By Aaron Burkhalter
In the weeks leading up to Music Sunday, Vicky Thomas asked people to talk about their favorite hymns and whether we had any stories about why we liked them. Several people shared profound stories of what a number of hymns from The New Century Hymnal and other books of music meant to them.
Strangely enough, I was stumped. Which is strange considering how central music has been to my faith. I grew up singing all of the Billboard Top 40 Episcopal Hymnal hits: “Hail Thee Festival Day,” “Earth and All Stars,” and, the favorite I shared with Vicky, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.”
In the week leading up to Music Sunday, I thought a lot about music that meant so much to me, spiritually speaking. And the song that echoed through my mind came from a Walkman, not a hymnal. It was a song from the soundtrack to the early 1990s comedy “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”
Bear with me here. See, in 1991, I was a 10-year-old Episcopalian who knew so little about my faith and church that I didn’t know the difference between Episcopal and Catholic. I had built up and calcified some pretty erroneous thoughts about God and the church. Among those erroneous thoughts: that God was the church and vice versa.
No one taught me this, I never read it in a book, but I believed it. As far as I knew, God was in the church, and we went to the church to see God. God’s music was in the 1984 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church. And, though no one told me, it was clear to me that the music I hear outside of church was clearly not of God, no matter how much I liked it.
In that context, I bought a cassette tape soundtrack of “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” a mix of hard rock and metal music that drove my mom a little nuts (and as such was to be listened to with headphones only).
Amidst a collection of songs with titles like “The Perfect Crime,” “Battle Stations” and “The Reaper Rap” was a song by Kiss that was something I’d been waiting to hear a long time.
The lyrics poured in through those rough foam headphone covers: “God gave rock and roll to you, gave rock rock and roll to you, put it in the soul of everyone.”
I listened to that track over, and over, and over again. Of course, it wasn’t a CD or MP3 player. It was a Walkman, so when the music faded out, I held down the rewind button, waited a minute and started it all over again.
It was a powerful lesson from an unlikely place. I couldn’t put words to it at the time, but it taught me that the spirituality I was seeking took place in the whole world, inside the church, but also outside as well.
By Jim Segaar
Being over six feet tall brings some advantages. For one thing, it tends to scare away gay bashers.
The first time I was threatened by a gay basher was the very first time I went to a gay bar. It was in Seattle in 1982, and I’d just moved to the city to work as a news intern at the Seattle Times. In my last year of college I finally figured out I was gay, and so on my first free evening in the “big city” I ventured out to the Park Bench. I stood at the bar, incredibly uncomfortable, for what seemed like an eternity before the guy next to me said hello. We struck up a conversation – he was a tour guide from Australia. We ended up leaving the bar at the same time, still talking. As we exited onto the sidewalk a smallish guy jumped in front of us.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t bash your face in!” he snarled at me.
I looked at him. About a foot shorter than me. A lot smaller. If I were a fighter by nature I could have leveled him with little effort. Instead I responded “Well it’s a really nice night.” That was enough to send him sputtering backwards, hurling threats as he hastily retreated across the street.
I relive that moment every time I hear about an attack against our LGBTQ community. News about the shooting at a club in Orlando this weekend triggered my latest reminiscence. It makes me feel incredibly sad. Excruciatingly tired. And fortunate that over the years ago I’ve been confronted by fists instead of assault rifles.
Why do we live in a world so filled with hate? With fear that is bred and fed by so many who claim to be upright, righteous, religious, true believers?
One time I tried to discuss what this all feels like with one of my sisters. I tried to express what it feels like to be hated and feared and threatened for simply existing. Her response was, “Yeah, and people are prejudiced against overweight people too.” I let the conversation drop. I no longer hope that someday my family will understand what it feels like to be gay. Honestly I pray that they never feel attacked and violated and endangered and on the verge of hopeless - the way I feel right now.
So what does one do with feelings like this? I know someone who understands. Someone whose own friends turned against him. One time the hometown folks even tried to throw him off a cliff. He was chased and threatened and reviled for saying things like the following:
“Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Here you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Yesterday was Music Sunday at Seattle First Baptist, and on a morning where I just wanted to crawl in a hole and cry I was committed to sing and ring bells and worship. And I’m glad it worked out that way. Making music didn’t add to my burden, it lightened it.
As part of preparing for Music Sunday, Vicky Thomas asked us to think about hymns and their meaning in our life. I know so many hymns by heart that I’d never be able to pick a favorite. But I know which one I sing to myself the most. It’s a fragment, really. Just a line from the chorus of a hymn that I don’t remember learning. It’s like I’ve always known it.
“Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds the future, and I know who holds my hand.”
Scripture quote is Matthew 11.28-30 from The Inclusive Bible.
Hymn line is from I Know Who Holds Tomorrow by Ira Stanphill
By Jim Segaar
Growing up in farm country, I never realized how different my perspective was from most residents of the United States until I went to college. I still remember the first time I had dinner with my new housemates in an old cabin we rented on Lake Samish near Bellingham. After the meal one of the guys volunteered to do the dishes. Ed collected all the plates and then did something truly shocking to me – he scraped all the refuse off the plates and into the kitchen sink.
I thought Ed was crazy. Why would anyone just scrape a bunch of garbage into a sink? Now we’d just have to scoop it all out of there to throw it away. I didn’t understand that Ed grew up in the city, with a garbage disposal, and just assumed the cabin had one too.
Living in the country, we did without many things that city dwellers take for granted. Garbage disposals, for example. When one has a septic tank, one does not have a garbage disposal. Such people learn (sometimes the hard way) that what goes down the drain doesn’t just disappear. Some of it rots, but if it doesn’t rot fast enough then someone has to pump it out of the septic tank.
When I was a kid we also did without some other city necessities. We didn’t have trash pickup, let alone yard waste or recycling pickup. If we bought something in a box, we had to get rid of the box, usually by burning it in a barrel if it was unusable for some other purpose. If something came in plastic, then we had to put up with smelly black smoke when we burned it. Food waste all went on the garden pile – a less fancy version of a compost heap. We learned that junk doesn’t just disappear. It has to go somewhere. That’s why on some farms it was easy to track back their machinery purchases for decades by looking at the row of rusting hulks lined up along the edge of some field.
Growing up in the country, I learned that one of the truths of modern life is a lie. Nothing is “disposable” – in the sense that we can just pitch it away when we are done with it and it will simply disappear. Nothing disappears when we discard it. It has to go somewhere, and then it needs to rot or get burned or get reused or refabricated or it will sit around in a pile for a very long time. Cities hide this inconvenient truth. They have become adept at locating spots for their “piles” a long way away – like Eastern Oregon where Seattle’s trash goes.
How might our consumption habits change if we all understood that “disposable” usually means that someone else has to deal with our trash when we are through with it? In the United States, there is a LOT of room for consumption habits to change. According to Scientific American, in 2012 the average American consumed 35 times more resources and services than the average resident of India, and 53 times more than the average person in China. How much of that consumption was of something supposedly “disposable?”
Society at times even thinks people are disposable. At Seattle First Baptist we do a pretty good job of understanding, like Jesus, that no one is disposable. Every person is a child of God, and loved by God just as much as the rest of us. Can we also learn that consumer goods are not disposable, and can we consume less for our planet’s sake?
Businesses don’t pollute the world for fun. If they pollute the world it is for profit, usually to make stuff that the rest of us will pay for and consume. When we reduce what we consume, we reduce the demand for stuff, and remove the motivation for a business to make ever more stuff.
People are not “disposable,” and neither is anything else.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist