Category Archives: Music

Video

“Spread over us a shelter of peace. Repair us with good wisdom. Save us.”

If you don’t know about The Epichorus yet, you should. I insist. The lyrics for this first video are the title of this post.

And this one, Na Gibor. One thing I have learned about the Hebrew word “Na” is that it means “Please.” In the Hebrew Bible, the Holy One frequently says “Na” when interacting with humans. As far as I can tell, this aspect of the Divine does not make it into any of the English translations of the Hebrew Bible, which is beyond regrettable to me. The plaintive repetitions of “Na” in this song give me chills. Every time.

“we beg you
with the greatness and power of your hand
untie our knot
receive the song of your people
lift us make us pure

please mighty one
those who expound your oneness
keep them as the pupil of the eye”

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We who believe in freedom

This song has been in my head all morning. I also recommend reading the following people’s takes on the Zimmerman verdict: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jelani Cobb, and Andrew Cohen. Turn off the TV and read, people. And listen to music. And figure out what your personal contribution is, and will be, toward making the world a more just place for all. And then find some people to work with and get out there and get busy.

I’m for this

[Update: New video added at the bottom. Thanks, Bruce, for the reminder of how much I love Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Ashes and Roses” album.]

This is the third year in a row I’ve posted this song for Valentine’s Day. I guess that makes it a tradition, or at least a thing. I look for other songs, but I always come back to this one.

For something more recent, there’s this. What’s not to love about a love song with the lyric “I ain’t no monkey but I know what I like”?:

Thanks to prompting from my friend Bruce’s comment, I found this video of the song that he mentioned, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Jericho.” Now we have a complete trifecta of beauty.

Plea. Gift. Sign.

It’s my turn to offer up some thoughts about Advent and/or Christmas music, as part of a blog chain started by my pal Harriet the Spy. Here are the other links in  this blog chain:

Harriet at spynotes
Hugh at Permanent qui vive
Jeanne at Necromancy never pays
Cranky at It’s My Blog!
Dr. Geek at Dr. Geek’s Laboratory
Lemming at Lemming’s Progress
Readersguide at Reader’s Guide to…
Freshhell at Life in Scribbletown
edj3 at kitties kitties kitties
My Kids’ Mom at Pook and Bug
Yours truly
Magpie at Magpie Musing
Dave at The Ideal Dave
and then Harriet at spynotes will do a wrap-up

I love being in the company of such a groovy group of writers and thinkers, and I’m a little baffled at how I stumbled into this gang. I hope you’ll go read their blogs if you don’t know about them already. There’s very cool stuff happening out here in Internetville.

The Little Drummer Boy
How much have I always hated this song? Let me count the ways. Nah, rather than count, I will tell you that I have hated this song with the intensity of a thousand supernovas, ever since I can remember. For a host of reasons, this song has always been like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Until a couple of years ago.

In 2010, PW’s friend Ana Hernandez released an album of Advent and Christmas music called “An Unexpected Christmas,” in which Ana’s arrangements of some familiar songs, as well as some original work, are sung by the Virginia Girls Choir from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA.

The first track on this album is The Little Drummer Boy. Cue Joybells’ rolled eyes, the “Oh geez, I can’t believe they’re beginning the album with THAT!” I had my finger hovering over the fast forward button, but then this unfolded:

I love the layers of percussion, with Ana’s tight harmonies shimmering above. And mostly I love the persistent minor-key-ness of it. And now it’s an earworm that I welcome.

Once in Royal David’s City

Yeah, yeah, this is an old holiday chestnut. Except when it cracks you open as if YOU are the nut.

At PW’s previous church, I sang in the choir–mostly tenor. Five years ago was the last midnight Christmas Eve service for PW and me, before we moved on to Emmanuel Church. So it was already emotionally loaded for me.

The music director, A, and his wife, L (who was also the soprano soloist for the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City) had a six-month-old baby girl at the time. As the choir was lining up in the hallway outside the sanctuary getting ready to process, L was trying to get Baby E to fall asleep before the service started. It was late and E was so tired she was cross-eyed. But there was a lot of energy in the hallway, and she just couldn’t get over the edge into sleep.

As the organ prelude began to wind down, I told L, “Just give me the baby. You’ve got to go sing that gorgeous solo. We can’t start without that.” So L put her restless daughter in my arms and I threw a blanket over E’s to try to reduce her visual stimuli.

I found my place in the line and bounced E in my arms (that always worked with GForce, before she got to be six feet tall!) Then from the back of the sanctuary, L began to sing that soaring melody, unaccompanied: “Once in Royal David’s city, stood a lowly cattle shed…” By the time she got to the second line of the hymn, her voice hovering over our heads in the hallway, E was limp–sound asleep in my arms.

As the choir began to process in on the second verse, I tweaked that gorgeous tenor line by singing to E, “She came down to earth from heaven…” We sang and processed slowly through the candlelit sanctuary, and the baby slept through the whole thing. I sang my heart out, tears welling up and then spilling over. And as I looked at the congregation, most of the people I saw were also weeping. Afterwards, people asked me if we had staged it, my carrying the baby during the procession. But, in a distillation of one of the messages of the Christmas story, what began as a purely practical solution became an entirely magical moment, and now I can’t hear or sing that song without remembering the weight of slumbering possibility in my arms.

The Infant King (Sing Lullaby)

In the weeks leading up to that same service where I processed carrying the sleeping baby, I made a CD of all the songs we were going to be singing so that I could practice in the car. I had never sung “The Infant King (Sing Lullaby)” before, and I was a little worried because every time I practiced it I couldn’t get through it without crying.

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
Over the place where he is lying.
Sing lullaby!

So far so good in terms of the lyrics, but the intertwining of the parts is so evocative for me. The first verse is an exquisite set-up for the heartbreak that sneaks up in the second verse. The first verse is such a great musical and lyrical painting of this moment: it’s the wee hours of the middle of the night after I’ve just given birth to GForce, and the nurse has brought her to me, wrapped tighter than a burrito, after they’ve taken her to the nursery to bathe and swaddle her. And it’s just the two of us. She’s sleeping. I’m staring at her. Will I ever sleep again? Do I even care? Look at what I made! Everything’s all “La la la happy happy happy.” And then the second verse comes along like a sucker punch.

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-dozing,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
Then in the grave at last reposing:
Sing lullaby!

The first time we read this through in rehearsal, I thought, “WHAT?! We’re singing THIS on Christmas EVE?? Nails? Piercing? Can’t we celebrate the miracle of birth for more than 30 seconds before we move on to humiliation and execution?” But isn’t that exactly how it is with parenting? Bliss and abject fear intertwine. As soon as you bring a child into your life, you set yourself up for a lifetime of this. It’s maybe the only love affair we have where, if we’re doing it well, we’re getting our hearts broken over and over again. And, perversely, we hope that we get to live for decades with this parental bliss and fear.

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby! is the babe a-waking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the Infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning,
Conquering Death, its bondage breaking:
Sing lullaby!

I love the melody and harmonies of this carol so much that my theological disagreements with the specifics of its lyrics are irrelevant. This carol is the distillation of my journey to becoming a Christian. For me, worrying about whether anything in scripture [f]actually happened is completely missing the point. What matters to me is the arc of these ancient stories. The details don’t have to be factual for the arc to be fundamentally true. Any storyteller worth her or his salt knows this. And the arc of scripture bends toward redeeming Love. Relentlessly.

The arc of this carol is the same as the arc of what it means to me to be both human and Christian: we begin with the wonder of birth (of life, of a dream, of an idea, of hope), to the crushing of dreams that is death (not just physical death, but any humiliation, brutal defeat, exhausted resignation, senseless violence), to the resilience and redemption of Love, which never lets death have the final word. Never.

I’m writing this on Sunday night, after watching President Obama address the community of Newtown, CT, the latest town torn apart by a mass shooting. I’m writing this a week after hearing of the sudden death of a long-time friend, mentor, and colleague of PW’s and mine. I feel “hemmed in by death,” as PW described it to a friend early last week, days before Newtown became shorthand for unspeakable violence and loss.

And yet.

I watched a video Saturday night of one of the parents of a six-year-old girl who was killed in Newtown. Here’s one view of how Love conquers “death, its bondage breaking.” I urge you to watch the entire thing, if you haven’t seen it already.

Connecticut Shooting Tragedy: Robbie Parker | Video – ABC News

I’m going to let the brilliant poet, Christina Rossetti, have the last word here. I couldn’t find a choral rendition of this carol that I liked, so I’m going with Shawn Colvin’s version. That’s like settling for Paradise instead of Nirvana. This carol’s beauty can mask the urgency of its rousing charge. It’s not a lullaby; it’s a commission: Whatever we do, don’t miss any opportunity to testify to Love. There will always be senseless violence and brokenness in the world. There can never be too much Love. Let Love and Beauty be our tokens. May Love and Beauty bloom wherever we are–as plea, gift, and sign.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and [all of us]
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Press play / Don’t press pause

I have a lot of memories of sitting my parents down in the living room while I played a new record for them. I’d drop the needle, then come over and sit between them. I’d hold the album cover on my lap. If we were lucky, we’d look at the record sleeve with the lyrics printed on it. We’d sit and listen together, often commenting on a particular lyric. My mom usually ended up crying because, well, because that is how my mom rolls.

This scene played over and over throughout my adolescence and young adulthood. It was how I introduced my parents to Sweet Honey in the Rock, Holly Near, Judy Small, and who knows how many other singers.

It’s not surprising to me to watch myself become a mashup of my parents, both as a mirror image and as the photographic negative of opposite-ness. That seems inevitable. What surprises me is watching my kids repeat a history that they don’t know.

Since music is consumed very differently by 21st century children than it was back in the 1970s, we don’t sit on the couch together looking at lyrics printed on an album cover or liner. In fact, often, there’s nothing to hold at all. The music pours out of a little electronic device smaller than my hand, usually while it’s sitting in a docking station that creates bigger sound.

Last night, as we sat at the dining room table after dinner, GForce said she had a song she wanted to “show me.”

Me: Is it a rap song?
G: Yeah, but I think you’re gonna like it!
Me: I don’t know. I could probably count on one hand the number of raps songs I like.
G: Come on mom, it’s not one of those (makes hip hop hand gestures) “Yeah, come on bitch, let’s get drunk and have some sex…” Just keep your mind open!

When I stopped giggling, I reluctantly agreed to keep my mind open.

She pressed play.

Quiet shimmery synthesizer. Simple, shallow piano line, as though from a toy piano. More layers of sound. More toy piano, plunking out a simple melody.

At about 43 seconds, a man speaks the line, “When I was in the 3rd grade/I thought that I was gay/’Cause I could draw…”

Goosebumps. This is no ordinary rap song.

At about a minute and 42 seconds, a woman’s voice cuts in with a plaintive, “And I can’t change/Even if I tried/Even if I wanted to…”

My eyes welled up. I’m doing a Mom.

I looked across the table at GForce, hunched over her homework and oblivious to the floodgates that had opened. I thought back to how safe I felt, sitting between my parents as we listened to music together on the couch. I always knew they loved me—ferociously—even when they didn’t understand me, or were afraid for my safety because I was queer.

How lucky I am to have had my parents’ relentless and resilient companionship, support, and love for so long. So there I sat letting history repeat itself in the best possible way, and praying for the creativity and strength to love my kids with a fraction of the generosity with which my parents have loved me, with their open minds and their hearts being broken over and over.

When your new baby is put in your arms for the first time, nobody warns you of the looming lifetime of heartbreak. Yes, it’s hard to watch your kids experience physical pain. But that’s nothing compared to watching them endure the pain of fear, of rejection, of being unhappy, of wondering how they are going to get through another day of bullying, of being bewildered, confused, and struggling to figure out what the next right thing is, and whether they’d even want to do it once they figure it out. It turns out that even the deepest most irrational animal instinct to “protect my young” can’t protect my kids from the trials of being humans, attempting to make their way in a world filled with other humans.

The song continued. The tears filled up my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. GForce was working feverishly on drawing a picture of a person, whose features she then had to label with Spanish words.

Near the end, as the woman’s voice faded while she chanted “Love is patient (I’m not crying on Sundays)/Love is kind (I’m not crying on Sundays),” GForce looked up from her paper.

G: “Aww! How long have you been crying, Mom?”
Me: Since before the woman singer finished her first line. [Sniff.]

GForce came over to my chair, bent over, wrapped her arms around me, and rested her head on my shoulder. “Now I’m going to cry, too.” she said.

Then she told me that one of her best friends, who is straight, found this song and played it for her. Last year, on the annual Day of Silence, this same friend wore a Day of Silence T-Shirt all day to support G-Force and other kids in the school who spend every day trying to stand up tall in the oppressively heterosexist environment that is high school. A friend like that is solid gold, no matter how old you are.

An hour or so later, I found this video and we watched it together. By the time it ended, we were both crying. So runs the water wheel of life.

Same Love

by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and featuring Mary Lambert 

[Piano Intro]

[Verse 1: Macklemore]
When I was in the 3rd grade
I thought that I was gay
Cause I could draw, my uncle was
And I kept my room straight
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like, “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-K”
Trippin’, yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head
I remember doing the math like
“Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant
For those who like the same sex had the characteristics
The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition
Playing God
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all His children is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
3,500 hundred years ago
I don’t know

[Hook: Mary Lambert]
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to [x2]
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]

[Verse 2: Macklemore]
If I was gay
I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man that’s gay”
Gets dropped on the daily
We’ve become so numb to what we’re sayin’
Our culture founded from oppression
Yeah, we don’t have acceptance for ’em
Call each other faggots
Behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate
Yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color
Complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit-ins
It’s human rights for everybody
There is no difference
Live on! And be yourself!
When I was in church
They taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren’t anointed
And that Holy Water
That you soak in
Is then poisoned
When everyone else
Is more comfortable
Remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans
That have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same
But that’s not important
No freedom ’til we’re equal
Damn right I support it
[Trombone]
I don’t know

[Hook: Mary Lambert]

[Verse 3: Macklemore]
We press play
Don’t press pause
Progress, march on!
With a veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
‘Til the day
That my uncles can be united by law
Kids are walkin’ around the hallway
Plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful
Some would rather die
Than be who they are
And a certificate on paper
Isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law’s gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up

[Hook: Mary Lambert]

[Outro: Mary Lambert]
Love is patient, love is kind
Love is patient (I’m not cryin’ on Sundays)
Love is kind (I’m not crying on Sundays) [x5]

Lucky Seven

Last page of the poem "Us Two" from PW's mom's childhood copy of A.A. Milne's "Now We Are Six"

Note: I posted a lot of this last year under the title “Now we are six” for PW’s and my sixth anniversary, but I’ve made a few changes for Lucky Seven.

When I was first starting to come out to people in the early 1980s, two of the laments that I often heard were that I’d 1) never be able to have children and 2) never be able to get married.  Well, never say never to a Bull Girl. GForce is closing in on 15, and PW and I are celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary today.

Truth be told, it took me a long time to figure out how to get here, and like so much of life, some of the getting here happened while I was headed in the wrong direction.  I have needed massive amounts of patience, help, and luck along the way in order to hit this double jackpot at the end of my double rainbow. I still need massive amounts of patience, help, and luck to become both the mom and the wife I want to be.  Simply put, I always want to be better than I am so far at both of those roles.

I often marvel at the unrelenting surprise of getting to be married to PW. “Thanks for being married to me” is something we say to each other a lot. We’ve known each other for more than 22 years, we’ve been together for more than 12 years, and yet I continue to feel surprised after seven years of marriage.  Is it a constant state of grace, or an early sign of dementia?! Maybe there are cases where there’s no difference between the two and maybe this is one of them.

In the wee hours of the night, my Bull Brain is prone to some pretty goofy maneuvers — things I’d never let it try in the light of day.  What I wrote down some time last year — in the dark — was that marriage is like being pregnant with a child while you are raising it.  I would never have remembered this thought if I hadn’t been able to decode the scrawl in my bedside notebook, sandwiched between similarly scrawled lines of Lily Tomlin’s character Trudy from her one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” and a reminder to look something up on the Internet. [Last year after the “Now we are six” post, a childhood friend mailed me a pen that has a light at the end of it. No more writing in the dark! Thank you, Saundra, for helping to light my way.]

The idea of marriage as an exercise in being pregnant with the child you are simultaneously raising seems so much more appropriate to me than the metaphor of building a plane while we’re flying it, or of making it all up as we go along, both of which have their moments of truth as applied to the enterprise of marriage.  So much of the growth and development in marriage, or any covenant relationship, happens under the surface, deep in the bones or connective tissue of the covenant itself.  And sometimes it’s possible to see external evidence of this growth and development, but not always.  At least, not for me.

When I was pregnant with GForce, I remember being deeply curious about the baby girl who did her first bit of growing up inside me.   Would she be cute?  Would she have a distinctive personality?  Please, God, could she at least be funny? I know now that these are all check, check and check.  But as my pregnancy wore on, the whole mystery of this individual who was living inside me but whom I did not know was increasingly preoccupying.

Somewhere around the sixth or seventh month, I dreamed that I got out of bed, went into the bathroom and delivered the baby in a dream-enabled no-muss-no-fuss kind of way, right there on the 50s era pink and black tile floor.  As I sat there looking at her, I felt a deep sense of dream-calm wash over me.  In that same moment, the newborn in my dream looked up at me and said, “See, Mom, everything’s okay!”  Then she crawled back into my body and I went back to bed.  My waking anxiety about who this little sprout was dissipated, probably supplanted by the growing dread of, “Oh my god, this huge thing has to leave my body through THERE?!?!”  But I digress.

Sometimes my marriage is like that dream.  I’ll be chewing on some baffling mystery that’s taking up an increasing amount of space in my Bull Brain, and PW will call to check in, or I’ll come home to a bunch of flowers on the dining room table, or she’ll reach over wordlessly and rest her hand on my leg, and there will be some sort of silent, psychic shift that creates space where there wasn’t any before.  I don’t know how that happens; I just know that when the two of us stick together, as Pooh says above, amazing things happen.  Plus, we both love soup, and we could talk or not talk forever, and still find things to not talk about. To ask for any more than that seems downright greedy.

Today’s musical offering is an interesting twist on the traditional love song, as one might expect from the singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith. I was first introduced to the song “Hard Bargain” on Emmylou Harris’ album of the same name, which was released earlier this year, so I’m using a video of one of her performances. “Hard Bargain” seems like the perfect love song to celebrate the seventh birthday of our marriage. The line “How’s a girl supposed to fail/with someone like you around?” really says it all.

Thanks for driving such a hard – and beautiful – bargain, baby.

Lyrics to “Hard Bargain” by Ron Sexsmith

I’m a bit run down, but I’m okay
I just feel like calling it a day
But you send me back to the start
You drive a hard bargain

Each time I’m heading for nowhere
Doomed and determined to go there
It seems I never get far
‘Cos you drive a hard bargain
You drive a hard bargain

How’s a girl supposed to fail
With someone like you around?
I’ve tried and tried to no avail
You just can’t seem to let me down
You drive a hard bargain

How’s a girl supposed to fail
With someone like you around?
I’ve tried and tried to no avail
You just can’t seem to let me down
You drive a hard bargain
You drive a hard bargain

So I’ll keep on playing that old song
‘Cos for all I know it’s where I belong
When the world is breaking my heart
You drive a hard bargain

You send me back to the start
You drive a hard bargain
You drive a hard bargain
I’m a bit run down, but I’m okay

Perspectives on Heaven

Malachi Ward's "Map of Heaven" (Click on it to buy it on his Etsy page)

For those of you following the Revised Common Lectionary’s recipe for how to make a Church Year, you know that this past Sunday was Ascension Sunday, when the readings and prayers celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven to join God and Holy “The Friendly” Ghost.

Last Sunday was also “Youth Sunday” at GForce’s church. The youth did all the readings, the prayers, and the sermon. As they were divvying up the various responsibilities, GForce apparently volunteered to preach. When my gaping mouth betrayed my excitement on hearing this, she explained, “If I have to get up in front of a bunch of people and read, I’d rather read my own words.” Look out, world. We might have a third-generation preacher in the making.

GForce also volunteered one of her friends (I’ll call her Stella) to preach with her. When I offered to spend a couple of hours with the two of them on Saturday morning to bat around some sermon ideas, they were surprisingly excited.

On the way over to Stella’s house, GForce and I were talking about this business of Ascension Sunday, and I reminded GForce of one of PW’s recurring preaching themes: when Jesus talked about heaven, he wasn’t talking about some faraway paradise that some of us get to go to after we die. Jesus’ life and ministry were about how heaven is very near, how heaven is at hand—right here and right now—when we focus on giving ourselves and others a chance at life BEFORE death: by feeding people who are hungry, giving water to people who are thirsty, sheltering people who are vulnerable, freeing people who are trapped, etc.

GForce thought about this for a bit and said, “Yeah, I like that. I don’t see the point of going to church just so you can get into a heaven that’s supposed to exist after you die.” Me neither, Grasshoppah.

GForce, Stella, and I had a delightful time together Saturday morning. It was inspiring to me to hear the different ways these two teenagers are chewing on what it means to call themselves Christians, what it means to participate in a church community, what it means to be privileged, what it means to be human.

When Sunday came, the girls did an amazing job of preaching together, and I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to the art form of the sermon (PW can attest to that). Many a wonderfully written sermon is thoroughly hosed by a preacher who doesn’t understand that a sermon is, above all, an oral art form.

GForce and Stella really got that, and it wasn’t something we talked about. They marked the text up to give themselves reminders to look up, to look at each other, to pause for emphasis. They spoke slowly, expressively, and confidently. They engaged the congregation. They got some laughs, and more than a few people had tears in their eyes at the end.

GForce and Stella have given me their permission to share the text of their sermon with you. I’ve marked some of the paragraphs for who was speaking, but I can’t remember exactly how they divvied everything up, and I kind of like how it blurs together like that.

GForce: For Youth Sunday, I volunteered to do this sermon, and I volunteered Stella, who was absent, to do it with me (pause). Because that’s just how it is in church. You volunteer, or you get volunteered.  (pause)

Stella: Luckily I didn’t mind at all, I was excited to write the sermon with GForce.

As you know, it’s also Ascension Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven. But Jesus’ life actually seemed to be about making heaven on earth – a place where hungry people are fed, like here at our Food Pantry, or where thirsty people have water to drink, like in the villages where St. Paul’s has worked in Honduras, a place where we can be cared about by others, and care for others, where we can put good out to get good in, and appreciate the beauty in the world.

Tracy Chapman has a song, some of you may be familiar with, it’s called “Heaven’s here on Earth”.

If we have faith in human kind
And respect for what is earthly
And an unfaltering belief
In peace and love and understanding
This could be heaven here on earth

I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise
Of ordinary people leading ordinary lives
Filled with love, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice
Heaven’s in our hearts

We looked up “ascend” in the dictionary. Apart from meaning to climb, or to go upwards, ascend also means “to come to occupy.” We believe that St. Paul’s is place where we volunteer to let Jesus into our own hearts, and we let Jesus be a part of our own lives. When we let him occupy our hearts and minds and thoughts, we can follow his ways to create the heaven he wants to exist on earth. Even though Jesus is not with us in the physical way that he was with his disciples thousands of years ago, Jesus is with us spiritually, and his teachings give us an example to live by, to try and make that heaven more alive on Earth.

I believe that confirmation is a part of that. We chose to step up, and claim our places in the Episcopal church so that we could come to occupy a part of it. When we were commissioned to be confirmed by Jeff, we were asked to carry hope in places of despair, to sow love in places of hatred, where there is doubt, faith, where there is sadness joy. This is the Heaven on Earth we both hope to make more prominent.

GForce: I was confirmed to be closer to the St. Paul’s community. I wanted to find out what Heaven means to me. I actually found out by writing this sermon. When Stella and I were discussing what we wanted to say, we spoke about how Jesus wants us to step up and have a life before we die, not just to hope for something better once we pass. Living in the moment, and trying our best to create a heaven under the soles of our feet, not only in the stars.

Stella: I joined the confirmation process part of the way through. I was living abroad when it all started but also, I was never baptized as a baby. My parents wanted me to decide what I wanted for myself in religion. So when I was offered the opportunity to be confirmed, just I dismissed it without much thought. But, when I returned from where I was living abroad, I returned to Sunday School and services. Although I didn’t have plans to be confirmed, I was asked to go on the New York trip. I had so much fun with my friends, and the Nightwatch program at St. John the Divine was eye-opening for me. Our mentor told me I could be baptized before confirmation, and then get confirmed with the rest of the group. I thought shortly before deciding I really wanted to go on the confirmation journey, and do it with my friends. I wanted to be a more solid part of St. Paul’s, and I wanted to explore God, to learn to listen to [God] more carefully, and find what [God] wants me to do. Right now, I think I understand that [God] wants me to do all these things that make Heaven more visible on Earth, to come to occupy my space in the church by showing up, participating in events like the Walk for Hunger, and letting Jesus occupy my heart more often and more deeply, both in and out of church.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” Jesus ascended to come and occupy our hearts. We would like to take a moment for you to remember those you have lost in a physical way, and allow them to occupy this space with you, or to take a moment and let Jesus occupy your own heart.

(35 seconds of silence)

Amen.

That silence at the end was a brilliant touch. After they said “Amen,” their priest stood and led the congregation in a long round of applause, for them and for all the other teenagers who had led worship.

If you don’t know Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth,” I suggest you find it and listen to it. It’s on her “New Beginning” album.

With all the talk about heaven ringing in my head, my latest earworm has been Matraca Berg’s “South of Heaven,” from her new album, “The Dreaming Fields.” I have this weird habit of walking home from the bus at the end of the day while listening to songs that often make me cry. I don’t plan it that way, but it happens at least a couple of times a week. So far, no one has stopped their car to ask me if I’m okay. If they did, I’d invite them to listen in. The first time I heard this song the floodgates opened when, on the recorded version, it sounds like her voice cracks both times on the line in the third verse, “You are not the only one.”

South of Heaven, by Matraca Berg

Praise and worship, bow your heads.
Say a prayer for the too soon dead.
Call it God´s will, call it fate.
Call for mercy, it’s too late.

Chorus:
‘Cause this ain’t where the angels dwell:
south of heaven, north of hell.
21 guns and cathedral bells
south of heaven, north of hell,
south of heaven, north of hell.

Mothers hold your babies close.
Father, son, and holy ghost
cannot keep them safe on earth.
So throw your rose down in the dirt.

Chorus

Holy water, tears of pain
cannot wipe away the stain.
God, you gave your only son.
But you are not the only one.
No, you are not the only one.

Chorus

Hear the weeping, hear the knell
south of heaven, north of hell.