lenten journal: like jazz


    Jay, Eloise, Ginger, and I met for Easter Brunch at Bob’s Southern Bistro. They had a sumptuous buffet including fired chicken, barbeque, red beans and rice, black-eyed peas, eggs, cheese grits, bacon, macaroni and cheese, and some serious carrot cake, cheesecake, and banana pudding. Put that together with a jazz quartet that was doing some nice covers of old jazz standards and four friends who were happy to celebrate the Resurrection and glad church was over and you have a recipe for a great time.

    Between mouthfuls we talked, first about how our various services went and then moving on to other things, both casual and significant. In most UCC churches around here, Easter means adding a morning service. One is a fairly standard service and the other is a “family service,” which means there a re a lot of kids and a lot of energy. At Hanover, the family service is the early one (which is the one I went to) and at Marshfield, it’s the late one (which is the one I went to). Top that off with my starting the day helping the high school kids lead our Sunrise Service at Hanover (at 7, not sunrise, thankfully) and I was celebrated out by the time we got to lunch. But it was a good kind of tired.

    When we walked into Bob’s, the band was starting to play “Take the A Train,” which is one of the jazz songs I recognize. That I, or anyone else, know the song is a cool story. Billy Strayhorn wrote the song on his way to try and get a gig with Duke Ellington. He based it on the directions to Ellington’s office that he had been given. It was still a year before the tune was recorded, and only then because Ellington needed some new material while most of his stuff was caught up in a music publishing legal fight. It became both the Duke’s theme song and biggest hit; it started out as a kind of desperate guy trying to make music out of the only directions he had.

    The tune is great; the story makes it better.

    Since Ginger’s sabbatical leave officially started after church today, we had a lot to get done in worship this morning: three baptisms (one baby, a twelve year-old, and a fourteen-year old), Confirmation, as well as our Easter celebration. Each family had packed their pews with everyone who wanted to be there for This Important Day. For both baptism and confirmation there are rituals – things we say and do, promises we make. The words are both familiar and important, things that have been said before, yet new because these voices have never said them quite like this.

    What Ginger does best in these moments rich in tradition is infuse them with the life – the melody – of individual stories. As she baptized the infant she told of her history with the family, particularly of having stood with them not so long ago at the graveside of the grandmother of the little girl who was baptized today. She and our youth minister took time to tell us about the three ninth graders who were confirmed, affirming both who they were and their faith commitment. As the confirmands knelt, parents and mentors stood behind them, placing our hands on their shoulders (I was one of the mentors) and the rest of the congregation stood and touched the shoulder of the person in front until we were all connected in a line of faith, hope, and love. We, too, made music out of the directions we were given.

    After the service my favorite thing about North Community Church happened: the Easter Egg Hunt in the cemetery. The church emptied out to watch the little ones run between the tombstones looking for brightly colored eggs filled with candy. The sun was bright today, which made it even better. Long after the eggs were found and a good portion of the chocolate consumed, we stood under the slowly budding trees and told stories of our own. I talked with one woman whose husband is twenty-eight days from leaving Iraq. He is in Mosul. When he comes home, his time in the Army will be over and they will figure out what life looks like together. I played with Mia, a new baby to our church who was quite fascinated with my big round face (our faces were the same shape), as I was with her big blue eyes. And I got to hug one who was back at church after a long hospitalization and is beginning to feel like herself in ways she has not known before. Today really was about new life for her.

    I didn’t write a song, but I did think of a poem: William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read Each Other”:

    If you don’t know the kind of person I am
    and I don’t know the kind of person you are
    a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
    and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

    For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
    a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
    sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
    storming out to play through the broken dyke.

    And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
    but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
    I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
    to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

    And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
    a remote important region in all who talk:
    though we could fool each other, we should consider–
    lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

    For it is important that awake people be awake,
    or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
    the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
    should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

    Jay commented at lunch that he had been to see Friends With Money, a new movie. When we asked how it was, one of the things he said was, “It had a weird ending; nothing was resolved. It quit at a strange place.”

    Eloise said, “Milton will like it.”

    She’s right. Easter has come, Lent has ended, and thus, so does my Lenten Journal, without much resolution but with a great deal of gratitude, wonder, and – I hope – at least a little bit of music. Thanks for making the journey with me.


    PS – I’m taking tomorrow off.


    1. Oh, come on! Is 1,000 words a day really all that hard?


      Seriously – thanks so much for sharing your journal with us. Reading you daily became an integral part of my own spiritual and intellectual (and MUSICAL) journey over the past few weeks. You are a gifted writer, and it’s been a joy to be nudged and sparked and motivated and moved by your words.

      Milton, I pray God will bless you in this next season of your life.


    2. Thank you for your dedication. Consider me moved and inspired.

      May is my month, since the Novel didn’t happen in November. 31 days, I can make it!

    3. Milton –
      Your journal has been an active part of my lenten journey this season. I looked forward to reading it everyday. Today I wondered which one I liked best – I think the blue guitar. Thank you for your gift to us all!

    4. Good evening Milton – not yet caught up properly on all the postings I missed while I have been away. But just wanted to say how much I appreaciated journeying with you through Lent. It was nothing less than a privilege to read your writing each day.

    5. I discovered you late in Lent and feel my Lenten journey all the poorer for my tardy discovery. I do hope you’ll keep writing; I’ll certainly keep reading if you do!

    6. Hey,
      I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

      I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don’t want to be a pest, I just thought that I’d share.

      “All my music is free.”

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