New (Church) Year’s Eve, New Blog Directions & Adventures with Moana

I’m enjoying a quiet Thanksgiving weekend and it seems like a good time to pause and write. In many ways, it’s the calm before the storm – midterms begin for us on 14 December and there are too few school days and too much content for me to teach between now and then. And we get an unexpected day off as our football team is playing (for the second year in a row) for the Ohio state title next Friday. Awesome (yet one less teaching day.)

Have you noticed a somewhat different direction for this blog? Yes, the mission and the writers have shifted. The original purpose (see the “About” for details) was to share ideas and insights about technology – especially as it can be used to support the work educators do in their classrooms. This focus, over time, expanded to include internet resources which could make us smile, think, and pray.

After taking a hiatus from writing here over the summer and enjoying time reading many novels and other books, I returned in the fall with a new focus. Every school day since mid-August, I’ve created and posted a presentation about the Saint O’the Day. This is a labor of love as I’ve grown in devotion to the saints and I desire to share what I’m learning about “our extended family in Heaven” with my students and others.

The writers of this blog have shifted too. Initially it was a trio of us creating this site. But time commitments and interests change. Tera, my Religion colleague, is now our Campus Ministry Director and our excellent retreat program (plus the day to day of teaching) takes much of her focus. And Rachel, my colleague who teaches Spanish, has become the publisher of our weekly faculty/staff newsletter (and is doing a great job with it).

So, that leaves me (Rick) – freshman and sophomore Religion teacher, husband of a fellow Religion teacher and school colleague, dad of a teen and near-teen, aficionado of technology, music, wine, walking, and life in general!

And Happy New (Church) Year’s Eve. On this very last day of CY2016, the lectionary reading has Christ assuring St. John and us: “‘Behold, I am coming soon.’ Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book.” Furthermore, we pray in the Responsorial Psalm: “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Yes, 2017 begins for us tomorrow with the changing of the colors and the lighting of the advent wreath. As I wonder about what adventures this coming church year will hold, I’m listening to the main song from the wonderful new film (which I saw on Thanksgiving): Moana. It’s all about hearing one’s calling and discovering strength to courageously pursue it.

I’ll be back to share more during Advent. Until then, may you hear the voice of God, see the light of Christ, and be drawn this church year towards the horizon “where the water meets the sky.”

Friday FunPost: Great Music Genres Video and A Clever Book on Music

It’s been quite a few weeks since a true Friday FunPost. Lent is over, I’m not on break and I found something quite appropriate for this feature.

Spend a few minutes (less than 6 actually), enjoying this creative and educational medley by a young band from Europe:

Not only am I impressed by the precision in cutting from one genre to the next, the costumes are pretty awesome. And I learned about a few genres which haven’t (yet?) caught on in the U.S.

I’ve been thinking about musical genres lately as I discovered a really clever book which seeks to explode the whole concept. The thesis in Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty by Ben Ratliff invites the reader to move beyond genres which are based more on commercial categorization rather than structural similarities from piece to piece.

In a new era where most any listener can easily access almost any song ever recorded, Ratliff proposes a new methodology for creating digital playlists. He presents and discusses twenty playlists with themes related to the underlying elements of the music rather than its often arbitrary “type.” Some of these themes are “Slowness,” “Virtuosity” and “Density.”

I’ve only read the first chapter on “repetition” entitled “Let Me Concentrate!” After defining this concept, the author analyzes a diverse set of musical pieces which illustrate it in a wide variety of ways. I really like how he uses thought-provoking metaphors which stretch my understanding and subsequent appreciation of works with which I was unfamiliar.

For example, he uses a piece called “Four Organs” composed and performed by Steve Reich in 1970. On page 20, Ratliff writes:

This aspect of “Four Organs” – its “repetition” – is like playing a peekaboo game with a child. You’re going to do it over and over: that’s the repetition. But you’ve got to keep changing the way you do it, otherwise he’ll expect it and will not be surprised. And at some point in the game – it doesn’t take very long to get there – you and the child understand each other; you know each other’s reaction time, range of facial expressions, sense of humor, degree of patience.

After reading this description, I found the piece within my Apple Music subscription. I listened to it for a couple of minutes before I decided the repetition annoyed and bothered me, so I turned it off. While I won’t likely listen to the piece again, I am grateful to have been directed toward it as an example of an important element of musical form.

And I’m particularly grateful that Ratliff mentions the featured pieces twice in each chapter – in the text and in a handy list (in order of mention) from which a digital playlist can quickly be created. I look forward to more reading and listening and learning via this book.

Tuesday FaithPost – Powerful Stations of the Cross by Busted Halo

Is it Friday already? No, sadly it is not yet. I’m sharing a FaithPost a couple of days early as I want to offer this wonderful resource now, so that you could possibly use it before or during Holy Week.

The good Paulist Fathers who create the awesome, newly redesigned, young-adult site Busted Halo, have put together a quite powerful set of videos following the Stations of the Cross. Each video uses just text and music to tell the story and interpret the meaning of each of the fourteen traditional moments in Christ’s Passion. Here’s the fourth station, which I find particularly moving and insightful:

There’s a lot I like about these videos. But two aspects are particularly meaningful. First, the overarching theme of this version of the Way of the Cross is the Kingdom of God. This central vision of Jesus’ ministry is at the heart of the gospel and thus something which we must emphasize time and again to those to whom we minister.

I also find the simple music accompanying the words on the screen provocative, compelling and deeply moving. The piano melody used with the stations in which Jesus Meets His Mother, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus and Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem is one I find haunting and well-matched to the emotions of these encounters.

I’m using these videos in our chapel as a prayer service with all five of my classes today. It has worked better with my one sophomore class than my two freshmen ones. I think the greater maturity and developing wisdom in the older students is the main difference.

I’ve created this presentation to use with the videos. It should be pretty self-explanatory – show the slide introducing a station, play the video and then prayerfully read the supporting slide while giving the viewers/participants a few moments to reflect.

A couple of things you may wonder about the presentation: The photos of the crosses were ones that I took while visiting Christ in the Desert Monastery in northern New Mexico a few years ago.  And the colors of the background of the slides is meant to represent the transition and transformation of this time in Lent, to Holy Week and then to Easter.

I hope you find this Busted Halo Stations of the Cross as meaningful and useful as I do. The video below will link you to the playlist of  all the fourteen stations.

May you have a blessed Fifth Tuesday of Lent and a good rest of the week.

Sun(Fun)Day Night Post – Feel-Good Music by The Hunts

As I end a full and short (by an hour) weekend, I am feeling grateful for Spotify. This isn’t an add for the streaming music service, but rather an acknowledgement of how much it has expanded both my ability to enjoy music and especially to discover singer and bands who make music I like to listen to as much as I can.

Flannel Graph was the band I wrote about recently – particularly their song “Apple Pie” which I find both catchy and moving. Another great “indie” song which has been streaming on my devices and in my head is this one:

In addition to the quirky and playful music, I like the lyrics as well:

I could see,
I could see your heart, through your eyes
On that night from the balcony
How could we ever
Make this leap?

You and I,
Caught up in wind like we were parachutes
Oh how we’d fly until we hit the ground
How could we ever
Make this leap?

We were young,
I used my paper telescope,
To show you the stars and then win your heart
How could we ever
Make believe?

I can see, I can see, I can see a sunrise
Call me out from the dark, cause I’m broken inside
I can see, I can see, I can see a sunrise
Call me out from the dark, cause I’m broken inside

Up above the static
Up above the racket
I hear your voice calling me out of the darkness
Up above the static
Up above the racket
I hear your voice calling me out of the darkness

Caught up like parachutes, Caught up like parachutes
Oh how we’d fly
Caught up like parachutes, Caught up like parachutes
Oh how we’d fly!

You called me out from the dark, and brought me into the light,
You called me out from the dark, and brought me into the light,
You called me out from the dark, and brought me into the light,

It clearly fits into the category of popular “God Songs” in which the “you” could possibly be God. Seems to work here, especially with “you called me out from the dark, and brought me into the light.”

I’ve come to appreciate this band, The Hunts even more after I Googled them tonight and discovered they are all family – five brothers and two sisters – ranging in age from 16 to 24. Their official bio notes this about them:

While getting seven strong-minded brothers and sisters to agree on every last note and lyric can sometimes be chaotic, The Hunts note that the synergy born from that chaos is what makes the band so strong. “I like to look at our hectic way of writing as actually really helpful to us as songwriters,” says Josh. “Each one of us is a filter, and after going through all seven of those filters, each song is so much better than it could ever be if we each just wrote on our own.” Now heading out on tour in support of Life Was Simple, The Hunts are thrilled to harmonize for a bigger audience than ever before. “One of our favorite things is for all seven of us to sing together at once, and I think people really like to see the special camaraderie that comes from brothers and sisters creating something together,” says Jessi. “Growing up, we didn’t really have much,” adds Jenni. “But we did have music, and that was the thing that always brought us together. I can’t think of anything better than growing that relationship even deeper, through making more music that comes right from our hearts.”

And, for even more listening enjoyment on this not-yet-Spring Sunday evening, check out the strings in this song by them:

 

 

Sun(Fun)day Night (BONUS): Amazing Movie Mash-up

This time last Sunday night, I (and you too?) was watching the Oscars. If you haven’t done so yet, check out my post on where you can watch the nominated films.

Have you ever wished your favorite movie characters could be in the same film – TOGETHER? Now, thanks to editing and production so amazing I don’t even want to begin to figure it out, you can see this:

The tone does shift towards violence about halfway through when the Aliens show up. Until that point, it’s pretty fun to see how such a great range of favorite actors and characters (check out where at least four James Bonds connect) come together in one place within a story:

03-06-16-K

Friday FaithPost -“Break My Heart Sweetly”

Faithful readers of this blog know that every Friday I try to offer a Friday FunLink to end the week with some levity. As we approach Lent, I wanted to begin with a more somber, faith-oriented post on the Fridays until Easter arrives. Of course there is a long tradition in the Church reserving Friday for the remembrance of Christ’s death. Sunday is the day for celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and even during Lent it is a day for celebration.

Today’s post is a short video which I’m showing to my classes today. Prior to praying with the saint for the day, I like to share with my classes something which struck me in the previous 24 hours. Sometimes it’s a news story, an image, a fact, a prayer or reflective quote. My goal is to show either a prayer need for which we will communally pray and/or an example of how God is present in the world around us.

As I shared/am sharing today, I discovered this video as well as the performer this morning at 5:30 am while I was unloading the dishwasher. Readers know that I am a huge Stephen Colbert fan and that I’ve watched every episode of his show thus far. I often do this by propping up my iPad on the kitchen counter and watching while I do the dishes. And this was the segment from last Monday’s show which was next in my watching queue:

 

I am moved by the simple power of this song. “Break my Heart Sweetly” is a title rich with irony and sorrow. Moreland, who doesn’t look like your typical singer, carries the lyrics of altars, prayers, halos and demons, with grace and depth. I’d not encountered this artist previously and immediately I did some searching.  He has a religious (Baptist) background which is apparent in the respectful wrestling with faith he does in his music.

And a tip of the hat to Colbert for having this and many other interesting, diverse, and rising artists on his nightly national showcase.

Break My Heart Sweetly by John Moreland:

I swore the days were over, courting empty dreams
I worshiped at the altar of losing everything
And the guard I held together is losing all its shape
And in my head you look so gorgeous, it’s keeping me awake

There’s a scar on my soul, so let me down easy
Break my heart sweetly, like you always do
I guess I can’t let go til you wreck me completely
Break my heart sweetly, drape me in blue

I was never scared of nothing, I thought I had a home
Life went and broke me open, cause I carried it alone
I’m finding all this well worn sadness I never knew I kept
And I still chase you into heartache every time you take a step

I swore the days were over, courting empty dreams
I worshiped at the altar of losing everything
And you had a halo made of diamonds, resting on your head
I should be dealing with my demons, but I’m dodging them instead

 

 

Web Link Clearance – Best of 2015 Lists

On this first day of the second month of 2016 I offer you a chance to celebrate: National Girls and Women in Sports Day; Change Your Password Day; Car Insurance Day; G.I. Joe Day; and Decorating with Candy Day by enjoying this list of “Best of 2015 Lists”

Why, you may ask, am I sharing these a month and a day after the start of 2016? A simple answer: these links were in my queue for posting by year’s end – and it never happened. Rather than just delete them and move on, I thought there is still value in looking back to find quality books, music, apps, etc from last year. Hence, this “web link clearance” today.

Besides: Do you write 2016 every time you put down the date or do you still sometimes write 2015 by mistake?

The Only 9 Apps Released in 2015 We’re Still Actually Using

50 Best Albums of 2015

Longreads Best Stories of 2015

Apple Names the Best iOS Apps of 2015

10 Most Popular Podcasts of 2015  (“How to Listen to Podcasts”)

Top Illustrated Science Books of 2015

The Best Novels of 2015

Overdrive’s Best Books of 2015 [This is the excellent online portal for ebooks and audiobooks that both of our local library systems use)

NY Times 10 Best Books of 2015

 

 

2015 – Best Things – An Amazing Calendar and More

I’d planned to make this post before 2015 ended, but it obviously didn’t happen. These links, especially to the calendar pictured above are too good to miss. So, let’s pretend it’s a few days ago and we’re looking back at 2015 before (and not after) 2016 has begun.

This calendar from Slate is pretty amazing. Certainly horrible things happened in 2015 – some (the Paris and San Bernadino terrorist attacks) in the final few weeks. Yet, there were far more good things – in fact at least one per day in 2015.

Do check out the calendar. Click on a day and you’ll get more info on what happened that is deemed “good” (at least by the creators at Slate). What if you don’t think something is good on a certain date? Well, you can rate the event on a scale from “Great!” to “meh.”

Here’s, for your perusal, some other “best of lists” and “looks back” from 2015:

The Year in Review in Catholicism (from Crux)

The Best Books We Read in 2015 (from The Week)

The Best Songs We Heard in 2015 (from the Week)

These 14 Characters Stole the Show in 2015 Movies (from the Washington Post)

The Crux 2015 Christmas Book and DVD List

The 13 Funniest TV Shows of 2015

I have some more lists from 2015 to share, but I’ll do so in another post…

 

 

Merry Christmas – Fear Not! Peace! Hope! Joy!

Yes, this blog has been silent for quite a few days. I fell behind in assessing and publishing my sophomore students’ blog posts (for both their midterm and before it) and vowed to not post on my blog until I completed theirs. I tied the bow on their posts a few minutes ago, so it’s time for my Christmas wishes.

While it’s the season of peace, hope and joy, there’s been a lot of fear going around this year – even during the month of Advent. As a reminder about why a follower of Christ shouldn’t fear, here’s the beginning of Bishop Robert Barron’s reflection for today, Christmas Eve:

The first Christmas homily ever given was spoken on the Judean hills surrounding the little town of Bethlehem: the annunciation of the angel to the shepherds on Christmas night.
The first thing the angel said was “Fear not!” How that phrase echoes up and down the Scriptures! When a being from a higher dimension breaks into our world, he typically says, “Do not be afraid.” Paul Tillich, the great Protestant theologian, commented that fear is the fundamental problem, that fear undergirds most forms of human dysfunction. Because we are afraid, we crouch protectively around ourselves; because we’re afraid, we lash out at each other in violence. If Christmas means that God is with us, that God is one of us, that God has come close, then we no longer have to be afraid.
How can we experience peace during a time of conflict, strife and “terror?” Taking a different view of our home helps me to rest in faith about the peace of creation which was “In the beginning” and to which Christ is returning us.
I feel moved and inspired by the stunning image of the earth rising from the moon which NASA released today (pictured above). Please take a moment to visit the link as there’s more to the image than I could capture above.
As for hope, I’m inspired by this story which was making the rounds on the internet this week. I quote it here in full from Time:
A group of Kenyans traveling by bus refused Islamist terrorists demands that they identify themselves as either Christian or Muslim in an act of defiance that reportedly saved lives.

According to BBC, militants boarded a bus in a small border town and requested the passengers divide themselves up by religion. The passengers refused, the BBC reports eyewitnesses say, telling the terrorists to “kill them together or leave them alone.”

Officials are looking into whether the militant group al-Shabab is responsible for the attack. Two people were reported to have been killed in the attack, but officials say the militants ultimately left after the passengers banded together.

Also today President Obama and Vice President Biden released on Spotify their “Holiday Playlists” While listening to President Obama’s, I discovered this wonderful song of hope by the legendary Stevie Wonder, which was originally released way back in 1967.

Here’s the lyrics, composed during another time of fear, anger and uncertainty:

Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas we’ll see a Man
No hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shinning moment my heart ran away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Hate will be gone love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

And for the joy….so much to be joyful for today. But for me (huge listener of Spotify), here’s my top reason — I CAN FINALLY STREAM THE BEATLES!!!

I hope your Advent of waiting was fruitful and rich.

May your days of Christmas (the season continues until January 10th) be blessed and full of much faith, peace, hope and joy!

Friday FunLink – Surprising “Here Comes Santa Claus” Lyrics

I’m proctoring the last final of our first semester (even though the semester doesn’t actually end until Jan. 15th). It’s not mine, so I can sit and watch rather than run room to room answering questions (like I did on Wed). I can grade my midterm essays or I can post here. For now, I’ll procrastinate and choose the later option.

Yesterday, I wrote about one of the most religious seasonal songs – “O Come, O Come Emanuel.” Today, as we’re exactly a week away from Christmas, I think it’s okay to blog about a Christmas (rather than an Advent) carol.

I discovered these surprising lyrics a few years ago when I was doing some research for a graduate school paper. Wanting to see if there are any religious messages/themes in the more secular carols (ones with Santa, reindeer, etc.), I did a Google search.

We’re all familiar with the first and maybe second verses of carols, like “Here Comes Santa Claus”:

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus
Right down Santa Claus Lane
Vixen, Blitzen, all his reindeer
Pulling on the reins
Bells are ringing, children singing
All is merry and bright
Hang your stockings and say a prayer
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus
Riding down Santa Claus Lane
He’s got a bag that’s filled with toys
For boys and girls again
Hear those sleigh bells jingle jangle
Oh, what a beautiful sight
Jump in bed and cover up your head
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight
Note that there’s an exhortation to “say your prayers” in the first verse. Compare this to the classic poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (with the indelible first line: “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) in which prayer or devotion is nowhere to be found.
Most versions of Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” end with these two verses. But the song gets more religious (and more interesting) in the next verse:
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus lane
He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor
He loves you just the same
Santa Claus knows we’re all Gods children
That makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!
Wow – Santa is unconditionally loving!?!  What about “He [Santa] knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake!” “He loves you just the same / Santa Claus knows we’re all Gods children” is quite the contrast to the veiled threats in other secular carols. It’s a common trope that God is not Santa Claus (see here and here and here):
Santa and God
But, what if the opposite is actually true – Santa Claus is like God in his unconditional love and generosity for and to all of “Gods children.”
But wait, it gets better…. Here’s the fourth (and final) verse:
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus lane
He’ll come around when the chimes ring out
That it’s Christmas morn again
Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So lets give thanks to the lord above
That Santa Claus comes tonight!
Now we’re singing about peace and gratitude. What is more central to the gospel than these attitudes? And we’re urged to not just give thanks, but to “give thanks to the lord above.” Not too far from the great doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”
I also like how the connection is made between “peace on earth” coming “if we just follow the light.” While “light” is surely a central theme of this time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere) in which the solar year is waning, this verse pushes the sentiment closer to:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
So, what do we do with this secular carol with not just religious but downright christological sentiments? How about including this in a church Christmas concert or cantata. Juxtapose it with a traditional religious hymn to excite the kiddos and educate the adults.
Until then, sing along to the full, joyful, hopeful lyrics: