Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Music: Things Have Changed

This Bob Dylan song from the 2000 movie Wonder Boys won a Grammy that year. This music video highlights the "song-and-dance-man" persona of the artist. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Where Rock Stars Go When They Die

I remember reading this joke several years ago - I think it was in Reader's Digest. They way I remember it, the key figures were Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and Karen Carpenter.  I found it after a quick search on the web. This version is found on BeliefNet at

Where Rock Stars Go When They Die

When Jerry Garcia died, he woke up and found himself on a stage on which a number of instruments were set up. A door offstage opened and in walked Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, John Lennon, Otis Redding and Buddy Holly.

Each musician picked up his favorite instrument and began tuning up.

Jerry walked up to Jimi and said, "Man, so this is what heaven is like."
Jimi looked at him and said, "Heaven? You think this is heaven?"
At that moment, Karen Carpenter walked in, took her seat behind the drums, and called out, "Okay guys, 'Close to You.' One, two, three, four!"

Here's another version from from A Prairie Home Companion website at :

James Brown went to the pearly gates and met St. Peter who took him to a room where Jerry Garcia was playing and Jimi Hendricks and Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. James Brown, "I was worried maybe I was going to Hell, but I guess not." Jerry Garcia says " You think this is Heaven?" Just then Lawrence Welk walked in and says " All right, One more time. "The Anniversary Waltz. '' A 1 and a 2, and a 1,2...


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Interfaith Dialogue During Ramadan

Islamic Mosque in Singapore
photo by C. Kinnaird
We are in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which this year began on Saturday, July 21. The Islamic Center in our city has for years been hosting dinners to welcome guests during the month of Ramadan in order to explain their customs and practices to their non-Muslim neighbors.  I think it is important for us to engage in interfaith dialogue. The major religions of the world are here to stay and the communities we live in are experiencing more diversity than ever. Nothing breeds conflict more quickly than ignorance and suspicion, so it is incumbent upon us to get to know our neighbors.

Jordan Denari  shared her account in America Magazine about the benefits she gained from interfaith friendships. In “Jesus Among Muslims,” she states,“Through my faith journey, I have concluded that engaging in interreligious dialogue is a crucial activity, not only for learning about others but, more important, for enriching one’s own faith.” You can read the entire article here.

For further reading, one of the most hopeful and helpful books that I have read is Beyond Tolerance by Gustav Niebuhr (great nephew of Reinhold Niebuhr, grandson of Richard Niebuhr), Viking Press. You can read a review of the book here.

To read my accounts of visits with our Muslim neighbors in past years, go to the following blog posts:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday Music - Love is Eternal Sacred Light

Music is important to me and from time to time I will post a song on this blog site. Today I'm launching a new feature called "Monday Music" which will feature a musical selection each Monday.

Today's feature is from Paul Simon's latest album, So Beautiful or So What. The album came out in 2011, but I only discovered it this Spring. Elvis Costello says that this may be Simon's best album ever, and I am inclined to agree. I am especially impressed that though he was 69 when the album was recorded, Paul Simon's voice is as clear and strong as ever. There is not a weak track in the mix. So Beautiful or So What has the quality of a "best of" album, but every song is new and fresh. Listening to this CD you'll find meaningful lyrics, memorable music and beautiful guitar instrumentation. One of the quieter songs on the CD is one that I want to learn to play myself, "Questions for the Angels."

For our Monday Music, sit back and enjoy "Love is Eternal Sacred Light."

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Song to Mithrandir in the Healing Lands of Lothlórien

Music and mythology are two of the strongest forces in the human experience, and today's blog post has both of these elements - especially if you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Myth can give us a powerful connection to our humanity and the story of life to which we all belong. Joseph Campbell was a wonderful communicator of the meaning of myth in such books as The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By, and of course his famous interviews by Bill Moyers in that widely viewed PBS series, The Power of Myth. Campbell was so well-versed in myths from all sectors of humanity that he could easily and eloquently convey the meaning and wonder of those tales from the soul of humanity.

J.R.R. Tolkien was another one who dedicated much of his career as a scholar to the study of ancient myths, especially the old Norse mythology and other myths of Northern Europe.  Tolkien was professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. He was also quite skilled in linguistics. His expertise was in Old English and Middle English, and he was a rigorous scholar. Tolkien saw no reason to offer modern English literature in university course work because anyone can read modern literature on their own (modern English literature included Geoffrey Chaucer and everything since). He apparently found his native English myths lacking compared to those of Nordic realms. He was able to draw from his knowledge of myth when he created his tale of Middle Earth told in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Indeed, his tale of Hobbits, rings of power, and mortal combat between good and evil has captured the imaginations of many, first in the popularity of his books, then in cinematic presentations of the story, most notably in Peter Jackson's movie trilogy of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003).

Odin, the Wanderer (1886)
 by Georg von Rosen 
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Prior to Jackson's popular cinematic production, there was a 1978 movie version of the Tolkien classic directed by Ralph Bakshi. That initial movie version only covered the first half of the story and used a combination of animation and live action. For me, one of the best scenes in that 1978 film was the one in the Elven realm of Lothlórien. The scene took place after Gandalf had fallen while attempting to hold back the Balrog to protect the others within the Fellowship of the Ring. The company of travelers find rest and healing  in the elven land and were given gifts from Lady Galadriel. During that scene in Lothlórien, a song was sung by the elves in remembrance of Gandalf, known to the elves as Mithrandir. After seeing the movie in the theater, I bought the soundtrack album solely because I had to have the song, "Mithrandir." the music was lovely and enchanting, the words conveying some of that beauty and power of myth:

                            Mithrandir though you're hidden
                            We're still guided by your light
                            You're walking beside us
                            A friend in the night

Thanks to You Tube I can share that delight from Bakshi's film. The lyrics are by Mark Fleischer and the music by Leonard Rosenmen.

by Mark Fleischer

Let the night never cease to call you
Let the day nevermore be the same
Though you've gone where we cannot find you
In each heart you have set your name

Mithrandir far you wander
And long may your name be sung
Through kingdoms of starlight
And realms of the sun
Mithrandir though you're hidden
We're still guided by your light
You're walking beside us
A friend in the night

We were lost when the dark descended
And the light gathered into a storm
You appeared like a sunlit morning
At the winds of a world at war

Mithrandir far you wander
And long may your name be sung
Through kingdoms of starlight
And realms of the sun
Mithrandir though you're hidden
We're still guided by your light
You're walking beside us
A friend in the night

Mithrandir rising through the shadow
Like a star shining deep in its home
You will dwell in our hearts forever
Nevermore will we stand alone


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Longing for the Peaceable Kingdom: A Brief History of Hope in Modern Times


Why can’t everybody just behave themselves and do the right thing?

One of the many versions painted by Edward Hicks of  The Peaceable Kingdom
(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) 

A New World Coming

In 1970, The Mamas and the Papas sang about “a new world coming and it’s just around the bend.”  I was 15 years old, going on 16, and I took some hope from those words sung by Cass Elliot over the radio waves. We had emerged from the 1960s which was an unsettled time of protest and demonstration.  The late sixties saw a potent and fertile combination of movements reflecting peace, destruction, love, rebellion, hope and disillusion. There were hippies dropping out, Beatles breaking up, students protesting and others shouting, “America: love it or leave it!” We were seeing racial unrest in city after city while people from our hometowns were still fighting and dying in Viet Nam.

I was glad that someone was singing,”Yes, a new world’s coming/ The one we’ve had visions of/ Coming in peace, coming in joy, coming in love.” I certainly longed for that new world to arrive. Perhaps I took heart thinking that as my generation emerged, things would indeed change as we left the old behind to create the new.

Then, as we say, Life happened. Instead of finding new ways of living, we are still struggling, disagreeing, fighting senseless wars, slowly killing ourselves in a suburban life of competition, career advancement, family break-ups, disconnection. We are struggling to hold on to our own spot of what we used to call God’s green earth (until it got paved and “green” became a politically partisan term).

Spiritual Awakening

I just read an article by Be Scofield in Tikun Daily blog titled “Why Eckhart Tolle’s Evolutionary Activism Won’t Save Us.” Eckhart Tolle apparently underwent a profound inner spiritual awakening after which he looked at life entirely differently and the world suddenly made sense. He found himself living with hope rather than despair. Tolle’s books, A New World, and The Power of Now present a hopeful message of transforming the world by way of inner spiritual awakening. Scofield’s article (which you can read here) provides a very good in depth look at Tolle, his ideas, and what inner spirituality accomplishes vs. the hard work of ethics and social justice.  I recommend Scofield’s article because I am one who is naturally drawn to the inner spiritual path.  I am always ready to hear the next version of “a new world coming.” I try to balance my natural inner spiritual impulse by listening to those who speak for justice and equality by way of social action.

I do not wish in any way to discredit spiritual practice. I firmly believe that it brings health, purpose and well being to the individual. I also think that it is important to understand the limitations of individual spirituality. I mentioned earlier the turmoil of the 1960s. There was something else happening during that same time period. Evangelist Billy Graham was in the prime of his successful career in preaching the gospel in his famous “crusades” all across the country. From the 1950s through the ‘60s and into the ‘70s Graham filled football stadiums wherever he went. His work saw thousands upon thousands respond to his initiation to spiritual rebirth. Billy Graham sincerely believed, like Eckart Tolle, that if you get the individual right, the world will be right. In Evangelical Christianity, there was often no call to social action because it was assumed that if everyone could just be converted to Christ, the world would be a better place.

Getting the World Right

There was an inspiring anecdote that I heard on more than one occasion during the 1970s about a man who was busy with some important matter and his young son kept interrupting him. The man wanted to give his son something to occupy him for a while so he decided to quickly make a puzzle for the little boy. Finding a picture of a world map in a magazine, he tore it into sections and asked his little boy to see if he could put it back together. To his surprise, the boy quickly returned with the world puzzle all in place. When the father asked him how he did that so quickly, the boy replied that he noticed a picture of a man on the other side of the magazine page. “I knew if I got the man right, the world would be right.” This story captured what Billy Graham and most Evangelical Christians believed – that if you get the individual right, the world would be right.

Ah, but there’s the rub. In later years, Rev. Graham himself reflected upon his disappointment that for all of his success in bringing lost souls into the fold, there was no corresponding difference in society. We still had the same crimes, injustices, and abuses. There was still corruption and dishonesty in business and politics.

Examples of Spirituality and Social Reform

We can look to the 18th and 19th centuries for examples of how spiritual enlightenment led to true social reform. William Wilberforce (1759 - 1833) was instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slave trade in Britain as well as prison reform, education reform, workers’ rights, and the establishment of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  Wilberforce was an English landowner and a Member of Parliament who had a spiritual awakening during the Wesleyan Revival. His insights may have come by way of personal prayer and devotion, but the social changes that he helped bring about came about as a result of years of tireless work.  He engaged the political process in Parliament and coordinated economic measures to help his fellow citizens to finally agree to end the slave trade. One measure was taken that served as both a symbolic act and an economic lever: Wilberforce along with many others refused to buy sugar processed by slave labor.

John Woolman was an American Quaker who lived from 1720 to 1772. At an early age, he came to see slaveholding as being inconsistent with his Christian faith. He worked on a personal level to convince his fellow Quakers that slaveholding was wrong, even though some Quakers bought slaves in order to treat them humanely. Like Wilberforce in England, Woolman engaged in personal acts of protest against an unjust system. He refused to wear clothing made from dyed cloth because the dye industry in the American Colonies was entirely done by slave labor. One can imagine that he must have made quite a visual impression wherever he went, wearing clothes that were only the color of natural cotton of wool. 

Like Wilberforce, John Woolman’s spirituality influenced his view of what is just and humane. Also like Wilberforce, his compassion extended to animal welfare. At one point, he stopped taking the stagecoach for travel because it was too cruel and injurious to the horses. Unlike Wilberforce, Woolman was not a public political figure. His influence was on a personal level through his networking within the Quaker communities. By the end of his life, Woolman had convinced many within the Society of Friends (Quaker) to free their slaves and eventually the Friends were leaders in the Abolition Movement in the U.S.

Taking the Long View of Awareness, Enlightenment, and Diligent Work

Finding the peaceable kingdom involves inner work, outer discipline, and community involvement. Sometimes we just have to live into the idea that a better society is possible. We live with setbacks and disappointments, but we also take time to remember that some things are better than they used to be. We have worker’s rights and child labor laws that would make Charles Dickens proud and William Blake ecstatic. We still have racial inequity, but we did abolish slavery and eventually enacted civil rights legislation so that at the very least we understand that as a society we need to be standing for equal rights. There is a continuing struggle to secure equal opportunity for women and to recognize equality for gays and lesbians, but at least there is greater awareness than there was even ten years ago. We are not where we should be in green technology, yet more people are aware of the need to care for the environment. There are still plenty of scoundrels in the world, but there are also more people with enlightened views of equity and justice. 

I believe it takes all kinds of people bringing various gifts to create a society that works for the common good. Some are talented at organizing people and publically engaging the political process. Others are better at finding ways to educate people about economic and social injustices. If you can’t be a William Wilberforce to fight the public political fight, maybe John Woolman’s quieter personal style is more your speed. Most of us are not in a position to influence thousands or even hundreds, but we can have some influence on our neighbor.

We already have many opportunities to take a personal stand that can be both symbolic and economic, just as Wilberforce’s choice of sugar or Woolman’s avoidance of dyes. We can look for Fair Trade products in buying coffee, clothing or furniture. We can choose environmental friendly products and green technology. Certainly there is a vital role each of us can play in creating a better society that speaks to the common good. Some of us will get there by way of spiritual practice, some by ethical determination, some by way of compassion and still others out of a desire to preserve the earth and its resources. Some will believe that if we can sing about it, surely it is possible and they will hold on to that hope and inspiration during the long and tedious process of making the dream a reality.

So work if you can, pray if you will, and sing if you must. There is still a hope within us for that peaceable kingdom.

*    *    *    *    *

Here are some previous posts affirming that things are better than they were:


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Celebrating Independence Day

I spent the Fourth of July with my wife and a friend at the annual barbeque held by Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Homewood. They have been hosting a barbeque on Independence Day for over 60 years, and it is a BIG DEAL in town. They have tons of pork, ribs, chicken, beans and cole slaw, homemade cakes and pies, games for the kids, and a HUGH yard sale.  The streets are lined with cars as people make their way to the event.

While enjoying some excellent barbecue chicken and looking about at all the celebration, I couldn’t help thinking about how in the not-too-distant past Catholics had to take special strides to prove that they were loyal, decent, patriotic Americans (some of the popes in the past who talked about the dangers of democracy probably didn’t help matters). There was still some residual of that question in our nation’s psyche when John F. Kennedy ran for President and had to reassure voters that he would always put the country’s interest ahead of any perceived direction from the pope.

Perhaps this long-running Fourth of July celebration at Our Lady of Sorrows Church has its roots in that effort for American Catholics to prove their patriotism. Today there is no question, even here in the Baptist-dominated South.  Americans of many faiths and creeds joined in the food, fun, and celebration in Homewood that day. We have made great progress in recognizing the dignity and worth so many who have come to this country to find a better life.

I will know that we have truly arrived when I see a Fourth of July celebration at an Islamic Center.  I doubt that there will be any barbeque pork, but we could still have some beef ribs and chicken. I would even enjoy some falafel and taboule in celebration of our national holiday.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Andy Griffith: A Life Well Spent

I know I've posted two videos this week, but I must post just one more - not a music video this time, but one of Andy Griffith's famous homespun monologues. Andy Griffith died this week, and there has been an outpouring of comments all over the internet. People have been posting pictures from The Andy Griffith Show and talking about what an influence the man has had. One of my friends shared a very nice article about "Andy Griffith's kinder gentler community" that you can read here.

I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show. When it was first run in prime time, I was exactly the same age as Opie. I think that made me pay close attention whenever Sheriff Taylor said something to his son, Opie. The truth is, many people were drawn to the town of Mayberry. Since it was first aired, The Andy Griffith Show has never been off the air. It has lived on in syndication, to the delight of many. How many of you have your favorite episodes? How many of you get a chuckle just by thinking of the interaction between Barney and Gomer?

Several years ago after Don Knotts died, I watched an interview with Andy Griffith, He made the comment that "Nobody could do what Don did -- many have tried, but no one has been able to do what he did." Likewise, no one else could do what Andy Griffith did. He brought delight to many in celebrating small town life with it's quirky citizens, and gave us all a wholesome image of a father and son, who found time to walk down to the fishing hole on a slow summer day, and who spent time teaching his son what was important in life. May he never leave the airwaves!

Before he was Sheriff Taylor, Andy Griffith made a name for himself with some homespun monologues. Because I love Shakespeare as well as Andy, I thought I would share Andy Griffith's rendition of Hamlet.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

For the 4th - An American Tune

Here's a replay - still a favorite for this day

An incomparable duo!
This song is introspective, contempletive,
realistic and truly patriotic.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thunder on the Mountain

Once again, after a few days of triple digit heat, it was nice to hear thunder on the mountain (and in the valley) yesterday. It's also good to listen to "Thunder on the Mountain" by Bob Dylan (from Modern Times).

Thunder on the Mountain
By Bob Dylan

Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon
A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to run me away
The writing on the wall, come read it, come see what it say

Thunder on the mountain, rollin' like A drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
I don't need any guide, I already know the way
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

The pistols are poppin' and the power is down
I'd like to try somethin' but I'm so far from town
The sun keeps shinin' and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

I've been sittin' down studyin' the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want some real good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this cruel world today

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of A thousand cows

I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams

Thunder on the mountain heavy as can be
Mean old twister bearing down on me
All the ladies in Washington scrambling to get out of town
Looks like something bad gonna happen, better roll your airplane down

Everybody going and I want to go too
Don't wanna take a chance with somebody new
I did all I could, I did it right there and then
I've already confessed - no need to confess again

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I'll plant and I'll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer's on the table, the pitchfork's on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself

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