• Jie and I spent three days this past week in Milwaukee with a group of Chinese scholars and their children.  It is a great city to visit in the summer.  The conversation about religion with the scholars (all of whom are native atheists) was respectful and stimulating.  And spending time with the three children (ages 3, 3, and 5) was delightful.
  • Jie gets busy the next few weeks with the start of school and her work at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois.
  • We are now on "baby" watch, as Alison has carried their child full term.  Her comment this week was, "there just isn't any more room in there."  Due date is August 30.

August 19, 2018
Modern Music
It must have been about 15 years ago:  my daughters were razzing me about my limited musical tastes. I countered that I had a wide range of musical interests, "I like some of the classical music, some of the folk music, and some other stuff too.  Plus, I always pack 20 or 30 musical CDs to take along on all my long trips."

They parried back, "Yes, but the only thing you have on any of your CDs are hymns or Christmas carols." 
Realizing that they might have  had a point, I went down to the Border's Book Store a few days later and bought 15 new CDs.  Even though I hadn't heard of most of the artists, they were the best selling CDs that month, and I reckoned it was about time for me to catch up on what was happening in the music world since the publication of the last century's United Methodist Hymnal.  
Didn't like Eminem.  Probably shouldn't have bought it.  We have a saying in Christianity, "Love the singer, hate the music."  Celine Dion seemed okay, listened to her CD three or four times.  Didn't make it all the way through the Metallica CD, etc.   I can't remember what I did with those CDs, but I think the daughters got most of them for Christmas presents that year.

I feel inferior to most of my friends, who seem enthusiastic when recalling various singers and groups who have entertained our generation, dropping silent in those conversations and becoming a wallflower...until someone switches the topic to U.S. presidents and American political history. 

This baffles me a bit because I grew up in a family that liked music.  My mom played the piano and my dad tried the guitar for a few years.  They both liked to sing and taught us kids to sing.  We enjoyed listening to a variety of music on the record player.  The TV was turned on to Lawrence Welk each Saturday night.  At school I enjoyed singing our simple and lovely children's songs.  And we sang Sunday School songs and hymns at church.  My mom listened to popular songs off WGN radio (720 Chicago).
I got my own first AM transistor radio in the 5thgrade.  This might have been the time I developed my own relationship with the popular music world.  But we lived in central Illinois, and what few "music" stations I could get came through with so much static that I couldn't make out the lyrics. (And if I can't make out the lyrics, I get irritated:  always have.)  And then there was this big running argument in the 5thgrade: boys against the girls.  The girls loved listening to the Beetles and rooted for Lyndon Johnson to be elected president.  We boys preferred listening to baseball broadcasts and shouting Barry Goldwater slogans.  I was determined to not betray my comrades and start listening to "girl" music. 
My music world expanded in the 7thgrade, however, whenever I decided to join the band.  We had moved that year to Dakota, Illinois.  And the band director only had two instruments available for a new student:  it was either the French Horn or the sousaphone.  I was a big 7thgrader, so I picked the sousaphone.  I even won a couple first place awards at band competitions. But then we got moved to Sterling, Illinois, the year I entered high school, and their 70 piece school band already had 7 sousaphone players, and they had run out of extra sousaphones.  So, I joined the choir.  It was there that I finally was introduced to some pop music. With the score in front of me, I could make out the words and thus started to make my peace with the wider music world. 

In high school, I finally started listening to music on the radio, WMAQ (670 Chicago).   Listening to that radio station, I still couldn't make out all the lyrics, but the beat, the dramatic melodies, and the passionate voices matched my adolescent emotions.
But then I started serving churches as a pastor the same year I started college.  Those churches liked to sing hymns and gospel songs.  And the contemporary Christian music industry was just cranking up. Unfortunately for me, most of my musical attention became narrowed to my "work."  I now know more than most people about the six types of music found in the modern church: Psalms, Classical music, Hymns, Gospel songs, Spirituals, and Contemporary Christian music.   But my relationship with popular music grew thin.  

Only in recent years have I begun to enjoy a personal renaissance with music.  Sirius radio and Youtube have made it easy to get into the beat with Abba, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, the Beatles, Norah Jones, Enya, etc. Trips to the Country Music Museum in Nashville, the Jazz Halls in New Orleans, and Blues joints along Beale Street in Memphis have  been part of that revival.   I am even enjoying Robert Greenburg's lectures on "How to Listen to and Understand Opera."  

The Bible says to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  And as I write this on a lazy summer Saturday night, listening to the cicada and the one cricket outside my window, how can I hate any song that  any  creature of God soulfully sounds forth.  --Mike 

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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