Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

Dave Brubeck has passed away at the age of 91.

Fifty years ago I watched the Dave Brubeck Quartet play “Take Five” on television and though at 8 years old I wasn’t sure why, I knew this music was different; mostly, I suppose, because of my parents reaction. There was just something about jazz. It would be some years before that seed would grow into a personal love for jazz, but grow it did, and Dave Brubeck was always there watering and feeding the music within me.

In 1991 Dave Brubeck and the Quartet flew to Moscow to meet and perform with Russian jazz masters and to perform his jazz mass “To Hope” with the Russian National Orchestra. The DVD of the documentary of that trip is the most played DVD in my house. It is a true mass, celebrating the Lord’s supper, in remembrance of his sacrifice.

In honour of his life and passing I present this clip of my favorite part of the mass.


Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise. – Sam Pascoe

One religious student asked, “Isn’t Christianity is also supposed to be a body, the body of Christ?  When a body becomes an enterprise, isn’t that prostitution?”


Yesterday I went down to the Juravinski Cancer Centre for the first check-up since the end of my radiation treatments. My radiation oncologist Dr. Wright and his resident poked, prodded, peered and perused every corner of my throat, inside and out. The tissues are healing nicely, slightly ahead of the average curve apparently, there’s no swelling anywhere there shouldn’t be, and everything is returning to a colour vaguely resembling the colour it was before it all began. The conclusion: he is willing to go out on the proverbial limb and declare me to be 100% cancer free – with 95% certainty.  The 5% is reserved until after I have a high-contrast CT scan performed in the next few weeks in case it reveals something completely unexpected. Failing that though, I’m done. To quote the good doctor, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see you in six weeks”. In two weeks we’ll see if my surgeon is willing to make the same bold declaration.

If he does, it’s a declaration that has me facing some previously unexplored territory – the future.

Let me explain…

I was 14 in 1967 when my Dad decided to explore the family genealogy as part of the whole ‘Centennial Year’ thing. What we discovered was that the males in the Gray family are pretty short-lived. On average we tend to kick off in the mid-Fifties, with the overall average being a ripe old 56. In the dozen or so generations he was able to track down nobody survived past the age of 60. My father did not buck the trend, passing away from colon cancer at that very same Gray family average.

So over the next few years I thought about that from time to time and by the time I reached my twenties I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that 55-60 years was the best I could hope for. Planning for retirement was pretty much set aside and I started living life with little more than your basic 5-year plan.

But now, it looks like I have to re-jig my thinking. It would seem that there is a new paradigm on the horizon; for the first time in my life I have to seriously consider the prospect of growing old!

I know, to you it sounds strange, but the reality is that I truly had fully resigned myself to dying of cancer sometime in my Fifties. In fact, in some respects I was actually looking forward to it; you know, seeing Jesus and all. When Dr. Wellman revealed that cancer had been found in my cyst back in November there was no shock, no dismay, no fear, because I had been expecting it all along. The diagnosis arrived exactly on schedule just as it did with my father. There were no surprises at all.

However, one thing has changed – medical science. Unlike all the preceding generations, when the inevitable struck me, no one was saying, “This is it I’m afraid. You have x months to live.”  No, instead, there was a very confident team of specialists saying, “Here’s how we’re going to get you out of this.” They laid out a very convincing plan of action and all that they planned has gone exactly as planned, maybe even a little bit better.

There was another difference as well. While my family has always been of the church going variety, faith in God to change the future was never a part of the religious dynamic. Faith was something that carried you through the hard times and gave you the strength to face certain doom with the traditional British stiff upper lip. Disease, misfortune and death were not things to pray your way out of, they were part of God’s mysterious ways and no one seriously expected anything to change.

I however, have been blessed to be part of a praying and more importantly believing faith community. Dozens of people have contacted me to tell me they are praying for my successful recovery; there have been dinners brought to the door, rides to treatment offered and a variety of other expressions of love and support that have, quite frankly, left Roberta and I feeling slightly over-whelmed. And it would seem that all that prayerful support have borne fruit. The cancer has come and gone and I’m still here. Praise God!

Now, before I get a minor flood of emails taking exception to my crediting God in this I will answer your objection right now. I have absolutely no idea why everyone who is prayed for as I was doesn’t get healed. I have no doctorate in theology, no inside track on the details of God’s plans for the Universe, and no pretensions for being anything other than the simple believer that I am. However, I am a believer, and I believe that the prayers of my friends at Kortright and elsewhere have had just as much a bearing on this outcome as the ministrations of the doctors, nurses and technicians at the Juravinski and St. Joseph’s in Hamilton.

And I am immensely grateful to each and every one of those who prayed, cooked, drove, hugged, filled in for, and gave of their time and resources to support Roberta and I over the last 5 months.  You people are amazing!  God bless each and every one of you!

However, that still leaves me facing a future I never thought I’d face.  And though the prospect is actually a little scary, I’m looking forward to it. I now have to actually ponder what I might do with my twilight years. Any suggestions?

Till next time… Shalom.

This may sound a little strange to some of you, but I am truly saddened by the passing of David Carradine.  No, I’m not morning the lost of a great action figure like some, nor did I think of him as a role model the way he is being portrayed by others.  And yet, truth be told, without him my life might have taken a very different turn.

I was 18 when Kung Fu came to television. Carradine’s charater Kwai Chang Caine fasinated me. The juxtaposition of passive demeaner and explosions of violence was something I had never considered.

At the time I was part of a Christian High school group; I didn’t really believe, I was just madly in lust with one of the female members of the group.  Kwai Chang Caine however, caused me to seriously examine the question of spirituality.  I sought out instruction in Eastern philosophy and eventually wound up learning from a Buddist instructor at the same time that I was attending a Baptist congregation.  He often commented on the teachings of Jesus and thought that the Jewish rabbi must have been exposed to Buddist teachings at some point.

His take on Jesus’ teaching was, however, somewhat different from what I was learning in the Baptist church. When I would tell him what my pastor had told me a passage meant he would often respond with, “Really? But that’s not what He said.” It was this exposure to non-Christian examination of scripture that caused me to take a serious personal look at the Bible rather than just accepting what I was told it meant.

Eventually both the girl and the Buddist moved out of my life – but Jesus remained. And so did a desire to fully understand the context of what Jesus was saying.  All of which has, of course, contributed to who I am today.

Even though he played a relatively small role in my spiritual development, I followed Carradines career with more than a passing intertest. It is said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and Kwai Chang Caine was the motivation for that first step. And so I find myself feeling a small measure of indebtedness to the character and the  actor.

When I learned of his death however, it was not any of the King Fu scenes that came to mind.  (No I don’t buy the suicide angle, neither do I think the asian Mafia had him killed.) No, my favorite Carradine moment will always be the Superman speech from Kill Bill 2. It’s a great commentary on the nature of masks and identity.  I think it stuck in my mind because of the fact that Superman is one of the most widely distributed archetypes of Christ, which puts an interesting slant on the commentary.

(For the more sensitive among you – brief bad language advisory.)

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27 ESV)

There’s a story by Maggie Michael of the Associated Press in today’s Toronto Sun that seems to fly in the face of James’ definition of true religion.   It appears that a 75 year old widow in Saudi Arabia asked her late husband’s nephew and his business partner to save her a trip to the market and bring 5 loaves of bread around for her.  Seems like a reasonable request to us, but the Saudi religious police arrested the trio after the bread was delivered and charged the woman with “illegal mingling” with men who are not close relatives.

The 75 year old Syrian woman (her late husband was Saudi) was convicted as a result of “citizen information” (she was ratted out by her late husband’s brother) and her conviction was confirmed because “she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi.”  She has been sentenced to 40 lashes, followed by 4 months in jail to be followed by deportation back to Syria.  The two men also were sentenced to lashes and jail time.  Her lawyer will appeal.

Now I will be the first to admit I’m no expert on Islam or Mohammed. I’ve only read the Koran once and that was some time ago. But I really have a hard time believing that lashing a 75 year old widow for “corrupting the morals of young men” because they did her the favour of delivering bread was what the Prophet had in mind. And to be sure it would seem that even in the Muslim world this level of fundamentalism is pretty much restricted to Saudi Arabia and is garnering criticism even from Muslim quarters.  But this post is not about the horrors of fundamentalist Islam.

It’s about Christian fundamentalism and the separation of church and state.

As I mentioned in my review of ‘Nine Parts of Desire‘ (see book list) whenever I read about Muslim abuses I find myself thinking about the sordid history of my own religion.  Since the days of Constantine whenever the church has found itself in the role of Head of State it has inevitably led to abuse of the general populace.  It has been said that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and it would seem the church is even more susceptible to this since they feel they have a direct link to the source of absolution. (pun intended)

And it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference what flavour of Christian you may claim to be.  The Reformationists in Europe where fully justified in throwing off the ‘shackles of Rome’ because of the corruption that had found it’s way into the papal system; however, once in power their persecution and execution of ‘heretics’ for such infractions as baptizing an adult soon came close to making the Spanish Inquisition look like a sleepless night a Guantanamo.

It’s no wonder that the Anabaptists started pushing for separation of church and state. Even though the idea appears to fly in the face of Old Testament theocracy, given the predisposition to tyranny displayed by so called Christian governments, it does seem to be the better option. Of course this too was opposed with many European monarchs, such as Austria, effectively declaring open season on anyone even suspected of being a “separatist”.

Which brings us to the present day. The lines being drawn in the U.S. and Canada between believers and humanists, conservatives and liberals, and the barrage of rhetoric being lobbed back and forth between them lead me to believe that a “Christian” party in power in a modern democracy would be no less tyrannical then their neo-Roman predecessors; only the manifestation of that tyranny would differ.  This has led me to the conclusion that ‘Christian politics’ is just not a great idea.

Not that I think Christians shouldn’t hold politicians accountable on moral issues, we are certainly called to be the collective conscience of the nation. And the best way we can do that is at the ballot box voting out those whose professed neutrality actually leans more to the dark side.  But when I hear talk of ‘Christian government’ it makes me cringe just as much as the idea of Saudi religious police. The greatest ‘real and present danger’ we face is when we try to translate personal morality into government policy. People being people, I just don’t think it can ever work.

The only Christian government that will ever succeed in achieving true justice will be the government led by Christ himself in the next age. Until then, as much as I hate to admit it, politics might possibly best be left in the hands of the morally neutral.

Air and Simple Gifts

Posted: January 21, 2009 in Politics
Tags: ,

One of my favourite parts of the Inauguration was this performance of “Air and Simple Gifts“, John Williams’ new “arrangement” for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet). What strikes me most about the piece is the incorporation of “Lord of the Dance” one of my favorite Celtic Christian melodies. I cannot help but wonder if it is a deliberate connection to Obama’s professed faith, or did Williams simply like the Celtic melody.

Here’s the video from YouTube. I love how much Yo Yo Ma is obviously enjoying the experience.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the piece “Lord of the Dance” was quite popular in contemporary Christian circles in the late sixties/early seventies. It was written by Sydney B. Carter, a freelance British writer and broadcaster. He wrote the lyrics which tell the basic story of the life of Jesus using dance as a metaphor for the gospel message. The lyrics were original written by Carter, but the melody is a variation on a 19th century Shaker tune that Carter adapted for the hymn. He has three other contemporary hymns to his credit.I’ve always liked the piece because of its use of metaphor in representing the Gospel.

Hearing the primary message of Jesus’ ministry presented in other ways has always appealed to me because it causes one to look at the gospel in other ways, helping to broaden and deepen our appreciation of its universal appeal.

Another wonderful example of this is Calvin Miller’s ‘Singer Trilogy.’ in the three volumes Miller presents the story of Jesus as an epic poem telling the story of the Troubadour, who has been called to sing the ancient Star Song, and pays the ultimate price for doing so. The three volumes in the trilogy are ‘The Singer’ which presents the story of the gospels, ‘The Song’ a representation of the Book of Acts, and ‘The Finale’ which explores the imagery of the book of Revelation. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who appreciate epic poetry and stories.

I present for your consideration as you listen to “Air and Simple Gifts” a second or third time, the lyrics to “Lord of the Dance”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Refrain Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,
But they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
They came to me and the dance went on.

I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame,
The holy people said it was a shame;
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high;
And they left me there on a cross to die.

I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

It’s been a long month — storyteller’s workshop, worship conference, video testimonies, worship projects, barbershop concerts, drama rehersals. Not a lot of free time for writing as I would like. Finally got a free night this past Sunday. Resolved to spend the evening doing as little as possible. Roberta planned on reading a book, I was going to relax with some great jazz music. Then it hit — guilt!

Even as we settled down for the evening we hadn’t gone very far when both my wife and I felt it. We were actually planning to do nothing! We were about to commit the sin of being unproductive. How could we think of such a thing? More than once Roberta looked up from her book and said, “There are things I should be doing. I shouldn’t be just sitting here. (long pause) But it’s all I want to do!”

I knew how she felt. I had to remind both myself and her that that not only is doing nothing NOT a sin, it is a command of God! It would seem that God knew his creation would fall prey to the insatiable drive to ‘do something’, and so he commanded one day’s rest in seven to address the need for rest. For the record, even two thousand years ago, in the time of Jesus, this was considered a little strange. Many people regarded the Jews as lazy and irresponsible because they took a whole day off every week.

What I have always wondered however, is why we have this overwhelming drive to be busy in the first place? Why do we get so fidgety and restless when we do nothing? Why is the same level of inactivity that is acceptable lying on the beach, so unacceptable in our own living rooms?

I have a theory.

I think we all suffer, to one degree or another, from the tryanny of our own attention span.

That’s right – the tyranny of our own attention span. The same hightened sense of boredom that has us flipping channels, also keeps us from slowing down and just enjoying the moment. And in a world dominated by the 10-second sound byte, the video montage, and the one-minute news update, the situation has become even worse. There are many people today that are simply incapable of paying attention to anything for any length of time.

The result is we have trouble simply enjoying the moment. When we do spend a few moments resting, doing nothing, before long a little voice in our head says, “Okay, been here, done this. What’s next? Come on people – I’ve seen this movie before. Show me something new.”

Of course on the spiritual level there’s another aspect to it as well — fear.

I have come to the realization that some of us are reluctant to stop
doing because when our minds are not filled with these activities then we might be tempted to “think“. And this is bad because thinking can lead to contemplation. And contemplation can lead to introspection. And introspection can lead to having to face some hard realities about ourselves, and nobody wants to do that. And so because of our fear of facing who we really are, we occupy our time with as many activities as possible so that we don’t have time to think about how good or bad a person we might be.

Of course, on the spiritual level, this is all very good for the enemy. Satan of course has no desire to see God’s people spending a lot of time in quiet contemplation because they just might be quiet long enough to hear the still small voice of God. They might, even without intending or planning to, take head of the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit; and we all know what that could lead to.

So here’s my challenge to you. Take a few minutes, or dare I say it, one day a week, and strive to do nothing. You just might find it’s the most productive thing you’ve ever done.