Dude, Gimme A Beat

Inspired by Brother, Give Us A Word

Offering

Take a thorough inventory of your life, and turn the inventory into an offering. Acknowledge before God that it is all a gift. It is temporary. It is purposeful. It is intentional. We are meanwhile stewards of it all (not possessors). Hold it all up before God with open palms, not clenched fists.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=730

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Fear (of the Unknown)

This beautiful suggestion forces me to account for the steady undercurrent of my life – fear. Strains of fear manifest in any number of ways. One need not be hunkered down in a foxhole in a state of seige to be afraid. Often the limits we place upon our selves are rooted in fear. A grip which is too tight or too controlling is likewise often a manifestation of some form of fear. For me, that is where my biggest barriers are found. I think I have very carefully created a fortress around my life. And this has been constructed for years and years. There are plenty of passages to and from, but the gateways may be narrow, or subtle enough that one must know their way around me (and thus, the walls of the fortress) to be able to come and go. I am sure I am not alone in this – everyone has some version of this in their life, unique to each one. This meditation provides an invitation to take stock of this tendency. Our fears need not swell to dominant proportions. Measured carefully, our fears can helps us constrcut a life which suits who we truly are. They are spots of sensitivity along our pathway, helping us carve out what works and does not work for us. But we must do periodic inventories of our beings. Doing so not only checks those fears we have, it also enables us to revisit the blessings present in life, and be grateful for them, and perhaps even awed by them. My fears morph into anxiety which then cause me to just lower my head and plow forth. This may get a task done, but it also serves to constrict my life and exhaust possibilties and joy along the way. It makes an abundant life seem limited. And so this meditation causes me to pause a little longer today. I will accept this invitation to exhale and be grateful for all there is in my life. And I will do so without allowing myself to add in the “yeah, but…”. Today, I will just be grateful and observe what is present. And already, I feel more grateful. And more peace. This track is one of my favorite songs from Siouxsie and the Banshees. It speaks to where this meditation took me. 

Aware of what will hurt you

You’re prepared to remain this way

So sad yet safe with your afflictions

Afraid to start a brand new day

Wonder              

Life is full of wonder. And you are wonder-full. Take it in; be grateful to God for each passing moment, which is so pregnant with God’s mysterious presence and provision and power and splendor. Take it in, and then pirouette your way through the day.              

-Br. Curtis Almquist        

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=2375

{song selection & reflection by Peter L.}

John Coltrane - My Favorite Things

Wonder is a reality. It is obscured only by the fear that it isn’t real. Constriction sets in from holding on so tight. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek,” Joseph Campbell said. When I was a young man, I moved to New York City because I wanted to be in the theater. I was an awkward kid, inhibited, practically disembodied. But I also had a sense of the light in me, which I recognize by contrast to my confusion. I followed it down to New York. It was the ’70’s. The life there broke me open. Sex, drugs, bohemian living, and especially art. After a while it broke me down, but in the meantime I developed a creative process that strengthened my connection to the spiritual ground. The potential exists in all our lives - to be broken open and broken down in our struggle with existence. And thereby excavate a reality hidden deep inside us. The reality of wonder - pushing at the edges of our aloneness.

Why is Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” so memorable? It stands with Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues,” Ellington’s “The Mooch,” Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” Mile’s Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” in an arcana of jazz break-throughs. It’s not the song, which would seem corny to most jazz-buffs. An art of the outsider, jazz often takes something popular and banal, and infuses it with the unexpected. In this case, Coltrane demonstrates what ‘wonder’ is. Accompanied by McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones, drums and Steve Davis, bass, his soprano sax is a bird flying, struggling against the currents, but rising higher and higher.

Experience

In the psalms, the psalmists rejoice in the mystery and wonder of creation, they praise and adore God for all that God is and does, they lament their sins and seek God’s mercy, they rage at injustice and call on God to act on their behalf and on behalf of the poor and oppressed. There is hardly a human emotion or experience that is not represented somewhere in the psalms.

-Br. David Vryhof

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=639

Dos – Taking Away the Fire

The great thing about getting older is the accumulated experience of life. Nothing can replace actual  experience. As a very nervous person, prone to great worry about every little thing, experience has really been a blessing to me in that it dulls that sharp dagger of worry. It is no wonder that the Psalms contain the raw, unfiltered human emotion they do – they are meant to be sung! The gift of music is a magnificent vessel to digest life. Initially, I thought of the contrast of older musicians who have met with success at some point. Commercial demands stifle the creative output – no one wants to hear the new song, just  do the hit! I thought of how mere aging is quite different from “experience”. Expereince suggests an ongoing living, new, viable, vibrant aspects of life are explored – sensibly, not in the sense of foolish grasping like a bungee jump off a bridge. I then saw this dynamic is present for everyone, not merely the performer. It is so easy to lapse into ruts. Ruts are lined not only with negative vibes, sometimes we even get stuck in our own triumphs, basking in them, trying to rekindle them again and again. Whether fenced in by our own hand, or the expectations of others, we must resist those ruts and fences which stagnate and we must continue to engage and build upon our path. Ruts take away our fire. Tapping into the very real honesty of the Psalms helps wake us up, helps us to remain honest with our beings and with God. I suspect God welcome anger in prayer, yelling in prayer, wailing in prayer. It is genuine, it is real, and it is part of the path and it cannot be ignored. Dos is comprised of two bass players – Mike Watt from the Minutemen and fIREHOSE and his wife, Kira Roessler, who has played with many, most famously with Black Flag. In this track, a rare one with lyrics, Kira sings of her own mistake taking away her fire. The thoughtful bass lines unite and offer a pensive, sparse soundscape, perfect for her immediate, sweet, yet very strong voice to honestly confront her self. Yet another demonstration of the strength that comes from vulnerability. 

Relationship     

We emanate the love of God to others, not because of what they can do or supply for us, but simply because they exist. They, too, have been created by God, in the image of God, for the love of it.     

-Br. Curtis Almquist        

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=499

{song selection & reflection by Peter L.}

Walter Huston - September Song

Spiritual transformation sees relationship in everything. We are all of the same substance - and light. It’s our egos that makes us feel alone. But how to penetrate the wall of fear that at once divides us from the world and drives us into it? I think it may take a lifetime of struggle to get the knack. As I get older, I’m drawn to my elders for their wisdom in this regard. Maybe they’re just tired of fighting, I don’t know. Or the recognition grows of the impossibility of controlling the cosmic mystery that looms ever more immediate. But I’ve been struck by a shift of priorities that I see some older people go through. My own father is 94. When asked how he’s is, he likes to say “Still here.” While he’s always been financially conservative, he’s taken to sending donations to every charitable organization that contacts him, whether by phone, television or email. He’s very concerned about time and devotedly follows his daily schedule. At the same time, I admire his ability to engage what lies before him, letting go of the rest. And there’s a certain equality to the way he sees the value in others - just because they’re here. It makes me wonder if spiritual transformation is something built into the process of life.

Walter Huston was in the original 1938 Broadway production of “Knickerbocker Holiday,” which featured “September Song.” Music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. A composer in Germany of such avant-garde works as the “Threepenny Opera” and  ”The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony” in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, Weill took a decidedly more popular turn when he fled the Nazis and and landed in New York City. In this song, which describes the bitter-sweet reality of aging, it is relationship that remains, relationship that sustains us as everything else falls away.

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few/ September, November…And these few precious days I’ll spend with you./ These precious days, I spend with you.

Now

Don’t worry about tomorrow. Instead today tell someone you love them; ask someone to forgive you, say I am sorry and above all say thank you. For in those simple acts, you will find wisdom.

-Br. James Koester

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=2496

Erykah Badu – Today

Notice the ways Br. James suggests we free ourselves from worry in this meditation; express love, ask for forgiveness, express gratitude. Each of these three things have something in common – vulnerability. Expressing love puts us out on a limb because there is always the risk that the love will not be returned. Asking forgiveness may be the most blatantly difficult and humbling suggestion of the three. Fittingly, because it is so difficult to do, it arguably offers the greatest reward. That being not only the forgiveness itself, but the lifting of the weight of the burden of having wounded someone in some way. If the forgiveness is not granted, we are nevertheless lightened and freed to a large degree. Interesting….forgiveness is so central to Christianity. Juxtaposing whether forgiveness is granted has never occurred to me before. It’s like Christ understands this, our natures – asking for forgiveness is so incredibly difficult, the act of forgiveness is almost an afterthought in a sense – meaning for the one asking, the release comes in that humbling admission of wrongdoing, the willing entry into a state of vulnerability and acknowledgement that what we did hurt someone. How could God possibly decline or withhold forgiveness? Other people, they may withhold. That may be the scar that lingers from our actions. But I suspect, even in such a case, the fact someone owns up to the injury, acknowledges it and ask for forgiveness – that is a comfort to the wounded party. And even gratitude makes us vulnerable. Gratitude implicitly suggests we are not all-powerful, we are not the center of the world. We are fortunate. And gratitude brings us fully into the present. Now. Today. It makes us aware of all that we DO have. It reveals the possibility of the moment. Erykah Badu ties all of these ideas into one glorious musical bond. Her dazzling vocal style belies a certain weariness. This is no sheltered woman. She has seen and experienced life. And yet while her voice can magnificently convey pain or struggle, it never succumbs. Her voice and her vocal stylings always abound with lightness and hope. The other side of that equation of weariness and hope is strength. The power in her artistry is borne out of vulnerabilities and her recognition of them, not her denial or fleeing from them. And so I try to take this lesson today and wrap it in the majestic buoyancy of Ms. Badu and live fully and courageously today. Now today. 

Holy Cross         

If only we could get out from under the cross, but it seems to hang over us all the time. If only the archetypal symbol which we placed behind our altars, and stained into our church windows, and wore around our necks were something other than the cross. If only the chief Christian symbol were something else, say, a tree of life, reminiscent of the garden of Eden, it would so much more pleasant and less troubling.            

-Br. Curtis Almquist        

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=630

Doc Watson - Lone Pilgrim

{song selection & reflection by Peter L.}

I love Br Curtis. It is with the most profound gentleness of spirit that he gets at the troublesome nature of life under God. So much lies behind what he says about the the Cross. Without sacrifice, nothing works. Each of us dies to renew the world, and we all live on the death of others. This seems to be the basic pattern. If we aren’t giving ourselves to the greater whole, it all falls apart. It’s a reality we approach with the greatest hesitancy, and yet we fulfill it every day just by doing our jobs and raising our children (as parents or otherwise).

This is not just a matter of being good. It has to do with the nature of existence. It keeps the engine lubricated - of life and of our souls.  The only question is whether we embrace it as our deepest truth. It’s tragic. We all struggle with it. And it opens a mysterious door. For sacrifice requires a power that comes from within. Otherwise, it’s just co-dependence. It is the search for that power - through the shadows of fear - that leads us to God and through God to our oneness with each other. And I think that brings joy to the countless deaths we undergo up to the last one.

In this song, “Lone Pilgrim,”  Doc Watson gets at the way every life - simply in braving mortality - is a sacrifice to God. It comes from his album, “Doc Watson at Gerde’s Folk City.”

I came to the place where the lone pilgrim lay/ And patiently stood by his tomb

When in a low whisper I heard something say/ How sweetly I sleep here alone

The tempest may howl and the loud thunder roar/ And gathering storms may arise
But calm is my feeling, at rest is my soul/ The tears are all wiped from my eyes

The call of my master compelled me from home/ No kindred or relative nigh
I met the contagion and sank to the tomb/ My soul flew to mansions on high

Go tell my companion and children most dear/ To weep not for me, now I’m gone

The same hand that led me through seas most severe/ Has kindly assisted me home

Love

God has commanded us to love one another. A most excellent commandment. And God invites us to yet more love—to share his love for the cosmos he has created, especially this good earth: to love, to cherish and to protect it.

-Br. Mark Brown

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=261

Randy Weston & Pharoah Sanders – Blue Moses

A call to relentless and complete love; to honor and care for not just ourselves, not just those in our immediate circle, not just other humans, but all that we encounter. I think there is even a command within this meditation to seek out opportunities to flex this love, make it a practice and hone and refine this state of conscious, aware compassion. I don’t hear it as a call to convert, but to care for and live the way that Jesus lived, loved the way Jesus loved. Deeds as much as words. Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders both demonstrated this approach, certainly in their music, and in their daily lives as well, according to those who know them. I am reminded of the gospel story of the men who received their inheritances and I’ve always been haunted by the guy who simply buried his. No, he didn’t squander it or waste it. But he also did nothing with it. These two great men could have easily sat upon their musical gifts, found a commercial niche, and rode that to a lifetime of accolades and steady paychecks. But they lived their music. They understood it as a gift, and not merely their own, but a universal, shared gift. It was incumbent upon them to delve into the gift. The roads that opened on this journey not only transported them, it took along many more and will continue to do so. The music navigated them to Africa, to the roots of their own heritage. Each made extraordinary music with the Gnawa Brotherhood. But the universal element of the journey opens other roads, too, so this journey to Africa they took, it took me along and I learned along with them, but it also opened roads for me to take to my own ancestral roots. In so doing, I found fullness on that route, but it is the expansive timeless interconnectedness of humanity and the Divine One which most inspired and satiated me. And continues to do so. I’m pretty sure Moses argued with God. He offered God many reasons why he was not up to the task God had placed upon him. But he found the courage in faith to make the journey. And in so doing, offered a symbolic lesson for everyone.

Look     

Go out and look! Open your eyes and see in nature that life, new life is breaking out all around – that life is stronger than death, that hope is stronger than despair. If we really look, God’s very creation will point the way.          

-Br. Geoffrey Tristram  

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=2655

{song selection & reflection by Peter L.}

Dinah Washington - Look to the Rainbow

Yes, it’s true. I want to see. Through all my dark corners. Let the scales fall from my eyes. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” William Blake. It’s something that takes time to grasp. You have to struggle and be broken until your deepest fears are realized. And just when all your assumptions are turned to dust, a glimmer of the unexpected appears. One thing I’ve learned is that ‘seeing’ is inseparable from the other senses. When you perceive with your whole body, the world takes on a new light. In fact, it becomes Light. As for myself, it seems to be just when I fall into the darkest place - burrowing into my helplessness - that my capacity to see the Light is renewed. I’m reminded of an idea that comes from yoga. Through the poses, the yogi brings up the poison and holds it in her throat. She doesn’t swallow it. She lets it sit there and feed her creativity. God’s creation in dark and light.

Center

In the Christian worldview we’re not at the center of everything. God is the center of things: God and God’s creation, of which we’re a small, wonderful, privileged part. John 10:10 reminds us that Jesus, not overconsumption, is the way to “abundant life.”

-Br. Robert L’Esperance

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=2392

Sonny Stitt – Tornado

The consumerist economic system demands that we identify ourselves as the center of our world. Jesus commands we understand the opposite. Again, God is found in what is counter to our rational impulse, and most especially, in what is counter to the society at large. I once asked my friend to define “megalomania”, though I had an idea of the word’s meaning, it was one of those words which I knew from context, and wasn’t sure of its precise meaning. So I asked him exactly what it meant. He extended his arms in front of his body, and then curved them, making a sort of funnel into his gut and said, “…it’s the idea that everything that’s happening is happening to, or because of, me.” That summary has had profound spiritual ramifications upon me over the years. It went well beyond defining a mere word, and blew open new doors of perception and understanding. Sonny Stitt has such a vast and magnificent catalog of work. As a leader and as a sideman, his playing spans decades and styles, and has always captured my attention when I hear him play. Yet, he remains under the radar. This track, from an album which seems in some way to be an apparition, as it does not appear on several of Sonny’s listed discographies, finds him allowing ample room for all the band to stretch out and play. He seemed relevant to the meditation in that while he is not as recognizable name as Miles or Monk or Bird in jazz, he nevertheless, produced decades of stunning music. He’s not the center of the jazz universe, but he matters greatly. And then the unintended connection – he has often grabbed my attention at those moments in a song when he is the at the center of a musical tornado, when the whole band is fully vibrant and erupting, chaos upon a tight swirl. 

Eucharist

This is a very complicated and tragic and incredibly beautiful and wonderful world that God has created and in which God is living and becoming. What it comes down to, for me, is the very thing we do at this Eucharist: the offering of our life and labor to the Lord.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

Full Sermon:  http://ssje.org/ssje/category/sermon/?p=793

UB40 & Chrissie Hynde – I Got You Babe

This meditation offers an invitation to live. It offers the assurance of God’s presence, but it also requires us to make the leap. Such leaps terrify me. But even for one who lets life happen, eventually, as long as we are alive, life erupts, whether we go along willingly and initiate the process or let it happen, or even try to hide from it. Thus, this meditation offers the assurance that in whatever manner life is led, however the build up to the present circumstances occurred, we are not alone. Within this process, we will likely be required to abandon our wills. That, too, is terrifying, but the acceptance which replaces our own will is in fact a pool of peace, wisdom and strength. Its natural flow is released when we embrace it. I think this is a lesson we must learn again and again in this life. It is counterintuitive. UB40 and Chrissie Hynde serve up this sort of assurance with such joy and sincerity, I feel like I can handle anything in its wake.