Monthly Archives: April 2010

Alfredo Casella

The types of music composers choose to write depends on a variety of factors from special commissions to popular trends, artistic inspirations to random thoughts. It is interesting how many, including Bela Bartok last week and Alfredo Casella this morning, find inspiration in the themes of childhood. These popular miniature works are often based on children’s songs and are ideal learning pieces for young pianists.

Alfredo Casella (1883 – 1947) was the foremost Italian pianist of his generation and performed around the world as a soloist and with the Trio Italiano. He, like many modern musicians, was a jack-of-all trades – studied composition with Gabriel Faure; recorded many player-piano rolls, which survive him today; founding member of The Corporation of the New Music to promote the spread of modern Italian music; and founded the historic Vivaldi Week event, which led to the worldwide musical revival of Antonio Vivaldi – Italy’s oldest famous composer – and the modern neoclassical movement itself. His Undici Piezzi Infantili (Eleven Children’s Pieces) are concise, modern experiments that are simple in form but challenging in sound and harmony.

Getting Ready to Build our Village

This Sunday, people of all ages from the St David’s community painted tiles, helping us get ready for City Repair’s Village Building Convergence (May 28-June 6 right here at St David’s.) A delightful mix of color and image emerged from their creative endeavors, and we will be proud to incorporate their tiles into our tile mosaic wall, to be assembled during the VBC along the parking lot retaining wall.

Did you miss out on the fun? Don’t worry, you can come paint a tile this coming Sunday, May 2nd, at 11:00 am in the parish hall.

There are also plenty of volunteer opportunities during the VBC itself. We’ll be working on our two projects, a community kiosk-style bulletin board and the tile mosaic wall, during our VBC workdays:

VBC Workday Schedule at St David’s

Weekdays 9:00am-1:00pm

Weekends 11:00am-2:00pm

Friday, May 28-Saturday, June 5

Here are the ways you can help:

  • Sign up to provide snacks and refreshments for hungry volunteers (15-20 people.) b
  • Be a site coordinator, helping to answer people’s questions, coordinate the work-flow, and keep people safe.
  • Simply show up during workday hours and help out with the completion of our projects.

If you can commit to one of these volunteer positions, please email office at saintdavidpdx.org.

Here’s a little sneak preview of the project designs so far. Updates coming soon!

tile mosaic wall design…

…and kiosk-style community bulletin board

*

See you at the Village Building Convergence!

Shepherds, not sheep!

If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.

How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. The people interrogating Jesus are asking for certainty. They want a straight answer to a simple question: Are you or aren’t you? How hard can it be to answer that question?

If you have ever done bible study, especially if you have participated in more than one Christian tradition in the course of your life, you probably know that there are lots of ways of doing bible study. There is the certainty method: cracking a code to get at the precise meaning of every verse. And there is the experiential method: where we enter into a text through silence, through questions about how the words speak in our lives and in our hearts, and perhaps through our own sense of call to do something different as a result of the way we experience the text.

This way of experiencing scripture—letting go of our black-and-white thinking and our own need for certainty—is how Jesus asks his followers to experience him. His straight answer is an experiential one: “look at the kinds of things I do, and look at the relationships I have with those who follow me. That’s how to figure out who I am.”

This is why the sheep and shepherd language works for Jesus and his followers, and why Jesus uses that metaphor so extensively.

Jesus’ hearers would have been used to hearing about shepherds in scripture. His way of talking about himself as the good shepherd would have offered a particularly pointed contrast to language familiar to his hearers from the prophet Ezekiel. Listen to these words from the 34th chapter of Ezekiel:

Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? … You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

So one answer to the question: are you the messiah or aren’t you? Is that Jesus is a different kind of shepherd.

Every year the fourth Sunday of Easter is “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and every year we hear a portion of this tenth chapter of John, about Jesus as Good Shepherd. And we almost always sing or read some version of everyone’s favorite psalm. (Thank you, choir!) The image of Jesus as good shepherd is one of the most familiar and comforting images, but I think it can be a dangerous one as well. The danger is in becoming too comforted, and too comfortable.

It is from the Latin word for shepherd that we get the word pastor—the one who cares for a flock. I’ve been reflecting on this word all week. Interestingly enough, we don’t really use it in the Episcopal Church in the way that it is used in other traditions. Secretly, I’m glad of that. I only describe myself as a pastor when I am talking with someone from another tradition, to whom I know the word “rector” will mean nothing, and for whom the word “priest” might carry a whole lot of baggage or be a distraction in conversation. For me the image of pastor and flock—not as Jesus used it but as it has come down to us through the centuries—conjures up a closed system of a pastor whose primary role is to care for a particular flock, the same flock for as long as possible, and of a flock whose primary role is to look to the shepherd, the pastor, as comforter. The result can be a relationship of dependency and control, a relationship of stasis.

Yesterday a group of us participated in an orientation session to learn about the New City Initiative, a program that helps faith communities build connection and community for people transitioning out of homelessness. We heard several talks by people involved in this work. Perhaps the most moving was a story told by an outreach worker who has found homes for hundreds and hundreds of homeless people. Yesterday was the first time he’d publicly told the story of how he came to that work:

He had been serving as a Roman Catholic priest in another part of the world, teaching at a theological school and doing some mission work with aborigines. One day he encountered a young aborigine whom he knew, standing by a lake. The young man said: “I don’t believe anything you’ve been saying.” “What do you mean? Why not?” asked the priest. “Look,” he said, pointing out across the lake, “ducks, they make more ducks. Trees make more trees. But I have never seen another Jesus.” The priest listening to this realized that teaching theology in a Christian school was not necessarily the way to make more Jesuses, and so he came back to the U.S. and began finding homes for the homeless instead.

* * *

Recently I heard someone say: instead of teaching “Pastoral Care” in seminary, they should teach “Pastoral Agitation.” I like that. We should all be agitated by hunger, by poverty, and by suffering. We should be agitated by complacency and denial. We should all be agitated by the work of Jesus to go and do likewise. Here’s the heresy of the day: I don’t think we are supposed to be sheep, we are supposed to be Jesus.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says that we know him by his works. How others know Jesus is by our works. The gospels show us that the best way to experience eternal life, that life lived to the fullest, life which transforms death, life from which we will never perish, is to follow Jesus by doing the works he did:  feeding the hungry, finding life where others see only death, loving the unlovable, forgiving our enemies and eating and drinking with strangers and sinners like us. When we come to the table we are feasting, in this moment in this place and around the world through the centuries, with those who have the same questions and who seek to do the same work.

Is Jesus the messiah? Tell us plainly. Yes or no? Look around. Are we doing the works of Jesus?

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will. Amen.

A More Worldly Choral Service

This Sunday, April 25, the St. David of Wales Choir performs hymns from three different cultures and in three different languages. In 1978 Anders Nyberg, a Sweedish choir director, discovered and recorded Siyahamba during a one year visit to Captown, South Africa. It was the key freedom and protest song during the South African apartheid and is often compared to We Shall Overcome and the civil rights movement in the United States. A few years later, Nyberg published an SATB arrangement of Siyahamba in Zulu and today it is a popular piece for choirs, both secular and sacred, worldwide.

The Muscogee Indian tribe lived along four rivers in Alabama and Georgia and, therefore, earned the common name “Creek” Indians. In 1736, Governor James Oglethorpe invited John Wesley, an Anglican theologian, to minister a newparish in Savannah, Georgia. He encountered Native Americans during this time and their deep spirituality inspired him to establish a Christian mission for them. He was relatively unsuccessful in converting the native people, but the hymn Heleluyan proves that Christianity had become a part of the Muscogee Indian tribe culture. It was sung for hope and encouragement during the long Trail of Tears in the 1830s and today is an anthem for all Native American cultures.
Finally, Cantad al Senor is a beautiful, simple, Brazilian hymn that embodies the spirit of Latin American music – syncopated rhythms, repetition, and minor tonality. We will sing the traditionally Portuguese text in Spanish:
Sing to the Lord a new song
He is the creator and owner of all
Sing to the Lord because he is almighty
It is he who gave us his Holy Spirit
Sing to the Lord, Amen! Alleluia!

Breakfast on the Beach

When I do pre-marital counseling, I usually ask couples a few questions about themselves that don’t actually have that much import, but will help us to get to know each other. One is: What kind of movies do you like? How do you work it out if one of you likes romantic comedies produced in Hollywood, and the other one likes obscure art movies made a long time ago in black and white? I confess that my beloved and I have that difference. It works because we like some of the same types of movies, and because he is willing to sit through my movies from time to time.

We’ve got two scenes in today’s readings, one from Acts and one from John’s gospel, that play like two very different movies. The story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is as familiar to many of us as Superman or Harry Potter. It is the ultimate conversion story against which all other conversions are measured. It is easy to imagine this as a Hollywood movie called “Damascus Road.” It’s in Technicolor, with dramatic orchestral music in the background. It’s very linear: the author gives us a plot complete with background, build-up, a climax, and, if we read the rest of Acts, a continuing story and more drama.

The gospel story, on the other hand, is not a Hollywood movie. It’s a foreign film in black and white, made with a hand-held camera. There are lots of fuzzy bits, and we don’t know if these are special effects or drops of water on the lens from early morning fog. The whole film feels blurry around the edges. It’s hard to follow the plot line, and the music is kind of strange: jarring in parts and too soft in other parts.

We’ll call this movie “Breakfast on the Beach.”

* * *

At our 2007 diocesan convention, the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Oregon, Bishop David Brauer-Rieke, won the hearts and minds of many of us with his keynote address. He called it “The Church on the Beach.”  I thought a lot about that talk as I reflected on today’s gospel. I’m grateful to him for the metaphor.

The church on the beach is perched at the base of dunes and cliffs that used to be solid ground and are now eroding. Structures built on the nearby land mass are in danger of falling into the sea. The shifting sands of the beach turn out to be more real and more secure than the land above.

The church on the beach is the church that is right up against the sea, a force of nature and a source of beauty and utterly out of our control. The church on the beach knows where the action is, knows it needs to adjust with the tides while holding onto its own piece of solid ground.

The beach may not feel like a safe place to be church, but it is the only place to be church.

The church on the beach asks the questions:

  • What do we need to keep in order to be faithful, and what do we need to let go of, in order to be faithful?
  • Where do we need to be attentive and responsive to the needs of the world around us, and where do we hold onto our ancient center regardless of worldly concerns?
  • How do we preserve our institution so that it can be a vehicle of mission and service, without institutional preservation becoming our mission?

All of these questions of course apply to St. David’s as we live into our present reality and ponder the future. And we’re in good company; these questions apply to what many call “mainline Christianity” throughout Europe and the United States.

Today’s gospel, “Breakfast on the Beach,” has something to say to us as we struggle with those questions.

Cast your net to the right side of the boat and you will find some. We can also read this as Cast your net on the other side.   Or into the deep water.  If we think about Jesus’ advice to the fishermen, we don’t have to get too analytical or metaphorical to imagine that the message for us is: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you always get.”     “If you step out of your comfort zone, the results will exceed your wildest imaginings.” If we think of ourselves as the church on the beach, the call is to stop taking our foundation for granted, and to move into waters where we haven’t been before.

So when we ask ourselves what we need to keep in our tradition in order to be faithful, one answer we’d get from this morning’s scene on the beach is that we need to cast our nets onto the other side, into new waters.

We are just beginning to explore what those new waters look like for us. Like the disciples on the beach, we are wandering around in resurrection-land, going about our day-to-day life and at the same time knowing that we are in the presence of something new and different, and that God has great things in store for us.

I have used the gospel metaphor of “scattering seeds” as a good way to describe much of our work here at St. David’s. But I think “casting our nets on the other side” might be equally appropriate. How do we connect our deepest loves and hopes with all the people around us who have no use for the institutional church? Cast our nets on the other side. And how do we reach those on the margins, those whose intrinsic value in the world is constantly questioned, and invite them into our community of followers? Cast our nets on the other side.

The other lesson for us in this gospel is the ambiguity throughout the scene. Do they know Jesus, or do they not? Does Peter know what it means to follow Jesus, or does he not? Certainty is not a big actor in this story, and it cannot be part of our story if our church is on the beach.

And yet Jesus is present with his disciples on the beach as one who feeds them. At first they don’t recognize him, then they do, but they are afraid to speak to him. Then there is this conversation between Jesus and Peter. Simon Peter, do you love me? Then feed my sheep. It’s that simple. You cannot claim to love Jesus without caring about what Jesus cared about: making sure that everyone has enough to eat, literally and spiritually. And yet Peter is puzzled by Jesus’ repeated asking. Perhaps he begins to have his own doubts about what his discipleship and ministry is meant to look like.

* * *

Some of us may prefer the familiarity and the drama of the Damascus Road movie. The reality is that our lives are probably more like Peter’s in the Breakfast on the Beach movie than like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.  We are not always sure what it means to be disciples or to be a faith community, and we keep working at it and keep trying. Sometimes in a moment of clarity or love–who knows which?–we dive into the ocean fully clothed, impulsively and by accident, and other times we are shivering on the beach, wondering who the heck that is over there, squatting down by a fire cooking up something fresh and nurturing for us.  Come and have breakfast.

God’s Pencils

A sermon by the Rev. Deacon Katharine Holland, April 11, 2010

Hallelujah!  The Lord is Risen!

Seven weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent, I asked 3 questions?

  1. What will be our relationship with God (& with each other) at the culmination of these 40 days?
  2. How will we be changed, even transformed?
  3. How will we become more “holy” & more wholly God’s?

Now, we are at the other side of Lent.  We’ve experienced the sorrows & the joys of Holy Week, & the glorious resurrection Light of Easter.  This is no small thing, & the experience should change us.

As I was thinking about this sermon last week at Mt. Hood, listening to the combination of snow, sleet & hail as it hit the skylights & watching the red & black Varied Thrushes scurrying around on the green grass outside in the ever-changing weather, alternating between the dark, threatening clouds & the brightness of sun breaks, I wondered again about those questions & asked myself, have we indeed moved into the glory of Easter & the light of spring?  Have we learned anything about ourselves & about God in the season just passed?  I hope so.

We are in a time of new beginnings, not only here at St. David’s, but also in our Diocese with the consecration yesterday of Michael Hanley as our new Bishop.  How will we respond to God’s call?  What kind of community will we become?  What kind of diocese?  How will we shape the future?

On this, the other side of Easter, we are asked to “show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith,” to move into living the Hallelujah we proclaim this Easter season & to do this “unafraid,” knowing that our God is the Alpha & the Omega, the first & last of all that has ever been created, that our God will be there before every event we experience, as well as in the thick of life with us, & still standing by our side as we enter the uncertainty that is the future.  Just like those thrushes who continue to hunt for food through snow, hail, rain & sleet as well as in the sun, we are to trust that God is with us – always – & keep going.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  [John 20:21]

But God doesn’t send us out into the world unprepared – “The kingdom of God is within you!” – each of you!  We just need to experience, to consciously grasp hold of what we already possess.  The ultimate expression of spirituality as defined by the desert fathers, was a person who embodied the sacred texts, who drew others out of themselves into a world of infinite depth, into the God who is the source of all our being.  [“Weavings”, Man/June,1995]   Ken Leech said something similar a couple of weeks ago.  When I asked him about how the church today can balance our appeal to the secular while remaining faithful to the holy, he said he thought that “balance” was the wrong word.  Rather, we ought to strive to be “integrated” – through prayer & meditation & silence – integrated into the Word of God, so that every nook & cranny of our lives right down to the core of our being is fed & sustained by God, until it becomes the grounding of our lives, such that all our actions flow from our connection with the Holy One.  It is then that our faith becomes a seed that grows in us, strengthening us & flowing out to strengthen others as it grows into maturity & depth.

The writer, Osho, reminds us that “The greatest courage is needed to come near a man like Jesus.  That means you are ready to take the jump into the abyss, you are ready to lose yourself.  To move with Jesus in the insecurity of the unknown, in the uncharted, in the ocean where the other shore is not visible, tremendous courage is needed.  [&, I might add, tremendous trust] . . .  you are a seed, he is the tree; he has come to bloom [in you], he is your future . . .”  [“Synthesis”, April 15, 2007]

St. David’s, it seems to me, has embraced it gift for hospitality, for welcoming others; & I see this community continuing to live into its call by opening itself to include the new, the seekers, the lost, the found, the hopeless, & the hopeful.  I see us being transformed into the holy people that God designed us to be, embracing whatever challenges & uncertainties may be ahead, while relying on God & each other.

But our work is not finished – it is on-going.

Mother Teresa said, toward the end of her life, “I am just a pencil in God’s hand, writing love letters to the world.”  That’s the path we’re on, to reach out, to make a difference in people’s lives, our own included.  Yet, there’s no point talking about it if we aren’t prepared to do it, to live it daily & unswervingly.

Canadian Anglican, Molly Wolf, says, “But when fear – whether of saying the wrong thing, or making a fool of oneself, or risking a bottomless pit – stands in the way of our ministering to others, then we are failing to work out God’s purpose.  We are failing to be, for others, Christ with the warm human skin;”  [White China, p.127] & I want us here at St. David’s to be that incarnated, warm, living, breathing, loving Christ to those who enter our doors.  I want us to be bold enough to overcome our shyness, our reluctance to initiate relationships, to stay safely in our own skins.  And I want us to be intentional enough to overcome our very human tendency to be drawn away from our Center by the many distractions around us.

As a way of continuing to grow this seed here at St. David’s, I’d like you to take the blank piece of paper in your bulletin & a pencil (ushers have extras they can pass out to you, just raise your hand), & take a few minutes “to be that pencil in God’s hand” – allow God to inspire you to reach out to someone, to write a love letter as God’s own emissary.  Remembering that it is only as we step out in faith that we can expect others to do so, reach out to someone here in church or outside these walls – a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, someone you know well, or not so well, someone you’ve been meaning to talk to & haven’t yet, someone you admire or just want to reach out to.

——-

I hope you will share your love letter with the person you wrote to later – at the coffee hour, or when you get home, or mail it if the person lives elsewhere . . . but do share it.

——-

This 50 days of Easter culminates in Pentecost – that season of the birthing of Christ’s Church, Christ’s mission, in fire & the Holy Spirit.  Why not spend this intervening time in active discernment of how we will become more alive in Christ, more integrated, more grounded in Christ’s death & resurrection, more on fire in our zeal to love one another.

Indeed, why not become that fire . . . on fire . . . alight with the holy fire of God?

Béla Bartók

Bartók composed a large number of piano pieces for children, and this set of eighty-five pieces represents the first work in which his research into Eastern European folk song makes a significant, stylistically integrated appearance in his music. The pieces are based specifically on Hungarian and Slovakian folk music, and in most cases Bartók left the original melodies intact. This treatment of melody accords with Bartók’s stated intention for these little pieces: he wrote them “in order to acquaint the piano-studying children with the simple and non-Romantic beauties of folk music.” Indeed, many of the Hungarian children who first played these pieces would probably have recognized some of these melodies, as they were borrowed from children’s songs and games. While For Children was composed relatively early in Bartók’s career, its abandonment of the Romantic aesthetic in favor of the simple sincerity of folk music is an important aspect of Bartók’s mature style.

These folk song settings are strongly tonal pieces, their simple melodies set with generally unambiguous harmonies. This may not have originally been the case: Bartók, after composing and submitting a small set of children’s pieces to his publisher, received a harshly critical letter in response, in which he was advised that in the future “the rules of classical harmony…be even more strictly observed…without any modernization.” Most of the pieces in For Children are in the major mode, but there are a number which are modal, featuring aeolian, dorian, mixolydian, phrygian, and lydian melodies. There are also several tunes with pentatonic melodies, and a few with a mixed modal orientation. The benefit, as far as Bartók was concerned, of giving these pieces to young piano students, lay in their non-diatonic tonalities; instead, children would be exposed to relatively unusual scales and their resultant harmonic structures, thus gently preparing their ears for contemporary music. This was one of Bartók’s principal aims as a pedagogue, to compose music for children using contemporary idioms in order to make the music of the twentieth century available to them.

While some of Bartók’s other “educational” music, such as the Mikrokosmos, progress in difficulty from simple two-part pieces to pieces designed for the concert stage. For Children has no particular order, nor are its pieces technically very difficult. The challenge with these pieces is not technical but purely musical, as Bartók does not simply set folk melodies using traditional Western harmonic idioms. Instead, the harmonic support for these melodies is derived from the melodies themselves: as a result, when melodic, intervals are verticalized into chords, the underlying harmony often consists of chords built out of fourths, seconds, and sevenths, instead of the usual thirds and fifths. There are moments in For Children where the simplest of melodies are supported by the most complex, dissonant harmonies, and even a few cases of bitonality. Some cynical musicologists have suggested that the nobility of purpose in these pedagogical pieces—that is, to introduce children to folk music, and by extension non-Western, contemporary musical idioms—is offset by Bartók’s other unspoken purpose: to introduce piano students to his own new musical language.

from All Music Guide