Music

Brad at organ 1973I’ve been a musician for most of my life.
I recall my first attempts at the piano at about the age of 5 when I taught myself to play a popular church hymn by ear, one note at a time. (Sorry, folks – no Mozart-type child prodigy here.) The next step was my oldest sister teaching me the basics for a few years; then, I began private lessons at about 8 years of age, continuing this wonderful experience until my high school graduation. Coupling this with belonging to marching and concert bands on the high school and college levels (I played baritone horn), I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn from some great teachers and play alongside other talented musicians. (No, I still can’t hold a candle to Mozart or any of the other great classical composers, but I have fun.) Having said all of this, the vast majority of my musical contribution to the greater community has been that of playing liturgical music – from elementary school until the present. It is something that I enjoy immensely and plays an important role in my spiritual journeymusical-clip-art-8[1] and ministry. However, I enjoy many types of music, from Cajun to soft rock to Caribbean to various types of African.
There’s just something about music.
It does something to one’s soul – one’s psyche – one’s body. It can cause one to relax, to become excited, become drawn into meditation, get whipped into a frenzy, incite some to war, and draw some to peace.
There’s also something about singing or playing along with other folks who also love to play and sing. There’s a beautiful power in that – something sacred.

 
It can be cathartic.jumping%20joy%20best%20blog[1]

 

It can cause us to weep, to become melancholy, disturbed, happy. We play music for happy occasions and we play music for sad occasions – in important rituals in our lives, from birthday parties to football games to weddings to funerals. Music indeed plays an important function in all of these events; and, for most of us, things are just not right if music is missing during these times.

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Today, I had a bittersweet experience in which music played an important role. I provided music and singing at the funeral service of one of my former students, taken away from us much too soon. She was only 35 years old, succumbing to cancer after a battle of less than one year, leaving behind a husband and four young children along with her own immediate birth family to grieve for her. It was a particularly poignant moment since today’s musical (and personal) involvement was a bookend to another important event in her and her husband’s lives which occurred 11 years ago – that of their wedding, in which I also provided the music and singing.

 
I chose the musical selections carefully today, wanting every song to be meaningful.

 
As I reflect on the day, I wonder just how were they received by the members of the mourning congregation? Were they mere pretty words and notes, or did they resonate with them? Did it assist in their grieving process and openness to healing their traumatized souls? Did it have any effect on their individual images of God/Creator? Did this music-filled liturgical, communal experience, coupled with the other sights, sounds, and smells, move them closer to embracing the Mystery of this whole human condition thing or did it wedge them away?
I guess that I’ll never fully know, but I was honored to be part of it.

 

 

Yep, there’s just something about music . . .

“Peace be with you” . . . did I really mean that?

I’ve heard it said that peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice.
For those shaking handsof us who adhere to the Christian faith tradition, we often say words such as, “Peace be with you”, “Go in the Peace of Christ”, “Grant Us Peace”, or simply, “peace” to each other during our formal liturgies and other gatherings. The other great faith traditions offer similar utterances as well within their own ceremonies, rituals, and daily conversation. These words, either spoken or sung, are often accompanied by some physical gestures such as a handshakes, hugs, kisses, or waves – some carried out with stiff formality and sometimes with great gusto and passion. As with many such rituals which we humans do on a regular basis, I feel that we often forget what we’re really saying and what this really is supposed to mean as we perform them. This thought entered my mind this morning as I participated in this practice with members of my local faith community. Was this am empty gesture on my part? What are the implications if I really meant it and acted upon it?
. . . which leads me to my main point:
What are leading causes of war and other forms of civil strife, both foreign and domestic?

bombed village
I have spent 30+ years as an educator – teaching at the high school and university levels and serving in state-wide administrative and coordination roles. These roles have provided me with the great privilege of working with youth, their parents, fellow educators at various levels, elected officials, agricultural professionals, business people, and government representatives. During these years, I have also had the great opportunity to travel to and work in foreign countries (the latest one is struggling to rise from the ashes of a protracted, bloody civil war) in agricultural and diverse people talkingeducational development projects. I have witnessed great blessings and kindness as well as deep suffering and struggle. I have seen great humility and unselfishness and I have seen great pomposity and corruption. These experiences have indeed helped to shape my world view and better understanding of the complex human condition.
In all of these experiences, whether they be domestic or international, I have found that a common denominator to a particular society’s travails has been deep misunderstanding and corresponding mistrust of the other: the person or culture who is different from the prevailing majority. An important link to establishing peaceful, just societies, but which is often broken (or never allowed to become established), is that of listening to the other with an open mind and a softened, contemplative heart – the building of healthy, “right” relationships.  Have I been doing a good job of that? What about all of us as citizens of the world? More to come (I’m trying to stick to my rule for publishing short posts) . . .
Peace be with you.

Well, that just put me over the top . . .

As I continue to allow this blog to unfold and naturally evolve, I can’t help but going back to the “first things first” reasoning behind this blog. As the days (and corresponding posts) go by, I will do my best to present my case as to why I am doing this blogging business in the first place. I’m learning the basic mechanics of actually physically organizing it, which includes all of the functions of the WordPress platform. (I might add that there’s plenty of cool stuff, but I still have much to learn.) In viewing blogs that other folks are producing, I see lots of interesting content andNorthern horizon II a variety of layouts, with many of them looking really spectacular with clever wording along with the horns and whistles! I know that I will probably embellish my own site as I continue “learning the ropes”, but I feel at this point that I’ll probably keep mine on the simpler side, which is a reflection of the direction of my own life – simplifying and removal of clutter. Having said this, this does not mean that I am becoming complacent and unproductive in this second half of my life. In many ways, I am feeling a new surge of energy and resolve in my life as I focus my life-force into working with kindred spirits to address issues of justice and peace in our society. This is reflected in the company that I keep, my longing for more solitude, my perpetual commitment to lifelong learning, and the continued deepening of my prayer life. More details will come later . . .

Thus, to address the title of this post, just what “put me over the top” in making my decision to establish a blog? In many ways, a lifetime of events has occurred which has brought me to this point of where I am and who I am. One of them was the establishment of my own LLC a few years ago which focuses on education, spiritual direction, retreat facilitation, corporate training in leadership development and diversity/equity issues, and international agricultural development; anKeep Calm and blogd I know that it wtolerance1[1]ould be beneficial to “put myself out there” through a variety of media. However, there were two recent events which really gave me the final nudge to launch this effort. First, I received an invitation from WordPress a few weeks ago to take part in a month-long e-course, “Blogging 101”. Although this piqued my interest, I still wasn’t totally sold on the idea. However, soon after that, I was made aware of a news item which occurred in a major U.S. city which I found to be quite unsettling and embarrassing. It was reported via print and video that one established societal group in that city was publicly exhibiting disrespect and intolerance against a more recently arrived group of people of a different culture who were engaged in a peaceful, educational program to a legislative body. It was at that point that I decided that I could no longer remain silent. However, the reader will see that my style of engagement is within the realm of education and dialogue and not harsh confrontation; in other words, building a bridge. Through building non-threatening relationships, I firmly believe that we can establish peace.

Oops, I hope that I haven’t gone too long . . .

 

So . . . just what does that word mean?

For a number of years, I was (and always will be) always very curious about the statement which I saw on signs and bumper stickers, “If You Want Peace, Work for Justice.” Scratching my head over this statement, I had two problems: 1) unclear definitions of the terms (well, I kind of understood what the term, “peace” meant), and 2) the seeming disconnect between the two. So, since I needed more work on the term, “justice”, I looked at several dictionary sources for some academic –type definitions, but I still knew that something was missing. I would dare say that most folks in our society generally equate the word with retribution and revenge. However, as the Spirit would have it, I had the great fortune of hearing an expert on social justice teaching speak in my area several years ago, who explained this concept with a different angle. He stated that the Christian notion (and, I might add, that of all of the world’s great religions) of justice is “the ‘righting’ of relationships.” Well, a light came on for me at that point – a moment of greater clarity. That experience assisted me in understanding thishands-on-globe-diversity[1] shift from retributive to restorative justice. Unless all are treated fairly and with love, there can be no peace. When dealing with human beings of all stripes, I am aware that this can be challenging at times; yet I feel in my heart of hearts that this must be done. So, that is why I am blogging here with all of you: to be with fellow seekers and to challenge myself to get to the ever-deeper meaning of what it means to love and act justly.

What’s this all about?

I’ve been giving this blogging thing lots of thought: 1) in what manner should I articulate my thoughts and, 2) to whom am I writing and what would we discuss? Who would I like to have in my list of faithful readers? Who would even be interested?

Gentle rainThe answer to #1 came a couple of days ago during the early morning hours as I was preparing to engage in an important component of my morning ritual, which is centering prayer. As dawn was breaking, it was accompanied by a slow, comforting, soothing rain. Yes, I thought, this is how I wish to express myself – like a gentle rain which slowly soaks into the soil, helping to sustain life. Rather than communicating my bull-in-china-shop-iclip[1]thoughts like a hurricane, bulldozer, or the proverbial “bull in a china shop”, I hope that my words and ideas will gently soak into the very soul of the reader, providing nourishment, solace, peace, and fruitfulness. Of course, my words may also challenge the reader to think about life’s issues in a new way (maybe an occasional downpour?).

Now, what about question #2? Most certainly, I would be willing to share my thoughts with anyone who is willing to read my words. However, as I mentioned in my first entry, I really hope to be able to connect with kindred spirits: those who thirst for a non-violent, just world where all are welcome at the table; fellow contemplatives who are unafraid to meet the world as it is and to integrate one’s spirituality with these realities; and those who are interested in growing and evolving as a whole person through studying different types of spirituality, prayer forms and through civil discourse diversity[1]about issues for which we have a passion. Yes, this list will evolve as this blog and I continue to evolve.

So, any takers???

Let’s Get this Going!

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a professional blog for some time. (There are several recent events which nudged me toward making this final decision, which I may share with you in the near future.) For those of you who have followed me before, I actually do have another blog which I utilize from time to time when I go overseas to take participate in an international agricultural development project – mostly to keep friends and family apprised of my whereabouts and to provide some reflections. I really enjoy doing it, and it serves as a great way for me to digest the events of the day. However, this one will be different, because it will (hopefully, perhaps) go into perpetuity as the new chapters in my life and career continue to unfold. So . . . here goes. . .

I also know (and this is my personal preference) that a blog entry should not go on for too long: short enough for the reader to not have to scroll down too much; so I’ll do my best to keep them brief and to the point (often difficult for a verbose person like me). To provide a quick introduction during this first voyage, I would like to let my readers know that I have a passion for social justice – working for the oppressed and voiceless. I hope to be able to connect with kindred spirits and to share our experiences. Perhaps I’ll also be able to educate other folks who may not be familiar with the notion of social justice on the things that I really care about (through a civil discourse, of course). You’ll see more details as this vPeace in sandenture evolves.

In closing, one may also wonder how I came up with the name of this blog: “Building Bridges . . . Building Peace”. I’ll give you a hint: “If you want peace, work for justice.” So, will you journey with me?

[OK, I can already sense Sr. Virginia Lee, who taught me much about writing in 8th grade at good old St. Francis Elementary School, sitting on my shoulder next to my ear, reminding me to “Rewrite and polish! Rewrite and polish!” I hope that I’ll make you proud, Sister.]

More to come . . .