point of view! What would you add to the right-hand column? In the book, I might have added a third column tracing the origins of my own songwriting for liturgy, things like:

  • 1962-65 - sang in boys choir at St Vincent de Paul School, chant, and 2-3 part motets from St. Gregory and other hymnals.
  • 1965-69 sang in seminary choir, masses in English and Latin by John Lee, Noel Goemanne and others. Also, sang "And I Love Him" to the tune of the Lennon/McCartney "And I Love Her" at daily mass.
  • 1969 or 70 - first heard and sang "I Am the Bread of Life" at a funeral at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.
  • 1971 - wrote "Psalm 40: Here I Am," published 20 years later by NALR. Also, wrote church lyrics to the Carpenters' song, "Crescent Noon," entitled "Parade."
  • c 1980 - wrote "Yours Today" and "Change Our Hearts", met Paul Quinlan at NALR
  • 1981 - met Tom Kendzia in Phoenix, directed NPM showcase presentation of "Light of the World"
  • 1984 - began recording first album, "You Alone," at NALR studios in Phoenix
  • 1985 - met Gary Daigle in class with John Gallen, SJ, at Corpus Christi Center in Phoenix
  • ....etc. etc.

But what significant musical discoveries and events do you think belong in the second column? 

         The first 25 years…a bit of a timeline


John XXIII dies; Paul VI elected; Nov22, JFK assassinated
Dec 8 Sacrosanctum Consilium issued
Beatles on Ed Sullivan; Tonkin Gulf incident
Biblical Hymns and Psalms Lucien Deiss (WLSM)
Sound of Music wins Best Picture Oscar.


 FEL's Hymnal for Young Christians
Woodstock, Hair opens on Broadway, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band;  massacre at Son My and My Lai
Sebastian Temple writes "Prayer of St. Francis"
Tet offensive; Civil Rights Act, Chicago Demo. Convention,Martin Luther King and RFK assassinated; Nixon elected


WLSM's Young People's Folk Hymnal
Jesus Christ Superstar is born as  studio rock opera; National Guard kills 4 at Kent State U.
NALR born in Cincinnati; "A Community Mass," by Richard Proulx (GIA)
Godspell opens off Broadway, popularizing “Day by Day;” “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens; Bernstein’s Mass premieres at the Lincoln Center dedication
“I Am the Bread of Life”by Suzanne Toolan, S.M.
Nixon reelected
"Mass of the Bells" Peloquin, GIA;
Watergate; Agnew resigns
Music in Catholic Worship published, Roman Missal promulgated in English
Nixon resigns

Fall of Saigon
Earthen Vessels St Louis Jesuits (NALR); Worship II (GIA)
US Bicentennial celebration; riots in Soweto
Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, “Gift of Finest Wheat”; National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) is founded
Death of Elvis; Star Wars, the movie, not the SDI;
Glory and Praise Volume 1 released (1977)
Paul VI and John Paul 1 die, John Paul II elected; Sadat, Begin, and Carter reach the Camp David accords
First NPM Convention, Scranton PA; Conry releases Ashes with NALR; Remember Your Love by Dameans (NALR)
USSR invades Afghanistan; Iranian students invade  US embassy in Tehran, take hostages
JM Joncas's On Eagle's Wings (NALR)
Hostage rescue fails; Ronald Reagan elected; John Lennon murdered
With Open Hands by Marty Haugen (PAA)
Attempted assassinations  of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II; AIDS conclusively identified


US invasion of Grenada; Lech Walesa wins Nobel Peace Prize
Liturgical Music Today published; Psalms for the Church Year Vol. 1 (Haugen-Haas, GIA)

Mass  of Creation Haugen (GIA)

Order of Christian Initiation (RCIA) official;
Marcos flees Philippines, Aquino becomes president;
Worship [3rd Edition] (GIA)
Les Miserables opens in NY

Iraq uses chemical weapons against Iran; George Bush elected; PanAm 103 destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland
GIA introduces Gather contemporary hymnal