Home to Roost

It’s Maundy Thursday in the Christian church calendar. We remember that last supper Jesus had with his closest friends, a few stolen moments in a borrowed upper room, emotions running high, all hell about to break loose.

I wrote this song in January for week 4 of #songaweek2020, but I wanted to share it here today. Whether or not, however or not you are marking this day; whatever faith or lack of it you call yours – I hope you know – and feel – that you are loved. And may you be filled with peace.

Be well my friends.

Here is my heart, look but don’t touch
unless you assume all the risk
If you break it, it’s yours, like it or not
Can you afford one last kiss?

every sparrow that falls comes home to roost

Come get warm by the fire, stretch out your hands,
Eat, drink and say what you will
If you love me at all you know who I am
Heartbroken, heart breaking still

every sparrow that falls comes home to roost

Break now the bread, pour out the wine
Share it with all who have need
Don’t we all have a need, a need to be loved?
a hunger and thirsting for peace?

Here in the dark you call my name
Whether I hear it or not
Cause I know what I feel,
I feel that I’m loved
Before and behind and beyond

every sparrow that falls
every sparrow that falls
every sparrow that falls
comes home to roost

God in a Foxhole

It’s Good Friday again and I’m totally not feeling it. Or wanting to feel it. I’ve spent years struggling with the centrality of crucifixion in my Christian faith, and I know I’ll continue to. Instead of talking about it, here’s what I’ve got today:

Yes there are atheists in foxholes
And if there’s a god
Then God is there too
Breathing and bleeding
Cowering and killing
And wishing to die
And dying alone
And crying for home
When there is no home
Because bombs broke it up
And there’s no one to go home to anyway
And sometimes not even God believes
In the mud of a foxhole
In the arms of despair
But if god is there
Then God is there 

Normal

I’ll be 43 this week. And still, I’m writing songs like this one, processing my childhood and the life that grew from it.

We are all shaped by histories we had little to no control over. Our agency grew as we did. Looking back at my history, some things seem especially strange now that felt completely normal then, as that was the only reality I knew in my short life span.

But of course I’m not unique in this. It’s a human thing.

There are several facets to the idea of “normal” in this song. There’s what I mentioned already – that what feels normal when you’re born into it can look anything but normal in retrospect.

Another facet for me, because of my particular history, is that I’ve struggled with feeling like a normal person much of my life – in two very different ways. First, when I was growing up inside fundamentalism, I learned that we the faithful were the chosen ones. We were “a peculiar people” and that wasn’t supposed to sound funny – because it was in the Bible, King James Version, which was the most highly regarded and the one I grew up with.

(We also believed that everyone outside our construct was destined to eternal damnation, burning forever in a literal hell. Sometimes I wonder if the “chosen people” idea was a way to help us cope with the horror of this belief. If you are constantly reminded that your “unsaved” family, friends, neighbors, grocery cashier, letter carrier, etc., etc., are doomed to that kind of suffering unless you can somehow convince them to join your club – I mean church – it might help to imagine them as somehow a lesser being than you are. Maybe they won’t feel the pain like you would. In this case I wouldn’t exactly call our outlook on “the unsaved” dehumanization because I think we were imagining ourselves as slightly above genuine humanity. We were “reborn,” “converted” – humanity plus. But it probably had a similar effect on our outlook.)

So that was one side of my struggle with feeling normal, the one I lived with while growing up in that environment.

The other side has been in the years since, exiting from fundamentalism, and feeling like an outsider trying to learn a new culture. For a long time I didn’t feel legitimate, because I had missed out on so many of the experiences that were common to my generation’s growing-up years. I don’t have memories associated with the music and movies of my generation, because I wasn’t allowed to listen to that music or go to theaters. I was married before I was even offered my first drink. The wildest oats I sowed was an all-[cis, straight] girls strip-and-run through the woods in my college years. Once. I think we might have howled at the moon for extra tension release.

Deeper than that, I just didn’t learn the everyday street-smarts that many people get growing up in a less sheltered environment. I was naive, shy, fearful. All those years of working hard to keep a long list of rules had ill-prepared me to live in a world where the rules weren’t always so clear, if they existed at all. I went into every situtation wanting to know what was expected of me, what I needed to do to make people like me, and I couldn’t always figure it out.

Only in very recent years have I learned that in most situations, there just isn’t a list of expectations for me to check off. There’s nobody standing by with a clipboard grading me. I don’t have to perform in order to be deemed a real live human being. I just am. And so is everyone else. I’m nothing special, and I’m the only me there ever was or will be. And the same goes for you.

That’s what I mean by normal, at least as I was writing this, my song for week 42 of #songaweek2018: (Wow, only ten weeks left!) The suggested theme was “socks,” so I stuck in some socks for good measure.

I used to live in Indiana
In a trailer park on the edge of town
There was a field where we ran and played
And I liked to pick Queen Anne’s Lace

It was normal, all so normal
Like shoes and socks, baby dolls and blocks
And black and white TV

I used to pledge allegiance to the Bible
And the flags of my faith and country
Every morning at the Christian school
Where they gave us all the answers

It was normal, all so normal
I was good as gold, did what I was told
And I won a lot of trophies

That was a long time ago
I still don’t know what I don’t know

I’ve moved a dozen times since then
Geographically, theologically
I own a single-family detached dwelling
And I took my trophies to the thrift store

This is normal, all so normal
I’m a bona fide, genuine
I have always been and I will always be
like every one of you looking back at me,
An honest-to-God human being.

Open the Door, Pull Up a Chair, Make Friends

At my church our pastor often starts the service by leading us in taking a deep collective breath, literally. Silence, breath, space.

Last week, week 39 of #songaweek2018, my song was inspired by the contrasting sources of episode 656 of This American Life, about immigration policy and practice under the Trump administration; and the policy and practice of my church, whose website declares what it lives out: “Welcome. You already belong here.”

This past summer a group from our church attended our denomination’s nationwide youth event. One memorable idea from the event was that if a new person walks up to your group and you’re not sure if you have room for one more, make room. Say “pull up a chair,” invite them to join you and expand your circle.

I need to believe in the power of open doors and extra chairs. But many times I find myself operating from the same fear and greed that motivates my country’s immigration policy – fear that if I open up, hold out my hand, offer a seat at the table, there might not be enough good stuff left for me.

That’s why the last verse is important – it’s not “we” vs. “they.” Even if I’m not making public policy or being unkind or unwelcoming, I can still find myself prone to hoarding and hiding.

And that’s at least partly why I still tie myself to a faith community, despite my skepticism, despite my personal history with spiritually abusive church environments. I’m still here because I need to remember I’m not the center of my life. And it helps me greatly to gather regularly with a roomful of other people, and breathe, and confess our failings, and affirm love and welcome, and begin again.

Face it, no one needs to go away
Hold it, there’s poison in the words they say
Let it sink in, I am not the living end
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends

They twist the truth and crush the poor
They study war forevermore

Stop it, this drawing lines and closing minds
Keep it, that ancient faith that love takes time
Every generation new ears will hear again:
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends

They devastate all that they take
Establish empires on heartbreak

Name it, this tendency to hoard and hide
Own it, my part in shutting out the light
Take a deep breath, feel the lifeblood flow again;
Open the door, pull up a chair, make friends.

Phoenix (Beauty for Ashes)

The first time I heard “women – you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them” was from a boy in junior high. That’s kind of how faith has been in my life. It’s never been something I’ve felt comfortable living with, or without. So I continue to believe, and doubt. Hope springs eternal even as despair dries everything up. My faith goes up in flames, and is reborn.

This song could have been written for Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent in the church calendar – 40 days of fasting before the biggest day of the Christian calendar, Easter. On Ash Wednesday, the pastor or priest says, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” while making the sign of the cross with ashes on our foreheads. (These ashes are usually made from burning the palms we waved last year on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’s big “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem where he was hailed as king and crowds waved palm branches to celebrate before turning on him a week later and crucifying him.)

I’ve been keeping journals since I was ten years old. And lugging them around the country with me, every time I moved. A couple years ago as I was in the midst of trying to simplify my life and my possessions, I began to resent that heavy box of journals in my basement. And then I came across an idea from Courtney Carver, to burn journals after filling them. Of course it seemed almost blasphemous to me at first – utterly destroy my painstaking record of my precious inner life?

But I couldn’t stop coming back to the idea. I imagined how freeing that could feel. Over the years I’ve gone back and read old journals quite a bit, and to tell the truth, it started to feel like hearing old voices I just didn’t need to keep around. I had lived those years. I didn’t regret them. I don’t regret writing through those years. I’m so glad I did. But I didn’t really need to continue to enshrine my written impressions of my past.

The more I considered it, the readier I became to let those journals go. I boxed them up over the winter and stowed the box in the garage, waiting for an opportunity to start a backyard fire.

This song became the perfect opportunity. I didn’t plan which pages to burn, just tore out a few pages, threw them in the fire, watched the flames overtake the baggage of my past, felt my present moment come into focus, felt my heart lighten.

These songs, too, and my body, and my life itself – are here for a season. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I can’t make any of this last forever. I have no idea if anyone – even God – can. I remain skeptical about such things. And I dare to hope. But that’s not what moves me moment by moment.

What propels me is this: I do believe – and experience – that right here, right now, every day, everywhere, beauty can follow ashes. Loss, death, endings are real and horrible. And then, beauty. That too. Over and over, and that is life as I know it.

This song (for week 16 of #songaweek2018) was a good exercise in stretching my musician muscles. I wrote most of the lyrics in one sitting and then thought I had a good tune and chord progression but the more I played it, the more same-y same-y it sounded to me. So I tried to mix it up with a more interesting chord progression. Being a music major I should be able to explain what exactly I did here, but those theory classes were years ago! The main thing is that I shifted from an A major chord to a C major chord, so I would sometimes sing a C natural and sometimes a C sharp. It became an engaging challenge working all this out in so many layers of harmonies.

Now I lay me down
With the dogs of despair
Hunting for hope in my dreams
I’ll sleep just like a baby
Wake up in the dark
wailing for a mother I can’t see

Good God it’s not easy
Dear Lord it’s so hard
This living and loving and losing
Sweet Jesus believe me I’ve made it this far
On the fumes of a faith that keeps going up in flames

I’d like to do like you
To fast in the wilderness
Feast on the bread of heaven
Take it as it comes
Breathe my last and be born again
Moment by inevitable moment

Remember you are dust
And to dust you shall return
And I will give you
Beauty for ashes

 

I Could Be Wrong

I used to scoff at my brother-in-law for being a vegetarian. Now I mostly eat vegan.

When Bill Clinton was elected president while I was in high school, I was afraid the world might end. In 2016 I voted for Hillary.

I’ve argued about all sorts of theological and philosophical points over the course of my life, most adamantly against some of the very things I used to believe myself.

I changed my college major three times.

I planned to not have children. Now I have two.

For a while I thought I was done with organized religion. Now I sing in my church choir.

I used to wear my hair like this:

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As Paul Simon sang, “I was wrong, and I could be wrong again.” (“Sure Don’t Feel Like Love,” from his album Surprise which that girl in the photo may not have liked but I happen to love.)

“Family” was the theme for week six of #songaweek2018. I didn’t have much interest in working with that theme, as I feel like already half my songs are family-related and it’s not even anyone’s birthday or anniversary or Mother’s or Father’s Day this week!

I built this song from the first two lines which I’ve been storing in my “scraps and starters” list for years. And now that it’s finished, I think there’s a lot of “family” going on around this song after all.

Last week the Super Bowl came to Minneapolis, and for that reason Westboro Baptist Church chose my hometown of Owatonna, which is on the freeway 70 miles south of Minneapolis, as a Sunday morning stop on their way to agitate at the big game. They demonstrated at a number of churches during Sunday morning services, including the one my in-laws attend.

I don’t agree with Westboro Baptist. I also don’t agree with my in-laws and their church on some things. But our extended family across the country joined them to pray for that morning, and my father-in-law reflected to us afterwards in a text message:

Much has happened in me spiritually through this. Pride comes so subtly. Grace comes so abundantly from God and [God] wants us to have that same grace. God is even changing me.

Do you hear that? That humble and gracious attitude? That’s the stuff that keeps extended families coming back together despite all kinds of differences.

We can always find ways we don’t see eye-to-eye with other people, including our own family and friends – and including our own past and (if we could foresee) future selves!  But if we can keep this attitude of grace, of “I could be wrong,” it’s easier to see heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul, human-to-human. And that’s where and how real change happens anyway.

It’s okay to lay our weapons down. We can still hold strongly to our beliefs and values, and even talk about them with people who disagree. We just don’t really need those weapons of pride, guilt and shame, bitterness, contempt . . . they never work well at getting the point across anyway. They become the point, and everybody loses.

And besides, that thing you think and feel so strongly today, may just end up on your future self’s cutting room floor. But better that than another person.

I used to get injured more often
back when everything had a point
I went around hammering nails into coffins
at least I think I did
at least I thought I did
but I could be wrong

I used to go throwing my lot in
with the causes I fervently felt
These days I feel lots of nothing
at least I think I do
at least I feel that’s true
but I could be wrong

How many miles must I walk in your shoes
until I can feel your soul?
How many words should I leave unsaid
so I can finally hear you?

I’m starting to sense I’ve been spinning forever
orbiting the light
Sometimes I’m stupid, but sometimes I’m clever
at least I think I am
at least I hope I am
but I might be wrong

Winning the war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Conquerors can’t afford love
So I’ll stand in my faith and I’ll lay down my weapons
Cause I could be wrong.

 

 

 

 

Out Like a Light

It’s the last day of another year, and here is my last song for #songaweek2016.

In the middle of writing it, I realized I was quoting from the Bible, the gospel of John, when Jesus is talking to his disciples about getting ready to say goodbye, and he leads up to something I hold as central to my faith – that his followers will be known by their love.

Here’s hoping that maybe in 2017, that can become a little more true.

It’s been an amazing year of songwriting, and I look forward to reflecting on it a bit in another post, as well as making a central list of all the songs and highlighting some of my favorites.

Here’s my song for week 52 of #songaweek2016. Oh, and PS – if you or someone you know might enjoy trying this challenge, check out #songaweek2017.

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

In a little while
you will look for me
you will look for me
and I won’t be there

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

In a stranger’s face
in your daughter’s voice
in the love you share
you’ll know me there

I go out into the night
I go out I go out like a light

Still Moving

In spite of everything, I still believe . . .

Here’s my song for week 10 of #songaweek2016.

You’re the wind and

I’m the good girl

trying to keep her skirt in place

You’re the music

I’m the stoic

fighting the urge to dance

you are the light

but I’m trying to hide

You’re the bread and wine but I have to fast

you’re the question I’m afraid to ask

you’re the letting go, I can’t hold you in my grasp

but over, under, and right through everything

your still small voice still calls

You’re the road and I’m the traveler

you lay your body down

you make a way through wilderness

draw me to the next horizon

spread your spirit out

You’re the paper I’m the pen

you give me space to think

let me bleed all over you

and you wear the mess like it means something

You’re the wave and I’m the sand

I’m trying to stand firm

but you keep on changing me

 

Frankenchurch is Loose!

So the poet Rumi, the novelist Mary Shelley, the comedian Bill Maher, and the Apostle Paul all walk into a book . . .

It’s a book for, about, and by members of the Christian church, and it finds some helpful instruction in things each of these people (among others) have said or written.

The book is called Frankenchurch, and I cowrote it with my father Larry Tindall and our friend Matt Bissonette. It’s a unique conversation grown from a reading of Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein and comparisons we three see with the story of the church.

You can buy the book or download samples for iBooks and Kindle; and the book is available in print version at Blurb.

Here’s a little sample quote from the book:

Many new-to-church people are excited about life, like the newly-made Victim [the name we gave to Frankenstein’s nameless monster], and eager to create a strong and healthy church, like the young and brilliant Victor [Frankenstein himself].

And many jaded church people, including former church leaders, cannot stand the sight of the church they had a hand in creating, the church that also had a hand in creating them.

All of us church folks are both Victor and Victim.

It’s been nearly five years since we began working on this book, when I was still living in Owatonna. Matt conceived the idea, and invited my dad and me to help him with the actual writing and publishing of it. The first drafts were drawn up in my parents’ backyard garden and around their kitchen table as we three met to talk through the bones of the book itself.

I have fond memories of reading Frankenstein on my front porch swing and writing much of the content of Frankenchurch in the early morning hours before the rest of my family woke.

My dad, ever the pastor-teacher and life coach, poured his mentoring care of others into the discussion questions and revisions and additions to the text of the book; and his business acumen into learning and entering the world of self-publishing.

It’s been a true team effort, and we’re excited to finally send our monster creation out into the world!

Ready for a Silent Night

In the news – more mass shootings than calendar days this year. Police brutality, Black Lives Matter protests, Syrian refugees, domestic terrorists, Islamic extremists . . . and my Facebook feed lights up with posturing and politics, fear, reactionism, polarization. So much of it is ugly, irrational, unkind, thoughtless.

I used to have a lot more to say about these things, back when I was smarter and more authoritative on everything, I guess. Now, I just feel softened, tender towards everyone, silent and sorrowful, observing the overwhelming ocean of humans trying to make their way in the world – a few take their pain and anger to destructive extremes, and the Internet ignites over these incidents. Behind our screens, scanning and clicking, we think we know, we’re sure we understand the heart of the matter.

But I for one am safe and comfortable, and it’s possible that until and unless I somehow become otherwise, I simply cannot understand, have very little that’s useful or constructive to tell you from my social media soapbox.

Maybe not every form of silence is violence. Maybe we could all use a silent night or two – shut down the devices and be still. Breathe.

I still identify as a Christian after all these years of living, all the crimes and abuses done in the name of Christ, all my doubts and grievances and downright embarrassment of the church culture I’ve been part of. And the biggest reason I can think of for my tenacity in this faith, is that I have learned I don’t know it all, don’t have it all, can’t get it right – and my faith remains in a God who loves, and loves, and loves us still – all of us, no exceptions – who holds it all together. And I don’t have to be afraid. I too can love unto death, can love my enemy, need not arm myself for battle. God is greater than all. And God is love.

And “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

PS – If you take me up on the suggestion of a silent night, you might also want some cozy-dark holiday music to ease you back out of it. Halo in the Frost fits the bill, and it’s a free download.