The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Seasonal Recreation

How did you play when you were young? And how do you play now? I used to swim and bike for what seemed like days on end. I took art classes, played piano, and read. These days I hike or run or practice yoga. I write, play at art, and have an ever-growing stack of to-read books. It’s good to allow ourselves to grow in play, to try new things, to let go of things that don’t satisfy the same creative curiosities we once followed like rabbit trails. So long as we continue to take time for soul care, engaging in creation and recreation and play so that we can be transformed. We need to set aside time for activities that dust off our souls. You know what to do. Now go do it.

re:create recess #12: Danielle Humphreys

There have been a couple of times recently in which my recreation inspired creativity which led to transformation in me. Recreation, or ‘play,’ in this season of life looks different from when I was younger. In college, I remember being part of “Rec Sports” where recreation looked like playing intramural soccer or taking a fencing class. Being in Santa Barbara, it also meant a fair amount of time at the beach! I also used to read and do artsy-craftsy things, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy these anymore, but recreation now looks a lot like planting seeds and watching them grow into a garden. It also looks like getting out in nature or going someplace new, or listening to music. These are the things that take me out of my head and clear the dust off my soul; where space is created to dream, to feel, to hear and respond.

One such experience was on a hike at the Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon. It was a beautiful Spring day, one of the first in the midst of what seemed like a never-ending wet winter. My friend and I planned to travel together and then spend time apart for soul care as we hiked the vast swath of land at the Abbey. Reaching the vista point, I sat and pondered a shrine there to the Virgin Mary. It reminded me of growing up Catholic and how honored she is in that faith tradition, especially compared to evangelical faith streams where it seems she’s only thought of at Advent and Christmas. I began journaling that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also a fellow traveler in this world and is one among the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1). She is also a fellow mother, fellow disciple and fellow sister. She went before me and cheers me on as I run the race before me. Her model of surrender, faith, trust and patience became new to me in that moment. Looking out at the surrounding towns and landscape, I decided to take out my small watercolor set and paint what I saw. I didn’t paint Mary, but imagined her sitting with me. My understanding of Mary had been re-created.

I also find that listening to certain worship music draws me close to the heart of God and gives permission for my soul to feel and experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. Like I mentioned, the Pacific Northwest winter was a brutal one, even for the Oregon natives around me! One day it was finally dry enough to put the garden in so I carved out space to get all the plants in the soil. The song in my earbuds as I worked was “Bitter/Sweet” by Amanda Cook. The lyrics are simple and repeat. “You make all things new…You turn the bitter into sweet…You turn the winter into spring…You make all things new…”

I found myself praying this to be true as I planted summer squash. I prayed for spring for my friends, for our church and for myself. As I mounded hills of soil around each plant, I prayed for God to be the foundation that supports us, for our roots to grow down deep into the soil of God’s love for us (Ephesians 3:17, NLT) for fruit, and for protection around tender plants, and tender us.

Another time, I ended a long day by listening to worship songs. As the words, melody and truth washed over me, I began to have a conversation with God. I prayed about needing to know God was with me, because I sensed that the Spirit was asking me to be prepared for something new, which made me feel scared. I imagined myself and my family being taken to the unknowns of outer space. The conversation I was having with God started to come out in pictures, so I started drawing them in a small notebook. This became a sacred moment, one that transformed me from a place that felt dizzying and uncertain to one of intimacy and trust in the goodness, faithfulness and nearness of God.

Later this week, I am doing something really out of the box for me (in this stage of my life) and going on a backpacking adventure in the mountains with a group of women I don’t know beyond the friend who invited me! The homebody in me was pulling out cookies from the oven when I got a call from the group and learned that we would be ascending 7,000 feet, and that our gear included both a helmet and an ice ax. What have I gotten myself into?! Recreation via adventure! Blowing dust off of a weary soul. Being surprised by the creativity that springs forth on the journey. Stars and glaciers and the beauty of British Columbia. New soul sisters and pilgrims on the journey. And for certain, there will be re-creation and transformation. I can.not.wait.

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, (still) adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 kiddos and 1 dog. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. She is the Associate Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Covenant Church where her husband Matt is also on staff as a Pastor.

Advent Wk3 – The Song of Glory

christmas-musicYears ago a pastor-friend shared from the Sunday chancel that, each year during Advent, he awaits the moment when Christmas will arrive. That feeling of wonder, the child-like joy-filled Christmas spirit, or truly, the Spirit of God who dreamed the first dreams of Christmas.

Every year since I’ve readily anticipated that moment and still every year it comes unexpectedly. One sad December I thought I’d missed it altogether; God took His time and my Christmas moment arrived in January. Last year it arrived as I read narration for our church Christmas concert.

This year’s moment was just as unexpected. I was supposed to drive carpool, a mundane-motherhood duty, and so would have to leave our staff Christmas party early. But I got times mixed up and asked the other mom if we could switch driving directions; I drove the first shift before donning party clothes and she took the second shift, dropping Tween at home to do homework while we reveled.

I hadn’t thought I’d be there for the caroling, followed by white elephant exchange, but I was. And as we began to sing Silent Night, suddenly my eyes welled with tears. I looked around the room, and my heart swelled with gratitude–for Christmas, for my job and these talented people with whom I work and worship, for the gift of song. I closed my eyes and whispered, Thank you…

It shouldn’t surprise me, really, that Christmas arrived in song. Music has the power to get past our logical brain and into our soul. Sometimes music is how we experience God, and sometimes music is how we express ourselves to Him. Some very blessed times, it is both.

Mary burst into song upon hearing Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s confusing message to her. She glorified God who had lifted her up from her humble state, from poor small-town girl to Blessed Mother of God. She sang her praise-filled recognition that this miracle was not only for her but the fulfillment of God’s long-ago promise to Abraham, that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants.

During Advent I look for my Christmas moment, but all year long I look for miracles in the mundane. I pray for eyes to see what God is doing. And I try, humbly, imperfectly, to share those blessings, recognizing that they are not for me alone.

Luci Shaw’s poem, Salutation, expresses that joy, that recognition of God in our midst. May we all look for our Christmas moments–God with us–and seek ways to share it with others.

Salutation
Framed in light,
Mary sings through the doorway.
Elizabeth’s six month joy
jumps, a palpable greeting,
a hidden first encounter
between son and Son.

And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
in you.

trumpet-angels

Week 3 – The Song of Glory
December 11-17

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King. The third candle represents the song of glory.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Read: Unborn John leaped for joy in the presence of unborn Jesus and Elizabeth newly saw her cousin as the mother of her Lord. Blessed because she believed the Lord would fulfill His promises, Mary sings glory to God her Savior, the Mighty One who mercifully lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things. God promised our ancestors mercy and still He works to fulfill His promises.

Pray: Lord, our souls glorify you and our spirits rejoice in you, our Savior. May we always be hungry for the good things you provide. In the name of Jesus we pray and sing, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:28 Where do you need God’s mercy in your life?
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 7:14 How do you humble yourself before God?
Wednesday Psalm 63:1-5 Glorify God by sharing some ways you experience His love in your life.
Thursday Isaiah 43:10-12 What did God tell Isaiah about who He is and who we are?Friday Philippians 4:4-5 When do you sense God’s presence, and how do you express your joy?
Saturday 2 Corinthians 1:10 How has God delivered you?

Once a Musician…

I played piano from the time I was five years old until nerves exploded in my fingers and caused me to bomb my first college piano recital. I have only ever been able to play notes on the page, carefully studied and ingrained into muscle memory. Which gives me all the more appreciation for friends like Dan, who create their own music with fingers and love.

Create Challenge #22: Dan Rodowicz

Several months ago, upon recommendation of our Human Resources department, I attended a communication seminar (based on the Process Communication Model, if you are familiar with this). Doing a ‘deep dive’ with a group of strangers isn’t something with which I am exactly comfortable. Nearly everyone in my first small group predicted I would be an “Imaginer” since I told them that I am a musician. As you can see from my chart, nothing could be further from the truth.DRodowicz chart

What’s funny is that I don’t much think of myself as a musician anymore. I’ve been playing music since I was five, and survived undergraduate and graduate school in music. I have taught both privately and on the collegiate level, and performed and recorded with some amazing and well-known musicians. I compose and arrange music, though not as often these days. I even served as Interim Music Minister at my Bay Area church for a year. While I don’t consider myself a musician, I guess it is at the core of who I am—and who I will always be.

Frankly speaking, I was the typical kid—I hated practicing. Typically I sight read my piano lessons. Only rarely did I receive the wrath of Sister Rose Imelda’s ruler.

I found my passion for music in the fourth grade when my parents bought my first spinet organ. I’ll never forget the day it arrived—I started playing the minute I got home from school and, except for a short break to eat dinner, I played until bedtime. That was the first instrument I could play and “color outside the lines.” I didn’t have to play note-for-note any longer. I could even play a few chords different than what were on paper. I could experiment with different sounds, different rhythms, and different styles. I found musical freedom!music

I have incredible respect for classically trained musicians who practice hours on end to reproduce something composed by someone else. I just don’t find the joy or sense of accomplishment they do. For me, whether it’s playing some jazz with other musicians, writing a new song or arrangement or just noodling on the piano at home, I enjoy being able to explore new musical territory at every juncture.

While I love the spontaneous creativity of playing jazz, I feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when I complete writing a new song. They always start out as a tiny idea—or “motif”—and then need to be shaped and transformed into a finished product. Sometimes, what starts out to be a great idea ends up sputtering away. But it’s most rewarding when I bring that song, including the arrangement, to completion. Of course, it isn’t so bad when someone actually likes what I created!

And when I compose, I find it easiest when the inspiration comes from someone meaningful to me. Whether it was “Tiny Ballerina” inspired by my dancing little daughter, Chelsey, or the wedding music I wrote for my wife, Leann, and our family—those are the nearest and dearest to my heart and I think that it is evident in the finished product.

So, as I head off to my “real job,” I guess I have to accept the fact that I am, and always will be, a musician.

DRodowicz travelDan Rodowicz is married to Leann and they recently relocated from the Bay Area to Laguna Niguel, CA for his position as National Sales Manager for the Institutional Solutions Group at Yamaha. They have three adult children: Andrew, Kate and Chelsey. He loves to travel, play Words with Friends, study foreign languages, drink good wine with good friends, is an avid Green Bay Packer fan (even though he was born and raised in Philadelphia) and is most comfortable on his bicycle when not seated at a piano.

You can hear some of Dan’s recordings and arrangements, including from his time as organist for the Oakland A’s baseball team, here.

Thankful Thursday – Middle School Music

bandWhen my kids were in elementary school, I’m not sure I could have predicted how much I would enjoy middle school band concerts. Teen skipped school music altogether, but Tween got bit by the band bug, particularly the trumpet. He loves it, he seems to have aptitude for it, and he’s got two pretty incredible teachers: one at school for five instructional hours plus after-school jazz band; and another, a professional jazz musician and a funny, generous guy who musically hangs out with Tween a few times a month.

This week I attended the spring band concert. Due to a work commitment I got there late, just as the 6th grade band (Tween’s group) began their final piece. Still, I smiled ear-to-ear through the 7th & 8th grade band performance.

There’s a big jump between elementary music (one hour a week) and middle school music (5+ hours a week). Whereas before we strained to hear music between squeaks, now we hear melody and harmony. And the similar jump between 6th grade band and 7th/8th grade band sounds tremendous.

I love watching kids develop creativity. Seeing pimply, gorgeous, awkward kids count furiously and focus ferociously. Wiggle just a little because the rhythm moves more than their instruments. Kids learning about art and together creating beautiful music; learning to express their thoughts, heart, soul, drama through a productive medium. Music has created a safe place for the one kid in a sea of white shirts who forgot and wore blue instead; for the darling who wears a tiara because she is royalty; for the hipster who wears a fedora because: jazz.

Tween is exceptionally bright but not yet easily suited to classroom achievements. He’ll get there, but he’s only in 6th grade. For now, I am thrilled he gets excited to go to school because he has Band 1st period. For at least one hour of every school day, he works cooperatively with teacher and classmates to create something bigger than each individual contribution. No tests, no pressure, just FUN. Well, maybe some pressure, as he has to do his part, and sometime his part is a solo. Still, making music is mostly just fun. He’s learning so many valuable life skills beyond music while simultaneously learning to appreciate, enjoy and play fantastic music. It makes the other, harder, less fun parts of a middle school day bearable.

Because: music.

And I am so thankful!

The Church: Traveling Together

What seems like a bazillion years ago, I participated in a high school marching band (sorry, no humiliating pictures available – I did look, I promise). Before freshman year, I registered to be the pianist/accompanist for Beginning Orchestra; unbeknownst to me, everyone quit and the band director transferred me to Marching Band. And the trombone, because the band obviously did not need a pianist yet needed a trombonist.

It will require a separate soul-searching sesh to figure out why I roll with some punches and not others, why I allowed this change to be made on my behalf rather than asserting a desire to try, oh let’s say, writing, journalism, or yearbook. Whatever. I learned a few things.

I found a community. The band room became my safe haven in the large, scary ‘world’ of high school. People knew me, nick-named me (“Huggy Bear,” because I bounded a few steps, dropped my backpack, hugged, and bounded off a few more steps – repeat, repeat, repeat), teased me, loved me, encouraged and challenged me. And yes, we got into some trouble together, too; I have to remember that as I parent a high school kid of my own.

marching-band-md

Staying in step is crucial. Take a clumsy pianist who’d rather take a seat, thank you very much, put an unfamiliar instrument in her hands and to her face, and then make her march in step down streets and around fields in formation… Who thought this was a good idea? And yet it was a whole lotta fun, until we had to listen to tapes of the judges’ comments and hear them yelling, “Low Brass, out of step!” Later, when I thought maybe switching to xylophone might be at least keyboard-friendly, we heard even more, “Percussion, out of step!” Because marching with a xylophone strapped to your shoulders prevents one’s ability to see their own feet (and hurts your back. I don’t recommend). And you have to move both feet and both hands and, oh, it’s All Too Much! But it’s part of the game, so you practice it all the more.

marching-band-md

The music is the message. Left-right-left-step aside (and to think I dated the Drum Major for much of this experience – he must have been chagrined at my lack of rhythm, considering my musicality), the band had music to share. We loved playing together, being together, laughing and making music. As a dear friend recently pointed out, so much of life is work; even when you work at it, music is play, and the very best sort. We made melody and harmony together, and we had a gift to offer even when we were too-often out of step with one another.

marching-band-md

Staying in step together puts you out of step with the crowd. At our best, our notes sounded in tune and our feet hit the pavement/field in synch. But we were only in tune and in step with each other. The crowds watched and listened. They might have tapped a toe, clapped or what-not to the music, but they didn’t march with us. Marching defined us as a band, a unit, a family, distinct from onlookers.

So what’s this got to do with Church?

I listened to our pastor preach this morning on the Church, on Christ as Head of the Body, and how we all fit as God ordains, with unique positions and roles to play. And I listened as the choir and congregation sang – some more on-key and -beat than others – beautiful, joyful noise unto the Lord. And together we observed Communion, received that blessed grace God has given as a remembrance of the great gift of His Son Jesus Christ, as a defining mark of His family, the Church.

And I kept thinking about our high school band. That we belonged together. That we were in step and in tune, and when we weren’t, we dealt with it together. That together we had something to share with others who were not us. That we needed each other, and that others needed us.

Sometimes these metaphors surprise me. As much as “Band Geek” sometimes sounded like a slur, and the uniforms were universally unflattering (who looks good in a fringe-covered marshmallow hat?), I am grateful to have played with the band. C’mon, friends, C’mon, Church, let’s make beautiful noise for the Lord.

Connect
Share about a memorable trip you took with others.

Study
Read aloud 2 Corinthians 5:11-20.
Paul states several reasons why he must share the good news. What are his reasons?
How are “fear of the Lord” and “Christ’s love” complimentary and in tension as motivations, and how do they motivate us to share Christ (vv. 11, 14)?
Of what is Paul “convinced,” and what implications does that have for the Christian life (vv. 14-15)?
What does it mean to “regard no one from a worldly point of view?” (v. 16)
What does it mean to be “in Christ” (v. 17)?
Define “reconciliation.” Explain the ministry and message of reconciliation. What does it mean to be “Christ’s ambassador”?

Live
In your experience of sharing Christ, what has been your primary motivation?
What would it take for you to begin to see people from God’s perspective rather than a worldly perspective?
What do you need to feel equipped and encouraged to take up the ministry of reconciliation?
For whose sake right now in your life has God made you an ambassador of Christ?
What could you do as a small group to live out the ministry of reconciliation together?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will direct you to people who are open to hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.