Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Power Of Silence - American Sniper

I worked from home - and the donut shop (film shoot) - during yesterday's Snow Day (Virginia Style, in which 1" of snow causes world-wide mayhem and havoc), and then I took my youngest son to the movies.

American Sniper was our choice, not without some serious contemplation and conversation. I knew it would be intense. My husband had some concerns about the level of violence, and whether or not it would be appropriate for the 15-year old.

Chris Kyle
After seeing some controversy about Chris Kyle regarding the truth behind his autobiography and his subsequent 'hero' status, I wondered if I might have to deflect some theatrical depiction of killing as exciting and rewarding.

In the end, I trusted my gut and we bought our tickets.

It was a horrific movie, in that it showed the horrific truth of war. Not the nuanced political stances that we see on the news and in print media. Not the 'battles' fought in Call of Duty. This film offered perspective on the act of taking lives in conflict, one that included a raw, vulnerable humanity - on both sides.

One particular scene resonates; a child of about four or five years stands 10 feet from an Iraqi insurgent about to fire on American troops. Chris Kyle shoots the soldier, and the child - unaware or inured to the death and violence right beside him - wanders over to the soldier, slumped on the sidewalk. The boy struggles to pick up the rocket launcher; he acts as if he will take over the fallen Iraqi's duty and fire on the Americans.

The suspense is agonizing - in the theater, and in the heart of the American sniper, as he whispers, "Don't you do it don't you do it don't you do it..."

In that moment, all the horror of war sunk down, hard, in the pit of my heart. The dissonance between evil and innocence, power and vulnerability. The desperate nature of the dichotomy within us all.

I will not enter into the discussion of whether or not Chris Kyle should be called a hero. He was a solider, and he died too soon, and none of us will ever know his heart. In our media-saturated culture, there's little that can't be co-opted by one side or another to advance a political cause. I refuse to play that game. American Sniper - the movie - is not about politics; it's about the terrible, awful truth of war and the real power of our humanity. It is a brilliant, beautiful, raw, well-crafted story.

It's a sad movie. I wept, several times.

I've seen several comments about the fact that at the end, the theater was silent. "You could have heard a pin drop," was on several Facebook statuses. I anticipated that moment and was a little surprised at how true it was - and why.

There is no closing music. The credits run in silence.

Silence is powerful. Rather than crowd our ears with some distraction, we are forced to either be present in the moment - listening to the older couple as they struggle to worm their arms into their coats, as she says to him, "Yes, honey, it was true. It happened in 2013;" or sit with the power of what we just witnessed.

A story of the ravages of war, of the terrible, desperate things we do to one another.

In the silence, it becomes very difficult to articulate the reasons why.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On Routine And A Rebel Heart

Is a snow day ever a bad idea?
My Ohio friends will laugh; yes, this is
our snow day snow.

I don't think so.

I'm not sure how it goes for the rest of you, but my heart leaps at any change in routine. I like change. I like it in big ways and in small ways. It's not always painless, but I receive change as a welcome change to mix things up, gain a new perspective, get out of a rut.

And by rut, I mean pretty much anything that I have to do more than two days in a row.

I struggle with routine, probably because I'm so wired for change. I have a hard time sticking to a gym schedule. I don't do laundry on the same day every week; I don't shop for groceries on a regular schedule. I don't go to bed or get up at the same time every day.  Routines work well for me when they are imposed from the outside, but internally? I'd rather go with the flow.

This is not necessarily a good thing. For sure, there are benefits; it's easy for me to be flexible. Spontaneous ideas work for me.

But I'm easily distracted, and most of the time I feel the hulking shadow of discipline lurking over my shoulder, just out of reach. I know it's there, and I know I should acquiesce, but I just don't want to. In those moments, I feel like a three-year old throwing a temper tantrum.

Don't tell me what to do!

You're not the boss of me!

(I wonder: Who am I talking to?)

When I think about such things in such a way, I realize that there is probably something underneath the surface that ought to be teased out. A good counselor would probably help. Or maybe I'll get there, eventually, by peeling back the layers of How I Behave to find out Who I Am - which, in my humble opinion, is the greatest question of spirituality on this side of heaven. Who am I, really? And what is this rebellious spirit that presents itself as anti-routine and 'spontaneous' - all the while rooted in an immature refusal to follow the rules?

Sigh. Deep sigh. One day I'll figure it out.

I loved teaching school, but my least favorite thing was the bell schedule and that pesky little requirement that we start on time, every day. For that reason, I wasn't necessarily the best teacher in the building. I'm grateful for the structure imposed on my weekly routine by my work - meetings, groups, Sunday-every-seven-days. Without it, I'd probably wander from room to room, aimless - creative, thinking deep thoughts, spontaneous, to be sure. But probably not very effective.

On a day like today, the news is sweet - even a 5AM phone call announcing the delay of school is welcome, because I can crawl back into bed, or settle into the couch with a blanket and the morning news in the background with the sweet, special knowledge that today will be different.

Perhaps my youngest son is somewhat like me; apparently the routine of putting on shoes before going outside went out the window today.

SNOW DAY!!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why 'Church Day' Looks Different Now

It's Sunday, and most every Sunday for the past 20 years has been 'church day' for me. I've been part of Christian weekend gatherings since my return from the Dominican Republic in 19898, when a personal epiphany focused my attention on Jesus.

I've volunteered, as a pianist and choir director. I've sat in the seats and been part of the crowd. I've been a staff member, leading a band and creating services. Mostly, my Sunday mornings have revolved around programming and creative elements.

And music, most always. I play, I sing, I lead.

It's where I am most comfortable; it's what I know. There have been many changes of late, as our church has grown. I find myself surrounded by incredibly talented musicians, many of whom are better suited than I to lean into our current playlist. The thrill of seeing young musicians who are serious about their craft and interested in their faith has become more and more compelling; working alongside them as they hone their skills brings me great joy.

But all the while, something has been stirring in me. For some years now, I've felt an internal tug toward something more, something different. Spiritually, my personal understanding of faith and worship has evolved, taking on a fuller and more vibrant shape than I ever anticipated. I have spoken of this once or twice, and people seem to think I'm a little off center - but it's a solid place, a convergence of words and art and experience and truth. My paradigm has shifted, my perspective has broadened.

This is a good thing, a fascinating experience of internal growth (fascinating for me, anyway...)

I still believe passionately in the local church, in the way a community can be drawn together by a common focus. I am convinced that we can do a better job in the evangelical community, that we can continue to lift the bar on excellence and a meaningful, life-altering faith commitment. I'm convinced that the best way to nourish the souls and spirits of the people we live and work with is through honest, authentic communities of faith.

On a personal level, these things have been filtering down through the swirling whirlwind of life and family and work and relationships and career and vocation. I've been seeking clarity, praying for direction, wondering aloud at what might come next.

On January 2, while in Cleveland, I reconnected with a friend who had walked alongside of me at one of the most difficult times in my life; when my marriage was imploding and I was wrecked with shame and guilt. Sharon became a new friend in that season, one who offered gentle and generous hospitality, encouragement and grace. She opened her home and her life to me and my kids, and for a couple of years, she was a solid, strong tower of hope. We'd lost touch, but I contacted her as the first days of 2015 gleamed with possibility, and we met for tea and three hours of conversation in front of a warm fire.

"My life is just swirling," I said. "It's this constant chaos, inside and out...and it's not that I need to do less or make any major changes. I know what I am capable of. I have learned to say 'no'. I just don't know where to focus. I need to know how to funnel all of this swirling stuff into something intentional."

It was good to talk, to say it out loud, to see her receive it and contemplate my description. She offered a few words of encouragement. She prayed for me.

We headed back to Virginia the next day. I came back home, jumped back on the merry-go-round and got ready to re-embrace my roles as mom, musician, leader, manager, coach. Et cetera.

And then, everything changed. 

A decision was made and a meeting happened and a need was discussed and an offer was extended and suddenly, my life and my work took on an entirely different flavor. 

The opportunity for focus arrived, in the form of a new role, a new job description. A new 'home'. A group of people ready to partner in a new thing that has been growing up out in the middle of nowhere. Potential and possibility.

I prayed and talked to some wise and trusted advisors. I worked through the ins and outs with my husband.

I contemplated the oddly coincidental conversation I had with Sharon, remembered the prayers asking for guidance and focus and clarity. I considered my passionate conviction that the local church can, indeed, be a change agent for individuals, for families, for entire communities.

I remembered that my word for this year, chosen in late December, was to be intentional.

And then I said, "Yes."


So, on this 'church day' today, I walked into the Riverside Campus in Fork Union alongside the current Campus Pastor, who announced his decision to move into a new season - joyfully, happily, with no regrets, issues or hard feelings about the church. He shared that information with the crowd, and then turned to me and said, "Beth is your new Campus Pastor."

/ / /

And so, it begins.

Or perhaps, it is an ending; the final moment several years of squirming and wrestling and wondering and laying my hands in my lap. The ending of a season of searching for what might come next for a girl who fell from grace into gratitude, who found healing, who loves Jesus, who loves music, who loves the church enough to be ordained to ministry, who loves to see people find help and hope and healing.

That girl's questions got a firm answer this week. What comes next might still be a bit of a mystery, but the where, when, why and who are clear.

Beginning February 1, I'll be the Campus Pastor at PCC's Riverside Campus. 

The process thus far has been a lot about me, and the chaotic, confusing path to get here - but from this point forward, it's about the people in Fluvanna and Buckingham and Cumberland Counties - and a few from Powhatan and Goochland and elsewhere - who are looking for a place to encounter God in a real, relevant way. It's about the folks who call Riverside 'home', anxious to fill the house with friends and family members.

It's about the Name we sang of this morning, the great, mystical, unfathomable, power-filled name that brings grace to hungry souls, rest to the fatherless, strength to the weak. In that mystery, that space where the presence of God does the unexplainable, I now walk a slightly different path.

It feels safe, yet unknown. Yet I am not alone. There are a couple hundred of us out there, calling Riverside 'home', catching glimpses of God all over the place.

Answered prayers; open doors. I intend to start moving through each one.

/ / /

FAQs:

  • Chauncey will take a hiatus, but he plans to continue to make PCC his home. There's nothing hidden - no problems or issues with him personally or with the church. He's open to your questions, if you have them.
  • I'll still be involved in the overall Creative Process at PCC; almost all of us wear more than one hat in our jobs, and that's an area in which I will still actively participate. Christine Peyton and Elijah Schiarelli will both see expanded opportunities to help guide the process of production, creative arts and worship.
  • I will be moving my small group focus to the Riverside Campus in some form or fashion.
  • I will still play music occasionally.
  • I'd be glad if you'd like to come along.
  • I am grateful for your prayers!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Uncle Graham

Family is important to me, as evidenced by my day-to-day life and my Facebook feed, among other things. But my passion for togetherness and the importance of nurturing family ties didn't just happened. I come from a long legacy of men and women who have modeled a commitment to family that rooted in my soul long, long ago.

One of the primary influences in my life on my mom's side of the family has long been my Uncle Graham and Aunt Barbara. Most summers, we headed to North Carolina - from Pennsylvania, and then from Texas - to spend vacation time with Barbara, Graham and my cousins Chris, Robert and Tommy. Sometimes we made it to the beach; other times, we just hung out in Winston-Salem or Raleigh, eating together, picking tomatoes and getting to know one another. Cousin Chris terrorized me with Black Sabbath albums and frightening invitations to abandon Barry Manilow and get with the rock and roll culture.

Fortunately, both Chris and survived those teen years intact.

I watched my parents interact with my aunt and uncle. Together, they demonstrated all that was good about family: They loved their kids. They loved and honored their spouses. And, as brothers and sisters, they did life together.

Uncle Graham and my dad
After all the kids were older, they began to travel more - without us. I remember being amazed that they could have ANY fun without the kids along...I couldn't understand how they could possibly enjoy themselves on these vacations! But they did (and of course, as a parent now, I completely understand). This photo, of my dad and Graham conquering some peak out west, says so much about the joy they found in their adventures.

My uncle loved, honored and respected my aunt. He was kind and courteous, and everything in his manner that I ever witnessed indicated that she was the queen of his world. In return, she cared for him and honored him as well. I saw that, and it sunk into my soul, and I've never forgotten.

We all grew up, and we continue to grow older. But my uncle has stepped ahead of all of us. He died last night, his body finally bowing to the stress and strain of 80-plus years of living well. He was a faith-filled man, and I say that not just to indicate that he has gone on to a better place. I say that because every single time I saw him - including the last time, just three months ago - he always gave verbal assent to the foundation of faith that fueled his journey. There is a Creator, and he is good, and though his ways are not our ways, and though we live in a broken, fallen world, faith tethers us to the life-giving freedom to know that we are not abandoned. My uncle demonstrated that in life, every day; and now, in his death as well.

My aunt grieves. We all grieve. Uncle Graham was a compassionate, loving, steadfast father, husband, grandfather, brother-in-law, and friend. I miss him. My heart aches for our next visit to North Carolina, when his absence will be felt more keenly and be that much more real to me. And my heart hurts for those closest to him, as moment by moment they remember his absence in their daily living.

But I know this: If there is any point to this life at all, it sits somewhere in the great, overwhelming tide of love and appreciation and goodness that we leave in the wake of a life well-lived, unto God - and the unyielding knowledge that God does, indeed, work all things together for good.

My uncle chose to live his life in a way that honored his God and his family, in word and in deed. In his living, and in his dying, tears of sorrow mingle with the deepest hint of glory of what is to come - not only in what we can't quite see through the veil, but also in the family who carries his legacy and his memory.

 I am blessed, in this moment, to have been part of Graham Hair's family. He is one of the finest men I have ever known.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Killing My Creativity

I heard a snippet of this story yesterday; I twirled and swirled around the kitchen, inspired and energized and cooking. I was distracted by broccoli and cauliflower and chicken. And my phone, of course. And the internet (BECAUSE I WAS LOOKING UP RECIPES Y'ALL.)

But I heard just enough of this story to have something stuck in the crevice of my brain all day long. In fact, I woke up thinking about this quote:
"I kind of realized that I have not been bored 
since I got a smartphone seven years ago."

I heard the host say, "So and so admits to checking her phone between 50 and 100 times a day..." Cue judgemental thinking. That's ridiculous!! Isn't it?

Upon consideration, I decided that I hoped no one was watching me. And counting.

I decided that I should send a text to my eldest son - the one who is attached to his phone - and strongly encourage him to read the story. And then maybe encourage my daughters to do the same.

But then I thought perhaps I should pay attention, myself.

So, today I left my phone in the office most of the day, on my unattended desk. I worked alongside fellow staff members on a cleaning project in another room. I led a little 'Noodling' seminar for the speakers and musicians on our team - in another room. I talked to people - in other rooms. I listened to people - in other rooms

I wrote notes, on paper, in my Moleskine - not on my phone.

I even went into the bathroom without taking my phone. Seriously - I can't be the only person who checks Facebook and Instagram in the bathroom.

Am I?

/ / /

My handheld device connects me to the world, instantaneously.When I need stimulation - when I'm bored, before my mind begins to wander, I open it to find what fascinating, interesting, compelling, IMPORTANT tidbits of information might be dangling out there.

Except, generally,they're not.  Not really. Not fascinating. Not interesting, nor compelling.

Certainly not important. Truth be told, the act of 'checking my phone' is simply a placeholder. A time killer. A brain drain.

I stave off "boredom" as if it's the Dread Pirate Roberts, as if The Very Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen Is That I Got Bored While Waiting For The Light To Turn Green.

Without boredom, the brain doesn't recover. It has no room to wander, to be creative.

It took this, I think, to wake me up. I've allowed my iPhone to be a constant source of stimulation - cheap, easy, stimulation.

There's something almost vulgar about it, really. I'm trying to leap over the present time, push away the here and now, trading my brain resources to focus on somebody's Instagram of their lunch plate.

In doing so, I'm killing my creative energy, slowly - but surely. I'm filling up my head with information that hardly matters one bit to me, in reality. I'm distracting myself.

From what?
"Studies also show that smartphones impinge on our ability to do "autobiographical planning" or goal setting, which may keep us even more stuck in a rut."

From my life, apparently.

Read this article, really. Put your phone down. Just go do it.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How Fragile We Are

In 1983, I turned twenty. I drove a little tan Subaru hatchback, big enough to fit my Fender Rhodes in the back with an inch to spare on either side.

The Police released Synchronicity in June of that year. My copy, on cassette, was worn thin; I drove that little Subaru round and round Lubbock's Loop 289 one lonely weekend night while the tape circulated in the deck. Sting's philosophical rhymes coursed through the air. The first side (back in the day, you see, we didn't have contiguous music; there were sides to records, and sides to cassettes, which provided clear delineation to the music...anybody with me here?

#old)

Anyway, the first side was good but weird. Incredibly inventive, intense, challenging. I appreciated it, but I didn't love it until five tracks in; "Synchronicity II" began the narrowing of the focus, and from that point on, I was mesmerized.

I was significantly impacted by that record in ways that I cannot really identify. I know that I carried it with my to the Dominican Republic, when I moved there in 1985, and I clearly recall pushing the tape into the stereo of a friend's Puegeot and saying, "Listen. Listen! Do you hear? Do you FEEL this?"

For the record, he didn't. He said he did, but he didn't.

/ / /

Determined to get some housecleaning done today while battling a severe case of I-would-really-rather-be-laying-down, I pulled up Synchronicity today for inspiration. It worked, in terms of getting me moving.

But it also sparked some synchronicity of its own, as the songs reverberated in my kitchen and deeper inside of me, in that place where memories are stored and seem to live, dormant, until some mysterious random conductor raise his baton and cues me to begin.

I can sing along, every note, every word. I can't remember what I need at the grocery store without a list, but I can sing every single line of every single song on that record.

And it's not just that I remember the words; the phrasing is familiar, as if it is part of me, as if I wrote it myself, as if I own it. I guess I do, in some way; it's internalized and now part of my history, the story of that sad girl who didn't quite know how to define herself, cruising an endless loop on the western edge of a dusty state that never quite felt like home. It's part of me, somehow, and I don't know if that is unique to me and my oddball musical leanings, or if we all walk around with an endless discography inside of us.

Last week, I watched a snippet of the most recent Kennedy Center Honors. Sting was a recipient this year, and Bruno Mars sang some of his songs to honor him. The energy from the stage was incredible; it was a beautiful, powerful performance, an honoring moment. Meryl Streep said of Sting:
Wrapped in velvet, his songs tore at your heart.
That's the truth.

/ / /

Last night, several 14-year old boys were at my house. At one point in the conversation, one kid mentioned Stephen Hawking, and somebody said, "Who is that? Does he go to our school?" I chuckled, thinking some stereotypical criticism about Kids These Days and their lack of awareness of the world around them...but it faded, quickly.

Because, truly, doesn't everything fade? The incredible power of a young rock star's influence on my life, and the lasting emotional connection that still powers through my soul even 30 years later - that's simply my experience, from my life and my culture, my moment to occupy this space. It is, indeed, a brave new world, one in which Sting is just a cool old dude who did a Broadway show and "Every Breath You Take" is an old song they play at Sheetz while you're pumping gas.

Our church hosted a lock-in last night, and my daughter and her husband helped chaperone. Shannon mentioned that in some conversation, she looked at a kid and said, "Hey - I've known you since you were five years old." I was struck, again, by the quick passage of time and the indelible imprints of our experiences on our hearts. Looking back, from this vantage point, what seems to be dripping through the slow press of my years is the moments like the soundtrack of that circular drive in a West Texas city, and the circumference of its presence deep inside me, ready to be called up at a moment's notice.

Sting once said,
All my life I have tried to find the truth 
and make it beautiful
and today I am feeling that in my bones, that the truth of my life as it has been lived can be a source of great beauty, and in this fragile moment I wonder if that's not the very essence of grace; the willingness to submit all that was, and is, and is to come, as quite simply, enough.

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas, 2014, Over

It's over.

Another Christmas in the books; 2014 is inching to a close, and the house is a mess and the kids are swirling all around me and I can't keep up.

I'm exhausted.

We had a funeral this morning, the church peeling back the trappings of celebration and the holiday shine, making space to honor a woman of faith and integrity. Her family crowded into the room, spacious and dim, carrying one another's grief, pushing through that cloud of days that hang between Christmas and New Year's with a sad purpose.

I came in early. We stood together, the two pastors and me, also a pastor, in that oddly shaped place where we thrum just outside the circle of grief, but yet fully inhabit a deep sense of mourning and loss. My friend tells me that as a pastor, at most and at best, we represent the presence of God.

I was there to provide music, and so I made my way to the piano. Just last night my fingers had flown all over the keys, swilling and storming joy and praise and even the deep, resonant blue-tinged search for Emmylou's Deeper Well. Surrounded by musicians of the highest caliber, last night's offering was poured out in exuberant joy.

Just five nights ago, we'd spent the better part of a day taking thousands of people through a joyous, poignant exercise in faith and story and tradition. The Christmas Eve service wove its way through angels and Mary and Joseph and belief, settling down at the end with an emphatic O come let us adore Him! and the gentle, candle-lit harmonies of Silent Night.

And then today, I sat at the piano in a dimly-lit room of visceral silence. Flowers circled the casket. Empty chairs waited for the collection of family, friends, mourners.

In my head and my heart reside the text and scores of hymns, the songs we grow up with when we grow up in church. The old songs; the four verses, the refrain, the four-part structure.

I sat at the piano and resurrected those melodies, the ones filled with sorrow and hope, the ones that give us this definitive sense of place and space and time. The ones that remind us of what was, and what will be, and the many have gone before us, walking this well-worn road.

One of the pastors quoted the 23rd Psalm.

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil

"Not that we do not fear death," he said. "We fear no evil. We believe that although evil tries to snatch us and take us, even at that last moment, Jesus intervenes. Jesus claims us. We fear no evil."

"But all of us have healthy fear of death."

blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
o what a foretaste of glory divine

and when i think that God, his son not sparing
sent him to die, i scarce can take it in

come home, come home
ye who are weary, come home

We all sang Amazing Grace together, and their voices hardly carried; it was more a resignation, more silence than song. There is nothing that feels amazing about a funeral. There is grace, but that song requires energy, to save a wretch like ME, and it was difficult to find such this morning.

But we were there, together, and four verses later that song was sung. The family had asked for another, so that they could simply listen: The Old Rugged Cross, and I can't manage that song without hearing my own grandmother's reedy alto, so my own personal grief slipped into an empty cavern in the space of this morning. And there we were.

then he'll call me some day to my home far away
where his glory forever i'll share

so i'll cherish the old rugged cross
till my trophies at last i lay down...

I cobbled together a key that my voice could manage and let the raw yearning take over and I sang, for me and for all of us in the room. For my grandmother and the empty days that hang over the end of December. For the futility, too often, of the bright lights and shiny paper that end up in a heap, in the corner, surrounded by dust and pine needles.

I began this week, one promised to be empty of work, with an offering of what is, really, all I have to give. I lay down my own trophies; I cling to the daily doings that keep me in motion.

I look around in wonder, stumbling in grace, grasping at what needs to be remembered.

It's over, and things end and begin again and the seasons, they go round and round, until one day we exchange it all. I am soaking all this and more into my skin today, longing for rest and yet grateful that what I often believe I need most, eludes me; and so I sit and watch and wait and remember. I pray, thankfully, gratefully; nothing more than the simplest thing I can find.

Thank you.

I whisper, just under my breath.

Thank you.