Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chip on the shoulder

        
I am amazed how often I hear this expression…. 
Here in Seattle several members of our beloved Seahawks football team use this phrase to describe the motivating factor in their game after being overlooked in the player draft.  Their chip shouts “I will show all you pundits who didn’t recognize the great a player I would become.”   I suspect Richard Sherman or Doug Baldwin would be King of the Chips.
So what’s my chip?  I suspect it is being small.  My parents tried to soften the blow by saying I was “short of stature”.  Grandma used to say, “big things come in small packages”.  I discovered for myself that being small also got me into “tight spaces” and to the top of pyramids.  I also found success in wrestling because of the lower weight categories and golf where size didn’t seem to matter.  But I confess that to this day a large part of my drive is fueled by a small chip.
So where does this expression come from?  In the 15th century a “chip on the shoulder” was the ancient right of shipwrights to take home a daily allowance of offcuts of timber.”  I suppose it was the equivalent to a seamstress of the “remnant” of material or fabric in clothes-making.  Apparently, the chip practice was often abused and eventually stopped.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why the phrase has taken on a negative connotation as the “act of holding a grudge or grievance that readily provokes disputation”.  I guess Richard Sherman has some historical warrant for being a defensive back.   Maybe that explains how my chip lead to a few playground fights with bigger bullies.
My current chip is prompted by the query, “So are you retired?”  Seems like an innocent enough question, but it feels somewhat accusatory.  Here’s what I wrote in a magazine article recently,
“Are you retired?”  That question was coming with annoying frequency.  Did I look so old?   Was it an invitation to a club I wasn’t ready to join?  Was I simply in denial?  If this were a multiple-choice question for my college students, I suppose the correct answer was d.) all the above.
But perhaps I chafed at this query because I taught in the unit on aging in my human development course, that “retirement” was a social construct of the post WWII years which “scrap-heaped” (my words) older Americans in an attempt to make jobs available for G.I.’s returning from the war.
I knew from personal experience that my farmer grandfather never “retired”.  He kept working productively into his 80s and extended his “coffee breaks” accordingly.  The words of the poet, Robert Frost, capture my sentiment.
                                               But I have promises to keep,
                                                 And miles to go before I sleep
                                                  And miles to go before I sleep.
Wow, maybe the chip was a board…

While at a conference recently I ran into a really old person who knew my dad.  She used another expression/phrase which gives me hope as I live the 3rd Act of my life.  She said, “You certainly are a ‘chip off the old block’.” That felt like a wonderful compliment because my dad was an exceptionally caring, generous and happy person.

To be even a small chip off that block would make him and little, old me very happy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017



                         
Pete Seeger and the Clearwater
Seeing the Sloop Clearwater brought with it a flood of memories. I found myself singing, “Where have all the flowers gone…” followed by “If I had a hammer” and then, of course, “We shall overcome.” Pete wrote these memorable folk songs which married music and social justice more than any other activist I know. During my college and seminary days Pete, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and a host of musicians wrote music that stirred the soul and encouraged a generation of young people to work for peace, civil rights and the environment. We were inspired to protest injustice and, if necessary, take to the streets and demonstrate. I learned to play the guitar and gathered a group that sang in close harmony about the world we wanted to see.
Most people don’t know that Pete was classically trained at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, but his “folk” music touched the lives of blue collar workers, coal miners and soldiers. His songs were eminently singable, yet contained a depth and passion rooted in his love for the common good.
Pete loved the Hudson River Valley and lived in Beacon. His social conscience was disturbed by the pollution in the river, particularly the discovery of harmful PCB’s being discharged from a General Electric factory near his home. As a student of history, he had seen pictures of the ships that had sailed the river carrying thousands of immigrants in their quest to experience the American Dream. So, he had an authentic model of one of these ships built so he could travel the river, singing his songs while working on cleaning up the Hudson through concerts, workshops, and political action. Another vessel, the River Keeper was also built to more closely monitor progress in the oftenslow process of environmental justice. Pete died a few years ago, but his musical legacy lives on!
                                                                     
                                                                      ☙―――❧

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mending Wall

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Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Nursery 

Is it just me?
Or are the people who venture forth
to the local nursery 
different?
It’s the Saturday before Easter
and while Jesus is in the grave,
people stream to the local nursery
Older folks know their way
to their favorite flowering Fuschia and
Early Girl tomato.
Parents chase their children
between the budding trees
and water elements.
I only come for one or two
plants, but already my cart
is full of old standards
and an “I’ll try this one” experiment.
It’s the Saturday before Easter.
Jesus is in the grave.
But spring and resurrection are in the air.

We all know it


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rockin' the church to life....

Rockin’ the church to life…
The Godfather of contemporary Lutheran music has died.  I am sure John Ylvisaker would laugh heartily and reject that title, but it is true.  John composed many memorable songs from his lyrical celebration of the life-cycle, Borning Cry to his pulsing confessional “I believe, I do believe…”  As I write this tribute I can’t get out of my head his ode to the Trinity, “Baptized into Christ Jesus”, which we sang at a Lenten service last night.
His songs gracefully wove together sound theology, simple, yet profound lyrics, and singability.  Great music does that.  Again John would demur hearing me sing his praises.  He was, after all, a Norwegian Lutheran, both stoic and on guard against pride. Well, maybe humble, but to hear him rock out I have to delete “stoic” from this review. 
Back to my claim that he was the Godfather of contemporary music in the Lutheran church.  Certainly names like Jay Beech and Marty Haugen belong in this pantheon.  But John got the beat going…. 
As a young pastor I read in a youth publication an article John wrote entitled “Rocking the church to life.”  In it he argued that the war between rock n roll and classical music was a misguided battle.  I was glad to hear this because I loved the Beatles, Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Moody Blues.  I also loved Back and Beethoven.  John was very clear that the real issue was “good and bad music”.  He contended that there was good and bad music in every genre.  To drive his point home, he mentioned several hymns that were unsingable and liable to cause injury to one’s vocal chords.  His criteria for good music were good theology, simplicity and singability.   

I would add to his list: memorable!  You gave us “good music” John and I can’t get out of my head  and my heart today.  For that I am most grateful!

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Gratitude: A Full Heart
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:5-7
I don’t know how many times I heard my mom share her favorite verse. In so many ways over her nearly 97 years, she came to embody much of the wisdom in this passage about joy, gentleness and peace. It wasn’t until I was paddling the Mississippi that I discovered what I believe to be the key to my mother’s kind and generous spirit. The word is “thanksgiving.” As I paddled, I regularly made my requests known to God: for sunshine, clouds, tailwind, slight headwind, cool when it was hot, heat when it was cool, good food, a warm shower, good campsite and cold beer. I was pretty good at the “in everything, by prayer and supplication” part. We humans are good at making requests and even demands of God. But that little word I had missed for all those years makes all the difference: thanksgiving.
I began to remember to give thanks during my prayers. I even began my prayers with thanks: for the gift of life, for breath itself, for a new day, for family and friends, for faith, for health, for the creation, for the opportunity to paddle my kayak. The whole dynamic of the day changes when we begin with saying “thank you!” We see, even in the midst of struggle, pain, heat, cold, loneliness and hunger how blessed we are to have another day to live life’s adventures, to love our neighbors and, above all, the God who created us! When we give thanks, we experience a full heart, and out of that fullness, we have more than enough to give others. And then for a final bonus, we experience a deep peace beyond our understanding. Paddle with gratitude!
~Paddle Pilgrim: Kayaking the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the State of Liberty (available on Amazon)

Friday, February 24, 2017

The biblical witness about obeying the law/government is a "continuum" between Romans 13 where obeying is for good order and Revelation 13 where resistance against the "anti-Christ" Roman emperor would be the faithful act; Jesus is Lord NOT Caesar.  Ultimately in every time Acts 5 teaches we must "obey God rather than man".  Law is important and necessary, but not ultimate. The Good News of Jesus in John 13 has the final word: "Love one another."  Discerning when laws are just and unjust is the work of the Holy Spirit as the spirit of truth. 

What would have happened in Germany during Hitler's rise to power if Christians had resisted, broken the law, said "no"? A few resisted like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he was martyred and is one of true heroes of the faith during that time and today.