". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Found Cuteness

Can you tell he's not a morning person?

Found Art

I think it has some real possibilities, don't you? I call it "Juice With Straw on Mantel."

If it's not art, well then, biology. (The teenagers are studying bacteria right now.)

The glass apparently sat there for several days. I never noticed it. Other people noticed but saw no reason to remove it. And as with all good art, there's actually a story here. Anyone wanna guess which member of the family is responsible for inadvertently creating this artistic moment? And what the back story is?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Watch and Enjoy

I know--people send you links and tell you to watch them and there's so little time in the day. But believe me, this is worth it. One of the best live performances I have ever seen (not that I actually saw it live, but how I wish I had). A much younger James Taylor and Carly Simon having more fun than a body should be allowed to have. Watching this just makes me feel good. You watch, too (with apologies to Robert Frost).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where Have I Been?

Obviously, not here!

This weekend I took my son to a chess tournament in Cleveland. We left Friday morning, stayed Friday and Saturday night with friends, and drove home Sunday night, finally hitting the sheets at about 2:00 a.m. Monday morning. It was a great weekend. I enjoyed some time with some of my homeschooling Lutheran friends, and my son tied for second place in the tournament! With the rating points gained he is inching ever closer to being a Master.

Yesterday was supposed to be my "re-entry" day--getting back into the routine, catching up on chores, etc., but with only five hours of sleep under my belt I had a hard time getting going. And I got sucked into a blog fight. I don't know if it was worth the time I put into it. But for inquiring minds who want to know, here it is.

Sometimes when these things break out I can't help thinking of John Belushi in Animal House:

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Another laugh-out-loud comment about the imploding Obama administration, this one from the ever brilliant Victor David Hanson:

"Sending creepy people out to say creepy things does not make sense, when a hit network loves showing Americans how these creepy people say creepy things."

Full article here.

Can They Really Be That Clueless?

The picture made me laugh out loud. Read Roger Simon's column--"Is the Obama White House as dumb as it seems?"--here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trying Out a New Look

Can't decide if I like it. I was just getting a little tired of all that pink. I'm really not crazy about pink. I rarely wear it (red-headed complexion & all). My favorite colors are greens and browns--in fashion, I'm known as an "autumn." But I also like jewel tones--jade, deep blue and burgundy. It was the burgundy I liked about my previous template.

But I don't know . . . this one is just so . . . white.

Might be good for the next few months, though. It looks kind of snowy. And the brightness could be a blessing. With winter coming on, I need all the light I can get.

People Who Need People

I took Evan to the park Sunday afternoon. It was a fall day fit for the movie screen, cool and breezy and full of color, with footballs flying and a playground overrun by noisy, breathless children. A number of them were involved in a group game, calling each other by name as they scrambled over the slide/climbing structure. As I pushed Evan on the swing, he watched them thoughtfully, then turned to me and quietly stated, "They know each other."

Now, you have to understand, Evan is my extrovert. He wants to know EVERYONE. Nothing makes him happier than to be around people, many people, especially children. That's not to say he doesn't sometimes feel a little shy. But the shyness does not detract from his enjoyment of social contact. He needs it in a way that the rest of his family does not.

So, back to the conversation.

Evan: "They know each other."

Me: "Yes, I think they do."

Evan: "They don't know me."

Me: "No, honey, they don't know you."

Evan, soaking this in, brow furrowing ever so slightly: "Why does God make it so people don't know each other?"

Ohhh-kaaay. How to answer this one?

"Evan, it's not that God makes people not to know each other, but that He just makes so many people! There are too many people in the world for us to know them all. We could never learn all their names! But you know lots of people. You have friends at gym class, and Sunday School, and church. Those are the people you know. They are YOUR friends."

It's times like this I feel sorry for my youngest in that he doesn't have a playmate in the house. There are eight years between him and his big sister, eleven between him and his big brother. My oldest two children had each other to play with; Evan is often on his own. And there aren't children in the neighborhood that he can play with. We arrange play dates as we are able, but it's difficult to carve out the time and coordinate with other parents. Sometimes when we go to a playground or similar place Evan will buddy up with someone for just that short period of time. He considers these temporary playmates to be friends and has been known to cry over not seeing some of them again. He still thinks about and misses several children in last year's preschool class who left the class early in the year. Much more than my other two children, he needs people. But more and more I think that I could have an endless supply of playmates lined up, one for every day of the year, and it would still not be enough, because there would still be people in the world Evan doesn't know. And his need for connectedness is so profound, he would still feel deprived. I'm not sure if they have a personality test with a scale broad enough to measure this child's extroversion. And here he finds himself growing up in a house full of introverts. Somehow, though, I have a feeling the rest of us are going to be doing some "growing" of our own over the next few years.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

New fiction . . .

. . . by a young author of my acquaintance:

Riversong: Path to Paradise

It's also available in paperback.

If you are a fan of anthropomorphic fiction, quest or "road" stories, allegory, or themes of love, friendship and sacrifice, this novella is worth your consideration. Suitable for age 10 & up, with polished, mature writing of the highest quality.

And if you're interested, I think I can arrange for an autograph.


Last night we had a friend stay overnight. She has never visited before, so shortly after her arrival Evan (age 5) and I were giving her the grand tour of the house. When we got to the back of the house I pointed out "our aging sunroom." I frequently use this phrase because although the room has its charm it also has significant problems. My friend is aware of some of the problems we have had (and still continue to have) and she nodded in understanding. When we went on to the next room, Evan took over as tour guide, proudly announcing, "And this is our aging family room. And this is our aging couch." On to the next room. "And this is our aging dining room. And this is our aging dining room table. And this is . . . "

Out of the mouths of babes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Deja Vu

My oldest son, a 17-year-old nationally ranked high school chess player, has been giving weekly chess lessons to his little brother (now 5, going on 6 years old). It's a great situation all the way around, enriching little brother's homeschool "curriculum" (I put the word in quotation marks because I don't think kindergarteners need much in the way of a formal curriculum) and providing valuable teaching experience for his big brother. When we first tried chess instruction for Evan he didn't take to it, so we dropped it. But lately he has really been enjoying and looking forward to his lessons.

Evan had his chess lesson yesterday. This morning when he woke up the first words from his lips were, "Mommy, can I have another chess lesson today? I want to see what the next rule is." He then started rattling off some of his recently learned chess facts, i.e., "You can only castle one time. JUST ONE TIME."

Hmmm. Only time will tell, but I can't wondering if we may be in for another wild and woolly ride on the Scholastic Chess Train.

Monday, October 12, 2009

14 Years Ago Today

At the hospital:

At home, a few days later:

That is one happy big brother.

Happy birthday, Caitlin!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friendly Disagreements

Pastor Stuckwisch has some interesting thoughts about communication this week. His main point has to do with the difficulty of civil debate. In a culture that so highly values self-esteem and sensitivity and political correctness it can be hard to disagree with others, particularly friends, because disagreement is often taken as a personal affront. (Does anyone else find it ironic that in this era of "niceness" there seems to be a coincidental decline in awareness of good manners? But I digress.) We have a hard time separating people's ideas from the people themselves. Somehow we think that if someone disagrees with us it means they are attacking us personally. Yet think about the political commentators and politicians who go after each other on television and then shake hands and enjoy a beer together afterward. Think about the prosecutors and defense attorneys who do the same. Think about James Carville and Mary Matalin, for goodness' sake. It IS possible for people to hold different opinions and still be friends, family members, members of the same church, etc. But it takes a little more work, I think, than maintaining a relationship with someone who thinks exactly the same as you. There's a certain comfort in knowing you agree with someone. It's a nice feeling. It binds you together and sort of makes you feel like you're on the same team. As Pastor Stuckwisch notes, it fosters a feeling of "us" against "them." So our wont, when differences come up, is to gloss over them or pretend they don't exist and look for that thing we can agree on so we can decide we really are the same after all. And yet that does not serve the cause of thoughtful debate, nor does it really serve the cause of friendship, because to pretend that we agree when we don't is ultimately dishonest. And the relationship that can weather a healthy debate (one that is civil and plays by the rules and doesn't resort to emotional games) is going to come out stronger in the end, as are the ideas of the parties in question. Even if no one "wins" the debate, the process of thinking and sharing and asking questions (again, if it's handled well) is only going to be a positive thing, assisting understanding, strengthening resolve, or perhaps leading to a reassessment of one's opinion. And what better forum is there for the exploration of ideas than the safety of a valued relationship, one that is based on trust and respect? Really, it makes a lot more sense to have such discussions with people whose opinions you care about than with acquaintances, or worse, faceless, nameless people out in cyberspace that you don't even know.

On the other hand, I suppose a case could be made that it is easier to engage in purely idea-driven discourse with someone you don't know because then the issues of feelings and personalities and influence don't color the debate and you can stick strictly to the world of ideas. If you aren't emotionally invested in the other person, you won't care about hurting his or her feelings and you won't be as likely to get yours hurt either, right? Yet if I don't care about someone then I also don't really care about what he thinks (unless he's a known expert on the topic at hand). And if I don't know someone it is a lot harder to ascertain if we are even in the same universe of thought. If we have different world views and underlying assumptions and values, there may be no point to entering into any sort of discussion at all. In fact I am acquainted with some lovely people whom I also know to be completely politically or theologically different from me, and by unspoken mutual agreeement we carefully avoid "those" subjects so as to preserve a pleasant and enjoyable relationship. Some might say that's cowardly; I call it sensible. I also know people about whose views on a multitude of topics I have no clue, and I am happy to keep it that way because I don't have the time or energy to do all the groundwork that would need to be done to get past surface conversation.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how very few people in the world I feel that it's worth disagreeing with. It's hard to do so with family members. Usually there is too much history, too many complicating factors, too much emotional baggage to be able to have a healthy debate. It's hard to do so with acquaintances, for the reasons outlined above. It's hard to do so with casual friends, because while there may be a veneer of good feelings the parties may have false assumptions about one another or the relationship may be too fragile or new to survive a significant difference of opinion. And it doesn't seem worth taking the time to disagree with strangers. (It's why I don't see the point of getting into online debates with people I don't know. Why do they care what I think and vice versa?)

So what should you take away from this post? If you ever find me disagreeing with you, you should take it as a high compliment and a testament to your specialness. (Except for my husband, of course, since I NEVER disagree with him. ☺ )

Friday, October 9, 2009

Goodbye, Free Exchange of Ideas

President Obama has given away the Internet. Does anyone have any doubt about what this will do for the cause of freedom?

Worth Reading

Kyle-Ann Shiver, "The Fairy Tale That Really Was"

The Nobel Popularity Club

Any intellectually honest person knows that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to this president is a completely symbolic gesture, not earned by the recipient but bestowed by the committee in order to send a message to the United States and the world. The nominations for the award closed on February 1, less than two weeks after Mr. Obama took office. What could he have possibly done in that time to make the committee think he deserved such recognition? The answer is nothing. He received the award for the same reason he was elected president--because of his skill at creating an appealing vessel for the Kool-Aid drinkers to fill with their flavor of choice.

What this award really represents is the Nobel Prize committee's glee at a President who is more interested in making America popular than in protecting her interests. The fear is that this pat on the head from the in crowd will embolden him in his strategy of appeasement.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Mr. President. They don't like us. And they don't really like you. And I just hope and pray you realize that before they make it clear in a big way.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

LCFS Hymn Festival Podcast

Two weeks ago my parish hosted a hymn festival to highlight and benefit the work of Lutheran Child and Family Services, specifically their Lutherbrook residential home for children with severe emotional and behavioral difficulties. The podcast for the hymn fest is now available online! It was a glorious afternoon of song and I encourage you to listen. Provided below is an outline of the service.

An LCFS Hymn Festival

HYMN “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” LSB #528
Brass Arrangements by John Ferguson

WELCOME Rev. Timothy Rossow

PSALM “O Sing to the Lord” Psalm 95:1-7
A Psalm Setting by Phillip Magness

HYMN “Let Children Hear the Mighty Deeds” LSB #867
A Hymn Arrangement by Phillip Magness

HYMN “Praise the Almighty, My Soul Adore Him” LSB #797
A Concertato by Walter Pelz

READING “Faith Is Active in the Love of Christ” Rev. David Balla
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
Jesus, the Christ
St. John, the Apostle
St. Paul, the Apostle

HYMN “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” LSB #740
A Concertato by Ted Beck

HYMN “Church of God, Elect and Glorious” LSB #646
Brass Arrangement by James Biery
Stanza 2 Setting for Children's Choir by Phillip Magness

READING “Faith Is Active in the Compassion of Christ” Rev. Paul Mumme
St. Luke 10:25-37
God’s Mercy (a reading from St. Augustine)
How Kind the Good Samaritan (a hymn by John Newton)

HYMN “The Church’s One Foundation” LSB #644
A Concertato by Paul Manz

HYMN “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart” LSB #708
A Concertato by Don Busarow

READING “Faith Is Active in the Hope of Christ” Rev. Scott Bruzek
Prodigal Father, Prodigal Son, and Old School by Tobias Wolf

HYMN “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” LSB #594
A Concertato by Phillip Magness*

HYMN (please stand) “We Praise You, and Acknowledge You” LSB #941
Brass Arrangement by Robert Hobby


ANTHEM “Let the Children Come to Me”
by Phillip Magness

CLOSING HYMN “Lift High the Cross” LSB #837
A Concertato by Phillip Magness**

POSTLUDE “How Firm a Foundation”
arr. Andrew Clark


Organist and Choir Director: Cantor Phillip Magness

Festival Choirs:
Immanuel Lutheran Church – Hinckley Adult Choir, Dawn Andermann, director
Proclaim – Bethany Lutheran Church, Cantor Phillip Magness, director
Plus friends from the choirs of St. John Lutheran Church, Wheaton and
Trinity Lutheran Church, Lisle

Handbell Choir: Praises Ring! (Bethany Lutheran Church), Susan Keller, director

Children’s Choir: Schola Cantorum - Bethany Lutheran Church & School,
Naperville; Cantor Phillip Magness, director

Christus Choir—Bethany Lutheran School, Naperville;
Mike Vasilie, director

Choral Accompanist: Cheryl Magness

Trumpets: Gretchen Brouch, Erich Keller
French Horn: Linda Komes
Trombone: Julie Bernier
Timpani: Peggy Sue Casey
Tuba: Tyler Heuer
Clarinet: Jessica Luhrs
Flutes: Cindy Curfs, Victoria Sodeman
Keyboard: Trevor Magness
Percussion: Mike Vasilie, Susan Keller, Elaine Gavin, Tom Mueller

Participants: Rev. Timothy Rossow, Bethany Lutheran, Naperville
Rev. David Balla, Trinity Lutheran, West Chicago
Rev. Paul Mumme, Divine Shepherd Lutheran, Bolingbrook
Rev. Scott Bruzek, St. John Lutheran, Wheaton
Gene Svebakken, President & CEO of LCFS

*The church thanks Tom Mueller for commissioning this new work in honor of his maternal grandfather, Prof. Walter A. Lobitz, who was a Lutheran school teacher at the grade school, high school, and college levels and also an organist and choir director.

**The church thanks Nancy Yendrejczek for commissioning this new work, in honor of her sainted husband, Jerry.

Please join us following the hymnfest for a light reception.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New Songs

My friend Susan the hymn addict has been thinking about church music lately (surprise, surprise!) and winds up a recent blog post thus:

And that's what got me to wondering. When I read about the new music being written for the church, good churchly music, I've wondered sometimes about the constant pursuit of new settings for hymns and liturgy. There's nothing wrong with the new things. Many of them are very good. Many of them become my new "fave" for a few months. But why the frequent desire for something new? Is it the difference between what's beautiful and what's exquisitely sublime? Do we eventually tire of the beautiful and well-written new church music, whereas the old (at least, the old that is still with us!!) never becomes tiresome?

Susan's questions have been bouncing around in my head for several days now so I decided to share some comments here rather than co-opt her comment box. My first thought has to do with the assumption that those who compose church music are always chasing after newness. Perhaps some are. But for many I don't think that's it at all. Especially when it comes to people like my husband, who does most of his composing for ancient texts (psalms, canticles and liturgy), it's not so much a pursuit of novelty as it is an expression of the eternal. As we gloriously experienced at my church when we had a hymnfest there a few weeks ago (and as we experience every Sunday), faith sings. It can't help but do so. And it sings in each of our lives in different ways. For some, the song of faith may consist of sewing new garments for those they love. For others it might mean planting and tending to a garden, creating a work of art, providing healthy food for one's family, writing poetry, playing a musical instrument, teaching, farming, serving in the armed forces, or tending to the sick. The song of faith finds its expression in one's vocation--all those things a person does in his daily life because he can't not do them. They are a part of who he is and can't be denied.

I am a musician, but I am not a composer. When I sit down to play the piano or stand up to sing I want a piece of music in front of me. My husband, on the other hand, has music exploding out of him all the time. He sits at the piano and his hands go to the keys and start to play without him even realizing it sometimes. As he walks around the house he sings unawares. The notes just tumble out of him--he can't help it. The music is there and must come out. Now certainly there is a craft to the composition process. He works at it. He tries one thing, then another, and keeps fine tuning :-) until he is pleased with the result. But that basic impulse--to put notes together--is something that is in him that is not in me.

And yet I don't think he would identify the primary goal of his compositional efforts as the creation of something new. He is one of the greatest champions of the old, the proven, the classic, that I know. Our adult church choir is right now singing selections by Bach, Schutz, Mendelssohn and Brahms, among others. Our worship services are replete with traditional hymnody and liturgy. Yes, we also do new music. But the test of whether we do a newer setting does not rest with its age. Instead there are several tests: 1) Does the music amplify the text? 2) Is the music of excellent quality? and 3) Is the composition suited to the assembly that is going to hear/sing it?

My husband is fond of talking about the "Four C's of Worship." To explore all of them here would make this post far too long, but in brief, he says that good Lutheran worship is confessional, catechetical, catholic (small "c"), and contemporary. By contemporary he is talking not about the use of microphones, worship teams, drum sets, screens and subjective "Jesus is my boyfriend" music, but rather the truth that worship has to do with bringing the eternal to the people assembled in a specific place at a specific time. So worship is by its very nature contemporary, because it happens in time.

My second thought is in response to this question in Susan's post: "Is it the difference between what's beautiful and what's exquisitely sublime?" I think she is asking why some of the newer settings, lovely as they are, do not have the staying power of the old. First, I would say that people have different definitions of what is sublime. I don't want to get into specifics, but I have a feeling that my friend and I may not see completely eye to eye on that one! :-) Ultimately, sublimity is determined by consensus--if the majority of people whose opinions we respect think something is sublime, then it probably is. So yes, there is a difference between something that is passingly beautiful and something that wears well over time and could therefore be called sublime. The most readily accessible and embraceable often turns out to be the thing that is most easily tired of. One of my husband's favorite examples is the Bobby McFerrin song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" which took the country by storm some years ago but which no one ever plays or sings anymore. But in every generation there are new songs that enough people consider to be sublime that they survive the test of time and eventually make their way into the canon, to become one of those traditional favorites that future generations will revere and love for ages to come. And that is what I think Susan is getting at in the final sentence of the paragraph above: "Do we eventually tire of the beautiful and well-written new church music, whereas the old (at least, the old that is still with us!!) never becomes tiresome?" I would say that yes, we do tire of some of it, and it drops out of use, and so doesn't last beyond a generation. But again, some of what is "new" today will because of its excellence and universality remain for more than a decade or two, and then it will become one of those "old" songs that future generations also embrace.

One final thought: while I don't think that the primary motivation for my husband and many of his contemporaries is newness per se, I do think that there is value to be had in freshness and variety. I think that God made us to appreciate variety. Why else would He have made for us the world he did, containing an almost infinite diversity of color and shape and texture? Why not just make one kind of flower, one kind of tree, one kind of terrain? Why the multiplicity of kinds? I think God appreciates variety and made us in His image to do the same. You can see it in the way we approach food. If food were merely all about nourishment, why not just eat the same basic staples in the same combinations day after day, week after week? As long as we're getting the nutrients we need, why spend so much time making it appealing and interesting and enjoyable? It's because there is an art and aesthetic to food that humans embrace. We savor food for its interest and variety and richness as well as for its sustenance. We appreciate the tried and true comfort foods--fried chicken and mashed potatoes--but we wouldn't want to eat fried chicken and mashed potatoes every day of our lives. We thrive on a diet of variety, taking the same basic healthy ingredients but putting them together in new ways, trying new recipes, tossing in this spice or that herb, sometimes finding that we like the new thing but sometimes finding that we don't. For some (not me), cooking a meal is akin to creating a beautiful work of art. It's a way to give expression to their creativity and love of the Creator's gifts. And some of those works of art become recipes that are shared and passed down through time, to be filed in the recipe box and cooked again and again, while others get rejected and tossed. I think church music is much the same way.

To be sure, some of us have a higher desire and/or tolerance for newness and variety than others. Part of being a church family is respecting the differences that may exist in a worship community and being willing to give a little, to sing something that is not our favorite but to do so because it sings faith into someone else's heart. It is the job of the pastors and cantors to keep congregations on a right path and to navigate through the difficult waters of making their congregation's worship confessional, catechetical, catholic, and contemporary. It's not always a smooth voyage. But congregations that are focused on Word and Sacrament and that have cross-shaped worship (looking to Christ while reaching out in love to one another) will be able to survive the occasional storms and choppy waters while charting their course for the calm and safety of the harbor and the fixed and immovable shore.