Archive for December 2008

Something I think is worth doing

December 18, 2008

This summer I spent two weeks in Israel and Palestine, mostly in the West Bank. The group I traveled with, Interfaith Peace Builders, met with people from all sides of the conflict there, and had first-hand experience of the way people are treating each other. It left me somewhat radicalized, but not necessarily in the ways you might imagine. I didn’t end up more “pro-Palestinian,” or more “pro-Israeli.” In fact, I came to the conclusion that those terms are outdated.

What I am, if we have to put a label on it, is anti-occupation. I think the occupation is damaging everyone involved, Israelis as well as Palestinians. It is the nature of oppression that it oppresses everyone, even the oppressors, and this oppression must end, for the good of all.

This is a short video of the Shministim, who are young Israelis refusing to serve in the Israeli military on grounds of conscience. They are going to jail because of it. Below the video is an online petition that you can sign if you feel so moved.

Gandhi said that he believed in the goodness of the British people and wanted to show them their own injustice, believing that when injustice is sufficiently exposed, people stand up against it. In retrospect, he was right. I believe in the goodness of the Israeli people as well, and in fact, many do stand against the occupation, as I do.

Shalom and Salaam,


Sign the petition


My Baby Is All Grown Up

December 14, 2008

No, not that one. Mason is unquestionably still an infant, as proven by the fact that I’m sitting in the dark typing up a blog at 4:30 AM while the Squirmy Wormy sits beside me and the two of us try to leverage a bit of sleep for his mom. He had his six-week birthday yesterday. We sang to him, of course.

The one I’m talking about here, though, is a different baby. A bebé, actually. Deanna and I started dreaming about PEG Partners on our honeymoon in 2004, first wanting to help out one school in the mountains outside of Antigua, and later realizing we had the potential and opportunity to have an impact at many more schools and libraries across Guatemala.

At this point PEG has raised over $75,000 and worked with nine schools and three libraries in different places across the country. That’s not a ton of money in the US, at least not in the context of building buildings, paying teachers, etc. But in Guatemala it’s a lot. A whole lot.

And yesterday at our board meeting I stepped down from the board. I no longer have any official capacity in the organization. I can’t even vote on decisions about direction and whether or not to fund certain projects.

Wow. My little one grew up and is heading out on her own.

It’s exhilarating to see it fly and to be strong enough to not need me. The board is in great shape, and will add someone else strong to take my position. Caroline Proctor is the new chair (I was that until yesterday), Paul Scouten Vice Chair, Cecil Bothwell Secretary, Tom Patteson board member at large and Katherine Neville is our financial guru/bookkeeper. It’s a formidable team, and I can’t wait to see what they do.

The other significant team member, of course, is John Smith, who is the new musical spokesman for PEG. I took him to Guatemala in October and he was both moved and motivated. He’s been telling stories at his shows and has already sent in several hundred dollars in donations.

I’ve got some transitional things to deal with to pass on all of the details that Caroline will need, but then I’ll be turning my attention even more toward Australia and away from this hemisphere. And once again I find a strange mix of emotions swirling around in my heart.

I’m proud of what we’ve built, and I think even prouder that it is strong enough to go on without me. And though the board has invited me to keep attending meetings ‘ex-officio’ and offer input, it’s really strange to have no official title or responsibilities.

It’s good, perhaps, to have some time at 4:30 AM to stare at the night and soak it in. One more gift from the NEW baby, and the one I’m giving lots of energy to helping grow up these days. He’s got two chins now and is working hard on the third one, so I guess we’d better go bother his mom after all…

One Last Article

December 10, 2008

This nice article came out a this weekend in Blue Ridge Now. That may be my last press for a while. I guess I’m officially retired now. 😉

Of Baby Bling and Basil

December 9, 2008

It is possible to buy some seriously ridiculous stuff for babies. A recent wander through Babies R Us led to the discovery of endless expensive entertainment options for newborns, including those roughly the age of ours, who is still working on vision at the six-inch range. Slightly more disturbingly, though, it also leads to the discovery of all sorts of new things I should apparently be worried about as a parent.

There are, as even a novice parent like me knows, plenty of sound reasons to worry. I love this Ellen Bass poem on the topic. I imagine I’ll have many years to wrestle that demon over Mason’s fate. Anxious is no way to live, though, and the worrying generally doesn’t actually help with anything, so I’ll fight it for all I’m worth, in spite of the fact that there are very real dangers in the world.

And then there are extremely dumb things to worry about. And where there aren’t reasonable causes, people are only too happy to create them for you if it will make you buy stuff from them. Example: worrying that your baby’s head won’t be perfectly round.

Deanna and I stumbled on this while picking up some baby bottles last week. My favorite part is the text around the photo of the baby, who at first glance appears to be on oxygen. It says “Mom-friendly caliper for measuring the shape of your baby’s head.” Sure glad that caliper is mom-friendly, even if that means the caliper would be mean to me.

I mean seriously… this is a tool for measuring slight imperfections that may not be visible to the naked eye? Are slight variations in symmetry that are invisible really a problem?

I am of the general mindset that people have been successfully having babies for millennia without the use of warehouses full of baby junk, but I have to admit that my smugness is wearing off a bit regarding one bit of gear that I once dismissed derisively.

Wipe warmers are not to be sneered at. Repeated exposures to a child who is understandably upset to have cold things applied to his warm places have been enough to convince me. Not that we’re getting one, but I’m afraid the smirk has been wiped from my face, with a cold wipe.

Here’s the mystery of the month, though… Deanna and I are vegetarian, and we eat a fair amount of leafy greens. That doesn’t explain, though, how the contents of Mason’s diapers could appear to reveal the presence of leafy greens. Close examination appears to reveal that someone sprinkled some wet basil in there. And that just seems like a lot of wasted work— for Deanna to eat spinach, digest it, turn it into milk, give it to Mason, who then reconstitutes it into spinach…?! Parenting is a wondrous adventure indeed, full of mystery and revelation, (and I’m not even six weeks into it).

And speaking of Sir Squeaksalot, here are a few new pictures:

The farewell show

December 2, 2008

…and suddenly it’s Sunday night. My last show is no longer something I’m getting ready for. It happened. And it was a wonderful time. People came from all over. People were there from many states, including Alaska, (though I don’t think the show was the only reason for their trip). But people came from Missouri, Colorado and various other places too, and the show was the only reason for their trip. Amazing.

It was excruciating trying to decide what to play. I’ve put out ten records, and a show like last night’s starts to run a little long if you play too many more than 20 songs, so basically I left out five songs for every one I played. In the end, of course, I ignored the set list I had made and played some different songs anyway, but honestly, I don’t think it mattered too much. Playing music live, for me, is mostly about holding a space to be together for a while.

And, of course, when the show was over and I had talked with everyone who wanted to talk and signed everything that could possibly be signed, I played for another forty-five minutes or so for the folks who were still hanging around. I love playing, and I’ve had to learn over the years that it’s often better to stop than keep going.

And so I’ve officially changed my job now. I’m no longer a performing musician, since there are no performances on the calendar. Some would say I have a new vocation, given that we often use the word ‘vocation’ to mean ‘job.’ Vocation doesn’t mean job, though, it means calling. And that’s different.

There are so many ways to answer a calling. They’re not always dramatic— the sell-everything-and-move-to-Africa callings, or the quit-being-a-banker-and-go-to-seminary callings, though those count too. I’m so glad that people of compassion and vision work at banks and post offices and airports, too, and not just at churches and aid organizations.

Melissa Gutierrez, for instance, who was working at the Guatemala City airport last summer when I got stuck there due to a canceled flight and had to get to San Jose to speak at a huge gathering. After dealing with a long line of other frustrated passengers she took forty minutes with me trying to find a way to get me there on time, and in the end she did. She went far beyond the call of duty and changed my life significantly.

I was on my way to speak to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the governing conference that meets every two years to decide on the policies and positions of the church. They invited me to spend an hour speaking to the thousand commissioners (the ones who cast the votes to make those decisions) right before they went to do their committee work. In that hour I played three songs, but mostly I shared some thoughts on how it is that we go about changing the world, and what it means to be faithful in that effort.

My plan had been to get home to NC, drop my Guatemala gear, get my suit, guitar and drum and then fly to California the next day, but as it turned out I got into California straight from Guatemala with no suit, no instruments, no sleep, and only a few hours until I had to go on. Still, somehow it all worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time. At the end I got a standing ovation.

I wonder whether Melissa ever got a standing ovation in her life. I wonder if anyone ever wrote her a letter to tell her how much the way she did her work meant to them. I wrote one heck of a letter to the airline, I assure you, but honestly it didn’t occur to me to write to her as well.

Most of us just don’t get that kind of appreciation.

And then there’s me. I’ve been aware for a long time that I get much more than my share of it. And it certainly feels good to be appreciated. I’m not saying I should have less of that, but that so many people should have more.

And when it comes to vocation, to calling, it’s not about applause, it’s about doing what you were put on the planet to do. I don’t believe that’s a simple answer for most of us. I don’t think there’s one calling that sums us up. I think we have many vocations, some big and some little, some dramatic and some generally unnoticed.

I’m switching my work now. I’m turning my focus to peace work, and for the next year and a half I’ll be a student of peace making. I’d like to think that my vocation isn’t changing, though. I’ve always tried to use music to remind others and myself of our connectedness and commonality, and increasing empathy is a huge component of peace work.

My sister Margaret owned a design company for a while and studied professional photography, but felt called to become a minister, and needed to answer that call. She was happy before but it became clear to her that this was what God wanted from and for her. My brother John did remodeling and construction and owned a painting company, but it turns out he has a real gift for caring for elderly people in home health care, and I think he’s right where he ought to be doing that work today. My sister Kathy has done a ton of things, from generously and skillfully running my career for several years to being a professional potter, but left the life of an artist to go to Cornell law at age fifty because she’s passionate about addressing the brokenness of our death penalty system.

I think all three of them deserve a big round of applause, along with Melissa Gutierrez. And I imagine you do too.

I’ve been hearing from people in recent weeks about what my music has meant to them over the years, and I treasure every one of those notes. It’s good to know that it mattered, and it’s humbling to hear about how deeply some of these songs have connected with some of their hearts and histories.

Deanna, Mason and I had dinner with my friend Frank tonight (well, Mason actually ate later…), and at one point Frank said “If they can say at my funeral ‘We know Frank loved us,’ then my life will have been a success.” I think that’s spot-on. I guess my point is that if you wanted me to know I’m appreciated, you’ve been a success.

And I want you to know, too. The work I’ve done for the last eighteen years has been directly for you. I was an independent musician, so I’ve never worked for a record company or for a fancy agent. I was an independent contractor: I worked for the people who came to my shows and the people who bought CDs. And you’ve been a great boss.

So thank you. And farewell. Take a bow.

And good morning. And welcome. If you’re interested in staying in touch as this new adventure begins, please do. I’ll be blogging here and will always be happy to hear from you.