You guys! Uncle Phil–known off the Jenn Stories as Phil Madeira, who has been pretty busy with some other awesome musical projects since I last regularly blogged here–you should google–is coming out with an instrumental CD. Sounds pretty good so far! Like…not crickets. You might want to be a part of it:


Who Knew The Last Day of July Was So Momentous?

According to Facebook Memories, a lot of things happen (to or around me, anyway) on this day of the year. Observe:

Last year I was in Minnesota.
minneapolis art

Visit Or just visit the sculpture garden.

Three years ago I completed my first of four units of CPE.
And ten years ago, evidently, I took a nap. Which I probably need to do again from the sound of things.


(NOT a Theology Thursday post. Which may or may not happen this week.)

“Coincidentally” or something, on my way home today, this song, which seems strikingly relevant to the previous post, came on the radio:

I guess it probably doesn’t really answer any questions, but it was pretty sweet timing.

The Tears of Advent

My first car ever, at the ripe old age of 30, was a 1998 Corolla who, at the suggestion of a friend, I named Bela. (Bela Corolla. You know, after Bela Karolyi? This turned out to be an awkward name because I always had to explain it–and also have it explained to me, initially, but it was the best I could do at the time.)

Bela had some problems at the end (which was 2009) and I didn’t get a very good trade-in price for him, but before the end, he was a pretty dependable little car, getting me from New England to Denver and back again, and also across the Rockies in what turned out to be a record-making blizzard, in the interim. The best thing about Bela, though, was that he had a tape deck.

That might seem a little extra-retro, even for me, but here’s the thing about a tape deck: I could still listen to my tapes, for one thing, and I could plug in an adapter so I could also listen to CD’s and–when I finally got one–my “This one goes to eleven” iPod. Kermit, on the other hand, as well as the short-lived and nameless car I had in between Bela and Kermit, is too new to have a tape deck and too old to have a port for an iPod to plug in, so all I can listen to are CD’s–or the radio, which is what I usually end up doing because there’s a great folk station around here and also because I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to song after song in a row by the same musician.

All that to say that I finally realised that I am excellently situated to listen to the CD’s of Handel’s Messiah a whole lot during this Advent season. I’ve had them for years because I requested a recording of the same once for Christmas, and yet I’ve probably only listened to them three times or something, before this year. There was something about them that put me off–something which, at the time I received them, I think I thought was incorrect or inauthentic, although, having listened to them quite a bit in the last few weeks, the only thing I think it might have been was that on this recording the vocalists don’t pronounce the -ed endings of verbs as a separate syllable. Which objection now just seems . . . well, pretty typical of me, actually.

I was driving when I finally decided I was ready to take one of these CD’s out of its case and actually insert it in the CD player which is good for nothing except playing CD’s, so I just kind of flailed the multi-case around until a CD came out. Therefore I wasn’t aware (nor even particularly concerned, surprisingly) whether I was going to be listening to the first or the second one first.

It was the second one, which basically puts the listener right at the beginning of Christ’s Passion. I’m a firm believer that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is why Christmas matters, so it didn’t seem as incongruous to the “reason for the season” as the fact that I was on my way to cash in a no-purchase-necessary, free-item coupon from Victoria’s Secret. (I deeply dislike and resent Victoria’s Secret, I should say, but I will gladly abscond with legitimate free stuff if I can get it.) I listened through Jesus’ being despised and rejected of men, His bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows and by His stripes our being healed. But we, like sheep, have gone astray and all that see Him laugh Him to scorn. Then, as if to prove it, the chorus began to sing the movement: “He trusted in God that He would deliver Him.”

It’s one of the sections of the Messiah I’ve lately come to love at least musically, partly because it is, for better or worse, very singable, and because when it’s sung well, it effectively conveys the derision and scorn in its repetition of what people said when Jesus hung on the cross:

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (Matthew 27.43, KJV. See also Psalm 22.8: He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.)

For some reason, though, as it began to play this time, the words shot into my chest or someplace and I caught my breath and actually started to sob.

Well. I say sob, but it was probably the shortest sobbing ever–it was kind of like I had a microburst of revelation which elicited not more than sixty seconds of actual crying, and then my eyes dried and I got out of my car and ran my errand and went home–but that was almost three weeks ago now, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I’m not too sure I can even explain what I was thinking, but I want to try.

I think what struck me to the heart was this sense of the heartbreaking irony, ignorance and arrogance of this derision. Ha ha, Jesus, you fool! Let God prove that He loves you. A good God wouldn’t let His own Son die, would He? If you really are His own Son. Proud dad, huh?

But all along the Father did delight in Jesus–and had said as much out loud at least twice. His heart had to have been breaking at the agony His Son was going through at least as much as His Son’s was breaking at feeling completely abandoned and bereft by the Father He had served all His life. God was in agony and God–not Father, nor Son nor Holy Spirit–could not halt or prevent it because we, scornful and cynical humanity, had brought things to such a pass we couldn’t even recognise God when we saw Him.

It might be presumptuous to think it, but I wonder if, in those sixty seconds, I actually felt the heartbreak of God and that that’s why I sobbed that intensely. If it was, I suspect it had to be brief because no ordinary human could survive if any of us felt the full force of it. Christians (including this one) like to talk about God’s heart breaking over our sin and our sorrow and suffering, and I believe that is there, too–that was what induced God to subject Himself to us marred images in the first place. But what I hear less about, and what I promise I had never viscerally felt like I did that day, was God’s parent-heart breaking over the murder of His Son.

Think about it. Imagine a parent whose child has just been murdered, and then, instead of the murderers being brought to justice, they just stand around the corpse and yuck it up because the parent didn’t stop them from doing it. And they further have the gall to assume, to the grieving parent’s face, that it’s because the parent didn’t care. Let’s just say it would have to be a pretty incredible reason for any decent parent not to have to at least attempted to intervene; I can’t even think of one. Sometimes people (including this one) use that idea to imply that God is a pretty crappy parent, but what if it just shows how ferociously selfless God’s love actually is? I have a hard time imagining how God could have consistently and continuously loved us enough to think that humanity–scornful mockers that we are–were a worthy trade for the life of His Son. But He must have, because He did it. And suddenly it hit me, all in that moment–the Son’s aloneness and the Father’s grief and longing to reach out to, reassure, rescue His Son–and I sobbed.

Everyone’s a Critic

Once upon a time, I played the flute.

photo by Jennwith2ns c. 2009

This flute, actually.

There were certain things that were unspoken but foregone conclusions in my family growing up. Things like: we would all read aloud together on Sunday afternoons. And: we would all go to college. Also: the same college. And: we would all play a musical instrument. Mom was already trying to teach me to play the piano. She is very good at playing it, and very good at teaching it, too, as any of her countless piano students and their parents since then could tell you. In spite of the fact that I practiced (it wasn’t like she wasn’t going to find out if I didn’t), I was probably her all-time worst student, because I just could not handle critiques from my mother, whether deserved or not. There was a lot of yelling and crying and key-banging in those days. Funnily, I don’t remember any of those activities being participated in by her, but . . . there was still a lot of it.

In 5th grade everybody in my class had to learn to play the recorder, and I was pretty good at that, but let’s face it–there are very few scenarios where even “good at the recorder” doesn’t translate into “shrill in enclosed spaces.” Plus my mother was still desperately trying to teach me the piano; by this point I think she had elicited my dad’s assistance. He had given up piano as a child himself, but he was still musically literate and for some reason I was less prone to yell at him. (Watch the movie Brave and you will see this dynamic explored by Pixar. It’s not the most compelling movie in my opinion, but maybe that’s because the mother-daughter conflict is not the most compelling one either. Nevertheless, I feel they do a pretty good job depicting it.) Probably everybody in the family was counting the days until I was old enough to start band at school, at which point I would learn a new instrument and, ideally, take lessons from someone to whom I was not related.

Near the end of 5th grade when my classmates and I were all tootling on our recorders well enough that some semblance of a tune could be discerned, the new band teacher came to our class and had us try out the mouth pieces of a bunch of wind instruments. I figured out the weird blowing-across-the-top action of the flute mouthpiece instantly, with the best tone of any of my fellow experimenters. It was at that point that any further deliberation about whether I would play the flute like my two aunts, or the trumpet like my father, or the trombone like my uncle, or something more obscure and more cool but maybe less versatile (frontrunners being the oboe, the French horn and the bassoon) came to an end. I have since sometimes wished I had chosen an instrument a little more expressive and raucous, but I didn’t, and as all other attempts to master any other instrument have failed or at least not succeeded, I conclude I was, am and always will be a one-instrument kind of girl, and that that instrument is the flute.

Somehow my parents found me a used silver flute for $100. (How did they do that before craigslist?) As it turned out, under the tutelage of my new flute teacher, Mrs Hall, I got pretty good. Not good enough to turn the flute raucous like Jethro Tull, but good enough that both Mrs Hall and my mother dropped numerous hints that maybe I should be a music major in college. It wasn’t going to happen–words will always be my First Art and besides I couldn’t get into the Wind Ensemble–but I did take a couple of semesters’-worth of lessons there.

The problem was, after that, the flute gradually fell into disuse. Mom continued to try to encourage me to play, enlisting me to play flute/piano duets with her in church whenever I was home. In London I began to learn to improvise (not particularly well) with the worship leaders at church there, and I continued the practice at Then Church when I returned to the US. But now I’m at Now Church and, because I work with the children I don’t have time to participate in the music, so I haven’t actually played my flute for about four and a half years. I’ve rather got to the point where I’m afraid to. I find reading music more difficult than I did, just because I haven’t in so long, and practicing enough to “get my chops back” is sort of a deflating idea, literally and figuratively. So I rest on my laurels, just enough to miss my past greatness (this is all in my head of course) but not enough to return to it.

The thing is, if you want to earn an extra twenty bucks or so before Christmas, teaching music lessons isn’t a bad way to do it. Recently I got back in touch with my school, tentatively asking if they needed a flute teacher to whom to refer band students. Today I unearthed my flute, and a beginner’s flute book, and began the process of de-rusting.

But here’s the thing. Because I haven’t played in so long, of everybody in the house, only Oscar has ever heard me, and that only once. Today I opened the case, assembled the instrument, and began to play. Immediately, Oscar ran and hid in the coat closet. Shemp came over to me and looked at me with pleading eyes before giving up and curling in the fetal position on his bed. Meanwhile, Rosie the Cat bounded down the stairs and began meowing at me from a kitchen chair. When that didn’t work, she began circling me and the table (on which I had put the music book) like the Israelites at Jericho. However, I was the one blasting away on a musical instrument, and none of her caterwauling was going to knock me over, so finally, she gave up in a huff and scooted out the cat door.

My Paul was not home for any of this. It’s probably a good thing.