Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas and Family Together

This afternoon we said goodbye to our Canadian family - five from age 12 to forty something who traveled more than 2,000 miles just to be with us for the week of Christmas.  What an honor and what a joy.  What a lot of laughs!

They were all such great sports, tolerating the goofiness of our little family here, and our odd American Christmas revelry; the church family service with crying babies, noisy kids in the pews, and a particularly despicable King Herod.  There was the noisy Christmas dinner at the home of dear friends, with all the usual characters of weirdness and relation that the years seem to collect.  Board games and car rides, Christmas crackers and basketball in the back yard.  Its all a blur, where did the time go?

The house is a bit quieter now than it has been for the past week.

And in the quiet this afternoon, I stumbled upon this lovely and dare I say transcendent song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, joined by one of my favorites, Aoife O/Donovan -- Transcendental Reunion

The lyrics are below, followed by an concert version of this song, which is allowed for embedding.  Also I would strongly recommend you go view the better version on YouTube, recorded during the Transatlantic Sessions, with dobro guitar master Jerry Douglas.  It is simply lovely.

This song helps me to reflect on the mystery of the blessing of family.  A belated Merry Christmas to all.  And may the New Year give you the ability to recognize how much of life, even the little moments, are really transcendental in nature, if we will just pay attention.

From 20,000 feet
I saw the lights below me
twinkling just like Christmas
we descended slowly
            and the curve of the world passed
            with all of that flying
            above the mighty ocean
            and now we all are arriving
grab the carry on baggage
join the herd for the mad run
take a place in the long line
where does every one come from?
            as we shuffle on forward
            as we wait for inspection
            don’t be holding that line up
            at the end lies redemption
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah

Now I’m stamped and I’m waved through
I take up my position
at the mouth of the cannon
saying prayers of contrition
            please deliver my suitcase
            from all mischief and peril      
            now the sight of it circling
            is a hymn to the faithful
Forgive me for my staring, for my unconcealed envy
in the Hall of Arrivals where the great river empties
            it’s hand carts and porters
            all the people it carries
            to be greeted with flowers
            grandfathers and babies          
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah

There is no one to meet me
yet I’m all but surrounded
by the tears and embracing
by the joy unbounded
            the friends and relations
            leaping over hemispheres
            transcendental reunion
            all borders vanish here
We are travelers traveling
we are gypsies together
we’re philosophers gathering
we are business or pleasure
            we are going or coming
            we’re just finding our way
            to the next destination
            and from night into day
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah,
            Oh Oh, Hey Hey, Ah Ah

In a giant bird’s belly
I flew over the ocean
from 20,000 feet high
how those lights were glowing

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Laudate Dominum - W.A. Mozart Lyrics - Sublimity Defined

Recently, I came upon this solo and choral piece, composed in 1780 by Mozart, designed for liturgical use in the Salzburg Cathedral. The the work was intended for vespers held on a specific day on the liturgical calendar.  This was Mozart's final choral work composed for the cathedral.  I cannot stop listening to this, it has become my Advent devotional.  I play it as I drive home from work, as I drive to instruct classes at UCLA, and as I drive home, giving thanks for my class and the opportunity to be out in the world.

The first part of the text is the entire Psalm 117, and the second part is the standard Doxology which appears at the conclusion of many texts, including all the psalm chants.

Can we just pause for a moment in the midst of this annual insanity of Christmas rush to reflect on the profound mystery of the immaculate conception, the embarrassment and shame that followed that young couple who were both awakened in the night by visions of angels, and then the small, seemingly insignificant birth of a little baby boy in a barn.  

Events that put together, still conspire to change the course of history, even today.  It is enough to make me weep.

The translation goes like this:

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, Praise the Lord, all the nations,
laudate eum omnes populi. praise him, all the people.
Quoniam confirmata est For his loving kindness
super nos misericordia ejus, has been bestowed upon us,
et veritas Domini manet and the truth of the Lord endures
in aeternum. for eternity.

Gloria patri et filio Glory to the Father, Son,
et spiritui sancto, and to the Holy Spirit;
sicut erat in principio as it was in the beginning,
et nunc et semper is now, and ever shall be,
et in saecula saeculorum. world without end.
Amen. Amen.

Amen, indeed.  Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Norris Family Christmas Update - 2013

Christmas Cheer from our family to you!

This has been quite a busy year for us Norris folk. Exhibit A: a sampling of the places we four, separately and together, have been in the past 12 months. New York, Minneapolis, Tuolumne Meadows, Oakhurst, Quito (Ecuador!), Chicago (twice), Austin, San Diego, Santa Rosa, the Ecuadorian Amazon, Maui, Toronto, Yosemite Valley, Amsterdam, San Francisco (twice), Brussels, Seattle (thrice!), and Copenhagen. The three trips to Seattle were due to 1) Husky season football tickets, 2) oh yes, we have a daughter in school there. I am tired just thinking about it all!

A Graduate! Huzaah!
Kelly Norris is a proud graduate of DePaul University, with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Elementary Education! Kelly’s graduation ceremony was one for the record books, with her dearest friends; Joni, Emma, and Whitney (from College of Charleston, Tulane, and Loyola New Orleans respectively) all in attendance. Another graduation gift was the presence of dear family friend, Jill Williams, from Austin. Add to that pomp and circumstance, one eager grad ready to tackle life, and two very proud parents. Mix in some outstanding gourmet dinners full of celebration and laughter. Kelly is now working hard almost full time at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, tutoring kids part time, and coaching the special needs swim team. It is such a joy to hear Kelly tell stories of the children she patiently works with each day; some of the tales are hysterical, and the twinkle in her eye when she tells them is priceless. In her spare time, she gets credit for the European and Ecuadorian visits noted above. Up next, she plans to teach English abroad, prospective locations include Ecuador, Thailand, and Chile. Right now, Kelly is loving having time to do as she pleases, especially after 16 years of school and constant structure. Ah, to be young again!

From the Rainy Pacific Northwest
Heather is now a sophomore at the University of Washington. It’s safe to say that this past year has been the hardest, busiest, and richest year of her life. Heather spent 10 weeks this past summer as a counselor at Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp, where she was stretched in many ways leading a different cabin of girls every two weeks. Her camp experience solidified her desire to pursue early childhood psychology in the coming years at the UW. She also has a nanny job for a family of FOUR girls all under age 7, which gives her great joy. Classes are hard, but she is studying subjects she cares about deeply. She is living in Christian community, has solid friendships, and is learning to love the Pacific Northwest, in spite of the gloom and fall cold/wetness. Heather is planning on returning to camp next summer, where she will continue to fall in love with the beautiful back-country of Yosemite, and pursue with joy an investment in the lives of kids. She wants all to know she feels continuously blessed by all the Lord has given her. Come to think of it, we all do.

For Others, with Love
Nancy continues in her role as the President of the Board of Club21 – a learning and resource center for families of children with Down syndrome. This Fall the Club21 Annual Walkathon was a smashing success, with over 700 people in attendance and nearly $100,000 raised in a single day! She is also serving as an Elder at Hollywood Pres, our church of 25+ years, serving with Steve on the Young Life Area Committee, and also working with teen moms. This summer, Nancy also took a week to help her parents, Cliff and Ruth, move from their Toronto house of 42 years into a nearby city-view apartment. All reports are that they are greatly enjoying their new digs! Nancy celebrated a significant birthday this summer with a lovely candlelight backyard dinner gathering. Present were of some of those that she dearly loves; and both girls made it home from hither and yon for the Big Event.

25 Years!
This past September the four of us paused just long enough from all the busy-ness of life to escape. Completely. This Fall marked our 25th wedding anniversary, and a celebration was called for! We four all piled onboard a west bound plane headed for Hawaii. Thus followed nine days of gentle Maui trade winds, snorkeling with turtles off a catamaran, paddling a real outrigger with a genuine descendent of King Kamehameha, zip lining 1,000 feet above the forest, laughing, watching the sunrise at the top of a volcano (Dad slept in, thank you), swimming in the surf, laughing harder, lounging by the pool, a road trip to Hana and the grave of Charles Lindbergh, breathtaking sunsets, and so many stars in the night sky you could cry. Did I mention that we laughed a lot? And I will admit, I teared up several times at the gentle beauty of those countless tropic stars, mindful of their Maker - we are so blessed to have been given the gift of the relationships in our family for all these years, and I am graced beyond measure to be married to my lifelong companion on this amazing journey, Nancy.

As for me, this fall I began a new chapter, teaching a real estate analysis class with UCLA Extension. I love the classroom, and after 30 years of experience in the field, am honored that others might think I have something to share. I also continue my involvement with Fuller Seminary, serving on the Advisory Panel to the School of Intercultural Studies.

In past years here, I have attempted to say something of modest theological significance concerning the impending Christmas season. This year, I’ve decided it’s high time to let someone with far more wisdom and writing skill do the honors. So, below, you will find a mediation on Christmas from Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer, that reflects upon the Christmas miracle in quite exquisite language. Please know that your friendship is part of our Christmas miracle and thankfulness.

Christmas Peace, Joy, Laughter, and Love to all from our home to yours!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Frederick Buechner - Christmas

Without any prior warning, this past Sunday marked the first Sunday of Advent.  Is anyone ready for the Christmas Season to be thrust upon them again?  There were Christmas decorations in Costco starting before Halloween.  Each year, it seems we are less prepared, less ready, and perhaps even less accepting that Advent, the Season of Hope, is upon us. 

Given this, it seems fitting to share here a Christmas meditation by Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer.  I have never read anything that comes closer to summing up my emotions, wonder, and sometime distant sadness mixed with hope at this time of year.


The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist's drill or a jackhammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can't afford on presents you neither need nor want, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the plastic tree, the cornball crèche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we've never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can't see, or don't.
The young clergyman and his wife do all the things you do on Christmas Eve. They string the lights and hang the ornaments. They supervise the hanging of the stockings. They tuck in the children. They lug the presents down out of hiding and pile them under the tree. Just as they're about to fall exhausted into bed, the husband remembers his neighbor's sheep. The man asked him to feed them for him while he was away, and in the press of other matters that night he forgot all about them. So down the hill he goes through knee-deep snow. He gets two bales of hay from the barn and carries them out to the shed. There's a forty-watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low roof, and he turns it on. The sheep huddle in a corner watching as he snaps the baling twine, shakes the squares of hay apart, and starts scattering it. Then they come bumbling and shoving to get at it with their foolish, mild faces, the puffs of their breath showing in the air. He is reaching to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly he realizes where he is. The winter darkness. The glimmer of light. The smell of the hay and the sound of the animals eating. Where he is, of course, is the manger.
He only just saw it. He whose business it is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye. He who on his best days believes that everything that is most precious anywhere comes from that manger might easily have gone home to bed never knowing that he had himself just been in the manger. The world is the manger. It is only by grace that he happens to see this other part of the miracle.
Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it's cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven."
Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"The Great Remember" - Steve Martin

I may have posted this before.  I can't remember; I'm getting old.  It doesn't matter, the Internet is free, and this song is simply gorgeous.

The highlight film of my life (which would be short and excruciatingly boring) should be scored to this.

Peace to you all.  And, Great Remember.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mr. Wright, Physics, And Why We Exist

Jeffery Wright has figured it all out.

And in doing so, Mr. Wright has formed a life that looks to me just like real, genuine, Christ-like love.  This life is acted out daily, both at home, and at work.  I want to be like Mr. Wright when I grow up.

Jeffery Wright is well known around Louisville Male high school in Louisville, Kentucky, for his antics as a physics teacher, which include exploding pumpkins, hallway hovercraft, massive fireballs exploding from his hands, and a scary experiment that involves a bed of nails, a cinder block and a sledgehammer.

But it is a simple annual lecture — one without props or fireballs — that leaves the greatest impression on his students each year. The talk is about Mr. Wright’s son and the meaning of life, love and family.

Each year, Mr. Wright gives a lecture on his experiences as a parent of a child with special needs. His son, Adam, now 12, has a rare disorder called Joubert syndrome, in which the part of the brain related to balance and movement fails to develop properly. Visually impaired and unable to control his movements, Adam breathes rapidly, doesn’t speak, and is wheelchair bound. 

Mr. Wright said he decided to share his son’s story when his physics lessons led students to start asking him “the big questions.”  Those questions we all end up asking about life, meaning, and real purpose.  Mr. Wright, a Catholic, says:  “When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?  Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

Mr. Wright starts his lecture by talking about the hopes and dreams he had for Adam and his daughter, Abbie, now 15. He recalls the day Adam was born, and the sadness he felt when he learned of his condition.  “All those dreams about ever watching my son knock a home run over the fence went away,” he tells the class. “The whole thing about where the universe came from? I didn’t care. … I started asking myself not how, but why, what was the point of it?”

All that changed one day when Mr. Wright saw Abbie, about 4 at the time, playing with dolls on the floor next to Adam. At that moment he realized that his son could see and play — that the little boy had an inner life. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”

In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “There is nothing more incredible than the day you see this,” he says, and continues:

“There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”  At first, there is silence in the classroom.  Then....

“Love,” his students whisper.

“That’s what makes the ‘why’ we exist,” Mr. Wright tells the spellbound students. “In this great big universe, we have all those stars. Who cares? Well, somebody cares. Somebody cares about you a lot! As long as we care about each other, that’s where we go from here.”

As the students file out of class, some wipe away tears and hug their teacher.  Mr. Wright says it can be emotionally draining to share his story with his class. But that is part of his role as a physics teacher.

“When you look at physics, it’s all about laws and how the world works,” he told me. “But if you don’t tie those laws into a much bigger purpose, the purpose in your heart, then they are going to sit there and ask the question ‘Who cares?’

“Kids are very spiritual — they want a bigger purpose. I think that’s where this story gives them something to think about.”

For Jeffery Wright to love his students enough to share the most intimate and painful moments of his journey with Adam, and to help illuminate the purpose of life to his students; this is what love looks like.  And to head home each night to the challenges of caring for all the needs of a very special child.  Every night.  That is what love looks like.  Really.

The challenge for us together at Hollywood Pres is to lead lives that consistently, daily, faithfully proclaim the ultimate love that Mr. Wright is conveying to his students.  The love of Christ for a needy world. 

We are in this challenge together, friends.  God is our guide.

Below is an award winning short film on Jeffery Wright, produced by one of his former students.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chanticleer & the US Naval Academy Men's Glee Club sing Biebl's Ave Maria

V. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ.
R. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
V. Maria dixit: Ecce Ancilla Domini.
R. Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
V. Et Verbum caro factum est.
R. Et habitavit in nobis.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.
And the partial English translation:

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae
The Angel of the Lord announced to Mary
Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
[Ave Maria, Sancta Maria.]
[Hail Mary, Holy Mary.]
Ecce ancilla Domini
Behold the handmaiden of the Lord
Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.
Do to me according to your word.
[Ave Maria, Sancta Maria.]
[Hail Mary, Holy Mary.]
Et verbum caro factum est
And the Word was made flesh
Et habitavit in nobis
And dwelt among us.
[Ave Maria, Sancta Maria]
[Hail Mary, Holy Mary]

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Ten Years, Same Road

Sometimes a photo can express things far better than words.  Below is a photo taken 10 years ago at Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp, where our girls have many happy memories.  This was taken when we went to pick our camper girls up from two weeks at camp.

And then, a photo taken just last Sunday, in the same spot, 10 years later.  Those campers have grown a bit.  Now the former camper on the right has graduated college, and the former camper on the left is a camp counselor, who will be in her sophomore year of college in the Fall.

Mere words cannot express the nostalgia and thankfulness I feel in viewing these two photos, taken a decade apart.

God has been so good to our family. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Sure on this Shining Night - Composer Morten Lauridsen

Sure On This Shining Night

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand'ring far
Of shadows on the stars.

Author Notes

The poem comes from a book by James Agee entitled "Permit Me Voyage" published 1934 by Yale University Press

Friday, June 21, 2013

Ring Them Bells - Sarah Jarosz

Its the first day of Summer, and the second day of my 55th year on the planet.  Lets ring them bells.....

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Restore, Rebuild, Rebirth - An Interview with Larry Silverstein

I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.

Isaiah 58:9-12

A Visit at Dusk
I was recently in New York City for a national conference related to my work.  I arrived in Manhattan around 6 PM on a Saturday evening, and after checking in at my hotel, immediately headed downtown to the World Trade Center Memorial site.  The last time I was in New York, about three years ago, I visited Ground Zero, looked into a massive gaping hole; full of tragedy and loss - and a massive construction site.  This time, something within me wanted to again experience this hallowed ground, now that the September 11 Memorial site had taken shape; a place that has seen over six million visitors since its opening in 2011.

As I arrived at the site at dusk in late April, I was moved by several things.  First, the sense of real reverence from my fellow visitors.  I heard languages from all over the world, and yet everyone was speaking quietly to one another, with a sense of honor for the sacred nature of the Memorial site.  The only other sound one experiences is the constant soft rush of water within the outlines of the building foundations that now serve as Memorials to the fallen.  I was entirely unprepared to understand the sheer numbers of those killed on that day who were first responders.  From my slow walk around the circumference of both pools, it seems that so many of those who died that day were fireman, police, and other public servants who rushed into the maelstrom.  I found this to be overwhelmingly sobering.  They ran into hell, hoping only to help or save others.

Rebuilding and Rebirth
During the opening morning of the conference, we in attendance had the rare privilege to listen to a story of one of the darkest moments in American history, and to hear a story of determination, resolve, and rebirth that is unique to New York, and captures something remarkable about the American spirit.

Larry Silverstein, now 83 year old, was the morning's speaker, and for almost an hour, he related the story of immense tragedy, loss, and his tireless efforts over the past 12 years to restore and rebuild the World Trade Center.
  Silverstein Properties is the holder of the ground lease for the World Trade Center property, having closed on the transaction to acquire the leasehold within weeks prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

During the hour discussion and question and answer period I was riveted by the profound sense of the magnitude of the events of September 2001, and by the dogged persistence of a man and a city that would not give up in spite of overwhelming odds, the paralysis of survivors guilt, pain, and the overwhelming sense of loss.  Silverstein Companies was located in the World Trade Center, and, as Mr. Silverstein related, the firm lost 4 employees in the attack from families with a total of 6 children.  By a twist of fate, Mr. Silverstein was not in the buildings on that fateful morning; as his schedule had him visiting his doctor.  

Mr. Silverstein was asked how he kept his optimism and managed to overcome the odds of ever rebuilding the site, given all the roadblocks and delays.  His answer was: 
"The events of September 11th were excruciatingly difficult.....they were horrendous.  I couldn't just sit in the paralysis of loss, and within two weeks we decided we would rebuild.  I told my people, go!  Get it done.  Move as quickly as you can.  Our mission to rebuild was absolutely essential.  We put our heads down and went like hell.  I have had a passion to create something better than before", and to "Show the world New Yorkers and Americans could and would come back."  He added that it is his hope that the rebuilt World Trade Center would be "A fitting tribute to those who died".  

Can the work of rebuilding mere office buildings be redemptive?  Is there lasting purpose in merely constructing something with steel and concrete? 

In closing, I invite you to take a few moments and watch this moving film about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Norris Backyard Harlem Shake

I have no explanation for this......

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What is Real Beauty?

As a father of daughters, I find this short video to be uniquely moving and mysterious.  Our culture has done a lot of damage to young women via advertising false images of beauty. 

"Do you think you are more beautiful than you say?"  What a profound question.  Upon reflection, I think God is asking this of all of us.  Constantly.

To my girls, you are truly beautiful; deep in your souls.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Grace Before Sleep

I have recently stumbled upon a choral piece that is full of simple beauty, images of friendship, and thankfulness.  Sara Teasdale, the author, won the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.  Sadly, 15 years later, at the age of 49 her life ended by suicide.

Often our lives are like this, a mixture of great beauty and inexplicable pain.  The inverted message of Easter tells us that after great suffering there can come to us an unexplainable miracle.  This is the hopeful story I choose to believe.

Grace Before Sleep

How can our minds and bodies be
Grateful enough that we have spent
Here in this generous room, we three,
This evening of content?
Each one of us has walked through storm
And fled the wolves along the road;
But here the hearth is wide and warm,
And for this shelter and this light
Accept, O Lord, our thanks to-night.

Sara Teasdale

Composition by Susan Labarr

Here is a wonderful version from South Africa:

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pange Lingua Gloriosi, Proelium (Crux fidelis)


Faithful Cross
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

Lofty tree, bend down thy branches,
to embrace thy sacred load;
oh, relax the native tension
of that all too rigid wood;
gently, gently bear the members
of thy dying King and God. 

Tree, which solely wast found worthy
the world's Victim to sustain.
harbor from the raging tempest!
ark, that saved the world again!
Tree, with sacred blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.  

Blessing, honor, everlasting,
to the immortal Deity;
to the Father, Son, and Spirit,
equal praises ever be;
glory through the earth and heaven
to Trinity in Unity. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sarah Jarosz & Alison Krauss - Run Away

This young lady has just become my new folk / bluegrass favorite.  Here she is performing with two of my all time favorites; Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas.


Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Best Super Bowl Commercial Ever

There was one super bowl commercial this year that caught me off guard; one that I found entirely moving and worthy of this great country we call home.

In the midst of all the ads written and produced for the lowest common denominator in American "culture", there was one that rose far above the crowd.  Among a sea of ads that cost $3.7 million dollars a minute for beer, and fast cars, and snack chips, and greasy web hosting sites, and body spray, and fast food, there was one commercial that really stood out all alone, all by itself.

It was a commercial that really mattered, and that celebrated the simple, hardworking folk in the middle part of our country that the rest of us coastal elites spend our lives flying over at 40,000 feet and 350 miles an hour.  I would argue that the values of these folks may be what makes our country endure.

This was the audio of a poem written and recited by famous radio broadcaster Paul Harvey at the 1978 Future Farmers of America, set to scenes of the American farmland and the farmers who work it.

This commercial made my day.  We should celebrate common ordinary dignified folks such as these:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A View from the Top, and Our Lives Together

I thought it would be just a hike.  It turned out to be much more.

This past Saturday, I took our dog Ella on a  hike in the hills above Hollywood, just a couple of miles northeast of our church campus.  Just a chance to exercise myself and our faithful Labrador.  But it seems God had more in mind.  That morning hike turned out to be an epiphany of sorts for me.  As Pastor Dan is taking some time off, he asked me to share my hiking reflections with you.  You know Dan; that guy who is always reminding us to "pay attention".  I'm trying.

I had heard that the view from the end of our hike was really great, but I had no idea how good it would be last Saturday.  You remember, at the end of last week we had several drizzling, rainy days, grey and uneventful; the sort of days that find you in a kind of sad funk.  Saturday morning started out grey as well at our house.  As Ella and I left in the car, I wondered if we would have to turn around because of more rain. 

But as we started down the trail at around 10 AM, the clouds began to part, and we hiked out to a promontory point in Runyan Canyon Park.  They call it "Inspiration Point".  As we walked out to the peak of the trail, the clouds had parted, and the sun felt warm on my shoulders.  Even Ella seemed to pick up the pace.  This was a stunning day.  Amazing.  Blue of sky, white of clouds, almost too bright to take in, even with sunglasses on.  A distant and clear view to Long Beach, Palos Verdes, and the blue Pacific beyond.  The city of legend.  Breathtaking.  Enough to make you weep; at this beautiful place God allows us all to live in, to work in, and in which we share our lives together.

Below us lay an amazing expanse of Los Angeles.  From Griffith Park, to downtown, from Koreatown to Westwood.  The City of Angels.  Under the parting clouds and warming sun, lay the home to over 3.8 million souls.  At that very moment, I remembered the title words of author Anne Lamont in her most recent book, written on the subject of prayer...."Help.  Thanks.  Wow!"   

Not just landscape and buildings lay before us, not just offices, homes, apartments, and freeways and people rushing to and fro.  Below us lay a teaming sea of ..... life!  Millions of stories of triumph and pain, of great joy and deep sorrow.  Daily struggles, little victories.  Those without homes sleeping in the underpasses and those with homes so big they get lost inside of them.  Struggling single moms, teens trying to figure out how they fit in, elderly who live alone without someone to care for them.  So many stories, so many lives.  So much emotion below there in this city, if you were able to really understand it, to comprehend all its weight and breadth in a moment, you would drop to your knees, overwhelmed by its sheer power.  

And above us, all around us, a God who knows the names and stories and struggles and joys of every last one of all of those lives.  A Savior who longs to connect to every last person down here in this amazing, messy, confusing, unruly city.  How will He ever make that connection?

I think it's often easy to forget why we are here together at Hollywood Presbyterian. I know enough to sense that sometimes my view of the world is too small, too myopic, too self-absorbed.  We get involved in our little "church lives", and forget the bigger picture.  We can't find our perspective, and we loose track of our unique place in this big city, forgetting that our job is to love others, mostly those outside our church walls, in an entirely uncommon way.  To love in a way that points clearly to Jesus and the amazing, breathtaking and abundant life He spoke of.  This is a key part of our life together; to love well.

The image of that mountain top hike will be with me for a while now.  It won't let me go.  Now comes the hard part, the gritty part, the day-to-day part, the loving part.  Living it out.  Making a difference.  Connecting.  Making this big old city smaller, one friendship at a time.  Getting up everyday, and heading out the door, going to the office, or school, or a meeting, volunteering, or a coffee or lunch with a long time friend or a new acquaintance.  Loving people.  

"Help!"  Lord, we cannot do this church thing without your Spirit guiding us daily.  Please help us, we can't do this alone.  We need your mercy.

"Thanks" for what you have done in our church for the last century.  Give us energy, fill us with hope, make us into people who know how to really love others.  Thank you for your amazing grace.

"Wow!"  Why did you choose us, of all people, to be the ones to become part of this grand old church in such a wondrous place?  We are humbled.  We don't deserve such an amazing chance.  But please, make us somehow worthy of this incredible opportunity.

See you in church.  Grace & Peace,

Steve Norris

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Most Beautiful Gift

How was your day? No doubt, full of small problems of the First World.

Alright now. Stop. Take a moment and watch this. This is tangible proof that new life and joy can rise from the ashes of great and dark tragedy.

"......…..the most beautiful gift a person can give."

Rachel Beckwith's Mom Visits Ethiopia. from charity: water on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sara Watkins - Take Up Your Spade

This is my favorite song of 2012:

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is on
Take up your spade and break ground
[ Lyrics from: ]
Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget now where you're been
Shake off your shoes
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground

Give thanks, for all that you've been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Break ground, break ground, break ground.

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