I Am Love

“I don’t even know how to talk to people anymore,” I heard someone say recently. And I feel that so much too. Not that I ever really knew how to talk to people! But whatever progress I had made in 45 years feels stunted after one year of social distancing.

Emerging from pandemic life, I feel awkward and unsure and even afraid, a little like I did back in junior high – what will people think of me? What if I say the wrong thing? Practically any time spent on social media these days only amplifies those feelings for me.

There’s a lot more I could (try to!) say about how and why I wrote this song, but to sum up, this was one of the few songs I’ve written that felt mostly like a complete gift from the blue – the comforting words I needed just showing up in my thoughts when I most needed them.

You don’t have to be right, you don’t have to be smart
You don’t have to be what you are, you don’t have to be what you aren’t
You are completely loved, you’re forever forgiven
My great heart is enlarged by your wondrous existence

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

You don’t have to make sense, you can tell me what’s on your mind
You can never offend one who sees you from every side
And I love who I see and you’re not the only one
Take a look around, oh I feel this for everyone

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

In the end all that it comes down to is love in everything

And that’s what the world needs, that’s what everyone’s wanting
It feels impossible but with me nothing
Is impossible, no it’s never been easy
but it’s simple enough for a child to see

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

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

Beautiful Mundane

I confessed to my husband the other day that I don’t usually like it when he walks in the door at the end of the workday and gives me a kiss. It’s just too mundane, I said. Routine drives me mad, I whined.

Which on further consideration is laughable, because neither of us works full-time and so it’s rarely more than two or three days in a week that he’s even walking in the door at the end of the workday.

Confession is good for the soul. I think I needed to actually hear myself saying those words in order to write this song, and this song has been good for my soul.

A couple allusions/credits – I didn’t come up with “the meaning of life is to live.” It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes. I was sure it was from Leo Tolstoy, but my Google search doesn’t seem to confirm that. The closest I could come to a source was Goodreads citing Eleanor Roosevelt: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” I still think it came from one of those broody Russians I love reading though, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.

And “tell a better story” is an idea I absorbed from reading Life of Pi.

“Mundane” has its roots in the Latin word “mundus” meaning “world.” It means ordinary, everyday, “of, pertaining to, or typical of this world.” Maybe it is something worth paying attention to, if it’s your world.

If I believed the world had need
Of another sad song
I’d go on like this, go on like this
Till we’re all bored to tears
But I believe the world don’t need
A thing I have to give
And that the meaning of life
Is to live

It’s all right here
Right where nobody’s looking
The beautiful mundane

Remember when, see it again
Tell a better story
The living truth
That changes everything
It was a long time ago
Until we saw the light
And felt the warmth
And held each other close

It’s all right here
Right where nobody’s looking
The beautiful mundane

I still believe in falling leaves
And transient twilight
And shards of broken dreams
The waves of time smooth and reshape

It’s all right here
Right where nobody’s looking
It’s all right here
And you and me’d best be looking
The beautiful mundane

 

 

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 

Cold Night In (Lovely Lost Cause)

Week 50! This is one of those songs where the suggested theme (from #songaweek2018) actually caused the song to be written. I wouldn’t have gone this direction at all if it weren’t for the suggested word, “metal.”

Not much I want to say about this song – I think we’ve all been here from time to time and know something about it. The cycle of love, the journey of living well. The bridge (“thieves break in and steal . . .”) comes from Matthew 6:19-20, that little passage about storing up treasures in heaven rather than earth. I interpret that not as sacred versus secular; but cosmic, big-hearted wisdom versus short-sighted, me-and-mine foolishness.

My heart’s made of metal
invincible steel
that’s why when you hold me
there’s nothing to feel

It’s a cold night in
It’s a lovely lost cause

I swam in the ocean
I crawled up on land
but there’s no harder journey
than the one to your hand

It’s a cold night in
It’s a lovely lost cause

Thieves break in and steal
Moth and rust corrupt

Come light your best fire
to melt me all down
I’m sick and I’m tired
But I’m coming around

On this cold night in
For this lovely lost cause

November Psalm 2

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted a song called “November Psalm.” Last month on a personal retreat, I reread  God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, and was newly moved by it. This month I finished listening to season three of the podcast Serial, which follows the justice system in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for one year. And currently Nathan and I are watching Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War, which often feels like a nightmare before we go to bed.

These are all, to some extent, influences on the song I wrote for week 47 of #songaweek2018. The suggested theme for the week was “justice.” Life is – and always has been – torn up with suffering and death, so much of it senseless and unjust, so many lives seemingly forgotten, moments of agony buried beyond human memory.

But not, I believe, beyond the memory, presence, love – and redemption – of God, who John F. Haught in God After Darwin calls “the boundlessly redemptive future” (I added the bold font below for emphasis):

The fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution now appear, in the perspective of faith, to have always been seeded with promise. From its very beginning this extravagantly experimental universe has been bursting with potential for surprising future outcomes. And the undeniable fact that life, mind, culture, and religion have emerged out of the barely rippled radiation of the primordial universe gives us every reason to suspect that the cosmos may still be situated no less realistically within the framework of promise than of tragedy. Even prospects of eventual cosmic doom are not enough to defeat the proposal that nature’s present indeterminacies are the repository of promise. The so-called “heat death” that may be awaiting the universe is not inconsistent with the notion that each moment of the entire cosmic process is taken perpetually into, and preserved everlastingly in, the boundlessly redemptive future that faith names as God.

Leaves flash and fade
Trees fall asleep
Ice puts down roots
But not as deep
As my love for you
That cannot be erased
As hope and beauty
And unrelenting grace
Selah

Days come and go
Night wears on
Cold comes to stay
But not as long
As my love for you
That burns eternally
As peace and justice
That set the captive free
Selah

Worlds form and die
Stars breathe their last
Time marches on
But never past
My love for you
That never can forget
My heart holds you
And never will forget
Selah

It’s Just Life

[Don’t forget to vote!]

The chorus of this song was a random idea I’ve saved for a couple years. I didn’t have a sudden burst of inspiration for week 44 of #songaweek2018, so I went back over past notes and found this idea saved as a voice memo. The only thing I changed for this song was “why we carry on” which initially was “why you carry on.” Otherwise the words and tune you hear in this chorus are exactly the original idea around which I built the rest of the song.

So many influences here. The general political climate in our nation. The mass shooting in Pittsburgh. A moment at a stoplight with a homeless man. My plodding through a volume of famous and obscure works by H.G. Wells. The Pale Blue Dot poster that hangs by my desk – a cherished gift from a friend.

This song is constructed slightly differently than my – and many songwriters’ – standard format of multiple verses, a repeated chorus, and one bridge somewhere after the middle to break things up a bit. You could say it either has two different verse formats, each repeated once; or one verse format repeated twice (“So talk to me . . .” and “oh sing to me . . .”) and one bridge repeated twice (“what a waste is there . . .” and “if I hadn’t rolled my window down . . .”). And a single repeating chorus.

The tune for what I’m calling the bridge (“what a waste is there . . .”) actually grew from another quote that didn’t make it into the final song. It came from a G.K. Chesterton book I’m also plodding through, the Father Brown mysteries. (Why am I such a sucker for books by dead Englishmen with initials for names? Besides H.G. Wells and G.K. Chesterton I’ve also read nearly everything I can find by P.G. Wodehouse. And then of course there’s J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot. Apparently a trend of their time and culture. Along with the cringey moments of racism and sexism their readers must stumble through.)

But the Chesterton quote – I loved the way it flowed so much that I copied it into my notes for possible later use: “I knew Jupiter Jesus out in Denver; saw him for weeks on end; and he was just a common crook.” (from “The Miracle of Moon Crescent” in The Incredulity of Father Brown).

I sang those words till I had a tune and chords I liked for them. Then as I worked further on the song, I tried to keep them intact as my first bridge, but eventually had to “murder my darlings” and let those words go from this song. Maybe they’ll show up elsewhere someday. I just think they’re too good to only be used once, now that they’re in public domain!

Not much more I want to say about this song except an emphasis of one main idea in it – that sometimes when everything feels dark and wrong and impossible to set right, it’s good to step back and look at it all from a wider angle. In the grand scheme of things, every atom matters. But I can’t see or feel how much it all matters until I roll down the window, put down the phone, embrace life with an active presence and all my senses. That’s when life feels more approachable, manageable, liveable, too.

The videos are all from the International Space Station, downloaded from this website – https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/BeyondThePhotography/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/. I didn’t set out to do this, but I think you won’t see any views of the United States here. That feels like a timely reminder for me and my fellow citizens, that the world doesn’t actually revolve around us.

So talk to me
So tell me how it goes with you in these dark days
Before the dawn
And stay with me
Believe me when I say to you it’s coming soon
Keep holding on

There must be a reason why we carry on
We’re here a little while and then we’re gone
There, there, it’s alright, it’s just life

What a waste is there of exquisite things
The young are the food of war
We are just a mote of dust

Oh sing to me
Open up your soul and let the truth fly free
Into the night
Be not afraid
The killers have no power over shining stars
And rising suns

There must be a reason why we carry on . . .

If I hadn’t rolled my window down
I’d never have seen his smile
And he was just a homeless man

There must be a reason why we carry on . . . 

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.

Time for Love

Today I’m making pear butter, which is eerily ironic because I’m writing about the song I wrote last week which quotes the 12th Doctor’s farewell speech in which he says, “never ever eat pears!” and which gets even eerier when I add that the pears I’m using came from my friend Barb’s backyard tree; and that Barb and her husband Jon and my husband Nathan and I have been watching Doctor Who together since before the show revamped in 2005 because we were fans before it was cool. Oh yeah. Cosmic irony right here on a Tuesday in my kitchen.

This isn’t the first song I wrote inspired by my favorite time traveler. Here’s one we did for Doctor Who Day in 2010:

Oh and look at that, I’m playing the same guitar!

This also isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the Doctor on this blog. I’ve done that multiple times, but this one feels especially relevant since the 13th Doctor (whose season starts this year) is a woman!

When I started writing week 38’s song for #songaweek2018, I didn’t have the Doctor in mind. As is often my habit, I started with a first line and just followed it for a while. There’s definitely talk of faith in here, and an ambiguous narrator. As it progressed, those last words of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor came to my mind (my favorite of which originally came from Bertrand Russell) and I wanted to include them in some way.

I don’t feel like this song is finished – it’s probably another I’ll come back to later. For now, here it is:

Oh I have loved you for a million years and more
With every atom of my ever-loving core
You are inside my dreams when I lie down at night
And in the morning you are shining in the light

How sweet the fragrance of your blossoms in the spring
How deep your beauty cuts, tattooing everything
How high your visions fly, expanding hearts and minds
How wide your seeing eye, before me and behind

Now I feel like I feel you now
After all this time
Not like I really know you, no
I hardly know you at all

Where do these days come from, where do the moments go?
Why must we say goodbye when we just said hello?
What keeps us holding on when everything seems lost?
Who can we trust to stick with us at any cost?

Hate is always foolish
Love is always wise
Never be cruel, never be cowardly,
Laugh hard, run fast, and be kind.