Happy 4th of July to my American readers! We are having a great time here at this old house. The park is full of the historic summer community; generations of Chautauquans return over the 4th just like the swallows come back each year to San Juan Capistrano. The Colorado Chautauqua opened on July 4th, 1898 and we now have sixth and seventh generations of descendents in some of those early attendees’ families. We also have wonderful newcomers to this community as well, new families that have decided to call Chautauqua home for at least part of each year, making a great blend of historic and renewing elements each summer.

The annual tennis tournament began at 8 AM (with a break for Quiet Hours, of course!) and the historic summer community’s picnic is this evening. Right now, the weather looks like we might get rain but at least it will be cooler than it has been some years. Some really hot years, I have wondered if the picnic had been temporarily transported to Texas for the evening instead of being held in the foothills of cool Colorado! Tonight, I think my neighbors from hot and humid Houston (and Dallas and Austin and San Antonio) will be glad to be in Colorado.

One of the things I love about my summer Texas neighbors is that they know how to decorate their houses and themselves. Bunting and flags are everywhere throughout the park and there is always a lot of 4th of July bling at the annual picnic. I have collected a few items myself over the years of living here. This morning, I had to remember where my red, white, and blue stars necklace was as I hadn’t pulled it out for 12 months! T-shirts with rhinestones, fun hats and bandanas will also make an appearance tonight. It feels like Texas up here today! I love it.

It is good to stop and remember our nation’s birthday. We so easily forget that the birth process of a nation, as well as all birth processes, wasn’t an easy one nor was it straightforward. There were many contentious issues to deal with then and many opinions on how they should be solved. There were people of good will and scoundrels in the mix. We fought more than one war over the issue and civil disobedience was as alive and well then as it is today. It took years to settle into a Constitution, a government that was fully up and running, and a currency that was our own. These things did not happen overnight. It is easy to think about the things of the past with rose-colored glasses on, thinking that there was some Golden Age or that everything fell into place in homogenous ways. Anyone who has read more than one book about the founding of this nation knows that it was a messy and fractious process over a number of years.

The beauty of our democracy is that everyone is entitled to a voice in it. The results may not be to your liking but we all have the privilege and the responsibility to weigh in on issues.. It makes me sad that voting percentages are so low these days. We are all good at complaining but less good at seeking solutions and compromises because those things take time and we have become an instant-fix society. Ennui has settled into many people’s political educations and interest; I am always very thankful during a Presidential Election cycle that we don’t have TV here at this old house. Talk about a turn-off to wanting to be involved in the political process! The British allow their election cycle for prime minister to last only five weeks! Maybe we should re-think the time and money spent on electing a President and other representatives in this nation. It is confusing and exhausting for everyone.

This year, with the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, people seem to either think the country is going down the toilet or has risen from the ashes. There doesn’t seem to be too much in the middle, at least from what I have heard. We really won’t know for decades what those decisions really mean for us as a nation and as a society. Today, we have forgotten the uproar over the introduction of federal income tax and social security, things we can’t imagine living without now. Where will health care be in 50 years? I have no idea and no one else does either. We in the present are no ultimate judge of what policies will be considered by history to be innovative or short-sighted. None of us knows which side of history we will end up on. That is why it is useful to regularly read history. It keeps the present in perspective.

In the meantime, we live our lives, doing the best we can to be good citizens, voting intelligently, trusting all to God, and playing the best tennis we can in the local tournament. God bless America and all the other countries of the world as well.

 

 

It has been an emotional couple of days here in this old house. The eulogy that President Obama gave Rev. Clementa Pinckney brought me to tears and then, when he began to sing “Amazing Grace,” I was undone. It was not only the power of the message of the moment but the fact that, while he has a nice voice, it is not a trained voice. Yet, the President of the United States stood and sang about God’s grace in front of a gazillion people. Now that takes courage! My response to people who don’t sing in church because “they don’t have a voice” will be President Obama’s example. If he can do it, they can do it!

I read somewhere this week that since we have periodically amended the Pledge of Allegiance, now might be a good time to do it again. It might be honorable and useful to add the word “equality” along with liberty and justice: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty, EQUALITY, and justice for all.”

Words have an impact. Words instruct, even when we are not focused intently on them. Words, especially sung words, go deep into our souls and resonate, for good or for ill, and come out as actions, good or bad. The symbols and attitudes that are present in a person’s formative years will eventually become ideologies that result in actions. Personally, I have always struggled with the loud professions from the entertainment industry that violence in media doesn’t lead to violence in society. If that is true, then there is no value in interacting with the media! Why watch a film or hear a song if it isn’t going to mean anything to me or touch me at some level? I believe this false disconnect is an attempt to neutralize and sanitize art from morality. I don’t believe that is possible. Everything says something, true or false! Madison Avenue knows this very well and seeks to manipulate consumers on a daily basis through images, words, and music. When you see a pair of Golden Arches, you know exactly what that means and stands for! Children are especially susceptible to images and words. It is hard for them to distinguish reality from fantasy, right from wrong. Add music and the concoction becomes even more potent.

Symbols are not neutral. A cross on a building and a cross around a neck make statements about both building and wearer. Catherine Kapikian in her book, “Art in Service of the Sacred,” wrote: “Paul Tillich gave a useful definition of symbol as that which ‘participates in the reality of that for which it stands.'” The reason the desecration of a flag upsets us deeply is that our flag is a symbol of our country. The desecration is not so much to a piece of fabric but rather to a political and demographic reality. People who desecrate a flag are also likely to commit acts of violence against a governing body or official who serve under that flag if the opportunity arises. Think of Middle Eastern radicals burning the US flag and then think of 9/11. I see a direct line here. Our own Pledge of Allegiance is to a flag but ultimately to the nation.

There is really very little “neutral” in our lives, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. What we say, sing, pray, do–all comes from our inner life which is either a barren desert or a rich tapestry of goodness. To hear President Obama affirm God’s unmerited grace to us as individuals and as a nation is a powerful statement of both hope and warning. God help us not go back to blind lost-ness this time as this latest tragedy fades into the next.

Here at this old house, we have done some harvesting this past week. The rhubarb was picked down in anticipation of the coming heat and the first batch of pesto was made with the basil we grow in a container. I had made a rhubarb pie about a month ago when relatives were visiting so this time, I made a batch of rhubarb chutney and then froze the rest in four-cup bags, ready for future pie making.

Rhubarb is an odd plant, one that people either love or hate. The leaves are poisonous and the edible stalks cannot be eaten alone, unless you really like sour! In my experience, even those brave enough to pick a stalk and chomp on it sprinkle each bite with salt. Rhubarb generally needs to be mixed with something else to make it palatable. For the rhubarb custard pie I make, eggs and sugar tone down the sharpness. In the chutney recipe I make, a wild mixture of ingredients go into a pot, things I would have never dreamed of putting together! However, the trained recipe developers at Bon Appetit magazine years ago came up with this gem:

Rhubarb Chutney

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

4 cups chopped rhubarb

generous 1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/3 cup golden raisins (or dried tart cherries)

Combine the first eight ingredients in a heavy, large Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the rhubarb, onion and raisins (dried cherries). Increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens slightly (about 5 minutes). Cool completely. Store in the frig; serve at room temperature. This is wonderful with chicken or rice dishes that other chutneys work with.

 

When I first made this recipe, I couldn’t believe that it would taste good. Looking at it, the ingredients seemed to be too disparate, too foreign to work in harmony and yet, it was so delicious, I immediately shared some with friends.

It reminds me of the Body of Christ. What a motley crew we are and yet, with Christ as our Head, we function as His body here on earth. Each of us brings a unique flavor that might, on its own, be too pungent or overpowering. Yet, when blended together and heated by the Spirit (so to speak), we meld into a delicious and nourishing new creation. Who would have thought?

Now, I am hoping that the cranberry lime sorbert I made for Mah Jongg tomorrow will prove to be equally unique and delicious!

 

 

It is so nice to finally be hot! Here at this old house, the sun has come out (for the most part) and the temperatures have warmed up to summer levels. The screens are in, the fans are on and running, and the summer section of the closet is being utilized in the mornings. We crafted an Inukshuk for the front yard last night. We built one that is the traditional shape for gratitude and joy (called inunnguaq). Very fitting for the season of life we are in. IMG_1544 (2)

The past couple of days, I have been involved in a workshop that taught figured bass reading skills for continuo playing. This is the part that is played, usually on a keyboard, in a Baroque music ensemble. A cello, bassoon or theorbo plays the bass line, the soloist sings or plays the melody and the harmonies are “realized” by a harpsichord, organ or lute player. The music looks like playing your math homework! As the keyboard player, the bass line comes written out with a series of numbers, called “figures,” that need to be “realized,” i.e. translated into harmonic chords, below the single notes of the bass line. This takes practice when one is used to having everything written out in a score. Also, in Baroque music, performers are considered to be “composers” as a lot of improvisation happens during the performance through ornamentation of the melodic line and the interpretation of more or fewer notes in the harmonic realization. Rarely does one play exactly what is on the page! Performers are expected to add notes to the composer’s general outline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love playing continuo, that is, being the keyboard player in a Baroque ensemble. I want to get better and faster at realizing the figures so that I can do this more. So my summer motto is: practice, practice, practice! Like memorizing the multiplication tables or learning a language, daily repetition is the only way to get good and fast at this. Then, over time, comes the experience of knowing how many notes are too many, where to imitate the melody, where to invent a counter-melody, how to help the soloist, etc. That is, how to be a top-notch continuo player.

I was thinking during the master class this morning that life is a lot like realizing a figured bass. We are given a bass line: our personalities, family-of-origin, and other givens over which we have little to no control. The goal in life is to make beautiful harmonies with that bass line. There will be many things in life we are stuck with just as musicians have to work with the melody and bass line the composer has written if they are to play the piece. However, the good news is: improvisation is always assumed. We are not confined to the notes on the page! We are not completely at the mercy of the “bass line” of our lives. In life and in music, there is freedom for more or less, tempo or pacing changes, shifts in articulation/emotions and the like. We can make this piece of music, this life, our own, unique to us, something beautiful to be shared with others.

To those of you who may feel stuck with a dreadful “bass line” right now, I say Happy improvising: Go for it!

 

 

 

 

In the mornings here in this old house, I write my morning pages and then read the newspaper before doing my devotions. As part of my morning journaling, I try to answer questions from any devotional-style reading I am currently doing. Recently, I was given the book “Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford and finished it on the plane home from our latest trip. It is along the lines of Fr. Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” Both books talk about maturing beyond the accumulation of things and self-identity issues into seeing life from a broader perspective.

The first question from the Buford book that I attempted to tackle today was on page 114 of the paperback edition: What do I want to be remembered for? Write a description of how your life would look if it turned out just the way you wished.

I’d like to report on some great, revelatory insights but to be honest, I was completely flummoxed and decided that this was not going to be honestly answered in about 15 minutes of writing. I decided I might, in fact, need a separate, dedicated notebook for all of the questions Mr. Buford poses and went on to the comics.

How would you answer this question? Image result for free photos question marks

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