It has been a fun week here at the iMonastery, dealing with light topics like our salvation and how to pray for our leaders. Easy stuff. Now it’s Saturday, and that’s when we do our heavy lifting, dealing with the serious stuff. Yes, we call it “rambling,” but don’t mistake that for any easy-going stroll through the tulips. Or TULIP, for our reformed friends. No, we are all business on Saturdays. So, if you are ready for us to give you the business, shall we ramble?
First of all, a bit of site news. When I got home from work last night, there were 202 messages in our spam filter. (There were also a ton of leaves and some spiders in my pool filter, but that’s another story.) Four of those messages were legit. I had to delete all of the others to get to the good ones. So please forgive us if your comments don’t show up right away. We are not blocking you, I promise.
And it’s that time again, time for me to ask you very kindly if you would consider donating to iMonk. It costs us about $150 a month to keep this site going, and we are nearing the end of what we have received for this from your generous contributions. Also, I would really like to buy some kind of Christmas gifts for our writers who give of themselves all year long. But don’t tell them I said that, ok? I want to make it a surprise. If you want to give, you can do so conveniently by using the PayPal button to the right.
Ok, on to the fun stuff.
Is your church attendance on the decline? Here’s an idea. Why not offer craft beer? Why yes, this is a Lutheran idea. And yes, it’s being tried at a place called Church-In-A-Pub in Texas. But if your, um, nether regions get a bit chilled sitting in the pew, perhaps it is England you need to consider for your next church visit. Hot cross buns, anyone?
For those who just really don’t have time for church in the first place, why not try speedfaithing. All the benefits of an artificial spiritual experience in ten minutes or less. Then you can get on to more important things, like …
…the badass birds of the Bible. I like what the author (another Lutheran pastor, by the by, for those of you scoring at home) has to say about pigeons. You?
I’m not sure about this one. A 40 foot statue of Jesus now stands in Syria, overlooking an ancient path pilgrims once followed from Constantinople to Jerusalem. Why was this put up? Because “Jesus would have done it,” organizer Samir al-Ghadban quoted a Christian church leader as telling him. Jesus would have put up a statue of himself? Really? It reminds me of Big Butter Jesus. Your thoughts?
Did you see this picture of the pope kissing a severely disfigured man? Is it any doubt that even atheists love Pope Francis? Example: I may be an atheist, but there’s something about Pope Francis that makes me want to be Catholic. Gotta love that.
Something called Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is taking a survey, and they want your comments. Then they are going to pass this on to Pope Francis. Ok, this might seem like a good idea on the surface, but one of the great appeals of Catholicism to me is that it is not faith based on popularity polls or what is the latest “movement” to hit the streets. Sure, share your opinion in this survey. Help yourself. But the Catholic Church follows doctrine that has been set in cement for a reason. And I for one find that very reassuring. Discuss among yourselves kindly.
Here is one survey, however, I want to encourage everyone to complete. It is for the Catholic of the Year. You know what to do, don’t you? Your one answer is “Martha of Ireland, writer for InternetMonk.com.” Fill this out as often as you can. Stuff the ballot box. Let’s see Martha win this thing.
Oops. Seems if you donate money to help build chicken farms in Kenya, you might get a wee bit upset if the money instead ends up in a preacher’s personal bank account. Upset enough to sue said preacher. That’s what is happening in Orlando between a millionaire donor and the head of a large Baptist church there. My question is this: chicken farms? (Well, ok, I guess so, after reading about badass birds of the Bible.)
One preacher who not only has integrity but also the title of America’s Pastor just turned 95 this week. Billy Graham continues to preach the Gospel, and though his voice may be faint, his heart is not. Did any of you come to faith at a Billy Graham crusade?
Others who celebrated birthdays this last week include my newest granddaughter, Saylor Cypert, born to Chris and Rebekah, on Thursday; Burt Lancaster; Amar Bose; Stefanie Powers; Charles Bronson; Larry Holmes; Will Rogers; Walter Cronkite; Art Carney; Laura Bush; Roy Rogers; Art Garfunkel; Sally Field; Joni Mitchell; Bram Stoker; and Bonny Raitt.
I asked iMonk Ted of Maine to share what Joni Mitchell means to him.
Jeff asked me to write a bit in honor of Joni Mitchell’s seventieth birthday. I need to be careful what I say in case my wife reads this, so I’ll stick to Joni’s music—although she herself thought her music secondary, a means of putting herself through art school and of buying cigarettes.
My first awareness of Joni Mitchell’s music was in 1971 while lobster fishing as a teenager with my father. That summer, the coolest song that ever came over that boring old AM radio station (I think Dad kept it on only so he wouldn’t miss Paul Harvey News) began with the lyrics, “The wind is in from Africa; last night I couldn’t sleep” and it turned out to be Joni’s song “Carey”. I re-discovered it a few years ago with her “Blue” CD, and recently I’ve burned a copy and listen in the car. It’s new every time I hear it.
Lobstering on my own now, I’ve since made a fan out of at least one crew member—there was a folk program that used to come on every week (different radio station, and sadly no more Paul Harvey) and the host would open each time with a Joni Mitchell song. I’d shove the poor guy out of my way and scramble for the volume knob and crank it up. He got the hint and bought me her “Travelogue” CD for Christmas, just released that year and featuring artwork and music about the September 11 tragedy.
Besides her incredible vocal range (in spite of chain-smoking) and her songwriting that made that voice possible (in the early days at least; it’s huskier now and she’s singing jazz and torch songs), the lyrics grab my attention. She writes about life—joys and sorrows, broken relationships, and having fun (“Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down”). Growing up conservative, the smashing of wine glasses didn’t make sense, but by now I can appreciate the act in the song at least (still, who is supposed to clean that up?). Like good literature, she says more with fewer words, painting a picture in the mind (if not on canvas), whether writing about giving her baby up for adoption (“Little Green”) or breaking up with a man, possibly Leonard Cohen (“Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine; you taste so bitter and so sweet. Oh, I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet”), or worrying about a friend mixed up in the occult (“I think of rain, I think of roses blue; I think of Rose, my heart begins to tremble, to see the place she’s lately gotten to, gotten to, gotten to”).
I’m less conservative now, or perhaps more so; and I see grace in more places than I used to because God’s in charge of it and he’s not stingy. Joni’s music points me to the joy and caring and truth that only comes from grace, whether she is aware of it or not. Oh, there are other musicians that do that for me too, some of them unfit to mention (as some might think) in a conversation about grace; but this is Joni’s three-score and ten and I thank God she’s made it this far.
Thanks, Ted. Joni Mitchell. Enjoy.