Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coachella Musings - Installment 1

Coachella 2008. What an amazing experience!

Polo grounds in the middle of the desert. 97 degrees, hot hot sunshine. 40,000+ people. Music (loud!), art, food, water (lots), more music, and a festive, clean, absolutely fun environment.

Only problem; I felt 25 years too old. And I was. By my estimation, and that of the friends and kids we were with, the averate age of attendance at Coachella 2008 was about 23, with a median age of just a bit older. That would, by a long shot, make me one of the oldest of Old Farts in attendance. But really, who cares? I had a blast!

Now, some folks of my faith persuasion might say that this whole three day music festival is an exercise in futility. God-forsaken music, meaningless art, and a bunch of poorly bathed and tattooed young people. Godless. Lost. Forsaken. But not me.

About 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul was confronted with a similar situation, as he visited Athens (Acts 17):

22-23So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. "It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I'm here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you're dealing with.

24-29"The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn't live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn't take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don't make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him! One of your poets said it well: 'We're the God-created.' Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn't make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

We are the "God-created" indeed! All of us. All of us there last Friday in Coachella, basking in the sun, enjoying the sounds and sights. We are all, in our own way, searching for meaning. Even in the desert at a music festival, that is what is happening. We are looking, searching, trying to find those magic moments that bring meaning to our lives.

As Exhibit I from Coachella, I present you with John Butler, of the John Butler Trio. What a wonderful example of something God-created.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Thoroughly Modern Millie

When our girls were little, almost every time family and friends gathered at our house (usually with extra kids joining the bunch) their would be, eventually, a "show" by the kids. All the adults had to sit in one room, while the Norris girls would co-direct and act in some form of short impromptu comedy or drama. Much laughter and applause was always a part of the mix.

And then, the little girls grow, and the house, ever so gradually becomes a bit more quiet. The plays have moved on to the setting of school. Part of me is glad, and part of me is sad about this. Life moves on.

This weekend marked a relatively important milestone in our family - the final play for our daughters at Middle School. This weekend follows weeks and weeks of practice, preparation, and involvement by so many in town.

For the past five years we have enjoyed these remarkable productions. Both of our girls have each been in two plays their 7th and 8th grade years. Hello Dolly, How to Succeed in Business, Grease, Guys and Dolls, and this year - Thoroughly Modern Millie.

What a joy to see our community rally around these wonderful shows, and what a gift in the leadership and direction of Ms. Tompkins (note: Bruin grad), the long-time director!

Its just a school play, you might say. But it is so much more than that, its a celebration of kids, of community, and of life itself.

What an outstanding show, and how blessed we are!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Coachella Music Festival

A year ago, my then 16 year old daughter was dying to go to the Coachella Music Festival. Remembering what concerts were like when I was a kid, I thought it might be better to wait a year, and have a parent go along. And so, it is a year later, and we are fired up to go!

Its me, my daughter, four of her friends, my buddy Dave (invited so, as my daughter put it, I would not be a "complete loner / looser") and I - a full van, baby! We are leaving Friday morning, and come back on Saturday afternoon. I am very excited. What a great opportunity for this balding, middle aged guy to spend some time in the world of the next generation. Woooo Hooo!

PS: I apologize in advance if I come home smelling of funny cigarettes. I will not inhale, I promise.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For the Beauty of The Earth

Its Earth Day.

I have always been very moved by John Rutter's hymns, and in particular, the one noted below.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth Over
and around us lies.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Here is hoping that as I grow older, I might be a better steward of the planet God has placed me on.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Get Ready Friends, Its Booked!

Alright friends, we have booked the date. June 20th, at IFlyHollywood.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The World is Just Awesome

Ok, so tonight I have a cold, and I am sitting around the house feeling mostly poopy. However, there is something redemptive in this, catching up on the new season of Deadliest Catch. What a show!

And then, in the midst of flipping over commercials with the DVR, I happen upon the commercial below. I just love this.

Go ahead and watch it, twice:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Professor Hawking, and a Ride in the Car

This is my youngest daughter. This photo is now about 12 years old. Often, children teach us so much about ourselves and life, if we are but willing to listen. Jesus knew this too, and spoke of it.

Perhaps 6 or 7 years ago, my youngest girl and I were driving someplace, to accomplish some long forgotten chore or trip to the store. We had a conversation on that drive that I will never forget, and often remember. I will take this memory with me to the very last day I am here on this planet. But first, something about Dr. Hawking.

Dr. Hawking
Just the other day, I watched a video of
Dr. Stephen Hawking speaking at the TED conference earlier this year in Monterey. Dr. Hawking, crippled by ALS, is, to me, a remarkable reflection of the sometimes elusive economy of God. I do not, for a moment understand why this great thinker, with such an amazing mind (and whimsical sense of humor), is confined to a wheelchair and only can communicate in an unbelievably arduous way. I am fascinated by this man.

At the TED conference, Dr. Hawking addressed the issue of whether we are alone in the Universe. Dr. Hawking estimates that there are no other alien life forms within a range of a few hundred million light years of earth. Remember, a light year is the distance it takes for light to travel in a year, and light travels at a speed of approximately 186,282 miles per second, in a vacuum, which is about 5,874,589,152,000 miles. Frankly, this is beyond the limits of my tiny brain.

The Ride
And so, the ride in the car with my daughter. It was just us two, on the way someplace in the family van. We had been discussing how long it takes to travel by plane to Grammie and Grandad's house in Toronto, Canada.
"Dad, how long does it take to fly to Grammie and Grandad's house?"

"Oh, about 4 hours, usually"

"And how long does it take to fly to New York City?"

"A little longer, maybe 5 hours"

"So what is the longest flight you can take in an airplane?"

"Well, that would probably be to Australia. It takes about 18 hours, I think."

"So, if you got on a plane, how long would it take to fly to Heaven?"
I was speechless. And for some reason, my eyes suddenly filled with tears, perhaps in the knowledge that I was experiencing, for just a moment, the impossible task of explaining the unexplainable. Maybe then, in that moment, I was faced with the task of defining the undefinable. I was overwhelmed.

I forget what I said in response. I still feel overwhelmed, a lot. Being a parent is like that. This is not business for the faint of heart, or of spirit.

"Orthodoxy", GK Chesterton make the assertion that we should live our lives as if astonished by the world, each day. This resonates deeply with me.

I remain astonished by this world, and by the gifts he has given me in my children. They help me to see God, and how far it might be to travel to Heaven. Maybe not as far as I think.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Leisure, The Subway, and Music

Joshua Bell is one of the world's most accomplished violinists. He plays a violin made 1713 by Antonio Stradivari during the Italian master's "golden period," toward the end of his career, when he had access to the finest spruce, maple and willow, and when his technique had been refined to perfection. It is estimated Mr. Bell paid $3.5 million for it.

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post just won a Pulitzer prize for
a wonderful story he wrote about an experiment. Joshua Bell was asked to play his violin in the DC Metro - to see what would happen. The video is below.

This poem is quoted in the article, and sums up well the life most of us lead:

W. H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sad Day After

Three things.

First, congratulations to the amazing Memphis Tigers. They played with heart, determination, and blinding speed. They should be in the NBA.

Second, thank you Bruin basketball team for a great season, and thanks Ben Howland for exuding class in all you do.

Third. Kevin Love, be true to your school. Wouldn't it be nice.....if you were.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Singing Nazis - Am I in That Chorus?

Take a look at this photo. Click on it to enlarge. This is a long post, but stay with me.

Sunday School Epiphany
Last Sunday,
this man, who teaches a Sunday school class I often attend, was teaching on Revelation 3, and in particular, he pointed out this verse as one of several that may have lent possible credence to the Nazis claim of superiority over the Jews, and contributed to the Holocaust.

And then, our teacher Dale showed us several photographs, including the one above. Nazi officers, in the midst of some of the worst genocide in the history of the planet, singing a song on a hillside, accompanied by an accordion. Amazing. Unbelievable.

For some reason, deep in my soul, I became immediately troubled. I was troubled in a very connected way, and it was not at all what I would have expected of myself. Years ago I visited some of the Death Camps, and I will never forget the feelings I had while there.

When seeing images like this, of Nazis singing in the midst of hell-on-earth, is, we might think to ourselves, "Oh, those bad, evil, dark people, how could they be like that."  Those people.  Over there.  And perhaps subtly, we then think, in the back of our minds, "Glad that is over with, I don't know if I could never be that evil".  Not me.

But not so this time, at least for me, in that Sunday school class. My thoughts were in an entirely different place. But first, a little background on the photos we were shown.

Karl Hoecker's Album
The following description is from The New Yorker, with a link posted below.

In June of 1945, an American Army officer discovered a photograph album in an abandoned apartment, in Frankfurt. The album had a hundred and sixteen photos, nearly all of them portraying Auschwitz officers enjoying recreational activities. In 2006, the officer offered the album to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C. There is only one other album, the Lili Jacob album, known to portray life at Auschwitz. When the officer’s album arrived at the museum, in January, 2007, Rebecca Erbelding, a museum archivist, quickly confirmed that the subject of several photos in the album was Richard Baer, the commandant of Auschwitz from May, 1944, to January, 1945. Soon, Erbelding and Ron Coleman, a reference librarian, identified another prominent officer in one of the photos—Josef Mengele, the doctor who’d conducted experiments on prisoners.

If the album consisted only of photographs of people who hadn’t been seen at Auschwitz, and of areas of Auschwitz that hadn’t been portrayed, or if it merely expanded the photographic record of Auschwitz, it would be valuable historically…but it has an enhanced value….In the fifty-four days between May 15 and July 8, 1944, a period partly covered in the Hoecker album, and called the Hungarian Deportation, four hundred and thirty-four thousand people were put aboard trains to Auschwitz—so many people that the crematoriums, which could dispose of a hundred and thirty-two thousand bodies a month, were overrun.”

What I Thought - My Epiphany
Now, back to the thought that rushed into my head, upon seeing these photos of singing Nazis. Singing, while only yards away, thousands were being gassed to death. Joyous and completely oblivious, uncaring. How was that possible? What was wrong with those people? Could they not feel anything? Where was their compassion? Were they devoid of souls?

And then, it hit me. In some way, I might be like those Nazis!

Perhaps I am not far from those men in the picture at all. My heart is often just as black. I am not superior. I am not better than they were. Not a bit.

Maybe I too, am singing while all hell is breaking loose. Darfur, Burma, inner city killing and crime, struggling teenagers in my own city.

What parts of my own life are like a singing Nazi? Where are the places where I could not give a crap about the suffering of others?

Am I just as clueless, and am I singing my life away, while others are suffering, and might I be able to make a difference?
Pastor and author John Stott, in his most recent book, discusses the kinds of issues that should concern us, in caring for the suffering:

"According to UN statistics, the number of destitute people (who survive on less than 1 US dollar a day) is about a billion, while the average number who die every day of hunger and hunger-related causes, is said to be about 24,000. How can we live with these statistics?  Many of the poor are our brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit gives his people a tender social conscience.  So those of us who live in affluent circumstances must simplify our economic situation - not because we imagine this will solve the world's macroeconomic problems but out of solidarity with the poor.

So then a living church is a caring church. Generosity has always been a characteristic of the people of God. Our God is a generous God; his church must be generous too."

I will be thinking about those photos of the Nazis for some time. A very long time.  This will stick with me.  Maybe I am mistaken, what do you think?

You can see selections of the Hoecker Album at The New Yorker magazine, here.
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