". . . 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)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Time for an odds and ends post.

Today was Evan's last official day to sing in the children's choir. His voice is changing. He still has soprano notes, although not as high as in the past, but he is developing his lower range and struggling with his mid-range. He will continue attending Schola Cantorum rehearsals through the end of the year, helping out our novice program (welcoming new young singers), but we have told him he doesn't have to sing with the choir any more after today. Seeing as how I don't have anyone waiting in the wings to take his place, it would seem my choir mom days are over (sigh).

Here are a couple of pics, serious and silly, of our group today. We sure do love them.

We were hoping one of the above pictured choristers would agree to sing the solo stanza of "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" at the Good Friday service, but there have been no takers. Today when I told Evan that it is looking like his dad or I might have to do it, he was quite alarmed. But it's supposed to be a child's voice! Yes, son, I know. Evan is thinking he might just have to step up to the plate one more time.

In other news, we had some hail the other day.

The storm chasers were around the very next day leaving flyers on doorknobs.

College kids will not be home for Easter. Silly academic calendars. But four weeks from today I will drive to Missouri to pick up Caitlin, and a few days after that we'll all go to Fort Worth to see Trevor receive his Master's degree in music! Speaking of Trevor, he has accepted an invitation to pursue his Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Iowa. He is receiving a full tuition scholarship plus a teaching and accompanying stipend. We are very, very happy!

This past week I wrote an article on the Benedict Option which got a little traction. Then yesterday I posted something seemingly unrelated on Facebook. And yet as I think more about the previous link, which is about the shortage of organists in the Church, I am starting to connect it to the Benedict Option. The basic idea of the Benedict Option is that many who would claim the name "Christian" are losing touch with what that actually means. In other words, we call ourselves Christian, but we aren't living and worshiping so as to preserve and pass on the faith to future generations. While the Church in other parts of the world is growing, here in America (and other parts of the Western world) it is shrinking. The Benedict Option calls for Christians to see the gravity of this situation and take steps to turn it around. Author Rod Dreher argues that before we can share our Christian faith with others, we need to reclaim it for ourselves.

So how does that connect to an article about the shortage of organists? As I think about my own church body, which is often called the singing church because of the emphasis it puts on music, it seems to me that we are in many quarters losing touch with that part of our identity. After I posted the above article on Facebook there was much discussion about the difficulty of finding musicians, paying for musicians, and supporting congregational song. Many churches are giving up and going to recorded tracks. This is a terrible, terrible development. The more we rely on such measures the more likely it is that there will be even fewer church musicians in the future.

I am starting to think that, while it's great that we send missionaries to foreign lands (and my husband is one who goes), we might need to give some thought to what we can do to shore up our own churches and our own worship. It doesn't appear to me that we are doing what needs to be done to preserve our musical and liturgical heritage. It's not something that is just magically going to survive because we want it to. In the same way we need to be intentional about living out our Christian faith, we need to be intentional about passing on the gift of music and liturgy. There is so much more we could be doing, and it deeply frustrates me how as a church body we give lip service to it but don't really do anything about it.

Enough of that for now. The hour has come. A blessed Holy Week to you and yours.

Palm Sunday Verse/Hymn of the Day from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

For Christmas I got my husband Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. He read it in a matter of days and loved it. I finally read it myself. The term "hillbilly" calls to mind a poor, uneducated person living in the hills or mountains, particularly the Appalachians. It is often used pejoratively. But Vance uses the term not as an insult, but matter-of-fact-ly. Hillbillies are his people, and he describes them with both love and brutal honesty. Hillbillies are my people, too, and my husband's. I see so much in this book that I know because I have experienced it. I am not from Appalachia, and my upbringing was not as violent as Vance's, but like him, I come from country folk of Scots-Irish descent. And there is so much in this book that rings true and reminds me of my childhood. Here are a few of the things that Vance writes about to which I can easily relate:

Not knowing whether a parent is going to be sober or drunk. Scoping out the situation and then getting out of the way if it is the latter.

Lots of domestic disturbances, foul language, and yelling and throwing things. (To this day I have no tolerance for foul language or raised voices.)

Being embarrassed to have friends over.

When asked about your family, not being able to give a simple answer because between the steps and halves, it's complicated.

Being one of the first in your family to get a college degree.

Not applying to private colleges because you figure you can't afford it and you don't realize that private schools give lots of money to candidates they deem worthy. So you go into debt for the public institution when you might actually have fared better with the private one.

Having difficulties handling conflict because your history with conflict is so very negative. Early in Vance's relationship with his future wife, she told him, "Whenever something bad happens--even a hint of disagreement--you withdraw completely. It's like you have a shell that you hide in."

Having older siblings and extended family that sometimes provided the normalcy and emotional support that my parents didn't.

Having a high ACE (adverse childhood experience) score. I was not familiar with the concept of adverse childhood experiences as a field of mental health study. If you're interested in learning about it, here's a helpful link. I have an ACE score of 6 (out of 10). My husband also has a high ACE score. Vance writes, in his book, about how difficult it is to break the mold of one's upbringing. If you come from an environment of substance abuse, domestic conflict, broken marriage, unwed pregnancy, etc., you are statistically more likely to continue the pattern than to break it. I am not sure how my husband and I were able to do it. We had so many strikes against us. We still struggle with some of the effects of our upbringing. All I know is that God had mercy on us. I am sure life would have turned out completely different for both of us if the Church had not been a constant presence in our marriage the last 30 years.

Vance writes about the miracle of his being able to break out of the path that so many in his shoes are destined to remain in, crediting a perfect storm of people and circumstances that afforded him the hope and opportunity necessary to chart a different path. He concludes Hillbilly Elegy by considering the ways in which the "system" that is supposed to "help" so often doesn't, but at the same time laying ultimate responsibility at the feet of the individual:

"I believe we hillbillies are the toughest . . . people on this earth. We take an electric saw to the hide of those who insult our mother. We make young men consume cotton underwear to protect a sister's honor. But are we tough enough . . . . to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?"

As much as Vance's book resonated with me, I had so much more going for me than he did. Yes, I had a father with alcoholism and a mother with depression. I grew up in a combined family with a lot of anger and dysfunction. My parents' personal problems led to their not giving their children and step-children the attention they needed. Yet unlike Vance, I did have two parents who stayed married. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor, and I never had any worries about having my physical needs met. In spite of his alcoholism, my dad always held down a job and paid the bills. Another parallel I share with Vance is the experience of being the child who benefits from parents seeming to figure out, later in life, how to be better parents. (In Vance's case it wasn't his parents, but his grandparents, who did so.) Perhaps it was because as the youngest, for the second half of my childhood I was the only one left at home. I got benefits my older siblings didn't. I was the one who was driven to piano lessons. I was the one, after my mom became Catholic, who got taken to church. As the only "ours" of a "his, hers, and ours" family, I was the one who grew up with both my biological parents.

I won't tell you how Hillbilly Elegy ends other than to say it made me cry, tears of both sadness and hope. J. D. Vance (who is only 32) recently announced he is returning to his roots to try to make a difference. God bless him.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why It's Good to Have Older Siblings Visit from College

They remind you it's not all about you. Case in point below.

Scenario 1
13-year-old to his mother:

"Wanna know something crazy?"


Scenario 2
13-year-old to his 21-year-old sister:

"Wanna know something crazy?"

"Do I have to?" 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Really, CNN?

I just read this article from CNN on the unveiling of the Republican Obamacare replacement plan. On first reading, I counted nine--NINE!--errors in usage and mechanics. For fun, I'll reproduce below the sentences that contain errors. Can you find the mistakes? Pull out your red pen and have at it. If you find all of them, maybe you can get a job proofreading for CNN. They obviously need the help!

1. It also largely would keep Obamacare's protections of those with pre-existing conditions, but allows insurers to charge higher premiums to those who let their coverage lapse.

2. "President Trump looks forward to working with both Chambers of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare."

3. The House plan would also retain the so-called Cadillac tax -- which has never gone into affect -- in order to hit the budget targets required under the maneuver used to pass the bill, called budget reconciliation.

4. Still, Republican leaders are committed to moving forward with major tenants of the legislation . . . .

5. The GOP bill also includes a provision to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which is something Republicans has vowed to do for years citing concerns over the use of taxpayer money for abortion services. (This one has two!)

6. Planned Parenthood has warned that cutting off their funding will have major impact on Medicaid recipients, millions of whom obtain health care services in their clinics. (Okay, I guess I'm being a little picky here. But still.)

7. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas and the House Ways and Means chairman, said in a written statement, "our legislation transfers power from Washington back to the American people. . . ." (Again, picky.)

8. Republican leaders have worked aggressively to forge consensus with their members in listening sessions and meetings behind closed doors in recent weeks, but the divides between conservatives and moderates, and those between moderates and lawmakers from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare are not going away.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

Thus It Is Written

Sebastian Bourdon, Burning Bush, Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wondered why God doesn't talk to us today the way He talked to Noah, Abraham, and Moses? Sometimes it can seem like He's ignoring us. Why is He being silent when we need Him so much? In our family devotion today we imagined what it would be like if we had a burning bush in the back yard that we could consult whenever we needed guidance or encouragement.

But could it be that in not continuing to reveal Himself to us as He did to our forebears in the Bible, and in not revealing Himself to us in new and different ways after revealing Himself to us through His Son, He is protecting us? Can you imagine if God were running around the world today, talking to this person and that person, appearing on top of a skyscraper here and a mountain there? How confusing it would be as we tried to sort it all out. Who really talked to God? Who is just saying he did? Whom should we trust? Whom should we ignore? There are enough false teachers as it is. Can you imagine how many more there would be claiming direct revelation if God had the habit of dropping in on people today?

I have sometimes felt like maybe the Deists had the right idea--that God the watchmaker designed and wound up the world but is just now watching and waiting while it runs itself down. Why is He so silent? Doesn't He care?

Yes. He cares. And certainly God can do what He wants and at any moment He could decide to show up in your living room or mine and engage us in conversation. But what more can He say than He's already said? What more do we need Him to say? In today's Treasury of Daily Prayer, there is this comfort from Martin Chemnitz:

"At one time God revealed His Word by various ways and means. For sometimes, appearing Himself to the holy fathers, He spoke in their presence, sometimes through prophets inspired and moved by His Spirit; finally He spoke to mankind through His Son and the apostles. . . . But He gave us neither command nor promise to expect that kind of inspirations or revelations. Yet for the sake of posterity He saw to it that this Word of His, first revealed by preaching and confirmed by subsequent miracles, was later put into writing by faithful witnesses. And to that very same Word, comprehended in the prophetic and apostolic writings, He bound His church, so that whenever we want to know or show that a teaching is God's Word, this should be our axiom: Thus it is written; thus Scripture speaks and testifies."

We don't need our own personal burning bush. We already have one in a God who has fully revealed Himself to us through His Son, and who continues to do so today. In His Word and Sacrament we need not wonder if it's really God coming to us or someone just pretending to speak for God. We need not try to sift through all the noise to locate the truth. Instead, we can rest in the security of what God has already promised and not worry that He's ever going to change, add to, or subtract from that promise. In a world in which information is the new currency and there are many and varied voices continually coming at us from all directions, our God is "silent" not because He doesn't care about us, but because He does.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Full Circle

A little over two weeks from now, February 22, will be the one-year anniversary of my mom's death. A few weeks ago her burial marker was finally placed.

The schedule is very full right now, and my plan was to go see the marker on February 22, as my mom is buried over a half hour away from our house. But Monday of this week was lovely weather-wise as well as being my husband's day off, and he offered to drive me to the cemetery. As soon as we got there I smacked my head. Should have brought flowers for the vase! We drove to a nearby grocery store to buy a bunch.

Having been recently laid, the marker was dirty with disturbed earth. We rubbed it off as best we could. Mom was buried in a section of the cemetery where only flat markers of a certain size are allowed, so between that and available funds I was somewhat limited in my options. But I am pleased with how it came out. I have previously written about the background of the verse. I decided to use the translation from my mom's Bible (the Saint Joseph edition of the New American Bible).

Another item that may be approaching closure is a small decorative chalkboard in our kitchen. On the night my mom died, Evan wrote this message on it:

The message is still there. We decided to leave it for Evan to erase, and he has not done so yet. But it feels like we need to close this chapter, too, and we are thinking February 22 is a logical date to do it. The thing is, while Evan may be ready, I wonder if I am?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Strange Western Sun

A few days ago I was reading to Evan from our current readaloud Johnny Tremain. Johnny Tremain is a boy growing up in Boston at the time of the American Revolution, witnessing events and people firsthand that we today only encounter in history books and movies. At the point we are in our reading, the British army is occupying Boston but no shots have yet been fired. They are about to be, and the chapter we just finished ends with a reference to "a strange new sun rising in the west . . . that was to illumine a world to come."

I wanted to make sure Evan understood the comparison of America to a sun--one whose rise would shine a beacon of freedom over the entire world. I started questioning him, trying to pull the answer out rather than just give it to him, but it took some doing, which surprised me. Then he said, "America isn't as free as it used to be" and I realized that the equating of my country with freedom which is in my mind a given, something I grew up with and feel at a gut level, was not as natural an association for him. Wow. It drove home for me that at the age of 13 the only president he has any memory of is Barack Obama, and what he has heard from his parents for much of his life is talk about how our freedoms in this country are being eroded and how the federal government continues to extend its reach and control beyond what it is Constitutionally given to do. It made me sad.

I told Evan that the peaceful transition of power that we are seeing today, Inauguration Day, is a testament to the freedom that we still have in the United States of America. I am thankful beyond words to have been born an American. I would not want to have been born anywhere else. God bless our country, its outgoing President, and the President-Elect. May we never take for granted the amazing gift we have been given to live under this strange western sun known as America.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Will the Lord take you in?

One year ago yesterday, my mom took a fall from which she never recovered. She didn't break any bones, but the weakened state that she was in at the time, combined with the infection that caused her to faint, was more than she could overcome. After about six weeks, first in the hospital and then in nursing care, we brought her home to die. She left this life on February 22, 2016, at the age of 85.

I was thinking about all this yesterday, and about her, and I reshared this blog post from February 13. I think at the time I wrote it I knew deep down that she wasn't going to get better, but I wasn't quite ready to face it. I was still hoping and praying for a turnaround. It never came.

My mom died with saving faith in Jesus Christ. I had thought she was baptized as a child but in going through her things I found a certificate of both adult baptism and confirmation in the Episcopal church. She also had me baptized in the Episcopal church, but for the first 10 years of my life we didn't attend regularly. Then when I was in sixth grade we moved, and a friend of mine invited us to her church. I asked if we could go, and we did, whereby my mom discovered Roman Catholicism. It was a turning point for her. She became Catholic and so did I. From that time on we were in worship every week. I give thanks for that friend and that church, which changed the course of my mom's life as well as mine.

As I reflect on it, I think that one reason Catholicism spoke to my mom so strongly was that it offered a sense of stability that had always been missing for her. She was an only child whose parents left her to be cared for by relatives. In a life marked by abandonment and insecurity, the ancient Church presented her the opportunity to feel connected to something unchanging and bigger than herself. The liturgy, ritual, majesty and history afforded her a kind of security she had never known. Finally, she felt like she had a family. 

At the same time, though, she heard from the Catholic church that if she just tried a little harder and did a little more she could "work out" her salvation. She looked at the suffering of this life as something that got her a step closer to God, proving her worth. On more than one occasion I talked to her about the gospel as I had come to understand it as a Lutheran--something completely free and unearned, total gift. But it seemed almost impossible for her to conceive of. I wish that before she died she could have somehow found the comfort of knowing that although there was no way she could ever be good enough, she was nevertheless saved by grace through faith because Christ did it all for her.

I spent a good deal of time during my mom's last days singing, praying and reading the Bible to her, particularly the psalms. A recurrent one was Psalm 27, linked above. In her Bible it was one she had marked, bracketing off verse 10: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in." I decided to have Psalm 27 sung at her funeral and to include verse 10 on her burial marker. The marker was ordered in August but still has not arrived. Hopefully, soon.

My mom did not fully understand the gift of grace, but neither do any of us. Thanks be to God we don't need perfect understanding to get into heaven. We just need faith in Christ, however imperfect and weak that faith is. I know my mom had that and that when she departed this life she was immediately welcomed into the presence of her Savior. What a joy to know she doesn't have to try, doubt or wonder anymore! She is "in"--not because of how much she loved God, but because of how much He loved her. May all of us as God's children cling to that certain hope.