Monday, March 03, 2014

I Am Wonderful, God Loves Me

Although Father Mark was truly beloved throughout his 18 year stint as St. Joe’s pastor, his catch-phrase that he taught everybody to proclaim in response to his question “How are you?” produced mixed emotions. Some thought it was endearing, other cringed – but no matter what you thought of it, you thought of it – it was widely famous. Bishop Hennessey tells a story of warning priests who had not previously met Fr. Mark to NOT ask him “how are you”. Now Father Mark has left our midst, and similar to Jesus, left it for his followers to spread his version of His message.

It all started back in December. The Teen Mass Band had been given a formal name (Psalm 151), we were getting good attendance (both in the choir section and in the pews) and a number of the girls were getting very competent at finding harmonies. Many of our songs were sounding very strong and tight. With the unexpected passing of Father Mark and the state of uncertainty surrounding consolidations and temporary administrators and such, there was a lot of tension and worry floating around. I had it in my mind that we should come up with a song as a tribute to Fr. Mark and his signature phrase “I am wonderful, God loves me”as a tribute, and to offer a sense of closure which still felt like was missing for so many people. So, I scratched out some lyrics and over the course of about a week had refined them some. I had to keep reverting back to asking “what was the message behind the phrase?” that can be carried on by those who hear it.  As a band, we were all caught up in preparing Christmas songs for our now annual Christmas Eve Mass, which is a big deal for the band with cramped playing conditions, standing room only crowds, and of course plain old Christmas excitement. I decided that as a special gift to my three most talented and dedicated girls, that as a special secret project I would give them the lyrics and challenge them to come up with the music and arrangement. I did not want the song to be stuck sounding like the “same old” as after 40 years of attempting to write songs, there is a tendency to be predictable and stale. So by having young collaborators with their own style and taste and talent, I could expect something uniquely fresh. From the moment I conceived of this plan, I had full faith that they could successfully pull it off, and of course I could always interject if I deemed it necessary. When Christmas Eve Mass was finished, and people had greeted and congratulated the kids and myself on a job well done, I called the chosen three girls aside. Naturally, they initially were nervously giggly as if they feared they were in trouble for something. When I informed them of my plan and handed them the lyrics, they were giddy. Over the next couple of weeks, they had individually conceived some ideas of what the music should sound like. When one evening Maddie played an interpretation for us the everybody was impressed and pleased. Not long thereafter, the three – Maddie, Casey and Ansley – held a sleep-over together to really focus and put the song together. Since then, for numerous reasons and individual schedule conflicts, we rarely had them all together at one time with spare time to really break it down. None-the-less, from what I had heard, I took a chance and contacted an old friend who is part owner in a professional recording studio and asked what it would take to get them in and attempt to record. Apparently what it took was simply for me to ask (ask, and you shall receive). So with a date set, I needed to push harder to get this song more firmly constructed. I recorded Maddie playing her version of it, I incorporated some of the lyrical changes she had, added the chord changes she used, and we tried again. With some back and forth, I tweaked some of the lyrical changes they had made, revised the final chorus and ironed out a couple of transitions. In practice, by happenstance without any of the three in attendance, I went through the song with those who were present and it came out respectably well. As it was now approaching March, I was getting antsy to perform the song for real, under pressure of a listening audience, knowing that we want this thing firmly formed before we walk into a recording studio. Lent was fast approaching, with an Ash Wednesday performance on our calendar along with Confirmation Masses, and I felt that these would be excellent opportunities to put this song out there to be heard. But Ash Wednesday would be a much wider sampling of parishioners – not just the typical Sunday Night Youth Mass crowd. I had the Ash Wednesday music coordinator insert our song as a prelude before Mass starts. Still, I wanted our regulars to be the first to hear it, so I included as the Sunday night meditation song – the most prominent time during Mass when people are just quiet with no distractions. When we arrived ahead of time for our usual practice/warmup we went through the latest version that I had compiled – which was the first time Maddie, Casey and Ansley had encountered it this format. They naturally managed to fall back into doing the older version that they originally came up with, and struggled with some of the revised phrasing and chord / melody transitions. Some give and take smoothed it out some. Then with about 15 minutes left before Mass, Maddie got cold feet and suggested we wait until another day to debut it. I knew in my heart that they could pull it off well enough, and that we needed to do it now so that Ash Wednesday wouldn’t be our first attempt. So I simply announced that it was too late to back down. It was in the lyric handouts, we were doing it, and they had time to practice it one more time.

I have kidded for a while that it is no impressive thing to bring Mrs. Keane and Mrs. Lee to tears with a song, and that our goal was to get an entire parish reaching for the Kleenex. Communion ended, the band reassembled and at the ready. Nervous deep breathes were taken, and – unlike any other song we do – the drummers did not drum, I did not sing. With only Casey’s piano and Casey, Maddie, Ansley and Shannon’s voices, a large majority of the audience was brought to tears. Fr. Hobson stood and turned to the band and expressed how impressed he was and what a wonderful song it was, and read off the names of the girls who were credited with composing it. I know the band is not supposed to get an ovation during Mass, and our audience had complied to this point, but with Fr. Hobson leading them on, a standing ovation quickly evolved. Many cried, especially proud band parents. Many went out of their way after Mass to commend or thank the girls. 20 minutes after Mass, Mrs. Keane was still having trouble composing herself.

Encore on Ash Wednesday – let’s see how well we can repeat our success.

 Let me know if you wish to pre-order the CD.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Story told to me by a grateful parent.

“Y.L.” was typical teen who always complained and balked over church attendance. One evening, to fulfill a CCD requirement, she reluctantly went to a different church within her parish cluster to hear a particular speaker give a talk, and attended the Youth Mass being held prior to that speaker’s presentation. A band of teenaged musicians, similar to herself, were performing the music for the Mass. That night she went home and told her mother “God spoke to me tonight, and I want to go sing at that church”. That next weekend she came and joined the teen band. She finished her confirmation at her new church. She, along with a number of the band members, is enthusiastically helping with the new Extreme Edge program for middle schoolers. She is, in less than a year’s time, one of the strongest performers in a group of many strong performers, while remaining honestly humble about her own talents and inspired by the others talents. On practice nights, she arrives late, apologizing, as she rushes in straight from her part-time job. She coerced her parents to hurry home from an out-of-state wedding because she “had to get to Mass”. She has taken over role of primary piano player which includes the responsibility of being the sole accompanist during the Mass Parts music – a role that scares many musicians. She enters the room with enthusiasm even when her day hasn’t gone so well. She cheerfully befriends new members who join the band and welcomes them wholeheartedly, as was done to her when she joined.

Not a single person can claim credit for her transformation and dedication, but the entire band individually and collectively, by being true ministers indeed did contribute to her finding her calling. I warned them when we first started this project, and repeatedly remind them of the fact that every one of them was now a true minister, like it or not, believe it or not, and that they might never know the effect that they have on other people – but it is a beautiful thing to discover specific cases were you do know for certain.

And it can have a domino effect. A year after “Y.L.” joining the band, her mother is so thoroughly pleased, impressed and inspired by her daughters compelling witness, she is completing  RICA classes herself to be confirmed this year, wanting to fill a need that she had suppressed for all these years.

16 year old ministers inspiring their peers; children showing their parents the way to deeper faith; amateur musicians unifying, leading, and inspiring an entire parish – just more examples of God working in unorthodox and magnificent ways.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is this really what we are driven into?

Rules of the house: requirements for all people residing in this household

Neglecting to follow these rules will result in a range of temporary punishments from loss of electronics privileges, to loss of driving privileges, to assigned chores, to restricted visiting privileges (grounded), or any other appropriate remedy.

Refusal to obey these basic rules by any member over the age of 18 years old will mean that you are choosing to be no longer a part of this home, and therefore you shall need to find a new place to live.

You shall have no other gods before me.
Cell phones, computers, Ipods, video games are privileges, not rights, and therefore should not be treated as if they are more important than, homework, chores, human interaction, physical activity - and can be taken away or restricted as necessary.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
All people living in this house are expected to attend church on a weekly basis whenever there is no compelling reason preventing you from doing so.
Honor your father and your mother.
No under-age drinking, and for those 21 & over, only in moderation.
No smoking anywhere on the premises.
No illegal drug usage or possession.
Do not drive away in anger.
Speak respectfully, even when angry.
To assist us in coordinating everybody’s busy schedules, your work and activity schedule must be written down and available for us to consult.
You shall not murder.
Nor shall you EVER attempt or threaten to cause physical harm to yourself, your family members, or anyone else.
Violently emotional outbursts will not be tolerated without an active commitment to ongoing professional therapy
You shall not commit adultery.
nor shall unmarried children, nor friends, participate in any sexual acts within the home.
You shall not steal.
Not money, not possessions.
Not within the house, other peoples homes, or stores.
Not from family members, acquaintances, or strangers.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (nor against family members). Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Be honest, and accept the consequences of your actions.
Do not try to get other family members in trouble.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house (nor your siblings belongings or situations).
Do not be angry because of what somebody else has.
The grass is not really greener on the other side. Act like you understand this concept.
All children are expected to share in the cleanliness of the home. 15 minutes of cleaning is the minimum requirement on a daily basis.

I __________________________ understand that these are the rules I must follow while I live in my parents home. Whether I agree with the rules or not does not effect the requirement of obeying them.

Monday, December 05, 2011

rant about Reposting Facebook Status

here's the thing... reposting somebody else’s post is not a valid way to judge a person’s selflessness, honor, goodness, etc... lets say your cause is cancer - my grandmother died of breast cancer, my father of lung & brain cancer, my father-in-law prostate cancer, my brother is a survivor of stomach cancer and I do my own methods of honoring them. Let's say your cause is Veterans or current Service men & women - I can trace direct ancestors to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI & WWII, have founding members of GAR and the first Commander of the Whitman American Legion, plus have currently and recently numerous cousins, in-laws, nieces & nephews who will/are/have be/being/been protectors of our American way of life. Again, I show my respect in my own private and public ways. Who died and left some Facebook Poster as Judge and Jury to accuse me of being disrespectful, uncaring, "Too Cool" or "Selfish"? I suspect that people who insist that you have to repost THEIR post are indeed being the selfish ones, feeling superior and all-knowing, that they and their ideas are better than anyone else’s. They are actually being a bully by attempting to make you feel shame if you don't do what they tell you to do, how they insist you do it. Stop and think for a moment - Reposting could be judged as an act of laziness and lack of sincerity on the re-poster's part, like saying "ya, I suppose it's a good cause but I don't really have time to give it any thought so I'll just steal something that some random person came up with, and then my friends will think I'm all caring and stuff". I suggest that if you feel it important to publicly display your commitment to a cause, invent your own post with your own personal feelings and words and NEVER NEVER tell anybody that they must repost it or be judged as uncaring, disrespectful or worse. If any of my Facebook Friends are offended that I do not repost their posts, PLEASE remove me from your "friend list". If that is how you evaluate the quality of your "friends", then I accept that I clearly overestimated the quality of our relationship. If you leave me ON your friend list, PLEASE do not insist that I am a lesser person for not reposting.

(PS: this one I find exceptionally offensively judgmental, not to mention that "Jay" doesn't even tell us why it's important to him or what actual useful sacrifices he's doing about it AND "Jay" apparently didn't even give it enough thought to use proper spelling... it's "you're" as in "you are" too cool, and "you are" selfish -- not "your". But I should not judge him either - maybe he is spending so much time volunteering at Childrens Hospital or organizing fund raisers to take a moment to use spell check or recall an elementary school English lesson)

Monday, February 28, 2011

A unique birthday challenge

It has been a time of transition around here lately. One child is married and recently became a home-owner; one, tho still at home, has become more independent; two are away at college most of the time; two are working hard at being stereotypical sullen teens; one is debating following his closest role models or forging his own unique path. No more kids are in the foreseeable future, and neither is employment for me, so having a bread-winning Mom and a stay-at-home Dad appear to be the designated roles around here for a while. After more than a year of my unemployment, the kids haven’t fully embraced my omnipresence and in all honesty, neither have I. “Mom” is still the go to guy and I am the unavoidable lecturer who goes on and on about right and wrong. As they didn’t respond well to my Christmastime speech regarding them all having disposable income and the social correctness over actually getting their parents some sort of gift for Christmas, I decided a different approach might be more useful regarding my birthday. We often employ a technique we refer to as the “3 Things” response. When we are driving home from a [vacation/event/visit] everybody is asked to declare 3 things they enjoyed. This forces them to say out loud something positive about the experience, reminding them that it wasn’t as horrible as they might otherwise lead you to believe. It occurred to me that this approach might be useful as an alternative to a birthday gift – more like a challenge, to me as well as them. This is the note I gave to each of my children two weeks before my birthday.

Dad’s birthday request:

I have decided that for my 56th birthday, none of my children need to suffer through the decision over what to get me for a gift. Although I will gladly accept any thoughtful gift you might offer me, my true wish is simply for a special and personal birthday card.

In an effort towards self-improvement and a better relationship with my children, I ask for a special “Super Edition” of the “Three Things” routine you all know and love so well. I am asking each of my children to give me an individual birthday card – homemade or store-bought – either is fine. On the inside I want you to write a total of 9 lines;

    • Three activities I wish my father would do/share with me.
    • Three things I wish my father would do more of, or less of.
    • Three things about me I wish my father would brag about to others.

The only rules I apply to this are;

    • Each line must be honest and sincere.
    • These cards are to be delivered to me by Saturday February 26th.

This way, as of my actual birthday I will be prepared to start acting on your recommendations

Love, Dad

Although I think I am aware of what my kids like to do, many times they appear reluctant to do them at my suggestion, so maybe I am mistaken and using out-dated knowledge. Clearly there are personal habits or traits that annoy my children, and maybe there are things I used to do that they enjoyed that I have gotten out of the habit of doing. And many times they express their distaste of being talked about to other people – but of course, we are parents, and therefore are always looking to brag about our kids, or look for sympathy from other grownups who might have survived similar experience. I was very intrigued to see what about themselves they had sufficient pride over and would give me permission to discuss with others. I of course thought that this was an ingenious concept, and worried that some of them might stubbornly refuse to cooperate with the idea. Needless to say, I spent two weeks pondering and predicting who might say what, who would surprise me, who would disappoint me, and how would I respond to the challenge of then following through addressing and acting upon the suggestions put forth to me.

Well, the 26th came, and 6 out of 7 had their birthday cards all prepared (1 declared he didn’t know it was due on that day, but he did voluntarily hand it to me before going to bed on the 27th). One rented a zip-car to surprise me on Saturday to drop off the card (well, and to pick up some things – his surprise was when he discovered we wouldn’t be home from Maine until long after he had to return the vehicle), and the two normally sullen teens were actually waiting in prideful (or ego-driven) anticipation for me to look over their cards. Each one had their own different and individual style, ranging from artistic to analytically profound to minimalist to thoughtfully sweet. Responses ranged from general ideas to very specific; “I wish Dad would have a Beatles Bash on February 9th” ( the anniversary of them appearing on the Ed Sullivan show) and “I wish dad would ask me less questions about school” and “I wish dad would stargaze with me” to ‘I wish my dad would’ “ help me learn new stuff” and “talk more” and “take time to do the things you love”.

One respondent had voiced a pre-emptive concern about not having any accomplishments worthy of bragging about, while others I suspect had trouble limiting themselves to only 3 items. There were two store-bought cards, three hand-crafted cards, one hand-scrawled list on white lines paper, and a one-page essay response, carefully formatted, punctuated and typed which concluded with “The last question was easy for me, although I was a bit surprised that it was included considering it’s a birthday card for dad, not me. Why should I talk glowingly about myself when everyone knows that’s not how I like to carry myself. Nevertheless, the question was asked so I must respond.” [I wish my dad would brag about] “ - my enjoyment of the outdoors in all its forms and wonderment, - my approach to 10,000 mile on my bike, expected by late summer/early fall if I ride at the same pace from the years 2007-2010, - my knowledge involving numbers, and all applications of such (i.e: Calculators, Calendars, Measurements, etc…”

I also did receive one actual gift – homemade fudge (someone had paid attention over the years!)

So let me proceed forth from here on the right foot by planning a hiking trip, a canoe/kayak trip, some campfire singalong nights, and by bragging to all who read this what a great job my children did at honoring my birthday wish by responding in the manner in which it was intended. Maybe I have taken them for granted and underestimated them in too many ways. Here’s to a better year and better relationships with my terrific kids – a challenge I fully intend to live up to.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


"Is this one for the people, is this one for the Lord, or do I simply serenade for things I must afford?"

(What If I Stumble by DC Talk)

How much humble is too much humble? At what point does Confidence and Take Charge Attitude become NOT humble enough?

I believe that I have a reasonably accurate assessment of my skills in most aspects of my life, but acting out my appropriate confidence (or lack of) in the correct doses baffles me. I am not a very good braggart – which is not to say I don’t brag. There are many times I want to project that I have full confidence in my abilities, but I often have no confidence in understanding what volume or intensity is productive or counterproductive.

I can make up my resume to reflect my skills as a cabinetmaker, or a customer service rep, or a QC technician, or a shop supervisor, or a documentation compliance manager, or a Youth/Music Minister. But I struggle creating a cover letter that highlights my abilities without sounding like (to me anyway) egotistical clich├ęd boasting. Father Tom Dunne once related a story about a young priest who might be in line for a promotion. He was told he needed to write a summary of all the great work that he had done. The young man was unable to do so because, although he was proud of his achievements and believed he was worthy of the promotion, he also believed that he should not be the one tooting his own horn – that his superiors should already know his accomplishments and worthiness. If he had to boast, he must not have done well enough to be noticed by them and therefore didn’t deserve it. Granted, this story is more appropriate to an “in-house” promotion situation, but the dilemma is similar.

Likewise, with my music, I think I am pretty honest with my self-evaluation of my abilities. I pride myself in playing what I play quite well – well enough to earn some extra money at it, and given more devotion could do better (but probably not significantly better – I’m pretty much near the top of my potential). Of course, what I don’t play so well, I try to avoid. I sing on key and reasonably strong, and can generally jump onto any un-filled harmony line as needed. I am not a natural born leader, although when put in that position I can draw on my belief in my skills and, having a vision of what the project requires, can do an adequate job. No matter how well it turns out, I am humble in the knowledge that it did so more on the abilities and cooperation of others, through fate, or Holy Spirit – certainly due to things beyond my control.

I have not been leading Youth Masses (except the annual Confirmation Mass) so I am a little out of shape. I miss it. I enjoyed the steady opportunity to work on improving my skills and attempts to deliver a memorable event. See, if I was truly humble, I would have my first thoughts be of offering my time and God-given talents for the good of the church. Instead, it’s the individual personal benefits I perceive, with an eye towards being favorably noticed by my community.

Last week, I received a call from a longtime Youth Minister friend, who needed a favor. His regular music people from his parish were for some reason not able to lead their Youth Mass music at a confirmation retreat being held on Cape Cod. Of course I was flattered that he would think of me for this occasion. I didn’t stop to consider whether he had already been turned down by dozens of others and I was simply the last on his list. My ego assured me that I was of course worthy of being honored by his request. I did harbor some concerns regarding how it would all go off. Not being familiar with his group/parish and therefore not knowing what songs would go over best, or if my lone guitar and voice would need amplification to be effective, and knowing that I couldn’t know what I might need to know but couldn’t, meant that I had some humbling doubts as to how well I could pull it off. I was informed in advance that another musician would be there to help me out. Well I found the retreat center with plenty of time to spare and started to practice to get a feel for the room. I soon learned that I would have a young bass player and some singers helping me out as well. Throughout the next hour, various teenagers were introduced to me as singers and the bass player, and even another young lady guitarist. Although the other officially listed musician had not yet arrived, I got my little but growing ensemble going through the song list – giving directions and advice, and figuring out who was capable of what. With one song still to go, Jon arrived and pulled out his guitar. With this final introduction out of the way, I explained to him where we were, what we were doing, and how I expected to proceed onward. I started to play – and Jon joined in behind me. As I said, I have a pretty good read on my abilities, and I instantly recognized that there was an absurd flip flop of abilities and of assigned responsibilities. I had no right leading THIS guy. This was like John baptizing Jesus. But similarly as Jesus, fully knowing his ability and place, casually and graciously submitted authority to a lesser qualified person, Jon happily added complimentary guitar parts and harmony lines and went along with everything I had prepared. Father Medairos (my own Pastor – the following day) spoke of humility. He quoted a bit from readers Digest where a great orchestra conductor when asked what was the most difficult instrument to play, claimed that “it was 2nd fiddle. I can find plenty of 1st violinists, but finding a 2nd fiddle who will play with enthusiasm – that’s a problem. And if we have no 2nd fiddles, we have no harmony”. Well, Jon showed no hesitation nor condescension at playing 2nd fiddle to me. Nor were we short on harmonies. With a full-fledged chorus of able-voiced young men & women, we had harmony galore, counterpoint parts, and mid-stream dynamics and key changes on the fly. I discovered (thankfully not before hand – it might have un-nerved me) Jon is a musical evangelist with his own conceived and developed full blown stage show that he performs most every week, locally as well as around the country. His credentials are clearly not those of a second fiddle, at least not when compared to my own, but I never would have known this by his demeanor. It took an explanation from another friend to clue me in as to who/what he was. He never once tooted his own horn (although he played his guitar exquisitely). In the end, it was a very humbling experience, as once again, a terrific event occurred for which I was given gracious credit for, which in the end I had precious little control over. I was simply willingly in the right place at the right time with an assigned task which I hope I humbly performed well, as did the dozen or so others who stood beside & behind me all humbly performing their assigned tasks. It was just left to the Holy Spirit to make something special out of us all, and the results make it implausible to NOT believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.

"Do they see the fear in my eyes? Are they so revealing? This time I cannot disguise all the doubt I'm feeling. What if i stumble, what if i fall? What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Judy Blue Eyes - Sweet!

I haven't had much motivation to play my guitar lately - no band work lately, no church Youth Mass any more, noboby here who plays or wants to learn, no jam partners nearby. But for some unknown reason, the pther day I decided to Google "the correct tuning for Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. I have for decades played a reasonable self-taught version of this song with a simple double-dropped-D tuning. I knew it wasn't totally right, but it certainly sounded fine and impressive enough. My search brought me to YouTube of course, where a guy demonstrates the "Correct" way to play the song. I actually knew the "actual" tuning, which he did have correct - low E, low E, mid E, mid E, B, E - and some of the chords and fingerings he had spot on, but then some of it simply was not right. This led me to find YouTube's of Stephen Stills playing the song live. There are actually many versions - with CSN, CSNY, him by himself - and like all artists, every version had some differences. All in all though, I got a pretty good grip on it and decided that Coreys acoustic guitar that was not at college with him would be the perfect choice to permenently tune as the "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" guitar, and I got to work. Amazing how much more authentic it sounds with the proper tuning. Amazing how certain parts within the song still didn't sound quite accurate, but with enough experimentation and YouTube review (they seldom get good close-ups of his left hand position at the critical moments), by George I think I've got it! Now I simply play it because it feels so rewarding to have finally nailed it after so many years of cheating. SO - if anybody is having some gathering or event and you feel that you simply HAVE to have somebody perform a great version of this song for you, let me know because along with my regular instrument for all my other tunes I can entertain you with, I have a guitar dedicated strictly for that song (oh, and "4 & 20" - same artist, same tuning - which I also used to cheat on with double-dropped-D) and I know you will be incredibly impressed!