Life – as seen from “Music Theory for Beginners

Last September I drove to Nebraska to visit my parents.

As old people will do –and that includes all three of us now- we were reminiscing about the old days, including those days when I was a very poor piano student of a good lady named Mrs. O’Dell. Both my younger sister and I studied with her, which involved both a private lesson in actual playing, and a group theory lesson every week.

My mother recalled Mrs. O’Dell saying how unusual it was to have two children from the same family who both preferred theory to playing. We were always odd folk.

One of the things I remember is the idea that music is among other things, the management of tension and resolution. Yes, other arts work with this as well, good story-telling for example, but I never learned to do that. Stay with me.

There are a lot of ways to build and resolve tension in music.

  • You can start a pitch at “home” and raise it up (like stretching a rubber band between two points, and then pulling it up), then lower it back to home. “Amazing Grace” is like this, feeling very peaceful, and, well, resolved, when it gets back to its home note.
  • You can do it with rhythm. Think of three quick beats in a row, and repeat that cluster three times: “applepie – applepie – apple pie” Now release that tension (perhaps in your belt, caused by all that pie) by taking a nap: “applepie – applepie – applepie – Sleeeeep” (get a good LONG nap!) See how resolved and peaceful that is?
  • Or you can do tension and resolution by harmony.
    Think of the traditional ending in some church hymns, where everyone sings “A – MEN” on 2 chords.

Most music will combine all these techniques and more, all through the piece.

The management of tension and release is very close to the heart of music.

Life is like that, too. Seasons of tension and release, stress and resolution.

But here’s the thing… NOBODY goes to hear concerts of resolution. Or tension either.

They go to hear and wonder at the MUSIC. Life is filled with music, music is filled with life, with tension and release.

May your life be beautiful, filled with music.

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Time to Start Writing Again

It’s been awhile! I had wondered where you had been!

no, wait. That’s not right, I’m the one who was gone.

I’ve been on a self-indulgent departure from writing, and it is high time I quit it.  Quitting, that is. I need to stop that. I need to write. Obviously. My brain has been turning to mush.

When I took up this blog silliness, I said that on of the influences was that of my father. How when he dropped me off in the dormitory at Univ. of Houston back in 1973, he told me to write every day. Write something, it didn’t matter what. Schoolwork, letters, journal –anything. Just keep putting words on paper for the mental exercise of it. He led me to the idea that if I am not writing, I am not thinking; at least not in any form worthy of the name. I may be observing random thoughts fly across my brain, but unless I am trying to capture them, make them responsible to other thoughts, they are no more like a trained and powerful team of Clydesdales than are a herd of wild donkeys romping in a meadow.

I won’t say that “to write is to think” – I’ve read some of my own stuff before, and know what mindless drivel I can generate. But at least if one writes mindless drivel, it shows itself for what it is. You may or may not recognize it, but put it out on the internet, and someone is likely to point it out to you before long. I take that as a kindness

To write may make it possible to think. And perhaps that is why I have been avoiding it.

I’ve been a mess, and didn’t want to think.

But it is time for me to pay attention to Ephesians 5:14, paraphrased in a song I use to know as
“Awake O sleepers, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you life!”
Time I trusted that.
Time I woke up.
I need to write again.

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Texas Politics and Birth Certificates

By now, I expect most folks who care have run across the current dispute in Texas concerning Birth Certificates for US born children of illegal alien parents:

I don’t post political stuff, but this time I’m going to do it. So pull up your “angry response pad” or scroll on down –at least you know what this is going to be about.


First, I am really irritated that the media keeps reporting this as

“Texas denies birth certificates to children born in the US.”

This is totally untrue, and expresses either ignorance enough to disqualify the news source as a reliable reporter, or a willingness to intentionally bend the facts to make a better headline, or to make a story that fits their own agenda “don’t bother me with the facts, this is the point I want to make.” I don’t know which is which: but no child is denied a birth certificate.

What IS being denied is access to a copy of that certificate (the original is filed with –and remains with –the registrar). For many years, access to birth and death certificates are restricted for many years in order to help control identity theft. In order to get a copy of a certificate, one must prove that they are legally entitled to that copy.
That is a good thing.
But it is the point of contention:

The parents of these children are illegal, and therefore undocumented. And yes, by my use of “illegal” as a description, you may perceive that I have a bias against unregulated immigration. You would be right. I do.

In the past, there was a particular document, issued in Mexico, which was acceptable to establish the identity of this person for the purpose of obtaining a copy of their child’s birth certificate. Texas is now deciding to not honor that document, unless it has a current VISA authorizing the holder to be in the US. In other words, illegal immigrants need not apply.

Note that this is NOT a decision to not issue a certificate for that child, or to refuse to honor a “strict constructionist” view, or any other view, of the 14th amendment to the US constitution. Good GOD we would NEVER advocate going against the Constitution! That is something for the *liberals* to try!
Texas is not doing that.

But what we are doing, what is being done in my name, is an attempt at a defacto end run around the US Constitution. We are changing our procedures so that they have the *effect* of denying, not citizenship, but the ability to PROOVE US citizenship to a child who is guaranteed such citizenship by the US constitution. Those in power in Texas who dislike that guarantee have decided to take it upon themselves to negate it. For any practical purpose, the inability to prove citizenship is the same as to deny it.

One may dislike the problem of illegal immigrants having children in this country as “anchor babies” so that the child at least will be legal here.  I am troubled by it myself.
But that is not the point under contention.

The Texas Government has decided to take actions by which children are effectively denied the citizenship of this country, to which they are entitled by the 14th amendment.
That is wrong.
It is past wrong, it is embarrassingly wrong and immoral – particularly for those who say that their only problem with undocumented workers is that they have not gone through the proper process, that they have disrespected the rule of law in this country by going around it.
That argument is now shot to hell.

I, as a Texan, am embarrassed.
I have long supported conservative leaders in local, state and national politics. The last Democrat I supported for office was probably Phil Gramm, back when the only Dems in Texas were Conservative Democrats and REALLY Conservative Democrats. I voted for every one of the Republicans now in State-wide office. Some of them, I have voted for in every election where their name has been set before me.

So that makes this at least somewhat my fault.
I am embarrassed. I did ask them to help “control the border” but I did not ask them to “subvert the US Constitution”

I will have to look more clearly at the ethics of the candidates in the future.
You have broken trust with me.

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“He descended into hell…”

This is a post I wrote a few years back. But Today, Holy Saturday, I think these ideas are worth wrestling with. Not so much for my ideas, but the thing itself is worth wrestling with. I welcome your own thoughts. May we, like Jacob, not let go until we have been blessed!

When I was young, we didn’t think much of the days before Easter other than the crucifixion itself, the whole period between the betrayal of Jesus and the Resurrection was pretty much ignored.
There is even a name for these days, “The Triduum.” Who knew?

There is much to think about, and today, Holy Saturday, the “Great Silence” is a good day for pondering.

I had been pondering a part of the creed little used in the branch of the Church I grew up in: “He descended into hell” particularly in connection with Jesus’ words from the cross “it is finished” and “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Continue reading

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A Story of Two Groups of “Wise Men”

Well, I’m going to go WAAAY out of character for me, and out on a church calendar limb. Tomorrow is Sunday, 5 January, 2014, the last Sunday in Christmas this year. So I am going to race ahead and post about Epiphany. “Sin Boldly”; to half-quote Martin Luther.

So why jump ahead two days as if I were impatient for them to be gone? Well, perhaps I am in mid-revelation, and revelation is sort of what the word “epiphany” means. Or perhaps I am receiving my Christmas gift, which also marks it as OK as a Christmas post (now I feel better!). I understand that in many places in the world, in many parts of the Church, Gifts are not exchanged on Christmas, in remembrance of the Gift of the Incarnation, but on Twelfth-Night, Epiphany (“…my true love gave to me, …”) in remembrance of the gifts of the Magi, given TO the incarnate Son of the most High. I sort of like that, in that it puts the focus a little more where I think it belongs, on me giving to God as I seek to serve Him in all people, in recognition of my baptismal vow.

Well, rambling over, on with the point. In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Chapter 2, he says of the “wise men” (or Magi): Continue reading


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Karma and Exodus (borrowed from The Pews of Hope)

I edit another blog, partly written by me, but intended as a vehicle for expression and conversation for the laypeople of my church, Hope Episcopal Church (Houston).  It is called “The Pews of Hope” 
I wrote the following piece last May, in reaction to an incident in our Sunday eve Bible study, which I did not think we handled particularly well

That site doesn’t get a lot of traffic yet, and thus not a lot of comments. I would particularly welcome some other thoughts, so I thought I would place it over here as well.

Last Sunday afternoon, May 26, our Bible Study group was reading in Exodus. We read the Ten Commandments, and we continued with laws relating to a variety of subjects, most of which our legal system would call tort law – or how to deal “with what is fair?” when one person has, intentionally or accidentally, caused harm to another. Continue reading

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Guest post -no words of mine need be added

Guest post today –

Back in the mid-late 1970’s I shared a house in Houston with a man called George O’Malley. George was the second-best roommate I ever had; I moved out only to get married, and nobody disputes the honest fact that George was the Best Man at that wedding.

Paul Simon wrote a song I like that goes “Some folks’ lives roll easy…” That hasn’t always been George. But in the midst of the tosses and turns of this life, George has maintained the central goodness of his heart. Today he posted something that I thought not only showed something of George, but also pointed for the rest of us the way forward. I argue theology. George simply does it. His is the more excellent way. Continue reading


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