Friday, August 25, 2017

Missing Glen Campbell

"I know I need a small vacation," sings Glen Campbell on one of his early monster hits, composed by Jimmy Webb, "but it don't look like rain.  / And if it snows, that stretch down south / will never stand the strain."  It's a man on the job, worried about his work.  Without any transition, the lyric and music take us to another level: "And I need you more than want you/  And I want you for all time."  At seven years old, this didn't mean much to me; at 40, hearing jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson cover the song,  I had to pull over to the side of the road, weeping.  Where the heck did that  come from? "And the Wichita Lineman," sings our working man, "is still on the line."

Fifty years after Campbell recorded that number -- alongside hits "Galveston," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and "Gentle on My Mind," I appreciate the mastery of this song by Jimmy Webb, but also the arrangement by its singer that includes violins in an appropriate lineman's Morse - code tattoo, the dissonance in the broad lines for strings that suggest both the spaciousness and the loneliness of that Kansas landscape.  Glen Campbell, that pop icon, that country boy in a California  / LA world, arranged the song and sold that lyric.  I get it now; I took the voice and the personality for granted.

Only now do I appreciate the odyssey of a country boy, one of twelve children, ingratiating himself to musicians as varied as Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys, then becoming a star parodied in his own hit song "Rhinestone Cowboy."

Only a few months before his death, I heard how his dementia overtook him, and I bought my first Glen Campbell recordings:  "Adios," a set of covers from his last tour and his conscious good-bye; and "Ghost on a Canvas," a set of songs co-written with buddies who helped him to express his fears, regrets, and gratitude for career, family life, addiction, recovery, and faith.

In 1967, Glen Campbell was my ideal of the handsome man, the friendly guy, the great singer.  Now I appreciate what I've been missing for 50 years.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Disarming Confederate Memorials without Disowning the Past

The ongoing debate about removing Confederate memorials has its personal parallel in a mother I know who kept photos of her ex on display.  Friends were dismayed, but she told us of the night, late in the marriage, when her son overheard his father say, "Nothing good ever came from our marriage!"  The boy asked, "Dad, what about me?"  After a pause, the man growled at his wife, "Nothing!"  The boy was devastated.  The mom concluded, "If I disowned our past together, I'd be disowning a part of my son." 

As psychologists from Jung onward would say, to deny our shadow side is, by definition, to disintegrate, both futile and unhealthy, for communities as well as for individuals.  To accept the whole past, unpleasant and undeniable, is both honest and healthy. Our language connects health, and integrity.  Integrity  derives from Latin, integra, "whole"; and health, from Old English "wholeness."

As another friend pointed out to me this past week, it's no accident that statues of Confederate heroes stand near courthouses, institutions of higher learning, and legislative bodies, all saying to people of color, "Stay away:  We here honor a past when you were considered little more than an animal, and we put up this memorial to the 1860s in defiance of federal interference in the 1950s."

Let these memorials be where they no longer serve their purposes to intimidate, but where they can teach.  Set in a park where they tell a story, set in a museum where there's a guide, they serve a higher, necessary purpose.   Own the past, and disarm it.

[Photo:  During warm seasons, I ride around Stone Mountain, GA, hardly taking notice of the carving dedicated to Lee, Jackson, and Davis.  The mountain had nothing to do with the lives of those guys, but it was the re-birthplace of the KKK following federal actions to recognize civil rights of African Americans, and the carving coincided with the civil rights era's most dramatic years in the 1960s.]

P.S.  Months later, November 12, I heard artist Titus Kaphar on NPR's "TED Radio Hour" speak of "amending" monuments.  He doesn't want to let us forget that we've placed statues of KKK men in black neighborhoods; but he wants to "amend" such displays with some poignant image that will force passers-by to confront what our society has honored before, and what that means for humans among us.  Here's a link to the story: 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Give Me That Organized Religion

Fr. Roger Allen told us Sunday about a tour he made some years ago, following in the footsteps of Paul.  Two guides schooled in history and theology arranged the trip, looked ahead to accommodations, pointed out features, answered questions, told stories. He could have arranged the trip himself, and could have had a good experience, but he was grateful for the guides, their expertise, their planning, and the company of the others on the tour.

Fr. Allen spoke at the celebration of our patron saint James, who is often depicted on pilgrimage.  Our own youth group just returned this month from their own pilgrimage across Spain on "The Way of St. James" (Camino de Santiago). 

"Pilgrimage" also applies to the individual's walk through life.  So many say, "I'm spiritual" or even, "I'm a believer," and then add, "but I don't go in for organized religion."  By his personal anecdote, Fr. Roger gives us reason to value the support, institutional memory, expertise, liturgy, and procedures afforded us by the Church, with a capital "C," and companionship within our own church.