Monday, February 24, 2014

The gift of Music

Many of us can point to one person and say that they had the most influence on our lives.  Perhaps it was a teacher in school, or a college professor.  Maybe it was a pastor or leader in your church or synagogue.  Maybe a kind neighbor down the street who'd listen to you when you thought your parents were clueless about you.  This person may have introduced you to something that today is a major part of your life, or at least still has a grip on your dreams and goals.  

I can think of many individuals who had a tremendous and lasting impact on my life: Ken Mulder, the youth pastor at my church during my turbulent high school years; Dr. John Todd, the pastor who became a spiritual mentor and eventually a very close and trusted friend; my own dad, who I was distant from as a child, but grew increasingly closer to as I matured; or even my father-in-law, who taught me how to fish.  These folk have all had a wonderful influence on me that I cherish.  But if there was one single person who I can say had the most impact on my life, it was my college music professor who became my choir director and eventually, my close friend.  

I had heard of Don Walker while I was attending Saddleback College.  Rumors of him being tough and exacting as the head of choral studies were rampant, and despite that, I decided to augment my private music studies with classes on theory and composition, which he taught.  Soon he was the choirmaster at a large Presbyterian church (where I happened to be taking lessons on the organ) and invited me to join the choir.  I was not "into" choral music at the time, but I did like to sing, and the traditional format of the service was appealing to me.  Soon, though, I found myself in a choir singer's Nirvana: Don was a true choral director, educated at a liberal arts college known for its excellent choral music.  The anthems that Don chose for Sunday worship ranged from classical pieces from the great sacred works of Mozart, Beethoven or Mendelssohn, to contemporary choral works by composers Don knew personally.  We had the pleasure of singing with the foremost arranger of Negro Spirituals, Jester Hairston, who Don knew quite well.  It was a wonderful place to sing and expand our musical palettes.  Eventually, he chose to retire, and in doing so, he gave to me nearly 100 pieces of music, from anthems to oratorios, from masses to motets.  It was a wonderful and generous gift, and I treasure the collection to this day.

But Don gave me a more treasured gift than the sheet music and scores.  He gave me a deep passion for choral music, and a love for music sung with great expressiveness.  He gave a  gift of understanding the phrase or the line, or the subtle nuances of a finely tuned and rehearsed choir.  And as I grow older I find that singing no longer has the hold on me as it once had.  I now realize that I too wish to give the same gift Don gave me, and give it to other singers.  I want to take the same sheet music that is such a treasure and work with singers to create expressive and passionate music.  I want Don's generous gifts to keep on giving.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Frozen dilemma

I just read an interesting blog, written by a grandmother who is obviously a member in good standing in the Mormon Church.  It is even called “A Well Behaved Mormon Woman”.  In this blog she takes on the subject of what she considers to be the blatant yet subliminal pro-homosexual and same-sex marriage message by the Disney company in their new and highly popular film, “Frozen”.  She spends most of her blog citing her response to the film, or how many times she’s seen it, or what bothered her about the message that she feels is meant to corrupt and indoctrinate today’s youth on the gay rights agenda.  She expresses her concern about how this can lead to our society’s acceptance of same sex marriage, which she feels is wrong.   She spends a great deal of time preaching the LDS doctrine of traditional marriage, and finally, at the end, begins to cite examples from the film of what she feels are attempts by Disney to subliminally advocate the homosexual agenda.  I wish to cite a few quotes from her blog to show you her logic:

As Elsa’s power increases, her parents’ urge her to learn how to control it, as it would be perceived as evil to others, but Elsa can't; it's impossible. Her parents' make the decision to close the castle to the public, and lock Elsa in her room so that her power won’t be discovered. Not even her sister is allowed to see and play with Elsa: demonetization of homosexuals by society.

Elsa is devastatingly lonely and depressed being forced to live a life of isolation, believing her powers to be evil. Her sister, kept from the truth, and affected by the inflicted secrecy also becomes victim to the dysfunction of her family and experiences equal isolation and confusion: not "coming out" and being who you are meant to be (acting on the power) is harmful to the person, family and society.

And finally, one other example:

The parents are killed in an accident while traveling abroad (expendable and best out of the way for progression - represent authority), which means that Elsa must take her rightful position among her people, as queen. (Right to be queen: make what you want out of this one.) To do so, she faces great fear in going out publicly for her coronation, worrying that her powers might show because she has no control over them: rejects the ability of those with same-gender attraction to control behavior. 

I would suggest you read the balance of the author’s blog to fully understand her argument, and see all of the sequences of the movie that she suggests are Disney’s attempt to introduce children to the “homosexual agenda”.  But here are my thoughts.

To make it clear, I have NOT seen the movie.  I really have no desire to, either.  My daughter is aware of the movie, but she’s not begging me to see it.  So my observations and arguments in this blog post are purely a reaction to the points the author makes in her blog post.  First, I find it bordering on paranoia that someone would accuse Disney of having a subliminal yet blatant pro-homosexual message in a film meant for children.  It is this same kind of delusional paranoia that suggests the CIA was behind the 9/11 attacks, that LBJ had Kennedy assassinated, or any of those extreme views that government is in too much control of our lives.  My thoughts about these types of people are that they actively SEEK out reasons to accuse something of being not what it seems.  I don’t see this as cynicism, but as paranoia.   They wish to FIND subliminal differences, so they can preach about it, or build up their self-image of being able to point out inconsistencies or conspiracies.  And these people are finding followers using the same social media they criticize. 

Second, if we look at the examples from her blog that I have cited, we could easily see in them similarities to the Harry Potter novels and movies.  We could see similarities between other Disney heroes and heroines, particularly the recent strong heroines such as “Mulan”, “Pocahontas”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Brave” or even “Little Mermaid”.  So, my question is if we can apply strong homosexual messages to “Frozen”, we must also seek them out (notice I use the work “seek”) in the Harry Potter novels and movies, or in the other Disney movies of the last couple of decades. 

Finally, could this person’s viewpoints be carried into other aspects of Disney entertainment?  For example, in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, is it possible that the Professor and his sidekick were homosexual lovers?  Or in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” could it be that the dwarfs were all gay?  Or how about the venerated “Mary Poppins”.  Could there be a subliminal message that Mary was a closet lesbian?  I sincerely doubt that ANY of the movies I've cited contain homosexual message, just as the Harry Potter franchise does not, or any of the other Disney movies with strong female leads.

Perhaps it isn't just paranoia.  Perhaps this blog author, who calls herself “A Well Behaved Mormon Woman”, feels that Disney movies, which are supposed to present “traditional values”, are attacking what she might consider to be the long-held Mormon view of women:  subjugated servants who cannot hold church office or dispute their husband’s authority.  Perhaps she feels threatened not by what she perceives is a homosexual message, but a message of a woman of strength and character.  Is it possible that “Frozen”, along with other Disney movies with strong women characters, threatens one of the pillars of her faith?  If so, then why mask it by accusing Disney of subliminally using “Frozen” as a means of promoting the homosexual agenda? 

Here is a full link to her blog so you can read it for yourself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The best US President is.....

Well, today is President's Day, a day we honor two Presidents in particular: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There are some quizzes on the internet right now allowing you to select a few things and then it tells you which President you are.  Or the articles that discuss the attributes of certain Presidents and qualifies which ones are "the best".  And with all the attention given to JFK due to the 50th anniversary of his assassination, and to Lincoln because of Spielberg's movie, we naturally wish to pick one of them.

But if you were to ask me who MY favorite President is, or who I think was the best President, my answer may surprise you.

Harry S. Truman

What? The country bumpkin from Missouri who could swear like a sailor?  The one known for blasting a music critic who panned Margaret Truman's vocal recital?  The President that got the United States into the Korean War?  The president with the monotone delivery and seemingly no personality?

Yes.  Harry Truman is my favorite President.

One of the best books I've ever read was the definitive biography of Harry Truman by the noted historian and author David McCullough.  He delved deeply into the man, the history of the time, the upbringing, and provided a refreshing view into this person who was in the shadow of FDR, and preceded the calmness of Ike, and the flash of JFK.  Truman is a paradox: surprisingly simple due to his roots in the Midwest, yet canny and shrewd.  He didn't like the political games, but knew how to play them.  He worked hard and truly did believe that the ultimate responsibility lay with him, the President.  For example, he had advisors who assist him in making choices, but if those choices went south, he took responsibility for it.  But there are some wonderful examples of Truman's leadership style that McCullough portrays in his book:

When FDR dies, Truman is called to the White House, where he's told he's now the President.  One of the first acts he does as President is go back to Capitol Hill and meet with his friends in the Senate (who had a deep respect and admiration for Truman).  His statement to his former colleagues is that he cannot do it alone, that he needs their help.  He was humble, and knew that the task would involve collaboration with Congress.  

Another incident cited in the book is when Truman became President, he asked FDR's cabinet to stay on, to provide continuity.  Most of FDR's team and inner circle knew little about Truman.  In fact, Truman and FDR hardly spoke or met during the brief time Truman was VP.  FDR's people had a very low opinion of him, so only agreed to stay out of respect for FDR.  However, they agreed to stay for only a certain amount of time, such was their dislike of Truman.  However, to the man, when their time came up and they could leave the cabinet, they all asked to stay.  They were so impressed at how Truman took on the role of President, and how he respected their opinions, how he listened and even gave them recognition - something FDR hadn't done.  They became very loyal Truman supporters.

There are many other wonderful examples of how Truman's leadership style, which was one of accountability and responsibility, allowed him to govern the United States during that difficult post-war time, and at the beginning of the Cold War.  But it is that leadership style that I look at and realize is a model for how I can be as a leader, how I can encourage fellow people into achieving goals, even ones that seem insurmountable. 

So, my favorite President is, and always will be, Harry Truman.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dad, can I talk to you about something?

Many of you that I am friends with knew my dad, and some knew him quite well.  He's been gone for almost 10 years.  There are times that I find that I simply "wish" he were still here, particularly when there are milestones with my kids (both Colin and Audrey have attributes that are very much from my dad). There are little things that the kids do that were part of who my dad was: Colin likes to build airplane models; Audrey loves to draw.

And there are times that I keenly miss him, because he was so good at listening and giving advice - when needed.  In the last 20 or so years of his life, he had become a friend to me, not just a dad.  He'd taken photography trips with me to Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and all over California.  He'd given me advice on things related to work.  He'd listened to some of my musings on women I was going out with and NOT give me advice.  He'd help me work on black and white photographs in his darkroom, giving me suggestions on various techniques to enhance the image.  He and my wife Lorrie became close rather quickly, and he accepted and enjoyed Justin, who was barely 5 when he first met my dad.  Eventually Justin (who had a few grandpas) called my dad "Yard Grandpa", since he associated my dad with the big backyard that my parents had at their San Clemente home.  

But now, what I miss most, is my dad's wise counsel.  Over the last 12 years (since he suffered his debilitating stroke), I have found that I missed talking to him, bouncing idea off of him, getting his feedback, and in the end, getting his advice.  It was no wonder he'd gone from the outdoor P-38 assembly line at Lockheed in 1942, to managing the entire art and graphics art department with 250 people on 3 shifts working for him in the early 70's: he was calm, cool, and could make tough decisions with perception and wisdom.  And now, as I face what some folk might consider an easy decision on which job offer to take, I find that I wish I could talk to him again.  For me, it's not as easy as taking up an offer: it's about the opportunities, the future, the potential, the security.  But it's also about feeling that I have greater value, and there might be something else out there that could recognize and seize upon that.  I just wish I could walk and talk with him for a few moments, express my thoughts and reasoning, and just hear from him what he thinks is the best choice.  

And in a way, I know what his answer would be.  One time, when he had a minor stroke, and Lorrie was pregnant with Colin, I was in the ER, and he told me to go home.  He told me that it was more important for me to be with MY family, not with him.  In a sense, that incident from nearly 15 years ago tells me what his answer would be: be a provider. But on the other hand, my dad took opportunities when they presented themselves to him, which is why he moved up the management ladder at Lockheed in his 34 years there.  He believed in being financially secure (no doubt from having grown up during the Depression), but he also believed in seizing chances that are presented to you.  

So, dad, what do you think I should do?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The value of self

One thing I've been feeling as I've gone through this process of finding a job is a strong sense of self worth.

As I've gone through various interviews I've felt that there was much I could offer the companies that I was interviewing for.  It was as if I was interviewing THEM, not them interviewing me.  And as the process has continued I have come to this self-realization that I have a great deal to offer any prospective employer, and not just in printing.  There are skill sets that I have learned from the print environment that could be used in many other professions.  And so I often find myself these days thinking "I can do SO MUCH for you!"  I don't think it's vanity or arrogance.  I think it's a genuine valuation of my capabilities and what I can bring to any place I work in.  

But I also find myself not wanting to take just anything: I want to find a place where my skills can be valued, where I'd be given a chance to grow and expand, to contribute, to enhance.  It might be that one of these prospective employers might recognize that and hire me.  It could also be that I may end up alienating those who've been there, who've set up their way of doing things.  Often when you come into a company you are not taken seriously at first.  You have to earn their respect and admiration.  Yet I know what I bring to the table.  And I'm not afraid to comment or bring forth new ideas or new approaches that they may not have thought of before.

And so I have a strong sense of self worth.  I believe I'm more valuable than just a dollar figure, or a compensation package.  And, yes, maybe it's a bit arrogant to say that I can do things for a company.  But I think that it is also that self-confidence that says I'm of value, and I can make a difference.  And maybe that's what will guide me to my final decision.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Today's reading from my daily C.S. Lewis readings really cuts to the truth:  

"There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions.  If you had gone to Buddha and asked him 'Are you the son of Bramah?', he would have said, 'My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.'  If you had gone to Socrates and asked, 'Are you Zeus?', he would have laughed at you.  If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, 'Are you Allah?', he would first have rent his clothes and then cut off your head off.  If you had asked Confucius, 'Are you Heaven?' I think he woudl have probably replied, 'Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.'  The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question.  In my opinion, the only person who cans sawy that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man.  If you think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you.  We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher.  He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him.  He produced mainly three effects - hatred, terror, adoration.  There was no trace of people expressing mild approval."

Sometimes, as a struggling follower of Christ (I try not to call myself a Christian since so many who do are not followers of Christ, but only shallow and proud mimics of those who actually ARE followers of Christ), I find Lewis' arguments so often hit the point.  His argument here is that many give Jesus the credit of being a fine moral teacher, so they can ignore that statement which makes Him precisely NOT that, and therefore, allow themselves to live the lie that they don't have to become Christian since it's just "moral teachings", such as you get from those that Lewis mentioned.  Years ago I came to this Truth due to dating a woman who considered Jesus just that - a great moral teacher.  She'd been a Muslim, who became a follower of eastern mysticism.  Obviously we did not last long.  But it forced me - actually made me focus - on that core truth: that Jesus IS and WAS who He said He IS and WAS.  To me, that is IT!  All else is prefunctory.