Have you ever been woken from sleep by a voice that wasn't there?
This morning at 4:30 sharp I woke to a voice calling me: "Thank God for endings."
I jolted up and looked around the room. No one.
I lay in bed, wondering what it meant. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. So I began to answer that call. For the next half hour I listed - one by one - the endings I've experienced in the last few years. Doors closing that I had hoped would open. The answer "no" when I wanted a "yes." Saying goodbye. Sunsets. Roads less traveled that I didn't bother to travel because I didn't have the time or energy or wisdom to explore them. Doors I shut on myself and others. Grave stones and grace stones.
The half hour turned into an hour and a half of drowsily thanking God for endings.
If you hear a voice in the night, consider it a challenge.
It may be a gift in disguise.
One of my fondest memories was our 1986 - "Restless" Tour. I wrote the two act musical and toured with a cast and crew of 120+ on two buses. We performed in the spring, then toured from the Midwest to the East Coast, with our best venue the Sylvan Theater under and the left of the Washington Monument (Thanks Marsh Drege!). Strips included Gettysburg (Electric Map, eh Arlyce), Niagara Falls, Camp Koinonia (I still have my hand-made cermaic cup from Leni Lenapi Village), and the Harvard emergency ward (for the Wolden). We performed at dozens of venues - including Harvard - and filled the three weeks with fun, excitement, and a final emergency ward when Wade Brua snuck out at night, stepped over a curb (which was an 8 foot wall) and broke both arms.
"Restless" was the story of an angel sent to wake up a high school youth group. The play starred Monty Lysne, Mike Otto, Jennifer Sullivan, Jennifer Sullivan, Megumi Yamamoto, Jeff Buehler, Dan Knutsen, Howard Leder, Jill Schmidt and three sets of twins (Wolden, Lewis and Swensby) who would also return for critical acclaim in the 1988 play "The Best."
I've never met an adult who said, "I wish my parents wouldn't have made me take piano lessons all those years."
I have met plenty adults, however, who say they wish their parents would not have let them quit.
Musical training - and engaging kids young - has been proven to develop better language and mathematical skills, better spacial intelligence, higher IQ (about 7% higher) and overall greater academic achievement. It also changes the economics of a person's life. And if get your music training young, you create significantly stronger bonds, capacity and never connections in areas that normally deteriorate during Alzheimers and Parkinson's Disease... meaning you have a greater capacity of keeping enough brain cells and healthy connections later in life to prevent or at least reduce the effects of those diseases.
So if you are "forcing" your kid to take piano or another instrument and they want to quit, tell them: "This is not your decision. Just like I don't let you quit school on those days when you don't feel like attending, I'm going to make this decision for you now... and you'll thank me for it later."
Maybe bet them $100 that they'll one day thank you.
You can collect on that bet when they're 25... the same year they have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex (adult brain).
to make a difference for the children around the world, we must first make a difference in the world around the children.
To re+cognizesomething, the brain must first cognize it. The child, teen, adult or aging brain must first be familiar with the new letter, number, word, concept. A child learning to speak must hear millions of words, watch hundreds of thousands of items being associated to words and watch thousands of smiling lips moving as they connect to the near-mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight. A child learning to grasp, to walk, to ride a bicycle must be developmentally, emotionally, and motivationally ready to take the first movements that preceed and set up the second movements that allow the first practices, mistakes, retries, and eventual first small successes in grasping, walking, and riding that bike.
Everything we learn in the brain, the body and the environment is built on a myriad of small exposures, gradual awarenesses, and larger constructs.
Nothing comes from nothing. Even the “ah-ha!” lightening bolt revelation doesn’t show up out of nowhere. Helen Keller’s “ah-ha!”, Edison’s light bulb, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and your very first word were all built on the exposure, experience, connections and networking of billions of neural connections.
An individual neuron firing alone in the human brain doesn’t mean anything. It is what it touches, and what it touches touches that allows us to see, hear, taste, smell, touch, feel and understand. The human eye can see an individual photo from a mile away. But an individual photon of light hitting the retina doesn’t mean anything. It is the symphony of pin-pricking photons swirling together, overlapping and bombarding the retina simultaneously that allows us to see the baby’s smile, the dancing flame, the starry sky.
Everything is context. Everything is connected.
Neurologically, It's much better to be for something than against something. When you're for something positive, you get dopamine and endorphins. Your capillaries open up. You get more blood to the brain. Less wrinkles. Less cortisol. More Melatonin (better sleep). Less hypertension, stroke, coronary disease. Less constipation. Better memory and creativity. And you live longer and better.
When you're against something, you get more cortisol, more adrenallin, more wrinkles, more heart disease, more chance of stroke. And hemorrhoids.
I know how I want to live.
My Favorite Super Bowl
My favorite Super Bowl wasn’t on television. It didn’t last four regulation quarters. It wasn’t held in a huge stadium.
My favorite Super Bowl was just 10 seconds of football when my daughter caught a touchdown pass in the end zone on the last day of her football career. She and one other girl were out for boy’s football that year. Though they practiced with full pads and took (and gave) plenty of hits all season, they didn’t get much action in the actual games.
I was standing on the sidelines, helping with the chain. Although we threw the football nearly every night after school for five years and she was just as good and just as fast as any end on the team, they didn’t use her much.
On this particular day, it was late in the fourth quarter and they hadn’t thrown to her all game. She ran deep. The ball went up. Time slowed to a crawl. I kept thinking “two hands, Kathryn!” She caught it. The crowd cheered.
And with nothing more to prove and a whole lot more pressing things to do, that was the end of her football career.
For my friends from other lands, our American Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday is today. You may be aware of him. What you may not be aware of is that MLK Jr. started out with the name of Michael until his father went to Germany in 1934 and was so impressed by the original Luther that he changed his name and his son's name. And for those of you Greek scholars, I'm guessing you may have thought it more than coincidental that the name "Luther" in Greek means "freedom".
In honor of both Luthers, enjoy this short song from "Luther the Rock Opera". The voice you're hearing is Robert Robinson playing Elector Frederick, Luther's protector, singing with Luther moments after his trial:
Isn’t it strange that they should name you Luther?
The word in Greek means “freedom”
Isn’t it odd?
All our lives, to fear we’ve been in bondage
Now we’re finally free
And captive to the Word of God
We are mortal and we’ll all die
It matters not so much how and when, but why
We’re all going to die - scad few of us live
Most everyone else is a pawn
But those who die for freedom
Well, there’s a chance that they will live on
You can watch the trailer of the official lyric version at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/luthertherockopera
My favorite photo of 2018.
I locked up in the cabin to try to organize all of my files and get rid of anything I didn't think I’d ever need again off of 16 hard drives.
This is what I ended up deleting.
If you know of a young musician, visual artist, theater-type or dancer looking for something meaningful to do next summer for a paid internship, send them over to RICH Learning Carolina 2019.
We'll be partnering with local Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal churches for our 4th South Carolina summer enrichment program with 3-6 year-olds. If funding is sufficient, we may be expanding to inner-city Philadelphia. (More on that soon).
Applications are at the bottom of the home page.
An article in this week’s "Wall Street Journal” made me think.
We need to connect in many, many more meaningful ways than just a passing "hi" in the hallway on the way to coffee and class.
We need people who can hold us when we cannot hold ourselves.
Hold us. Enfold us. Mold us. Sometimes even scold us with a loving twinkle in their eyes.
Otherwise it's just cold us...
…in a sometimes lonely world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “stable” in the last 48 hours. As a noun, a stable is a place. As an adjective, you can make a stable table. To do that you have to balance it out. As a verb, to stabilize something is also to make it steady, stronger, balanced.
But how might people of the stable and the cross make this unsteady place and time and world a more balanced, strong and safe place for all God’s children?
Maybe in order to truly stabilize, we need to look at the world with stable-eyes.
What is every kid had at least 35?
In the year 2525
A shot from Will Oechsler just now gave me the impetus for a very short, short story:
In the year 2525, an alien explorer ship from the planet Oechlandia Major landed on a barren planet of ice. They were restocking their pantry (they use ice for fuel and food - breaking it into oxygen which they breathe and hydrogen which they eat) when one of the beings stepped around a rock to relieve himself and spotted a strange object that looked almost like an intelligent life form had once inhabited the planet.
He brought it in to the Captain, who immediately dismissed the find as a fake. "First of all, our records show there was never any intelligent life of this planet."
(He may have been right about that one.)
"And second of all, it is clear to any intelligent being that this camera-like object simply was formed by natural combinations of silica, metals and time.
The Admiral ordered that the object be destroyed immediately.
Later that day he privately told his psychiatrist that he knew something so complex as a camera could never have assembled itself, but by admitting that there was an intelligent creator for such an intelligent design would have endangered his position among his peers.
This graph is from Harvard’s Center on Developing Children.
More happens between 4-5 in terms of executive function brain growth than in all of the rest of life put together. It’s pretty clear where we should apply our efforts in enlarging the creative capacity of a person.
The full article is at https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/building-the-brains-air-traffic-control-system-how-early-experiences-shape-the-development-of-executive-function/
What is the message of Christmas? Maybe it's that we are not alone. Maybe it's that life is not meaningless. Maybe it's that life does have a purpose. Maybe it's we are not some random accident. Maybe it's that there is hope. Maybe it's that there is a God, and it ain't you.
Maybe it's life has meaning, love conquers hate, and that God is with us. For us. Over us. Beside us. Within us. And wanting to be borne by us and through us, in quiet conquering love to be a gift again to the hurting waiting world.
If there's one gift you can give yourself, your family, and people you love, it is healthy sleep patterns. The younger the better. And anything you can do to reduce stress (exercise, water, sharing highs and lows, welcome touch, laughter, prayer, blessings) in the 15-30 minutes before bedtime will help SIGNIFICANTLY with sleep. https://www.popsci.com/sleep-deprivation-brain-activity
Why place a preschool and a nursing home near each other?
Here's the best neurology. When the wisdom of the elder and the wonder of the child collide in a joyful space, you dump in the pain-killing pleasure drugs (Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, etc) and wash out the stress hormones (cortisol, cortisone, etc.) And you add the neurotransmitters Epinephrine (a.k.a. Adrenaline) and
Norepinephrine (a.k.a. Noradrenaline), with wake you up to even more joy, dilate the capillaries for more blood flow to the brain, and reduce the threat of strokes, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, blood clots). By reducing Cortisol, you also get better sleep, have less wrinkles, get rid of belly fat and have a better memory.
All in all, you reduce medical expenses, multiply joy, and create a world where people don’t lose all their marvels (sic!).
So glad Kirstin Springmeyer and Manale Elewah were able to connect in Houston yesterday to talk about the healing power of art. Kirstin was one of my first "kids" to go into ordained ministry from my first call. She's now working on the healing power of art.
Last time I was with Dr. Elewah was in Cairo. She took me to see her work at a children's cancer hospital and we cartooned, sang, and played all day. She took me to visit one very sick child who wasn't able to join us. The boy was staring blankly at the wall. I told him I bet I could make him smile. I did everything I could think of, and no... no smile. Then I pulled out my final trick in the bag and yes, he rolled his eyes and finally smiled.
There are many medicines that don't cost a thing. Art and smiles are maybe two of the best.