Sunday, November 29, 2015

All Earth is Waiting

This morning I will share with the congregation the story of Sheila Watt Cloutier, perhaps the least known famous Canadian of our time. An Inuit woman, she has received many awards for her advocacy work for peoples of the North, and for addressing the challenging realities of climate change. Her book, The Right to be Cold, touched me deeply. She writes about eating the "country food." the caribou and seal and geese which actually provide greater food value for those living in the North than the foods we eat in the south. She considers eating this food to be both physical and spiritual nourishment, a communion with God.

Image result for the right to be cold

As we share in communion on this Advent Sunday of Hope I will also speak of the climate change conference taking place in Paris over the next ten days. Leaders from 150 countries around the world will be there, and so will many spiritual leaders. Our United Church is sending a delegation of three, including former moderator, Mardi Tindal. Tindal has a personal passion for Creation Care, so she is an excellent representative, and the other two attendees have deep connections with First Nations peoples.

Please pray for the outcome of the COP21 convention in Paris. As our Advent hymn declares. all earth is waiting for God's promise for all creation.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In the Beginning...

I can't help myself. I don't mean to start watching and I tell myself I can stop when I choose. But it all goes horribly wrong and I'm ashamed of myself afterward. Ya, I enjoy the guilty pleasure of the Antiques Road Show. Think about it. It's bizarre to watch a show where others discover that they have valuable stuff and you don't. And while some of the items are intriguing, a lot of them are ugly an/or useless.

Recently there was an "antiques road show" sort of discovery in the biblical archeology world. It is the oldest known draft of the King James Bible. An American scholar doing research at a university in Britain found a notebook that had belonged to a 17th century biblical scholar. It took a while for Jeffrey Miller to realize that he had a unique treasure, the working notes for the English version of the bible which arguably changed the world. The paperback sized notebook dates from 1604 to 1608.

So what? Who actually reads the KJV anymore? In 2011, the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Version, I couldn't muster any interest from my ministerial colleagues to honour the occasion, even though many of them came from denominations which had insisted that the KJV was the only "authentic" version only a few decades ago.

I can't say that the unearthing of these notes make any real difference in my life, but I am fascinated that in a era of limited communication and painstaking efforts to write things down, a passel of individual scholars made contributions which eventually became a monumental literary achievement. Now we can see how one of those scholars, Samuel Ward, scribbled down his thoughts as he worked from one language to another.

So, I will declare it cool, and I'll continue to steal a look at the Road Show from time to time.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Violence Against Women

Yesterday an Ottawa area man was convicted of the first degree murder of his wife. His defense was that he was suffering from PTSD and not in his right mind. The jury concluded that he deliberately killed her out of jealousy and he was sentenced to a minimum of twenty five years before parole. There a chilling irony and great sadness that the perpetrator was sentenced on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

As many of you know, for nearly a decade before our move my wife Ruth worked first as a Child and Youth Worker, then as an Outreach Counsellor connected to a shelter for women and children who had left or were planning to leave abusive relationships. The mental and physical abuse her clients experienced was sobering, and often children were either witnesses or subjected to the violence themselves. When Ruth was the youth worker she could often see how the "sins of the fathers" was manifested in the next generation, as boys in the shelter were abusive toward their mothers.

When Ruth did that work she realized that too many women were still with their partners because of the expectations of their pastors and priests and Christian communities. She also found that in some mainline congregations which had less stringent theological outlooks on the inviolability of marriage nonetheless showed little interest in domestic violence because they assumed it wasn't happening in their churches. Yet Ruth had clients from those congregation, those who because of shame or pride were unwilling to reveal their circumstances to others.

We can pray and act for an end to domestic violence in its various forms. We can be aware that within our congregations there will be individuals who need support because of the abuse they and their children experience.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Opening Doors


Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find;
knock, and the door will be opened for you Matthew 7:7

Since the atrocities in Paris two weeks ago we have heard the doors slamming shut around the world, and nowhere louder than in the United States. I am appalled by the xenophobia expressed so freely in the US these days, with Buffoon in Chief Donald Trump leading the charge. This is American Thanksgiving, a day to celebrate doors being opened and bounty shared by Native Americans with Europeans in desperate need, but that seems lost on many. 

Here in Canada it isn't as bad, but there are plenty of conversations where folk express their desire to keep doors closed. One member here offered wisely that many Canadians hide behind their own niqabs of internet anonymity to express their negative opinions.

There is an installation at the Aga Khan Museum which we unfortunately missed by days when we visited recently. It features the work of Abbas Kiorostami and it's called Doors Without Keys. Here is a portion of the description:

Walls and doors are both boundaries and barriers. Yet doors offer us hope of entry or of escape — hope for connection, for finding another world, for finding freedom. With this evocative premise, Abbas Kiarostami presents the world premiere of his installation piece, Doors Without Keys. Photographed over two decades in Iran, Italy, France, and Morocco, these weathered doors have been witnesses to the many lives lived behind, through, and before them. Presented at life size on canvas, they are works of art that transcend their origins of time and place.

Perhaps we will get back to see it. I hope so.

What has your experience been when it comes to the current refugee situation? Are doors being opened or closed in your circle? What about your faith community? Is discipleship in Christ a door-opener?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Beatitudes (BZV)

Baraka Kanaan

I like Brian Zahnd who is an evangelical pastor and writer in the States. He doesn't fit some of the stereotypes of the breed. He is thoughtful, opposed to violence and wrapping the flag around Jesus. But he loves Jesus and calls us to faithful discipleship. It looks as though he is in Israel and visited The Mount of Beatitudes once again. Here is his version of the Beatitudes, the BZV.

The Beatitudes (BZV)
Blessed are those who are poor at being spiritual,
For the kingdom of heaven is well-suited for ordinary people.

Blessed are the depressed who mourn and grieve,
For they create space to encounter comfort from another.

Blessed are the gentle and trusting, who are not grasping and clutching,
For God will personally guarantee their share when heaven comes to earth.

Blessed are those who ache for the world to be made right,
For them the government of God is a dream come true.

Blessed are those who give mercy,
For they will get it back when they need it most.

Blessed are those who have a clean window in their soul,
For they will perceive God when and where others don’t.

Blessed are the bridge-builders in a war-torn world,
For they are God’s children working in the family business.

Blessed are those who are mocked and misunderstood for the right reasons,
For the kingdom of heaven comes to earth amidst such persecution.

Brian Zahnd

These work for me. How about you?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


We have all heard of Black Friday in the United States, the orgy of spending following American Thanksgiving, which is the last Thursday of November. Black Friday has seeped north of the border, but is not quite the mania we witness in the States.

The frenzy seems to fly in the face of the true spirit of Thanksgiving, but the most outrageous admission that it is now about getting has shown up in an ad for Verizon. I was appalled when I saw their Happy Thanksgetting ad on television and wondered how a holiday of gratitude which once has strong spiritual overtones has become one more push to buy, buy, buy.

Should we be surprised though? Christmas has gone that way, and we see the encroachment into Easter.

What do you make of all this? Perhaps we simply hold fast to what is important to us, and don't worry about the commercialism. I am still shocked when it is so blatant, but perhaps it's time to let go.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Firm and Generous Foundation

Yesterday the building which is Bridge St United Church was filled to overflowing with activity related to our 200th anniversary celebrations. There was a midday concert featuring our pipe organ and bell ringers. Then an encore of The Circuit Riders, a dramatic retelling of the story of early Methodism. The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, toured our sanctuary before joining us for our dinner.

The delightful surprise of the day was the "fair" which featured two dozen booths with exhibits from organizations which have received funding from the Bridge St. Foundation through the years. Because the Foundation funds national and international initiatives for health, shelter, play, we wondered how many exhibitors we would have. Not only did twenty-four organizations with a local base respond, the public came to view what they had to offer. One organization has received a number of grants for it's play program for children with developmental issues. The total for them is more than $30,000 through the years. Other have received a single grant as seed money for an initiative. The Alzheimer's Society was given a grant recently to get a Music and Memory program off the ground, and we are the only funder. Ten Thousand Villages was there, and a representative for a health program in Nepal, and a school in Central America.

In just over forty years the Bridge St. Foundation has fulfilled its mandate and ministry admirably, giving away approximately $5.5 million.

I know that the directors were gratified by the turnout and there was the pleasure of meeting the people behind the applications. The Grants Committee works so diligently to respond to the many needs, and falling interest rates has made this even more of a challenge.

I felt God's Spirit in that room yesterday. Thank God for the ministry of the Bridge St. Foundation.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"En Mutation"

A young dad in our Bridge St. congregation texted me the news about the purchase of a United Church building in a nearby town. An amalgamation of three congregations meant that a large and historic church structure was superfluous. These decisions are always tough and rather sad. It happens all the time though, but the newsworthy aspect of the story is that it was sold to become an Islamic centre. I texted back that I could hear stalwarts of the past whirring in their graves. That might not be fair. What do I know about their points of view on other religions? 

There is often pushback against selling churches to be used by other religions. A Baptist church near my former community was sold through a third party to a Muslim congregation and is now a mosque. Some folk were very unhappy and there was some pathetic vandalism when it became an Islamic place of worship.

The reality is that more and more church structures are being sold off in many parts of the world. In Quebec 434 churches were "en mutation," awaiting transformation into something else. A chapel in a former Grey Nuns building in Montreal is now a Concordia University reading room. The majestic Erskine and American United Church is now Bourgie Hall, Why not? And why not convert (no pun intended) a church to a mosque rather than a condo complex, as is happening in nearby Kingston? The Queen St UC Kingston (above) project is 35 luxury condominiums.

Bourgie Hall

In France there are thousands of near-empty churches which could be re-purposed as mosques, although there is resistance amongst elements of the very secular population. This will surely deepen in light of the horrendous killings in Paris this past weekend. But again, how can we begrudge people of faith using buildings to which our society has grown indifferent?

How would you feel if your church building became a mosque or a temple? Would you rather there be a faith-related purpose, even if it isn't your faith?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Coren's Epiphany

I used to watch the Michael Coren Show on television and then I stopped. Coren was a Roman Catholic, a theological conservative but a smart and articulate guy. He would include interesting guests in his roundtable discussions of various topics, including those who didn't share his perspective. I stopped watching because of his nastiness toward the United Church and his sneering blanket statements about those in it. I was also shaken by his vicious attack of a guest (not UCC) who made what were admittedly gratuitously disparaging remarks about RC priests. Coren was totally unprofessional, letting his temper get the better of him.

When the province of Ontario and eventually the federal government took steps toward making same-gender marriage legal Coren spoke at an anti-gay marriage rally in the area where I was living at the time.

I have noticed in the past couple of years that Coren has changed his mind and his theological outlook. He is still orthodox in his Christianity, but now an Anglican, in part because he couldn't reconcile his changing views on homosexuality with the exclusionary doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. I've heard him reflect on this, and read his reasonable views on the sex-ed curriculum in Ontario, along with other topics. I appreciate the intelligence I admired originally, but it is the --dare I say it?-- more inclusive and kinder approach that impresses me.

Coren may still have little use for the United Church for all I know. He is actually considering the Anglican priesthood. Still, I appreciate someone who can and will change his mind upon reflection and prayer. There is an article in the latest United Church Observer which is well worth reading called The Conversion of Michael Coren.

Coren has a book coming out (so to speak) called Epiphany: A Christian's Change of Heart and Mind over Same-Gender Marriage. I imagine it will be worth reading. I think epiphany is a better description of Coren's change of heart than conversion, but why quibble.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Belief, Oprah Style

Life. Is. Busy.

These words really shouldn't mark the beginning of a blog entry, but they serve as a reason (excuse?) for being slow off the mark for musings these days.

Have any of you been paying attention to Oprah's series called Belief? The website is shiny and bright, as you might expect with the resources at her disposal. And the topics are intriguing. Here is a description of the series from the Huffington Post.

The production team condensed more than 800 hours of footage into seven one-hour episodes that feature, among other rituals, a boy preparing for his bar mitzvah in Budapest, Hungary, where a tiny population of Jews remain, and a former professional skateboarder from Northern California taking part in the hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The series also features lesser-known traditions, such as an Aborigine teaching his grandson ancient songs that connect them to their Australian ancestors, and a South Pacific religious ritual in which men — including a young boy — make a dangerous dive off a high tower of bark and vines in hopes of a successful annual harvest.
The series, co-produced by Harpo Studios and part2 pictures, also includes those who don’t embrace a particular faith, from an atheist climber who finds meaning as he mounts a desert cliff in Utah without harnesses or ropes to a father and daughter who take part in Nevada’s Burning Man festival.
The new series follows the trajectory of Winfrey’s career, which has included touring with former evangelical pastor Rob Bell and interviewing Pakistan activist Malala Yousafzai.
“Her passion has always been for faith stories and for the spirit, in the sense of spirit that animates people’s journeys,” said Marcia Z. Nelson, author of “The Gospel According to Oprah.”

As always Oprah is savvy about soliciting support, gathering one hundred faith leaders for screening of the episodes followed by dinner at her home. Who could resist? Oprah is also tapping in to the deep hunger of those who may not chose a bricks-and-mortar experience of religion or spirituality.

I'll probably take a look...when I get some time! Have you watched? Will you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Downton Big House in the Country

I believe the last season of Downtown Abbey has come and gone in Great Britain and is eagerly anticipated in North America, where PBS will once again be the host station. I suppose the Downtown junkies on this side of the Pond have already found a way to view the final episodes.

Have you noticed that there is next to no religion in Downtown Abbey, despite the historical fact that it would have been important in the lives of the aristocracy of that period? I do recollect some huffing and puffing about Roman Catholics by Lord Grantham and a "left-at-the-altar" wedding debacle in a chapel.

There is nothing, however, to suggest that worship and prayer and God Almighty made a scrap of difference in this fictional family's lives. And that is the scrupulously executed intention of the show. There was much soul-searching (can that phrase be used?) about using the word Abbey in the title, which seems absurd. No meal is depicted at its beginning because a blessing would have surely been said, yet can't be shown. Alastair Bruce, the historical advisor entrusted with the task of keeping God out of the Crawley's life comments:

In essence you hardly ever see a table that isn’t already sat at. We never see the beginning of a luncheon or a dinner, because no one was ever allowed to see a grace being said, and I would never allow them to sit down without having said grace. I think that the view was that we’d leave religion out of it, and it would’ve taken extra time too. I suggested a Latin grace, but they decided that was too far, and no one would’ve known what was going on.

Mr Bruce said that he was even banned from featuring napkins folded in the shape of a bishop’s mitre, for fear of breaching the religious edict.

Why, oh why? Because Britain has become so secular that even these modest historical realities have been expunged so not to offend. Pulleeze. It's crazy because the British still observe Remembrance Sunday in an official way, and royal weddings get the full Church of England treatment in Westminster ABBEY.

My interest in Downtown Abbey waned after the first two remarkable seasons. I suppose I will say a prayer and watch the godless concluding episodes.

Does anyone else find this amusing and bemusing? Is it just not cricket, or a sign of the times?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sacred Wonder

Teach me, God, to wonder,
teach me, God, to see.
Let your world of beauty capture me.
Praise to you be given.
Love for you be lived.
Life be celebrated, joy you give!

Walter Farquharson

"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." E. B. White

I've just started into William Brown's new book Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God's Word and World. Brown is a Hebrew scripture scholar, but in this book he looks at texts from older and newer testaments to explore the nature of wonder, not to mention wonder in nature. He is always an insightful and deeply spiritual writer and in the first pages this book doesn't disappoint. I'm looking forward to delving in.

There is always a danger in religion to forget just how central wonder is to the spiritual experience. Brown quotes Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers in which she reminds us that "Wow means we are not dulled to wonder." Great thought, but we often do have the shine rubbed off our sense of wow.

A few months ago son Isaac sent us a wee video of grandson Nicholas running back and forth between their house and the one next door. It was raining and water was gushing out of the downspouts from both buildings. Nicholas had to get his boots under both torrents and delighted in the race back and forth. Wonder and wow.

Wonder doesn't have to be complicated or involve a trip to a distant place and children and grandchildren can reteach us the spiritual pleasure of wonder.  

Do you still have the capacity for wonder and joy? Do you need a wonder transplant? What holds you back from wonder?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crimes against the Planet?

Over time there have been trials for war criminals, bringing to justice those who have committed violence against other human beings. The most notable may be the Nuremburg trials, an international court of justice for those who perpetrated the Nazi atrocities of World War II. There have been prosecutions of individuals such as Slobodan Milosevic in the International Court of Justice, as well as those who were key figures in the mass killings of Rwanda. I pray that one day in the not too distant future the Syrian despot, Bashar al-Assad, will be held accountable for the crimes against his own people.

Is it enough though to address the wrongs committed against human beings? Will there ever be an international court of justice for those who willingly do harm to the planet? Recently we heard that scientists in the employ of the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil knew of the impact of climate change for decades and that the company suppressed sharing the information with investors. Of  course ExxonMobil denies this.

I will be careful about comparing the conniving ways of a corporation to mass murder, but we do know that climate change poses at least as great a threat as war to the wellbeing of Planet Earth. At some point we have to ask how corporations are held accountable for their actions.

The attorney general of the state of New York is considering whether to lay charges against ExxonMobil. While I'm dubious about this because of the power of these corporations, we did see Big Tobacco brought to justice, after a fashion, for fudging the truth about their cancer-causing products.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York,
shown in May, issued a subpoena Wednesday demanding extensive financial records,
emails and other documents from the company. Credit Hans Pennink/Associated Press        

Justice is a central theme in scripture and God knows we need a new and more honest script for our planet. The greedy actions of corporations and governments are sinful in my view, but then I am a lowly pastor!

In my very first blog entry in 2006 I expressed outrage that Exxon had realized a ten billion quarterly profit despite the fact that the coastal waters of Alaska were still recovering from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and we are told that 25 years later the majority of monitored areas still haven't healed. We are now realizing that the effects of climate change far exceed that of any spill.  

Workers dry off a sea otter after it was cleaned up. About 2,800 sea otters died the first year after the spill -- right afterward 1,000 carcasses were found -- and hundreds  more have died since from digging clams in beaches that were still contaminated with oil.

Do we need to consider corporate greed and suppression of the truth as actual crimes, rather than simply calling it immoral? Are you encouraged to hear that a jurisdiction is investigating a corporation for contributing to climate change?

Since I wrote this earlier I've discovered that this topic was featured on CBC's The Current today

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Privilege of Giving

In the past couple of days we've been told that our new federal government in Canada is committed to bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees here before the end of the year. That is an average of 500 a day and honestly, as much as I would like this to happen I'm dubious that it can in a way that is in the best interests of the newcomers. I don't want this to be a determined attempt to fulfil a political promise if it any way jeopardizes the wellbeing of the people who are entering the country.

On the other hand, this may be the challenge that Canadians need. Yesterday I saw a list in The Guardian of the ten most generous nations on the planet and Canada was listed at number four, which ain't too shabby. We are surpassed by New Zealand, the United States, and (drum roll) Myanmar. Could you find Myanmar on a map!

Don't get too puffed up now. Apparently we Canadians are more generous with our time than our money, and our charitable contributions are shrinking. I wonder if that's because the older base for charitable giving is dying off and younger people are less inclined to contribute financially. That's what churches are finding.  

Our Belleville United Church refugee sponsorship initiative is receiving lots of support. I'm hoping that folk open their wallets a bit more, but we are solidly on our way with furnishings and volunteers in every sphere of integration. Now we just need to get our family of five here.

I pray that we all realize the breadth of our blessings and respond with practical compassion. I don't think it's any accident that the majority of sponsorships are coming from faith-based groups. It is the mandate of most faiths and certainly a central aspect of Christianity.

We may be considered one of the most generous nations on Earth but we can't rest on our laurels.

Do you consider yourself generous or are you a piker? Do you give of your time, and talent, and money? Does your faith motivate you? Have you become more or less generous through the years?

As you know, I'm thrilled that you read this blog, but this is a time I would really like to hear from you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Embedded image permalink

Many of us will be at local cenotaphs or taking time to listen and watch broadcasts of Remembrance Day observances tomorrow. It is a meaningful and touching experience. given that few of our World War Two veterans are still with us. This past Sunday we acknowledged the man who is our last WWII vet because the other two died in the past year.

There is a growing call for municipalities and businesses to lay off the Christmas decorations until after Remembrance Day, which still allows six weeks for the holly, jolly decorations. There has even been some public shaming of those who don't demonstrate sufficient respect to those who have served and the solemnity of November 11th. A store in Manitoba is quite direct in its choice to forgo Christmas decorations and merchandise.

Am I the only one who finds this a tad ironic? I'm all for honouring our veterans, but how about a little respect for the baby Jesus here! I'm not inclined toward the whole "war on Christmas" thing, but why do so few seem to care that the infant has disappeared under an avalanche of consumer hoopla and the frenzy to buy, buy, buy?

 We have turned Christmas into the very opposite of the child born in the simplicity of a manger, and preached a message of radical trust in God to provide. Jesus decried wealth and acquisition, and yet this is the defacto "reason for the season" in our culture.

Does anyone else find the indignation somewhat contrived, or just plain odd?

Monday, November 09, 2015

Will You Pray for the Climate?

During the month of November we are including prayers in our bulletin for the upcoming international climate change conference which will take place in Paris from November 30th to December 11th. It is known as COP 21, the twenty-first such conference of Conference of the Parties (hence the COP)  to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I have encouraged our folk to pray every day of this month and who knows whether anyone will take the time to do so. It does have a "dear God, the world is going to hell in a hand basket, so please turn the heat" feel to it. What exactly do we pray for? Do we actually have any faith that the leaders of nations will finally take off  their fossil-fuels rules, the-economy-is-everything blinders in order to develop a collective vision for addressing climate change?

It does seem futile when some scientists tell us that even if we repent and change our foolish ways as a result of the conference our planet home will continue to heat up and sea levels rise. Many scientists are convinced that many major coastal cities will be under water by the end of the century and nothing we can do today will change the outcome. They also tell us that there are record concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. As climate scientist and Christian Katherine Hayhoe points out, this isn't about whether we "believe" in climate change, it is about the scientific evidence.

I'm going to keep praying. I'm going to ask God to give me wisdom and determination to make a difference through my personal choices and in my expectations for every level of the governments for which I have the opportunity to vote.

I was convinced that the previous federal government willfully ignored and even suppressed the scientific evidence around the effects of climate change and became an environmental pariah amongst the nations of the world. I am encouraged that the new government will be well represented at COP21 and has invited provincial premiers and leaders of other parties. I'm choosing to view this as an answer to prayer, although it didn't quite fit my timeline! I'm not counting on miracles, but I will hope for change.

Will you pray for a practical agreement and effective change out of COP21? Are you dismayed by what you hear? Would you accept radical change in your lifestyle for the sake of the planet and future generations?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Discerning Eyes and Ears

Last evening more than 300 people attended a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah at Bridge St. United Church. It was a big deal with more than fifty members in the chorus, four exceptional soloists, and a guest organist playing our restored Casavant. Our Music Minister Terry Head conducted and he did an impressive job of bringing the performance to fruition.

The composer Mendelssohn was born Jewish, but his family converted to Christianity. Elijah is in some respects an homage to his religious heritage, along with the "superhero" prophet whose story unfolds in 1st and 2nd Kings. Along with the key stories from Elijah's life, including the rescue of a starving widow and her son, and dust-ups with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, other biblical passages from Isaiah and the Psalms are interwoven in a deft manner. Of course the "still small voice" story is included and quite beautiful.

The dominant drama in the first act is the encounter between God's prophet Elijah and the prophets of the false god Baal. It is a story of blood and gore and it certainly caused me to ponder the "texts of terror" in scripture, many of them tribal and ugly. This portion makes good choral excitement, and it was musically stirring, but it sure doesn't seem consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not a criticism of our performance of Elijah! It is a reminder that we must always read the bible with a discerning eye and listen with the perspective of Christ's call to a new way.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Elijah and Weather Warlocks

He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ I Kings 19:11-13
Tomorrow evening the oratorio Elijah will be performed at Bridge St UC and it will be a powerful musical experience. Elijah is one of those enigmatic and God-driven biblical figures who is a fitting subject for such a grand musical enterprise.
What did Elijah hear in the raging storm of the wilderness when he fled Ahab, the evil monarch? And was there music in the silence? Read this Orion piece about a musical initiative which "plays" the weather
QUINTRON, an experimental musician from New Orleans, has invented an instrument called the Weather Warlock. It’s an analog synthesizer that plays, and is played by, the rain, the wind, the sun, the slide of the thermometer’s mercury from one temperature to another. The synth’s base station, which lives in Quintron’s home studio in the Ninth Ward, is a box studded with knobs and switches. Fifty feet away, on the front porch, sensors mounted to a post detect changes in kinetic energy.
Says Quintron: “Analog electronics are breathing things, physical elements of the earth, very touchy and squishy and beautiful, and if you let them hold hands with nature, it’s pretty fucking awesome what they can do together.”
Indeed. For the past week I’ve been streaming the Warlock’s strange, dreamy, drifty, meditative music on my laptop, listening to it through headphones. A drone without beginning or end, an E major chord that goes and goes, it reminds me of the ambient electronica I loved spacing to back in high school. Lying in bed, eyes closed, the song spreads wide in the sky of my mind, morphing slow as a cloud, twitching with lightning, trembling at dawn and dusk. It rises and falls. It pulses. It pushes forward without thought or haste, twenty-four hours a day, all year round.

Says Quintron: “I wanted to make music that feels like looking at a fire or staring at waves, something where it’s repetitive and the same but also always fluctuating and bubbling with unexpected differences.” The Warlock succeeds in this task. It creates textures, fabrics of mood, not symphonies. In a sense, the instrument inhabits a space between nature and art. On the one hand, it gives voice to the more-than-vocal world: the latitude and dew point and moment-to-moment specifics of place that we don’t normally think of as music. On the other hand, the harmonies and tones the Warlock produces lack the structure and conscious intent of all that stuff we do tend to think of as music: the Mozart concertos, the Led Zeppelin riffs.

Says Quintron: “What happens when we take away the human design, the artistic choice to play this or that? What happens when an instrument’s not being played by anybody with any sort of emotion or desire, when it’s just kind of being plucked by blind random weather fairies?”
Eyes tight shut, headphones on, I feel as though I’m hearing this question both asked and answered. Despite lying perfectly still, some deep part of myself is in motion, moving as it has moved countless times before when those blind random fairies, those sprites called raindrops and sunrays and hailstones, plucked at the sensors of my own animal body. I dream. I drift. Memories come and go—lazy afternoons in a hammock, evenings floating across a calm lake, blizzards on alpine ridges, dry desert air, a double rainbow, a dragon of fog, a sweaty t-shirt clinging to my back as virga gauzes the far horizon.

Says Quintron: “I can imagine giving these synths to various climates all around the world. I can imagine tide sensors. I can imagine snowstorms.” The song swerves as a gust rushes up the street in New Orleans.

Okay, the general weirdness of this, not to mention the use of the word "warlock," would have some making the sign of the cross. To me it sounds at least intriguing and maybe even fascinating.

What are your thoughts? Oh, tickets at the door for Elijah!