Challenge Accepted!

We’ve been challenged by a friend, based on a blog post she ran across,” to blog more and “FaceTwitterGram less,” which for us is easily “challenge accepted!” We appreciate Chris O’Donnell’s insights, especially his comment on how social media is an algorithm-run machine which targets you with specific things to provoke you to react (clickbait!) or engage or respond in a particular way. We believe that what the rest of the world is focused on (the color of that blue dress? Or is it gold?!) isn’t necessarily… um… germane, and that if we interrogate our own thinking more deeply — in actual essay form with longer sentences than just 40+ characters or an image – we’ll be talking about what we’ve decided is important to us, making that our focus. Finding our own food for thought seems a better option than simply eating from the common trough, as it were.

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Wildlife Notes: We’ve enjoyed living so close to the Bay these last six months, and have loads of little brown birds of indeterminate species scratching through the composting leaves beneath our fruit trees. Our Phoebe friends looked at the millet spray we tied in the leafless skeleton of the fig tree on New Year’s Day with patient disinterest… and we eventually remembered that Phoebes are flycatchers, and will even sometimes eat tiny frogs and fish. Oh. Not vegetarians, then. Duh.

The long drought really decimated the frog population, and with last season and this month’s recent days of rain, it’s been a treat to hear, walking in the evening, the small trilling, croaky voices of competing amphibians… and having one leap over one’s foot whilst one is on a morning walk, while catastrophic to one’s upright mobility, is also a treat. Really. It seems more of a treat when you’ve caught your balance, though… We’ve been enjoying the wildlife enjoying the rain, although the two GINORMOUS possums were a little… terrifying, especially the one we misidentified as a bird, in the gloom, which subsequently froze and gave us a pretty wicked side-eye. Why was one following us, walking along the top of a wall in step with us? WHAT DID IT WANT????? Inquiring minds…


And Now for Something Completely Different:

Happy Monday.

I Was Glad, and Other Inquiries

nb: This post references being part of a faith community, and may not appeal to everyone.


I was glad, when… the day was done, the shoes were off, the bra removed; an itchy mosquito bite was medicated. A sense of relief, a heaved sigh, a sense of rest. Indeed, I was glad. The famous 1902 English hymn by Hubert Parry reflects the words of Psalm 122, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord. Ironically, that’s the “glad” that is hardest to be, and perhaps, by personality, a glad that many of us introverts have never really been. When we were small, we were glad to see many of our friends, despite having seen them exactly twelve hours previously, at school. As teens, we were perhaps glad to be able to go for some retreat weekend or outing (again, not so much this introvert, unless there were places to disappear once we’d arrived). For adults, church is meant to be a gathering of like-minded individuals, but more and more, it is difficult to find, in this society, a group of people who is like-minded about …anything. (The color of the sky is still up for debate.) Where the word “Christian” once meant some basic Christ-ian beliefs, it is now being forcibly stretched to include politicians whose lip-service to even basic decency is dubious, and, far, far on the other end of the spectrum, survivalists whose fervent weapons stockpiling mingles politically influenced ethnocentricism with eschatology.

To be clear, this is not going to be a diatribe on “whatever happened to the good old days of old-time religion, X, Y, and Z” (seeing as the alleged “good” days always include on-the-books legal racism, common sexism and xenophobia which is still not behind us), nor is this about how we suddenly hate church or something or have outgrown God (that will never happen). It will not be taken from Ann Landers, or quoting insufferably smug church signs note that score cards are provided so people can tally the number of hypocrites in attendance. — whatever, we’re all hypocrites and annoying people, and our problem isn’t the faith community in that respect. That’s not the point. The point is the basic, real question: what did the old-school Psalmist have that we don’t? Why was he so glad to go into the house of the Lord – and why aren’t we?

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We all know that we’re hyper-shopppers in our society, and always read up on brands and research “content” in order to get the best for our buck, or for our attention-value. We realize you don’t treat church that way, it’s not a TV channel you change, it’s a community. But, especially for those of us who are introverted or independent, it’s often hard to relax into the rhythm of a community which values external focuses on service and discipleship. Service and proselytizing have their place – especially service – but the problem seems to be the proselytizing, especially. It creates communities focused on “y’all come join us!” and mostly ignore issues of practical application of meaning when the “y’all” has come and joined. It also ignores the struggles of identity for the “y’all,” seeing the singular individual and various diversities as less important than the whole identifiable denominational body, and for those who have been part of the “y’all” for years, and are struggling with identity, there seems to be no thought given at all.

The struggle, as they say, is real. The pollution of politics, for many, is largely responsible for feelings of uneasiness and disconnection. For some, it was problematic from-the-pulpit politics within the last election cycle; for others, little to no acknowledgement by religious groups, whose baseline ethos is meant to be love, of racial and ethic communities being hated, being hurt both systematically, legally, and physically, and the LGBTQ community being outright ignored, or silenced. We hear from so many friends in all denominations about being at a crossroads with their church attendance and with their faith. Everyone, from our Jehovah’s Witness to our Episcopal to our United Church of Christ friends are trying to find their feet in murky water. While in many ways that’s simply reflecting the time we live in, the reality is that it is really hard, and painful.

For ourselves, we’ve decided to start simply in answering our questions, and trying to turn our focus to what has made us glad – truly glad – to be part of our faith communities in the past. Sometimes we realize that we default to the thing which brings the least amount of annoyance… and that’s not really living. What makes us glad? For us, it’s always been music, and we’ve been exploring strategies for incorporating that more into our lives throughout the new year.

What is it for you? What gives you joy? What has made you glad? We wish you a rediscovery of that gladness as you launch into a new year.

Reappearances, Disappearances

Occasionally we’ll go through our blog links and check on all of the people we’ve maybe not heard from in awhile. Some of them have disappeared in favor of The Face Hook (sorry you’ve succumbed, Ms. Nancy), some have simply dropped out and don’t have any presence any longer (we miss you Chef Paz). Some have returned to blogging, though (Haalo is back, after a 4 year hiatus!), and others have started taking pictures again.

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Welcome back, to those returning, and we hope those who have left will stop by to tell us where they’ve gone.

-D & T

Choir Concerts

Fremont 73Rehearsal for December 2 and 3 performances.

It’s holiday performance season, so last weekend we had a concert on both Saturday and Sunday (which you can watch here and here). We had a brief performance yesterday, in Livermore, with the whole choir as a warm-up to the Nutcracker and the women as chorus during part of the ballet itself. We have a performance next Saturday with the Fremont Symphony and then D. has been roped into singing with a madrigal group on Sunday at the retirement home associated with the San Jose Mission. And then concert season is over until February!

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We are really looking forward towards the week of Christmas, just to do nothing. We’re tempted, of course, to go somewhere exotic … but then we remember that everybody really wants the week off, and services are really wonky during the holiday, and that we keep telling ourselves that it’s a bad idea to go anywhere over Christmas. But we’re tempted nonetheless.

D’s work has been rather chaotic, with multiple changes in management and with the company announcing all sorts of news. We need the break to just relax and do nothing, maybe ride the bicycles through the wilderness trail system, take some pictures.

And, of course, we need today to make more fruitcake, as most of the last batch has already been eaten!

-D & T

Midweek

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SPARROWS

I never learned to tell one from another—
swamp, field, song, vesper—all scraps
of drab: rust, dun, buff, tan. Some streaky-breasted,
some not. We hear the flutter of wings, look up,
then yawn, ho hum, a sparrow. No rush
for binoculars. Like the poor, they are always with us.
Look at them flick and flit in this dry meadow of foxtail,
switchgrass, goldenrod; every leaf, stem, and seedhead
burnished in the dying light. Maybe they are
the only angels we get in this life. But the very hairs
on our head are numbered, and the father knows them all
by name. Each sparrow, too, has a song—no flashy
cardinal selling cheer, no sky-blue jay’s ironic
squawk, no eponymous chicka-dee-dee-dee. Just us,
the unnoticed, gleaning what others have left behind,
and singing for all we’re worth, teetering on a bit
of bracken at the edge of a wild field.

~Barbara Crooker

A fable. A parable. Or, a true story

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It was the Mozart solo she’d had her heart set on. A simple kyrie, appropriate for ten-year-olds, but the rising descant over the chorus made her feel unnameable things, and she wanted to sing it with all her heart.

In parochial schools in those days, there wasn’t much else to do but participate in the arts. There was no prom king or queen, no dances, no competitive sports. Instead, the boys took piano, and the girls played the flute – or, at least it seemed like everyone in her grade did. Twenty-some girls on flutes, and not a one of them with the courage to do something original, like learn the French horn. But, it was what it was – middle school in the 80’s.

The Kyrie was the first real classical music they’d ever done, so out of the mundane realm of kids’ songs they’d done before. Everyone was aware that they were in the presence of Grown-up Music, and acted accordingly. Desire to show themselves as grown up – and sing that descant – was intense. Her choir teacher knew she wanted that solo, knew she was a soprano who could consistently hit the right notes, but, weighing his choice by scales she could not read said, “Well, sweetie, we’ll give this solo to X. We’ll save a nice, juicy Spiritual for you.”

But, she didn’t want the Spiritual. She wanted the Mozart.

♦ ♦ ♦

In college, she was to remember this moment when visiting home on a weekend to sing with an ensemble. The rehearsal was early – the music was lackluster, and the director was getting desperate as the singers’ yawns increased.

“Sing it more black,” the director urged her, finally finding both scapegoat and fix.

She stopped singing altogether, bewildered. “What? What does that even mean?”

“Well… you know,” the director gestured vaguely. “More black.”

She vanished behind a brittle smile. “You mean, with more of a swing? With more of a backbeat? With more syncopation? What?”

She kept her voice even, because she had learned it did no good to scream.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward to a progressive party in San Francisco, where, armed with cameras, teams of teens and twentysomethings were on a scavenger hunt. One of the requirements was for participants to take a picture of themselves on or near a stage. Half the group pressed to simply go to Max’s Opera Cafe and take a group shot with a singing waiter. Another vocal male found a jazz bar on one of the piers, and insisted she go inside, take the mic, and ‘scat.’

“Scat?” she echoed, for a moment setting aside the breath-stealing idiocy and horror of making an unsolicited performance in a private club.

“Yeah, scat,” he said, “Like Ella Fitzgerald. You know…scat!”

This time, embarrassment came mingled with shame, as the entire group began to wheedle. “No, you guys. Really…no.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward even further, to singing with a quartet, in which two of the members – white males – donned sunglasses and capered to the spiritual style hymn in the style of the Blues Brothers. Fleeing during a break, she called her sisters, asking them what to do, how to act. They stood and listened while she laughed, tears streaming, face so hot they evaporated. “But, why am I embarrassed?” she kept asking. “They’re behaving like jackasses, and I’m embarrassed? I feel like they’re making fun of me, and it’s humiliating, but why am I the one who is feeling …stupid?

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The shame didn’t make sense, but by then she had learned that few things did, when casual racism was added to the mix did. Musically, it meant that people assumed she wanted – always – to sing gospel music, even though she did other music well. It meant that people assumed she could break into Janet Jackson improvised choreography, that she could imitate the vocal rhythms of Bobby McFerrin on a whim. It meant that instead of who was in front of them, someone whose eclectic tastes ran from the weird to the classical with many stops in between, all they saw was myriad aspects of Other combined into a single person, on whom they could glue myriad of labels, none of which were hers.

It was sometimes exhausting.

♦ ♦ ♦

We fast forward one last time, but our time machine is about out of steam. Now see it has limped to a stop at chamber rehearsal, where a gleeful last-minute addition means another entry into the program, another song to be learned. “Oh, it’ll be quick,” the director encourages the panicky singers. “It’s just two parts, in Swahili. Uh, just read the pronunciation as is — I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“It’ll be fine.” A startling phrase, after the lengthy lectures about pronouncing German as to not “sound like hillbillies.” Unexpected, after the long-winded arguments about “church Latin” vs. classical Latin pronunciations. Shocking, that an entire language is mischaracterized (the people are Swahili; the language, Kiswahili) and shrugged off as “nothing to worry about.” As the translation was cooed over, in ways the translations of European languages were not (“Ooh, how sweet!”), she found herself, once again… conflicted.

The composer’s name was American, and a thorough search uncovered no African translator. Deeper research revealed that the composer’s translation didn’t match a word-for-word translation of Kiswahili words, that the tune was from a Nigerian harvest song. There was no citation as to where the words came from, no African educator or musician listed. She feared that they were singing an imaginary lullaby, with imaginary text, the rocking 6/4 tempo convenient but false. This was music selected by an intentional community made up of good people, people whose stated goals were to bring parity, inclusiveness, and justice to the world – yet they easily diminuitized the importance of a tribal people and its language as “cute,” but ultimately too insignificant to merit concern or further study.

Perhaps, as was implied, it wasn’t that important, in a world where wrongs of greater significance loomed large. Perhaps it was merely good enough for an American winter festival – not exactly religious, Christmas, not exactly non-religious, Solstice. Not exactly meaningless… and not exactly meaningful.

Or, perhaps it was as infuriating and confusing as everything else she had ever encountered.


Edited to Add: Readers will be gratified to know that speaking up helps. The director phoned a friend in Kenya, determined that the text is maybe Nigerian and not at all Kiswahili, and promised to do due diligence to find out what he could, and add his findings – or lack of such – to the program notes. Intentional communities such as choirs and churches must be intersectional in their inclusivity, and must think through the many ways we as people can belong to various communities, and do our best to respect them all. It’s tricky sometimes, but if we draw each other back to the road when we wander off, it can be done.

Non-Photogenic Food and Bicycles

Lasagna

Sometimes, food just isn’t that attractive. It’s a sad reality, and probably the reason why our entire photostream – 34,214 pictures as of today – contains just two pictures of lasagna. The one above suffers from being an unattractive specimen (although quite tasty, thank you). The one below is obviously from a restaurant (at The Blue Lagoon, in Iceland) but we feel it’s cheating just a bit because it’s not really lasagna, it’s layers of eggplant pretending really hard that they’re lasagna. But, it’s vegan – our first experience with vegan lasagna many years ago… And now you can get it practically everywhere on this end of the state.

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As the week begins, D. will be cycling to work for the first time. Well – for the second time, as we made the trek there and back yesterday, to see how it would go. This is the first time in maybe ten years we’ve had bicycles, and we went for something much more rideable than our previous cycles. They’re low enough to the ground that even the shortest among us can cope, they have lots of gears for hill-climbing, yet still let us sit up straight, and cruise.

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The ride in to work takes about 10 minutes, just having a leisurely cycle. These are designed so the rider sits upright rather than hunching over the handlebars. They’re also designed to really keep on rolling, so you don’t have to pedal constantly to keep going anywhere. They’re rather like the bicycles of childhood, and we’ll be enjoying taking them out on the weekends as well.

It’s time to go bake cranberry orange bread/cake to take in to work tomorrow. We’ll save aside a few slices for ourselves, in celebration of our 23rd anniversary.

-D & T

Oakland Museum of California

Once again we went to the Oakland Museum of California … and failed to make it through the whole thing. This isn’t even because they keep changing out the exhibits, either – this is because there’s just so much there, and it’s all so fascinating!

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We met up with one of D’s former coworkers there, had a good wander, and D and J had a good chat about all of the craziness that working in biotech seems to entail. For example, D has now had 2 layers of management removed from above him (in less than 3 months) so he currently reports directly to a VP. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but both D and J have job options and good names in the business, so they’re not worried exactly … but the chaos has both of them wondering whether they want to stay in this industry much longer.

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On the other hand, with Halloween coming up there will be a pumpkin carving competition at D’s work and he’s going to see what kind of pictures he can get. Hopefully people will dress for the occasion.

Have a good week!

-D & T