Thursday, October 27, 2011

a short sermon

"In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown."

In the past couple of weeks, I've heard two different people comment on this, the entirety of Jonah's message to the people of Nineveh. Both pointed out that this was a pretty short message for a prophet of Jehovah, and certainly devoid of any "unless you repent" nonsense.

One said that this was because Nineveh was judged from the start, and their repentance brought only reprieve (of about a hundred years, till the time of Nahum). The other simply observed that it was a very short sermon to preach, but that God used it powerfully.

In general, I agree more with number two, simply because of the vast precedent set in the rest of scripture about grace and reprieve from earthly judgment. But I also think there's something more there. After all, this is the story of a reluctant prophet: reluctant to be sent in the beginning, reluctant to take part in God's grace at the end. And, I believe, reluctant in the middle as well.

Think about it. You do someone wrong and apologize, and the apology comes out like this: "Oh-my-goodness-I'm-so-sorry-I-can't-believe-this-happened-it-was-so-wrong-I-never-meant-to-hurt-you-please-forgive-me...." Now think about what it's like when you're not sorry at all. Say you're sorry. "Sorry."

This is exactly it, right? Jonah's delivering a message he simply doesn't want to deliver, to people he hates, and delivers the barest bones of it. And yet the people of Nineveh know somehow the pathway of repentance of mercy. In a short book with more miracles per word than most — the storm, the fish, the plant — maybe the most overlooked is the miracle that the Ninevites got the message. The whole message.

Monday, October 24, 2011

chattanooga choo-choo

I first heard "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" when I was a kid. It was after I'd heard it as the punchline to one of those over-set-up Dad jokes ("pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoe?"). When I heard the song, I loved its bouncy cheer and bustling mid-century energy. I squinted my mental eyes and felt a rush of amazement that you could be in a different town by the time you're through reading a magazine.

I pictured an old-fashioned railway station. A little boy, straight from urchin central casting, with cap and knickerbockers; a woman stops him and asks if that's the train she wants.

It wasn't till I was an adult that I realized with a lurch that the "boy" in the song was undoubtedly a grown man with a family to feed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

depth and vision

Greta is interesting about floors. At any transition of floor surfaces she stops. In a store, she'll walk on the carpet right up to the hard floor, and stop at the edge, looking down; or she'll walk on the hard floor and stop at the edge of the carpet.

When we're on a very glossy polished floor, she'll often be walking along and then stop right where she is, hands out, legs a bit bent, in that stance of self-protective balance against vertigo, completely stranded till you go help her along. We figured out that she sees the reflections of lights in the polish and it spooks her with its sense of depth. It's like when you're taking a picture and there's a window there, and the camera focuses on what's being reflected rather than on the window.

I got a nice window myself onto Greta's thought process yesterday, when we were walking through the neighborhood. She went down the slope of a driveway to where it hit the street, and stopped, as she does. Then, she methodically turned around, knelt down, and began to send her feet out to the street surface, in exactly the same way she now descends stairsteps.

It turns out that she suspects every change in texture or color in the floor might signal a change in depth. (After attending a few classes at the School of Hard Knocks, sending her tumbling over an unexpected drop, you can't blame her.) How fascinating it would be to somehow enter her brain, her developing comprehension, to really see the world as she sees it, and not just that but perceive the world as she perceives it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

here's to the crazy one.

My favorite Apple commercial — my favorite commercial of any kind — described its founder to a T.

 Here's to the crazy ones.
   The misfits.
    The rebels.
     The troublemakers.
      The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

They're not fond of rules.
   And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
  disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.
    Because they change things.

They invent.    They imagine.     They heal.

 They explore.     They create.    They inspire.
      They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones,
    we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think
    they can change the world

are the ones who do.

He reinvented the computer. Then he reinvented the computer again. Then he reinvented Hollywood. (Pixar has, bar none, the best record in Hollywood history.) Then he reinvented the music business. Then he reinvented the telephone business.

Honestly! What more could he have done? The fact is that Apple will not be the same, and its products will not be the same. There will probably be no more new stuff from them that matches Jobs's groundbreaking innovations. I remember well what happened when his company foolishly booted him. During his decade in the wilderness, the Macintosh began to look and act just like every other computer. Big beige boxes, not too reliable. He returned from the wilderness and suddenly the world exploded into a colorful series of is: Macs, Books, Phones, Pods, Pads.

He's a hero to anyone who believes that the conventional wisdom about creatives vs. suits is wrong. (When the music industry had very nearly destroyed itself, the only thing they could figure out to do with the internet being to sue Napster, he changed the rules and made a single internet portal that consolidated the business and remains the biggest seller of music in the world, period. As a musician who just today got a nice deposit in my account from iTunes, I'll testify that we owe him more than any music-biz hotshot.) He's certainly a hero to anyone who believes that you never have to choose between success and integrity, between business and vision.

So, while we justly mourn the loss of this man, and justly mourn for a tech future without him, the only other just thing is to celebrate that we ever had him in the first place. What a gift to humanity.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

an affirmation

I just had coffee with a friend I've known since middle school. Following the 20th-century American pattern, we were friends all through school, and then rarely saw each other after graduation. Recently, though, we've picked up the thread (without Facebook, bucking the 21st-century pattern) and started hanging out again a bit.

In school, we naturally gravitated to each other: he was friendly and outgoing, had a weird sense of humor, knew how to dress, was superintelligent and didn't see any need to hide it, was a gifted musician, and loved to sit around with friends and laugh and talk philosophy and science and religion and culture. We were dear friends.

He was raised Catholic, but, like many in our crowd, began to leave religious matters aside for what he probably perceived as more challenging sets of ideas. He didn't abandon the concept of spirituality, certainly, but the claims of most religious people in his life may have begun to look absurd. In our crowd, I was one of a very few spirited participants in traditional Christianity. They, and he, respected that greatly; we had many many late-night discussions about whether or not you can know that there's a God, and whether or not there's any good reason to get from there to being, say, Baptist.

Sadly, since I was often a spokesman for thoughtful Christianity, my friends' picture of what a Christian looked like was undoubtedly influenced by my character — and at that point I was not necessarily a great role model. When not rigid and pedantic, I was crass and cruel. I was quite capable of fussing about my friends' smoking habits, moralizing about their drug experimentation, and on and on. It's a testament to the true openness of our little crowd that they accepted me. At any rate, he was rather firmly agnostic as I recall, and (I hope) we were worthy adversaries in our friendly discussions and explorations. At least he was that for me. (Our friendship and its religious and philosophical debates were fairly well-known: in our senior English class, the teacher cast us as the two leads in the roundtable reading of Inherit the Wind — impishly, he cast my friend as religious-right Brady and me as hardened atheist Drummond. The teacher couldn't have known that I loved Drummond and had dreamed of portraying him since about 5th grade.)

Sometime right after graduation, when he was moving away, I gave him "Mere Christianity" and a Bible. Looking back, I'm somewhere between aghast and amused that I thought my gesture would be taken as anything but self-righteous priggery.

Life happened; we moved through it; here we are, in our mid-40s, and we've reconnected. As often happens, we picked up right where we left off, brothers in so many ways. Somewhere along the way, he himself reconnected with the church. Recognizing what many supersmart 10th-graders can't, that there's much beyond our powers of intelligence, he's now a world-wise believer.

This spring he gave me a palm cross he made at Easter. I pinned it in our kitchen. I see it often and think of him and our friendship and our journey. Over coffee just now he explained his gift more thoroughly: when he made it at Easter (out of palms from the previous Palm Sunday, a tradition in his church), he was thinking of me and all I'd meant to him. He said I was an inspiration to him, and he was thankful that God had placed us in each other's orbits, and crossed our paths so fortuitously over the years.

Wow. God moves, often despite his followers, in a mysterious way.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

'rest' now available

A while back, I just up and decided to record an album of music for therapy and relaxation.

I figure a lot of people are frustrated with the stultifying sameness of relaxation music. I wanted to see if I could do something better, but that still fit the genre, something that could reward your attention if you choose to tune in, but, if you just want to study or relax or concentrate, provides a calming and peaceful background.

The settings are simple: harp, piano, guitar, woodwinds, ambient textures. I tailored it to be especially good for professionals: counselors, prayer leaders, yoga instructors, massage therapists, anyone on a schedule. Here's why: the innovation of "Rest" is that each of its 6 songs is precisely 10 minutes long, so that if your session is fifty minutes, or a half-hour, or a full hour, the music itself leads you to a perfect exit point. No jarring stops and starts necessary: just program the right length and the music leads the way. And the songs' keys and tempos are all related, providing variety, continuity, and a smooth progress from each song to the next (and from the final song to the first, for those who have it on repeat).

Bonus: it calms baby Greta very effectively.

Here it is. Check it out. Hope you like it.