Thursday, December 21, 2017

Norris Family Christmas Letter - 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, we bring you the warmest Christmas Cheer from the Norris family.  Now, the family highlights of 2017:

Always to the one to steal attention from others, Nancy grabbed the family headlines at the close of 2016 (just after last year’s Christmas letter had already been posted), by being thrown from a horse and breaking her arm.  I’ll never forget the call from her friend in the riding ring to my cell phone; “Steve, we are having quite the rodeo up here today!”  Thankful for serious pain medication in the ER, she sustained at rather neat and clean complete break of her right humerus, requiring surgery involving a shiny new plate and 12 screws!  Nancy then celebrated her accomplishment by joining the rest of the family two weeks later, by flying off to Banff, Alberta, Canada to enjoy winter snow, a brisk hayride, a gondola ride to the majestic top of the Rockies, and other family jocularity.  Now perhaps more of you will sympathize with the energy involved in being married to this wonderful, amazing, and always-in-motion woman.  After her quick healing, the year brought other new opportunities and challenges, from leadership roles at church, assisting in the organizing of the annual Prayer Breakfast in town, to a seat on the Board of Elizabeth House, a home for single new mothers in Pasadena.  And yes, she is back in the saddle again.

Kelly is now a seasoned third year teacher with LAUSD at Gerald Lawson Academy, and is well on her way to a Master’s Degree in Special Education.  I love the image of Kelly arriving in the school parking lot each morning as the sun rises, one of the first teachers to arrive to prepare her classroom and lesson plans; this is one dedicated and organized teacher.  Having a more organized and stable classroom with a team of great teaching aides has been a wonderful gift to Kelly.  This past year has provided a good amount of off-work fun – a series of providential events has resulted in many of her old church friends now all living close to each other here in LA – this is her “tribe”.  Also, she enjoyed a trip to visit our dear family friend Jill in Austin, and a recent trip to Toronto to see her grandparents and Canadian family.  Never lacking for adventure, Thanksgiving this year found Kelly and friends in Cuba, where she fell in love with the people, food, and culture.

Heather is learning life “backwards” in Seattle, where she has spent much of the past year awake all night - serving as a nurse’s assistant at Seattle Children’s Hospital.  All four of us had the opportunity to tour there this past fall; this is a world class teaching and research hospital.  What a privilege she has to work in this place and gain great experience as she plans on pursuing her Master’s Degree as a nurse practitioner in the coming years.  We were struck at the thoughtful way in which Seattle Children’s has been planned and designed - all with the patients, kids, in mind.  What a gift!  Heather loves living in the Pacific Northwest, and plans to spend lots of her free time skiing this winter.  She also is so thankful for her tribe in Seattle, and for the success of Husky football this year. (No comment from the Bruin here, except to comment that UCLA basketball now leads the nation in steals)

And in the accompanying photo you will find this fellow on the right with this ridiculous grin on his face.  Why is he grinning so oddly, almost as if in pain?  Could it have been that it felt like -45 degrees on the day the ladies decided it would be a good idea to go, oh, you know, dogsledding?!  Yes it’s true, one of my wife’s preferred rehab measures for a near compound fracture is to go dog sledding!  Or perhaps there is another reason my smile looks somewhat strained.  It might be that my smile is that sort of mildly ugly face you get before you weep.  Maybe it’s because on most days I still can’t believe that all this is true – that I met and married Nancy, a loving and genuine girl from the Frozen North, and that we would be blessed with beautiful, intelligent, fun-filled daughters. We are deeply grateful that Kelly and Heather are open to new adventures of growth and service. I think that explains the smile.  It’s a reaction to undeserved blessing and in turn, Thanksgiving.

In the end, isn’t that the point we are here?  To pay attention to what is going on in our lives. And in the midst of what life hands us; which is often frustration, or pain, or struggle, to weed out the good, the real friendships, the events and people that matter – and to give thanks to the One who has put us here in the first place?  And after we give thanks, to imagine ways in which we can make a difference.  Maybe to teach a child, maybe to love a mother who is completely scared as she faces an unwanted pregnancy, or to be at the bedside of a child facing illness.  Or maybe it’s to do what you do, each day – you friends – whatever that may be.  To be honest at work, to reach out to difficult people, to engage in the painful places, to work for reconciliation, bringing healing and new life.  To live out those ideals taught to us so many years ago, by the One who mysteriously became a baby in a barn in the middle of nowhere; and yet has become the central figure in history.

In keeping with this, I would direct you to the accompanying poem, “In Memoriam CVI” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  Penned in Britain 1850, I cannot think of a more appropriate poem for the times we live in than this.  I encourage you to read it through, you will be quite surprised at its timeless message for today.  And then, maybe even go boldly, to stand up, glasses raised in toast, and read this loudly at the Christmas dinner table! 

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to every one! (thanks to Heather for designing our card!)

In Memoriam
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Music in My Soul?

Recently a good friend, who also loves Bluegrass and the Steep Canyon Rangers, sent me this clip from NPR Tiny Desk.  I have purchased the Steep Canyon Rangers new album (featured above), and can't stop listening to it.

For some time now, I have wondered to myself, why I find some forms of Bluegrass so appealing, so heartwarming, and so strangely familiar.  Music from home, if you will.  I am beginning now to wonder if this affection may be something in my DNA.  Is that possible?  Can you love a style of music because perhaps one, or two, or three or more generations past, someone in your lineage also listened to and lived with and maybe also loved this music.  At this season of life, I'm beginning to think this might be so for me.

Perhaps this has a lot to do with my own lineage, my DNA, and perhaps something of well.... my soul.  Over the past decade or so, I have been slowly gathering information about my family heritage in online and some personal travel research.

As it turns out, I am very American - with both sides of my family extending many generations back.  Pictured at right is my great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Norris, who was born on December 4, 1850, in Winston, Mississippi; he married Elizabeth Martha Morrison on December 17, 1878, in Panola, Texas. They had nine children in 18 years. He died on December 21, 1929, in Frankston, Texas, at the age of 79, and was buried there.

I like to imagine Andrew and Liz heading to the County Fair, or perhaps a Saturday night social in Frankston, more than 100 years ago.  They would sit on the edge of the barn and listen to the local band play music quite similar to the Steep Canyon Rangers play today.

Is there music in our souls?  Can something we hear today ignite a small spark within us from many generations before?  Maybe it's so.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

"I Fall" - Tony Silvestri - Lyrics, Eric Whitacre - Scoring

It was supposed to just be a night at a concert. 

But we left feeling as if we had witnessed someone’s heart being broken, and then, very slowly, healed.  It was excruciating and yet hauntingly beautiful.  And it all happened in choral song at Disney Hall. 

A number of years ago there was a lovely young lady who was part of our church college department whose name was Julie.  Julie met a young man named Tony Silvestri, and soon became Julie Silvestri.  Two young lives brought together in a wedding in the church sanctuary.  Soon, along came two beautiful children, Thomas and Emma.  It was a lovely life.

And then, to Julie came cancer.  After a rugged and difficult struggle, it took her life.  Tony and the children were on their own, left with their faith and friends to sustain them.  Our family watched this all happen, and if I am honest, this loss is on the top of my list of questions in life.  Why God?  Why did this death happen, to such good, and warm, and loving people?

Back to the night at the concert.  Several weeks ago we were at Disney Hall to enjoy the Los Angeles Master Chorale and choral composer Eric Whitacre.  There was to be a new piece performed that night, entitled “I Fall”.  What we did not expect was when Mr. Whitacre took the stage with the Chorale that evening – our friend Tony Silvestri would walk on with him.  We were floored, here was our friend, who has suffered such loss, standing on the stage at Disney Hall. 

Tony was there that night as over the past decade he has become a recognized choral composer.  And over that same time period he has formed a deepening friendship with Mr. Whitacre, as they have worked on various choral pieces together.  Tony took center stage, was handed a microphone, and told the audience of his journey of love and loss with Julie.  He said, “Now, after 10 years, I am finally able to write lyrics about this loss.  These lyrics are about the night Julie passed away, in the Emergency Room.  This work has been the deepest writing I have ever done.”

And then, “I Fall” was performed.  I cannot recall a time in all my years where we have quietly wept through an entire choral piece.  The music and words were profoundly piercing and yet strangely and wonderfully redeeming, altogether in a way I cannot begin to articulate. 

The lyrics, Tony later shared with me:

Listening to your labored breath,
Your struggle ends as mine begins.
You rise, I fall. 

Fading, yet already gone;
What calls you I cannot provide.
You rise, I fall. 

Broken, with a heavy hand
I reach to you, and close your eyes. 
You rise, I fall. 

Psalm 77 says to us, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.  My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

Julie rose, indeed.  And Tony fell.  

And yet, with time something beautiful, and mysterious, and redeeming has emerged, in song.  And in Tony’s life.  Redemption is slowly having its way.  With us all.  May we be open enough, with time, to recognize it happening.
Below, a short excerpt of Eric Whitacre and Tony Silvestri’s “I Fall”.  This piece is proposed as a part of series, to be recorded in London in the coming months.  Stay tuned.

Solo Deo Gloria

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wait. Lent.

On the church calendar, it is Lent, a time of waiting.

But our worlds leave no time for waiting.  We have that big meeting on Tuesday with a client, that business trip to plan, the schlepping of the kids to school each day, that needy relative or friend who demands our time.  And the shopping, when will we find time for that?  We don’t have time to wait; we are too darned busy for that.
But wait.  What is the ending of the season of Lent?  A lowly, mysterious, confusing Jewish man betrayed.  Confused followers, some denying they even knew him.  A brutal death, and after moments of silent pause, an empty grave/cave - the single point in history in which the cosmos were cleaved in two.  Easter Sunday. 
This was a moment and a day that changed history.  Forever.  This odd man, this Jesus, commanded us to love our enemies, be ridiculously generous with our money and possessions, live lives of deep integrity, and plead for us to seek justice for all. He called his ragtag little bunch of followers to go to the cold places, the broken places, the dark corners of the world, the ragged edges; not just to proclaim good news — but to be, to live out into history, the good news of God’s love.
Recently, the LA Times published an article about the completely uncommon desert bloom of flowers, brought on by the record rains of this year.  I recently traveled through the Mojave as well, and was struck by a color I have never seen before.  Green! It's literally everywhere  in the desert. 
And yet, as we all know, this green is temporary, it will not last.  It is ephemerel - “of, for, or during the day, living or lasting but for a day, short-lived, temporary”.  

Summer will come, the green will fade, the flowers will wither.  We hear much of this language in the Scriptures as well.
Wait.  We who have chosen to follow this Jesus, we are not ephemeral people.  We are part of something ancient and timeless, that leads slowly to eternity.  And there are big peices to this deep tradition to which we all belong….
We Strive to live with Fearless compassion
In the third century, plagues ravaged the Roman Empire. Imagine the panic as a killer disease — probably smallpox — raged from person to person. While others banished the sick in fear for their own lives, Christians distinguished themselves in ways people had never seen before, described by Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria: “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ … drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
This impulse to put other people’s need ahead of our own, to sacrifice greatly for others, is the mark of a believer who embraces the words of John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  This is earthchanging.  
Wait.  We are part of a movement of timeless, fearless compassion.
We long to Love without labels
Imagine living in an era when people were rigidly ranked by race, gender, economic status, and even slave or free. This was the world Jesus entered — and shattered. He and His followers offered equality for all people created in God’s image. The early Christians preached that through the saving grace of Jesus, everyone is loved and forgiven, regardless of status. Galatians 3:26-28 expressed their new identity: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Amazing news for those on the bottom of society’s totem pole!
Today, our culture persists in affixing labels to people, dehumanizing entire groups and making them less worthy of our mercy and compassion. Some of those groups might be illegal immigrants, refugees, or Muslims, or even teenagers.  As Christ followers, we must learn to reject labels and look at people as God does, as valued and beloved beyond comprehension.
Friends, wait.  We are part of a clan of believers descending through history.  Hand to shoulder, this strange clan trys to extend deep friendship and real, tangible support to those who suffer under negative stereotypes.
These things, this Fearless Compassion, this Loving without Labels, these are what we try to do....
Our worlds leave little time for waiting.

Wait.  It’s Lent, friends.

We are not ephemeral people.  We are the people of God, we are part of something ancient, and timeless, and beautiful.  


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Good Night, Dear Heart

Good night, dear heart.

These words seemed to sound familiar to me.....

There are two stories of sadness associated with these words, which resulted many years after their writing, in the sublime beauty of a choral piece.  These are words that originated out of great loss on two separate occasions.  Another illustration that from great loss, with time, can come great beauty and hope for us all.

Good Night, Dear Heart, by composed by Dan Forrest:

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