Trying to Remember a Song

Do you ever have one of those songs that keeps running through your mind, over and over and over again, but you can’t quite remember the whole song?

That’s happening to me right now. Actually, the song has been going through my mind for over a week, and I just can’t remember the whole thing. I’ve even spent loads of time on the Internet trying to google it without success.

Singing Xmas Tree 1964

Can you find me?

The song is a choral anthem that the church choir sang when I was in high school, about 1965 or ’66. It’s the only anthem that I specifically remember singing during the high school and college years I sang in the choir.

I just loved this one particular anthem! The words were Psalm 1, the King James Version, verbatim. It was hard to sing, at least to start singing it, because it started very loud and on a high note. It was written in the key of E-flat, and the first note for sopranos was the high E-flat.

The first part is:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Then it starts to get a little softer…

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And that’s as far as I remember the music. I’ve looked up the rest of the words of the Psalm in my King James Bible. I’m sure those are the words we sang, but I just can’t bring the rest of the music back into my mind. I remember that the mood changes at this point, to a very peaceful setting, which fits the words perfectly:

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Then the mood changes again. It becomes more restless:

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the  congregation of the righteous.

I can’t remember the tempo or dynamics of the ending. The last words of the Psalm are:

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

I wish I could remember the rest of the music, but it’s just not coming back to me. I think what I liked so much about this anthem when the choir sang it fifty-plus years ago was how well the music matched the words. It was exciting to me. I felt we were communicating with God with our whole being as we sang the Psalm together. I felt it in my soul and my body – not just my mind.

5640851837_1fa5c61383_zMany years later I read a quote attributed to St. Augustine, “Whoever sings, prays twice.” That’s what was happening when we sang that anthem. We were not only expressing the words of the song to God, through the music we were sharing our feelings with God. That’s what’s so special about music. With music, our ability to communicate is not limited to our mere intellect. Our mind, soul, and body are all involved as we sing or play a musical instrument.

As you may recall from an earlier post on this blog, one of the reasons I stopped posting to my blog every week is that I wanted to work on some other projects and needed to free up some of my time to do so. One of my new projects is writing a devotional book focused on 365 of my favorite hymns. Over the past few months, I’ve been organizing my thoughts for this book and selecting the hymns to include. I think I’ll start the book with a chapter on The Psalms and how these songs have been sung historically as well as ways they are being sung today. (I’m sure that train of thought is what triggered Psalm 1 to start playing in my mind.)

The Bible encourages us in many places to sing to the Lord. And over the centuries, we have been prolific in our response. Thousands of hymns have their roots in one or more of the 150 Psalms included in the Bible. For example, the online resource hymnary.org (one of my new best friends) identified Psalm 23 as the source of 344 hymns. Psalm 23 is rich in imagery of God as our shepherd. Each hymn of the 344 hymns listed on this web directory built upon this imagery. Some of my favorites among these hymns are:

  • The Lord Is My Shepherd
  • The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll not Want
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is
  • He Leadeth Me
  • Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
  • All the Way My Shepherd Leads Me
  • God Leads Us Along
  • God Will Take Care of You
  • O Love that Wilt not Let Me Go
  • Day By Day
  • Surely Goodness and Mercy
  • Lead Me, Guide Me

Each hymn can trigger a slightly different conversation with God, although they are all based on the same general image of God as our shepherd. Every one of these combinations of words and music enables us to “pray twice” to God – to pray with our mind, body, and soul. The most usual result of the prayerful conversations based on Psalm 23 is that our troubled soul is comforted, and that pleases God as much as it pleases us.

This newest writing project of mine is bigger than I thought it was going to be, but I love the digressions it’s leading me along – even if I experience a bit of frustration along the way. Whether I ever remember all the music of the Blessed Is the Man…”  anthem I sang with the church choir when I was in in high school, or not, I’ve been blessed by remembering one of my earliest and most dramatic experiences of “praying twice.”

bird singing 1O come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Psalm 95:1-2 – New King James Version

It’s Complicated, Floey. But Kindness is what matters.

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“Floey, you’re barking so loud I can’t think. What’s wrong?”

“Don’t you see him, Mom? Look. Across the pond. A stranger is walking along our trail. What do you think he’s up to? He doesn’t belong here!”

“Oh, I see him. That must be the trapper our neighbor Tom told me about.”

“What??? A trapper! What in the world is a trapper doing here?” Floey was incredulous. “Really, Mom? A trapper?”

“Well, Floey. I wish I could talk with Gilbert and Gloria Goose, and their cousins Greg and Grace Goose about this, but they won’t be coming back to the pond for another week or two. They usually come back just in time for Lent. Remember how we all sing hymns together?”

“Of course, I remember them, Mom. But what do they have to do with a trapper?”

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

“Well, it’s complicated, Floey. You know God created a wonderful world for all of us to enjoy.”

“That’s right. And we get to live in one of the best places in the whole world. We have a beautiful pond in our back yard that we share with lots of songbirds. And in the spring and fall, geese and ducks share our pond with us, too. And this winter, a new family joined us – the Otters. Ole Otter is even bigger than me. When I first saw him, I thought he was a big, brown seal. His wife Olga and their three pups – Oscar, Otto, and Olivia – just love to jump off the ice into the water to catch fish. Then they tread water near the edge of the ice as they chomp leisurely on their catch. I think the Otter family enjoys living here as much as we do. They sure enjoy their fish dinners!”

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Internet image (I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to snap a photo of our neighbors)

“Well, Floey, that’s what’s complicated. I like the Otter family, too. It’s fun to have such happy neighbors. But, I’m afraid they’re eating too many fish. Soon our pond will be empty. At our last condo association meeting, everyone agreed that we need to ask the Otter family to leave.”

“Oh, no, Mom! Can’t we just get some more fish? Can’t we all get along?”

“I’m afraid the people who live here decided that we should hire a trapper to safely transport the Otter family to another location. I’ll have to admit, I think the people are being kind of self-centered with this decision. The decision may be what’s best for the people who like to fish from the edge of the pond, but I don’t think it’s what’s best for the animals involved, although the few remaining fish are probably happy. But I wish the Goose families were back again so we could talk with them about this decision. Maybe they would have another perspective and a better solution, one that’s best for everyone.”

“I agree, Mom. What do you think our Goose friends would say?”

“Well, I don’t know, Floey, but in my mind I can picture Gilbert and Gloria singing the song, Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love.”

“I don’t know that song. How does it go?” Floey asked.

“It begins with the refrain:

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

“Then it continues with four verses. The refrain is sung again after each verse.”

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who pours out himself for them.

Neighbors are wealthy and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are nearby and far away.

These are the ones we will serve,
these are the ones we will love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
silently washing their feet,
this is the way we will live with you.

[Tom Colvin]

fullsizeoutput_200f“That’s a good song, Mom. I can easily imagine Gilbert and Gloria singing it about our new neighbors, Ole and Olga Otter and their pups. Even though Ole and Olga are a different species from all of us, they are still souls that God created, and we need to love them and accept them as our new neighbors.”

“That’s right, Floey. That’s why I’m troubled about forcing them to move.”

“OK, Mom. Let’s go spring the traps so our new friends don’t get caught.”

“Not so fast, Floey. Remember, I said this is complicated. What about our fish? Don’t you think God wants us to protect them, too? Otters need to eat a lot of fish to survive. Maybe the best solution for everyone is for us to help relocate the Otter family to a place with plenty of fish, a new home where they won’t deplete their food source, a place where the fish population can still thrive, even with the Otters in the neighborhood.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.” Floey looked thoughtful for a few minutes, and then asked, “Will the Otter family be treated like refugees when they try to set up their new home? Or, will their new neighbors accept them as part of God’s family?”

“I sure hope they are warmly welcomed, Floey. Remember the old gospel song, God Will Take Care of You?” The Otters need to believe that song and trust that God really will take care of them.

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Internet image

“Oscar, Otto, and Olivia are such friendly little pups. I’ll miss having them in our neighborhood. I think I’ll go teach them that song right now so they don’t have to be afraid of what will happen to them next. They need to know that we love them, even if they can’t live in our neighborhood. And, most important, they need to know that God will watch out for them wherever they are. ”

“Good idea, Floey. And when the Goose families return in a week or two, we can tell them about our Otter neighbors, and we can all sing the song together, and as we sing we can prayerfully think of Ole and Olga, Oscar, Otto, and Olivia.

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Little Otto. Internet image

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart doth fail;
God will take care of you.

When dangers fierce your path assail;
God will take care of you. 
Refrain.

All you may need He will provide;
God will take care of you.
Nothing you ask will be denied; 
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

fullsizeoutput_200dNo matter what may be the test, 
God will take care of you.
Lean, weary one, upon His breast;
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

[Civilla D. Martin]

Something I Started To Think about in Fifth Grade

fullsizeoutput_2003I was about ten years old when I first tried to understand what the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” meant. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Borgerud, and she very patiently tried to explain to the class the core beliefs of each political/economic system. Back in the ‘50s, we all knew that the United States was right and Russia was wrong with regard to all our differences. Therefore, it was clear that capitalism was good and socialism was bad. We knew that. What we were trying to learn that day was what those big words really meant.

I learned that “socialism” was based on the belief that everyone is equally entitled to all our resources and everyone should be treated fairly. Our resources should be owned communally, and everyone should work together so that the basic needs of all of us would be met. My initial reaction was quite positive. That sounded like what Christ modeled in the New Testament – that we should help each other and take care of the poor and the sick. I was surprised. That couldn’t really be what “socialism” was all about… Or, was it?

Then I learned that “capitalism” was based on the belief that the harder we worked, the greater would be our rewards. Those who were poor, deserved to be poor because they didn’t work hard enough. That sounded to me more like selfishness and greed and disrespect for the poor. That didn’t seem to be the type of behavior the Bible encouraged.

I was puzzled. I looked around at the other kids in the class to see if they were as confused as I was by what we were hearing from our teacher. I couldn’t tell. No one expressed any of the shock that I was feeling. I guess I must not be understanding what Mrs. Borgerud was really saying. I didn’t speak up. I just listened some more.

Abbey - Mary - sitting tall - adj

Mrs. Borgerud came to live with us for assisted living care several years ago. She and Abbey became good friends.

Mrs. Borgerud explained that one reason capitalism was better than socialism was that it provided an incentive for people to work hard. If you want to be rich, you can be rich. You just need to work hard enough. In contrast, the weakness in socialism is that there is no incentive to work hard. You will get all your needs met whether you work or not. Socialism provides an incentive to be lazy.

I guess that made sense. But I was still troubled. I didn’t know anyone who worked harder than my mom and dad, yet we considered ourselves poor, not rich. I never went hungry, and I always had enough clothes – although they all came from Penneys or Sears, not from Manchesters where some of my classmates from wealthier families bought their clothes. I’m sure their parents didn’t work harder than mine. There didn’t seem to be much of a correlation between hard work and wealth.

And what about the special offerings we sometimes had in church to provide food and clothing for the poor in our inner cities and in Africa and India? What did capitalism have to say about meeting the needs of the poor? Was being poor really their own problem because they were too lazy to work?

It’s been almost 60 years since I first wondered about these things.  Ever since that day in fifth grade, I’ve been suspicious that there may be serious inconsistencies between capitalism and what the Bible says about how God intends for us to share our resources with our neighbors.

At times I’ve wondered if socialism follows the teachings of the Bible more closely. That sounds more like how the early church lived.

Now the group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [Acts 4:32-35 NRSV]

Ellen M KogstadA few years ago Mim and I had a long conversation with Ellen, a friend of ours in Chicago. Her family immigrated from Norway to the United States when she was a little girl. Ellen still keeps in close touch with many of her relatives in Norway. Our conversation with Ellen was after one of her recent trips to Norway. She talked about how socialism has changed the way people think about caring for their less fortunate neighbors. “It’s the government’s job to see that their needs are met – not mine.” Her cousins rarely go to church, and they certainly don’t tithe. There’s no personal sense of responsibility to care for the poor. It seems that the advice given in Proverbs no longer applies to individuals in Norway.

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. [Proverbs 28:27 NRSV]

Why am I thinking about socialism and capitalism today? I can’t help but think about what is the appropriate role of government, as our country is jolted from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. It seems we are changing in lightning speed from trying to be a “kind, gentle nation” to becoming a “tough, aggressive, me-first nation.” Selfishness is expressed in the new administration’s slogan of “America First!”

As I read the lectionary readings for January 29, 2017 in preparation for planning the music for Sunday’s church service, I read Micah 6:1-8, the Old Testament reading for the day. In the reading, God has a complaint against Israel. After all God has done for Israel, why aren’t they following after the righteousness they have been shown. The passage ends with these words:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8 NRSV]

I think it’s obvious from experience around the world that no political/economic system is perfect. But God’s standard of how we should act as a nation has been set – To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. With all the political squabbling that’s going on now, this is what we need to remember. This needs to be our guiding principal – personally and as a nation.

micah-6-8-what-god-requires-purple-copy

Special Words for 2017

Floey sitting - profile croppedFloey came bounding down the stairs, ran over to my desk, and sat down on the floor right next to me. “Good morning, Floey,” I said.

“Good morning, Mom. Is it time yet?” Floey asked.

“Yes. I think the time has finally come, Floey. Are you ready to talk about our special words for next year?”

“I sure am. I’ve been thinking about this for months. I don’t think I chose a very good word to focus on for 2016. I want to do better this year. Do you remember what I chose last year?”

“I sure do, Floey. You chose MEOW. You wanted to learn to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood, and you thought learning their language would help.”

cat talking and smiling“Yeah. But it didn’t work very well. The neighborhood cats all disappeared. I think they were afraid to come out in the cold last January, and then they just turned into lazy house cats, and they didn’t come out much in the nice weather either.”

“That’s right, and by August I think you decided to adopt my special word of KINDNESS to use as your special word for the rest of the year. Was that better?”

“It was better, but I never really felt committed to that word. That was your word, not mine. So I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking to come up with a better word for 2017.”

“What did you come up with?”

fullsizeoutput_1929“I kept thinking about a rather unpleasant conversation we had one day last summer. You said I was stubborn. And you said it in such a way I knew you thought it wasn’t good to be stubborn. I think our disagreement was all about taking time to sit at a curb before crossing a street, and then to sit again on the other side. Sometimes, I just don’t want to take the time to sit down, and to do it twice at every intersection seems like overkill. I just don’t see the point. Anyway, during that conversation you called me stubborn and you suggested that I should find a word that’s the opposite of stubborn to have as my special word for next year. Do you remember that?”

“I kind of remember.”

“Well I remember the conversation very well. I don’t like us to have disagreements. So I’ve thought a lot about opposites of stubborn. I came up with words like compliant, submissive, weak, yielding, and complacent. Those aren’t inspiring words at all.”

“I can see that, Floey. But couldn’t you come up with anything more positive that’s an opposite of stubborn?” I asked.

“Well, it took a while, but I finally did. I thought about words like willing, flexible, broad-minded, giving, and kind. And then it hit me. I thought of the word FRIEND. I want to focus on being a FRIEND. A friend is someone who doesn’t insist on getting their own way. Sometimes they will get their own way, but more importantly, they will think about what’s best for everyone, which may or may not be their own way. They will do what’s best for the other person just as much, or maybe even more than what’s best for themselves. So, for 2017, my special word is FRIEND.”

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Doris and her caregiver Abbey were best friends.

“That’s a great word, Floey. And it’s so appropriate! Have you heard the old saying that ‘dog is man’s best friend’?  The language of the expression could be cleaned up a little to make it more gender neutral, but the sentiment is true.”

“I’m sure FRIEND is going to be a great word for me to think about all year. I think that by the end of the year I’ll know how to be the best FRIEND that anyone could possibly have. I’m so excited!”

“That’s wonderful, Floey.”

“How about you, Mom? What’s your new word going to be?”

“I’m pretty excited about my new word, too, Floey. It’s HOPE. My special word for 2017 is HOPE.”

“I guess that’s a good word, Mom. But what made you choose HOPE?”fullsizeoutput_1ffa

“I have a really good reason for choosing it, Floey. HOPE is probably what I will need more than anything else in 2017. You see, after the presidential election last November, I was depressed, and I was really scared. In the past, sometimes I’ve been disappointed with the results of a presidential election, but I’ve never been really afraid of what might happen under the charge of the new president. But this time is different. I have no confidence in his competence or his integrity. I am afraid that he might carelessly do something that will result in economic or physical harm or even death to millions of people – both in this country and around the globe. You and me included. Like I said, I’m really scared. I sure HOPE I’m wrong. I HOPE that he truly wants to lead the country in good ways that will benefit all Americans as well as the rest of the world. And I HOPE that his unorthodox ways will lead to positive results. I need to give him a chance to be successful. I need to have HOPE.”

“Wow, Mom. That’s pretty serious. I knew the election was a big deal, but I didn’t think it would affect us personally. That’s scary.”

320943“Yeah, I know. That’s why I need to have HOPE this year. Sarah Young (the writer of the daily devotional book Jesus Calling) has written several other books in the same style – as though Jesus is speaking to us directly. In one of these books, Young quotes Jesus as saying,

Though difficulties abound in this world, rejoice that I am ever present with you. I can enable you to cope with any and all circumstances, strengthening you as you look trustingly to Me. No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, I assure you that all things are possible with Me….  [Jesus Lives: Seeing His Love in Your Life, p. 102]

“Young then cites Psalm 46:2 as assurance that God is really with us, helping us.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

“Young went on to reference Mark 10:27:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

“You know, Floey, I think the Bible has a lot to say about HOPE, and I plan to look into that this year, and hopefully I will become more hopeful about everything that’s going on in our world these days.”

Floey sighed and said, “Boy, Mom, we both have high expectations for our special words this year. Do you know what Mim’s new word is? I wonder if she’s decided on one yet.”

2015-floey-and-mim-on-couch-cropped“Here she comes, Floey. Let’s ask her. Hey, Mim, come join us. We’re talking about our special words for 2017. Have you chosen your new word yet?”

“I sure have. It’s HOPE,” she replied as she sat down with us.

“Hey, that’s my word,” I exclaimed. “You can’t have my word!”

“I certainly can! I’ve thought a lot about it, and I need to focus on HOPE this year. I’m going to turn 70 this summer, and I need to keep hoping that some of the changes I’m anticipating over the next few years will work out for the best. Even though I tend to worry, I need to remember that ultimately, God is in control. That gives me HOPE. That’s what I need to focus on – not worrying about the challenges and changes that are ahead in my life.”

Floey - thoughtful faceFloey looked from one mom to the other and said, “I can’t believe my moms are arguing over their special words for 2017!”

“You’re right, Floey. I guess I can share my word. Mim, I came across a benediction a few days ago that might be a good start for both of us in our focus on HOPE this year.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 NIV]

“Hey, I like that. Thanks for sharing it,” Mim responded.

Floey jumped up and trotted over to the patio door. “I think we’re all set. I’m going to learn everything there is to know about becoming a true FRIEND this year, and both of you are going to learn how to be more HOPEFUL. So, we’re ready. Time to go for a walk.”

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This Year’s Lesson: KINDNESS

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What do an Italian psychotherapist, a Christian college president in California, and a hitchhiker across America have in common? They each wrote a book about kindness. And I read them all this year.

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As you may recall, “kindness” is my special word for 2016. Upon the suggestion of Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word, I’ve chosen one special word to have as my focus for a whole year instead of making up New Year’s resolutions each year. I’ve done this for three years now.

By the middle of this year, I’d kind of forgotten about my special word for 2016. When I realized that, I decided to take my special word commitment a little more seriously, and I went to Amazon.com and searched for books on “kindness.” I downloaded Kindle versions of two books: The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci (the Italian psychotherapist) and Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey (the president of Biola University). The next day I received my usual daily email from BookBub, a service that offers about half a dozen Kindle books each day for prices ranging from FREE to $1.99. That day’s offering included The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre (the journalist who hitchhiked from the west coast to the east coast without a penny in his pocket in order to see if he would experience any kindness from strangers throughout this country).

All three books are filled with personal stories about people who have received or demonstrated kindness in a wide variety of circumstances. All three books are fascinating to read and I highly recommend them.

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I read The Power of Kindness first because of the Preface written by the Dalai Lama. I could hardly wait to start reading it. Here’s an excerpt from the Preface:

This is a book after my own heart. Piero Ferrucci has drawn on both his broad experience as a psychotherapist and what I think of as fundamental human values to write on the importance of kindness. What I particularly appreciate about his presentation is that he makes kindness the starting point, the fount from which flow so many other positive qualities, such as honesty, forgiveness, patience, and generosity. It is a compelling and encouraging approach.

I believe that if we stop to think, it is clear that our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts and kindness of so many people. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others’ kindness, why then in the middle, when we have the opportunity, should we not act kindly toward others?

Kindness and compassion are among the principal things that make our lives meaningful. They are the source of lasting happiness and joy…

Each chapter of this book is about a particular virtue, such as Honesty, Forgiveness, Humility, Flexibility, and so on. And each chapter is filled with stories about real people who demonstrate these virtues, with kindness always being at the core. For example, the chapter on Warmth includes this little story:

A woman I know, let’s call her Dorothea, tells me another story. Every evening she hears her neighbors’ baby girl crying in the apartment next to hers. The parents put the child to sleep alone in the dark. The baby cries for a long time while the parents watch television. The baby’s desperate crying expresses all her anguish, her solitude. What should Dorothea do? She is uncertain. Speaking to the parents might make things worse. She decides to sing. Just as she can hear the baby, the baby can hear her. Every evening when they put the baby to bed, Dorothea sings her sweet lullabies, talks to her through the thin walls, consoles and comforts her. The baby hears the invisible friendly voice, stops crying, and falls peacefully asleep. The warmth of a stranger’s voice has saved her from the icy cold of loneliness.

In the concluding chapter of the book, Ferrucci recalls another story:

In a story by Tolstoy, a poor shoemaker hears the voice of Christ in a dream: “Today I will come to you.” Then he wakes up and goes to work. During the day, he meets a young woman who is hungry and he gives her food. An old man passes by feeling cold, and he lets him in to warm himself. Later, he takes care of a child who is having problems with his mother. They are all spontaneous acts for which he need give no thought. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, the shoemaker remembers his dream and thinks that it has not come true, since he did not meet Christ. He then hears a voice. It is the voice of Christ, “My dear friend, did you not recognize me? I was that woman, I was that old man, I was the child and his mother…. You met me, and you helped me. I was with you the whole day.”

When you read this book, and when you stop to think about it, kindness really is at the core of just about everything good in this life. We encounter multiple opportunities every day to respond with kindness, just as we are often the recipients of the kindness of others.

510aS5svVvLThe second kindness book I read was Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey. Why would I want to read a book written by an Evangelical who clearly and outspokenly believes that I am living a life of sin because I am a woman and I married a woman? Partly I wanted to read the book because I wanted to see what a staunch Evangelical would say about how to be kind to people you fundamentally disagree with on important issues. In what ways can I expect him to show kindness to me, and how should I be kind to him? And partly I wanted to read the book because the reviews said he was a good storyteller.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of personal stories that illustrate how he learned to be kind in different circumstances. And what he learned not to do. Two key concepts he emphasized were to be “receivable” – to be welcoming of people with whom we have disagreements, and to have a “firm center with soft edges” – to be firm in our core beliefs as Christians, but to be softer, more flexible in less significant areas, which is often where our strongest disagreements foster hostility rather than loving kindness. One of the reviewers described the book this way:

Barry Corey is a kind man. He learned to be kind from his remarkable father. So Corey is well qualified – academically and spiritually – to write this book, a book that embodies the interesting approach of teaching different aspects of kindness through stories in his own life. For Corey, kindness is not niceness, adopting a position of compromise, or an expression of a desire to be received. Rather, it is learning to be receivable, and it is learning to dialog with those with whom we disagree with kindness in the way of Jesus. The number of issues that divide us is multiplying each day. As a result, there never has been a time other than now when Love Kindness is so desperately needed. Get this book, read it, discuss it with your friends and those whom you oppose. You’ll be glad you did. [J. P. Moreland – Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and author of The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters]

51vvcam7qfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_I saved the best book for last, and I just finished reading it a few days ago. Mike McIntyre is a newspaper columnist currently living in San Diego, although he has lived and worked as a journalist all around the world. Here’s the blurb about the book from Amazon.com:

Stuck in a job he no longer found fulfilling, journalist Mike McIntyre felt his life was quickly passing him by. So one day he hit the road to trek from one end of the country to the other with little more than the clothes on his back and without a single penny in his pocket. Through his travels, he found varying degrees of kindness in strangers from all walks of life – and discovered more about people and values and life on the road in America than he’d ever thought possible. The gifts of food and shelter he received along the way were outweighed only the the touching gifts of the heart – the willingness of many he met to welcome a lonely stranger into their homes … and the discovery that sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.

This book has 40 short chapters, each one is the story of an encounter with a stranger who showed him kindness in some way as he hitchhiked penniless across America. A few of the stories were frightening, a few were sad, and many of them were remarkably inspiring. The stories gave fascinating glimpses into the lives of the Americans he met on his journey. In six weeks, Mike traveled 4,223 miles, crossed 14 states, accepted 82 rides, was given 78 meals and was invited to do the laundry in his backpack 5 times in the homes of drivers who offered him a bed for the night. On this journey, he found kindness expressed in ways he had never anticipated.

These three books on “kindness” provided three very different perspectives on the idea of “kindness.” I’m glad I read all three books, and I’m glad I chose “kindness” for my special word for 2016. My mom was onto something back in the 1950s when she made my 9-year-old brother Danny and 7-year-old me memorize the Bible verse Ephesians 4:32 –

kindness-1Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. 

Back then I thought her reason was to help Danny and me realize we needed to be nice to each other when we were home alone and she was away at work. Now I know she had more in mind. I think she knew, just like these three authors know, that kindness is the core virtue that can enrich everyone’s life.

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Jean: One of My Heroes

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Jean Gunnulson (8/16/35 – 11/25/16)

I met Jean Gunnulson 17 years ago. I had just agreed to be a substitute organist at the Oakland-Cambridge Presbyterian Church, and we were having our first music planning meeting. Four of us gathered together at 9:00 one morning in the church office – Pastor Dave, Cathy, Jean and myself.

The first thing I learned is that I wasn’t really a substitute. I was considered one of the regular organists. The first item on the agenda was to determine which Sundays Cathy, Jean, and I would each play over the next couple months. That was the easy part. Jean always played the first Sunday of the month which was the only Sunday communion was served. Cathy liked to play about once every 6 weeks. Jean and I divvied up the rest of the Sundays based on our personal schedules.

fullsizeoutput_1fbdThe next item on the agenda was to select the hymns for the congregation to sing, week by week, for the next couple of months or the upcoming liturgical season, such as Advent and Christmas. For the first Sunday in our planning window, Pastor Dave summarized the scripture readings from the revised common lectionary, and guessed at the theme he was likely to preach on. Jean came prepared with the current year’s edition of Prepare, a multi-denominational book that listed hymns that would be appropriate for each scripture reading. Jean then identified the hymns that the congregation knew and liked (or disliked) from the Prepare lists, and also which ones she had “recorded” on the organ’s midi system. Pastor Dave might suggest a new hymn the congregation could learn, and I watched Cathy and Jean debate the merits of that choice. Eventually, we all agreed upon the four or five hymns needed for a Sunday, and then we moved on to the next Sunday to plan.

In my first meeting, I was amazed at how heated this discussion became, and how long the meeting lasted. By noon, after three hours, we were all ready to go home for lunch, even though we were only half finished planning the hymns. We scheduled a follow-up meeting a couple weeks out to plan the rest of the hymns for that season. Jean may have come across as a bit crotchety in that first meeting, but she certainly was prepared, and it was obvious that she was committed to ensuring that good, appropriate music would be played at each service.

fullsizeoutput_1fc3Over the eight years that Jean, Cathy, and I shared the organist role for the church, I grew in my appreciation and love for Jean. She was a person with arthritis that was so severe that playing the organ was becoming almost impossible for her. But she was amazing at learning to adapt. Several years before I became involved, the church had invested in a new Allen digital organ. This organ was equipped with a midi device that enabled Jean to create a data file for each hymn that included an introduction and the correct number of verses. She could “record” and “re-record” the hymn as many times as necessary until it was “perfect” to her standards. If necessary, she could play and record the hymn very slowly, at the pace her arthritic fingers would tolerate. Then she could speed up the tempo when she played it back for the congregation to sing. Over the years, Jean created a library of dozens of 3-1/2 inch floppy disks that included hundreds of hymns.

One of the big challenges that Jean faced during the years that we worked together was the addition of a new hymnal supplement called Sing the Faith. In the 1990s and the early 2000s, there was a huge burst of new style church music charging across the country – contemporary hymns, praise music, and even Christian Rock. Many denominations, including the Presbyterian Church, came out with hymnal supplements to incorporate some of the best of this new music. Pastor Dave really wanted to begin to use some of this music in Cambridge. The church raised money to purchase the hymnal supplement. I had assumed that we would only use songs from the supplement on Sundays that either Cathy or I played. But Jean wasn’t willing to impose that restriction on our hymn selection for any Sunday. She spent many, many hours learning and then creating midi files for many of these new hymns. Some of them even became her new favorites – like “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.”

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Jean really impressed me by her determination to provide organ music for congregational singing as well as preludes, offertories, postludes, and background service music, despite her physical limitations. But she impressed me even more by her commitment to providing quality children’s books for the church children’s library – both in Cambridge where she played a couple Sundays a month, and a Lutheran Church in Madison where she held membership. She was constantly on the lookout for good Christian books at all reading levels. She would scour resale stores in Madison and all the surrounding towns to find good books inexpensively to buy and donate to these church libraries. (Jean had been a teacher earlier in her life.)

But what impressed me most of all about Jean was her commitment to sending boxes and boxes of children’s clothing to Indian reservations in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. She kept track of when each resale shop in the area had special sales for children’s clothing – especially the days when shoppers could fill a whole bag for a dollar or two. She would pick out warm and beautiful clothes to fill bags and bags for the children in these reservations. Then she and her husband David would box them up and ship them to the Indian reservations. Typically, they would spend more money on shipping costs than on the clothes.

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Jean’s health had been failing over the past couple years, and she passed away just before Thanksgiving. David asked me to play the piano at the funeral home for her visitation and funeral. He especially wanted me to play “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.”

David also told me that there’s a bag of children’s clothing sitting on the floor in the corner in their house. He plans to box that up and ship it to the Indian reservation as soon as he can. Jean had shopped for these children as long as she could.

fullsizeoutput_1fc4Praise the Lord!
How joyful are those who fear the Lord
and delight in obeying his commands…
They share freely and give generously to those in need.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.
[Psalm 112:1, 9]

Thanks, Jean, for all you have done, and for being an inspiration to me. Thanks for being one of my heroes.

Ghostly Tricks

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Doris and Mary having a good laugh with Abbey – our best caregiver of all. (About 10 years ago)

Over the past 14 years, Mim and I have cared for more than twenty elderly people who have lived with us in our home, usually one or two residents at a time. Almost all of them have lived out their last days with us. Some of them lived with us for just a few days, some a few months, and some a few years. We have been honored to have cared for them as they journeyed from this life into the next life.

Today is All Saints Day, a day to remember each one of them, along with all the other people who have been close to us throughout our lives, and who are no longer with us on earth.

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Mim helping Doris get dressed up for Halloween.

One of our former residents, Doris, has actually been on my mind a lot lately. Doris lived with us almost four years, and she and her family became close members of our extended assisted living family.

Doris had a good sense of humor and liked to joke around with people. She often warned us that she was going to come back and haunt us after she died. Well, she’s come back. Really! I didn’t want to believe that she would follow through on her joking threat, but I can’t think of any other explanation for what has happened.

Several months ago I replaced my 5-year-old HP laptop with my first Apple product, a MacBook. The biggest challenge I had with my transition into the Mac world was getting my big fancy Konica Minolta laser printer/copier to work with the Mac. After hours of trial and error plus long phone calls to Apple Support, I finally was able to download a third-party printer driver that works pretty well – not perfectly, but at least I can print most documents.

A couple days after I finally got the printer working, I tried to boot it up one morning, and it was completely dead. I tried everything I could think of – with no success. I finally placed a service call with Konica Minolta to have them come out to fix it. The printer appeared to be completely dead. Not even the copier function would work.

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My Konica Minolta printer/copier is an excellent color laser printer, but it’s big and heavy.

This printer/copier is a large, heavy, floor model – something I don’t move around very often when I clean house. But I decided to do a little cleaning that day so my office would look better for the Konica Minolta repairman. I tugged the printer in one direction, then the other, to “walk” it away from the wall so that I could vacuum behind it. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The printer cord was plugged into a surge protector/power strip, and the power strip was not plugged into the wall outlet. It was plugged into itself! I called Mim over to take a look. She was as shocked as I was. I unplugged the power strip from itself, plugged it into the wall outlet, turned the printer/copier on, and it worked just fine. I immediately called Konica Minolta to cancel the service call.

img_1600Mim and I tried our hardest to figure out how that could have happened. Did one of us sleep-walk (which we’ve never done as far as we know), struggle to pull the printer/copier away from the wall, mess up the cords, and then shove the printer/copier back in place – all without waking up or making enough noise to wake up the other person or even our dog? Did someone break into the house the previous night while we were asleep and do it as a practical joke? The printer had worked the night before, but not that morning.

Hmmm. Practical joke… The only person we could think of who would do a practical joke like that was the ghost of Doris… In my mind, I’ve given Doris a high-five, and we’ve had a good laugh over it.

I’m sure Doris isn’t the only friendly ghost who has visited our home. The most usual time for ghosts and angels to visit us has been when one of our residents is near death, and a deceased parent, or spouse, or even a stranger comes into the room of the person who is near death. This visitor has come to comfort, or possibly escort the resident to the next life. Mim and I have never seen any of the special visitors ourselves, but several residents have told us about them.

All Saints Day is a time to remember all who have died in Christ, and who are now gathering in heaven to praise God. That includes Doris, even though she may sometimes sneak back down to earth to play a practical joke on us.

The image of a crowd of saints gathering together in heaven is suggested several places in the Bible. For example, Revelation 7:9-10 says:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In 1864 William Waltham How, an Anglican bishop, wrote a hymn using this image. Forty-two years later, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a new tune for the hymn, creating one of the most moving and dramatic of all Christian hymns – “For All the Saints.” Here are the first and last verses. (You may want to google the title for the rest of the words.)

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who They by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, of Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For me, the highlight of All Saints Sunday is playing this hymn on a pipe organ and hearing the congregation loudly singing the joyful words. It puts a lump in my throat every year.

On the other end of the musical spectrum is a spiritual that describes the same image – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are many different verses for this song, both sacred and secular, the usual first and last verses are:

O when the saints go marching in,
O when the saints go marching in,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when the saints go marching in.

O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when they crown Him Lord of all.

In Cambridge, my hometown, the “Fight Song” for the high school football and basketball teams is “When the Jays Go Marching In.” (The Cambridge mascot is the blue jay.)

Back to our assisted living residents that I’m remembering today. Helen had been my first grade teacher, and had always been an enthusiastic fan of our school sports teams. (Her husband had been the high school principal and the football coach.)

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It was a special privilege to care for my first grade teacher in her last months.

The most fun I ever had playing the organ for a funeral was for Helen’s. For the postlude I played the majestic descending opening line of “For All the Saints” and then played its mirror image in the ascending opening line of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I kept weaving these two tunes together as the people processed out of the church. It was the most fun juxtaposition of very different melodies on the same subject I’ve ever played around with.

I don’t know if Helen thought I was playing a joke on her by making up that postlude, or not, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling along with me and her friends and relatives as they processed out of the church.

Thanks to Doris and Helen and many of our other residents, there’s no doubt in my mind that ghosts and saints still have a sense of humor.

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Our “All Saints Wall” where pictures are mounted of all the people we have cared for in our home.