Wednesday, June 29, 2011

this afternoon

the corn is growing
(all eight plants)
as are the squash sweet
potatoes cinnamon basil
bee balm figs and echinacea
tomatoes gooseberries
peppers and eggplant
(aubergine is a better name)
along with muscadines
peaches and asian pears
I’m circling the garden
along with schnauzers
butterflies and bees
aware that walking
around in my garden
is like walking around
the inside of my heart

Peace,
Milton

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

wild goose reflections

Sunday evening I sat down to dinner with friends from Durham after I had made my last run to the airport of the day to drop off folks heading home from the Wild Goose Festival, which was held at Shakori Hills near Durham. Saturday was my friend Terry’s birthday and I wanted to eat dinner with him. Around the table with us were Ginger, Lori (Terry’s wife and fellow driver for the festival), and other friends John and Sonya. I’m not sure how long I had been sitting at the table before I fell asleep – for the first of at least three short naps during dinner. After four days of driving and listening and talking and being a part of the inaugural event, I finally ran out of adrenaline.

Now, after a day to make the last two airport runs, sleep, and reflect on what I saw and heard, I am grateful to have been a part of an amazing weekend and I want to encourage anyone on the receiving end of this post to do what you can to be here next year. Some of the people who will help make my case can be found in the links that follow: Beth Nielsen Chapman, David LaMotte, Michelle Shocked, Tom Prasada-Rao, David Wilcox, Vince Anderson, Julie Lee, Derek Webb, Ashley Cleveland, Psalters – to mention some of the musicians; Rabbi Or Rose, Bowie Snodgrass and Samir Selmanovek from Faith House Manhattan, Darkwood Brew, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, NC Peace Action, Lilly Lewin, Gabriel Salguero from Lamb’s Church in New York, Colin Richard from Plant with Purpose, Vincent Harding, James Forbes, Tim Tyson, the Void Collective, and Eliacin Rosario-Cruz. My list is far from exhaustive.

The wild goose is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit drawn from Celtic Christianity. The organizers brought everyone together to see what might happen more than force a specific design on the time, other than scheduling it full of folks with dreams and ideas to share. I kept thinking of the closing lines of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese”:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Since I was the transportation coordinator, I had more conversations in the van going to and from either the airport or the hotels in the bustling metropolis of Siler City than I did in actual sessions, and I came away challenged and encouraged by what I saw and heard. Perhaps the strongest impression I had is that the Next Big Thing in Christianity is not going to be a big thing. By that I mean, I met a number of people who were doing great, small work. Yes, they wanted to change the world and they were doing it one song, or one conversation, or one tree planting at a time rather than seeking to fill stadium-sized sanctuaries or to bounce their ideas off of every satellite they could find. I met a number of people who described what they were doing as being a part of “an intentional community” and far fewer that talked about being a part of a church. (I’m not sure how to unpack that difference just yet, but I noticed it.) And, though there were a fair share of people with publishing deals and books to sell, I felt more folks were seeking to be faithful more than famous.

On Friday afternoon, someone put up a sign in the Fullsteam tent that said, “Beer and Hymns – 5 pm.” Todd started us off by saying, “We’re going to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ but not like you’ve ever heard it before.” And he was right. We sang “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Come, Thou Fount” with a racous reverence that felt like church and unlike church all at once. The next afternoon, there was a Bluegrass Liturgy and Communion Service in one of the other tents, and that night a tent set up as Sacred Space where everyone moved about in silence, each one was shot through with the same Spirit Oliver describes: harsh and exciting, announcing our place in the family of things.

It’s one big crazy family of which I am glad to be a part.

Peace,
Milton

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

pilgrim's progress

One of my morning rituals is to see what musicians have birthdays. Today marks the birth of Kris Kristofferson (along with Don Henley and Cyndi Lauper). Seeing Kristofferson's name reminded me of one of my favorite songs that feels like a good soundtrack for today, so I thought I would pass it along.

am I young enough to believe in revolution
am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray
am I high enough on the chain of evolution
to respect myself, and my brother and my sister
and perfect myself in my own peculiar way
I get lazy, and forget my obligations
I'd go crazy, if I paid attention all the time
and I want justice, but I'll settle for some mercy
on this holy road through the universal mind

am I young enough to believe in revolution
am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray
am I high enough on the chain of evolution
to respect myself, and my brother and my sister
and perfect myself in my own peculiar way
I got lucky, I got everything I wanted
I got happy, there wasn't nothing else to do
And I'd be crazy not to wonder if I'm worthy
Of the part I play in this dream that's coming true
am I young enough to believe in revolution
am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray
am I high enough on the chain of evolution
to respect myself, and my brother and my sister
and perfect myself in my own peculiar way



 Amen.

Peace,
Milton

Monday, June 13, 2011

little victories

When I was a student at Baylor, most any afternoon after class I made a stop at Baylor Records, a small independent record store barely a block off campus. It was a small rectangle of a room decorated with the obligatory record and concert posters and lined with wooden bins filled with albums separated by plastic dividers with the names of the artists and bands. More afternoons than I should, I came back to my room with records. I listened and I read, for those were the days of liner notes. Man, I miss liner notes. I read about how the records came together, whom the artists wanted to thank, and I learned about songwriters. Thanks to the almost yearly offerings of Linda Ronstadt and Eagles, I came to know Karla Bonoff, Warren Zevon, and John David Souther.

Some time on Friday, I think, I found out J. D. Souther was playing a Sunday night show at The Arts Center in Carrboro, one of the connected towns that make up our rather ungeometric Triangle. He is supporting a new CD, Natural History, that has allowed him to revisit some of the songs I sang along with in college and sing them himself without much more than guitar and piano, which was the way he sang last night. Needless to say, I went.

The evening began with a set by Jill Andrews, who was new to me but quite accomplished. She was in a band called the Everybody Fields, who happened to show up in my Pandora mix the other day and consisted of her and her ex-husband, thus explaining why the band is no more. She was an interesting mixture of Edie Brickell and Kasey Chambers, with lovely melodies, warm and insightful lyrics, and an engaging stage presence. I was struck by her offering of new songs as the opening to an evening of Souther’s well-aged words and music. It made for an amazing evening for the two hundred or so who found their way into the room to hear them.

I love to listen to live music. Part of the reason is there’s always something that happens that makes it a you-had-to-be-there kind of moment. Last night, for instance, in the midst of singing the songs we knew well, Souther sang “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” He wasn’t just fooling around, either. “Blackbird” –

pack up all my cares and woe
here I go singing low
bye bye blackbird
fell in between “Silver Blue”
you think you're gonna live forever
and somehow find me there
but you'll be wearing golden wings
and fall right through the air
and “Sad CafĂ©”
oh, expecting to fly,
we would meet on that beautiful shore in the sweet by and by
some of their dreams came true, some just passed away
and some of the stayed behind inside the sad cafe.
As I watched both Andrews and Souther, I realized again the main reason I love to hear and see someone offer their songs live is because it is such an incarnational act of faith and hope. While the world is at war and at odds and at loose ends, we sat in the dark and listen to people sing words they put to music and set free to change the world. Some of Souther’s songs have lived in my memory for years and they were called up for a fresh new moment all because he was willing to play and sing and risk that it all matters once again, even as he sang in a beautiful song called “Little Victories” –
now as we face our uncertain future
looking at uncharted seas
we see the tear that runs along the curtain
you step right through you stand with me
little victories
everybody needs some
little victories
though it hurts sometimes to look around
blindness only keeps you down
the best may lie beyond this present and past
the skies may open the waters part
little victories
I know you need one
little victories
of the heart
Last night, we got one.

Peace,
Milton

Thursday, June 09, 2011

still here

these are the days of miracle and wonder
this is the long distance call . . .
-- Paul Simon, “The Boy in the Bubble”

I know I’ve been away . . .
I have seen many things
walking in our neighborhood
in conversations at church
and around tables at the pub
I even have stories to tell –
but tonight I write to say
the path from wonder to words
has been a bit cluttered
by stories I’ve collected and
kept that they might ripen
like the blackberries
in the backyard
so close to their season

Peace,
Milton